Basalt: Annual Ruedi Reservoir operations meeting will be on Wednesday, July 17

Students Help Farmers through the Acequia Project

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Here’s the release from Colorado Law (Blake Busse):

My first year of law school was simultaneously the longest and shortest nine months of my life. When I, with more than 25 of my fellow law students, helped farmers in southern Colorado through the Acequia Project, it reminded me why I came to Colorado Law in the first place.

The Acequia Project provides low or no-cost legal assistance and educational materials to acequia farmers. Located in four of Colorado’s poorest counties in and around the San Luis Valley, acequias, put simply, are physical irrigation systems (a.k.a. ditches). But more importantly, the term also encompasses a philosophy about water and community that includes the cooperation and the sharing of water in times of scarcity. Many of the small-scale, acequia farmers of southern Colorado can trace their family’s roots to a time before Colorado was a territory, let alone a state.

Through the Getches-Wilkinson Center and Colorado Open Lands, the Acequia Project coordinates a group of about 25 law students to draft a legal handbook for the Colorado acequias; assist those acequias that wish to incorporate, amend, or draft bylaws; and assist acequias and individual irrigators to document their water rights.

When I heard that background, I immediately realized that this was the extracurricular for me. Here was a meaningful opportunity to engage in water-related issues, my primary area of legal interest. Additionally, it provided relevant experience in transactional work. The project was intriguing due to its connection to the unique history of southern Colorado, an area I previously knew very little about.

After several organizational meetings during the spring semester, an April trip was planned to the town of San Luis with two goals in mind. Our first and primary objective was to meet with the irrigators that we would be representing through the project and to gain an initial understanding of the legal issues we would be helping them to address. For nearly all of the students in San Luis that day, this was our first experience sitting across from real clients with real issues. Law school immediately became real. Our second objective was to get our hands dirty by assisting with the spring cleaning of our clients’ ditches. Digging red willows out of the muddy ditch bottom with the snow-covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains offset by a bluebird Colorado sky was a great way to spend a morning.

After the meetings and ditch cleaning had concluded, we were invited to the home of Juanita and Jose for lunch. Sitting on their porch, eating menudo and bologna sandwiches, we were treated with incredible hospitality. Professor Sarah Krakoff and Sarah Parmar from Colorado Open Lands observed that not all visitors receive as warm a reception as we experienced. Because our goal was to assist residents of the community (rather than to study them, as often happens due to the region’s unique history and culture) we were met with incredible warmth, openness, and gratitude.

As a result of the trip to San Luis, my legal studies were placed in a completely new perspective. The innumerable hours spent in the classroom and library were a means to an end. The end was the ability to provide high quality legal services to help people resolve their legal problems. Sitting in the living room of another client, Ernest, discussing the challenges he faced for the upcoming irrigation season, introduced a human element to my legal education that had previously been indistinct.

Luckily, the Acequia Project received recent grant awards from the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation and the University of Colorado’s Outreach Committee to support students in the upcoming year.

The most common refrain heard from my fellow students in the valley that day was “this is the best day of law school yet!” and I could not agree more.

“Blake is one of the more than two dozen students, mostly first years, who dove into this project with enthusiasm. Not only are they helping their clients, but they are getting top-notch mentoring from Peter Nichols, a Colorado Law alumnus and one of the best water lawyers in the state,” Krakoff said. “In addition to Sarah Parmar from Colorado Open Lands, the Project also benefits tremendously from the pro bono efforts of Allan Beezley, Karl Kumli, and Ryan Golten.”

More education coverage here.

Denver: The Children’s Museum Just Add Water playscape is now open

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Click here to go to the website. Here’s the pitch:

Just Add Water is NOW open!

Our splish-splashing summer science Playscape will run until August 22, 2013.

Warning: You will get wet!! Drip, splash, splosh, woosh! With elements that are both simple and wildly unpredictable, there are many ways to get wet, to play and to learn in this outdoor summer exhibit filled with swirling, whirling, geyser-filled adventures. Guests can pump, channel, pour, sprinkle, divert and paint with this extraordinary substance. The Geysers, the Water Wheel, Whirlpools and Fountains and the Blank Slate Gallery will provide the means to direct, divert and contain water.

More education coverage here.

Fort Collins: Water/Energy Nexus workshop July 10

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Click here for all the skinny on the event. Here’s the pitch:

This workshop will go beyond discussing the issues at the intersection of Colorado’s energy and water supply to developing actionable demonstration and economic development projects in this space. This OUTCOME FOCUSED event is aimed to accelerate the implementation of Water|Energy innovations in Colorado for replication globally.

Drought news: Golf courses learned drought coping mechanisms during 2002

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From The Denver Post (Caitlin Swieca):

Tom Woodard, now director of golf for the Foothills Park and Recreation District, was the director of golf for Denver in 2002. During that drought, the city mandated that courses water only tee boxes and greens, ignoring the pleas of golf officials to give them an inventory to work with. As a result, the city had to close three courses when they became too dry.

“I think even the water utilities learned a lot from that drought,” Woodard said this week. “The water board was under a lot of pressure because they didn’t want residents to see a lot of open space that was green while homeowners’ lawns were brown and burning up.” Since then, the city of Denver has given courses a water quota and has allowed course managers to decide where to water on their own.

Pam Smith, director of agronomy for the city of Denver, said the city’s courses have been operating under a 20 percent reduction in allocation, which was eased to 10 percent Wednesday. Greens, fairways and tee areas had not been affected by the reduction, she said. Watering in rough areas was reduced, and Smith said the areas were browned but not dead…

The 2002 drought also brought about a policy change in Aurora, according to Doug McNeil, the city’s golf manager. In 2002, area government officials placed the same restrictions on the city’s seven golf courses as they did on residents. McNeil said it was hampering the courses’ golf operations, and the next year, Aurora also switched to an allotment system. McNeil said the courses stay well under their water quota, having cut back on watering nonessential areas such as driving ranges and rough areas. Aurora’s Stage 1 drought has reduced the quota by 10 percent, but the allowance is still larger than what the courses normally use.

“I think, just in general, golf courses are allowed to be a little bit browner than they used to be,” McNeil said. “People like to have the manicured turf, but in reality, you can still have a very good playing surface with it being slightly drier.”

Foothills and The Meadows Golf Club operate from unregulated private water sources but still try to keep water usage low. Woodard estimated the district eliminated 15 percent of its irrigation, and the courses operate under a three-stage drought plan as conditions worsen.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Denver Water’s board of directors on Wednesday declared a “Stage 1” drought, down from the Stage 2 drought it had declared on March 27. Wednesday’s decision removes the restriction that customers water lawns only two days a week, on assigned days, the agency said. A Stage 1 drought asks customers to conserve water, and limits lawn watering to three days a week if needed. Customers have the flexibility to choose which three days to water in response to weather patterns…

Aurora’s water department is discussing what to do about its existing water restrictions, which limit lawn watering to two days a week, said spokesman Greg Baker. Aurora’s water reservoirs are 65 percent full, compared to average, Baker said. Denver Water’s reservoirs are 92 percent full, compared to average, according to that agency…

Spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said the board didn’t move too quickly when it voted March 27 to institute Stage 2 drought restrictions limiting lawn watering to two days a week. “Stage 2 was appropriate based on the reservoir and snow pack at that point,” Chesney said. “We’re fortunate that this anomaly happened and we had a huge wet spring,” Chesney said. In late March, the snowpack that feeds Denver Water’s reservoirs and supply system was at 60 percent of normal and the state was undergoing extremely dry conditions and lower-than-normal reservoirs after a dry winter. Reservoir levels currently are at 92 percent of the average peak levels, and most of this year’s snowpack has melted — meaning not much more water is expected to fill the reservoirs this season, Denver Water said.

Crystal River: River District and West Divide remain committed to meeting human and environmental water needs

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Here’s a release from the Colorado River District:

The Colorado River District yesterday joined the West Divide Water Conservancy District in approving a settlement ending litigation regarding water rights in the Crystal River. Both the River District and West Divide are pleased to avoid the costs of litigation as well as the inevitable animosity with their mutual constituents over protecting water rights for present and future use in the Crystal River valley. The water rights in question were storage and direct flow rights associated with the planned West Divide Project, which is decreed for uses in Garfield, Mesa, Gunnison, and Pitkin Counties.

Under the settlement, the West Divide Project water rights will be preserved, except for the majority of project water rights within the Crystal River basin that will be abandoned. The decision to settle and abandon the conditional Crystal River rights was largely driven by cost concerns and a desire for efficient allocation of resources, as well as localized opposition to the Crystal River basin components of the project.

The need for water remains in the Crystal River valley, both for human and environmental purposes, and the River District and West Divide remain committed to meeting that demand. The River District and West Divide still believe small, strategically located water storage is the best and most effective means of addressing needs in the critically water-short Crystal River basin. Current demands in the Crystal River basin, while relatively small, have been identified by all parties. Administration of the Crystal River (i.e., curtailment of junior rights during times of shortage) likely will occur in the foreseeable future, which may leave numerous current and future Crystal River basin residents and businesses without a legal water supply.

Garfield County’s representative to the Colorado River District, Dave Merritt, commented, “This is a sad commentary on the narrow view of water development in the area. Simply put, this will result in residents being left without water.” West Divide’s President, Sam Potter, commented “This is an unfortunate conclusion in trying to accomplish an even handed settlement. It’s very shortsighted of the objectors and some of their constituents to ignore the water needs of others in the Crystal River Valley now and in the future.”

While both Districts are satisfied with the resolution, they regret that the proposed settlement forecloses an opportunity for a win-win solution to water storage needs and late-summer environmental and recreational shortages in the Crystal basin. However, the settlement preserves the opportunity for the Districts to file new, junior water rights (both storage and direct flow rights) in the future to meet the needs of their constituents.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday signed off on a legal settlement bringing to an end conceptual plans for two reservoirs in the Crystal River Valley.

The Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District also have consented to the settlement of a state water court case. At issue has been a downsized version of the West Divide Project, which was intended for possible agricultural, oil-shale-related and other uses in Garfield, Mesa, Pitkin and Gunnison counties.

Two years ago, the river district agreed to abandon conditional water rights for a 129,000-acre-foot reservoir, which would have drowned the former coal-mining village of Redstone. Under the action, it also backed off further pursuit of a 62,000-acre-foot reservoir higher upstream on the Crystal in the area of the former Placita mining settlement, and a 14,000-acre-foot reservoir up Yank Creek in the Crystal watershed.

The river district acquired conditional water rights for those projects in 1958 during the era of big-dam-building, but the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation withdrew its support for the proposals in 1982, citing the cost and lack of adequate benefit.

After the river district’s 2011 decision, it continued to seek to hold on to conditional water rights for reservoirs of 4,000 and 5,000 acre-feet, respectively, at Placita and up Yank Creek. And it continued to face opposition from Pitkin County, residents up the Crystal River Valley, and conservation groups. The county objected to the proposed reservoirs’ locations and potential environmental impacts.

Under the new deal, the river district will abandon the Placita and Yank Creek projects. In return, Pitkin County will not oppose aspects of the West Divide Project involving potential 45,000-, 15,450- and 6,500-acre-foot reservoirs in the Divide and Mamm creek drainages of Garfield County.

Those projects are still in the conceptual stages.

Pitkin County attorney John Ely said the river district and West Divide proposed the settlement.

“It was pretty straightforward and exactly what we were looking for,” he said.

“… We didn’t have any interest in what was going on in Garfield County but what we did care about was what they were doing in our county.”

In a news release, the river district and West Divide said the settlement decision was driven partly by a desire to avoid litigation costs.

The river district long has said reservoirs up the Crystal could help maintain flows later in the year when it now can almost go dry. It predicts that curtailment of junior rights will leave many Crystal Basin residents and businesses without water in times of shortages.

“The Crystal still needs to be solved. … The problems did not go away,” river district spokesman Jim Pokrandt said Wednesday.

Garfield County’s representative to the river district, Dave Merritt, said in its release, “This is a sad commentary on the narrow view of water development in the area.”

More Crystal River coverage here and here.

Runoff news: The Yampa River is flowing at 213 cfs, well below normal #COdrought

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From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Tubers and fly-fishermen were coexisting nicely and making the most of ideal conditions Thursday as the Yampa River was flowing at 230 cubic feet per second in Steamboat Springs. But that couldn’t disguise the fact that the river level is well below norms for this time of year and headed lower. The median flow for this date is 775 cfs…

After falling steeply for the last week, the Yampa appears to be settling into more stable flows, or at least declining more gradually. Yet, the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City reports current flows here are below the 25th percentile in terms of typical flows for this date.

At this time last year, the Yampa in the Steamboat town stretch was flowing at an all-time low for the date of 44 cfs. It was on June 25, 2012, that the Steamboat Today reported the Colorado Water Trust had signed a groundbreaking agreement with the Upper Yampa Water Conservation District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to lease water from Stagecoach Reservoir to bolster flows through Steamboat…

The Forecast Center is predicting that the river flows will remain above 150 cfs through July 5. However, in addition to the high-country snow that continues to feed the river’s tributaries this time of year, crop irrigation also is a factor in river levels.