Fort Collins: A low winter snowpack, remaining effects of the High Park Fire may lead to restrictions

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Brian Janonis):

The city of Fort Collins has two main water sources: the Cache la Poudre River and water from Horsetooth Reservoir (through partial ownership in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project), both originating from snowmelt. Fort Collins Utilities continuously evaluates how much to draw from each source for treatment. Flexibility is key to maintaining high-quality drinking water, particularly in the aftermath of fire. Due to our strict adherence to treatment regulations and state-of-the-art water treatment processes, the city’s drinking water quality has not been affected by summer fires.

Fort Collins Utilities, in cooperation with the city of Greeley, surrounding water districts (known as the Tri-District), Colorado State University and other organizations, are focused on the health of the Poudre River in the aftermath of the fire. In June, we stopped taking water from the river and installed automated monitoring systems to alert staff to water quality conditions and storm events. Mulching operations were completed in more than half of the highest-priority public lands in the watershed, and additional mitigation will occur in the spring. This helps retain moisture, prevent mudslides, and allows seeds to germinate and regenerate vegetation to stabilize hillsides. It also helps prevent large amounts of sediment and debris from running off burned slopes and into the water supply.

Record hot temperatures in 2012, combined with low snowpack (30 percent of average) and the fires, impacted the water supply because we were not able to maximize our water rights on the Poudre River. Fortunately, water restrictions were not required, due to a high water allocation from Horsetooth Reservoir and a limited ability for Utilities to store saved water for use in 2013.

However, given the uncertainty of water quality impacts to the Poudre River and the potential of drought conditions persisting, water restrictions in 2013 may be necessary. It’s uncertain what this winter’s snowpack will bring, how much water Utilities will be able to draw from the river, and the amount of water to be allocated through the Colorado-Big Thompson system. In the last decade, Utilities customers have reduced water use by about 25 percent; the need for wise water use remains.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

U.S. House majority leadership may allow a vote on the farm bill after the election

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The plan is to gut the farm bill in the name of austerity. Here’s a report from a Colorado point of view, from Matt Hildner writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Efforts to reduce groundwater pumping in the San Luis Valley could get a shot in the arm when Congress resumes for its lame­duck session following the November elections. U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told the Idaho Statesman newspaper during a campaign stop Thursday that the farm bill would go to the floor of the House for a vote when Congress returns.

That’s good news for a group of groundwater irrigators in the north­central part of the valley. They were counting on the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to help retire farm ground as a means of reducing groundwater use. Tim Davis, a consultant for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said farmers can’t enroll in the program until the farm bill is reauthorized or a new one is put in place.

Subdistrict No. 1, which takes in more than 300,000 acres of irrigated ground in the north­central part of the valley, did temporarily fallow more than 9,000 acres last summer, although the effort was done entirely with the subdistrict’s funds. The subdistrict’s management plan calls for the fallowing of up to 40,000 acres within a decade.

The Senate passed a new farm bill earlier this year. The House Agriculture Committee also passed a version, but leadership in the lower chamber never brought the measure to the floor [ed. emphasis mine].

While the fallowing program is an important component of the subdistrict, its primary purpose is to compensate senior surface water rights holders for the harm caused by groundwater pumping. A trial that may have a say in how and with what sources of water that compensation may occur is scheduled to start Monday in Alamosa.

More coverage from The Hill (Erik Wasson):

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) caused a stir on Thursday when he seemed to indicate that a standalone farm bill would come to the House floor after the Nov. 6 election. But lobbyists said the remarks mean, at best, that a modified farm bill could be wrapped into a lame-duck bill dealing with expiring tax cuts and automatic spending cuts.

“I’m committed to bring the issue to the floor and then to see a way forward so we can get the votes to pass (a bill),” Cantor said at a campaign event in Idaho.

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) seized on the remarks, saying, “I’m very pleased to hear that Majority Leader Cantor is now committed to bring the Farm Bill to the floor immediately after the election.”

Republican aides, however, quickly made clear that Cantor was not expressing any new support for moving the farm bill as reported out of the House Agriculture Committee this summer.

Washington farm lobbyists said that in the wake of Cantor’s comments, the last best hope for the 2012 farm bill to pass will be if it is riding on fiscal cliff legislation.

“People on both sides of the aisle have made it clear to me that the only way it will be passed is as part of the fiscal cliff bill, if there is one,” one lobbyist said.