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HEADWATERS | F all 2009 Currents................................................................................................... 1 CFWE Highlights On tour along the Rio Grande.......................................................... 2 Letter from the Editor............................................................................ 3 An Endurance Event The CWCB’s role in Colorado’s water history................................. 5 The CWCB Board of Directors............................................................. 10

Colorado Foundation for Water Education 1580 Logan St., Suite 410 • Denver, CO 80203 303-377-4433 • www.cfwe.org

Board Members Matt Cook President

At Water’s Helm A legacy of leadership . ................................................................. 11

Justice Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr.

Advancing the Conversation CWCB director Jennifer Gimbel on Colorado’s water future....... 14

2nd Vice President

1st Vice President

Rita Crumpton

Dollars for Ditches…and Diversions and Dams The CWCB’s loan program............................................................. 18

Wendy Hanophy

Healthy Rivers Fund Streams Grants to Citizen-Driven Projects..... 21

Assistant Secretary

Reconciliation on the River The CWCB’s Instream Flow Program matures.............................. 22

Dale Mitchell

Climate Xtremes The art and science of disaster aversion....................................... 26

Assistant Treasurer

On the Cover: Members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Board of Directors, both voting and non-voting, are responsible for governing the agency and setting the tone for water policy in the state. They are, from left to right: Carl Trick (North Platte), John Stulp (Dept. of Agriculture), April Montgomery (San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan), John McClow (Gunnison & Uncompahgre), Reed Dils (Arkansas), Eric Wilkinson (South Platte), Barbara Biggs (City & County of Denver), Travis Smith (Rio Grande), Harris Sherman (Dept. of Natural Resources), Geoff Blakeslee (Yampa & White), Jennifer Gimbel (CWCB) and John Redifer (Colorado). Not pictured are Tom Remington (Division of Wildlife), Dick Wolfe (State Engineer) and John Suthers (Attorney General). Photo ©2009 Rich Clarkson and Associates.

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About the authors… Based in Boulder, Jerd Smith is an award-winning freelance writer and editor with an interest in water issues. She is a former fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism and has won numerous awards, including Stanford University’s Risser Prize for environmental reporting. She also spent 11 years reporting for The Rocky Mountain News. George Sibley spent the last couple decades teaching journalism and regional studies at Western State College. While there, he coordinated the college’s annual fall Headwaters Conference, summer Water Workshop and spring Environmental Symposium. He currently serves on the board of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and is a member of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable. He has written a handful of books including the most recent, Dragons in Paradise, a collection of essays about contemporary life from a mountain perspective. His essays and articles have appeared in publications including Harper’s Magazine, Technology Illustrated, High Country News and Colorado Central. He lives in Gunnison with his wife, Maryo Gard Ewell, and has two grown offspring, Sam and Sarah Sibley. Joshua Zaffos is a Fort Collins-based freelance writer who reports on the environment, science and politics. He has written for High Country News, Earth, 5280.com, Grist, Fly Fisherman, and Orion, among other publications. Zaffos has also worked as a staff writer and editor for several independent weeklies in northern Colorado. His work and musings are online at joshuazaffos.com. Abigail Eagye is a freelance writer living in Carbondale. Growing up in Breckenridge, she developed a love for the state’s pristine beauty. She further fostered her passion for the outdoors while studying ecology in Vermont, Kenya and Northern California. She has since made her home in high country towns from Leadville to Vail to Aspen, where she’s currently the assistant editor at Aspen Sojourner magazine and teaches skiing in the winter. Laurie J. Schmidt is a science writer based in Fort Collins. She specializes in covering the earth and space sciences, including natural hazards and water resources. She has managed a NASA publication based at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and produced content for the Phoenix Mars Lander Mission Web site. In addition to her freelance work, she also currently manages the bi-monthly Colorado Water newsletter for the Colorado Water Institute. More of her work can be found at www.lschmidtsciwrite.com.


Taylor Hawes Treasurer

Alan Hamel

Becky Brooks Tom Cech Rep. Kathleen Curry Alexandra Davis Jennifer Gimbel Callie Hendrickson Chris Piper John Porter Chris Rowe Rick Sackbauer Robert Sakata Travis Smith Steve Vandiver Reagan Waskom

Staff Nicole Seltzer Executive Director

David Harper Office Manager

Kristin Maharg Education Program Associate

Mission Statement The mission of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education is to promote better understanding of water resources through education and information. The Foundation does not take an advocacy position on any water issue. Acknowledgments The Colorado Foundation for Water Education thanks the people and organizations who provided review, comment and assistance in the development of this issue. Headwaters is a magazine designed to provide Colorado citizens with balanced and accurate information on a variety of subjects related to water resources. Copyright 2009 by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. ISSN: 1546-0584 Edited by Jayla Poppleton. Designed by Emmett Jordan.

This issue of Headwaters focuses on the programs of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency whose staff and Board members often meander through our stories. The CWCB is involved in almost every facet of water in Colorado. It works with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and State Engineer’s Office to ensure compliance with our interstate compacts. It works with the Division of Wildlife and Colorado State Parks to identify streams for instream flow protection. It works with local water users to plan for Colorado’s future water needs and improve municipal conservation and drought preparedness practices. The list goes on. The agency has taken many hits since its inception in 1937, and likely will take many more. Due to the public and political nature of water in the West, the CWCB will remain in the crosshairs as long as it continues to work towards its mission to conserve, develop, protect and manage Colorado’s water for present and future generations. The Colorado Foundation for Water Education has had a steady partnership with the CWCB since our founding in 2002. It was CWCB support, both monetary and political, that got the Foundation off to a strong start. To facilitate an ongoing relationship, our bylaws require representation from the CWCB and the Department of Natural Resources on our Board of Trustees. In addition, steady financial support from the CWCB helps us meet our mission of providing balanced and accurate water education programs to the citizens of Colorado. I bring this up for two reasons. One is in the interest of full disclosure. While the CFWE always maintains editorial control of our publications, our readers should know that the subject of this issue of Headwaters is a primary funder of the Foundation. The second is to once again, and publicly, say thank you to the staff and Board members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. For conferring with us when we need their expertise. For helping to guide us as we grow and improve our programs. For encouraging our status as an independent organization. And for continuing to believe in our mission and how we accomplish it. I am sure that all of our readers know a little about the work of the CWCB. The Foundation’s goal in publishing this issue of Headwaters is to help you understand the breadth of the agency’s work and how it influences the science and policy of water in Colorado. Happy reading, and as always in the fall, pray for snow!


Nicole Seltzer, Executive Director

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CFWE Highlights On tour along the Rio Grande

Participants in the 2009 Tour of the Rio Grande Basin pause for a photo on the Rio Oxbow Ranch near Creede (above). The tour also made stops at the Great Sand Dunes National Park (below) and the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge (background), among others.

By David Harper The Colorado Foundation for Water Education hosted this year’s annual river basin tour in the San Luis Valley, where the leading authorities on the Rio Grande River shared their expertise on water issues in the basin. Pre-tour activities included an educational river rafting trip and a tour of the Acequias of Costilla County— some of the oldest communal waterways in the nation. In all, 114 participants including water providers, state legislators, water engineers, lawyers and curious citizens enjoyed two sun-drenched and content-filled days in the valley.. With stops at various ranches and farms, a fish hatchery, a

solar power plant, and a former mining facility, tour participants received a relatively comprehensive view of water resource issues in the Rio Grande Basin. The tour concluded with an informative presentation on the hydrology of Great Sand Dunes National Park. The Rio Grande Basin tour was one of the most successful in CFWE history, thanks in large part to the graciousness of tour sponsors and the water experts in the San Luis Valley who were willing to share their knowledge with attendees. Next year, the CFWE will hold its annual tour just over the pass from the Rio Grande, exploring the San Juan, San Miguel and Dolores basins of Southwestern Colorado. The 2009 tour would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsors: MillerCoors Southwestern Water Conservation District Board of Water Works of Pueblo Rio Grande Water Conservation District Rio Grande Valley Water Users Association San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District Colorado Potato Administrative Committee San Luis Valley Irrigation Company Carlson, Hammond & Paddock


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C all it a love / hate relationship if you will. Fickle as Colorado’s climate, Coloradans quickly shift between criticizing the state’s lead water-planning agency for doing too much or too little. Ever since the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s earliest days, local entities have resisted the Board’s involvement…that is, when times are good. But when the going gets dry, as with the recurring droughts that have plagued Colorado’s past, those same communities change their tune. As the agency’s deputy director Dan McAuliffe has observed, “The CWCB is most loved in times of the worst water shortage.” Over the years, the CWCB has inherited a growing to-do list from the state Capitol. The agency has steadily adapted to the changing values embraced by the state, growing to address such issues as flood and drought planning, water conservation, endangered species recovery and watershed rehabilitation. Over the past six years, more than at any time in its past, the CWCB has been reaching out to confer with citizens of every stripe to ensure it is truly accounting for Colorado’s best interests across the board. The CWCB has not been without critics. For a group that is called to lead, to set the tone and create the policy for the state, theirs is no simple charge. You can’t please everybody all the time, right? But, at least at this point in its history, it seems the CWCB is seriously trying. Read on to trace the history of the Board with Jerd Smith. Let me introduce you to some of the Board’s past directors and citizen representatives and the leadership example they set. Then meet the Board’s current director, Jennifer Gimbel, and explore the biggest issues she faces today with George Sibley. Walk with Smith through the agency’s loan program and the trouble it faces due to the state’s budget crisis. Then dive into the Board’s Instream Flow Program with Josh Zaffos and explore how the evolving program plays into current events in the Dolores River Basin. Find out how a lesserknown program is funding citizen watershed initiatives from Abigail Eagye. And finally, get a glimpse of Colorado’s temperamental climate and how the CWCB helps local communities prepare with Laurie Schmidt. Our kudos to those who are willing to take on the multi-faceted responsibilities delegated to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Love it or hate it, our water future may be largely in your hands.

Jayla Poppleton, Editor


Jayla Poppleton

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Timeline History shapes the CWCB


Colorado signs La Plata River Compact with New Mexico


Colorado signs Colorado River Compact with six other states: the lower basin (California, Arizona, Nevada) and the rest of the upper basin (Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico)


Colorado signs South Platte River Compact with Nebraska



CWCB created


Colorado signs Rio Grande River Compact with New Mexico


Colorado signs Republican River Compact with Kansas and Nebraska


Colorado signs Costilla Creek Compact with New Mexico


Colorado signs Upper Colorado River Basin Compact with upper basin states


Colorado signs Animas-La Plata Project Compact with New Mexico and the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Indian tribes

Dust Bowl




Colorado River Storage Project Act passes authorizing construction of Lake Powell, Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Aspinall Unit reservoirs and Navajo Reservoir


Colorado-Big Thompson Project completed


Authorizing legislation for Fryingpan-Arkansas Project passed


CWCB’s Construction Fund created


Instream Flow Program created




Big Thompson Flood


McPhee Reservoir completed


CWCB helps start Upper Colorado Recovery Implementation Program to recover endangered fish species on the Colorado River


CWCB helps start San Juan Recovery Implementation Program


CWCB’s Severance Tax Trust Fund Perpetual Base Account created


CWCB signs Platte River Recovery Implementation Program agreement with Nebraska and Wyoming to recover endangered fish and bird species


Largest CWCB loan at the time made to Ute Water—$27 million




Statewide Water Supply Initiative commences


CWCB loan helps finance Elkhead Reservoir expansion—$11 million


Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act creates the Interbasin Compact Committee and roundtable process


CWCB loans $158 million in one year


CWCB makes largest loan to date for Prairie Waters Project—$75 million ($87 million loaned in one year)


CWCB loans $45 million in one year


$107 million taken from CWCB cash pool to help balance state budget deficit


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The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s role in Colorado’s water history

An Endurance Event By Jerd Smith

On a warm Sunday evening in Meeker

Emmett Jordan

in 2003, the Colorado Water Conservation Board was arriving for a three-day meeting. Hotel rooms were nearly sold out. There were lines at the restaurants. Typically about two dozen or so people comprise the CWCB’s formal entourage as it travels around the state, meeting every two months to conduct the public’s water business. In Meeker, the tiny, rustic Sleepy Cat Ranch resort just outside of town had the only conference room large enough to accommodate the ranchers, attorneys, environmentalists and other citizens who also attended. That meeting’s agenda would include two controversial issues at the time: the onset of the state’s pioneering effort to plan for future water supply statewide and its involvement in recreational water rights. It drew a large crowd, but it wasn’t the first time the CWCB’s role in establishing policy related to the state’s water would do that.

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Emmett Jordan

From the beginning, the CWCB’s mission—to conserve, develop, protect and manage Colorado’s water—has been daunting. Formation of the Colorado Water Conservation Board Selling out small town venues is something the CWCB has been doing since its inception 72 years ago, when state and federal officials hoped the new agency would help calm Colorado’s fractious water community. When Colorado’s General Assembly created the Board back in 1937, the nation was mired in the Great Depression. Colorado farmers were watching the Dust Bowl sweep away thousands of acres of what had once been valuable farm land. North of Denver, a controversial federal plan to bring water from the West Slope to farmers on the northern Front Range— the Colorado-Big Thompson Project— was about to be approved by Congress. And the rancorous split between West Slope and East Slope communities over water was poised to explode. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District was forming to oversee the Colorado-Big Thompson, and the Western Slope Protective Association would soon organize and become the Colorado River Water Conservation District. But the job of bringing balance to the state’s often unruly water community would be handed to the new Colorado Water Conservation Board. “It was a grand political compromise,” says Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District who served on the CWCB Board of Directors between 1992 and 2001. “These three entities were all part of the same political package that made it through the state legislature in 1937.” “At the time [1937], there was no umbrella organization within the state that could facilitate discussions on water matters, and a lot of it had to do with


the development of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project,” says Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and current CWCB Board member. Once the CWCB was established, then-Gov. Tellor Ammons appointed nine members to represent each of the state’s eight major river basins and Denver on the CWCB’s Board of Directors. The Board would have its own staff and would also give seats to some of the most powerful people in state government: the attorney general, the agricultural commissioner, the directors of the state’s Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Wildlife, and the State Engineer. In its early days the governor was chairman of the Board. Always the Board traveled, careful to listen to the constituents of each basin. “Everyone was supposed to put their geographic concerns aside and represent the interests of the whole state,” Kuhn says. Water officials were to serve “without fear or favor from local communities,” language from a Colorado River District oath of office but which embodied the even-handed spirit meant to govern each of the newly created water agencies, including the CWCB. From the beginning, the CWCB’s mission—to conserve, develop, protect and manage Colorado’s water—has been daunting. Colorado sits at the headwaters of some of the country’s mightiest rivers, feeding streams that eventually become the Missouri, the Mississippi, the Rio Grande and of course, the Colorado, among others. The CWCB is responsible for protecting Colorado’s water supply entitlements under two Supreme Court decrees and nine inter-

state water compacts, powerful legal agreements that dictate how Colorado must share its supplies with other states.. Conservation, a utilitarian view Not long after its creation, the CWCB was immersed in negotiations not only with the federal government over the ColoradoBig Thompson, but with other western states on compact issues and with dozens of entities within Colorado’s own borders. Over time, despite the conflict that often brewed at the Continental Divide, the Board was able to marshal a broad consensus resulting in strategically placed reservoirs across the state—including the McPhee, Dallas Creek and Animas-La Plata reservoirs in the San Juan Basin; the Blue Mesa Reservoir in the Gunnison Basin; the Green Mountain, Granby and Ruedi reservoirs in the upper Colorado River Basin; the Carter, Horsetooth and Boulder reservoirs in the South Platte River Basin; and Pueblo Reservoir in the Arkansas River Basin. The reservoirs, largely federallyfunded, would help the state “conserve” water by storing it before it was lost downstream, protecting Colorado’s ability to use its compact entitlements and providing much-needed water to arid agricultural regions and growing communities. In the beginning, however, the agency had no money to invest in such projects itself. In 1971, under Republican Gov. John Love, state lawmakers created a Construction Fund that gave the CWCB new power to help communities develop water. “Prior to that, the Board’s primary role was as a wheeler and dealer,” explains Jennifer Gimbel, director of the CWCB. “It was always trying to facilitate conversations among parties and trying to eke out whatever we could seek out

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from the federal government. But legislators finally realized we needed some money to help farmers improve their systems. We were then able to parcel out that money. It was enough to be helpful and that’s still the need we meet today.” For decades, the Board was known for its ultra-conservative stance on water. Its members were almost exclusively water rights holders, representing farmers or the state’s biggest cities and water projects. These “water buffaloes” were strict disciplinarians, intent on sticking to the state’s prior appropriation doctrine—the first-in-time, first-in-right rule that governs the West’s scarce water supplies. “When the Board was formed, conservation meant to harness water to use it to build the West,” says Gimbel. “So I think the Board was predominantly made up of folks interested in developing the state economically, especially during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.” During that time, the Board also lobbied for passage of such legislation as the Colorado River Storage Project Act of 1956, which authorized the construction of Glen Canyon Dam, Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Navajo Reservoir and the Aspinall Unit in Colorado. The CWCB director, as Colorado’s Upper Colorado River Compact Commissioner, would represent Colorado in the development of annual operating plans for those reservoirs in order to maintain Colorado’s ability to manage its water resources independently from the other Colorado River Basin states.. Conservation, as in environmental protection It wasn’t until the 1970s and the advent of the environmental movement that the more modern concept of conservation—

to save and protect water in streams, rather than to divert and store—began to take hold. The era would bring major changes. In 1973, Colorado became one of the first Western states to allow water to be kept in streams for the benefit of the environment through the Instream Flow Program. The CWCB was charged with developing the program. It was a radical departure from the way water had been managed since mining days, when the only beneficial uses recognized were those by miners, farmers and city dwellers. “The instream flow statute was monumental,” says Wilkinson. “It was a whole new thing, and there was resistance from the more traditional water users. The Instream Flow Program was adding another beneficial use that didn’t involve water leaving the stream.” Still, the Board had little cash to buy water rights for environmental purposes. It wasn’t until 2008 that lawmakers allowed it to use $1 million annually to purchase senior water rights for instream flows, rights old enough to ensure there will be water for fish even in dry years. By the 1980s, it was apparent that several declining fish species native to the Colorado River system would receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. In order to protect water users’ ongoing ability to develop water from the Colorado and other rivers, the CWCB helped establish a series of recovery programs designed to provide adequate flows for the fish. The Upper Colorado Recovery Implementation Program was signed first in 1988. Four years later, the San Juan Recovery Implementation Program was added, and in 2007, the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program with Wyoming and Nebraska officially began.

“The importance of these programs often gets overlooked,” says Randy Seaholm, chief of the CWCB’s Water Supply Protection Section. “But they are critical to Colorado’s ability to utilize its water resources without an overabundance of federal involvement.” According to Seaholm, the Upper Colorado Recovery Implementation Program has resulted in more than 1,500 successful Endangered Species Act Section 7 consultations—a favorable consultation allows a project to go forward— from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that determines whether the programs are making “sufficient progress” toward recovery of the species. The current target for recovery of the four Colorado River endangered fish is 2023.. Water for recreation Soon, in addition to loaning money, negotiating compact issues, implementing flood protection plans and managing water for the environment and endangered species, the Board would be faced with one of the biggest battles in its history—allocating water for recreational purposes, for kayaking and rafting. Glenn Porzak is a water attorney and legendary foe of the CWCB. He represents some of Colorado’s largest ski resorts and resort towns and battled aggressively from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s to secure water rights for kayak courses for such communities as Golden, Vail, Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs. Most of the applications for those rights, known as recreational in-channel diversions, or RICDs, were opposed by the CWCB, but Porzak and the resort towns prevailed in court again and again. “The CWCB appealed all but one

“The instream flow statute was monumental. It was a whole new thing, and there was resistance from the more traditional water users.” — Eric Wilkinson

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“SWSI gave the Board a higher profile and a broader reach…This was the CWCB’s first, if not its biggest, acknowledgement of the need for outreach.” —Russell George Water for the future Once the drought of 2002 struck, the CWCB was in the hot seat again. One of the worst droughts in modern times, the epic dry spell threatened the entire state. And it prompted the CWCB to begin a groundbreaking effort to plan for the future to ensure Coloradans would not run out of water. Known as the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, or SWSI, the survey and study aimed to define how much water existed, how much was used each year and how much would be needed in the future. “It was probably the first time that we really reached out, basin-by-basin and to communities, and asked them to participate in long-term water planning and projects,” says Russell George, former executive director of the Department of Natural Resources who now heads the Colorado Department of Transportation. SWSI drew fire from all sides of the political spectrum. Western Slope com-

munities saw it as a raw attempt by Front Range policy makers to find all the water that was left and craft a way to divert it to the Front Range. Environmentalists had similar concerns—that streams would be left dry. Even Front Range water utilities viewed SWSI as the state meddling in their closely guarded water portfolios. As CWCB staffers and water consultants fanned out, they gathered data and presented it at night meetings from Longmont to Gunnison. Though few were happy with the Board at the time, the process took the CWCB out of its narrow water world and thrust it onto the agendas of city councils and county commissions. “SWSI gave the Board a higher profile and a broader reach,” George says. “In its earlier history, it had been a game of inside baseball, as the water business can be. This was the CWCB’s first, if not its biggest, acknowledgement of the need for outreach.” SWSI’s data laid the groundwork for


of the cases all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court and lost at the trial level and the Supreme Court level,” Porzak says. Even at the Supreme Court, however, the issue was divisive. The justices deadlocked in a three-three vote, with Justice Greg Hobbs recusing himself, in the Golden, Vail and Breckenridge cases, leaving the original water court decisions—to uphold the RICDs as valid—intact. Bitterness still lingers over those cases, but Gimbel and others say the Board was in a tough position, with few guidelines from lawmakers on how to implement a controversial, progressive law. “The RICDs were thrust upon us by the legislature, and it left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth,” Gimbel says. “Our mission is to balance, and we are responsible for the population, to ensure there is water for everyone. We have to protect those rights and we take our job very seriously.”.


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the Interbasin Compact Process, a statefunded effort spearheaded by George in 2005 that now works in parallel with the CWCB. The process includes roundtables in each of the state’s river basins, forums for public discussion of how to share water between basins and cooperate to plan for future water supply.. Back to its roots, uniting the state Barbara Biggs, Denver’s representative on the Board since 2004, believes the work surrounding SWSI is “critical to the state thinking like a state.” The CWCB is now building portfolios of different alternatives that could meet future water demand, says Biggs, who is also government affairs officer for the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District. As the process unfolds, she acknowledges some people’s frustration with the slow pace, but says, “The reality is that until we’ve tried to address everybody’s concerns, I don’t know how we get to concrete solutions, and clearly there are issues that still need to be looked at. If we don’t study them, we’re never going to stop talking about them.” Another criticism of the process,

according to the Board’s Arkansas Basin representative Reed Dils, has been the lack of cooperation exhibited between the East Slope and West Slope roundtables in the form of projects coming through for Water Supply Reserve Account funding. The reserve account, which has a $10 million annual allocation, funds projects identified through the roundtables, with final approval coming from the Board. Dils says the Board is beginning to prioritize projects that demonstrate cooperation across the divide. After 72 years, the Board is still trying to bring the state together. Reed, Biggs, and Wilkinson, who has represented the South Platte River Basin on the Board since 2000, along with their colleagues, continue to drive thousands of miles each year to meetings and spend another 30 to 40 hours a month reading the engineering reports, the research papers and the lawsuits that comprise the Board’s work each year. A typical meeting binder is 4 or 5 inches thick. The Board still includes more traditional water users, including water districts, ranchers and farmers. But as the state has evolved, the Board’s leadership has changed as well, with some current

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members coming from backgrounds in both recreation and the environment, including both Dils, who retired from the rafting business, and the Board’s chair Geoff Blakeslee, who works for The Nature Conservancy. April Montgomery, of the Telluride Foundation, is the most recent appointment to the Board and represents the Southwestern basins. Travis Smith, the Rio Grande Basin’s representative on the Board since 2005, operates a family ranch in Del Norte and runs the San Luis Valley Irrigation District. His goal is that the Board would truly set the tone for the state in terms of water planning. “Sometimes we get bogged down in the weeds on a particular issue. Our tendency is to just react to the current situation, whatever the crisis is now. But I think the Board has to have a longer-term view, to have a plan and a vision of what it’s going to take to meet the future needs and demands.” As the Board continues to traverse the state in its conduct of Colorado’s water business, it will have to be long-winded, says Smith. “Water projects can take over 30 years to complete. You’ve got to be able to take baby steps sometimes, because it’s a long, long race.” q


The CWCB Board of Directors The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Board of Directors is comprised of ten voting members. Each Board member is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. This ensures that two branches of government have input on each member’s appointment and, ultimately, in the policy direction of the agency. Voting members include representatives from each of eight major river basins in the state as well as the city and county of Denver. They are appointed for three-year terms, but often serve for multiple consecutive terms. No more than five members can be from the same political party. The executive director of the state’s Department of Natural Resources is the tenth vote on the Board. Five ex-officio members who do not have a vote provide information and counsel to the Board based on their relevant expertise. These include the CWCB’s director, the State Engineer, the agricultural commissioner, the attorney general and the director of the Division of Wildlife.     The Board meets every two months in various locations around the state. Meetings are open to the public, and a calendar can be accessed at www.cwcb.state.co.us. Current Board basin representatives: North Platte River Basin Carl Trick, appointed in 2006 and re-appointed in 2009 Member of the Jackson County Water Conservancy District board of directors, rancher

South Platte River Basin Eric Wilkinson, appointed in 2000 and re-appointed in 2009 General manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Arkansas River Basin Reed Dils, appointed in 2008 Member of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board of directors, Retired from outfitting and rafting business

Rio Grande River Basin Travis Smith, appointed in 2005 and re-appointed in 2008 Superintendent of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, rancher

San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins April Montgomery, appointed in 2009 Member of the Southwestern Water Conservation District board of directors, programs director for the Telluride Foundation

Gunnison/Uncompahgre River Basins John McClow, appointed in 2009 General counsel for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District

Colorado River Basin Mainstem John Redifer, appointed in 2004 and re-appointed in 2007 Professor of political science at Mesa State College

Yampa/White River Basins Geoff Blakeslee, appointed in 2007 City and County of Denver Barbara Biggs, appointed in 2004 and re-appointed in 2007 Government affairs officer for the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District


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Yampa Valley Project director for The Nature Conservancy

Clifford N. Stone 1937-1953

Ivan C. Crawford 1953-1958

Felix L. Sparks 1958-1979

At Water’s Helm A legacy of leadership By Jayla Poppleton With the 72-year-old Colorado Water Conservation Board, there is no shortage of characters who have worn the temporary hat of director-in-chief or carried a powerful Board of Directors vote that could uphold or stymie any given water project seeking state support. Each had his or her own leadership style and strengths, but the quality that the most effective among them shared was a statewide vision. “They had this idea that what they were doing was whatever needed to be done to the best interest of water in Colorado,” says Fred Anderson, who had worked with several CWCB directors from his Senate seat in the Colorado General Assembly, a position he held from 1966 to 1982. “The majority of those that served on the Board,” Anderson continues, “had that same type of interest. They wanted to make sure that things went right.” Felix Sparks, the agency’s third and longest-serving director, was hired in the midst of a heated West Slope versus East Slope battle over the massive transmountain diversion known as the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. At the time, the governor served as chairman of the water planning- and policyfocused CWCB’s Board of Directors, and he refused to call meetings because

But he also recognized his responsibility to do the work delegated to him despite his personal opinion, a character trait his military background may have had something to do with.

things were such a mess. “There were maybe one and a half years there that there were no Board meetings,” recalls Bill McDonald, a former CWCB director and now director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Pacific Northwest Region. “Things were not always copacetic on the Board.” Gov. Stephen McNichols looked to Sparks, who had recently left the Colorado Supreme Court to return to his law practice in Delta, Colo., for help. “The governor asked Felix to be his personal emissary as the attorney for the Board to try to put things back together,” says McDonald. Sparks took a hard look at the Board, suggested changes such as a larger budget and supporting staff, and was quickly appointed the agency’s director in 1958. After that, the Board starting meeting again. For the next 20 years, Sparks would lead the CWCB, becoming, as McDonald puts it, “an institution unto himself.” A decorated veteran of World War II, Sparks was a born leader. Helping get the authorizing legislation for the FryingpanArkansas Project passed in 1962 was only one of many battles he fought for Colorado’s water. His strength was his political prowess and his willingness to take on people he didn’t agree with. “He was certainly willing to take on the Feds,” says Anderson.

When McDonald, a fifth-generation Coloradan, took over the position in 1979, he made no attempt to fill the shoes of the man he considered “a legend.” Rather, he elected to approach the job his own way. The CWCB’s citizen board, of which there were several long-tenured members when McDonald donned the director’s hat, proved invaluable to the young Greeley native, who felt he was “drinking from a fire hose for the first couple years on the job.” McDonald was also quickly supported in his role on the Upper Colorado River Commission when the governor appointed Sparks a commissioner. “I couldn’t ask for a better piece of institutional knowledge and political savvy when it came to Colorado River issues,” says McDonald. McDonald’s contributions to Colorado included the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement, which he spent four years and 3,000 hours working on as the state’s lead negotiator. The agreement was key in bringing closure to the tribes’ claims for water and providing the ultimate impetus for the Animas-La

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J. William McDonald 1979-1990

Plata Project. He also worked closely with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources director at the time, David Getches, in negotiating the first plan for recovery of the four native Colorado River fish species that are listed as threatened and endangered. The program matured into what is now the Upper Colorado Recovery Implementation Program. McDonald was known to draft lengthy memos to the Board in preparation for strenuous two-day meetings involving dozens of important decisions. He would lay out the pros and cons on each issue and provide recommendations. At that time, the director still had a vote on the Board—it was removed during McDonald’s tenure—but he found it awkward and insisted on voting only when a tie-breaker was needed. He established, however, respect among the Board members as “he was able to understand all the nuances of the job from a legal perspective,” says Jim Lochhead, attorney and former DNR director. McDonald was, and is, also considered “really smart,” to the point that David Harrison, a prominent water lawyer who served on the Board from 1989 to 1997, says the Board could not always keep up. “One of the things about having such high brainpower in the directorship was that we would tend to defer to him a little. It hearkened back to the older tradition of Felix Sparks. [Felix] was so smart and had a totally dominant personality. The Board would tend to rubber stamp him.” 12

David Walker 1990-1992

Two years after McDonald left, director Daries (Chuck) Lile, whose time in office was cut short by illness, stepped in, lending his own flavor to the job. As a leader, “he was more in this concept of being a coordinator, a facilitator, and bringing everybody together,” recalls Harrison. Lile was hired in 1992 by Ken Salazar, then director of DNR, on the heels of a controversial double-resignation by the former State Engineer, Jeris Danielson, and CWCB director, David Walker. When Salazar hired Lile and then, as State Engineer, Hal Simpson, part of the deal was that there was going to be a new era of working together, says Harrison. And there was. “That was a key thing that Chuck Lile brought to it,” says Harrison. “A new degree of collaboration and communication between the two water agencies in the state.” Following the 1985 lawsuit that Kansas brought against Colorado for overusing its apportionment of the Arkansas River, Simpson and Lile began to convene working groups in the Arkansas Basin to discuss what could be done. “The water users in the basin didn’t like the proposed rules [from the State Engineer’s Office] and didn’t trust the state,” recalls Lochhead, who succeeded Salazar as DNR director in 1994. “Lile and Simpson went on the road. They sat in coffee shops and on front porches and got complete buy-in from the water users.” Lile, whose strengths were his personality and his ability to sit down and talk one-on-one with

Daries C. Lile 1992-1998

people, says Lochhead, was critical to achieving that success. Like Harrison, Lochhead was a water lawyer who, prior to becoming DNR director, served on the CWCB Board beginning in 1983. When McDonald left in 1990, Lochhead took over as Colorado’s lead negotiator on the Upper Colorado River Commission, a role usually reserved for the head of the CWCB. “Jim was a very capable attorney, and he became a very adept negotiator,” says Sara Duncan, Denver Water’s manager of intergovernmental affairs who served as an interim CWCB director for less than one year in 1992, prior to Lile’s appointment. Lochhead spent a decade negotiating a surplus agreement on the Colorado River where the downstream state of California agreed to reduce its surplus uses of water by 800,000 acre feet. “It was a very significant event on the river,” says Lochhead, who was extremely satisfied with the outcome. Immediately after signing the surplus agreement, Colorado was hit by the record drought of the early 2000s, and Lochhead found himself engaged in a new set of negotiations leading to shortage guidelines in the Colorado River’s lower basin. At that point, he had left DNR and instead represented some of the state’s bigger districts and cities in the negotiations. Rod Kuharich had become the CWCB director and had the lead in the new negotiations, a plausibly

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Peter Evans 1998-2000

awkward situation since Kuharich was hired under Republican Gov. Bill Owens, while Lochhead had been appointed by a Democratic administration. “It had the potential to be partisan,” says Lochhead, “but [Kuharich] put that aside and embraced me as a member of the team. That was critical to the successes we achieved in those negotiations.” Avoiding the pursuit of narrow interests and partisanship was certainly necessary to be effective, says Harrison. “Anybody with a real local viewpoint, a single issue viewpoint, didn’t get much done.” Harrison understood that from the start. With a reputation as a traditional water lawyer who had done some work for The Nature Conservancy, he says he was appointed to represent the South Platte Basin in 1991 because Gov. Roy Romer wanted a little green on the Board, but not someone radical. Harrison was exactly that. He worked alongside the more traditional Board members who had ranching, farming or water utility backgrounds, and he looked for common ground. The Board operated on a consensus basis during his tenure, a method he hopes he contributed to. Many challenges, including the Instream Flow Program, spanned from one directorship to the next. It was Fred Anderson who first sponsored the bill in 1973 that created the program and handed it to the CWCB to oversee. Sparks, then director, was not overly enthusiastic about the newly created task at the time, recalls

Rod Kuharich 2000-2007

Jennifer Gimbel 2008-Current

his own attempt to operate with what he felt was a balance of interest. Like McDonald before him, Kuharich called on Felix Sparks for counsel. “The first time I called Felix, I said, ‘This is Rod Kuharich. Help.’”

Anderson. “But whether he agreed totally or not, the fact that it was there and it was to be done, he did it. And I think he got it off to a strong start.” Years later Kuharich, a personality many conservationists might not have considered a friend in office given his municipal water supply background at Colorado Springs Utilities, was the first CWCB director to place a call on the river based upon instream flow filings. “It caused quite a stir among the water users,” recalls Kuharich, who is now executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority. “But the statutes clearly directed me to protect the instream flows and that’s what I was bound and determined to do.” Kuharich, as director from 2000 to 2008, led the CWCB through the drought period, including the massive undertaking to assess statewide water supply into the future. The Statewide Water Supply Initiative commenced in 2003 on his watch. “You had water users that were planning projects and you had growth control and environmental advocates that didn’t want to see any water projects built. Both had their own story as to needs or lack of needs, and I felt the state needed to provide an unbiased look at this.” Kuharich’s leadership philosophy was to hire good people and let them do their job. He encouraged the Board to take its statutory role of establishing state policy seriously without letting that direction be determined by parochial interests. He says he was criticized for

Sparks, who died two years ago, is no longer available to offer advice, whether Jennifer Gimbel, hired as director in 2008, would choose to seek it or not. Gimbel stepped to the plate at a time when the state has recognized a great and growing demand for water in its nottoo-distant future. Now, as she presides over the agency that is most involved in the Interbasin Compact Process, an attempt to bring the state’s eight major river basins together for statewide solutions, she is wedged between a rock and a hard place. But Denver Water’s Duncan believes Gimbel can be a peacemaker. “She will listen,” says Duncan. And Anderson, from his farm in Loveland, Colo., thinks Gimbel was “a darn good pick to be director.” How come? “She has the background and the interest and the historic knowledge of everything that’s gone on. I’m confident she’ll do the right thing.” The true meaning of the “right thing” will mean different things to different people, but one thing it seems her predecessors’ legacy would tell is that she has to look to the best interests of the state as a whole. Pursuing purely localized interests, says Anderson, could have always torn everything apart. q

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CWCB director Jennifer Gimbel on Colorado’s water future By George Sibley Photo by Kevin Moloney

Nothing in the future will have a greater impact on our ability to sustain our way of life and preserve our environment for future generations than water . —CWCB Web site


Jennifer Gimbel, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, speaks of the “many hallways” in her part of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources—all intersecting at her office. Each hallway contains from two to seven people working on distinct, important programs involving Colorado’s most precious resource, and those programs don’t all automatically move harmoniously in the same direction. In trying to get a real overview of her job, it helps to think of Justice Greg Hobbs’ depiction of “the two chambers of the western heart: beneficial use and conservation.” The CWCB is as close as one could come to Colorado’s locus for that western heart. The seven program areas of the CWCB run the full gamut of water challenges today, from the Water Supply Planning and Finance Section that supports water development projects to the Stream and Lake Protection offices where water is protected from development. Like William Faulkner’s evocation of the human heart, this western heart is often in conflict with itself, and the conflicts eventually come home to those several hallways intersecting at Gimbel’s office. Gimbel is no stranger to such conflicts. She has two decades of experience working in water and resource law, mostly with the attorneys general of both Wyoming and Colorado, but her real baptism through fire might have been with the U.S. Department of the Interior, another organization at the crux of that western heart. She was employed there by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, but in the mid-2000s Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton borrowed Gimbel to negotiate Indian water right settlements in the West. Norton also sent her into the maelstrom of the Middle Rio Grande to work out a swirl of conflicts involving the silvery minnow, several federal agencies, Indian tribes, farmers, environmentalists and growing cities. Those experiences made Gimbel as ready as one can be for Colorado, its Water Conservation Board and the 21st century. The cusp of the 21st century may be a fitting time for a water attorney to be moving into the leadership of the organization that has been most associated, at least in the public mind, with “concrete” water development projects through its revolving Construction Fund and traditional support for USBR projects. There is general agreement that the western water resource has mostly been developed, for both non-consumptive environmental and recreational needs as well as the traditional consumptive agricultural, domestic and industrial uses. More water projects will be built, but they will not all be developing “new” water. Instead, they will be redirecting, reusing and reallocating already developed water, and the legal and political challenges will equal or surpass the engineering challenges. “I understand the law,” Gimbel said in an interview, then went on to explain that what she means is that she understands where there is “black and white law” and where there are “gray zones” requiring testing, clarification and expansion of existing law. She notes that “there is a lot of gray out there.”

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“I see the IBCC as a think tank for the state’s water future.” —Jennifer Gimbel


As one talks to Gimbel—and watches her at work in the state—it becomes clear that one of her strategies for moving Colorado into the 21st century is to build more open, informed and responsive communications among a multitude of factions that grew up contentious and competitive in the 20th century. This starts within the CWCB itself, where she is proud of the degree to which the staff as well as the Board members work with an awareness—nurtured in weekly senior staff meetings—of what everyone else is doing. Making sure that the discourse in the state is “informed” is important, which requires good information. She accordingly believes that continuing to compile and use the information collected through the Statewide Water Supply Initiative is essential to the future. “SWSI is the study everyone hated, but now refers to,” she says. She is even more enthusiastic about informational models for each basin that make up Colorado’s Decision Support Systems, or DSS, which the CWCB’s Water Information Group has been collaborating on for close to two decades with the Division of Water Resources. The DSS enables users to model water development scenarios on GIS maps with overlays for everything from basic hydrology to water rights, diversion records and calls. “SWSI gives us snapshots,” Gimbel says. “The Decision Support Systems are fully developed models for the basins.” Information alone, however, will not generate solutions to water problems. It just illuminates the gray zones. Thus Gimbel is working hard to get the state’s water factions talking to each other. At the 2009 Colorado Water Congress summer conference, recent DNR director Harris Sherman observed that the water debate now occurs in a “bigger tent” with more groups than when he first ran the department in the 1970s. In 2005, the Colorado General Assembly attempted to erect that larger tent with HB05-1177, creating nine basin roundtables and an Interbasin Compact Committee, all of which include local governments, environmentalists, recreationalists and other entities besides the traditional “water buffaloes.” The roundtables and IBCC have to interact with the CWCB, but figuring out what exactly the interplay between the two bodies

should be is part of Gimbel’s challenge now and into the near future. There is general agreement around the state that the basin roundtables have been a helpful forum for developing intrabasin awareness and communication. But the Interbasin Compact Committee concept of solution-building across basins has proven more challenging, and Gimbel finds herself in a difficult place with it. She believes the IBCC is where the big conversation about the state’s water future should happen, but she also has a charge to make sure that the state’s water needs are met in a timely way and is getting a little nervous about the extent to which that conversation isn’t happening. “I see the IBCC as a think tank for the state’s water future,” Gimbel says. She also sees it as a forum where people should bring ideas to put on the table for discussion, with the most accepted— or least challenged—ideas and visions channeled to the CWCB for further development. But Gimbel is concerned about what she perceives as reluctance by IBCC participants to really put things on the table—probably the consequence of many decades of competition and contention over water. “I hear echoes from the past,” she says. The source of much pressure today on the emerging relationship between the IBCC and the CWCB is the result of a dangerous set of gray zones aswirl around the Colorado River. A large portion of the water for Colorado’s growing Front Range metropolis comes through the Continental Divide from the Upper Colorado River. It is presumed even by most West Slopers—with reluctant resignation—that more will come from there in the future. That’s if there is in fact more unappropriated water to move. One of the big questions is how much water Colorado has left to develop from its Colorado River Compact entitlement of 51.75 percent of—well, of what? Is it the 7.5 million acre feet almost explicit in the 1922 compact, or the 6 million acre feet revealed by the USBR’s 2007 hydrologic determination, or an even smaller figure emerging from sophisticated scientific analysis of river hydrology over the past 500 years? The CWCB is spearheading a Colorado River Water Availability Study to answer that question, partly at the request of West Slope roundtables.

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potential diversions from the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range despite the fact that the Colorado River Water Availability Study is not yet completed. The utilities argued in a July letter to the CWCB that the IBCC process is too “laborious and largely unproductive,” and they need to begin planning now for projects that would require at least a decade to become operational. But even if the CWCB Board were to succumb to such pressure and charge ahead, 20th-century style, on a water project or two, the organization has been seriously hamstrung by Colorado’s deteriorated financial situation. The CWCB’s numerous programs operate almost entirely on repayment and interest on loans made from two revolving funds—the Construction Fund, supported by federal mineral lease money, and the Severance Tax Trust Fund Perpetual Base Account, derived mostly from the state’s severance tax on resources “severed” from the state. Revenues from that tax have crashed along with all other revenues, and last year, the governor and the legislature took $107 million from the agency’s funds to help meet the budget deficit. With little money to lend, repayments and interest will decline, and Gimbel will have to begin thinking about which hallways to start closing down. In short, absolutely nothing about the future of the CWCB seems predictable and certain. That said, Gimbel is not the kind of person to be deterred by complexity or difficulties. She finds the financial situation frustrating: “I did not realize I was going to spend so much time thinking about money.” But she also has long known that, where water in the West is concerned, “you’re always dealing with fluctuations,” an observation as true for the cultural environment with its economic droughts as it is for the natural environment. Her biggest hope for the future remains that, through well-developed partnerships in the “bigger tent,” a proactive and creative Board, and continuity of a well-coordinated set of CWCB programs, Coloradans will learn to really talk and work together constructively on the biggest nexus of water challenges westerners have ever faced. “We need to keep pushing the conversation forward,” she says. Keep that western heart beating. q H e a d w at e r s | Fa l l 2 0 0 9

The CWCB’s numerous programs operate almost entirely on repayment and interest on loans made from two revolving funds—the Construction Fund… and the Severance Tax Trust Fund Perpetual Base Account.

iStockphoto.com (2)

The study is so fraught with complexity that it took a year just to scope it. Completion of the study’s first phase, which is expected late this year, will likely reveal the most thorough compilation of historical and hydrologic data that has ever been assembled on a river. With input from the IBCC, the CWCB is now scoping the study’s second phase, which will examine developmental scenarios for the river, incorporating risk analyses associated with various climate-change models. The CWCB is also in the process of launching a second Colorado River study to assess the probable impacts and alternatives available in the event of a Colorado River Compact curtailment. This is the biggest gray fog of all on the Colorado River: Given predictions of a return to long-term hydrologic conditions with annual flows up to 1 million acre feet lower than the 20th century average, compounded by climate change predictions for the Southwest resulting in 10 to 30 percent less water in the Colorado River system by 2050, what happens if the amount of water flowing to the lower basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada) and Mexico falls below the 8.23 million acrefoot average annual release the USBR makes from Lake Powell to comply with the Colorado River Compact and the Mexican treaty? The fact that there is no clear answer to that question in the compact means that worst-case scenarios and fear-talk proliferate. The compact compliance study by the CWCB’s Water Supply Protection Section may help turn that into a more informed discussion. Not everyone is convinced that more informed and open discussion among the many water-related groups in Colorado will happen fast enough to conclude with definitive projects that will meet the needs of a population predicted to double by 2050. A state legislator fired a shot at the CWCB during August’s Colorado Water Congress conference, charging that the agency is doing more study projects than construction projects. On the spot, Gimbel responded with the fact that the CWCB loaned out $45 million for on-the-ground projects last year. In retrospect, she says she should have pointed out that the agency has lent $300 million over the past three years. Still, the pressure is on from the Front Range’s metropolitan utilities, which are pushing the CWCB to begin studying

Severance tax revenues, paid to Colorado when nonrenewable resources such as oil or gas are “severed” from the land are used by the CWCB to make loans for water projects.


Dollars for ditches… and diversions and dams The CWCB’s Loan Program In the summer of 2002, Pinewood Springs

was bitterly, desperately dry. The Little Thompson River, which wanders through the scenic foothills below Rocky Mountain National Park, had evaporated. “The Little Thompson River has gone dry every year for the past ten years. But in 2002 it was the worst it ever was,” says Pinewood Springs Water District superintendent Carl Pender. The Pinewood Springs Water District had always diverted water directly from the Little Thompson and relied on wells to supplement its river diversions. But during that summer both the river and the wells went dry. The community, which had no storage reservoirs, was forced to begin buying water from neighboring towns and trucking it up the mountain. “We hauled water from Longmont every day, 30,000 gallons a day,” Pender says. For months, the caravan would begin at 5 a.m. and end at 9 p.m., when Pender would drain the last truck and prepare for another day. While the tankers rolled down Highway 36, the district was scrambling to find help. It would need millions of dollars to build a storage reservoir and upgrade an aging water system designed to support a small group of summer cabins, not the year-round residential area that had since developed. “I was just starting here at the time,” Pender says. “I told the homeowners, ‘You’ve got to have a year’s worth of storage, somewhere.’ They needed help bad.” After months of making phone calls to state and county agencies, the homeowners found a loan program at the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The CWCB would prove to be the only entity willing to lend money to help the small district solve its water woes. The agency provided Pinewood Springs with a low-interest, $2.8 million loan. The loan was one of dozens the CWCB’s finance arm has made over the years. Started in 1971 with money from Colorado’s General Assembly, the loan program has helped farmers and cities build small reservoirs, install pipelines and repair dams. “The CWCB provides an opportunity that doesn’t exist in other parts of the economy,” says Kirk Russell, marketing manager for the loan program. “It’s pretty standard knowledge that we’re the only game in town when it comes to ditch and reservoir companies. Small banks typically don’t want to have anything to do with water projects because they don’t understand them.” The CWCB sets its interest rates annually, charging agricultural borrowers slightly less than their municipal customers. As the loans are paid back and interest accrues, the money is lent out again. To date, the loan program has had a low failure rate—one in roughly 370 loans—in part because of the high level of scrutiny CWCB staffers give each deal, Russell says. “We’re water people. We know it. We understand it,” he explains. “We put borrowers through a very strict, very detailed review because we want to pro-


tect taxpayers from a defaulting borrower.” In 1996, the CWCB’s loan program expanded significantly when the legislature authorized the agency to begin receiving 25 to 30 percent of the state’s severance taxes collected on oil and gas revenues. As the oil and natural gas boom of 2006, 2007 and 2008 took off, those taxes helped expand the agency’s program even further and it was able to make much bigger loans. In 2001, the agency loaned the largest sum it had ever approved at that time—$27 million—to Ute Water on the Western Slope. The loan helped the domestic water provider install a 12-mile water supply pipeline in the Grand Valley to meet future water demands. “At the time the CWCB had a lot of money,” says Larry Clever, Ute Water’s general manager. “They were encouraging us to take as much from them as we needed.” Following the 2002 drought, the loan program helped keep hundreds of South Platte Basin farmers from losing their land after a series of legal battles forced them to dramatically reduce or stop pumping irrigation wells. New rules required the farmers to put more water back in the South Platte River to augment—or compensate—for their pumping. But water was scarce and prices were skyrocketing. “All hell was breaking loose,” says Tom Cech, executive director of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Things looked dismal for the well owners.” Using $37 million in CWCB loans, farmers were able to purchase water rights and to buy and line gravel pits in which to store the new water, releasing it to help replenish the river’s surface supplies as they pumped water from the aquifer that lay below the South Platte. In 2004, the CWCB served as the lead financier on the expansion of Elkhead Reservoir outside Craig, lending $11 million to the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which had partnered with several other entities, including the town of Craig and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The CWCB loan was the centerpiece of a $30 million project that provided important water storage for the West Slope as well as water to augment flows for endangered fish on the Yampa River. Then, in 2007, the agency would make the largest loan in its history: $75 million to the city of Aurora to help build a cutting-edge reuse project that would capture treated wastewater from the South Platte River, purify it, and store it for use by city residents. The project represented a major turning point for the loan program. For decades it had served small irrigation districts and farmers across the state. Bringing a major city into the loan portfolio caused concern in the agricultural world. In rural farming communities, there was no access to big city investment bankers whom Aurora could have used. But the CWCB, as it had with all of its borrowers, was able to offer a

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By Jerd Smith Photo by Glenn Asakawa

“I told the homeowners, ‘You’ve got to have a year’s worth of storage, somewhere.’ They needed help bad.” —Carl Pender

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“The CWCB provides an opportunity that doesn’t exist in other parts of the economy.” Kevin Moloney

—Kirk Russell

lower interest rate than Wall Street. And the program fit within the CWCB’s mission, part of which is to help finance water supply projects for the citizens of Colorado. The loan generates enough cash in interest payments—3.75 percent on $75 million—to support nearly the entire CWCB budget, according to Mike Serlet, former section chief of Water Supply Planning and Finance at the CWCB who retired in August. “We took a lot of heat for it,” Serlet says, “but it made sense. Aurora was a good borrower and it was a great investment for the CWCB. A lot of people said we shouldn’t lend money to Aurora because the city didn’t fit within the intent of the program. But we said there is no restriction against it. And as money comes back from Aurora, it will generate more money for loans to others.” The CWCB, a relatively small agency with an operating budget of just $7 million, has financed its own operations since 2002, thanks to its interest income. It receives no money from the state’s general fund, the giant purse of public tax dollars that most state agencies use to operate, according to the CWCB’s Russell. As its loan pool has grown, the agency has used its earnings to generate more loans and more interest. The resulting cash funds have drawn attention from lawmakers in several different budget crises. The last two years have been no different. In 2008 and 2009, as the crisis unfolded, lawmakers tapped the CWCB’s cash pool by $107 million, taking money from two different cash accounts the agency uses to make loans: the Construction Fund and the Severance Tax Trust Fund 20

Perpetual Base Account. The money was desperately needed to help balance the state budget, but the reduction means the agency’s loan capacity will be cut by two-thirds this year, according to Jennifer Gimbel, the CWCB’s director. As a result, the agency was forced to do something it had never done before— break a promise to make a loan. “When the budget crisis hit, legislators reached into our severance tax pot and took $97 million,” says Russell. Another $10 million was taken from the Construction Fund. “Unfortunately that money was waiting for the Arkansas Valley Conduit Project.” Bent County Commissioner Bill Long, a key proponent of the project, says other funds authorized by the federal government have been found to fill the gap, but he’s concerned his group will need more help from the CWCB in the future. “We were disappointed, although we understand the problem,” Long says. “Now we’re looking very hard at alternatives.” Russell says the CWCB’s hope is that the loan pool will gradually return to health and be available for the Arkansas Valley should it be needed. But most believe it will take at least five years for the loan fund to recover unless lawmakers create another source of revenue. Rep. Kathleen Curry, a Democrat from Gunnison County, says the state must find a permanent source of funding for water projects because they require years of advance planning and certainty when it comes to financing. “I’m worried that these year-to-year transfers [from the CWCB back to the state’s general fund] aren’t over,” she says. “I think the legislature will be in a bind for a while, and unfortu-

nately, water planning is not a year-to-year exercise. The water community needs stability.” Like others, Central Colorado’s Cech is concerned that the CWCB loan program will go dormant for the next several years as it recovers from the budget crisis. “It’s critical for irrigated agriculture that the state continue the loan program. It’s an affordable source of funds.” The agency estimates it will loan just $10 million to $20 million this year, far less than usual. “That’s almost dormant,” Gimbel says. “Last year we lent $45 million. The year before that it was $87 million. Before that it was $158 million. We’re going from giving out a significant amount of money for infrastructure to giving out really small amounts of money.” How the Board will proceed with such small amounts of money to loan isn’t clear. Travis Smith, the Board’s Rio Grande Basin representative, admits they are in new territory. But he also says the Board has financial policies that provide some guidelines, such as prioritizing projects that meet a statewide interest, help achieve compact compliance or have greater delivery efficiencies. If nothing is done to recapitalize the loan funds, water project planning is likely to languish, says Curry. With state water planners poised to address the potential impacts of climate change, population growth and aging infrastructure, the recession’s timing could hardly be worse. But few see any near-term solutions. “I think it will take five to six years for us to get back up to speed,” says Gimbel, “assuming the economy recovers.” The water community can only hope. q

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Healthy Rivers Fund Streams Grants to Citizen-Driven Projects By Abigail Eagye

Usually, the goals of environmental groups and Jeep clubs seem at odds. But in Jamestown, Colo., the James Creek Watershed Initiative has worked hand in hand with 4x4 clubs to restore natural areas around nearby James and Left Hand creeks. At first glance, their visions for the land completely differ. The four-wheelers are there to play, while the watershed initiative seeks to protect the town’s water supply from the consequences of that play— namely, excess sediment in the creeks. Efforts to mitigate water quality problems stemming from the eroding Jeep trails could easily have driven the groups apart. But in order to secure a grant from Colorado’s Healthy Rivers Fund, everyone with a stake in the project had to be on board. Members of the watershed initiative realized they had to address the four-wheelers’ concerns—still having a playground—to achieve their own goals. And a joint effort to re-route the fourwheel trails away from the waterways was born. Seed money to grow on The Healthy Rivers Fund is supported entirely by a check-off option on the Colorado income tax return. Since 2003, its first year on the return, the fund has garnered nearly $632,000. Its grants generally range from $5,000 to $25,000, although it has allocated as much as $50,000 to a single project. It doesn’t sound like much. But even the smallest grant serves as seed money for eliciting larger donations. The grants cannot support more than 50 percent of a project’s total cost, so local organizers must kick in the rest themselves or appeal to other donors, like the Environmental Protection Agency. “On average, for each dollar the Healthy Rivers Fund spends, the local community comes up with another eight,” says Chris Sturm, stream restoration coordinator with the Colorado Water Conservation Board,

The fund’s past and its future It was the Colorado Watershed Assembly that fought to put the Healthy Rivers Fund on the state tax return. The fund’s objective is to protect water quality by preserving whole watersheds. Projects

have included organizing volunteer programs to monitor water quality; creating public access to popular rivers; improving and increasing fish habitat in areas affected by the Hayman fire; and examining water policy. The Healthy Rivers Fund was originally called the Colorado Watershed Protection Fund, but when it nearly missed raising the $75,000 annual minimum to remain on the tax return, administrators changed the name. Everyone knows what rivers are and why we value them. But the concept of a watershed is less tangible to many. Despite the new name, any project that benefits the overall health of a watershed is eligible for funds, since aquatic and terrestrial life are inextricably linked. “A lot of what’s going on in the water, good or bad, is a direct result of how the land’s being used,” says Sturm. “A small project in a degraded area can do wonders for connecting a lot of habitat.” But the fund itself could use more dollars. In addition to nearly losing its spot on the tax return, some qualified applicants leave empty-handed. Sturm has received three times as many requests as he could support through the fund, but he’d like to see every qualified project receive a grant. “The government can easily put money into this fund if they want to,” Crane says. “There’s a huge need out there.” The CWCB cooperates with Colorado’s Water Quality Control Commission to administer the fund and determine who gets the grants. The two work closely with the Colorado Watershed Assembly, which is where potential applicants should go to get the ball rolling. Individuals who wish to donate can check the Healthy Rivers Fund box on their state tax return to give a $1 donation or write in a larger amount. Every extra dollar matters to keep the fund alive, a necessary prospect, says Sturm, if people want the Colorado they’ve come to love to be protected. q

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the state agency that administers the fund. “And that has been the real success of the fund,” he says. “It’s leveraging larger pots of money from usually federal sources that require a local match.” Also, by requiring that stakeholders work out their differences before doling out grants, the Healthy Rivers Fund not only finances projects, it helps them reach fruition faster and more economically than if a project required consultants and lawyers to make each side’s case. In one instance, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to build a diversion project on the North Fork of the Gunnison was estimated to cost $135,000. Instead, stakeholders completed the project on their own for a mere $40,000, with some money from the Healthy Rivers Fund. The project solved a problem created each year when a ditch company bulldozed a makeshift dam, diverting the entire river to fill its ditches. The action would result in a dry stretch of riverbed impassable to fish. Instead of using the Corps’ larger-scale project, a local watershed group created a by-pass and installed a head gate to help the ditch company divert only the water it needed while giving the fish safe passage down the river. “There’s not enough said about how effective a watershed group can be,” says Jeff Crane, executive director of the nonprofit Colorado Watershed Assembly, a coalition of about 70 local watershed groups. “A $20,000 grant can go a lot further with a watershed group than a government entity.” “It is great to have a citizen base that does not have to conform to all the red tape. They can really get something done,” adds Crane.

By Joshua Zaffos Photos by Kevin Moloney

“The evolution was not just in the program or the legislative changes, but also in each community learning about the program and seeing how it did not have detrimental effects on water users.” —Dan Merriman, former CWCB Stream and Lake Protection Section chief


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When Wilford Speer arrived in the Dolores River Valley in 1962, as the region’s first state-appointed water commissioner, ranchers greeted him with shotgun barrels. Settlers had worked hard to carve out a living in the wild desert landscape, and an outside authority on water management wasn’t given a warm welcome. The region of the Dolores River—El Rio de los Dolores, or the River of Sorrows—isn’t exactly an inviting landscape. The dramatic sandstone cliffs rising above the river provide a breathtaking backdrop, but the area is foreboding. Water is scarce; precipitation averages just 12 inches a year. Only five years after the federal government officially opened the Dolores Valley to homesteading in 1873, ranchers began trying to divert water. Plans for a large reservoir date back to 1900, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that Congress authorized the Dolores Project and the construction of McPhee Reservoir. But the completion of McPhee in 1985 hardly ended conflicts over the flows of the Dolores River. Before the dam was finished, environmental concerns and recreational uses were exerting their own pressures on the river. A 1977 study recommended 105 miles of the Dolores for Wild and Scenic River designation, a federal stream protection status that could compete with existing water rights. A proposed wilderness area and the plight of struggling native warm water fish also threatened to tie up water for preservation through federal action. And then a dam’s tail-water trout fishery and popular boating runs added even more demands for adequate flows at certain times of the year. Achieving the balance of human and environmental needs on the Dolores and other Colorado rivers hasn’t been simple. Some of the responsibility falls to the Colorado Water Conservation Board and its Instream Flow Program. Crafted to correlate “the activities of mankind with reasonable preservation of the natural environment,” the state program has taken shape over decades to enable flexible applications of instream flow water rights with existing water use for agriculture, industry and communities. On the Dolores, the CWCB holds a decree for up to 78 cubic feet per second—water to be left in the stream—on a stretch of river downstream of McPhee Reservoir. While outside intervention on water issues is still regarded as suspect, disparate water interests have learned to leave their guns at home. One example is the five-year-old Dolores

River Dialogue, a collaborative effort that brings together irrigators, federal land managers, CWCB staff, state wildlife officials and environmentalists to work out flow releases from McPhee. Guiding documents are building toward a comprehensive approach to flow management for irrigation, recreation and the environment. “The CWCB has had active participation in a lot of these efforts,” says Michael Preston, a past facilitator of the Dialogue and general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which operates McPhee. Discussions about federal protections “could potentially have been a divisive issue,” Preston says, “but we’re trying to use it to build on.” The history on the Dolores and the cooperation of the Dolores River Dialogue reflect the progress of both the CWCB and the Instream Flow Program. Since the program’s creation in 1973, legislative and administrative advances and changes in institutional and personal attitudes have represented an evolution in how the Board manages water resources. “I think the Instream Flow Program has grown into itself over time,” says Amy Beatie, executive director of the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust. “It’s not seen as anathema anymore.” The Instream Flow Program arises Western water law developed without much consideration for rivers themselves. The doctrine of prior appropriation codified the principle of “first in time, first in right,” forcing people to divert as much water as they could possibly use or risk losing their senior rights. With the exception of the requirement that water reach downstream senior water right holders or be allowed to run out of state to meet interstate compact obligations, the doctrine practically ensured the depletion of creeks and rivers. Over time, the diversion and storage of water reduced the peak flows of streams across Colorado, ultimately to the detriment of the fish, wildlife and vegetation that rely on a river’s natural hydrograph, which typically includes a flood stage following spring snowmelt or seasonal storms.

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During dry summers, some stream reaches would become parched, waterless channels. Native and introduced trout often suffered, as did the lesser known and appreciated warm water fish, including species of chubs, suckers, dace and minnows. The ecological degradation didn’t go unnoticed as the country developed an environmental consciousness in the 1960s and 1970s. People began to appreciate rivers for their recreational and environmental values: Bone-dry streams couldn’t be paddled, rafted or fished, nor could they support wildlife. The wave of new environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, enabled the federal government to mandate permit conditions requiring flows to be left in streams to protect the environment. This concept of instream flows, and particularly the idea of a private entity or a federal agency imposing them on the state, caused “some hand wringing and worry from vested interests,” says Michael Browning, a water attorney with Porzak Browning and Bushong in Boulder, because it threatened long-standing water rights under the prior appropriation law. Rather than face the imposition of a federal standard, Colorado water users forged their own path. State and regional water managers “could see that there needed to be some protection and it needed to be guided by the state, and not the federal government,” says Dan Merriman, who worked as chief of the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section from the 1980s through 2007. The Colorado General Assembly created the state’s Instream Flow Program in 1973, recognizing the CWCB as the exclusive agent for appropriation or acquisition of water rights to preserve the environment “to a reasonable degree.” Ever since the CWCB was first created in 1937, its work was primarily dedicated to developing water resources, so the Instream Flow Program was a new hat for the Board to wear, Merriman says. And the Board didn’t necessarily wear it comfortably at first. On one hand, Colorado became a trailblazer among western states by acknowledging and protecting instream flows. But the language and bounds of the law 24

The Colorado General Assembly created the state’s Instream Flow Program in 1973, recognizing the CWCB as the exclusive agent for appropriation or acquisition of water rights to preserve the environment “to a reasonable degree.”

carefully avoided treading on existing water use. Newly appropriated instream flows were junior to existing water rights, and the creation of instream flows were limited to preservation—as compared to the improvement—of environmental conditions. Perhaps the most glaring shortcoming was that, even though the law approved of acquisitions to obtain more senior rights, the state didn’t make any money available for that purpose. More tools for protection As of 2009, Colorado has appropriated instream flow rights on more than 8,800 miles of streams, representing about 30 percent of the state’s perennial river miles, and natural lake-level rights on 486 lakes. Typically, an individual or agency recommends a stream reach or water body for protection, and CWCB staff then prioritize the recommendations based on various criteria. Scientists collect biologic, hydraulic and hydrologic data in the field and primarily use the R2Cross method, originally developed by the U.S. Forest Service, to develop the recommendations. Depending on the complexity of the stream reach being considered or the ecosystem being protected, other techniques may be used to allow for more adaptive management of the resource. Geoff Blakeslee, the Board’s chair and director of The Nature Conservancy’s Yampa River Project, is especially interested in making sure the Board has enough data to be sure it is adequately addressing the instream flow need. He hasn’t been

shy about asking the staff to return to the field to collect more data, especially when it comes to assessing a river’s year-round flow variability. “It’s very important that folks have a chance to look at that yearround hydrograph,” he says. Perhaps such efforts will help the program do more than what has historically been just “enough to keep the backs of fish under water,” a concern expressed by Drew Peternell, an attorney and the director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. The extremely basic level of stream protection reflects the early reluctance of water managers to apply instream protections. “There was certainly skepticism,” Merriman says of the program’s first years. Early on, two water conservation districts sued, challenging an instream flow allocation on the Crystal River near Carbondale and questioning the program’s constitutionality. In 1979, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the program’s legality within the prior appropriation system, and the power brokers of Colorado water realized instream flows were here to stay. Legislators and water managers spent the following decade clarifying and adding to the program, generally to protect existing water users and the exclusive role of the CWCB. In 1986, for example, Sen. Martha Ezzard sponsored legislation that confirmed the CWCB’s authority to accept donations of senior water rights or to temporarily lease those rights to protect instream flows.

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“Each and every piece of legislation was a building block,” Merriman says. “The evolution was not just in the program or the legislative changes, but also in each community learning about the program and seeing how it did not have detrimental effects on water users.” But environmental interests felt that the evolution was occurring too gradually, especially as recreational use and environmental appreciation of rivers and lakes skyrocketed along with the state population. At the beginning of the 21st century, some environmental groups were poised to push legislation that would allow privately held instream flow rights. A compromise measure, Senate Bill 156 in 2001, introduced a significant revision to the program, authorizing the acquisition of water for instream flow use to improve— and not just preserve—the environment. “It was a really important tool the legislature gave us,” says Linda Bassi, current section chief for Stream and Lake Protection at the CWCB, “because it gave us a way to strengthen our program to do more with acquired water.” Also in 2001, the Colorado Water Trust formed as an independent nonprofit group with support from both the environmental community and state and regional water managers. The trust pursues voluntary transactions to acquire water rights for instream purposes, holding a purse that the CWCB still lacked at the time. Browning, who is also the trust’s president, describes the organization as a facilitator for the Instream Flow Program. Legislation over the following years has expanded the program’s flexibility and authority to benefit the environment. In 2003, amid the statewide drought, the General Assembly authorized the use of loans and leases of water rights for instream flows so irrigators could temporarily lease their water. Subsequent bills have provided incentives for leasing, including protection of leased water rights’ historical consumptive use. After initially being seen as a threat by vested water users, instream flow acquisitions are now a potential income source. Each revision is “another arrow in the quiver,” says Beatie of the Colorado Water Trust. But the new brand of heavy artillery didn’t arrive until 2008 when the state legislature finally set up funds to purchase water rights. A House bill autho-

Pushing forward on the Dolores Many of the new elements of the Instream Flow Program are being tested through the Dolores River Dialogue. River interests continue to wrestle with the implications of Wild and Scenic River designation, the recovery of declining warm water fish, and the demands of trout anglers and boaters—and how to balance them with agricultural, community and industrial use. “We decided fairly early on that we would try to put a scientific foundation under this,” says Preston. Part of the impetus for a sciencebased approach followed a severe dieoff in the trout fishery in 1990, caused by low releases from McPhee. The CWCB’s instream flow decree for the Dolores protects up to 78 cubic feet per second, but reservoir operations allowed for minimal releases—just 20 cfs—during dry years, leading to high water temperatures that decimated the trout. Recognizing the threat to the fishery, water managers developed a “pool management” scheme that sets water aside in the reservoir for the fish. The new system allows for variable flows during the most critical times, including the summer when the higher releases keep water temperatures cool. The flexible program has served anglers, boaters and the ecosystem without forcing the CWCB to call out junior water rights. “Variable flow requirements for ecological purposes are one of the things the Instream Flow Program is starting to adapt to,” Preston says. Dialogue partners generally support

working through the collaborative process to protect downstream flows in the river without greater federal controls. In December 2008, the Lower Dolores Plan Working Group, operating under the Dialogue, began studying alternatives to Wild and Scenic designation that will protect existing water rights and also uphold the “Outstandingly Remarkable Values” that have earned the lower river Wild and Scenic consideration. The Dialogue has also surveyed warm water fish populations and evaluated their habitat components, which differ from trout’s. Native fish dominate on the Dolores, but three warm water species—the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub—could conceivably be listed as endangered if their populations continue to decline, according to John Sanderson, a freshwater ecologist for The Nature Conservancy. Sanderson, who’s been impressed with the efforts of the state and the Dialogue, says, “The Dolores is especially unique because the white sucker—an East Slope species that hybridizes with the other native suckers—is absent.” The CWCB has provided funds to help establish the field science program, which is also looking at geomorphology based on sediment movement as well as riparian vegetation patterns. The agency’s support leverages the cooperation of other entities, such as Fort Lewis College in Durango and the federal San Juan Public Lands Center. The next step, Preston says, is to figure out what changes to make to water management within the existing supply, a decision that will weave in the collective data on water quality and temperature, flow measurements, and fish and vegetation surveys. Flow acquisitions or leases through the CWCB could be used to ensure that instream flow benefits are maximized within the existing decrees. Similar compromises are being worked out on the San Juan River and the Upper Colorado. Managers anticipate using the new state funds for additional flow acquisitions and leases for native cutthroat trout, plains fish species and several warm water fish in the Colorado River system. Contention isn’t going to just float away, but the CWCB and water users are wielding policy tools instead of weapons these days. Wilford Speer would be relieved. q

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rized the use of $1 million annually from the CWCB’s Construction Fund to lease or acquire water for instream flows. A Senate bill allowed for another $500,000 annually to be spent from the Species Conservation Trust Fund on instream flow purchases for declining or endangered native fish habitat. “They’re intended to put life into the acquisition program,” Peternell says of the changes. “For 36 years, [the CWCB] had the right to acquire water, but it never had a dime to do it.” The state Instream Flow Program has finally become a viable alternative to federal tools to impose instream flows, Peternell adds.

by Laurie J. Schmidt

“Surprise—we got more water than expected!” Those words headlined a recent article written by Colorado state climatologist Nolan Doesken highlighting the wet spring and summer of 2009. But Doesken and other seasoned Coloradans aren’t naive. They understand that premature expectations are a dangerous thing to embrace in a state characterized by climatic extremes. One year’s wet season, accompanied by hot temperatures, can spawn catastrophic floods—only to be followed the next year by drought conditions that make one wonder how there could have ever been enough water for a flood. Colorado’s mid-continent location places it at the whim of competing natural forces, including moisture from the Gulf, storms that originate in the Pacific, and polar fronts from Canada. The results of these atmospheric battles largely determine the amount of precipitation that will fall and whether it will be a wet, dry, or average year. Although agencies monitor snowpack throughout the winter to estimate spring runoff, a more influential variable in the equation is often spring weather, which can change everything. “You get these different forces competing with one another, and you never know which one is going to win,” says Neil Grigg, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Colorado State University. “You can’t really forecast accurately very far into the future because there isn’t enough regularity to it.”


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Photos courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History Collection.

The art and science of disaster aversion

The state’s water supply at any given time or location fluctuates between the extremes of too much water and not enough—each scenario demanding different levels of preparedness and action. When it comes to the task of hazards planning, the state has a full spectrum of variables to juggle. To assist with drought or flood planning, the Colorado Water Conservation Board provides technical assistance to local communities, supplying them with information to help them implement projects for public safety and property protection. “The state’s role is to facilitate the flow of information so that folks get the right information at the right time and recommendations on how to respond to it,” says Veva Deheza, section chief of the CWCB’s Office of Water Conservation and Drought Planning. “But in the end, we really have no ability to dictate the response—that’s all done at the local level. We can’t ‘fix it’ when a water provider runs out of water.”. . Too little, too late Running out of water is completely within the realm of possibility. At least five major droughts have occurred in Colorado during the past 100 years: at the turn of the last century, during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, 1952 to 1956, 1974 to 1977, and the most recent from 2001 to 2004. Really, according to Doesken, in about nine out of ten years, drought conditions are present for at least part of the year in some portion of Colorado. “You rarely go for long periods without significant or extreme drought,” he says. “Even in the good times, we’re usually walking a fine line before the next drought.” One of the “good times” occurred in the late 1990s when the state experienced one of the wettest periods in its recorded history. That was followed by a couple of dry years—and then came 2002. As an individual year, Doesken says 2002 approached a worst-case drought scenario: It was preceded by several dry years so reserves were already drawn down, and then a poor snowpack winter was followed by an extremely dry spring and summer. “Most of the major water providers made it through 2002 with enough water,” says Doesken. “What was really looking terrible was 2003.” But in March 2003, a reprieve came in the form of a three-day storm that dropped 30 to 40 inches of snow on most of the Front Range. “That storm essentially said to us, ‘Here—you’ve got another year to think about it,’” says Doesken. And think about it we did. “2002 was a huge wake-up call, and Colorado hasn’t been the same since,” says Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute. That drought was the catalyst for a huge sea change in Colorado water, says Waskom, evidenced by the amount of water being purchased and transferred, the recognition of groundwater over-appropriation in some basins, concerns about dry-up of agricultural lands, the implementation of permanent conservation programs and so on. Also as part of that wake-up call, people began to question whether the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan, a blueprint for assessing and responding to drought statewide, was sufficient to address current drought scenarios, says Deheza.

Now, the CWCB is leading a comprehensive update of that plan. First developed in 1981 at Gov. Richard Lamm’s behest, the drought plan was updated last in 2007 to comply with Federal Emergency Management Act guidelines. Deheza says the 2010 update will be a complete overhaul. The revised plan will look at drought impacts, and it will focus heavily on assessing the state’s vulnerability to drought. “When you talk about drought planning, you’re talking about identifying triggers and indices around the state that help you monitor for drought conditions and do a better job planning for them,” says Deheza. A drought trigger is a specific indicator that activates a management response, such as a reservoir level dropping to less than 50 percent of its storage capacity. In 2002, fire was the trigger that got everyone stirred up about drought, says Waskom. “The spring rain never came, and it got hotter and hotter. Forest Service staff would come to our task force meetings literally smelling of smoke,” he recalls. The 2010 revision will include an evaluation of all drought triggers. “The first drought plan was written back in the 1980s,” says Deheza. “We’re asking, ‘Are there other triggers that are better indicators now? Are there new tools to help states do a better job of monitoring drought?’” The monitoring mechanism of the drought plan is carried out by the state’s Water Availability Task Force, an interagency team convened by the governor that meets regularly to share information on monitoring tools, impacts and climatology. To carry out its monitoring role, the task force uses tools such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s SNOTEL (SNOpack TELemetry) measurements, the Palmer Drought Index, and Statewide Water Supply Initiative reports. “A big part of the task force is looking at climatology far enough ahead so that Colorado isn’t caught off guard by the next drought,” says Waskom, who sits on the agricultural impacts sub-task force under the umbrella of the larger team. “You can’t wait until the fires are burning and you’re in the midst of it.” Despite the existence of the drought plan and the task force, Deheza says Colorado has a long way to go when it comes to drought planning. “We as a state and as a citizenry should know that drought is part of a semi-arid environment, and yet we’re still not prepared even for the natural variability that occurs in the system.” Studies show that communities with active conservation programs are better positioned to endure periods of drought, and encouraging such programs is part of Deheza’s job. But it’s important to recognize the difference between water conservation and managing for and responding to drought. “A drought is an extreme situation that calls for some pretty onerous restrictions,” says Deheza. “You’re asking for a quick and immediate response, and that usually requires you to put regulations in place.” But in a planning situation, she says, you try to motivate people to take actions that go beyond just turning off the tap..

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Kevin Moloney

“We as a state and as a citizenry should know that drought is part of a semi-arid environment, and yet we’re still not prepared even for the natural variability that occurs in the system.” —Veva Deheza Too much, too fast Water shortage wasn’t the problem in Fort Collins on July 28, 1997; it was too much water—and no place for it all to go. Over a two-day period, intense rainstorms channeled a deluge of water down narrow Spring Creek. It was a catastrophic flood that claimed five lives, destroyed a residential trailer park, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to the Colorado State University campus. Should we have been caught off guard? Just 20 years earlier, the Big Thompson Flood left 144 people dead and caused more than $35 million in property damage—it was Colorado’s deadliest natural disaster. Flash floods are another regular part of Colorado’s water cycle, but flood forecasting is also a science fraught with variables, and Grigg says our predictions have not been very good. “You can look backwards and study the statistics, and you can nail the average recurrence interval, but you can’t say when the next flood is going to happen.” What we can do, Grigg says, is reduce vulnerability. “On the vulnerability side, a lot of things change,” says Grigg. “More people live in areas that are flood-prone, and dams also weaken over time. Is the state prepared? Are we doing emergency drills?” Floodplain maps are a key tool in addressing vulnerability. Used by insurance companies, the National Flood Insurance Program, and local governments, the maps assist in evaluating the level of flood risk to homeowners and in determining where development should occur. “Accurate floodplain mapping is truly the foundation for a solid floodplain management program,” says Tom Browning, chief of the CWCB’s Watershed Protection and Flood Mitigation Section. 28

“When you don’t have accurate maps, it makes it very challenging for local floodplain administrators to do their jobs.” In 2003, FEMA launched an effort to update floodplain maps throughout the country. Now, the CWCB is spending $1.5 million in matching funds for FEMA’s grant dollars on the Colorado Map Modernization Program. “If you look at the flood maps from most parts of the country, they’re from the 1970s and 80s, and these are paper maps,” says Thuy Patton, state map modernization coordinator at the CWCB, which is leading Colorado’s modernization effort in all but the Denver metro area. “Since then, a lot of development has happened, and the maps haven’t been updated.” FEMA’s initial objective was to convert the paper maps to digital format, but as the project progressed, technical errors and missing information in the existing maps came to light. “Now the emphasis is on not only updating the maps, but also on correcting the mistakes and making sure the maps reflect the true risk,” says Patton. While the modernization program will go a long way towards accurately identifying flood-prone areas, Grigg says we still need to be prepared for catastrophe. “A worst-case scenario would be a major flash flood that strikes in a steep area and triggers a dam failure or urban flooding that causes more disruption than we’ve ever seen.” “Most of us see these rare disasters as probably not likely to happen in our lifetime,” says Browning. “But the Spring Creek and Big Thompson floods showed that these large events can and do occur, and they can exceed what the minimum design standard is in the floodplain management world.” The current building standard is a design that can withstand a

100-year flood event, but Browning says the CWCB endorses a higher design standard—for a 500-year flood—for critical facilities, such as hospitals and fire and police stations. But, he adds, there is the cost of infrastructure to consider coupled with whether the public values stronger building structures enough to pay the price with its tax dollars. Doesken says societal values will always influence how the state’s water is used, both in times of plenty and times of scarcity. “You have to understand the tradeoffs,” he says, noting that prioritizing certain uses inevitably limit someone’s ability to do something else. And Colorado’s steep population projections point to a balancing act that will only become more precarious. Not only are Coloradans at risk as development pushes—and is allowed— into the floodplain, but a form of cultural drought—too many people depending on too little water—will make us more vulnerable to natural climatic drought cycles. The CWCB Director’s Report for its July 2009 board meeting stated that water supply conditions have continued to improve statewide and that June 1 reservoir storage data show “the highest positive departure from average volumes since late summer of 1999.” But this is one of those times that Doesken refers to as “the good times,” and it won’t last. “Drought keeps showing up, and every couple of decades it shows up really ugly,” he says. “Any of the large water providers will tell you: You string three drought years in a row, and that’s a worst-case scenario. We do not have fouryear capacity.” It seems the CWCB would agree. “We feel confident that we will be seeing a lot more 2002 years happening,” says Deheza. “And quite frankly, we are not geared up for that.” q

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Thank You! The Colorado Foundation for Water Education would like to sincerely thank all of the organizations and individuals who have provided their financial support in 2009. Our work would not be possible without you.

E n d o w i n g Pa r t n e r

Colorado Water Conservation Board C h a r t e r M em b e r s

Aurora Water; Board of Water Works of Pueblo; Bureau of Reclamation–Western Colorado Area Office; Camp Dresser and McKee; Central Colorado Water Conservancy District; Colorado Association of Realtors; Colorado River Water Conservation District; Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority; Denver Suburban Water District; Denver Water; MillerCoors; MWH; Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District; Rio Grande Water Conservation District; Southwestern Water Conservation District; Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District; Ute Water Conservancy District; Vranesh and Raisch, LLP. P i o n ee r M em b e r s

Brown and Caldwell; City of Longmont; Colorado Potato Administrative Committee; Colorado Springs Utilities; Consolidated Mutual Water Company; Douglas County Water Resource Authority; Leonard Rice Engineers; Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District; Metro Wastewater Reclamation District; Rio Grande Valley Water Users Association; Sakata Farms; San Luis Valley Irrigation Co.; San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District; Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. S u s ta i n i n g M em b e r s AMEC; Applegate Group; Carlson, Hammond & Paddock; Castle Pines North Metropolitan District; City of Grand Junction–Utilities; City of Thornton; Colorado Bar Association; Left Hand Water District; Merrick & Company; Nolte & Associates; Orchard Mesa Irrigation District; PAT/PAC Colorado Dairy Farmers; Stanek Constructors, Inc.; Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District; Weld County Farm Bureau; Western State College; William, Turner and Holmes, PC. A s s o c i at e M em b e r s Aqua Engineering, Inc.; Arkansas River Outfitters Association; Ayres Associates; Black and Veatch; Richard Bratton; Center Conservation District; Christiansen Corporate Resources; Colorado Municipal League; Delta Conservation District; Douglas County–Community Development; Duncan, Ostrander and Dingess, P.C.; George K. Baum and Company; Grand County; Guaranty Bank; Headwaters Corporation; High County Hydrology; Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr.; Hoskin, Farina, Aldrich & Kampf; Hydro Construction Co., Inc.; Kogovsek and Associates, Inc.; Middle Park Water Conservancy District; Palisade Irrigation District; Jonathon Perlmutter; Platte Canyon Water and Sanitation District; Rocky Mountain Agribusiness Assn.; Roxborough Water and Sanitation District; Sherman & Howard; St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District; Dick Unzelman; Wheatland Electric Co-op; Janet Williams; Y-W Electric Assoc., Inc.


W at e r s h e d M em b e r s Anderson and Chapin, P.C.; Animas Consolidated Ditch Company; Anschutz Family Foundation; Bernard Lyon Gaddis and Khan; Bishop-Brogden Associates; Boulder County Parks and Open Space; City of Westminster; Collins, Cockrel and Cole, PC; Colorado Association of Conservation Districts; Colorado Stone, Sand and Gravel Association; Colorado Water Trust; Deere and Ault Consultants, Inc; ERO Resources Corp.; Farmers Grain Co.; Paul Frohardt; Gilpin County Commissioner; Helton and Williamsen, PC; Diane Hoppe; Scott Hummer; John C. Halepaska and Associates, Inc.; Taylor Hawes; Kennedy/Jenks Consultants; Greg Larson; Lutin Curlee Family Partnership, Ltd.; John & Susan Maus; Jack McCormick; Dale Mitchell; Porzak Browning and Bushong; John & Nancy Porter; Roaring Fork Conservancy; Ann Seymour; Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District; TEC Inc.; Daniel Tyler; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Reagan Waskom; Water Colorado, LLC; White and Jankowski; Fred Wolf. I n d i v i d u a l M em b e r s Steven Acquafresca; Bill Alt; Kenneth Anderson; Rick Anderson; Susan Andrews; Frank Anesi; Clarissa Arellano; Tony Arnett; Carl Bachhuber; Steve Baer; David Bailey; Carol Barber; Denise Marie Bates; Jini Bates; David Batts; Troy Bauder; Jeff Berlin; David Berry; Mike Berry; Chris Bieker; Tillie Bishop; Ronald Blatchley; Chad Bledsoe; Linda Bledsoe; John Bliese; Sharon Bokan; Lacey Books; Ann M. Brady; Rob Buirgy; Kathleen Butler; Josephine Carpenter; Gretchen Cerveny; Ron Childs; Aaron Clay; Amy S. Conklin; John Cordes; Pete Crabb; Barry Cress; Rita Crumpton; Don Cummins; Paul V. Dannels; Ray Derr; Kelly DiNatale; Joseph Dischinger; Lewis H. Entz; Harold Evans; Terrance Ferebee; Nathan Fey; Barney J. Fix; Thomas Flanagan, Jr.; Katy Flynn; Wayde Forrester; Jack Fox; Neil Gamblin; Richard Gilbert; William T. Goetz; Wayne Goin; Pete Gunderson; David Hallford; Wendy Hanophy; Duane Hanson; Johanna Harden; Paul Harms; Raymond Harriman; Bob & Sue Helm; William Hendrickson; Mike Herbst; Mark & Sara Hermundstad; Kinsey Holton; Barbara Horn; Nancy Hurt; Will Hutchins; Robert Huzjak; Robert Jackson; Marian Jacobsen; Lynn and Joan Johnson; Toby Johnson; Korey Kadrmas; Pete Kasper; Russell Kemp; Amy Klabunde; Kirk Klancke; Jake Klein; Walter Knudsen; Kim Koehn; Chris Kraft; Sam J. Krage; Kate Kramer; Robert Krassa; Bruce Kroeker; Ramsey Kropf; Rod Kuharich; Barbara Lambert; Greg Larson; Wesley LaVanchy; Charles Lawler; Patrick Lawler; Katryn Leone; Scott Leslie; Mark Levorsen; Richard Lichtenheld; Anthony Lippis; Mary Sue Liss; Marie Livingston; Patricia Locke; Becky Long; Tom Long; Robert Longenbaugh; James Luey; Andrew Mackie; Meghan Maloney; Mary Marchun; Zach Margolis; Tyler Martineau; Donald Martinusen; Steve Maxwell; Murray McCaig; Bryan McCarty; Kevin McCarty; Charles McKay; Rick McLoud; Rich Meredith; Jim Miller; Harold Miskel; James Montgomery; Larry Morgan; Andrew Mueller; Patrick F Mulhern; David L. Nelson; John Norton; Stevan O’Brian; Michael O’Grady; John Orr; Jack Perrin; Mark Perry; Drew Peternell; Stan Peters; Connie Peterson; J. T. Pickarts; John Redifer; Michael Reeg; Chris Reichard; David A. Reinertsen; Melvin Rettig; Rachel Richards; Gary Roberts; Bob Robins; Ellen Robinson; Kelly Roesch; Steve Rogers; Chris Rowe; Janet Rowland; Rick Sackbauer; John Sayre; Erich Schwiesow; Donald Schwindt; Stephen Seltzer; Tom Sharp; Douglas Shriver; George Sibley; Sonja Sjoholm-deHaas; Jay Skinner; Gregory M. Smith; Jo Ann Sorensen; Vicky Sprague; Phillip A Steininger; Luther Stromquist; James Taylor; Megan Thomas; Phyllis Thomas; Carl Trick; Dale Trowbridge; Horst Ueblacker; Paul van der Heijde; Jay Van Loan; Tom Verquer; Richard von Bernuth; Marc Waage; Dennis Wagner; William Wangnild; Chuck Wanner; Robert Ward; Russell Waring; Tom Waymire; David Wegner; Carrie S. Weiss; Tim Werkley; Jody L. Williams; Dick Wolfe; Jason R. Wolfe; Connie Woodhouse; Lane Wyatt; Kirby Wynn; Edith Zagona; Kenneth Zaring; Christa Zemlin; Patti Zink. H e a d w at e r s | Fa l l 2 0 0 9


1580 Logan St., Suite 410 • Denver, CO 80203

Available Winter 2009

CFWE Citizen’s Guide to Colorado’s Interstate Compacts

Delph Carpenter’s 1922 map of Colorado Interstate River Systems from state archives.

Colorado’s headwaters location means water arising here is ultimately used by 18 states and the Republic of Mexico. Allocating water between these states and between the U.S. and Mexico has a long and conflict-ridden history. Those conflicts and ensuing negotiations have resulted in two international treaties, nine interstate compacts, two U.S. Supreme Court decrees, and two interstate agreements with which Colorado is directly involved. This winter, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education looks forward to releasing its Citizen’s Guide to Colorado’s Interstate Compacts. This installment in the Citizen’s Guide series will analyze the history leading to the development of these watersharing agreements, the evolution of their administration and the competing interests that continue to be involved. Written by experts and peer-reviewed, this is a Citizen’s Guide you won’t want to miss!

CFWE 4th Annual Golf Tournament a Success—Including a $10,000 Hole-in-One!

Congratulations to Don Ament on his hole-in-one that netted him $10,000!

The Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s 4th annual Friends of Water Education Golf Classic and Family Day was held this past August at Denver’s legendary Pinehurst Country Club. New for this year was the addition of tennis, swimming and other family activities. This fun-filled event was capped by awards and a banquet. While a social and networking event for CFWE members, the money raised helps fund the serious education work of the Foundation. The CFWE would like to thank all of the individuals who attended and all of the sponsors who helped make this annual event a success:

C o l o r a d o f o u n d at i o n f o r W at e r E d u c at i o n

MWH Brown & Caldwell Colorado Water Resources & Power Development Authority Denver Water Merrick & Company Nolte & Associates Leonard Rice Engineers AMEC Douglas County Water Resource Authority Guaranty Bank High Country Hydrology Sherman Howard


C F WE . o r g

Profile for Water Education Colorado

Fall 2009 The CWCB  

In the Fall 2009 issue of Headwaters, CFWE explores the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency whose staff and Board members ofte...

Fall 2009 The CWCB  

In the Fall 2009 issue of Headwaters, CFWE explores the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency whose staff and Board members ofte...

Profile for cfwe