Legislative flood disaster committee will continue to meet #COflood

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From Greeley Tribune (T.M. Fasano):

The Flood Disaster Study Committee, which was created to recommend legislative responses to the flooding that impacted the Front Range last September, will continue to meet even after the charter for the committee ended at the conclusion of the 2014 Colorado legislative session last Wednesday.

The committee will look at spring run-off on areas impacted by the flood, as well as any other issue that might arise. Several flood relief bills were passed as a result of the bipartisan efforts of the committee.

Weld County representatives on the 12-member committee are Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley; Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley; and Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Severance. Young and Renfroe are co-chairmen of the committee.

Other representatives on the committee include Reps. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), Mike Foote (D-Lafayette), Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland) and Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling); Sens. Matt Jones (D-Louisville), John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins), Jeanne Nicholson (D-Black Hawk), Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs) and Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud).

“We’ll wait and see how the spring run-off goes and get the coalition of people back together and see if the legislators heard anything from their areas that still needs to be addressed,” Renfroe said. “I think we’ve had a couple of issues come up, so we may have one or two more meetings through the rest of this year to study the impacts and if there’s anything else that can be done next year.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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

Meanwhile, two Evans manufactured home parks have started their clean up efforts. Here’s a report from Analisa Romano writing for The Greeley Tribune:

T he owners of the two Evans mobile home parks devastated in the September flood have finally begun to clear the debris.

Cleanup efforts at Eastwood Village and Bella Vista mobile home parks follow a great deal of consternation from public health officials, who in February warned home-cleaning chemicals, trash, old food and mold left in the piles of flood debris would warm and putrefy with summer temperatures.

The park owners, faced with high cleanup costs and questions about how to legally remove damaged structures that didn’t belong to them, did not address those concerns until now.

Bella Vista at this point has removed a “significant” amount of debris and shouldn’t pose a health risk, said Mark Wallace, executive director of Weld County’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

Eastwood Village has removed less debris. Perry Glantz, an attorney representing Eastwood owner Keith Cowan, said Cowan has found a number of entities interested in the damaged homes — some to take to salvage yards and others to use the frames or other materials to build things like chicken coops or on-site construction offices.

Glantz said those entities will remove the structures themselves, meaning they may not be totally cleared from the Eastwood property for another 30-60 days.

Wallace said the county has personnel monitoring the sites weekly, but they have so far not been a problem, nor has the county received any complaints.

“At this point in time, we do not see any nuisance, and we see progress being made,” Wallace said.

While the Eastwood site is getting cleared for good, Bella Vista owner Jim Feehan said he is preparing for redevelopment.

He said he isn’t sure what will go there until he knows if he will receive some kind of disaster funding assistance. Feehan said his park will likely be more competitive for assistance if he doesn’t rebuild a park, but he said he hopes to know more within six months. Kristan Williams, Evans’ communications manager, said Bella Vista is better positioned for redevelopment because it is farther from the South Platte River.

But at Eastwood, which is closer to the river, rebuilding with new floodplain requirements adopted by the Evans City Council would be cost-prohibitive, Cowan has said. Glantz said Cowan’s lawsuit against the City of Evans for changing its floodplain rules is still underway, with a trial set for August.

“It’s just not realistic,” Glantz said of the multi-million dollar adjustments Cowan would have to make to keep his park. “They (the city) have taken his business, basically.”

Cowan is paying his staff to do surface cleanup and haul away trash, but has worked out individual deals with those interested in recovering the structures, Glantz said. He said Eastwood ultimately went through the state to get a certificate of abandonment to legally remove the demolished trailers, most of which were owned by those who lived in them.

Feehan, on the other hand, has gone through a hybrid process of either getting titles to the homes that were owned or getting an abandoned title. To obtain a title to an abandoned home, Feehan said he had to go through a multiple-month process of notifications, appraisals and bonds. For other homes, the owners gave him certificates of destruction or the title.

For Glenn Smithey, an Eastwood resident who completely lost his home, handing over the title was a matter of principal he said he couldn’t bear.

“I paid my trailer off the same day it went under,” Smithey said.

He said for that reason, he did not want to give Cowan the title to his home.

Smithey said he was originally told to clear his property himself, but he could not feasibly pay for its removal, and he had been warned not to go anywhere near the debris for health reasons.

Cowan eventually got an abandoned title to Smithey’s home so it could be removed.

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

John Morris was already considering a run for Evans mayor when the September flood literally shook the foundations of his home and those of his neighbors. Some might have looked at the devastation, including hundreds of displaced residents from obliterated mobile home parks and millions of dollars in damage done to the city’s infrastructure, and turned the other way. But Morris found the flood, with all of its devastation, also offered an opportunity for the city to redevelop in a way that helps residents for years to come.

“These are 50-year, 100-year decisions,” Morris said of redevelopment. “We need to make sure it’s right the first time.”

Now, the 52-year-old Nebraska native is taking charge of those decisions as the new Evans mayor. After about a month in the hot seat, Morris said things are going well.

Morris served as Evans’ mayor pro-tem for four years and is a former member of the city’s Planning Commission. He said having some experience, too, moved him to step up at a time when he knew Evans would need some experienced leadership.

Flood recovery continues to take center stage as one of Evans’ greatest challenges, Morris said. He said the city faces some big decisions on what to do with the flood-damaged wastewater treatment facility and city park.

New EPA standards and an anticipated growth in Evans residents means the city will have to decide whether to relocate the facility, Morris said, along with decisions on how to keep Evans’ enterprise funds, such as water rates, self-sufficient, and setting aside money for capital projects to sustain growth.

Water storage and acquisition — the Windy Gap and the Northern Integrated Supply Project — and how to contribute funding to those things, are also on Morris’ radar.

Morris owns his own business — EVCO Investigations, LLC, a criminal investigation and surveillance service — and has lived in Evans for 18 years with his wife. Morris has four kids, the youngest of whom attends Frontier Academy in Greeley. The others are grown and live in the Greeley and Denver areas.

Morris said Evans’ past mayor, Lyle Achziger, was a great mentor over the years.

“One of the hardest things I have probably ever done was tell Lyle goodbye,” Morris said. “I could only hope to be half of the mayor he was.”

Snowpack/runoff/drought news: Fry-Ark deliveries expected to be nearly 52,000 acre-feet #COdrought

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project is expected to deliver the most water since 2011 this year as mountain snowpack continues to mount in the Colorado River basin. The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District on Thursday approved allocations to cities and farms totaling nearly 52,000 acre-feet. That would be the most since 2011, when 75,000 acre-feet were allocated, and the fourth highest total since 2001.

The Fry-Ark project brings water across the Continental Divide through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake.

The Southeastern district then divides the water according to principles that have been adopted over the 40 years since water first moved through the tunnel. This year, 28,379 acrefeet will go to cities, while 23,624 will go to farms.

Pueblo did not take its share of water, as is often the case.

“We felt we have adequate water available this year, so our policy is to make it available to other uses in a dry year or a year following a dry year,” said Terry Book, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “We have more flexibility than others.”

Earlier this year, Pueblo decided it had enough water to lease some of it to other users.

Colorado Springs received the largest allocation among cities, with 9,000 acre-feet. Among agricultural users, the Fort Lyon Canal topped the list with 9,619 acre-feet, based on eligible irrigated acres.

Water costs municipal users $9.75 per acre-foot (325,851 gallons) and agricultural users $9 per acre-foot.

The board also allocated 8,000 acre-feet of return flows.

The Fry-Ark project actually is expected to bring over 64,000 acre-feet, according to Roy Vaughan, project manager for the Bureau of Reclamation. However, other obligations, transit loss and evaporation reduce the amount available to allocate. The projection assumes normal precipitation throughout the remaining weeks of spring and early summer. If the snowpack melts too fast to capture, or if minimum flows on the Arkansas River are not met, less water could be imported. To protect against that, the Southeastern district will hold back 20 percent of allocations until July 18 at the latest.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A pilot program will let farmers on the Fort Lyon Canal use their own return flows from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to supplement wells or surface-fed sprinklers. About 3,200 acre-feet will go toward farms on about 31,000 acres of ground under the Fort Lyon Canal covered by improvements. Nearly 60,000 acres will not be in the return-flow program, either because they are ineligible for Fry-Ark water or unable to use return flows under current policies.

Under Rule 10 of the 2010 consumptive use rules for surface irrigation and Rule 14 of the 1996 well rules, farmers are required to replace depletions. Fry-Ark principles also allow users first right of refusal on return flows — the portion that runs off a field and is not used by crops, water that runs off lawns or treated flows from sewer treatment plants.

Because Fry-Ark water is imported into the Arkansas River basin, it can legally be used to extinction. Cities either manage their own return flows through plans that cover multiple years or use the entire amount for augmentation. Farmers have not had the engineering or physical resources to manage the flows, which return at varying rates to the river over several years. The pilot program, with the help of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and well associations, will introduce new ways to account for water coming off fields and weave the results into existing replacement plans.

“Our staff, the Lower Ark district and the Fort Lyon Canal worked hard to make this happen,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern board.

From The Denver Post (Yesenia Robles):

With a forecast of highs above 70 every day this week, it should be safe to say Colorado’s Front Range is done with snow for the season. Expect a high of 85 degrees in Denver Sunday with temperatures in the upper 70s and lower 80s for the rest of the week — and a possibility for spring thunderstorms almost every day.

Although it ruined some Mother’s Day plans, last week’s batch of snow further pushed snowpack in Colorado river basins above average. Snowpack at the South Platte River basin hadbeen at 121 percent of average, but after last week’s snow that number reached 145 percent. Likewise, the snowpack at the Upper Colorado River basin is now at 136 percent of average. According to the National Weather Service, the recorded snowpack on May 13 is one of the 10 highest recorded for that date in the last 35 years.

Drought conditions have also continued to improve for most of the state, with only the southeast corner of the state still suffering. Currently about 2 percent of the state is classified under the most “exceptional” drought conditions, where almost 16 percent of the state was last year, according to the United State Drought Monitor.

This year’s additional, and wet, snowpack means there will be more runoff which can pose a risk for flooding in the foothills.

“All of the antecedent conditions for another flood are here,” the National Weather Service report states.

But other conditions including soil moisture, dry winds, warm rain and how fast snowpack melts will still play a role in causing or averting floods.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

Recent moisture was a real boon for agricultural producers. It means that farmers will not have to use precious irrigation water to get crops to emerge, and it will help pastures to green up for ranches, said Morgan County extension agent Marlin Eisenach. Local reservoirs are all full, and this means that water can be saved for the hot summer months, he said…

Planting has gone smoothly this spring despite a number of rain storms, he said. By mid-week, 90 percent of the local corn crop was planted and 60 percent already emerged, Eisenach noted. All of the sugar beets have been planted, as have potatoes and onions. About 40 percent of the beets had emerged.

The only question is whether or not crops suffered from cold nights during this past week, since it got down close to freezing, Eisenach said. That is especially important for wheat, because it is past the jointed phase, he said. It may take a little time to see if there was damage, Eisenach said.

Extra moisture was important. Statewide, only 51 percent of fields had adequate or surplus moisture, according to the Colorado Crop Progress Report, and only 44 percent had adequate or surplus subsoil moisture. Many of the fields that are short of moisture are in the southeast corner of the state and the San Luis Valley.

Mountain snowpack was at 93 percent of average at the beginning of the week.

At the end of last week, about 60 percent of pastures were reported in fair to excellent condition.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The snow at the summit of Buffalo Pass was hand-measured by the U.S. Forest Service at 147 inches Tuesday, the same depth it was on March 31, in spite of numerous mild days in April and May that pushed valley temperatures into the 60s. Also, a remote measuring device near the West Summit of Rabbit Ears Pass reports the snow depth there still is 69 inches. The 34.1 inches of water contained in the snowpack on the West Summit is 166 percent of the median, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and all of that water has yet to flow down the tributary streams into the river.

Could the Yampa River flood parking lots along U.S. Highway 40 this spring when runoff begins in earnest, like it did in 2011? Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said Wednesday that ultimately the answer to that question will depend on weather conditions. But he consulted the Colorado Basin Forecast Center to confirm that the Yampa is expected to peak below flood stage, but possibly not by much.

“There’s a 10 percent chance the Yampa will peak at 5,500 cubic feet per second, which compares to flood stage at 5,900 cfs,” Strautins said. “The peaks are really weather dependent, and it’s hard to predict beyond seven days out.”

Flood stage on the Yampa at Fifth Street also is described as a measurement of 7 feet on the gauge.

Forecast Center hydrologist Ashley Nielson told the Steamboat Today on April 22 that this year’s snowpack doesn’t measure up to 2011…

History suggests the Yampa typically would peak sometime in the next three weeks — during the last two weeks in May or the first week in June. The Yampa where it flows beneath the Fifth Street Bridge in Steamboat peaked at 2,830 cubic feet per second May 27, 2013. The year before, in 2012, it peaked unusually early at just 1,570 cfs on April 27. The preceding two years, the Yampa happened to peak on June 7. And it was June 7, 2011, that it peaked at 5,200 cfs, causing the evacuation of a parsonage at Steamboat Christian Center, where the river was flowing through the parking lot.

With the river flowing at just 1,010 cfs on Wednesday afternoon, and above average snowpack persisting in the mountains, this may be a runoff season when the peak does not arrive until June.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

This week’s snowstorm was worth several million dollars in water savings to San Luis Valley farmers but probably did not significantly affect snowpack in the mountains, Rio Grande Water Conservation District Manager Steve Vandiver told Rio Grande Roundtable members on Tuesday. Vandiver, who is also the retired division water engineer for the Rio Grande Basin, said in spite of the recent snow, the snowpack basin wide Tuesday morning was still just at 56 percent.

“We are extremely short, particularly in the southern part of the Valley,” he said.

The farther south, the worse it gets, Vandiver added. While Saguache actually might be at 100 percent of average, Alamosa would be 50-60 percent of average and the San Antonio Mountain area at 20 percent.

For farmers, however, this week’s snowstorm was liquid cash. Vandiver said he knew of only one sprinkler running on Tuesday. The sprinkler was running on a field on Highway 285 with four inches of snow on the field.

Vandiver said he did not know if the snow made much of a difference in the mountains but it certainly helped irrigators in the Valley below. He estimated the snow would save irrigators several days’ worth of watering and several million dollars.

Vandiver said the latest stream forecast the first part of May estimated considerably less water coming through the system this year than the previous month’s forecast, which also means less of an obligation to downstream states through the Rio Grande Compact. As a result, curtailments on irrigators went down with the forecast, from 10 percent to 7 percent curtailment on the Rio Grande and down to 1 percent on the Conejos River system.

“They have apparently a little bit of obligation, but something like this storm will very likely take care of that,” Vandiver said.

Vandiver also reported to the roundtable members, a Valley-wide representative water group, that the first groundwater management sub-district had submitted its annual replacement plan to the state, which had approved it, and the sub-district was replacing its depletions to the river.

“The depletions are slightly smaller than they were last year but we still have a daily obligation to replace depletions to the river,” he explained.

Vandiver added one of the major changes this year, which he hoped would carry over to future sub-districts , was the willingness of canals to enter forbearance agreements with the subdistrict . Six of the major canals have entered such agreements this year.

“It allows us to save the water that we do have and pay the money for that impact on a daily basis, instead of releasing water through the reservoir, which stretches our water supplies,” Vandiver said. “We see it as a very positive thing.”

What Works in Water Education? With Nicole Seltzer – The Water Values

2014 Colorado legislation: Governor signs SB14-115 in Salida #COleg #COWaterPlan

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

From The Mountain Mail (J.D. Thomas):

Gov. John Hickenlooper visited Salida Thursday to sign into law a bill sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass). The governor signed the bill, named State Water Plan Public Review & General Assembly, at 9:42 a.m. at Salida SteamPlant.

According to a summary of the bill, the legislation requires the Colorado Water Conservation Board to hold a hearing within each basin roundtable on a draft to develop a state water plan, update the plan based on public comments and present the draft plan to the Water Resources Review Committee. The committee must vote on whether to introduce legislation that would approve the plan. A state water plan does not have the force of law unless the General Assembly approves the plan, the summary states.

Getting input from more interest groups, other than just agricultural and urban water interests, was the goal of the bill, said Hickenlooper. He said he welcomed environmental and recreational interests to be recognized in the state water plan.
Schwartz said the bill is meant to open the conversation between the eastern part of the state, which she said has 80 percent of the population, and the Western Slope, which has 80 percent of the water.

Rep. Don Coram (R-District 58), a co-sponsor of the bill, attended the signing. Other co-sponsors, Sen. Ellen S. Roberts (R-District 6) and Rep. Randolph Fischer (D-District 53), were unable to attend.

Hickenlooper said it was a treat to come back to Salida, and he welcomes any excuse to visit again. Visiting Salida was part of a tour of the southern part of the state, he said.

2014 Colorado legislation: Hydropower bill passes both houses #COleg

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, and State Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, set out during the legislative session that recently ended to pass legislation facilitating development of small hydro-power projects in Colorado by streamlining the approval process. Their bill drew bipartisan support, passing the House by a vote of 62-3 and the Senate by a vote of 26-7, and is due to be signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper later this month. The Colorado Energy Office is required to coordinate the required reviews of new hydro projects by multiple state agencies and establish deadlines to respond to the projects’ proponents. “This bill streamlines and coordinates the complex permitting process for small hydroelectric facilities that produce 10 megawatts of energy or less,” Mitsch Bush said. “It cuts red tape and will stimulate small, rural hydroelectric businesses and help create rural jobs.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Water quality sensor confirms #ColoradoRiver reached the Sea of Cortez on Thursday

Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute
Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute

From the Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

The gulf and river connected Thursday afternoon for the first time in 16 years, due to the artificial pulse flow released into the river over the past two months.

The sensor detected that the shallow river water in that vicinity wasn’t as saline as sea water or even local agricultural irrigation runoff, said Ed Glenn, a University of Arizona soil, water and environmental science professor who has been heavily involved in monitoring the pulse flow in the Colorado River Delta that led to Thursday’s historic event.

The sensor — a small meter tied to a pole that’s anchored to the river bottom — lies just south of an area where salty irrigation runoff from the Hardy River flows into the Colorado. It’s also near a huge sandbar that the gulf’s high tides had to clear to connect with the river. This event happened at a point 17 miles upstream from the river’s mouth.

On Friday, the International Boundary and Water Commission issued a news release heralding the river’s reconnection with the sea. The commission and the U.S. and Mexican governments jointly sponsored the delta pulse flow that is releasing a total of 105,000 acre-feet of water from Morelos Dam, south of Yuma, into the delta. The pulse flow releases end Sunday.

Because of the complexity of the Colorado River system, scientists didn’t know for sure if the pulse would contain enough water to reach the gulf, about 94 miles downstream of the dam, or if the water would all seep into the ground before reaching the sea, the commission said.

From National Geographic (Sandra Postel):

The pulse flow, which began on March 23, is now nearing its end. Scientists had not planned on the river reaching its estuary as part of this grand experiment. But that it has, is a wonderful bonus.

This confluence of the river and the high tides signals that “improving estuarine conditions in this upper part of the estuary is possible if restoration efforts continue in the future,” Francisco Zamora, director of the Colorado River Delta Legacy Program at the Sonoran Institute, wrote to me in an email. Zamora took the photos featured in this post on Thursday, May 15, from a low-flying plane operated by LightHawk.

If rivers are born with a destiny, it is to reach the sea. They carry sediment, nutrients and freshwater from the land to the coastal zones, helping sustain the productivity and abundance of marine environments.

Deltas and estuaries – where rivers and seas connect – are some of the most biologically rich ecosystems on the planet.

Before the big dams and diversions of the 20th century, the Colorado’s nutrient-rich freshwater mixed with the Upper Gulf’s salty tides to create the perfect water chemistry and nursery grounds for Gulf corvina, totoaba, brown and blue shrimp, and other fisheries of great commercial and cultural importance to the region and to the indigenous Cucapá.

But over recent decades, a combination of over-fishing and lack of freshwater in-flow has caused fish populations in the Upper Gulf to plummet.

Since the completion of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, the Colorado has connected with the sea only a few times – mostly during El Niño weather events that brought unusually large amounts of snow and rain to the Colorado Rockies and the upper watershed. The last time the Colorado reached the sea was in 1998.

The estuary is now part of a protected biosphere reserve and no-fishing zone, an attempt to give fish – as well as the highly endangered vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise – a chance to revive their numbers…

Over the past eight weeks, the pulse flow has brought needed water to active delta restoration sites, where conservation groups have planted hundreds of thousands of cottonwoods, willows and mesquite to begin re-establishing habitats for hundreds of species of birds and wildlife.

Timed to coincide with the germination of these native trees, the pulse is also helping new habitats emerge spontaneously along the river.

On the heels of the pulse flow, the Colorado River Delta Water Trust will provide sustaining base flows made possible by purchasing voluntary leases of water from delta farmers.

[Change the Course – a partnership of the National Geographic Society, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, and Participant Media – has partnered with the Delta Water Trust to help provide these crucial base flows.]

Compared with the natural, pre-dam flow of the river through its delta, the volume of water restored through Minute 319 is small – less than 1 percent of the river’s historic flow. But that flow is being strategically timed and directed to produce the highest ecological benefit possible. Teams of scientists are monitoring the effects on the hydrology, vegetation, birds and other ecological features of the delta, so that future flow releases can be even more effective.

Here’s a guest column about the Colorado River Delta from Kate Burchenal that’s running in the Vail Daily:

In the current climate, speaking about water can often be disheartening: Water gaps, profound drought, escalating contention. But while those themes are extremely pertinent, they don’t tell the whole story. One experiment in particular reaffirms the notion that water law need not be stagnant; real, exciting changes can happen and are happening right now.

Water law in the West revolves around the historic Colorado River Compact. Formed in 1922, the Compact governs water allocation and use among the seven states in the Colorado River watershed: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California. A 1944 treaty expanded upon this agreement to include Mexico, in recognition of the fact that the Colorado River runs through Mexico on its final push to the sea.

At least it used to. Historically, the mighty Colorado has coursed over 1,400 miles from its headwaters in the mountains of Colorado to its confluence with the ocean and the Gulf of California. Since the 1960s, however, the Colorado River has not consistently reached its lush delta. In fact, it hasn’t reached the sea at all since the early ’90s.

Biodiverse Ecosystem

The Colorado River Delta was once an extremely biodiverse ecosystem, home to hundreds of resident and migratory species. It was an important connector along the Pacific Flyway, giving birds a welcome place to rest, feed and drink on their long journeys up and down the coast. Now, without water flowing through the delta, only 10 percent of the historical wetlands remain and much of the life is gone.

But all is not lost. As Sandra Postel wrote for National Geographic’s Freshwater Initiative, “the delta is not dead. It is merely dormant, waiting for water to return … the delta is resilient. With the addition of water, life comes bouncing back.” This is where the innovation and excitement comes in.

In November 2012, members of the International Boundary Water Commission from the US and Mexico agreed upon an amendment to the original 1944 treaty. This binational agreement, called Minute 319, solidifies subtle changes to the way the two countries share water from the Colorado River. With so much contention and disagreement surrounding water issues within our own borders, this international agreement is quite a milestone.

One of the major changes outlined by Minute 319 is that Mexico is now able to store its allocation of Colorado River water (or some portion thereof) in Lake Mead. For Mexico, a country with very little water storage capacity, this is very important.

A Natural Defibrillator

Since Minute 319 went into effect, Mexico has been utilizing this new storage arrangement in Lake Mead for one very important purpose: to restore the Colorado River Delta.

At the end of March, the amazing experiment began as this stored water was released, creating a pulse of water large enough to mimic historical spring runoff flows in the Colorado River. The water’s progress has been slow as much of the water is absorbed by the parched landscape, but the Colorado River is once again making its way toward the Gulf of California.

In preparation for the arrival of the pulse flow, local organizations have been planting native vegetation such as cottonwood and willows, along what used to be the banks of the river. The hope is that the water will inundate the floodplain, simulating spring flows and encouraging the growth and seed dispersal of these plants. The hope is that the pulse flow will act like a cardiac defibrillator, shocking the system back into its routine.

These experimental flows began nearly two months ago and, though there was no certainty that the river would reach the sea, it looks as though it will do just that. There is also no guarantee how the delta will respond to this experimental pulse. It is important to note that the amount of water meandering toward the delta as I write this is a far cry from the rushes of water typical of the spring runoff decades ago. Yet it is a grand and worthy experiment all the same.

Even beyond the ecological and experimental significance, Minute 319 represents a great compromise between nations — one that gives us reason for optimism when examining our own water struggles

Kate Burchenal is the education and outreach coordinator for the Eagle River Watershed Council. The council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects. Call the Watershed Council at 970-827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org for more information.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

2014 Colorado legislation: Busy year for water issues #COleg #COflood

Colorado Capitol building
Colorado Capitol building

From the Sterling Journal Advoacate (Marianne Goodland):

Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) was the prime sponsor of three committee bills, on relocating headgates, a study of water-absorbing pheratophytes, and the civil liability bill for volunteers. All three went to the governor for signing. He has until June 6 to sign or veto the bills.

Several bills that would designate funding for cleanup and repairs also went to the governor in the last days of the session. House Bill 14-1002 would provide $11.8 million in grants to local governments for cleanup and repairs to water infrastructure, primarily wastewater treatment and drinking water facilities. The grants, which can be matched with federal funds, would be available for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 fiscal years.

Up to $40 million from revenue derived from the excise taxes on marijuana sales would go to schools damaged in the floods under HB 1287. The bill directs the Colorado Department of Education to contact all schools in the counties that were designated as disaster areas by the governor last year to assess damages and determine funding. In northeastern Colorado, Logan, Sedgwick, Washington and Morgan counties were declared disaster areas.

The first bill to reach the governor related to the floods was Senate Bill 14-007, which allowed county commissioners to transfer money from their general fund accounts, which come from property taxes, to road and bridge funds following a disaster declaration. The governor signed the bill on Feb. 9.

Volunteers and relief workers who assisted during the disaster also got some help from lawmakers. Sonnenberg was a prime co-sponsor on SB 1438, to grant flood volunteers the same immunity from civil liability as is granted to volunteer firefighters. He also was a sponsor of HB 1003, which gave nonresident disaster relief workers an exemption from state income tax for income earned in Colorado during the disaster. The state estimated the lost tax revenue at about $30,000 in 2014-15.

There were several controversial water bills in the 2014 session. One that made it to the governor is SB 23, which would allow for the voluntary transfer of water savings to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) for in-stream flow purposes west of the Continental Divide. The bill would create a new water right: “water efficiency savings,” defined as a portion of water rights used for agricultural irrigation or stock water purposes in water divisions 4, 5, 6 and 7, all west of the Continental Divide. Those “savings” would then be loaned to the CWCB for in-stream purposes, such as improving river habitat or recreational uses. The bill faced strong opposition from House Republicans in the waning days of the session, but May 5 it passed on a 35-30 vote and went on to the governor.

The governor signed SB 17 into law on April 11. As introduced, it would have limited the size of lawns in new residential developments that buy up agricultural water for irrigation purposes. However, the bill got furious opposition from housing developers, and it was instead turned into a study that would identify best practices to limit municipal outdoor water consumption.

A bill that would prohibit the sale of low-efficiency toilets, shower heads and faucets also awaits the governor’s signature. As of Jan. 1, 2016, new or renovated homes must use “Watersense”-designated plumbing fixtures, and the sale of traditional plumbing fixtures would be prohibited. The bill drew opposition from rural lawmakers, who argued that that Watersense fixtures wouldn’t work as well in rural communities due to low water pressure, and fears that sewage systems could be damaged. SB 103 passed along generally party-line votes in the House and Senate…

SB 25 was signed into law by Hickenlooper on Feb. 27. The bill allows more small communities, defined as less than 5,000 residents, to apply for grants for developing water and wastewater treatment facilities. Funds come from severance taxes that go into an existing Drinking Water Grant Program; however, the bill does not increase the amount of funding available. The grants have not been made for several years, due to lack of funding, but the state estimates dollars will be available beginning with the 2014-15 fiscal year. With the addition of more communities, however, there may be more competition for those dollars, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

On Feb. 19, Hickenlooper signed SB 26, which ended the requirements for certain annual reports from the state engineer. Those reports include the tabulation of water rights; however, the state engineer is required to maintain a database of those water rights, available on the Internet and upon request.

The other water committee bill that didn’t make it to the governor’s desk was HB 1026, which would allow for the creation of flexible water markets. But its sponsor, Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village) asked the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee to send it back to the interim committee for further discussion. Under the bill, an agricultural water rights holder who reduces consumptive water use can apply for a change in use for the unused water; that water can then be transferred to another party without designating its beneficial use. While HB 1026 was introduced on the first day of the session, the bill didn’t make it to a Senate committee hearing until April 30, due to ongoing opposition and discussions with various groups. Opponents, including Brophy, claimed the bill would violate the state’s prohibition against water speculation.

Two others bills made their way to the governor that dealt with water issues. HB 1052 increases the authority of groundwater management districts to levy fines and enforce well permits. The bill passed largely along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed, and was signed by the governor on March 21.

Finally, in the last days of the 2014 session, lawmakers approved the annual Colorado Water Conservation Board grant projects list for 2014-15. HB 1333 appropriates $3.3 million from the CWCB for 12 projects. The projects include:

• $750,000 to develop a statewide competitive grant program to promote alternatives to “buy and dry” of agricultural water;

• $100,000 for drought mitigation strategies;

• $500,000 to continue collecting groundwater data along the South Platte River.

More 2014 Colorado Legislation coverage here.