From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Arkansas River issues took center stage at this week’s meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board at Otero Junior College.
The board awarded 11 grants totaling $734,000 to projects in the Arkansas Valley, while touring some other projects in the La Junta area that already are underway. It also reviewed the progress of a pilot program by the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, which was authorized under legislation in 2013 and heard plans by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water
Conservancy District to introduce new water banking legislation.
The board paused for about an hour Wednesday to remember Diane Hoppe, who chaired the board until her death last month. Hoppe was a former state lawmaker who had been active in state water issues for more than 30 years.
On Tuesday, the CWCB staff and board toured the Catlin Canal, a channel-clearing project at North La Junta and a flume-replacement project on the Fort Lyon Canal.
The Catlin project is overseen directly by the CWCB under HB1248, which allows the state to do administrative water transfers without changThe Lower Ark district is championing the Super Ditch as a way to allow farmers to keep water rights while leasing some water to cities.
In the Catlin project, river flows are augmented by releases of water stored in Lake Pueblo and recharge ponds that have been built on farms. Cropland is dried up for no more than three years in 10, and the water is leased to Fowler, Fountain and Security.
At Wednesday’s session, Lower Ark attorney Leah Martinsson explained new legislation that would expand the concept to allow the CWCB to administer small transfers of water through a new kind of water bank. Past efforts to establish water banks relied on storage, while the new concept would allow direct flow rights to be leased.
“This is a different kind of tool,” Martinsson said. The bill, not yet numbered, would be sponsored by Democrat Reps. Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins and Ed Vigil of Fort Garland and Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa.
Like HB1248, the new law would put a 3-in-10 year limit on dry-ups, require approval by the state engineer and prohibit transfers out of basin. It would rely on court-approved rules to allow transfers, but would not create a new kind of water right. It covers small transfers over a 10-year period to avoid large-scale speculation, Martinsson said.
The draft bill released to the CWCB is 19 pages long and fairly complex. CWCB member Patricia Wells asked whether the board would be expected to review many small transfers using such complicated criteria.
Martinsson replied that the rule-making process and ongoing review by the state engineer would simplify the process.
Peter Nichols, Lower Ark and Super Ditch attorney, said the proposed water bank would be more useful to farmers than existing statutes, giving them flexibility without altering water rights.
“It’s a better way to do this,” Nichols said. “It adds rigor to the process without going to water court for major changes.”
Meanwhile, the CWCB awarded a grant to study flood control on Fountain Creek. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
Visions, studies and arguments over flood control on Fountain Creek have consumed attention in El Paso and Pueblo counties for the past decade.
Real work may finally be just around the corner — give or take a few bad floods.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board gave its approval this week to a $41,800 grant that will be added to $37,500 in local funds to begin evaluating potential sites for a dam or other flood control structures on Fountain Creek between Colorado Springs and Pueblo.
Like the creek itself, getting even to this point has been a meandering process, hitting snags and jumping out of the channel, as Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District explained to the CWCB.
“We first chose two scenarios to move forward,” Small said, explaining that a U.S. Geological Survey studied identified a dam or series of detention ponds between Fountain and Pueblo as the best way to protect Pueblo from intermittent flooding. “The water rights protection task came first.”
After a study last year confirmed flood control on Fountain Creek could be attained without harming water rights, the district moved to the next step of identifying where structures might be located. The existing study by the Army Corps of Engineers is limited to big projects and more than 40 years out of date.
The water rights issue doomed an earlier grant request at the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. Since then, the state Legislature passed a law that allowed storage of flows for flood control for up to 72 hours, except on Fountain Creek. The Fountain Creek district completed its study of water rights last year, however, and it passed roundtable scrutiny.
“We resolved the differences between stakeholders,” Small said. “It showed that water rights are a top priority in future projects.”
The preliminary work is needed as the Fountain Creek district prepares to receive $50 million over a five-year period specifically for flood control projects to protect Pueblo. The district is looking at the money to leverage more funding that would be needed to complete at least $150 million in projects already identified in plans.
The $50 million is a condition of a 1041 permit issued by Pueblo County for construction of the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Dam to the El Paso County line.