Venetucci Farms scores enough augmentation water to grow food this season #COdrought

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From the Colorado Springs Independent Indy Blog (Ralph Routon):

JV Ranches, which is owned by Sheila Venezia and her family, came to the rescue. Longtime residents of the Pikes Peak region, Sheila and her children, Dean, Kathleen, Rosemarie and other family members toured the Farm to learn what was needed. Almost immediately after the visit, they agreed to transfer some of their water to be converted to augmentation water and credited to Venetucci Farm.

Now, in 2013, the Farm will be able to grow healthy food for the community and lots of pumpkins for kids.

In addition, two other entities have since stepped up to lease additional water to the Farm. Special thanks are also in order for Al Testa and the Colorado Centre Metropolitan District, along with Perry Thompson of Osage Capital.

The proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill will be the first new plant in US in 30 years

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

With a major regulatory hurdle out of its way — again — Energy Fuels Resources Corp. is now looking to the uranium market for the signal to move ahead with construction of a mill. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reissued the radioactive-materials license Thursday after officials culled though six days’ worth of testimony, much of it under oath, taken in Nucla late last year.

The license comes, however, as uranium prices have tumbled to lows not seen since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, acknowledged Curtis Moore, director of communications and legal affairs for Energy Fuels. The $150 million project will go forward “when market conditions and our production requirements warrant it,” Moore said. The company remains bullish on the long-term prospects of the mill, Moore said, noting that the same number of reactors, if not more, are being planned now as before Fukushima.

The decision sparked a rebuke from the Sheep Mountain Alliance, which filed suit originally to have the license revoked, contending among other things that the state agency failed to conduct appropriate public hearings and that the weight of evidence showed the mill as an environmental threat. “We are extremely disappointed that the state opted to ignore the scientific and technical evidence against the mill,” Director Hilary Cooper said in an email. “And further we are shocked that the state, through this decision, is strongly encouraging Energy Fuels to build a radioactive waste dump on the Dolores River.”

By green-lighting the mill at a time when uranium prices are low, state officials “are operating well outside the mission of public health and safety,” Cooper said.

The mill, which would be built near Naturita, “is not on the Dolores River,” Montrose County Commissioner David White said. “It’s seven miles from the river and sitting on thousands and thousands of feet of collapsed salt dome and rock” that no leak from the mill would be able to permeate and travel through to the river. Montrose County supported the mill and issued a conditional-use permit for the project. Residents of the Nucla-Naturita-Norwood area are “excited, to say the least,” said White, whose commissioner district includes the three communities. “They’ve needed a good shot of optimism for a long time.”

In the decision, the Health Department noted at one point that radiation, while dangerous, is “what sustains life on Earth and is probably responsible for the evolution of life on the planet.”

Despite boom-and-bust economic cycles, facilities such as uranium mills tend to hold some level of employment, the department noted. It concluded, “The failure of the project is a risk that is borne primarily by Energy Fuels Resources Corp. and the potential benefits of the project appear to outweigh the costs across all segments of the larger community.”

If built, the mill would be the first uranium mill to be constructed in the United States in three decades. The last mill, White Mesa in Blanding, Utah, is owned by Energy Fuels, which obtained it in a merger with Denison Mines Corp. last year.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Energy Fuels Inc. is fulfilling contracts for uranium at well above the current spot price, but it’s waiting with the rest of the industry to see that price nearly double before investing in new projects. “Right now, we’re trying to hunker down a little bit and watch our pennies,” Curtis Moore, director of communications and legal affairs for Energy Fuels, said Wednesday.

Energy Fuels is fulfilling contracts with utilities for about $56 a pound, well over the current spot price of $40.90 a pound, according to U3O8.com. “We’re pretty well shielded from spot prices” with the company’s contracts, Moore told the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce energy briefing.

While the company is pursuing construction of the Pinyon Ridge uranium mill near Naturita, the price of uranium will likely have to clear the $70-per-pound threshold before construction begins, Moore said. That’s also the marker for reopening the eight mines the company owns on the Colorado Plateau, he said. That could take some time. “We see spot prices in the high 40s by the end of the year,” Moore said.

Once demand for uranium heats up, Energy Fuels will need the Pinyon Ridge mill when the company’s White Mesa mill in Blanding, Utah, can no longer keep up with demand, he said.

A decision is due this week from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Energy Fuels’ application for a radioactive materials-handling permit for Pinyon Ridge. A Denver district judge had invalidated the permit and ordered the Department of Public Health and Environment to reconsider it after seeking public comment and a recommendation from an administrative law judge. Energy Fuels is anticipating additional legal opposition to the Pinyon Ridge mill, Moore said.

It will cost about $150 million to construct the mill, he said.

Energy Fuels, which now bills itself as “America’s leading producer of conventional uranium,” now supplies about 1 million pounds of uranium oxide per year to utilities, or about a quarter of the 4 million pounds of domestic uranium used in the nation. In all, the United States uses about 50 million pounds of uranium per year to generate 20 percent of its electricity.

More Piñon Ridge uranium mill coverage here and here.

Northern Water’s Conservation Gardens Fair May 18

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Here’s the announcement from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

More conservation coverage here.

Say hello to the new Groundwater.org from the Groundwater Foundation

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Click here to visit the website from The Groundwater Foundation.

More groundwater coverage here and here.

Colorado Watershed Assembly: Volunteer for River Watch

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Here’s the link to the announcement. Here’s the pitch:

2013 River Watch Training Schedule

River Watch is a statewide volunteer water quality-monitoring program operated by the non profit 501©3 Colorado Watershed Assembly in cooperation with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Our mission is to work with voluntary stewards to monitor water quality and other indicators of watershed health, and utilize this high quality data to educate citizens and inform decision makers about the condition of Colorado’s waters. This program is unique in its statewide focus and frequency of data collection. River Watch volunteers come in all shapes in sizes: Middle, Elementary and High School groups participate in our program to provide in-depth education and experience in real life science that extends beyond the classroom. Conservation groups and community organizations concerned with water quality issues in their areas participate to learn more about watershed health in their region. Interested volunteers must participate in a training before becoming part of our program. After the training, groups agree to sample at a designated station monthly for metals, nutrients and other parameters. As water quality data must be recorded over time to understand the baseline conditions and any changes that occur in the system, we are seeking volunteers that can make a several year commitment to the program.

The fee for new groups to become part of the River Watch program is a one time cost of $200. With this fee, groups will obtain over $1800 worth of water quality equipment and includes one person’s attendance cost to the training. Scholarships are available to those groups who demonstrate their inability to pay the fee.

We will have two trainings scheduled this calendar year. These events cover the same material and format and will allow participants the ability to broaden their knowledge on River Watch as we will be having sessions on data management and advanced stream ecology. Introduction to River Watch for new participants will focus on water quality sampling and analysis and the nuts and bolts of our program. Sessions in bringing River Watch home to your organization and exploring non traditional teaching methods to implement River Watch will also be covered. There will be a cost of $90 per person (returning or additional persons) to attend if the registration is completed before the stated deadlines. After the deadlines, the registration rate is $110 per person. All meals and lodging (3 nights) are included in the fee.

  • July 23- July 26, 2013 we will be meeting at Mountain Park Environmental Center in Beulah, just southwest of Pueblo. The deadline to register for this event is June 15th. Registration after this date will be $110 per person.
  • October 29 – November 1, 2013 we will be meeting at Camp Cedaredge, in the town of Cedaredge on the Western Slope. The deadline to register for this event is October 1st. Registration after this date will be $110 per person.
  • Additional information:

  • Students are welcome to attend if accompanied by an adult.
  • Continuing education credits will be available from the Colorado School of Mines (up to 3) at an additional cost.
  • To register online, click here.

    If you are interested in attending this training or learning more about our program, please contact Michaela Taylor at michaela@coloradowatershed.org or at (303) 291-7322.

    More education coverage here.

    Forecast news: Scattered thunderstorms possible over the San Juans #COdrought #COwx

    From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

    Scattered thunderstorms, with gusty winds to 35 mph but little rain or snow, will form over the San Juan mountains this afternoon, then dissipate around sunset. Dry northwest flow aloft with a steady warming trend will be in place until the middle of next week.

    From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

    A few rain showers will continue to move across parts of southern and eastern Colorado this morning as a weak weather system makes it way through the region. Another weak weather system will move through Colorado this afternoon…but moisture is expected to be limited to the high country…where rain and snow showers and a few thunderstorms will be possible starting early afternoon. The air is expected to be warm and stable across the San Luis valley and across the eastern plains…bringing a mostly sunny day to the region’s lower elevations. Temperatures should be only a few degrees cooler than Thursday highs…with the warming trend expected to continue through the weekend.

    Since March precip totals over the north and central mountains have ranged from 150% to 200% of avg #COdrought

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    Click on the thumbnail graphics for the April 24 statewide snowpack map along with the current US Drought Monitor and current drought forecast maps.

    From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

    SINCE THE BEGINNING OF MARCH…PRECIPITATION TOTALS OVER NORTHERN AND CENTRAL PORTIONS OF THE STATE HAVE RANGED FROM 150 TO 200 PERCENT OF NORMAL. THIS COOL AND WET WEATHER PATTERN OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS HAS ALLOWED FOR IMPROVEMENTS IN THE DROUGHT ACROSS THE CENTRAL MOUNTAINS AND PORTIONS OF THE UPPER ARKANSAS RIVER VALLEY. THIS WEATHER PATTERN…HOWEVER…DID NOT BRING MUCH PRECIPITATION TO WESTERN AND SOUTHEASTERN PORTIONS OF THE STATE…WITH PRECIPITATION TOTALS OVER THE PAST TWO MONTHS RANGING FROM 25 TO 50 PERCENT OF NORMAL ACROSS MOST OF THE REST OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO.

    WITH THIS IN MIND…THE CURRENT US DROUGHT MONITOR NOW INDICATES MODERATE DROUGHT (D1) CONDITIONS ACROSS LAKE COUNTY AND WESTERN AND CENTRAL PORTIONS OF CHAFFEE COUNTY. THE LATEST US DROUGHT MONITOR ALSO INDICATES DROUGHT CONDITIONS DEEPENING ACROSS PORTIONS OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO…WITH EXCEPTIONAL DROUGHT (D4) CONDITIONS INCREASING ACROSS NORTHEASTERN LAS ANIMAS COUNTY THROUGH NORTHERN BACA COUNTY. EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS HAVE ALSO INCREASED TO INCLUDE SOUTHEASTERN LAS ANIMAS COUNTY AND SOUTHERN BACA COUNTY…WITH SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS NOW INDICATED ACROSS ALL OF MINERAL COUNTY.

    EXCEPTIONAL DROUGHT (D4) CONDITIONS REMAIN DEPICTED ACROSS SOUTHEAST EL PASO COUNTY…CENTRAL AND EASTERN PUEBLO COUNTY…EXTREME EASTERN HUERFANO COUNTY…CROWLEY COUNTY…OTERO COUNTY…KIOWA COUNTY…BENT COUNTY…PROWERS COUNTY AS WELL CENTRAL LAS ANIMAS COUNTY.

    EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS CONTINUE TO BE INDICATED ACROSS NORTH CENTRAL THROUGH SOUTHEASTERN FREMONT COUNTY…SOUTHWESTERN THROUGH EAST CENTRAL TELLER COUNTY AND MOST OF THE REST OF PUEBLO AND EL PASO COUNTIES. EXTREME DROUGHT (D3) CONDITIONS ALSO REMAIN INDICATED ACROSS EASTERN HUERFANO COUNTY AND WESTERN LAS ANIMAS COUNTY.

    SEVERE DROUGHT (D2) CONDITIONS CONTINUE TO BE DEPICTED ACROSS THE REST OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO…NAMELY THE REST OF CHAFFEE…FREMONT…TELLER…EL PASO…PUEBLO AND HUERFANO COUNTIES…AS WELL AS CUSTER COUNTY…SAGUACHE COUNTY…RIO GRANDE COUNTY…CONEJOS COUNTY…ALAMOSA COUNTY AND COSTILLA COUNTY.

    MORE INFORMATION ON THE US DROUGHT MONITOR CLASSIFICATION SCHEME CAN BE FOUND AT: WWW.DROUGHTMONITOR.UNL.EDU/CLASSIFY.HTM

    SUMMARY OF IMPACTS…

    THE DROUGHT HAS IMPACTED SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO IN MANY WAYS…INCLUDING INCREASED WILDFIRE ACTIVITY AND DANGER…FAILED AND POOR YIELD ON NON IRRIGATED CROPS…CATTLE LOSS AND ABANDONMENT…AS WELL AS QUESTIONS ON WATER AVAILABILITY AND WATER RIGHTS.

    THE LATEST COLORADO WATER AVAILABILITY TASK FORCE REPORT INDICATES MANY MUNICIPALITIES ARE ACTIVELY PREPARING TO RESPOND TO CONTINUED DROUGHT CONDITIONS. WITH THIS IN MIND…THE TWO BIGGEST WATER UTILITIES IN THE STATE…DENVER WATER AND COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES…HAVE IMPLEMENTED STAGE 2 DROUGHT DECLARATIONS AS OF APRIL 1ST…REQUIRING MANDATORY RESTRICTIONS ON LAWN IRRIGATION…HOTEL LAUNDRY…CAR WASHING AND OTHER NONESSENTIAL WATER USES THROUGHOUT THE SPRING AND SUMMER DEMAND SEASON.

    From KRDO (Michelle San Miguel) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Farmers are beginning to plant Pueblo chiles, but they say they’re going to have to sacrifice other crops to make sure the water they do have is enough to grow the famous chile.

    Shane Milberger, owner of Milberger Farms, grows 50 types of vegetables. None, he says, is more important than Pueblo chile. “Just look around, I mean everything has to do with Pueblo and Pueblo chile. It’s like Rocky Ford and cantaloupe. They go hand in hand,” Milberger said.

    Milberger is making do with 60 percent less water than what he had last year. After the state pulled water from his wells, his only source is the Bessemer irrigation ditch. “We’ve been in the droughts before but this in my opinion, this is the worst one I’ve seen,” he said.

    Growing season is just getting started but restaurants, like Sunset Inn, are already preparing for prices to go up. Bill Chavez, a cook at Sunset Inn, says the owner orders more than 90 bushels of chiles every year. “Last year it went up $2 a bushel and since the drought was kinda bad last year and it’s worst this year,” Chavez added, “I’m sure it’s gotta go up.”

    If restaurants do have to raise their prices, that won’t stop customers, like John Walker, from paying more. “It’s so good,” he said.

    “If all of us farmers out here could raise a good crop and maybe get a bumper crop, I would think that the price would be the same as last year,” Milberger said. “If we get any bad weather on any one farmer out here, then expect for the prices to possibly go up.” As a result of the drought, Milberger is growing 30 acres of chiles this year, compared to the 50 acres he grew last year.

    From the Boulder Daily Camera (Mitchell Byars) via The Denver Post:

    Boulder has been hit with a record 47.6 inches of snow in April, and the snow hasn’t been limited to the Front Range. Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said the state didn’t reach the peak snowpack level — when the snowpack is at its highest before snowmelt sets in — until Monday. That peak normally comes much earlier in the month. “It typically occurs in early April,” Hultstrand said. “It looked like we were going to have an early peak at the end of March, but the big storms the last few weeks really boosted this snow pack…

    The snowpack in the South Platte River basin — a major water supplier for the Front Range — is 95 percent of normal for this time of year, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service website. As recently as April 7, it was 70 percent. The basin’s peak snowpack was 90 percent of the typical peak. The upper Colorado River basin snowpack level is now 109 percent of average for this time of year, up from 74 percent April 7. The peak snowpack was 95 percent of the typical peak.

    From The Fairplay Flume (Mike Potter):

    Travis Thompson, a spokesman for Denver Water, told The Flume Thursday morning that the decision came late Wednesday to halt the plan to remove fish from the reservoir and to move the water to Eleven Mile Reservoir and Cheesman Reservoir. That means Antero Reservoir, a popular fishing and recreation spot in Park County, will remain open this summer…

    Thompson said when the decision to close Antero was announced in early March, Denver Water’s weather predictions showed poor chances for additional snow to help boost a flagging snowpack that helps feed Antero Reservoir. “Even though these are usually wet months, the amount of snow that we received wasn’t projected in the forecast,” he said.

    Dave Bennett, a water resource manager for Denver Water, said it’s always difficult to project what kind of moisture will be available. “Managing water supplies through a drought is an ever-changing process,” he said in a press release. “While we are still in drought and need our customers to save water, the recent snow has helped our supply situation. Keeping Antero open will be a benefit to Park County and those who love to fish there. If we drained the reservoir, it would take about three years to refill.”

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    On average, Colorado gets only about 8 percent of its seasonal snowpack in April. This April, “we blew (that) out of the water, which is kind of what we needed to do,” said Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Colorado.

    It wasn’t enough to end the drought. And it didn’t share the wealth equally across the state. But the recent moisture that fell in late-season storms in good parts of the state’s high country significantly improved conditions that continued to look dire as recently as the start of the month.

    “That’s been very welcome news,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs. As of late last week, the rain gauge at his Glenwood-area house had recorded about 4 inches of moisture for the month, more precipitation there than in all of October through March, he said. Recent storms have resulted in substantial snowpack improvement in the Upper Colorado River Basin and improved the outlook for Grand Valley irrigators. Unfortunately, conditions remain a fair amount drier in more southern basins within the state, he said. Some of those basins have snowpack levels that are about two-thirds of normal. Still, the statewide snowpack made a considerable comeback in a mere matter of weeks. Snow accumulations were abysmal last October and November. An above-average December improved things a little, but the statewide median was stuck in the low-70 percentiles from Jan. 1 through April 1.

    Today, it’s at 92 percent.

    “We received well above average snowfall and accumulation in April, which is what we needed, and which we thought was highly unlikely,” Hultstrand said.

    Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said he can’t emphasize enough how good it was to get the two major storms that hit the state this month. “I think everybody’s going to be pretty happy, but we’re still in drought conditions,” he added. “It takes a long time to get into a drought and it takes a long time to get out.”

    Water-watchers universally are welcoming the recent moisture in measured tones. “We’re still in the same wait-and-see mode,” said David Reinertsen, assistant manager of the Clifton Water District, which relies on Colorado River Water stored upstream in Green Mountain Reservoir near Kremmling. “These added snowstorms have definitely helped the upper mountain snowpack and water equivalency but we’re nowhere near where we are in a bumper year.”

    Colorado suffered through a low snowpack season a year ago, but that followed plentiful precipitation in the 2010-11 season that had left reservoirs full and able to ease the impact. With many reservoir levels more depleted now, that cushion no longer exists.

    Clifton Water and some other water utilities in the Grand Valley continue to ask customers for voluntary water conservation now, in hopes that mandatory restrictions can be avoided.

    Denver Water, a major user of Colorado River water, imposed twice-a-week watering and other restrictions at the start of April. “Obviously, we’re grateful for this snow, it’s been a huge help,” said Jim Lochhead, the agency’s manager and chief executive officer. “But we’re still planning on dry conditions for the summer. We really don’t know how this will all work out until we see how our reservoirs end up filling.”

    While the improved snowpack levels are encouraging, some caveats also need to be applied to the statistics. For one thing, Hultstrand notes that the NRCS switched this year to a new 30-year period against which it compares current levels. That period, from 1981-2010, was drier than the last comparative period, which included the wetter 1970s. So a snowpack that’s at 100 percent of the current median is less than 100 percent of the past measure. Also, current snowpack is being compared to levels that in most years already have begun to shrink by now, which Hultstrand said can be a little misleading. Another way to look at the current amounts is to compare them to median peak levels. By that measure, the Upper Colorado River Basin as of Wednesday was at 95 percent of the peak median, versus 109 percent of the median for April 24. The Gunnison basin is at 76 percent of peak, versus of 89 percent of median for April 24. Statewide, snowpack is at 80 percent of the median peak, Hultstrand said.

    Yet another complication involves some recent dust storms that have darkened snowpack in much of western Colorado. That can result in snowpack melting off much more quickly, Phillips noted. That’s due to dark-colored snow reflecting less sun and absorbing more. But the impact can at least be delayed if more snow has fallen on top of it.

    For now, anyway, the start of the runoff season has been delayed by cool temperatures, which also have minimized use of irrigation water to date. Temperatures are expected to go up in coming days, but Reinertsen said the delay in irrigating helps let reservoirs build up their storage. This year’s delayed runoff stands in stark contrast to last year, when the already-meager snowpack started melting in March. A year ago on Wednesday, the Upper Colorado River Basin snowpack was just 37 percent of median for that date. Phillips said last year the snow-water-equivalent in that basin probably peaked at around 11 inches and was down to five or six inches by this point in April. This year it’s above 14 inches and has yet to even start melting, he said.

    David Boyd, a local Bureau of Land Management spokesman, said the spring moisture “has helped quite a bit” in terms of moderating the fire danger this year. But he added, “Predictions now are for an average fire year in this area, but that is still several hundred fires with the potential for large fires. The lower-elevation desert areas received some moisture, which will lead to more green-up and growth of fine fuels like grasses. As the weather warms, those grasses will cure and be fuel for wildfires if there is an ignition source.”

    This winter’s snow pattern was unusual but not entirely unexpected by some. Back in November, meteorologist Joe Ramey, Phillips’ coworker, said the winter was shaping up to be a “No Niño” winter, as opposed to an El Niño or La Niña one. He was referring to varying climate patterns dictated by equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean water temperatures. No Niño winters, meaning ones that show either La Niña or El Niño tendencies, are tough ones in terms of predicting snowfall, he said. But he pointed out that the four previous No Niños in Colorado were characterized by stormy Decembers and Aprils with drier periods between them. It turns out, December 2012 and this month both produced above-average precipitation. Ramey “hit that one pretty well,” Phillips said.

    Told of Ramey’s November comments, Hultstrand said, “He should get a raise, I guess.”

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1316 (Oil Gas Commn Uniform Groundwater Sample Rule) passes out of committee #COleg

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    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    A new measure to protect Colorado water quality from fracking impacts narrowly passed a House committee on a 6-5 vote. HB 1316 requires state regulators to adopt uniform statewide groundwater sampling rules and ends an exemption for the largest oil and gas field in Colorado in the Greater Wattenberg area. The measure would require sampling of all groundwater sources (up to a maximum of four wells) within a half-mile of proposed oil and gas wells, as well as follow-up sampling after the wells are drilled.

    Conservation groups who slammed Gov. Hickenlooper for creating the giant loophole for the Wattenberg Field said the committee vote is another step toward better protection of public health and the environment…

    Currently 25 percent of all drilling activity and the most intense growth of development and applications for new drilling occurs in the Greater Wattenberg Area. Of the twenty eight spills that have been reported to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission this month, fifteen occurred in that area. The current testing regime requires sampling of only one water source in each quarter section. More widespread sampling will help with early detection of spills and contamination, according to conservation advocates.

    “In recent months, Adams County has seen increasing public concern about oil and gas development happening close to homes and neighborhoods. In our community, we see areas with very tight development across our entire county, yet the Greater Wattenberg Area is exempt from this rule,” said Adams County Commissioner Eva Henry. “Why should the wells be treated differently when it comes to monitoring groundwater just because they are on the wrong side of our county? We are relying on the state to create baseline monitoring, which is not possible with two different standards. all of Adams County deserves the same level of protection,” Henry said.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.

    Colorado ‘farmers today use 15 percent less water than in 1980, but grow 70 percent more food’ — Bob Sakata

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Water users have stopped talking solely about Colorado’s municipal gap and are beginning to focus on agriculture. “The demand for ag water is not just about growing crops,” said James Pritchett, economics professor at Colorado State University-Fort Collins. “There are a lot of spillover benefits of value to other sectors of the economy.”

    Pritchett was one of several speakers Wednesday at the annual Arkansas River Basin Water Forum. More than 100 attended. The theme of the conference is “Tributaries to Change.” Agriculture is no longer the prevalent economic driver for the Arkansas Valley, as it was a century ago, but still it provides more than $1 billion in direct sales, 10,000 jobs and $160 million in payroll for the valley, Pritchett said. In addition, the water used in irrigated agriculture also has secondary benefits to fishing, boating and wildlife habitat as it flows from the mountains to fields, he added.

    With challenges such as drought and increasing demand for municipal water, the challenge for Arkansas Valley farmers will be to grow more valuable crops. Pritchett said crops sold outside the basin benefit the valley more because they bring money into the area that can be reinvested in main street purchases.

    In the South Platte basin, the change of water rights ownership to municipalities has driven some farmers to grow more valuable crops, said Bob Sakata, a Brighton farmer and member of the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance. Sakata primarily grows onions, but decreasing water availability has decreased the variety of other produce crops once grown on the family farms. He pointed out that state farmers today use 15 percent less water than in 1980, but grow 70 percent more food. Other factors like the cost of fuel, equipment, labor and regulation also play a part in farm decisions. “It’s about more than just the water,” he said.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.