The US exports #ColoradoRiver to Asia and the Middle East via hay crops

Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows
Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

From the National Geographic (Ben Jervey):

Alfalfa grows fast, so every month or so, a harvester will cut the crop, which will then be packed into tight bales; trucked to Long Beach, California; and loaded on a tanker bound for China or Japan or the United Arab Emirates.

All across the lower Colorado River Basin—and especially in Yuma County, the Imperial Valley, and the Green River area in Utah—scenes like this are playing out with increasing regularity. What was once a reliable and local, if relatively low-value, crop has become a global commodity. But the fact that the Colorado River is fueling the export boom has some western water advocates worried…

When Robert Glennon, a water policy expert at the University of Arizona and author of the book Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It, first learned that the U.S. was exporting alfalfa crops that had been grown with the very limited western irrigation water, his reaction was “utter disbelief.”

Glennon crunched some numbers and figured that in 2012, roughly 50 billion gallons of western water—enough to supply the annual household needs of half a million families—were exported to China. Not literally bottled up and shipped, but embedded in alfalfa crops grown with irrigation water. And that’s just to China, which still trails Japan and the United Arab Emirates as a top destination for American alfalfa…

According to a UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education report published in 2011, the United States exports more than twice as much virtual water, about 82 trillion gallons, as any other country. That’s largely because American farms feed the whole world.

Of course, given all the foreign products that Americans buy, the United States is also the largest importer of virtual water, with roughly 62 trillion gallons coming into the country in the form of T-shirts and iPods and other products.

“We get a lot of criticism for how much water is going overseas in the form of alfalfa,” said Sharp, the Arizona farmer, “but alfalfa is exported far less than wheat or rice.”[…]

But what troubles Glennon, and others who obsess over the West’s water woes, is the growing trend of shipping hay overseas. “What’s new here is that hay is a forage crop, and the exports are coming from the West, where water is scarce.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Fort Collins loses 1985 conditional right for Halligan Reservoir

Reservoirs NW of Fort Collins
Reservoirs NW of Fort Collins

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Fort Collins Utilities is working to assess the value of the water right it lost that was meant to expand Halligan Reservoir.

The Coloradoan first reported last week that the city had lost the water right due to failure to file the required paperwork. Utilities officials said Wednesday they did not know the value of a water right canceled by a water court last month.

“It’s not a straight calculation,” Lisa Rosintoski said. “There are a lot of variables involved. Our efforts are to quantify that accurately.”

The city bought the junior water right in 1985 as part of a project to expand Halligan on the North Fork of the Poudre River from 6,400 acre-feet to 21,000 acre feet. The expansion is part of the Halligan-Seaman Water Management Project, which involves expanding Fort Collins’ Halligan Reservoir and Greeley’s Milton Seaman Reservoir…

The utility’s conditional water right amounted to more than 33,000 acre feet…

City officials say, however, that the loss of the water right will not affect the Halligan expansion.

“We have the water rights to support filling the bucket,” Rosintoski said.

Utilities officials will report to City Council on the value of the water right and what impacts the lost water right might have, if any. A date for such a presentation hasn’t been set yet.

“We need to do some internal analysis on how you break out what we spent on the project to try to figure out what the price of the right would be,” said Donnie Dustin, water resource manager for Fort Collins Utilities.

More Cache la Poudre watershed coverage here.

2014 Colorado legislature: Next week is water bill week #COleg

Colorado Capitol building
Colorado Capitol building

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

Water takes center stage next week for the Senate and House Agriculture committees. Five bills will be reviewed that cover some of the biggest water issues of the session.

Two come from the interim Water Resources Review Committee, which met during the summer. HB 1028, carried by Sonnenberg, is a second attempt to tell the federal government to back off on a demand for water rights on federal lands used by ski areas and for grazing. However, that battle has already been won, thanks to intervention from Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.).

In late 2011, the U.S. Forest Service issued a directive that demanded water rights from those who lease federal lands for ski operations or grazing. The Forest Service claimed that they wanted the water rights in order to protect them should a ski area decide to sell off those rights, although that has never happened in Colorado. Opponents said that the federal demand was in direct conflict with Colorado water law, which should take precedent.

The demand drew howls from the ski areas and the interim water committee, as well as a lawsuit. While the court did not rule on the legality of the water rights issue, the ruling did point out that the Forest Service violated federal rulemaking procedures, and ordered it to start over with an open hearing process.

That process began anew before the 2013 legislative session was over, but it came to a halt in November when Udall announced that he had reached an agreement with the Forest Service.

On Nov. 13, Tom Tidwell, Forest Service Chief, issued a statement through Udall’s office that said the agency would “propose changes to the ski area water clause that would address the concerns” associated with the previous proposed clause. “We believe that these changes will provide assurances to the public and communities that depend on economic activities from ski areas that they will continue to provide recreation opportunities,” Tidwell said. “Further, we believe that these objectives can be met without requiring the transfer of privately owned water rights to the government.”

The water resources review committee decided on Oct. 30 to carry the bill although they were aware that a change in policy from the U.S. Forest Service might be forthcoming. Committee co-chair Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village) asked that there be an opportunity to reflect that change when the bill comes up for its hearing. The House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee will review HB 1028 on Jan. 29.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

The Pueblo County Commissioners are looking at using SDS interest to fund the Fountain Creek district

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jeff Tucker):

Pueblo County commissioners Monday studied whether nearly $300,000 in interest payments for Southern Delivery System could be used to provide interim funding for the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. Interest of an estimated $291,000 is expected to be paid by Colorado Springs Utilities on the balance of $50 million it promised to the district upon completion of the Southern Delivery System.

Under terms of Pueblo County’s 1041 land-use regulations, the interest began accruing in 2012 and will continue to add up until 2016, when SDS is expected to go online. At that time, Colorado Springs will begin making $10 million annual payments to the district. The specific amount is being negotiated, since it was not clearly defined in the 1041 conditions. The money is scheduled to go toward flood control measures that benefit Pueblo, including the construction of a dam or series of dams on Fountain Creek.

Paying the interest in advance would allow the district to use that money to leverage more grants to start work on rehabilitating the creek, said Commissioner Terry Hart.

Right now the district, which includes all of El Paso and Pueblo counties, is out of money and is relying on passing the hat among governmental entities in both counties for operating costs.

Interest payments would be credited back to Colorado Springs Utilities in 2016 when the final fee payment is made.

The commissioners took no formal action, but instructed water lawyer Ray Petros to draft a resolution.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.