Colorado River

Update from the 7th Annual Upper Colorado River Basin Forum at Colorado Mesa University

Is there enough water available in the Colorado River Basin (CRB) to meet all our current and future needs and obligations? According to my synthesis of information from the 7th Annual Upper Colorado River Basin Forum on November 1-2, 2017, consider this:

·         Currently about 40 million people depend on CRB water for agriculture, domestic, and recreational supplies

·         The 1922 compact with 7 states overestimated supplies so now the CRB is overallocated

·         The federal government (Bureau of Reclamation) requires adequate reservoir levels for hydroelectric generation and could override the 1922 compact

·         States are developing Drought Contingency Plans with improved efficiencies increasing supply

·         Efficient applications of drip irrigation and native plants are encouraged but not yet required

·         A US treaty with Mexico attempts to deliver some water that historically flowed to the ocean

·         Farmers consume about 90% of CRB water and have some of the oldest priority water rights

·         Some farmers are reluctant to conserve in fear of losing water rights and money

·         Colorado water law of beneficial use makes the “use-it or lose-it” mentality illegal

·         In Colorado, about 70% of water originates in the Western Slope with only 30% of the population while 30% of the water originates in the Eastern Slope (including Denver) with 70% of the population

·         Denver’s population is expected to double in roughly 30 years so demand is increasing

·         Trans-mountain diversions and priority water rights can allow the Eastern Slope to take much more than current amounts

·         Wyoming is building new reservoirs (“water banking”) on the Green River

·         In New Mexico, the Elephant Butte reservoir near Albuquerque almost went dry during recent droughts which had to be channelized and loses 250,000 acre-feet to evaporation when at capacity

·         Most vegetables in US are grown in the Imperial Valley of California using CRB water

·         The recent 5-year drought resulted in many farms going dry (crops were fallowed)

·         Beyond CRB for human consumption, recreationists (boating, fishing, etc.) demand more supply

·         The climate is changing and resulting in more variability making long term predictions difficult


So is there enough water available in the Colorado River Basin (CRB) to meet all our current and future needs and obligations? I would say currently no and optimistically with significant changes in the amounts of water that we consume there is the potential for saying yes.  

The forum provided great examples of techniques to measure and forecast water supplies. I suggested to the organizers for next year that additional consideration be given to water quality that is degrading or improving depending on many factors.

In summary, the Upper CRB Forum organized by Colorado Mesa University provides an incredibly valuable exchange of information in a non-confrontational environment that seeks to improve our understanding of the world we live in and how we can become better stewards of our environment.

Test Your Knowledge of Chasing Water

Brian Richter (President at Sustainable Waters, adjunct professor at the University of Virginia, and Director of Global Freshwater Strategies for The Nature Conservancy) authored a wonderfully interesting book called Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability - Island Press, 2014.

Test your water knowledge by taking this fun quiz with five questions:

1. What is the last state in the U.S. to take up arms against another state over water rights?

2. How much money did Texas lose in revenues from the 2011 drought?

3. How much money is needed to upgrade drinking water systems in the U.S. over the next twenty years?

4. About how much Colorado River water is consumed by agriculture?

5. What is the easiest, most cost efficient way we can increase water supplies or reduce consumptive use?

Before I provide the answers that will hopefully 'wet your appetite' to read this book, many important reflections and impacts come from this book that are really helpful to me. These include Brian Richter's optimism that we all can and must do our part to make a difference, that we cannot leave our future up to dysfunctional organizations including governments, and we can learn from many individuals who've successfully dealt with issues including extreme droughts in Australia, environmental change in China, and improved irrigation technology in Israel.

Ok, now for the answers to the quiz:

1. In 1934, the Arizona governor sent 100-man state militia to stop California from completing Parker Dam on the Colorado River. The Interior Secretary intervened to enable federal funding for irrigation that created the Central Arizona Project in exchange for Arizona signing the Colorado River Compact in 1944. 

2. Texas lost an estimated $9 billion due to the 2011 drought mostly from losses on irrigated farms.

3. An estimated $384 billion is needed to repair the drinking water infrastructure in the US according to the EPA in 2013. Of course, in my opinion the amount could be much higher after revelations about issues like the lead pipe problems in Flint, Michigan which is an issue in many locations.

4. About 50% of the water taken from the Colorado River is consumed by agriculture.

5. Given the inefficiencies in using water by agriculture, such as with flood irrigation or growing unsustainable crops like cotton, we can make the biggest impact by helping to change farm practices such as by using drip irrigation and respecting the capacity of our natural environment to support us.


Colorado River District Annual Meeting on September 16th in Grand Junction, CO

2016 Annual Water Seminar

The Colorado River District’s popular one-day Annual Water Seminar is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 16, 2016 from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm at Two Rivers Convention Center, 159 Main Street, Grand Junction, CO
Theme: “Colorado River Waves of the Future: Fitting the West to the River’s New Normal”

Cost, which includes lunch buffet, is $30 if pre-registered by Friday, Sept. 9; $40 at the door. For information, contact Meredith Spyker. at 970-945-8522
Registration Form

Speakers will address the Lower Basin living within its water means and dealing with its “structural deficit,” how the Upper Basin is planning to deal with low levels at Lake Powell, sorting through the confusing programs addressing ag fallowing, a discussion of Use It or Lose It myths and a panel addressing what comes next after the Colorado Water Plan, especially with declining financial resources – plus more.

Draft agenda:

  • Temperatures Matter: Jeff Lukas, Western Water Assessment
  • How the Lower Basin is Attacking the Structural Deficit: Suzanne Ticknor, Central Arizona Project
  • How the Upper Basin is Attacking Low Water Levels at Lake Powell: Eric Kuhn, Colorado River District
  • Sorting through the Demand Management Weapons: Water Banking/System Conservation – who’s doing what: Dave Kanzer, Colorado River District
  • Lunch Program – “Killing the Colorado” author Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica
  • Use It or Lose It – Separating Truth, Myth and Reality: Justice Greg Hobbs
  • Colorado’s Water Plan – What Now? Panel Discussion with Colorado Water Conservation Board’s James Eklund; Colorado State Representative Don Coram and Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment’s Anne Castle

Announcing Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum

The Colorado Mesa University's Water Center will host the 5th annual Colorado River Basin Water Forum on October 28-29, 2015. Topics will include recent weather anomalies, managing flows for multiple purposes, and demand management. The 2015 forum is organized to be an interdisciplinary dialogue between academic, practitioner, and artistic perspectives on water issues affecting the Upper Colorado River Basin. Here is the website link for more information and to register for the forum.

News from the 2015 Colorado River District Water Seminar

At the annual Colorado River District water seminar held on September 10th, we heard numerous speakers discuss the essential need to conserve. The western U.S. is close to a crisis as the demand for water is greater than the supply! As Lake Powell and Mead reservoirs decline, we are approaching the minimum levels needed to generate hydroelectric power. Water availability affects rural and urban areas, agriculture, and the environment. These issues are interconnected and we must work together to resolve our conflicts.

Here is the Grand Junction's Daily Sentinel article on the conference.


Open comment period on Colorado Water Plan until September 17th

The Colorado Water Plan is open for public comment for about six (6) more weeks. Here a brief description provided by the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

People love Colorado: our population ballooned from 1 million in 1930, to over 5 million today, and is projected to grow even faster in the future. So how do we ensure that we are able to preserve what we know and love about our state alongside population growth? When it comes to our water, Colorado’s Water Plan has answers. This plan offers a strategic vision: a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, productive agriculture, a strong environment, and a robust recreation industry. How can we achieve this vision for Colorado water? This plan provides the strategies, policies, and actions by which Colorado can address its projected future needs in a manner consistent with this vision. This plan will be accomplished through collaboration with basin roundtables, local governments, water providers, and other stakeholders. It represents a set of collaboratively developed policies and actions that all Coloradans and their elected officials can support and to which they can adhere.

Not only is Colorado River water in great demand in the western U.S., there are statewide conflicts between the East Slope (including the Denver area) and the West Slope (including Grand Junction). Currently, over a half a million acre-feet of water is diverted each year from the West Slope to go to the East Slope according to news reports. Future diversions will need to increase as the population is booming in the Denver area which will continue to put more pressure on West Slope to conserve. 

In my opinion, rather than West Slope supporters demanding that no more water be provided to East Slope users, which will be a losing battle due to voter populations, the entire state needs to adopt strict conservation measures taken by many other cities. For example, the tremendous waste of water in the West Slope is astounding to me after having lived in Las Vegas.  Here is an updated video taken at the same location as shown on the July 17th blog where the mortuary business watered grass during a rain storm! I've also noticed they routinely water at 9:30 am and 5:00 pm. By contrast, the City of Grand Junction Parks and Recreation sets irrigation to occur between 10 pm and 6 am to limit loss by evapotranspiration and growth of disease. Rain moisture sensors are used to obtain the proper amount of irrigation water. So far, the business has not responded to my email offering them free advice on proper irrigation techniques.