Joint Statement from Secretaries Jewell, Pritzker and Vilsack on the Drought Declaration in California

US Drought Monitor January 14, 2014
US Drought Monitor January 14, 2014

Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

Governor Brown’s declaration today underscores the gravity of the historic drought conditions facing California – conditions that are likely to have significant impacts on the state’s communities, economy and environment in the coming months.

We are keenly aware of the need to act quickly and collectively to address the complex challenges the drought poses, and we are directing our respective agencies to work cooperatively to target resources to help California prepare for and lessen the impacts of the drought.

This week, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated areas in 11 states, including 27 counties in California as primary natural disaster areas due to drought. This designation makes farmers and ranchers in those counties eligible for assistance through a number of USDA programs. USDA is also working with farmers and ranchers to increase their irrigation water efficiency, protecting vulnerable soils from erosion, and improving the health of pasture and range lands. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation is working closely with federal and state authorities to facilitate water transfers and provide operational flexibility to convey and store available water, and facilitate additional actions that can conserve and move water to critical areas. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), part of the Department of Commerce, is providing regular updates to state officials on drought conditions. This not only includes information on weather forecasts, but also information on river water levels and potential drought impacts.

And, as called for in the President’s Climate Action Plan, the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP) will help coordinate the federal response, working closely with the State of California, local government, agriculture and other partners. The NDRP is already helping to enhance existing efforts that federal agencies are working on with communities, businesses, farmers and ranchers to build resilience where drought is currently an issue across the country.

Today’s drought declaration also serves as a reminder of the long-term need to take a comprehensive approach to tackling California’s water problems. We remain committed to working with the state to provide for the sustainable management of its precious water resources.

@fortcollinsgov loses 1985 Halligan conditional water right, throws law firm under bus

Reservoirs NW of Fort Collins
Reservoirs NW of Fort Collins

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

Vranesh and Raisch LLP, which represents the city on variety of water and environmental legal matters, failed to file a “diligence” application with the state Water Court to maintain the right by a Nov. 30 deadline, city officials said. As a result, the conditional storage right was canceled. The city has since reapplied for its claim on 33,462 acre feet of water on the North Fork of the Poudre River and streams that flow into it. The North Fork ties into the main stem of the Poudre River west of Fort Collins.

Managing the city’s water rights is the responsibility of the Water Resources Division of Fort Collins Utilities. The city has relied on internal documents, such as lists and spreadsheets, and communication with outside water lawyers to keep track of its conditional rights, stated Deputy City Attorney Carrie Mineart Daggett in an email to the Coloradoan.

In this case, utilities officials forwarded a notice from Water Court that an application was due on the Halligan conditional right to Vransh and Raisch on Sept. 5. But the firm did not follow through by sending in the required diligence application and $224 filing fee as expected.

Steps are being taken to ensure similar mistakes don’t happen, Daggett stated.

“The city is in the process of evaluating professional tracking systems and expects to acquire and use such a system in the near future in order to better assure timely completion of necessary actions related to city water rights,” Daggett wrote.

Eugene Riordan, a partner with Vranesh and Raisch, said the firm has communicated with Fort Collins officials about the matter…

The firm has borne the cost of reapplying for the conditional right, Daggett said.

The conditional storage right for an expanded reservoir was established in 1985 by the North Poudre Irrigation Co. and the Halligan Resources Co. The city acquired Halligan Resources’ interest in the right in 1987, and then North Poudre’s interest in 1993, city officials said…

Fort Collins has proposed expanding Halligan Reservoir, which is on the North Fork of the Poudre River, by 40,000 acre feet to shore up its water supplies for future growth and as protection against drought. The proposal is undergoing a lengthy Environmental Impact Statement and permitting process through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers…

Before problems with Halligan right popped up, the City Attorney’s Office received approval from the City Council to add a lawyer and a paralegal to its staff to handle water-related issues. The hiring process has begun. Salaries for the posts in 2014 are expected to total about $200,000, Daggett stated.

More water law coverage here and here.

CSU Sponsors First Poudre River Forum Feb. 8

Cache la Poudre River
Cache la Poudre River

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):

The Cache la Poudre River is life-blood for Northern Colorado. In recognition of its importance to the area, the community is invited to the first Poudre River Forum, 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8 at The Ranch Events Complex in Loveland. The forum, “The Poudre: Working River/Healthy River,” will focus on all of the river’s stakeholders, representing perspectives from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds. Topics to be discussed include:

• The water rights of agricultural and municipal diverters;
• Where the water in the Poudre comes from and what it does for us;
• Ecological factors such as flow, temperature, fish and sedimentation.

The forum will feature presentations and dialogue, including remarks by State Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs about how the Poudre itself was the site of early conflict and cooperation leading to the development of the doctrine of prior appropriation in the West, and how water law has evolved in recent years.

Following the event, a celebration of the river will be held until 6 p.m. with refreshments and jazz by the Poudre River Irregulars.

Pre-registration is required by Jan. 31. The cost is $25; students 18 and under are free and scholarships are available. To register, visit http://www.cwi.colostate.edu/thepoudrerunsthroughit

The event is sponsored by The Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group facilitated by CSU’s Colorado Water Institute.

More Cache la Poudre River watershed coverage here and here.

Colorado’s Instream Flow Program: ‘There is no more important resource than the water resource’ — Greg Hobbs

Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board
Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board

From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

At least $100 million a year is available annually in Colorado to spend on land conservation, but only about $1.5 million a year is available for buying water to leave in the state’s rivers. That’s according to Amy Beatie, the executive director of the Colorado Water Trust, who spoke last week at a forum in Denver marking the 40th anniversary of the state’s instream flow law…

As a result of two laws passed in 2008, the CWCB can use $1 million a year from a departmental construction fund to buy or lease water rights for instream flow purposes, and can use $500,000 a year from a species conservation trust fund to preserve endangered fish habitat.

Beatie said the Colorado Water Trust, a nonprofit that facilities the acquisition and leasing of instream flow rights, “longs for a resource” as robust as GOCO to help the “flow restoration movement” grow in Colorado.

“Don’t we all want to see healthy and flowing rivers?” Beatie asked the crowd gathered on Wednesday in the courtroom of the Colorado State Supreme Court for the event. “Don’t we all want to see healthy aquatic ecosystems in every river in the state?”

Forty years ago, Senate Bill 73-97 recognized “the need to correlate the activities of mankind with some reasonable preservation of the natural environment.”[…]

Since 1973 the CWCB has appropriated — or created — instream flow rights on 1,500 river and stream segments in Colorado, totaling 9,005 river miles. It has also acquired, through donations or long-term contracts, rights for 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) of flow in various rivers.

It may not have been. In 1975, the Colorado River District challenged the instream flow law, arguing that water had to be diverted from a river in order to be a legal water right. But Colorado’s Supreme Court upheld the law as a valid act of the state Legislature.

“As long as it’s junior to the seniors,” Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs said Wednesday, standing in front of the bench he normally sits on, explaining the court’s reasoning, “and doesn’t cause injury to prior water rights, which is always the lodestar.”

Hobbs said the legal challenge made the instream flow law stronger, giving legal standing to instream flow rights. Another lawsuit in 1995, from the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, prompted a court ruling that the CWCB has a duty to enforce its instream flow rights.

In 2001, the law was expanded to allow instream flows to be used for “improving” rivers, and not just protecting them at minimum streamflow levels. And provisions have since been added to allow the CWCB to lease water from private owners without it counting against an owner’s “historic consumptive use” record — the core monetary value of a water right.

“In the future, we will see this program grow, mature,” Hobbs said. “There is no more important resource than the water resource.”[…]

But lest the waters of praise for the program rise too high during the event, Ken Ransford, an attorney and CPA from Basalt who sits on the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, stood to offer a stark assessment of the instream flow law.

“I compared the pre-1923 water rights that the CWCB holds as instream flow rights, and they amount to .31 percent of the water that we consumed in agriculture in 2005, the last year that (data) is available,” Ransford said. “If we look at our pre-1900 water rights, the CWCB holds .21 percent, so that means that two-tenths of one percent is the amount of water that the CWCB holds compared to the water that we consume in agriculture in a typical year. My point is that we have a long way to go to really make this a robust program.”

Pre-1923 water rights are valuable because they are not subject to a “compact call” from California and other downstream states, and pre-1900 water rights are generally very senior in nature.

“The Fraser River got down to 4 cfs in 2002,” Ransford continued. “The Crystal River got down to 1 cfs in 2012. The Roaring Fork River got down to 5 cfs in 2012. The Dolores River regularly dries up. These are some of our biggest rivers in the state and they all but dry up.”[…]

In addition to creating new instream flow rights, the CWCB can also buy, lease or accept as a donation senior water rights. But the process can be daunting, as the water right needs to be changed in water court.

Ransford said it took Pitkin County several years in water court and over $200,000 in legal fees to enter into a long-term lease with the CWCB to leave water in sections of Maroon Creek and the Roaring Fork River.

Drew Peternell, the director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project, said the process should be easier.

“The irrigator who wants to make that transfer of water has to go to water court, and that’s going to be a risk for him,” Peternell said. “There is a potential that the water right could be quantified at a level that is smaller than the irrigator thinks is appropriate.”

That’s what happened to Pitkin County, which sought to leave 4.3 cfs of water in lower Maroon Creek and a section of the Roaring Fork River below its confluence with Maroon Creek. Instead, it came away with the right to leave up to 3.83 cfs in Maroon Creek, but with only 1.22 cfs being left in the stream on average between May and October. In the Roaring Fork, the county can leave up to 3.54 cfs of water, but with an average of only 1.13 cfs.

The county, however, still intends to transfer up to 35 more water rights from its open space properties to instream flow rights to the benefit of local rivers.

More instream flow coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Conduit update: Project caught up in the federal Record of Decision slog

Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation
Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Plans for the Arkansas Valley Conduit continue to be in a holding pattern. Federal processes have slowed the completion of a record of decision for the conduit, a master storage contract and interconnection of outlets on Pueblo Dam.

The conduit is a plan to bring clean drinking water to 40 communities and 50,000 people from St. Charles Mesa to Lamar.

The master contract would allow conduit users and others to purchase long-term storage in Lake Pueblo, while the cross-connection would give water users redundancy of water supply sources.

An environmental impact study was finalized in August, but changes in the Bureau of Reclamation leadership and a federal shutdown have delayed the ROD for five months, said Christine Arbogast, lobbyist for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsors of the projects.

“Five months seems like a long time, but it’s looking good,” Arbogast said.

She said a decision could be made in a few weeks.

The lack of the ROD for the projects means very little work is progressing.

“Anything moving forward will be on hold until we get to the point where we have a ROD,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district.

This year’s federal budget includes $1 million for the conduit, but larger appropriations are needed in future years to move the project ahead.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.