Drought news: Kansas Governor Brownback wants to modify state water law abandonment provisions to help decrease depletions from the Ogallala (High Plains) aquifer


From the Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

“The main recharge to the Ogallala in the Southern Plains are the small playa basins that dot the landscape,” [Carmon McCain, who handles information and education for the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District in Lubbock, Texas] said. “When you don’t get rain, you don’t have any water in those basins going into the aquifer.”[…]

Average annual recharge rate for the aquifer is half an inch per year, but the depth of withdrawal in some areas is many times that. In the Texas Panhandle, the water table was drawn down one and a half feet in 2009-2010 but only one 500th of a foot in 2010-2011, when hurricanes brought monsoon-like summer rains to the region. In western Kansas, the rate of decline had been diminishing since the 1960s, but that changed after 2000, when the latest drought cycle hit, and farmers began pumping more water. In southwest Kansas, where the drought has been particularly pronounced, well tests in January showed the water level in some parts of the aquifer had dropped more than 5 feet in the last year, according to the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas.

Around 400 geologists, water managers, ag producers and other stakeholders attended last week’s special Governor’s Economic Summit on the future of the Ogallala, hosted by Gov. Sam Brownback and held in conjunction with the annual Kansas Water Congress. The primary topic of discussion was how to preserve the aquifer without sacrificing economic growth…

One of Gov. Brownback’s priorities is reforming the state’s so-called “use it or lose it” water requirement that allows water rights to lapse if they go unused over a certain period of time, which many now view as a disincentive for conservation.

[Wayne Bossert’s, longtime manager for Kansas’ Groundwater Management District No. 4 in Colby], priority is making it easier to enforce water use restrictions in high priority areas where groundwater declines are most dramatic. Currently, the process of designating “intensive use control areas” is hard to implement, and he wants to see laws changed to make the system more “user friendly.”

At the summit, municipalities expressed concerns about how to get access to affordable water rights. “It’s problematic for them,” Bossert said. “But it’s supply and demand at the most fundamental level.”[…]

In Texas, concerns about the future of the aquifer prompted the High Plains district in Lubbock to adopt new rules recently aimed at cutting back the rate of depletion. “We know the Ogallala is a mined resource,” McCain concedes. “It’s been used continuously since the 1930s. What we are doing is trying to extend the life of the Ogallala for another 50 years.” The new rule amendments establish the first-ever production limit for groundwater pumping within the 16-county High Plains Water District service area. That level will drop in successive years, to eventually reach a level of 1.25 acre-feet, or 15 inches per year, in 2016. The district is also requiring annual reports on water use and a meter on every well beginning in 2012…

“Efficiency and conservation are not the same thing,” [Jim Conkwright, the district’s general manager] asserts. “Efficiency might allow you to irrigate more acres, but you might still be using the same amount of water.”

More Ogallala aquifer coverage here and here.

Lamar-Elbert County Pipeline: Developers face the challenge of finding water rights for the project along with Arkansas River Compact constraints


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

One of the biggest obstacles could be the Arkansas River Compact, which led to a 24-year U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit between Kansas and Colorado. The Arkansas River Compact Administration would have to approve any transfer of water from Water District 67 in Colorado, said Steve Witte, Division 2 Engineer and operations secretary for the compact…

Assuming the backers of the Lamar-Elbert County pipeline are willing to risk the expense, there would be the problem of finding enough water to make the venture profitable. GP, in a news release, says it plans to develop water rights it owns in the Lamar area, which apparently are on the Lamar Canal. The Lower Arkansas Well Management Association owns about one-third of the canal, and while the ditch has some senior water rights, the majority of its rights are fairly junior in the area’s priority system. So other water rights may have to come into play to make the project successful.

The owner of the largest collection of water rights in the Arkansas Valley says he is not involved in GP’s proposed pipeline. “I met with Karl (Nyquist) more than a year ago,” said Mark Harding, president of Pure Cycle. But he did not sign any agreements to participate. “If there was something tangible, we’d take a look. I didn’t think they had anything to offer.”[…]

“We are looking to develop our asset down there in a partnership with agriculture and municipal interests,” Harding said. “Non-participating water rights still need to be protected, and we are still interested in doing rotational fallowing.” Harding does not rule out a pipeline to the Front Range at some point, and said one is probably needed for the Super Ditch to realize its full value. “If we’re wildly successful, we’ll keep the water on 300,000 irrigated acres and bring in another source of income for farmers,” Harding said.

But, he said he thinks any pipeline proposal would have to move through the basin roundtable process set up in 2005 to resolve interbasin transfer issues. He sits on the Metro Roundtable. “I’m a firm believer in the cooperative framework we have set up,” Harding said.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

[Public meetings in Lamar] are planned for 7 to 9 p.m. Aug. 16 and 23 at the Lamar Community Building, according to a news release from Karl Nyquist of GP Resources, a farming and natural resources firm. Additional meetings are planned in Elbert County…

GP plans to use the water transfers template developed by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable to address community concerns about the project, he said. In the news release, he outlined the approach GP plans to use to developing water:

– Investments to increase efficiencies of GP farms in Lamar, which would remain in production after the project is completed. The news release did not indicate how much farmland is owned, but Nyquist has water rights on the Lamar Canal. The water rights would have to be changed for municipal use in Water Court, but GP does not plan to change the point of diversion.

– Investments in GP’s water rights and systems in Elbert County, involving an upgrade of the capabilities of a local water district to allow transmission of GP’s privately owned and adjudicated water on an interim basis to an unspecified water district in the greater Colorado Springs area.

– Long-term investments in water storage, treatment and delivery systems to serve other Front Range communities.

More Lamar-Elbert County pipeline coverage here. More Pure Cycle coverage here and here.

Kayakers, sportsmen, conservationists deliver 23,887 clean water comments to EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin


From the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjin):

Supreme Court rulings have put intermittent and ephemeral streams at risk, said David Nickum of Trout Unlimited, which includes most of Colorado’s waterways. In their rulings, judges narrowed protection to “navigable” waterways, under which classification a section of the Colorado River and a small portion of the Navajo Reservoir are the only protected waters in the state, Nickum said. There isn’t necessarily a provision for navigable waterways for commercial rafts, he added. It’s an extreme position, Nickum said, adding, “It’s the wrong direction to be moving and we don’t believe Congress intended (the law to read) that way.”

To respond to the call for clarity, the federal EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have developed draft guidance for determining whether a waterway, water body, or wetland is protected by the Clean Water Act. Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver, said the uncertainty means his staff can spend hours determining if they can step in during a case of a spill, when they’d rather be cleaning them up and preventing them. According to the Associated Press, the American Farm Bureau Federation says it’s concerned farmers and ranchers will be saddled with more regulations, but Martin says stock ponds and irrigated land are exempt.

Pam Kiely of Environment Colorado estimated that a minimum of 450 Summit County residents took the time to support the draft guidance revisions.

Nickum said the reaffirmation of protection affects critical tributaries for drinking water, but it also affects downstream fisheries and recreational waterways — including intermittent, ephemeral or headwater streams.

In Colorado, these types of waterways account for 62 percent of the total river miles that feed into public drinking supplies and supports more than 3.7 million Coloradans, according to Environment Colorado. Essentially, the new guidance puts 30 years of historic protection back in “good standing,” Nickum said.

Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Runoff news: Streamflow increases at night due to the day’s snowmelt and travel time for the meltwater


From the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjin):

It’s not because the moon somehow heats the snow more than the sun. Experts say it’s because Colorado’s waterways are largely fed by snowpack high on mountain peaks. It takes until about mid-afternoon for the higher elevations to warm up enough to start melting snow, and it takes even longer for that water to flow down the hillside into rivers and streams.

“During the daytime, the water that melts up on the higher slopes melts at about (3 p.m.),” Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson said. “It takes several hours for that water to make its way down from 13,000 feet to about 9,000 feet. By the time we get to nighttime hours it’s making its way down the mountain” to the streambed.

Flaming Gorge pipeline: 7,400 Coloradans took part in Wednesday’s ‘telephone town hall’ event


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

During the town hall meeting, the groups said they oppose the Colorado Water Conserva-tion Board allocating $150,000 in grant money to local river basin roundtables to form the Flaming Gorge Pipeline Task Force. The CWCB is expected to discuss the grant at its next meeting in September in Grand Junction.

“If 81 billion gallons of water are drained from the West Slope’s Green River, it could damage the river’s world class trout fishery, further threaten the population of four fish species on the endangered species list and hurt the ecosystem within Dinosaur National Monument,” said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates…

Million said Tuesday environmental impacts of the pipeline have been considered from its inception, and if its toll on the environment is too great, the project should not go forth. The environmental impacts of his project might soon be evaluated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission if the agency accepts Million’s permit application.

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

Fountain Creek: Sediment collector project rolled out Friday, Union Pacific will remove part of abandoned trestle over the creek


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The railroad will take out six spans — the iron and lumber that form a deck across the creek — by May. The city of Pueblo would be responsible for the iron truss bridge on the west side, Pueblo stormwater consultant Dennis Maroney told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board Friday.

He said the Technology Test Center may be interested in taking out the truss section of the bridge as a training exercise, but those talks are still in progress. “The piers would remain in the river,” Maroney said, adding they do not represent a serious impediment to flows.

The fear is that during a major flood the bridge would act as a dam as debris from upstream clogged the passage. That would cause water to back up over levees and flood commercial or residential areas…

The city of Pueblo, Pueblo County, the Fountain Creek district and numerous state and federal agencies launched a demonstration project Friday of an in-stream sediment collector that could be a less expensive alternative to dredging, if the technology works as advertised.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The name [Dirt-A-Tracter] for a sediment collector in Fountain Creek was chosen by children at the Boys & Girls Club, beating out “Hoovanator” and “Dr. Sandy Cheeks” in a contest sponsored by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District…

Basically, it works by attracting sand and small gravel that fall through a screen and are extracted with a pump to a storage site by the side of the creek…

The collector is equipped with a variable speed motor capable of pumping up to 800 gallons per minute of slurry that is 30 to 60 percent solids. A mining screw and conveyor belt pile up material pumped from the collector, while a second hose returns water to the collector. At maximum capacity, the collector is capable of removing 130 12-yard truckloads of sediment in a 24-hour period. Of course, it won’t be operated 24 hours a day, and flows will vary. One purpose of the yearlong project is to see how it performs under various conditions, and engineers were hoping for a cloudburst later in the afternoon. “Really, it will produce only what the river delivers,” said Streamside Systems CEO Randy Tucker.

More coverage from John Schroyer writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

The machine, which took only three months to construct, is surprisingly simple — as creek water passes through a bottleneck in the creek, sediment is sucked down out into a pipe and then carried roughly 600 feet away from the creek, where it’s piled and then lugged away by dump trucks.

The point, said Fountain Creek Watershed Executive Director Larry Small, is to prevent sediment from building up at any one place. In the past, sediment buildup has led to flash flooding, which happens when a sudden rush of water down the creek is diverted into a neighborhood or town…

The $836,000 machine is the result of a partnership between Pueblo, Pueblo County and the Fountain Creek Watershed. All three had a hand in the design, construction and implementation of the Dirt Attractor.

Of the cost, $353,000 was covered by Colorado Springs Utilities, which paid $2.2 million to the county of Pueblo as part of the deal to allow it to build the Southern Delivery System, said Pueblo’s Assistant City Manager Scott Hobson.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment chipped in another $250,000, and the city of Pueblo paid the rest, said Hobson. The city also will supervise the ongoing operation of the Dirt Attractor and pay its electricity bill.

The machine will require minimal oversight and will operate almost exclusively via electronic monitors that sense the water level of the creek.

The Dirt Attractor also has environmental benefits, said Hobson. The sediment pulled from the creek probably will be used by the city’s wastewater plant to dilute the chemical content of the plant’s leftover “sludge.” That way, the material can be reused naturally instead of buried in a landfill.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.

Aspinall Unit update: Releases from Crystal Dam to drop 1,100 cfs over 6 days


From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

With inflows to Blue Mesa Reservoir decreasing towards summer base flow levels, it appears to be time to reduce releases at Crystal Reservoir with the intention of ending the bypass releases. Blue Mesa Reservoir elevation peaked at 7519.25 feet on July 17th and now the reservoir is down to 7517.4 feet. Releases at Crystal Dam will be decreased by a total of 1100 cfs over the next 6 days, starting Saturday morning, July 30th and ending Thursday morning, August 4th. Releases will be decreased 200 cfs a day with a 100 cfs change occurring twice a day until the bypass release at Crystal Dam has ended. This should bring flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon down to around 1100 cfs by Thursday afternoon.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.