#RioGrande “State of the Basin” recap #COWaterPlan

Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

From the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District via The Monte Vista Journal:

During the 2019 “State of the Basin Symposium” at Adams State University, the Rio Grande Basin was reminded that Colorado has a water plan as Heather Dutton, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and Rio Grande Basin representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, shared some insights on the Colorado Water Plan.

Officially completed on Nov. 19, 2015 by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the statewide effort followed an Executive Order from Governor John Hickenlooper and represents a great deal of work and input from many experts across the state. Dutton opened her remarks by giving a brief history of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District. Next, she turned the focus of her presentation to some of the components of the plan and the work of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Dutton noted that the plan was designed to address the major water issues that Colorado faces. Some of the key areas that the plan focuses on include agriculture, conservation, land use, the supply-demand gap, storage, and watershed health environment, funding, and outreach and education. The plan has been called a roadmap for the future of Colorado’s water. There are numerous goals that the plan has outlined such as maximizing alternatives to permanent agriculture dry-up and the promotion of water efficiency ethic for all Coloradans. The overarching goal of the plan is to help Colorado meet its water needs relative to growing population levels and reach a degree of sustainability by 2030.
Dutton also mentioned the Colorado Water Plan Grant Program, which is the funding portion of the plan that is designed to provide needed financial assistance for vital water projects across the state. “The CWCB is putting its money where its mouth is,” said Dutton.

Dutton further noted that part of the process of creating the plan included gathering input from each of Colorado’s respective basin roundtables. Each basin was required to submit its own plan. This led to the Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan. The result was the San Luis Valley water community having a voice in the entire process. Dutton acknowledged the work of many of the leaders that were present.

While the implementation process is ongoing, Dutton expressed optimism that Colorado Water Plan will continue help the Rio Grande Basin and the rest of the state see a brighter future when it comes to water.

#Colorado’s new Department of Natural Resources head talks oil and water — The Colorado Independent #ActOnClimate

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Colorado Independent (John Herrick):

Hundreds of men and women who work in the state’s oil and gas fields flocked to the state Capitol this week to protest a bill that, if passed, will impose dramatic changes on the way oil and gas drilling is conducted in Colorado. Workers filled the halls of the Capitol ahead of what ended up being a 12-hour committee hearing on the proposed legislation. Many who lined up to testify said they feared the new regulations would end up costing them their jobs.

Also waiting to testify was Dan Gibbs, the newly appointed executive director for the Department of Natural Resources. The 43-year-old from Breckenridge will play a key role in guiding oil and gas regulators — who work in his department — through any regulatory changes. The bill, which is expected to win approval of the Democrat-controlled legislature and Gov. Jared Polis, calls for landmark regulatory changes, including elimination of the mandate that state regulators foster oil and gas development.

Gibbs, a former county commissioner and state lawmaker, has made it clear that he supports the bill, especially a provision that would give local communities more say in permitting decisions. Current Colorado law says that responsibility for regulating fracking falls to the state. Still, several cities across the Front Range have sought in vain to control drilling within their borders, including outright bans. As a state representative, Gibbs helped strengthen regulations over oil and gas, sponsoring a bill to protect wildlife from drilling impacts. He brings his more regulation-focused perspective to the department on the heels of a record production year for the $31-billion industry.

During his testimony, Gibbs said he heard similar fears of job cuts when he was a lawmaker working on oil and gas bills.

“We didn’t see any evidence of any job loss as a result of these bills. In fact, there was an increase in activity from 2007 to what we see now,” said Gibbs, who was sitting next to Erin Martinez, a survivor of the Firestone explosion in April 2017. Her husband and brother were killed.

Gibbs grew up rafting, fly fishing, skiing and ultrarunning. He wears a sports watch and carries his wildland firefighting red card at all times. He worked for former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in Washington, D.C., served as a state representative before being appointed to the Senate by a vacancy committee, and has been elected Summit County commissioner three times.

The Department of Natural Resources, made up of 1,465 employees, oversees drilling, mining, water management and state parks in Colorado. In addition to navigating changes to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission [COGCC], the body that regulates and promotes oil and gas development, he will also be responsible for another urgent challenge: trying to figure out how to pay for the Colorado Water Plan. The plan, which will cost an estimated $100 million a year to implement, is part of a solution to avert projected water shortages due to population growth, climate change and obligations to other states and tribes that rely on the Colorado River.

We spoke to Gibbs before Tuesday’s marathon Senate Transportation and Energy committee hearing, and again afterward. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

You spend a lot of time outdoors. Is there anything you’ve seen that for you really exemplifies climate change?

In 2009, I was fighting the Old Stage Fire in Boulder County during the second week of January on the first day of the legislative session…

That’s when former Gov. Bill Ritter was giving his State of the State address.

Yeah, he actually mentioned me. ‘As we speak, Dan Gibbs in on the fire line.’ Never did I think I would be fighting a fire in Colorado in January. But that just shows how clearly things are changing. You know, in Summit County, we have 156,000 acres of dead trees as a result of the mountain pine beetle. It was like a slow-moving tsunami, moving from Grand County into Summit County. … I mention this because the mountain pine beetle is a situation of climate change where the winters historically have not been cold enough.

What do you think the economic impacts of oil and gas drilling in Colorado are?

There can be a balance with doing things in a more environmentally friendly way while recognizing the economic impacts of having oil and gas industry do well in Colorado. I don’t think it’s either-or. I worked on a bill that added a higher level of wildlife protections for oil and gas. … I was in the committee room. It was packed full of sportsmen wearing camo and blaze orange. And I also had support from oil and gas industry. At that time they were willing to be supportive of this particular bill, believe it or not. As a local government person, formerly as a county commissioner, county commissioners are in charge of looking at health, safety and welfare of people that live in that community and visit. … If someone wants to build something they have to go through a planning process to get approval. If they want to mine something — you know we have a lot of historic mines in Summit County — they need to get a [permit]. We have a gravel pit. And people had concerns about the trucks going by their house. Well, we can make sure the rocks are covered. We can mitigate the times of operation. We can make things more doable for people that have to be directly impacted by that.

What about the economic impacts of drilling on industries like the outdoor recreation industry? I’m wondering if you think the economic impacts of drilling and coal mining go beyond just the jobs of the people that are working in the oil fields or the coal mines.

I don’t think we need to pit one industry against another. I wouldn’t even call it the recreation industry because, where I live, it’s the environment that’s the economic driver. So the more we can protect the environment, the more it is beneficial to our economy. And I think that’s reflective of many parts of Colorado.

How do you reconcile those two competing imperatives: to protect the environment, while at the same time protecting an industry that offers good-paying jobs and provides money for your department.

We need to look at ways we can protect people, protect the environment, and people’s way of life. I think oil and gas can do things in a way that is not harmful to people’s health. I think there is a way to do it. I don’t think you need to set up oil and gas wells right next to where people live. I think there are ways to do better environmental monitoring of wells when they are close to where people live or when they are close to critical water storage areas. I think we can do things in a more environmentally friendly way where oil and gas can continue to do business in Colorado while minimizing harming the environment.

The state legislature wants to do way with COGCC’s role of fostering oil and gas development and make it solely a regulatory agency. What’s your reaction to the bill in the legislature?

I think there should be serious reforms within the structure with how we do things in Colorado. I support this bill, Senate Bill 181. I like having local government have a seat at the table if they want to. … Local governments are in the business of regulating land use issues. I’m shocked that local communities have never had the authority to shape land use decisions as it relates to oil and gas. Depending on many truckloads go through an area, things can be mitigated based on how close [that activity] is to homes, how close it is to critical wildlife areas like sage grouse.

You’re going to be over at the state Capitol today. You may end up talking to a number of people who work in the industry who will say ‘I’m going to lose my job’ because of this bill. What are you going to tell them?

I will say that’s not true. There is no evidence to reflect that this bill is trying to shut down industry in any way. What it’s trying to do is balance oil and gas activity with looking at what’s best for people and their communities. It’s not creating necessarily a veto power. It is adding a layer of oversight that doesn’t exist now. New oversight. So I would say that’s just not an accurate statement. But I’m sure we’ll hear that a lot. The industry is important in Colorado. And the bill, as it goes through the process, will have five, six hearings and discussions in the House and Senate and opportunities to amend. It’s not the ending point, but the starting point. The bill will likely change.

I wanted to transition to water. Water projects are funded through severance taxes. And severance taxes are dependent on the production of oil and gas. Would you describe that as a competing mission — on one hand you have these environmental programs that are reliant on an industry that has an environmental impact?

It’s funny you say that. Well, not funny. As a county commissioner, we funded all of our recycling programs through tipping fees at our landfills. The more trash we got, the more programs we could fund for diversion. And so, it’s similar, the more oil and gas activity you have in the state, the more we can fund environmental programs. … I think we need a new strategy in terms of how we fund environmental programs. And not just be dependent on severance funds. Looking at other programs I have: the Parks and Wildlife budget is about 85 percent contingent on hunting and fishing licenses. I’m going to be working on a more sustainable funding source moving forward that is not just contingent on hunting and fishing licenses.

Should people who recreate, like backpackers, pay more to Colorado Parks and Wildlife?

What we have right now for Parks and Wildlife is not sustainable. We need to look at every option on the table. … We really need to be creative to figure out who might be willing to help fund the trail system throughout Colorado and what opportunities exist with new foundations that could help with funding.

What are you doing to come up with a new funding mechanism or revenue stream for the Colorado Water Plan?

I just met with a group of stakeholders. The governor has more or less a line item request of $30 million this year. And that will go along with the [state budget]. And then, on top of that, we have the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s water projects bill, and that’s going to have $20 million associated with that. So we’re going to have $50 million going toward implementation strategies. We need about $100 million [per year] moving forward. I think this is a great place to start. You need a lot of local partners. It’s not just the state flipping the switch. … We have all these folks that are working hard to figure out a plan moving forward. There is talk of a possible ballot question in the future. All options are on the table.

When do you expect the Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) report [which projects Colorado’s water shortages] to be ready?

Sometime over the summer.

It was supposed to come out years ago. What explains the delay?

I don’t know. But I will tell you that I think moving forward it’s important that we do regular updates to SWSI. Climate change, population growth, and a variety of different factors impact water availability. I think we need to get on a set schedule that gives us updates — I’m not saying every year — but fairly frequently. That will help us set policies going forward.

Water shortages are projected in future years and there is no clear way to pay for the water plan. You still have oil and gas and local communities duking it out in the suburbs. There are a lot of pressing issues without easy answers. This job will pay about $160,000, but aside from that, what made you want to take on this challenge?

I think daily about my young kids and the fact that I could be in this position right now and I can shape how we manage natural resources right now, but have an eye on what Colorado will look like in the next generation, in future generations. That really appeals to me. Working for a governor like Jared Polis, I support his vision of protecting the environment, understanding that protecting the environment is the best way that we can protect our economy in Colorado.

What keeps you up at night?

I think about the employees that work here for DNR. We have amazing staff here and ensuring that they are OK in the jobs that they have. But any day I could hear about an oil and gas explosion similar to Firestone. That definitely keeps me up. I worry about hearing about the mountain lion attack in Fort Collins and then looking at strategies that we have to deal with lions. This jobs is so diverse. Folks can call me at two in the morning with catastrophic situations like Firestone.

Someone might call you up and bring you out to the fireline, too, right?

Yeah, exactly. I get nervous about oil and gas. But once it hits summertime, I feel like we are one lighting strike, one unattended campfire, from having a mega-fire in Colorado that would have devastating consequences.

Alamosa councillors plan to oppose latest San Luis Valley water export plans

The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Alamosa city councilors and staff are willing to join the fight against the latest water export proposal, they told water leader Cleave Simpson during a work session Tuesday night.

Simpson is the general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which has taken a position against a water export proposal by Renewable Water Resources. He shared with the council the history of former water export proposals and details about the latest one, which proposes to export 22,000 acre feet from the San Luis Valley to the south Denver metro area.

“I do believe it’s real,” Simpson said. “I think they intend to do it.”

Nothing has yet been filed in court but Simpson said the spokesman for Renewable Water Resources indicated the case might be filed by the end of this year. Simpson said the City of Alamosa could enter the case when it is filed.

The city council and staff discussed other ways they could be involved including taking an official stand through a resolution, like the water conservation district did, and participating in education and awareness.

“It would damage the agriculture of the Valley,” Councilman David Broyles commented about the proposed export.

“And economy,” added Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks.

Councilman Charles Griego said he believed the city’s first step would be to pass an official resolution during a council meeting. Brooks suggested the city council could pass a resolution either the second meeting in March or first meeting in April. “I am hearing this is something we should be taking seriously,” Brooks said.

Griego said the city needs to be clear that “not one drop” should be exported from the Valley and that the council would be against any kind of water leaving the Valley. He said the word needs to get out how devastating this would be to the Valley…

He said he is going to inform the Interbasin Compact Commission members later this week, as he is a member of that governor-appointed statewide water board.

Simpson said Renewable Water Resources on its website (renewablewaterresources.com) says “Best for the San Luis Valley. Best for the environment. Best for Colorado.” However, he sees no benefit whatsoever to the Valley of this project. “It’s not good for the San Luis Valley.”

He added that the Valley has a history of opposition to similar projects and will adamantly oppose this one too.

“Every 10-20 years, there’s another export proposal,” Simpson said.

Some of the past proposals, which were unsuccessful, were a proposal to export water from wells drilled in Costilla County to San Marcos, Texas in the 1970’s and multiple export proposals tied to the late Gary Boyce who owned land in Saguache County. American Water Development Inc. (AWDI) proposed to pump 200,000 acre feet of water from the Baca Ranch area to the Front Range.

The latest proposal is that of Renewable Water Resources, which purchased a 12,000-acre ranch north of Crestone. Their proposal is to pipe 22,000 acre feet of water from the confined aquifer out of the Valley and ultimately to the Denver area. (Simpson described 22,000 acre feet as the equivalent of 100 circles.) Renewable Water Resources representatives met with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board to seek the district’s cooperation in helping the developers use up to $60 million (about $2,500 an acre foot) to buy and retire water rights across the Valley and to help manage a $50-million community fund. Although planning to pump out 22,000 acre feet, the water developers propose to buy up twice that much, 40,000-44,000 acre feet of water rights, and retire a portion, which is a different approach than previous water exporters, Simpson explained.

He said reducing water consumption is a similar goal to the water district and sub-districts. However, “We are not pursuing permanent dry up or permanent removal of 22,000 acre feet of water leaving the Valley.”

Governor Polis Announces Water Appointments

Aspen trees in autumn. Photo: Bob West via the Colorado State Forest Service.

From email from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources:

Governor Polis has announced three new board appointments to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

· Gail Schwartz of Basalt, Colorado, representing the Colorado River basin
· Jackie Brown of Oak Creek, Colorado, representing the Yampa-White River basin
· Jessica Brody of Denver, Colorado, representing the City and County of Denver

In addition, the Governor appointed Russ George as the Director of the Inter-Basin Compact Committee in addition to five gubernatorial appointees.

· Aaron Citron
· Mely Whiting
· Robert Sakata
· Patrick Wells
· Paul Bruchez

“I’m excited to work with these appointments,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources. “Their collective experience is unmatched.”

Gail Schwartz has spent over two decades serving Colorado in both appointed and elected office. Jackie Brown brings a diverse background in natural resources and is a leader in the water community as the current Chair of the Yampa-White-Green basin roundtable. Finally, as General Counsel for Denver Water and formerly with the Denver City Attorney’s Office, Jessica Brody brings both municipal and environmental law experience.

“I’m looking forward to working with the newly appointed board and IBCC members to continue implementing Colorado’s Water Plan. They bring valued expertise and leadership to the water community,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Director of the CWCB. “We sincerely thank the outgoing Board members and IBCC appointments for their service. Their dedication has been instrumental on numerous policy and planning efforts, including bringing a diversity of perspectives to Colorado’s Water Plan.”

Russ George is a fourth generation native of the Rifle, Colorado area and brings a depth of state government and public service. Russ was instrumental in creating the IBCC and basin roundtables.

“As the first champion of the IBCC and roundtable process, there’s no one better equipped to lead the IBCC. We’re embarking on a future of great opportunity in water, and Russ is the perfect choice to navigate the times ahead,” said Gibbs.

State of #Colorado, water managers, set to work on water-use reduction plan — @AspenJournalism #cwcac2019 #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Hay fields in the upper Yampa River valley, northwest Colorado. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Colorado officials and regional water managers are poised to start working together on a plan to reduce water use in Colorado, mainly by paying willing irrigators to fallow hayfields, in order to bolster falling water levels in Lake Powell and guard against a compact call on the Colorado River system.

After a series of meetings held last week by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and by Western Slope and Front Range water interests, state officials are now set to begin investigating the feasibility of a “demand management” program that’s “voluntary, temporary and compensated,” and water users and managers throughout Colorado will be asked to help shape the new program.

“Demand management, reduction in consumptive use, is an incredibly threatening concept to Western water users, and certainly to West Slope water users,” Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River District, told a ballroom full of water professionals Friday during the last day of a three-day Colorado Water Congress meeting here. “Our agricultural community is concerned that what this is really about is taking water from ag and bringing it into urban areas.”

Nonetheless, Mueller said, “this is a time where we have to work collaboratively, with both our urban friends and our rural friends, to figure how we do this together, and how we recognize the values that are important to each of us.”

Mueller also told the Water Congress audience that “the River District is committed to proactively engaging and working with the CWCB and the Front Range to figure out how we can stand up a program that truly protects all of us in this situation. To not do so, to not engage proactively in that conversation, would be irresponsible of every one of us in this room.”

He also laid out the Western Slope’s vision for the program, which centered on sustaining rural communities.

“We want, from a West Slope perspective, our agriculture and our industries and our cities that are going to participate in these programs to have the opportunity to use the water when they need it, and to monetize their assets into a program when they can figure out ways not to use it,” Mueller said.

Demand management is based on the idea that if water that otherwise would be used to grow hay, or turf in suburban settings, can instead be left in the river system to flow into Lake Powell, and into a new regulatory pool of water within the big reservoir, it will help boost water levels in the reservoir, allow for continued hydropower production at Glen Canyon Dam and help the upper-basin states meet their obligations to deliver a minimum amount of water to the lower-basin states under the terms of the Colorado River compact.

A recently concluded four-year test program called the System Conservation Pilot Program paid irrigators in the Upper Colorado River Basin an average of about $200 per acre-foot of conserved consumptive use of water.

Fresh turf, in Thornton, near Denver.

Denver engaged

Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water, was sharing the stage with Mueller on Friday during a panel discussion, after they together had met Thursday with other Front Range water providers in a behind-the-scenes meeting.

Lochhead said the Front Range and the Western Slope are united in their desire to avoid violating the terms of the compact.

“No one wants the result of a situation where we haven’t come together collectively to arrive at a solution,” Lochhead said.

And, he stressed, “Colorado needs to do our part to make sure that the demand-management piece is done in a way that protects all water users in Colorado, East Slope and West Slope.”

“From Denver Water’s perspective, we’re prepared to engage productively, as I’ve indicated many times in the past,” Lochhead said. “We’re prepared to contribute our share of water into a solution that would be collectively agreed to within Colorado and the other upper-basin states, if it is necessary, for our own mutual benefit and survival.”

The state’s emerging demand-management program is tied to the ongoing effort to approve “drought-contingency planning,” or DCP, agreements in the seven states in the Colorado River Basin: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, California, Arizona and Nevada.

Arizona’s governor on Thursday signed a required piece of state legislation in order to meet a federally imposed deadline, but there are still other DCP agreements that need to be finalized by a new working deadline, March 4. Federal legislation also is required to implement the regional agreements designed to keep both Lake Powell and Lake Mead operating as designed.

Sand and silt are piling up on the Colorado River above Lake Powell, as water levels continue to fall due to persistent drought and encroaching aridification. Water managers from San Diego to Wyoming are working to find ways to keep the river’s reservoirs, and water delivery systems, functioning.

State investigating

On Tuesday during a regular public meeting held in Westminster, the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board indicated they were in support of a staff proposal to form seven different work groups in 2019 to study demand management.

Brent Newman, the CWCB’s interstate, federal and water information section chief, and point person on Colorado River issues, told the agency’s board of directors that the state is not yet starting up a demand-management program; it is only studying the feasibility of doing so.

He also said the state is not studying how a curtailment, or mandatory cutback in water use, would be administered by the state if the Colorado River Compact were to be violated.

Karen Kwon, a first assistant attorney general of Colorado, echoed that stance in her remarks to the CWCB directors Tuesday.

“We are not talking about how we would administer a curtailment,” Kwon said.

Newman and Kwon are proposing that the CWCB set up work groups, staffed by hand-picked experts, to explore a “plethora of issues” raised by demand management, including policy; monitoring and verification; water administration; the environment; economics; funding; and education and outreach.

The staff also proposed to set up a quarterly series of workshops for water users, managers and stakeholders, as well as engaging the state’s basin roundtables, which meet regularly in each of the state’s major river basins, on the issues raised by demand management.

A detailed work plan for the proposed process is to be presented by CWCB staff to the agency’s directors in March.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other newspapers owned by Swift Communications. The Times published this story Feb. 4.

#RioGrande Roundtable meeting recap

Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Roundtable member Judy Lopez and her boss Sarah Parmar with Colorado Open Lands (COL) talked with the Roundtable members on Tuesday about providing more options for farmers and ranchers considering conservation easements on their properties. The Roundtable is a group of San Luis Valley residents representing a variety of water uses throughout the Valley.

Parmar said COL has protected half a million acres across the state through conservation easements. “Conservation easements are still the only permanent tool to keep land and water in agriculture,” she said.

Parmar explained that conservation easements originated on the East Coast, and when they were introduced in Colorado, “water was an afterthought.” The focus was on land protection. However, as they evolved, conservation easements also focused on protecting the water rights associated with the land, not allowing the water rights to be sold but requiring them to remain in their historical use, Parmar explained.

Up to this point, conservation easement agreements were very restrictive regarding water use, she said. To meet current conditions and needs, however, COL brought together a team to look at more flexibility with water rights under conservation easements while still protecting the investment of those funding such easements. The efforts began with the South Platte Roundtable, which was concerned that about one third of irrigated land and water would be transferred to municipal use by 2050 through “buy and dry” purchases. “Buy and dry is the easiest way for municipalities to get water,” Parmar said.

To prevent permanent loss of the water, COL began looking at ways in which property owners could lease their water rights for a certain number of years, like seven out of 10, to municipalities like Castle Rock, while retaining some agricultural use of the water. During the years their water was going to municipalities, farmers could fallow their land, deficit irrigate, irrigate for less than a full season or use a crop that used less water, Parmar explained.

Parmar said South Platte Basin water users who were surveyed on the issue were interested in the concept, with nearly 60 percent saying they would be interested in a lease situation.

Parmar said their choices were to preserve the water rights through conservation easements or sell them off entirely, the latter being more profitable. A leasing option provided farmers and ranchers with another alternative, she said. The water would remain with the land but could be involved in a long-term lease with a municipality, which would give that municipality some assurances as well, Parmar explained.

Parmar said attorneys working with COL have developed easements that would accomplish these goals and meet IRS codes for conservation easements and the tax benefits associated with them.

Lopez said the way this would likely work in the San Luis Valley would be agriculture-to-agriculture leasing, not agriculture-to-municipality leasing. This might help with some of the challenges facing the Valley now from water export threats to state regulations, she said. It might also allow some folks to keep their properties that might not have been able to, she added.

Lopez said the water portions of conservation easements would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Roundtable member Ronda Lobato asked about the possibility of changing existing conservation easements. Parmar said she did not think that was out of the realm of possibility. She said there are about two million acres under conservation easements through various organizations across the state, a lot of it in the San Luis Valley.

Roundtable member Mike Gibson was very opposed to changing existing conservation easements. He said the roundtable had approved funding for conservation easements on the basis the water would stay on the land and be used for historical purposes. He said the people who entered those agreements for their land also did so with the understanding the water would remain protected, and to change that would affect other factors like habitat.

Roundtable Chairman Nathan Coombs, who is the manager of the Conejos Water Conservancy District, said he understood that conservation easements already in place were created with some options off the table, but with the current situation in the Rio Grande Basin, it might be time to look at more flexibility.

Little Snake River Dam backers forge ahead with $11 million, seek more from feds — WyoFile.com

Proposed dam site on West Fork of Battle Creek, Little Snake River watershed S. of Rawlins, Wyoming via the Wyoming Water Development Office.

From WyoFile.com (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):

The plan to impound 10,000 acre feet of water on the West Fork of Battle Creek barely survived a legislative roadblock earlier this year when the Wyoming House stripped $40 million from a water bill that had been earmarked for the project. A compromise with the Senate saw $4.7 million in appropriations restored, but with caveats requiring further legislative approval for expenditures and pro-rata financial participation from potential beneficiaries in Colorado.

Dam backers are not for the moment returning to Wyoming’s financial well. Neither of two draft 2019 water bills that propose more than $28 million for water planning and development statewide include funding for the project, according to a review of draft bills posted online. But two water districts — one in Colorado and one in Wyoming — are asking for a total of $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct environmental reviews of the dam and reservoir that would be constructed in the Medicine Bow National Forest, officials say.

Meantime, dam backers failed to win full-throated support for the $80 million project from a water coalition in Northern Colorado. Instead, members of the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable said they supported further evaluation of the proposed dam, but not yet construction of the facility itself (see letter below).

Dam backers also must figure out whether Wyoming and Colorado’s new governors — both of whom were elected in November — will support the project and to what degree. Wyoming Water Development Office Director Harry LaBonde said he continues to work with his counterpart in Colorado to obtain support and money but the election means dam backers have to undertake a new round of lobbying.

“Every time there’s a new governor, all those conversations start over,” he said in a telephone interview.

Show-me tour wins tepid Colorado support

To build Colorado support, Wyoming officials took members of the Colorado roundtable on a tour of the dam site and surrounding area last summer. LaBonde drafted a letter of support that the Colorado group could consider signing its name to in late November, group chairman Jackie Brown said. “We require[d] that,” she said of the draft correspondence.

It proposed that the roundtable, a coalition of water users that includes irrigators, municipal interests, and recreation representatives, write the following; “We would like to offer this letter of support for the project and look forward to working with your office to continue to move this project forward for the mutual benefit of water users in both states.”

LaBonde’s version stated that the project would have $92 million in benefits. It said the Wyoming Legislature has already appropriated $11.3 million to build the dam and that Colorado irrigators could have a chance to buy some of the stored water. The $11 million figure comes from a $7 million planning appropriation, very little of which was used, plus the conditional $4.7 million appropriation earlier this year.

“As the project is currently configured approximately 4,000 – 5,000 acres of irrigated lands in Colorado would be potentially eligible to purchase supplemental irrigation water from the project,” LaBonde’s draft said.

The Colorado roundtable adopted most of the proposed language. But “the group stopped short of supporting the project,” LaBonde said, backing an investigative process only.

“At our November 14th meeting, the Roundtable unanimously approved the support for the process of reviewing a reservoir at the west fork of Battle Creek,” the final roundtable letter, dated Nov. 27, reads. “The membership would like to be clear that this is not support of the reservoir itself, only the process of the exploration, as approval of a reservoir would need to come before the membership in a final format, after [National Environmental Policy Act analysis] has been completed.”

The roundtable also dropped proposed language that stated it “would like to continue … identifying other funding opportunities for this project.” Instead, the Colorado group said it “supports the development of water resource in the basin and would be happy to work with local water users in Colorado and Wyoming and the State of Wyoming.”

The proposed dam on the West Fork of Battle Creek would serve 67 to 100 irrigators, studies commissioned by the Water Development Office say. The most likely beneficiaries in Colorado would appear to be members of the Pot Hook Water Conservancy District that joined the Savery-Little Snake district in applying for the $1.2 million federal grant.

That district appears to be relatively small. In 2017 it held a successful election to impose a four-mill property tax that would raise $12,831.48 in 2018, and similar amounts in subsequent years. The tax money will “meet the future needs of landowners within the district” and “proactively protect … existing water rights,” according to a description of the measure. It passed on a 13-7 vote.

O’Toole agreed with LaBonde that the fresh administrations in Cheyenne and Denver will require a renewed effort securing support — support that backers couldn’t find in their home House of Representatives. “I’m going to watch and see who gets picked for positions and go from there,” O’Toole said.

Among the considerations is the announced retirement of Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell who has held the cabinet-level position since 2001. A gubernatorial appointee who’s considered the state’s water czar, his office resolves conflicts among users and represents Wyoming during inter-state negotiations. When Tyrrell retires in January, he will have served under four governors.

Meantime, conditions in the Little Snake River Basin are deteriorating, O’Toole said, as a 19-year-drought is forcing water users to plan for shortages. “We saw the [Little Snake] River in a state I’ve never seen,” he said. This summer, for the first time ever, there was a call for regulation on Colorado’s Yampa River as water users asked state regulators to enforce prior appropriation doctrine and law. Those ensure that during low flows the holders of earlier water rights get their allocation before holders of more recent rights can divert river flows.

Backers want federal funds but not oversight

West Fork Dam supporters want a land exchange that would give Wyoming some 100 acres of federal property in the Medicine Bow National Forest to construct the proposed dam and impound the reservoir. Such a deal would exempt the project from some aspects of the demanding NEPA process, likely making it easier to accomplish. So far, the federal agency hasn’t received any formal requests for development, forest spokesman Aaron Voos said in a telephone interview from forest headquarters in Laramie.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.