R.I.P. Robert Hoag Rawlings

Bob Rawlings. Photo credit The High Country News.

Here’s the obit from The Pueblo Chieftain. Here’s an excerpt:

Almost immediately after taking over the reins of the newspapers from his late uncle, Frank Hoag Jr., in 1980, he began using the editorial pages to advocate for Pueblo and Southeastern Colorado. He fought to protect institutions such as Colorado State University-Pueblo and the Colorado State Fair, but was best known for his battle to protect the quantity and quality of water that flows into Pueblo from Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River.

Unleashing his newsroom and his editorial writers, Rawlings’ Chieftain published thousands of stories on the topic of water, and won numerous state and regional awards for its reporting and editorials. As a direct result of Rawlings’ efforts, Northern Colorado communities that tried to buy water rights from the Arkansas River Valley were thwarted or forced to accept numerous conditions such as financial payments to government and revegetation of lands dried up.

Also, thanks mostly to Rawlings, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District was approved by voters to likewise fight to protect the area’s water.

It also is safe to say that many significant projects — such as the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo, several multi-million dollar school bond issues, and the acquisition of university status for the University of Southern Colorado, now Colorado State University-Pueblo — might not have taken place without the constant advocacy for and support of Rawlings and The Chieftain.

When Pueblo needed a new main library, voters approved a large, efficient and modernized project. But Rawlings donated an additional $4 million to the project, and the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library on Abriendo Avenue became one of the community’s most dazzling landmarks. The architectural wonder is one of many projects throughout the community that have been made possible thanks to Rawlings’ generosity.

Always fascinated by politics, he became friends to governors, U.S. senators and members of Congress — as long as they supported Pueblo and Southeastern Colorado. He worked closely with innumerable City Council members, county commissioners and school board members, pushing them constantly to make his beloved Pueblo even better.

Click here to view the Chieftain Rawlings photo gallery.

More about Bob Rawlings from The Pueblo Chieftain.

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Water Rights and Governance Guide for #Colorado’ s Acequias (Revised 2016)

Click here to download the handbook. Here’s an excerpt:

This handbook is a joint effort of the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment at the University of Colorado Law School, Colorado Open Lands, and dedicated private attorneys. The handbook was inspired by the New Mexico Acequia Association’s Acequia Governance Handbook, which served as a wonderful model.

The handbook represents the work of law student volunteers at the University of Colorado Law School, with supervision and guidance from Colorado law professors and attorneys.

Two Rivers Water Co. is suing farmers under the Welton Ditch

Cucharas Dam via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The FencePost:

For generations, this community under the Welton Ditch has been growing hay, winter wheat, barley, oats, vegetables and livestock, but all of that could soon come to a crashing halt…

Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. (Two Rivers) is suing Welton Water and its shareholders for what they are calling “wasteful and inefficient water use practices.”

In accordance with Welton Water’s senior rights, water is allocated from the Huerfano River in priority; however, satisfaction of those senior water rights, in accordance with Colorado law, means Two Rivers is sometimes precluded from filling its storage reservoirs while Welton Water’s senior rights are unsatisfied. If Two Rivers wins the suit, Welton Water, and its shareholders, will lose its right to divert and use water in accordance with their water rights in certain months of the year and a new precedent will be set for future water rights of Colorado farming and ranching families.

“Two Rivers is suing each of the shareholders individually, and we believe that their game plan is to get us tied up in a legal battle that none of these farmers and ranchers can afford,” said Larry Morgan, Welton Land & Water Co. president. “If we can’t defend ourselves and we lose our water rights, we will all be in serious trouble.”

TENUOUS SITUATION
Welton Water’s senior rights are still junior to the water rights of appropriators who live higher up in the mountains, meaning that very little summer water is available to satisfy the water rights decreed to the Welton Ditch and therefore the shareholders receive very little summer water. Without the winter water, it could prove difficult for Welton Water’s shareholders to run livestock on this land, raise winter wheat or get the ground wet in the springtime for planting.

“We don’t know when we’ll go to court on this; I suppose, it depends on how much paperwork they throw at our attorneys,” Morgan said. “We think they are going to deep-pocket us to death, and without water, we won’t be able to water our cattle or crops, and our land becomes basically worthless.”

John Justus, legal counsel for Welton Water, says he questions the validity of Two Rivers’ claims.

“The litigation was initially triggered by a Colorado State Engineer’s enforcement action seeking enforcement of an unappealed administrative order requiring Two Rivers to cut down the dam associated with Cucharas Reservoir, one of Two Rivers two junior reservoirs,” Justus said. “That order was based on public safety concerns as a result of the condition of the dam at Cucharas Reservoir. Two Rivers, in its defense against the engineer’s enforcement action alleged that it was unreasonable to demand that the Two Rivers comply with the dam cut-down order, and the associated costs, unless the engineers addressed what Two Rivers characterized as ‘wasteful and unreasonable water practices’ by Welton Water and its shareholders. Consistent with that allegation Two Rivers brought a separate set of claims against Welton. Although Two Rivers ultimately entered into a consent decree with the state and division engineers, which requires it to cut down the dam and complete certain other tasks, it continues its litigation against Welton Water and its shareholders.”

According to Justus, Two Rivers has several “creative claims” against Welton Water.

The first is “Two Rivers claim that certain traditional winter irrigation practices of the Welton shareholders fail to constitute beneficial use of water under Colorado law,” Justus said. “Because of the nature of this claim and its impact on their individual water rights, the court required that Two Rivers join Welton Water’s shareholders to this action. However, many ditch companies and their shareholders utilize the same types of irrigation practices that Welton Water’s shareholders do, so this should be of great interest for other people with winter water rights across the state of Colorado.”

Justus further explained, “Prevention of the form of winter irrigation practiced under the Welton would mean irrigation practices that are necessary for maintaining viability of certain lands for agricultural production would no longer be permitted. Importantly, the Winter Water Storage Program in Pueblo Reservoir, and the decree confirming the change of water rights necessary for the operation of that program would have been improper if Two Rivers’ theories are correct.”

CONCRETE STRUCTURES
The second is “Two Rivers claim that Welton’s diversion structure from the Huerfano River must be a permanent concrete structure in order to be a reasonable means of diversion under Colorado law,” Justus said. “If that was to become the new standard, it would mean that hundreds and possibly thousands of structures in the state no longer constitute reasonable diversion methods. Although the court has declined to dismiss this claim at this point in the litigation, Welton Water is confident that the law paired with the facts to be demonstrated at trial will show Two Rivers’ allegations to ultimately be groundless.”

Third is “Two Rivers claim that stream losses which occur in the division engineer’s administration of the waters of the Huerfano River in response to a ‘call’ petition by Welton Water pursuant to its senior water rights constitute unreasonable and actionable waste by Welton Water.”

In a briefing to the court, which has yet to be decided, Justus said, “Both Welton Water and the state and division engineers have argued that no such claim is cognizable under Colorado law. The court has yet to issue an order on the matter.”

The concept is simple according to Justus, “an appropriator like Welton Water and its shareholders cannot legally waste water over which it has no control, until water is diverted by Welton Water, the water remains within the exclusive administrative control and authority of the state and division engineers.”

Not only is Two Rivers seeking year-round water rights for its cannabis business, but it appears development projects might be in the works.

“In an investor update to its shareholders dated December 2016, Two Rivers says they are a vegetable company, but that document suggests that the entity is pivoting its near term focus to utilizing its water to grow hemp and for the development of infrastructure for the cannabis industry,” Justus said. With respect to its long-term focus, “that document suggests Two Rivers wants to take its existing water rights and use it in a development fashion, generating revenue through selling taps for development. Interestingly, Two Rivers water rights are not decreed for nonagricultural uses like domestic or municipal purposes. Nonetheless that document suggests Two Rivers plans to invest approximately $42 million in Cucharas Reservoir over the next two years.”

Justus noted that “eliminating the effect of Welton Water’s downstream senior rights will however potentially increase the yield of Two Rivers more junior rights associated with its reservoirs and therefore its return on its investments.” 
The case is ongoing, and as Two Rivers is suing each shareholder individually, Justus said it’s unclear when this will go to trial; however, he anticipates a July setting conference with the court, with a trial following 6 to 9 months after.

COUNTER CLAIM
Meanwhile, Welton Water has a counter-claim against Two Rivers arguing that out-of-priority depletions to the Cucharas and Huerfano Rivers by Two Rivers’ Cucharas Reservoir, in amounts approaching 3,000-acre-feet per year, are injuring the water rights of Welton and others. Welton anticipates that the unabated depletions will continue again this irrigation season.

Granada wrestles with debt load for water and landfill infrastructure

View of Amache (Granada) concentration camp, c. 1944, Colorado Courtesy of Densho, the George Ochikubo Collection

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

The Granada Trustees are faced with two expensive issues that will impact the town’s residents in the future. The Trustees discussed their revenue options to upgrade the aging water lines in the community, a matter that is being carried over from last year; and how to afford to bring the town’s landfill into compliance with state regulations, again with only limited funds available needed to correct those deficiencies. The Trustees met in regular session, Wednesday, March 8th at the town complex.

The main concern is being able to repay a zero percent, 30 year, Drinking Water Revolving Fund Loan which could save 80% of the cost of the two phase project. Last year, a rough estimate of the complete project, wells and pipeline, would cost approximately $2.2M with $1.17M for the distribution system and administrative costs and another million dollars for rehabilitating the tanks and drilling a fourth well. Consultants from GMS Engineering want to touch base with the Trustees to get a determination on a possible grant from the Department of Local Affairs which would help pay down costs. Even with grant funding, the cost to the community would be in the neighborhood of $600,000.

Cotter Mill spill

Lincoln/Cotter Mill Park superfund site

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Colorado Department of Public Health officials on Friday received a report of a spill that occurred at the Cotter Crop. Uranium Mill south of here.

Steve Cohen, Cotter manager, reported the spill occurred just before 8:30 a.m. as Cotter workers were trying to drain a section of pipes that connect the new and the old pipeline. A new pipeline is being installed to prevent contaminated water escaping the site.

About 5,200 gallons of water was spilled, all of which was contained within the trench and Cotter workers were able to recover most of the spilled water using a water truck, said Warren Smith, health department spokesman.

From Canon City Daily Record (Kara Mason):

It’s unclear how much “slightly contaminated” water seeped into the ground or will evaporate, but Steve Cohen, Cotter’s plant manager estimates around 3,000 to 4,000 gallons were picked up with the truck.

The spill happened when Cotter workers were attempting to drain a section of pipe where the old pipe and the new replaced pipe connect. A brittle or cracked valve is to blame, Cohen said. “Basically when the workers touched the valve it blew.”

The valve will be replaced, Cohen added.

The water was contained in the trench where pipeline construction has been ongoing for the last couple of weeks. Now, the water will return to the impoundment pond on Cotter property.

Cotter is replacing the pipeline after several leaks the last couple of years. Last August, Cotter reported a 7,000-gallon leak, which occurred over the course of 48 hours. That leak was the result of a hairline fracture in the pipleline — which is now being replaced on site.

Despite the most recent spill, Cohen said the pipeline replacement is still on track to finish the final week of March.

Cotter is required by Colorado law to report spills to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which posts the information on its website. CDPHE is expecting a report on the spill next week.

Arkansas River Basin Water Forum Seeks Nominees for Bob Appel Award

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

Nominations are being accepted for the 13th Annual “Bob Appel – Friend of the Arkansas” Award that is presented each year at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum.

This year’s forum will be April 26-27 at the Hotel Elegante, 2886 S. Circle Drive, Colorado Springs. Reservations and information about the program are available at http://www.ARBWF.org.

The award, named for one of the forum’s founders, is intended to honor an individual who has over the years demonstrated a commitment to improving the condition of the Arkansas River as it flows from its headwaters near Leadville to the Colorado-Kansas state line.

The award is meant to recognize someone who has helped to promote the best management practices in the usage of water in the Arkansas River basin. Such efforts may include contributions in the general areas of development, preservation, conservation and/or leadership…

Past winners include Mike Conlin, Denzel Goodwin, Paul Flack, Reed Dils, Carl Genova, Allen Ringle, Bud O’Hara, Alan Hamel, Steve Witte, Greg Policky, Lorenz Sutherland and Bernard Smith.

Nominations may be sent to: Jean Van Pelt, Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, PO Box 11295, Pueblo, CO 81001, or ARBWF1994@gmail.com. Nominations must be received no later than 5 p.m. Monday, April 3, 2017.

West Slope lawmakers to Front Range: No more West Slope water until you use up your own — @COindependent

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Seven Western Slope Republican lawmakers have sent Gov. John Hickenlooper a message: No more water for the Front Range until it better uses what it already has.

The message, delivered through a Feb. 4 letter obtained by The Colorado Independent, is directed mostly at just one area of the state: Denver and the northern Front Range.

For the past 100 years, as the Front Range population and the state’s Eastern Plains agricultural economy have grown, water from the Western Slope has been diverted to the Front Range through a series of tunnels built through the mountains, known as transmountain diversions. But Western Slope water watchers are getting increasingly nervous about the potential for more of those diversions, pointing to a growing need for water in their area for agriculture and recreation and to fulfill multi-state contracts that require Colorado to send Western Slope water to other states, such as California, Arizona and Nevada.

The Front Range must do a better job of storage and conservation before turning to more diversions, the lawmakers wrote. To that end, they implored the governor to make sure any water projects that receive state funds match criteria outlined in the Colorado water plan. The plan calls for the state to conserve at least 400,000 acre-feet of water and to build storage, without specific projects identified, for another 400,000 acre-feet of water. One acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, the amount of water used by two families of four per year.

“We would ask for the consistent – and transparent – use of those criteria” when looking at new water projects that would divert water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope, they wrote.

The letter is a follow-up to one sent in November 2015, just before the water plan was finalized. That four-page document said the water plan “cannot place Front Range development interests over the autonomy, heritage and economy of Western Slope communities. Nor can the Plan allow the protection of agriculture in one area of state [sic] to come at the expense of agriculture in other areas of the state.”

The water plan is intended to address a looming water shortage of one million acre-feet of water by 2050, when the state’s population is expected to nearly double from about 5 million to more than 10 million people.* The lawmakers worked with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments’ water committee on both letters, said Torie Jarvis, the staff person to the committee. She said the letters are primarily directed at the South Platte Basin, which covers most of the northern Front Range, the northern half of the Eastern Plains and the Denver metro area.

Jarvis said the letter is not about current water projects underway in the region that also plan to use water from the Western Slope, most notably two reservoir projects under the control of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

“We have good agreements in place” on those projects, Jarvis told The Colorado Independent.

The issue also is the water plan itself. “It imagines what a new diversion would look like,” Jarvis said, which means a focus on development and growth rather than on conservation.

The 2015 letter was signed by eight Republican lawmakers, six of whom are on the 2017 version (two of the 2015 signees are no longer in the legislature). The five Democratic lawmakers who also represent the Western Slope were not included. Also not included: Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush of Steamboat Springs, a member of an interim water resources review committee that led a statewide review of the water plan. Mitsch-Bush said she had not been asked to sign it but would have, based on its description. Jarvis said the Republican lawmakers decided who should sign the letter, adding that she believes all of the Western Slope Democrats would have signed it.

James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which authored the water plan, said this week that the letter “underscores the importance of Colorado’s Water Plan and demonstrates that implementation will be a collaborative effort.”

He also noted that an annual water projects bill that was introduced in the state House last week would focus on implementing key parts of the state water plan and would address water needs in every part of the state.

*Correction: to note that Colorado’s population in 2050 is expected to be more than 10 million people.