South Platte Roundtable meeting recap

HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

With dozens of people and thousands of acres of farmland affected by high groundwater in Weld County, the South Platte Roundtable on Tuesday accepted recommendations from its Groundwater Technical Committee to solve the problem.

The Tribune previously reported many of the solutions, including pumping water out of the ground and directly to the river, something Gilcrest is doing with a dewatering well officials recently turned on, resulting in groundwater receding by 7 inches in the past two weeks.

For some, though, the recommendations are either too expensive or simply don’t address the root problem…

In a survey of Farm Bureau members, Kammerzel found 40 of 94 people reported groundwater problems. The problems covered 2,154 acres, and conservative estimates put damages among Farm Bureau members at $4 million.

The high water table has inundated and destroyed basements, but it also has increased salinity levels in soils, making it impossible for farmers to grow some crops. Some crops like potatoes have been found rotting in the fields, sitting in high groundwater.

Even those presenting the recommendations say there’s no magic solution to a problem that has caused millions of dollars in damage around the county.

“I don’t know that our work will ever be done,” said John Stulp, a member of the technical committee and an adviser to Gov. John Hickenlooper on water issues.

Here’s where they’re at for now:

Increase groundwater use in high groundwater areas — This is easier said than done, as farmers have a certain well pumping quota, and it’s often wise to save that well pumping allotment until the end of the year in case rainfall doesn’t cover crop needs.

Multi-purpose storage — Basically, this involves buying or developing more storage, something officials at Central Colorado Water Conservancy District constantly are working to do. Increased storage can help provide replacement water for pumping, meaning farmers could be allowed to pump more.

Multi-use pipelines — Gilcrest pumps water out from under its wastewater treatment plant, puts that water in a 4- to 6-inch pipeline and takes that water to the river. The pipeline also is used for sewage effluent and stormwater, though, meaning its capacity is quite limited. There’s talk of a partnership between Gilcrest and Central Water on a new pipeline both could use, with Central using it for augmentation (replacement) water.

Conveyance improvements — Lining irrigation ditches, at $1 million per mile, is not only expensive, but it also takes away a key augmentation strategy. Ditch owners fill ditches, allow the water to seep into the ground and get to claim credit for recharging the aquifer and use that water at a later date.

Improving drains — The Big Bend Drain, located in and around Gilcrest, has fallen into disrepair, and the committee recommends fixing it, re-digging it and allowing it to serve its initial purpose: draining high water around Gilcrest.

There were recommendations, too, for individual farmers or landowners. But there also was this: A minority report from retired water consultant and engineer Bob Longenbaugh, who also made a presentation.

Longenbaugh’s key recommendations include gathering more data, as well as curtailing big artificial recharge projects — where organizations such as Central Water dump water into shallow ponds to recharge the aquifer and claim water credits. Longenbaugh contends artificial recharge around Gilcrest is exacerbating the high groundwater problem.

Randy Ray, executive director for Central Water, won’t go for that, as artificial recharge is a key tool for allowing more well pumping for Central customers.

As for the committee report, Ray said he’d like to see more research.

“We strongly feel that if an acre foot of water is pumped it needs to be replaced, but we need to work on timing, location and volume of depletions,” Ray said.

Farmers around Weld County have long said the formula used to replace depletions doesn’t match Mother Nature, a point Longenbaugh hit on Tuesday, as well.

Governor’s Forum on Agriculture recap

Colorado Convention Center Solar Power System

From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Durango Herald:

Hickenlooper, speaking to an audience at the 27th annual Governor’s Forum on Agriculture this week, said that the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office met with representatives from recreation offices and outdoor recreation companies from eight states, and the result was something called the Colorado Accord. It’s a nonpartisan effort to work on issues related to clean air, water and public land – areas the trade association strongly supports and part of the reason the trade show moved to Colorado, he said.

This accord is the start of an opportunity for Colorado to be a national leader in outdoor recreation, Hickenlooper said. The companies involved are small – around 10 to 15 employees.

“They don’t want to live in the cities or their businesses to be in the cities,” he said. “These are companies that are naturals for smaller communities … . This is a chance to build a relationship between farms and ranches and outdoor recreation. If you want more jobs in your towns, there will never be a better chance.”

The governor also addressed the ongoing negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the importance of maintaining partnerships with Canada and Mexico, which are NAFTA partners. The renegotiation of the 22-year old agreement hasn’t gone as quickly as he would like, Hickenlooper said.

“Our relationships with Canada and Mexico need to remain strong,” given that more than half of Colorado agricultural exports go to those two countries, he said, adding that NAFTA has the potential to do so many good things for Colorado, and that he has talked with officials from both countries.

“They just want a deal,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper said he recently spoke with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and their positions align on several issues, such as the need for better and faster negotiations with South Korea, China and India on agricultural trade; about volatility in the labor market for ag, and for a more balanced approach on agricultural regulations.

One of the state’s highest priorities for global exports, he said, is to open up Asia. “There’s an insatiable appetite for beef and pork” in South Korea, China and Japan, and the U.S. needs a fair deal with those countries.

Hickenlooper also made a push for a long-term funding solution for the Colorado water plan. Last month, the governor said he favored a change in how the state collects severance taxes on oil and gas, saying, among other things, that Colorado has the lowest severance taxes on oil and gas in the region.

A court case two years ago with oil giant BP dramatically reduced the amount of severance taxes the state can collect, which has been used in the past to mitigate oil and gas activities in rural communities and to pay for water projects around the state. The state had to take money out of its general fund to pay for the property tax deductions the court decided BP was owed. After that, the state’s share of severance taxes dropped from around $150 to $200 million per year in 2016 to about $25 million last year, Hickenlooper said.

Without a structural change in how severance taxes are levied, he warned, severance taxes could come to an end. “But let’s get a referred measure on the ballot” that will provide a fair tax structure for oil and gas, he said. “It’s a social contract with the state of Colorado. If it were presented properly,” voters would not walk away from it.

That didn’t fly with Senate President Pro tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, who was in the audience and is president of the board of the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program, which hosts the annual agriculture forum. Sonnenberg disputed the governor’s claim that Colorado has the lowest severance taxes in the region.

Sonnenberg told Colorado Politics that “we have robbed $400 million from severance taxes” to cover budget shortfalls, including $100 million to pay BP for the lawsuit. “We need to figure out how not to rob Peter to pay Paul,” Sonnenberg added. “If we truly want to do something about severance tax, maybe we add all energy: wind, solar, nuclear and hydroelectric.”

2018 #COleg: Is there a sentiment, outside of @GovofCO, to raise severance taxes to implement the #COWaterPlan?

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

From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Durango Herald:

Hickenlooper was initially expected to talk about his water legacy during the Colorado Water Congress luncheon in southeastern Denver, but instead, he addressed how he regards water and how the state ought to pay for the water plan’s estimated $20 billion price tag.

Before the start of Hickenlooper’s remarks, the Water Congress took the pulse of those in attendance about what the next governor should do with the water plan. Seventy-three percent said “use it,” 8 percent said the next governor should ignore it and 19 percent said the state should embark on a different path with regard to its water future.

Pollster Floyd Ciruli said the results show the new governor has to make sure the water plan and its issues remain a top priority, along with rural broadband, transportation and public education funding.

Hickenlooper referred to his recent State of the State speech and his reference to “topophilia.” No, that’s not something bad – it’s a love of place, according to the governor. And Colorado must do all it can to preserve its clean air and water, two of the most important aspects of the state’s infrastructure, he said.

Funding for the water plan has not been identified, Hickenlooper said. The governor said he is looking for a bipartisan approach to funding the water plan, in part to avoid the sensitivity that people have to being asked to pay more taxes. That could include, he said, using severance taxes.

But it would take a structural change to how severance taxes are levied to raise the kind of revenue anticipated to cover the state’s share of the water plan costs: around $100 million per year for the next 30 years, beginning in 2020.

Hickenlooper explained the state has some of the lowest severance taxes in the nation. And that hasn’t gotten any better after a 2016 lawsuit from BP that challenged certain deductions on oil and gas equipment. BP won that lawsuit, which forced the state to tap tens of millions of dollars from severance taxes to cover not only BP’s deductions but that of other oil and gas companies. That lawsuit exposed structural problems in the way severance taxes are collected, Hickenlooper said.

A structural change to severance taxes is something the General Assembly will have to deal with, most likely through a ballot measure, the governor added.

The idea of using severance tax money for the water plan isn’t that far-fetched an idea. Those dollars have been going to water projects for years, mostly to water providers for infrastructure and through grants and loans, although in small amounts. And severance taxes have been tapped directly to fund the initial implementation of the water plan, in areas such as alternative transfers of water in agriculture, conservation and water efficiency. But the state has, in times of trouble, also raided the severance tax fund to cover shortfalls in the budget, to the tune of $322 million in the past two recessions.

Hickenlooper said he believes the oil and gas industry will not stand in the way if the state seeks higher severance taxes, based on conversations he’s had with oil and gas CEOs. “They’re not complaining” about how much severance tax they pay in Colorado, especially after winning the BP court case.

In #Colorado implementing the #COWaterPlan will fall to the next governor

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Floyd Ciruli):

Although Colorado has identified its water needs and has a state plan, 2018 will be a year of political transition. Will a new governor and legislature keep water at the top of the agenda or allow it to drop until the next water crisis? Many local agencies need financial help that can’t be met through local ratepayers alone. The state water plan identified $3 billion in unmet needs. And, as California has demonstrated, conservation must be a well-articulated state goal with significant resources dedicated to public education. California cut statewide use by 25 percent during the last drought through massive education coordinated with local agencies. But, leadership, both local and from the state, is needed.

Gov. John Hickenlooper accelerated the work of former governors Bill Owens and Bill Ritter to help address the state’s projected water shortage, but he only has one year left in office. Fortunately, besides Hickenlooper’s advancement of the scientific base behind the need for new projects, his use of a state planning process that involved all eight water basins in cooperation and decision-making and his issuing of a completed state water plan in December 2015, he has also seen real progress during his term on projects. He helped facilitate approval of Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir and Northern Water’s Windy Gap projects. Still, much remains to be done.

■ How will pressing water issues fare through the upcoming political transition?

■ Will the research, river basin collaboration and planning continue?

■ Will permitting of the water projects now underway continue to make progress?

■ Will the next wave of projects — many in rural and small towns — get permitted, funded and built?

■ Will the state initiate and fund a statewide conservation public education program?

■ Will the state continue its planning processes in order to lead a ballot issue funding effort? (The previous proposal, controversial in design and promotion, failed in 2003, but lessons were learned.)

The planning and development capabilities of Colorado’s water community have grown significantly, but the needs are growing faster still. Through the 2018 political transition, we must ensure that water remains a top priority and not become another state plan ignored in a government file.

Stream management planning offers promise, complications — Hannah Holm

Summary of Observed Wet & Dry Surface Water Hydrology via SCW

From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

On a bright, early fall day in 2017, members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable stood on the banks of the Colorado River watching water slide smoothly over the Bill and Wendy Riffles near Kremmling. Willows glowed gold on the banks, and new sprouts poked up through the cobble at the water’s edge.

Most riffles don’t have names, but then most riffles aren’t constructed as part of a multi-million dollar plan to remake a damaged river. The Bill and Wendy Riffles, named after the resident ranchers, were designed to raise the level of the river back up to where it used to be so that irrigation pumps, left high and dry by a depleted river, could function. Trout habitat and riparian vegetation have also benefited.

Upstream, plans are afoot to reshape Windy Gap reservoir, which currently blocks the free movement of fish, sediment and water. The construction of a new channel around the reservoir is planned to reconnect those reaches of the river and breathe new life into the ecosystem.

These projects in Grand County are part of a multi-pronged effort to compensate for the impacts of drastic flow reductions resulting from diversions from headwaters streams across the Continental Divide to the Front Range. On average, around 300,000 acre feet of water per year crosses the divide from Grand County, dropping average annual flows at Kremmling by more than 60 percent. These numbers will go up further with the completion of a pair of recently approved projects to increase these diversions.

The prospect of increased diversions, while exacerbating the overall problem of less water in the river, also provided the leverage for Grand County to demand the resources to address problems created by decades of previous trans-mountain diversions, as well as the new ones. This involved both negotiating for more water to be left in streams at certain times and the resources to reshape portions of the river’s channel.

Early on, Grand County commissioned a detailed Stream Management Plan to define environmental flow needs. This study then guided its negotiations and project prioritization. Since the completion of the study, projects to improve flows for both irrigators and the environment, such as the Bill and Wendy Riffle project, have drawn funding from numerous sources. These include the Colorado Basin Roundtable and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), as well as the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. Denver Water and Northern Water have also contributed. Local irrigators have played a leading role in developing and guiding projects, as have conservation organizations such as Trout Unlimited.

The Grand County example has demonstrated that water management does not have to be a zero-sum game, with some interests benefiting only at the expense of others. The approach has inspired related efforts across Colorado, a goal in the Colorado Water Plan, and a statewide grant program to promote stream management planning.

Stream management plans exist or are underway currently for the Poudre River, the Crystal River, the Roaring Fork River, the North Fork of the Gunnison, the Upper Gunnison Basin, and the San Miguel River. New planning efforts have been proposed for the Yampa River, the Eagle River, Ouray County, the Upper San Juan River, and the middle section of the Colorado River.

In addition, the Colorado Basin Roundtable has initiated a framework project to provide tools and guidance for such efforts across the basin. The author of this article is coordinating the framework project.

As these initiatives have spread, it has become clear that environmental and agricultural water needs don’t always align as neatly as they do in Grand County, where all local water interests were affected by reduced flows. Each river basin has its own dynamics, both hydrologically and socially, that affect the approaches taken and prospects for success.

The guidance for the CWCB’s Stream Management Planning grant program focuses on assessing environmental and recreational flow needs, which have historically been less well-understood than needs for agricultural, municipal and industrial uses. However, any plan to address environmental water needs will likely require cooperation from other water users, as well. These water users need a reason to come to the table.

A growing recognition of the importance of addressing the interests of all water users from the beginning of the planning process is reflected in the names of several projects funded through the Stream Management Planning grant program. The Colorado Basin Roundtable chose the term “integrated water management plan” rather than “stream management plan” for its framework project, and the Upper Gunnison project is called a “Watershed Management Planning” project.

Inclusive labeling is not enough to bring and keep diverse stakeholders at the table, however. In order to achieve that, agricultural water users and others that rely on stream diversions need to trust that their interests are genuinely being respected. They also need a sense of common cause with their planning partners. Current planning efforts appear to be attempting to respond to these needs.

Trust levels are influenced by who leads the project as well as the stated project goals. On the middle section of the Colorado River, between Glenwood Canyon and De Beque, local conservation districts have decided to take the lead on gathering information on agricultural water needs, in order to ensure that their constituents are adequately represented. The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, which kicked off the planning effort, has welcomed their involvement.

Cultivating a sense of common cause, the Upper Gunnison Watershed Management Planning Group asserts that its mission is “to help protect existing water uses and watershed health in the Upper Gunnison Basin as we face growing pressure from increased water demands and permanent reductions in overall water supply.”

The Crystal River Plan sought to “identify, prioritize and guide management actions that honor local agricultural production, preserve existing water uses, and enhance the ecological integrity of the river.” The completed plan includes a detailed accounting of agricultural water shortages along with information on the ecological state of the river. The project on the North Fork of the Gunnison River has assessed opportunities for diversion structure upgrades that could benefit irrigators and improve safety for boaters.

These are complicated processes, with many opportunities for conflict and failure. However, the potential payoffs of healthier streams and more water security, as well as enhanced mutual understanding across the whole community of water users, could make these projects well worth the effort.

Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. Learn more at

Two trips around the Sun for the #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Here’s a guest column from Drew Beckwith that’s running in The Durango Herald. Click through and read the whole column. Here’s an excerpt:

On the second anniversary of the release of Colorado’s Water Plan, a few key facts are unchanged: A swelling population is stretching our water supplies, evidence is mounting that climate change is already reducing flows on the Colorado River and securing and sustaining Colorado’s supply of clean, safe drinking water continues to be top of mind…

This funding imbalance is one reason why progress on implementing Colorado’s Water Plan has been lopsided. First, the good news. Communities across Colorado, like those in the Roaring Fork and Gunnison valleys, have developed stream management plans identifying specific projects to improve the health of the river and nearby communities. In 2016, the Colorado Legislature appropriated $5 million for the development of watershed plans and another $1 million for implementing environmental and recreation projects, the latter receiving requests for funding far exceeding the allotment.

However, progress on urban water conservation, flexible water sharing, and river protection – projects that Coloradans said they value most – has been elusive and difficult to measure. Transparency is necessary so that Coloradans can see how well we are, or aren’t, doing on meeting urban conservation goals, environmental goals and other measurable objectives in the plan.

We must address the uneven focus on water storage projects, too. The state has routinely spent tens of millions of dollars on storage and infrastructure projects over many years, while spending just a few million dollars on conservation, environmental and recreational projects – and that only recently.

Two years in, it is clear what we need to do. We need Colorado to make smart investments in only the water projects that meet all of the criteria in Colorado’s Water Plan. We need state leaders to be more transparent about progress toward the plan’s goals. We need the Legislature to increase funding for urban water conservation, stream management plans that improve river health and innovative water agreements with agriculture.

And, because we don’t have enough money to implement the full suite of projects needed to maintain clean, safe drinking water and protect rivers and wildlife – even with a rebalancing of existing funds – we need to secure a new source of money to move Colorado’s Water Plan over the finish line.

Two trips around the Sun for the #COWaterPlan

Here’a report from Marianne Goodland) writing in Colorado Politics. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The 567-page plan sets nine goals, but its biggest focus is for a subset: Conservation and storage, with agricultural sharing and water recycling further down the list. The conservation goal asks for savings of 400,000 acre-feet of water, most of it to be born by municipal water providers and their customers. Storage needs hit the same number — 400,000 acre-feet — a gap that is most likely to be handled by water providers through new or expanded storage projects, such as those currently in the works in the Northern Front Range: the Windy Gap Firming Project, scheduled to break ground for a new reservoir near Loveland in 2019, and the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which is planning new reservoirs on the Poudre and South Platte rivers.

Now that the water plan has hit its two-year anniversary, what kind of progress has the water plan made? It depends on who you ask. Those who favor more storage, particularly in northern and northeastern Colorado, claim not enough money is being devoted to increasing storage capacity. Those who favor environmental goals say not enough money is being spent in that area, either.

According to a draft implementation update that is likely to become public in December, the water plan has made significant progress in the past year. That includes:

• Water plan grants to begin addressing the supply-demand gap: $2 million was set aside from a $10 million appropriation from the General Assembly in 2017 to pay for nine water plan grants, which the draft update said would reduce the municipal/industrial water supply gap by 48,000 acre-feet.

• Integrated water resource planning, part of the conservation goal: 22 water providers have submitted water efficiency plans to the CWCB, with 18 approved and 4 in review. These plans allow water providers to set local goals on indoor and outdoor conservation activities, including incentives, regulations, education and pricing mechanism. The CWCB has so far awarded more than $800,000 in grants for conservation planning and public education.

• $1 million (out of the $10 million for the water plan) to conservation and land use activities, drought planning, water meter replacements and projects to reduce water loss.

• The water plan sets an objective that by 2050, 75 percent of Coloradans will live in communities that have incorporated water-saving activities into land-use planning. The draft implementation report notes that the CWCB has teamed up with other organizations and state agencies to train more than 300 participants on how to integrate water and land-use planning.

• The water plan sets a goal of finding 50,000 acre-feet of water through agricultural sharing. In the past two years, the draft implementation report said, the CWCB and its partners have worked on education and assistance programs for farmers and ranchers that will promote water sharing, as well as $1 million for grant and loan programs that would improve aging agricultural infrastructure or other water efficiency projects.

• Under the goal of increasing water storage, the draft report notes a study underway to investigate storage possibilities along the South Platte, primarily near Sterling. The results of that study are expected relatively soon.

• Another $3 million funds water projects that will lead to the development of additional storage, according to the draft implementation report. That includes recharging water into aquifers and expanding existing reservoirs to provide more storage…

One of the organizations that has worked with the CWCB on water projects is Western Resource Advocates. Drew Beckwith, water policy manager, told Colorado Politics recently that the state has made good progress in the first two years, and that $10 million per year is “a sound start.”

The problem and urgency, as Beckwith sees it, is how to meet clean, safe and reliable drinking water standards and protect rivers. “We have to pick up the pace” to protect clean drinking water and preserve Colorado’s agricultural heritage, he said.