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%

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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

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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

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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

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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.