1. Protect Water Quality & Drinking Water Sources
Colorado is prone to frequent periods of severe drought and our community needs to develop a coordinated long-term drought resiliency plan to help prepare for the future. To coordinate a plan, priorities need to be identified by on-the-ground leaders and experts who work daily to build a more resilient future for their communities.
Improve and expand augmentation program
Additional augmentation supplies are needed in the basin to mitigate the impacts of climate uncertainty and make water delivery more efficient. Timed releases help to offset out-of-priority depletions, provide recreational flows, and supplement in-stream flows for ecological health during periods of drought.
Lake No. 4 Reservoir
Staff Gage at South St. Vrain Diversion to Left Hand Creek
Increase stream gages and telemetry
The recently completed Stream Management Plan outlines several reaches of St. Vrain and Left Hand creeks where additional measurement devices are needed to improve water administration and support the ecological attributes of the basin. Of the 21 in-stream flow water rights in the basin, the majority cannot be administrated due to the lack of measurement in strategic locations.
Develop forest health partnerships
The health of our creeks and rivers is inextricably linked to the condition of the forests in the upper watershed which act as a filter to keep pollution out of the water. Colorado is experiencing increased large-scale sustained wildfires, and local forest management will be the key to maintaining the health of our local watershed.
Protecting local water rights
Actively oppose out-of-basin water transfers (“agricultural buy & dry”)
The water demand for fast-growing cities will apply pressure on the basin from multiple directions. The historically agricultural area can be transformed as cities acquire farms and transfer the water off (“buy & dry”) to supplement future growth. Major infrastructure projects are underway to move the water around. Of particular concern is the area surrounding the confluence of St. Vrain Creek and the South Platte River where two new pipelines and a water treatment plant are proposed. The new infrastructure can act as a gateway for entities outside the basin to draw water supplies out.
Collaboration between in-basin water leaders to protect local water rights and improve water quality is more important now than ever. Maximizing the local collective talents and working together will ensure diverse long term thinking that protects both water quality and quantity for future generations.
2. Safeguard and Conserve Drinking Water
A majority of urban water is used for outdoor irrigation. Partnerships with local water providers to increase outdoor water efficiency and conservation is effective for long term water sustainability and offer greater opportunities for environmental and recreational water uses.
The system of managing water in Colorado is called “water law” or “prior appropriation”. This system is complex, and both students and adults crave knowing more about its roots and how it evolves to meet the values of today.
Waters journey from the snow to the tap is fascinating. As we learn more about its journey a “water awakening” occurs. Tours provide an opportunity for students and adults to touch, hear, and listen to the journey.
Real Estate Agent Water Tour
KUNC (National Public Radio) Interview
The means of information sharing has evolved over 50 years. The water community must also evolve in its communication to reach broader audiences.
3. Grow Local Food
Repair aging irrigation infrastructure
Water for agricultural irrigation is critical for local food production. The ditches that provide water to farms are old and in need of repair. The ditches can benefit from upgrades that will deliver water more efficiently. These efficiency improvements can be done while also maintaining ecosystems such as wetlands that were created from seeping ditches.
Rubicon Gate to Pass Winter Flows
Education and training for next generation farmers
The average age of farmers/producers/ranchers and ditch superintendents is rising. There has historically not been very much coordinated succession planning and even less institutional leadership to address this looming issue. Leadership to train the next generation is warranted.
Encourage mutually beneficial water sharing between cities and farms
In order for cities to meet growth demands, the majority of the water will likely have to come from irrigated agriculture. To help alleviate the pressure on farmers to sell their water, new policy options have been created allow for the temporary leasing of water supplies. Temporary water sharing agreements, also referred to as Alternative Transfer Methods, provide another option to farmers who are seeking alternate sources of revenue while maintain ownership of the water rights.
4. Store Water for Dry Years
In-stream flows for environment and recreation
Mined-out gravel pits can be lined and utilized to store streamflow during times of surplus. Water can then be released later in the year to supplement baseflows for fish, recreation, and out-of-priority depletions. These “creek improvement facilities” can be strung together throughout the valley to better manage water supplies for multiple benefits.
Kayak Course Downstream of Lyons, Colorado
Lined and Unlined Gravel Ponds Strung Together Along St. Vrain Creek
Mitigate climate uncertainty and optimizing water management
More persistent climate variability may significantly affect the availability and timing of water supply. To help mitigate uncertainty, water managers need the ability to opportunistically store water when it becomes available and then later, strategically and thoughtfully release it to mitigate future climate uncertainty.
5. Maintain Healthy Rivers and Creeks
The recently completed Stream Management Plan identified several reaches of St. Vrain and Left Hand Creeks in need of restoration to stabilize the creek channel and reconnect the floodplain. Multi-entity strategic partnerships and strong fundraising efforts will be necessary to achieve impact at-scale.
Facilitation of diversion structure bypass and fish passage improvements
Channel spanning water-diversion structures can impact fish by acting as barriers, fragmenting waterways. The fragmentation adversely impacts populations by inhibiting fish migration for reproduction, food foraging, and over-wintering. Colorado Parks & Wildlife has identified several priority diversion structures in need of fish passage retrofits and upgrades.
Oligarchy Ditch Diversion Fish Ladder