@Northern_Water will revisit boat inspection dough at March 2 meeting

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The board discussed the issue at its Thursday board meeting and will revisit contributing to the $300,000 program at its March 2 meeting.

The inspections are to prevent invasive mussels from getting into the water via boats. If these mussels get into the water, which is used for drinking and agriculture through the region, they can affect aquatic life as well as the infrastructure that stores and moves the water.

Previously, Colorado Parks and Wildlife paid for all the inspections statewide at a cost of $4.5 million, but the agency lost its funding this summer due to a Colorado Supreme Court decision that changed the face of oil and gas severance taxes.

The parks agency is working on legislation for new fees to cover the program as soon as 2018, but the funding for this summer is up in the air.

Stakeholders proposed a three-way split of the total $300,000 cost at the two reservoirs. Larimer County agreed to pay one third from its parks fees, Colorado Parks and Wildlife agreed to pay one third from its reduced budget, and officials with both agencies had hoped Northern Water would kick in the final piece.

After its meeting Thursday, the board released the following statement: “The Northern Water board was briefed … regarding the funding challenges for ongoing boat inspections on the reservoirs associated with the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Following significant discussion, the board directed staff to continue discussions with the various aquatic nuisance species (ANS) stakeholders. It is likely staff will provide a related resolution and a 2017 ANS funding plan to the board at its March planning and action session.”

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

US Rep. Jason Chaffetz pulls public lands sell-off bill

McInnis Canyon National Recreation Area via the BLM
McInnis Canyon National Recreation Area via the BLM

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

About 94,000 acres of the land targeted for disposal is in Colorado. Seven parcels totaling 560 acres are located in Larimer County.

The future of public lands has been in the spotlight post-election, especially after President [#45] picked Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke for the U.S. Secretary of Interior post. Some conservationists said Zinke’s voting record on public lands conflicted with his verbal opposition to selling them off.

Conservationists say public land preservation is crucial to Western lifestyle, recreation and environment. Others argue the government maintains too much land that could be more valuable if developed or handled by local authorities.

At his confirmation hearing, Zinke vowed to protect America’s public lands — and then headlines started cropping up about Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s bill.

Chaffetz has introduced similar bills in previous sessions, but some thought this year’s iteration stood a better chance in the Republican-controlled U.S. House and Senate. The crux of the bill was a 1996 federal report that identified 3.3 million acres of public land for potential transfer to states…

Strong backlash prompted Chaffetz to kill the bill last week, a decision he announced through an Instagram post.

“I am withdrawing HR 621,” read the post. “I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands. The bill would have disposed of small parcels of lands Pres. Clinton identified as serving no public purpose but groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message. The bill was originally introduced several years ago. I look forward to working with you. I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow.”

Killing the bill was a good call, said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director at WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group. He added the 1996 report was a “complete hypothetical idea” produced back when the U.S. government was weighing funding options for restoration of the Florida Everglades.

“It speaks to just how haphazard and ill-conceived this idea was,” Nichols said. “Putting this hypothetical into legislation to mandate the sale of these lands — it was just stupid.”

Alamosa: Colorado Ag Water Alliance to hold meeting Feb. 28

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From the Colorado Cattleman’s Association via FencePost:

The next Colorado Ag Water Alliance Ag Producers’ Water Workshop will be held Feb. 28 at the Rio Grande Water Conservancy District in Alamosa from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is free, and the organizers hope to have a good turnout of producers in the Rio Grande Basin region.

» The Colorado Water Plan aims to address the water needs of cities, agriculture and the environment in light of projected shortages. Agriculture is a focus.

» What are alternative transfer methods? What’s the motivation for farmers and ranchers to participate in leasing or to improve irrigation efficiency? What are the barriers?

» Brief, highly focused presentations and panel dialogue will cover the basics, followed by opportunity for ag producers to ask questions and engage in dialogue about what they see as opportunities and barriers — and how those barriers and opportunities might best be addressed.

To register, go to http://www.eventbrite.com/e/rio-grande-ag-producers-water-future-workshop-tickets-29413132471

#Snowpack news: “It’s definitely been a very interesting pattern this season” — Karl Wetlaufer

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 9, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 9, 2017 via the NRCS.

From The Greeley Tribune (Nate Miller):

Snowfall in January on the state’s mountains more than doubled its normal amount. This helped boost the state’s snowpack into healthy territory. Mountain snowfall melts in the warmer months and provides much of Weld County’s water.

“It’s definitely been a very interesting pattern this season,” said Karl Wuetlaufer, assistant snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “We did have a notably late start to the snow accumulation season.”

The significant snowfall in January boosted the state’s snowpack to 157 percent of average on Feb. 1 from 114 percent of average on Jan. 1, according to data released this month by the Natural Resource Conservation Service. In the river basins that affect Weld, the Colorado and South Platte, snowpack also jumped. In the Colorado basin it hit 154 percent of average on Feb. 1, up from 117 on Jan. 1. In the South Platte basin, snowpack hit 156 percent of average on Feb. 1, up from 105 percent of average…

“We’re definitely positioned very well for having ample water supply this year,” he said, noting that statewide as of Feb. 1 the snowpack had already hit 93 percent of its normal peak value for the entire season. That mark is usually hit in the first weeks of April. “We have already achieved near a normal peak value. That’s what you could think of as in the bank.”

Additionally, reservoir storage looks strong, the South Platte and Colorado river basins were at 105 percent of average reservoir storage on Feb. 1.

He said the state would only need to see 19 percent of its normal mountain snowfall over the next couple of months to achieve a normal snowpack.

“We’ll likely have ample water supply. The flipside is if we do continue to build more and more snowpack and it gets bigger, then it becomes more of a concern of flooding,” he said. “There’s a lot of winter left and a lot can happen, but we do have a pretty substantial snowpack for this time of year.”

Stormwater is a big problem for Gore Creek

From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

A host of problems threaten Gore Creek in Vail, but one of the biggest is what runs through the town’s storm drains.

Some of the problem will take years and a lot of money to solve. For instance, much of the runoff in town is no longer filtered through the soil, which has been replaced by pavement, concrete and rooftops throughout the years. But a number of problems may be due to people simply not knowing what happens when something runs into a storm grate.

Vail Watershed Education Coordinator Pete Wadden recently updated the Vail Town Council about state of stormwater and its treatment in town.

IMPROVED FILTRATION

There are a number of ways to treat stormwater, including catch basins that can capture sand, oil and other material before it flows into the creek. There are 27 of those basins in town at the moment, and they’re cleaned out a couple of times every year, Wadden said. Upgrading those basins would be effective, but expensive, Wadden said.

Filtration has been improved at the town’s snow storage site, and improvements are planned for this year at the East Vail Interstate 70 interchange.

But the basins don’t catch everything.

There are also more than 2,000 storm drains, many of which flow directly into the creek. Slowing the runoff is a good start at cleaning up those areas. Creating zones where runoff could filter through rocks and soil before going into the creek could be effective.

Then there’s the problem of people dumping stuff into the storm grates.

During his presentation, Wadden went through a small list of stuff that people dropped into storm grates in 2016. That list includes cooking grease, paint and window cleaner.

A member of a construction crew in Vail Village dumped a bag of cement into a storm drain.

Town crews had to vacuum out the storm grate to catch as much of the powdered cement as possible. Wadden said the construction company wouldn’t name the employee who dumped the cement, so no ticket was issued.

In a separate incidence, no ticket was issued to a vendor at the 2016 GoPro Mountain Games who dumped 120 hot dogs down a storm drain, which resulted in another good-sized cleanup.

“People just don’t know where the water goes,” Wadden said.

Council members said that needs to change.

An education campaign is already under way that includes advertising on town buses, and a proposal to create awareness-raising art on town storm drains. There’s also a town hotline, 970-476-4673 (GORE), to report dumping into storm drains. But that phone is only answered during normal business hours.

Council member Dick Cleveland asked if the phone could be routed into the town’s emergency dispatch center.

‘EASY TO UNDERSTAND’

Cleveland also asked Wadden if the education campaign could be expanded to include some sort of notice at virtually every storm grate in town. Cleveland said that’s the case in a California town near the beach.

Rio Grande: Special Master rules in Texas v. New Mexico

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From The Las Cruces Sun-News (Diana Alba Soular):

Special Master Gregory Grimsal declined New Mexico’s request to toss out Texas’ lawsuit — essentially reaffirming draft rulings he issued in mid-2016 that was seen as a blow to New Mexico’s case.

The rulings are not the end of the case. They must now be reviewed by the Supreme Court, attorneys involved in the case said. And the entire matter could end up in a trial if not settled.

After the draft rulings, Grimsal took feedback from the parties involved and could have modified his stances in the document released Thursday. Instead, the final conclusions were the same as in the draft.

An attorney for Las Cruces-based Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which has been at odds with the state of New Mexico over the lawsuit, said the rulings represent a “victory” for the irrigation district. He said they recognize that “EBID members’ surface water rights are senior to all water rights in the basin” and that “the state engineer is obligated to protect that water as EBID delivers that water.”

[…]

The lawsuit arose out of the nature of the 1938 Rio Grande Compact, which apportioned river water among three U.S. states, experts have said. New Mexico’s measuring point for delivering water to Texas was the Elephant Butte Reservoir — roughly 100 miles north of the Texas state line. The river water released from the reservoir serves farmers in New Mexico-based EBID and Texas-based El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1, as well as in Mexico. The groundwater pumping in that same 100-mile stretch, however, has been the purview of the New Mexico State Engineer’s Office.

Texas has argued New Mexico has over-pumped groundwater, undermining El Paso irrigators’ share of river water. EBID attorneys have said Grimsal’s rulings indicated New Mexico not only was obligated to deliver river water to Elephant Butte Reservoir for downstream users, but also had to protect it from being undermined before reaching the Texas state line.

Hernandez said the special master’s decision from Thursday must now be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which could take a few different approaches. The court could accept it outright or allow the states involved to make written — or possibly oral — arguments regarding Grimsal’s decision.

If the court affirms the ruling and sends the case back to Grimsal, the case would then be scheduled for a trial, which Grimsal would oversee. The outcome of the trial also would have to be reviewed and signed off upon by the Supreme Court, Hernandez said.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced last week he had met with stakeholders and is hoping to negotiate with Texas toward a resolution of the case.

In addition to declining New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the case, Grimsal on Thursday declined motions by EBID and EPCID No. 1 to become official parties in the case, alongside New Mexico, Texas and Colorado. Also, he specified the federal government couldn’t file a claim against New Mexico based on the 1938 Rio Grande Compact but that the federal government could make an argument against New Mexico under federal reclamation law, according to the document.