Demand Management Discussions to Continue at Fourth-Quarterly Board Meeting

After the close of the tumultuous Water Year 2021, the Colorado River District’s Board of Directors will spend their fourth quarterly meeting, October 19-20, focusing on significant issues facing the District’s fifteen-county constituency.

The full agenda for the meeting and public information packet is available here, and below is a summary of a few of the topics to be covered in depth.

DUE TO LIMITED CAPACITY, PUBLIC ATTENDANCE IS ONLY PERMITTED VIA ZOOM. You can register to listen to the meeting live at: https://crwcd-org.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIucuqpqDkqH9JvS_eF6DjHxdLZTeFiyC7L

Demand Management

While the idea of demand management has been a pillar of the Drought Contingency Plan since 2019, it continues to be a challenging topic for the West Slope, Colorado, and the Upper Basin States.

In plain language, “demand management” is a government-sponsored program that incentivizes and enables the voluntary, temporary, and compensated reduction of consumptive water use and storage of the conserved water in one or more of the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) reservoirs above Lake Powell — Aspinall, Flaming Gorge, or Navajo. The sole purpose of the program would be to help the Upper Basin States remain in compliance with the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

However, many significant questions – practical, economical, and ethical – have yet to be addressed including the role of the state versus local oversight; the economic/environmental impacts of fallowed fields; the equity of participation between Front Range and West Slope; the absence of a system needed to accurately measure/shepherd the conserved water; and the long term effects of such a program on local communities.

During the Board of Director’s third-quarterly meeting in July, the Board asked Colorado River District staff to put together recommendations for next steps in approaching Demand Management on the West Slope. After the release of a thorough and complex stakeholder report, staff has provided the board with a draft concept to discuss at the upcoming meeting.

Andy Mueller, the District’s General Manager, offered the following statement about the role which this conceptual proposal will play in the discussion:

“Many organizations refer to such a proposal as a ‘strawman,’ but given the often-controversial nature of demand management, staff at the River District refers to this proposal as a ‘punching bag’ i.e., something concrete to start the conversation but designed for everyone to feel free to criticize, improve upon, or reject.”

Hydrology

The District’s Technical Team will update the Board on the current state of soil and atmospheric moisture, streamflow, reservoir levels and operations, as well as current forecasts regarding the upcoming water year.

In short, a multi-decadal drought continues. 2021 was the second driest year in terms of unregulated inflow into Lake Powell in the modern era, just behind water year 2002 at 31% of average. The combination of well-below average precipitation, above average temperatures, dry soils that have plagued the basin since the fall of 2019, and strong regional water demands, water levels have plummeted in Lakes Powell and Mead. This prompted the Bureau of Reclamation to declare the first ever Tier 1 shortage in the Lower Basin, despite the above average summer 2021 monsoonal flow season.

With most long-term forecast models predicting a La Niña cycle winter, a great deal of uncertainty remains surrounding the Colorado River’s foundational snowpack for the next year.

Early calls from Cameo and on the Yampa River were examples of how historic low stream flows have already impacted river health and water management. Shoshone Outage Protocols (ShOP) were also a focus of the last three months, with ongoing repairs to dam operations and damage from mudslides preventing Shoshone from operating at full capacity and playing its historic role in water management on the Colorado River mainstem.

Community Funding Partnership

On the brighter side, the Board will have the opportunity to approve staff recommendations for funding more crucial West Slope water projects through the Community Funding Partnership (CFP) grant program. Nearly one year after voters approved Ballot Measure 7A, establishing the CFP’s fiscal foundation, the program has awarded over $2 million dollars in grants to multi-benefit water projects across the District. Through intensely collaborative partnerships, these grant monies have also leveraged over $30 million in total funding.

Amy Moyer, Director of Strategic Partnerships, will provide a summary of the following new projects for which CFP funds will be made available with Board approval:

  • Stewart Mesa Ditch Diversion Improvement Project in Delta County
    • Staff recommends grant award of $200,000
  • The Yampa River Forest Restoration Project in Routt County
    • Staff recommends grant award of $150,000
  • The Crystal River Restoration at Riverfront Park in Garfield County
    • Staff recommends grant award of $100,000
  • Wolf Creek Reservoir Project Permitting
    • Staff recommends grant award of $330,000
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