Investment firms buy ag land within the boundaries of the #ColoradoRiver District

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The [Colorado River District], which includes Mesa County and 14 other counties and focuses on the protection, conservation, use and development of Colorado River water in western Colorado, long has been concerned about protecting the region’s agricultural sector. Now district staff are worried about a potential new threat to it, from investment companies buying water rights possibly as a speculative investment, and looking to profit later in deals that could lead to some local agricultural land no longer being irrigated and reverting to desert.

For the river district, the concern is keeping the Western Slope from eventually seeing the kind of widespread drying up of agricultural lands and withering of local farming and ranching economies that has occurred in areas of eastern Colorado over the decades as municipalities have bought up water rights.

District general counsel Peter Fleming addressed some of the acquisitions and their potentially speculative nature in a January memo to the board of the river district.

“For example, a New York hedge fund called Water Asset Management (through one of its many subsidiaries) acquired a 330-acre farm within the Grand Valley Project in mid-September 2017. While not a huge farm, that size is among the larger-sized parcels within the Grand Valley Project,” Fleming wrote in his memo, referring to the local Bureau of Reclamation irrigation project.

He told the board the farm’s associated historical consumption depends on numerous factors but could be about 840 acre-feet a year. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.

That New York City company paid $3.83 million to Gary and Christi Flynn to acquire the farm located along 18 Road, well-known as the main access road to popular mountain bike trails on nearby federal lands.

In his memo, Fleming also cited a purchase by Boulder-based real estate investment and management company Conscience Bay Co. of western Colorado, including the 1,450-acre Harts Basin Ranch near Cedaredge in Delta County.

“To our knowledge, the properties continue to be operated as they have historically and there are no current plans to change the associated water rights or move the water off the land,” Fleming wrote. “However, it is clear that increasing water demands, reduced supply, and the potential risk of compact curtailment have put a more direct focus on West Slope irrigated agriculture. Stated another way, reality has caught up with our historical paranoia about the acquisition and potential dry-up of West Slope agricultural rights for speculative purposes.”


“While speculation in land and water rights is nothing new, the recent acquisitions appear to be keyed-in on acquisition of pre-compact water rights to hold for the present time but sell to the highest bidder during compact-curtailment/administration,” Fleming wrote.

Fleming said in an interview that in Colorado, senior, primarily agricultural water rights would have priority in the case of curtailment. That makes those water rights attractive to water users with junior rights, such as Front Range municipalities, which might be able to continue diversions under junior rights under a compact curtailment while sending water associated with a senior right downstream to make up for it.

Another concern for the river district is the prospect of financial agreements being made where the water isn’t used for irrigation but instead flows out of state, perhaps to be stored in Lake Powell and held in a buyer’s account should something such as a drought or compact curtailment occur.


Perhaps contributing to the river district’s concern is the fact that Water Asset Management’s website indicates that the investment vehicle it used in the Fruita acquisition primarily acquires water resources at agricultural value, with the intention of later reselling those resources to higher-value municipal, industrial and environmental consumers.

Water Asset Management didn’t return calls for comment for this story, and the Flynns declined to comment.

Conscience Bay representatives plan to meet with river district officials this month.

“I do think that we will be able to satisfy them that we’re not a threat. In fact, we’re going to be a partner with them in trying to help solve water problems,” said Eli Feldman, the company’s president.

Conscience Bay paid nearly $8 million last year to acquire not just the 1,450-acre ranch Fleming referred to in Fleming’s memo, but also adjacent acreage that resulted in a ranch 3,200 acres in size. Conscience Bay also has owned a 600-acre ranch in the Steamboat Springs area for about a decade, besides having commercial property investments.

“We’ve never sold any water to anybody,” Feldman said. “We’ve never done any (water) transfers of any nature, really.”

He said water is only a secondary interest for the company’s agricultural investments.

“Our primary interest in these ranches is their agricultural value and long-term food production,” he said.

He said the people at Conscience Bay are long-term investors, and the long-term appreciation of ranchland and farmland combined with the return on investment from ranching makes it a competitive investment compared to other options out there.

The river district’s new general manager, Andy Mueller, said the district is looking forward to its upcoming meeting with Conscience Bay representatives. He said district officials recently “had a good discussion” with representatives of Water Asset Management.

“I can say that they are actively acquiring properties in the Grand Valley,” Mueller said. “They also say they are primarily interested in them as working agricultural assets.”

He said the company expressed interest in participating in a voluntary, compensated temporary fallowing program.

Feldman said Conscience Bay likewise is interested in exploring things such as temporary fallowing that could free up some water for municipal, fishery, environmental or other uses. He believes such programs would provide agricultural operators some valuable income, especially in dry years when farming might be that much tougher. In times when agricultural commodity prices are low, it could help preserve ag land that might otherwise be subject to buying and drying to meet municipal needs.

“If you can add a new source of revenue for that (agricultural) community I think it would be fantastic and allow them to really hold out for the long haul,” Feldman said.

Fleming said it’s important that any such approach occur in a limited, measured way that protects collateral local economic interests such as sellers of fertilizer, trucks and farm implements, and that lands aren’t taken out of production for good.

For now, Mueller noted, while fallowing programs are being explored, none is in place on a permanent basis in the region.

“We want to make sure that (investment companies) have the information that indicates that the legal structure to engage in those kinds of behaviors does not exist today and it may not exist in the future, but it’s being studied,” he said.

He said the river district hopes to continue to be engaged with companies like Water Asset Management and Conscience Bay and emphasize the priority the district places on Western Slope agriculture.

“Frankly, we would like to study their financial models and their methods of operation to verify that the goal is really the long-term preservation of our agricultural communities,” he said.

He said the district is hoping to understand what makes the properties being acquired appear to be good investments from a water standpoint. He said a concern is that “investors who are not agricultural producers themselves may drive an economic model that would require a higher or faster return than a very limited fallowing program that may exist.”


Meanwhile, there’s a question as to what degree water investors could engage in activities such as being paid to let their water head downstream. Physically, Grand Valley water not consumed could flow across the state line, Mueller said.

“The question is, legally, does that model work? There are lots of reasons why it probably does not. That’s something that we’re looking at very closely,” he said.

Lots of considerations come into play, from local ditch company rules to state water law, under which not using the water could lead to potential abandonment of water rights, something the river district also doesn’t want to see happen, Mueller said.

Mesa County Commissioner John Justman said that if the buyers of the Flynn farm want to try to sell the water for use somewhere else, they face the fact that Grand Valley Project water rights stay with the land and can’t be sold separately.

“I don’t know that they did their homework,” Justman said.

Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, which operates part of the Grand Valley Project, said that while Grand Valley Project water rights can’t be sold apart from the land, the river district is nevertheless raising fair questions about things such as what latitude people might have to make deals involving not using water and letting it run downstream.

“We’re encouraged and are pleased that the river district is looking at this issue,” he said.

The users association has been involved with the river district and other entities in a pilot program to evaluate temporary, voluntary, financially compensated fallowing by farmers as a means of helping bank water in reservoirs in case of drought. Proponents want to ensure that if such an approach is pursued on a longer term, other forms of water conservation also are pursued that target other water users besides agriculture.

Harris said the users association is “certainly interested, in the face of increasing drought, in the pressure that’s going to be put on agricultural water throughout the West.”

He said any consideration of water demand management in an agricultural environment is something to which the association has to pay attention.

“People are trying to think about the future, knowing that it’s not going to look like the past and that some of the solutions we’ve looked at in the past aren’t going to fix the future,” Harris said.

More about Conscience Bay Co. from Dennis Webb writing in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

The company last year bought the 1,450-acre Harts Basin Ranch south of Cedaredge, prompting the river district to wonder whether the purchase’s purpose was speculative, with the possible motive of looking to later profit on the ranch’s water rights in a manner that could mean drying up of agricultural land.

Feldman says the district need not be concerned (see main story) and that the principal reason for the investment is ranching.

Conscience Bay also bought additional adjacent acreage, resulting in a combined ranch size of 3,200 acres. Feldman said the ranch includes about 1,000 cows, and the company also has federal grazing permits in Colorado and Utah. Some six to 10 people run the ranch, which also includes a haying operation. Mark and Poly Hill, who have a ranching background in Grand County, are in charge of the ranch.

Conscience Bay is interested in joining in the discussion with the river district and others about concepts such as temporary fallowing to make water available for other needs in times such as droughts while keeping agricultural land from being permanently dried up. Feldman said his company has a strong conservation ethic. He now serves on the board of directors of the Western Resource Advocates conservation group, where he once worked, and he also enjoys outdoor activities like fishing and backcountry skiing.

Mike Higuera, who oversees the company’s investments in agricultural lands and its conservation work, previously was involved in land acquisition and conservation easement transactions for the Nature Conservancy.

The company is a Certified B Corporation, a certification that Higuera said is for companies that work to do good things for society beyond making a profit. The certification focuses on things such as how companies treat employees and give back to the community in ways such as charitable contributions.

The company is inviting the public to a meet-and-greet lunch at its recently acquired ranchland on March 17 in conjunction with Eckert Crane Days at Fruit Growers Reservoir, which is adjacent to the ranch. Directions to the ranch will be provided at the Black Canyon Audubon Society table at the festival.

Paonia Reservoir dramatic example of widespread water infrastructure needs — Hannah Holm

Paonia Reservoir

From the Hutchins Water Center (Hannah Holm) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

In the fall of 2017, workers navigated sloppy mudflats in the bottom of the drained Paonia Reservoir in an urgent effort to prevent catastrophe: a damaged bulkhead threatened to break apart and damage the Paonia Dam’s outlet works, which would have made it impossible to control releases from the reservoir. This would have made the reservoir useless for delivering irrigation water and for flood control.

A temporary fix for the bulkhead problem was completed within budget and ahead of schedule, but reservoir managers still face longer-term challenges with managing sediment and keeping the reservoir functioning to sustain North Fork Valley agriculture over the long term. Related challenges are shared by many other water managers in western Colorado as they try to maintain aging infrastructure and respond to changing social values related to water management.

The completion of the Paonia Dam in 1962 enabled the continued growth of agriculture in the North Fork Valley. A beneficial micro-climate makes the valley well-suited for high-value fruit orchards — as long as there is sufficient water. Prior to the construction of the dam, many crops failed due to demand outstripping the supply of irrigation water in late summer. The dam currently provides water to irrigate approximately 15,300 acres of land.

When the dam was constructed, on the aptly-named Muddy Creek, it had a 50-year “sediment design life.” The designers expected the reservoir to fill with mud and become inoperable before now. Current constraints on what to do next weren’t anticipated, however. We are no longer in an era where new reservoirs can easily be constructed to replace old ones. Even fixing up old ones is complicated by legal constraints that didn’t exist in 1962, such as the need to ensure that the work does not have significant negative impacts on environmental, recreational or cultural resources.

The question of what to do next, within current constraints, can’t be avoided much longer. The mud has come close to overwhelming the intake structure that controls releases to the stream below the dam and has reduced the reservoir’s active storage capacity from 18,150 acre-feet to about 15,000 acre-feet.

The total volume of mud is staggering: the creek has been depositing an average of over 100 acre-feet/year of sediment to the reservoir since its construction in 1962. That’s about one football field buried 100 feet deep accumulating every year — a lot more than a whole convoy of dump trucks could haul off and sell as topsoil.

Intake structure during construction in 1961. Photo Credit Reclamation.

In recent years, the dam has been operated to pass a higher amount of sediment downstream, but the net inflow is still higher than the outflow. Finding a way to turn that around will require design changes to the dam outlet works and operations and careful assessment of potential impacts downstream of different release scenarios.

While streams below dams have often been described as “sediment starved,” with long-term, negative impacts to channel structure and aquatic habitat, too much sediment at once or at the wrong time can negatively impact the bugs at the bottom of the food chain and ruin fish spawning habitat.

These are tricky challenges, which Bureau of Reclamation staff are wrestling with now. And whatever fix is found is unlikely to be cheap. Doing nothing is not really an option, however, either for the agricultural life of the North Fork Valley or, in the long term, for the environmental health of the stream.

The same can be said for many of our aging dams, diversion structures and canals across western Colorado. Some of these are decades older than Paonia Dam. Examples include ailing dams on the Grand Mesa, leaking ditches, and inadequate control structures.

Numerous projects to address these problems are included in the basin implementation plans developed by basin roundtables of water managers and stakeholders in 2015 as part of a statewide water planning process. However, funding to implement such projects in the future has come into question as state severance taxes on oil and gas development, which have long provided funding for water projects in Colorado, have diminished substantially.

As this year’s dry winter underscores how tenuous our water supplies can be, it is worth the effort to carefully assess all the water infrastructure we rely on and determine how we can maintain it and improve it to optimize the benefits from every inch of snowpack we get.

Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. Support for Hutchins Water Center articles on water issues is supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. You can learn more about the center at

#Snowpack news: Aspinall Unit operations update — 650 CFS in the Black Canyon

Looking downstream from Chasm View, Painted Wall on right. Photo credit: NPS\Lisa Lynch

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased by 100 cfs on Thursday, February 1st. Releases are being decreased in response to the very dry conditions and forecast for low spring runoff. Currently snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is at 64% of normal. The latest runoff volume forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir projects 420,000 AF of inflow between April and July, which is 62% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for January through March.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 650 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Billy Barr’s climate records are valuable to #ClimateChange researchers

Billy Barr photo via Sotheby’s

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins) via The Greeley Tribune:

[Billy] Barr began taking notes in 1974 out of boredom. Every day he would record the low and high temperatures, and measure new snow, snow-water equivalent and snowpack depth. Now he has stacks of yellowed notebooks brimming with a trove of data that has made him an accidental apostle among climate researchers.

“I recorded all this out of a personal interest in the weather. And because I’ve done it for so long, it has some benefit and some value. It wasn’t like I was some sort of forethinker, thinking ‘Oh, I’m going to write all this down and have absolutely no life whatsoever so I can stay here for 50 years,’ ” he says, tugging a gossamer beard dangling to his well-worn cricket sweater.

“Scientifically, my data are good because I had no goals, therefore no one can say ‘Well, you are just taking data to prove a point.’ It’s just numbers. I just wrote them down,” he says. “It’s the same person in the same location doing it in the same method, so even if I did it wrong, I did it wrong every single day for 44 years.”

He doesn’t necessarily analyze his data. But he’s seeing a trend: It’s getting warmer. The snow arrives later and leaves earlier.

Lately, he’s charting winters with about 11 fewer days with snow on the ground; roughly 5 percent of the winter without snow. In 44 years, he’d counted one December where the average low was above freezing — until December 2017, when the average low was 35 degrees.

More than 50 percent of the record daily highs he’s logged have come since 2010. In December and January this season, he already has counted 11 record daily-high temperatures. Last year he tallied 36 record-high temperatures, the most for one season. Back in the day, he would see about four, maybe five record highs each winter.

Barr’s data jibe with state and federal studies showing Colorado’s snowpack sitting around the third-lowest on record. Klaus Wolter, a University of Colorado climate scientist in Boulder, recently revised his seasonal outlook for Colorado noting a very low water content in the dismal snowpack, specifically pointing to a second-lowest snow-water-equivalent since 1981 in Barr’s Gunnison River Basin.

The second-year return of the La Niña weather pattern, Wolter wrote, “is playing out in typical fashion, leaving little hope for a recovery to near-normal snowpack or runoff in 2018.”

David Inouye, a conservation biologist who spends his summers at Gothic’s Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, has relied on Barr’s weather data in his study of the timing and abundance of wildflowers, which he began in 1973. He counts on Barr’s wildlife observations as well — a detailed daily analysis of bird and critter sightings that show marmots emerging from hibernation a month earlier than usual and robins arriving about three weeks early.

“Many of the researchers at Rocky Mountain Biological Lab in the summer are people (like me) who have made career-long commitments to work at that site, and Billy’s data help many of us to have a climate context for our observations,” Inouye says. “We’re fortunate, for many reasons, that Billy made a commitment to living in Gothic after experiencing it for a summer as an undergraduate student there.”


Last year a short film featuring his life and weather research — “The Snow Guardian” — became a hit on the outdoor film circuit. He loved the movie. It prompted a steady stream of visitors last season, which he also enjoyed, even though it disrupted his carefully constructed routine. The publicity not only elevated his research, but his undeniable observations on how things are getting warmer. He’s not particularly political, but he recognizes a need to act to preserve winter.

“Let’s say this warming, it’s not our fault but we go ahead anyway and clean up the air and clean up the water. What did we lose?” he says, sipping from a mug of tea. “Why wouldn’t we do something?”

New Addition to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Looking downstream from Chasm View, Painted Wall on right. Photo credit: NPS\Lisa Lynch

Here’s the release from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Sandra Snell-Dobert):

On December 27, 2017, the National Park Service (NPS) and The Conservation Fund finalized a purchase to add 2,494 acres to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Located near the visitor center and along the South Rim of the canyon, this addition to the park will provide access for additional recreation opportunities, wildlife habitat, and potential utility improvements in the park, which saw over 300,000 visitors in 2017.

The addition of this property, known as the Sanburg Ranch, will guarantee future access to the Red Rock Canyon area of the park, which is a destination for anglers and other backcountry users seeking a more gradual route to the Gunnison River. This acquisition will allow Black Canyon of the Gunnison to better preserve the viewshed from the visitor center and the popular South Rim Road, the main route through the park. The property also creates potential opportunities for NPS to provide water to the South Rim, reducing operational costs of hauling water to meet visitor and staff needs.

The NPS acquired the property from The Conservation Fund at the end of 2017, using funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The property is included within the boundaries of the 1999 legislation that created Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Established 52 years ago, LWCF is a bipartisan federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties—not taxpayer dollars—to protect irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities.

U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton (CO-3) supported Colorado’s request for LWCF funding and helped secure the Congressional appropriations for the program.

“Securing the Sanburg Ranch improves public access to some of our state’s greatest backcountry hiking and fly fishing,” said Bennet. “Not only will this purchase add to the experience for visitors from around the world, but it will also improve management and bolster the water supply in the Park. The use of LWCF funds to preserve public access and improve land management further highlights the importance of reauthorizing this program before it expires later this year. I look forward to returning to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with my family and exploring this new area.”

“This newest addition to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a great example of why the Land and Water Conservation Fund is so important to Colorado,” said Gardner. “I have fought to permanently reauthorize this program to ensure our public lands will be preserved for future generations. In this specific instance, the fund was utilized to purchase a new piece of land that will increase access to the land and the recreational opportunities it provides to Coloradoans and visitors from around the world.”

“Protecting Colorado’s natural treasures and pristine areas like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park continues to be a priority,” said Tipton. “I commend the National Park Service and The Conservation Fund for their commitment and hard work to ensure that sportsmen, hikers, campers and families will all be able to experience this magnificent natural area for generations to come.”

The NPS is currently working through how to process permitting and access to the newly-acquired land; no immediate changes are planned for the Red Rock Canyon Wilderness Permit lottery or access to the park from the Bostwick Park area. The former landowner will continue to hold grazing leases on the property for the next 10 years; the expiration of those leases will sunset grazing on this parcel.

“This addition to the park will improve access to some of Colorado’s most outstanding scenery, fishing, and wildlife viewing, boosting the outdoor recreation economy that the surrounding communities depend on,” said Christine Quinlan of The Conservation Fund’s office in Boulder. “Bipartisan support from Senator Bennet, Senator Gardner, and Congressman Tipton allowed this project to succeed.”

Montrose Board of County Commissioners Chairman Keith Caddy said, “This is exciting news for Montrose County residents. The addition of this property enhances the beauty and recreation opportunities of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for residents and tourists alike.”

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was first established as Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument in 1933 and was designated a national park in 1999. Known for the steep, deep, and narrow canyon carved by the Gunnison River, the Black Canyon exposes some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. The park hosts a variety of ecosystems from pinyon pine, juniper, and scrub oak forests at the rim, to the shady vertical canyon walls, and down to the riparian community along the Gunnison River.

The Conservation Fund makes conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense the Fund is redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, The Conservation Fund has worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect nearly eight million acres of land.

Aspinall Unit operations update: @USBR is drawing down Blue Mesa #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 850 cfs between Friday, December 1st and Saturday, December 2nd. Releases are being increased as part of winter operations to lower the level of Blue Mesa Reservoir nearer to the winter elevation target as well as managing releases with consideration to wintertime hydropower demands.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 1600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Water Update — Colorado Central Magazine

Roberto Salmon and Edward Drusina at the Minute 323 signing ceremony September 27, 2017. Photo credit .U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s my latest column for Colorado Central Magazine


Several tributaries of the Colorado River get their start in the crags of the Central Colorado mountains. Storied rivers: Blue, Eagle, Roaring Fork and the powerhouse Gunnison. They’ve all faced the footstep of humankind. The mines dotting the slopes, hay fields, ranching, orchards and cornfields bear witness and are now part of the allure of the high country. Folks cast a line, shoot rapids and enjoy the scenery of those waterways.

On September 27, 2017, the International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico inked Minute 323, the amendment to the 1944 United States-Mexico Treaty for Utilization of Water covering operations on the Colorado, Rio Grande and Tijuana rivers. (The Rio Grande is another of Central Colorado’s contributions to the Western U.S. economy.)

An important part of Minute 323 are environmental flows for the Colorado River Delta. Most everyone knows the river doesn’t reach the sea any longer. Environmental streamflow was initiated under Minute 319 signed by then Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar.

Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic

In March 2016 a diverse group of conservationists, biologists, irrigators and government officials effected a release of 100,000 acre-feet of water from Morelos Dam into the dry Colorado River Delta. There was a line of vehicles racing point to point along the river to witness the river’s front. At San Luis Rio Colorado, most of the residents went down to the river to celebrate the return of the river although many had no memory of running water in the sandy channel.

There was a great deal of success from channeling some of the streamflow to restoration sites in the Delta. Within weeks, new growth sprouted – cottonwoods and willows. Much of the diverted water served to replenish groundwater supplies. Wildlife immediately started using the habitat.

There probably won’t be a repeat of the Colorado River once again reaching the sea. The environmental flows in Minute 323 are planned to be set to work in the restoration of the Delta. It was great to see the river reach the sea but the conservationists want to concentrate flows like irrigators do for maximum yield.

Another feature of the deal allows Mexico to store water in Lake Mead to better manage their diversions for agriculture. The U.S. is also helping to rebuild and upgrade Mexican infrastructure. Under Minute 319, Mexico was allowed to continue storing water, and that water was used for the pulse flow. The idea is that greater efficiency in Mexico will lead to more storage in Lake Mead.

Currently, Arizona, California and Nevada are working on a drought contingency plan to stave off a shortage declaration in Lake Mead. Arizona’s Colorado River allocation takes a big hit under a declaration. Mexico’s water in Lake Mead will help. Negotiations about the drought contingency plan will now move forward with greater certainty with the signing of Minute 323.

The final signatures for the Minute came from Roberto Salmón (Mexico) and Edward Drusina (U.S.). There were several officials from President Obama’s administration in attendance, including Jennifer Gimbel and Mike O’Connor. The negotiations started before last year’s election but did not conclude before the inauguration.

Minute 323 is an important piece of the puzzle for administering the Colorado River.

Central Colorado is joined at the economic hip with the Colorado River. A lot of transbasin water flows down the Arkansas River from the Twin Lakes and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects. Some is pumped over to South Park by Colorado Springs and Aurora but most of it goes down to Lake Pueblo and the Fry-Ark partners. Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security pump some back north in the Fountain Valley. Cities along the river divert and treat the water for their populations. The water also is used to grow the famous crops in the Arkansas Valley: Rocky Ford melons, Pueblo chile, corn and others. Timing the releases from Twin Lakes and Turquoise Reservoir also contributes to the rafting economy. 100 miles of the Arkansas River are designated as gold medal fisheries. Transbasin flows help the riparian habitat.


• Comments about managing the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area are due by November 10, 2017. Check out the AHRA Plan Revision page on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website.

• Congratulations to Wet Mountain Valley ranchers Randy and Claricy Rusk for winning the Dodge Award for a lifetime of conservation from the Palmer Land Trust.

• Congratulations to the Colorado Parks & Wildlife folks at the Roaring Judy Hatchery for successfully spawning the line of Cutthroat trout rescued from Hayden Creek during the Hayden Pass Fire.

• James Eklund has moved on from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Becky Mitchell is the new director.

• Coloradans cam now legally collect rain off their roofs. Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1005 in May.

• R.I.P. Gary Bostrom. He was one of the driving forces behind Colorado Springs’ $825 million Southern Delivery System.

John Orr works for a Front Range water utility where he keeps one eye on the sky to monitor Colorado snowpack. He covers Colorado water issues at Coyote Gulch ( and on Twitter @CoyoteGulch.

Martha Gomez-Sapiens, a monitoring team member and postdoctoral research associate in the UA Department of Geosciences, stands on a riverbank next to willows and cottonwoods that germinated as a result of the pulse flow. (Photo: Karl W. Flessa/UA Department of Geosciences)