Winter 2015

Top Stories

Local Water Icon Kroeger Passes

A much beloved and well-respected local water icon, Frederick Kroeger, passed away on December 28th at age 97. According to the Durango Herald, the most visible parts of his legacy were Lake Nighthorse, Kroeger Hall and the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, and the business he founded in 1967--Kroegers Ace Hardware. He served on the boards of the Durango Water Commission for more than 60 years; Southwest Water Conservation District for 55 years; First National Bank for 50 years; Colorado Water Conservation Board for 21 years; and La Plata Electric Association for 13 years.

People & Organizations

Connor: Find a Fix or We Will

At the 70th Annual Conference of the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA), Deputy Interior Secretary Michael Connor implied that if the lower basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada can’t find a fix for their Colorado River’s problems, the interior secretary will find it for them. In an Arizona Daily Star article, Connor referenced the need to prevent Lake Mead from falling to dangerously low levels. Should this be the case there would be huge cutbacks in water deliveries to the agricultural sector, cities, and Indian tribes.

DNR Director Resigns

In mid-December Mike King, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (CDNR), stepped down from his position. He had led the CDNR since 2010. King plans to take a new job with Denver Water as the Director of Planning. In this new position, he will oversee their climate change preparations, demand and supply management, environmental compliance, long-range planning for raw water and treated supplies, water rights, and watershed management. In a press release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office, he praised King for all the work he’s done during his administration, including helping to devise a statewide water plan and merging the department’s parks and wildlife divisions.

CWCB/CWA Healthy Rivers Fund Eliminated but Alternative Funding Sources Available

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) staff received a letter from the Department of Revenue dated November 12, 2015 stating that the Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund (CHRF) did not receive the $75,000 threshold amount of donations between January 1 and September 30, 2015. The program requires that the funding threshold level be met to stay in the voluntary tax checkoff program. The program was short of the mark with only $61,348 donated during that time period. It will not appear on the 2015 tax form. This is unfortunate news. However, in many ways the CHRF was the model for CWCB’s Colorado Watershed Restoration Program (CWRP).

High Desert Conservation District, by Susan Thornton, Special Districts Association

In an effort to avoid confusion, the Dolores Conservation District recently changed their name to the High Desert Conservation District (HDCD). Among the services that the newly named HDCD provides is information about cover crops, erosion and salinity control, flood damage, irrigation management, noxious weeds, and practical management of crops and pastures. The District also publishes a resource handbook, Rural Living in Southwest Colorado. In addition, the District has hired an agricultural consultant to provide free on-site consultations with ranchers and farmers to help them establish best practices, which aids with more efficient water use. The free consultations are paid in part by a matching grant from the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

Current Events

New Federal Natural Resource Investment Center Established

A mid-December U.S. Department of the Interior press release indicated that they plan to spur investment in water conservation and infrastructure in the West through public-private collaborations. The release indicated the department is establishing a Natural Resource Investment Center (NRIC), with the goal of involving the private sector to help identify innovative ideas and financing options for projects aimed at conserving western water. Ideas could include facilitating water transfers in the West, protecting habitats and species, and replacing aging infrastructure. The NRIC is part of President Obama’s Build America Investment Initiative, which calls on federal agencies to increase investments in broadband networks, ports, roads, water and sewer systems, and other infrastructure projects. The NRIC is also part of the president’s Pay for Success Initiative that employs market-based management tools to ensure government services produce intended outcomes. Martin Doyle, professor of river science and policy at Duke University, has been appointed the Senior Conservation Finance Fellow at the new NRIC. 

Speaker at 70th Annual CRWUA Conference Indicated: “Water cuts could create economic 'tsunami' for Colorado Basin”

According to an Arizona Daily Star article, economic analyst Jeremy Aquero had this to say at the recent Colorado River Water Users Association 70th Annual Conference in Las Vegas: “To understand how a future Colorado River water cutback could hurt the economy, start with this fact--the seven river basin states, by themselves, make up the fifth largest economy in the world. Then, consider that the economic output of the areas within those states that depend on the river for water equals that of Australia. So if this region doesn’t adapt to a cutoff with significant conservation, acquisition of new supplies or both, the economy will implode on itself. The effect will look more like a tsunami than ripple on a pond.”

Silverton and San Juan County Officials Authorize NPL Discussions

In response to the recent Gold King Mine incident on the Animas River, in November, Silverton and San Juan County officials participated in a tour of several Superfund sites in Colorado. Since then, both governments have authorized their representatives to meet with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, as well as the U.S. EPA to discuss what would be involved if the area were to be given a National Priority Listing (NPL) under the Superfund program. These discussions are preliminary and no decisions have been made, though one of the conditions desired by the local governments is that money be made available now to address the mining drainage in Upper Cement Creek.

Water Quality / Conservation

Colorado’s Buy-and-Grow vs. Buy-and-Dry Program

Agricultural buy-and-dry occurs when someone purchases land and moves the water into the municipal system. There are mounting fears, however, that permanent dry-up of agricultural lands could potentially cripple the farming industry in Colorado. Alternatively, a buy-and-grow plan would allow farmers to share their water rights with municipalities--essentially a sharing of water rights between rural and urban communities. According to a recent Durango Herald article, with the buy-and-grow plan governments and private interests could help farmers with investments in water-conservation technology and other equipment, thereby helping farmers grow. The farmers would then share the water that they don’t need anymore because of the savings. In the article, Kelly Brough said that “They’re still growing, still producing, they’re more efficient, and they don’t lose their water right.” Brough is the Chief Executive of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce (DMCC). At an early October meeting in Denver with state and local water officials, hosted by the DMCC, Brough indicated that the buy-and-grow plan could usher in a new wave of water policy. To view the full article visit the Durango Herald

The Colorado River Desalination Plant

According to a High Country News article, the Paradox Valley in western Colorado was formed millions of years ago, when a huge dome of salt collapsed. Now, that salt remains and the waters of the Dolores River pick it up and carry it to the Colorado River, where it eventually degrades the water quality for downstream users. For nearly 50 years the Paradox Valley Unit, which is operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, has been treating the salt problem. According to the article, the unit treats nearly 200 gallons of brine every minute—this is seven times saltier than ocean water. The brine is then injected into a formation about 2.5 miles beneath the Earth’s surface. The formation, however, will eventually fill up rendering the unit useless. According to the HCN article, there are no obvious replacement options, and officials do not know how long they have left, but estimate 10 to 20 years. 

Water Law

Bennet Update and Ditch Irrigation Bill

According to a recent press release from his office, in mid-December Colorado Senator Michael Bennet helped pass a year-end bill that involved numerous Colorado priorities. These included financial support for the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program, as well as the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The bill contains $157 million for the EWP Program, which aids people and organizations in watersheds following natural disasters like floods and wildfires. The LWCF was reauthorization for three years (to September 30, 2018). According to a Coyote Gulch aticle, in 2016 Bennet is working to pass Senate Bill 384, known as the ditch irrigation bill. The bill would allow mutual irrigation companies, which are nonprofits generally owned by local farmers, to lease water to local entities to earn revenue to pay for repairs on aging infrastructure. Under the current tax code these companies could lose their nonprofit status by profiting from water leasing. Bennet and U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, will have their names on the bill when it goes to the Senate in February. 

Here’s What’s Going on With Colorado Legislation…, by Emily Brumit, Water Policy Analyst, Colorado Water Congress

-  Richard Hamilton, a long-time proponent of the Public Trust Doctrine, has drafted a bill on Water Districts. The full title is: A Proposed New General Law Applicable to All Colorado Watersheds, Flood Control, and Greenway Districts. It’s been floated out to a number of legislators, but as of yet nobody has picked it up.

-  Representative KC Becker’s bill, which has been deemed an “accounting bill,” would require "covered entities" defined as a municipality, agency, utility including privately owned utilities, or any other publicly owned entities supplying retail water to customers having a total annual demand of 2000 acre feet or more per year to submit a completed and validated water loss audit report. Rules and performance standards would be set by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who would contribute money to assist those covered entities to comply. 

Animas-La Plata Project Water Rights Settlement

In November, a settlement was reached by several local agencies with a stake in the Animas-La Plata Project water rights. In late 2013, the Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) filed for conditional to absolute and continued diligence for the remaining portions of the water right held for development of the Animas-La Plata Project. Several agencies filed statements of opposition. Among them were: the Southern Ute Indian Tribe; Ute Mountain Ute Tribe; San Juan Water Commission; La Plata Water Conservancy District; and the Animas-La Plata Operation, Maintenance and Replacement (ALPOM&R) Association. Since then, these agencies have been hashing out the details of the administration of Lake Nighthorse storage rights, as well as the future of irrigation, municipal, and industrial uses along the Animas and La Plata rivers. The settlement agreement and proposed decree were entered with the court during a November hearing. The agreement was complex, but resulted in portions of the water right being transferred to the ALPOM&R Association for the Project as built, and SWCD retaining portions of the water rights for future uses as previously decreed including irrigation.

Energy and Water

Homes to Recycle Water

Droughts have pushed cities, especially in the American Southwest, to strengthen efficiency mandates at every point in the water system. According to a recent Energy Collective article, Lancaster, California was one of the first municipalities to require homes to be not only solar-ready, but have recycle-ready plumbing. Innovative companies have developed systems that recycle the gray water in the home for non-potable uses (e.g., outside irrigation, toilet water, etc.). According to the article, more than 80 percent of the water used in the typical home is not used for drinking, and technology is now available that can recover 2 of every 3 gallons of a home’s gray water. Generally, these types of systems can cut the total amount of water used by a home by about one-third. 

Roundtable Update

Final Colorado Water Plan

The much-anticipated, and long-awaited Final Colorado Water Plan was delivered to Governor Hickenlooper on November 19th. The Governor ordered the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to develop the water plan by December 10th back in 2013. According to the Protect Colorado Rivers website (www.waterforcolorado.org), measurable objectives identified in the Plan include:

WIP News

Pilot Water and Land Use Planning Session a Success

The pressures of reduced water supplies intersecting with increased population and the need for adequate housing are prompting a more urgent look at the water and land use planning connection. To these ends the Water Information Program, in conjunction with the American Planners Association—Colorado Chapter and La Plata County, conducted their first water and land use planning work session on October 23rd in Durango. The session was a success and attracted approximately 35 attendees, most of whom were land use planners, water utility personnel, and local government officials. This was a half day session that qualified for 4 CM credits for planners (.75 legal). Topics included the American West and Colorado water realities and issues, water and land use planning overview, Colorado land use regulations, and land use planning tools and techniques.

WIP Lending Library

The Water Information Program lending library now has more than 200 water-related books and movies available for checkout. Stop by the office at 841 East 2nd Avenue in Durango to find a book or DVD of interest to you. In addition, we welcome reviews at any time. If you are interested in providing a book or movie review for our quarterly newsletters, please email 1-2 paragraphs to [email protected]. The winter 2015 newsletter book review is provided by Laura Spann, with the SWCD.

Book Review: Blue Revolution, by Cynthia Barnett, 2012

Journalist Cynthia Barnett’s treatise on today’s water crisis naturally begins with examples from California. Even national energy efficiency leaders like Sacramento squander precious gallons on lawns in a drought-stricken state. “Somehow, America’s green craze has missed the blue,” she says. Why? From industry to government policy to private homes, she portrays a culture of incentives that has encouraged Americans to use more and more water—and value it less and less. How can we avoid a national water crisis? Barnett’s answer is a “water ethic,” a “blue revolution.” When people are connected to their water sources, argues Barnett, they value and conserve more of it. They live within their means and become part of the solution.

WIP’s Participating Entity, SWCD, Update

At their December 9th Board meeting the following grants were funded by the Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD):

-   Dolores Water Conservancy District (DWCD) and Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company (MVIC): The DWCD and MVIC requested a $25,000 SWCD grant in support of an initiative of the two water boards and counties for a redraft by David Robbins of Hill and Robbins, P.C. of the proposed National Conservation Area (NCA) legislation on the lower Dolores River as an alternative to current Wild and Scenic Suitability from McPhee Dam to Bedrock. A total of $25,000 will be raised from DWCD, MVIC, as well as Montezuma, Dolores, San Miguel, and Montrose counties.
-  Study to Determine Potential Colorado River Call Impacts to West Slope: At the December 18, 2014 meeting of the Four West Slope Basin Roundtables held at Ute Water in Grand Junction, various attendees cited the need for technical data so that the Four Roundtables could better discuss issues surrounding future Colorado River development and the risk to current water users. This also came up for each Basin Implementation Plan, and as part of the IBCC conceptual agreement for transmountain diversions. The River District would like SWCD to join in their request to the Four Roundtables to support technical data development by the two Districts. The purpose is to create a common platform to have fruitful discussions on the West Slope regarding Colorado River development. SWCD was asked to contribute $10,000 to this study, along with $10,000 from the River District, and $8,000 from each West Slope Roundtables for a total of $52,000 in funding. 

Water History

Southwest Colorado Mining History

Duane Smith, a local historian and retired Fort Lewis professor, said that even in the late 1800s, downstream communities wondered why the Animas River changed color, as mining practices of the day were unregulated. A 1899 newsclip from the Durango Democrat, indicated the early tension between Durango and Silverton: “The question that is crowding upon Durango thick and fast is one of water. The mill slimes from Silverton are now reaching us.” According to a 1932 report in the Silverton Standard & the Miner, a La Plata County farmer won a legal action against Sunnyside Mining and Milling after the company dumped mine tailings into the Animas River, damaging the farmer’s land and stock. The article does not name the terms of the settlement, but the farmer sought $25,000 in damages (about $500k in today’s dollars). In a great November 17th article by the Durango Herald, archival photos of mine tailing pits above Silverton highlight that not much has changed when it comes to complaints about mine waste since the region’s early settlement. “Ranchers and farmers who want to use water for irrigation in the lower valley have always attempted to force the mine and mill operators to keep the tailings from polluting the streams; however without much success,” the original caption for the 1940 photograph said. The mine tailing photo is especially relevant after the August 5th Gold King Mine blowout, which sent 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage down the Animas River, and reinvigorated a decades-old problem of water quality in the river’s upper basin.

Miscellaneous Facts

New Colorado River Website

According to a new U.S. Interior Department website (www.doi.gov/water/owdi.cr.drought/en/index.html), the Colorado River and its tributaries:

-  Are directly linked to nine National Parks and seven National Wildlife Refuges, which support over $1 billion in tourism revenue each year.