@HighCountryNews: Tools for the wannabe Western weather prognosticator

A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo USBR
A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

Click through to read the article and learn about weather and climate tools from The High Country News (Maya L. Kapoor):

As High Country News readers know, it’s hard to obsess about the West without also obsessing about the weather. Here’s a rundown of some of the most useful weather and climate websites and why they deserve a spot on this list. Happy prognosticating!

Water workshop for agriculture producers set for Feb. 28

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From the Rio Grande Basin Ag Producers’ Water Future Workshop via The Valley Courier:

Rio Grande Basin Ag Producers’ Water Future Workshop will be held on February 28, at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, 8805 Independence Way, Alamosa. The workshop will begin at 10 a.m. and conclude at 2 p.m.

There is no cost.

Register at riograndeag@eventbrite.com or call Judy Lopez at 719-580-5300. For more information contact Judy Lopez at jlopez@coloradoopenlands.org or 719-580-5300 or Helen Smith at hssissy@gmail.com

Workshop topics include: “Motivations for Ag Producers to Use Their Water Differently;” “What Do Colorado Ag Producers Think About Ag Water Leasing?;” “Leasing water in the Arkansas Valley;” “Alternatives to Permanent Fallowing;” “Thinking about Water as Crop;” “Ag/Urban Partnerhips Concepts;” “Conejos ATM Project;” “Lease-Fallowing Tool;” and more.

Speakers will include representatives from the Colorado Water Institute, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Division of Water Resources, City of Aurora and Conejos Water Conservancy District.

Fort Collins water facility wins prestigious award — Fort Collins Coloradoan

The water treatment process
The water treatment process

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Fort Collins Utilities’ water treatment facility recently won the American Water Works Association’s “Presidents Award,” which was given to 34 treatment plants in the nation.

The award honors water treatment plants with high-level filter performance. The Fort Collins facility uses a meticulous treatment process to remove potential contaminants from source water, and the end product has consistently met federal safety requirements and won accolades for taste.

“Receiving the Presidents Award status demonstrates the hard work and dedication of our employees and their commitment to provide great-tasting, high-quality drinking water to our community,” Water Production Manager Mark Kempton said in a city press release.

For more information on local water, visit http://fcgov.com/water , email utilities@fcgov.com, call 970-221-6700 or V/TDD 711. To learn more about the Partnership for Safe Water, visit http://awwa.org/partnership.

Fish Recovery and its Economic Implications in the Big Thompson — KUNC

Fly fishing below Olympus Dam (Colorado-Big Thompson Project) September 17, 2015 via the Bureau of Reclamation
Fly fishing below Olympus Dam (Colorado-Big Thompson Project) September 17, 2015 via the Bureau of Reclamation

From KUNC (Maeve Conran):

Every fall, biologists count the fish to get an overall view of the river’s health. A healthy river means a lot of healthy fish, trout in this case, rainbow and brown. And a healthy fish population means a healthy local economy with jobs dependent on the fishing and recreation industry.

“People come to Estes Park for a lot of reasons, and fishing is one of them,” says Jack Deloose, who has been a fishing guide in Estes Park for four years. “We get an awful lot of people. We’ll probably end up with 600 people that will fish with us this year.”

An estimated 50,000 anglers descend on this area annually, spending on average $103 each on everything from fishing guides and equipment to lodging and food…

About $4 million a year flows into local coffers as a result of this river. As so much tourism depends on the fish, the results of the annual fish count are closely watched.

The biologists conduct the count at two separate sites. This area is in good shape. There are shallow spots where the fish like to spawn, and rock pools for winter habitat. Further downstream, it’s a different story.

Immediately after the 2013 flood, the fish population there was zero. It slowly recovered, but a concrete spill into the water earlier this year during road repairs set the recovery back.

Permanent repairs have begun on the parts of the river and adjoining highway that were most damaged by the floods, but Swigle says the repairs will also tackle problems dating back 40 years.

“We’ve been educated from two floods, 1976 and 2013. In both cases, the flood won and the river lost,” says Swigle. “Now we’re building a road that is resilient in the face of flooding, so when it happens again—and it will—we won’t have to spend $500 million to repair the road.”

The repairs will raise the adjoining road and create a wider floodplain. That will help the river cope with future floods.

After collecting the fish, the task of counting, weighing and measuring them begins. The number of fish in this stretch amounts to almost 4,000 total per mile, indicating a healthy section of the river. Further downstream, as predicted, the fish count is much lower, in the low hundreds of fish per mile. But Swigle is hopeful that those numbers will improve in the future.

“Ultimately we’d like to see the number of trout that we found here, downstream in the same abundance,” Swigle says.

Repairs on that lower stretch started in October and will likely continue through June 2017.

Four dam projects would cost $88M — @WyoFile

Spring sampling location along Little Sandy River in southern Wyoming. Photo credit: Chris Shope, USGSPublic domain
Spring sampling location along Little Sandy River in southern Wyoming. Photo credit: Chris Shope, USGSPublic domain

From WyoFile (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):

Wyoming lawmakers will consider spending $88 million on four major dam projects that advance Gov. Matt Mead’s plan to construct 10 water storage projects in a decade.

If approved by the Legislature, the money would build the Alkali Creek dam north of Hyattville and reconstruct the unsafe Middle Piney dam near Big Piney. State funds also would enlarge the Big Sandy Reservoir near Farson and the Upper Leavitt Reservoir north of Shell…

Omnibus water construction bill HB-86 marks the first time an account created in 2005 to divert mineral taxes for water storage would fund dam construction, Wyoming Water Development Office Director Harry LaBonde said. All told, the bill calls for spending $88.1 million on the four dams. Another $8.4 million is earmarked for planning.

As a result the legislation this year would spend $96.5 million from the special “dams and reservoirs” account: Water Development Account III. That account currently holds $151.7 million.

The most expensive project, the Leavitt enlargement would cost $41 million. Thirty-nine million dollars, or 95.5 percent, will be grant money from the state, the rest a loan to irrigators. Next most expensive, the Alkali Creek dam, would cost $35 million, 94 percent of which would be a grant, $2.1 million a loan to irrigators…

The four major dam projects will benefit irrigators across 155 square miles, according to calculations made by WyoFile from Water Development Office data. The four projects will add 27,231 acre feet of storage in the Green River and Bighorn River watersheds, mostly to benefit farmers and ranchers in irrigation districts.

The projects will provide additional benefits, including flood control and wetland creation. At Alkali Creek and Leavitt Reservoir, the reservoirs will always have some water in them to hold fish. Both also would be used for recreation, including boating…

Of the four big Wyoming dam projects, the Alkali Creek dam and Leavitt Reservoir dwarf the others. Alkali Creek would be built from scratch on an intermittent stream with $32 million in state grants and $2.1 million in loans.

The project above Hyattville would see a 108-foot high dam that would be 2,600 feet long, impounding 7,994 acre-feet over 294 acres. The reservoir would use water diverted from Paint Rock and Medicine Lodge creeks, would reduce annual shortages in the Nowood drainage by 22 percent, and aid 241 landowners. Roughly half of the 294-acre lake would be on property owned by the Martin Mercer family, the rest on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land.

The Upper Leavitt Reservoir would be expanded with $39 million in grant money, $1.7 million in loans. It would hold 6,604 acre-feet — 10 times the capacity of the existing pool — and cover 194 acres. The 1,800-foot long dam would divert water from Beaver Creek out of the creek channel to an upland site to serve more than 11,000 acres. The project would create 34 more acres of wetlands than now exist. A total of 210 landowning irrigators would benefit.

Big Sandy Reservoir enlargement calls for a $6.7 million grant plus a $1.6 million loan for the impoundment astride the Big Sandy River. The plan calls for the Bureau of Reclamation — the dam’s owner — to raise the dam spillway using Wyoming money. Similar arrangements have occurred in the past. The enlargement would occur in the Greater South Pass Sage Grouse Core Area where disruption of sagebrush is limited…

Big Sandy Reservoir straddles Sublette and Sweetwater county lines. Enlargement would benefit 125 irrigating landowners.

The Middle Piney reservoir was plagued with problems when constructed in 1940 on the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Officials deemed the on-channel structure unsafe and landowners with rights to the stored water gave those up by 2000. “Over time, because the reservoir had seepage problems and safety of dams issues — all of those landowners gave or transferred water rights to the Forest Service,” the water development office wrote in a description. Project outlines don’t say how many or who would benefit.

The Middle Piney Reservoir would cost $12.2 million to rebuild, but the state is still resolving issues with the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Among them are the ownership of potential rights to stored water, and liability for any dam failure…

Senate File 56 for water planning proposes $14.6 million for study and enlargement at New Fork Lake Dam, among others. Of that, lawmakers will be asked to appropriate $450,000 for the New Fork project in the Wind River Range near Pinedale. The Legislature appropriated $300,000 for an initial study which has yet to be completed and released to the public.

Wyoming and the Bridger-Teton National Forest, where New Fork Lake is located, have different views about the feasibility of increasing water storage at the site. LaBonde’s office has told lawmakers the project could get the green light, but the federal government says Wyoming should look to build new storage on private rather than forest lands.

New Fork Lake was enlarged decades ago with a small dam that now needs repairs. “This project is focused specifically on adding storage,” LaBonde said. Ninety-four landowners irrigating 14,612 acres in the New Fork Irrigation District asked the state for more water and the project would make another 9,400 acre feet available

Although the initial study remains under wraps, LaBonde’s office summarized the pending investigation to lawmakers and the Wyoming Water Development Commission. Instead of raising the existing dam, the preferred option would be to permit irrigators to drain more of the natural lake the summary says. That would require construction work to lower the irrigation outlet, but would not require raising the dam…

State re-applying for forest cloud seeding permit
The Senate bill also provides funding for Wyoming to try again to get permission from the U.S. Forest Service for cloud seeding in the Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre mountains. Wyoming wants to convert a controversial 10-year experimental program into an operational one.

But the Forest Service rejected a special use permit, LaBonde said. “They have a regulation that prohibits the long-term climate change or weather change in wilderness areas,” he said. “They said ‘We can’t allow the program,’” The two ranges have four congressionally-protected wilderness areas where natural forces are supposed to reign.

Prodigious storms both thrilling and a challenge for mountain towns — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Jim Schmidt, a former mayor of Crested Butte, has been shoveling snow there for 40 years. Sunday was the first day in three weeks that he could take a break. That’s good, because he’s running out of places to put it.

“I’m a pretty tall guy, and I am throwing it pretty much as high as I can throw it, 7.5 to 8 feet,” he said Monday afternoon. “It’s too high for a snow-blower.”

Passages are narrowing as the snow piles up in Crested Butte. Photo/Town of Crested Butte Facebook page
Passages are narrowing as the snow piles up in Crested Butte. Photo/Town of Crested Butte Facebook page

Schmidt remembers a winter about nine years ago that stacks up with this one and perhaps several in the late 1970s. By early January, 365 inches had fallen in one of those winters, 1977-78, compared to 155 this winter.

Since Christmas, though, the storms this winter have been prodigious. Writing in the Crested Butte News, staffer Alyssa Johnson said she felt a “thrill at living in a place that can get so much snow, and where the people celebrate its arrival.”

Where to put the snow?

“The general rule is that your snow shouldn’t leave your property,” said Peter Daniels, the deputy marshal for Crested Butte. “Unless you’re paying to have someone come haul the snow away, you need to find a way to keep it out of your neighbor’s area and out of town streets and paths.”

Space is becoming an issue. When Schmidt got to Crested Butte, fewer people had cars. Now everybody has a car, and some people have several. Vacant lots that once were used as snow dumps have mostly been built on. But the town has invested heavily in snow-moving equipment. It now has three front-end loaders and a grader that can be used to move snow around and, ultimately, dump it at a site just outside of town.

Another difference is this: Snow this winter has been wet and heavy, not light and fluffy. Down-valley about 30 miles at Gunnison, it has actually rained.

All this has created a mess and heightened dangers. Because of concerns about safety for buses, schools were closed for the first time since Schmidt arrived 40 years ago. “And the snow keeps coming and coming,” school superintendent Doug Tredway told the Crested Butte News.

Warmer temperatures have been a theme as mountain towns have grappled with this winter’s snow.

In Breckenridge, the roof of a conference center collapsed under the weight of nearly 49 inches of snow. The snow was more moisture laden than is usually the case with a comparable depth in mid-winter.

Officials tell the Summit Daily News that the 4,500-square-foot flat roof had been constructed in 1972, when snow-loading standards were less sophisticated. Still, flat roofs are common in Summit County and building collapses are rare.

In Idaho’s Wood River Valley, where Ketchum and Sun Valley are located, the water equivalent of the snowpack was 139 percent of normal as of last week, the Natural Resource Conservation Service reported. The Idaho Mountain Express says local officials urged that older, flat-roofed structures be shoveled when loads reach 60 pounds per square foot.

Durango, at 6,500 feet in elevation, has had heavy rains this winter, while snow has been falling at higher elevations. The snowpack is 171 percent of the median. The city is often at the nexus of rain and snow, the Durango Herald observes. But the warmth this winter has startled many people.

“It’s uncanny the fact that we’re 50 degrees in early to mid-January—very unusual—so it’s been strange for us,” said Tony Vicari, interim director of the local airport..

Can rising global temperatures explain the unusually mild winter, the Herald wanted to know.

Norv Larson of the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, Colo., said no one winter is evidence of global warming. More clearly identifiable in explaining the warmth is the western Pacific storm track that has defined the first half of this winter.

Do you know your snowpack? – News on TAP

9 facts about Colorado snowpack: What it is, why it’s important and how we tell how much of it we have.

Source: Do you know your snowpack? – News on TAP

#Drought news: Near to above normal precip. = reduction in D2 on E. plains

Click here to go the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


Several areas of heavy precipitation brought drought improvement to parts of the Northeast, Midwest, Plains, and Far West while drought conditions were essentially unchanged elsewhere. Nowhere in the country did dryness intensify enough to worsen the Drought Monitor depiction from last week…

The Plains

Light precipitation at best was reported from Nebraska and eastern Colorado northward to the Canadian border, leaving dryness and drought unchanged. In contrast, moderate to heavy precipitation pelted most areas from the southern half of Kansas and southwestern Missouri southward across much of Oklahoma and into parts of the Texas Panhandle and northeastern Texas. Between 3.5 and 5.0 inches fell along some areas near the Kansas-Oklahoma border. This brought improvement from D3 to D2 to a small part of southeastern Oklahoma, and broader improvements to many former areas of D0 to D2 elsewhere. Still, 90-day precipitation was generally 4 to 8 inches below normal from eastern Oklahoma and parts of eastern Texas eastward across southern Missouri, the northern half of Arkansas, and areas in and near northern Louisiana…

The West

Near to above normal precipitation on time scales ranging from 30 to 90 days or more prompted removal of the D2 areas in north-central and southeastern Colorado. Across the remaining areas of dryness and drought from the Rockies through the Intermountain West and Southwest, scattered to isolated areas of moderate to heavy precipitation weren’t enough to prompt any changes from last week. In contrast, very heavy precipitation ranging from 4 to 8 inches was recorded throughout the Sierra Nevada and isolated parts of the higher elevations in west-central and southwestern California. Elsewhere, 1.5 to 3.5 inches of precipitation fell in a swath from San Francisco southward to Monterey and eastward to the Sierra Nevada, and on areas along and near the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, including part of western Nevada. Given the protracted nature of conditions from much of the San Joaquin Valley southward to Mexico, no improvement was introduced there, including the persistence of D4 conditions in part of southwestern California. In sharp contrast, all D0 to D3 areas in the central Sierra Nevada and adjacent west-central Nevada were improved this week as a pattern of well-above-normal precipitation continued…

Looking Ahead

During the next five days (January 19-23), above-normal precipitation (2-5 inches) is expected across most of the Gulf Coast states from far eastern Texas to and including northern Florida, most of the southern Atlantic Coast region, the Tennessee Valley, and southwestern portions of Kentucky and Virginia. Excessive precipitation amounts (liquid equivalents of 9-13 inches) are forecast for coastal California and most of the Sierras. These anticipated areas of heavy precipitation are likely to result in additional improvements to next week’s U.S. Drought Monitor depiction. Little if any relief, however, is forecast for most of the Great Plains and Northeast. For the ensuing five-day period (January 24-28), there are elevated chances for above-median precipitation across much of the contiguous U.S. However, odds favor below-median precipitation across the south-central states. Taking the two periods as a whole, Oklahoma and most of Texas are the least likely areas to receive beneficial precipitation.

@Interior: Secretary Jewell Directs Continued Work on Crucial #ColoradoRiver Basin Water Agreements

Lake Mead via the US Department of Interior.
Lake Mead via the US Department of Interior.

Here’s the release from the US Department of Interior:

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today issued a Secretarial Order directing the Department of the Interior and its bureaus to continue collaborative efforts to finalize important drought contingency actions designed to reduce the risk of water shortages in the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basins and build on recent progress to complete “Minute 32X” – a long-term Colorado River bi-national cooperative agreement with Mexico.

“I am proud of the tremendous progress we have made over the last eight years to work with our basin states, tribal and Mexican partners to address water resource challenges in the Colorado River Basin,” said Secretary Jewell. “With water from the Colorado River supporting the life and livelihood for an estimated 40 million people, it is absolutely critical for the Department of the Interior to continue to build on this progress and finalize these agreements.”

“The Department of the Interior has worked tirelessly with its partners to come to agreements to ensure that all the basin stakeholders move forward with coordinated plans to address the increasing challenges facing all Colorado River communities,” said Deputy Secretary Michael Connor. “This Secretarial Order ensures that Interior will continue to provide essential support for critical actions and paves the way to help carry these important agreements across the finish line.”

The Order describes hydrologic conditions in the basin and ongoing challenges associated with a 17-year period of historic drought and an ongoing deficit of available water compared to demands. Although water stored in reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin has protected the Basin from crisis during the current drought, those reservoirs are now at near-historic lows; basin-wide reservoir storage ended water year 2016 at just 51 percent of total capacity. In 2016, the lower basin narrowly avoided a shortage declaration, which would trigger mandatory cuts to water deliveries from Lake Mead. Although recent precipitation brought some relief to northern California, there has been no measurable improvement in the Colorado River System.

In addition to drought contingency actions and updating the water agreement with Mexico, the agreements referenced in the Secretarial Order will maintain significant hydropower production and associated financial support for critical environmental programs, and they will help protect Indian treaty rights and recognized water rights.

The Secretarial Order provides direction for Interior, particularly the Bureau of Reclamation, to continue work with the basin states, Indian tribes in the Colorado River Basin and Mexico to finalize these agreements during the first half of 2017. It calls for three actions:

1. Finalizing the Drought Contingency Plan. The order directs Reclamation to work with and support the efforts of the seven basin states and key principals of several water management agencies to finalize a Drought Contingency Plan that includes federal operations of Lower Basin facilities and proposed water conservation actions. Reclamation will participate in remaining negotiations and actions that are required to finalize agreements and provide information in support of any legislation that might be necessary to implement the final agreement.

2. Investing to Support Drought Contingency Actions. In connection with the order, Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López today executed an agreement with Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community to provide the community with $6 million for water conservation in fiscal year 2017 funding to acquire system water consistent with the drought plan to protect levels in Lake Mead. This agreement between Reclamation and the Community also sets the stage for future drought contingency planning to occur within Arizona.

On the agreement, Governor Stephen Lewis stated, “Our agreement with the Department of the Interior is an essential step toward a plan for comprehensively addressing Arizona’s pressing drought problem. The Community is working hard to try and create a framework that will work for all in the State and is pleased with this very successful first step in that right direction. We want to thank the Commissioner of Reclamation, Estevan López, and his entire team for their tireless efforts and we very much appreciate our cooperation with them. This is just the beginning, but it an essential first step, which hopefully will keep the momentum going in the days and weeks ahead.”

In addition, under the order, Reclamation will continue to invest in drought contingency actions such as the recent Salton Sea Memorandum of Understanding with the State of California. Interior also amended its current Memorandum of Understanding with the State of California to provide greater certainty on mitigation actions over the next decade.

3. Completing Minute 32X Negotiations with Mexico. The order directs Reclamation to continue to work with the International Boundary and Water Commission, the Republic of Mexico, the basin states and non-governmental organizations to finalize the bi-national cooperative agreement with Mexico – “Minute 32X.”

Over the past twenty years, collaboration between Interior and its bureaus along with American Indian tribes, the seven Colorado River basin states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming—and others has resulted in significant success in collaboratively addressing water resource challenges across the basin. Today’s order includes information on these important successes, while highlighting the need for prompt action to respond to historic drought conditions and the increasing risk to water supplies in the basin from climate change and other factors.

These successes include the Minute agreements Numbers 316 through 319 with Mexico; a historic 12 Indian water rights settlements totaling $3 billion in funding; historic water conservation agreements adopted in 2014 and a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen coordination of management activities to benefit the Salton Sea.

From InkStain (John Fleck):

The Obama administration’s senior western water leadership this afternoon announced a Colorado River water management package that appears intended to signal a bridge for the administration transition, to continue work on nearly-completed deals to reduce the draining of the river’s big reservoirs.

The package falls short of two major deals some had hoped to be completed before the current team left – a deal with Mexico over future Colorado River water sharing, and a set of agreements among US states and the federal government to reduce water use in the Colorado River Basin, protecting the river’s beleaguered reservoirs. But it suggests that those deals are now the subject of widespread and bipartisan agreement, and appears to create a framework for continuity as the deals’ final details are worked out, rather than a risk of a sudden change in direction as the new administration takes office Jan. 20.

The package is embodied in a “secretarial order” signed this afternoon by Sally Jewell that includes new data suggesting that, without action, the risk to Colorado River water supplies is growing. Absent action, according to the new Bureau of Reclamation modeling runs, there is a one in three chance of Lake Mead dropping below the critical elevation of 1,025 feet above sea level by 2026. At that level, drastic water supply cuts to be needed to keep the reservoir from dropping to dead pool.

With the proposed actions discussed in Jewell’s order, that risk drops to about a one in 16 risk, according to the new USBR analysis…


As with much in Washington right now, what happens next is shrouded in uncertainty. But the deal appears to reflect quiet diplomacy between the Obama team and the incoming Trump administration to create a bridge toward solving these problems as the government changes hands later this week. I didn’t have time to catch Interior nominee Ryan Zinke’s testimony yesterday, but I’m told that in response to questioning from Catherine Cortez Masto, Zinke testified favorably about the nearly completed “Drought Contingency Plan” described in Jewell’s secretarial order. If true (anybody who watched, feel free to jump into the comments and elaborate) that would provide evidence for my hypothesis that the bridge is being built to try to ensure continuity in the final steps of working out these deals, and that the incoming administration may look favorably on this stuff.


Jewell’s announcement includes concrete steps toward a near term reduction in Colorado River water use, including an agreement to pay the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona $6 million this year to forebear water use, leaving the unused apportionment in Lake Mead. That’s a critical piece of Arizona’s part of the complex water saving deals now being negotiated. While the amount of water is relatively small, it fills a critical political and policy niche by demonstrating a new path to reduced water use in Arizona.

The deal also adds an addendum to an agreement between the federal government and the Salton Sea. Dealing with the Salton Sea is critical (see my Sacramento Bee piece from last month for details on why). Jewell’s move here is an effort to bolster efforts to deal with the Salton Sea problems, which is critical to winning support in return from the giant Imperial Irrigation District for the water use deals.

Jewell’s order also sets out an interesting set of steps to be implemented should further negotiations to finalize the water-saving agreements among the states fizzle, including this: “undertaking a review of the Secretary’s authorities under the Law of the River to implement policies that will reduce depletions in the Lower Basin”. Of course any order by the old Secretary of the Interior can be un-order by the new one, but this provides a threat in the background – if the states don’t work out the final details of a deal, the federal government should at least consider stepping in and ordering action to protect Lake Mead.

Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

LaSalle farmers sell water shares to Aurora — @GreeleyTribune

The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.
The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.

From The Greeley Tribune (Samantha Fox):

Selling 17 of his 21 water shares was the practical thing to do, even if Chuck Sylvester feels a little guilty.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said.

Sylvester and the Hays family, both of LaSalle, recently sold water shares to the city of Aurora. Sylvester feels guilty because of his ancestors. They not only owned the water, they helped dig part of the ditch with oxen — that’s how far back the ownership goes.

He didn’t say how much he made off the shares, but with the growing demand for water in municipalities and agriculture alike, shares are not cheap. Even so, the shares Sylvester sold were decreasing in value. Now was a good time to unload.

It’s rare for farmers to just sell their water, so when he approached the city of Aurora about buying shares, it was something officials weren’t going to turn down.

But those in Aurora are just in planning mode, accounting for an expected population increase within the next 40 years, according to Greg Baker, manager of Aurora Water public relations.

Since Aurora didn’t immediately need the 33 total shares — 17 of which were Sylvester’s — both families are leasing the water back from Aurora. This will allow the families to continue their operations as they’ve been.

The sale gives him a chance to continue farm operations for the time being. But how long he could sustain those crops is a bigger question, which prompted his decision to sell.

He said his inability to pump the land is leaving water under his property that makes the ground too soggy to grow crops. The state shut in more than 400 wells in 2006 to preserve groundwater in the South Platte Basin, and the rights of those who had seniority over the water. Junior rights-holders are at the mercy of the senior holders in a given year.

But since then, high groundwater has become a concern, and the state directive on preserving that groundwater hasn’t changed. With extra supply, that reduces demand, and therefore the price.

Sylvester said he doesn’t see the value going up anytime soon either. That’s why he decided now was the right time to sell.

“I see this getting worse and worse. I’m going to a state that has better water law,” Sylvester said.

Sylvester won’t be moving to Wyoming, but he plans to invest the profits into a farm out there to give a younger farmer a chance to stay in agriculture. Sylvester already owns three farms in Wyoming and plans to sell one of them. He said reinvesting in the next generation makes him feel less guilty about selling the shares.

While Sylvester wouldn’t reveal the price he fetched for the sale — which were South Platte River shares — he likely took home a nice nest egg…

Attempts to contact the Hays family about their reasons and plans were unsuccessful.

Until the water is needed in Aurora, the purpose will stay agricultural. When the leases are up, and city demand increases, officials will decide the water’s purpose — stay as is, or divert it for urban use.

If the water use stays as is, it’ll be used as a way to replenish the city’s current water source, or city officials can petition to get the water use changed for municipal use. The city wants the water either way, like most cities, for expected population increases.

It’s common for many cities to own water in areas away from the city. The city of Thornton in the 1990s [ed. purchase was in the 1980s] purchased water in the Pierce area, a water bank, of sorts, for future demand.

“They’re looking to the future,” Sylvester said.

So is he.

PUC OKs Black Hills water transfer to help Pueblo Riverwalk — @ChieftainNews

Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com
Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com

Here’s an excerpt from the The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously Wednesday morning to keep the water in the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo by approving the transfer of Black Hills Energy’s water rights for its old Downtown power station to the Pueblo Board of Water Works and the city of Pueblo.

The transfer guarantees there will be an adequate flow of water in the HARP channel. The utility is giving the water rights to the Pueblo water board and all the gates and channels to the city…

In its response to Vaad and Epel, Black Hills officials said the water rights that were used to cool the old Power Stations 5&6 were so limited that the best use was to give them to the Pueblo water board to help support HARP.