@ColoradoRiver: Expanded funding available for agricultural producers to implement irrigation efficiency projects in the Lower Gunnison Basin

Sweet corn near Olathe, CO. Photo credit Mark Skalny, The Nature Conservancy.

The Colorado River District has announced an additional funding opportunity (up to a total of $1.8 million) to support qualifying applicants for planning and implementation of irrigation efficiency improvement projects in the Lower Gunnison Project area. Applications from landowners that address identified resource concerns within the Bostwick Park, Paonia, Smith Fork, and Uncompahgre project areas will be accepted through July 21, 2017, for funding consideration.

This announcement of funding opportunity is an expansion of on-going, cooperatively-managed activities made possible by the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for on-farm improvements, like conversion to pressure-piped sprinklers.

“We are excited to be able to continue to provide this funding that can be used to make our agricultural partners more productive and competitive while helping to meet important water resource management objectives,” explained Dave Kanzer, Project Manager and Deputy Chief Engineer of the River District.

Successful producer-applicants will receive financial assistance to plan, design and install advanced irrigation systems that address identified natural resource concerns. For example, these include projects that improve: 1) water availability (i.e., water use efficiency), 2) water quality (e.g. salinity and selenium loading), 3) soil health (e.g., cover cropping), and 4) fish and wildlife habitat (i.e., projects that benefit water quantity / quality). The Lower Gunnison Project uses an integrated application, contract process and a favorable cost-share ratio.

Interested applicants, landowners, and/or producers are encouraged to attend a Lower Gunnison Project Funding Interest Meeting in their area:

  • Hotchkiss: June 29 (6-6:15 pm light food/refreshments; Main program starts at 6:15 pm). Hotchkiss Memorial Hall, 276 W Main Street, Hotchkiss, CO 81419
  • Montrose: June 28 (6-6:15 pm light food/refreshments; Main program starts at 6:15 pm). Delta Montrose Electric Association (DMEA), 11925 6300 Rd, Montrose, CO 81402

An application and more information can be obtained by visiting the Shavano Conservation District (102 Par Place, Suite #4, Montrose, CO 81401 / Phone (970) 249-8407 Ext. 115) or Delta Conservation District (690 Industrial Blvd, Delta, CO 81416 / Phone (970) 399- 8194). Interested individuals can also contact the Colorado River District at (970) 945-8522 or go to the following website: http://gunnisonriverbasin.org/projects/lower-gunnison-project/

This funding opportunity complies with the rules and regulations of the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentive Program and is open to all eligible agricultural producers without discrimination or bias.

@EPA Launches New ‘Waters of the U.S.’ Website

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency:

EPA is launching a new website (www.epa.gov/wotus-rule) today to provide the public with information about EPA’s review of the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) as set out in the 2015 “Clean Water Rule.” The site replaces the website developed for the 2015 rulemaking process.

“EPA is restoring states’ important role in the regulation of water by reviewing WOTUS,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “The president has directed us to review this regulation to address the concerns from farmers and local communities that it creates unnecessary burdens and inhibits economic growth. This website aims to provide the public with information about our actions to meet the president’s directive.”

In the spirit of transparency, the site will provide the public with relevant information explaining the Agency’s actions, along with the Department of the Army and the Army Corps of Engineers (the agencies), to review the WOTUS rule, including how the agencies are working with our local, state and tribal partners, to examine our role in the regulation of water under the Clean Water Act. All the pages, information and documentation from the Clean Water Rule site will remain available in the EPA archived site, archive.epa.gov.

EPA is initiating consultation and coordination with stakeholders and the public as the agencies implement the February 28, 2017, Presidential Executive Order on “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.”

The February Order states that it is in the national interest to ensure that the Nation’s navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of Congress and the States under the Constitution. It also directs the agencies to review the existing Clean Water Rule (promulgated in 2015) for consistency with these priorities and to publish for notice and comment a proposed rule rescinding or revising the rule, as appropriate and consistent with the law. Further, the Order directs the agencies to consider interpreting the term “navigable waters,” as defined in the Clean Water Act at 33 U.S.C. 1362(7), in a manner consistent with the opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia in Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006). “Waters of the United States” are those waters that are protected under the Clean Water Act.

To meet these objectives, the agencies intend to follow an expeditious, two-step process that will provide certainty across the country: 1) an initial rulemaking to rescind the 2015 rule and recodify the regulatory definition that had been in place for decades and is currently being used in light of a nationwide stay of the 2015 rule, and thus maintains the status quo; and 2) a rulemaking to revise the definition of “waters of the United States” consistent with direction in the February 28, 2017 E.O.

After improvements Berthoud Reservoir is filling

Berthoud Auto Storage back in the day

From The Berthoud Weekly Surveyor (Shelley Widhalm):

The Town of Berthoud started filling Berthoud Reservoir on Wednesday after significant improvements have been made…

“This project was to deepen the reservoir, dredge it out, increase storage, and provide better water quality for the raw water treatment plant,” said Stephanie Brothers, public works director for the Town of Berthoud.

Prior to the Berthoud Reservoir Improvement Project, the water in the reservoir was safe for public consumption but carried an unpleasant taste and odor and had accumulated sediments, minerals, weeds and goose droppings, along with a problem of blue algae. Several municipalities along the Front Range struggle with blue algae resulting from shallow water usage, she said.

“It looks a little deeper, and there’s less vegetation. Hopefully with the vegetation gone, we got rid of the algae in there, and any future algae issues will be easier to control,” she added.

The sediment, which took up five to six feet of the bottom level of the reservoir, caused a loss of overall capacity. The sediment resulted from the town not dredging or cleaning out the reservoir since it took over ownership of it in 1890, according to Brothers.

The town hired Western States Reclamation, Inc., in Frederick, to dredge and improve the reservoir, spending $1.2 million on the entire project, using funds from the town’s raw water impact fee. Work began in October 2016, with the remaining work of filling the reservoir to be completed in early May.

The improvements expanded the reservoir’s capacity from 450-acre-feet to 574-acre-feet – prior to the improvements, the sediment had reduced what could be used to less than 400 acre feet.

The improvements included reconfiguring the structure of the reservoir, dividing it into two cells, with the east cell deeper than the west cell, and adding an internal dam. Once the reservoir is filled, the water in the east cell will be piped to the treatment plant and both cells will be used for storage, she said.

“The east cell allows us to have better water quality for the water plant because it’s deeper, and it makes it easier to manage,” said Mike Hart, town administrator.

2017 #COleg: SB17-117 signed by Gov. Hickenlooper

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Senate Bill 117, titled “Recognize Industrial Hemp Agricultural Product for Agricultural Water Right,” says Colorado water right holders have the right to use it on hemp if the person is registered by the state to grow hemp for commercial, or research purposes.

During an interview with The Journal, Hickenlooper said the hemp water bill will give farmers some reassurance, and he was cautiously optimistic that it could become a good cash crop for the state.

“Hemp is a very versatile product with a lot of uses, and it does not make sense why it’s illegal,” at the federal level, Hickenlooper said. “Having it grown and processed in the state could create a new niche market.”

Coram said he was motivated to introduce the bill after meeting with a farmer in the Arkansas Valley who said he could not use water from a Bureau of Reclamation facility to water his large hemp farm.

“I said this is wrong because hemp has a great future in Colorado,” he said. “The bill passed 99-1.”

Industrial hemp is used to make fuel, textiles, soaps and much more, but because it is a form of cannabis, it is banned by the federal government, even though it does not have the psychoactive properties of it’s genetic cousin, marijuana.

“The facts are that Colorado water rights are owned under Colorado law, and they can be used to grow hemp, which the state legalized,” said Catlin. “The federal government saying they cannot is overreach.”

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The bill was introduced in the state Legislature by Sen. Don Coram, and sponsored by Rep. Marc Catlin. Both are Montrose Republicans.

“Our farmers grow hemp with that water, our ag researchers use that water for hemp, and this bill clarifies it is Colorado water being put to beneficial use,” Coram said.

Hemp farmers face some uncertainty if they irrigate with water from a federal water project because, as a genetic variant of marijuana, hemp is still considered illegal at the federal level under the Controlled Substance Act.

“It’s always been a concern for local hemp farmers, and a lot of them stopped growing because they did not want to risk losing water rights,” said Sharon King, a local hemp advocate. “This support from the state gives them some reassurance.”

Colorado has legalized hemp, and commercial permits have been issued through the Department of Agriculture since 2014.

The plant’s stem, leaves and flowers are used for making textiles, fuels, oils, soaps and medicine. Hemp is strictly regulated to ensure it does not exceed .3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the marijuana drug, which has THC levels of between 5 percent and 50 percent.

In Montezuma County, many hemp growers depend on water from McPhee Reservoir, a federal project managed by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

Water Conservancy general manager Mike Preston said customers are allowed to use water to grow hemp, and the district supports Coram’s legislative effort to protect the hemp farmer.

“Those of us that supply water are confident our local farming community will make the most of any opportunity to test industrial hemp as a commercial crop,” Preston wrote to Coram in a March 17 letter. “Hemp being classified by the federal government as a drug is clearly a misclassification of an industrial crop.”

[…]

A 2014 Bureau of Reclamation policy manual stated the federal agency has an obligation to uphold federal law, which prohibits approving use of Reclamation water for activities not allowed under the Controlled Substances Act.

#Runoff news

Graphic via USBR Upper Colorado River Region.

From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area — the last resort still open in the state — reported more than 22 inches of snow over a four-day period to end the week, with the bulk falling very early Wednesday into Thursday and then most of the day Thursday into Friday. That total brings May’s snowfall in the area up to 24.5 inches, just the fifth time it has hit 24 inches or more since the start of the 20th century.

It’s the liquid-equivalent within the snow that matters most for water experts, however, and that remains difficult to determine until it eventually melts and can be properly measured. Even if historically this storm was a bit larger than those that typically descend upon the region in the spring, it is still not expected to represent more than 3 percent of the total moisture for the year.

“The runoff forecast doesn’t look at snow, it looks at total precipitation and the water content of the snow,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District. “Snowpack doesn’t tell you much, because cold weather can slow it and if it’s warmer it can accelerate it. It is a boost … but it could still end up average (levels) with this storm, it just depends on what happens in the next 10 days.”

[…]

Still, the approaching water year is predicted to remain at or perhaps slightly above average for the Colorado River as it snakes its way through Colorado and Utah (with allotments also for Wyoming and New Mexico) to Arizona’s Lake Powell before concluding in Nevada and California. The annual inflows into Powell function as the gauge of the West’s most recent runoff, and this year stands to be solid, but not considerable.

“It’s one of those years where we’ll take it,” said Kuhn. “It’ll bump Powell up 20-to-25 feet in elevation, which is good, but that’s still a long ways away from being full. It’s still down and there’s a bathtub ring.”

[…]

Another factor for what ends up in Powell, in addition to farther down in lower basin states, is what’s drawn off of it for drinking, recreation and crop irrigation en route. Transmountain diversions, which slurp up water off the Colorado River for the state’s dense population bases in cities like Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs, are part of the reality, and a new one could soon be added to the equation.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers firmed up its approval of the Windy Gap Firming Project in northern Colorado to pull at least 30,000 more acre-feet from the state’s headwater region. The venture would construct the Chimney Hollow Reservoir, with a proposed capacity of 90,000 acre-feet, near the city of Loveland, and further expend the Colorado River before fulfilling out-of-state demands guaranteed under federal law.