Dana Strongin: A Front Range perspective on Grand Valley water #ColoradoRiver

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Dana Strongin):

During the tour it became clear that even though our facilities, politics and environmental issues are at times very different, Colorado River water users on both sides of the Continental Divide share some significant commonalities.

Consider agriculture, the founding force behind Northern Water’s post-Dust Bowl creation and the corresponding movement to build the C-BT Project to supplement Northeastern Colorado farmers’ and ranchers’ water supplies.

In my job I hear plenty about Eastern Plains agricultural issues, yet the tour was a reminder that no matter what slope a farmer sits on, crop irrigation is a complex process, and creative irrigation management practices deserve kudos.

West Slope irrigators, for example, sometimes get flak for running canals at levels exceeding what’s considered physically necessary to meet current demands. Seeing irrigation facilities and the land’s layout on the tour greatly increased my understanding of how much this can come down to a matter of the long distances between some West Slope river diversion facilities and farmers’ individual diversion sites.

Irrigators with C-BT Project water are less likely to face the same issue. Northern Water asks water users to order the afternoon before their desired delivery, but the travel time from the diversion point to the farmer’s headgate is often much shorter. Because of this, C-BT Project canals often fluctuate daily based on demand.

In contrast, tour attendees saw areas where, depending on geography and other circumstances, an order that could be fulfilled within a few hours in Northeastern Colorado could take two days to reach a farm near Grand Junction. This comparative lag time makes steadier canal flows necessary.

We learned that, just as eastern-side farmers and ranchers are continuing to investigate options to increase efficiencies and reduce salinity, the West Slope ag industry is doing the same.

The Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, for example, is seeking new ways to operate its not-so-new infrastructure near Palisade. The tour group learned how the district now controls the hydropower plant connected to its system, offering new flexibility in canal flows.

The visit to Orchard Mesa also gave the group the opportunity to see a literal milestone associated with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, which in part requires Colorado River water users to provide flows through 15 miles of critical habitat from Palisade to the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers.

Seeing the start of the 15-mile reach, along with the recovery program’s fish ladder benefitting endangered fish at the roller dam east of Palisade, provided context on recent years’ work that East Slope water users have done to provide a permanent source of some of the program’s flows out of Lake Granby, upstream of the required area.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch asks for a two-year delay in change case

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The Super Ditch is asking for a time-out in what the Upper Ark’s Terry Scanga called, “The Mother of all change cases.” Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch has been years in the making and needs time to get established, its lawyers argued in a Division 2 water court filing last week. The Super Ditch, along with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, filed a motion for a two-year stay in an exchange case that would allow Super Ditch to move water upstream for storage in Lake Pueblo. From there, the water could be leased either to cities or to other farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley.

The motion, filed Friday, was accompanied by a response to a motion to dismiss that had been filed earlier by opponents of the Super Ditch — Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and farming groups east of John Martin Reservoir.

Super Ditch attorneys argued in the motion that the two-year period is needed to develop pilot programs that will identify issues of moving water.

The Super Ditch was formed in 2008 to lease water gained from rotational fallowing of fields. Opponents of Super Ditch have argued that the practice will create the need to police hundreds of farms to make sure downstream water users are not being injured. But the Colorado Water Conservation Board already has provided funding to study various aspects of lease-fallowing in the Arkansas River Basin.

One bill signed into state law this year, HB1248, allows the CWCB to operate pilot programs in all areas of the state in order to determine whether other water rights would be injured in water transfer agreements.

Tri-State and its allies are arguing for full review in water court of the change of use as well as exchange applications. Colorado Springs and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District also filed responses Friday, backing the Lower Ark on some factual points in the case.

In its response to Tri-State, the Lower Ark district chronicled its efforts to establish the Super Ditch since 2006 as a way to prevent further permanent dry-up of farmland in the Lower Ark Valley.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.