Federal Historic Preservation Act can complicate water projects

Orchard Mesa circa 1911
Orchard Mesa circa 1911

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Miles of ditches throughout much of the Grand Valley north of the Colorado River will get a once-over in the coming months as the Grand Valley Drainage District surveys its network of drains and canals.

The cultural-resources survey was prompted by the experience the district had early this year when a contractor wanted to install a pipe across a drain more than 50 years old that was maintained by the district.

“This started in January,” said district Manager Kevin Williams. “We did not get the permit until July.”

It took that long for the district to obtain a permit under the federal Historic Preservation Act for the job from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Williams said.

With that experience in mind, the drainage district put together plans for the cultural-resource survey that officials hope to use to reach a programmatic agreement with the Corps of Engineers, Williams said.

Once that happens, the district can move more quickly on public or private projects affecting the district’s facilities, Williams said, rather than undertake expensive and lengthy examinations of individual proposals.

The study itself is to be financed by a $50,000 grant from the Mesa County Federal Mineral Lease District and it will be conducted by Dominguez Archaeological Research Group.

Dominguez also will work with the state Historic Preservation Office, which is to sign off on the study.

“We just tried to be a little proactive,” said Williams, who called the requirement that every proposed crossing of the drainage system be studied for its historical implications an example of “constant overreach” by regulatory agencies.

Officials hope to complete the survey in a year and then begin negotiations with the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We have close to 200 miles of open drains that we’re trying to get inventoried,” Williams said.

The drainage district might be only the first Grand Valley agency to conduct such an inventory.

The Orchard Mesa Irrigation District also has some 200 miles of drains and ditches built about the same time the drainage district’s network was constructed, Williams said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District 2015 budget update

Pueblo dam releases
Pueblo dam releases

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board is expected to approve a $17.9 million budget at its next meeting, 11 a.m. Dec. 4.

The district last week reviewed the details of the budget and hosted a public hearing. No member of the public attended.

A mill levy of 0.94 mills is planned, the same as 2014. One mill is an assessment of $1 for every $1,000 of assessed valuation. The district covers parts of nine counties, including Chaffee, Fremont, Pueblo, El Paso, Crowley, Otero, Bent, Prowers and Kiowa.

The district also makes money through sales of water and grants.

More than $12 million will go toward repayment of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, including the Fountain Valley Conduit. The conduit serves El Paso County communities that pay a dedicated mill levy on top of the district mill levy.

The district will spend $2.34 million for its own operating expenses, and $3.5 million on enterprise, or business, activity.

Included in the enterprise fund are the Arkansas Valley Conduit, and an ongoing project to develop hydroelectric power at Pueblo Dam.

More Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

A call for conservation — The Pueblo Chieftain #COWaterPlan


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Environmental groups see a new direction for Colorado water development based on comments on the state water plan in the past year.

“We heard loud and clear from the comments from people all over the state that conservation is needed,” said Bart Miller, water program director for Western Resource Advocates. “We’re hoping the plan will be even stronger on this point in the final form.”

Conservation groups are pushing a fourpronged program that embraces stretching current water supplies rather than developing new sources.

  • Keeping rivers healthy and flowing.
  • Increasing urban efficiency and conservation.
  • Modernizing agricultural and water sharing programs.
  • Avoiding new large transmountain diversions.
  • For years Western Resource Advocates and allied groups have rejected calls for new supply and more storage, saying wiser use of resources is needed. A statewide poll taken in September shows support among Colorado voters for those goals, with 88 percent saying cities should reduce water use by 10 percent by 2020. That mirrors many comments in the state water plan that say reducing urban usage of water is a key way to stretch resources.

    “It ties in with the governor’s executive order that talked about smart urban growth,” Miller said. “There are some opportunities to encourage better development in the future.” The need for the water plan grew out of the realization during the drought of 2002 that state water providers needed to accommodate a growing population without the traditional buy-anddry of agricultural land.

    There were also comments about the state water plan that urge caution in relying too heavily on urban conservation as a strategy. Those pointed out how cities already are using up to 20 percent less water per capita than a decade ago, and warn against “hardening” demand so that restrictions would be necessary in the next drought. There also would be problems with a statewide edict on how growth and water development occur, since those decisions are now primarily made at the local level.

    “The state has the ability to help with technical resources and funding,” Miller said. “One of the things people want to see is more transparency on the part of large providers.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    EPA Waters of the US rulemaking: Colorado Corn Growers Association speaks out

    Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture
    Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

    From the Colorado Corn Growers Association via the High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal:

    Leaders with the Colorado Corn Growers Association recently submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, voicing concerns about the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. CCGA leaders stressed they believe the intentions of federal officials in their WOTUS rule-making efforts (clarifying protection under the Clean Water Act) are wildly different from what the outcome will actually be (an expanded jurisdiction of the EPA).

    Below is a portion of the letter submitted to the EPA by CCGA President Dave Eckhardt:

    “As president of the Colorado Corn Growers Association, I agree whole-heartedly with many of the points made by our National Corn Growers Association leaders in the letters they’ve sent you regarding this rule. Like them, I believe this unprecedented increase in jurisdiction must not be finalized without first undergoing significant revision. I also agree there is tremendous uncertainty we face because of the way the rule defines what is ‘tributary,’ and what is ‘adjacent.’ And it concerns me as well that a vast number of ditches are or could be subject to federal jurisdiction, and if these or other waters like them on my farm are made jurisdictional, I fear I would face serious risk of lawsuits.

    “But my concerns and those of so many others here in Colorado go beyond that, largely because of our unique water situation, and our local rules and restrictions that are so different here than in other places across the U.S. That is the point I want to stress above all others; I find it impossible that the EPA can create a one-size-fits-all set of rules for everyone, when, just to provide one very basic example, places like the Midwest need systems and rules in place to divert excess water off their fields, while we in Colorado and across the West require infrastructure and regulations to divert limited water on to our fields. There are just so few consistencies region-to-region when it comes to water functions, making it incredibly difficult to create something that works for everybody.”

    Eckhardt—who, in May, hosted a gathering of EPA officials at his farm in LaSalle, Colorado, to discuss this proposed rule—also noted in his letter it isn’t just farmers in the state who are concerned. Municipalities and many other non-ag water officials across Colorado have also voiced their dire concerns about how this would impact our complex water system and unique set of local regulations.

    Leaders with the National Corn Growers Association—as well as ag organizations and other groups across the U.S.—have also weighed in.

    “We appreciate efforts to bring greater clarity and certainty to the understanding of what are waters of the U.S. Unfortunately, this proposed rule provides neither,” said NCGA President Chip Bowling. “This rule will adversely impact more than 300,000 corn farmers. As it is currently written, the financial and practical consequences for farmers are unacceptable.”

    Bowling emphasized that NCGA has and will continue to work with the EPA to create a fair and workable rule. In October, Bowling, too, hosted nearly a dozen EPA staffers at his southern Maryland farm, part of a series of meetings between NCGA and the Agency on WOTUS.

    “Farmers are proud of their conservation efforts and are committed to protecting and restoring water quality,” said Bowling. “We have and will continue to work with federal and state agencies and other organizations that care about water quality.”

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Cooperative water agreement signed with Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska — High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal

    Republican River Basin by District
    Republican River Basin by District

    From the High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal:

    Reflecting a new spirit of cooperation, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska recently have reached an historic agreement during a special meeting of the Republican River Compact Administration. Representatives of the states have signed a resolution, approving operational adjustments in 2014 and 2015 under the Republican River Compact that will benefit water users throughout the Basin and set the administration on a course to find long-term solutions to persistent problems.

    Chairman Brian Dunnigan, Nebraska Director of the Department of Natural Resources, cited recent comments by U.S. Supreme Court Special Master William J. Kayatta, who encouraged the states to work toward greater consensus for administering the waters of the Basin. “It is in that spirit that the states have negotiated the resolution that was approved today,” said Chairman Dunnigan.

    The signed agreement addresses the operational adjustments address how water is administered for the benefit of irrigators in the Basin. It provides Nebraska with 100 percent credit for water delivered from augmentation projects to Harlan County Lake prior to June 1, 2015, and the delivered water is for exclusive use by Kansas irrigators.

    The agreement is in addition to two cooperative agreements signed in October. Together, these three agreements change the traditional ways the compact has been previously interpreted and implemented for a more cooperative approach.

    Kansas Commissioner David Barfield acknowledged the new resolution comes on the heels of another mutually acceptable pair of resolutions signed in October in Denver, Colorado. “Approving the resolutions will bring significant benefits to the states by preserving the remaining water supply in Harlan County Lake and providing additional certainty to water users throughout the Basin.”

    “These resolutions reflect the states’ strong resolve on these matters,” said Dick Wolfe, commissioner from Colorado. “We know there is additional work to do, but we are moving in the right direction to reach long-term agreements that are fair to all parties and reflect good management of the Basin’s water supply.”

    At an Oct. 22 Republican River Compact Administration meeting in Denver, Colorado, two of the agreements were signed. One of the agreements ensured the Kansas Bostwick Irrigation District in north central Kansas will have a viable irrigation water supply for the 2015 growing season while providing Nebraska certainty of the effectiveness of its compact compliance efforts. The other agreement ensured Colorado and Kansas will work towards improving Kansas’ water supply on the South Fork Republican River while authorizing Colorado to receive credit in the Compact accounting for operating its augmentation project on the North Fork Republican River.

    More Republican River Basin coverage here.

    Aurora diversion decision faces appeal — The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A decision earlier this year that sets limits on how much water Aurora can divert through the Busk-Ivanhoe system is being appealed by Western Slope groups.

    The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District last week agreed to enter the case as well because it could affect its diversions through the Larkspur Ditch.

    Division 2 water judge Larry Schwartz approved a decree that would allow Aurora to divert an average 2,416 acre-feet annually.

    Pitkin County, the Colorado River District and Grand Valley Water Users appealed the decision based on the calculation of historic use of the four high-mountain creeks which are part of the Busk-Ivanhoe system.

    Aurora shares Busk-Ivanhoe with the Pueblo Board of Water Works on the system that formerly was operated by the High Line Canal through the Carleton Tunnel, which once was a train and automobile route across the Continental Divide. It delivers water into Turquoise Lake near Leadville. The tunnel has collapsed in several spots, but water can still make its way through.

    Pueblo Water has a 1993 decree changing its water rights from its 1971 purchase of its half of Busk-Ivanhoe. Aurora purchased the other half in 1986.

    Lower Ark water attorney Peter Nichols said the change case on the Larkspur Ditch is stayed in water court because of issues similar to Busk-Ivanhoe case.

    “The district has filed an amicus brief in the Busk-Ivanhoe case because the decision contains an issue similar to the change on Larkspur,” Nichols told the board.

    The Lower Ark purchased most of the Larkspur Diversion from the Gunnison River from the Catlin Canal Co.

    Water court cases are appealed directly to the Colorado Supreme Court.

    More Busk-Ivanhoe coverage here.

    Morning photo: Mountain magic

    Summit County Citizens Voice

    Wave clouds

    asdf A wave cloud sunrise over Dillon Reservoir and Keystone Ski Area.

    FRISCO — Great wave clouds the last few days enhanced the morning and evening light, making for some great photo ops! The clouds form when high-elevation winds stream directly toward the mountains and the air is pushed high into the atmosphere in a standing wave, similar to a wave in a river — because that’s what it is, a standing wave in an atmospheric river of air. Pretty hard to explain unless you see a good timelapse video like this one. Check out our daily photo feed on Instagram and visit our Fine Art America online gallery for more landscape shots from Colorado.

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