Colorado Water 2012: Agricultural water use


Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Water 2012 series. Nathan Coombs, manager of the Conejos Water Conservancy District, has written a primer about water and agriculture. Here’s and excerpt:

1) Priority- like it implies, there are certain users of water that get priority over others. This priority system is based on “first come, first served.” The earlier in history that someone put water to a good (beneficial) use, the lower their priority number. This number however, is like the placing in a tournament- #1 is best or senior and so on. A water right can however be both senior and junior. For example the #2 priority is senior to the #3, yet junior to #1. The actual physical location along the river is basically irrelevant. The priority number determines who gets the water in what order.

2) Decree- this term is used to define how much water, and to what purposes the water is used. For example, you cannot use water for raising fish unless this purpose is expressly granted in your decree. You also cannot take from the source (well or river) all that you want. Your decree states how much water to which you are entitled. The term decree is applicable to both river (surface) water and well (ground) water.

3) Compact- this is a legal term for a federally recognized interstate or international agreement. The Rio Grande River Compact dictates how water from the Rio Grande River is divided between Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. It was developed to be as equal and fair as possible. (This topic is always up for coffee shop discussion!)

4) Unconfined aquifer- this is the area of water that exists from immediately below the surface of the ground to a depth that varies from about 75 to 200 ft. At the bottom of this “layer” is a boundary of clays and Malpais lava flows that really slows water from moving up or down.

5) Confined aquifer- this is the area that is below the unconfined. Where the unconfined is relatively shallow, the confined can be thousands of feet deep. This is where artesian water comes from because of usual upward pressure.

6) Diversion- Diversion describes the location and method used to get water from a river or the ground. A headgate on the river is a diversion for surface water and a well is the diversion for the ground water.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Water for hydraulic fracturing, ‘a pretty small usage for that economic impact,’ Kathleen Sgamma (Western Energy Alliance)


From (Kelly David Burke):

…according to Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken. “Yet we’re [Fort Collins] one of the wetter areas of the West. Other areas may only be looking at 6 to 10 inches of precipitation a year.”

“From a Western perspective the rain that falls on your head barely waters anything. The snow that falls most winters, somewhat generously, in the mountains and then melts during the spring and summer is the water supply for most agricultural and municipal uses.”[…]

Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance believes fears about fracking using too much water are overblown. She points to a recent study by the Colorado Division of Water Resources that showed that in 2010, 85 percent of the water used in Colorado went to agriculture, 7.4 percent to municipalities and less than 1 percent to hydraulic fracturing. “It’s certainly an issue that we take very seriously,” Sgamma says. “But when you consider the jobs and the economic impact that you get from oil and gas and you compare that to the water usage, it’s a pretty small usage for that economic impact.”[…]

“There are seven to nine layers of steel and cement between the well bore and any underground aquifer. There are several layers of protection to make sure that (underground) water cannot go into the well, and oil or gas cannot get into the aquifer.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Interior is moving ahead with disclosure rules for hydraulic fracturing, according to Gus Jarvis writing for The Telluride Watch. From the article:

While there are 35 states with some form of fracking regulations (Colorado included), there is currently no federal requirement for oil and gas companies to disclose chemicals on federal lands where approximately 90 percent of natural gas wells are drilled. Current Bureau of Land Management regulations governing fracking are more than 30 years old and are not written to address modern fracking practices.

The proposed rule, according to information provided by the Department of Interior, seeks to maximize flexibility, minimize duplication and complement ongoing efforts in some states to regulate fracturing activities by providing a consistent standard across all federal and Indian lands, and make reported information easily accessible to the public through the existing program known as FracFocus.

Besides requiring the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, the draft rule contains two additional measures to improve assurances on well-bore integrity – to verify that fluids used in wells during fracking operations are not escaping – and to confirm that oil and gas companies have a water management plan in place for handling fracking fluids that flow back to the surface.

According to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the proposed rule will strengthen the requirements for hydraulic fracturing performed on federal and Indian lands in order to build public confidence and protect the health of American communities, while ensuring continued access to the important resources that make up our energy economy…

In Colorado, a similar rule took effect April 1. Gov. John Hickenlooper applauded this latest move by the Department of Interior. “We are pleased that the Bureau of Land Management modeled its disclosure requirements for fracturing fluids after the Colorado rule, which is the most protective and transparent in the country as it requires the disclosure of the chemicals as well as their purpose and concentrations,” Hickenlooper said.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Drought/runoff/snowpack news: Streamflow in the Cache la Poudre River is dismal


Click on the thumbnail graphic for the water year 2012 hydrograph for the Cache la Poudre River at the mouth of Poudre Canyon from the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Streamflow in the Poudre River, which cuts through north Greeley and goes on to serve as the largest tributary stream to the South Platte River, is particularly dismal. According to numbers provided by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, peak stream flow in the Poudre River came earlier and was lower this year than any other year on record — dating back to 1957. Peak streamflows in the South Platte River are not at all-time lows this year — that happened in 1954. But, according to Colorado Water Resources Division 1 Engineer Dave Nettles, the river’s peak flow this month was about three times less than it was in 2002 — the year of a historic drought that changed the way many producers and municipalities manage water…

Mike Hungenberg, a Weld County carrot grower who serves as the board president for the New Cache La Poudre Irrigation and Reservoir Company, said his ditch company this year can serve only half of its shareholders at a time — sending water to one half of its district some days and cutting off supplies to the other half, and then switching. “We’ve never had to do that,” Hungenberg said. “Not even in 2002.”[…]

Snowfall was lacking in the mountains for most of the winter — with snowpack numbers at or near record lows in much of the state — and this year’s abnormally warm temperatures caused what little snowpack there was to melt well ahead of schedule. With peak flows in the Poudre River coming on May 5 this year, that water passed by many farmers before their crops were even planted. To add to it all, rainfall has been minimal — precipitation in the Greeley area this year is less than half of the historic average.

Southern Delivery System: The CWQCC joins Colorado Springs Utilities in appeal of recent ruling about the project water quality permit


From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Colorado Springs Utilities isn’t alone in thinking Pueblo County District Judge Victor Reyes made a mistake.

The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission has voted unanimously to stand with Utilities in opposing Reyes’ decision to overturn the state’s 401 water quality certification for the Southern Delivery System. Reyes had ruled the state commission didn’t adequately account for Fountain Creek pollution caused by the SDS pipeline, which will increase Colorado Springs’ water supply by a third by 2016 by delivering water from Lake Pueblo. After certification in 2010, the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition and Pueblo County District Attorney Bill Thiebaut sought judicial review, resulting in Reyes’ ruling.

State Commissioner John Klomp, a former Pueblo County commissioner, made the motion to appeal the ruling, noting that sufficient controls are in place and that Colorado Springs complies with the rules, the Pueblo Chieftain reports. Utilities spokesperson Janet Rummel says SDS construction continues.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Conservation: ‘Wealthy people on big estates were tired of paying the water bill’ — Scott Huston


Here’s a look at the motivation to conserve water — primarily financial — from Colleen O’Connor writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

That year [2002] was brutal. People tried to conserve water. They turned off backyard fountains and let their ponds dry up. But it wasn’t until the recession that began in December 2007 that there was a real shift in the way people approached their landscapes…

“But that was short-lived. It lasted about a year. We kept having the same education with the public and clients, but nobody paid any mind to it until about a year ago.” Suddenly, new irrigation technologies became popular. “People were trying to save money because of the recession,” Scott Huston said. “Wealthy people on big estates were tired of paying the water bill.”[…]

In January, Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed 2012 the Year of Water, and communities across the state are hosting activities from Xeriscape garden tours and classes in Pueblo and Aurora to the “H2012” exhibition in the Art District on Santa Fe through June 30…

Phil Steinhauer, president of Designscapes Colorado, has noticed a shift in things such as size and function. “I remember 10 years ago, everyone wanted lots of grass,” he said. “I very rarely hear anyone say that now. They want a nice, usable yard, with a nice patio and maybe a firepit.”

More conservation coverage here.