A new dimension in the #ColoradoRiver debate — @BigPivots #COriver #aridification

Nook on Lake Powell. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

So I’m off to Glen Canyon, to prowl in the innards of that concrete beast, which looks ever more like the hydraulic equivalent of a mastodon since the waters of Lake Powell keep dipping, dipping, dipping – now sitting at 3,527.7 feet above elevation.

Powell is a tad over 25% full.

My mission has to do with the loss of hydroelectric generation. I began thinking about this six or seven years ago, and now it seems we’re on the cusp, although as many have lately noted, the hydro generation has already dropped off significantly. Powell is 37 feet above that minimum power pool level. The Bureau of Reclamation earlier in May announced it will release less water to the lower basin states from Powell, to keep water levels up. It’s getting harder and harder to make the hydraulic empire of the American Southwest work as designed.

Now comes what one Colorado River expert describes as a “huge” declaration. Bruce Babbitt, the governor of Arizona from 1978 to 1987 and secretary of Interior during the Clinton presidency, says it’s time for a more substantial rethinking of the Colorado River Compact, single most important agreement governing the Colorado River.

“While I once thought that these aridification scenarios were kind of abstract and way out in the future, I don’t think that anymore,” Babbitt said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times’ Ian James.

“It’s absolutely urgent that we start thinking now, while there’s time, about how we adjust the compact, the regulations, the necessary reductions, in the most careful way so that we limit the damage, which can really be extreme.”

Climate change models had predicted a warming Southwest. The resulting aridification – as opposed to the more ephemeral drought – has been well documented in the 21st century. This winter provides yet another example of at least modestly good snows followed by a runoff substantially below average. As the dry winds blow and the temperatures warm, the moisture gets sucked up, instead of going downstream.

I mused about this after a Thanksgiving trip to Santa Fe that included a side trip to the Bishop’s Lodge, site of the 1922 crafting of the Colorado River Compact among the seven basin states. Their assumptions were badly misaligned with hydrologic reality, as became increasingly evident in the 20th century.

See: Visiting Bishop’s Lodge and the Colorado River Compact

Still, the conventional wisdom has been that the compact was difficult to achieve during a time of assumed plenty. Why would anybody want to open it up now? There was just too much risk, too much potential for inviting paralyzing acrimony.

Instead, in a new era of cooperative, water managers in the 21st century has created end-around agreements. The most recent iteration of end-around is the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. It is being followed by another such plan, to be ready by 2026, requiring harder decisions, more compromises, greater recognition of the water supplies that are little more than half of that were assumed 100 years ago.

More will be needed, said Babbitt.

“We can no longer just kind of muddle along. We really have to think big, because we’re going to have to create a new regulatory framework. And it doesn’t mean that we have to start over from scratch,” Babbitt told the LA Times.

“The Colorado River Compact has worked for 100 years. But there is now a future scenario in which the fixed delivery obligation — from the Upper Basin states at Lees Ferry to California, Arizona and Nevada — simply doesn’t work.”

In this, Babbitt alludes to a clause in the compact, Article III(d), which requires Colorado and other upper-basin states to not cause the river to flow less than 75 million acre-feet over the course of every 10 years. But what if the river is only producing 9 million acre-feet?
Does that mean Denver can’t divert water? Or the Colorado Big-Thompson? Even in Fort Morgan, people drink Colorado River water.

We’re in for a rude reckoning still in Colorado, regardless of how this shakes out on the Colorado River Compact. New landscaping I see in Arvada, where 72% of water comes from the Colorado River Basin, fails to recognize this future. Hurrah for the mayor of Aurora, Mike Coffman, who said it’s time to ban new turf golf courses – just as Las Vegas has decided.

But the language of the compact might be interpreted to say that the Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico will absorb nearly all the reality of climate change. Babbitt is saying no, it shouldn’t be.

This interview reverses what Babbitt said in an op-ed published in the Arizona Republic in July 2021. “We have not reached that point,” he said of reconsidering the compact.

Babbitt may have been responding to a paper written by Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and several others, including Jack Fleck, a New Mexico-based writer and co-author with Kuhn of a book called “Science be Dammed.”

See my March 2020 review here.

“Our basic argument is that climate change has undermined the basic purpose of the compact – an ‘equitable division’ of the use of the waters of the river between the two (upper and lower) basins,” Kuhn explained to me by e-mail.

“I’m surprised (and pleased) how quickly a revered figure like Governor/Secretary Babbitt has come to the conclusion as well. My optimistic view remains that we’re looking at a collective interpretation of the compact that if climate change, not Upper Basin depletions, is the reason that the upper basins can’t meet the 75 million acre-feet every 10 years, there is no compact violation. The chance of a formal amendment to the compact ratified by seven state legislatures and Congress is still very remote.”

I’ll be closely watching where this conversation goes. It would be a huge pivot for the Southwest.

Eugene Clyde LaRue measuring the flow in Nankoweap Creek, 1923. Photo credit: USGS via Environment360

Douglas County says no to developers’ San Luis Valley #water export proposal — @WaterEdCO #RioGrande

Construction workers build a single family home in Castle Rock. The community needs new surface water supplies to reduce its reliance on non-renewable groundwater. Credit: Jerd Smith

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

Douglas County officials said Tuesday they would not use their COVID-relief funding to help finance a controversial $400 million-plus proposal to export farm water from the San Luis Valley to their fast-growing, water-short region.

In a statement the commissioners said the federal rules would not allow the funds to be spent to help finance early work on the proposed project, and that it faced too many legal hurdles to justify the time and money the county would need to devote to it.

The county made public Tuesday two extensive legal memos, based on its outside attorneys’ review of engineering, and legal and regulatory requirements the project would have to adhere to in order to proceed. The memos formed the basis for the county’s rejection of the funding request.

“The Board of Douglas County Commissioners has made the decision, based on objective legal recommendations from outside counsel, that American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds are inapplicable to the RWR proposal and that RWR has significant additional hurdles to overcome in order to demonstrate not only a ‘do no harm’ approach, but also a ‘win-win’ for Douglas County and the San Luis Valley,” the board said.

The proposal comes from Renewable Water Resources (RWR), a well-connected Denver development firm that includes former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens.

Among other things, the memos said that RWR’s claim that there was enough water in the valley’s aquifers to support the export plan, was incorrect, based on hydrologic models presented over the course of several public work sessions.

The county’s attorneys also said the proposal did not comply with the Colorado Water Plan, which outlines how the state will meet future water needs. That lack of compliance means that Douglas County would likely not win any potential state funding for the export proposal.

County Commissioner Lora Thomas came out against the idea early, with Commissioner Abe Layden joining her this week in voting against the proposal. Commissioner George Teal voted for the proposal.

“I am ecstatic that I got a second vote to stop it,” Thomas said. “The hurdles are too steep for us to get over. I don’t see a future for it.”

RWR declined an interview request regarding the decision, but in a statement it said it planned to continue working with the county to see if the legal concerns raised could be resolved.

“Our team is eager to address the county’s remaining questions as raised in the legal analysis. We are confident in our ability to mitigate any areas of concern,” it said.

Opposition to the proposal sprang up quickly last December after RWR submitted its $10 million funding request to the commissioners.

Critics, including the Rio Grande Water Conservation District in Alamosa, argued that no water should be taken from the San Luis Valley because it is already facing major water shortages due to the ongoing drought and over-pumping of its aquifers by growers. The valley faces a looming well-shutdown if it can’t reduce its water use enough to bring its fragile water system back into balance.

RWR said its plan to shut down agricultural wells could help the valley, but many disagreed.

State Sen. Cleave Simpson, who also manages the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said in a statement that he was pleased with Douglas County’s decision. “This is good news for the San Luis Valley and it speaks to the hundreds and perhaps thousands of people who spoke out against this unviable proposal.”

Environmental groups also came out in opposition, as have numerous elected leaders including Democrats Gov. Jared Polis, Attorney General Phil Weiser, U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, as well as Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, who represents the valley.

Douglas County does not deliver water to its residents, but relies on more than a dozen individual communities and water districts to provide that service. And they are all facing the need to develop new water supplies.

But two of the largest providers, Parker Water & Sanitation District and Castle Rock Water, have said they would not support the RWR proposal because they had already spent millions of dollars developing new, more sustainable, politically acceptable projects. Those projects include a South Platte River pipeline that is being developed in partnership with farmers in the northeastern corner of the state.

What comes next for RWR’s proposal isn’t clear yet. RWR spokeswoman Monica McCafferty said the firm’s attorneys were still reviewing the legal memos the county released Tuesday.

RWR has said previously that it might ask lawmakers to change state water laws to remove some of the legal barriers to its proposal.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

A powerful sprinkler capable of pumping more than 2,500 gallons of water per minute irrigates a farm field in the San Luis Valley June 6, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

Click the link to read “Douglas County commissioners reject using federal money for water project, will continue talks” on the Colorado Politics website (Marianne Goodland). Here’s an excerpt:

At the heart of Tuesday’s decision: Two memos from water attorneys regarding the project that has been kept under wraps since mid-March. Commissioners authorized their release to the public Tuesday.

The first memo, dated March 23, is from attorneys Stephen Leonhardt and April Hendricks of the firm Burns, Figa & Will. Its executive summary said there is “no unappropriated water” available in the confined aquifer, the source for the RWR project. In addition, RWR has not come up with an augmentation plan in sufficient detail to demonstrate that its plan will meet the requirements of the state water rules and avoid injury to other water rights, the memo added. The RWR project “is not consistent” with the state’s water plan, so no state dollars would likely be available for it; and that Douglas County will face numerous hurdles to obtain federal, state and county permits for the project after a decree from state water court is entered. “RWR does not intend to obtain permits before going to Water Court, and RWR’s current proposal calls for Douglas County to bear all responsibility for obtaining the required permits for this project. Obtaining the required federal, state, and county permits likely will take several years, at a substantial financial cost to Douglas County, with a risk that one or more permits will be denied.”

The May 2 memo notes that Leonhardt and Douglas County attorney Lance Ingalls attended a meeting with RWR’s attorneys at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Shreck as well as RWR principal John Kim on April 1…

The May 2 memo is divided into several sections, including water availability, sale of water rights, water supply impacts, sustainability of the closed aquifer, and dry-up of irrigated agricultural lands. Among the findings:

  • Questions on whether ARPA money could be used for the project
  • Recognition that an RWR-supported community fund would not mitigate economic losses from the dry-up of irrigated lands and impacts on related businesses
  • Opposition from the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which is managed by state Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, a major opponent of the projects
  • Difficulty in rehabilitating the land once the water is removed
  • The closed aquifer cannot sustain any new pumping, and that a buyer of water rights could only use those rights for their originally decreed purposes, meaning RWR would have to go to water court to change those uses from agricultural to municipal, which could mean a lengthy court battle
  • Both Laydon and Teal directed the commission’s staff to continue working on a deal with RWR that does not use ARPA money.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    Douglas County will not use COVID funds on San Luis Valley #water project: County may consider proposal in future, but Laydon’s vote puts on brakes for now — The #CastleRock News-Press #RioGrande

    Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

    Click the link to read the article on the Castle Rock News Press website (Elliot Wenzler). Here’s an excerpt:

    The Douglas County commissioners have decided not to use American Rescue Plan Act dollars on a controversial water supply project but may consider it again in the future. Commissioner Abe Laydon, the decisive vote on the issue, announced his vote during a May 24 work session…

    Laydon said his decision was because the county’s outside legal counsel concluded that the project was not eligible for ARPA funds and recommended the county not participate…

    One issue outlined in the memo is that Renewable Water Resources has not formed an augmentation plan — as would be required by law — showing how they will avoid injury to other water rights through their project. Commissioner Lora Thomas has been against the proposal since it was brought before the county and said she is not in support of continuing any conversations with RWR or paying for outside legal counsel to continue assessing it.

    Don’t waste Mother Nature’s gift: Weekend storm was no #drought buster, but it does mean you can turn off your sprinklers for days — News on Tap

    Click the link to read the article on the News on Tap website (Denver Water):

    The piles of snow left by last weekend’s storm have melted away, but lawns and landscapes are benefiting from the free water the storm brought to the metro area.

    That means lawns won’t need extra water, in the form of sprinklers and irrigation systems, for days, even a week as more rain is in the forecast.

    Denver Water saw customer demand drop by about half over the weekend as its customers did a great job responding to Mother Nature’s free water by turning off their sprinklers.

    Let all that water soak in! And challenge yourself: Don’t water your lawn until it needs it. (Take the screwdriver test.) Photo credit: Denver Water.

    In fact, you’re doing your lawn a favor by turning off the sprinklers and keeping them off for several days after the weekend storm — or any upcoming rain. Babied lawns that get too much water too often can have trouble with Colorado’s hotter summer months.

    (And watering too much too often will drive up your monthly water bill to boot!)

    “Your lawn can last longer than you think,” said Austin Krcmarik, a water efficiency expert at Denver Water. “Challenge yourself, see how long you can keep your sprinklers off.”

    An easy way to test for soil moisture is to probe your lawn with a screwdriver. If it goes into the soil easily, that indicates sufficient moisture. Watch the video below to see how quick and easy this test is to perform.

    While the storm dumped up to 2 feet of snow in Colorado’s mountains, it wasn’t a drought buster. (And other parts of the state didn’t see much from the storm.) Denver Water’s planners do not expect the utility’s reservoirs to completely fill this season.

    “We hope to fill our reservoirs after every runoff season to help supply us through the hot summer months and into next year,” said Krcmark. “We already know that isn’t going to happen this season, but you can help keep water in our reservoirs by keeping those sprinklers off after storms.”

    A general rule of thumb is that you can skip a watering day when we receive ¼ inch within 24 hours.

    Weather watchers estimate the storm delivered 1 to 1.5 inches of water to the metro area. And, with the potential for more rain in Denver’s forecast, you may not need to water at all this week.

    For now, Denver Water’s regular summer watering rules remain in effect, but additional restrictions could be needed if conditions warrant this summer.

    Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, which is in Denver Water’s watershed where the utility collects water, reported receiving 19 inches of snow from the weekend storm. Lots of snow, though unfortunately it wasn’t a drought buster. Photo credit: Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.

    How a shadow price on #water could prime innovative technologies — GreenBiz

    Click the link to read the article on the GreenBiz website (Will Sarni & Jared Sheehan & Ben Dukes). Here’s an excerpt:

    The need for a new approach to identify, fund and implement innovative water technologies and business models is critical. The impacts of climate change on water resources is well documented in places such as the American West, where the Colorado River Basin was named the most threatened in the U.S. Striking in the declaration by American Rivers was the statement that “rising temperatures and drought driven by climate change, combined with outdated river management and overallocation of limited water supplies [emphasis added], threaten the entire region.”

    How can stakeholders, in particular the private sector, contribute to scaling innovative water technologies and catalyze other stakeholders to accelerate changes in public policy to adapt to 21st-century water realities? We propose the increased adoption of shadow pricing (the price of water plus consideration of risks, costs for energy and associated carbon emissions, etc.) and business value at risk strategies (additional considerations such as brand value, license to operate and grow, etc.) to overcome the challenges and barriers of using internal return on investment criteria to consider these strategies…

    Our recommendations for corporations with ambitious water strategies are as follows:

  • Inventory and evaluate the current challenges and barriers to adopting innovative water technologies and business models to mitigate business value at risk and achieve your goals and objectives. Consider concerns such as does the company lack internal incentives to take technology risks? Or does it require too short a timeframe for investment paybacks?
  • Develop a framework and commitment for integrating a shadow price and for embracing a business value at risk strategy that can be used to incentivize the adoption of innovative solutions to water scarcity, poor quality and equitable access to water. You can quantify business value at risk using tools such as the WWF Water Risk Filter WAVE Tool or use a more subjective approach in which watershed-specific investments are accommodated outside of established return on investment criteria.
  • Build a program to identify and directly invest in innovative water technologies to increase the pipeline of innovations for considerations. Programs such as the 100+ Accelerator, PepsiCo Labs and watershed-focused venture funds such as the Future of Water: Colorado River Basin Fund (disclosure, Will Sarni is founder and CEO of the fund) increase corporate exposure to innovative solutions and opportunities for investment to support entrepreneurs.
  • There is an opportunity to overcome the status quo approaches to water management and stewardship. However, time is of the essence to address the impacts of climate change on critical watersheds, globally.

    Subterranean Ogallala Blues — @BigPivots

    Horizontal sprinkler. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

    Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

    A Kansas farm boy goes home to understand his role in groundwater depletion. He finds the culture and politics as confused and confounding as the geology of the Ogallala Aquifer itself.

    Simple metrics of the Ogallala Aquifer astound. This somewhat interconnected body of water underlying the high plains accounts for one-third of all irrigation in the United States. It supports one-sixth of the world’s annual grain production.

    Water in the underground sands, silts, and gravels stretching from South Dakota to Texas – including parts of eastern Colorado — was deposited over millions of years. Now, in not even a flutter of geologic time, barely more than the lives of the oldest baby boomers, this most precious resource has been mined nearly to extinction across broad swaths of the High Plains.

    This is particularly true along its edges, such as in New Mexico, but even in some central portions, including southwestern Kansas. Wells can be drilled deeper, but that can only hasten the reckoning that many seem to want to deny. The seeming plentitude of today manifested in the many circles of hay and alfalfa irrigated by center-pivot sprinklers simply cannot continue indefinitely. Evidence of precipitous decline abounds.

    Lucas Bessire, an anthropologist and native son of southwestern Kansas, explores this depletion in his masterful “Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains.” For good reason it was a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award.

    Depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer has produced several books plus other journalism. Bessire has a more narrow but interesting approach. Instead of trying to tell this across the eight-state region, he focuses on southwestern Kansas through the lens of four generations of his family: a great grandfather who was a pioneer in this new groundwater mining of the mid-20th century, his grandmother who was at its ragged hard-to-reconcile edges, and a father from whom Bessire was at least semi-estranged but who becomes, in this book, a partner in detective work.
    Not least Bessire’s book is of his own journey to the place of his upbringing to examine it with new eyes, as if a stranger, and in that way probe his own complicity.

    Always in these pages Bessire looks over his shoulder, both to his family but also of the region’s history, rife with depletions of earlier times. In this, he seeks to make sense of the present so as to take responsibility for the future. In this struggle to define what it will take to live in a more sustainable way in the world, he takes guidance from his long-departed grandmother. She had in her life struggled to end her dependency on alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. The first step, she wrote in notes now a half-century old, “is to admit that I am not responsible for the past, but that I am accountable to tomorrow.”

    That observation borne of his grandmother’s pain is one for all of those of Ogallala Country – and, although Bessire does not dwell on this, all of humanity.

    Working through the many big ideas in “Running Out” never taxes. Every page has sentences to be savored and, in my case, paragraphs to be highlighted in yellow, for later savoring and deepened understandings.
    “Running Out” has a dreamy, confusing theme, one clearly intended. In his quest to understand, Bessire finds mazes of depletion, layers of deception, a dried river, and a waterless spring that was part of his family’s operation, an area where hydrologists now estimate three-quarters of the water has been removed. There are clouded memories, a strange mist, a numbing vapor, and a ghostly presence.

    Always, there is ghost of his grandmother who in her life was subjected by her handlers to electroshock therapy in an attempt to create amnesia. She spent the rest of her life, says Bessire, trying to recapture the water of her youth that had disappeared.

    There are also blurred boundaries, conundrums, and contradictions, plus the confounding logic used to justify the depletion. Meetings of the groundwater management districts that he and his father attend showcase this distorted logic.

    These districts, under Kansas Law, have authority over the depletion. At one meeting, he attends in expectation of debate about the future of the aquifer, he instead finds blandness, words, and a mood “strangely flattened and trivial, as if veiled behind some gauzy medium that muffled words and distorted time.” The gatherings of aging white men he describes as dishonesty disguised by dullness.

    Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue

    At one of these meetings, “John,” whom he describes as the official playing the part of emcee, belabors the distinction between “impairment,” a word he discourages, and his strong preference, “drawdown allowances.” The talk then extends to the solution, imported water.

    Another meeting produces more fuzzy logic: Imposing limits on pumping does not provide an answer because it would force the transition of irrigated land to less valuable non-irrigated farm land and hence a yanking of the economic platform for the region. As such, depletive irrigation must continue. Again, the answer to the inevitable lies in importing water from elsewhere, presumably with the federal government footing the bill for a canal (and pumps) from the Mississippi River.

    Ogallala Aquifer. Credit: Big Pivots

    That solution is only slightly less improbable than the giant machines that some envision for sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
    The federal government played a role in creating this mess through its insurance programs for crops that favor irrigation, says Bessire. Even more clearly he blames corporate agriculture, the majority owners of the land in this county of southwestern Kansas and the mostly hidden influence that makes the groundwater districts forums for doublespeak. A few farmers use disproportionate amounts of water, and those farmers advocating for restraint in pumping have little voice. The exploitation, he says, is anti-democratic.

    Bessire’s four chapters – Lines, Bones, Dust, Clouds – are carefully crafted, at least partly a result of a year’s fellowship at Harvard University. The prose constantly delights. Driving in the night with his father, he observes “the spinning pivots, under the turning stars.” On another trip through “towns with courthouse squares and false fronts” he sees “emptied houses (that are) falling down in arrested motion.”

    Exploitation, extinction, and extermination are subthemes to his focus on depletion. He tells of the killing of the once vast bison herds that virtually disappeared in a burst of gluttony in 1872-74. The buffalo bones at the railroad siding in Granada, in southeastern Colorado, were 12 feet high, 12 feet wide, and a half-mile long. Most of the buffalo hunters made no money, he observed – a metaphor, if you will, for the farmers depleting the aquifer today.

    The buffalo extermination was also a somewhat conscious decision, a way to force Native American tribes off the land so it could be farmed and ranched. Part of this was the Sand Creek Massacre, whose site in Colorado, just across the border from Kansas, he visited in the company of his grandmother in the 1990s. He wonders at his own lack of understanding of this history that was prelude to his existence there, a child of the plains. “We lived among the rubble of genocide and dispossession in a landscape that had been transformed,” he says.
    No mention is made of critical race theory, but this conclusion does invite comparisons.

    The book has no spare baggage. It has disciplined focus reflected in its relative brevity that belies enormous research. There’s no fat here. The bibliography cites more than 400 books and other sources. His telling of the Sand Creek Massacre, something I have ready deeply about, illustrates this depth.

    One might have wished for just a bit more in two areas. A groundwater district in northwestern Kansas in 2017 voluntarily adopted restrictions on the pace of decline. Bessire explains this but does not identify what was different there, why corporate interests did not prevail.

    The second element is about the end result of the water pumping. Most crops grown with Ogallala drafting feed livestock. Bessire addresses this – really, it’s at the heart of his book:

    “The scale of industrial farming is staggering,” he says. “Southwest Kansas is home to some of the nation’s largest corporate feeders, beef- and poultry-packing plants, slaughterhouses, dairies, milk-drying plants, and hog farms. Multinational meat-packing companies operate slaughterhouses that process several thousand cattle each day. All are billion-dollar businesses. They drive farmers’ choices to produce corn, silage, sorghum, or alfalfa. Their profits depend on aquifer deletion. In other words, there is a multibillion-dollar corporate interest to prevent regulation and to pump the water until it’s gone.”

    I might have liked to have seen this livestock story developed more fully, another full chapter, actually. Maybe it’s another book, a sequel.

    Trucks deliver the corn harvest at a feedlot near Imperial, Neb. Photo/Allen Best

    The cost of eating meat is heavily, heavily subsidized and cannot continue at its current pace. We are borrowing against the opportunities of future generations with no clear way to pay that debt. I am, by the way, a meat-eater.

    This conclusion was derived in part from my own research into the Ogallala in the context of eastern Colorado. My work has been marginal. My commissioned assignments have been to extol the efforts made to innovate. I was not given a blank check to investigate, nor did I take a second-mortgage on the house while I asked the hard questions that Bessire did (he camped out in the barn of his father).

    But I sensed what Bessire explains in his opening, that “depletion of the High Plains aquifer is a defining drama of our times. Within it, planetary crises of ecologies, democracy, and interpretation are condensed. It demands a response.”

    To that I will add a quote from my most recent interviews, a water district official who said that ultimately Ogallala farmers are selling water. As such, he said, they should be mining the groundwater for high-value crops.

    Truth searching rarely comes easily. Geology can be very complex, too. In his opening passage, Bessire tells us about the difficulty of working through the politics and cultures of depletion.

    “The sediments are vertically stacked in layers. They are patchy and unevenly spread. Repetitive themes run between them: memory and amnesia, homelands and exile, holding on and letting go. At times, the layers flow together and connect. At others, they are interrupted and blocked.”
    That he emerged with a book worthy of being considered for the nation’s top book-writing award testifies to his success in navigating these physical and other subterranean passages.

    Is #ColoradoRiver demand management unfair to farmers? It’s complicated — @Land_Desk #COriver #aridification

    Sprinklers and Four Corners Power Plant. San Juan County, New Mexico, 2022.

    Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson):

    Last week, [a Colorado online daily] ran an opinion piece about the dwindling Colorado River and what role agriculture may or may not play in helping to shore it up. It was written by Don Schwindt, a Cortez, Colorado, farmer, and Dan Keppen, Executive Director of the Family Farm Alliance. Along with praising a Southwestern Colorado dam, they argue that agriculture is important and “must be protected by ensuring water remains on-farm.”

    They go on to say:

    “Now, the narrative in some recent media coverage is even more troubling. For some, the current severe drought provides a platform to advocate taking water from farmers to make more available for cities and the environment.

    “The hydrology of the West may be changing, but that should not drive hasty decisions. Agricultural water cannot be simply viewed as the default “reservoir” to meet other growing water demands.”

    They are referring to “demand management,” which can include encouraging farmers to plant less thirsty crops, to increasing efficiency, to paying farmers to stop watering their fields and leave the water in the river (either buying water rights and permanently transferring them, or leasing them when needed on a temporary basis).

    As I read the piece, I was struck less by the arguments, which were fairly predictable, than by my reactions to the arguments. One sentence would have me scoffing, the next nodding in agreement, and another both nodding and snorting derisively. That’s not because I’m insane. It’s because these issues—the “Law of the River,” agriculture’s role in culture and ecosystems, and the Colorado River system—are complicated as all get out. And that sometimes means that the only workable solutions to the growing problems on the river are not always vary palatable. I like farmers, for example, but I also like rivers and the fish in them. It’s getting more and more difficult to have both.

    The following is an attempt at a Data Dump response of sorts to the column.

    The Colorado River is facing a serious supply-demand imbalance. A century ago, when the framers of the Colorado Compact got together to divvy up the river’s waters, they made a few mistakes. First, and most egregious, they didn’t include tribal nations in the negotiations, despite the fact that tribes are sovereign nations and collectively are entitled to first rights to all the water in the river. That was just wrong. Second, they overestimated the amount of water in the river, which in some ways was an honest screw up, given the records they had to work from. And, third, they parceled out too big a portion of the water they thought was in the river, leaving too small of a buffer in case their calculations were off (they were).

    Natural Flow is an estimate of how much water would have naturally run past Lee’s Ferry if there were no dams or diversions upstream. It is calculated using the actual flow, historic flows, and upstream consumptive uses. Bureau of Reclamation modeling is complete to 2019; I extrapolated 2020 and 2021 based on Lake Powell inflows. The 1922 Colorado River Compact gave 7.5 million acre feet to the Upper Basin, 7.5 MAF to the Lower Basin, and (in the ‘40s) 1.5 MAF to Mexico, based on early 1900s observations. As the graph above shows, the average flows dropped below that level a decade later and stayed there aside from a brief respite in the 1980s. Source: USBR

    The result: The river is over-allocated, and would be even if climate change were not a factor. So, supply was already lagging behind demand two decades ago, when the Southwest entered the megadrought in a dramatic way (i.e. 2002, the year of our desiccation). Now the supply is diminishing while demand holds steady, which is rapidly drawing down Lakes Powell and Mead (and other reservoirs). With those huge water “banks” at a critically low level, the Colorado River Basin is at its breaking point. Demand must be slashed, quickly and significantly.

    While overall demand on the Colorado River trended upward from 1970 to the late 1990s, it plateaued when the region entered the current megadrought. Although this data only goes to 2010, the plateau has pretty much held. But at over 14 MAF per year, demand is significantly higher than what the river has supplied most years. Note that more water is lost to reservoir evaporation than is sent to Mexico. Source: USBR Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study.

    The logical way to make big cuts in consumption is to go to the biggest consumers. And the biggest user of Colorado River water, by far, is not lawns, not golf courses, not the Bellagio fountain in Vegas. It is agriculture: all of those orchards, cornfields, alfalfa fields, ranches, and so on. It’s true in the Upper Basin, in the Lower Basin, and in each state except Nevada, which uses virtually all of its relatively minuscule portion of the river to keep Las Vegas from shriveling up and dissolving back into the desert.

    Please visit this post at http://LandDesk.org to see larger, higher resolution images. Note that in New Mexico energy takes up a relatively large share of water. This is mostly for the coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners region, which use billions of gallons of water each year for cooling, steam-generation and other purposes. In some cases, some of this water is returned to the river, but the San Juan Generating Station—scheduled to close this year—is a zero-discharge facility, meaning all of its water use is “consumptive.” Source: USBR.

    Farms’ outsized water guzzling may seem surprising, especially since residential development has been gobbling up farmland in recent decades and ag makes up a smaller and smaller portion of these states’ economies. But crops need water in the arid West and, besides, the farmers tend to have most of the water rights. And Western water law and custom encourage folks to use all of the water they have a right to, conservation be damned—the motto, “use it or lose it,” is pounded into many a Western irrigator’s head: Take all of the water to which you’re entitled and then some, whether you need it or not, or else it might end up on your neighbor’s field or, God forbid, flow back into the river!

    Montezuma Tunnel entrance.

    Schwindt/Keppen write, in reference to diverting Dolores River water onto the farms of Southwest Colorado’s Montezuma Valley:

    “The valley’s irrigated ecosystem also improved, further enhancing critically important environments for wildlife and generating other cultural benefits. Irrigated agricultural lands provide groundwater storage, open space, and riparian habitat and wildlife corridors. They also serve as important buffers between public wildlands and expanding urban and suburban areas.”

    And it’s true, kind of. It’s a stretch to say irrigation enhances the existing ecosystem, but it certainly creates its own, new ecosystems which can be quite vibrant and beautiful. Leaky ditches are especially good at feeding new wetlands, willows, cattails, cottonwoods, and birds and other wildlife. But what irrigation bestows on previously arid landscapes, it takes from once wild rivers. That is especially true on the Dolores, where in the late 1800s irrigators began diverting its waters out of the Dolores River watershed and into the San Juan River watershed, meaning the runoff did not go back into the river. That essentially dried the lower Dolores right up.

    The same was happening all over the region. In the late 1880s ichthyologist David Starr Jordan surveyed area rivers. Here’s what he observed, not about the Dolores, specifically, but about the general state of streams in Colorado at the time:

    Via The Land Desk.

    But then came the Dolores Project, McPhee Dam and Reservoir, which Schwindt and Keppen say “put water in the dry Dolores riverbed.” Well, no, not really. What it did is take water out of the river during spring runoff and then release some of it later in the year into the riverbed that had been dried out by irrigation diversions.

    McPhee Reservoir. JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

    The dam started impounding water in 1983, in the midst of a string of unusually wet years. During that era, the dam did its job. The current irrigators got a more stable supply of water. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe got both drinking water from the project as well as enough to irrigate a major agricultural enterprise near the toe of Ute Mountain, providing much needed economic development. The Town of Dove Creek receives water from the project as do the formerly dryland farmers, allowing them to diversify their crops. And still the year-round flows below the dam were enough to build and sustain a cold-water fishery for trout in the first dozen or so miles below the dam and a habitat for native fish below that. In some ways the dam had set the stage for a win-win-win situation.

    The Dolores River shows us what’s at stake in the fight to protect the American West — Conservation Colorado

    Until it didn’t. That riverbed below the dam? It’s dry more years than not. Last year farmers had to fallow some or all of their fields. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe received only about 10 percent of its usual irrigation water, forcing it to fallow fields; the Town of Dove Creek faced the prospect of losing its drinking water supply altogether; and releases from the dam for the lower river were cut to 10 cubic feet per second, a mere trickle. For several consecutive weeks in June and July the river gauge at Slickrock registered zero. Fish died off, boating has been nearly non-existent most years, and the dearth of high spring water has allowed tamarisk and Russian olive to proliferate.

    This spring’s flows on the Dolores River above the dam have actually been somewhat healthy, peaking out (rather early) at nearly 2,000 cubic feet per second.

    And yet virtually none of that is making it past the dam (yes, that flat black line at the bottom represents releases. It’s at about 7.5 cubic feet per second, a mere trickle, and water managers say they will increase it to a whopping 25 cfs later this year, which is about enough to float a stick):

    And even with good flows and low releases, Dolores Project irrigators are expected to get only 18% of their allocation this year. That’s up from 10% last year, but still. The dam isn’t doing the job it’s meant to do, which is to insulate users from drought. And yet, Schwindt and Keppen say the solution is not to try to reduce demand, but rather to “seriously assess projects that enhance water supplies.” They and the Farm Alliance suggest forest restoration, as well as building more water storage, i.e. dams. That won’t be enough.

    Anyway, back to demand management. I think most of us can agree that farms shouldn’t be dried to allow cities to grow heedlessly, or to allow urban folks to water big lawns or keep parks green. And we can also all agree that everyone needs to manage their own demand, from the coal power plants to cities and towns to ski areas. Cities need to enhance efficiency and incentivize conservation by banning lawns, structuring water rates to discourage waste, requiring water-efficient appliances in new homes, and limiting growth. Reusing treated wastewater should be the norm. Coal plants should be shut down. Data centers, which can use as much as 1 million gallons of water per day, probably shouldn’t be sited in water-scarce areas (i.e. the Southwest).

    But as the consumption graphs above make clear, all of that will only go so far. Agriculture is the biggest consumer of water, so demand management in that realm will also pay the highest dividends. This doesn’t necessarily mean fallowing vast tracts of farmland. It might just mean irrigating more efficiently, plugging leaks on ditches, or switching to less water-intensive, more nutritionally dense crops. Land Desk readers will probably know what I’m saying: Maybe plant a little less alfalfa, instead of more of it!

    I know, I know, we need that alfalfa to feed the cows to make our cheeseburgers. I get it. But here’s the thing: A lot of that alfalfa is going overseas.

    In other words, we are exporting our increasingly scarce Colorado River water—in the form of hay bales—to China, Saudi Arabia, and Japan. I think the agriculture industry can probably handle a little bit of demand management.

    Dolores River watershed

    Biden-Harris Administration Announces Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Investments for Dam Safety Programs in Tribal Communities — DOI

    Men working on the Oglala Dam project, 1940. By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17409996

    Click the link to read the article on the Department of Interior website:

    The Department of the Interior today announced $29 million in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to invest in Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) Irrigation, Power, and Safety of Dams programs.

    President Biden’s historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests more than $13 billion directly to Tribal communities across the country. Today’s announcement includes funding to repair the Oglala Dam in South Dakota, and develop designs for six other dams that currently exceed safety guidelines. This is the first allotment of approximately $150 million the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest over the next five years to address safety deficiencies at dams.

    “Through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are making critical infrastructure investments in Tribal communities across the country,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “In addition to the resources we have allocated for irrigation power systems and water sanitation systems in Indian Country, today’s announcement will further safeguard Tribal water supplies, supporting families and communities. This is yet another step in the Biden-Harris administration’s effort to put investments into communities that need them most.”

    “Maintenance and repairs on our dams have been postponed for many years, leading to deferred maintenance costs of more than a billion dollars,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. “This important funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is an important step to addressing these problems, which will make communities safer and provide additional water for irrigation and other purposes.” 

    Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Fiscal Year 2022 investments will fund designs and construction projects to address known dam safety deficiencies at the following locations:

  • A1, Bootleg, Cooley and Davis Dams, Fort Apache Reservation, Arizona
  • Willow Creek Dam, Crow Reservation, Montana
  • Allen Dam, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
  • Oglala Dam, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
  • Assistant Secretary Newland and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Wizipan Garriott will highlight today’s announcement while visiting the Oglala Dam. The reservoir formed by Oglala Dam was drained in 2019 to protect communities downstream following flood damage that compromised the spillway and outlet works. The project will address these damages at a cost of more than $20 million. Upon completion in 2026, this work will restore an important local water supply for the Pine Ridge community.

    “It’s absolutely urgent that we start thinking now, while there’s time, about how we adjust the [#ColoradoRiver Compact]…in the most careful way” — Bruce Babbit via The Los Angeles Times #COriver #aridfication

    Bruce Babbitt, former secretary of the Interior and Arizona governor, said modifying the Colorado River Compact was not necessary for long-lasting solutions in 2019 but has now acknowledged the need. (Source: Water Education Foundation)

    Click the link to read the article on the Los Angeles Times website (Ian James). Here’s an excerpt:

    Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who oversaw management of the river under President Clinton, said it’s become clear that the 1922 Colorado River Compact should be revamped to adapt to the reduced amount of water that is available as global warming compounds the 22-year megadrought in the watershed. Babbitt said that a few years ago, he had thought the seven states could get by while leaving the agreement unchanged. But the Colorado River Basin has been drying out so rapidly with rising temperatures, he said, that the pact should be updated to allow the states to proportionally scale back their water use to deal with what scientists describe as the aridification of the West.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck.

    “While I once thought that these aridification scenarios were kind of abstract and way out in the future, I don’t think that anymore,” Babbitt said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It’s absolutely urgent that we start thinking now, while there’s time, about how we adjust the compact, the regulations, the necessary reductions, in the most careful way so that we limit the damage, which can really be extreme.”

    […]

    Babbitt said problems in the Colorado River Compact include how it was written, based on assumptions of much larger flows, and how certain provisions become unworkable under such dry conditions…One big reason they no longer work, Babbitt said, is that the century-old agreement includes a provision requiring the Upper Basin states to deliver 7.5 million acre-feet per year to the Lower Basin, the largest share of which goes to California. The Upper Basin states face future scenarios in which they would be required to make huge and disproportionate reductions in water use, Babbitt said.

    Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    The marinas at #Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir won’t open this season as the threat of a #water release to #LakePowell looms — Colorado Public Radio #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A longer walk from the dock to the water is in store for boaters at the Elk Creek marina, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa is being drawn down to feed critically low Lake Powell, as continued dry weather and rising demand deplete the Colorado River.
    (Courtesy photo/National Park Service) August 2021.

    Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

    Last year, the U.S. Department of the Interior [dropped the reservoir level] 8 feet…from Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison to be sent downstream to Lake Powell. The emergency action was needed to prop up water levels in the nation’s second-largest reservoir, which has hit its lowest level on record amid a 20-year, climate change-fueled megadrought in the Colorado River basin. The drop in water levels led to an early closure of the marinas, cutting six weeks out of the lake’s five-month tourism season. The National Park Service told everyone who stored their boats at the marinas that they had 10 days to remove their boats from the reservoir.

    Federal and state officials said the plan is to leave Blue Mesa alone this year so it can start to recover. But they acknowledge the Colorado reservoir might be tapped again if Lake Powell needs more water to protect its ability to produce hydropower for millions of people across the West. Because of this possibility, the National Park Service has decided not to open Blue Mesa’s marinas this year…

    Loken worries that the closures will hurt the local economy, which depends on recreation and tourism. While the ramp at Elk Creek will remain open, closing the docks means hundreds of people won’t be able to keep larger boats in the water for summer. Loken said many of those boat owners live out of town and don’t want to drive back and forth with their boats each time they want to visit.

    Lake Powell does need more water to protect its ability to keep producing hydropower. This year, the federal government plans to take water out of the Flaming Gorge reservoir on the Utah-Wyoming border while also holding back releases to downstream states. Loken said since projections show the drought will remain and likely worsen with human-caused climate change, people need to change how the Colorado River and its reservoirs are used.

    A fleet of rafts makes its way down the Green River toward its confluence with the Yampa River. Future potential releases of water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir to boost levels in Lake Powell shape the flows on the Green River, although it’s not clear how the releases may change flow levels. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smity

    Pueblos again seek inclusion in #RioGrande decision-making: Experts say 2022 looks grim for the river, and irrigation season is likely to be brief and dry — Source #NM

    Some parts of the Rio Grande already experience a dry river most of the year. Photo by WildEarth Guardians.

    Click the link to read the article on the Source NM website (Danielle Prokop). Here’s an excerpt:

    Members of six New Mexico Pueblos are calling for a seat at the table from the body that oversees how the Rio Grande’s water is split, managed and used between states. A coalition representing Cochiti, Santo Domingo, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Sandia and Isleta attended the annual Rio Grande Compact Commission meeting on May 6. Gov. Vernon Abeita (Isleta) spoke on behalf of the coalition, saying the Pueblos should be included in all correspondence and meetings that may impact access to Rio Grande water. They should also be invited to future commission meetings, he said.

    The headwaters of the Rio Grande River in Colorado. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    “In the past, Bureau of Indian Affairs represented Pueblos at commission meetings,” Albeita said. “It is now time the coalition interacts with the commission directly, and for the commission to engage the coalition Pueblos, so that our voices can be heard.”

    Cochiti Pueblo between c. 1871-c. 1907. By John K. Hillers, 1843-1925, Photographer (NARA record: 3028457) – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17208641

    He said the Pueblos have cultivated and lived on their land “for time immemorial” and want a formal relationship to manage the water they depend on. This also the first time the Pueblos have sought “a seat at the table,” a direct quote from a 1999 request to join discussions on the operating contract between the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation. The U.S. Department of the Interior relaxed rules last month to allow tribes more control over their water rights. The department also established a federal assessment team to help the six Pueblos resolve water claim issues between the state of New Mexico and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, Abeita said.

    Native land loss 1776 to 1930. Credit: Alvin Chang/Ranjani Chakraborty

    #Colorado, #Nebraska Jostle Over #Water Rights Amid #Drought — The Associated Press #SouthPlatteRiver

    Thornton near the South Platte River November 6, 2021. Photo credit: Zack Wilkerson

    Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (James Anderson). Here’s an excerpt:

    [Don] Schneider and [Steve] Hanson find themselves on opposite sides of a looming, politically-fraught dispute over water resembling the kind that until now has been reserved for the parched U.S. states along the Colorado River Basin. As climate change-fueled megadrought edges eastward, Nebraska’s Republican-controlled Legislature this year voted to move forward with a plan that stunned Colorado state leaders. The Cornhusker State wants to divert water in Colorado by invoking an obscure, 99-year-old compact between the states that allows Nebraska to seize Colorado land along the South Platte River to build a canal. Nebraska’s plan underscores an increasing appetite throughout the West to preemptively secure water as winter snows and year-round rainfall diminish, forcing states to reallocate increasingly scarce flows in basins such as the South Platte and its better-known cousin, the Colorado River…

    Governor Clarence J. Morley signing Colorado River compact and South Platte River compact bills, Delph Carpenter standing center. Unidentified photographer. Date 1925. Print from Denver Post. From the CSU Water Archives

    Nebraska’s Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, gave precious few details in calling for $500 million in cash reserves and one-time federal pandemic funds to be spent on the project, other than to say it will benefit agriculture, power generation and municipal drinking water. Ricketts decried proposals in Colorado to either siphon or store more South Platte water, especially in the rapidly-growing Denver metro area, saying they threaten Nebraska’s water rights hundreds of miles downstream. The announcement sent Colorado officials scrambling to dust off the 1923 compact, which both Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court signed off on and still stands as the law of the land. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis vowed to “aggressively assert” Colorado’s water rights, and state lawmakers lambasted the proposal. GOP Rep. Richard Holtorf, an area cattleman, declared: “You give Nebraska what they’re due but you don’t give them much else.”

    For now, Colorado is not going to legally challenge Nebraska’s right to a canal under the compact, said Kevin Rein, Colorado’s state engineer and director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “The other side of that coin is that we’ll make every effort that their operation is in compliance with the compact” and protects Colorado’s rights, Rein said.

    2022 #COleg: Turf replacement, wildfire, #groundwater sustainability funding among #water wins as #Colorado legislative session ends — @WaterEdCO

    Colorado State Capitol. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Larry Moriandi):

    The Colorado General Assembly adjourned its 2022 session on May 11. Among the water bills that passed, four share a common theme—funding. A rare confluence of new revenue sources led to strong bipartisan support of bills dealing with groundwater compact compliance and sustainability, state water plan projects, wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration, and urban turf replacement. A bill designed to strengthen Colorado’s water speculation laws failed.

    An orangethroat darter, one of the nine remaining native fish species in the Arikaree River. Photo: Jeremy Monroe, Freshwaters Illustrated.

    Groundwater compact compliance and sustainability

    Senate Bill 28 creates a Groundwater Compact Compliance and Sustainability Fund to help pay for the purchase and retirement of wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican and Rio Grande basins in northeast and south-central Colorado. It appropriates into the fund $60 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) revenue that had been transferred into the state’s Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will distribute the money based on recommendations from the Republican River Water Conservation District and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, with approval by the state engineer. These are one-time dollars that must be obligated by the end of 2024; if not spent by then, they will be used to support the state water plan.

    The bill seeks to reduce groundwater pumping connected to surface water flows in the Republican River to comply with a compact among Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. It will also help meet aquifer sustainability standards required by state statute and rules in the Rio Grande Basin, home to the San Luis Valley. To achieve those goals, 25,000 acres of irrigated land must be retired in the Republican Basin, and 40,000 acres in the Rio Grande, by 2029. If the targets are not met, the state engineer may have no choice but to shut down wells without compensation.

    Water sustains the San Luis Valley’s working farms and ranches and is vital to the environment, economy and livelihoods, but we face many critical issues and uncertainties for our future water supply. (Photo by Rio de la Vista.)

    Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, noted that agricultural production coming out of the two basins benefits the overall state economy, not just the local communities. “The state has some skin in the game,” he said, and the availability of ARPA revenue “presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to support the districts.

    Simpson emphasized that neither district is looking for a handout. The Republican has already assessed its water users over $140 million since 2004 to retire irrigated land and purchase or lease surface and groundwater to meet Colorado’s water delivery obligations. The Rio Grande district has taxed its farmers nearly $70 million since 2006 to take irrigated land out of production and has cut groundwater pumping by a third. Simpson requested $80 million from the Economic Recovery Task Force and, by demonstrating the interconnectivity between the state and local economies and the commitment already shown by the districts—along with strong bipartisan support from legislators—was able to secure the $60 million appropriation.

    State water plan projects

    Each year the Colorado General Assembly considers the CWCB’s “projects bill,” which, among other things, has included appropriations from CWCB’s Construction Fund to support grants for projects that help implement the state water plan in recent years. The funding source for those grants is different this year, with gambling revenue from Proposition DD, which the electorate passed in 2019, becoming available for the first time. Proposition DD legalized sports betting and levied a 10% tax on sports betting proceeds, with the majority of that revenue going into the Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund.

    House Bill 1316 appropriates $8.2 million from the fund for grants to help implement the state water plan; $7.2 million of that amount is from sports betting revenue. Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, said, “This is the first appropriation of funds from Proposition DD … and it looks like it’s starting to grow into what we had hoped.”

    The bill also appropriates $2 million to CWCB from its Construction Fund to help the Republican River Water Conservation District retire irrigated acreage. Rod Lenz, district president, said the district has doubled its water use fee on irrigators but that “we’re in need of short-term funding while we wait for that rate increase.” The $2 million in state revenue will help the district meet its 2024 interim target of retiring 10,000 acres of the 25,000 acres necessary to comply with the Republican River Compact by 2029. This is on top of the funds the district will receive from Senate Bill 28.

    A forest fire next to the Bitterroot River in Montana. UCLA-led research revealed that larger fires tend to be followed by larger increases in streamflow. | Photo by John MacColgan/Creative Commons

    Wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration

    Like Senate Bill 28, House Bill 1379 takes advantage of ARPA revenue by appropriating $20 million from the Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund for projects to restore, mitigate and protect watersheds from damage caused by wildfire-induced erosion and flooding. Testimony on the bill in the House Agriculture, Livestock & Water Committee emphasized how investing mitigation dollars now helps avoid spending even more on very expensive recovery efforts later.

    The bill allocates $3 million to the Healthy Forests and Vibrant Communities Fund to help communities reduce wildfire risks by promoting watershed resilience. It moves $2 million into the Wildfire Mitigation Capacity Development Fund for wildfire mitigation and fuel reduction projects. And $15 million goes to CWCB to fund watershed restoration and flood mitigation projects, and to help local governments and other entities apply for federal grants under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act related to water and natural resources management.

    Mrs. Gulch’s Blue gramma “Eyelash” patch August 28, 2021.

    Turf replacement

    While most of the focus at the Capitol in reducing water use has been on agriculture through retiring irrigated farmland, House Bill 1151 elevates urban turf replacement in importance. The bill requires CWCB to develop a statewide program to provide financial incentives for residential, commercial, institutional and industrial property owners to voluntarily replace non-native grasses with water-wise landscaping. It appropriates $2 million in general funds to a newly created Turf Replacement Fund and authorizes local governments, nonprofits and other entities to apply to CWCB for grants to help finance their programs. Landscape contractors, to whom individuals can apply for money to replace their lawns, are also eligible.

    Rep. Catlin pointed out that “50% of the water that comes from the tap and goes through the meter and into the house is used outside.”

    “We’re building ourselves a shortage,” he warned, “by continuing to use treated water for irrigation.” Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, added, “For too long the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains have borne the brunt of water conservation … but this is a bill that will give the tools to metro areas for them to play their fair part in this problem that is our drought.”

    WAM bought this 57-acre parcel as part of a $6 million deal in January 2020, leading some to suspect the company was engaging in investment water speculation. WAM’s activity in the Grand Valley helped prompt state legislators to propose a bill aimed at curbing speculation.
    CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Investment water speculation

    Senate Bill 29 was an attempt to strengthen protections against investment water speculation, defined as the purchase of agricultural water rights “with the intent, at the time of purchase, to profit from an increase in the water’s value in a subsequent transaction, such as the sale or lease of the water, or by receiving payment from another person for nonuse of all or a portion of the water.” It was aimed at curbing outside investors who may have little or no interest in agriculture from using the water right to maximize its value as the price of water increases during drought. It authorized the state engineer to investigate complaints of investment water speculation and, if found, to levy fines and prohibit the buyer from purchasing additional water rights for two years without the state engineer’s approval.

    The 2021 interim Water Resources Review Committee recommended the bill, but it was never viewed as more than a “placeholder.” Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, a co-sponsor of the bill, expressed her disappointment that the bill did not generate more engagement between the water community and policymakers. “I was certainly hopeful that by having a bill we would force conversation,” she said, “but it did not result in having some forthright ‘let’s get around a table and hammer this out.’” Members struggled with trying to balance concerns over speculation with protecting property rights. Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, the other co-sponsor of the bill, emphasized, “We are certainly not trying to take a farmer’s or rancher’s ability away from selling that water. In many cases that is their 401K, their retirement.”

    Opposition from water user groups in the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee sent a clear message: Existing legal requirements provide the necessary safeguards to address water speculation. Travis Smith, representing the Colorado Water Congress, said what’s needed is “having more voices, taking more time.”

    Senate Bill 29 was amended to strike the language in the bill and refer the issue to interim study. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who was chairing the committee, expressed his frustration: “We have an ineffective water group that won’t have a conversation with lawmakers anymore. When they have a bill they just take a position and quit working with people.”

    With that said he carried the bill over for further consideration, effectively killing it since this was the last committee meeting of the year. It’s unclear whether the issue will be studied this interim since it’s an election year and fewer committee meetings will be held.

    Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net.

    2022 #COleg: To help refill two struggling underground aquifers, #Colorado lawmakers set aside $60 million to retire irrigation wells and acres of farmland — #Colorado Public Radio

    Subdistrict 1 Program Manager Marisa Fricke clears paths for water to flow onto land the subdistrict owns. The property is one of the subdistrict’s investments in recharging the aquifer. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado lawmakers unanimously voted to set aside $60 million of federal COVID relief money to create a fund to help water users in two river basins meet groundwater sustainability targets. If signed by Gov. Jared Polis, the legislation would create a groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The money would be used to buy and retire groundwater wells used to irrigate farmland in the Rio Grande River basin in the south and the Republican River basin in the east to keep the water in underground aquifers that are struggling to keep up with drought and overuse…

    Farmers and ranchers in both river basins face rapidly approaching deadlines to reduce their water use, which are necessary to maintain interstate river agreements and preserve underground water supplies. If these goals aren’t met, state water officials say there could be alarming consequences — and thousands of well users could face water cuts.

    In the San Luis Valley, the state water engineer is requiring some groundwater well users to limit pumping because too many wells are all pulling from the same groundwater source. Chris Ivers, the program manager for two subdistricts in the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said farmers and ranchers have levied property taxes on themselves to fund similar local efforts to meet groundwater sustainability goals.

    Far from #LakePowell, #drought punishes another Western dam — The Los Angeles Times #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    View below Flaming Gorge Dam from the Green River, eastern Utah. Photo credit: USGS

    Click the link to read the article on The Los Angeles Times website (Sammy Roth). Here’s an excerpt:

    Flaming Gorge is clearly a marvel of engineering, from pendulum-like “plumb lines” that help Reclamation employees ensure the 60-year-old concrete structure isn’t moving around too much, to “weep holes” that reduce pressure buildup by allowing water to seep through fissures in the canyon walls on either side of the dam. Electric lines extend upward from the blockish power plant, soaring out of the canyon through a series of transmission towers that send carbon-free energy to the Black Hills, Burbank and beyond…

    The Biden administration said this month it would release an extra 500,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir over the next year, as part of a desperate effort to stop Powell from falling so low that Glen Canyon Dam can no longer generate power. That’s on top of the 125,000 acre-feet that Flaming Gorge contributed to Powell in a first-of-its kind series of releases last year…

    Hydropower has long been a backbone of the Western power grid, with rivers from the Colorado to the Columbia fueling the growth of cities including Los Angeles, Phoenix and Seattle. And even as some environmental activists campaign to demolish certain dams and restore the ecosystems they destroyed, hydropower turbines have become an increasingly valuable tool for keeping the lights on after sundown, when solar panels stop generating electricity. The threat of power shortages is real — especially on stiflingly hot summer evenings when the entire West is baking, and people have no choice but to keep blasting their air conditioners after sundown. Those are the kinds of conditions that prompted rolling blackouts in California in August 2020, with state officials warning that the potential for outages could be worse this summer.

    Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com
    Utah Rivers map via Geology.com

    Aspinall Unit Forecast for Spring Operations (May 13, 2022)

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight). Click to enlarge:

    As #LakePowell dries up, the US turns to creative accounting for a short-term fix — The #Water Desk #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the article on The Water Desk website (Jake Bittle, Grist). Here’s an excerpt:

    A new agreement calls for Western states to leave their drinking water in the reservoir — and act as if they didn’t.

    Late last week, the states agreed to forfeit their water from Lake Powell in order to ensure that the reservoir can still produce power. The deal puts a finger in the metaphorical dike, postponing an inevitable reckoning with the years-long drought that has parched the Colorado River — and a wrenching tradeoff between power access and water access for millions. It does so, in part, through an unusual act of hydrological accounting.

    The deal has two parts. The first and more straightforward part is that the federal government will move 500,000 acre-feet of water (about 162 billion gallons) from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir into Lake Powell, bumping up water levels in the latter body. Flaming Gorge, which stretches across Wyoming and Utah, is mostly used for water recreation, so the immediate effects of the transfer will be minimal. The feds could do more of these water transfers later in the year if things get worse, drawing on water from other nearby reservoirs.

    The second part is more complicated — and less helpful. In ordinary circumstances, the Bureau of Reclamation releases water from Lake Powell into an even larger reservoir called Lake Mead, from which it then flows to households and farms across the Southwest. As part of the deal, the states that rely on Mead water are agreeing to leave about 480,000 acre-feet of that water in Lake Powell, thus lowering the water levels in Mead. (Reclamation already announced earlier this year that it would delay the release of 350,000 acre-feet of water in Powell in anticipation of spring snow runoff.)

    Douglas County to release redacted Renewable #Water Resources memo with their decision — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    San Luis Valley irrigation crop circles. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website:

    DOUGLAS County will release a redacted version of an attorney memorandum at the same time it gives its decision on whether to move ahead with a proposal by Renewable Water Resources to transport water from San Luis Valley aquifers to the affluent metro-Denver suburb.

    The three county commissioners met for over an hour in a closed-to-the-public executive session Thursday to discuss which portions of water attorney Steve Leonhardt’s analysis and recommendations on the RWR plan would be redacted.

    “We will release our decision alongside this redacted memorandum,” said Commissioner Abe Laydon, chair of the board. A disappointed Commissioner Lora Thomas said she was under the impression a redacted version would be released as early as Thursday but now the release will occur at a future board work session.

    SLV WATER: Find more coverage of the RWR plan and other Valley water issues HERE

    Laydon said a “large majority” of the information contained in Leonhardt’s memorandum to the commissioners would be made public. Redacted would be any information privileged to Renewable Water Resources or any information that would harm Douglas County in any future water discussions. Personal information of individuals Laydon and Leonhardt said they met privately with in the San Luis Valley would also be redacted.

    Meanwhile, the SLV Ecosystem Council submitted 255 signatures to the Douglas County commissioners in opposition to the water exportation plan. In the letter, SLV Ecosystem Council Director Chris Canaly slammed the commissioners for canceling a public meeting in the San Luis Valley and for their treatment of water and environmental experts who took time to educate the commissioners on the Valley’s dire water situation.

    “… SLV representatives compiled critical research and presented significant facts and valuable findings that embody generations of historical water knowledge of the Rio Grande basin. Your reaction to this good faith effort has been complete dismissal, even disdain.”

    Construction kicks off at Gross Reservoir: Denver Water’s critical project to raise the dam by 131 feet gets underway — News On Tap #BoulderCreek #FraserRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Jay Adams):

    Construction began April 1 on Denver Water’s five-year project to expand Gross Reservoir by raising the height of the dam.

    The reservoir and dam, located in the foothills west of Boulder, were named after former Denver Water Chief Engineer Dwight Gross. The dam was completed in 1954 to store water from the West Slope for Denver’s growing population.

    The dam was originally designed to be raised in the future when needed.

    Now, Denver Water is raising the height of the dam by 131 feet to help ease a storage imbalance in the utilities’ water collection system. Once completed, Gross will be the tallest dam in Colorado.

    The dam was originally designed to be raised in the future when needed.
    Now, Denver Water is raising the height of the dam by 131 feet to help ease a storage imbalance in the utilities’ water collection system. Once completed, Gross will be the tallest dam in Colorado.

    “We’ve been busy bringing trucks, cranes and other heavy equipment to the site to prepare for construction,” said Doug Raitt, construction manager of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project for Denver Water. “A lot has to be done just to prepare the site for all the work that has to happen.”

    Crews navigate a winding road near the dam to bring a large crane to the construction site. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Early work involves blasting rock on the sides of the canyon to make way for the additional concrete that will be placed over the downstream face and above the existing dam.

    A machine drills holes into the rock above the dam to place explosives for blasting operations. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Crews also are building a walkway on the upstream side, or reservoir side, of the dam to provide access for workers to walk from one side of the dam to the other.

    Upcoming work includes hydroblasting 2 to 3 inches of concrete from the face of the dam so the new concrete will adhere to it. Part of the dam’s spillway will also be removed to prepare for the addition.

    Early work involves installing walkways on the upstream side, or reservoir side, of the dam. The walkways are needed because the top of the dam will be removed to make way for the addition. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    To raise the dam, crews will start at the bottom and extend the base of the dam out. Then they will build a series of steps up to the dam’s new height — similar to what you see on the sides of an Egyptian pyramid.

    The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project involves raising the height of the existing dam by 131 feet. The dam will be built out and will have “steps” made of roller-compacted concrete to reach the new height. Image credit: Denver Water

    “When it’s done, it will be the largest dam in Colorado and nearly triple the storage capacity of the existing reservoir,” said Jeff Martin, manager of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project for Denver Water. “We’re really excited to begin construction on this important project.”

    Doug Raitt, construction project manager for Denver Water, stands next to a 60-ton dump truck at the construction site on April 20, 2022. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Martin said that work conducted during 2022 and 2023 will be mostly site preparation for the on-site concrete production and foundation work on the rock on the sides of the dam and around the bottom.

    At the height of construction there may be as many as 400 workers on site at a time, Raitt said.

    “Raising a dam is often trickier than simply building a new one,” Raitt said. “We have to continue sending water through the dam during construction while transforming the dam into a new structure.”

    Crews remove rock that has been blasted away on the north side of the dam. The area near the red machine at the top of the picture will be the new crest of the dam. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Throughout the project, safety will be the No. 1 priority at the site.

    “Denver Water and our construction partners have an emphasis on safety for the public and our workers every day,” Raitt said. “We all go through safety training and will continue to evaluate our operations throughout the project.”

    Workers take part in safety training with Kiewit-Barnard, the general contractor for the expansion project in April. At the peak of construction, up to 400 workers will be on-site at the dam during the day. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Protecting the environment and wildlife is another important part of the project. Denver Water worked with biologists to make sure there were no bird nests in the area before the start of construction and will continue to do so throughout the project.

    Additional environmental mitigation efforts were put in place to protect South Boulder Creek and the reservoir from sediment and erosion washing in during the work. These efforts will continue throughout the project.

    Erosion control measures are put up around construction areas to protect dirt and rocks from falling or washing into South Boulder Creek and Gross Reservoir. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water also is spending time updating community members around the reservoir.

    “It’s important that we let them know what’s happening with the project,” Raitt said.

    “For months, we’ve been doing outreach to the community with public meetings, newsletters and emails. We’ve received a lot of feedback from our neighbors letting us know what’s important to them and we’ll continue to work with them and update them throughout the project.”

    Denver Water is hosting community meetings with residents who live around Gross Reservoir to update them on the project and answer questions. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    #Drought won’t impact #GlenwoodSprings drinking #water supply — The Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

    Click the link to read the article on the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent website (Ike Fredregill). Here’s an excerpt:

    While snow water equivalent, aka snowpack, feeding the basins north of Glenwood Springs is 8% below average, Langhorst said the city’s main water sources — Grizzly and No Name creeks — provide more than enough water to meet the city’s needs, even in the dry years. The first of two primary water sources, Grizzly Creek basin’s lowest snowpack was recorded in 1977, yet the basin still produced more than 4,000 acre feet of water that year. Glenwood Springs uses about 2,200 acre feet of water annually, Langhorst said. Before pulling from Grizzly Creek, however, the city relies on No Name Creek, but no monitors are in place to monitor snowpack feeding the source…

    The Grizzly Creek Fire jumped Grizzly Creek north of Glenwood Canyon. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

    Ample water supply, however, doesn’t mean water restrictions are off the table. Langhorst said the city’s watering restrictions in recent years were implemented to facilitate repairs to water plant infrastructure and accommodate for historic spikes of sediment flowing into the system as a result of debris flows. To alleviate stress on the system and lessen the likelihood of future restrictions, the city invested about $8.5 million in water infrastructure upgrades in anticipation to and as a result of the debris flows. Following the infrastructure upgrades, the city can treat about 8.5 million gallons a day and store up to 6 million gallons.

    On the hottest days, the city typically uses up to 4.5 million gallons a day.

    #Water rights secured for #Ouray Ice Park — Ouray County Plain Dealer

    Ari Schneider ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado. Julia McGonigle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

    Click the link to read the article on the Ouray County Plain Dealer website (Mike Wiggins). Here’s an excerpt:

    Water court referee S. Gregg Stanway approved a conditional water right for the city of Ouray that will provide 1.1111 cubic feet per second of water from Canyon Creek to the ice park, as well as Ouray Silver Mines’ request to effectively convey its conditional recreational water right to the ice park, providing an additional 3.34 cfs of water. District Court Judge J. Steven Patrick confirmed Stanway’s rulings. The granting of the conditional water rights was the lynchpin in an arrangement among the city, the mine and the ice park. The mine agreed to lease to the city a portion of its water rights that are currently decreed to the Revenue-Virginius Mine, with the city paying $1 a year for the lease for a 10-year term that can be renewed. The ice park will manage the lease…

    Ice park managers had initially planned to build a 3-mile water line along County Road 361 and use the city’s water rights to obtain water from Weehawken Creek. But that project carried a $3 million price tag and a lengthy timeline for completion, given that the pipeline would have crossed U.S. Forest Service and private land.

    Instead, mine officials proposed donating the conditional recreational water right to the park, noting the mine wasn’t using that water. The mine has access to close to another 3 cfs as part of its water right. Water will be pumped out of Canyon Creek into the park. The revised project is expected to cost around $1 million. The ice park currently uses about 350 gallons a minute to create ice in the Uncompahgre Gorge. The water right from the mine will provide three or four times that amount. And more water should allow for the creation of another 25 to 40 climbing routes, joining the roughly 150 routes that already exist in the park.

    “We’ll have more than enough water now,” Ice Park Executive Director Peter O’Neil said Tuesday. “The biggest issue is making sure we have cold enough temperatures, but when we do, we’ll be able to make ice like a maniac.”

    Graphic credit Xylem US.

    With the water rights in hand, the plan now is for the mine to hire a contractor to drill a well in Canyon Creek just upstream from the confluence with the Uncompahgre River and install a vertical turbine pump in the bottom of the creek. Water can then be pumped into the gorge and the pipeline in the park. O’Neil said the timing of the pump installation depends on flows in Canyon Creek. He’s hoping to do it either late this spring or early in the fall. The goal is to have the project finished in time for park employees to start farming ice using the new system in the fall of 2022.

    Western river compacts were innovative in the 1920s but couldn’t foresee today’s #water challenges — The Conversation


    Colorado River water flows through a canal that feeds farms in Casa Grande, Ariz., on July 22, 2021.
    AP Photo/Darryl Webb

    Patricia J. Rettig, Colorado State University

    The Western U.S. is in a water crisis, from California to Nebraska. An ongoing drought is predicted to last at least through July 2022. Recent research suggests that these conditions may be better labeled aridification – meaning that warming and drying are long-term trends.

    On the Colorado River, the country’s two largest reservoirs – Lake Powell and Lake Mead – are at their lowest levels in 50 years. This could threaten water supplies for Western states and electricity generation from the massive hydropower turbines embedded in the lakes’ dams. In August 2021 the federal government issued a first-ever water shortage declaration for the Colorado, forcing supply cuts in several states.

    The seven Colorado River Basin states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – signed a water sharing agreement, the Colorado River Compact, in 1922. Some observers are now calling for renegotiating the compact to correct errors and oversights. Nebraska and Colorado are also arguing over water from the South Platte River, which they share under a separate agreement signed in 1923.

    A black and white photo shows men in suits gathered around a desk covered with papers
    Delph Carpenter, standing at center, at the signing of bills approving the Colorado River and South Platte River compacts in 1925.
    Colorado State University Water Resources Archive, CC BY-ND

    My work as head archivist for Colorado State University’s Water Resources Archive gives me a unique perspective on these conflicts. Our collection includes the papers of Delph Carpenter, a lawyer who developed the concept of interstate river compacts and negotiated both the Colorado and South Platte agreements.

    Carpenter’s drafts, letters, research and reports show that he believed compacts would reduce litigation, preserve state autonomy and promote the common good. Indeed, many states use them now. Viewing Carpenter’s documents with hindsight, we can see that interstate river compacts were an innovative solution 100 years ago – but were written for a West far different from today.

    Water for development

    In the early 1900s, there was plenty of water to go around. But there weren’t enough dams, canals or pipelines to store, move or make use of it. Devastating floods in California and Arizona spurred plans for building dams to hold back high river flows.

    With the Reclamation Act of 1902, Congress directed the Interior Department to develop infrastructure in the West to supply water for irrigation. As the Reclamation Service, which later became the powerful Bureau of Reclamation, moved forward, it began planning for dams that could also generate hydropower. Low-cost electricity and irrigation water would become important drivers of development in the West.

    Carpenter worried that downstream states, building dams for their own needs, would demand water from upstream states. He was especially attuned to this issue as a native of mountainous Colorado, the source of four major rivers – the Platte, the Arkansas, the Rio Grande and the Colorado. Carpenter wanted to see upper basin states “adequately protected before the construction of the structures upon the lower river.”

    Map of the Colorado River basin
    The Colorado River flows through seven U.S. states and Mexico, ending at the Gulf of California.
    USGS

    Carpenter also knew about interstate water conflicts. In 1916, a group of Nebraska irrigators sued farmers in Colorado for drying up the South Platte River at the state line. Carpenter was already lead counsel for Colorado in Wyoming v. Colorado, a case involving the Laramie River that began in 1911 and would not be resolved until 1922.

    Laramie and Poudre Tunnel inlet October 3, 2010.

    Carpenter viewed such legal battles as wastes of time and money. But when he proposed negotiating interstate river compacts, he was met with “skepticism, indifference, failure of comprehension or open ridicule,” he recollected in a 1934 essay.

    Eventually Carpenter persuaded his Colorado clients to resolve their litigation with Nebraska by negotiating a compact to share water from the South Platte. It took seven years of data collection and discussion, but Carpenter believed the agreement would ensure “permanent peace with our neighboring state.”

    Or maybe not. Today Nebraska officials want to revive an unfinished canal to pull water from the South Platte in Colorado, citing concerns about Colorado’s numerous planned upstream water projects. With Colorado officials pledging to aggressively defend their state’s water rights, the states could be headed to court.

    Portioning out the Colorado

    West of the Continental Divide, the Colorado River flows more than 1,400 miles southwest to the Gulf of California in Mexico. Once, its delta was a lush network of lagoons; now the river peters out in the desert because states take so much water out of it upstream.

    In 2014, the U.S. and Mexico started collaborating to restore the ecosystems of the Colorado River Delta.

    When settlers developed the West, their prevailing attitude was that water reaching the sea was wasted, so people aimed to use it all. California had a bigger population than the other six Colorado River Basin states combined, and Carpenter worried that California’s river use could hinder Colorado under the prior appropriation doctrine, which dictates that the first person to use water acquires a right to use it in the future. With the U.S. Reclamation Service studying the Colorado to find good dam sites, Carpenter also feared that the federal government would take control of river development.

    Carpenter studied international treaties as models for river compacts. He knew that U.S. states had a right under Article 1, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution to make agreements with each other. And he believed that solving water conflicts between states required “statesmanship of the highest order.”

    In 1920, officials agreed to try his approach. After the states and the federal government adopted legislation to authorize the process, representatives began meeting as the Colorado River Commission in January 1922, with then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover as chair. Meeting minutes show that negotiations nearly collapsed several times, but the end goal of rapid river development held them together.

    The commissioners reached agreement in 11 months, adopting a final version of the compact in November 1922. It allocated fixed amounts of water – measured in absolute acre-feet, not percentages of the river’s flow – to the upper and lower basins. With water levels in the river declining, this approach has proved to be a major challenge today.

    In 2021 the Interior Department declared a water shortage for the Colorado River, triggering supply cuts for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

    At their meetings, the commissioners discussed both the variability of the river’s flow and their lack of sufficient data for long-term planning. Yet in the final compact they allowed for dividing up surplus water starting in 1963. We know now that they used optimistic flow numbers measured during a particularly wet period.

    A hotter, more crowded West

    Today the West faces conditions that Carpenter and his peers did not anticipate. In 1922, Hoover imagined that the basin’s population, which totaled about 457,000 in 1915, might quadruple in the future. Today, the Colorado River supplies some 40 million people – more than 20 times Hoover’s projection.

    The commissioners also didn’t anticipate climate change, which is making the west hotter and drier and shrinking the river’s volume. Some water experts say a new agreement is needed that recognizes an era of shortage. Others say renegotiation is politically impossible. The states signed a drought contingency plan in 2019, but it runs through only 2026.

    Testifying before Congress in 1926 about the Colorado River Compact, Hoover stated, “If we can provide for equity for the next 40 to 75 years we can trust to the generation after the next to be as intelligent as we are today.” In the face of extreme Western water challenges, it is now up to Westerners to meet – or exceed – that expectation.

    [Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversation’s science newsletter.]The Conversation

    Patricia J. Rettig, Head Archivist, Water Resources Archive, Colorado State University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    The #ColoradoRiver District (CRD) annual “Middle Colorado State of the River” recap

    The Roaring Fork River just above Carbondale, and Mt. Sopris, on May 3, 2020. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Click the link to read the article on Sopris Sun website (James Steindler). Here’s an excerpt:

    Becky Bolinger, the assistant state climatologist at the Colorado State University Climate Center, was the first presenter. She explained that snowpack determines the rivers’ flows. “Even though we’re doing okay with snowpack, we really needed above average snowpack to get the inflows back to where they need to be,” she stated.

    West Drought Monitor map May 3, 2022.

    “We are still struggling through this long-term drought situation,” Bolinger stressed. “The summer heat is a big concern and what the precipitation does is also going to be a big concern.”

    […]

    [Linsay DeFrates] further stated that with every 1% rise in temperature, streamflow is reduced by 3-9%. “Last year, we ended at 89% snowpack, but we only had 32% inflow into Lake Powell,” DeFrates explained. She referred back to Bolinger’s presentation, stating that “thirsty soils are going to drink the snowmelt first, before it becomes streamflow.”

    She continued, “As we go forward, it’s going to take organization nights like this where voices are brought to the table who might not have been there before. … It’s going to take recognizing that we can’t just wish away our reality anymore.”

    Air-source heat pumps at the home of Joe Smyth and Kristen Taddonio in Fraser, Colo. Photo/Joe Smyth

    Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

    The coldest temperature this winter at the new home of Joe Smyth and Kristen Taddonio was 17 below. They live in Fraser, the Colorado town that used to get far, far colder.

    Still, that February night was cold enough to test the design and technologies employed in construction of the couple’s 1,176-square-foot house. They insulated carefully, of course, and have solar panels. Even after charging their electric car, their house produces more energy than it consumes.

    An air-source heat pump was central to their mission in creating a net-zero home, one gutted of emissions from fossil fuels. It extracts heat from outside, even on chilly nights, to warm the interior.

    The Mitsubishi model used at the Fraser house promises to deliver the necessary indoor heat even when outside temperatures dip to 13 below. To supplement the air-source heat pump should temperatures dive to 30 below, as was once common, the couple also installed electrical-resistance heating. It wasn’t needed.

    Colorado needs many more air-source heat pumps — and fewer carbon emissions from buildings — to meet its mid-century decarbonization target goals of 90%.

    Getting this right during housing construction costs less in the not-very-long term. Building permits for 48,200 housing units, both single-family and multi-family, were issued last year, according to the Colorado Business Economic Outlook. That’s like adding a new Greeley each year along with a few small towns.

    Retrofitting our older buildings is laborious and expensive. I know, because my house was built in 1889. You don’t swap out buildings the way you would computers or cars.

    Several bills working their way through the Colorado Legislature this spring would nudge Coloradans toward low- and no-carbon technologies. All cost more upfront, but save money, sometimes lots of it, over time, while reducing or eliminating emissions.

    Carrots would be offered by SB22-051 to those who purchase air- and ground-source heat pumps. Purchasers would be allowed income-tax exemptions of up to 10% of the purchase price.

    Other provisions in the bill approved by the House Energy and Environment Committee offer tax incentives for energy storage and buildings materials with low levels of embodied carbon.

    Christine Brinker, representing the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, testified that her family’s air-source heat pump paid for itself in six years because of lower energy costs. Air-source heat pumps help residents of Geos, a project in Arvada, to pay as little as $6 a month in energy costs.

    “It is just more efficient to move heat than to create heat,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, a Democrat from Louisville and a bill supporter. “I think we can do some good here by amending that pay-off time curve just a little bit. That’s something that we need to do to facilitate our transition” from fossil fuels.

    Air-source heat pumps can also move heat from inside buildings during summer, effectively becoming air conditioners. Even in Winter Park, real estate buyers expect air conditioning.

    The second bill, HB-1362, would require towns, cities, and counties to adopt the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code before 2025. This latest code advances efficiency 8% to 9% compared to the 2018 iteration.

    Natural gas will still be allowed, but air-source heat pumps more efficiently meet the 2021 code’s elevated standards.

    The Colorado Municipal League objected to loss of local control. Two representatives of rural areas described it as onerous for small towns despite $3 million earmarked for training. Homebuilders argued that the advanced standards would make already expensive housing less affordable.

    Howard Geller, representing the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, cited a study from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory that found the latest code would indeed add $200 to the cost of an average mortgage in Colorado built to this latest code. Lower energy costs will more than recoup that extra cost, he said, even in the first year.

    Rep. Tracey Bernett, a Democrat from Longmont whose district includes nearly half the 1,084 homes destroyed by the Marshall Fire, said she sponsored the bill with full confidence it will help, not harm, her constituents.

    These bills both moved from the House committee on strictly party-line votes, Democrats in support. A third bill, HB22-1381, has bipartisan sponsors — and bipartisan support. It would allocate $20 million for grants to further geothermal development by tapping the year-round heat of 55 degrees found 8 to 10 feet below the surface.

    As with air-source heat pumps, sponsors said the market needs to be nudged to adopt technology that costs more upfront than installing natural gas infrastructure but pays off in the long term. “This is something we don’t do enough of,” said Rep. Hugh McKean, a Republican from Loveland, who is installing geothermal in a house he is constructing.

    “I really like this bill,” said Perry Will, a Republican from New Castle, citing the experiences of family members with the technology at Rulison and elsewhere.

    Stumbling Toward “Day Zero” on the #ColoradoRiver: Urgent action needed from seven states and feds to avoid #water crisis — Audubon #COriver #aridification

    Common Raven. Photo: Doug Kliewer/Audubon Photography Awards

    Click the link to read the call to action on the Audubon website (Jennifer Pitt):

    The Colorado River Basin is inching ever closer to “Day Zero,” a term first used in Cape Town, South Africa when they anticipated the day in 2018 that taps would run dry. Lakes Powell and Mead, the Colorado River’s two enormous reservoirs, were full in 2000, storing more than four years of the river’s average annual flow. For more than two decades water users have been sipping at that supply, watching them decline. Long-term drought and climate change is making this issue potentially catastrophic.

    Today the entire Colorado River reservoir storage system is 2/3 empty.

    Moreover, federal officials project that within two years, the water level in Lake Powell could be so low that it would be impossible for water to flow through the dam’s turbine intakes. When that happens, it’s clear the dam will no longer generate hydropower, but it’s also possible the dam will not release any water at all. That’s because the only other way for water to move through the dam when the water is low is a series of outlet tubes that were not designed, and have never been tested, for long-term use.

    What happens if little to no water can be released from Lake Powell? Water supply risks multiply for everyone who uses water downstream. That includes residents of big cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, and farmers and ranchers in Arizona, California and Mexico who grow the majority of our nation’s winter produce, as well as numerous Native American tribes. Some of these water users have alternative supplies, but some—including Las Vegas residents, Colorado River tribes and most farmers—do not. Day Zero for these water users might not happen immediately as Lake Mead, the reservoir fed by Lake Powell still has some water in it. But without flows from upstream to replenish it, Lake Mead would also be at risk of no longer being able to release water.

    There is also the river itself. Think of it—no water flowing through the Grand Canyon. No water flowing in the Colorado River for hundreds of miles downstream from Hoover Dam. That’s an ecological disaster in the making for 400 bird species and a multitude of other wildlife, exceeding the 20th century devastation of the Colorado River Delta.

    In recent days, state and federal officials have announced plans to address the immediate crisis. These plans will help, but only to avert the immediate danger looming over the basin for the current year. They do nothing to decrease the unrelenting risks of Colorado River water supplies and demands out of balance, because all they do is move water from one place to another. The federal plan to reduce water releases from the Glen Canyon Dam will help this year, as Lake Powell will hold onto water that would otherwise have flowed downstream to Lake Mead. Notably, Lower Basin water users will calculate their uses as if the water was in Lake Mead anyway, delaying deeper cuts and further depleting the reservoir. The Upper Basin states also plan to release additional water from Flaming Gorge reservoir upriver in Wyoming to increase the inflow into Lake Powell. This too will help Powell, but it will reduce the supply in Flaming Gorge reservoir. The plan acknowledges this supply may not be recovered unless and until storage at Lake Powell considerably improves. Both of these plans will move water and help protect the Glen Canyon Dam’s operations in the near-term.

    Moving water does not address the fundamental challenge in the Colorado River Basin and does not offer any real certainty for water users or the river itself in any corner of the basin. Colorado River water demands exceed supplies. Audubon knows that fundamentally, because we work on restoring habitat in the Colorado River Delta, where the river has not flowed regularly for half a century. With major reservoirs only one third full, plans that continue to drain them are not sustainable plans.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck.

    Climate change is drying out the Colorado River. In the last two decades, the river’s flow has been 20 percent less than the average flow recorded in the 20th century. Hoping for a rainy season won’t fix this. Today’s water supply conditions are likely to be among the best we see over the coming decades.

    What’s needed now, urgently, is for federal and state water managers to work, in partnership with tribes and other stakeholders, to take the steps necessary to build confidence in the enduring management of the Colorado River. This will require focus and dedicated resources to develop and implement plans that put water demands into balance with supplies. That means moving beyond year-to-year reactions to imminent risks to engage in planning that promotes water conservation. Water conservation means using less water, preferably managed in a way that both respects our system of water rights and supports society’s 21st century values, including economic stability for urban and rural communities, allowances for Native American tribes to realize benefit from their water rights, and reliable water supplies for nature.

    People and birds rely on the Colorado River, and Audubon will continue to work with partners to advocate for and implement solutions. We know what works. Water conservation pilots implemented throughout the basin and across municipal and agricultural sectors have been successful. Investments in infrastructure upgrades have durably made water uses more efficient, and investments in habitat restoration have benefited ecosystems and the birds that rely on them. Flexible water sharing mechanisms have modernized water uses while protecting legal water rights and helped Tribes secure benefits. There is no time like the present to begin implementing these solutions at scale. They should be the foundation for new rules for how we use and protect the Colorado River.

    Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Native American tribes assert #water rights on #ColoradoRiver Basin: 1922 compact that divided the water between states left out tribes, which own 25% rights — The #Cortez Journal #COriver #aridification

    Lake Nighthorse in the Ridges Basin in La Plata County, Colorado. The view is from the overlook on County Road 210. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81402953

    Click the link to read the article on The Cortez Journal website (Jim Mimiaga). Here’s an excerpt:

    Ute Mountain Chairman Manuel Heart and Southern Ute Council member Lorelei Cloud presented their perspectives and plans for water management during a session of the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s annual meeting Friday [April 22, 2022] in Durango. The tribes were not invited to the discussions when the states and federal government divided water rights in the West during the early 20th century. Native Americans did not gain U.S. citizenship until two years after the 1922 Colorado River Compact divided Colorado River water between upper and lower basins.

    Cloud said the Southern Ute Tribe has 129,000 acre-feet per year of federally reserved water rights on seven rivers that run through its reservation, but they only have the capacity to divert 40,600 acre-feet per year. The tribe stores water in Vallecito, Lemon and Lake Nighthorse Reservoirs.

    The tribe recently built a reservoir to store water for its water treatment plant, which serves 500 households, many of which are nontribal homes in the checkerboard area of the reservation that includes private and tribal lands. The new reservoir allows for a 30-day reserve, up from one-day reserve. Water storage at the treatment plant is critical because it is served by the tribe’s junior water rights on the Pine River, which are vulnerable to calls from senior right holders…

    In a historic meeting on March 28 in Albuquerque, 20 tribes, including Utes, met with U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to discuss their involvement with Colorado River Basin water negotiations. Haaland is the first Native American appointed to the post. Cloud said tribes are now at the table to provide input on the Drought Response Operation Agreement set by the Bureau of Reclamation. The guidelines determine how water is released from Colorado River storage reservoirs.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    [San Luis] Valley farmers tie their fate to Mother Nature — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    Subdistrict 1 Program Manager Marisa Fricke clears paths for water to flow onto land the subdistrict owns. The property is one of the subdistrict’s investments in recharging the aquifer. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

    MOTHER Nature will determine how much groundwater pumping occurs in ag-rich Subdistrict 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District under a new plan of water management making its way to the state for approval.

    The subdistrict and its parent Rio Grande Water Conservation District have been under pressure to bring the unconfined aquifer of the Upper Rio Grande Basin to a sustainable level or face curtailment of wells. The San Luis Valley has two aquifers – one unconfined and one confined.

    In the draft of its new plan, which is the fourth amendment to the subdistrict’s Plan of Water Management, Subdistrict 1 members spell out the situation with the unconfined aquifer:

    “Although the Subdistrict successfully remedied injurious depletions to senior surface water rights caused by groundwater withdrawals from Subdistrict Wells, it has not been successful in achieving and maintaining a Sustainable Unconfined Aquifer. This Plan is intended to address the now-apparent deficiencies of the previous Amended Plans of Water Management and adopts new means needed to achieve a Sustainable Unconfined Aquifer.

    “The Subdistrict realizes that if more restrictive steps are not taken to achieve a Sustainable Unconfined Aquifer, the State Engineer will, at some point, be unable to approve a future Annual Replacement Plan, resulting in the curtailment of Subdistrict Wells. State Engineer denial of an Annual Replacement Plan could result in the curtailment of all Subdistrict Wells, causing severe negative impact on the agricultural economy of the Subdistrict and the San Luis Valley as a whole.”

    The board of managers for Subdistrict 1 gave final approval to the plan on Tuesday. It now goes to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District Board for consideration. If approved there, it would be submitted to the Colorado Department of Water Resources and State Engineer Kevin Rein for review and approval.

    “A lot of hard work has gone into this from everyone involved,” said Subdistrict 1 Board President Brian Brownell. “It’s been a struggle. Overall this is the best plan we could come up with.”

    The amended plan relies on covering any groundwater withdrawals with natural surface water or the purchase of surface water credits.

    The subdistrict is asking the state for 20 years to make the plan successful in recovering the aquifer, with a goal to restore 40,000 to 50,000 acre-feet a year over that 20-year period to bring the unconfined aquifer to a sustainable level.

    TO get there the plan calls for a 1-to-1 augmentation, meaning for every acre-foot of water used, an acre-foot has to be returned to the unconfined aquifer through recharging ponds.

    “Our pumping will be adjusted to whatever climate brings us,” said ex-officio board member Mike Kruse.

    If the Valley experiences wet periods, groundwater pumping in Subdistrict 1 can match it. If the Valley continues with the persistent drought it has experienced over the past 20 years, groundwater pumping in the subdistrict will reflect the dryness.

    “This plan takes into account the climate. That’s the beauty of it,” Kruse said

    The predicament of the depleted unconfined aquifer is the result of the state granting too many well permits for groundwater pumping decades ago, now coupled with decades of drought going back to 2002.

    “The state has to bear some responsibility,” said Subdistrict 1 board member James Cooley. “It isn’t all our fault.”

    Subdistrict 1 Program Manager Marisa Fricke said the subdistrict had been making progress toward meeting the state’s goals with the unconfined aquifer up until 2018, when a particularly dry year hit the Valley. A wet 2019 brought some relief to the aquifer, but the subdistrict lost the progress it made after back-to-back dry years in 2020 and 2021, and now so far 2022.

    The change in climate, said Brownell, has been the biggest factor in working to restore the unconfined aquifer. “It’s nothing anybody could have foreseen and that is why we’re addressing it.”

    “This concept we have is probably the only way we can address climate,” said Subdistrict 1 Board Member Jake Burris. “With this plan we’re living within our means.”

    Based on modeling conducted by Willem Schreuder, president of Principia Mathematica in Denver, there is a high level of confidence among farm operators that the new plan will succeed in meeting the state’s requirement of a sustainable unconfined aquifer. The earliest the amended plan would take effect is for the 2023 irrigation season.

    Some farm operators in Subdistrict 1 are filing their own augmentation plans with the state Division 3 Water Court in lieu of joining a new amended plan by the conservation district.

    Renewable Water Resources, in its discussions with Douglas County, has tried to use the unconfined aquifer condition in Subdistrict 1 to further its case by approaching farmers with buyouts for their water rights. The RWR water exportation proposal is not in Subdistrict 1, but that hasn’t stopped RWR from trying to leverage the situation to their advantage, telling Douglas County that farmers in the Valley are facing imminent widespread water well curtailments, which isn’t the case.

    Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon made it a point in his recent visit to the San Luis Valley to bring up well shut downs as a reason why Douglas County could help the Valley by investing in Renewable Water Resources and buying out farmers and establishing a Valley-wide community fund.

    A state Senate bill offered by Sen. Cleave Simpson, who also works as general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, would help address the strategy of retiring groundwater pumping wells in all the Valley’s subdistricts. If adopted – the proposed legislation has cleared major committee hurdles – the Compact Compliance Fund would make available at least $30 million to the Rio Grande Basin to help with groundwater sustainability measurements and would offer the Rio Grande Water Conservation District another pot of money to execute its strategies.

    As #drought shrinks the #ColoradoRiver, a S. #California giant seeks help from river partners to fortify its local supply — The #Water Education Foundation #COriver #aridification

    Metropolitan Water District’s advanced water treatment demonstration plant in Carson. (Source: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California)

    Metropolitan Water District’s wastewater recycling project draws support from Arizona and Nevada, which hope to gain a share of metropolitan’s river supply

    Momentum is building for a unique interstate deal that aims to transform wastewater from Southern California homes and business into relief for the stressed Colorado River. The collaborative effort to add resiliency to a river suffering from overuse, drought and climate change is being shaped across state lines by some of the West’s largest water agencies.

    Southern California’s giant wholesaler, Metropolitan Water District, claims a multi-billion-dollar water recycling proposal will not only create a new local source for its 19 million customers, but allow it to share part of its Colorado River supply with other parched river partners already facing their own cutbacks. To advance what would become the nation’s largest wastewater recycling facility, Metropolitan is securing financial aid from other major Colorado River users in Nevada and Arizona in return for giving them portions of its river supply. Amid critically low reservoir levels and the first-ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River, water managers and experts are touting the interstate deal as a prime example of the team effort required to safeguard the future of this iconic Southwestern river and the people who rely on it.

    “It’s a really interesting and innovative approach around partnerships,” said Heather Cooley, research director with the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based water policy center. “Something we haven’t yet seen.”

    Thus far the project appears long on support, but there are some potential impediments, such as whether the next set of river operating guidelines due in place by 2026 will allow the partners’ proposed long-term interstate water exchanges. Additionally, California regulators must clear the way for Metropolitan and others in the state to put the recycled supply directly into the drinking water system.

    Drought in the Colorado River Basin has pushed the water level in Lake Mead, Southern Nevada’s main water source, to a historic low. (Source: Southern Nevada Water Authority)

    Aid for the Struggling Colorado

    Metropolitan pitched the ambitious wastewater recycling proposal more than a decade ago, but the project gained steam recently amid increasingly dry conditions across two of its key water sources in California’s Sierra Nevada and Colorado River Basin. Water interests along the lower Colorado River Basin have for several years discussed how they might augment the river’s shrinking flows. As it turned out, the Lower Basin’s next potential augmentation project is being hatched more than 200 miles away near the coast of California.

    Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources have agreed to spend up to a combined $12 million to assist Metropolitan with environmental review, almost half of the total planning cost. If the project isn’t built, or if operating agreements aren’t finalized, Metropolitan would refund the agencies’ contributions. However, if the Nevada and Arizona agencies stay on to help build the final project, they will gain to-be-determined slices of Metropolitan’s annual share of Colorado River water.

    The partnering agencies are currently grappling with major cuts to their own Colorado River supply, and more are on the horizon.

    Last summer, the Bureau of Reclamation declared a first-ever shortage in the Lower Colorado Basin, requiring Arizona to slash its annual take of the river by 18 percent and Nevada by 7 percent in 2022. But the mandated cuts have done little to protect water levels at the river’s two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, and now federal officials are on the verge of implementing a fresh round of unprecedented reductions that stand to affect supply for the Lower Basin states.

    Metropolitan’s assistant general manager calls the deal a win-win for Southern California and the Southwest.

    “The idea of the program is that in return for their co-investment to make this facility a reality, we would back off some of our Colorado supply,” Deven Upadhyay said. “It becomes one component of potential augmentation on the river to help others out.”

    Boosting Water Security

    At full capacity, Metropolitan’s wastewater recycling plant could produce up to 168,000 acre-feet a year. However, Upadhyay said Metropolitan doesn’t plan to make a corresponding amount of its river share available to the out-of-state investors.

    But gaining even a sliver of Metropolitan’s Colorado River supply could boost water security for arid Arizona and Nevada.

    “We’re at a point in this Basin where we can’t afford to not look at reasonable ideas,” said Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager of resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

    Contract details haven’t been finalized but Pellegrino estimates SNWA could secure between 25,000-35,000 additional acre-feet annually, or around 10 percent of its yearly river apportionment. In Las Vegas, one acre-foot of water is enough to serve two households for more than a year, though officials are continually striving to reduce per capita water use.

    Meanwhile SNWA, which relies heavily on Lake Mead to serve its more than 2 million customers in the fast-growing Las Vegas area, appears wholly interested in seeing the project through. It has already earmarked up to $750 million for Metropolitan’s proposal or other recycling projects. Such a major investment would require a long-term operating contract potentially in the 20- to 30-year range, Pellegrino said.

    The partnership also figures to afford some long-term water security for Arizona, which takes the biggest hit of any state when shortages are declared on the Colorado River. Currently Arizona is grappling with how to cut 512,000 acre-feet and it faces further reductions if Lake Mead’s elevation drops below 1,045 feet and a Tier 2 shortage is triggered, a scenario the Bureau of Reclamation projects could happen by May 2023.

    Gaining reliable access to Metropolitan’s river allotment could help Arizona address growing demand from municipal and industrial users, said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. Porter applauded the multi-state collaboration, saying the recycling project and other augmentation ideas, like a proposed binational desalination plant along the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, could add flexibility to a system that serves 40 million people from Denver to San Diego and irrigates more than 4 million acres of farmland.

    “It’s a huge amount of water,” Porter said of the potential yield of Metropolitan’s project for urban Southern California. “That’s one more community that relies on the Colorado River that has another degree of resilience.”

    Graphic showing how purified wastewater is expected to flow to various locations in urban Southern California.
    Water from Metropolitan Water District’s Advanced Water Treatment Plant would flow to various sites for use in replenishing groundwater or delivery to water treatment plants for distribution to ultimate users. (Source: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California)

    A Promising Leap in Reuse

    California already has a rich legacy of turning wastewater into high-quality water suitable for a variety of uses including agricultural, groundwater recharge and outdoor irrigation. In 2020 the state used more than 700,000 acre-feet in recycled water, much of it going to golf courses, farms and some indirect potable uses. But experts say California can greatly expand the output through a recycling technology Metropolitan is currently ginning up support for.

    Filtration pipes at Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s wastewater recycling demonstration plant. (Source: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California)

    Direct potable reuse, however, is not currently permitted in California, but the State Water Resources Control Board is expected to finalize regulations by December 2023. To prove to regulators and the public that the process is safe and viable, Metropolitan has been compiling water quality data from a demonstration facility in Carson since 2019.

    The technology is a great match with a county like Los Angeles where most of the treated wastewater currently goes into the ocean, said Cooley, with the Pacific Institute. With imported water becoming increasingly unreliable, she said it was critical for Southern California to pursue new recycling projects, noting the region currently reuses only 29 percent of its effluent.

    “There are lots of opportunities if we start thinking outside the box more and really look beyond individual agency service areas,” Cooley said. “We’re going to have to do more of that to address the challenges that we now face.”

    Once California gives the green light, Metropolitan says it will build a facility near the demonstration facility in Carson that could produce up to 150 million gallons a day of potable water or enough to serve more than 500,000 households, using wastewater from a nearby plant operated by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts. Purified water from the new recycling plant would be delivered to four of the region’s groundwater basins for later use and two of Metropolitan’s existing treatment plants via approximately 60 miles of new pipelines for further distribution in its service area.

    Metropolitan Water District’s advanced water treatment demonstration plant in Carson. (Source: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California)

    Overcoming Sticker Shock

    Neither construction nor the new water will be cheap.

    In 2018 Metropolitan pegged construction costs at $3.4 billion, but inflation could spike the final price tag to $4 billion by the 2032 projected completion date. As for water prices, Metropolitan currently charges its member agencies around $1,100 per acre-foot of treated water; the new supply will likely run more than $1,800 per acre-foot.

    Upadhyay, the Metropolitan official, downplayed the difference by saying cost concerns are relatively minor compared to the damaging effects climate change is having on the Colorado River and Sierra Nevada watersheds it relies on for imported water. He added the agency is hoping to reduce the impact on member agencies with contributions from the out-of-state partners. In addition, it has asked the California Legislature to contribute $500 million. Metropolitan also is exploring the possibility of similar partnerships with users of California’s State Water Project, but no contracts have been signed, Upadhyay said.

    “It’s not like we can go out and acquire more imported supply,” Upadhyay said. “Going forward, we really need to be looking here at home.”

    That sentiment is shared among some agricultural interests in the basin, including Bart Fisher, vice president of the Palo Verde Irrigation District Board of Trustees. Fisher, who farms on the west side of the Colorado River near Blythe, Calif., called urban water recycling efforts the “wave of the future” and noted Palo Verde farmers have been utilizing water reuse techniques for decades.

    “These urban projects have major implications for the Lower Basin,” he said. “It will alleviate some of the pressure we are feeling.”

    Finding Ways to Work Together

    It’s unclear whether current operating guidelines for the river allow the sort of interstate exchange being proposed. But the partners say the concept shares ties with the intent of previously enacted conservation programs like the 2007 Intentionally Created Surplus, a water banking program intended to boost storage in Lake Mead. They hope guidance for interstate exchanges will be explicitly included in the next set of river operating guidelines that have to be finalized by 2026.

    “It would behoove all of us to have a candid conversation in the renegotiations about that, make sure we have the rules spelled out,” said Pellegrino, SNWA deputy general manager.

    The 20-plus year megadrought is forcing all users in the Lower Basin to get creative in developing ways to stretch their shares of the Colorado River. And the clock is ticking.

    Last month water levels at Lake Powell fell to a historic low and are still hovering near the minimum elevation level at which Glen Canyon Dam can generate electricity for more than 5 million homes and businesses across the West. The Bureau of Reclamation expects the combined storage at Lake Powell and Lake Mead to drop below 30 percent by late 2022 due to declining inflows of runoff.

    Metropolitan’s wastewater recycling plant won’t cure all the Lower Basin’s myriad water troubles. But Colorado River veterans say the proposal is a welcome sign of progress, nonetheless.

    “It’s good to see this multi-state collaboration and that’s what we do need,” said Porter, with Arizona State’s Kyl Center. “It’s better for everyone if we can find these ways to work together.”

    Reach Writer Nick Cahill at ncahill@watereducation.org, and Editor Doug Beeman at dbeeman@watereducation.org.

    The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors declines to extend lease for Dry Gulch site — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    San Juan Mountains December 19, 2016. Photo credit: Allen Best

    Click the link to read the article on The Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike):

    …as [Justin] Ramsey explained at the meeting, the Webers had recently approached PAWSD again, hoping to reopen negotiations to extend the lease under terms that were similar to the PAWSD counter offer with some minor changes…

    PAWSD treasurer Glenn Walsh then raised concerns that he had not seen the terms of the proposed lease and that he would be “ex- tremely concerned” if any lease was approved before its terms had been distributed to the PAWSD board…

    [Al] Pfister also mentioned that his priority in considering extending or not extending the lease was its impact on SJWCD’s state park nomination for the site…

    He also mentioned that an ex- tension of the mining lease would likely delay reclamation before stating that he would prefer to not extend the Weber lease so reclama- tion could start immediately…

    After discussion surrounding the motion’s language, the SJWCD board then unanimously voted for a follow-up motion commanding Pfister to work with Ramsey on de- termining the Weber’s responsibili- ties for reclamation and clarifying the meaning of SJWCD’s potential responsibility for long-term man- agement in the IGA.

    #Water managers see runoff as positive sign (April 29, 2022): Heading into summer, forecasts aren’t great, but they are slightly better than last year — The #Durango Herald

    Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Aedan Hannon). Here’s an excerpt:

    Water forecasts remain below average, but above last year’s troubling lows – a positive sign for water managers adapting to sustained drought in the region. Yet, much will depend on the impact of recent dust events and summer monsoons.

    According to SNOTEL data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service, a little more than half of the snowpack in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins has melted so far. Snowpack is measured using the metric of snow water equivalent, or the water content of the snow.

    The Animas River was flowing at 669 cubic feet per second in Durango on Wednesday afternoon, the Dolores River at 556 cfs in Dolores and the San Juan River at 895 cfs, according to Colorado Basin River Forecast Center data. Southwest Colorado’s rivers have slowed since Friday, but the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center predicts that flows will again increase over the next week and a half. Forecasts show the Animas River will peak at 3,100 cfs in late May or early June, slightly above last year’s peak of 2,910 cfs on June 7. Forecasts project peaks of 1,500 cfs for the Dolores River and 1,600 cfs for the San Juan River also in late May and early June…

    Snow is melting earlier than average this year, according to the SNOTEL data, a trend that Wolff and other water managers have noted. Typically, snowpack would peak around April 1 and runoff would last from April through May and even into June, Wolff said…While runoff is happening earlier this year, water supply forecasts suggest more optimism. The Animas, Dolores and San Juan rivers are hovering just above 70% of average, according to Colorado Basin River Forecast Center forecasts…

    Ken Curtis, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, told Wolff the district was hoping to get at least 70% of its average water.

    Aspinall Unit operations update (April 30, 2022): Bumping releases up to 700 cfs

    Aspinall Unit dams

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 500 cfs to 700 cfs on Saturday, April 30th. Then releases will be increased from 700 cfs to 900 cfs on Monday, May 2nd. Releases are being increased to correspond with the re-startup of diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel. Currently snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is 91% of normal and the forecasted April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 80% of average.

    Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

    Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for April and May.

    Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 125 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 350 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 525 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 350 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    Glenwood Canyon restoration continues, summer closures to be weather dependent — The #GlenwoodSprings Post-Independent

    Looking up at the source of the debris flow in Glenwood Canyon August 2021. Photo credit: CDOT

    Click the link to read the article on the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent website (Ike Fredregill). Here’s an excerpt:

    Repairing Glenwood Canyon, Interstate-70 and mitigating future debris flow damages has cost state, federal and local governments about $27 million so far, a Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson said. Joined by partnering agencies, CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew briefed media outlets Tuesday on efforts to repair the damage done to Glenwood Canyon by wildfires and historic debris flows in recent years…

    Work is also expected to begin shortly on a primitive trail to Hanging Lake, Forest Service spokesperson David Boyd said. While the lake itself was spared by the debris flow events, the trail leading to the pristine woodland attraction was all but eliminated. Boyd said a trail reconstruction project is planned to begin Friday [April 29, 2022], which could install a primitive trail leading to the lake by mid-summer…

    CDOT contractors Lawrence Construction and IHC Scott continue to remove material from the Colorado River at six locations throughout the canyon. More than 200,000 tons have been removed so far, CDOT Resident Engineer Andrew Knapp said…In addition to debris removal, CDOT is working with contractors and the U.S. Forest Service to build debris flow catchment fences, nicknamed “bathtubs,” alongside the roadways. The bathtubs create a basin where excess debris and water can collect during future events, minimizing impacts to the interstate and travelers, Knapp explained…

    This summer, CDOT will be working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine whether the canyon will remain open ahead of potential significant rain events above the Grizzly Creek burn scar. When NOAA issues watches or warnings about potential debris flow events, Blake said CDOT will close rest areas and the Glenwood Canyon Recreation Path. If NOAA issues a watch, CDOT staff will head out to closure points along I-70, and should a warning be issued, Blake said the canyon would be closed for the duration of the warning.

    #LakePowell dangerously close to dropping too low, Grand County may suffer as a result — The Sky-Hi News #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Wildlife biologist Bill Vetter and Western Rivers Regional Program Manager with Audubon Rockies Abby Burk walk along an irrigation ditch in Grand County. An avian monitoring program aims to learn more about how birds use irrigated agriculture.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Click the link to read the article on the Sky-Hi News website (Meg Soyars). Here’s an excerpt:

    If the lake does drop lower than 3,490 feet, it is uncertain how much water, if any, will be delivered to the communities that rely on it. Lake Powell doesn’t only supply water to millions of Americans, it also provides power through turbines at the Glen Canyon Dam. Below 3,490 feet, the dam will not be able to provide hydropower. All Colorado Basin states receive power from the dam. Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited, explained that the emergency at Lake Powell may seem far removed from Grand County, but it’s closely connected. Forty million people, from Wyoming to Mexico, rely on water from the Colorado River, including every Grand County resident. When someone turns on the tap here, they are getting the same water that will eventually get sent down to Lake Powell for a California (or other regional) resident…

    Klancke feels the Lower Basin is demanding too much water from Lake Powell, and this may decrease the water supply of Upper Basin states like Colorado.

    “My concern for Grand County is that our water rights will be cut into to make up the difference,” he said. “I worry they might go after our agricultural rights first … and (agriculture) makes up a huge part of our economy.”

    Report: Insights Gained on Agricultural #Water #Conservation for Water Security in the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin — Hutchins Water Center #COriver #aridification

    Photo from http://trmurf.com/about/

    Click the link to read the report on the Hutchins Water Center website (Hannah Holm). Here’s the introduction:

    A series of hot, dry years in the Upper Colorado River Basin has led to increasing concern about the security of water supplies at region-wide and local scales for the following purposes and sectors:

    • Maintaining compact compliance and preventing Lake Powell’s water level from dropping too low to generate power.
    • Maintaining agricultural production and the vitality of rural communities.
    • Maintaining municipal and industrial water security.
    • Maintaining river ecosystems.

    Without a strategic, collaborative approach to addressing these issues, there is a risk that individual entities will act independently to secure their water supplies against climate and legal uncertainties. This could lead to more permanent transfers from agriculture, with detrimental impacts on rural communities and unpredictable impacts on river ecosystems.

    Over the past several years, there have been numerous explorations into new approaches to meeting community and environmental needs in the Upper Basin, including deliberate, temporary, and compensated reductions in water use in order to help balance supply and demand in the Colorado River system, share water supplies between agriculture and cities, and aid troubled streams.

    This report distills insights from these explorations that can help illuminate how such deliberate, temporary reductions in water use could play a role in:

    • Enhancing long-term water security for farms, municipalities, industries and rivers in the Upper Basin (upstream objectives).
    • Compact compliance and protection of power generation capacity in Lake Powell (downstream objectives).

    In this report, the term “strategic conservation” will be used to describe these deliberate reductions in water use to meet specific goals.

    The insights covered in this report focus on the following topics:

    • Water user interest
    • Agronomic impacts of reducing water use
    • Monitoring and verification of saved water
    • Shepherding and conveyance of conserved water
    • Pricing considerations
    • Environmental considerations
    • Additional considerations

    For each topic, key insights and remaining uncertainties are highlighted and illustrative research, experiences and resources are described. Links to documentation are provided wherever possible.

    Las Vegas turns on low-level #LakeMead pumps designed to avoid a ‘Day Zero’ — The #Nevada Independent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    To address unprecedented drought conditions and provide long-term protection of Southern Nevada’s primary water storage reservoir—Lake Mead— the Southern Nevada Water Authority constructed a third drinking water intake capable of drawing upon Colorado River water at lake elevations below 1,000 feet (above sea level). Intake No. 3 ensures Southern Nevada’s access to its primary water supply if lake levels continue to decline due to drought conditions. It also protects municipal water customers from water quality issues associated with declining lake levels. Photo credit: Southern Nevada Water Authority

    Click the link to read the article on the Nevada Independent website (Daniel Rothberg). Here’s an excerpt:

    The country’s largest man-made reservoir, Lake Mead, has dropped to such a historically low level that Las Vegas water officials have completed the process of turning on a pump station that will allow Southern Nevada to retrieve water, even under extreme conditions. The move — to turn on the pump station full bore — is an indication of how low Lake Mead has fallen over the past decade and serves as a bulwark against the possibility of Las Vegas losing physical access to its water as regional issues on the Colorado River become increasingly dire…

    Intake #1 exposed. Photo credit: SNWA

    Lake Mead is about 30 percent full, and the amount of water stored at the reservoir has ticked down over the last month. As of Tuesday, Lake Mead’s elevation sat at about 1,056 feet above sea level, roughly 163 feet below the reservoir’s maximum capacity. For the Southern Nevada Water Authority, that’s a notable number because the agency’s first pumping station — which removes water from the reservoir and siphons it off to customers in the valley — becomes inoperable when Lake Mead drops below 1,050 feet above sea level…

    Las Vegas Lake Mead intake schematic, courtesy SNWA.

    The water authority’s second pumping station allows for the retrieval of water up to 1,000 feet above sea level. But the third pumping station, the one fully turned on this month and known as the “low lake level pumping station,” allows Las Vegas officials to pump out water from even deeper, with the potential to access water when other Southwest cities cannot. Doa Ross, the water authority’s deputy general manager for engineering, said the pump station, which links to a third intake, or “third straw,” at the lake, will now serve as the city’s main pump…

    At 895 feet above sea level, Ross said Lake Mead water can no longer pass through the Hoover Dam, a scenario that water managers refer to as “dead pool.” But because Las Vegas’s primary pump now extends to about 875 feet above sea level, the city will still be able to access water. In effect, Las Vegas watched the unfolding crisis on the river and prepared for the worst.

    Pat Mulroy, a senior fellow at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Boyd School of Law and the former longtime general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, is an advocate for extensively rethinking how the Colorado River is managed. (Image: University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Boyd School of Law)

    “We invested $1.5 billion in the third intake and the low-level pumping station for a reason,” John Entsminger, the water authority’s general manager said in a recent interview. “We knew very well that this day could come and if lake elevations continue to decline, the people of Las Vegas can take comfort in the fact that they are the most water-secure city in the desert Southwest.”

    […]

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck.

    “This isn’t a drought any more,” said Brad Udall, a senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University. “Let’s not fool ourselves. It’s aridification. It’s the long-term drying and warming of the American West. And it’s going to continue, and it’s going to get worse.”

    It’s official – the top of Intake No. 1 is now visible and the low lake level pumping station is now operational — Southern #Nevada #Water Authority #LakeMead #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Las Vegas Lake Mead intake schematic, courtesy SNWA.
    SNWA intake #1 exposed April 2022. Photo credit: SNWA
    Intake #1 exposed. Photo credit: SNWA
    Intake #1 exposed. Photo credit: SNWA

    Click the link to go to the SNWA Low Level Pumping Station website.

    2022 #COleg: Bill would set $60 million fund for #groundwater sustainability — The Alamosa Citizen

    The Rio Grande Canal is the largest water right in Colorado.

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

    Rio Grande and Republican River would use funds to meet state groundwater sustainability, interstate compact compliance targets

    COLORADO is moving toward putting $60 million into a new groundwater compact compliance fund for the Rio Grande and Republican River basins created and funded through a state senate bill drafted and championed by state Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa.

    The bill, Senate Bill 22-028, creates the Compact Compliance Fund that would be administered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources and would receive an appropriation of $60 million from Colorado’s share of federal COVID relief money from American Rescue Plan funding.

    The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, originally only established the fund, and then an amendment unanimously adopted Thursday by the Colorado House Agriculture, Livestock, and Water Committee added $60 million into it. The bill next will be heard by the House Appropriations Committee.

    “Given the unanimous votes every step of the way, so far, I am hopeful the bill with the appropriation will become law in the next week or two,” Simpson told Alamosa Citizen. “The timing of the availability of federal dollars and the growing sense of urgency in both basins created a unique opportunity that will serve both of these communities well. Still some work to do, but things look very promising for both of these Colorado communities.

    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

    If the Compact Compliance Fund is adopted by the Colorado Legislature it would pay for efforts to meet groundwater sustainability targets in the Rio Grande Basin and interstate compact requirements for the Republican River Basin. Each basin would get an earmark of $30 million to pay for efforts like retiring groundwater wells and other conservation and water sustainability measures. The goal would be to spend all $60 million within the time constraints put on federal COVID dollars, whether it’s a 50-50 split or not.

    The Republican River basin. The North Fork, South Fork and Arikaree all flow through Yuma County before crossing state lines. Credit: USBR/DOI

    The threat to livelihood for farmers and ranchers and economic disaster for the regions tied to irrigated agriculture in the Rio Grande and Republican River basins was made loud and clear in the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Water Committee.

    “These farmers and ranchers have done everything they possibly can,” said Marisa Fricke, one of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s program managers. “They grow produce for us and hay for our cattle.”

    Farmers and ranchers in both basins have levied property taxes on themselves through the water conservation districts to pay for their efforts to help the Rio Grande and Republican River meet groundwater sustainability and interstate compact compliance goals set by the state. It has meant fallowing of crop fields, permanently retiring irrigated acreage, taking groundwater wells off line either temporarily or permanently, and compensating farmers and ranchers for their efforts to help offset loss from less irrigated acres.

    State Reps. Marc Catlin and Dylan Roberts made impassioned pleas for including $60 million of the ARPA money into the compact compliance fund during their presentation of the bill in the House Ag committee. Both are House sponsors of the bill.

    “This is an opportunity with these funds to say, ‘We’re with you,’” said Catlin of the risk farmers and ranchers take their sacrifices to address compact and sustainability issues on the Republican River.

    “This is a great bill for the San Luis Valley and Republican River Basin,” said Heather Dutton, district manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District. “Colorado through COVID relief bills provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in our communities. The imbalance between water use and supply is a critical issue facing Colorado and especially the basins highlighted in this legislation.”

    Farmers in the San Luis Valley are looking to take even more drastic steps in their efforts to meet state targets on groundwater pumping and recharging of the Upper Rio Grande Basin’s unconfined aquifer. In Subdistrict 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, farmers are facing a new proposed amendment to the subdistrict’s Plan of Water Management that would tie the level of groundwater pumping allowed to the natural surface water of the property. Some farms in the subdistrict do not have natural surface water, in which case they would have to purchase water credits from a neighboring farm or pay an overpumping fee of $500 per acre-foot.

    This concept keeps the system in balance by replenishing what has been withdrawn from the aquifer with surface water and allows the community within Subdistrict No.1 to work together through the exchange and sale of credits. In the event that more groundwater is withdrawn from the aquifer and not replenished an overpumping fee of $500 per acre-foot would be assessed, according to the proposed amendment to the subdistrict’s water management plan. Money collected by the conservation district from an over pumping charge would come back to the Subdistrict 1 community in the form of payments towards enrolling in water conservation programs, according to Fricke.

    “For over a decade farmers and ranchers have worked to meet sustainability levels and have taxed themselves assessments for waters taken out of the aquifer,” Fricke told House ag committee members.

    Eventually the water conservation districts would establish guidelines and the state Division of Water Resources would administer drawdowns of the fund. In the unlikely chance Rio Grande and Republican River water managers didn’t spend all $60 million, the money would revert to the division of water resources.

    Future state appropriations to Compact Compliance Fund would hinge on executive and legislative budget priorities.

    Two #Wyoming rivers under restrictions due to low #snowpack, #drought — @WyoFile

    The Kortez dam below Seminoe Reservoir is a crucial part of a seven-reservoir water storage system on the North Platte River in Wyoming. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

    Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Dustin Bleizeffer):

    April is typically when thousands of irrigators on the North Platte River — particularly along its tributaries — begin to divert spring runoff onto hayfields and crops, kicking off what they hope will be a productive growing season. Today, however, those with junior water rights are under new orders to curtail those critical early springtime diversions — a rare scenario that could prove costly for many farmers and ranchers in the state.

    “When the water is coming, you’ve got one shot at it,” Upper North Platte Water Users Association Chairman Chri