Republican River Basin: The Upper Republican Natural Resources District approves pipeline to keep farmers irrigating

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From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

The irrigator-funded acre retirement and pipeline project approved Tuesday night will be the largest of its kind in the state and has the potential to help keep farmers throughout Nebraska’s Republican River Basin, where 1.2 million acres are irrigated, from being shutdown to stay in compliance with the Republican River Compact that divides water use between Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas. Complying with the compact has been a source of conflict that is expected to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. The project greatly reduces chances that producers who farm close to the Republican and its tributaries in the Upper Republican will have to be shutdown during dry times to help increase stream flow so the district doesn’t exceed its allotted amount of allowable stream flow depletions caused by groundwater irrigation. “This project is a cost-effective way to stay in compliance with the compact while protecting our water resources and keeping farmers in the basin in business,” said Jasper Fanning, Ph.d., general manager of the Upper Republican Natural Resources District. “It doesn’t negate the need for reduced water use to stay in compliance and the district, as it has for 30 years, will continue to be at the regulatory forefront of groundwater management.”

The district’s Board of Directors on Tuesday night unanimously approved the purchase of nearly 3,300 irrigated acres with 24 center-pivot systems located just north of Rock Creek State Fish Hatchery, which is seven miles north of Parks in Dundy County, at a cost of $10 million. A portion, not all, of the water that historically has been used to irrigate the land will instead be piped into nearby Rock Creek, which flows into the Republican River near Parks. The water will be piped only when needed, during dry times, to stay in compliance with the compact. The land is expected to eventually return to natural vegetation. It is hoped that the pipeline will be in place in 2012. The project may only need to be used every three or four years, at the most. History suggests that during the driest of years, the district may need an additional 10,000 acre feet of water to stay in compliance with the compact. The proposed project has the potential to supply roughly that amount of water, and more water could be provided in the future granted the district retires more acres.

The Upper Republican NRD worked cooperatively with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to analyze the feasibility and benefits of the project. “We believe this project has the potential to significantly aid efforts to stay in compliance with the Republican River Compact and the local integrated management plan,” said Brian Dunnigan, director of DNR. “This is the type of initiative needed to help farmers throughout the Republican River Basin.”

More Republican River basin coverage here and here.

Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company and the Dolores Water Conservancy District settle lawsuit

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From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

“We can now work with the district with everything on the table,” said MVI President Randy Carver. “There’s no confusion on our water rights. … Both MVI and the district are in a position now to where we can work together, which is absolutely critical to managing the water supply.”

DWCD General Manager Mike Preston agreed. “I think we’ve got agreements in place that should provide the basis for resolving issues that arise in the future,” Preston said.

The settlement clarifies that MVIC has no set water allocation from the reservoir, but has an allocation that may be revised over the course of each year depending on the flow of the Dolores River. It further requires DWCD to release an accounting of water released from the reservoir. Lastly, it provides a dispute resolution process.

MVIC filed the lawsuit in June 2009, against the Dolores Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for allegedly not meeting water requirements agreed to in 1977 contracts of the Dolores Project.

More Montezuma County coverage here.

No ‘Protect our rivers’ license plate for Trout Unlimited this year

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee voted 6-5 Monday against the “Protect Our Rivers” tag. Trout Unlimited agreed that money from the $25 additional tag fees would be banned from going for lobbying or litigation. But members of the Republican-controlled committee feared that despite the limit, tag fundraising would allow Trout Unlimited to spend more on those activities.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting recap

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From the Ag Journal (Bette McFarren) via The Bent County Democrat:

On Jan. 14, Colorado State University received notice that the Arkansas Basin Roundtable has approved the application for $9,394 in basin funds for the Colorado State University Evapo-transpiration Data System Project. The project will enable posting of information from the Colorado Agricultural Meteorological Network weekly or daily not only on the internet but also in local newspapers, on local radio stations, and on handheld devices such as cell phones in the form of text messaging. A new age farmer will be able to get the latest soil moisture data while working in his/her field…

If CWCB approves the project, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservation District and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District will contribute $10,000 and $6,000 respectively. Cabot plans to attend the March 2011 CWCB meeting to speak on behalf of the project.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1172 killed in committee

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From the Associated Press (Kristen Wyatt) via Bloomberg:

The measure would have revived annual reports to the Colorado Legislature from the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission on the number of water-quality complaints it received. The measure also would have required state health authorities to report to lawmakers the results of a federal study due out this year on a gas extraction technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The sponsor of the reporting bill, Democratic Rep. Roger Wilson of Garfield County, argued that the additional reporting would send the message that Colorado officials take seriously the public’s concern over “fracking” and its possible effect on water quality…

However, the Republican-led [House Committee on Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources] voted against the idea, 8-4. An industry official and Republican lawmakers pointed out that the information Wilson identified is going to be public already, so his proposal would simply add a layer of bureaucracy.

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald From the article:

The bill drew criticism from both defenders of the gas industry and its harshest critics. Republicans on the panel said they think fracking gets a bad reputation that it does not deserve. Wilson said his bill would have quelled public concerns. “That is exactly why I think this bill is important. Without the public having confidence that we’re looking at the scientific information that’s coming out, the public’s choice is to increase their suspicion and superstition about what’s going on,” Wilson said…

Environmentalists were split on the bill. The Colorado Environmental Coalition supported it, but the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, based in Durango, opposed it. OGAP lawyer Alan Curtis said the group would like to see a detailed baseline study of water quality in order to be able to measure possible pollution from drilling. But he did not want to put the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in charge of the study, as Wilson’s bill did. “Our experience with the commission has been that their primary motivation is to see that there is as much oil and gas production in the state as can be done. And the water quality concerns are secondary,” Curtis said.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1083 — Hydroelectricity and Pumped Hydro

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

[State Rep. Keith Swerdfeger’s, (R-Pueblo West)] bill would give the Public Utilities Commission authority to treat hydroelectric as a source of renewable energy and allow developers of hydroelectricity to sell their product to utility companies. The [House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee] unanimously supported the bill…

Hydroelectric generation sites such as the proposed South Slope project create energy through an exchange of water between an elevated lake and a lower reservoir. They are capable of generating energy quickly and storing energy from sources like wind, solar and traditional power plants when they produce a greater load than is necessary. University of Colorado engineering professor Frank Barnes testified that hydroelectric storage and generation can greatly benefit utilities by capturing the excess energy they produce and releasing it at times when productivity is low…

Only two mechanisms for storing surplus energy exist, according to Barnes: compressed air and pumped hydro. Just two compressed-air energy storage sites exist, one in Alabama and one in Germany. In America alone, more than 120 hydro-pump plants exist, and the technology to operate them has been patented since 1917…

“You’ve got a large capital cost to get started, even though this turns out to be the cheapest way to store energy over the long haul,” Barnes said. It sometimes takes 20 years or more to reap the financial benefits of the initial investment. “Venture capitalists that want their money back within five years, this isn’t where they are going to invest it,” Barnes said, making the South Slope project unique in that a suitor already is in place…

Swerdfeger assuaged concerns from some committee members that hydro projects would injure downstream senior water-rights holders. He said projects such as South Slope would be one-time fills fed by negotiated water rights, and that water would be reused. The only water losses, he said, would be to evaporation and seepage. An amendment was added to the bill Monday that guards against water diversion under the guise of hydroelectricity production.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2010 Colorado gubernatorial election transition: The importance of agriculture

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Pablo Carlos Mora):

“There’s not that many people who understand agriculture,” John Salazar [newly confirmed Director of the State Agriculture Department] said in a meeting Monday with The Pueblo Chieftain’s editorial board. “They think food comes from the grocery store.”[…]

Salazar talks knowledgably about the importance of water to the ag economy, the rising tide of attacks against the livestock industry and the nuances of raising organic products, both on the hoof and from seed. “I will be attending the Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Fair this week in Monte Vista,” Salazar said. “A burning issue there is the battle over establishing subdistricts governing the rights of surface water and well water users. “The potato industry is a multimillion dollar part of the valley’s economy,” he said. The outcome of the struggle “could kill the potato industry.”

Salazar backs efforts to let people know the effects of diverting water from Southern Colorado’s ag community to support urban growth. “We should explain the impact drying up one acre of agricultural land has on the economy,” he said. “No comprehensive study has been done to clearly demonstrate the devastating effects of drying up land.”

More coverage from the Associated Press via The Denver Post. From the article:

Salazar told the Pueblo Chieftain on Monday that too many people think their food comes from a grocery store, not from the people who really grow it. John Salazar says key issues facing Colorado’s agricultural industry include water, pressure from animal rights groups and food-borne illnesses.

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.