2019 #COleg: It’s a wrap: Colorado lawmakers approve #drought work, #COWaterPlan funding, and more — @WaterEdCO

From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

Colorado lawmakers wrapped up the 2019 session last week, approving five water bills this year which address the Colorado River drought, funding for the state’s water plan, Republican River compact issues, severance taxes and hard-rock mining.

It put off for now another bill that would have expanded the state’s nationally recognized instream flow program, which allows water for fish and aquatic habitat to be left in streams.

Colorado River Drought and Water Plan Funding

Faced with a 19-year drought that has seen storage in the Colorado River’s two largest reservoirs—Powell and Mead—drop below half full, the legislature took a first step in reducing water use to ensure compliance with the Colorado River Compact. Although it did not adopt new policy, it appropriated $1.7 million as part of Senate Bill 212 for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to explore a demand management program that would incentivize voluntary cutbacks of Colorado River use, where saved water could be stored in Lake Powell as a hedge against future shortfalls. It also set aside $8.3 million to fund the Colorado Water Plan. The combined $10 million lawmakers approved is far less than the $30 million Governor Jared Polis had requested, but the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) pared that figure due to competing demands from other big ticket items. Senator Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), the bill’s chief sponsor and a JBC member, noted that the remaining $20 million in Polis’ original request “was really meant to be a contingency plan against demand management in the future and so it could probably wait until next year to be appropriated.” That is if revenue forecasts allow.

Still Rankin said the funding is an important step forward for the water plan. “This is the first time we’ve started to put general fund money against the water plan.”

Republican River Compact

The General Assembly also opted to approve a measure that redraws the boundary of the Republican River Water Conservation District to include more wells that reduce the flow of the Republican River in violation of a compact with Kansas and Nebraska. The legislature created the district in 2004. Its original boundary was drawn at the topographic boundary of the Republican River and did not accurately reflect the impact of groundwater pumping outside the district on the river’s flows.

House Bill 1029 incorporates the groundwater boundary agreed to by Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado in a Supreme Court settlement and allows the district to assess the same fee on those well owners that it does on all irrigators in the district. Those fees help to pay for a pipeline that transports conserved groundwater to the river to ensure compact compliance.

The district borrowed $62 million to buy water rights and build the pipeline, and has assessed farmers $14.50 per acre annually to repay the loan. Absent the legislation, wells that do not have water augmentation, or replacement, plans to mitigate their surface water depletions could face curtailment under new rules issued by the state engineer; now they are automatically part of the district’s approved augmentation plan.

Severance Taxes

The General Assembly passed another bill that changes the timing of severance tax allocations that support several water programs to allow for better planning and budgeting. Currently the tax revenue is transferred three times a year to the CWCB based on revenue forecasts; if the actual tax collections are less than forecasted (which has often been the case), funds have to be taken back. Senate Bill 16 bases allocations on the amount collected in the previous fiscal year and consolidates three payments into one for distribution the following year. Because tax collections in 2018 exceeded forecasts, there’s enough revenue available to avoid any funding gap moving forward.

Water Quality Impacts of Hard-Rock Mining

The General Assembly passed a bill to protect water quality from the impacts of hard-rock mining. House Bill 1113 requires reclamation plans for new or amended hard-rock mining permits to demonstrate a “reasonably foreseeable end date” for water quality treatment to ensure compliance with water quality standards. It also eliminates the option of “self-bonding”—an audited financial statement demonstrating that the mine operator has sufficient assets to meet reclamation responsibilities—and requires a bond or other financial assurance to guarantee adequate funds to protect water quality, including treatment and monitoring costs.

Representative Dylan Roberts, (D-Eagle), the bill’s prime sponsor, emphasized that it applies only to hard-rock mining—not to coal or gravel mining—and “aligns statute with what’s already happening in current practice by the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…so that we can avoid creating more chronically polluting mines.” The bill was similar to one that passed the House but failed in the Senate last year.

Instream Flows

The Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee set aside a bill that would have expanded an existing program to protect streamflows for environmental purposes, but with a commitment to study the issue further this summer. Under current law, a water right holder can loan water to the CWCB to boost instream flows in stream reaches where the CWCB holds an instream flow water right. The loan may be exercised for no more than three years in a single 10-year period. House Bill 1218, which had passed the House earlier in the session, would have increased the number of years the loan could be exercised from three to five, and permitted a loan applicant to reapply to the state engineer for two additional 10-year periods.

Opposition to the bill centered on concerns that expanding the number of years would reduce irrigation return flows to other farmland dependent on them for crop production and risk damaging soils. Senator Kerry Donovan (D-Vail), the bill’s sponsor and a rancher, asked the committee to postpone it with an understanding that the Interim Water Resources Review Committee would study it further this summer. She noted that with “some of the concerns that have been raised, as well as the level of attention that this issue deserves, we need to get this right, and I’m not sure we have consensus on a way forward today.”

Wastewater continued to stream out of the Gold King Mine on Tuesday [August 11, 2015] near Silverton, several days after a rush of 3 million gallons of it flooded Cement Creek and the Animas River. At the top of the photo is the mine’s opening, where an Environmental Protection Agency cleanup team was working with heavy machinery Aug. 5 and hit an earthen wall that had millions of gallons of water built up behind it

@WaterEdCo videos: “Jennifer Pitt, 2019 Diane Hoppe Leadership Award” and “Celene Hawkins, 2019 Emerging Leader Award”

Jennifer Pitt:

In May 2019, Water Education Colorado recognized Jennifer Pitt with the Diane Hoppe Leadership Award.

Jennifer Pitt joined Audubon in December 2015 to advise the organization’s strategies to protect and restore rivers throughout the Colorado River Basin. At Audubon she leads the United States–Mexico collaboration to restore the Colorado River Delta. She serves as the U.S. co-chair of the bi-national work group whose partners will, through 2026, implement existing treaty commitments providing environmental flows and habitat creation.

Prior to joining Audubon, Jennifer spent 17 years working to protect and restore freshwater ecosystems in the Colorado River Basin at the Environmental Defense Fund. With partners, she led efforts to prioritize and implement restoration of the Colorado River Delta, including work coordinating the Pulse Flow of 2014 that brought water into dried-up stretches of Colorado River Delta across the border. She also worked with Colorado River stakeholders to produce the unprecedented Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study, the first federal assessment of climate change impacts in the basin and the first basin-wide evaluation of the impacts on water supply reliability and river health.

Celene Hawkins:

In May 2019, Water Education Colorado recognized Celene Hawkins with its Emerging Leader Award.

Celene Hawkins serves as the Western Colorado Water Project Director for the Colorado Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. She coordinates and implements projects with agricultural partners, federal, state, tribal, and local governments, and local conservation organizations to help optimize the use of water in western and southwestern Colorado, and she fosters project work that supports water transactions that benefit environmental values while also supporting agriculture and other traditional water uses. In 2017, Celene was appointed to serve on the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Rivers and she is currently vice-chairman of that board.

2019 Urban Water Cycle Tours June 4, 2019 — @WaterEdCO

Click here for all the inside skinny:

Join us for a fun and interactive day learning about the history of the South Platte River Urban Corridor Waterway and efforts to reclaim it. Explore this waterway by bicycle along with citizen leaders, scientists, planners and water managers.

Urban Water Cycle Tour Route: This roughly 10-mile route begins at Johnson Habitat Park, travels downstream along the Platte to Shoemaker Plaza at Confluence park, then on to the Globeville/National Western Complex area, ending at Metro Wastewater with lunch included. See the map and full itinerary on the reverse side of the page.

Registration is open! Registration will be capped at 30 participants per flight. Helmet required to ride. Sunscreen, water, and a small backpack are recommended.

The meetup point for the Water Education Colorado urban water tour in 2014 at the confluence of Clear Creek and the South Platte River.

Water Education Colorado bestows 2019 Diane Hoppe leadership award to Jennifer Pitt

Jennifer Pitt. Photo credit: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

From Audubon:

Audubon’s Colorado River Program Director Jennifer Pitt will receive an award for her leadership on the Colorado River this weekend. Water Education Colorado named her the 2019 recipient of the Diane Hoppe Leadership award (see here).

This is an annual award bestowed on a Coloradan who has a body of work in the field of water resources benefiting the Colorado public; strong reputation among peers; commitment to balanced and accurate information; among other qualities.

In particular, Dan Luecke, one of the organization’s board members commented on Pitt’s leadership on the United States–Mexico collaboration to restore the long-desiccated Colorado River Delta.

“Jennifer is imaginative, committed, quick, and fearless,” Luecke said. “What she and her bi-national colleagues have accomplished is awe inspiring. It was clear, almost from the beginning, that she was going to make a difference. There are few like her.”

Pitt is the first recipient who works for a conservation NGO. Other recent notable recipients include former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who is now running for President, and Eric Kuhn, recently retired from the role of general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

The Colorado Section of AWRA, Water Eduction Colorado, and the Colorado Groundwater Association present: #Colorado Water Stories – Learning from our past, reimagining our future Friday, April 19, 2019 @AWRACO @WaterEdCO

Scott Hummer shows off a fish passage at a North Poudre Irrigation Company diversion structure. His agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Click here to view the agenda and to register:

Colorado Water Stories – Learning from our past, reimagining our future
Friday, April 19th
7:30 am to 5:30 pm

Mount Vernon Canyon Club
24933 Club House Circle
Golden, CO 80401

Come join us for an informative day of Colorado water stories and discussions. Speakers will include:

  • Amy Beatie (Deputy Attorney General for Natural Resources and the Environment)
  • Becky Mitchell (Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board)
  • Interactive presentation on conflict resolution by Todd Bryan
  • Stories from retired State and Division Engineers, moderated by KUNC reporter Luke Runyon
  • This year’s conference will cover a range of topics from both a technical and policy perspective, including a deep-drill into ASR, geophysical applications, and how Coloradans are reimagining the river. The day will end with happy hour and a silent auction to benefit the AWRA Colorado and CGWA scholarship programs.

    Please click this link for the 2019 Symposium Agenda!

    Online registration available HERE.

    PDF registration form available HERE.

    Sponsorship opportunities are available, please click this link for more information.

    The South Platte: an Urban River and Critical Watershed — Urban Waters Learning Network

    The South Platte River runs by a utility plant near I-25 in Denver.

    From the Urban Waters Learning Network (Maria Brodine):

    Like many American cities, Denver grew up on the banks of its local river, the South Platte. In May 1858, in Cheyenne and Arapaho territory, a small party of settlers set off the Colorado Gold Rush when they turned up gold at the mouth of Little Dry Creek. The resulting trading and mining encampment, located at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, is now marked by the sprawling Confluence Park, nestled in the heart of Denver and offering a variety of recreation opportunities for city dwellers, including biking, kayaking, and fishing.

    The Platte’s headwaters emerge in the South Park highland meadow basin, then flow north and east through several major reservoirs. Just after entering the Chatfield Reservoir and State Park, it flows through the outlying cities of Littleton and Englewood before entering Denver city limits. By the time it reaches the Confluence at Denver’s heart, it has already picked up a number of pollutants from point and non-point sources, including stormwater runoff from nearby buildings. For the past 15 years, regular water quality testing at the Confluence and at other sites have revealed high levels of E coli bacteria, especially during the summer. Drought years—such as 2017, when the river was too low to support the normal popular tubing activities—exacerbate these problems, as nutrients and other pollutants build up and deplete oxygen levels. To add to these challenges, Denver is one of the fastest growing cities in America. Rapid development, trying to keep pace with the burgeoning population and industrial growth, has added to the burden of polluted stormwater runoff and put additional pressures on the low-income, underserved, and indigenous communities that already feel the brunt of local environmental and economic challenges.

    The South Platte Urban Waters Partnership

    In total, the South Platte watershed drains 28,000 square miles on its way to the Missouri River; includes one million acres of public lands; is home to numerous threatened and endangered species; functions as the primary source of drinking water for the Front Range of Colorado (or about three quarters of Colorado’s residents); and is renowned for its “gold-medal” fishing. The South Platte River Urban Waters Partnership (SPRUWP) focuses on the headwaters and the Denver metropolitan area, and consists of over seventy organizations, including Federal and state government, municipalities, universities, NGOs and private businesses, all collaborating to address the problems facing the South Platte and improve this vital waterway for current and future generations — as well as those who live downstream of Denver. Below are two case studies highlighting some of the impacts of the Partnership.

    Groundwork Denver: Bearing the Banner at Bear Creek

    A previous Impact Story (2015) covered the genesis of Groundwork Denver’s water program at Bear Creek, which flows through several cities before it feeds into the South Platte at Englewood. Groundwork Denver leads water quality monitoring and community engagement efforts along Lower Bear Creek, primarily in the working class and low-income town of Sheridan, where many people play in or near the creek and bear the brunt of effects from pollutants that enter the creek upstream. Lower Bear Creek carries high quantities of E.coli, mostly from non-point sources. While E.coli is likely not the only contaminant present, it is an indicator of overall water health, and it is easy to train youth and community members in the process of testing and monitoring for this particular pathogen. In addition to water quality monitoring, Groundwork’s community engagement efforts include public education campaigns, trash cleanups, and canvassing area schools.

    Groundwork Denver maintains seventeen regular water quality testing sites in Bear Creek—with most sites located in Sheridan and Denver and one in Lakewood at the headwaters—in order to track how many contaminants the creek picks up on its way downstream. Through its Green and Blue Team job training program, Groundwork Denver trains and employs youths to conduct the sampling approximately two times per month in the winter and four times per month during hotter summer months. Professional and young scientists have discovered that the water quality degrades significantly on its way to Sheridan. The purpose of the ongoing research is to create an overall picture of how the creek becomes contaminated and, more widely, to understand how the South Platte watershed is becoming contaminated and how best to address the problem. These data can serve to identify major outfall sources, inform targeted cleanup and prevention efforts, and drive public education campaigns to advise people about the safety of fishing and recreating in certain areas.

    In the future, Groundwork hopes to become involved in the development and maintenance of larger green infrastructure projects. Certification of Green Team members through Colorado State University will create opportunities for youth to lead future ventures in the area of green infrastructure design and maintenance. In 2018, Groundwork Denver—in partnership with Home Depot, River Network, Colorado State University, River Watch, area city governments, and more—received a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) Five Star and Urban Waters Grant to install green infrastructure on residential properties, organize volunteer projects to remove trash and invasive species from Bear Creek, and restore the Creek’s habitat by planting native species.

    Water Education Colorado: Speaking Fluent Water

    In the words of Water Education Colorado (WEco)’s Executive Director Jayla Poppleton, “Our role as a collaborator [in the SPRUWP] is much the same as most of the other partners. We show up, we listen, we share our resources, we highlight opportunities we have coming up that others might want to take advantage of, and we try to be responsive to the needs identified by the group.” WEco programs include educational publications and radio broadcasts, webinars and workshops, leadership courses, an annual conference called Sustaining Colorado Watersheds, and for the past eight years, Urban Waters Bike Tours, which are open and free to the public and are put together collaboratively with a variety of other organizations including the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association, the Colorado Stormwater Council, and the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District. Though WEco has a statewide mission and focus, the organization is based in Denver, with the bulk of programming taking place in the Denver metro area. To extend its reach, WEco hosts educational tours and workshops in rural and mountain communities and partners with other statewide organizations. WEco also offers extensive training courses and resources for water professionals, community leaders, educators, and non-water professionals. WEco estimates that it reached 156,377 people in 2018.

    As members of the Partnership, WEco has been able to build new connections, extend the reach of its programs, learn about additional funding opportunities, and secure additional funding for the Urban Waters Bike Tours through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division. Going forward, WEco is committed to advancing awareness and understanding of water issues among a wider variety of citizens and decision makers. In 2019, WEco will be leading development of a Statewide Water Education Action Plan working with other water educators from around the state. The goal of the plan is to build a collective vision and set of goals and metrics that water educators can build on to achieve greater results. WEco is also dedicated to increasing focus on advancing public awareness, including a new initiative called Fresh Water News that provides weekly, up-to-the minute reporting on Colorado water issues, as well as more workshops on topics including community-level watershed health, water quality protection, and water conservation.

    Tools and Technologies

    In an effort to make water quality and environmental data more accessible to decision-makers and the general public, members of the Partnership—including Federal, state, local governments, and non-profits—have worked together to develop useful interactive tools that can be used in classrooms, community meetings, and more.

    Water Quality Assessment Tool

    In 2016, the Water Quality Working Group—chaired by Groundwork Denver—pooled resources to develop the Water Quality Assessment Tool (WQAT). The WQAT provides mobile-compatible online access to interactive maps, graphs and narratives users can bring into the field to explore water quality in the South Platte River basin. Educational tools include “storylines,” which are lesson modules covering E-coli, nutrient levels, dissolved solids, and more. Users can also map or graph contaminant levels at specific water quality testing sites, adjusting dates to look at discrete periods of time or analyze trends over a period of years. Instructors can easily use these tools to teach students how to read and analyze maps and graphs; scientists and advocates can use them to share the information with stakeholders in real time.

    Natural Capital Asset Map and Decision Support Tool

    This ecosystem services valuation tool provides interactive access to data about green infrastructure sites in the headwaters, Denver metro area, and the plains. Data are provided by forty public, private, and non-profit stakeholders. The project aims to equip decision-makers with the best available information about local natural capital—including city parks and forested regions—and their relative importance to public health and the economy. Ranks of importance were determined using forty-eight different studies combined with local data. Users can view maps of these assets by region or neighborhood. The methodology used to create the map combines approaches from multiple green infrastructure mapping efforts throughout the U.S., including Strategic Green Infrastructure Planning (Firehock, 2015) and ESRI’s Green Infrastructure for the U.S. Advanced users with their own GIS programs can download the data and view them in greater detail. Stakeholders interested in conducting additional, more detailed analysis can download the project data and use it within their own GIS interface. SPRUWP stakeholders have used the tool to rank and apply for funding for reforestation projects.

    The South Platte River Urban Waters Partnership: Looking Ahead

    Partners meet on a quarterly basis to highlight salient partner projects, research findings, and collaborative opportunities. Past highlights included the Denver Parks and Recreation river-front master planning process, Denver’s 2017 Green Roof Initiative (requiring all buildings greater than 25,000 square feet to dedicate a portion of their rooftop to green space), and efforts on the Upper South Platte to conduct landscape-scale forest resilience watershed restoration projects. 2019 presentations will include topics such as green infrastructure for urban stream restoration, automated stormwater sampling systems, and water quality analysis opportunities for students along the South Platte River. Sub-committees will meet on a more regular basis to focus on critical projects and tasks within the spheres of education/outreach and science/data related to the health of the river. The SPRUWP hopes to continue to facilitate the development of powerful partnerships that advance the vision of revitalizing Denver’s urban waters and the surrounding communities.

    The latest “Headwaters Pulse” is hot off the presses from @WaterEdCO

    Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    2019 President’s Reception May 3
    Join us for our annual awards dinner and fundraiser as we honor Jennifer Pitt with the Diane Hoppe Leadership Award and Celene Hawkins with the Emerging Leader Award. Enjoy a sit-down dinner and fun-filled evening in celebration of water education and water leadership in Colorado.

    Puchase tickets here.