Northwest #Colorado water users wary of potential water cutbacks by state — @AspenJournalism #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A fleet of rafts makes its way down the Green River toward its confluence with the Yampa River. Future potential releases of water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir to boost levels in Lake Powell shape the flows on the Green River, although it’s not clear how the releases may change flow levels. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smity

From Aspen Journalism (Lauren Blair):

After 19 years of extended drought in the Colorado River basin, water users in Northwest Colorado are concerned that the region could become a “sacrificial lamb” as the state seeks to reduce water use to meet downstream demands.

As Colorado water officials begin work on a new “demand management” system to reduce water consumption, members of the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable, which met Jan. 9 in Craig, are seeking to make sure the cutbacks don’t disproportionately impact their river basins, including the Yampa, White and Green rivers. The concerns prompted the creation of a new Big River Committee, which met for the first time Jan. 9, to advocate for the basin on state and regional issues across the Colorado River system.

“We’re already doing our fair share,” said Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger, a basin roundtable member and fourth-generation cattle rancher. “[In the Yampa basin] we already use only 10 percent of our water — 90 percent of our water goes to Lake Powell.”

There is relatively little reservoir storage on the Yampa River — less than 72,000 acre feet of water on the main stem and a total of 113,000 acre feet in the basin — compared to other major rivers in the West, meaning most of the water feeds into the Colorado River system and eventually Lake Powell.

“Such a small part of our native flow is developed, and there are concerns about how much should fall on the shoulders of our basin to send past the state line when we already don’t use very much,” said Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable Chair Jackie Brown, who is the natural resources policy advisor for Tri-State Generation and Transmission.

Indeed, data shows that consumptive water use in the Yampa basin averaged about 182,000 acre feet of water annually between 1990 and 2013, or about 10 percent of the basin’s total 1.74-million acre feet of average annual stream flow, according to hydrologic models used by the state.

By comparison, upper Colorado River stream flows averaged about 3.8 million acre feet of water over the same time period, not including the Gunnison River. Consumptive use equaled about 908,000 acre feet, or about 24 percent of the basin’s total water, according to the same data source.

But Colorado water law doesn’t account for such discrepancies across basins, and prioritizes water use according to a system based on dates tied to the initiation of a water right, often described as “first in time, first in right.”

“The Yampa and the White both were settled at such a later time period than the Front Range and some other areas, and we’re that much further behind in priority dates,” Monger said. “If we want to go forward on the prior appropriation system for allocating future water — last one in is the first one cut — that absolutely doesn’t work for us.”

Yampa River

Demand management

Many roundtable members believe the Yampa and White river basins should have the right to develop their water resources further in the future.

“We’re the sacrificial lamb if they were to lock things in the way they are now,” said Kevin McBride, general manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and a member of the Big River Committee.

However, such worries are largely speculative at the moment, as the mechanisms of a demand management program are far from decided and drought contingency planning hasn’t yet been finalized.

“This is the very, very beginning of the demand management conversation,” said Brent Newman, the interstate, federal and water information section chief for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The board has already committed to avoiding “disproportionate negative economic or environmental impacts to any single sub-basin or region within Colorado while protecting the legal rights of water holders,” according to a policy statement adopted by the agency’s board in November.

“We want to make sure no basin is a target basin, and as best we can, make sure reductions are shared equitably across the state, across basins and the divide,” Newman said. “We’re trying to make things fair.”

If a compact call were to occur — a demand by lower basin states for more water to be sent downstream according to the Colorado River Compact — then it is widely expected that Colorado water officials will use the prior appropriation doctrine to curtail water use based on seniority.

“We want to be proactive and avoid a compact call instead of being reactive and responding to crisis if it came to pass,” Newman said.

“Big river” issues aside, Northwest Colorado water users are feeling the squeeze after record-breaking heat and drought in 2018 prompted the first-ever call on the Yampa River.

Furthermore, officials at the Colorado Division of Water Resources will examine this year whether the Yampa and the White rivers should be designated as “over-appropriated,” Division Engineer Erin Light told roundtable members at the Jan. 9 meeting.

The designation would signal that there is not enough water to meet demands during dry years, and new water rights would be conditional to available water supply.

But even as water users start to adjust to the new local reality, roundtable members are preparing for an uphill battle to argue their case regarding demand management.

“We’re already sending as much water as we can,” Monger said. “We’re paying the bill for Colorado.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Craig Press and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of rivers and water. The Pilot published this story online on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019 and the Press published it online on Jan. 30, 2019.

2019 #COleg: HB19-1082 (Water Rights Easements) would further codify ingress and egress for ditch easements

San Luis People’s Ditch March 17, 2018. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Reps. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, and Don Valdez, D-La Jara, won preliminary approval in the Colorado House on Wednesday for HB19-1082 (Water Rights Easements) that makes it clear that those who own easements for water rights, such as irrigation ditches, also have the right to go onto private property to maintain them.

The two lawmakers said that as the state has become more urbanized, and people move into previously rural areas, they are blocking so-called ditch riders from doing their jobs, which is to ensure that whatever water supplies they are overseeing get where they’re supposed to go, whether it be an agricultural operation or for municipal use.

“What we’re trying to do is make it so that the easement holder for a ditch or a pipe or any water transference infrastructure can get onto the easement, improve the easement, can put in a pipe, can do the kind of things that we do in agriculture even though some of these ditches are now flowing through suburban newly developed areas,” Catlin said.

“We’ve had some pushback (from) landowners who say, ‘No, I do not want that easement improved on my land.’ That goes against the easement right holder’s rights, too,” he added. “What we’re trying to do is make this much easier for everybody, and we don’t have to have lawsuits in order to find out that you have the right to improve and to repair and maintain the easements across another piece of land.”

Catlin said that oftentimes disputes end up in court, causing both sides to expend money they shouldn’t.

Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, said that people who purchase property in formerly rural areas don’t realize that a waterway that may run through it is more than just a landscaping feature.

“Some people when they buy a private property, they simply don’t understand that what they think is a river in their backyard, is a ditch,” Arndt said. “People have a right to maintain that ditch. In fact, if they didn’t we’d be in real trouble.”

Other lawmakers, however, said they feared the bill gives away too much power to water rights owners over landowners.

Republican Reps. Perry Buck of Windsor and Kimmi Lewis of Kim said private property rights should be observed, at least those of surface landowners. “I’m hoping that both, property owners and ditch owners, can come to an agreement before we give all the rights to a ditch owner and an easement,” Buck said.

“I am worried that this is a little too far,” Lewis added. “I am concerned that we are creating a water right out of an easement right. These people don’t have that right to tromp over private land to redo theirs.”

Colorado Cattlemen’s Ag Water NetWORK initiates survey of agricultural producers on watershed management planning

Photo credit: Bob Berwyn

From the Colorado Cattleman’s Ag Water NetWORK via The Fencepost:

Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Ag Water NetWORK is surveying agricultural producers to determine their familiarity with watershed management plans. The state water plan sets a goal of having 80 percent of critical watersheds covered by watershed management plans by 2030. The plan sets a similar goal for locally prioritized streams.

The web-based survey asks producers about their water-related needs and priorities, and solicits feedback on their interests in being involved in local watershed management planning efforts.

Producers who are interested in participating in the survey can follow this link, http://www.agwaternetwork.org/.

Watershed management plans are developed through locally led efforts that address the needs of a diverse set of local water interests. The watershed management planning and implementation process evaluates local water resources, identifies needs, and secures funding to implement solutions that help protect and improve existing uses, including agricultural, and support healthy rivers and streams.

Colorado’s farmers and ranchers own and control much of the water and land in Colorado, so their involvement in shaping local watershed management plans is crucial to creating comprehensive, well-balanced plans.

The results of the survey will be used to guide outreach about watershed management planning and its importance to agricultural producers. Training will also be provided to ag-oriented individuals seeking to engage in local watershed management planning efforts. Partial funding for the project comes from a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

@SenCoryGardner supports @EPA’s decision not to regulate PFAS, “I think it’s very important that we get as much information as we can and then act appropriately”

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From Politico (Annie Snider and Anthony Adragna):

[Gardner] told POLITICO he expected there would be a federal role in regulating the chemicals, but he wanted to see the results of a health study included in the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

“I think it’s very important that we get as much information as we can and then act appropriately,” he said.

@SenatorBennet and @RepJoeNeguse introduce the CORE act to promote and protect #publiclands

Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s office:

On Friday, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and U.S. Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO-2) attended the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show, where they toured the floor, met with Outdoor Industry Association’s recreation advisory council, and convened stakeholders from across the state to celebrate the introduction of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act. At the event, the Outdoor Industry Association announced its official endorsement of the legislation.

“Outdoor Industry Association is one hundred percent in support of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act because it would protect nearly half a million acres of public lands across Colorado and support the state’s $28 billion outdoor recreation economy while honoring its history in protecting Camp Hale, the origin of the 10th mountain division during WWII,” said Amy Roberts, Executive Director of Outdoor Industry Association. “We cannot be prouder of Senator Michael Bennet and our own congressman, Congressman Joe Neguse, for their leadership in supporting this legislation. We hope it gets done soon!”

“The name of the bill says it all: We don’t have to choose between protecting public lands and boosting the economy,” said Bennet. “Coloradans reject that idea. We believe protecting the places we love drives economic growth. Congressman Neguse and I are grateful for the diligence and compromise of communities across Colorado that created this legislation over the last ten years. It’s a testament to their work that the Outdoor Retailer show takes place in Colorado and that the Outdoor Industry Association now supports the CORE Act.”

“Outdoor recreation in Colorado employs over 500,000 workers and brings in $10 billion in wages for our state’s economy,” said Neguse. “When we invest in our public lands, we invest in our economy and the health and well-being of people and outdoor recreation across our state. I’m grateful for the support of many outdoor businesses for championing the CORE Act and enabling us to stand up for the public lands that make us who we are as Coloradans.”

The CORE Act protects approximately 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, establishing new wilderness areas and safeguarding existing outdoor recreation opportunities to boost the economy for future generations. Of the land protected, about 73,000 acres are new wilderness areas, and nearly 80,000 acres are new recreation and conservation management areas that preserve existing outdoor uses, such as hiking and mountain biking. The bill also includes a first-of-its-kind National Historic Landscape to honor Colorado’s military legacy and prohibits new oil and gas development in areas important to ranchers and sportsmen.

More information is available at http://www.bennet.senate.gov/COREAct.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Joel L. Evans):

While the CORE Act itself is new, it draws from four previously introduced bills going back years and relating specifically to the Continental Divide and Camp Hale, the San Juan Mountains, the Thompson Divide, and the Curecanti National Recreation Area.

Recreation groups, sportsmen, conservationists, governments, businesses, landowners, and other interested parties have worked together to discuss the issues and craft the language of the bill.

Packaged together as one bill, Sen. Bennet and Congressman Neguse summarized the four proposals in this way:

The Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act, which establishes permanent protections for nearly 100,000 acres of wilderness, recreation, and conservation areas in the White River National Forest along Colorado’s Continental Divide. It also designates the first-ever National Historic Landscape around Camp Hale to preserve and promote the 10th Mountain Division’s storied legacy.

The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act provides permanent protections for nearly 61,000 acres of land located in the heart of the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado. It designates some of the state’s most iconic peaks as wilderness, including two 14ers: Mount Sneffels and Wilson Peak.

The Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act protects the Thompson Divide—one of Colorado’s most treasured landscapes — by withdrawing approximately 200,000 acres from future oil and gas development, while preserving existing private property rights for leaseholders and landowners. It also creates a program to lease excess methane from nearby coal mines, supporting the local economy and addressing climate change.

The Curecanti National Recreation Area (NRA) Boundary Establishment Act formally establishes the boundary for the Curecanti NRA. Although created in 1965, the boundary has never been designated by Congress, limiting the ability of the National Park Service to effectively manage the area. The bill improves coordination among land management agencies and ensures the Bureau of Reclamation upholds its commitment to expand public fishing access in the basin…

According to the bill’s sponsors “the bill permanently withdraws around 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide near Carbondale and Glenwood Springs from future oil and gas development, while preserving existing private property rights for leaseholders and landowners” and “creates a program to lease and generate energy from excess methane in existing or abandoned coal mines in the North Fork Valley — supporting the local economy and addressing climate change”.