Author Archives: Colorado Foundation for Water Education

Opinion: Bill Promotes Opportunities for Implementing More Aquifer Recharge and Recovery Projects in Colorado

By Ralf Topper

HB 17-1076 is currently making its way through the legislative process having passed the House and the Senate.  This legislation, concerning rulemaking for artificial recharge of nontributary aquifers, opens the door for opportunities to implement aquifer storage and recovery programs in nontributary aquifers outside of the Denver Basin.  Nontributary groundwater, as defined in Colorado Revised Statute 37-90-103 (10.5), is groundwater whose connection to any surface stream is so insignificant that it is considered isolated from the surface water for water rights administration purposes.

HB 17-1076 is a first step in creating some administrative certainty and legal framework for districts in other parts of the state to consider implementing aquifer recharge and recovery projects to meet their water management objectives, and should be endorsed by the water community.  The bill’s use of the term “artificial recharge” is unfortunate, as the use of that term is dated in scientific and engineering literature though still used in reference to older studies and legislation herein.  Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) is designed to introduce water into and store water in underlying aquifers with a future extraction component when additional supplies are needed.  ASR is typically implemented through wells.

Increasing storage is an integral theme of Colorado’s Water Plan, published in 2015, and aquifer storage and recovery opportunities dominate the plan’s discussion regarding groundwater.  Subsurface water storage in aquifers can significantly reduce the financial, permitting, environmental, security, and socioeconomic hurdles associated with construction of new surface-water reservoirs.

In 1995, the State Engineer promulgated rules and regulations for the permitting and use of waters artificially recharged into the Denver Basin aquifers.  The Denver Basin is the only aquifer system in Colorado with specific rules regulating the recharge and extraction of non-native water for storage purposes and as such is currently the only area in Colorado with active ASR projects.  The promulgation of those rules has provided both opportunity and certainty for water districts to implement subsurface water storage projects.

  • Centennial Water and Sanitation District started ASR operations in 1994 and currently has 25 wells permitted and equipped to inject water into Denver, Arapahoe, and Laramie-Fox Hills aquifers. Through 2014, they have stored over 14,000 acre-feet of potable water.
  • Others districts that have implemented ASR operations include Consolidated Mutual, Colorado Springs Utilities, and Castle Pines Metropolitan.
  • East Cherry Creek is currently in the testing phase and implementation plans are moving forward in Castle Rock, Meridian, Rangeview, Inverness, and Cottonwood.
  • Denver Water has initiated a significant evaluation program and South Metro Water Supply Authority considers ASR a critical component of utilizing water supplies from the WISE partnership.

Subsurface water storage opportunities in bedrock aquifers in other portions of Colorado have been well documented.  In 2003, the Colorado Geological Survey produced a statewide assessment of subsurface storage potential opportunities for then-director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources Greg Walcher.  Published as Environmental Geology Series 13, that study identified 29 priority regional consolidated bedrock aquifers with potential storage capacities from 10’s of thousands to over a million acre-feet.  In 2006, Senate Bill 06-193 directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to conduct an underground water storage study in the South Platte and Arkansas River basins.  That study  identified a number of areas for potential underground water storage in both basins with available storage capacities of tens to hundreds of thousands of acre-feet in most areas.

 Ralf Topper has recently retired with 16 years of service as the senior hydrogeologist in both the Colorado Division of Water Resources and the Colorado Geological Survey.  He has earned advanced degrees in Geology (BS, MS) and Hydrogeology (MS) from CU-Boulder and Colorado School of Mines, and has over 35 years of professional geoscience experience in both the private and public sectors.  He is a Certified Professional Geologist, a Geological Society of America Fellow, and an active member of both national and state groundwater societies.  Ralf has authored numerous papers and publications on Colorado’s groundwater resources including the award-winning Ground Water Atlas of Colorado.

 

 

 

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Tenth Water Leaders Cohort Prepares for First Class

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Participants in the 2016 Water Leaders class brainstorm how to use our strengths in solving problems, with the help of facilitator Cheryl Benedict.

The Colorado Foundation for Water Education is excited to announce its 2017 Water Leaders class, as participants ready for their first day of an eight-month journey that begins next week on Monday, March 13. The Water Leaders program is recognized as the premier professional development course for Colorado’s water community. This year will mark the 10th graduating class of Water Leaders, and CFWE could not be more proud of program’s evolution.

Through the Water Leaders program, CFWE aims to positively impact the Colorado water profession by developing a pipeline of water leaders across diverse fields with the knowledge and skills to navigate the complex world of Colorado water.

The 15 participants in the 2017 cohort have been selected through a very competitive application process. Welcome to the 2017 Water Leaders Cohort:

Josh Baile
Jackie Brown
Devon Buckels
Logan Burba
Michelle DeLaria
Sarah Dominick
Alexander Funk
Heather Justus
Christopher Kurtz
Josh Nims
Leann Noga
Jessica Olson
Emma Regier Reesor
Scott Schreiber
Troy Wineland

Click here for a full list of Water Leaders Alumni. This active group of more than 100 alumni engage in networking events and regular ongoing leadership offerings.

Visit our website to learn more about the Water Leaders Program.

 

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Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s New Executive Director, Jayla Poppleton! — Greg Hobbs

CFWE is proud and excited to announce Jayla Poppleton as our new Executive Director!

Coyote Gulch

Sometimes you go
round and round,

search and search,
and come back

home!

jaylapoppletonviagreghobbs

Greg Hobbs 1/11/2017

From email from Eric Hecox:

I am pleased to share the exciting news that the Colorado Foundation for Water Education has a new Executive Director, and we welcome our very own Jayla Poppleton into that leadership role.

Many of you know Jayla as the longtime editor of Headwaters magazine. As senior editor for Headwaters since 2009, Jayla’s vision, creativity, and dedication to excellence have made CFWE’s flagship publication an invaluable resource for Colorado’s water community. In addition to Headwaters, Jayla previously oversaw CFWE’s full suite of print and digital content. During her tenure with CFWE, Jayla has established a significant network in Colorado’s water community, building relationships with members and fostering partnerships and donor relationships. She has continued to play an increasingly valuable role in strategic organizational decisions for the Foundation.

Last year, Jayla…

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2017 New Year’s Resolution: Invest in Water Quality to Invest in Your Health

By Trisha Oeth, Commission Administrator, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Commission
The views represented are those held by the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. 

 

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Credit: Ondrejk, Wikimedia Commons

It’s that time of year again—time for making New Year’s resolutions. Many of our resolutions will involve personal health or investment goals for 2017. But are you tired of setting weight-loss or money-saving goals? This year, consider investing in water quality as an investment in your own and your family’s health.

Safe and readily available water is one of the most vital components of our health. We have already seen our watersheds affected by major floods and wildfires. As climate change occurs and population doubles in Colorado, our waters will come under more pressures. We need to create resilient watersheds that can handle these pressures to avoid catastrophic conditions in our water. Watersheds that support strong ecosystems will produce the ecological diversity integral to our food chain and plants and minerals that someday could be used in medicines.

Water also is fundamental to our mental health. Studies show humans’ mental health improves with time near water. Set a goal this year to stroll on a path along a stream once a week and reflect on the soothing sound of the water. Imagine being connected to the source of our water and where it goes when we flush our toilets, wash our cars and water our lawns. Being connected in this way reminds us about the importance of investing in water, the essence of our existence.

Most of us understand that water is a basic necessity in our lives. We all want clean and safe water in our taps and in our streams. And yet, do any of us know how much we are paying our local utilities to ensure protection of this resource? When was the last time we readily and voluntarily agreed to increase our investment? None of us like increasing costs, but an increase in our water utility bill is not just a rate increase. It’s a proactive step to invest in our health. We know our water and wastewater infrastructure is aging. Reports show if we don’t start investing now, by 2040 we will have a $152 billion funding gap for needed infrastructure. This year, consider changing that trend and instead stand behind your utility when it proposes a rate increase.

The challenges that utilities face are immense. Utilities can use increased funds to protect our water at its source, replace aging pipes that deliver water to our homes, and upgrade treatment processes to keep up with current science and technology. Imagine if we all took the money we might routinely spend on two sugary beverages a month and instead invested it in water quality. Imagine if businesses that provide charitable donations or hold fundraisers directed that money to water quality. Imagine the possible replacement of lead-laden pipes and the removal of arsenic and other metals. Imagine algae-free streams and rivers available for swimming and fishing. Check in with your local utility or watershed group to see what work needs to be done in your area. Maybe it’s aging pipes, stream bank restoration or an upgrade to a water treatment plant. Then ask how you can get involved.

As you are reflecting on the past year and embarking on another, ask yourself how much it is worth to turn on your tap at home and know the water will be good for your health. This New Year, how much are you willing to invest in your and your family’s health?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATrisha Oeth is the Administrator for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. In that role she provides policy advice and analysis regarding rules, regulations, and policy priorities on all aspects of water quality programs in Colorado. She began working on water quality issues after graduating from CU Law School, and practiced law in the private and public sector. In her free time Trisha enjoys trail running, cooking with her husband and daughters, and learning piano.

hw_fall_2016_final_coverRead more about water and public health in the new issue of CFWE’s Headwaters magazine available here.

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Successful Implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan Requires a Data-Driven Mindset

nicolebc2014webNicole Seltzer, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s former executive director moved on last week from her position at CFWE to pursue a personal goal of spending more time enjoying Colorado’s mountains. While working at CFWE, Nicole led the organization through a period of growth by doubling staffing levels, diversifying programs, and increasing the budget by over 60 percent. She has become a strong voice and leader for Colorado’s water community. Although she hasn’t gone far to her new home on the West Slope, we’ll miss Nicole at CFWE. Before leaving, Nicole wrote a number of letters to impart some of her wisdom—read some thoughts from the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s December newsletter, on data-driven water education:

In the 15 years that I’ve conducted water education and outreach in Colorado, I’ve learned that the conversation never stops at water. To have an intelligent conversation about water, I also need to understand western history, ecology, forest health, economic development, recreation management and so much more. There are thousands of public policy issues you can connect back to water.

I think this is why I’ve so appreciated my time as the executive director of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. As someone who enjoys making connections between people and issues, CFWE is the perfect home to explore meaningful topics through a lens of water. Even seemingly disconnected topics like leadership skills or behavior change are absolutely relevant to water conversations.

I’ve recently had the pleasure to work alongside Colorado Water Conservation Board staff to discuss implementation of the education and outreach strategies in Colorado’s Water Plan. The conversation initially focused on the actions outlined in Chapter 9.5 to examine current gaps in water education, and use that information to support dedicated funding for outreach activities statewide. This is sorely needed, and will be a great starting point.

The plan contains much to be proud of, from goals around municipal water conservation to integration with land use planning to stream health to funding mechanisms. While they are wide ranging and diverse, I believe there is a common thread that connects them. None, in my opinion, are achievable without dedicated outreach and engagement strategies that have clear goals and metrics to measure success.

Good water education increases awareness of the severity and complexity of water issues, creating concern and the desire to get involved. Good water education broadens perspectives and helps us walk a mile in another’s shoes, developing compassion for other viewpoints and a willingness to explore rather than disengage in the midst of disagreement. Good water education widens the number of people invested in our water and river systems, producing collaborative solutions that meet multiple needs. Good water education promotes uncommon alliances by connecting people around common interests instead of dividing them with their differences.

How, as the Colorado water community, can we support the CWCB as it seeks to implement these goals we’ve adopted together? From my vantage point, I see one fundamental priority that would put us on the right path. Adopting a data-driven mindset about water education would immediately increase the amount, quality and effectiveness of these programs, which is a backbone of water plan implementation.

Our profession is driven by and beholden to numbers: gallons per capita per day, milligrams per liter, pounds per square inch. But we rarely apply the same logic to outreach and education programs, or if we do, it is through proxies like the number of people at an event or how many factsheets were handed out. What if we began to hold ourselves to a higher standard? Instead of collecting no or loosely relevant data, we clearly identified the outcomes we sought, and developed robust mechanisms to track them?

Two actions would help us move in the right direction, both of which are currently being considered by CWCB as they work to prioritize implementation of water plan goals.

First, the development and funding of a centralized, regularly repeated statewide survey of public knowledge, attitudes and values. We need a baseline as a state against which we can measure the success of education and outreach programs. There are numerous surveys that have been completed in the last 5 years, but most seek to answer a narrow set of questions, are limited to a certain geography and are never repeated. Just like we track the water quality in a stream before, during and after a project, we should measure shifts in public opinion and knowledge on water. To be truly useful, this undertaking must be a statewide partnership that is developed, funded and used by a wide variety of entities. And it must be repeated on a regular basis to have lasting value.

Second, we must create a set of consistent metrics that water education professionals could opt to use to gauge their effectiveness. You cannot understand that which you do not measure. A standardized set of metrics that can be used by all outreach and education programs in Colorado will help us set collective goals, hold ourselves accountable to meeting them, and create an ethic of outcomes-based success that does not currently exist.

CFWE has already taken several strategic steps that align well with water plan goals. These include fostering our Water Educator Network to increase the amount, quality and effectiveness of water education programs in Colorado, developing our Water Fluency program which empowers community leaders who are not currently engaged in water to critically think about these issues, and focusing our print and online content to examine a wider array of public policy issues through a lens of water. We also collect a large amount of both quantitative and qualitative data on the impact of our work, and use that to regularly reflect and improve upon our programs.

As Colorado’s leader in water education, CFWE is excited to be CWCB’s partner in the planning and execution of these important and far-reaching goals. Though I will step down as executive director in December, CFWE will remain committed to its core values of maintaining an unbiased, objective viewpoint that encompasses diverse perspectives on water resource issues and producing high‐quality educational tools and experiences. We will use our expertise to help lead the way in implementing Colorado’s outreach and education goals, and foster the conversations necessary to get there. And of course, we’ll do all of this while also having a good time.

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Water Leaders for Colorado’s Future

waterleaders

December is full of holiday celebration, time with friends and family, and for the Colorado Foundation for Water Education (CFWE); it is the time when applications open to one of our flagship programs, Water Leaders.

The Water Leaders program is recognized as the premier professional development course for the water community in Colorado. Each year, 15 water professionals from across Colorado are accepted to the program. These individuals will spend seven months together traveling the state, meeting face to face four times and expanding their leadership skills together. The course has been uniquely designed to cover water management topics, while at the same time, honing in on each individual’s leadership skills.

While everyone is making their list and checking it twice for the holidays, potential Water Leaders will also be working on their applications. Applications for this program opened December 1 and will be accepted through January 13, 2017.

Today at 12:30 pm, we are hosting a webinar for interested applicants to talk through the program in more detail and answer any questions. Register for this webinar at: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8332492019955043587. If you are unable to attend the webinar, you can request a copy of the recording to be sent to you. To request a copy of the webinar or for additional questions about the program please contact Stephanie Scott, Stephanie@yourwatercolorado.org or 303-377-4433.

Learn more about the program and apply here.

Also, CFWE has a similar program called Water Fluency, which focuses not on leadership skills but on building knowledge of water resource and policy issues for local decision-making processes. This year, Water Fluency will be held in the Grand Junction to Glenwood Springs corridor of Colorado. Stay posted and look for program dates, curriculum and registration opening soon.

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Grand Valley Farmers Participate in Drought Planning Effort

Drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin will continue to be a focus at the Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference which runs tomorrow through Friday, Dec. 14-16, 2016 in Las Vegas. The conference will feature expert speakers, panelists and discussions and is regularly attended by key decision makers from Colorado River Basin states. Review the agenda and learn more here.

By Hannah Holm, Coordinator, Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University

It’s been very dry in Colorado’s mountains this fall.  It’s still early, and the snowpack could catch up to “normal,” but when I flew over those mountains on November 15, they were brown. Just the barest dusting of white covered the highest ridges and north-facing slopes.

This delayed onset of winter has provided a sobering backdrop to ongoing discussions about what to do if the Colorado River Basin slips back into severe drought with Lakes Powell and Mead, the two largest reservoirs in the basin, already half-empty.

Efforts to protect the Colorado River system and those who depend on it

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Water intakes on Lake Mead. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

If Lake Mead drops too low, farms and cities in the lower basin that have become accustomed to steady water supplies will have to drastically cut back. If Powell drops too low, Glen Canyon Dam will be unable to keep generating power or maintain sufficient releases to honor the 1922 agreement between the states that share the river. No one knows exactly how upstream water users would be affected in that scenario, but if it’s a crisis reaction, it’s unlikely to be pretty. The environment could take a hit as well: low lake levels would make it impossible to conduct periodic high releases designed to mimic historical floods in order to benefit habitat conditions in the Grand Canyon.

In the lower Colorado River Basin, discussions among Arizona, California and Nevada have centered around who will cut their water use, by how much, and at what “trigger” levels in Lake Mead. This is necessary even without an intensified drought, because lake levels keep falling even with normal water deliveries from Lake Powell. The degree of drought just ratchets the urgency up or down.

In the upper Colorado River Basin, which straddles Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, there is no single outlet at the top of the system that can be cranked up or down. Instead, there are thousands of drainages feeding into the Colorado River, with widely dispersed ranches, farms and communities taking sips and gulps along the way, including some sizeable straws pulling water across the Continental Divide to Colorado’s Front Range.

A recent modeling effort coordinated by the Colorado River District concluded that if we were to experience another drought like the one of the early 2000’s, with reservoir levels as low as they are now and without any additional conservation, Lake Powell could essentially be drained in just a few years.

Efforts are underway to figure out how to craft a demand management system that can entice upper basin water users to voluntarily dial back their consumption, and get paid for it, in order to keep Powell from falling to critically low levels.

As it turns out, that’s complicated. For an agricultural demand management system to work for farmers, it needs to provide adequate compensation, not impede long-term operations, have simple paperwork, and not put water rights at risk. For irrigation providers, it needs to pay its own way, be easy to manage, and not put water rights at risk. And for such a system to work for communities, you can’t have large swaths of fields left brown and unkempt, supply dealers left without customers, and farmworkers left jobless.

Grand Valley activities

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Credit: Grand Valley Water Users Association

A pilot project in Western Colorado’s Grand Valley is testing an approach to cutting back agricultural water use that seeks to work for everyone.

The location, just east of the Utah state line, is significant. About half of the water that flows into Lake Powell flows through Colorado’s Grand Valley first, some of it flowing through the river, and some detouring through irrigation ditches and farm fields before returning. Much of the water diverted does not return, of course, instead getting transpired through leaves of alfalfa, corn, or grass, or plumping up peaches and wine grapes.

The Grand Valley Water Users Association (GVWUA), the biggest irrigation provider in the valley, is managing the pilot project to reduce that water consumption. At an October meeting to explain the pilot program to other regional water managers and irrigators, GVWUA manager Mark Harris said that the potential for future water shortages is driving the organization’s participation in the pilot.

For the 2017 irrigation season, GVWUA will conduct the $1 million pilot with funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, The Nature Conservancy, and the Water Bank Work Group. The Water Bank Work Group is conducting long-term research on the viability of various demand management options and includes the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, and the Front Range Water Council.

In 2017, 10 farm operators dispersed across the valley, each with 120 or more acres under irrigated cultivation, will participate in the GVWUA program. There are several options: full fallow, fallow until October, fallow until September, and fallow until August. The option of fallowing until October is popular because it allows establishing a winter wheat crop for the next year. This is particularly important when there isn’t certainty about whether the program will continue the following year. Full fallowing, if continued for multiple years, could provide the opportunity for farmers to transition fields to certified organic production and sell their products for higher prices.

The total reduction in water consumption achieved by the GVWUA pilot is predicted to be 3,200 acre feet: only a drop, but an important first drop to test the system. So far, the project appears to be on course to work well for the participating farmers and the GVWUA. There is adequate compensation, management isn’t too complicated, and water rights are protected. Research indicates that temporary fallowing is more likely to benefit soil fertility than harm it. And in order to ensure that producers renting land won’t be pushed off by landowners choosing program payments over farmers’ rental payments, the program was limited to people who were actively working the land.

Making the program acceptable for the rest of the community isn’t too complicated at this small scale, although some eyebrows may be raised at the odd brown field in the spring. If brought to sufficient scale to meaningfully benefit Lake Powell, however, this would become a more significant consideration.  Harris believes that the program would have to limit participation to no more than 25 percent of the acreage GVWUA irrigates in order to avoid unacceptable impacts to the community.

In the meeting about the GVWUA program, several people voiced concern that agriculture was being expected to shoulder the burden of bringing supply and demand back into balance in the Colorado River Basin. Some cities are, in fact, also participating in programs to cut diversions to protect the reservoirs, and most have made large strides in conservation in recent decades. However, there is still a feeling that they can do more, particularly in the area of integrating land use and water planning.

If snow piles up in the mountains at reasonable levels over the next few years, it will buy time to fine tune and gradually scale up programs like the one GVWUA is testing, as well as experiments underway in other settings and on other crops, like high mountain hay meadows. Bolstering administrative capacity to coordinate a broad suite of such programs and developing legal mechanisms to ensure that conserved water reaches Lake Powell without being intercepted by other users must occur before such programs can be effective at a large scale.

If a moderate amount of conserved water is sent to Lake Powell each year, or retained in upstream reservoirs, it will reduce the chances that more drastic cuts will be needed in any one year—avoiding the deepest impacts to agriculture and communities.

If the mountains keep staying brown late into the fall, however, the upper basin’s demand management efforts will have to accelerate significantly. Under that scenario, it will be harder to keep everyone happy.

 
hannahheadshot1-28-15Hannah Holm is the coordinator and co-founder of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water challenges facing the Upper Colorado River Basin.  Colorado Mesa University is located in Grand Junction, CO.

Hannah previously facilitated the Grand Valley and Lower Gunnison Wise Water Use Council, advocated for stronger drinking water protections with Western Colorado Congress, and served on her local watershed group board in Pennsylvania. In the late 1990’s, Hannah worked for North Carolina General Assembly, where she staffed committees on the Environment, Natural Resources, Sustainable Agriculture and Smart Growth.

Hannah has a joint Master’s degree in Community & Regional Planning and Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN.

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