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Major Colorado River players announce conservation push

Near critical shortages in California prompt action

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Heading downstream … bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With Colorado River water supplies disappearing at a dizzying rate, and with a thirsty — and politically mighty — California parched by drought, the biggest water users at the table said this week they’ll invest $11 million to try and conserve significant amounts of water across all sectors, including including agricultural, municipal and industrial uses.

The Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority all signed on to what is being presented as a landmark water conservation agreement aimed at demonstrating “the viability of cooperative, voluntary compensated measures,” according to a press release from Denver Water. Continue reading

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Op-Ed: Happy Birthday, Colorado River – long may you live!

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No room for mistakes in the Colorado River Basin.

Conservation has to be the centerpiece of local, state and regional water planning efforts

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — When Congress 93 years ago formally renamed the Grand River as the Colorado, it probably didn’t have any inkling about what the mightiest river in the West would be subjected too early in the 21st century.

Now far removed from that era of hopeful development, the river is over-exploited from beginning to end. Headwater streams are diverted to water acres of bluegrass lawns in Denver, and mountain resorts mindlessly draw down tributaries for snowmaking during the low-flow season, just when trout most need the water.

Just this week, scientists said they’ve documented an astounding rate of water loss in the basin from groundwater pumping alone, which may turn out to be a worse problem than we think, groundwater development is state-regulated, therefore not as closely tracked as the diversions and storage related to major reservoir operations.

And all the pressures have intensified in recent years: More population growth, more development, more demand for food and irrigation, a 14-year dry spell across the West and a warming climate. Even without manmade global warming, ancient trees tell us that the region has seen longer and more intense droughts in the past few thousand years.

The Colorado is tapped out. Continue reading

Colorado: Water plan briefing in Vail today

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Water, water everywhere – for now. @bberwyn photo.

Colorado business community weighs in on water principles

Staff Report

FRISCO — Vail and Eagle County residents will have a chance to get up to speed on an emerging state water plan today (July 10), with a lunchtime briefing at Donovan Pavilion in Vail, 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered work to begin on the statewide water plan in May 2013; a draft is due to the Governor’s Office no later than Dec. 10, 2014, with the final plan complete by December 2015.

Business leaders have developed statewide business community water policy principles to be part of Colorado’s Water Plan and are seeking regional input to finalize the principles. Working through local business chambers, this statewide initiative seeks local feedback on the principles, which address the business and economic development needs of Colorado.

Speakers include:

  • Tom Binnings of Summit Economics will discuss the economics of water from a statewide perspective.
  • Linn Brooks of Eagle River Water & Sanitation District will share local water operations and policy, and discuss needs in the Eagle and Colorado River basins.
  • James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board – the state agency tasked with drafting the Colorado Water Plan.
  • Bryan Blakely of Accelerate Colorado and Mizraim Cordero of the Colorado Competitive Council will discuss the business community water policy principles.

Colorado: Forest Service comment letter shows breadth and depth of impacts from Denver Water’s diversion plan

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More water from the West Slope? Not the best idea, says the U.S. Forest Service. bberwyn photo.

Current plan underestimates impacts to water and wildlife

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — As currently spelled out, Denver Water’s plan to divert more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River will result in unacceptable impacts to wildlife and other resources on publicly owned national forest lands, the U.S. Forest Service wrote in a June 9 comment letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Forest Service also wrote that the creation of a pool of environmental water in an expanded Gross Reservoir doesn’t compensate for the loss of two acres of wetlands and 1.5 miles of stream habitat that will be lost as a result of the expansion. Continue reading

Colorado: Not much love for proposed new water diversions

EPA raises questions about compliance with Clean Water Act

Denver Water plans to increase transmountain diversions through the Moffat collection system will be up for comment at a pair of upcoming meetings.

Denver Water plans to increase transmountain diversions through the Moffat collection system is not drawing rave reviews, as numerous entities have expressed significant concerns about impacts to water quality. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For all the detailed information in the 16,000-page study for Denver Water’s proposed new water diversions from the Western Slope, there are still more questions than answers, according to formal comment letters filed in the past few weeks.

As currently configured, the proposal to shunt more water from Colorado River headwaters streams to the Front Range could worsen water water quality in many streams that are already feeling the pain of low flows, EPA water experts wrote in a June 9 letter. Continue reading

Colorado: Statewide snowpack way above average

South Platte Basin snowpack at 315 percent of average

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Big snowpack lingers in Colorado Rockies. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Rivers in northern Colorado will continue to flow at high levels for several more weeks, water watchers said last week, releasing the results of the June 1 snowpack survey. While runoff season is well under way, the remaining snowpack in the Colorado River Basin is still 223 percent of median and 80 percent higher than last year’s snowpack on June 1.

The most snow lingers in the South Platte Basin, where the snowpack is at 311 percet of median. All basins north of the Gunnison are well above average, but the state’s southern basins have nearly melted out, continuing a run of drought conditions and heightening concerns about this summer’s fire season. The Rio Grande Basin and the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins are at 59 and 39 percent of median, respectively. 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

Colorado: Wrangling continues over proposed new transmountain diversion, reservoir enlargement

Boulder County gets high-level backup on request for comment period extension on major new transmountain water diversion

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Will the public get more time to review and comment on the final environmental study for the largest proposed water project in years?

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Boulder County’s request for more time to comment on the proposed Moffat Tunnel Collection System expansion got some high-level backup this week, as Sen. Michael Bennet formally asked the federal government for an extension.

Denver Water’s proposed new diversions from Colorado River headwaters in Grand County, specifically the Fraser River, are under federal scrutiny as the Corps considers issuing a permit for the enlargement of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. The federal agency released the final version of a massive environmental study in April, setting a June 9 deadline for comment.

The agency received about 400 requests for an extension, many of them via a form letter. Boulder County also requested an extension, citing the need for more time to read the detailed technical reports and other documents that are part of the study, but regional Corps of Engineer Commander Joel Cross decided not to provide more time. Continue reading

Environment: Feds won’t extend public comment period on plan to divert more water from Colorado River

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Colorado water wars may heat up as feds refuse to extend comment period Denver Water’s plan to gulp yet more water from the Colorado River. bberwyn photo.

Massive environmental study hard to digest in just 45 days

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — If you were hoping to comment on the entire massive environmental study for Denver Water’s proposal to divert yet more water from the Colorado River to the Front Range, it’s time for some some speed reading.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week that there will be no extension of the formal comment period despite a slew of requests for more time. And it’s not just environmental groups that asked for an extension. Boulder County, where there will be major impacts from the expansion of Gross Reservoir, requested more time to comb through thousands of pages of technical reports and data, but to no avail. Continue reading

State of the river: Winter snows dispel some Colorado drought woes

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Will El Niño bring a wet summer to Colorado?

Most northern reservoirs expected to fill with above average snowpack and runoff; southern basins, southeastern plains still under drought gun

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Reservoirs in the northern and central Colorado high country will fill on schedule this year, water managers said Tuesday at the annual Summit County state of the river meeting, outlining their expectations for river flows and runoff volume in the Blue River Basin, a crucial water source area for both sides of the Continental Divide.

Most speakers focused was on these headwaters, but statewide maps also showed much of Colorado’s southern tier with below to well-below average snowpack — down to 50 percent in the Upper Rio Grande Basin, according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Colorado snow survey program.

The dry conditions in parts of the eastern San Juans are part of regional Southwest drought footprint, which is increasing demand for this year’s runoff. Southeastern Colorado’s plains are still experiencing Dust Bowl conditions, along with parts of the adjacent south-central plains.

Troy Wineland, water commissioner for the Blue River Basin, said headwater streams in the Blue River Basin are flowing at twice their average volume for this time of year, with peak runoff yet to come. Generally, the Blue River and its tributaries reach peak flows some time in mid-June, though the exact timing is weather-dependent, Wineland said. The state of the river meetings continue the next few weeks with sessions up and down the Colorado River. Details here. Continue reading

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