@USBR makes up to $3 million available for 2019 Water Marketing Strategy Grants funding opportunity

San Luis People’s Ditch March 17, 2018. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

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

The 2019 Water Marketing Strategy Grants funding opportunity is now available from the Bureau of Reclamation. This funding opportunity is available to water entities to establish or expand water markets or water marketing activities. Reclamation will make available up to $200,000 for simple projects that can be completed within two years and up to $400,000 for more complex projects that can be completed in three years. Up to $3 million is available for this funding opportunity.

“The water marketing strategy grants provide entities an opportunity to leverage their money and resources with Reclamation to develop a water marketing strategy to increase water supply reliability,” program coordinator Avra Morgan said.

The funding opportunity is available at http://www.grants.gov by searching for BOR-DO-19-F006. Applications will be due on July 31, 2019, at 4:00 p.m. MDT.

Those eligible to apply for these grants are states, Indian tribes, irrigation districts, water districts or other organizations with water or power delivery authority located in the western United States or United States territories. This includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands.

Water markets support the President’s memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West. They are between willing buyers and sellers and can be used to help water managers meet demands efficiently in times of shortage, helping prevent water conflicts. These planning efforts proactively address water supply reliability and increase water management flexibility. Learn more about water marketing at https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/watermarketing.

The funding is part of WaterSMART. WaterSMART is a Department of the Interior initiative that uses the best available science to improve water conservation and help water resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand. For more information on the WaterSMART program, visit https://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART.

The Republican River Water Conservation District Purchases Several Surface Water Rights: Irrigated acres associated with 27.5 CFS subject to dry-up

From the Republican River Water Conservation District via The Julesberg Advoacate:

In an effort to increase the surface water flows in the Republican River system, the Republican River Water Conservation District has recently purchased and leased multiple surface water rights on both the North Fork and South Fork Republican Rivers. By keeping the surface water in the river, the RRWCD is greatly enhancing the ability of the State of Colorado to stay in compliance with the Republican River Compact. Due to the extensive efforts of the RRWCD and the Colorado State Engineer’s office, Colorado will be in compliance with the Compact in 2019.

This will be the first year since the Final Settlement Stipulation was signed in 2002, that Colorado will be in compact compliance.

In the Annual Compact accounting 60% of all surface diversions are treated as depletions to the flows of the rivers and those depletions must be replaced through the Compact Compliance Pipeline. This requires considerably more water than off-setting comparable groundwater pumping. Last week, the RRWCD purchased the Hayes Creek Ditch and the Hayes Creek Ditch #3 surfacewater rights on a tributary of the North Fork Republican River. Some of these water rights were diverted each year, and the RRWCD was required to off-set those diversions with additional pumping from the compact compliance pipeline.

The RRWCD also purchased and leased a total of 27.5 cubic feet per second of surface water rights formerly owned by the Hutton Foundation Trust. Significant diversions on the South Fork have impacted Colorado’s efforts to come in to compliance with the Compact. As part of the Compact accounting there are tests for State Wide compliance and tests for each sub-basin. When calculating the sub-basin non-impairment test, additional diversions on the South Fork can contribute to a failure to meet the Compact non-compliance. By purchasing the surface water rights, the RRWCD can insure that the water will stay in the stream and will be measured at the state-line gage and again at the compact gage near Benkelman, NE.

After years of legal conflict, all entities can stop litigation because by purchasing these surface water rights, all legal actions by the Hutton Foundation Trust or by CPW, Inc. will be terminated. By purchasing the South Fork surface water rights, the RRWCD will not have to operate the Compact Compliance pipeline an additional 17 days that would be required to off-set the amount of water these rights would otherwise be entitled to divert.

The Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA) has approved the operation and accounting for the Compact Compliance Pipeline. As part of getting this approval, Colorado agreed to voluntarily retire up to 25,000 acres in the South Fork Focus Zone (SFFZ) by 2029. Colorado is pursuing 10,000 retired irrigated acres in the SFFZ by 2024 and an additional 15,000 retired irrigated acres by 2029.

Drying up the acres formerly irrigated by these surface water rights will contribute to the total of retired irrigated acres in the SFFZ, but Colorado is still far from the 10,000 acres to be retired by 2024.

The RRWCD continues to offer supplemental contracts for CREP and for EQIP conservation programs. The District offers increased annual payments for acres retired in the South Fork Focus Zone.

Currently the FSA, NRCS, the State of Colorado and the RRWCD are waiting for the USDA to publish the Rules and Regulations for the 2018 Farm Bill. As soon as the rules and regulations are published, producers can start applying for these conservation programs.

The consensus of the RRWCD Board is that by completing these purchases, it improves the ability to secure compact compliance now and into the future.

The RRWCD also approved a Water Use Fee Policy during the quarterly Board meeting on April 25th in Yuma. The Water Use Fee Policy includes a fee for junior surface water right diversions, and it modifies the annual fee for municipal and commercial wells. A copy of the fee policy is available on the RRWCD website at http://www.republicanriver.com.

If you have any questions please contact Rod Lenz, RRWCD President, 970-630-3265, Deb Daniel, RRWCD General Manager, 970-332-3552 or contact any RRWCD Board member.

St. Vrain Left Hand Conservancy District seeking balance in river basin — The Longmont Times-Call

CSU junior Brad Simms gets to work with his shovel in efforts to restore the area around Left Hand Canyon from the floods. Brad is a member of CSU’s Watershed club. (Jenna Van Lone | Collegian)

From The Longmont Times-Call (Sam Lounsberry):

The St. Vrain Left Hand Conservancy District, whose mission is to protect water rights and improve management practices in the river basin, is in the first phase of developing a stream management plan for the 300,000-acre watershed. Its goal is to align strategies for maintaining the reliable delivery of water to agricultural users while also satisfying ecological and recreational goals, some of which could require higher flows in the main stretches of streams that feed the St. Vrain, such as Left Hand Creek, as well as the St. Vrain itself, which is a key South Platte River tributary.

“Whether you’re a domestic or agricultural water user, you have an opportunity to really be part of a strategic, balanced approach to meeting competing demands,” said Sean Cronin, the district’s executive director.

But Colorado water law is focused on the use of the state’s most valuable resource, and not on conservation, notes a September survey prepared by a firm hired by the conservancy district for the stream management plan.

“This causes water owners to shy away from change of use, dam modifications or other river improvements, fearing legal or financial challenges and a burden on their time — and farmers do not have time to give away,” the survey states, adding it also will be a challenge to have rights owners “‘open up’ about their decrees or the way they manage, use or store water, and there are sometimes long histories of relationships between agencies or people in how they work together with their water. Overcoming some of these social and political legacies, or positively using these relationships, will be a challenge to the process.”

Seeking balance at what cost?

Diverting water from stream beds through ditch delivery networks has long quenched otherwise dry agricultural lands on the Front Range, but the expansion of the practice over time has led to impacts some are now interested in mitigating.

Boosting the ability for fish and recreational users such as kayakers to pass diversions by altering or replacing infrastructural barriers has consistently been expressed as a priority.

So have improved ability to control timing and quantity of both ditch and stream bed flows, enhancing flood resiliency in the watershed and preventing impacts from municipal development.

“For the most part, this basin wants to work toward finding that balance,” Cronin said. “I won’t say we’re all in agreement of what the balance is, where that pivotal point is to make the balance, and I don’t think we’ll ever get there and that’s fine, as long as folks want to continue sitting at the table.”

While some Longmont-area ditch companies have already designed and implemented more passable diversions or are in talks with local officials about doing so in the near future, a move toward automating the opening and closing of ditch gates that are now moved manually to accommodate water share holders’ calls for supply also could emerge as a consideration for those relying on the watershed.

Being able to remotely open and close gates could help prevent flow heading into ditches when it isn’t needed, possibly allowing higher flows in main stream beds through areas where such water levels could benefit recreation and environmental health.

But doing so could come at a major cost. Terry Plummer, vice president of maintenance and operations for Left Hand Ditch Co., said the company, for reasons unrelated to stream management, next week will install an automated ditch gate that can be operated remotely in one location on its network at a cost of about $30,000.

If an effort to automate water delivery equipment were applied across the broader watershed, though, it would be needed in dozens of locations, and could require the construction of entirely new diversion structures in some areas, which can run cost hundreds of thousands for just one spot, Plummer said.

“We have no intentions of automating at this point in time,” Plummer said. “It’s just too expensive. The assessments (charged to share holders for ditch maintenance) are so high now because of the 2013 flood (damage) that we would have to raise assessments dramatically, and the farming can’t support that.”

He said grant funding would have to become available, with the right terms, to pursue widespread automation.

A method that helped maintain higher wintertime flows in the St. Vrain is likely no longer an option — for about 20 years until 2013, Longmont released water from its Ralph Price Reservoir storage at a rate of 3 cubic feet per second to maintain a winter flow of 5 cfs along the entirety of the river, according to city Water Resources Manager Ken Huson.

But state officials nixed that practice after changing how they account for water.

“It’s not something Longmont can just do on its own anymore like we used to,” Huson said.

Flow not only way to go

Other opportunities for bettering stream management in the St. Vrain watershed might not address flow, however, and still offer environmental and social benefits.

“What we’re going to come up with are management activities,” Cronin said. “Those could address flow, but it could be that an opportunity area doesn’t necessarily have a flow challenge, but a riparian floodplain connectivity challenge.”

Allowing streams to more easily access the floodplain by preventing their banks from becoming overly incised or congested can help avoid rushing waters during flood events via letting the excess flow spread out over flatland, instead of accumulating in steep, deep channels.

Removing the invasive crack willow tree, which has problematically proliferated across dozens of states, from local stream banks could help achieve that, and has already been worked on in some areas of the St. Vrain basin by the Left Hand Watershed Oversight Group.

“That’s really the issue with the current conditions and why there are disconnected floodplains, because we’ve had this encroachment of this invasive tree that has created a super stable bank, and has allowed incision to happen,” said Jessie Olson, the oversight group’s executive director. “We’ve got a number of places like that throughout the watershed that could use some additional connectivity basically by removing the invasive tree and laying back slopes.”

Boulder County will not process @DenverWater’s 1041 application with lawsuit winding its way through the courts #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan) via The Denver Post:

Boulder County has notified Denver Water it will not process the utility’s land use review application for a Gross Reservoir expansion at the same time it is defending itself in a lawsuit by Denver Water challenging the need to even submit to that procedure.

Denver Water on April 18 filed a lawsuit in Boulder District Court claiming a zoned-land exemption should excuse Denver Water from having to submit to the land use review process for the expansion, which — should it go through — would be the largest construction project in county history.

However, at the same time, Denver Water CEO/manager Jim Lochhead had said the utility was taking the steps to satisfy that county requirement, even while the lawsuit was pending.

“We remain committed to finding a path forward with the county that respects the community’s needs and concerns while allowing the project to proceed, which is why we have initiated the 1041 application process,” Lochhead said at the time…

Denver Water’s bid to participate in that process and simultaneously challenge it legally, however, is not going to work, according to Boulder County.

In a letter to Denver Water dated April 18, Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case said, “While the County believes it will prevail in litigation, it would not be appropriate for the Land Use Department to proceed with an application under these circumstances.”

It is Case who initially made the determination that Denver Water, although holding a permit for the expansion project from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, still needed to submit to the county’s permitting process — a judgment Denver Water already unsuccessfully appealed before the county commissioners on March 14.

“It would be an imprudent expenditure of taxpayer dollars for the County to process an application when the process itself is the subject of a lawsuit,” Case added in his letter. “Accordingly, the Land Use Department will not accept an application for processing until the lawsuit is resolved.”

[…]

Denver Water public documents once showed a 2019 start date on construction, but that is no longer the case, and the lawsuit against Boulder County is not the only legal hurdle to launching the project. In separate courtroom action, a coalition of six environmental groups has sued at U.S. District Court in Denver, challenging the Corps of Engineers’ July 2017 decision to issue its permit for the $464 million (in 2025 dollars) project…

The current Denver Water project timeline now shows 2020 to 2026 for the project’s start to completion.

Denver Water Program Manager Jeff Martin answered Case’s recent letter with an April 29 letter, stating that Denver Water nevertheless intends to submit an application to initiate a land review process, citing the “significant resources” it has already expended in preparing its application in “a good faith effort” to comply with county requirements.

Denver Water also argues that processing the utility’s application should not put a financial strain on the county, because “Denver Water will reimburse Boulder County for its time in considering the application.”

#Aspen responds to judge’s request in Castle/Maroon dam cases — @AspenJournalism

The City of Aspen holds conditional water rights tied to a potential 155-foot-tall dam that would flood a scenic meadow with dramatic views of the Maroon Bells. The city is seeking a diligence ruling on those rights, which it then intends to transfer to other locations. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The question of whether the City of Aspen has valid conditional water-storage rights tied to the potential Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs — rights the city now wishes to move to other locations — remains unresolved before state water court.

The latest activity in the two water-court cases about the Castle and Maroon water rights took place April 19, when water attorneys for the city responded to a judge’s request to provide more information about two key legal questions: whether the city has been diligent in its efforts to develop the reservoirs and whether it has a legitimate need for the amount of water it is claiming.

It’s not yet clear whether the information the city submitted to the court April 19 will be enough to satisfy Judge James Boyd, who is overseeing both cases — one involving the Castle Creek Reservoir water right and the other involving the Maroon Creek Reservoir water right — in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs.

A case-management conference call in the case was slated for Thursday morning — and that may have provided some insight into how the judge viewed the city’s latest information — but another ongoing trial required the judge to reschedule the conference call about the Castle and Maroon water rights for May 8.

Boyd in November told the city’s water attorney, Cynthia Covell of Alperstein and Covell, that he needed more information on both diligence and need.

“I don’t know if I have any information, really, in the record for me to make the finding that as part of a diligence decree, or diligence burden of proof, of a substantial probability that the project will ultimately reach fruition, so it seems to me I may need some additional actual record to support that conclusion,” Boyd said in November.

Regarding the city’s stated need for up to 13,000 acre-feet of water between the two potential reservoirs, he also said, “There is nothing in the record to really explain why that’s an appropriate number for the court to approve, and I think I may need some record to support that.”

The city is seeking a ruling from the judge that it has been diligent in developing the two potential reservoirs.

The city has told the court that, after obtaining a positive diligence finding, it intends to try to transfer the location of the conditional water-storage rights, which carry a 1971 adjudication date and 1965 appropriation date, from the original locations in upper Castle and Maroon creeks to locations closer to the Roaring Fork River.

The locations include the city’s golf course, the Maroon Creek Club golf course, the Cozy Point open space, the Woody Creek gravel pit operated by Elam Construction and an empty parcel of land next to the gravel pit now owned by the city.

A look into the deep hole in Woody Creek at the gravel pit operated by Elam Construction. The City of Aspen has included this location on its list of potential locations it might move the water rights from the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs to, along with an undisturbed parcel next door to the gravel pit. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Briefly

In the information submitted to the court April 19, in both cases, Covell made the city’s case in succinct fashion, submitting a six-page, revised proposed decree and a four-page supplement to an earlier motion to approve the proposed decree.

The city has previously told the court that it has been diligent in its efforts to develop the reservoirs and that it does, in fact, need the water to meet future demands, especially given climate change.

And it said so again April 19 — but without adding much, if any, new information to the existing court record.

“Aspen needs the Maroon Creek Reservoir water right,” the city said in the April 19 filing. The city also told the court that it “has exercised reasonable diligence in the development of the Maroon Creek Reservoir water right.”

It made similar statements regarding the water right tied to a potential Castle Creek Reservoir.

Under Colorado water law, decisions about whether an applicant has been reasonably diligent in pursuing the development of a given water project are made by a judge on a case-by-case basis.

The court cases began when the city filed a diligence application with the water court in October 2016 seeking to maintain its conditional water-storage rights for both reservoirs, which the city first filed for in 1965.

Ten parties — Pitkin County, the U.S. Forest Service, American Rivers, Wilderness Workshop, Colorado Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates and four private property owners — filed statements of opposition in response to the city’s 2016 diligence applications.

Two years later, in October 2018, the city announced it had reached agreements with all of the opposing parties in the two cases and submitted those agreements to the court, along with a request that the court issue a new decree finding that the city has been diligent and that the conditional water-storage rights are valid for at least another six years.

The new decree also incorporates the terms of the agreements reached with the opposing parties.

The agreements say the city will not build the Maroon and Castle creek reservoirs in their decreed locations and, instead, will seek to move the location of the conditional water storage rights out of the two pristine valleys.

The city also is now limited to storing no more than 8,500 acre-feet of water in the new locations, instead of potentially storing more than 13,000 acre-feet under the original decrees. The water for the 8,500 acre-feet of storage could come from both Castle and Maroon creeks under the agreements.

Today, the city’s water supply comes primarily from Castle Creek, but the supply is supplemented with water from Maroon Creek. The city has senior water rights for those diversions that are not tied to the conditional water storage rights.

The opposing parties also agreed not to challenge the city’s anticipated request to change the location of the conditional storage rights, but other outside parties may still do so.

Notably, in the latest information submitted by the city, there is a sentence in each case that seems to contradict the city’s agreed-upon position that it no longer intends to build either the Castle or Maroon creek reservoirs.

A sentence in the supplement to an earlier motion in the Maroon Creek case says, “Aspen intends to construct the Maroon Creek Reservoir to provide a legal, reliable water supply to its customers.”

In the Castle Creek case, a similar sentence says, “Aspen intends to construct the Castle Creek Reservoir … .”

Asked about the sentence in the Maroon Creek Reservoir case, which seems at face value to indicate that Aspen still intends to build a big dam within view of the iconic Maroon Bells, Covell said, “They intend to construct the reservoir. They intend to construct it at a different location.”

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communication newspapers. The Aspen Times published this story on Friday, April 26, 2019.

ID sues to halt #ColoradoRiver #drought plan signed by @POTUS, says officials ignored #SaltonSea — The Palm Springs Desert Sun #DCP #COriver #aridification

Salton Sea screen shot credit Greetings from the Salton Sea — Kim Stringfellow.

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):

The petition, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges violations of the California Environmental Quality Act by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and names the Coachella Valley, Palo Verde and Needles water districts as well. It asks the court to suspend the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan until a thorough environmental analysis has been completed.

“The logic in going forward without (us) was that the (drought plan) couldn’t wait for the Salton Sea,” Henry Martinez, IID general manager, said in a statement. “This legal challenge is going to put that logic to the test and the focus will now be where it should have been all along — at the Salton Sea.”

Martinez said in an interview that the district also had to act because of the continuing threat of possible mandatory water cuts, especially to farm districts like IID, if Metropolitan and others can’t meet their obligations. MWD committed to keep 2 million acre feet of water in the reservoirs under the plan, and its general manager, Jeffrey Kightlinger, has said his staff concluded this year’s healthy precipitation meant they could do it.

But Martinez said that was a short-term fix. “When you go through a drastic drought, you have to keep cutting back and cutting back. It is our opinion that Met cannot supply all of the water … that would be required,” he said. If mandatory cuts were ordered, “politically, urban water users are the heavyweights at the end of the day. … Humans will beat out plants.”

IID’s petition alleges that MWD wrongly committed to enter into agreements on behalf of itself and all other California contractors.

In a statement, Kightlinger said, “We are disappointed that the Imperial Irrigation District is using litigation as a tool to block implementation of the Drought Contingency Plan. Parties on the Colorado River need to collaborate during this time of crisis, not litigate.”

[…]

IID was cut out of the drought plan after MWD stepped in and said it would contribute its rural neighbor’s required share of water in drought years. The districts had previously signed contracts technically making the swap possible.

In his statement, MWD general manager Kightlinger said, “During our negotiations on the Drought Contingency Plan, it was our goal to find an approach that had no adverse impacts on the Salton Sea. That goal was achieved — the contributions to Lake Mead that will be made by Metropolitan and others will not decrease water going to the sea.”

Reclamation and state water officials, including California, signed a joint letter to Congress requesting the drought plans be approved on March 19, without IID. The legislation passed rapidly and overwhelmingly, and was signed into law by Trump on Tuesday. Mexico will also be a party per a previous agreement. State representatives now need to finalize their approvals.

The ripples of IID’s lawsuit were felt in the Arizona legislature on Wednesday, where top water officials gave an update on the drought plan to the Senate Committee on Water and Agriculture. Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke testified that although the potential impact of the lawsuit was unknown, he doesn’t see it affecting much. He is encouraging more dialogue to bring IID back into the deal.

“They’re choosing right now to go down this path, but from my perspective, this will not prohibit us in moving forward and signing the Drought Contingency plan,” he said.

Buschatzke said the focus is on implementing the Drought Contingency Plan as is. If MWD doesn’t sign as a result of the litigation, others will “assess where we’re at” then.

IID’s Martinez said that the timing of the lawsuit the same day as Trump signed the legislation was coincidental. The district was up against a deadline to act once Metropolitan’s board voted to approve taking on IID’s share of water, he said.

Here’s the release from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (ebecca Kimitch/Maritza Fairfield):

Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, issues the following statement on Imperial Irrigation District’s legal challenge alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act.

“During our negotiations on the Drought Contingency Plan, it was our goal to find an approach that had no adverse impacts on the Salton Sea. That goal was achieved – the contributions to Lake Mead that will be made by Metropolitan and others will not decrease water going to the sea. Moving forward, we remain committed to working with our partners on the Colorado River and with the federal government to secure funding and lasting solutions to the challenges of the Salton Sea.

“The Drought Contingency Plan will help stabilize Colorado River supplies for seven states and Mexico for the next eight years while we find lasting solutions in the basin that ensure the people, crops and ecosystems that rely on the river have a reliable water supply for generations.

“We are disappointed that the Imperial Irrigation District is using litigation as a tool to block implementation of the Drought Contingency Plan. Parties on the Colorado River need to collaborate during this time of crisis, not litigate.”

#Colorado studies options after @POTUS signs #drought contingency plan — @AspenJournalism #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A view of the Colorado River flowing into the still waters backed up by Glen Canyon Dam at the top of Lake Powell. The reservoir is now 37 percent full, but is expected to rise this year as an above-average snowpack turns into an above-average runoff in the Colorado River basin. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

[The President] tweeted this week that he “just signed a critical bill to formalize drought contingency plans for the Colorado River.”

It was the first time that Trump had ever mentioned the Colorado River in a tweet.

And the drought contingency planning, or DCP, bill the president signed Tuesday had been whisked through Congress in just six days.

For water managers used to working in slow-moving “water time,” it was a surprise to see the federal legislation necessary to implement the DCP agreements happen so fast, and compelling for the Colorado River to be in President Trump’s hands, however briefly.

“That did go through fairly quickly, and in a relatively non-confrontational manner,” Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, told the district’s board of directors Tuesday morning during a quarterly meeting.

And by the end of the meeting, Mueller was announcing that Trump had just tweeted about signing the bill.

The brief DCP bill authorizes the Interior secretary, now David Bernhardt of Rifle, to implement the DCP agreements negotiated by water managers in the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico and the lower basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada.

Perhaps less surprising to regional water managers was that the Imperial Irrigation District, which is the biggest user of water in the lower basin, wasted no time and filed a lawsuit Tuesday in an effort to halt, or at least influence, the DCP agreements. The district is seeking funding to help restore the shrinking Salton Sea and had been vocal in its dissent when the DCP bill was before Congress.

It is not clear yet how Imperial’s lawsuit will affect the still unfolding DCP process, but James Eklund, who represents Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission and would sign the DCP agreements for Colorado, said Tuesday he was still optimistic the agreements would be signed this month.

If the DCP agreements are finalized, it means Colorado and the upper basin states could store up to 500,000 acre-feet of conserved water in Lake Powell, and other upper basin reservoirs, and do so in a new regulatory framework that shields the water from the current operating guidelines dictating how Lake Mead and Lake Powell are operated.

Those guidelines, which sunset in 2026, seek to balance the levels of the two big reservoirs, which have been falling due to a 19-year drought, of which this past snowy winter was a welcomed exception. (The Bureau of Reclamation announced Monday that it was forecasting runoff into Lake Powell would be 112 percent of average, up from 43 percent of average in 2018.)

In balancing the levels of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the upper basin states feel that the guidelines require the release of too much water from Lake Powell, and they want to create a savings account they control in the big reservoir to raise the surface level and protect against a violation of the Colorado River Compact, which requires the upper basin to deliver a set amount of water to the lower basin.

With the passage of the DCP legislation, that savings account in Lake Powell is almost a reality, as is authorization for the Bureau of Reclamation to release water from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs down the Green, Gunnison and San Juan rivers to help keep Lake Powell above minimum power pool.

And next comes the part where the upper basin states each have to figure out a demand management, or water-use reduction program, to fill their new water savings account.

The conserved water is supposed to come from the reduction of consumptive use, which in Colorado means it will mainly come from applying less water to fields, pastures and urban lawns.

In Colorado, it is the job of the Colorado Water Conservation Board to figure out how, and if, to start up a demand management program.

To investigate its options, the state agency plans to create eight small working groups to tackle various aspects of demand management, and officials have given people until the end of day Friday to express interest in serving on the various work groups, which are expected to meet throughout the year.

Mueller, the manager of the Colorado River District, has informed the CWCB that the district wants to place a staff member on every one of the eight work groups, given the importance of the potential demand management program to the 15 Western Slope counties the district covers.

The River District’s board wants to ensure that a demand management program is voluntary, temporary, compensated and equitable for water users across the state.

And while the CWCB has adopted a policy that includes those goals, it has confirmed that the state also is studying how an involuntary reduction in water use might happen if necessary to avoid violating the Colorado Compact.

“The state has been working on a study that evaluates the legal elements of compact compliance,” CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell said Thursday. “This is being done through a variety of evaluations that focus on avoiding the need for compact compliance and for options that the state engineer may want to take into consideration in case administration of the compact is necessary to address a compact deficit on the Colorado River.”

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published this story on Friday, April 19, 2019.