Category Archives: Water Legislation

Change Brings Hope

450px-Animas_River_spill_2015-08-06

Photo Credit: Riverhugger

By the Colorado Water Trust staff

In October 2016, The Durango Herald carried a modest story sporting the headline, Trout Discovered in Creek Long Devoid of Fish.  In the southwest corner of Colorado, where abandoned mines and contaminated streams have long been a part of the otherwise magnificent mountain landscape, this is encouraging news—especially for a community that, just two years ago, saw the Animas run yellow.

The San Antonio Mine complex, north of Silverton, Colorado, has been a fixture on the flanks of Red Mountain Pass for over 100 years. While most active mining ceased in the 1940s, the spoil piles and orange drainage from the Kohler Tunnel remained, contaminating streams with high concentrations of copper, lead, cadmium and zinc, and eliminating the fishery resource in Mineral Creek.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, several entities joined together with the hopes of improving water quality and restoring the natural function of the watershed. The Animas River Stakeholders Group, whose mission is to improve water quality and aquatic habitat in the Animas Watershed, determined that drainage from the Kohler Tunnel contributed the largest amounts of metals to the upper Animas Watershed. As a result, the stakeholders group designated the tunnel drainage as its highest priority for remediation.

450px-Mineral_Creek,_Colorado_intensive_sampling

Photo Credit: USGS

Hydrogeological studies and other research conducted by the stakeholders group identified the Carbon Lake Ditch as the likely source of water seeping into the mine and the Kohler Tunnel, impacting water quality. The 50-year-old irrigation ditch diverts from the upper Mineral Creek Basin and winds its way across the mine complex to deliver water to the other side of Red Mountain Pass. Winter ice buildup in the ditch and heavy summer rains caused occasional breaches, resulting in erosion and surges of mine drainage from the tunnel. The obvious solution was to eliminate the source of water infiltrating the mine, so the stakeholders group targeted their efforts on the ditch.

With a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Animas River Stakeholders Group purchased the entire 15 cubic feet per second (cfs) Carbon Lake Ditch water right from the owners who were willing to part with their water right in favor of reliable, local water supplies. The stakeholders group removed the physical structures from the streams, completed ecological restoration of the ditch and plugged the Kohler Tunnel to prevent future drainage into the stream.

Discontinuing diversions and removing the headgate did not guarantee that the restored flows would stay in Mineral Creek to benefit the environment—legally, that water would be free for other uses under Colorado’s prior appropriation system. The next challenge was to find a way to protect those restored flows. The Animas River Stakeholders Group and project partner the San Juan Resources Conservation and Development Council reached out to the Southwestern Water Conservation District and a local law firm where the attorney consulted was a former Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) member with a wealth of knowledge about Colorado’s Instream Flow Program.

Colorado’s Instream Flow (ISF) Program was the linchpin in the stakeholders group’s success. In the early 1970s, the Colorado Legislature pioneered protections for the water-dependent natural environment by creating the ISF Program.  An instream flow is a statutorily recognized type of water right that protects a natural stream from an upstream point to a downstream point. These water rights are administered like any other water right in the state, with a priority date confirmed by water court decree. At the time, the program provided the CWCB with the exclusive authority to appropriate or acquire water for instream flows to preserve the natural environment.

The CWCB can appropriate new junior instream flow water rights or acquire senior water from willing water rights owners for instream flow use. Under this acquisition authority, once an agreement is reached with the willing owner, the CWCB changes the water right through the water court change process to instream flow use. The water right is then legally protectable in the river with its original priority date. It is CWCB’s acquisition authority that the stakeholders group sought to secure instream flow protections for the newly-purchased Carbon Lake Ditch water right.

In March 2001, the Animas River Stakeholders Group and the San Juan Resource Conservation and Development Council presented the CWCB with an offer to donate the Carbon Lake Ditch water right to the Instream Flow Program to protect restored flows in Mineral Creek and two tributaries. However, in the course of conducting routine investigations, CWCB staff identified a significant program limitation. The original statutes passed in 1973 placed sideboards on the CWCB’s authority, limiting water appropriations and acquisitions to the minimum amounts required to preserve the natural environment. In the case of Mineral Creek, the amounts required to preserve the environment were determined to be between 2.5 and 6.6 cfs.  Yet, the Carbon Lake Ditch water right was decreed for 15 cfs, and under the existing law, there was no way to protect all of the restored water with an instream flow right.

CaptureAs highlighted in CFWE’s spring 2004 Headwaters Magazine issue, “Changing Times, Changing Uses”, societal values change. In 2002, the legislature passed Senate Bill 156, allowing CWCB to acquire water rights to preserve and to improve the natural environment. This amendment, the first significant change to the Instream Flow Program in more than 30 years, broadened the CWCB’s authority and created statewide opportunities to restore streamflow to dewatered streams and to improve existing environmental conditions. After the bill was signed into law, the CWCB clarified the water right donation and changed the full 15 cfs of the Carbon Lake Ditch water right for instream flow use to preserve and improve the natural environment. Roughly 15 years after the legislative change and the CWCB’s acquisition of the Carbon Lake Ditch water right for instream flow use, we see tangible results.

“This is the first time in recorded history of a report of fish existing in the headwaters of Mineral Creek,” said Bill Simon, retired coordinator for the stakeholders group, in the 2016 Durango Herald article. “We are a bit surprised by the great results so soon after remediation.”

21121308709_415fd56bf7_z

Mineral Creek     Photo Credit: Larry Lamsa

The presence of a resident brook trout population with diverse age ranges is indicative of the dramatic improvement in water quality within the reach where flows were restored and are now protected by the CWCB’s instream flow right. The Durango Herald reports an amazing 70 percent reduction in zinc and copper, and a 50 percent reduction in cadmium in Mineral Creek since completion of remediation and flow restoration.

“We knew that water quality in the upper part of Mineral Creek had dramatically improved,” said Peter Butler, Animas River Stakeholders Group coordinator, “but we didn’t expect it to support trout.”

The fantastic success story for Mineral Creek and the stakeholders group is a testament to the possibilities when local communities, state agencies and the legislature work together to solve problems. With CWCB’s ability to acquire water to improve the natural environment, this is a success story for the entire state of Colorado. The benefits achieved in Mineral Creek can, over time, be realized on many other streams, too.

Colorado’s ISF Program, now in its 45th year, operates statewide and the acquisition tool is available to any water right owner interested in donating, leasing or selling all, or a portion of, their water to preserve or improve the natural environment. The Colorado Water Trust, a nonprofit created in 2001 to restore flows to streams and rivers in need, works closely with the CWCB and can help facilitate temporary and permanent water transactions throughout the state.

Learn more about how to use water to benefit the natural environment by visiting the Colorado Water Trust and Colorado’s Instream Flow Program websites.

The Colorado Water Trust is a non-profit organization created in 2001 to restore flows to Colorado’s rivers in need.  The Water Trust uses voluntary, market-based tools to develop projects with water right owners to help keep Colorado’s rivers flowing. The Water Trust works closely with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state’s Instream Flow Program to ensure flows are protected. For more information about the Water Trust or completed projects, please visit www.coloradowatertrust.org.

1 Comment

Filed under Colorado River, Environment, Instream Flow, Water Legislation, Water Quality, Watershed Groups

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.

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under groundwater, Water Legislation, Water Supply

Rainbarrels and Rainwater Harvesting for Water Conservation and Stormwater Management

Water_barrel,_SAL_Depot,_Gainesville,_FL_(closeup)

Credit: Donald Albury [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Last month, Governor Hickenlooper signed HB 16-1005 into law, making rainwater harvesting widely legal in Colorado. Thanks to the legislation, precipitation can now be collected from residential rooftops, provided a maximum of two barrels with a combined storage of 110 gallons or less are used; precipitation is collected from a single-family residence or building that houses no more than four families; collected water is used on the residential property where it is collected; and water is used for outdoor purposes. Rainwater harvesting in Colorado has been subject to a lot of hype and the new legislation heralds much excitement, but how much water will it really conserve?

 

“I think it is somewhat much ado about little,” said Peter Mayer during our Connecting the Drops radio call-in show on water conservation. Mayer co-authored a new study Residential End Uses of Water, Volume 2, that’s lush with data on residential water use and conservation. Rainbarrels could save a user 1,000 to 1,500 gallons of water per year if used regularly, Mayer said. Although it sounds like a lot, 1,000 gallons likely costs only about $5 on your water bill, depending on your provider. Read about Denver Water’s recent changes to its rate structure here.

ctd_6-16petermayerwithmaeveinstudio

Peter Mayer in the KGNU studio, discussing water conservation with host Maeve Conran.

But that’s not to say that rainwater harvesting is a bad investment or an unimportant move for the state. “The symbolic value is very good,” Mayer said. “Anything that gets people thinking about how to use water efficiently and how not to waste it is very much a positive thing.” Rainwater harvesting may increase overall water awareness for residential users, leading to an increased conservation ethic.

At the same time, these systems can have a stormwater impact. “I think that the potential benefits from stormwater management may be at least as significant as the water conservation potential,” Mayer said.

People tend to connect downspouts to their gutter systems and direct those straight into their driveways so water washes off roofs, down driveways and streets and into city gutters, collecting pollutants along the way, said April Long, stormwater manager for the City of Aspen. Rainwater harvesting allows that water to be captured and gradually discharged onto lawns and gardens which naturally filter out pollutants, improving overall water quality.

screen_shot_2016-06-16_at_9-24-13_amA rainwater harvesting system under special permit was constructed and operated at the Denver Green School as a research project that began in 2012. From CFWE’s new Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation:

The unique system was constructed with stormwater management in mind. With a real-time connection to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather forecast, any stored water drains prior to a storm so that the system’s full capacity is available for rainwater capture. Data collected at the Denver Green School site between 2012 and 2014 show a reduction in the volume of stormwater runoff of 88 percent on average per event. By reducing the volume of stormwater exiting the site, the system reduces pollutant loading in nearby streams as well as erosion in the stream associated with increased stormwater runoff.

The Denver Green School’s project also showed that rainwater harvesting can provide a real reduction in irrigation demand for sites with a large rooftop-to-irrigated-landscape-area ratio. At the school, 81 percent of irrigation water used was rainwater.

Read more about this project and effective conservation measures, regulations, incentives and more in the new Citizen’s Guide.

3 Comments

Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Water conservation, Water Education and Resources, Water Legislation, Water Quality, Water Supply

CFWE remembers the legacy of founder Diane Hoppe

CFWE_4.20.12-129

Diane Hoppe receiving CFWE’s President’s Award from Justice Hobbs in 2012.

Colorado Representative Diane Hoppe passed away Saturday.

 

“A great leader for challenging times. Graceful in times of stress. Generous with her wisdom at all times.  Her enduring legacy, leadership by example,” says Justice Greg Hobbs, vice president of the CFWE board.

Diane helped found the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, served as board president from 2002-2007, and was awarded CFWE’s President’s Award in 2012. She was an extraordinary leader, visionary and great friend who championed CFWE’s inclusivity and balance. Diane touched and inspired all of us.

From an announcement released by the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

“Representative Hoppe’s contribution to the State of Colorado was substantial and the loss of her leadership and friendship will be felt by many statewide,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

CFWE2013-33

Diane Hoppe connects with friends at CFWE’s 2013 President’s Award Reception.

Diane was elected chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2015, and though she was so crucial to the start of CFWE, her work and accomplishments extend far beyond water education. She served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1999 through 2006 and chaired the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, the Water Interim Committee, and the Water Resources Review Committee. When Diane Hoppe received CFWE’s President’s Award in 2012, Justice Greg Hobbs wrote a short biographical article:

 

A third generation Sterling girl whose physician father delivered her, Diane Hoppe knows dry and the value of wet.  She and her former husband, Mike, were dry land farmers in Northeastern Colorado from 1975 to 1985.  “We had a cattle and wheat operation.  We prayed for rain a lot.”  They have two sons.  After their divorce in 1985, Hoppe moved back into Sterling and got her start in public life by “being the ears” for Congressman Hank Brown in his Northeastern Colorado district.  Brown, who forged the creation of the Cache la Poudre Wild and Scenic River Act in 1986, then became a Senator, bringing Hoppe along.  “Hank never had a bad thing to say about an individual.  He knew how to have a difference of opinion without thinking those who don’t agree with you are bad people.”

Thrust into the controversy over designation of new wilderness areas, Hoppe learned from Brown “how to keep a calm demeanor and take notes.”  Together Senators Brown and Wirth, of opposite parties, brought home a wilderness act protecting water and environmental interests.  “Hank believed Colorado’s Instream Flow Program could help resolve wilderness issues.  But, federal agencies didn’t trust the state to enforce the instream flow water rights once the Colorado Water Conservation Board got them.”

By careful boundary drawing, combined with legislative language disclaiming any intent to create a federal reserved water right, at least for those new wilderness additions, the Colorado Congressional Delegation obtained enactment of the 1993 Colorado Wilderness Act.  Two years later, emphasizing that the CWCB appropriates instream flow water rights in the name of the people, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the state has a “fiduciary duty” to enforce them.

Hoppe served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1999 to 2006, succeeding fellow Republican Don Ament, whose political campaigns she had managed over the years.  In 2003, when the drought was at its worst and junior surface and tributary ground water rights in the South Platte Basin were being curtailed in favor of the most senior rights, she obtained the enactment of a provision allowing the State Engineer to approve substitute supply plans and temporary changes of water rights.  This provision allowed junior rights to receive water if they provided sufficient replacement water to the seniors and filed for a plan of augmentation in the water court. Continue reading here.

CFWE’s executive director Nicole Seltzer will miss Diane’s many words of advice.  “She was always willing to help  me understand others’ viewpoints, work with me to improve CFWE’s reputation and programs, and was a stalwart supporter of our work.  I will greatly miss the opportunity to rely upon Diane’s insight.”

 

1 Comment

Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Water Leaders, Water Legislation

EPA’s new WOTUS rule expected soon, amid pushback

Photo with permission by John B. Kalla

High-country wetland with Colorado aspens. Photo with permission by John B. Kalla via Flickr.

By Mark Scharfenaker

Wherefloweth the Clean Water Act Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule jointly proposed last spring by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers? The rule clarifies which waters are covered under the Clean Water Act, raising concerns over a potentially expanded federal jurisdiction over previously uncovered waterways, wetlands, and groundwater resources.

The Corps and the EPA have asserted the rules will save time and money in making jurisdictional determinations and provide better protection of the public’s water resources as the Clean Water Act intended, without affecting any new types of waters.

But after more than one million public comments, a questionable “campaign” by the EPA to promote the rule, a GOP-majority Congress aiming to make the agency start over, and the two-term Obama Administration winding down, this important rulemaking very well might emerge this week in final form virtually begging for legal challenges.

Also this week, a Senate hearing on bipartisan legislation to force a makeover saw leading WOTUS-rule critic Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announce that he has asked the Government Accountability Office to assess whether EPA efforts to promote the rule have violated laws banning federal agencies from “grassroots” lobbying.

In doing so, Inhofe cited a May 18 New York Times article addressing that very subject.

“EPA claims that they conducted ‘unprecedented outreach’ after they issued their proposed ‘Waters of the United States’ rule,” said Inhofe. “What they actually conducted was an unprecedented grassroots lobbying campaign which may violate federal law.”

Inhofe said S. 1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act introduced in late April sets forth some principles and guidelines for EPA and the Corps to follow when they rewrite the rule. “Importantly, the bill tells EPA and the Corps that they need to focus on water bodies. Not puddles, ditches, groundwater, and overland sheet flow,” he said. “They also need to focus on the ability of water pollution to reach navigable water. This means they cannot use the movement of birds, animals and insects, or nature’s water cycle to create federal control over land and water.”

Also at the hearing, Mark T. Pifher, manager of the Southern Delivery System for Colorado Springs Utilities, testified on behalf of the National Water Resources Association in favor of S. 1140.

While acknowledging that EPA will likely make substantive changes to the proposed bill in response to public comments, Pifher said a major factor in the controversy “was the failure of the agencies to timely initiate consultation with state and local governments, conservation and conservancy districts, ditch companies, special districts, agricultural interests, public and private utilities and others prior to their issuance of the draft rule.”

S. 1140, he said, would “assist in rectifying this failure by requiring expanded outreach efforts. After all, it is state and local entities who have on-the-ground experience in this arena, and who bear the burden of making this regulatory process work on a daily basis.”

Pifher cited specific concerns of western states that the proposed rule “failed to recognize the geologic, hydrologic, and climatic differences that exist across this country, with particular reference to the arid West, a region of the country where ephemeral and intermittent water bodies, effluent dependent and effluent dominated streams, dry arroyos, isolated ponds, artificial conveyance systems, including ditches, and geographically large and diverse basins are so common.”

The Senate is not alone in advancing legislation to block the WOTUS rule.

The U.S. House of Representatives on May 12 approved bipartisan legislation that also requires EPA to withdraw the proposed WOTUS rule and start over. The vote was 261 to 155.

Echoing Inhofe, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said his Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015 (H.R. 1732) would stop an “onerous rule” that “will impact the nation’s economy, threaten jobs, lead to costly litigation, and restrict the rights of landowners, states and local governments to make decisions about their lands.”

Similar concerns have been expressed by the Western Governors Association and the Western States Water Council.

In its comment on the WOTUS rule, the WGA expressed concern that “this rulemaking was developed without sufficient consultation with the states and that the rulemaking could impinge upon state authority in water management. As co-regulators of water resources, states should be fully consulted and engaged in any process that may affect the management of their waters.”

The Western States Water Council spelled out specifics for a revised WOTUS rule, including that it specifically exclude waters generally considered to be outside the scope of the Clean Water Act. The list includes groundwater, farm and stock ponds, irrigation ditches, man-made dugouts in upland areas, temporary ponds excavated to combat wildfires, and prairie potholes and playa lakes.

EPA chief Gina McCarthy, meanwhile, has said 90 percent of the public comments on the proposed rule were favorable. Still, in an April 2015 blog post she emphasized that the agencies are responding to concerns and outlined a series of changes to the initially proposed rule that will be reflected in the final version, which is expected to be issued any day. Find more coverage in this May 22 New York Times article.

Mark Sharfenaker has been a writer and editor for the American Water Works Association since 1986 and the AWWA website editor since 2008. His previous contributions to CFWE’s Your Water Colorado Blog include “The Value of Water,” “Money for Water,” and “As Big as it Gets: Clean Water Act Rulemaking.” He moved to Colorado in 1982 after a 10-year stint in Montana, where he earned an undergraduate degree in Journalism at the University of Montana and learned the joys of fly fishing and the wonders of western waters.

2 Comments

Filed under Environment, Water Legislation, Water Quality

Catching Colorado’s Rainwater

By Jan Tik (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jan Tik (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s one of the most common questions and concerns we hear from Coloradans interested in water “Why can’t we capture rainwater? Aren’t rain barrels illegal in Colorado?” (the barrels themselves are legal, and widely sold, it’s the rainwater storage that isn’t in most cases)… But that could change.

On Monday, Colorado’s House of Representatives voted in favor of H.B. 1259, which, if successfully passed by the Colorado Senate, would allow people to collect and store up to 110 gallons of rainwater from residential rooftops. The bill passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 45-20 and was amended to allow rainwater storage in two 55-gallon rain barrels (upped from a proposed combined storage maximum of 100 gallons).

Under Colorado’s prior appropriation system of water law, the water that falls on your roof already belongs to other downstream users. Because someone else already owns the right to that water, rainwater capture is not legal for most Colorado households. From the Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Law, on adjudicated water rights:

Adjudication of a water right results in a decree that confirms the priority date of the water right, its source of supply, and the amount, point of diversion or storage, type and place of use.

In times of water scarcity, those with older water rights can claim that water before those with more junior rights. As explained in the Washington Post:

During dry times, someone with a senior claim gets to suck down her full allotment. The people down the line might get nothing.

(In Colorado, she’s even entitled to the rain that falls onto her neighbor’s roofs. That rain, by law, must be allowed to flow unimpeded into the river for her to use.)

Although all precipitation belongs to this system of water rights, some studies estimate that only a small fraction of rain makes it all the way from rooftops to rivers, with most of it lost to evaporation. A 2007 Douglas County study by Leonard Rice Engineers found that a maximum of about 15 percent of precipitation returned to the stream system. Bill sponsors said that an estimated 97 percent of water that falls on residential property never ends up in a river or stream.

After that 2007 study, Colorado’s rain barrel ban was loosened, when in 2009 SB-80 allowed some residents with private wells to begin rainwater harvesting. Through HB 09-1129, Colorado created a pilot program for harvesting projects administered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources, find guidelines for those pilot projects here. But those water catching programs aren’t available to the majority of Coloradans, including municipal residents.

… perhaps small-scale collection and storage of rooftop rainwater runoff wouldn’t have such a large affect on downstream water users. But opponents say that the principle behind rainwater harvesting can lead to much more. From the Durango Herald:

Republican Reps. Don Coram of Montrose and J. Paul Brown of Ignacio both voted against the measure. Coram said the bill serves as a literal slippery slope, suggesting that what starts as roof collection could end in allowing Coloradans to collect rainwater off their entire property.

“We keep nibbling away on the prior appropriation doctrine, and you know you eat an elephant one bite at a time,” Coram said, referring to the system in Colorado in which water rights are granted to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity. “I object more to changing the process.”

Others opposed are expressly worried about agriculture. From the Washington Post:

But the bill also signals that as Colorado’s cities grow, and as the political balance shifts, the legal custom of prior appropriation may be slowly renegotiated in favor of the urbanites. At the committee meeting last week, agriculture industry representatives strongly opposed HB 1259.

“It is a small step. And it’ll get bigger, and bigger, and bigger, until you dry up all of agriculture without buying it,” said Jim Yahn, a commercial water manager and farmer.

“At least the other way that we do it, farmers get compensated for the water that’s used. This is a small step in the wrong direction.”

While those in favor see water conservation and education as the major benefits of rainbarrels. From the Denver Post:

Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, countered: “It still goes into the same ground it would if it came down the gutter and straight into the ground.”

And rather than seeing that water be absorbed or evaporate, residents could replace the gardening water that comes from a spigot — saving water for those with downstream water rights, she said.

“While the amount of water saved is modest, having rain barrels in yards around the state will serve as an important tool to increase Coloradans’ knowledge of our limited rainfall and water supply,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “This common-sense step should help people understand the need for smart water-conservation policies.”

Drew Beckwith with Western Resource Advocates further explained that concept in a letter calling for support:

We think that someone with a rain barrel begins to pay more attention to how much water it takes to water the lawn; they begin to question where their water really comes from beyond the tap; and that this leads to a greater conservation ethic in our residents. The bill places limits on rain barrel use to the extent that published research suggests there will be no discernable impact on downstream water users.

The legislation is now in the hands of the senate. Where do you stand?

8 Comments

Filed under Agriculture, Climate and Drought, Water Legislation, Water Supply

A conversation with Jim Lochhead and Eric Kuhn on water supply, transbasin diversions, conservation and more

Transbasin diversions have had a long, changing and important history redistributing water across Colorado.  In partnership, the Colorado Water Congress and Colorado Foundation for Water Education coordinated a series of webinars looking at these projects and exploring questions that are arising in the drafting of Colorado’s Water Plan. The final webinar was a video-cast conversation between Denver Water’s Jim Lochhead and the Colorado River District’s Eric Kuhn. After a lively conversation, a few questions from listeners went unanswered. Below are some thoughts from Jim Lochhead and Eric Kuhn responding to those participant questions. 

Panelists Jim Lochhead and Eric Kuhn, prompted by moderator Dan Luecke, discuss Colorado's transbasin diversions.

Panelists Jim Lochhead and Eric Kuhn, prompted by moderator Dan Luecke, discuss Colorado’s transbasin diversions.

Q: While big projects may be a long way off, the IBCC keeps referencing possible new transbasin diversions on the Yampa, Green or Gunnison. Why spend time on the Seven Points if no big transbasin diversion is really necessary? -Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

Jim Lochhead: The IBCC Seven points offer a framework for discussion, particularly around providing more security for our Colorado River supplies. If we can’t achieve operational security for our Colorado River supplies through the operation of federal Upper Basin reservoirs and management of demands during critically dry periods, then the development of new major transmountain diversions and the dry-up of irrigated agriculture may become necessary. Hopefully an understanding of these issues will allow for more experimentation and piloting of ideas, such as the System Conservation Agreement.

Eric Kuhn: The value of the discussions of the Seven Points on the West Slope has been an increased understanding and sensitivity to the [Colorado River] Compact risk issues. My view is that there has always been (and there may always be) a constituency on the East Slope that believes Colorado’s water problems can be solved by importing water (and thus exporting the problems) from somewhere else. Folks with this view are at the table and have to be a part of the discussion.

Q: Might we consider including those in the regulatory arena in those early, collaborative discussions to expedite the later permitting and review process– Jim Luey, EPA

Jim Lochhead: It is definitely worth exploring whether regulators can be brought into early, collaborative discussions consistent with legal obligations. Ideally, at a minimum, regulators will have a better understanding of the permit applications and environmental compliance and would be able to more quickly develop analysis and work with project proponents and the public.

Eric Kuhn: I agree with Jim. The concept has been discussed for many years, but has proven to be very difficult to implement.

 Q: Is there room for Front Range entities who use West Slope water to adopt a more proactive approach to safeguarding the environmental health of West Slope rivers? Colorado Springs, for example, does not seem to want to talk about the environmental health of the Roaring Fork, even though close to 40 percent of the river’s water is diverted.

Jim Lochhead: I can’t speak for Colorado Springs. At Denver Water, we are acutely aware that the environmental health of the watersheds and rivers that are the sources of our supply is critical to the long-term sustainability of those supplies and our obligation to supply water to our customers. We continually educate our customers about the interconnection between environmental health and their water supply and believe that they support our programs to increase watershed and aquatic health—on both the East and West Slopes.

Eric Kuhn: I agree with Jim’s answer.

Q: Colorado water law and administration tends to encourage people to divert more water than they need to meet their legitimate consumptive uses. Is there a way to change that, perhaps by requiring a transparent public measurement of “current consumptive use” as assessors do with houses and land?

Jim Lochhead: One way to encourage, or even enforce, better and more efficient management is to more forcefully enforce prohibitions against waste by requiring or at a minimum incentivizing greater efficiency. Denver Water’s conservation mantra is “Use Only What You Need,” which should apply across all sectors.

Eric Kuhn: On the West Slope there is too much confusion between diversion “efficiency” and measures that reduce consumptive use. The only real ways to reduce consumptive use are by reducing evapotranspiration by plants and evaporation by the sun. Depending on the location of the diversion, bad “efficiency” is often good for the environment, because the delayed return flows hold up late season stream flows.

Q: Colorado experienced some condiserable rainfall flooding damage in the last couple years on the Front Range especially. Obviously capture and retention of stormwater is an important source of water for domestic usage. The new water plan supports developing new water storage facilities to hold water from winter snow melt to spread water delivery over a longer period than just the natural May, June, July runoff period. I don’t see any reference in the SB 14-115 reports to flood control aspects in these new water storage projects. Flood control has historically been a major reason for creating reservoirs. My question is, why no flood control concepts in the SB 14-115 report and water plan? -Bob Jenkins, Colorado Home Builders

Eric Kuhn: Stormwater is one of those areas where we have become servants of water law (as opposed to it serving us). In over-appropriated basins, like the Platte, the problem is that stormwater management can be viewed as an out of priority diversion. This is an area that requires additional discussions with the State Engineer’s Office. On the flood control question, there is an inherent conflict between operating a reservoir for water storage vs. flood control. For flood control reservoirs, we want to keep them empty because we never know when we’ll get another September 2013 flood. For water storage, we want them full, because we never know when we’ll be entering the next critical drought. Many reservoirs do in-fact have both purposes, but there is a delicate balance and tension between these purposes. The lengthy Chatfield Reservoir reallocation process is a good example of how difficult these issues are to analyze and resolve.

There are 27 transbasin diversions in Colorado that move more than 580,000 acre-feet of water each year from one of Colorado’s four major river basins to another. Read more in CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado’s Transbasin Diversions. And hear more from these speakers Jim Lochhead and Eric Kuhn on a panel at the 2015 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention.

3 Comments

Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Colorado's Water Plan, Water Leaders, Water Legislation, Water Supply