Legislative Wrap-Up, Progress on Water Plan criteria

Last week, as the legislature wrapped up, QQ pledged to continue working on several key issues that did not see success in this session.  While legislators worked around the clock to make progress on key issues for our state (health care, education, construct defects), there remain three water-related topics about which we would like to find workable solutions in future years.

  1. We worked with a bipartisan group of legislators during the session to develop legislation that would direct the Colorado Water Conservation Board to integrate the criteria included in Colorado’s Water Plan into decision-making processes– both for funding determinations and in determining when the state will endorse or help facilitate water projects. This work was based on a letter West Slope Republican legislators delivered to the Governor mid-session.

While we did not identify a path for legislation in this session, nearly all legislators were interested in moving this forward in the interim and the next legislative session. QQ also is dedicated to this ongoing effort, and looks forward to working more closely with legislators and the Department of Natural Resources.  In particular, we would like to thank Representative Marc Catlin, Representative KC Becker, Representative Jeni Arndt, Senator Don Coram, and Representative Diane Mitsch Bush for their leadership and support on this issue.

Steamboat Springs development.

Steamboat Springs development.

  1. QQ remains interested in productive legislation that better integrates water planning and land use planning on a State level. Two bills this session addressing this issue were postponed indefinitely:  HB 17-1273, which would have required developers to address water conservation when submitting adequate water supply determinations; and HB 17-1364, which would have added water elements to the statutory list of optional elements of a master plan, along with requiring any water element to discuss water conservation.

These bill each would have taken a step to encourage local governments to better integrate water planning with land use planning while allowing local governments the freedom to choose the best way to do so. It is clear coming out of this session that there is an opportunity to dialogue and better understand different perspectives on what legislation might accomplish and what other opportunities exist to better integrate water and land use planning.

  1. A sustainable, long term funding source for the aquatic nuisance species (ANS) boat inspection program under Colorado Parks and Wildlife proved elusive this session. HB 17-1321, which would have raised CPW fees and licenses as well as establishing an ANS sticker purchase program to fund the boat inspection program, was postposed in the last week of the session. The late timing of the bill and its demise meant that there was no time for an alternate bill that would have just established the ANS sticker program. Long term funding will be an outstanding issue to hopefully be addressed next year. In the meantime, we are grateful to our legislators, Representative Bob Rankin and Representative Millie Hamner, for their efforts to include ANS boat inspection in the budget package as SB 17-259.

We appreciate legislators working with QQ during the session, especially our QQ legislators: Representatives KC Becker, Millie Hamner, Bob Rankin, and Diane Mitsch Bush and Senators Kerry Donovan and Randy Baumgardner.  We look forward to continuing this work over the summer.


West Slope leaders and QQ agree on criteria in Water Plan

Recently, Republican legislators on the West Slope sent an open letter to Governor Hickenlooper regarding Colorado’s Water Plan and its implementation. We are happy to see that our legislators are echoing many of the same goals QQ has put forward for implementation of the Water Plan. We, too, hope the State continues to incorporate the criteria img_4635from the Water Plan into granting and decision making related to water.  We believe this is a way to ensure that the West Slope’s water and economy continue to be protected into the future.

You can read the legislator letter at this link.img_4616

Water Plan’s First Anniversary

It’s been one year since Governor Hickenlooper announced our first-ever state water plan.

The Colorado Water Plan took over two years to write and was based on input from the seven basin roundtables and 30,000 comments from Coloradans across the state. QQ worked on the development of the Plan extensively, from meeting with state officials to submitting written comments to presenting to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The plan is a great accomplishment, making it clear that the main focus to address the growing demand for a diminishing supply of water throughout the State is conservation.

In fact, the plan prioritizes water conservation as never before, setting an urban conservation goal of reducing water use by one percent per year by 2050. It’s scope is ambitious in many ways, calling for stream management plans (SMPs) for 80 percent of Colorado’s priority rivers by 2030, aiming for 50,000 acre-feet of water shared among farmers and ranchers with cities by 2030 through flexible agreements, supporting local efforts to have 80% of Coloradans living in communities with water savings measures in local master plans, and proposing Coloradans use a much more comprehensive evaluation approach of new water projects, making sure the state is only investing in or endorsing projects that use public resources wisely, protect river and wildlife, and reflect community values.

While the creation of the plan is laudable, one year later not a lot has been accomplished to meet those objectives. There is some forward movement but the current pace is clearly not fast enough to meet any of the goals set for 2020.

Outlet into Turquoise Lake from Homestake Reservoir

Outlet into Turquoise Lake from Homestake Reservoir

On the Western Slope, we are especially concerned about how the state plans to spend money on new water projects. It is imperative that new water projects are multipurpose, focus on conservation and re-use, emphasize diverse stakeholder involvement from the beginning of a project, and avoid or mitigate economic and social impacts of a proposed project. We appreciate the ongoing work of the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop funding sources that support all elements of the Water Plan in extremely challenging financial uncertainty for the State.

The Colorado Water Plan has provided us with an excellent blueprint for practical solutions that best ensure a balanced protection of water for our cities, farms, and the rivers that sustain our Colorado way of life. At this point to keep implementation of the Plan on track, we need Governor Hickenlooper and legislators to move forward on the plan’s conservation goals and speed up tangible efforts to reduce water use, increase re-use and implement common sense policies that will help our cities and counties across the state – rural and urban alike — meet the plan’s goals.

We’ll continue to gather coverage from other sources on the one year anniversary of the Water Plan, including:

  • Summit Daily News, Colorado Water Plan faces new hurdles on one-year anniversary, Nov. 13, 2016.

Recap of QQ’s Work on CO Water Plan

  • Summary of LAND USE/ WATER CONSERVATION WORKSHOP, hosted by QQ on May 7, 2014 available here.
  • Headwater Principles for the Colorado Water Plan, with a list of local government and water provider endorsements (Nov. 15, 2013, endorsements updated October 6, 2014).

Response to misconceptions in Denver Post article on Water Plan

The Denver Post ran a story on Colorado’s Water Plan this past Sunday, Nov. 9th.

Kathy Chandler-Henry,  Eagle County Commissioner and NWCCOG/ QQ member, responded to some misconceptions in this article in a letter-to-the-editor. We’ve reposted it here too:

Re: “Colorado girds for proliferating people and increasingly scarce water,” Nov. 9.

As a county commissioner representing one of the state’s headwaters areas, I would like to point out several misconceptions in Sunday’s article on Colorado’s Water Plan.

The idea that the Water Plan should protect agriculture by taking more water from the west slope is ill-founded.  More diversions put west slope agriculture at risk with no guarantee that such diversions would slow the loss of east slope agriculture.

IMG_2061 And the west slope is not “OK” with moving more water through transmountain diversions. West slope basins are united in their concern that diverting additional water may injure the west slope economies and the environment that attracts people to Colorado.

Our statewide economy is one — negative impacts on the western slope affect the entire state.  Our future depends on local leaders throughout Colorado figuring out how to conserve, reuse water, and manage future growth before thinking about further depleting our mountain streams.

Kathy Chandler-Henry

Eagle County Commissioner

Public Priorities for Water Plan Match West Slope Orgs

In our most recent blog post, QQ highlighted other West Slope organizations joining the chorus of comments on the upcoming first-ever Colorado Water Plan. It’s heartening to see priorities in the Water Plan line up amongst West Slope organizations.

Likewise, a poll released in the past few weeks shows that the public holds the same priorities as QQ and other West Slope organizations, both on the West Slope and throughout Colorado.

Two of the key findings include:

  1. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Most important goal for the Water Plan: Keep Colorado’s rivers and streams healthy and flowing. 90 % of Coloradans say it is extremely or very important priority to keep Colorado’s rivers and streams healthy and flowing. In the West Slope Counties 92% say it is important. In fact, 3-of-4 voters describe Colorado’s rivers as being “At risk.”

The Headwaters Principles, endorsed by more than 30 local governments and water providers in the headwaters region of the state, likewise states that the Water Plan must protect the West Slope’s environment and economy, which is primarily agriculture, recreation, and tourism-based. Club 20 adopted a resolution supporting a Water Plan that “[r]ecognizes that the health and viability of our rivers as natural and economic resources must be prioritized.”

  1. A Majority of Colorado Voters and 9 of 10 West Slope Voters Oppose Building A New Pipeline To Divert Water From Western Colorado To The Front Range. When given a choice in how we address future water shortages, voters choose conservation over diversion by more than a four-to-one margin.

The Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado sent a letter to Gov. Hickenlooper opposing a new transmountain diversion that will take more water from the Western Slope of Colorado. The Headwaters Principles support a Water Plan that prioritized local solutions for meeting water demands before going to another area of the state (a.k.a. building new transmountain diversions).

IMG_0826We are all in this together and everyone needs to do their part. Coloradans agree on this point in the poll, and West Slope organizations have voiced the same sentiment.

The first full draft of the Water Plan will be publicly available in December. We’re looking forward to providing additional input to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to ensure the plan continues its focus healthy, flowing rivers and streams and promoting conservation and reuse over major transmountain diversions to meet our future water needs.

West Slope Leaders United on Key Issues in CO Water Plan

Over the past month, two groups of West Slope leaders voiced their opinions about Colorado’s Water Plan, with many of the same concerns and affirmations QQ has made over the past year.

Club 20, an organization of counties, communities, tribes, businesses, individuals and associations in Western Colorado, adopted a resolution about the Water Plan at their fall meeting on September 5th, asking in part that the health and viability of our rivers as natural and economic resources be prioritized in water policy. In addition, Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC), which includes Mesa, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat and Routt Counties, submitted a letter to Governor Hickenlooper and the Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, James Eklund, asking them to oppose any new trans-mountain diversion that will take more water from the Western Slope of Colorado.

Fishing on the Gunnison Gorge

Fishing on the Gunnison Gorge

Both statements contain many similarities to QQ’s Water Plan Principles developed almost a year ago. We hope that the Governor and the CWCB will take a hard look at many of the priorities stated over and over again by West Slope leaders. These points include:

  • Protection of the West Slope tourism, recreation, agriculture, and resource development economies are key elements of the Water Plan;
  • Local solutions for water supply should be implemented in each River Basin before going to another area of the state. Especially as Lake Mead levels drop to an all-time low, the general sentiment is that there is no more water available for diversion from the West Slope;
  • High municipal conservation and re-use levels throughout the State is a must, as outlined in this report; and

People on both sides of the Divide can let the State know about the importance of healthy streams on the west slope to all of Colorado by submitting comments on the Water Plan. Governor Hickenlooper has asked that a “broad cross-section of people from across the state” be part of the planning process – so let your voice be heard. The deadline for your comments to be considered as part of the first draft of the Water Plan is Oct. 10th. Comment at www.coloradowaterplan.org.



Transmountain Diversions connect us all

This week I attended the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s tour of Transmountain Diversions in the Arkansas Valley. The tour was timely because of the ongoing conversations about the Colorado Water Plan and how the state will address growing demand for a diminishing supply of water around the State.

Because QQ works to address environmental (and resulting economic) impacts from transmountain diversions, the best part of the tour for me was gaining a better appreciation for how interconnected the State is through transmountain diversions.

Ewing Ditch diversion

Ewing Ditch diversion

The Arkansas Valley is the recipient of water that is diverted through complex tunnel systems, or simple diversion ditches, from the western side of the Continental Divide to water population centers on the Front Range. The tour focused primarily on the benefits that historic transmountain diversions (TMDs) have provided to the Eastern Slope. Chaffee County Commissioner Dennis Giese even thanked the West Slope for the water that makes their recreation and ranching economies thrive (a touching gesture that does not happen enough in

dialogue across the divide).

We saw the first-ever TMD, the Ewing Ditch, and walked along the ¾ mile ditch from the diversion point to the point it crosses the Continental Divide. We saw TMDs of a much larger scale too, watching water blast from the side of a mountain, bringing water from Homestake Reservoir in the Eagle River basin through a 5-mile tunnel to Turquoise Reservoir and the Arkansas River basin.

Outlet into Turquoise Lake from Homestake Reservoir

Outlet into Turquoise Lake from Homestake Reservoir

We met business owners and state land managers in Salida and Buena Vista who praised the Voluntary Flow Program, where water providers pledge flows during peak rafting and angling season to meet demands in the Upper Arkansas basin. The program helped make the Arkansas River the most rafted river in the country.

But before the Voluntary Flow Program were transmountain diversions that bring water to the Arkansas for farming, ranching, rafting, fishing, and for drinking water for Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Aurora, and many other Front Range communities. Early transmountain diversions provided these benefits without adequate environmental protections for West Slope rivers.

We did not trek to the West Slope because, simply, there is not enough time in a two-day tour to squeeze it all in.

But the Colorado Water Plan does have the time and space to really delve into both sides of the transmountain diversion conversation. The Water Plan should highlight not only the benefits from TMDs, but the historic environmental damage from those same diversions. Painting a picture of both sides of the Divide will capture the interconnected economies and community on both sides of the mountains, which will help set the Colorado Water Plan on a better path forward.

Thanks for a great tour!

Fall colors were amazing!

Fall colors were amazing!

QQ Comments on CO Water Plan

Rachel Richards, Vice Chair of QQ, Pitkin County Commissioner and Colorado Basin Roundtable member, represented QQ in front of the CWCB Board of Directors at their meeting yesterday, Thursday, Sept. 11 in Glenwood Springs. She made several key comments based on the Headwaters Principles for the Colorado Water Plan, which were developed by QQ and endorsed by 30 different local governments and water providers in a 7-county, 4-river-basin region.

Here are some of the highlights from her comments:

  1. Recreational and environmental uses have not been fully defined in most roundtable plans.
    Gunnison Gorge, May, 2014

    Gunnison Gorge, May, 2014

    Traditionally state and federal funds have gone to municipal and agricultural water projects. To carry out the directives of the Executive Order, more resources must be devoted to quantifying environmental and recreational needs.

This is particularly important in areas of the state where recreation and environmental uses of water are the underpinning of the local economy, and the front range is seeking to divert more water.

We agree with water plan sections that identify multi purpose projects as one way to meet recreational and environmental needs, but until those needs are understood at the local level, no project proponent will be able to accomplish this goal. Without some rigor to the analysis and agreement on the conclusions, water projects will get mired in debates about this issue.

  1. Our experience shows that those projects that are moving forward now to divert more water to the front range include joint benefits to the project proponent and the area where the water comes from, AND they provide significant mitigation of project impacts. These benefits and mitigation have been developed in cooperation with the affected counties and towns. These projects set the minimum standard for how water projects can be successful in the future.
  1. The Water Plan should highlight the value of RICDs to protecting in stream values and to the
    Vail Mountain Games, 2014 © Eddie Bauer

    Vail Mountain Games, 2014 © Eddie Bauer

    economy. For example, the Vail Mountain Games, which center on the Gore Creek RICD, brought in more than 4 million dollars and 58,000 spectators in 2014, yet the use is non consumptive and the water is reused by local water and sanitation districts downstream.

  1. QQ elected officials have met with and will continue to meet with elected officials from the Metro area to discuss water planning issues. Elected officials are essential to the success of the Water Plan.

After all, local government officials on the front range make land use and economic development decisions that mold the timing and amount of new water that will be developed, while elected officials outside the front range are responsible for protecting their own economic futures. Mutual respect for these responsibilities is essential to the state’s well-being.

The state can complement these efforts by reviving the Colorado Joint Review process so that affected communities can engage as early as possible in any water project planning process to develop respect and understanding, and to narrow the issues of concern to those that reflect the real world well before the NEPA process gets underway.

We also plan to submit written comments on the new draft sections of the Water Plan released last week in the CWCB Board agenda. You can leave comments too at www.coloradowaterplan.org.

Or let us know what you think—leave a comment here!

Work on the Water Plan is Gearing Up!

Leaves are starting to change and work on the Water Plan is gearing up around the State.  The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will be visiting the Colorado Basin this week, holding their board meeting in Glenwood Springs on Sept. 11-12.  Part of their discussion will be a review of many draft sections of the Water Plan, released to the public by way of their board meeting agenda. We are anxious to jump into a review of those draft sections—we are encouraged and impressed with the amount of data the CWCB staff have already sifted through to complete these draft sections!  We will keep you posted as well learn more.


Fall colors, Oct. 2013

Meanwhile, QQ has been reviewing the Basin Implementation Plans submitting from Basins around the State over the past month. As one might expect, many Basins agree with some foundational QQ Principles for the Water Plan, while others conflict with some of our primary points.  We’ll keep working on a summary document that can help guide those who don’t have time to read the 1000s of pages of information!

Over the next several months, the CWCB will wrap up the first complete draft of Colorado’s Water Plan!  This fall marks a crucial time for public input on the draft sections released already, as once this draft is completed the Plan will move to revisions in the Governor’s office and away from the hands of the CWCB.  As always, you can provide comment at www.coloradowaterplan.org.