Duggan: Fort Collins still has deep concerns about NISP — Coloradan

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

In 2008, the City Council passed a resolution stating its opposition to the project, which would draw water from the Poudre River and store it in a new facility — Glade Reservoir — that would be built northwest of the city. Another reservoir, Galeton, would be built near Greeley and draw from the South Platte River.

The council at that time cited a variety of concerns raised by city staff members and consultants after reviewing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS, for the project. Issues included potential negative impacts to the river’s water quality, riparian areas and wildlife habitat as a result of substantially reduced flows through Fort Collins.

Here we are seven years later and a Supplemental DEIS for the project has been issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which took a deeper dive into the project in response to comments made by Fort Collins and other stakeholders.

Don’t be surprised if the same concerns about NISP are raised this time around when the city submits comments to the Corps. Time and some tweaking of plans for the massive project haven’t made it any more palatable, according an early analysis of the SDEIS by city staff.

The document is improved, city staff say, but in the end, cutting the Poudre’s flow through the city by as much as 66 percent in May, 25 percent in June and 54 percent in July during years of average precipitation and river flows would have significant impacts.

Water quality would suffer — potentially raising the city’s costs for treating drinking water and wastewater — the number of “boatable” days on the river would drop, and the river’s ecology and overall health would be diminished, staff told council members Tuesday.

More Northern Integrate Supply Project coverage here and here.

#ColoradoRiver: New Mexico’s 2015 San Juan-Chama Project allocation goes up #COriver

From InkStain (John Fleck):

Our remarkably rainy spring and summer in New Mexico and southern Colorado has increased the allocation of San Juan-Chama Project water, which brings some of New Mexico’s Colorado River Basin water to the central part of the state. After a bad start to the year, flows have been above average basically continuously since the first of May…

The mid-June allocation was just half of a normal year supply, but that’s been steadily rising, and now is up to 85 percent, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. And that’s based on what we’ve got now. With the rainy season underway, that could continue rising, with 90 to 95 percent looking like a real possibility. That’s still a shortfall, for only the second time in the project’s 40 years history. But less of a shortfall, but by a significant margin, than water managers had feared.

The water provides supply to Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Both cities have buffers so a shortfall in any one year doesn’t have an immediate effect.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation
New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation

Town of Kassler supplied water for a thirsty, growing Denver — The Colorado Statesman

A rusted sign at the bottom of Waterton Canyon tells the story of what was once the hub of Denver Water’s treatment -- via Denver Water
A rusted sign at the bottom of Waterton Canyon tells the story of what was once the hub of Denver Water’s treatment — via Denver Water

From The Colorado Statesman (Marianne Woodland):

Kassler was a company town, and the company was Denver Water.

The town, named for Edwin Stebbins Kassler, one of the board members of the private company that preceded Denver Water, was established in 1901 as one of the first filtration plants for water coming from the South Platte River through Waterton Canyon.

When Denver was founded, along the banks of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, residents got their water directly from the river or from riverside wells. But that wasn’t the best, or cleanest way to get water. People bathed in it and washed their clothes in it and, as the city grew, the river began to fill with industrial waste. In addition, as more and more residents moved to Denver, the river could no longer provide enough water for residents, especially during a drought.

The solution came at the turn of the 20th Century: go upstream on the Platte, into Platte Canyon, now known as Waterton Canyon. To clean the water, the private company that eventually became Denver Water built the first “English slow-sand treatment system” west of the Mississippi, at Kassler, which could filter up to 50 million gallons of water a day.

Construction on the Kassler system began in 1901. But its distance from Denver, and the fact it had to be in operation around the clock, meant workers needed to be close by. Thus was born the town of Kassler. Workers built a boarding house, a bunkhouse, and eight single-family rental cottages, since it wasn’t only single men who worked at Kassler. They also built an administration building, a barn for the horses and a blacksmith, a schoolhouse with room for eight grades, and something called a measuring house, where engineers governed how much water was pouring down the pipes.

Water was filtered through four sand “beds,” or “cribs,” totaling a bit more than 10 acres. The sand was layered on top of gravel, with pipes beneath. There were cast-iron pipes, still in use today, and wood-stave pipes, which looked barrels, but without ends. Water would flow through the sand, removing particulates, then through gravel and into perforated pipes and then on to Denver in ditches.

Workers had to manually remove silt that emerged from the water and into the sand, labor Geist described as “back-breaking,” though by the 1950s, tractors had taken over cleaning the silt.

Working at Kassler was sometimes a family affair, according to Geist. Generations worked there, with jobs passing down from one generation to the next. One family, the Swans, were among the first to live at the town and also among the last to live there, when the plant was decommissioned in 1985. The last house still standing in Kassler was once their home.

Today, what remains of Kassler is the administration building, the Swan House, and the barn, all used for educational tours. Geist said Denver Water is putting together a plan, based on input from the community, to determine whether the buildings will be restored, set up as a museum, or used some other way.

The final presentation in the series “Colorado’s Water Stories” is 7-8 p.m. Aug. 18 at the History Colorado Center, 1200 Broadway, in Denver. It’s a chance to meet the people behind the Living West exhibit and hear their stories about water and its importance to the state. The event is free.

More Denver Water coverage here

NWS Pueblo: July 2015 Climate Review and August Preview across Southern CO

Here’s the release from the Nation Weather Service Pueblo office:

July of 2015 was relatively cool and wet across much of south central and southeast Colorado, especially over and near the higher terrain, with areas of warmer and drier conditions noted across portions of the high mountain vallleys and the eastern Plains. The following graphics depict preliminary departures from normal for both temperature and precipitation over the past month across the state.

july2015preciptempaspercentofnormalcoloradonwspueblo

The preliminary average temperature over the past month of July in Colorado Springs was 70.3 degrees, which is 0.6 degrees below normal. Colorado Springs recorded 3.14 inches of precipitation throughout the month of July, which is 0.30 inches above normal. Of note, Colorado Springs set a new record for daily maximum precipitation of 1.49 inches on July 15th. Hail was recorded at the Colorado Springs Airport on July 26th.

The preliminary average temperature over the past month of July in Pueblo was 77.7 degrees, which is 1.9 degrees above normal. Pueblo recorded 0.64 inches of precipitation through out the month of July. This is 1.42 inches below normal and makes July of 2015 the 12th driest July on record in Pueblo. This, however, remains well above the 0.09 inches of precipitation recorded throughout July of 1987.

The preliminary average temperature over the past month of July in Alamosa was 64.1 degrees, which is 0.5 degrees below normal. Alamosa recorded 1.34 inches of precipitation throughout the month of July, which is 0.37 inches above normal.

Looking ahead into August, in Colorado Springs, the average high and low temperatures of 84 degrees and 57 degrees on August 1st, cool to 80 degrees and 53 degrees by the end of the month, yielding an average monthly temperature of 68.7 degrees. Colorado Springs averages 3.34 inches of precipitation throughout the month of August, which is the wettest month of year, on average, in Colorado Springs.

In Pueblo, the average high and low temperatures of 91 degrees and 59 degrees on August 1st, cool to 87 degrees and 54 degrees by the end of the month, yielding an average monthly temperature of 73.4 degrees. Pueblo averages 2.32 inches of precipitation throughout the month of August, which is the wettest month of the year, on average, in Pueblo.

In Alamosa, the average high and low temperatures of 81 degrees and 48 degrees on August 1st, cool to 77 degrees and 43 degrees by the end of the month, yielding an average monthly temperature of 62.7 degrees. Alamosa averages 1.27 inches of precipitation throughout the month of August, which is the wettest month of the year, on average, in Alamosa.

Below is the Climate Prediction Center’s (CPC) temperature and precipitation outlook for the month of August, which gives a better chance for below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation across south central and southeast Colorado.

preciptempoutlooksaugust2015

#COWaterPlan: Colorado farmers grow more food on less water amid rising competition — The Denver Post

Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM
Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Producers brace as water crunch turns eyes to agriculture’s 85 percent share

Agriculture across Colorado and the West continues to use 85 percent of total water supplies. But growing numbers of farmers are shifting toward greater efficiency, replacing ditch-and-flood irrigation with center-pivot sprinklers and tubes that emit tiny drops…

State water planners anticipate farmers will be able to transfer more of their huge share of water to meet intensifying demands of Front Range industry and housing developers.

“Basically, we’re going to ask the agricultural community to do what the municipal community has already done: Let technology work for you,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Greater efficiency irrigating crops means farmers could grow more and make more water available to companies and cities, Eklund said.

“You can do right by your business and attract new people,” he said, “and at the same time you can be freeing up water that otherwise would have been lost.”[…]

In the South Platte River Basin, state data show loss of water reduced 1.1 million acres of agricultural land during the past three decades to 813,000 acres. That decrease of nearly 300,000 acres adds to large losses in southeastern Colorado after sales by farmers to cities in the 1970s shifted 14.6 billion to 19.5 billion gallons of water…

In southeastern Weld County, traditionally one of the nation’s biggest agricultural producers due to heavy irrigation, farmers said one-third of water rights have been sold since 2009.

Some went to companies involved in the oil and gas boom. Others went to expanding cities.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has declared “buy and dry” must end. Hickenlooper’s senior water adviser, John Stulp, said in a recent interview that, given food and environmental benefits of agriculture, the notion that agriculture’s 85 percent share of water should shrink is unrealistic.

Yet Colorado will encourage Alternative Transfer Mechanisms for shifting water to cities — with farmers leasing water temporarily while retaining ownership — aiming to move 16.2 billion gallons a year. Stulp said any ATM deals will be voluntary.

“There is no mandate to agriculture,” he said. “No one is asking growers to give up ownership of that water.”

“Should we be planting cities in desert areas? Who should go — the farmers or the city dwellers?” said Paul Kehmeier, who grows alfalfa, oats and other crops 50 miles southeast of Grand Junction in western Colorado.

To do that, he diverts water from a river into ditches, managing a homestead his great-grandfather started 120 years ago on land where Ute Indians once thrived.

“Certainly, our farm needs to be irrigated. Otherwise, it would be sagebrush and desert,” Kehmeier said…

Arnusch said he’s wary of even leasing any water back to cities.

Every year for more than a decade, Arnusch has had to leave about 250 of his 2,500 acres fallow for lack of water to irrigate. Farmers here since his grandfather began irrigating in 1952 have accepted limits of nature and, in dry years, planted less, Arnusch said.

The problem with cities is they build based only on market economics, disregarding water, he said.

“Buy-and-dry is happening, and it will continue to happen. But as our nonagriculture water needs increase, what is that going to mean?” Arnusch said. “The urban areas should be like farmers, only using exactly as much as they need. If I don’t have a sufficient water source, how am I supposed to produce?”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory J. Hobbs Retires

Here’s my latest column for Colorado Central Magazine:

Greg Hobbs is calling it quits after 19 years as the Colorado Supreme Court’s “water expert.”

Early in his career he clerked for the 10th Circuit, worked with David Robbins at the EPA, and worked at the Colorado Attorney General’s office. AG duties included the natural resources area – water quality, water rights and air quality issues. He represented the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy district before forming his own firm, his last stop on the way to the Court.

He told the Colorado Statesman that he always had his eye on the Supreme Court. While serving at the 10th circuit, Judge William Doyle told encouraged him to set his sites on the Supreme Court, saying “They do everything over there.”

When he appointed Hobbs to the court, Governor Roy Romer told him to “get a real tie,” according to the Statesman. A bolo tie, as Hobbs usually wears, didn’t seem to qualify.

The justice is hardworking outside his court duties. He is often asked to speak at conventions and meetings around the state. He is deeply driven to learn about others and to share his knowledge of law and history.

A few years ago, over in Breckenridge, the Summit Daily News reported that Hobbs said, “The water ditch is the basis of civilization.”

His passion is to explain current opportunities and problems within a historical context. He describes himself as a “failed PhD,” having dropped out of a PhD Latin American History program at Columbia University.

One opinion in particular illustrates the importance of history to Hobbs:

Will Hobbs, Greg Hobbs, Dan Hobbs, and a string of fish for dinner, Mary Alice Lake, Weminuche Wilderness, 1986 via Greg Hobbs
Will Hobbs, Greg Hobbs, Dan Hobbs, and a string of fish for dinner, Mary Alice Lake, Weminuche Wilderness, 1986 via Greg Hobbs

The University of Denver Water Law Review honored Justice Hobbs at their annual shindig. Former Justice Mike Bender told attendees about a case where a man had been arrested after police entered and searched his zippered tent in a campground.

In his opinion, Hobbs detailed the history of Coloradans that lived in tents. The plains Indians and their teepees, the miners camps dotted all over the mineral belt and elsewhere, and more than a few homesteaders, also. He said that in Colorado, there is an expectation of privacy when you close up your tent dwelling, and that it is no different from the expectation for a more permanent structure.

The police violated the man’s Fourth Amendment rights by not obtaining a search warrant, he said.

The justice credits luck for his interest in water law. He got in on the ground floor of the environmental movement during the early days of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

He has a deep and abiding respect for Colorado water law.

During his time on the court, there were two interesting cases dealing with the “speculation doctrine” – that is, a water diverter must put the water to beneficial use, not hold on to it and auction it to the highest bidder.

Pagosa Springs Water and Sanitation District was told it was not allowed a 100-year planning horizon. High Plains A&M was denied a change of use – agricultural to municipal and industrial – for lower Arkansas Basin water on the High Line Canal, because they didn’t have any firm customers for the water they were changing.

The Court recognized the Legislature’s legal ability to create whitewater parks as a beneficial use.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable insights that Justice Hobbs realized pertains to environmental flows within Colorado water law:

When Amy Beatie, director of the Colorado Water Trust, was clerking for the justice, she told him that her primary interest was working for the environment. He advised her to go into private practice, learn about the workings of water law, the mechanics and hydrology of diversions, and the art of finding common ground at water court. Then, he said, have faith that there will be a way to work for the environment within the water rights system.

Ms. Beatie paid attention.

Her organization just secured an instream flow right for the Colorado Water Conservation Board on a tributary of the Gunnison River, the Little Cimmaron River. The trust purchased shares of the McKinley ditch and assigned them to the CWCB – the only entity under state law that can hold rights for instream flows.

The water rights are senior and near the confluence with the Gunnison. Therefore, in times of low flows they are capable of calling out diversions above them. Water bypasses the McKinley headgate and stays in the stream for the fish and other critters. Further development of junior water rights won’t affect the arrangement, since the instream flow will always be in line ahead of newer ones.

This agreement was a big deal since it was the first of its kind, with a willing seller, an organization dedicated to finding deals that benefit instream flows, an entity that can legally hold those rights, and an active water rights market. A decree is winding its way through water court.

At this summer’s Martz Conference hosted by the CU law school, Justice Hobbs spoke about Colorado’s water market. Many groups and individuals decry the current state of water in the western U.S. Brad Udall, for example, told attendees at last fall’s Colorado River District Annual Symposium, that we are living with 19th-century laws, 20th-century infrastructure and 21st-century problems.

Hobbs reminded attendees at Martz 2015 that Colorado has the most active water market in the U.S. and it evolved under those 19th-century laws. Colorado water law is there to protect all appropriators and works very well, albeit slowly. Things move along more quickly as case law grows.

The basis of Colorado water law is the “doctrine of prior appropriation,” which is really a doctrine of scarcity, as just about anyone can administer a stream with average or above average flows. The art comes when there are low flows, so the state engineer has the priority system in his toolbox for those dry times.

Greg has become a friend to me over the years and I already miss him on the court.

He assures me that he will keep writing and speaking. After all, he asserts, “Coloradans love a good story.”

You tell a good story, Greg.

Posts mentioning ‘Hobbs” here. More water law coverage here.

6 things every American should know about the Clean Power Plan

Summit County Citizens Voice

Can carbon capture help mitigate the climate impacts of carbon dioxide? The U.S. will take a big step toward reducing carbon pollution with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

EPA chief outlines benefits of new pollution rules

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy



Today, President Obama will unveil the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan — a historic step to cut the carbon pollution driving climate change. Here are six key things every American should know:

1. IT SLASHES THE CARBON POLLUTION FUELING CLIMATE CHANGE.

Carbon pollution from power plants is our nation’s biggest driver of climate change—and it threatens what matters most – the health of our kids, the safety of our neighborhoods, and the ability of Americans to earn a living. The Clean Power Plan sets common sense, achievable state-by-state goals to cut carbon pollution from power plants across the country. Building on proven local and state efforts, the Plan puts our nation on track to cut carbon pollution…

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