Republican River Basin: Supreme Court finds Nebraska liable for ‘reckless’ water use — The Kansas City Kansan

Republican River Basin by District
Republican River Basin by District

From the Kansas City Kansan:

In a 28-page majority opinion, the court unanimous agreed that Nebraska “knowingly” violated the Republican River Compact and took water that belonged to Kansas.

As a remedy, the Supreme Court ordered by a 6-3 vote that Nebraska not only must pay Kansas’ actual damages from loss of water during those two dry years but also must “disgorge” a portion of the economic gain Nebraska received from higher yields from irrigating crops with water that should have been sent downstream to Kansas.

“Nebraska recklessly gambled with Kansas’s rights, consciously disregarding a substantial probability that its actions would deprive Kansas of the water to which it was entitled,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court’s majority. “That is nearly a recipe for breach [of the Compact that governs sharing of Republican River water]—for an upstream State to refuse to deliver to its downstream neighbor the water to which the latter is entitled. And through 2006, Nebraska took full advantage of its favorable position, eschewing steps that would effectively control groundwater pumping and thus exceeding its allotment. In such circumstances, a disgorgement award appropriately reminds Nebraska of its legal obligations, deters future violations, and promotes the Compact’s successful administration.

”Schmidt noted that the Supreme Court never before had ordered disgorgement of an upstream state’s unjust gains as a remedy in an interstate water dispute.

“Legally, this is a groundbreaking case that vindicates Kansas’s rights as a downstream state,” Schmidt said. “We brought this lawsuit to encourage our neighbors to live up to their obligations in future dry periods. I’m hopeful this strong and clear Supreme Court order will have that effect.”

The Supreme Court ordered Nebraska to repay Kansas $3.7 million to compensate for Kansas’s actual economic losses during 2005-06 and another $1.8 million as partial disgorgement of Nebraska’s unjust gains from illegally using Kansas water.

That $5.5 million recovery will be used to fully reimburse the attorney general’s office for its roughly $4.5 million in bringing the lawsuit and defending Kansas water rights, making the State of Kansas whole for its cost of litigation. The remainder will be available to the legislature to designate for other purposes as provided by law.

The Supreme Court also ordered technical changes to the calculation of future water flows from the Platte River basin into the Republican River basin as requested by Nebraska. The decision to order that reformation of the accounting procedure was 5-4.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.

NIDIS: Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Upper Colorado River Basin February 1 thru 22, 2015 precipitation
Upper Colorado River Basin February 1 thru 22, 2015 precipitation

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Denver Water: @hickforco Forum on Colorado Ag to focus on water needs across state

The Aspinall Unit operations meeting minutes are hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

Aspinall Unit dams
Aspinall Unit dams

Click here to read the minutes from the recent Aspinall Unit Operations meeting.

Snowpack news: San Luis Valley hit hard by storm — the Valley Courier

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal February 24, 2015 via the NRCS
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal February 24, 2015 via the NRCS

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

After unseasonably warm temperatures and extended periods with no precipitation, this past weekend began to make up for some of the winter the Valley had missed so far.

Weekend snowfall reports ranged from 8 inches in Alamosa to nearly a foot farther south in Conejos County and 39 inches of new snow at the Wolf Creek Ski Area.

As snow began to pile up throughout the day on Sunday , area schools started announcing closures for Monday. By late Sunday all of the public schools in the San Luis Valley had declared a snow day for Monday. Adams State University and Trinidad State Junior College also called off classes on Monday, and some businesses and governmental agencies were closed…

However, skies are expected to be overcast all week, and the chance of precipitation will increase from 10-20 percent midweek to 30 percent by Thursday night. Friday and Saturday will bring about 30 percent chance of precipitation , according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures will also remain colder this week, with high temperatures in the mid 30’s . The Valley will not likely surpass 40 degrees again until Saturday.

The San Luis Valley and surrounding mountains were under a hazardous weather watch through most of Monday, and avalanche warnings are in effect in the mountains and backcountry at least through noon today, Feb. 24. The

Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued a warning for the Sangre de Cristo,

Southern San Juan and Northern San Juan Mountains through midday Tuesday , due to the significant amounts of new snow and winds creating dangerous conditions in the backcountry of Colorado’s southern mountains. Wolf Creek Pass was closed on the west side for avalanche control for a time on Monday but had reopened by midday. Avalanche control was planned on Monarch Monday night.

All mountain and high Valley areas will have hazardous travel conditions because of the icy and snowpacked roads, and motorists are urged to use caution.

“Drivers are cautioned to drive slow and be patient,” City of Alamosa officials urged.

“Our crews are set to do their jobs,” Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Shailen Bhatt said. “We are asking for the same level of preparedness from drivers. We cannot stress enough the need for folks to know the conditions, prepare their vehicles with good snow tires and topped up fluids, and drive for the conditions.”

He added, “Travelers should check http://www.cotrip. org before heading out.”

Colorado State Patrol was busy responding to accidents throughout the recent snowstorm but accident statistics were not available by press time Monday. Most involved vehicles sliding off the road. CSP urged motorists to take it slow and stay off the slick roads unless absolutely necessary.

On the bright side, in addition to more powder at the ski area and a snow day for school children, this weekend’s snowstorm brought a boost to the area’s lagging snowpack. By Monday the snowpack had risen to 67 percent of normal basin wide, which still offers plenty of room for improvement.

Some areas of the San Luis Valley were showing more positive numbers. For example, Cochetopa Pass was at 134 percent of normal snowpack and Medano Pass at 100 percent, which bodes well for streams at the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve this summer.

From The Mountain Mail (Brian McCabe):

The blue light, announcing 6 or more inches of snow, lit up on top of Tenderfoot Mountain Monday night following a weekend storm that dropped 17 inches of new snow at Monarch Mountain and 5-8 inches around Salida.

The fluffy, dry snow resulted in 0.55 inch of precipitation in Salida.

Monarch now has a mid-mountain base of 70 inches, and the new powder bumped the resort’s numbers for Monday.

“We definitely had higher numbers today,” Jessie Smith, marketing coordinator said. “School having a snow day helped as well.”

Salida schools canceled classes for a rare snow day.

“I’ve been here for 5 years, and it’s the first one I know about,” said Salida School District Superintendant Darryl Webb.

“I talked to school board member Kyle Earhart, who has been around for 9 years, and this is the first one he remembers as well.”

Webb said the school district doesn’t have a hard and fast rule for deciding when to call a snow day for the schools.

“We contact the county first,” Webb said, “and Evalyn Parks (district transportation director) and I will drive the roads early, to see what they are like, before making a decision.”

Webb said in the case of this snow day, they decided the night before after hearing the forecast for snow to continue falling through noon.

Webb said the district has extra days built into its calendar for just such days, so the students won’t have to make up any days at the end of the year.

“Unless we get a lot more snow,” he said.

The National Weather Service has forecast a hazardous weather outlook through the coming weekend for south central and southeast Colorado.

A new weather system will begin Wednesday evening and last through the weekend, bringing a chance of snow Wednesday through Friday and significantly colder temperatures Thursday and Friday.

The latest newsletter from the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University is hot off the presses

Grand Valley Irrigation Ditch
Grand Valley Irrigation Ditch

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

The final session of our 2015 Water Course, which is focused on the future of irrigated agriculture, will take place at CMU and will be live-streamed on the internet from 6-9pm. For full details, click here.

More education coverage here.

The South Platte is key to the #COWaterPlan — The Fort Morgan Times

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia
South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

From The Fort Morgan Times (Sara Waite):

The South Platte Basin and Metro Roundtables, which collectively represent the South Platte River Basin, collaborated on a Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). The draft BIPs from each basin were released last summer; the final drafts are due in April.

The two organizations have been seeking public input on the draft South Platte BIP, offering a series of meetings and webinars in various locations throughout the basin.

A video produced by the group to give an overview of the water plan and BIP explains, “A good Colorado plan is a good South Platte plan.” The South Platte basin is a key economic driver of the state, with seven of the state’s top 10 agriculture-producing counties, as well as the Denver metro area and growing communities like Loveland, Greeley and Fort Collins that together account for over half of the state’s economic activity. The basin’s economy is also enhanced by environmental and recreational tourism — skiing, boating, fishing, wildlife viewing and hunting — and is home to the most-visited state parks and the eastern half of the Rocky Mountain National Park.

The South Platte Basin is a leader in water conservation efforts. “Long-standing efforts to conserve and reuse water in order to get the most benefit from available supplies has meant that by the time water flows out of our state, each drop has been used multiple times for different purposes,” the video states.

But a growing population base in the basin and statewide means municipal and industrial water demand could double before 2050, and outpace the state’s current water supply. Following current trends could mean drying up over half of the basin’s irrigated cropland in that time, a practice that, if overused, is “not in the best interest of the Basin nor is it in the best interest of the State.”

The South Platte plan calls for pragmatic solutions that are consistent with Colorado law and property rights. These include a wide range of strategies that could be used in various combinations to meet the gap: conservation and reuse; multi-purpose water projects that include municipal, industrial, recreational and environmental components; agricultural transfers, including alternative transfer methods; Colorado River Basin supplies; and storage projects.

The competing needs present enormous challenges, the BIP notes, and those challenges drive the solutions. Joe Frank, chair of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, has called for public feedback on the solutions outlined in the draft plan to meet current and future water needs.

To learn more about the South Platte BIP and Colorado Water Plan, as well as give feedback on the plan, visit

On Monday the City of Aspen officially ended its pursuit of a hydroelectric generation plant on Castle Creek — Aspen Journalism

Arkansas Basin Roundtable recap: Focus on agriculture

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While its purpose is to find ways to fill the municipal water gap, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable wants to elevate the importance of agriculture. That was apparent in several actions at its monthly meeting this week.

The most obvious was the adoption of a statement proposed by Reeves Brown, a Beulah rancher and board member of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, that stresses the irrigated agriculture to tourism, food production, recreation, environment, general well-being and the economy.

The roundtable also selected a rural advocate rather than a water utilities manager for a vacancy on its executive committee.

Finally, it demanded more details from El Paso County interests seeking a state grant to determine if it would ultimately encourage more dry-up of agriculture.

“I would like to give my thanks to the roundtable for supporting agriculture. This is an important issue,” Brown said.

Support came without objection after Gary Barber, a consultant who chaired the roundtable until becoming a consultant for it, detailed years of projects that aimed at reducing buy-and-dry of farmland for municipal supply.

Some of those projects included : A 2005 Colorado State University study that assigned per-acre economic value for farm crops.

A 2008 template for community considerations developed by roundtable members.

An economic report that pegged farm losses from the 2011 drought at $100 million in the Arkansas Valley. That was followed in 2012 by a roundtable project that estimated the value of agriculture in the valley at $1.5 billion.

A 2013 workshop hosted by the roundtable that brought national speakers to discuss how ag water is valued.

The roundtable selected Sandy White, who touted his upbringing on a Wyoming Ranch and his desire to preserve agriculture, for vice president over Brett Gracely, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities. The vote was not close, 26-5.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.