Colorado Water 2012: San Luis Valley groundwater sub-districts are designed to protect senior surface rights holders and take some irrigated cropland out of production

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From the Valley Courier (Steve Vandiver):

In 2004, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) supported legislation (SB04-222) that granted the State Engineer wide discretion to permit the continued use of underground water consistent with preventing material injury to senior surface water rights and ensuring sustainability of the unique aquifer systems in the San Luis Valley.

The district, as well as other water interests and well owners in the San Luis Valley, undertook this effort to try and reduce the severe negative economic impacts that have come about in other basins as the result of strict priority administration of groundwater by the state. The bill was signed into law in 2004, and codified as section 37-92-501. It prevents the State Engineer from curtailing groundwater withdrawals so long as those withdrawals are included in a groundwater management subdistrict and the withdrawals are made pursuant to the subdistricts’ properly adopted and approved groundwater management plan.

The district supports the development of subdistricts in the Valley as a flexible and innovative alternative to a strict priority administration by the state, as they can ensure protection to senior surface water rights, the viability of the aquifer systems and ensure the protection of the local economy that is dependent upon sophisticated agricultural practices. Water users developing subdistricts determined that subdistricts could be formed in communities of interest with relatively uniform hydrologic conditions that would reflect a local system, all the while protecting senior vested rights and sustaining the aquifer.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

U.S. Representative Scott Tipton’s small hydropower on federal facilities bill gets the go ahead in the House

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

The measure was approved on a vote of 265-154. Tipton said the legislation streamlines the regulatory process to allow small hydropower projects on existing Bureau of Reclamation canals and pipelines. Those waterways and pipes have already gone through environmental review. “This bill makes significant strides in encouraging the development of clean, renewable hydropower and getting people back to work in some of America’s hardest-hit rural communities,” Tipton said in a statement after the vote.

Officials from the federal bureau opposed the legislation, which would exempt small hydropower projects of less than 1.5 megawatts from federal environmental review regulations.

More coverage from Kelcie Pegher writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

The bill was sponsored U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican from Cortez, in order to streamline regulations for small hydropower projects that have been approved by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act passed with unanimous Republican support and 28 votes from Democrats. Almost the entire Colorado delegation voted for the bill, with the exception of U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat.

U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to remove language that exempted the projects from review under the National Environmental Policy Act. “While I support the goal of increasing hydropower, this bill goes a step too far by granting a blanket exemption from critical environmental laws,” Napolitano said in a statement.

Tipton disagreed, saying small water projects such as canals have already passed regulation within the Bureau of Reclamation. “This is just bringing common sense to policy. We aren’t eliminating anything in terms of being able to protect the environment because it was already studied,” he said in an interview…

Several organizations endorsed the bill, including the Family Farm Alliance, the National Water Resources Association and the Association of California Water Agencies.

The bill will next go to the Senate, where it is likely to have a tougher time.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Reclamation to use aerial photography for Arkansas Valley Conduit

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Bureau of Reclamation announced Monday that planes will be taking aerial photographs along the proposed route of the conduit from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads as part of its Environmental Impact Statement for the project. The EIS also is looking at a long-term master storage project requested by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. The draft EIS is expected to be completed late this year. Reclamation has identified five possible pipeline routes from Pueblo to Lamar that will be surveyed.

From Thursday until March 17, survey crews will place white panels shaped like giant plus signs in conjunction with aerial photography to map the potential routes, said Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for Reclamation.

The 11-foot panels are constructed flat on the ground and the locations are calculated using global positioning equipment. Once placed, they will remain on the ground for up to three weeks. The panels are used with aerial photography from an airplane flying at 5,000 feet to obtain topographic information.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.