Arkansas River Basin: ‘If Jay Winner cared about agriculture, he would be asking us about that story’ — John McKowen

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. not only plans to continue farming, but wants to expand its operations on the Bessemer Ditch. But the company is facing challenges from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District that it violated a conservation easement by not irrigating a property it owns. “We’re here because we want to grow vegetables,” John McKowen, Two Rivers CEO, shot back Wednesday as he surveyed newly planted rows of sorghum on the 15-acre property. “This is a great place to farm and the only people trying to move water out of this valley are the Lower Ark district and (its manager) Jay Winner.” The Lower Ark board last month notified Two Rivers of a potential violation of the easement. Two Rivers answered the complaint, saying it is in compliance with the easement. McKowen has bumped heads with Winner in the past over his plan to build reservoirs on the Excelsior Ditch.

“So far, he’s taken two potshots at us and neither one is true,” McKowen said. “We’re walking our talk. He’s not.” He produced documents filed with the federal Farm Service Agency showing wheat, corn and hay were planted on the ground last year, while there was a failed crop of onions earlier this year.

In fact, the land is getting more water from its 36 shares of the Bessemer Ditch under Two Rivers than it would as a freestanding farm, said Russ Dionisio, who manages Two Rivers’ farms. “The way we combine our water (from Bessemer shares and augmented wells), we’re able to irrigate 15 acres,” Dionisio said. “If all somebody had was this farm, this year it would be about 5 acres.”

Two Rivers, which also has farms in other parts of Pueblo and Huerfano counties, has plans that include lease-fallowing possibilities similar to the Lower Ark district’s Super Ditch in the future. But for now, the company is focused on farming. It’s planning to double vegetable production next year and create opportunities for neighboring farmers in the process. “We’re a private enterprise that wants to improve the value of farming, not a government agency,” McKowen said. “If Jay Winner cared about agriculture, he would be asking us about that story.”

Winner defended the Lower Ark district’s action, saying nothing appeared to be growing on it. If crops are now planted on it, that’s all that the district had asked for, he said.

“We represent the people of the Arkansas Valley, not a Wall Street farmer who lives in Denver,” Winner said. “People receive a huge amount of money for conservation easements, and as a land trust, it’s our duty to see the ones we hold are enforced.”

On the water question, Winner reiterated his past statement: “We have not moved a drop of water out of the valley.”

More about Two Rivers from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Box upon box of cabbages the size of volleyballs line a refrigerated warehouse at Dionisio Farms near Avondale. “This is our cooling facility,” Two Rivers Water and Farming Co. CEO John McKowen shouted over the hum of a refrigeration unit. “We’re planning on expanding it, doubling the size, next year.”

The cabbages grown in nearby fields have to be cooled to 38-40 degrees before shipment to processing plants in Colorado Springs, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Most of the cabbage will wind up as cole slaw for restaurant chains.

The purchase of Dionisio Farms by Two Rivers last year has allowed nearly full planting of the acres dedicated to vegetables this year, while grain crops have been cut back due to drought, said Russ Dionisio, who oversees all Two Rivers farming operations. “Two Rivers has benefitted us, because we’ve been able to farm 60 percent of our ground this year, while only about 40 percent of the ground is planted on the rest of the ditch,” Dionisio said. Two Rivers made water available from a five-year lease with the Pueblo Board of Water Works this year to its own and other farms in the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association. While many other farmers have had to cut back production, Dionisio will ship more than 10 million pounds of cabbage this season.

In addition, another 100 acres of pumpkins will be harvested, and some corn is being grown for the first time in decades on Two Rivers land in Huerfano County. McKowen said the vegetables are important crops. “The corn will bring about $800 an acre, but the cabbage will be many multiples of that,” McKowen said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. is refuting the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District’s claim that the terms of a conservation easement on the Bessemer Ditch were violated. “Water from the 36 Bessemer Ditch shares has been and continues to be used solely on the property to aid in the production of agricultural crops,” Two Rivers attorney John Keilbach of Pueblo wrote last week. His letter was in response to a July 17 letter from the Lower Ark district claiming the property was not in agricultural production, which is a condition of a conservation easement placed on the property by a former owner.

Dionisio Farms, owned by Two Rivers, grew corn on the land last year, planted onions which froze this spring and is now growing 15 acres of sorghum on the farm, according to the letter. “In comparing the general agricultural purposes of the easement, the specifically authorized crops and the fact these crops are commonly found in the community surrounding the property . . . we do not understand your conclusion that no irrigated agriculture is being practiced on the property,” Keilbach’s letter stated. “Nothing that Dionisio Farms or Two Rivers has done would indicate or even imply any interruption of agriculture or any intent to move water rights off the property.”

The letter also says the inspection was made without informing Two Rivers, although the easement has a notice requirement.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Tipton’s Hydropower and Jobs Act Signed into Law

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From US Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

Rep. Scott Tipton’s (CO-03) effort to increase the production of clean, renewable hydropower and create jobs is now public law. The President signed Tipton’s Hydropower and Rural Jobs Act (H.R. 678) into law today, which will create rural jobs by expanding the production of clean renewable hydropower, including jobs in Colorado. The bill passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support earlier this year and the Senate this month with unanimous consent.

“This new law provides a tremendous opportunity for clean, renewable energy production in Colorado and across the nation. It will create jobs right here at home, and provide a supply of reliable and affordable power, lowering energy costs,” said Tipton. “I’m honored that I was able to lead the charge for this commonsense effort that received broad and bipartisan support at the local, state and national levels. Hydropower is the cheapest and cleanest source of electricity available through modern technology, and a key component of the all-of-the-above energy platform that I continue to strongly support. With the signing of the Hydropower and Rural Jobs Act into law, we have made headway in the effort to establish American energy independence and put people back to work.”

By eliminating duplicative environmental analysis on existing manmade Bureau of Reclamation conduits (pipes, ditches, and canals) that have received a full review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law streamlines the regulatory process and reduces administrative costs for the installation of small hydropower development projects within those conduits. In doing so, the law encourages increased small hydropower development, which will create new rural jobs in Colorado, add clean, affordable electricity to the grid to power homes and communities, modernize infrastructure, and supply the federal government with additional revenues.

The Hydropower and Rural Jobs Act was endorsed by the Family Farm Alliance, the National Water Resources Association, the Colorado River District, and the American Public Power Association, among others.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has reported that H.R. 678 has no cost to taxpayers, and returns revenues to the treasury. The Interior Department has identified at least 28 Bureau of Reclamation canal sites in Colorado, and 373 nationwide, that could be developed for hydropower purposes.

Sens. John Barrasso (WY), Jim Risch (ID), Mike Enzi (WY), and Mike Crapo (ID), carried the companion bill in the Senate.

From KJCT8.com (Gina Esposito):

These two bills will aid companies across Colorado who are looking to get involved with the renewable energy.

Spokesperson for Senator Mark Udall, Mike Saccone said, “The benefit of both of these bills is it will make it easier for hydropower projects in Colorado and throughout the country, move forward.”

Representative Scott Tipton said, “This is going to put the power in our local water district. To be able to make that determination and make it now cost effective for them to be able to take advantage of hydro electric power.”

David Priske, Engineer for the Ute Water Conservancy District said, “The district is considering a 180-kilowatt hydropower generator at our existing water treatment plant to help offset our electrical demands.”

Priske said since hydropower could produce more energy than the district needs, excess would be sold to Xcel Energy. “So if we can come to some agreement with Xcel, we are ready to move forward with the project,” said.

From The Denver Post (Allison Sherry):

President Barack Obama signed into law Friday two hydropower bills supported by Republican Rep. Scott Tipton and Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette that streamlines the regulatory process and makes it easier to develop the clean energy…

DeGette’s legislation is broader and directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study streamlining the permitting process for all small hydropower and conduit projects.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.