Irrigators working against time to get repairs in place for the growing season #COflood

New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods -- photo via the Longmont Times-Call
New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods — photo via the Longmont Times-Call

From the North Forty News (Jeff Thomas):

With as much as half a million acres of northeastern Colorado cropland left without adequate irrigation following the September floods, hopes are high in the water community that the federal government will open up access to Emergency Watershed Protection funds for repairing damage to ditches, reservoirs and diversion structures.

“If we aren’t able to repair this infrastructure, there is a good possibility that even if we have a good water year, it will still be a very bad year,” Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District spokesman Brian Werner said.

The repair needs of both farming and municipal irrigation ditches and reservoirs are acute. Northern Water is administrating a $2.55 million program funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, but that money has already been allocated to more than 100 agencies in amounts ranging between $20,000 and $25,000.

“This was really intended to be seed money, and many of these agencies are using that money for planning or engineering,” Northern Water’s resources engineer Amy Johnson said. “Some of them may be able to use CWCB emergency loans, but there are a lot of unmet needs.”

Northeastern Colorado is a huge part of the $40 billion agricultural economy in the state, but the effects from a lack of diversion infrastructure could be even more far reaching. Municipal storage is also impacted and all water rights would be further inhibited by inabilities to physically exchange water and augment those exchanges…

The Natural Resources Conservation Service understands the importance of these diversion and irrigation systems, said Eric Lane, the director of conservation services for the state Department of Agriculture, but it is also working diligently to educate other agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, about their necessity.

“Typically, where FEMA is involved there is more concern with moving floodwaters away from communities,” Lane noted…

Though the EWP program may seem somewhat unsuited for irrigation restoration, there aren’t many federal-aid alternatives. For instance, the Conservation Stewardship Program does have a program for hazardous dams, but it is largely limited to dams initiated through the NRCS that pose an imminent threat to human life.

Snowpack news: Denver high and dry this season, mountains doing OK

Snow water equivalent as a percent of normal via the NRCS
Snow water equivalent as a percent of normal via the NRCS

From (@brendansweather):

With just a handful of days to go before the end of the month and beginning of a new year, Denver’s seasonal snowfall is running well below normal. January 1 marks the halfway point in our 2013/14 snowfall season which begins July 1, and if December ended today we would close at just 35% of normal snowfall for the period. Denver ordinarily sees 21.2 inches of snow through December, but so far this year Denver International Airport (DIA) has only received 7.6 inches of snow.

Denver typically sees the bulk of its snow in the spring. The long-running seasonal average (1882 – 2012) is 57.5 inches of snow, with 64% of that usually falling between January and June. Although we are in quite a snow(less) hole, there is still hope for the snow lovers out there. Last season, we ended the December with just 12.4 inches of snow, but thanks to a wet spring finished the season well above normal with 78.4 inches recorded at DIA…

Snowfall numbers across Colorado are doing much better, especially compared to where we were last year at this time. Snotel stations across Colorado are reporting Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) numbers at more or less 100%.

Even with a more unfavorable pattern over the last few weeks, many mountain locations have picked up several good snows on the northwesterly flow, especially resorts like Steamboat which can do very well under these patterns.

Glenwood Springs city councilors green light RICD application

The Glenwood Wave
The Glenwood Wave

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

Creating the whitewater park would involve placing structures in the river to create flow patterns to make the area more fun for kayaking and other whitewater recreation craft. The exact location of the planned park has not yet been determined. The city already has one whitewater “wave” park in West Glenwood.

According to the article, the city’s application seeks a maximum flow rate of 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) for up to five days between May 11 and July 6, and 2,500 cfs for up to 46 days in the periods from April 30 to May 10 and July 7-23. In addition, the application seeks “shoulder season” flow rates of 1,250 cfs between April 1-29 and from July 24 – Sept. 30. The right would be limited to between 6-9 p.m., except for special events when it could be extended to midnight.

This demonstrates both how detailed and focused a water right can be, and the recognition that keeping water in the river for recreational boaters can be a “beneficial use” that brings tourism revenues to riverside communities. Demonstrating a “beneficial use” is necessary to obtain a water right under Colorado water law.

The Colorado Legislature established a procedure for the adjudication of water rights for recreational purposes in 2001, which was amended in 2006. The legislation limited the circumstances under which such a water right, formally called a “Recreational In-Channel Diversion” (RICD), can be granted. A key condition is that the proposed right must not impair the state’s ability to develop the full amount of water the state is entitled to under interstate water compacts.

Cities that obtained decrees for RICDs prior to the 2001 legislation were not subject to these conditions. Aspen, Breckenridge, Fort Collins, Golden, Littleton and Vail obtained their rights before 2001. Avon, Chaffee County, Durango, Longmont, Pueblo, Silverthorne, Steamboat Springs, and the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District have all received water-rights decrees for RICDs since the legislation was passed.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board website on RICDs lists applications from the following entities as “pending:” Grand County, for whitewater parks at Hot Sulphur Springs and Gore Canyon; Pitkin County; and the Town of Carbondale. It can take several years for an RICD to obtain final approval.

To learn more about these water rights and how RICDs are decreed, go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s RICD page:

More whitewater coverage here.