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US Representative Gardner is pushing water legislation in Wasthington DC

George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South
George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., has been pushing hard for two pieces of water legislation in Washington, D.C. As Gardner told The Tribune this past week, one bill is picking up steam. The other, not so much.

The bill that’s seeing movement, if eventually passed, would require federal regulators to approve or deny permits for reservoir projects within 270 days after a state’s governor endorses that water project. If a decision isn’t made within 365 days of the governor’s endorsement, the project would be automatically approved, according to Gardner’s proposed legislation, which also looks to create a federal “Office of Water Storage.”

Many stress the need for new storage projects — the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative report shows that Colorado could face as much as a 600,000 acre-foot supply gap by 2050, and could see as many as 700,000 acres of irrigated farmland dry up. But while there’s the need for more water, a lengthy federal-permitting process has some proposed reservoirs about 10 years or more deep into the permitting effort.

Many water users, particularly farmers, have expressed frustration that during the above-average snowpack years of 2009, 2010 and 2011, the South Platte River basin watched about 1.4 million acre-feet of water above what’s legally required flow into Nebraska, according to numbers provided by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud. That much extra water was flowing into Nebraska because there weren’t enough reservoirs in the basin to capture the abundant snowmelt, they say, and having more reservoirs would have made a huge difference in enduring the 2012 drought.

Gardner’s other bill, which is at a standstill, he said, would reform tax provisions and allow irrigation and ditch companies to receive additional sources of income and still maintain their nonprofit status. The legislation requires, however, that the extra revenue be used exclusively for operations and maintenance of the ditch and irrigation company.

Many in Colorado are eager for passage, since routine upgrades and repairs to these water-delivery systems can add up into the millions of dollars.

Current law says that mutual ditch and irrigation companies must receive 85 percent of their income from shareholder investments to maintain nonprofit designation. In recent years, though, a number of ditch companies have seen an influx in revenue, mostly from an upswing in oil and gas activity on their land, and that increase in dollars has put some companies past the 85 percent threshold, leaving them to be taxed on the additional revenue.

The U.S. Joint Committee on Taxation estimated last year that Gardner’s bill would take away about $31 million in tax revenue from the federal government between 2012 and 2021 — “definitely worth it,” Gardner said, stressing how important irrigated agriculture is to the economy and to the nation’s food security. In Colorado alone, agriculture has a $40 billion impact.

We asked Gardner several questions about the bills:

Q — So, what’s the latest on your bill to speed up the permitting process on new water-storage projects?

A — It’s really seeing a lot of support … bipartisan support, I should stress. We offered it as an amendment to the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. Dozens of amendments were filed, but ours was only one of about 10 that was accepted. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act Chairman (U.S.) Rep. (Bill) Shuster (R-Penn.) is still wanting to have more discussions on the language of the bill, and we’re still waiting to have those conversations. But overall, things are moving along well with that bill.

Q — And how about the nonprofit/irrigation bill?

A — Unfortunately, we’re not seeing as much success over there. It, too, has received bipartisan support, but it’s just not going anywhere. I know how critical it is for farmers and ranchers in Colorado and elsewhere, but we’re just not making much progress.

Q — Why is that?

A — Basically, (the Committee on Ways and Means) Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) is being told not to take up any smaller bills that are looking to change any tax code. He’s being pushed by others to hold off on anything until we sit down and look at comprehensive tax reform. It’s frustrating, but that’s where things stand, and I’m not sure how soon we’ll see movement on that.

Q — What do you think could speed up the process for that bill?

A — I really think it comes down to people in the East not understanding water needs in the West. In any way we can, we have to make Washington understand how critical both of these bills are, and how important other water legislation is. We’re already behind. We can’t be slowed down any more in catching up to meet our water needs.

Q — Aside from the push of your two bills, what other good do you see going on in Washington along the lines of water legislation?

A — We’ve really seen some good, smart legislation pass that will help develop and speed up the process of getting in place small hydropower projects on irrigation ditches, and other similar projects. That will be a big boost for farmers and ranchers, and rural Colorado as a whole. I have to tip my hat to Rep. (Scott) Tipton (R-Colo.) for all of his work on that.

Morgan County Conservation District annual meeting recap #COWaterPlan


From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

As the Colorado population grows — from people moving here or new families starting — water must be found to meet that hugely increasing demand, said Jim Yahn, manager of the North Sterling and Prewitt reservoirs.

He was speaking during the annual meeting of the Morgan Conservation District at the Country Steak Out in Fort Morgan on Thursday evening. After speaking on the history of Colorado water-law, he addressed the challenges facing water use in the state.

Between the year 2000 and today, Colorado’s population grew by about 500,000, and is expected to grow another 5 million by 2050, Yahn said.

More specifically for Morgan County, demographers project that the population will increase by 73 percent along the South Platte River Basin, he said.

Water leaders are trying to find ways to meet the water needs of the state, but also trying to avoid just selling off agricultural water rights to meet the needs of Colorado’s cities, Yahn noted.

If agricultural water rights were just bought up and transferred to city use, as has been the historical trend, from 22 to 32 percent of agricultural water along the South Platte River would be taken for use by cities by 2050, he warned.

That would mean the loss of production on 180,000 to 270,000 acres, Yahn said.

It is the state population that uses the water, not agriculture, because the water that goes into agricultural products eventually goes back to people in the form of food, he said. Water that does not go into the food largely soaks back into the underground aquifers after use for crops.

That means the state needs to develop new water strategies, and that is underway as various groups work on a state water plan, Yahn said.

Those working on the plan hope to address the expected water shortages in ways that will not dry up farm land and still preserves the state’s rivers.

The basin implementation plans which will be part of the overall plan are due back to Gov. John Hickenlooper this coming summer, and the draft of a state water plan is expected by the end of the year, Yahn said.

The trick is creating a plan that will be of actual use, not just another glossy report on the shelf, he said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Poudre River Forum recap: ‘Frankly, I think the more compelling story is the history of collaboration’ — Doug Robotham

Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson watersheds via @ftcollinsgov
Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson watersheds via @ftcollinsgov

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Josie Sexton):

“The story around water is often one of conflict,” The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado Water Projects director Doug Robotham said as the event got underway. “Frankly, I think the more compelling story is the history of collaboration.”

The forum was facilitated by CSU’s Colorado Water Institute and sponsored by The Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group, a team composed of 30 community water stakeholders with backgrounds in fields ranging from ecology and irrigation to brewing and law.

Since 2012, the group has convened to discuss differing views on the Poudre and to finally put forward a trio of initiatives, which the group presented at Saturday’s forum.

Its suggestions, or the “three F’s,” as Colorado Water Institute’s MaryLou Smith explained, are “flow, funding and forum,” the last of which the team began with Saturday’s event and now hopes to hold annually.

For the first initiative, a five-person steering committee explained a vision of improved water flow along the Poudre, utilizing methods such as a “designated instream flow reach” to essentially lease leftover water upstream and send it downriver, meeting a specified minimimum flow requirement along a certain length of the Poudre, such as the stretch running right through Fort Collins.

The cost for such a project is where the group’s funding initiative comes in.

“All of that would take big money,” Smith said, adding it would need to be public money and not just “philanthropic seed dollars.”

According to John Stokes, director of the city of Fort Collins’ Natural Areas Department, the city did test such a water leasing project early last September.

“We tried to rent water, but our little 10 (cubic feet per second) got buried in 10,000 (cubic feet per second),” Stokes said, refering to Sepember’s flooding.

More Cache la Poudre River coverage here and here.

Cancer-causing chemical PCE contaminates Colorado soil, water and homes — The Denver Post

Groundwater movement via the USGS
Groundwater movement via the USGS

Here’s an in-depth look at the problem of mitigating PCE (perchloroethylene or perc) spills around dry-cleaning operations, from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Spills releasing PCE, the cancer-causing chemical used in dry cleaning and metal degreasing, have produced at least 86 underground plumes across Colorado that are poisoning soil and water and fouling air inside buildings.

Cleaning up this chemical is a nightmare — a lesson in the limits of repairing environmental harm. The best that Colorado health enforcers and responsible parties have been able to do is keep the PCE they know about from reaching people…

Dry cleaners are found in most communities nationwide. But the PCE problem hasn’t been as visible as the large-scale industrial disasters that mobilize advocacy groups. Unlike oil rig ruptures and chemical spills into rivers, PCE plumes remain hidden.

They formed because, in the past, PCE legally could be flushed into sewers, dumped out backdoors, emptied down alleys. Dry cleaners didn’t grasp the potential cumulative impact of day-to-day drips on their floors.

PCE is heavy, sinking through soil and groundwater to form pools that can remain volatile for decades and do not readily break down.

Health authorities say they worry most about sites where PCE levels in soil and groundwater are so high that vapors rise up and contaminate buildings.

More water pollution coverage here.

#COWaterPlan: ‘Because it’s cheap and a public good, water gets no respect’ — James Eklund

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

If commodities were celebrities, water would be Rodney Dangerfield.

“Because it’s cheap and a public good, water gets no respect,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who visited Pueblo last week for a water forum for the business community.

In Colorado, state and local leaders are not taking water for granted. They are in a final push to devise a plan that will guide the statewide uses of water for coming decades. As part of the push, they are calling for the business community to become more involved in the planning process, which first began after the drought of 2002 when Colorado cities found their historic assumption of water supplies were wrong.

The drought led to the formation of basin roundtables and the Interbasin Compact Committee in 2005. Since then, there have been nearly as many water meetings in Colorado as there are water lawyers. But there was never the push to develop a specific plan until last year when Gov. John Hickenlooper asked his staff to create one. And the governor wants one soon, by December 2014, so the state can begin to act on it following this November’s statewide elections. The water plan will be the culmination of nine years of meetings seeking alternatives to the default option of buying up farms and moving the water to municipal use. Conservation, new supply, new transfer methods, completing identified projects, environmental protection and storage will be a part of the plan. The details will emerge by the end of the year.

Eklund said Hickenlooper himself likens the water plan to a “business plan.”

“I was serving as the governor’s chief counsel and we were talking about the importance of water. He said, ‘Let’s see the business plan,’ ” Eklund said. “Governor Hickenlooper looks at life through a business lens, and it’s unacceptable to have no input.

More input is starting to come through meetings organized specifically for business interests.

One business group, the Colorado Competitive Council, which co-sponsored last week’s forum in Pueblo, wants to finalize its list of priorities — also known as “principles” — by July, Competitive Council Director Mizraim Cordero said. The council, along with Accelerate Colorado, conducted the meeting last week to engage Pueblo’s business community in the discussion. Turnout was light with about 20 people in attendance, a number that included several city and county elected officials.

Getting businesses involved in water policy discussion is a challenge, water experts concede. Cordero said small attendance at water meetings is not unusual. Steve Vandiver, manager of the Rio Grande Conservation District, joked that those in the water community should just hop on a bus, ride around and talk to itself.

Bryan Blakely, president of Accelerate Colorado, said the lack of interest is not surprising to some extent — “We’re complacent because we turn on a tap and expect water to come out” — but businesses risk a golden opportunity to shape the final statewide plan.

“We’re looking at this as our plan. This is our chance to weigh-in,” Blakely said.

Rod Slyhoff, president of the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, and Jack Rink, president of the Pueblo Economic Development Corp., expressed similar thoughts.

“We probably do get complacent,” Rink said. “We need to know where we can make a difference.”

Terry Book, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works, said state policies can have a major impact at the local level. He told the group about the water utility’s struggle with higher energy costs tied to the state’s push for greener energy. That has created a domino effect of increased rates for commercial and residential customers, he said.

It’s an example of why businesses need to pay attention to state policymaking, including in the area of water, he said. “Nothing is simple in water,” Book said. “Good intentions can lead to unintended consequences.”

Arkansas Basin Roundtable Chairman Gary Barber, whose business is water consulting, noted that agriculture is a $1.5 billion business in the Arkansas Valley, about 6.6 percent of the region’s overall $23 billion economy.

It’s also tied to the vibrant and growing $222 million recreation industry on the Upper Arkansas River, he said.

“If you’re in Chaffee County, you want to make sure the water you use for rafting stays in Rocky Ford,” Barber said. “If you don’t have water, you don’t have an economy.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.