Snowpack news: Aspen snowpack gets a big boost from 3 foot storm

Snow Water Equivalent as a percent of normal February 6, 2014 via the NRCS
Snow Water Equivalent as a percent of normal February 6, 2014 via the NRCS

From the Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

The snowpack at the Independence Pass site east of Aspen went from 113 percent of average on Jan. 30 to 123 percent of average as of 10 a.m. Friday.

The Fryingpan Valley was the big winner from the storm. Snow at lower elevations was below average until then.

The Nast Lake site went from below average at 93 percent on Jan. 30 to 129 percent Friday. The Kiln site went from 103 percent of average on Jan. 30 to 128 percent Friday. The Ivanhoe site, at 10,400 feet in elevation, shot up from 116 percent of average on Jan. 30 to 147 percent of average Friday.

The storms haven’t been quite as bountiful for the Crystal Valley. The North Lost Trail site near Marble measured a snowpack only 89 percent of average on Jan. 30. That climbed above average to 104 percent Friday. McClure Pass was at only 94 percent of average in late January but now stands at 114 percent. Schofield Pass went from 99 to 115 percent.

The Roaring Fork River Basin overall snowpack sat at 101 percent of normal on Jan. 30 after a long sunny, dry stretch. That had skyrocketed to 120 percent as of Friday morning.

The average snowpack for the state soared from 95 percent of average on Jan. 27 to 109 percent on Feb. 1, the Vail Daily reported.

DARCA Annual Convention: From Drought to Deluge – Dealing with Uncertainty, February 26-28

St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call
St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

From email from DARCA:

The DARCA Board and staff welcome your presence at the 12th Annual DARCA Convention in Longmont, February 26-28, 2014. Thirty speakers are scheduled for DARCA’s Annual Convention, From Drought to Deluge – Dealing with Uncertainty, and the event will focus on flood and recovery issues facing ditch companies along the Front Range. A wide variety of speakers have been invited, ones that have first-hand knowledge of the September storm event. Additional topics will include presentations on the Colorado Water Plan, the Endangered Species Act, and new developments for hydroelectric power generation. The director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, James Eklund, will be delivering the keynote address.

On the final day of the conference, DARCA will be convening a workshop on Water Efficiency Savings -The Ditch Company Perspective. Lately, there has been increased focus on finding new incentives to help ditch companies pay for upgrades to their aging infrastructure. The governor’s emphasis on protection of agricultural lands from buy and dry transfers of ag water and a better understanding in Colorado of the full value provided by ditch companies and irrigation are important first steps. These recognitions may not, however, be sufficient. This workshop will focus on legislative proposals that would allow ditch companies to realize value directly from their efficiency improvements. There are, of course, pros and cons to this approach that we hope to discuss at the workshop.

In order to properly understand ditch company needs and opportunities for structural efficiency improvement projects, Harry Seely, an economist from WestWater Research, will be sharing preliminary results from a project related to the potential economic, financial, and operational benefits from system modernization. While some of these benefits are relatively obvious to some, the wide array of financial benefits, reduced costs, and water security improvements are not well documented.

We have included a short survey that will help DARCA and WestWater Research better understand the complex issues related to water efficiency and economics. DARCA would like your input and if you have the time please fill out the enclosed survey and return it to me. You are welcome to give me a call and go over the survey on the phone. Another alternative is to drop it off at the registration table at the convention.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Essay: An ode to snow — Laura Pritchett

Acequia Day at the New Mexico State Legislature

Acequia cleaning prior to running the first water of the season
Acequia cleaning prior to running the first water of the season

From the Taos Valley Acequia Association website:

Acequia Day at the NM State Legislature

Who: NMAA Members & Acequia Parciantes
When: Wednesday, February 12th at 8:30am
Where: State Capitol Building/Roundhouse, Santa Fe (Room 326)
RSVP: Please call NMAA at 505.995.9644

Acequia youth and leaders will gather at the State Capitol to be recognized by the State Legislature for centuries of water management in New Mexico and to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the New Mexico Acequia Association.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS:
8:30am – Orientation Session at Room 326
9:00am – 10:00am – Visits with Legislators
10:00am – House and Senate Floor Sessions – Gallery
12:00am – Refreshments and Closing Reflections – Room 326

Senate Bill 14-115: ‘It brings so much politics into the issue’ — Rachel Richards #COleg #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

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

Senate Bill 14-115 would trump an executive order issued by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in May 2013 that called for the Colorado Water Plan to be based on regional plans developed by river-basin “roundtables” around the state in coordination with the CWCB.

“The executive order did not identify a role for the general assembly, and yet we represent the people in the state,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz, a Democrat from Snowmass Village, is chair of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, where SB 14-115 has been sent for review.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, a Republican from Durango who serves on the interim Water Resources Review Committee, also is a co-sponsor of the bill.

“When an executive order is issued, that bypasses the legislature,” Roberts said at the Colorado Water Congress meeting held last week. “Now, that is certainly the governor’s prerogative, but when something is called the Colorado state water plan, it means the legislature is at the table.”[…]

A key question for communities on both the Western Slope and along the Front Range is whether more water will be piped under the Continental Divide from the west, where most of the state’s water is, to the east, where most of the state’s people are.

Pitkin County commissioner Rachel Richards is an active member of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and said she has “real concerns” about Schwartz’s bill.

“It brings so much politics into the issue,” Richards said about SB 14-115. “I think it will fall down to Front Range versus West Slope legislators. I have a hard time imagining any Front Range legislator running for re-election and saying he or she voted for a plan that did not include a new trans-mountain diversion of very significant magnitude. “

In addition to giving the legislature power over the final water plan, SB 14-115 also requires that regional public hearings be held after a draft is released and that public comment be taken into consideration in the final draft…

Gov. Hickenlooper’s executive order calls for the CWCB to finish a draft of the water plan by December and to complete a final version by December 2015.

The CWCB is to write the draft plan and then submit it “for review by the governor’s office,” according to the executive order. Then it is supposed to “work with the governor’s office to complete the final plan.”

The only substantive mention of the state legislature in the governor’s executive order is that the plan should include “recommendations to the governor for legislation that will improve coordination, streamline processes and align state efforts” regarding water projects.

That’s not a big enough role for the legislature, according to Schwartz.

“Yes, the plan may direct policy, but it does not have the weight of law,” she said.

SB 14-115 requires the plan to be reviewed by the Water Resources Committee, which would then introduce a bill to approve it — or not.

The bill also says that a water plan can only be considered official state policy if the legislature approves it. And it says that while the plan could still be the policy of the CWCB, the legislature also could declare that it is not.

In short, it gives the legislature firm control over future water projects in Colorado.

Roberts acknowledged that the bill might cause some “hurt feelings” among those at the basin roundtable level.

“It is not intended as any slight to the folks that are working hard on that, but we do feel that it is critically important that that be an open public process and it also involve the legislature,” Roberts said about the bill…

On Thursday, the board of the Colorado River District, which represents the Western Slope, voted to take a neutral position on the bill — for now.

Chris Treece, the external affairs manager for the river district, said SB 14-115 “was a very political bill” and suggested the organization monitor it “very closely from a very long distance.”

“I think it is an important discussion about who is in charge,” Treece said.

Mike King, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, which includes the CWCB, said having the legislature involved as proposed by the bill would mix politics and water.

“We need to depoliticize the development of Colorado’s water,” King said at the Water Congress meeting. “We need to remove it from the political pressures that are inherent in the legislative process and make it organic.”

And he believes the CWCB can handle the job.

“Seventy-six years ago the general assembly delegated to the CWCB the express policy setting authority for the state’s water vision,” King said. “I think it served the state well. And I think the CWCB has exercised that authority judiciously and appropriately throughout that period of time.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Arkansas Basin: ‘I’ve got a son who’s farming. Will there be water for him?’ — Dale Mauch #COWaterPlan

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Balancing the needs of urban growth and maintaining the state’s agriculture is a difficult equation, and some are wondering if it can be solved with real numbers. The conflict bobbed to the surface during a discussion about the upcoming state water plan at Thursday’s Farm/Ranch/ Water Symposium at the Gobin Community Center.

“We don’t have enough water for growth and agriculture,” Lamar farmer Dale Mauch said. “This is a way to delay the ultimate end of the story. Who’s going to get it first, Colorado Springs and Pueblo or me in Lamar?”

Unless a new source of water is brought in, the continuing dry-up of agriculture in the Arkansas River basin will continue, Mauch said.

“I’ve got a son who’s farming. Will there be water for him?” Mauch asked.

Charged with providing the answers to his question was James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Eklund is heading up Gov. John Hickenlooper’s drive to develop a draft Colorado Water Plan by the end of this year.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where we knew that this was coming and didn’t do anything,” Eklund said.

Mauch suggested a project like the Flaming Gorge pipeline that brings new water into the state is the only way to assure agriculture and growth can co-exist.

Eklund said the political realities of moving water from one state to another might be more difficult than the decadelong process that has led up to a state water plan.

Another farmer, Wes Eck, said education should be a key component of a state water plan.

“I had some goose hunters from Colorado Springs come down. They looked at John Martin Reservoir (still at a very low level) and asked, ‘Where did all the water from our floods go?’ I told them we could soak up 100 times that much,” Eck said.

“We’ve got to do a better job explaining water,” Eklund replied.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Farmers in the Arkansas Valley generally favor a farm bill that beefs up subsidies for crop insurance, rather than providing direct payments that guarantee income regardless of harvest quality or crop prices.

“The biggest thing for us will be the crop insurance program,” Holly farmer Colin Thompson said Wednesday.

Like most of the other farmers attending the Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium at the Gobin Community Center Thursday, Thompson is unsure of how his operation will be affected by the farm bill.

But he said the safety net for farmers is a big deal, given the high costs of planting a crop.

The farm bill passed the U.S. Senate by a 68-32 vote this week, after passing the U.S. House by a 251-166 vote last week. It is awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature.

“I’m glad they got it done,” said John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s water policy adviser and a Prowers County farmer. “The safety net on crop insurance is the big thing.”

The bill also boosts conservation programs available to farmers.

“It’s very important from a conservation and natural resources perspective,” said John Knapp of the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Rocky Ford. “It will increase opportunities for conservation easements and land trusts.”

Dale Mauch, a Lamar farmer, said the crop insurance program is vital in order to keep farmers in business.

“In this day and age, you need crop insurance because of the cost of everything,” Mauch said. “People don’t realize how expensive it is to put in a crop. I just brought a brand new bailer in 2009 for $101,000. Today, that same piece of equipment is $180,000.”

Costs for seed and fertilizer have skyrocketed, and the price of corn, his primary cash crop, are $4 per bushel, half of what they were just two years ago.

“I’m glad they cut direct payments. All we need is crop insurance,” Mauch said, as heads nodded all around the table where he was seated. “Irrigated agriculture in the Arkansas Valley is unlike anywhere else in the world.”

Food stamps need to be a part of the farm bill as well, because only about 50 members of the 435-member House are from rural areas, Mauch said.

“I don’t think any kid should ever go hungry,” he said. “On the other hand, there are some (negligent) fathers who should go hungry.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It’s no secret to farmers that the Arkansas Valley usually is short of water. But future consequences of the shortfall are illustrated by actions that already have occurred in the South Platte River and Rio Grande basins.

The coming crisis was discussed last week at the Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium, which attracted about 200 participants.

“We found that we’ve been double-counting the municipal return flow in the basin,” Arkansas Basin Roundtable Chairman Gary Barber told the group.

The “agricultural gap” in the Arkansas River basin was identified by the roundtable at 25,000-30,000 acre-feet in March 2012. What that means is that farmers already are irrigating with borrowed water. That became clear last year when augmentation water for wells was cut off during the third year of severe drought. Those who depended solely on surface rights dealt with a reduced water supply by planting fewer crops.

That will become the norm in the chronically dry Rio Grande basin, said Travis Smith, general manager of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Subdistricts have formed that will slowly reduce the drawdown on the aquifers agriculture depends on.

“It’s painful when you talk about cutting a man’s water supply,” Smith said.

In the South Platte basin, wells were shut down after the Empire Lodge court case restricted the state engineer’s authority to administer temporary plans, said Jeris Danielson, a former state engineer who became a water consultant.

“They shut down 3,000 wells and now have flooded basements in Sterling because the groundwater table’s rising,” Danielson said. “What we have not done in this state is manage the resource.”

The Arkansas River basin lags behind the South Platte in developing ways to stretch the water supply such as aquifer recharge programs, said Bill Tyner, assistant engineer for Water Division 2.

Only two recharge programs exist in the Arkansas Valley now: on the Excelsior Ditch by the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association and the city of Lamar well field. The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch has done some preliminary work in identifying recharge opportunities on canals.

Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, offered a menu of options to deal with filling the ag water gap.

“We need to buy and retire land that is not productive,” Winner said.

Farmers need to buy more water and retain it to reduce the dependency on the spot market — which usually means leasing from Pueblo, Colorado Springs or Aurora. They also need to look at trades among water rights owners, recharge and strengthening storage.

“But with storage, it does not go far when you have no water to put into it,” he cautioned.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Fountain Creek: ‘A vision plan is only as valuable as its ability to be implemented’ — Jeff Shoemaker

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

If you wanted to make a really fun toy, you would first have to go through the relatively boring process of building a factory.

So, after a mundane afternoon of listening to all of the problems of how fixing Fountain Creek has to meet the needs of state water planning, funding challenges, water quality and flood control, the crowd of 40 elected officials and business people finally got to the fun stuff.

Jeff Shoemaker, executive director of the Greenway Foundation in Denver, told the group how to turn a $125 million investment over 40 years into $12 billion in economic development benefits.

Now that’s fun.

“We like to call it a 40-year overnight success,” Shoemaker told the group, assembled by the Southern Colorado Business Partnership at Pikes Peak International Raceway Wednesday. “A vision plan is only as valuable as its ability to be implemented.”

There are parallels between the current effort to fix Fountain Creek and the Greenway Foundation’s unceasing quest to improve the South Platte River through Denver.

In 1965, that reach of the South Platte was a miserable, forgotten waterway. Trash and sewage were dumped in it with little thought. That changed when Joe Shoemaker, Jeff’s father, convinced the state to create the Denver Urban Drainage District in 1974. The district provided the canvas for the Greenway Foundation — in partnership with government and the private sector — to paint the future of Lower Downtown Denver, now among Colorado’s most valuable real estate.

“And we’re just getting started,” Shoemaker said.

Fast forward to 2009.

A vision task force convinced the state to form the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which since has struggled simply to find a way to fund its own existence. The district is patterned after the Denver Urban Drainage District and encompasses Pueblo and El Paso counties. Other speakers throughout the afternoon had dwelt on the problems and challenges of fixing Fountain Creek, which periodically sends sheets of water Pueblo’s way compounded by development in Colorado Springs and the surrounding area.

They spoke about flood control, mitigation projects and the need to protect agriculture while serving growing municipal needs through projects like Southern Delivery System.

So far, it has been optimistic frustration.

“Fountain Creek has been an amenity for academics,” joked Larry Small, director of the Fountain Creek district, referring to the volumes of past studies, which largely gather dust on shelves.

Projects themselves — SDS, flood control and creek improvements — have brought several million dollars into the area, but much of it has been government-driven.

Meanwhile, the South Platte has grown rich on the back of flood control projects like Chatfield Dam, and draws thousands of people to the river through an ambitious network of parks and recreation activities, Shoemaker said.

“Everything we do has a water-quality component,” Shoemaker said.

That type of thinking can benefit Pueblo, said Eva Montoya, Fountain Creek board president and a Pueblo City Council member.

“We got many of our ideas from the Greenway Foundation,” she said, referring to a new wheel park that is being designed for Pueblo’s Historic East Side.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.