Demand on Wyoming water rises — the Wyoming News #ColoradoRiver

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

From the Wyoming News (Trevor Brown):

…with a historic drought hitting California and much of the Southwest, parts of the river have reached their driest points in hundreds of years.

And this increased demand on the river is causing Wyoming, along with the other western states, to take notice.

“Anything that puts more pressure on the Colorado River should be a concern for all the states, including Wyoming,” said Douglas Kenney, who heads the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “There is only so much water to go around.”

Wyoming’s water managers say the Cowboy State hasn’t been directly affected by the water shortage in the downstream states.

This is because a nearly 100-year-old interstate compact ensures Wyoming can use a predetermined amount of the water that flows through its borders.

“Anytime a drought occurs in our country, it is worth watching,” said Harry LaBonde, director of the Wyoming Water Development Commission. “But if you are asking if California is going to demand more water from Wyoming, the answer is no.”

LaBonde and other state officials say the western drought, and the threat that the situation could worsen, is still enough of a concern that Wyoming should see the situation as a warning and take steps to safeguard its own water supplies.

This is partly what prompted Gov. Matt Mead to include a plan in his recently announced statewide water strategy to build 10 reservoirs in 10 years.

Nephi Cole, a policy adviser to the governor, said it’s important for the state to begin planning these projects, which can take years and millions of dollars to complete, so Wyoming isn’t caught off guard in the future.

“The challenge is many times when you need a water project and you realize you are in a really dry year, it is already too late,” he said…

Wyoming and the “Law of the River”

Unlike much of southeast Wyoming, several western parts of the state don’t have the luxury of being able to rely on plentiful groundwater resources.

That means many municipal water systems, agricultural users and other industries largely depend on the Green River, which is the main tributary of the Colorado River, to meet their needs.

The 730-mile waterway begins in the Wind River Range of Sublette County and travels south into Utah before it connects with the Colorado River.

In total, a drop of water that starts in Wyoming could travel through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and California.

So, who owns that droplet of water?

That hotly contentious question was largely answered by a 1922 interstate deal known formally as the Colorado River Compact. This, combined with a complex series of other compacts, federal laws, court decisions and decrees, make up what is colloquially referred to as “The Law of the River.”[…]

It goes on to say that Wyoming is allowed to use 14 percent of the 7.5 million acre-feet of the upper-basin states’ allocation. That amount is equal to more than 342 billion gallons – or the equivalent of 517,844 Olympic-sized swimming pools – of water…

Cooperation and tension

David Modeer is the president of the Colorado River Water Users Association, a nonprofit group made up of the states and other groups that rely on the waterway.

He said all seven of the states have been working together through the years on a number of projects to preserve the water supply.

For example, many of the lower-basin states have provided some funding for cloud-seeding projects, which are designed to bring more precipitation, in the Rocky Mountain states.

More Green River Basin coverage here.

Mountain Town News: Water, water, water on the brains everywhere — Allen Best

May 1, 2015 Colorado streamflow forecast map via the NRCS
May 1, 2015 Colorado streamflow forecast map via the NRCS

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best) via the Summit Daily News:

In Colorado, snowpack this winter was about average in the Blue River Basin, which is where Breckenridge, Keystone, and several other ski areas are located. “Everybody has Blue River envy,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, at a recent meeting covered by the Summit Daily News.

Blue River’s snowpack will soon fill Dillon Reservoir, one of the main reservoirs for metropolitan Denver. However, endangered fish in the Colorado River downstream near the Utah border won’t fare so well, because of less snowpack in the other tributary basins. Peak flows must be at least 12,900 cubic feet per second; they’re expected to peak at 9,600 cfs.

Taking a broader view, Kuhn sees this time in the 21st century as one of transition. “After 100 years of develop more, develop more, develop more, we’re going to have to cut back our uses.”

Kuhn pointed to the declining water levels in both Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two giant “buckets” on the Colorado River. “Bad things happen when Lake Mead and Lake Powell get drained,” he said, a distinct possibility in the next few years, particularly at Lake Mead.

What about building a pipeline to the Mississippi River or some other water-rich location? “To expect that we can export our problems to somebody else, I just don’t see that somebody else will willingly accept them,” he said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

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

Colorado month to date May 2015 month to date precipitation thru May 18, via NOAA
Colorado month to date May 2015 month to date precipitation thru May 18, via NOAA

It’s pretty easy to see why the South Platte River is flooding (all that red color).

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

Farmers Step Up To Solve Rocky Mountain National Park’s Pollution Problem — KUNC

St. Vrain River Rocky Mountain National Park
St. Vrain River Rocky Mountain National Park

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

For the past eight years, the biologist has spent most of his time thinking about how nitrogen pollution is changing the park’s forests, wildflowers, and alpine lakes. He’s also been looking for a way to stop it.

As Cheatham explains, it’s not that nitrogen is bad in and of itself. It’s that there’s too much of it in the park. Think about putting fertilizer, which is basically nitrogen, on your lawn or garden, he said.

“What if you applied that fertilizer — and that’s exactly what it is — at that rate — 15 times what’s on the label. Weird things are going to happen.”

Weird things are happening in the park’s alpine meadows and in the lakes nestled beneath its craggy peaks. Cheatgrass, an invasive weed, is making its way higher and higher into the park, buoyed by extra fertilizer, as are other weeds. Native trees are weakened by the extra nitrogen. Rivers are becoming more acidic…

Scientists are still investigating the links between the algae bloom and nitrogen, said Cheatham. Regardless of if the link is direct, they are sure of one thing: too much nitrogen is throwing off the park’s ecological balance. If nitrogen levels stay high, the park could look completely different in just a few decades…

That’s where Jon Slutsky comes in. He’s a dairy farmer in Wellington, Colorado, about 50 miles east of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Slutsky admits that at first it’s hard to make a connection between a dairy farm on Colorado’s Eastern Plains and biological in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Yet strange as it might seem, farmers on the plains are responsible for a significant amount of the extra nitrogen that’s falling in the park, as rain, or snow.

Other sources include automobiles, oil and gas operations, and other industrial activities from within Colorado. Some nitrogen comes from as far away as California, Nevada, Nebraska and Iowa, according to a 2009 report.

Spurred by a 2004 petition from Trout Unlimited and the Environmental Defense Fund, the Park Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began to focus on reducing nitrogen in the park.

Pointing at a corral where a few of his 1,500 dairy cows were chowing down, Slutsky said this is where the problem starts.

“Ammonia is created out in the corrals — the cows are designed so perfectly, they provide everything — so the urine hits the ground and it creates ammonia,” Slutsky said.

Ammonia, which contains nitrogen, can come from a cow urine and manure reacting with the air. Ammonia is a gas, and it can be transformed into another type of particle, ammonium nitrate, that is small and easily carried on the wind.

Normally, wind comes from the west. So most of the nitrogen created at dairies like Slutsky’s, and other farms, is carried to places like Nebraska. A few times a year, though, the winds change.

“Not real often. But on occasion they do. Maybe a dozen times a year,” said Slutsky.

When that happens, the nitrogen gets carried up into the park. If it rains or snows, it falls on the park, providing fertilizer for weeds like Canada thistle and stressing out the park’s ecosystem.

Neither the park’s Jim Cheatham nor cattle feedlot owners want this to happen. That’s why the Park Service and other federal agencies are partnering with groups of Front Range farmers to use a novel alert system.

Slutsky and around 50 other farmers signed up for a voluntary program where they get an alert when the winds are blowing the wrong way, from the east, and a system is likely to move in and rain nitrogen down on the park.

The alert tells them how long the weather system will last, often two days or less. In response, the farmers can implement conservation practices that keep nitrogen out of the air. Slutsky might decide to move manure another day. Another farmer might postpone a fertilizer application.

Texas A&M University professor Brock Faulkner is a consultant for the project, which went through a trial run in 2014, sending out 10 warnings to Eastern Plains farmers.

“If we could shift the timing of those practices so that those emissions occur at a time when they’re less likely to cause detrimental environmental impacts, that would be fantastic,” said Faulkner.

More water pollution coverage here.

Stormwater: “I really hope the new mayor [John Suthers] puts a higher priority on this issue” — Jay Winner

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground
Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A move by Colorado Springs to try for federal money to cover costs from storm damage earlier this month got no crocodile tears from Pueblo officials.

“Don’t you think it’s disingenuous that we have the same problems downstream and Colorado Springs is not willing to pay for it?”

said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“I really hope the new mayor (John Suthers was elected Tuesday) puts a higher priority on this issue.”

Colorado Springs announced Monday it will seek reimbursement of up to 75 percent of its estimated damage of $8.2 million from heavy rain from May 3-12.

The initial assessment recorded $5 million damage from landslides or erosion, $2.9 million to parks and trails and $281,000 in sinkholes.

Greater amounts are anticipated as assessments of damage continue, according to a worksheet released by Colorado Springs.

Outgoing Mayor Steve Bach is requesting disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“They’ve got to have somebody fund stormwater,” Winner said.

The Lower Ark district is working toward a federal lawsuit that charges Colorado Springs has violated the federal Clean Water Act by failing to control stormwater after its City Council abolished a stormwater enterprise and fee in 2009. The lack of a stable source of funding for controlling periodic storms is a sore point.

“I’d bet that when they show us an accounting of stormwater payments, they include the federal money that they were unwilling to provide,” Winner said.

That, in fact, is what Bach did in 2013, when he sent Pueblo County commissioners a letter claiming $46 million in stormwater expenditures. Much of the money was from federal grants for multiyear projects.

“I have to commend Colorado Springs for their ability to get federal money,” Winner said. “I do wish the city of Pueblo was as good at getting money.”

Pueblo, which has a stormwater enterprise and fee in place, is not planning on filing for FEMA money from the storm, but is still assessing damage on Fountain Creek.

“Pueblo would apply if the damage is greater than the normal scope of our stormwater repair budget,” said Pueblo City Manager Sam Azad. “We had damages at the airport from hail, but that is outside of what FEMA will cover.”

Pueblo has taken care of much worse problems on Fountain Creek on its own in the past, so it is unlikely the city would apply for assistance as Colorado Springs has done, Azad acknowledged.

El Paso County voters, including Colorado Springs, rejected a plan that would have established a regional stormwater district that would generate nearly $40 million in funding annually.

Stormwater also is an issue for Pueblo County commissioners, who are conducting an investigation now to determine if Colorado Springs is living up to its commitments under the county’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System.

Meanwhile, Fountain Creek has been flowing high and causing damage this week. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Fountain Creek churned again on Tuesday following a night-long rain over much of Southern Colorado.

By early afternoon, flows through Pueblo had peaked at 6,500 cubic feet per second, bringing with them debris such as large tractor tires, conduits and trees from the north.

At Avondale, east of Pueblo, the Arkansas River reached flood stage Tuesday evening. “Fountain Creek’s a mess,” said Van Truan of the local U.S. Corps of Engineers office.

“It’s such an active stream and has been for years.”

Rainfall in the region totaled anywhere from 1-3 inches, with the heaviest storms in El Paso County in the foothills west of Colorado Springs.

This is the second-wettest May on record, with 13 days left and more rain forecast through the weekend. “With the pattern we’re in, it’s possible this will be the wettest May ever,” said Mark Wankowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at Pueblo Memorial Airport.

Fountain Creek washed out parts of the trail alongside the river, including at 13th Street where the creek has been temporarily diverted for Army Corps of Engineers work along the west bank to protect railroad tracks and an Interstate 25 interchange.

The trail has been closed from the trailhead at U.S. 50 east to Runyon Lake, the city of Pueblo announced in a press release. Some parts that have not washed out are covered with 3-4 inches of mud.

The creek also finished off structures in the flood plain at Belmont Stables on Overton Road. About five stables and a large metal pen were in danger from earlier high flows on Fountain Creek and now have been swept downstream. A swath about 25 yards wide has been cut in the past 10 days, in addition to land that disappeared earlier this month.

“It took it all,” said Cathy Todd, owner of Belmont Stables. The horses that were in the lower stables were all moved to higher ground.

Fountain Creek now is undercutting the bluffs on her property, she said. Fountain Creek shifted toward the east several years ago and began eroding the site, but it has accelerated with the rains in recent weeks.

Elsewhere in Pueblo County, the rain was making its presence known, but was manageable.

“I haven’t been over to the SDS scar; we’ve got our own problems on Turkey Creek to worry about Colorado Springs’ problems today,” said rancher Gary Walker, who is in a legal fight with Colorado Springs over the Southern Delivery System pipeline across his property.

“I was up at 1:30 a.m. releasing water so we wouldn’t have problems,” said Mike Hill, superintendent of the Bessemer Ditch. He said there were not any weather-related problems with the ditch from the storm.

More stormwater coverage here.

Sale of Fort Lyon Canal lands that were subject to High Plains, A&M speculation ruling nearly complete

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The sale of farms once targeted for buy-and-dry on the Fort Lyon Canal won’t be complete for a month.

Pure Cycle Corp. announced Tuesday that the deadline for due diligence on the sale of 14,600 acres of land for about $53 million will continue until June 18. When the sale was announced in mid-March, a due diligence period of 60-91 days was expected.

Arkansas River Farms LLC, an affiliate of C&A Companies Inc. and Resource Land Holdings LLC, has an agreement to buy the farms from Pure Cycle.

The farms, along with about 23 percent of the shares for water on the Fort Lyon Canal, were originally purchased by High Plains A&M prior to 2003 and sold to Pure Cycle in 2006. High Plains had lost a legal bid to market the water throughout the state when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled its plan violated the antispeculation doctrine of Colorado Water Law.

Lamar pipeline via The Pueblo Chieftain
Lamar pipeline via The Pueblo Chieftain

Pure Cycle announced its intentions to move water to the Front Range when it purchased the Fort Lyon shares. C&A Companies also unveiled a plan to move water from the Lamar Canal to metropolitan communities through its subsidiary GP Resources in 2011. While neither of those plans have advanced, they had not been taken off the table.

Pure Cycle has been leasing the water and ground back to farmers. GP Resources has been raising feed for a Kansas dairy, and there has been talk of building a dairy in Colorado.

Resource Land Holdings has more than $550 million in assets in 25 states and Canada.

“The buyers of our farm portfolio have been working hard surveying, investigating title, ownership, and all customary diligence matters of a transaction of this nature. We have nearly 80 separate properties and as one might expect, diligence on that many properties is time-consuming,” said Mark Harding, Pure Cycle president.

“To date, no material ownership issues have been identified and we do not expect any material title issues to surface through the process.”

Arkansas River Farms has a policy of not speaking with the press at least until the deal is complete, said Karl Nyquist, a partner with C&A, when reached by phone Tuesday.

The deal is scheduled to be closed in August, Harding said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.