West Slope lawmakers to Front Range: No more West Slope water until you use up your own — @COindependent

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Seven Western Slope Republican lawmakers have sent Gov. John Hickenlooper a message: No more water for the Front Range until it better uses what it already has.

The message, delivered through a Feb. 4 letter obtained by The Colorado Independent, is directed mostly at just one area of the state: Denver and the northern Front Range.

For the past 100 years, as the Front Range population and the state’s Eastern Plains agricultural economy have grown, water from the Western Slope has been diverted to the Front Range through a series of tunnels built through the mountains, known as transmountain diversions. But Western Slope water watchers are getting increasingly nervous about the potential for more of those diversions, pointing to a growing need for water in their area for agriculture and recreation and to fulfill multi-state contracts that require Colorado to send Western Slope water to other states, such as California, Arizona and Nevada.

The Front Range must do a better job of storage and conservation before turning to more diversions, the lawmakers wrote. To that end, they implored the governor to make sure any water projects that receive state funds match criteria outlined in the Colorado water plan. The plan calls for the state to conserve at least 400,000 acre-feet of water and to build storage, without specific projects identified, for another 400,000 acre-feet of water. One acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, the amount of water used by two families of four per year.

“We would ask for the consistent – and transparent – use of those criteria” when looking at new water projects that would divert water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope, they wrote.

The letter is a follow-up to one sent in November 2015, just before the water plan was finalized. That four-page document said the water plan “cannot place Front Range development interests over the autonomy, heritage and economy of Western Slope communities. Nor can the Plan allow the protection of agriculture in one area of state [sic] to come at the expense of agriculture in other areas of the state.”

The water plan is intended to address a looming water shortage of one million acre-feet of water by 2050, when the state’s population is expected to nearly double from about 5 million to more than 10 million people.* The lawmakers worked with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments’ water committee on both letters, said Torie Jarvis, the staff person to the committee. She said the letters are primarily directed at the South Platte Basin, which covers most of the northern Front Range, the northern half of the Eastern Plains and the Denver metro area.

Jarvis said the letter is not about current water projects underway in the region that also plan to use water from the Western Slope, most notably two reservoir projects under the control of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

“We have good agreements in place” on those projects, Jarvis told The Colorado Independent.

The issue also is the water plan itself. “It imagines what a new diversion would look like,” Jarvis said, which means a focus on development and growth rather than on conservation.

The 2015 letter was signed by eight Republican lawmakers, six of whom are on the 2017 version (two of the 2015 signees are no longer in the legislature). The five Democratic lawmakers who also represent the Western Slope were not included. Also not included: Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush of Steamboat Springs, a member of an interim water resources review committee that led a statewide review of the water plan. Mitsch-Bush said she had not been asked to sign it but would have, based on its description. Jarvis said the Republican lawmakers decided who should sign the letter, adding that she believes all of the Western Slope Democrats would have signed it.

James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which authored the water plan, said this week that the letter “underscores the importance of Colorado’s Water Plan and demonstrates that implementation will be a collaborative effort.”

He also noted that an annual water projects bill that was introduced in the state House last week would focus on implementing key parts of the state water plan and would address water needs in every part of the state.

*Correction: to note that Colorado’s population in 2050 is expected to be more than 10 million people.

Happy Pi Day

A Pi Day pie from Reilly’s Bakery in Biddeford at Biddeford High School in Biddeford, ME on Friday, March 13, 2015. (Photo by Whitney Hayward/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

C02 increase in atmosphere clocking in at fastest rate in recorded history

From The Washington Post (Chris Mooney):

For the second year in a row, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have climbed at a record pace. According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, carbon dioxide levels jumped by three parts per million in both 2015 and 2016 and now rest at about 405 parts per million.

It’s the biggest jump ever observed at the agency’s Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric Observatory in Hawaii, where the measurements were recorded. Similar observations have been recorded at stations all over the world, said Pieter Tans, who leads the Carbon Cycle Greenhouse Gases group at NOAA’s Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.

Throughout the last decade, the average rate of increase has been around 2.3 parts per million per year, Tans added.

This graph shows the annual mean carbon dioxide growth rates observed at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric Observatory. Further information can be found on the ESRL Global Monitoring Division website. (NOAA)

In March 2015, NOAA scientists found that the monthly global average concentration of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time. This concentration is a symbolic threshold set by scientists as a kind of milestone to help illustrate the remarkable human-caused growth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. For comparison, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels averaged about 280 parts per million up until the industrial revolution.

Since then, all signs have suggested that we’re now living in a permanently post-400 parts per million world. In September 2016, the time of year when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are usually at their lowest, scientists observed that the monthly average concentration still remained above this threshold. And now, the new NOAA measurements further indicate that carbon dioxide levels are only continuing to grow — and they’re rising at breakneck speed.

It may be a little confusing to consider this news alongside other recent reports, which suggest that global carbon emissions caused by human activity have actually remained fairly flat for the past three years. The fact is, even if emissions have remained pretty stable in recent years, humans are still pouring billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the air each year.

And even if these emission levels really are starting to plateau — and it will be years before we can say whether that’s actually the case, or whether the recent flattening is just a blip on an otherwise upward trend — they’re still evening out at an all-time high, after decades of climbing. Additionally, carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for a long time, Tans noted. This means that new carbon dioxide emissions have a cumulative effect, adding to emissions that were already there.

#Drought news: The eastern plains are bone dry

Colorado Drought Monitor March 7 2017.

From TheDenverChannel.com (Blair Miller):

The latest figures from the U.S. Drought Monitor show the entire eastern half of the state is abnormally dry, and that portions of each county east of the Rockies are experiencing moderate drought conditions.

Much of Lincoln County is also experiencing severe drought conditions.

And in Colorado’s southeastern-most county, Baca County, the gamut of drought conditions is present: The western half of the county is abnormally dry, but as one goes into the southeastern portions of the county, conditions go to moderate, severe and extreme drought…

The monitor estimates 3.6 million people in Colorado are under drought conditions.

A year ago, 86 percent of the state was experiencing no drought conditions.

To contrast, the mountain basins are still above 100 percent snowpack for the year after bouts of heavy snow in January.

The dry weather has led to more than a dozen fires across the Front Range in the past two months, and comes ahead of the normal fire and flood season.

But Colorado is prone to fires and flooding year-round, and snow melt runoff and rain storms can create flooding quickly, especially in areas with recent burn scars from wildfires. The National Weather Service says that just a half-inch of run on a burn scar can lead to devastating flooding.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that 65,000 homes and 15,000 commercial and business buildings sit within Colorado’s floodplains.

2017 #coleg: SB17-036 stalls in House Committee

George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

SB36, that cleared the Colorado Senate unanimously, got a bit bogged down in the House Judiciary Committee because of lengthy discussions about what it would do.

Under the bill, introduced by GOP Sens. Ray Scott of Grand Junction and Don Coram of Montrose, appeals of groundwater rights decisions by the Colorado Ground Water Commission shouldn’t include new evidence, just like in any normal court appeal.

Scott, and the House sponsors of his bill, Reps. Jenni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, say the current practice that does allow that isn’t fair.

The lawmakers say most disputes pit farmers and ranchers against water developers who are trying to sell water rights for municipal use, something that can be highly profitable.

Those developers often will drag farmers into court, retrying the case at the appellate level using evidence not considered before the commission the first time, supporters of the bill said.

“It is a matter of being out monied,” said Dan Farmer, a member of the commission and a Colorado Springs rancher. “When we win, we don’t win because we’re short $60,000 (in attorneys’ fees). It’s just not possible to continue to operate a farming operation and try to protect your water rights.”

Opponents of the bill say there is nothing wrong with how cases are tried, saying only a few end up being appealed.

Denver water attorney Sheela Stack, who routinely represents municipalities in water disputes, said it isn’t just the farmers and ranchers who see high litigation costs.

“It goes both ways,” she said. “It’s not just a municipality coming into a groundwater district. We are not trying to bleed the farmers dry. All we are doing, what anybody is trying to do is do the maximum utilization of water.”

The commission is the only state agency that has quasi-judicial powers that current law, established about 40 years ago, allows appeals to include new evidence. Disputes are first reviewed by administrative law judges in the State Engineer’s office, an agency under the Colorado Division of Water Resources, and then decided by the commission.

Black Hills Energy donates water rights and infrastructure to Pueblo Water for the Arkansas River Walk

Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (John Pompia):

At the El Pomar Fountain in the shadow of the Union Avenue bridge, Christopher Burke, vice president of Colorado Utility Operations for Black Hills Energy, officially transferred ownership of water rights and water diversion infrastructure to officials representing Pueblo Water, the city of Pueblo and Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo.

The water rights, appraised at $280,000, were donated to Pueblo Water. To the city were given water diversion infrastructure — head gates, tunnels, diversion dams, ponds, etc. — and the pipeline that carries water from the Arkansas River to the HARP channel.

Formerly, this system was used to transmit cooling water to the now-decommissioned power plant but now has become an essential part of the operation of HARP’s water course.

While the water infrastructure is nearly a century old and is fully depreciated, the hypothetical cost of replacing these assets critical to properly operate the water flows would be substantial