#ColoradoRiver District seminar recap @ColoradoWater #CRDseminar #COriver

Rebecca Mitchell was named to the Colorado Water Conservation Board on July 5, 2017. Photo credit the Colorado Independent.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Becky Mitchell, who has been the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board for about two months, spoke Friday at the Colorado River District’s annual water seminar in Grand Junction.

She told attendees that when it comes to meeting the state’s water needs, “it’s really all hands on deck. Everyone here plays an important role. … What you’re doing is equally as important as anything we’re doing.”

Steps already taken by entities ranging from her agency to the river district to agricultural interests, environmental stakeholders and members of river basin roundtables “have really shown me that we are at a point where we’re ready to work together and that the success that we’ve had has been because of collaboration,” Mitchell said.

In comments to the group and in an interview, she addressed the monetary challenges for Colorado in meeting its future water needs. An initial estimate for paying for projects identified in the new water plan in coming decades was about $20 billion — already a daunting amount — but Mitchell’s agency now believes the price tag could be twice that much when the cost of water quality projects, generally involving water or wastewater treatment, are included.

The state water board is looking into the cost issue through a statewide water supply initiative analysis that is expected to come out next year…

She said it will be important to rely on a prioritization of projects by roundtable groups in each river basin. Also key is to focus on projects that provide multiple benefits, because having multiple interests in a project could lead to multiple sources of money to pay for it, she said.

“It’s not necessarily the responsibility of the state to come up with the entire amount to implement the water plan,” Mitchell said. “A lot of it goes back to the local level and how we can support work that’s being done on the ground.”

Mitchell worked on developing the plan as a staff member of her agency before being promoted after her predecessor, James Eklund, left to take a job as an attorney with a legal firm.

“We’re at a really important time in the state where we have a capability to make a big difference in how we’re looking at our water future. It’s an exciting time and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Mitchell said.

As for Eastern Slope/Western Slope water matters, “I am optimistic that we’ll be able to work through issues like we have done. When we’ve found solutions, it’s when we’ve come together regardless of the side of the (Continental) Divide. I think where we’re going to see solutions is where we come together,” she said.

Eric Kuhn along the banks of the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, general manager of the Colorado River District. Photo via the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

From KJCT8.com:

The Colorado River is the hardest working river in the world, that’s according to local experts. Hundreds of water experts are gathered in the valley to put together their game plan to tackle the biggest challenges facing the river.

The General Manager Colorado River Water Conservation District, Erik Kuhn, says there are a lot of ideas to better manage the Colorado River, before it runs out in southern California. In order to stretch the water even further, one idea is to move the waters in Lake Powell to Lake Mead.

“So it would allow for the recovery of lands that are now inundated by water in Lake Powell, natural recovery of those. It’s called the ‘Fill Mead First’. He’s talking about that. We don’t think that works very well for a number of reasons. But it’s one of those things that’s caught a lot of press attention of late,” Kuhn said.

The Colorado River helps supply water to people in Denver all the way to about 20 million people in the Los Angeles, California area.

The Colorado River Basin is divided into upper and lower portions. It provides water to the Colorado River, a water source that serves 40 million people over seven states in the southwestern United States. Colorado River Commission of Nevada

@AmericanRivers: #Colorado families need a Ford not a Ferrari for a @COwaterplan budget

Red Canyon from Roaring Fork River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith.

From American Rivers (Sinjin Eberle, Kristin Green, Rob Harris, Brian Jackson)

A recent article suggested that the Colorado Water Plan could cost much more than anticipated – but estimates of higher cost are misguided, as all the proposals for proposed projects, and smart prioritization, is not yet final. Low-cost conservation measures will bring down the cost of the plan, and protect Colorado’s rivers for drinking water stability and healthy rivers.

SMART PRIORITIZATION AND COLLABORATION CRITICAL

Most everyone in Colorado knows that we can’t take a reliable water future for granted. Having clean, secure water for our communities, businesses, and agriculture, along with healthy rivers for respite, recreation, and to fuel our economy is not a given. In 2015, Colorado adopted a water plan, setting a course to achieve a reliable water future. Many applauded the balance of solutions and goals, including bolstering water conservation and reuse, looking for favorable ways to share water between cities and agriculture, and ensuring we had plans, and ideally actions, to keep our streams healthy.

Recently, the cost of the plan has come up in discussion.

There is no firmly identified cost to implement the water plan. We only have estimates at this time for what it will take to secure reliable water for our communities, agriculture, and environment. Those costs will become clearer as the state and water providers prioritize what water conservation, new supplies, water reuse, and stream restoration we want to do.

What we do know is that it will take resources to preserve the Colorado we love, and keep our farms productive and taps flowing. We also know that the money we need to restore and protect our rivers and streams, and find innovative ways to conserve water, are currently underfunded.

The initial estimate for the plan put the cost of implementation around $20 billion. That estimate includes the cost of the projects proposed from each basin around the state, but given the state’s limited resources that number could change as stakeholders further prioritize those projects.

We recently heard a much higher estimate cited that is simply wrong. When a Colorado family needs a new car, most are not going to go out and buy a Ferrari when a Ford affordably meets their needs – and that’s what we have here. We can achieve all of what’s needed to secure Colorado’s water needs into the future while investing only in those ideas that provide the best return to ratepayers and taxpayers. That’s what Coloradoans expect and it can be done. We need to identify what projects are a priority and which are financially feasible. We need to make sure we don’t double count projects that overlap with each other.

We encourage the state to prioritize funding the most cost-effective and feasible projects to secure a reliable water supply and protect our rivers and streams. Water conservation is one of the most cost effective ways to get where we need to go. Other innovations like water reuse and agricultural-urban sharing can provide multiple benefits and help us achieve a reliable water future.

Do we need more money? Yes. There are water funding needs identified in the plan and we will likely need to find new sources of dedicated funding. New funding sources should be used to support stabilizing a clean water supply for people, river health, agricultural conservation and efficiency, municipal conservation for smaller and medium-sized communities, and environmental water transactions. These projects are modest in costs, like adding air conditioning to a Ford, not a splurging on a lavish luxury car.

Collaboration will be critically important to shaping our water budget. We look forward to working with water providers, businesses, consumers, the state, local leaders, and other stakeholders in exploring the best way to meet the goals of the Colorado Water Plan.

WISE Partnership delivers water, marks new era of cooperation #ColoradoRiver #COriver

WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority

Here’s the release from the WISE Project:

Denver, Aurora and South Metro region connect water systems to maximize efficiencies

DENVER, Aug. 16, 2017 – One of the most exciting water projects in Colorado’s history is now live. After years of planning and development of critical infrastructure, water deliveries have begun for the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership, known as WISE.

“This is a significant new chapter in Colorado’s water history,” said John Stulp, special policy advisor to Gov. John Hickenlooper on water and chairman of the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee. “With the start of WISE deliveries, we are ushering in a new era of regional collaboration and partnership for the benefit of current and future generations in the Denver metropolitan area.”

WISE is a regional water supply project that combines available water supplies and system capacities among Denver Water, Aurora Water and the South Metro WISE Authority, which consists of 10 water providers serving Douglas and Arapahoe counties. Participating South Metro communities include Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Rock, among others.

“The state water plan identified regional collaboration and partnerships as key to a secure water future for Colorado,” said Lisa Darling, executive director of the South Metro WISE Authority. “WISE is a perfect example of the benefits that can come from such an approach.”

The innovative regional partnership is one of the first of its kind in the West and a major component to the region’s cooperative efforts to address long-term water supply needs. The WISE project has garnered unprecedented statewide support for its collaborative approach, which draws a stark contrast to water feuds of the past.

WISE allows the participating water entities to share existing water supplies, infrastructure and other assets in the South Platte River basin in ways that are mutually beneficial.

For communities in the South Metro region, WISE provides an additional source of renewable and reliable water supply and helps to reduce historical reliance on nonrenewable groundwater. Since the early 2000s, the region has made tremendous progress transitioning to a renewable water supply while ramping up conservation efforts.

For Denver, WISE adds a new emergency supply and creates more system flexibility, while allowing Denver Water to use water imported from the Colorado River multiple times for multiple purposes. For Aurora, WISE creates revenue that helps stabilize rates for municipal customers while creating added value from existing water and infrastructure.

“WISE promotes the efficient use of water through full utilization of existing resources,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “Through this project, we’ve created a sustainable water supply without having to divert additional water out of mountain streams.”

“This is a positive development for Colorado’s water community,” Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said. “It is critically important that water utilities and providers are working together to meet Colorado’s water needs, and I commend this partnership.”

By reusing water imported from the Colorado River through Denver Water’s water rights, the project provides a new sustainable supply without additional Colorado River diversions. A portion of the WISE water rate also goes to the Colorado River District to support river enhancements within the Colorado River basin.

In 2015 WISE became the first water infrastructure project ever to receive funding from Basin Roundtables — groups of regional water leaders who help shape statewide water policy — across the state because of the example it set of regional cooperation. It also received financial support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“The WISE Partnership is a great example of communities working together to creatively address the water demands of Colorado’s growing Front Range,” said Laura Belanger, water resources engineer with Western Resource Advocates. “We commend the project partners for successfully implementing this innovative and flexible project that utilizes existing infrastructure to share water supplies between communities, increasing reuse, and helping keep Colorado rivers healthy and flowing.”

Others expressing public support of the project include Gov. Hickenlooper; U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner; U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Mike Coffman; and David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

Since finalizing the WISE delivery agreement in 2013, WISE members have been hard at work putting in place the infrastructure and processes that will allow the parties across the Denver metro area to combine water supplies and system capacities.

Work included:
· Purchasing a 20-mile pipeline to carry water from Aurora to Denver and South Metro;
· Building a new water tank near E-470 and Smoky Hill Road;
· Connecting an array of existing underground pipelines; and
· Developing a new computer system that enables up-to-the-minute coordination between all entities.

@COindedpendent: As hundreds of thousands of people move to Colorado, a critical water supply report is years behind schedule

Lake Isabel photo credit Ray Schoch via the Colorado Independent.

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Editor’s note: Marianne Goodland reports on water issues for this ongoing series: PARCHED, which looks at conservation, the role of agriculture and storage, as Colorado prepares for a looming water shortage brought on by population growth and climate change.

John Hickenlooper and his administration spent four years and millions of dollars working up Colorado’s first statewide water plan out of what he called an urgent imperative – a projection that water needs will exceed supply by 2050.

But those water supply projections, upon which the water plan was based, are now nine years out of date, raising questions about the current state of Colorado water, given the recent population boom and more evidence that climate change has become a larger problem for water supplies.

Mark Eiswerth, a water expert and economics professor at the University of Northern Colorado, points out that ”[e]ven if water providers are completely successful in implementing projects [already planned], state water experts predict that we will meet only about 80 percent of the forecasted needs in the municipal and industrial sectors by 2050.”

The Colorado Water Conservation Board [CWCB], the agency overseeing water supplies as well as the state water plan, won’t have new projections quantifying our water shortage until summer of 2018, despite its commitment in 2010 that it would update and refine the data “every few years.” In the meantime, Hickenlooper earlier this month appointed Becky Mitchell—the official who for the last five years has been responsible for compiling that data—to head the agency and carry his plan forward.

“Coloradans and our water communities are working like never before to solve our state’s challenges collaboratively,” Mitchell said at the time of her appointment. “The same kind of cooperation that led to Colorado’s Water Plan will fuel the long-running effort necessary to continue putting the plan into action.”

Mitchell’s appointment was welcomed by both lawmakers and environmentalists who work regularly with the state’s water board.
Mitchell “knows the plan inside out,” Kristen Green of Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental advocacy group, told The Colorado Independent. “She’s great at being collaborative and reaching out to different stakeholders.”

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, who chairs the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said Mitchell would bring “the right balance of institutional knowledge and fresh ideas on how to meet the water demands of the state.”

The challenge ahead is immense. Sonnenberg, who also chairs a summer interim legislative committee on water, says the state needs to know what has changed over the last nine years. While, he says, he suspects supply and demand forecasts are still roughly in line with the last projections, the update “could force us to accelerate what we need to accomplish” to tackle the impending water shortage.

The population surge

Water planning is a complex numbers game that factors in current and projected population, climate patterns, water policies on the local, state and federal levels, and the competing needs of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, businesses, oil and gas drillers, environmentalists, birders, anglers, rafters, kayakers and everyone else who relies on the health and vibrancy of Colorado’s rivers.
Hickenlooper – whose legacy as governor will be shaped largely by the unprecedented growth he has championed in the state – ordered the first statewide water strategy in 2013 out of a need for an informed, cohesive and clear plan forward.

The administration’s 540-page plan, released in November, 2015, is predicated on a 2010 report, known as the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, or SWSI, pronounced swa-zee. The first SWSI report came out in 2004 at a time when the state was in the process of developing its infrastructure around water planning. The most recent report, an update, was based on 2008 data about water supplies. Since then, Colorado’s population has surged from about 4.9 million to 5.6 million people in 2016. The state is growing by 100,000 people per year, and the population could reach close to 10 million people by 2050, according to both the water plan and the 2010 water supply report.

John Stulp, special policy advisor to the governor on water, said that population growth now appears to be slower than what the water plan and 2010 SWSI had predicted – more in line with a population of about 8.5 million rather than 10 million by 2050. That’s good news in terms of demand, but the state still needs to figure out how to provide water to the three million additional residents.

The 2010 report projected that the Front Range will continue to be the most populous area in the state, but that population on the Western Slope will double. With that kind of growth on both sides of the Continental Divide, the 2010 SWSI projected Colorado would be short about one million acre-feet of water by 2050 and cities and towns would have to at least double their water supplies. One acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water, or enough water to satisfy two families of four for a year.

In the nine years since the state compiled data for its 2010 report, Colorado also has weathered its most disastrous wildfires, a drought in 2012 and a 100-year flood later that same year. In 2015-16, the United States experienced the warmest winter ever recorded.
Turnover, burnout and bureaucracy

The water plan has been criticized as a “compendium of ideas” rather than an actionable plan forward. Some of Colorado’s top water experts see it as a political move to make Hickenlooper look like he’s on top of water issues, but without having to make tough decisions that could affect developers or could inflame longstanding water tensions between the east and west sides of the state. At the time the plan came out, Peter Nichols, a water attorney who sits on the Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide water working group, said the plan had a lot of nice words but without a lot of action tied to them.

The CWCB is supposed to update policy-makers with new SWSI reports every few years. But that hasn’t happened since 2010. In 2016, the Colorado General Assembly authorized the CWCB to take $1 million out of its construction fund to update the SWSI report. At the time, the CWCB said the update would be done by mid-year 2017. Meaning now.

CWCB officials now say the report is more likely to surface around June 30 of next year.

The reason for the latest delay differs, depending upon whom you ask.

Minutes from a February 2016 meeting of a group of Denver-area water agencies, city and county officials, and representatives from agriculture, recreational, environmental and municipal water users, show that contractors had been selected for the SWSI update and “work will begin very soon.” “…Delivery targeted for mid-2017,” the minutes read. That was before the legislature had even approved the $1 million to update the report.

By Sept. 8 of that same year, progress appeared to have come to a halt. Minutes from the same working group’s meeting said that “[ e]verything with SWSI is on hold. There is no staff. No technical work has started.” According to the meeting’s minutes, those remarks came from the CWCB’s Craig Godbout, a program manager in the agency’s water supply planning section, which was then headed by Mitchell.
Mitchell disputes that work came to a standstill, stating that one of the biggest holdups has been navigating the state’s contracting rules. In attempting to put together an elaborate series of contracts to handle the SWSI update, Mitchell said, the CWCB ran into delays due to the state’s procurement rules, and the approval process was more complicated than the CWCB anticipated.

In addition to contractors, volunteer members of select groups, known as basin roundtables, are also responsible for much of what will happen with the next SWSI update.

These nine groups, set up by state law, include more than 300 representatives from counties, water providers, agricultural, municipal, industrial, environmental and recreational interests. Each roundtable covers a major river basin in the state – eight in all – plus a separate one for the Denver metro area.

The role of the roundtables, established in state law, is critical in every aspect of the state’s water planning. The roundtables are responsible for knowing the water situation in each of their nine areas and coming up with projects to satisfy water issues as well as the implementation plans for those projects. Those implementation plans formed the technical background for the state water plan.

Stulp told The Independent that roundtable members wanted to provide some of the technical expertise for the next update. Choosing who would participate slowed things up, he says, adding that he thinks the SWSI process is now “back on course.”

Mitchell and the CWCB’s former director, James Eklund, noted that the basin roundtables have seen turnover — and some burnout in membership. Once the SWSI was updated in 2010, Stulp says, the roundtables used that information to develop their own basin implementation plans. When the water plan was done, work on the SWSI update began, and once that’s done, the basin plans will in turn be updated, and the cycle repeats.

Mitchell says that despite the churn, the cycle works. SWSI is the technical piece that the basin roundtables rely on as they plan projects to solve a variety of water issues in their own areas. The water plan then is the status report, which asks “are we doing what we say we would do?” she said.

Greg Johnson, a program manager in the CWCB’s water supply planning section, is in charge of putting together the 2018 SWSI. “We wish we had more control over the timing,” he told The Independent last week. “But coming off the water plan, people, especially at the basin roundtable level, had put in thousands of hours of effort and it was hard to ask them to get back on that train for the SWSI” just three months after the water plan was rolled out.

Sonnenberg sees the delay in updating SWSI as a reflection of a lack of interest by the Hickenlooper administration and its appointees on the water board. His committee needs the update as it maps out priorities for the water plan for the next five years.

Part of the delay, he said, is due to turnover at the CWCB, which most recently included its former director. Eklund left in April to join the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs as a water law and infrastructure expert. Sonnenberg pinned the delay on Eklund, saying there during his tenure there was “a lack of interest in following through.”

Eklund chose not to respond to Sonnenberg’s criticisms, saying they had a good relationship while he was at the CWCB and that Sonnenberg had been very helpful on water issues. He noted that Sonnenberg had either been consulted on or a proponent of every major piece of water legislation.

What we learned from SWSI 2010

The 2010 report found that Colorado’s rivers generate about 16 million acre-feet of water every year—that’s 5.2 trillion gallons a year. On paper, that sounds like an abundance. But two-thirds of that water doesn’t stay in Colorado. If flows out of state under agreements drawn up decades ago with neighboring states that rely on our water.

The report pointed out that 80 percent of the state’s water is on the Western Slope while 80 percent of the population is on the Eastern Slope, including most of the state’s irrigated agricultural lands. Those farms and ranches use about 89 percent of the state’s consumed water, which doesn’t flow back to streams, rivers or aquifers.

The 2010 report also looked the state of the Colorado River – the biggest source of water for our state, and for the entire Southwest. The report included a review of environmental and recreational water supply and demand, municipal and industrial water supply and demand, and the water needs of ski resorts, breweries, and the state’s energy sector, based on electrical generation as well as oil and gas fracking.

The supply gap could be eased by changes in state water policy and efforts by the nine roundtable groups to address issues such as how the agriculture industry uses its water, additional storage from new or expanding existing dams and reservoirs, and conservation efforts, which have proven most successful during times of drought when Coloradans feel the squeeze.

Without its own data projecting the effect of climate change on water supplies, the water board drew data from experts such as the state’s climatologist and the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University in forming the state water plan. It warned, for example, about decreased water supply resulting from “dust on snow,” a phenomenon that occurs when wind pulls dust from deserts or other areas without vegetation and deposits it on mountain snowfields. That in turn increases solar radiation, “which speeds up snowmelt and leads to earlier spring runoff” by as much as three weeks, the water plan said.

Out of the 91 occurrences of dust-on-snow tracked since 2005, 10 took place in 2013 alone. If these dust-on-snow events continue at or near the same rate, the Colorado River alone would be short 750,000 acre-feet of water. That’s twice the amount of water used by Denver every year, the report warned.

What will the 2018 SWSI look like?

Stulp said the updated SWSI will be based more on technical data than the 2010 report, which looked at water supply gaps driven by the natural cycle of how water is generated and consumed in Colorado. The update will, instead, look at water supply and demand as a structural gap – based on the equation of how much new demand the state will face, minus the water projects already being planned statewide.

The updated report also will include updates on extreme weather conditions from drought to flooding and on the condition of Colorado’s rivers and streams. Improved water flows help both preserve fish and other wildlife habitats, as well as improved conditions for recreational activities, such as fishing or rafting.

“It’s amazing how fast six or seven years goes by,” Stulp said, referring to the 2010 SWSI.

The CWCB’s Johnson said the 2018 SWSI will rely on the roundtable expertise through four technical advisory groups, dealing with agriculture, municipal and industrial water uses, planning scenarios, and environmental and recreational water supply. The technical groups will act as peer review over the analysis provided by the contractors, who are now setting up the methodology, figuring out what models to use, how to quantify socio-economic factors, such as land use and population density, and then “crunching the numbers.” The technical groups will review that information in September.

One of the biggest differences for next year’s SWSI, Johnson added, will be its inclusion of an elaborate series of scenario planning. That planning will take into account population growth, social values and climate change. “Let’s imagine different futures and how the variables will change” that future, he said.

“We want to come up with something that is scientifically defensible. In the end we will get a better product.”

Johnson laid out a timeline for completion of the 2018 SWSI with the CWCB board at its monthly meeting last week in Crested Butte. The methodology development, which is being done by contractors, will continue through November, with technical evaluations to wrap up in late spring. A final report, according to Johnson, should be issued by June 30, 2018.

The ticking clock

When Hickenlooper issued the order for the water plan in 2013, lawmakers felt they had been left out of the process. In response, in 2014, they passed a bill that sternly claimed that the purpose of the water plan is to determine state policy on conservation and development of water resources, and that the General Assembly “is primarily responsible for guiding the development of state water policy.”

That work is left mostly to the legislature’s 10-member interim Water Resources Review Committee, which will begin its summer schedule in August.

During 2015, the water committee traveled around the state, gathering public input on drafts of the water plan and coming up with their own views on how the plan should look. Since then, lawmakers’ roles have been largely confined to passing bills to come up with the money to start implementing the plan, although those bills ($5 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2017) have said little about exactly how that money would be spent.

The late SWSI update isn’t a big deal to Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush of Steamboat Springs, a Democrat who sits on the water committee. She said that she doesn’t think the delay would make a difference but acknowledged that the information would be important because lawmakers can’t just rely on assumptions about the state’s water supply and demand.

Sonnenberg said that during the water committee meetings in August he wants lawmakers to meet with the water board to discuss what’s going on with the SWSI.

“It’s important we have the updates so we can see if we’re on same trend or if we have drastic changes,” he said.”[But]growth in Colorado has been fairly predictable.”

This is Colorado, Sonnenberg said, and people love coming here. Between 2008, when the last SWSI update was issued, and 2016, 700,000 new residents settled in this state. By next summer, another 100,000 are expected.

Rebecca Mitchell selected as new CWCB director — @COindependent

Photo of Becky Mitchell at Main Reservoir, Lakewood by Marianne Goodland

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Rebecca “Becky” Mitchell, who currently heads up the water supply planning section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, today was named the agency’s new director, effective immediately.

Mitchell has been with the Department of Natural Resources since 2008 and joined the CWCB in 2009. She was selected as the next director by the agency’s 15-member board. The CWCB provides guidance on state water policy and is the state’s comprehensive source for water information, including technical assistance and training.

A native of Hawaii, Mitchell has lived in Colorado for the past 20 years. Colorado water has been the focus of her entire career.

She started off with an interest in the environment and biology but found water was her real passion. “Water is the corner in which I can make a difference,” she said.

That interest has taken her all over the world, but especially to Africa, and Ethiopia. Mitchell has five children, including several adopted from Ethiopia. She says she believes in giving back and has traveled to Ethiopia to help the country with water treatment as well as work on water systems for orphanages.

“It keeps you grounded in terms of why what you do is important,” she said.

“I’m excited and fortunate to have an opportunity to serve a state agency filled with committed and thoughtful stewards of Colorado’s precious water resources,” Mitchell said in a statement. “Coloradans and our water communities are working like never before to solve our state’s challenges collaboratively. The same kind of cooperation that led to Colorado’s Water Plan will fuel the long-running effort necessary to continue putting the plan into action. What a privilege to be part of this process.”

As section chief over water planning for the past five years, Mitchell has been a key liaison with water groups around the state, such as the basin roundtables, which represent environmental, recreational, agricultural, municipal and industrial water users in each of the state’s eight major river basins plus a separate group for metro Denver. She also has been responsible for directing and implementing the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which provided some of the critical background data for the state water plan on water supply and demand.

Prior to joining CWCB, Mitchell served served as the Water Policy and Issues Coordinator within the Department of Natural Resources’ executive director’s office and in both the public and private sectors as a consulting engineer. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Colorado School of Mines.

Senate President Pro tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, a critic of the previous director, James Eklund, greeted the news of Mitchell’s appointment with enthusiasm. “I’m confident the new director will rebuild the relationships with the legislature and work with us rather than working on their own,” he said.

Conservation Colorado also viewed Mitchell’s appointment as a positive. “Our number one priority is to see the water plan implemented,” said Kristen Green of Conservation Colorado. Mitchell “knows the plan inside-out. She’s great at being collaborative and reaching out to different stakeholders.”

Here’s the release from the Colorado Division of Water Resources (Todd Hartman):

Rebecca Mitchell, who played an instrumental role in production of Colorado’s Water Plan, has been named the new director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Mitchell, who was selected by the CWCB’s 15-member board, will oversee CWCB’s 45-member staff as it provides statewide policy direction on water issues and continues implementation of the water plan. Mitchell replaces James Eklund, who left recently for private law practice after serving nearly four years as the agency’s director.

“I’m excited and fortunate to have an opportunity to serve a state agency filled with committed and thoughtful stewards of Colorado’s precious water resources,” Mitchell said. “Coloradans and our water communities are working like never before to solve our state’s challenges collaboratively. The same kind of cooperation that led to Colorado’s Water Plan will fuel the long-running effort necessary to continue putting the plan into action. What a privilege to be part of this process.”

Mitchell previously served as the Section Chief for CWCB’s Water Supply Planning section, which includes the Office of Water Conservation & Drought Planning and focuses on ensuring sufficient water supplies for Colorado’s citizens and the environment. Mitchell played a significant part in working with the state’s Basin Roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee, the public at large and CWCB staff in producing Colorado’s Water Plan following Gov. John HIckenlooper’s executive order in 2013 directing CWCB to facilitate the development of the plan.

Mitchell has also served as the Water Policy and Issues Coordinator within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources’ executive director’s office. Before joining DNR she worked in both the public and private sectors as a consulting engineer. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Colorado School of Mines.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) was created over 75 years ago to provide policy direction on water issues. The CWCB is Colorado’s most comprehensive water information resource. The agency maintains expertise in a broad range of programs and provides technical assistance to further the utilization of Colorado’s waters. It is one of six divisions housed within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

@COWaterPlan update

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Here’s an interview with Bart Miller about the Colorado Water Plan from Water Deeply (Matt Weiser):

Recent adoption of the first Colorado Water Plan sets the state on a path to resolve projected shortfalls in water supply, but the plan has flaws that still need attention, explains Western Resource Advocate’s Bart Miller.

COLORADO FACES AN estimated water deficit of 560,000 acre-feet by 2050, due in part to an expected population increase. But it has a long-term plan to address that looming shortage.

The Colorado Water Plan – the first-ever statewide water strategy in Colorado – was ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2013 and finalized at the end of 2015. This May, the state legislature allocated a first slug of dedicated funding to meet objectives in the plan.

The goal is to bring water demand into balance with supply while maintaining existing urban and agricultural values and also improving stream health throughout the state.

To learn more about the plan, Water Deeply recently spoke with Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program director at Western Resource Advocates in Boulder. Miller has followed the plan closely, both during its drafting and as implementation begins.

Water Deeply: Why this plan? What’s the conflict behind it?

Coyote Gulch and Bart Miller at the State of the Rockies Speaker Series 2011.

Bart Miller: The state of Colorado has seen and will continue to see a lot of growth – and in the last 15 years a lot of drought. So those two combined create what the plan describes as a gap in supply and demand looking out just a few decades ahead. The plan also recognizes some troubling trends in Colorado. Some of that is related to what we often refer to as “buy and dry”: cities buying up agricultural lands to get their water, and completely retiring the (farm) use on those lands.

Also, there has been some conflict between east versus west. The Front Range has harvested water from the west side of Colorado such that today there is over 500,000 acre-feet collected from the Western Front and delivered to the Front Range.

The executive order that called for the Water Plan back in 2013 was really, for the first time, describing broadly the water values the state has. Despite a history where water has been diverted for agriculture, cities and mining, the Water Plan points out there are a range of values, including viable communities, viable agriculture, viable recreation and smart land use. Those are the values the state has that cities and state agencies embrace. So I think it was an effort to get all those out on the table as co-equal partners in the state’s future water needs.

Water Deeply: Does the plan lay out a particular budget or investment scheme?

Miller: Not quite. It leaves most of the financial questions unresolved. It sets out objectives for all those different values that I mentioned. It tries to put a price tag on the funding gap to make all these things happen by 2050. The plan recognizes much of that funding will come from existing sources, in that cities, if building a water project, will be able to raise that funding and apply it to the customers they serve.

But there are some items that have been underfunded or even unfunded over the course of the past few decades. A need for new funding is things like stream health.

Water Deeply: Is there anything binding in the plan? Does it set any hard deadlines?

Miller: I’d say no. It’s largely a planning document. It suggests that different objectives could be met through a series of actions. It suggests legislation that might be helpful, as well as executive or administration actions by the state agencies in collaboration with others. It notes some things, like urban water conservation, are really going to happen through water utilities and their planning process. So the short answer is no.

But there is a pretty wide suite of recommendations, many of which are starting to be implemented. But it’s really just taking the first steps toward implementation.

Water Deeply: Is this a good plan, in your opinion?

Miller: I think yes. It’s a good planning document. It has good objectives, it recognizes a wide range of values. It doesn’t clearly spell out how we’ll get from here to 2030 or even 2050. So it’s in need of more milestones. We’ve got broad objectives for urban conservation, land-use planning, stream health and building new water storage. But it doesn’t have much in the way of measurement points, ways to check in.

And then there’s the price tag. It does spell out a need for some new sources of funding. The good news is, this year the state legislature passed a bill in May that allocates a lot of money to the state Water Conservation Board – $20 million or so – toward implementing the water plan. A project bill is passed by the legislature every year. This year is the first time they included a large boost in funding. They took an existing revolving loan account, and there’s a large enough balance in it that they felt comfortable spending part of it down, which will not be reimbursed. A lot of it will be for grants.

Water Deeply: The plan calls for 400,000 acre-feet of water savings by 2050. Is that ambitious enough?

Miller: That’s a significant number for Colorado. As a point of reference, the water project that serves the Denver metro area serves about 1.3 million customers, and their annual use is about 250,000 acre-feet. So in rough terms, 400,000 acre-feet is enough to meet the needs of over 2 million people, and probably even more. In a state like Colorado, where you’ve only got 5 million residents today, that’s a good goal and a pretty big goal, and a pretty important part of the puzzle.

Water Deeply: Even so, the plan projects a 560,000 acre-foot gap in water needs by 2050, right?

Miller: The plan did both supply and demand projections in various parts of the state. It saw there could be a shortage, yes. But interestingly, a lot of the objectives in the plan will greatly reduce that gap. For example, urban conservation. If cities continue on the track they’ve been on the last 15 years, which is reducing water use per capita by about 1 percent per year, that’s going to save a large chunk of the 400,000 acre-feet, through urban conservation. So at some level, I would de-emphasize the importance of that gap, because there are several approaches that will make that gap shrink or disappear.

Water Deeply: The plan also calls for 400,000 acre-feet of new water storage. Do we know what those projects will be?

Miller: Some of them, yes. At least a couple of those fairly large water projects are already in progress. The proponents in one case are Denver Water, and in another case a northern Colorado group of cities working together under a group called Northern Water. They both have had projects proposed for 15 years or more, and they are in the process of getting environmental reviews done.

Those two projects combined would point toward well over half of that 400,000 acre-foot goal. The rest of that 400,000 acre-foot – it’s an open question what projects will get built. And even these two are not done. They’re not built yet, and there may be delays or objections to those yet. The plan did not directly articulate which projects would be inside the 400,000 acre-foot goal.

Water Deeply: What do the watershed protection components of the plan involve?

Miller: One involves a state program – called Watershed Protection – that has been around a number of years. It does some things like sediment control and prescribed burns.

And there’s a new element tucked inside that same program that has additional funding called stream management planning. It focuses specifically on river health and streamflow. This is meant to be kind of an organic process where stakeholders inside a particular river basin identify stream reaches that are in trouble: they’re dry, or they may have temperature issues. And they try to identify what options there might be to help those streams. It’s meant to identify problems and lay out a suite of solutions.

There’s study from about five years ago that found Colorado River-based recreation and tourism generates in the neighborhood of about 80,000 jobs a year and adds about $9 billion a year to state’s economy. So there’s a growing recognition of the importance of rivers to the state.

Water Deeply: The plan also calls for identifying new funding sources for water projects. How will this work?

Miller: Yes, the plan is looking for options to raise an additional $100 million by 2020 and $3 billion by 2030. The plan estimated the unfunded piece of implementing the plan is $3 billion. All that’s still being discussed. There’s no firm plan yet for what the best mechanism for that is.

The plan recognizes there are important water values across the state that do need to be addressed to help communities meet their conservation goals. But I think the funding need is probably an underestimate, because the plan did not go into very great detail about the costs of remedying stream health.

Water Deeply: You mentioned there’s also a need to prioritize how funding is spent.

Miller: There are many objectives in the plan. And there are gaps – perceived and real funding gaps. But there’s not yet a real clear process for applying criteria on how public funds are spent.

So that’s an important next step, and I hope it will come to pass that those criteria are used. That, plus the long-term funding, will be really the proof of the truth in meeting our plan goals. The goals and objectives are great. We’ll hopefully find ourselves in a place where we’ve made good decisions two or three years from now.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Rio Grande Basin @CWCB_DNR

San Luis Valley via National Geographic

From The Alamosa News:

The Colorado Water Conservation Board is a known name with an often unknown role. However, one thing is certain, it is the guiding force behind water policy in the State of Colorado and has been a key provider of financial means for many important water projects in the San Luis Valley.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board was formed more than 75 years ago. The mission it was charged with was/is “To conserve, develop, protect and manage Colorado’s water for present and future generations.” Today, the CWCB is Colorado’s most comprehensive resource for water information, expertise and technical support.

The CWCB is also about those who serve. Fifteen board members govern the CWCB. Members are appointed by the governor and serve three-year terms. Each member hails from one of the nine basins of Colorado which are the Arkansas, Colorado, Gunnison, Metro, North Platte, Rio Grande, South Platte, Southwest, and Yampa/White respectively. They are responsible for tasks such as protecting Colorado’s streams and rivers, water conservation, flood mitigation, watershed protection, stream restoration, drought planning, water project financing, and the creation and oversight of the Basin Roundtables. In addition, the CWCB collaborates with other western states, as well as federal agencies, to protect state water apportionments.

Other personnel include more than 40 CWCB staff members who maintain a total of six major program areas or sections. The sections are management, finance and administration, interstate and federal, stream and lake protection, water supply planning, watershed and flood protection. These are the teams that report to the board members, make recommendations and do all of the behind the scenes work. The combined efforts of the CWCB board and staff have produced beneficial and needed results with water projects and issues throughout the state.

One example of a key initiative that was recently completed by the CWCB is the Colorado Water Plan. Until 2015, Colorado was one of the only western states that did not have a water plan. With the population of Colorado expected to see enormous increases, the demand for water is also projected to see a huge spike. There were/are also many challenges facing Colorado including an increasing water supply gap, agricultural dry-up, critical environmental concerns, variable climate conditions, inefficient regulatory process and increasing funding needs. As a result, Governor John Hickenlooper signed an Executive Order in 2013 which tasked the CWCB with the creation of a water plan for the State of Colorado.

After three years, the completion of the Colorado Water Plan was celebrated in November of 2015. Goals in the plan include meeting the water supply gap, defending Colorado’s compact entitlements, improving regulations, and exploring financial incentives. Meanwhile, the objective is to honor Colorado water values and ensure the state’s most valuable resource is protected and preserved for generations to come. The implementation of the Colorado Water Plan continues by working through individual issues in each basin. This is just one of the many complex areas the CWCB tackles on a daily basis.

With the many and often difficult issues the Colorado Water Conservation Board handles, what do these efforts mean to the Rio Grande Basin and the San Luis Valley? The answer is the Rio Grande Roundtable. The Roundtable serves two critical roles. The first is to develop a comprehensive communication platform for stakeholders, and the second is as a conduit for funding basin water projects. The Rio Grande Roundtable itself exists because of the CWCB. The concept of the Basin Roundtables was established through the “Water for the 21st Century Act” with the intent of facilitating discussion and common sense solutions for Colorado’s water needs.

Currently, the roundtables across the state bring more than 300 individuals to the table. There is an even larger amount of needs and interests represented. Each basin is also required to have a plan. These plans must identify both consumptive and non-consumptive water needs as well as available water supplies and proposed projects and methods. The projects and methods of course, require funding. This is where the CWCB Water Project Loan Program comes in. On an annual basis, the CWCB has close to $50 million available for this program. These low interest loans are available to any agricultural or municipal borrower who can establish a clear need for the design and/or construction of a raw water project. Proposed projects must then clear an application process and obtain board approval. Once each of these measures are successful, the project can begin.

The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable has been the recipient of millions of dollars in funding for crucial water projects, thanks to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. One notable example is the Rio Grande Cooperative Project. As a public/private partnership between Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, the Rio Grande Cooperative project was presented to the CWCB as a funding request for needed repairs to Rio Grande and Beaver Reservoirs. The request was successful and in 2013, Phase 1 of the repair process at Rio Grande Reservoir was complete. Beaver Reservoir completed its dam rehabilitation in 2016. This is just one way in which the CWCB has tremendously benefitted the San Luis Valley. In fact, it could possibly be argued that the Valley would be a much different place without the CWCB.

Colorado’s water and water in the Rio Grande Basin is and always will be an important matter. Many can agree that it must be used wisely. The Rio Grande Roundtable and the Colorado Water Conservation Board work to ensure that this valuable resource is managed well.

The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable meets the second Tuesday of every month. Meetings are located at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 4th St. Alamosa. Visit http://www.rgbrt.org. or http://cwcb.state.co.us.