From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):
During the monthly meeting of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors, consultant Ken Baker discussed preliminary efforts to develop a bill that would create a “flexible water market,” saying he believes some form of bill will be enacted during the next legislative session.
Baker said the bill would allow the amount of water attributed to historical consumptive use on irrigated land to be put to other uses during temporary fallowing of that land and allow the water to be put to any beneficial use without designating the specific use, as is currently required. Through a flex market, Baker said, agricultural water rights holders could implement rotational fallowing of their farmland and lease a portion of their water for other beneficial uses, while retaining sufficient water to sustain agricultural activities and keep the land in production. A key element of this approach, Baker said, is that the bill would grant the state water engineer the authority to approve flex market filings and agreements, removing Water Court from the process except for appeals.
Baker also noted that nothing proposed in the bill to date addresses storing or transferring water leased through the proposed flex market system. Baker said one concern with the legislation is basin-of-origin protections for water in the Arkansas River Basin because similar bills passed in 2013, HB-1248 and HB-1033, do not protect the Arkansas Basin from transbasin diversions.
In other business, directors:
Learned that a final decree was issued granting absolute storage rights for all district water in O’Haver Reservoir and all but 100 acre-feet of district water in North Fork Reservoir. Learned that the Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a grant to fund phase 2 of the Helena Ditch project, which will include construction of concrete components to ensure sufficient capacity in the ditch and a bypass to return excess diverted water back to the river. Learned from hydrologist Jord Gertson that Arkansas River Basin snowpack has reached 139 percent of average and that the district is gaining native and transbasin winter water in Twin Lakes Reservoir. Heard comments from attorney Kendall Burgemeister indicating U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s proposed Browns Canyon National Monument legislation “seems favorable to the district.” Heard from Director Tim Canterbury that preliminary discussions have begun in an effort to craft legislation concerning livestock ponds that have no water rights, some of which the Colorado Division of Water Resources officials have ordered drained. Discussed the exemption from the priority system of livestock that drink from a free-flowing stream or ditch. Received a list of projects from the Personnel and Finance Special Committee and were asked to prioritize projects and submit those priorities to the committee prior to the January meeting.
Heard from Cañon City Water Superintendent Bob Hartzman about ongoing efforts to protect the watershed through erosion prevention and revegetation in areas burned by the Royal Gorge Fire.
Heard from Director Frank McMurry that the U.S. Forest Service will no longer pursue its plan of forcing ski resorts to surrender their water rights, a plan that agricultural water rights holders had opposed. Approved, by an 8-4 vote, dropping opposition to the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District’s Super Ditch case if the Lower Ark district agrees to drop its opposition to the Upper Ark district’s 04CW96 case. McMurry, Canterbury, Tom French and Bill Jackson voted against the measure. Renewed the U.S. Geological Survey contract for the Groundwater Network Study. Approved stipulations negotiated with St. Charles Mesa in case 04CW96 relating to basin-wide exchanges. Learned from Burgemeister that the deadline for filing oppositions in the district’s Cottonwood Creek exchange case had been extended into February because the Aspen newspaper failed to post notice of the filing.
More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.