Preventing deep pocket dry ups on the Western Slope is front and center in developing the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #Drought Contingency Plan #COriver #aridification

Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

From The Crested Butte News (Cayla Vidmar):

As water levels in Colorado decline, the long-term impact on the Western Slope are concerning to area water experts. The worry is that water demands down river and on the Front Range will dry up the Western Slope and change the character of this area of Colorado.

Last fall the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) released a policy statement on water demand management and compact administration, which addresses the way in which water in Colorado will be managed to meet downriver demand requirements. The document is a response to the “worst hydrologic cycle in the historic record,” which began in the year 2000, and a need for drought contingency plans to meet Colorado water compact demands, according to the policy statement.

This work comes at a time when the local reservoir, Blue Mesa, which serves as a storage for meeting downstream water demands, has remained steady at the lowest point it’s been at all year, coming in at 7,438 feet, or just eight feet above the 1977 record low.

Bill Trampe, board member for the Colorado River Water Conservation District (CRWCD), shared concerns with the Gunnison Board of County Commissioners last month about demand management for the Western Slope, and potential implications for all industries that utilize water on this side of the Rocky Mountains—especially in the face of Front Range expansion and its financial abundance.

Chief of these concerns was the threat of involuntary, uncompensated demand management—Front Range entities buying up water rights on the Western Slope or municipal condemnation of Western Slope agricultural operations, both of which would “change Western Colorado,” according to Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director for the CRWCD.

The CWCB policy statement explains that “continued drought or worsening water supply conditions in the Upper Colorado River Basin could increase the risk” of Lake Powell storage declining below critical levels for operation, and “mandated curtailment of the exercise of water rights to maintain compliance with the Upper Colorado River Basin and Colorado River Compacts.”

In response to this risk, the CWCB worked with myriad stakeholders and government entities to develop a “drought contingency plan that can help minimize and mitigate the risks associated with consistently below-average water supplies in the Colorado River Basin.”

“What the West Slope is adamant about is that a voluntary, compensated, temporary demand management plan be created,” Pokrandt says. “The alternative is uncompensated, forced curtailment [for water users].” The biggest concern facing voluntary, compensated, temporary demand management is a lack of funding.

An example of voluntary, compensated demand management is paying ranchers to fallow hay fields for a season or more, but as previously reported in the Crested Butte News, this isn’t a great deal for ranchers because it can take years for the quality of hay to return to what it was pre-fallow.

But as Pokrandt says, “Colorado will need to find a source for demand management compensation.” He explains that without compensation, “We would see many current agricultural [entities] go out of business and their water rights sold. In other words, we would have a massive shift in water rights ownership that would not be in the best interest of western Colorado.” However, Pokrandt writes that the Gates Family Foundation, a philanthropic foundation contributing to the quality of life in Colorado, “just funded and facilitated a discussion on dedicated Colorado Water Plan funding to cover this subject.”

The point Pokrandt makes is that Front Range utilities can “wave around their checkbooks and buy out Western Slope producers who could not resist the money,” which as he explained previously, would cause a shift in water rights ownership on the Western Slope. For those who do resist, Pokrandt says, the “Colorado Constitution allows for municipal condemnation of agriculture,” meaning a government agency can forcibly buy property for fair market value for a public purpose, according to the law of eminent domain.

“This would change the face of western Colorado from an economic, landscape, cultural, recreational and environmental perspective,” says Pokrandt…

This work will involve organizing stakeholders, water entities and the public in tackling specific problems, including: federal legislation to create a demand management pool in Lake Powell where saved water can be stored; finding money to pay producers to not use water that can be sent to Lake Powell; legal protections to make sure water is actually getting to Lake Powell, also known as “shepherding,” a way to account for the water so amounts are known and recognized; and understanding what temporary fallowing does to the economy, particularly secondary impacts from producers earning money without paying for seed purchases, equipment, etc.

Aspinall Unit operations meeting January 17, 2019

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The next Aspinall Operations meeting will be held on January 17th in Montrose at the Holiday Inn Express. The meeting will start at 1:00.

Aspinall Unit

San Luis Valley water export [and augmentation] plan presented — The Valley Courier

The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

As predecessors before them, Renewable Water Resources spokesmen on Thursday outlined plans for a 22,000-acre-foot water export project stemming from the northern San Luis Valley to customers in the south metro Denver area.

“This will be a win-win,” Sean Tonner told the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) board during a special meeting Thursday morning.

Tonner is a managing partner with Renewable Water Resources (RWR), a Colorado company with support from former Governor Bill Owens (for whom Tonner worked as deputy chief of staff when he was governor), former State Senator Greg Brophy, Greg Kolomitz and others. Tonner said he purchased the former Gary Boyce holdings encompassing 11,500 acres in the northern part of the Valley. Boyce, who died of cancer in 2016, had proposed a similar water export project.

Accompanying Tonner were RWR attorney Kevin Kinnear and Jerry Berry, who manages the RWR property and has been farming in the northern part of the Valley since 1996. Berry said he has been part of the Moffat community most of his life, serving on the school board there and on the RGWCD Sub-district #4 board.

Tonner said RWR wants to partner with the water district in identifying the best sources of water to provide the one-for-one replacement for the 22,000-acre-foot export while meeting the water district’s goals of reducing irrigated acreage and bringing balance to the hydrology of the Valley. The project would budget $60 million for that water acquisition.

Tonner said RWR estimates water could be purchased at about $2,000 an acre foot, depending on the water rights. RWR will be purchasing both surface water and groundwater, he said.

Berry said there are local residents interested in selling their water.

RGWCD Board Member Peggy Godfrey added she would not be surprised that there were people in the northern part of the Valley willing to sell their water, because they have not been able to use it to the full extent they should have been able to, and what RWR could offer them might help them afford to continue doing what they love to do.

Tonner said RWR would rather work with the water district than have an adversarial relationship. He said this project would return “one for one plus”, making up for the 22,000 acre feet that would be exported, “plus” for a total of 30,000-35,000 acre feet. In addition, RWR would set up a $50 million community fund…

Water would be piped from the Valley, with the buyers footing the bill for that pipeline, Tonner said. He added that RWR was requiring the buyers to limit the size of the pipe to no more capacity than the 22,000 acre feet.

He said currently the estimated cost of building the pipeline is $550-600 million.

RGWCD Board President Greg Higel said he doubted that Aurora and Castle Rock would want to build a pipeline just for 22,000 acre feet of water, and if it were constructed for more water, “that’s the beginning of the end.”

Tonner said the partners have been clear about the pipeline restrictions and the sellers are fine with it.

“Honestly, that’s hard for me to believe,” Higel said.

RGWCD Board Member Cory Off, who extensively questioned the RWR representatives, asked how long it would take to capitalize a project of this magnitude, and Tonner said “roughly five years.”

Regarding the project timeline, Tonner estimated close to 10 years “start to finish.”

Tonner said partners have been working on this proposal for about four years and hope to file something in water court in 2019 but would be fine with it taking longer if necessary. He said those involved have been working with individuals on both sides of the hill — potential waters sellers in the San Luis Valley and potential water buyers in the Denver metro area.

Aaron Million is looking at re-purposing oil and gas pipelines for his #GreenRiver project #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Green River Basin

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The possibility of using existing pipelines rather than having to build new ones entirely is one tack Million is taking in arguing in favor of the economic feasibility of his idea.

Financial viability is one of the issues that Utah State Engineer Kent Jones is pressing Million on as Million pursues a Utah water right for the project.

Jones heads the Utah Division of Water Rights, which last month heard from Million and numerous project opponents before deciding that it needed more information from Million.

On Dec. 10, Jones wrote to Million, asking for a detailed engineering cost-estimate for conveying the water to the Front Range that demonstrates the cost would be physically and economically feasible.

Million said Monday that he can’t speak in details about possible use of existing infrastructure due to a nondisclosure agreement, but said several pipelines cross the Green River at his proposed diversion point, and an existing pipeline goes to north of Greeley…

In his letter, Jones also asks Million for information on why Jones should believe there is water available, physically and under interstate Colorado River compacts, for diversion. Jones pointed to existing downstream water rights and approved applications to appropriate water, endangered-fish needs, and potential federal reserved water rights for Indian tribes and for national parks, monuments and recreation areas…

“This information is being requested since the state engineer has already established by policies adopted for this area a belief that the amount of water proposed under the application is not available for beneficial use as your application proposes,” Jones wrote to Million.

Million said a recent federal environmental review found a surplus of water beyond environmental, recreation and other needs in the stretch of the Green River where he proposes his diversion, upstream of where it is replenished by the Yampa River.

Million said his understanding is that Utah is concerned that a proposed pipeline project from Lake Powell would use some of its remaining compact allocation.

But he said that doesn’t mean there isn’t a surplus available for other states, and his project would count against Colorado’s allocation.

Moffat Collection System Project update: “I think their position is pretty clear” — Jim Lochhead #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Denver Water is seeking approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Colorado to expand Gross Reservoir, which is southwest of Boulder. The 77,000 acre-foot expansion would help forestall shortages in Denver Water’s water system and offer flood and drought protection, according to Denver Water.

From The Sky-Hi News (Lance Maggart):

On Wednesday a collection of six environmental advocacy groups – Save the Colorado, the Environmental Group, Wildearth Guardians, Living Rivers, Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. and the Sierra Club – filed a lawsuit in Colorado’s federal district court against the proposed Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, alternately called the Moffat Firming Project…

The legal process surrounding Gross Reservoir has deep significance to Grand County. The county serves as the source for much of the water Denver Water relies upon, which is transported out of the county through the Moffat Tunnel near Winter Park Resort. The county is also party to a collaborative water management group called Learning By Doing. The group looks to improve river habitat in Grand County by conducting environmental water projects and through other means.

The lawsuit filed by the environmental groups does not name Denver Water and instead is directed at the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The 57-page complaint lays out 32 separate specific claims related to alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The alleged violations claimed by the environmental groups cover a wide range of technical issues related to the formal processes by which large construction projects, such as the Gross Reservoir Expansions, are approved by federal agencies. Many of the claims made by the environmental groups revolve around allegations that the Corps of Engineers, Interior Dept. and US Fish and Wildlife failed to exercise independent judgment related to claims made by Denver Water about the project.

“Denver Water’s proposal to build the largest dam in Colorado history will hurt the 40 million people in six states and two countries who depend on the Colorado River – a critical but disappearing, resource – for their water supply,” said Daniel E. Estrin, general counsel and advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Waterkeeper Alliance stands united with our many Colorado River Basin Waterkeepers who are fighting to protect their waterways and their communities from this senseless and destructive water grab.”

For their part officials from Denver Water said the court filing did not surprise them.

“We expected it,” Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, said. “This is a really critical project for Denver Water. In the last 15 years we have come close to running out of water a couple of time at the north end of the system.”

Lochhead noted that those two incidents came in 2002 and 2013.

While Denver Water is not directly named in the lawsuit Lochhead said the organization will be entering the lawsuit to “provide our own perspective on the adequacy of the approvals.”

“We are confident the federal agencies follow regulations and federal law,” Lochhead said. “I think a court will uphold the findings by those agencies.”

When asked whether he believed Denver Water and the environmental groups who oppose the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project could reach some form of compromise agreement Lochhead answered, saying, “I think their position is pretty clear.”

Moffat Collection System Project update: Environmental groups file lawsuit

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

A suit filed against three U.S. government agencies seeks to stop the expansion of Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir in Boulder County…

Gross Reservoir provides water to 1.4 million Front Range customers. The expansion would divert more water from Colorado River headwater tributaries during wet years. In a nutshell, the project seeks to raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet; storage capacity would increase by 77,000 acre feet.

The environmental groups who sued say the U.S. government permitting process inadequately evaluated the impact of the large project on streamflows. There are also concerns about how construction would affect wildlife.

“We went above and beyond mitigation of environmental impacts under the permits,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said. “We sat down with Grand County, Eagle County… and a host of agencies across Western Colorado, and developed a series of environmental enhancements to the streams of Western Colorado.”

Trout Unlimited is one such group that has supported the Gross Reservoir expansion, citing successful stream augmentation programs along the Fraser River…

Revving up the legal gears could pose a setback for Denver Water, which has spent years securing the necessary permits. Now that it has those in place, environmental groups are seeking to stop construction.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

#ArkansasRiver: Southeastern District approves $22.3 million budget

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

Southeastern District approves $22.3 million budget

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board of Directors Thursday approved a $22.3 million budget for 2019 that includes payments for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, support for the Arkansas Valley Conduit and the anticipated opening of a hydroelectric generation plant at Pueblo Dam.

Most of the budget comprises pass-through payments to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Fry-Ark Project costs total $8 million, which includes $1.46 million for repayment and $6.54 million for operation and maintenance. An amendment to the repayment contract this year established a fixed rate of repayment, and a maintenance fund for the project. The project includes Pueblo Dam, Twin Lakes, Turquoise Lake and a Western Slope collection system that brings water from the Colorado River basin into the Arkansas River basin.

Fountain Valley Authority payments total $5.36 million. The Fountain Valley Authority includes Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security, Widefield and Stratmoor Hills. Its water supply comes from Pueblo Dam through a pipeline constructed in the 1980s.

The District also will pay $272,382 on behalf of participants in the Excess Capacity Master Contract at Pueblo Reservoir. The contract was established in 2016 to allow participants to store water in the reservoir when space is available.

The budget projects $350,000 for spending in support of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Reclamation has $6.8 million available for AVC-related activities as well.

The $20.3 million hydroelectric plant at Pueblo Dam is expected to come online in early 2019. The plant is nearing completion and was financed with a $17.3 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and a $3 million loan from the District’s Enterprise Fund. Power will be sold to the city of Fountain and Fort Carson through Colorado Springs Utilities. Revenues are expected to total $900,000 in 2019.

The District mill levy for the coming year will by 0.944 mills, which is not substantially different from previous years. The District covers parts of nine counties from the Arkansas River headwaters to the Kansas state line.