Governor’s Forum on Agriculture recap

Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture
Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

The forum began with the panel of five legislators offering brief remarks on legislation affecting agriculture in the 2014 session. In addition to Sonnenberg, the audience heard from Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray), who is running for governor; Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village), Rep. KC Becker (D-Boulder) and Rep. Steve Lebsock (D-Thornton). All serve on the agriculture committees…

The lawmakers focused on water policy as the top topic for the agriculture committee. Schwartz pointed to the bills from the legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee, which includes her, Brophy and Sonnenberg. Their bills this session covered hydroelectric projects and the state’s water plan. But it was water storage that drew much of the back-and-forth between the legislators.

Schwartz said the state needs to take a balanced approach in identifying its future needs, including how to keep the agriculture and recreation industries viable and maintain the health of the state’s rivers and streams.

“We haven’t done anything big related to storage in a couple of generations,” said Brophy, while the state population has doubled. The state needs more storage and electricity generated by that storage, he said. Sonnenberg expanded his discussion beyond agriculture. The “challenge for us rural legislators is to educate our urban cousins…one of the many issues that I view as a death by a thousand cuts for rural Colorado is storage If we can’t keep Colorado’s water in Colorado, we’re destined to lose.”

In response to an audience question, Schwartz explained that funds to build storage were raided during the recession, to the tune of $150 million. Those dollars need to be restored, she said. But she also advocated for hydroelectric projects as a companion to storage.

Water conservation also was on the minds of the audience members, but panel members reacted with different solutions. Schwartz pointed to bills on incentives for irrigation efficiency and opportunities to divert less water on the Western Slope. But Sonnenberg said that while conservation is part of the solution, “we can’t get there from here without storage.” Agriculture has led the charge on conservation and efficiency and “we haven’t had the government have to tell us how to do it.”[…]

In other news at the capitol this week:

Greg Larson of Haxtun has been named to the Colorado Ground Water Commission. Larson is also on the Republican River Water Conservation District board.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

CWCB: The next Water Availability Task Force Meeting is March 20 #COdrought

Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org
Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

A Joint Flood & Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Thursday, March 20, 2014 from 9:30a-12noon at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

More CWCB coverage here.

U.S. and Mexico to send water into parched #ColoradoRiver Delta

Minute 319 signing
Minute 319 signing

Here’s a release from the Environmental Defense Fund (Chandler Clay):

The U.S. and Mexican governments have approved a plan to carry out a historic and vital step in advancing cooperative management of the binational Colorado River. The two governments, acting through the U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission, are moving forward with a pilot “pulse flow” of water into the long-depleted delta of the Colorado River, where water has not flowed regularly since 1960.

This historic event, stemming from the groundbreaking, multi-faceted Colorado River agreement negotiated between the U.S. and Mexico known as Minute 319, will help with efforts by the U.S. and Mexico to reestablish riparian habitat, providing benefits to wildlife species and communities along the Colorado River in both countries and in the Colorado River Delta region in Mexico. The pulse flow event also creates an unprecedented model for water-sharing agreements elsewhere in the Colorado River Basin and beyond.

“The pulse flow is an unprecedented and unique event in the global context,” said Jennifer Pitt, director of the Colorado River Project at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and U.S. co-chair of the environmental work group that helped negotiate the framework agreement for the pulse flow. “This demonstrated commitment to environmental restoration is a shining example of what two nations can achieve when we work together, and will be very helpful for both governments to obtain information that becomes increasingly relevant as we face droughts with more frequency, not only in the Colorado River Basin but also in other watersheds.”

Starting on March 23, 2014, the United States and Mexico will release some 105,000 acre-feet—approximately 0.7% of the annual average flow of the Colorado River—into the delta below Morelos Dam, which straddles the Colorado River on the U.S.–Mexico border. The magnitude of the pulse flow will peak for several days at a high flow, and will last for nearly eight weeks, mostly at a reduced flow rate.

“The pulse flow is a vital part of our ongoing restoration efforts,” said Francisco Zamora Arroyo, director of the Colorado River Delta Legacy Program at Sonoran Institute. “We know that relatively small amounts of water can make a big difference in the health of the delta region.”

A binational team of scientific experts from U.S. and Mexican federal agencies and universities, as well as from the Sonoran Institute, The Nature Conservancy and Mexico-based Pronatura Noroeste, will be monitoring the event to determine its impacts and learn how water can stimulate river health.

“Some 380 bird species are expected to benefit from this return of water to the delta,” said Osvel Hinojosa, Water and Wetlands Program Director at Pronatura Noroeste, and Mexico co-chair of the environmental work group. “So will the local Mexican farming communities that long-ago watched the Colorado River Delta dry up.”

Signed in November 2012, Minute 319 provides numerous benefits for water users throughout the Colorado River Basin – in seven U.S. and two Mexican states – including broader sharing of water when supplies are plentiful and in times of reduced supplies, investments in water conservation, and new opportunities to store water in upstream reservoirs such as Lake Mead – the major water storage reservoir in the Lower Colorado River Basin. The pulse flow is an important element of Minute 319—a component that both countries agreed to implement in 2014.

“This flexible approach will be particularly important given the 14-year drought in the Colorado River Basin,” said Taylor Hawes, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program. “The agreement benefits water users throughout the Basin as well as the environment, by limiting the impact of water shortages on any one user and providing incentives for leaving water in storage while paving the way for funding future water conservation projects.”

Also under Minute 319, the Colorado River Delta Water Trust will deliver another 52,000 acre-feet (64 mcm) in “base flows” – the small but steady water supply that will sustain new habitat created by the pulse flow, in addition to trees planted at active restoration sites. A coalition of conservation organizations including EDF, Sonoran Institute, Pronatura Noroeste, The Nature Conservancy, Redford Center and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has launched a campaign to “Raise the River” by raising the funds for the Trust to purchase rights to this water from willing sellers in the Mexicali Valley, where there is an active water rights market.

“Together, we are hoping to rewrite history to reestablish ecosystems and return some of the river’s natural amenities to local communities long deprived of a healthy environment,” said Pitt. “If we can show the long-term benefits of binational cooperation to help water users and the environment, there’s no telling what we can achieve with long-term commitments to sharing water across borders.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

USDA Announces New Grants to Help Communities Meet Water Challenges in Coming Years

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

From the USDA:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will make $6 million in grants available this year, and up to $30 million total over the next five years as part of a new initiative to provide solutions to agricultural water challenges. The grants will be used to develop management practices, technologies and tools for farmers, ranchers, forest owners and citizens to improve water resource quantity and quality.

“Cutting edge research holds the key to tackling the complex challenges posed by prolonged drought and ensuring the future food security of our nation,” said Secretary Vilsack. “These grants will help arm America’s farmers and ranchers with the tools and strategies they need to adapt and succeed, and build on ongoing, cross-governmental efforts to provide relief to those impacted by severe drought.”

Today’s announcement builds on USDA efforts to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners mitigate the impacts of drought, including implementation of the livestock disaster assistance programs provided through the 2014 Farm Bill and $40 million in additional conservation dollars.

NIFA has identified three critical topics that will be funded through this new challenge area: 1) ensuring the water security of surface and ground water needed to produce agricultural goods and services; 2) improving nutrient management in agricultural landscapes focused on nitrogen and phosphorous; and 3) reducing impacts of chemicals and the presence and movement of environmental pathogens in the nation’s water supply. NIFA’s approach will link social, economic, and behavioral sciences with traditional biophysical sciences and engineering to address regional scale issues with shared hydrological processes, and meteorological and basin characteristics.

NIFA is expected to make $30 million available over the next five years for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) water challenge area, with the expectation that the new projects awarded this fiscal year would receive additional funding in the following four years. All additional funding is contingent on future congressional appropriations and achievement of project objectives and milestones.

Building on its investment in water research, NIFA will also fund projects through the National Integrated Water Quality Program (NIWQP), which addresses critical water resource issues including water quality protection and water conservation. The RFA for this program is expected to be released in the spring of 2014.

The NIWQP supports research, education and Extension projects and programs that address critical water resource issues in agricultural, rural and urbanizing watersheds. These projects reflect the growing need to combine knowledge from biological and physical sciences with social and economic sciences to address complex water issues.

The NIWQP focuses on addressing water issues at the watershed scale. Projects funded by the NIWQP are outcome-oriented, aiming to increase awareness and change behaviors related to water resource management.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. More information is available at: http://www.nifa.usda.gov.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Public meetings for the South Platte Basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

South Platte River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
South Platte River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Greeley Tribune;

The South Platte Roundtable is hosting a series of input and information sessions around the region during the upcoming weeks, as it continues piecing together its comprehensive, long-term water plan for northeastern Colorado.

Each of the basins in Colorado is putting together individual water plans, which will help make up the collective Colorado Water Plan — an effort put in motion by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

All meetings will be from 3:30-7 p.m., will include an overview of the South Platte River Basin’s water supplies and needs, and will also feature question-and-answer sessions and information displays.

The remaining meetings will take place on:

» Wednesday at the Southwest Weld County Complex, 4209 Weld County Road 24 1⁄2 in Longmont.

» March 19 at the Fair Barn, 880 Bogue St. in Fairplay.

» April 10 in Yuma (held in conjunction with the Republican River Water Conservancy District’s regular quarterly meeting).

For more information, go to SouthPlatteBIP@hdrinc.com or http://cowaterplan@state.co.us.

From PublicNewsService.org (Stephanie Carroll Carson):

“Just add water.” Simple instructions on the back of your muffin mix, but coming up with the Colorado Water Plan dictated by the Governor last year is proving to be much more complicated. Currently, regional meetings are taking place to put together a plan that will work for the entire state, but Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said she is concerned about the competing needs of the Front Range and the mountain communities.

“The concern is that the water is on the western slope and the people are on the eastern slope,” she pointed out. “While it’s always a great idea to collaborate and work together, we always are a little protective of the water that we need to keep on the western slope.”

According to the Northwest Council of Governments, people incorrectly make several assumptions about water: that population growth can’t be contained, that there’s plenty of water on the west slope for the Front Range, and that new water projects are needed to save agricultural interests.

The Colorado Water Plan now in the works is the first of its kind and is to be complete by 2015. It will then influence water decisions for the foreseeable future.

Chandler-Henry and others also question predictions that Colorado’s population is going to double by 2050.

“We don’t think that’s necessarily true,” she said. “We’ve has some big changes with the recession recently that have slowed down population growth, and would like to see more land planning, community planning be a part of this whole water discussion.”

Colorado water allocation has historically been guided by local governments. Supporters of Colorado’s Water Plan say its goal is to get those communities to work more cohesively and streamline efforts to provide adequate water while not compromising the environment.

Link to more information on the Colorado Water Plan at http://NWCCOG.org and the relevant executive order at http://1.usa.gov/NCQbWD.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.