Energy policy — coalbed methane: Pioneer Natural Resources files augmentation plan for coalbed methane produced water

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pioneer Natural Resources filed its application last month under new state rules brought on by a Supreme Court decision and legislation last year. The company operates nearly 3,000 wells in Las Animas County, mostly above Trinidad Lake in the Purgatoire River Basin.

Jeris Danielson, manager of the Purgatoire Water Conservancy District, said the district is close to reaching a stipulation on how many of those wells are tributary to the watershed. He has not seen the filing for the augmentation plan and could not comment.

In January, Pioneer filed a plan with the state Division of Water Resources claiming that about 1,800 of its wells are tributary. It also says that 1,170 of its wells produce nontributary water. Another 108 wells not yet drilled are also covered in the court filing. The filing describes how replacement water, or augmentation flows, would be discharged at numerous points throughout the watershed, accounting for both flowing and perennial streams. The application asks for storage rights at various points to use produced water from nontributary wells to augment flows. The application specifically avoids claiming salvaged water from tributary flows, based on previous court decisions.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

Water short years show strong correlation between west and east slopes

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Western Water is studying future water projections for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “It has always been thought that if you are bringing in water from both sides of the Continental Divide, you have protection. That is not the case,” said Jeff Lukas, of Western Water. “While they vary from year to year, the dry years and wet years in both basins show a strong correlation.” The two driest years on record in both basins were 1977 and 2002, and the record of imports into the Arkansas River basin bears out Lukas’ depiction of drought protection — or the lack of it. Other than 1987, when little water was brought over in the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project simply because there was no place to put it, 1977 and 2002 produced the least imported water for the Arkansas Valley. In other words, there wasn’t much water available on the other side of the mountains either.

In 1977, the Fry-Ark Project was just getting ramped up, and Lake Pueblo was still filling. Imports, however, dropped to just 11,400 acre-feet, or less than one-third of the typical year at the time because 1977 was the driest on record for the Western Slope.

In 2002, Fry-Ark flows through Boustead Tunnel totalled just 13,200 acre-feet, or about one-fourth of the long-term average. Basinwide, in 2002, imports totalled just half of the long-term average at 67,224 acre-feet, with projects like Twin Lakes, Homestake and Board of Water Works diversions pulling in every drop available. The year 2002 was the driest on record for the Arkansas River basin, and second-driest on the Colorado River.

In the past 500 years, the period of record for tree rings in both basins, there have been about eight annual droughts as severe as 1977 and 2002. All show both basins were equally affected. “They’re showing the same extreme low-flow years,” Lukas said. More ominous are long-term drought periods in Colorado, some lasting up to 60 years.

In the Arkansas River basin, the longest period of prolonged drought in recorded years was from the 1950s through the ’70s. While there were wet years and even drier years in the 1930s, the average was far below normal. By comparison, the 1980s and ’90s were the wettest years since the 1910s and ’20s, and the past decade has been relatively average. The Colorado River basin as a whole — it stretches over seven states — saw its lowest recorded flow period in a century in the first decade of this century. However, its performance in Colorado has essentially mirrored the Arkansas River basin. While there is much more water available every year in the Colorado River basin, its wet and dry years come at the same time as the Arkansas River basin.

More Colorado water coverage here.

Arkansas Valley: Tamarisk control workshop March 30

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From The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Colorado State Forest Service, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service are sponsoring a technical workshop on tamarisk control and restoration methodology. The workshop will be 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. March 30 at the Southeastern district office, 31717 United Ave…

There is no cost to attend the workshop and lunch will be provided. Contact Jean Van Pelt, or 719-948-2023.

More tamarisk control coverage here and here.

The town of Wiggins is still shopping for water rights

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From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

At the end of the Wiggins Town Council meeting Wednesday night, after a closed-door executive session, Town Administrator Bill Rogers was instructed to meet with an undisclosed person to discuss the sale of water rights. Although Wiggins has begun building its new water pipeline and may soon have U.S. Department of Agriculture approval for a loan to finance it, the town still only has about half of the new water supply it needs to replace its failing wells.

Water levels in the town wells have fallen for years now, and mineral levels have risen. The same has been true in the rest of the Bijou-Kiowa water basin. Wiggins bought 10 shares of Weldon Valley Ditch Co. water, but that will only provide about half of what it will need, Rogers has said in the past. At its height of use, Wiggins was consuming about 240 acre-feet of water each year, although the town only used 193 acre-feet last year, partly because of water restrictions, he said.

More Wiggins coverage here and here.

Logan County Water Water Conservancy District: Pawnee Creek Flood Control Project

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Judy Debus):

The Logan County Water Conservancy District (LCWCD) has initiated planning work for its Pawnee Creek Flood Control Project according to a press release from Shane Miller, director. The district has retained W.W. Wheeler and Associates, Inc. to provide professional engineering services for the project. The first phase of work involves development of a comprehensive hydrology model of the Pawnee Creek watershed, data collection and review, facilitation of stakeholder meetings, and preparation of a Phase I report according to Miller. The Phase 1 report should be available by the end of the year, Miller said.

Pawnee Creek is a large, uncontrolled watershed that drains more than 645 square miles from Pawnee Buttes to its confluence with the South Platte River near Atwood. Pawnee Creek is generally dry and its channel is more than a mile wide in many places, but the creek narrows near Atwood to a more confined channel that is susceptible to major flooding. The Pawnee Creek watershed has produced extreme floods about every 30 years and the last major flood occurred in 1997.

More stormwater coverage here and here.

SB 10-052 (Alter Designated Groundwater Basin Area) is on its way to Governor Ritter’s desk

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From the Sterling Journal Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

This was a bill that little more than a month ago passed quietly and uneventfully through the Senate with no drama and no strong debate. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, joked during its final Senate vote that there were very few water lawyers in the room when the bill was reviewed by the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. That prompted Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, a lawyer, to joke he couldn’t vote for it because not enough lawyers were involved. But even at that time, at the end of January, storm clouds were gathering.

[SB 10-052] (pdf) would make it clear that a final permit for ground water wells in a designated basin is final. Ground water permit holders need to have certainty, said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who told House members during second reading debate on March 9 that the certainty was lost in 2006. That’s when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in Gallegos v. Colorado Ground Water Commission that a surface water rights holder who has senior water rights can challenge the permit of a ground water well in a designated ground water basin if the senior water rights holder can prove their surface water rights are being affected. Under SB 52, the Ground Water Commission, which manages the eight designated basins along the Eastern Plains and the Front Range, could revise a basin’s boundaries to remove previously-included areas only if the area does not include wells that have had final permits issued. The bill includes an exception for current legal cases winding through the courts, so the Gallegos case, which is still not resolved, would not be affected.

The only person to testify against it in the Senate committee, Mark Lengel of Burlington, said he planned to marshal forces to oppose SB52 when it got to the House. Lengel was true to his word, and in the past two weeks, the bill has had a rocky ride…

Leading off [opposition in the house ag committee] was water lawyer Ray Petros, who represents three ranchers who have senior surface water rights on the south fork of the Republican River that date back to the late 1800s. He told the Ag Committee that “this will take away one of the most important water rights, the ability to curtail junior users who affect the [stream].” Petros also pointed out that the state constitution establishes the “first in time, first in line” doctrine of prior appropriation, and while ground water users have relied on permits since 1965, he said, the surface users have relied on their surface decrees for more than 100 years. The legislation insulates designated wells from surface water rights calls, he said; and it also removes the remedy for surface users, because it would say that the wells don’t impact surface water flow.

Petros’ clients also testified on the bill: Lengel, Dan Patten of the Hutton Trust of Hale, and Mike Bohnen of Bethune. Bohnen said new wells being drilled near the Republican River are affecting stream flow. “My private property rights are being legislated away from me,” he said. “A senior surface right is a vested property right.”[…]

Robin Wiley of Idalia, chair of the Yuma County Water Authority and a fourth-generation farmer on the south fork of the Republican River, recounted how the water authority was created to purchase surface water rights. Several years ago, surface water owners petitioned the Ground Water Commission to redraw the boundaries of the basin, which would have stopped pumping from more than 1,300 wells that serve farmers and municipalities such as Yuma and Wray. Voters approved that purchase, halting pending litigation. SB 52 is needed to ensure that the threat of litigation doesn’t come back, he said.

Mark Kokes of Fort Morgan, general manager of Fort Morgan Quality Water, said that in 1970, farmers started seeking a higher quality source of water. They found it in the Lost Creek Basin and formed the water district, buying the wells and infrastructure. “It changed the economy of Morgan County,” Kokes said, bringing in businesses, new residents and housing. Today, 60 percent of the county water comes from Lost Creek. If the wells were redesignated, it would cost $15 million just to purchase augmentation water and that would create an economic crisis in Morgan County.

The bill even got competing petitions: one supporting SB 52 with more than 300 signatures from Washington and Yuma County residents, and one opposed to SB 52 with about 30 signatures from people in the Burlington area. SB 52 had an even tougher time when it reached the floor of the House for debate on March 9.

Opposition to the bill was led by Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, who raised concerns during the committee hearing and in the House debate that surface water users with senior water rights would have no remedy if the bill passed. There have been impacts to surface users, she said, pointing to the 2002 and 2003 drought. Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, submitted an amendment to ensure the bill wouldn’t injure senior water rights owners and take apart the doctrine of prior appropriations. Curry objected, stating such an amendment would gut the bill and the amendment failed. Sonnenberg also said that ground water basins have very little surface water, pointing to the Republican River, which he said has seven tributaries. Only three run water above ground part of the time, he said, and none run water above ground all of the time. There have been thousands of wells drilled in the basins since 1965, he said — and not one has been challenged.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Montezuma County: Southwest Colorado Watershed Workshop recap

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

The workshop, sponsored by Colorado State University Extension and BUGS Consulting, was a gathering of all the major players in watershed activities in Southwest Colorado…

Representatives were on hand from a number of local, regional and state entities, including the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, Mancos Water Conservancy District, Dolores River Restoration Partnership, Dolores River Dialogue, Colorado Watershed Assembly, Colorado Water Conservation Board, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Dolores Water Conservancy District, Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., U.S. Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico Environment Department, Rocky Mountain Watershed Network, Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation…

Peter Butler, vice chair of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, discussed the history of the Animas River Stakeholders Group. The San Miguel Watershed Coalition was introduced by Peter Mueller, a volunteer with the organization and The Nature Conservancy’s North San Juans project director. Chester Anderson, owner of BUGS consulting, addressed work being done by the Dolores River Dialogue, which includes the Lower Dolores Management Plan Working Group. Felicity Broennan detailed efforts of the Mancos River Watershed Project, an undertaking of the Mancos Conservation District…

Jeff Crane, executive director of the Colorado Watershed Assembly, explained to participants that there is no such thing as an ideal model for a watershed organization. The assembly is a coalition of more than 70 watershed groups in Colorado. “You have been hearing about the groups in the Southwest, and they are really diverse,” Crane said. “And really, they are diverse throughout the state. It is all over the place how they are structured, and how they are organized is also all over the place. It is a lot of thinking outside the box.”

Afternoon sessions at the workshop dealt with the benefits of local watershed groups, group dynamics and best management practices…

On the Net: Animas River Stakeholders Group,; Mancos River Watershed Project,; San Miguel Watershed Coalition,; Dolores River Dialogue,

More Dolores River watershed coverage here, San Juan Basin coverage here, Mancos River watershed coverage here, Animas River watershed coverage here and San Miguel watershed coverage here.