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Colorado Water Plan-Three Key Goals for the West Slope.

June 03, 2015

With less than 7 months remaining before the final draft of the Colorado Water Plan (CWP) is delivered to Governor Hickenlooper, the plan still needs to provide actionable direction on some important issues. Improving agricultural operations and increasing river flows, support for basin specific stream management plans which enable all water users to manage river flow regimes, and continued opposition to trans-basin diversions which will harm the environment and/or economies of western Colorado are all core issues.  In response to the most recent CWP public comment deadline, Trout Unlimited has submitted three key principles to the Colorado Water Conservation Board which we believe are crucial to addressing these issues.

Principle #1:  The Colorado Water Plan should support innovative water management techniques and irrigation infrastructure upgrades that improve agricultural operations and increase river flows.

Why is this principle important?

  • Rural and semi-rural communities in Colorado rely on flowing rivers and streams to support their primary livelihoods: agriculture, recreation, and outdoor tourism.  These industries are the backbone of Colorado’s economy, heritage, and quality of life.
  • Water shortages, the conversion of agricultural water rights to municipal uses, and the deterioration of irrigation infrastructure all detrimentally impact agriculture in Colorado. Likewise, lowered flow regimes, reduced springtime flushing flows, and increased water temperatures all detrimentally impact aquatic and riparian habitat and outdoor recreation and tourism.
  • Innovative water management techniques and irrigation infrastructure upgrades can improve agricultural operations and benefit river flows at the same time. Across Colorado, TU is working with agricultural groups and individual water users to develop such projects. The Colorado Water Plan should promote these projects because of their importance to Colorado’s agriculture, recreation, and outdoor tourism industries and our economy, heritage and quality of life.

 

How can the CWP promote this principle?

  • We fully expect that the Colorado Water Plan will acknowledge that, under the status quo, increases in municipal and industrial water demand will adversely impact agriculture and the environment. The plan should identify ways to avoid this negative outcome.
  • First, the Colorado Water Plan should identify new funding opportunities that enable agricultural and conservation interests to continue to implement innovative water management techniques and irrigation infrastructure upgrades that benefit agriculture and the environment. Funding for these projects is critical.
  • Second, the Colorado Water Plan should recommend that the Colorado General Assembly enact substantive legislation that will facilitate these projects. Senate Bill 2014-23 and House Bill 2015-1222 were missed opportunities that Colorado should revisit.

 

Principle #2:  The Colorado Water Plan should provide funding to ensure that each basin roundtable adopts a stream management plan (SMP) and implements projects to meet gaps identified through the SMPs.

 

Why is this principle important?

  • Stream management plans would identify flow needs for environmental and recreational water uses. SMPs will enable both consumptive and non-consumptive water users to cooperatively manage streams and rivers to meet beneficial flow regimes within the structure of the prior appropriation system.
  • Agricultural, municipal and industrial water use has been quantified and adjudicated for 130 years in Colorado. Environmental and recreational uses have only recently been recognized as beneficial. As such, water flow needs for healthy rivers and streams remain largely unquantified.
  • Basin roundtables have been directed to identify “gaps” in water needs for all users, including environmental and recreational uses. SMPs would develop information to quantitatively identify environmental and recreational gaps.

 

How can the CWP promote this principle?

  • The Colorado Water Plan should instruct each basin roundtable to adopt SMPs that identify minimum flow regimes needed for all stream segments identified as having environmental or recreational value in a BIP.
  • While there need not be a prescribed format for the SMPs, each SMP should:
    • Identify minimum flow needs for environmental and recreational water uses.
    • Incorporate ecological and recreational values and goals identified in the basin roundtable’s BIP.
    • Identify the actions and opportunities to maintain or improve flow regimes.
  • The Colorado Water Plan should provide dedicated funding, through the CWCB Projects Bill, Water Supply Reserve Account or other annually-recurring funding sources, to each basin roundtable to prepare SMPs and to help fund implementation of projects addressing needs identified through those SMPs. The roundtables can contract with outside consultants and utilize other resources as necessary to prepare the SMP documents.
  • Providing funding for the implementation of projects under SMPs will help ensure investment in these vital public water needs which lack a “user pays” funding mechanism as for other types of water uses. Funding for SMP projects could also encourage multi-purpose projects that serve both consumptive and non-consumptive water needs.

 

Principle #3:  Consistent with the “Conceptual Framework,” the Colorado Water Plan should reject all new trans-basin diversions (TBDs) unless the project proponent (1) is employing high levels of conservation; (2) demonstrates that water is available for the project; and (3) makes commitments that guarantee against environmental or economic harm to the basin of origin.

 

Why is this principle important?

  • The Front Range diverts approximately 550,000 acre-feet of water from the West Slope annually. Plans are in place for additional transbasin diversions. Environmental impacts to the affected rivers have been, and will continue to be, substantial.
  • Through the “Conceptual Framework,” Front Range water users propose additional TBDs that would only divert water during very wet cycles. Such diversions have the potential to eliminate flushing flows in the affected rivers and undermine Colorado’s ability to meet downstream delivery obligations.
  • The Colorado Water Availability Study (CRWAS) concluded that, under the Colorado River Compact, the amount of available Colorado River water on the West Slope ranges from as little as zero to as much as 1 million acre feet annually. The Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Water Supply and Demand Study estimates that Colorado is overusing its share of the upper Colorado River by as much as 6% per year. If Colorado is overusing its compact share, development of additional TBDs will result in serious impacts to West Slope rivers and to communities across the state.

 

How can the CWP promote this principle?

  • The Colorado Water Plan should reject all new TBDs unless the project proponent (1) is employing high levels of conservation; (2) demonstrates that water is available for the project; and (3) makes commitments that guarantee against environmental or economic harm to the basin of origin. The Colorado River collaborative agreement is an example of how these concepts can be applied in a real-world setting.
  • The CWP must clearly state that additional environmental or economic harm to West Slope communities from TBDs is unacceptable.

 

Trout Unlimited and the Our Colorado River http://www.ourcoriver.com/  program continue to support healthy rivers and streams and the western Colorado communities that depend on them. As the CWP heads into the final stretch (final plan on Dec. 10th, 2015) your initial or continued input is needed now more that ever. In the coming weeks the basin roundtables will submit their revised basin implementation plans to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). CWCB staff will then incorporate those revisions into a second draft CWP to be issued for public review on July 15th. The final public comment period will end two months later on September 17th.  Whatever water related issue is on your mind, make a comment and let’s get it in the plan http://coloradowaterplan.com/ .

 

Richard Van Gytenbeek-TU’s Colorado River Outreach Coordinator.

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