Frank Kugel will likely be the next executive director of the Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District

Frank Kugel. Photo credit: Upper Gunnison River Conservancy District

From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

One the region’s foremost water experts is being offered another job in the industry that would take him back to Durango. Frank Kugel, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Conservancy District, is in negotiations with the Southwestern Water Conservation District for the top job.

According to the SWCD website, “on July 15, pursuant to C.R.S. § 24-6-402(3.5), the Board of Directors of the Southwestern Water Conservation District selected Frank J. Kugel as the finalist under consideration for the position of Executive Director.” The SWCD board plans to approve a conditional offer employment at its August 6 meeting and formally make the offer on August 7.

Kugel confirmed the situation and said if all goes well and the SWCD board accepts the terms of employment, he would begin the new position on September 3.

Kugel has led the UGRWCD for almost 13 years. “The Southwestern Water Conservation District serves all of nine counties, as opposed to three with the UGRWCD, so it is a higher profile position for me,” Kugel explained in an email this week. “I have worked with the SWCD for 18 years, 11 of which were while inspecting dams while living in Durango. The other seven years were while I was Division 4 Engineer in Montrose and dealing with water administration in the San Miguel and lower Dolores River basins.

“The Southwestern District shares a number of common challenges with UGRWCD, namely Colorado River issues and drought contingency planning and demand management,” Kugel continued. “They also face a challenge of having nine separate river basins, most of which individually flow out of the state.”

[…]

The SWCD board unanimously chose Kugel as the top finalist for the executive director job as the previous executive director had retired in April. Board president Robert Wolff explained there is a two-week public notice period before a formal job offer is made, so that will happen after the August meeting.

“For me personally, several things about Frank stood out,” Wolff said. “He is fluent with all the Western Slope water issues we are dealing with, and he lived in Durango back in the 1990s. He is well thought of in the water community as a whole and he seems to know how to manage a district.”

Kugel said he is fortunate to have this new opportunity and also lucky to have been in the Gunnison Valley for a dozen years. “I have been blessed with a supportive board and top-notch staff over these past 13 years,” he said. “We have done great things to develop and protect the quality and quantity of our precious water resources. The Upper Gunnison basin is a very special place and I will always hold it, and its people, near and dear to my heart.”

Bruce Whitehead announces his retirement

Bruce Whitehead. Photo credit: By Original uploader was Kelloggp at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia, Public Domain

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Last month, Bruce Whitehead announced he was retiring after more than a decade as executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, which is charged with conserving and developing water in nine Southwest Colorado counties.

Now, the search is on to replace Whitehead, a task that has prompted SWCD board members to analyze the agency’s mission and the way it does business in the face of challenges brought on by drought and climate change.

This week, the SWCD board held work sessions in Durango aimed at this endeavor, having guest speakers Friday lay out the realities of climate change in Southwest Colorado.

Brad Udall, a senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University, said, first and foremost, climate change is happening and having impacts all over the world.

“Within the scientific community, there is no doubt about what’s going on here,” he said. “This is an issue humans have to face up to and realize we’re causing.”

“Within the scientific community, there is no doubt about what’s going on here,” he said. “This is an issue humans have to face up to and realize we’re causing.”

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

“I’ll continue to stay current on Colorado water issues and will likely see many of you in the not too distant future,” he wrote in his email reply. “I will always deeply value the friendships made during my 11½ years with the district, my time in the state Senate and my 25 years with the Colorado Division of Water Resources.”

Bob Wolff, president of the water district board and representing La Plata County, said Whitehead’s institutional knowledge and experience are going to be hard to replace.

The Southwestern Water Conservation District’s Annual Water Seminar, April 5, 2019

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

Click here for all the inside skinny:

Register here.

Since 1981, the Southwestern Water Conservation District has coordinated the Annual Water Seminar to bring together individuals who are passionate about water resources to hear expert speakers from around the state and region. Mark your calendars for this year’s event: Friday, April 5 in Durango…

Excited? You can reserve your seat early. Registration includes catered breakfast and lunch. Click the button below or call 970-247-1302.

#Colorado water officials stepping up ‘demand management’ efforts — @AspenJournalism #cwcvail2018 #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Low flows on the Colorado River near the Colorado-Utah state line, lead to falling water levels at Lake Powell, and Colorado and regional water managers are ramping up their efforts to develop a “drought contingency plan” in response. At the heart of such a program are payments to irrigators to willingly reduce their water use by fallowing fields. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Water managers from around the state gathered for a three-day meeting of the Colorado Water Congress this week and were told it was time to develop a plan to cut back on water use in Colorado in order to prevent a compact call on the Colorado River.

At the heart of such a plan is a reduction in the use of water by agriculture — on a voluntary, temporary and compensated basis — in order to send more water downriver to bolster levels in Lake Powell.

If the giant reservoir, which is now 49 percent full, drops much lower, then Glen Canyon Dam, which forms Lake Powell, will not be able to produce electricity or release enough water to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which requires Colorado, Wyoming and Utah to send water to California, Arizona and Nevada.

Colorado state officials are now taking steps to put together a “demand management” plan to bolster reservoir levels but are also careful to say the plan may still not be necessary, depending on how much snow falls in coming winters.

The Government Highline Canal, in Palisade. The Government Highline Canal near Grand Junction. The Grand Valley Water Users Association, which operates the canal, has been experimenting with a program that pays water users to fallow fields and reduce their consumptive use of water. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Demand management

During a panel on the topic on Friday, Aug. 24, Lain Leoniak, an attorney in the Colorado attorney general’s office, said state and regional water managers were now engaged in what amounts to “emergency response planning.”

“The goal is to identify methods to provide additional security to the entire Colorado River system to address this unprecedented hydrology that we’re experiencing, and have been since 2000,” Leoniak said.

There are three main elements of a such a regional drought contingency plan: short-term releases of water from the big reservoirs above Lake Powell, including Flaming Gorge, Navajo and Blue Mesa reservoirs; cloud-seeding to produce a deeper snowpack; and “demand management.”

“Demand management is defined as the temporary, voluntary and compensated reductions of diversions to conserve water that would otherwise be consumptively used, when and if it is needed,” Leonick told the crowd at the Water Congress meeting.

State water officials, led by staff at the Colorado Water Conservation Board, have been reaching out to water managers and users around the state over the past few months, trying to figure out how such a plan might work. And this year’s hot drought has added urgency, and relevance, to their work.

One such regional demand management effort, known as the System Conservation Pilot Program, has been underway over the past four years and has been paying willing ranchers and farmers about $200 per acre-foot of conserved consumptive use.

A chart used to illustrate concerns about low inflows into Lake Powell. 2018 is expected to be among the lowest years in the history of the reservoir.

‘Reduction in use’

But the program has also identified the need for a way to track, or shepherd, the saved water as it makes its way downstream to Lake Powell.

It’s also shown a need for a new legally identified pool of water in the big federal reservoir so that the upper basin states of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah can get credit for their water-saving efforts.

During the Friday discussion of demand management at the Water Congress meeting, Bruce Whitehead, the general manager of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, based in Durango, sought to put such an effort into plain terms.

“This is a reduction in use,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead also pointed out that “there are statewide usages of Colorado River water” and voluntary reductions of use of Colorado River water now diverted under the Continental Divide to the Front Range are going to have to be part of the solution.

“In tough times like this, we have to learn to work together,” he said.

Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, seconded the theme.

“Our fear is that we’re not working cooperatively, and openly, in a very informed manner as a state, and we’re going to end up putting the West Slope agriculture as the sacrificial lamb on the alter of the Colorado River,” Mueller said. “And our belief is that will, in the short term, hurt the West Slope. In the long term, it will hurt the state.”

Lee Miller, an attorney for the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, which is based in Pueblo and imports water from the Colorado River basin, said it will be important to develop a demand management plan that has flexibility built into it, especially in the early years.

“The key part of this is that we have to have a framework that is flexible, one that allows us to make changes,” Miller said. “When we start making demands, and start making bright lines, ‘no this, no that,’ we put ourselves in a very difficult position to adjust in uncertain times.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering the Colorado River basin in collaboration with the Vail Daily, The Aspen Times, and other news organizations. The Vail Daily published this story on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018.

Western Slope to keep studying water without state funds, Front Range support — @AspenJournalism

Lake Powell April 12, 2017. Photo credit Patti Weeks via Earth Science picture of the day.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

Two Western Slope water conservation districts are moving forward with the third phase of a “risk study” exploring at how much water might be available to bolster water levels in Lake Powell, and they are doing so without state funding to avoid Front Range opposition to the study.

Lake Powell today is half-full and dropping and water managers say several more years like 2018 could drain the reservoir, which today contains 12.3 million acre-feet of water. And the looming water shortage is revealing lingering east-west tensions among Colorado’s water interests.

Officials at the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District, whose boundaries include the Yampa, Colorado, Gunnison, and San Juan river basins on the Western Slope, are eager to answer some forward-looking questions.

How much water in a hotter and drier world might still be available from Western Slope rivers to divert and put to beneficial use, for example.

And how much water might be made available from current water users to send downriver from each of the major Western Slope river basins to help fill Lake Powell?

Those are sensitive questions in Colorado, on both sides of the Continental Divide.

And powerful Front Range water interests think the state should be answering them, not the two Western Slope conservation districts.

A state agency, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, approved a $32,000 grant in March 2015 to help pay for the first phase for the Western Slope’s “risk study.”

Then the CWCB kicked in $40,000 in March 2017 for the second phase of the Western Slope’s risk study.

But that second grant-review process brought opposition from the Front Range Water Council, which unsuccessfully sought to block the requested funding from the Western Slope.

“The opposition to Phase II of the risk study was focused on concerns related to the direction and management of the study coming solely from the West Slope without East Slope involvement, and being funded by the state,” said Jim Lochhead, the president of the Front Range Water Council and the CEO of Denver Water, in a statement released July 20. “Risks on the Colorado River are of statewide concern and any such studies are better conducted by the state, through its Colorado Water Conservation Board.”

The Front Range Water Council is an ad-hoc group that includes Denver Water, Northern Water, Aurora Water, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company.

The first two phases of the Western Slope’s risk study showed that 1 million to 2 million acre-feet of water from current water users may be needed to bolster levels in Lake Powell, especially if more water is also diverted to the Front Range.

Today, irrigators on the Western Slope use about 1.3 million acre-feet of water a year, while the Front Range uses about 541,000 acre-feet from the Western Slope to meet municipal and agricultural demand.

As such, officials at the Western Slope conservation districts are now asking if, say, 10 percent of that water use was cut back over time, in a voluntary and compensated demand management program, and the saved water was banked somewhere — ideally Lake Powell itself — would that be enough to keep the big reservoir full enough to still produce power at Glen Canyon Dam and deliver enough water downstream to the meet the terms of the Colorado River Compact?

And if it was enough, how much should come from each Western Slope basin?

On Monday in Glenwood Springs, Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, acknowledged that the 2017 funding request from the Western Slope “ran into a lot of political opposition from the Front Range, basically saying, ‘You guys are asking questions that may harm our state.’ And the questions that were posed in Phase II were essentially dumbed down in order to comply with that request so that we could get the [state funding]. So our board and the Southwestern board voted unanimously to proceed to fund [Phase III of the study] on their own.”

Mueller was addressing the members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable when he described the 2017 process. The roundtable, which reviews grants for the CWCB, had twice voted to fund the risk study, along with three other Western Slope roundtables.

And even without state funding, it’s still important to the two Western Slope conservation districts that the four Western Slope basin roundtables now conceptually support the third phase of the risk study.

On Monday, the members of the Colorado roundtable unanimously passed a resolution to that effect.

Mueller assured the roundtable members that the two districts will work to make the mechanics, and the results, of the evolving water-modeling tool available.

“We really want to make sure that what we’re doing is an open and transparent modeling process,” Mueller said. “Because we think that data that everybody can agree on is data that can then elevate the conversation with respect to the risk in the Colorado River.”

Mueller also told the roundtable that interest from the Front Range is welcomed during the third phase of the study, up to a point.

“We have reached out to the Front Range,” he said. “I went over to their joint roundtable in May and explained to them what we were doing and welcomed their participation, input, their views. Didn’t welcome their censorship, but welcomed their thoughts.”

Heather Sackett of Aspen Journalism contributed to this story. Aspen Journalism is reporting on water and rivers in the Roaring Fork and Colorado river basins in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other news organizations.

The June 2018 Newsletter is hot off the presses from the Water Information Program

Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

How Municipalities are Dealing With Drought

As one of the worst droughts on record continue to create havoc throughout Colorado, counties in the southern half of the state and along the western border are starting to see impacts to their water supplies.

The Water Information Program connected with a few authorities in the region to see how they are dealing with the drought conditions and what they are doing about it.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projects a 52 percent chance of a water shortage on the Colorado River in 2020. In a statement from KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny’s report, Marlon Duke of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says reservoirs are depleted from 19 years of drought. He says, “This is the worst drought in at least the last 100 years of our recorded history, and as we look back further than that, we can see signs that this one of the worst droughts probably the last 1,200 years of the paleo-record.”

The city of Durango is in the process of drought planning for this season as well as long term. They are in the early stages of working with their 10 largest commercial water users for water conservation. Right now, the Florida River is meeting the city’s water demand, however, should that change, Fort Lewis College, the city’s Parks and Recreation, Durango School District 9-R and Hillcrest Golf Course will voluntarily cut back on irrigation by 10 percent.

“We can save a lot more water by working with our larger water user groups, be more productive and have a better relationship with them than by implementing voluntary or mandatory water restrictions on residents. That is the direction we want to go. Asking for voluntary water cutbacks from residents doesn’t work as a water management practice,” stated Levi Lloyd – City of Durango Utilities Director.

They are watching the flows being released from Lemon Reservoir and are anticipating by mid- June the release will be cut off and will then run the pumps out of the Animas River. At that point the city will work with Parks and Recreation and other users on conservation measures. The city is working to get grasses, turfs and vegetation health robust enough to get through any restrictions that may be implemented.

The Norwood Water Commission put into effect a conservation measure with a mandatory water cutback on outside watering. The provision stated that outside watering is to be conducted before 9AM or after 5PM on even calendar days for town customers and odd calendar days for rural customers. At the water fill station card holders are only allowed 5000 gallons at this point. “Wells are starting to dry up in the area. The Gurley Reservoir is releasing limited water for irrigation. This will be on our agenda in our town water commission meeting this week to discuss further water restrictions,” stated Patti Grafmyer – Town Administrator.

“We have not put restrictions in place yet but we have been planning drought contingencies (including water use restrictions) since April,” noted John Sites – Public Works Director, Town of Silverton. “We are gauging triggers for restrictions based upon the flows of our two main sources: Boulder and Bear Creeks. We have installed staff gauges and visually monitor the intakes twice a week. When the flows begin to show visible signs of deterioration, we will begin instituting staged restrictions. At this time, the Town of Silverton is using such a small amount of water (about 70 gallons per minute) that the vast majority of both stream flows reach the Animas.”

Durango: Southwestern Water Conservation District 2018 Annual Water Seminar, April 6, 2018

Photo credit: Allen Best

Click here for the inside skinny and to register:

2017 was a year of historic floods in the south, wildfires in the west, and a shocking spillway failure at Oroville Dam. Now dismal snowpack in southwestern Colorado foretells a rough summer for irrigators, recreationalists, and water managers. How are our communities preparing for the worst? What lessons can we learn from others around the state and the nation?

At the 36th Annual Water Seminar on Friday, April 6, experts will discuss just that: how wildfire impacts to water supplies, the state’s response to emergencies such as the 2013 front range flooding, the western slope’s risk in the context of Colorado River obligations and drought, as well as avoiding devastating infrastructure failure, among other related topics. Hear an interview about the seminar with Executive Director Bruce Whitehead. The full program will be posted here shortly.

In the meantime, you can reserve your seat for $45 using the online ticket below or call 970-247-1302 before April 4. Walk-in registration may not be available if advance registration reaches capacity. Cost at the door will be $50. The seminar opens for breakfast and registration at 8:00am, with the full program starting at 8:30am.