#ColoradoRiver States Submit a Consensus-Based Modeling Alternative to Bureau of Reclamation: Six states reach consensus on criteria for environmental review to help protect #LakePowell and #LakeMead #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Arizona Department of Water Resources website:

January 30, 2023 – Today, states sharing the Colorado River submitted a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) that outlines a Consensus-Based Modeling Alternative for Reclamation to evaluate and incorporate into its development of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to revise current Operating Guidelines (’07 Guidelines) for Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell and Hoover Dam at Lake Mead.

Revisions to the ’07 Guidelines are necessary to protect critical elevations and infrastructure within the two reservoirs to ensure the Colorado River system – which has been significantly impacted by more than two decades of prolonged drought exacerbated by clime change and depleted storage – can continue to serve more than 40 million people, approximately 5.5 million acres of irrigated farmland, Basin Tribes, environmental resources, and power production across seven states and portions of Mexico.

The states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming jointly submitted the Consensus-Based Modeling Alternative, and the states remain committed to working cooperatively with their local water users, the federal government, other Basin States, Basin Tribes, non-governmental organizations and stakeholders throughout Reclamation’s environmental review and in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

While the Consensus-Based Modeling Alternative is not a formal agreement between the Colorado River Basin States, it serves as an alternative framework for Reclamation to analyze in its SEIS process. It provides an approach to help protect Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam infrastructure, water deliveries, and power production to mitigate the risk of either Lake Powell or Lake Mead reaching dead pool.

The Consensus-Based Modeling Alternative includes, but is not limited to, the following modeling criteria for Reclamation to consider and analyze:

  • Adjustments to the existing ‘07 Guidelines, including reduced releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead to ensure the deliverability of water downstream and power production.
  • Adjustments to Lower Basin contributions required under Drought Contingency Plan.
  • Accounting for more than 1.5 million acre-feet of losses within the Lower Basin that arenecessary to protect infrastructure.
  • Additional combined reductions of 250,000 acre-feet to Arizona, California and Nevada at LakeMead elevation 1,030 feet and below.
  • Additional combined reductions of 200,000 acre-feet to Arizona, California and Nevada at LakeMead elevation 1,020 feet and below, as well as additional reductions necessary to protect LakeMead elevation 1,000 feet.
  • Actions outlined within the Upper Basin State’s Drought Response Operations Agreement.
  • Additional voluntary conservation measures that take into account hydrologic shortage in theUpper Division States.

“This modeling proposal is a key step in the ongoing dialogue among the Seven Basin States as we continue to seek a collaborative solution to stabilize the Colorado River system,” said Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

“The CBMA includes the significant and necessary step of assessing evaporation and transit losses against Lower Basin uses. The Lower Basin actions operate in coordination with additional actions in the Upper Basin. We can only save the Colorado River system if we act together. The CBMA approach appropriately distributes the burden across the Basin and provides safeguards for the Tribes, water users, and environmental values in the Upper Basin,” said Becky Mitchell, Colorado Commissioner, Upper Colorado River Commission and Director Colorado Water Conservation Board of the Colorado River Department of Natural Resources.

“The CBMA is a vital step forward as Reclamation considers new additional actions to operate the Colorado River system for the next few years. We recognize that the process to prepare a proposal in such a short timeframe was imperfect. We need to continue discussions among all 7 Basin States and to engage directly with tribal leaders and others as we prepare to move forward with the components of the CBMA across the Upper and Lower Basin. We have much more to do, but the CBMA is a tremendous step in the right direction.” said Estevan Lopez, New Mexico Colorado River Commissioner.

“The challenge we continue to face is dry hydrology and depleted storage across the Colorado River Basin. The CBMA provides a path forward so that every state can contribute to finding a solution in close collaboration with our Tribes and water users,” said Gene Shawcroft P.E, Utah Colorado River Commissioner.

“The concepts identified in the CBMA are a significant step toward building the consensus necessary to take incredibly challenging but vital actions to address the crisis on the River. We look forward to continuing to work with all the States to build on the CBMA concepts and move forward together,” said Brandon Gebhart, Wyoming State Engineer.

A copy of the Consensus-Based Modeling Alternative is linked here.

Media Contacts:
Arizona Department of Water Resources:

Douglas MacEachern, dmaceachern@azwater.gov, 602-771-8507

Colorado Department of Natural Resources

Chris Arend, chris.arend@state.co.us, 303-264-8615

Southern Nevada Water Authority

Bronson Mack, bronson.mack@snwa.com, 702-822-8543

New Mexico State Engineer’s Office

Maggie Fitzgerald, maggie.fitzgerald@ose.nm.gov, 505-231-7822

Colorado River Authority of Utah

Marty Carpenter, mcarpenter@northboundstrategy.com, 801-971-3601

Wyoming State Engineer’s Office

Brandon Gebhart, brandon.gebhart1@wyo.gov

Upper Colorado River Commission

Alyx Richards, arichards@ucrcommission.com, 801-531-1150

Notice of Intent to Prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement — #ColoradoRiver Basin State Representatives of #Arizona, #Colorado, #Nevada, #NewMexico, #Utah, and #Wyoming #COriver #aridification

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Federal pressure mounts as states attempt to break #ColoradoRiver standoff — KUNC #COriver #aridification

Hoover Dam’s intake towers protrude from the surface of Lake Mead near Las Vegas, where water levels have dropped to record lows amid a 22-year drought. (Source: Bureau of Reclamation)

Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Alex Hager). Here’s an excerpt:

The federal government has asked them to weigh in on tweaks to how the river is managed, and could force water cutbacks if states can’t come up with their own plan to reduce demand before February. That’s no small task for states deadlocked in a years-long standoff over how to cut back demand on a river that supplies 40 million people and a multibillion-dollar agricultural sector. Each of those states — Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California — each bring a varied set of interests and motivations to the negotiating table to ensure any cutbacks don’t hit them harder than the rest…The Bureau of Reclamation will investigate plans for future releases regardless of whether the states agree on their own plan for cutbacks, and says the states “imposed an unofficial deadline on themselves for January 31, 2023, to ensure that their ideas were included in the draft SEIS process.”

“The notion of a certain date for states to submit their plans was the result of the states’ own recognition of the timing constraints of the supplemental process,” wrote Tyler Cherry, a Department of Interior spokesperson, in an email to KUNC. “States’ contributions to the process began during the scoping period and will continue throughout the comment period.”

[…]

The federal government may reduce releases from Glen Canyon Dam (pictured above) in 2023 by an unprecedented 2-3 million acre-feet, a move that would trigger severe cuts in the Lower Basin. (Source: Bureau of Reclamation)

Sources tell KUNC that delegates from the seven states have met in Colorado in recent days to hash out a deal, but the details of that meeting have been kept behind closed doors, and experts don’t see an obvious outcome. Negotiations are difficult — and have been for decades — because of the river’s diverse user base and complex, multi-layered governance system. While the river supplies major cities such as Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, 80% of its water is used for agriculture. Farmers in southern California have some of the oldest, and most protected water rights in the Colorado River Basin.

“What you’re talking about are people’s livelihoods and farmers’ livelihoods,” said John Berggren, a water policy analyst at the conservation group Western Resource Advocates. “If you’re an irrigator or a rancher or a farmer, your water is your most important asset.”

Deadpool Diaries: Can the #ColoradoRiver community walk, chew gum, and recite Homer’s Odyssey at the same time? — John Fleck @jfleck #COriver #aridification

The Colorado River Stress test, a Homeric odyssey

Click the link to read the article on the InkStain website (John Fleck):

While we eagerly await whatever it is that might happen this week as the Colorado River basin states struggle to come up with a short term plan to use less water…

It’s a crazy time, and I worry about our collective capacity, but the river can’t wait, so buckle up!

A brief refresher is perhaps in order

THE SUPPLEMENTAL EIS

I emerged from the writing cave (new book underway about the Rio Grande, which is a mostly a different river entirely) to share my thoughts about this week’s “deadline” (which as I explained isn’t really a “deadline”) for the seven Colorado River basin states to come up with a plan for managing the river for the next several years. This is a short-term effort, an attempt to limp through the 2025-26 time frame without breaking things. It requires temporary rules to reduce water use as needed in the Lower Basin, maybe some water use reductions in the Upper Basin, and tweaks to the reservoir operations rules to keep from breaking Glen Canyon Dam.

“EIS” here stands for “Environmental Impact Statement”, the process by which Reclamation will analyze our choices before picking one.

The key words here are short term.

THE REAL EIS

Post-2026, we need a much more robust and long-lasting framework for using less water and not breaking the dams and trying to respect tribal sovereignty and our evolving societal values around respect for the environment in the face of climate change stealing a bunch of our water.

In that regard, Reclamation has launched an expansive effort to help us collectively, as a society, think through these options.

A bunch of us wrote them letters last year telling them what we thought they should think about. They’ve summarized them nicely (pdf here). My favorite part is the people from Costa Rica and the UK who weighed in. This is a far-reaching issue.

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE SUPPLEMENTAL EIS AND THE REAL EIS

One of the difficulties in sorting out the near-term plans is that everyone’s angling for the high ground in the long-term plans. There’s a fear among water managers that if in the short term they demonstrate that they’re able to get by with less water, they’ll get screwed long term. A lot of what we figure out in the short term will echo into the long term.

HOMER’S ODYSSEY

In season one of the Simpson’s, there’s a great episode called “Homer’s Odyssey” where Homer Simpson gets fired from the nuclear power plant and then becomes a citizen safety advocate who gets speed bumps and stop signs installed in Springfield, and Homer becomes a revered community leader, and Mr. Burns hires him back to become the chief safety officer at the nuclear power plant.

You didn’t think I meant reciting the entire Homeric epic, did you? I fear one episode of the Simpsons is the most we can hope for right now.

Picture courtesy Eric Kuhn’s 2013 presentation at the Colorado River Water Users Association.

In the West, pressure to count #water lost to evaporation — The Associated Press #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Colorado River. Photo credit: University of Montana

Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (Suman Naishadham). Here’s an excerpt:

 Exposed to the beating sun and hot dry air, more than 10% of the water carried by the Colorado River evaporates, leaks or spills as the 1,450-mile (2,334-kilometer) powerhouse of the West flows through the region’s dams, reservoirs and open-air canals. For decades, key stewards of the river have ignored the massive water loss, instead allocating Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico their share of the river without subtracting what’s evaporated. But the 10% can no longer be ignored, hydrologists, state officials and other western water experts say…

The challenge is in finding a method that California also agrees to…

Unlike Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico, the upriver or Upper Basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — already take into account evaporation losses…

One proposal comes from Nevada: States at the end of the river would see their Colorado River portion shrink based on the distance it travels to reach users. The farther south the river travels, the more water is lost as temperatures rise and water is exposed to the elements for longer.  The Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates that roughly 1.5 million acre-feet of water are lost to evaporation, transportation and inefficiencies each year in Arizona, Nevada and California. That’s 50% more than Utah uses in a whole year.

#Colorado should kick lawns to the curb: The billions of gallons of fresh #water that goes to grass is an egregious misuse of resources — #Colorado Newsline

Thornton home and lawn 2019. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the opinion piece on the Colorado Newsline website (Sammy Herdman):

Over the course of the next seven years, an average 35,000 housing units will be built each year in Colorado. If past trends persist, around 70% of those housing units will be single-family homes. From Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, it’s likely that Coloradans will see more single-family suburban developments popping up — and with them, lawns.

Conventional grass lawns ornament the vast majority of American homes, covering three times as much surface area as irrigated cornfields in the United States. Although lawns are often purely aesthetic, sometimes they are chosen for their durability; lawns hold up against cleats, dogs and kids. Lawns used frequently for games and playtime are easy to justify, especially when they are public.

But there are far too many cropped, green lawns that are neglected until a weed sprouts up or it’s time to mow. Too many lawns exist just for the sake of being maintained.

Despite covering 2% of land in the U.S., most grasses can’t survive in the West’s arid climate without constant watering. In Denver, about half of the water used by the average single-family home is devoted to lawn care. Combined with the water sprinkled onto parks, medians and golf courses, a whopping 25% of Denver’s municipal water is devoted to lawns.

Considering that the Western U.S. is in the midst of the most severe drought in a millennium, allocating billions of gallons of fresh water to grass seems like an egregious misuse of resources. The drought is so dire that the Colorado River, which provides 40 million people across the Western U.S. with water, has shrunk by 20% over the past 20 years.

Native solitary bee. Photo: The Xerces Society / Rich Hatfield

Lawn maintenance is also a threat to Colorado’s pollinators and public health. Americans use approximately 70 million pounds of pesticides to maintain lawns each year. Of the 30 most common lawn pesticides, more than half are probable or possible carcinogens, and many of them are linked with birth defects, neurotoxicity, kidney damage, liver damage and more.

In Colorado cities and towns, such as Colorado Springs, the glyphosate-based herbicide known as Roundup is sprayed on lawns in public parks, despite being a possible carcinogen. Lawn pesticides and fertilizers commonly run off into lakes, streams and groundwater, wreaking havoc on aquatic ecosystems and polluting drinking water. Pollinators, which are on the decline globally and in Colorado, are harmed when lawn pesticides contain neonicotinoid chemicals. Insecticides aimed at lawn pests don’t spare bees and butterflies.

Lawn equipment also contributes to the climate crisis and the Front Range’s bad air quality. According to the EPA, in just one year, gas-powered lawn and garden equipment produced more than 20 million tons of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Even more emissions are created when lawn clippings are disposed of in landfills. In the Front Range, gas-powered lawn and garden equipment contribute as much as one-fifth of the region’s ozone pollution.

Landscaping alternatives better suited to Colorado do exist. Replacing lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping — termed xeriscaping by Denver Water — can reduce water usage by 30-80%. Replacing lawns with native plants can reduce the need for pesticides and fertilizers. Growing native plants also patches together habitat for dwindling pollinator populations.

Colorado is a state defined by mountainous vistas, natural landscapes and abundant wildlife. Its residents are outdoor enthusiasts and free-thinkers, demonstrably not afraid to break the mold (consider the legalization of marijuana, the decriminalization of psychedelics). Yet many of Colorado’s yards exhibit a custom justified primarily by tradition and peer pressure.

Some cities, such as Aurora and Castle Rock, have passed ordinances to limit new lawns. However, statewide and in Denver, little to no progress has been made to incentivize xeriscaping.

Lawns are antithetical to the climate and character of Colorado. Colorado’s leaders should implement educational programs about alternative landscaping and introduce greater financial incentives for home-owners and developers to replace lawns.

As our state enters another year of drought, climate chaos and habitat loss, hopefully Colorado will kick lawns to the curb.

Associated Press Exclusive: Emails reveal tensions in #ColoradoRiver talks #COriver #aridification

Lake Mead shipwreck. Photo credit: John Fleck

Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (Kathleen Ronayne and Felicia Fonseca). Here’s an excerpt:

Competing priorities, outsized demands and the federal government’s retreat from a threatened deadline stymied a deal last summer on how to drastically reduce water use from the parched Colorado River, emails obtained by The Associated Press show…

“We are out of time and out of any cushion to allow for a voluntary plan,” Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, told a Bureau of Reclamation official in a July 18 email…

As 2023 begins, fresh incentives make the states more likely to give up water. The federal government has put up $4 billion for drought relief, and Colorado River users have submitted proposals to get some of that money through actions like leaving fields unplanted. Some cities are ripping up thirsty decorative grass, and tribes and major water agencieshave left some water in key reservoirs — either voluntarily or by mandate. Reclamation also has agreed to spend $250 million mitigating hazards at a drying California lake bed, a condition of the state’s water users agreeing to cut their use by 400,000 acre feet in a proposal released in October. The Interior Department is still evaluating proposals for a slice of the $4 billion and can’t say how much savings it will generate, Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said in an interview…

Figuring out who absorbs additional water cuts has been contentious, with allegations of drought profiteering, reneging on commitments, too many negotiators in the room and an unsteady hand from the federal government, the emails and follow-up interviews showed. California says it’s a partner willing to sacrifice, but other states see it as a reluctant participant clinging to a water priority system where it ranks near the top. Arizona and Nevada have long felt they’re unfairly forced to bear the brunt of cuts because of a water rights system developed long ago, a simmering frustration that reared its head during talks…But state officials said when it became clear the federal government wouldn’t act unilaterally, it created a “chilling effect” that removed the urgency from the talks because water users with higher-priority water rights were no longer at risk of harsh cuts, Arizona’s Buschatzke said in an interview…

Reclamation is now focused on weighing the latest round of comments from states on how to save the river. Nevada wants to count water lost to evaporation and transportation in water allocations — a move that could mean the biggest volume of cuts for California — and some Arizona water managers agree, comment letters obtained by the AP show.  But disputes remain over how to determine what level of cuts are fair and legal. California’s goal remains protecting its status while other states and tribes want more than old water rights taken into account — such as whether users have access to other water sources, and the effects of cuts on disadvantaged communities and food security. Reclamation’s goal is to get a draft of proposed cuts out by early March, then a final decision before mid-August, when Reclamation regularly announces how much — or how little — river water is available for the next year.

Map credit: AGU

What’s Up With #Water – January 17, 2023 — Circle of Blue @circleofblue

Shasta Dam, north of Redding in California, is the only dam in the state a UC Davis study identified as being capable of replicating natural cold-water patterns for aquatic species. (Ron Lute/cc BY-NC 2.0)

Click the link to listen to the podcast on the Circle of Blue website (Eileen Wray-McCann):

A new report says that the world’s dams are filling up – but not in a good way. Rivers are depositing sediment into the reservoirs behind dams, reducing their capacity to hold water. Researchers affiliated with the United Nations calculated how much storage might be lost in the next three decades at the world’s 50,000 large dams. The report estimates that a quarter of the original water storage capacity will be lost by 2050 because of sediment buildup. This will hurt irrigation, power generation, and flood protection. The largest loss of storage capacity will occur in the United Kingdom, Panama, Ireland, and Japan, with the U.S, not far behind.

Arizona Rivers Map via Geology.com.

In Arizona, newly elected leaders wasted no time in tackling the state’s urgent water problems. Katie Hobbs was sworn in as governor on January 2 and began her term by calling water issues “the challenge of our time.” After a week in office, Hobbs established an expert council to recommend updates to the state’s groundwater laws. She also unveiled a previously unreleased report from the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Hobbs’s predecessor had withheld the report from the public. It shows that a high-growth area west of Phoenix does not have enough groundwater to sustain a planned mega-development of 100,000 homes. According to the Arizona Republic, homebuilders must now find other water supplies to finish the development. Hobbs said the area’s inadequate groundwater should be a wake-up call. She said “This report unequivocally shows that we have to act now, or this will only be the first new area that faces this kind of shortage.” Meanwhile, Arizona’s new attorney general hopes to undo a farming deal with a Saudi Arabian company that’s adding to local groundwater declines. Kris Mayes campaigned on a promise to repeal a land lease that the state made with Fondomonte. The firm got below-market rates, leasing 10,000 acres in western Arizona to grow alfalfa for export to Saudi Arabia as cattle feed. Residents in the area have seen their wells run dry as the farm pumps groundwater to irrigate the alfalfa.

Photo credit: Kim Delker/University of New Mexico

In New Mexico, some communities could get millions to rebuild their water systems after the largest wildfire in state history tore through their watershed last year. The funds are a lifeline for areas ravaged by a drying climate. They also underscore the financial and ecological vulnerability of small, impoverished communities in the face of extreme weather. In the this year’s budget, Congress allocated nearly one and a half billion dollars for post-fire recovery in New Mexico. That’s in addition to the two and a half billion dollars that lawmakers had already directed to the state, bringing the total amount of federal aid after the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fire to nearly $4 billion. The year-end appropriations package included a line item of particular significance: $140 million for water treatment systems for communities in the area scarred by the fire. That includes the small town of Las Vegas, just 12 miles from where the fire started. Las Vegas has about 13,000 people. What is does not have is high-quality water. The town’s main water source, the Gallinas River, is surrounded by scars from the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fire. The fire ignited in April, after a prescribed burn by the U.S. Forest Service grew out of control. The fire was the largest on record in New Mexico, burning well over 300 thousand acres of public and private land. The Gallinas River used to be a clear stream, but is now is laden with sediment and suspended solids due to ash and soil erosion. That’s a serious problem for the water treatment operators in Las Vegas, according to the town utility director, Maria Gilvarry. The fire did not destroy the treatment system, but the effects of the fire have overwhelmed it. It’s not uncommon for the river water it’s processing to measure a hundred times murkier than before the fire. The current treatment system struggles under those conditions. Until a new treatment system is in place, the utility department is making do with temporary equipment to remove sediment. It is also re-calibrating the chemicals to purify drinking water so that the treatment process is more effective. Gilvarry said federal aid is an undeniable blessing for a predominantly Latino city where median household income is just over $34,000 — about half the national figure. The poverty rate in Las Vegas, New Mexico is above 30 percent. Gilvarry said that Federal aid is the only way the town’s water treatment project could advance so swiftly. As she put it: “Not on our own dime. This is a low-income community.”

As the #ColoradoRiver Shrinks, Washington Prepares to Spread the Pain — The New York Times #COriver #aridification

Water users are urgently trying to keep Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border from dropping to a point where Glen Canyon Dam can no longer generate electricity. (Source: Bureau of Reclamation)

Click the link to read the article on The New York Times website (Christopher Flavelle). Here’s an excerpt:

“Think of the Colorado River Basin as a slow-motion disaster,” said Kevin Moran, who directs state and federal water policy advocacy at the Environmental Defense Fund. “We’re really at a moment of reckoning.”

Negotiators say the odds of a voluntary agreement appear slim. It would be the second time in six months that the Colorado River states, which also include Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, have missed a deadline for consensus on cuts sought by the Biden administration to avoid a catastrophic failure of the river system. Without a deal, the Interior Department, which manages flows on the river, must impose the cuts. That would break from the century-long tradition of states determining how to share the river’s water. And it would all but ensure that the administration’s increasingly urgent efforts to save the Colorado get caught up in lengthy legal challenges. The crisis over the Colorado River is the latest example of how climate change is overwhelming the foundations of American life — not only physical infrastructure, like dams and reservoirs, but also the legal underpinnings that have made those systems work.

A century’s worth of laws, which assign different priorities to Colorado River users based on how long they’ve used the water, is facing off against a competing philosophy that says, as the climate changes, water cuts should be apportioned based on what’s practical. The outcome of that dispute will shape the future of the southwestern United States.

“We’re using more water than nature is going to provide,” said Eric Kuhn, who worked on previous water agreements as general manager for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Someone is going to have to cut back very significantly.”

The rules that determine who gets water from the Colorado River, and how much, were always based, to a degree, on magical thinking…But the premise that the river’s flow would average 17.5 million acre-feet each year turned out to be faulty. Over the past century, the river’s actual flow has averaged less than 15 million acre-feet each year. For decades, that gap was obscured by the fact that some of the river’s users, including Arizona and some Native American tribes, lacked the canals and other infrastructure to employ their full allotment. But as that infrastructure increased, so did the demand on the river. Then, the drought hit. From 2000 through 2022, the river’s annual flow averaged just over 12 million acre-feet; in each of the past three years, the total flow was less than 10 million.

Updated Colorado River 4-Panel plot thru Water Year 2022 showing reservoirs, flows, temperatures and precipitation. All trends are in the wrong direction. Since original 2017 plot, conditions have deteriorated significantly. Brad Udall via Twitter: https://twitter.com/bradudall/status/1593316262041436160

San Luis Valley counties band together to fight #water exportation — @AlamosaCitizen #RioGrande

Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

SOMETIMES playing defense can be your most effective offense.

Anticipating another eventual push to export water from the San Luis Valley aquifers and the headwaters of the Upper Rio Grande, officials in each of the six counties are drafting an intergovernmental agreement and specific planning regulations they hope will legally block any water exportation project.

Through an intergovernmental agreement, the counties would look to establish a “Joint Planning Area” to protect the Valley’s water resources and then adopt specific 1041 planning regulations that address protecting the Valley’s water resources from exportation.

EARLIER COVERAGE: The Water Archives

“This might be our best opportunity to stop water exportation,” said Saguache County Commissioner Tom McCracken, who chairs the San Luis Valley Regional Council of Governments board. “I’m feeling really excited about it.”

It’s through the San Luis Valley Regional Council of Governments that county officials and city officials have been meeting to draft the intergovernmental agreement and eventually establish 1041 regulations specifically around water exportation proposals. Any proposal that would aim to take water out of the Valley, such as the Renewable Water Resources plan, would have to satisfy all the regulations in applying for the required county permits.

The city of Alamosa and the city of Monte Vista are expressing interest in being part of the water resources intergovernmental agreement as well.

In a speech last April where he addressed the RWR plan, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser encouraged the use of 1041 regulations so that communities have a “seat at the table in shaping the water projects that impact them.”

“Broadly speaking, a local government can use its 1041 powers to limit the negative impacts associated with the development of certain ‘areas’ or ‘activities of state interest.’ Such areas or activities might be related to everything from water infrastructure to buy-and-dry projects. Overall, these powers are intended to allow local governments to protect our lands, their value, and their use,” Weiser said.

CONVERSATIONS among county commissioners began in earnest early last summer following interest by Douglas County in the Renewable Water Resources proposal to pump 20,000 acre-feet every year out of the Valley to the Front Range bedroom community.

A visit by Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon last year to talk to RWR supporters in the San Luis Valley heightened concerns among county commissioners. Following Laydon’s visit, local county commissioners began conversations on how to counter both Douglas County’s interest and the ongoing efforts by Renewable Water Resources to export water from the Valley.

“I do still see a need and I feel good about the movement that’s been made,” said Alamosa County Commissioner Vern Heersink, who has been involved in the discussions from the beginning.

“I didn’t think we would have this much of a voice,” Heersink said, “and so it’s exciting to be working together with the other counties on a common goal.”

As headwater counties in the Upper Rio Grande Basin, there’s strength in numbers when it comes to battling water projects with smaller counties banding together to counter efforts by a large suburban county like Douglas County.

The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments offers a template to the approach in how that region battled the Two Forks project in the 1990s.

“The only way a region like the San Luis Valley can be successful and have a real say in the water world is if it bands together,” said attorney Barbara Green. Her law firm, Sullivan Green Seavy, is advising the San Luis Valley Regional Council of Governments in the drafting of the intergovernmental agreement. The agreement itself has no regulatory effect but simply forms the “Joint Planning Area,” Green explained to commissioners at a meeting last week in Alamosa.

It’s the 1041 regulations that provide the teeth.

THE strategy could also provide a checkmate to Douglas County’s own interest to get into the business of being a water provider, which it currently is not.

At a recent Douglas County Commissioner work session, Laydon raised the idea of creating a volunteer water commission, similar to a county planning commission, to help Douglas County plan forward on securing water for its future needs.

“We know that the state does not have a concrete water plan. I think that’s to come,” Laydon said. “In the west and certainly in Douglas County we know that water is a top priority issue, a scarce resource that we need to have some long-range, thoughtful planning around.

“I think we’re overdue in Douglas County to really activate a water commission and have a comprehensive plan much like we do in transportation and our comprehensive master plan in land use.”

Bill Owens, former Republican governor of Colorado and RWR pitchman, has been courting Douglas County to buy into Renewable Water Resources. Attorneys hired by Douglas County have outlined the significant legal and logistical hurdles to the RWR proposal.

Having each of the San Luis Valley’s six counties adopt specific planning regulations around water exportation and enter into intergovernmental agreements adds another layer of local regulation around water projects.

The effort is not so Valley counties can meddle in each other’s business, said Heersink, but a specific response to any plans for water exportation.

“We want to prevent a diversion that takes the water out of the Valley,” he said.

Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

To help prevent out-of-control wildfires, US sends $930 million to western states — The Associated Press via #Colorado Public Radio

Sources/Usage: Public Domain. Post-wildfire flooding and debris flow in a small canyon above the Las Lomas debris basin in Duarte, the winter after the the June 2016 Fish Fire in Los Angeles County, California.

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (The Associated Press/Matthew Brown). Here’s an excerpt:

The U.S. is directing $930 million toward reducing wildfire dangers in 10 western states by clearing trees and underbrush from national forests, the Biden administration announced Thursday, as officials struggle to protect communities from destructive infernos being made worse by climate change. Under a strategy now entering its second year, the U.S. Forest Service is trying to prevent out-of-control fires that start on public lands from raging through communities. But in an interview with The Associated Press, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acknowledged that the shortage of workers that has been plaguing other sectors of the economy is hindering the agency’s wildfire efforts…

The work is projected to cost up to $50 billion. Last year’s climate and infrastructure bills combined directed about $5 billion to the effort.

“There’s one big ‘if,’ ” Vilsack said. “We need to have a good partner in Congress.”

He added that fires on public lands will continue to threaten the West, after burning about 115,000 square miles (297,000 square kilometers) over the past decade — an area larger than Arizona — and destroying about 80,000 houses, businesses and other structures, according to government statistics and the nonpartisan research group Headwaters Economics.

BLM, nonprofit partner on land acquisition along #GunnisonRiver — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

Click the link to read the article on The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb):

The Bureau of Land Management and a nonprofit entity have teamed up once again on an acquisition by the federal agency of land along the lower Gunnison River, this time involving a 26.32-acre parcel in Mesa County. The BLM’s Grand Junction Field Office partnered with the Western Rivers Conservancy on the acquisition of the Meridian Junction property, on the east side of the river just north of the Mesa/Delta county line. The acquisition furthers partnership efforts to conserve and protect resources for future generations, the agency said in a news release. The land is within the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, and was bought with money from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Human actions created the #SaltonSea, #California’s largest lake – here’s how to save it from collapse, protecting wild birds and human health — The Conversation

Exposed lakebed at the Salton Sea on Dec. 29, 2022. RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Robert Glennon, University of Arizona and Brent Haddad, University of California, Santa Cruz

The Salton Sea spreads across a remote valley in California’s lower Colorado Desert, 40 miles (65 kilometers) from the Mexican border. For birds migrating along the Pacific coast, it’s an avian Grand Central Station. In midwinter tens of thousands of snow geese, ducks, pelicans, gulls and other species forage on and around the lake. Hundreds of other species nest there year-round or use it as a rest stop during spring and fall migration.

At the dawn of the 20th century, this massive oasis didn’t even exist. It was created in 1905 when Colorado River floodwaters breached an irrigation canal under construction in Southern California and flowed into a basin that had flooded in the past. In earlier years, the sea covered roughly 40 square miles more than its current size of 343 square miles (890 square kilometers).

Since then, agricultural runoff from newly formed nearby irrigation districts has sustained it. By midcentury, the sea was considered a regional amenity and stocked with popular sport fish.

Now, however, this resource is in trouble. Wasteful irrigation practices that maintained the sea have been reduced, and excess water is now being transferred to thirsty coastal cities instead. The sea’s volume has declined to roughly 4.6 million acre-feet, losing nearly 3 million acre-feet since the mid-2000s. (An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons – the amount of water required to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot).

As water evaporates from its surface, its salinity has spiked: The sea is now almost twice as salty as the Pacific Ocean.

Map of California with inset showing location of Salton Sea
The Salton Sea is a large inland lake in southeastern California fed by Colorado River irrigation water from farms in the Imperial Valley. Legislative Analysts’s Office, state of California, CC BY-ND

In November 2022, the federal government pledged US$250 million for environmental restoration and dust suppression at the Salton Sea. It’s a historic contribution, but experts agree that other critical steps are needed.

We just completed more than a year of service to the California Salton Sea Management Program’s Independent Review Panel, which was charged with evaluating proposals to import water to the sea. In our view, the panel’s recommendations represent the best path forward. They also reflect the complexity of managing water in the increasingly dry U.S. Southwest, where other water bodies, such as Utah’s Great Salt Lake, share the same general challenges of net water loss.

An ecosystem on the brink

There’s no question that the Salton Sea desperately needs a fix. Rising salinity threatens worms, crustaceans and other organisms that make up the base of the sea’s food web and has killed off many of its fish species. Without intervention, the sea’s entire ecosystem could collapse.

The sea’s declining water levels also threaten human health. Nearby residents, who are mostly low-income people of color, already experience high rates of respiratory illness. A recent study found that dust mobilized by wind blowing across the playa triggers lung inflammation.

Without government intervention, the sea would reach a lower equilibrium size by 2045 that matches smaller inflows with evaporation losses. Even greater areas of playa would be exposed, potentially generating even more airborne dust. https://www.youtube.com/embed/KOcB0A3K_bw?wmode=transparent&start=13 Land managers and local residents explain how the Salton Sea’s decline is affecting people and wildlife.

Many bad options

The state review panel analyzed strategies for adding water to the Salton Sea as a long-term restoration strategy. Most of the proposals envisioned pulling water from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, 125 miles to the south, desalinating it and moving it north by canal.

These schemes called for building immense desalination plants along the Sea of Cortez, up to 10 times bigger than California’s Claude “Bud” Lewis plant in Carlsbad – the largest such facility in the United States.

The proposals could not overcome three significant problems. First, they were projected to cost many tens of billions of dollars and take more than 20 years to complete. Second, they threatened to inflict nasty environmental consequences on the Sea of Cortez, dumping huge quantities of brine into sensitive and protected marine ecosystems and turning pristine beaches into industrial zones. Third, Mexico would derive little benefit from building a huge desalination plant in a remote area, other than some jobs from building and running the plant. https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/juxtapose/latest/embed/index.html?uid=1c70a2bc-9035-11ed-b5bd-6595d9b17862 These satellite photos show how the Salton Sea shrank between 1984 and 2015, exposing dry playa around its edges (move slider to compare years).

Focus on salinity, not size

Ultimately, the panel concluded that expanding the Salton Sea to its former size was less important than controlling its salinity. The panel made four recommendations that center on building a desalination plant at the Salton Sea to the treat water that’s already there.

This plant would remove 200 million gallons of high-salinity water daily from the Salton Sea and produce 100 million gallons per day of desalinated water, which would be returned to the Salton Sea. In short order, this exchange would begin to significantly lower its overall salinity.

A desalination plant using reverse osmosis generates a brine stream equal to approximately half the volume of the treated seawater. Accordingly, the panel called for California to negotiate a voluntary paid transfer program in which the state would pay farmers to transfer enough water to the Salton Sea to replace the volume of brine removed at the desalination plant. The net effect would keep the sea from becoming even smaller and hasten the process of lowering salinity.

The desalination plant would generate an immense quantity of salt, which would require careful disposal. The panel recommended drying out the brine in evaporation ponds and transferring dried salts from the ponds to landfills or industrial uses.

Finally, the panel called for California to step up support for an aggressive program to stabilize the exposed playa. Techniques could include planting vegetation on the playa and plowing long rows of furrows to reduce dust mobilization during wind storms. The estimated total cost for this plan is $63 billion, compared with $95 billion-$148 billion for various proposals to desalinate and import water from the Sea of Cortez.

Since 2020, the state has conducted pilot projects to reduce dust blowing off the playa, with promising early results. The federal government’s $250 million pledge will enable this work to move more quickly.

Stabilizing the playa is essential to address significant public health concerns associated with windborne dust, although more must be done regionally to fully address air quality problems.

Looking forward, not backward

This approach will not satisfy critics who want to restore the Salton Sea to its maximum volume. These advocates recall the mid-20th century when the sea was a tourism draw and would like to reconnect the few small towns that once bordered the sea, which are now separated by extensive playa. Expanding the sea to its original size also would address concerns about playa-sourced air pollution.

In our view, however, the panel’s recommendations offer a genuine opportunity to solve the main problems: blowing dust and increasing salinity. This solution is more likely to actually be implemented than an enormous binational desalination project. It would happen more quickly, at about half the cost of the binational importation options.

We believe that the sooner California officials accept the reality of a smaller Salton Sea, the sooner the state can move ahead, focusing on air quality improvement and ecological restoration.

Robert Glennon, Regents Professor Emeritus and Morris K. Udall Professor of Law & Public Policy Emeritus, University of Arizona and Brent Haddad, Professor of Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Federal Government Advances Big #Water Projects: Congress focuses on flood protection and disaster recovery — Circle of Blue

Marsh Wren. Photo: Ramkumar Subramanian/Audubon Photography Awards

Click the link to read the article on the Circle of Blue website (Brett Walton):

While much of the country was relaxing over the winter holidays, federal lawmakers remained busy.

Before ending its session and swearing in new members, Congress passed a fiscal year 2023 budget with key provisions for water infrastructure and disaster recovery. That’s in addition to approving legislation that authorizes Army Corps of Engineers projects for flood protection, navigation, and environmental restoration.

Combined, the two bills run to more than 8,000 pages. Water sector advocates, though confounded by how some infrastructure funds are being allocated, were generally pleased with what the bills contain.

“Anybody who cares about water should be excited about what we accomplished at the end of last year,” Mae Stevens told Circle of Blue. Stevens, who works with environmental groups and utilities, is chair of the water practice at Banner Public Affairs, a lobby group.

The Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, is the legislation that authorizes Army Corps of Engineers projects. The bill focuses on flood protection, commercial waterways, and improving community engagement, particularly with Native American tribes and communities historically burdened by pollution.

Major projects authorized or modified in WRDA include:

  • $1.8 billion Upper Barataria Basin project, a 30-mile levee to protect seven southeastern Louisiana parishes from storm surges.
  • $34.4 billion Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration project, a massive system of levees, flood gates, dunes, and marsh restoration to safeguard the Texas Gulf Coast from hurricane storm surges.
  • $3.2 billion for a larger lock at Soo Locks, a pivotal transit point for Great Lakes commercial shipping.

WRDA also made it easier for the Army Corps to deploy natural features such as marshes and dunes to guard against floods. And it authorized the Army Corps to study a second drinking water source or additional water storage for Washington, D.C.

The capital’s water supply is vulnerable, said Stevens, who worked on two previous WRDA bills as part of Sen. Ben Cardin’s staff. The Potomac River — the city’s sole drinking water source — could be compromised by industrial accidents, oil spills, or other incidents. Shutting down the Potomac water intake would put the city in a serious bind.

In an action separate from WRDA, the Army Corps issued final permits for a $2.3 billion environmental restoration project to rebuild eroding land along the Louisiana coast.

The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, a state project, will provide an off-ramp for sediment-laden water from the Mississippi River. Those land-building particles will be diverted during periods of high flow. Exiting the river at a point south of New Orleans, the sediment will be funneled to the Barataria Basin, where it is intended to reestablish coastal wetlands and protect inland areas from storm surges.

WRDA authorizes projects but does not fund them. Allocating money is the purpose of the appropriations bill.

That bill identified water infrastructure priorities. It allocated $140 million to rebuild water treatment facilities in New Mexico that were affected by last year’s Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fire, the largest in state history.

The bill maintained the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds at 2022 spending levels. These low-interest loan funds are two primary sources of federal funding for water infrastructure.

Funding this year for the Clean Water SRF is $1.6 billion, while the Drinking Water SRF is $1.1 billion. Both will get several billion dollars annually over the next four years in supplemental funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Water groups, however, are upset with operational changes to the funds. Earmarks, which returned to the budget process last year, are being subtracted from the SRF totals. For water infrastructure, earmarks amounted to roughly half of the total funding for the SRFs in this budget.

The remaining SRF dollars will be distributed to the states according to a standard formula. This creates winners and losers. If your senator was especially good at lobbying for dollars, your state gets more than its usual SRF share.

For utilities in losing states, the result is a scramble for the leftovers, Stevens said. There might not be enough money in the SRFs for projects that would have been funded in the past.

“It means that every utility now really, really, really needs to go and get earmarks because they can’t count on the SRF funding in the state to be high enough,” she said.

The San Juan Water Conservancy District and the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District target 11,000 acre-foot size for the #SanJuanRiver Headwaters Project — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Derek Kutzer). Here’s an excerpt:

The reservoir would be a joint project between SJWCD and the PAWSD called the San Juan River Headwaters Project. In 2008, SJWCD and PAWSD collaborated on the purchase of the property, also known as Running Iron Ranch, with the goal to even- tually build a water storage facility on the parcel of land, which is more than 600 acres. The proposed reservoir would be an “off-channel” water storage facility being fed by a pre-existing agricultural ditch, Park Ditch…

According to the district’s strategic plan, “In 2004, the District and PAWSD applied for a junior water right for a larger reservoir in Dry Gulch, a refill right, and specific filling sources and rates for it. Trout Unlimited opposed those claims, leading to protracted litigation and new standards from the Colorado Supreme Court for evaluating conditional water rights owned by municipal providers. The District, PAWSD, and Trout Unlimited eventually stipulated to a decree providing for a maximum storage capacity of 11,000 acre-feet for Dry Gulch Reservoir and other limitations on its use.”

More recently, SJWCD sought more accurate information on projections for future water needs, hiring the Lakewood-based water consultant company Wilson Water Group to conduct the analysis. The resulting study was a 24- page “analysis of current and future water supply and demand through 2050 in the Upper San Juan River basin.”

Important Things Ahead for #Colorado #Water Policy in 2023: Audubon supports proactive water #resilience strategies for 2023 #Colorado legislation #COleg

Click the link to read the article on the Audubon website (Abby Burk):

Water is our most precious natural resource and life-sustaining force for Coloradans, birds, and other wildlife. On January 9, Colorado lawmakers headed to the Capitol to start the 120-day legislative session. As a centerpiece of the session, water will connect and unite lawmakers and constituents with ripple effects for years to come.

At a critical time for water, leadership from all three legislative chambers have commented on the importance of Colorado’s water to the sustainability and vitality of our state. “(Water) is the conversation, it will be the centerpiece of our agenda this year, if for no other reason than that Colorado has to be seen as a leader in this space,” said Speaker of the House Julie McCluskie. “The conversation around water is going to be a big one,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg.

On January 17, 2023, Governor Jared Polis, in the State of the State address, remarked: “Water is life in Colorado and the west, it’s as simple as that. But we’re at a crossroads. Increased demand, chronic and extreme drought, conflicts with other states, and devastating climate events are threatening this critical life source— and we’ve all seen the impacts. Wildfires have destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres and devastated entire communities. Farmers and ranchers across the state fear that Colorado won’t have the water resources to sustain the next generation of agricultural jobs… When Colorado is 150, I want our state to have the water resources necessary for our farms, communities, and industries to thrive, and the tools in place to protect our state’s waterways and defend our rights.” 

Clearly, water is a legislative priority. Big water ideas are in the wind, but proponents need to share concepts broadly. Our decisions about water influence all areas of life for people and nature. We’re doing a better job of including and valuing a diversity of input in water decisions, but we need to do more. A diversity of water stakeholders must support legislative proposals that support multiple beneficial uses.

Audubon Rockies is busy working with lawmakers, agencies, and partners to prioritize healthy, functioning, and resilient watersheds and river systems for people and birds—the natural systems that we all depend upon. There are already seven bills on our water watch list, plus several draft bills. Here are three water priority areas for Audubon in the 2023 Colorado legislative session. Please make sure you’re signed up to hear about opportunities to engage with them.

Funds provided by grants and landowners near Kremmling, Colorado, have facilitated improvements such as this back stabilization project. (Source: Paul Bruchez)

Stream Health 

Colorado’s ability to thrive depends upon the health and function of our natural stream systems. Healthy, functioning stream systems provide critical habitat to most of Colorado’s wildlife; improve wildfire resilience, drought mitigation, flood safety, water quality, forest health, riparian and aquatic habitat; and provide many other ecological benefits that are beneficial to all Coloradans.

Stream restoration practices have been successfully implemented across Colorado for more than 30 years by federal, state, and local agencies, conservation organizations, water providers, and private landowners. The projects are usually designed to address the environmental, public safety, infrastructure, and economic impacts of degraded river corridor conditions. However, recently there has been increased uncertainty about stream restoration practices in regards to water rights issues. Project proponents need a clear path to initiating and completing a stream restoration project. 

Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is on track to introduce proposed 2023 legislation to provide clarity and certainty on where stream restoration projects may take place based on the historical footprint (the presence of a stream and its riparian corridor’s location before disturbance occurred) without being subject to water rights administration. Without a legislative solution, Colorado could miss out on the critical benefits of healthy functioning river corridors and the significant funding currently available for watershed restoration work through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act.

This stream restoration legislation is a top priority for Audubon. We have partnered with DNR to host a water legislator webinar series on this bill. 

Join me on February 2, 8-8:45 AM for a bill orientation webinar with DNR leadership, bill sponsors, and leading experts. Register here.

Climate stripes through 2022. Credit: Ed Hawkins

Climate Resiliency 

Despite near-term optimism from a snowy December and January, climate change and unprecedented drought conditions in recent years are threatening Colorado’s ability to satisfy water users, environmental needs, and potentially interstate obligations. We need more flexible ways to manage and deliver water to support the Colorado we love. The Colorado River Basin has been in an extended drought going on 24 years. There are real consequences for people, birds, and every other living thing that depends on rivers in this region. Colorado needs tools and resources to proactively respond to drought conditions and maximize the benefits to the state, its water users, and river systems from once-in-a-generation competitive federal funds that have recently been made available to address the Colorado River Basin drought. Audubon will be watching this session for legislation to support that will provide new innovative solutions to the water threats we face.

Water Funding & Projects 

Governor Polis’ proposed budget request includes a historic $25.2 million to advance the state’s Water Plan implementation and expansion of staff and funding to capture competitive federal funds. These much-needed proposals should be well-received by lawmakers, given that water security, drought, and fire are on everyone’s mind for this legislative session. We must ensure that these funds are invested wisely in water projects and water resources management strategies. The strategies must be equitable and fair for vulnerable communities and improve the health of Colorado’s watersheds for people and nature. Funding and water projects that support our river ecosystems are intrinsically related to our public health, economy, and the Coloradan ways of life.

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

#Carbondale Report: Water rules and bag ban revisited — The Sopris Sun #RoaringForkRiver #conservation #aridification

The Roaring Fork River just above Carbondale, and Mt. Sopris, on May 3, 2020. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on The Sopris Sun website (Raleigh Burleigh). Here’s an excerpt:

The first novel item on the [Carbondale Board of Trustees] agenda was a proposal from the Ruedi Water and Power Authority (RWAPA) for regional baseline watering standards. The proposition was developed through a grant from the WaterNow Alliance and stakeholder meetings with water suppliers in the Valley. RWAPA Executive Director April Long joined via Zoom to explain that the desire for comprehensive and regional education is complicated by disparate restrictions between jurisdictions in the watershed. “The entire point of baseline watering standards is just to give us initial footing … for an education and outreach campaign,” she stated.

An extensive memo provided by Public Works Director Kevin Schorzman explained that the town code currently recognizes few scenarios for restrictions: a water shortage or a water crisis. Conservation restrictions may be enacted during periods of peak demand, from May 15 to Oct. 15.

The proposed Valley-wide standards would make permanent no watering between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. year-round, with odd addresses and even addresses alternating days and no watering on Mondays — with some exceptions.

Crystal River rancher Bill Fales stands at the headgate for the Helms Ditch, with Mount Sopris in the background. As part of an agreement with the Colorado Water Trust, Fales could be paid to reduce his diversions from the ditch when the river is low. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Schorzman’s memo also explained that Carbondale’s system is unique, with treated water as well as an extensive ditch system supplying raw water for irrigation. The memo noted that Carbondale’s indoor water use per capita has trended downward in recent years and approximately 58% of “consumed” domestic water returns to the river as wastewater return flows. Long stated that ditch water should follow the same standards as treated water.

Deadline on new #ColoradoRiver #water cuts looms — @WaterEdCO #COriver #aridification

Water users are urgently trying to keep Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border from dropping to a point where Glen Canyon Dam can no longer generate electricity. (Source: Bureau of Reclamation)

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education website (Jerd Smith):

Another deadline to establish new cutbacks in water use in the seven-state Colorado River Basin is quickly approaching on January 31, 2023, as states continue their talks, as ordered by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

In addition to the cutbacks, several other key decisions also lie ahead in the coming weeks, including how a $125 million, broad-based water conservation pilot program would operate, whether a permanent water conservation program known as demand management could work among the Upper Basin states, and how the third-year of an emergency drought plan, known as the Drought Response Operations Agreement, will function this spring and summer.

All are tied to reducing short-term and long-term demands on the drought-strapped river as part of a five-point plan put forward by the Upper Basin states last summer. In releasing that plan, the Upper Basin recognized its effectiveness would hinge on additional actions to reduce use in the Lower Basin.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation late last year had given the seven basin states until Jan. 31 to come up with a new agreement on water reductions, after an August deadline had passed.

Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board who also represents Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission, said talks were continuing but that more work and specific plans from California, Arizona and Nevada would be necessary to reach an agreement and take action.

“The basin states, the federal government, and the tribes have been working collaboratively and tirelessly to find potential points of consensus on short-term actions to protect lakes Powell and Mead,” Mitchell said Monday at a meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board in Aurora.

“I continue to believe strongly that the Lower Basin states must take action to reduce their demands out of Lake Mead.

“We are moving forward on our commitments, but it is important to recognize that those commitments and that work alone mean nothing if the Lower Basin use continues as it has been,” she said. She also stressed the importance of considering what must occur in the Lower Basin before Colorado moves forward with widespread participation in the System Conservation Pilot Program.

Map credit: AGU

The basin is divided into two regions. The Upper Basin includes Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, while the Lower Basin covers Arizona, California and Nevada.

Last summer U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton ordered the states to figure out how to reduce water use by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet by August, but no agreements have been reached. Now the states, along with tribal leaders and the feds are aiming to agree to cuts by Jan. 31. If no consensus is reached next week, it leaves the possibility that the federal government will decide how to make the cuts in the coming weeks.

As lakes Powell and Mead have dwindled, all seven states have had to get by with less water and federal forecasts indicate that is likely to be the case for several more years.

West snowpack basin-filled map January 27, 2023 via the NRCS.

Since December, the water forecast has improved slightly thanks to heavy mountain snows in Utah and Colorado, according to Michelle Garrison, a water resources specialist at the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“Snowpack and runoff in all of western Colorado and Utah is quite a bit above average … but from here on, it could get really dry just like it did last year. So folks need to be prepared to plan for a continued wet or a sudden drop to really dry or anything in between as they’re looking forward,” Garrison told the board.

Now 23 years into a megadrought widely believed to be the worst in 1,800 years, the highly developed river system is on the brink of collapse, with lakes Powell and Mead falling dangerously close to dead pool, a water level so low that, if it is reached, Powell won’t be able to produce hydropower and Mead won’t be able to serve the millions of people in the Lower Basin who rely on the river.

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

The river begins in Colorado’s Never Summer Mountains, high in Rocky Mountain National Park. It gathers water from major tributaries in Colorado, such as the Yampa and Gunnison rivers, and throughout the Upper Basin, accumulating some 90% of the streamflow that it will provide throughout the seven-state river system thanks to the runoff from the Upper Basin’s deep mountain snows.

But since 2002, those mountain snowpacks have been shrinking, crushed by warming temperatures and fewer snow days.

Beginning in July of 2021, the U.S. Department of the Interior ordered, for the first time, emergency releases from Utah’s Flaming Gorge, Colorado’s Blue Mesa and New Mexico’s Navajo reservoirs. But that has done little to restore levels, although the releases are credited with providing some protection to the power supply.

While Lower Basin states have been forced to begin cutting back water use under a special set of operating guidelines and drought plans approved respectively in 2007 and 2019, negotiations in recent months have failed to achieve the federally ordered cutbacks. Upper Basin states are considering new programs and actions to further cut Upper Basin water use, but are hoping for additional Lower Basin commitments before taking additional water use reductions of their own.

West Drought Monitor map January 24, 2023.

At the same time, the drought has continued, and this winter could be dry once again, particularly in the Lower Basin. In response, last week, the federal government announced it would expedite negotiations on a new set of operating guidelines designed to protect lakes Powell and Mead to help restore the river.

Under the terms of the Colorado River Compact of 1922, the river’s supplies are divided equally between the Upper and Lower basins. But because the Upper Basin states have smaller and fewer reservoirs than the Lower Basin, users here have had to cut back their water use as the drought has continued. At the same time, Lower Basin users have been able to rely on stored supplies in Powell and Mead, at least until now.

Looking ahead, Jessica Brody, who represents the Metro Basin on the CWCB Board of Directors, said she would like to see more time taken before critical Upper Basin decisions are made, including participation in the $125 million System Conservation Pilot Program, which is accepting applications through Feb. 1.

“I’m a little bit concerned about the Feb. 1 deadline when we don’t yet know whether the Lower Basin will be able to come to the table in terms of reducing the demands in the Lower Basin,” Brody said.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Importing water to #NewMexico? Challenges are stunning — The Albuquerque Journal #MissouriRiver #RioGrande

Lake Sakakawea location map. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77572471

Click the link to read the guest column on The Albuquerque Journal website (Bruce Thomson). Here’s an excerpt:

Probably the most feasible option for bringing water from the Mississippi River basin would be to transfer water from Lake Sakakawea, a huge lake on the Missouri River in North Dakota, to the middle Rio Grande. The distance from Lake Sakakawea to the middle Rio Grande is approximately 1,000 miles. More importantly, it’s located at an elevation of 1,800 feet above sea level which greatly reduces pumping requirements.

A recent study done by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources suggests that water supply in the middle Rio Grande will decrease by about 30% over the next 50 years. That deficiency is approximately 300,000 acre-feet per year…Transferring 300,000 acre-feet of water from the Missouri River during six months of high flow each year, requires a flow of 830 cubic feet per second, similar to today’s flow in the Rio Grande at Albuquerque. This is far too much water for a pipe – it requires a canal 25 feet wide and eight feet deep. To pump this water, 650,000 horsepower or 500 megawatts of power will be needed. This is roughly half the power generated by a single unit at a nuclear power plant…

Transporting water from North Dakota to New Mexico would involve a canal that passes through or near seven states; North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Bringing water from Louisiana to the Colorado River will require passing through or near Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. Each of these states face serious water shortages. It is inconceivable to imagine that each of them won’t demand a proportionate share of water passing over or near their lands.

We must recognize that multistate interbasin transfers quickly become impractical when factoring in the water demands for all participants. The volumes of water in the Missouri River, Atchafalaya River and other North American rivers are large, but they are nowhere near sufficient to meet the demands of the arid West. We simply need to learn to live with what we’ve got, accept the fact that future shortages are inevitable, and then manage this most precious resource wisely and equitably.

Bruce Thomson, Ph.D., P.E., is a research professor in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering and in the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico.

Map of the Mississippi River Basin. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47308146

Discussion ready to roll on #CrystalRiver — #Aspen Daily News

An image of the Crystal River Valley from an EcoFlight mission in August 2022. The view is downvalley, toward Mount Sopris. A group is exploring a federal designation of wild and scenic for the Crystal River in Gunnison and Pitkin counties. Courtesy of Ecoflight

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Daily News website. Here’s an excerpt:

The effort to explore getting a federal designation of wild and scenic for the Crystal River is about to get turned up a notch. The Wild and Scenic Feasibility Collaborative announced Monday it has selected Wellstone Collaborative Strategies and P2 Solutions to facilitate and lead a community engagement and stakeholder process. American Whitewater, a national nonprofit that advocates for the preservation and protection of whitewater rivers, will support Wellstone in the administration of its outreach efforts…

Denver-based Wellstone Collaborative Strategies and Loveland-based P2 Solutions were selected for their experience and competence in facilitation and community engagement. Both Jacob Bornstein, founder and principal of Wellstone Collaborative Strategies, and Wendy Lowe, owner of P2 Solutions, have demonstrated exceptional facilitation skills and experience shepherding broad community conversations to successful outcomes, according to a statement from the selection committee, according to an announcement. The principals in the businesses have strong backgrounds in natural resource issues and direct knowledge of the Crystal River…

With a goal of identifying long-lasting river protection, the collaborative envisions the creation of a stakeholder group that would engage in fact finding, identification of overlapping interests and concerns, and a robust discussion of shared goals and strategies. The initial phase of the stakeholder process will bring together a representative cross section of interested individuals to provide informed input; examine, explore and investigate river protection; access and rely on experts in river and riparian health; engage experts to provide factual information relevant to protective designations; agree upon rules of engagement; be a process grounded in the highest integrity and inclusiveness; and result in identification of shared principles for protection of the Crystal River.

A southern #Utah mayor’s #water warning: ‘We are running out’ — The Deseret News #VirginRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on The Deseret News website (Kyle Dumphey). Here’s an excerpt:

Utah’s Washington County is one of the fastest growing areas in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, made possible by the Virgin River which supplies the region and its multiplying suburbs with water. But drought and population growth have long plagued the river, and the mayor of Ivins, a small, bedroom community of nearby St. George, did not mince words when addressing constituents this month. 

“There’s good cause to be concerned about water,” said Mayor Chris Hart during an annual neighborhood meeting in January. “We are running out.”

Hart said the city has run out of water previously, dating back to the 1960s — “but there was always a solution, because we hadn’t fully developed the sources of water. That’s coming to an end.”

“We’ve just about used up all of the Virgin River drainage and our only hope is that we can convince enough of us to conserve better,” he continued…

Lake Powell Pipeline map via the Washington County Water Conservancy District, October 25, 2020.

Hart, who served on the Washington County Water Conservancy Board, said much of the region’s growth is predicated on construction of the Lake Powell Pipeline, a $3 billion project that would funnel 80,000 acre-feet of Utah’s Colorado River allotment from the Glen Canyon Dam to the St. George area.

District 5 water court case could affect thousands of Western Slope #water users — #Aspen Daily News #SnakeRiver #BlueRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Snake River. Photo credit: Bob Berwyn

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Daily News website (Austin Corona). Here’s an excerpt:

An ongoing water case in Colorado’s Division Five water court in Glenwood Springs could impact a vital source of water for users across the Western Slope.  The case developed from a dispute between the Snake River Water District in Summit County and the state’s Division 5 Engineers regarding administration of Green Mountain Reservoir’s Historic User Pool.  The case could affect thousands of water users in Colorado’s portion of the Colorado River Basin, including many in the Roaring Fork Valley, who rely on releases from Green Mountain Reservoir.  Snake River and the Division 5 Engineers of the Colorado Division of Water Resources disagree on whether Snake River can benefit from water in Green Mountain’s Historic User Pool. Snake River relies on water from the HUP to replace the water it removes from the Snake River system with several wells…

The HUP was created to compensate Western Slope users for water transferred out of the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range. While the HUP itself was only created in 1983, Western Slope water users have been relying on water from Green Mountain since the 1950s. The HUP, along with other allotments of water in the reservoir, were legally designated in order to ensure that Green Mountain would continue as a critical resource for the Western Slope. Snake River is one of thousands of Western Slope water users who rely on the HUP to replace water diverted from the Colorado River and its tributaries. 

The Division 5 Engineers challenge Snake River’s ability to benefit from the HUP because Snake River also receives replacement water through an augmentation plan. Augmentation plans are court-approved plans that also replace water diverted by users, but they are not necessarily linked to Green Mountain, and using them is not free. Because Snake River can already replace its diversions during a call with augmentation water, the engineers say it cannot benefit from HUP coverage…Snake River sued the engineers in Colorado’s Division 5 water court in hopes of retaining its HUP benefits. If it loses its HUP coverage, Snake River claims it could cost $800,000 to rely exclusively on its augmentation plan. Snake River argues that coverage from an augmentation plan does not legally disqualify a water user from also being covered by the HUP.  

Say hello to Great Salt Lake (greatsaltlake.utah.gov)

Click the link to go to the Great Salt Lake website:

Great Salt Lake is the largest saline lake in the Western Hemisphere and the eighth largest in the world – boasting a rich web of relationships between people, land, water, food and survival. The lake contributes $1.9 billion to Utah’s economy (adjusted for inflation), provides over 7,700 jobs, supports 80% of Utah’s valuable wetlands, and provides a stopover for millions of birds to rest and refuel during migration each year. Lake effect snow also contributes 5-10% to Utah’s snowpack.

Drought, climate change and continued demand are threatening the lake

A drying Great Salt Lake has local and regional consequences and could result in increased dust, poor air quality, reduced snow, reduced lake access, habitat loss and negative economic consequences to the state. By protecting the lake, we help our economy, environment, wildlife and future.

How to Save the #ColoradoRiver? Use Less Water: Audubon submits comments to Bureau of Reclamation as they develop new operating rules #conservation #COriver #aridification

Lake Powell, a key reservoir on the Colorado River, has seen water levels drop precipitously as a result of two decades of drought. (Source: The Water Desk and Lighthawk Conservation Flying)

Click the link to read the article on the Audubon website (Jennifer Pitt):

The massive dams on the Colorado River were supposed to protect us.

President Franklin Roosevelt at dedication of Boulder (now Hoover) Dam, September 30, 1935

At the dedication of Hoover Dam, the colossus just outside of Las Vegas created Lake Mead, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt celebrated “its contribution to the health and comfort of the people of America who live in the Southwest.” The Glen Canyon Dam was built in the 1960’s into the red rocks of Glen Canyon to form Lake Powell. Floyd Dominy, the Reclamation Commissioner who presided over its construction extolled that “you wouldn’t have anywhere near the number of people living comfortably in the West if you hadn’t developed the projects, if you hadn’t managed the water.”

Today, the water stored behind them is so diminished that the federal government has warned of “system collapse.” The two reservoirs are dangerously close to dead pool, the point at which the water level sinks below the dams’ intakes. At risk are the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River water supply and a substantial share of the U.S. agricultural economy, not to mention the hundreds of bird species and every other living thing that depends on the basin’s rivers as habitat.

How did this happen? The river is legally overallocated, the basin is experiencing extended drought conditions, and climate warming is exacerbating the drought. Perhaps most significantly, consumptive water uses in the past 20 years have exceeded supply. Rather than reducing water uses a little bit year over year, those who control the river (water users, state and federal agencies) largely sustained consumptive uses by draining those reservoirs. Now that they are nearly emptied, that strategy won’t work anymore, and the region is in for a rough transition.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation has initiated a process to substantially reduce water releases from Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams as soon as next year (see “Notice of Intent to Prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the December 2007 Record of Decision Entitled Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations For Lake Powell and Lake Mead” as published in Federal Register Notice – 87 FR 69042 on November 17, 2022). This will allow Reclamation to change Colorado River operations in the near-term without having to enact “emergency measures” (read: not subject to environmental review) as they did in 2022. This is taking place at the same time that Reclamation is working with stakeholders on a longer-term process to revise Colorado River operating rules post-2026.

Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. Photo: Marti Phillips/Audubon Photography Awards

In response to Reclamation’s most recent request for public comment regarding near-term changes to Colorado River operations, Audubon submitted a letter asking for considerations for birds and other living things that depend on the river. We expect to comment again once Reclamation issues a draft plan, likely in March.

Updated Colorado River 4-Panel plot thru Water Year 2022 showing reservoirs, flows, temperatures and precipitation. All trends are in the wrong direction. Since original 2017 plot, conditions have deteriorated significantly. Brad Udall via Twitter: https://twitter.com/bradudall/status/1593316262041436160

‘Our job is to protect #Nebraska’s interests’ — The Lincoln Journal-Star #OgallalaAquifer

Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue

Click the link to read the article on the Lincoln Journal-Star website (Chris Dunker). Here’s an excerpt:

Governments at all levels have stepped in to cut use in order to stabilize water levels [ed. in the U.S. West], but the ongoing and worsening crisis has revived discussions online and on newspaper opinion pages about dramatic proposals to pipe water into the region from elsewhere. Building a pipeline thousands of miles long to divert water from the Mississippi River to drought-stricken Southern California. Diverting a part of the Missouri River into an aqueduct that would supply water to the drylands of eastern Colorado and western Kansas…

That’s a prospect Sen. Tom Briese of Albion said he wants to prevent, at least in the Cornhusker state: “Water certainly is our most precious natural resource in Nebraska and it needs to be preserved and protected for future generations of Nebraskans.”

His bill (LB241) would prohibit the director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources from granting any permit “that would allow groundwater to be transported more than 10 miles outside this state,” unless it was to comply with an interstate compact or decree. Essentially, Briese’s idea would allow the Legislature a say on any project seeking to tap into the Ogallala Aquifer, a major geological feature underlying much of Nebraska.

Ogallala Aquifer. Credit: Big Pivots

NRCS eyes $20M for embattled dam as public demands answers — @WyoFile #LittleSnakeRiver #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A member of the public poses a question during a public meeting in Saratoga Jan. 12, 2023 regarding the proposed West Fork Dam and reservoir. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Angus M. Thuermer Jr. and  Dustin Bleizeffer):

The U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service will likely request some $20 million for the West Fork Dam on the Colorado border, a potential new funding source for the contested project

The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service will likely request funding “in the over-$20-million range” to help finance a controversial dam proposed for the Little Snake River drainage, a federal official said last week.

The revelation emerged from a long-awaited series of public meetings in Craig, Colorado, Baggs and Saratoga during which project critics and proponents interrogated state and federal agency representatives and argued the merits of the West Fork Dam initiative. 

Estimated in 2017 to cost $80 million, the 260-foot-high concrete structure and accompanying 130-acre reservoir in Carbon County near the confluence of Battle and Haggarty Creeks has become the latest skirmish line in the West’s interminable water wars.

Water developers and many in the local agricultural community hail the public work as a critical tool for mitigating the effects of deepening drought and a boon for wildlife, recreation and the local economy. Opponents describe it as an expensive boondoggle poised to benefit a small number of irrigators — many of whom aren’t even in Wyoming — while shifting negative environmental impacts downstream.  

Following years of quiet agency maneuvering, legislative negotiating and campaigning from both sides, a framework for the potential deal has taken shape. It involves a state-federal land swap, complex “public benefit” calculations, a streamlined environmental review, majority funding from the state of Wyoming, minority contributions from water-users and now, apparently, a potentially skid-greasing influx of federal dollars. 

The NRCS’s funding interest was “some new info,” according to a participant at one of last week’s public meetings.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service will request funding if it and other agencies approve construction, said Shawn Follum, state conservation engineer with the NRCS in Casper. 

Funds aren’t guaranteed, he said; “We can’t commit Congress’ dollars in the future.” But the money could qualify as the required contribution from the Pothook Water Conservancy District of about two dozen irrigators in Colorado, according to discussions at the public meetings.

Wyoming may still face challenges funding the dam if federal officials approve it. In an unprecedented move in 2018, state legislators cut some $35 million from a water-construction bill and required lawmaker approval for any new funds for the West Fork Dam.

In an era of infrastructure and stimulus funding, however, more federal money might be available. “The reality is there are a variety of places where to find this … funding,” rancher Pat O’Toole, a project proponent and former state lawmaker, said.

Funding, however, is only one of many variables that need to be solved for if the complex public works proposal is to come to fruition. The terms of a land swap and parallel environmental review are also top of mind for stakeholders, as is an evaluation of who actually stands to benefit from the undertaking.  

‘Somewhat befuddled’

Held over three evenings, the meetings drew about 150 people to hear how the NRCS and Medicine Bow National Forest might authorize the proposed dam on the West Fork of Battle Creek.

In what’s being called a “parallel process” The Medicine-Bow will decide whether to exchange land to enable the 130-acre reservoir that would hold 10,000 acre-feet, mostly for late-season irrigation. About 44 irrigators have expressed interest in buying the water, according to discussion at the meetings.

Pat O’Toole, who ranches in the Baggs area, was among participants at the Saratoga public meeting on the West Fork Dam on Jan. 12, 2023. Approximately 150 persons attended three sessions — also held in Baggs and Craig, Colorado — explaining how the Medicine Bow National Forest and U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service will decide whether to authorize a 264-foot concrete structure. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Participants called the bifurcated approvals confusing and criticized the process that, according to Wyoming officials, is designed to skirt more lengthy federal environmental reviews.

“A lot of questions are coming from people who deal with this [National Environmental Policy Act] process a lot and they’re somewhat befuddled,” said Jeb Steward an Encampment resident, former state representative and a former member of the Wyoming Water Development Commission who has worked as a water rights consultant in the area.

Meeting participant Soren Jespersen said officials had created a “very confusing process, and it’s difficult … for the public to know when and how to weigh in.”

Cindy McKee, a rancher who irrigates from a stream above the proposed dam, and grazes cattle on state land that’s offered in the swap, echoed those concerns. “We’ve been very disappointed in the lack of communication from the state, as singularly affected as we are both by the land trade and by the proposed water project,” she said. “We were never notified that our [grazing] lease was up for consideration for the land trade. Fourteen years ago when the dam was conceived, we didn’t know about it for two years.

“It’s been difficult, quite honestly, to find information,” McKee said. “Documents are usually released very shortly before an opportunity to public comment. It’s been frustrating and discouraging.”

Comments and public interest

Federal and state officials stressed that comments about the review’s scopeshould be made in writing to the NRCS by Feb. 13. Only persons and organizations that comment can later object to any decision.

An NRCS draft environmental impact statement is expected in September with a final version released in April 2024 and adoption scheduled for that May.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

U.S. Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper Urge Reclamation to Allocate Additional Funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit #ArkansasRiver

Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

Click the link to read the article on Senator Bennet’s website:

Today [January 23, 2023], Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper urged the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to consider allocating additional funding from the recent omnibus funding bill for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) or the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) for the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC).

The AVC is a planned 130-mile water-delivery system from the Pueblo Reservoir to communities in Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers, and Pueblo counties. The Conduit is the final phase of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which Congress authorized in 1962.

“[T]he Conduit has been one of Colorado’s top priorities for nearly six decades,” wrote the senators. “Continuing to invest in this project will allow the project’s stakeholders to plan for more effective construction and delivery of clean drinking water throughout Southeast Colorado.”

In the letter, the senators highlight the $60 million allocated for the construction of the AVC from the BIL last fall, and ask BOR to allocate additional funds, which could be immediately applied to help advance different components of the AVC.

“For years, this project languished due to insufficient funding and a prohibitive cost-share agreement,” continued the senators. “Congressional appropriations over the past decade coupled with BOR’s recent $60 million award will finally enable the construction of this long-promised project. More investment, from the FY23 omnibus or future BIL awards, would accelerate the construction timeline and improve planning efficiency.”

Bennet and Hickenlooper have consistently advocated for increased funding for the AVC. The FY23 omnibus spending bill, which was signed into law in December, included $10.1 million for the Conduit after Bennet and Hickenlooper urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to continue to fund the project last May. In October, the senators visited Pueblo to celebrate the announcement of $60 million in BIL funds for the Conduit. The senators and U.S. Representative Ken Buck (R-Colo.) urged the OMB and BOR in July to allocate these funds. In March, Bennet and Hickenlooper secured $12 million for the Conduit from the FY22 omnibus bill. Prior to FY22, Bennet helped secure more than $70 million for the AVC. Bennet and Hickenlooper will continue working in Washington to ensure Colorado has the resources needed to complete this vital project for the region.

In 2009, Congress passed legislation Bennet worked on with former U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to authorize a federal cost share for the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. In 2013, Bennet and his colleagues sent a letter to the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in order to expedite the project’s pre-construction process. In 2014, following Bennet and Udall’s efforts to urge the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s EIS, the Record of Decision was signed in February. Bennet joined the groundbreaking for the project in October 2020.

The text of the letter is available HERE and below.

#ColoradoRiver District considers criteria for water conservation program: Contracts approved only if no new projects take water to Front Range — @AspenJournalism

A herd of elk feast on a sprinkler-irrigated meadow in the Starwood subdivision. The area is irrigated with water from Hunter Creek via Red Mountain Ditch. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

A Western Slope water conservation district has released a draft of the rules it plans to use to guide a program paying water users to cut back.

The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District Board of Directors discussed the policy at its quarterly meeting this week. In December, the Upper Colorado River Commission unveiled details of a rebooted water conservation program, which originally ran from 2015 to 2018 and paid water users to use less Colorado River water.

Along with state officials, it will be up to the River District to approve or deny applications for the restarted program within its 15-county boundary, with the aim of preventing speculation and permanent damage to the Western Slope’s agricultural communities.

“While we didn’t come up with the idea of system conservation and certainly didn’t ever endorse the idea that $125 million should be made available for this particular system conservation program, we recognize that we need to act to protect our communities and our water supply here,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the River District.

According to the River District’s criteria, an applicant must prove saving water will not injure other water users. In a given year, no more than 30% of the land owned by a single person or entity can be dried up and no more than 30% of the irrigated land in any sub-basin can be dried up.

The policy says that Front Range water providers — which in total take about 500,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water each year across the Continental Divide to growing cities and for agriculture — must also contribute their fair share of water. The River District will only approve contracts so long as there are no new transmountain diversion projects or expansion of an existing TMD project — at all.

“We are not going to ask our water users to cut back when what that means is essentially making room for new transbasin diversions,” Mueller said.

The policy also recommends that if the farm operator is not the owner of the land, that 40% of the federal payments go to the operator.

“Should all the funds go to landowners and not the farm operators, we may see families leave the area or be forced to switch professions,” Mueller said. “That’s a real potential negative of a program like this.”

The restarted System Conservation Pilot Program — which the River District is referring to as just the System Conservation Program, dropping the “pilot” since it’s no longer new — will pay water users a starting price of $150 per acre-foot of saved water. It will be funded with $125 million of federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act. The deadline to submit applications is Feb. 1 and the UCRC expects to award contracts in March to begin conserving water during the 2023 irrigation season.

The goal of the SCP is to reduce Colorado River water use in the upper basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) to lessen the impacts of long-term drought and depleted reservoirs. The program is one arm of the UCRC’s 5-Point Plan, released in July, which is aimed at protecting critical elevations at the nation’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

Fueled by a two-decade drought and climate change, the reservoirs have fallen to historically low levels, threatening the ability to make hydro-electric power at the dams. Upper basin water managers have called on the lower basin (California, Arizona and Nevada) to bear the brunt of the cuts needed to sustain the system, given that the lower basin regularly uses its full annual appropriation of Colorado River water, while the upper basin uses far less overall.

River District board members will provide feedback on the policy and could approve a final draft at a meeting in two weeks.

The original SCPP saved about 47,000 acre-feet of water at a cost of about $8.6 million over four years. UCRC officials have repeatedly said they cannot put a number on how much water they expect to be conserved in the new iteration of the program.

The UCRC held a webinar on Wednesday [January 15, 2022] to provide additional information to applicants and walk through the review process and timeline. According to UCRC Executive Director Chuck Cullom, the webinar had more than 120 participants.

Cullom said the UCRC, which has just three employees, will be looking to contractors and state leaders to get the program up and running.

“In order to engage in something as regionally diverse as system conservation requires a team,” he said. “So we are engaging with a consultant who will provide technical and administrative support work as well as the leadership and work from each of the four states.”

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times.

Map of the Colorado River drainage basin, created using USGS data. By Shannon1 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

Stacy Standley: 15 steps #Aspen needs to take to preserve the #ColoradoRiver Basin — Aspen Times #COriver #aridification

Waterfalls along Yule Creek. CREDIT: COURTESY PHOTO BY JOHN ARMSTRONG

Click the link to read the guest column on the Aspen Times website (Stacy Standley). Here’s an excerpt:

Now is the time to take a giant step into the future with revolutionary ideas that transcend the parochial local interests of the Roaring Fork River Valley by recognizing that climate/weather change, along with population growth, has erased the boundaries of the Colorado River Basin…Aspen is now the pivotal headwaters of the Colorado River Basin, which has become a small, compacted irrigation canal instead of a great river system and has shrunk many hundreds of miles into but a few feet…

1. There should be 100% metering and billing of every drop of water: 7% of the Aspen distribution is unmetered and/or unbilled and unmetered, and this should be eliminated. 

2. You can not distribute or control what you do not measure: Metering and billing should be by constant recorded, instantaneous, wifi-linked electronic services on all distribution points and reported to every customer and the Water Department on a instantaneous daily basis, with auto shutoffs for an aberration of usage by 1% or more. 

3. All wastewater and storm water must be a fully-integrated part of the treated water-supply system by municipal recycling and/or irrigation and municipal water usage.

4. Downstream water flows that exceed minimum stream flow must be acquired and piped back into the upstream Aspen intake.

5. Aspen and Pitkin County must negotiate with Twin Lakes Canal and Reservoir Co. and the Fry-Ark project to create water savings for their service area and water that can be allowed to stay in the Roaring Fork River Valley.

6. Salvation Ditch, Red Mountain Ditch, and all other local irrigation systems should become a part of the Aspen water conservation and re-use ethic.

 7. 100% of all leaks and water waste must be ended immediately.

8. Every tree, plant, and natural out-of-house improvement must be identified and the water usage calculated by Lysimeter and/or other instantaneous soil moisture storage measurement system and then a local research and development lab created to test, grow, and install water conserving plants and systems for out-of-house water management and control.

9. All local streets should be coated with bright reflective surfaces to maintain a cooler urban-heat island and, thus, improve out-of-house water usage.

10. Aspen should create its own bottled (no plastic) water supply for individual use from a high-quality spring and distribute at least 2 gallons per person per day inside of the city service area for drinking water usage at cost to increase the Aspen water supply.

11. Aspen should divert into vertically oriented pipeline coils (24 to 48 inch) in all area streams to capture water runoff that exceeds minimum stream flows and keep the vertical-coiled pipelines at or above the city base elevation for instantaneous “pipeline coil reservoir storage.”

12. Every new or remodeled home and business must have installed an on-site water-storage tank for at least three months of driest in-house water usage.

13. Aspen should participate individually and/or with other Colorado River Basin water users in regional ocean, salt flats, and poor quality oil field wastewater/produced water (i.e., Rangely Field and Utah Basin) purification desalination and urban wastewater recycling for earning water-use credits.

14. Aspen should negotiate with Colorado River Basin Native American tribes to create constructive water savings and water-credit system for the benefit of reservation and also Aspen water usage.

15. Aspen should negotiate to replace Colorado River Basin hydroelectric-power generation with renewable energy to earn water storage credits for regional reservoir.

Authorities scramble to entice paid, volunteer #water savings: Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin officials will accept ‘incomplete’ applications to jump-start participation in water #conservation program this spring — @WyoFile #COriver #aridification

he Green River meanders past irrigated ag land north of the town of Green River Sept. 27, 2022. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Dustin Bleizeffer):

Upper Colorado River Basin states, including Wyoming, are looking for agricultural irrigators, municipalities and other water users interested in a volunteer program that pays them to leave water in streams flowing to the troubled Colorado River.

But with just two weeks left to enroll in the System Conservation Pilot Program, water users still have myriad questions regarding eligibility, how water savings are measured and what participation in the program might mean to their operations. 

Given the short timeframe, the Upper Colorado River Commission, and the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office, which oversees the program in Wyoming, are urging interested water users to submit project proposals by the Feb. 1 deadline, even if they’re unsure whether their water savings plans qualify.

“We can still take incomplete applications by Feb. 1, and we’ll work with you to complete those, finalize them and get you into the system,” UCRC Deputy Director Sara Larsen said during a public question-and-answer webinar Wednesday.

The UCRC staff, along with state-level water officials, will verify qualifications and otherwise help applicants complete their proposals — post-submission, if necessary — in order to enroll as many participants as possible, according to the commission.

Successful applicants for the 2023 program will be notified by the end of February.

Water conservation rush

The SCPP is one of five short-term strategies that Upper Colorado River Basin states — Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico — have offered to help meet a challenge by federal officials to conserve 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water in the over-taxed system this year.

The UCRC announced a call for SCPP proposals Dec. 14 with a filing deadline of Feb. 1.

Lake Powell, just upstream from Glen Canyon Dam. At the time of this photo, in May 2021, Lake Powell was 34% full. (Ted Wood/The Water Desk)

The quick turn-around stems from intensifying drought conditions that helped drain Lake Powell and Lake Mead — the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado River — to historic lows this past summer, threatening water availability for some 40 million people who depend on the river. Interior Department Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo announced drought response actions in May intended to maintain hydropower generation at Powell and Mead, which included taking extra releases from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Wyoming-Utah border.

“More needs to be done as the system reaches critically low water levels,” Trujillo testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in June. “The system is at a tipping point.”

Though Wyoming and its upper basin partners didn’t commit specific water-saving volumes in response to the Interior Department’s call for conserving 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water this year, the UCRC put forth a 5-point plan. The SCPP is the first to be implemented.

This diagram shows water levels among major reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin as of Jan. 17, 2023. (Bureau of Reclamation)

“Upper [Colorado River Basin] states have made no commitment with regard to the number of [SCPP] projects or target volumes or anything other than adapting to the interest from willing partners among water users and tribes in the upper basin,” UCRC Executive Director Chuck Collum said during the Wednesday webinar.

Addressing the short turn-around for SCPP proposals, applications don’t “have to be perfect,” Collum said. “But it needs to be in the hopper [by Feb. 1] so we can work with you to refine it.”

The UCRC and Wyoming State Engineer’s Office, however, are not beginning from square one. Wyoming enrolled a couple dozen water users in the program’s initial iteration from 2015 through 2018, and found exponential interest among irrigators — particularly in the upper reaches of the Green River and its tributaries, according to state officials.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

How it works

To qualify for the SPCC in Wyoming, a water user must have a valid water right within the Little Snake or Green River basins and demonstrate that that right has been exercised in recent years, according to state officials. Participants are credited only for voluntary reductions of “consumptive use,” which is described as Colorado River-bound water “that can be estimated or measured,” according to the UCRC.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which receives water draining off 15,000 square miles of western Wyoming, was more than 30 feet below its maximum height in this December 2022 image. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

In the case of industrial and municipal water users, consumptive use is generally measured by determining how much water is diverted and not returned to the river system. Water reuse and recycling may qualify, however, according to the UCRC. For agricultural irrigation operations, consumptive use, generally, is measured by determining how much diverted water is consumed by crops. 

For example, an irrigator might divert 10 acre-feet of water but 2 acre-feet returns to the system. Water officials would credit the irrigator for volumes of water allowed to flow downstream that would otherwise normally have been consumed.

For now, the UCRC envisions a “fixed term” compensation of $150 per acre-foot of water under the SCPP in 2023, although it may consider higher rates based on circumstances, according to the agency’s request for proposals. The UCRC secured $125 million from the Inflation Reduction Act to support the program — an amount that water officials say is more than enough to cover payments and expenses in 2023.

In the first iteration of the SCPP — from 2015 through 2018 — a total 23,886 acre-feet of water was conserved among 26 projects in Wyoming, according to a report by the upper basin commission. It paid water users a total $4,079,233 — about $171 per-acre foot.

Priority for SCPP proposals in 2023 will be given to “projects that are likely to mitigate impacts of the ongoing drought,” larger volumes of water to be conserved and the ability to verify water savings, according to the request for proposals.

Further details about how the program works in Wyoming and what qualifies can be found on the Colorado River Working Group’s website.

Ansel Adams The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service. (79-AAG-1). By Ansel Adams – This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=118192

#ColoradoRiver Storage Project — Reclamation #COriver

Colorado River Storage Project map. Credit: Reclmation

Click the link to read the article on the Reclamation website:

The 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act has had a significant impact on the development and management of water in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The 1956 act authorized construction of the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) which allowed for comprehensive development of the water resources of the Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) by providing for long-term regulatory storage of water for purposes including, regulating the Colorado River, storing water for beneficial use, allowing Upper Basin States to utilize their Colorado River Compact apportionments, providing for the reclamation of arid lands, control of floods and generation of hydroelectric power. The Colorado River Storage Project is one of the most complex and extensive river resource developments in the world.

There are four initial storage units built as part of the CRSP:

and a number participating projects (16 of which have been completed or are in process of completion). The purposes of the CRSP identified in the 1956 act include regulating the flow of the Colorado River, storing water for beneficial consumptive use, providing for reclamation of arid and semi-arid lands, providing flood control, and generating hydropower. The CRSP also provides for recreation and improves conditions for fish and wildlife.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, public concern over the environment resulted in new federal environmental laws. The enactment of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, the 1973 Endangered Species Act, and the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act outlined new requirements for the protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife, and the environment. Administration of these laws has modified the operation of CRSP facilities. 

The dams of the CRSP main storage units have a combined live storage capacity of 30.6 million acre-feet and power generation capabilities to provide over five billion kilowatt-hours of energy annually. Glen Canyon Dam is the largest of the CRSP facilities and is the key unit for controlling water releases to the Lower Basin. In 1970, the Criteria for Coordinated Long-Range Operation of Colorado River Reservoirs (Operating Criteria) was established to provide for the coordinated operation of reservoirs in the Upper and Lower basins and set conditions for water releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead. In accordance with the Operating Criteria, an objective release of 8.23 million acre-feet per year is targeted for downstream delivery.

The multipurpose CRSP has not only been integral to the development of the arid West, it has also played a vital sustaining role through extended periods of drought. The many benefits provided by the CRSP are essential to life in the West today.

Want to solve #ClimateChange? This #California farm kingdom holds a key — The Los Angeles Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Southern California’s Imperial Valley. Ted Wood/The Water Desk

Click the link to read the article on The Los Angeles Times website (Sammy Roth). Here’s an excerpt:

…welcome to the Imperial Valley. Wedged in California’s southeastern corner, it’s one of the most important places you’ve probably never been. To one side of [Ralph] Strahm’s farm is the Sonoran Desert at its most stark, where creosote-studded washes give way to glimmering sand dunes and craggy mountain peaks. To the other side is an astonishingly productive agricultural empire. Nearly half a million acres of lush green fields sprawl into the distance, popping out lettuce, sugar beets, onions, cattle feed and more…

But keeping the vegetable aisle stocked comes at a cost. Imperial County farm barons use more Colorado River water than the rest of California combined. And as the planet heats up, there’s less and less water to go around…

Clean energy advocates see Imperial as an ideal place for solar farms and battery projects that can help solve the American West’s energy and water crises. The land is flat; the sunlight, abundant. The Colorado River desperately needs relief. And Imperial is one of California’s poorest counties, its agriculture-heavy economy practically crying out for diversification and higher-paying jobs But resistance to change runs deep, particularly among the few hundred families who own all the farmland. Agriculture is the only way of life many of them have known, and they’re raring to defend it. Their ancestors settled here a century ago, staking an early claim to the Colorado and carving canals to carry its riches through the desert. Again and again, they’ve faced pressure to sell water to coastal cities. They’re ready to pounce on anything that smells like a water grab. And to some of them, solar power smells like a water grab…

Lurking beneath these battles are urgent questions with no easy answers: What is the land’s best use? Who gets to decide? And how do we balance water conservation, food production and clean power generation in an era of climate emergency?

A solar farm off CO 17 in Alamosa County. The San Luis Valley produces 10 percent more power per solar panel than anywhere else in the state due to its base elevation of 7,500 feet and more days of sun than the Front Range and anywhere else in Colorado. Photo by Owen Woods via The Alamosa Citizen

Interior Assistant Secretary Trujillo Highlights Bipartisan Infrastructure Law #Drought Resilience Investments in #Colorado: $5 million investment in Prairie Waters Projects to expand water supplies in #Aurora #SouthPlatteRiver

Click the link to read the article on the Department of Interior website:

Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo wrapped up a multi-day visit to Colorado today, where she highlighted investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act in drought resilience.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure projects over the next five years to advance drought resilience and expand access to clean water for families, farmers, and wildlife. The investment will repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, complete rural water projects, protect aquatic ecosystems and fulfill Indian Water Rights Settlements. The Inflation Reduction Act is investing another $4 billion to address the worsening crisis. Combined these two initiatives represent the largest investments in climate resilience in the nation’s history and provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the work of the Interior Department.

UV pretreatment Peter D. Binney Purification Facility.

Today [January 13, 2023] , she joined Congressman Jason Crow, Colorado Department of Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg, and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman to tour the Binney Water Treatment facility in Aurora to celebrate a recent $5 million investment from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will allow the city to expand the Prairie Waters Project (PWP), securing more clean, reliable water. The funding is part of $84 million announced last month from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to advance innovative drought resilience efforts.

The City of Aurora constructed the PWP after the severe drought in 2002 to improve drought resiliency. The project is an innovative potable reuse system, which captures and treats river water to provide up to 10 million gallons of clean water to Aurora residents per day. With Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, the City will expand the PWP by constructing a second radial well and pump station and increasing the overall water recovery capacity by 4,500 acre-feet annually.

On Thursday, Assistant Secretary Trujillo spoke at the Four States Irrigation Council Annual Meeting to highlight how investments from both laws will support western communities. While in Colorado, Assistant Secretary Trujillo also visited with staff at the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Fort Collins Science Center and at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, Colorado. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $510.7 million over the next five year to advance scientific innovation through integrated mapping of critical minerals that power many household appliances and clean energy technologies and through a $167 million investment for the USGS Energy and Minerals Research Facility in Golden, Colorado.

#Arizona city cuts off a neighborhood’s #water supply amid #drought — The Washington Post #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Rio Verde Foothills. Photo credit: VRBO

Click the link to read the article on The Washington Post website (Joshua Partlow). Here’s an excerpt:

Some living here amid the cactus and creosote bushes see themselves as the first domino to fall as the Colorado River tips further into crisis. On Jan. 1, the city of Scottsdale, which gets the majority of its water from the Colorado River, cut off Rio Verde Foothills from the municipal water supply that it has relied on for decades. The result is a disorienting and frightening lack of certainty about how residents will find enough water as their tanks run down in coming weeks, with a bitter political feud impacting possible solutions.

The city’s decision — and the failure to find a dependable alternative — has forced water haulers like [John] Hornewer to scour distant towns for any available gallons. About a quarter of the homes in Rio Verde Foothills, a checkerboard of one-acre lots linked by dirt roads in an unincorporated part of Maricopa County, rely on water from a municipal pipe hauled by trucks. Since the cutoff, their water prices have nearly tripled. The others have wells, though many of these have gone dry as the water table has fallen by hundreds of feet in some places after years of drought [ed. and over pumping]…

This grim [Colorado River] forecast prompted Scottsdale to warn Rio Verde Foothills more than a year ago that their water supply would be cut off. City officials stressed their priority was to their own residents and cast Rio Verde Foothills as a boomtown of irresponsible development, fed by noisy water trucks rumbling over city streets. “The city cannot be responsible for the water needs of a separate community especially given its unlimited and unregulated growth,” the city manager’s office wrote in December…Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega was unmoved when his Rio Verde Foothills neighbors cried foul.

“There is no Santa Claus,” he said in a statement last month. “The megadrought tells us all — water is not a compassion game.”

For the past several years, some residents have sought to form their own water district that would allow the community to buy water from elsewhere in the state and import what they need, more than 100 acre-feet of water per year. Another group prefers enlisting a Canadian private utility company, Epcor, to supply the community, as it does with neighboring areas. But political disputes have so far foiled both approaches. The water district plan — which supporters say would give them long-term access to a reliable source of water — was rejected in August by the Maricopa County supervisors. The supervisor for the area, Thomas Galvin, said he opposed adding a new layer of government to a community that prizes its freedom, particularly one run by neighbors with the authority to condemn property to build infrastructure. [Thomas] Galvin preferred Epcor, a utility that, if approved, would be regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

“We are not going to be afraid to litigate” to protect #Colorado’s water rights: Attorney General Phil Weiser said era of lower basin states over-consuming #ColoradoRiver “is over” — The #Denver Post #COriver #aridification

Lees Ferry streamgage and cableway on the Colorado River, Arizona. The point where the upper and lower Colorado River basins divide the river. (Public domain.)

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Nick Caltrain). Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado’s attorney general is seeking to reinforce his office’s water-focused legal team so it could be prepared for upcoming fights over the Colorado River. Attorney General Phil Weiser, who was just re-elected to a second term, said his office needs to be prepared for litigation or negotiation with other stakeholders to defend Colorado’s water rights. He’s not asking for an overhaul of the office — his ask to the Joint Budget Committee is for two new positions, and water and natural resources make up an overall small percentage of his office’s total budget — but he noted that “the challenges with water are heating up.”

“The era of the lower basin states taking as much water as they wanted — up to 10 million acre-feet when they’re only entitled 7.5 — is over,” Weiser said recently…

Ideas on bolstering the water supply — or at least not drinking too deep from it — vary. Weiser said his focus is on protecting the state’s share. Lawmakers have said water will be a “centerpiece” of this legislative session. House Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Democrat from Dillon, has also singled out lower basin states for overusing their allotment. Weiser noted the strain on the reservoirs and the pressure that puts on water users up and down the river. Navigating the legal rapids will require negotiation or litigation, he said.

“We’ve got to be prepared for either way,” Weiser told reporters after his investiture ceremony Thursday. “We are not going to be afraid to litigate and protect our rights, and as we can find collaborative solutions, we’ll work hard to do that.”

[…]

If lawmakers approve the request this spring for more water specialists, it would bring the department’s total staff working on interstate water issues to 11, including eight attorneys, according to budget documents. The internal team has already won legal victories against other states and the federal government, as well as saved the state money on outside experts, according to the proposal.

Aspinall Unit Operations Meeting January 19, 2023 #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest storage facility in Colorado in the Upper Colorado River system. Prolonged drought and downriver demand is shrinking the reservoir. Credit: Tom Wood, Water Desk

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The next Aspinall Operations meeting is scheduled for this Thursday, January 19th, start time 1:00pm

The meeting will be open to in-person attendance at the Western Colorado Area Office in Grand Junction.

445 West Gunnison Ave

Grand Junction, CO

The meeting will also be available to attend virtually via Microsoft Teams.  Please click on this link to attend the meeting virtually.

This link should open in any smartphone, tablet, or computer browser, and does not require a Microsoft account.

The meeting agenda with handouts will be emailed out prior to the meeting.

For any questions please email or call at the number below.

Erik Knight

970-248-0629

WCAO-GJ

Leery of open forum, #water group struggles to inform public: #Wyoming’s #ColoradoRiver Working Group serves as a conduit between water users and state engineer’s office — WyoFile #GreenRiver #COriver #aridification

Members of the public packed the Sublette County Public Library in Pinedale Sept. 27, 2022 for a water meeting organized by the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Members of a working group created by Gov. Mark Gordon to “disseminate information” and “act as a sounding board for the public and stakeholders” regarding Colorado River Compact issues reported Monday mounting public frustration about access to information. 

The Colorado River Working Group, formed in 2021, essentially acts as a consulting body and communications conduit between water users in the Green River and Little Snake River basins and the State Engineer’s Office. 

At a meeting of the group on Monday members said constituents are confused. Members also reported fielding complaints from stakeholders who can’t get the information they need to stay abreast of the fast-moving and complex topic that stands to impact water users in the state.

At the same meeting, State Engineer Brandon Gebhart insisted the body isn’t subject to the state’s open meetings laws and said he’s hesitant to take questions from the public during working group meetings. Though Monday’s meeting was open to the public — as were six previous meetings — none have been live-streamed or otherwise made available to anyone not in attendance, according to the engineer’s office.

That’s by design, according to Gebhart. 

“I’m a little concerned that if we start one of these [live-streamed presentations] that we wouldn’t get through any of the topics before the questions start coming in,” Gebhart told working group members. In a follow-up with WyoFile Tuesday, Gebhart added, “My general concern about doing public webinars is being unable to get through the numerous and complex topics we need to cover if we get slowed down by multiple public questions.”

Chris Brown of the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office discusses the implications of the Colorado River Compact with water users in Pinedale Sept. 27, 2022. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

The working group’s meetings are intended to hash out information and discuss how to disseminate it with water users, Gebhart said. The group’s outreach is primarily done directly between the group’s members and their constituents.

Though there was no formal call for public comments or questions at the Monday meeting, members of the working group, SEO and the attorney general’s office did field some questions from members of the public in attendance.

Under pressure

The main topic of discussion Monday was how the SEO is scrambling to entice eligible water users to take part in a conservation program that pays them to voluntarily leave water in streams that flow to the Colorado River. 

Explaining the program and eligibility requirements to myriad water users is complicated, particularly as many in the ag community are leery of government-sponsored programs aimed at reducing water use, according to the SEO. A tight timeframe makes the effort more challenging. The Upper Colorado River Commissionannounced a call for System Conservation Pilot Program proposals Dec. 14 with a filing deadline of Feb. 1.

The SEO, which is overseeing the program in Wyoming, is eager to enroll as many participants as possible, according to the agency. The state and its upper basin partners need to demonstrate progress in cultivating various voluntary water conservation efforts to build a case against the potential for mandated cuts under the Colorado River Compact or federal intervention. The agency is relying on members of the working group to help field questions and explain the potential benefits of the program. But so far, confusion reigns, members indicated.

Rep. Albert Sommers irrigates his ranch near Pinedale from where he trails cattle to Union Pass, seen on the horizon (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

“Conservation districts — they really don’t know enough about what’s going on and they can’t ask enough questions,” Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale), a member of the working group, told fellow members. “There just needs to be more formal outreach in the country.”

Industrial water users in southwest Wyoming — trona mines, natural gas processors and electrical power utilities — “are yearning for information,” working group member Aaron Reichel of Genesis-Alkali said.

Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs), also a member of the working group, said “there’s a lot of concerns with this System Conservation Pilot Project.” Concerns include “the timeframe to get [information], who to contact, who’s going to answer these questions to put together an application, what’s eligible — all those questions. I’m just getting inundated with this stuff because of the timeframe of this.”

Working group structure

Gordon, anticipating the need to protect the interests of Wyoming water users from the impacts of the Colorado River crisis, formed the Colorado River Working Group in 2021 and appointed eight members. The group includes two representatives for municipal water users, one for agriculture, one for environmental interests, two for industrial water users and two legislators — Sen. Hicks and Rep. Sommers.

Gordon “tasked members with helping to more broadly disseminate information about key Colorado/Green/Little Snake River Basin issues to interested stakeholders, and for members to provide insights as Wyoming navigates important river issues,” Gebhart told WyoFile via email, adding that the SEO relies on the working group to enhance its own public outreach efforts.

In forming the group, Gordon agreed to the SEO’s suggestion that it not be subject to the state’s open meeting laws, according to Gebhart, though the group has decided to mostly adhere to open meetings standards so far. 

Gordon’s office didn’t directly answer what justifies the working group’s exemption from the state’s open meetings laws. As a gubernatorial appointed group convened by a state agency to address issues with a critical public resource the body would appear at a glance to be obligated to operate transparently — but such quasi-governmental groups can and do exist, according to Bruce Moats, a Wyoming attorney who specializes in First Amendment and Wyoming media law.

“The group appears to exist in a kind of a gray area,” Moats said. “The question is, why is it necessary to have the option to close meetings [to the public] when you have exemptions under the public meetings law that allow for that. Just why?” 

At the urging of group members Monday, Gebhart agreed to consider hosting a webinar that provides members of the public the chance to ask questions about Colorado River issues and the SEO’s efforts to enroll water users in the SCPP.

“We are not trying to limit information getting to the public,” Gebhart told WyoFile. “Ultimately, our goal is to get more, and accurate, information to those potentially affected by the current situation.”

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

State legislators look to create a commission for #Wyoming’s stake in the #ColoradoRiver — Wyoming Public Radio #COriver #aridification

Green River Basin

Click the link to read the news brief on the Wyoming Public Radio website (Will Walkey). Here’s an excerpt:

The Wyoming State Legislature begins its lawmaking session this week. One bill, called the “Colorado River Authority of Wyoming Act,” would create a board and commissioner to manage Wyoming’s water in the Colorado River Basin. The system drains about 17 percent of the Cowboy State’s land area and is critical for agriculture, energy development and residential use in cities. The entire Colorado River Basin is currently under stress due to drought conditions and human development in the Southwest. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) and Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) is similar to those previously passed in several other states that depend on the Colorado River.

“We feel it’s very important to have those people that are actually going to be affected that live in the Colorado River Basin [to] have an opportunity to participate in these policy-level decisions that’s going to affect your everyday life,” Hicks said.

The commission would include nine members, including five representatives from the Green River Basin appointed by commissioners in Sublette, Sweetwater, Lincoln and Uinta counties. Plus, one appointee from the Little Snake River Basin recommended by commissioners in Carbon County, as well as the state engineer, the governor or a designee and an at-large member. The authority would meet once a year and would include an official commissioner appointed by the governor who could represent Wyoming in negotiations with other states in the Colorado River Compact, a seven-state agreement that allocates river resources. However, any changes to water rights would still need to be approved by the state legislature, governor and relevant federal authorities.

#Water leaders to lawmakers: No ‘silver bullet’ in #Arizona’s water crisis — The Arizona Mirror

The 1980 Arizona Groundwater Code recognized the need to aggressively manage the state’s finite groundwater resources to support the growing economy. Areas with heavy reliance on mined groundwater were identified and designated as Active Management Areas (AMAs). The five AMAs (Prescott, Phoenix, Pinal, Tucson, and Santa Cruz) are subject to regulation pursuant to the Groundwater Code. Each AMA carries out its programs in a manner consistent with these goals while considering and incorporating the unique character of each AMA and its water users. Credit: ADWR

Click the link to read the article on The Arizona Mirror website (Jerod MacDonald-Evoy):

The day after Gov. Katie Hobbs delivered her first State of the State, outlining plans to address the state’s growing water crisis, the heads of the state’s water agencies stood before lawmakers to deliver an at times grim reality of the state’s water future. 

“I do not believe that any of the (Active Management Areas) are at a safe-yield,” Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, told the House Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee on Jan. 10. 

Active Management Areas, generally referred to as AMAs, were created in 1980 in an effort to help the state manage its groundwater resources as the state continued to grow. Only the AMA in Tucson is near a safe-yield, meaning the amount of water withdrawn is balanced with the amount recharging it, but Buschatzke said that Tucson has reached that by storing large amounts of Colorado River water delivered by Central Arizona Project. 

Approximately 82% of Arizona’s population resides within the state’s five AMAs. 

But Buschatzke did not see it as a failure, and instead focused on telling the committee that solutions will need to be explored and that, in the future, more and more groundwater will begin to be pumped by municipalities across the state. 

“It is not a failure in my mind in any way shape or form,” Buschatzke said, adding that the state needs to find more renewable water supplies, look to find ways to move water from one state to another or even from other sources outside the state

“There is no silver bullet,” Buschatzke said. “But I think we have to embrace the success we have.” 

The hearing also comes after Hobbs released an ADWR report showing areas in the West Valley cannot support planned development. Hobbs has accused former Gov. Doug Ducey of directing the agency to keep the report secret. 

Lawmakers didn’t directly reference or ask about the report, but questions about development and its impact on water became a hot-button issue during the hearing. 

Rep. Barbara Parker, R-Mesa, asked Buschatzke if he would be willing to help the legislature “educate” the public that agriculture uses more water than development. ADWR estimates from 2019 provided to the committee showed that agriculture made up for approximately 72% of water use, municipal 22% and industrial around 6%. 

“They always want to be down on a builder,” Parker said, additionally asking Buschatzke if he thought Hobbs’ speech unfairly targeted homebuilders. 

Buschatzke said that mandatory conservation requirements on farmers in AMAs have been efficient and have given them an advantage over California farmers. Both state’s farmers have been hit dramatically by the drought and recent cuts in Colorado River water. Arizona is facing a 21% cut in Colorado River allocation this year because of the drought and an alarming decrease of water in Lake Powell.

“We have done great things in this state — and there is more we can do and there is more we will have to do,” he said, adding that Hobbs’ new Water Policy Council will hopefully address some of these issues. 

Rep. Stacey Travers, D-Phoenix, asked Buschatzke if the state should close a loophole that allows developers to get around a state law that says that every new home must have a 100-year supply of water by declaring the homes are being built as rental properties. Buschatzke deflected, and said such a policy change would be up to the governor. 

“Perhaps that is an issue to be further discussed by Governor Hobbs’ water council,” he said. 

Lawmakers also heard from Central Arizona Project’s newly appointed general manager, Brenda Burman, who spoke to lawmakers on her third full day on the job. 

CAP oversees the 336-mile aqueduct that runs from Lake Havasu to Tucson, delivering Colorado River water to Maricopa and Pima counties. 

Burman reiterated what Buschatzke said, telling lawmakers that new solutions are needed to get water to more people and in a renewable way. She also mentioned the impacts of climate change on the state’s water supply, pointing out that water that in the past would have made its way into the Colorado River is now being absorbed into drier soil due to the prolonged drought. 

Both Buschatzke and Burman were asked by Rep. Oscar De Los Santos, D-Laveen, if they believed that climate change had impacted Arizona’s water supply and if they believed human activity had created climate change. Both agreed that climate change was impacting our water, but neither answered if they believed that human beings were the cause. 

Studies have definitively shown that climate change is occurring and human beings are contributing to it. 

“I’m no climatologist and I’m no expert in this,” Parker said shortly after De Los Santos had asked Burman about climate change. “I want to channel my inner Hohokam Indian. I’m an Arizona native, and I wish we could have that crystal ball and predict that everything was, you know, climate change. I don’t know if the Hohokam didn’t have fossil fuel problems in the past, but they went through a serious drought in the past, as we know, and they disappeared as an agricultural community.”

Parker then asked what CAP was doing to prepare for another “curveball” from “Mother Nature.” 

Burman explained that CAP has been storing water from times when the state experiences excessive rains, and noted that the Hohokam lived during a time of very dry years followed by very wet years. The state is currently in its 27th consecutive year of drought.

The hearing marked the beginning of what will likely be a long session for one of the two committees that will hear a slew of bills related to a key part of Hobbs’ agenda in the coming months. Lawmakers were amicable to the Hobbs appointees, stating they looked forward to working with them in the future. 

“We need to work together, and I think we have come a long way,” Republican Chairwoman Gail Griffin said at the end of the hearing.

Report: The Path to Universally Affordable #Water Access: Guiding Principles for the Water Sector — US Water Alliance

Click the link to access the report on the US Water Alliance website (Mami Hara and Oluwole A. (OJ) McFoy). Here’s the preface:

Water is essential to public health, but the standard, locally-reliant utility revenue model is a precarious way to fund such a fundamental public good. With rising infrastructure and pollution costs, exclusive reliance on local ratepayers places significant pressure on them—especially those who can’t afford their water and sewer bills. Unaffordable water can have very real and harmful consequences, and those consequences become even more severe when water access is lost.

To date, most innovations in affordability, cost control, and customer protection have come from local leaders— and even more are needed. Eight cities in the US Water Alliance network heard that call to action in spring 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy, disrupting livelihoods, businesses, and all levels of government. With the support of the US Water Alliance, utilities and community partners in each city began a deep exploration of policies and programs that could move them away from the practice of shutting off service or imposing liens for low-income customers behind on their bills.

Each city is making real progress to safeguard water access. Collectively, their work also reveals a key insight: the biggest wins are much larger than any single utility policy or program. They lie in creating an environment and context in which water shutoffs for low-income people are not necessary in the first place.

Creating that context and cultivating our collective under- standing of water and wastewater services as essential public goods will take collective effort. We hope that the insights and principles in this report support local leaders in their affordability and access efforts, while also inspiring the state and federal policymakers who have a significant role in ensuring everyone, regardless of income, has access to life’s most essential resource.

#RioGrande compact case: #Texas vs. #NewMexico — @AlamosaCitizen

Map showing new point to deliver Rio Grande water between Texas and New Mexico, at an existing stream gage in East El Paso. (Courtesy of Margaret “Peggy” Barroll in the joint motion)

From the Alamosa Citizen “Monday Briefing” newsletter:

Speaking of the Rio Grande, Texas and New Mexico, and to a degree Colorado, have been arguing since 2013 about water from the Rio Grande that Texas says New Mexico shorts it. Now the case has a proposed settlement. The biggest change the two sides have agreed on is that the gage station in El Paso, not Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico, would be where Texas’ share of the Rio Grande would be measured. The agreement still needs a sign off from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bureau of Reclamation completes project at #GlenCanyonDam to protect local #water supply during extremely low lake levels #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Mechanic apprentice Joseph Sams grinds a coupling that is part of the new lower water intake for the city of Page. Reclamation crews at Glen Canyon Dam constructed the new intake as a precaution as Lake Powell’s elevation is at historically low levels.

Click the link to read the article on the Bureau of Reclamation website:

Reclamation crews at Glen Canyon Dam recently completed a new water intake connection to accommodate the low water levels at Lake Powell. These efforts ensure water will be delivered to the city of Page, Arizona, and the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation even if Lake Powell drops to 3,370 feet. Elevation 3,370 feet is known as “dead pool” and is the point at which no “excess” water can be passed through the dam, only the volume of water that enters the reservoir will be able to be delivered downstream.

Lake Powell’s elevation is expected to drop to a post-filled, all-time low (below 3,522.24) before the end of the month and projections show that this year it is at risk of dropping below minimum power pool (elevation 3,490 feet), which is the lowest point the dam can currently generate hydropower. The increased risk to Lake Powell’s water level also raised concern about the stability of the local water supply.

A valve for the new lower intake hangs above the work area below Glen Canyon Dam Bridge as crews prepare to put the valve into place.

The city of Page was first established in 1957 for workers who were constructing Glen Canyon Dam.& In 1975, Page became a municipality, which prompted an agreement with Reclamation to deliver raw water from Lake Powell to their municipal water system, which now delivers treated water to the area’s 7,500 residents, the Navajo Nation community of LeChee, and the local businesses that serve an estimated 3 million tourists each year.