@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

Colorado’s water plan: A year of strong progress

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

Here’s a guest column from James Eklund and Russ George that’s running in the The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

One year ago, Gov. Hickenlooper presented Colorado’s Water Plan, the result of unprecedented statewide collaboration over 2½ years to ensure sufficient water supplies to keep our cities, farms and environment thriving even as Colorado is expected to add millions of people in coming decades.

Since that time, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and its many partners have started the work of implementing the plan, a process that will unfold over years and be carried forward by all those involved in our water future: ranchers, farmers, cities, water utilities, environmentalists, anglers, developers and many more who care deeply about water’s central place in our beautiful state.

Colorado’s Water Plan includes a series of actions, processes and metrics that put the state and its eight major river basins on a more collaborative path to manage our water in the face of constrained supplies and rising population. These include criteria to guide new storage projects, goals to more smartly share water between farms and cities without the dry-up of agricultural lands, steps to improve degraded streamways and methods and benchmarks for water conservation.

The public has been a full participant in the development of Colorado’s Water Plan, with more than 30,000 comments helping shape the document. Direction from nine basin roundtables representing local interests within each river basin formed the backbone of the document. With such deep public involvement to craft the plan, it’s important Coloradans stay engaged in the work so many are doing to implement it. Through a website, http://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cowaterplan, and updates like this one we are devoted to sharing progress on the plan. Among our many steps forward:

Storage: CWCB is financially supporting a variety of water storage innovations, including a study of options in the South Platte Basin, exploring groundwater storage technology and a spillway analysis to identify places where existing storage could be expanded; water representatives across jurisdictions began work to streamline federal permitting while maintaining strong environmental protections.

Agriculture: The CWCB and other stakeholders are continuing to explore creative ways to support the temporary transfer of agricultural water that protects farming and meets the water plan goal of sharing 50,000 acre of water by 2050. Workshops and conferences geared toward this end continue and a pilot project in the Arkansas River Basin is in its second year with favorable results.

Environment and recreation: CWCB is securing $5 million for work with basin roundtables and other groups to develop watershed restoration and stream management plans to improve waterways and water quality. The CWCB, in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Denver Water and The Greenway Foundation, is funding a large “environmental pool” at Chatfield Reservoir to improve flows and fisheries in the South Platte River through the metro area.

Supply and Demand Planning: The update for the latest Statewide Water Supply Initiative began this year and will refresh Colorado’s baseline information on water supplies, data critical to work outlined in the water plan. CWCB and the Interbasin Compact Committee are revising Water Supply Reserve Fund criteria to ensure funding requests for water-related projects meet a standard that aligns with water plan goals and measurable outcomes.

These examples serve as only a sampling of the work launching in 2016 to implement Colorado’s Water Plan. Other activities across the state, including major storage projects that won the state of Colorado’s seal of approval using water plan criteria and a near-term funding plan to support storage, education, conservation, reuse and agricultural actions called for in the plan, also signal initial implementation steps.

The CWCB is moving on many fronts to ensure Colorado’s Water Plan unfolds in a way that assures we manage our precious water supplies to preserve the best of Colorado while allowing cities, farms and our environment to flourish amid continued growth. In the same way the CWCB, General Assembly, water providers, agricultural organizations, environmental groups, local governments, business and the public at large collaborated to build Colorado’s Water Plan, we look forward to our continued work together to put the plan to work.

James Eklund is the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Russ George is chairman of the 15-member board governing CWCB staff.

#coleg: @CWCB_DNR hopes to score $25 million for watershed plans @COWaterPlan

Yampa River
Yampa River

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A Colorado Water Conservation Board proposal, sent to state lawmakers last week, recommends the stream-saving action to meet state environmental and economic goals. It remains unclear who would enforce the community watershed plans.

But there’s little doubt streams statewide are strained by thirsts of a growing population expected to double by 2060, according to state officials. And a Denver Post look at the latest water quality data found that 12,975 miles of streams across Colorado (14 percent of all stream miles) are classified as “impaired” with pollutants exceeding limits set by state regulators.

Creating local watershed plans to save streams is essential, said James Eklund, the CWCB director and architect of the year-old Colorado Water Plan. Eklund pointed to low-snow winters and drought in California’s Sierra Nevada, where 2015 snowpack at 5 percent of average forced a declaration of a state of emergency requiring 25 cuts in urban water use.

“When our Colorado mountain snowpack drops below 60 percent of average, we get nervous. If it happens in the Sierras, it can happen in the Rockies,” he said. “We need to protect certain streams before a crisis. We have got to get on this quickly.”

No single agency oversees waterway health. State natural resources officials monitor flow levels in streams and rivers. They run a program aimed at ensuring sufficient “in-stream flow” so that, even during drought, streams don’t die.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sets standards on maximum levels of pollutants that people and companies are allowed to discharge into waterways. In 2015, only 51.6 percent total stream and river miles in Colorado met quality standards, and 30.1 percent of lake surface acres met standards, according to a CDPHE planning document.

“If stream flows are low, there is less dilution in the stream to handle the addition of pollutants through permitted discharges,” CDPHE water quality director Pat Pfaltzgraff said in responses sent by agency spokesman Mark Salley.

Yet CDPHE officials do not make recommendations to natural resources officials about water flows necessary to improve stream health.

The health department has made separate “watershed plans.” CDPHE officials “are considering broadening the division’s watershed plans to include ecosystem health that might be more consistent with stream management plans.”

Pfaltzgraff declined to discuss stream health…

CWCB chairman Russ George supported the push to create local watershed plans, to include detailed maps covering every stream.

“Every stream and tributary needs to be inventoried. … It should have been done a long time ago,” George said in an interview last week.

“We have kind of hit the population and demand place where we have to do it. We didn’t have to do it for the first part of history because the population was small and there wasn’t the impact of all the issues we are getting into now,” he said.

The CWCB voted unanimously last month to ask lawmakers to approve $5 million a year for up to five years to launch local stream planning.

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

The plans are to be developed within the eight river basin “roundtable” forums that Colorado has relied on for addressing water challenges. These groups draw in residents with interests in stream health who helped hash out the Colorado Water Plan, which was finalized last year and calls for statewide cuts in per person water use by about 1 percent a year.

Conditions along Colorado streams vary, said Bart Miller, healthy rivers program director for Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. “There are plenty of streams that have problems.”

While state natural resources officials run the program aimed at keeping at least some water in heavily tapped streams, survival in a competitive environment is complex. Leaving water in streams for environmental purposes often depends on timing, when the mountain snowpack that serves as a time-release water tower for the West melts, the amount of snowpack, and needs of cities, pastures and farms.

Collaborative local forums to find flexibility to revive streams “is a great approach.” However, state officials eventually may have to play a central role converting plans into action, Miller said.

“The state should help both in funding the planning but also in implementing the plans,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do. This matters because this is about ‘the Colorado brand.’ Everyone depends on healthy rivers.”

The roundtable forums in communities draw in diverse stakeholders from cattlemen to anglers.

Irrigators and other water users west of Aspen already have created a “stream management plan,” for the Crystal River, seen as a model local effort. Their planning included an assessment of watershed health that found significant degradation above the confluence with the Roaring Fork River. They set a goal of reducing the estimated 433 cubic feet per second of water diverted from the river by adding 10 to 25 cfs during dry times. They’re developing “nondiversion agreements” that would pay irrigators to reduce water use when possible without hurting agriculture, combined with improving ditches and installation of sprinkler systems designed to apply water to crops more efficiently.

Enforcement of plans hasn’t been decided. “We’d like to see more enforcement” of measures to improve stream health, Rocky Mountain Sierra Club director Jim Alexee said. “We definitely think there’s room to do more. We also want to be respectful of the governor’s watershed process.”

Colorado has no history of relying on a central agency to enforce water and land use, CWCB chairman George pointed out.

“When you have a system designed to have everybody at the table, what you’re doing is recognizing there is a finite resource that is shared by everybody. And impacts are shared by everybody statewide. In order to keep from having some force dominate in ways that would not account for all statewide impacts, you need to diffuse the conversation into all areas. That is what roundtables do,” he said.

“When you do that, you’re going to get a better statewide result over time. … It is a process that is designed to get as many interests into the decision-making as you can. … It gets harder, of course, as the supply-demand makes pinches. For the rest of our lives, it is going to be that way.”

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


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.


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