Fountain Creek: Can Bear Creek Dam in Jeff. County be a model for flood control?

Following heavy rains which fell mid-Septembe 2013 r in Colorado, the pool elevation at the Bear Creek reservoir rose several feet. At 4 a.m., Sept. 15, the reservoir pool elevation surpassed its previous record elevation of 5587.1 feet, and peaked at a pool elevation of 5607.9 ft on Sept. 22, shown here. Bear Creek Dam did what it was designed to do by catching the runoff and reducing flooding risks to the hundreds of homes located downstream.
Following heavy rains which fell mid-Septembet 2013 in Colorado, the pool elevation at the Bear Creek reservoir rose several feet. At 4 a.m., Sept. 15, the reservoir pool elevation surpassed its previous record elevation of 5587.1 feet, and peaked at a pool elevation of 5607.9 ft on Sept. 22, shown here. Bear Creek Dam did what it was designed to do by catching the runoff and reducing flooding risks to the hundreds of homes located downstream.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

To see how a dam on Fountain Creek might function, it isn’t necessary to look far.

For more than 30 years, three flood control dams have protected downtown Denver from flooding. The first was built on Cherry Creek in 1950, but when waters from the 1965 flood inundated Denver, two other dams, Chatfield and Bear Creek were also built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Of the three, Bear Creek Lake is the most similar to the type that would be built on Fountain Creek.

The earthen dam, 1 mile long, was completed in 1982 and usually stores a relatively small amount of water, about 2,000 acre-feet. Most of the remaining area behind and around the dam is a city of Lakewood park, which offers camping, fishing, picnic areas, trails, archery ranges and golf courses. Other recreational lakes and wetlands are behind the dam.

But twice in the past three years, the dam has prevented millions of dollars of damage by holding back water in a 236-square-mile drainage area — its primary function.

“It reached a record level in 2013 and close to that level in 2015,” said Joe Maxwell, operations manager for the Corps. “There were no abnormalities found as we monitored and it performed as it should.”

Wall of water

In the September 2013 flood, the largest in Colorado’s recorded history, damage to numerous communities, highways and water structures was recorded. But Bear Creek, Chatfield and Cherry Creek kept it from being worse.

Bear Creek Lake stored 28,500 acre-feet of the wall of water that descended during the 2013 event, well within its capacity. The lake level reached an elevation of 5,607 feet, higher than ever before and 50 feet above normal. Water releases began even as other areas still registered high water, because of the Corps’ protocols for operating all three reservoirs in tandem. It took three to four weeks to empty the floodwater.

“The goal is to release the water as soon as possible, but you don’t want to release it too fast,” Maxwell said.

Repairs to trails, roads and structures in the park cost $372,000 and were newly complete last May, when sustained rains pounded the Front Range. Like other areas, Bear Creek Canyon had weeks of sustained rain, which surprised the Corps by filling Bear Creek Reservoir again. The level of the lake rose 50 feet, and didn’t drop to normal until the end of July.

Repairs the second time around in 2015 were less extensive, because there was more warning, a different type of flooding and lessons learned from 2013, said Drew Sprafke, Lakewood regional parks supervisor.

“It was a different character without the high flow in the creek,” he said. “It re-impacted some of the same area, but we had more notice and knew how to respond.”

The city of Lakewood didn’t have to foot the whole bill, but matched county, state and federal funds to make the repairs. But the inundation of water has changed the character of the park, Sprafke said.

“We were able to make repairs,” he said. “But we lost 300 trees that will have to be clear cut. It’s a massive change to the park. The trees were under water for 11-12 weeks in both events, and invasive weeds came in. It will take at least five to 10 years to recover.”

Fountain Creek outlook

A dam, or multiple dams, on Fountain Creek would function in much the same way and has been talked about for years as a way to protect Pueblo from flooding.

The first idea for a dam on Fountain Creek came as part of an Army Corps of Engineers study in 1970 following the flood of 1965. The dam was never funded, and levees on Fountain Creek were completed through the city of Pueblo instead.

A multipurpose dam was brought up again by Pueblo County’s water attorney, Ray Petros, in 2005 as a potential alternative for Southern Delivery System.

As sedimentation has diminished the effectiveness of the levees, the dam idea has been revived in recent years.

A study last year by Wright Water Engineers for Pueblo County showed that 370,000 tons of sediment are deposited south of Colorado Springs each year as flows into Fountain Creek increase. Much of that winds up in Pueblo, raising the level of Fountain Creek and decreasing the effectiveness of the levees.

A payment of $50 million toward flood control on Fountain Creek was written into Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS, and a dam is central to studies.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, formed in 2009 as an outgrowth of the Vision Task Force, funded a U.S. Geological Survey study of hypothetical dam sites in 2013. That study showed the most effective way to reduce peak discharge and capture sediment would be a large dam about 10 miles upstream from the confluence of Fountain Creek at the Arkansas River.

Another alternative would involve several detention ponds north of Pueblo, which would be nearly as effective in reducing peak flows, but would capture less sediment.

A study for the district last year by engineer Duane Helton showed negligible impact on downstream water rights if flood control structures maintained a flow of 10,000 cubic feet per second through Pueblo during all but the largest flood events.

The district is now preparing for more detailed feasibility studies that would show where structures could be located and how much they would cost.

That’s a long way from the parks and trails that Lakewood residents enjoy near their flood control dam, but the Fountain Creek district is committed to protecting the creek and topping it with increased recreational opportunities only as the areas along the creek are stabilized.

The district has spearheaded both flood control and recreation demonstration projects so far.

NOAA: Record annual increase of carbon dioxide observed at Mauna Loa for 2015

The graph shows recent monthly mean carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii.
The graph shows recent monthly mean carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii.

Here’s the release from NOAA (Theo Stein):

The annual growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii jumped by 3.05 parts per million during 2015, the largest year-to-year increase in 56 years of research.

In another first, 2015 was the fourth consecutive year that CO2 grew more than 2 ppm, said Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.

“Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years,” Tans said. “It’s explosive compared to natural processes.”

Levels of the greenhouse gas were independently measured by NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory and by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

In February 2016, the average global atmospheric CO2 level stood at 402.59 ppm. Prior to 1800, atmospheric CO2 averaged about 280 ppm.

The last time the Earth experienced such a sustained CO2 increase was between 17,000 and 11,000 years ago, when CO2 levels increased by 80 ppm. Today’s rate of increase is 200 times faster, said Tans.

The big jump in CO2 is partially due to the current El Niño weather pattern, as forests, plantlife and other terrestrial systems responded to changes in weather, precipitation and drought. The largest previous increase occurred in 1998, also a strong El Niño year. Continued high emissions from fossil fuel consumption are driving the underlying growth rate over the past several years.

To track CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa and global CO2 concentrations visit NOAA’s Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.

Water Values Podcast: The White House’s Moonshot for Water with Charles Fishman


Click here to listen.

From David McGimpsey:

The one and only Charles Fishman joins The Water Values Podcast to discuss a momentous development in water: the presence of a $267 million federal budget request from President Obama targeted to water initiatives. Charles brings his unique insight and gift for storytelling to this major development.

In this episode, you’ll learn about:

  • The backstory of how Charles came to write The Big Thirst
  • Why a federal budget request for water technology innovation is so significant
  • How water technology innovation even came to be in the federal budget request
  • How the Paris climate talks impacted the budget request
  • The programs that the budget request for water proposes to target
  • Charles’ idea for furthering water technology
  • How Charles proposes to implement his idea to release a flood of water innovation
  • Gore Creek restoration may cost $9 million — The Vail Daily

    Kayaking Gore Creek via Vail Recreation
    Kayaking Gore Creek via Vail Recreation

    From The Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

    Since the creek landed on the list, people who work for the town and the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District have worked on plans to repair the damage. The district, in fact, has done the lion’s share of research and studying. But it’s ultimately the town government that has responsibility for rehabilitation efforts.


    Those efforts will be complicated. After studying the problem, then working on possible solutions, the plan has roughly 220 action items on its to-do list.

    That to-do list is so long because the problem is so complicated. It became apparent early on that the stream’s health couldn’t be improved by one, or even 10, efforts.

    Town of Vail Environmental Sustainability Manager Kristen Bertuglia said that what’s affecting the creek is called non-point source pollution, meaning it comes from places up and down the watershed. That spread-out pollution will have to be addressed through actions including education and getting residents involved in helping clean the creek through their own actions.

    But there are other, more easily-defined problems. Road sand is a problem, of course. So is storm runoff. The first year’s plan alone has budgeted $750,000 for design and improvement work to the town’s storm drain system…


    That’s why there’s a big educational element in the plan, and money budgeted to carry it out. In fact, the town will for two years hire a full-time employee to handle education and public outreach.

    Beyond that, there will be money set aside for programs including a landscaping course at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, newspaper ads and information on the town’s website.

    All of it is important, Bruno, said.

    “We really need to get the community involved,” she said. “We need to get (residents) to understand we’re serious about bringing the Gore back.”


    Bertuglia said she has modest, but realistic, expectations of what she’d like to see as 2020 approaches.

    “I’d like to see a stable, or upward trend in the number of macroinvertabrates,” she said. “That would be progress.”

    Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research
    Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

    @USBR Initiates 2016 WaterSMART Basin Study Selection Process

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation is initiating the 2016 basin study selection process and requests letters of interest from eligible non-federal entities interested in participating in a new basin study. A short letter of interest is due to the respective regional office by April 4, 2016.

    Through basin studies, Reclamation works with state and local partners to conduct comprehensive water supply and demand studies of river basins in the Western United States. Reclamation anticipates funding two studies in 2016.

    Basin studies include four main elements:

  • Projections of water supply and demand, including the risks of climate change.
  • Analysis of how existing water and power infrastructure will perform in response to changing water realities.
  • Development of adaptation and mitigation strategies to improve operations and infrastructure in order to supply adequate water in the future.
  • Trade-off analysis of the strategies identified and findings.
  • Entities must contribute at least half of the total cost as cash or in-kind services. This is not a financial assistance program and Reclamation’s share of the study costs will only be used to support work done by Reclamation or its contractors.

    Reclamation’s regional office staff will review all letters of interest. Those selected for consideration will then work with Reclamation to develop a joint study proposal for evaluation and prioritization by a Reclamation review committee.

    WaterSMART is the Department of the Interior’s sustainable water initiative that uses the best available science to improve water conservation and help water resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand.

    To learn more about WaterSMART or this basin study selection process, please visit

    Granby Dam via Reclamation
    Granby Dam via Reclamation

    The latest E-Waternews is hot off the presses from Northern Water

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

    Spring Water Users Meeting
    Northern Water’s annual Spring Water Users Meeting is sheduled for Wednesday, April 13, 2016, at The Ranch in Loveland.

    The Spring Water Users Meeting is a forum to discuss the current water outlook and water-related issues, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project quota and updates on the Northern Integrated Supply Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project.

    This spring’s meeting agenda also includes a presentation on the role of the Colorado Water Congress; activities of Metropolitan State University’s One World, One Water Center; and an update on the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The keynote luncheon speaker will be Mike King, former executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and currently the planning director for Denver Water.

    To register for the meeting visit; view our April calendar and click Spring Water Users Meeting on April 13. There is a registration tab on the popup screen.

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water
    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    East slope water officials join west slope water study

    How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it's caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
    How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it’s caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    PUEBLO – A big question in Colorado is how much water is left to divert and use from the Colorado River before levels drop too low in Lake Powell to make hydropower and deliver water downstream. The answer to that question is of interest not only to water-planning roundtables on the west slope, but on the east slope as well.

    Last week, three east slope roundtables, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas, chose members to sit on a technical advisory committee that is preparing a study on how much water is left to develop on the Western Slope while still keeping the Glen Canyon Dam functioning as it does today.

    The roundtable members from the east slope are all senior officials at major water providers including Denver Water, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo Board of Water Works.

    The level of officials eager to join in on what started as a west slope study of the issue is an indication of how important is the question, and the potential answers.

    The west slope water study, known as the “risk study,” was originally conceived in December 2014 at a meeting of the four west slope roundtables, which include the Colorado, Yampa, Gunnison, and Dolores, San Miguel and San Juan (or Southwest) roundtables.

    The west slope roundtables, especially the Yampa and the Gunnison, found they were not in agreement about future water development on the Western Slope, but they did agree on the need for more information.

    “They needed to have a better understanding of what’s going on, on the river,” said Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District, during a Feb. 23 meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee in Broomfield.

    The IBCC includes representatives from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables and serves as a statewide water policy advisory board.

    Upon recently learning of the west slope study, the three east slope roundtables asked to be included, which the west slope then agreed to.

    “We always intended that this would be open and transparent, and open to the east slope roundtables,” Kuhn told the IBCC members, explaining that the original plan was to invite the three non-voting out-of-basin members serving on the Colorado and Gunnison roundtables to participate in the study.

    But those out-of-basin seats, originally set up in 2005, have fallen out of use on the roundtables, so it was agreed to ask the east slope roundtables to choose their own committee members.

    And the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables each met last week and did just that.

    The Colorado River in Cataract Canyon, just above Lake Powell, where water officials are keeping a close eye on water levels. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
    The Colorado River in Cataract Canyon, just above Lake Powell, where water officials are keeping a close eye on water levels. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Committee members

    The South Platte roundtable assigned three people: Kevin Lusk, a senior engineer from Colorado Springs Utilities and the president of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.; Jim Yahn, the manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District and a South Platte representative on the IBCC; and Jerry Gibbens, a project manager and water resource engineer at Northern Water.

    The Arkansas roundtable also selected three members: James Broderick, executive director of Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District; Brett Gracely, manager of Colorado Springs Utilities; and Terry Book, executive director of Pueblo Board of Water Works.

    And the Metro roundtable assigned four members: Mark Waage, manager of water resources planning at Denver Water, who is also an IBCC member; Joe Stribrich, planning director at Aurora Water and an IBCC member; Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority and Kerry Sundeen, a principal engineer and consultant at Wilson Water.

    At the IBCC meeting on Feb. 23, Waage thanked the west slope roundtables for allowing east slope participation in the study.

    “I think there just was a period of ‘what are they doing, what’s going on,” Waage said. “And the fact that you guys are open to including us is really helpful.

    “We would really like to deal with this issue on a statewide basin if we can and in concert with the four other upper basin states,” Waage added. “The east slope feels pretty strongly that that’s our best position. And we ought to always seek that approach rather than a east versus west kind of thing.”

    The Colorado River District is managing the study and is seeking state funding on behalf of the participants to help pay for it.

    The four west slope roundtables each have approved $8,000 in state funding from their basin accounts, totaling $32,000.

    The River District and the Southwest Water Conservancy District have each agreed to put in $10,000, for a total study cost of $52,000.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is expected to approve the $32,000 in state funding at its next regular meeting on March 16 in La Junta.

    A flow map of Colorado's river helps illustrate why so much attention is paid to the Colorado River.
    A flow map of Colorado’s river helps illustrate why so much attention is paid to the Colorado River.

    Tied to framework

    The main question the study will seek to answer is, “What is the likelihood of the elevation of Lake Powell going below 3,525 feet under selected water supply and water demand scenarios?”

    The cited level of 3,525 feet in elevation is just above the “minimum power pool” level in Lake Powell of 3,490 feet.

    If water levels fall below that, then the upper basin states will have trouble delivering enough water to lower basin states to meet their collective obligation under the Colorado River compact.

    And a “curtailment” call could then come up the river and some of the biggest water providers on the east slope could be forced to stop diverting west slope water.

    “We need to keep in mind that 20 to 25 percent of our consumptive use of Colorado River water is on the east slope,” Waage said. “The majority of those post-compact rights that would be curtailed are on the east slope.”

    And that’s why the study is called the “risk study,” as in what’s the risk of triggering a compact call by taking more water out of the Colorado River?

    Kuhn said the study is tied to point number four in the conceptual framework, which was developed last year by the IBCC to guide negotiations over a potential new transmountain diversion project.

    Point four, as cited in the Colorado Water Plan, says that “a collaborative program that protects against involuntary curtailment is needed for existing uses and some reasonable increment of future development in the Colorado River System, but it will not cover a new TMD.”

    In other words, before the state’s water sector builds a new transmountain diversion, it should figure out how it’s going to keep enough water in Lake Powell.

    “Those are lots of variables here, so this isn’t a simple effort,” Kuhn told the IBCC about the risk study. “There’s hydrology, demand levels, what’s happening in other states. So you’ve got four or five different variables and there are lots of permutations of different outcomes.”

    Kuhn said the study would build on information gathered as part of several other ongoing exploratory efforts.

    One effort is a water banking investigation, now 10 years in the making, that is looking at ways ranchers and water providers could use less water in a drought.

    An offshoot of that effort is an ongoing two-year “system conservation” pilot program to pay Western Slope ranchers and others to leave water in the upper Colorado River system to flow toward Lake Powell.

    Kuhn said the exploratory efforts are important because “at some point in order to maintain reservoir levels in Lake Powell, in order to maintain the system, in order to accomplish framework point number four, which is to avoid a curtailment, we’re going to have to reduce our demands,” Kuhn said.

    A third ongoing effort is “contingency planning,” which is studying how to use water released from federal upstream reservoirs, including Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa, to keep Lake Powell at a certain level.

    “What this four-basin roundtable study will do is collect what we’ve done, and educate people on what it is we’re doing, and what the trade-offs are,” Kuhn said.

    Jeris Danielson, the manager of the Purgatoire Water Conservancy District and an Arkansas roundtable member, asked Kuhn if the west slope intended to postpone discussion at the IBCC level of a new TMD until the risk study was complete.

    Kuhn said the study should be finished by the end of the summer, and that it made sense to develop a common understanding about how the Colorado River works before talking about a new TMD.

    “You’ve got to bring the experts, the people who work in this business, up to a common level of understanding before they can have a common platform to help educate everyone else,” he said.

    Editor’s note: Aspen journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water in Colorado. The Daily News published this story on Monday, March 14, 2016.

    #Snowpack news: Feb. precip. in mountains lowest in 30 years

    Statewide snowpack map March 14, 2016 via the NRCS.
    Statewide snowpack map March 14, 2016 via the NRCS.

    From The Mountain Mail:

    Colorado statewide precipitation during February was the lowest in more than 30 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service SNOw TELemetry network of mountain weather stations.

    The combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basin received 35 percent of the normal February precipitation. Statewide mountain precipitation, while still poor, was only slightly better at 56 percent of normal.

    “February in the mountains of Colorado is typically a slightly drier month than compared to say, April,” said Brian Domonkos, snow survey supervisor with the NRCS. “But a dry February like this could have big ramifications should April and May not pan out.”

    As expected, snowfall came up short as well. Statewide snowpack is near normal at 99 percent, down 13 percent during February. Most major watersheds in the state currently fall within a narrow range from 102 percent in the Arkansas and South Platte to 97 percent in the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins.

    The numerical outlying basins are the combined Yampa, White and North Platte River basins at 93 percent of normal.

    Reservoir storage has been consistent since the beginning of the water year, not wavering 1 percentage point at 110 percent of the 30-year normal. Currently reservoir levels are far better than the deficits that were experienced during the winters of 2013 and 2014.

    The majority of streamflow forecasts in the state fall between 75 and 105 percent of normal, yet are down from last month.

    With the two most significant precipitation months yet to come, spring and summer runoff is heavily dependent on March and April weather systems, which leaves room and the possibility for improvement.

    #ColoradoRiver: Dry Feb. = reduction in Lake Mead inflow forecast #COriver #ClimateChange

    From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (@RefriedBrean):

    Federal forecasters have downgraded their projections for the Colorado River after an unusually hot, dry February that has increased the likelihood of a first-ever shortage declaration at Lake Mead.

    Forecasters are now predicting the arrival of shortage conditions at the nation’s largest man-made reservoir in January 2018.

    Just a month ago, forecasters expected Lake Mead to narrowly avoid the shortage line for at least the next two years. But Paul Miller, a senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, said that all changed after a “historically dry” February in the mountains that feed the Colorado.

    Some monitoring sites in the region logged their lowest February precipitation totals on record, Miller said…

    In early February, federal forecasters were predicting that the Colorado would carry about 94 percent of its average flow during the all-important April-July time frame, when mountain snowmelt collects in Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border.

    That estimate has dropped to 80 percent of average in the latest forecast released Monday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which now expects Lake Mead to shrink just enough to start 2018 below the all-important shortage line.

    A federal shortage declaration would force Nevada to reduce its Colorado River water use by 4 percent while Arizona and Mexico take larger cuts.

    The Las Vegas Valley draws 90 percent of its water from Lake Mead. According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a 4 percent cut won’t impact the community because residents have already reduced their water consumption by about 30 percent in response to the drought.

    The worsening outlook for this year comes despite a powerful El Niño some predicted would soak the Southwest and improve conditions on the Colorado. Instead, Miller said, the Pacific Ocean climate pattern has soaked the Pacific Northwest and delivered some snow to the Sierra Nevada range in California and Northern Nevada.

    “It’s been a very atypical El Niño event,” he said.

    Barring a sudden turnaround, 2016 will mark the 13th year of below-average flows on the Colorado River since 2000.

    In March of that year, Lake Mead was close to full with a surface elevation of 1,211 feet above sea level. The surface of the reservoir has fallen almost 130 feet since then, and forecasters expect it drop another 10 feet by this time next year.

    What’s happening on the river comes as no surprise to Connie Woodhouse, a researcher from the University of Arizona in Tucson.

    She just authored a report, published last week, that shows a strong link between higher temperatures and reduced flows in the Colorado.

    Woodhouse and company found that over the past three decades or so, average temperatures in the upper Colorado River Basin have been increasing during the March-through-July “runoff season,” and that can have a significant impact on how much water ends up in the river.

    “What we’re seeing since the 1980s is that temperature plays a larger role in stream flow and in exacerbating drought,” Woodhouse said.

    The study, based on data from from 1906 to 2012, was co-authored by Stephanie McAfee of the University of Nevada, Reno and scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

    2016 #coleg: HB16-1228, “What’s the difference between buy-and-dry and lease-and-cease?” — Don Coram

    Greeley irrigation ditch
    Greeley irrigation ditch

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A bill that would allow half of a farmer’s water to be transferred for one year to other uses passed the House agriculture committee 8-5 Monday.

    The bill, [HB16-1228], was opposed by Western Slope water districts and legislators as unnecessary, expensive to farmers or ranchers and potentially harmful by allowing water that could be used within the state to flow out. Former state Sen. Bruce Whitehead called it “borderline speculation.”

    However, diverse groups such as Ducks Unlimited and Colorado Corn Growers testified that the bill keeps water in agriculture by providing another way to use it without diminishing a water right. Those groups have been working on alternative transfer programs in the South Platte River basin for several years.

    The bill is the latest version of a flex water right that has failed in the past two sessions. It would determine the historical consumptive use — how much water crops use — and establish alternate points of diversion in advance of one-year substitute water supply plan which might or might not occur. The bill also requires water to stay in the same river basin of historic use as defined by state water divisions.

    Water users still would be required to get an administrative substitute water supply plan in each year water is transferred.

    Sponsors Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Jon Becker, D-Fort Morgan, said the bill provides an “agricultural water protection water right” that prevents more ag water from being sold to cities.

    But Don Coram, R-Montrose, at one point asked a witness, “What’s the difference between buy-and-dry and lease-and-cease?”

    Both the Southwestern Colorado and Colorado River conservation districts oppose the bill, which they say would require farmers and ranchers to spend more out of pocket to defend water rights.

    But the Colorado Water Congress, Division of Water Resources and Colorado Water Conservation Board all voiced support of the legislation, saying it could be administered fairly and would not create any more need for legal defense than already exists.

    Terry Fankhauser, of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, said his group is merely monitoring the bill at this point. But he questioned whether allowing water to be leased, and land to be fallowed, for five years in every 10 is a good idea. He pointed to studies in the Arkansas Valley which indicate three in 10 years is the maximum to keep farmland in shape for on-again, off-again farming.

    Rain barrel schematic
    Rain barrel schematic

    From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    With the legislative session in full swing in Denver, several water-related bills have been submitted in the Colorado General Assembly, including House Bill 16-1005, a rainwater-harvesting bill.

    Ken Baker, retired attorney and consultant to the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, discussed these bills during the district board meeting Thursday, indicating HB-18-1005 was passed by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

    The bill would allow the collection of precipitation from a residential rooftop using no more than two rain barrels per residence with a maximum capacity of 110 gallons.

    As the bill is currently written, the residence must have four or fewer units, and the collected water must be used for outdoor purposes on the property where it is collected.

    Baker said the bill, if passed, would fail legal challenges based on the Colorado Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, often summarized as “first in time, first in right.”

    Under Colorado law, an appropriation is made when an individual takes water from a stream or aquifer and puts that water to a specific beneficial use, like farming. The first person to do so has the first right to use that water within a particular stream system.

    After receiving a court decree verifying their status, this person becomes the senior water-right holder on that stream, and that water right takes priority over any other water right on that stream.

    Since capturing rainwater prevents that water from flowing into a stream or seeping into an aquifer, it effectively takes water from someone who owns the right to that water, thereby violating the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation.

    Baker expressed optimism that the bill would be amended in the Republican-controlled Senate to require augmentation, i.e., replacing the water collected with water from another source to prevent injury to senior water rights.

    Baker also discussed other water-related legislation, including:

    • HB 16-1228, a “complicated” bill that would allow temporary, 1-year transfers of up to 50 percent of a water right to a use other than the use for which the water right was decreed.
    • HB 16-1109, an effort to protect owners of a water right from federal stipulations that would require relinquishing that water right in order to use federal land.
    • HB 16-1256, which would commission a study to determine the amount of South Platte River water that has been delivered to Nebraska in excess of the amount required along with possible locations for a new reservoir on the South Platte River.
    • SB 16-128, which would allow specific portions of water augmentation plans or substitute water supply plans to be opened for amendments in Water Court without reopening the entire plan.
    • HB 16-1283, an attempt to reduce water losses by domestic water suppliers through annual audits.