Board President John Porter and Vice President Steve Fearn, representatives of Montezuma and San Juan counties, respectively, were voted off the board by commissioners in their respective counties.
Fearn, a prominent longtime coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, has represented San Juan County on the water conservation board since 1990 and served as vice president since 2007.
But San Juan County commissioners said Fearn’s representation no longer reflects county values, which have changed significantly since Silverton’s mining days to include more recreational interests with respect to water, county attorney Paul Sunderland said…
Commissioners voted to appoint Charlie Smith, part-time Silverton resident and eight-year general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, as Fearn’s replacement.
“Commissioners thought Charlie Smith would better represent San Juan County,” Sunderland said. “He has a lot of water expertise, and he’s probably more in tune with the wants of the current board. Historically, San Juan County has been largely dominated by mining interests, and Steve Fearn is very much associated with those interests, but the board’s interests have shifted more toward recreation.”
The fact that the state of New Mexico named Fearn in a lawsuit as a “potentially responsible party” for mine pollution in the Gladstone area was noted in the county’s decision, Sunderland said.
“It’s definitely something we’re aware of, given his ownership interests around Gladstone,” he said…
The board consists of nine members representing Archuleta, Dolores, Hinsdale, La Plata, Mineral, Montezuma, Montrose, San Juan and San Miguel counties. Board directors can serve an unlimited number of three-year terms.
“I want to make sure the county’s views are represented,” Smith told The Durango Herald. “I have an understanding of their water rights, and a lot of work needs to be done to secure those rights and make sure the uses align with what the county envisions.”
Montezuma County commissioners selected Don Schwindt to replace Porter, who was general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District for 22 years and a Southwestern board director for 26.
Schwindt is a director on the Dolores Water Conservancy District board and a critic of the Dolores National Conservation Area, a controversial proposal in Montezuma County to congressionally protect land and water along the lower Dolores…
Porter thinks the proposal, criticized by Montezuma County commissioners, influenced his removal. Under Porter’s leadership, Southwestern Water Conservation District contributed funds to hire a water attorney to rewrite draft National Conservation Area legislation, which Porter thinks was perceived as support for the bill.
“I perceived the funding as an effort so everyone involved knew all the problems, the facts on both sides and could intelligently make a decision,” Porter said. “I think Southwestern’s involvement was perceived by others that we were very much in favor of the NCA legislation. That had something to do with it, and the fact that I’m 80-plus, and my 26 years on the board.”
Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Suckla said the commission chose Schwindt because of his water knowledge, and the conservation area proposal did not play a part in the decision.
“Don has shown ways that he would save water and retain water for farmers and ranchers,” Suckla said. “John Porter is an icon for Montezuma County. He was involved in the management of the lake (McPhee Reservoir), and all the benefits the county has received from that is because of the work he did, but it felt like it was time for new eyes.”
When Porter joined the board in 1990, he said water storage and dam construction were the district’s primary focus, including such projects as Lake Nighthorse. But gradually, the focus broadened to consider recreational water use and water quality.
Porter refers to his tenure as a career highlight, and said the importance of inter-basin relations and dialogue will only increase as time goes on, water supply dwindles and population grows.
“You’re asking someone who’s biased, but I’ve always felt that the Southwestern board tried its very best to represent all interests,” Porter said. “True, the majority of the members, including myself, were and still are agriculture-oriented. Yet to me, as Colorado’s population grows, it’s inevitable that our water supply will be drying up agriculture. And that’s not in our best interest, but I don’t see a way of satisfying municipal needs that we’re going to have without drying up some ag use. Irrigation takes a lot of water, and just that amount converted to municipal use will take care of a lot of families in an urban situation.”
The Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD or District) was created by the Colorado General Assembly in 1941, thereby marking the District’s 75th anniversary this year! The SWCD encompasses Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan, San Miguel and parts of Hinsdale, Mineral, and Montrose counties. In a press release issued by SWCD board president John Porter, and recently printed in the Durango Herald, Porter shares some lessons learned in the past 75 years, ones that will be carried through the next 75:
Lesson No. 1: Adaptability is a Necessity
Times have changed since 1941. Colorado statute charges the district with “protecting, conserving, using and developing the water resources of the southwestern basin for the welfare of the district, and safeguarding for Colorado all waters of the basin to which the state is entitled.” Following this mandate, the district worked tirelessly for decades to ensure water supplies would meet growing demand by filing for storage project water rights in almost every major river basin. SWCD lobbied for federal dollars to be spent on project construction in our area. The philosophy was, and continues to be, to plant the seed and help it grow.
This work resulted in the establishment of the Florida Water Conservancy District and Lemon Reservoir; the Pine River Project extension; the Dolores Water Conservancy District and McPhee Reservoir; the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District; Ridges Basin Reservoir; Long Hollow Reservoir; the San Juan Water Conservancy District; and the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir.
As population pressure threatens to dry up agriculture, and regulations and constituent values have expanded to include environmental protections and recreational use, the district’s mission has adapted necessarily. When the A-LP Project debate was underway, for example, SWCD was integral in the formation of the San Juan Recovery Program, established to recover endangered fish species populations in the San Juan River in New Mexico downstream of the proposed reservoir. SWCD currently funds a variety of essential work, including stream flow data collection and mercury sampling in local reservoirs. To address mounting concerns regarding future compact curtailment and drought, SWCD supports water supply augmentation through winter cloud seeding and exploring creative solutions like “water banking.”
Lesson No. 2: Be at the Table
Participation at the local, state and federal levels is essential to protecting our resources. That’s why the District is a member of Colorado Water Congress, a state entity focused on water policy.
The District takes positions and engages in debate on water-related bills during the state legislative season. We keep a close eye on federal water management policies, often submitting public comments and working with federal and state partners to ensure continued state control of water rights. The District is supportive of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s instream flow program to establish minimum stream flows for the environment, and is working to improve the program’s ability to adapt to rural community needs for future development. As for the broader Colorado River system, SWCD participates in dialogue among Upper Basin states through the Upper Colorado River Commission.
At the local level, the district has represented water development interests in the collaborative River Protection Workgroup, which resulted in the Hermosa Creek Watershed Act. SWCD worked with other Roundtable members to ensure our corner of the state was heard in the Colorado Water Plan.
Lesson No. 3: Reinvest Local Tax Dollars Locally
It’s a not-so-well-kept secret that SWCD’s grant program supports water work across the district: domestic supply and irrigation infrastructure improvements, recreational development, habitat rehabilitation, collaborative community processes and water quality studies. Here are a few recent examples:
Archuleta, Mineral and Hinsdale counties: Rio Blanco habitat restoration by the San Juan Conservation District, watershed health via the San Juan Mixed Conifer Group.
La Plata County: Initial studies for Long Hollow Reservoir, the La Plata West Water Authority’s rural domestic water system.
San Juan County: Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies dust-on-snow research, mining reclamation through the Animas River Stakeholders Group.
Montezuma and Dolores counties: The Dolores River Dialogue (a collaboration focused on issues below McPhee Dam), irrigation efficiency improvements by the High Desert Conservation District.
San Miguel and Montrose counties: The San Miguel Watershed Coalition’s watershed studies and irrigation diversion improvements to allow fish and boater passage, domestic system upgrades for the town of Norwood.
Lesson No. 4: Educate the Next Generation of Leaders
For more than 20 years, the district has spearheaded regional water education by sponsoring an Annual Children’s Water Festival for students across the basin and administering the Water Information Program with contributions from participating entities. SWCD played an instrumental role in creating the statewide Colorado Foundation for Water Education, and continues to sponsor the organization. As generations of water leaders step back, new stewards must step forward to ensure that the Southwest Colorado we know and love continues.
“The water is our life blood that feeds all of us,” Southern Ute Tribal Chairman Clement Frost told participants in the 34th annual Water Seminar on April 1 in Durango.
The seminar is organized by the Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWWCD). This year’s event celebrated the district’s 75th anniversary…
The Animas/ La Plata Project and the now completed Lake Nighthorse were mentioned by Frost and other speakers as examples of choosing collaboration over litigation. They settle Ute water rights claims going back to 1868, senior to any other rights.
“The tribes and water users have a relationship that’s quite unique” versus other places where entities end up in court fights that can last for decades, explained Christine Arbogast with the lobbying firm of Kogovsek and Associates. “Here the tribes and non-Indian community decided in the early 1980s to negotiate and not litigate.”
The negotiations started in 1984 and concluded in 1986, she said, but they still needed congressional approval, which came in 1988 with bipartisan support from the Colorado delegation. But an irrigation water delivery system to the Dry Side had to be eliminated as part of that.
Arbogast called that a painful compromise, “that we all looked at the stewardship of water together and the preciousness of water together.”
Frost said, “I have the most admiration for the ranchers who gave up their rights to irrigation water. They understood it was necessary for Animas/ La Plata to move ahead.”
He commended the help of SWWCD “in helping us get things done. We all march together to take care of a problem, and not march apart to continue a problem.”
Speakers through the day cited the water district’s financial and other help in their various missions.
The district was formed in 1941 by the state legislature and is one of four such districts around the state, district Director Bruce Whitehead said. The district covers all of six counties and parts of three others. The district’s directive is to protect and develop all waters in the basin that the state is entitled to, he said.
District Board President John Porter noted there are nine river systems within the district, and they all flow out of state.
“Indian water rights cases couldn’t have been solved without storage,” he said. “Without that, non-Indians wouldn’t have much water after July 1” each year, when rivers tend to go on call.
The district is funded with property taxes. It has a $1.5 million annual budget and over the past 30 years has awarded almost $9 million in grants, Porter said.
Longtime Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina said $50,000 from SWWCD and $25,000 from the Southwest Water Roundtable helped the 18-lot Palo Verde subdivision near Three Springs install a water line to get Durango water when residents’ domestic wells started failing.
Travis Custer with the High Desert and Mancos Conservation Districts said education efforts on more efficient irrigation methods are part of “the idea that we are responsible for our resources. Water saved on the farm benefits everyone… It’s mitigation rather than emergency response. It doesn’t have to come at the cost of an ag operation.” Instead, it can be an enhancement, he said.
“We’re looking at ways to replicate efficiencies in the larger area,” Custer said. “We have to work together, agencies with agencies and with producers to build trust. In the West, these situations aren’t going to get any better. No new water will be created.”
Asked how more efficient irrigation might have consequences with the doctrine of “use it or lose it,” Custer said that doctrine has a lot of gray areas. “We have to look at opportunities to adjust our thought process and legislate to address the current situation. We want to keep land in ag. Legislation that prohibits conservation needs to be addressed,” he said.
The keynote speakers were water attorney and former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs and Bill McDonald, a former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and a lead negotiator on the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement and the implementing legislation.
“Remember your history is lesson 1,” McDonald said. He gave a brief history of water issues in Colorado and called water “the state’s liquid gold.”
Debates over trans-mountain water diversions started in the 1930s with the Colorado/ Big Thompson water project to bring water to northeastern Colorado. In 1937, a Governor’s Water Defense Association was created to defend against downstream states. In-stream flow rights became an issue in the 1970s.
Hobbs said about two-thirds of the water that originates in Colorado flows out of state to 18 downstream states. In the 1980s, he and fellow attorney David Robbins won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to keep Ute water rights cases in state rather than federal courts. They also defended the constitutionality of in-stream flow rights.
“In-stream flow has been our safety valve to show we can preserve the environment in the name of the people,” Hobbs said. “It was a great day when that was upheld.”
The seminar finished with Peter Butler from the Animas River Stakeholders Group and discussion of toxic mine drainage from above Silverton. SWWCD helped with funding for four stream gauges near Silverton. The one on Cement Creek is how it was determined that the Gold King mine spill last August was 3 million gallons, he said. SWWCD also helped them get in-stream flow rights and has supported “Good Samaritan” legislation, he said and thanked the district for its support over the years.
The day included a tribute to Fred Kroeger, who was on the SWWCD board for 55 years and served as board president for 33 years. He died last year at age 97. He also served on various other state and local water-related boards and community service groups. He and buddy Sam Maynes Sr. were known for the lame jokes they told at the water seminars as well as for their water project advocacy including A/LP and McPhee on the Dolores.
“He set the standard by which we behave in the water business,” water engineer Steve Harris said of Kroeger. “Be a diplomat, dignified, a gentleman. Be willing to compromise. Don’t be a wimp. Don’t give up. Be involved.”
Arbogast added: “You never heard him call anybody a name. In today’s political environment, that would be pretty refreshing, wouldn’t it?”
Here’s a photo poem from Greg Hobbs. He was one of the keynote speakers at the shindig:
Southwestern District’s 75th Anniversary
Dominguez and Escalante peered into this ancestral
Great Kiva looking for the Colorado River
Where the Shining Mountains and their waters also lead us on.
East of the Divide where snowmelt’s stored for so many newer Coloradans
A slender ribbon, the South Platte, slices through the High Plains
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
World Economic Forum Ranks Climate Change as Top Environmental Risk
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) recently released Global Risks Report has for the first time ranked climate change “as the most severe economic risk facing the world.” The WEF’s report indicated that climate change is compounding and intensifying other economic, humanitarian, and social stresses such as mass migration.
In a January 22nd National Geographic article, Chief Risk Officer of Zurich Insurance Groups, Cecilia Reyes, stated that “climate change is exacerbating more risks than ever before in terms of water crises, food shortages, constrained economic growth, weaker societal cohesion, and increased security risks.” To view the full report visit the World Economic Forum.
In September, the Colorado Water Conservation Board agreed to establish minimum in-stream flows up to 900 cubic-feet per second in spring on the Dolores River between the confluence of the San Miguel River and Gateway.
The new flow standards on the 34-mile stretch are intended to help river health, including three species of native fish: the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub.
Local water boards objected to the new standard, arguing that the flows were too high and could not be met in drought conditions. In addition, there was fear that water stored in the upstream McPhee Reservoir could be used to meet the standard.
But the CWCB denied their appeal, and the minimum flow plan for the Lower Dolores River was approved. In December, SWCD responded by filing a lawsuit in Colorado’s Division 4 water court in Montrose to try and overturn or modify the flow allocation.
Their lawsuit claims CWCB’s action on the Lower Dolores River exceeds the ISF’s statutory standard of “minimum stream flows to preserve the natural environment” and that it does not protect “present uses” of the water.
It further states that the new in-stream flow is inconsistent with CWCB’s statutory responsibility to develop water for beneficial and future use for state residents, and that the new standard is inconsistent with CWCB’s appropriation of an in-stream flow regime on the San Miguel River.
John Porter, SWCD board president, says it’s time to rethink the in-stream flow program so that some of it is reserved for future growth.
“A small amount, 1 to 2 percent of average in-stream flows, should be held by the CWCB for future domestic uses,” he said during a meeting with the Montezuma County commissioners. “We want to get people talking about the idea.”
The so-called “carve out” concept suggests tapping in-stream flow allocations to provide a more accessible water supply for unforeseen small development projects.
In defending the new Dolores River in-stream flows, CWCB was joined in the lawsuit by Western Resource Advocates, Conservation Colorado, and San Juan Citizen’s Alliance…
The new in-stream flows for Lower Dolores River begin below the San Miguel confluence are as follows: minimum flows of 200 cfs from March 16 to April 14; 900 cfs from April 15 to June 14; 400 cfs from June 15 to July 15; 200 cfs from July 16 to Aug. 14; and 100 cfs from Aug. 15 to March 15.
Land use choices and water use are connected. So how come water people and land use planners don’t work together as water supply becomes more at risk and state population keeps growing?
That was the focus of a water and land use forum on Oct. 23 at the La Plata County Administration Building. It was organized by the Durango-based Water Information Program (WIP).
Denise Rue-Pastin, the director of the program, cited predictions that global population will reach 10 billion by 2050.
“Some of the information being presented is kind of a downer,” she warned. “Hopefully you (participants) will be armed with the information you need to make really good decisions.” She showed maps of global water shortage areas, including in the U.S., areas of growing food demand, and regions where wars are being fought over water…
She cited the Colorado Water Plan aimed at addressing water supply gaps as state population grows to a predicted 10 million.
The final plan must be presented to the governor by Dec. 10. She cited the familiar statistic that 80 percent of state population is on the Front Range while 80 percent of the water is on the West Slope, and 80 percent of water use in Colorado is for agriculture…
The Colorado Water Plan “doesn’t say a lot about what we should be doing,” although it lists ideas such as development that does not increase water demand, referred to as net zero, [Drew] Beckwith said. “The divide between water planners and land use planners is sometimes a challenge.” There are efforts to come up with estimates of how increased density might affect water use, he said.
The Water Plan will tout a goal to have 75 percent of state population living in communities that have incorporated water saving actions, Beckwith said. He asked for comments…
Beckwith said, “The challenge I see is for you in the southwest (part of the state) to say we don’t want any more trans-mountain (water) diversions, you need to lead by example.”
Shepard cited subdivision covenants and homeowner associations that require outside landscaping, and the HOA will sue for non-compliance.
That’s illegal under a state law passed a couple years ago, Beckwith responded.
Rue-Pastin raised another issue. “I know of a water utility that got rid of their water conservation because one of their directors said, ‘If we don’t use it, we’ll lose it.'”
Beckwith added that some utilities depend on the income from selling more water, but, “When you need more supply and conservation is the cheapest alternative, it makes sense.”[…]
Green and Beckwith listed ways to link water and land use:
. a system to allocate water taps
. impact fees on building permits
. use of state authorized 1041 powers to protect water supplies from diversions
. comprehensive/ master plans that encourage denser development and water conservation
. landscaping codes
. more development restrictions in areas with less groundwater
. prohibitions on outside water use, as in Summit County
. requirements for water efficient appliances.
Green cited the need to go beyond “aspirational” master plans to implementation in land use regulations.
Beckwith said, “At the end of the day, it depends on what your community cares about.”
Water experts will speak at the 33rd Southwestern Water Conservation District’s (SWWCD) Annual Water Seminar at the Doubletree Hotel in Durango on Friday, April 3, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
This year’s theme is “New Solutions to Old Problems.” A broad range of topics on the agenda will be addressed during the meeting including the Colorado River basin contingency planning efforts, the future of agriculture in Colorado, the state water plan and the incorporation of water conservation in land use planning.
The meeting’s agenda, as listed in a news release from SWWCD, has registration and breakfast scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Welcoming remarks and introductions will be made by John Porter, SWWCD board president, and Bruce Whitehead, executive director.
The morning’s presentations will feature Jim Havey with Havey Productions presenting a documentary on the Great Divide. Moderator Steve Harris will present Exploring Water Conservation Strategies. Assisting in this presentation will be state Sen. Ellen Roberts, Drew Beckwith with Western Resource Advocates, Dominique Gomez with Water Smart Software and Mark Marlowe from the Town of Castle Rock.
Whitehead will speak on the Colorado River Planning Convergence; he will be assisted by Greg Walch from the Southern Nevada Water Authority and Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) members Ted Kowalski and Eric Kuhn.
The afternoon’s agenda will begin with recognition of the water leaders followed by the film “Resilient: Soil, Water and the New Stewards of the American West” presented by Kate Greenberg from the National Young Farmers Coalition. Greenberg will also present Agriculture’s Future in the Colorado River Basin. Assisting with this presentation will be Ken Nowak from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Pat O’Toole, a local producer from the Family Farm Alliance.
“The State Water Plan: Meeting Local Water Needs” will be presented by John Stulp from the Interbasin Compact Committee. Assisting Stulp will be CWCB board member Rebecca Mitchell. Carrie Lile, Ann Oliver and Mike Preston from the Southwest Basin Roundtable will also take part in the presentation.
The press release stated advance registration is $35 or $40 at the door. Online registration is available by going to http://swwcd.org/programs/annual-water-seminar. Mail-in registration forms are also available on the website. The Doubletree Hotel is located at 501 Camino del Rio. Registration will begin 8 a.m. on April 3.
Funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit has flatlined in the federal budget. Striking a somber tone, Executive Director Jim Broderick broke the news Thursday to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. The district sought $5.5 million for the conduit in fiscal year 2016, but so far only $500,000 is included in a constricted federal budget.
“It’s hard to pinpoint the reason for flatlining,” Broderick said. “But I think this is a short-term problem. … The issue isn’t that we’re dead in the water, we’re just going slow.”
He speculated that the federal Office of Management and Budget frowned on the project because it has not yet begun moving dirt and a general policy that water-quality projects should involve the Environmental Protection Agency.
The conduit progress has been overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation, which shifted funds this year to boost conduit funding to about $3 million. However, there may not be much money available.
Reclamation had a $96 million budget for projects nationwide this year, but allocated $50 million to deal with California drought issues and $30 million to settle claims with American Indian tribes.
District officials are continuing with attempts to encourage reprogramming federal money for the project. In the interim, the district will work closely with state officials to find money and analyze the workflow toward building the conduit.
On a positive note, Broderick said the conduit could move up in the federal pipeline by 2019.
The $400 million conduit would reach 132 miles from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads, and would serve 50,000 people in 40 communities. It was first authorized by Congress as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in 1962.
More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.