Rio Grande Basin: WildEarth Guardians hope to snag higher springtime streamflow via a lawsuit against DWR

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

Colorado’s use of Rio Grande water is depriving the river of spring flows needed to keep the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow alive, an environmental group charged in a legal notice filed this week.

The notice by the Santa Fe-based group WildEarth Guardians opens a new legal front in the struggle over environmental flows in the Rio Grande, a struggle that until now had focused on tradeoffs among water interests within New Mexico.

The filing, a formal notice of intent to sue the Colorado Department of Natural Resources over its water management on the Rio Grande, charges that irrigation in the San Luis Valley, north of the New Mexico-Colorado border, is significantly reducing the spring runoff peak, which the minnow depends on for spawning.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

NOAA: Global Analysis – Annual 2013

2013significantclimateanomaliesandevents

Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:

Global Highlights

The year 2013 ties with 2003 as the fourth warmest year globally since records began in 1880. The annual global combined land and ocean surface temperature was 0.62°C (1.12°F) above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F). This marks the 37th consecutive year (since 1976) that the yearly global temperature was above average. Currently, the warmest year on record is 2010, which was 0.66°C (1.19°F) above average. Including 2013, 9 of the 10 warmest years in the 134-year period of record have occurred in the 21st century. Only one year during the 20th century—1998—was warmer than 2013.

Separately, the 2013 global average land surface temperature was 0.99°C (1.78°F) above the 20th century average of 8.5°C (47.3°F), the fourth highest annual value on record.

The 2013 global average ocean temperature was 0.48°C (0.86°F) above the 20th century average of 16.1°C (60.9°F) and tied with 2006 as the eighth highest annual temperature on record and the highest since 2010, the last time El Niño conditions were present in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. ENSO-neutral conditions were present in this region during all of 2013.

Precipitation measured at land-based stations around the globe was near average on balance for 2013, at just 0.31 mm above the long-term average. However, as is typical, precipitation varied greatly from region to region. This is the second consecutive year with near-average global precipitation at land-based stations.

Snowpack news: Best in state (tie) Yampa/White & North Platte/Laramie = 115% of avg, worst Rio Grande = 73%

Mage at the NRCS has been busy. Click on the thumbnail for a gallery of the latest snowpack data from the NRCS.

2014 Colorado legislation: SB14-017 would limit turf in new developments, supply-side land-use planning #COleg

Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A bill aimed at addressing one of Colorado’s most pressing agriculture and water issues didn’t receive support this past week from water experts or farmers and ranchers in the region. [SB14-017] looks to reduce the amount of “buying and drying up” of irrigated agriculture land that occurs when municipalities purchase water rights from farmers and ranchers to meet the needs of their rapidly growing cities.

The purchasing of water rights from ag producers leaving the land is a comparatively inexpensive way for cities to acquire needed water but, according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, released in 2010, Colorado is on pace to see as many as 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated farmland dry up by 2050.

The issue is at the top of many statewide and local long-term water plans but, during this week’s South Platte Roundtable meeting, proposed legislation aimed at helping solve the problem was described as a “flawed bill.” The bill looks to prohibit local governments from approving applications for development permits if any part of the water supply for the development is changed from agricultural irrigation purposes to municipal or domestic uses. And, if former ag water is used for the development, the local government would have to adopt ordinances that limit the amount of irrigated grass on residential lots in the development to no more than 15 percent of the total aggregate area of all residential lots in the development.

Like others throughout the state, members of the South Platte Roundtable — consisting of water experts from all over northeast Colorado, who meet bimonthly, sometimes monthly, to address the region’s long-term water issues — are in search of ways to preserve the state’s agriculture industry, which has an estimated $40 billion economic impact annually. But roundtable members expressed concern Tuesday about putting in place the mandates listed in the bill, and would rather see cities and farmers work out water arrangements that meet their own unique needs in the future without injuring one another.

“It’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t unintended consequences with this,” said Doug Rademacher, Weld County farmer, Weld County Commission chairman and South Platte Roundtable member.

Rademacher and others in attendance asked where the mandates would end, and if the next step might be mandating farmers to convert a certain percentage of their ground from flood irrigation to sprinkler irrigation.

The bill is being pushed in the Senate by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, with House support coming from Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.

Fischer, who’s made a name for himself in pushing water legislation in recent years, said this week that, in addition to preventing the continued “buy and dry” up of ag land, the bill — with its support from West Slope lawmakers — also looks to make sure the rapidly growing East Slope is using their water supplies as wisely as possible.

In Colorado, about 80 percent of the population lives on the East Slope — particularly in the Front Range — but about 80 percent of the water resources in the state are on the West Slope. To meet their water demands, East Slope officials have developed ways of bringing West Slope water across the Continental Divide, and say they need to continue doing so to meet their increasing needs. That has been a major source of concern with West Slope water officials, especially in the Colorado River Basin, which is widely acknowledged as one of the most stressed basins in the U.S., if not the most. It not only supplies many of Colorado’s needs, but also that of water users in states to the West.

Fischer said he supports what the bill is attempting to do, but added that he’s heard concerns from the Colorado Municipal League similar to those of the South Platte Roundtable.

Members of the South Platte Roundtable said Tuesday they hope — and believe — the Colorado Municipal League will squash the bill.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update: ‘The objective is to develop a tool to look at lease-fallowing effects’ — Rick Parsons

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A comprehensive study of Arkansas River water use that will aid the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch in temporary water transfers is nearing completion. “The objective is to develop a tool to look at lease-fallowing effects and quantify the amount of water to be exchanged,” Rick Parsons, an engineering consultant, told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District on Wednesday. The district has helped Super Ditch since its formation in 2008 as a way to allow farmers to lease water without selling their underlying water rights, preventing the dry-up of farmland. The district and Super Ditch are working on a pilot program with Fowler this year.

The Super Ditch has contemplated several strategies for moving water, including filing an exchange decree in water court, using existing substitute water supply plans and creating pilot projects under last year’s HB1248. The problem has been getting water users to agree to how those exchanges will avoid damaging other water rights.

Since 2011, Parsons has been compiling information about how water is used in the Arkansas River basin, looking at river operations from 1980-2013. His model should be complete in May. The Super Ditch needs a model that will be generally accepted by other water users, Parsons said. Parsons has met with the state, Colorado Springs Utilities, Aurora and the Pueblo Board of Water Works to glean information. He also has worked with ditch companies to obtain additional data.

The major obstacles at this point are reconciling data from different sources and understanding reservoir operations. Some Lake Pueblo operations related to Southern Delivery System are not clear because of proprietary information held by Colorado Springs Utilities, Parsons said. Reservoirs on the Colorado, Holbrook and Fort Lyon systems are operated by private companies.

“There are a million numbers in this model, and a million in the state database. Some of them are wrong,” Parsons said. “If this is used in a court document, it will be challenged to the nth degree. It has to be as transparent as possible.”

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.