San Luis Valley: Talks continue on new groundwater rules — The Pueblo Chieftain

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):

Although a trial for new groundwater regulations in the San Luis Valley isn’t set until January 2018, State Engineer Dick Wolfe said his staff is working toward settlements to avoid that court date.

Wolfe told a Thursday meeting of the Rio Grande Compact Commission that efforts to compromise with the 30 objectors in the case have been underway for a few months.

“I’m very optimistic we’re going to be successful working through those issues with those other objectors in hopes to reach stipulation with all of those objectors and hopefully avoid going to trial,” he said.

Wolfe’s office submitted rules to the valley’s water court in September.

They were the first attempt by the state to issue comprehensive groundwater rules for the valley since the 1970s, when a previous effort never reached implementation.

The rules governing the roughly 4,500 highcapacity irrigation wells that tap into the valley’s two large aquifers require users to join a subdistrict, have an augmentation plan, or at least a temporary water supply plan.

The aim of the rules is to mitigate the impact of groundwater pumping on the valley’s streams and rivers, which are hydraulically connected to the aquifers in varying degrees. The objections to the rules cover a number of issues but many question the use of the state’s Rio Grande Decision Support System, a computer model that’s used in the calculation of stream loss caused by pumping.

But even if the rules do end up at trial, working toward settlements now can still pay off, Wolfe said.

“Even if we don’t ultimately get to an agreement with all those objectors we hope to at least limit the number of objectors so ultimately that would have to go to trial and the number of issues we would have to litigate,” he said.

2016 #coleg: HB16-1005 (Rain Barrels) is on its way to Gov. Hickenlooper’s desk

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

“As a farmer’s daughter, I’m proud to have helped pass this common-sense water-conservation measure,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat from Wheat Ridge who was one of the bill’s sponsors.

Conservation groups hope the legislation encourages Coloradans to capture and use runoff from their rooftops on their lawns and gardens to help people recognize that water is a precious resource in this arid state, compared to the amount they would have used from their garden hoses, otherwise.

Photo via the Colorado Independent
Photo via the Colorado Independent

#ColoradoRiver: “…we see a warming trend” — Connie Woodhouse #COriver

From Grist (John Upton):

The new research, published in Geophysical Research Letters by academics and a federal scientist, focused on the upper stretches of the river. It attempted to parse out the different roles of temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture on the variability of yearly water flows since reliable record-keeping began in 1906.

Annual Colorado River flows have naturally swung up and down over time, but the natural trends have been bucked in recent years and decades.

“What we’re seeing now is that, consistent with more of the global observations in terms of warming, that it’s not just a fluctuation that’s within that historical back and forth,” Prairie said. “That oscillation is starting to break from that range.”

Temperatures appear to have been playing a larger role in reducing the flows of water down the Colorado River since the late 1980s, the findings from the new study suggested.

“If you look at the trend in temperature over this period, we see a warming trend,” said Connie Woodhouse, a University of Arizona professor who led the new research. “We’re finding in those years temperatures explaining a lot more of the variability.”

Warmer temperatures cause more snow to fall instead as rain, and they cause snowpacks to melt earlier. Both of those effects lengthen growing seasons of riverside vegetation, which allows it to suck up more water as it grows. Higher temperatures also increase evaporation.

The likely effects of climate change on rainfall, snow, and streamflow in the West remain difficult to assess, though they’re expected to lead to more rain and less snow, reducing the water volume of the snowpack that melts slowly to fill up the rivers. Storms may also shift southward.

Recent assessments suggest that even without changes to precipitation, the flow through “most of the Colorado River” would “shift to moderately lower” levels as the planet continues to warm, said Andy Wood, a National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist who was not involved with the study.

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