Summer 2014

People & Organizations

Brennan Passes

Doris Brennan, a 12-year member of Animas-La Plata (A-LP) Water Conservancy District Board of Directors, passed away on May 20th. She was 94. Doris retired from the A-LP Board in 2009. Those who knew her commented on her “eye for detail and memory,” sense of humor, and perseverance.

Fitzgerald Award

Healthy forests directly contribute to healthy watersheds. Related to this, a local forester, Gretchen Fitzgerald, with the San Juan National Forest, recently received a distinguished Regional Forester’s Honor Award for her work to restore burned areas and help design for mitigations for potential stresses from climate change. Gretchen acquired two grants totaling $1.2 million through the National Forest Foundation. Funding came from Chevrolet and Disney corporations in exchange for carbon offsets.

Genualdi New CDWR Division 7 Engineer

The Colorado Division of Water Resources has appointed Robert Genualdi as the Division Engineer for the Dolores/San Juan Durango Office. The Division is responsible for administering water rights, groundwater well permitting, hydrography, and dam safety in the Basin.

Gunderson Steps Down

Steve Gunderson, Director of the Colorado Water Quality Control Division (WQCD), will retire after nearly a decade of service in which he helped to develop stronger regulations to protect the state’s rivers and streams. Steve has served with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment since 1989. He rose to prominence in the 1990s during his work with the state as a leader in the cleanup of the polluted nuclear weapons production site at Rocky Flats near Boulder.

Montgomery Chair of CWCB

April Montgomery is the newest chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). Montgomery, a longtime San Miguel County resident, was elected to the position in March. She will serve one term and has served on the board since 2009. April also served as the San Miguel County representative on the Southwestern Water Conservation District board for more than 12 years before becoming the representative for the Southwest Basin Roundtable on the CWCB.

New SWCD Board Members

The Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) recently added three new members to their Board of Directors: Preston Gotezke, Rusty Hinger, and Jenny Russell.

MWCD Finishes Canal-Lining Project

The Mancos Water Conservancy District (MWCD) finished lining the Jackson Lake canal, which is no longer in danger of crumbling into a canyon. The life expectancy of the canal is now about 50 years after $3.9 million in improvements. The canal, built in the 1940s, winds its way for several miles along the edge of a mountain by way of closed pipes, box flumes and open canal, and provides water to about 250 irrigators and storage for the town of Mancos. The canal is capable of carrying 258 cubic feet per second during runoff. Based on snowpack this spring, MWCD Superintendent Gary Kennedy is hopeful the canal may fill the reservoir to 70 percent of capacity. The design work for the rehabilitation project started in 2003, and the MWCD focused on the areas of the canal that were at risk. Congratulations MWCD on much hard work, perseverance, and a job well done!

MWCD Considers Jackson Gulch Reservoir Ownership

The Mancos Water Conservancy District (MWCD) is looking into the process of taking ownership of the Jackson Gulch Reservoir, the canal, and all the associated land from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). "It may be slow and hard and cumbersome," said James Hess, BOR's title transfer coordinator. He said transfers of ownership can take several years and some negotiations have stretched for 15 years or more depending on the complexity of the project.

PAWSD

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) now offers AquaHawk Alerting for their customers. It is a free service that will allow customers to efficiently manage their water use. After registering, AquaHawk Alerting helps customers to manage water consumption, create a monthly water budget, and detect potential water leaks. For more information contact the PAWSD administrative office at (970) 731-2691.

Current Events

National Water Policy?

American water policy has long been the subject of scholarly criticisms. The fractured nature of U.S. water policy has been criticized for decades. In an effort to address some of these concerns, countless commissions, councils, and studies have been established and conducted. All have called for new directions in water policy and better planning, evaluation, and coordination. Over the decades, concerns about water supply and development continue to mount. These concerns consistently point to the need to establish a national water commission to assess future water demands, study current management programs, and develop recommendations for a comprehensive strategy. Some researchers view the fragmented nature of water policy as being based on attitudes and perceptions about water in general and that prolonged water shortages and droughts may be a catalyst to change attitudes. In other words, when physical limits of water are reached, the political arena will change. Perhaps the catalyst to change attitudes has arrived.

Colorado Water Plan

In June, each of the basin roundtables submitted their draft implementation plans to the CWCB. The CWCB will review basin plans in July. Then the huge challenge will be to incorporate each of the basin plans all into the larger Colorado Water Plan and provide a draft to Governor Hickenlooper by his imposed deadline of December 2014. In May of this year, the Governor signed legislation (SB115) that instructs the CWCB to have hearings in each basin and for the draft plan to be presented to the Legislature’s interim committee on water resources.

Recreation at Lake Nighthorse

While Lake Nighthorse filled in 2011, it is still not open to the public for recreation. To help address and alleviate growing public concerns and outcries about this, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) provided an update to the public on recreation at Lake Nighthorse on June 18th in Durango. There were approximately 100 in attendance.

Durango’s New Whitewater Park Opens

The Whitewater Park in-stream construction that began November 2, 2013, is finished and opened on April 18th.  Features of the $1 million project include eddies, flow deflectors, and four bank-to-bank drop features that create large rapids, said Scott Shipley, Olympic paddler and designer of Durango’s Whitewater Park.

The Value of McPhee Reservoir and the Dolores River, by Mike Preston

McPhee Reservoir is the centerpiece of the Dolores Project, which expanded irrigation to 28,500 acres of land from Yellow Jacket to Dove Creek and to 7,600 acres of Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch operations. These irrigated lands produce some of the highest-quality dairy hay in the West, along with a variety of other crops, including 640 acres of native seed that is being used to restore BLM lands across the west. The project also provides water to a growing number of smaller vegetable producers.

Water Quality / Conservation

New Program Pays Users to Conserve Colorado River Water

Farmers, cities, and power plant operators could soon be paid to cut their use of the Colorado River under a new interstate program aimed at keeping more water in Lake’s Powell and Mead. The four largest communities fed by the Colorado River will contribute millions of dollars into a fund to help farmers and industrial operations pay for efficiency improvements and conservation measures to cut their water use. Known as the Colorado River System Conservation Program, it will be seeded with $2 million each from the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, Denver Water, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Another $3 million will come from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

California Could Save Up to 14 Million Acre-Feet of Water

According to a new analysis released by the Pacific Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council, California could be saving up to 14 million acre-feet of untapped water--providing more than the amount of water used in all of California’s cities in one year--with an aggressive statewide effort to use water-saving practices, reuse water, and capture lost stormwater. “Our current approach to water use is unsustainable, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t enough water to meet our needs,” said Kate Poole, NRDC senior attorney with the water program. “At a time when every drop counts, we need to employ sensible and cost-effective 21st century solutions that will help us reduce uses today while promising new, resilient supplies for cities and farms tomorrow.” “As climate change brings more extreme weather, including droughts, ramping up forward-thinking solutions now will help us be more resilient,” said Peter Gleick (pictured right), president of the Pacific Institute.

Goosing the West Slope

“The Western Slope needs to be goosed,” says Chris Treese, of CRWCD. “Frankly, the Front Range has led most of the water-conservation efforts in Colorado to date.” In an effort to rectify this, numerous mountains towns in Colorado are devoting more attention to water conservation and efficiency. Altogether, Colorado is talking more about efficiency and conservation and in Denver; three separate bills were introduced into the Colorado Legislature this winter.

Warmer Temperatures Expedite Hybrid Trout Takeover

When two species mate, their offspring end up with new names like ‘pizzly’ (a grizzly and polar bear pairing) or ‘sparred owl’ (for barred owl and spotted owl hybrids). According to a June High Country News article, the more rare species in such couplings face a far worse fate--hybridization can be a path to extinction.

Water Law

Public Trust Doctrine

In an ongoing effort to inform the public and water community alike, this is the second in a four- part 2014 series related to the Colorado Public Trust Doctrine (PTD) issue. For reference, a four-part series ran in 2013 as well.

Senate Bill 23

On June 5th, Governor Hickenlooper vetoed Senate Bill 23, an agricultural water conservation bill crafted over the course of a year in close partnership with many water interests, including the Governor’s own water policy experts. The bill was designed to incentivize the implementation of irrigation efficiency improvements that would ultimately benefit agricultural operations and Colorado’s rivers and streams. Interestingly, the bill would have only affected West Slope irrigators. Under the bill’s provisions, ranchers, farmers and other agricultural water users could voluntarily implement irrigation and water efficiency measures and ensure that water they save would benefit Colorado’s rivers without risking abandonment of their water rights or harming other users. The result would have been increased private investment in upgrades to and modernization of irrigation infrastructure, healthier rivers and streams, and more resilient farms and ranches. SB 23 had support from many rural Coloradans, major water providers, Colorado’s leading conservation organizations, and Colorado Water Congress, the state’s leading voice for water policy.

HB 14-1222

Governor Hickenlooper signed a bill on May 30th in Pagosa Springs that is designed to boost geothermal energy use in Colorado. House Bill 14-1222, sponsored by Rep. Mike McLachlan (D-Durango), provides an incentive for investments in Colorado’s growing geothermal industry by reducing the threshold at which a county may issue bonds for the construction or expansion of a geothermal project from $1 million to $500,000. The bill also extends the repayment period for the bonds from 10 to 15 years.

Energy and Water

Hydropower Production Threatened

According to a February memorandum from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), both Lake Powell (of the Upper Colorado Basin) and Lake Mead (of the Lower Colorado Basin) could soon become too low to operate their hydropower plants if conditions don't improve. At the May 14th Southwest Basin Roundtable (SBR) meeting in Cortez, John McClow, Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission, provided an overview of this developing situation on the Colorado River. Water shortages from a persistent drought in the Southwest have left both lakes dangerously low, threatening electric supplies that are relied on by 5.8 million customers.

New DOE Hydropower Study

According to an April 29th Denver Business Journal article, Colorado and other western states are being positioned as ground zero in what appears to be a potential massive new push by the federal government to develop new hydroelectric power capacity in the U.S. That’s the underlying assumption in a new study by the U.S. Department of Energy. The report, New Stream-Reach Development Resource Assessment, by the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, estimates that 65 gigawatts of additional hydropower could be developed nationwide—3.8 gigawatts in Colorado. To put that into perspective, 65 gigawatts of power is roughly equivalent to all the existing hydropower in the U.S. today. In Colorado, 3.8 gigawatts of hydro nearly approaches all of the existing hydroelectric power being generated in the entire Colorado River basin, including Flaming Gorge, Glen Canyon Dam, and Hoover Dam, as well as the Aspinall Unit dams on the Gunnison River.

Southwest Colorado Small-Scale Hydro

If you are interested in developing small-scale hydro projects in southwestern Colorado, particularly ditch drops and pressurized irrigation (including center pivots), visit the Colorado Small Hydropower Association website. At a workshop held in Durango on May 19th, it was clear there are many agricultural hydropower opportunities in southwestern Colorado, thanks in part to new federal and state incentives.

Roundtable Update

Southwest Basin Roundtable

At their May Southwest Basin Roundtable (SBR) meeting, John McClow, Colorado Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission, gave a presentation on the history of the compacts guiding the administration of the Colorado River. John detailed the Lower Basin apportionment and Upper Basin compliance requirements resulting from these agreements, the sustained regional drought, and how the Law of the River has been adapted through the 2007 Interim Shortage Guidelines, and Minute 319 to temporarily address shortages. John explained the hydropower and operational impacts should Lake Powell’s elevation fall below the minimum power pool (see ‘Hydropower Production Threatened’ story under the water and energy section of this newsletter), and contingency plans currently being discussed to address those impacts. Roundtable members asked questions about the presentation. 

WIP News

Annual Children’s Water Festival

The 19th Annual Children’s Water Festival was successfully conducted on May 7, 2014 at Fort Lewis College. This was the largest festival to-date, with more than 900 fifth graders attending from 44 classes in the Dolores/San Juan River Basin. Classes came from Aztec, Bayfield, Cortez, Dolores, Dove Creek, Ignacio, Mancos, Pagosa Springs, and Silverton. More than 100 volunteers, in the form of student guides as well as presenters, made the festival possible. Most of the presenters represented area natural resources and water-related agencies. Thank you volunteers and the Southwestern Water Conservation District--the annual sponsor of the festival for an educational, fun, and successful day and event!

Forests-to-Faucets Teacher Training Workshop

Complete with a pair of bald eagles closely flying overhead, the 3rd Annual Forests-to-Faucets Teacher Training Workshop was successfully conducted June 26th and 27th in the Cortez/Dolores area. The workshop was partially funded with a grant from the SWCD. The Water Information Program cosponsored the event with Mountain Studies Institute and the San Juan Mountains Association. The workshop was well received by all participants, as one comment illustrates: “I have been to a lot of workshops, so I am really particular about the ones I choose to attend. Forests-to-Faucets was excellent. Well done.” The goal of the two day intensive, in-the-field workshop is to provide tools and resources for teachers to help them educate their students about various water issues and topics. The workshop qualified for one continuing education credit for educators from Adams State University, as well as 11 contact hours. Thank you everyone who participated and helped!

WIP’s Participating Entity, SWCD, Update

At their June 10th Board meeting the following grants were funded by the SWCD: 

Water History

McElmo Flume

Flumes are a method to divert water to a desired location. In contrast to a ditch or trench, a flume is man-made channel for water, in the form of an open declined gravity chute whose walls are raised above the surrounding terrain. Most flumes were wooden troughs elevated on trestles, often following the natural contours of the land. In 1878 a ditch company was formed in Montezuma Valley for the purpose of diverting water from the Dolores River for agricultural irrigation purposes. Canals were dug and flumes were built, and by 1889 the project was complete. In April of 1888, the Montezuma Journal called the system, “…one of the greatest irrigation enterprises, not only in the state, but in the West.”

Miscellaneous Facts

Facts: Utility-Associated Metals Theft

Since we are growing increasingly aware of the water and energy interrelationship, we thought you might be interested in the following electric utility facts: