#Greeley, Weld County #water managers look to collaborate as scarcity concerns grow — The Greeley Tribune

New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company service area map.

From The Greeley Tribune (Trevor Reid):

As growing communities across the state require more water, supplies are becoming increasingly scarce.

This gap can slow the growth of younger communities and has others buying up water rights from areas including Weld County, resulting in the drying of local farms.

All this pressure has the state’s water law system coming under increasing scrutiny. Though some seek to change the system, water officials in the Greeley and Weld County area are hopeful collaboration will lead to innovative ways of managing this increasingly scarce resource inside the existing doctrine…

…farms — which typically own relatively senior water rights — are often targets of “buy and dry” transactions in which a water provider buys a farm to use its water for industrial or municipal purposes.

Preventing buy and dry transactions is one of the major challenges faced by the New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company, a stockholder company that operates the Greeley No. 2 Ditch, which provides water for about 350 farmers on 32,000 acres of farms. General Manager Dale Trowbridge expects homes and municipal growth to eventually replace some farms in the system, but the biggest unknown is what will happen with the water.

“You can work (agriculture) around some houses and stuff like that, but if a third of the ditch is dry … now what do you deal with?” Trowbridge asked.

If the ditch’s water supply is severely limited by buy and drys in a couple decades, Trowbridge’s concern is the feasibility of operating the ditch when it was built to hold more water.

As things stand, the system is already short on water. Trowbridge said more dense ag operations mean there’s a greater need than there was when they started the system, which was issued its first water right decree in 1870.

To make up for the shortage, New Cache has relied on renting out water rights from cities like Greeley and Fort Collins, which have historically built a strong portfolio of water rights with drought protection to prevent supply issues for city residents. In the last year, though, they were only able to rent about half of what the farmers requested. The impacts of wildfire on water supplies meant cities weren’t able to rent out as much water, in an effort to reduce costs of treating water contaminated by runoff after the fire…

New Cache tries to help farmers acquire water in dry years, but when it comes to a situation like the last year, it’s up to farmers to alter their cropping patterns or not plant.

Agricultural operations aren’t the only ones hurting due to a lack of water supplies. Evans City Manager Jim Becklenberg called water “the biggest challenge to the city’s growth.”

While northern Colorado cities like Loveland, Greeley and Fort Collins — the latter two having set the stage for the state’s formalization of the prior appropriation system in an early water dispute — have been able to strategically buy water over the years, medium- and small-sized cities like Evans haven’t had the same resources for such a strong water planning history, Becklenberg said…

With a less robust water portfolio, Evans requires developers to bring water to the city. The city maintains a list of individuals with vouchers for previously dedicated water rights who could sell to prospective buyers, but there aren’t many left in the city, Becklenberg said.

In Greeley, the city can take cash in place of dedicated water rights, thanks to the city’s extensive water planning. The city’s water portfolio hasn’t stopped growing, either. The city recently purchased about 1,000 acre-feet of water, equivalent to about 1,000 football fields covered in a foot of water — more than it had acquired in the decade prior. The city’s also filed for storage rights for gravel pits, giving the city its youngest water rights, which date to the early 2000s.

To bolster the city’s drought protection, Greeley officials recently closed on an aquifer containing 1.2 million acre-feet of water, also defeating proposed City Charter changes that could have prevented use of the groundwater. For comparison, the city’s current demands average about 25,000 acre-feet per year.

With its robust portfolio of water rights, Greeley officials can facilitate development that would be more difficult for smaller communities. Water is a major cost for developers, and prices have only gone up. Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity Executive Direct Cheri Witt-Brown, also a member of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board, described water as “a very expensive line item” on her budget as a home developer.

Witt-Brown gave an example of a home they built in Milliken where they paid $45,000 for the lot and were set to pay $60,000 for a share of water they had to bring to the lot.

“We were very fortunate,” she said. “We went to a water auction, and it was a big farm being sold off in Frederick. Somehow, toward the end of that, I think there was $22 million traded that day. We walked away with one share of water — ultimately donated by the farming family to Habitat.”

The increasing price of water is impacting housing affordability. Witt-Brown said water resources like those in Greeley help bring security to the local economy…

Working collaboratively to get all needs met

Northern Colorado leaders believe regional collaboration is key to a secure water future for local communities. More than a dozen cities, towns and water districts are collaborating on a project to help secure water for different interests well into the future.

The Northern Integrated Supply Project, spearheaded by Northern Water, is an effort to build two storage reservoirs and lay pipelines for cooperative water exchanges that would help both municipal and agricultural interests. The project is still in the permitting phase, with hopes to get construction started by 2023.

One of the approved permits on the project is under litigation by Save the Poudre and other neighborhood groups. Save the Poudre argues the project would “drain so much water out of the Poudre that the river would resemble a muddy stinking ditch in Fort Collins.”

Northern Water notes on its website projects like NISP are subject to strict environmental laws and regulations and that Colorado’s Water Quality Division found “no significant degradation” expected from the project…

Other environmental groups, like Ducks Unlimited, have taken the view that the state’s water laws haven’t presented an obstacle they can’t overcome, according to Greg Kernohan, director of Ducks Unlimited’s conservation programs. Ducks Unlimited works to restore wetlands to support waterfowl populations, often using water decreed for irrigation use. Kernohan said acquiring water is “brutal.” Water can cost about half a million dollars for a single project, he said, not including water court costs.

With water only becoming more expensive, the nonprofit has been working with the New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company to determine an equitable way to lease water short term. Greeley officials have also been in discussion with the irrigating company for its water marketing program.

To prevent buy and dry while helping everyone get their water needs met, New Cache has been working to develop an alternative transfer method to tie the water rights to farmland. In return for giving up the ability to sell their water rights to other interests, the farmer would be paid.

But those other interests would still need water too. To get them the water they need, they would be able to lease water a few years every decade. Though the farm would go dry in drought years when another user, like a city, needs to lease the water, the water remains with the farm in the long term.

There are a few roadblocks remaining for the project. The growing value of water can make it a difficult sell for a farmer to tie up the water rights with the land. And for some, taking a year off farming every now and then doesn’t sound like the best lifestyle. They would be paid, Trowbridge said, but it leaves some wondering, “What am I going to do when the water is being leased?”

For NISP’s water exchange system to work, agricultural water needs to remain in northern Colorado — despite continuing efforts by growing Denver metro communities to buy water and deliver it south. As part of the project, Northern Water is working to tie water rights to the agricultural land in the area…

Though prior appropriation makes for a competitive system, those who have found success through collaborative projects like this worry a different system would introduce uncertainty.

“I don’t know how we can operate without the certainty of the water,” Trowbridge said. “It’d be unsustainable around here if the prior appropriation system was changed.

Greeley Water and Sewer Board Chairman Harold Evans shares Trowbridge’s concern, noting everybody there are set rules of the game under prior appropriation. Though water shortages may increase political pressure to change the system, it gives water providers better certainty about what to expect.

Simmering #water dispute: Ute Water Conservancy District’s Plateau Valley land actions questioned — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

Vega State Park, with a view of Vega Reservoir in early spring, still partially frozen. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57567250

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A water dispute is simmer ing in the Plateau Valley over what a Mesa-area rancher says looks like a buy-and-dry scheme by a domestic utility.

James Segrest’s ire isn’t directed to the typical suspects of such concerns, such as some behemoth water utility serving the Front Range or a major municipality in some downstream state. Rather, he’s upset with the Ute Water Conservancy District, which serves some 85,000 domestic customers right here in the Grand Valley.

Segrest is putting his concerns on full display on a sign he’s posted along Colorado Highway 65, criticizing the utility and the Collbran Conservancy District, which he says is helping Ute Water stockpile Plateau Valley ranch water that it someday may convert to municipal use.

Both the district’s board chairman, Carlyle Currier, and Ute Water are defending the district’s and utility’s respective actions, and Segrest’s highly public way of expressing his view also is disconcerting to Currier…

Segrest said he doesn’t like calling people out and spent a lot of time thinking about putting the sign up before doing so. But he thinks Currier would see things differently if he was on Segrest’s side of the issue. He thinks what Ute Water has done with about a 120-acre parcel west of Mesa is just a sign of what may come, given its large ownership of ranchland in the valley and mission of providing water to thousands of domestic customers, not running farms and ranches…

“… They let 120 acres of very good alfalfa pasture just up and die and it turned into a prairie-dog moonscape now. They haven’t watered it in four years since they got it,” Segrest said.

DISTRICT APPROVED CHANGE

Segrest’s anger with the Collbran Conservancy District arises from the district’s recent approval of Ute Water’s transfer of Vega Reservoir water rights permanently from that acreage.

Currier said all Ute Water was doing is moving water rights from one property it owns to other Ute Water property within the district, property where the water could be used more efficiently…

“It isn’t drying up farm land. It’s being wise about how to manage that water,” Currier said.

He said the approval by the district was consistent with its approval of many such transfers in the past, following a process based on established rules.

By federal law, Vega Reservoir water, which was made available by a federal project, can only be used for irrigation within the conservancy district. District regulations allow for the permanent transfer of water within the district from one parcel to another when both have the same owner and the board approves it.

Greg Williams, assistant manager of Ute Water, said that as an agricultural property owner, the utility has to evaluate which of its properties can most benefit from available water, and consider moving the water to the most effective, efficient and productive properties…

The 120 acres the water was transferred from isn’t the best property, which is part of the reason Ute Water wasn’t putting water on it, he said. It’s rocky, riddled with prairie dogs and was unfenced until recently, he said.

“Basically we were feeding everybody else’s cattle,” he said, referring to the fact that it’s up to landowners to fence their property if they want to keep others’ livestock out.

Steve Thornberg, president of the No. 6 Ditch Co., which delivered water to the 120 acres in question, objected to the water transfer. He said he’s worried about preserving the valley, having seen fields dry up…

IMPACTS TO DITCH MEMBERS

The transfer of the water impacts agricultural operators along that 7-mile ditch, including Segrest and Thornberg. The Ute Water property is at the end of the ditch, and delivering the Vega Water allotment to the property benefited others along the ditch because more water running through the ditch reduces loss of water to things like evaporation, soil absorption and thirsty tree roots.

Segrest said that with Ute Water’s Vega Reservoir annual allocation of up to 145 acre-feet of water permanently transferred from the acreage, others along the ditch will suffer from greater “shrink” of water volume in the ditch, reducing how much water is available to them.

Thornberg said more than 20 families are being injured by the transfer of the water. In terms of water rights the ditch in question is a low-priority ditch compared to others in the area, which get more water coming off the mountain as runoff, he said.

Ditch No. 6 doesn’t often get that water, especially in drought years.

“Maybe one out of three years we’ll get some runoff water, but we really depend on the Vega water to keep our ground green,” Thornberg said…

Although Ute Water contributed to making improvements on the ditch, from piping to removing vegetation growth, it’s a long ditch that experiences a water loss rate of 70% or more, meaning that if a landowner orders 1 cubic foot per second of water, less than 0.3 cfs may arrive, Williams said.

“That’s a horrendous amount of shrink,” and not an efficient use of water, Williams said.

‘What we need is multiple solutions’ to solve water crisis — The Las Vegas Sun #crwua2021 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Photo from http://trmurf.com/about/

From The Las Vegas Sun (Jessica Hill):

A major conference on Colorado River water issues last week in Las Vegas revealed signs of progress in protecting the West’s dwindling water supply, notably a new agreement between Nevada, Arizona and California that will ease the burden on Lake Mead.

But the gathering of water officials, conservationists, tribal leaders, state and local officials and others also pointed out the depth of the developing crisis, with even the headlining multistate pact raising questions about whether it was a Band-Aid over a gouging wound, and pointed to the complexities involved in a long-term solution.

Experts across the board, from scientists to water commissioners to government officials, are brainstorming the many possible solutions, from small ones such as cutting down on water-sucking landscape to larger ones like completely removing dams and decommissioning the lakes.

“It’s going to take ingenuity, money and cooperation to find those projects throughout the basin, regardless of how big or small they are,” said Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager of water resources at the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA)…

Leaders say they made some progress at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference at Caesars Palace, including signing the memorandum of understanding known as the “500+ Plan” that will save 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead in 2022 and 2023 and includes plans for further conservation going into 2026. Through a $200 million partnership between the U.S. Department of Interior, Arizona, Nevada and California, communities that cut down on their water and implement water-saving technologies can get paid.

SNWA has been successful in prohibiting the installation of nonfunctional turf and new golf courses. It is also working on stopping “evaporative cooling” technologies that represent the largest consumptive water use next to irrigation, and limiting the sizes of swimming pools to no more than 3,000 square feet, Pelligrino said. Pools lose more than 145,000 gallons of water a year through evaporation.

The U.S. and Mexico also entered into an agreement at the conference, establishing a binational contingency plan that goes over how Mexico and the U.S., which holds 1,500,000 acre-feet of water for Mexico, will work together to conserve water and find solutions.

“This is a small direction, but I think it’s symbolic of the need for collaboration and partnership. We can’t do it alone,” said Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, at the conference Thursday. “What we need is multiple solutions, not one single solution.”

[…]

Another radical step would be to completely scrap the Colorado River Compact, known as the “law of the river,” said Daniel McCool, a political science professor at the University of Utah who studies water policy as well as problems with the Colorado River.

“You no longer have a law of the river that looks anything like what’s actually happening in the basin,” McCool said. “What’s really happening in the basin is a whole new era of reallocation. … This is an opportunity to develop a whole new approach to developing a plan for the Colorado River Basin.”

But coming up with a new compact among seven states — each with their own state senate, assembly and governor that would need to approve it — and the federal government would not be feasible, Pellegrino said. Many leaders do not think scrapping the whole contract is necessary, as they’ve learned to adapt and make do with what they have.

“I don’t know that reopening and renegotiating the 1922 compact is the answer,” said Amy Haas, executive director of the Colorado River Authority of Utah during the conference. “We’ve learned to work with what we have, and we’ve been largely successful.”

As those short-term solutions are implemented and the bigger-picture possibilities are toyed with, one thing is clear: saving water will have to be a communal effort, Hagekhalil said.

“There’s a different sense of this feeling that we all are connected,” he said. “Although we are apart, water doesn’t know boundaries. … At the end of the day, if one of us is not taken care of, all of us are not taken care of. Everybody has to be a part of it. I think we have to open our minds, our hearts … to work together as one watershed, one basin, one river, one community.”

#Drought Persists and Deepens across South Central and Southeast #Colorado — The Prowers Journal #ArkansasRiver

Colorado Drought Monitor map December 14, 2021.

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

SYNOPSIS:

November of 2021 was a very warm and dry month across most of south central and southeast Colorado, as well as the state as a whole, with November of 2021 coming in as the 3rd warmest and 11th driest November on record in Colorado. Despite a good dose of mountain precipitation over the past week, the persistent dry and warm weather experienced from the late summer through the fall has allowed for drought conditions to persist and deepen across south central and southeast Colorado.

Extreme drought (D3) conditions are indicated across southern Baca County into extreme southeastern Las Animas County. Severe drought (D2) conditions are depicted across the rest of Baca County, southern Prowers County, southeastern Bent County and eastern portions of Las Animas County.

Moderate drought (D1) conditions are indicated across Kiowa County, the rest of Crowley County, central Las Animas County, Otero County, and the rest of Bent and Prowers Counties. More information about drought classification can be found at: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/About/AbouttheData/DroughtClassification.aspx

AGRICULTURAL:

The persistent warm, windy and generally dry weather has continued to dry out soils, with CPC soil moisture data, as well as short term (1 week and 1 month) and longer term (2 and 3 month) Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) data, indicating very dry conditions across much of south central and especially southeast Colorado.

Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph December 16, 2021 via the NRCS.

HYDROLOGIC:

NRCS data indicated November statewide mountain precipitation was only 52 percent of median, as compared to 90 percent of median in November of 2020. This brings the statewide 2022 water year to date precipitation total to 77 percent of median overall, compared to 71 percent of median overall for 2021 water year to date precipitation.

In the Arkansas basin, November precipitation was 52 percent of median overall, as compared to 95 percent of median in November of 2020. This brings the Arkansas basin 2022 water year to date precipitation total to 57 percent of median, compared to 90 percent median overall for 2021 water year to date precipitation.

In the Arkansas Basin, water storage at the end of November came in at 90 percent of median overall, as compared to the 92 percent of median storage available at this same time last year.

NRCS data also indicated statewide snowpack was at 78 percent of median as of December 19th, 2021, with the Arkansas Basin coming in at 66 percent of median and the Rio Grande Basin coming in at 81 percent of median. Snow pack in Rio Grande basin saw an impressive increase over the past week, as December 1st snow pack data indicated the Rio Grande basin was at 35 percent of median overall at the end of November.

CLIMATE SUMMARY:

The average temperature in Alamosa for the past month of November was 35.0 degrees. This is 4.7 degrees above normal and makes November of 2021 the 2nd warmest November on record.

The average temperature in Colorado Springs for the past month of November was 45.9 degrees. This is an amazing 6.4 degrees above normal and makes November of 2021 the 2nd warmest November on record in Colorado Springs, just behind November of 1949 when the average monthly temperature was 47.4 degrees.

The average temperature in Pueblo for the past month of November was 45.3 degrees. This is 4.8 degrees above normal and makes November of 2021 the 8th warmest on record in Pueblo.

Tribal perspectives a part of #ColoradoRiver Water Users Association Conference — KJZZ #crwua2021 #COriver #aridification

Dr. Crystal Tulley-Cordova speaking at the 2021 Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference

From KJZZ (Ron Dungan):

The Colorado River Water Users’ Association ended last week with an agreement to find more ways to conserve water.

But this year’s conference included tribal perspectives.

Input from Arizona’s tribal nations has been a critical piece of the puzzle in finding a way through the water shortage.

With more than 500 registered tribes in the country, it’s impossible to summarize all their ideas about water.

Maria Dadgar of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona was one of the presenters at the conference.

She said they do share some beliefs, including the idea that water is essential and that water sources are sacred. They also have common ground on the idea of healthy rivers.

“They have a belief that we share in common and that is that the health of the people correlates with the health of the river,” Dadgar said.

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.