Environmental Entrepreneurs (“E2”) is an independent non-partisan organization uniting business and environmental leaders to shape state and national policy.  E2 is an affiliate of the Natural Resource Defense Council (“NRDC”).  Donations supporting E2 go through the NRDC, and the two organizations share staff.  Due to the close affiliation between the two non-profits, the NRDC and E2 both value environmental advocacy and sustainability; however, E2’s mission expressly seeks engagement of business leaders to achieve the shared goals of the affiliated organizations.  E2’s mission is “[t]o create a platform for independent business leaders to promote environmentally sustainable economic growth.”

On October 29, 2013, at Deloitte Consulting’s office in downtown Denver, E2 hosted a panel to discuss the topic “Water Wise: Meeting Colorado’s Water Challenges.”  Panelists included Will Sarni, Director of Enterprise Water Strategy at Deloitte; Jerry Tinianow, Chief Sustainability Officer of the City of Denver; Greg Fisher, Chief Planner for the Denver Board of Water Commissioners (“Board”); and James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”).  In light of E2’s recently released report titled “Colorado Water Supply and Climate Change: A Business Perspective,” each speaker addressed questions relating to water conservation and efficiency in Colorado.

Will Sarni discussed three categories of value that he contemplates when consulting with a wide variety of companies to strategize their water management.  Sarni asserts that the three risk categories for business value are physical risks, regulatory risks, and reputational risks.  Physical risks could be the temporary unavailability of water, for instance.  Regulatory risks range from the reallocation of water away from business production to meet more urgent needs during times of drought to the suspension or withdrawal of the supplier’s license or permit.  Reputational risks refer to the potential for negative exposure or public outcry against a business for its water-use practices.  Among other things, when Sarni consults with a business about the location of manufacturing plants, he asks whether the business will have access to water in twenty years at that location and from where the water to support growth projections will come.  Will Sarni’s role at Deloitte Consulting led him to encourage business leaders to incorporate water stewardship into their corporate risk management plans.

Denver’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Jerry Tinianow, discussed the city government’s sustainability agenda.  Denver’s plan encompasses twelve areas: air quality, climate change, energy, food, health, housing, land use, materials, mobility, workforce, water quantity, and water quality.  For each of the twelve resources, Tinianow has specific goals for the government with a separate, but complementary, set of community goals.  Tinianow expressed Denver’s goal to reduce irrigation of parks and golf courses by 22% to an eighteen gallon per square foot average and to reduce use of potable water in city buildings by 15% from a 2011 baseline.  Tinianow stressed that half of the water used in Denver currently goes toward watering golf courses and parks, and he seemed optimistic about meeting Denver’s conservation goals by 2020.

Greg Fisher, the Chief Planner for Denver Water, outlined how the Board supplies the Denver area with sufficient clean water and how it plans to do so in the future.  As Fisher explained, Denver Water serves 25% of Colorado’s population while only using 2% of the state’s water.  Fisher claimed there are still conservation opportunities but acknowledged Denver Water’s successes thus far.  Fisher asserted that Denver Water serves 30 to 40% more people than it did in 1980, yet Denver Water uses the same amount of water as in 1980.  One contributing factor for this conservation success was the dramatic reduction in household use that occurred when Denver Water installed meters on all homes in 1990.

In terms of future conservation, Denver Water’s current goals involve a push for innovation of WaterSense-labeled indoor fixtures and higher water efficiency levels for households.  Since multifamily homes use half as much water per household on average than single-family homes use, Fisher encouraged thoughtful land use planning as a tool to achieve higher efficiency.  Denver Water will continue employing their four-tiered rate scale in the future, which incentivizes conservation.  The affordable first tier rate ($2.59 per 11,000 gallons per month) accounts for most households’ entire water use, but the cost of water increases sharply above that tier because using more than 11,000 gallons per month indicates outdoor watering.  Fisher argued that this tiered scale is a practical and equitable solution because it allows everyone to have cheap access to the amount of water they need to live, and it discourages water uses views as inefficient, such as watering grass.  While Denver Water seems poised and ready for Colorado’s water future in the short term, Fisher predicted that more extreme solutions may be required if the state’s population doubles from five million people to ten million by 2050, as many people expect.

Finally, James Eklund, Director of the CWCB, discussed the context of Colorado’s water situation and the creation of a comprehensive water plan.  He asserted that in certain settings – education, healthcare, and transportation, for example – we fear the unknown; however, with water issues, we fear the known because there are so many studies and statistics predicting a dry future for the American West.  Eklund encouraged the audience to trust the state demographers’ accuracy in their projections of an additional two million people in Colorado by 2030.  Eklund stressed how critical it is for Colorado to have its intrastate water agreements in order due to Colorado’s status as a headwater state with many binding compacts.  Arizona, Colorado, and Washington are the only states in the West without comprehensive water plans.  Through an executive order in May 2013, Governor John Hickenlooper directed the CWCB to commence work on the Colorado Water Plan, which Eklund is currently working on.

The CWCB’s comprehensive water plan will be a dynamic document amended every two to five years.  Eklund stated that the CWCB’s goals include addressing the gap between supply and demand, incentivizing quicker regulatory processes for businesses wanting to establish in Colorado, and devising a statewide comprehensive water plan.  Eklund also called for the need to formulate alternatives to “buy and dry,” which refers to users (typically municipalities) in one location buying water rights from other users (typically farmers), resulting in the drying up of vast swaths of farm land.  Eklund concluded by reminding the audience that Mother Nature and hydrology require that we move quickly.

The E2 conference served as a platform to begin an informed conversation between entities that value a strong economy built on responsible water use and conservation.  A predictable and secure water future for the West is in the best interest of the community and the economy, so E2’s effort to engage a wide array of participants in the discussion is a step in the right direction.

 

The title picture is of downtown Denver, Colorado.  The picture is attributed to George Miquilena and is covered by the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. The use of this picture does not in any way suggest that George Miquilena endorses this blog.


Background

Over the past six years and at the request of Colorado water districts, the Army Corps of Engineers considered many options to increase available water to the Denver Metro area.  Each option sought to provide an additional 8,539 acre-feet per year, and the options included a combination of non-tributary ground water and gravel pit storage, thus reallocating 20,600 acre-feet of flood water to water supply storage; a combination of reallocating 7,700 acre-feet of water supply storage and using non-tributary ground water and gravel pit storage; and even taking no action at all. The Corps considered the many stakeholders’ concerns throughout the process.

The most controversial of the options is to nearly double the capacity of the Chatfield Reservoir (the “Plan”), located approximately twenty miles southwest of Denver.  This project would result in more water for the growing Metro area but may precipitate many consequences, such as the destruction of the surrounding Chatfield State Park’s wildlife and decades-old cottonwood trees.

While the primary function of Chatfield Reservoir is flood control for the South Platte River, the Plan would utilize this existing reservoir to store more water for the growing Metro area.  Some estimates project Denver’s population will double by 2050.  The proposed Plan would inundate more than 500 acres of Chatfield State Park, increase the reservoir’s maximum storage level by twelve feet, and include fluctuating water levels of up to twenty-one feet.  The Plan is estimated to cost upward of $180 million.

Some interested parties, such as local citizens and the Audubon Society, express concern that undertaking this increase in water supply may actually result in a decrease in quality of life, as discussed below.  Proponents for the Plan on the other hand, such as the water district consortium, Trout Unlimited, The Sierra Club, The Greenway Foundation, and Western Resource Advocates, argue that the Plan is the most common-sense solution for the ever-growing issue of the Denver Metro water supply.

The Impact

The proposed changes are guaranteed to affect the Chatfield State Park’s wildlife and cottonwood trees.  The additional 20,600 acre-feet resulting from the expansion may submerge an extra ten percent of the park, resulting in the destruction of forty-five acres of cottonwoods and the habitat of approximately sixty species of birds.  The expansion would also overflow nearby fish habitats, such as those in the shallow weeds of the shore on the reservoir’s southern edge.  Expansion may also affect the endangered Preble’s meadow jumping mouse.

In addition to ecological impacts, the Plan will drastically alter the park’s surrounding recreational areas.  The proposed changes will require relocating the swimming beach and re-anchoring of the floating marina to accommodate the water level fluctuations.  The elevated water level also requires moving the popular shady picnic sites to higher, treeless locations.

Opponents state that because the water consortium owns only junior water rights, the reservoir’s water level will reach the maximum water line only during very wet seasons.  Thus, in normal or dry years, the water level will remain at the current position, with the relocated swim beach roughly 600 feet from the water’s edge.  And during wet years when the water consortiums water rights are utilized, the adjacent woodlands and riparian habitat will flood, forming mud flats.

Proponents, on the other hand, point out many benefits of the Plan.  Chatfield expansion seeks to benefit the Metro area by increasing available water, stabilizing the South Platte stream flows, and potentially supplying more locally-grown produce.  Proponents also note that water users will fully finance the expansion, as opposed to the federal or state government, and the Chatfield Reservoir expansion will benefit the Colorado economy through revenue generation.

Conclusion

As the Denver Metro area continues to expand, water availability is clearly a growing concern.  However, as exemplified in the controversy surrounding the Plan, many disagree as to which method is the least harmful to our quality of life, while also providing the most benefit.  This is a difficult question, and one that the Army Corps of Engineers is attempting to resolve alongside community input.  The ultimate advantages and disadvantages of the Chatfield Reservoir expansion, however, still remain unclear.

 


Sources:


COLORADO WATER CONGRESS SUMMER CONFERENCE 2013: LEADING OUR WATER FUTURE

Steamboat Springs, Colorado   August 21-23, 2013

Agricultural Leadership Forum: So What Exactly does “Saving Ag” Mean?

The Colorado Water Congress is a leading nonpartisan voice in shaping policy and legislation relating to water development, management, and conservation.  In addition to working as an advocate for a variety of legislative and regulatory issues, the Colorado Water Congress provides members with various opportunities for collaboration, networking and professional development at several events throughout the year.  One such event is the Summer Conference.  Hosted annually in a beautiful Colorado resort location, the Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference offers excellent topical content on water law and policy.  At this year’s conference in Steamboat Springs, attorneys, citizen groups, engineers, ranchers, legislators, and others gathered to discuss the future of water and agriculture in Colorado.

As part of this year’s Summer Conference, Erin Wilson of Wilson Water Group and the Colorado Water Congress Board of Directors moderated a panel discussion on an important question: “So What Exactly Does ‘Saving Ag’ Mean?”  The five panelists shared perspectives on the future of agricultural water rights in the face of growing municipal demands.  The panel consisted of John Salazar, Commissioner of the Colorado Department of Agriculture; Marsha Daughenbaugh of the Community Agriculture Alliance; Doug Robotham of the Nature Conservancy; Terry Fankhauser of the Colorado Cattlmen’s Association; and John McClow of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.

Commissioner Salazar began the panel discussion with a lively presentation on Colorado’s rapidly increasing population and the attendant impacts on the state’s land and water resources.  Salazar estimated Colorado’s population to increase by three to four million by 2040, a rate faster than the United States’ growth rate.  Naturally, an increased population will stress the demand for water.  Salazar estimated this growth would require an additional 190,000 to 630,000 acre-feet of water per year.  Emphasizing the significance of farm and ranch water rights, the Commissioner declared agriculture a “cornerstone” to Colorado’s economy.  In doing so, Salazar argued that agricultural water rights are vital to the growing state economy and that there is a need to ensure the continued production of agricultural goods as municipal needs grow.

Marsha Daughenbaugh, Executive Director of the Community Agriculture Alliance, focused her presentation on one of her organization’s strategic anchors: the importance of public education on agriculture.  As a third generation rancher, Daughenbaugh’s interests are vested in the partnerships developed between the Yampa Valley’s resort, business, and agricultural interests to assure agriculture’s longevity throughout the area.  The Community Agriculture Alliance seeks to preserve the agricultural heritage of the Yampa Valley by encouraging programs and policies that mutually benefit and connect agricultural producers and consumers.  Daughenbaugh and her organization believe in the continuing philosophy that the agricultural environment is a valuable part of the community and Colorado must preserve it.  To share this conviction, the Community Agriculture Alliance connects and educates various community groups with agriculture in the Yampa Valley and provides resources for other regions to build a similar connection.  Daughenbaugh’s public education work is not limited to promoting the benefits of farming and ranching.  For example, she highlighted that agricultural lands provide abundant open space, allowing unique Colorado ecosystems and wildlife to thrive.

Next, Doug Robotham discussed how The Nature Conservancy decides what lands and habitats to protect.  The Nature Conservancy works with communities and businesses to protect and preserve lands and waters vital to the diversity of life on Earth.  In Colorado, The Nature Conservancy has helped preserve more than 426,000 acres by establishing thirteen preserves statewide.  Robotham pointed to the Nature Conservancy’s historic Carpenter Ranch in the Yampa Valley as “a great example of how agriculture and conservation can come together.”  A new conservation easement project across the Yampa River from Carpenter Ranch, the Wolf Mountain Ranch, aims to permanently conserve up to 6,300 acres that (i) provide critical habitat for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and sandhill cranes, (ii) support miles of a globally rare river forest corridor, (iii) represent historically and economically important ranchlands, and (iv) preserve historic and scenic views important to the local economy.

Terry Fankhauser, Executive Vice President at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (“CCA”), encouraged innovation when addressing the issues surrounding agricultural water use.  Founded in 1867, CCA is the nation’s oldest cattlemen’s association.  Beef producers voluntarily join CCA and manage it cooperatively, working together to speak on behalf of Colorado’s more than 12,000 beef producers. As a representative of cattle ranching interests, Fankhauser observed that risk-aversion and inflexibility will not save agriculture.  Instead, farmers and ranchers should be open to creativity where efficiency gains can be made in agriculture.  With confidence, Fankhauser stressed: “Agriculture does not deserve to be saved, but agriculture does deserve the opportunity to survive.”

As the final panelist, John McClow offered a perspective on saving agriculture in the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, which uses easements in the Gunnison County area to conserve agriculture.  McClow questioned what would happen to agricultural lands if such land could actually be “saved” by conservation groups.  He illustrated two contrasting possibilities amongst others in a spectrum of options: (i) easements protect the lands in perpetuity, or (ii) easements protect the lands only until the farmer wants to retire and sell his water to a municipality (jokingly referred to as the “401(k) plan”).  While perpetuity is the preferred option for conservation groups, increased land values in much of Colorado, especially surrounding resort communities, make it difficult for conservation groups to incentivize ranchers to preserve agricultural land rather than sell the land to developers.  One suggestion posed by McClow involved state funding for a more sustainable water project to match population growth and demand, diverting attention away from ecologically special high-country areas.

The panel concluded with a brief discussion on three relevant and timely topics:  The Walton Family Foundation Report, agricultural water conservation, and Leasing/Fallowing under Colorado House Bill 1248.

The Walton Family Foundation funded a collaborative effort, working with interested stakeholders, to identify innovative ways to allow water transfers from agriculture to urban use while avoiding or mitigating damages to agricultural economies and environmental values. The report evaluated novel water sharing strategies and developed actionable recommendations to improve water-sharing opportunities in the Colorado River Basin and throughout the West.

Discussion on agricultural water conservation centered first on the issue of how to define such conservation and, second, whether agricultural water conservation can contribute to insteam flows or municipal supply.  The panel had difficulty in answering some of the hard questions on the topic but agreed the problem is still a work in progress.

This discussion lead to the topic of House Bill 1248, which authorizes the Colorado Water Conservation Board to administer a pilot program consisting of up to  three pilot projects, each up to  ten years in duration, in the Lower Arkansas River Basin.  The projects intend to experiment with fallowing agricultural irrigation land and leasing the associated water rights to municipal users in years of shortage.

Overall, the panel spoke positively about the Walton Family Foundation Report, agricultural water conservation, and HB 1248, and viewed each as progressive support for building a creative new approach to Western water management.


 

The Green River

While the Green River, which runs through Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado, is only a tributary of the Colorado River, it has still become a major source of debate and controversy among the three states’ residents and lawmakers.  The Green River starts in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming and then winds 730 miles downward toward the ocean running through places such as the Browns Park and Dinosaur National Monument.  Many people from all over the nation love the Green River because it carved out some of America’s most iconic canyons and is seen as one of the most beautiful waterways in the nation.  The river is also valued as home to several threatened and endangered species, including the bonytail and humpback chub, the razorback sucker, and the Colorado pikeminnow.

 

Background

Recently, serious debate unfolded over the fate of the Green River and Colorado’s ever increasing water deficit.  A new study from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation indicates Colorado will have at least a nine percent decline in water flow by 2050.  The study projected significant impacts on fish and fishing as well as negative impacts on other recreation.  White water rafting, which brings in at least $4.2 million a year for local businesses, would be impacted particularly hard.  While Colorado has allowed more than it is legally required to flow downstream, other states are already violating the 1922 Compact for the Lower Water Basin by taking more than their legal share of water from the river.  Many politicians and water developers have put forward different ideas in recent years to deal with the water deficit, but one of the most controversial plans is constructing a pipeline to take water from the Green River.

 

Flaming Gorge Pipeline

The pipeline, proposed by Aaron Million, is known as the Flaming Gorge pipeline.  The proposal calls for a 500 mile water pipeline to pump eighty-one billion gallons of water per year out of the Green River in Wyoming for use in Colorado, which amounts to approximately twenty to thirty percent of the river’s annual flow.  At this time, the pipeline would cost between seven and nine billion dollars without including any costs to deal with the massive environmental impacts the pipeline would cause.  The State of Colorado’s Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”) initiated a preliminary study on the pipeline, but the CWCB denied additional funding in January of 2013 for a subsequent, more intensive study.

The pipeline creates several concerns, one of which is how likely Utah and Wyoming will let the project go unchallenged despite the significant potential impact on their states.   Additionally, the pipeline lacks substantial popular support in any of the three states it directly impacts.  In fact, surveys of Colorado residents show that seventy-six percent of residents prefer a solution for the state’s water issues that focuses on using existing water more efficiently rather than building a pipeline.  American Rivers, a non-profit seeking protection of the United States’ rivers and streams, listed the Green River as the second most endangered river in a 2012 national study, mostly because of the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline.

 

Recent Developments

In the face of the recent Bureau of Reclamation study and urgings from the public to look at conservation measures, the CWCB’s decision to stop funding the second study of Flaming Gorge pipeline may forecast trouble for the project.  Some even see abandonment of the study as an implied rejection of the project.  In the next few months, Colorado lawmakers will set a future course for the state’s water usage, which will impact generations of residents.  Any measure these lawmakers choose will also set a tone for the rest of the region on dealing with this increasingly desperate water situation.  Hopefully, Colorado chooses to set a tone of interstate cooperation that places conservation and smart water use above more environmentally questional proposals.


Sources:

 

Heading Photo Copyright Don Cload and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence