Snowpack news (percent of normal): Laramie and North Platte basins = 119%, best in state #COdrought

Snow water equivalent as a percent of normal January 20, 2014 via the NRCS
Snow water equivalent as a percent of normal January 20, 2014 via the NRCS

From The Produce News (Lora Abcarian):

Dave Nettles, division engineer for Div. 1 of the state engineer’s office in Greeley, CO, said prospects in 2014 have greatly improved in the South Platte River Basin. The basin services agricultural producers located within or near the state’s most populous metropolitan area, the Front Range. Last year was turbulent for the region’s fresh producers, who saw their ability to irrigate severely curtailed.

Craig Cotten, Nettles’ counterpart in Div. 3 in Alamosa, CO, talked about conditions in the Rio Grande River Basin and Colorado’s San Luis Valley. He summed things up this way: “We have a low of 66 percent of average to a high of 97 percent of average,” he told The Produce News in early January. “We’re the lowest basin the state.”

According to Cotten, a study released this past December by the Bureau of Reclamation of the U.S. Department of the Interior reported on the future of water in the Rio Grande. Cotten said the report stated that lack of precipitation is expected to reduce water volume by one third by 2090.

The situation in southern Colorado contrasts sharply with conditions in northern Colorado.

“Snow pack is about average for the South Platte,” Nettles said, adding that rainy conditions this past fall had two significant effects in the region. Rain caused dramatic flooding in the region, but also filled the state’s irrigation reservoirs to full or near-full conditions.

The state engineer’s office continues with rule-making processes to address water use and conservation. In northern Colorado, Nettles said final rules were adopted to regulate well metering. Agricultural producers are required to be part of water augmentation plans approved by Water Court, or they must obtain approval of a substitute water supply plan. Nettles said the substitute plans are temporary in nature.

In the San Luis Valley, Cotten said the state engineer’s office is looking to finalize rules and regulations for groundwater use by April…

Dave Nettles, division engineer for Div. 1 of the state engineer’s office in Greeley, CO, said prospects in 2014 have greatly improved in the South Platte River Basin. The basin services agricultural producers located within or near the state’s most populous metropolitan area, the Front Range. Last year was turbulent for the region’s fresh producers, who saw their ability to irrigate severely curtailed.

Craig Cotten, Nettles’ counterpart in Div. 3 in Alamosa, CO, talked about conditions in the Rio Grande River Basin and Colorado’s San Luis Valley. He summed things up this way: “We have a low of 66 percent of average to a high of 97 percent of average,” he told The Produce News in early January. “We’re the lowest basin the state.”

According to Cotten, a study released this past December by the Bureau of Reclamation of the U.S. Department of the Interior reported on the future of water in the Rio Grande. Cotten said the report stated that lack of precipitation is expected to reduce water volume by one third by 2090.

The situation in southern Colorado contrasts sharply with conditions in northern Colorado.

“Snow pack is about average for the South Platte,” Nettles said, adding that rainy conditions this past fall had two significant effects in the region. Rain caused dramatic flooding in the region, but also filled the state’s irrigation reservoirs to full or near-full conditions.

The state engineer’s office continues with rule-making processes to address water use and conservation. In northern Colorado, Nettles said final rules were adopted to regulate well metering. Agricultural producers are required to be part of water augmentation plans approved by Water Court, or they must obtain approval of a substitute water supply plan. Nettles said the substitute plans are temporary in nature.

In the San Luis Valley, Cotten said the state engineer’s office is looking to finalize rules and regulations for groundwater use by April.

Secretary Jewell honors group that is trying to water the #ColoradoRiver Delta

Colorado River Delta -- photo via National Geographic
Colorado River Delta — photo via National Geographic

From National Geographic Water Currents (Jennifer Pitt):

The Colorado River agreement, known as Minute 319, is groundbreaking in its approach, moving away from a focus on “who gets what” to a more modern, flexible framework that allows the U.S. and Mexico to share surplus when water is plentiful and share shortage when water is scarce. The agreement also commits the two nations to work together on water conservation and restoration of the Colorado’s long-desiccated delta by committing water to sustain it.

This cooperative framework to water management creates benefits for water users on both sides of the border, demonstrating that with a broad approach to river and water management, there is room to negotiate a win for multiple stakeholders – a model that water leaders might use to solve problems elsewhere in the Colorado River basin. Moreover, it stands as what is likely the first agreement between nations to jointly commit water to sustain a river’s natural values.

But Minute 319 also stands as a reason to celebrate what people of diverse cultures and interests can accomplish when they come together to focus on a common goal. I salute all of the men and women who toiled for years to make possible a new era of binational cooperation on the Colorado River…

To get to a place where we could meaningfully address the degraded delta’s environment, river restoration advocates had to work on success in every aspect of the U.S.-Mexico agreement, including surplus and shortage sharing, rules that would allow Mexico to store water in U.S. reservoirs, binational financing of a canal lining project, and a venue for discussing future cooperative binational projects like ocean water desalination. Moreover, we had to ensure that myriad stakeholders from both countries remained interested in working on all elements of the agreement, even when the potential for failure loomed on the horizon.

It took early “get-to-know-you” meetings, where border crossings were arranged for officials who had not previously spent much time abroad. It took dinners – complete with wine and tequila – where negotiators from top levels of government broke bread and got better acquainted. It took field trips to the border where these leaders could see firsthand how the Colorado River is managed between nations.

All told, it took close to five years to negotiate a five-year agreement. But Minute 319 truly demonstrates the adage that the process is the product. The U.S. and Mexican negotiators’ investment in getting to know people, water systems, laws, and politics brought the two nations into the Minute 319 framework where their interests on the Colorado River became more aligned than ever before.

Today, each country has a real stake in how the other conducts Colorado River management, and in collaborating to make real improvements including environmental restoration and water conservation. This alignment will serve water users in both countries well for years to come. I am proud and honored to have been able to witness and participate in the process.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

‘There’s a real urgency to this. We only have two years before wells are shut down’ — LeRoy Salazar

Acequia San Antonio via Judy Gallegos
Acequia San Antonio via Judy Gallegos

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

A water purchase nearly four decades ago may provide a major solution in the current challenge to keep farmers in business in the San Luis Valley. Representatives from the San Luis Valley Irrigation Well Owners Inc. received unanimous support from the Rio Grande Interbasin Roundtable on Tuesday to perform a feasibility study to see if surface water rights they own can be used to offset depletion requirements for various groundwater management sub-districts throughout the Valley. The budget for the study is $180,000, with the local roundtable approving $8,000 of its basin funding for the project and supporting a request for $142,000 in statewide funds, which will be considered at the state level in March. The well owners group will provide $30,000 as its match.

The nonprofit well owners corporation was formed in 1973 to address groundwater rules and regulations that appeared imminent at the time, SLV Irrigation Well Owners Vice President Monty Smith told members of the Valley-wide roundtable group on Tuesday. In preparation for the rules/regs at that time, the well owners group, comprised of people who own irrigation wells, began an augmentation plan that incorporated the purchase of Taos Valley #3 water rights on the San Antonio River for augmentation water, Smith added.

“The augmentation plan was never completed and never needed to be used,” Smith explained.

“Thirty eight years later we find ourselves in a situation where we need to use that water and we need to complete the project.”

He added, “We feel this water is an absolutely crucial piece of our replacement for not only the Conejos area but it provides benefit for the entire basin. We need to figure how it can best be used.”

Agro Engineering Engineer Kirk Thompson provided more information about this potential water project and its importance to Valley water users, especially now that state groundwater rules and regulations for the Rio Grande Basin will soon be promulgated. Thompson said the Taos Valley #3 water rights were a relatively junior water right on the San Antonio dating to 1889. They were originally adjudicated for 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) and used for irrigation and storage. Since that time, however, a portion of the water rights was abandoned, leaving 245 cfs, which is what the well owners bought in 1976 for their augmentation plan. They converted 230 cfs of the 245 cfs total from irrigation to augmentation water and left the remaining 15 cfs in irrigation, Thompson explained. The well owners are considering converting that 15 cfs into augmentation water as well.

The well owners bought the water for the purpose of augmenting injurious depletions in the streams resulting from well pumping, Thompson said. Since 1976, the 230 cfs, also known as the Middlemist water, has been left in the San Antonio for the benefit of the entire river system, Thompson said. Since the state did not promulgate groundwater rules in the 1970’s , there was no formal requirement for augmentation in the intervening 38 years, he added.

Since this was a junior water right, some years the Middlemist water produced zero effect on the river system, and in other years it provided as much as 29,000 acre feet, Thompson said. Most years averaged about 10,000 acre feet of water from this water right to the river systems.

“This is a significantly large amount of water we are talking about and a valuable consideration as we move forward,” Thompson said.

Thompson reminded the attendees at the Tuesday roundtable meeting that the state is in the process of promulgating rules governing groundwater use in the San Luis Valley, and wells will no longer be allowed to pump unless their injurious depletions to surface rights are covered in a groundwater management sub-district or augmentation plan. Thompson said the state engineer’s goal is to have the rules/regulations to the water court by this spring, and Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Division Engineer Craig Cotten confirmed that in his report to the roundtable.

Cotten also confirmed that the well owners’ augmentation plan would have to go back to court, since it never was finalized in the ’70’s . The plan would have to be more specific on how it would provide augmentation and would have to prove it could deliver water where it needed to go, he said.

Thompson said the well owners group wants to perfect its Middlemist/Taos Valley #3 water right so that water can be used for augmentation purposes in a way that will benefit well owners in sub-districts throughout the Valley. Individual augmentation plans for every well owner would not be realistic at this point, so most well owners plan to join sub-districts as a means of meeting the pending state regulations. The purpose of the well owners’ project is to consider ways in which their surface water right could benefit those sub-districts , Thompson explained.

“As of today, there’s certainly not enough augmentation water currently perfected to go around and ” will be in very short supply and probably at high value,” Thompson said.

He said the average total depletions that well owners throughout the entire basin will have to replace will be about 30,000 acre feet every year. If the approximately 10,000 acre feet the Middlemist water produces every year could be used to offset those depletions, it could amount to about a third of the annual requirement.

Smith said, “This is a way to carry on our living and our way of life that we all enjoy in this Valley and to keep the Valley a viable place to live. I have farmed my entire life. I am third generation. My goal is to be able to continue to preserve my wells, to replace my injuries to the streams. This is one piece in that puzzle to bring that all together.”

The group asked the roundtable for help in funding a hydrologic feasibility study to consider the potential for using the Taos Valley #3 water for either surface water storage or groundwater recharge. Thompson said storage options are limited, so he believed recharge was a more viable option. The feasibility study would look at how the recharge could be accomplished so the water would go into the ground where it was needed to replace injurious depletions. The study would look at both confined and unconfined recharge options..

Those who will be involved in conducting the feasibility study will be Thompson of Agro Engineering, Eric Harmon of HRS Water Consultants, Allen Davey of Davis Engineering and in an advisory capacity, Steve Vandiver of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District , the sponsoring entity for the water management sub-districts .

The study would be the first of a multi-phased project . Phase 2 would look at physical infrastructure to get surface water where it needs to go, and the third phase would involve the court process to perfect the water right as an augmentation right, Thompson explained.

He said the well owners want to begin some wintertime well monitoring right away, using their $30,000 match. They want to begin this study as soon as possible since Harmon envisions the feasibility phase as taking a full year.

“If we don’t have the feasibility done this year we are talking another one or two years to get into the courts,” Thompson said. “If rules are released this spring, the subdistricts are under the gun to get formed and under the gun to find sources of water to replace injurious depletions in short order.”

LeRoy Salazar added, “There’s a real urgency to this. We only have two years before wells are shut down ” We don’t have a lot of time.”

Salazar said this project is key to replacing injurious depletions to surface water rights; creating a sustainable water table; and maintaining the Valley’s economy.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Mesa County Commissioners want federal help for stormwater mitigation

Grand Junction with the Grand Mesa in background
Grand Junction with the Grand Mesa in background

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Emily Shockley):

Mesa County commissioners are asking the federal government to help local governments pay the tab for storm water damage mitigation and monitoring. Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution Monday asking the federal government to take financial responsibility for storm water that flows from federal lands onto other land, potentially causing damage.

Federal regulations in many cases require local government entities to absorb costs associated with construction, maintenance, treatment and cleanup geared toward storm water cleanliness and damage mitigation. The resolution seeks federal support with those efforts because “a significant portion” of storm water problems in Mesa County are associated with unrestricted storm water flowing from federal lands onto other property.

“The purpose is to call the federal government to the ropes,” Julie Constan with the county’s Public Works Department told commissioners. “We’d like to have more of their active participation with the storm water management issues we do deal with, especially with storm water that comes off of federal lands.”

The resolution has been passed by the town of Palisade, the cities of Fruita and Grand Junction, the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority and the Grand Valley Drainage District as well.Constan said it will likely be reviewed by state legislators this year. The goal is to get Congress to read the resolution and act on it.

Specifically, the resolution requests federal assistance with the cost of conducting studies to determine which construction projects or repairs should be done and in what order when it comes to storm water that falls on federal lands. The resolution also seeks establishment of a program that would provide “timely financial assistance or reimbursement” to local governments for construction of flood detention or retention facilities and federally mandated storm water monitoring, analysis and treatment.

“I think it’s a great step in the right direction,” Commissioner Rose Pugliese said.

More stormwater coverage here.

The latest Greeley Water Conservation newsletter is hot off the presses

Greeley Irrigation Ditch No. 3 construction via Greeley Water
Greeley Irrigation Ditch No. 3 construction via Greeley Water

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

5 Ways To Save Water and Money in 2014

1. Review the graphs on your water bill. Compare the “this month” column with the “water budget” column. If your monthly use exceeds your budget, you could make adjustments to save more water. This is most critical when lawn watering begins and many people use more water than their lawns need.

2. Year-round wastewater rates are based on January and February water use. Practice indoor water conservation early in the year and save all year long.

3. Heating water for showering, bathing, shaving, cooking, and cleaning also requires a considerable amount of energy. Homes with electric water heaters, for example, spend one-fourth of their total electric bills just to heat water.

4. Winter months are the prime time to check water use and see if you may have a leak. If a family of four exceeds 10,000 gallons per month in the winter, you probably have leaks!

5. Give you bathroom a mini-makeover. Buy a new toilet that uses less water and you may be eligible for a water conservation rebate. Switch out your showerhead with a new model at no cost when you participate in Greeley’s Showerhead Exchange program. Add aerators to sinks, they slow the flow and can be picked up at Greeley’s showerhead exchange events.

2014 Colorado legislation: Ag leaders hope to bridge the Ag-Urban divide this session #COleg

51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record
51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record

From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Candace Krebs):

While leaders meeting recently in Loveland considered last year’s general assembly a failure and even a disaster, they could at least take solace knowing they made headway in getting their concerns heard. A nationally publicized secession campaign in northeastern Colorado gained enough traction to help unseat two prominent Democratic legislators and forced a third to resign in order to keep the seat under Democratic control.

National media has tended to portray gun legislation as the biggest source of the rift. Clearly, gun control laws are unpopular among farmers, many of whom hunt or live in remote areas where local law enforcement is hindered from responding quickly to security concerns.

But ag leaders who met in mid-December seemed to indicate that House Bill 252, mandating the state get 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, had driven the deepest wedge.
Rep. Lori Saine, a House ag committee member from the Fort Lupton area and one of several lawmakers who met with farmers during a legislative town hall event, described it as an “injustice” that would end up boosting electricity rates by 20 percent in rural areas while having little or no impact on Front Range utilities.

Greg Brophy, of Wray, a state senator and Republican candidate for governor, advocated the repeal of 252, saying it needed to be eliminated before any money was sunk into meeting the new requirements.

Among the bill’s criticisms is that it does not include hydropower as a renewable energy source. Hydropower makes up a significant portion of the energy portfolio for rural electric cooperatives, and hopes are widespread that further hydropower development can be piggybacked onto infrastructural improvements needed following the August floods.

Others questioned whether the new bill would actually contribute to a cleaner environment.
Randy Traxler, a wheat farmer from Otis, pointed out that coal is still being mined in the West, only now it’s being exported to China, a country where pollution controls are lax…

Rep. Fischer, a Democrat from Fort Collins, is chairman of the House ag committee.

“My sense is agriculture is very well represented at the legislature, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into total agreement on all of these issues,” he said at one point.
However, he added, there does appear to be an urban-rural “disconnect.”

“I think it’s real, and I think it’s something the state needs to address,” he said during a panel wrap-up.

His statements drew a compliment from Wray’s Brophy, who sits on the state’s Senate ag committee.

“I’ve watched you really grow into your role as committee chairman,” Brophy said to Fischer, recalling how his House colleague went from sponsoring the infamous “tractor tax” targeting heavy equipment emissions in 2010 to backing important water conservation legislation this year to study groundwater management alternatives along the South Platte River.

Brophy called it “the most significant water bill of the year for farmers.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Arctic sea ice wavers near record low in December

Summit County Citizens Voice

Ice extent shrinking about 18,000 square miles per year

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — December sea ice in the Arctic remained well below average, with the average extent ending up as the fourth-lowest on record — 270,300 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average — according to the monthly update from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Low-ice conditions prevailed in the Barents Sea and along the entire northwest Pacific coast, including the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. In the Greenland Sea and Baffin Bay, sea ice extent was near average.

The early part of December was dominated by a positive Arctic Oscillation pattern, but this shifted to near-neutral conditions by the end of the month. The Icelandic low, covering much of the northern North Atlantic Ocean, was stronger than average, and pressures were higher than average over the Bering Sea and Alaska.

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