Colorado Water Congress 2011 Annual Convention: Ag dry ups were part of the converseation

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Former Gov. Bill Ritter “was always concerned about the loss of agricultural lands, and Gov. (John) Hickenlooper is concerned about the loss of agricultural lands,” said Alex Davis, the state’s assistant director of natural resources. “Do the energy companies end up buying most of the water? Do the municipalities end up competing with the energy companies for water? Could we have a South Platte River without agricultural production? The population is growing. Demands will increase and there’s not enough water to meet all the demands. There will be trade-offs.”[…]

“We’re losing the ability to produce food in this country,” Family Farm Alliance president Pat O’Toole said at a water congress session aimed at exploring options for water sharing. Environmental advocacy groups point out that recreation and tourism-related activities, which in 2009 injected $8.6 billion into Colorado’s economy, require healthy rivers and natural beauty, not new diversions for farming or cities…

Water squeeze

16 million: Number of acre-feet of water that Colorado’s rivers, on average, generate each year. Colorado is obligated, under various legal compacts and decrees, to let about two-thirds of that flow out of the state.

Where the water comes from

Yearly production of significant river basins:

South Platte: 400,000 acre-feet
Arkansas: 164,000 acre-feet
Colorado: 4.5 million acre-feet
Rio Grande: 320,000 acre-feet
Yampa: 530,000 acre-feet…

About 80 percent of Colorado’s river water flows on the western side of the state, where about 20 percent of the people live. About 20 percent of the water flows on the eastern side of the state, where 80 percent of the people live. The Western Slope contains 562,000 people and about 918,000 acres of irrigated agricultural land, where food is produced. The eastern half of the state contains 4.5 million people and about 2.5 million irrigated agricultural acres.

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Meanwhile, the Henrylyn Irrigation district is gearing up to automate their system. More from Finley’s article:

Installation of a $220,000 system of measuring stations and computer controlled gates by the Henrylyn Irrigation District is slated to start this spring in the South Platte basin. Financed in part by the federal government, the automation is designed to save 4,000 acre-feet of water a year…

“What’s in it for us?” asked Rod Baumgartner, manager of Henrylyn’s network of 140 miles of canals and ditches, which irrigate 33,000 acres northeast of Denver. “If we can be more efficient, it means we’ll have that much more water for the farmers we serve.”

Colorado Water Congress 2011 Annual Convention: Balancing Water Supply and the Environment

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Moderator, Joe Frank asked the closing general session panel to relate what they had learned from the discussions, sessions and informal conversations that took place over the course of the convention.

Brad Udall repeated his belief that Australian water policy in the Murray-Darling basin shows that markets can be utilized to distribute water effectively and fairly. “We need more people at the table, not just lawyers and engineers,” he said.

“How can we turn our back on the most powerful tool we have?”

He listed some of the things he has been thinking about lately. First, he said, “We have to think long and hard about the number of water providers we have in our urban areas…We need to make sure that we get environmental issues right.”

Conservation is the “least heinous solution out there,” he said, and he favors a, “national water commission,” that will look at the problems and , “incorporate science into policy.”

Udall is also looking for ways to institute transmountain and trans-state markets.

Peter Sutherland (Water Resources, GHD, Sydney) said that Australia is, “still grappling with the same issues you [Colorado] are, how to get things right for the environment and the economy.”

“The water cycle doesn’t recognize state boundaries,” he said.

Mark Pifher (Aurora Water) cited the similarities between solutions in Australia and Colorado. Both, “have made a significant investment in facilities,” he said. Pifher praised Australia’s use of free markets.

I asked Scott Ashby about their market after the session.

He told me that allocations are based on historical diversion practices. Water owners can sell permanently or temporarily.

For example, the government can use the market to acquire environmental water for streamflow or wetlands protection.

Colorado Water Congress 2011 Annual Convention: Climate and Water Policy — When is the right time to Adjust Course?

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Brad Udall moderated this session. The panel was made up of water managers from both Colorado and Australia.

Mark Waage from Denver Water started things off by stating that, instead of climate change, “I like to call it the unknown climate..It’s going to warm — the question is how high and how much.”

The dilemma comes from the, “overwhelming range of possible outcomes,” we’re, “waiting for actionable science,” he said.

Denver Water has chosen to use scenario planning in their approach. They put the drivers of change into a plan and build multiple possible outcomes for the future and, “try to find the ‘no regrets’ plan.”

He mentioned regional cooperation between Denver Water, Aurora Water and the South Metro Water Supply Authority where the WISE project is designed to leverage Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project to maximize the use of the three suppliers’ reusable water available in the South Platte basin.

He joked that in solving the problem, “We have to get rid of plants to make way for people.”

Mark Pascoe (CEO, National Water Centre, Queensland) said that South Queensland has spent more than $6 billion since the onset of the mega-drought. They are now looking at recycled water, groundwater and stormwater as future supply sources. Their research shows that in most years at least as much rain falls on the cities as they use. The current thinking is to store that stormwater in aquifers for later recovery.

Mark Pifher from Aurora Water noted that higher temperatures are being recorded around the globe and asked, “What does that mean for our regulatory regime?”

“If regulatory constraints are flexible we may not need changes in the statutes,” however, if the rules are subject to strict interpretation then, “we may be in trouble,” he said. He sees conflicts brewing around expansion of reuse programs, additional use of enhanced treatment technologies like Reverse Osmosis with its attendant problem of brine disposal and current wastewater treatment plant capacity limits.

Scott Ashby (Chief Executive, South Australia Department for Water) said that water suppliers up until recent history tended to, “manage on averages.” The drought in Australia has shown that climate change is occurring and that has spawned a change in the game plan as policy makers now manage the entire (Murray-Darling) basin as a whole.

Recent work on the Murray-Darling agreement recognizes that, “extremes are not extremes but the new norm,” he said. He cautioned that, “adherence to regulations can lead to a do nothing option so you have to have a far more flexible system,” to deal with the extremes.

Education is at the heart of South Australia’s water policy as well. They’ve created a strong education program in the schools — getting the young students on board so that when they reach teenage they are supporters of the policy. With education they try to, “keep inventing news things,” such as feedback on water bills about usage compared to the goals set by the authority.

Colorado Water Congress 2011 Annual Convention: Legislative Breakfast recap

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Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“I don’t see a great deal of movement on water issues this year,” Colorado House Speaker Frank McNulty told the group at its annual convention. “Take the year off.”

His comments were reinforced by other lawmakers, who traditionally open the two-day convention with a wake up call at breakfast. “This year, it’s all about the budget,” said Senate President Brandon Shaffer. “To the extent we can keep water projects whole, we all agree, but with a deficit of $1.1 billion, we’re not making promises to anyone.”

Lawmakers are resistant to more raids on water project funds, which occurred during the past two years, limiting the ability of the Colorado Water Conservation Board to make loans. “When we think we can dip in and take $120 million previously allocated for water projects, we cannot believe that this will become a regular occurrence,” said Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and the chair of the Senate Ag Committee. “We need to keep working toward a statewide solution.”

Colorado Water Congress 2011 Annual Convention: Colorado Streamflow Variability — The Hydrologic Effects of Temperature, Dust, and Landscape

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This session dealt with the current state of the science around measuring snowpack and forecasting streamflow. It was a treat. It’s not often that so many experts currently working on this problem are assembled in one location to present overviews of their current research and thinking.

Jeff Deems (Research Scientist, NOAA Western Water Assessment and National Snow and Ice Data Center) started things off with a bit of a primer on snow albedo and the effects of dust on snowmelt and runoff. “Solar radiation is the big deal,” he said. He added that air temperature has an effect as well but it is much less than solar radiation. Dust decreases the snow albedo and increases the effects (melting) of solar radiation.

The dust that accumulates on the snow surface comes mainly during the spring and therefore impacts the melt season, he said. The snowpack melted off 28 days earlier than the historic norm in 2005, in 2009 it was 50 days earlier and last season the melt occurred 43 days ahead of the average. In the Colorado Rockies, “snow all gone,” is occurring 1 to 2 months earlier now.

Deems said that silt samples from high mountain lakes in the San Juans indicates a six-fold increase in dust in the mid-1800s. There was a drop in the increase of dust directly after the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 was enacted but dust levels have climbed steadily since the late 1940s.

Desert soils in their natural state are armored by crusts, he said. These crusts are composed of biotic materials and shield the soil from wind erosion. Grazing animals and vehicle traffic break down the crusts leading to a 50-fold increase in sediment production when disturbed, according to Deems. Invasive species, primarily annuals, also add to the disturbance as less ground cover is often present in drought conditions, he said.

In the Colorado River Basin his team has estimated a 5% annual runoff decrease or 800,000 acre-feet. To put that into perspective the total is more than two times the annual Colorado River Compact allocation for Southern Nevada.

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Deems hopes to see some sort of dust mitigation strategy put in place in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico that would lessen the amounts of wind-borne silt making it’s way to the Rockies. [Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for the satellite view of the April 29, 2009 dust event in Four Corners.] During the question and answer period afterward he was asked if any measures are in place and if they are getting results. His answer was no, but another panelist suggested that the Taylor Grazing Act was a good example of what could be done, citing the drop in dust accumulation after its enactment.

Noah Molotch (University of Colorado) explained his team’s work on using remote satellite sensing to measure snowpack. Their approach is to estimate snowpack by calculating backward from “snow all off” to arrive at a snowpack total. This is based on the assumption that snow persists where the accumulation is deepest.

Mark Williams (University of Colorado) emphasized that remote sensing can include a much larger area for measurement rather than the point values inherent in the NRCS’ Snotel network. They are, “able to measure snow-water equivalent across the landscape.”

Williams is working to get dust measuring devices across the southwest to gather data. A new site at Telluride is going to measure uranium and vanadium components in order to monitor the recently licensed uranium mill at Paradox.

David Clow (USGS) and his team are using chemistry and Principle Component Analysis to identify the increase in dust deposition along the Rockies. They collect and analyze snow samples from 57 sites ranging from Montana to New Mexico. The analysis shows an increase in calcium in the samples from the Colorado Rockies indicating an increase in dust over time, he said.

Colorado Water Congress 2011 Annual Convention: Eric Wilkinson receives the Aspinall Award

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Here’s the release from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Brian Werner):

Wilkinson receives Colorado’s top water honor

BERTHOUD – Northern Water General Manager Eric Wilkinson was named the 2011 recipient of the Aspinall Award at today’s Colorado Water Congress annual awards luncheon in Denver. The award is given each year to someone deemed to be highly knowledgeable about and dedicated to the management of Colorado’s water resources.

Wilkinson joins a select group of 30 previous recipients, who have included U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, U.S. Rep. Ray Kogovsek and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Ament.

Wilkinson has been Northern Water’s general manager since 1994 and is a recognized leader in water issues statewide. He serves on the Colorado Water Conservation Board of Directors, the South Platte Basin Roundtable and the Governor’s Interbasin Compact Committee.

A native of Fort Collins, Wilkinson graduated from Colorado State University in 1973 with a civil engineering degree and has been in the water resources field ever since. In 2007 he was recognized as a distinguished alumnus by the university’s college of engineering.

The Colorado Water Congress describes the awardee as “a person exemplifying the courage, dedication, knowledge and leadership qualities shown by Wayne N. Aspinall in the development, protection and preservation of the water of the State of Colorado.”

The award is named after former state legislator and U.S. Rep. Wayne N. Aspinall, who served in the Statehouse for 16 years before spending the next 24 as a member of the U.S. House. He is considered one of the most influential water leaders in Colorado history.

The award recipient is selected after a rigorous evaluation process which includes all previous Aspinall Award winners and the current officers of the Colorado Water Congress. It was presented by last year’s winner, Alan Hamel, who is the executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Colorado Water Congress 2011 Annual Convention: Water in our corner of the world — a comparative look at water management in Colorado and Australia

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The first general session at the convention was a panel discussion of the similarities and differences in water management issues between Australia and Colorado. The Murray-Darling basin in Australia has been in a severe multi-year drought and the conditions there have many adjuncts here in Colorado. Australians are dealing with the gap between water supply and needs, just as Colorado is. Their situation is more pressing (until drought visits Colorado statewide again, as in 2002).

Australia’s approach to water management has changed while they have dealt with the drought there. One big difference that came out of the discussion is the heavy federal government involvement in allocating supplies. They do not rely on prior appropriation as we do in Colorado and they have developed water markets to grease the wheels of allocation and protect their economy.

Alex Davis (Colorado Water Conservation Board) said that Australia and Colorado have, “similar ways of attempting to meet the gap,” but that Australia’s system in more centralized, with a more fluid water market and that, “water for the environment is a significant driver.”

During the drought they’ve seen a 45% drop in streamflow, a significant reduction in yield and an increase in temperatures. One big policy difference, according to James Cameron (CEO, National Water Commission) is that the Australian government has a, “much more active involvement,” in the crisis where water matters are usually left to the states in the U.S. He added that, “It is hard to underestimate the importance of markets.”

Brad Udall (Western Water Assessment) said that some in the U.S. look down on federalism but that the Australian approach is not much different from Colorado’s Statewide Water Supply Initiative. He added, in talking about the water issues in the western U.S., that there is, “no way to do it at a state level.”

Towards the end of the session Udall said that his recent visit to Australia to study their response the the drought was, “a life changing experience,” that opened his eyes to new ways of thinking about water. He praised their decision making process for emphasizing their economy in all decisions.

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The second general session dealt with the political issues of the day, nationally and statewide.

Floyd Ciruli said that, “This state [Colorado] has become the focal point in the 2012 presidential race.” He said that the U.S. Senate race in Colorado set the stage for Democrats. Michael Bennet was trailing in the polls late in the race but was able to turn things around by focusing on the wide differences he had with Ken Buck. Ciruli said that will be the strategy in many races across the country.

Right now the presidential race is wide open on the Republican side with early polling showing no candidate above 10% support.

The 2010 census resulted in Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Utah gaining congressional seats. It was the first time in California’s history that they will not gain a seat after the census. Most states that lost representatives as a result of the census tend to trend Democratic while the states that picked up seats trend Republican. Colorado will stay at seven representatives.

“Politically speaking the status quo will put us in a weaker position,” compared to downstream states, said Ciruli.

His recent polling tells him that, “Colorado residents value water.” Coloradans favor more storage and do not consider conservation as the sole solution to the water supply gap. Support for agriculture and meeting the threats to supply from out of state are also high on Coloradans radar, according to Ciruli.

Mike King (Colorado Department of Natural Resources Director) said that Colorado, “is going to be facing a daunting fiscal challenge,” in 2011 and 2012 but must, “remain open for business,” while protecting water and the environment. He plans to spearhead an evaluation of the most efficient and effective way for the agencies under his leadership to work together. He says they will, “streamline processes to work more effectively,” managing natural resources for the benefit of the economy, tourism and agriculture.

Energy policy — geothermal: Gypsum deep geothermal project update

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From the Eagle Valley Enterprise (Derek Franz):

“We wasted four months because we were handling (the geothermal resources) as a mineral right and then realized it made more sense being handled as a water-right issue,” said Jeff Shroll, Gypsum’s town manager. “No one’s really sure how to handle it.”

Lee Robinson, a manager for Flint LLC — known as Flint Eagle LLC in this particular venture — phrased the situation a little differently. “It’s a bit of legal pioneering that we’re doing,” he said. “Nobody has done what we are trying to do, at least not in Colorado.” The legal complications have to do with federal and state statutes and their classifications for a geothermal resource. Robinson described an involved process for sorting out the paperwork before the company can drill…

“Surface geothermal has been used before, but no one has really gone that deep before,” Shroll said recently. Robinson estimated the resource could save some town entities around 20 percent or more in energy expenses, depending on the water’s temperature. If the exploration proves fruitful, Robinson wants to drill more wells and utilize the resource throughout the county…

In his July presentation, Robinson said the Rio Grande Rift extends from Mexico into Colorado under the earth’s surface. The rift is caused by the earth’s crust getting pulled apart. Water trickling down into the deep nooks and crannies of such a rift is then heated by the earth’s mantle. Robinson said the airport is the closest land to the rift that’s entirely owned by Gypsum, including mineral rights, and that’s why he wants to explore there, west of the runway.

More geothermal coverage here.

Colorado Ag Preservation Society meeting February 3

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From The Holyoke Enterprise:

The Colorado Agriculture Preservation Association (CAPA) will be hosting its annual meeting with featured speakers including the Colorado state engineer Dick Wolfe, first assistant attorney general Peter Ampe, assistant director for water of the Division of Natural Resources (DNR) Alex Davis and president of the RRWCD Dennis Coryell. They will explain the results of arbitration, what that means for North and South Fork users of the basin, what future plans are for compact compliance and the future of the compact compliance pipeline. The meeting will be held Thursday, Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. in Burlington at the Boy Scout building.

More Republican River basin coverage here and here.

Colorado River District: Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca appointed to board

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A Mesa County Commissioner has been appointed as a board member for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Steve Acquafresca is replacing Dick Proctor, who has represented the county on the board for the last six years.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Blue River Watershed Assessment update

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From the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjun):

The Blue River Wildfire and Watershed Assessment, the latest of which was presented by JW Associates environmental consultant Brad Piehl on Tuesday in the County Commons building, is one of many tools used by the U.S. Forest Service and by Colorado water officials as they prioritize work to be done to protect water sources…

“Each water system has different threats,” said John Duggan, a state source water assessment and protection coordinator, adding that in Summit County, wildfire and emergency response to hazardous-waste spills and other problems are significant pieces to consider. “Our source water protection plan is a holistic, broader approach,” he said, explaining that the Blue River assessment is among a quiver of information to use as they approach issues surrounding water protection. “Wildfire is a piece of it. A significant piece.”[…]

Some of Summit County’s high-priority areas for wildfire and watersheds include inflows to Dillon Reservoir, Old Dillon Reservoir, areas in and around Frisco, Tenmile Creek, Keystone Gulch, and the Snake River. Some of these areas already have projects in place or planned, such as areas targeted by the Forest Service that overlap with the assessment’s high-priority areas. The Forest Service plans to transition from hazard tree removal to watershed protection this year.

More Blue River watershed coverage here and here.

CWCB: Board meeting recap

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The [Colorado Water Conservation Board] approved $1.5 million in grants following 2008 legislation aimed at meeting the needs of the Front Range. The new grants approved on Tuesday — part of a 2009 allocation of an additional $1.5 million — opened up new avenues for sharing water on the Western Slope as well. The state is studying alternatives as one way to prevent the dry-up of 500,000 acres of farmland to meet the needs of cities if the state’s population doubles to about 10 million by 2050, as currently projected…

Doherty said the second round of grants was delayed in order to determine the first group of studies was progressing. In some cases, the grants Tuesday enhance efforts already under way. Only one of the grants approved Tuesday will affect the Super Ditch, a $31,000 grant to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District to develop a farm financial planning tool that allows farmers to determine if selling water through lease agreements is a good idea. A similar tool was developed during the first round of studies, but it was too specific to the South Platte basin, Doherty told the board…

The board also approved a $180,000 grant for the Colorado River Conservation District that would study the establishment of a water bank of per-1922 water rights that could be used to stave off a call on the Colorado River by downstream states. That idea dovetails with a proposal by the Gunnison and Arkansas basin roundtables to establish an account in Blue Mesa Reservoir as insurance against a call on the river by California, Arizona and Nevada under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Most of the water that is brought across the Continental Divide would be subject to curtailment if there were a call. That water represents about one fourth of the flows in the Arkansas River above Pueblo, about half of Pueblo’s water supply and 80 percent of Colorado Springs’ water supply…

For the South Platte River basin, proposals are looking at several innovations, including:

– Lake Canal Demonstration Project — A $135,000 grant would look at improving flows in the Cache la Poudre River with methods like deficit irrigation and rotational fallowing. Environmental groups support the project, while irrigators on the Lake Canal would receive money for bypassing water in an area already heavily targeted by municipal purchases.

– East Cherry Creek Water and Sanitation District — A $111,000 grant looks at maintaining productivity on land through partial irrigation or conversion to dry-land crops after water purchases.

– Parker Water and Sanitation — A $320,000 grant completes a project to determine measurement of consumptive use by irrigating crops at levels lower than the historic use of water for corn. Parker’s study, with the cooperation of Colorado State University, attempts to show how part of the historic consumptive use could be sold to cities, while allowing irrigation to continue.

– Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District — A $300,000 grant looks at numerous ways to improve efficiency in how water is used and returned to the river.

– Colorado Corn Growers Association, Aurora and Ducks Unlimited — A $250,000 grant will attempt to quantify historic consumptive use on major ditch companies from Denver to Greeley in order to develop a model on how part of the consumptive use could be sold to cities needing water.

More CWCB coverage here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Boulder Canyon modernization project designed to generate 500 kW of power

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Here’s a release from Canyon Hydro via PRWeb:

Canyon Hydro, a USA manufacturer of hydroelectric turbine systems, has been selected by the City of Boulder, Colorado to supply the powerhouse water-to-wire package for the 5-megawatt Boulder Canyon Hydro Modernization Project.

Some of the project funding comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, which imposes strict guidelines for the use of goods manufactured in the United States. Canyon Hydro is the only manufacturer of this turbine class that is entirely owned and operated in the USA.

The project involves the replacement of an existing, 100 year-old turbine system with a modern, more efficient system designed by Canyon Hydro. The new Pelton-type turbine will be specifically designed for the unique requirements of the project, including special provisions to accommodate the existing penstock (water pipeline) connections.

Canyon Hydro will manufacture the turbine at its headquarters in Deming, Washington, and at its new CNC facility in nearby Sumas, Washington. Canyon’s newest computer-controlled CNC milling machine is capable of automatically machining all surfaces of the 1.35 meter (53 inches) Pelton runner to extremely tight tolerances, resulting in very high turbine efficiency.

About Canyon Hydro

Canyon Hydro is the waterpower division of Canyon Industries, Inc. The company has been in business for more than 35 years, and manufactures its own Pelton, Francis, and Crossflow-type hydroelectric turbines. Canyon Hydro also provides extensive refurbishment and replacement services, as well as on-site machining.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

NIDIS Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment Summary of the Upper Colorado River Basin

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Here are the notes for this week from the Colorado Climate Center.

San Juan Mountains: Research into high mercury levels

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

“In 2007 we began to study mercury because very little was known about its presence in Southwest Colorado other than that reservoirs had fish-consumption advisories, and that precipitation sometimes deposited heavy concentrations of mercury at Mesa Verde National Park,” former institute director Koren Nydick said last week by telephone.

As result of mercury accumulation in fish, the state of Colorado has posted advisories at McPhee, Totten, Narraguinnep and Vallecito reservoirs and Najavo Lake cautioning about consumption of fish from those waters.

Kelly Palmer, a Bureau of Land Management hydrologist, said as a result of the Mountain Studies Institute pilot study at Molas Pass, the San Juan National Forest in 2009 initiated a long-term mercury-monitoring program there.

“It appears the levels of mercury are notable,” Palmer said last week…

Analysis of mercury and weather data collected from 2002 to 2008 at Mesa Verde points to coal-fired power plants in New Mexico as potential sources of mercury. Analysis of pollution components as well as potential sources and storm pathways support the theory, Nydick said.

But they don’t pinpoint specific sources and don’t definitely rule out the possibility that storms were carrying pollution from elsewhere when they passed over the New Mexico plants…

In June 2009, researchers from MSI and other agencies spent a day in Mancos Canyon trapping and releasing songbirds after testing their blood for mercury. They also collected crayfish, spiders, sow bugs, cicadas and centipedes and planned to return to electro-shock fish for testing.

“Wetland-dependent songbirds were chosen for study, in addition to fish and crayfish, because research shows they can accumulate methyl mercury,” Nydick said at the time. “It appears they accumulate methyl mercury from prey such as spiders that are a link between the aquatic and terrestrial food webs. That is why we collect invertebrates, soil and dead foliage to analyze for mercury, too.”

More mercury pollution coverage here and here.

CWCB: Statewide Water Supply Initiative 2010 update

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Bump and update: Here’s a report from Joe Stone writing for The Mountain Mail. From the article:

A new report commissioned by the Colorado Water Conservation Board – Colorado’s Water Supply Future – shows by 2050 municipal and industrial water shortfall will be at least 36,000 acre feet a year in the Arkansas River Basin if all proposed water projects are completed. Without new projects, the basin shortfall could be as much as 110,000 acre feet per year.

The report estimates Colorado will need from 600,000 to 1 million acre feet per year of additional municipal and industrial and “self-supplied industrial” water by 2050. And if the state water supply continues to develop according to status quo, water for 500,000 irrigated acres could be transferred to municipal and industrial uses, resulting in “significant loss of agricultural land and potential harm to the environment.”[…]

Other factors driving increased demand for water include energy resource development, need to replace depleted groundwater sources and self-supplied industrial needs like oil shale development. For example, the report indicates an oil shale industry producing 1,550,000 barrels of oil per day could use as much as 120,000 acre feet of water per year.

Update: Here’s a look at the Grand Valley and their take on Colorado River governance, from Honora Swanson writing for From the article:

A new report out shows that our state will need twice as much water in 2050 as we do right now. The Colorado River Conservation District Board estimates 10 million more people could come to Colorado in the next 40 years. And with those people, comes a big demand for water.

The article is about the SWSI 2010 Update released last Friday by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Here’s a look back at last month’s meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference with a bit of analysis of the basin thrown in, from Brett Walton writing for Circle of Blue Water News. From the article:

In Las Vegas last month, at the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association—the only organization bringing together stakeholders from each of the seven basin states—opponents and supporters made their views known during a speech by Doug Kenney, the director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Kenney was invited to Caesar’s Palace to share the first-year findings from his study on water governance in the Colorado River Basin. His message: in a new era of water scarcity along the river—where supply and demand lines have already crossed—traditional water management practices will need to be fundamentally changed.

New options for managing the Colorado include establishing provisions for year-to-year agreements with states and farmers to avoid shortages. They also include improvements in the efficiency of river operations, or by river augmentation, which means adding new supplies from a slew of sources—some viable, some expensive, and some fanciful: desalination, river diversions, and weather modification, respectively.

Kenney’s governance study is just one of several such assessments—carried out by academics and federal agencies, as well as state and regional water management authorities—suggesting the need for new ways to manage water flows. The studies are providing a new legal and scientific foundation for defining existing water rights within states, clarifying laws and regulations about how shortages on the river would be handled, and evaluating options for increasing the basin’s water supply and reducing demand.

Kenney argued that the states of the upper basin—Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming—are the most vulnerable if future flows are as low as predicted because the river’s legal structure gives priority to Mexico and the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

First-Ever Global Map of Surface Permeability Informs Water Supply, Climate Modelling

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Here’s the release from the University of British Columbia via Science Daily:

University of British Columbia researchers have produced the first map of the world outlining the ease of fluid flow through the planet’s porous surface rocks and sediments.

The maps and data, published January 21 in Geophysical Research Letters, could help improve water resource management and climate modelling, and eventually lead to new insights into a range of geological processes.

“This is the first global-scale picture of near-surface permeability, and is based on rock type data at greater depths than previous mapping,” says Tom Gleeson, a postdoctoral researcher with the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences.

Using recent world-wide lithology (rock type) results from researchers at the University of Hamburg and Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Gleeson was able to map permeability across the globe to depths of approximately 100 metres. Typical permeability maps have only dealt with the top one to two metres of soil, and only across smaller areas.

“Climate models generally do not include groundwater or the sediments and rocks below shallow soils,” says Gleeson. “Using our permeability data and maps we can now evaluate sustainable groundwater resources as well as the impact of groundwater on past, current and future climate at the global scale.”

A better understanding of large scale permeability of rock and sediment is critical for water resource management–groundwater represents approximately 99 per cent of the fresh, unfrozen water on earth. Groundwater also feeds surface water bodies and moistens the root zone of terrestrial plants.

“This is really an example of mapping research from a new, modern era of cartography,” says Gleeson. “We’ve mapped the world, peering well below the surface, without ever leaving our offices.”

The study’s maps include a global map at a resolution of 13,000 kilometres squared, and a much more detailed North American map at a resolution of 75 kilometres squared.

The research also improves on previous permeability databases by compiling regional-scale hydrogeological models from a variety of settings instead of relying on permeability data from small areas.

The paper’s authors include UBC Professors Leslie Smith and Mark Jellinek, as well as researchers from the US Geological Survey in Denver, Colorado, the University of Hamburg, and Utrecht University.

The work was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the German Science Foundation, and Utrecht University.

Colorado River basin: What should governance look like going forward?

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Update: Here’s a look at the Grand Valley and their take on Colorado River governance, from Honora Swanson writing for From the article:

A new report out shows that our state will need twice as much water in 2050 as we do right now. The Colorado River Conservation District Board estimates 10 million more people could come to Colorado in the next 40 years. And with those people, comes a big demand for water.

The article is about the SWSI 2010 Update released last Friday by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Here’s a look back at last month’s meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference with a bit of analysis of the basin thrown in, from Brett Walton writing for Circle of Blue Water News. From the article:

In Las Vegas last month, at the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association—the only organization bringing together stakeholders from each of the seven basin states—opponents and supporters made their views known during a speech by Doug Kenney, the director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Kenney was invited to Caesar’s Palace to share the first-year findings from his study on water governance in the Colorado River Basin. His message: in a new era of water scarcity along the river—where supply and demand lines have already crossed—traditional water management practices will need to be fundamentally changed.

New options for managing the Colorado include establishing provisions for year-to-year agreements with states and farmers to avoid shortages. They also include improvements in the efficiency of river operations, or by river augmentation, which means adding new supplies from a slew of sources—some viable, some expensive, and some fanciful: desalination, river diversions, and weather modification, respectively.

Kenney’s governance study is just one of several such assessments—carried out by academics and federal agencies, as well as state and regional water management authorities—suggesting the need for new ways to manage water flows. The studies are providing a new legal and scientific foundation for defining existing water rights within states, clarifying laws and regulations about how shortages on the river would be handled, and evaluating options for increasing the basin’s water supply and reducing demand.

Kenney argued that the states of the upper basin—Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming—are the most vulnerable if future flows are as low as predicted because the river’s legal structure gives priority to Mexico and the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

CWCB: Statewide Water Supply Initiative 2010 update

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Just in time for the CWCB meeting and the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention this week the CWCB has released the updated SWSI 2010 report. You can download it from the CWCB here. From the executive summary:

Colorado faces significant and immediate water supply challenges. Despite the recent economic recession, the state has experienced rapid population growth, and Colorado’s population is expected to nearly double within the next 40 years. If Colorado’s water supply continues to develop according to current trends, i.e., the status quo, this will inevitably lead to a large transfer of water out of agriculture resulting in significant loss of agricultural lands and potential harm to the environment.

Providing an adequate water supply for Colorado’s citizens, agriculture, and the environment will involve implementing a mix of local water projects and processes, conservation, reuse, agricultural transfers, and the development of new water supplies, all of which should be pursued concurrently. With this Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) 2010 update, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB or Board) has confirmed and updated its analysis of the state’s water supply needs and recommends Colorado’s water community enter an implementation phase to determine and pursue solutions to meeting the state’s consumptive and nonconsumptive water supply needs.

Here’s a report from the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

Colorado will need up to 1 million more acre-feet of water than it currently uses if, as projected by the report, the state’s population balloons to 10 million by 2050. The fastest areas of growth will be on Colorado’s Western Slope, where the prospect of increased traditional energy production – as well as a speculative oil shale boom – looms large in any water discussion.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel [Gary Harmon] reports the state’s demands for municipal and industrial water “could exceed supply by as much as 630,000 acre-feet by mid-century,” according to the report released Friday.

More CWCB coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board agrees to form a committee to look at how winter water fits in the project

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District agreed to coordinate formation of the committee at its meeting Thursday, as part of a $225,000 grant request for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District on behalf of the Super Ditch. The grant was approved last week by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, which forwarded it to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. It will be accompanied by a letter of dissent from roundtable member Dan Henrichs, superintendent of the High Line Canal.

Henrichs and some others on the roundtable objected to the grant because the Super Ditch exchange application is in Water Court and the information could be used in the case. Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district, said the information would be available for anyone to use, and most roundtable members agreed that it is better to know how agricultural water can be quantified for exchange, storage and transfer.

Winter water is just one piece of the grant. The program was established by a court decree to allow irrigators to store water from Nov. 15 to March 15 each year. Water can be used later in the growing season, when flows are typically diminished…

[Southeastern Executive Director Jim Broderick] said the Division of Water Resources, Southeastern, the Bureau of Reclamation and winter water participants need to meet to see how using winter water in programs like Super Ditch that sell water through lease agreements. Henrichs was on hand to make sure winter water interests are included. “We have to work out winter water before it’s put out before the whole world and becomes a battle,” Broderick said. “We want the process to be inclusive.”

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Snowpack news: Drought conditions persist on the eastern plains

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Snowpack remains heavy in the northern mountains and much of the Western Slope, while the Arkansas River basin continues to move into severe drought. Statewide, snowpack remains at 125 percent of average, but it’s too early to make projections about water supply. The Arkansas River and Rio Grande basins hover near average precipitation, while the South Platte and southwest corner of the state are slightly above average. The Colorado River and its tributaries are well above normal…

To illustrate the importance of later spring snows, snowfall in the upper part of the Arkansas River basin was at 60 to 75 percent of peak so far, said Pat Edelmann, of the Pueblo office of the U.S. Geological Survey. The southern mountains are at only 20 to 30 percent of peak, while the Roaring Fork basin, which provides supplemental diversions to the Arkansas River, is at 50 to 75 percent of its peak…

Ski areas are reporting healthy bases of snow, with 74 inches at Wolf Creek, 64 inches at Monarch and 54 inches at Ski Cooper. Snotel sites operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service show snow depths up to 7 feet at higher elevations, with 3 to 4 feet at most lower sites on the Western Slope. In the southern mountains, there is less than 2 feet in most places. Snow water equivalent, the moisture content of snow, is 8 to 36 inches in most places, but under 6 inches in the southern mountains…

Storage in upper reservoirs — Lake Pueblo, Clear Creek, Turquoise and Twin Lakes — is anywhere from 100 to 140 percent of average, which Trinidad Lake is only 70 percent of average and John Martin Reservoir is at 30 percent.

Precipitation news

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From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

The early-week moisture helped bring total precipitation so far in January to six-tenths of an inc (o.60 inch). The moisture has been widespread, bringing hope for this year’s winter wheat crop that had been struggling along under extremely dry conditions since being planted early last fall. The first 18 days of 2011 have been the wettest stretch in the region since early August, and has been the wettest early January since 2007.

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The board is concerned that the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District is contemplating diverting money from the Corridor Master Plan and concentrating more on land-use review rather than completing projects to improve Fountain Creek. “If you aren’t seeing any progress, you won’t have people going forward with you,” said Leroy Mauch, the Lower Ark board member who also sits on the Fountain Creek board…

Under an intergovernmental agreement, the district is using $100,000 annually from Colorado Springs Utilities and the Lower Ark district to fund its activities. Those two sources are also funding the master plan at $200,000 annually. Funding ends this year. The district has no other source of funding until at least 2016, when Colorado Springs would pay the balance of $50 million pledged to the district under conditions of the Pueblo County 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System…

The district board will look at the Lower Ark’s response at its next meeting, 1 p.m. Jan. 28 at Fountain City Hall, said Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner, chairman of the Fountain Creek board.

More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Peak water

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From Circle of Blue: Water News (Peter Gleick):

Water Number: Three (3) definitions of “peak water.”

Peak Renewable Water: This is the limit reached when humans take the entire renewable flow of a river or stream for our use. Water is renewable, but there is a limit to how much can be used. Humans have already reached “peak renewable water” limits on the Colorado River. We use it all and can’t take any more. In fact, of course, we probably shouldn’t even take as much as we do, for ecological reasons (see “Peak Ecological Water” below). Increasingly, we are reaching peak renewable limits on many of our rivers and streams. The Yellow River in China no longer reaches the sea much of the year. The Aral Sea has been devastated because the entire flows of the Amu and Syr Darya rivers have been consumed. The Nile Delta is typically dry much of the year.

Peak Non-Renewable Water: While much of our water supply is renewable, there are “non-renewable” water sources as well, where our use of water depletes or degrades the source. This most typically takes the form of groundwater aquifers that we pump out faster than nature recharges them — exactly like the concept of “peak oil.” Over time, groundwater becomes depleted, more expensive to tap, or effectively exhausted. Central Valley aquifers are overpumped, unsustainably, to the tune of 1-to-2 million acre-feet a year. So are groundwater aquifers in India, China, the Great Plains, and other places. This cannot continue indefinitely — it runs into peak non-renewable water limits.

Peak Ecological Water: The third definition, and perhaps the most important (and difficult) one, is peak “ecological” water — the point where any additional human uses cause more harm (economic, ecological, or social) than benefit. We’re good at measuring the “benefits” of more human use of water (semiconductors manufactured, or food produced, or economic value generated), but we’re bad at measuring on an equal footing, the ecological “costs” or harm caused by that same use of water. As a result, species are driven to extinction, habitat is destroyed, water purification capabilities of marshes and wetlands are lost. For many watersheds around the world, we are reaching, or exceeding, the point of “peak ecological water.”

Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities is moving dirt but contract negotiations with Reclamation are delaying the construction start at the Pueblo Dam

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chaćon):

…a late-in-the-game tangle with the federal government means Utilities still doesn’t have key contracts it needs to start construction at the Pueblo Reservoir, the mouth of the 62-mile pipeline…

Utilities officials insist the unfinished contracts won’t stop or delay construction. They point to a 4,000-foot section of pipeline that workers recently laid along Marksheffel Road, marking the unofficial start of the project. And, they say, a 4-mile stretch of construction will start in El Paso County in February or March. Utilities has already invested more than $100 million in the project. “It’s important that we take the time to get these final details resolved in a way that protects our customers’ best interests,” John Fredell, SDS project manager, said Friday.

Although it’s unclear when Utilities and the bureau will reach agreement on the contracts, it’s primarily “lawyerly language” that needs to be ironed out, said David Robbins, outside legal counsel for Utilities. “I hope we’re pretty close,” he said this week.

According to interviews and e-mails between Utilities officials and bureau representatives, three significant issues remain unresolved:

• A termination, or “subject to appropriation of funds,” provision.

• A desire by Utilities officials to take advantage of lower water storage rates if other entities get such rates in the future.

• A schedule detailing how much water each of the SDS partners needs to store each year and the cost over the life of the contracts.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

2011 Colorado legislation: State Senator Gail Schwartz to sponsor bill that will allow the State Engineer to approve groundwater sub-district management plans as substitute water supply plans in the San Luis Valley

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The valley’s first version of the voluntary plan, Subdistrict No. 1, is currently under review by the Colorado State Supreme Court and, if approved, could lead to as many as seven other subdistricts in the valley. If the subdistricts aren’t implemented before Wolfe’s rules, groundwater users with no surface water to offset their pumping would face shutting down. The legislation would allow subdistrict members to purchase surface water to offset their pumping. State Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, said Saturday that he and state Sen. Gayle Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, would continue to take comments from valley water users before the bill is introduced…

Tim Buchanan, an attorney who represents some of the appellants in the state Supreme Court case, said the experience of water users on the South Platte has shown that the plans won’t work…

Wolfe objected to Buchanan’s description of efforts on the South Platte, noting that many of the plans came up short on replacement water because users were in the midst of the 2002 drought. “There’s others who believe the process has worked quite well and it’s very valuable,” he said.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2011 Morgan Conservation District Annual Meeting recap

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From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

[Robert] Longenbaugh said he has done research on water levels and South Platte River flows over the past few years with the assistance of John Halepaska. Longenbaugh has looked back at groundwater level records and contemporary well measurements — as well as South Platte River flow as it leaves the state near Julesburg — with the help of some funding from corn growers, he said. There is no state agency responsible for collecting groundwater data, and no state funding for the job, but there ought to be, Longenbaugh said. Growers had noticed springs in their fields where none had ever been seen before, as well as wet basements, he said.

Longenbaugh said he found that water levels fluctuate during the year due to a variety of factors such as pumping, augmentation water recharge, natural recharge and deep percolation. Continuous monitoring of wells in the South Platte basin seems to show that there are no long-term effects of previous pumping, he said. When nearby wells stop pumping, water levels quickly begin to rise and may return to pre-pumping levels within a few days or months, Longenbaugh said. In fact, water levels seem to return to equilibrium each spring, he said. Generally, levels will fall, during the spring and summer, but rise again during the fall. Groundwater levels have risen since wells were closed, and that shows artificial recharge has helped, but even areas where there was no recharge have seen water levels rise, Longenbaugh said.

He said well pumping seems to cause local cones of depression around the well, and continuous pumping causes those cones to deepen and expand outward. That causes less flow into the river. But when wells stop pumping, the cones begin to fill and river depletions to decrease, Longenbaugh said.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board is concerned with Aspen’s proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric plan

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From The Aspen Times (Janet Urquhart):

The board, which met Monday, forwarded a two-page letter to David Hornbacher, the city’s deputy director of utilities and renewable energy, on Friday — the final day the city was accepting comments on its draft application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the hydro plant. Attached were 58 pages of attachments comprising the analyses of four experts hired by the county rivers board to review the city’s studies of the project. The county spent $50,000 on the review, which involved a Denver water attorney, Boulder engineering consulting firm, an aquatic specialist based in Eagle and a Telluride firm hired to review the expected energy output of the plant.

“We have significant concerns about the health and quantity of the waters in Castle and Maroon creeks,” said the board’s letter, signed by Chairman Greg Poschman. “The city’s hydroelectric project represents a potential conflict with the mission of our board.”

Among the board’s suggestions: The city should define and preserve a “healthy” streamflow as opposed to merely adhering to minimum streamflows.

The board also called on the city to make a legal commitment to maintain stream quality and quantity throughout the year as part of its operation of the hydro plant, and concluded that more complete data is needed over a longer period of time in order to assess the impacts associated with the hydroelectric facility.

Aspen is seeking a “conduit exemption” from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for its project. Such exemptions, granted for small hydroelectric projects that use infrastructure that is primarily used for other purposes, involve less onerous environmental reviews.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Avon: The Eagle River Watershed Council discussion of the Eagle River fishery Wednesday

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From the Vail Daily:

“Fish Tales” will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the Salt Water Cowboy in Avon.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here.

2010 Colorado gubernatorial election transition: What should Colorado’s water strategy look like under a Hickenlooper administration?

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Water policy is surfacing as the top issue for the incoming administration. The governor has appointed John Stulp to a top-level water position and has repeatedly mentioned water as a priority. Mr. Stulp’s role will be to shape water policy. From email from Mr. Stulp via the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

As the new IBCC director, I am looking forward to a lively discussion regarding the report the IBCC sent to former Governor Ritter and Governor Hickenlooper. As part of my new charge, I’m seeking to engage not only the roundtables, a process that is underway, but also a wider set of the water community on this emerging framework. My goal is to have enough information on this framework that we can have a productive conversation at the March 3rd Statewide Roundtable Summit to improve the document with a geographically and politically diverse group of people in the room.

I have asked CWCB staff and the IBCC facilitator Heather Bergman, in support of the IBCC, to coordinate a public input process. You are officially invited to provide feedback in one or more of the following ways:

Facilitated Public Forums for detailed feedback on the Framework on both the West and East Slopes

o Feb. 4th 3:30-5:30 at the Warwick Denver Hotel, 1776 Grant Street, Denver, CO 80203

o Feb. 25th 1-4 , Glenwood Springs, CO (exact location for this meeting will be sent out next week)

Written Feedback Survey and Comment Opportunity, available at the Statewide Roundtable Summit webpage in the additional information section on the right side of the page. Additional comment emails or attachments may be sent to, but all are encouraged to take the survey. Surveys and written public feedback are due February 24th.

The March 3rd Statewide Roundtable Summit at the Doubletree Hotel Denver – North, 8773 Yates Drive, Westminster, CO 80031. Participants in the Summit are expected to participate in one of the above forums first. Registration is $25 for non-roundtable members to cover conference costs. Please register by clicking here.

In order to download a copy of the report, or hear IBCC members’ discussion with Governor Ritter, please visit the Statewide Roundtable Summit webpage.

Please let Jacob Bornstein know if you have any questions, comments, or concerns…

I look forward to learning from all of you,

John Stulp

Special Policy Advisor to the Governor / IBCC Director

I expect that Trout Unlimited will heed the call to help shape the framework since Drew Peternell has already offered an opinion in a recent Boulder Daily Camera guest column. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

In an age of water limits, can Colorado meet its water needs for agriculture, industry, and growing cities while also protecting its rivers and quality of life?

Yes – but only with creative solutions and strong leadership. Gov. Hickenlooper has a golden opportunity to move Colorado away from reliance on costly and destructive large dams and pipelines toward a smart water future built on low-impact alternatives such as conservation and reuse, small-scale storage, and innovative sharing arrangements between cities and farms.

We urge the new governor to seize the moment.

Governor Hickenlooper is the keynote speaker at Friday’s Wayne Aspinall Awards Luncheon to close out the Colorado Water Congress’ Annual Convention.

More 2010 Colorado election coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: State Representative Marsha Looper hopes to allow conservation easement disputes to bypass the Department of Revenue

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From the Associated Press via the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Rep. Marsha Looper, a Republican from Calhan, wants to allow property owners given tax credits not to develop their property that were later denied, to take their appeals straight to court. The property owners are now required to appeal to the state Department of Revenue. She plans to meet with property owners and judges to discuss the plan on Friday.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District quarterly board meeting recap

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

[The fees are hitting for] the Valley’s first sub-district, which encompasses about 175,000 irrigated acres owned by 500-plus individual property owners in an area north of the Rio Grande. It is the first of several water management sub-districts under the auspices of the sponsoring district, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, that will eventually cover the San Luis Valley…

Last October the sub-district board of managers approved an administrative fee of $5 per irrigated acre (to generate about $875,000) and CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) fee of $1 per irrigated acre to be assessed well users within the boundaries of the first sub-district this year. A variable fee of $45 per acre foot of groundwater pumped (less surface water credits), will not be collected until 2012 but will be based on 2011 pumping. This year’s fees will be held in escrow until the sub-district receives a decision from the Colorado Supreme Court regarding an appeal over the sub-district’s management plan…

[Cory Off] suggested the state should be bearing some of the cost of the sub-districts. He said he knew the state did not have any money, but neither did the Valley residents, and if the Valley water districts did not ask the state for help now, the Valley would not be considered for funding in the future when the state’s financial situation improved. He said although Valley farmers will benefit through the sub-districts by not having to pay for their own augmentation plans, the state will also benefit by not having to process thousands of augmentation plans in the Valley.

[RGWCD Attorney David Robbins] said he was not arguing that point, and if Off could get the state to help pay for the sub-districts, “God bless you and I will do whatever I can to help,” but the other river basins in the state had not had any luck getting the state to help with their costs. He said water users in the Republican River Basin are going to spend $80 million to acquire water and put in a pipeline.

RGWCD board member Lewis Entz, a former long-time state legislator, said the sub-district legislation was created as a way for the Valley to solve its own problems without the state’s interference. “It’s on us to solve our problem and not the state,” he said…

RGWCD Manager Steve Vandiver reported to the board on Tuesday the district’s costs associated with the first sub-district alone have totaled $1.13 million. This is a cumulative figure encompassing all of the expenses over the past several years. The district has also spent about $240,000 on the other sub-districts proposed throughout the Valley. Vandiver said those figures include court time, engineering time, legal time, administrative time, etc…

He and District Engineer Allen Davey said the efforts, and expenses, will not let up any time soon, either. “Obviously we are doing a lot of work on sub-districts, particularly Sub-district #1,” Davey said. “That’s been primarily our focus in the past year.”

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.

BLM Uncompahgre Field Office Wild and Scenic review update

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From the Delta County Independent (Hank Lohmeyer):

There was unanimous agreement that Deep Creek and West Fork Terror Creek segments in the BLM’s North Fork Gunnison River Unit were unsuitable for BLM management as wild and scenic waters. The stakeholder group’s recommendation will be forwarded to the Uncompahgre Field Office (UFO) for consideration when BLM managers evaluate 11 stream segments in Delta County for “suitability,” the next stage in the wild and scenic evaluation process. Five other stream segments under consideration at the Jan. 10 meeting also received near unanimous agreement to be excluded from the BLM’s wild and scenic inventory. However, four individuals representing various environmental groups including The Wilderness Society and North Fork Valley-based WSERC did not want the five stream segments removed at this time. The five are Potter Creek, Monitor Creek, Roubideau Creek segments 1 and 2, and Gunnison River segment 2. The five will be looked at in more detail by a subcommittee of the full stakeholders group scheduled to meet this month, and then presented for reconsideration at an upcoming stakeholders meeting. A total of seven eligible stream segments were being evaluated on Jan 10. All of them are located outside of the new Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. The stakeholders group is trying to meet a Feb. 15 deadline for submitting its recommendations on the seven. In addition to the seven non-NCA stream segments, six other stream segments located within the NCA boundaries must have a stakeholders recommendation by April 15.

More Wild and Scenic coverage here.

Boulder is considering lowering fluoride dosing in light of proposed recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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From the Boulder Daily Camera (Heath Urie):

City Manager Jane Brautigam wrote in a recent memo to the City Council that the city is “reviewing its current processes in light of the proposed recommendations and considering changes to its fluoride levels.” Ned Williams, Boulder’s director of public works for utilities, said the jury is still out on how much fluoride is too much, and whether it should be added to drinking water at all. “Fluoride has a wide range of advocacy, from totally in support to totally against,” he said. “It’s one of the national health debates that has been ongoing for several decades.”

Fluoride is now added at both of Boulder’s water treatment plants in the form of liquid hydrofluorosilicic acid, Williams said. It’s been used since 1969, when Boulder voters approved increasing natural fluoride levels to about 1 milligram per liter. The additive costs the city about $36,000 annually, or about 70 cents per household…

In 2008, Erie residents narrowly approved adding fluoride to the town’s water supply for the first time. Erie was one of the last municipalities in the Denver metro area that did not use fluoride in its drinking water.

Meanwhile, the Public is pointing to this release from the Fluoride Action Network about a study that shows lower IQ levels in children as a result of fluoridation. Here’s the release:

Exposure to fluoride may lower children’s intelligence says a study pre-published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (online December 17, 2010).

Fluoride is added to 70% of U.S. public drinking water supplies.

According to Paul Connett, Ph.D., director of the Fluoride Action Network, “This is the 24th study that has found this association, but this study is stronger than the rest because the authors have controlled for key confounding variables and in addition to correlating lowered IQ with levels of fluoride in the water, the authors found a correlation between lowered IQ and fluoride levels in children’s blood. This brings us closer to a cause and effect relationship between fluoride exposure and brain damage in children.”

“What is also striking is that the levels of the fluoride in the community where the lowered IQs were recorded were lower than the EPA’s so-called ‘safe’ drinking water standard for fluoride of 4 ppm and far too close for comfort to the levels used in artificial fluoridation programs (0.7 – 1.2 ppm),” says Connett.

In this study, 512 children aged 8-13 years in two Chinese villages were studied and tested – Wamaio with an average of 2.47 mg/L water fluoride (range 0.57-4.50 mg/L) and Xinhuai averaging 0.36 mg/L (range 0.18-0.76 mg/L).

The authors eliminated both lead exposure and iodine deficiency as possible causes for the lowered IQs. They also excluded any children who had a history of brain disease or head injury and none drank brick tea, known to contain high fluoride levels. Neither village is exposed to fluoride pollution from burning coal or other industrial sources. About 28% of the children in the low-fluoride area scored as bright, normal or higher intelligence compared to only 8% in the “high” fluoride area of Wamaio.

In the high-fluoride city, 15% had scores indicating mental retardation and only 6% in the low-fluoride city.

The study authors write: “In this study we found a significant dose-response relation between fluoride level in serum and children’s IQ.”

In addition to this study, and the 23 other IQ studies, there have been over 100 animal studies linking fluoride to brain damage (all the IQ and animal brain studies are listed in Appendix 1 in The Case Against Fluoride available online at

One of the earliest animal studies of fluoride’s impact on the brain was published in the U.S. This study by Mullenix et. al (1995) led to the firing of the lead author by the Forsyth Dental Center. “This sent a clear message to other researchers in the U.S. that it was not good for their careers to look into the health effects of fluoride – particularly on the brain,” says Connett.

Connett adds, “The result is that while the issue of fluoride’s impact on IQ is being aggressively pursued around the world, practically no work has been done in the U.S. or other fluoridating countries to repeat their findings. Sadly, health agencies in fluoridated countries seem to be more intent on protecting the fluoridation program than protecting children’s brains.”

When the National Research Council of the National Academies reviewed this topic in their 507-page report “Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Review of EPA’s Standards” published in 2006, only 5 of the 24 IQ studies were available in English. Even so the panel found the link between fluoride exposure and lowered IQ both consistent and “plausible.”

According to Tara Blank, Ph.D., the Science and Health Officer for the Fluoride Action Network, “This should be the study that finally ends water fluoridation. Millions of American children are being exposed unnecessarily to this neurotoxin on a daily basis. Who in their right minds would risk lowering their child’s intelligence in order to reduce a small amount of tooth decay, for which the evidence is very weak.” (see The Case Against Fluoride, Chelsea Green, October 2010)

More water treatment coverage here.

The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board upholds the approval additional prospecting for the Mt. Emmons molybdenum mine near Crested Butte

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From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

The state last week rejected an appeal by the High Country Citizens’ Alliance to overturn a decision approving a proposal for additional prospecting at the proposed Mt. Emmons molybdenum mine. With a 4-1 vote, the Colorado Mined Reclamation Board agreed to allow a new mine tunnel, or drift, to be constructed as part of the proposed prospecting activities by the Mt. Emmons Moly Company (MEMCO). The original decision was approved by the Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mining Safety (DRMS). The hearing lasted almost five and a half hours. With the MLRB’s ruling in place, MEMCO is now authorized by the state of Colorado to pursue prospecting activities, which will allow for further exploration to better define the molybdenum deposit at Mount Emmons. In a press release from MEMCO, Larry Clark, vice president and general manager of the Mount Emmons Project for Thompson Creek said, “MEMCO will continue to work through permitting requirements as we proceed with these activities, and we will continue keeping the Gunnison Country community apprised of our progress.”

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

U.S. Energy Corp. responds to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s clean up order for the Mt. Emmons mine

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Here’s the letter via The Crested Butte News. Here’s the article previewing Friday’s meeting between U.S. Energy Corp. and the state, from Mark Reaman writing for The Crested Butte News. From the article:

U.S. Energy Corp. will be meeting Friday with representatives from the state’s Water Quality Control Division to get some clarification of the state’s pollution concerns.

The mining company responded last week to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over concerns Coal Creek is being polluted with heavy metals from the mine on Mt. Emmons. The response basically disagrees with the ultimate conclusions of the state. “In short, U.S. Energy disagrees with the Division’s suggestion that stormwater discharges from the Mt. Emmons Project are causing or threatening to cause degradation of Coal Creek,” a letter dated January 11 from the mining company states.

The state had sent U.S. Energy a “Compliance Advisory Letter” at the end of December warning of “possible violations of the Colorado Water Quality Control Act.” It demanded the company formulate a plan to bring down the levels of heavy metals measured in the creek and have a progress report ready by February 1. Sampling over the last few years on the mine property showed huge spikes in the heavy metal levels in Coal Creek.

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

Orchard City: The town hopes to work with private water suppliers to upgrade their water systems to town standards

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From the Delta County Independent (Hank Lohmeyer):

In conjunction with the construction of the new West Main transmission line, the town has offered to share some expenses with the private companies along the line for the cost of upgrading their systems to the town’s current construction standards. But Mayor Don Suppes reported at the town board’s Jan. 12 meeting that most of the companies have declined the town offer. Cost was cited as a reason for shying away from the deal, even in light of the 50/50 cost split being discussed. Orchard City finds itself in a situation where, even though it simply supplies treated water to the private pipeline companies master meter and does nothing with the water after that point, the town may still have liability for water quality as delivered at a customer’s tap by a private pipeline company. Town officials would like to see the private lines upgraded to town engineering and safety standards in order to lessen any potential for liability, and also looking ahead to a day when the town might adopt the private pipelines into its own system and administration.

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

Ridgway: The town council is wrestling with the right mix of fees to accommodate future growth

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From The Telluride Watch (Peter Shelton):

The town currently requires that new development contribute either water rights or money in lieu of water rights, before it can be annexed into the town limits. The idea when the policy was adopted in 2000 (and amended in 2009), [Town Engineer Joanne Fagan] said, was to protect the town’s access to municipal water, even as population grows, and even in the event of a call on Ridgway’s water by more senior water users. One option was to use the up-front money to purchase Ridgway Reservoir water from Tri-County Water Conservancy District…

The two systems Fagan described for calculating how much a new development should pay were complicated by, among other things, the escalating value of water. The policy refers to purchases of reservoir water at “present values.” But present value in 2000 was about $350/acre foot, Fagan said, and is now at $850/acre foot. The cost to a potential developer has soared. “Council folks,” she asked, “is this what you think we should be doing? And is this impact what you had in mind?”

Mayor Pat Willits responded. “My recollection is that when we first started talking about this, back 10 years ago when River Park was financing, we didn’t anticipate this much of an impact [on the developer]…

Fagan then said that she and staff were working on a “Plan B.” “For somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million,” she said, the town could improve its storage of Beaver Creek water at Lake Otonawanda and avoid the purchase of Tri-County water. Lake Otonawanda is on Miller Mesa south of town. The town owns it but has no way to get water out of the lake into the town ditch. Fagan’s Plan B would properly plumb the lake and then “We could be in a position to fill it in the winter when the water would not be subject to a call” by ranchers and others who might override the town’s priority during irrigating season. Fagan said her rough calculations for payment in lieu of water rights using the “Lake O” plan came to about $66,000 per 10-acre development, or about $1,100 per unit, far less than $100,000 to $300,000 a developer would have to pay under the current plan. “We’re reviewing a draft plan now,” she told council. But, she said, “We don’t think this fits with the policy and might require amending the policy we have.”

More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: HB 11-1083

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I like the short name for this bill, Hydroelectricity & Pumped Hydro, on the General Assembly website.

I think you should generate hydroelectric power where you can. There are many facilities already in place ripe for retrofitting.

Pumped hydro plans include wind or solar to pump water to an uphill reservoir during the day to generate hyroelectric power at night. The water is stored in afterbay for pumping back uphill the next day or during the next wind event.

Here’s a report from Patrick Malone writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The legislation addresses the opportunity for energy companies to approach the Public Utilities Commission with “clean energy projects in the hydro and hydro-pumpback arena as a viable resource for electrical energy,” said state Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West, who is sponsoring the bill. “If the projects are cost-effective and benefit the ratepayers, we need to put that on the table.”

State Sens. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, are Senate sponsors of the bill. It would add hydroelectricity to the category of new energy technologies that the PUC can consider and authorize incentives for power companies for energy acquisition. “It’s all-around good,” Giron said. “This is a bipartisan bill with Southern Colorado jobs and clean energy in mind.”

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

2010 Colorado gubernatorial election transition: Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry luncheon recap

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From The Denver Post (Tim Hoover):

“There’s no appetite for anybody in terms of raising taxes,” [Hickenlooper] said. “We have to become more pro-business.” Part of doing that is cutting government red tape, he said. Hundreds of business leaders applauded when he said he wanted to cut permitting times for oil-and-gas operations.

But, Hickenlooper said, it will have to be done carefully, without endangering air and water quality. “We’ll be efficient, but we’re going to hold them (businesses) to the highest standards,” he said.

Pam Kiely, director of Environment Colorado, said environmentalists aren’t automatically opposed to speeding up permits. “What’s important is that we manage the development of our natural resources in a way that keeps our water clean, our air clear, and best protects the health of our local communities,” Kiely said.

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.

Energy policy: Grants Awarded for Colorado Renewable Energy Projects

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Agriculture (Stacy Romero):

Fifteen grants totaling over $600,000 have been awarded through the “Advancing Colorado’s Renewable Energy” (ACRE) program.

ACRE is administered by the Colorado Agricultural Value Added Development Board which encourages and promotes business projects that add value to agricultural products, as well as agricultural energy-related projects.

“ACRE is a statewide effort to promote energy-related projects beneficial to Colorado’s agriculture industry,” said Tom Lipetzky, Chief Financial Officer at the Colorado Department of Agriculture. “The grants awarded by this project are an important step toward helping our agriculture industry to be a leading participant in the new energy economy.”

Projects must in some way benefit or be tied to agricultural production or the utilization of agricultural land or water. Grants were awarded in three categories: feasibility studies, project participation and research.

Feasibility studies address the viability of establishing an agricultural energy-related project and may address the market for the product, engineering requirements, economic viability, environmental concerns, legal requirements, management, and other necessary study components. A maximum grant amount of $25,000 was awarded to seven feasibility projects:

Arrowpoint Cattle, $13,500, Chaffee County, to assess the feasibility of development of a solar dryer for preparation to pelletize a local brewery/restaurant’s spent grain for cattle feed.
Boulder County, $24,500 to develop a local biodiesel supply chain for Boulder County.
Brink Inc., Boulder County, $7,500 to develop an agricultural Wind Energy Demonstration Guide.
Delta Economic Development, Delta County, $20,000 to assess the feasibility of adding a pellet mill to the Delta Timber Company operations that utilizes beetle-kill timber.
Painted Sky RC&D, Delta County, $25,000 to assess the feasibility of developing a hydro power facility for agricultural applications.
Rocky Mountain Sustainable Enterprises, Morgan County, $25,000 to assess the feasibility of developing an anaerobic digester.
Yuma Conservation District, $20,870 to assess the feasibility of a northeastern Colorado biodiesel facility.

Project participation grants are those where a satisfactory feasibility study has already been completed; funds can be used to assist with the purchase or lease of equipment, construction costs and land costs. A maximum of $100,000 was awarded to three projects:

Microgy Weld County, Weld County, $68,712 to assist in development of a methane-rich biogas production facility.
RMSE Biodiesel, Morgan County, $100,000 to assist in development of a vertically integrated biodiesel production facility.
Biovantage Resources, Jefferson County, $56,178 to assist in developing a library of native Colorado algae species for use in ag wastewater bioremediation and biofuels.

Research grants into agricultural energy related topics and issues could receive up to $50,000 for a single research project. Five research grants were awarded:

CSU-Biochar Reserch, Larimer County, $49,909 to research and asses the energy, economic and environmental benefits of biochar for the Colorado agriculture industry.
GeoSynFuels, Jefferson County, $50,000 to research the development of a biomass press.
iCAST Low Value Biomass, Jefferson County, $50,000 to research generating biopower from low value biomass through torrefaction technology.
iCAST Net Zero Greenhouse, Larimer County, $50,000 to research net-zero greenhouse designs for Colorado.
SE Colo RC&D, Otero County, $49,186 for engine performance testing, fuels evaluation, and enterprise budgeting for diesel biofuel.

“This year’s awards demonstrate not only CDA’s commitment to wind, biogas and biofuel,” continued Lipetzky, “but also to hydro and algal biomass.”

The Colorado Agricultural Value Added Development Board (CAVAD) was created to help facilitate the processing of agricultural products and commodities within the state and to serve as a resource for the state’s agricultural industry. Administered by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, CAVAD was established in 2001 and is led by a board of seven individuals who are appointed by the state legislature and the Governor.

For more information on the ACRE program, visit

More energy policy coverage here.

Penley Dam Project update

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From the Highland Ranch Herald (Rhonda Moore):

Commissioners cited public safety and potential hazards among the reasons for their unanimous vote against Penley Reservoir. Their decision came after three nights and 11 hours of public hearings, where nearly 90 people spoke out against the proposal.

Penley Water Company is seeking county permission to build a reservoir just north of Colorado 67, adjacent to the Indian Creek Ranch subdivision. The applicant submitted a proposal with two options, one of which is a 22,500 acre-foot water storage reservoir on nearly 430 acres.

Neighboring residents joined forces to attend the planning commission hearings and deliver the message that such a proposal could hurt their property values, destroy natural habitat and create an unnecessary safety hazard.

The proposed dam site is on a site that requires detailed geotechnical and geological investigations to address potential hazard mitigation issues, according to the planning department staff report. The Douglas County planning staff recommended approval of either option, with conditions.

[The Planning Commission] recommended denial of the special-use request. Their recommendation for denial will go to the county commissioners, who have final say on the project…

The reservoir is proposed as a water storage solution for area water authorities. The developer came to the county with two options, a smaller, 14,000 acre-foot reservoir covering 292 acres or the larger reservoir covering about 430 acres. While Ventana’s umbrella corporation, the Penley Water Company, moves forward with a proposal for the reservoir, no plan has been submitted for a proposed subdivision near the site. The Penley Dam is situated to overlook houses in Indian Creek Ranch, another subdivision of 5-acre lots.

More Penley Dam Project coverage here.

2010 Colorado gubernatorial election transition: Commissioner of Agriculture Salazar meets with General Assembly Ag committees

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From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

“My goals with the administration, and the governor has made it clear, to ensure that rural Colorado is heard,” Salazar said. Noting that farm income and exports have been up in the last two years, Salazar said “we have a window of opportunity to promote agricultural products. There is nothing more beautiful than rural Colorado,” he said…

Based on USDA data, agriculture generates $28 billion in economic activity and supports 110,000 jobs. That includes 37,000 farms and ranches throughout the state. But about 54 percent of those farms and ranches generate less than $10,000 per year in sales, Lipetzky said; and 15 percent generate more than $100,000 per year in sales. Livestock sales make up the largest share of cash receipts, with 58 percent, or $3.3 billion in sales; crops generate another $2.3 billion annually.

The state is a national leader in barley, cantaloupe, lettuce, potatoes, sweet corn and winter wheat, and is the nation`s top producer of millet, Lipetzky said. It also is a leader in the number of cattle and lambs fed, meat processing technology and animal welfare, and Colorado is the number one state for beer brewing.

Exports topped $1.6 billion last year, going to customers in 99 countries; with beef as the top ag export for the state at $550 million and in 2011 estimated to rise to $600 million. That`s due to increased demand through trade agreements with Korea, and new and expanded access in Japan and China.

A growing market in Colorado is agritourism, Lipetzky reported. Nearly 700 farms in Colorado offer agritourism and related recreational activities, which generated $30 million in sales, and the state`s wine industry brought in another $50 million.

As to the jobs that come from ag, Lipetzky said that in more than half of Colorado`s counties, one in 10 jobs come from ag. In 13 of the state`s counties, it`s one in three. The two top counties for ag-related jobs, with more than 50 percent of the jobs in ag, are Washington and Kiowa counties, in Eastern Colorado.

Last year, the department surveyed industry leaders on challenges and opportunities in ag. The top challenge, cited by 37 percent of respondents, is water, which included concerns about multi-state compacts and diversion for non-ag uses…

As to water issues, Salazar said he will be a strong proponent of keeping water on agricultural land and protecting the state`s water rights, although water issues fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources. He also noted that Gov. John Hickenlooper had tapped former ag commissioner John Stulp to be the state`s water czar. “If people have a better understanding” of what makes rural and urban communities work, “there can be greater understanding of working together” on water, Salazar said. “We can`t destroy one area of the state to build another.”

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee votes 4-3 to continue weather modification licenses

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

On Thursday, state senators recommended the government continue to offer weather-modification licenses for at least another nine years…

The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted 4-3 to go forward with a bill that continues the licensing program. Without action by the Legislature this year, the state would stop offering licenses…

Only eight entities do cloud-seeding in Colorado, and three are in Southwest Colorado. The city of Durango and water districts around Bayfield and Pagosa Springs run one program, the Animas-La Plata and Dolores water districts cooperate with Durango Mountain Resort on another, and a third centers on Telluride ski area.

More cloud-seeding coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Colorado has the potential for 1,400 mw of micro-hydroelectric generation according to the Governor’s Energy Office

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From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

“Several hundred of these kind of projects in Colorado are possible, with a combined capacity of about 1,400 megawatts,” said Francisco Flores, a renewable-energy program associate with the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO). That’s enough power to support the demand of about 910,000 homes.

“Small” hydroelectric projects are defined as units that generate less than 5 megawatts of power. A “micro” hydroelectric power plant typically generates less than 100 kilowatts of power, said Kirby Gilbert, a hydropower planner with engineering firm MWH Global Inc., based in Broomfield.

There’s rising interest in putting these small turbines on existing dams, or dropping them into any place that has moving water — such as inside a city’s water pipeline, a farmer’s irrigation ditch or at the outfall from a wastewater treatment plant, Flores said.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1068 — State Engineer Approve Ag Water Transfer

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The bill [HB 11-1068: Concerning the State Engineer’s Authority to Approve Temporary Agricultural Water Transfer Agreements] would allow the State Engineer to approve leases for up to 40 years without a trip to water court. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Under HB1068, the state engineer would be granted authority to approve agricultural water transfer agreements lasting up to 40 years. Currently, similar agreements require a Water Court’s approval and can’t exceed a decade.

Specifically, the bill would apply to water originating in the Arkansas Valley below Pueblo Dam. It would allow holders of irrigation water rights to lease up to one-third of their holdings to municipalities. “The future growth and economic well-being of the state depend to some extent on the use of vested irrigation water rights to meet municipal needs,” the bill reads.

State Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, is the bill’s sponsor in the House, where it originated. Sens. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, are the Senate sponsors.

Giron said she supports the bill because it grants farmers greater options to lease their water without permanently relinquishing their rights, while still providing them with an income. “Otherwise, they’re going to sell those rights,” Giron said. “It’s going to be like they’re farming water. I see this as a tool to protect agriculture.” Meanwhile, she said, cities can develop water plans into the future. “I saw it as a win-win situation,” Giron said. “How can (cities) plan without getting a commitment of 40 years?”

Meanwhile, it didn’t take too long for opposition to the bill to surface. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

As president of this board, the legislation is not acceptable to me,” said President Bill Long at the [Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District] meeting Thursday. “This is the most overappropriated basin in the state.” Long asked the board to go on record in opposition of HB1068, a bill that would set up a 40-year program in the Arkansas Valley below Pueblo Dam that essentially could remove one-third of the water from irrigation during the entire period…

The board held off on opposing the bill, but instructed Executive Director Jim Broderick, in his capacity as the district’s state lobbyist, to push for changes in the bill. The board raised questions about why the bill has a 40-year term, but was billed this week as a “pilot program” by sponsor Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, at a meeting of the Colorado Water Congress legislative committee…

The board also does not want the bill to apply only to part of the Arkansas River basin, and does not want the measure used to move water outside the valley. “This gives the state engineer authority to move water from this basin all over the state,” said Vera Ortegon, a Pueblo director on the Southeastern board, who also ran unsuccessfully against Giron last November. “I think Southeastern should voice an objection to kill the bill earlier rather than later.”

Other board members cautioned against outright opposition of the bill, which has grown out of the Interbasin Compact Committee process to find alternatives to permanent sales of agricultural water rights to cities. “I would not like to see the board take a position in opposition to the state process,” said Harold Miskel, an El Paso County director. “If we try to thwart every effort to think outside the box, it will come right back to the buy-and-dry that happened the last 50 or 100 years.”[…]

The [Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District] gave its nod to the legislation as part of the Super Ditch effort at a meeting Wednesday. The district has supported the legal, engineering and administrative work needed to make Super Ditch work. “If this was tossed around last summer and fall, Jay, how come you’re the only one here who knows about it?” Long asked Winner. Winner said the concept of the bill had been thoroughly discussed by the Interbasin Compact Committee. Winner is one of two representatives from the Arkansas Basin Roundtable on the IBCC.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Colorado River Basin: Climate Central series about the Colorado River basin

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Here’s part one of the series from Climate Central (Tom Yulsman/Brendon Bosworth)

Plot spoiler: They maintain that westerners are obsessive about winter snowpack. I’ll agree that some of us are. From the article:

In recent weeks, water managers, skiers and farmers, if not city folk, from California all the way to Colorado were breathing a little easier with the news that storms have significantly boosted both mountain snowpack and the water supply outlook in the Colorado River Basin.

As of January 6, the average snow water equivalent for most of the basin was at 141 percent of the long-term average. (Snow water equivalent is the depth of the water you’d collect if you melted a given amount of snow instantaneously). This is the very best start to the year since 1997, according to the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Here’s part two of the series from Climate Central (Brendon Bosworth/Tom Yulsman). They look at the future of the basin. From the article:

During the past few decades of rapid growth in water use, “the hydrological cycle in the region began to change,” write Tim Barnett and David Pierce of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in a 2009 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Snowpack declined in the western mountains, temperatures increased, and many streams gradually shifted their peak flow to earlier in the year,” they continued. “It has been shown, with very high statistical confidence, that a substantial portion of these changes are attributable to human-induced effects on the climate.”

But Brad Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment of the University of Colorado, is a bit more cautious: “The way science and statistics work is that there’s a really high bar set to say, ‘Okay, this particular event is actually climate change and not just natural variability.’ In fact that bar is so high, frequently all you can say is, ‘hey, this is consistent with what we think climate change will bring.’ I think this is in many ways is where we are in the Colorado River.”

Regardless of whether the recent drought has a man-made component or not, computer modeling of the climate system is not reassuring about the future. It indicates that the Colorado River basin will become warmer and more arid in coming decades. In fact, this is one of the more robust findings shared among most of the climate models.

Here’s the third article in the series where Brendon Bosworth explores the increasingly common large dust events from the Colorado Plateau. From the article:

Rust colored desert dust on the snowpack has been causing snow to melt on average three weeks earlier than it did before human activities in the West disturbed its pristine ecosystem, around the middle of the 19th century, according to a study by researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). (For a CIRES press release on the research, go here.)

This has been robbing the river of some 750,000 acre-feet of water each year, on average, compared to the undisturbed conditions that preceded human settlement. Astonishingly, that’s enough to supply the entire city of Los Angeles for 18 months.

These findings come at a time when the Southwest is in its 11th year of the most severe drought since 1900, and increasing water demands from expanding cities are placing added strain on the Colorado River.

To learn more about what’s going on, I visited study co-author Jeffrey Deems in his office at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. As part of his research, he digs pits in the snowpack to examine layers of compressed dust buried by fresh snowfall.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

CWCB: Water Availability Task Force meeting recap

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Here’s an excerpt from the report from the CWCB (Veva Deheza/Kevin Rein):

Despite a warm and dry start to December, large storms later in the month helped 2010 end with above average snowpack statewide. However, east of the continental divide remains drier than normal with D2, severe drought conditions, persisting in the Arkansas Basin and D1, abnormally dry conditions, in much of the rest of the eastern plains. Reservoir storage is strong across most of the state with the majority of basins near average; the Rio Grande Basin is the lowest at 78%. While precipitation in the mountains is off to a good start, water managers and agriculturalists remain cautious. Continued warm temperatures could result in high early season demand for water; however, should precipitation on the eastern plains rebound, demand would likely be eased. The next 2-3 months will give a better indication of what conditions can be expected throughout the spring and early irrigation season.

More CWCB coverage here.

U.S. water infrastructure assessment

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Here’s a look at the potential costs and problems with existing water infrastructure in the U.S. from Alison Kosik writing for From the article:

Each day, leaking pipes account for an estimated 7 billion gallons of water, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Much of this is blamed on age. A large part of the U.S. water delivery system dates back to the years shortly after World War II. “Now it’s time to replace that system and we’ve got to make those investments or we’ll suffer the consequences,” said Goldstein. To get an idea of how old the nation’s water pipes are, 30% of pipes in systems that deliver water to more than 100,000 people are between 40 and 80 years old, according to the EPA. About 10% of pipes in those systems are older.

Click through and read the whole article. Thanks to Loretta Lohman for the link.

More infrastructure coverage here.

‘Managing Custer County’s Water’ conference recap

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Here’s an in-depth report from Nora Drenner writing for the The Wet Mountain Tribune. Click through for the article. Here’s an excerpt:

Some 120 persons gathered inside the fellowship hall at Hope Lutheran Church Saturday, Jan. 15, to learn what they could about Colorado water law and how it relates to Custer County. The forum was sponsored by the Custer County Conservation District and local Natural Resource and Conservation Service office.

The forum began with our local District 13 water commissioner Jerry Livengood giving an overview of the county’s water resources and uses. Livengood told the group there are 3,964 wells in the Valley with the permitted uses including domestic, household, municipal, commercial and irrigation uses. He also equated one acre-foot of water to 325,851 gallons, and one cubic foot per second of water to 646,320 gallons per day.

The primary water storage vessel in the Valley, said Livengood, is Lake DeWeese with 2,300 acre feet belonging to the DeWeese Dye Ditch Company, 500 acre-feet each to the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Division of Wildlife, 350 acre-feet to the Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District, and 100-acre feet to the Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments.