Colorado’s water plan: an end to mega projects?

Apparently, Colorado has a new water plan. Plans are good. This is cold comfort, though, given that the plan only addresses new ‘supply projects’.  We know the Colorado River is already 100% allocated (a tiny bit of industrial civilization insanity in and of itself); this article, from High Country News, projects an additional 5 million residents in the state by 2050, at the same time we face increasing droughts and lower water levels. This will end well, right?

We in Deep Green Resistance believe you have enough intelligence to see the obvious answer. Please join us in dismantling the system that is leading us to ecological disaster, and in ensuring there is still water enough for all living creatures.

Colorado’s water plan: an end to mega projects?

The latest draft of the plan sets strict guidelines for approving new diversions over the Rocky Mountains.

Underneath the surface of Colorado’s new water plan is an unspoken acknowledgment: the days of moving large amounts of water up and over the Rockies are probably done.

On July 7, the second draft of the statewide plan was released, the latest step in a decade-long process that will direct how Colorado’s water should be managed for years to come. The new draft sets a statewide water conservation target of 400,000 acre-feet and incorporates input from Colorado’s nine Basin Roundtables, groups of citizens and experts tasked with thinking about their region’s water needs. But the biggest addition is a revised set of guidelines for making decisions about new supply projects that could spell the end of any new big water transfers over the Continental Divide.

Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, Colorado receives water from the Colorado River basin via the Moffat Tunnel and is owned by Denver Water. The second draft of the statewide water plan sets out strict guidelines for new transmountain water diversion, making a big new supply project unlikely.
Jeffrey Beall/Flickr

The guidelines acknowledge what for years seemed unthinkable to many Coloradans: there may not be any water left to develop, without cutting into the water rights already in use.

That admission represents a huge shift in what the state publicly acknowledges about Colorado’s water supply, says Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District and one of the people who helped draft the guidelines. “Just a few years ago no one was questioning whether there was more Colorado River water to develop,” he says.

Already, a massive system of pipes and reservoirs — known as transmountain diversions – brings more than half a million acre-feet of water east from the Colorado River basin across the Continental Divide to cities and farms on the Front Range. Farmers on the west side of the Rockies, along with the majority of people living there, have long opposed any new diversions. But with groundwater reserves running out and a projected 5 million extra people living in Colorado by 2050, many water managers on the Front Range see a big new transmountain water project as an important tool for keeping pace with growth.

But there’s a problem with that solution, says Drew Beckwith, the water policy manager with conservation group Western Resource Advocates. Climate change will continue to exacerbate drought conditions, which means river flows will keep trending downwards while temperatures rise. That means taking more water out of the system will cut into existing projects — like more eaters making the size of the pie slices smaller for everyone. “It makes it very risky to take more water out of the river under those conditions,” says Beckwith.

That new mindset, encapsulated in the guidelines, challenges a long-held  assumption that the state can and should develop its full allotment of water from the Colorado River under the 1922 Compact. The law requires that the Upper Basin states send 7.5 million acre-feet annually to the Lower Basin plus an additional 750,000 acre-feet for Mexico before splitting the remainder among themselves. According to the most recent study by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the availability of supplies in the Colorado River Basin, Colorado has anywhere from one million to zero acre feet left to develop — depending on which climate model plays out.

On the West Slope, home to 84 percent of Colorado’s water supply, that possibility is driving calls for “not one more drop” of water diverted to the Front Range. Even Denver Water, the largest municipal water utility in the state with 1.3 million customers, acknowledges that protecting existing supplies is paramount. Their comments on the second draft state: “Denver Water receives about 50 percent of its total supply from the Colorado River. Therefore avoiding a ‘Colorado River Compact Call’ is critical to our ability to meet our obligations to our customers.”

But the lingering uncertainty over just how dry or wet Colorado’s future will be means Denver Water is covering both bases. Another section in its comment letter maintains that “the ability to develop new projects should be protected.”

The disconnect underscores just how touchy the issue of new water development in Colorado is — and why authors of the state water plan are tiptoeing around the issue. To critics, the presence of the new transmountain diversion guidelines may make it look like the plan simply endorses new projects. But in practice, says Beckwith, the necessary conditions make it seem unlikely that one will ever materialize: Any new project could only divert water during “wet years” to prevent exacerbating the risk of a curtailment on the state’s allotment of Colorado River water, which would happen if the state could not meet its Compact obligations to the Lower Basin.

To meet those requirements, Kuhn believes “Lake Powell would have to be essentially spilling.” In the past 15 years, those conditions have occurred only once. For that reason, any new project will be a hard-sell. “Are you, as a city councilman, going to endorse a multi-billion dollar project that will only be able to take water in one out of every 15 years?” Kuhn says, though he notes that the guidelines do not impede expansions of existing projects that were already approved (such the Windy Gap Firming Project in northern Colorado).

With less than six months left until a final version of the plan is due to Governor Hickenlooper, debate over whether it merely greases the skids for new transmountain diversions will continue.

 But for Beckwith, “this is as close as you can say to ‘there will never be a new [transmountain diversion] without actually saying it.”

Sarah Tory is an editorial fellow at HCN.

Hickenlooper: Keeping Mine Open Has ‘Nothing To Do With Climate Change’

In a recent interview with Colorado Public Radio, Governor Hickenlooper clumsily tap-danced around the issue of how his supposed concern with climate change might be consistent with his advocating for keeping open a coal mine in Colorado.

Here’s something Deep Green Resistance saw once again about governance, in the aftermath of the Castle Rock Prairie Dog campaign – when those who ‘govern’ are business people, everything is for sale. To expect any different is to fool oneself, and to continue the insanity that is industrial civilization.


Hickenlooper: Keeping Mine Open Has ‘Nothing To Do With Climate Change’

Megan Verlee
JUN 18, 2015

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.  (Megan Verlee/CPR News)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
(Megan Verlee/CPR News)

It’s not often that Gov. John Hickenlooper gets agitated in interviews. But he got riled over a question about how he squares his concerns about climate change with his defense of a northwestern Colorado coal mine.

“This has nothing to do with climate change,” Hickenlooper says of his efforts to convince the federal government to let the Colowyo mine keep operating. “You close this mine it will not reduce the amount of coal that’s burned. It’s a symbolic statement, I understand that. I get it. But these are people’s lives. I don’t think you can be a purist on this.”

The Colowyo mine near Craig employs more than 200 people. Last month a federal judge in Denver ruled that the government needs to reconsider an eight-year-old permit that’s allowed the mine to continue operating. The judge said regulators at the time failed to gather enough public comment or to consider the potential climate impacts from burning the mine’s coal.

In response, Hickenlooper sent a letter to federal Interior Secretary Sally Jewell asking her to do “everything possible” to keep the mine open.

“This is simple business accounting,” Hickenlooper told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. “There is a huge surplus of coal out there. There’s a million different places to get it.”

Instead, he says the way to reduce the amount of coal burned is by lowering demand, through renewable energy mandates and more use of natural gas, steps Colorado is already taking.

The governor touched on additional issues during the interview.

On whether employers should be allowed to fire workers who use medical marijuana:

“One of the specific parts of [Amendment 20] said that businesses, employers, would still have the right to restrict what their employees used.”

The governor believes most companies will start to modify their zero tolerance policies, especially as the technology to detect impairment improves. He points to the state law that allows drivers to have up to 5 nanograms of active THC in their blood as a model.

“Here’s an appropriate limit that you can set that will protect your workplace but allow people who are using medical marijuana to be able to get the benefits that it gives them. And I think most businesses will get to that point. ”

On criticism of the Department of Human Services and its director, Reggie Bicha:

The end of the legislative session last month exposed a widening rift between state lawmakers and leadership at the state’s Human Services Department. In a letter to Hickenlooper, legislators laid out a wide range of complaints against the department and said they’d lost confidence in its management.

Hickenlooper says the Department was already in the process of tackling many of the concerns lawmakers raised, and the governor continues to stand strongly behind Director Reggie Bicha, whom he appointed.

“I think by next fall you’ll see a more balanced approach from the legislature toward Reggie Bicha because he has been out meeting with them and really listening to them,” says Hickenlooper. “I think that’s part of what they felt was he was not sensitive to their concerns and was not responding to their concerns. Well, that’s something he can adjust.”

Hickenlooper also dismissed concerns raised in the letter that the state is failing to adequately monitor county Human Services Departments, which have an usual degree of autonomy in Colorado compared to other states.

“How families are monitored, how we make sure children are not at risk, that’s something that counties and municipalities feel should be more of a local reasonability and should have local control. And we should put 100 percent of our effort into making that work,” says Hickenlooper.

Still, the governor doesn’t completely dismiss the idea of the state expanding its control of Human Services.

“If three years or five years from now we’re not able to measure ourselves against other states, if we’re still slipping, then at a certain point we have to look at other options. But for now I think we want to focus on taking the system we have and making it succeed.”