Governor Mark Gordon expressed his gratitude to Wyoming and Nebraska’s congressional delegations, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and State of Nebraska agencies, and especially to State of Wyoming agencies for their collaborative efforts to address the ongoing needs of farmers impacted by the July 17 Goshen/Ft. Laramie irrigation tunnel collapse. These efforts contributed to today’s announcement by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency that crop losses and prevented planting due to the collapse will constitute an insurable event.
“We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the diligent work of the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security, Wyoming State Geological Survey, Wyoming State Engineer’s Office and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, alongside our counterparts in Nebraska, to help provide the necessary information to open the doors for crop insurance coverage for producers in the affected area,” said Governor Gordon. “The State of Wyoming will continue our ongoing efforts to obtain additional assistance for farmers impacted by this event. Many thanks to the numerous federal, state and local elected officials for bringing their resources to the table as well.”
The July 17, 2019 irrigation tunnel collapse and subsequent breach of a canal wall cut off irrigation to more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Wyoming and Nebraska. Work to repair the irrigation tunnel and stabilize a sinkhole that formed above the tunnel’s roof is continuing.
“The Wyoming Office of Homeland Security, our other sister agencies and Goshen Irrigation District have provided much-appreciated leadership since the collapse,” added Doug Miyamoto, Director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. “We need to continue this collaboration to ensure that the irrigation system is restored as quickly as possible. It is vital that we exhaust all avenues of potential assistance to our producers in the aftermath of this disaster.”
The Washington County Water Conservancy District can generate sufficient revenue to repay the cost of the Lake Powell Pipeline Project over the coming decades through a series of rate and fee increases, according to a state audit released earlier this week.
However, the audit, released by the Office of the Legislative Auditor General, also notes that much of the water district’s repayment model for the 140-mile pipeline – estimated to run between $1.2 and $1.8 billion – is largely predicated on continuing future growth. It also points out other concerns, such as the impact of possible future recessions and a reduction in water use due to increased water rates.
“It’s nice to have an independent party look at what we’re doing and confirm that the finance plan we have will produce enough revenue to pay for this project,” Ron Thompson, the water district general manager, told St. George News Friday.
However, in response to some of the concerns raised in the audit released Wednesday, Thompson said, “We can’t have a ‘the sky is falling’ attitude in the water community or we’ll completely jeopardize the economy of this county.”
Being in the middle of a desert, Thompson has previously and repeatedly stated water use is one of the foundations of Washington County’s economy and its ability to grow, which underlines the need for the pipeline.
The water district plans to repay the state for the pipeline through increases in impact fees, water rates and property taxes over the coming years and decades.
“The finance model is designed to let growth pay for a significant portion of the project,” Thompson said.
Impact fees are slated to cover 70% of project costs.
As a part of the plan to have impact fees cover the costs, the water district is adding $1,000 annually to its impact fees through 2026. The water district’s impact fees for new construction were set at $7,417 in 2017 and will ultimately rise to $15,448.
Washington County’s impact fees are already among the highest in the state, according to the audit.
Reliance on impact fees is contingent on continuing growth as well, which the audit said, along with other factors, the water district has no control over. If there is a population slowdown, that could also impact the water district’s ability to repay the state.
However, Karry Rathje, public information manager for the water district, said there isn’t so much a worry about the county’s rise in population slowing down as much as it outpacing state projections, which it has on a routine basis.
“While that is a potential risk, we consider the greater and more likely risk to be growing faster than projected – as we have done for the past 50 years – and having an inadequate water supply to support our population and economy,” Thompson wrote in the water district’s official response to the audit. “Growing at a faster rate would increase planned revenue, which is not stated in the audit.”
Wholesale water rates, which the water district has been adding ten cents to annually since 2016 per 1,000 gallons, will eventually rise to $3.84 per 1,000 gallons by 2045. From the original wholesale cost of $0.80 in 2016, the eventual cost will hike water rates an estimated 357%.
Though the audit states Washington County currently has low water rates when compared to other cities in other states, it also states increasing water rates will likely cause consumers to use less, which can impact the amount of revenue the water district anticipates collecting from this source…
The 140-mile, 70-inch diameter Lake Powell Pipeline will run from Lake Powell to the Sand Hollow Reservoir with a projected route that will snake across the Utah and Arizona border over public and private land, carrying around 77 million gallons a day to 13 communities in Kane and Washington counties.
Local water and elected officials have repeatedly stated the needs for a pipeline due to continuing growth, as well as the economic benefit it is expected to generate in the long run.
Click here to view the Twitter fest around hash tag #cwcsc2019. I had a great time reading everyone’s Tweets. It is interesting to see what each person takes away from a session and what they feel is important to point out.
The legislature’s Interim Water Resources Committee met after the conference. Here’s a report from Marianne Goodland that’s running in The Colorado Springs Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:
The Colorado Legislature’s interim water resources review committee, a bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers, began its summer work by relaunching efforts to change the state’s instream flow program.
During the 2019 session, the committee sponsored two bills that would have made some fairly big changes to the state’s instream flow (program, though neither bill made it out of Senate committee…
Instream flow is the water that flows through a stream, river or creek. Programs that manage instream flows do so to protect fish habitats and for recreational purposes.
Colorado’s instream flow program, according to Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Linda Bassi, is intended to “preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree.”
As the years have gone on, the board has also received permission to improve instream flows within the program.
Bassi explained to the interim water committee at Wednesday’s session, held during the Colorado Water Congress summer conference in Steamboat Springs, that the program was established in 1973 to allow state control over Colorado water and under Colorado’s water rights and prior appropriation system.
The original legislation was also intended to block ballot measures (one was already in the works) that would have allowed for private instream flow programs.
Over the years, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has acquired water rights, often donated, to protect streams, now to the tune of 756 stream miles, Bassi explained, and for 1,700 stream segments around the state.
Some of those water rights are new ones, others are existing and donated, although that doesn’t happen very often, she added.
One of the program’s provisions allows for for temporary water “loans” for three years out of a 10-year period; they can be used on any segment of a stream decreed as part of the instream flow program.
It’s a one-and-done situation; once the three years are up, that water cannot be diverted into the stream by the water provider, nor can the contract be renewed.
Bassi told lawmakers only eight temporary leases have been developed since 2012.
Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor August 20, 2019.
West Drought Monitor August 20, 2019.
Colorado Drought Monitor August 20, 2019.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
The United States is in the thralls of summer, and with that can come heat, flash droughts, and occasional, if not frequent, thunderstorm activity. Several areas of the U.S. experienced extreme heat this past week, particularly notable across much of the South and in the East. Parts of western Texas and eastern New Mexico were 6-10 degrees F above their typical averages, with little rainfall to speak of in much of the region. On the other hand much of the northern tier of the U.S. into the Upper Midwest was cool for this time of year, although precipitation amounts there were a mixed bag. In the Southwest, the North American monsoon continues to fail, worsening conditions in areas that had received more than ample precipitation over the winter and spring. To the north, south central Alaska continues to see record or near-record heat and dryness, and conditions are deteriorating quickly there, with severe impacts…
Eastern Nebraska was fairly dry over the past week where the D0 is present. With little rainfall over the past month and a half, the D0 area was extended slightly north into Thurston and eastern Wayne counties. To the north, some beneficial rains fell across North Dakota over the last week; however, considering local crop impact reports, only the D0 area in the west central region was improved to normal. Unfortunately, the rains were not adequate enough for improvement across the northern tier of the state…
Far into the monsoon season, the rains continue to fail in the Southwest. Only the abundant precipitation that fell last winter is keeping substantial impacts at bay so far this summer. Even so, declining topsoil moisture and poor rangeland conditions through Mohave County, Arizona, are now being reported. Abnormally dry conditions (D0) were expanded nearby in central and north central Arizona through all of Yavapai County and most of Coconino County. It was also expanded southwestward into Riverside and Imperial Counties in California. Moderate drought (D1) was extended farther south in western New Mexico, and a small area was introduced to the south central part of the state at the Texas border. Abnormally dry conditions and moderate drought also crept into the far southeastern corner this week…
Aside from isolated and scattered rains, most of the area was very hot and dry, with daytime temperatures climbing to near or above 100 degrees F over portions of the region. Nighttime temperatures did not help alleviate the heat stress in places. Along the northern Gulf Coast, Galveston, Texas — which had never observed a minimum temperature above 85°F since its records began in 1874 — has recorded three to date this month: on August 8th, 12th, and again on the 18th. Overall, there was some drought relief in a few spots in the South, but mostly there was drought expansion across the area where changes were made this week. There is a flash drought in north central and northeast Texas, with some stations that are 10 inches above normal for the year, but 8 inches below normal for just the past two months. In eastern Texas, abnormally dry conditions (D0) were expanded across much of the area. Reported rainfall in areas was only 20 percent of normal. The D0 in far east Texas expanded eastward into extreme southwestern Arkansas where there have been reports of a sharp drop off in the green up along the interstate across southern Miller County, with some exposed areas browning quickly, and in northwestern Louisiana where reported precipitation at some stations has been just 50-70% of normal over the past two months. In Oklahoma, much of the southwest has seen less than 25% of its normal precipitation over the past two months, and less than 50% over the past three. Severe and moderate drought were expanded here and a couple of pockets of extreme drought (D3) were introduced to the west in the Texas Panhandle. In southeastern Tennessee near Chattanooga, abnormally dry conditions and moderate drought (D1) were each extended farther to the northeast. Over the past month there have been several periods of high temperatures leading to stress on vegetation and livestock…
Over the week beginning Tuesday, August 20, according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, dry conditions are expected to continue across much of the western half of the continental U.S. Some heavy rain may fall over parts of the Midwest and Southeast, with as much as five inches in areas of southern Iowa, northern Mississippi, eastern Nebraska, and parts of the Carolinas. Southern Louisiana may see up to seven inches. Looking further ahead to August 25-29, below-normal temperatures are favored across parts of eastern Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri, while above-normal temperatures are forecast for parts of the Southern Plains and the Southwest. There are enhanced probabilities of above-normal temperatures for most southern coastal locations of Alaska due to above-normal sea surface temperatures. Near to below-normal precipitation is possible for the west, although parts of Southern California may see above-average rainfall. Rainfall may be above normal across the central and eastern U.S., except for parts of the Northeast. Above-normal precipitation is favored across northern and eastern Alaska, but may be below-normal across southwestern mainland Alaska and the Aleutians, where drought conditions prevail. Please note the forecast confidence for this period is average, according to CPC.
I was Bob’s colleague at Davis, Graham & Stubbs and Hobbs Trout & Raley from 1979 to 1996. Bob is one of our finest Coloradans.
When I joined the Colorado Supreme Court in 1996 and became the Justice assigned to the Civil Rules Committee, I recommended Bob’s appointment to the committee. The best of the best trial lawyers served on this committee. They knew Civil Procedure thoroughly – engaging in prolonged, detailed, scholarly and practical debates every time they considered recommending or not recommending an amendment to the Civil Rules. At that time there was no Water Court Committee. So, Bob, the only water attorney on the Civil Rules Committee – and since water court practice also involves the Rules of Evidence and Civil Procedure – through his active and intelligent participation crucially served everyone connected with water court practice and trial practice in general. I mean he held forth with the best of the civil practice attorneys, plaintiff and defense, corporate, the gamut!
I knew Bob would serve well on Civil Rules, for I had experienced his consummate skills as a trial attorney in the federal reserved water rights case involving the forest claims in Water Division No. 1, followed by the very complicated Thornton/Bijou case in which Bob carried a heavy load on behalf of the water users. Bob’s integrity, his calmness under fire (how did he do that!), his meticulous preparation of the facts and expert testimony for trial, and his excellent presentation to the courts both as a trial attorney and an appellate attorney — he exemplified for younger attorneys the traits of a master officer of the court.
Bob was kind, humble, straightforward, true and dedicated to his family. What a fine father to his son and daughter and husband to Jill. For the seventeen years we practiced together, I clearly saw that everyone who came in contact with him relied on his good judgement and his ability to draft all kinds of legal instruments – solving client problems practically with a great deal of equanimity. What a stellar person in all ways with staff, clients, attorneys, engineers, civic organizations and members of the public!
There’s a reason why Bennett and I coaxed Bob to accept the Managing Partner role when we established Hobbs, Trout & Raley in 1992. Competence! We became Hobbs & Trout soon thereafter when Senator Hank Brown asked Bennett to withdraw from the firm and go to Washington D.C. to help the Senator bring about the 1993 Colorado Wilderness Act. When Bennett returned, we became Hobbs, Trout & Raley once again. The firm became Trout & Raley when I joined the Supreme Court in May of 1996. The Northern District’s legal business never skipped a beat! The Board was very confident with Bob as its Principal Counsel. So much so, the District honored his energy and light by naming the hydropower plant on the southern water supply delivery pipeline below Carter Lake’s dam and spillway after him. Very few attorneys are ever honored by such a client in such a way.
When we look to Long’s Peak. When we see the Colorado Big-Thompson pipeline traversing the Great Divide from Long’s Peak to Carter Lake’s dam and spillway – delivering sterling water to the people, farms and businesses stretched out on the plains – we see Bob’s hand at work.
Urban water broker builds $22 million reservoir to boost development and agricultural land
The desire to expand housing, commerce and other development around metro Denver and on arid high plains once deemed inhospitable has driven an innovative urban water broker to build a $22 million reservoir on a ranch 70 miles east of the city along the South Platte River.
Water siphoned from the river through a pipeline this summer has filled about a third of this 5,500-acre-foot — or 1.8-billion-gallon — 70 Ranch Reservoir. It’s the latest new storage in an expanding network of reservoirs that United Water and Sanitation District president and ranch owner Bob Lembke is installing to meet rising demands from Front Range suburbs hooked on dwindling groundwater.
The reservoir that Lembke built near his private 13,000-acre 70 Ranch, purchased in 2003, took three years to complete, the largest synthetically lined reservoir west of the Mississippi River. It reflects growing impatience with constraints that could limit development along Colorado’s booming Front Range.
Others in northeastern Colorado also are planning, and seeking funds, to build much larger reservoirs that, like this one, would capture South Platte water otherwise bound for Nebraska. Lembke has been able to avoid red tape — and has left critics asking questions — by working with wealthy water-poor suburbs, building on land he owns and using former gravel pits off the main channel of the river.
“We’d like to try to enhance the economic development. I’m a native. I grew up in Arapahoe County. As a native Coloradan, jobs for my kids, and eventually my grandkids, are important,” Lembke said in a recent interview in his headquarters suite at the Denver Tech Center.
“If you look at Denver, they’ve done a wonderful job planning for their water. But outside of the Denver service area? There’s a lot of challenges in how to get water and economic growth in these areas not served,” Lembke said…
“We have tens of thousands of acre-feet of water that, without storage, will leave the state — to no economic value here in Colorado. We can accommodate a great deal of quality growth. … I am a problem solver. I like to tackle difficult problems. Providing water increases the value of land that otherwise did not have water,” he said…
“Whether on the South Platte River, the Colorado River or the Yampa River, we’re not in favor of converting agricultural water use to municipal use,” said Andy Mueller, manager of the Colorado River District, which represents western Colorado communities.
The new 70 Ranch Reservoir northeast of Denver “brings up questions,” Mueller said. “Is it water to support new growth? Or is it water to support the existing population that is dependent on groundwater?”
The hedge fund investors purchasing land and water rights in western Colorado typically seek double-digit returns, Mueller said. “They believe there’s monetary value there for their investors. We’d say that’s speculation. How do we make sure there is not emerging speculation by outside investors who may not have community values? How do we help farmers and ranchers stay in business?”
Colorado leaders for decades have declined to regulate population growth and development. But the growing private interests in water, perhaps reviving the role private financiers played developing water systems in the 19th and early 20th centuries, has piqued concerns.
“Because traditionally in the West we have the mind-set that water is the property of the people, we are concerned when water is being controlled and distributed by a private corporation that may have very different interests from the collective group of people who are affected by the use of that water,” said Anne Castle, formerly the top federal water official in the Obama administration, now a senior fellow at the University of Colorado Law School’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment.
For an urban water broker to buy agricultural land and install a reservoir “is all perfectly legal and allowable,” Castle said. “But it does make us nervous because we tend to think governmental entities will have some accountability to the people to recognize the different kinds of values people put on water. We just don’t have that assurance with a private corporation.”
Lembke in his role as president of United Water and Sanitation also serves as president of the Weld Adams Water Development Authority, which owns and operates the 70 Ranch Reservoir. He pointed out that these so-called special-use districts are governmental groups…
Denver-based water attorney David Robbins called Lembke “a very smart man. He is an entrepreneur. He is filling a niche.”
The 70 Ranch site also is used for experiments in drip irrigation, aimed at using water more efficiently to grow plants where otherwise vegetation might not survive…
Lembke now is installing other reservoirs — including two that he would own privately — as part of a network that when completed would store about 30,000 acre-feet for supplying water to suburbs, agriculture, industry and other development along Colorado’s Front Range.
He has built, or is in the process of building, four reservoirs upriver from the 70 Ranch at high-growth locations along the South Platte: in Milliken (12,000 acre-feet), between Commerce City and Brighton (3,500 acre-feet), east of Lochbuie (4,000 acre-feet) and in Fort Lupton (5,000 acre-feet).
These will supply businesses and housing developers in each booming area “to help them achieve their goals for economic growth and development” using surface water from the river rather than by pumping from over-tapped underground aquifers, Lembke said.
“Everything has got a finite limit,” he said. “But if we use water intelligently, we have the potential for long-term growth in this region.”
Victims testified left and right at the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission hearing on Wednesday.
Gov. Jared Polis directed the commission to consider adopting provisions of the California zero emission vehicle standard. This would require vehicle manufacturers to increase the number of electric vehicles delivered to Colorado for sale beginning in 2023. With more variety, according to the thinking, consumers will be more likely to purchase electric vehicles.
Why electric vehicles? Two good reasons.
One is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Colorado has adopted aggressive goals of GHG reduction. The second reason is to reduce precursors of the ground-level ozone that blankets the northern Front Range from Denver to Fort Collins and Greeley on hot summer days. This area is out of attainment with federal standards.
The standards are based on adverse health impacts. A new study has found that air pollution— especially ozone—can accelerate the progression of emphysema of the lung. Researchers found that bad air pollution can have as much impact as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
The Denver-based Regional Air Quality Council testified why electric cars will help the metropolitan area to improve air quality. What the agency calls “on-road mobile sources” contribute 31% of nitrogen oxides and 16% of volatile organic compounds, two contributors to ozone pollution.
Local government groups—including representatives of both Eagle County and Aspen—as well as environmental advocacy groups testified why they supported the ZEV standard.
Then, as the afternoon wore on, two groups with very different opinions took turns at the microphones. First was a collection of groups collectively called the Environmental Justice Coalition. Several identified themselves as being from along Interstate 70 as it passes through Globeville and other communities north of downtown Denver, east of Interstate 25. One woman, speaking in Spanish, which was interpreted, told about the injustice of sending her children to an elementary school there, near the intersection of the two interstate highways, and the pollution from the vehicles that caused harmful health effects such as asthma.
They opposed the widening of I-70, what one speaker, Drew Dutcher, called a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem. They lost that battle. But Dutcher suggested that electric vehicles will reduce the pollution to low-income areas such as his.
Ean Tafoya, from the Colorado Latino Forum, broadened that thought to include those who live along all busy highways. He said that Polis had visited poorer Latino communities and said that prioritizing public health was a high priority. “That’s what makes this an environmental justice issue,” he said.
Then came a group called Freedom to Drive Coalition. It includes Mesa County, Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, Colorado Motor Carriers Association, Colorado Wheat Growers, Colorado Petroleum Association, and others.
They reject mandates and argued that electric vehicles will be subsidized by purchasers of internal combustion engines, a cost one speaker said would amount to $500 per vehicle. They argued that upper- and middle-class residents of metropolitan Denver as well as places like Aspen would be burdening Colorado’s rural residents.
Elise Jones, a Boulder County commissioner who is also on the Air Quality Control Commission, asked the wheat industry representative if wheat farmers were worried about the effects of climate change. They were worried, he replied, but that was a long-term threat, whereas earning a profit on next year’s crop was an immediate concern. Wheat growers only make money in one out of five years, he said.
The testimony went on and on, and as the afternoon grew long, John Medved, talked. “I have never had anyone tell me they are going on a mountain adventure with an electric car except maybe in the summer,” he said.
Medved also shared this detail: He makes only $400 when sale of a car. All of his significant profits come from other arms of his car dealerships.
It’s perhaps useful to note here that electric vehicles have a reputation of requiring much less maintenance than internal combustion engines, because they have few or no moving parts. As such, they don’t need to be returned to a dealer or some other mechanic for servicing.
What was hard to digest was the argument that rural Colorado would be forced to subsidize urban Colorado. “Simple economics,” one of the Freedom to Drive Coalition. He tried to explain, but the explanation was completely lost on me. Those simple economics also overlook the projections that electric vehicles will reach price parity with internal-combustion engines by 2024-2027.
The Freedom folks also testified that accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles in Colorado will simultaneously raise the price of electricity and raise the price of diesel. Perhaps cause dandruff and bad breath, too?
As I write this, late Thursday afternoon, more than two days after testimony began, the testimony and the questions continue. By the time you read this, a decision will probably have been rendered by the Air Quality Control Commission.
The new standard will provide Coloradans with more vehicle choices
DENVER: The Air Quality Control Commission adopted a zero-emission vehicle standard for Colorado early today in an 8-1 decision. The move is directly aligned with the commission’s mission to achieve the cleanest air practical in every part of the state.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is pursuing aggressive strategies to reduce ozone pollution as quickly as possible, as the state continues to work to meet the federal ozone pollution standard. Fossil-fuel vehicles are a major source of ozone pollution, along with the oil and gas industry. Ozone pollution can cause asthma and other adverse symptoms. Fossil-fuel vehicles also emit greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.
“We are charged up and ready to roll,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the department’s executive director. “The adoption of the zero-emission vehicle standard is a clear demonstration of our unrelenting commitment to making sure every Coloradan has clean air to breathe.”
John Putnam, environmental programs director at the department, said, “We are committed to a state where Coloradans can zip up into the mountains in a zero-emitting vehicle and go for a hike without coughing and wheezing from ozone. It’s what Coloradans rightfully expect and deserve. We’ve made a lot of progress on cleaning up our air over the past several years, but the standards are getting more stringent. We have to rise to the challenge.”
The new zero-emission standard requires automakers to sell more than 5 percent zero-emission vehicles by 2023 and more than 6 percent zero-emission vehicles by 2025. The standard is based on a matrix of credits given for each electric vehicle sold, depending on the vehicle’s zero-emission range.
The new requirement does not mandate consumers to purchase electric vehicles, but experts say it will result in manufacturers selling a wider range of models in Colorado, including SUVs and light trucks.
“The zero-emission standard does not compel anyone to buy an electric vehicle, said Garry Kaufman, director of the Air Pollution Control Division at the department. “It only requires manufacturers to increase ZEV sales from 2.6 percent to 6.23 percent. It’s a modest proposal in the face of a critical threat. Where the federal government refuses to act, states must lead. Time is of the essence.”
The Air Quality Control Commission prioritizes stakeholder engagement and public input.
The commission invited public comment at various hours of the day and evening, and also invited remote testimony by telephone to make it easier for those who could not travel to the Front Range. The commission’s decision came after a robust public comment period, as well as significant written and oral testimony from parties providing information on all aspects of the standard.
“The commission was impressed by the overwhelming amount of public support for electric vehicles from urban and rural areas throughout the state,” said Trisha Oeth, the department’s director of environmental boards and commissions. “They noted that the public want these vehicles, want them more quickly, and want more choices.”