SB13-181: Water Conservation Bd Construction Fund Projects moves out of committee, would fund Chatfield reallocation


From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A water development project of huge interest to local farmers got a big boost Thursday, after it had endured setbacks in recent weeks when a couple of participants backed out. The Colorado Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee moved forward a bill that supports $70 million in water projects, with about $28 million of that going toward the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project, according to a news release from Senate Majority Whip Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, who introduced the bill. The measure, [Senate Bill 13-181: Water Conservation Bd Construction Fund Projects] will go to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

The Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley, which provides augmentation water to more than 100,000 acres of irrigated farm ground in the area, is one of 13 water-providers participating in the proposed Chatfield project. The endeavor would raise the Denver-area lake by as much as 12 feet, and, in doing so, would provide an additional 2,849 acre-feet of water to some of Central’s users.

The $184-million Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project wouldn’t provide immediate help for local farmers, who battled drought last year and are potentially facing another round in the upcoming growing season. But local farmers say they need to secure future water supplies quickly, because the cities around them are growing and are increasing their own water needs.
Central Water and the farmers within its boundaries have long been dependant on leasing excess water from local cities, but those supplies will soon be limited, and are already becoming more expensive. Augmentation water is needed to make up for depletions to the aquifer and surrounding surface flows caused by pumping water out of the ground.

In addition to battling cities for supplies, the additional augmentation water is needed since many of the wells in Central Water’s boundaries were either curtailed or shut down in 2006, when the state made augmentation requirements more stringent. Some farmers haven’t been able to use their wells since then because they haven’t had the necessary amount of augmentation water to do so. Randy Ray, executive director for Central Water, said that, if S.B. 181 goes through, it could speed up the Chatfield project by at least several months. Ray said he expects the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project to get federal approval by the end of 2013, meaning participants can go forward with needed mitigation efforts.

Before additional water can be stored at Chatfield Reservoir, facilities at the state park must be relocated to higher ground and new wildlife habitats must be created, along with other measures. Without the new bill freeing up state funding, the water-providers participating in the proposed project wouldn’t have enough dollars to get going on those mitigation efforts, Ray said.

Two water providers — Aurora Water and the Roxborough Water and Sanitation District — recently backed out of the Chatfield project to pursue other projects. Ray described that development as a “setback.” They had accounted for about 20 percent of the funding for the project. But if the bill can pass this year and make state funds available, mitigation efforts at Chatfield can take place as soon as federal approval comes.

Without the state funds, though, there’s uncertainty about whether there would be enough dollars available, and the project, even with federal approval, would be at a standstill until state funding was available later in 2014, or maybe even farther down the road. According to the news release from Schwartz, the 15 water projects in the bill would get under way without taking money from the General Fund. The funds will come from the state’s Construction Fund and the Severance Tax Trust Fund Perpetual Base Account, both of which include sustainable revolving loan programs. The Construction Fund has helped nearly 440 water projects get going since 1971, according to Schwartz.

In November, voters in the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District approved a pair of water measures, including a $60 million bond issue that would help pay for Central Water’s portion of the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project, along with other endeavors. Central Water officials also are considering the construction of gravel pits for an additional 8,000- 9,000 acre-feet of storage, and buying 1,000 acre-feet of senior water rights with the approved bonds.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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