Arkansas River: Lower valley irrigation rules move ahead

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Here’s a recap of yesterday’s meeting of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Board, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Board Wednesday unanimously voted to continue developing its compliance plan, refine estimates about costs to participating farmers and pursue the remainder of state funds set aside to ease the impact of the rules on farmers. “There have been substantial changes in the rules to reduce the impacts and costs to farmers,” attorney Peter Nichols told the Lower Ark board. Some of those changes have included the removal of on-farm improvements for things like pipe, ditch lining, furrowing techniques or fertilizers and adding new ways to comply with the rules…

The district also has used about $100,000 of $250,000 in available state funds so far to develop a compliance plan under Rule 10 of the state’s proposal. The board voted to apply for the remaining $150,000 to refine its plan and identify specific sources for replacement water…

The engineers developed two plans for compliance, depending on whether return flows come back to the Arkansas River above and below John Martin Reservoir. River conditions and presumed consumptive use differ depending on the location, Ten Eyck explained. The plans use refined models based on state data to determine the average amount of water a farmer would owe the river. Fees would be based both on the cost of running the program and the size of deficit or credit generated by each farm under the models…

The Lower Ark district would provide replacement water to the state to make up the deficits to the river. Water would be obtained from a variety of sources, and enough kept in storage to cover maximum projected deficits each year…

Farmers, in recent meetings with the Lower Ark district and with the state committee looking at the rules, say they are still not happy with the concept that led to the rules. “We have a philosophical difference,” Fred Heckman, a Fort Lyon Canal farmer near McClave, told the Lower Ark board Wednesday. He explained farmers look at it as an economic question, while the state is concerned with the volume of water. The model being used by the state probably underestimates consumptive use on the Fort Lyon in particular and overestimates the efficiency of sprinklers operated from ponds, Heckman said. The state has adjusted the model, just this week adding seepage from ponds as a factor, and will continue to adjust it as better numbers emerge, State Engineer Dick Wolfe said Monday. Even with the current numbers, the damage to the river, estimated to be about 1,000 acre-feet annually from 120 sprinklers installed so far, is statistically insignificant, Heckman said. At the same time, farmers can’t afford the costs of providing annual engineering reports for each system, another option under the state rules, so most would probably sign on with the Lower Ark plans, Heckman said.

More coverage of the proposed new rules, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“You do not have consensus on filing these rules the way they are,” said Dan Henrichs, speaking for the Arkansas Valley Ditch Association.

“We fully recognize that,” replied State Engineer Dick Wolfe. “We never thought we would get 100-percent consensus. We think we’ve got a large majority of those who recognize the benefit and need for these.”[…]

Water rights decrees specify an amount of water and area of land to be irrigated and sprinkler systems cover the same area as flood irrigation, Henrichs said. “The method of irrigation does not increase consumptive use,” he said. State models claim it does, however, and in particular along water-short ditches like the Fort Lyon Canal.

The rules incorporate a variety of strategies to deal with perceived or measured depletions of return flows to the Arkansas River from improvements to farms or canal systems since 1999. They cover only surface irrigation improvements – not wells – in the Arkansas Valley with the intention of preventing future shortfalls in deliveries to Kansas at the state line.

More Arkansas Valley ag efficiency coverage here.

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