Water Values Podcast: United Water’s Bob Iacullo takes a deep dive on P3s — David McGimpsey

Colorado’s Ag head is hanging his hat — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald:

Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar is retiring at the end of the year to get back to what he knows best.

The San Luis Valley resident and sixth-generation farmer and rancher pointed to several achievements while serving as the state’s chief of agriculture since 2011, including consolidating the department’s divisions.

He also highlighted double-agriculture exports from Colorado producers over 2009 levels.

“I am so looking forward to being close to my family and working on what I consider the most honorable profession – farming and ranching,” Salazar said in a news release. “Thank you to the people of Colorado for giving me the great opportunity to serve you.”

Before serving as commissioner of agriculture, Salazar served three terms representing Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District and was a member of the House Agriculture Committee. Before his time in Congress, Salazar served in the Colorado Legislature for two years.

Gov. John Hickenlooper applauded Salazar for his years of service.

“For the last 12 years, Colorado has benefited from the generous, noble and extraordinary service of John Salazar,” Hickenlooper said. “We are honored and privileged to have had him join our first term. His commitment and dedication to the farmers, ranchers and producers across the state is unparalleled and his successes will continue to benefit the agriculture community and all of Colorado for years to come.”

The governor’s office is in the process of finding a replacement.

He was raised on a San Luis Valley farm, where he and his five siblings shared a bedroom and had no electricity or running water.

He climbed his way out, going on to a long list of successes, including playing a key role in passing the historic federal Farm Bill of 2008.

Salazar never lost his love of farming and ranching. He works on the family farm where the Salazar family has farmed and ranched for generations.

“I want to thank Governor Hickenlooper for entrusting me to lead the Colorado Department of Agriculture where our accomplishments have been many,” he said.

Fountain Creek: “If the mayor would have gotten behind this, it would have passed” — Jeff Chostner

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Funding for flood control projects on Fountain Creek that protect Pueblo has been jeopardized by last week’s rejection of a drainage district in El Paso County.

That’s the opinion of District Attorney Jeff Chostner, who worked diligently to advance funding opportunity for the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District while he was a Pueblo County commissioner.

“I had talked about the best way to get flood control passed would be to have a vote of the entire district (Pueblo and El Paso counties),” said Chostner. “Combined with Pueblo County, there would have been enough support.”

The Fountain Creek District is authorized by state law to collect up to a 5-mill tax, and the district’s board was seriously discussing how and when to approach voters. The district also had looked at forming a subdistrict within just the Fountain Creek watershed and charging a fee.

In June 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed more than 18,000 acres and 347 homes. It also left behind ground baked hard as concrete, worsening the potential for floods.

That shifted the focus of public officials, who had already formed a stormwater task force, to looking at flood control projects to protect Colorado Springs and away from the obligation to protect Pueblo from increased development on Fountain Creek, Chostner said.

“As a former county commissioner, I’m disappointed that the stormwater measure did not pass. We counted on the goodwill of voters, and it failed,” Chostner said.

“I am looking to see if there’s a way the district attorney’s office can work with the Pueblo County commissioners and their attorneys.”

It would not be the first time the DA has gotten involved. Chostner’s predecessor, Bill Thiebaut, challenged Colorado Springs in federal and district courts on the issues of sanitary sewer spills and water quality. Chostner inherited and pursued the water quality case.

“I kept trying to expand it to Pueblo County,” Chostner said of his last year on the Fountain Creek board, where he served as chairman.

The downside of trying to sell the vote in Pueblo County would have been the perception that Pueblo would be paying to fix Fountain Creek problems mainly caused by rampant growth in El Paso County.

“I don’t blame El Paso County for concentrating on Waldo Canyon.

They chose to look inward, and this should have been a two-county vote,” Chostner. “I think people would understand these are problems we all share.”

Chostner puts a lot of the blame on Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, who campaigned against the drainage district. Bach acknowledges Colorado Springs needs to do something about stormwater, but has tried to bundle it with other capital needs. Bach also wants Colorado Springs to take care of its own needs, rather than join in the regional effort promoted by the stormwater task force.

That grates at Chostner, who as a commissioner told the Colorado Springs City Council it had a “legal and moral obligation” to fund stormwater.

Bach was sitting just a few feet away and kept silent at that meeting.

“If the mayor would have gotten behind this, it would have passed,” Chostner said. “Now, Colorado Springs is the only major Front Range community without a source for stormwater funding. There’s no political courage in El Paso County.”

So when would be the best time for another vote?

“It should be at the earliest feasible time,” Chostner said.

More stormwater coverage here.

State water planning is ‘evolutionary’ — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COWaterPlan

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Colorado’s anticipated completion of a water plan in 2015 might be viewed as a starting point rather than an end point for its state water planning process. That’s one takeaway lesson that might be learned from similar efforts in nearby states, judging from presentations Wednesday at this week’s Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum, hosted at Colorado Mesa University by CMU’s Water Center.

Representatives from New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah all described how existing plans in those states have been updated over time — in Wyoming’s case, every 10 years, to incorporate new data.

“It’s sort of an evolutionary process and never stays the same,” said Jodie Pavlica, an engineer with the Wyoming Water Development Office.

In Wyoming, basins currently are revising their plans in preparation for revision of the statewide framework.

“We’re always adding things to our plans. We don’t want them to become stagnant,” Pavlica said.

Colorado is one of the last states in the West to develop a state water plan, something designed to project future needs and how they can be addressed. New Mexico first completed a state plan in 2003, following completion of regional plans within the state, said Amy Haas, acting director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. The impetus for the plans was New Mexico’s battle with El Paso, Texas, over attempts to export New Mexico water, and a Supreme Court determination in a Nebraska case that exports can’t be banned outright but some restraints are appropriate if the state that’s home to the water shows a need for it.

Last year a comprehensive review found that New Mexico’s state plan and regional ones needed full-scale revisions, something now being undertaken.

“They are in dire need of updates,” Haas said.

Todd Adams, deputy director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said the first Utah state plan he can find was published in 1990, but the state has been doing such planning since the 1960s. Its most recent plan was completed in 2001, and is being updated now, including to address issues such as climate change and tar sands and oil shale development.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said in an interview that New Mexico’s experience shows that Colorado will want to keep its plan from becoming stale and revise it regularly enough to avoid the need for massive overhauls.

“If the hydrology changes vastly or your population estimate changes up or down vastly then you have to recalculate the whole thing, figure out if you can get there from here” in terms of fulfilling anticipated water demand, he said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Ute Water rates to rise on January 1

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com
Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Rates are going up for Ute Water customers next year, for the fourth time in as many years at the utility, who announced they are adding $1 to customers’ minimum charge on bills to be delivered after Jan. 1.

The change brings the minimum charge for as many as 3,000 gallons from $19 to $20 and is intended to cover current operational costs and preparing for future demands.

Residential tap fees also will increase, from $6,700 to $6,800.

Rates have been on the rise at Ute since a study in 2011 showed the need to prepare for growth on the system with capital projects.

“As the Grand Valley continues to grow, even though there are four domestic water providers here, Ute Water is going to see that growth,” said Joe Burtard, external affairs manager with the Ute Water Conservancy District.

“The $20 (minimum charge) is where we should have been over the past five years,” Burtard said. “So our board has been slowly working toward that $20 minimum, mostly to align us with the cost of operating.”

Burtard said there are no rate changes planned for customers on Ute’s tiered system, unlike last year when those rates increased as well.

He also noted that Ute Water last year purchased a large share of Ruedi Reservoir near Aspen, paying cash out of reserves for the additional water to meet future demand.

“That will ultimately save out customers money in the long run,” Burtard said, instead of utilizing long-term bonding for financing and then paying interest on those funds.

Ute Water serves more than 80,000 customers in the Grand Valley. The 2011 raw water study that guides the utility today projects that by 2045, Ute Water will serve a population of 197,000 consumers.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Western Slope appeals ruling
 on water usage — Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Aurora should be penalized for storing and using West Slope water without having the appropriate water rights, several West Slope water agencies contend in a case before the Colorado Supreme Court.

The West Slope agencies, including the Grand Valley Water Users’ Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Ute Water Conservancy District, appealed a ruling in which a Pueblo water court upheld the transmountain diversion of 2,416 acre feet of water from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River to Aurora via an irrigation diversion.

The Western Slope agencies don’t object to the diversion per se, but contend that Aurora should not benefit from using what was billed as irrigation water by using the water for municipal purposes.

The distinction is important because water that diverted across the Continental Divide is considered to be a 100-percent consumptive use. That’s because there is no return flow back to the West Slope.

Aurora sought a change of use for the water in 2009, but had been diverting it since 1987. The irrigation decree also didn’t allow storage of the water.

West Slope agencies said Aurora’s years of municipal use that were inconsistent with the irrigation decree should be included as zeroes in the calculation of the average historical consumptive use. That would reduce the amount of water that Aurora could divert through the Busk-Ivanhoe system, which has a 1928 water right for irrigation in the lower Arkansas River valley.

The Grand Valley water agencies are appealing the ruling from the water court in Pueblo that upheld Aurora’s storage of the water in East Slope reservoirs, and others, including the Colorado River Water Conservation District, also are asking the Supreme Court to reconsider the way the court calculated the amount of water that could be diverted for Aurora’s municipal use.

“We are not opposing the change, just the calculation,” river district spokesman Chris Treese said. “We feel that if the court ignores this sort of negligence of the change-of-use laws, that it would encourage similar extra-legal uses of water whether it involves transmountain water or in-basin uses.”

A hearing has yet to be scheduled in the case.

More water law coverage here.

Snowpack news: Snowpack still running below average in most basins, despite the recent storm