FromThe Associated Press (Brittany Peterson and Sam Metz):
hen Aurora buys one bucket of water, it’s really buying multiple buckets of water. Each drop of water will likely be used over and over again.
The growing city approaching 400,000 residents isn’t interested so much in acquiring single-use water anymore, said Greg Baker, spokesperson for Aurora Water. With its Prairie Waters potable reuse system, Aurora can recapture and reuse about 95% of the city’s water, so having multiple uses written into water rights agreements has become a top priority as water rights are likened to gold in the West — expensive and often hard to come by.
Aurora’s method — sterilizing wastewater from toilets, sinks and factories and then piping it back into homes and businesses as tap water — is catching on across the U.S.
In the Los Angeles area, plans to recycle wastewater for drinking are moving along with little fanfare just two decades after similar efforts in the city sparked such a backlash they had to be abandoned. The practice, which must meet federal drinking water standards, has been adopted in several places around the country, including nearby Orange County…
The shifting attitudes around a concept once dismissively dubbed “toilet to tap” come as dry regions scramble for ways to increase water supplies as their populations boom and climate change intensifies droughts. Other strategies gaining traction include collecting runoff from streams and roads after storms, and stripping seawater of salt and other minerals, a process that’s still relatively rare and expensive.
Though there are still only about two dozen communities in the U.S. using some form of recycled water for drinking, that number is projected to more than double in the next 15 years, according to WateReuse, a group that helps cities adopt such conservation practices.
In most places that do it, the sterilized water is usually mixed back into a lake, river or other natural source before being reused — a step that helps make the idea of drinking treated sewage go down easier for some.
In Aurora, the process is thanks to the Prairie Waters system, which was opened in 2010. It starts south of Weld County along the Platte River, where Aurora holds water rights that can be used “to extinction,” meaning nearly endlessly.
“Essentially, this means that the water residents use for washing, laundry, showering, as well as some of the water from lawn watering, stays in the South Platte River Basin,” Aurora Water explains…
A few dozen wells on the basin pull water through hundreds of feet of sand and gravel to purify the water. Next, the water is pumped into basins of more sand and gravel where filtration continues. Finally, pipes take the water to three different pump stations, which lift the water 1,000 feet over a ridge and back to the Peter D. Binney Purification Facility, near Aurora Reservoir.
From there the water is treated and pumped back out to the city’s thousands of homes and businesses, where the cycle begins all over again…
Currently, the facility treats about 50 million gallons of water each day…
Funding for more wastewater recycling projects is on the way. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress has $1 billion for water reuse projects in the West, including the $3.4 billion project in Southern California.
And tucked into the federal budget reconciliation package being debated is $125 million in grants for alternative water sources nationwide that could include reuse technologies.
Plans for expansion of the Aurora Prairie Waters project are ever-evolving and so there isn’t a build out budget attached, Baker said.
The city of Aspen’s recently released integrated water resource plan outlines the strategy for an adaptable, phased approach to meet increasing demands and a large pool of “emergency” storage to protect against threats to supplies from Castle and Maroon creeks.
Aspen Utilities Director Tyler Christoff, Utilities Resource Manager Steve Hunter and John Rehring of Carollo Engineers, the Denver-based firm that the city hired to complete the study, presented the IWRP to City Council members at a work session Monday night. The report, which looks 50 years to the future, uses projections about population growth and climate change impacts to determine that the worst shortfalls could occur in two consecutively dry years and be about 2,300 acre-feet total over the course of both years.
To make up for that gap, the report offers six different portfolios of potential new water sources, including storage, nonpotable reuse, groundwater wells, Hunter Creek, enhanced water conservation and drought restrictions. The IWRP says storage is included in five of the six portfolios because no single supply option or combination of supply options can completely mitigate shortages without the use of at least some operational storage.
Two storage pools
The plan proposes two separate storage pools to meet demands under projected conditions in 2070: a 520-acre-foot operational pool and a 5,300-acre-foot emergency-storage pool to provide up to 12 months of water.
Since the report recommends a phased approach with each additional implementation coming after a predetermined trigger is reached, the first phase of operational storage would be for just 130 acre-feet to buffer the seasonal shortage. Streams are highest with runoff in the spring, but demands on Aspen’s water system are highest in late summer, when streamflows are low — and this is the gap operational storage aims to fill.
The construction of the combined 5,820 acre-feet of storage and its associated pipelines and pumps comes with a hefty price tag — it is estimated to cost more than $400 million in 2021 dollars as it is implemented over the coming decades.
“We want to make it flexible and adaptable so that we are ready for that worst-case condition,” Rehring told council members. “We implement as needed as we see those conditions unfold over time.”
The report says the emergency-storage pool must be full and ready for use when the need arises — if, for example, an avalanche makes the city’s supplies in Castle and Maroon creeks unusable. “Regardless of siting and co-location, emergency-storage volumes would be filled and maintained at their defined capacity until needed for an emergency,” the IWRP reads.
Storing water specifically until an emergency occurs is not a decreed beneficial use under Colorado water law. But municipal water providers often have a lot of leeway to plan for future needs, which could include storage projects.
Part of the goal of the IWRP is to narrow the city’s options for moving its conditional water rights for reservoirs in Castle and Maroon valleys. After a lengthy court battle, in which 10 entities opposed Aspen’s plans, the city gave up its water rights in those particular locations. One of the places to which the city could move them is a 63-acre plot of land that it bought in Woody Creek in 2018. If the city stores water there, it would have to pump it back uphill to the water-treatment plant via an 8-mile pipeline.
City Council member Ward Hauenstein asked about the timeline for storage and renewing the city’s conditional water rights.
To keep these rights, the city will have to show, through a 2025 filing in water court, that it still intends to use them and that it is making progress on a project.
“Recent history across Colorado shows that it could take decades to implement a storage project, even after sizing and siting analyses are completed,” the report reads. “Therefore, reservoir planning must start immediately.”
Aspen City Council will vote on whether to adopt the IWRP at a later meeting. Mayor Torre thanked the staff, consultants and community members who weighed in on the plan.
“The work you guys are doing on this is some of the most important work Aspen is going to have the benefit of over the coming 10, 20, 30 years,” he said. “Thank you.”
This fall Colorado has launched two new programs, one aimed at removing firefighting foam containing so-called “forever chemicals” from fire departments, military bases and other properties and an emergency grant program aimed at helping communities where the chemicals have appeared in drinking water.
The chemicals, known broadly as PFAS or poly- and per-fluoroalkyl substances, have long lifespans and have been linked to certain cancers. Contained in such common substances as Teflon and Scotchguard, they are also widely used to fight fires, particularly those involving jet fuel.
“We’re learning more every day about PFAS and its exposure in our environment,” said Erin Garcia, a spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
The unregulated substances were once thought to be rare, but since at least 2015 have shown up at alarming levels in communities such as Fountain and Security, where groundwater was contaminated by runoff from the nearby Peterson Air Force Base. Those two communities were forced to shut down their water systems, find temporary substitute supplies, and build new treatment systems.
The chemicals have also been found in groundwater wells that serve Commerce City and in areas near the Suncor Refinery in Adams County and Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, among other sites.
Two years ago, as more testing revealed more contaminated sites, the CDPHE vowed to boost its oversight. Since then the Colorado Legislature has provided the health department with more authority and money to combat the problem, including conducting surveys to identify contaminated sites and drinking water systems, and providing as much as $8 million to buy contaminated firefighting foam and store it, and to help communities whose water has been tainted by the compounds.
Dozens of fire departments, military facilities, water utilities, and commercial properties as diverse as hotels and apartment complexes, are now monitoring and testing for the substances.
As Colorado has ramped up its oversight, last month the EPA announced it would begin work on a regulation that will, for the first time, set a limit on PFAS compounds in drinking water. It is set to be available for public review next fall and would be finalized by the fall of 2023.
Ron Falco, CDPHE’s safe drinking water program manager, said he’s pleased the EPA is moving to regulate PFAS, but he said fast action is critical.
“We want the EPA to hit that timeline,” he said.
The South Adams County Water and Sanitation District, which serves Commerce City, is watching the state’s progress carefully. It discovered PFAS contamination in 2018 when it began testing voluntarily for the substances after the crises in Fountain and Security.
It already had in place a carbon filtering system and was able to strengthen it to reduce PFAS contamination in its system to 35 parts per trillion (ppt), half of the EPA’s voluntary 70 ppt guideline. It also had to shut down wells whose contamination levels were so high, 2400 ppt, that no amount of carbon filtering could remove the chemicals fast enough to keep the drinking water safe.
“The key here is that we can treat the current levels,” said Kipp Scott, manager of drinking systems at the South Adams County district, but better treatment will be needed once the federal regulation takes effect.
And that means the district will need to install a new system that uses an ion exchange technology to remove the chemicals. Its estimated cost is $70 million. Scott said the district hopes the state’s emergency grant fund and new federal infrastructure dollars will help cover the cost.
“I hope this moves in the right direction, and we can continue to provide safe water to our customers,” Scott said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
No matter your background, water plays a vital role in your day-to-day life. Like other necessities, it can be easy to take for granted, but a lack of it will quickly impact every facet of life. Businesses, for instance, can’t operate without reliable running water, lawns/fields go brown as municipal and agricultural users alike cut back on irrigation to prioritize critical needs, industrial operations weigh costs of doing business, and regional ecological health suffers as stream flows drop below levels sustainable for aquatic organisms.
In Rio Blanco County, the primary source of water is, well, the Rio Blanco, Spanish for “White River.” Historically, the White River has been “un-managed” compared to many other streams and rivers in the state.
Though irrigators, industrial users and municipalities are still expected to abide by mandated water allocations, residents in the Northwest Colorado region have so far enjoyed water use that is loosely monitored, if at all. Due to state legislation, declining precipitation/stream flows and Colorado’s obligation to deliver a certain amount of water to lower-basin western states, that state of affairs is set to change.
“The White River is part of a bigger system,” said Liz Chandler, coordinator of the Planning Advisory Committee for the White River Integrated Water Initiative (WRIWI). The locally-driven effort, which involves community stakeholders aims to establish a framework to guide future water use decisions and maintain some level of local control over water. Chandler explained the importance of the process amid mounting pressure on the Colorado River, its tributaries and by extension 40 million Americans who rely on its water as a result of declining snowpack/runoff and record low water levels in the nation’s largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
“Those big river issues may come back upstream into the White River,” said Chandler, “and so the more people [that] can be involved in this water initiative, the more control the White River basin is going to have of its own water,” said Chandler…
“‘The future is unknown, and yet with that given, we need to be prepared,’ said [Kari] Brennan, adding ‘whether you are involved in agriculture, or just use it municipally in your home, recreational, any of that, it’s good to know what’s going on, and also have a voice. This is the opportunity to have a say in what the White River Basin does with our water.'”
The White River Integrated Water Initiative is now in its second phase, and comes as a result of the 2016 Colorado Water Plan, which among other things, set a goal to have 80% of the state’s rivers, streams and critical watersheds under “management plans” by 2030…
The four goals of the initiative.
• Protect and preserve existing water rights and other beneficial water uses.
• Protect and enhance water quantity and quality through promoting best management practices for a) forest health b) riparian health c) rangeland health d) favorable conditions of streamflow.
• Identify opportunities for creation of infrastructure to support efficient consumptive and non consumptive uses.
• Support the development and maintenance of efficient and necessary long term storage solutions that will improve, enhance and ensure irrigation, river health, water quantity, water quality and native/recreational fisheries…
water scarcity driven by drastic climate-change along the Dolores River in southwest Colorado has been a real jaw-grinder for folks who bear a century’s worth of grudges over who gets water, how much and when.
After 22 years of drought, the river is down to a trickle this late fall and the water storage it feeds, McPhee Reservoir, has shrunk to its lowest level in decades. Even when the runoff was flowing last spring, the Dolores project was already in water shortage mode and farmers only got 10% of what they’re normally allocated, which means they were only able to grow 10% of the crops they’re used to producing.
Much of the farmland lays fallow…
The water that was released from McPhee Dam tells the story, said Colorado State University senior water and climate scientist Brad Udall: “The agreement is for 25 cubic feet per second minimum flow release and they were releasing 1/5 of that.”
The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows Colorado’s Four Corners region in bright red, in the extreme drought category.
“I have said for years that the southwest portion of the state is very much at risk for these kinds of drought,” Udall said. “We should expect for them to occur repeatedly throughout the 21st century.”
At the mouth of the Dolores, one of the only things standing between a shovel to the head and civility is a Montezuma County sheriff deputy whose job it is to keep watch on water robbers.
Dave Huhn is a tall, silver-haired deputy with a bad back from 12 years of ditch riding. He sips from a Big Gulp-sized iced tea as he travels miles of county roads; a badge, a gun and a tablet of citations are his shield.
“Communication is everything and just because you’ve lived out here 100 years doesn’t mean you’re doing it right,” explains Huhn, who was given the responsibility of enforcing complicated Colorado water laws by the county commissioners in 2009. “You can’t steamroll these people. You’re not out there talking with a physicist. You’re out there talking with someone who needs to produce your food. You’ve got to listen to the problem.”
[Marty] Robbins is the keeper of the ditch deeds, which are the official record of water rights. He opened a drawer and pulled out a thick leather-bound dossier of evidence. It is the smoking gun in the world of water crime.
“My whole world changed when Dave took over ditch issues,” Robins said. “Around here, you have a whole lot of attitude and very little forgiveness.”
When Project 7 began drawing up plans for a water resiliency program in 2019, its leaders didn’t plan to invest in connecting a raw water line from the Ridgway Reservoir to a new treatment plant in Ridgway.
The new treatment plant and water line would be designed so additional capacity can be added in the future, allowing a maximum capacity of approximately 10 million gallons per day, more than a 30% increase in drinking water supply for the region.
The plan to construct the Regional Water Supply Program in conjunction with the Ridgway Water Treatment Plant is a decision driven by water supply security. The project will add a second water source to the region while serving all Project 7 members.
The valley hasn’t yet experienced water supply interruption, but Project 7 intends to stay ahead of a slew of risks that could potentially affect over 50,000 people and thousands of local businesses.
The new treatment plant would allow direct access to existing water rights in the Ridgway Reservoir while building a system resilient to wildfire, drought and transmission interruptions in the Gunnison Tunnel.
Project 7 Water Authority is a wholesale water treatment provider that supplies to the City of Montrose, City of Delta, Town of Olathe, Tri-County Water Conservancy District and the Menoken and Chipeta water districts, although each entity owns its own water rights.
Although geographically the second smallest entity in the cooperative by size, the City of Montrose uses roughly 50% of the water supply due to population density, with about 8,000 residents using water services from Project 7…
As it stands, the Gunnison River remains the only water supply source for the region, with one treatment facility to provide to the six entities within the cooperative.
The cooperative projected the overhead cost of the project to be between $50 – $70 million. The estimate includes the raw water line, but will become more specific as the design process progresses, said Miles Graham, spokesman for the resiliency program.
City of Montrose customers will see an increase in water rates on Jan. 1, 2022, due in part to Project 7’s elevated fees. Huggins noted that the impact of increasing wholesale rates for customers depends largely on the size and budget of the district…
Montrose residential water bills will increase by $4.86 per 3,000 gallons of water used per month and increase $1.35 per 1,000 gallons used per month, due in part to the water supplier raising its own fees by 15%.
At this stage in the planning process, it’s impossible to predict the cost for each entity without knowing the ultimate program cost or the amount of outside state and federal support, said Graham.
By using a uniform rate structure for all entities to provide local funding, the cost will be shared equally throughout the valley and supplemented by aggressively seeking grants and low-interest loans.
As the process moves forward, the team will be able to test and determine which treatment technology is best for the new plant and raw water line, as well as finding opportunities to make use of existing water distribution infrastructure near the new facility site.
The cost may be higher to build the raw water line, but overall, the cost to run and operate will be lower since the water quality leaving the reservoir will provide a stable water supply, Huggins noted. The water will also be easier to treat, with less influence from rain events washing mud and silt in the river that have to be removed, allowing for mitigated operation costs…
Water treatment plants often use electrical backup generators that run on diesel or natural gas, which is typically banned in the event of a wildfire, the engineer said. Because a gas-run generator on a tank of fuel presents a dangerous risk, utility companies usually shut off any natural gas in the area if a wildfire is present.
“So if you think about an emergency situation, having the ability to bring water down to this site and continue operations at the plant without having to pump it up from the river made a lot of sense. [It’s] a more sustainable solution than the other options for getting water to the site.”
Construction for the project is expected to begin in 2023. The new water line and treatment plan is slated to go online by 2025.
FromThe High Country News [November 23, 2021] (Sarah Tory):
Every summer in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, a long, high desert valley ringed by mountains, Jose Martinez watches in admiration as water flows from an irrigation pipe across the contours of his land, feeding the eight acres of alfalfa he grows near his home in San Francisco, a town of less than 90 people. The water comes from a network of communal irrigation ditches, or acequias, which comes from an Arabic word meaning “water bearer.” The acequias were built in part by his ancestors who arrived in southern Colorado more than 150 years ago with other Hispanic families from what is now New Mexico, establishing seven villages around Culebra Creek.
“I get to thinking, back in the day, these men dug it all by what we call pico y pala — pickaxe and shovel,” Martinez, 76, told me when I visited recently. We were sitting in his kitchen on a cold October day with his wife, Junita, 70, while the two of them explained how acequias work.
Unlike normal irrigation ditches, acequias are a communal resource, collectively owned and governed by their parciantes, or members — the group of small-scale farmers with water rights to the ditch. Acequias are egalitarian, too: whether you irrigate one acre or 100 acres, you get one vote in decisions about the ditch in exchange for helping to clean and maintain the acequia. The parciantes elect a three-member commission to make decisions around ditch maintenance and operations, as well as a mayordomo to manage the irrigation infrastructure and tell people when they can irrigate and when they have to shut their gates.
In Colorado, acequias are found in four of the southernmost counties and irrigate only a tiny fraction of the state’s agricultural output. But in a region where some water rights have been sold to the highest bidder and private gain is sometimes prioritized over collective well-being, acequias remain a powerful antidote to the forces threatening rural communities — a way of valuing local resources beyond their dollar amount and a catalyst for sharing them in times of scarcity. During dry years, acequias work to ensure that everyone weathers the shortages equitably; occasionally, Jose has opted to forego his water entirely when he sees no prospect of a decent crop, so that other parciantes can have more.
“Our concept is community,” Junita explains. “If I can’t get something, why should I hurt my neighbor, if I could just let him have my water — maybe he can grow something?”
THAT COMMUNAL MINDSET originates in part from the families who arrived in the southern San Luis Valley in the mid 19th century to settle the one-million-acre Sangre de Cristo Land Grant. Drawn by promises of land and resources, they established small farming communities on land where the Cuputa band of Ute people had roamed for thousands of years, until they were gradually killed or forced out by European colonizers beginning in the 1600s. The families settling the valley beginning in the 1850s were primarily from Mexico, which had sold the territory now known as New Mexico — including the southern end of the San Luis Valley — to the U.S. government a few years earlier at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War.
Families built acequias and shared access to a mountainous tract of land in the nearby Sangre de Cristo mountains, known locally as La Sierra, which they relied on for water, firewood and foraging. The land grant was eventually sold, but its subsequent owners honored the historical rights of local families to access La Sierra.
Growing up, Jose Martinez remembers how families built cellars to store the vegetables grown on the land nourished by the acequias, as well as meat from deer and elk hunted in La Sierra — food that would last them the winter. Although they live in what is now one of Colorado’s most impoverished counties, “we ate like kings,” he said.
That all changed in 1960, when John Taylor, a North Carolina timber baron, bought 77,500 acres of La Sierra, renaming it the Cielo Vista Ranch and closing it off to the local community to create a logging operation. Taylor’s logging wrought lasting damage on the land. Poorly constructed roads created erosion, reducing the amount of water that flowed from the mountains into the acequias, according to area residents.
The water wasn’t the only resource reduced or eliminated as a result of Taylor’s actions. Without access to La Sierra for grazing, local families lost their herds and the culture of self-sufficiency that had sustained them for decades. Many, like Jose Martinez’s family, moved out of the valley. Those that stayed saw their health and well-being deteriorate. People went on food stamps and rates of diabetes soared. There were psychological impacts, too.
“You lose the relevance of what your land means,” said Shirley Romero Otero, the head of the Land Rights Council, which formed in the town of San Luis in the late 1970s to stop Taylor from denying access to the property. (A group of San Luis community members are participating in The Colorado Trust’s Community Partnerships strategy; Romero Otero previously was part of this effort.)
In 1981, the Land Rights Council mobilized local residents to sue Taylor for blocking their historical right to access the property. The ensuing legal battle lasted 40 years, fought by generations of the same families and leading to an April 2003 Colorado Supreme Court ruling, Lobato v. Taylor. The ruling granted people the right to graze their animals, cut timber and gather firewood on the land, if they could prove they were heirs to property that was part of the original Sangre de Cristo land grant.
“WE’RE SUCH DIEHARDS,” Junita told me, pointing to an old black-and-white photo from the early days of the land rights struggle taped to their refrigerator. Her husband was among the roughly 5,000 people given keys to access the ranch gates after a nearly 15-year process of identifying the land grant descendants.
“We won’t let go,” Jose added.
The Martinezes owe their persistence in part to the acequias, which are the lifeblood of each village, binding people to the land and to each other. Every spring, acequia communities gather for an annual ritual called La Limpieza to clean the ditch in preparation for the irrigation season. For families, it serves as a de facto reunion — regardless if someone has moved to Denver or to California, people come back for La Limpieza.
For Junita, that communal aspect is why acequias are important: working together to cultivate a shared resource. It’s also why she feels so strongly about protecting those resources from wealthy outsiders who threaten that culture. “We’re a land- and water-based people,” Junita explained.
The current owner of the Cielo Vista Ranch is William Harrison, heir to a Texas oil fortune, who bought the Cielo Vista property in 2018. According to its real estate listing, the ranch was listed at $105 million and encompasses 23 miles of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, including 18 peaks over 13,000 feet and one over 14,000 feet, Culebra Peak — the highest privately owned mountain in the U.S., and quite possibly the world.
Harrison’s ranch hands have intimidated and harassed local people who tried to access the property, according to court filings and residents — despite the legal rulings affirming the rights of the land grant heirs. With the threat of a violent confrontation growing, Jose and Junita’s children told their father they don’t want him going up onto the ranch alone to collect firewood, which he, like many locals, uses to heat their home.
A week before I visited, the Land Rights Council filed a motion in Alamosa Municipal Court to safeguard local residents’ rights to access the ranch. During a two-day hearing, a judge heard testimony about how the ranch’s aggressive surveillance tactics infringed on the community’s hard-won traditional land rights, including tracking people with drones and armed ranch hands approaching people with dogs. The ranch denied use of such tactics.
In an email, Harrison, through his lawyer, wrote that he believes that a few “bad apples” have abused those rights on occasion, illegally hunting, joy-riding ATVs and sneaking onto the property to fish. “That being said, we are fully committed to bringing the animosity of the past to a close, and are making a good-faith effort to bring healing and peace,” he added.
“Some of those places look like ghost towns because of that,” said Peter Nichols, a lawyer with the Acequia Project, a pro-bono legal assistance program supported by the University of Colorado Boulder Law School.
Thus far, acequia communities have resisted those efforts, ensuring their water stays with the land. With the help of the Acequia Project and Colorado Open Lands, an environmental nonprofit, acequias have adopted bylaws that protect acequias from outside buyers.
Still, like any collaboration, acequias are not perfect, said Sarah Parmar, the director of conservation at Colorado Open Lands. “It’s messy because there are human relationships involved, and anytime you have a community that goes back multiple generations, there are going to be grudges and things that have happened that they’re going to bring into those situations,” Parmar said.
But more than anything, acequia communities recognize that water is not just an asset; “it’s a piece of everything,” Parmar told me. “If you pull on that thread, the whole sweater unravels.”
JOSE GRABBED JUNITA’S ARM to steady her as the two walked outside to show me the Nana Ditch, the “mother ditch” that gurgles beneath the willow trees in their backyard.
“It would kill me to see water flow by that doesn’t belong to us,” Junita said. “We’d have to go away.”
Today, abandoned houses are scattered amongst the roads and villages of the Culebra watershed — a reminder of how this community, like so many rural communities, has changed. North of the villages, giant agricultural operations have replaced the smaller family-run vegetable farms that once filled the San Luis Valley, while their high-tech center pivot irrigation systems are depleting the aquifers beneath the valley floor at an alarming rate.
Meanwhile, so many people have left, with the population of Costilla County nearly half what it was in 1950. When their children were growing up, Jose and Junita moved to Colorado Springs so the girls could get a better education. But people are returning to the valley, too, like Martinezes did in 2002. Jose began growing alfalfa on his family’s eight acres again, and a few years ago, two of the girls bought the lots on either side of their parents, where they hope to one day build their own homes.
In the Spanish dialect spoken in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, there is a term called querencia, which translates roughly to “heart home or place.” Even after they left the valley, Jose and Junita would bring the girls back to San Francisco every summer to remind them: “This is where you come home.”
This story was republished with permission from Collective Colorado, a publication of The Colorado Trust.
Sarah Tory writes from Carbondale, Colorado. Follow @tory_sarah
Acequia La Vida via Greg Hobbs.
Santa Cruz River, Acequia de La Puebla, Chimayo
Selection of the 2015 native heirloom maize harvest of the seed library of The Acequia Institute in Viejo San Acacio, CO Photo by Devon G. Peña
An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Fig. 2. Mexican Land Grants in Colorado and New Mexico. The Baumann map depicted here mislabels these Mexican land grants as “Spanish”. Source: Paul R. Baumann 2001. SUNY-Oneonta.
Acequia San Antonio via Judy Gallegos
Acequia del Cerro, San Luis
Acequia cleaning prior to running the first water of the season
San Pedro Acequia. The headgate of the second oldest acequia in Colorado. Photo by Devon G. Peña
Bella Cruz has lived next to the People’s Ditch in San Luis for more than 60 years. Appropriated in 1852, it is the first surface water right in Colorado. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen
San Luis People’s Ditch March 17, 2018. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs
San Luis People’s Ditch spanning the long lot system
Local youth participate in the production of chicos del horno at Corpus A. Gallegos Ranch. San Luis, CO Photograph by Devon G. Peña
San Luis People’s Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain
The country’s second largest potato producing region, is in its 18th year of drought in 2020. The San Luis Valley in Colorado is known for its agriculture yet only has 6-7 inches of rainfall per year. San Luis People’s Ditch
The Uncompahgre may have a legal guardian in its future after a town vote, though critics of “rights of nature” resolutions call “personhood for the river” an empty gesture and a paradise for lawsuits from angry property owners.
The Ridgway town council has voted to give “rights of nature” to the Uncompahgre River that flows on the edge of its downtown, joining Nederland and a long list of international locations saying they want to be better stewards of their wild spaces.
The council followed the lead of Mayor John Clark in approving the river rights resolution 5-0, with one abstention. Supporters said that while their vote was largely symbolic, at the very least they want it on the record that preserving the environment of the Uncompahgre’s basin is important to town leaders.
“We believe nature deserves equal footing” with those who use the river’s water and other resources for other gains, Clark said after the vote on Nov. 10. “And so I’m pretty excited to be one of the few communities in the nation that are stepping up on this.”
It’s just a resolution for now, with no clear enforcement path. But the “personhood for the river” discussion is part of a growing effort to protect natural areas by granting them some legal form of a right to exist, after centuries of human intervention. Nederland already passed such a measure in the summer of 2021, and the nonprofits Earth Law and Save the Colorado are helping to spread the conversation in more Colorado towns. Save the Colorado says people have expressed interest in Lyons, Fort Collins and Crested Butte.
The natural rights movement has gone as far afield as New Zealand and Nigeria, with some efforts focused on protecting revered tribal lands, others to stop dams from forever changing valued waterways…
Legal critics of the strategy, though, contend that water can’t have rights unto itself, and that the people proposing to speak for Colorado’s rivers may have narrow views that don’t serve the state as a whole.
“The problem is the assumption that one particular party gets to unilaterally say what the interests of the stream are,” said David McDonald, an attorney who has followed the natural rights movement for the Mountain States Legal Foundation. “The stream has no voice. It’s not a person. It’s a collection of inanimate objects. These organizations are asking us to give them a great deal of trust.”
For rivers, the premise begins with the reality that all the rights to the water in Colorado streams are already carved up and passed out to buyers including ranchers, town water supplies, beer brewers and power utilities. The trout and the frogs and the mayflies and the H2O itself don’t get a say, while the water is pushed and pulled and dammed and drained.
The rights of nature movement, Durango-based Earth Law attorney Grant Wilson said in an interview, treats rivers as living entities. That’s a revolution, he said, from centuries of water law that treats river water as a human property. Wilson went to Ridgway to explain the resolution before the town council held its vote.
Assigning the water and the wildlife a guardianship recognizes that “nature just like humans has inherent and fundamental rights, and that recognizing those rights and incorporating them into the legal system is a part of the solution to environmental degradation,” said Wilson, who worked with Clark on the proposal.
After a lot of “whereas-es” that give a nice history of the Uncompahgre Valley, the first “therefore” of the resolution hints at the real point: “The right to maintain natural flow sufficient in quantity to maintain ecosystem health.” Meaning that even those who paid a lot of money for water rights shouldn’t be able to just dry up the river in the ongoing drought — in the future, they may have to argue with an attorney appointed by the town to represent the Uncompahgre as a client worth protecting.
The idea of a legally recognized mouthpiece for the voiceless is already common, Wilson noted, for children in family court or the ailing elderly. The resolutions have rarely been tested in the United States to see what new legal structures they might create. In practical terms, a town like Ridgway could pass a resolution and then work toward appointing an “independent, qualified legal guardian serving as basically the human voice of ecosystems in a way that governments currently don’t,” he said.
Nederland’s Alan Apt said he brought a similar resolution to the town board he sits on not as a launching point for endless litigation, but to put into words the importance local residents place on Middle Boulder Creek. Apt said he agrees with water advocates’ desire to “have the ecosystem be part of the conversation, the Boulder watershed, so that when we make decisions, it’s a reference point.”
Nederland holds some of its own water rights from Boulder Creek, currently stored in Barker Reservoir, and sees itself as a high-country link between the origins of mountain water near the Continental Divide to the west, through town, and down to Boulder on the east, Apt said.
Mountain States Legal Foundation would want to know, McDonald said, which inanimate object has the new natural rights — the water flow? The mosquitos? The frogs? And who decides whether the water’s right to exist is more important than a rancher’s right to use water to raise cattle, or a town’s right to supply a popular kayaking rapid?
The resolutions are far from ironclad, McDonald acknowledged. “But these are fringe ideas that are becoming more popular, and ideas are powerful. I think it’s important to stand against them.”
Wilson has no doubt the resolutions in Ridgway and other cities will be questioned by those who hold water rights or development dreams. But, he said, even holding the discussion helps a mountain town agree on shared values and what’s worth protecting.
Following repeated pollution violations this year and calls to shut down the Suncor Energy oil refinery in Commerce City, Colorado health officials are seeking to renew the facility’s water quality permit, albeit with tighter restrictions.
The refinery has been allowed to operate on expired permits because the company applied to renew them before they lapsed. And now officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are considering a new water quality permit for the facility, spokeswoman Erin Garcia said in a release.
The new permit would be more restrictive than the old one, Garcia said, and aims to better protect Sand Creek and downstream waters. The permit would also require more transparency surrounding the refinery’s operations and impose more pollution monitoring requirements and limits for toxic metals and chemicals.
Suncor would be required to conduct “frequent” site inspections ensure that drinking water moving through its property remains safe, bolster its maintenance operations and alert people by text message if or when a spill occurs…
But the draft permit isn’t finished yet, so state officials are soliciting public input. The department will host a virtual meeting Thursday between 6:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. to review current details of the draft permit. In addition the department will accept public feedback on the draft through Feb. 10, 2022. Additional details and public comment sections can be found online at http://cdphe.colorado.gov.
The facility has repeatedly violated pollution standards, even after state health officials boasted last year of fining the company up to $9 million for violations in 2017. Between March 27 and April 22 of this year, the refinery exceeded pollution limits 15 times, emitting too-high levels of hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide…
State officials are also currently considering an air quality permit for the refinery, which would allow more of some types of pollution and crack down on others, The Denver Post reported in May. That proposed permit would raise permissible limits of volatile organic compounds that form ground-level ozone by 138 tons per year and allow 11 tons more particulate soot a year. It would, however, reduce sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide…
In the bigger picture, however, Suncor has pledged to invest $300 million in the refinery before 2023 to make the facility “better, not bigger.” To that end, Adesanya told The Post in September that the company installed an automated shutdown system in part of the plant last year and will upgrade the rest of the facility with similar technology by the end of next year.
The Colorado River is a vital lifeline for the arid U.S. Southwest. It supplies water to seven states, Mexico, 29 Indian reservations and millions of acres of irrigated farmland. The river and its tributaries support 16 million jobs and provide drinking water to Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson – in all, 40 million people.
These rivers also course through several of the world’s most iconic national parks, including the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Canyonlands in Utah. Today millions of people visit the Colorado River Basin to fish, boat and explore.
Southwestern states, tribes and Mexico share the Colorado’s water under the century-old 1922 Colorado Compact and updates to it. But today, because of climate change and rapid development, there is an enormous gap between the amount of water the compact allocates to parties and the amount that is actually in the river. With users facing unprecedented water shortages, the compact is hopelessly inadequate to deal with current and future realities.
I have studied water resource development for 35 years and written extensively about Native American waterrights and the future of America’s rivers. As I see it, the compact rests on three fundamental errors that now plague efforts to develop a new vision for the region. I believe the most productive way forward is for states and tribes to negotiate a new agreement that reflects 21st-century realities.
Flawed data and allocations
The compact commissioners made two fatal blunders when they allocated water in 1922. First, they appraised the river’s volume based on inaccurate data that wildly overestimated it. Actual annual historic flows were far below what was needed to satisfy the dictates of the compact.
There is evidence that the commissioners did this purposefully: Reaching an agreement was easier if there was more water to go around. This strategy guaranteed that the compact would allocate more water than was actually in the river, a situation now referred to as the “structural deficit.”
Second, the compact allocated water in fixed amounts rather than percentages of the river’s actual flow. That approach would be viable if river flow were constant and the agreement were based on sound science. But the Colorado’s flow is highly variable.
The compact divided the river artificially into an Upper Basin (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico) and a Lower Basin (Arizona, Nevada and California), and allocated 7.5 million acre-feet of water to each basin. An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot, or about 325,000 gallons.
In 1944, a treaty allocated an additional 1.5 million acre-feet to Mexico, for a total of 16.5 million acre-feet. However, actual flow has typically been below that amount. River volume at the time of the compact was about 18 million acre-feet per year, but the 20th-century average was closer to 14.8 million acre-feet. And then things got much worse.
That month, the Bureau of Reclamation declared an official shortage, which will force Arizona, Nevada and Mexico to make significant cuts in water use. In short, the original fixed allocations are no longer anchored in reality.
In my view, a much better approach would be to allocate water among the states and tribes in percentages, based on a five-year rolling average that would change as the river’s flow changes. Without such a shift, the compact will merely perpetuate a hydrological fallacy that leads water users to claim water that does not exist.
No Native participation
Beyond these errors, the compact also rests on a fundamental injustice. The 30 tribal nations in the Colorado River Basin are the river’s original users, and their reservations encompass huge swaths of land. But they were completely left out of the 1922 allocations.
Tribes have gone to court to claim a share of the Colorado’s water and have won significant victories, beginning with the landmark 1963 Arizona v. California ruling, in which the U.S. Supreme Court recognized water rights for five Indian reservations in the Colorado River Basin. The tribes continued to press their claims through numerous negotiated settlements, starting in 1978 and continuing to this day. They now have rights to over 2 million acre-feet of water in the Lower Basin and 1.1 million acre-feet in the Upper Basin. And 12 tribes have unresolved claims that could total up to 405,000 acre-feet.
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I see these discussions as an excellent opportunity to discard the compact’s unworkable provisions and negotiate a new agreement that responds to the unprecedented challenges now affecting the Southwest. As I see it, an agreement negotiated by and for white men, based on egregiously erroneous data, in an age when people drove Model T cars cannot possibly serve as the foundation for a dramatically different future.
In my view, the 1922 compact is now an albatross that can only inhibit innovation. Eliminating fixed rights to water that doesn’t actually exist could spur members to negotiate a new, science-based agreement that is fairer, more inclusive and more efficient and sustainable.
Ouray County is asking the state water board to delay a water court filing designed to protect streamflows so it can try to resolve issues in a separate but related water court case.
In July, the Colorado Water Conservation Board approved an instream flow water right on Cow Creek, a tributary of the Uncompahgre River, and asked staff to file for the right in water court by the end of this year. Instream flow rights are held exclusively by the state with the goal of preserving the natural environment to a reasonable degree. The state board, which is charged with protecting and developing Colorado’s water supply, holds instream flow rights on about 1,700 stream segments and 9,700 miles of stream throughout the state.
Now, Ouray County is asking the CWCB to delay the filing by six months so that the two governmental entities can try to work out the board’s opposition to a reservoir and pipeline project on Cow Creek on which the county is a co-applicant. CWCB directors will consider the request at their regular meeting Thursday.
In a November letter to Ouray County, Robert Viehl, the CWCB’s chief of the Stream and Lake Protection Section, noted that state statutes set clear rules and timelines for commenting and making hearing requests, and that the county’s request to delay the filing falls outside of those parameters.
“Any entity had the opportunity to state concerns with the Cow Creek appropriation and filing of the water right at the CWCB’s March, May and July 2021 meetings, when the appropriation was noticed before the board,” the letter reads. “This request by Ouray County is outside of the set administrative process for the appropriation and filing on instream flow water rights.”
The CWCB, at the recommendation of Colorado Parks & Wildlife, is seeking instream flow protections for a 7.4-mile reach of Cow Creek — from its confluence with Lou Creek to its confluence with the Uncompahgre River, downstream of Ridgway Reservoir. CPW says this reach contains important fisheries, including the last-known remnant population of bluehead sucker in the upper Uncompahgre River basin.
The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District (SVLHWD) and the Left Hand Water District have announced a new agreement that will allow sharing Colorado-Big Thompson (“C-BT”) project water for the next decade.
The agreement allows the Left Hand Water District to receive critical water supplies for the growing number of people it serves and provide drought protection. This is the first long-term water sharing agreement between the districts.
“Our number one goal is to ensure safe, reliable water for our customers and this helps continue that,” said Christopher Smith, General Manager of the Left Hand Water District. “Water sharing is the future and I am proud of this mutually beneficial agreement that could serve as a model for others,” he added.
The Left Hand Water District will make an annual payment for the option to lease water from St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District. In years that the option is exercised, an additional payment based on the amount of available water would be made.
“When the voters approved 7A last year, they said they wanted to protect drinking water,” said Sean Cronin, Executive Director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District. “This creative solution reflects what our constituents want: smart, local solutions and partnerships that ensure reliable drinking water for our local communities”.
About the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District
St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District (District) was formed in 1971. For fifty years the District has facilitated and implemented water programs and services and takes a comprehensive look at how all these components work together. Specifically, the District protects water quality and drinking water sources, safeguards and conserves drinking water, supports growing of local food, identifies creative solutions for storing water for dry years, and works with partners and leads in efforts to maintain healthy rivers and creeks.
As a local government, non-profit agency formed at the request of our community under state laws, the District serves Longmont and the surrounding land area or basin that drains into both the St. Vrain and Left Hand Creeks.
About the Left Hand Water District
The Left Hand Water District was originally created in 1962 as a private non-profit water supply company and was then established as a division of local government under Title 32 of the Colorado Revised Statutes (CRS) in 1989. With a 7 member Board of Directors and a staff of 27 employees, the District serves a population of over 20,000 people in a 100 square mile area of Boulder and Weld Counties. Of the nearly 7800 individual taps, over 90% serve single and multi-family residential properties.
The utility will pay millions to mitigate environmental concerns for Boulder County residents
The county received assurances Denver Water would pay to mitigate environmental damages expected from the work, but the deal still left Commissioner Matt Jones “heartsick.” He said commissioners fought for the best deal possible but he’s still concerned about the damage the project could do locally and for the millions of people who depend on the Colorado River…
Climate scientists and legal experts said they’re skeptical the parched Colorado River will provide enough water for Denver Water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir. And even if the water’s there, the expansion and other projects like it will inevitably worsen water shortages on Colorado’s Western Slope and downstream, they said.
Utility officials, however, hailed the settlement and said that while they won’t be able to fill the reservoir every year — which they’ve known all along — years with above-average precipitation will provide more than enough water.
“We’re gonna fill the reservoir,” Denver Water Project Manager Jeff Martin said.
Climate change is trending in the wrong direction for such strong confidence, cautioned Mark Squillace, the Raphael J. Moses Professor of Natural Resource Law at the University of Colorado Law School.
“This just seems a bit insane to me that Denver Water is unwilling to acknowledge” that climate change is only likely to worsen water shortages on the Western Slope, Squillace said.
Martin said he still expects to break ground on the five-year, $464 million project by April…
Denver Water will pay $5 million to residents most impacted by the work and agreed to reduce noise and dust from the project using electric rather than diesel generators.
Denver Water’s drivers must complete bicycle awareness training, provide “truck free” days for cyclists and “leave Gross Dam Road in a better condition than before the project.”
Denver Water will pay $5.1 million to replace open space lands that would be flooded by the reservoir expansion and transfer 70 acres near Walker Ranch Open Space to Boulder County.
Denver Water will pay $1.5 million to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the project and another $1 million to restore a stretch along South St. Vrain Creek.
Squillace said while those terms might benefit county residents, it’s still not enough and he was disappointed to hear commissioners agreed to settle.
“We were between a rock and a hard place,” Jones said. “We were pushed into this corner of knowing that and trying to figure out what we could get for Boulder County residents…
Martin said he and others at Denver Water expect to be able to fill the expanded reservoir in average and above-average years. South Boulder Creek, which is not part of the Colorado River system, also feeds into the reservoir and could supplement water in dry years on the Western Slope, he noted…
[David] Bahr suggested Denver Water could instead pipe in water from the Missouri River or other places in the Midwest that are expected to see more water in the coming years. While Martin said those types of ideas could be explored for the more distant future, Denver Water officials maintain that an expanded Gross Reservoir is the best course of action for now.
The project could still come to a halt, Squillace said. The more delays the work faces, the more climate data will be available, increasing political pressure for Denver Water to seek another way to secure its water supply.
“I’m still not so convinced that the project’s ever going to actually be built,” he said.
Reclamation’s November 24-Month Study includes a minimum probable (90% chance of being exceeded), a most probable (50% chance of being exceeded) and a maximum probable (10% chance of being exceeded) forecast. While Reclamation operates to the most probable forecast, the range of outcomes in the forecast is tracked on a monthly basis. The latest forecast and projected operations no longer show a shortage to contract deliveries at the Navajo Unit for water year 2022 under the minimum probable forecast. This projection will continue to be updated monthly as the forecast evolves.
Any projected shortage volume is modeled as a proportional distribution to project users (as per PL-87-483 and PL-111-11) and downstream target base flows (pursuant to the Navajo Reservoir’s Record of Decision, 2006).
In anticipation of increasingly severe drought, the Upper Basin states and Reclamation entered into a Drought Response Operations Agreement in 2019. Under this agreement, Reclamation initiated delivery of supplemental water to Lake Powell from the upper CRSP units beginning in July 2021. The delivery from Navajo Reservoir, originally planned for late November through early December, has been postponed and is currently scheduled as a daily release of 1,300 cfs from December 20th to December 30th for a total of 20,000 acre-ft over our regular release. Reclamation will review this release plan after publication of the December 24-Month Study, currently anticipated mid-December.
We will continue to closely monitor conditions and projections as we work with the seven Colorado Basin states on a Drought Response Operations Plan in the coming months.
COLORADO State Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa said this week that a legislative bill in draft form that tries to address “investment in water speculation” is not a good bill and isn’t convinced there is a “need for a bill like this.”
“What you’re really trying to do is keep water attached to the land and productive agriculture,” Simpson said in a wide-ranging interview with The Alamosa Citizen. “So for me, rather than trying to force it this way, I take the advice of (state) representative Marc Catlin, that the best way to protect that is to make sure ag stays profitable, because profitable operations generally aren’t looking to sell their water or water rights.
“I encourage people to think about the things we do in the legislature,” he added, “either from a tax policy or environmental impacts. Just don’t overregulate or overtax the industry so much and give them a chance to succeed.”
One section of the bill addresses the sale or transfer of shares in mutual ditch companies. Simpson said he is a shareholder in a mutual ditch company and doesn’t support how the draft legislation attempts to control how shares are sold or transferred.
“I just think they’re better ways to do that versus you’re on this fine line of interfering with people’s private property rights,” Simpson said. “It’s like very generally going to you and saying you bought a house and going, ‘Well, you can’t sell the house for either a profit or you can’t buy a house on speculation and then sell it for more than you paid for it.’ There’s just this fine line we’re walking down about trying to protect water and ag, and people’s private property rights.”
Why it matters:
In addition to his state senate role, Simpson is general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and is among the Colorado water experts working to address climate change and impacts on irrigitable ag land.
Through his role at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District he has worked to implement a variety of conservation measures to address the declining Upper Rio Grande Water Basin and the 20-year drought the San Luis Valley has been experiencing.
He also has been battling an effort led by former Gov. Bill Owens called Renewable Water Resources, which is a project that aims to purchase SLV ag land for its water rights and then control enough water on private land to pipe into the Front Range. Owens’ front man for the project is a person named Sean Tonner.
Asked if the draft legislation could help blunt the Renewable Water Resources project, he said it could help but he is still more concerned about the unintended consequences of the proposal.
“We have a handful of pretty rigorous and substantial barriers that make those kinds (RWR) of acquisitions and transfers pretty hard,” he said. “Not impossible, but pretty hard. I guess on the surface, this bill might give you another protection and maybe make it almost impossible. But then the unintended consequence again is, what does it do to everybody else?”
A Colorado taxpayer group has filed a class action lawsuit in the 13th Judicial District Court in Logan County to try to overturn a mill levy increase by the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District.
The Public Trust Institute, a Colorado-based public interest law firm, and the National Taxpayers Union Foundation of Washington, D.C., filed the lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of an ad hoc group of taxpayers in Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick and Washington counties. Jim Aranci of Crook, Charles Miller, Jack Darnell and William Lauck of Morgan County and Curtis Werner of Merino are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Besides the water district, the defendants include the county clerks of the four counties, who collected the taxes and handed the funds over to the district.
At issue is the interpretation of a 1996 ballot question in which the LSPWCD “de-Bruced,” or excused itself, as the result of a public vote, from provisions of the TABOR amendment. In that ballot question, the district stated it would seek a public vote in order to raise taxes.
But other wording in that ballot question, and the district’s original mill levy allowance when it was formed in 1964, are at the crux of the conflict. When it was formed, the water conservancy district was allowed by state statute to levy up to 1 mill on property within the district, which includes parts or all of the four counties. The district’s board of directors had previously only asked for 0.5 mill because that was all that was needed.
At the end of 2019, however, the district’s board decided to raise the levy to the statutorily allowed 1 mill for 2020 to, among other things, help fund preparatory work on a project that eventually will help supply both the district and the City of Parker extra water from the lower reaches of the South Platte River. That mill levy was certified by county commissioners in the four counties at that time, and the district began collecting the tax revenues in 2020.
As the district board was planning its 2021 budget in December of 2020, however, a group of taxpayers objected, pointing to the 1996 ballot measure’s final sentence. It reads, “No local tax rate or property mill levy shall be increased at any time, nor shall any new tax be imposed without the prior approval of the voters of the LSPWCD.”
Jim Aranci, a former chairman of the district’s board, said Wednesday that the wording of that 1996 de-Brucing question was quite clear…
Joe Frank, general manager of the conservancy district, said Friday he’d heard rumors of a lawsuit being filed, but was not at liberty to discuss the issue further. He did, however, reaffirm the board’s position that the increase was thoroughly researched in 2019 before it was instituted for the 2020 budget year. He said the district’s legal counsel pointed to other wording in the de-Brucing ballot question: That the district could “utilize the full proceeds and revenues received from every source whatever, without limit.” And those “full proceeds and revenues” included the remaining half-mill originally allowed by statute but never used. In other words, the public vote would only be needed if the district wanted to exceed its original allowance of 1 mill.
Frank reiterated Friday that the board did not take the step lightly, and spent a lot of resources getting the right answers to its questions…
The water district has still been allowed to collect its 1 mill levy, since it was certified for the 2020 budget year. According to Colorado Revised Statute 39-1-111 (3) “If the board of county commissioners … fails to certify such levies to the assessor, it is the duty of the assessor, upon direction of the division of local government, to extend the levies of the previous year …”
States in the lower Colorado River basin are developing a $100 million plan that will leave more water in Lake Mead over the next couple of years.
The goal is to keep the lake from hitting a critical level that would leave the reservoir more vulnerable to rapid decline.
“You don’t have much of a buffer left to deal with that (rapidly declining water level) if you have a bad year of runoff in the system,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
The negotiations between Nevada, Arizona, California and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for additional reductions in water use come just months after the federal government declared Lake Mead’s first water shortage. That declaration forces Nevada and Arizona to take cuts to their allocation of water next year.
The water level projections that led to those cuts also triggered a provision in a 2019 drought response agreement that forces the lower basin states to discuss ways to prevent the lake from falling below an elevation of 1,020 feet, Buschatzke said.
As of Thursday, the water level was just below 1,066 feet…
The states have not finalized how they will reach the 500,000 acre-foot goal for the next two years, but Buschatzke said the preference is voluntary conservation over forced cuts.
He said the effort is going to cost about $100 million, with his department committing $40 million. Next week, the Southern Nevada Water Authority board is scheduled to consider approving the use of $20 million over the next two years to continue fighting lake level decline.
One way to meet the conservation goal is to pad reserves and keep them in the lake through 2026. The states are also looking at leaving reserves in the lake that were scheduled to be released next year.
Buschatzke said the federal government could also look at making delivery of water to the lower basin more efficient.
Another path is new system conservation, a process of making water use more efficient and using the saved water to bolster Lake Mead’s elevation. A portion of Southern Nevada’s spending may go toward this, a spokesman said…
Buschatzke said the goal is to finalize the two-year agreement next month, then get to work on filling out the remaining three years of the plan.
After nearly 20 years of preparations, the expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County is moving ahead.
Last week, Denver Water took the final step necessary to proceed with the project after striking an agreement with Boulder County to take additional actions to offset impacts of the project.
The accord with Boulder County means Denver Water can proceed with the long-awaited project that will raise the dam, triple the reservoir capacity and mean far more water security for 1.5 million people in an era of more intense droughts, heavier rain events and earlier snowmelt – all driven by climate change.
“Today is an historic occasion for Denver Water,” CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead told Denver’s Board of Water Commissioners on Nov. 3, upon acceptance of the Boulder County agreement.
“We bring to a conclusion the federal, state and local review processes that will allow us to begin construction of the expansion of Gross Reservoir.”
Denver Water personnel will begin close coordination with Boulder County and others to prepare the area and local roadways for construction. Denver Water will continue to engage and communicate with project neighbors to ease impacts of the work.
“In the two decades Denver Water has spent preparing for the project, we have been driven by a singular value: the need to do this expansion the right way, by involving the community, by upholding the highest environmental standards and by protecting and managing the water and landscapes that define Colorado,” Lochhead said.
“Boulder County and its residents share these perspectives, and we look forward to continuing to work with them as the project moves ahead.”
Gross Dam was built in the 1950s and named after Dwight D. Gross, a former chief engineer at Denver Water. It was built to store water from the West Slope that travels through the Moffat Tunnel, as well as water from South Boulder Creek.
“The original engineers designed the dam so that it could be raised twice, if needed,” said Jeff Martin, Gross Reservoir project manager. “Based on our water supply projections and current system shortfalls, that need is here.”
Denver Water began the permitting process to raise the dam in 2003 and received approvals from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2016 and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2017.
The plan cleared its final federal hurdle on July 16, 2020, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its approval for the project and ordered Denver Water to proceed with design and construction.
The project has earned support from major environmental groups, business interests, water users on both sides of the Continental Divide and elected officials on both sides of the aisle, including the state’s last five governors.
Raising the dam will increase the reservoir’s storage capacity by 77,000 acre-feet of water and make Gross Reservoir the second-largest in Denver Water’s system. When complete, Gross Reservoir will be able to hold 119,000 acre-feet, second only to Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, which is capable of holding just north of 257,000 acre-feet.
Expanding Gross Reservoir is a major part of Denver Water’s long-term, multipronged approach to deliver safe, reliable water to more than 1.5 million people today and those who will call the Front Range home in the future. That approach includes increased water efficiency, recycling water and responsibly sourcing new storage.
The additional reservoir capacity will enable increased water capture in wet years to help avoid shortages during droughts. It will also help offset a current imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system that is a significant risk.
“Right now, 90% of our water storage is on the south end of our water collection system, but just 10% of our storage is on the north end,” Martin said.
“By enlarging Gross Dam, we’ll be able to store more water in the north, which will improve our flexibility in the event there’s a problem on the south side that could come from any number of operational issues or threats, like wildfires.”
Once filled, the expansion at Gross will provide an additional 72,000 acre-feet of water storage, which is roughly the amount 288,000 residential households would use for one year.
In addition, 5,000 acre-feet of storage space in the expanded reservoir — known as the environmental pool — is reserved to support environmental needs as part of an agreement with the cities of Boulder and Lafayette. Water from the environmental pool will be used to provide beneficial stream flows along a 17-mile stretch of South Boulder Creek below the dam during dry periods to protect fish and aquatic insects.
Denver Water also has committed over $20 million to more than 60 environmental mitigation and enhancement projects on both sides of the Continental Divide as a result of the project. According to Colorado officials, those commitments will provide a net environmental benefit for the state’s water quality.
Denver Water will use its existing water rights to fill the reservoir when it is complete. Engineers expect it will take around five years to fill the newly expanded portion of the reservoir, depending on precipitation and water use from customers.
“In the end, this project won’t be judged by whether we raised the dam, but rather how we went about expanding the reservoir,” Lochhead said. “We will continue to seek community input and look forward to working with Boulder County as the project moves ahead.”
City Council calls for local control rules in big land projects could delay approval of Northern Water’s Northern Integrated Supply Project by a year.
Fort Collins has placed new barriers in front of Northern Water’s $1.1 billion plan to build a dam and pipeline network along the Cache la Poudre River, further slowing a decades-long project backed by 15 growing Front Range communities and water districts.
City government put a hold on the kind of pipeline and infrastructure work Northern Water needs for its Northern Integrated Supply Project, saying Fort Collins will pause for a year to write new regulations under state “1041” permitting laws that encourage local control of big land use projects. Fort Collins’ planning commission had rejected a NISP pipeline proposal through city open space last summer, but Northern Water’s board overrode the decision, as is allowed by state law.
Northern Water says it has already complied with local approval protocols, including receiving 1041 approval from surrounding Larimer County, and will study its options if Fort Collins tries to force NISP through a newly created layer of planning.
“We think that we’ve completed” the city’s Site Plan Advisory Review process, which was the standard before Fort Collins started talking about creating 1041 rules, Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla said. “We’re really going to take a close look at exactly what was passed by the city council.”
Placing a hold on new projects and asking staff to create a 1041 process for the first time was not meant to target Northern Water specifically, though it will likely delay their Fort Collins projects, city council member Kelly Ohlson acknowledged. A new group of city council members taking office after spring elections learned Fort Collins could use the state’s 1041 law to influence projects rather than just react to them, Ohlson said…
Mayor Jeni Arndt said the new tier of local regulations should not make a big difference in Northern Water’s decadeslong pursuit of final project approvals. Northern Water wants to build two big reservoirs northwest and east of Fort Collins, and connect them to the Poudre and the South Platte River through a series of pipelines and ditches.
Arndt said city leaders have narrowed down their interests in creating a 1041 review process to two areas for now: water projects and development that impacts natural areas.
“I don’t feel like that’s an evil volley against them,” Arndt said. “It’s not tit for tat. We have some legitimate concerns about our natural areas and parks.”
Conservation groups that have battled NISP and its complex water engineering for years are happy to see a new bump in the road for Northern Water, which says it expects to receive a final federal-level permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers any month now. Opponents have filed suits and protested local government approvals since portions of NISP were first conceived in the 1980s. In July, they focused on the Fort Collins planning body’s decision whether to approve project pipelines buried in city park land and right of way…
A delay from Fort Collins to pursue more local control rules follows Northern Water’s success in September getting Larimer County approval for another key element of the project: moving U.S. 287 east over a ridge, north of Ted’s Place, to create the dam basin where Glade Reservoir will store Cache la Poudre water.
Overall, the northern supply project will build Glade and another new reservoir northeast of Greeley, Galeton, that will store South Platte River water. Some of the new supply will be delivered in the Cache la Poudre channel, while other transfers will be made by a series of pipelines and ditches.
Northern Water says the project will bring much-needed supply to 80,000 more residents in more than a dozen growing communities that have signed up for the water. The water agency says storing Cache la Poudre water in Glade during higher runoff allows them to supply a steady stream for wildlife and recreation through Fort Collins at times when the river otherwise runs nearly dry.
Opponents say NISP takes water from wildlife and scenic rivers, and encourages sprawling growth in communities that could do more to conserve water.
The city of Fountain is on the hunt for more water to support growth and the most likely short-term option is an agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities.
“Fountain is coming to the ceiling of the treated water supply,” said Mike Fink, city water resources manager, during a recent board meeting.
While the city owns enough water rights to double its treated water capacity, enough to serve 8,800 taps, developing the infrastructure to treat that water will take time and purchasing water could provide a more immediate solution, Utilities Director Dan Blankenship said.
In the long-term, the town expects residents could consume about four times as much water as they do now, a recent water master planning process showed, Fink said. The study showed the town uses about 3,167 acre feet of water annually, or about 1 billion gallons and it will need 11,527 acre feet or about 3.75 billion gallons, he said. The town’s maximum daily demand for water could also increase four fold, he said…
The need for more water is not tied to a calendar date, rather it will be driven by the speed of growth within the city’s service area. Those developments will also be expected to pay for additional water infrastructure, Blankenship said.
The town’s service area is distinct from the town’s boundaries because five water providers serve homes and businesses within the city’s boundaries, Fink said.
To meet the need, Blankenship said he recently put in a formal request to Colorado Springs Utilities to purchase treated water and would like to have an agreement in two years, he said…
the water could be delivered to Fountain by way of a new water main line that could run from the Edward Bailey Water Treatment Plant south to the eastern side of Fountain, he said.
Blankenship would like to see an agreement to purchase water over 15 to 25 years until the water is needed to serve Colorado Springs, he said…
Fountain is also working on a new reservoir so it can use water rights it already owns. It has purchased gravel pits on the very southwest side of Fountain west of Interstate 25, just north of the Nixon power plant and has hired a consultant that is designing the new facility. However, the excavation company must complete reclamation on the property before the town can start work, Blankenship said.
Town officials are also exploring other options, such as injecting the Widefield aquifer with surface water from Fountain Creek to store it, he said. When water is stored in existing aquifers none of it is lost to evaporation.
The Widefield aquifer is contaminated with chemicals from firefighting foam that used to be used on Peterson Space Force Base and all the water from the aquifer goes through extensive treatment to ensure its safe for consumption.
Still, Fountain, Security and Widefield are interested in the injection as a potential to increase water storage, Blankenship said…
“There’s science that indicates the aquifer could be cleaned over time,” he said.
Fountain could also become a partner in the project to recapture Denver basin groundwater water released into Fountain Creek by northern water users.
Colorado Springs Utilities, Monument and six groundwater districts are working together on the feasibility of capturing the water.
It’s possible the water could be diverted below Colorado Springs and may require new water storage, such as a reservoir or tank, Colorado Springs Utilities said in the past.
FromThe Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins). Click through for the cool photos, here’s an excerpt:
After more than a half-hour splashing through the dank dark of one of the world’s longest irrigation tunnels, Dennis Veo grins in the sunshine showering the cliffs of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River…
The 120-year-old, 5.8-mile tunnel was the largest irrigation tunnel in the country when it opened in 1909. It was also the first major transmountain diversion in the U.S., becoming a model for moving Western water beneath mountains, connecting wet basins with dry deserts.
Today, the Gunnison Tunnel can move more than 500,000 acre-feet of water a year, more than the entire Eastern Slope draws from the Upper Colorado River Basin.
That water, roughly 1,150 cubic-feet-per-second when filled to the ceiling of the granite-blasted tunnel, irrigates about 83,000 acres for 3,000 members of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association and also delivers water to more than 50,000 people in the three-county Project 7 Water Authority. The water that pours from the Gunnison Tunnel is the lifeblood of the Uncompahgre Valley, flowing through 128 miles of major canals and 438 miles of lateral ditches in Montrose and Delta counties.
“We are the largest diverter of water in Colorado,” says Steve Anderson, the second-generation general manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association. “We can take about the same as the entire Front Range takes from the Colorado River. And about the same as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California takes out of the Colorado River. That is a lot of water.”
An engineering marvel
In the late 1800s, it became clear that the fickle flows of the Uncompahgre River alone could not irrigate enough acres in the river valley between Delta and Montrose. There were close to 100,000 acres homesteaded by farmers but only enough water to irrigate a fraction of that.
An ambitious plan to connect the Gunnison River with the Uncompahgre River valley started in the early 1900s, when a pair of intrepid engineers with the local power company and the U.S. Geological Survey descended the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River on rubber air mattresses. With cameras and rudimentary surveying equipment, they searched for a place to build a diversion dam and tunnel.
The first bore of the Gunnison Tunnel opened in 1909. It was the first major project approved by the Department of the Interior under the 1902 Reclamation Act. More than 26 men died during construction of what was then the longest irrigation tunnel ever built. Countless more workers were maimed. The manual diggers — crews of 30 men working around the clock from both ends of the tunnel — were off by only 6 inches when they met in the middle, Veo said. By 1912, water was flowing through the tunnel and irrigating crops from Delta to Montrose.
In 1973, the American Society of Civil Engineers honored the Gunnison Tunnel as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. A few years later it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places…
The Gunnison Tunnel is the critical link of the Wayne N. Aspinall Unit, one of the four projects that make up the 1956 Colorado River Storage Project…
The other units created under the 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act include the Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River in Utah, the Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico and Lake Powell in Utah. The network of reservoirs and dams are used by Upper Colorado River Basin states to store water and generate electricity as part of the Colorado River Compact that divides up the river between seven states and Mexico…
The engineering masterpiece has sustained a lush vibrancy along the Uncompahgre River. It’s pretty simple to imagine what the valley would look like without that tunnel, says John Harold, who farms corn, onion and beans in the valley.
The Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP) has been working under the Colorado Water Plan to develop a stream management plan (now referred to as an integrated watershed management plan) for the Upper San Juan, Blanco and Navajo River watersheds.
The past three years of efforts have emphasized identifying the environmental, recreational and agricultural infrastructure needs of these three watersheds and what enhancements in the watersheds might be made. This has been accomplished via field data gathering, interviews and surveys with different user groups, stakeholders and landowners, under the guidance of a steering committee representative of the agricultural, environmental, municipal and recreational water interests of the community.
In June, the WEP initiated its third and final phase of a planning process to develop a local water plan that includes project opportunities that support river health and our community’s ability to rely on rivers for multiple uses, now and in the future.
For example, several projects have already been identified by or shared with WEP with the potential to enhance the efficiency of irrigation infrastructure, recreational opportunities and improve the health of the rivers.
We hope these will just be the start of many project ideas com- munity members can consider and add their own ideas for projects or actions to develop a shared list of on-the-ground opportunities to support the agricultural, environ- mental, municipal and recreational water use needs in the San Juan, Blanco and Navajo watersheds.
The WEP hopes to offer multiple options for community members and visitors to participate and in- form this water planning process.
First, we hope you will join our next public meeting on Dec. 8 from
5:30 to 7:30 p.m. (virtual or in-per- son to be determined depending on COVID-19 guidelines).
Second, you can take one or all three of the WEP’s watershed sur- veys (upper San Juan, Blanco and Navajo) to share your opinions and project ideas, including options to mark on maps specific areas or locations you are concerned about or want to suggest an improvement project idea.
Third, you can sign up as an individual or small group to discuss your water-related values, concerns or project ideas with members of the WEP.
If you would like to learn more about the WEP and the planning process, visit http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan/smp and contact Al Pfister (westernwildscapes@ gmail.com) or Mandy Eskelson (email@example.com).
In the mid-2000s, seven states, the federal government and Mexico negotiated critical rules for the Colorado River that established how to divvy up its water in a severe drought like it is now facing.
Thirty Native American tribes — with rights to roughly a quarter of all the water in the river — were shut out of those talks.
Tribes want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. The effort offers new challenges for the seven Colorado River basin states and the Biden administration, which has repeatedly pledged to be more inclusive in regulatory efforts that affect Native Americans.
“It is fair to say that tribes were not involved in the negotiation of the 2007 guidelines,” said Anne Castle, a former Interior assistant secretary for water and science during the Obama administration. “Tribes will have a seat at the table this time in the negotiation of the next set of rules. The question is what does that look like? And that hasn’t been worked out yet.”
The 2007 guidelines expire in 2026 and determine how shortages are allocated across the basin. The Colorado River, which serves 40 million Americans, is currently in the grips of a more than 20-year “megadrought,” and federal officials declared a shortage for the first time in August, which means Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will see cuts to their deliveries next year…
The river’s declining flows due to climate change and drought have put a premium on tribal water.
Negotiations over new operating guidelines are just now getting underway. There is widespread agreement that they will be tougher than the last round because the basin will be grappling with a river that is drying up. Simply put, there is less water to go around.
Tribes have rights to at least 3.2 million acre-feet of river water and, by some estimates, 1 million to 1.5 million acre-feet of it is currently unused. An acre-foot is roughly 326,000 gallons, about as much as a Los Angeles family of four uses in a year.
That’s led to a rush to build out capacity for tribes to meaningfully contribute to the negotiations.
Unused tribal water could provide an important buffer for cities like Phoenix, for example, if agreements are penned to fairly compensate the tribes.
There is also a push for more widespread recognition that tribes may have better ideas for how to use the river.
“You have a group of at least 30 tribal sovereigns in the Colorado River basin who have lived sustainability there for thousands of years,” Daryl Vigil, water administrator for the Jicarilla Apache Nation, said at recent conference hosted by the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado.
“We are having these conversations about sustainability and resiliency, why aren’t we talking to those people who are still here who have been resilient and have lived sustainably?” Vigil said.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):
The Colorado Division of Water Resources (DWR) is announcing a virtual Measurement Rules Rulemaking stakeholder meeting to present an update of the draft Measurement Rules for Water Division 6 (North Central and Northwest Colorado for the Yampa, White, and North Platte River basins) and gather feedback and comment. DWR conducted in-person stakeholder meetings during October 2021 in Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek, Rangely, Meeker, Walden, and Craig, CO.
DWR invites participants from those meetings, as well as those who have not been to an in-person public meeting, to attend.
The purpose of the rulemaking is to develop consistent, stakeholder-driven standards for the implementation of DWR’s statutory authority for requiring measuring devices for water diversion and storage and reporting of records.
Camille Touton of Nevada was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday to be commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees water management of the Colorado River in Western states.
Democratic and Republican senators approved President Joe Biden’s nominee on a voice vote.
Touton, of Filipino ancestry, moved as a child to Nevada. Las Vegas became her adopted home and she became interested in water, she told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a September hearing.
She told the panel water management in the West is a major concern and priority.
“The unprecedented drought has made the task even more challenging, as major reservoirs are at their lowest levels since filling, and the projections for relief in the face of climate change are not encouraging,” she told the hearing.
She was introduced to the panel by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., a member of the committee. Touton sailed through the confirmation process with bipartisan support, particularly from Western state Republican senators.
Touton recently served as Bureau of Reclamation deputy commissioner. She received degrees from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and George Mason University…
Touton will be directly involved in Colorado River management, Lake Mead and water issues that impact Nevada and other Western states, Tobias said…
She also becomes the first Filipino-American to hold such a position in the Interior Department.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Touton would bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to manage water for current and future generations.
Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:
The climate is changing. Global air temperatures are rising, as are sea levels throughout most of the U.S. Heavy rainfall is increasing in intensity and frequency. Atlantic hurricane intensity is on the rise, and the number of large forest fires in the western U.S. and Alaska is increasing and is exacerbated by drought and heat. In Alaska and the Arctic, sea ice is declining, permafrost is thawing, and warming is more than twice the global average (Walsh et al., 2014; Hayhoe et al., 2018; USGCRP, 2017).
Given close relationships with the natural world stemming from deep spiritual and cultural connections and subsistence lifeways, Indigenous peoples are on the frontlines of those experiencing and adapting to climate change. Indigenous peoples possess incredible resiliency and innovation, borne from Indigenous knowledges, worldviews, and countless generations of connection to place (Ford et
al., 2020). At the same time, climate change impacts for many Tribal communities are already severe (such as shifts in/loss of key cultural species and land loss due to erosion, flooding, and permafrost thaw), and the challenges they face responding to impacts are daunting (such as lack of funding and technical resources and legacies from colonialism and discrimination). The time to at is now, and the way to act is together: in community, taking care of one another and all our relations.
What Is the Status of Tribes and Climate Change (STACC) Report?
The Status of Tribes and Climate Change (STACC) Report seeks to uplift and honor the voices of Indigenous peoples across the U.S. to increase understanding of Tribal lifeways, cultures, and worldviews; the climate change impacts Tribes are experiencing; the solutions they are implementing; and ways that all of us can support Tribes in adapting to our changing world. Given this, the STACC Report was written for diverse audiences, including Tribal managers, leaders, and community members; the authors of future National Climate Assessments; federal and state agencies and decision-makers; and nongovernmental organizations. Over 90 authors representing diverse entities and perspectives contributed to this report, including the authors of 34 personal narratives and author teams who wrote topic reviews using elements from their own experiences and knowledge as well as information from the most current peer-reviewed literature. The development of the STACC Report was coordinated by the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP), which was established in 1992 at Northern Arizona University with a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Tribal Climate Resilience Program. ITEP is honored to have worked with these authors, who together, along with the Steering Committee, form the STACC Working Group.
Why This Report Was Created
The Indigenous peoples of North America have seen many hardships, including legacies of colonialism, forced assimilation, intergenerational trauma, upheaval and repression of Native economic systems, and the loss of ancestral lands, languages, natural resources, and traditions. Due to colonialization and subsequent land dispossession, social exclusion, and discrimination, researchers have identified Indigenous peoples globally and in the U.S. as populations “at-risk” to environmental change (Ford et al., 2020; Nakashima et al., 2018). Tribes have, however, continually proven to be resilient and innovative, which is evident in their creating adaptation and mitigation plans and continuing to rely on traditional knowledges to inform actions and strategies. This resiliency and adaptation dates back thousands of years and holds true in today’s changing climate.
As numerous Indigenous persons would attest to, the close relationship that Tribes have with their lands, waters, resources, and heritage includes a responsibility to one another, to all relations, and to the past and future generations of human and nonhuman relatives alike. It embodies the need to care for and respect the needs of all things and recognizes the responsibility to honor the wisdom of their ancestors and carefully consider the consequences of their decisions and actions for future generations. This may lead Tribal members to ask: what does it mean to be a good ancestor?
Due in part to these worldviews that are tightly interwoven with many compounding dimensions, Tribal experiences with climate change can make Indigenous peoples particularly vulnerable to cascading and disproportionate impacts, while their responses simultaneously support Tribal resilience to those impacts and are discussed throughout the STACC Report.
While Tribes cannot be thought of as one monolithic group, diverse Indigenous persons are in dialogue about synergies that exist among their worldviews. Numerous Indigenous persons have articulated that their worldviews understand all things as an interconnected whole, as shown in Figure 1, the Indigenous Holistic Worldview Illustration. There is inherent difficulty in writing a report that includes sectoral chapters about impacts experienced by Indigenous peoples that also reflects the interconnected nature of those experiences. However, as Figure 1 shows, each topic is interwoven with the others and all the systems of the world.
Although Indigenous peoples have been involved in various scientific reports related to climate change (see Ch. 1), a gap exists in the published literature of a holistic, in-depth review of the unique experiences of and threats to Tribes, in particular with first-hand experiences described. The STACC Report aims to fill this gap as well as provide recommendations for decision-makers and others supporting Tribal efforts.
Understanding Tribal Sovereignty
In order to effectively support Tribes in their efforts to address climate change, it is vital to understand Tribal sovereignty, self-determination, the federal trust responsibility, and consultation requirements within the government-to-government relationship. Tribal sovereignty is the inherent right of American Indians and Alaska Natives to govern themselves, and any decisions that could impact their property or citizens must be made with their participation and consent (NCSL, 2013; USDOI Frequently Asked Questions, n.d.). Similar to states, Tribes “possess the right to form their own governments; to make and enforce laws, both civil and criminal; to tax; to establish and determine membership (i.e., tribal citizenship); [and] to license and regulate activities within their jurisdiction…” (USDOI Frequently Asked Questions, n.d.). The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 articulates a
pathway for Tribal control, responsibility, and autonomy over programs and services usually administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (USDOI Self-Determination, n.d.; USDOI Frequently Asked Questions, n.d). The federal trust responsibility addresses the reality that Tribal nations ceded their homelands in exchange for the guarantee of protection of their rights to self-government and lands and to provide for federal assistance (NCAI Tribal Governance, n.d.). The government-to-government (or nation-to-nation) relationship is a fundamental principle of the federal trust responsibility (NCAI State/Tribal Relations, n.d.), and government-to-government consultation must occur from the beginning stages of all decision-making that could potentially impact Tribes.
Executive Order 13175, which was established in 2000, “reaffirms the Federal government’s commitment to tribal sovereignty, self-determination, and self-government. Its purpose is to ensure that all Executive departments and agencies consult with Indian tribes and respect tribal sovereignty as they develop policy on issues that impact Indian communities” (DOE, 2000). This executive order was reaffirmed by the Biden administration on January 26, 2021. Sovereignty is an inherent right of Tribes, and the onus is on the federal government to ensure that right and government-to-government consultation are upheld. It is important to note that not all Indigenous groups/peoples have federal recognition, which limits their access to federal resources and impacts their ability to address climate change.
Interwoven Key Messages & Recommendations
The full list of Key Messages & Recommendations can be found within each chapter and in the Conclusion. Much like the interwoven nature of all the topics addressed in this report, the key messages and recommendations are interdependent and can be distilled into two themes: Respect and uphold Tribal sovereignty and self-determination and Integrate holistic responses in line with Tribal values.
Key Message & Recommendation: Respect and Uphold Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Determination
Tribal sovereignty and self-determination help to counteract historical trauma, disproportionate climate change impacts, and vulnerability and are strong themes in the Recommendations across all chapters. The remedial dynamic of recognizing and respecting the pre-existing right of self-determination of Tribes should be acknowledged. Each chapter identifies key ways to promote Tribal sovereignty, including, but not limited to, the following actions and examples:
Engage Tribes early and often in decision-making processes (Chs. 3 and 10). Many federal programs and policies affecting Tribes have been designed without meaningful Tribal participation. Tribes should be central to such decision-making. Engaging Tribes early and often helps to ensure that programs developed are accessible to Tribal communities and that Tribal concerns, values, and priorities are included in decisions such as those about land or water management, the development of regulations, choices about what science questions to pursue, and more. One best “early and often” engagement practice is to establish Tribal partnerships before developing project proposals. Building relationships with Tribal leaders, managers, and community members is key to ensuring respectful dialogue and that intentions are trustworthy.
Increase co-management of natural resources. Co-management of natural resources involves cross-jurisdictional, cooperative, participatory collaboration in decision-making, planning, and enforcement (Ch. 3), and contributes to strengthening of food security and the realization of food sovereignty (Ch. 5). As the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho describes in their narrative in Ch. 4.1, their state-Tribal partnership improved monitoring capabilities during the 2020 wildfire smoke season.
Respect, include, and protect Indigenous and traditional knowledges in climate change actions. Such knowledges are a fundamental and interwoven part of Indigenous cultures and are important for understanding and responding to changes that are occurring. For instance, during climatic and other disruptions such as wildfires, extreme weather, and the COVID-19 pandemic, when access to commercial foods may be cut off, traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering methods form a source of local resilience. In addition to the information in Chs. 2, 3, 4, 5, and 12, a resource for better understanding this concept is the Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges in Climate Change Initiatives.1 As described in the Guidelines, Tribes must be able to choose to share or not share traditional knowledges with others.
Provide adequate funding for climate change adaptation (Chs. 4–12 and Appendix A). Inadequate funding remains one of the greatest barriers for Tribes to plan for and adapt to climate change, as well as to mitigate climate change through greenhouse gas reductions and developing a zero- carbon economy (Chs. 4.2.1, 6, 7, and 12). For example, across the U.S., Tribal communities are experiencing land loss due to erosion, flooding, and permafrost thaw (Chs. 4 and 10). Nationwide, at least $6.2 billion is needed over the next 50 years to protect, replace, and move existing Tribal infrastructure. This amount includes at least $175 million needed annually nationwide over the next ten years (Ch. 10).
Increase coordination among federal programs so that financial and technical resources are more easily accessed by Tribes and are used more efficiently. When accessing climate change adaptation resources, Tribes may face hurdles navigating a federal system in which funding and technical expertise are dispersed across multiple departments and programs, each with differing and sometimes complicated processes for accessing resources (Ch. 4.2.1, 9, and 10). For example, programs that provide funding to construct public drinking water systems are located within seven different federal agencies, and there is no lead federal agency or program to help communities facing relocation (Ch. 4.2.1 and 10).
Build and retain capacity within Tribes to manage and adapt their resources and infrastructure to climate change through passing down of knowledge between elders and youth, workforce development, professional training to increase technical and managerial expertise, and the equitable and ethical use of Indigenous knowledges and Western science (see Chs. 3, 4.2.1, 5, 7, and 12). Tribal Colleges and Universities, for example, are important institutions for students to transition from education to their careers as professionals; on-the-job training programs allow for the application of emerging technologies such as those in energy generation; and hiring community members first ensures the local community will benefit. Workforce development can transcend inequity issues, contribute to strong economies, and help maintain cultural integrity. Federal responses should integrate support for these local capacity-building and retention efforts.
Provide Tribally-focused data, resources, and actionable science to support Tribal decision-making (Chs. 3 and 6 and Appendix B). Climate change occurs globally but is experienced locally in a variety of ways. Climate change data that is more local and integrated with local observations and knowledge can be more relevant for planning and actions. The University of Washington’s Tribal Climate Tool, for instance, provides Pacific Northwest Tribes with reservation-specific climate change data. Actionable science helps people make better decisions about things they care about and should start off with the question, “What does this community value?” This is aided by engaging Tribes early and often (see above).
Support the planning and implementation of Tribally-led solutions to Tribally-identified needs (Chs. 4.1 and 12 and Appendix A). Due to colonization, Tribes have had decisions about their futures imposed on them from outside entities. A key element of Tribal sovereignty involves Tribes identifying their own needs and priorities and leading their own responses and actions. The Climate Science Alliance’s Tribal Working Group is one example of successfully building, supporting, and accelerating Tribal resilience in a Tribally-led environment in which the planning and implementation aspects are fully supported (narrative, Ch. 12). Another example is described by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi in Ch. 4.1: they had concerns about air pollution from area sources, which led to them directing their resources to strategically install PurpleAir monitors and develop an Environmental Dashboard to help protect the health of their Tribal members.
Key Message & Recommendation: Integrate Holistic Responses in Line with Tribal Values
As described above, Tribal worldviews, experiences, and responses embody interconnectedness. Cascading impacts from, and holistic and interconnected responses to, climate change are addressed throughout the STACC Report and include actionable steps such as:
When developing climate change solutions, recognize the interconnectedness of systems and consider strategies that achieve multiple objectives (see Chs. 4.2 and 5). Ocean acidification and harmful algae events negatively affect Indigenous food systems and security, human health, and local economies. Solutions like clam gardens—essentially, rock walls in bays or inlets that increase shellfish productivity—are an integrated response to multiple climate change impacts (e.g., rising tides, food security, and ocean acidification) and draw upon traditional knowledges. Exerting economic sovereignty through sustainable enterprise development is another strategy Tribes use to address system interconnectedness and achieve multiple objectives (see Ch. 6). Additionally, rising air temperatures and increasing drought may stress native vegetation, leaving plants more vulnerable to insect outbreaks and providing greater opportunities for invasive plants to become established. Large-scale, uncharacteristically high-severity wildfires that could contribute to ecosystem conversion may continue to increase. Cultural burning is a stewardship practice that can enhance ecosystem resilience to climate change and achieve multiple objectives by promoting drought-tolerant and fire-adapted vegetation species; inhibiting insect pests that affect foods such as nuts, seeds, and berries; mitigating large-scale detrimental fires; and promoting the growth of basket-weaving materials and medicinal and food species. By working with the fire regimes of native and nonnative vegetation, cultural burning can also inhibit the establishment of invasive plants. Momentum is gaining for the use of this multifaceted strategy as recognition of the benefits of cultural burning spreads beyond Tribal communities, scientific understanding of the role that fire plays in ecosystems builds, and legal policies that limit cultural burns shift (Chs. 4, 4.1, 5, 8, and 12.)
Increase partnerships across jurisdictional boundaries and at different scales and integrate climate change considerations into ongoing planning and implementation processes (Chs. 3, 4.2, 6, 9, and 12). Climate change impacts are often interconnected and complex, sometimes crossing jurisdictional lines. Integrating climate change into ongoing planning and implementation, along with collaborative responses at larger geographic scales, has the potential to be more cost- efficient, more inclusive with respect to decision-making, and less time-consuming and to lead to actions that are more sustainable in the long term. Ch. 12 describes how Tribes are participating in a variety of cross-boundary, collaborative projects, including the Rio Grande Water Fund hosted by The Nature Conservancy. The Fund supports large-scale forest restoration by a variety of entities in the aftermath of an extensive wildfire to ensure a clean water supply for the region’s people and wildlife, both now and in the future. Examples of plans in which climate change can be considered as one factor among many include: FEMA Tribal Hazard Mitigation Plans; EPA Tribal Environmental Plans; Land/Resource Management Plans; Community Comprehensive Plans; and BIA forest, wildland fire, irrigation, fish and wildlife, agricultural, and integrated resource management plans.
Implement climate adaptation strategies that are proactive versus solely reactive (Chs. 4.2, 4.2.1, and 11). In contrast to reactive responses, proactive strategies anticipate future scenarios and plan for problems that may occur before they take place, helping to minimize harm. Climate-resilient drinking water systems, for example, provide reliable service with limited disruptions and/or harm in the face of changing environmental conditions and extreme climate events. If disruptions occur, systems can recover quickly. Infrastructure deficiencies provide opportunities to install new infrastructure in climate-resilient ways that can help decrease emergencies. System upgrades provide occasions to improve the climate resiliency of existing infrastructure.
Connect solutions to Tribal values and priorities, and recognize the tangible and intangible significance of climate change impacts. Tribes may have different views than their non-Tribal counterparts with respect to what they value and prioritize, and not all resources have tangible value or risk of loss (Ch. 8). Ch. 5 describes how the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, for instance, developed Indigenous Health Indicators (IHIs) that contrast somewhat with a more western view of health. The indicators include community connection, cultural use, education, natural resource security, self-determination, and resilience. The Swinomish Tribal government used these IHIs to prioritize and make decisions about how to use limited time and resources to address sea level rise and storm surge impacts to key first foods habitats.
Support Tribes’ just transitions away from fossil fuels. Tribal self-determination means that decisions made by individual Tribes will vary, but a just transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy will ensure that regenerative and sustainable economies are a part of the restoration of Indigenous peoples’ lifeways (Chs. 6 and 7). Some Tribal economies are dependent on fossil fuels, which is an unsustainable economic model, and the burning of fossil fuels is ultimately driving climate change. The Hopi Tribe’s economy has depended on coal for 50 years, and the closure of the area’s coal mine was a devastating loss. The Tribe is working towards transitioning to renewable energy development to improve the health of the community while also creating new revenue and jobs (narrative, Ch. 7).
The 2021 STACC Report is the first of its kind. Future STACC Reports will seek to identify new topics and developments important to Tribes and current topics that this edition did not cover. The authors of future Reports will also continue to strive to integrate topics holistically.
Building on the successes of Tribes and individuals who have dedicated their lives to elevating Indigenous peoples’ concerns and implementing the changes imperative to improving their lives, the 2021 STACC Report demonstrates the unique climate change impacts experienced by Tribes and the many ways they are responding. Gaining an understanding of Tribal worldviews, traditional knowledges, and the increased impacts that many Tribal communities face may lead to improved responses to climate change in the U.S. and greater environmental and social justice for the original peoples of this land. When we recognize we are not separate from our natural environment and value justice, equity, and respect for all our relations, we may collectively achieve a society in which all can thrive.
Commissioners say they hate the project, but the odds of winning a lawsuit were poor. Denver Water upped the offer to help mitigate impacts of construction to $12.5 million.
The Boulder County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a settlement allowing Denver Water to expand the dam and pool at Gross Reservoir, despite vocal opposition from some residents, after a $10 million mitigation deal was sweetened by $2.5 million to soften construction impacts for neighbors.
Denver Water is likely to vote Wednesday to approve a total of $12.5 million in mitigation and open space donations for Boulder County, after last-minute talks raised the sum.
The commissioners said they were heartsick at the destruction the dam expansion will cause for neighbors and for revered county open lands. But, they added, county attorneys advised them that federal laws preempt their planning process because the existing dam includes a hydroelectric generator and is therefore controlled by federal laws.
The attorneys said Boulder County would lose a federal suit filed by Denver Water and that the agency would withdraw its mitigation offer if they delayed a vote.
Denver Water already has the federal approval it needs to raise the dam on South Boulder Creek by 131 feet, and inundate the surrounding forest for 77,000 more acre-feet of storage, nearly tripling capacity…
The commissioners wanted Denver Water to go through the county’s existing “1041” land use process, allowed under state law, before construction on the Gross Reservoir expansion begins. But in July, Denver Water sued, saying federal laws superseded Boulder County’s process and that its federal permit required the utility to begin construction by 2022. Boulder County was intentionally slowing down the project, Denver Water argued…
Denver Water Manager Jim Lochhead said in a statement after the vote, “I appreciate that this was a hard and emotional decision for the Boulder County Commissioners.
“We have tried for the last year to go through the County’s 1041 land use process, and only after delays were we forced to file litigation to prevent violation of the order by FERC for us to commence construction of the project. Denver Water continues to be committed to do everything in our power to mitigate local impacts of construction,” Lochhead said.
Construction would impact surrounding forests, trails, roads and neighbors, and also temporarily cut off access to popular open spaces in parts of the area. Commissioner Marta Loachamin said she toured areas around Gross Reservoir for the first time in June, and was struck by markings in the forest showing how many trees will have to be removed and how high the new water pool will rise in the canyon.
Conservation groups who have sued to stop the dam expansion can continue to negotiate with Denver Water for additional mitigation, deputy county attorney David Hughes told the commissioners. Denver Water has indicated they would continue to talk with the groups, he said…
The conservation groups are adamant Boulder County could have negotiated for more mitigation. Save the Colorado and PLAN-Boulder County said they had proposed $70 million in mitigation as a settlement, and that Boulder County stopped including them in talks last week.
The agreement with Denver Water now includes:
$5 million for the construction impacts on immediate neighbors of the reservoir.
$5.1 million to Boulder County open space funding to acquire new land or repair and maintain trails and facilities under extra strain from visitors who can’t use Gross Reservoir spaces.
$1.5 million to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from construction.
$1 million for South St. Vrain Creek restoration.
A transfer of 70 acres of Denver Water land near Gross Reservoir to Boulder County to expand Walker Ranch Open Space.
Western Navajo could have an innovative economy with water, said Delegate Paul Begay.
“The number one need here in Western Navajo is water,” Begay said. “Economic development – hotels, restaurant – we can do all that, we can build all that, but we don’t have water.”
Once a water main is constructed, perhaps Western Navajo can compete with cities and municipalities nearby, said Begay, who’s pushing for the Antelope Canyon (Tsébighánlini/Tsébii’ Hazdeestas) Development Area in Łichíi’ii and for Phase I of the Western Navajo Pipeline.
Both water delivery system projects amount to $84.3 million. The pipeline alone is estimated to be nearly $45 million, the development area $30.7 million, and Antelope Marina $8.5 million.
The pipeline would take water from Lake Powell through the city of Page and along Navajo Route 20 (U.S. Route 89T) toward Coppermine, Bodaway-Gap, U.S. Route 89, and up toward Na’ní’á Hasani.
In the future, the pipeline would have lateral roots to Tónaneesdizí and Moenkopi on U.S. Route 160.
“This will get water to LeChee,” Begay explained. “It will get water to Coppermine, down to Bodaway-Gap and surrounding areas.
“It’s a seed that will be planted,” he said. “Ten to twenty years from now, we anticipate that the water will reach Tuba City, Coalmine Canyon, Cameron – the whole western region (18 chapters). Tonalea-Red Lake, Kaibeto, Ts’ahbiikin – we’ll eventually reach those areas.”
Both projects involve planning and constructing various water infrastructure components and facilities in Łichíi’ii, Bodaway-Gap, and Cameron.
Those components include a water treatment plant, miles of water and power lines, wells, and storage tanks.
Begay said there isn’t a water main in Western Navajo because of water rights and claims in the upper and lower Colorado River basins. The Navajo Nation has completed a water settlement that recognizes some of its water rights to the Colorado River system. The tribe also has an additional outstanding claim.
Right now, the Page Water Treatment Plant provides safe drinking water to the community of Łichíi’ii.
“So, we are basically at the mercy of the city when it comes to that,” Begay said. “One of our justifications for beginning this Western Navajo Pipeline is that we want to be self-sufficient, self-reliant…
Begay’s legislation (CJY-39-21) asks for $58.2 million in Sih Hásin Funds to the Navajo Nation Water Management Branch for Phase I of the Western Navajo Pipeline.
“We (along with co-sponsors Carl Slater, Herman Daniels Jr., Otto Tso and Thomas Walker Jr.) asked for $58 million because that was the shortfall,” Begay said.
Begay said Phase I could be eligible for funding under the American Rescue Plan Act. If it is suitable, the funds will replace the money allocated from Sih Hásin.
“Funding will jump start our (own) water treatment facility (in Western Navajo),” Begay said. “We don’t know exactly how many phases (it will take to complete the pipeline).
“We’re looking at this (Sih Hásin Fund) to help us with our procurement process,” he said, “the assessment process, getting the right-of-way. This $58 million will fund that (over) two to two and half years.
“That’s what we call a ‘shovel-ready project,’ ready for work to begin,” he said. “After that, it’ll take another four to four and half years for the actual work to happen and to complete.”
This means that Phase I will be completed within five years, and the pipeline should reach Tónaneesdizí and the rest of the Western Navajo region within 20 years…
No water in the west
A water settlement nine years ago would have sent a water delivery pipeline from Lake Powell through the entire Navajo Nation and connected to the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, which is now under construction.
President Jonathan Nez, then a Council delegate, and his colleagues voted down the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Rights Settlement.
The Council at the time, in 2012, voted six in favor and 15 opposed.
The proposed settlement agreement included about $4 million for water projects for the Navajo and Hopi nations.
Now, Western Navajo is at risk from a water crisis. While a storage tank that will provide water storage for the Gap Water System, a health clinic, and the Indian Health Service Koko pipeline (extending water to 32 existing homes) is being built in Bodaway-Gap, tour businesses in the Tsébighánlini/Tsébii’ Hazdeestas area need water.
“We have over 15 businesspeople that run the slot canyon tours, and that’s all they have,” Begay said. “They don’t have water. They would like to add restaurants and motels (to their businesses), so we can be competitive. This Western Navajo Pipeline will help in that area…
Begay added, “If anybody needs water, it’s the Navajo people. We’ve been here for hundreds of years, supposedly … the original landlords here. We should be the one who should have use of the water first rather than transported or just being let go, and it’ll go somewhere else.”
The Southwest’s active monsoon season this year washed tons of sand into the Colorado River, where it could have helped shore up the Grand Canyon’s withering beaches, if not for one big problem: The water stored behind Glen Canyon Dam is at an all-time low after more than two decades of drought.
As a result, the federal government’s dam managers have hit pause on an environmental program that calls for controlled floods out of Lake Powell when there’s enough sand for the water to push up and rebuild sandbars and beaches, preserving the national park’s ecology, river trip campsites and archaeological sites.
Prodigious rains from the summer and fall monsoon dumped the sand that created the right conditions for a November flood but left nowhere near enough water to prop up the shrinking reservoir.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cited projected losses in the dam’s hydropower production as a reason to hold back the envisioned floodwaters. That could save up to $4 million for electric ratepayers across the West, but it also sets an ominous precedent for a river that’s becoming too drained by aridification and overuse to sustain its own health…
The dam that created Lake Powell in the early 1960s choked off more than nine-tenths of the Colorado’s contribution to Grand Canyon’s sand flow, dropping it on the new lakebed and sending clear water downstream from the hydropower plant’s turbines.
That left the sand that the Paria River washes out of southern Utah toward the Colorado at Lees Ferry to build beaches in the upper Grand Canyon, and the sand from Arizona’s Little Colorado River deeper in the canyon…
Starting in the 1980s, a group of scientists puzzling over how to restore a semblance of nature in the canyon imagined a program opening the dam’s bypass tubes to create artificial floods whenever enough sand accumulated for the pulse of water to push it downstream and deposit it on bars and beaches.
Benefits would include everything from the creation of shallow, warm backwaters more familiar to the river’s native fishes to coverage of threatened artifacts, and restoration of beaches for float trips that account for more than 100,000 user days on the river each year.
The occasional planned floods began in 1996, four years after Congress passed the Grand Canyon Protection Act mandating dam operations that balance water and power needs with the canyon’s environment. The floods continued haltingly, every several years until the Obama administration adopted a plan that supporters believed took costs and politics out of the equation and would trigger a flood whenever sand measurements at Lees Ferry warranted one.
That would include this fall when Utah State University river researcher Jack Schmidt said the sand is more plentiful than it is in three out of every four years.
Schmidt was among the scientists who first envisioned the controlled floods, and he later directed the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center. He said he fears the government’s decision against flooding when there’s this much sand indicates that low water levels are leading to backsliding on the commitment to manage according to the science.
“This decision takes us dangerously close to the old world where politics dictates not having a flood,” Schmidt said…
Reclamation officials at the bureau’s Upper Colorado Basin office in Salt Lake City decided against conducting a flood this fall. They did not respond to a request for comment, but a bureau presentation at the technical work group’s fall meeting cited the Western Area Power Administration’s hydropower cost estimates as a reason that regional state and federal officials advised against pushing more water downstream.
They determined that a 60-hour flood of the sort that has occurred before would cost $1.3 million in lost hydropower revenues, while an unprecedented 192-hour flood — allowed by rule when sand accumulates like it did this year — would cost $3.7 million.
A 192-hour flood could have been especially problematic, the officials reported, because it would have dropped the lake’s elevation by 5 feet, to within about 10 feet of the dam’s buffer zone for producing hydropower without damaging the turbines. A 60-hour flood would limit the reduction to about 2 feet…
Controlled floods, officially known as high-flow experiments, are no cure for what ails the Grand Canyon. They temporarily restore beaches, which are then eroded over time by flows that fluctuate to meet water and power demands. Only the next flood can keep them from eroding to critically low levels.
Today, with no flood since 2018, the sandbars and beaches are as low as they’ve been in a decade, and are projected to decline another 10% before next year’s rafting season. Had the government scheduled a 192-hour flood, the beaches were projected to grow by 75%, and to remain 50% larger after winter erosion…
“It seems as though the Grand Canyon Protection Act was not given much weight,” said Peter Bungart, a cultural resources officer for the Hualapai Tribe.
That law’s mandate for managing the dam in harmony with canyon resources is “clear as mud,” according to University of Utah law professor Robert Adler. It first directs the government to release water in a way that protects and restores the natural and recreational resources for which Grand Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area were established.
Then it says to do that in a way that’s consistent with the suite of other laws governing the river’s water storage and distribution agreements, laws often in conflict with the canyon’s environmental interests…
Still, environmental groups and tribes objecting to the flood’s rejection and the exclusive decision-making process sent a joint letter to the Bureau of Reclamation on Wednesday seeking a greater role in future flood debates, and greater consideration to the Grand Canyon Protection Act…
If losing a few million dollars in revenues is to become a flood disqualifier, [Larry] Stevens said, there may never be more floods.
Colorado’s map from the Oct. 26, 2020, U.S. Drought Monitor looked like some kind of fresh hell, its swaths of red and orange highlighting what happens when there is too much heat and not enough water for a long time. Colorado’s resulting fire crisis had good company; much of the Western United States had similar stories of people running from their homes as the fires closed in.
It was so 2020, as further evidenced by the strain on the Colorado River and the ongoing wake-up calls in communities that receive its water – directly or diverted.
Locally, Chaffee County’s economies lean on supplemental summer releases into the Arkansas River. Despite two decades of drought and aridification, the Arkansas has been able to remain visually stunning in the high season – not entirely due to the workings of nature. It’s uncertain how that may change.
One year later, the colors on Colorado’s map have softened to shades of beige and an innocuous-looking lemon-yellow, with darker spots remaining in the northwest corner and the far southwest edge. With some rain to its credit over this past summer and perhaps just plain luck, Colorado managed to escape the land-killing infernos such as the Cameron Peak Fire and the aptly named East Troublesome Fire of 2020.
Nobody knows exactly how those 2020 fires would have raged had not a major snowstorm rolled in on Oct. 25 last year and snuffed their trajectories. As it stood, East Troublesome charred 193,212 acres and 580 structures.
Snow is good. And traditionally it has been the utility player, if not hero, in the seven-state region served by the Colorado River, where, in a perfect world, it stores naturally on Colorado’s mountain peaks. Upon melting with a timed grace and running off in mid-spring, it flows south and west to the Gulf of California, serving some 40 million people en route.
Thanks to warmer temperatures and aridification, that sweet rhythm is off. Spring runoff gushes from the peaks too fast and sinks into the parched landscape before enough of it gets to its intended waterways.
That said, later-season snows helped address an alarming dry trend in the spring of 2021, helping Chaffee County look better on the Drought Monitor and delighting those with fixations on the SNOTEL system and its high-country snowpack reports. The infusion of summer rain gave the appearance of a kinda-maybe monsoon pattern locally.
Water flowing through the Fry-Ark system, the trans-basin diversion from the Colorado River that flows out of the Frying Pan River in Pitkin County and which is released from Turquoise Lake and Twin Lakes, once again plumped the moneymaking waves in the Arkansas River from July 1 until mid-August this year.
Under the Voluntary Flow Management Program with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (SECWCD), 10,000 acre-feet of water is allocated during that time; moved to benefit recreation. All told, Fry-Ark sends out an average of 58,000 acre-feet each year, much of it going to agriculture below the Pueblo Reservoir.
It didn’t hurt that the Pueblo Board of Water Works was able to release 6,000 acre-feet from Clear Creek Reservoir early in the summer season. It echoed the cooperative dance of moving large amounts of water that has, by necessity, developed between water entities. This highlights the increased communication that is one of the upsides in the long-reaching, exhaustive conversations about water among an exhaustive list of stakeholders in Colorado and the West.
Chris Woodka, Senior Policy and Issues Management Manager with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the increasing pressures on water have caused groups to come to the table and seek solutions. “What’s different is we’re talking all the time with each other,” he said. “There was a time when people were wary of how other people were moving water. Everyone now realizes it’s to their advantage to talk.”
With water from Fry-Ark and Clear Creek Reservoir – not to mention rain, the fattened Arkansas River gurgled through the county once again and gave more than a passing nod to the local economies over the summer. Pandemic aside, things seemed nice and easy.
“It almost gives you a false sense of security,” [Greg] Felt said, noting that with continuing drought and aridification, there are increasing signs of hydrological systems not being able to correct themselves.
“That whole program is built on Fry-Ark water,” he said. “There’s a lot at stake here. Diversions from the Fry-Ark project could be seriously impacted, and that’s a major concern.”
“It’s a no-brainer, probably, that a voluntary flow management program will be a lower priority than delivery for consumptive use,” he added.
Indeed, nothing is truly nice and easy anymore as the West faces challenges to just about everything that is known about water and how it continues to serve us…
…with average temperatures in the Colorado River Basin running 2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than in the 20th century, those original nice ideas [Colorado River Compact] are being retooled or sidelined in the name of badly needed, better ideas; addressing drought, aridification and salination, and how to feed people when the river can’t help so much anymore. A new plan for operating the Colorado River is due in 2026.
Boulder County and Denver Water could be nearing a settlement to resolve a simmering dispute over plans to expand the Gross Reservoir.
Denver Water in July sued Boulder County in federal court, claiming commissioners were taking too long to consider the utility’s request to expand the reservoir.
“The proposed settlement would require Denver Water to pay more than $10 million to mitigate the impacts of the project in Boulder County,” Boulder officials said in a Friday news release. “In exchange, Boulder County would not dispute Denver Water’s claim that the project is exempt from review.”
Boulder County’s Board of Commissioners will meet Tuesday to discuss the proposed settlement, while Denver Water’s board will meet the following day. A federal judge had set oral arguments in the lawsuit for Nov. 4, but those would be canceled if the agency and county government approve the settlement…
The proposed expansion would raise the existing Gross Dam by 131 feet and widen it by 800 feet, increasing the reservoir’s capacity from nearly 42,000 acre-feet to nearly 120,000 acre-feet.
But Denver Water can’t just do it on its own — it needs a permit from Boulder County, which will receive none of the water security and all of the construction, traffic and ecosystem effects. Those who live near the reservoir complain that the five years of construction would bring pollution, lights and noise, while environmental advocates say tens of thousands of trees would have to be cut down to complete the project…
Some of the money ($2.5 million) would be allocated to assist Boulder County residents directly impacted by the project, while $5.1 million would go to open space funding to replace land consumed by the larger reservoir, Boulder officials said. Other funds would address greenhouse gas emissions from the project and restoration efforts of the South Saint Vrain Creek.
Denver Water would also agree under the proposed settlement to transfer 70 acres of land near Walker Ranch Open Space to Boulder County, which would be added to the recreational land…
In its lawsuit this summer, Denver Water alleged that Boulder County was overstepping its authority and jeopardizing the water project.
A federal judge dismissed a separate lawsuit in March from a coalition of environmental organizations, which sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2018 to block the project.
Colorado lawmakers are advancing a bill aimed at outlawing water investment speculation, even as they acknowledged their attempt to address the complex problem is an imperfect one.
On Wednesday, members of Colorado’s Water Resources Review Committee voted to put forth a bill in the 2022 legislative session that aims to prohibit a buyer of agricultural water rights from profiting on the increased value of the water in a future sale. The measure is an attempt to prevent out-of-state investors from making a profit off a public resource that grows scarcer in a water-short future driven by climate change.
The draft bill gives the state engineer at the Department of Water Resources the ability to investigate complaints of investment water speculation and fine a purchaser up to $10,000 if they determine speculation is occurring. Those making a complaint could also be fined up to $1,000 if state officials deem a complaint frivolous. A second section of the bill also directs the board of directors of mutual ditch companies to set a minimum percent of agricultural water rights for one purchaser to hold that would trigger the presumption that they are engaging in investment water speculation.
Western Slope state Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Eagle County, and Don Coram, R-Montrose County, and Rep. Karen McCormick, D-Boulder County, are sponsoring the bill.
At the beginning of Wednesday’s discussion, Donovan vented her frustration with what she called mixed messages from water managers. Most seem to agree that stopping investment water speculation is important, but no one can agree on the best way to do that.
“There was a general agreement that investment water speculation was an important issue to work on, so much so… that we invested taxpayer dollars in order to turn out a report,” she said. “We have put resources into addressing this issue and now the feedback is ‘don’t do anything, slow down.’”
Donovan was referring to a report released in August by a work group, which was tasked with exploring ways to strengthen the state’s current anti-speculation laws. The group, made up of water managers and policy experts from across water sectors, came up with a list of concepts on how to prevent water investment speculation. But they did not give clear recommendations to legislators because they could not come to a consensus on which concepts to implement.
FromThe Colorado Springs Gazette (Carol McKinley and Marianne Goodland):
The Colorado Water Trust is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, with two decades of efforts to restore flows in Colorado rivers. But the trust’s next 20 years will likely face greater challenges of climate change and population growth that are already taking a toll on the state’s waterways.
The trust’s main focus is to improve instream flows, the flows and water levels in a stream or river.
Back in 1973, the Colorado General Assembly recognized the need for a statewide instream flow program. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) was given the authority to acquire water rights, or lease them, for instream flow purposes. Instream flow water rights, one of the beneficial uses under Colorado’s water rights law, are the exclusive authority of the CWCB.
While the original purpose of the legislation was to “protect the natural environment,” the instream flow program has expanded to address “water requirements for declining, sensitive, and threatened and endangered species, and protection of macroinvertebrate populations and rare riparian vegetation assemblages,” according to the CWCB.
Since 1973, the CWCB has appropriated instream flow rights for 1,700 stream segments covering more than 9,700 miles of stream.
But the instream flow program got off to a slow start, and drought was becoming an increasing problem in Colorado. One of the first big droughts was in the winter of 1976-77, which “sent shock waves through Colorado’s economy and state government.”
There was a gap. The CWCB had the authority over junior water rights for instream flows, but nothing in place to acquire senior water rights.
Those junior rights are useful very high up in the mountains where there aren’t a lot of other rights, said Andy Schultheiss, the trust’s executive director. Senior water rights, on the other hand, are more secure, but the state needed an outside group to scout opportunities for the state to buy or lease those senior water rights.
In 2000, water engineers, water lawyers and conservationists began discussions on how to bolster the instream flow program, and that led to the formation of the trust in 2001.
Like most new water programs in Colorado, the trust faced suspicion from water rights holders early on, especially farmers and ranchers. According to the Colorado Water Exchange, 80% of the state’s water goes toward irrigation, and that’s mostly for agriculture.
“It took us eight or nine years to develop our first project,” Schultheiss said. “There’s a lot of reluctance to try anything new.”
That first major project came in 2009, when Pitkin County and the CWCB signed an agreement, brokered by the trust, to allow the county to lend water for the instream flow program.
Since then, the trust has directed 13.5 million gallons of water through 588 miles of Colorado waterways.
The approach today works like this: The Trust goes to a rancher and says, “How about you stop irrigating, say Aug. 1, and we compensate you for the days you’re missing, and we give the rest of your water to the state to lease it to use in an instream flow reach?” That’s a classic kind of trust project, Schultheiss said.
In an apparently groundbreaking permanent water sharing agreement in 2014, said to be the first in the West, the trust purchased a portion of the water rights on the McKinley Ditch to restore flows to a three-mile segment of the Little Cimarron River, a tributary of the Gunnison River. In spring and summer, the water is available for agricultural irrigation. Late summer and fall, the water heads down the Little Cimarron…
The trust has been trying to improve instream flows on the Yampa since the 2012 drought, according to Schultheiss. In some years, the water they buy from Stagecoach Reservoir represents a third or more of the water in the river, he said.
Back in 2012, the trust recognized that there was water sitting in Stagecoach with very few customers.
“And we said, ‘Why not? Why can’t we just buy water and release water from Stagecoach? There’s an in-stream flow reach just below the dam, and then there’s the city farther down.’”
By 2021, the releases from Stagecoach have been institutionalized, according to Schultheiss. Thanks to the Yampa River Fund, a collaboration between the Steamboat Springs and the Nature Conservancy, and with a $4.5 million endowment to pay for it, the river got a record-breaking 2,000 acre-feet of water from Stagecoach. In a year with severe drought in northwestern Colorado, it was enough to keep the water temperatures down and avoid fish kills and other environmental damage…
“We are a market-based organization. … Our whole reason for being is that we participate in the market on behalf of the environment, and we need money to be able to do that.” — Andy Schultheiss
As the gap between water supplies and demands narrows in northwestern Colorado, state officials want to ensure that, as best as reasonably can be done, every last drop gets measured and recorded.
They made their case to about 60 ranchers in North Park’s Walden, Colo., on Friday in the fifth of six stakeholder meetings during October that will conclude tonight with a meeting in Craig.
The proposed rules governing the Yampa, White and North Platte River basins would require that headgates, which allow water diversions into ditches, be supplemented with measuring infrastructure, either flumes or weirs, to track the amount of water being diverted. The rules would also institute protocols for reporting the measurements, for collection in state databases. Authority to require the measuring and reporting is clearly defined by state law, but the law leaves room for discretion about the particulars, hence the stakeholder process.
In an already drought-stricken region likely to become hotter and drier yet in the 21st century, those measurements will become ever-more important in administering water rights. The Yampa River this century has carried on average 6% less water than it did during the 20th century. On the White River, flows have fallen 19%.
Already, there is concern that Colorado will be forced to curtail diversions of water rights dated later than the 1922 Colorado River Compact if the aridification of the Colorado River Basin continues, said Kevin Rein, the state water engineer, at the outset of the meeting in Walden.
The compact specifies that Colorado along with Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico “will not cause the flow of the river” at Lee Ferry, at the top of the Grand Canyon, “to be depleted below an aggregate” of 75 million-acre feet for an period of 10 consecutive years. Colorado and the three other upper basin states are in relatively good shape—for at least the next couple of years. In the last decade, 92 million acre-feet have flowed past Lee Ferry toward Arizona, Nevada, California and, eventually, Mexico.
But if below-average becomes the new normal, as climate scientists warn almost certainly will be the case, Colorado may be forced to defend its diversions in light of the compact. “When they come in and ask for water, we can’t refuse if we have no data,” said Mike Sullivan, the deputy state water engineer.
The state water officials pointed to the Aug. 2021 report Lessons Learned from Colorado Experiences with Interstate Compact Administration issued by the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University and MacIlroy Research and Consulting. “Confronting the limits of a water supply is a painful experience,” the report said after studying the Republican, Arkansas and Rio Grande basins. “Across each of the basins, earlier action to address potential compact and supply issues has enhanced the control communities have to develop and choose their own, less painful, options.”
The North Platte River does not flow into the Colorado River. It’s east of the Continental Divide but separated from the Front Range by the Medicine Bow and other mountain ranges. So why the need to measure water in North Park the same as in the Yampa and White river valleys?
Because it’s good to have the data should it be necessary as required by other interstate agreements, in this case involving Wyoming and Nebraska, said Sullivan.
But there’s another reason for more rigorous accounting of diversions, said the state water officials. Owners of water rights can best look out after their own interests by documenting their water use. This guards against those rights being placed on lists of abandoned water rights that state law requires be issued every 10 years. The most recent list for all river basins, including North Park, was issued last year.
Measuring devices also give those with more senior water appropriations the right to divert their legal entitlements in water-scarce years. And in the case of land sales with connected water rights, it gives owners the proof of water use to demonstrate value to potential purchasers.
In several river basins in Colorado, notably those east of the Continental Divide, measurements became crucial as early as the 19th century. In those river basins where water users experienced an earlier squeeze between supplies and demands, those with senior water rights began placing calls that required those with newer—and hence more junior— rights upstream to cease or cut back diversions.
In Water Division 6, which includes the North Platte, Yampa and White river basins, 54% of headgates had appropriate measuring devices as of April. This compares with upwards of 90% in several other water divisions of Colorado.
Overlapping the new rules is a proposal being considered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources to designate the Yampa River as over-appropriated. Most rivers in the state are already considered over-appropriated, in some cases over a century ago. Segments of the Yampa—including the river upstream from Steamboat Springs and several tributaries—already have been so designated. This designation will require irrigators drilling wells to have water that they can use to augment streamflows if there is a call on the river by a senior user. Improved measuring will assist in administration. Meetings to gather input were scheduled for Monday night in Craig and Thursday night in Hayden.
State officials hope to get the measurement rulemaking as well as the Yampa designation completed by early next year. Rules will be unique to the needs of Northwest Colorado, just as rules governing the Republican and Arkansas River basins are unique to the interstate water agreements and other circumstances governing water use in those basins.
North Park was particularly warm and dry last winter. One rancher after the Walden meeting recalled that it was possible to drive across his hay meadows all of last winter whereas many years he has to plow the driveway almost daily.
“It was pathetic, really,” said Keith Holsinger, standing on a bridge over the Michigan River east of Walden where he grows hay on 800 acres. One of his neighbors, who usually gets 500 to 600 tons of hay, got only 90 tons this year, he reported.
Holsinger has lived on the ranch all of his 77 years. His water rights range from among the oldest in North Park, an 1885 decree with a priority number of 32, to more junior rights of 240th in priority.
He remembers putting in the first measuring device sometime after the drought of 1977. His last device, a weir, he had installed last year.
During the meeting, some skepticism was voiced about the coming measurement rules. State representatives characterized the relationship between water users and state authorities as one of cooperation and trust. But one audience member pushed back. Implementation seemed to be discretionary, he said. “It’s a trust issue, and I’m sorry to say I don’t have a lot of faith.”
But as for the need for the rules, Holsinger is already persuaded. “If it’s free water in priority, if you want that water, you had better have a headgate and weir,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
The most significant discontent voiced in the background of the meeting agenda was about the high turnover in water commissioners. It’s a common problem across Colorado, say state water officials, as the job is by nature semi-seasonal. But in conversations after the meeting, North Park residents suggested that if the state wants water users to be partners in administration, the state needs to allow proper resources. A water commissioner has between 350 and 500 headgates to check, and there’s a learning curve.
Some people wanted to know why the state wanted the ability to lock headgates. State representatives said they rely primarily on voluntary compliance with water allocations but need the ability to force compliance if diverters take more than they are entitled to.
“In 20-some years, I have probably ordered a half-dozen headgates locked,” said Sullivan. “If we can’t get someone to keep their hands out of the cookie jar, we lock the cookie jar.”
As for the specific type of weir or flume, there are several formal varieties as well as less formal ones. They can be expensive, but none of the irrigators in Walden indicated that cost alone is an issue. Erin Light, the Steamboat Springs-based water engineer for Division 6, said she had seen a flume made of a road sign. It worked, she reported. Sullivan reported seeing one made of rock that worked effectively.
Said Sullivan, speaking to people mostly old enough to remember a bestselling small-model car in 1979 and 1980, “We don’t want to require a gold-plated Cadillac headgate when a Chevette will do.”
Long-time Colorado journalist Allen Best publishes Big Pivots, an e-magazine that covers energy and other transitions in Colorado. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
This is the preliminary notice for the upcoming Arkansas River Compact Administration Annual and Committee Meetings. Please note that the meeting dates and location were changed at the ARCA Annual Meeting held in December 2020. The meeting specifics and draft agendas will be provided at a later date.
The 2021 Annual Meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration (ARCA) will be held on Thursday, December 9, 2021. The Engineering, Operations, and Administrative/Legal Committees of ARCA will meet on Wednesday, December 8, 2021. Tentatively, these meetings are to be held at the Clarion Inn in Garden City, Kansas. The meetings are intended to be in person, but it will depend on the circumstances. We are exploring the options to have a hybrid meeting that will allow remote access. If the circumstances warrant, the meeting will be held virtually. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Any final decision should be made prior to November 29th.
Meetings of ARCA are operated in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. If you need a special accommodation as a result of a disability please contact Stephanie Gonzales at (719) 688-0799 at least three days before the meeting.
In response to decreasing irrigation and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 350 cfs for Tuesday, October 26th, at 4:00 AM.
Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). This release change is calculated as the minimum required to maintain the target baseflow.
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. Be advised, due to low storage and forecast levels in WY 2022, the minimum release of 250 cfs, as documented in the Navajo Record of Decision (2006), may be implemented this winter as long as that release can satisfy the target baseflow.
Few in the American West have been spared the effects of the region’s long-standing drought, but on the frontlines of the sere conditions are those who work most closely with the land — farmers, ranchers and other agricultural producers. San Miguel County created a program, Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) that compensates landowners for implementing practices in “drought resilience and other soil health improvement projects,” according to the county’s Parks and Open Spaces page n the county website. The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) got an update from the department’s director, Janet Kask, and contractor Chris Hazen, on their efforts to enlist landowners in the forward-thinking program.
The county was awarded a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to enhance the PES program, Kask explained…
The pilot program is seeking six partners and is currently in earnest talks with several interested landowners. Hazen, an independent contractor with The Terra Firm, is spearheading the administration of the CWCB grant in order to “continue with our soil health initiative,” Kask said…
While talks with landowners are ongoing, Kask and Hazen reported there have been delays.
“We’re disappointed that we haven’t had the landowner commitments that we initially set out to have,” Kask told the commissioners Wednesday. “We were looking at a total of six this year, but just based on active conversations Chris has had with certain landowners, some of them are on hold and hesitant to join and we do have somebody who’s almost ready to go, but waiting for their USDA number. There are some criteria that the landowners need to meet and adhere to on our end.”
Norwood farmers Tony and Barclay Daranyi of Indian Ridge Farm are closest to qualifying as of Wednesday. Other participants close to being green-lighted are the owners of Laid Back Ranch and of Lizard Head Wilderness Ranch, Hazen said…
Some of the practices the county is looking for in property being proposed for participation includes cover crops, intensive till to no-till or strip till, improved fertilizer management, conservation cover /cropland conversion, forage and biomass planting/convert cropland to grass/legume/biomass, convert cropland to permanent grass/legume cover, windbreaks, nutrient management, and other practices as called out by the Natural Resource Conservation Service…
Some hiccups in meeting the goal of six participants include delays in submitting a USDA number, mapping challenges, the pandemic and other delays.
The CWCB grant totals $34,646, with the county matching at $34,646 for a total of $69,293.
For more information, contact Hazen at The Terra Firm 970-708-1221, with questions or to schedule a meeting to identify partnership opportunities.
The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Shawna Bethell is a freelance essayist/journalist covering the people and places of Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.
I’m not a fish person. They aren’t even on my radar until my nephew catches them, cleans them, and fries them up into a fabulous meal with hushpuppies and slaw. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the role they play in both our natural ecosystems and in the Kansas economy via the sport fishing industry. I understand, too, that both hang in the balance depending on decisions being made north of our state border.
Under the Republican River Compact, Kansas is considered both an upstream and downstream state. Born on the eastern [plains] of Colorado…the Republican River flows east across the plains, tipping our northwest corner before entering Nebraska. There the river continues eastward until it drops south again, re-crossing our border and eventually emptying into Milford Reservoir before finally meeting up with the Smoky Hill River in Junction City to create the Kansas River.
The 1934 compact was supposed to ensure allocations of water for each state through which the river flows. However, historically, both Colorado and Nebraska have — at times — overused their shares.
In an effort to prevent such occurrences in the future, entities affiliated with water and irrigation districts in Nebraska made a 2018 application to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to transfer water from the Platte River Basin to the Republican River Basin to meet the requirements of allocation. The application was denied due to objections by interested parties, including those of Kansas’ then-Gov. Jeff Colyer, who cited the negative effects of invasive species to our waterways should an inter-basin transfer move forward.
The plan did not die, however, and a revised application was filed. Met again with objections, Nebraska conducted a hearing in July 2021, where it again gathered testimony from concerned parties. According to the agency’s legal counsel, Emily Rose, there is no set date for a final decision.
Like her predecessor, Gov. Laura Kelly also objects to the inter-basin transfer. According to Reeves Oyster, a spokeswoman for the governor: “There are too many potential impacts to the health of our state’s vital natural resources.”
Oyster also said that “as it stands right now, this is a matter that first needs to be addressed in Nebraska. We hope our neighboring state will make the right decision, but should the transfer gain any traction, we will respond and engage accordingly.”
I should hope so.
“Our most pressing concerns are Silver and Bighead Carp and White Perch,” wrote Chris Steffen, aquatic nuisance species coordinator with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. “All three species have proven in Kansas to be incredibly detrimental to the waters they invade and are located within the Platte River near the proposed point of diversion.”
According to Steffen, other states that have seen an influx of these species have experienced declines in their sport fish populations of more than 80%. If the species were allowed to take hold in Lovewell and Milford Reservoirs, it could risk the state’s $210,000 fishing industry. Aside from economics, changes to the river’s ecosystem could affect critical habitat for species such as the Shoal Chub and the Plains Minnow, which are already deemed threatened in the state.
“Kansas Wildlife and Parks has been working diligently to prevent the spread and limit the impact of aquatic invasive species,” Steffen wrote. “This project would undermine those efforts and place our natural resources at risk.”
Last spring I traveled to Nebraska, where I spent a morning at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary that sits along the Platte. Eagles and herons hunted the shallows, while the songs of meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds pierced the air.
According to Audubon’s website, the Platte River is also critical habitat for endangered and iconic species, including the piping plover and the sandhill crane, and like the Kansas department, they and their partners have invested heavily to preserve their state’s natural resources. Reducing water flow via a transfer would alter the ecology of nesting grounds and food sources relied upon by both native and migratory birds. Although the sanctuary is not in Kansas, as residents of the Plains, we need to recognize that the entire eco-region and its wildlife are treasures to protect.
In that light, I encourage our current administration to stay informed and ready to engage as they have said they would. Not only for the state’s economic benefit, but for the assurance that the progress we’ve made so far in preserving and protecting our natural assets is sustained and encouraged hereafter.
Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.
Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.
In January, Rio Blanco secured a water right for a 66,720-acre-foot reservoir between Rangely and Meeker. The conservancy district is proposing an off-channel reservoir with a dam 110 feet tall and 3,800 feet long, with water that will be pumped into the Wolf Creek drainage from the White River.
Rio Blanco said it will use the funds for the National Environmental Policy Act permitting process, which will be administered by the Bureau of Land Management, using a third-party contractor. Rio Blanco estimates the permitting will take three to five years at a cost of $6 to $10 million.
In its application, Rangely-based Rio Blanco said that the River District’s support of the permit phase is essential for the eventual development of the project.
“The project provides a desperately needed new storage reservoir for the White River basin,” the application reads. “The White River basin currently does not have adequate storage to meet the current water needs during drought conditions or any additional future water needs within the basin.”
No River District directors voted against the funding. Rio Blanco County representative Alden Vanden Brink abstained from voting because he is the general manager of the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District.
“I support this concept,” said Gunnison County representative Kathleen Curry. “Investing in a permitting process is wise right now.”
Moffat County representative Tom Gray wondered if funding this request would mean the River District has a moral obligation to approve future funding requests for the Wolf Creek project. But River District General Manager Andy Mueller encouraged board members to look at it as a one-time request because the future of the overall project is still uncertain.
“It is possible that this applicant could have the whole permitting process blow up on them,” Mueller said. “Something beyond our control may occur. … Think of it on an application-at-a-time basis.”
The Wolf Creek project will also need permits from the State Historical Preservation Office, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and a consultation under the Endangered Species Act.
Rio Blanco has budgeted a minimum of $250,000 per year to contribute to the permitting process. Since planning first began in 2013, Rio Blanco and its funding partners, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board, have spent $2.1 million on the project. The project has the support of Rio Blanco and Moffat counties and the Town of Rangely, but so far these governments have not made funding commitments. Rio Blanco estimates the total cost to build the reservoir at $142 million.
Securing the water right for the project took longer than Rio Blanco expected because for five years, Colorado’s top engineers at the Department of Water Resources argued the project was speculative because Rio Blanco could not prove a need for the water. The water right that was eventually granted after years of back-and-forth in water court gave Rio Blanco the amount of water it was seeking, but does not allow the district all the water uses it initially wanted.
The decree granted Rio Blanco a water right for municipal use for the town of Rangely; augmentation within its boundaries; mitigation of environmental impacts; hydroelectric power; and in-reservoir use for recreation, piscatorial and wildlife habitat. The conservancy district will not be able to use the water for irrigation, endangered fish or augmentation in the event of a compact call.
Vanden Brink said there is a sense of urgency to build the Wolf Creek project. He said he is thrilled at the River District’s grant.
“We think it’s a great partnership with the River District,” he said. “It’s critical that this thing gets done.”
The River District’s Community Funding Partnership was established last year when voters passed ballot measure 7A, increasing the River District’s mill levy. Eighty-six percent of the revenue from the tax hike goes toward funding water projects in five categories: productive agriculture; infrastructure; healthy rivers; watershed health and water quality; and conservation and efficiency.
Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Craig Press and other Swift Communications newspapers.
The site of the potential off-channel Wolf Creek Reservoir on the White River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The White River, in the vicinity of the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism.
One option for the White River storage project would be an off-channel dam and reservoir at this location. Water would have to be pumped from the White River into the reservoir site. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism
Taylor Draw Dam holds back the White River to form Kenney Reservoir, located near Rangely. The reservoir is silting in, and a water conservancy district is proposing building a bigger, upstream, off-channel reservoir, a project that is opposed by the state of Colorado. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism
A view of the White River foreground, and the Wolf Creek gulch, across the river. The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District and the State of Colorado have reached a settlement for a reservoir and dam project at this site. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith
A view looking downstream of the White River in the approximate location of the potential White River dam and reservoir. The right edge of the dam, looking downstream, would be against the brown hillside to the right of the photo. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith
One option for the White River storage project would be an off-channel dam and reservoir at this location. Water would have to be pumped from the White River into the reservoir site. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Becki Bryant and Patti Aaron):
The Bureau of Reclamation has released its October 24-Month Study and 2-year projections of major reservoir levels within the Colorado River system. These projections detail hydrologic conditions and projected operations for Colorado River system reservoirs and are used by Reclamation and water users in the basin for future water management planning.
The October projections are the first to include inflow forecasts developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) that incorporate updated climate conditions and data sets known as the “U.S. Climate Normals.” Compared to the previous period used by the CBRFC to develop the inflow forecasts (1981-2010), the more recent 30-year period (1991-2020) eliminates the wetter hydrology experienced in the 1980s and includes most of the 22-year drought that started in 2000 (and continues to the present). NOAA updates the “Climate Normals” to a new 30-year period every 10 years, consistent with weather and forecasting offices in the U.S.
As a result of this update, the median water year 2022 inflow forecast into Lake Powell decreased by 800,000 acre-feet and Reclamation’s October projections show lower Lake Powell elevations compared to the September projections.
Lake Powell Projections
With the decrease in the inflow forecast in water year 2022, Reclamation’s October projections indicate Lake Powell’s elevation at the end of water year 2022 (Sept. 30, 2022) will be about eight feet lower than the September projections. The projections also indicate the increased potential of falling below minimum power pool, elevation 3,490 feet, in 2022. Should extremely dry hydrology continue into next year, Lake Powell could reach elevation 3,490 feet as early as July 2022.
“Incorporating the updated climate normals into the CBRFC forecasts, and, in turn, into our modeling projections, provides us with a better understanding of what is happening now and will give us a more informed assessment of potential future conditions,” said Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Basin Regional Director Wayne Pullan.