Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) Board meeting recap

Kansas River Basin including the Republican River watershed. Map credit: By Kmusser – Self-made, based on USGS data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4390886

From the Republican River Water Conservation District (Deb Daniel) via The Julesberg Advocate:

At the beginning of the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) Board meeting last week, the Board welcomed 2 new Board members. Rod Lenz, RRWCD Board President, swore in Brooke Campbell, from Cheyenne Wells, who will be representing the East Cheyenne Ground Water Management District and Jim Hadachek, also from Cheyenne Wells, who will be representing Cheyenne County on the RRWCD Board.

On August 2, 2019, House Bill 19-1029 went into effect. The bill modified the boundary of the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) to include the southern portion of Kit Carson County and an area in the northern portion of Cheyenne County. All counties and groundwater management districts in the RRWCD are represented on the Board of Directors

The change in the boundary brought approximately 332 wells and the associated irrigated acreage into the RRWCD. The annual diversions from these wells has always been included in the groundwater model which tracks the use of water within each state, from which the depletions to the river are calculated, but because they were not been included in the RRWCD boundary, they have not paid the Water Use Fee as have the well owners that are located in the current RRWCD boundary.

For 2019, the RRWCD Board voted to charge a pro-rated rate of $6.00 per irrigated acre to the wells in this area instead of the $14.50 that is assessed on irrigated acres in the RRWCD. All irrigated acres will have the same assessment in 2020.

Effective immediately, the Board approved allowing all acres in the RRWCD be eligible for the EQIP program, which is administered through the NRCS. Anyone interested in more information on the EQIP program should contact your local NRCS office.

Former Senator Greg Brophy gave a presentation on House Bill 19-1327, which is now Proposition DD, to put sports betting on the ballot. The goal of this legislation is to provide a stable funding source to implement the Colorado Water Plan.

The RRWCD approved conservation grant applications from Marks Butte, Frenchman, Sandhills and Central Yuma Groundwater Management Districts (Big 4 GWMDS). The Big 4 GWMDs requested that the grant funds be forwarded to the Colorado Master Irrigator program.

The Board also approved the conservation grant application by W-Y GWMD, requesting funds that will assist in covering costs for implementing conservation efforts in their district.

The RRWCD endorsed an agreement for well owners in the northern portion of the district who have augmentation plans to the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District or to Sedgwick Water District.

Well owners located in the South Fork Focus Zone who enter into a new CREP contract are now eligible for an additional one-time payment of $200 per irrigated acre retired. The two million dollars of funding for the supplemental contract is provided by the State of Colorado.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Deb Daniel, RRWCD General Manager (970)332-3552.

@COWaterCongress Annual Summer Conference recap #cwcsc2019

The headwaters of the Yampa River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Steamboat Pilot (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

Water leaders from across the state converged on Steamboat Springs this week as part of the Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference.

The Colorado Water Congress is a group of people who work and live in water, explained Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger…

In a legislative update, attendees heard about three proposals that could change water management in the state. Reps. Dylan Roberts, Jeni Arndt and Donald Valdez and Sens. Kerry Donovan, Jerry Sonnenberg and Don Coram sat on the panel.

“As somebody who represents Routt County and other Western Slope counties, we know what a dry year looks like,” Roberts said. “We just had one last year, and we’re fortunate to have a wet year this year, but we have to continuously plan for those dry years and look at any legislation that helps us to preserve and conserve as much water as possible, prevent forest fires and protect agriculture, because they’re the ones that really lose out when we have dry years.”

Changes to a program that increases river flow in dry years

The instream flow program allows the Colorado Water Conservation Board to designate water rights to preserve or improve the natural environment of a stream.

In the Yampa River, this program has been used to release reservoir water to boost flows through Steamboat in dry summers.

Under the current law, the program allows people who hold water rights to temporarily loan reservoir water to the state to boost flows in a stream three times over the course of a 10-year period. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has already used loaned water for an instream flow in the Upper Yampa River three times in 2012, 2013 and 2017.

Though reservoir water has been released in other years, including last summer, it was under a different legal mechanism.

Roberts, a Democrat who represents Routt and Eagle counties, introduced a bill that would allow for more instream flow releases.

“Once the 10-year period is done, you’re done forever, and you can never do it again,” Roberts explained. “So while city of Steamboat and the Yampa River has taken advantage of that program, they’ve started their 10-year clock. Once we hit 10 years in 2022, they won’t be able to use it again, so if we have a really low water year on the Yampa in 2023 or 2024, we won’t be able to use the instream flow to keep the Yampa running through town.”

The bill, as currently proposed, would allow these loans for five of every 10 years and allow it to be renewed twice once those 10-year periods end.

This would improve stream habitat, Roberts said, as well as limit economic impacts due to river closures placed during low flows that impact tubing outfitters, fishing shops and the businesses that benefit from recreation in the area.

Monger, who sits on the board of the Upper Yampa Conservancy District, said the program has “been a great thing.” The district operates Stagecoach Reservoir.

“(The district’s) actually been fortunate enough to have some available wet water that we can send down through to the city of Steamboat Springs, and it helps with water quality as well as water temperature,” he said. “It’s been a great thing, and the upper Yampa sells a little bit of water for its revenue sources to be able to take care of the water, so that’s a good thing.”

It would also expand the program by allowing more water to be released to create more habitat for aquatic species, whereas currently, these releases are smaller releases designated only to preserve the existing natural environment…

Ballot measure to legalize sports betting with tax revenue funding water projects

Earlier this year, the legislature passed a measure that will ask voters to legalize sports betting with tax revenue from the practice funding the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan.

If approved by voters, Colorado would allow some casinos to offer a sports book, essentially a room with a betting board and “every game known to man” on television screens, as Donovan put it. Casinos could also contract with online sports betting companies, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, to operate web-based sports betting. People could bet on college, professional and Olympic games.

While sports betting has taken place in the state, it’s currently illegal.

“This is a chance to legalize an action that we know is happening on the ground and to provide regulation protection under that act if people choose to bet on sports betting,” Donovan said.

A 10% tax on each wager would be paid by casinos, with the bulk of the revenue funding the Colorado Water Plan. Some revenue would be directed to administrative costs, a hold harmless fund and a gambling crisis hotline.

The Colorado Water Plan outlines a number of actions such as conserving more water used by cities and industry, storing more water, establishing plans to protect critical watersheds and increasing public awareness of water issues. The Yampa-White-Green River Basin Roundtable would implement the plan locally.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jared Polis requested $30 million to fund the plan and statewide drought planning. The legislature granted $8.3 million to fund the water plan and $1.7 million for drought planning…

Using new technology to trade water rights in real-time

Another law, passed earlier this year, establishes an advisory group to study possible uses of blockchain technology within agriculture.

Blockchain is a way to track transactions, and it uses the same record-keeping technology as bitcoin. Each transaction within the network, whether the blockchain network is trading water or money, is recorded in a block and includes data about transactions under a unique signature, sort of like a username. Each transaction is verified by the network of computers in the blockchain.

Evan Thomas, director of the Mortensen Center in Global Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, presented on possible applications of blockchain in the world of water rights. Blockchain could create a system to trade water by using sensors that track how much water is used or conserved to create “water credits.”

“(Those water credits are) entered into the blockchain,” Thomas said. “Somebody requests a transaction. They say ‘I need to buy more water this month, so I want to buy somebody else’s water credits.’ You enter in that transactionm, and they buy and sell points. The sensor identifies water use and water consumption, (and) turns that into a blockchain node.”

Thomas said this is a worthwhile tool to study in its applications for water rights, but that it is one part of a “suite of tools” that should be examined to update how water is traded.

2019 @COWaterCongress Annual Summer Conference #cwcsc2019

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.

Pictured: Jackie Brown, Nancy Smith, Kevin McBride, Mickey O’Hara, Kelly Romero-Heaney, Mike Camblin, Jojo La, Hunter Causey. (Not in order.)

Here’s the link to Attorney General Phil Weiser’s remarks to the conference.

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.

Adams County is eyeing increased oil and gas facility setback limits #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org

From The Denver Post (John Aguilar):

County to consider 1,000-foot standard for all new oil and gas wells

Adams County could become the first community in Colorado to require a larger separation between new wells and occupied buildings than the state mandates, as leaders at both the state and local level wrestle with how to implement a historic oil and gas reform law passed this year.

The Denver Post got an early look at a draft of the county’s oil and gas regulations, which the commissioners will likely vote on at the end of the month. They call for a 1,000-foot buffer between wells and homes, schools and day care centers — doubling the distance the state presently requires.

The issue of well setbacks became the topic de jour during the 2018 election, when voters were asked to increase the distance between new wells and homes and schools to 2,500 feet statewide. The ballot issue, Proposition 112, was soundly defeated.

But after the passage of Senate Bill 181 in April, which ended state preemption over energy extraction matters and tasked state regulators with putting health and safety ahead of industry expansion, local governments now have the opportunity to increase setbacks on their own.

Adams County in March put a six-month moratorium on any new drilling so that it could rewrite its rules for the industry. There are hundreds of pending permits for wells in the county…

It’s likely communities that have taken an even firmer stance against oil and gas activity in the past, such as Boulder and Larimer counties, may put in place even larger setbacks than what Adams County is proposing…

Just two years ago, when the state did have total authority over setbacks, Thornton was successfully sued by oil and gas industry groups when the city attempted to enlarge setbacks by 250 feet over the state’s minimum.

The judge, in casting aside Thornton’s rules, found that municipalities “cannot authorize what state law forbids or forbid what state law allows.” That has all changed in the wake of SB 181 becoming law.

The state is just embarking on what is expected to be a months-long process to write rules to implement the new oil and gas law. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission held two days of public hearings last week, which were marked with repeated disruptions from fracking opponents in the audience.

Meanwhile, communities continue crafting or revamping their own rules.

“A fundamental obligation of local governments is to mitigate incompatible land uses,” Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio said. “Large-scale oil and gas facilities are often intense industrial uses, which can be incompatible with residential neighborhoods.”

But O’Dorisio said the 1,000-foot buffer being considered is not a “hardline” threshold, as there is language in the proposed rules that would allow oil and gas operators to apply on a case-by-case basis for a waiver to drill closer.

Matt Samelson, an attorney with Western Environmental Law Partners, said Adams County’s proposed setback shouldn’t come as a shock to many of the energy companies that operate in the congested and mineral-rich north suburban corridor.

Many communities, like Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield, have already gotten drillers to agree to setbacks greater than 500 feet as part of voluntary operator agreements that the municipalities have hammered out with the industry over the past few years.

#2019 #Colorado legislative session wrap-up #COleg

The 2015 Colorado Water Plan, on a shelf, at the CU law library. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Coram carried or supported 40 bills in the Colorado Senate this past legislative session and is crafting more for the upcoming session that are aimed at teacher retention, providing funding for entrepreneurs and protecting the lifeblood of the Western Slope, water.

Coram said he is working on creating more stable funding for the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan, a statewide roadmap to conserve 400,000 acre-feet of water per year by 2050, by which time Colorado’s population is expected to swell by millions.

“There really isn’t any sustainable funding right now,” Coram said. “We’re looking at several options. There’s nothing off the table. We can’t rely on severance tax and that’s where we’re at right now.”

Severance taxes come from natural resource extraction, such as oil and gas. The extraction industry is entering a slowdown, with 6,000 permits waiting in the wings, plus there have been layoffs, Coram said. Less extraction means less severance tax, and it could also increase fuel prices for critical sectors such as agriculture, he said.

Additionally, millions in severance tax has been shunted to the state’s general fund over the years, Coram also said…

Helping the West End repurpose Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s power plant for possible biomass power generation remains on his agenda, too.

Recharge pond

From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Callie Jones):

Sonnenberg, who just finished his 13th legislative session, served on the State, Veterans and Military Affairs and the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees during the session, the Capital Development Committee year round and out of session is a member of the Legislative Interim Committee on School Finance, Water Resources Review Committee and the Prison Population Management Interim Study Committee.

The Capital Development Committee is responsible for reviewing funding requests for capital projects from all state agencies, and making prioritized recommendations to the Joint Budget Committee. Sonnenberg called it one of the most fun, nicest committees, noting it is truly a bipartisan committee.

Two weeks ago, the committee toured Colorado’s western slope, visiting some of the state’s assets including a veterans home and fish hatchery in Rifle, the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose, the Georgetown Loop Railroad, Fort Lewis College in Durango and Buena Vista Correctional Center…

Last week, the Water Resources Review Committee, charged with studying the conservation, use development, and financing of water resources of Colorado for the general welfare of its inhabitants, visited Sterling and northeast Colorado to tour the Lower South Platte Basin. Water Education Colorado put together the tour.

“We looked at ag, we looked at recharge, we looked at dairies and how they reuse water, those type of things, we looked at the new 70 Ranch Reservoir (located near Kersey),” Sonnenberg said.

In regards to the 70 Ranch Reservoir, the senator explained he is a little bit worried about how the reservoir works because it was built by someone who is “trying to get ag water and then sell it to the city, that’s going to be his venue to be able to do exchanges.”

“But, from my perspective anytime you build storage it’s a good thing,” Sonnenberg said. “This year worries me, that we don’t have enough storage; we have a lot of water, Nebraska’s going to get water from us, quite frankly they don’t need it this year. That becomes a challenge at the federal level how we handle agriculture in those areas through which it was flooded, there are people that will not plant an acre this year in the Midwest, because of the silt and the water still sitting in fields.”

2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs HB19-1279 (Protect Public Health Firegfighter Safety Regulation #PFAS Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) and HB19-1264 (Conservation Easement Tax Credit Modifications)

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Marianne Goodland):

At an Arvada fire station, Polis signed into law House Bill 1279, which bans certain kinds of foam used in firefighting training. Such foam contains so-called “forever chemicals” that have contaminated drinking water in El Paso County and elsewhere…

The foam contaminated Fountain’s water supply, and it has since installed filters to deal with problem…

HB 1279 bans Class B firefighting foams that contain “intentionally added” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. Such chemicals were used for decades at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and have been found in the nearby Widefield aquifer, which serves Security, Widefield and Fountain.

The foam was sprayed on the ground and used in a firefighting training area that was flushed into the Colorado Springs Utilities treatment system, which was ill-equipped to remove the chemicals. The effluent ended up in Fountain Creek, which feeds the Widefield aquifer.

The Air Force since has replaced that foam with a new version that the military says is less toxic, though it still contains perfluorinated chemicals.

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

In Salida, Polis signed House Bill 1264, which is intended to resolve some of the long-standing problems with the state’s conservation easement program.

Landowners say the Colorado Department of Revenue revoked tax credits awarded to those who entered into conservation easements with land trusts, with more than 800 credits revoked from the 4,000 granted in the program’s first 15 years.

HB 1264 is intended to make the program more transparent, with a warning to landowners that easements are in perpetuity. The bill also requires the Division of Conservation Easements, within the Department of Regulatory Agencies, to set up a committee to determine how to repay those tax credits.

The committee is to hold its first hearing June 25, an addition to the bill made by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

Legislative leaders in both parties are to appoint the committee members, and lawmakers say they intend to include representatives for those who have been denied tax credits as well as other program critics.

From The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

Colorado Governor Jared Polis chose the banks of the Arkansas River in Salida as the ideal location to sign an unprecedented nine bills into law on Monday morning, June 3. The location underscored both the importance of these bills to Colorado’s rural and recreation economies, as well as highlighting Colorado’s growing preference for collaboration to get things done…

SB19-221 – CO Water Conservation Board Construction Fund Project

This bill sponsored by Donovan and Roberts, is focused on the funding of Colorado water conservation board projects, and assigns an appropriation to protect those projects…

SB19-186 – Expand Agricultural Chemical Management Program Protect Surface Water

Another bill sponsored by Donovan, Catlin, Coram and including Rep. Jeni Arndt, seeks to protect Colorado surface water from contamination by the expansion of agriculture chemical management plans.

Polis administration’s: roadmap to 100% #renewableenergy by 2040 and bold #climate action #ActOnClimate

Click here to read the report. Here’s the vision section:

Governor Polis ran on a bold platform of achieving 100% Renewable Energy by 2040. This goal is motivated by the moral imperative to fight climate change and curb pollution of our air and water, as well as the opportunity to drive innovation and harness the consumer savings and economic bene- fits of leading the transition to a clean energy economy. This is our roadmap to achieve this goal.

This transition is already underway and shows no signs of slowing down. The two fastest-growing professions in the United States are solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine service technicians. Fourteen Colorado towns and counties have already taken the initiative and adopted the goal of getting 100% of their electricity from clean renewable energy: Denver, Pueblo, Boulder, Fort Collins, Summit County, Frisco, Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Breckenridge, Longmont, Lafayette, Nederland to Golden. These diverse communities know that protecting Colorado’s way of life means doing our part to combat climate change, and that swiftly adopting renewable energy in our electricity sector and then extending the impact of that clean electricity across the economy will protect the health of our communities, create good paying jobs, strengthen our economy and keep rates low for customers.

The Polis Administration has taken a number of significant steps that make a down payment on our commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2040. By partnering with the Legislature, we’ve empowered the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to facilitate a rapid transition to renewable energy across the state that includes working with our largest utility to invest in renewable energy and meet a goal of reducing greenhouse gas pollution 80% by 2030. We’re building a regulatory framework that will enable the PUC to work with our second largest utility to transition from coal-fired power to cheaper, cleaner sources of renewable energy. We are also making it easier for individual Coloradans to participate by expanding access to energy efficiency and community solar gardens. Additionally, the Legislature passed House Bill 1261, which sets economy-wide targets for reducing greenhouse gas pollution, with goals of 26% reduction by 2025 below 2005 levels, 50% reduction by 2030 and 90% reduction by 2050, and delegates authority to the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt rules to make progress towards those goals.

One of the most important parts of our transition to cleaner energy is electrifying transportation in Colorado. In order to meet the Governor’s goal of 940,000 zero emission vehicles on the road by 2030, state agencies have taken a number of steps, including allocating approximately $14 million to transit agencies across the state to deploy cleaner buses. The agencies are also expeditiously estab- lishing public-private partnerships to build 33 fast charging stations along major highways in the state. Working with the Legislature, we’ve also made it easier for utilities, with oversight from the PUC, to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure.

While we’ve already taken important strides towards our renewable energy vision, there’s much work to do. The policies adopted this legislative session provide the foundation for much higher levels of renewable energy integration, but additional strategies will be needed to get to 100% by 2040. It’s going to take the perspective, expertise, and commitment from diverse voices across the state to forge a renewable energy future that works for all of Colorado. Together, we can do our part to fight climate change, improve air quality and the health of our communities, diversify and strengthen our economy across the state, and ensure the good-paying jobs of the quickly growing green energy economy are created here in Colorado.