A fresh face was appointed to the Southwestern Water Conservation District to bring new ideas to decades-old problems surrounding water in the arid Southwest – at least that’s the hope of La Plata County officials.
In January, La Plata County commissioners Gwen Lachelt and Julie Westendorff, in their last meeting before leaving office, along with commissioner Clyde Church, appointed local water attorney Amy Novak Huff to the district.
The move ousted longtime board member Bob Wolff, who has represented La Plata County on the commission for more than 10 years.
Lachelt, speaking to The Durango Herald, said commissioners will sometimes replace people who have served long bouts of time to bring in new perspectives about various issues facing the county…
Huff was raised in Southern California, but went to school at the University of Colorado-Boulder and never looked back. After teaching high school in Durango and Mancos, she went to law school at the University of Denver while working at Denver Water, where she became drawn to water law.
After she passed the bar exam, Huff was selected for a judicial clerkship in Division No. 1 Water Court and then worked for a water law firm in Denver. All those years on the Front Range, where water is scarce, allowed her to experience firsthand the contentious water issues…
Huff said she has now been practicing water law for 18 years, the majority of which has been in Southwest Colorado where water issues abound, exacerbated by drought, increasing demand and tricky multi-state compacts…
Huff, for her part, will take a seat at her first board meeting Tuesday. She said she understands the gravity of the moment and how important local decisions will affect water availability and people’s way of life.
“We’re going to be faced with water restrictions, changing landscapes and people are going to be forced to learn (about water issues),” she said. “It’s a lot more complicated than people think.”
Eric Kuhn is the the latest addition to the speaker lineup for “Water Connections: SW’s Virtual Water Cooler,” an online event jointly hosted by the Southwestern Water Conservation District and Four Corners Water Center at Fort Lewis College on Wednesday, October 14th from 4:00-5:30 p.m.
Author and former general manager of the Colorado River District, Eric Kuhn will address this question: “What can the last 20 years tell us about the future of Colorado River hydrology?” For a preview, check out this white paper he recently co-authored on the topic.
Register now to reserve your spot (it’s free). You’ll hear short state and local water updates. It’s like visiting the water cooler to get the latest local scoop and connect–only virtual.
Kate Greenberg (Colorado Department of Agriculture) and Celene Hawkins (Colorado Water Conservation Board) will speak to the status of Colorado’s agriculture and state water funding in the midst of a pandemic.
Rob Genualdi (Division 7 Engineer), Bob Hurford (Division 4 Engineer), and Susan Behery (US Bureau of Reclamation) will provide a summary of the dismal 2020 water year in southwest Colorado. Ken Curtis (Dolores Water Conservancy District), Gretchen Rank (Mancos Conservation District), and Simon Martinez (Ute Farm and Ranch) will add observations from the season and provide a look ahead to what it might mean for water year 2021.
Finally, we’ll hear the latest from various local water agencies and organizations in short “pop-up” updates from across southwest Colorado.
This event is about making connections, so be ready to engage via the chat, poll questions, and interesting content. See you next week!
Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:
The 2020 Annual Water Seminar is titled “Wading into Watershed Health,” and there’s plenty to talk about. Water supply and water quality are inextricably linked to the health of our watersheds–from forest to valley floor. Irrigators, municipalities, tribes, and fish populations are among those impacted by recent wildfires. Efforts to bring significant financial support to southwest Colorado for forest management and wildfire mitigation have been successful. Also, the regional forest products industry is gaining momentum as economic incentives shift.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Demand Management – a Hot Topic!!
There was an in-depth conversation around the Demand Management topic!
Celene Hawkins stated that the Demand Management workgroups are just at the beginning stages of work and there are still many questions. There is a greater need for coordination and keeping a steady pace of the work, while not moving too quickly so as to not miss things, as these are very complicated issues and need to take that time that is needed to do the work. There will be a joint IBCC and Demand Management work-group meetings that will take place March 4-5 where discussion could take place about that better coordination and how the CWCB can support the work-groups moving forward.
Russell George stated that the IBCC is not a work-group in Demand Management, they intentionally stand aside because they wanted to be ready as the IBCC to pick any particularly thorny question with the statewide implication that needed their help. The IBCC believes that at this point in time, and because of what’s going on with the river as a whole and the water levels of the big reservoirs, Demand Management becomes probably one of the most important issues for discussion on Colorado water issues that there is today. George explained that we owe it to the other Upper Basin states who are going through this drill, to work together to find an approach that works in all four states or to learn together that Demand Management can’t be done. Whatever conclusion is reached, it needs to be based on open and careful consideration of Demand Management as a tool that is being evaluated, as called for in the Drought Contingency Plans and Legislation.
The 37th Annual Water Seminar will be kicked off by SWCD’s new executive director, Frank Kugel. He has a strong track record of building partnerships and leveraging local resources for collaborative water solutions. Frank will speak to some of the challenges SWCD sees facing water management in southwestern Colorado, and opportunities for our communities to proactively address them.
Anxious for winter storms? First, we’ll hear about the forecast from KKTV meteorologist Brian Bledsoe, and cutting-edge methods for snowpack measurement from Jeff Deems of the National Snow & Ice Data Center.
No water seminar in 2019 would be complete without a discussion of the state’s current feasibility investigation of a demand management program. Mark Harris, Grand Valley Water Users Association, will moderate a panel of heavy hitters on the topic: Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Becky Mitchell, The Nature Conservancy Water Projects Director Aaron Derwingson, and Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller.
Further expanding on the subject, we’ll hear a proposal from local economist Steve Ruddell and consultant Dave Stiller which challenges the notion that a successful *and* voluntary, temporary, compensated demand management program would be impossible. State Senator Don Coram and State Representative Marc Catlin will react to this proposal and provide their thoughts more generally on funding water management in Colorado.
And if you haven’t heard the latest results of the West Slope Risk Assessment, John Currier, Colorado River District, will be summarizing the report for southwestern Colorado and taking questions. Jayla Poppleton, Water Education Colorado, will also preview several exciting programs and content making waves across the state. Watch your inbox for the final program, coming soon!
Reserve your seat now. Registration includes catered breakfast and lunch. Click here to register or call 970-247-1302.
This seminar will cover all aspects of the law related to water rights and ditch rights as applied in Colorado. Subject matter includes the appropriation, perfection, use, limitations, attributes, abandonment and enforcement of various types of water rights. Additional subject matter will include special rules for groundwater, public rights in appropriated water, interstate compacts and more.
Don’t miss this rare and unique opportunity with Aaron Clay in Durango! From his 26 years as a water referee at the Colorado Water Court, Clay brings his wealth of knowledge that earned him a reputation as one of the top experts in water law to this eight hour “Water in a Nutshell” course.
Registration fee is $125.00, which includes lunch and materials. Pre-registration is required!
Aaron Clay – Bio
Aaron Clay was raised in Hotchkiss, Colo. He graduated from the University of Colorado in 1975 (Boettcher Scholar, BA in Physics/Education) and the University of Colorado School of Law in 1979 (Order of the Coif.) He practiced law in Delta from 1980 to 2018. His practice was a general practice, with emphasis on real estate, water, business planning, and estate planning. He was the Water Referee for Colorado Water Court, Division 4 (Gunnison, Uncompahgre, and San Miguel River Basins) from 1982 to 2008.
Among his clients were Tri-County Water Conservancy District, Grand Mesa Water Conservancy District, North Fork Water Conservancy District, Grand Mesa Water Users Association, and numerous other ditch companies and water users.
Aaron has taught a course titled Water Law in a Nutshell for several years, for realtors, closers, attorneys, and others.
Kugel was the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District for almost 13 years, and is a registered Professional Engineer with a Civil Engineering degree from the University of Colorado – Denver. Frank was involved in construction engineering in the Denver area before joining the Colorado Division of Water Resources as a Dam Safety Engineer. He served in the Denver and Durango offices of DWR before moving to Montrose where he ultimately became Division 4 Engineer for the Gunnison, San Miguel and lower Dolores Basins. Frank joined the UGRWCD upon leaving DWR in 2006. He was a member of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable since its inception and chair of its Basin Implementation Planning Subcommittee.
WIP had a brief chat with Frank to give you a bit more information. Here are a few questions and answers from our conversation.
WIP: What experience and knowledge do you bring to the District?
Frank: I have been the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District for the past 13 years. During that time I worked on local and statewide water issues and reported to an 11-member board. Prior to that, I was Division Engineer for Water Division 4, encompassing the Gunnison, San Miguel and lower Dolores River basins. As Division Engineer, I frequently attended SWCD board meetings and the SW seminar. Before that, I lived in Durango for 11 years while inspecting dams for the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
WIP: As the new Executive Director of SWCD, what is your vision for the district?
Frank: My vision as Executive Director is to build upon the many successes accomplished by the Southwestern Water Conservation District. I intend to work closely with the board of directors in developing policies that will help guide the district. Instream flows and drought contingency planning are two of the areas that could benefit from policy guidance.
WIP: What are some of your top priorities with/or within the district?
Frank: A top priority for me is to reach out to the local communities. I plan to attend a county commissioner meeting in each of the nine counties within my first year at the district. Working on Colorado River issues will also be a high priority.
WIP: What do you foresee being challenges?
Frank: Facing a future with reduced water supplies due to climate change, coupled with increasing population, is a challenge for all of Colorado. The Southwest District can play a lead role in educating our constituents about this pending gap between water supply and demand and how the District can mitigate its impact.
We welcome Frank Kugel to SWCD and wish him all the best in his new position!
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.”
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
“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.
FromAspen 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.
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.”
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.
After more than a decade, the River Protection Workgroup, tasked with drafting a region-wide approach to land and river management in Southwest Colorado, has decided to disband after divided interests could not reach a compromise.
“Water in the West is complicated and there are many, many interests,” said Marsha Porter-Norton, a facilitator for the group. “I think people left in a civil way … and agreed to disagree.”
Wanting to start a community-wide conversation, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, a Durango-based environmental group, proposed forming a workgroup to look at what sort of management plan may work for the region.
As a result, representatives from various interest groups partnered to form the River Protection Workgroup, including SJCA, the Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited, and the Southwestern Water Conservation District – the entity tasked with developing water resources in the Southwest basin.
Over the past decade, the group embarked on an extensive public outreach effort, holding up to 24 meetings in each river basin to get a sense of how nearby residents and water users would like to see the land and water managed.
The group’s most notable success was in 2014, when after six years of negotiations, the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act was signed into law, designating 37,400 acres as wilderness area and 70,600 acres as a Special Management Area in the San Juan Mountains, north of Durango…
But as negotiations came down to the wire, the group was unable to reach agreement on a region-wide package.
The Southwestern Water Conservation District offered to place Hermosa Creek on the Wild and Scenic list, which would have been the second river in Colorado to carry such a designation, but only if the other rivers were dropped from consideration.
However, SJCA argued that Hermosa Creek is already highly protected through the 2014 act, and conservation efforts would be giving up a lot to have all those other segments taken out of the Wild and Scenic designation.
The final blow was the language in the draft legislation concerning new water projects. SWCD agreed to no new “major impoundments” on the Animas and Piedra within a quarter mile of the river corridor.
But conservation groups wanted more of a concrete definition of “major impoundment,” fearing there could be loopholes for large-scale construction projects, which could possibly impact the wild quality of the rivers.
Trout Unlimited was on board with the deal, but SJCA and the Wilderness Society were ultimately unsatisfied.
“One of the reasons to do this (workgroup) was to avoid litigation,” said Jimbo Buickerood, with SJCA. “Because there was no concrete definition (of major impoundments), we didn’t see it as progress, and that there could be litigation in the future.”
Bruce Whitehead, executive director of SWCD, said it’s the water district’s responsibility to ensure existing and future water needs, and that some of the environmental group’s demands would have conflicted with that mission.
“It’s critical for us to maintain those balances,” Whitehead said. “(The group) just kept coming back around and talking about the same issues and eventually it ran its course.”
On May 19, members of the River Protection Group decided to part ways.
Thanks for talking water with us!
It’s never too late to say thank you for attending the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 2017 Annual Water Seminar! Just under 200 people gathered in early April to discuss the current funding needs for water-related projects in the state.
Missed the seminar this year? Fortunately, many of the speakers have generously shared their presentations; click on the button below to view them online. You can also read a short summary of the event in the Durango Herald, “Water conference explores financial solutions.”
Mark your calendars for the 2018 Annual Water Seminar on Friday, April 6, again at the DoubleTree Hotel in Durango.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Get Your Feet Wet for River Health!
The Animas Watershed Partnership held two Willow Planting Days during the Spring of 2016 on the Florida River (click above to watch the video). About 15 volunteers from Trout Unlimited, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, La Plata Conservation District, and individuals came out to help restore native shrubs to the riverbanks. Volunteers cut willows onsite then used rebar, mallets, and a hydraulic “waterjet” stinger to plant the cuttings. The “waterjet” stinger was loaned by the La Plata Conservation District and uses water pressure to poke holes into the ground with little to no manual force.
AWPs upcoming Willow Planting opportunities are April 8th, 22nd, 29th, and May 6th from 10:00am to 2:00pm. Each volunteer will have the opportunity to cut willows, use rebar and mallets, and use the stinger to plant willows on a stretch of the lower Florida River. Lunch will be provided thanks to City Market Durango! No experience is needed and onsite training will be provided on site. The event will be outside next to the river, so be prepared for all weather, terrain, and getting your feet wet! Come join us for a fun filled day of work for river health! Contact Rachel Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org by March 24th if you’re interested!
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.
The water in Navajo Reservoir could play a role in meeting Colorado River Compact obligations in the event of continued drought, said Bruce Whitehead, director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.
Release of water to Lake Powell from Navajo Reservoir, Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River in Utah and Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River is one of three measures his district and the Colorado River District want implemented if water storage in the network that supplies seven Western states approaches crisis level, Whitehead said.
The other measures call for increasing the amount of water available and, lastly, reducing use.
“We’re not in crisis now,” Whitehead said. “The 2013-2014 water year has been almost normal as far as the amount of water in Lake Powell.
“But the reality is that in spite of some good water years, we’re in a 15-year drought,” Whitehead said. “We need a plan to meet a crisis if the same conditions continue.”
The three measures to meet a critical water shortage came out of a recent meeting of Southwestern and the Colorado River District, which between them cover the Western Slope.
The recommendations went to the Upper Colorado River Commission, which regulates water matters in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, the Upper Basin states that supply Arizona, Nevada and California, the Lower Basin states…
The concern about Lake Powell is that if water drops below the level needed to generate electricity, federal agencies would lose $120 million a year in power sales.
The revenue from power sales funds among other things environmental programs such as protecting fish species in the San Juan River, Whitehead said.
If the water level in Lake Powell allows generation of power, there should be enough water to satisfy the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Whitehead said.
Again, Whitehead said, Lake Powell and Lake Mead aren’t at critical levels. But the Upper Colorado River Commission and counterparts in Lower Basin states are looking at what-if situations.
Thus, the recommendations from his district and the Colorado River District, Whitehead said…
Measures to increase the amount of water available through cloud seeding, removal of water-hungry nonnative vegetation such tamarisk and Russian olive and evaporation-containment methods are a first step, Whitehead said.
A second early step, Whitehead said, would be the release to Lake Powell of water from Navajo, Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge reservoirs which, respectively, have acre-feet capacities of 1.7 million, 829,500 and 3.79 million.
The contributions of Navajo and Blue Mesa could be less than optimal because of contractual obligations, Whitehead said. Blue Mesa also generates electricity.
If the first two steps aren’t enough, water users would be affected directly, Whitehead said. The consumption of cities and agricultural users would be reduced. Fallowing of fields also could be required.
The two commissions said if water for agriculture is reduced, the loss must be shared by Colorado River water users on the Front Range.
Front Range users receive 500,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water a year from Colorado River transmountain diversions, Whitehead said.
Another transmountain diversion sends 90,000 to 100,000 acre-feet a year to the San Juan/Chama Project from the Blanco and Navajo rivers, Whitehead said. Users in Santa Fe and Albuquerque benefit.
The Pueblo Dam could start generating hydropower as soon as 2018. The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District got an update Thursday on its proposal to construct hydropower on the new north outlet works from project manager Kevin Meador.
“We’re a couple of years from bidding the project,” Meador said. “I’m feeling optimistic at this point.”
The district, in partnership with Colorado Springs Utilities and the Pueblo Board of Water Works, is working on a lease of power privilege proposal with the federal Bureau of Reclamation. It should be finalized in February.
An unknown in the project is whether Black Hills Energy, the primary power supplier for the area, will enter a power purchase agreement for the hydropower.
“That could go very smoothly or take a while,” Meador said.
If a Black Hills agreement is not reached, another provider could be approached, including Colorado Springs Utilities.
Utilities constructed the new north outlet works as part of the Southern Delivery System. It will be owned by Reclamation as soon as a contract checklist is completed, said Roy Vaughan, Fryingpan-Arkansas Project manager for Reclamation. The hydropower plant would generate 7 megawatts of electric power and cost about $20 million. A loan will be sought in 2015 through the Colorado Water Conservation Board to finance the project. Construction would begin later next year, Meador said.
“Generation could begin in the early spring of 2018,” he said.
More Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.
A line-up of water experts on topics including Colorado’s water plan, water banking, and conservation, will speak at the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 32nd Annual Water Seminar at the Doubletree Hotel (501 Camino del Rio) in Durango on Friday, April 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Invited speakers include James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board; John Stulp, Interbasin Compact Committee; and John McClow, Upper Colorado River Commission.
Registration is $35 in advance or $40 at the door. To register online, visit http://www.swwcd.org. Mail-in registration forms are also available on the website. Registration will open at 8 a.m. on April 4.
More Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District coverage here.
New management plans by the BLM and Forest Service upgrade the status of two native fish, and list new sections of the river as “preliminarily suitable” for a Wild and Scenic designation.
Roy Smith, a BLM water specialist, explained that the suitability status for the Lower Dolores from the dam to Bedrock has been in place since a 1976, and the special status was reaffirmed in a recently released public lands management plan.
“It qualifies because below the dam, the lower Dolores is a free-flowing stream that has outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs),” he said. “A common misconception is that suitability means we can wave a wand and make it Wild and Scenic, but that is not true. That takes congressional action.”
The 1976 suitability study noted that the Dolores is compatible with a Wild and Scenic designation, and “McPhee dam will enhance and complement such designation.”
ORVs are obscure and sometimes controversial assessments that identify river-related natural values. They are an indication that a river could qualify as a Wild and Scenic River in the future. In the meantime, their natural values are protected in management plans.
In their recent management plan, the BLM and Forest Service upped the ante, adding the bluehead and flannelmouth suckers to ORV standard list, which already includes the bonytail chub.
The Colorado Water Conservation board also believes native fish on the river deserve additional help. They propose to issue a new in-stream flow requirement for a 34-mile section of the river from the confluence with the San Miguel River to the Gateway community.
Ted Kowalski, a CWCB water resource specialist, explained that the new instream flow is proposed to improve habitat conditions for native fish.
“In-stream flows are designed to protect the natural hydrographs on the river, and we feel they are better than top-down river management from the federal side,” Kowalski said. “The proposed instream flows on that section of the Dolores are timed to accommodate spawning needs for native fish.”
Required peak flows reach 900 cfs during spring runoff, and then taper off. Most of the water would be provided by the San Miguel River, an upstream tributary…
The Dolores Water Conservation Board and the Southwestern Water Conservation board objected to the changes, fearing the move could force more water to be released downstream. They have filed appeals and protests to stop them.
Even the preliminary Wild and Scenic status on the Dolores is strongly opposed by McPhee Reservoir operators because if officially designated, Wild and Scenic rivers come with a federally reserved water right, which would also force more water to be released from the dam.
Jeff Kane, an attorney representing SWCD, said adding two native fish as ORVs was unexpected and unfair to a local collaborative process working to identify and protect native fish needs…
Accusations that federal agencies and the CWCB hijacked a 10-year-long, grass-roots effort to protect the Dolores were expressed at the meeting, which was attended by 80 local and regional officials…
A diverse stakeholder group, the Dolores River Working Group, is proposing to make the Lower Dolores River into a National Conservation Area through future legislation. As part of the deal, suitability status for Wild and Scenic on the Lower Dolores River would be dropped.
“It is still worthwhile to get our proposal out there,” said Amber Kelley, Dolores River coordinator for the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance. “We should continue to move forward in our collaborative effort despite the concerns about the BLM changes.”
More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.
Montezuma County has applied for a $122,700 grant from the Colorado State Historic Fund to repair the flume’s foundation.
If approved in February, a 25 percent match of $41,000 is required by May.
The county has agreed to pitch in $2,500 toward the match if awarded the funds.
“We’re looking for another $24,000 in matching funds if the grant is approved,” said Linda Towle, a historic-site advocate and volunteer. “We will continue our fundraising efforts.”
Built in the 1880s, the wooden flume was a marvel of engineering, delivering water to Towaoc and area ranches. It operated until 1992 but was replaced by the concrete canals of the McPhee Project and has since fallen into disrepair.