Joe Ramey (The National Weather Service — Grand Junction Office) has been digging through the climate data. Here’s his deep-dive into trends in daily temperatures for Eastern Utah and Western Colorado:
How has the climate of eastern Utah and western Colorado been changing? One way to explore this question is to look back at the climate record for sites within this region. If we go back to 1911 there are only 11 sites in eastern Utah and western Colorado with mostly unbroken climate records (Figure 1). A different set of climate records were also analyzed, nine sites within National Parks and Monuments (Figure 2). The Park set would have less problems with urbanization, site location change, or instrumentation changes. A disadvantage to the Park data set is their climate record only generally began in the 1960s.
These two data sets show strongly similar trends. Maximum temperatures (Figure 3) show little overall trend. Minimum temperatures (Figure 4) show a warming trend since the 1970s. Precipitation graphs (Figure 5) show large variation but with a wet period in the 1980s into the 1990s and a subsequent dry trend.
It is not a given that the eleven forecast area sites are a good representation of any climate trends for the forecast area as a whole. However the Park data set seems to follow the same climate trends and adds confidence to these trends.
Rules changing the way well owners operate in the San Luis Valley will go to trial in 2018.
Rio Grande Water Users Association Attorney Bill Paddock told that group of water users during their annual meeting on Thursday that a trial date has been set to hear objections to the rules, which the state filed last fall. The court has scheduled the trial to begin on January 2, 2018.
One of the reasons for setting the trial so far out is the amount of time the trial could take. The judge has scheduled up to eight weeks for the trial, Paddock said.
He reminded the group that 30 statements of opposition were filed in response to the state’s groundwater rules for the Rio Grande Basin, which encompasses the San Luis Valley. About half of those “statements of opposition” were in favor of the rules and about half against. The only method to voice support for the rules was to file a “statement of opposition.”
The groundwater rules focus on protecting senior water rights, promoting sustainability and upholding the state’s Rio Grande Compact with downstream states. The rules require wells in the basin to make up for the injuries they have caused surface water rights or face the possibility of being shut down.
Paddock said the objections to the rules range from concerns about the irrigation season, which is specified as part of the rules, to challenges about how the state plans to determine and enforce the sustainability requirement that is part of the water rules.
Paddock said the sustainability issue was likely the strongest piece of the legal challenge. The state is requiring water users to bring the confined, or deeper, aquifer back to the level it was during the period of 1978-2000 , but the state does not have enough data to determine what those levels should be, so it will be collecting further data to enforce that portion of the rules.
Paddock said some water users, such as those in the Alamosa/La Jara area defined in the rules, have not changed how much they have pumped since that 1978-2000 period, while other areas of the Valley have experienced dramatic changes in pumping since that time.
“That’s going to be the biggest issue,” Paddock said.
He said the state would begin negotiating with objectors to see if it can work out some of their concerns short of trial. He said he was optimistic a number of issues people have raised could be resolved simply through those negotiations or as legal questions decided by the judge.
If that is the case, the courts will not be looking at an eight-week trial but something less than that, possibly 4-6 weeks, Paddock said.
“On the confined aquifer sustainability issue, there is likely to be a trial,” he said, “and if that’s the issue it’s likely to be a 4-6-week trial because of the complexity of the problem and the number of expert witnesses who will have to testify.”
Jiliane Hixson, who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting over conservation easement tax credits with the Department of Revenue, left the Statehouse in tears last week. Lawmakers had watered down a bill she hoped would help her recoup some of her money.
Thirteen years ago, Hixson converted parts of her Lamar farm into a conservation easement, what should have been a win-win deal.
Colorado’s conservation easement program works like this: Landowners create a contract with a land trust. The land trust holds the deed to the property and blocks housing projects, oil and gas wells, solar or wind power farms or any other kind of development. The landowner gets a hefty tax credit and still owns the land: Farmers continue to grow crops, ranchers keep grazing cattle, and homeowners keep living there.
At least, that’s how the programs are supposed to work.
But four years after entering into an agreement, the Department of Revenue rejected Hixson’s tax credits. She still does not have control of her land and has agreed to a settlement with the Department of Revenue. She will be paying back those tax credits for the next 20 years.
Hundreds of other Coloradans, like Hixson, have been fighting the Department of Revenue over those tax credits.
A bill in the House was originally going to set a January 1, 2016 deadline for the Department of Revenue to resolve the conservation-easement tax credit disputes that still plague roughly 55 families. For those families whose property is now controlled by land trusts, if the Department of Revenue rejected those tax credits, the easement would be canceled and the deed to the land would return to the homeowner.
The Department has a four-year statute of limitations to accept or deny tax credits issued on the conservation easements.
But the department has ignored the four-year limit, fighting with hundreds of landowners over the tax credits, some from more than 13 years ago.
It has cost 800 Colorado families, many of whom are farmers and ranchers, tax credits totalling in the millions of dollars. Some have declared bankruptcy after fighting the department, which has alleged some appraisals were overvalued by incompetent appraisers or property owners who committed fraud.
The Department of Revenue’s spurious allegations of mass fraud have not been substantiated in the courts. Only one case has been prosecuted in the program’s 16-year history.
The measure, House Bill 16-1174, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan, thinly skated out of the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee a month ago. It won the support of one Democrat on the committee, Rep. Max Tyler of Lakewood, who said the discussion on the issue must continue.
Last week, the House Finance Committee, which deals with bills about tax issues, took up the bill, which by then had garnered opposition from the governor. That put Becker to work with Democrats to save the bill.
Becker reached an eleventh hour deal Tuesday with Democrats to completely rewrite the bill. The new version substantially reduced the cost from its initial $11 million price tag. But more importantly, it took out the language that would have given Hixson and hundreds like her control of their land.
The rewritten bill only applies to those 55 cases still in dispute, and only cancels out any further interest or penalties on the tax credits while the cases are being settled.
Becker put the Department of Revenue and the Attorney General’s office that has backed the Department on notice during the hearing, warning if they don’t speedily resolve the remaining cases, he’ll be back next year and “It won’t be nice…Moving forward shows the departments we are serious.”
The decision to gut the bill was clearly emotional for Becker. “Fighting the state shouldn’t come to the point where families are destroyed,” he told the committee.
Lawmakers aren’t supposed to become too emotionally vested in their bills, but that has been the case for Becker with HB 1174. He pledged to keep the issue in the public eye and said he will continue to try to find solutions to help people like Hixson, who won’t be aided by the revised bill.
The bill now goes to the full House for debate, and if successful, to the Senate. Another bill to address the conservation easement issue, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, was killed by the Senate Finance Committee two weeks ago. Sonnenberg requested the action, stating he knew the bill would not have been passed by the committee.
LA JUNTA – The directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board have given their staff the go-ahead to let 12,000 acre-feet of water out of Ruedi Reservoir this year to benefit endangered fish in a 15-mile reach of the Colorado River above Grand Junction.
The board’s unanimous approval to renew a one-year lease with the Ute Water Conservancy District came last week in a meeting in La Junta. The approval includes the condition that releases from the dam should not go above 300 cubic feet per second, or bring overall flows in the lower Fryingpan River above 350 cfs.
And after hearing of complaints by clients of Basalt-based fly-fishing outfitters about last year’s releases, also at the 300 cfs level, the CWCB board additionally gave its staff the flexibility to try and keep the release levels at or below 250 cfs to make it easier for wading anglers.
A meeting with local stakeholders about the CWCB’s planned releases from Ruedi this year is set for today at 4 p.m. in El Jebel at the Eagle County building.
Two CWCB officials are expected to attend the meeting: Ted Kowalski, the head of CWCB’s interstate, federal and water information section; and Linda Bassi, the section head of the agency’s instream flow program.
In a memo written in advance of the CWCB board meeting, Kowalski and Bassi had noted that last year’s releases from Ruedi “by most accounts, worked very well for everyone involved.”
But on March 15, two days before the Ruedi lease was on the CWCB’s agenda, Marty Joseph, the manager of Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt, sent the agency a list of 32 clients upset about conditions last year on the Fryingpan River during the first year of CWCB releases from Ruedi.
“The ideal flow for our older clients is around 220 cfs, please take this into consideration for future water flows on the Frying Pan (sic) River,” Joseph told the CWCB in an email on March 15. “We only started collecting emails for about three weeks before our season was over last year (Oct. 5, 2015). We could easily have had 10 times more if we started it at the beginning of the season.”
Joseph’s email was followed the next day by an email to Bass at the CWCB from Warwick Mowbray, also of Frying Pan Anglers. He sent in ten letters from clients complaining about the flows. He said he had requested comments from clients back in October about the high flows at the request of Jana Mohrman, a hydrologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
One client told Frying Pan Anglers, “this past August, the flow rate at the beginning of my stay was 25O cfs then increased to just over 300 cfs and then dropped to around 28O cfs. The fishing was adversely affected by both the high flow and the numerous fluctuations in the rate.
“Additionally, for the first time while fishing the Frying Pan River, I lost my balance and fell in the river,” the client said. “This occurred on a number of occasions. I felt that wading my normal sections of the river were unsafe due to the high flow rate. If the high flow rates experienced this past summer become the norm for the Frying Pan, it is likely that I will find another location for my fishing trips.”
Another client said that their trip to the area “was especially disappointing as my son and I took our eight-and-half-year-old grandson wading for the first time. With the 300 (cfs) flows, only place on the whole twelve-mile stretch of the ‘Pan’ was a few feet from shore at the shallows at the dam where it was safe enough for him.”
It should be noted that the CWCB’s releases of water were only one factor in the overall flow in the lower Fryingpan River last summer and fall.
Last year, for example, releases from Ruedi Reservoir, which is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, generally ranged from 275 to 300 cfs from early August to mid-October, according to the USGS gauge just below the Ruedi dam.
But the releases of water controlled by CWCB came only in parts of September and October and never contributed to more than 170 cfs of the total river flow, according to the CWCB.
For example, from Sept. 3 and 20, the CWCB sent 6,000 acre-feet down the Fryingpan, at the rate of 170 cfs.
And between Oct. 6 and 17, the CWCB sent another 3,000 acre-feet downstream, also at 170 cfs.
The CWCB is not the only entity releasing water from Ruedi to reach target flow levels in the 15-mile reach. As a graphic presented by Kowalski notes, a total of 24,412 acre feet was released from Ruedi last year to flow to Grand Junction.
But beyond the nuances of whose water was being released by the Bureau of Reclamation for what purpose, the perception by some anglers was that the river was higher than usual, especially in the fall.
During his presentation to the CWCB board on March 17, Kowalski acknowledged the recently-arrived complaint letters from anglers about flows in the Fryingpan.
“If there are ways that we can accommodate angling interests, we will do so,” Kowalski said, noting it will be easier to do this year if it is drier than last year.
But Kowalski said any concessions to anglers would be a lessor priority for the agency than meeting CWCB’s “intended purpose of the full 12,000 acre feet being dedicated to the 15-mile reach.”
Kowalski also noted that Ruedi is, after all, “a water supply reservoir.”
“We are paying state dollars for specific purposes, and the endangered species purposes are important to the state and to water users within the state,” Kowalski said. ”Nevertheless, we want to be sensitive to the local concerns and we’re looking forward to the meeting and a spirited discussion.”
The CWCB plans to pay $7.20 an acre foot to lease the 12,000 acre feet of water owned in Ruedi by Ute Water. The water can be used for instream flow purposes, and the CWCB holds an instream flow right of 581 cfs in the 15-mile reach.
Russ George, who represents the Colorado River basin on the CWCB board, favored keeping release levels at 300 cfs, despite the concerns of some anglers.
“First of all, I don’t know who it is that can’t fish with a little bit more water,” said George, who is now chair of the CWCB board. “Twenty-five cfs is not a lot of water in that river. So I’m a little confused, but that’s probably because I’m a poor fisherman.
Jay Skinner, an instream flow specialist at Colorado Parks and Wildlife, told the CWCB board the flows were not having an impact on the quality of the fishery on the lower Fryingpan.
“My understanding of that whole issue of the 250 to 300 cfs is more ‘fishability’ than its impacts on the fishery itself,” Skinner said.
But the water from Ruedi is apparently helpful to the fishery in the 15-mile reach and, secondarily, to the major water providers and managers in Colorado and the upper Colorado River basin.
Helping ancient fish
The program’s goal is to maintain populations of four species of large native fish, the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail, and humpback chub. A key part of the effort is keeping flows in the 15-mile reach at 1,240 cfs or higher.
The program also helps protect the status of 1,216 water-diversion projects in Colorado and their collective ability to move 2.1 million acre-feet of water a year off the river.
If the ancient warm-water fish species in the 15-mile reach above Grand Junction start to disappear completely, lawsuits regarding compliance with the Environmental Species Act could lead to reduced diversions on the river.
“The program serves as the environmental compliance for hundreds of diversions and water storage projects in the upper basin,” Kowalski said.
In 1988, regional water interests began to collaborate on the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.
And while non-native fish eating young native fish remains a primary obstacle to growing populations, there are signs the recovering program is making a difference.
For example, in 2015, 1,331 small “young-of-year” Colorado pikeminnows were collected from Colorado River backwaters, according to the 2015-2016 report on the program.
“This was the highest catch in this reach of river in 30 years,” the report said.
And, Kowalski noted, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in its annual review of the program, recognized last year’s lease of water from Ute Water as contributing to the effort.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. A version of this story was published by the Aspen Daily News on Monday, March 21, 2016.
John Martin Reservoir is kind of like the Mama Bear in the Goldilocks story.
Too far away from Pueblo or Colorado Springs for municipal storage, but close enough to users in the Lamar area.
Too politically charged to easily carve out new storage space, but designed to settle differences on the Arkansas River between Kansas and Colorado that have festered for more than a century.
And too big to ignore as a means of gaining storage space on a river where all the water rights have been spoken for.
So the Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $48,000 grant to find out what may be “just right” when it comes to storage.
“This is making better utilization of John Martin Reservoir to benefit the basin,” said Alan Hamel, the CWCB member from the Arkansas River basin.
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District will work with the state to identify who could use storage in John Martin as part of a more detailed engineering study to be presented to the Arkansas River Compact Administration in 2017.
It also will incorporate an ongoing Colorado State University study that is looking at proposed operational changes at John Martin.
The reservoir was completed in 1948 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and operates under compact procedures approved in 1980 and revised in 1984 and 2010. Those rules require 35 percent of water stored in the reservoir to move into accounts for Kansas’ benefit.
It also governs winter water storage and flood control protocol.
By contrast, Lake Pueblo offers “if-and-when” or excess capacity storage that can be used when it is not storing Fryingpan-Arkansas water, its primary purpose.
John Martin Reservoir, like Lake Pueblo, is not full most of the time. It was last filled in 1999, although it nearly reached the top of the conservation pool during prolonged rains last year.
Getting a new kind of storage account would require some tricky negotiations with Kansas, which sued Colorado, and lost, on the point of Lake Pueblo’s construction and operation as part of a 24-year lawsuit over the compact.
That’s anticipated as part of “stakeholder” meetings called for in the grant. It also would require cooperation from downstream users in Colorado before any changes are made.
Still gazing at the ripples cast by Colorado’s Water Plan, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is getting ready to dive into another wave of the future.
The board is preparing to update the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which first outlined projected water needs of the state in 2004 and was updated in 2010.
The document now serves as the technical basis for the state water plan as well as basin implementation plans adopted by each of the nine basin roundtables.
The Arkansas Basin Roundtable got its first notification of the coming update at its [recent] meeting.
The first version of SWSI in 2004 predicted a shortfall of water for growing Front Range communities and helped launch legislation to form the Interbasin Compact Committee and basin roundtables in 2005.
The 2010 version identified strategies and refined estimates of shortfalls of water. It also better reflected the state’s need to preserve agricultural water and nurture local projects. It provided the groundwork for the state water plan.
The 2016 update will include new areas including strategies to deal with scenario planning, climate change and hydrologic variability. Gaps in water supply for agriculture, environment and wildlife will be addressed. It will also incorporate basin implementation plans and the economic value of water.
The IBCC this month looked at ways to fund the additional $100 million annually in water projects called for in the state water plan beginning in 2020. Jay Winner reported some ideas included a 25-cent statewide tap fee, container tax or lottery tickets, but no decisions were made…
In other moves, the roundtable approved a letter of support for the Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative for a five-year $650,000 grant from the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The collaborative is working on improving forest health throughout the Arkansas River basin in order to protect watersheds.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A state board has agreed to renew a lease with the Ute Water Conservancy District to boost local flows in the Colorado River later this year to benefit endangered fish.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s action this week comes despite concerns about impacts to recreational fishing in the Fryingpan River near Basalt. The water would come from Ruedi Reservoir, which is in the Fryingpan River Valley.
The CWCB is planning a meeting today at 4 p.m. at Eagle County’s El Jebel Community Center to hear and address those concerns.
The deal involves water Ute Water owns in Ruedi. The water is a backup supply for Ute Water as well as a source to meet potential new demand. Last year, the CWCB agreed to lease up to 12,000 acre-feet of water, and ended up using 9,000 acre-feet in September and October at a price of $7.20 per acre foot, or $64,800.
Last year’s one-year lease is renewable for up to five years.
Last year’s extra water boosted flows in what’s known as the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River upstream of its confluence of the Gunnison River, benefiting four endangered fish — the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.
The lease arrangement also provided some operational flexibility for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “and operators of other reservoirs that release water in late summer to benefit the endangered fish habitat,” according to a memo to the CWCB board from its staff.
The water also was run through the Ruedi Reservoir and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District hydropower plants, providing additional benefits, according to the memo.
On the minus side, CWCB has been hearing in recent weeks from angling interests who say more river in the Fryingpan makes it hard to wade in the river and also could affect hatches of aquatic insects, impacting trout in the river and the fishing. The Fryingpan is considered a world-class flyfishing river.
CWCB has agreed to keep the water releases below 300 cubic feet per second, but fishing advocates want them limited to 250 cfs.
CWCB staff member Ted Kowalski said the agency is willing to work with fishing interests to keep flows below 250 cfs where possible, depending on hydrology and how dry a year it is.
Kirk Webb, assistant manager of Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Basalt, which offers guided fishing trips, said flows higher than even 150 cfs can make it harder for older clients to safely wade and cross the river, limiting their access. Higher flows also can force fish to gather in certain areas rather than spreading out, he said.
Still, while he said more water can “put a damper” on hatches, he said he also sees benefits to higher flows, including an overall benefit to the fishery. And he said guide operations also can benefit downstream on the Roaring Fork River in late summer if more water comes in from the Fryingpan, cooling down the Roaring Fork and improving fishing, while also boosting float-fishing conditions.
Jay Skinner, instream flow specialist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, told the CWCB that hatches are temperature-dependent, and he questions how much higher flows would influence them on the Fryingpan.
“I have a hard time imagining that adding this amount of water from a deep reservoir to an already very cold river has a lot of impact on the hatches,” he said.
When it comes to dissolved lead, residents in the West are lucky because a large majority of the region’s housing stock and infrastructure – interior piping, water mains and service lines – are newer and less likely to contain components that can leach lead into water.
Copper water lines that were installed in a house before the early 1980s might have been connected using lead-based solder (after about 1981, we switched to a tin/antimony solder formulation). Even so, that’s likely not a big worry. Many municipal water suppliers inject chemicals, such as sodium carbonate, that attach to the inside of pipes and form a barrier to isolate lead solder intrusion. Plus, even the purest water contains some microscopic organic contaminates that, over time, build up a thin layer of slime that also coats the inside of the piping.
One easy way to “get the lead out” is to run your cold water full force for a minute or two when you get up in the morning (or anytime the system has been still for six or more hours). That will flush stale water from the pipes and ensure that fresh product from the street main is available for drinking. If you’re the conserving type, you can collect it and use it on houseplants. Also, check the screens in the faucet aerators and remove any metal particles they have caught.
Water companies are required to monitor their supplies for excessive lead and other contaminates. But if you’re concerned that the water running through old pipes is not safe, get it tested; the local health department can help. The EPA considers any concentration above 15 parts per billion as an action level, requiring mitigation or avoidance. If your level is too high, it would be advisable to have a plumber replace suspected piping in your home plus the water service line.
You also can filter the water. A simple $200 reverse osmosis system under your kitchen sink can remove about 95 percent of the lead contaminates. Can you shower and bathe if the lead concentration is high? Yes. Lead is not absorbed through the skin.
Israel has been at the forefront of water solutions for decades, with Jewish National Fund (JNF) being a major force in water resource development in Israel. With a water crisis plaguing our region, it’s timely that JNF is tackling the issue head on by hosting a series of community-wide water summits with LA Times Best-Seller Seth M. Siegel, author of Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World. On Tuesday, March 29, 2016, JNF is bringing the Water Summit to Denver, CO (Temple Emanuel – 51 Grape St., Denver, CO 80220).
The Colorado-Israel Water Summit, co-chaired and generously sponsored by Bob Lembke, president of United Water & Sanitation District, and Drs. Toby and Mort Mower, and Netafim, a global leader in drip and micro-irrigation solutions, will provide a unique opportunity to meet, hear from, and network with water industry executives and public officials, to expand awareness of Israel’s water leadership, and to bring drought solutions to local communities and the world…
The Water Summit will feature Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, former Governor Bill Ritter, best-selling author Seth M. Siegel, JNF VP Campaign Ken Segel, Israeli Consul for Political Affairs Yaki Lopez, Netafim’s Director of Marking Ze’ev Barylka, and many other dignitaries and water industry experts…
The Water Summit will take place from 9:00 am to 2:30 pm with panels titled “Colorado Approaches to Water Use Efficiency” and “Colorado’s Water Supply Future.” Registration is required via http://jnf.org/cowatersummit. For more information, please contact Hannah Cohen at http://firstname.lastname@example.org or 212.879.9305 x262. There is no cost to attend and lunch will be provided.