Tag Archives: President’s Award

Eric Kuhn, 2017 Diane Hoppe Leadership Award

TONIGHT, Friday, May 12th, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education will celebrate water education and water leadership at its annual President’s Reception.  Each year, CFWE honors the work of a Coloradoan who has a body of work in the field of water resources benefiting the Colorado public, a reputation among peers and a commitment to balanced and accurate information, with the Diane Hoppe Leadership Award. This year, CFWE will recognize Eric Kuhn with the Colorado River District with this award.

Register here to attend the President’s Reception tonight at 6 p.m. at the Denver Art Museum. We’ll enjoy refreshments, a fun evening with friends, and our first ever LIVE AUCTION. We can’t wait to see you there!

Eric Kuhn, 2017 Diane Hoppe Leadership Award Recipient

By Greg Hobbs

Eric Kuhn WEB 1Eric Kuhn, “big thinker, deep thinker,” is how his colleague Jim Pokrandt describes him. Thirty-six years ago, in the spring of 1981, Kuhn moved from southern California to join the Colorado River District’s staff as assistant secretary engineer. As an electrical engineer, he served as a Navy submarine officer, earned a master’s in business administration from Pepperdine University, and worked with Bechtel Corporation’s power group on the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

One of then-secretary engineer Rolly Fischer’s “greatest accomplishments” was hiring Kuhn, writes George Sibley in Water Wranglers a 75th anniversary history of the River District. “Whatever Kuhn might have lacked in water experience, he more than made up with a quiet and quick creative intelligence.” Another district colleague, Chris Treese, credits him with “maintaining harmony” in a 15-county district “naturally divided between tourism-dependent headwaters counties and more traditional ranching and mining counties.”

Harmony? Well, yes, maybe, for sure, and at times! The River District’s 15 board members are appointed by the boards of county commissioners representing a huge expanse of western Colorado, from west of the Divide to the Utah border, from the north slope of the San Juans to the Wyoming border. Differences are sure to arise given the changing needs and desires of sub-basins therein, but having common forums like the River District board is a good way to hash them out.

In 1937, just for such a purpose, the Colorado General Assembly created the Colorado River Water Conservation District together with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Water Conservancy District Act. The River District’s statutory mission is to “safeguard for Colorado, all waters to which the state of Colorado is equitably entitled under the Colorado River Compact.” In my preface to Sibley’s book, I describe this legislative charge as “an unusual example of tucking the outside skin of the fruit into its core and exposing its flesh to potential consumers.”

On becoming the River District’s general manager in 1996, succeeding Rolly Fischer, Kuhn assumed the neck-wrenching duty of keeping one eye on six downstream states and the Republic of Mexico, while keeping his other eye roving up and down Colorado’s Front Range spotting opportunities to protect western Colorado water. When he’s at home in Glenwood Springs, he focuses both eyes on an early morning bike ride along the Roaring Fork River and the Colorado River.

It’s at the conjunction of waters Kuhn works best. As a young River District engineer, he constantly hit the road to becoming an intrastate and interstate water diplomat. As a member of the Western Slope Advisory Council, Kuhn helped former Governor Richard Lamm’s Metropolitan Water Roundtable examine possible alternatives to Denver Water’s proposed transbasin diversion, Two Forks Dam and Reservoir.

Parked in No-Go throughout the 1980s, one of the project’s alternates was an exchange of water up the Blue River through the West Slope’s more senior Green Mountain Reservoir (1935 priority) to Denver’s junior Dillon Reservoir (1946 priority), for transport through Denver’s  Robert’s Tunnel. After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Two Forks veto in 1991, this exchange materialized as a separate project with construction of the River District’s Wolford Mountain Reservoir on Muddy Creek north of Kremmling, completed in 1996. Some of this water goes to protect the endangered Colorado River fish while some goes to Denver by exchange. Some is for West Slope use. Kuhn and former River District engineer Dave Merritt collaborated with Denver Water’s Manager Chips Barry, to get this joint-use project up and running.

The key to the deal was keeping intact the senior downstream Shoshone hydroelectric water right in Glenwood Canyon (1902 priority), in the face of Denver’s multidecadal, unsuccessful federal court effort to assert a domestic preference for the water over West Slope uses. Denver Water and Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict (in mitigation for the Windy Gap Project at the junction of the Fraser River and the Colorado) contributed funds to Wolford Mountain Reservoir’s construction and subsequent operation.

None of this was any more complicated than any other matter involving the Colorado River. Protecting Colorado’s water allocation under the 1922 Colorado River Compact requires an ongoing all-Colorado commitment to preserving Lake Powell’s water delivery equalizing function with Lake Mead, while implementing the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. Not to be forgotten in this milieu of water governance and politics is the cooperation of environmental groups, the Colorado Water Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, the seven Colorado River Basin states, the Republic of Mexico, and the U.S. Congress. Healthy-as-can-be riparian habitat up and down the Colorado River, as it runs from Rocky Mountain National Park to the Sea of Cortez through Lake Powell and Lake Mead, is a goal worth pursuing. But achieving this in the midst of wicked drought, like the one we’ve just seen, is daunting.

Colorado’s new water plan, coordinated through the Colorado Water Conservation Board, nine local basin roundtables and a statewide Interbasin Compact Committee, aspires to many more collaborative agreements, like the Wolford Mountain agreement and the more recent Colorado River Cooperative Agreement that Denver Water, the River District and a score of others have entered into. When planning future projects, failure to take into account the risk of even greater droughts risks the state’s future.

This is why Kuhn rides his bike, gaining both a physical workout and thinking time. The Colorado River’s been good to him. He met his wife, Sue, in Glenwood Springs. They’ve raised their beloved daughters Hallie and Kenzie there. It’s a brainy, nuclear family composed of engineering, medical laboratory, bio-tech, climate change problem-solving geeks.

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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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