Coloradans want Congress to eye conservation — the Colorado Springs Independent

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

From the Colorado Springs Post Independent (Matthew Schniper):

…The Wilderness Society notes a new poll of 11 Western states that “shows strong support for taking action on legislation that would reinvest a portion of rents and royalties from renewable energy development on public lands to conservation activities.”

That legislation is the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act (H.R. 596/S. 279), being pushed for a vote this fall.

More conservation coverage here.

State water administration still evolving — Craig Cotten

sanluisvalleyearlywinterriograndeinitiative

From the Valley Courier (Craig Cotten):

State water administration still evolving

By CRAIG COTTEN Division Engineer Colorado Division of Water Resources

This is the thirteenth article in the series from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable regarding the formation and implementation of the Basin Water Plan. VALLEY For more than 140 years, Colorado has used a system of water allocation known as the prior appropriation system.

Prior appropriation refers to the concept that those that put water to use first are entitled to get their water first during periods of water shortage, or put more simply, “First in Time, First in Right.” The Colorado Division of Water Resources is the sole state agency that is empowered to administer surface and groundwater to ensure that the prior appropriation doctrine is enforced.

The administration of water has been occurring in this area since before Colorado became a state. During the gold rush days when Colorado was still a territory, miners established ‘miners’ courts’ to handle disputes. Many times these disputes centered around water and who was entitled to use the water when there was not enough for everyone. It was during this time that the concept of prior appropriation really came into being in Colorado. In 1876 when Colorado became a state, the idea of a water administration system based upon the prior appropriation doctrine was enshrined in its constitution .

With the establishment of the position of water commissioners in 1879, Colorado became the first state in the nation to provide for the distribution and administration of water by public officials. In 1881, the legislature established the Office of the State Irrigation Engineer, known today as the State Engineer’s Office or the Division of Water Resources. In 1887 the legislature created a position called the superintendent of irrigation for each of the seven main river basins, or divisions, in the state. This position is now known as the Division Engineer.

For the first nearly 90 years of water administration by the state, water administration was restricted mainly to surface water. This changed in 1969 with the passage of the Water Rights Determination and Administration Act. This act required that groundwater be integrated with surface water into the prior appropriation system, and allowed the State Engineer to develop Rules and Regulations to administer groundwater use. In 1972, the State Engineer issued a moratorium on new wells in most parts of the San Luis Valley, and in 1981 that moratorium was expanded to prohibit new wells in all parts of Division 3. In 1975 the State Engineer developed groundwater rules for Division 3, the drainage basin of the Rio Grande. These rules stated that well owners had to replace the depletions due to their well pumping or they would be shut down. Obviously this threat of shutting down many wells in the San Luis Valley did not please the well owners, and a period of nearly 10 years of litigation ensued. In 1985, with an agreement between the parties to the lawsuit, the rules were dismissed . In their place the water users agreed that the Closed Basin Project would be used to offset the depletions to the rivers caused by the wells. The agreement worked fairly well until the late 1990’s and the drought years of the early 2000’s , when it was apparent that more formal regulation of groundwater was needed in Division 3.

One of the hurdles to groundwater regulation in the San Luis Valley has always been the lack of a good understanding of the aquifers and their interaction with the rivers and streams. In 1998 the legislature passed legislation that directed the State Engineer to begin a study of the aquifers of Division 3. This study became known as the Rio Grande Decision Support System (RGDSS), and is an ongoing study that has shed a great deal of light on the aquifers. In that same year the legislature also directed the State Engineer to begin developing rules to govern new withdrawals of water from the confined aquifer based upon information gathered from the RGDSS study. These rules were formally adopted by the State Engineer in 2004 and prevented any increased withdrawals of groundwater from the confined aquifer. After a lengthy trial in Alamosa, the rules were approved by Judge Kuenhold in November 2006. The ruling was appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, and in 2008 the Supreme Court upheld the rules.

As part of the need to get more data on groundwater usage, the State Engineer established the well measurement rules in 2005. These rules require all large capacity wells, and some smaller wells, in Division 3 to be equipped with flow meters . The meter readings are collected a minimum of once per year and are being used to get a detailed description of the water use by well, and the total groundwater usage in the San Luis Valley . This is very important for the RGDSS model as well as for the impending groundwater rules.

In 2008 the State Engineer established an Advisory Committee in order to assist him in developing new groundwater use rules for existing groundwater uses. It is anticipated that these rules will be finalized this fall. Once the rules are in place, they will require that most large capacity wells in Division 3 replace their depletions to the streams and ensure that the aquifers remain sustainable. Owners that do not replace the depletions from the use of their wells and take steps to bring the aquifers back into a sustainable situation will have their wells shut down.

As water becomes a more and more precious commodity , there is need for increased administration of that water. This is to ensure that the water is being used by the people entitled to use it, that it is being used for its intended purpose, and that there is no injury to someone else’s water rights due to actions by another water user.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Pagosa Springs geothermal project: Concerns over legality of funds transfer to public-private partnership

Pagosa Hot Springs
Pagosa Hot Springs

From the Pagosa Springs Sun (Ed Fincher):

According to 18th century Scots poet Robert Burns, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Pagosa Verde owner Jerry Smith must have this line of poetry running through his mind all the time when dealing with the federal, state and local government, and Monday night’s meeting of the Pagosa Area Geothermal Water and Power Authority was probably no exception.

The authority, which consists of three town councilors (David Schanzenbaker, John Egan and Mayor Don Volger), the three county commissioners (Michael Whiting, Steve Wadley and chairman Clifford Lucero) and one at-large seat held by Mike Alley, just barely had enough members show up at Town Hall to achieve a quorum for the meeting.

Town Manager Greg Schulte, along with County Administrator Bentley Henderson and County Attorney Todd Starr, acts as staff for the authority, began by giving some background information for the people in the audience who may not have attended the authority’s previous meetings.

The original intent of the authority, as spelled out in the agreement between the town and the county, was to enter into an agreement with Pagosa Verde to form a separate entity — Pagosa Waters LLC — as a public/private partnership.

Pagosa Waters would then consist of three people: one appointed by the authority, one appointed by Pagosa Verde and one at-large member. The point being, this arrangement would ensure joint ownership of the project between the two local governments and Pagosa Verde, while at the same time allowing the project to be managed by a full-time, working board instead of part-time government volunteers.

According to Schulte, a wrinkle in the plan occurred because of a recently awarded grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs worth nearly $2 million. Archuleta County was the official applicant for the grant because DOLA only deals with local government bodies, not private companies.

The $2 million grant from DOLA counts as matching funds for a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, which was awarded earlier this year to Pagosa Verde. However, since Pagosa Verde is a privately owned, for-profit company and Pagosa Waters LLC would be a public/private partnership, DOLA had concerns about the legality of Archuleta County funneling its funds into the project.

Schulte then alluded to a meeting held last week involving himself, town attorney Bob Cole, Starr and another attorney, Russ Dykstra, who has some experience with similar situations.

Starr then took over the briefing, explaining, “He has been involved in some very large public/private partnerships … and his suggestion was that, from everybody’s stand-point, an LLC is probably not the form we want to take. Some sort of concession agreement is the best way to do it because we can take care of all of Jerry’s requirements and all of our requirements.”

More Pagosa Springs coverage here.