Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Upper Colorado River Basin October 2013 precipitation as a percent of average via the Colorado Climate Center
Upper Colorado River Basin October 2013 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center

Click here to go to the website. Click here to read the assessment.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

The Loveland City Council approves 50% participation in the repair of the Big Dam #COflood

Big Thompson River near RMNP
Big Thompson River in RMNP

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

During September’s flood, the structure that diverts water on the Big Thompson River for both Home Supply and the city of Loveland sustained significant damage. As a result, the city is unable to divert river water into the Water Treatment Plant, which is located just downstream of the dam in the Big Thompson Canyon.

Because both the city and Home Supply both divert critical supplies at the structure, Home Supply officials advocated for the even split during an Oct. 15 study session, but councilors directed staff to work on a contract document that would evaluate options and return with a recommendation.

Larry Howard with Loveland Water and Power told the council that several options were considered, including following the city’s original 1895 agreement with Home Supply that lays out an 11 percent city responsibility of any repair, or splitting costs according to diversions, which would amount to about 25 percent…

The first phase of repair will cover flood-related damage and is estimated to cost about $800,000. Negotiations would continue over the next several months for future maintenance and repair of the dam.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Public Trust Doctrine: ‘…a private owner’s right would be diminished or lost to the public domain’ — Terry Scanga

Justian I first codifier of riparian rights
Justian I first codifier of riparian rights

From The Mountain Mail (Terry Scanga):

Inclusions of a public trust doctrine in the Colorado Constitution have been attempted for several years without success. Most citizens may be unaware of the devastation that would be wrought on private water rights should the proponents be successful.

In Colorado water rights are a private property right acquired by diverting and placing the water to a beneficial use. Priority of use is determined by the date of first use – “first in time is first in right.”

Since statehood Colorado’s constitution has guaranteed this right.

The value of a water right is created by the combination of various components. To own a water right, the water must be placed to beneficial use on the lands decreed by the water court in each particular circumstance. The water itself represents a small fraction of the value of the right. The creation of the infrastructure to divert and transport the water to the place of use, the laterals, sprinklers, storage vessels and labor to efficiently distribute the water to its intended use and the ongoing maintenance of the infrastructure account for 90 percent or more of the asset value of the water right. Without all the parts, the right could not be created nor maintained.

Historically public values of water have arisen incidentally from the private application of water rights to beneficial uses.

Examples are the return flows from irrigation or municipal uses to tributaries and rivers from private uses or the creation of wetlands from irrigation that support water fowl and nesting.

Privately held water rights have provided these public benefits we all enjoy, but they have not created public ownership of the water.

A public trust doctrine would create a public ownership of these benefits without just compensation to the private water right owner whose money and labor created the benefit.

In the past quarter-century a movement to recognize the public benefit and ownership of water has taken hold in the West, particularly in California and other Western states. The implementation of this ownership/right has been incorporated in these states into a public trust and has had the effect of undermining private ownership and use of water as a private property right.

Today some owners of irrigation water rights are trying to define the value of irrigated agriculture. In their quest to better understand the values created beyond their immediate application of the water to beneficial use, there is a tendency to quantify the external value incidentally created within the community.

Most of these inadvertently created values are public benefits. The public has little or no financial resources to replicate these values if the owner of the right wishes to move the use to another location or change type of use. Under current law water right owners have standing to defend against negative impacts to their rights from changes of use by adjacent water right owners. Those with no water right have no standing to claim injury to incidental public benefits. A public trust doctrine would create standing.

If a public trust doctrine were successfully adopted by Colorado, a private owner’s right would be diminished or lost to the public domain. Governmental bodies would impose conditions upon water right owners to continue to maintain inadvertently created public benefits without just compensation.
Inundation of these incidental benefits by the water right owner through changes in irrigation practices could trigger fines and require replacement of publicly perceived benefits created from past irrigation practices.
The potential implications of such a public trust doctrine upon existing water rights are infinite. Irrigated agriculture should reconsider how it measures water right value.

The negative implications to municipal water rights are even more tenuous under a Colorado public trust doctrine. As presently envisioned, all water must be diverted and returned unimpaired to the stream. Thus there can be no diminishment in quantity or quality – an impossible task.

The cost of a public trust doctrine to municipal dwellers as well as agricultural users is simply untenable and unaffordable.

More Public Trust Doctrine coverage here.

Alamosa: Scott Tipton talks about his bill designed to rope in the Forest Service (NSAA vs. USFS)

George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South
George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

In speaking of his legislative efforts, Tipton said he was especially proud of a paragraph-long bill to protect water rights in Colorado. The legislation, supported by Republicans and Democrats, would prevent the federal taking of private water rights protected by Colorado water law. Tipton explained that the action was in response to a move by the U.S. Forest Service to require ski areas and ranchers dealing with federal lands to sign over their water rights.

“In Colorado we would call that a taking with no compensation,” Tipton said. “What this bill will do … We are going to make sure we are protecting Coloradoans’ private property rights and state law from federal takings.”

For more coverage of the bill, H.R. 3189, click here.

Rand, Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment: Adapting to a Changing #ColoradoRiver

Colorado River Basin via Rand JIE
Colorado River Basin via Rand JIE

Click here to read Rand JIE’s report. Click here to go to their interactive website. Here’s the abstract from the report Adapting to a Changing Colorado River: Making Future Water Deliveries More Reliable Through Robust Management Strategies:

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and water management agencies representing the seven Colorado River Basin States initiated the Colorado River Basin Study in January 2010 to evaluate the resiliency of the Colorado River system over the next 50 years and compare different options for ensuring successful management of the river’s resources. RAND was asked to join this Basin Study Team in January 2012 to help develop an analytic approach to identify key vulnerabilities in managing the Colorado River basin over the coming decades and to evaluate different options that could reduce this vulnerability. Using a quantitative approach for planning under uncertainty called Robust Decision Making (RDM), the RAND team assisted the Basin Study by: identifying future vulnerable conditions that could lead to imbalances that could cause the basin to be unable to meet its water delivery objectives; developing a computer-based tool to define “portfolios” of management options reflecting different strategies for reducing basin imbalances; evaluating these portfolios across thousands of future scenarios to determine how much they could improve basin outcomes; and analyzing the results from the system simulations to identify key tradeoffs among the portfolios. This report describes RAND’s contribution to the Basin Study, focusing on the methodologies used to identify vulnerabilities for Upper Basin and Lower Basin water supply reliability and compare portfolios of options. The report provides a useful resource for other planners wishing to replicate or expand on the methodologies used for other studies.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Basalt: Voters approve ‘Fix the Fork’ measure

Basalt via Panoramio
Basalt via Panoramio

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

Town Manager Mike Scanlon said he believes town residents felt the time was right to restore a more natural bank of the Roaring Fork River and ease the flood threat. The project has been outlined and discussed for more than 10 years. A top goal for the town also has been to relocate residents of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park out of the floodplain. Studies show the neighborhood is at high risk of flooding.

“I think a lot of people said it’s time to get it done,” Scanlon said.

It probably helped that people saw work underway, Scanlon said. The town of Basalt had funding for the first phase of the project from existing funds. The ballot question asked voters for permission to issue $5 million in general obligation bonds to undertake a greater share of the project.

The ballot question wasn’t a thumbs-up or -down on the project. The town already has started relocating residents of the 35 trailers that were occupied in the park, and a contractor is starting the first phase of the river work. Instead, the question sought the funds needed to finish the project more quickly.

The ballot question gives the town permission to raise property taxes to pay off the general obligation bonds, but the Town Council and administration don’t anticipate a property tax hike. They contend the bonds can be repaid through the existing 1 percent sales tax for parks, open space and trails and money available in the general fund.

More Roaring Fork Watershed coverage here.

Boulder, Fort Collins and Lafayette pass bans on hydraulic fracturing, Broomfield = no by 13 votes (2:41 AM numbers)

Dilbert's company embraces hydraulic fracturing for competitive advantage
Dilbert’s company embraces hydraulic fracturing for competitive advantage

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

The votes in four Colorado cities on fracking within city limits — in Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Lafayette — attracted attention far beyond the state’s borders in recent weeks as the nation debates the pros and cons of the widely used practice. And those involved say the issues raised by the campaigns will continue to be debated for months and years to come.

Boulder’s anti-fracking measure was passing handily late Tuesday, while those in Fort Collins and Lafayette saw smaller margins in the “yes” column.

Meanwhile, the yes and no votes on Broomfield’s fracking measure were fairly close late Tuesday, although at least one anti-fracking advocate — Sam Schabacker, Mountain West regional director for Food & Water Watch — appeared ready to concede defeat there.
“We are witnessing historic victories tonight with the anticipated passage of measures to stop fracking in Fort Collins, Boulder and Lafayette, and what appears to be a narrow defeat of a fracking moratorium measure in Broomfield,” he said in an emailed statement at 10:29 p.m. MST…

Doug Flanders, a spokesman for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, an industry trade group, said his organization…will continue to work with communities about the importance of energy and energy development.

“We never believe a ban is necessary,” Flanders said earlier Tuesday, before the polls closed…

The four initiatives:

• Broomfield: Question 300, which would have imposed a five-year prohibition on all fracking.
• Fort Collins: Its measure will place a five-year moratorium on fracking and storage of waste products related to the oil and gas industry in town.
• City of Boulder: 2H imposes a five-year moratorium on oil and gas exploration.
• Lafayette: Question No. 300 will ban new oil and gas wells in town. (Click here for more on the Lafayette measure, which goes further than the others.)

More oil and gas coverage here and here.