Notice of Rulemaking – Artificial Recharge Extraction outside of the Designated Basins — DWR

Denver Basin aquifer map

Here’s the notice from the Colorado Department of Water Resources (Tracy Kosloff):

NOTICE OF PUBLIC RULEMAKING HEARING

RULES AND REGULATIONS FOR THE PERMITTING AND USE OF WATERS ARTIFICIALLY RECHARGED INTO THE DENVER BASIN AQUIFERS AND NONTRIBUTARY GROUNDWATER AQUIFERS (2 CCR 402-11)

The short title for these rules and regulations is “Artificial Recharge Extraction Rules,” and they apply to groundwater outside of the Designated Basins.

Rulemaking Hearing Information

Date: Tuesday, May 1, 2018
Start Time: 8:00 a.m.
Location: Room 814, 1313 Sherman Street, Denver, CO 80203

Background

Section 37-90-137(9)(d), C.R.S. directs the State Engineer to conduct rulemaking for the extraction of water artificially recharged into the nontributary Denver Basin aquifers. The Denver Basin Extraction Rules (2 CCR 402-11) were finalized in 1995. House Bill 17-1076 amended section 137(9)(d) to direct the State Engineer to promulgate rules that apply to the permitting and use of water artificially recharged into nontributary groundwater aquifers outside of the Denver Basin by July 1, 2018.

The State Engineer’s approach is to modify the existing Denver Basin Extraction Rules to add nontributary aquifers outside of the Denver Basin (this does not include designated groundwater).

For additional information about the rulemaking process, the hearing, or to access the proposed rules, please visit DWR’s website at

http://water.state.co.us/DWRDocs/Rules/Pages/ArtificialRechargeRules.asp

#Snowpack/#Drought news: The North Platte (89%) and South Platte (82%) basins are the best in state

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jon Nicolodi):

…in comparison to years past, how is the snowpack of Colorado truly fairing? Is it as dire as it sometimes feels, and will it really matter once we fully move into spring and we aren’t expecting snowball fights and fresh snow on the slopes anyway?

SnoTel sites are automated stations that collect data on snow, operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and there are 115 in Colorado alone. While numerous measurements are taken, the most commonly used is snow water equivalent. Snow height is measured, but it doesn’t take into account the density of the snow, which can vary between 5 percent and 20 percent.

The snow water equivalent is measured in inches and can best be thought of as what the depth of the water would be if you instantaneously melted the entire snowpack. Snow height is a favorite measurement of skiers and snowboarders. Snow water equivalent is a favorite measurement of scientists and anyone looking at water beyond the winter, which is a popular notion in Colorado.

In an end-of-February report, Nick Barlow at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported the snow water equivalent of all of Colorado to be averaged at 73 percent, compared to what it historically is at the end of February.

But not all areas of Colorado are favored equally with snowfall. The Front Range, including the North and South Platte basins, are at 90 percent and 91 percent, respectively. The lower half of the state, including the Arkansas, Gunnison, Upper Rio Grande and the southwesternmost watersheds, are in the low 60s or high 50s, bringing down that state average. The Yampa and the White in northwestern Colorado are at 81 percent of snow water equivalent compared to a median year.

The Colorado River watershed, including the Roaring Fork and any other tributaries joining the Colorado along the I-70 corridor, comes in at 85 percent relative to its median snow water equivalent. On the whole, not too shabby. But not inspirational either.

In most of Colorado, higher-than-average snowfall in February greatly helped these percentages. All of the previous months had been a bit dismal for winter, with November and December being particularly dry. The storms that did come were flanked by warm weather, so large portions of our snowpack melted away. In an average year, that snowpack and its snow water equivalent reach peak numbers by April 9 before melting as a whole, contributing to all of the industries that rely upon a hearty spring thaw, ample soil moisture and flowing water as deep into our dry summers as possible.

From The Summit Daily (Allen Best):

California got dumped on in late February and early March, with more snow forecast during the next two weeks.

“Pretty wild in #SierraNevada,” tweeted climate scientist Daniel Swain of the University of Southern California Los Angeles. The snow doubled the snowpack in California yet brought it up to only 37 percent of average for that date.

Snow, late in coming, was also welcomed in New Mexico. Taos opened up much of its steeps. Ski Santa Fe had its upper mountain open, but this winter has been very different: 49 inches of natural snow as of last week, compared to 100 inches on the same date the year before. Two years before it was close to 200 inches, reported the Santa Fe New Mexican…

The big resorts in Colorado along the I-70 corridor have been blessed more than the New Mexico resorts. Still, they’ve been pinched, too. Vail Resorts has four ski areas along the highway, including namesake Vail Mountain. The Denver Post reports that investors had been told early in the winter to expect between $646 million and $676 million in resort earnings. Last week, the company revised that prediction downward to between $607 million and $627 million.

Wildfires are now on the minds of some in southwest Colorado. There, rivers originating in the southern San Juans were at 54 percent of average, compared to 73 percent for Colorado overall.

The Telluride Daily Planet reports that fire managers in the San Juan National Forest plan to bring in seasonal fire crews about 30 days early this spring.

Gambel oak photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

One manifestation of the unusual winter is that January was so unseasonably warm that Gambel oak started budding on all aspects of hills and mountains up to 8,400 feet in elevation in southwestern Colorado. They have since been nipped by frost, but the leaves can bud out twice a year on the oak brush, says Chris Tipton, a fire management officer with the U.S. Forest Service. The hope is that they will not bud again and then be nipped by frost, leaving leaves that could be combustible when spring arrives for sure.

From The Taos News (Cody Hooks):

“For New Mexico, it’s a story of too little too late, and the lack of beneficial moisture has become evident statewide,” the report read.

The snowpack is the measure of snow in the mountains that is used to determine how much water will be available for irrigators and reservoir manager via spring snowmelt. In the Rio Grande Basin, the snowpack stands at 34 percent of normal.

The forecasted streamflow for the Río Grande at Costilla Creek, near the Colorado state line, for March to July is only 33 percent of average.

The state’s drought conditions worsened throughout last month. Taos County was among the driest spots in New Mexico, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

From the Weather Network (Mario Picazo):

The latest round of Pacific storms across the western U.S. has helped put a small dent in the overall U.S. drought situation. Moderate to exceptional drought now covers 30.6% of the Contiguous U.S., a drop from last week’s 31.3%. Extreme drought on the other hand, has increased from 3.2% to 4.8% and some of that increase continues to haunt the drought stricken Southwest.

During late February and early March, a very energetic jet stream finally took a dip to the south along the west coast opening the door for cooler than normal air to flow across the region. Along with below normal temperatures came a train of weather systems lined-up one after another, to bring rain and snow from central California to the northern Rockies.

Despite the active pattern in some areas of the west and northwest, many of these east moving systems have been drying out as they crossed the Rockies, leaving much of the Southwest and central and southern Plains with below precipitation averages.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 19, 2018 via the NRCS.

Durango wastewater treatment plant on schedule

Durango

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

The largest construction project in city history, the Santa Rita Water Reclamation Facility, must improve the quality of water returning to the Animas River by March to meet state regulations…

The multi-million-dollar construction project was designed to remove more nutrient pollution from the water and increase the plant’s capacity, he said. New carbon filters are also planned to eliminate the infamous and sickening smell that sometimes permeates Santa Rita Park.

The city is eight months into a 24-month construction schedule, and, thus far, the project is on time and on budget, he said.

The first two major components of the plant – the aeration basin and the blower and chemical building – are scheduled to be finished in March. Those systems will remove nutrients to keep the city in compliance with state regulations, Boysen said.

Heightened levels of the naturally occurring nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorous, can cause algae blooms that reduce oxygen in the water and kill fish, according to the Environmental Protection Agency…

The city contracted Archer Western to upgrade the sewage treatment plant for $54 million and set aside an additional $5 million to cover unforeseen costs, Boysen said in an email.

As of late December, the city had spent about $500,000 of its contingency fund, he said.

“There are always unanticipated issues or unknown conditions that require modifications to the original contract,” Boysen said.

In 2015, voters approved $68 million in debt to fund the plant and additional sewer infrastructure improvements.

To pay off the debt, residents saw three years of double-digit sewer rate increases. In January, rates go up another 3 percent, bringing the average city resident’s monthly sewer bill to $49.94, or about $599 annually. Those who live outside city limits but are connected to the city’s sewer services pay double.

Scott Pruitt’s @EPA drags its feet on controlling pollution — @HighCountryNews

Smog blankets Salt Lake City. Photo credit Wikimedia Commons.

From The High Country News (Maya L. Kapoor):

In Utah, the Wasatch Range forms a bowl holding Salt Lake City and the surrounding communities, where the majority of Utahns live. Each winter, a warm temperature layer known as an inversion seals the bowl shut, trapping in dangerous levels of air pollution. The gas that comes from smoke stacks and tailpipes reacts with sunlight, forming ground-level ozone, also called smog, which has long been known to cause childhood asthma and premature deaths. Some tree species also struggle to survive when smog levels get too high, says Seth Johnson, a staff attorney with the environmental advocacy nonprofit Earthjustice. “They don’t grow as well as they did. Some of them will have their leaves blacken, which is a blight.” Other Western cities such as Los Angeles and Denver, as well as more rural areas, also struggle with smog problems.

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency set tighter restrictions on the levels of smog allowed in the country, which should have gone into effect by the fall of 2017. But the EPA, under the Trump administration, has delayed implementing them. That has become a common strategy at Scott Pruitt’s EPA: When it comes to enacting new environmental regulations, the agency stalls.

“It can be sort of easy and misleading to look at these delays as bureaucratic fighting,” Johnson says. “But these matter, because these are protections that in many cases are years overdue, and they’re protections for real human beings.” Earthjustice, along with several other nonprofit organizations and states, has sued the EPA over its ozone rule delays.

The Trump administration’s push to roll back regulations is no secret: During a press conference at the end of 2017, President Donald Trump stood before columns of white printer paper stacked taller than his six-foot frame bound together by red tape. He cut the tape with golden scissors and promised to reduce the country’s regulations to “less than 1960s levels.” Most of the country’s environmental regulations didn’t exist prior to 1960, including limits on lead in drinking water and paint, benzene in gasoline, and asbestos in school buildings.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, who repeatedly sued the agency as attorney general of Oklahoma, shares his boss’s antipathy to the agency he now runs. In March of 2017, Pruitt announced that he’d asked Samantha K. Dravis to be the EPA’s regulatory reform officer, a newly created position tasked with reducing regulations. A conservative lawyer who previously worked with Pruitt in Oklahoma, Dravis once wrote an op-ed calling the Clean Power Plan a “case study in executive power unleashed and unhinged.”

Unlike outright repeals of regulations, delays can be hard to track. The EPA’s history of delayed enactment of regulations is not new, but public health and environmental organizations and states worry that the Trump administration has slowed down an already lengthy process. According to Scientific American, in Trump’s first six months in office, his administration delayed implementing 39 federal regulations and put eight others under review. Almost a third of the rules delayed or under review were under the EPA’s jurisdiction.

In the case of the ozone rule, the agency first delayed the rule by a year, pushing a deadline for identifying all the areas in the country that did not meet the new ozone standard into 2018, saying it lacked information. When environmental organizations including Earthjustice, public health organizations, and states sued, the EPA dropped its extension, but still missed the deadline for designating the smoggiest communities. According to E & E News, since November 2017, the EPA has designated most of the U.S. as within the new smog standards, but has yet to identify areas that likely don’t meet the new standard. That identification is the first legal step in creating a cleanup plan.

The plaintiffs sued again. “It’s one thing to say, ‘Great, we have a standard,’” Johnson says. “It’s another thing to make that real — to reduce harmful emissions so air is clean.”

Not everyone wants the ozone rule updated: In 2015, coal company Murray Energy challenged the rule, arguing that the updated ozone rule was unfeasible, claiming it required some areas — especially in the West — to decrease smog levels below naturally occurring ambient levels, and that the updated science on the human health effects of ozone was incorrect. “We have the law, science, economics, cold hard energy facts and the Constitution on our side,” CEO Robert E. Murray said in a press release.

With the support of industry, the EPA has also delayed implementing the Clean Power Plan, which would regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, by a year. Much of that time was spent collecting additional public comments on the plan, adding an extra step to the lengthy process.

Strategic procrastination affects Western waters as well. In February, the EPA put off enforcing the 2015 Clean Water Rule, also called Waters of the United States, until 2020. The rule clarifies which smaller water systems, such as wetlands or seasonal creeks, the Clean Water Act protects. These small water systems provide drinking water to more than 22 million Westerners. But farmers, developers and some states have resisted this expansion of the Clean Water Act, saying that the new rules infringe on private property rights and don’t allow for local variability. The EPA now plans to rewrite the rule before the deadline for enforcement sets in.

But the EPA’s delays may be losing their power, at least in front of judges. Environmental groups have successfully turned to the courts for intervention. This past July, a federal court ruled that the EPA must enforce a rule meant to curtail methane — a potent greenhouse gas — from leaking from new and modified oil and gas operations. The EPA had attempted to postpone the methane rule repeatedly.

And in March 2018, a U.S. district judge in California ruled that the EPA must finish measuring smog throughout the country by mid-July. The EPA had moved to further delay designating the San Antonio area, which is expected to be out of compliance with the new ozone standard, until mid-August. The ruling is a mixed success for plaintiffs: States had hoped that all designations would be made within a week of the court’s ruling. And the designations would not go into effect immediately. Instead, the EPA can wait two months between announcing an area’s smog pollution and taking action.

But the EPA has also turned to the courts for help in delaying regulations’ implementation. For example, in 2017, a federal court agreed to put litigation regarding the Clean Power Plan on hold, as the EPA considers how it wants to revise the plan. That stay that has been extended twice. In the meantime, no one can sue the EPA over the Clean Power Plan and pressure the agency to act.

Maya L. Kapoor is an associate editor for High Country News.

The DWR is enforcing well rules in the Upper Yampa River

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

When the Stagecoach Property Owners Association was informed by the Colorado Division of Water Resources in summer 2017 that it was temporarily suspending the issuance of well permits in unincorporated Stagecoach, 18 miles south of Steamboat Springs, it caused a significant amount of distress.

Some homeowners in Stagecoach get their domestic water from the Morrison Creek Water and Sanitation District, but many others, with lots of 1 to 2 acres, rely on water wells.

With 2,300 platted building lots and only 400 of them developed, people were concerned that the moratorium might become permanent and de-value their properties. With the arrival of spring, most of those worries have been resolved, Stagecoach Property Owners Association President John Troka said.

Since last summer, the Colorado Division of Water Resources has studied the circumstances that led to the moratorium. Decades ago, neither property owners in some rural subdivisions here nor the Routt County Planning Department had been submitting water supply plans to the Colorado Division of Water Resources for its review and approval.

In the interim, the Yampa River above Steamboat Springs, as well as the entire length of the Elk River, have become over-appropriated, placing homeowners in rural subdivisions where they depend on wells for domestic water temporarily in limbo.

However, the Division of Water Resources studied the situation through autumn 2017, and State Engineer and Director of the Division Kevin G. Rein reached a solution intended to honor the rights of senior water rights holders and do as little harm as possible to people living in rural subdivisions. He sent his findings to Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips in a lengthy memo dated Feb. 1.

Troka thinks the Division’s findings worked out as well as they could have for Stagecoach property owners.

“We put our lawyers on notice,” Troka said. “(The Division) could have drawn a hard line. This was a positive outcome for us. People in originally platted subdivisions out there can relax. Owners will be allowed to drill a well.”

What they won’t be able to do is irrigate their yards or gardens, nor will they be able to provide water to livestock. These restrictions will protect the rights of those senior water rights holders.

That’s not a big deal in Stagecoach where the large majority of people have natural yards, and as Troka pointed out, the property owners association rules forbid horses.

However, the story varies around the upper Yampa Valley. But for the present, there are far less concerns, because the Yampa in that stretch is not yet over-appropriated.

Say goodby to Green Acres?

Stagecoach wasn’t the only neighborhood in Routt County where rural subdivisions were confronted last summer with the suspension of well permitting. The same process was being applied to long-standing subdivisions in the upper Yampa Valley above Steamboat Springs and in the Elk River Valley.

The rub has to do with the fact that the waters in the Yampa River above the kayak feature in downtown Steamboat Springs, known as Charlie’s Hole, and the Elk River basin have been deemed over-appropriated. There’s no more water in the streams and rivers that isn’t spoken for.

The second issue is the Division’s recognition last year that there are rural subdivisions in Routt County in those watersheds where the Division has discovered that it never had the opportunity to review “water supply plans” required of many new subdivisions, depending on when they were approved. That means the potential to harm senior water holders was never adequately considered.

Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips described the situation in a memo to the Board of County Commissioners.

“The regulations required an applicant wanting to subdivide land to provide proof of a dependable and potable water supply,” Phillips wrote. “The regulations laid out several ways an applicant could prove this. During the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, staff did not send a referral to the Division for their covenants … because it was not required by the regulations.”

Kevin G. Rein, state engineer and director of the Division of Water Resources, wrote in his agency’s finding that in spite of the lack of the required water supply plans, the division will continue to issue well permits in the affected subdivisions “under limited conditions.”

The good news is that the division will resume issuing well permits in over-appropriated areas. The concerning news, for some, is that in certain cases the new permits will be limited to providing water for use within the home only. Using the water outside the home to water gardens or horses won’t be permitted, unless the property owners are able to arrange a contract leading to an “augmentation plan,” which would offset an outdoor use with stored water, for example, from another basin.

Division 6 water engineer Erin Light said the application of the Division’s findings varies from subdivision to subdivision.

And Rein’s memo to Phillips contains eight different scenarios about how Rein’s findings will be applied in different rural subdivisions, varying with circumstances like the layout of the subdivision and the configuration of the lots.

Rural property owners can read Rein’s findings for various categories of rural subdivisions in the appendixes at the bottom of his letter to Routt County, which is embedded in the online version of this news story.

#Drought news:

US Drought Monitor March 13, 2018.

From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Albuquerque Journal:

The lack of rain combined with above-normal temperatures across parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have left livestock watering tanks dry, agricultural fields wind-blown and rangeland charred…

[John Nielsen-Gammon] showed satellite images of smoke and dust plumes moving across the region and warned that the warm and dry weather is expected to continue through the spring. That could mean continued crop damage, dwindling irrigation supplies and more fires.

“Any precipitation that does fall over the next three months is likely to evaporate relatively quickly at the same time that crops and forage are requiring more water because of the high temperatures,” he said. “That means if and when the rains do return, drought recovery … will proceed slower than expected.”

Due to the dry conditions, the National Weather Service issued fire warnings Friday for most of Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, southern Kansas, northeastern New Mexico, southeastern Colorado and southeastern Missouri.

Oklahoma Forestry Services already has requested and received firefighters and equipment from Alabama, Kentucky and Louisiana because of the fire threat. Additional firefighters and equipment from Georgia and Mississippi are on the way.

Oklahoma Forestry Commission spokeswoman Michelle Finch-Walker said early to mid-afternoon is the time many fires begin…

The latest map shows swaths of red – indicating extreme to exceptional drought – covering the southern high plains and the Four Corners region where the borders of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah meet.

In New Mexico, the lack of water and an unseasonably warm winter have already resulted in a high demand for hay, and some livestock owners have been forced to trim their herds. The last time this much of the state was grappling with extreme drought was July 2014.

Winter wheat crops in Texas are also struggling. Officials there say almost one-third of the crop is rated as poor.

Wildfires in Kansas have already burned thousands of acres, and agricultural officials were prepared to move hay to ranchers who need it most or work with the federal government to access additional grazing land.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer declared a drought emergency last week, citing the persistent dry conditions and growing fire hazards.

That state’s average precipitation over the past six months was only two-thirds of the normal rate, and in January and February the statewide average precipitation was even less, at less than half of normal.