Rio Grande Water Conservation District board meeting recap: The impending water court trial and conservation issues dominated

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Now that the culmination is in sight for the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) the water district has spearheaded for about eight years, it looks like some of the San Luis Valley counties may not sign off on it, Robbins told the board on Tuesday. If they do not, the residents in their counties will not be covered by it.

The first of its kind in the U.S., the HCP was designed to permit the routine maintenance by farmers, ranchers, city and county crews in areas that might otherwise be up for critical habitat designation for endangered species such as the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Under the plan, farmers could still clear ditches and ranchers could still graze their cattle.

Without an HCP to provide mitigating habitat to allow the counties incidental take permits for those routine activities, individuals, cities and counties would have to apply for individual permits or stay out of the willows.

Robbins said this plan has been the subject of dozens of public meetings, but now some of the county officials or their legal counsel are raising questions that might mean some deal breakers with them signing off on the plan.

“It’s entirely possible one or more counties may decide they don’t want to take advantage of the benefits afforded by the habitat plan, which is unfortunate,” Robbins said.

He added, “We can’t make cities and counties participate if they do not want to. We will tell the Fish and Wildlife Service they are not covered by the HCP and Fish and Wildlife can determine critical habitat and take whatever actions it wishes.”

One of the issues being raised now, he said, was concern over federal jurisdiction, which is what the plan is attempting to avoid.

“It is absolutely beyond my comprehension why anyone would not want to take a very low cost way to avoid interactions with the Fish and Wildlife Service and why governments within the Valley would not want to avoid having to deal with that,” Robbins said.

Another issue is the multi-year clause in the HCP, Robbins explained. Some counties argue they cannot enter a contract encumbering county funds for more than one year at a time. The HCP is a 30-year agreement.

Robbins said all of the counties and their attorneys have had questions about the HCP. The county attorney for Conejos County wants to reserve the right to litigation. Robbins said governmental entities regularly enter into agreements in which they state they will not sue each other.

Robbins said the water district staff, board and legal counsel will do everything they can to get the HCP approved and implemented, especially given the time, effort and money involved in developing it, “but if it doesn’t work, there’s not much we can do about it.”

The HCP should be final in November or December.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

The Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association scores a $100,000 grant from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

If the Colorado Water Conservation Board concurs, $90,000 will come from statewide funds and $10,000 from the local basin roundtable funds. Coupled with matching funds, the project is estimated to cost about $116,100.

Joe Gallegos, who presented the request to the roundtable group on Tuesday, said the actual costs might be less than the current estimate. For example, he said the $2,000 estimate for dewatering may not be necessary.

The biggest portion of the project cost, budgeted at $66,000, is the concrete work.

Gallegos and Nicole Langley, project coordinator, explained why the project is necessary and how it fits into funding criteria. Langley said this structural project meets criteria for funding from the local and statewide water accounts.

“It cures a very serious flooding problem,” she added.

Gallegos said when the ditch headgate is replaced, the ditch will be able to handle a greater volume of water, so flooding risks will be reduced.

Gallegos said the Culebra Creek Watershed, of which the Vallejos Creek Ditch is a part, irrigates 23,000 acres over 36 square miles. It serves 83 acequia organizations and 228 families.

The Vallejos Ditch is very old, Gallegos explained. It was named after Antonio Vallejos in 1848.

The current diversion structure was built in 1965, he added, and it has deteriorated over the years. Concrete is falling apart and the gates are almost inoperable. The result is sediment build up and flooding. A great deal of debris has clogged the ditch so that its carrying capacity is only 70 percent, Gallegos explained.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

The Animas River Stakeholders Group is bringing on Boston-based InnoCentive to help solve the acid mine drainage problem around Silverton

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The problem will be turned over to InnoCentive, a Boston firm that has 260,000 individual “solvers” eager to tackle challenges in chemistry, food production, business, engineering, information technology and physical and life sciences.

Members of the stakeholder steering committee Wednesday devised a tentative agenda outlining problems they want to solve. The group will meet again within a month to refine its proposal.

“InnoCentive has all these problem-solvers who think out of the box and check in looking for a challenge,” committee member Bill Simon said. “In the end, the solution is ours to use.”

The problem-solver and InnoCentive get paid, and it isn’t cheap, Simon said. But acidic drainage from mines is a worldwide problem, which could win financial support from mining interests, environmental groups and government agencies…

Today, four mines – Sunnyside, Mogul, Gold King No. 7 and Red & Bonita – send up to 800 gallons a minute of iron, zinc, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, manganese and aluminum into Cement Creek, a tributary to the Animas River at Silverton.

The stream is so toxic that biologists think the water never sustained aquatic life.

More Animas River Watershed coverage here.

Restoration: Cutthroats were recently seen doing backflips from joy in their restored habitat at Woods Lake

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From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

Once the population is established at Woods Lake, the habitat will provide the broodstock, which will eventually assist in cutthroat conservation efforts throughout the Dolores and Gunnison river basins. To make sure a healthy population of cutthroats survive at Woods Lake, Kowalski said, biologists will go back to the lake in the summer of 2013 and release several thousand fry, which, along with the spawning adults released in 2012, will make for a healthy and diverse population.

“We’ll do that to give us multiple age classes of fish and to provide good genetic diversity,” Kowalski said. “The biggest thing for us now is getting the population built up, so there’s plenty of fish for anglers to catch. The cutthroat should do great in this habitat. The lake has been fishless for two years and the aquatic invertebrates have exploded, so the lake is full of food for them. Essentially we have taken these fish confined to a tiny little stream and placed them into a wide, open habitat with no competitors.

“They should have excellent growth up there.”

Kowalski said anglers can expect to start catching cutthroat trout in the summer of 2013 from Woods Lake, but it will be a couple of years before there are large numbers of older-age fish to catch. Anglers are encouraged to release all fish they catch for the next couple of years to allow the population to grow. Fishing in the lake and streams above is restricted to artificial flies and lures only.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

Antibacterial soaps: ‘We’re phasing it out, I told my husband’ — Angie Hong

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From East Metro Water (Angie Hong):

Triclosan-derived compounds can disrupt thyroid and endocrine functions and threaten aquatic life in the Mississippi River. Worst of all, it turns out that antibacterial soaps aren’t even good for us. In fact, the Minnesota Department of Health and American Medical Association warn against using antibacterial products because they may contribute to the emergence of new resistant strains of diseases, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined that good old soap and water are just as effective at getting our hands and other parts clean. Even so, triclosan is present in 75% of all Americans over the age of five, according to a recent study.

So what is a mother like me to do with the 64 fluid ounces of antibacterial liquid hand soap just waiting in my cupboard? “We’re phasing it out!” I announced to my husband, after reading the State of the River Report last week. The report’s authors advise consumers to look for triclosan in the ingredients list of soaps, lotions and other personal care products and to avoid things labeled as antibacterial. After my husband and I use up our existing stockpile of hand soap, we’re switching to just plain soap. One thing is certain. The baby will continue to lick shoes, shopping carts and cat beds, and no amount of antibacterial soap can keep his world germ-free.

Learn more about the health of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities metro area at www.stateoftheriver.com.

Thanks to Loretta Lohman for the link.

More water pollution coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Conduit update: Cost estimates drop to $400 million

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

As the Arkansas Valley Conduit moves closer to reality, there has been some “nervousness” among participants.

“We have been meeting with some (smaller) communities to answer questions,” said Jim Broderick, executive
director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Thursday. “We have new people coming into
the discussion.”

While the cost of the conduit is estimated at $500 million in a draft environmental impact statement by the Bureau
of Reclamation, nearly half of that represents contingency costs that reflect a low level of engineering, Broderick
said.

“We think these numbers will drop,” Broderick said.

The district’s own engineering is further along, and indicates costs will be in line with earlier estimates in the $300
million to $400 million range.

Public meetings on the conduit were conducted last month and produced about seven comments, mostly in favor
of the conduit. A final EIS should be released sometime next year. The next step is to review the cost­benefit
analysis. “We are putting time into it in order to make sure the right details are in it when benefits are calculated,”
Broderick said.

The project has been seriously discussed for the past decade and would not be built for another decade, if federal
funding is in place. In the meantime, water providers large and small are dealing with increased water quality
requirements, particularly for radionuclides and salinity.

Communities may be uncertain of the process and actions they need to take in the meantime, Broderick said.
More frequent updates of the conduit’s progress are planned to keep them informed, he added.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.

Objectors have been active in water court helping to forge the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch proposed substitute water supply plan

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The conditions placed on a pilot program for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch were much more restrictive than a water lease by Aurora from the High Line Canal in 2004­05.

Wednesday, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District asked, “Why?”

Lower Ark water attorney Peter Nichols reviewed key differences between the substitute water supply plans for the two water leases:

● Aurora proposed leasing 18,000 acre­feet over two years, while the Super Ditch plan was for just 250 acre­feet from the Catlin Canal to Security and Fountain for one year.

● The Super Ditch had a more extensive process to provide information and technical details to objectors. More conditions, engineering requirements and scrutiny were placed on the Super Ditch.

● Some farms were taken out of the Super Ditch plan, while unlimited participation was permitted for the High Line Canal lease.

“The point here is that it’s gotten more difficult. The standards haven’t changed, but there are many more details needed to prove there is no material injury,” Nichols said.

Even though there were more restrictions, several water users filed a complaint about the plan in water court.

State Engineer Dick Wolfe, who attended the meeting, said comparing the two plans amounted to “apples and oranges.”

“We’ve been doing the same type of plan for decades,” Wolfe said. “But there are more terms and conditions as time goes on.”

In the High Line Canal case, specific concerns raised by other water users were addressed. Each case is unique, Wolfe added.

Nichols said Super Ditch will continue to work with the state for temporary plans before filing a change case in water court, a similar process used by well associations prior to obtaining water decrees.

“We’re not giving up,” Nichols said. “We’ll be back next year, working to come up with a true alternative to buy­ and­dry . ”

Meanwhile, State Engineer Dick Wolfe told some at the meeting the he would not suspend the rules for augmentation. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. Here’s an excerpt:

[Lamar farmer Dale Mauch] is among farmers trying to loosen up state water­replacement requirements by trying to prove that
irrigation ponds that feed sprinklers leak more than presumed by a state formula.

The state presumes 3 percent leakage, while farmers say it’s closer to 20 to 25 percent.

Wolfe replied that the state’s actions are bound by court­decreed rules that make it difficult to alter or suspend
any of the provisions.

“Dale, the state’s computer model doesn’t agree with you,” another farmer joked.

“I live in reality,” Mauch laughed.

Pueblo County farmer Tom Rusler, who farms on the Bessemer Ditch, asked if the accounting for the rules could
be done after the irrigation season, rather than in advance.

Wolfe said the rules require a plan prior to the irrigation season and can’t be altered without a change in the court
decree. Wolfe said the rules could be amended to reflect the results of the pond study. Additionally, the Lower Ark
district, which administers a group plan for water replacement under Rule 10 of the rules, can amend its report.

More water law coverage here.

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

A familiar face has joined the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District as the director from Crowley County.

Jim Valliant, 76, was appointed to the board this month by Deborah Eyler, chief judge of Pueblo District Court. He lives in Olney Springs and replaces Pete Moore, who left the board in May when he moved to Nebraska.

“I’ve been in water conservation all my life,” Valliant said. “I came from an 8-inch rain area in Pecos, Texas. I’ve always encouraged people to do everything they can to save water.”

Valliant came to Crowley County in 1978, and was manager of the Foxley Cattle Co. He also managed farms for the Navajo Irrigation Project in New Mexico and worked with Anderson Seed from Lamar.

More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.