A closer look at the high-priced plan to store water along the #SouthPlatte River — @AspenJournalism

Irrigation sprinklers run over a farm in Longmont in the South Platte River basin. One goal of an emerging storage project on the South Platte is make it easier to temporarily use water from agriculture to meet the growing needs of the Front Range metro area. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

Every year, an average of 142 billion gallons (436,000 acre-feet) of water slips down the South Platte River out of Colorado and into Nebraska. Right now, that water feeds into habitats of endangered fish and birds, but most of it could legally be diverted and used in Colorado instead.

For decades, these escaping river flows — sometimes millions of acre feet of water more than Colorado is required to deliver to Nebraska — have been seen as a loss by Front Range water managers, but the hefty price tag of infrastructure to divert, store and move water has kept new projects from getting off the ground. Now, with communities struggling to bolster their supplies to feed the Denver metro area’s exploding population, a group in the South Platte basin thinks it can develop a regional plan to tap the river’s potential.

The infrastructure concept could provide a large chunk of the Front Range’s projected future water needs, and the concept’s designers say, if executed properly, the project would keep agricultural communities intact and create environmental benefits. Skeptics say it’s a costly plan that would further drain an already beleaguered river system.

Constructing it would require billions of dollars and an unprecedented amount of cooperation among water users, but in today’s era of scarcity, Some water managers say it may be the simplest path forward.

A group called the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, is proposing to store 175,000 acre-feet of water in a series of reservoirs on the South Platte River, from north of Denver to the Morgan County line. The project also includes a long pipeline to pump water from the river back to the metro area to be cleaned and re-used. Graphic credit: CWCB via Aspen Journalism

Birth of the South Platte Regional Water Development Concept

Despite the amount of Colorado water headed into Nebraska, water from the South Platte is still used on a huge scale. Diversion ditches from the river feed cities, agriculture and industry along the Front Range, including farms in Weld County east of Greeley, but not all the water applied to the land is consumed — about 50 percent of the water from flood irrigation seeps back into the river.

Legally, these return flows can be reused downstream, but they aren’t always released back to the river in areas where they can be captured. And because much of the water is wastewater, its quality is often too low to be used as drinking water.

These complications have made South Platte water an undesirable option for many municipalities, and growing cities have, instead, turned to water from the other side of the Continental Divide. This water is cleaner, less expensive due to existing infrastructure and can legally be used for any type of use without going through water court. But the use of Western Slope water on the Front Range has long drawn criticism from water officials on the other side of the mountains: They see such use as overuse of their resources.

The under appreciation for South Platte water started to change in 2010, after the state released the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, a data analysis of Colorado’s water supplies and projected future demand. The study estimated that by 2050 Colorado would need between 310,000 and 560,000 more acre-feet of water than it can currently supply. About 50 to 60 percent of this water would be needed within the South Platte Basin, the fastest-growing part of the state. This anticipated supply gap forced Front Range water providers to consider new options.

“We knew there was a looming problem out there. The South Platte has a big issue coming for it with this huge-growing population,” said Joe Frank, the general manager for the Sterling-based Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District. “The two biggest sources being looked at were the dry-up of South Platte irrigated agriculture or to use more (Western) Slope water — and we knew that both of those had issues.”

Around that time, Frank and six other water experts started holding informal meetings to discuss South Platte water supplies. The group became known as the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group. About the same time that group was meeting, the Colorado legislature also grew interested in the river.

In 2016, the General Assembly ordered a study to determine how much Colorado water was entering Nebraska and to analyze possible water-storage projects to capture that flow. This South Platte Storage Study found that over a 20-year period, Colorado delivered nearly 8 million acre-feet of excess water to Nebraska. But while there was plenty of water available in the river, accessing it would be costly or environmentally damaging.

The group took that information and — using funds from water providers such as Denver Water, Northern Water and Aurora Water — commissioned its own consultants. The group’s findings became known as the South Platte Regional Water Development Concept, and outlined a possible plan for a water system on the river. The current proposal includes three new storage facilities — near Henderson, Kersey and Balzac — and a pipeline from the Balzac facility to the metro Denver area. The concept’s designers say it could consistently provide 50,000 acre-feet of water every year.

With a concept in hand, the group expanded into a task force, drawing about 40 volunteer members with varying interests in water. The task force is now using $390,000 in grant funding from the Colorado Conservation Board and the South Platte and Metro basin roundtables to hire consultants to analyze the project idea.

Water for cities with no ‘buy and dry’

Although much of the water that could fill the concept plan would be unappropriated return flows, some of it would probably need to come from agriculture. In the past, this was done by cities that purchased farms with senior water rights and fallowed the lands. If done on a large scale, the practice, known as “buy and dry,” can eliminate agricultural communities.

Rather than promote buy-and-dry, the creators of the concept plan want to use alternative transfer methods to buy temporary water leases from farmers on an annual or seasonal basis. These agreements allow farmers to get money for their water without permanently drying up their farm. While alternative transfer methods are considered better for farmers, executing the agreements on a large scale requires infrastructure to move the water around.

“With ATMs, you are going to need to move that water from the farm to the city,” said Todd Doherty, the founder of Western Water Partnerships, a group that facilitates alternative transfers. “The geography is such on the South Platte that the farms are downstream from the city, so infrastructure is almost absolutely necessary to move ATM water back upstream.”

With three storage facilities near farmlands and a pipeline running to the Denver area, the South Platte concept could be used to facilitate alternative transfer methods.

“I think farmers should have options and municipalities should have options,” said Jim Yahn, the manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District and an original member of SPROWG. “This project has infrastructure to get seasonal water from agriculture and turn it into a year-round supply for a municipality.”

The South Platte River runs by a utility plant near I-25 in Denver. A group of Front Range water providers are working on a plan that includes up to 175,000 acre-feet of new water storage along the river.

Environmental concerns

Because the concept plan is still in its early phases of development, most environmental groups have yet to release an opinion on the project. Still, there are concerns about depleting the flows of the South Platte or further degrading its waters.

In hopes of reducing impacts, some environmental representatives have joined the concept plan task force to provide feedback. Frank said the promise of mitigation and environmental enhancements – improvements on the river made by water providers – have gotten several environmental groups “on board” with the project’s idea.

Still, other groups say the projected supply-demand gap is overblown and any new infrastructure is an unnecessary drain on the state’s rivers…

Hefty price tag

As projected in the South Platte Storage Study, the costs to build the project would be huge. Although the project doesn’t yet carry a final price tag, initial estimates put the infrastructure costs at nearly $2.5 billion.

This cost is undeniably high, but with water becoming a more expensive commodity, water providers say it’s an increasingly reasonable one to consider. The cost estimates show that water from the concept plan would cost about the same as building any other water project or buying into an existing one.

For these reasons, many water providers in the Front Range are already exploring how they fit into the regional project.

“Scarcity is essential in driving the municipal world towards more expensive solutions,” said Sean Chambers, the director of water and sewers for the city of Greeley. “We haven’t coalesced around an idea about how exactly we fit into the long-range vision, but we know we belong at the table.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Greeley Tribune and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Tribune published this story on Saturday, Nov. 26,2018.

Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District hopes to act as agent for Water Supply Reserve Fund Proposal

Illustration shows water availability, in blue circles, compared with demand at various places along the South Platte River. The yellow area is the study area. (Illustration by Stantec).

From. The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District will submit a proposal to act as fiscal agent for the Water Supply Reserve Fund Proposal being drawn up by the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group. That decision came during Tuesday’s meeting of the district’s Executive Committee.

The $390,000 project, described in the nearly impenetrable technical language of water experts, is essentially the next step after the South Platte Storage Study, which was completed late last year.

The study, authorized by the Colorado General Assembly in House Bill 16-1256, looked at the stretch of the South Platte River between Kersey and the Nebraska state line in an attempt to find water storage to fill a crippling water gap that is just 12 years away. According to the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, by 2030 the need for water in Colorado will exceed supplies by 560,000 acre feet, or 182 billion gallons per year, and most of that is here in the South Platte River Basin.

Joe Frank, general manager of the LSPWCD, said the study is good at indicating what can or should be done to meet the growing water gap, but it says nothing about how to do it or by whom. And it’s the “by whom” part that needs to be addressed next, Frank said, because without an entity to fund an promote projects, nothing gets done.

Drawing pipelines and pumps is the easy part, for me, because I’m an engineer,” Frank said. “But we have to figure out who we are, and that’s the hard part. The institutional structure is what we still have to figure out, and that’s a big part of this (new project.)”

The new project first establishes a fiscal agent and project sponsors, initially SPROWG members, to prepare a funding proposal and a work plan. It’s that fiscal agent part that Frank asked his executive committee to consider. LSPWCD was the fiscal agent on the South Plate Storage Study; the job entails making sure funds are paid to the right people at the right time and are properly accounted for.

According to an Outline of Proposed Tasks, the next task – and the one Frank thinks will be most crucial – is to identify or create an organization to support “the development, operation, financing, ownership and governance of the South Platte Basin regional water development concept …”

#COleg: HB16-1256 South Platte Storage Study recommends surface and aquifer storage

Illustration shows water availability, in blue circles, compared with demand at various places along the South Platte River. The yellow area is the study area. (Illustration by Stantec).

Click here to read the report.

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

The best way to meet Colorado’s growing water demand and still protect irrigation water rights is probably a combination of increased surface storage and underground, or aquifer storage. But even that combination won’t bridge the gap between water demand and supply.

That’s the good news and the bad news from the recently-completed South Platte Storage Study Final Report, released Dec. 15. The report was written by Stantec, a Canada-based design, engineering and construction firm, and Leonard Rice Engineering of Denver.

The study, authorized by the Colorado General Assembly in House Bill 16-1256, looked at the stretch of the South Platte River between Kersey and the Nebraska state line in an attempt to find water storage to fill a crippling water gap that is just 12 years away. According to the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, by 2030 the need for water in Colorado will exceed supplies by 560,000 acre feet, or 182 billion gallons per year, and most of that is here in the South Platte River Basin.

Experts already have said that water conservation alone won’t bridge the gap as thirsty Front Range cities continue to grow; even legislators have made it clear that they want to see proposals for storage as much as for conservation.

But, as with everything else having to do with water, finding and then using that storage is going to be complicated.

According to the SPSS report, it’s estimated that the South Platte carries almost 300,000 acre feet of water per year out of Colorado in excess of the amount needed to satisfy the South Platte River Compact with Nebraska. There are, however, a lot of “buts” that need to be attached to that broad statement.

For one thing, that’s not an average, that’s what the study authors called an “annual median.” That’s the middle number between the largest and smallest amounts that are lost; median, or “mean,” often is used instead of average because it’s a more accurate estimate of something over time.

Actual losses over a 20-year period between 1996 and 2015 varied from a paltry 10,000 acre feet to a whopping 1.9 million acre feet. It’s important to note that stream flows during that time frame included one of the largest floods in the state’s history and a follow-up flood that did nearly as much damage in the lower reaches of the river, as well as a period of extended drought.

The report also says that considerably more water is available at the Julesburg end of the reach than at the Kersey end, primarily because of return flows from irrigation. That indicates the need for a large reservoir to capture water before it leaves the state…

That may not be easy; according to the report, massive amounts of water would have to be diverted.

“Large diversion and conveyance structures would be needed to capture and convey water from the river to off-channel storage,” the study says. “At the Balzac gage near the middle of the SPSS study area, a diversion capacity of 550 (cubic feet per second) would be needed to capture 85 percent of the available water.”

That’s as much as some of the largest diversion structures now on the river. The North Sterling Inlet Canal, for instance, was taking around 520 cfs before cold weather and icing required it to be scaled back. Prewitt Reservoir Inlet can divert as much as 600 cfs when the water’s available.

It’s important to note the phrase “85 percent of available water.” Elsewhere in its recommendations section the report states that capturing all of the excess water is simply not feasible, and that’s not just during flood conditions.

“No feasible storage concepts or reasonable combinations of concepts are capable of putting all the available flow in the lower South Platte River to beneficial use,” the report says. “Therefore as a general principle, more storage will always be ‘better’ in this region in terms of maximizing available supply for basin water users.”

Still, finding and optimizing storage is a must if there is to be any hope of providing enough water to go around. The report, naturally, recommends a combination of storage methods, and even suggests that a cooperative effort of upper basin and lower basin storage concepts would be more efficient and store more water than a major “on-stem” reservoir. On the other hand, the on-stem option would be easier to build and yield more water quickly; it also faces possibly insurmountable permitting requirements.

No water storage concept is without good-versus-bad arguments. Aquifer or “underground” storage is complicated to manage but cheaper to create, and it can be easily ramped u over time. Storage options are grater in the lower basin but they’re further from where the water will actually be needed. Underground storage is great for agricultural use but the water would have to be extensively treated for municipal and industrial use.

The study even raised some new questions and left unanswered some old ones. For instance, abandoned gravel pits weren’t even included in the project, and the SPSS authors recommend further study of that option. They also recommend further studies of the South Platte above Kersey and of the Cache la Poudre basin.

Ultimately, the study’s authors say, the SPSS is a “starting point” and further investigation of any of the storage methods or sites would be needed.

“The work in the SPSS is a starting point for more specific alternative investigations,” the study says, “but substantial additional analysis will be required to test the feasibility of specific storage options based on points of diversion, intake systems, and methods of operating to meet demands.”

#COleg: HB16-1256 South Platte Water Storage Study to debut soon

South Platte River alluvial aquifer

From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland):

Almost 8 million acre-feet of water has left Colorado in the past 20 years that the state could have kept, according to preliminary data from a legislative-commissioned study expected later this year…

That takes us to what happened to that 8 million acre-feet of water on the South Platte. It went to Nebraska. There’s a compact, like a contract, between Colorado and Nebraska, dating from 1923, that dictates that a certain amount of water from the South Platte goes to Nebraska, which preserves the river’s downstream environment and aquatic wildlife.

The 8 million acre-feet exceeds what Colorado was legally required to send to Nebraska. But the problem for Colorado is that there’s no place to put that water.

Lawmakers and water experts have been jawing about the lost water problem for years. In 2016, Rep. J. Paul Brown of Ignacio sponsored a bill to put some teeth into the conversations, by asking how much water is being lost to Nebraska and where it can be stored.

The final answer won’t be known until the end of this year, but earlier this month, an interim water committee at the state Capitol took a first look at the data and some of the sites where storage might happen.

It’s not an easy conversation. Building new reservoirs takes decades and often has to survive lawsuits and complicated federal and state permitting processes.. Look at the Northern Integrated Supply Project near Fort Collins, which could lead to a new reservoir and expansion of a second. The project is in its 14th year and will likely take another five or six years to get through all the permitting. In the life of a reservoir, that’s short. Compare that to the Animas-La Plata reservoir in southwestern Colorado, where construction was declared finished in 2013. The project began construction in 1968.

While new storage is definitely possible for that South Platte water, other storage ideas are being considered in the study. According to Andy Moore, a senior water resources specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s primary water agency, 147 sites were identified on first blush for water storage.

Those sites fall into three categories: new reservoirs, rehabilitating and/or expanding existing reservoirs, or refilling underground storage. That’s water that would be pumped into aquifers, which are underground rock formations that hold water. Colorado has four major aquifers, with the three largest all along the Eastern Slope. In 2000, the South Platte aquifer, according to the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, served about 70 percent of the Front Range population.

The site list has been pared down several times, to eliminate sites too far from the main body of the South Platte or for sites that were too small to be useful. That leaves 16 sites, mostly in northeastern Colorado. Over the next several months, those sites will be evaluated for cost, benefits and other factors.

The first look at possible storage along the South Platte was welcomed by Chris Treese, external affairs manager for the Colorado River Water Conservancy District, the water agency in charge of the Colorado. “The Western Slope has long thought that as Coloradans we’re in the water world together, but every basin should look to own resources and capabilities first before looking for outside resources,” he said.

Treese wasn’t surprised by the numbers. “This is what Brown and others in the South Platte have been saying – that it’s a problem with a suitable storage location.” He added that the study will identify whether storage is “one silver bullet or a lot of smaller opportunities.”

Rep. Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins, a Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, favors refilling aquifers first and looking at other possibilities next. Arndt sponsored a bill, signed into law this year by the governor, that allows the state engineer to set up rules for the use of water that is pumped into nontributary aquifers. Those are aquifers not connected to surface water, like rivers.

Refilling aquifers, Arndt told Colorado Politics, is environmentally friendly, with less evaporation and less permitting. It is also practical from a political standpoint, she said, meaning that there should be less opposition to refilling aquifers than to building new reservoirs.

Refilling is “appealing, makes sense, it’s cost effective and it’s politically doable,” she said.

Brown was pleased with the study’s first data.

“This is the kind of information needed to make good decisions about what to do on the South Platte,” he said this week. He pointed out that the Arkansas, Rio Grande and Colorado rivers all have instream storage, and the only place without it is the South Platte.

For years, “the low-hanging fruit has been West Slope water,” Brown explained. And while Colorado has always delivered its Colorado River water as it should under the compact, the supply is just not there anymore. “It’s not just a West Slope issue – it’s an issue for the entire state. People who know water are very interested in making sure we don’t waste any and don’t send any more water to Nebraska than what they’re entitled to.”

HB16-1228 Agriculture Protection Water Right Transfer Mechanism meeting recap

Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Division of Water Resources is holding a series information and input meetings on the new Agricultural Water Protection Water Right law. A handful of local farmers and other interested parties attended the session on Wednesday at the Sterling Public Library.

The new law, which was sponsored by both Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, installs safeguards in the event that irrigators want to change part of their water right to a new beneficial use.

Deputy State Engineer Kevin Rein conducted the session, first walking through the process of writing rules and regulations to put the new law into effect, and then encouraging questions and discussion of the new rules.

Much of the discussion centered around whether the new program was even feasible for individual irrigators or would be a better fit for irrigation districts and ditch companies. It was generally agreed that, because of costs and the intricacies of water law, the larger the entity managing the lease, the better the plan would work. Individual irrigators could pledge a certain number of their water shares toward the ditch company’s AWPWR program and let the company worry about return flows, legal fees, and other details based on the total amount of water leased.

Don Ament, who represents Colorado in the South Platte Recovery Program, said he wants to follow up to see whether irrigators in the South Platte River Basin would, by virtue of being part of the SPRP, be automatically part of a conservation program, as required by the new law. He was told during the meeting that “Title 38” of Colorado Revised Statutes might prohibit that. It’s possible the wrong CRS was cited, since Title 38 has to do with tenant and landlord rights, while Title 37 is about water and irrigation. Ament said he would have to look into the law…

There also was significant discussion of just how much water a farmer could lease. The new law limits the amount of water an irrigator can lease out to half of his consumptive use right. That’s to help make sure most of the irrigation water still goes to irrigate crops.

Early in the discussion, Rein displayed a graphic that showed a water right that allowed 10 cubic feet per second of water flow through an irrigator’s head gate. If his historic return flow was four CFS, that meant his consumptive use is six CFS. He would then be allowed to lease half of the six CFS, or three CFS, under the AWPWR program. That would leave him a total of seven CFS of ditch flow to irrigate with. Because he would be running less water on his land, his return flow would naturally diminish. That’s why the law requires a substitute water supply plan; it would show how the irrigator would maintain his historic return flow of 4 CFS.

But that, it turns out, is the simple part. To complicate matters, irrigators don’t actually measure their water rights in a ditch company in cubic feet per second, but in shares. And farmers typically wouldn’t want to lease half of their total shares as part of an alternative transfer, even temporarily.

If, for instance, a farmer owns 100 shares in a ditch company, he may want to commit half of that, or 50 shares, to the AWPWR program. Because he would have only 50 shares in the program, he could lease only half of those 50 shares. But return flow still needs to be calculated, and return flow is measured in acre feet of water per year or in cubic feet per second. The irrigator (or his ditch company) would have to show how that return flow would be maintained.

To further complicate matters, shares don’t necessarily mean a specific amount of water. The amount of water a farmer’s 50 shares contains depends on how much water is available, who else is taking water with a higher, or older, priority, and other factors.

Rein said all of those factors would be up to the state engineer’s office to determine…

While discussion moved into the more esoteric realm of hypothetical legal matters, John Stulp, who serves as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s special policy advisor for water, reminded the group of the purpose of the new law.

“Keep in mind that the spirit of the law was to protect agriculture, and to give farmers the chance to participate in some of those revenue opportunities that are available through ATMs,” he said. “You need to be getting ready; it may not be your generation (that participates) but you need to do the groundwork for being flexible with your water right.”

Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, is known to be skeptical of ATMs because there is rarely any mention of how the water is to be stored for transfer and what kind of infrastructure will be needed to transfer it. He said after the meeting that, while he thinks flexibility in determining the end user on an ATM is a good thing, the new law still doesn’t address some of his concerns.

“There are still the inherent question marks about ATMs,” Frank said. “This just gives somebody who’s thinking about ATMs the ability to go to court once, change their water right, and be able to be flexible in who they lease the water to.

“But ATMs in general still have the issues that I brought up; you need a place to store it, you need a way to get it to the end user, you need a way of bringing multiple users together, so there are still those inherent issues.”

Frank said ATMs still represent a “drying up” of some farmland because the water is being diverted from irrigation to other consumptive uses.

“My alternative to ‘buy and dry’ is new supply,” he said. “We need to capture unappropriated water and store it, and maybe plug in ATMs. In my perfect world the best way to plug in an ATM is as part of a new project that takes advantage of available water supplies.”

Here’s the summary from the Colorado General Assembly website:

The act authorizes an owner of an absolute decreed irrigation water right in water division 1 or 2 that is used for agricultural purposes to seek a change-in-use decree in water court to obtain an agricultural water protection water right.

Under the changed water right available in water division 1 or 2, the water right owner may apply for a renewable one-year substitute water supply plan through which the water right owner may lease, loan, or trade up to 50% of the historical consumptive use portion of the water subject to the water right without designating the specific beneficial use for the leased, loaned, or traded water. The one-year substitute water supply plan authorizing the lease, loan, or trade of water may be renewed twice without reapplying if the terms and conditions of the plan remain unchanged. A new application is required every 3 years to maintain the substitute water supply plan.

Pursuant to rules developed by the state engineer and reviewed by the water judge for water division 1, the state engineer may approve a one-year renewable substitute water supply plan authorizing the lease, loan, or trade of water subject to an agricultural water protection water right in water division 1 or 2 if the following conditions are met:

  • The remaining portion of the water subject to the water right must continue to be used for agricultural purposes;
  • The water right must be protected by the owner’s participation in an agricultural water protection water program, for which the Colorado water conservation board will establish minimum criteria and guidelines;
  • The owner shall not lease, loan, or trade water subject to the water right outside of the water division with jurisdiction over the location of historical consumptive use; and
  • The transferable portion of the water subject to the water right must be delivered to a point of diversion that is subject to an existing water court decree.
  • HB-1228 Notice — #Colorado Division of Water Resources

    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    From DWR/CWCB:

    In early April, the Division of Water Resources (“DWR”) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”) will jointly hold four informational meetings and solicit public input related to the implementation of House Bill 16-1228, known as the Agricultural Water Protection Water Right Bill. This legislation, enacted in 2016, allows water users, if they choose, to change an irrigation water right through the water court to an “Agricultural Water Protection Water Right.” The change allows a portion of the water right to be put to a new beneficial use through a substitute water supply plan (“SWSP”) approved by the State Engineer, while a portion of the original water right must continue to be used for agricultural purposes. The legislation directed the CWCB to develop Criteria and Guidelines to address provisions in the bill and directed the State Engineer to promulgate rules that would guide the approval of a SWSP.

    The meetings will be held at the following times and locations:

    • Monday, April 3, 3 – 6 p.m., Island Grove Regional Park, Events Center Conference Room A, 501 N 14th Ave, Greeley, CO 80631
    • Tuesday, April 4, 3 – 6 p.m., Otero Junior College Student Center Banquet Room, 1802 Colorado Ave, La Junta, CO 81050
    • Wednesday, April 5, 3 – 6 p.m., Sterling Public Library Community Room, 420 N 5th St, Sterling, CO 80751
    • Thursday, April 6, 3 – 6 p.m., Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District Board Room, 339 E Rainbow Blvd # 101, Salida, CO 81201

    The agenda for each meeting will be the same: description of House Bill 16-1228; discussion of the draft SWSP Rules; and discussion of the draft Criteria and Guidelines for the Agricultural Water Protection Program. Please visit the DWR website for more information on the legislation, public meetings, and process for providing feedback. The CWCB’s draft Criteria and Guidelines and the State Engineer’s draft Rules related to the implementation of House Bill 16-1228 are also available on the website, and the public is encouraged to review these drafts before the meetings.

    Please use this link to RSVP to a particular meeting location by March 30 if you plan to attend.

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Division of Water Resources will hold a series information and input meetings on the new Agricultural Water Protection Water Right law.

    There will be a meeting in Sterling April 4 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Sterling Public Library.

    Correction: The meeting is April 5th.

    The new law, which was sponsored by both Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, installs safeguards in the event that irrigators want to change part of their water right to a new beneficial use.

    Under Colorado water law, an irrigator who wants to lease part of his water to another end-user must go through a state water court process to get what is called a “decree change.” A key to the decree change is making sure the irrigator maintains the return flow that would have resulted from using the water for irrigation. Return flow is water that has been used to irrigate a crop and either runs off or seeps down into the river aquifer to be used by irrigators downstream.

    Because water leases tend to be temporary, they are called “alternative transfer methods” because they are an alternative to buying the irrigated land outright and drying up the farmland, a practice called “buy and dry.”

    Previously, the irrigator had to have a specified end user for the ATM. If a change in the end user was desired, the irrigator had to go back to water court and repeat the decree change process.

    Under the new law, an irrigator will be able to change the end-user by submitting a substitute water supply plan to the state engineer’s office. The SWSP will have to include an explanation of how the irrigator will maintain his return flow obligation. The irrigator will still have to have a conservation program in place through a local agency such as a water conservancy district or irrigation district.

    Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, said the new law is an improvement over a similar measure that was introduced a year before.

    “Before, there was some fear that (water transfers) could lead to speculation, and that’s just not something we want to see,” Frank said. “(SB 16-1228) allows some flexibility, but reins in on the speculation piece so you can’t change all of your water right.”

    He said that while such alternative transfer methods are becoming more common, they aren’t ideal as a solution to the water shortage.

    “We don’t want to make this the end-all solution to the gap (in water supply) because it is still drying up some ag, but it isn’t a permanent dry-up,” Frank said. “The good part is you don’t have to keep going back to change your end-user.”

    More Coyote Gulch coverage of HB16-1228 here.

    Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s 2017 budget = $1 million

    South Platte River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
    South Platte River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s executive committee approved the district’s nearly $1 million budget for 2017 Tuesday morning.

    At its October meeting the full board authorized the executive committee to move ahead with formal adoption in November after a public hearing. Board Chairman Ken Fritzler briefly adjourned the executive committee meeting Tuesday to hold a public hearing, but there were no public comments. After re-convening, the attending members adopted the budget.

    The bottom line of $995,257 includes a beginning fund balance of $250,885, total tax revenue of $244,104, and two grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board totaling $363,168, which the district will administer. One grant is to help manage the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative and the other is for the year-long South Platte Storage Study.

    The other big chunk of revenue, $146,600, comes from the myriad services LSPWCD provides to water users in the area.

    On the expenditure side, the largest portions are personnel costs of $254,450 and a contingency reserve of $215,387. The funds shown on the revenue side for the two CWCB grants also show on the expenditure side, since they are merely pass-through funds.

    In other business Tuesday, Manager Joe Frank formally notified the committee that the district has selected MWH Global, formerly Montgomery Watson Harza, headquartered in Broomfield, and Leonard Rice Engineers of Denver as contractors on South Platte river storage survey. The survey is a study of water storage potential in the South Platte River basin. It is the first project in eastern Colorado to result from the Colorado Water Plan that was presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper in November 2015.The study is mandated by HB 16-1266, which is the first legislation to emanate from that water plan.

    Frank also told the committee that terms for five seats on the district’s governing board will expire at the end of this year. They include two seats in Logan County, two in Morgan County, and one in Sedgwick County. Board members who want to re-apply for their positions must do so in writing by the end of November.