From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A bill that changes water rights for flood water storage passed the House Friday after it was diverted to the House Local Government Committee rather than the Agriculture Committee so it would not be killed.
The bill, SB212, allows water from five-year floods to be stored 72 hours and for water from larger floods to be released as “quickly as practicable.” It also allows storage of runoff water from areas burned by wildfire.
“We believe this bill changes the prior appropriation doctrine,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “It’s very disappointing.”
Winner and Peter Nichols, the Lower Ark’s water attorney, worked to amend the bill to satisfy waterrights issues, but failed to prevail. Farmers from the Arkansas Valley testified against the bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee, saying it would deprive junior water rights holders.
The bill does exempt Fountain Creek, but it allows entities with a state discharge permit to operate under the new guidelines. That means Colorado Springs will be able to operate runoff detention ponds in connection with the burn scars from the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, as well as stormwater detention facilities.
The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway district does not intend to use the provisions of the bill, opting instead to continue a water rights study that is looking at how to ensure any water stored in its future detention ponds will be shepherded to the owners of water rights that would have been in priority without storage.
State Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, added the amendment exempting Fountain Creek. State Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, chairs the House agriculture committee, and was expected to kill the bill had it been assigned to that committee.
More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
The Colorado experiment aims to pressurize flows of agricultural water, producing hydro-power, and then deliver water more precisely to crops using sprinklers. If successful, this is envisioned as a way to help reduce the 85 percent share of water required to sustain agriculture in semi-arid Colorado and other western states.
“This is not only possible. It is going to happen,” Vilsack said in an interview. “It is going to provide for more efficient irrigation, which is important as we deal with increased scarcity. It also is going to deliver hydropower, a renewable energy resource.”
The federal Regional Conservation Partnership Program grants, building on $394 million awarded in January, are designed to encourage local agriculture leaders to work with innovators at private companies, universities, non-profit groups and government agencies to solve environmental challenges. Congress created the program last year and funds it under the Farm Bill.
In Colorado, state agriculture officials are coordinating the Pressurized Small Hydropower project, which will receive $1.8 million in federal funds and assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, in addition to $1.6 million from American Rivers, the governor’s energy office, the Colorado Rural Electric Association and others…
Vilsack said more than 600 groups have applied for conservation grants with 115 funded so far. Teaming with the private sector amplifies what the government could do, he said. “We need to figure out ways to use water more creatively and more efficiently.”
From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that up to $235 million has been allocated for conservation projects.
“Conservation programs not only allow us to preserve valuable lands for future generations and wildlife habitat,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who sits on the Agriculture Committee and helped craft the 2014 Farm Bill, which includes the RCPP, “they also pay a large part in sustaining our agriculture, recreation and tourism industries. The announcement of this funding is exciting news, and we encourage people to apply for funding to facilitate conservation programs across the state.”
The program encourages groups to work with multiple partners, which may include private companies, local and tribal governments, universities and nonprofits along with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners, to design projects that work best for their region. Local partners and the federal government invest funding and manpower to the projects.
People in Archuleta and La Plata counties may have a leg up on obtaining a grant, as the two counties are in the Colorado River Basin, which has been identified as 1 of 8 Critical Conservation Areas in the country. The Colorado River District received $8 million in January, the first round of disbursements in the RCPP, for the Lower Gunnison River Basin. That funding is being used to better manage agricultural and water resources for farming by expanding improvements in conveyance, delivery and on-farm irrigation, Bennet’s office said.
More hydropower/hydroelectric coverage here.