Rapidly dropping reservoir levels create a “green light” scenario for river management where conditions shift from a situation to be monitored to a problem that needs to be solved.
“The last 22 years has no 20th-century analogue,” said Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University.
He also pointed out that requiring the upper basin, where most of the river’s flows originate as snowpack, to contribute the same fixed amount each year despite declining flows means that the upper basin is unfairly bearing the brunt of climate change.
The cascade of dirty water also had impacts to agricultural and municipal water users downstream in Silt, whose only source of water is the Colorado.
Storing water specifically until an emergency occurs is not a decreed beneficial use under Colorado water law. But municipal water providers often have a lot of leeway to plan for future needs, which could include storage projects.
The CWCB, at the recommendation of Colorado Parks & Wildlife, is seeking instream flow protections for a 7.4-mile reach of Cow Creek — from its confluence with Lou Creek to its confluence with the Uncompahgre River, downstream of Ridgway Reservoir.
As spelled out in a Water Plan grant request, improvements will include streambank stabilization and river channel restoration, plant diversification and better access to the park as well as an automated ditch headgate.
The draft bill gives the state engineer at the Department of Water Resources the ability to investigate complaints of investment water speculation and fine a purchaser up to $10,000 if they determine speculation is occurring.
Rio Blanco estimates the permitting will take three to five years at a cost of $6 to $10 million.
Another question is: If there is a compact call, how would state engineers administer it so that already water-short basins aren’t forced to cut back even more?