Tag Archives: Colorado water

Lessons in Ag Water

By Greg Peterson, the Colorado Ag Water Alliance

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Weld County farmer Dave Eckhardt at the crossing point of the Western Mutual and Union Ditches near La Salle, CO.

I could be wrong, but Longmont farmer Jerry Hergenreder is probably twice my age and can set a dozen siphon tubes while I’m still struggling with one. By the tenth attempt, I was gazing longingly at the center pivot sprinkler in the next field wondering how he does this at 6:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. to irrigate his sugar beet field. Despite seeming inefficient, this method of irrigation is ideal for certain crops, producing better yields than more “modern” irrigation methods. However, this revelation didn’t compare to when I learned that you only get one mature ear of sweet corn for each stalk or how to tell a bale of hay from a bale of alfalfa (one is greener, but be careful, sometimes they mix hay and alfalfa). These lessons are important, especially for a city slicker like me who consumes food every day but doesn’t really understand the infrastructure, work, and water necessary for the food I eat.

Jerry Hergenreder’s farm was just one stop on a recent tour by The Colorado Ag Water Alliance for people outside of agriculture to learn more about irrigation, conservation, how water is used in agriculture, and what problems farmers face. Water resource engineers, consultants, legislators, lobbyists, students, conservationists and congressional staff joined us on two tours: one in the Greeley area and another in Longmont, Fort Lupton and Brighton.

It was a great opportunity to meet farmers and ask them directly how they use water, the different types of irrigation they use and why they grow certain crops. Both tours began with a presentation by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Division of Water Resources and an overview of the value chain of agriculture in Colorado. With this as the backdrop, we quickly got into the fields.

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Kendall DeJonge, USDA-ARS agricultural engineer, describes the drip irrigation system at the USDA testing site in Greeley, CO.

Up in Greeley, the tour explored several sites including the Eckhardt Farm and Fagerberg Farm, ditch diversions, recharge ponds, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture- Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) testing site. Speaker after speaker emphasized the importance and complexity of return flows and showed how farmers along the South Platte are interconnected through water and irrigation practices. In Longmont, Fort Lupton and Brighton, we also toured the Fulton and Brighton Ditches, spoke with ditch riders, and visited Sakata Farms and River Garden Vineyard, the only vineyard in Weld County. The programs also included presentations on ditch administration, soil health, and the state of young farmers in Colorado.

On the tours, the impact of Colorado’s growth is hard not to notice. Rapid urbanization, the transfer of water rights to municipalities, traffic and even trash, are now everyday obstacles farmers along the Front Range. With all of this growth and change, CAWA wants to emphasize that agriculture isn’t a relic of an older time that needs to make way for progress. These farming communities provide a lot of social, economic, aesthetic and environmental benefits that we may not be fully aware of.

CAWA is working with the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and National Young Farmers to host a similar tour late September in Rocky Ford.  You can learn more about us and stay informed at coagwater.org.

CAWA relies on grants and sponsorships for most of our funding. These tours wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Metro Basin Roundtable, Agfinity, Colorado Corn, Northern Water, Denver Water, Aurora Water, Pawnee Buttes Seed, the City of Longmont and the West Adams and Boulder Valley Conservation Districts.

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Greg Peterson has recently been involved in water issues in Colorado after receiving a Masters in Political Economy of Resources from The Colorado School of Mines and working as a teacher before that.  He has worked as a research associate at the Colorado Water Institute and is currently working with the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and enjoys learning about economics, agriculture and rural Colorado. 

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Colorado’s Water Governor, Governor John Hickenlooper

2015presawardwebNext Friday, May 20th, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education will celebrate water education and water leadership at its annual President’s Award Reception.  Each year, CFWE bestows the President’s Award on an awardee who has a body of work in the field of water resources benefiting the Colorado public; a reputation among peers; a commitment to balanced and accurate information;  among other qualities. This year CFWE will honor Governor John Hickenlooper with this award. Join the celebration. Register here to attend at 6 pm May 20 at Space Gallery. We’ll enjoy hors d’oeuvres, beverages, a famous game of “Wine Toss”, other new activities, and a fun evening with friends.webslider2

 

 

By Justice Greg Hobbs (Ret.)

hickelooper I began my interview with Governor John Hickenlooper in his office at our state’s capitol building by suggesting he’d become our “Water Governor.” I brought along a copy of the Winter 2016 issue of Headwaters magazine, The Collaborative Alchemy Around Water Today. Its content features the tone he has helped set around the water courses of our state’s future.

I mentioned his 2012 “Year of Water” proclamation kicking off water education events throughout Colorado; his 2013 proclamation calling on the Colorado Water Conservation Board to coordinate preparation of a statewide water plan; and the November 2015 History Museum celebration where he toasted the hard work of the CWCB and the nine Basin Roundtables, recognizing also the Colorado General Assembly for its leadership role in passing the Water for the 21st Century Act in 2005.

He quickly steered me to the second week of his moving to Colorado in 1981, when he rafted the Arkansas River through Brown’s Canyon. “I discovered water in the West is more like poetry than prose. In the East, huge flows blunt everything. It’s more nuanced out here, like fly fishing.” He’s fascinated with how rivers became transportation corridors for settlement. He thinks state agencies work better if they relate well to the river basins they work in. He’s a reader, a thinker, and a conversationalist.

Born in Narberth, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, he majored in English at Wesleyan University and completed his Master’s degree in geology there in 1980. He worked as a geologist for Buckhorn Petroleum in the early 1980s, then, when the oil industry buckled, co-founded the Wynkoop Brewing Company near Denver’s old Union Station, participating in the remarkable remake of the lower downtown (LoDo) district centered around baseball’s Coors Field.

As a businessman, two-term mayor of Denver, and now in his second term as governor, he’s learned that “water affects people and enlightened self-interest” often leads to resolution. “The harder you listen the more you realize fights are often about things that aren’t really that important. When you hear others talk about their problems you find ‘I can fix that.’”

The terrible drought year of 2003 was his first as Denver’s mayor. While campaigning he’d heard some old-line civic leaders boasting the city could stand on its senior water rights, while Aurora and Douglas County had to cope with their less certain junior rights. But the self-interest of neighboring cities and counties were already aligned with each other and “establishing a context for relationships” was paramount. None can afford to have any other “run out of water.” His new appointees to the Denver Water Board, working with manager Chips Barry, relied less on Denver’s “cushion” and more on building cooperative relationships along the Front Range and across the Divide. Meanwhile, Denver residents cut their water use by 20 percent over a five-year period from 2003 to 2008.

As Colorado’s Water Plan was taking shape, the governor traveled throughout the state as Colorado experienced drought, fire and flood in rapid succession. I recall, in particular, a meeting in Fort Collins where he talked with northern Colorado Chamber of Commerce members about the expected doubling of our state’s population by the year 2050. Drawing on his experience as a businessman and municipal leader, he pointed to conservation, collaborative water projects, and environmental measures as essential to meeting Colorado’s future water needs.

The governor holds a deep regard for farmers and ranchers. “Preserving the long-term asset that is Colorado,” he says, requires protecting the quality of life on farms and ranches as well as in cities—and the streams for rafting and fishing. “It’s part of Colorado’s code of ethics. It’s not our water. It’s Colorado’s water.” As I left his office, our Water Governor reminded me he learned to work water in the brewery business. His purchase of the old Silver State Cleaners & Laundry property included a water well. Colorado’s water alchemy is a collaborative partnership he leads well personally and enthusiastically.

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Greg Kernohan, 2015 Emerging Leader

THIS FRIDAY, May 8th, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education will celebrate water education and water leadership at its annual President’s Award Reception.  This year, CFWE will honor Greg Kernohan with the Emerging Leader Award, and Jim Lochhead with the President’s Award. Join the celebration. Register here to attend at 6 pm this Friday, May 8 at Space Gallery. We’ll enjoy hors d’oeuvres, beverages, a famous game of “Wine Toss”, an art giveaway, a photo booth, and a fun evening with friends.

By Justice Greg Hobbs

Greg Kernohan helps farmers and cities address water needs while benefiting waterfowl. For more than 15 years, he has served as manager of conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited in Colorado. He has been both entrepreneurial and innovative in leading the South Platte Wetlands Focus Area Committee, managing the Union Mutual Ditch Company, and participating for the past 10 years as a member of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, most recently as its vice-chair.

Focusing on wetlands as a nexus for meeting environmental,  agricultural and municipal needs, his expertise bridges many interests. Learning from leaders at the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, Greg helped develop river augmentation projects on agricultural lands to recharge alluvial aquifers while greatly enhancing waterfowl habitat.

“The river augmentation credits directly benefit farmers that couldn’t pump without the credits,” Greg explains. “No-injury plans for water rights and birds, I call them.”

Greg and Ducks Unlimited also brought substantial investments to this collaborative work, accessing millions of dollars through North American Wetland Conservation Act grants. These grants require significant matching funds from diverse partners, which Greg’s team leveraged into nearly $20 million in Colorado for the purposes of protecting water resources, constructing infrastructure and providing wildlife habitat. “We’ve cooperated on over a dozen recharge projects along the South Platte, restoring and protecting 2,150 acres of wetlands capable of retiming water for augmentation.”

Greg’s passion for finding new ways to manage water led to him to participate in, and eventually direct, the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s FLEX Water Market grant project. Participants include the Colorado Corn Growers Association and the City of Aurora. “It’s the Corn Growers who got my supervisors’ attention. We have been at odds with some agricultural interests elsewhere,” Greg recalls, “but, a solid foundation of successful projects built in cooperation with agricultural and municipal friends allowed this diverse group to navigate contentious issues and build trust.”

Armed with a new degree in environmental law and policy, Greg looks forward to growing further into leadership roles that help Colorado address water resource issues. Luminescent and alive, rural and urban families shine like water off a duck’s back when they see and hear a mallard and his mate whir for a splash landing on a DU wetland recharge project.

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Lawyer, Scholar, River Master: Jim Lochhead

Next Friday, May 8th, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education will celebrate water education and water leadership at its annual President’s Award Reception.  Each year, CFWE bestows the President’s Award on an awardee who has a body of work in the field of water resources benefiting the Colorado public; a reputation among peers; a commitment to balanced and accurate information;  among other qualities. This year CFWE will honor Jim Lochhead with this award. Join the celebration. Register here to attend at 6 pm May 8 at Space Gallery. We’ll enjoy hors d’oeuvres, beverages, a famous game of “Wine Toss”, an art giveaway, and a fun evening with friends.

By Justice Greg Hobbs

When I was young the waters sang of being here before I am,
of falling sweet and soft and slow to berry bog and high meadow.

Consider the geography of the Colorado River and Jim Lochhead. Arise each morning along the river in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Have your first cup of coffee in Pasadena, California, fed by the river through the Colorado River Aqueduct.

Colorado and California have gone head to head over the waters of the Colorado River since the early 20th century. The entire length of the river from its source in Rocky Mountain National Park to Mexico’s delta reflects Jim’s personal and professional lifeline. He was born in Pasadena in the mid-20th century; Delph Carpenter in Greeley in the late 19th century. Architect of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Carpenter forged himself into becoming Colorado’s first interstate water diplomat. Lawyer, scholar, river master, Jim is Delph’s 21st century successor.

Growing up amidst the sunshine glory of Southern California, its beach athletics and orange grove sweets, Jim migrated upriver joining his nurse wife, native Coloradan Abby, in pursuing their small town professional practices in Glenwood Springs. When you settle in a river town, you get to know — close up and personal — how the glow and health of these communities fluctuate like snowmelt in a water gauge. When the gauge is full, all is well. When the gauge is empty, hire yourself a really good water attorney. Through tenacious credibility and leadership, Jim is among the best of them.

And shape the stones to carry me when I am young and full of fight

for roaring here and roaring there, for pouring torrents in the air.

As a partner in a small Western Slope law firm, Jim put together water supply plans for growing communities along the Colorado main stem and its tributaries from the Divide to the Utah border. Because the Colorado River flows east by transbasin diversion to Colorado’s Front Range and southwest to the Sea of Cortez, you don’t become a river expert except through hard work, common sense, and humility.

Jim served as big case litigation counsel to the Colorado River Water Conservation District in some really difficult federal cases in the 1980s and 1990s pitting the City and County of Denver against the River District, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. At stake was the right to protect the waters of Green Mountain Reservoir, a compensatory feature of the 1937 Colorado-Big Thompson Reclamation Project, for the intended Western Slope water uses. Denver attempted to usurp the ability of Summit, Grand and Eagle County communities to utilize Green Mountain releases to offset diversions on Colorado River tributaries above the 1903 Shoshone run-of-the river hydroelectric power water right in Glenwood Canyon.  Jim and colleagues won that case against Denver in a 1991 decision by the 10th U.S. Court of Appeals.

A revolution in Colorado water was occurring at the same time. The federal courts upheld the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s veto of Denver Water’s Two Forks transbasin project. The Denver Water Board doubled up. It hired Chips Barry from his position as executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources and it set his engaging embrace loose.

The mystery of a Divide is this, you can stand on opposites and not lose your balance, half of you belongs to the other ocean. 

Chips helped renew Denver and Colorado, implementing several master water exchange stipulations negotiated by Jim and colleagues benefitting western and eastern Colorado.  These agreements respect the superior right of Western Slope water uses, even as Denver Water won the ability to firm up water for its million-plus customers.  Queen City meets Mountain Stronghold!

Jim also proved his water diplomacy mettle as a member of Colorado’s Water Conservation Board. From securing instream flow water rights for preservation of Colorado’s environment to protecting its interstate water compact entitlements for present and future use, he excelled.  He became Chips’ successor as Executive Director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, following Clyde Martz and Ken Salazar, and served as Colorado’s commissioner for the Upper Colorado River Compact Commission.

His subsequent law practice partnership with the Brownstein Hyatt Farber Shreck law firm extended his interstate reach to matters involving the Great Lakes Compact, Idaho’s Snake River Basin Adjudication, and New Mexico’s effort to comply with the Pecos River Compact with Texas. East Slope and West Slope Colorado municipalities and water districts hired him to counsel Colorado in high risk/high stakes negotiations involving all of the Colorado River Basin states and their many component interests. During those days and plunk in the middle of many long nights, no doubt, Jim authored a major article for the University of Denver Water Law Review addressing “An Upper Basin Perspective on California’s Claims to Water from the Colorado River.”

Know them by their names: need, conflict, confusion, good will.  Always the River at the heart of all possibility. One body, one spirit, many futures.

Due to tough and resolute negotiations, Jim often in the center of them, cogs are not whirling off the flywheel of the 1922 Colorado River Compact. They’re grooving and synching. California has cut back from taking 5.3 million acre-feet of Colorado River water annually to living within its 4.4 million acre-foot share. The seven states and Mexico have negotiated shortage criteria, compelled by 15 years of drought and aggravated climate change risk. Mexico is enjoying water storage in Lake Mead. Dietary water conservation measures are taking root in willow shoots and restored riparian habitat. Transboundary environmental allies are singing the Beatles song, Get Back!  Get some pulse flow water back into the bone-dry Colorado River channel in Mexico! It’s a picture puzzle of persistent increments the willow flycatcher and the river-swimming pikeminnow, among the rest of us, depend upon for survival.

This morning Jim Lochhead, chief executive officer of Denver Water, will enjoy a first cup of coffee at his northwest corner desk looking out to the Great Divide. Half that cup will be South Platte water; half Colorado River water. As a whole it’s all Colorado’s water. Jim will be back on the phone attempting to implement the break-through Colorado River Cooperative Agreement between Denver and a myriad of Western Slope water supply and environmental interests. Whereby, water sharing in a water-short state might have another once and future better day.

Shall we dwell in the great houses of our many communities?

(Excerpts from Colorado Mother of Rivers, The Mystery of a Divide, and San Juan Our Way Out Of It? by Greg Hobbs)

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Colorado Water Trust working to marry instream flow protection and ranch production on Little Cimarron River

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The San Juan Mountains backstop this valley, home of the Little Cimarron River, to the south.

By Zach Smith

When standing on the ranch, you can’t quite see the river. If it’s a good autumn, the snowy peaks of the San Juan Mountains within the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area backstop the narrow valley to the south, and the tops of the turning cottonwoods peek out of a ravine to the west. Just standing there among the cow pies you’d suspect, and be correct, that the river nearby but just out of sight is renewed by those melting snows each spring. The cottonwoods betray the river’s path below the ranch.

During most springs, runoff on the Little Cimarron River that meanders through those cottonwoods fills each water right’s claim to its flows to the brim and then some. Water taken out at the McKinley Ditch headgate upstream winds along the steep slopes and eventually to this tableland, where acres irrigated since federal government patent and first appropriation in 1886 produce hay and cattle. Back at the river, water flows down the Little Cimarron to the Cimarron and eventually to the Gunnison River, upstream of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and then, finally, to the Colorado River.

As the summer turns to fall, though, the Little Cimarron can often run dry for more than a mile as the mountains stop producing water and diversions from the river lap the very last drops from the stream. Fish, both upstream and down, lose passage or get trapped in pools in the middle.

The challenge is figuring out how to keep the cow pies fresh and the fish wet, the fields green and the rivers blue. Colorado is asking broad iterations of this question all over the state, boiled down to something short with no uniform answer: How can we get the most out of every drop of Colorado’s water?

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This 214-acre ranch in the Gunnison Country, after being offered for purchase in 35-acre lots and eventually being lost to Montrose Bank, was eventually purchased, intact and from the bank, by Western Rivers Conservancy in partnership with the Colorado Water Trust. With Western Rivers specializing in conservation purchases of riparian lands in the West, and the Trust working to restore and protect flows using voluntary, market-based tools in Colorado, the project constitutes an ideal land and water conservation partnership. Included with the ranch purchase was more than 18 percent of the water decreed to the McKinley Ditch. Western Rivers sold those water rights, some very senior, to the Trust.

Shepardson property (m) 10-13-11

Western Rivers Conservancy bought this 214-acre ranch, then sold the attached water rights to the Colorado Water Trust. Under the arrangement the Trust is currently developing, the water rights will still be used to irrigate the ranch property but will also boost streamflows during dry parts of the year.

Now, with Western Rivers Conservancy and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Trust is using those water rights to build the first permanent agriculture and instream flow sharing agreement in Colorado. If successful, irrigation will occur on the ranch in most years until July or August, when the water use will switch to instream flow use by the CWCB. In Colorado, instream flows are the exclusive province of the CWCB, a state agency within the Department of Natural Resources.

In the driest of years, all the water may stay in the river for the duration of the season. In the biggest snow years, it may irrigate all season long. At the Gunnison, where flows are managed by releases from the Aspinall Unit’s Blue Mesa, Morrow Point and Crystal reservoirs, upstream of the Black Canyon, the Trust plans to re-market the water to a third, downstream use.

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Instream flow projects of any kind do not happen in a vacuum. To add water to a river long-term, even under a shared contract as with this project, requires a two-meeting process with the CWCB’s board of directors. In September 2014, that board approved and agreed to pay for the inclusion of this water into its instream flow program under the sharing terms. The project then requires approval from Colorado’s water court system—an adversarial process designed to protect other water users from injury resulting from a new or changed water use. The Trust entered this process in 2014. There are also infrastructure challenges, such as measurement and delivery of flows. Additionally, the Trust is just one shareholder now among several. This year, for example, the ditch blew out and we paid our share of the repair cost like everyone else.

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A healthy section of the Little Cimarron River

The ecological benefits to the project are sizable, and will nearly connect two existing instream flows together. One stretches from just upstream of the McKinley headgate 16 miles up to the Little Cimarron’s headwaters—a reach managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as Wild Trout Water. The other protects flows on the Cimarron River from its confluence with the Little Cimarron to the Gunnison River. These environmental protections were secured in 1984, 101 years after the first pioneer diverted water from the Little Cimarron.

Little Cimarron reach downstream of the McKinley Ditch intake structure

A dry reach of the Little Cimarron downstream of the McKinley Ditch intake structure

When used in-stream, the project’s water will add several cubic feet per second of flow to the driest reaches, but benefits will accrue to almost ten miles of river. As part of building the most complete project possible, the Trust has studied flows, fish and bugs in the river for two years to gain a good picture of the baseline conditions. When the project is implemented, we can track how those populations respond. This tracking is part of a formal Stewardship Program attached to all projects the Trust completes.

But even with all the effort put in already, there are still many unanswered questions, particularly about how the yearly operation of the project and ranch will work. We can’t truly answer that question until we have the legal right to use the water for both instream flow and irrigation. As we move forward, we will try to build enough flexibility into each step so that by the end we can manage the project according to what works, rather than what we told ourselves would work.

At that September 2014 CWCB board meeting, one board member told the Trust, “It takes gumption to irrigate.” We believe him whole-heartedly. And most importantly, we’re learning, sharing water in Colorado will require it, too.

Zach Smith has been the staff attorney at the Colorado Water Trust since 2010. After college, he did a stint as a reporter in the newspaper business, writing for such publications as High Country News and the Santa Fe Reporter. A Denver native, Zach graduated from University of Denver Sturm College of Law where he focused on environmental and water law. During school, he interned with Denver Water and the Natural Resources and Environment Section of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.  After graduation, Zach worked briefly as a water policy analyst for a San Diego City Council member before coming back to Denver to work at the Trust. He is a 2013 Colorado Foundation for Water Education Water Leader Alum and Vice President of the Colorado Watershed Assembly.

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Call it a compact: Why examining the limits of Colorado River sharing is key to a successful state water plan

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The declining water level of Lake Powell, shown in April 2014, is evidenced by the white bathtub ring on rock walls that were once underwater. Photo by Mike Jones

By Greg Trainor

As Colorado’s Water Plan moves forward through a year of revisions, there remains in the background a larger, most-worrisome issue of diminishing supply across the wider Colorado River Basin. This is evident from the dropping water levels of lakes Powell and Mead during the last 13 years. In 2014, these two major water storage reservoirs for the arid West reached all-time lows.

Colorado’s Water Plan is partially made up of eight individual river basin plans that hope to settle water supply allocations among themselves for various uses. However, like the interstate compacts that govern the use of Colorado’s rivers crossing state lines (there are nine such compacts between Colorado and adjacent states), the Colorado River Compact, on a larger, river-basin scale, already divided the waters of the Colorado River in 1922 among seven states that share the Colorado River Basin, and, in doing so, set the limits of water usage that those states have to live with in times of drought and short supply.

The Colorado River Compact of 1922 is an agreement among the states whose boundaries lie within the Colorado River Basin in the western United States. The idea for the compact was to insure water would be available for states experiencing slow economic growth even as other states were experiencing strong economic development. The water of the Colorado River, less a portion of water for Mexico, was divided in half—half going to the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and parts of Arizona, and half to the lower basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada.

The 1922 Colorado River Compact divides the flows of the Colorado River Basin between the four upper and three lower basin states.

The 1922 Colorado River Compact divides the flows of the Colorado River Basin between the four upper and three lower basin states. The upper basin can not cause the annual flow measured at Lee Ferry, Ariz., to fall below 7.5 million acre-feet or 75 million acre-feet over a 10-year running average. 

Failure of the upper basin states to maintain the required volume of water to the lower basin could result in the lower basin states “calling” for their half of the water, with the upper basin being required to temporarily forego diversions. The volume required to reach the midpoint between the upper and lower basins at Lee Ferry, Arizona, is 7,500,000 acre-feet per year or 75,000,000 acre-feet over a 10-year rolling average.

To be more specific about the magnitude of the threat of little water, Colorado depletes about 2.5 million acre-feet annually from the Colorado River system, which equates to just under half the water used across the entire state. Of this amount, 1.1 million acre-feet is pre-1922 Compact water, while 1.4 million acre-feet, or 56 percent, is post-1922 Compact water. Post-1922 water would be the portion of Colorado’s water usage that would be most vulnerable in the event of a “call.” Ceasing those diversions would amount to a large reduction in use, not only on Colorado’s West Slope, but also along its Front Range, as water for transmountain diversions moving from west to east of the Continental Divide make up 43 percent of those post-1922 depletions.

It is certain that suspension of use would be mitigated or avoided if at all possible. However, long-term avoidance would have to be predicated on a rising supply and measurable reduction in demand across the entire upper Colorado River Basin, providing evidence that shortages would not be permanent.

In years of drought, the Compact minimum flow obligation poses a problem. A diminishing supply would have to be shared among not only upper basin users but also the lower basin users making the “call.” To thwart the contingency of the upper basin states having to cease or seriously curtail their water use, Lake Powell was constructed to store water in years of abundance and, then, in times of want, to supplement the 75,000,000 acre-foot requirement.

In the late 1990s, Colorado Basin water planners discussed the issue of how water surpluses could be shared and allocated. Then came the drought of 2002, and discussions changed focus to shortages. In 2005, the Secretary of the Interior directed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to develop additional strategies for improving coordinated management of the reservoirs of the Colorado River system. In response, Reclamation initiated a process to develop operational guidelines that can be used to address the operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead during drought and low reservoir conditions.

Signed by the Secretary of the Interior and representatives of the seven basin states, the agreements were designated as “Interim Operational Guidelines” and included water level targets in lakes Mead and Powell to insure that various activities could continue unabated, such as the production of hydroelectric power. The parties recognized that as time marched on, the guidelines and their underlying hydrologic assumptions would have to be re-examined to account for changing climate, supply and demand conditions, and shortages.

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Lake Mead, created by Hoover Dam, is a major storage supply on the Colorado River for the lower basin states. Shown in Feb. 2014, it was on its way toward reaching a historically low water level.

Simple observation of water levels in lakes Powell and Mead show us that lake levels are not “filling or spilling” but continue to drop. A conclusion? Current supply to the lower basin, and therefore the upper basin, is at risk. To date, the winter of 2014-2015 has produced snowpack at below-average levels. Additionally, as one attempts to look into the future by using past evidentiary data (paleohydrology), the conclusion is that future water supplies could be at risk as well. The evidence shows that it was common for drought to extend for decades.

Further complications arise. Colorado’s Water Plan is being developed today, in 2015. Review and modification of the Interim Operational Guidelines for Powell and Mead, affecting the Compact, are targeted for 2026-2030, 11 years hence. So how does one plan the wedding when the guest list isn’t drawn up until right before the ceremony? Or said another way, the review of the guidelines will include discussion of how to handle shortages of water, water that Colorado’s Water Plan may have already divided up. Envision the state policy makers and the guideline negotiators with their fingers in the same pie, each at their own party.

Ironically, the lower Colorado River Basin is the most vexing part of Colorado’s state water plan. Discussion of Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and its conceptual criteria for the development of additional transmountain diversions from the state’s wetter West Slope to its urbanized East Slope addresses the Colorado River Compact in this way: “continued conversations and negotiations among the Basin States…are sensitive “ and “Colorado does not want to pre-judge the outcome of these discussions.” The developers of Colorado’s Water Plan know there could be sensitive interbasin outcomes in 2026 that are at cross purposes to the state water plan of 2015. The solution for now, it seems, is to kick the can down the road and hope that things “work out”—more water, less demand.

At least one basin roundtable has recognized the problem and is wrestling with the numbers, many numbers. This is a good sign that others are working on the problem. The 1922 Compact is not the only constraint on the Colorado River System. There are others that could restrict Colorado’s water usage. For example, how does Colorado measure up against the state’s percentage allocated in the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948, which divides the upper basin’s share between the four upper basin states? How does Colorado reconcile the Bureau of Reclamation’s determination of a 6-million acre-foot limit for the upper basin (compared with what was once assumed to be 7.5 million acre-feet)? What about depletion caps for recovery of endangered fish?

If we believe the data that reveals a future gap in Colorado’s municipal water supply of up to 538,000 acre-feet, should we not be including in Colorado’s Water Plan the most aggressive solutions to closing the gap? These could include the talked-about “insurance policy” to avoid the risk of Lake Powell dropping below minimum levels that would trigger a “call,” moving up re-negotiations of the Interim Operational Guidelines to gain more clarity of future requirements, serious discussion of importation of Mississippi River Basin water from beyond the state, desalination for fulfilling the U.S. Colorado River water obligation to Mexico, and land use mandates to decrease domestic water consumption to a certain maximum gallons per capita per day. Even legislative integration of a water component in local land use planning and development codes ought not to be dismissed as we look for solutions.

Until we see Powell and Mead water levels increase, the success of Colorado’s Water Plan rests on reduced demand. Decisive action is needed to solidify this policy. Increasing supply only works when climate favors us and water is available. Decreasing demand works both ways. In times of increased supply, decreased demand is a dividend and maintains water in storage. The rest of the time, decreased demand is the only way of staying within our ever-decreasing water supply.

City ID Photos

Greg Trainor retired as the public works/utility director for the City of Grand Junction in March 2014. He was actively engaged in many water issues relative to his work: utility construction, endangered species, parks and trail development, storm water and sanitary sewage discharges, use of compressed natural gas as an alternative fuel for public works vehicles, water rights development, kayak park development, and active engagement in Colorado’s State Water Plan (2015). Greg has also been a member of the River Management Society for 15 years. He is the vice-president of the SW Chapter and has edited and authored submissions for the RMS Journal, organized and participated in the RMS Ranger Rendezvous, planned Chapter floats, and volunteered for the BLM in Desolation Canyon during the 2013 and 2014 river seasons. Greg served as town manager of the Town of Rangely in the late 1970s, worked on the development plans for the Battlement Mesa New Town with ARCO Coal Company’s community development group, and was project manager with the Colorado River Water Conservation District for the Taylor Draw Dam and Hydroelectric Plant, located on the White River in western Rio Blanco County.

waterplancoverwebCheck out the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s newest issue of Headwaters magazine, covering the development of Colorado’s Water Plan, a roadmap for managing the state’s limited water resources in the face of drought, climate change and rapid population growth. And read up on the Colorado River Compact and the state’s other water-sharing agreements in CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado’s Interstate Compacts.

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View from the Grand Valley: Municipal and agricultural partnerships

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Part of Grand Junction as seen from the Colorado National Monument and sandwiched by the Book Cliffs on the northern horizon. Photo by Ed Fiske Photography

By Greg Trainor

“In times of change, the learners will inherit the earth while the knowers will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” —Eric Hoffer

The search for pure water is a staple activity of Colorado municipalities. Historically and contemporaneously, this search has followed the trail directly to the door of agriculture. “Mountain water…at any price” was a directive of the City of Grand Junction in the late 1890s and resulted in the city acquiring, via its powers of eminent domain, the most paramount water right from ranchers along Grand Mesa’s Kannah Creek. Called the Paramount Water Right, it was only a sliver of each farm’s water right but the lesson was clear: When threatened with the absence of water, cities have the power to get it, by whatever means, even if by condemnation.

This raw power carries with it the responsibility for domestic providers to seek alternatives to “buy and dry” before turning to the use of the district courts (“buy and cry”).

KC Intake

Grand Junction acquired water from the Kannah Creek diversion, west of the Grand Mesa, between 1907-1911 by condemnation.

By today’s arithmetic, new future population may represent the “have-nots” in terms of water supply. The numbers tell the tale: Estimated supply minus projected demand equals deficits. These deficits point to statewide supply gaps in Colorado that range between 538,000 and 813,000 acre-feet of water by the year 2050. New uses, population growth, political power, and climate change are pressuring the demand, and that demand is pressuring supply. With these deficit numbers, who or what will fill the gaps? Agriculture, some say. Assuredly Colorado’s draft state water plan is maintaining options to go to ag in the coming times of want.

At the West Slope four-basin roundtable meeting on December 18, 2014, in Grand Junction, preserving agriculture in the draft water plan was a recurrent theme of discussion. Why preserve agriculture? “We have to eat” goes without saying. Agriculture is also part of our economic foundation. Historically, it is an enterprise of small business. Basin water planners want to give the little guys a chance against the juggernaut of large cities, large oil shale and energy, and large recreation. Agricultural water use is not 100 percent consumptive and, as such, contributes to other important values, such as recreation, instream flows, and wildlife habitat. Agriculture accounts for more than 86 percent of the water used in the state and is the logical bank to meet future water demand. Finally and ironically, agriculture and cities share assets that are good for both enterprises, offering the use of water from the agricultural side and the use of financial capital from the municipal domestic side. It is a simple fact that cities can raise large amounts of money through their utility enterprises. This urban treasury can be used to insure the longevity of agriculture.

The Ute Water Conservancy District, servicing the greater part of the Grand Valley in western Colorado, is the state’s largest municipal water supplier west of the “Divide.” Although Ute Water has supplies from the Federal Collbran Project of the early 1960s, it is acquiring additional agricultural water rights from the slopes of the Grand Mesa. This is an essential insurance policy against projected “gaps” between growing demand and existing water supply. Ute’s agricultural program purchases ranch lands and leases properties back to ranchers until Ute needs the water. This same template is employed by the City of Grand Junction and has been in effect since the earliest decades of the last century. Although the demand for water has not overshot supply from the Kannah Creek area, the city maintains its option to share supply between its treated water system and the agricultural operations of its own ranch lands. Through physical interconnections between Ute Water and the city’s delivery systems, it is also possible for Ute to benefit from the city’s surplus ag resources.

In other cases, Ute acquires the ag water only, leasing water back to ranchers, and then, when Ute needs the water, it takes the water off the land. Both arrangements allow the rancher capital and operating funds to continue a ranch operation without immediately drying up the land and maintaining diligence on the agricultural water decrees without threat of abandonment. But these two methods beg the question: What happens when Ute’s demand becomes permanent and the transfers of water result in the “dry,” many years after the original “buy?”

“We need agriculture,” says Larry Clever, general manager of Ute Water, referring to the many benefits agriculture brings to our communities. He continues, “Our buying needs to profit agriculture from now until 2050, and a hundred years beyond that! We have a long-term relationship with ag and we plan to maintain that.”

Others add that we need water for habitat and instream flows and we need a compatible relationship that takes what agriculture has to offer (water) and gives what a domestic water rate base has to give (money). With water and money in play, alternative agricultural transfers and assets can be developed. This is so that water is available for both agricultural and municipal uses through conservation on both sides of the equation: improved water delivery methods and alternative watering practices on the ag side, and demand-side reductions on the urban development side.

Leadership will be needed to visualize the complicated mechanisms that will preserve agriculture. Rather than simply paying money, taking water, and drying land, the municipals have the obligation to craft solutions that keeps water flowing through the system. Those in a similar position as Clever is at Ute Water may not like this, but the water utility manager becomes the urban land use manager, perhaps seen as a demotion by long-time utility managers who would rather leave the politics of land development to others. But water is politics.

This transition may have already happened in Ute’s case. Like its partnership with agriculture in the watershed, a second relationship has developed between Ute Water and the six major irrigation providers in the Grand Valley. The Grand Valley has a unique dual water system. As agricultural lands transition to urban development, the ag water is required to be used on the property for outdoor irrigation unless, of course, the development is xeric or absent water completely. If a developer does not have irrigation water shares, he has to go into the market and purchase those shares, a miniature “buy and dry.” This has the effect of causing development to ponder its costs and where it wants to invest its money. This ag irrigation water reduces the demand on Ute’s treated water system.

One wrinkle occurs when irrigation water is in short supply and the demand on Ute’s treated water system increases. People have less irrigation water for outdoor use, so increase their use of treated water to make up the difference. To suppress this rise in treated water demand, Ute increases charges for treated water: conservation via the water rate.

Ute is making use of the agricultural water without actually acquiring it. By taking advantage of water that is no longer being used for agriculture but, rather, is associated with land being purchased for development, Ute is able to maintain its domestic infrastructure without investing in expensive enlargements.

Each municipal/agricultural relationship requires a unique, local solution. Ute Water is an excellent example of crafting local solutions based on local characteristics. Each stream segment, drainage, canal system, and reservoir has its own distinct geographic fingerprint, its own water rights “genealogy,” its own historical water use, and, as a result, its own return flow characteristics. For example, some positive ideas to conserve agricultural water may result in reduced water availability to others downstream. The converse may also be true. “Preservation of agriculture” demands that suppliers and users mine their collective thinking for workable, local solutions.

hwcover29To learn more, see the annual “Water Course” sponsored by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, February 11, 18, and 25 6 to 9 p.m. This year’s focus is Water for Agriculture. And check out past coverage from the Colorado Foundation for Water Education in Headwaters magazine’s Fall 2012 issue, “Rooted in Colorado,” which explored agricultural efficiency, soil health, and the economics of ag.

City ID PhotosGreg Trainor retired as the public works/utility director for the City of Grand Junction in March 2014. He was actively engaged in many water issues relative to his work: utility construction, endangered species, parks and trail development, storm water and sanitary sewage discharges, use of compressed natural gas as an alternative fuel for public works vehicles, water rights development, kayak park development, and active engagement in Colorado’s State Water Plan (2015).

Greg has also been a member of the River Management Society for 15 years. He is the vice-president of the SW Chapter and has edited and authored submissions for the RMS Journal, organized and participated in the RMS Ranger Rendezvous, planned Chapter floats, and volunteered for the BLM in Desolation Canyon during the 2013 and 2014 river seasons.

Greg served as town manager of the Town of Rangely in the late 1970s, worked on the development plans for the Battlement Mesa New Town with ARCO Coal Company’s community development group, and was project manager with the Colorado River Water Conservation District for the Taylor Draw Dam and Hydroelectric Plant, located on the White River in western Rio Blanco County.

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Filed under Agriculture, Headwaters Magazine, Water Supply