#Wyoming Governor Gordon appoints Greg Lanning Wyoming State Engineer

Lower Green River Lake

Here’s the release from Governor Gordon’s office:

Governor Mark Gordon announced today he has appointed Greg Lanning Wyoming State Engineer. Lanning takes over for Pat Tyrrell, who retired in January after serving as State Engineer for 18 years.

The State Engineer is a position established by the Wyoming Constitution and has a term of six years. The State Engineer serves as the chief water official in the state and is responsible for the general supervision of Wyoming’s waters, including technical, policy and regulatory matters concerning its beneficial use. The search process involved numerous stakeholders including experienced water industry professionals and representatives of rural water users; agriculture; the mining, oil and gas industries; and environmental organizations.

“Finding the right State Engineer was a challenging process, as the position requires a unique set of technical, policy and political skills,” Governor Gordon said. “Greg’s background expertly balances these requirements and I can think of no one better to hit the ground running to lead the way in managing Wyoming’s water. I look forward to welcoming Greg back to his home state of Wyoming.”

A Casper, Wyoming native, Lanning previously served as Deputy State Engineer under Tyrrell from 2012 to 2014. His broad background in civil engineering and water resource management includes time spent as Public Works Director for communities both in Wyoming as well as neighboring states. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and his Masters in Business Administration degrees at the University of Wyoming. He holds a Masters in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University and is a registered Professional Engineer.

“It is an honor to once again serve this great state,” Lanning said. “I look forward to re-introducing myself to our Wyoming water users and stakeholders and returning to our dedicated team of more than 120 employees at the State Engineer’s Office.”

Lanning will start his new position November 25.

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

Community Agriculture Alliance: Roundtable reaches out to community — Steamboat Today #COWaterPlan

Niche ag, along the Yampa River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From the Community Agriculture Alliance (Patrick Stanko and Mark Williams) via Steamboat Today:

The Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable is one of nine basin roundtables in Colorado established to address the ever-increasing water challenges facing our state.

As part of its mission and to meet the Colorado Water Plan, the roundtable is developing an Integrated Water Management Plan for the Yampa River Basin that best represents the interests and needs of all water users. These interests include agricultural, recreational, environmental, municipal, industrial and water providers. The first phase of the Management Plan focuses on the Yampa River main stem and the Elk River basin.

In order to make the Management Plan a success, the roundtable seeks to provide the community with meaningful opportunities to participate and provide valuable input for the Management Plan. To do this, two subcommittees where formed — stakeholder and technical — to complete related tasks.

The stakeholder subcommittee is working to implement a community outreach program designed to listen and learn in an open communication process. This subcommittee will provide a forum for dialogue on water related issues for all water users, including agriculture, recreational, municipal and environmental aspects of a healthy river.

The technical subcommittee was formed to look at the science-based river health for each of the identified geographic segments. One of the many related tasks is working with a private engineering contractor to conduct 40 to 50 voluntary water diversion assessments within the Yampa River Basin.

The goal is to learn more about the diversion effectiveness and incorporated environment aspects at the diversion site. Ultimately, this may help identify water projects that have positive impacts for the water diversion and broader river health.

The Management Plan recognizes the importance of agriculture to the Yampa River Basin. One of the roundtable priorities is to protect and maintain agricultural water rights in the region in consideration of increasing water demands and water availability fluctuations. Another goal is to help identify potential funding for water infrastructures that have multiple benefits and are in need of improvement for interested and volunteering agricultural stakeholders.

Two segment coordinators, Gena Hinkemeyer and Jerry Albers, are working as contractors on this project to listen, learn and seek input from agricultural stakeholders. Hinkemeyer has lived in the Yampa Valley for most of her life and will be working in the lower and middle Yampa River regions. Albers has lived in Stagecoach for the last 15 years and will be working in the Upper Yampa and the Elk River Basin.

We will be reaching out to members of the agricultural community to better understand water related issues confronting agriculture and seek input on planning efforts. If you are interested and would like to learn more visit the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable site at http://yampawhitegreen.com.

Patrick Stanko and Mark Williams are with the Community Agriculture Alliance.

Some diverters in the #YampaRiver and #NorthPlatteRiver basins get orders from @DWR_CO to install measuring infrastructure by November 30, 2019

Ralph Parshall squats next to the flume he designed at the Bellevue Hydrology Lab using water from the Cache la Poudre River. 1946. Photo Credit: Water Resource Archive, Colorado State University, via Legacy Water News.

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

Erin Light is the division engineer for the Yampa, White and North Platte River basins for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the state agency that manages water rights. Light said she’s sent orders requiring 575 water users to install headgates and measuring devices as required by Colorado law. Most of these orders went to users in the Yampa River basin, though Light estimated about 100 of them went to users in the North Platte River basin in North Park.

In March, water rights holders received notice that they would be required to install headgates and measuring devices. Light estimated fewer than 25% of the users who received notices actually installed the required infrastructure.

Now, those water rights owners have been sent an order to install these devices by Nov. 30. After that date, they’ll be required to either have devices in place or stop using their water.

“If you choose to not divert water and say ‘Fine, I only have a headgate, I’m shutting it. Again, I’m shutting it. I’m not going to put a measuring device in.’ That’s fine, as long as you don’t divert water,” Light said. “But if you have a headgate, no measuring device and choose to divert water contrary to that order after Nov. 30, next spring, May or whenever you turn on (your water), and we see that, we’re going to shut the headgate, and if necessary, we’ll lock the headgate.”

If users break the lock or open the gate, the division could pursue enforcement actions with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, Light said.

Without a headgate, users and engineers can’t shut off water. For users who divert water without a headgate, Light said the fine for diverting water contrary to the order is $500 each day water is flowing.

Colorado water rights are a “use-it or lose-it” commodity. If a person is not using all of their water right, they can lose part or all of their water right through the abandonment process. Every 10 years, division engineers are required to provide the water court with a list of water rights they believe are abandoned partially or entirely. Light’s office is working through this process now. A preliminary list will be published on July 1, 2020.

“We’re talking to people about the fact that their water right is being considered for abandonment, because we do have an initial list that we’ve developed,” Light said. “Our water commissioners are inspecting structures with water rights on the list and talking to water users, and there’s a lot of frustration (from users) about ‘How could my water right be on the abandonment list?’”

Light said some users don’t realize they can lose part of their water right, but statute says water rights can be abandoned “in whole or in part.”

Keeping accurate records can help. Light encourages water rights owners to track the water they’re using as her office works through the abandonment process. Light said water users should keep note when and at what flow they turn their diversions on or off, any time they adjust flows or anytime water levels in streams and ditches significantly fluctuate.

“Maybe they did divert their water right, but we never got a record of it,” she said. “We observe something less because we weren’t out there at peak flow, and if water users would provide us accurate records of their water use, it’s possible that some of these water rights wouldn’t be included on the list. … It’s really critical that people start taking on that responsibility to protect their water right and keep records. It’s critical in many instances, but one of them is abandonment.”

#YampaRiver: Water year recap

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

This water year was marked by above-average snowpack, a spring of precipitation at or near average and a summer that turned drier and, at least anecdotally, windier than average late in the season.

Cool spring temperatures melted snowpack off slowly, giving irrigators time to use that water before it flowed passed. The river ran high and fast at about 1,000 cubic feet per second through Steamboat Springs from the time the snow started melting in late April until early July, according to U.S. Geological Survey data recorded at the Fifth Street stream gauge. A mix of rain and summer snow on the summer solstice brought the river one of its latest peaks on record at the Fifth Street gauge in downtown Steamboat, flowing at 4,180 cfs on June 21.

This extended the rafting season on the stretch of river through town, but it delayed tubing season until July 15. The river also closed for only a day this summer, when flows fell below 85 cfs on Aug. 29. The city of Steamboat Springs and Tri-State Generation and Transmission released water to increase hydropower production at the dam at Stagecoach Reservoir and boosted flows through town, allowing the river to reopen the following day…

The late runoff was a boon for [Jeff] Meyers, though Erin Light, the Colorado Division of Water Resource’s Division 6 Engineer, said that wasn’t the case across the entire Yampa River basin.

“Some areas did really well, and other areas seemed like all the snow just soaked right into the ground,” Light said. “It would certainly make sense that would occur, given how dry we were the previous year, that a lot of snow just soaked right into the ground. That definitely was a factor in some areas.”

Meyers said the snow-soaked ground helped his pastures recoup from a hot, dry summer in 2018.

“Of course, it’s not just the hay crop, but it’s also the pastures,” he said. “After 2018, they really needed a break, and they got one. This year was really great that way.”

A winter thick with snow and a spring full of rain broke a 20-year streak of drought conditions in the state of Colorado, though slight rainfall in late summer brought back abnormally dry conditions in late July, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Routt and Moffat counties are currently in abnormally dry conditions, according to the Drought Monitor.

Colorado Drought Monitor October 1, 2019.

#YampaRiver Fund launch

A lovely curve on the Bear River, which is really the headwaters of the Yampa River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

On Thursday, Steamboat Resort announced that it plans to donate $500,000 to the Yampa River Fund as a founding donor to the new endowed fund, which will pay for projects to protect the Yampa River’s flow…

The Yampa River Fund will pay for three types of projects aimed at benefiting all water users, from South Routt ranchers to Steamboat rafters to people drinking water from Craig faucets and the endangered fish living in Dinosaur National Monument. This includes leasing water to boost flows in dry years, actions to restore the river health and water infrastructure improvements.

The $500,000 donations will be matched dollar for dollar under a million-dollar matching challenge grant, boosting the amount raised by the money to $1 million…

The Nature Conservancy will lead management of the fund until at least 2021.

Perlman said the resort is “putting their money where its mouth is” in supporting its core values, particularly collaboration and environment. This donation is the largest single cash donation since the resort was founded in 1963. Last week, Steamboat Resort also announced it has created a new department focused on environmental sustainability

The resort will donate $100,000 per year to the fund for the next five years.

Smith said Ski Corp.’s donation “lays a strong foundation for the effort to be successful.” Ski Corp. will participate in the fund’s board of directors and the smaller steering committee that will make funding decisions…

Ski Corp. will join about 20 other local governments, companies and organizations overseeing the fund’s operation. Other entities range from agricultural organizations, such as the Moffat County Cattleman’s Association and Community Agricultural Alliance, to nonprofits, such as the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and Friends of the Yampa, to businesses, including Smartwool and Tri-State Generation and Transmission…

[Nancy Smith] also noted there’s still $2 million needed to reach organizers’ fundraising goal of $4.75 million over the next five years.

From the Craig Daily Press (Clay Thorp):

On Thursday, Sept. 19, community members gathered in Steamboat Springs for the launch of the Yampa River Fund, an endowed fund that will be used to fund projects to improve river health, protect the water supply, and boost river flow in dry years.

Currently the fund has about $2 million, but organizers plan to build the fund up to $5 million.

The Yampa River Fund specifically directs its money to goals included in several Northwest Colorado river management plans, including those created by the Yampa, White and Green River Basin Roundtable, and many others. These goals include protecting water users on the Yampa from curtailment, finding ways to address water shortages, and keeping water infrastructure up to date.

Another factor that instigated the water fund are the reservoir releases that are becoming a regular occurrence to increase river flow in dry years…

Other signatories that have joined Craig and Moffat County in the fund include the Colorado River District, the Colorado Water Trust, the Community Agriculture Alliance, Friends of the Yampa, Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, Northwest Colorado Chapter of Parrotheads, Routt County, Smartwool, Steamboat Ski Resort, the Nature Conservancy, and the towns of Dinosaur, Hayden, Oak Creek, and Yampa…

The fund would have a steering committee of nine members along with a four-member board and the Nature Conservancy has apparently taken the lead on dispersing the funds. Any decision made on the board must be by unanimous consent, meaning if Moffat County doesn’t agree, it won’t happen…

Craig City Council signed the agreement at their Sept. 10 meeting. The city is interested in using the fund to possibly finance a diversion structure on the Yampa River near Loudy-Simpson park.

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

@COWaterCongress Annual Summer Conference recap #cwcsc2019

The headwaters of the Yampa River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Steamboat Pilot (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

Water leaders from across the state converged on Steamboat Springs this week as part of the Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference.

The Colorado Water Congress is a group of people who work and live in water, explained Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger…

In a legislative update, attendees heard about three proposals that could change water management in the state. Reps. Dylan Roberts, Jeni Arndt and Donald Valdez and Sens. Kerry Donovan, Jerry Sonnenberg and Don Coram sat on the panel.

“As somebody who represents Routt County and other Western Slope counties, we know what a dry year looks like,” Roberts said. “We just had one last year, and we’re fortunate to have a wet year this year, but we have to continuously plan for those dry years and look at any legislation that helps us to preserve and conserve as much water as possible, prevent forest fires and protect agriculture, because they’re the ones that really lose out when we have dry years.”

Changes to a program that increases river flow in dry years

The instream flow program allows the Colorado Water Conservation Board to designate water rights to preserve or improve the natural environment of a stream.

In the Yampa River, this program has been used to release reservoir water to boost flows through Steamboat in dry summers.

Under the current law, the program allows people who hold water rights to temporarily loan reservoir water to the state to boost flows in a stream three times over the course of a 10-year period. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has already used loaned water for an instream flow in the Upper Yampa River three times in 2012, 2013 and 2017.

Though reservoir water has been released in other years, including last summer, it was under a different legal mechanism.

Roberts, a Democrat who represents Routt and Eagle counties, introduced a bill that would allow for more instream flow releases.

“Once the 10-year period is done, you’re done forever, and you can never do it again,” Roberts explained. “So while city of Steamboat and the Yampa River has taken advantage of that program, they’ve started their 10-year clock. Once we hit 10 years in 2022, they won’t be able to use it again, so if we have a really low water year on the Yampa in 2023 or 2024, we won’t be able to use the instream flow to keep the Yampa running through town.”

The bill, as currently proposed, would allow these loans for five of every 10 years and allow it to be renewed twice once those 10-year periods end.

This would improve stream habitat, Roberts said, as well as limit economic impacts due to river closures placed during low flows that impact tubing outfitters, fishing shops and the businesses that benefit from recreation in the area.

Monger, who sits on the board of the Upper Yampa Conservancy District, said the program has “been a great thing.” The district operates Stagecoach Reservoir.

“(The district’s) actually been fortunate enough to have some available wet water that we can send down through to the city of Steamboat Springs, and it helps with water quality as well as water temperature,” he said. “It’s been a great thing, and the upper Yampa sells a little bit of water for its revenue sources to be able to take care of the water, so that’s a good thing.”

It would also expand the program by allowing more water to be released to create more habitat for aquatic species, whereas currently, these releases are smaller releases designated only to preserve the existing natural environment…

Ballot measure to legalize sports betting with tax revenue funding water projects

Earlier this year, the legislature passed a measure that will ask voters to legalize sports betting with tax revenue from the practice funding the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan.

If approved by voters, Colorado would allow some casinos to offer a sports book, essentially a room with a betting board and “every game known to man” on television screens, as Donovan put it. Casinos could also contract with online sports betting companies, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, to operate web-based sports betting. People could bet on college, professional and Olympic games.

While sports betting has taken place in the state, it’s currently illegal.

“This is a chance to legalize an action that we know is happening on the ground and to provide regulation protection under that act if people choose to bet on sports betting,” Donovan said.

A 10% tax on each wager would be paid by casinos, with the bulk of the revenue funding the Colorado Water Plan. Some revenue would be directed to administrative costs, a hold harmless fund and a gambling crisis hotline.

The Colorado Water Plan outlines a number of actions such as conserving more water used by cities and industry, storing more water, establishing plans to protect critical watersheds and increasing public awareness of water issues. The Yampa-White-Green River Basin Roundtable would implement the plan locally.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jared Polis requested $30 million to fund the plan and statewide drought planning. The legislature granted $8.3 million to fund the water plan and $1.7 million for drought planning…

Using new technology to trade water rights in real-time

Another law, passed earlier this year, establishes an advisory group to study possible uses of blockchain technology within agriculture.

Blockchain is a way to track transactions, and it uses the same record-keeping technology as bitcoin. Each transaction within the network, whether the blockchain network is trading water or money, is recorded in a block and includes data about transactions under a unique signature, sort of like a username. Each transaction is verified by the network of computers in the blockchain.

Evan Thomas, director of the Mortensen Center in Global Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, presented on possible applications of blockchain in the world of water rights. Blockchain could create a system to trade water by using sensors that track how much water is used or conserved to create “water credits.”

“(Those water credits are) entered into the blockchain,” Thomas said. “Somebody requests a transaction. They say ‘I need to buy more water this month, so I want to buy somebody else’s water credits.’ You enter in that transactionm, and they buy and sell points. The sensor identifies water use and water consumption, (and) turns that into a blockchain node.”

Thomas said this is a worthwhile tool to study in its applications for water rights, but that it is one part of a “suite of tools” that should be examined to update how water is traded.

A feverish stream, a legion of volunteers, a $1.7 million grant. Is it enough to help the Yampa River keep its cool? — @WaterEdCO

The headwaters of the Yampa River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Here’s a report Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith). Click through for the photos and the graphics:

Could something as simple and natural as a ragged corridor of expansive, towering shade trees help a river arm itself against a world in which temperatures are rising?

In northwestern Colorado’s Yampa River Basin, a 300-person-strong army of volunteers is banking on it.

The Yampa River historically has produced so much abundant, clear, cool water that its fish, kayakers, and the farmers along its banks were rarely left wanting.

But climate change is altering that dynamic. Last summer the river’s flows shrank sharply, and its formerly cool waters became dangerously warm, threatening the fish. Its high fever prompted the City of Steamboat Springs to close the popular stretch through town to fisherman and boaters on multiple occasions to avoid further stressing the mountain white fish, which is found in few other Colorado regions.

The shut-down was a huge blow to the city and to local rafting and tubing companies who rely on the river for their livelihoods.

The disturbing heat added urgency to a small program that has been gaining supporters and clout in the Yampa River Basin. The Yampa Sustainability Council (YSC), aided by $175,000 from local donors and some state grants, has ramped up a broad-based tree planting program along the river’s banks known as ReTree. Additional funding from a new $1.7 million Nature Conservancy water fund will add even more muscle to the effort.

On a hot Friday afternoon in late June, Sarah Jones, executive director of the YSC, parks at a trailhead just east of town, slathers herself in sunscreen, and loads a white plastic bucket with small calipers, a measuring stick, a GPS device and wooden stakes to take down to the river’s edge. These are the tools she and others will use to carefully locate and measure the progress of trees planted in recent years.

The reforesting work is conducted with a careful, slow precision. Each tree that is planted along the banks, and there are hundreds, is assessed, measured and located each season, even as more are placed in the ground.

The trend of warming rivers is creating a need for new science and reams of field data. “This is a new, not well-understood problem,” Jones said.

She and her partners, including the Colorado State Forest Service and the City of Steamboat, are taking the long view, carefully evaluating each year what has worked, discarding practices that have failed, and boosting those that have succeeded.

They once used elaborate planting protocols for placing the young saplings in the ground, but the trees respond much better when their small root balls are poked into the side of the bank, almost casually, supported by simple twigs. The starter trees also like being planted in the fall, they’ve learned, not the spring.

The Yampa River, in some ways, is a blessed stream, with more water than most Western rivers, and a community of hard-working, often wealthy, advocates.

This year The Nature Conservancy announced it had raised $1.7 million in a long-term water fund to restore and protect the Yampa River. The goal is to raise another $4.3 million to protect the watershed.

It is an unheard-of sum in this remote, northwestern corner of the state.

But those who know the Yampa understand the significance of protecting it, not just for the sake of this region, but for the state of Colorado and even for the greater American Southwest.

The river sits near the headwaters of the drought-stressed Colorado River system and is one of its last, mostly free-flowing tributaries. Because it is relatively unhindered, with only a few small reservoirs high on its mainstem, it serves as a kind of benchmark for scientists seeking to understand natural river dynamics and mimic them elsewhere.

Keeping the Yampa healthy also helps a much broader effort in the West to bring the Colorado River system back from the edge of a crisis precipitated by population growth, a nearly 20-year drought, and rising temperatures.

Jones and her colleague Caroline Manriquez, assistant district forester with the Colorado State Forest Service, walk slowly along a public stretch of the river. Each of them notes the young trees planted two or three years ago that are outgrowing the metal cages put in place to protect them from beavers, who are both a curse and a blessing on the river.

“On the one hand we want them,” said Manriquez, because their work on the river creates natural dams and habitats. “But on the other hand, they’re cutting the trees we want to preserve.”

Each tree that outgrows its anti-beaver cage will need to be visited, its protective metal enclosure cut off and a bigger one put in place.

The re-treeing effort anticipates a Johnny-Appleseed kind of longevity, with some 200 shade trees planted annually over the next 20 years.

“This is a huge project, and we are planting very small trees,” Manriquez said. “But given the water issues climate change is creating, we decided we had better start now.”

Like other river basins around the state, the Yampa Basin has developed a state-funded management plan for the river. Some of that funding went toward several years of studies and planning to develop the science to support the reforestation effort, said Kelly Romero-Heaney, water resources manager for Steamboat Springs.

“We’ve done a tremendous amount of modeling to look at what this river will look like in the future,” Romero-Heaney said.

Just downstream of the work zone, on the opposite bank from the workers, is a nursery which houses hundreds of delicate, young willow, cottonwood, and box elder trees. These varieties are known for growing tall and spreading a generous shade canopy.

The young seedlings have been sprouted in a nursery in Fort Collins, then transferred up to the Steamboat nursery early in the summer, all in preparation for the fall planting season.

These seedlings will be planted in the public stretches of the river, but reforesting there alone won’t be enough.

Jones and Manriquez know that the key to success for the project will be to bring the private landowners who control most of the land on the river’s banks into the program.

And that’s not easy. Western ranchers are notoriously government-averse, skittish about letting federal and state environmental officials onto their property, they said.

Rancher Steve Williams is an exception. He owns 200 acres of land along a critical reach of the Yampa east of Steamboat Springs, one that has been degraded by heavy cattle grazing, its cottonwood canopy gone, its streambed wide and much shallower than it once was.

As a result the water temperature here each summer threatens to exceed the state’s standard for the stream. If Williams can cool down his reach of the river, it will help everyone farther down and closer to Steamboat Springs.

To achieve this, he has partnered with federal agencies to shore up the river’s banks, deepening it as it curves, snakelike, through the wetlands and pastures above Lake Catamount.

This land hasn’t been grazed in 10 years, Williams said, and he’s hopeful the bank restoration work, as well as the re-treeing effort, will give this stretch of the river the assistance it needs to heal.

Williams understands the magnitude of the work that lies ahead and the challenges, the discrepancy in scale between young trees and a sprawling Western river, and the global dilemma of warming. “We will see how this goes,” Williams said. “It is a Band-aid, but it’s one I think will last at least through my lifetime.”

Romero-Heaney and other river advocates know that they will likely never see the final results of this reforestation effort, but based on the preliminary studies, they see it as an important tool for helping this playful, powerhouse of a river flourish in a very different world than it has inhabited up until now.

“I have to believe that if any river can persist through climate change, it will be the Yampa,” Romero-Heaney said.

This story is made possible, in part, by The Water Desk, an initiative of the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism.

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.