#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.”

Steamboat Springs: @COWaterCongress Summer Conference, August 22-24

The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

Click here to go to the website for all the inside skinny.

2017 #COleg: Gov. Hickenlooper signs HB17-1306 (Test Lead In Public Schools’ Drinking Water)

Roman lead pipe — Photo via the Science Museum

From the Colorado General Assembly website:

Concerning the financing of testing for lead in public schools’ drinking water, and, in connection therewith, making an appropriation.

The bill directs the department of public health and environment (department) to establish a grant program to test for lead in public schools’ drinking water. The department will give the highest priority to the oldest public elementary schools, then the oldest public schools that are not elementary schools, and then all other public schools. The department may also consider ability to pay in administering the program. The department is directed to use its best efforts to complete all testing and analysis by June 30, 2020. The public school must provide at least 10% local matching funds and give the test results to its local public health agency, its supplier of water, its school board, and the department. The department may use up to $300,000 per year for 3 years for grants beginning on or after July 1, 2017, from the water quality improvement fund if there is money available after fully funding existing programs. The department shall provide 4 annual reports to the general assembly regarding implementation of the grant program, including any legislative proposals that may be warranted.

The bill appropriates $431,803 and 1.3 FTE to the department of public health and environment for the implementation of the act.

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

House Bill 1306 received bipartisan backing and plenty of support from school and health officials. Lead in drinking water can lead to long-term health problems in children.

The measure is aimed primarily at older elementary schools with the hope that all public schools will be tested and the results analyzed by June 30, 2020. The bill authorizes the state Department of Public Health and Environment to establish a grant program to test the drinking water in public schools that use a public water system.

As much as $300,000 in grants could be awarded each year for three years, and another $140,000 would be spent to implement the program. The measure also requires school districts that test for lead to contribute 10 percent in local matching funds and give the test results to the local public health agency, water supplier, school board and CDPHE.

Just seven of Colorado’s 178 school districts have tested their water for lead, and in those districts 100 schools were found to have some lead in their water, health officials said.

2017 #coleg: Gov. Hickenlooper signs HB17-1170 — Concerning the limited applicability of the Colorado supreme court’s decision in St. Jude’s Co. v. Roaring Fork Club, LLC, 351 P.3d 442 (Colo. 2015)

Here’s the bill summary from the legislature’s website:

Limited Applicability Of St. Jude’s Co. Water Case

Concerning the limited applicability of the Colorado supreme court’s decision in St. Jude’s Co. v. Roaring Fork Club, LLC, 351 P.3d 442 (Colo. 2015).

In the case of St. Jude’s Co. v. Roaring Fork Club, LLC, 351 P.3d 442 (Colo. 2015) ( St. Jude’s Co. ), the Colorado supreme court held that direct diversions of water from a river to a private ditch for aesthetic, recreational, and piscatorial purposes on private property, without impoundment, are not beneficial uses of water under Colorado water law.

The bill provides that the decision in the St. Jude’s Co. case interpreting section 37-92-103 (4) does not apply to previously decreed absolute and conditional water rights or claims pending as of July 15, 2015. The interpretation of section 37-92-103 (4) in St. Jude’s Co. applies only to direct-flow appropriations, without storage, filed after July 15, 2015, for water diverted from a surface stream or tributary groundwater by a private entity for private aesthetic, recreational, and piscatorial purposes.

From The Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

Colorado water law received some needed clarification in the 2017 session of the Colorado Legislature.

The legislature, this session, passed a bill in response to the 2015 Colorado Supreme Court decision in the case of St. Jude’s Co. v. Roaring Fork Club LLC. That decision held that direct diversions of water from a river to a private ditch for “aesthetic, recreational and piscatorial” purposes are not “beneficial uses” under state water law.

“Beneficial use” is a much-used term in state water law and originally encompassed primarily to agricultural and municipal uses. That definition has been evolving throughout the years — through both court decisions and legislation — to protect recreational uses, too, and the new legislation makes that clearer…

The bill was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Democrat K.C. Becker and co-sponsored in the Senate by Republican Jerry Sonnenberg. In a statement after Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill, Becker said the law “provides the needed certainty for water rights holders in Colorado.”

Eagle River Watershed Council Executive Director Holly Loff agreed. In an email, Loff wrote that the group is celebrating the bill’s passage.

“It protects the tools that local governments have at their disposal to protect flows — both recreational and environmental — which were threatened by the broad language in the (Supreme Court) case. Recreational and piscatorial uses are most definitely beneficial and we are happy to see those protected.”

2017 #COleg: SB17-117 signed by Gov. Hickenlooper

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Senate Bill 117, titled “Recognize Industrial Hemp Agricultural Product for Agricultural Water Right,” says Colorado water right holders have the right to use it on hemp if the person is registered by the state to grow hemp for commercial, or research purposes.

During an interview with The Journal, Hickenlooper said the hemp water bill will give farmers some reassurance, and he was cautiously optimistic that it could become a good cash crop for the state.

“Hemp is a very versatile product with a lot of uses, and it does not make sense why it’s illegal,” at the federal level, Hickenlooper said. “Having it grown and processed in the state could create a new niche market.”

Coram said he was motivated to introduce the bill after meeting with a farmer in the Arkansas Valley who said he could not use water from a Bureau of Reclamation facility to water his large hemp farm.

“I said this is wrong because hemp has a great future in Colorado,” he said. “The bill passed 99-1.”

Industrial hemp is used to make fuel, textiles, soaps and much more, but because it is a form of cannabis, it is banned by the federal government, even though it does not have the psychoactive properties of it’s genetic cousin, marijuana.

“The facts are that Colorado water rights are owned under Colorado law, and they can be used to grow hemp, which the state legalized,” said Catlin. “The federal government saying they cannot is overreach.”

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The bill was introduced in the state Legislature by Sen. Don Coram, and sponsored by Rep. Marc Catlin. Both are Montrose Republicans.

“Our farmers grow hemp with that water, our ag researchers use that water for hemp, and this bill clarifies it is Colorado water being put to beneficial use,” Coram said.

Hemp farmers face some uncertainty if they irrigate with water from a federal water project because, as a genetic variant of marijuana, hemp is still considered illegal at the federal level under the Controlled Substance Act.

“It’s always been a concern for local hemp farmers, and a lot of them stopped growing because they did not want to risk losing water rights,” said Sharon King, a local hemp advocate. “This support from the state gives them some reassurance.”

Colorado has legalized hemp, and commercial permits have been issued through the Department of Agriculture since 2014.

The plant’s stem, leaves and flowers are used for making textiles, fuels, oils, soaps and medicine. Hemp is strictly regulated to ensure it does not exceed .3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the marijuana drug, which has THC levels of between 5 percent and 50 percent.

In Montezuma County, many hemp growers depend on water from McPhee Reservoir, a federal project managed by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

Water Conservancy general manager Mike Preston said customers are allowed to use water to grow hemp, and the district supports Coram’s legislative effort to protect the hemp farmer.

“Those of us that supply water are confident our local farming community will make the most of any opportunity to test industrial hemp as a commercial crop,” Preston wrote to Coram in a March 17 letter. “Hemp being classified by the federal government as a drug is clearly a misclassification of an industrial crop.”

[…]

A 2014 Bureau of Reclamation policy manual stated the federal agency has an obligation to uphold federal law, which prohibits approving use of Reclamation water for activities not allowed under the Controlled Substances Act.

2017 #COleg: Governor signs two water bills, including @CWCB_DNR construction fund

Colorado Capitol building

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren) via the The Ag Journal:

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy was honored to host Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signing of HB17-1248 on Wednesday after the regular meeting of the board of directors. The bill concerns the funding of Colorado water conservation board projects, and in connect with this undertaking, making appropriations. Hickenlooper said there is $25 million of support attached to the bill, making projects of LAVWCD and other water projects possible. He also alluded to HB17-1233, signed in Denver the same day, which allows farmers and ranchers practicing conservancy not to lose their water rights.

Hickenlooper was very complimentary to LAVWCD Manager Jay Winner, whose novel ideas have helped to keep the water on the land in southern Colorado. He said he wished he had a dozen Jay Winners to preserve the water for he state. Winners and John Stulp will be very happy, he said, putting their ideas into practice, made easier with these acts. One look at how Crowley County is struggling, he said, is sufficient to know southeastern Colorado cannot survive with dryland farming.

Also present at the signing was State Senator Larry Crowder, whom Hickenlooper commended for always voting for what he considers right, despite party lines. Hickenlooper also expressed his admiration for Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who has done a lot for the organization of the administration, drawing on her experience in the private domain in a much higher-paying position.

He is proud of the Colorado Water Plan and looks forward to its implementation. Thirty thousand individuals contributed to the formation of the plan. Although it does not yet have full funding, water rights of individuals are protected and the plan will keep the water on the land.

Senator Crowder said he represents 15 counties with average income at or below poverty level and he intends to do everything he can to promote economic opportunities for the area. He will work with people of differing viewpoints to make this possible. Hospitals are stable financially in the Denver area, he said, but not in rural Colorado, and everything possible must be done to maintain them.

2017 #COleg: HB17-1306 (Test Lead In Public Schools’ Drinking Water) is on its way to @GovofCO

Roman lead pipe — Photo via the Science Museum

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

The passage of House Bill 1306, which enjoyed bipartisan support, will help ensure that children aren’t exposed to dangerous levels of lead, said school and health officials.

“Clean water in our schools is an expectation everyone in Colorado can get behind,” said Brian Turner, president of the Colorado Public Health Association.

HB 1306 is aimed primarily at older elementary schools with the hope that all public schools will be tested and the results analyzed by June 30, 2020. The bill authorizes the state Department of Public Health and Environment to establish a grant program to test the drinking water in public schools that use a public water system.

As much as $300,000 in grants could be awarded each year for three years, and another $140,000 would be spent to implement the program. The measure also requires school districts that test for lead to chip in 10 percent in local matching funds and give the test results to the local public health agency, water supplier, school board and CDPHE.

Schools that discover lead in their drinking water have several routes for securing money to clean up the water, officials said.

Just seven of Colorado’s 178 school districts have tested their water for lead, and in those districts 100 schools were found to have lead in their water, according to Conservation Colorado.