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Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact — John Fleck

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact is one of the keys to allocating the river’s supply among Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas:

Neither Colorado nor New Mexico shall increase the amount of water in storage in reservoirs constructed after 1929 whenever there is less than 400,000 acre feet of usable water in project storage….

Operationally, this is critical. It means that in drought conditions, irrigators cannot store spring runoff in essentially all upstream reservoirs for summer use. There’s been some flexibility written into the law in practice, but it only operates at the margin. It basically means that during droughts, one of the water managers’ most important tools (storage) is constrained.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Republican River agreement increases some water supplies for irrigation — the Scottsbluff Star-Herald

Republican River Basin by District
Republican River Basin by District

From the Scottsbluff Star-Herald (Lori Potter):

Some surface water irrigators in Nebraska’s part of the Republican Basin will get more water for their 2015 crops than originally expected as a result of an agreement signed Friday through the Republican River Compact Administration…

A key part of the agreement allows water to be released from Nebraska reservoirs earlier than planned for irrigation, even if that means being out of compact compliance.

Acting Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Schneider said Nebraska will be allowed to make up the difference in fall 2015 or spring 2016 with surface water administration and/or water from two natural resources district projects that pump groundwater into tributaries to enhance Republican River flows into Kansas.

Schneider said that before the agreement, Nebraska officials were being very conservative in water administration to ensure 2015 compact compliance, with water likely held in reservoirs until late summer.
Nebraska water rights for irrigation were opened in July 2014, which was too late for farmers to make crop plans based on having water. “It (2015) probably would have looked a lot like that,” Schneider said.

For the 22,455 acres of the Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District downstream of Harlan County Lake, primarily in Franklin, Webster and Nuckolls counties, that meant a water supply equivalent to about 2.5 inches of water per acre.

District Manager Mike Delka of Red Cloud told the Hub that Friday’s agreement will increase that to 5 inches per acre.

Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District Manager Brad Edgerton said the main effect in his district will be downstream of Swanson Reservoir, where 20,000 acres from Trenton to the Indianola area along the Meeker-Driftwood Canal will get a boost from 1.5 inches per acre to 6 inches.

“This won’t be a full supply,” Schneider said, “but it will be the difference between being worth it to (irrigate) or not to take any water at all.”

For the irrigators, an earlier agreement would have been better. “The big advantage is knowing what you’re doing going into a crop year, so we would have liked to have known sooner,” Edgerton said.

Schneider said the incentive for Kansas officials to sign the agreement is that Kansas Bostwick Irrigation District irrigators have a certain 2015 water supply for 9 inches per acre.

Delka said Nebraska Bostwick and Frenchman-Cambridge officials started looking at options when it was clear 2015 would be another “compact call” year, with water to fill the irrigation districts’ needs being held in the reservoirs.

Delka said he, Edgerton and Kansas Bostwick Manager Kenny Nelson met with Bureau of Reclamation officials at a January meeting in Colorado.

“We said this is a third year of a compact call. This is just going to continue forever. We can’t afford that,” Delka said.

Work then began to identify how much water was needed to put Nebraska into compact compliance so the compact call could be lifted.

DNR officials had said an additional 19,000 a-f were needed for Kansas, Delka said, so irrigation district officials thought that had been achieved in a settlement giving Nebraska full credit for 20,000 a-f of Republican Basin water imported from the Platte Basin in 2014 and 2015.

He said DNR then kept increasing the amount required for state officials to agree to lift the compact call and release the water stored in the reservoirs. The other two key components for Friday’s agreement were approval by the Nebraska and Kansas Bostwick districts and by the Republican River Compact Commission.

Delka said the final agreement requires 31,700 a-f of water for Kansas before Nebraska Bostwick gets irrigation water. He said that’s the difference between 10 inches per acre and the 5 inches Nebraska Bostwick irrigators will get.

“We sacrificed, basically, half of our water supply for this,” Delka said. “The only way we could get water is to agree to this, which is wrong.”

Edgerton also said the agreement hinged on Nebraska Bostwick agreeing to those terms.
Delka said Nebraska Bostwick officials will issue a press release early next week explaining further why they don’t like the agreement, but approved it.

“This is one of the few times a public entity like us did something for the benefit of others,” he told the Hub.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.

Snowpack news: There’s been some melt-out above the Grand Valley

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal via the NRCS
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal via the NRCS

From KJCT8.com (Kelsey Perkins):

Just weeks ago, the snowpack levels in Colorado were at abnormally low levels, but the past two snowstorms have brought much needed precipitation to the mountain basins. It puts many crop farmers in the clear.

900-acre Bernal Farms in Loma depends on the Upper Colorado Basin to grow wheat, alfalfa, corn, and sudan grass.

“It’s all a desert here in this area, so we need water from the Colorado River to divert, or there wouldn’t be anything out here,” said Bernal Farms’ Bryan Bernal. “All the irrigation water in the Grand Valley is diverted at the diversion damn in De Beque Canyon and it spreads out to a couple different canal systems from there.”

Unlike orchards, crop farms rely on snowpack and runoff water.

“The advantage to irrigating is more consistency,” said Bernal. “You don’t depend on weather patterns quite as much to ensure the survival of your group.”

The snowpack levels are on their way back to normal from an extremely dry February.

“In the middle and end of February we were really dry, especially the southwestern part of the state,” said National Weather Service Hydrologist Aldis Strautins. “But the last couple storms we’ve had in the last two weeks have really bumped us up into a better place.”

The recent storms brought the Colorado Basin up to 98 percent of normal from 89 percent, The Gunnison River Basin up to 86 percent from the 70th percentile and the Grand Mesa, where the valley gets most of their water, up to 71 percent of normal from the 50th percentile.

Water doesn’t start diverting from the Colorado River for farms until April 1st however, causing other potential issues.

“The thing we’re most concerned about is the fact that the winter has been warm and runoff has already started,” said Bernal. “That’s decreasing the levels of snowpack before we can have a chance to irrigate with that water.”

2015 Colorado legislation: “Flex bill drowns in committee” — The Pueblo Chieftain

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A pared-down flex marketing bill meant to encourage alternative transfers of water swirled away in committee last week.

The Senate agriculture committee voted 5-4 to kill the bill, despite testimony in favor of HB1038, which passed in the state House last month.

The revised bill restricted the flex right to a 10-year trial period in the South Platte River basin to avoid opposition from the Western Slope and Arkansas River basins.

Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, voted against the bill.

In the Arkansas River basin, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District had condemned the bill as another form of buy-anddry, while The Pueblo Chieftain editorialized against the legislation.

Attorney Andy Jones compared the bill to an urban setting where the owners of rent-controlled apartments could keep their valuable capital asset by agreeing to rent out only half to high-end renters.

“This provides the opportunity for the agricultural user to change his water right up to the 50 percent level,” Jones said.

While some who had objected to last year’s flex regulation because it appeared to foster speculation — illegal under Colorado water law — backers of the bill thought those questions had been answered. The new bill required specific end users, kept water in its basin of origin and prevented “stacking” a court decree with a substitute water supply plan.

Todd Doherty, Boulder water resources manager, said the bill would not foster buy-and-dry and was needed in the South Platte.

“Water market prices are heating up for permanent transfers,” Doherty said. “This approach could be helpful.”

But there were indications at the hearing that the bill would not stay in the South Platte. Dick Brown, lobbyist for the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority, said he was “disappointed” the bill would not apply in the Arkansas River basin as well and joked that his clients might apply for “de-annexation” if flex marketing proved beneficial.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Finding the right price point for water customers key to quenching the thirst?

Squeezing money
Squeezing money

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

Drought across the West and Midwest is driving renewed concerns over water scarcity and the availability to meet demand in the future. But some groups say finding the right price point for water customers will be the key to quenching the thirst for water.

A conference exploring ways for water utility finance mangers to maintain a healthy bottom line — even as water use declines and system repairs loom — was held in Park City Friday, drawing officials from Utah, Colorado and elsewhere in the West.

Called “CFO Connect,” the session was organized by Ceres, a nonprofit sustainability advocacy group, and Park City.

“More and more, areas in the West are looking at replacing the storage that had been provided by snowpack. And those are expensive projects,” said Sharlene Leurig, a water financing expert with Ceres.

The Boston-based group prepared an analysis two years ago that examines issues confronting public water utilities and their fiscal health in the marketplace, most notably the risk their investors weigh when it comes to borrowing in the municipal bond market, especially for large projects.

In Utah, Colorado, Nevada and other Western states, large diversion projects such as the Lake Powell Pipeline or delivery of water to the Front Range of Colorado are being pursued, even as critics say states should first pursue more aggressive pricing and ways to beef up conservation practices…

Groups like Ceres say that while water districts prepare their own supply and demand blueprints to meet needs into the future, financial managers would be wise to consider a number of factors, including:

Credit rating agencies are starting to build water conservation, pricing and supply risks into their analysis.
Supply constraints are not only impacting the finances of water but aging infrastructure and declining demand are also factors.
Leurig said if the bulk of a water utility’s revenues are solely tied to consumption — and there’s no consumer incentive for conservation — that dynamic does not bode well given national trends of declining consumption.

“Because the majority of systems’ costs are fixed, declines in customer use typically require systems to increase the rates they charge. Yet as systems increase the price they charge per unit of water, their customers use less,” Leurig’s report points out.

“To make up for lost revenue, the water system has to increase the cost of service. … This can create a great deal of discomfort for water managers: they fight the political battle to raise rates, only to see revenue increase by less than that needed to cover costs. And in the meantime, customers are irked that they have to pay more for using less water.”

Leurig said block pricing — bumping water rates up on a graduated scale based on consumption — and scaling impact fees to a home’s “conservation” profile, are examples of how systems can build in sustainability to help them survive longer, on less water and help to delay costly projects.

“In the 21st century, for us to really manage water, we need to understand the economics of water. We have to understand the tools, the pricing, the viability of cost sharing and diversifying our supply,” she said. “Those things are the foundation of what will create a financially resilient system in the 21st century, not just engineering.”

More infrastructure coverage here.