@COWaterCongress Annual Convention, January 24 – 26, 2018 #cwcac2018

Travis Smith and past Aspinall Award Recipients at the 2017 Aspinall Award Luncheon. L to R: David Robbins; Harold Miskel, Eric wilkinson; Ray Kogovsek; Gale Norton; Lewis Entz; Don Ament, Travis Smith; Hank Brown. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

The Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention takes place annually, in January, for three days in Denver, Colorado. The 2018 convention will take place at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center, January 24-26.

The Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention is the premier water industry event in the state, attracting 500+ attendees that convene for networking and collaboration on the important water issues of the day.

2018 @CWCB_DNR Instream Flow Workship, January 24, 2018

Rodeo Rapid, on the upper Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith Aspen Journalism

From email from the CWCB (Rob Viehl):

Each year, the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section hosts an annual workshop that provides state and federal agencies and other interested persons an opportunity to recommend certain stream reaches or natural lakes for inclusion in the State’s Instream Flow (ISF) Program. The entities that make ISF recommendations will present information regarding the location of new recommendations as well as preliminary data in support of the recommendation. There will be an opportunity for interested stakeholders to provide input and ask questions. CWCB staff will provide an overview of the ISF Program and the new appropriation process, along with an update of pending ISF recommendations from previous years.

The second half of this workshop will focus on a partnership between the Colorado Water Trust (Water Trust), and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) on a pilot strategic approach to ISF water acquisitions to preserve or improve the natural environment. This new Request for Water Acquisitions Pilot Process (Process) is intended to accomplish several goals: to proactively invite voluntary water right offers for ISF use from willing water rights owners; to provide a user-friendly mechanism for water rights owners to investigate working with CWCB and the Water Trust on ISF acquisitions; to streamline transaction processes and utilization of resources; to facilitate implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan objectives; and to add flows to river segments in need while coordinating with agricultural and other uses. Topics covered will include the Process timeline, available stream restoration and transaction tools, and information a water right owner needs to provide to initiate participation in the Process.

Open to Public

Date: January 24, 2018

Time: 2:00-5:00 PM

Location: Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center, 7800 E. Tufts Avenue, Denver, CO 80237

For more information about this workshop, please contact Rob Viehl at rob.viehl@state.co.us

2018 #COleg: LSPWCD supports Reservoir Release Bill

North Sterling Reservoir

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s Executive Committee voted Tuesday to support the Reservoir Release Bill that should be taken up by the General Assembly later this month.

The committee reviewed a draft of the bill at its Tuesday meeting and made clear that it supports the draft as it now exists.

The bill covers only the Northern Integrated Supply Project now, but might affect any future water project and possibly projects that include expansion of existing reservoirs. It requires Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to maintain a prescribed stream flow in the Cache la Poudre River as it passes through Fort Collins, or about 12 miles of river channel. That water flow would be regulated by releases of water from Glade Reservoir.

The proposed legislation converts into law a plan Northern Water presented last year, and that the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission signed off on last September, that mitigates NISP’s impact on recreational use of the river through Fort Collins

The key to getting groups like Lower South Platte to support it is a section called “Costs of Bypass Structures.” In order for river flow to be maintained from the water release point at Glade Reservoir to the end of the project, it will have to flow past several irrigation diversion structures. Because a constant stream flow must be maintained, some or all of those structures will have to be modified because they now completely block the river and dry up the river at several places. Ordinarily, that’s allowable as long as sufficient water is returned to the river somewhere downstream.

But under the terms of the Reservoir Release Bill, the prescribed stream flow has to stay in the river, which means diversion structures will have to be rebuilt or modified to allow water to go around them.

The Costs of Bypass Structures clause puts the cost burden of those modifications on the reservoir owner, who is the party responsible for maintaining prescribed stream flow; in this case, that’s Northern Water.

Lower South Platte’s manager, Joe Frank, told the executive committee Tuesday he thought the district should publicly support the draft legislation, partly to avoid any misunderstanding.

“Last year we took a neutral stance on (a previous version) and someone took that to mean we didn’t care about it,” Frank said. “We do care, we care deeply, and we support it. What we meant was that we didn’t oppose the plan, but someone took it to mean we didn’t support it, either.”

During discussion of the legislation Bruce Phillips, the state’s water commissioner for District 64 which includes the lower South Platte, said he thought stream maintenance provisions would be required in all storage projects…

Ken Fritzler, the district’s board chairman, asked whether other committee members thought the draft legislation is something the board could publicly support. Gene Manuello answered that he thought it was.

“I think we should support the draft as it is now,” he said. “We have supported NISP all along, and I think a majority of WRASP supports it.”

WRASP stands for Water Rights Appropriators of the South Platte; it is a consortium that represents more than 240,000 irrigated acres from Barr Lake to Julesburg, and more than 1,150 high capacity irrigation wells that draw from the South Platte alluvial aquifer.

#Drought news: Dryness hurting farm plans

West Drought Monitor January 2, 2018.

From KOAA (Shayla Girardin):

Local farmers need that rain and snow to mellow out the ground and get the soil ready for planting. This could also have a big impact for you at home!

December 2017 was the 6th driest on record in Colorado Springs and the 9th driest in Pueblo and these dry, dusty conditions could have a big impact on farmers.

We spoke to one local farmer who tells us they’re not worried yet, but we need to see some rain or snow and fast! They’re hoping for a big snowfall in February and March to get them back on track.

We’ll start worrying about it in February and March,” said Shane Milberger of Milberger Farms. “If we’re not getting any snow yet, at that point we’ll decide what we’re planting, what we’re not planting, how much.”

If they don’t see that snow, they’ll have to be selective about what they can plant and your wallet could feel that! A lower supply would increase prices.

If there’s one crop you can bet on it’s the Pueblo Chile! Regardless of the amount of snow farmers say they’ll make sure that plenty of chiles get planted.

#Snowpack news: #Colorado needs 139% of normal precipitation to hit the normal peak, thanks La Niña

Statewide snowpack January 9, 2018 via the NRCS.

Here’s a snowpack measurement primer from Cory Reppenhagen writing for 9News.com:

Light snow fell Tuesday morning as a crew from the Natural Resources Conservation Service trekked into the Colorado backcountry to conduct a snowpack survey, or what they call a snow course.

“We are strictly the data providers. We collect, provide and analyze the best data we possible can,” said Karl Wetlaufer, an NRCS hydrologist.

That data is very important for state water managers trying to plan for how much water will be available in the coming years. Eighty percent of Colorado’s water comes from snowpack.

That is how much water you would end up with if all the snow was melted.

“Generally, 7 inches of SWE is what I was expecting, and under the tree canopy it will be a little less,” Wetlaufer said.

That’s not too bad for that location on Berthoud Pass, which is at 78 percent of average, but it really shows you how bad things really are down to our south.

“Southwest Colorado is extremely dry. Where a lot of these sites would normally have say, in the range of 7 inches of snow water equivalent, they have like 1.2 (inches),” Wetlaufer said.

NRCS can’t do manned surveys too often, so that is where automated snow telemetry, or Snowtel sites come in.

One hundred and fifteen of these sites across Colorado measure and report snow depth and snow-water equivalent every day. That is how we get those snowpack graphics that you often see published on 9NEWS…

We’ve heard no panic from state water managers yet because we have plenty of water stored in our reservoirs across the entire state.

The peak of snowpack in Colorado is usually about the middle of April, so there is still time to make up some ground, but the La Niña weather pattern, which is getting most of the blame for our dry season, is forecast to remain in place into the spring time.

Karl Wetlaufer (NRCS), explaining the use of a Federal Snow Sampler, SnowEx, February 17, 2017.

From CBS Denver (Matt Kroschel):

The northern mountains are holding more snow than those of the southern half of the state with the South Platte basin. That’s where CBS4 toured Tuesday, which has the most at 83 percent of median.

Alternatively, the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan basins are the lowest with a meager 21 percent of normal.

“While there is still a lot of Winter left we would need to receive well above average precipitation for the rest of the season to achieve a normal peak snow accumulation, especially in southern Colorado,” Wetlaufer said.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 8, 2018 via the NRCS.

From Outside Magazine (Grayson Schaffer):

As the East gets pummeled by winter storm (cough!) Grayson, a so-called bomb cyclone, and the President issues dumb tweets about global warming, it’s worth noting that ski areas in the central and southern Rockies are having the driest year in recent memory.

“The official numbers show ten to 20 percent of average snowpack,” says Joel Gratz, founding meteorologist at Boulder, Colorado-based OpenSnow, which offers forecasts for skiers. “There’s no way to sugar coat it. There’s just not a lot of snow on the ground.”

Just how dry has this winter been? According to Gratz, automated Snotel measurements done by the USDA have only been in place since the nineteen-seventies. But current conditions from roughly the I-70 corridor—which runs east to west from the main Colorado ski resorts through the Front Range—and south match or exceed the lowest snowpack Snotel levels ever recorded. “It could be the low end since the fifties or sixties,” Gratz speculates.

Brian Lazar, the deputy director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, based in Carbondale, notes that the snowpack in southwestern Colorado is especially grim. “Statewide snowpack in Colorado is just over 50 percent of where we should be at this time of year,” says Lazar. “December was one of the driest snowfall months on record. But the southern mountains are doing even worse than that. It gets progressively worse as you move south.”

There are some bright spots, though. Arapahoe Basin and Breckenridge, closer to the Continental Divide along I-70, have nearly 90 percent of their usual snowpack. Farther north, from northern Washington across northern Idaho and into western Montana, snowfall is above average. And British Columbia is its usual snowy self.

#SCOTUS #TX v. #NM and #Colorado: “New Mexicans, though, lift their faces to the rain” — Laura Paskus

Map of the Rio Grande watershed, showing the Rio Chama joining the Rio Grande near Santa Fe. Graphic credit WikiMedia.

Here’s a report from Laura Paskus writing for The New Mexico Political Report. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

In its U.S. Supreme Court case against New Mexico and Colorado, the State of Texas says that by letting farmers in southern New Mexico pump from wells near the Rio Grande, our state has failed to send its legal share of water downstream. The water fight has some New Mexicans gnawing their nails—and not just southern farmers whose water rights could be cut if Texas prevails.

Monday’s oral arguments before the court, over whether the feds can intervene under the Rio Grande Compact, drew a large crowd from the Land of Enchantment. Watching the proceedings from the audience were some of the state’s most prominent water attorneys, as well as Attorney General Hector Balderas, State Engineer Tom Blaine, an entire crew of employees from the Office of the State Engineer, officials from the City of Las Cruces and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall.

Like everyone else, New Mexico’s senior senator, a Democrat, had to check his coat and belongings before entering the court, and after arguments, Udall said he wanted to be there because the case will affect the management and division of water use by farmers and communities for decades.

“Regardless of the ultimate decision, it’s critical that we understand that one of the root causes of the dispute is the increasing scarcity of water in the Southwest, and climate change is making that worse,” he said. “We must seek cooperative solutions or there will be more disputes over water—not fewer.”

There’s a lot at stake: The state has already spent $15 million on staff and legal fees. And if the Supreme Court decides in favor of Texas, New Mexico could owe a billion dollars or more in damages and be forced to curtail groundwater pumping around places like Hatch, Las Cruces and Mesilla.

Intervening interests

Now entering its sixth year, No. 141, Original: Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado stems from a deal two irrigation districts signed with the federal government during the drought of the 2000s.

After the relatively wet decades of the ’80s and ’90s ended, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District and El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 watched reservoir levels drop. In 2008, they decided to share water through dry times. The two signed a new agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, operator of the Rio Grande Project, which is anchored by Elephant Butte Reservoir.

But the two states weren’t parties to that agreement—and then-New Mexico Attorney General Gary King sued the federal government, alleging too much water was being given to Texas.

In 2013, Texas fired back against New Mexico and Colorado, pointing out that by allowing farmers to pump groundwater connected to the Rio Grande, New Mexico had for decades taken more than its legal share of water under the Rio Grande Compact of 1938.

That’s the case moving through the US Supreme Court. But things are even more complicated than they seem.

That’s in part because under the compact, New Mexico doesn’t deliver Texas’ water at the state line. Rather, water goes to Elephant Butte Reservoir, about 100 miles north of Texas. From there, the Bureau of Reclamation delivers it to farmers in both southern New Mexico and Texas.

Now, the United States says that by allowing farmers to pump groundwater, New Mexico has harmed its ability to deliver water under the compact, as well as under the international treaty with Mexico.

And that brings us to Monday’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court…

During the fast-paced arguments, seven of the nine justices questioned each of the attorneys, parsing their way through Western water rights and the role Reclamation plays in both Texas and New Mexico. (Clarence Thomas stayed characteristically quiet and Samuel Alito asked no questions.) Many asked questions about the compact, the Reclamation Act of 1902 and treaty rights.

For Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, however, the case was clear.

In response to Colorado’s opposition of federal intervention, Breyer cited the U.S. Constitution, which allows the federal government to intervene in cases in its own interest.

“Obviously, the founders who wrote this wouldn’t want three or four or five or six states to enter into some compact that might wreck the Union,” Breyer said. “So doesn’t that suggest that they do have a right, the United States, to intervene, at least where there is a federal interest?”

It seems “quite simple,” he said: “The Constitution foresees that they can intervene where there’s an interest. They have several interests. End of case, unless there is something that I don’t see.”

Colorado and New Mexico don’t see it that way, of course.

New Mexico doesn’t object to the US joining the case; in fact, the state argues it is a necessary party to the suit. But New Mexico doesn’t want the federal government to raise a claim under the Rio Grande Compact.

After questions from multiple justices, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, New Mexico’s Rael tried to clarify that distinction, noting that the U.S. doesn’t own water rights itself under the compact or through the Rio Grande Project.

“Those water rights are owned by the landowners themselves who are represented by their individual states as parens patriae,” he said to Kagan. “And so the United States has an interest in the project, and they can certainly sue to enforce to make sure that we’re meeting our—that we’re not interfering with its project obligations, but it can’t sue us under the compact.”

[…]

She also worries that if the justices decide that the U.S. can assert a federal interest in a case between states, that could affect other interstate river compacts.

What [Samantha Barncastle] seems to want more than anything, though, is an end to fighting. It would be better for people to control their own destiny, she says, and work together instead of litigating.

“When you’re talking about a multi-billion dollar agricultural economy and municipalities and colonias, and all these different water users, you have got to look at other solutions beyond pure litigation,” she says. As interesting as it was for everyone to come to the Supreme Court this week, she says, how things might shake out is scary.

Leaving the court later that day, past the contemplative figure of Justice and her scales, the gray sky starts to spit freezing rain. Women flip open umbrellas, men hunker down into their scarves. New Mexicans, though, lift their faces to the rain.

Here’s the timeline for the case from The New Mexico Political Report:

Things are complicated. Here’s a timeline to help you keep track of the Supreme Court lawsuit New Mexico is facing on the Lower Rio Grande.

1902 – The United States Reclamation Service (now the US Bureau of Reclamation) is established to study and develop water resources in Western states.

1906 – The United States and Mexico sign a convention to ensure the Rio Grande’s waters are shared equitably between the two countries.

1906 – Construction begins on dams and canals on the Rio Grande. Leasburg Diversion Dam and Canal is completed in 1908, Elephant Butte Dam in 1916 and Caballo Dam in 1938. The Rio Grande Project, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, provides irrigation water to farmers in southern New Mexico and Texas.

1938 – Colorado, New Mexico and Texas work out the Rio Grande Compact in a desire to “remove all causes of present and future controversy” among states and their citizens. The treaty was ratified by the three states and passed by Congress in 1939, and amended in 1948.

1950s – Drought strains water supplies along the Rio Grande. Farmers along the Rio Grande in Southern New Mexico and Texas drill about 1,000 new irrigation wells to supplement surface water supplies with groundwater.

2003 – After decades of relatively wet conditions, drought hits New Mexico, putting a strain on Rio Grande water supplies and reservoir levels.

2006-2007 – US Bureau of Reclamation creates a new operating procedure, which water users in southern New Mexico (Elephant Butte Irrigation District) and Texas (El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1) sue over.

2008 – US Bureau of Reclamation, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, and the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 come to an agreement over water deliveries and sharing. The states of Texas and New Mexico are not a part of this new operating agreement for the Rio Grande Project.

2011 – Then-New Mexico Attorney General Gary King sues the US Bureau of Reclamation in New Mexico federal district court over the 2008 Operating Agreement, alleging that too much water was being given to Texas—water that should have stayed in New Mexico.

2013 – Texas sues New Mexico and Colorado in the US Supreme Court over violations of the compact. Texas alleges that by allowing farmers to pump groundwater connected to the Rio Grande, New Mexico has been taking more than its share of compact water. Texas wants the court to make New Mexico pay for the water it has been taking, over the course of many decades.

2014 – Special Master A Gregory Grimsal is appointed in the case and directed to submit reports to the court.

2014 – US Bureau of Reclamation intervenes in the case, alleging that by allowing farmers to draw water from the river and below ground, New Mexico is allowing people to use more water than they legally should. And it says New Mexico’s diversions interfere with water deliveries to Mexico.

2014 – New Mexico makes a motion to dismiss Texas’ complaint. (The court denies this in 2017.)

2015 – In a report to the New Mexico Legislature, scientists note that the Mesilla Valley aquifer “may no longer have the capacity to provide a reliable, supplemental supply during extended drought conditions and with the current levels of intensive use of groundwater.”

2016 – The special master releases his draft report, which indicates Texas has the upper hand in the lawsuit and recommends the high court reject New Mexico’s motion to dismiss.

September 2016 – US Bureau of Reclamation releases its final decision and environmental studies related to the 2008 Operating Agreement, which outlines operations through 2050.

January 2017 – New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission announce they are working together on the case and also enter into joint defense agreements with New Mexico State University, PNM, the New Mexico Pecan Growers Association, Southern Rio Grande Diversified Crop Farmers Association, the City of Las Cruces and Camino Real Regional Utility Authority.

February 2017 – Special Master finalizes his first interim report. Parties have the chance to reply and/or file exceptions to his report.

January 2018 – Oral arguments occur in US Supreme Court. Justices hear from attorneys for Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and the federal government.

Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full