West Slope lawmakers to Front Range: No more West Slope water until you use up your own — @COindependent

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Seven Western Slope Republican lawmakers have sent Gov. John Hickenlooper a message: No more water for the Front Range until it better uses what it already has.

The message, delivered through a Feb. 4 letter obtained by The Colorado Independent, is directed mostly at just one area of the state: Denver and the northern Front Range.

For the past 100 years, as the Front Range population and the state’s Eastern Plains agricultural economy have grown, water from the Western Slope has been diverted to the Front Range through a series of tunnels built through the mountains, known as transmountain diversions. But Western Slope water watchers are getting increasingly nervous about the potential for more of those diversions, pointing to a growing need for water in their area for agriculture and recreation and to fulfill multi-state contracts that require Colorado to send Western Slope water to other states, such as California, Arizona and Nevada.

The Front Range must do a better job of storage and conservation before turning to more diversions, the lawmakers wrote. To that end, they implored the governor to make sure any water projects that receive state funds match criteria outlined in the Colorado water plan. The plan calls for the state to conserve at least 400,000 acre-feet of water and to build storage, without specific projects identified, for another 400,000 acre-feet of water. One acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, the amount of water used by two families of four per year.

“We would ask for the consistent – and transparent – use of those criteria” when looking at new water projects that would divert water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope, they wrote.

The letter is a follow-up to one sent in November 2015, just before the water plan was finalized. That four-page document said the water plan “cannot place Front Range development interests over the autonomy, heritage and economy of Western Slope communities. Nor can the Plan allow the protection of agriculture in one area of state [sic] to come at the expense of agriculture in other areas of the state.”

The water plan is intended to address a looming water shortage of one million acre-feet of water by 2050, when the state’s population is expected to nearly double from about 5 million to more than 10 million people.* The lawmakers worked with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments’ water committee on both letters, said Torie Jarvis, the staff person to the committee. She said the letters are primarily directed at the South Platte Basin, which covers most of the northern Front Range, the northern half of the Eastern Plains and the Denver metro area.

Jarvis said the letter is not about current water projects underway in the region that also plan to use water from the Western Slope, most notably two reservoir projects under the control of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

“We have good agreements in place” on those projects, Jarvis told The Colorado Independent.

The issue also is the water plan itself. “It imagines what a new diversion would look like,” Jarvis said, which means a focus on development and growth rather than on conservation.

The 2015 letter was signed by eight Republican lawmakers, six of whom are on the 2017 version (two of the 2015 signees are no longer in the legislature). The five Democratic lawmakers who also represent the Western Slope were not included. Also not included: Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush of Steamboat Springs, a member of an interim water resources review committee that led a statewide review of the water plan. Mitsch-Bush said she had not been asked to sign it but would have, based on its description. Jarvis said the Republican lawmakers decided who should sign the letter, adding that she believes all of the Western Slope Democrats would have signed it.

James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which authored the water plan, said this week that the letter “underscores the importance of Colorado’s Water Plan and demonstrates that implementation will be a collaborative effort.”

He also noted that an annual water projects bill that was introduced in the state House last week would focus on implementing key parts of the state water plan and would address water needs in every part of the state.

*Correction: to note that Colorado’s population in 2050 is expected to be more than 10 million people.

Steamboat Springs: Colorado Ag Water Alliance workshop, March 22, 2017

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Colorado Ag Water Alliance (Marsha Daughenbaugh) via Steamboat Today:

If you have an agriculture water right, then the Colorado Ag Water Alliance workshop is for you. If you are concerned about the future of Colorado’s water, then the CAWA workshop will be of interest to you. If you want to learn more about water, you might attend the CAWA workshop.

The Colorado Ag Water Alliance is composed of representatives from all the major ranching and farming organizations in the state. The organization’s goal is to preserve Colorado’s irrigated agriculture through education and constructive dialogue. Its role is to provide the best information to Colorado’s agricultural water users and increase the understanding of water rights to help balance the gap between limited water supplies, population growth and the deficit in the Colorado River Basin.

CAWA engages with a variety of entities to address environmental and economic concerns. Currently, CAWA is hosting a series of meetings throughout Colorado to allow and encourage agricultural producers to take an active role in the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan.

A workshop for the Yampa-White-Green River Basins will be held from noon to 4 p.m. March 22 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave. The workshop is free, and lunch, featuring locally produced food, will be served.

Discussion topics will include the Colorado Water Plan, status of the Colorado River Basin, alternative transfer methods, water leasing, water banking, “use it or lose it” policies, water efficiency and waste, challenges of ditch renovations, collaboration opportunities and research results.

Speakers from CAWA, Colorado Water Institute, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Colorado Division of Water Resources, Colorado Water Trust, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and the Maybell Ditch Company will give spirited, quick presentations explaining different parts of Colorado’s complex water issues. Attendees will be encouraged to ask questions and provide feedback throughout the afternoon.

Colorado’s population is predicted to double to 10 million people by 2050, bringing with it a water shortage of more than 500,000 acre-feet per year. Agricultural water rights are being scrutinized as a potential solution to the deficit.

Ideas take time and multiple discussions before anything becomes reality. This workshop is part of a much larger conversation, and it is critical that agricultural producers provide their invaluable knowledge and voices to the deliberations. If not you, then who will speak up? This is a close-to-home opportunity for Northwest Colorado agriculture to participate.

Those planning to attend are encouraged to RSVP to yampaag.eventbrite.com for a lunch count.

This workshop hosted by CAWA, Community Agriculture Alliance and the Yampa-White-Green Basins Roundtable. Other sponsors include CSU Routt County Extension, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, CSU’s Colorado Water Institute, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Corn and Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union.

Marsha Daughenbaugh is the executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance and a member of the Routt County CattleWomen.

Steamboat Springs: Ag Producers’ Water Workshop, March 22 @COWaterPlan

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

From the Colorado Ag Water Alliance via The Ag Journal:

The next Colorado Ag Water Alliance (CAWA) Ag Producers’ Water Workshop will be held Wednesday, March 22, at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave., Steamboat Springs, Colorado, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. The event is free, and the organizers hope to have a good turnout of producers in the region.

The Colorado Water Plan aims to address the water needs of cities, agriculture and the environment in light of projected shortages. Agriculture is a focus.

What are alternative transfer methods? What’s the motivation for farmers and ranchers to participate in leasing or to improve irrigation efficiency? What are the barriers?

Brief, highly-focused presentations and panel dialogue will cover the basics, followed by opportunity for ag producers to ask questions and engage in dialogue about what they see as opportunities and barriers—and how those barriers and opportunities might best be addressed.

Gunnison River: UGRWCD gets @CWCB_DNR grant for @COWaterPlan watershed planning

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Crested Butte News (Crystal Kotowski):

In January the Colorado Water Conservation Board granted the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) and partners $175,000 to begin local watershed management planning efforts. The funding will support the gathering of baseline information, initial stakeholder outreach, and future needs assessments in three Upper Gunnison tributary basins from 2017 to 2020.

The goals of the Upper Gunnison Basin Watershed Management Plan are to protect existing water uses and water quality, and improve relationships between different water users. The plan also seeks to understand whether there are gaps between available water and future uses, and how to best manage that water moving forward. Water experts predict that the Colorado population will rise exponentially, putting more stress on the Front Range’s limited water supply and thus the Western Slope, and changing temperatures will reduce water availability.

The planning framework developed by the UGRWCD includes needs identified in the Colorado Water Plan, but also focuses on agricultural and municipal uses. Irrigated hay and pasture meadows have rights to approximately 95 percent of the basin’s water resources. “Our planning process distinguishes between ‘watershed management’ and ‘stream management,’” explained UGRWCD board member and outreach coordinator George Sibley.

“’Stream management’ in the Colorado Water Plan focuses almost entirely on environmental and recreational needs. Watershed management covers our interactions with all of the water resources in the entire watershed, including groundwater, and water removed from streams for human purposes,” said Sibley…

Gunnison River watersheds encompass over 8,000 square miles of western Colorado and are critical headwaters of the Colorado River. “The Upper Gunnison River Basin is a headwaters basin, which means it is not yet really a river, but many flows of water becoming a river. Most of those streams organize themselves into seven main watersheds, each unique in its natural and human cultural geography,” said Sibley…

Locally, the assessments will begin with the Ohio Creek, East River and Lake Fork watersheds, providing a framework for the other four watersheds over the next four years.

Each watershed study begins with a needs assessment inventory of known and anticipated needs stretching out to mid-century from industry, recreation, agriculture, and human settlements in general—while subsequently identifying areas with significant environmental concerns.

The studies will seek to understand ecosystem function needs, river flows, infrastructure in need of improvement, water quality impairment issues, and ensuing legal frameworks. This first phase will also address information gaps and develop pilot projects to demonstrate best management practices. Pilot studies and demonstration projects in each watershed will look at options to reconcile instream and diversion needs. Potential demonstration projects include ditch repair, stream channel reconfiguration, wetland enhancements, coordination irrigation or other conservation practices.

The UGRWCD will be the coordinating agency for the watershed management planning processes, working with other water-related agencies and organizations within the Upper Gunnison Basin, including but not limited to the Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association, the seven municipal/domestic water suppliers in the Upper Gunnison Basin, Trout Unlimited, High Country Conservation Advocates, the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, the Lake Fork Conservancy, recreational organizations, and federal and state land management agencies.

#ColoradoRiver Headwaters Project #COriver

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.
Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

Here’s a guest column from Paul Bruchez that is running in Steamboat Today:

A few years ago, I saw an opportunity to fix the irrigation problems while also improving river and wildlife habitat. My family’s ranch is in one of the most intact traditional agricultural communities remaining in Colorado. Like most ranchers, we’re independent folks — but in a pinch, we know we can count on each other.

Our neighbors came together and agreed on the need for action. Our group of 11 private ranches and the Bureau of Land Management, the irrigators of lands in the vicinity of Kremmling, received a couple of grants for a pilot project to restore a riffle/pool structure on a stretch of the river. It was an exciting start.

But I quickly realized that, given the scale of the problems, we needed to think bigger.

We worked with a variety of partners — Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, the Colorado Basin Roundtable, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Grand County government, Northern Water, Denver Water, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Upper Colorado River Alliance, the Colorado River District and other river stakeholders — to put together an ambitious proposal for restoring a significant stretch of the Upper Colorado River.

In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recognized that big vision, awarding ILVK and our partners $7.75 million under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to improve irrigation systems and reverse the decline in water quality and fish habitat in the headwaters of the Colorado River.

This funding is an amazing win for all Coloradans, because a healthy Colorado River sustains all our lives.

The Colorado River Headwaters Project will install several innovative instream structures designed to improve water levels for irrigation, while enhancing critical river habitat by rebuilding riffles and pool structure. A crucial piece will be restoring approximately one mile of the Colorado River’s former channel, currently inundated by Windy Gap Reservoir. This ambitious bypass project will reconnect the river — for the first time in decades — and improve river habitat in the headwaters area.

When fully implemented, the Headwaters Project will directly benefit more than 30 miles of the Colorado River and 4,500 acres of irrigated lands and make available up to 11,000 acre-feet of water to improve the river during low-flow conditions.

What have I learned from this project? That the interests of agriculture producers can align with the interests of conservation groups, state agencies, water providers and other river users. It’s not just the waters of the Colorado River that are connected — so are the people who depend on it.

The Colorado River flows through all of our lives. By working together, we can find smart, creative solutions that keep the Colorado healthy and working for all of us.

Paul Bruchez is a rancher who lives near Kremling.

@COWaterPlan implementation update

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

Engaging with the Colorado River Basin States
CWCB Director James Eklund represents the State of Colorado in water-related discussions with the other six Colorado River Basin states and the federal government. Most recently, he has been working with Colorado’s fellow seven Basin States on drought contingency planning. Efforts within the Upper Basin include negotiation with the Department of the Interior on reservoir optimization to protect critical elevations at Lake Powell, exploring the feasibility and opportunities for demand management through voluntary conservation such as the System Conservation Pilot Program, and encouraging additional supply augmentation through weather modification and phreatophyte removal.

In addition, Director Eklund has played an active role in negotiations regarding “Minute 32X,” a sub-agreement to the 1944 treaty between the U.S. and Mexico regarding the waters of the Colorado River. The U.S. and Mexico are seeking a Minute that will extend the environmental protections and infrastructure-maximizing provisions of Minute 319, with new drought response measures that help share the burden of stressed supplies. Discussions will continue through the end of 2017 with Colorado engaged and active at the negotiating table.

@COWaterPlan: Where is it one year later? — The Pueblo Chieftain

James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent
James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent

Here’s a guest column from Crisanta Duran that’s running in The Pueblo Chieftain:

In the American West, nothing is more vital or sacred than water.

Colorado has a rich and complicated history with the resource, one that is colored by some successes, but also many conflicts and challenges. But because of the work of thousands of Coloradans on our state’s first-ever comprehensive water plan, our water future could be very bright indeed. That bright future, however, will require a lot more hard work.

A little more than one year ago, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the completion of Colorado’s water plan, developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board after two years of meetings across the state, input from the state’s eight basin roundtables, and the considered comments of more than 30,000 Coloradans from across the spectrum, including Colorado’s ranchers and farmers. It is a landmark policy document that will drive decisions about Colorado’s water for decades into the future.

The plan itself is ambitious, but implementing its component parts, though challenging, will be critical to our state’s future. Smart growth of our state requires tackling looming threats to our water supply, and the plan sets out a clear guide path to do just that.

There is both a conservation and economic imperative for implementing the Colorado Water Plan. We absolutely must have healthy rivers to power Colorado’s thriving recreation and tourism economies while also defending our agricultural community’s needs. In 2014, 71.3 million visitors came to Colorado and spent $18.6 billion, much of it on activities in Colorado’s great outdoors. We must ensure our rivers remain healthy so that future generations can continue to enjoy all the benefits our waterways provide.

The Colorado Water Plan set unprecedented statewide water conservation targets in cities and towns, prioritizing conservation as never before.

The conservation goal for towns and cities equates to nearly 1 percent per year water use reduction by 2050, which, while ambitious, is absolutely achievable

If met, the conservation goals and flexibility envisioned for users enshrined in the Colorado Water Plan will help both towns and cities meet their needs and keep our farms and ranches a key part of the Colorado landscape and economy.

For example, the CWP provides more flexibility for ranchers and farmers to share water with towns and cities, and to keep water in streams without jeopardizing future access to their water rights.

The plan also creates frameworks for much more comprehensive evaluations of new water projects to avoid costly diversions, helps keep Western Slope rivers flowing, and provides for comprehensive management plans for Colorado’s rivers. In short, if it continues to be implemented, the plan will preserve our water supply for ranchers and farmers, help to foster our outdoor recreation economy, and protect our quality of life now and into the future.

Creating a sustainable water future for Colorado is not only vital economics — it is vital to our local communities and our history as a state, including Latina and Latino communities whose long history in Colorado is intrinsically linked to Colorado’s waterways.

For centuries, Colorado’s rivers and streams have been integral to Colorado’s rich culture and way of life. Our rivers provide us with a collective sense of “querencia,” a place in which we know exactly who we are, the place from which we speak our deepest beliefs.

Protecting the Colorado and other rivers is not just smart water management for our state; it builds upon our tradition of responsible use and conservation for the benefit of future generations. Colorado’s rapid growth only compounds the need for urgent and continued action.

Crisanta Duran is speaker-designate of the Colorado House of Representatives. Lucia Guzman is minority leader of the Colorado Senate. Both are Denver Democrats.

Here’s a guest column from Bart Miller that’s running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Water is the lifeblood of Colorado, and yet demands for water to support population growth, agriculture, and businesses are increasing while available water supplies are not.

Climate change is also having a growing impact in an already water-scarce region, and Colorado’s population is predicted to double by 2050. Not surprisingly, water scarcity was found to be one of the top concerns of state residents in the latest State of the Rockies Poll Project while 77 percent of Coloradoans support more conservation and water reuse as opposed to only 15 percent who support diverting water from rivers and streams. The good news is that we’ve had a sound first year implementing the state’s new water plan and now we need our state Legislature to help.

One year ago, Colorado’s water plan established goals for ensuring enough water for vibrant cities, viable agriculture, and healthy rivers that sustain wildlife, recreation and local economies. For West Slope communities like Grand Junction, the plan contains a number of provisions to safeguard West Slope interests every bit as much as those of the Front Range.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board recently approved a new budget of $25 million annually over the next few years for implementation. This budget includes funding for water conservation to help reach our state goal of saving 400,000 acre-feet of water, which would reduce water use by approximately 1 percent per year. The budget advances cost-effective measures to help communities make the most of every drop, like fixing leaky infrastructure and increasing water reuse technologies. Also included: $5 million annually for stream management and watershed restoration plans — essential for both healthy ecosystems and our thriving recreational economy.

The plan’s criteria “checklist” for evaluating what water projects receive public funds also started to gain steam by being embedded in the grant process for local river basin roundtables. The common-sense checklist evaluates whether projects have community support, prevent environmental degradation, are feasible, and meet real water needs. Ensuring local community support is essential for protecting West Slope resources.

We’ve run a good first lap, but there are miles to go to meet new water demands and protect Colorado’s rivers. In the coming year, we need development of alternative agricultural water agreements that support agriculture rather than “buy and dry” scenarios where cities buy up water rights that never return to agricultural producers. We need urban water conservation embedded into land use decisions so new development is water-smart from the start, reducing pressure to divert water from the West Slope to the Front Range. We need funds so local stakeholders can assess river health and create local stream management plans.

Most immediately, we need the Legislature to approve the $25 million plan budget developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The plan’s proposals have the support of the vast majority of Coloradans. Ultimately, the water plan’s long-term success requires collaboration among diverse stakeholders to ensure we help all local economies that rely upon Colorado’s rivers. Please join us in asking our state representatives to help by putting the water plan and our communities first.

Bart Miller leads Western Resource Advocates’ program protecting healthy rivers; improving water efficiency; and drawing the connection between water, energy, and climate change.

Colorado Capitol building
Colorado Capitol building