Go Time for Colorado’s Water Plan: Meeting the Plan’s Educational Goals

go time bug

The final draft of Colorado’s Water Plan (CWP) was released in December 2015. In our 2016 Headwaters magazine series on the plan’s implementation, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education keeps you up to speed on how the plan’s action steps are progressing on the ground. Find past installments of the series in the Winter 2016 and Summer 2016 issues of Headwaters. You can also check them out on the Your Water Colorado blog via these links: Meeting the Plan’s Conservation Goals; Environmental and Recreational Goals; Storage Goals; Funding Goals; and Land Use GoalsHere we take an in-depth look at another of the plan’s nine defined measurable outcomes: outreach, education, and public engagement.


By Meagan Webber

Even though all Coloradans have unique backgrounds, perspectives and experiences, our common dependence on clean, reliable water sources makes us all stakeholders in the efforts to close Colorado’s projected water supply gap.

“Education, outreach and public engagement are the gateway to get citizens involved in the conversation, and hopefully actively engaged in water management at the local and state level,” says Mara MacKillop, public engagement specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). “Every Coloradan has a role to play in our water future and we need to give them the tools and information to participate, which is what Colorado’s Water Plan aims to do.”

In Section 9.5, which is devoted to outreach, education and public engagement, the water plan lays out a three-step approach to helping more Coloradans get informed and make water-savvy decisions. “This is exactly what the Colorado Foundation for Water Education is all about,” says Jayla Poppleton, CFWE Content Program Manager and Headwaters Senior Editor. “And we believe we’re positioned to play a leading role in helping the CWCB and water educators throughout the state achieve the plan’s education outcomes.”

The first of the action steps outlined in Colorado’s Water Plan is to create a new Education and Public Engagement Grant Fund in order to set money aside specifically for water education. The Water Supply Reserve Account (WSRA) is one of the main sources of funding for education, outreach and public education initiatives focused on Colorado’s water. However, due to the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling on the BP America vs. Colorado Department of Revenue case this past April, WSRA will not receive additional funding in the 2016-17 fiscal year. This means that basin roundtable accounts will also not receive additional funding and will have to rely upon their current balances to fund educational efforts. Thus, the CWCB has had to find creative ways to bridge this funding gap. The new grant fund would be part of the CWCB Water Projects Bill that has been in the works this summer. “If the bill passes, then on July 1, 2017, the new Education and Public Engagement Grant Fund will be ready to go. The framework is here but we have to wait to see what the legislature passes,” MacKillop says.

In the event that the fund is approved, the CWCB will be prepared. Under the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), the Public Education, Participation and Outreach (PEPO) workgroup will be hosting a workshop in October 2016 for liaisons from the basin roundtables to determine guidelines and criteria for dispersal of funds.

Vicki Phelps

Vicki Phelps helps with a watershed education outreach class for young children at the San Miguel River Colorado, July 6, 2015. Photo by Matt Nager

The second action step is the creation of a data-based water education plan. Before this water education plan can be developed, it’s crucial to assess current initiatives, looking for existing gaps in water education and ways to make successful programs replicable and scaleable. This is what the Water Education Assessment aims to do. The CWCB and Colorado Foundation for Water Education (CFWE) along with other groups have been collaborating to flesh out the assessment. These groups also seek to incorporate more significant evaluation aspects into water education programs to collect baseline data on what has been working and build from there, learning from the feedback all the while. This effort is still in its initial stages and will be developed further over the next few months, eventually leading to the creation of the proposed education plan. 

The final action step is to improve the use of existing state resources. Part of this involves working with the Colorado Innovation Network (COIN) to find creative solutions to Colorado’s water challenges. This collaboration has already begun with initial conversations and a budding partnership between the CWCB and COIN. They are working on identifying specific challenges that COIN can help tackle. “It’s exciting to bring creative innovation into our water world,” MacKillop says.

Another part of this is to improve coordination between state agencies on outreach and education activities so that everyone is one the same page when it comes to Colorado water education. The communications committee of the CWCB is working on developing performance metrics and a corresponding database to let the public know about progress in implementing the water plan. They have also started issuing the CWCB Confluence Newsletter to keep Coloradans up-to-date on implementation. The first issue came out in August 2016 and bimonthly newsletters will follow, covering everything from Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) to current CWCB activities.

Water education, outreach, and public engagement are essential to effectively and fully implement Colorado’s Water Plan,” MacKillop says. “Which ultimately means meeting our state’s future water needs, protecting our state’s values, and enhancing the long-term vitality and prosperity of Colorado.”

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Go Time for Colorado’s Water Plan: Meeting the Plan’s Land Use Goals

By Meagan Webber

go time bugThe final draft of the Colorado Water Plan (CWP) was released in December 2015. As is part of our mission, The Colorado Foundation for Water Education seeks to help keep you up-to-speed on how the plan’s action steps are progressing on the ground in order to meet Colorado’s water needs. This is our third installment of the 2016 Headwaters series on the plan’s implementation. You can find the previous two installments in the Winter 2016 and Summer 2016 issues of Headwaters magazine. You can also check them out on the Your Water Colorado blog via these links: Conservation Goals; Environmental and Recreational Goals; Storage Goals; Funding Goals; and Outreach, Education, and Public Engagement Goals. In this blog post, we will take an in-depth look at another one of the plan’s nine measurable outcomes: land use planning.


Highlands Ranch_flickr

Highlands Ranch, home to 93,000 people in south metro Denver, relies on a combination of South Platte River water and groundwater.

Go Time for Colorado’s Water Plan: Meeting the Plan’s Land Use Goals by Ensuring Colorado’s Development is Water-Smart

Colorado’s population is projected to increase from 5.4 million in 2015 to approximately 8 million by 2050, which will require plenty of new development in addition to remodeling and replacing old housing. Although the connection between land use planning and water conservation may seem obscure at first, the former is important for the latter. Increasing housing density in cities will mean smaller lot sizes which means less Kentucky bluegrass turf drinking up water in our semi-arid state. This is just one example of how efficient land use can help reduce the gap between Colorado’s future water supply and demand. “We think there could be a big impact on water demand if we grow Colorado differently,” says Kevin Reidy, state water conservation technical specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).  

Colorado’s Water Plan has already taken this into account, setting “a measurable objective that by 2025, 75 percent of Coloradans will live in communities that have incorporated water-saving actions into land-use planning.” The water plan outlines a five-step action plan and describes several initiatives that are already underway to work toward this goal. The specifics can be found in section 6.3.3 of the water plan.

The first of these action steps is to encourage local governments to use local development tools, such as “creating more stringent green-construction codes that include higher-efficiency fixtures and appliances and more water-wise landscapes.” This is one example of a development tool that will be the focus of voluntary trainings for local governments hosted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) in 2016. These trainings are based on Pace University’s Land Use Leadership Alliance (LULA) training program. The CWCB has been working closely with LULA to develop its own training modules. Several trainings are coming up later this year, and several modules have been completed in the past nine months. In addition to the trainings, the CWCB will also host five webinars starting this September and continuing into October. So far, “ten communities have completed land-use and water trainings through the LULA process.” However 80 communities and water providers (in Colorado) will need to complete the training by 2025 in order to reach the 75 percent population objective, according to the water plan.

The CWCB is also working to incorporate municipal system water loss into these trainings. That is, water loss via leaks in the pipes that deliver water to our homes and businesses. “This is a low-hanging fruit that we should be going after,” says Reidy. “We are working to show people that this is a problem.” If these damages are repaired and piping infrastructure updated overall, it will save a lot of water and money for water providers and customers.

The second step is to examine barriers in state law for implementing the local development tools that local governments are encouraged to use in the above-mentioned trainings. At this point, the CWCB is waiting to learn about barriers in feedback from the trainings. Local governments and communities have more in-depth knowledge of the specific ordinances in their areas and will know what sorts of legal barriers will prevent them from using certain development tools.

The first two action steps build up to the third, which aims for incorporation of land-use practices into water conservation plans. Aurora Water is a great example of a water provider that has been integrating land use planning and water conservation. Aurora Water has been working with the Aurora Planning Department to run computer models that project how different city densities and land use patterns will affect water supply and demand into the future. These models and data were used to inform Aurora Water’s 2013 Water Management Plan, which includes outdoor watering rules for different landscapes under different conditions of water availability and encourages the installation of Xeriscape landscapes. They are currently running more of these models (as is Denver Water) to predict how land use changes could impact water demand in different scenarios. They are still working on crunching numbers and will have results soon. These figures will be important to initiatives like the Water and Growth Dialogue, which seeks to “explore and demonstrate how the integration of water and land use planning should be utilized to reduce water demand.”

The Water and Growth Dialogue brings different stakeholders together to discuss water conservation opportunities in land use planning and is an example of the fourth action step in action. Strengthening partnerships with all possible stakeholders at this nexus of land and water is important to the success of the initiatives described above. Historically, “land use planning and water development have often been overseen by entirely different agencies or local governing boards,” according to an article by Allen Best in the Summer 2015 issue of Headwaters magazine. This is an issue that coordination and collaboration between groups will help address. In addition to the partnership with local governments across the state and Pace University’s LULA program, the CWCB has also been working closely with the Department of Public Health and Environment; The Sonoran Institute; The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy; and The Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment, along with many other stakeholders. “We want to reach a lot of communities to integrate land use and water planning by 2020. There is a lot of work to do and these partnerships are going help us achieve that,” Reidy says.

The final action step is the allocation of funds to various projects that will further all of the goals described above. Funding from the CWCB’s Water Efficiency Grant Program (WEGP) will support smaller, more localized efforts, while the CWCB’s Water Supply Reserve Account (WSRA) grant funds will be allocated toward larger, regional efforts, according to the plan. This will be a bit trickier this year, given the ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court on the BP America vs. Colorado Department of Revenue case, which means WSRA will not receive additional funding in the 2016-17 fiscal year. “Since we are looking at shortage of funds, we are pulling back on certain projects in order to prioritize everything in the water plan,” Reidy says. “A big part of that is helping local water providers gain capacity to manage water systems better. We still have those kinds of initiatives going because we want to help them achieve those goals.” The CWCB has been working to come up with alternate sources of funding, many of which are in the CWCB Water Projects Bill that the Colorado Legislature will decide upon in 2017.

hw_sum_2015_coveroptIf you would like to stay up-to-date on the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan, keep an eye out for the rest of our articles in this series and sign up to receive the bimonthly CWCB Confluence Newsletter. You can learn more about the nexus of land use and water at 1:30 pm today in a session, “Linking Water Supply with Land Use Planning,” at the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference. Also, check out the Summer 2015 issue of Headwaters magazine.

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The Last Line of Defense

By Elaine Hassinger, Water Quality Specialist, Tri-County Health Department

We’ve all learned about the water cycle in school, but most of us probably never think about another way that water cycles throughout our cities and towns, or about the people who make that cycle happen twenty-four hours a day, three hundred-sixty five days a year.


The other water cycle occurs through an intricate system of sanitary sewers, wastewater treatment plants, drinking water treatment plants and drinking water distribution systems; all of which are interconnected to either surface water or groundwater sources.  The people at the forefront who make the cycle happen are drinking water and wastewater plant operators.

Drinking water plant operators make sure the water we drink has been treated to meet all regulatory standards for public health.  Wastewater operators make sure the water we have used is sufficiently treated for release back into waterways. The job these workers do every day is critical to ensure that we all have a safe water supply.

What do Operators Need to Know?

Water treatment jobs are so critical, in fact, Colorado Regulation 100, Water and Wastewater Operators Certification Requirements, requires all water treatment facilities to be run by certified operators. Operators progress through four levels of certification and are hired by a facility based on the level of certification that coincides with the operator’s assigned duties and the water facility’s classification. Each certification level requires the operator to pass a test that measures mastery of specific criteria such as regulations, mathematics, hydraulics, and laboratory procedures.

The knowledge and skills that water treatment operators possess is vital, especially as more people move to Colorado and put a strain on our water resources, and more contaminants are found in our water supplies. Unfortunately, recent research indicates that a shortage of experienced water treatment personnel is on the near horizon.  According to the WeiserMazars’ 2014 US Water Industry Outlook, the two most significant challenges facing the water industry are aging infrastructure, followed by the aging and approaching retirement of management and plant workers. The water industry is in need of more treatment operators.

img_4232How is Water Treated?

So how is water treated? Here’s the quick version of drinking water treatment. Treatment plants divert water from rivers or streams and screen out large items. The water is conveyed to large tanks where chemicals are added that make suspended particles clump together.  The clumps settle to the bottom and the clear upper layer is drained off and filtered through layers of sand, gravel or other material. The filtered water is then disinfected, stored and distributed to customers.

And the quick version of wastewater treatment:  As wastewater reaches a treatment plant from the sewer system, large items and grit are screened out. The remaining wastewater is diverted to aeration basins for treatment by beneficial microbes that feed on pollutants. Next are the clarifiers, where solids settle to the bottom. The clarified upper layer flows to a disinfection unit. After disinfection treated wastewater is ready to be released to a river or stream. Meanwhile back at the clarifier, the settled layer, or sludge, receives further treatment and may be landfilled.

Keep in mind that these examples are very, very basic and there are many different types of treatment plants and systems and many different configurations.

What do Water Operators Do?

Typical duties of a water treatment operator include reviewing the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system to check trends in plant operations, manually inspecting equipment and gauges, collecting water samples, performing laboratory tests, and solving simple mathematical calculations. Shifts can vary. Some plants have three daily shifts; others only one. Rotating shifts, weekend work and work on holidays may also be necessary.

How to Get Started in the Industry

If you’re interested in changing careers or just starting out, a job as a water treatment operator will always be in demand, offers advancement as well as the possibility for other options. Jobs are usually posted on web sites of water and wastewater utilities and applications filed online. Some jobs are posted on the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) Career Center page. A smaller treatment plant may hire you for an entry level position even if you don’t have a certificate and let you work under supervision during your probationary period. Continued employment would be contingent on earning the certificate. On-the-job training and upward mobility are common at most plants.

Water and wastewater treatment operator careers can lead to other industry related positions. It all depends on what interests you and what and how much training you want to pursue. You may find that you’d rather spend all day in the laboratory analyzing water samples. Maybe you’re fascinated by the treatment of wastewater and want to help keep industrial pollutants out of wastewater plants. Industrial pretreatment would be a career for you. With the right training, either of these water fields is an option.

My Experience in Wastewater Treatment

So you may be wondering if I know what I’m writing about. Well, yes. My stint as a wastewater treatment operator was brief, but I continue to hold my certificate and have worked in the water industry for nearly two decades. Some of my favorite memories of my time at the wastewater plant: examining microscope slides with living microbes; conducting laboratory analyses of wastewater samples; doing process control calculations; watching spectacular Colorado sunrises, and observing bald eagles, and other waterfowl at the facility’s finished water reservoir. You can’t see any of that from a cubicle.

Elaine has approximately twenty years of water industry experience including industrial pretreatment, water resources, water quality, wastewater treatment operations, laboratory analyses, public education and cross-connection and backflow prevention management. She holds a BS in Biology and MAS in Environmental Policy and Management.  She currently works for Tri-County Health Department as a Water Quality Specialist.


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The value of landscaping and efficient landscapes

img_5964As Colorado’s colorful foliage turns gold this fall, it’s easy to relish in the mountain beauty, or—for those of us who live in the state’s urban areas—to appreciate the aesthetics of landscaping. But when important discussions about water conservation arise, urban landscapes get a lot of flack, and for good reason. During Colorado’s summers, lawns, trees and gardens consume the majority of water delivered to residences, with many municipal water suppliers citing urban lawn watering and irrigation as the single largest demand on their supplies.

Water efficient landscaping and irrigation technology is crucial to securing our state’s water future, and at the same time urban landscapes are valuable, as Kristen Fefes, executive director of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC) writes:

Trees, grass and plants don’t just look good, they have important jobs—enhancing our environment, increasing property values, and improving our health and quality of life. As Colorado braces for future water shortages, it is important to recognize the value of plants in our communities.

Reducing Air Pollution. The leaves of trees and plants remove dust from the air and absorb other pollutants such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. An average tree absorbs 26 lbs. of carbon dioxide from the air each year and in turn produces oxygen. Grass provides the same function. One tree or a 2,500‐square foot lawn each release enough oxygen daily to supply a family of four.

Green spaces cleanse our water. When water is allowed to run through landscapes, it typically exits cleaner than when it entered, reduces stormwater runoff, and keeps pollutants out of groundwater. In contrast, impervious surfaces like asphalt and concrete quickly usher water and pollutants into the stormwater system.

Outdoor Air Conditioning. Trees in cities mitigate rising temperatures by shading hot pavement and cutting energy consumption in buildings. The front lawns of eight houses have the cooling effect of about 70 tons of air conditioning. As a comparison, the average home has an air conditioner with just a 3- or 4-ton capacity.

A turf grass lawn will be 15 degrees cooler than bare soil and 30 degrees cooler than pavement or rock.

img_5962Landscapes increase property values. Attractive landscapes boost the curb appeal that draws homebuyers, shoppers, and other customers. Businesses with attractive and well‐maintained landscapes enjoy more retail traffic, higher occupancy rates and reduced crime. Landscaping can add as much as 14 percent to the resale value of a building or home and speed up its sale by as much as six weeks.

Landscapes provide health benefits. Locally, home‐grown produce means healthy food on our tables and saves consumers money. Gardens are a source of refuge for many, helping to reduce stress and improve mental health.

Healthy plants reduce the need for chemical intervention to control pests. There is a direct connection between the health of well‐maintained plants, trees and grasses and the judicious use of pesticides and fertilizers. Healthy landscaping that is properly maintained will typically outcompete most weeds, have fewer insect problems and avoid diseases.

CitizensGuideToColoradoWaterConservation2016 (1)To maintain and benefit from our urban landscaping, while also being cognizant of water’s scarcity, outdoor efficiency improvements are among the most important municipal water conservation efforts Coloradans can make.

Interested in water conservation and efficiency? Check out CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation which just came out over the summer for information on efficiency water use in homes and cities, in commerce and industry, and in agriculture. You can order your copy online or order your copies in person next week at the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference.

kfefes_staffphoto_nov2013Kristen Fefes joined ALCC’s staff in 1999 as deputy executive director and was named executive director in 2001. In addition to running the business operations of ALCC, she focuses her time on strategy implementation, industry relations, governance issues, leadership development, and national/state government affairs. Prior to her work at with ALCC, Kristen worked at a Washington, D.C. public relations firm where she served as membership and conference staff for two national trade associations, and also worked with a number of agency clients on public affairs and media projects. She also spent a year as public affairs director for the Operation Respond Institute, another D.C.-based not for profit that assists the railroad and first responder communities. Kristen earned her Bachelor’s degree in History and English from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. A Denver native, Kristen and her husband Demetri have two sons, Michael and Peter.

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Go Time for Colorado’s Water Plan: Meeting the Plan’s Funding Goals

By Nelson Harvey, excerpts pulled from an originally published piece in the Summer 2016 issue of Headwaters magazine

go time bugColoradans put far too much work into Colorado’s Water Plan for it to simply gather dust on the shelf of some government office. Yet the plan, whose final draft was released in late 2015, remains a non-binding advisory document. That means those who helped shape it must take responsibility for acting on it as well. In a fourth part of our ongoing series on the water plan’s implementation, we examine what we as a state must do to achieve the goals for one of the plan’s nine defined measurable outcomes: funding. Colorado’s water plan sets the goal of sustainably funding its own implementation.

Read the first parts of the series on meeting the water plan’s conservation goals, meeting the plan’s environmental and recreational goals, and meeting the plan’s storage goals.

Funding: Paying the way to a sustainable water future

A man votes his ballot in the U.S. midterm elections at a polling place in Westminster

Credit: REUTERS/Rick Wilking 

Colorado’s economy may depend on water, but water management also relies on an essential ingredient: money. With that in mind, Colorado’s Water Plan sets the straightforward goal of funding itself. This means finding ways to pay for the vast array of priorities that the plan identifies, from new reservoir storage, conveyance, and treatment facilities to recreational projects, watershed plans, and river improvements.

Colorado officials estimate it will cost state and local entities about $20 billion by 2050 to maintain and improve Colorado’s existing water infrastructure while constructing new projects currently on the drawing board. And that’s just to get the projects in place—it doesn’t include the ongoing costs of treatment and distribution.  

Generating that money may require a new public funding source dedicated exclusively to water. Existing water-related loans and grants from the Colorado state government are largely funded through revenue from severance taxes on oil and gas, which oscillate wildly with the price of oil and can be siphoned away to pay for other budget priorities. Because of that, state funding for water projects has varied widely in recent years: In 2009 it was $319 million, but it plummeted to just $36 million in 2010.

A new “water-only” funding source would likely require voter approval and could take many forms: One idea that nearly made the state ballot in 2010 was a volume-based fee on bottled beverages. Legislative economists estimated that charging a penny for every six ounces of liquid and capping the charge at 50 cents per container could raise about $110 million a year. That cash could be divided between priorities like additional investment through Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) loans and grants, more money in the state Water Supply Reserve Account for Colorado’s nine basin roundtables to invest regionally, and a legal fund to protect Colorado’s water rights under interstate compacts.

“We knew that there had to be a new dedicated, independent revenue source that would not be competing with K-12 education, transportation, Medicaid and things like that,” says Dick Brown, a lobbyist for the Pike’s Peak Regional Water Authority who led the container fee campaign in 2010 along with former Arkansas Basin Roundtable chair Gary Barber.

The container fee didn’t make the ballot in 2010 due to opposition from the bottled beverage industry, which convinced the Colorado Supreme Court that it violated the “single-subject test” for ballot initiatives by altering more than one area of state law. Brown says backers need time to educate voters, but a similar measure could reappear in 2017.

Even if voters aren’t willing to raise taxes for water, the water plan proposes a suite of new ways to use existing state revenues. One is a repayment guarantee fund, where the state would put up money to back the repayment of bonds issued to finance multi-partner water supply projects. Currently, participants in projects like the Windy Gap Firming Project, which involves 13 northern Colorado water providers, can’t issue bonds collectively (they still can individually) because the lower credit rating of smaller water providers makes it tough to obtain a favorable interest rate, making borrowing more expensive.

The water plan also suggests a green bond fund to help pay for environmental and recreational projects: The state or an affiliated entity would issue bonds offering slightly below market-rate returns in the hopes of attracting socially minded investors.  

Finally, the water plan notes that the state should use incentives like low-interest loans and extended repayment periods to encourage multi-purpose, multi-partner projects that accomplish more with each scarce dollar—and each drop of water.

A recent collaboration in the Rio Grande Basin illustrates the potential of multi-partner projects. To combat heavy metal contamination from the Summitville Mine and rehabilitate the local fishery, the watershed group Alamosa Riverkeeper acquired water rights to boost streamflows. But the group lacked a place to store the water in order to time its most effective release. In 2013, they partnered with the irrigation company that operates Terrace Reservoir southwest of Alamosa and secured state and federal money to improve the reservoir’s spillway. That permitted the irrigation company to store more water, and in exchange the company granted Alamosa Riverkeeper 2,000 acre-feet of free storage.

Cindy Medina, Alamosa Riverkeeper co-founder, says the project was successful in attracting state funding because it served both environmental and agricultural uses. “I think the state wants to get the biggest bang for their buck these days,” she says, “and projects like this are the ones that will succeed from here on out.”


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Go Time for Colorado’s Water Plan: Meeting the Plan’s Storage Goals

By Nelson Harvey, excerpts pulled from an originally published piece in the Summer 2016 issue of Headwaters magazine

go time bugColoradans put far too much work into Colorado’s Water Plan for it to simply gather dust on the shelf of some government office. Yet the plan, whose final draft was released in late 2015, remains a non-binding advisory document. That means those who helped shape it must take responsibility for acting on it as well. In a third part of our ongoing series on the water plan’s implementation, we examine what we as a state must do to achieve the goals for one of the plan’s nine defined measurable outcomes: storage.

Read the first two parts of the series on meeting the water plan’s conservation goals and meeting the plan’s environmental and recreational goals.


Credit: Julie Kruger

Storage: Adding capacity, flexibility and resiliency to water systems

Whether the water to fill Colorado’s projected mid-century gap of more than 500,000 acre-feet comes from new projects, conservation, or better sharing between farms and cities, we’ll need a place to store it. Aside from giving water providers flexibility in how and when to use their water supplies, adequate storage provides a hedge against droughts, floods and a changing climate. The water plan sets a goal of attaining 400,000 acre-feet of new storage by 2050 by completing at least 80 percent of the projects identified in the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative.

Those projects involve everything from the expansion of existing reservoirs to construction of new ones and increased use of aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), which is the storage of surface water underground. Ensuring adequate storage will also require reforming the arduous water project permitting process. The process includes important environmental protections in compliance with federal laws like the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act, but can take more than a decade and cost millions of dollars to complete.

According to Becky Mitchell, chief of the CWCB water supply planning section, excessive fear of the permitting process could already be discouraging the pursuit of major projects: “There is some post-traumatic stress from past experiences and people are looking to avoid the permitting process, so we are hoping that if we start by reforming permitting, folks won’t be so afraid to get into it.”

A major improvement would be to “front-load” the process through better coordination between government agencies early in a project’s lifespan. “It has been pretty haphazard in the past as far as when different agencies from different levels of government weigh in,” says Lane Wyatt, co-director of the Water Quality and Quantity Committee for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

To minimize costly last-minute delays, the water plan recommends that each state agency involved in reviewing a water project signs a Memorandum of Understanding early in the permitting process, dictating who will lead the review and how the agencies will work together to gather the data they need.  

The water plan also acknowledges the growing importance of multi-purpose, multi-partner water storage projects. Getting a broad range of stakeholders involved in building new storage can help defray the massive expense, complexity and controversy inherent in the enterprise, according to Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District and chair of the South Platte Basin Roundtable.

“You need lots of money, so you need lots of partners,” says Frank. “Also, the more people you bring on board from the agricultural, environmental and municipal communities, the less opposition you’ll run into down the line.”  

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Learning to practice effective collaboration for better water decisions

Collaboration! view_across_independence_pass_from_north-600x600Everyone seems to be talking about it. Most everyone in Colorado’s water community agrees we are at a juncture where it is critical for us to collaborate. But what does this mean? How is this lofty idea actually put into practice? How is collaboration different from its distant cousin—compromise—in which all parties give up something and no one ever emerges very happy?

True collaboration takes a whole new way of looking at things.

We all worked hard to craft the voluminous Colorado Water Plan. Now it is time for the challenging conversations and decision making among the diverse stakeholders in our state to put it into practice. Maybe we have the motivation to do that, and even the energy. But do we have the know-how and the skills to practice effective collaboration?

For those who want to gain that know-how and those skills, or to practice and fine-tune what they already know in theory or from past experience, Colorado Water Institute at CSU is once again teaming up with CDR Associates to offer a hands-on workshop on ‘Strengthening Collaborative Capacity for Better Water Decisions.’  This fall’s training will take place November 9-11 at the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, west of Loveland. It is the second such workshop CSU and CDR have offered, following a similar workshop last fall in Palisade.  One participant from the Palisade training said, “Given the complex water issues we face in Colorado, it’s inspiring to learn skills to help transcend the polarized positions of different geographic and stakeholder sectors.  I can’t wait to apply these new tools to improve collaboration as I approach water challenges in my work.”  Participants came from state and federal agencies, ditch companies and conservancy districts, basin roundtables, and non-governmental organizations.

“That mix of sectors involved in water throughout Colorado is a real strength of the training,” says MaryLou Smith of the Colorado Water Institute. Participants are able to jump right in, bringing with them their real-world challenges and some success stories. “They bring their own set of experiences and issues that provide really good material for us to work with,” Smith says. Smith, along with CDR’s Ryan Golten, and the Colorado River District’s Dan Birch, will staff the training.

The retreat-style workshop is an opportunity for “collaboration in action,” as participants learn right off how to establish trust and relationships critical for collaboration—not by just hearing about it, but by practicing it.  The workshop offers a dynamic blend of discussions, presentations, practice and role playing.  Key topics include understanding the dynamics of conflict; moving from positional bargaining to interest-based thinking; when and under what circumstances collaborative processes are most effective; and the mechanics and skills-building of designing, facilitating and/or participating in collaborating in problem-solving processes. The workshop offers participants a greater toolbox, concrete skills, and confidence in their collaboration practice, whether as conveners, facilitators or stakeholders. “This is very much hands-on training,” Smith says, “which is what makes it so valuable. Attendees practice role-playing in which they’re challenged to come to agreement in a collaborative setting.”

Learn more and register here to attend November 9-11

Colorado’s Water Plan has a subtitle: “Collaborating on Colorado’s Water Future.” The first page of the executive summary says “This is the beginning of the next phase in Colorado water policy, where collaboration and innovation come together with hard work to meet and implement the objectives, goals, and actions set forth in Colorado’s Water Plan.”

Register now to get some down-to-earth instruction and practice in collaboration and innovation critical to Colorado’s water future. For questions, contact MaryLou at MaryLou.Smith@colostate.edu.

hw_winter_16coverRead more about collaboration in the Winter 2016 issue of CFWE’s Headwaters magazine “The Collaborative Alchemy Around Water Today.”

And join CFWE on Monday 9/12 to learn about collaborative water management on a tour throughout the Roaring Fork’s watershed. Learn more and register here.

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