2015 Colorado legislation: HB 1159 Arndt — Instream Flow Incentive Tax Credit Passed 2nd (Becky Long)

2015 Colorado legislation: Water basins could have costly legal ramifications for El Paso County — @csgazette

Waldo Canyon Fire
Waldo Canyon Fire

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

More than two dozen El Paso County water basins that hold back flood debris and ensure local water quality are caught up in an unforeseen battle over water rights, putting the basins at the mercy of state lawmakers.

Colorado Springs utility and stormwater managers, along with nonprofits charged with managing recovery in the Waldo Canyon fire burn scar, were taken aback last fall when the state declared that 25 of the 30 major basins violate a state statute that prevents stored water from affecting other water rights. In a January follow-up letter, the Colorado Division of Water Resources said unless the handful of entities that manage the basins can afford to replace some of the lost water, they could face legal action from the state.

But the letter could all be for naught, if a bill clarifying water use in basins passes through the Colorado Legislature this spring. Senate Bill 212, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, would allow retention basins to hold water for 72 hours without requiring agencies to make up for lost water.

But this is more than a tiff over water rights. The letter jeopardizes some of the most effective life-saving tools in western El Paso County, said Theresa Springer, environmental education coordinator for the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, known as CUSP. The 25 basins listed in the letter catch flood debris coursing off the Waldo Canyon burn scar – debris that has claimed lives and damaged homes and roadways in the county since the 2012 fire.

“This is the biggest tool in our tool box,” Springer said of the basins. “Right now, we’ve got all of our hopes on this bill.”

Although the basins have become a key part of post-fire flood mitigation in the county, some were built without taking into consideration state requirements, said Steve Witte, a division engineer with the state who sent the letter.

Witte toured the basins with Springer last summer, and Springer had no idea the basins were in violation until she read the letter, she said.

Witte determined that the basins violate state guidelines because they do not make provisions for lost water to downstream junior rights users.

“We outlined some parameters under which these basins could be constructed,” Witte said. “But when we investigated, we found those parameters had not been observed. That’s what created some concerns for us.”

The majority of the basins inspected hold water for 72 hours, during which time they slowly drain. When it comes to basins, that’s a practice that Colorado has always allowed, although it wasn’t officially on the books, said Tim Mitros, the stormwater engineer for the city of Colorado Springs, which also received a copy of the letter from Witte. To his knowledge, this is the first time that the de facto 72-hour rule has been challenged, Mitros added.

The letter also calls into question state-mandated detention basins that are required to ensure water quality, Mitros said.

According to the letter, those kinds of basins are also in violation of junior water rights.

Springer said CUSP cannot afford to buy extra water rights to make up for what its basins hold.

In Colorado, “water is more valuable than gold,” Mitros joked.

Witte said he is protecting the water rights of those who live in a drought-stricken watershed. The basins have no right to hold water, particularly from junior water rights holders who depend on excess water.

“They are among those who are entitled to receive water when there is a shortage, and there is always a shortage,” Witte said.

There are a variety of fixes for the situation, Witte said, but none strikes a perfect balance between the needs of recovery managers and junior water rights holders, he added.

“The ponds could be filled in, but that doesn’t afford any flood protection. Not every solution is a satisfactory one for everybody,” he said.

The most typical solution would be for agencies like CUSP and Colorado Springs Utilities, among several others, to purchase water rights. While it might be the simplest solution for Witte, buying more water would be expensive and probably not feasible for others, Mitros said.

“There is no water available to purchase to offset that,” Springer said. “We are in the business of saving lives. Why would we spend the money to buy that water?”

Now everything depends on the outcome of [SB15-212: Storm Water Facilities Not Injure Water Rights], which is expected to be heard in the Senate’s Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy committee April 9.

Sonnenberg could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Although Witte requested that action be taken by April 1, he said he will wait to act until the legislative session is over. CUSP, along with the city of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities, will also be waiting to see if the bill passes.

As for what will happen if the bill gets killed, no one had a guess.

“I don’t know what will happen,” Mitros said. “I think the state needs to get that figured out between itself first.”

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

@NWSPueblo: The March 2015 climate review and April preview for south central and southeast Colorado

Snowpack news (Part 2): “Well I’m goin’ down, down, down, down, down, down” — Jeff Beck (Goin’ Down)

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Snowpack news: Water folks are now hoping for a cool summer or a repeat of April 2013

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal March 31, 2015
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal March 31, 2015

From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):

The weather pattern over the last month has had a negative effect on our water reserves in Colorado. At the end of February the snowpack level was considered near normal, but new numbers out on the last day of March show a drop. “Six weeks ago we were looking about average in the mountain watershed and now at the Colorado Basin we’re at 76% of average and the Arkansas Basin 84% of average. So there’s some pretty drastic declines,” said Abby Ortega with Colorado Springs Utilities.

The good news is plenty of water the previous two years filled reservoirs to above average. Since they are up, it balances this year’s snowpack drop. “We think we can stay about even,” said Ortega, “Unless it’s a really hot dry year and folks need to use more water.”

From the Vail Daily (John Laconte):

So in Vail, where we have received 261 inches total snowfall since Opening Day, skiers are feeling pretty good in the slushy spring conditions right now.

“I was in the Back Bowls and Blue Sky all day, the snow was awesome,” Will Franklin of Denver said Saturday. “Great day to be in Vail.”

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

Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation March 1 thru March 29, 2015
Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation March 1 thru March 29, 2015

Click here to read the current assessment.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

The latest Colorado Water Trust eNews newsletter is hot off the presses

McKinley Ditch headgate photo via the Colorado Water Trust
McKinley Ditch headgate photo via the Colorado Water Trust

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

Before the Court: Change of Use for Colorado Water Trust’s McKinley Ditch Shares

Colorado’s water-short rivers present complex challenges that require creative solutions. At the Water Trust, we’ve always been inspired to explore new, localized approaches when existing ones don’t fit. For example, our innovative remedy on the Little Cimarron River southwest of Gunnison blends agricultural and non-consumptive water uses for the first time through split season operations. Seasonal lease agreements mean the water could be used for agriculture in the early season through our partners Western Rivers Conservancy, while later in the season more water would remain in the river for environmental benefits. Several Directors on the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) praised our project when voting last fall to approve the CWCB’s purchase of the Grant of Flow Restoration Use for the Water Trust’s water right shares in the McKinley Ditch.

“I can tell that this has been a tremendous amount of work because it is novel. And it seems to me that it’s the sort of thing we need to explore so that we can figure out, if agriculture did something just a little differently but not harmful, could there be a benefit for some other use…Being able to move water around to where it’s needed, when it’s needed…by changing things just a little, I think, is hopefully the wave of the future.” ~ Director Patricia Wells, CWCB Meeting on September 12, 2014

In December 2014, the Water Trust and CWCB took the next step towards implementing this experimental concept by filing a joint application with the Division 4 Water Court seeking to add “instream flow use”(ISF) to the Water Trust’s shares of the senior McKinley Ditch water rights. Once this added use is approved by the Water Court, the Water Trust’s water rights can be used by the CWCB to keep water flowing in the Little Cimarron River, accruing benefits to almost ten miles of Colorado streams, from the McKinley Ditch headgate to the Gunnison River.

Durango: 33rd Southwestern Water Conservation District’s (SWWCD) Annual Water Seminar, Friday, April 3


From the Pagosa Springs Sun (Renita Freeman):

Water experts will speak at the 33rd Southwestern Water Conservation District’s (SWWCD) Annual Water Seminar at the Doubletree Hotel in Durango on Friday, April 3, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

This year’s theme is “New Solutions to Old Problems.” A broad range of topics on the agenda will be addressed during the meeting including the Colorado River basin contingency planning efforts, the future of agriculture in Colorado, the state water plan and the incorporation of water conservation in land use planning.

The meeting’s agenda, as listed in a news release from SWWCD, has registration and breakfast scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Welcoming remarks and introductions will be made by John Porter, SWWCD board president, and Bruce Whitehead, executive director.

The morning’s presentations will feature Jim Havey with Havey Productions presenting a documentary on the Great Divide. Moderator Steve Harris will present Exploring Water Conservation Strategies. Assisting in this presentation will be state Sen. Ellen Roberts, Drew Beckwith with Western Resource Advocates, Dominique Gomez with Water Smart Software and Mark Marlowe from the Town of Castle Rock.

Whitehead will speak on the Colorado River Planning Convergence; he will be assisted by Greg Walch from the Southern Nevada Water Authority and Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) members Ted Kowalski and Eric Kuhn.

The afternoon’s agenda will begin with recognition of the water leaders followed by the film “Resilient: Soil, Water and the New Stewards of the American West” presented by Kate Greenberg from the National Young Farmers Coalition. Greenberg will also present Agriculture’s Future in the Colorado River Basin. Assisting with this presentation will be Ken Nowak from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Pat O’Toole, a local producer from the Family Farm Alliance.

“The State Water Plan: Meeting Local Water Needs” will be presented by John Stulp from the Interbasin Compact Committee. Assisting Stulp will be CWCB board member Rebecca Mitchell. Carrie Lile, Ann Oliver and Mike Preston from the Southwest Basin Roundtable will also take part in the presentation.

The press release stated advance registration is $35 or $40 at the door. Online registration is available by going to http://swwcd.org/programs/annual-water-seminar. Mail-in registration forms are also available on the website. The Doubletree Hotel is located at 501 Camino del Rio. Registration will begin 8 a.m. on April 3.

More education coverage here.