Agenda & memos for our most recent Quarterly Meeting of the Board of Directors.
Public forum on Friday, May 24 will highlight ongoing efforts to enhance snowfall
ASPEN, CO – Regional snow science experts will host a public cloud-seeding brown-bag lunch workshop on Friday, May 24, 2019, from noon to 4:30 p.m. at the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners office (530 E. Main Street) in Aspen. Lunch is at noon; program starts at 1 p.m.
Friday’s workshop will provide educational information on longstanding cloud-seeding operations in the central Rockies and recent proposals to expand the practice as a component of drought planning efforts in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Specific topics of discussion will include public and ecological safety, increasing local and regional Colorado River water supplies, and the economics of snowfall enhancement. -More-
WESTMINSTER — Colorado officials and regional water managers are poised to start working together on a plan to reduce water use in Colorado, mainly by paying willing irrigators to fallow hay fields, in order to bolster falling water levels in Lake Powell and guard against a compact call on the Colorado River system.
After a series of meetings held last week by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and by Western Slope and Front Range water interests, state officials are now set to begin investigating the feasibility of a “demand management” program that’s “voluntary, temporary and compensated,” and water users and managers throughout Colorado will be asked to help shape the new program.
“Demand management, reduction in consumptive use, is an incredibly threatening concept to western water users, and certainly to West Slope water users,” Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River District, told a ballroom full of water professionals Friday during the last day of a three-day Colorado Water Congress meeting here. “Our agricultural community is concerned that what this is really about is taking water from ag and bringing it into urban areas.” -More-
Kremmling, CO – The Colorado River District this spring will replace the main outlet gate at the Wolford Mountain Reservoir dam. At its January 16, 2019 Board meeting, Colorado River District Directors approved a $444,000 contract with Marine Diving Solutions LLC of Centennial, Colo. to take out the old gate and install a new stainless steel one purchased previously by the District and being fabricated in Massachusetts.
A large, floating work platform will be assembled to hold a crane, divers’ decompression chamber, work trailer, diving equipment and the gates as they are removed and installed. The work platform will be assembled near the boat ramp from the 8- by 10- by 40-foot segments when the reservoir is ice free and towed to the outlet tower. -More-
HOTCHKISS, CO – To mark the start of a large two-year irrigation canal construction project, a group of partners in the North Fork of Gunnison River Basin is hosting a public celebration on January 8 on Rogers Mesa to be followed by a free lunch and project presentation at Memorial Hall in Hotchkiss.
The coalition of partners will break ground on the Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project with a short ceremony on-site at 10 a.m. (parking at the intersection of L and 3100 Roads) followed by lunch beginning at 12:30 p.m. at Memorial Hall to share details of the cooperatively funded initiative.
The public is invited to attend both events to learn about the $4.6 million project that will convert more than four miles of open, unlined, earthen canal to a buried, large-diameter pipeline. When completed, the project will pipe the Fire Mountain Canal from east of Leroux Creek and will extend all the way to its end near Stingley Gulch.
The Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project is part of the regional Lower Gunnison Project (LGP) that is being managed by the Colorado River District, a water conservation district based in Glenwood Springs. -Full Press Release-
Glenwood Springs, CO — The U.S. Senate on Tuesday wrapped a most welcome holiday gift – passage of the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill, officially known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, emerged from a long-delayed conference committee on Monday, quickly received kudos from Agriculture Secretary Perdue, then passed the U.S. Senate with strong bi-partisan support on an 83-17 vote.
The Colorado River Water Conservation District applauded the Farm Bill’s passage, noting several of its important provisions.
“The critical drought resiliency provisions included in this bill will help to ensure Colorado’s farmers and ranchers can adapt to a changing climate while continuing to provide food and fiber to the nation,” said Andy Mueller, General Manager of the Colorado River District. “We appreciate the commitment that Senators Bennet and Gardner have shown to our farmers, ranchers and rural communities.”
The Farm Bill provides a five-year extension to numerous farm, nutrition, forestry, research and environmental programs, including new flexibility in grant programs that will help the arid West address on-going and persistent drought.
The legislation also authorizes renewal and extensive application of existing water conservation and efficiency programs such as pioneering conservation programs that the Colorado River District is leading alongside irrigators in the Gunnison basin.
The Farm Bill also provides increased funding for critical projects and programs that can assist the Colorado River basin in avoiding catastrophic Compact administration – where Colorado River water users statewide could be shutoff in order for the state to meet its contractual water delivery obligations to downstream states.
For more information please contact Chris Treese, 970.945.8522, ext. 219 or Zane Kessler, 970-945-8522, ext. 240
Excerpt from article: Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, told the Grand Canyon News, “There is clearly enough evidence that if we were to have another 2000 to 2004 kind of a multiyear drought, the system is in very serious trouble.”
A sticking point for any negotiation on water use is the question of fairness. The river system supports 40 million people from Colorado to California. Water managers must weigh whether to cut supplies to farms or to growing cities.
“Somebody’s going to have to use less,” Kuhn said. -Full Article-
Washington, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet secured a provision to protect Colorado’s watersheds from invasive species in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which passed the Senate today 99-1.
“Aquatic invasive species pose a serious threat to headwater states like Colorado—damaging water infrastructure and harming ecosystems,” said Bennet. “Colorado is one of the few states without an invasive mussel infestation. Additional inspection stations will bolster our state’s efforts to prevent an infestation and protect local economies.”
The provision directs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to establish, operate, and maintain new or existing watercraft inspection stations to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species in the Upper Colorado River Basin, South Platte River Basin, and Arkansas River Basin. The provision also authorizes the Army Corps to assist states with rapid response efforts in the case of an infestation of quagga or zebra mussels.
“The spread of quagga and zebra mussels across the country and throughout our nation’s water storage and delivery infrastructure is alarming,” said Andy Mueller, General Manager of the Colorado River District in Western Colorado. “This provision comes at an important time and will help to bolster state-led efforts to inspect and prevent mussel infestations in Colorado’s waterways. I want to thank Senator Bennet for his leadership and success on this important issue.” -More-
The general manager of the Colorado River District on Friday voiced strong criticism over what he fears is a lack of transparency when it comes to discussions over how to manage water in response to drought.
Andy Mueller raised his concerns during a district water seminar in Grand Junction that focused on contingency planning measures aimed at responding to the potential of a continuation of a long-term drought within the river basin.
Mueller specifically cited the district’s understanding that Colorado and other states may execute a series of documents as soon as the end of the month, including a demand-management plan for states in the Upper Colorado River Basin.
“We have a very serious concern that we haven’t seen the demand-management document. We haven’t seen what it is our Upper Colorado River commissioner is potentially going to sign within the next month,” Andy Mueller said. -More-
Excerpt from article: “We know if we have another drought, the risk of draining Lake Powell is real,” said Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District and chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable. “If we have another year as bad as this one, you’re going to see lots of discussions about who’s going to take reductions. We really need three, four, several years of average or above average snow years to get us out of this pickle.” – Full Article-
Colorado River District Statement on Upper Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Planning Documents
Upper Colorado River Commissioner, James Eklund, along with staff from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and Colorado Water Conservation Board, hosted a webinar this morning to present, for the first time, draft documents outlining the framework of Drought Contingency Plans for the Upper Colorado River Basin states.
Andy Mueller, General Manager for the Colorado River District, issued the statement below following the webinar and subsequent posting of the draft plans for public review:
“I want to thank Commissioner James Eklund, First Assistant Attorney General Karen Kwon and Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Rebecca Mitchell for bringing Colorado’s water community together for a review of Drought Contingency Planning (DCP) efforts today. I appreciated their making the draft DCP documents available for public review.”
“The Colorado Water Conservation Board also deserves thanks for directing an outreach program on these important but controversial water management issues in the coming weeks. We applaud the recent direction from the Board requesting the CWCB staff to draft and present a proposed policy to guide the CWCB in the coming efforts to develop a Demand Management Program. We continue to encourage the Board to make sure that any Demand Management Program in the state of Colorado is voluntary, compensated, temporary and that water for such a program comes from conservation measures on both sides of the Continental Divide.”
“These Plans will undoubtedly shape the ways we use water here on Colorado’s West Slope, and they should require coordinated conservation efforts on both sides of the Continental Divide to protect water uses tied to the Colorado River.”
“We look forward to being part of this important conversation going forward.”
Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River District, presented six principles last week to guide an emerging federal and state program designed to reduce water use in order to avoid a compact call on the Colorado River.
Mueller spoke at a seminar produced by the River District in Grand Junction that attracted 265 people. The theme of the seminar was “Risky Business on the Colorado River.”
The first two principles Mueller described Friday at the meeting relate to a legal bucket-within-a-bucket that the upper-basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming plan to create through federal legislation in Lake Powell, which would allow the three states to control water that they deliver to the big federal reservoir through a demand management, or water-use reduction, program. -More-
Colorado River District Opposes Amendment 74 and Proposition 112
The Colorado River District’s Board of Directors is opposing two statewide initiatives that will appear on the Colorado ballot this November. At a special meeting held in September, the Board voted unanimously to oppose Amendment 74 and Proposition 112.
The Board of Directors, which represents 15 western Colorado counties covering nearly one- third of the entire state, moved to oppose the initiatives due, in large part, to the direct negative impacts that both would have on West Slope water management efforts.
In final resolutions released this week, the River District’s Board described Proposition 112 as an “overly-aggressive proposal creating a de facto statewide ban on oil and gas production” that would “devastate the state’s economy and cripple state and local government budgets including the Colorado River District’s.”
Proposition 112, they argued, would also significantly reduce state severance tax revenues that support water projects and programs statewide – including important environmental, conservation and water quality programs administered by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
In their resolution opposing Amendment 74, the Board of Directors described the proposed constitutional amendment as “ill-advised, poorly constructed and fraught with unintended consequences harmful to Colorado’s waters and water users.”
The Directors were unanimous in their concerns with Amendment 74. Their Resolution specifically points to concerns that “the risk and expense associated with Amendment 74 would predictably result in the State of Colorado losing state authority to implement the federal Clean Water Act to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with attendant adverse impacts to Colorado’s streams, rivers and water users.
West Slope Local Governments Join Forces to Boost River Flows
Garfield County Commissioners Join West Slope Municipalities to Provide Water from Ruedi Reservoir for Environmental and Agricultural Needs Downstream
Garfield County has joined the Towns of Carbondale and Palisade, the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, and the City of Aspen in a collective effort to contribute more than 1,500 total acre feet of unscheduled “contract water” held in Ruedi Reservoir for agricultural and environmental needs a long the lower Roaring Fork River and farther downstream on the Colorado River.
The Colorado River District was first approached by the Town of Carbondale with an offer to provide some of the Town’s unused, uncommitted water in Ruedi Reservoir for downstream needs. The River District then approached other local governments with unused reserves in Ruedi to join in the effort. The table below outlines the total contributions by individual governments taking part in the most recent contributions.
“When it comes to drought, we’re all in this together” said Jay Harrington, Carbondale’s Town Manager. “We recognized there were multiple needs downstream that weren’t being met and we wanted to do what we could to help.”
The unusual and generous move by local governments in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River Basins follows previous efforts this dry summer that utilized reserves in Ruedi Reservoir to satisfy downstream irrigation needs known as the “Cameo Call,” a suite of historic agricultural water rights near palisade in the Grand Valley.
The Colorado River District and Ute Water Conservancy District previously contributed a combined total of 8,000 acre feet from late July into September. Those contributions were used to substitute water that would have typically come from Green Mountain Reservoir’s “Historic Users Pool” (HUP) to satisfy the Cameo Call. But the HUP was depleted far earlier than usual due to extremely dry conditions in western Colorado last year.
XTO, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, followed suit in September with 5,000 acre feet of Ruedi releases to provide water for endangered fish species in what is known as the Critical 15-Mile Reach between Palisade and the Colorado River’s confluence with the Gunnison River.
“2018 was a horrible water year for all of us on the West Slope” said John Currier, Chief Engineer for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District. “This is a good example of folks from both ends of the basin coming together to assist their neighbors and the environment.”
Governmental Entity and Water Contribution:
Town of Carbondale – 250 Acre Feet
Town of Palisade – 162 Acre Feet
Snowmass Water and Sanitation – 400 Acre Feet
City of Aspen – 400 Acre Feet
Garfield County – 350 Acre Feet
As Colorado River Basin reservoirs drop to near-record low levels, possibility of unprecedented water shortage declaration rises
The Colorado River is so strained amid population growth and climate shift to hotter, drier conditions that federal water managers may declare an unprecedented “shortage” and cut releases from reservoirs. The feds are imploring Western states to do more now to cut water use.
A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation forecast issued yesterday for water in the Colorado River – an over subscribed lifeline for 40 million people – anticipates declaration of a shortage in September 2019 that would trigger the reduced water releases from federal reservoirs in “lower basin” states including Nevada and Arizona.
Colorado and other ‘upper basin” states of Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico would face increased scrutiny of flows from headwaters into the Lake Powell reservoir. On August 15, 2018 Lake Powell measured 49% full and Lake Mead measured 38% full. -More-
River District and Feds Work to Boost Flows in Fryingpan and Roaring Fork Rivers, Supply Water for Grand Valley Irrigators
Coordinated Releases Aim to Reduce Pressure on Green Mountain Reservoir While Benefiting Fisheries and Mitigating Fire-Related Water Quality Issues.
The Colorado River District is working with state and federal water managers to increase flows in the Fryingpan River by as much as 100 cubic feet per second (cfs), helping trout in the watershed survive warm temperatures while supplying water for downstream irrigation needs in the Grand Valley.
Anticipated releases are expected to range between 50 cfs and 100 cfs and will be coordinated between the River District, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase flows in the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers downstream from Ruedi Reservoir.
“This should significantly benefit flows below Ruedi Reservoir,” said John Currier, Chief Engineer for the District. “We expect that the supplement flows may also help to mitigate water quality problems anticipated from fire-related ash and debris flows stemming from the Lake Christine Fire on Basalt Mountain.” -More-
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projects a 52 percent chance of a water shortage on the Colorado River in 2020. Arizona would bear the brunt of mandatory cutbacks. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.
A shortage is declared if Lake Mead drops below one thousand seventy five feet in elevation. If that happens, Arizona would lose 11 percent of its Colorado River allotment. Nevada would lose 4 percent and Mexico 3 percent. Further drops in the water’s level would trigger bigger cuts. -More-
Heather Sackett Aspen Journalism – A proposal to increase winter flows on the lower Fryingpan River could have big benefits for downstream trout populations. The Colorado River District is proposing to the Colorado Water Conservation Board a one-year, renewable lease of some of the water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir to boost winter flows in the Fryingpan.
CWCB staff presented the proposal to the board at its May meeting in Salida. Currently, the decreed instream flow rate between Nov. 1 and April 30 in the Fryingpan below Ruedi is a minimum of 39 cubic feet per second. Often, winter flows are higher than this, but in dry years they can hover around the minimum amount. But 39 cfs is not enough to maintain a healthy food source for the Gold Medal fishery’s population of trout. The proposal seeks to boost the minimum flow to 70 cfs. The proposal is a collaboration between the River District and the Roaring Fork Conservancy. -More-
Colorado River peaks early this year, is at record low levels
Here’s what it mean for rivers, wildfire season
DENVER — With dangerously low snowpack levels across the state, Colorado is facing water shortage.
“Our whole quality of life in the west and in Colorado stems from health of snowpack and stream flows,” said Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River District, a public water policy agency chartered by the state General Assembly.
The Colorado River District is based in Glenwood Springs and monitors river flows constantly. Pokrandt said Colorado’s dry winter and lack of snow is where the trouble started and we’re now seeing those impacts.
“It is very serious,” he said.
Snowpack runoff to the Colorado River peaked over the weekend, way too early for this time of year and millions of gallons below normal, according to Colorado River District officials. -More-
Colorado River District Director Andy Mueller talked about the potential impacts of curtailment. The district, funded by a small property tax levy, includes 15 counties that fall into the Colorado River watershed.
Mueller said under current state water law, the burden could fall most heavily on municipal and industrial water users on the Western Slope and Front Range.
That’s because state water law operates on a “first in time, first in line” system. That means agricultural users on the Western Slope, many of whom have held their water rights since before 1922, have priority over other users. -Entire Article-
Lake Powell only 52 percent full; Colorado water managers study ways to avoid call for more water downriver
GRAND JUNCTION — About 120 water managers gathered Wednesday, April 25, to discuss how to keep enough water in Lake Powell and avoid a demand from downstream states for more water under the Colorado River Compact, and they agreed to keep studying potential solutions.
The meeting, held at the Ute Water Conservancy District, brought together members of four Western Slope basin roundtables to discuss the third phase of an ongoing “risk study” that seeks to define how much water might need to flow toward Lake Powell during a sustained dry period instead of being put to use growing crops. -More-
By Colorado Public Radio
Civil discourse and collaboration among Colorado River water managers has been a hallmark for years. But there was a break in the normally staid diplomacy this April when Denver Water issued a stern warning to the Central Arizona Project.
Denver Water raised concerns in an April 16 letter over perceived “manipulation of water demands” by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District, which manages the Central Arizona Project. CAP’s system of canals feeds Colorado River Water to Arizona farms and the cities of Phoenix and Tucson. -More-
Andy Mueller, General Manager of the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District:
“It’s unfortunate that what we view as their internal dysfunction within Arizona has cause frankly damage within the water
community on the Colorado River,” Mueller said.
Mueller wants to see Interior review whether the CAP’s water diversions are in compliance with Colorado River water law.
“It deserves looking at and will require some federal action probably,” he said, adding that the Arizona water district’s actions go beyond a “friendly water dispute.” –More-
Amid Colorado River spat, Mulroy calls Arizona agency a ‘bad actor’; SNWA official says ‘we need to take Denver’s concerns seriously’
After four states and Denver’s municipal water agency wrote letters accusing Arizona’s largest water provider of manipulating the Colorado River system to advantage itself, a former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority lashed Arizona as a “bad actor.” An official at the water authority said this week that the utility was taking the concerns seriously.
Pat Mulroy, the water authority’s former general manager, offered a sharp critique of the Arizona utility — the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) — in an interview with The Nevada Independent. She said the utility’s actions had made it a “bad actor” on the river, adding that she believed the claims that CAWCD was manipulating the system to the detriment of other users. She said the fight plays into the internal power struggle within Arizona. -More-
By Cronkite News
PHOENIX – States in the Upper Colorado River Basin are telling downstream neighbor Arizona to get its act together.
Members of the Upper Colorado River Commission sent a letter late last week to Arizona water officials, saying the state is threatening the water supply for nearly 40 million people, according to the Nevada Independent.
The letter, addressed to Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke, criticized a water management strategy of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.
The water district manages Arizona’s allocation of Colorado River water and operates the Central Arizona Project, which brings river water to Tucson and Phoenix. The commissioners object to the district’s intention to keep Lake Mead at a so-called “sweet spot” to stabilize water levels at the reservoir. -More-
By the Associated Press
Tension over the drought-stressed Colorado River escalated into a public feud when four U.S. states accused Arizona’s largest water provider of manipulating supply and demand, potentially threatening millions of people in the United States and Mexico who rely on the river.
The four states – Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – plus Denver’s water utility said the Central Arizona Project was trying to avoid a reduction in its share of the Colorado River while others are voluntarily cutting back to avoid a crisis amid a prolonged drought. -More-
The four states said the Central Arizona Project was trying to avoid a reduction in its share of the river
By the Denver Post
Tension over the drought-stressed Colorado River escalated into a public feud when four U.S. states accused Arizona’s largest water provider of manipulating supply and demand, potentially threatening millions of people in the United States and Mexico who rely on the river.
The four states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — plus Denver’s water utility said the Central Arizona Project was trying to avoid a reduction in its share of the Colorado River while others are voluntarily cutting back to avoid a crisis amid a prolonged drought. -More-
District Argues Aaron Million’s Newest Development Proposal is Speculative in Nature, Would Negatively Impact Colorado’s Compact Entitlements
Glenwood Springs, CO – The Colorado River Water Conservation District has submitted a formal protest to an application for a trans-mountain diversion water right permit filed by Aaron Million and Water Horse Resources, LLC.
Million filed for the permit with Utah’s Division of Water Rights for the project, which is proposed to divert 55,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Green River near the Colorado state line. The Green River water would then be piped roughly 500 miles north and east through Wyoming, then south to Colorado’s Front Range.
The River District has opposed past diversion proposals by Million, who previously attempted to secure Green River rights for a controversial project that would have pumped water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir, or a point upstream in Wyoming, to Colorado’s Eastern Slope. -More-
By Amy Joi O’Donoghue, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The state of Utah is among multiple critics to the so-called Million pipeline project that proposes to divert Green River water to the Front Range of Colorado.
The Utah Division of Resources indicated in an official protest filed this week it has concerns over negative impacts to Green River water users, the ability to meet target flows for endangered fish recovery and questions over whether Colorado itself supports the project.
Multiple protests are on record with the Utah State Engineer’s Office over a water rights application from Aaron Million’s Water Horse Resources to export 55,000 acre-feet of water from Green River at two points near Utah’s Browns Park in Daggett County.
The project envisions construction of a hydroelectric facility, likely in Wyoming, along with a network of hundreds of miles of pipeline to convey the water to Colorado’s Front Range. -More-
by Dennis Webb, The Daily Sentinel
Utah’s state water resource agency is among numerous organizations protesting a proposal to pipe water from the Green River south of Flaming Gorge Reservoir to Colorado’s Front Range.
The Utah Board of Water Resources and Division of Water Resources say in their protest letter that the proposal is “very unusual,” and that it “requests a huge amount of water” — 76 cubic-feet per second or 55,000 acre-feet a year — “from Utah’s precious water resources, for some unknown use in Colorado.”
They say the water right application, “if granted, would allow Colorado to benefit from the development, economic opportunities, and public well-being benefits that accrue from water resources at Utah’s expense.” -More-
The river district filed a protest against Million’s new proposal. So did the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, several conservation groups, and several local water conservancy districts and water users associations in Utah.
Tom Alvey, the Delta County representative on the Colorado River Water Conservation District (CRWCD) board, met with the county commissioners Feb. 20 to give them a summary of the activities of the CRWCD for the past year.
Alvey spoke first of the new general manager for CRWCD, Andy Mueller.
“Andy has a legal background, with water experience from around the West Slope. He will be a committed advocate for Western Slope issues,” Alvey said.
Mueller replaces Eric Kuhn, who spent 40 years with the CRWCD. Alvey said, “Eric shaped the Colorado River Water Conservation District as the entity we know today, a trusted source of accurate information about water issues.” -More-
Excerpt below from the Colorado River District’s January 2018 Newsletter as referenced in “Land Buys Raise Water Speculation Fears in Western Colorado“
Land purchases raise concern about future of water ownership
“The future has arrived, the future is now.”
So said Colorado River District General Counsel Peter Fleming in reporting to the Board of Directors that recent acquisitions of West Slope land and water rights raise the concern that outside interests are actively acquiring West Slope water rights for possible speculative purposes.
While speculation in land and water rights is nothing new, the recent acquisitions appear to be keyed on pre-Colorado River Compact 1922 water rights to hold for the present time but perhaps sell to the highest bidder during compact-curtailment and/or administration.
As Fleming’s public General Counsel report states, a New York hedge fund called Water Asset Management (through one of its many subsidiaries) acquired a 330-acre farm within the Grand Valley Project in mid-September 2017. While not a huge farm, that size is among the larger-sized parcels within the Grand Valley Project. Depending on numerous factors, the associated historical consumptive use could be about 840 acre-feet.
Water Asset Management was featured in a 2016 article in The Atlantic titled “Liquid Assets.” The article is an interesting read, Fleming said.
In addition, the Conscience Bay Company, a Colorado investment company, has acquired a number of West Slope ranches, including the recent purchase of the 1,45O acre Harts Basin Ranch in Delta County.
“To our knowledge, the properties continue to be operated as they have historically, and there are no current plans to change the associated water rights or move the water off the land,” Fleming reported.
However, it is clear that increasing water demands, reduced supply and the potential risk of compact curtailment have put a more direct focus on West Slope irrigated agriculture. Stated another way, reality has caught up with our historical paranoia about the acquisition and potential dry-up of West Slope agricultural rights for speculative purposes, Fleming wrote.
The General Counsel’s full report.
When Colorado River District officials caught wind of investment companies recently buying western Colorado ranches with ample senior water rights, including one north of Fruita, it got their attention.
The district, which includes Mesa County and 14 other counties and focuses on the protection, conservation, use and development of Colorado River water in western Colorado, long has been concerned about protecting the region’s agricultural sector. Now district staff are worried about a potential new threat to it, from investment companies buying water rights possibly as a speculative investment, and looking to profit later in deals that could lead to some local agricultural land no longer being irrigated and reverting to desert.
For the River District, the concern is keeping the Western Slope from eventually seeing the kind of widespread drying up of agricultural lands and withering of local farming and ranching economies that has occurred in areas of eastern Colorado over the decades as municipalities have bought up water rights. -More-
Coming from water-abundant Ohio, Andy Mueller used to have trouble explaining his line of work to relatives on trips back east.
“When I used to say ‘I’m in water law,’ they’re like, what, are you a sewer lawyer?
“I think that’s one of the unique characteristics about the West, is the scarcity of water is what drives our communities and the value of a reliable water supply is so critical to vibrancy of a community on the Western Slope,” Mueller said.
These days, Mueller is in water policy, as the new general manager for the Colorado River District, a taxpayer-funded, 15-county entity based in Glenwood Springs. Such work is a little easier to explain back east, and even among western Coloradans, describing what the river district does can be difficult. But Mueller says that at its core, the district advocates for water users on the Western Slope. -More-
By Andy Mueller, General Manager, Colorado River District
It’s not fire season right now; or at least it shouldn’t be; but continuing drought and seemingly constant shifts in “normal” weather patterns set the stage for record-setting, winter wildfires in California that cost the federal government billions to contain, all which highlight similar concerns for Colorado.
Ongoing drought cycles and the overgrown condition of our forests leave Colorado and the entire American West at risk of even more destructive and costly fire seasons in the days and years ahead.
The federal government is the single largest landowner in Colorado and the majority of those lands are managed by the U.S. Forest Service. In fact, federal agencies own and manage more than 35 percent of the land in Colorado, and in some Western Slope counties that percentage is north of 90 percent. -More-
The Shoshone power plant is the cornerstone for water rights in the upper river.
Head east from Glenwood Springs in western Colorado today, and you’ll encounter an isolated stretch of I-70 hugging the curves of the Colorado River. But 110 years ago, you would’ve hit “a thriving little city” of hundreds of people living in tents, nestled there between the high walls of the river canyon so its residents could build a hydroelectric plant.
That facility, the Shoshone power plant, still adds energy to the grid, but its true importance lies elsewhere: Shoshone is a cornerstone of the elaborate complex of water rights, laws, agreements and relationships that shape the management of the upper Colorado River. Because of the water rights it holds — and because it returns the water it uses to the river channel — the diminutive plant dictates how the river is managed in Colorado. “It’s an interesting historic relic with huge implications for the ecological health of the river,” says Brent Uilenberg, a manager in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region, “and (for) providing a reliable water supply for East and West Slope human uses.” -More-
Statement on the Shoshone Power Plant, October 1, 2018:
“The Colorado River District and a collaborative group of West Slope interests continue to explore opportunities to preserve the Shoshone hydroelectric plant’s flows. Permanent protection of the flows is cited in the Colorado Basin Roundtable’s Basin Implementation Plan, part of Colorado’s Water Plan, and in the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. Xcel, owner of the plant, has been a good steward of these flows, and we appreciate their willingness to discuss long-term solutions.”
Pull out a map of the United States’ desert southwest and see if you can locate these rivers: Rio del Tizon, Rio San Rafael, or Rio Zanguananos. How about rivers named Tomichi, Nah-Un-Kah-Rea or Akanaquint?
Having some trouble? None of these names are used widely today, but at some point in the last 500 years they were used to label portions of what we know now as the Colorado River and its main tributaries, the sprawling river basin that supports 40 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico, across one of the world’s driest regions.
Until 1921, the Colorado River didn’t start in the state that bears the same name. It began in Utah, where the Green River from Wyoming and the Grand River from Colorado met. The story of how the Colorado River finally wended its way into the state of Colorado less than a century ago is a lesson in just how fickle our attitudes toward nature can be. -More-
District-funded grants assist projects that protect, enhance or develop Western Slope water resources
Glenwood Springs, Colo. The Colorado River District announced the opening of its annual grant program and is inviting constituents within the 15-county District to apply for funding to assist with projects that protect, enhance or develop water resources on the Western Slope.
Since the creation of the grant program in 1998, the River District has awarded more than $3.7 million to Western Slope water projects. The program provides financial assistance for proposed and even recently completed water projects through a competitive application and review process. Awards are made on a cost-sharing basis with River District funding typically providing about 25% of total project costs. -More-
State and regional leaders brief the 15-member Western Slope water board
Becky Mitchell, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Kevin Rein, state hydraulic engineer for Colorado, both of whom took their current positions in July, introduced themselves to the River District board, which includes representatives of 15 Western Slope counties. Mitchell said it was important for the state to develop a long-term source of funding for new water projects in both the Denver metro area and the Western Slope, but she said the various river-basin plans in the state needed to be prioritized before a funding question is put to voters. – More –
EAGLE COUNTY — In Colorado, the difference between who can use water and who can’t is as simple as seniority.
Colorado’s water law is a complex set of rules and regulations, but Rule No. 1 is simple: First in time, first in line. Water rights on the state’s streams and reservoirs have been adjudicated and allocated since about the turn of the 20th century. People who have those oldest water rights have first claim on water. That’s crucial in dry years.
In drought years, holders of the most senior water rights can “call” on those with junior rights. That means junior rights holders have to stop diverting water. -More-
Colorado River District Announces General Manager Finalist
Andrew Mueller Selected Unanimously as Sole Finalist by Board of Directors
September 19, 2017. Glenwood Springs, Colo. The Colorado River District’s Board of Directors today named Andrew (Andy) A. Mueller of Glenwood Springs, CO as its sole final candidate to succeed Eric Kuhn as General Manager, who is retiring after 36 years with the District.
The Board met today at noon and voted unanimously naming Mueller as the finalist for the GM position.
Mueller is an attorney and a former River District Board member who also served as Board President and Vice President.
Board President Tom Alvey from Delta County expressed the entire board’s enthusiasm with Mueller’s selection. “The Board was impressed with Mueller’s credentials, background and vision for the District,” said Alvey. “We were fortunate to have an outstanding pool of candidates from which Mr. Mueller rose to the top.” -More-
GRAND JUNCTION — Bringing more certainty to an unruly and unpredictable Colorado River system was a common theme among water managers speaking at the Colorado River District’s annual seminar Friday.
Although the drought that has gripped much of the Colorado River basin for the past 16 years has eased up a bit, population growth and the long dry spell have pushed the river’s supplies to the limit, with every drop of water in the system now accounted for.
Meanwhile, the effects of climate change on the Colorado’s future flows are still a big question mark, and it could mean wide variability in the years to come, with periods of punishing drought followed by a sudden record-setting wet year, as California recently experienced. -More-
The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation has deep experience managing rivers, but its looking for a little help with the corresponding rivers of data.
Specifically, USBR would like to better handle the streams of data that describe and support the Colorado River Basin, so the bureau and its partners have taken to Challenge.gov to search for innovative data visualization solutions.
Participants in the “Colorado River Basin Data Visualization Challenge” should take historical, current and projected data on weather, climate conditions, streamflows and more than develop data visualization approaches that will “improve data exploration, analysis, interpretation, and communication.” -More-
Bureau of Reclamation Announces Nearly $21 Million to 43 Projects for Water Delivery Improvements Across Western United States
Funding will be used for canal lining and piping, installation of advanced metering, automated gates, and control systems to improve water management
WASHINGTON – Acting Commissioner Alan Mikkelsen announced that the Bureau of Reclamation has selected $20.9 million for 43 projects to water delivery efficiency improvements in the Western United States. When leveraged with non-Federal funding sources these projects will complete more than $101 million in improvements. The selected projects will include canal lining and piping to reduce seepage losses, automated gates and control systems, and installation of advanced metering. -More-
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., this week led a bipartisan group of six other western senators in sending a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue requesting the U.S. Department of Agriculture direct a portion of recently appropriated funds for the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program (Watershed Act) to the Colorado River Basin.
In the letter, the senators highlight the need to direct Watershed Act funding to the Colorado River Basin to help farmers and ranchers increase efficiency, conserve water and improve yields.
The Watershed Act provides technical and financial assistance to states, local governments and tribes to support off-farm conservation projects that improve resiliency, support water conservation and protect water quality. For the first time since 2010, the program received $150 million in funding for Fiscal Year 2017 to support new and existing shovel-ready projects, surveys and planning activities. -More-
Last week, the state of Arizona, city of Phoenix, Walton Family Foundation, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation signed an agreement with the Gila River Indian Community to conserve 40,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water and dedicate that supply to protecting Lake Mead’s water levels. The agreement among this diverse group is another step in an ongoing program to conserve water and delay the onset of a declared shortage condition on the Colorado River – shortages that would hit Arizona first and hardest under operating rules set in place in 2007.
Overall, the agreement represents incremental progress – but even more significant may be the much-needed spark it provides to re-energize drought contingency discussions within Arizona and across the entire Colorado River Basin. -More-