USDA and Colorado Announce Rio Grande Basin Water Conservation Project Agreement

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar today announced that Colorado and USDA have agreed to the terms of a new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to help conserve irrigation water and reduce ground water withdrawal from the Rio Grande Basin. The project will enhance water quality, reduce erosion, improve wildlife habitat and conserve energy in portions of the Rio Grande watershed in Colorado. Vilsack and Salazar made the joint announcement at the 2012 Colorado Water Conservation Board Statewide Drought Conference.

“USDA is proud to work with the state of Colorado to enroll up to 40,000 acres of eligible irrigated cropland in an effort to address critical water conservation and other natural resource issues within portions of the Rio Grande watershed,” said Vilsack. “USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program continues to be one of our nation’s most successful voluntary efforts to conserve land, improve our soil, water, air and wildlife habitat resources—and now producers in Colorado have even greater incentives to enroll in efforts to protect the Rio Grande Basin.”

This agreement is for the establishment of permanent native grasses, permanent wildlife habitat, shallow areas for wildlife and wetland restoration on up to 40,000 acres of eligible irrigated cropland with a primary goal of reducing annual irrigation water use by approximately 60,000 acre-feet.

The sign-up date for this voluntary conservation program is expected to be announced soon after an agreement is formalized later this year. Farmers and ranchers in portions of Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache counties will then be able to apply for this program at their Farm Service Agency (FSA) service center. FSA will administer the Colorado Rio Grande CREP within these counties, working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the state of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources through the Division of Water Resources, Subdistrict Number 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, and other state and local CREP partners.

After the agreement is formalized, participants will (1) voluntarily enroll irrigated cropland into specialized 14-15 year Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, and (2) enter into water use agreements with Subdistrict Number 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. An additional perpetual irrigation water retirement agreement also will be an option for producers to help achieve long-term water savings.

The following national CRP conservation practices will be made available for eligible land focusing on water resource conservation:

– Establishment of Native Grasses and Forbs – CP2
– Establishment of Permanent Wildlife Habitat, Non-easement – CP4D
– Establishment of Shallow Water Areas for Wildlife – CP9
– Restoration of Wetland Habitat – CP23 and CP23A

CREP is an option under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that agricultural producers may use to voluntarily establish conservation practices on their land. The project will provide land owners and operators financial and technical assistance. Under this CREP, participants will receive annual irrigated rental payments, cost share and incentive payments for voluntarily enrolling irrigated cropland into contracts and installing the approved conservation practices. USDA also will pay up to 50 percent of the cost of installing the conservation practices. Additional special incentives and cost share will be provided by the WAE for land enrolled within a designated focus area within the project area. Additional incentives will be provided by the subdistrict’s WAE to producers who elect to retire water permanently. Participants will establish permanent vegetative covers on enrolled land according to CRP conservation plans developed by NRCS.

To be eligible, cropland must meet CRP’s cropping history criteria, which includes cropping history provisions, one-year ownership requirement, and physical and legal cropping requirements. Marginal pastureland is also eligible for enrollment provided it is suitable for use as a needed and eligible riparian buffer. Producers who have an existing CRP contract are not eligible for CREP until that contract expires. Producers with expiring CRP contracts who are interested in CREP should submit offers for re-enrolling their land into CREP during the last year of their existing CRP contract.

In 2011, as a result of CRP, nitrogen and phosphorous losses from farm fields were reduced by 623 million pounds and 124 million pounds respectively. The CRP has restored more than two million acres of wetlands and associated buffers and reduces soil erosion by more than 300 million tons per year. CRP also provides $1.8 billion annually to landowners—dollars that make their way into local economies, supporting small businesses and creating jobs. In addition, CRP is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the country. By placing vulnerable cropland into conservation, CRP sequesters carbon in plants and soil, and reduces both fuel and fertilizer usage. In 2010, CRP resulted in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.

In 2011, USDA enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and prevent soil erosion.

For more information about the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program or CRP, contact the local FSA service center or search online at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/crp.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

2012 CWCB Statewide Drought Conference recap: More storage, more conservation and more collaboration

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Hickenlooper further noted during his speech Wednesday that Colorado must have cooperation between Republicans and Democrats going forward in water decisions. The governor said he’s optimistic such cooperation can take place in the state. As an example of recent bipartisan cooperation, Hickenlooper referred to a state budget that passed in May with support from 86 percent of Colorado’s lawmakers. “That doesn’t happen in a purple state,” Hickenlooper said. “Maybe it’s the high altitude. Maybe it’s all the medical marijuana. Who knows?”[…]

Klaus Wolter with the National Oceanic Atmosphere Association said he believes the recent wildfires in the mountains are influencing the weather in the eastern part of the state, and added that wildfire impacts on climate should be more closely researched.

More coverage from Kirk Siegler writing for KUNC. From the article:

Thursday morning, Colorado water managers, policy experts and decision makers got some advice from a nearby state that was in our position last year – Texas. Mike Bewley of that state’s Division of Emergency Management headed response efforts to one of the worst droughts to hit the Lonestar State since the 1950s that led to water rationing, ranchers being forced to sell off their cattle herds, wildfires. Sound familiar?

“Everyone knows we built the West during a 25 year wet period.”

“This is a problem for the western United States,” Bewley said. “Everyone knows we built the West during a 25 year wet period, I heard someone say the other day ‘we haven’t had normal rainfall in Texas in 15 years,’ and I’m like, well maybe that’s not normal anymore.”

More CWCB coverage here.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy celebrates its 75th anniversary

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From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Dickman):

The Northern Water Conservancy District formed on Sept. 20, 1937, specifically to build the Colorado-Big Thompson water project to bring water from the Colorado River to what is now the growing, vibrant Front Range.

A small group shared that idea during the country’s greatest financial crisis and during a time of unparalleled drought.

Residents were out of work, families starving during The Great Depression.

Walls of dust were swirling enough to cause pneumonia, to kill cattle to smother crops, to cause havoc during what is now known as the Dust Bowl.

Yet residents had a vision and pushed through opposition, through financial roadblocks to create a then unprecedented contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, to build the $164 million tunnel, reservoir and canal system, and to turn what seemed like an impossible feat of the imagination into the foundation of our region.

“They gave this region the future, a priceless gift that many of us take for granted,” Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the water district, told hundreds at a celebration Thursday — 75 years to the day that the district, now known at Northern Water, was formed.

Just less than 10 years after the district formed in 1937, crafted an agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation and convinced voters to support the project by a 17-1 margin, the first drops of water flowed through the Adams Tunnel over the continental divide and into the Big Thompson River.

That foundation of the project still exists with water stored in reservoirs on the west side and throughout Larimer County, including Carter Lake, Horsetooth, Flatiron and Pinewood Reservoirs.

From the Northern Colorado Business Report:

Former U.S. Rep. Hank Brown, historian Dan Tyler and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director Mike Ryan were all taking part in the event.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Northern Water was established in 1937 as the first water conservancy district in the state and was tasked to work with the federal government to contract for and then build and operate the C-BT Project.

That project is made up of 11 reservoirs that collectively divert about 260,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River headwaters on the Western Slope to the Big Thompson River, which is a South Platte River tributary on the Eastern Slope, for distribution to lands and communities in eight northern Colorado counties, including Weld.

When constructed in 1937, the C-BT project — the brainchild of a group of Greeley residents — was then the largest transmountain water-supply project in the state. Its 13.1-mile tunnel at the time was the longest in the world dug from two headings, and in the 75 years of its existence, it’s responsible for much of the economic and population growth in northern Colorado, according to those who spoke Thursday…

Today the C-BT Project — completed in 1957, and spreading over 250 square miles — supplies about 850,000 residents and about 640,000 irrigated farm acres. C-BT water was collectively worth about $500,000 at the time the project was built. Today, it’s worth about $3.1 billion.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Two Rivers Water Company signs supply deal with Monument

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From the Huerfano World Journal:

The intent of Two Rivers’ activities becomes clearer with the passage of time.

Two Rivers has made proposals to the Town of Monument and Cherokee Metro District in El Paso County. According to an article in the Sept. 1 issue of Our Community News, the Monument town newspaper, Two Rivers is proposing that Monument “purchase rights to renewable water assets.” The company is proposing the delivery of water from Two Rivers through a storage contract in Pueblo Reservoir with the Bureau of Reclamation and then a delivery contract with Colorado Springs Utilities for use of space in the Southern Delivery System from Pueblo Reservoir to the Colorado Springs area. A new pipeline would be needed to reach Monument.

Gary Barber, President of Two Rivers, proposed the Town of Monument “purchase shares of Two Rivers’ water supply system portfolio” and noted that “Two Rivers can provide financing through Wedbush Securities, Inc. … .” He said this would provide the town with the independent water ownership needed to participate in Colorado Springs Utilities’ (CSU) Southern Delivery System (SDS)…

If these proposals are accepted, Two Rivers will be able to use any preliminary commitments from Monument, Cherokee, or other towns to justify its requests in Water Court for the change of water rights and plans for augmentation. It gives the company the prospect of an end user of the water rights – so the complaint that its water plan is speculative (the court rejects cases if they are speculative in nature) would no longer be valid. In short, if the proposals are accepted, the land Two Rivers has been farming for alfalfa in Huerfano County could be fallowed (not planted) and Huerfano County’s water could be leased to metropolitan users signing up for the agreement.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A company seeking to revive farmland in Pueblo and Huerfano counties wants to partner with a northern El Paso County town to provide water through rotational fallowing. Two Rivers Water Co., which owns ditch and reservoir systems southeast of Pueblo, announced a memorandum of understanding Thursday with Monument.

“We are very pleased to embark on a collaborative relationship with Monument to identify viable renewable water supply strategies. We are committed to an integrated rotating farm fallowing model as the method for developing reliable municipal sources of supply,” said Gary Barber, president of Two Rivers Water Co.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Ensuring Public Safety by Investing in Our Nation’s Critical Dams and Levees — Center for American Progress

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From the Center for American Progress (Keith Miller/Kristina Costa/Donna Cooper):

Seven years ago, Hurricane Katrina pushed ashore in Louisiana, devastating the city of New Orleans and crippling an entire region. Massive storm surges overtook the city’s levees and washed away entire neighborhoods, leaving more than 1,800 dead and displacing more than 1 million more. The sum of property damages alone was more than $200 billion, with the overall damage to the regional economy totaling billions more. Making Katrina all the more tragic was the disaster’s preventability—if only those responsible for the region’s storm defenses and levees had taken action in the decades leading up to August 29, 2005.

The costs of this failure to act continue to mount. Since Katrina, repairing and upgrading the levee and flood-protection systems around New Orleans has cost the federal government $14 billion, and expenditures by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for displaced residents have run upwards of $30 billion.

But for those familiar with the condition of America’s water infrastructure, Hurricane Katrina was just the most devastating example of the kinds of failures that are now neither rare nor unexpected. Every year flooding alone kills an average of 94 people and causes roughly $7.2 billion in damages nationwide, and these figures exclude the devastation inflicted by storm surges similar to those that overtook New Orleans in 2005. Over the past century we have increasingly relied on manmade structures such as dams and levees to protect us from natural disasters, and since the early 1900s we have built these structures by the thousands in almost every state.

There are currently more than 84,000 dams and approximately 100,000 total miles of levees in the United States. In addition to helping prevent floods and enabling the movement of freight up and down inland waterways, these structures are also relied upon to provide water for drinking and irrigation, to generate electricity, to help combat forest fires, and to provide recreational opportunities. They are critical components of our national economy and improve our quality of life in underappreciated ways every day.

But despite their tremendous importance to thousands of communities across our country, a frightening number of dams and levees have been allowed to fall into disrepair. A combination of aging and government neglect means many of these structures struggle to remain operational or even structurally sound. More alarming still is that changing settlement patterns have resulted in hundreds of dams and levees never designed to protect human life now being expected to safeguard the thousands who have moved into nearby flood zones.

Meanwhile, federal, state, and local efforts to monitor and repair levees and dams are piecemeal and drastically underfunded, characterized by a lack of clear leadership and a dearth of critical information. Hundreds of dams across the country whose failure would put lives in danger are years overdue for inspection, while we have almost no information at all on the condition of the vast majority of American levees.

Additionally, advances in scientific research and in our understanding of aquatic habitats and hydrological processes shed light on the negative environmental consequences of building and maintaining some kinds of dams. On hundreds of rivers throughout the United States, thousands of aging dams—many of which are no longer serving the purpose for which they were built—contribute to water quality degradation, biodiversity damage, and fisheries harm. While some efforts are being made to assess these damages and remove dams when environmentally and economically appropriate, the pace of dam removal in these instances remains slow.

Despite these risks, funding authorization for the National Dam Safety Program, which helps states formulate plans for inspecting and repairing dams under their jurisdiction, expired a year ago, and Congress has been slow and miserly in its efforts to reauthorize the program. The Senate proposes to maintain the current inadequate level of funding for the program—in fiscal year 2011, the National Dam Safety Program received just $11 million—while the House has proposed a funding cut. Neither proposal has moved forward since being introduced earlier this year.

In this report we will detail the following:

– The conditions of our nation’s dam and levee infrastructure and exactly how we have arrived at this point

– The relative responsibilities of local, state, and federal agencies for maintaining dam and levee safety

– The steps needed to bring these structures into a state of good repair or, where appropriate, to breach them

– Policy recommendations, including immediately reauthorizing the National Dam Safety Program, creating a National Levee

– Safety Program, and increasing federal spending on both infrastructure types by at least a combined $1 billion annually

If we do not make changes soon to the way we monitor and maintain our nation’s dams and levees, catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina striking an ill-prepared New Orleans or the failure of the Kaloko Reservoir Dam in Hawaii that killed seven people in 2006, will continue to occur—likely with greater frequency. The combination of extreme weather and flooding resulting from global warming and our aging dam and levee infrastructure means that without action, thousands of lives and communities are at risk and avoidable public costs will rise. It is time that policymakers stop simply hoping that the worst will not occur and finally devote the resources and political will required to ensure the safety and prosperity of the American public.

Thanks to Chris Woodka (The Pueblo Chieftain) for the heads up. From the article:

Colorado ranks third in the number of high-hazard dams in need of repair, according to a report released Thursday by the Center for American Progress. Colorado officials are aware of dam safety problems and have taken steps to either restrict storage in substandard dams or improve the dams. The report lists Colorado behind Georgia and Pennsylvania in terms of high-hazard dams in need of repair.

More infrastructure coverage here and here.