Governor Hickenlooper: ‘By 1906, Mr. Stetson was selling 2 million hats a year’

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Here’s the State of the State address from Governor Hickenlooper’s office (Eric Brown). Here’s an excerpt:

John B. Stetson left Pennsylvania in the early 1860s, suffering from tuberculosis, and came west. He soon found himself panning for gold in the Colorado Rockies. Fierce storms, without warning, would come up over the mountains and drench the mining camp. Mr. Stetson saw a problem in need of a solution, and he had a unique skill. His father had taught him hatting as a kid, and he made a felt hat that could protect him from wind and cold. The other miners were envious. One fellow bought the hat right off his head for a $5 gold coin. A business was born. By 1906, Mr. Stetson was selling 2 million hats a year. Cowboys would sleep on their Stetson or bend it to provide better visibility. They would fill the hat up with water – ever heard of the 10 gallon hat? – because it was water proof on the inside. Cowboys still do this … and even a smattering of our legislators…

…costly litigation and endless court battles have characterized the state’s water policy over many years – the Interbasin Water Roundtable Process represents a better way forward. The process created a historic agreement announced last year between Denver and the Western Slope…

We must preserve Colorado’s great landscapes, protect the state’s water and keep the air clean. Not just because this will attract businesses, but also because it is part of our moral obligation to future generations.

More 2012 Colorado legislation coverage here.

San Luis Valley: Steve Vandiver — ‘The commodity markets are going to drive this (retiring acreage irrigated by groundwater)’

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Farmers and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District have been working for a number of years now on rules for groundwater sub-districts that will incent farmers to remove land irrigated from the Valley’s aquifers. The Colorado Supreme Court recently blessed their work so all is well, right?

The short answer is nope. Senior surface irrigators are still claiming injury and now, it appears, high commodity prices are affecting farmers decision process when it comes to removing acreage from production.

Here’s a report from Brett Walton writing for Circle of Blue. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Simply put, the San Luis Valley no longer has enough water to support the abundant farm production that is becoming increasingly supercharged by rising prices for the crops grown here.

There may be a way out. Water officials in the region’s six counties are working with the federal government on a voluntary plan that would pay farmers to take land out of production. If things turn out as planned, up to 16,000 hectares (40,000 acres) of the valley’s roughly 240,000 irrigated hectares (600,000 acres) will not be farmed.

Though it is still being negotiated, the plan has a significant obstacle: the explosive rise in food prices, which are making the sums offered by the water-conservation program less enticing. Prices for the valley’s mainstay — potatoes — have increased 25 percent in the last five years. Wheat, alfalfa, and barley prices have done even better, more or less doubling over the same period.

“The commodity markets are going to drive this,” said Steve Vandiver, the general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, in an interview with Circle of Blue. “If prices stay high, it’s going to be harder to get farmers to sign up.”

If the voluntary program does not work, Vandiver went on to say, the result would be worst for farmers. The state, he said, would then step in — like it did in not long ago in the nearby South Platte Basin — and force well owners to shut down, without compensation. “We’re trying to keep that from happening here,” he said. “We’re trying to provide a soft landing.”[…]

Climate change plays a role in the new river patterns, Gibson told Circle of Blue. Wind storms from the deserts in Arizona and New Mexico are more frequent, and they drop dust on the mountain snowpack, which is the primary water source for the valley’s rivers. The warming effect of the dust, combined with higher temperatures, means that the spring melt has moved several weeks earlier in the year. With a longer dry period in the summer, more groundwater is required to balance the changes in the river.

New reservoirs to store the altered flows are prohibited under a compact between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, Gibson told Circle of Blue, but existing reservoirs are being renovated to maximize their storage capacity.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

The Evergreen Metro District plans to install an aeration system in Evergreen Lake

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From the Canyon Courier (Vicky Gits):

Aerating the lake during the summer months is expected to increase dissolved oxygen at the bottom of the lake, help lower the lake’s water temperature, produce cooler water going downstream over the dam and help reduce the amount of lakeweed or elodea in the water.

“The biggest concern we have is dissolved oxygen at the bottom of the lake,” said Gerry Schulte, executive director of the [Evergreen Metro District]. “If there isn’t enough (oxygen), the fish have a hard time, and it results in a process that releases iron and manganese into the water, and that creates a bigger treatment problem,” Schulte said.

The diffused aeration system is expected to increase dissolved oxygen concentrations. The new system is projected to run 10 hours at night only and recirculate the entire body of water every two days. The only visual effect will be bubbles on the lake.

Similar systems are currently at the wastewater plant in Kittredge and the Bear Creek reservoir east of Morrison. The Cherry Creek Water Authority is installing one in the Cherry Creek reservoir as well.

Aqua Sierra Inc. of Morrison will provide and install the equipment, which consists of eight underwater diffuser modules placed at an average depth of 20 feet or more. Modules will be placed 100 to 700 feet from the edge of the dam in the deepest part of the lake.

In addition to increasing the amount of dissolved oxygen, aeration is expected to counteract the heat-related water quality issues that occur in the summer months by creating a more constant temperature from top to bottom of the lake. So when the sun is out, it heats the top layer of water. The top layer goes over the dam and contributes to higher downstream temperatures.

More Bear Creek watershed coverage here.

Snowpack news: The Rio Grande basin is at approximately 86% of average

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Currently snowpack in the Rio Grande Basin (the Valley) is at [86] percent of normal according to Colorado Division of Water Resources Assistant Division Engineer Matt Hardesty who gave an update on water issues to the Rio Grande Roundtable on Tuesday. He said early snows in November and December brought the basin-wide snowpack to more than 100 percent in December, but the trend did not continue, so the snowpack is only [86] percent of normal at this time. He added that the 90-day forecast would not likely affect that percentage much, either. “We are in a weak La Niña they predict to last a couple of months so I don’t expect much difference,” Hardesty said.

On a brighter note, however, he said Colorado appears to have ended the 2011 year with a slight over delivery of Rio Grande Compact water to downstream states, “which is where we like to finish the year.” Both the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems appear to have over delivered to the compact by a slight margin, he said. He particularly commended the Conejos River water users for cooperating with the state water division in making sure compact obligations to downstream states were met.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Right now, for example, the buzz is about a shift in the storm track, which sometime next week is supposed to start moving across the country in a zonal west to east flow. Out in California, where they need the moisture even more than we do, there is some anticipation that the realigned storm track may start to deliver some moisture. Here’s the official word from the National Weather Service forecasters in Grand Junction:

“SIGNIFICANT HEMISPHERIC PATTERN CHANGE AS WE SAY GOOD RIDDANCE TO THE BLOCKING HIGH PRESSURE THAT HAS DOMINATED THE PATTERN FOR SEVERAL WEEKS. THIS DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN THAT WINTER STORMS WILL BECOME FREQUENT OVER THE WESTERN SLOPE…BUT DOES IMPROVE OUR CHANCES OF RECEIVING SOME MOUNTAIN SNOW DURING THE EXTENDED PERIOD.”

The reality is that this winter has on the cusp of being one of the warmest and driest in recent memory. Snow cover is only present across about 19 percent of the U.S. (excluding Alaska); normal for this time of year would be 50 percent. Last week, more than 1,000 locations set high temperature records. Bellingham, Wash.hit 60 degrees in the first week of the year and Fargo reached 44 degrees. In some regions of the Midwest temperatures are 40 degrees higher than average.

Commerce City: Ban on hydraulic fracturing not in the cards

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Update: Barbara Green has posted a correction in the comments below.

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

About 100 people wary of extraction operations near their homes listened quietly as they were told any effort to outlaw those procedures would likely be overturned by a judge. Attorney Barbara Green also said there is little a city can do to regulate the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. But cities can have a say over the impacts a fracking well will have on local wildlife and other environmental concerns, Green said…

Green was part of a panel of experts who spoke on the issue of fracking, which is becoming more popular with energy companies as they try to nudge oil and gas out of shale rock deep underground…

Debbie Baldwin, environmental manager with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, told residents that oil and gas operations in Colorado are heavily regulated and that it’s highly unlikely fracking will contaminate groundwater. Jim Jones, general manager of the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District, said fracking operations in the east part of Commerce City likely won’t affect potable water on the west side of the city.

Meanwhile, residents packed an Erie town hall meeting about hydraulic fracturing recently. Here’s a report from John Aguilar writing for the Boulder Daily Camera. From the article:

Scientists and regulators from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, Encana Corp. and the Sierra Club took to the podium in front of a Town Hall board room packed to standing and spilling over into a side room.

Several town trustees mentioned the possibility of imposing a 120-day moratorium on new drilling applications so the town could further study the issue, but no action was taken by the end of the night. Instead the board said it would direct town staff to deal with future drilling applications on a well by well basis and ask for specific restrictions, such as larger setbacks or water and air monitoring, when necessary…

At the heart of Tuesday’s meeting was a proposal from Encana to drill eight wells and use hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — to extract gas at a site near Red Hawk Elementary and Erie Elementary…

[Angie] Nordstrum and other opponents of fracking — the practice of pumping fluid underground at high pressure to crack rock and release oil and natural gas — argue that the chemicals used and the pollutants emitted during the process are causing serious medical issues, such as asthma and gastrointestinal distress. She said an entire street of residents in her neighborhood have reported feeling ill, and the effects are particularly pronounced in children. Erie, she said, should demand that fracking chemicals, some of which have been cited as carcinogenic, be proven safe in third-party scientific studies before any more drilling is allowed. “This is a heinous science experiment unfolding outside our students’ classroom windows,” she said. “We don’t want our children to be the canaries in the natural gas mine.”[…]

Town Attorney Mark Shapiro explained that Erie’s hands are essentially tied with regard to regulating oil and gas drilling as the industry is under state jurisdiction. Municipal rule-making, he said, is limited to enforcing land use issues, like noise controls, lighting mitigation and operational appearance.

But April Beach, who counts herself a part of Erie Rising, said the town can pursue a ban on drilling, as has happened in other municipalities across the country. She said her group would remain active in the fight against drilling and fracking.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable: The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch was on everyone’s mind

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable agreed to seek another $76,000 toward an engineering tool that is expected to reduce water court costs related to Super Ditch. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has already approved a grant of $121,000 toward the study, while local water agencies are providing another $157,000 in in-kind services, said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “This is a fallowing accounting and administration tool that is designed to reduce transaction costs in water court for objectors and proponents of a lease-fallowing program,” Scanga said. “Lease programs are different from applications to buy and dry. We need a way to assess historic use and impacts to the river.”

Conservancy districts, municipal users, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and state agencies are all interested in developing a common platform to assess the impacts. If a change of use application is filed by Super Ditch in water court, it would cut across as many as seven ditches and perhaps individual farms within those ditches, Scanga said…

The additional $76,000 is to compile documentation that could be used in water court…

One major hurdle will be accounting for winter water, while operating under a court decree to store water in valley reservoirs during winter months for use later, [Dan Henrichs, superintendent of the High Line Canal] said. Winter water can affect the timing of return flows because it is used in different ways — sometimes to start a crop, sometimes to finish one. In certain years, some of the winter water stored in Lake Pueblo is carried over for use in the next year. Much of the water is stored in ditch company reservoirs without a prescribed date of release.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.