From the Leadville Herald (Marcia Martinek) via the The Mountain Mail:
Colorado’s Water Plan was foremost on the mind of state Sen. Gail Schwartz as she visited in her district Nov. 8, including the office of the Herald Democrat.
She explained that Gov. John Hickenlooper in May issued an executive order directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop Colorado’s Water Plan, but the plan itself will be the culmination of more than 8 years work through the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Basin Roundtable process.
Leadville and Lake County are part of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, which meets monthly in Pueblo and has 53 voting members. Schwartz urges citizens to get involved in the roundtable, especially some of the younger people.
She noted that providing new water storage is especially crucial.
From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):
High Sierra, which has its roots in Greeley, has developed industry-leading treatment processes, allowing oil companies to turn over their used water to a High Sierra facility, where it is treated and transported back to the oilfields.
This year the company expects to recycle about 2,000 barrels of water daily at its Weld County facilities, up from some 1,500 barrels last year…
High Sierra has operations in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, which includes Northern Colorado, and also works in Wyoming, Oklahoma and Kansas. In Weld County, High Sierra owns two water-recycling facilities, one in Briggsdale and another in Platteville, which company representatives believe are the largest such facilities in Northern Colorado.
“The field seems to be moving toward recycling slowly but surely,” said Doug White, vice president of High Sierra Water.
Companies can use more than 3 million gallons of water per well during hydraulic fracturing, a well-completion technique that involves pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressures to crack tight shale formations and release oil and natural gas. After the well is complete, water flows back to the surface where it is captured and transported offsite. Most of this contaminated water still is disposed of via deep-injection wells, but growing amounts are treated and reused.
High Sierra Water owns nearly half of the 25 deep-injection wells operating in the greater Wattenberg area. These are designated specifically for wastewater and regulated by state authorities. The greater Wattenberg area spans nearly 3,000 square miles north of Denver and through a substantial portion of Weld County.
High Sierra has developed water-treatment systems that remove elements such as barium, calcium, magnesium, silica, strontium and iron so companies can reuse the water for hydraulic fracturing.
The company has the ability to treat water to match the quality of fresh water, company representatives said. In Wyoming, for example, the company operates a water-treatment facility that has recycled more than 32 million barrels of water and discharged more than 5 million barrels of highly treated water into the New Fork River, a tributary of the Green and Colorado rivers…
Noble Energy said in October that it had recycled about 2 percent of its water so far this year, or 600,000 barrels.
But Noble is in the midst of a major expansion of its water-recycling program. Today, about 80 percent of Noble Energy’s water comes from ponds and wells and 18 percent from cities, while 2 percent is recycled. Noble Energy plans to raise the capacity of its program to recycle 5.8 million barrels of water next year, nearly 10 times more than its current level.
Despite the efforts of companies such as High Sierra Water and Noble Energy, water recycling remains uncommon in Northern Colorado despite heavy drilling activity.
It is more common in Western Colorado, where about half of water used in oil and gas production is recycled, said Ken Carlson, a civil engineering professor at Colorado State University.
Here’s the release from US Representative Scott Tipton’s office:
Today, the House Natural Resources Committee passed Rep. Scott Tipton’s (R-CO) Water Rights Protection Act (H.R.3189) with bipartisan support, clearing the effort to protect privately-held water rights from federal takings for a vote in the House of Representatives.
Over the years, the Forest Service has engaged in numerous attempts to require the transfer of privately-held water rights as a permit condition, amounting to an outright federal taking. During an October 29 House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation hearing water users testified about their experiences with federal land management agencies interfering with their privately held water rights. Read more here.
“While I am encouraged that the Forest Service acknowledged their flawed and unnecessary policy, and has indicated that their future water rights clause may no longer require the transfer of privately-owned water rights, this clause has yet to be seen, they have aggressively pursued such takings for over two years, and their comments indicate that we will likely only see a temporary fix for one group of water users in one region,” said Tipton. “Water users need certainty that all federal land management agencies, not just the Forest Service, are prohibited from future attempts to take privately-held water rights. Additionally, H.R. 3189 would prohibit future Forest Service officials from shifting course and engaging in similar water grabs in the future.”
The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) reiterated support for H.R. 3189 in light of the Forest Service announcement.
“Despite this announced change in policy, we still need Congress to pass the Water Rights Protection Act. The policy change announced by the agency this week is the fourth change in Forest Service water policy for ski areas in ten years. These changes are disruptive, create uncertainty and adversely impact our operations, planning and future growth. The ski industry can’t afford to be subjected to a different water policy with each Administration,” wrote Michael Berry, President of NSAA. “Only federal legislation can give us the long term protection we need of an outright statutory prohibition on the taking of our water rights by the federal government. H.R. 3189 is complementary to the agency’s efforts to develop a new policy.”
Tipton introduced H.R. 3189, the Water Right Protection Act, in September with bipartisan support from Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). It has received strong support from a broad coalition of local, state and national stakeholders, and a companion bill is being carried in the Senate by John Barrasso (WY).
The Water Rights Protection Act:
Prohibits agencies from implementing a permit condition that requires the transfer of privately-held water rights to the federal government in order to receive or renew a permit for the use of land;
Prohibits the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture from imposing other conditions that require the transfer of water rights without just compensation;
Upholds longstanding federal deference to state water law;
Has no cost to taxpayers.
Endorsements to date: National Ski Areas Association, American Farm Bureau, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Family Farm Alliance, Public Lands Council, National Association of Conservation Districts, Pacific Northwest Ski Area Association, California Ski Industry Association, Colorado Water Congress, Colorado Ski Country USA, Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Rio Grande Water Conservation District, Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, Rio Grande Watershed Association of Conservation Districts, Montrose County Commissioners, Mesa County Commissioners, Montezuma County Commissioners, Conejos County Commissioners, Gunnison County Commissioners, Rio Grande County Commissioners, Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company, Garfield County Commissioners, Aspen Ski Company, Durango Mountain Resort, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, Center Conservation District and Club 20.
More coverage from John Stroud writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Here’s an excerpt:
On Wednesday, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell issued a statement saying his agency had agreed to a policy change, brokered with the help of U.S. Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, that would protect water resources without asking ski areas to turn over water rights to the federal government.
Tipton, R-Cortez, responded Thursday after the House committee vote that, while “encouraged” by Tidwell’s statement, it only affects one group of water users.
The water rights bill, which has bipartisan support, is meant to protect the rights of other users as well, including agricultural operations and energy development, according to Tipton and several supporters of the bill from western Colorado…
“They [USFS] have aggressively pursued such takings for over two years, and their comments indicate that we will likely only see a temporary fix for one group of water users in one region,” he said.
Tipton said other federal agencies have also used the practice of requiring the transfer of private water rights in exchange for permitting, amounting to a “taking,” he said.
His bill would prohibit future Forest Service officials and other agencies from changing policy as leadership changes, Tipton said.
The [USFS] told Congress that it no longer plans to force ski areas to turn over their water rights as a condition for maintaining their operating permits.
Even so, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed a bill Thursday by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, that would forbid the Forest Service from demanding that permit holders – from ski areas to ranchers – relinquish their water rights…
[US Senator Mark Udall] said, “The Forest Service’s statement on these water rights is a victory for our state and our resort communities that depend on outdoor recreation, and it’s a victory I am proud to have fought for.”
Udall and his staff had several meetings with senior Forest Service officials during the last several months to explain the policy’s potential harm to Colorado, said Udall spokesman Mike Saccone.
The Forest Service has tried sporadically for years to get legal control over snowmaking water rights, because of worries the rights could be sold to real estate developers or others not interested in using the water for skiing.
A federal judge in Denver slapped down the Forest Service’s last attempt in 2012 to make a national ski water policy, but the agency’s attempts to give it another shot upset Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature and Congress.
“Winter Park owns water rights, like any other ski area,” said Winter Park Resort planner Dough Laraby. “Water rights cost money, and you need them to operate a ski area.”
The National Ski Areas Association, or NSAA, had sued the U.S. Forest Service over the permit changes, winning a victory in 2012 when a U.S. District judge found they violated federal procedural law. The NSAA applauded the federal agency’s recent decision, but said ski areas still need more legislative protections against future policy changes.
“This is the fourth change in 10 years, we can’t afford to be subject to changes with every administration that comes along,” said Geraldine Link, public policy director with the NSAA. “We’re looking to Congress to put protections in place. At a minimum, you can’t take water rights without compensation.”
The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives introduced a bill in late October, called the “Water RIghts Protection Act,” that would prohibit the U.S. Forest Service from adding water rights conditions to permits, including those issued to ski areas that operate on federal forestland, like Winter Park Resort. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Eldorado Springs), who serves on the Natural Resources Committee but didn’t sponsor the bill, issued a press release welcoming the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to cease water rights takeovers. Udall said it will ensure Colorado’s ski industry can continue to thrive. He helped broker the negotiation after working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which houses the Forest Service…
But conservation groups worry ski areas’ retention of water rights will have negative consequences for streams and rivers. They said the proposed legislation puts private interests above the federal government’s responsibility to protect the environment.
More water law coverage here. More NSAA vs. USFS coverage here.
Here’s the release from the American Water Works Association via WaterWorld:
On Wednesday, Nov. 13, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and 10 other major water and municipal groups urged key members of Congress to support pivotal legislation to repair critical water infrastructure across the nation.
The groups requested support for the creation of a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA), an innovative federal loan program that would reduce the cost of water projects for local communities and consumers, through a series of letters to U.S. senators and representatives on four decisive committees.
In May, a model WIFIA program was passed as part of the Senate Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), and draft WIFIA legislation is being developed in the U.S. House. WIFIA is expected to be addressed as House and Senate leaders develop a final water resources bill.
“By providing a source of low‐cost capital and promoting innovations in project delivery, WIFIA will help meet the nation’s water infrastructure needs while maintaining full local responsibility, minimizing the federal budgetary impact and creating tens of thousands of American jobs,” the water and municipal groups wrote.
Signatories included AWWA, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the American Beverage Association, the Water Environment Federation, the American Council of Engineering Companies, the Water and Sewer Distributors of America, the Water Design-Build Council, the National Ground Water Association, and the WaterReuse Association.
The signatories stressed in the letter that they also support state revolving funds (SRF) programs and want them to continue to thrive. They noted that SRF program alone cannot address the nation’s enormous water infrastructure needs and is rarely able to support large water infrastructure projects. WIFIA is intended to address this gap and provide long‐term, low interest loans for projects over $20 million that cannot always access funding through the SRF programs.
“WIFIA loans will be repaid entirely from local rates and charges — water bills — maintaining full local responsibility for water infrastructure development, but creating a mechanism to provide lower‐cost capital and promote innovations in project finance and delivery,” the letter states. “If a utility can save just two percentage points on the interest rate for a 30‐year loan, that results in a savings of 25 percent in the financing costs of a project. This, in turn, will allow local resources to go farther, accelerating critically needed water infrastructure investment and lowering costs for American families.”
Letters were delivered today to leadership of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, and Senate conferees who will deliberate over water resources legislation with their House counterparts, once those House members have been named.
An El Paso County reservoir that has become heavily silted over the last century could get a new lease on life. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable this week passed a grant request of $100,000 for work that would double the capacity of the reservoir to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
The CWCB still must approve the grant.
Local water providers will chip in $250,000.
The Big Johnson Reservoir, located southeast of Colorado Springs, was completed in 1910 to support agriculture on the Fountain Creek Mutual Irrigation Co. ditch, said Gary Barber, roundtable chairman.
Barber has worked as a consultant in the past for the water providers.
As Fountain, Security, Widefield and Stratmoor Hills began to grow, the municipal areas bought ditch shares. After the 1996 well rules, Big Johnson became important to well augmentation plans of the cities. Over the years, the reservoir has silted up, cutting its court-decreed capacity of 10,000 acre-feet in half. The failure of the dam also could result in flooding much of downtown Fountain, Barber added. The grant would slightly enlarge the dam, remove sediment and improve the outlet works. It also would enhance recreational opportunities on nearby trails and an open space area. The goal is to restore storage to its decreed capacity, making it more useful to area water providers.
“It’s a 100-year-old dam in need of a new outlet works,” Barber told the roundtable.
Meanwhile, the roundtable also approved $250,000 for the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District according to this report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
Sometimes, it can be expensive just to continue pumping water. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable this week approved $250,000 in state grants to accompany a $280,000 state loan for a project that would allow the Huerfano County Water Conservancy District to use water from a ranch it is buying to augment other water rights. The money will be matched by $50,000 of the district’s own money to build a small augmentation pond that will remove and return water to the Huerfano River at appropriate times to make up depletions from well pumping. The gravityflow system will run through 8-inch-diameter pipes.
The grant and loan follow a $2.2 million loan to the district last month by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
The district will repay the loans using a property tax.
The district plans to purchase the Camp Ranch and Red Wing Reservoir water rights to support a regional augmentation plan for users on the Huerfano River, said Sandy White, a district board member.
“There are a flock of out-of-priority diversions that have operated for the past five years on substitute water supply plans,” White said, showing the general areas on a map. “Five years is the magic number. Now we need an augmentation plan.”
The area, generally southwest of Walsenburg, has many older communities that rely on wells drilled years ago. In recent years, many of the domestic wells were found to be out of compliance. White said the situation shows that not all pressure on water resources is caused by large cities. There has been some oil and gas exploration in the area.
“We don’t have municipal and industrial uses in the Huerfano River watershed. There are no large cities,” White said. “We have domestic and industrial uses.”