Board Of Directors To Talk Drought Task Force, Colorado River Hydrology, Government Affairs and Outreach Efforts.

On October 17-18, the Colorado River District Board of Directors will meet in Glenwood Springs for the Fourth Quarterly General and Enterprise meeting of 2023.

Staff will present updates on projects and priorities with some action items requested from the Board. Public memos for the meeting are available HERE (.pdf). A full agenda is available here (.pdf). The public may attend virtually by registering HERE or attend in person at our office, 201 Centennial Street, Glenwood Springs, CO.

NOTE: much of the first morning of the meeting may be held in executive session.

Some highlights from the agenda include:

Drought Task Force Digs In

Created by Senate Bill 295 during the 2023 legislative session, the Colorado River Drought Task Force is charged with developing actionable recommendations for the 2024 General Assembly to guide the state in providing additional tools for Colorado water managers other relevant stakeholders as they respond to drought and hotter, drier conditions.

In the General Manager’s Report within the board memo (page x), Andy Mueller, the Colorado River District’s lead representative on the Task Force, examines some of the parameters for this work. In recent meetings, the group has examined some potential intra- and inter-state tools and studies already informing current drought mitigation work. The timeline for the Task Force to reach consensus on these issues is tight, with recommendations due by December. The Colorado River District Board of Directors approved this document of ‘Guiding Principles’ for their appointed representatives.

Hydrology Update – Water Year 2024 Begins

As always, foundational context for board members during each quarterly meeting comes from the hydrologic data and projections for the Western Slope, the state, and the Colorado River Basin region. In his board memo, Director of Science and Interstate Matters Dave “DK” Kanzer summarizes the wild ride of Water Year 2023 and our first steps into Water Year 2024, which began October 1.

According to the memo, water supply conditions remain good across the District, with average soil moisture conditions. Healthy carryover storage is projected for most of the reservoirs on the West Slope. However, late summer and early fall conditions have become markedly dry, increasing concerns about largescale wildfires and a return to drought conditions across much of the Basin.

Looking ahead to the fall and winter, models predict a return to the El Niño cycle with significant warming of sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean. This pattern often means increased precipitation in the southwestern United States, however, these long-term outlooks contain a tremendous amount of uncertainty. Either way, the exit of La Niña after three winters in row is a welcome relief.

The conditions of the large, downstream reservoirs Lakes Mead and Powell also play a significant role in water-management decisions across the West Slope and the state of Colorado as a whole. Using the Bureau of Reclamation’s 24-month study from August 2023 and incorporating the releases from Powell in accordance with the 2007 Interim Guidelines, levels in Powell are projected to be 20 feet higher this time next year. Levels in Lake Mead will benefit from wetter-than-average conditions and related decreased demands. Releases from Hoover Dam (just over 7.6 million-acre feet) were the lowest annual release volume in the modern era .

External Affairs

Updates from the District’s External Affairs Team will include a summary of the recent Annual Water Seminar and a look up upcoming outreach opportunities. State Affairs during this interim session began quietly but have recently picked up speed. Issues of interest include Colorado’s compliance with the Sackett v. EPA ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court concerning Waters of the United States (WOTUS). The Water Resources and Agriculture Review Committee has requested that 16 bills be drafted in preparation for the 2024 General Assembly.

Federal Affairs updates will include a discussion around the progress of U.S. Representative Lauren Boebert’s Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Endangered Fish Recovery Programs Reauthorization Act (HR 4596); A look at work being done to make NRCS’s PL-566 watershed program implementation nimbler; and the fate of the 2023 Farm Bill in light of recent budget deals designed to keep the government open and functioning.

Guest Speakers

The Colorado River District intentionally makes time in each quarterly board meeting to hear from a variety of guest speakers and expert voices. During this meeting, the River District Board will welcome Lauren Ris, newly appointed CWCB Director, and Greg Felt, Chair of the CWCB Board, for a conversation around Colorado Water Conservation Board’s priorities and further partnership development with the Colorado River District.