2015 Colorado legislation water bill recap

Colorado Capitol building
Colorado Capitol building

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

It began with the interim water resources review committee, which last summer held hearings on studies on groundwater levels in the South Platte River Basin area. That led to four bills dealing with flooding and groundwater issues in the Basin.

House Bill 15-1178 provided $165,000 in 2015-16 for grants administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to be used for emergency dewatering of wells in LaSalle and Sterling, due to high groundwater levels that have damaged crops, homes and businesses in those areas. The money comes the CWCB construction fund. It was signed into law on June 5 and went into effect upon the governor’s signature. Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, said emergency dewatering started in LaSalle in April. Another $290,000 will be available in 2016-17 for additional dewatering.

A related bill, HB 1013, requires the CWCB and state engineer to select two pilot programs, one from LaSalle/Gilcrest and the other from Sterling, to test different ways for lowering the water table. The law requires an annual report on the project to the General Assembly, with a final report due in 2020.

The law also tasks the state engineer with making changes on operations and design of recharge structures (such as wells) for augmentation plans that include construction of those wells. Augmentation plans are required when someone wants to take water out-of-priority and must replace enough water to avoid injury to the river or other water users.

Currently, when the water court considers an application for an augmentation plan with a well, the court looks at whether the plan will provide that replacement water, but the court hasn’t looked at the effect on groundwater for nearby water users. HB 1013 requires the state engineer to examine that issue. The bill was signed into law on May 29 and goes into effect on August 5.

A bill from the water resources review committee puts off a change to state law regarding the Dawson aquifer. The aquifer is one of four within the Denver Basin, which extends from Colorado Springs to Denver and east to Limon and into Morgan County. On July 1, 2015, those who pump from Dawson would have been required to use calculations based on the aquifer’s current condition when figuring out how much water would be needed to replace stream depletions. This dates back a law passed in 2001, and delayed several times since then. Because the state has never had the money to do the modeling necessary, the requirement needed to be postponed again. The legislation did not provide a new implementation date.

Finally, the annual CWCB projects list included $125,000 for South Platte River basin groundwater level data collection, analysis and remediation.

Among other significant water bills passed in the 2015 session:

• Major changes to the fallowing program administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Currently, agricultural land-owners can lease their water rights to municipalities for up to 10 years. This pilot program was expanded by the General Assembly to allow for leasing of water rights for other agricultural, industrial, environmental and recreational uses.

Garrett Mook, a fourth-generation farmer from Lamar, talked about the value of expanding the program with the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee in March. Mook cited as an example a feedlot in Swink that relies on well water. The well was shut down because of the drought in Southeastern Colorado, and farmers in the area wanted to help the lot owner by leasing some of their water. They weren’t able to do that because the lease-fallow program only allows leasing water rights to municipalities, and the feedlot owner had to find water elsewhere.

“The way crop prices varies from year to year and rainfall varies from year to year, a new source of revenue is crucial for us…It gives farmers my age a fighting chance,” he said.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) and Rep. Ed Vigil (D-Fort Garland), sailed unanimously through both the House and Senate and was signed into law by the governor on May 1. The new law goes into effect on August 1.

• A $5 million grant program was set up to manage invasive phreatophytes. These are deep-rooted plants that draw their water from a nearby water table. In Colorado, that means tamarisk and Russian-olive trees. The bill, HB 1005, came from the water resources review committee.

Colorado has been dealing with these problem plants for more than a decade. The grant program goes into effect on August 5.

• Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, called SB 183 the most important water bill of the session. The bill quantifies historical use of consumptive water (water that is consumed by crops, for example, and not returned to a stream).

The bill ran into problems in the House, in the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee. It was opposed by the Colorado River District, Trout Unlimited and the Audubon Society. Chris Treese of the Colorado River District said the issue had become a West Slope/Eastern Plains dispute. He pointed to two water court cases where the bill would hamper, rather than hinder, appropriate determinations of consumptive use.

In one case, an agricultural water right that came through a transmountain diversion (water that is diverted from the West Slope to the Eastern Plains) was sold to two municipalities. The Pueblo water board sought an immediate change-of-use decree from the water court. The city of Aurora did not, although it used the water for 22 years. The city finally went to water court in 2009 to seek the proper permit. But the judge in the case counted all the water used in the decree, including the 22 years of non-decreed (illegal) use. The state Division of Water Resources argued that the water decree should be reduced by 27 percent to account for the years of illegal use. That would be done by using zeros in the calculation, representing the years of non-decreed use.

The case is pending in the state Supreme Court.

Becker told this reporter that SB 183 would provide certainty and stability in water court cases. He disagreed with the suggestion that the court use zeros in its calculation of consumptive use. “Non-decreed uses can’t be a benefit but it shouldn’t be a detriment,” Becker said. The courts should use a calculation based on actual consumptive use. He also pointed out that in Aurora’s case, the state engineer had the authority to stop non-decreed use, and didn’t.

The law established under SB 183 would allow the courts to base the consumptive use on wet years, dry years, and average years, and exclude the year(s) of non-decreed use.

The law went into effect on May 4 when the governor signed the bill.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

#Drought news: Colorado is now officially out of drought — KUNC

From KUNC (Poncie Rutsch). Click through for the great animation showing the progression our of drought. Here’s an excerpt:

The period from July 2013 to June 2015 is the second wettest two-year period in the U.S. Drought Monitor’s 120 years of observation for the state of Colorado — and that helps. Yet more rain doesn’t always satiate a drought, since too much at any one time means flooding and water runoff. The better solution is snowpack — the amount of snow that falls over the winter and refills the state’s reservoirs as it melts over the winter.

“What you want is kind of a gradual melting of the snowpack in the late spring and into the summer so that you get that gradual filling of the reservoirs,” explains David Simeral, a meteorologist and author of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“It’s been gradually getting better since 2013,” says Simeral. The rains and flooding helped ease Colorado’s drought, and steady rain and snowfall have continued to finish the job…

The annual monsoon doesn’t hurt.

“That generally doesn’t help the reservoirs,” says Simeral, “but it helps the vegetation and keeps stream flows up.”

Vegetation and stream flows are two other indicators that Simeral uses to monitor drought, along with precipitation, soil moisture, and local temperatures.

“The monsoon is very difficult to predict,” says Simeral. Still, he forecasts more wet weather for the rest of the summer, keeping the state out of drought.

From InkStain (John Fleck):

I would like to point out that the first six months of 2015, which roughly coincides with the time since I quite writing about drought for the Albuquerque Journal, have seen the wettest statewide [NM] average precipitation since the epic year of 1941.

Ag Tech Summit recap

Drone and cow photo via Popular Science

From the Produce News (Tim Linden):

From drones mapping tens of thousands of acres to a personal in-home eco-system, technology advances for the agriculture industry were celebrated at The AgTech Summit, held in Salinas, CA, July 8, as part of the Forbes Reinventing America series. Western Growers was a major sponsor of the event.

One of the highlights of the day was the winner of the year-long Thrive Accelerator Program, developed by SVG Partners in conjunction with Forbes, Verizon and Western Groves. the Thrive Accelerator is a highly selective mentorship and investment program for technology-enabled startups working specifically in agriculture. Originally, there were close to three dozen firms submitting proposals, 10 were picked to move forward and team with ag industry mentors to help them develop their ideas into real-world products…

Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Western Growers, helped kick-off the day by participating in the opening panel, titled “The World’s Biggest Opportunity.” The panelists discussed how a generation of new technologies will revolutionize the way farming is done in the future. Nassif focused his remarks on the need for innovative solutions to the challenges facing the future of agriculture, in particular the increasing regulatory and market pressures to grow more with less.

“In the future, farming companies must continue to seek out and adopt new technologies that will allow them to increase yields while using less resources and inputs — such as water, labor, fertilizers and pesticides, and energy — and generating less waste,” said Nassif…

While the event was held in Salinas and specialty crop production was highlighted by several speakers, it was fairly apparent that the agronomic crops and the huge farms that dot the Midwest tend to be the focus of research in the ag technology sector. The fresh produce industry will clearly benefit as these technologies are developed and adopted, but speaker after speaker spoke of mapping huge farms with drones and satellite images to more efficiently water and fertilize these thousands of acres. One speaker talked about a 70,000-acre lentil farm in Canada.

Many different companies have surfaced that use public mapping data from satellite images to help growers better manage their crops by more efficiently using resources and drilling down to sub-acre plots, even as small as five-meter plots.

Another topic of interest that surfaced several times during the day was biotechnology and other advances in plant breeding. Robert Fraley, the chief technology officer for Monsanto, discussed genetic engineering and similar advances that are helping to produce better varieties and crop protection tools that can solve a multitude of issues. Both he and Neal Gutterson, vice president of agricultural biotechnology at DuPont Pioneer, talked about technology that allows researchers to look into the micrbiomes of a plant. This allows plant breeders to study the genomes of a plant cell and be much more targeted in their approach.

One very interesting session featured Gabe Blanchet, the 24-year-old co-founder and CEO of Grove Labs, which is producing a bookcase-sized ecosystem that endeavors to put a green house in every home. The piece of furniture uses a fish tank and its byproducts to help provide nutrients for a mini greenhouse that he said can give consumers two to three robust bowls of salad per week. The company has already produced and sold the first 50 of these ecosystems in the Boston area. He expects to be in full production this fall with a price tag in the $2,000 range.

Larimer Co. to buy flood-ravaged properties — The Fort Collins Coloradan

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Nick Coltrain):

The Larimer County Board of Commissioners gave the OK [June 9] for the county’s Community Development Department to move forward with the plan. The properties, all in the Big Thompson Canyon and North Fork areas, were substantially damaged in the floods to the point where they can’t be built upon.

Terry Gilbert, the community development director, emphasized that the program is voluntary. The estimated value of the parcels range from about $10,000 to $30,000, with a total cost estimate of about $1.2 million. The money would come from federal reimbursements for road work the county did in the immediate aftermath of the flood.

“We know there’s a lot of landowners struggling and wanting to move forward,” Larimer County Emergency Management Director Lori Hodges said…

Gilbert said the county had looked at chasing a FEMA grant to buy 18 of the properties, but found the process onerous for the government and the property owners and potentially not worth the savings. The use of FEMA funds would have required every property to be assessed at least twice and, if sold to the county, maintained in perpetuity.

The assessments alone could have exceeded the value of some of the parcels, Gilbert said.

Using county money gives more flexibility for buying, reselling and the level of maintenance provided for the properties. It is also potentially a quicker process for property owners looking to get rid of land they can no longer build upon.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

CPW: Celebrate All Things Moose During 6th Annual Grand Mesa Moose Day, July 25


Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is celebrating the success of the state’s moose population with festivals honoring the charismatic ungulates, including the upcoming 6th Annual Grand Mesa Moose Day, Saturday, July 25, atop the Grand Mesa at the U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center, a few miles east of Grand Junction.

Then, on Aug. 22, the moose celebration moves to State Forest State Park for the inaugural moose festival in North Park, the site of Colorado’s first moose relocation in 1978.

The rapid growth and expansion of moose populations in Colorado has become one of CPW’s most successful and publicized wildlife management efforts, providing the public with an extraordinary watchable wildlife experience and hunters with increasing opportunity.

“Unlike other states, moose populations are doing very well here,” said Watchable Wildlife Coordinator Trina Romero, of CPW. “We think it’s important to celebrate that, and provide the public with info about moose and how to enjoy them.”

The Grand Mesa Moose Day festival will feature viewing and safety tips, including information about the growing moose population on the Grand Mesa. Visitors can participate in a hike with a wildlife officer to learn about radio collar telemetry, learn interesting moose facts, enjoy a scavenger hunt, make moose antler hats and learn what a moose eats by making ‘moose salad.’ Because fishing is one of the Grand Mesa’s most popular attractions aspiring anglers can take advantage of casting demonstrations provided by CPW staff.

“This is a great event that both kids and adults enjoy,” adds Romero. “We thank all our partners that make the Grand Mesa Moose Day possible, including the U.S. Forest Service, Cabela’s, Moose Radio, and the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway.”

This year, Cabela’s donated prizes for attendees, ranging from a gift card to a hunter pack. Drawings for the prizes will take place during the event.
Wildlife managers estimate there are now over 400 moose from the original 91 animals relocated to the Grand Mesa between 2005-07, increasing the need for education. Colorado Parks and Wildlife continues to remind the public that preventing potentially dangerous wildlife conflicts is everyone’s responsibility.

“There are increasing reports about moose showing up in areas where only a few years ago, it would have seemed unusual,” said Romero. ” This is why it is critical for people to learn as much as they can about a species whose presence is growing in our state.”

Romero reminds the public that moose should always be viewed from a distance, ideally with a camera with a telephoto lens, binoculars or a viewing scope. She adds that dogs are a serious concern and warns people to avoid letting dogs, on or off-leash, approach moose at all times.

“Part of being a citizen of Colorado should include learning about wildlife, how it is managed and how to watch it without causing harm to yourself, or the animal,” says Romero. “We understand that people enjoy taking their pets outdoors, but it is critical that they remain on a leash at all times. Dogs are one of the leading causes of conflicts which includes humans and wildlife, sometimes ending up with one or more involved being injured.”

To learn more about moose, take Highway 65 from Interstate 70, Exit 49, to the U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center at FR 121. From Delta, drive east on Highway 92 then north on Highway 65. Anyone heading to the event is reminded to be attentive as it is increasingly likely to catch a glimpse of a moose.

Be sure to pack a picnic lunch and make this a fun day trip for the entire family.

Who: Colorado Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, Cabela’s, Moose 92.3, and the Grand Mesa Scenic & Historic Byway.

What: 6th Annual Grand Mesa Moose Day

When: Saturday, July 25, 10 a.m.- 3 p.m.

Where: U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center – 20090 Baron Lake Drive, Hwy 65 and FR 121 – Top of the Grand Mesa

Contact: Trina Romero at 970-255-6191

For more information about the moose transplant effort on the Grand Mesa, visit http://www.cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/MooseReintroductionProgram.aspx

For more information about the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/gmug

More general interest coverage here

New water clarity proposal considered for Grand Lake — The Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

Debate continues to swirl around water clarity standards for Grand Lake, but recently stake holders on the Western Slope presented a new proposal in hopes of moving negotiations forward.

Western Slope stakeholders recently presented a revised clarity standard proposal to the Water Clarity Stakeholders group for consideration. The revised clarity standard proposal presented by the Western Slope stakeholders is for 3.8 meters, or 12.5 feet, with a 2.5 meter, or 8.2 feet, minimum clarity depth. This is a reduction from their previous proposal of a 4-meter standard.

Representatives from the Western slope stakeholders together with others from the east side of the continental Divide make up the Water Clarity Stakeholders Committee (WCSC). The WCSC is formed from the various entities affected by water clarity in Grand Lake and the operation of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project (C-BT), which pulls water from the Three Lakes region that is sent through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel out of Grand Lake to the Front Range.

The WCSC includes representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Town of Grand Lake, Western Area Power Administration, Grand County, Northern Water, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, power consumers from the affected area, the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Three Lakes Watershed Association, Northwest COG, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, U.S. Geological Survey, the Grand County Water Information Network, and various other groups.

Representatives from the WCSC hope to negotiate a single water clarity proposal amongst themselves that can be presented to the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, the entity that will give final approval of any new water clarity standard. The Commission is part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The WCSC is working toward a deadline; their proposal is due in November.


Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink-Curran has helped shepherd the process for the county.

“The West Slope group came up with compromises we felt we could live with and presented them to the larger group,” she said.

Underbrink-Curran explained that if the various groups cannot come to agreement on a proposal then multiple proposals will likely be submitted to the Water Quality Commission.

“Sometimes the various factors to consider are at odds,” she said. “If the Stakeholders group can’t come to a coordinated proposal then the West Slope group would make a proposal and the East Slope group would likely make their own proposal.”

The debate has been ongoing for several years now and started in earnest in 2008 when a committee was formed to study possible methods for improving water clarity in Grand Lake. According to Canton O’Donnell, president of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, that committee, which later became the Water Clarity Stakeholders Committee, was formed from the sustained lobbying efforts of the Three Lakes Watershed Association to improve the water clarity standard.

“All these years we have proposed a 4-meter standard,” said Canton. “Northern Water says that is not possible.”


The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, better known as Northern Water, operates the C-BT though the facilities are officially owned by the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

“We don’t think that is an attainable standard,” said Brian Werner, Public Information Officer for Northern Water. “Looking at history and what we have been able to achieve in the past; we’ve been able to achieve 4 meters some years at certain times of the year. But oftentimes the clarity gets worse than that.”

Werner also expressed concerns over how such a standard would be enforced and how penalties for failing to meet any new standard would be applied.

More Grand Lake coverage here and here.