2012 Colorado legislation: HB12-1278, South Platte Groundwater Study Augmentation, do-over is on its way to the House appropriations committee

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown) via Windsor Now!:

By a 9-4 vote, HB 1278 — sponsored by Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins — received approval to again go before the House Appropriations Committee. The appropriations committee, after voting last week to send the bill back to the ag committee for a second look, will discuss the bill Friday, Fischer said.

Back in February, Fischer’s bill — which proposes a study of the high groundwater levels in the South Platte Basin that have flooded basements and destroyed crops in the LaSalle, Gilcrest and Sterling areas — received approval from the ag committee to be passed along to the appropriations committee. That marked the first time a bill expected to help with the groundwater problems received a favorable vote from state lawmakers.

However, last Friday, the appropriations committee agreed that enough changes had been made to the bill in the previous weeks that it required another look by the ag committee — much to the disappointment of Fischer and the farmers and residents affected by the problem. Fischer stressed that action needs to take place soon, since residents have been experiencing problems for years, and because there’s only so much more time before the legislative session ends.

Fischer had made changes to his bill in recent weeks out of fear that its original price tag — $3.8 million all together, with about $130,000 having to come out of the state’s General Fund — would prevent it from passing through the appropriations committee. With the changes Fischer has made, including taking out an entire section of the bill and scaling back the extent of the groundwater study, the bill’s price tag is now $2.47 million, with no dollars coming out of the General Fund.

More groundwater coverage here.

Aspen: City council okays purchase of power from new hydropower facility planned for Ridgway Dam

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

Aspen electric utility officials presented details of the proposal to City Council at a work session Tuesday. Nearly a decade ago, city officials began discussions with Tri County Water Conservancy District (TCWCD) officials about plans to retrofit the existing Ridgway Reservoir dam with two turbines to generate hydropower. The new facilities are expected to come online in 2015.

The city has worked out a deal with TCWCD and the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN), which supplies Aspen with wind and coal power to supplement locally generated hydropower. Under the deal, Aspen will essentially swap coal-fired power from MEAN with power from the Ridgway dam during the winter months. The city will pay the same rate for the Ridgway power that it pays the Nebraska provider, which is 5.9 cents per kilowatt hour. The initial contract is for a 20-year agreement with MEAN and the Ridgway facility operators.

The city will only buy the Ridgway power during the winter months, as that is when Aspen’s demand peaks, but also when the supply of local hydropower is at its lowest.

“It fits our energy requirements like a well-tailored glove,” city utilities director David Hornbacher said of the Ridgway facility.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline: FERC is reviewing Wyco Water and Power’s request for a rehearing for the project’s preliminary permit

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

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission filed a notice Monday saying it needs more time to study a request for a rehearing filed by Aaron Million’s Wyco Power and Water Co.
While notice was titled “Order Granting Rehearing for Further Consideration,” it did not in fact approve a rehearing on the entire pipeline project, FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller said [ed. emphasis mine]…

“All the notice meant was that the commission needed additional time to consider the rehearing request. If there was no action, the request would have been denied,” Miller said. “The commission is still reviewing the request.”

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Mark Wilcox):

The rehearing comes despite multiple protests from environmentalist groups, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Forest Service, Sweetwater County, Colorado Springs Utilities and others. Opponents claim it would damage the ecosystem surrounding Flaming Gorge, thereby damaging the $118 million local outdoor economy.

In his rehearing request, Million invoked the approved, 139-mile Lake Powell Pipeline, which will cost $1.064 billion and be finished in 2020. He said his preliminary proposal was similar to the Lake Powell Pipeline, but while Lake Powell got a green light, Million’s Wyco Power and Water Inc. was stopped on red.

“The commission’s order implies that the final pipeline alignment, all authorizations to construct the pipeline and even the construction of the pipeline should be completed prior to filing an application for a preliminary permit” Million’s rehearing request said.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

Snowpack/drought/runoff news: Denver Water implements Stage 1 watering restrictions

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Click on the thumbnail graphics to the right for the statewide snowpack map, the statewide High/Low graph and the Basin High/Low graph for the South Platte Basin from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

A dry winter has created drought conditions across Colorado. Now, more than ever, Denver Water needs its customers to use only what they need.

At its meeting today, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners adopted a resolution declaring a Stage 1 drought in recognition of the extremely dry conditions.

“Our customers have done a good job of using water wisely, but this year saving water matters even more,” said Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning for Denver Water. “We need customers to cut back water use and be mindful of the impact of the dry conditions on supply availability.”

In response to the Stage 1 drought declaration, Denver Water is asking its customers to reduce outdoor watering. Customers can do that by:

– Watering only two days a week, and using a day of rain to skip watering.
– Only watering the areas of your yard that are dry. For example, if shady areas look fine, only water the dry areas that get the most sun exposure.
– Watering early in the morning or in the evening to avoid evaporation.
– Adjusting sprinkler systems throughout the summer, starting with using less water this spring. Don’t just set your sprinkler system once and forget about it.
– Watering two minutes less.

“We’re seeing conditions very similar to the drought that began in 2002, where we learned that reservoir storage is only one indicator of drought, and those reservoir levels can drop quickly when we don’t get much rain and snow,” said Fisher. “If the dry weather continues, our reservoirs may not fill and we will be vulnerable if there is low snowpack in 2013. We need to maintain our reserves in case we are entering the first in a series of dry years. We must consider the long-term potential supply outlook.”

Denver Water’s mandatory summer watering rules, which are always in effect during the summer, will begin May 1. Depending on conditions, the watering rules could change later this summer. Denver Water’s summer watering rules are:

– No lawn watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
– Do not water more than three days per week (there are no assigned days for watering).
– Do not waste water by allowing it to pool in gutters, streets and alleys.
– Do not waste water by letting it spray on concrete and asphalt.
– Repair leaking sprinkler systems within 10 days.
– Do not water while it is raining or during high winds.

During the last drought, Denver Water nearly ran out of water in the north end of its system, which is more susceptible to water supply problems during a dry year. Earlier this winter, the utility changed its operations and reduced the amount of water leaving the Moffat Treatment Plant — fed by Gross Reservoir — to reserve more water in the north end of its system. The utility currently is in a Federal permitting process to enlarge Gross Reservoir to help avoid running out of water any given year and help balance its water system.

“We will monitor conditions closely and keep customers informed of any changes in our watering rules,” said Fisher.

From KKTV.com (David Nancarrow):

In Colorado Springs, the experts say resources are in good enough shape to use the water to green up the lawn. “As a result of our community dedication to conservation and using water wisely, we are not at this time projecting water restrictions for 2012,” said Patrice Lehermeir, spokesperson for Colorado Springs Utilities.

From 9News.com (Christina Dickinson):

Denver’s Parks and Recreation Department says it’s going to cut its water use by 10 percent effective immediately. The department says it’s going to cut back from 30 inches per acre to 27 inches per acre. By doing so, the department says taxpayers will save $450,000. “For us reducing one inch of water for our entire park system that basically means we save $150,000,” Jill Wuertz with the Department of Parks & Recreation said. Wuertz is hoping May and June will be rainy months to help moisten the dry season.

From National Geographic (Paul McRandle):

On April 10th, 61 percent of the lower 48 states were listed by the U.S. Drought Monitor to be in abnormally dry or drought conditions. And the Southwest, which largely relies on ice melt into the Colorado River Basin from the Rocky Mountains and previous years’ melt stored in the Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoirs for its water supply, is poised for a dry, hot summer, because those areas received less than 70 percent of the average snowfall according to the USDA National Water & Climate Center.

These reservoirs are already at only 64 percent capacity following a decade-long drought from 2000 to 2010. And the possibility of more drought years to come is raising concerns over how to manage a river of which every drop (and then some) is now allocated to some use.

Drought, however, may be only one factor in the drying up of the Colorado River Basin. To assess the vulnerabilities of the watershed and consider how water supply and demand might change in the coming years, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation has embarked on a study of the Colorado River Basin to be released this July. An interim report shows that current water use outstrips the supply and projected demand for water could be greater than the projected supply by more than 3.5 million acre-feet within 50 years, particularly when the effects of climate change are included.

From the North Forty News (Kate Hawthorne):

Local rafting companies anticipate a good start to the river season on May 15. They say the abnormally high snowpack, timely precipitation, and long slow runoff last spring left reservoirs with plenty of water that will soon be moving downstream. “I say thanks to all the farmers who need the water,” said Bob Klein, manager of A Wanderlust Adventures based at Vern’s Restaurant on Highway 287 at the entrance to Rist Canyon. “We just ride on it.”[…]

The dry conditions this year prompted the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District to set the highest April quota since 1977 for Colorado-Big Thompson water shareholders. Stephen Smith, operations manager of North Poudre Irrigation Co., based in Wellington, said his company’s first water release was set for April 23. “The farmers need the early water to get crops in the ground,” he said. “We will be releasing more during the season as needed, but we have to save enough for the harvest. The reservoirs are pretty full but we have to balance what we have with what’s needed. It looks like this will be a pretty tight water year.”

Colorado Water 2012: ‘The value of water is rising along with Colorado’s population’ — Rio De La Vista

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Here’s the latest installment of their Colorado Water 2012 series from the Valley Courier (Rio De La Vista). Here’s an excerpt:

The value of water is rising along with Colorado’s population, increasing demands for limited water supplies. One of the key roles of water managers and communities is to better understand where, when and how water is used, and to try to figure out how to meet those many needs as sustainably as possible.

Over many decades of water “development” to meet such needs, people have built systems and infrastructure to expand their ability to use water. These range from the vast system of reservoirs, canals and ditches to wells, irrigation sprinklers and drip systems that have been built to deliver water for ranch and farm operations to the wells, storage, pipelines, treatment plants and other systems that deliver clean water for municipal and industrial needs.

Within the current statewide conversation about water planning, these agricultural, industrial and municipal uses are referred to as “consumptive” uses. However, even within these consumptive uses, not necessarily all the water that is stored, diverted and/or delivered is actually “used” or fully consumed in the process. In many cases, some of that water may return to the system and be available to be used again.

Consumptive use of water in agriculture is measured (for management and legal purposes) by the amount used by the plants grown, and again, not all of the water applied to the land is actually “consumed.” For example, some of the water that flows across an irrigated meadow is used by the plants there, which serve as pasture or hay for livestock. But not all of the water applied is consumed, and some of it may flow into lower areas, creating wetlands and habitat for wildlife; and some of it may return to the river as well, sustaining flows to some degree and being available to the next user, some seeps into the ground recharging the aquifer, and so on.

This leads to another defined set of water uses that are every bit as vital to the “water is life” concept. Water uses for or by the environment and recreation are called, in the water vernacular, “non-consumptive” uses. These uses also don’t fit neatly into categories, as the environment, from the highest forests which take the first “drink” of the melting snow in the spring, to the wetland plants (that provide food and habitat to the multitude of ducks, geese, cranes and other birds and wildlife that rely upon them) do actually consume some water to grow too, like any other plant.

A healthy environment can provide all kinds of important “services” to people, from storing water in natural settings, recharging aquifers, purifying water to mitigating floods, to name a few. At the same time, there are many factors across the landscape that people can also affect profoundly, which can help the environment help us too. From good grazing management to building soil health on farms, management practices can help nature better stretch limited water supplies further as well.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: The alternative ag transfer plan has 15 objectors at water court

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“It’s [opposition] unprecedented in this basin,” said Peter Nichols, water atto’rney for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District at the boards monthly meeting Wednesday. “The only other plan that could compare was the issue of wells in the South Platte (basin).”

The district is seeking a substitute water supply plan from State Engineer Dick Wolfe on behalf of the Super Ditch, and hosted a meeting with potential opponents of the plan in January. Despite that effort, 15 objectors filed “hundreds of pages” of concerns about the plan prior to an April 9 deadline for comments.

Division Engineer Steve Witte said many of the objections are duplicative, and the state engineer is considering them at this time.

The Amity Canal, which is half-owned by Tri-State Generation & Transmission Assoc., and others say a water court filing is needed before the water plan should be considered. They also make the point that some of the impacts could continue longer than the five-year limit required by state legislation.

Meanwhile, the State Engineer has approved the Super Ditch Substitute Water Supply Plan. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The draft substitute water supply plan was approved this week, complete with 46 terms and conditions added at the request of 17 objectors to the plan sponsored by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

A major objection has focused on the fact that no change of use application has been filed in water court. Many of the 46 provisions of the plan deal with the sorts of issues typically covered in a water court filing.

The one-year plan will provide 250 acre-feet of water from the Catlin Canal to Fountain and Security in El Paso County. Water will be exchanged to Lake Pueblo, where it could be shipped via the Fountain Valley Conduit to the end users. In turn, about 175 acres on four Catlin Canal farms would be fallowed to provide the water needed for the deal. “I recognize that . . . the Super Ditch Co.’s ultimate goal is a long-term rotational fallowing program,” Wolfe wrote in the draft plan. “However, the only plan application before me is for 12 months and I do not believe the company’s ultimate larger goal precludes my authority to grant a one-year plan.”[…]

“In a way, this is good, since it would put the same restrictions on future attempts to move water in the Arkansas River basin,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “The next time Aurora applies for a substitute water supply plan, we’re going to email those 46 terms and conditions to the state engineer.”

It’s still important to develop the Super Ditch, he said. “The Super Ditch is the future of Colorado water,” Winner said.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

The city of Pueblo and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are asking the CWCB for an instream flow designation below Pueblo Dam

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The city of Pueblo, along with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, made the request of the Colorado Water Conservation Board earlier this year. The state agency is the only body that can legally hold water in streams for the benefit of habitat conservation, and typically makes decisions about protected streams at its November meeting…

“This is an area that truly deserves consideration, if you think about what the fishery between Pueblo Dam and Fountain Creek has become,” Hamel said. “I think Pueblo is seeing the recreation benefits.” While mountain streams typically get the instream designation, there are portions of the mainstem of the Colorado River that have been protected, Hamel said. Pueblo’s attempt to secure a water right of 100 cubic feet per second on the 10-mile stretch of river was rejected by the CWCB on a 7-2 vote in 2006…

The city, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and 22 partners have invested millions of dollars for improvements to the river through the Legacy Project. The effort will continue to provide more fish habitat with the placement of boulder clusters in the river next winter. The city also obtained an recreation in-channel diversion in a 2006 water court decree…

The water right would have a 2013 priority date, if accepted by the CWCB. The state agency has to file its application for a water right in court, which would give other water users the opportunity to protect their rights.

The CWCB also is considering five other instream flow rights in the Arkansas River basin. Two are on Beaver Creek in Fremont County. Others are Baker Creek and Bonnet Creek in Huerfano County and on the headwaters of the Apishapa River in Las Animas County.

Meanwhile the Colorado Water Trust is hoping to secure some water is this water short year. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Colorado Water Trust for the first time will lease water under 2003 state legislation to put into the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s in-stream flow program. The group is calling it a pilot program. The CWCB, a state agency, is the only body that can hold water rights strictly for habitat or environmental purposes. Under the Colorado Constitution, water must be put to a beneficial use or it returns to the pool available to other water-right holders. The 2003 statute allows short-term leases for habitat outside of court action that could take years to complete. “We intend to put this statute to work to make a difference both to water users facing what could be an uncertain summer if conditions don’t improve and to the state’s rivers,” said Amy Beatie, executive director of the water trust…

Four reaches of rivers in the Arkansas River basin are part of the program: The Lake Fork of the Arkansas River near Leadville; Greenhorn Creek, which flows through Rye and Colorado City, above Graneros Creek; Texas Creek west of Canon City; The Huerfano River above Stanley Creek northwest of Walsenburg.

In the Rio Grande basin, portions of Saguache Creek and La Jara Creek have been identified.

More coverage of the Colorado Water Trust program from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

The Colorado Water Trust this week issued a notice seeking people interested in the voluntary leases. Trust leaders have been working on protecting tributaries to the Colorado, Eagle, Fraser and Gunnison rivers and may be able to devote as much as $400,000 to fund leases. The Nature Conservancy also is exploring possibilities on the Cache la Poudre River through Fort Collins and the Dolores River down from McPhee Reservoir in western Colorado. “This is not about taking water away from people. This is about keeping our rivers whole — and sharing water between people and the environment,” said Nature Conservancy state director Tim Sullivan.

“There are values associated with the flows in rivers — recreation, riparian benefits, water quality” — not fully captured in Colorado’s prior appropriation use-it-or-lose-it system of allocating water, Sullivan said. “Drying up rivers is not a good way for us to manage our water in the West.”

During the severe 2002 drought, some streams and rivers were so warm and depleted that state wildlife crews trudged with buckets to rescue fish from isolated pools.

State agencies have been working since 1973 to ensure minimum “in-stream flows” to prevent irreversible environmental degradation. The Colorado Water Conservation Board, working through state water courts, has established minimum flows — from half a cubic foot per second to 300 cfs — on 1,581 segments of rivers and streams covering 9,120 miles.
Private-sector funding could boost the government efforts.

“We appreciate the help for our partners and think this can result in additional protection this year,” said Linda Bassi, the CWCB’s chief for in-stream flow. “This is something that potentially could do a lot.”

More CWCB coverage here.