#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.

S.W. #Colorado “River Protection Workgroup” disbands

Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

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.

Southwestern Water Conservation District annual Water Seminar presentations are now online

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

Click here to view the presentations. Click here to go to the website:

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.

The March 2017 Water Information Program newsletter is hot off the presses

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 healthyanimas.awp@gmail.com by March 24th if you’re interested!