July 25 is Colorado River Day #ColoradoRiver


From the website:


Denver press conference at Tory Chavez Peace Garden- 3825 Shoshone St. Denver @ 11 am with lunch to follow.

Grand Junction press conference at Eagle Rim Park on the river- 2746 Cheyenne Dr. @ 11:00 am

New series of articles from the Valley Courier will focus on Colorado’s supply gap


Here is Part I of the The Valley Courier’s new series about Colorado’s water supply gap, written by Judy Lopez. Here’s an excerpt:

The Rio Grande Basin encompasses approximately 8,000 square miles, including the San Luis Valley. This high mountain valley extends approximately 100 miles from north to south and 50 miles from east to west.

Water in the Rio Grande Basin is currently over appropriated (and has been since the 1890s). All of the waters of the Rio Grande and Conejos River and their tributaries are subject to the terms of the Rio Grande Compact. This combined with the fact that the Valley’s groundwater resources have been over used and areas across the basin face groundwater depletions mean that the need for decision making is increasingly urgent. By 2050, a shortfall of 180,000 acre feet (AF) is expected, which includes the agricultural groundwater shortage which is being addressed by pending rules and regulations and fallowing farm land via the groundwater sub-district. The goal of each of these actions is to achieve sustainable aquifers through better management and reduction of groundwater pumping.

The whole case revolves around the fact that water is recognized as one of the most vital substances to sustain life. Then why is it one of the most undervalued resources in the world? Universally people do not understand the variety of services that water provides to sustain a nation’s economic development and the health of its population. Where would the manufacturing, electronics, or agriculture industries be without water?

Water helps to provides psychological benefits, too. In a report from the American Waterworks Association, “People derive pleasure from recreational activities and find comfort knowing that the water they drink is of the highest quality”. With this said, in developed countries, knowledge of water resources by the majority of the population is at best minimal.

Why? One reason could be that water utilities have been successful in providing high-quality water on demand. They are so good at in fact that the process of sanitizing and delivering water remains of little or no concern. So much so that most of the developed population is complacent about water resources, by valuing the outcomes and giving little regard to the inputs. One could predict that the misuse and abuse of water is the direct result of the perception that water has little or no value at all.

The real value of water is not the price or cost associated with its production – the real value of water is related to the services it provides. While water to sustain human life can be assigned a particular value; water used for environmental purposes, such as developing and maintaining wetlands, is assigned another value. The value is dependent upon a person’s background, belief system and interests.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

Drought news: Irrigation water is running short across southern Colorado #COdrought



From The Denver Post (Nancy Lofholm):

Sheldon Zwicker has been keeping an eye on irrigation ditches at his family’s McElmo Canyon ranch since he was no taller than a cattail and was tagging along to help his grandfather water crops. The 68-year-old remembers farmers and ranchers getting hot under the collar about water disputes then. And he’s not surprised that, in the current drought year, the same squabbles have water users in ditchside near-brawls, threatening one another with shovels, pitchforks, guns and words.

Water has been fought for since before King Hammurabi first declared in his famous Code somewhere around 1795 B.C. that farmers needed to be neighborly about using it. That’s never been an easy code to follow throughout history because water is a paycheck to those in the agricultural trade. It’s an especially tough sell these days in Colorado when all but a sliver of the state is in various levels of drought.

In the southwest corner of Colorado, where a dozen water users operating on a sort of honor system might rely on one ditch, the problem seems to be particularly bad. When those users are tempted to take more than their share to sprinkle on crispy crops and slake the thirst of baking bovines, the number of disputes has gone up as fast as the midsummer thermometer. “There’s probably more disputes over water down here now than there is over wives. It’s been a real trying year,” Zwicker said. “When it’s 110 (degrees) out and you’re trying to get your crops wet, and you’re out of water, and you find your neighbor has it, well, you blow your stack.”

There are no statewide figures for the anecdotal spike in water disputes this year. Each county and the dozens of water districts and ditch companies in Colorado handle the trouble in different ways.

Montezuma County has had enough trouble that Sheriff Dennis Spruell has designated a water deputy to act as a mediator and an enforcer when neighbors call in accusing one another of stealing, hogging or wasting water. That deputy has been fielding 20 to 30 calls a day lately, compared with four or five calls in the past. He’s not the only one overburdened by water woes. On some hot mornings, the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co.’s water commissioner in Cortez has received 20 to 30 calls by coffee-break time.

Disputes range from finding suspicious shovel-built ditches to catching someone red-handed diverting water.

One method of stealing water is for a water thief to open a gate in the middle of the night to divert water to his crops and to sneak back before daylight to reset the water flow and try to cover up the crime.

Drought maps can bring some understanding of this kind of desperation. Montezuma County shows up on the drought map covered in orange — the color denoting extreme drought. In southeast Colorado, the fire-engine red identifying a worse rating — exceptional drought — has crept across more than 10 counties of farm country. Even with recent rains, Colorado is colored with the shades of lesser drought — the yellow of “severe drought” and the cream-colored tone of moderate drought. One bit of green now snakes down north central Colorado, which means an upgrade from drought to “abnormally dry.” In the “exceptional drought” area of southeast Colorado, the irrigation water situation has gotten so bad for a second year in a row that water squabbles are actually few between farmers who are all in the same dire boat.

“There isn’t much dispute here over water because there isn’t any,” Fort Lyon Canal Co. manager Wesley Eck said. Nearly three-fourths of the 93,000 acres the canal company supplies are without water this year because a depleted Arkansas River and its tributaries can no longer deliver. Farmers didn’t even bother planting many of their crops this year.

In the southwest corner, the McPhee Reservoir is trickling 25 percent of water to farmers and ranchers, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe and a fishery. “We not only have a limited supply, but the duration of the season will be cut short,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District that disburses McPhee water. That district uses pressured meters to track exactly how much water users get so there is less room for arguing about fair shares. Arguments tend to happen more when users have a direct flow of water in a canal that is dispersed to individual users’ fields through the use of flow-controlling headgates. “So everyone is kind of suffering together,” Preston said.

Water woes have resulted in more disputes than just neighbors throwing punches and shovels. Legal actions are also in the arsenal with larger users. In Craig, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed charges against two brothers who allegedly cut unauthorized ditches to take water from BLM lands to their ranches.

In the Canyons of the Ancients, in southwest Colorado, a citizens group has sued the BLM alleging the government is taking water that should belong to individual citizens.

The city of Ouray has asked a water court to change its water rights so agricultural users downstream can’t cut back on the city’s allotment in dry times.

And for farmers who aren’t currently fighting about water, Nate Midcap, the manager of the Central Yuma Groundwater Management District in the relatively wet drought-stricken northeast corner of Colorado, has a prediction, given the fact that aquifers are dropping and heat waves are increasing: “Sooner or later they will be.”

From KOAA (Kirsten Bennett):

The Colorado Springs City Council has voted to remain in Stage IIB (two days a week outdoor watering) of the Water Shortage Ordinance, with a change to the threshold by which a Colorado Springs Utilities residential water customer would pay a drought surcharge. Effective Aug. 1, the entry point for block 3 water pricing has been increased to 2,500 cubic feet of water usage, up from 2,000 cubic feet.

The updated drought surcharge has been reduced from twice the block 3 cost, to 1.25 times the block 3 cost.

Commercial customers are billed using a baseline calculated from 2012 average water use. Commercial customers exceeding that baseline will now be charged 1.25 times the current price, and 1.15 times the current price for non-potable water use.

Here’s the latest drought update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

June was the 9th warmest June on record (dating back to 1895) with most areas of the state experiencing temperatures 2-4 degrees above normal. Compounding the warm temperatures was the lack of precipitation; as a percent of average, June was the driest month of 2013. Above average temperatures have continued to-date in July, with the western slope seeing temperatures 4-5 degrees above normal. However, July has also brought well above average moisture for many portions of the state, alleviating, but not eliminating, dry conditions in those areas. Water providers feel they have adequate storage and supplies to meet customer demands for the remainder of the summer months.

  • As of the July 16, 2013 US Drought Monitor, 100% of Colorado continues to experience some level of drought classification. Conditions across the state have slightly improved since June. Two percent of the state, isolated to the northern Front Range foothills, are now classified as D0 (abnormally dry), while D1 (moderate) conditions cover 35% of the state. D2 (severe) conditions comprise 29% and D3 (extreme) accounts for an additional 17%. 17% of the state is experiencing D4 conditions (exceptional drought).
  • As of July 3, 2013, all of Colorado’s 64 counties have some level of Federal USDA Drought designation. 53 Colorado counties have primary designations, while an additional 11 counties have designations for being contiguous to the primary counties.
  • Following two consecutive months of below average precipitation statewide, July to-date has seen precipitation levels ranging from 100% of average in the Yampa/White to 243% of average in the Upper Rio Grande. The state as a whole has seen 163% of average precipitation thus far in July. Since October 1, 2012 the state as a whole has received 78% of average precipitation.
  • Spring snow storms brought significant gains in the snowpack to the Colorado and South Platte River basins, which helped to fill reservoirs and improve storage; however increased demands and higher temperature have led to a slight decline in overall statewide storage, as a percent of average, from 78% last month to 74%.
  • The Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 35% of average, well below where the Basin was this time last year. All but two basins (the Upper Colorado and the Yampa/ White) have storage levels below where they were this time last year.
  • Improvements in storage levels from earlier in the year, coupled with successful drought response measures have led many municipalities along the Front Range to relax mandatory watering restrictions. http://www.coh20.co remains active and can be utilized to determine what restrictions are in place in local communities.
  • Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) values remain largely negative, with the exception of the Colorado Headwaters which sits at +2.27 due to strong reservoir storage. The July SWSI uses the observed streamflow measured during June rather than a forecasted flow. Many streamflows across the state remain below average.
  • The long term experimental forecast for late summer (July-September) favors precipitation on the eastern plains of CO, while the northern Front Range may face renewed drought conditions. The Climate Prediction Center forecasts for August through October and October through December both show high probability for above normal temperatures, while equal chances of wet and dry conditions are reflected in the precipitation forecast.
  • Water leased by the Colorado Water Trust is flowing in the Yampa River


    From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

    This is the second consecutive year the Colorado Water Trust has leased 4,000 acre-feet of water in Stagecoach Reservoir.

    “Last year, we saw that adding water to the Yampa River was of tremendous value not only to the natural environment but also to Steamboat Springs and other communities along the river,” staff attorney for the Colorado Water Trust Zach Smith said in a news release. “We look forward to working with Upper Yampa to create similar benefits again this year.”

    The Yampa River at the Fifth Street bridge was flowing at 120 cubic feet per second Tuesday morning, below the median for the date of 181 cfs. Last year, the group’s release bolstered the river by about 26 cfs for most of the summer.

    #According to the release, Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Bill Atkinson suggested that releases from Stagecoach Reservoir start at a range of 30 cfs to help with high water temperatures. As part of those water temperature concerns, Atkinson has asked anglers to avoid fishing after noon, when the water temperatures have been reaching the upper 70s.

    More Yampa River coverage here and here.

    ‘They [Colorado Springs] disguise their intentions and do nothing’ — Jay Winner


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs leaders have told Pueblo County commissioners the city is not required to address specific stormwater projects or spend a set amount under its Southern Delivery System 1041 permit. It’s infuriated Commissioner Sal Pace, because the position apparently contradicts an June 6 letter in which Colorado Springs pledged to address the needs identified in the permitting process for SDS, a pipeline that will deliver water from Pueblo Dam to El Paso County. “I don’t know if I’m more furious or confused,” Pace said. “All one has to do is read the SDS environmental impact statement and see that the stormwater enterprise is mentioned over and over. In the June 6 letter, they indicated they were committed to addressing their stormwater needs. Now, in one simple letter, the city has reversed all that.”

    As a state lawmaker, Pace challenged the elimination of the stormwater enterprise and continues to question the decision as a commissioner.

    Pueblo County commissioners are seeking a meeting with Colorado Springs officials to discuss SDS compliance, but no date has been set. Violations of the 1041 permit would have to be addressed at a formal compliance hearing, and are not subject to the individual opinions of commissioners. Apparently, Colorado Springs is taking the position that it is only required to pay $50 million to a Fountain Creek improvement district, spend $75 million on bolstering sewer lines and ensure that SDS does not increase flows under the county permit for its $940 million water supply project. “It is clear the 1041 permit itself does not require or adopt any specific list of capital projects that must be implemented to address Fountain Creek peak flows, run-off volumes or other flood hazards,” Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King wrote in a letter to Pace last week. ‘’Nor does the 1041 permit require a specific dollar amount to be allocated toward stormwater projects.”

    Comments in March 2012 by City Attorney Chris Melcher that Colorado Springs should be spending at least $13 million annually on stormwater touched off a flurry of stormwater activity three years after council abolished the city’s stormwater enterprise.

    An El Paso County task force identified $900 million in capital projects, $686 million in Colorado Springs. Bach launched an independent review of Colorado Springs’ share.

    During that time, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District asked the Bureau of Reclamation to reopen its environmental analysis of SDS because it originally assumed the stormwater enterprise was in effect. Last week, the district released figures showing the city’s expenditures on stormwater dwindled to nearly nothing in 2012.

    Colorado Springs is spending $46 million on stormwater projects this year, with more than half going toward dealing with impacts from the Waldo Canyon Fire.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The burden of meeting water quality standards will increasingly fall on farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley as a result of inaction on stormwater in Colorado Springs. “It’s outrageous that they do not want to take the responsibility for stormwater,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “Pueblo and the Lower Ark district have tried to cooperate, but it seems that every­ The federal Food Modernization and Safety Act passed last year puts increased responsibility for water quality on farmers who irrigate and market raw food, Winner said. Lower Ark district studies show that water quality on Fountain Creek has continued to decline since Colorado Springs abolished its stormwater enterprise.

    Winner was reacting to news reported in The Chieftain Tuesday that Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and Council President Keith King say their city is not obligated to do any specific projects or fund stormwater at any certain levels under Pueblo County permits for the Southern Delivery System.

    Bach and King made that clear in a letter to Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace last week.

    That’s a slap in the face to Winner, who received assurances stormwater would be funded at Colorado Springs City Council meetings in 2005, when the stormwater enterprise was formed, and in 2009, when it was dissolved. But a recent analysis by the Lower Ark district shows funding dropped to almost nothing in 2012. It has increased to $46 million this year, largely because of concerns about funding levels for SDS permits raised by Colorado Springs attorney Chris Melcher last year and the after-effects of the Waldo Canyon Fire. “The enterprise was supposed to fund the backlog of projects,” Winner said. That backlog now is estimated to be $686 million, a figure Bach questions. “They disguise their intentions and do nothing.”

    Winner said the stormwater enterprise was listed as reasonably foreseeable in the 2009 environmental impact statement for SDS by the Bureau of Reclamation. “It has to be in place before one drop of water moves through SDS,” Winner said.

    Conversely, Reclamation says a stormwater enterprise in Colorado Springs or El Paso County is not reasonably foreseeable in its current evaluation of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. But Reclamation has not reopened the EIS for SDS, despite a Lower Ark request last year.

    Winner also questions whether the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District is weighted too heavily in favor of El Paso County. He is critical of the district for focusing on impacts of Waldo Canyon near Colorado Springs rather than downstream impacts. The district was formed in part to satisfy how $50 million in payments from Colorado Springs to improve Fountain Creek would be handled under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS. The district played a role in the current discussion over stormwater in El Paso County, backing a study that showed Colorado Springs’ stormwater funding lagged far behind other Front Range communities.

    However, Colorado Springs leadership has at times ignored the district. For six months in 2011 no representative from Colorado Springs attended Fountain Creek meetings, as reported in the Sept. 24, 2011, Pueblo Chieftain. “I don’t recall that Mayor Bach ever has attended a Fountain Creek board meeting,” Winner added.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.