AWRA Colorado: Holiday Happy Hour, January 9

Republican River Basin: Compliance pipeline a go for 2014

Republican River Basin
Republican River Basin

Here’s an insider’s look at operating the compliance pipeline in 2014, from Deb Daniel, Republican River Water Conservancy District General Manager, running in The Yuma Pioneer:

Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado have unanimously approved a resolution that allows Colorado to operate the Compact Compliance Pipeline and deliver water to the North Fork of the Republican River for one year – 2014.

It was hailed as being made possible thanks to the continuous efforts and cooperation of the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD), the Sandhills Groundwater Management District and the State of Colorado.

On May 5, 2013, Colorado submitted to the Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA) the resolution approving and Augmentation Plan for the Colorado Compact Compliance Pipeline (CCP). Nebraska and Colorado voted in favor of the resolution. Kansas voted against it. Colorado then instituted mandatory non-binding arbitration disputing Kansas’ decision and requesting the arbitrator find Kansas had acted unreasonably. During a three-day hearing, October 1-3, 2013, arbitrator Martha Pagel, listened to testimony regarding the pipeline proposal. She published her decision on November 27 regarding the arbitration – finding that, although Colorado had met all the requirements for approval of the pipeline, Kansas nevertheless did not act unreasonably in not approving it.

However, one day before her decision was published, Kansas Chief Engineer David Barfield reached out to Dick Wolfe, state engineer for Colorado, with a proposal that would allow Colorado temporary use of the pipeline.

Colorado and the RRWCD carefully considered the proposal from Kansas, and with the cooperation of the Sandhills GWD, drafted and presented a new resolution during a special meeting of the RRCA held Thursday, December 19. During the special meeting, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska discussed the resolution for the temporary use of the pipeline. Barfield stated that Kansas and Colorado have made great strides in closing the gap of disagreement concerning the use of the pipeline. Kansas continues to not agree to the resolution which Colorado presented to the RRCA in May 2013, but Barfield said he saw the temporary approval as a way of gaining experience and insight into pipeline operations.

Brian Dunnigan, RRCA Commissioner from Nebraska, stated Nebraska supported the resolution from Colorado. Dunnigan also pointed out that this resolution does not give long-term assurances to Colorado water users in their extensive efforts to try to reach compact compliance. He stated that he hoped the RRCA could reach permanent resolution of all outstanding issues.

Wolfe thanked his staff and the Colorado Attorney General’s staff in all their efforts to negotiate with Kansas. He thanked the Republican River Water Conservation District and the Sandhills GWMD for all that they have done to assist Colorado in trying to reach compact compliance. Wolfe also stated his appreciation to the legal counsel and engineering consultants for the RRWCD and their efforts in assisting Colorado with this monumental task.

Following Wolfe’s request for a vote approving the resolution, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska voted unanimously in favor of approving the use of the compact compliance pipeline in 2014 as stated in the resolution.

Since the RRWCD will be operating the Compact Compliance Pipeline in 2014, the RRWCD Board of Directors has terminated the water lease to Cure Land, LLC and Cure Land II LLC.

Dennis Coryell, RRWCD board president, stated, “This is a great day for the people of the Republican River Basin; it is a monumental step forward towards permanent compact compliance. It supports the certainty of the future of agriculture and the economy it supports within the basin.”

“Although this approval is only temporary, it allows Colorado to show the other states the CCP can be operated and will provide a benefit to the water users in Nebraska and Kansas,” he continued. “Hopefully this is the beginning of a new era where the states can work together to solve the problems facing all three states and we can soon have permanent approval to operate the CCP.”

Coryell went on to thank Barfield for initiating this temporary approval. He thanked Wolfe and the personnel of the State of Colorado for all of their hard work. Coryell also expressed his appreciation to Barfield and Dunnigan for supporting Colorado’s resolution to operate the pipeline.

“Thanks to the Sandhills Groundwater Management District and District Manager Nate Midcap for their approval to export water from their district,” he added.

“I especially want to thank the water users within Colorado’s Republican River Basin for their long-standing and continued support of the efforts of the RRWCD,” Coryell concluded. “It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we work together and succeed in finding a way to move forward toward our goals.”

More Republican River Basin coverage here and here.

GOCO Grants Will Conserve More than 40,000 Acres for Public Use, Wildlife Habitat

Elk on Trail Ridge Road August 2011
Elk on Trail Ridge Road August 2011

Here’s the release from Great Outdoors Colorado (Todd Cohen):

COUNTIES AND CITIES: Basalt, Chaffee, Colorado Springs, Creede, Dolores, Eagle, El Paso, Grand, Kremmling, Las Animas, La Junta, Meeker, Mesa, Mineral, Palisade, Pitkin, Poncha Springs, Rio Blanco, Salida.

The Great Outdoors Colorado Board has approved $8.8 million in grants to preserve more than 40,000 acres of land in nine counties to establish new public open spaces, protect scenic landscapes and river corridors and protect vital habitat for big game and protected species.

One grant will also conserve a working ranch that contains the site of the historic 1879 “Meeker Massacre,” the incident that resulted in the Ute’s forced removal to reservations in Utah. Another will conserve more than 33,000 acres in southern Colorado that offer refuge for a variety of wildlife including sensitive native species populations.

The land trusts and local governments receiving these grants plan to leverage the money for more than $21 million in matching funds and land donations. Fund requests in this grant cycle outstripped available funds by more than $2 million.

The grants will:

  • establish new public open spaces in El Paso, Eagle and Mesa counties;
  • create new public access for hunting in Mineral County, and enhance existing public fishing opportunities in Rio Blanco County;
  • conserve more than 4,100 acres of lands on scenic byways and nearly 300 acres visible from major interstates and U.S. highways;
  • conserve more than 2,600 acres of wildlife habitat and linkage corridors for federally designated threatened and endangered species; and
  • conserve more than 20 miles of riparian habitat and river corridors. Continue reading

Opinion: How not to kill the #ColoradoRiver — Steve Goetting/Margaret Bowman

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From the Arizona Central (Steve Goetting/Margaret Bowman):

U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell gave a speech Dec. 13 to the major water users in the Colorado River Basin, calling on them to take immediate action to address the region’s water supply challenges.

The challenges in the Colorado River basin are large, but the good news is that cost effective solutions are available and already being tested in different parts of the basin. Implementing these solutions now will be good not only for the region’s iconic Colorado River, but also for the region’s economy…

We can reverse the river’s fate and address the water supply challenge – and do it in a way that benefits the region’s economy. By combining municipal and agricultural conservation, water recycling and other techniques to share water supplies flexibly, the region can provide enough water to meet future demands.

This is not an untested set of solutions. Communities in Arizona and across the basin are already using promising practices that can serve as a model for others across the region.

For instance, farmers on the Diamond S Ditch in Camp Verde partnered with The Nature Conservancy to automate the structure that diverts water from the river to farm fields. Farmers now can divert only the water they need, while the extra water can benefit the river – and the farmers can do all of this using their smartphones rather than driving out to the river.

And last year, Sierra Vista became the first city in the country to require certified water-efficient appliances in new homes. They are also dedicating recycled water for groundwater recharge near the San Pedro River, reducing the impact of the city’s groundwater use on the river.

A more efficient water future will not only create a more secure water supply, but will also provide a boost to the economy. Farmers can increase productivity and use less water by upgrading aging irrigation systems. And they can reap financial rewards from voluntarily sharing some of their saved water with cities and rivers.

These innovative approaches can allow cities across the basin to secure future water supplies in a cost-effective fashion without resorting to costly diversion projects.

Solving water shortages without draining rivers will preserve the Colorado River Basin’s $26 billion recreation economy that draws tourists from across the globe for fishing, hiking, rafting, camping and other activities. Arizona generates $6 billion alone, which provides nearly 54,000 jobs in the state.

To capitalize on those benefits, the region’s leaders need to take bold action to immediately implement the common-sense water conservation solutions that can put the river and the region on a path to recovery. As secretary Jewell said, “We have to do more, we have to do it more quickly, to take on the challenges that are going to be harder that what we’ve tackled before.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Snowpack news (% of normal): Upper Colorado = 104, South Platte = 96, Arkansas = 101

Everywhere is still average or above. No need to panic. Do your snowdance.

Lower Rio Grande Basin Study Shows Shortfall in Future Water Supply

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor released the Lower Rio Grande Basin Study that evaluated the impacts of climate change on water demand and supply imbalances along the Rio Grande along the United States/Mexico border from Fort Quitman, Tex., to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Basin studies are an important element of the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART initiative and give us a clearer picture of the possible future gaps between water demand and our available supplies,” Commissioner Connor said. “This study of the lower Rio Grande basin will provide water managers with science-based tools to make important future decisions as they work to meet the region’s diverse water needs. In addition, the study will help inform water management discussions between the U.S. and Mexico through the International Boundary Water Commission.”

Among the findings and conclusions of the Lower Rio Grande Basin Study:

  • Climate change is likely to result in increased temperatures, decreased precipitation and increased evapotranspiration in the study area. As a result of climate change, a projected 86,438 acre-feet of water per year will need to be added to the 592,084 acre-feet per year of supply shortfall predicted in the existing regional planning process in 2060, for a total shortfall of 678,522.
  • Water supply imbalances exacerbated by climate change will greatly reduce the reliability of deliveries to all users who are dependent on deliveries of Rio Grande water via irrigation deliveries.
  • The Study includes an acknowledgment that all water management strategies recommended through the recently adopted regional water plan are part of a needed portfolio of solutions for the Study Area.
  • Seawater desalination, brackish groundwater desalination, reuse and fresh groundwater development were examined as alternatives to meet future water demands. The study found that brackish groundwater development was most suitable. Further analysis was conducted; it was found that regional brackish groundwater systems would best meet the planning objective. An appraisal-level plan formulation and evaluation process was conducted to determine potential locations of each regional brackish groundwater desalination system.

    The Lower Rio Grande Basin Study was developed by Reclamation and the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority and its 53 member entities. It was conducted in collaboration with the Texas Region M Planning Group, Texas Water Development Board, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and International Boundary and Water Commission. It covered 122,400 square miles. The study cost $412,798 with the RGWRA paying for 52 percent of it.

    The basin study was conducted as part of WaterSMART. WaterSMART is the U.S. Department of the Interior’s sustainable water initiative that uses the best available science to improve water conservation and help water resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand. Basin studies are comprehensive water studies that define options for meeting future water demands in river basins in the western United States where imbalances in water supply and demand exist or are projected to exist. Since the program’s establishment, 19 basins have been selected to be evaluated. For more information see http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART/bsp.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

    The CPC is forecasting a likely return of #COdrought to western Colorado, SLV, South Platte and Arkansas basins

    Seasonal drought outlook for December 19, 2013 to March 31, 2014 via the Climate Prediction Center
    Seasonal drought outlook for December 19, 2013 to March 31, 2014 via the Climate Prediction Center

    Click here to go to the CPC website.

    Colorado legislative panel hopes to allow ditch company diversions impacted by #COFlood to avoid water court

    Flooding St. Vrain River September, 2013 via Voice of America
    Flooding St. Vrain River September, 2013 via Voice of America

    From The Denver Post (Kurtis Lee):

    As communities across Colorado continue to recover from September’s widespread floods, lawmakers on Friday proposed measures meant to alleviate some devastation and address future natural disasters. Among the measures proposed from the bipartisan flood recovery panel were efforts to free up cash for local jurisdictions and help landowners affected by shifts in streams and rivers. Current state law prohibits county commissioners from transferring general fund money into funds for road and bridge projects.

    “We need to give counties the flexibility to fix their roads,” said Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, who is sponsoring a measure that allows such transfers. “Because here’s a challenge: Boulder County has $10 million a year for their road and bridge fund and $100 million in repairs from the floods. And because federal funds come later, it creates a cash flow problem.”

    The proposal, which has bipartisan support, allows counties to transfer money from its general funds to its road and bridge funds if the governor declares a disaster emergency in that county. Jones said the measure has also garnered the support of Colorado Counties Inc.

    September’s floods spanned 24 counties. A mix of federal and state money allowed for the reopening of 27 roads and bridges with temporary repairs. Several years of complex challenges remain in these counties as each works toward permanent fixes to roads.

    A separate proposal from Friday’s meeting at the state Capitol allows landowners with water rights to relocate, for example, a ditch head gate that becomes inoperable because of a change in the natural flow of a stream or river. Those individuals would have to consult with state engineers and meet certain criteria but would be able to bypass the state’s water court system, which can result in a lengthy process.

    “This can no question help farmers because agriculture needs to be diverting water as soon as possible for the growing seasons,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who is sponsoring the proposal.

    Several other ideas were floated by the committee, which plans to meet again in early January before the session convenes.

    Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, brought forward a suggestion — but no draft of a bill — by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Foote said the commission would like to give its director authority in cases of emergency to order shutdowns of oil and gas operations. Currently such orders must come from the commission’s board.

    Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, offered a proposal to wave the requirement that disaster recovery workers from out of state must pay Colorado state income taxes.

    “They would be totally excluded,” said Kefalas, who hopes to present a draft bill to the committee at its next meeting.

    More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    “Are you willing to really face up to the responsibilities of those water rights? — Jack Flobeck

    The Code of Hammurabi via Wikipedia Commons
    The Code of Hammurabi via Wikipedia Commons

    Here’s a guest column about the east-west chasm in water planning in Colorado, from Jack Flobeck writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:

    OK, so it’s your water, but the $64 million question is: Are you willing to really face up to the responsibilities of those water rights, and what do we mean by responsibilities? We were taught years ago that if you were a citizen, you had rights, but also responsibilities.

    Solomon said, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” and wouldn’t you know, someone thought this problem through, over 4,000 years ago. I am indebted to local law historian, David Griffith, for suggesting my research into this subject.

    The Code of Hammurabi was written in stone on an 8-foot black diorite column in what is now Baghdad and contains several concepts worth considering in 21st-century America. Consider:

    No. 53 – If any one be too lazy to keep his dam in proper condition, and does not so keep it, if then the dam break and all the fields be flooded, then shall he in whose dam the break occurred be sold for money, and the money, and the money shall be paid to replace the corn which he has caused to be ruined.

    No. 54 – If he be not able to replace the corn, then he and his possessions shall be divided among the farmers whose corn he has flooded.

    No. 55 – If anyone open his ditches to water his crop, but is careless, and the water flood the field of his neighbor, then he must pay his neighbor corn for his loss.

    No. 56 – If a man let in the water, and the water overflow the plantation of his neighbor, he shall pay ten gur of corn for every ten gan of land.”

    Did Hammurabi nail responsibility; and are our irrigators with ‘first in time and first in right,’ ready to accept the consequences, which follow from most favored ownership? Is it now time, with imminent water shortages; to open the debate to include discussion of private, public, or combined public/private efforts to construct catch basins, rain harvesting culverts, and efficient localized storage for drought relief as well as for fire mitigation.

    Glenwood Springs: The city council green lights RICD application for the #ColoradoRiver

    The Glenwood Wave
    The Glenwood Wave

    From the Glenwood Spring Post Independent (John Stroud):

    A unanimous City Council, at its Dec. 19 meeting, supported filing an application in Colorado Water Court to secure what’s known as a Recreational In-Channel Diversion (RICD) surface right on the Colorado during peak spring and summer months for a second whitewater park. The application seeks a protected junior water right to be granted under the same priority system as other types of water rights, attorney Mark Hamilton explained…

    If successful, the new park would be in addition to the city’s existing West Glenwood whitewater “wave” park.

    Consultants narrowed down potential sites to a stretch of river upstream from the No Name Rest Area at the west end of Glenwood Canyon, another at west side of Horseshoe Bend downstream from No Name, and a third just upstream from the confluence with the Roaring Fork River. Each location provides direct access from bike paths, and exhibit in-stream features that would make them ideal for developing a whitewater park for kayaks, stand-up boards and other types of recreational water craft, according to the consultants.

    Glenwood Springs is unique compared to other parts of the state, Hamilton said, because the Colorado River has flows that could accommodate a whitewater event after the usual mid-June peak runoff, into early July.

    The application requests a maximum flow rate not to exceed 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) for up to five days between May 11 and July 6 each year, and 2,500 cfs for as many as 46 days between April 30 and May 10 and July 7-23. “Shoulder season” flow rates of 1,250 cfs are sought between April 1-29 and from July 24 through Sept. 30. The in-stream claim would be limited to the hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day, “except during competitive events when these hours may be extended to midnight each day,” according to the application.

    Hamilton cautioned that it can be a long, drawn-out process to secure a legal RICD, including opportunities for other affected water users to comment on the request. Recent efforts by Pitkin and Grand counties to secure an RICD have taken about three years, he said…

    As a conditional water right, the city would need to have whitewater park structures in place in order to enforce the right, he said…

    Glenwood Springs resident Lori Chase cautioned against the Horseshoe Bend location for a future whitewater park.

    “I don’t believe that is a viable location, mainly because the bighorn sheep access the water there,” she said of the sheep herd that lives in that area of the canyon. “And, to put more and more stress on our natural features might not be a good idea.”

    Councilman Dave Sturges said the RICD is an opportunity for the city to build on the success of the existing whitewater park to attract more recreation tourism.

    More whitewater coverage here.