‘Think about how we can work together to keep this community alive’ — Leroy Salazar

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Heading a water solutions team, San Luis Valley resident LeRoy Salazar told those attending a groundwater advisory meeting on Wednesday it is time to get beyond the blame game and work together to preserve Valley communities and the agricultural livelihoods that keep them alive. Part of a group trying to find solutions to affordable, equitable and successful water sustainability, Salazar said a year ago he was only 20 percent convinced “we would be able to make this thing work.”

He said he is presently up to 60 percent and hopes by the time the state well rules are in place, “I will have an 80 percent probability we are going to be able to keep this thing going.”

He added, “We are all working really hard.”

He commended the state engineer’s office for working hard to develop a groundwater model that would work and rules that would work for everybody.

“The well owners want these as bad as surface users,” he said. “We want to know what hand we are going to be dealt with.”

He said some flexibility may be required in the next year or two as water users work through some of the challenges they will come up against in complying with the state’s new rules.

“Some of those things may take us five to six years to work out,” Salazar added. “We may not be able to live at exactly the letter of the law. We can create a little bit of flexibility in there.”

He said it might not be possible to always replace depletions to the river in exactly the right time and place that the regulations will require.

“Think about how we can work together to keep this community alive.”

State Engineer Dick Wolfe said he believed “our greatest successes come from our greatest challenges,” and he is at an 80-percent confidence level. The well rules Wolfe hopes to submit to the water court yet this spring will require wells to make up for the injuries and depletions they have caused senior water rights and the aquifers.

Salazar said he has both senior water surface rights, which date back five generations , in addition to wells, which are junior water rights. He said wells are part of the reason that rivers are drier and aquifers diminished, but they are not the sole problem. The multi-year drought and the demands of the interstate Rio Grande Compact are also responsible, he said.

However, he said those trying to reach solutions must get beyond the blame game “and think what’s in the best interest of keeping our communities alive and keep them going.”

He said he could see at least 100,000 acres of land going out of production, and if solutions cannot be reached to the Valley’s water problems, that total could be twice that.

“Think what that will do to communities,” he said.

He said the two main issues to address are sustainability and depletions.

He said some of the solutions to sustainability are fairly easy. Changing farming practices to use less water would be a better solution than shutting wells down, he said. For example, while alfalfa requires 28-30 inches of water annually, barley only requires 20 inches, so a switch from alfalfa to grain would cut water usage by one third.

“We can do a little bit better than that,” Salazar added. “A lot of us that are raising grain and potatoes, there are a lot of conservation crops that can apply 6-8 inches that will raise some pasture for cows.”

A crop like sorghum sudan grass would only require 6-8 inches but would still provide pasture for cattle, for example.

“There’s alternatives without having to shut a bunch of wells down to increase sustainability,” Salazar said. “We know we have to reduce the drain on the aquifers. I think sustainability can be dealt with fairly easily if we all agree we need to cut back. I don’t think there will be too many farms go out of business if we cut back.”

Addressing the issue of replacing depletions is a bit trickier, Salazar said. He explained it would take on the order of 20,000-30 ,000 acre feet to replace those depletions throughout the Valley, with the Conejos system owing about 6,000 acre feet. If the drought continues, however, that number could increase to 8,000-10 ,000 ace feet on that river system, he said.

Forbearance is one key way to deal with the depletions , he said. Some senior water users who have been injured by well pumping may be willing to accept money instead of water, Salazar explained. However , there will be water right holders who will want “wet water,” and that will not always be easy to provide, he said.

“A lot of depletions we are seeing are owed on the lower Conejos might owe 10,000-15 ,000 acre feet of depletions. How do we get 10,000 acre feet down to that lower part if we have to replace it exactly in time and place and we can’t find enough forbearance agreements ?”

Another obstacle is reservoir storage in that area. Salazar said the Platoro Reservoir would be a good place to store water that could later be used to replace depletions. However, that reservoir is often restricted under the Rio Grande Compact on whether it can store water or not.

“It’s a Compact reservoir and a post-Compact reservoir , which means we can’t really store water from one year to the next ” which is what we really need to do if we are going to make this thing work. Trying to find storage is going to be a big issue.”

Dry riverbeds create other obstacles, Salazar added. If water has to move from one part of the stream to meet depletions on the other end, but there’s a dry riverbed in the middle, “we lose it all.”

Folks have four options in responding to the state’s pending groundwater rules, Salazar said. One option is to join a sub-district ; another is to formulate an augmentation plan; a third is to take the rules to court and try to keep them there as long as possible “that’s not a real good solution;” and a fourth option is to seek legislative mandates to force polices on the well users. Salazar said he would rather see the Valley work out its own solutions than to go to the state legislature.

The solutions committee, or team, has been trying to develop alternatives since last April, Salazar said. The team set up technical and legal sub groups and has held numerous meetings in the past year.

The team has looked at several alternatives such as diverting numerous junior water rights to pay for depletions and replenish the aquifer. Some of the people who own those junior water rights are not producing that much with them and would just as soon get paid for them. The San Luis Valley Well Owners own some junior water rights that produce a lot of water on certain years, Salazar said. That could be a source of replacement water.

The solutions committee is looking at many options and trying to find the most affordable and efficient ones, Salazar said.

More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

‘Variability will drive us crazy and keep us humble’ — Nolan Doesken

Nolan Doesken -- Colorado Water Foundation for Water Education President's Award Presentation 2011
Nolan Doesken — Colorado Water Foundation for Water Education President’s Award Presentation 2011

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

“Nothing new under the sun” was pretty much the message delivered by State Climatologist Nolan Doesken yesterday during a gathering of area water leaders. Although winters have tended to be warmer, dry years more plentiful and snowfall melting off sooner in recent years, the major factors that determine the Rio Grande Basin’s climate have not changed, Doesken explained.

Colorado is still the highest elevation state in the union; it still remains in a mid-latitude location between the pole and the equator; the state is still interior continental, not any closer to an ocean than it ever was; complex mountain topography remains; and solar energy is still constant, with hundreds of sunny days a year.

In a state that boasts 300 days or more of sunshine a year, the Rio Grande Basin, which encompasses the San Luis Valley, is the sunniest part of the state, Doesken reminded the audience of the Rio Grande Roundtable group on Tuesday.

“Most of the main drivers of our climate are not changing ,” Doesken said. “Our high elevation isn’t changing, our mid-latitude location isn’t changing “”

He added, “It does appear over time there’s been a bit of a warming trend in much of the state, but down here it’s mixed signals.” He said summer days in Alamosa have been distinctly on the hot side in recent years, and when Alamosa is 90 degrees, that generally means the entire state is pretty warm.

However, Doesken said the weather station in Del Norte has recorded a colder trend, which might be attributable to a change in the weather station’s location itself.

Of the weather data available for the Valley, “Most locations show a modest upward trend in temperature,” he said.

“Precipitation, on the other hand, is all over the place.”

He said there is no discernable upward trend in precipitation. This basin’s biggest climate indicators are found within the basin itself, Doesken explained.

“It’s a local effect.”

He said if the data from 1925 to the present were examined, for example, temperature changes might be as easy to determine here as answering the question, “When did it snow last?”

Regarding Valley temperatures , residents have learned to dress in layers, because the temperatures can vary so much, even in a single day, Doesken said.

“You are the champion of diurnal range fluctuations, day to night,” he said. The Valley can experience a 50-degree temperature swing from morning to night on a routine basis. It can be 20 degrees in the morning and 70 in the afternoon.

“That’s the climate in which you live,” Doesken said.

“In the Midwest, Mississippi Valley, going north means colder, south means warmer, but in the mountains it’s local topography that drives temperatures.”

The variability of the Valley’s weather is what remains constant, or as Doesken put it, “Variability will drive us crazy and keep us humble.”

Sometimes there will be an apparent cycle of weather, while at other times it will appear random. One constant is the spring wind that the Valley experiences from March through June.

“You are in your fourmonth wind season right now, like it or not,” he said.

Regarding precipitation, this basin is dry, like it or not. Doesken said because of the basin’s location, it generally receives less than 8 inches precipitation annually , which is the climate area residents know and love.

“You love it as long as the mountains around you are full of snow. They are not always.”

The bulk of the state’s legitimate surface water comes from those mountain snows, but that can vary as much as the temperatures. Because of the moisture that came into the state last fall the majority of it in one week Denver wound up experiencing its wettest year, Doesken said. Doesken reminded the group of the fact most were painfully aware, that the Rio Grande Basin has not enjoyed a big snowpack year for a while.

“Drought happens. It keeps happening,” Doesken said. He said there have been more years with less snowpack by April 1, “but there’s a lot of noise in there.”

He explained how important it is to keep data and said the manual snow course collection sites are extremely valuable. He has been a proponent of maintaining those sites in the state.

He has served in the Colorado Climate Center since 1977 and has been the state climatologist since 2006.

“We are climate accountants ,” he said. The center monitors all aspects of climate in the state from humidity and temperature to precipitation and evaporation . Doesken said the first government weather state in Colorado was located at Fort Massachusetts in the San Luis Valley in 1855, and by 1890 there was a statewide weather reporting network that included sites like Monte Vista and Platoro.

That type of information is still valuable, and Doesken encouraged local residents to become part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow (CoCoRaHS) network that depends on folks in places like Villa Grove to provide weather information to the state climate center. Those interested in becoming a part of CoCoRaHS are welcome to attend an open house from 2-7 p.m. on Friday, March 21, at the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee office , 1305 Park Ave., Monte Vista.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Rio Grande Water Users Association board meeting recap

Upper Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
Upper Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Groundwater rules, endangered species and interstate lawsuits, public trust doctrine ballot initiatives on top of what could be the sixth belowaverage water year in a row add up to what Rio Grande Water Users Association Attorney Bill Paddock called a “horrifying list of what’s out in front of us.”

“That’s what we’re dealing with,” Paddock told water users at the association’s annual meeting in Monte Vista yesterday.

To make a bitter pill even harder to swallow, the assessments for association members increased by $2 per unit, from $25 to $27 per unit, at the recommendation of the board. Association members, who represent area canals and ditches on the Rio Grande, approved the increase. Association President Greg Higel said the assessment increase was not a unanimous recommendation from the board, especially since many of the ditch companies had already set their own assessments for the year. However, the board believed the assessments had to be increased to handle the pending challenges of the year, such as possible lawsuits that might affect water users along the river.

Higel said the board also voted to allocate 2,500 acre feet for Subdistrict #1 again this year. In addition, the board recommended an irrigation start date for water users association members of April 1, which is the standard start date for the irrigation season.

Water user Willie Hoffner voted against the assessment increase and suggested an earlier irrigation start date for folks on Saguache Creek who might not see water again for a while if they are not able to divert it now. Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division 3 Craig Cotten said he would be meeting with the Saguache Creek water users later this month to discuss their preferred irrigation start date.

Cotten said the storms during the last week brought the Rio Grande Basin’s snowpack up from 77 percent to 87 percent of average, but this basin is still the lowest in the state, with other basins way above 100 percent.

“If we can keep getting some storms coming through we have a good chance of reaching that 100 percent,” he said. “We will have to wait and see what the next couple of months bring.”

If things do not improve, this will be the sixth year in a row with below average stream flow on the Rio Grande, Cotten added. Since 2002, the river has registered only three years with above average stream flow , “which is very unusual, and even more unusual the last five years in a row have been below average.”

He said there has only been one other time since the gauges were put in at Del Norte in 1890 that there were five years in a row of below average stream flow , and never six years in a row.

The preliminary forecast for the Rio Grande this year, based on the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s February forecast, at least promises a bit higher numbers than last year. The February forecast for the Rio Grande is 520,000 acre feet, which is still below average but higher than the 459,900 acre feet that passed through the Del Norte gauge last year. Last year’s total was about 71 percent of the longterm average, Cotten said. If the 520,000 acre-feet forecast holds true, the Rio Grande’s obligation to downstream states this year will be about 133,800 acre feet, and the curtailment to meet that obligation could be about 13 percent. However, Cotten stressed that is a guess at this point, and there are many different factors to consider before implementing a curtailment .

Cotten also shared National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predictions for precipitation and temperatures for the next three-month period, which show this area as having equal chances for average precipitation and good chances for above average temperatures. Both Cotten and Paddock spoke to the water users yesterday about pending lawsuits that could have impacts on irrigators in the San Luis Valley.

The state of Texas petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to file a lawsuit against New Mexico and Colorado concerning the Rio Grande Compact, and the U.S. government joined with Texas in the petition last week. The Supreme Court has accepted that lawsuit, so it will now begin moving forward. Colorado is a minor player in the suit at this point but was named because it is part of the compact. Texas’ main beef was with pumping below Caballo Reservoir in New Mexico.

“It didn’t have a lot to do with us but we got drug into that court case,” Cotten said. Paddock added that if New Mexico were to win such a suit, Colorado would definitely be affected because more water would have to be diverted from Elephant Butte Reservoir, one of the main storage facilities for Rio Grande Compact water, leaving less water that could be counted as usable water for compact purposes. If that total decreases below 400,000 acre feet, which was the case last year and will likely remain the case this year, reservoirs in Colorado built after the compact was ratified cannot store water. Platoro Reservoir Paddock added that no one has filed any specific claims against Colorado in the New Mexico/Texas suit, only including Colorado because it is a signatory on the Rio Grande Compact.

“Hopefully there won’t be any spillback on water users in the Valley,” he said. “There’s significant issues that could come up in that lawsuit that could be concerns to Colorado and that could be concerns to all of you.”

Other pending lawsuits, which would more directly affect the Valley, are suits by the WildEarth Guardians. The environmental group filed notice of intent to sue and has 60 days from the time of its notice before it can officially file suit, which would be March 22. That group is alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act protection of the silvery minnow and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, and so far those who may be named in the suit include the State of Colorado, Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service.

“They are claiming that the use of water out of the Rio Grande in Colorado is causing some injury to the endangered species in New Mexico,” said Cotten. “Our position is we have the Rio Grande Compact and we meet our compact obligations each and every year. We have done what we are supposed to do legally to deliver water down there.”

Paddock said if the WildEarth Guardians do bring suit against Colorado it would be a precedent-setting form of litigation nationally, and “it will be an incredibly high stakes lawsuit. They are asserting that endangered species overrule the compact. They are saying you can’t exercise your water rights so water can flow unimpeded to the state of New Mexico to support the silvery minnow. That’s the bottom line.” Regardless of the outcome, such a lawsuit would take years to argue and decide “and will involve every water user from the headwaters of the Rio Grande down to Elephant Butte Reservoir because they would all have the same issues .” He said, the State of Colorado “will not go quietly” if such a lawsuit were to proceed. Paddock and Cotten also reminded attendees of the Rio Grande Water Users Association annual meeting yesterday that groundwater rules will likely be filed with the court this spring. Cotten said the next advisory committee meeting is at 10 a.m. March 12 at the Inn of the Rio Grande in Alamosa, and the state engineer’s goal is to promulgate the rules in April. Paddock added if there are objections to the rules, the court would have to schedule a trial, if those are not resolved beforehand, and that could very likely take place by this time next year. If/Once the rules are ultimately approved, there will be a limited time period for wells to either be under an augmentation plan of their own or through a sub-district , Paddock reminded the water users. Sub-districts would also have a limited time to finalize their formations and plans of management, he added.

“We’re looking at a major change in water management over the next two to three years,” he said.

Capping off “horrifying list of what’s out in front of us,” according to Paddock, is the potential for ballot issues to go before voters this fall regarding a constitutional change from the current priority water system to the Public Trust Doctrine. The Public Trust Doctrine would involve a permitting system, and whoever was in charge of the permitting could choose how water would be diverted and for what uses. For example, the most beneficial use of water could be determined to be instream flows in the Rio Grande rather than diversions for agricultural irrigation, Paddock explained.

“The Public Trust Doctrine is unpredictable,” he said. “It’s terrifying because it takes away people’s certainty of how they can use their water and when it is available.”

He said if those promoting the ballot initiatives collect enough signatures, the Public Trust Doctrine initiatives would probably appear on the ballots this fall.

“It is a significant threat to everyone’s established water rights.” is one of those.

Another even more substantial potential impact of Texas winning this suit and requiring more water to be delivered out of Elephant Butte would be less chance of the reservoir spilling. In a year when Elephant Butte spills, Colorado has no delivery obligation downstream.

“That makes a whole lot more water available in Colorado ,” Paddock said. “That’s pretty high stakes.”

More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

Udall, Bennet, Hickenlooper Announce $199 Million in HUD Funds to Help Colorado Recover from 2013 #COflood

Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com
Evans Colorado September 2013 via TheDenverChannel.com

Here’s the release from Senator Udall’s office:

U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet joined U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Gov. John Hickenlooper today to announce Colorado will receive an additional $199.3 million to help communities recover from the September 2013 flood. The recovery funds, provided through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant- Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program, will support long-term disaster recovery efforts in areas with the greatest extent of unmet need, primarily in Boulder, Weld and Larimer counties.

These new funds build on the $62.8 million Udall and his colleagues secured for Colorado in December 2013 to assist recovery efforts in Colorado. Today’s award brings HUD’s combined CDBG-DR investment to $262.1 million.

“Since the catastrophic flood half a year ago, I have been proud to lead efforts in Washington to help Colorado rebuild its devastated communities, protect our homes and businesses from future floods and mudslides, and secure federal aid for flood victims,” Udall said. “This second wave of recovery funds will supplement the emergency funds I have already helped secure for Colorado. But while these funds are an important milestone in our recovery efforts, I will keep fighting to ensure Coloradans have every resource we need to rebuild smarter and stronger.”

“These resources will help flood-ravaged communities in our state rebuild their homes and businesses, repair their roads and bridges, and invest in infrastructure to make Colorado more resilient the next time disaster strikes,” Bennet said. “We will continue to work together throughout the recovery process to build a stronger Colorado, and we are thankful for Secretary Donovan’s support.”

“After visiting Lyons and Evans in December I promised HUD would do more to help the state recover,” Donovan said. “This additional money will fund a local vision to rebuild homes and businesses, repair badly damaged roads and bridges, and spur economic development. While we can never truly replace all that was lost, I remain committed to helping Colorodo rebuild more resilient and better prepared for future storms.”

“This week marks six months since the flooding began,” Hickenlooper said. “From the beginning, HUD and our federal partners have been instrumental in investing in Colorado’s recovery. This second round of CDBG-DR funds is critical for families, businesses and economic development in the flood-impacted communities. We know we will never make whole those impacted by the floods, but these funds can help us build back sustainable, resilient communities for Colorado’s future.”

A minimum of 80 percent of the funds awarded today will be targeted in Boulder, Weld, and Larimer Counties where approximately 2,800 homes incurred major or severe damage. Although the majority of this funding is intended to address the remaining disaster recovery and resiliency needs from the September flooding, the state may target remaining funds to other especially hard-hit areas from other major disasters in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Those disasters include the 2012 High Park and Waldo Canyon wildfires, and the 2013 Royal Gorge and Black Forest wildfires.

HUD’s CDBG-Disaster Recovery grants are intended to confront housing, business and infrastructure needs beyond those addressed by other forms of public and private assistance. Using a combination of data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA), HUD identified particular counties in Colorado with the greatest extent of damage to housing, businesses and infrastructure.

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet joined U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Gov. John Hickenlooper today to announce Colorado will receive an additional $199.3 million to help communities recover from the September 2013 flood. The recovery funds, provided through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant- Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program, will support long-term disaster recovery efforts in areas with the greatest extent of unmet need, primarily in Boulder, Weld and Larimer counties.

These new funds build on the $62.8 million Udall and his colleagues secured for Colorado in December 2013 to assist recovery efforts in Colorado. Today’s award brings HUD’s combined CDBG-DR investment to $262.1 million.

“Since the catastrophic flood half a year ago, I have been proud to lead efforts in Washington to help Colorado rebuild its devastated communities, protect our homes and businesses from future floods and mudslides, and secure federal aid for flood victims,” Udall said. “This second wave of recovery funds will supplement the emergency funds I have already helped secure for Colorado. But while these funds are an important milestone in our recovery efforts, I will keep fighting to ensure Coloradans have every resource we need to rebuild smarter and stronger.”

“These resources will help flood-ravaged communities in our state rebuild their homes and businesses, repair their roads and bridges, and invest in infrastructure to make Colorado more resilient the next time disaster strikes,” Bennet said. “We will continue to work together throughout the recovery process to build a stronger Colorado, and we are thankful for Secretary Donovan’s support.”

“After visiting Lyons and Evans in December I promised HUD would do more to help the state recover,” Donovan said. “This additional money will fund a local vision to rebuild homes and businesses, repair badly damaged roads and bridges, and spur economic development. While we can never truly replace all that was lost, I remain committed to helping Colorodo rebuild more resilient and better prepared for future storms.”

“This week marks six months since the flooding began,” Hickenlooper said. “From the beginning, HUD and our federal partners have been instrumental in investing in Colorado’s recovery. This second round of CDBG-DR funds is critical for families, businesses and economic development in the flood-impacted communities. We know we will never make whole those impacted by the floods, but these funds can help us build back sustainable, resilient communities for Colorado’s future.”

A minimum of 80 percent of the funds awarded today will be targeted in Boulder, Weld, and Larimer Counties where approximately 2,800 homes incurred major or severe damage. Although the majority of this funding is intended to address the remaining disaster recovery and resiliency needs from the September flooding, the state may target remaining funds to other especially hard-hit areas from other major disasters in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Those disasters include the 2012 High Park and Waldo Canyon wildfires, and the 2013 Royal Gorge and Black Forest wildfires.

HUD’s CDBG-Disaster Recovery grants are intended to confront housing, business and infrastructure needs beyond those addressed by other forms of public and private assistance. Using a combination of data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA), HUD identified particular counties in Colorado with the greatest extent of damage to housing, businesses and infrastructure.

From The Greeley Tribune:

Six months after the September flood, Weld County officials say they will solicit reimbursement for more than $12 million in emergency repairs, more than 130 permanent road and bridge repairs, and more than $300,000 for debris removal.

The county will also seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for improvements that would reduce the risk of flooding in future events, officials said in a news release.

Weld County will submit about 35 total applications for FEMA reimbursement, some of those lumped into several small projects and some as one large project.

FEMA pays for 75 percent of the repairs, and the state of Colorado and Weld County will each contribute 12.5 percent of each project.

“Our Public Works staff, our Emergency Management staff and our consultants have been working daily to identify repair projects, estimate costs and gather the documentation needed to submit projects to FEMA for reimbursement,” said Weld County Commissioner Chairman Douglas Rademacher in a statement.

Weld officials say FEMA could approve funding for the emergency repairs by the end of April.

Weld County engineers are still examining roads and bridges and have time to submit more projects to FEMA in the future, according to the release.

The county is also working on several road repair projects with the Federal Highway Administration, which uses a separate reimbursement process.

The flood damaged seven FHA roads and bridges in Weld County, to the tune of $2.5 million in emergency repairs.

Engineers are working on the cost of permanent repairs, which the FHA will reimburse up to 80 percent.

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Evans officials may seek to condemn the two mobile home parks destroyed by the September flood.

The Evans City Council is set to vote Tuesday on a resolution authorizing city staff to take legal ownership of Eastwood Village and Bella Vista mobile home parks.

The authority would allow them to clean the flood-contaminated debris county health officials warn will pose a public health hazard when warmer weather arrives.

Condemnation is a last resort, but could be the final scenario in the most “massive” of Evans’ flooding issues, said Sheryl Trent, Evans’ community and economic development director.

Trent said the city would seek help from Weld County or the state to help shoulder the $1 million cost of removing the debris, but officials will first pursue grants and other options.

The city is looking at a 60-90 day window to clear the contaminated debris, Trent said, and estimated it could be removed by June if the city gets the property through a normal purchase procedure.

If Evans has to condemn the property, she said that could be pushed back to July or later due to lengthy court procedures.

Perry Glantz, the attorney representing Eastwood Village owner Keith Cowan, said Cowan would need compensation not just for the property, but for the loss of his business.

Glantz said he would have to consult experts on an exact dollar amount, but the business and property are worth several million dollars.

Cowan last month filed a lawsuit against the city of Evans over a change in floodplain rules he says will keep him from reopening the park.

The lawsuit argues Evans has effectively taken away Cowan’s ability to use the property due to the new floodplain rules, which would require a costly investment because every mobile home in the park would have to be elevated, Glantz said.

The lawsuit also claims Evans officials rejected a plan to purchase his property through a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.

Evans has filed a counter-lawsuit.

Glantz said Evans does have the power to take control of the mobile home park, but he said the loss in business would unfairly affect only Cowan.

“My client doesn’t own mobile homes. My client owns a mobile home park. And it wasn’t destroyed in the flood,” Glantz said. “One man doesn’t have to take the entire loss.”

Even if council members pass the resolution, Trent said the city will continue to pursue alternative solutions, including negotiations with the park owners.

If park owners show any sign of pursuing debris removal, Trent said the city will not seek condemnation.

The property acquired by the city could either be turned into a stormwater retention project or open space, Trent said.

She said Evans needs more stormwater infrastructure to handle standing water when it rains heavily, and a generous-sized retention lake could help.

If not, Trent said the city will maintain open space where the parks once were with some trails and gazebos so that if another flood does strike, no real structures would be affected.

The city has tried all other avenues to get the flood debris removed, Trent said, including reaching out to state and federal agencies for help.

The Denver Post editorial board opposes H.R. 3189 (NSAA vs. USFS)

Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia
Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia

From The Denver Post Editorial Board:

A battle over ski-area water rights that has been simmering in Colorado — and across the country — for several years has gotten the attention of the White House, and we’re glad to see it.

President Obama on Wednesday issued a statement opposing the Water Rights Protection Act, which passed Thursday in the U.S. House but must still go to the Senate.

The White House is right to send a strong signal about the unwise nature of this measure, which could pre-empt a compromise in the public interest.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., would put up road blocks to stop the federal government from re- asserting greater control over ski-area water rights.

Initially, it might sound like a no-brainer. Of course the government should allow the ski areas to keep water rights so they can keep producing the snow that is such an economic and recreational boon, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

The U.S. Forest Service is attempting to re-establish stewardship of rights for water that originates on federal land. The goal is to ensure water stays with the public land used by resorts, even if ownership of the resort changes.

Beginning about 30 years ago in the region that includes Colorado, federal authorities started requiring ski-area permit holders to put water rights from public lands in the government’s name.

In 2004, the Bush administration changed policy, allowing ski areas to jointly hold water rights. When the Forest Service, under Obama, tried to change permit conditions to more closely follow historic practice in the Colorado region, the ski industry sued.

A federal judge ruled in 2012 that the process used to make permit changes was deficient.

Fortunately, there is room for compromise without another legal battle.

The Forest Service is creating, but has not yet released, a new ski-area water rights clause that could provide a solution. A solid compromise would be to allow resorts to keep water rights ownership, but require that the water remain with the land, regardless of whether ski resorts changed hands or business plans.

When released this spring, the draft will go through a full public vetting process, as it should.

Entire Colorado mountain towns and economies depend upon recreation on federal land, and it’s vital to ensure the people, through their government, retain control of the water that is the lifeblood of those communities.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A measure that would prevent federal agencies from requiring ski areas, ranches, municipalities and others to sign over water rights passed the U.S. House on Thursday in the shadow of a threatened veto. The Water Rights Protection Act by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., lost the support of U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who had co-sponsored the measure, but did garner a dozen Democrat votes in passing 238-174.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., introduced a companion measure in the Democrat-dominated Senate and Tipton said after the vote that he hoped to win the support of Colorado’s senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats. Senate President Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, also ought to be supportive, Tipton said.

“We’re pleased to know it passed the House,” said Club 20 Executive Director Bonnie Petersen. “Hopefully it will pass in the Senate. This is critical to everybody in the West.”

The White House, in a statement of administration policy, said the bill “is overly broad and could have numerous unintended consequences,” including damaging the ability of the Agriculture and Interior departments’ ability to manage resources for the benefit of public land and the environment, as well as maximum beneficial use of federal water facilities ensuring that adequate water is available for fisheries or threatened or endangered species.

In arguing against the measure, Polis also said the bill was overly broad and that he intended it only to apply to ski areas…

The breadth of the bill was intended from the beginning, when Polis originally signed on, Tipton said, noting that it still is supported by the National Ski Areas Association, which sued the U.S. Forest Service when it required ski areas, including Powderhorn Mountain Resort, to sign over water rights in order to obtain a permit to operate on the Grand Mesa National Forest.

The veto threat was pre-emptive, Tipton said, calling on the Senate to take a vote on the bill and let the legislative process go forward.

A federal judge ruled in the suit brought by the ski areas that the Forest Service had failed to comply with federal law in invoking the rule under which it demanded the water rights.

More water law coverage here.

Carpe Diem West: Mapping the River Ahead 2014 #ColoradoRiver

mappingtheriverahead2014

Click here to read the report from Carpe Diem West. Here’s the forward written by Anne Castle:

The Colorado River has always been known for its superlatives – the most volatile supplies, the most iconic landscapes, the most dammed, the most litigated, and recently, the most threatened. The challenges of the past have been overcome with achievements that matched the scope of the difficulties – significant and much-emulated breakthroughs in engineering and deal-making. The challenges of the present and future will require an even greater degree of creativity and ability to see through immediate gains and losses to the greater and longer term benefits to river interests and communities. The leaders in Colorado River water issues have historically risen to the challenges, tackling tough issues as they arise, and the leadership engaged today is in the complicated and painful throes of doing so again.

This report documents the concerns of some Colorado River thought leaders and their ideas about potential solutions and paths ahead. It provides a useful compilation of perceptions and suggestions gleaned from one-on-one interviews, and points out consistencies of approach that may not be evident in more public discussions. These voices point to the flexibility within the existing Law of the River that can support creative arrangements and new types of operation resulting in a more efficient overall system. While not intended as a set of recommendations, the discussions described can be mined for practical pathways forward that might garner broader support and address both the ongoing and new pressures on this critical river system.

The urgency of the present situation cannot be overestimated, and no one knows the risks better than the water managers who will guide the actions and formulate the contingency plans of the future. While each has particular interests to guard, Colorado River experts also know that solutions will not be easy and will likely require adjustment to some heretofore jealously guarded positions and anticipated benefits.

One obvious example of the evolution of thinking on Colorado River management is the recognition that a broader spectrum of interests must participate in the construction of plans and policies. Integration of Tribal rights and values, environmental stewardship, regional cooperation, and international partnerships are all emerging trends – and rightly so. More and better education of the general public about the labyrinthine nature of the existing river plumbing and operations and the corresponding complexity of securing sustainable supplies is also a common theme. Both of these conclusions follow from an appreciation that building the broad-based public and political support necessary to implement difficult solutions will require a coalition of the knowing.

There are also myths and urban legends about the Colorado River’s problems that must be dispelled before meaningful forward progress can be achieved. The foremost of these fables holds that there is a simple, silver bullet means of balancing the system. Despite well-meaning proponents who speak with conviction, simply turning off the fountains in Las Vegas or drying up golf courses in Phoenix isn’t going to take care of the problem. Similarly, the unspoken assumption that any necessary water can be obtained by drying up irrigated agriculture fails to acknowledge the very significant economic and cultural disruption that would follow.

The stakes have never been higher, but the level of engagement and willingness to acknowledge all the elephants in the room are also at an all-time peak. This report gives voice to some important ideas for potential refinement and a peek into the evolution of thinking and broad-based education that will be essential in identifying practical and implementable solutions to our common challenges.

— Anne Castle, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of Interior

Here’s a guest column written by Doug Kenney and Kate Greenberg that is running in the Boulder Daily Camera. Here’s an excerpt:

Two of the report’s themes stand out to us most clearly:

First, the emphasis on the urgency of the crisis we face. The age of denial is over, and leaders up and down the river are now grasping that we must begin to address this crisis today. Already, the water supply and demand curves have crossed. We are in uncharted territory, dealing with rapidly changing climatic conditions, facing a kind of vulnerability that is very new. So a new approach is also in order. Instead of thinking about how to “increase our supply” when water will be in shorter and shorter supply, we can begin to think about making do with what we have. Seeing our water needs through the lens of vulnerability, especially in this age of increasingly frequent extreme weather events, is the smart way to go. That allows us to stop chasing old solutions, and start coming up with ways to stretch existing supplies while planning ahead for drier days. There is enough water for us to thrive if we’re willing to look at water with this new perspective and act accordingly. This report is useful because it outlines real solutions – like water banking, urban and rural conservation programs, and city/farm water sharing agreements — that are working on the ground now.

Second is the focus on finding solutions to help both our family farms and our towns and cities. The report draws much attention to the possibilities of using temporary water transfers from farms to cities, and other innovative techniques to help farmers thrive and, at the same time, use water more efficiently. Since agriculture uses over 70 percent of surface water in the Colorado River Basin, we can and should help farmers to use their water most efficiently, while focusing on solutions that preserve independent family farms and the rural economy. Farmers simply must be a central part of any effort to ensure water security–and food security–for our region. This report acknowledges that fact while putting forward flexible, voluntary solutions that will work to balance often-conflicting needs.

While we know there are innovative solutions working already, we don’t have a lot of time to scale them up. We are facing an increasingly urgent crisis up and down the river — for communities, for natural systems, and for farms. A big part of that scaling up process is broadening out the conversation about the river and the people and natural systems that depend on it. With an informed, engaged public, we can find our way to a sustainable future in the Colorado River basin. This report is a great next step in the conversation. Learn more, and to advocate your favorite solution please submit by writing to info@carpediemwest.org.

Doug Kenney is Director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado. Kate Greenberg is the Western Organizer with the National Young Farmers Coalition. She is based in Durango.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

‘Rivers do much more than keep fish wet’ — Jo Evans/Ken Neubecker #COWaterPlan

Saguache Creek
Saguache Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jo Evans/Ken Neubecker):

Colorado faces a future with more people and less water. A state water plan is a good idea, but we must plan carefully to get the future we want. We need to include rivers as rivers, not merely as engineered conduits bringing water to our faucets and farms.

Rivers do much more than keep fish wet. They are the life and heart of entire ecosystems. Ninety percent of Colorado’s wildlife depend on riparian habitat to survive. Riparian areas and rivers make up less than 5 percent of our total land area, but they are the most complex and important habitat we have. They are incredibly valuable economically as well as environmentally. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Coloradoans spent $10 billion on wildlife related recreation in 2011 alone. Riparian areas and rivers statewide made that possible.

Most Colorado rivers have no prescribed minimum flows, and a healthy riparian zone needs more than that. When we take water out of a stream things change.

Riparian areas and the gravel aquifers they depend on dry out. Recent studies have shown that diverting more than 20 percent of a stream’s native flow can cause damage, and many streams in Colorado have far more water than that removed. Most water used will eventually return to the stream from which it was taken, even if many miles downstream. Water taken out of its original basin for use in another basin is gone forever. Trans-basin diversions impact the entire stream and riparian ecosystem, not just the flow of the stream.

When we add new water to a stream on this side of the Continental Divide, typically the stream becomes wider, deeper and faster. The stream may no longer fit the environment under which it was formed, impacting everything that depended on that stream habitat. This not only impacts wildlife but can make the natural drainage less able to handle floods such as we had last year.

We do pretty well at determining how much water we will need for our faucets and fields. We identify how much we need, where and when, and then look for ways to provide that quantity of water. The draft Colorado Water Plan lists specific municipal, industrial and agricultural needs for each of the major river basins and the possible projects to supply those necessities. But we need balance. Where is a comparable environmental needs list?

Specific environmental water needs are still mostly unknown. Environmental uses are usually described as “attributes” to be “enhanced” often by new storage and diversion projects. These “enhancements” may or may not be enough to maintain a healthy stream and riparian environment. If we are to meet our environmental water needs, we must identify and quantify those needs.

When we know how much water we need to repair and maintain our rivers, we can truly plan how to meet these needs. Until and unless we do, the state water plan is only half a plan and doesn’t provide for all the values expressed in the governor’s executive order calling for the plan. Not by a long shot.

Jo Evans is president of the Audubon Colorado Council. Ken Neubecker is with the Audubon Colorado Council Water Task Force.