#ColoradoRiver Water Users Association Annual Conference recap #CRWUA2019 #COriver

Hoover Dam from the Arizona Powerhouse deck December 13, 2019. As John Fleck said in a Tweet, “Friends who have the keys showed us around this afternoon.” Thanks USBR.

Here’s a report from Andrew Davey writing for Nevada Today. Click through and read the whole article, here’s an excerpt:

Around this time last year, Commissioner Brenda Burman delivered this ultimatum to CRWUA attendees: “Close isn’t done, and we are not done. Only done will protect this basin.” This year, as in just yesterday, Burman said, “It was truly remarkable to have the divergent interests of the basin forge a compromise and make the difficult agreements to complete the DCP.”

And unlike last year, when Burman urged officials from across the Colorado River Basin to finish the DCP already, this year she urged patience on matters like renegotiating the 2007 agreement that turned Lake Mead into a sort of regional water bank. On that, Burman declared, “It’s not yet time to take up that task.”

Yet despite Burman’s more relaxed approach, some at CRWUA want to see more “fierce urgency of now”. While the DCP successfully fended off the threat of federal water rations, and while Upper Colorado River Basin snowpack is currently running 15% above average, ongoing legal concerns and the ever escalating threat of climate change may yet upend the delicate peace that the DCP has ushered in for now…

While Burman voiced confidence in the states’, municipal water agencies’, and Native American tribal authorities’ ability to cooperate, some of these very local officials were voicing notes of warning and caution. Shortly after Burman’s presentation on the main stage, Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) Director of Water Resources Colby Pellegrino noted their use of data from the U.S. Geological Survey and UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) showing less Colorado River water for everyone to work with in the next 50 years.

As Pellegrino described this challenge, “It’s a pretty severe stress test for our water resource portfolio.” Pellegrino then noted how SNWA and the larger community have already been rising to this challenge with conservation programs like outdoor watering schedules and turf removal. As Pellegrino put it, “There’s significant water savings to be achieved by changing the mindset of how we use it.”

Later in the day, I caught up with Pellegrino to talk some more about her presentation and the challenges that lie ahead for her agency and the entire region. When asked how SNWA plans to handle those future challenges, she replied, “Conservation is still right here, under our noses, the quickest and most cost effective way.”

[Friday], it was Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s turn to make news here in Nevada. And make news he did, as Bernhardt announced the federal government will launch an early start of its review of the 2007 Interim Guidelines (as in, the 2007 agreement that launched the ICS program to manage the Lower Basin’s water supply).

Soon after his main floor presentation, Bernhardt spoke with reporters about this and other pressing water issues. On his announcement to jump-start review of the Interim Guidelines, Bernhardt said, “We have an opportunity right now. We have the people in place. We might as well build on the success we have here.”

So what can we expect in this review? And for that matter, what kinds of future changes might we expect in federal oversight of the Colorado River? When I asked Bernhardt whether he’d take into account climate science and the changing needs and consumption patterns of the increasingly urban American Southwest, he replied, “I’ve never taken a position of what we need to tell a city or county what they need to do.”

Yet as Bernhardt’s discussion with reporters continued, the conversation occasionally veered into other environmental matters. And when a couple reporters asked about the proposed oil and gas leases on public lands that have run into local opposition, including right here in Nevada, in the Ruby Mountains outside Elko and in parts of Lincoln County that supply drinking water for Mesquite, Bernhardt declared, “The president was clear when he ran for office what his policy is on energy. He supports an ‘all of the above’ approach.” Bernhardt also suggested these leases are required by federal statute, even though the Obama administration took a more cautious and targeted approach toward such fossil fuel extraction on public lands…

Funny enough, one of my takeaways from my conversation with SNWA’s Colby Pellegrino on Thursday was that regardless of what becomes of the long-fought pipeline plan, SNWA has enough water available to keep the Las Vegas region going for the next 50 years. Also, I noticed that regardless of the Trump administration’s curious comments on climate change and “all of the above” approaches to water infrastructure and fossil fuels, SNWA officials recognize the clear and present danger of climate change, and they’re already acting on it.

And it may not just be SNWA doing this. Even as Trump appointees are skirting around acknowledgement of climate science, fossil fuel pollution, ongoing regional tensions, or the reality of urban and suburban growth in the Colorado River Basin, federal civil servants continue to collect data, analyze trends, and manage the water we all share. We’ll talk more about that next week.

Still, there’s a rather large gap between the rhetoric and overarching policies of the Trump administration and the promises of strong climate action that U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), former Vice President Joe Biden, and the other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are providing. And yet, we don’t hear as much about the Colorado River and our fragile water supply as you’d expect considering their environmental and geopolitical importance. Yet no matter how much we ignore it, all we have to do is glimpse at Lake Mead to remember how important it truly is to our very livelihood.

Click here to view the Tweets from the conference hash tag #CRWUA2019. Click here to view the @CRWUAwater Twitter feed.

Hoover Dam schematic via the Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Associated Press (Ken Ritter):

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told federal, state and local water managers that abiding by the promises they made will be crucial to ensuring that more painful cuts aren’t required…

“We need to be proud of what we’ve done,” Burman told hundreds at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference at a Las Vegas Strip resort, while also warning of “tougher challenges in the future.”

Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will start taking less water from the river Jan. 1 under a drought contingency agreement signed in May. It followed lengthy negotiations and multiple warnings from Burman that if the seven states didn’t reach a deal, the federal government, which controls the levers on the river, could impose severe water restrictions.

California would voluntarily cut water deliveries if reservoir levels keep falling at the river’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead…

Cuts will most affect farmers in Arizona. The Central Arizona Project will stop storage and replenishment operations and cut water for agricultural use by about 15%. The agency gets more than half of Arizona’s entitlement of water from the Colorado River…

The drought contingency plan is a voluntary agreement to use less water than users are allowed, and its success is measured at the surface level of Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam east of Las Vegas.

The agreements are designed to prevent a more drastic drought-shortage declaration under a 2007 pact that would cut 11.4 percent of Arizona’s usual river water allocation and reduce Nevada’s share by 4.3 percent. That amount of water, combined, would serve more than 625,000 homes.

California would reduce its Colorado River use by about 6 percent.

Due to a relatively wet winter, Lake Mead is now 40% full and Lake Powell, an upstream reservoir, is at 53% capacity, Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Patricia Aaron said. A year ago, Lake Powell was 43% full, and Lake Mead was at 38%…

Water managers have called the last 20 dry years a drought, but climate researchers warn the river will continue to carry less water in coming years.

“Respected climate scientists have conservatively estimated declines in river flows of 20% by the middle of the 21st century and 35% by the end of the century,” researchers Anne Castle of the University of Colorado Law School and John Fleck of the University of New Mexico wrote in a study released in November.

The report refers to a “structural deficit” under which states and Mexico are promised more water than the river usually carries and encourages the seven states to clarify rules for handling future shortages.

Brad Udall: “…latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
@GreatLakesPeck

@CWCB_DNR approves $100 million package for Arkansas Valley Conduit — Southeastern #Colorado Water Conservancy District

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Here’s the release from Southeastern (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board unanimously approved a $90 million loan and $10 million non-reimbursable investment for the Arkansas Valley Conduit at its November meeting.

The loan, which still requires approval by the Colorado Legislature, will assist in a $500 million project that is being planned by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation. The AVC will bring clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo in Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties.

The Southeastern District and Reclamation are working to reduce project costs and the need for up-front federal funding in order to begin construction of the AVC project. About $30 million has been invested in planning since 2011.

“Poor water quality has been an issue in this area of the state since before Colorado even existed.  All the way back to explorers traveling along the Arkansas River in the early 1800s noted the poor drinking water in their journals,” said CWCB board member Jack Goble, who lives in Hasty. “And the lack of clean drinking water still exists today.  Taking a drive down Highway 50, you’ll pass by dozens of water filling stations, with at least one in almost every town in the Valley.”

In its presentation, the Southeastern District noted strong support from the State Legislature, the congressional delegation and Gov. Jerad Polis for AVC. The Legislature approved a resolution in January asking the Administration to restore AVC funding. The congressional delegation drafted its own letter to the Administration as well.

“I will continue to support efforts to work with our departments on opportunities to seek state financing and grant opportunities to advance this project,” Polis wrote in a letter earlier this year.

Bill Long, President of the Southeastern Board, introduced three of the system operators who will benefit from AVC: Rick Jones of the May Valley Water Association, Norman Noe of the South Swink Water Company, and Tom Seaba of La Junta.

“The only way we can move forward in the Arkansas Valley is to have safe drinking water for all of our residents,” Long said.

May Valley faces state enforcement actions for violations of state standards for radioactive contaminants it has dealt with for 20 years, and other solutions would cost as much as $200 per month per customer, Jones said.

“It’s disheartening to be told you can’t drink the water,” Jones said.

Noe told the CWCB that it is also becoming increasingly expensive to deal with radioactive waste that is produced by the wells that the communities rely on for a water supply.

Seaba said 15 of the 24 public water systems in Otero County have state water violations for naturally occurring radioactive contamination. Four of the systems have already connected with La Junta. La Junta treats water with reverse-osmosis, but the waste stream contains selenium. The city spent $19 million on a wastewater plant and still cannot meet selenium standards.

“If the conduit is funded and built, you will solve the problems for these communities,” Seaba said.

The AVC was authorized in 1962, but was not built because local communities could not afford to pay 100 percent of the cost. New federal legislation in 2009 requires a 35 percent local cost share, but also allows revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to be used for construction and repayment of the AVC.

The presentation was at times emotional, teeing off with a recap of the history of the AVC by Alan Hamel, a Southeastern board member and former CWCB member. He showed a video of President John F. Kennedy, who came to Pueblo in 1962 and delivered a stirring speech about the importance of water projects to all of the people in the United States.

Several CWCB members shared their own emotional comments during discussion.

“It’s the responsibility of all of us on the board to make sure that all Coloradans have the basic right for clean drinking water,” said Heather Dutton, who chairs the CWCB.

@USBR takes up review of Lake Powell Pipeline — The Deseret News

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

The elimination of the major hydropower components of the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline means a new federal agency will review the project and determine if it is environmentally sound to move forward.

“The division looks forward to working with reclamation on updating the timeline and cost estimate for the project and completing the environmental impact statement,” Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, announced Tuesday

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had been the reviewing agency. After a September decision by the Utah Board of Water Resources to eliminate two reservoirs for the generation of electricity during peak demand, that entity was no longer the appropriate reviewing agency…

Project proponents say the pipeline is necessary to meet the needs of a growing population and to diversify water supply resources. Most of southern Utah residents rely on a single and volatile source of water — the Virgin River — which has been challenged by drought conditions.

Construction of the pipeline won’t begin until 70% of the water is under contract.

Karry Rathje, with the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said the shift to another federal agency to review the project should not result in any delays.

A water ‘win-win’ in Colorado? Not so fast — @HighCountryNews

San Luis Valley farmer Dale Bartee, left, with his parents and his oldest son, Tyler, the fourth generation on the farm. Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

From the High Country News (Nick Bowlin):

If water flows to money, in Colorado, it flows to the Front Range. There, a booming population has strained municipal governments, which are actively looking elsewhere for new water sources. This is nothing new: In recent decades, locals have fended off several schemes to export the San Luis Valley’s water east over the mountains. The latest of these is Renewable Water Resources, a venture backed by Denver metro money and former Republican Gov. Bill Owens. Worsening drought, poor commodity prices, economic trends towards consolidation and the ever-present threat of state intervention in local water management have some people worried — and others sensing an opportunity.

Sean Tonner, a businessman and longtime state Republican operative who worked for Owens, is behind the current water export scheme. Tonner exudes salesmanship, the sort of person who calls you by your first name the second he meets you. His plan reworks one that was pushed by the late Gary Boyce, a notorious water export advocate. Tonner, who now owns Boyce’s 11,500-acre property at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, proposes a 22,000-acre-foot pipeline to carry water from the northern end of the valley over Poncha Pass to Douglas County in the southern Denver metro area. His company would buy and remove from irrigation about 30,000 acre-feet of San Luis Valley water, paying local farmers for the water rights that would offset the export.

Tonner uses the phrase “win-win” to describe the project. The front page of the project’s website reads: “Best for the San Luis Valley. Best for the environment. Best for Colorado.” Few in the valley see it that way. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District rejected the proposal in January 2019, and the board has told Tonner it would fight any attempt to export water from the valley. Several town governments oppose the plan, as well. If it goes to court, the exporters would have to prove that the plan would not injure Rio Grande water rights, the aquifer or the protected areas that rely on the aquifer, including Great Sand Dunes National Park.

At a February water conference at Adams State University, former U.S. Sen. and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — the most public member of the well-known Salazar family, which has farmed in the southern part of the valley since the 1850s — declared that “water will flow out of this valley to the North only over my dead body,” drawing a raucous cheer from the audience of farmers and ranchers.

Even so, it is easy to imagine the valley’s economic plight making it possible for Tonner’s proposal to catch on. His plan offers incentives that previous plans lacked, including a $50 million fund for local governments to use in the community. If the valley’s financial woes worsen — or if the state were to shut off thousands of wells in Subdistrict 1 — that cash could sway some desperate local officials.

Tonner claims he has local support. At a community meeting in Saguache on May 23, he told the large crowd that he had enough water users interested in selling to obtain 22,000 acre-feet of water. Few farmers and ranchers want to admit this, but the valley’s grim circumstances are pushing some to sell.

I put the question to rancher Dale Bartee in August: What would happen if the drought returns next year, the valley’s pumping fee is higher, and the export company shows up with ready money?

“If the price is right, it would be very hard to say no,” he said with a sigh, sitting at his kitchen table. It’s an admission he does not like making out loud. Like many here, Bartee sees the export advocates as turncoats, exploiting the imbalance of economic and political power concentrated on the other side of the mountains to extract rural resources. Repeated attempts to export the valley’s water make the people feel dispensable.

“For me, I will probably be one of the last ones to say yes to it, because of my boys,” Bartee said, whose two sons work the farm with him.

“They both say they want to come back, they want to farm,” their father said. “And if I sell out, what do they have left?”

If the valley’s water use were corrected, Rio Grande Water Conservation District Manager Cleave Simpson believes, the export schemes would evaporate. “Buy and dry” proposals, as they are known, seem less appealing when water supply and demand are in better balance, he said. The subdistrict model is an attempt to allow current farms to carry on at slightly diminished capacity, rather than face the “draconian” decision of either selling to exporters to get what money they can or risk having pumping rights suspended by the state engineer.

“I don’t think producers should have to make that choice,” Simpson said.

Nick Bowlin is an editorial fellow at High Country News. Email him at nickbowlin@hcn.org.

@USBR advances water delivery project for Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Survey work begins for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project on the Navajo Nation. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via The High Country News

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff, Marc Milller):

The Bureau of Reclamation invites members of the press and public to a meeting to continue negotiations with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. The purpose of these negotiations is to agree to terms for an operations, maintenance and replacement contract for the federally-owned Cutter Lateral features of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, located near Bloomfield, New Mexico.

This operations, maintenance and replacement contract for Cutter Lateral will facilitate water delivery to the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations. The negotiations and subsequent contract provide the legal mechanism for delivery of the Navajo Nation’s Settlement Water in the state of New Mexico. WHAT: Public meeting to negotiate the Cutter Lateral operations, maintenance and replacement contract.

WHEN: Friday, September 13, 2019, at 9:00 a.m. at 1:00 p.m.

WHERE: Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Walter F. Wolf Conference Room 2nd Floor GM Suite, Indian Navajo Route 12, Fort Defiance, AZ 86504

WHY: The contract to be negotiated will provide terms and conditions for the operation, maintenance and replacement of specific project features. All negotiations are open to the public as observers and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty-minute comment period following the negotiation session.

The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting. They can also be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, 970-385-6541, mbmiller@usbr.gov.

Arkansas Valley Conduit update

From High Plains Public Radio (Abigail Beckman):

Chris Woodka is with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. He said part of the reason we’re seeing more water systems violate water standards is that federal and state standards have changed. They are now accounting for even more minute quantities of contaminants.

He said water from wells can be especially affected because, “shallow wells in the alluvial aquifer are high in organic contaminants, nitrate and selenium.”

“Deeper wells often have elevated levels of radioactive materials,” he said. “And nearly all of the communities east of Pueblo take water from wells.”

Some communities have responded by using water filters. Las Animas and La Junta have both installed large reverse osmosis membrane systems to remove contaminants from the water supply. Woodka said that has improved the taste and appearance.

But, he said, even after filtration, radium and uranium can still remain in the water at low levels.

And then there’s the cost.

“Those communities still face tremendous expense in disposing of the waste from the treatment processes,” Woodka said, “which can only be reduced by adding more clean water.” And extra water, let alone clean water, is hard to come by in a drought-prone state like Colorado. But there is one possible solution that’s been in the works for decades.

It’s called the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation describes the conduit as a “bulk water supply pipeline designed to meet existing and future municipal and industrial water demands in the Lower Arkansas River Basin.”

It would include about 230 miles of buried pipeline, a water treatment facility, and water storage tanks. Water would be routed to six counties – Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers – and would serve an estimated 50,000 people.

The project was first approved in 1962. Some work was completed in the early 1980’s, but the actual conduit has yet to come to completion. Woodka said that’s mainly because of cost.

“[These] communities could never afford to build [the conduit] themselves.” Woodka explained.

Congress passed a law in 2009 that reduced the amount of money local governments would have to pitch in for the project. Woodka said that finally made the construction of the conduit feasible.

But it’s still a $500 million project.

“The main problem that we’ve run into,” said Woodka, ”has been getting adequate federal appropriations to start building it. He said they are working on ways to lower the overall costs of the project.”

Woodka said lawmakers at the state and national level have been “extremely active” in promoting this project on both sides of the political spectrum…

[Republican State Senator Larry Crowder] said the key now is for residents to get involved.

“We’re getting the cities involved, we’re getting the people in the cities involved to send letters to Senator Gardner, Senator Bennet and Congressmen Buck and Tipton,” he said, “to make sure that they are aware of how the people feel about it.”

#Utah Presses Forward With #LakePowellPipeline Plans Despite #ColoradoRiver Basin Constraints — #Wyoming Public Radio #COriver #aridification

Proposed Lake Powell pipeline. Map via the City of St. George.

From Wyoming Public Radio (Judy Fahys):

Despite the risk that the river resource is overcommitted and it is shrinking, four Upper Basin states – Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico – are pushing forward with dams, reservoir expansions and pipelines like the one at Lake Powell that will allow them to capture what they were promised under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California have been using that water downstream for nearly a century.

President Donald Trump signed the basin-wide drought contingency plan in April, just weeks after the state of Utah declared in a news release that the river, which serves 40 million people, is “a reliable source of water.”

“What they need to do – the lower states – is use their right that’s allocated to them, and we will use our right that’s allocated to us,” said Mike Styler, who retired recently after 14 years as director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

A former state lawmaker, Styler originally voted on pushing forward with the 140-mile Lake Powell Pipeline. Once completed, the diversion project, which would draw from the lake, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border, about 86,000 acre-feet a year. That’s enough water to support nearly 100,000 households…

The St. George metropolitan area was the third-fastest growing in the nation last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released in April. Past data showed the area as the fastest growing in 2017 and the fifth-fastest growing between 2010 and 2018.

Pipeline proponents anticipate the trend will continue, with the current population of around 171,000 residents expected to swell to around 509,000 by 2065. And that growth is why they insist the pipeline is necessary…

The state has already spent more than $30 million on its application to build the pipeline. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing the project’s environmental impacts. The Washington County Water Conservancy District, a project partner, estimates that the license could be finalized in two years, construction would begin a few years later and the pipeline would be operating by around 2030.

But pipeline critics call the project too risky, too pricey and unnecessary. They contend that too much Colorado River water has already been promised to too many people.

“We are way beyond the budget of what the Colorado River can deliver, and when you just look at how much water is in the river and how much everyone else wants to take out, it’s just not there,” said Nick Schou, conservation director for the nonprofit Utah Rivers Council.

Schou said the Lower Basin states are facing cuts of as much as 500,000 acre-feet at the same time the Upper Basin states are planning nine projects that will draw about 400,000 acre-feet.

“Not only are we overusing the water, but there’s going to be a lot less to go around in the future,” Schou said…

The project’s overall cost is another big concern for critics. Proponents estimate the pipeline’s cost between $1.1 billion and $1.8 billion. Critics say the price tag will probably be $3.2 billion or higher. And water users would be saddled with the cost, since the what used to be common federal subsidies for big water projects have evaporated.