A quick look at Ogallala Aquifer water rights governance

Ogallala aquifer boundaries

From High Plains Public Radio (Susan Stover):

Texas manages groundwater with the Rule of Capture. The groundwater belongs to the landowner without a defined limit. It’s sometimes known as the Law of the Biggest Pump.

Colorado and Kansas water law is based on prior appropriation, known as First in Time, First in Right. A water right owner can pump their permitted amount if it doesn’t impair a more senior right – a water right that was established earlier in time. When there isn’t enough water to meet all needs, the owners of senior water rights have priority. The priority system works well for streams. When stream flow is low, it is generally clear which upstream, junior users must be cut off to protect the more senior water rights.

For groundwater, it is more complex to identify which water wells are impairing a more senior water well. Groundwater often provides a baseflow to streams; when heavy groundwater pumping lowers the water table so there is no longer a connection to the stream and stream flow declines, is that impairment?

Colorado state law dealt with such concerns by defining “designated groundwater basins,” those in which groundwater contributes little to stream flow. The Ogallala aquifer lies in designated groundwater basins. This allows more groundwater to be pumped, which lowers the water table, but with less risk of impairing surface water rights.

In Kansas, action is taken when a junior water right well’s pumping directly impairs a senior water right well, whether it uses groundwater or surface water. However, no action is taken if problems are due to regional groundwater declines. Like Colorado, Kansas allows the decline of the Ogallala aquifer to get the economic benefit from the water.

Management of the Ogallala aquifer is a balance between protecting existing water right holders and conserving water for the future. Attitudes change over time on what is a proper balance. Much water law encouraged development of the aquifer and protects current users. Is that balance shifting more toward conserving and extending this resource further into the future?

Durango: Using the power of the market to tackle climate change, September 25, 2017 — League of Women Voters at Fort Lewis College

Graphic via Fox and Hounds Daily.

From League of Women Voters at Fort Lewis College via The Durango Herald:

Addressing the challenges associated with global warming and climate change will be more difficult now that President Trump has signaled his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and roll back several regulations that would help keep U.S. emissions on their current downward path. Even with full implementation of the Paris Accord, further measures are needed by all nations to achieve the deep reductions in emissions by mid-century that many studies suggest are warranted.

This task is difficult but not impossible, as shown by the amazing progress the U.S. has made in reducing other forms of air pollution over the last four decades. EPA data show that from 1970 to 2016, emissions of the six most common local air pollutants were reduced by 73 percent, while the economy grew by 253 percent. Repeating this success story over the next 30 to 40 years for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is the challenge before us.

What measures are available to further reduce emissions? Which approaches would be most cost-effective? And, given the current political climate in Washington, D.C., what can Colorado and other states do? As professionals working on these issues, we are excited to participate in a community discussion at a forum, “Putting a price on carbon emissions,” sponsored by the League of Women Voters at Fort Lewis College on Monday, Sept. 25.

We will use this forum to explore two market-based approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions – carbon taxes and cap-and-trade. Carbon taxes increase the cost of fossil fuels in order to reduce consumption and, therefore, emissions. Under cap-and-trade, the government sets an overall limit (cap) on emissions and then requires sources of pollution to obtain an allowance for every ton of carbon they emit. Allowances are either auctioned or freely allocated by the state. Once a company holds an allowance, they can either use it to comply or sell (trade) it on the market.

While there are many differences between carbon taxes and cap-and-trade, they both use a price on carbon to reduce emissions. Many policy experts believe that these market-based approaches hold the greatest promise for allowing us to make a smooth transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and other zero-carbon technologies.

There are also existing models of these policies that can provide inspiration for Colorado and beyond.

On the carbon tax front, a right-of-center government in the Canadian province of British Columbia instituted a revenue-neutral carbon tax in 2008. The carbon tax rate is now one of the highest carbon prices in the world at $24 per metric ton of CO2, equal to about 24 cents per gallon of gasoline or 2.4 cents per kilowatt-hour of coal-fired power. As expected, the policy has helped to reduce emissions. It has also helped cushion the financial impact of the carbon tax on households and businesses: the “revenue-neutral” component of the policy means that carbon tax revenue is balanced with reductions in existing taxes.

One of us (Bauman) led a ballot measure campaign to pass a similar revenue-neutral carbon tax in Washington state, but it was defeated at the polls in November 2016, in part because the support of Audubon Washington and Citizens Climate Lobby was countered by opposition from the Sierra Club and other groups that wanted to devote carbon tax revenue to clean energy and social justice efforts. Were Colorado to consider a carbon tax, climate activists would have to grapple with similar challenges because the state constitution requires taxes on motor fuels to go into the highway fund. On the plus side, a “clean the air, fix the roads” coalition might unite businesses and environmentalists behind a carbon tax.

On the cap-and-trade front, the California legislature recently extended and strengthened its landmark cap-and-trade program to require an additional 40 percent reduction in emissions by 2030.

This program is being jointly implemented by California and Quebec through the Western Climate Initiative, and those two jurisdictions will be joined next year by the province of Ontario.

Unlike other cap-and-trade programs in the U.S. and Europe, the Western Climate Initiative is the only one that applies economy-wide, covering 85 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. This is a demonstration of another flexible, market-based approach that can be used to reduce emissions as we work to mitigate the worst impacts of global warming and climate change.

While the two of us do not agree on everything, we do agree that putting a strong price on carbon would be a huge step forward, and we hope that you will join us at the LWV forum at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 25, at FLC, Noble Hall, Room 130, to discuss these issues in more detail.

Yoram Bauman, a recent transplant from Seattle to Salt Lake City, has a PhD in economics, makes a living as a “stand-up economist” and was the founder and co-chair of the Carbon Washington I-732 ballot measure. Reach him at yoram@standupeconomist.com.

Patrick Cummins, of Durango, is a Senior Policy Advisor with the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University and former Executive Director of the Western Climate Initiative.

@ColoWaterWise 9th Annual Symposium, October 24, 2017

Click here to go to the website to register.

Join us for the 9th Annual Colorado WaterWise Water Conservation Symposium in Denver, Colorado! We have a great program being created that will appeal to many audiences.

Register now as space is limited.

When: Tuesday, October 24, 2017, 8:15 AM – 4:00 PM

Location: Lowry Conference Center, 1061 Akron Way, Building 697, Denver, CO 80230

@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

#ColoradoRiver: Interview with Hualapai tribe representatives #COriver

Grand Canyon vicinity map via Arizona State University.

Here’s an interview with Hualapai tribes representatives from Julie Kelso and Utah Public Radio. Click through for the whole program. Here’s an excerpt:

Hualapai and surrounding tribes have inhabited the Grand Canyon region since 700 AD. They survived harsh desert conditions using their knowledge of plants and wildlife behavior, for example using their understanding of the seasonal movements of antelope, sheep and deer to procure food.

Today Hualapai continue to practice sacred ceremonies and collect cultural resources within the canyon. But dams and other development have altered the riparian plant community which now includes many invasive species.

Ka-Voka Jackson, a member of the Hualapai tribe and graduate student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is currently researching methods to remove invasive plants while reestablishing native plants that are culturally important

“To me the Colorado River is really sacred and held really close in my heart because on my reservation we grew up along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon,” she said. “And so being able to work in Glen Canyon National Recreation area is a really important because I am closer to home and our ancestral lands did extend as far as Glen Canyon, so we have ties to that area.”

Tribe and federal agencies have collaborated for decades to manage natural and cultural resources within the Canyon, but cultural and institutional barriers can be much harder to cross than borders drawn on a map.

Ka-Voka and others realized that the perspectives and goals of traditional western scientists often differ from those with local and historical knowledge.

“I think there is a big gap between the traditional ecological knowledge that tribes hold versus the western science, and they don’t communicate,” she said. “There is a gap in that communication but I think they could hugely benefit each other. The tribes have been living here a very long time, so they have a lot of knowledge and it’s often not brought into the science world. There are a lot of reasons for that. A lot of people who hold this traditional knowledge don’t necessarily want to give it to the western scientists because they don’t want it to be exploited, it can be sold as a product, or they don’t want it used out of context. We hold a lot of this knowledge very close. I don’t want to pressure these knowledge holders to give up their knowledge, but I do want them to carefully use it in a way that can benefit everybody.”