Colorado: Water sharing a good deal for rivers

State water board, conservation group team up to create innovative new water rights agreement

By Bob Berwyn

Photos courtesy Colorado Water Trust

* Tools like the Little Cimarron agreement could be used to improve environmental conditions in many of the state’s rivers, and the evolving Colorado Water Plan can help identify places where deals like this could be used. Read more about the Colorado Water plan here.

FRISCO —For thousands of years, the Little Cimarron River trickled out of the snowfields of the San Juan Mountains, coursing unimpeded through steep alpine canyons and rolling sagebrush foothills before merging with the Gunnison River.

That changed when European settlers arrived in the region. Eager to tame the rugged land, ranchers and farmers took to the hills with shovels and picks, diverting part of the river’s flow to water hayfields and pastures. The back-breaking work brought the imprint of civilization to the area, but just as surely wrought huge changes to natural systems that had been self-regulating themselves since the end of the last ice age.

Like nearly every other river in Colorado, the Little Cimarron was free-flowing no more. Continue reading

Colorado: More lip service, but no action on water conservation

Snake River melt-off.

Snake River melt-off.

Gov. Hickenlooper vetoes measure that could have benefited all Colorado water users, including the environment

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Colorado’s old-school water buffaloes are more than willing to pay lip service to conservation, but when they actually have a chance to walk the walk … well, it’s business as usual.

Bowing to pressure from agricultural users, Gov. John Hickenlooper this week vetoed a bill that would have encouraged voluntary conservation measures and given incentives for private investment in conservation. Continue reading

Water: Study identifies major ‘leakage’ from Lake Powell

Advocacy group says research shows that maintaining Lake Mead at a higher level could save water, help restore Colorado River ecosystems


The water level in Lake Mead has been on a downward trend in recent years.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The porous sandstone along the shore of Lake Powell may soak up as much as 380,000 acre-feet of water each year — more than Nevada’s entire annual allocation of Colorado River water, according to a new study by hydrologist Thomas Myers.

The research, published in the Journal of the America Water Resources Association, supports the idea of reconfiguring the way water is stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead with the overall goal of using the Colorado River in the most efficient way possible, according to Glen Canyon Institute director Christi Wedig.

“At a time of impending water shortages, it is imperative to maximize efficiency the Colorado River storage system,”  Wedig said. “Dr. Myers’ study has confirmed that Lake Powell is a major source of water loss, and a potential source of major savings. Continue reading

Environment: All eyes on the Colorado River

The paradox of water in the desert, illustrated by a NASA satellite image of the Colorado River.

The paradox of water in the desert, illustrated by a NASA satellite image of the Colorado River.

Projected water shortages spur more conservation and  collaboration

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Federal agencies say they will try to offer leadership, technical expertise and — perhaps most importantly — money, as southwestern states grapple with what could be significant water shortages in the Colorado River Basin during the coming decades.

At a major water powwow in California this week, all the major stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin said they’re ready to work together to find a long-term, systematic solution to the potential long-term imbalance between the Colorado River’s future supply and projected demands.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation‘s latest effort outlined three major areas — agricultural conservation and transfers, municipal/industrial conservation and reuse, and environmental flows — that will be the subjects of immediate focus in a series of ongoing work group sessions. Continue reading

Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper seeks statewide water plan


Water pours down the Blue River in the high runoff of July 2011. Bob Berwyn photo.

Governor says state must figure out a way to address impending shortages

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Colorado water experts will try to figure out how to manage the state’s most precious resource in an era when all signs points to increasing shortages and the potential for growing conflicts within the state and the region over its allocation.

Under an executive order issued this week by Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Colorado Water Conservation Board will lead the effort to address the growing gap between supply and demand. Especially worrisome is the gap in the South Platte Basin, the state’s most populous and at the same time, the most productive agricultural basin.

Hickenlooper acknowledged that the recurring drought could hasten the impacts of the gap between supply and demand, noting that the past two decades have been Colorado’s warmest on record, dating back to the 1890s. Read the order here. Continue reading

Drought watch: Planning for the future

Summit County looks ahead …

Summit County’s Straight Creek.

By Karn Stiegelmeier and Gary Martinez

The reality of a drought here in Summit County, the State of Colorado and now nationally may make County residents wonder what is being done locally to ensure the availability of water supplies. Fortunately, the summer monsoon weather cycle has brought much needed rain over the last several weeks and temporarily reduced the fire danger and water demands for some uses.

However, water policy planning, water rights acquisition and resource development take years to implement, requiring political will and significant financial commitments that go well beyond whatever current weather pattern we might be experiencing.

The Board of County Commissioners works in the water arena in two major ways. First, to provide water locally to certain residential, agricultural and commercial customers, and for other projects that benefit the public generally such as the hospital development, environmental restoration, and stream flow enhancement for environmental and recreational purposes.

The County has a long tradition of appropriating and acquiring water resources to meet the current and future needs of its citizens. It has built an extensive water rights and water storage portfolio and has adjudicated a county-wide augmentation plan that provides a legal water supply for out-of-compliance or new residential wells and other water needs. Continue reading

Denver Water: ‘Use only what you need’

Drought watch 2012

Denver Water promotes conservation, but new developments along Tower Road, near DIA, still include acres of bluegrass lawn and unsustainable irrigation practices, including sprinkler watering during high winds. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

*Editor’s note: This is one of an occasional series of contributed articles highlighting water conservation efforts in Colorado.

By Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager of Denver Water

Denver Water is leading the way in water conservation in Colorado, helping customers with an ambitious goal: Use 22 percent less water than before the 2002 drought. And the plan is working. Denver Water customers are using 20 percent less water than they were before 2002 — and there are nearly 10 percent more of them.

Denver Water started promoting water conservation as early as the 1920s, but following the drought of 2002, Denver Water customers embraced a cultural shift in how they value water. One of the primary drivers for this culture change has been Denver Water’s advertising campaign. The campaign helps customers appreciate the value of water by encouraging them to “Use Only What You Need.” A 2011 survey found that almost 95 percent of respondents recognize the advertising campaign.

Aside from the campaign, several programs and rules encourage customers to use water wisely. Large irrigation customers, such as homeowners associations and commercial properties, can earn $6,000 per acre-foot of water saved by developing a plan to cut water use by at least 3 acre-feet a year. In the past five years, Denver Water has signed 68 contracts with those customers (with more in the works), saving an estimated 510 acre-feet of water per year — the annual amount used by roughly 1,275 households. Continue reading


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