Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting recap

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Well associations have boosted the amount of water they intend to use, and a program to augment on-farm irrigation improvements is growing.

“We remain the only basin in Colorado that has regulated irrigation efficiencies,” [Steve] Witte said. “But in the years we have had it, we have increased the acreage in sprinklers and drip irrigation.”

Witte outlined enforcement actions in the Arkansas River basin, noting that violations of well regulations and breaching unsafe or illegal dams occupied his staff’s time last year. In addition, the Division of Water Resources is taking more of a consulting role in water court cases and filing statements of opposition “only if necessary.”

Last year, in 97 cases, the state filed just one statement of opposition, while settling 21 or 50 pending cases it was active in within Division 2, Witte said.

He also reviewed cannabis — hemp or marijuana — requests, noting that 69 growers, mostly in Pueblo County, had filed plans for water through his office.

About the only thing he wasn’t prepared to talk about: New rain barrel legislation that passed the Legislature this year.

The Lower Ark files 2 Rule 10 plans to comply with surface irrigation rules

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Group plans that will help resolve water issues for more than 160 farms were filed this week with the Colorado Department of Water Resources by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

Called Rule 10 plans, they give farmers a way to comply with surface irrigation rules put in place in 2010 as a response to on-farm improvements such as sprinklers and drip irrigation. The state went to court to implement the rules to head off future challenges of the Arkansas River Compact by Kansas.

The state must approve the plans and comments are open on them until April 11.

The Lower Ark district filed two plans, one for farmers on the Fort Lyon Canal, the largest ditch in the Arkansas Valley, and another for farmers on other ditches.

The Fort Lyon plan covers 62 farmers and 99 farms. It projects a credit of 639 acre-feet, but because of monthly accounting, will have to provide some replacement water, said Jack Goble, Lower Ark engineer.

The non-Fort Lyon plan covers 46 farmers and 62 farms on 11 ditches: Amity, Baldwin Stubbs, Bessemer, Buffalo, Catlin, Fort Bent, High Line, Holbrook, Lamar, Las Animas Consolidated and Rocky Ford. It projects a credit of 315 acre-feet, but some recharge and replacement water will be provided on a monthly basis.

Among sources of replacement water for the two plans are Lower Ark storage at Lake Pueblo, Fryingpan-Arkansas water, ditch return flows and leased water from Pueblo Water.

Most of the improvements involve sprinklers fed by ponds, and the Lower Ark district sponsored a study over the past three years which showed leakage from ponds is twice the value originally presumed by the state. The new figure, about four inches per day, is incorporated into both plans.

All of the farms are on ditch systems, since water is generally used in rotation.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Pond leakage study pans out — The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Farmers said all along that the state undershot the amount of water lost to leakage from irrigation ponds.

The final numbers confirm that suspicion, showing the rate is double the original assumption.

“We’re not going to celebrate until we get it in writing,” said Don McBee, who nevertheless was clearly pleased with the results.

McBee, a Lamar farmer, and his neighbor Dale Mauch challenged the Colorado Division of Water Resources assumption that ponds used to feed irrigation sprinklers leaked only about 2 inches per day. A stipulation to 2010 irrigation improvement rules allowed for the formula to determine depletions from sprinklers to be changed if scientific evidence showed the number was wrong.

McBee and Mauch were members of a panel formed in 2008 to advise State Engineer Dick Wolfe on how the rules would be drafted. From the first meeting, they said the state was underestimating pond leakage. Since then, they have urged more study and conducted tours of ponds for state officials.

A three-year study sponsored by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District concluded that the actual median leakage is more than 4.2 inches per day, regardless of weather conditions.

In fact, the number means farmers on the Fort Lyon Canal could owe very little water to the Arkansas River when the leakage is plugged into the depletion formula, said Jack Goble, engineer for the Lower Ark. “It’s a drastic difference,” Goble told the Lower Ark board this week, showing how the rules would have affected irrigation over the past 20 years. “There are still months when the Fort Lyon owes water, but it’s pretty rare.”

A two-year study last year was only partially accepted by the state because not all meters were properly certified. Interim numbers were adopted for 2015.

The new study includes data from three years, 2013-15, during which weather conditions shifted from dry to wet. Data were collected from 23-29 farms with more than 750 measurements. Most were on the Fort Lyon Canal.

The Lower Ark’s proposal to the state would provide more flexibility for frequency of irrigation as well, reflecting the number of days the ponds were filled.

“We will incorporate the data for the Fort Lyon Rule 10 plan this year,” said Bill Tyner, assistant division engineer. “We’re working on a provision to use the factors with owners not in the Fort Lyon plan.”

The state is working on the memorandum of understanding with the farmers and the Lower Ark district to make the numbers permanent.

There also will be periodic testing to verify the formula, and the tests will not be burdensome to farmers, Tyner added.

The farmers still must pay a fee to develop the annual plans, but will save money because of the need to purchase less replacement water.

“All of these efforts have been a huge benefit,” said Lynden Gill, chairman of the Lower Ark board. “When we started, there was a big wall in front of us. Now, things have come together.”

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Robbing our groundwater savings accounts for today’s needs — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Dick Wolfe, Colorado’s state water engineer, recently defined “sustainable groundwater supply” as one that is managed so that recharge matches withdrawals in a way to avoid long-term depletion of the aquifer.

By that definition, Colorado is not, for the most part, using its aquifers sustainably. Nor, for that matter, is most of the nation or world.

That much was made clear at a conference on Dec. 4 that was conducted by the American Ground Water Trust. Andrew Stone, the organization’s executive director, said 14 percent of all water used to irrigate crops in the United States comes from mining groundwater aquifers. This started slowly, but picked up as pumps and cheap energy became available around the end of World War II. The extraction by farmers and cities of water above the rate of recharge is now close to 400 cubic kilometers.

“We are robbing our savings account,” he said.

Driven by population growth and the uncertain effects of climate change, pressures on these subterranean savings accounts will only worsen, he said. This is not inevitable. He cited Los Angeles, which after World War II turned to groundwater exploitation to satisfy growth. “In the 1960s, it was pretty clear that the LA Basin was cruising for big trouble,” he said. But unsustainable exploitation has ended.

Problems of groundwater exploitation are common in many areas of the country, but solutions must be forged locally, “aquifer by aquifer, region by region,” said Stone.

Sobering statistics

The day was littered with fascinating statistics. Jeff Lukas, of the Western Water Assessment, explained that of the 95 million acre-feet that falls on Colorado, only 14 million acre-feet end up as runoff in our streams and rivers. The remainder, 80 million acre-feet, evaporates or gets drawn back into the atmospheric through transpiration. Together, the two are called evapotranspiration, or ET.

This rate of ET will almost certainly rise as the atmosphere warms. In the last 30 years, temperatures have ratcheted up 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate models forecast another increase of between 2.5 to 5 degrees by mid-century in Colorado. By mid-century, the hottest summers of the last 50 to 100 years will become the norm.

Too, everything from corn to urban lawns will need 5 to 30 percent more moisture during the longer, hotter summers—assuming precipitation does not increase.

How much precipitation will change as the result of elevated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere remains a mystery. Unlike temperatures, average precipitation in Colorado has not changed appreciably in the last three decades. Climate models have been clear about increasing temperatures, but precipitation remains a flip of the coin.

However, warming alone will drive changes, “pushing both the supply and demand in the wrong direction,” said Lukas. Increased evapotranspiration will reduce runoff and the amount of moisture available to percolate into soils and down into aquifers. Spring runoff has already accelerated and will come one to three weeks earlier.

Bottom line: Hotter temperatures will drive farmers to suck up more subterranean water. If anything, aquifers will recharge more slowly.

Wolfe, in his turn at the microphone, had even more statistics: Of Colorado’s 16 million acre-feet, 10 million acre-feet flow out of state, mostly as a result of compacts governing the Colorado and other rivers.

“That leaves us about 6 million acre-feet in Colorado to use,” he said. This surface water provides about 83 percent of water used in Colorado, and the other 17 percent comes from aquifers, which are tapped by 270,000 wells.

Of this groundwater, 85 percent goes to agriculture, for more than 2 million acres, but there’s also a strong urban component. One in five Coloradans get their water from wells. Most prominent are Denver’s southern suburbs in Douglas County.

Denver’s South Metro

South Metro has been a poster child for living in the moment. It’s affluent and rapidly growing. Served almost exclusively by wells, the residents of Castle Park, Parker and adjoining areas comprise about 6 percent of Colorado’s population but command 30 percent of income. Today’s population of 300,000 residents is projected to grow to 550,000 by mid-century.

Wells have been dropping rapidly, five feet in just one year in Dawson, one of the aquifers.

Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, explained that it was always understood that wells would not last forever. The area had hoped to benefit from Denver’s Two Forks Dam, which was to have been filled primarily by expanded diversions from the Western Slope.

Two Forks was sunk by environmental concerns in the early 1990s. Inconveniently, Douglas County surged in population, routinely landing in the top 10 of the nation’s fastest-growing counties, a distinction that only lately has abated.

Other projects have also nudged the South Metro area off its exclusive dependence on groundwater, but even collectively they do not provide the answer. Hecox called for continued efforts to pinpoint needs while creating a new generation of partnerships and infrastructure.

Can South Metro’s needs for sustainable water supplies be answered by building a giant pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir, on the Utah-Wyomng border? That idea was proposed in 2006 by entrepreneur Aaron Million, and then echoed by Frank Jaeger, the now-retired director of Parker Water and Sanitation District.

Hecox said the Bureau of Reclamation study about water availability from Flaming Gorge has not been completed. That study will provide the 14 members in Hecox’s South Metro coalition “base information on which to decide whether we want to pursue it any further,” he said.

Two key agriculture areas

Two agriculture areas in Colorado that rely upon aquifers are in arguably worse shape. The San Luis Valley has an area called the Closed Basin. With the arrival of electricity to farms in the 1950s, large-scale pumping began and, for a number of years, all went well, said Steve Vandiver, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

Despite earlier hints of problems, the magnitude of over-pumping started becoming apparent in 1998. One million acre-feet had been pumped from the aquifer above the amount of recharge. Figuring out what to do took time and negotiation. “There have been rocks thrown from every quarter,” he said.

The plan now in place has cut pumping by 30 percent during the last three years. The amount of irrigated acreage has declined from 175,00 to 150,000 acres. Water use on those remaining acres has been reduced in some cases by planting different, less water-intensive crops and also by using different irrigation methods.

Up to 300,000 cubic feet per second of water continues to be pumped on the fields in the Closed Basin on hot summer days.

And the Ogallala….

The Ogallala Aquifer is perhaps America’s best-known story of groundwater depletion. It extends over parts of eight states, from Texas to South Dakota, and the aquifer has declined at a shocking rate in several of those states, but more slowly or not at all in places, especially the Nebraska Sand Hills.

The Republican River Basin of northeastern Colorado is emblematic of many. Farmers working with local districts and the state government have been shifting the paradigm. Whether they’re shifting rapidly enough is an open question.

The river and its tributaries originate on the high plains, gaining no benefit from mountain snowpack. Yet this region had 480,000 irrigated acres in an area where annual precipitation is only 17 inches a year.

The key: mining the Ogallala. In the late 1970s, Colorado began taking action to slow the unsustainable over-pumping, but more radical measures were triggered by the need to comply with the interstate compact governing the river shared with Nebraska and Kansas. Colorado was forced to release more water downstream.

It did this partly by abandoning Bonny Reservoir, eliminating the evaporative losses. At greater expense, the district constructed an expensive pipeline and now pumps water—ironically from wells—to release into the Republican River at the state line. The total cost of the pipeline and the purchase of water rights was $48 million.

Much is being done to steer the Titanic away from the iceberg of exhausted aquifer water, but Deb Daniel, general manager of the Republican River Water Conservation District, suggested the magnitude of the challenge when she said: “Sustainable, that’s a scary word where I come from.”

(For a story I recently wrote about the Ogallala in Colorado, see the Headwaters Magazine website).

Wells along the South Platte

Unlike everything else said in the day, several speakers argued that not enough pumping has been occurring along the South Platte River. Their solution: more reservoirs and also more acreage returned to production.

Robert A. Longenbaugh, a consulting water engineer, pointed to 400,000 acre-feet average annually flowing into Nebraska above the compact requirement. “I call that a waste of water,” he said. At the same time, he and others pointed to reports of basements in Weld County getting flooded because of rising groundwater levels.

Even in the 1960s, a Colorado law was adopted that formally recognized that aquifers and surface streamflows comingled waters . In other words, if you have a well a quarter-mile from the South Platte River at Greeley and pump it, that might mean less water in the river as it flows toward Fort Morgan.

The drought of 2002 forced the issue, and in 2006 the state put well irrigators into the priority system. In 2012, a hot and dry year, many wells had to be shut down and corn and other corps left to dry up. Longenbaugh called for changes.

“Strict priority administration of ground and surface rights does not maximize the beneficial use,” he declared. Instead, he wants to se a “real-time management of the South Platte, to monitor surface and ground water and “make short-term decisions” looking out six months ahead while still maintaining the priority-appropriation doctrine that is the bedrock of Colorado water law.

A panel of state legislators later in the day acknowledged varying degrees of agreement with Longenbaugh’s statement. Sen. Mary Hodge, a Democrat from Brighton, described a pendulum that went from “too lax” to now one of being “too stringent.”

Sen. Vicki Marble, a Republican from Fort Collins, described the situation as deserving of an “emergency measure.” She later added: “We should let people self-regulate,” while suggesting that the wells should be allowed to pump. “It’s their right,” she said.

More groundwater coverage here.

Lake Pueblo State Park: Proposed new pumping rules to be discussed November 17 #ArkansasRiver

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Groundwater rules that could help certain farmers avoid some of the cost of water court applications are being considered for the Arkansas River basin.

“We’re not necessarily committed to this idea, but it may have benefits,” Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday. “The public needs to weigh in.”

The first chance to do that will be at a meeting at 1 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Lake Pueblo State Park visitors center auditorium.

The rules would apply to water replacement plans for post-1985 pumping, new uses for wells drilled prior to 1985 or new wells. They would provide an administrative alternative to water court, which can be too expensive for individual water users to navigate.

Witte reviewed the history of legal issues surrounding wells in the Arkansas Valley, including the 1972 attempt to reconcile surface and groundwater use, the Kansas v. Colorado case filed in 1985 that led to the 1996 well rules and the Simpson v. Bijou decision by the state Supreme Court in 2003 that took many well augmentation plans out of the hands of the state engineer.

“Decreed plans for augmentation costs have been so prohibitive in the South Platte that thousands of wells remain shut down to this day because of Simpson v. Bijou,” Witte said. There have also been instances in the Arkansas River basin, he said after the meeting.

On the same day that the Simpson v. Bijou ruling came, the state Legislature entered the Arkansas Valley well rules into law. In 2003, it also gave the state engineer’s office authority to approve five-year substitute water supply plans and to develop future rules.

Nearly 1,800 wells in the Arkansas Valley are covered by Rule 14 group augmentation plans under the 1996 rules, and those would stay in place even if new well rules are adopted.

The new rules could benefit a farmer who wants to use his own surface water rights to replace water pumped from wells, revegetation projects or even someone drilling a new well for a business, Witte said. At the same time, they would protect downstream water users and Colorado’s obligation under the Arkansas River Compact.

Witte acknowledged that there might an “augmentation gap” that makes finding sources of replacement water difficult, as discussed by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable recently. Permanently changing water uses still would require a trip to court.

But he said the purpose of the rules would be to give farmers a new tool to stay in business while complying with water law.

“We’re relying on data that were developed 30 years ago,” Witte said. “Life goes on and we need to think of ways to adjust and not be hampered by things already in place.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable approves $175,000 for tailwater study

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The state is being asked to help fund a study that looks at farmers’ contentions that estimates for return flows to the Arkansas River are inflated. A standard of 10 percent for tailwater — water that sheets off fields during irrigation before it can soak in — is used in mathematical models adopted during the 24-year Kansas v. Colorado U.S. Supreme Court case under the Arkansas River Compact. Those models also affect consumptive use rules that apply to surface water improvements such as sprinklers or drip irrigation.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable last week forwarded a $175,000 grant request to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to determine if that number is too high.

“Farmers on the Fort Lyon did not believe 10 percent was really happening,” said Leah Martinsson, a lawyer working with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which is applying for the grant.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

The ditch is more than 100 miles long and irrigates 94,000 acres and usually water short. That increases the likelihood that the estimate of tailwater runoff is too high, since much of the water never makes it back to the river, she explained. The higher the tailwater number, the greater the obligation from farmers to deliver water to the Arkansas River. So, reducing the figure in the group augmentation plans filed with the state would mean a reduction in the amount of replacement water.

While the concern of Fort Lyon farmers is the model used in the consumptive use rules, it also could affect the hydrologic-institution model that guides Colorado’s obligation from wells.

“If we are prepared with good technical data, we will go in and try to change the H-I model,” said Bill Tyner, assistant division engineer with the Division of Water Resources.

It would not be the first attempt to change the model. The state also is funding an ongoing lysimeter study at Rocky Ford to determine if evapotransporation rates in the Arkansas Valley are higher than assumed in the model.

Another study is looking at whether ponds that feed sprinklers leak more than the model assumes.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum
Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More than 28,000 acres of Arkansas Valley farm ground — roughly a tenth of all irrigated land — is being covered by group plans that guard against increased consumptive use from surface irrigation improvements.

The state pushed consumptive use rules for irrigation through Division 2 Water Court in 2010. The rules are meant to protect Colorado in its 1949 Arkansas River Compact with Kansas.

Rule 10 allows groups to file plans in order to save on legal, engineering and administrative costs.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is administering two Rule 10 plans this year.

One covers farms on the Fort Lyon, which represents 18,000 acres. About 12,000 of those acres are under sprinklers, while the remainder are flood irrigated.

The second plan covers 10,000 acres not on the Fort Lyon Canal, with two-thirds of that under sprinklers and 105 acres using drip irrigation.

“About two-thirds of the farm are in the Fort Lyon plan. The goal is eventually to have them in their own group plan that would be self-sustaining,” said the district’s engineer Jack Goble during a presentation at Wednesday’s board meeting.

This year’s Lower Ark plans cover 235 improvements on 92 farms that should require almost 1,900 acre-feet of replacement water. The amount owed is determined by a mathematical model devised by the Colorado Division of Water Resources that determines how much water would have been used before and after improvements.

“It’s a guess of what we’ll owe,” Goble said. “The model is almost like a parallel universe.”

The more water used in irrigation increases the amount owed to replace depletions in the river.

“The more water that comes through the ditch, the more is owed,” Goble said.

Goble walked the board through the complicated model, which takes irrigation flows, precipitation, seepage and runoff into account.

The Lower Ark district is in the second year of a study on pond leakage, which so far is showing that more water is escaping than accounted for in the state’s model. Data from the study in some cases has been applied to specific ponds.

More Ark Valley Consumptive Use Rules coverage here and here.

Arkansas River Basin: “We’re getting screwed here. Does Kansas owe me water?” — Dale Mauch

Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.
Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Farmers are still not happy with the state’s accounting of the impact of surface irrigation improvements on return flows to the Arkansas River.

“We’ve got to change the formula,” Lamar farmer Dale Mauch told officials Friday after learning of preliminary results from a two-year pond study at a meeting hosted by the Prowers County Soil Conservation District. “We’re getting screwed here. Does Kansas owe me water?”

The pond study is being conducted under a state grant through the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and won’t be finished until next year. But results from 2013 show that ponds leak about twice as much as assumed under a state formula adopted in 2010 surface irrigation rules.

The rules are meant to assure that Colorado does not take more of its share than it is entitled to under the Arkansas River Compact with Kansas, said Assistant Division Engineer Bill Tyner.

The Lower Ark district provided 1,160 acre-feet of replacement water to make up for calculated deficits caused by sprinklers on 107 farms under Rule 10 plans this year. Most of the sprinklers are located on the Fort Lyon Canal. Those included 81 ponds, which were presumed to leak at a rate of about 10 percent under the state formula.

But a study of 20 ponds by engineers Jerry Knudsen and Brian Lauritsen shows they leaked anywhere from 3-45 percent, averaging about 18 percent. Those numbers were used in the state calculations, but only for ponds that were measured.

Ponds with higher leakage tend to crack as they dry up between irrigation runs, Knudsen said. Because of the drought, irrigation runs were less frequent this year, and most of the 50 farmers who attended the meeting expressed doubts that a water-short ditch like the Fort Lyon Canal owed any water to the river under those conditions.

Cutting back the amount of augmentation water needed for the Rule 10 plans is critical to making irrigation affordable. The price of augmentation water is expected to increase, especially in years such as this one when it is not readily available. Water used for this year’s Rule 10 plans ranged in cost from Fry-Ark water, which costs $7.50 per acre-foot, to water leased from the Pueblo Board of Water Works, at a cost of $250 per acre-foot (including storage). Other sources included the Larkspur Ditch and Twin Lakes water owned by the Lower Ark district.

While the cost is going up, water leasing also competes with well groups, said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Ark district.

“Buying water on the spot market in the future is not promising,” Winner said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

CWCB: Study for the Lower Ark shows that the average unlined farm pond leaks as much as 20%


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Most ponds used by farmers to feed sprinkler systems are losing more than 20 percent of the water stored in them because of leakage.

A preliminary written report was released this week detailing the findings of the study, being conducted by Agritech Consulting and Valley Ag Consulting for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The study is being conducted in hopes of altering a state formula that assumes only 3 percent loss. At a meeting earlier this month, the district reported that farmers in the study already are able to claim greater leakage, but officials held out little hope the assumptions of the state formula could be changed. The study found 13 of the 22 ponds in the study had leakage rates higher than 20 percent. Measurements were taken as water flowed into ponds and as it ran through sprinklers. Overall, seepage cost farmers 300 acre-feet of the 1,340 acre-feet that flowed into ponds. The state’s formula would have given them credit for just 40 acre-feet.

Gerald Knudsen of Agritech, who analyzed the results of the study, said drought may have been a factor in the data from the first year of the study. The study will continue next year that will help researchers evaluate the relationship between seepage and physical or environmental conditions. “This further review may be significant since the data collected to date represents drought conditions when there is a longer period of time between runs and more frequent use of the ponds may reduce the seepage rates,” the report stated.

The study is being funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The state uses pond leakage as one factor in its formula to evaluate consumptive use of surface irrigation improvements under 2010 rules designed to head off future disputes with Kansas. The Lower Ark district offers a group plan that helps farmers repay water the state says is owed to the river.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

A study of leakage in ponds that feed field irrigation systems already is saving some farmers thousands of dollars in water cost.

But a state formula that assumes only 3 percent of the water leaks won’t be changed until the study results are final — and maybe not even then. The formula is used under Rule 10 of the state engineer’s 2010 consumptive use rules to prevent expansion of water rights under surface irrigation rules. The state pushed for the rules to avoid further challenges by Kansas of Arkansas River Compact violations.

Farmers have to pay for replacement water, so if they can show they are losing more than presumed, they spend less.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is funding the study by Gerry Knudsen of Agritech and Brian Lauritsen of Valley Ag Consulting to determine how much water leaks out of the ponds.

Seepage varies from 3-5 percent in some ponds to 44 percent at others, depending on how dry the ponds are when they first fill and the type of soil. A total of 26 ponds are in the study, located mostly on the Fort Lyon Canal, where most of the sprinklers are.

The ponds had 1,340 acre-feet of inflow, and lost 300 acre-feet, or 22 percent.

The results from individual ponds already are being used by the Colorado Division of Water Resources to calculate losses on specific farms, but have not altered the presumptive model.

The study, funded by a $60,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board that was obtained by the Lower Ark district, won’t be complete until 2014. Even then, it might not change the state’s outlook on pond leakage.

“My view is that the ponds will have to be measured forever,” said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Ark district. “The ponds which have instrumentation will get the credit.”

Knudsen agreed, saying it’s similar to how GPS systems were incorporated into cultivation several years ago because the initial technology soon became essential rather than optional.

Lauritsen added that better meters are needed and must be properly calibrated to get the best results.

More Arkansas Valley consumptive use rules coverage here and here.

Rules designed to limit consumptive use now cover nearly 20,000 acres in the Arkansas Valley


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Understanding irrigation in the Lower Arkansas Valley

Consumptive use refers to the amount of water a crop uses to grow, either through uptake into the plant and transpiration, or through evaporation. Usually it is measured in inches, but presumptive factors have been incorporated into the hydrologic-institutional model under the U.S. Supreme Court Kansas v. Colorado case.

Return flow is excess water applied to fields that runs off as tailwater or infiltrates soil. Water also can seep out of earthen ditches as it makes its way to the fields.

Water-short ditches, such as the Fort Lyon Canal or Holbrook Ditch, typically have more ground available to irrigate than water supplies will cover. Other ditches, such as the Catlin or High Line canals, have plentiful water except in very dry years.

Sprinklers, drip irrigation and ditch lining allow water to be applied more efficiently to fields. In the process, more water could be consumed as more acreage is planted on water-short ditches or used more often on ditches with adequate water. Return flows could be reduced as a result.

State engineer rules were adopted in Division 2 water court in 2009 to prevent shortages of return flows on the Arkansas River, to downstream users in both Colorado and Kansas…

This year, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District established a group plan for farmers who use ponds to feed sprinklers to comply using formulas under Rule 10 of the surface irrigation rules. The plan also covers other types of improvements such as ditch lining and drip irrigation, but sprinklers account for nearly all of the impact so far. The Lower Ark district will use water from other sources, such as a five-year lease agreement with the Pueblo Board of Water Works, to provide augmentation water to make up depletions from increased consumptive use.

While the group plan requires a retainer fee and payment for augmentation water if the formula shows depletion, the payment is far less than farmers otherwise would spend on engineering at each site to show losses. So far, 88 farms with 104 improvements covering 19,767 acres are enrolled in the Lower Ark’s Rule 10 plan, said Heath Kuntz, the district’s engineering consultant. “We’re anticipating a lot of growth over the next few years,” Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district, told the compact administration.

From the state’s point of view, the program has been the backbone for enforcing the new rules. About 75 farms were signed up at the beginning of the program in April, and the others have signed on at the end of the irrigation season as the state assessed impacts, said Bill Tyner, assistant engineer for Water Division 2. “The Rule 10 plan has turned out to be the most successful part of the rules,” Tyner said, thanking the Lower Ark district and the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the seed money which launched the group plan.

More Ark Valley consumptive use rules coverage here and here.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District files change case for the Larkspur Ditch


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District has spent $1 million over the past three years to purchase the ditch from the Catlin Canal. It owns about 73 percent of the Larkspur. In November, the district filed for a change of use in Division 2 Water Court to allow for domestic and augmentation uses in addition to agriculture for the water. “It’s a transmountain water right, so it’s valuable because the water can be reused after it is brought over,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

Larkspur Ditch brings 300-500 acre-feet of water annually from the Gunnison River basin into the Arkansas River basin through several collection ditches and a high-mountain ditch at Marshall Pass southwest of Salida. The Lower Ark district has improved the yield over the last seven years under a cooperative arrangement with the Catlin Canal Co.

Under a 1041 land-use agreement with the Otero County Commissioners, the Lower Ark has committed to offering first use of the water to users within the county. Initially, some of the water will be applied to Rule 10 group plans under the surface irrigation consumptive use rules approved in water court in 2010. The water is used to augment on-farm sprinkler systems. Several Otero County farms are enrolled in the Lower Ark’s augmentation plan.

More transmountain/transbasin diversions coverage here.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District has contracted with the Pueblo Board of Water Works for a five year augmentation plan supply


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District will buy 500 acre-feet of water from the Pueblo Board of Water Works each year for the next five years under the lease agreement. The Lower Ark board approved the lease Wednesday, while the Pueblo water board is expected to consider it in November. The price is $196.54 per acre-foot, the same rate as paid by Two Rivers, which is using the water in its project to restore agriculture on the Huerfano-Cucharas Ditch in Pueblo County…

The water is needed to fill augmentation needs calculated under the district’s group plan that allows farmers to comply with state rules adopted last year. The district has other water resources, but some are dedicated to other purposes. The Pueblo water board, in nearly every year, has surplus water available for leases and has the option to curtail the deliveries if supplies run short. “We want to make sure we have a reliable supply of water for the Rule 10 plan,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

State Engineer Dick Wolfe successfully guided the rules through Water Court to ensure that improvements such as large irrigation sprinklers, drip irrigation and canal lining did not increase consumptive use. Increasing consumptive use would decrease return flows used by ditches downstream and possibly reduce Arkansas River flows at the Kansas state line…

Rule 10 allows farmers to join a group plan rather than go through more costly engineering on individual systems. The Division 2 engineer’s office developed a model that assures compliance with the formula governing well augmentation under the federal lawsuit. More than 70 wells signed up for the Rule 10 plan under this year, its first year. More are expected next year. Lower Ark has the only group plan in the Arkansas Valley…

Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte said six owners of 10 irrigation sprinklers were issued notices of violation of the rules this year. One of those proved the sprinkler was installed prior to 1999, and thus exempt; one is in appeal; and the rest are apparently joining the Rule 10 plan.

More Arkansas Valley consumptive use rules coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley lysimeter installation data may have an effect on consumptive use calculations in change cases

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The lysimeter physically weighs the amount of water being used on a crop, rather than estimating use through equations. At the same time, a weather station at the site calibrates temperature, moisture, wind speed and other environmental factors to take the guesswork out of where the water comes from and where it goes. Results from 2008-10 show that with 10 to 12 inches of rainfall and 40 to 44 inches of irrigation water, nearly all of the water was used by the alfalfa crop. Very little of the water drained…

Still, the research has far-reaching implications about how consumptive use is treated in the courtroom, said Dale Straw, a Division of Water Resources researcher. The Penman-Montieth model replaced the Blanney-Criddle model as the way water use is estimated after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kansas’ interpretation in the Kansas v. Colorado lawsuit over the Arkansas River Compact. That decision means that well users in Colorado repay depletions to the aquifer at the highest possible rate. Within the state, Water Court decisions have tended to underestimate the use of water because of pressure from objectors during change cases, Straw said.

The state hopes to improve the Penman-Montieth model by introducing data specific to the Arkansas Valley. Currently, the model is based on data collected in Idaho. The Penman-Montieth takes more weather factors into consideration, and the wind in the Arkansas Valley appears to be the biggest variable not taken into account, Straw said.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Lower Arkansas Valley: New rules to prevent increased consumptive use update

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“One of the main reasons we started down this course was to get something done in a proactive way rather than responding to a crisis,” Wolfe said. “For legal and technical reasons, we decided to develop the rules now rather than wait until we had a situation like in 1985, when Kansas sued Colorado.” The state is mainly concerned about more than 100 sprinkler systems, now being used by about 70 farmers, throughout the Lower Arkansas Valley, east of Pueblo.

Of those, about 40 farmers have signed up for a plan by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District that the district fought to include in the rules during two years of meetings prior to their adoption. “What we are trying to do is give the softest landing possible for the farmers,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “I don’t agree with the rules, but this way the farmers can do what they do best, which is to farm, and we do what we do best, the paperwork.”

The district has received grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the engineering necessary to set up the compliance plans and developed a fee structure for participants that reduces the individual cost of complying with the new rules. The district has hired an engineering consultant to crunch the numbers. “In the future, I hope that there are 1,000 of these, because sprinklers help the farmers, mainly in saving labor costs,” Winner said…

Bill Tyner, assistant division engineer, estimated there are between 65-70 farmers with 100-120 systems irrigating with sprinklers fed by ponds. Sprinklers and drip systems dating back to 1999 are covered by the rules. There are very few drip irrigation systems fed by surface sources. Either a group compliance plan or detailed engineering reports are needed in the valley’s major agricultural areas east of Pueblo, the focus of concern in complying with the Arkansas River Compact. General permits for improvements will suffice in other areas of the Arkansas River basin, which lets the state know where improvements have been made.

More Ark Valley consumptive use rules coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“We’ve still got a long ways to go, because there’s a lot of legal stuff,” said Super Ditch President John Schweizer. “There is a lot of paperwork and permits involved, but it all looks very promising.”[…]

Super Ditch delayed its signup date to Feb. 15 at the request of the High Line board in order to give shareholders on all seven ditches time to consider the pros and cons of signing on.

High Line shareholders also approved a feasibility study that would allow the ditch company to buy shares that are for sale. “It might be a way to help young farmers get a start,” [Superintendent Dan Henrichs] said.

More than 80 percent of those on the Fort Lyon Canal have returned cards saying they are interested in participating in Super Ditch contracts. Dale Mauch, a former Fort Lyon president who represents the canal on Super Ditch, said there are many frustrations that have been expressed by farmers, and more are interested in participating in a water leasing program. “The groundswell of Super Ditch is gaining momentum,” Mauch said. “It’s a way to deal with all these issues we’re facing.”[…]

The Lower Ark district is paying for the legal and engineering fees to jump-start Super Ditch, and is sponsoring the compliance plan for the irrigation rules to reduce the costs to farmers. On behalf of the Super Ditch, the Lower Ark sent out packets asking 2,000 shareholders on the seven ditch systems if they are interested in the program and has received more than 600 positive replies with some replies from each ditch.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two meetings today will help test support for the Super Ditch. The Super Ditch board this month sent signup cards and information packets to shareholders on seven ditches in advance of the meetings, which are at 1 p.m. at the Gobin Community Building in Rocky Ford and at 6 p.m. at the Bowman Building at Lamar. The process will gauge interest among water rights owners for contracts with the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority and Aurora. While agreements have been signed, the specific water rights to be used in meeting supply have to be identified to satisfy legal and engineering requirements. The Bessemer, Catlin, Fort Lyon, High Line, Holbrook, Otero and Oxford ditch systems are eligible for participation…

The Lower Ark is seeking two grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for Super Ditch projects:

– $254,000 for engineering of delivery systems, including storage; the Lower Ark would match with $28,000.

– $28,000 to study long-term farm financial planning from temporary water transfers, with $3,000 from the Lower Ark.

The CWCB funds would come from $1.5 million which is available for studies of alternative projects to municipal purchases of water rights in agriculture.

[Colorado State University] is doing studies on farms owned by the Lower Ark district on the High Line and Holbrook canals to determine how much expense per acre farmers could expect during a lease. That would include the value of crops not grown and ground preparation. Part of the study mirrors corn test plot research at the CSU Arkansas Valley Research Center, but there is an additional economic component as well. Cabot is developing a spreadsheet tool that farmers could use to calculate whether a lease makes sense for them. The research also is looking at whether alternative crops that require less water, such as canola or sorghum, could be grown on irrigated ground as dryland crops during fallowing periods.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A group plan for irrigators that would allow them to comply with new state rules on surface irrigation in the Arkansas Valley was approved Wednesday. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District approved its plan 6-1 and will begin signing up farmers immediately in advance of Jan. 1, when the new rules take effect. Otero County Director Wayne Whittaker opposed the plan, saying it costs farmers too much and puts the Lower Ark district in a role that should belong to the state. “When we first discussed this, it was going to cost farmers $100 and we would just do the paperwork to submit to the division engineer,” Whittaker said.

More Lower Ark coverage here and here.

Pueblo: The Board of Water Works lays out 2011 budget with 5% rate increase

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday proposed a $30.7 million budget, a little less than originally proposed. The budget will mean a 5 percent rate increase for Pueblo water customers, mostly to cover rising energy costs and increased legal and engineering expenses. Employee salaries and benefits will increase about 2 percent, including a 1.43 cost of living increase. For residential customers, the increase would mean a typical increase of about $1.50 per month in winter months, or less than $5 per month during summer months with lawn watering for single-family homeowners.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Arkansas Valley seep ditch curtailment update

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“Our intent is not to administer the law in a way that puts people out of business, but we have to administer water rights,” Wolfe said. “When the governor (Bill Ritter) asked me to take this job, I told him I would uphold the constitution, knowing that it would affect people’s livelihoods.”

At the time, in 2007, the state was dealing with compact issues on the Republican River and a water rights dispute in the South Platte basin that had the effect of shutting down many high-volume irrigation wells. The state also was looking at irrigation consumptive use rules that affected the Arkansas River Compact. Those rules will go into effect Jan. 1, and will require irrigators to account for surface-water improvements such as sprinklers, drip irrigation and ditch lining. Wolfe said more than a year of meetings helped the state explain its position to farmers and modify the rules to make them less onerous. He said he hopes to achieve the same results by having his staff meet with those affected by the seep ditch rules…

Seep ditches sprang up to use return flows — water that runs off fields and is not used to grow crops — from larger irrigation systems. As a result, they generally have decreed water rights that are junior to mutual irrigation ditches. The state says those rights must be curtailed until downstream senior rights are satisfied. Seep ditch owners say they have used the water for decades — 100 years or more in some cases — without complaint from the downstream ditches. More than 40 farms are at risk. They say the water was never available before it was claimed in seep ditch rights, and would have never made it back to the stream, anyway. Therefore, they argue, any downstream call should be regarded as a futile call — legally available, but unable to be physically delivered. The water rights of downstream owners have been filled at the expense of other rights upstream that are senior to the seep ditch rights, said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer. Witte admitted the seep ditch rights have never been enforced by him or his predecessors. He said that’s a mistake, and farmers who have used the water have benefitted at the expense of others.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Arkansas Valley: Water court judge Dennis Maes signs new surface water irrigation rules

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“The process worked,” said State Engineer Dick Wolfe, who filed the application for the rules. “That was our vision from the outset. Even after we filed the rules, we continued to work with the objectors, and that led to productive changes in the rules.” Settlements reached earlier this month with all of the objectors in the case avoided the need for a trial that was scheduled for November.

The rules apply only to the Arkansas River basin and are designed to prevent farm improvements such as sprinklers, drip irrigation or canal lining from increasing consumptive use, in order to comply with the Arkansas River Compact between Colorado and Kansas…

The rules become effective Jan. 1 and require anyone making an improvement to a surface irrigation system to file an application. Those who installed sprinklers or drip irrigation systems after Oct. 1, 1999, also must file.

The rules were first suggested in 2007 by Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte to address the possibility that farm efficiencies would increase consumptive use and deplete return flows — the water that drains off fields. That could violate a section of the Arkansas River Compact that prohibits developing “works” that increase the use of water in Colorado. Kansas sued Colorado in 1985, leading to a 24-year lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court…

There are three ways of complying with the rules: through direct engineering reports, under a general permit or through a compact compliance plan. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is developing a compliance plan, which would charge farmers for administration and allow those who show a gain in return flows under the model to claim a credit. The compliance plan would be for farmers in the areas below Pueblo Dam.

More Ark Valley consumptive use rules coverage here.

Arkansas Valley: All parties settle out of new surface water irrigation rules case

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

All parties have stipulated in the case, but the final decree has not been sent to Division 2 Water Court Judge Dennis Maes, according to Mardell DiDomenico, an employee of the court…

The rules have been discussed for nearly three years as a way to prevent consumptive use from expanding as a result of more efficient farm practices such as canal lining or sprinklers fed from ponds. State Engineer Dick Wolfe organized a committee to develop the rules in 2008 after numerous objections surfaced to the initial form. Wolfe argued that the rules are needed in order to prevent Kansas from beginning new litigation over the 1949 Arkansas River Compact. Colorado and Kansas last year settled a 24-year lawsuit over the compact.

The rules include provisions for general compliance, individual engineering reports or group plans to meet guidelines for new systems that have been developed by the state engineer. They apply only to agricultural surface water, as wells already are covered by 1996 rules.

More Arkansas Valley consumptive use rules coverage here.

Arkansas Valley: Current and potential movement of agricultural water to other uses

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Industrial and municipal water wonks plan far in advance to satisfy projected future water supply needs. In Colorado part of the planning often includes acquiring agricultural rights for a change of use. Regulations designed to protect senior rights holders and satisfy the numerous compacts that Colorado and the downstream states have put in place over the years also put pressure on irrigated land. Here’s an in-depth report from Chris Woodka writing for the The Pueblo Chieftain. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

New actions in the state threaten to take more acreage. Woodmoor Water and Sanitation has signed contracts that would have the effect of drying up 1,500 acres. A state crackdown on seep-ditch rights could remove water from 6,500 acres, and new agriculture consumption rules could tie up more augmentation water that otherwise would be available for irrigation.

But events already have been set in motion to dry up far more farm ground. Transfers from 1950 to the present could take water off one-third of historically irrigated land in the Arkansas River basin — nearly 150,000 of 450,000 acres, according to information compiled by The Pueblo Chieftain. A recent state report — a draft document projecting potential agricultural demands to 2050 — shows that an additional, as yet unidentified, 63,000 acres could be taken out of production in the next 40 years to meet a municipal “gap” in water supply…

The state report also points to a need for 862,000 acre-feet of consumptive use water annually to fully irrigate land that is expected to remain in production by 2050. However, there would be a shortfall of nearly 400,000 acre-feet, because the full amount of water is not likely to be available in most years. The state estimates that between 350,000 and 400,000 acres of land could be irrigated, but there is rarely enough water available now to satisfy that demand.

In The Chieftain’s study, the 150,000 acres of land potentially removed since 1950 includes land that could be dried up either through direct sales of water rights to cities, towns, speculators or power companies; by loss of storage once used by irrigators; or by decreasing the use of well water either through shutdowns or augmentation.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Arkansas River Basin: Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy Authority irrigation rules public meeting recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“When you look at the rules as they were written three years ago, it’s amazing how far we’ve come,” State Engineer Dick Wolfe told a group of farmers and other interested parties Wednesday at a meeting organized by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

The rules are designed to keep improvements like sprinklers or drip irrigation and canal lining from reducing return flows to the Arkansas River in order to meet compact obligations to Kansas. Wolfe set up a committee of irrigators, water officials and lawyers to make the rules more acceptable…

One of the concerns was the cost of compliance, which led to the possibility of group plans like the one approved last week by the Lower Ark board. It allows farmers to pay a fee — not yet set — in order for Lower Ark engineers to determine water losses and find replacement water. Farmers could also provide their own engineering, or obtain a general permit in parts of the valley which do not have as direct an impact on flows to Kansas.

The rules are in Division 2 Water Court and most objectors are expected to settle before a scheduled trial in November.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Seep ditches intercept return flows and generally have water rights junior to other ditches above and below them. In Southern Colorado, the ditches have not been regulated for more than 100 years, but may be taking water from more senior water rights, Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte explained. Witte’s staff identified and met with 25 parties with 52 structures last year. Most are working the state to measure flows, install lockable headgates and curtail diversions. The state has filed six Water Court complaints, however.

That drew a strongly worded statement from U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., which was delivered at the meeting by his Pueblo staffer Loretta Kennedy. Representatives from other congressional offices also attended the meeting, but made no statements. “Agriculture is at great risk in Southeastern Colorado as well as the nation. The state of Colorado is penalizing farmers for farming and doing what they have done best for the past 100 years,” Salazar said in a statement. “The state of Colorado continues to assault the agricultural producers by implementing the irrigation efficiency rules as well as the seep ditch regulations.”

“It’s been like this for 100 years, and now you’re going to change things? That doesn’t seem fair,” said Bent County Commissioner Lynden Gill, also a member of the Lower Ark board.

More Ark Valley consumptive use rules coverage here.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District approves plan geared to soften the blow of new irrigation rules

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Lower Ark board plans to set up a compliance program under new rules that are now moving through Division 2 Water Court. Most objectors have settled or are planning to settle in the case before a November trial date. The rules are being sought by State Engineer Dick Wolfe to ensure that improvements like canal lining, sprinklers and drip irrigation do not increase consumptive use. They are primarily aimed at avoiding future claims by Kansas that Colorado is violating the Arkansas River Compact.

The board wants to have the program up and running if the rules are approved and take effect on Jan. 1, 2011.

More Ark Valley consumptive use rules coverage here.

Arkansas Valley: New irrigation efficiency rules

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From the Ag Journal (Bette McFarren):

To avoid another lawsuit [by Kansas over flows in the Arkansas River], rules have been put in place and Kansas is involved in developing the rules for water usage for Colorado farmers and must be compensated for overuse of the water in the Arkansas River. A new rule, Rule 10 Compliance Plan, is said to be better than the previous rule. But farmers are wondering about the fairness of it all. Under Rule 10 farmers who make certain improvements, such as lining ditches and laterals and/or the use of sprinkler systems, would have to provide a fee per farm and per acre, plus maps of acreage and details of irrigation practices.

This will be a problem for Don McBee, who irrigates off the Fort Lyon Canal. McBee has known for a long time that trouble was coming, and he has tried to warn other farmers. McBee said that the water received in the ending part of the Fort Lyon and Amity canals is so full of silt that the farmers have to let the water settle out before it can be used in sprinklers or drip systems. He has advised the farmers to line all of the ditches they can before regulations are put in force next year which may prevent lining of ditches and laterals. Now any improvements he makes could be fined. The pond loss through seepage is extreme. He has proposed a pond study that will establish the water loss to seepage that occurs when water is stored in ponds. When water is short, ponds dry up and crack. He hopes to establish a standard percentage of loss to be credited to farmers.

Dr. Mark Bartolo of the Colorado State University Arkansas Valley Research Center in Rocky Ford is working with an experiment called a lysimeter. The lysimeter is a measurement device rather like an eight-foot cube flower pot buried out in a field, he said. The gauges are on top, but the inward part is reached by going down a ladder underground. The lysimeter measures how much water a plant uses, how much passes through, and how much evaporates. The results from the lysimeter are used as a mathematical basis to correlate with weather data obtained from 12 small meteorological stations located from Pueblo to Holly. New developments in technology are happening all the time, but the lysimeter offers the most scientifically valid data for water consumption available at the present time. McBee hopes that his pond seepage study may receive approval similar to that granted to the lysimeter data…

Farmers who have been increasing the efficiency of their systems by going to sprinklers instead of flood irrigation, and also by other improvements, such as lining of ditches and laterals, are affected by the rules. If and when these rules go into effect, these farmers will be required to submit an application and a contract in order to use irrigation water because their more efficient practices reduce the water going back to the river through surface runoff and first level alluvial drainage. The application form will include 1) owner information, 2) farm information (water shares, acres of flood and sprinkler, headgates), 3) map of the areas, 4) statement and signature. Assessment by the Water Conservancy District must be paid in order that the Water Conservancy may buy the acre feet of water to replace the reduced runoff. New membership applications are proposed to be due on January 1 for the next season coverage, with applications accepted until April with late fees attached. Assessments will be determined by the board of directors annually.

More Arkansas Valley consumptive use rules coverage here.

Arkansas Valley ag future

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

In the two years he’s been butting heads with the state Division of Water Resources, [Dan Henrichs, superintendent of the High Line Canal] has not been able to reconcile how irrigating with sprinklers could increase water use. There are so many variables — the market price of crops, the type of crop planted, how much water is running down the ditches, whether it just rained, how much water your neighbor is using, whether he’s just cut hay and is bypassing flows, whether it’s raining on the hay just cut, whether a hail storm has wiped out more valuable crops …

“This is not about a bunch of old farmers who want to sell their water and move to an island,” Henrichs said. He ticked off the names of a dozen young farmers who’ve bought farms in the 10 years he’s been superintendent on the High Line.

It’s getting harder to buy land because speculation has driven water prices up. Land under the High Line has sold for as much as $5,700 an acre, more than double what it was a decade ago.
Circumstances vary, but it’s usually farmers “born and bred into the life” who are purchasing the land with the intent to farm far into the future…

The High Line board has given Henrichs unusual latitude as superintendent to travel widely and represent it on water issues. Henrichs is a member of the citizens advisory group for the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District and on the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.
He was a forceful presence in the Vision Task Force that led to the Fountain Creek district. He constant registered complaints as part of the task force looking at consumptive use rules.
There’s a reason for all that. “Where are they going to come next?” Henrichs said, reviewing the Pueblo Board of Water Works foray into the Bessemer Ditch, Aurora’s purchases on the Rocky Ford Ditch and water grabs that sucked Crowley County dry. “They’re going to come to the High Line.”[…]

The events since the historic drought of 2002 bear that out. Rather than sell their water rights after the worst rain year in history, the High Line farmers worked out a lease agreement to sell water to Aurora in 2004-05. Colorado Springs joined in the second year of that deal. Most farmers on the High Line will tell you that the Aurora deal was nothing but a blessing. It allowed them to pay off debt or make needed improvements after a farming season that could have bankrupted them. Soon after, High Line and Aurora jointly filed in Division 2 Water Court to make exchange rights permanent so that if the need for another lease deal arose, they could avoid a time-consuming substitute water supply plan. The High Line-Aurora deal set the stage for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, a water lease-fallow land program that includes shareholders from seven ditches, including the High Line. High Line countered with its own leasing program and plans that could include a pipeline to the thirsty cities of the north. This year, a new wrinkle was added when the Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District contracted to buy several farms at the end of the High Line Canal. Moving the water would require a change in the ditch company bylaws, so for now the High Line board will not approve the transfer.

Many High Line farmers do not oppose the sale of water rights — they see it as their right as property owners to sell to whomever they want and bristle when outsiders tell them they cannot. Still, they are wary that taking water out of the ditch could reduce the flows that carry water to their own headgates, and will do what it takes to protect the ditch.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

…Vernon John Proctor, is a board member of the High Line Canal and takes a longer view of the problems agriculture has faced. The current recession began in 2008, but farmers hardly noticed, other than when fuel prices increased, Proctor said. “We’ve been in a suppressed economy for years. Everything we buy is at retail, and everything we sell is at wholesale,” he said…

Proctor was among farmers who leased water to Aurora in 2004-05, and was a member of the board that negotiated the details. He said the lease prevented him from having to sell the water rights. “I’m not looking at selling, I plan to pass everything on to my sons if possible,” Proctor said. “When you can’t produce a crop, you need something to fall back on. As long as you can stay above water, it’s a good life. You are your own boss. “But if you get into trouble, the land and the water are your only assets.”

More Arkansas Basin coverage here.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is finalizing their compliance plan for the new ag rules in the valley

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The board heard the first draft of the plan at its monthly meeting, but won’t decide whether to adopt it or how to set fees until its Sept. 15 meeting. The rules are being sought by State Engineer Dick Wolfe to ensure that improvements like canal lining, sprinklers and drip irrigation do not increase consumptive use. They are primarily aimed at avoiding future claims by Kansas that Colorado is violating the Arkansas River Compact…

The Lower Ark is developing a compliance plan that would provide water to make up deficiencies when they occur and would allow payment to farmers when they save water by changing structures…

[Heath Kuntz of Leonard Rice Engineering] made suggestions for fee schedules that would require $500 per farm unit to sign up and $25 per acre-foot for replacement water, based on estimates that it would cost $131,000 to sign up 100 farms and replace water in the first year. That also includes a $75,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to get the program off the ground. The fee would be adjusted in subsequent years, because the Lower Ark board wants the program to be revenue-neutral. Enrollment would begin in November, assuming the rules are adopted, and be finalized in January. There would be additional fees for late signups or for re-entering the program after dropping out.

More Arkansas Valley consumptive use rules coverage here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline: Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District looks favorably on the project

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The [Lower Ark] district board voted to back a plan by Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million to build a 560-mile pipeline that could bring water into the Arkansas River basin. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating the project under the National Environmental Policy Act. “This is a letter indicating interest, and there is no commitment to the project,” said Pete Moore, chairman of the Lower Ark board…

Million came to the board seeking endorsement at its April meeting. Million Resource Conservation Group is raising $18 million to finance permits for the project, and has already put $2 million into the effort. Investors are being lined up for the second phase of the project, which would begin in 2013, if the environmental impact statement is complete at that time. Million’s plan is to build a project that would deliver 165,000-250,000 acre-feet of water from the Green River and Flaming Gorge at a cost of $2.5 billion-$3.4 billion.

A request for a water supply contract was made to the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Flaming Gorge, in 2006. Million filed for a water rights permit in Wyoming in 2007.

Meanwhile, Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer briefed the Lower Ark on the proposed Arkansas Valley irrigation efficiency rules water court case on Wednesday. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

After the consumptive use rules were filed in September, more than 20 statements of opposition were filed in Division 2 Water Court at Pueblo. That resulted in a case management order to attempt to work out issues identified in the objections, Witte said. The state met with attorneys in the case on April 29, and with technical advisers of the objectors on May 3 to sort through the issues. “The discussion was good, and helped to resolve the misunderstanding of the rules by some of those who were not on the advisory committee,” Witte said. The committee changed the rules as Witte originally proposed them in 2006, more closely defining which on-farm or canal changes would be addressed.

Basically, surface-fed sprinklers or drip irrigation systems on farms are regulated, while canal lining or pipes ditchwide are subject to regulation. The rules are meant to avoid violation of the Arkansas River Compact with Kansas as well as to protect senior water rights in Colorado, Witte said.

At the meetings, Witte also explained how compliance plans outlined in the rules would work, and clarified that the state’s model of consumptive use, called the Irrigation Systems Analysis Model, would only be one way by which use is calculated.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here. More Arkansas Valley consumptive use rules coverage here and here

Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More than 20 questions relating to river flows, measurement, consumptive use, exchanges and the scope of the company were relayed to the engineers working on the project at meetings with the Upper Arkansas and Southeastern Colorado water conservancy districts and the roundtable earlier this year. Some also wanted to know how leases would be structured and if they had any implications for water deliveries to Kansas under the Arkansas River Compact. “These questions will be answered in the report,” Greg Ten Eyck, of Leonard Rice Engineers, told the Lower Ark board Wednesday…

Only the consumptive use of the water could be sold, with the acreage it irrigates dried up for the period of the lease. The water would have to be exchanged upstream, and the Super Ditch has filed an application for the exchange in Division 2 Water Court…

Ten Eyck also updated the Lower Ark board on policies that would be used to replace depletions under proposed consumption rules for surface irrigation in the Arkansas Valley. The Colorado Division of Water Resources has filed the rules in Water Court with the intent to implement them by 2011. Using a state grant, the Lower Ark district is developing a plan that would allow a large group of irrigators to enter a plan to account for depletions. The idea is to reduce the engineering and paperwork requirements for irrigators, while preserving flows to the river…

In other business, the board:

– Adopted a ballot resolution opposing Initiatives Nos. 10, 12 and 21. The issues would affect the district’s ability to collect property tax, vehicle fees and accrue debt, attorney Peter Nichols said. He added that the district cannot spend money or actively campaign against the November ballot proposals.

– Agreed to stop leasing Twin Lakes shares at a loss from Ordway, Crowley and Sugar City this year under terms of a contract. The district was losing money on the leases.

More Lower Ark coverage here.

What is the strategy for Arkansas Valley agriculture?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

[Retired Lamar Community College teacher Fred Heckman of McClave] has been attending water meetings throughout the Arkansas Valley on behalf of the Fort Lyon Canal Co. for several years, with one goal in mind: To make better use of water. The idea was first proposed at a Fort Lyon meeting in 2004, by Heckman’s son Bert and others in an independent shareholders group that resisted selling to High Plains A&M (now Pure Cycle), but liked the idea of finding more profitable uses for water. The stated goal of High Plains, which had purchased about one-quarter of the ditch’s shares by 2003, was to move water to growing Front Range communities through a pipeline. Pure Cycle has continued with that goal, but has been more open to efforts like Super Ditch that could use its water resources within the valley. The shareholders group from the beginning wanted to expand the horizons of Fort Lyon shareholders beyond the flood irrigation that has dominated valley agriculture for more than 140 years…

Heckman is among those who have joined Super Ditch, a water leasing cooperative that would allow farmers to hold onto their water rights while selling some of the water under contract. “Leasing water would put a cushion of income under the farming operation to help the farmer withstand weather losses and variable prices,” Heckman said. Heckman is wary of new state consumption rules that target improvements on farms like sprinklers and drip irrigation using surface water. The rules ultimately will add costs for farmers who already operate on a thin margin. “Government involvement, no matter what department it comes from, is as much a threat to the farmers survival as the weather and price variation,” Heckman said. “Micro-managing the farmer is coming.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Rocky Ford: Sixth Annual Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium and Trade Show Feb. 4

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From the Ag Journal:

The sixth annual Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium and Trade Show is scheduled Feb. 4 in Rocky Ford…

The water topics will include operation of the Pueblo Reservoir and an update on the irrigation efficiency rules…

The symposium will be conducted at the Gobin Community Building in Rocky Ford with registration beginning at 8 a.m. The program will begin at 8:30 a.m. Early registration is $20 per person or $30 per couple before Jan. 29 ($25 and $35, respectfully, after January 29). Student registration is $5. For information call Janet Golden or Natalie Edmundson, CSU Extension office in Rocky Ford at (719) 254-7608, or visit the Web site

More Arkansas Basin coverage here.

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District hosts informational meeting on proposed irrigation rules

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

There is no question the rules are needed to keep Kansas at bay after 24 years of litigation over the Arkansas River Compact, State Engineer Dick Wolfe told about 75 irrigators gathered at the offices of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We’re acutely aware of our requirements under the compact,” Wolfe said. “It is the tail that wags the dog.”[…]

Wolfe convened a committee to reshape the rules after initial objections, including a meeting of the Lower Ark packed by more than 100 people objecting the early version. “It’s been a very effective process for us and useful to us in developing the rules,” Wolfe said. “The state is not against irrigation improvements . . . The rules allow systems to operate, but also preserve the priority system (of water rights).” During the committee process, changes favorable to irrigators were made, added Peter Nichols, water attorney for the Lower Ark District. Many on-farm improvements were taken off the table, leaving sprinklers and drip irrigation. The rules now also accommodate seepage from ponds. “The rules are an attempt to avoid a train wreck like we had on the South Platte in 2002-03,” Nichols said. “They’ve changed a lot, for the better.”[…]

One of those changes involves a compliance plan by the Lower Ark district, which would allow farmers to fill out a form once, make a payment and, barring major changes in irrigation, leave the engineering and water augmentation headaches to the district, said Gregg Ten Eyck, an engineer with Leonard Rice consultants. The Lower Ark has spent about $325,000 so far developing the compliance plan, which it plans to operate at cost. The fees for the plan have not been set. The plan would average out wet and dry years, transferring risks from irrigators to the district. It would draw water from numerous sources to be used at the right time and place to augment flows on the Arkansas River.

The state still would have to verify the plans were accurate, using water commissioners and satellite images to check on the written reports. “The enforcement action would be targeted at the individual farmer,” said Steve Witte, Division 2 engineer.

More Arkansas Valley consumptive use rules coverage here.

Arkansas Valley: SECWCD gets into case for new irrigation rules

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The district will enter the case as an opposer, not to stop the rules, but to make sure water under its supervision is used correctly. Under the rules, filed in Division 2 water court on Sept. 30 by State Engineer Dick Wolfe, Fryingpan-Arkansas return flows can be used as replacement water to assure compliance with the Arkansas River Compact between Colorado and Kansas. However, not all of the farmland in the Lower Arkansas Valley is in the Southeastern district, explained Bob Hamilton, engineering supervisor. The district also wants to assure winter water is correctly accounted for. Winter water is stored from Nov. 15 to March 15 in lieu of irrigation…

More Ark Valley consumptive use rules coverage here and here.

Southeastern board scrutinizes new consumptive use rules for Arkansas Valley

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The board of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District was briefed on the new consumptive use rules that were filed by the State Engineer’s office in Division 2 Water Court last month. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The rules are meant to protect Colorado under the 1948 Arkansas River Compact with Kansas, Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte explained. They apply to improvements such as lining canals, putting pipe in off-farm laterals or using chemicals like PAM to reduce leakage. The most controversial part of the rules, however, applies to sprinklers fed by surface ponds. The rules apply only to 1999 improvements made after 1999, the last reckoning of water use by the two states. Witte has made a pitch for the possibility of depleting flows through the river with such improvements since 1996…

The difference is between ditches with adequate water supplies, like the Bessemer Ditch, and water-short ditches, like the Fort Lyon Canal. Improvements like sprinklers might result in more irrigated acreage or higher yields, hence more consumptive use, Witte said. “When we talk about senior rights with full supply, they may increase the flow to the river,” Witte said…

Witte said farmers are still welcome to use their own engineering to prove there is no harm to the river from improvements…

The rules also provide for compliance plans – the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and Arkansas Valley Ditch Association are looking at possible versions – as a way to meet state requirements. There also are general permits for areas outside of the zone covered by a model developed for the Kansas v. Colorado U.S. Supreme Court case. That includes many tributaries and all pre-1884 water rights upstream of Lake Pueblo.

More Arkansas Valley consumptive use rules here and here.

Arkansas Valley: State Engineer files new surface irrigation rules in Division 2 Water Court

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“The Irrigation Improvement Rules are designed to allow improvements to the efficiency of irrigation systems in the Arkansas River Basin while ensuring compliance with the Arkansas River Compact,” [State Engineer Dick Wolfe] said in the court filing…

The rules would take effect on Jan. 1, 2011, and would apply only to surface irrigation improvements in the Arkansas River Basin made since 1999. The goal is to prevent the depletion of return flows to the Arkansas River which could be caused by things like sprinklers, drip irrigation systems and lining of canals. Under a draft set of rules proposed in late 2007, the burden of proving that improvements did not affect return flows fell entirely on irrigators. Several changes were made in the rules that removed some on-farm improvements, such as gated pipe or concrete lining of small ditches, from the rules during those meetings. The state also recognized the need for general permits within certain parts of the Arkansas Valley and agreed to take things like pond seepage into account. The state also developed a model that builds on engineering already accepted by Kansas to determine the impact of sprinkler systems based on their location in the Arkansas Valley, finding that on ditches with adequate water supplies, efficiencies could benefit the river, while improvements on water-short ditches could reduce return flows.

After the final committee meeting on the rules, farmers indicated they are still not convinced the loss of flows can be accurately measured and questioned some of the assumptions that are made in the state’s model. Wolfe countered that the model is flexible enough to accommodate changes if new data proves the assumptions wrong.

More Arkansas Valley ag rules coverage here and here.

Arkansas River: Lower valley irrigation rules move ahead

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Here’s a recap of yesterday’s meeting of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Board, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Board Wednesday unanimously voted to continue developing its compliance plan, refine estimates about costs to participating farmers and pursue the remainder of state funds set aside to ease the impact of the rules on farmers. “There have been substantial changes in the rules to reduce the impacts and costs to farmers,” attorney Peter Nichols told the Lower Ark board. Some of those changes have included the removal of on-farm improvements for things like pipe, ditch lining, furrowing techniques or fertilizers and adding new ways to comply with the rules…

The district also has used about $100,000 of $250,000 in available state funds so far to develop a compliance plan under Rule 10 of the state’s proposal. The board voted to apply for the remaining $150,000 to refine its plan and identify specific sources for replacement water…

The engineers developed two plans for compliance, depending on whether return flows come back to the Arkansas River above and below John Martin Reservoir. River conditions and presumed consumptive use differ depending on the location, Ten Eyck explained. The plans use refined models based on state data to determine the average amount of water a farmer would owe the river. Fees would be based both on the cost of running the program and the size of deficit or credit generated by each farm under the models…

The Lower Ark district would provide replacement water to the state to make up the deficits to the river. Water would be obtained from a variety of sources, and enough kept in storage to cover maximum projected deficits each year…

Farmers, in recent meetings with the Lower Ark district and with the state committee looking at the rules, say they are still not happy with the concept that led to the rules. “We have a philosophical difference,” Fred Heckman, a Fort Lyon Canal farmer near McClave, told the Lower Ark board Wednesday. He explained farmers look at it as an economic question, while the state is concerned with the volume of water. The model being used by the state probably underestimates consumptive use on the Fort Lyon in particular and overestimates the efficiency of sprinklers operated from ponds, Heckman said. The state has adjusted the model, just this week adding seepage from ponds as a factor, and will continue to adjust it as better numbers emerge, State Engineer Dick Wolfe said Monday. Even with the current numbers, the damage to the river, estimated to be about 1,000 acre-feet annually from 120 sprinklers installed so far, is statistically insignificant, Heckman said. At the same time, farmers can’t afford the costs of providing annual engineering reports for each system, another option under the state rules, so most would probably sign on with the Lower Ark plans, Heckman said.

More coverage of the proposed new rules, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“You do not have consensus on filing these rules the way they are,” said Dan Henrichs, speaking for the Arkansas Valley Ditch Association.

“We fully recognize that,” replied State Engineer Dick Wolfe. “We never thought we would get 100-percent consensus. We think we’ve got a large majority of those who recognize the benefit and need for these.”[…]

Water rights decrees specify an amount of water and area of land to be irrigated and sprinkler systems cover the same area as flood irrigation, Henrichs said. “The method of irrigation does not increase consumptive use,” he said. State models claim it does, however, and in particular along water-short ditches like the Fort Lyon Canal.

The rules incorporate a variety of strategies to deal with perceived or measured depletions of return flows to the Arkansas River from improvements to farms or canal systems since 1999. They cover only surface irrigation improvements – not wells – in the Arkansas Valley with the intention of preventing future shortfalls in deliveries to Kansas at the state line.

More Arkansas Valley ag efficiency coverage here.

Arkansas Valley: State engineer plans to file proposed irrigation rules in Division 2 Water Court by the end of the month

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

At the end of the month, the state plans to file new rules in Division 2 Water Court that would cover improvements like sprinklers and drip irrigation systems fed by surface sources, rather than wells. Canal improvements, such as concrete lining or pipelines, are also covered, but on-farm improvements have been exempted during a process set up last year by State Engineer Dick Wolfe.

A committee made up of affected farmers, lawyers and governmental agencies involved in chipping the rough edges off rules first proposed in 2007 will have its final meeting in Pueblo on Sept. 21. “I think we’ve done a great job,” Wolfe said. “The whole idea was to get a consensus on a draft set of rules. The committee has worked through a lot of issues and we’ve made substantial changes along the way.”

More Arkansas Valley consumptive rule rules coverage here and here.

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District meeting recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Wednesday heard a report on the concept for the compliance plan from Gregg Ten Eyck of Leonard Rice Engineers. “There are really two plans,” Ten Eyck said, separating the valley into regions where flows are returned either above or below John Martin Reservoir. “There are different requirements in timing, the types of water and how they respond to the rest of the river system.”

The plan is being developed in response to State Engineer Dick Wolfe’s plan to file the rules in Division 2 Water Court on Sept. 30. There will be one more meeting, on Sept. 21, of an advisory committee before the rules are filed. The rules primarily are aimed at large irrigation sprinkler systems fed by ponds put in since 1999 and are meant to avoid further violations of the Arkansas River Compact. The compliance plans would cost farmers $100 per farm headgate, plus fees of up to $25 an acre-foot for replacement water under the plan presented by Ten Eyck. A 10-year average, calculated for each farm in the plan, would be used to determine how much water the Lower Ark would be expected to provide. Once a farmer signed on, the Lower Ark district would absorb the ups and downs of the hydrologic cycle.

More Arkansas Basin consumptive use rules coverage here and here.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday agreed to extend its agreement to help improve Fountain Creek for another two years. The new agreement will include the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District as well as Colorado Springs Utilities. The Fountain Creek District board will consider on Aug. 28 an offer by the Lower Ark and Colorado Springs as a way to fund a director and administrative costs until a $50 million commitment by Colorado Springs kicks in.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Kansas and Colorado turn the last page on lawsuit over instream flows in the Arkansas River Basin

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From the Associated Press via the Kansas City Star:

The two states filed an agreement with the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the final technical issues about monitoring Colorado’s use of water from the river. The agreement is designed to prevent the river’s depletion as it flows into southwest Kansas.

More Kansas v. Colorado coverage here.

Arkansas Valley: New irrigation rules on track

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The state is proposing the rules to ensure that irrigation improvements using surface supplies – sprinklers, ditch lining or pipes – don’t increase consumptive use. If they do, supplies to downstream users within the state and across the Kansas border could be reduced, raising the specter of more legal action over the Arkansas River Compact. The rules would cover improvements made in the Arkansas Valley since 1999, when Kansas and Arkansas reached agreement on historic consumptive use – the amount of water crops consume. The last committee meeting will be at 1 p.m. June 22 at the Pueblo Board of Water Works conference room, [State Engineer Dick Wolfe] said. By then, Kansas will have reviewed the rules a second time, and the state can consider those comments along with the concerns of in-state irrigators…

The state is not relying on the data from 40-50 years ago that was used in the Kansas v. Colorado lawsuit to build the new computer model for changes in consumptive use for surface irrigation improvements, Wolfe said. The state is using data from a lysimeter – a mechanical means of measuring how much water is used to grow a crop – and studying weather patterns to fine-tune the model accepted by both states in the Kansas v. Colorado lawsuit. Wolfe bristled at the notion that the problem is a small one. “Yes, it’s only 1,000 acre-feet now, but we want these rules in place as we move forward so people have certainty,” Wolfe said. “We’re trying to avoid another compact violation, as we have continued to point out.”

The state has proposed two basic ways to account for how water use changes when improvements are added. The first would require farmers to show how they have reduced acreage or are bypassing flows to account for higher consumptive use because of increased efficiency. The second are blanket plans that cover wider areas using models to account for impacts over entire ditch systems or laterals.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley: Lysimeter installations producing useful data

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Here’s an update on Colorado State University’s lysimeter installation in the Arkansas Valley, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The devices are capable of measuring small changes in water on blocks of soil that will help determine how much water crops in the Arkansas Valley are using. That could help Colorado in its ongoing dispute with Kansas over how much water each state is entitled to under a 1948 compact as well as give farmers better information about how and when to irrigate. “We’re trying the best we can to measure consumptive use and account for all the factors that go into the equation,” said Lane Simmons, a research associate.

So far, there are not concrete results, although farmers who have toured the site are already optimistic that the research will prove what they instinctively believe – that Colorado has never gotten enough credit for its water use. Mike Bartolo, director of the research center, is careful to put the brakes on jumping to any conclusions. “It’s premature to make any conclusions,” Bartolo said. “We have one year of data and we don’t fully understand the dynamics. . . . After three or four years, we’ll have a clear picture of what’s happening with alfalfa.”

There are two lysimeters at the research center, which is about one mile east of Rocky Ford. The larger one, completed in 2007, weighs changes in a 10-feet by 10-feet cube of soil 8 feet deep. On a hot summer day, when evaporation is at its peak, there might be a change of 150 pounds in the 50-ton block. Scales connected to computers record the slightest change.

The smaller one is a reference lysimeter in a nearby field that is 5-feet by 5-feet and 8 feet deep. “It’s built for precision,” Simmons said, following a line on the computer in his office. “You can see it level off at night, then it goes down during the day, levels off again and spikes when there’s an irrigation.”[…]

To see the lysimeter itself, requires going through a metal hatch down a ladder in a 12-foot hole in the ground. The lysimeter sits on the sensitive scales, but there are also barrels to catch water as it makes its way through the soil and an array of tubes that can either vacuum water out or inject water into the sample…

Water comes into the cube either by precipitation or irrigation. It leaves through evaporation, transpiration (through growing plants) or seepage. By combining the weather data and the weight of the soil block, researchers can account for every drop. The scales can measure the changes day-in and day-out all year long…

The state is funding the research partly through a legal defense fund set up during the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case filed by Kansas over the Arkansas River Compact. During the case, a special master sided with Kansas on the use of the Penman-Montieth equation in determining crop use. Rather than a simple mathematical formula, it uses actual crop data to determine consumptive use by plants. The problem is there is no hard data available for Colorado. The closest lysimeters are in Texas and Idaho, so the numbers in the equations now being used are only a good guess…

The data also can be used to calculate better numbers for crops other than alfalfa, which is used as the reference point in the model and is also the predominant crop in the Arkansas Valley. The numbers also are helpful in an ongoing study led by Colorado State University professor Tim Gates on salinity and water tables in the Arkansas Valley. “The evapotranspiration values of crops can have direct consequences to irrigation scheduling, water augmentation plans, interstate compacts and other farm management plans,” Simmons explained. “More accurate determinations of ET values can lead to gained efficiencies in water use and irrigation management.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Upper Ark: Expansion of satellite monitoring system on tap

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Update: I mistyped Mr. Sering’s name in the original as Rod. Of course it’s Ron. My bad.

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District is set to expand their satellite monitoring of reservoirs this year, according to a report by Ron Sering writing for The Mountain Mail. From the article:

“We’re putting in 15 gages in reservoirs and stream gages in the upper district, all the way down to Lester Attebery Ditch right at the Pueblo County line,” district general manager Terry Scanga said. Data collection platforms will measure surface water conditions and in some cases, weather data. Information will be transmitted via satellite to district servers. “The data will be displayed on the Web site for anyone in the state,” Scanga said. The system is part of the National Weather Service Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite program.

North Fork Reservoir station, the first of the sites, has been functioning since August 2008…

The expanded program will begin with installation of the Lester Attebery station in Eastern Fremont County during May. July installations will include stations at Cottonwood Reservoir and Cottonwood Creek, with additional stations at Rainbow Lake and a second at North Fork. Additional stations are planned for installation during the fall.

New irrigation consumptive rules for the Arkansas Valley?

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Here’s an update on the proposed new irrigation rules for the Arkansas Valley, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A special panel put together by State Engineer Dick Wolfe met Tuesday in Pueblo to review the latest draft of the rules, which incorporated some of [Kansas’] recommended changes, but took others off the table. “We’ll take these back to Kansas, and then meet with the committee again in April before bringing the rules to court in May,” Wolfe said. “I want the in-state users to have the last say.” Kansas attorney John Draper sent a letter to the state last week asking for about 10 changes in the rules. Some were simple matters of wording, while others attempted to get at more substantive changes. All are important to Colorado, because the main purpose of the new rules is to head off any objections from Kansas under the Arkansas River Compact about reduced return flows because of efficiency improvements.

The major concession Colorado will make is including technical information about the Irrigation System Analysis Model which the state is developing to measure how improvements affect return flows. The model could, in theory, change over time as new data develops. It would also be secondary to specific engineering reports on any irrigation system and allow flexibility in how the state engineer could apply it, committee members agreed.

Colorado will identify the rules as specific to compact compliance, not include gated pipe as an improvement because of enforcement difficulties, apply the rules only to post-1999 improvements, maintain historic compact limits on potential damage to Kansas and keep language about nonconsumptive use in the rules, McDonald said. Colorado will modify the rules regarding designated basins, conditions in the Purgatoire Conservancy District, a more structured approach to variances that makes it clear the rules apply and addition of Kansas to the notification list when irrigation changes are made…

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.