High up on Colorado’s Independence Pass, a narrow, winding road weaves through the evergreens and across mountain streams, up and over the Continental Divide at more than 10,000 feet. At one point that road crosses a canal.
It’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, but that canal is part of water infrastructure that makes life on Colorado’s Front Range possible.
The state has a geographical mismatch between where water shows up and where much of the population has settled.
“Wherever you are in this state, you’re either at the source of the drinking water supply, you’re in the middle of the drinking water supply, or you’re at the end of the tap,” said Christina Medved, outreach director at Roaring Fork Conservancy. “So on the Western slope, we are at the source of the water.”
About 80% of Colorado’s water falls on the western side of the state. Much of it is high-mountain snow and rain that eventually trickles down into streams and rivers like the ones on Independence Pass.
But about 80% of Colorado’s people live on the east side of the mountains. Because of gravity, that water doesn’t flow to them naturally. Instead, Colorado’s heavily-populated Front Range relies on a massive plumbing system to keep drinking water flowing to its taps.
For a century and a half, engineers have carved up the mountains with tunnels and canals that pipe water across the state through trans-mountain diversions. Some of that infrastructure is nestled near the high-alpine headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, which eventually flows through Aspen and Glenwood Springs on its way to the Colorado River. Near Lost Man reservoir, a dam and tunnel create a juncture between water that will follow that natural path westward to the Colorado, and water that will be diverted eastward through the mountains and onto cities such as Colorado Springs.
A tunnel through the mountains draws in water that will pass through two reservoirs and the Arkansas River on its way to the southern portion of the Front Range. Water diverted from the Colorado River basin, through trans-mountain diversions, makes up 60 to 70% of the water used by Colorado Springs. Denver, Greeley, Fort Collins and smaller municipalities on the Front Range also rely heavily on Western Slope water.
And these kinds of set ups aren’t confined to Colorado. Similar systems bring water to big cities all across the region. Salt Lake City, Albuquerque and Los Angeles rely on canals and tunnels to ship faraway water into their pipes. New ones are in the works on the Front Range and in southern Utah.
But these systems aren’t without critics.
“When you first learn about it, the concept of a trans-mountain diversion is crazy,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “It seems wrong. It seems antithetical to the health of the river. And I have to say all of that’s true.”
His organization was set up in the 1930s to oppose these diversions and ensure that there is enough water for people on the Western side of the state…
The issue is, contemporary environmental values aren’t written into the West’s water law. Instead, water use is defined by regulations written when Colorado first became a state in the 1800s. The rules say that if you have rights to use water, it doesn’t matter if you want to use it hundreds of miles away from its source – even if that requires miles of cross-mountain plumbing to do so.
At this moment, there is less water to pull from in every part of the state. The Front Range escaped from drought after steady spring rains, but those high-mountain areas that usually provide a dependable source of water for all of Colorado are experiencing a different fate. The western slope is deep in the second year of drought conditions, leaving snowpack and river flows lower than they should be.
Mueller thinks that only sharpens the need for the Front Range to curtail its water use. Although they retain the legal right to use a certain amount of water, he’s asking them to use less – which he says will promote the health of rivers and their ecosystems west of the divide.
On the Front Range, those on the receiving end of diversions say they are listening to their western counterparts when they put up distress signals during particularly critical times. They also say deliberate conservation work is paying off in the longer term. Nathan Elder, water supply manager for Denver Water, said over the past two decades, per capita water use in his district is down by 22%.
“Everyone in Colorado needs to decrease their use,” he said…
Amid tension between demands for water on both sides, exacerbated by extreme drought conditions, is the fact that there is not much of an alternative. Colorado’s water system is built to accommodate the fact that the majority of its people and the majority of its water are far from each other. Without fundamental changes to the bedrock of water law, those asking for water will have to work within a system built on trans-mountain diversions…
Some contingency planning – within the reality of a diversion-centric system – is already in place. In Colorado Springs, which receives some of the flow diverted from the top of Independence Pass, re-use practices are helping the city get more mileage out of the water it’s apportioned.
Abby Ortega, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, said reused water accounts for 26% of the city’s total portfolio and the city relies heavily on storage to get through dry years like this one.
But climate change threatens to increase the frequency and intensity of droughts, which has water managers on edge and looking more intently at ways to maximize what’s available.
“Every water planner in the state has some worry with the rapidly declining hydrology on the Colorado river,” Ortega said.
After years of hard feelings in Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas River valley about Colorado Springs’ degradation of Fountain Creek and the river, a resolution is on the horizon.
That city, government clean water agencies, Pueblo County and a lower valley water conservancy district have decided how to solve their dispute in order to improve the quality of water flowing in the creek from the city into Pueblo County and eastward down the river.
On Thursday, they submitted a 169-page proposed agreement, known as a “Consent Decree,” to Senior Judge John L. Kane Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Colorado.
The plan would require Colorado Springs to spend millions of dollars to improve its storm water sewer system in order to better control pollution discharges and excessive flows into the creek…
Meanwhile, Jay Winner, general manager of the water conservancy district, told The Chieftain the plan will benefit both Pueblo and the lower valley.
“This will be of great help in the lower part of the basin improving water quality,” Winner,said. “Water quality is the next great paradigm shift throughout the world.”
All of the litigants — the five parties to the case –negotiated for the past year what the city would do to remedy the violations.
The discharges damaged the creek bed and caused flooding, as well as creating a public health risk. Key agricultural regions of the lower valley have been affected by the polluted water and excessive volume.
The plan requires Colorado Springs to perform $11 million of mitigation to offset the environmental harm caused by its alleged violations, and pay the United States a $1 million civil penalty.
In addition, instead of receiving a civil penalty payment, the state “agrees that the city shall satisfy the state civil penalty through performance of a State approved supplemental environmental project valued at $1 million, to be performed” by the water conservancy district, according to a document filed Thursday in court…
Winner pointed to several benefits that the agreement would bring.
“The communities that have wells in the alluvium should get a much higher quality of water,” he said. The plan “should remove just enough silt so that the river stays in the channel and does not spread out due to an increased bed load, leaving more water in the channel as opposed to flooding areas such as North La Junta.
“This should keep more water in the ditches to help farmers,” Winner said. “When the river crests its banks that water belongs to farmers and they are unable to use it.”
Western Slope water managers have doubled down on their position that they will oppose federal legislation creating a new regulated pool of water to boost the falling level of Lake Powell unless Colorado adopts a policy that the pool should be filled only on a voluntary basis.
At a well-attended water meeting last week, Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said that without a new state policy putting limits on how water can be stored in the big reservoir, “You will find that our district, the Southwest District and hopefully others will be, frankly, opposing the federal legislation.”
Mueller said his district and the Southwestern Water Conservancy District “have to have those guidelines” in order to protect agriculture on the Western Slope, a stance first expressed by both districts in September.
In response to the Western Slope’s concerns, a policy on how to fill a new “demand management storage” pool in Lake Powell is being drafted by the staff of the Colorado Water Conservation Board for review by the agency’s directors Nov. 15.
“I can’t say with certainty, but I believe that policy will be established and will allay the concerns that we’ve heard,” Steve Anderson, a CWCB board member representing the Gunnison River Basin, said Tuesday at the meeting.
But there may be still be a gap between the protections the Western Slope wants and the Front Range’s stance, which is that it may be necessary to fill the proposed pool of water in Lake Powell through mandatory cutbacks in water use if voluntary efforts are not enough.
Water managers from Southern California to Wyoming are watching the ongoing debate because if Colorado can’t reach a consensus, an ongoing effort to establish a “drought contingency planning” program could falter.
Draft “DCP” agreements are now under review in seven states. They would change the way water is stored in Lake Mead, which primarily affects the lower Colorado River Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada.
In the upper-basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, the DCP agreements would set up a process to release water from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs, if necessary.
The agreements also would create a pool of water in Lake Powell that would be shielded from current regulations that balance water levels in both Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
Regional water officials are working hard to gain widespread consensus by Dec. 14 for the DCP agreements in both the upper and lower basins, and given how slow water policy usually moves, it’s a tight timeline.
The necessary federal legislation to implement the program may be introduced during the coming lame-duck session in Congress, and any significant opposition to the legislation, such as that from the Colorado River district, could derail the effort.
And the differing views between Western Slope and Front Range water managers now appear to be the largest obstacle to gaining consensus in the four upper-basin states.
“I’m not aware of any other issue that has risen to the top like this,” said Amy Haas, the executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, which is coordinating the upper basin’s drought contingency efforts. “I know that some discussions have been difficult in other states, but not to this degree.”
Officials on both the Western Slope and the Front Range do agree on many aspects of demand management storage in Lake Powell, which is designed to keep Glen Canyon Dam both producing hydropower and releasing enough water to meet the requirements of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
They agree that such a program should include equitable reductions in the use of water from both sides of the Continental Divide.
And they agree that the effort should start with a “voluntary, temporary and compensated” approach, with the goal of incentivizing irrigators to fallow fields and send the conserved water downriver to Lake Powell.
But where they differ is the potential use of mandatory reductions in water use if voluntary measures are not enough to keep Glen Canyon Dam operating as usual.
In a Sept. 17 letter to the CWCB, the Colorado River and the Southwestern districts said the state must declare that “Colorado’s contributions to the demand management program will be generated exclusively through voluntary, temporary and compensated contributions of water.”
The key word there is “exclusively.”
The two districts also said they were concerned “that a demand management program might morph into a mandatory ‘anticipatory curtailment’ program or something else that has not been publicly vetted.”
Meanwhile, the Front Range Water Council, which includes the biggest water providers from Pueblo to Fort Collins, told the CWCB in a Sept. 13 letter that if there is not enough water generated through a voluntary program, the state “may wish to pursue alternative measures to ensure continued compliance with the Colorado River Compact.”
To Western Slope officials, “alternative measures” sounds like mandatory “anticipatory curtailment,” where water rights are cut back by the state to avoid a compact call.
State officials continue to stress that the state is not developing a mandatory curtailment program and is only focusing on a voluntary program.
However, the Colorado River District’s Mueller has been telling Western Slope water managers that the Front Range, which uses large amounts of water from the Colorado River, is eager for mandatory curtailment.
“There are major water users, major interests in this state on the Front Range, who are talking about that,” Mueller said Tuesday at the water meeting, which was attended by about 200 Western Slope water managers and users. “Because they either don’t think we are going to get the money for a voluntary program or maybe they see advantages to be had in mandatory curtailment.”
But Jim Lochhead, the CEO of Denver Water and the president of the Front Range Water Council, on Friday rejected Mueller’s assertions that it was pushing for mandatory curtailment.
“That’s not our preference, that’s not our hope, that’s not what we want to see — it’s just reality,” Lochhead said. “It may happen. I hope it doesn’t happen. But it’s not something we’re rolling out, and the first priority should be voluntary, temporary and compensated.”
But he also said, “At the end of the day, if we’re in trouble from a compact standpoint, the state is going to have to exercise its authority.”
Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift newspapers on coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. The Glenwood Springs Post Independent also published it on Oct. 29. The Summit Daily News published the story in its print edition on Oct. 30.
Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River District, presented six principles last week to guide an emerging federal and state program designed to reduce water use in order to avoid a compact call on the Colorado River.
Mueller spoke at a seminar produced by the River District in Grand Junction that attracted 265 people. The theme of the seminar was “Risky Business on the Colorado River.”
The first two principles Mueller described Friday at the meeting relate to a legal bucket-within-a-bucket that the upper-basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming plan to create through federal legislation in Lake Powell, which would allow the three states to control water that they deliver to the big federal reservoir through a demand management, or water-use reduction program.
The River District’s first principle is that such a storage program in Lake Powell should be “free of charge” and designed “for the benefit of the upper basin to avoid a compact violation.”
The district’s second principle says water stored in Lake Powell from a demand-management program should “not be subject to equalization or balancing releases from Lake Powell.”
That principle stems from a set of interim guidelines approved in 2007 by the upper-basin states and the lower-basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada that seek to use water from Lake Powell, when it is at certain levels, to keep Lake Mead operational.
Mueller and other upper-basin regional water managers think the guidelines, which expire in 2026, now allow the lower basin to take more water than they deserve under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
Mueller told his audience that the demand-management pool to be created in Lake Powell is “for preventing lower-basin entities from sucking too much water down that river.”
So, the second principle is meant to protect the upper basin from the lower basin.
The other principles are designed to either protect the Western Slope from the state, which is discussing potential mandatory cutbacks in water use in order to avoid a compact call, or from the Front Range, which may support such a measure, according to Mueller.
The River District’s board members are determined to protect agricultural interests on the Western Slope, which use about 1.4 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River system every year, mainly for irrigating alfalfa fields and pastures.
By comparison, Front Range cities use about 360,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Colorado River Basin through their transmountain diversion systems, which are junior to the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
And if those cities have that water cut off in the face of a call under the compact, Mueller said they would come buy out willing irrigators on the Western Slope and dry up their fields.
The River District’s third principle is that any use-reduction program in the upper-basin states must be “voluntary, temporary and compensated” and “must reflect proportionate contributions from each upper division state.”
Mueller said the River District supports a “guided market” approach to paying water users to use less water and let it flow instead to Lake Powell.
“What we’re opposed to is some form of mandatory uncompensated curtailment of water rights, whether it is pre- or post-compact,” he said.
The fourth principle is that there must be “no injury to other water rights.”
The fifth principle is that there must be “no disproportionate impacts to any single basin or region with Colorado.”
Mueller said Friday that the demand-management program must “make sure that the pain that comes with the reducing consumption of water is actually equitably distributed and applied to all users, everybody with a straw in the river.”
Mueller explained that the post-1922 water rights in the Colorado River basin are roughly split equally between the transbasin diverters on the Front Range and users on the Western Slope.
“These junior water rights that are diverting significant amounts of water to the Front Range, along with our junior water rights on the West Slope, are the ones that need to be willing to share in this demand-management program, in the intentional reduced use,” Mueller said.
The sixth principle is that a demand-management program must be consistent with what’s known as “the conceptual framework” in Colorado’s 2015 water plan relating to future potential transmountain diversions.
“We’re not going to curtail our uses on the West Slope and send demand-management water down to Lake Powell, only to have another transmountain diversion come in and suck water to the East Slope,” Mueller said. “That’s what the state agreed to when it agreed to the state water plan, and we’re saying that needs to be upheld.”
Mueller’s last slide said “the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state engineer should agree to abide by these principles and not go beyond them without unanimous agreement among those entities charged with protecting the state.”
He plans to deliver that message to the CWCB when it meets Wednesday in Steamboat Springs.
On Tuesday, the River District also released a series of letters and a draft resolution on the issue, including a letter from the River District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District to the CWCB board, a draft resolution from the River District and Southwestern they want the CWCB to approve, a letter from the Colorado Basin Roundtable to the CWCB, and a letter from the Front Range Water Council to the CWCB.
The letter from the Front Range Water Council, an ad hoc collection of the largest water providers on the Front Range, was dated Sept. 13. It includes a reference to the possibility of a non-voluntary water curtailment program in the upper Colorado River basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
“If the quantity of conserved water made available through a voluntary compensated demand management program is not sufficient to ensure compliance with the Colorado River Compact,the state of Colorado and the Upper Colorado River Commission may need to adopt alternative measures to generate water for storage in an Upper Division storage account,” the letter states. “We will work with the state of Colorado to develop an alternative mechanism for generating conserved water for the Upper Division storage account.”
In its letter to the CWCB, the Colorado River District and the Southwestern River District, stressed the need for consensus, and their inclusion, on any sort of mandatory curtailment program.
“We are concerned about recent discussions that a demand management program might morph into a mandatory ‘anticipatory curtailment’ program or something else that has not been publicly vetted,” said the letter. “That is the reason we request that the CWCB adopt of (sic) formal resolution or policy-statement regarding a demand management program, and that the CWCB commit that such a program be consistent in particular with Principle 4 of the Conceptual Framework set forth in the Colorado Water Plan.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications outlets on the coverage of rivers and water.
FromAspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:
Two Western Slope water conservation districts are moving forward with the third phase of a “risk study” exploring at how much water might be available to bolster water levels in Lake Powell, and they are doing so without state funding to avoid Front Range opposition to the study.
Lake Powell today is half-full and dropping and water managers say several more years like 2018 could drain the reservoir, which today contains 12.3 million acre-feet of water. And the looming water shortage is revealing lingering east-west tensions among Colorado’s water interests.
Officials at the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District, whose boundaries include the Yampa, Colorado, Gunnison, and San Juan river basins on the Western Slope, are eager to answer some forward-looking questions.
How much water in a hotter and drier world might still be available from Western Slope rivers to divert and put to beneficial use, for example.
And how much water might be made available from current water users to send downriver from each of the major Western Slope river basins to help fill Lake Powell?
Those are sensitive questions in Colorado, on both sides of the Continental Divide.
And powerful Front Range water interests think the state should be answering them, not the two Western Slope conservation districts.
A state agency, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, approved a $32,000 grant in March 2015 to help pay for the first phase for the Western Slope’s “risk study.”
Then the CWCB kicked in $40,000 in March 2017 for the second phase of the Western Slope’s risk study.
But that second grant-review process brought opposition from the Front Range Water Council, which unsuccessfully sought to block the requested funding from the Western Slope.
“The opposition to Phase II of the risk study was focused on concerns related to the direction and management of the study coming solely from the West Slope without East Slope involvement, and being funded by the state,” said Jim Lochhead, the president of the Front Range Water Council and the CEO of Denver Water, in a statement released July 20. “Risks on the Colorado River are of statewide concern and any such studies are better conducted by the state, through its Colorado Water Conservation Board.”
The Front Range Water Council is an ad-hoc group that includes Denver Water, Northern Water, Aurora Water, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company.
The first two phases of the Western Slope’s risk study showed that 1 million to 2 million acre-feet of water from current water users may be needed to bolster levels in Lake Powell, especially if more water is also diverted to the Front Range.
Today, irrigators on the Western Slope use about 1.3 million acre-feet of water a year, while the Front Range uses about 541,000 acre-feet from the Western Slope to meet municipal and agricultural demand.
As such, officials at the Western Slope conservation districts are now asking if, say, 10 percent of that water use was cut back over time, in a voluntary and compensated demand management program, and the saved water was banked somewhere — ideally Lake Powell itself — would that be enough to keep the big reservoir full enough to still produce power at Glen Canyon Dam and deliver enough water downstream to the meet the terms of the Colorado River Compact?
And if it was enough, how much should come from each Western Slope basin?
On Monday in Glenwood Springs, Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, acknowledged that the 2017 funding request from the Western Slope “ran into a lot of political opposition from the Front Range, basically saying, ‘You guys are asking questions that may harm our state.’ And the questions that were posed in Phase II were essentially dumbed down in order to comply with that request so that we could get the [state funding]. So our board and the Southwestern board voted unanimously to proceed to fund [Phase III of the study] on their own.”
Mueller was addressing the members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable when he described the 2017 process. The roundtable, which reviews grants for the CWCB, had twice voted to fund the risk study, along with three other Western Slope roundtables.
And even without state funding, it’s still important to the two Western Slope conservation districts that the four Western Slope basin roundtables now conceptually support the third phase of the risk study.
On Monday, the members of the Colorado roundtable unanimously passed a resolution to that effect.
Mueller assured the roundtable members that the two districts will work to make the mechanics, and the results, of the evolving water-modeling tool available.
“We really want to make sure that what we’re doing is an open and transparent modeling process,” Mueller said. “Because we think that data that everybody can agree on is data that can then elevate the conversation with respect to the risk in the Colorado River.”
Mueller also told the roundtable that interest from the Front Range is welcomed during the third phase of the study, up to a point.
“We have reached out to the Front Range,” he said. “I went over to their joint roundtable in May and explained to them what we were doing and welcomed their participation, input, their views. Didn’t welcome their censorship, but welcomed their thoughts.”
Heather Sackett of Aspen Journalism contributed to this story. Aspen Journalism is reporting on water and rivers in the Roaring Fork and Colorado river basins in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other news organizations.
PUEBLO – A big question in Colorado is how much water is left to divert and use from the Colorado River before levels drop too low in Lake Powell to make hydropower and deliver water downstream. The answer to that question is of interest not only to water-planning roundtables on the west slope, but on the east slope as well.
Last week, three east slope roundtables, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas, chose members to sit on a technical advisory committee that is preparing a study on how much water is left to develop on the Western Slope while still keeping the Glen Canyon Dam functioning as it does today.
The roundtable members from the east slope are all senior officials at major water providers including Denver Water, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo Board of Water Works.
The level of officials eager to join in on what started as a west slope study of the issue is an indication of how important is the question, and the potential answers.
The west slope water study, known as the “risk study,” was originally conceived in December 2014 at a meeting of the four west slope roundtables, which include the Colorado, Yampa, Gunnison, and Dolores, San Miguel and San Juan (or Southwest) roundtables.
The west slope roundtables, especially the Yampa and the Gunnison, found they were not in agreement about future water development on the Western Slope, but they did agree on the need for more information.
“They needed to have a better understanding of what’s going on, on the river,” said Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District, during a Feb. 23 meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee in Broomfield.
The IBCC includes representatives from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables and serves as a statewide water policy advisory board.
Upon recently learning of the west slope study, the three east slope roundtables asked to be included, which the west slope then agreed to.
“We always intended that this would be open and transparent, and open to the east slope roundtables,” Kuhn told the IBCC members, explaining that the original plan was to invite the three non-voting out-of-basin members serving on the Colorado and Gunnison roundtables to participate in the study.
But those out-of-basin seats, originally set up in 2005, have fallen out of use on the roundtables, so it was agreed to ask the east slope roundtables to choose their own committee members.
And the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables each met last week and did just that.
The South Platte roundtable assigned three people: Kevin Lusk, a senior engineer from Colorado Springs Utilities and the president of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.; Jim Yahn, the manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District and a South Platte representative on the IBCC; and Jerry Gibbens, a project manager and water resource engineer at Northern Water.
The Arkansas roundtable also selected three members: James Broderick, executive director of Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District; Brett Gracely, manager of Colorado Springs Utilities; and Terry Book, executive director of Pueblo Board of Water Works.
And the Metro roundtable assigned four members: Mark Waage, manager of water resources planning at Denver Water, who is also an IBCC member; Joe Stribrich, planning director at Aurora Water and an IBCC member; Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority and Kerry Sundeen, a principal engineer and consultant at Wilson Water.
At the IBCC meeting on Feb. 23, Waage thanked the west slope roundtables for allowing east slope participation in the study.
“I think there just was a period of ‘what are they doing, what’s going on,” Waage said. “And the fact that you guys are open to including us is really helpful.
“We would really like to deal with this issue on a statewide basin if we can and in concert with the four other upper basin states,” Waage added. “The east slope feels pretty strongly that that’s our best position. And we ought to always seek that approach rather than a east versus west kind of thing.”
The Colorado River District is managing the study and is seeking state funding on behalf of the participants to help pay for it.
The four west slope roundtables each have approved $8,000 in state funding from their basin accounts, totaling $32,000.
The River District and the Southwest Water Conservancy District have each agreed to put in $10,000, for a total study cost of $52,000.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board is expected to approve the $32,000 in state funding at its next regular meeting on March 16 in La Junta.
Tied to framework
The main question the study will seek to answer is, “What is the likelihood of the elevation of Lake Powell going below 3,525 feet under selected water supply and water demand scenarios?”
The cited level of 3,525 feet in elevation is just above the “minimum power pool” level in Lake Powell of 3,490 feet.
If water levels fall below that, then the upper basin states will have trouble delivering enough water to lower basin states to meet their collective obligation under the Colorado River compact.
And a “curtailment” call could then come up the river and some of the biggest water providers on the east slope could be forced to stop diverting west slope water.
“We need to keep in mind that 20 to 25 percent of our consumptive use of Colorado River water is on the east slope,” Waage said. “The majority of those post-compact rights that would be curtailed are on the east slope.”
And that’s why the study is called the “risk study,” as in what’s the risk of triggering a compact call by taking more water out of the Colorado River?
Kuhn said the study is tied to point number four in the conceptual framework, which was developed last year by the IBCC to guide negotiations over a potential new transmountain diversion project.
Point four, as cited in the Colorado Water Plan, says that “a collaborative program that protects against involuntary curtailment is needed for existing uses and some reasonable increment of future development in the Colorado River System, but it will not cover a new TMD.”
In other words, before the state’s water sector builds a new transmountain diversion, it should figure out how it’s going to keep enough water in Lake Powell.
“Those are lots of variables here, so this isn’t a simple effort,” Kuhn told the IBCC about the risk study. “There’s hydrology, demand levels, what’s happening in other states. So you’ve got four or five different variables and there are lots of permutations of different outcomes.”
Kuhn said the study would build on information gathered as part of several other ongoing exploratory efforts.
One effort is a water banking investigation, now 10 years in the making, that is looking at ways ranchers and water providers could use less water in a drought.
An offshoot of that effort is an ongoing two-year “system conservation” pilot program to pay Western Slope ranchers and others to leave water in the upper Colorado River system to flow toward Lake Powell.
Kuhn said the exploratory efforts are important because “at some point in order to maintain reservoir levels in Lake Powell, in order to maintain the system, in order to accomplish framework point number four, which is to avoid a curtailment, we’re going to have to reduce our demands,” Kuhn said.
A third ongoing effort is “contingency planning,” which is studying how to use water released from federal upstream reservoirs, including Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa, to keep Lake Powell at a certain level.
“What this four-basin roundtable study will do is collect what we’ve done, and educate people on what it is we’re doing, and what the trade-offs are,” Kuhn said.
Jeris Danielson, the manager of the Purgatoire Water Conservancy District and an Arkansas roundtable member, asked Kuhn if the west slope intended to postpone discussion at the IBCC level of a new TMD until the risk study was complete.
Kuhn said the study should be finished by the end of the summer, and that it made sense to develop a common understanding about how the Colorado River works before talking about a new TMD.
“You’ve got to bring the experts, the people who work in this business, up to a common level of understanding before they can have a common platform to help educate everyone else,” he said.
Editor’s note: Aspen journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water in Colorado. The Daily News published this story on Monday, March 14, 2016.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Brent Gardner-Smith):
The Colorado Water Plan set to be released Nov. 19 will include a goal of developing 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage in Colorado and a corresponding goal of reducing water use in the state by 400,000 acre-feet.
“The gap between supply and demand that we are forecasting is 560,000 acre feet by 2050, and if you add up 400,000 acre feet in conservation and 400,000 acre feet in storage, we zero out the gap,” said James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which has been preparing the water plan for the last two years.
“And,” Eklund said, “while we are not saying which specific projects are going to have to come on line, we are saying that as an entire state we’ve got to work the problem of the gap from both the supply side and the demand side.”
Eklund said the goal of developing 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage by 2050 was realistic.
As examples, Eklund cited, without officially endorsing, the proposed Moffat, Windy Gap and NISP projects, all of which are under review and include expanded reservoir storage.
Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder, is proposed to be enlarged to hold an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water as part of the expansion of the Moffat Collection System.
The proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir, part of the Windy Gap Firming Project, would add 90,000 acre-feet of storage southwest of Loveland.
The proposed Glade and Galeton reservoirs, which are at the core of NISP, or the Northern Integrated Supply Project, would add 170,000 and 45,000 acre feet of new storage, respectively, near Fort Collins.
And the planned expansion of Chatfield Reservoir, south of Denver, of which the CWCB is an official sponsor, would add 20,600 acre-feet of storage.
In all, that’s 402,600 acre-feet of proposed additional storage on the Front Range.
“We think the projects on the books are going to get us most of the way there,” Eklund said. “So I don’t see the storage goal as pie-in-the-sky. And I don’t see it requiring some really big nasty project that somebody has been worrying about emerging.”
W. SLOPE NEEDS STORAGE
He also pointed to the growing potential to store water in underground aquifers near Denver as an additional opportunity. And, he noted, the Front Range “does not have a copyright on the idea of more storage.”
“The Western Slope needs more storage, too,” Eklund said. “They have gaps, municipal and industrial supply and demand gaps, just the like the folks on the Front Range. “
But the storage projects now in process may not be enough, or happen fast enough, for many Front Range water providers and planners, at least judging by the comment letters sent to the CWCB on the draft water plan by a Sept. 17 deadline.
Colorado Springs Utilities, in a Sept. 17 comment letter, told the CWCB it was “disappointed with the relative lack of discussion on storage” in the water plan.
“While we appreciate the plan’s focus on enlarging existing storage, we believe more attention should be paid to developing storage of all types, e.g., on-channel storage, off-channel storage, gravel pit storage, etc.,” wrote M. Patrick Wells, the managing engineer for water resource planning for CSU.
“The plan should include an affirmative statement that it is state policy to develop additional storage,” Wells said. “This cannot be stressed enough, and Colorado needs to do as much as it can to secure as much additional storage of all types within its borders as is possible.”
The city of Westminster, which sits between Denver and Boulder, “believes that many of the components of the water plan will be successful only if there is the political will to create more water storage, including identifying new storage locations, expanding existing storage and encouraging regional storage solutions,” Westminster Mayor Herb Atchison wrote in a Sept. 17 letter.
And John Kaufman, the general manager of Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves customers south of Denver, told the CWCB “more storage, particularly on the East Slope of the Continental Divide, is needed. And creative ways to bring more West Slope water to the East Slope should be explored in a manner that also benefits West-Slope interests.”
Kaufman also said in his Sept. 17 letter that the water plan “will not achieve full success if conservation is viewed as the keystone of the plan.”
While there is abundant enthusiasm for additional storage among Front Range water providers, there is less support for, and even belief in, the CWCB’s goal of conserving an additional 400,000 acre-feet, which has been dubbed a “stretch goal” during the development of the water plan.
Aurora Water, for example, questioned the assumptions used by CWCB in reaching its 400,000 acre-foot goal.
Joe Stibrich, Aurora Water’s water resources policy manager told the CWCB in a Sept. 17 letter he understood CWCB added up 154,000 acre-feet of potential “passive conservation” savings, 166,000 acre-feet of “active conservation” savings, and 80,000 acre-feet of “aspirational stretch” savings to reach its goal.
Stibrich said “additional work is needed to validate the numbers” and that it would be more useful to “define potential saving in a range” such as 320,000 to 400,000 acre-feet.
And he said CWCB should make sure people know its “stretch goal” is just aspirational.
“By its very nature, a stretch goal is aspirational and is not achievable under current policies and with existing technology and programs,” Stibrich said.
And the Front Range Water Council, made up of the largest water providers in Colorado, told the CWCB that reaching the conservation goal couldn’t be expected to come before new storage.
“The plan should reject the notion that project approvals should be contingent of first meeting any sort of conservation goals or targets,” the letter from the council said. “Passive and active conservation savings occurs over time as a result of technological innovation, education, market penetration and other factors and as a result, does not naturally lend itself to being ‘sequenced’ ahead of other water supply options. “
Burt Knight, Greeley’s director of water and sewer, bluntly warned against relying on conservation.
“We cannot conserve our way out of the anticipated gap, and the conservation mandates proposed in this draft could have a domino effect on our environment, our economy, our public health and our quality of life,” Knight wrote.
Offering another perspective, Richard Van Gytenbeek, the outreach coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project, said the state should go beyond the 400,000 acre-foot goal in the plan and set a goal of saving 460,000 acre-feet.
“A stretch goal, by its very definition, should be aggressive and go beyond what we know we can do using the types of strategies already in place,” Van Gytenbeek told the CWCB in a Sept 17 letter. “Colorado needs to be aggressive and discover how far we truly can go in water efficiency.”
And in addition to the full-throated call for more storage in the comment letters to the CWCB, there are also words of caution about new dams and reservoirs.
“Reservoirs can provide beneficial stream flows downstream, but they can also do the opposite,” said Ken Neubecker, the assistant director for the Colorado River Program at American Rivers, in a Sept. 14 comment letter.
While Neubecker concedes that additional water storage “must be considered,” he told the CWCB ”we must also recognize that politically such storage will be difficult.”
“It is easy for politicians and roundtables to demand more storage,” Neubecker said, “until they identify the specific ‘backyard’ they want to fill, the source they wish to deplete and the existing uses they intend to deprive.”
Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of water and rivers in Colorado. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.
Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water
Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir — Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call
Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE
Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Brent Gardner-Smith):
Letters sent to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in September about the draft Colorado Water Plan reveal a range of opinions about potential new transmountain diversions and the merits of using a “conceptual framework” to evaluate them.
Various Front Range water providers and interest groups told the CWCB that the conceptual framework should not be included in the water plan, should not be a regulatory requirement, and should not apply to transmountain diversion projects already in the planning and approval stage.
“Even with wording changes, the basin roundtables recommend that the CWCB not adopt the framework as it is a work in progress that may be modified as dialogue continues,” wrote the S. Platte and Metro basin roundtables, two of nine regional water-supply groups that meet under the auspices of the CWCB, in a combined Sept. 17 comment letter.
But a number of organizations based on the Western Slope or that focus on the Colorado River basin say the framework is a good step forward.
Officials at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado Boulder, for example, gave an enthusiastic endorsement of the framework.
“This is a revolutionary document and a quantum leap forward in Colorado water history,” Lawerence MacDonnell and Anne Castle, both of the Getches-Wilkinson Center, wrote in a Sept. 17 letter to the CWCB. “The conceptual framework is a critically important part of the Colorado Water Plan and should be formally adopted in the plan and by the CWCB, not just monitored.”
The final water plan is expected to be approved by the CWCB board of directors at their meeting on Nov. 19 at the History Colorado Center in Denver.
The conceptual framework includes seven principles “to guide future negotiations between proponents of a new TMD and those communities who may be affected were it built.”
The concepts covered include a recognition that there may not be water to divert in dry years, that new diversions should not increase the likelihood of a compact call from California, that municipal conservation should also be pursued and that environmental needs must be addressed.
Brent Newman, a program manager in the water supply planning section of CWCB, said Friday that the framework is going to be included in the final water plan and will be called “Colorado’s Conceptual Framework.”
“Folks may not agree with every single principle, or even with discussing the concepts of a transmountain diversion out loud, but it represents a historic milestone in Colorado water policy that’s a long way from ‘Not One More Drop’ or ‘We’ll See You in Court,’” Newman said, citing the long-held positions of the Western Slope and the Front Range, respectively.
RANGE OF VIEWS
Comments on the second draft of the water plan were due Sept. 17 and water-focused organizations filed more than 50 substantive letters.
It’s not hard to pick up on the differing views in the letters about the framework, which was developed over the last two years by members of the Interbasin Compact Committee, which serves as an executive committee for the CWCB’s nine basin roundtables.
Those who don’t think new transmountain diversions are a good idea tend to support the framework. But those who see new diversions as necessary diminish the framework’s authority and reject its potential restrictions.
Castle and MacDonnell of the Getches-Wilkinson Center clearly support the framework, but they see big problems with taking more water from the upper Colorado River basin.
The pair told the CWCB that “development of significant new Colorado River supplies increases the risk of future curtailment to all existing, post-1922 Colorado River water users, reduces the production of renewable hydropower at Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs, and could ratchet up unwelcome and counterproductive political dynamics among the Colorado River basin states.”
But officials at Colorado Springs Utilities, while aware of potential issues with downstream water users in other states, see new TMDs as a likely necessity.
M. Patrick Wells, the managing engineer for water resource planning for CSU, told the CWCB in a Sept. 17 letter that the draft water plan “consistently overlooks the fact that one or more new TMDs will ultimately need to be constructed to address Colorado’s water supply gap.”
As such, Wells said the final water plan “should contain a definitive statement that a new TMD will be constructed, even if no formal concept has been proposed.”
Wells also said CSU has “a significant concern” that adhering to the framework will become a regulatory requirement of new water projects.
The utility “strongly requests” that language be added to the water plan to “make it abundantly clear that the conceptual framework is not a statement of state policy, and is not in any way to be interpreted or construed as a basis for any conditions or requirements in any water court case, state or federal permitting process, or contract negotiation.”
The members of the Front Range Water Council agree with Colorado Springs Utilities on this point.
In its Sept. 15 letter, the council pointed to recent remarks about the framework made by John McClow, a CWCB board member from the Gunnison River basin.
“As board member McClow stated in his remarks at the summer Colorado Water Congress convention, the framework has no regulatory force or effect. Rather, it is guidance, the implementation and use of which will depend on the positions taken by the parties who engage in good faith negotiations on the construction of future specific proposed projects.”
The council includes Denver Water, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Northern Water, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo.
MORE WATER EAST
A few organizations have told the CWCB that the framework should apply to both potential new transmountain diversions and the “firming” of existing transmountain water supplies.
Today, about 600,000 acre-feet of water a year is sent east under the Continental Divide and over 500,000 acre feet of that is diverted from headwaters in Grand, Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties.
And another 120,000 to 140,000 acre-feet of water could be sent east after changes are made to existing transmountain diversion systems, according to the Colorado River basin roundtable.
Included in that 140,000 acre-feet figure is 20,000 acre-feet more from the Windy Gap project in Grand County, 18,000 acre-feet more from the Moffat Collection System above Winter Park, and 20,000 from the Eagle River MOU project, which potentially includes an expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir at the Climax Mine and a new dam and reservoir on lower Homestake Creek.
In addition to those, the water quality and quantity committee of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments told the CWCB that there are other projects in the works that could send more water east, including “future Dillon Reservoir diversions, firming in the upper Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers, and Colorado Springs Utilities expanded diversions from the upper Blue River.”
In the language of the Colorado Water Plan, these projects already on the books are called IPPs, for “identified projects and processes.”
The Pitkin County commissioners, in a Sept. 15 letter, told the CWCB that the county “wholeheartedly endorses” the framework but “strongly believes” the framework’s core principles need to be “expanded in scope to apply equally to the various IPPs that involve trans-basin diversions.”
The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, a tax-funded organization dedicated to leaving more water in the Roaring Fork River and its tributaries, feels the same way.
“The IPPs are the result of simple community canvassing to obtain information as to any potential plans or processes that are being contemplated around the state,” the board wrote in a Sept. 17 letter. “The IPPs have not been vetted and vary widely in size, impact and feasibility. “
SOME PLAIN LANGUAGE
Trout Unlimited, which has been paying close attention to the development of the water plan, said it supports the framework.
But it also gave the CWCB some plain-language criteria it thinks should be used to judge new TMDs.
“These transmountain diversions of water can cause severe economic and environmental damage to the areas of origin,” wrote Richard Van Gytenbeek, the Colorado River Basin outreach coordinator for Trout Unlimited, in a Sept. 17 letter to the CWCB.
As such, Gytenbeek told the CWCB it “should reject all new TMDs” unless the project proponent is already “employing high levels of conservation,” can show “that water is available for the project,” and “makes commitments that guarantee against environmental or economic harm to the basin of origin.”
The Colorado River District, which has board members from 15 Western Slope counties, said it supports the framework.
The river district’s general manager, Eric Kuhn, has been instrumental as a member of the IBCC in developing many of the framework’s key concepts.
“Admittedly, there are elements of the framework that we would prefer to edit but recognize there are others who would address those same edits in an opposite fashion,” the River District told the CWCB in a Sept. 17 memo.
However, the River District said the framework “represents a ‘way forward’ for constructive discussion about possible development of Colorado River basin water resources for out-of-basin use.”
1. East Slope water providers are not looking for firm yield from a new TMD and the project proponent would accept hydrologic risk for that project.
2. A new TMD would be used conjunctively with East Slope supplies, such as interruptible supply agreements, Denver Basin Aquifer resources, carry-over storage, terminal storage, drought restriction savings and other non-West Slope water sources.
3. In order to manage when a new TMD would be able to divert, triggers are needed. Triggers are operating parameters that determine when and how much water a potential new TMD could divert, based upon predetermined conditions within the Colorado River System.
4. A collaborative program that protects against involuntary curtailment is needed for existing uses and some reasonable increment of future development in the Colorado River System, but it will not cover a new TMD.
5. Future West Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a new TMD project.
6. Colorado will continue its commitment to improve conservation and reuse.
7: Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.
A group of Front Range water providers have told the Colorado Water Conservation Board to stop denigrating lawns and civic landscapes in the Colorado Water Plan, while at the same time, Western Slope organizations are telling cities to use less water to grow grass.
“Urban dwellers are entitled to a ‘reasonable recreational experience’ in the environment in which they reside,” the Front Range Water Council wrote in a Sept. 15 letter about the water plan.
“This includes adequate irrigation supplies for yards, public parks, recreation fields, open space, etc.,” the council said. “Many urban citizens, including those of limited economic means or physical limitations, or those who simply are not kayakers, fisherman, backpackers or skiers, engage in enjoyable outdoor recreational activities ‘in their own backyard.’”
The members of the Front Range Water Council are Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Denver Water, Northern Water, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the Southeastern Water Conservancy District and the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.
The deadline for comments on the draft water plan was Sept. 17. The finished document is to be released Nov. 19 at a CWCB meeting in Denver.
Colorado Springs Utilities also sent its own letter to the CWCB, signed by M. Patrick Wells, the managing engineer for water resource planning for the utility.
“Many city dwellers value their city parks, ball fields, and backyards just as much as the scenic rivers or bucolic valleys, and they enjoy their urban environment far more often,” Wells said in his Sept. 17 letter.
But Ken Nuebecker, the associate director of the Colorado river program at American Rivers, walked across the Front Range’s lawn argument in his own comment letter to the CWCB on Sept. 14.
“While parks, ball fields and the urban forest have their place, we need to make sure that these engineered areas, which can easily be rebuilt, are not ‘protected’ at the expense of far more complex rivers systems which are not so easily ‘rebuilt,’” Neubecker said.
But lawns can lead people to nature, and to rivers, Wells told the CWCB.
“How can we expect current and future generations of citizens in urban areas to understand or appreciate the value of locally grown food in the lower Arkansas Valley or the importance of healthy rivers on the West Slope if they do not have healthy, sustainable outdoor spaces of their own to first make a connection with nature,” Wells wrote.
Wells also said “there remains too much focus on curbing outdoor water use” which “currently accounts for less than 4% of Colorado’s total water use.”
However, Andre Wille, the chair of the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, suggested to the CWCB that healthy rivers may be a higher priority for many than lush lawns.
“Truly, no Coloradan believes our water supply should be satisfied by sacrificing our quality of life or the very natural environment that has brought so many of us here and supports at numerous levels our state’s vibrant and growing economy,” Wille said in an Sept. 15 letter to CWCB.
The dissing of summer lawns
Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead told the CWCB that the tone of the draft water plan was overly negative in regard to outdoor urban water uses.
“The assumption and tone of the plan that municipal use (particularly the roughly 3% of the state’s water use that supports urban landscaping) is somehow wasteful or less valuable than other uses of water needs to be removed and replaced with language that is respectful of all uses of water that are done in an efficient manner,” said Lochhead in a Sept. 17 letter.
Wells of Colorado Springs Utilities also said the tone of the first section of the water plan was “anti-growth and anti-city.”
“If the plan is to reflect the values of the citizens of Colorado, it must recognize and validate the values clearly espoused by the silent millions in the state who have voluntarily chosen the municipal lifestyle of single family residences with a reasonable amount of bluegrass lawn,” Wells wrote.
But the vision of a new wave of “silent millions” enjoying thirsty lawns on the Front Range creates apprehension on the West Slope.
The Roaring Fork Conservancy, which works to protect the heavily-diverted Roaring Fork River watershed, told that the CWCB that “outdoor water use is an area ripe for major conservation gains.”
“While Roaring Fork Conservancy doesn’t insist lawns are a thing of the past, local land use codes ought to mandate green infrastructure and water-efficient native landscaping in new development, and incentivize conversion for existing development,” said Rick Lofaro, the conservancy’s executive director, in a Sept. 17 letter to the CWCB.
And the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets in Glenwood Springs under the auspices of the CWCB, took an even stronger stance on suburban lawns and civic landscapes.
“It has been said that municipal outdoor irrigation is but three percent of the state’s water use,’ the roundtable said in its Sept. 17 comments. “Outdoor water use, however, is roughly 50 percent of municipal demands in the irrigation season. In totality, it is the municipal gap – most often described as 500,000 acre-feet — that is driving the water plan. A high conservation level closes better than 90 percent of the gap.”
Denver Water’s Lochhead comes at it from the other side of the fence.
“Denver Water serves almost a quarter of the state’s population using less than two percent of all the water used in Colorado,” Lochhead told the CWCB. “Even if we eliminated all outdoor water use (approximately half of our total water demands), we would only make a one percent change in the State’s water usage.”
Meanwhile, the Colorado River District, which represents 15 counties on Colorado’s Western Slope, acknowledged the Front Range’s sensitivity about its lawns and civic landscaping.
“The River District does not wish to ‘demonize, lawn grass, the district told the CWCB in an unsigned memo on Sept. 17. “However, outdoor landscaping is by far the greatest, single consumptive use of municipal water supplies. Accordingly, the plan must include specific, measurable goals for turf-related conservation.”
Lawns aside, more water
And while Front Range water utilities tend not to intertwine their defense of lawns with a call for new water supplies, most of their letters do include direct calls for more water storage projects – new dams and reservoirs – and new transmountain diversions.
The Front Range Water Council told the CWCB that the water plan must “emphasize the need for ‘new’ storage as well as the expansion of existing facilities, and the state must advocate for policies that advance this end.”
Denver Water’’s Lochhead said that “conservation alone will not be enough to close the gap. Additional storage will be required to allow us to manage water efficiently and for multiple benefits.”
And Wells of Colorado Springs Utilities told the CWCB, somewhat deeper in its letter than the section about the virtue of lawns, that “the final plan should contain a definitive statement that a new transmountain diversion will be constructed, even if no formal concept has been proposed. Any plan that fails to include a section on new supply development … cannot be considered a comprehensive, strategic vision for meeting Colorado’s future water needs.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on the coverage of statewide water issues and the development of the Colorado Water Plan. The Post Indy ran a version of this story on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2015.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A coalition of Front Range water utilities is calling in a letter for assurance that a new transmountain diversion project will be a part of a state plan aimed at filling the anticipated future gap between demand and supply.
That desire by the Front Range Water Council is unsettling others who question whether the Western Slope has any more water left to give.
The letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board was written by James Lochhead, chief executive officer and manager of Denver Water. Other utilities also on the council are Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.
It says that the planning process “should begin with an assurance, and not simply a hope,” that a new project involving Colorado River water will be a fundamental part of the package for meeting the state’s future water needs.
Roundtable groups around Colorado, including in the Colorado River Basin, are preparing proposals that the conservation board will consider in trying to come up with a statewide plan.
The Front Range Water Council’s concerns center on meeting notes from a March 17 conference call involving chairmen of the roundtable groups. The notes include a reference to a goal of giving water providers “an indication that there is hope for new supply” if the providers do their part. They went on to refer to various conservation and other milestones that would have to be met prior to an agreement for new supply being reached.
Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River Water Conservation District is chairman of the Colorado River Basin roundtable and sits on the Interbasin Compact Committee. He described the conference call conversation as a “schematic on how to talk about diversion, illustrating how the discussion might go” in the state planning process.
“It was purely contemplative but it had stuff in there that could be taken out of context and that’s what the Front Range Water Council got excited about … but they’re reacting to something that doesn’t exist,” he said.
That said, Pokrandt questioned how the utilities can expect a new diversion to be a sure thing.
“They’re looking for more than hope and I don’t know how there can be hope when you don’t know if there’s enough water, you don’t know if all the other conditions can be answered, if the public will go for it and finance it, if you can get permits,” he said.
Western Slope water officials long have worried that a statewide plan would simply be a means of paving the way for further diversions of water to the Front Range.
However, the Interbasin Compact Committee now envisions that the plan won’t identify a specific diversion project, but will lay out conditions under which one could be pursued.
In an interview, Lochhead said no one can currently say what a new diversion project would look like, where it would be located, or how much water will be involved.
“But we need to all agree that that is an option that needs to be secured and preserved and not just kind of put out in the future for some future discussion,” he said.
Pokrandt said he thinks the Colorado River Roundtable’s position will be that it doesn’t think any more water is available to support more Front Range diversions.
He said the group is willing to study the idea, but there’s no guarantee enough water exists for a diversion and the outcome can’t be preordained to meet the Front Range utilities’ desire for an assured project.
“I don’t know how you get more than hope with all the questions out there,” he said.
For years, the focus in terms of filling Colorado’s water gap has involved what officials call a four-legged stool involving conservation/reuse, completion of projects already in the planning process, transfers of agricultural water, and new diversions.
“That’s been the most difficult thing to talk about,” Pokrandt said of the diversion concept.
Said Lochhead, “The option of the development of that leg needs to be preserved.”
He said he thinks it’s premature for the Western Slope to say there’s no water available. New supply needs to be part of the strategy and there needs to be a discussion of how and when it should occur, and what the Western Slope benefits can be, he said.
Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca has been keeping an eye on what the Colorado River roundtable group has been preparing and thinks it is doing a good job of articulating the region’s best water interests.
That includes the possible conclusion about the lack of more water for diversions in part because of Colorado’s water obligations to downstream states under an interstate compact.
“I think the Colorado River roundtable really makes a good case,” he said.
He expects the water conservation board to receive conflicting plans from western and eastern roundtables.
“It’s going to be really interesting to see how the CWCB manages these diverging views as they integrate them together into some statewide water plan,” he said.
Lochhead noted that the letter he signed is from a group of utilities, and when it comes to Denver Water alone, it has a new agreement with Western Slope entities that would require their buy-in for any future diversions by that utility. He said it remains committed to that agreement.
But speaking for Front Range utilities more generally, “If the (Western Slope) position is there’s no water to be developed, what that says is there’s no room for discussion. We need to move beyond platitudes and politics and parochialism and move toward actual discussion,” he said.
At the same time, Lochhead conceded the potential for discussions to start to fall apart when parties start engaging in letter-writing.
Here’s the text from the recently approved draft of the white paper:
The Colorado River Basin is the “heart” of Colorado. The basin holds the headwaters of the Colorado River that form the mainstem of the river, some of the state’s most significant agriculture, the largest West Slope city and a large, expanding energy industry. The Colorado Basin is home to the most-visited national forest and much of Colorado’s recreation-based economy, including significant river-based recreation.
Colorado’s population is projected by the State Demographer’s Office to nearly double by 2050, from the five million people we have today to nearly ten million. Most of the growth is expected to be along the Front Range urban corridor; however the fastest growth is expected to occur along the I-70 corridor within the Colorado Basin.
Here’s an article about the white paper approved last week by the Colorado Basin Roundtable, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
“Don’t goddamn come here any more,” was the way Lurline Curran, county manager of Grand County, summed up the roundtable’s position just before the group voted to approve a white paper it has been working on for months.
“We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran said. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”
The actual paper crafted by the Colorado roundtable states its case in a more diplomatic fashion, but it is still blunt.
“The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states…
“There is going to have to be a discussion and plan for developing a new West Slope water supply,” the South Platte roundtable stated in a June memo directed to Committee.
Together, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables are pushing that discussion. They’re asking the state to preserve the option to build “several” 100,000 to 250,000 acre-foot projects on the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the lower Yampa River, and/or the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir…
On Nov. 25, the members of the Colorado River roundtable clearly wanted to inform the Committee that they don’t support the idea of new Western Slope projects.
Jim Pokrandt, a communications executive at the Colorado River District who chairs the Colorado roundtable, said the group’s paper, directed to the Committee, was “an answer to position statements put out by other basin roundtables.”
The Committee’s eventual analysis is expected to shape a draft statewide Colorado Water Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk via the Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 12 months.
And while there has been a decades-long discussion in Colorado about the merits of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the language in the position papers, and the roundtable meetings, is getting sharper as the state water plan now takes shape.
“It’s not ‘don’t take one more drop,’ but it is as close as we can get,” said Ken Neubecker, the environmental representative on the Colorado roundtable, about the group’s current position.
The paper itself advises, “the scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”
That’s certainly in contrast to the vision of the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas basin roundtables, which in a draft joint statement in July said that the way to meet the “east slope municipal supply gap” is to develop “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”[…]
The white paper from the Colorado roundtable states that “new supply” is a euphemism for “a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”
“This option must be the last option,” the paper notes.
Instead of new expensive Western Slope water projects, the paper calls for more water conservation and “intelligent land use” on the Front Range.
It goes on to note that Front Range interests are actively pursuing the expansion of existing transmountain diversions — many of which are likely to be blessed by the Committee because they are already in the works.
It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.
It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.
“Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.
Finally, the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”
More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
Front Range water providers will continue paying a consultant to look out for their interests on the Colorado River next year. The Pueblo Board of Water Works voted Tuesday to chip in $33,000 toward a $275,000 contract between the Front Range Water Council and Grand River Consulting Corp. of Glenwood Springs.
The water council includes the Pueblo water board, Denver Water, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., Northern Water Conservancy District and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Those organizations all import water from the Colorado River basin and collectively serve about 80 percent of the state’s population. Imports among all the groups average nearly 500,000 acre-feet (160 billion gallons) of water annually.
Among topics included in the contract are the continued study of a water bank that would protect Colorado River diversions from downstream calls, follow-up on the recently completed federal Colorado River water availability study, a recreation study and cloud seeding.
Last year, the water board contributed about $30,000 toward the consultant.
Click here to download the report from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Here’s the release from the Department of Interior: (Blake Androff/Kip White):
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced the release of a study – authorized by Congress and jointly funded and prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven Colorado River Basin states – that projects water supply and demand imbalances throughout the Colorado River Basin and adjacent areas over the next 50 years. The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, the first of its kind, also includes a wide array of adaptation and mitigation strategies proposed by stakeholders and the public to address the projected imbalances.
The average imbalance in future supply and demand is projected to be greater than 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060, according to the study. One acre-foot of water is approximately the amount of water used by a single household in a year. The study projects that the largest increase in demand will come from municipal and industrial users, owing to population growth. The Colorado River Basin currently provides water to some 40 million people, and the study estimates that this number could nearly double to approximately 76.5 million people by 2060, under a rapid growth scenario.
“There’s no silver bullet to solve the imbalance between the demand for water and the supply in the Colorado River Basin over the next 50 years – rather, it’s going to take diligent planning and collaboration from all stakeholders to identify and move forward with practical solutions,” said Secretary Salazar. “Water is the lifeblood of our communities, and this study provides a solid platform to explore actions we can take toward a sustainable water future. Although not all of the proposals included in the study are feasible, they underscore the broad interest in finding a comprehensive set of solutions.”
Authorized by the 2009 SECURE Water Act, the study analyzes future water supply and demand scenarios based on factors such as projected changes in climate and varying levels of growth in communities, agriculture and business in the seven Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.
The study includes more than 150 proposals from study participants, stakeholders and the public that represent a wide range of potential options to resolve supply and demand imbalances. Proposals include increasing water supply through reuse or desalinization methods, and reducing demand through increased conservation and efficiency efforts. The scope of the study does not include a decision as to how future imbalances should or will be addressed. Reclamation intends to work with stakeholders to explore in-basin strategies, rather than proposals – such as major trans-basin conveyance systems – that are not considered cost effective or practical.
“This study is one of a number of ongoing basin studies that Reclamation is undertaking through Interior’s WaterSMART Program,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle. “These analyses pave the way for stakeholders in each basin to come together and determine their own water destiny. This study is a call to action, and we look forward to continuing this collaborative approach as we discuss next steps.”
WaterSMART is Interior’s sustainable water initiative and focuses on using the best available science to improve water conservation and help water-resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand. The WaterSMART program includes Reclamation’s Water and Energy Efficiency grants, Title XVI Reclamation and Recycling projects, and USGS’s Water Availability and Use Initiative.“This study brings important facts and new information to the table so that we can better focus on solutions that are cost effective, practical and viable” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor. “We know that no single option will be enough to overcome the supply and demand gap, and this study provides a strong technical foundation to inform our discussions as we look to the future.”
Spanning parts of the seven states, the Colorado River Basin is one of the most critical sources of water in the western United States. The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to about 40 million people for municipal use; supply water used to irrigate nearly 4 million acres of land, and is also the lifeblood for at least 22 Native American tribes, 7 National Wildlife Refuges, 4 National Recreation Areas, and 11 National Parks. Hydropower facilities along the Colorado River provide more than 4,200 megawatts of generating capacity, helping meet the power needs of the West.
Throughout the course of the three-year study, eight interim reports were published to reflect technical developments and public input. Public comments are encouraged on the final study over the next 90 days; comments will be summarized and posted to the website for consideration in future basin planning activities.
The full study – including a discussion of the methodologies and levels of uncertainty – is available at www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy.html. Hard copies of the Executive Summary and a CD of the entire study are available at the Study booth in the exhibitors’ area during the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) conference in Las Vegas Dec. 12 – 14, 2012.
Here’s a release from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt):
Colorado River District praises the Colorado River Water Supply and Demand Study as a call to action
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – The Colorado River District commends the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study released today to the public as a thorough and detailed call to action for Colorado River stakeholders to address a gap between human and environmental demands on the river system and the amount of water it produces annually.
“The study confirms what we already understand: The Colorado River is already fully used,” said Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn. “In the very near future, the demand for the river’s resources will far exceed the available supply. In order to meet the needs of people and aquatic-dependent species and habitats, new ways of thinking and doing business will be essential.”
The study demonstrates that demands in the seven basin states and the Republic of Mexico frequently exceed the system’s estimated annual supply, a gap that is projected to widen to 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060 when the population that depends on the river system is estimated to double. (An acre-foot is a measurement standard for water volume. It is equal to 325,851 gallons, enough water to submerge an acre of land with one foot of water and supply the needs of two average families of four for a year.)
This prospect targets agricultural communities because large metropolitan areas often view irrigated agriculture as a source of water to meet future municipal demands. The study also demonstrates the need to find new sources of water from outside of the Colorado River Basin – a difficult, expensive and potentially contentious task.
The study analyzes various combinations of possible future river supply and demand scenarios.
Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact and the 1944 Water Treaty with Mexico, 17.5 million acre-feet of water was allocated for annual consumption. The Lower Basin (California, Arizona and Nevada) is apportioned 8.5 million acre-feet, the Upper Basin (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico) 7.5 million acre-feet and Mexico 1.5 million acre-feet.
When the 1922 Compact was negotiated, it was assumed that the natural flow (unused by man) of the river at the mouth of the Colorado River near Yuma, AZ, exceeded 20 million acre feet a year. Unfortunately, as the study shows, the natural flow of the Colorado River averages about 16.4 million acre-feet per year at this location.
“We are surviving the imbalance by drawing down storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The situation is complicated by the reality that the Lower Basin is using more than its share of the river, relying on surpluses and water that flows from the Upper Basin’s undeveloped share of the river,” Kuhn said.
The problems are exacerbated when one considers the impacts of climate-change. Under the study’s robust analysis of climate-change, the average natural flow of the Colorado River at Lee Ferry, AZ, (about 85-90 percent of the river’s flow originates above Lee Ferry) is projected to decrease to an average of 13.7 million acre-feet per year. This is a decrease of approximately 9 percent from the long-term average flow at Lee Ferry of nearly 15 million acre-feet.
Kuhn said that based on almost three decades of observations and measurement, 13.7 million acre-feet may be optimistic.
“In the last 25 years, the average natural flow at Lee Ferry has only been 13.4 million acre-feet a year,” Kuhn said. “In other words, the last 25 years have actually been worse than the average flow projected under the study’s climate-change scenario.”
The study points to the fact the Upper Basin is not fully using its compact entitlement and predicts that more water development will occur in the Upper Basin. However, Kuhn cautioned that the study also points to serious problems for the Upper Basin. Under the climate-change scenario depicted in the study, without additional action the Upper Basin may experience a future deficit of its compact obligation as often as one in five years by 2040.
“The Upper Basin is currently unprepared for this possibility,” Kuhn said. “To address an uncertain future, Upper Basin users will need to develop new risk-management strategies including improved aggressive conservation, optimal use of storage and water-banking options.”
Although the study is based on a solid technical platform, it is subject to significant limitations. It incorporates substantial assumptions and reflects a compromise of many legal and policy interpretations. Depending on how numerous issues might be decided in the future, the risks to the Upper Basin presented by overdevelopment and a reduced supply could be significantly increased.
“Planners should be cautious in using the study as a risk-analysis tool without further examination,” Kuhn said. “While many in the Upper Basin may believe that water remains to be developed, the reality may be that new development simply threatens existing supplies or that new development may only be available during increasingly rare wet cycles.”
Here’s a release from the Front Range Water Council via Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):
Colorado utilities respond to Colorado River Basin study
Dec. 12, 2012 – In response to the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study final report released today by the seven Colorado River Basin States and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/manager and chair of the Front Range Water Council issued the following statement:
“The water utilities of the Colorado Front Range serve 80 percent of the state’s population. Although we use only about 6 percent of the state’s water supply for municipal and industrial uses, a large portion of our supply comes from the Colorado River. As a result, we have a big stake in the future of the River and how we will meet the challenges of increasing population, long-term drought and climate change. We have been involved in Colorado River negotiations over the past few decades, and have closely followed Reclamation’s study process.
“We appreciate the resources invested by the Bureau of Reclamation and the basin states to study the Colorado River Basin. Overall, the study shows we have time to be thoughtful about the approaches we take to address future water shortages. Although the report projects potentially significant shortages for the Colorado River Basin as a whole, it is important to understand more specifically when, where and to what extent those shortages may occur. This will require detailed analysis of the study results and the implementation of a variety of responses. While this is a critical issue for Colorado, we have time to approach solutions thoughtfully.
“We don’t need to pursue drastic solutions in the short term. Instead, we believe the best approach is to work together as a community of seven states that share the vital resource of the Colorado River to discuss the right mix of measures to meet the challenges as they arise. We also believe Reclamation and the basin states can work within the framework of existing law and institutions to achieve solutions to secure the future of our water supply and future development of water for Colorado.”
The Front Range Water Council was created in 2008. Its members include: Aurora Water, Denver Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Northern Water, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company.
Together, FRWC members operate in more than 20 counties, manage 70 reservoirs, operate 15 treatment plants and maintain more than 7,800 miles of pipe. They employ more than 2,200 Coloradans, and the members’ combined annual operating expenses are more than $500 million.
The members’ water supplies are composed primarily of surface water from the Colorado, Arkansas and South Platte River basins, with the Colorado River Basin accounting for 72 percent of the total.
From email from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):
Time is Money Water
Conservation and Reuse Programs Outlined in Colorado River Basin Study Should Begin Immediately, Says Western Resource Advocates
BOULDER (Dec. 12, 2012) — Western Resource Advocates today called on the seven Colorado Basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation to get to work immediately on implementing conservation, reuse and efficiency measures outlined in The Colorado River Basin Water Demand and Supply Study (CRBS). The CRBS, released to the public today, includes several water conservation and efficiency measures that were agreed upon by all parties involved in the process.
The seven basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation agree that conservation, efficiency and reuse programs must be a significant piece of any strategy for meeting future water demand. The population in the West is expected to rise by 50% in the next 50 years; at the same time, Colorado River flows are projected to decline by nearly 10%.
“Some water conservation programs can be put in motion within a matter of weeks at virtually no cost,” said Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates. “Of course there are some programs that will require further discussion, but the states owe it to the public to press the ‘go’ button.”
Funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and seven Western states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming), the CRBS is the culmination of a two-year-long effort to consider future demand and supply scenarios in the Colorado River Basin. Western Resource Advocates and several other conservation organizations agreed with the basin states on many efficiency and reuse strategies that should be implemented immediately.
For example, local or state governments in the Colorado Basin could mandate that all new residential developments must be built with high efficiency (HE) showerheads, faucets and toilets. Many HE fixtures are priced in the same range as standard fixtures, so there would be no additional costs for homebuilders who need to buy new fixtures anyway. High efficiency fixtures can cut indoor water use by 50% compared to standard fixtures, and the conservation savings add up quickly. If 300,000 new homes were built with HE fixtures, the water savings would be enough to meet the needs of 60,000 people – all at no additional cost to governments, developers, taxpayers or ratepayers.
“The point of the Basin Study is to figure out how we can provide enough water for current and future residents,” said Beckwith. “The sooner we get moving on conservation policies, the sooner we can start chipping away at that number. Time is water.”
Western Resource Advocates has long advocated that water conservation and reuse should be the backbone of any plan for meeting future water demands in the Colorado River Basin, particularly in the face of Climate Change. The CRBS specifically notes that Climate Change is impacting future supply and demand scenarios, and agrees that water conservation is cheaper, faster, and easier to implement than building new pipelines from other states.
“Any plan for supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin needs to address the reality of water as a finite resource,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director for Western Resource Advocates. “We agree with the Bureau of Reclamation’s message to focus on ‘practical’ solutions. Conservation and reuse gets to the heart of the problem in a manner that building pipelines cannot, and it saves taxpayers billions of dollars.”
Here’s a release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ted Kowalski):
Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study Released Cooperative study assesses potential water supply and demand imbalances for the future of the Colorado River basin
The federal government and the seven Colorado River basin states today released the final results of the cooperative Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. The report evaluates the future reliability of the Colorado River system to meet increasing demands and outlines potential strategies for dealing with projected imbalances. The nearly three-year project began in January 2010 as a joint effort of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and representatives of the basin states.
Future demands on the river system are analyzed under six hypothetical situations, which include varying factors that will affect the system over the next few decades: population growth in the basin states, potential savings from conservation, and economic conditions in the watershed. Under these projected situations, the demand for consumptive uses in the Colorado River system is projected to range between 18.1 and 20.4 million acre-feet by 2060.
The projected supply of the river system is analyzed under four different supply scenarios, taking into account historical hydrological records and the potential effects of climate change. Under the demand and supply analyses presented by the study, an average supply imbalance of 3.2 million acre-feet per year is expected by 2060.
The study team reviewed approximately 160 options for dealing with the potential imbalances on a basin-wide level, submitted by participants, stakeholders in the system, and the general public during a general request for options between November 2011 and February 2012. These submissions were organized by the project team, and assembled into portfolios, representing a varied range of ideas and effectiveness for dealing with imbalances.
The basin states have committed to remaining within the bounds of the “Law of the River,” the evolution of management and cooperation for governance of this resource, and the path forward in consideration of this study will remain a cooperative effort. Director Jennifer Gimbel of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) said: “This study reaffirms the concept under which Colorado water agencies such as the CWCB and Interbasin Compact Committee have been operating: There is no silver bullet, or easy answer to the supply and demand imbalances on the Colorado River. The way forward is through cooperation with our neighbors, holistic management of the river, and a varied portfolio of strategies.”
Added Ted Kowalski, CWCB section chief, who served on the Basin Study Project team: “We’ve already been addressing these issues on a Colorado-wide scale, with projects such as the Colorado River Water Availability Study, and through the work of the basin roundtables. Now, with this basin-wide, cooperative effort, we can get a glimpse of the bigger picture, and begin to work towards planning for the future, with a well-informed idea of where we’re headed.”
From email from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):
Trout Unlimited: Study on dwindling CO River shows need for cooperation to protect angling, recreation: Trout Unlimited calls for creative partnerships to keep rivers flowing and healthy
(Denver) The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation today released its long-awaited Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, a multi-year effort to assess water availability and use in one of the West’s most important river basins. Trout Unlimited called the study a “wake-up call” on the need for greater collaboration on water management and river protection.
“In some respects, the study confirms what many of us are seeing on the ground—drought and changing climate are pressuring our Western rivers as never before,” said Scott Yates, director of TU’s Western Water Project. “We partner with ranchers and farmers along key Colorado tributaries, and it’s a common observation that we’re seeing shorter winters, earlier runoff, hotter temperatures, and lower stream flows during late summer, when crops and fish often need it most. We have to work together to find new, creative ways of managing our water if we want to meet diverse needs and keep our communities, economies, and rivers healthy.”
The BOR study specifically assessed water supply and demand, the ability to potentially balance such supply and demand, and system reliability. The effort included unprecedented river flow and use forecasting and modeling efforts for the Colorado River Storage System (CRSS) – one of the most complex and important federal water storage, delivery, and use systems in the country.
Millions of municipal residents in the West—both in cities and rural areas—depend on the river for daily water use needs, and ranches and farms throughout the seven Colorado River Basin States (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California) depend on Colorado basin water for their operations. The Colorado River is also a sportsmen’s paradise, with world-renowned trout fishing on popular stretches such as the Upper Colorado near Kremmling, as well as iconic fishing destinations like the Gunnison, Green (including the White and Yampa), Dolores, and San Juan.
According to Yates, “If we’re going to have less water because of changing climate—whatever the cause—we need to roll-up our sleeves, develop creative partnerships, and find long-term solutions that help ranchers and farmers upgrade aging infrastructure and improve efficiency while protecting and restoring stream flows and fisheries.”
Trout Unlimited, he noted, already partners with the Bureau of Reclamation and other federal agencies such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help bring innovative irrigation system upgrades to private lands, ranches, and farms—projects that also restore fragmented and depleted streams, benefiting trout habitat and fishing.
In a region known for its contentious water battles, the Bureau study emphasizes the importance of this emerging collaborative model—diverse stakeholders working together to manage finite water resources to meet the needs of agriculture, industry, towns and cities, and outdoor recreation.
“This is a model that works,” said Yates. “We’ve seen it work across the West in scores of successful win-win partnership projects.”
Trout Unlimited’s Dave Glenn grew up near the Green River in Utah, fishing and hunting in and along one of the West’s great rivers. He said that sportsmen are committed to helping find creative, pragmatic solutions, but they won’t back projects that needlessly destroy high-value fisheries and wildlife habitat.
“Outdoor recreation is a $250 billion a year business in the West,” noted Glenn. “The Bureau study should not be seen as a green light for unrealistic, expensive, and environmentally destructive projects that move water out of their basins of origin,” said Glenn. “TU and other groups have highlighted a range of cheap, pragmatic options—including conservation, reuse, and water sharing—that will meet water needs without sacrificing our rivers and outdoor heritage.”
He added, “Cities can’t meet their water needs on the backs of rural areas, drying up special places like the Green River, and potentially destroying fishing and hunting opportunities.”
“We’re entering an era of water scarcity and fiscal austerity—cooperation and partnerships have to lead the way,” said Yates. “The health of our communities, rural areas and economies flows from healthy rivers. We can’t take them for granted.”
Speaking at a Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar says the current water use trends are troubling.
“As a result of the projected population growth in the Southwestern states, and all of the states on the Colorado River Basis, and the reality of a changing climate, we’re going to be putting ever increasing demands on the Colorado River Basin.”[…]
Citing the many entities who rely on the river basin, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) urged all groups to respect the ‘Law of the River’ while addressing possible solutions.
“We must find creative and innovative ways to meet growing residential, agricultural and industrial demands for water. The report lays out a variety of options to address projected water shortfalls in the basin – shortfalls driven, in part, by climate change – and I commend the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven basin states for their work.”[…]
Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Jennifer Gimbel says all basin states remain committed to working within the law, but adds there is no ‘silver bullet’ to solving future demand shortages.
“The way forward is through cooperation with our neighbors, holistic management of the river, and a varied portfolio of strategies.”
While only six percent of the state’s water supply goes to Colorado’s Front Range utilities, a large portion of it comes from the Colorado River.
Jim Lochead, Denver Water CEO and chair of the Front Range Water Council says Front Range utilities will continue to have a large stake in the river’s future, as well as finding solutions that will address increasing population and climate change.
“We don’t need to pursue drastic solutions in the short term. Instead, we believe the best approach is to work together as a community of seven states that share the vital resource of the Colorado River to discuss the right mix of measures to meet the challenges as they arise. We also believe Reclamation and the basin states can work within the framework of existing law and institutions to achieve solutions to secure the future of our water supply and future development of water for Colorado.”[…]
Colorado. District General Manager Eric Kuhn says the study does include ‘substantial assumptions’ and possible conflicting legal and policy interpretations.
“Planners should be cautious in using the study as a risk-analysis tool without further examination,” Kuhn said. “While many in the Upper Basin may believe that water remains to be developed, the reality may be that new development simply threatens existing supplies or that new development may only be available during increasingly rare wet cycles.”
From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):
Demand for water will increase from an average 15.3 million acre-feet annually to between 18.1 million to 20.4 million acre-feet, according to the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. An acre-foot is the amount of water required to supply 2½ households for one year.
“It’s fair to say that the demand has already outstripped supplies within the lower basin,” said Ted Kowalski, section chief for the Colorado Water Conservation Board who worked on the study.
Kowalski explained that demand in states in the lower river basin exceeds their entitlement to the river’s water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact and Law of the River.
The nearly three-year study began in January 2010 as a joint effort of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and representatives of the Colorado River basin states.
A population in the basin states that could double to 35 million by 2060 will contribute to the increased water use and supply imbalance, Kowalski said. Additionally, climate change could lead to greater agricultural water consumption. Growing energy use also could stress water supplies.
A hotter, drier climate is worsening the imbalance between water supply and rising demand in seven Western states where 40 million people depend on the Colorado River, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Wednesday after completion of a three-year study. The study projects a future of falling river flows, shrinking snowpack, wilting crops and an intensifying struggle for wildlife. Millions of people would be affected by shortages, Salazar said.
“We are in a very troubling trajectory,” Salazar said in a phone conference with journalists and senior officials. “We need to reduce our demand. We also need to look at increasing our water supply through practical, doable, common sense measures such as reuse…
The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study concluded that climate change will reduce the long-term average of 15 million acre-feet in the river by 9 percent to 13.7 million acre-feet. It found that, within 50 years, the Western states’ annual water deficit will reach 3.2 million acre-feet — but could be as high as 8 million acre feet, depending on population growth…
Denver residents rely heavily on the Colorado River Basin for water, which is diverted under the Continental Divide through a system of tunnels to the city. Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead, who also chairs the Front Range Water Council, swiftly responded to the federal findings on behalf of metro utilities.
“While this is a critical issue for Colorado, we have time to approach solutions thoughtfully,” Lochhead said. “We don’t need to pursue drastic solutions in the short-term.”
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
The Upper Colorado River Basin — including Summit County — could see deficits in its compact obligation to deliver water downstream as often as once every five years by 2040, according to a massive new Bureau of Reclamation study released this week.
The study details a 50-year Colorado River water supply and demand outlook. Based on a combination of population growth and climate models that show a general drying trend in the region, the river could be short by at least 3.2 million acre feet by 2060, and perhaps by as much as 8 million acre feet, according to the Colorado River Water Users Association.
Like the Colorado River itself, reactions to a federal study on the future of the river released Wednesday range from placid to turbid.
Colorado’s water establishment says the state already is studying potential shortages, while environmental groups want to implement conservation programs now. The study projects imbalances between supply and demand on the
Colorado River basin over the next 50 years. Colorado officials hailed ongoing planning efforts. “This study reaffirms the concept under which Colorado water agencies . . . have been operating,” said Jennifer Gimbel, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Water interests within Colorado viewed the report differently. “We don’t need to pursue drastic solutions in the short term. Instead, we believe the best approach is to work together,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO, speaking for the Front Range Water Council, which includes the Pueblo Board of Water Works and serves 80 percent of the state’s population.
“The study confirms what we already understand: The Colorado River is already fully used,” said Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn. “In the very near future, the demand for the river’s resources will far exceed the available supply. . . . New ways of thinking and doing business will be essential.”
Environmental groups say solutions should be addressed with more urgency and conservation measures should be introduced as soon as possible. ￼￼￼￼￼“Some water conservation programs can be put in motion within a matter of weeks at virtually no cost,” said Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates. “Of course there are some programs that will require further discussion, but the states owe it to the public to press the ‘go’ button.”
The analysis lists a range of proposed solutions, including some that Interior officials immediately dismissed as politically or technically infeasible. Among them: building a pipeline to import water from the Missouri or Mississippi rivers and towing icebergs to Southern California.
But Salazar said a host of practical steps could be pursued, including desalination of seawater and brackish water, recycling and conservation by both the agricultural and urban sectors.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study, authorized by Congress, acknowledges the uncertainties in trying to project supply and demand over the next 50 years. Environmental groups, while praising parts of the report, said it overestimated population growth and thus inflated future water demand.
Water managers have known for years that long-term average flows in the Colorado are not as great as they were early in the last century, when the river’s supplies were divvied up among the states. Compounding that is a warming climate, which is expected to increase evaporation, decrease the snowpack and accentuate drought.
The report cites projections in previous studies that climate change could reduce flows from the upper Colorado basin by about 9%.
In conducting the analysis, the reclamation bureau worked with the basin states — Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — as well as agricultural, environmental and tribal groups and water agencies…
But environmental groups said those estimates were based on state projections before the Great Recession, noting that the real estate collapse popped the growth balloons in such cities as Las Vegas and Phoenix. “Some of these demand projections are absurd,” said Michael Cohen, who is based in Colorado and is a senior associate with the Pacific Institute, an Oakland think tank. He was nonetheless encouraged by the report’s discussion of the potential for conservation by cities and farms. “Those kinds of options are already in practice in the basin and they are cheaper and faster” than building major infrastructure projects such as desalination plants, he said…
The single biggest allocation on the river goes to California’s Imperial Irrigation District, which is fallowing some fields and selling water to San Diego as part of a pact orchestrated a decade ago by Interior. The transfers have been controversial in the district, and Kevin Kelley, the agency’s general manager, warned that carrying out such agreements can be tougher than planning them. He also worried that his district would come under pressure to make more transfers. “We don’t want to get into a zero-sum game in which one category of user wins and another, chiefly agriculture, has to lose,” he said…
Barry Nelson, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that with the report, the reclamation bureau — the traditional builder of the West’s biggest water supply projects — was entering “a new era in management of the Colorado River.” “They have painted a picture that is undeniable,” he said. “The history of developing new water in the Colorado River Basin is over.” [ed. emphasis mine]
Salazar, when pressed, did say options like huge diversions to the Colorado Front Range from the Missouri or Mississippi rivers or diverting water from the Snake, Bear or Yellowstone Rivers to boost supplies in the Green River generally won’t work…
“There are water import solutions that are impractical from a political and technically feasible point of view,” he said. Other options rejected include towing icebergs or big containers of water from Alaska. Desalinzation, however, is an option that has proven successful in reality at places like Yuma desalting plant in Arizona and should be pursued, he added.
Salazar noted that other proposed diversions from the Snake, Bear and Yellowstone rivers to boost the Green River’s flows are flawed as well, dousing any momentum that may have been building for the controversial “Million” pipeline touted to convey water across the Continental Divide to the Front Range of Colorado…
The report, which is open for comment for the next 90 days, was funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the seven basin states, including Utah. It was released on the kick-off day of an annual conference of Colorado River water users who are meeting in Las Vegas to discuss the report and challenges to the river…
“Shortages in the Upper Basin are a reality today,” the report said. “Unlike the Lower Basin, which draws its supply from storage in Lake Mead, the Upper Basin is more dependent on stream flow to meet its needs.” The report concedes the need for the Upper Basin to fully develop its share of the Colorado River, but development of that water further exacerbates the uncertainty surrounding supplies in the future. Farm land has already been rendered fallow so water can be transferred for urban use, the report said, but that practice has decreased food and fiber production in the Colorado River basin, which adds another layer to the problem…
“We support modern river management options that allow us to live within our means rather than taking water from another part of the country,” said Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director with The Nature Conservancy.
“We recognize that we must meet growing water demand needs, but we need to do so in a way that works for cities, agriculture, industry and nature.”[…]
Some organizations, including Protect The Flows and Save The Colorado, criticized the study, saying the federal government relied on inflated state and utility-provided numbers on population growth to pursue the feasibility of importing water from other regions.
Utah’s director of water sources, Dennis Strong, said the study amplifies the need to embrace regional solutions to a growing crisis that demands attention. The next step for the bureau is to host an extensive workshop in January, culling reaction from water managers, conservation organizations and policy makers who have reviewed the report. “The basin study is a well-thought out summary of water supply and water need in the Colorado River Basin. It is a call to action,” he said. “It tells us there are opportunities to enhance and stretch the river’s supply, but that ultimately the solution to our growing water need is bigger than the Colorado River.”
Utah’s fortunes, however, look brighter than those of the lower Colorado Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada that already are facing shortages, said Dennis Strong, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. The Beehive State has not used all the water allocated to it from the Colorado River, he said. And the 1922 Colorado River Compact protects that allocation. “The solution [for the lower basin states] is not to take water from the upper basin,” Strong said…
The findings were based on mathematical models that include drought and climate change, according to federal officials.
Status quo water management of the Colorado River is no longer sustainable. The study confirms that today, we are using more water from the Colorado River than the river provides. Without new strategies, over the long-term, if demand continues to outstrip supply, water stored in the basin’s major reservoirs will continue to decline and – inevitably – lead to major water shortages. The study suggests that there is no additional water to be developed in the Basin. This is not a new conclusion. However, coming from the Bureau of Reclamation, with its role as a watermaster on the Colorado, this conclusion carries special weight in the world of water policy. This new, more realistic estimate of the river’s long-term flow should play a central role in developing short and long-term strategies.
The Basin Study suggests that proposals to pump more from the river could, in reality, simply reduce someone else’s water supply. This stark conclusion highlights concerns regarding the reliability of the water supplies that would be produced by expensive proposed pipelines to pump more from the river, as well as potential impacts on existing water users from proposed oil shale development in the Upper Basin.
The Study suggests that, without a new approach, water users who rely on the Colorado River could face an aquatic version of the fiscal cliff. Far-sighted elected officials and business leaders should join water managers and environmentalists in calling for ambitious, economically-credible action in response to the study…
The study’s conclusions highlight the prescience of the California legislature in passing legislation in 2009 requiring water users to reduce reliance on water imported from the Bay-Delta (where climate change will also reduce future supplies) by investing in local water supply solutions. Those local solutions, which many cities are already pursuing, can help Southern California prepare for the emerging challenges on the Colorado and establish California as a Basin-wide leader…
Because the study effort was not designed to meet the needs of a truly healthy river, it highlights that the limits on water availability in the Basin have nothing to do with environmental protections. Those limits have to do with our current demand for water and the amount of water provided by Mother Nature. Ironically, by excluding the environment, the Basin Study highlights that water users should share the environmental community’s call for a new water ethic across the Southwest. Here again, this study can provide more common ground for finding solutions.
It’s worth taking a moment to put this report in the context of the long history of the Colorado River. In 1893, Major John Wesley Powell famously appeared before the Los Angeles International Irrigation Congress. Powell presented a counterpoint to those who promised limitless water supplies, calling for a different approach, grounded in science and decades of observation: I wish to make it clear to you, there is not sufficient water to irrigate all the lands which could be irrigated, and only a small portion can be irrigated….I tell you, gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict…
Finally – and most importantly – the Basin Study doesn’t lay out a process to reach agreement on that new approach to river management. The question facing all working on water issues across the Basin is simple. Now that the Basin Study is done, what comes next?
Without dramatic and wide-ranging action, population growth and climate change will overwhelm the Colorado River within 50 years. That was the warning from federal officials and water managers Wednesday as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released a first-of-its-kind forecast for the West’s most heavily regulated and relied upon river system…
Southern Nevada Water Authority chief Pat Mulroy said she is most troubled by the study’s projections for climate change, which could bring more frequent and protracted droughts to the Colorado. Those who share the river can plan for the demands of a growing population, but mood swings of Mother Nature are another matter, she said. “It underscores the need to start having the more difficult discussions … right now,” she said of the study. “We can’t wait.”[…]
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor said his agency has no plan to pursue a pipeline to the Colorado from the upper Missouri River though the idea did warrant additional consideration in the basin study…
What the study does is quantify the crisis the basin now faces, former Southern Nevada Water Authority Deputy General Manager Kay Brothers said. She said this marks the first time the Bureau of Reclamation has made long-range projections for the river using global climate change models.
Here’s a release from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Jeffrey Kightlinger):
Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, issued the following statement on the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study released today:
“The Colorado River Basin study provides the most definitive assessment of vulnerabilities and options to address the projected supply and demand gap that could develop on the river system over the next 50 years. Today’s release culminates three years of collaboration between the seven Basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation to examine options to meet the Colorado River’s long-term water demands.
“California has made significant investments to reduce its reliance on the Colorado River water, lowering the state’s river diversions by more than 500,000 acre-feet per year since 2003. Existing programs and agreements, for example, enhance conservation, increase agricultural efficiency and allow districts like Metropolitan to store conserved water supplies in Lake Mead. Eventually, additional projects and programs will be needed for all the Basin states to adapt to an uncertain future that includes climate change impacts. This study lays out a roadmap showing how Basin states can work with Reclamation to meet future water supply needs throughout this vital watershed that provides water to 30 million people and 4 million acres of some of the nation’s most valuable farmland. It also is a crucial step that will hopefully lead to additional partnerships with other Colorado River users to develop mutually beneficial projects.”
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies serving nearly 19 million people in six counties. The district imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies, and helps its members to develop increased water conservation, recycling, storage and other resource-management programs.
From the Family Farm Alliance (Dan Keppen):
The Family Farm Alliance today issued a public statement regarding the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) release of its Colorado River Basin Study.
“We applaud Reclamation and the Basin states for their collaborative effort that led to the completion of this important study,” said Alliance President Patrick O’Toole, who operates a cattle and sheep ranch located along a headwater tributary to the Colorado River. “A key overall benefit of this study is that, from now on, all Colorado Basin parties can work from the same technical foundation.”
The objective of the Basin Study is to assess future water supply and demand imbalances over the next 50 years and develop and evaluate opportunities for resolving imbalances. The study has been under development for nearly three years by Reclamation and the Basin States, in collaboration with stakeholders throughout the Basin.
Reclamation officials have emphasized that this is a planning study; it will not result in any decisions, but will provide the technical foundation for future activities.
However, Mr. O’Toole and other Family Farm Alliance representatives are concerned that virtually every scenario assessed by Reclamation shows a loss of Colorado River Basin irrigated acreage by the year 2060. The Basin Study assumes that irrigated acreage in the Colorado River Basin will decrease by 300,000 to 900,000 acres during the time period 2015 to 2060.
“Policy makers and Colorado River stakeholders must understand the critical implications of taking 6-15% of existing irrigated agriculture out of production,” said Mr. O’Toole. “We are already behind the curve when it comes to meeting the future food needs of the world. Every single acre of land that is taken out of production puts us further behind that curve.”
Last year, the Global Harvest Initiative released its Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Report, which quantified the difference between the current rate of agricultural productivity growth and the pace required to meet future world food needs. The report predicts that doubling agricultural output by 2050 requires increasing the rate of productivity growth by 25 percent – every year.
Irrigated agriculture is one of the largest economic engines in the Western U.S., according to the 2012 Family Farm Alliance report, “The Economic Importance of Western Irrigated Agriculture.” For a region that spans the 17 Western states, the total household income impacts derived from the “Irrigated Agriculture Industry”, made up of direct irrigated crop production, agricultural services, and the food processing and packaging sectors, is estimated to be about $128 billion annually.
And, perhaps the most striking economic fact centers on just how important domestic food production, especially food produced under irrigation, has been during the past 70 years for the average American’s disposable income. During the Great Depression, roughly 25% of an American’s disposable in and the Basin States are committed to the continued refinement of scenario planning as part of a robust long-term planning framework for the Basin. The Alliance believes that policy makers and elected officials must clearly understand the importance of Western irrigated agriculture and the impliccome was spent on food. In 2011, that percentage had dropped to 6.7%, the lowest of any country in the world.
“At some point, we’d like to see Reclamation or other water policy officials run another scenario in the Study: one that assumes that Basin irrigated acreage will not be diminished, and may, in fact, need to be expanded,” said Dan Keppen, Alliance executive director. “How would policy makers react if the projected impact was population loss, or a number of power plants or homes going without water in the future?”
The Family Farm Alliance is pleased that Reclamation and the Basin States are committed to the continued refinement of scenario planning as part of a robust long-term planning framework for the Basin. The Alliance believes that policy makers and elected officials must clearly understand the importance of Western irrigated agriculture and the implications associated with drying up land currently producing food, in the Colorado River Basin and elsewhere.
“What is the true cost to American security and the economy if we continue to take irrigated agricultural land out of production, especially in a region like the American Southwest, which is one of the few areas that provides a significant portion of our Nation’s supply of fresh fruits and vegetables during winter months?” Mr. O’Toole asks. “We cannot continue to downplay or ignore the negative implications of reallocating more agricultural water supplies from the Colorado River or other Western watersheds to meet new urban and environmental water demands.”
Reclamation will send representatives of the Study to participate on the Family Farm Alliance panel to discuss this topic at the February 21-22, 2013 Annual Conference in Las Vegas.
• $286 to rent two fans to keep participants cool during a lunchtime barbeque at what Utilities calls an SDS warehouse
Utilities defended the trip, saying the water tour gave participants an up-close look at the city’s water system that couldn’t be replicated with charts and graphs or in one day.
“Colorado Springs is not like cities such as Denver or Pueblo, which have local, in-town major waterways. Our community’s vast, complex water system includes 25 reservoirs and dams, more than 200 miles of pipes, four major pump stations, and facilities and infrastructure in 11 counties,” Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Lehermeier said in an email.
“The water tour gives leaders and officials first-hand knowledge of the massive work, equipment, facilities and people it takes to deliver water to Colorado Springs, as well as the ongoing construction of the Southern Delivery System,” she said. “It would be difficult to give people this level of information and insight in such an important investment using another forum. And despite all the talk of pipes and wires, a business, even in utilities, is about building relationships.”
The water tour started about 25 years ago, Lehermeier said.
The most recent tour cost $20,200, not $25,000 as originally reported by Utilities.
HR6060 would authorize the base funds of $4 million to the Upper Colorado and $2 million to the San Juan fish recovery programs. Revenues are generated through federal hydroelectric projects. All of Colorado’s congressional representatives, except Doug Lamborn, signed on to the bill as co-sponsors.
Pueblo benefits from the program because it has avoided environmental lawsuits which could affect imports of water from the Colorado River, said Alan Ward, water resources manager…
Pueblo annually contributes funds to the program, along with other large water importers — Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Twin Lakes, and the Northern and Southeastern Colorado water conservancy districts. Indian tribes and Western Slope water users also contribute to and benefit from the program. The funds help pay for water that is used to sustain flows for the fish and for things like fish passages, hatcheries, screens or habitat improvement projects.
More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.
Water supply planning requires forecasting demand decades into the future. The Front Range Water Council is wary of water requirements for oil shale — the “Next Big Thing” for over a hundred years now — since many of the water rights that oil companies have purchased are senior to most of the large transmountain diversion projects. Here’s a report from the Colorado News Service (Kathleen Ryan) via The Fowler Tribune. From the article:
Jim Lochhead, president of the group and CEO of Denver Water, says half of the Denver water supply comes from the Colorado River, and he’s worried that oil shale production could overtax the river’s resources. “We’re concerned that the BLM and the United States not go too far too fast in their leasing program, before really understanding and quantifying these impacts on the river.”[…]
According to a report from Western Resource Advocates, oil and gas companies hold some rights to Colorado River water which predate the rights held by cities for drinking water. The BLM is expected to have a new plan in place by the end of the year.
“We have to protect the water we have, as well as provide water for endangered species,” said Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “Oil shale development would involve intensive use of water, particularly for use in power generation.” Last month, the Pueblo water board and other members of the Front Range Water Council weighed in on the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental impact statement for oil shale and tar sands…
The Front Range Water Council includes the major organizations that import water from the Colorado River: Denver Water, the Northern and Southeastern Colorado water conservancy districts, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and the Pueblo water board. Collectively, they provide water to 4 million people, 82 percent of the population in Colorado.
More Front Range Water Council coverage here and here.
Here’s a guest commentary written by Eric Kuhn, David Modeer and Fred Krupp running in The Denver Post. The trio are issuing a call to arms of sort, asking for input for the Colorado River Basin Study. Here’s an excerpt:
Management of the Colorado River is a complex balancing act between the diverse interests of United States and Mexico, tribes, the seven basin states, individual water users, stakeholders, and communities. The challenges posed by new growth and climate change may dwarf anything we faced in the past. Instead of staring into the abyss, the water users, agencies, and stakeholder groups that make managing the Colorado River responsibly their business are working together, using the best science available to define the problem, and looking for solutions.
We’re calling our inquiry the Colorado River Basin Study, and we want your help. As Colorado River management professionals, we have a lot of knowledge and ideas, but we know that we don’t have them all. We want ideas from the public, from you, but we need your input by February 1. You can submit your suggestions by completing the online form at: http://on.doi.gov/uvhkUi.
The big question we need to answer is: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system? We don’t believe there’s a single silver bullet that will resolve all of our challenges. We want to continue to explore the benefits and costs of every possibility, from conservation to desalination to importing water from other regions.
The West was built on innovation and hard work, and that spirit is still strong. Our landscapes and communities are unparalleled in their beauty, resilience, and character. The economic well-being of our rural and urban communities in the Colorado River basin is inextricably linked to Colorado River and its environmental health.
That’s why we are asking for the public’s input to help us craft a study showing a path forward that supplies our communities with the water they need to thrive and protects the health of the Colorado River-and the ecosystems and economies it supports.
The major portion of the budget, $11.8 million, goes to repay federal costs of constructing the Fry-Ark Project, which includes the Fountain pipeline. Another $270,000 is revenue from state and federal grants.
The operating budget for the district is $5.1 million, with about 60 percent in the general fund, and 40 percent in the enterprise fund.
Of the $3 million district fund, $1.36 million goes toward personnel.
The budget also includes a capital expenditure of $850,000 as the district’s share for purchase of the Red Top Ranch near Lake Granby. That cost will total $1.7 million over two years. The ranch purchase is part of a plan by Front Range water users, including Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver, Pueblo and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, to provide flows for endangered fish species in the Colorado River. Participation in the program is a condition for importing Fry-Ark water each year.
The major project in the $2.1 million enterprise fund will be the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is preparing an environmental impact statement for the conduit.
More Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.
Aurora’s water rights include nearly all of the Rocky Ford Ditch in Otero County, about one-third of the Colorado Canal in Crowley County and water from 1,750 acres of ranches in Lake County. Those rights provide an average yield of 22,800 acre-feet per year — the equivalent of 80 percent of the potable water used by Pueblo each year.
– Aurora also uses the Homestake Project, Twin Lakes, Busk-Ivanhoe diversion and the Columbine Ditch to bring water from the Western Slope through the Arkansas River basin and into the South Platte basin. The average yield of those water rights is about 21,500 acre-feet annually.
– The city can reuse its Arkansas and Colorado basin water imports, and has built the $650 million Prairie Waters Project to directly recapture flows, rather than exchange them.
– Aurora’s South Platte water rights include wells, ranches, ditches and direct flow from the South Platte. They total about 46,000 acre-feet annually.
– Aurora has an agreement to trade 5,000 acre-feet of water a year with Pueblo West from Lake Pueblo to Twin Lakes beginning next year. It will replace a similar agreement with the Pueblo Board of Water Works that expires this year.
– The Pueblo water board sells Aurora 5,000 acre-feet of water each year.
– Aurora has a contract with the Bureau of Reclamation to store 10,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Pueblo and to move the same amount to Twin Lakes by paper trade.
– The water is moved from Twin Lakes to Spinney Mountain Reservoir through the Homestake pipeline system…
“We don’t have any current plans beyond what we’re already doing,” said Mark Pifher, director of Aurora water. “We don’t plan to buy or lease any more water in Arkansas basin in the near future.”
Instead, the city will continue developing Prairie Waters, a reuse project that pumps sewer return flows through a filtration and purification system, only at about 20 percent capacity so far. Aurora calculates that its average yield from its Arkansas River basin water rights is about 22,800 acre-feet annually. That’s roughly one-fourth of its total yield from its entire system, which includes South Platte and Colorado River basin rights. From a practical standpoint, Aurora does not move all of its water out of the Arkansas River basin each year.
Say hello to DefendTheColorado.org, a new website designed to connect interested people and raise awareness of the issues around transbasin diversions from the Upper Colorado River here in Colorado. Here’s a report from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:
For the Trout Unlimted Project, [Editorial Photographer and Videographer Ted Wood of Story Group, Boulder] brought in Boulder colleagues Beth Wald, a photojournalist who of late has been covering environmental and cultural stories in Afghanistan, and Mark Conlin, a seasoned underwater photographer.
“We launched the project as a way to get more visibility of the stream-flow issues on the Fraser and Upper Colorado,” said Trout Unlimited’s Randy Schoefield. “What we’re trying to portray is the community’s deep connection to the river.”
The Story Group plans to add more portraits to the website in coming days and weeks. Eventually, Trout Unlimited hopes to host public events that display the portraits as well as work by other photographers, granting a full sense of the river’s significance in Grand County and the consequences of further transbasin diversions.
Click on the thumbnail graphic above and to the right for a map of Denver Water’s collection system. More Colorado River basin coverage here.
Mark Squillace, Director of the University of Colorado Law School’s Natural Resources Law Center gave a talk examining policy and river management. “We’re at a unique point in our history where the amount of water that we’re using has caught up with the supply,” Squillace said. Better-than-average precipitation this in 2011 kept river levels up on the Western Slope, but Squillace says, “what we’re really talking about is managing risk. Whether you believe in climate change or not, we know that there are risks associated with water supplies. There are droughts that occur.”[…]
“New supply is an essential part of that problem,” he says. “There are two choices for new supply: Drying up agriculture or transporting Colorado River basin water to the Front Range.” His point was to get local water managers thinking about plans that they could impose before Front Range managers came to them.
The River District says the state’s population is expected to double by 2050, with the majority of people living on the Front Range. The organization says transferring more water from the Western Slope needs to be discussed, even if it’s not a popular topic in the Grand Valley. “It’s something that truthfully a lot of people (on the Western Slope) wouldn’t want to hear, but unfortunately the reality is, we have to at least go in that direction and try and understand it,” says Colorado River District public information officer, Jim Pokrandt.
“We included a 20-year lease-back so we could work on other options to sustain agriculture,” Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo water board, told a state Interbasin Compact Committee group earlier this week…
The IBCC subcommittee is looking at alternative agriculture transfers. The group met in Denver with the Front Range Water Council, which includes the state’s largest municipal water providers, and the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance, which encompasses the state’s major agricultural associations.
The Pueblo water board now owns 28 percent of the Bessemer Ditch, about 5,400 shares. The ditch is the largest in Pueblo County, and a major factor in the local economy. Other cities also are looking at maintaining the viability of agriculture in their neighboring communities.
“People in the cities are figuring out that they also need to eat,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…
“We have to make sure that agriculture doesn’t become a sharecropper,” said T. Wright Dickinson, a Moffat County rancher. “We could be entering a time where agriculture could out-compete the cities in terms of the economic value of water.”
Cities also have concerns about sharing the water. “I can’t make any long-term decision and a big investment up-front knowing that all I’ve got is a five-year water supply,” said Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water.
Meanwhile the Two Rivers Water Co. is busy buying up agricultural land and shares in the Arkansas River basin. Here’s a report from the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:
Two Rivers Water Co. says it has finished raising $5.25 million, allowing it to close on its purchase of 2,500 acres of irrigated farmland in Huerfano and Pueblo counties…
Two Rivers bought 91 percent of the Huerfano Cucharas Irrigation Co. last year and added the Orlando Reservoir to its water rights portfolio in February. It says will be able to store more than 70,000 acre-feet of water when its reservoirs and canals systems are fully restored.
More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Front Range Water Council coverage here.
“These two men have been committed to the sustainability of our City, while keeping the best interest of our residents and statewide partners at the forefront of their work,” Hancock said. “I believe they have earned the trust of the people and will continue to provide stable leadership during a critical time in Denver Water’s history.”[…]
Gougeon has been a commissioner since August 2004 and was reappointed in 2005. He is president of the Gates Family Foundation and a principal in Continuum Partners LLC, a Colorado-based development company known for mixed use and transit oriented “green” building projects. He also served as chief executive officer of the Stapleton Redevelopment Foundation, assistant to the mayor of Denver, executive director of a charitable foundation and was a research associate at the Denver Research Institute in community planning and natural resource economics.
Tate, once a candidate for mayor in 2003, has been a water commissioner since October 2005. He also is a former state legislator and a shareholder in the Public Finance Group at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig. He has served on the boards for the Colorado Bar Association, State of Colorado Banking Board, Cerebral Palsy of Colorado, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, Five Points Community Center and Metropolitan State College of Denver Foundation.
The Front Range Water Council is planning to hire Grand River Consulting Corp. for $600,000 over two years to work on Colorado River issues that affect the state’s largest water providers. The Pueblo water board’s share will be $36,000 each year, or $72,000 total. The board approved the contract at its Tuesday meeting.
The council represents Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Twin Lakes Reservoir & Canal Co., the Northern Water Conservancy District and Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Denver and Northern — the largest water providers — would pay 20 percent of the costs of the contract, while the others each have a 12 percent share. Combined, the groups provide municipal and industrial water to 80 percent of the state’s population, using about 6 percent of the total water supply. Agriculture still uses most of the water in Colorado…
Up until now, the council members have been relying on their own staff to provide input to state planning on Colorado River issues, but the tasks have grown so much that full-time staff is needed to work on the issues, said Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo water board…
Among the projects of the group are:
Day-to-day management of a technical work group among the members of the council.
A water bank study to look at how to prevent curtailment of municipal diversions in the event of a Colorado River call.
Input into nonconsumptive needs studies of the Colorado River, which are primarily driven by the state roundtable process.
Working with the Bureau of Reclamation on its Colorado River basin supply and demand study. The study is looking at water availability in all seven states.
A strategic plan for the Front Range Water Council.
Coordinating work with the CWCB, including the state’s ongoing Colorado River water availability study and compact compliance study.
The members will serve effective March 3, 2011, and the appointments are dependent upon Senate confirmation. The members appointed are:
· Russ George, Grand Junction (R), term to expire on 02-12-13
· Alan C. Hamel, Pueblo (R), term to expire on 02-12-14
· April D. Montgomery, Norwood (D), term to expire on 02-12-14
· Travis D. Smith, Del Norte, (R), term to expire 02-12-14
More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:
Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works, was appointed to the Colorado Water Conservation Board on Tuesday by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Hamel, who previously served on the board from 1994 to 1999 and was its vice-chairman, will represent the Arkansas River basin. Appointments are for three-year terms.
Travis Smith, superintendent of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, was reappointed to his third term representing the Rio Grande basin on the CWCB. Smith chaired the board in 2007-08…
“I look forward to moving the basin and the state forward. High in my priorities will be working on shared use of water to protect our part of the state,” [Hamel] added…
[Hamel] also is a member of the Front Range Water Council, a group of the state’s largest urban water suppliers who import water from the Western Slope.
Hickenlooper also named Russ George of Grand Junction to fill the term of John Redifer as the Colorado River basin representative. George was an architect of the Interbasin Compact Committee process while he was director of the Department of Natural Resources.
April Montgomery, a Norwood attorney, joined the CWCB in 2009 and was appointed to her first full term representing the Southwest corner of the state.
The Interbasin Compact Committee, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education hosted a summit for the basin roundtables yesterday in Westminster. Discussion centered around the IBCC strategy report drafted and sent to Governor-elect Hickenlooper last fall that identifies four approaches — conservation, alternative ag transfers, identified projects and new supplies — for solving Colorado’s anticipated water supply gap.
I didn’t make the morning sessions but Chris Woodka from The Pueblo Chieftain was there. Here’s his report. From the article:
[Governor Hickenlooper said], “The next four or five years . . . this is the point in Colorado history where we have a chance to get this done,” Hickenlooper told the Roundtable Summit. “We can find a long-term solution for the state’s water future.”
The summit is the first gathering of members from all nine basin roundtables formed as part of the Interbasin Compact Committee process in 2005. About 300 attended the meeting. Hickenlooper said the state should increase conservation, protect the environment, encourage agriculture and develop water supplies — all goals in an IBCC framework to deal with the state’s water. The state should cut red tape to allow water projects to move ahead and remain open to private investment.
The question of private investment was posed by Jeris Danielson, a member of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and a former state engineer. Danielson also is a consultant for Aaron Million, who has proposed building a multibillion-dollar pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to serve Colorado’s Front Range. “To solve the state’s water problems takes money,” Danielson said, and noting that state and federal governments are running low on cash. “Are you willing to work with private developers?”
“We have to be careful bringing in private capital as part of the solution,” Hickenlooper said. “I don’t have a problem with bringing private capital into the picture, but we need to make sure their goals line up with the state’s goals.”
Hickenlooper pledged to keep water funds whole with the entire state picture in mind. Water funds in the past two years have been raided to balance other parts of the state budget.
The group then broke up for table discussions facilitated by the IBCC members to brainstorm implementation of the IBCC strategy document.
At the concluding session IBCC Director, John Stulp, summarized some of the themes that came out of the table discussions:
“We favor keeping people from dying from thirst, we do not support lawn watering.”
“Some think that conservation should be mandated” (Stulp quipped, ” We don’t always agree on everything.”)
“How do we develop a water market?”
“Is there a need to increase infrastructure for both agricultural and municipal systems to facilitate alternative ag transfers?”
Stulp, farmer and former director of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, mentioned that he had recently read that civilization, “must produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 10,000 years.”
More coverage from The Denver Post (Bruce Finley). From the article:
“It doesn’t have to be a trade-off if we’re smart and figure out how to do this in an equitable manner,” said T. Wright Dickinson, a rancher on the 27-member board charged with finding a statewide water solution. Thursday’s forum of the Inter basin Compact Committee marked the first time representatives from nine river basins have confronted their task together in a process state lawmakers launched in 2005…
“We can obtain a fair amount of water supply from conservation and re- use,” said Mark Pifher, Aurora Water’s director and chairman of the Front Range Water Council. “But as a state we need to look at water available in the Colorado River Basin and develop it to the extent of our (interstate) compact entitlement.”[…]
Rod Kuharich, director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which represents 15 suburbs dependent on groundwater wells, said the goal would require “draconian” enforcement and said 300,000 acre- feet would be more realistic. “Is this really a role the state government should be playing? To control your water use? I fear trees dying,” Kuharich said. “When you start to limit the amount of lawn irrigation, the existing landscape is going to change. You’d need to provide a water source for those trees.”
During an afternoon session dealing with non-consumptive use a panel discussed successes that have been realized over the past few years. The big problem, according to Colorado Basin Roundtable member, Caroline Bradford, is quantifying the non-consumptive needs of wildlife and riparian environment. It will take time to do the science and there is not enough effort and funding, she says.
A representative from Colorado Ducks Unlimited spoke about recharge/habitat projects on the Lower South Platte River.
A project with the town of Brush for example, “Runs water to 600 acres of wetlands.” The Colorado Department of Wildlife leases the land from Brush, and, “We get a lot of Ducks off that property.” The cost per acre foot for Brush is around $17 he said.
Speaking generally he said, “Landwoners love it,” wetlands increase land value, create a better place to hunt and add a fair amount of ag production as well.
I’m not sure if any of the walls between basins are coming down but it is apparent that the roundtable members are more focussed on solutions rather than protecting parochial interests. It’s taken 5 years to get to this point and now they have 5 years to develop a plan to meet the gap.
Bump and updateFromThe Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):
Just five years ago, the east-west tension about water was so potent that no one could have contemplated such a gathering. But on Thursday, Gov. John Hickenlooper charged the water experts with developing a statewide solution that will overcome regional water conflicts. “This is the point in Colorado history when we have an opportunity to get this done, to actually have a long-term sustainable vision for our water,” Hickenlooper said.
Colorado never has had a statewide water strategy. Instead, growing cities buy water from farmers and the dry eastern side pumps it through controversial tunnels from the Western Slope. Most water experts agree that without changes, cities will dry up the farms and mountain valleys…
A statewide water roundtable known as the Interbasin Compact Committee released a controversial report in December that dominated Thursday’s agenda. The report calls for a greater role for state government in water policy, both in mandating strict conservation for cities and in speeding up the slow process of building major water projects.
Reaction to the report has been mixed. Some people complain the conservation requirements are not strict enough, while others say they are too strict, including a proposed new law that homeowners install water-efficient appliances before they sell their houses. People from Western Slope river roundtables have said that even if the state requires cities to pay extra for water transfers, no amount of money is enough to compensate for the loss of water, according to a written summary of comments gathered the last two months at public meetings around the state.
From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Brent Newman):
Notice is hereby given that the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will host a joint meeting with the Front Range Water Council on Monday, November 15, 2010, commencing at 10:00 a.m. This meeting will be held at Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District Office, 220 Water Avenue, Berthoud, Colorado 80513.
Notice is hereby given that a CWCB Public Rulemaking Hearing for proposed floodplain regulations will be held on Monday, November 15, 2010, beginning at 1:00 p.m. This Hearing will also take place at Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District Office, 220 Water Avenue, Berthoud, Colorado 80513.
Notice is hereby given that a meeting of the CWCB will be held on Tuesday, November 16, 2010, commencing at 8:00 a.m. and continuing through Wednesday, November 17, 2010. This meeting will be held at Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District Office, 220 Water Avenue, Berthoud, Colorado 80513.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
The reaction was harsh enough that a representative of Denver Water, one of the agencies that sought the study, said it seemed instead to undermine the main point the Front Range Water Council sought to illustrate: the interdependence of various regions in Colorado. The interdependence was “diluted” in the report, Greg Fisher, Denver Water’s manager of demand planning, said at the meeting of the Mesa County Water Association, which drew about 60 people.
Mesa County rancher Carlyle Currier said it was inflammatory, and Club 20 Executive Director Reeves Brown called the conclusion that the Front Range generates $132,000 from an acre of water compared to $7,200 on the West Slope “unnecessarily provocative.” “It exacerbates existing feelings” of distrust of the Front Range, Jim Spehar, a former Grand Junction mayor and Mesa County commissioner, said of the report. “What was your point? I think you shot yourself in the foot.”
The idea, [Greg Fisher, Denver Water’s manager of demand planning] said, was to show a different perspective than the way water issues are usually framed by suggesting that Colorado’s other regions — the eastern plains, San Luis Valley and central mountains, as well as the Front Range — benefit from a thriving Front Range economy…
Economist Paul Rochette of Summit Economics and the Adams Group, said the study was limited by the characterizations of available data, such as the economic value of feedlots in Greeley and wine sales in Denver that depend on Western Slope agriculture. “It can be very easy for one area to get credit for the foundational value of something made in another region,” Rochette said.
Here’s another good roundup of the shenanigans going on at the state legislature, from Marianne Goodland writing for the Sterling Journal Advocate. From the article:
The morning began with a presentation to the joint Senate and House committees on agriculture and natural resources on “Water and the Colorado Economy,” commissioned by the Front Range Water Council. (The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is a member of that group.) The study’s purpose was to illustrate the economic value of water, the economic interdependence of Colorado regions and the economic contribution of those regions to the state economy…
The committees also heard a presentation on the Colorado River Water Availability Study, a report that has been in the works since 2007. Jennifer Gimbel, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said that study is intended to evaluate water availability in the future. The study is broken into two phases. The presentation Wednesday was on the first phase, which looked at current water availability, historic water availability and future water availability based on climate models. The second phase, which will be completed later this year, is looking at projected demands and “what if” scenarios. The Phase I report will be available on the CWCB Web site, cwcb.state.co.us, in the next two weeks…
Many of the legislators in attendance are not members of the agriculture committees, and for some it was their first exposure to water issues. After the luncheon, Rep. Kathleen Curry, U-Gunnison, said there is a need for more education on water issues for legislators. (Curry was one of the state’s first woman managers of a water conservancy district, in Gunnison from 1998 to 2003.)
Click here to download a copy (pdf) of the report.
Here’s a look at the presentation at the Colorado Water Congress’ 52nd Annual Convention where the report was discussed, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:
A study by Summit Economics, working in conjunction with Tucker Hart Adams’ group, was commissioned by the Front Range Water Council to explain the relationship of water to the Colorado Economy. The council is made up of the state’s largest water providers, who are also importing most of the water from the Western Slope. Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Twin Lakes and the Northern and Southeastern water conservancy districts are members of the council. “The trade between regions operates like gravity,” economist Tom Binnings told the Colorado Water Congress this week, describing the report, Water and Colorado’s Economy. “The larger two regions are and the closer they are means the more likely they are to trade.”
So, in the solar system barnyard of Colorado, what results is a Jupiter-sized chicken surrounded by a bunch of smaller inner planet eggs. Well, OK . . . Binnings didn’t exactly put it that way, but chart after chart in his presentation showed how Front Range counties — the area used in the study stretched along the Front Range from the Wyoming to New Mexico — dwarf the economies of the Eastern Plains, Central Colorado, San Luis Valley and Western Slope. With 82 percent of the population and 86 percent of income, the change has been readily apparent in the past 50 years.
Perhaps the most alarming computation in the report was the economic output of a region divided by the amount of water diverted. By that yardstick, the Front Range showed a value of $132,268 per acre-foot, with Central Colorado (the Upper Arkansas Valley, Huerfano and Park counties) at $12,326, and the Western Slope at $7,200. The two areas most dependent on agriculture fell behind distantly: the Eastern Plains, $3,342, and San Luis Valley, $1,209. The study admits agriculture is more dependent on water for value, while other sectors of the economy use relatively little water for the value of their output…
Members of the Front Range Council on the Water Congress panel said the study brought home the idea of interdependence in the state. “We live in a great state with a strong economic base and a bright future,” said Bruce McCormick, water services chief for Colorado Springs Utilities. “The industrial and municipal uses have high productivity, but it’s not the intent of this study to put one use against another. Our planning has to include agriculture, the environment and the lifestyle. What we learned is that we’re more interdependent than we thought.”
“One of the reasons people come here are the things that occur in the areas outside the Front Range,” said Mark Pifher, director of Aurora water. “So, it’s all tied together.”
A study by Summit Economics, working in conjunction with Tucker Hart Adams’ group, was commissioned by the Front Range Water Council to explain the relationship of water to the Colorado Economy. The council is made up of the state’s largest water providers, who are also importing most of the water from the Western Slope. Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Twin Lakes and the Northern and Southeastern water conservancy districts are members of the council. “The trade between regions operates like gravity,” economist Tom Binnings told the Colorado Water Congress this week, describing the report, Water and Colorado’s Economy. “The larger two regions are and the closer they are means the more likely they are to trade.”[…]
With 82 percent of the population and 86 percent of income, the change has been readily apparent in the past 50 years. According to the state demographer, the Western Slope will grow faster than the Front Range in the next 40 years, but in sheer numbers, the Front Range will continue to put on more bulk and will still make up 78 percent of the population.
Perhaps the most alarming computation in the report was the economic output of a region divided by the amount of water diverted. By that yardstick, the Front Range showed a value of $132,268 per acre-foot, with Central Colorado (the Upper Arkansas Valley, Huerfano and Park counties) at $12,326, and the Western Slope at $7,200. The two areas most dependent on agriculture fell behind distantly: the Eastern Plains, $3,342, and San Luis Valley, $1,209. The study admits agriculture is more dependent on water for value, while other sectors of the economy use relatively little water for the value of their output. In Colorado as a whole, agricultural water diversions are 91 percent agricultural, and 7.5 percent municipal-industrial, Binnings said. That proportion is more or less the same everywhere, except in the Front Range counties where one-third of the water is now used in municipal-industrial operations…
The Front Range accounts for 85 percent of the state’s 1.1 million acre-feet of annual municipal withdrawals, with about 72 percent of that coming from the Colorado River basin…
Members of the Front Range Council on the Water Congress panel said the study brought home the idea of interdependence in the state. “We live in a great state with a strong economic base and a bright future,” said Bruce McCormick, water services chief for Colorado Springs Utilities. “The industrial and municipal uses have high productivity, but it’s not the intent of this study to put one use against another. Our planning has to include agriculture, the environment and the lifestyle. What we learned is that we’re more interdependent than we thought.”
It wasn’t always so but nowadays Colorado’s economy is centered on the Front Range. Here’s a report from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:
The report, titled “Water and the Colorado Economy,” was commissioned by the Front Range Water Council, made up of the major water suppliers along the Front Range between Fort Collins and Pueblo. The report will be formally presented to the Colorado Water Congress on Thursday, during its annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center…
The draft report indicated that the state might be able to get up to 900,000 acre feet of new water supplies from the Colorado River, and still meet its supply obligations to downstream states. But if climate change impacts are more severe, leading to less water tumbling down from high mountain snow banks, there might not be any extra water in the Colorado River available for the state’s use, according to the draft report.
“The Western Slope, we know the target’s on our back,” said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs. “The Front Range water users, they make a very good point. People have to live somewhere and work somewhere…
The Front Range Water Council’s report cost $62,400 and was divided among the council’s seven members — Denver Water, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company. The study was done by Summit Economics LLC and The Adams Group Inc., headed by Tucker Hart Adams, a former regional economist for U.S. Bank. Both companies are based in Colorado Springs…
For every acre foot of water withdrawn, the Front Range generates $132,000 in sales of goods and services. This is 11 times more than the next most productive region, which is the Central Mountains.
The Front Range Water Providers group – which includes the state’s major importers of water – suggested that urban water conservation is not a practical way to deal with water shortages. The Front Range letter says, in part: “20 to 40 percent demand reductions may necessitate major changes in land use, or significant alteration of most of the urban landscape.”
“We submit that it may be time for Colorado to balance the search for new urban water supply with serious research on such ‘major changes,’” [Roundtable Chairwoman Michelle Pierce] argued. “We recognize that such strategies are complicated, may be intrusive upon property rights and will involve the effective collaboration among many governments and water providers throughout the state. “The significance of such changes, however, may be no less than that of continued dry-up of our agricultural lands or additional transmountain diversions.”
The Gunnison roundtable also took umbrage with the idea that its agricultural lands are not threatened, as the Arkansas roundtable’s resolution implied. “Many agricultural landowners within basins on both sides of the (Continental) Divide have opted to engage in profitable transactions that are not tied to water supply strategies. The loss of agricultural land is not unique to the Arkansas Basin,” Pierce wrote…
According to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, 2,500-10,000 acres of farmland in the Gunnison River Basin could be dried up to meet future needs by 2030. In the Arkansas River Basin, 23,000-72,000 acres could be dried up.
Last year a subcommittee of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable presented a report detailing a blueprint for transfers of agricultural water to urban use. Chris Woodka (Pueblo Chieftain) has written a detailed analysis of the model’s application to current projects in the basin, well actually, the non-application of the model to current projects in the basin. From the article:
The roundtable, in its review of the report, was divided on whether it should have “teeth” or remain a voluntary document. Whether the teeth should be the sharp fangs of state enforcement or the grinding molars of county review was also debated. If the document remains voluntary, it could just be a set of quaint dentures on the shelf. At the Colorado Water Congress meeting in January a water project developer – Aaron Million, who wants to bring water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to the Front Range – asked a water provider who served on the roundtable committee – Wayne Vanderschuere of Colorado Springs Utilities – why the Front Range Water Council had not adopted the document. The council comprises the major importers of Western Slope water, including Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Twin Lakes and the Northern and Southeastern water conservancy districts. Vanderschuere said the report was too preliminary to actually be used…
[Last Wednesday the Arkansas Basin Roundtable]…talked about how to get more water from the Western Slope, how to increase municipal water conservation; how to protect the investment value of ag water rights; how to meet environmental, wildlife and recreation needs; and even why the impacts of SDS on agriculture were not more fully discussed. “We need to put in projects to give alternatives to water rights owners besides a sale,” said Beulah rancher Reeves Brown. All of those questions are addressed in the water transfers document, which was virtually ignored in the discussion…
Gary Barber, chairman of the roundtable and an agent for El Paso County water interests, said the way deals are going forward is like the situation described in the Tragedy of the Commons, a 1968 scientific paper by Garrett Hardin that dealt with population problems. Hardin basically described how unbridled self-interest could destroy a shared resource. “I think what’s happened is that the environmental and recreation communities have entered the conversation, and we have to find an equitable way to satisfy that interest,” Barber said. There are other efforts to incorporate outside interests, even those who may not know they have a stake in the decisions being made today.