As Colorado’s principal policy and planning agency for the Colorado River, the Colorado River District covers 15 counties on Colorado’s Western Slope as it winds its way through seven western states into Mexico. While the River District has a long and accomplished history in the Colorado River Basin, meeting its mission of protecting, conserving and developing the Colorado River’s resources for the diverse and evolving needs of western Colorado – including significant agricultural, municipal, environmental and recreational interests – is no easy feat. This is particularly true in an era of increasing uncertainty, competition for water resources, and rapidly changing demographics, culture, and technology. CDR Associates facilitated a process for the District’s Board, representing 15 counties throughout western Colorado, to identify and prioritize strategic goals for the District as it enters a new era of reallocation, scarcity and variability. This process required understanding the diverse and varying needs of the river’s sub-basins, balancing short-term water needs with long-term goals, weighing climate projections, considering inter-state Compact requirements and needs, and striving to protect western agriculture while representing evolving priorities of the ‘new West.’ It required staying true to the District’s advocacy mission and history, while continuing to integrate collaborative approaches to help meet the District’s goals. The planning process will be reflected in an updated strategic plan for the District to help guide it through this time of significant change for District and the entire Colorado River Basin. For more information, contact Ryan Golten or Chris Moore, visit our water practice page, or visit the Colorado River District’s website.
Agricultural production has historically been the cornerstone of the lifestyle, culture and economy of Crystal River valley and remains so today. However, growing population and changing demographics in the valley have heightened interest in recreational, environmental and aesthetic values of the Crystal River. In recent drought years, recorded extreme low flows in the lower Crystal River fueled concerns and controversy among residents, conservation groups, environmental advocates, resource agencies and the agricultural community about the health of the River. In response, the local watershed organization, Roaring Fork Conservancy provided essential local capacity and team building to develop and implement the Crystal River Management Plan (CRMP). CDR Associates, Lotic Hydrological, and the Public Counsel of the Rockies helped support their efforts.
The CRMP provided a collaborative community process to bring diverse stakeholders together to openly explore and discuss values, resource use priorities, and feasibility constraints around water management alternatives. The Plan was extensively vetted with stakeholders to ensure broad support and buy-in for the plan as a platform for implementation. The stakeholder process represented a significant investment of time, trust and cooperation by stakeholders throughout the project, and provides a foundation for working together as a community to implement the CRMP recommendations.
Stakeholder input generated in early group meetings, informal “coffee shop” encounters, and community informational meetings also guided the choice of alternative management practices that were analyzed: market based incentives for water conservation through bypassed flows; infrastructure improvements and efficiency upgrades; off-stream storage; habitat enhancement through channel modification. This input helped to illuminate management constraints beyond the ecological and physical processes such as agricultural operations, planting cycles, policies, markets and social attitudes.
CDR supported the effort by framing questions and digging deep to understand stakeholder values and perspectives, building support for the scientific approach and methodology, and clarifying the outcomes and time frames. For more information, contact Jonathan Bartsch, visit our water practice page or review the CRMP on the Roaring Fork Conservancy website.
Legal conflicts over water often involve multiple stakeholders with varying levels of technical knowledge and political power along with passionately-felt values, needs and fears. Positions can be entrenched and degrees of trust are often low. How can attorneys encourage parties to work collaboratively in this type of environment? What do parties need in order to engage in a collaborative process, outside of litigation? What contributes to building a credible, productive problem-solving process and ensuring key stakeholders are at the table?
CDR’s Ryan Golten was a featured panelist at the American Bar Association’s Water Law Conference in Austin this March to address these questions with an audience of roughly 200 water attorneys. Along with fellow panelist Eric Hecox of South Metro Water Supply Authority, she discussed strategies and approaches for engaging parties in collaborative approaches to multi-party water disputes and transactions. Her discussion and paper included case-study examples to illustrate how to assess the workability of a collaborative approach, structure a credible process, and ensure key stakeholders are involved, along with other strategies to set up a problem-solving process to help ensure a successful, broadly supported outcome.
Building off of years of CDR experience with the Clean Water Act, CDR facilitated meetings regarding program revisions to Michigan’s Section 404 program.
The Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 requires permits for discharge of fill material into Waters of the United States. In 48 states, permits are issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). Through a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Michigan is one of two states that have assumed the authority of the 404 permitting program. Michigan’s 404 Program must be consistent with CWA regulations. The EPA is responsible for oversight of the CWA, including assuring state programs, such as Michigan’s, meet the minimum requirements and are not less stringent than the Clean Water Act and implementing regulations.
In 2008, following a program review, the EPA identified inconsistencies between Michigan’s CWA Section 404 program and federal requirements. The EPA published the inconsistencies and required corrective actions in order for Michigan to maintain authority of its CWA Section 404 program. While the State of Michigan addressed many of the required corrective actions through PA 98 it also introduced additional program revisions including changes to the scope of jurisdiction over wetlands and other state waters, new exemptions and permit provisions as well as other program revisions.
The EPA and the Corps will interpret suggested program revisions outlined in PA 98, for consistency with the CWA. Based on the findings, the EPA will decide to approve or disapprove each program revision independently, and determine Michigan’s continued authority over 404 permitting.
Informational Public Meeting and Hearing and Comment Summary
CDR Principal, Jonathan Bartsch, facilitated a public hearing and summarized the public comments regarding the Michigan program revisions. Working in collaboration with EPA Region 5 and headquarters, Bartsch designed and facilitated an informational public hearing attended by over 100 representatives from agricultural, environmental, energy and other sectors.
The comments from the hearing as well as from written submissions were summarized and organized by CDR to provide EPA the ability to respond to the proposed program revisions. A significant divergence of opinion was expressed regarding the proposed program modifications with a wide range of opinions regarding whether or not to support the modifications. Most commenters, both supporting and opposing approval of program revisions, indicated a desire for Michigan to continue with its delegated 404 authority. The preponderance of comments cited the importance of continuing state administration of the 404 Program due to the improved customer service and rapport developed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) with stakeholders, geographic conveniences including multiple district offices, timely processing of permits, and an understanding of the unique needs and conditions of Michigan environment and economy.
For additional information, contact CDR project leadJonathan Bartsch, Jbartsch@mediate.org
Stay tuned as EPA makes a decision regarding how to proceed with the program revisions to the Clean Water Act 404 provisions in Michigan.
The future of water in Colorado and the West requires the best collaborative problem-solving and consensus-building skills available. To meet this need, CDR Associates and the Colorado Water Institute teamed up last month in Palisade, Colorado to offer the first in a series of interactive workshops on Best Practices for Collaborative Water Decisions: Moving from Concept to Action.
24 lively and inquisitive water professionals, stakeholders and decision makers from western Colorado and the Front Range gathered at the Wine Country Inn in Palisade to hone their skills in collaborative decision-making and share their experiences with other professionals. Recognizing that collaborative models are increasingly necessary to effectively address the complex and challenging issues affecting water in Colorado, the workshop helped strengthen capacity among water leaders and professionals to participate in multi-stakeholder problem-solving processes.
Participants came from federal and state agencies including the US Army Corps of Engineers, US Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Division of Water Resources and the Colorado State Conservation Board; water districts such as the Colorado River District, Dolores Water Conservancy District and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District; agriculture users such as the Grand Valley Water Users’ Association, environmental non-profit organizations such as the Tamarisk Coalition and the Environmental Defense Fund; municipal governments; private sector entities; and independent water consultants.
The training team consisted of seasoned professionals with broad knowledge of water issues and a breadth of experience in designing, managing and facilitating complex collaborative processes. Trainers Ryan Golten and Todd Bryan of CDR Associates brought strong backgrounds in water resources and collaborative skills and processes. MaryLou Smith of the Colorado Water Institute and Dan Birch of the Colorado River District brought many years of experience in collaborative water planning, allocation, engineering and management.
The Palisade workshop is the first in a series of three collaborative water workshops being planned by CDR and CWI for locations throughout the State. The workshop may also be tailored for specific groups, agencies and organizations that are working together on water allocation issues. For more information on upcoming or potential future workshops, please visit public training courses, or contact Todd Bryan or Ryan Golten.
CDR Program Manager Todd Bryan explores water planning in Colorado.
“The Colorado Water and Growth Dialogue aims to redirect the issue of water and growth from the question of where to find water for future growth to the question of how we can make better decisions by understanding the consequences of land use decisions. A dialogue framework was developed, with the goal to identify strategies and actions for water and growth on the Front Range with the help of several collaborators…”
Read the full article starting on page 2 of the Colorado Water News Letter.
Produced Water is a term used to describe water that is produced in the fracking process. CDR Associates has been working with stakeholders across Colorado to facilitate the conversation around produced water and its future uses, recycling possibilities and more.
CDR’s white paper on this process caught the attention of Colorado Public Radio and aided in a story being run this week as part of the Ripple Effect series.
For more information on CDR’s work on produced water, contact Ryan Golten, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Managing scarce western water resources increasingly requires an understanding of the multiple interests facing any watershed and ways in which they interact, overlap, and compete. CDR Associates reflects on inter-jurisdictional stakeholder based efforts in western watersheds.
Water managers and policy makers balance pressures ranging from ensuring a safe and reliable water supply for municipal and agricultural users, to maintaining a healthy river system, to protecting against flood danger and damage, to ensuring economic development and recreational opportunities. These interests often overlap – e.g., a healthy river system can help protect against flooding; a reliable water supply can help ensure flows to create or maintain a healthy river. For water-scarce western communities, however, with the increasing threats of climate change and reduced water supply, these demands are often seen as inherently competing for funding, public attention, priority status, and political support. This challenge is compounded by the siloes created in local government to manage different water-related programs and priorities.
Having facilitated several inter-jurisdictional, stakeholder-based efforts to create watershed-wide master plans for the State after the 2013 Colorado floods, CDR is working with municipalities to internally align their priorities and approaches to managing rivers. For cities juggling numerous river-related objectives (e.g., water supply, a healthy river, flood protection), this means building internal understanding about the nuanced ways in which their interests relate to and impact one another. For a utility department, this may mean a better understanding of what ecologists mean by ‘river health’ and how water supply projects or water management to meet multiple interests. For environmental scientists, this may mean a better understanding of the risks and threats that utility or storm water departments manage, including engineering projects that could be impacted by the timing or politics of river health projects.
As CDR’s work has shown, a forward-thinking, cross-sector approach to managing western water – particularly in this era of water scarcity and the unpredictability of climate change – requires building communication, trust and understanding across disciplines and interest groups; designing and developing mechanisms for collaboration, including effective facilitation; and leadership that promotes and supports this silo-busting approach.
CDR’s CEO, Jonathan Bartsch supported the first ever 25 mile swim across Lake Pontchartrain to celebrate the improved water quality and coastal restoration of the area. The 25 mile swim was to support the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF), an organization dedicated to cleaning up the lake and drawing attention to coastal wetlands issues. LPBF is celebrating its 25Thanniversary of tirelessly working to improve the water quality and quality of life in New Orleans.
Starting on the night of June 12 2014, Matthew Moseley and his support crew swam across Lake Ponchartrain, battling waves that grew to 4 feet and completed the first ever swim across the lake in 14 hours and 55 minutes. The danger wasn’t merely lake swells and utter exhaustion, an interested alligator was pulled from near the finish area one hour prior to conclusion of the swim, adding additional drama to the exciting event. Moseley followed the English Channel rules, which meant that he couldn’t touch another boat or person for the entire length of the swim. The major physical and mental accomplishment by Moseley was the first recorded solo crossing of Lake Ponchartrain.
While swimming is a different way to approach collaborative problem-solving work in the water arena, it is consistent with CDR’s commitment to promoting sustainable change in difficult situations. For example, the LPBF has taken Lake Pontchartrain from a lifeless, dirty body of water with an EPA declared ‘no swim zone’ and turned into a resource with a healthy water quality and abundant supply of fish. The Ponchartrain swim serves to remind us of the limitless possibilities when a vision is accompanied by careful planning, dedication and endurance.
For more information on Matt Mosley and his swim across lake Pontchartrain, click here.