San Luis Valley: State Engineer hopes to settle new rules prior to trial

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The Court for Water Division No. 3 is expected to set a trial date later this month for the proposed state groundwater rules in the San Luis Valley.

That trial date may not come until 2017, according to a draft case management order filed with the court Friday, but a long window before the trial may help State Engineer Dick Wolfe with his goal of coming to an agreement with objectors before trial.

To date, 29 parties have filed comments, although at least three of them did so in support of the rules.

The rules would cover the roughly 4,500 wells that draw off either of the valley’s two major groundwater bodies.

The unconfined aquifer is the shallower of the two and is recharged both by streamflow at the valley’s edge and by return flows from irrigation.

The confined aquifer is recharged mainly by streamflows on the valley rim, sits beneath the unconfined aquifer and holds artesian pressure.

Both are hydraulically connected, in varying degrees, to stream flows in the valley, meaning that groundwater pumping can injure surface water users.

The rules are designed to protect surface water users and restore aquifer levels by requiring groundwater users to either join a groundwater subdistrict, create an augmentation plan, or create a substitute water supply plan.

All three would require the mitigation of pumping impacts as determined by a staterun computer model that simulates the behavior of the valley’s groundwater.

Comments were filed by 21 parties at the end of November, although the court extended the comment period because of problems noticing the rules in the north end of the valley.

Many of those comments focused on whether the state’s groundwater model was sufficient for the rules.

Since then eight others have also weighed in.

As with previous objectors, there were two protestors among the latest group who argue that the rules only be approved to the extent that the groundwater model is accurate. Other objections focus on the proposed process the engineer’s office would use to set an irrigation season. The subdistrict operating under the Trinchera Water Conservancy District has also entered a protest, calling for the rules to allow it to submit a groundwater management plan. While the valley’s existing subdistrict and the four other proposed ones would all operate under a groundwater management plan, Trinchera is unique in that it is the only subdistrict not operating under the umbrella of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

Trinchera is in Costilla County, which is not a part of the Rio Grande district.
The state law that allows for the creation of conservancy districts does not make clear whether Trinchera can create a groundwater management plan.

San Luis Valley via National Geographic
San Luis Valley via National Geographic

FEMA: National Disaster Recovery Framework


Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:

Experience with recent disaster recovery efforts highlights the need for additional guidance, structure and support to improve how we as a Nation address recovery challenges. This experience prompts us to better understand the obstacles to disaster recovery and the challenges faced by communities that seek disaster assistance. The National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) is a guide to promote effective recovery, particularly for those incidents that are large- scale or catastrophic.

The NDRF provides guidance that enables effective recovery support to disaster-impacted States, Tribes and local jurisdictions. It provides a flexible structure that enables disaster recovery managers to operate in a unified and collaborative manner. It also focuses on how best to restore, redevelop and revitalize the health, social, economic, natural and environmental fabric of the community and build a more resilient Nation.

The NDRF defines:

• Core recovery principles
• Roles and responsibilities of recovery coordinators and other stakeholders
• A coordinating structure that facilitates communication and collaboration among all stakeholders
• Guidance for pre- and post-disaster recovery planning
• The overall process by which communities can capitalize on opportunities to rebuild stronger, smarter and safer

These elements improve recovery support and expedite recovery of disaster-impacted individuals, families, businesses and communities. While the NDRF speaks to all who are impacted or otherwise involved in disaster recovery, it concentrates on support to individuals and communities.

The NDRF introduces four new concepts and terms:

• Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator (FDRC)
• State or Tribal Disaster Recovery Coordinators (SDRC or TDRC)
• Local Disaster Recovery Managers (LDRM)
• Recovery Support Functions (RSFs)

The FDRC, SDRC, TDRC and LDRM provide focal points for incorporating recovery considerations into the decisionmaking process and monitoring the need for adjustments in assistance where necessary and feasible throughout the recovery process. The RSFs are six groupings of core recovery capabilities that provide a structure to facilitate problem solving, improve access to resources, and foster coordination among State and Federal agencies, nongovernmental partners and stakeholders. Each RSF has coordinating and primary Federal agencies and supporting organizations that operate together with local, State and Tribal government officials, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector partners. The concepts of the FDRCs, SDRCs, TDRCs and RSFs are scalable to the nature and size of the disaster.

The NDRF aligns with the National Response Framework (NRF). The NRF primarily addresses actions during disaster response. Like the NRF, the NDRF seeks to establish an operational structure and to develop a common planning framework. The NDRF replaces the NRF Emergency Support Function #14 (ESF #14) – Long-Term Community Recovery. Key ESF #14 concepts are expanded in the NDRF and include recovery-specific leadership, organizational structure, planning guidance and other components needed to coordinate continuing recovery support to individuals, businesses and communities.

Fundamentally, the NDRF is a construct to optimally engage existing Federal resources and authorities, and to incorporate the full capabilities of all sectors in support of community recovery. The effective implementation of the NDRF, whether or not in the context of a Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act) declaration, requires strong coordination across all levels of government, NGOs
and the private sector. It also requires an effective, accessible public information effort so that all stakeholders understand the scope and the realities of recovery. The NDRF provides guidance to assure that recovery activities respect the civil rights and civil liberties of all populations and do not result in discrimination on account of race, color, national origin (including limited English proficiency), religion, sex, age or disability. Understanding legal obligations and sharing best practices when planning and implementing recovery strategies to avoid excluding groups on these bases is critical.

The NDRF is a guide to promote effective recovery. It is a concept of operations and not intended to impose new, additional or unfunded net resource requirements on Federal agencies. As responsibilities, capabilities, policies and resources expand or change, the NDRF will be revised as needed to ensure that it continues to provide a common and adaptable approach to disaster recovery.

The latest newsletter from the #ColoradoRiver District is hot off the presses

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

River District to funnel $8M to irrigation projects

The Colorado River District Board of Directors has agreed to act as a funding conduit for up to $8 million in federal Natural Resourc- es Conserva􏰀on Service (NRCS) funding to help fi- nance a series of water use efficiency projects in four federal irriga􏰀on projects in the Lower Gunnison Basin.

Last year, the River District was awarded $8 million of grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2014 Farm Bill that will leverage up to $50 million worth of work in coopera􏰀on with, and other funding from, the Bureau of Reclama􏰀on and the Colorado River Basin Salinity Program.

The Board approved a new type of financial coop- era􏰀ve agreement called an “Alterna􏰀ve Funding Arrangement” that enables the River District to act as an agent of the NRCS.

The Board directed staff to manage all of the NRCS funding for the benefit of the irriga􏰀on districts in the four focus areas..

The four beneficiary irrigati􏰀on project areas include the Uncompahgre Valley, Bostwick Park, the North Fork Valley and the Crawford Country. Deputy Chief Engineer Dave Kanzer and Water Resources Specialist Sonja Chavez have been the quarterbacks in the collabora􏰀tive effort to perform mod- erniza􏰀on and system op􏰀miza􏰀on ac􏰀vi􏰀es that will increase agricultural water use efficiency within the Lower Gunnison Basin.

Kanzer noted that the irriga􏰀on districts can lose more than 30 percent of their water to seepage and deep percolati􏰀on.

The Regional Conserva􏰀on Partnership Program (RCPP) funding from the NRCS will help minimize those losses by modernizing river diversions and water conveyance and deliveries for farm use. This work, combined with en- hanced management of reservoir releases, is projected to provide beneficial results related to increased agricultural produc􏰀on, improved stream flows, be􏰁er water quality, and improved river habitat that, among other benefits, will help threatened and endangered fish species.

“In my view, this has to be done for the future of our agricultural producers in the basin,” said Eric Kuhn, General Manager of the River District.

Marc Catlin, River District Director from Montrose County, said: “The future is here, and we have got to start doing these things if we are going to maintain agriculture on the Western Slope.”

He called for the program to work with younger producers to help them learn how to farm with new technology.

“This is a big deal,” said Dave Merri􏰁, Director from Garfield County. “This is the product of 20 years of work in the Gunnison Basin. It is a great way to go ahead and put good stuff on the ground.”

Gunnison County Director Bill Trampe urged that the program provide an economic analysis of projects to help educate others to the pluses and minuses of the modernisations.

Tom Kay, an organic agricultural producer from Hotch- kiss, who has already implemented irriga􏰀tion improvements, said his growing season has been lengthened due to be􏰁er water management that effec􏰀vely has stretched his water supplies. “Without Dave Kanzer and Sonja Chavez, this would be nowhere,” Kay said of the River District staff working on the project.

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Who gave up what ground in the feud about ski areas and water rights? — The Mountain Town News

Photo via Bob Berwyn
Photo via Bob Berwyn

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In late December, the U.S. Forest Service announced a compromise with the ski industry in their feud over water rights. Both sides gave ground, but just as interesting was who didn’t get deeply involved.

The environmental community mostly stayed on the sidelines, unwilling to hurl spears on behalf of the Forest Service. U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican who represents much of Western Colorado, was triumphant if still warning of federal overreach. He called the Forest Service policy an “onerous attempt to hijack private water rights.”

In this king-sized bed of political alliances, there was some unusual spooning going on. Tipton, elected with Tea Party support and a predictable critic of the Environmental Protection Agency, in this case shared covers with the Aspen Skiing Co., which had even dispatched a top official to testify in Congress against federal involvement in water administration.

This matter of who-is-calling-the-shots on water, states or feds, is also part of the discussion in the Colorado Legislature this winter. Boulder-based water attorney Glenn Porzak, who represents the Eagle River Water Authority and other interests, brokered meetings in recent months around a bill now introduced as HB 16-1109, called the Colorado Water Rights Protection Act.

The bill has sponsors from legislators who rarely agree on anything: from Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from the farm country of Northeastern Colorado, to Rep. KC Becker, a Democrat from reliably liberal Boulder. Other co-sponsors are Rep. Diane Mitsch Busch, a Democrat from Steamboat Springs, and Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat from Edwards.

The bill very fundamentally seeks to discourage federal efforts to claim jurisdiction over water rights on federal lands in some cases. Major environmental groups—including Western Resource Advocates, Conservation Colorado, and Trout Unlimited—have agreed to remain neutral.

Water has always been seen as an essential part of the Forest Service mission. That concern is what drove withdrawal of the forest tracts from the general domain beginning with the White River Reserve of northwest Colorado in 1881. Those withdrawals were driven, in part, because of concerns about water quality from timbering and other land uses. States, just as zealously, have been protective of their authority over water allocation. But water quality and water quantity are inextricably linked, and hence tension.

This tension has played out frequently over the decades on a variety of fronts. In the case of ski areas, the Forest Service in the 1980s developed a policy that said any water developed and used on the national forest in an area permitted for a ski area should be in the name of the United States. The federal agency, however, applied this policy inconsistently to ski areas. There are 122 ski areas on Forest Service land across the nation, mostly in the West.

Ski areas never liked this requirement and questioned the validity. Still, 65 water rights were given to the U.S. government, and they remain in the name of the U.S. government.

In 2004, the Forest Service created something called joint tenancy, whereby the ski areas and the U.S. government would together hold water rights. The Forest Service saw itself as being the landlord and the ski area being a tenant and the plumbing (and tap fee) for the house belonging to the landlord. This was applied to a handful of adjudications of water originating on ski areas. Many states, however, do not recognize this concept.

In 2011, the Forest Service issued a new policy. The ski industry objected to the new clause, which required that ski area operators developing new water sources within their permit areas to give the title to the water to the U.S. government.

This new policy was applied to the Powderhorn Mountain Resort, located on Grand Mesa near Grand Junction, Colo. With partners, long-time ski industry executive Andy Daly had purchased the ski area in 2011. As a condition of transferring the permit for use of Forest Service land, says Daly, he and the other new owners were required to transfer the water rights to the Forest Service.

“They said they would not approve the permanent transfer of the permit (from the former owner) unless we agreed to the language,” he says.

Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia
Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia

That water portfolio for Powderhorn is 15 pages long and includes a wide variety of sources, from springs to access to a ditch drawing water from Mesa Creek, many rights filed in the 1980s but some predating the creation of the ski area.

At the time, Daly thought the Forest Service had over-stepped.

“In my mind, it was always considered a taking, from the perspective that the Forest Service was taking the water right of the ski area and not guaranteeing that those water rights could be used in perpetuity for what they were being used at the ski area.”

That same year, the National Ski Areas Association sued. The judge agreed, striking the Forest Service requirement—but on procedural grounds, not substantive grounds.

Adhering to the elaborate set of procedures and requirements yielded a new directive that the Forest Service announced in late December. The Ski Area Water Clause entered in the Federal Register clearly constitutes a compromise, if some dissatisfaction remains.

Giving ground

Ski areas give up their autonomy about water rights. They cannot just sell their water rights on the open market. They agree—even if they don’t necessarily believe—that the Forest Service should have some say-so over how much water is needed to run a ski area.

If an operator sells the ski area, the water rights must be included in the assets. If the buyer declines to buy the water, the Forest Service gets the first right of refusal. The Forest Service could decide the water isn’t needed, in which case the ski area would be allowed to sell the water rights to a buyer of its choosing.

Going forward, ski areas can continue to own all the water rights they develop on the ski areas, whether through wells, dams, or diversions. They do not need to transfer them to the U.S. government. However, the directive leaves intact prior water rights filings, including some that were ceded to the U.S. government.

The Forest Service requires ski areas to document sufficient water to support their operations in snowmaking and other uses for on-mountain operations.

The agency does not claim rights to water that originates off the ski permit area. In the context of Colorado, for example, both Vail and Beaver Creek use from the Eagle River, pumping it onto the ski mountains to make snow. Another example is augmentation water, such as that held in Green Mountain Reservoir and released as needed to meet senior water rights downstream by more senior users downstream on the Colorado River.

Jim Bedwell, the director of recreation in the Rocky Mountain region, calls it a good compromise but maintains that the Forest Service has a legitimate need.

“Ski areas do change hands,” he says, “and there is significant consolidation going on in the industry right now. Our real desire is that the public doesn’t see any difference, regardless of changes, and there will be some of the same opportunities for the public to ski, with the same quality of experience—but the water rights will be tied to the forest. That was our interest all along.”

Geraldine Link, director of public policy for the National Ski Areas Association, sees little reason ski areas would get rid of water rights. “Why would you sell the water rights if it wasn’t absolutely crucial?” she says. “That diminishes the value of your ski area.”

NSAA chose not to battle the Forest Service further for a number of reasons, she said: The restrictions apply to a limited class of water rights; litigation is expensive, and the outcome of a lawsuit uncertain.

But the new language gives ski area operators assurances that the value of their investments will be protected. “That’s a big deal for the ski areas.”

She also struck a diplomatic tone, describing ski areas and the U.S. Forest Service as partners for more than 75 years in providing the public with a concentrated outdoor experience, first in snow and now as four-season resorts.

“We have a lot going on. Our partnership is much greater than just water. That is the context for how we look at this new clause and say, ‘This will work for us.’”

Government overreach?

But Tipton proclaimed it a rebuff of Forest Service overreach. “Western water users are right to be wary of any action on water rights by this Administration, which has been dead set on slowly expanding federal control over water in the Western U.S,” he said in a Dec. 30 statement.

Tipton cited support from a number of familiar allies, but some unusual teammates, too, including the Gunnison County commissioners, which trend toward Democratic policies.

Chris Treese, director of internal affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, also questions Forest Service authority. Water use, he argues, should be strictly within the domain of state water courts. Too, he harbors doubts whether the Forest Service should have any say-so in determining how much water is needed to operate a ski area.

“I appreciate the fact that they are no longer requiring ski areas to assign ownership to deed title over to the federal government. That is significant. But I question whether they have the true expertise to determine sufficiency of quantity for water. Exactly how are they going to measure that?” he asks. “There are implications for the private property nature of Western water rights.”

Treese does commend the Forest Service for recognizing in its final rule the fundamental difference between the prior appropriation laws of Western state and the riparian laws of the East.

Bypass flows different

Bypass flows are a related, but different issue—as environmental groups were careful to point out.

In the case of bypass flows, the Forest Service requires that water from dams and other such uses of the national forests lands let a certain amount of water continue to flow downstream, to achieve biological purposes of streams and rivers. After a 2004 federal decision upheld the Forest Service in a case involving a reservoir on the Arapahoe-Roosevelt National Forest, Colorado Trout Unlimited issued a statement that the ruling should “silence those who have asserted that the Forest Service does not have the authority to protect rivers on National Forest lands.”

But while environmental groups strongly support bypass flow requirements, at least some of them suggested—if they were willing to talk at all—that the Forest Service had sharp elbows in the ski area case.

“The best analogy I can make is that if you are a tenant in a building, your landlord can tell you not to play the radio loud after 10 p.m., that’s essentially what a bypass flow is,” explains Rob Harris of Western Resource Advocates.

“It just puts a limit on the exercise of your property right, which you agreed to by agreeing to the privilege of leasing or renting the apartment—or by leasing the federal land. By contrast, this ski area clause said give me your radio. I will not renew your lease unless you give me your radio. That’s fundamentally the difference.”

The bill in the Colorado Legislature very specifically remains neutral about bypass flows while otherwise arguing strongly that water rights are a matter under Colorado’s jurisdiction.

Porzak, who drafted the language, says the bill is “totally disconnected” from bills introduced by Tipton and by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner.

Environmental groups, however, remain wary of Tipton’s legislation. They think it would swing the pendulum too far. In the words of Harris, versions of Tipton’s bill “have in fact threatened a lot of the natural values in public lands.”

View from enviro sidelines

An informed sidelines opinion comes from Ken Neubecker, who has been affiliated with several water-related environmental water organizations in Colorado, currently American Rivers. He also knows Colorado water law intimately. “Tempest in a teapot, and it just got blown completely out of whack,” he says. It shouldn’t have taken nearly so long to work out, he says. “It’s damned turf battles. Sometimes you do need to defend turf, but other times you do it simply because you can.”

Neubecker says the Forest Service should not be made into “some sort of retrograde exile in their own land,” as he thinks some would prefer. On the other hand, “you don’t get along by throwing bombs at your neighbors,” which is how he saw the Forest Service demand.

“They have a responsibility to the American public to manage these lands properly, and in the West, that means having some sort of administrative authority over what happens with water. That being said, it has to be done within the context of state water law. They can’t just sort of imperially say that federal agencies law supersedes states law, because when it comes to water, it doesn’t. They have to respect the legitimate rights of water rights owners.”

Long-standing tension

This latest conflict can be seen as part of a long-standing tension between state governments, private interests, and the federal government.

The lion’s share of these forests—including the Holy Cross, Montezuma, Cochetopa, and Uncompahgre in Colorado, the Shasta in California, the Sawtooth and Weiser reserves in Idaho, and the Dixie in Utah—were withdrawn from the general domain, made unavailable for homesteading, in 1905 by the order of President Theodore Roosevelt. In Colorado, many people were plenty unhappy.

Gifford Pinchot portrait via the Forest History Society
Gifford Pinchot portrait via the Forest History Society

In 1909, Gifford Pinchot, the first leader of the U.S. Forest Service, arrived in Denver to meet with angry stockmen, lumbermen, and miners, who accused the federal government of over-reach. Elias Ammons, a future governor, told Pinchot that there were men living on the reservations “who were living in a state of fear.” Pinchot, according to the Scientific and Mining Press, replied that if it were not for the Forest Service, there would be no small stockmen at all.

Pinchot won the argument that day, but the argument has never been completely settled, as witnessed by these periodic Sagebrush rebellions, of which the Bundy family of Nevada and Oregon are only the most militant, extreme actors. Of course, we’re still arguing about the Civil War, too. Until last year, a Confederate flag flew over the grounds of the state capitol in Charleston, S.C.

Funding Opportunities for Drought Contingency Planning and Resiliency Projects Available from Bureau of Reclamation


Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation has made two funding opportunities available to help water users develop drought contingency plans and build long-term drought resiliency as part of Reclamation’s Drought Response Program. These opportunities will be allocated through a competitive process.

The drought resiliency project funding opportunity is for projects that will increase the reliability of water supply; improve water management; implement systems to facilitate the voluntary sale, transfer, or exchange of water; and provide benefits for fish, wildlife, and the environment to mitigate impacts caused by drought. States, tribes, irrigation districts, water districts, and other organizations with water or power delivery authority are invited to leverage their money and resources by cost sharing with Reclamation. It is available at by searching for funding opportunity number R16-FOA-DO-006.

The drought contingency planning funding opportunity is for applicants to request funding to develop a new drought plan or to update an existing drought plan. Applicants may also request technical assistance from Reclamation for the development of elements of the Drought Contingency Plan. States, Indian tribes, irrigation districts, water districts, and other organizations with water or power delivery authority are eligible for this funding opportunity. It is available at by searching for funding opportunity number R16-FOA-DO-005.

Approximately $6 million will be available for both funding opportunities. Applicants must also provide a 50 percent non-Federal cost-share. Applications are due on April 11, 2016, by 4 p.m. MDT as indicated in the funding opportunities.

For more than 100 years, Reclamation and its partners have worked to develop a sustainable water and power future for the West. This program is part of the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART Program, which focuses on improving water conservation and sustainability, while helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use.

To find out more information about Reclamation’s WaterSMART program, visit, or visit the Drought Response Program at

Push is on to give Deep Creek new protection — The Vail Daily

Deep Creek via the Bureau of Land Management
Deep Creek via the Bureau of Land Management

From The Vail Daily (Ryan Summerlin):

After 20 years in limbo, a stretch of canyon southeast of the Flat Tops Wilderness is getting a fresh chance for federal protection.

In 1995 the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service deemed Deep Creek eligible to be designated a Wild and Scenic River…

To be eligible for Wild and Scenic designation, the river in question must be free-flowing and have “outstanding remarkable values,” including particular ecological, scenic, recreational or geological characteristics.

Soon after the federal agencies found Deep Creek was eligible, an effort was begun to push for Wild and Scenic designation, said [Ken] Neubecker.

But other advocates wanted to shoot for wilderness designation, which was a complete nonstarter, running into a water rights battle with the Colorado River District, he said.

Last year White River National Forest released its finding that the area is suitable for Wild and Scenic designation, which is the last formal step before Congress could make the designation. Next, legislation would have to be drafted with the community’s involvement, Neubecker said.

“Deep Creek is a rare example of an ecologically intact, lower-elevation watershed that is worthy of permanent protection,” states the suitability finding by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service…

But while the BLM and Forest Service have found the land suitable for Wild and Scenic status, the agencies are prohibited from lobbying for the designation, Neubecker said.

The BLM, Forest Service and American Rivers have held public meetings about the effort in Edwards, Gypsum and Glenwood Springs.

A handful of ranchers with grazing rights in Deep Creek have come to the public meetings, though none in Glenwood Springs, to fend off any changes to their grazing rights.

Others worry that giving Deep Creek the designation would attract more tourists, but it isn’t the same at creating a national park or national monument, Neubecker said.

Wild and Scenic areas aren’t created to be tourist spots, and they’re not marketed on road maps, he said.

The designation is also a way to provide permanent protection of the land and river under federal law while keeping the water rights with the state, Neubecker said.

Among the qualities that make the canyon suitable for Wild and Scenic designation is the largest complex of caves in the Western U.S., he said. Its scenic qualities are obvious, at depths of 2,000 to 3,000 feet, prominent cliffs, large outcroppings and ledges. It’s one of the last truly pristine canyon environments left in the West, he said.

“And the area has one of the finest limestone deposits anywhere.”

Neubecker told a small crowd in Glenwood Springs that his major concern for the area is the potential for mineral development…

The community has the opportunity to be involved at a couple different levels, Neubecker said. First, the community can shape the language of the amendment granting the status. Unlike designating a new wilderness area, which takes a new act of Congress, a Wild and Scenic area is created through an amendment to the original act.

Second, the area would have its own resource management plan, which would be regularly revised.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner will have to get on board for the effort to be successful. “And I know Tipton won’t support it unless it has the community’s support,” said Neubecker.

Supporters will have to work with the communities and governmental entities involved: Eagle County, Garfield County, Gypsum, Eagle, Glenwood Spring, Colorado River District, hunters, ranchers and recreationalists.

The next step in this process is to form work groups including the community and federal agencies, said Neubecker. The timing for future meetings has not been determined.

$5 million in the US budget for the Arkansas Valley Conduit

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit has started flowing from the federal government.

An additional $2 million in discretionary funds will be shifted to this year’s conduit budget by the Bureau of Reclamation. Another $3 million is included in President Barack Obama’s 2017 budget, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., announced today.

Bennet worked with local officials, Reclamation and the administration to increase funding. The conduit already received $500,000 this year.

“We’ve been pushing the Administration and Congress to live up to the commitment it made more than five decades ago to communities in southeast Colorado,” Bennet said. “This funding will help move this project forward, and we will continue to fight to keep these additional resources in next year’s budget to ensure Coloradans in these communities finally have a reliable source of clean drinking water.”

Bennet will work with congressional leaders and the appropriations committee to try to ensure the money remains in the budget. Congressional gridlock in the past few years has kept funding at minimal levels.

“This was truly a bipartisan effort,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the local agency guiding the effort to build the conduit. “It’s certainly better to have $2.5 million than to work with than $500,000.”

The money will go toward engineering, legal work and land acquisition over the next three to five years that will allow construction of the pipeline to begin.

The goal is to raise about $5 million annually during that period. The Southeastern district is working with Reclamation to attempt to apply other revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas to move conduit work forward.

Once construction begins, it will take larger amounts of money to build the conduit, which is potentially a $400 million project. The conduit will bring clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 water districts from St. Charles Mesa to Lamar.

The plan is to filter the water at Pueblo Water’s treatment plant, then move the water to other systems via the conduit. Most of those systems rely on wells and are struggling to meet water quality standards.

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

#ColoradoRiver: “If the temperatures keep going up, we have problems” — Eric Kuhn

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Peering through a window on a flight from Denver to Los Angeles, you first see the Rocky Mountains, rich with forests and snow, here and there a ski area. Then, for the majority of the trip you see aridity, the soft greens of sagebrush steppes at higher elevations dissolving to harsh pigments of the Mojave Desert until you get to the exurbs of LA.

The Colorado River wends its way through southern Utah and, at Glen Canyon, is impounded into Lake Powell. Photo/Allen Best
The Colorado River wends its way through southern Utah and, at Glen Canyon, is impounded into Lake Powell. Photo/Allen Best

This is the American Southwest. Apart from its few rivers, it’s inherently dry, even parched—and, according to a new study conducted by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, getting drier as a result of less frequent storms.

“A normal year in the Southwest is now drier than it once was,” said Andreas Prein, an NCAR postdoctoral researcher who led a study published last week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “If you have a drought nowadays, it will be more severe because our base state is drier.”

With less rain and higher temperatures, droughts will lengthen, they say. “As temperatures increase, the ground becomes drier and the transition into drought happens more rapidly,” said NCAR scientist Greg Holland, a study co-author.

Water policy officials in both California and Colorado said the study provides further evidence of the challenges they had already understood. Unlike other areas of North America, emerald green from plentiful rain, the American Southwest walks on a narrowing razor’s edge between supply and demand. This study finds evidence of less supply, even as climate models predict rapidly increasing temperatures—heat that will likely further reduce available water supplies.

Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which is based in Glenwood Springs, Colo., echoed Holland’s emphasis on the twin drivers of drought: precipitation and heat. “Even if your precipitation goes up in winter months, like some of the studies have suggested, the overall net impacts of the increased warming in places like Lake Powell or (in the Colorado River) at Lee’s Ferry will be less water,” he told Mountain Town News.


According to a press release, the NCAR researchers analyzed 35 years of data to identify common weather patterns. “The weather types that are becoming more rare are the ones that bring a lot of rain to the southwestern United States,” Prein said. “Because only a few weather patterns bring precipitation to the Southwest, those changes have a dramatic impact.”

Most wet weather to the Southwest involves low pressure centered in the North Pacific just off the coast of Washington, typically during the winter. Between 1979 and 2014, such low-pressure systems formed less and less often. Instead, in recent years, there has been a persistent high pressure in that area. That has been the main driver of the devastating California drought.

These high-pressure belts can be found on both sides of the equator. They are created as the hot air that rises over the equator moves poleward and then descends back toward the surface. The sinking air causes generally drier conditions over the region and inhibits the development of rain-producing systems. Many of the world’s deserts, including the Sahara, are found in such regions of sinking air, which typically lie around 30 degrees latitude on either side of the equator.

Climate models have predicted that these zones will move further poleward, or farther away from the equator. Still, the scientists pointedly declined to link the changed weather of recent decades to longer-term human-caused changes in climate. Climate change is a plausible explanation, they said, but linking modeled predictions to changes on the ground is challenging.

The study also found an opposite, though smaller, effect in the Northeast, where some of the weather patterns that typically bring moisture to the region are increasing.

Jeanine Jones, deputy drought manager for the California Department of Water Resources, sees the study confirming what has been observed on the ground. “We’ve been seeing more dry years in the recent past,” she told Mountain Town News in an e-mail.

On website ClimateProgress, Joe Romm found the study’s refusal to link recent trends with climate change “overly cautious.” Romm underlined the potential for megadroughts, similar to but perhaps worse than the decades-long periods of below-average precipitation in the 12th and 13th centuries documented by tree rings in the Colorado River Basin.

Romm also emphasized higher temperatures along with less precipitation. “If a region gets hit by both of those, it will suffer an unusually extreme drought, such as we’ve seen in California in the last few years, or Australia in the previous decade,” he wrote. He also pointed out that the data examined by the scientists only went through 2010, excluding the severe drought in California of recent years.

From his office along the Colorado River in western Colorado, Kuhn said the study of the Southwest he awaits is the one that paints the big picture: higher temperatures, reduced rain, the increased need of irrigation water for crops, plus the effect of reduced precipitation and higher temperatures on natural landscapes, whether mountain forests, sagebrush valleys, or the already sparse, prickly vegetation of the deserts.

“Nobody has put it all together,” he said.

In the Colorado River, about 75 percent of the water comes from snowmelt. But rainfall matters greatly to streamflows. It also matters to how much agricultural crops must be irrigated, said Kuhn. “If the temperatures keep going up, we have problems.”

A field of produce destined for grocery stores is irrigated near Yuma, Ariz., a few days before Christmas 2015. Photo/Allen Best - See more at:
A field of produce destined for grocery stores is irrigated near Yuma, Ariz., a few days before Christmas 2015. Photo/Allen Best – See more at:

If it rains less in Los Angeles and San Diego, then the 18 million residents of southern California will rely more heavily on the Colorado River reservoirs, especially the largest ones, Mead and Powell. The flight path between Los Angeles and Denver slices between these two giant impoundments.

Much of the water stored in those reservoirs now gets used by farmers in Arizona and California. In the future, said Kuhn, those states will expand their transfer of water used for economically marginal crops to cities. This has been done through programs in which famers are paid to let their fields lie fallow for a period of time.

It probably doesn’t mean a barren selection at your local Safeway, though.

“My gut feeling is that you are going to see a change in the more consumptive crops like alfalfa and sudangrass before you see changes in carrots, lettuce and the (high-value) cash crops,” said Kuhn.