The CWCB Confluence — @CWCB_DNR @ColoradoWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

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

Colorado’s Water Plan turned one year old in November.
This CWCB Confluence issue is dedicated to celebrating the work of Coloradans across the state to implement the plan and ensure that the state’s most valuable resource is protected and available for generations to come.

#COWaterPlan: Coalition embarks on Blue River efficiency project — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Blue River
Blue River

From The Sky-Hi Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

Efforts continue throughout Colorado with implementation of the one-year-old state water plan, and Summit County is trying to do its part.

A countywide push led by the town of Frisco and the High County Conservation Center (HC3) recently garnered a $94,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to move forward with a comprehensive Blue River watershed efficiency-planning project. The regional venture, scheduled to start in January 2017, has a total budget of $162,500, and matching cash and in-kind labor contributions from each of the county’s major municipal water providers make up the difference…

The Blue River itself acts as a source for drinking water and agricultural irrigation to Summit’s 29,000 year-round population, not to mention the countless visitors who spend time on the water body each year for recreation. Projections suggest the local population will increase by at least 5 percent over the next decade, meaning the need to conserve and discover additional efficiencies is one of the more painless ways to get ready for the additional ask.

“Water doesn’t recognize geopolitical boundaries, so it’s important we work as a watershed to accomplish some really good water conservation goals,” said Frisco Councilwoman Jessica Burley, who is also HC3’s community programs manager. “The state has set some interesting water goals, and it’s our job to go forth and conquer from a regional perspective. With these initiatives and this plan, hopefully we will make an impact on the Colorado River basin.”

[…]

The statewide plan calls for 400,000 acre-feet of new storage and that same total in conservation from urban areas. An acre-foot is the U.S. standard measurement for water bodies and equates to about 326,000 gallons. Sharing 50,000 acre-feet of water possessed by agriculture based on senior rights through alternative methods is another facet of the state plan.

Thus far, the execution of much of the lofty benchmarks has been sluggish, in part due to a lack of funding. It’s why obtaining dollars from the state for such municipal projects is so important. Not only does it provide capital at present while the research is done, but the initial approval also offers eligibility for future grants and loans. Without an CWCB-endorsed efficiency plan in place, funds are otherwise not available.

Mimicking a model previously created by the Roaring Fork Valley, Summit’s Blue River planning enterprise is backed by Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper Mountain Metro, Dillon, Silverthorne, as well as Summit County government — “So we all have a little skin in the game, so to speak,” said Burley — with the primary objective of reducing water consumption by a measurable amount in the next few years. The consortium anticipates a 14-month investigation and review process, followed by some potential actionable items, such as leak detection and repairs, education and outdoor watering mandates, as soon as a year after that.

“This is the first step into bringing the Colorado Water Plan to fruition,” explained Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a public policy agency in charge of protecting the named basin. “Part of being more water efficient is finding those leaks and stopping them. That’s efficiency at a systematic level, then it drills down to the retail level with things like lawn irrigation, efficient appliances and efficient spigots and showerheads.”

If it’s to be successful, putting the ambitious state plan into practice will ultimately fall more on the shoulders of each local community and watershed, he added, rather than through commands dictated at the state level. And that’s a summons Summit County leadership recognizes and is attempting to embrace one year later.

#COWaterPlan celebrates one year anniversary — #Colorado Independent

coloradowaterplanexecutivesummaryfinal112015

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

In the year since Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board released a much-ballyhooed plan to grapple with a looming water shortage, a critical question remains: How to come up with the estimated $20 billion to pay for it?

“Money is a key part of making this work,” said Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program Director for the conservation group Western Resource Advocates.

The state’s share is expected to be about $3 billion, or about $100 million per year, beginning in 2020. The rest will come from local and regional water providers, who will pass on the costs to you through higher rates.

The water plan, adopted last November, seeks to head off the looming water shortage created by Colorado’s population boom. In 2050, the state’s population is expected to hit roughly 11 million, double what it is now. The water conservation board projects that demand will outstrip supply by about one million acre-feet of water per year, or enough water to satisfy four million families in Denver.

When Hickenlooper ordered the plan in 2013, he said “every conversation about water needs to start with conservation.” That’s among the two biggest goals of the plan: to ask Coloradans to conserve about 400,000 acre-feet of water per year. The second lofty goal is about storage – either above-ground reservoirs or refilling aquifers, especially in the Front Range – and that goal is also 400,000 acre-feet of water per year. An acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to cover Mile High Stadium from endzone to endzone with one foot of water.

The plan also aims to align water conservation with land-use planning, and calls for sharing of agricultural water and greater protection of watersheds.

The $20-billion cost of the plan is its biggest hurdle. In the plan’s first year, the state was able to invest about one-tenth of one percent of that, about $18 million, in various projects. The state also loaned $90 million to help a water storage project get off the ground near Loveland.

But, it’s not at all clear whether the state will be able to continue to raise even that much money in the short-term future. The General Assembly is tapping severance taxes to cover costs of projects related to the water plan, and that money stream, too, has gone from a stream to a trickle due to the slump in oil and gas, coal and mineral industries.

With the oil and gas industry struggling, it’s difficult for the water conservation board to figure out how to keep the water plan going “at high gear,” former Speaker of the House Russ George of Rifle and water conservation board chair told The Colorado Independent. What’s needed most is a predictable forecast of revenues in order to plan the projects that will solve the problems, he said. That’s just not something that’s possible right now with severance tax revenues and that makes paying for the water plan “risky these days,” he said.

The magnitude of the shortage predicted for Colorado has repercussions across the state, from cities to farms and ranches. The Colorado River, the state’s signature waterway, is already over-tapped. More water is needed from it than it produces annually.

In the year since the plan was adopted, the General Assembly passed an $8 million grant program that will, among other things, pay for a water supply study of the Bear Creek Reservoir, dredge state reservoirs to provide more water storage; and improve watersheds, the swaths of lands that drain all streams and rainfall to a common outlet. One million of the $8 million was earmarked for an update to a water conservation board study that projected the gap between supply and demand would hit one million acre-feet shortage a year by 2050. Water experts now say the shortage is likely to be greater.

The state Legislature also kicked in another $5 million as part of an annual water projects bill. The projects include watershed-level flood and drought planning; funding for water forecasting and measuring, money to update re-use regulations and a training program on water loss.

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

And nine statewide groups, known as roundtables, spent another $7.1 million in state funds for dozens of projects including a study of storage along the South Platte River, repairs to ditch infrastructure in the Arkansas Basin, community forums and education plans in several communities, creek restoration. The state water plan, which took two years to draw up, relied on the work of the roundtables, which are tied to eight of the state’s major rivers, plus another group for the Denver metro area. The nine groups include representatives of municipal water providers, environmental groups, recreational water users, industry and agriculture.

One of the major collaborations in the first year has been among the four western roundtables (Yampa/White River, Colorado, North Platte and the Southwest) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the first phase of a $52,000 study to examine the possibility of a “call” on the Colorado River. Seven states downstream of Colorado would exercise their rights under contracts made with the state to draw more water out of the river that originates here. Such a “call,” has become increasingly probable because both Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border and Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border are reaching levels so low the lack of supply could jeopardize the generation of hydroelectricity that supplies the Western power grid.

The chance that the states will issue a call, a situation that could create havoc among them — as well as in Mexico, which also relies on Colorado River water — is on the horizon, but not imminent, said Chris Treese of the Colorado River District.

Colorado agriculture also faces a supply-and-demand gap, and the conservation board teamed up with the Department of Agriculture to devise ways to save water and preserve rural Colorado’s farming and ranching communities and their cultures. The hope is to avoid “buy and dry,” the practice employed by municipal water providers to buy farm and ranch land for its water rights, leaving the land unsuitable for farming. Alternative transfer methods, or ATMs for short, allow farmers and ranchers to lease water rights, rather than sell off their land and the water rights that go with it. ATMs also encourage farmers and ranchers to plant crops with shorter growing seasons.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Farming and ranching use 89 percent of the state’s “consumed” water –meaning water that is used and doesn’t return to a waterway or ditch. Most of that agricultural water comes from the Western Slope and is funneled to the ag-rich eastern part of the state through tunnels built through the mountains during the 20th century.
The water plan’s goal is to use ATMs to conserve 50,000 acre-feet of water a year. The two ATMs currently in place are saving only a fraction of that – 2,500 acre-feet annually, said water conservation board Director James Eklund. “We’ve got a long way to go,” he told the board last week.

In addition to state funding, the success of the water plan relies upon local water providers and municipalities to continue to pay for much of the infrastructure needed to stave off a water shortage.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, based in Berthoud, is into the 12th year of a project to add 40,000 acre-feet of water (enough water to supply 160,000 families in 15 northern Front Range communities) to two reservoirs near Fort Collins and Greeley. A third project, to build the Chimney Hollow reservoir west of Carter Lake in Loveland, will add another 30,000 acre-feet of water. Total cost for the three projects: around $1.2 billion. Chimney Hollow is expected to break ground in about two to three years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must give final approval for the Glade and Galeton reservoirs. That is not expected until 2018.

Denver Water also is working on a storage solution: the expansion of Gross Reservoir, west of Boulder. That expansion will add 77,000 acre-feet of water, almost all of it for Denver Water customers along the Front Range at a cost of $380 million. That, too, counts toward the $20 billion cost of the water plan.

As implementation of the water plan began last year, some conservationists complained of a slow start. But, a year in, groups including Conservation Colorado, Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers collectively deemed this year’s efforts to be “a good first lap,” according to a statement issued by the groups last week.

As the 2017 legislative session approaches, Hickenlooper’s administration is preparing to ask lawmakers to approve a three-to-five-year $55 million funding plan that would provide grants and loans for water projects. The money would come from a reserve fund controlled by the Department of Natural Resources. Of that $55 million, $10 million would go directly to fund projects tied to the water plan. Those projects are currently in the application process and have not yet been identified.

The $55 million also includes a $30 million loan guarantee fund for water providers that they can then use to obtain large loans in the financial markets. The CWCB estimates project participants could obtain up to $300 to $400 million in the finance market through this loan fund.

Board director Eklund echoed water conservation board chair George’s concern that severance tax and federal mineral lease revenues aren’t consistent and reliable forms of funding. So, too, did Miller of Western Resource Advocates, who also said it’s critical that the $55 million plan be adopted and the projects launched. The water conservation board is looking for other revenue sources that would provide more stable funding, although George and Eklund declined to identify what those sources might be.

However, The Nature Conservancy recently commissioned a study on various ways the state could generate the money needed to cover that $3 billion state obligation on the water plan. The study came up with nine ideas that could bring in between $10 million and $86 million per year. Those ideas included peak water use fees, a tourism fee; and fees on marijuana grow operations, paid for by consumers or the industry. Summit Economics, which conducted the study, said they would not make a specific recommendation, citing the need for more analysis based on water plan criteria. As a next step, the economists suggested the state gauge public opinion on the top two or three options.

Aaron Citron of the Nature Conservancy said the organization is primarily interested in the environmental goals of the plan, but acknowledged that the funds will support other goals as well.

The water plan wasn’t a high priority in the 2016 session; lawmakers were much more concerned about finding a way to fund transportation infrastructure and K-12 education.

derrick

Whether the $55 million ask in the coming session gets approved may depend on the selling job by the water conservation board and supporters of the water plan, including the governor. In the past several sessions, rural lawmakers have been loathe to touch severance tax revenue for anything other than its major intended purpose: to mitigate impacts of oil and gas or other mining activities in local communities. Many of those communities have have been hard hit by declines in oil and gas production and mining, but still have to deal with the impacts of those activities.

Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling says he doesn’t have much confidence in the way the water conservation board is proceeding with the water plan. Sonnenberg is most interested in seeing progress on building or expanding water storage, particularly along the South Platte River.

Sonnenberg, who chairs the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, also is not wild about the water conservation board tapping a reserve to cover the $55 million request in 2017. The state, he said, should pay back the severance tax money it has been “stealing” for the last several years, which has often used to balance the budget or pay for other priorities. The water conservation board also ought to do a better job of prioritizing its projects, he said. It may result in a slower pace for the water plan, but the state has to figure out how to allocate the severance tax dollars it has, Sonnenberg said.

Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver, who sits on the Joint Budget Committee, said the administration’s $55 million request is reasonable and believes that severance tax revenues should cover it. But he also said this might not be the best time to make that request, given a recent court case involving oil giant BP.

Last spring, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of BP and against the Colorado Department of Revenue in a lawsuit over tax refunds. Energy companies are allowed to deduct transportation, manufacturing and processing costs from revenue when they value oil and gas for severance tax purposes. The Court ruled the energy companies could also include the cost of capital for transportation, manufacturing and processing, and the Court made the ruling retroactive to 2012.

The legislature, concerned that lots of other companies and individuals would seek similar refunds, put the state’s main revenue source, the general fund, on the hook to cover those refunds, estimated in August at about $51.4 million.

Hickenlooper has proposed clearing out several severance tax accounts to reimburse the general fund for those refunds, Steadman noted. And that’s going to cut back on what’s available to the water conservation board for its projects.

The public needs to be weighing in on this, George said, because the infrastructure that people want government to provide has to be paid for somehow. “Growth and demand are outpacing revenue available to modernize our infrastructure,” he said, adding,“that’s a political conversation that persists without solution. The state water plan will be held back if we can’t get over that hump of political decision-making.”

How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it's caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it’s caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From American Rivers (Fay Augustyn):

At the Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting the board pledged to secure $55 million in funds for implementation, a big win for year two!

Water is deeply intertwined in Colorado’s way of life. The water we drink, the businesses supporting our economy and the recreation we enjoy depends on clean water and flowing rivers. Until last year, Colorado was one of the few states in the west without a plan for managing our water.

In 2013, Governor Hickenlooper recognized the state needed a long-term water plan and through executive order directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to work with stakeholders across the state to develop a comprehensive water management plan. Last year, important conversations between farmers and ranchers, environmental groups, water suppliers, recreation advocates and concerned citizens at public meetings, at the grocery store, and on the river paid off. In November 2015, Governor Hickenlooper signed the Colorado Water Plan committing our state to coordinated and sustainable water management for the next 35 years.

Photo via Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen journalism
Photo via Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen journalism

Colorado is a headwaters state for the Colorado River basin. The Colorado River not only matters to the state and its economy, but it also downstream to the six other states and Mexico that also depend on snowpack that originates here. How and why we manage our water not only affects us, but also our neighbors downstream.

Healthy, flowing rivers support our thriving economies like agriculture and recreation, and our growing cities. Clean water, and enough of it, are essential to support our growing region. Colorado’s heritage and culture is built upon our natural resources and rivers are at the heart of it all. With an abnormally dry fall, it is clear how critical it is to protect and restore our rivers and solidify our commitment to water conservation. Drought volatility varies from year to year across the southwest, and the continuation of this 15-year drought across the basin in the coming years is not out of the realm of possibilities.

November 16, 2016 marked the first anniversary of signing of the Colorado Water Plan. To celebrate the work that has been done across the state, Governor Hickenlooper proclaimed this date as Colorado Water Plan Implementation Day. This proclamation applauds efforts over the past year, and further supports the important work that must continue to move forward goals and objectives contained within the Colorado Water Plan. While this milestone is something to celebrate, implementation thus far has been slower than anticipated. However, at a recent CWCB meeting, new energy was breathed into the plan’s implantation when the CWCB pledged to secure funds for implementation. The CWCB voted to:

  • Secure $55 million as a part of the 2017 Colorado State Budget
  • Direct the first $30 million of this request towards the creation of a loan guarantee fund
  • Focus the other $25 million towards funding other important objectives of the Plan, including: $10 million in supplemental funding for the Water Supply Reserve Fund to fund water supply projects; $5 million directed to the Watershed Restoration Program; $10 million towards Water Plan Implementation Funding that will fund non reimbursable investments
  • Colorado River in Eagle County via the Colorado River District
    Colorado River in Eagle County via the Colorado River District

    How does this funding help support healthy rivers and streams here in Colorado?

    American Rivers, along with environmental partners and other stakeholders are gearing up to begin work on stream management plans on rivers statewide. These plans are a part of the Watershed Restoration Program, which focuses on developing methods to help manage important rivers and streams in Colorado to keep them healthy for both nature and people. As a part of the budget allocation, the CWCB pledged $5 million to help with the planning and development of Stream Management Plans.

    The Colorado Water Plan can only be as successful as its implementation. We congratulate the CWCB and the Hickenlooper Administration for restating their dedication in this first year of the Plan. The Colorado State Legislature has an opportunity to continue the progress of the state’s first water plan by supporting the funding for water conservation measures and stream management plans as they approve the state budget. We must keep the pressure on to ensure future funding and support needed to protect our rivers for communities, agriculture, business, and wildlife. Our state’s future, and the health of an entire region, depends on it.

    Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
    Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

    A year later, #COWaterPlan progress assessed — Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    A screenshot from the website for Colorado's Water Plan.
    A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Colorado’s water plan hit its first birthday this month, prompting state water officials and some water activists to offer an assessment of how implementation has been going in addressing the state’s future water needs.

    “I’d say that there have been quite a few activities done this past year,” said Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program director for the conservation group Western Resource Advocates.

    But he and some others would like to see the state pick up the pace when it comes to work on the plan, which was an initiative of Gov. John Hickenlooper.

    “We don’t want to see the plan sit on a shelf and gather dust,” said Craig Mackey, co-director of Protect the Flows, which represents more than 1,100 businesses that support protecting the Colorado River system.

    James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency, responded to such concerns during the board’s meeting last week, saying that “we are moving forward aggressively and I don’t think slowly at all.”

    The plan sets out to eliminate, through a mix of conservation, new water projects and other means, what otherwise could be a 560,000-acre-foot gap between municipal and industrial water demand and supply in the state by 2050.

    Miller credits the state for a number of recent actions it has taken to start carrying out the water plan. In September, the Board adopted new criteria for evaluating applications for loans and grants from its water supply reserve fund, which pays for projects that must be approved by the applicable local river basin roundtable. The new criteria are intended to match up with water plan goals, helping address identified water gaps, ensuring collaboration and local involvement, and avoiding or mitigating environmental and other impacts.

    Miller also points to the $55 million in funding the Board approved last week related to the water plan. That includes $10 million in supplemental money for the reserve fund, the same amount for water plan implementation, $5 million for stream and watershed conservation, and $30 million in loan guarantee money.

    The spending will require approval by the legislature in order to go forward.

    Miller said while there’s still a long ways to go in carrying out the water plan, the approval of the spending is a good-faith show of progress.

    “They’ve, I think, run a good first lap in this race and there’s quite a few laps to go,” he said.

    But Mackey pointed to the billions of dollars the plan is expected to require to implement, and said educating the public about the plan and water in general is crucial.

    “Our view is we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said, as he called on everyone from Hickenlooper, to lawmakers, the business community and others to come together and show leadership in selling key components of the plan.

    Part of Board’s meeting last week was devoted to reviewing educational efforts the agency is undertaking to show what work it has been doing on various elements of the plan. Among the achievements it cites are initiatives in areas such as integrating water considerations into land-use planning, working with other state agencies to address water-related concerns related to climate change, and exploring ways to divert agricultural water for other uses without altogether buying out, and drying out, farmland.

    Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows
    Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

    #COWaterPlan faces new hurdles on one-year anniversary — Glenwood Springs Post Independent

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Kevin Fixler):

    Even proponents for the first-of-its kind strategy — a non-binding set of goals and guidelines that prepares for the year 2050, when Colorado’s population is anticipated to more than double to 10.5 million — acknowledge it’s gotten off to a slow start. But after all of the excitement, and with it some friction, surrounding the water plan’s unveiling last November, the biggest steps to come revolve around its actual execution…

    The water plan calls for some lofty objectives on that 35-year timeline. They include achieving an additional 400,000 acre-feet of urban conservation, attaining that same amount in new storage, and using alternative methods to share 50,000 more acre-feet of water designated for agricultural needs. Such techniques entail approaches like long-term rotational fallowing and short-term leasing and supply agreements to keep the water with farmers and ranchers as needed to continue raising the crops we all eat, but through procedures that also provide for the Front Range’s growing populations as available…

    “The ability to lessen the pressure on rivers, and also give agricultural and recreational economies certainty, is some of the biggest value that the water plan provides,” said Sinjin Eberle, communications director of the Intermountain West chapter of water advocacy group American Rivers. “The river connects all of us all across the Southwest. All that water comes from up here, and how we manage it up here sets the tone all the way down the basin.”

    ONGOING STRUGGLES

    Colorado’s water year in 2016 was about average, which experts see as a strong season. Year to year, there can be serious volatility, with the Upper Colorado River Basin — made up of Colorado, Wyoming and parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — seeing record lows over the past 15 years in 2002 and both 2012 and 2013 for water available to the Lower Basin of California and Nevada, as well as the other portions of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The inflow into northern Arizona’s Lake Powell, where the Colorado River runs before terminating at Mexico’s Gulf of California, is the ultimate determining factor.

    Those totals for the past year mean almost nothing for the one upcoming, however, with drought always a possibility in the Southwest. It’s another reason why settling on a comprehensive state plan that satisfies all of its needs, including the recreation and wildlife economies of places like Summit County and throughout the Western Slope, is so pivotal.

    “All the reasons we created the water plan a year ago are still prevalent in Colorado,” said Beckwith. “The underlying issue is if we don’t act and we don’t change, we end up drying up our rivers, we don’t provide a sustainable water supply to our cities and we leave agriculture in the dust.”

    At present, the biggest strides for the plan have been made with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) producing proposals for the allocation of grant money from its annual Water Supply Reserve Fund. The account, created from legislation passed by the state’s General Assembly in 2006, is spread across various water projects that theoretically align with those goals of the water plan. To date, the fund has provided more than $27.5 million for projects spanning the nine water basins.

    The focus of late for how to spend those dollars consists of funding stream management plans and forthcoming water efficiency programs. At its bimonthly meeting in September, the CWCB also updated its eligibility criteria for what qualifies recipients to receive those funds based on a checklist. The focus of this month’s meeting, scheduled for Nov. 16 and 17, will now be on how to carry on financially supporting projects at levels of the past given momentous shortfall in revenues that fund the account.

    The Water Supply Reserve is supported by severance taxes produced from energy purchases. With a weighty drop off in production of gas, oil and coal, on top of unremarkable sales, the CWCB will need to come up with a way to backfill millions of dollars in losses in the interim, while also finding a solution for the future, if it hopes to hit some of those targets in the state water plan along the named time frame.

    “The funding has just been hammered by low energy prices and cutbacks in productions,” explained the Colorado River District’s Jim Pokrandt. “That’s in the short term. And in the long term, the CWCB will need to come up with a funding stream dedicated to these water projects. Because even with full funding, the fund wouldn’t begin to scratch the surface of some of the work that needs to be done.”

    FINDING SOLUTIONS

    A proposal to help allevaite investment strains includes a loan guarantee fund that would back regional project requests with state dollars to ensure cash advances are obtainable to complete water ventures moving forward. Sales and container taxes, mill levies and water tap fees are other mechanisms the CWCB will explore — all of which would either need to come through possible legislation with the General Assembly or from future voter approval — to come up with the assets needed to resume with the implementation phase of the overall plan. But with both education and infrastructure accounts also impacted by the severance tax downturn and competing for the same funding, no easy answers currently exist.

    It’s only after new dollars are discovered that further implementation of the water plan can occur. According to the state water roadmap, that means bolstering those stream management plans and applying additional scrutiny to potential large-scale water developments down the road, if deemed necessary. More emphasis on conservation and increased water efficiency will also be a large part of purported success.

    The one thing that is certain, though, is that those who contributed to helping shape the framework of the water plan will keep at it given the promise the state spawned with its release. Holding decision-makers accountable and ensuring the plan does eventually have real impact across Colorado persists as their focus.

    “The water plan really does create this full-on recognition that the environment and healthy, flowing rivers are important to Colorado’s brand, to our economy, to us as a state,” said Beckwith. “So many people spent a lot of time working on this plan that no one wants it to just sit on the shelf.”

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Joey Bunch):

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board voted last week to seek the funding in next year’s budget to get going on the $20 billion statewide water plan unveiled a year ago…

    At the heart of the plan is the idea of urging state water consumers to wean themselves from about 1 percent of their usage per year.

    If all goes well, it’s still a tall order…

    Of the $55 million requested for next year, $30 million would go into a loan fund to help cities finance repairs and other projects to help save water, and $25 million would kick-start other parts of the plan.

    The budget legislators will consider next session, however, is projected at $28.5 billion, which envisions $500 million in cuts and delayed spending for such programs as transportation, health care and education.

    The governor’s budget proposal also calls for the state to hang on to an estimated $32 million in severance taxes from mineral extraction that usually would go to local governments to pay for such projects as water conservation.

    Severance taxes have been eyed as a way to pay for a part of the components of the water plan, including replacing leaky pipes, raising the height of dams to expand reservoirs, restoring watersheds and allowing water deals between rural and urban areas to still help preserve agriculture.

    The 1 percent statewide water-saving target would represent 130 billion gallons a year, according to the plan. The savings target could eventually accommodate more than 1.1 million additional households, the plan envisions.

    The $20 billion price tag includes water projects and river restoration programs across the state by 2050, with most of the money coming from local governments that benefit from individual projects, federal sources, private enterprise and environmental foundations. Statewide, taxpayers are expected to pony up about $3 billion over the next 34 years.

    “In my view it’s a really important conclusion that after the first year we have a lot of objectives; we have a good first year of figuring out what we need to do, and now we have a commitment, at least by the board, to start spending resources to implement the plan,” said Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers program director for Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates…

    “In the world of water, much of the issue is and should be bipartisan,” he said. “If you’re talking about water in the West it feels to me that that’s an issue that transcends individual people or individual parties. It’s kind of a basic thing we all need to work together on.”

    Miller and other conservation leaders used the one-year anniversary of the plan’s unveiling to urge leaders to continue to progress, despite short-term budget hurdles.

    In addition to the fast expanding state population, climate projections show hotter and drier conditions in the American Southwest, including Colorado, which could lead to more drought.

    Abby Burk, Western Rivers Program lead for Audubon Rockies, said that while implementing the plan would not be easy, the issues are pressing.

    “Now more than ever, Coloradans must continue to work together for implementation of the plan and reach for smart bold actions now in order to secure our water future for people and the environment,” she said.

    Matt Rice, Colorado Basin director with American Rivers, called the sweeping conservation effort “an example of people across Colorado, and across a wide array of interests, coming together to forge this important plan for our state’s water future.

    “But any good plan is only as good as its implementation, and now we must urge our leaders to continue working toward fully implementing the principles developed in the final plan.”

    #COWaterPlan faces new hurdles on one-year anniversary — @SummitDailyNews

    A screenshot from the website for Colorado's Water Plan.
    A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

    From The Summit Daily (Kevin Fixler):

    Even proponents for the first-of-its kind strategy — a non-binding set of goals and guidelines that prepares for the year 2050, when Colorado’s population is anticipated to more than double to 10.5 million — acknowledge it’s gotten off to a slow start. But after all of the excitement, and with it some friction, surrounding the water plan’s unveiling last November, the biggest steps to come revolve around its actual execution.

    “The plan is only as good as its on-the-ground implementation,” said Drew Beckwith, water policy manager with Boulder-based conservation nonprofit Western Resource Advocates. “If we really do want to secure our water future for communities and agriculture and business and wildlife and rivers, we’ve got to put some of these things into action.”

    The water plan calls for some lofty objectives on that 35-year timeline. They include achieving an additional 400,000 acre-feet of urban conservation, attaining that same amount in new storage, and using alternative methods to share 50,000 more acre-feet of water designated for agricultural needs. Such techniques entail approaches like long-term rotational fallowing and short-term leasing and supply agreements to keep the water with farmers and ranchers as needed to continue raising the crops we all eat, but through procedures that also provide for the Front Range’s growing populations as available.

    […]

    “The ability to lessen the pressure on rivers, and also give agricultural and recreational economies certainty, is some of the biggest value that the water plan provides,” said Sinjin Eberle, communications director of the Intermountain West chapter of water advocacy group American Rivers. “The river connects all of us all across the Southwest. All that water comes from up here, and how we manage it up here sets the tone all the way down the basin.”

    ONGOING STRUGGLES

    Colorado’s water year in 2016 was about average, which experts see as a strong season. Year to year, there can be serious volatility, with the Upper Colorado River Basin — made up of Colorado, Wyoming and parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — seeing record lows over the past 15 years in 2002 and both 2012 and 2013 for water available to the Lower Basin of California and Nevada, as well as the other portions of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The inflow into northern Arizona’s Lake Powell, where the Colorado River runs before terminating at Mexico’s Gulf of California, is the ultimate determining factor.

    Those totals for the past year mean almost nothing for the one upcoming, however, with drought always a possibility in the Southwest. It’s another reason why settling on a comprehensive state plan that satisfies all of its needs, including the recreation and wildlife economies of places like Summit County and throughout the Western Slope, is so pivotal.

    “All the reasons we created the water plan a year ago are still prevalent in Colorado,” said Beckwith. “The underlying issue is if we don’t act and we don’t change, we end up drying up our rivers, we don’t provide a sustainable water supply to our cities and we leave agriculture in the dust.”

    At present, the biggest strides for the plan have been made with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) producing proposals for the allocation of grant money from its annual Water Supply Reserve Fund. The account, created from legislation passed by the state’s General Assembly in 2006, is spread across various water projects that theoretically align with those goals of the water plan. To date, the fund has provided more than $27.5 million for projects spanning the nine water basins.

    The focus of late for how to spend those dollars consists of funding stream management plans and forthcoming water efficiency programs. At its bimonthly meeting in September, the CWCB also updated its eligibility criteria for what qualifies recipients to receive those funds based on a checklist. The focus of this month’s meeting, scheduled for Nov. 16 and 17, will now be on how to carry on financially supporting projects at levels of the past given momentous shortfall in revenues that fund the account.

    The Water Supply Reserve is supported by severance taxes produced from energy purchases. With a weighty drop off in production of gas, oil and coal, on top of unremarkable sales, the CWCB will need to come up with a way to backfill millions of dollars in losses in the interim, while also finding a solution for the future, if it hopes to hit some of those targets in the state water plan along the named time frame. [ed. emphasis mine]

    “The funding has just been hammered by low energy prices and cutbacks in productions,” explained the Colorado River District’s Jim Pokrandt. “That’s in the short term. And in the long term, the CWCB will need to come up with a funding stream dedicated to these water projects. Because even with full funding, the fund wouldn’t begin to scratch the surface of some of the work that needs to be done.”

    FINDING SOLUTIONS

    A proposal to help allevaite investment strains includes a loan guarantee fund that would back regional project requests with state dollars to ensure cash advances are obtainable to complete water ventures moving forward. Sales and container taxes, mill levies and water tap fees are other mechanisms the CWCB will explore — all of which would either need to come through possible legislation with the General Assembly or from future voter approval — to come up with the assets needed to resume with the implementation phase of the overall plan. But with both education and infrastructure accounts also impacted by the severance tax downturn and competing for the same funding, no easy answers currently exist.

    It’s only after new dollars are discovered that further implementation of the water plan can occur. According to the state water roadmap, that means bolstering those stream management plans and applying additional scrutiny to potential large-scale water developments down the road, if deemed necessary. More emphasis on conservation and increased water efficiency will also be a large part of purported success.

    The one thing that is certain, though, is that those who contributed to helping shape the framework of the water plan will keep at it given the promise the state spawned with its release. Holding decision-makers accountable and ensuring the plan does eventually have real impact across Colorado persists as their focus.

    “The water plan really does create this full-on recognition that the environment and healthy, flowing rivers are important to Colorado’s brand, to our economy, to us as a state,” said Beckwith. “So many people spent a lot of time working on this plan that no one wants it to just sit on the shelf.”

    Aspen files diligence applications for dams and reservoirs

    A view from where a dam would stand to form the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir.
    A view from where a dam would stand to form the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir.

    ASPEN – The city of Aspen filed two applications Monday in Division 5 Water Court for “finding of reasonable diligence” on the conditional water rights it has maintained since 1965 for the potential storage reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.

    The city told the court it has “steadily applied effort to complete the appropriation” of the conditional water rights for both of the reservoirs over the last six years, and that it has done so “in a reasonably expedient and efficient manner under all facts and circumstances.”

    It then asks the court to issue conditional decrees for both reservoirs for six more years.

    The “appropriation” of the current conditional water rights would mean completing the construction of the dams and the storage of water as described in the decrees, which call for a 170-foot-tall dam on upper Castle Creek to hold 9,062 acre-feet of water and a 155-foot-tall dam on upper Maroon Creek to hold 4,567 acre-feet.

    The city did not cite any specific actions it has taken in the last six years in regard to investigating, designing, constructing, or financing the actual dams and reservoirs, outside of reaching agreement with two landowners in the Castle Creek Valley not to flood their property if the Castle Creek Reservoir is built.

    Instead, both applications filed Monday say the reservoirs are “part of Aspen’s integrated water supply system” and are “part of Aspen’s long-range plan to maintain a water supply to meet current and future demand.”

    The city’s diligence applications say it spent in excess of $6 million on its water system since 2010 and point to Colorado’s Water Right Determination and Administration Act of 1969 as to how that can help its case.

    The law states that “when a project or integrated system is comprised of several features, work on one feature of the project or system shall be considered in finding that reasonable diligence has been shown in the development of water rights for all features of the entire project or system.”

    The same law also says, however, that “the measure of reasonable diligence is the steady application of effort to complete the appropriation in a reasonably expedient and efficient manner under all the facts and circumstance.”

    A wetland in the upper Castle Creek valley that would be flooded by a potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, which would be formed by a 170-foot-tall dam.
    A wetland in the upper Castle Creek valley that would be flooded by a potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, which would be formed by a 170-foot-tall dam.

    Directed to file

    Aspen City Council unanimously passed a resolution on Oct. 10 directing staff to file the diligence applications, which were due on Oct. 31.

    The last diligence decree was awarded on Oct. 11, 2010, which set the clock ticking on the last six-year diligence period.

    In all previous filings, the city has filed one application covering both reservoirs, but on Monday it filed separate applications for each potential reservoir.

    By Tuesday afternoon, both of the applications from the city had been processed by the water court clerk. The case number for the Maroon Creek Reservoir application is 16CW3128. The case number for the Castle Creek Reservoir application is 16CW3129.

    The city has filed diligence applications for the reservoirs eight prior times, in 1972, 1977, 1981, 1985, 1989, 1995, 2002 and 2009, and each time has been awarded a new diligence decree for the conditional rights.

    The required time between diligence filings changed from every four years to every six years in 1990, which accounts for the differing time spans between filings before and after that date.

    When a water rights application is filed in water court, interested parties have two months to file a statement of opposition in the case.

    And with the filing date for both of the city’s applications coming on Halloween, the deadline for statements of opposition to be filed has been set for New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, 2016.

    Any citizen, regardless of whether they own water rights, or might be injured by a water right claim, is allowed to file a statement of opposition in water court, although the court requires opposers to honor the court’s process, which can be time-consuming.

    A group of local residents listen as Will Roush, the conservation director for Wilderness Workshop of Carbondale, describes the location, and potential impacts of, the city of Aspen’s proposed Maroon Creek dam and reservoir. The 155-foot-tall dam would be built across Maroon Creek and across the wedding meadow, just behind where Roush is standing.
    A group of local residents listen as Will Roush, the conservation director for Wilderness Workshop of Carbondale, describes the location, and potential impacts of, the city of Aspen’s proposed Maroon Creek dam and reservoir. The 155-foot-tall dam would be built across Maroon Creek and across the wedding meadow, just behind where Roush is standing.

    The opposition to come

    The U.S. Forest Service informed the city in October it intends to file a statement of opposition, especially as the Maroon Creek Reservoir is wholly on U.S.F.S. land and would inundate portions of the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness.

    Matt Rice, director of the Colorado River Basin Program for American Rivers, confirmed Tuesday that the national nonprofit organization also still intends to oppose the city’s diligence applications.

    “We don’t believe that new water storage dams on Castle Creek and Maroon Creek are appropriate now or anytime in the future,” Rice said.

    In a press release issued Tuesday by American Rivers, Rice said, “Constructing these dams would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but the price would pale in comparison to the massive environmental impacts. American Rivers and our members urge the Aspen City Council to reconsider this decision.”

    Rice said that Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates, Wilderness Workshop and several private landowners are “seriously considering” filing statements of opposition.

    Will Roush, conservation director for Wilderness Workshop, said Tuesday his organization has yet to decide if it will oppose the city in water court.

    Wilderness Workshop sent out a press release on Tuesday, however, with a quote from Roush.

    “The city of Aspen’s pursuit of dams on Castle and Maroon creeks could not be more out of step with the community’s values,” he said in the release. “These two iconic creeks, universally treasured by our community, have far too many social and ecological values to build unneeded reservoirs on them.”

    And the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board unanimously agreed on Oct. 20 to direct staff to prepare a letter or resolution urging the Pitkin County commissioners to file a statement of opposition in the diligence cases.

    “We’ve always felt that reservoirs were against the mission of the Healthy Rivers and Streams Board,” said Bill Jochems of Redstone, who has served on the river board for the last seven years.

    He said reservoirs deprive rivers of necessary high spring runoff and “have highly undesirable aspects from an aesthetic point of view.”

    Castle Creek with flowers

    Mayor proud to file

    Steve Skadron, the mayor of Aspen, sent a letter to the editor Tuesday saying he was “proud” of the city for filing the diligence applications.

    “Without knowing more about viable alternatives for water storage, it simply would not be prudent water management on our part to give up these water rights,” Skadron wrote. “After all, climate and other changes in this region are uncertain and what our needs will look like in 2066 is not something we are poised to gamble away by letting this storage right go.”

    Aspen’s applications say “the city continues to investigate and develop more refined tools for planning its future water needs.”

    Skadron also pointed out that the council directed staff on Oct. 10 to “undertake a collaborative effort to work with the community and stakeholders to find other water storage solutions.”

    A map showing the location of the potential Castle Creek Reservoir. The extend of the reservoir has been slightly modified to flood a smaller portion of private property owned by adjacent neighbors.
    A map showing the location of the potential Castle Creek Reservoir. The extent of the reservoir has been slightly modified to flood a smaller portion of private property owned by adjacent neighbors.

    Reservoir size to be ‘revised’

    The size of the Castle Creek Reservoir is expected to be reduced after agreements the city reached with Mark and Karen Hedstrom in May of 2010 and with Simon Pinniger sometime after mid-2012. Both the Hedtroms and Pinniger own land at the upper edge of the potential reservoir.

    However, the city did not cite the size of the potentially reduced Castle Creek Reservoir in its diligence application.

    “It is expected that this commitment by Aspen will result in a reduction in the volume and surface area of the Castle Creek Reservoir, and Aspen has contracted for a preliminary investigation of the anticipated revised size and volume of the Castle Creek Reservoir,” the city’s application states.

    David Hornbacher, the city’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives, said on Tuesday that the city contracted for that “preliminary investigation” on Oct. 18, 2016.

    The applications also include a sentence that seems to overstate how the reservoirs are referenced in the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.

    “The city also participated in the development of Colorado’s State Water Plan, which resulted in the Colorado River Basin Implementation Plan, which identified the continued due diligence for the preservation of the Castle Creek and Maroon Creek storage rights as important projects for securing safe drinking water,” the city stated.

    However, the two reservoirs were not identified in the basin implementation plan as “important projects” and they were specifically rejected from being included among the top three priority projects in the Roaring Fork River basin by roundtable members.

    Instead, they are referenced in a broader context of “identified projects” in a chart under the theme of “secure safe drinking water.”

    Under “methods,” the chart says, “Investigate the development of storage reservoirs on both Maroon and Castle creeks if no better alternative is discovered.”

    And under “identified projects,” it states “Continue due diligence for the preservation of the 1972 storage rights on Maroon and Castle creeks by giving true consideration to all other potential options.”

    (The rights were originally filed for in 1965 and decreed in 1971, not 1972.)

    In both applications the city submitted Monday, it also says “the significant cost of permitting, design and construction” for both reservoirs “dictates that other long range plans be implemented first.”

    The city did not provide estimates of costs for the dams and reservoirs in its applications.

    It did say, however, that the city has spent $600,000 on water attorney fees since 2010, primarily to defend its water rights, and that expenditure should be considered as part of a finding of reasonable diligence. Those expenditures are included in the city’s overall spending figure of “in excess of $6 million” that it has spent on its water supply system in the last six years.

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016.