Heavy snow and strong winds expected across the North Central Mountains tonight through Friday morning #COwx

HB14-1026: ‘In the form it’s in, this bill isn’t the way to do it’ — Jay Winner #COleg

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 bill that would create a new class of water rights called flex marketing was given the blessing of the state House agriculture committee Monday on a 10-3 vote. Supporters say it allows water to stay in the hands of farmers, while increasing potential uses. Opponents say it could be a “Trojan horse” for cities to take more farm water.

Opposing the bill was state Rep. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, joined by Republicans Don Coram of Montrose and Ray Scott of Grand Junction.

“I think that based on what I was hearing in the committee, and from people in my district, that this bill is not in the best interests of the Arkansas Valley,” Garcia said.

The bill, [HB14-1026], is backed by Aurora and other interests in the South Platte River basin as a way to allow transfers of agricultural water that do not require complete dry-up of farmland. It would allow consumptive use to be transferred in exchange for fallowing land or reduced irrigation.

After the bill was amended to allow projects to circle back to water court if other water rights were injured, return flow issues and a basin-of-origin provision was added, the bill got the support of the Colorado Water Congress state affairs committee.

The bill also interests the Pueblo Board of Water Works, which could use it to enhance its shares of the Bessemer Ditch.

“The amendments satisfied most of the objections of committee members,” said Paul Fanning, water board spokesman and a member of the CWC state affairs committee.

Opponents of the bill, including The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board, say that it amounts to an end-run around the anti-speculation doctrine of state water law. There also are concerns that the new flex water right would facilitate permanent dry-ups.

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District’s attorney Peter Nichols told the House committee the bill needs more controls in order to avoid speculation.

“Our big fear is that this could be a Trojan horse for municipalities to come in and take water from farms,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

The district will ask the sponsor, state Rep. Randy Fischer, who chairs the ag committee, to amend it in order to prevent speculation.

“Farmers need tools like this if alternative transfer methods like the Super Ditch are going to be successful,” Winner added. “In the form it’s in, this bill isn’t the way to do it.”

While other amendments still could be added to the bill, Garcia said he ultimately will not support it.

“I don’t think the bill is going to change enough,” Garcia said. “It does little to protect existing water rights.”

Here’s the summary of the bill from the Colorado Water Congress website:

Under the anti-speculation doctrine, current water court proceedings governing an application to change the beneficial use of an irrigation water right require the applicant to designate a specific alternative beneficial use identified at the time of the application. The bill creates a more flexible change-in-use system by allowing an applicant who seeks to implement fallowing, regulated deficit irrigation, reduced consumptive use cropping, or other alternatives to the permanent dry-up of irrigated lands to apply for a change in use to any beneficial use, without designating the specific beneficial use to which the water will be applied. Section 1 of the bill defines “flex use” to mean an application of the fully consumptive portion of water that has been subject to a water right change-in-use proceeding to any beneficial use. It also redefines “appropriation” to exclude flex use from the anti-speculation doctrine. Sections 2 and 3 describe the procedures for obtaining a flex use change-in-use decree and a flex use substitute water supply plan.

01/08/2014 Introduced In House – Assigned to Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources
01/27/2014 House Committee on Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources Refer Amended to House Committee of the Whole

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Snowpack news (% of avg): Rio Grande = 67%, South Platte = 109%, Upper Colorado River = 107%

Mage at the NRCS was busy yesterday. Click on a thumbnail to view the gallery of snowpack data.

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

With another powder day looming on Interstate 70, Denver skiers commuting up to the mountains already know there’s snow in the high country. Just how much depends on where you go.

According to Natural Resources Conservation Services Snotel measurements, the statewide snowpack for Colorado was at 94 percent of average Tuesday, a little less than snowbound Front Range skiers might think. That’s because the vast majority of snow has fallen north of I-70, if you include the entirety of the sprawling South Platte River basin measuring at 109 percent of its annual average snowpack.

The North Platte basin to its west leads the state at 110 percent, followed by the adjacent Yampa/White River basin (home to Steamboat Springs) at 108 percent, while the Colorado River basin — home to the Summit County ski resorts, Winter Park, Vail and Beaver Creek, among others — measures at an impressive 107 percent of average (and 165 percent of this time last year).

Breckenridge Resort is reporting more than seven feet of snow so far this month, with two feet of new snow in the forecast this week. If the prediction holds true, January could prove to be a record month for snowfall in Breckenridge and surrounding areas.

That’s all well and good for the skiing, but the bigger beneficiaries may be Colorado’s arid eastern plains, where upland habitat in northeast Colorado continues to see much-needed drought relief heading into the spring. To the south, the news is improved, but still shy of ideal, with the Arkansas River basin showing a Jan. 28 snowpack measuring 88 percent of average. Relative to that date in 2013, however, the snowpack is measuring 166 percent.

Gunnison River fishermen should be happy to see the snowpack sitting at a respectable 91 percent of average (125 percent of last year), while the Animas/San Miguel/Dolores/San Juan basin in southwest Colorado remains off pace at a mere 70 percent of its annual average.

Bringing up the rear once again this winter is the Upper Rio Grande basin at 67 percent of average, although there’s still ample time to recover with snowpack typically peaking in mid-April.

If there’s an upside, it’s the mild winter that deer and elk herds in southwest Colorado have experienced thus far. According to Patt Dorsey, southwest regional manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the herds are thriving with ample food sources on healthy winter range.

The ski reports out of Telluride haven’t been all bad, either.

On Dec. 30, Telluride’s 13,320-foot Palmyra Peak recorded its earliest opening since it was brought inside the boundary ropes in 2008. The snow cycle has since subsided a bit, but the mountain still reports a 46-inch base.

Just over the pass, Silverton Mountain claims the deepest base for ski areas in the state at 67 inches.

While Colorado can’t claim to be out from under the snow drought that has lingered since 2012, much of the state is sitting in far better shape as we head into the snowiest months of the year, historically.

We’re a long way from runoff, or even what typically qualifies as the season’s best skiing. But at the end of the first quarter, it’s shaping up to be a decent winter, for the most part.

With any luck, it will only get better from here.

The Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention starts today #COWaterPlatform

Mount Massive and Leadville from 6th St via Wikipedia Commons
Mount Massive and Leadville from 6th St via Wikipedia Commons

The annual convention starts today. I’ll be there all 3 days so posting here may be intermittent.

I’ll be live-Tweeting the goings on (depending on connectivity and battery life on my Macbook Air) @CoyoteGulch using the hash tag #COWaterPlatform (not #COWaterCongress as I posted earlier).

I also want to note the Governor Hickenlooper has renamed Mount Massive (according to a press release) for my new favorite Broncos player — Terrance Knighton.

The full text of the proclamation:

WHEREAS, the State of Colorado is confident that the Denver Broncos will beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII; and

WHEREAS, the Denver Broncos gave Coloradans a lot to be proud of this season, including becoming the first team in NFL history to score more than 600 points in a single season and winning the AFC Championship; and

WHEREAS, Seattle makes some, well, OK beer; and

WHEREAS, the Seahawks have a 12th man, whatever, while the Denver Broncos have the greatest fans — men, women and children — in pro sports; and

WHEREAS, we are proud of the majestic mountains in Colorado, which is home to 53 14ers – the same number of players on the Denver Broncos’ active roster; and

WHEREAS, Peyton Manning bears a symbolic resemblance to Mount Elbert, the tallest 14er in Colorado, because he stands tall as an extraordinary leader of the Broncos; and

WHEREAS, Matt Prater kicks the football long – an NFL record 64 yards long – and could be compared to Longs Peak; and

WHEREAS, the Broncos offensive line stands together, like our Collegiate Peaks, rooted into the earth and preventing anyone from getting to Peyton Manning; and

WHEREAS, there are many other connections between other 14ers and players as referenced below;

Therefore, I, John W. Hickenlooper, Governor of the State of Colorado, do hereby hurry up and proclaim Sunday, February 2, 2014,

#COWaterPlan draft chapters are now available for review

Breckenridge: The snow sculptures are finished here

Noble Energy looks to the Denver Basin Aquifer System for non-tributary groundwater for operations

Denver Basin Aquifers confining unit sands and springs via the USGS
Denver Basin Aquifers confining unit sands and springs via the USGS

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Many water needs in the region have been met by buying supplies from farmers and ranchers, but a Noble Energy manager said Tuesday the oil and gas industry could and should stop being a part of that problem, and explained what his company is doing to get water. The large energy developer is looking to use deep groundwater wells — drawing “non-tributary water” — to meets its needs down the road, said Ken Knox, senior adviser and water resources manager for Noble, during his presentation at the Colorado Farm Show in Greeley.

Farmers and others who pump groundwater typically draw water that’s less than 100 feet below the Earth’s surface — water that’s considered to be “tributary,” because it’s connected to the watershed on the surface and over time flows underground into nearby rivers and streams, where it’s used by farmers, cities and others. Wanting to avoid water that’s needed by other users, Knox said Noble is looking to have in place about a handful of deep, non-tributary groundwater wells that draw from about 800 to 1,600 feet below the Earth’s surface. Digging wells that deep is considered too expensive for farmers, Knox and others said Tuesday, and the quality of water at that depth is typically unusable for municipal or agricultural uses.

One of Noble’s deep groundwater wells is already in place, and the company is currently going through water court to get another four operating in the region down the road, Knox said. Along with digging deeper for water, Knox explained that Noble across the board is “strategically looking” to develop water supplies that don’t put them in competition with agriculture or cities.

Oil and gas development, according to the Colorado Division of Natural Resources, only used about 0.11 percent of the state’s water in 2012 — very little compared to agriculture, which uses about 85 percent of the state’s supplies. But in places like Weld County — where about 80 percent of the state’s oil and gas production is taking place, and where about 25 percent of the state’s agriculture production is going on, and where the population has doubled since 1990 and is expected to continue growing — finding ways for an economy-boosting energy industry to not interfere with the water demands of farmers, ranchers and cities is critical.

The growing water demands of the region is coupled with the fact that the cheapest way to build water supplies is to purchase them from farmers and ranchers who are leaving the land and willing to sell. Those factors leave the South Platte Basin, which covers most of northeast Colorado, potentially having as many as 267,000 acres of irrigated farmland dry up by 2050, according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative Study, released by the state in 2010.

With that in mind, the Colorado Farm Show offered its “Water Resources Panel: Agriculture, Urban and Oil and Development Interactions.”

Joining Knox on the panel were John Stulp, who is special policy adviser on water to Gov. John Hickenlooper; Dave Nettles, division engineer with the Water Resources Division office in Greeley; and Jim Hall, resources manager for the city of Greeley. The panel was moderated by Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.

Knox also spoke Tuesday of Noble’s and other energy companies’ efforts to recycle the water they use in drilling for oil and gas — a hydraulic fracturing process, or “fracking,” that involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into rock formations, about 7,000 feet into the ground, to free oil and natural gas. The average horizontal well uses about 2.8 million gallons of water. Some water initially flows out of the well, but another percentage flows back over time. Knox stressed it is cheaper for companies to dispose of that returned water and buy fresh water for drilling purposes than it is to build facilities that treat used water. But, seeing the need to make the most of water supplies in the region, Noble is willing to invest in water-recycling facilities and other water-efficiency endeavors.

Hall noted that the city of Greeley, which leases water to both ag users and oil and gas users, has seen a decrease in the amount of water it leases for energy development. With improved technology and improved drilling techniques, also decreasing is the amount of land oil and gas development is using, and the number of water trucks on rural roads.

Knox said oil and gas companies — once requiring about 8 acres for one well site — can now put four to eight wells on just 3 acres, meaning the impact on farm and ranch land is less than it once was. By becoming more water efficient, he said Noble has decreased its water truck loads by 1.65 million annually, and reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 264,000 tons.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.