Water managers seek certainty in #ColoradoRiver Basin — @AspenJournalism #CRDseminar #COriver

The end of the tunnel that brings water from Hunter Creek to the Fryingpan River drainage, and then on to the eastern slope. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism.

From Aspen Journalism (Sarah Tory) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Bringing more certainty to an unruly and unpredictable Colorado River system was a common theme among water managers speaking at the Colorado River District’s annual seminar Friday­­.

Although the drought that has gripped much of the Colorado River basin for the past 16 years has eased up a bit, population growth and the long dry spell have pushed the river’s supplies to the limit, with every drop of water in the system now accounted for.

Meanwhile, the effects of climate change on the Colorado’s future flows are still a big question mark, and it could mean wide variability in the years to come, with periods of punishing drought followed by a sudden record-setting wet year, as California recently experienced.

Bill Hasencamp, general manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, described how in April 2015, snowpack in the Sierras was at an all-time low. But by this spring, it was at an all-time high, after a winter of heavy precipitation.

The change in snowpack eventually lead to huge fluctuations in water prices – from $1,800 per acre-foot at the height of the drought to just $18 per acre-foot this year, Hasencamp said.

That kind of turbulence places enormous pressure on the Colorado River Basin’s big municipalities, which must secure their water supplies for millions of people, said Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and helps protect Western Colorado’s water resources.

Kuhn is retiring next year and was making his last formal presentation as general manager of the river district. As he heads into retirement, he’s working on a book with author John Fleck about the history of managing the Colorado River and the creation of the Colorado Compact.

“The reality is — and we all have to accept this — big-city providers need certainty,” he said. However, Kuhn said he didn’t think that means more transmountain diversions from the West Slope.

The most obvious source of additional water for cities is agriculture, which holds the lion’s share of senior water rights on the Colorado River, but no one is eager to see rural areas sacrificed for urban growth, Kuhn said.

So, he added, water managers throughout the basin are figuring out ways to adapt 19th century water laws to a 21st century reality.

Cooperative agreements between irrigators and municipalities are one option, providing cities with additional sources of water during dry periods.

Already, a three-year pilot initiative called the System Conservation Pilot Program has shown that farmers and ranchers are open to using less water in exchange for compensation.

Beginning in 2014, four of the big Colorado River Basin municipalities and the Bureau of Reclamation contributed $15 million to fund water conservation projects throughout the basin.

The program was in limbo after this year while officials worked out some issues, but Hasencamp said Friday that the funders have agreed to continue the pilot program for another year, in 2018.

For water managers, these kinds of flexible arrangements, along with rigorous water efficiency, recycling and reuse efforts, are the key to finding “certainty” on an inherently volatile river system.

Still, those solutions will not be easy.

As Bill Trampe, a longtime rancher from Gunnison County, explained, less irrigation often comes with unintended consequences such as diminished return flows to the river and nearby fields.

And as Lurline Underbrink Curran, the former county manager for Grand County, described, efforts to heal the destructive impacts of existing water diversions on the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado, means accepting that future diversions will in fact take place.

“We tried to form friendships that would help us do more with what we had,” she said.

California’s Salton Sea presents another dilemma, which reaches back up into Colorado River system.

The salty inland lake, created by an accidental breach in an irrigation canal, is drying up.

Since 2002, the state of California has been paying the Imperial Valley Irrigation District to keep the Salton Sea on life support by delivering 800,000 acre-feet of water, but that initiative expires at the end of this year.

Continuing the water deliveries means using up more of the Colorado River’s dwindling supplies, but letting it dry up means exposing local residents to a lakebed full of toxic dust.

None of these problems is new, but as many of the speakers at the river district’s annual seminar explained, water managers now have more tools than ever before to address those challenges — and new urgency with which to apply them.

Recent successes include the successful negotiation of an updated binational water agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, called Minute 232, that is expected to be signed this month. It will outline how the two countries share future shortages on the Colorado River.

“We’re at a point where we can work together, and the success we’ve had is from collaboration,” said Becky Mitchell, the new director of the Colorado River Conservation Board. “It’s really all hands on deck.”

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Aspen Times, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Hualapai #ColoradoRiver Settlement Bill Reintroduced in U.S. Senate #COriver

Photo By Ericm1022 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From KNAU (Ryan Heinsius):

Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have reintroduced a bill that would settle claims by the Hualapai Tribe to the Colorado River. Supporters say the deal is crucial for economic development on the reservation.

The settlement between the Hualapai, federal government and other water users would allocate 4,000 acre feet, or 1.3 billion gallons, per year to the tribe. A 70-mile pipeline would deliver the water from Diamond Creek to Peach Springs and the Hualapai-owned Grand Canyon Skywalk and connecting Grand Canyon West resort.

The tribe has limited access to groundwater, and says the $170 million project would benefit tourism and boost employment. Hualapai officials say the resort employs 600 people with more than a million visitors each year.

However, Interior Department officials last year testified that the project’s costs would exceed estimates, and don’t justify the relatively small amount of water it would provide.

@WaterLawReview: Diving into the legal issues behind giving standing to water bodies, both here in the U.S. and abroad

Ganges River watershed via Wikipedia.

Click here to go to Water Law Review website to read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt (Michael Larrack):

Rights of Water Sources in the U.S.

The idea of granting legal rights to inanimate objects, specifically natural resources, is not alien to the United States. There are advantages to granting a water source specific rights, discussed at length by Cristopher Stone, Professor of Law at the University of Southern California, in a 1972 journal article. Stone argued giving an entity like a river judicial standing, or a right to sue for a perceived harm, would allow for greater justice for ecological harms. For example, if a polluter dumps in a river, the only current avenue for recovery is for those non-river entities harmed by the pollution to sue. If pollution doesn’t significantly bother a downstream user, or that user is a polluter itself, that individual may not ever bring a suit and the harm would go unchecked. A river could sue for the entirety of harms suffered.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Douglas agreed with Stone, in a dissenting opinion also authored in 1972, Sierra Club v. Morton. His dissent cited public concern for nature and ecology, and called for those with a meaningful relation to water to be able to speak for it. He used the analogy of ships and corporations, both of which have legal personality that grants them rights in litigation. While stirring, this view has failed to gain traction in the following decades.

A likely cause for this is that it could be politically unpopular. The Blaze, a conservative U.S. news source, pushed back against the New Zealand law. Ironically, it attacks the law for one of the same reasons Stone argued natural resources should have standing. The Blaze article is concerned with giving rights to non-living entities, when New Zealand does not recognize rights for unborn children because it does not ban abortion. As Stone himself recognized, there is difficulty in getting Americans to accept an inanimate object has standing. As an example, he cites the backlash from corporate personhood, a debate that still goes on. And at a more technical level, water as a commercial commodity with multitudes of competing interests and disagreement over what constitutes “public interest” and “beneficial use” in the American West’s established prior appropriation system complicates matters.

#ColoradoRiver: Hualapai Tribe settles water rights claim #COriver

Photo By Ericm1022 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From Fronteras Desk (Laurel Morales):

The Hualapai Tribe has agreed to end a decades-long conflict over Colorado River water rights in exchange for a $134 million pipeline that will supply water to the tribe’s Grand Canyon tourist attractions.

About a million people visit Grand Canyon West each year to step out on the glass skywalk over the natural wonder.

Hualapai Chairman Damon Clarke spoke before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee last year, and said the attraction employs 300 tribal members and 300 non-natives. He said most drive two hours to work each day to live near a water source.

“We’re proud of the fact that the tribe is moving forward towards achieving full employment for our members and economic self-sufficiency, but the severe lack of water on the reservation is a major obstacle in reaching these goals,” Clarke said.

Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have introduced legislation that would give the Hualapai 4,000 acre feet of Colorado River water each year.

Pagosa Springs: 11th annual Water 101 and 201 Seminar, October 5, 2017

Photo credit: Colorado.com

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Elaine Chick):

Tens of millions of people, billions of dollars of agricultural production and an enormous amount of economic activity across a vast swath of America from California to the Mississippi River are all dependent on rivers born in the mountains of Colorado.

In a time of mounting demand and limited supply, the need for all citizens to better understand and participate in decisions affecting this critical resource is paramount. Colorado’s population is expected to double by 2050, with a good portion of that occurring on the Western Slope. Where will all that water come from?

To discuss this, as well as a multitude of other issues, Pagosa Springs will once again be the location for the educational 11th annual Water 101 and 201 seminars.

Sponsored by the Water Information Program, the seminars will take place on Oct. 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Oct. 6 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Ross Ara- gon Community Center (451 Hot Springs Blvd.).

The seminar qualifies for 11 continuing education credits (CECs) for Realtors and six CECs for lawyers for completion of both days. The seminars are open to the general public as well.

Topics include water law, an explanation of water-related agencies and organizations, the Colorado Water Plan and implementation, as well as discussion about timely and important water topics and issues. The 201 session will provide more in-depth information on water law to include compacts and the water court process.

David Robbins and J.C. Ulrich (Greg Hobbs) at the 2013 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention

The seminar features a lineup of quali ed speakers, including the keynote, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs (retired), as well as representatives from fed- eral, state and local agencies.

Space is limited, so register early. The early-bird registration fee is $40 before Sept. 22 for the 101 workshop, $30 for the 201 session before Sept. 22, and $60 for both days. For those seeking CECs, add $10 to each of the preceding. The registration fee includes snack and an information packet both days, as well as lunch on Oct. 5.

For more information or to register, go to: https://swwcd.org/ event/water-101-201-seminar, contact the Water Information Program at 247-1302 or visit http://www.waterinfo.org.

Delph Carpenter’s 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell via Greg Hobbs.

@USBR: Nine Projects $2.1 Million for Planning Activities in the Development of WaterSMART Water Marketing Strategies

A canal moving water. Canals like this one may be used to move water in a water market.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Projects in California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon and Washington were selected to help establish or expand water markets or water marketing transactions

Bureau of Reclamation Acting Commissioner Alan Mikkelsen announced that nine projects will receive $2.1 million for planning activities to help establish or expand water markets or water marketing transactions. The nine projects are located in California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

“Through water markets, willing buyers and sellers come together to share the water within their delivery area,” Mikkelsen said. “Water managers need a variety of tools to manage water to assure a sustainable supply into the future. Water markets are just one of those tools.”

The full description of the selected projects is available at https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/weeg/watermarketing.html. The selected projects are:

Central Oregon Irrigation District (Oregon)
Reclamation Funding: $400,000 Total Project Cost: $800,000

East Bay Municipal Utility District (California)
Reclamation Funding: $400,000 Total Project Cost: $1,062,127

El Dorado County Water Agency (California)
Reclamation Funding: $400,000 Total Project Cost: $842,218

Grand Valley Water Users Association (Colorado)
Reclamation Funding: $128,000 Total Project Cost: $265,900

Kittitas Reclamation District (Washington)
Reclamation Funding: $198,990 Total Project Cost: $433,154

Lower South Platte Water Conservancy (Colorado)
Reclamation Funding: $236,245 Total Project Cost: $708,961

Shoshone-Bannock Tribes (Idaho)
Reclamation Funding: $42,887 Total Project Cost: $85,775

The New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company, Inc. (Colorado)
Reclamation Funding: $192,950 Total Project Cost: $397,705

Warm Springs Water and Power Enterprises (Oregon)
Reclamation Funding: $172,062 Total Project Cost: $344,124

Water marketing strategy grants are used to conduct planning activities in developing a water marketing strategy. Water marketing refers to water rights transactions and includes the lease, sale or exchange of water rights undertaken in accordance with state and federal laws between willing buyers and sellers.

Cleanup bill for US military bases could top $2 billion

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

From The Spokane Spokesman-Review (Chad Sokol):

It may cost up to $2 billion to clean up toxic firefighting chemicals that have leaked from more than 400 U.S. military installations, including Fairchild Air Force Base, a group of Democratic senators said Tuesday in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The senators, including Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, attributed that cost estimate to U.S. Department of Defense officials.

The senators requested a study of the chemicals known as PFOS and PFOA, which were key ingredients in a foam that was used for decades to douse aircraft fires at military bases and civilian airports…

Other senators who signed the letter include Michael Bennet of Colorado, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.

They asked that funds be included in the 2018 budget for the Centers for Disease Control, the EPA and the Department of Defense to study the spread of the chemicals, the health effects and viable alternatives for the toxic firefighting foam.

The chemicals have been linked with cancer, thyroid problems and immune system disorders, although scientists aren’t sure exactly how they interact in the human body.