The board of the Fort Lyons Canal Company approves water sale to #ColoradoSprings

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Bent County Democrat (Bette McFarren and Jolene Hamilton):

An agreement between a member of the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association and the City of Colorado Springs will allow water originally allocated for agricultural use in the Lower Ark to be used for municipal purposes.

The pact, which was approved by the board of the Fort Lyon Canal Company, was announced Thursday.

“Colorado Springs Utilities purchased 2,500 LAWMA shares for $8.75 million and also will reimburse LAWMA $1.75 million for 500 acre-feet of water storage,” said a LAWMA press release announcing the arrangement. “This storage will give LAWMA added flexibility to manage its water rights both in times of drought and excess.”

“We are appreciative of the Fort Lyon Canal Company board’s approval of this use of the water,” said Don Higbee, LAWMA general manager, in the release. “The agreement with Colorado Springs will benefit many farmers in the Lower Arkansas River Valley. We will gain a more reliable water supply that will increase crop yields for the average shareholder in both wet and dry years.”

The release went on to say, “Colorado Springs Utilities acquired about 2,000-acre-feet of water from a LAMWA member, Arkansas River Farms in July. The agreement allows LAMWA members and Colorado Springs Utilities to take water deliveries alternately 5 out of 10 years.”

Dale Mauch, FLCC board president, told The La Junta Tribune-Democrat that Colorado Springs will get to choose the years it wants the water delivered.

“They’ll wait for the wet years, because they’ll get more water,” said Mauch. “They have water in storage in Pueblo.”

Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District – whose stated mission is “To acquire, retain and conserve water resources within the Lower Arkansas River” – expressed his displeasure with the agreement.

“They will take 71 percent of the water,” he told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat. “That water will never come back to the land. It’s a buy-and-dry.”

Mauch, who is also the FLCC representative to the Super Ditch, said in a telephone interview, “Fort Lyon had nothing to do with LAWMA selling some storage. No damage to Fort Lyon. Not a lot of damage as long as nobody below or in Fort Lyon gets hurt. We don’t have a problem with it. What would hurt is being shorted water.

“It’s set up so everybody gets the same as always. LAWMA’s water stays in, but instead of irrigating land with the water, they dump it back. That percentage gets held up for Colorado Springs – the consumptive use of that amount – that’s what a crop would use. That percent has to stay in the river to keep people from being injured.

“The water must stay in the canal. Their water on those shares will run back to the river. Colorado Springs pays LAWMA so much for water, five out of ten years.”

Five out of ten years is too much, argues Winner, who added that Bent County could be the real loser in the deal. No revenue is headed its way, and county residents could suffer from the loss of commerce.

Winner is also concerned that Colorado Springs won’t stop here.

“If you look at Colorado Springs, their water right portfolio isn’t very good,” he said. “Eighty percent of it is West Slope water. What we have heard is that they will be 23,000 acre-feet short by the year 2030. That’s about 22,000 shares of the Fort Lyon Canal. I think with the project (LAWMA is) doing right now, they’re just dipping their toe in the water, and they plan to take all that water from the Fort Lyon canal.”

While Winner admits it is legal for LAWMA to pursue this project, he said the LAVWCD has the right to try and stop it.

“In this administration, people don’t want to see the buy-and-dry of agriculture any longer,” said Winner. “This district was put here to keep water in the Arkansas Valley, and that’s what we plan on doing.”

Webinar: Policy Questions Around Water Sharing and Alternative Transfer Methods, January 11th, 2018 — @WaterEdCO

Credit: Cattleman’s Ditches Pipeline Project II Montrose County, Colorado EIS via USBR.

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

Flexible water sharing agreements or alternative transfer methods (ATMs) could help keep water in agriculture while supplies are shared with municipalities or others to meet the many water needs of the state’s population. Colorado’s Water Plan calls for 50,000 acre-feet of water to be identified in ATMs by 2030.

How can Colorado reach its goal and scale up the adoption of alternative transfer methods? Join Water Education Colorado to explore the conversations around existing policy and policy changes that might increase the adoption of ATMs.

We’ll hear from expert speakers:

Kevin Rein, Colorado’s State Engineer
Peter Nichols, Special counsel to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and to the Lower Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Co., Inc.
Jim Yahn, Manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District

When: January 11th, 2018 9:30 AM through 10:30 AM

Webinar Fee:
WEco member $ 10.00
non-WEco member $ 15.00

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Lease-fallowing plan so successful, no one notices

After all of the fireworks that accompanied creation of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, the actual operation has attracted little notice.

By design.

“We put enough water into the ponds so that no one on the river knows this is happening,” Jack Goble, engineer for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, told the board Wednesday.

Goble gave an update on the Super Ditch pilot program that is providing water to Fountain, Security and Fowler from farm ground dried up on the Catlin Canal near Rocky Ford. The water is accounted for on a dayto- day basis, with deliveries to the cities each month. The response of all participants has been enthusiastic.

“With crop values down, they want to fallow more farms,” Goble said.

But under [HB13-1248], passed by the state Legislature in 2013, that can’t happen. The law limits 30 percent of the farmland enrolled in the program to be fallowed in any given year, and each farm can be dried up only three years in 10.

This year, only 26 percent of the 900 acres on six farms in the program were fallowed and so far have yielded more water than at the same time last year. Through the end of July, the program yielded 239 acre-feet (78 million gallons). That’s on track to beat last year’s yield of 409 acre-feet.

But that depends on what happens the rest of this irrigation season, Goble said.

Water not used on fields is channeled into recharge ponds, which mimic the runoff and seepage that would have occurred if the farms had been irrigated. The ponds also cover their own evaporative losses. Recharge stations measure the flows on the ditch each day.

Those numbers are plugged into formulas that compute the consumptive use — the amount of water crops traditionally grown in the fields would have consumed.

On a monthly basis, the consumptive use equivalent is transferred, on paper, from Lower Ark accounts to Security and Fountain accounts in Lake Pueblo, where it is transported through the Fountain Valley Conduit.

For Fowler, the water is moved to Colorado Water Protective and Development Association accounts to augment the town’s wells.

“We need to let the water community know, ‘Hey, this works,’ ’’ said Peter Nichols, attorney for the Lower Ark district and Super Ditch.

Participants have had to overcome skepticism, opposition and even lawsuits since 2012 to achieve results that have been favorable to everyone involved, he said.

Leah Martinsson and Megan Gutwein, of Nichols’ Boulder Law office, are writing articles about the success of the program for national water and legal journals. Nichols also suggested presenting a report on the progress of Super Ditch to Colorado Water Congress and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“We’ve done a pretty incredible job,” added Lynden Gill, president of the Lower Ark board. “The first year, it seemed like there were nothing but roadblocks. It’s absolutely incredible, the progress we’ve made.”

#COWaterPlan: Colorado Ag Water Alliance workshop recap — The Fort Morgan Times

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia
South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

Here’s part one of a recap of the meeting in Brush yesterday from Stephanie Alderton writing for The Fort Morgan Times:

The Colorado Ag Water Alliance, along with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado Water Institute, hosted a three-hour workshop for producers to help explain the new Water Plan’s application to agriculture. Speakers with various roles in water and agriculture talked about the new state plan’s emphasis on alternative transfer methods (ATMs) to conserve water, how the plan will be implemented in the South Platte Basin in particular and how farmers can increase water efficiency. People came from all over the state to hear and discuss details in the plan.

“A good Colorado plan needs a good South Platte plan,” Joe Frank, of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, said. “Nine out of the top 10 ag producing counties are in this basin.”

During his talk, the first of the day, he explained that the area has an increasing water supply gap as the population grows, which the Water Plan seeks to address. Frank’s group is in charge of implementing the plan in South Platte by coming up with a balanced, pragmatic program for farmers that is consistent with Colorado law. He said that program will focus on maximizing the use of existing water, encouraging farmers and other organizations to use ATMs in order to share water more effectively and promoting multi-purpose water storage projects, among other things.

Mike Applegate, of the Northern Water Board, talked about the status of current storage projects all over the state, while MaryLou Smith of Colorado State University gave a list of reasons why producers should want to use their water differently in an effort to conserve more. Phil Brink, of the CCA, reported the results of a survey on farmers’ opinions of ag water leasing, while Dick Wolfe, an engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources, explained the problems with the “use it or lose it” mentality farmers tend to have toward their water rights. John Schweizer, a producer from the Arkansas Basin, talked about the success of the Super Ditch near his hometown, an ATM project that recently started seeing results. After a final panel made up of people involved in various ATM projects, including Morgan County dairy farmer Chris Kraft, the audience spent more than an hour trading questions and comments with the speakers.

The purpose of the workshop, according to a CAWA press release put out beforehand, was to bring people together to discuss the “opportunities and barriers” the Water Plan presents. The speakers in the second half of the day presented many opportunities in the form of ATMs and other projects. For example, Schweizer said the Super Ditch, though it’s taken many years to be completed, has the potential to help many farmers conserve water without new legislation or complicated water rights battles.

“We’ve had a lot of people say this wouldn’t work,” he said. “We’re starting to prove them wrong…I see nothing but a glorious future for this project.”

But it was clear that many people at the workshop saw many remaining obstacles to water efficiency. During the question and answer session at the end, several people pointed out that, while ATMs can make it easier for farmers and other organizations to share water, they can’t solve the problem of water shortages by themselves.

“We are concerned that the state Water Plan talks so much about these ATMs, and a lot of policy makers around the state are counting on them,” Smith said while moderating the discussion. “Part of what we want to do is get the message of what you guys are saying back to some of those policy makers.”

2016 #coleg: HB16-1392 (Water Banks Administration) update

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A water banking bill being considered in the state Legislature would help farmers keep their water rights while increasing the range of uses.

“Farmers always get the short end of the stick. The state likes to pick on farmers,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

Farms face a policy of “use it or lose it” that means if water can’t be used on a specific parcel of land, it flows downstream. Water banking could mean about 5-10 percent more water could be put to use each year, according to some estimates.

“Once a farmer deposits the water in this water bank, he can use it in any way within the Arkansas Valley,” Winner explained.

The bill, HB16-1392, is sponsored by Reps. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, and Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa. The Lower Ark district is backing the bill as a way of improving on the 2013 legislation, HB1248, that established a pilot program now being used by the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

Winner spoke about the bill Thursday with The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board.

Winner expects the water bank to succeed where others have failed because it will be useful to farmers. It allows for short-term leases, either to cities or other farms, that are now possible, but expensive and complicated to execute. No change in water right is required, since the leases would be made under administrative rules under the supervision of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“This is a way to bring some land back into production,” Winner said. “The water rights decree never changes, but it provides more options to the farmers.”

The legislation also could advance concepts such as deficit crop irrigation, supplementing sprinklers or well and or partial irrigation of a parcel.

Farmers would be limited to putting water into the “bank” every three years in 10 or using no more than 30 percent of the total consumptive use water supply over that time. Water would not be able to leave its basin of origin. [ed. emphasis mine]

“It makes the water more valuable to farmers,” Winner said

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

Alternative Transfer Methods: “For 10 years we’ve talked about how a (water leasing) program would work” — Pat Wells

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities wants to be Super Ditch’s “dance partner.”

“For 10 years we’ve talked about how a (water leasing) program would work,” said Pat Wells, water resources supervisor for Utilities. “Super Ditch has always seemed lik e a logical fit. . . . If you’re interested in another dance partner, it’s a natural fit for Colorado Springs.”

A formal letter suggesting a partnership was sent to the Super Ditch and Lower Ark district in October. It outlined the conditions under which Utilities would be willing to participate.

Wells made the offer again to the combined boards of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch and Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District last week. They were reviewing the success of the first year of a pilot program that delivered 409 acre-feet of water from farmers on the Catlin Canal to Fountain, Security and Fowler.

While the pilot program aims to provide a sustained yield to the cities under varying hydrological conditions, Colorado Springs is interested mainly in topping off its supplies in drought recovery years.

One of the provisions of the 2013 HB1248 legislation would allow for leasing water from farms in three years out of 10. That scenario is most appealing to Utilities because it usually has enough water from other sources.

The Colorado Springs system can hold 252,000 acre-feet of water in storage, but small amounts are useful.

“In a recovery year, 2,000 acre-feet in the right place would help us,” Wells said. “We’re not looking for a base supply year-in and year-out.”

Colorado Springs does not anticipate needing to establish a program in the next year, but is looking ahead to have a program in place should it be needed.

“Our storage is as full as it has been in several years,” Wells said.

The breathing room will allow Utilities and Super Ditch at least a year to negotiate and the soonest a program would be launched is in 2017, both sides agreed.

Colorado Springs purchased part of the High Line Canal lease from Aurora in 2005. During that year, Utilities also leased water from Pueblo Water to make up for depletions from three drought years prior to that time.

Meanwhile, here’s a report detailing this year’s pilot alternative transfer from Super Ditch to Arkansas Basin municipalities written by Chris Woodka for The Pueblo Chieftain:

A handful of farmers on the Catlin Canal were able to dry up some of their land this year and lease the water to cities in the first demonstration of how the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch would work.

The temporary fallowing of ground was carried out under a program supervised by the Colorado Water Conservation Board under the 2013 HB1248 that allows lease-fallowing project demonstration throughout the state. No more than 30 percent of farm ground can be dried up in any year over a 10-year period, or any parcel more than three years in 10.

“I think it’s calmed down the water community statewide, because it’s not hurting farmers, and the farmers say ‘We’re getting a good deal,’ ” Peter Nichols, told the combined boards of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Super Ditch last week. “We had a good year and learned to build a bigger project.”

There were 60 conditions placed on the project in a rule-making process earlier this year in the third attempt to get a lease program off the ground. The Lower Ark district helped form the Super Ditch in 2008.

About 409 acre-feet (133 million gallons) were leased to Fountain, Security and Fowler, netting $500 per acre-foot for the farmers. They were also paid a $150 per acre readiness to serve fee.

To get to that number, the farmers dried up 235 of the 900 acres — well under the 30 percent annual limit — which translated into 252 shares of the 1,047 Catlin Canal shares enrolled in the program. The yield worked out to about 1.75 acre-feet per acre, so the total payoff was a little more than $1,000 per acre. That was not a bad outcome, considering depressed commodity prices were the norm.

“We put more water into the ground than we would have owed,” said Jack Goble, an engineer with the Lower Ark district. “It’s paid up so we don’t have to release water from Lake Pueblo for the next 20 years.”

The program gave the district and Super Ditch a chance to look at the real-world impacts of weather conditions on a lease-fallowing program. The farmers used one augmentation station to show water was being bypassed and two recharge ponds that replace flows that would have seeped into the ground from fields. Water was transferred to Lake Pueblo, where it could be used directly by Fountain and Security, or for augmentation flows that support Fowler’s wells through the Colorado Water Protective and Development Association.

Ironically, a rainy May and June made it difficult to claim recharge credits because it was too wet to run much water through the canal. But the high water levels made exchanges and trades easier so the program could be a success. The test program provided about 90 percent of the water that would have been available under the best conditions.

Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro
Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro

“As a farmer, I couldn’t have been happier,” said Phillip Chavez, of Diamond A Farms. “We put in drip systems and laser-leveled the (fallowed) fields.”

One of the outcomes of the project was a leasefallowing tool that conforms the engineering of the project to other water models, including those set up for surface sprinklers and wells to comply with the Arkansas River Compact. Still, Kansas looked at each of the farms in the program twice during the irrigation season to make sure the required ground had been fallowed.

More about the economic effect of ATMs from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

With farming, it’s always a wild guess in planning for the year ahead.

Crop prices could be high at the beginning of a season, and plummet by the end. Weather could bring drought, floods or hail — sometimes all of them — in any given year. Or, in that rare year, a bumper crop could bring premium prices as well.

All of which provides the groundwork for the theory of water leasing — providing a stable income with a known price for an expected amount of water.

It could be another crop for farmers, but there are hidden considerations.

“Leasing water depends on conditions. If it’s wet, no one wants it,” Brett Bovee, regional director for WestWater Research said. “It also depends on where you are in the state, and what kind of premium you can get over your baseline crop.”

Bovee was one of the featured speakers at a workshop last week at Pueblo Community College hosted by the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance. The workshop studied the economic, legal and political issues surrounding alternative transfer methods in Colorado.

ATMs, as the water community has chosen to shorthand them, have been a big topic in the state over the last decade. The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch is at the forefront, completing the first statesupervised transfer this year. ATMs also are a big piece in Colorado’s Water Plan.

ATM: The acronym conjures an unfortunate analogy, where you put money in and take water out. It’s not as simple as that.

Super Ditch has raised the bar for water prices in Colorado. While the average per-acre yield for the Arkansas Valley’s major crops is at the lower end in the state, it is leasing water to cities at the highest rate.

In other parts of the state, the rates range from $35-$337 per acrefoot, showing a wide disparity.

Farmers have to evaluate whether leases help their bottom line or pull water away from crops that might pay off better, Bovee said.

There are online tools that allow them to work out how much might be made growing a crop versus leasing the water.

Beyond the simple economics, there are multiple considerations to be taken into account.

On the plus side, leasing provides relatively stable prices, a high return, financing for other on-farm improvements and an alternative use for water while retaining a water right.

Drawbacks include impacts to the community, keeping a cover crop growing, keeping weeds down and the headaches of the transfer itself (engineering, legal issues and transaction costs).

“Leases can disrupt farm employment and business relationships,” Bovee said.

Statewide, water leasing has had little impact on the overall economy, but the effects locally can be tragic, as the dry-ups in Crowley County illustrate.

“The harm comes from taking water from one area and moving it out,” he said. “If agriculture makes up most of the economy and you move the water out, the effect is magnified.”

Writers on the Range: Can leasing irrigation water keep Colorado farms alive?

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

From The Denver Post (Joshua Zaffos):

Cities have siphoned more than 100,000 acre-feet of ag water — enough for about 200,000 Colorado homes — from the Arkansas River Basin alone since the 1970s. In neighboring Crowley County, farming has vanished, school-class sizes are half what they were 50 years ago, and tumbleweeds from dried-up fields pile up along fences and block roads.

“That’s what they’re stuck with, because there’s no more water,” [John Schweizer] says. “It’s gone forever.”

Schweizer is president of the 35-mile-long Catlin Canal, which irrigates about 18,000 acres of farms. He’s hoping that the trial run of something called the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch will save the basin’s remaining communities and farms.

The initiative is not actually a big ditch, but rather a scheme that allows six of the valley’s irrigation canals to pool their water rights and temporarily lease them to cities. Starting in March, five Catlin irrigators “leased” a total of 500 acre-feet of water, which would normally supply their fields, to nearby Fowler and the cities of Fountain and Security, 80 miles away. Under the agreement, communities can use the farm water to supply homes and recharge wells for up to three years out of every decade.

During those years, the irrigators will have to fallow, or rest, some fields, yet will still be able to earn money from the water itself and farm the rest of their land.

Supporters believe the Super Ditch could eventually enable farms and cities to share up to 10,000 acre-feet of water. “We look at leasing water just like raising a crop,” says Schweizer, who is avoiding any potential conflict of interest by keeping his own farm out of the pilot. “It is a source of income, and anybody who’s doing that can have the water next year if they want to farm with it. And they are still in the valley, so the community stays viable.”

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update: Slow slog to 500 acre-feet delivered

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

From The High Country News (Joshua Zaffos):

John Schweizer has spent most of his life raising corn, alfalfa and other crops and about 200 cattle in Otero County, along southeastern Colorado’s Lower Arkansas River. It’s never been easy, but the last 15 years have been particularly tough on the nearly 81-year-old Schweizer and his neighbors. Their corner of the state is drier now than it was during the Dust Bowl. Meanwhile, growing Front Range cities are buying out farms and shifting their irrigation water to residential use — a process called “buy and dry.”

Cities have siphoned more than 100,000 acre-feet of ag water — enough for about 200,000 Colorado homes — from the Arkansas River Basin alone since the 1970s. In neighboring Crowley County, farming has vanished, school-class sizes are half what they were 50 years ago, and tumbleweeds from dried-up fields pile up along fences and block roads. “That’s what they’re stuck with, because there’s no more water,” Schweizer says. “It’s gone forever.”

Schweizer is president of the 35-mile-long Catlin Canal, which irrigates about 18,000 acres of farms. He’s hoping that the trial run of something called the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch will save the basin’s remaining communities and farms. The initiative is not actually a big ditch, but rather a scheme that allows six of the valley’s irrigation canals to pool their water rights and temporarily lease them to cities. Starting in March, five Catlin irrigators “leased” a total of 500 acre-feet of water, which would normally supply their fields, to nearby Fowler and the cities of Fountain and Security, 80 miles away. Under the agreement, communities can use the farm water to supply homes and recharge wells for up to three years out of every decade. During those years, the irrigators will have to fallow, or rest, some fields, yet will still be able to earn money from the water itself and farm the rest of their land.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

CWCB approves Caitlin Canal lease to Fowler, Security, and Fountain for augmentation and exchange

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A plan to lease water from the Catlin Canal to Fowler, Fountain and Security beginning this year got final approval this week from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“This is truly beneficial to our basin and the state,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the CWCB. “I have a sense of urgency about seeing this happen, so that farmers will not give up on the idea of the Super Ditch.”

The plan comes with 60 conditions, 59 from State Engineer Dick Wolfe, who sorted through objections from other water users prior to recommending approval last week, and another added Monday dealing with precedence.

No one spoke against the proposal and approval was unanimous.

The application, under the umbrella of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch and Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, is the first approved as a pilot project under 2013 legislation, HB1248.

During a 10-year period, up to 500 acre-feet annually (162 million gallons) will be made available to the cities. About half will serve as replacement water for wells in nearby Fowler under current plans. The remainder will be transferred by exchange to Lake Pueblo, where it can be physically piped to El Paso County through the Fountain Valley Conduit.

Wolfe spelled out that the use of the shares is a temporary change and that using the water would have no impact on the Arkansas River Compact with Kansas. All other water rules, including Pueblo’s flow maintenance programs, must be observed. While 1,100 acres are involved, only 311 Catlin shares on six farms will be used to provide the water. The exhaustive list of conditions specifies that water from any given farm is available only three out of every 10 years and only 30 percent of a farm may be dried up at any given time.

Daily, periodic and annual accounting is required, and recharge ponds will be used to assure return flows that normally would have come from irrigation to replace water to the river system at the right time and place.

“It’s important that we move forward, because the biggest part of the municipal gap in the Arkansas basin is in El Paso County,” Hamel said.

At the last roundtable meeting, a proposal by the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority underscored concerns that more farmland could be dried up if alternatives such as Super Ditch are not explored, he added.

Hamel also is open to more long-term arrangements that would tie conservation easements to water leases, so cities would have more certainty of future supply, while the primary use of water would remain in agriculture.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update: 500 af to Fountain, Security and Fowler

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch is hoping the third time will be a charm. The group is preparing a proposal to lease up to 500 acre-feet of water (162 million gallons) from the Catlin Canal to Fountain, Security and Fowler under 2013 state legislation, HB1248. Fowler would get about half of the water.

The legislation allows pilot programs that demonstrate the effectiveness of temporary transfers of water by drying up irrigated fields.

The application for the program was accepted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board in September, but the proposal was altered to include Fountain and Security, which had expressed interest in leasing water in 2012, when the Super Ditch program was aborted due to drought.

The 2012 lease failed partly because of a late start and numerous conditions that would have been imposed under a substitute water supply plan.

In 2013, the Super Ditch planned to lease water to Fowler, but the deal fell through when farmers backed out.

A little more than 1,100 acres of Catlin land could be dried up on a rotating basis over 10 years. No parcel could be dried up for more than three of those years.

Water attorney Peter Nichols said he is optimistic that the program can be completed this year if the CWCB approves it at its January meeting.

“This meets the goal of leasing water within the Arkansas River basin,” Nichols said.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Lower Ark board meeting recap: “We’re trying to see if a lease-fallowing program is viable” — Jay Winner

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board last week approved a pilot project that will provide the town of Fowler water from several farms on the Catlin Canal over the next 10 years. The project is the first to be attempted under 2013 legislation, HB1248, that authorized demonstration projects that determine if lease-fallowing projects are a viable alternative to permanent dry-up of farms. It is also the first test of the viability of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

Participating farms would be dried up no more than three years of the next 10 in order to supply 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons) annually to Fowler. Seven farms with 1,128 acres will be dried up on a rotational basis to provide the water under a plan filed by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

The CWCB reviewed comments on the project expressing concern from Aurora, the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado Beef, a Lamar feed lot. The comments were similar to filings made in the past in water court cases that sought to permanently change water rights. Most expressed concern that their water rights would not be injured by the program and sought to assure that measurements in the program are accurate. Some were supportive of the program and all wanted to be notified of progress or changes in the program.

“We’re trying to see if a lease-fallowing program is viable,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We’re trying to keep the water in the Arkansas basin. That’s what it’s all about.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

How much water is staying down on the farm?

The state will spend $175,000 to study the amount of water returning to the Arkansas River from fields on the Fort Lyon Canal. That will be matched with $50,000 from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved the grant last week as a way to address contentions from farmers that the amount of tailwater return to the Arkansas River has been overestimated. The outcome could affect the formulas used by the Colorado Division of Water Resources in administering the Arkansas River Compact and rules that govern wells or surface irrigation. It could also make more water available to farmers to lease under the Super Ditch or other rotational lease-fallow programs.

The grant was approved in July by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

The state now recognizes a 10 percent return of water from fields, or tailwater, that are flood irrigated. That water must be replaced under state rules adopted during the 24-year Kansas v. Colorado court case.

The Fort Lyon Canal is 100 miles long and irrigates 94,000 acres, so farmers contend water soaks into the ground and never makes it to the river. It is anticipated that the collection and analysis of data will take about two years to complete, at which time further work could be contemplated.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Leaky ponds are good news for farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley. The second year of a pond study in a normal water year is showing similar results as last year, when drought gripped the region.

“We’re not seeing a significant difference,” said Brian Lauritsen, a consultant on the study being funded through the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Water leakage on more than 20 ponds averaged about 20 percent this year, compared with 18 percent last year. Most are on the Fort Lyon Canal. It had been thought the numbers would be higher when the ground was drier.

“Usually, you don’t want to see ponds leaking,” said Jack Goble, engineer for the Lower Ark district.

But in this case, there is a chance the state will adjust its formula used to determine how much water irrigators owe for return flows that are reduced through more efficient irrigation techniques such as sprinklers. More leakage means less water owed to the river.

The Lower Ark also has built two ponds on the Catlin Canal designed specifically to leak. Called recharge ponds, they are designed to return water to the Arkansas River over time, the way that water flows through the aquifer in farming operations. One pond fills part of the need for Rule 10 surface irrigation plans, while the other is credited to Rule 14 well plans. One pond contributed 135 acre-feet (44 million gallons) in a month, while the other leaked 120 acre-feet (40 million gallons) in 21 days.

“I hope we’re able to get more of these ponds, especially in the lower part of the basin,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark District.

More HB13-1248 coverage here. More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch files pilot rotational fallowing application with the CWCB

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch is planning a pilot program next year under a 2013 state law encouraging water sharing programs as an alternative to permanent dry-up of farm ground. The plan, filed with the Colorado Water Conservation Board last week, would lease up to 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons) annually from the Catlin Canal to Fowler, Fountain and Security. About 1,128 acres would be dried up on a rotational basis to deliver the water.

“What we’re trying to do is see if a lease-fallowing program is viable,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We’re trying to keep the water in the Arkansas basin. That’s what it’s all about.”

The application is the first to be filed under HB1248, passed last year by the state Legislature, which allows the CWCB to look at 10 test projects throughout the state. The projects are supervised by the state water board, with input from the state engineer. It may finally launch Super Ditch pilot projects that have stalled because of drought and second thoughts by farmers.

The Super Ditch submitted a substitute water supply plan with the state Division of Water Resources in 2012 for a lease-fallowing pilot project with Fountain and Security that failed because there was not enough water to move. The state restrictions that were placed on the project, fueled by objections from other water users, made moving any water in that dry year futile, Winner explained.

Last year, the Super Ditch was prepared to move some High Line Canal water to Fowler, but the deal was stopped when farmers pulled out. Fowler leased 125 acre-feet of water for $25,000 from the Pueblo Board of Water Works instead.

Under the plan outlined in the application, Fowler would lease up to 250 acre-feet, while Fountain and Security would lease up to 125 acre-feet each annually.

State law provides that the plan can be operated for 10 years.

“I think we’ll try it for a year or two, just to see if lease-fallowing is feasible,” Winner said. “We have to see if we can move water to Lake Pueblo. One of the drawbacks of HB1248 is that it only allows for municipal leasing, but if this works, there’s the possibility for industrial or agricultural leases as well.”

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable: “…we’re still beating our heads over rotational fallowing” — Gary Barber #COWaterPlan #COleg

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is compiling a reservoir of ideas that could go into making the Colorado Water Plan. The main difficulty will be putting them all to beneficial use: First in the Arkansas River basin’s implementation plan, then translating those into the state plan — all under conditions that still appear to be changing.

“It does appear to be a flood,” quipped Alan Hamel, who represents the basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Last month, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation (SB115) that instructs the CWCB to have hearings in each basin and for the draft plan to be presented to the Legislature’s interim committee on water resources.

Meanwhile, the roundtable has received 60 written comments, some with multiple suggestions, on what needs to be in its basin implementation plan. The group has no organized way of incorporating comments into the volumes of information already compiled. There has been little time for point-by-point discussions.

The CWCB will review basin plans in July.

And the state plan being developed is in a different format than the basin plan.

“How do we integrate all this?” asked Reed Dils, a retired Buena Vista outfitter and former CWCB member.

“The timeline was a tough, tight timeline even before the legislation,” Hamel added.

Hickenlooper ordered the CWCB to produce a draft plan by December. For the past few months, the roundtable has expanded its meeting time and talked extensively about its own basin plan, the product of nine years of meetings. Some of that time has been devoted to providing new members background on past actions of the roundtable.

“Dozens of people have presented information to us,” said Bud Elliott of Leadville, one of the original roundtable members. “The public has been well represented.”

Gary Barber, who chaired the roundtable for several years and is now under contract to help write the basin plan, said some findings of the roundtable have stalled.

“I tell you, five years later, we’re still beating our heads over rotational fallowing, based on the experience of Fowler,” he said at one point.

A deal by Super Ditch to supply water to Fowler under a state pilot program this year fell through when farmers pulled out. It’s the third year the group has tried, but failed, to demonstrate a new method for agricultural transfers that leaves ownership in the hands of farmers.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

CWCB: Does the draft #COWaterPlan rely too much on unproven alternative ag transfers?

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A state water plan may be putting too much weight on alternative transfer programs that seek to temporarily provide water to cities from farm lands. While the goal of such programs is to reduce the possibility of permanent dry-up of agriculture, there is little evidence to prove they would work, said Patricia Wells, a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, meeting in Pueblo this week.

“Has any transfer method actually happened with rotational fallowing?” Wells, general counsel for Denver Water, asked during Wednesday’s CWCB meeting at the Pueblo Convention Center.

The board was reviewing draft chapters of the state water plan being developed by CWCB staff. Other topics included conservation, water quality and project permitting.

“This chapter paints a rosy picture of alternative transfers,” Wells added. “This doesn’t mean alternative transfer methods can’t be done, but they haven’t been done.”

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch formed in 2008, but has had difficulty launching pilot programs because drought reduced water availability, permit complications and farmer participation.

In 2013, the Legislature passed HB1130, which set up a framework for long-term lease arrangements, and HB1248, which allowed for 10 pilot programs that have not materialized.

Super Ditch attempted to run a pilot program under HB1248 with the town of Fowler this year, but plans fell through.

This year, a proposal to create a flex marketing water right failed because opponents said it amounted to legalizing speculation.

In 2004-05, Aurora and the Rocky Ford High Line Canal engineered a temporary transfer program that was successful, although it raised questions of moving water from one river basin to another.

Since then, the state has spent millions of dollars on grants to study alternative transfer methods, but large metro providers are reluctant to enter long-term deals without more certainty.

“Unless we find some way to do this, there are barriers,” Wells said.

Board member John McClow, a Gunnison attorney, questioned CWCB staff for using language from the Interbasin Compact Committee’s report rather than taking a fresh approach.

Travis Smith, a board member of both the CWCB and IBCC, responded that the IBCC reached agreement on using alternative transfers several years ago, and thought that should be reflected in the state water plan.

Meanwhile the Arkansas Valley Conduit was also a topic at yesterday’s CWCB meeting in Pueblo. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The state showed more support for the Arkansas Valley Conduit Thursday, pledging cooperation in helping to obtain federal funding for the $400 million project.

“This is the last piece of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “It’s been a long wait for something that was promised 50 years ago.”

Broderick gave an update of the conduit to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which met Thursday at the Pueblo Convention Center.

Contract negotiations will begin later this year for the conduit and two associated federal contracts to provide a master storage lease in Lake Pueblo and a cross-connection between south and north outlets on Pueblo Dam.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here. More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here. More CWCB coverage here.

Farmers pull out of first Arkansas Valley Super Ditch project

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The first pilot program under a new state law that would allow temporary water transfers under the supervision of the Colorado Water Conservation Board has been scuttled. The planned lease of water to Fowler by the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch was pulled from the table last week after farmers who were leasing the water pulled out. It was the first plan introduced under last year’s HB1284, which allows the CWCB to monitor pilot programs that develop alternatives to buy-and-dry water transfers.

“It’s disappointing that we weren’t able to put the program in place,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We need to make sure Fowler survives. The first job of the Super Ditch is to keep small towns viable. This is really about the Arkansas Valley solving the Arkansas Valley’s problems.”

Fowler uses wells to supply its water, but needs an outside supply to augment those wells, City Manager Dan Hyatt explained. The town has been under water restrictions.

“It appears Fowler will be fine with water this year,” Hyatt said.

Monday, the town council considered its options, which could include leasing water from the Pueblo Board of Water Works. The water board has not taken action on water leases this year.

This is the second pilot program that has fallen through for the Super Ditch. In 2012, the group set up a pilot program with Fountain and Security, but could not pull all of the pieces together in time to execute the lease. Severe drought played a role in that program.

Last year, Aurora made an offer to Super Ditch to lease water, but farmers rejected it because the asking price was too low.

The Super Ditch and Lower Ark district supported HB1248 because of the technical backlash from other water users that surfaced under the existing rules for a substitute water supply plan.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update: ‘The objective is to develop a tool to look at lease-fallowing effects’ — Rick Parsons

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A comprehensive study of Arkansas River water use that will aid the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch in temporary water transfers is nearing completion. “The objective is to develop a tool to look at lease-fallowing effects and quantify the amount of water to be exchanged,” Rick Parsons, an engineering consultant, told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District on Wednesday. The district has helped Super Ditch since its formation in 2008 as a way to allow farmers to lease water without selling their underlying water rights, preventing the dry-up of farmland. The district and Super Ditch are working on a pilot program with Fowler this year.

The Super Ditch has contemplated several strategies for moving water, including filing an exchange decree in water court, using existing substitute water supply plans and creating pilot projects under last year’s HB1248. The problem has been getting water users to agree to how those exchanges will avoid damaging other water rights.

Since 2011, Parsons has been compiling information about how water is used in the Arkansas River basin, looking at river operations from 1980-2013. His model should be complete in May. The Super Ditch needs a model that will be generally accepted by other water users, Parsons said. Parsons has met with the state, Colorado Springs Utilities, Aurora and the Pueblo Board of Water Works to glean information. He also has worked with ditch companies to obtain additional data.

The major obstacles at this point are reconciling data from different sources and understanding reservoir operations. Some Lake Pueblo operations related to Southern Delivery System are not clear because of proprietary information held by Colorado Springs Utilities, Parsons said. Reservoirs on the Colorado, Holbrook and Fort Lyon systems are operated by private companies.

“There are a million numbers in this model, and a million in the state database. Some of them are wrong,” Parsons said. “If this is used in a court document, it will be challenged to the nth degree. It has to be as transparent as possible.”

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Arkansas River Basin: ‘If Jay Winner cared about agriculture, he would be asking us about that story’ — John McKowen

arkbasinditchsystem.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. not only plans to continue farming, but wants to expand its operations on the Bessemer Ditch. But the company is facing challenges from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District that it violated a conservation easement by not irrigating a property it owns. “We’re here because we want to grow vegetables,” John McKowen, Two Rivers CEO, shot back Wednesday as he surveyed newly planted rows of sorghum on the 15-acre property. “This is a great place to farm and the only people trying to move water out of this valley are the Lower Ark district and (its manager) Jay Winner.” The Lower Ark board last month notified Two Rivers of a potential violation of the easement. Two Rivers answered the complaint, saying it is in compliance with the easement. McKowen has bumped heads with Winner in the past over his plan to build reservoirs on the Excelsior Ditch.

“So far, he’s taken two potshots at us and neither one is true,” McKowen said. “We’re walking our talk. He’s not.” He produced documents filed with the federal Farm Service Agency showing wheat, corn and hay were planted on the ground last year, while there was a failed crop of onions earlier this year.

In fact, the land is getting more water from its 36 shares of the Bessemer Ditch under Two Rivers than it would as a freestanding farm, said Russ Dionisio, who manages Two Rivers’ farms. “The way we combine our water (from Bessemer shares and augmented wells), we’re able to irrigate 15 acres,” Dionisio said. “If all somebody had was this farm, this year it would be about 5 acres.”

Two Rivers, which also has farms in other parts of Pueblo and Huerfano counties, has plans that include lease-fallowing possibilities similar to the Lower Ark district’s Super Ditch in the future. But for now, the company is focused on farming. It’s planning to double vegetable production next year and create opportunities for neighboring farmers in the process. “We’re a private enterprise that wants to improve the value of farming, not a government agency,” McKowen said. “If Jay Winner cared about agriculture, he would be asking us about that story.”

Winner defended the Lower Ark district’s action, saying nothing appeared to be growing on it. If crops are now planted on it, that’s all that the district had asked for, he said.

“We represent the people of the Arkansas Valley, not a Wall Street farmer who lives in Denver,” Winner said. “People receive a huge amount of money for conservation easements, and as a land trust, it’s our duty to see the ones we hold are enforced.”

On the water question, Winner reiterated his past statement: “We have not moved a drop of water out of the valley.”

More about Two Rivers from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Box upon box of cabbages the size of volleyballs line a refrigerated warehouse at Dionisio Farms near Avondale. “This is our cooling facility,” Two Rivers Water and Farming Co. CEO John McKowen shouted over the hum of a refrigeration unit. “We’re planning on expanding it, doubling the size, next year.”

The cabbages grown in nearby fields have to be cooled to 38-40 degrees before shipment to processing plants in Colorado Springs, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Most of the cabbage will wind up as cole slaw for restaurant chains.

The purchase of Dionisio Farms by Two Rivers last year has allowed nearly full planting of the acres dedicated to vegetables this year, while grain crops have been cut back due to drought, said Russ Dionisio, who oversees all Two Rivers farming operations. “Two Rivers has benefitted us, because we’ve been able to farm 60 percent of our ground this year, while only about 40 percent of the ground is planted on the rest of the ditch,” Dionisio said. Two Rivers made water available from a five-year lease with the Pueblo Board of Water Works this year to its own and other farms in the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association. While many other farmers have had to cut back production, Dionisio will ship more than 10 million pounds of cabbage this season.

In addition, another 100 acres of pumpkins will be harvested, and some corn is being grown for the first time in decades on Two Rivers land in Huerfano County. McKowen said the vegetables are important crops. “The corn will bring about $800 an acre, but the cabbage will be many multiples of that,” McKowen said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. is refuting the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District’s claim that the terms of a conservation easement on the Bessemer Ditch were violated. “Water from the 36 Bessemer Ditch shares has been and continues to be used solely on the property to aid in the production of agricultural crops,” Two Rivers attorney John Keilbach of Pueblo wrote last week. His letter was in response to a July 17 letter from the Lower Ark district claiming the property was not in agricultural production, which is a condition of a conservation easement placed on the property by a former owner.

Dionisio Farms, owned by Two Rivers, grew corn on the land last year, planted onions which froze this spring and is now growing 15 acres of sorghum on the farm, according to the letter. “In comparing the general agricultural purposes of the easement, the specifically authorized crops and the fact these crops are commonly found in the community surrounding the property . . . we do not understand your conclusion that no irrigated agriculture is being practiced on the property,” Keilbach’s letter stated. “Nothing that Dionisio Farms or Two Rivers has done would indicate or even imply any interruption of agriculture or any intent to move water rights off the property.”

The letter also says the inspection was made without informing Two Rivers, although the easement has a notice requirement.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch asks for a two-year delay in change case

arkbasinditchsystem.jpg

The Super Ditch is asking for a time-out in what the Upper Ark’s Terry Scanga called, “The Mother of all change cases.” Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch has been years in the making and needs time to get established, its lawyers argued in a Division 2 water court filing last week. The Super Ditch, along with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, filed a motion for a two-year stay in an exchange case that would allow Super Ditch to move water upstream for storage in Lake Pueblo. From there, the water could be leased either to cities or to other farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley.

The motion, filed Friday, was accompanied by a response to a motion to dismiss that had been filed earlier by opponents of the Super Ditch — Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and farming groups east of John Martin Reservoir.

Super Ditch attorneys argued in the motion that the two-year period is needed to develop pilot programs that will identify issues of moving water.

The Super Ditch was formed in 2008 to lease water gained from rotational fallowing of fields. Opponents of Super Ditch have argued that the practice will create the need to police hundreds of farms to make sure downstream water users are not being injured. But the Colorado Water Conservation Board already has provided funding to study various aspects of lease-fallowing in the Arkansas River Basin.

One bill signed into state law this year, HB1248, allows the CWCB to operate pilot programs in all areas of the state in order to determine whether other water rights would be injured in water transfer agreements.

Tri-State and its allies are arguing for full review in water court of the change of use as well as exchange applications. Colorado Springs and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District also filed responses Friday, backing the Lower Ark on some factual points in the case.

In its response to Tri-State, the Lower Ark district chronicled its efforts to establish the Super Ditch since 2006 as a way to prevent further permanent dry-up of farmland in the Lower Ark Valley.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

‘Super Ditch has no contracts on either side, no end user and no firm supply’ — Terry Nelson

arkbasinditchsystem.jpg

Terry Scanga from the Upper Arkansas River Water Conservancy District called the Super Ditch the “Mother of all change cases” a couple of years ago. Here’s an update on a water court filing by objectors from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Water users on the eastern end of the Lower Arkansas Valley want water judge Larry Schwartz to dismiss a court case that would allow the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch to exchange water upstream. The motion to dismiss was filed last month in Division 2 water court.

The Super Ditch envisions exchanging water upstream under leasefallowing programs that would allow farmers to sell water to cities temporarily while keeping ownership of the water rights.

But several large water interests below John Martin Reservoir say the proposal is speculative and claims too much water — the entire flows of six canal companies that amount to 58,000 acre-feet per year. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, District 67 Ditch Association and the Amity Canal filed the motion to dismiss the application by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and Super District on May 22. The exchange is being sought before water rights on the canal have been changed to allow other uses, they say.

At the same time, the Lower Ark District and Super Ditch have sidestepped water court by lobbying for changes in state law that allow water to be moved under state water officials without court adjudication, they said. Two bills were passed by the state Legislature this year — HB1130 and HB 1248 — that give the state engineer or the Colorado Water Conservation Board direct authority over water transfers. The Lower Ark District backed HB1248, and Rocky Ford area farmers involved with the Super Ditch testified in favor of HB1130. The bills were actively opposed by Tri-State lobbyists.

“It scares the hell out of us that multiple thousands of acres could be dried up and the state’s the policeman,” said Colin Thompson, who farms near Holly and is a member of the Amity Canal board. “I don’t want to have to run up and down the valley and police 2,000 fields.”

“Super Ditch has no contracts on either side, no end user and no firm supply,” said Terry Nelson, a Tri-State executive. “They’ve taken every effort to sidestep the court process. They’re setting it up to make it easier for the municipalities to take water out of the Arkansas Valley.”

Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Ark District, defended the Super Ditch proposal, saying it protects water in agriculture. “What we’re trying to do is enhance the water options for agriculture,” Winner said. “The state now has a gap in municipal supplies. Super Ditch provides an alternative to permanent transfers.”

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: ‘It puts the risk for delivery on the cities’ — John Schweizer

arkbasinditchsystem.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Farmers want a higher price if a lease with Aurora goes through this year. The boards of the High Line and Catlin canals met with the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Thursday evening and agreed to a base price of $1,070 per acre for leasing water. The price could increase if the yield of water is greater. “It puts the risk for delivery on the cities,” Super Ditch President John Schweizer said of the pricing strategy. In traditional water deals, the price has been been set per acre-­foot.

Aurora, under a 2010 agreement with the Super Ditch, offered $500 per acre­foot to lease up to 10,000 acrefeet of water this year. Its storage has dropped below 60 percent, which triggers the city’s ability to lease more water from the Arkansas River basin under its 2003 agreement with the Southeastern Colorado and Upper Arkansas water conservancy districts.

But commodity prices for hay and corn — the primary crops grown in the Arkansas Valley — have increased since 2010. In addition, a prolonged drought has reduced water supply for the farmers.

To provide water, farmers must dry up crop land. “When you’re drying up the land, the yield depends on the type of water year,” Schweizer said. Because of differences in water rights, the yield per acre varies from ditch to ditch as well. The base price reflects crop values, but if the water yield per acre increases, so will the lease price, Schweizer said.

The Super Ditch board has agreed to cap land fallowing at 30­-35 percent per farm. “That keeps it evenly distributed,” Schweizer said. “When we get into the leasing mode, it will help keep the land in the valley in production.”

If the Aurora lease goes through, the Super Ditch hopes to have a substitute water supply plan in place by May. A pilot program to lease water in 2012 failed because of delays in getting a state­-approved plan in place prior to the irrigation season.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here.

Many eyes are on Aurora’s proposed lease for 10,000 acre-feet from the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch

arkbasinditchsystem.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Negotiations will proceed between the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch and Aurora for a proposed lease of water this year.

“We’re still unified and this is a big step forward,” said Super Ditch President John Schweizer. “The whole idea of the Super Ditch is to begin to get the ditches working together.”

The Super Ditch board, which includes some shareholders from seven Arkansas Valley ditches, met Wednesday with the boards of the High Line and Catlin canals in Rocky Ford.

Aurora has proposed leasing up to 10,000 acrefeet of water from Super Ditch under the terms of a 2010 agreement at a rate of $500 per acre­foot delivered to Lake Pueblo. The boards of both ditch companies, as well as the Super Ditch board, say the rate is too low.

“Commodity prices are different than when we made the agreement,” Schweizer said. The Super Ditch board instructed attorney Peter Nichols to negotiate with Aurora on the rate, as well as engineering costs and other details. Aurora has not officially changed its position. “We negotiated the price in the term sheet and we expect them to stand by it,” said Gerry Knapp, manager of Aurora’s Arkansas Valley operations. “We’re always willing to talk to them.”

The water would be generated by drying up some of the irrigated farm ground on the High Line and Catlin canals for one year. Aurora has a contract with the Bureau of Reclamation to store water in Lake Pueblo and move it through a paper trade to Twin Lakes, where it is pumped through the Otero Pumping Station and Homestake pipeline into the South Platte River basin.

The boards do not expect all shareholders on the two ditches to participate. About 25 to 30 percent of the ground of any participating shareholder could be dried up, Schweizer said. No one is certain that the Arkansas Valley will snap out of its two­year drought in 2013, so deliveries could fall short, as they did when Aurora leased water from the High Line Canal in 2004­-05 Aurora owns water rights in Otero, Crowley and Lake counties, and in dry years water deliveries from those rights fall well below average.

Under 2003 agreements with the Southeastern Colorado and Upper Arkansas water conservancy districts, Aurora may lease additional water when its systemwide reservoir storage falls below 60 percent. Current storage is at 51 percent, and dropping by 1 percent weekly.

More Aurora coverage here and here.

Aurora hopes to lease 10,000 acre-feet of water in 2013 via the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company #CODrought

arkbasinditchsystem.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two Rocky Ford­ area ditch company boards agreed Tuesday to work with the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch to lease water to Aurora next year. The boards of the High Line and Catlin canals cleared the way for the leases, which will be made through the Super Ditch.

“It’s a voluntary program, and shareholders can either agree to participate or not to participate,” said John Schweizer, president of both the Catlin Canal and Super Ditch boards. “How many choose to participate determines how much each person will get.”

Aurora has offered to buy up to 10,000 acre-­feet of water from the Super Ditch next year because its reservoir storage is below 60 percent of available capacity. That is a trigger for leasing in drought­ recovery years under the 2003 agreement with the Southeastern Colorado and Upper Arkansas water conservancy districts. Aurora initially offered $500 per acre­-foot, but that figure is under negotiation, Schweizer said. “The boards agreed that wouldn’t work at all,” Schweizer said.

Super Ditch attorney Peter Nichols will negotiate the rate with Aurora.

The $500 per acre-­foot figure was part of an agreement reached in 2010 with the Super Ditch and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. Since then, the price of corn and hay — the major crops grown here — in the Arkansas Valley has nearly tripled during the drought.

“That was a different time,” Schweizer said.

Either an interruptible supply plan or substitute water supply plan would have to be filed with the Division of Water Resources for the lease to occur. That would require engineering and legal resources to meet a possible challenge from other water users in the valley. Schweizer said those costs also will be negotiated with Aurora.

More Aurora coverage here and here.

Drought news: Aurora is shopping for short-term water leases, storage at 53% of capacity #CODrought

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Aurora wants to lease additional water from the Arkansas River basin in 2013 and is prepared to spend $5 million. The city’s storage has been drawn down to 53 percent of capacity, triggering a situation where it can lease water under the terms of a 2003 agreement with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Aurora Water sent a letter to the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch last month offering to lease 10,000 acre­-feet of water for $500 per acre-­foot, or $5 million total. The terms are part of an agreement Aurora made with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District in 2010. That may not be enough, said Super Ditch President John Schweizer. If commodity prices stay high, farmers would be able to get about $1,200 per acre for corn and $1,500 per acre for alfalfa, minus costs for cultivating, planting, irrigation and harvesting. “We’ve got to see if there are farmers interested in doing it,” Schweizer said. “If the price per acre is right, I think you could see some interest.”

Schweizer expects opposition to the transfer. This year, a Super Ditch pilot program met unprecedented resistance from other water users after it was submitted to the state engineer. “A lot depends on the severity of the drought and how people in cities might be affected,” he said.

While the Super Ditch conceptually includes seven large irrigation ditch systems east of Pueblo, farms on the High Line and Catlin canals could fill the Aurora order, Schweizer said. Both canal companies already have had annual meetings, so the leases would be filled through negotiations with the boards of each canal and interested shareholders. Bylaws on both canals have been changed to allow for temporary water transfers, and the High Line Canal leased water to Aurora and Colorado Springs in 2004-­05.

Aurora is waiting to hear if the Super Ditch can fill the order and does not have a backup plan, said Greg Baker, Aurora Water spokesman.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Agreements with three conservancy districts determine whether Aurora can lease additional water from the Arkansas River basin.

Aurora purchased nearly all of the Rocky Ford Ditch in Otero County, part of the Colorado Canal in Crowley County and several ranches in Lake County in the 1980s and 1990s to meet water needs of the city of 300,000 east of Denver. In 2004-­05, it leased water from the High Line Canal, which irrigates farms in the Rocky Ford area, as the city recovered from the 2002 drought.

Next year, Aurora is bracing for another drought recovery to bolster its storage levels.

Under 2003 agreements with the Southeastern district and the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, Aurora may lease additional water when its storage levels drop below 60 percent of total capacity on March 15. It can lease water for up to three out of 10 years under those circumstances.

Aurora has drawn down Homestake Reservoir, which it shares with Colorado Springs, for dam repairs. Aurora stores water in 10 other reservoirs. Including Homestake, Aurora is at 53 percent capacity, but even without Homestake factored in, capacity already is at just 61 percent. Last month, the Aurora City Council authorized its water utility to begin looking for leases. “We’re looking at the agreement to determine if we have any issues with the leases,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district.

Under its 2010 agreement with the Lower Ark District, Aurora is obligated to work with the Super Ditch before looking elsewhere for water in the Arkansas Valley. “It’s a step in the right direction,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “The Super Ditch will build collaboration and cooperation among the ditch companies.”

Aurora also has an agreement with the High Line Canal board for future leases. Arkansas Valley water is exchanged upstream to Twin Lakes, where it moves to Aurora through the Otero Pumping Station and Homestake pipeline.

More Aurora coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: ‘There is no reviewable decision to appeal at this time’ — Judge Schwartz

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Opponents of the Super Ditch pilot program jumped the gun when filing a complaint, Division 2 Water Judge Larry Schwartz ruled Monday. In June, Prowers County water users filed the complaint against State Engineer Dick Wolfe and the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, saying the state did not have authority to approve a substitute water supply plan for Super Ditch. But the plan never was given final approval, because Super Ditch could not meet all of the conditions that were outlined, Schwartz said in the decision.

“There is no reviewable decision to appeal at this time,” Schwartz said.

The pilot program set out to lease 500 acre­feet of water from the Catlin Canal to Fountain and Security. Water would be taken from dried­up acres and released to the river over time through recharge ponds. An exchange would move the water to Lake Pueblo, where it could be used by the cities through the Fountain Valley Conduit. After a public meeting in January and two technical meetings with objectors, Wolfe cut some farms from the plan and the amount of the program in half. Because of the drought and conditions put on the plan, it was never approved or carried out.

Amity Mutual Irrigation Co., District 67 Irrigating Canals Association, Lower Arkansas Water Management Association and Tri​State Generation and Transmission Association filed the court case in May, saying Wolfe lacked authority.

Super Ditch eventually plans to move larger amounts of water from as many as seven canals that take water from the Arkansas River in Pueblo and Otero counties, but has not filed an application for change of water rights, the opponents contend. Super Ditch officials say the pilot program must come first to work out details of how the full program would operate.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Objectors have been active in water court helping to forge the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch proposed substitute water supply plan

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The conditions placed on a pilot program for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch were much more restrictive than a water lease by Aurora from the High Line Canal in 2004­05.

Wednesday, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District asked, “Why?”

Lower Ark water attorney Peter Nichols reviewed key differences between the substitute water supply plans for the two water leases:

● Aurora proposed leasing 18,000 acre­feet over two years, while the Super Ditch plan was for just 250 acre­feet from the Catlin Canal to Security and Fountain for one year.

● The Super Ditch had a more extensive process to provide information and technical details to objectors. More conditions, engineering requirements and scrutiny were placed on the Super Ditch.

● Some farms were taken out of the Super Ditch plan, while unlimited participation was permitted for the High Line Canal lease.

“The point here is that it’s gotten more difficult. The standards haven’t changed, but there are many more details needed to prove there is no material injury,” Nichols said.

Even though there were more restrictions, several water users filed a complaint about the plan in water court.

State Engineer Dick Wolfe, who attended the meeting, said comparing the two plans amounted to “apples and oranges.”

“We’ve been doing the same type of plan for decades,” Wolfe said. “But there are more terms and conditions as time goes on.”

In the High Line Canal case, specific concerns raised by other water users were addressed. Each case is unique, Wolfe added.

Nichols said Super Ditch will continue to work with the state for temporary plans before filing a change case in water court, a similar process used by well associations prior to obtaining water decrees.

“We’re not giving up,” Nichols said. “We’ll be back next year, working to come up with a true alternative to buy­ and­dry . ”

Meanwhile, State Engineer Dick Wolfe told some at the meeting the he would not suspend the rules for augmentation. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. Here’s an excerpt:

[Lamar farmer Dale Mauch] is among farmers trying to loosen up state water­replacement requirements by trying to prove that
irrigation ponds that feed sprinklers leak more than presumed by a state formula.

The state presumes 3 percent leakage, while farmers say it’s closer to 20 to 25 percent.

Wolfe replied that the state’s actions are bound by court­decreed rules that make it difficult to alter or suspend
any of the provisions.

“Dale, the state’s computer model doesn’t agree with you,” another farmer joked.

“I live in reality,” Mauch laughed.

Pueblo County farmer Tom Rusler, who farms on the Bessemer Ditch, asked if the accounting for the rules could
be done after the irrigation season, rather than in advance.

Wolfe said the rules require a plan prior to the irrigation season and can’t be altered without a change in the court
decree. Wolfe said the rules could be amended to reflect the results of the pond study. Additionally, the Lower Ark
district, which administers a group plan for water replacement under Rule 10 of the rules, can amend its report.

More water law coverage here.

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

A familiar face has joined the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District as the director from Crowley County.

Jim Valliant, 76, was appointed to the board this month by Deborah Eyler, chief judge of Pueblo District Court. He lives in Olney Springs and replaces Pete Moore, who left the board in May when he moved to Nebraska.

“I’ve been in water conservation all my life,” Valliant said. “I came from an 8-inch rain area in Pecos, Texas. I’ve always encouraged people to do everything they can to save water.”

Valliant came to Crowley County in 1978, and was manager of the Foxley Cattle Co. He also managed farms for the Navajo Irrigation Project in New Mexico and worked with Anderson Seed from Lamar.

More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update: Anthropologist plans to request dough from the Ark roundtable to study the impact of the project

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Ken Weber, an anthropologist who lives in Pueblo, told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board he plans to take a proposal to study the Super Ditch to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable soon. Otero County commissioners already have agreed to review the study…

“It would seek to document what happens over a three-year period,” Weber said, adding that impacts to participating farmers, nonparticipants, service industries and communities would be evaluated. “It would provide accountability and transparency.”[…]

Weber replied that his study proposes to measure actual impacts, rather than predict what those impacts would be. The Lower Ark’s studies actually call for this sort of evaluation, he added.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: ‘It’s about the standard of review’ — Attorney Richard Mehren

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“When we have a plan that is this complicated, we need to have the opportunity for a full hearing of the issues,” said Richard Mehren, attorney for the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association. “It’s about the standard of review. It’s an uphill battle to convince the court that there has been injury. We’re concerned that the manner in which this was done has opened the door for larger transfers.”

LAWMA joined the Amity Mutual Irrigating Co., District 26 Irrigating Canals and Tri-State Generation & Transmission last month in filing a complaint with Division 2 Water Judge Larry Schwartz over State Engineer Dick Wolfe’s approval of a pilot program for a relatively small amount of water.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: Objectors question the State Engineer’s authority to approve this season’s substitute water supply plan

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The case is one of the first major decisions facing newly appointed Division 2 Water Judge Larry Schwartz. “We think the state engineer has exceeded his statutory authority,” said Richard Mehren, attorney for the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association. LAWMA, along with the Amity Mutual Ditch Co., District 67 canals and Tri­State Generation and Transmission Co., filed the complaint last week in water court. It asks Schwartz to require the Super Ditch to file in water court in order to operate its pilot program…

The lawyers who filed the complaint say the Super Ditch transfer program have effects that would persist longer than five years — the return of groundwater to the Arkansas River. Mehren pointed out that the Super Ditch engineering shows this and LAWMA had to account for its own lagging return flows in a court case. Super Ditch engineers say recharge ponds would be put in place to account for the timing of return flows, and Wolfe agreed to the engineering design under a lengthy list of conditions. Several farms were eliminated from the plan because they could not meet recharge requirements, and in fact the pilot project’s scope was cut in half for that reason. Opponents also say the one-year pilot program sets a precedent, giving them little time to respond to claims made from one year to the next. They also point out the program could be renewed annually for another four years.

“We have an interest in keeping the water we think we have,” said Colin Thompson, a farmer on the Amity. “We’re out real money when we can’t irrigate, and we believe the burden of proof should be on the Super Ditch.” “LAWMA gets hurt in two ways,” said Don Higbee, manager of the well owners’ group. “We’re very cautious that our water rights won’t be depleted, but we also must make up flows at the state line.”

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here.

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch pilot project is good to go for this water year

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The State Engineer can approve a substitute water supply plan if certain conditions are met. The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch pilot project is good to go this water year now that the SEO has blessed the scaled-back plan. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“Many people said we’d never get this far in 20 years, but we’ve managed to do it in just four years,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which is funding Super Ditch program. “This will be a benefit to every farmer in the Lower Arkansas Valley.” The transfer is seen as a test case for a much larger program that would move larger amounts of water from as many as seven ditches east of Pueblo. Under Super Ditch, water could be leased by farmers to cities, the state or even farmers on other canals without selling water rights…

Wolfe rejected an assertion by Tri-State Generation and Transmission that a water court filing must precede the substitute water supply plan, saying he has statutory authority to issue a permit as long as all conditions are met. He also rejected Tri-State’s claim that some of the return flows from the transfer will lag more than five years. The Super Ditch plans to build ponds to return water to the river over multiple years, just as the water historically would have run off the fields. The pilot program follows accepted ways to return flows to the river, Wolfe said.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: The alternative ag transfer plan has 15 objectors at water court

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“It’s [opposition] unprecedented in this basin,” said Peter Nichols, water atto’rney for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District at the boards monthly meeting Wednesday. “The only other plan that could compare was the issue of wells in the South Platte (basin).”

The district is seeking a substitute water supply plan from State Engineer Dick Wolfe on behalf of the Super Ditch, and hosted a meeting with potential opponents of the plan in January. Despite that effort, 15 objectors filed “hundreds of pages” of concerns about the plan prior to an April 9 deadline for comments.

Division Engineer Steve Witte said many of the objections are duplicative, and the state engineer is considering them at this time.

The Amity Canal, which is half-owned by Tri-State Generation & Transmission Assoc., and others say a water court filing is needed before the water plan should be considered. They also make the point that some of the impacts could continue longer than the five-year limit required by state legislation.

Meanwhile, the State Engineer has approved the Super Ditch Substitute Water Supply Plan. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The draft substitute water supply plan was approved this week, complete with 46 terms and conditions added at the request of 17 objectors to the plan sponsored by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

A major objection has focused on the fact that no change of use application has been filed in water court. Many of the 46 provisions of the plan deal with the sorts of issues typically covered in a water court filing.

The one-year plan will provide 250 acre-feet of water from the Catlin Canal to Fountain and Security in El Paso County. Water will be exchanged to Lake Pueblo, where it could be shipped via the Fountain Valley Conduit to the end users. In turn, about 175 acres on four Catlin Canal farms would be fallowed to provide the water needed for the deal. “I recognize that . . . the Super Ditch Co.’s ultimate goal is a long-term rotational fallowing program,” Wolfe wrote in the draft plan. “However, the only plan application before me is for 12 months and I do not believe the company’s ultimate larger goal precludes my authority to grant a one-year plan.”[…]

“In a way, this is good, since it would put the same restrictions on future attempts to move water in the Arkansas River basin,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “The next time Aurora applies for a substitute water supply plan, we’re going to email those 46 terms and conditions to the state engineer.”

It’s still important to develop the Super Ditch, he said. “The Super Ditch is the future of Colorado water,” Winner said.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: Project could signal a big turn in how Colorado views and measures agricultural consumptive use

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Whatever else it may do, the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch has already sparked a change in thinking about water rights for farmers in the valley. For decades, farmers have operated under a “use it or lose it” philosophy. Water must be applied in priority or it passes to the next user along the river. In a complicated system like the Arkansas River basin, operating under the doctrine of prior appropriation, that’s not always the next downstream headgate.

At a meeting in Rocky Ford last week, farmers began a conversation about flexibility of use. They talked about the possible benefits of quantifying consumptive use, claiming it for other uses in water court, selling the water and even reselling the return flows. It’s a strategy cities have worked with for more than 40 years as they acquired farm water and converted it to municipal use, said Heath Kuntz, an engineer hired by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The cities have models that account for everything from toilet flushes to water that flows off lawns.

With Super Ditch, the farmers could have the same ability to maintain control over water whether it’s on a field or flowing through faucets.

Water rights in Colorado are decreed in courtrooms, with the earliest dates of use receiving the highest priority…

A change in water court adds another dimension to the water right. Because deliveries up and down the river could be affected, big changes draw a big crowd of water attorneys. Differences are usually settled outside the courtroom, and that means compromise. In recent talks, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs has warned ditches that there is a risk in changing senior agricultural water rights. Decisions in the South Platte and Arkansas river basins have put more limits on how the water can be used once the water right is changed.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: Proponents tout the project as a way to meet increased demand for basin supplies

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Terry Scanga, General Manager of the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is calling the water court filing for the Super Ditch the Mother of all Change Cases. And so it may be. Re-quantification is the name of the game nowadays whenever an entity gets in water court. Objectors hammer applicants on consumptive use calculations, historical use, the reservoir one-fill rule, etc. The Super Ditch plods on however. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

While the program was set up as a way to allow farmers to retain water rights while selling water through lease programs, it could become a way to meet increasing demands within the basin. The boards of the Super Ditch and Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District met jointly for the first time Tuesday to brainstorm how water needs throughout the valley could be met through Super Ditch…

The key is to develop enough flexibility in how the water is used to make what is now agricultural water more valuable in the future. A hint of that is seen in the Lower Ark’s exchange application in water court, which lists 85 points of exchange [ed. emphasis mine]. A report accompanying the application explains the needs of augmentation water for sprinklers or wells, as well as a new supply for the Arkansas Valley Conduit that will require more than 50,000 acre-feet annually in the next 50 years…

While the Lower Ark’s goal is to keep water in the valley, those in the Super Ditch are looking to maximize the value of water. Some believe both can be accomplished. “The Super Ditch is about the gap in the Arkansas basin,” said Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner. “The goal is to make the water so valuable that nobody wants to sell.”

Here’s a report about the Super Ditch pilot project substitute water supply filing from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The pilot program would lease 500 acre-feet of water to Fountain, Widefield and Security this year. A substitute water supply plan has been filed with the state engineer’s office, and a comment period will continue through April 9. The price will be $500 per acre-foot…

Opponents have put the program under a microscope, engineer Heath Kuntz told the boards.“We had 20 requests for specific information,” Kuntz said. “One engineer asked for less complicated accounting, and another wanted simpler accounting. They spent an hour arguing about it.”

At one point, he was asked to justify every cell on a spreadsheet. There were more than 10 million cells. The Super Ditch sponsored a meeting in Rocky Ford in January to explain the application to potential opponents. There have been several technical meetings since then to hash out details. Among the chief objections are that the Lower Ark should file a change of use case before seeking a substitute water supply plan for the program. The water for the pilot program would come from nine farms on the Catlin Canal.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Colorado Water 2012: Jay Winner — ‘Acquiring irrigation water is the easiest, most efficient and lowest cost way for growing Front Range municipalities to obtain additional water supplies’

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series. Today, Jay Winner, General Manager, Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, discusses rotational fallowing. In particular he explains the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch project being spearheaded by the Lower Ark district. Here’s an excerpt:

In 2002, residents of the Lower Valley voted two to one to create the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District (“Lower District”) to protect the Valley’s water resources, and with them, their social and economic future.

While the Lower District has aggressively fought additional agricultural to municipal transfers, it has just as steadfastly worked to develop an alternative that will meet inexorable municipal demands while protecting and enhancing the value of remaining irrigation water.

LEASING. Water leasing, pioneered during California’s 1990s drought, emerged as the most promising answer for several reasons.

First, leasing would not require current irrigators to sell their water to realize its current value, preserving the long-term ownership of the water in the Valley.

Second, most irrigated land would remain in production every year.

Third, water leasing would create a “new crop,” one with a predictable cash flow that irrigators could use for on-farm improvements, debt reduction, equipment upgrades and the like.

Fourth, cities could obtain the water supplies they need – an irrigated field is functionally equivalent to a reservoir that can be tapped (dried up) when needed for municipal uses…

Shareholders of the Rocky Ford High Line Canal, Oxford Farmers Ditch, Otero Canal, Catlin Canal, Holbrook Canal, and the Fort Lyon Canal (later joined by the Bessemer Ditch) met in Rocky Ford on May 7, 2008. They incorporated the Lower Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company, a Colorado for-profit corporation managed by a Board of Directors elected by Valley irrigators. The Super Ditch negotiates on behalf of irrigators to make water available to other water users through long-term leases, interruptible water supply agreements, and water banking.

Meanwhile, Aurora is assuring the Arkansas Basin that their new contract with water bottler Niagara Bottling will be for single-use, non-transbasin water. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“It’s an industrial use in the city of Aurora,” said Greg Baker, spokesman for Aurora Water. He said there are few other industrial users in the Denver suburban community.

Aurora gets about one-quarter of its supply from purchases of water rights it has made in the Arkansas River basin, one-quarter from the Colorado River and half from the South Platte.

“This is single-use water, so the paper accounting for it will be from the South Platte,” Baker said.

Return flows from water brought in from either the Arkansas or Colorado basins can be reused, and Aurora built the $650 million Prairie Waters Project to directly recapture those flows.

A bottled water plant would use all of the water, however, so Aurora will credit supplies to its Platte River water resources.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Aaron Million: ‘This project would divert less than 5 percent annually out of the massive Flaming Gorge Reservoir’

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Here’s a guest column about the Flaming Gorge pipeline written by Aaron Million running in the Northern Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

The argument that no further Upper Basin water projects be developed, which is a position some have taken, by default and in the simplest terms means California, Nevada and Arizona all benefit to the detriment of this region. Colorado faces a massive water supply shortfall, projected to be between 500,000 to 700,000 acre-feet over the next 20 years. New water and new storage, one of Gov. Hickenlooper’s keystone policy objectives and a long-standing objective for Colorado, can basically be accomplished with a pipe connection. This project would divert less than 5 percent annually out of the massive Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which is 25 times larger than Horsetooth Reservoir…

…the Flaming Gorge Project has several advantages for a new water supply. The Green River system itself, starting just south of Jackson Hole, has a different snowpack regime, which mitigates risk compared to relying on water from a single source or watershed. Also, global warming models predict the Green’s more northerly region to be wetter than average, while the Colorado River main-stem drainage, the historical focus of Front Range water needs, is predicted to be dryer than average. And the Green River is as large as the Colorado River main-stem, with comparatively little consumptive use and very few diversions.

Without question, the river has major environmental and recreational benefits that require protection…

So why does that matter for this region? It matters because an overall systems analysis on the Green River following implementation of the ROD indicates substantial surplus flows after meeting all the environmental needs of the river. Those surpluses, estimated at several hundred-thousand acre feet in a river system that flows over 1.5 million acre-feet annually, could be used to bring in a new water supply for the South Platte and Arkansas basins, generate new alternative energy, produce hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits, and provide re-use of waters for agriculture to keep the region strong and vibrant.

So the real question is this: If a large river system can be fully protected, and at the same time some of the potential surpluses from that same system alleviate major supply issues elsewhere, isn’t that an environmentally sound and reasonable water supply approach? The question remains unanswered until a rigorous and thorough environmental impact evaluation is completed…

I believe this we need to take this project through its paces. If it is environmentally sound, it should be permitted and built. If not, then stick a fork in it. The truth of a full scientific and environmental evaluation may be hard for some in the environmental community to swallow, but the consequences of not allowing that evaluation to occur remain: A continued bulls-eye on the Poudre, reverse-osmosis plants on the South Platte because of poor water quality, more future dry-up of the agricultural base in this state, and continued pressure on the western high country of our nearby mountain peaks.

The Flaming Gorge pipeline will be the topic of discussion March 14 at the Collegiate Peaks Anglers Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Here’s the release via The Chaffee County Times:

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

Colorado Springs Utilities’ Steve Berry: ‘In looking at the numbers in this executive summary, it does not appear that many of our comments were considered’

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Last week, the day before the Statewide Roundtable Summit, Western Resource Advocates, et. al., released a report titled, “Meeting Future Water Needs in the Arkansas Basin.” Colorado Springs and Pueblo are taking a hard look at the report, according to this article from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. Here’s an excerpt:

There may be a question whether water providers accept the figures used in the reports. “Colorado Springs Utilities was asked to peer review the draft version, and made extensive and substantial comments on it. In looking at the numbers in this executive summary, it does not appear that many of our comments were considered, and many of our suggested changes or corrections were not made,” said Steve Berry, spokesman for Utilities. The largest amounts of water, and presumably the largest conservation and reuse savings, come from Colorado Springs.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works is also reviewing the final report for accuracy, said Alan Ward, water resources manager…

The environmental groups say a combination of projects already on the books — conservation, reuse and temporary ag-urban transfers — could provide as much as 140,000 acre-feet, more than enough to meet the needs. Those numbers are being examined by urban water planners, who say the savings might not be attainable. “In general, we were unable to verify or recreate most of the numbers cited in their report, and their estimates for conservation and reuse are significantly greater than what our water conservation experts have calculated as realistic,” Berry said…

When asked how conservation savings would be applied to new supplies, a practice cities find risky, Jorge Figueroa, water policy analyst for Western Resource Advocates, said they could be put into “savings accounts” for future use. When asked where the water would be stored, he cited the T-Cross reservoir site on Williams Creek in El Paso County that is part of the Southern Delivery System plan…

Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project, said the group supports [the Southern Delivery System]. Because the project already is under way, the groups look at SDS as a key way to fill the gap. The report also supports programs like Super Ditch as ways to temporarily transfer agricultural water to cities without permanently drying up farmland.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at a report from the Northwest Council of Governments, “Water and Its Relationship to the Economies of the Headwaters Counties,” from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

The report, released in January at a Denver water conference, takes a fresh look at the critical importance to the economy of water in West Slope rivers, and why Colorado leaders may want to take careful thought before making future transmountain diversion policy decisions. Visit the NWCCOG website for the full 95-page report.

“This report makes an important contribution to the on-going dialogue about adverse economic impacts associated with losing water by focusing attention on Eagle, Grand, Gunnison, Pitkin, Routt and Summit counties,” said Jean Coley Townsend, the author of the report. “This has never been done before. The report provides an important counterbalance to earlier studies that show economic impacts of losing water from the Eastern Plains.”

Balancing the supply and demand of water could be the State’s most pressing issue. The report does not take issue with Front Range municipal or Eastern Plains agricultural water users — all parties have important and worthy concerns and points of view — but is meant as a thorough review of water as an economic driver of headwaters economic development.

The report provides a balance to the existing solid body of work that measures the potential economic effects of less water on the Front Range and the Eastern Plains and the loss of agriculture in those parts of the state.

“If we … are going to solve our Statewide water supply shortage challenges there must first be statewide mutual respect and true understanding of each other’s water supply challenges,” said Zach Margolis, Town of Silverthorne Utility Manager. “The report is a remarkable compilation of the West Slope’s water obligations and limitations as well as the statewide economic value of water in the headwater counties of Colorado.”

More transmountain/transbasin diversions coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch administrative update: Change case administrative tool in development

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

When the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District first proposed Super Ditch to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, Scanga said it would result in “the mother of all change cases.” The roundtable requested and received a grant from the Water Supply Reserve Account of the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop an administrative tool to help settle differences. Scanga said it would be available to any objector to the Super Ditch change case in water court.

Thursday [ed. at the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy board meeting], Scanga explained the concerns of the Upper Arkansas Valley because of the potential for Super Ditch to alter river priority calls.

The case, when it is filed, will be complex because it deals with rotating dry-up of parcels on up to seven ditch systems with lingering impacts to the river over several years, Scanga said.

The Super Ditch is proposing a pilot program this year to sell 500 acre-feet of water to El Paso County water users.

Some other water users have criticized the Lower Ark district for not filing a change case before asking for a state-administered substitute water supply plan. Lower Ark officials contend more time is needed to assess the impacts.

More coverage from Bette McFarren writing for the La Junta Tribune-Democrat. From the article:

Roy Vaughan, Bureau of Reclamation, brought an update on the snow pack and showed photographs of the large pipeline valves going in at Pueblo Reservoir Dam which will enable the Southern Delivery System and possibly the Arkansas Valley Conduit and other pipelines…

The storage at Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lakes is above last year’s figures, but the Pueblo Reservoir is below last year, but still high at 121 percent of average. Twin Lakes at present is 105 percent and Turquoise Lake is 106 percent. The BOR is currently moving 200 cubic feet per second from Twin to Pueblo. The bureau will be moving 50 to 55 thousand acre- feet from October through March.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch engineering report forecasts the need for an additional 50,000 acre-feet in the valley by 2050

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The conclusion is reached in an engineering report by Heath Kuntz prepared as part of the Super Ditch exchange case filed by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District in 2010.

The exchanges involve up to 58,000 acre-feet of water, 30,000 acres of ground, 82 exchange sites and seven ditch companies. So far, there has been no filing for a change of use of the water. Without a water leasing program like Super Ditch in place, there is the potential to permanently sell more farm water and take away flexibility to use the best farmland to grow crops, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

“Without the Super Ditch, I can see the day when the Ark Valley turns the clock back to the 1950s and we’re reduced to furrow irrigation,” Winner said. “In fact, I think the demand for water might be even higher than this report indicates.”

With the advent of surface-irrigation improvement rules in 2009, more replacement water will be needed as more systems in the valley are converted…

Well plans administered by three major groups now use about 24,500 acre-feet of leased water, and the engineering report projects that would increase to 30,500 acre-feet of water by 2050. In addition, the Arkansas Valley Conduit is expected to be constructed in the next decade, and its water demands will include 3,100 acre-feet from new sources to serve about 40 communities east of Pueblo. “The total projected demands associated with these operations are approximately 53,300 acre-feet per year in 2050,” Kuntz said in the report…

At its January meeting, the Lower Ark board heard from well associations that its lease of water from the Pueblo Board of Water Works, to help surface irrigators fill replacement needs, is raising the price others have to pay for augmentation water. The Pueblo water board typically sells water to bidders each year when the water is available. The price has been creeping up, as witnessed by the Fort Lyon Canal’s bid of $40 per acre-foot — twice its typical offer — in 2011. But the well groups argue that the $200 per acre-foot in the Lower Ark’s five-year contract takes water out of the pool available to them.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable: The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch was on everyone’s mind

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable agreed to seek another $76,000 toward an engineering tool that is expected to reduce water court costs related to Super Ditch. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has already approved a grant of $121,000 toward the study, while local water agencies are providing another $157,000 in in-kind services, said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “This is a fallowing accounting and administration tool that is designed to reduce transaction costs in water court for objectors and proponents of a lease-fallowing program,” Scanga said. “Lease programs are different from applications to buy and dry. We need a way to assess historic use and impacts to the river.”

Conservancy districts, municipal users, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and state agencies are all interested in developing a common platform to assess the impacts. If a change of use application is filed by Super Ditch in water court, it would cut across as many as seven ditches and perhaps individual farms within those ditches, Scanga said…

The additional $76,000 is to compile documentation that could be used in water court…

One major hurdle will be accounting for winter water, while operating under a court decree to store water in valley reservoirs during winter months for use later, [Dan Henrichs, superintendent of the High Line Canal] said. Winter water can affect the timing of return flows because it is used in different ways — sometimes to start a crop, sometimes to finish one. In certain years, some of the winter water stored in Lake Pueblo is carried over for use in the next year. Much of the water is stored in ditch company reservoirs without a prescribed date of release.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Terry Scanga: ‘Lease-fallowing does a lot of good things and preserves ag water’

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“There has to be better ways of using agricultural water,” said John Stulp, water policy adviser for Gov. John Hickenlooper, at a Super Ditch summit meeting Friday. “Rotational fallowing is one of the tools in the tool box,” he said…

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which supported and funded the startup of Super Ditch, plans to file a substitute water supply plan in February that would allow the program to be up and running by April. State Engineer Dick Wolfe said he believes the Super Ditch fits into the 2002 legislation that allows substitute water supply plans under certain conditions. The law initially was applied to the High Line Canal’s lease of water to Aurora in 2004-05. It allows for a three-year program with return flows accounted for over a five-year period…

If the leasing program continues, it would require a change of use decree in Division 2 water court, a process some have called “the mother of all change cases.” That would be an expensive proposition for both sponsors and objectors, so the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, part of the IBCC process, has discussed ways to develop a common platform to look at engineering as Super Ditch grows.

“Lease-fallowing does a lot of good things and preserves ag water. We might want to use it in the upper valley,” said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, primary sponsors of a grant to develop an administrative tool for measurement during water transfers. “We need to know how to calculate water use. We are in this together.”

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

“We need to be working on new water projects, but that takes time,” said Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “We don’t want ag dry-up to be the main fallback.”

Hamel and fellow CWCB member Travis Smith addressed a water summit Friday on a proposed pilot program that would allow the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch to sell 500 acre-feet of water next year to El Paso County water providers. “Super Ditch is not without controversy, but is a local solution to determining our future,” Smith said…

Smith, superintendent of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, hailed the state Supreme Court’s decision last month to approve a plan for subdistricts, which are needed to prevent overpumping of Rio Grande groundwater. “We’re going to fallow 80,000 acres, and the question is how do you do that and take care of the local economy,” Smith said. “In the San Luis Valley, we hurt ourselves with uncontrolled pumping up until 2002. We’re still recovering from the drought.”

Smith said the plan, like Super Ditch, was developed as farmers worked together to find ways out of a dilemma. “I’m optimistic that the ag community can work together and be successful,” Smith said.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Super Ditch: More than 100 people showed up yesterday for a palaver over the impending substitute water supply plan

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More than 100 people, representing nearly every major water interest in the Arkansas Valley, attended Friday’s meeting. State water officials also were on hand, including Gov. Hickenlooper’s water adviser John Stulp, State Engineer Dick Wolfe and Colorado Water Conservation Board members Alan Hamel and Travis Smith. Wolfe suggested the meeting as a way to hash out issues prior to a 30-day comment period when the Super Ditch files for a substitute water supply plan. “This is a one-year plan at this point. There is concern by farmers about how it will affect their water rights,” Wolfe said. “I am hoping this will allow the proponents to modify their plan before it is submitted.”

It’s anticipated the plan will be submitted in February for approval by April. It already has been approved by the Super Ditch and Catlin Canal boards, and the Pikes Peak Water Authority is expected to approve it soon.

The pilot program is a small step toward a water leasing-land fallowing program that could eventually involve 100,000 acres of farm ground in the Arkansas Valley. Only a portion of that would be dried up in any given year. This year, about one-fourth of the ground on of farms totalling more than 1,100 acres will be dried up. Only some of the ground will be dried up this year, and other areas will be rotated if the program continues in subsequent years.

One share on the Catlin Canal has a consumptive use of about 1.7 acre-feet of water per acre, while diversions can be as high as 5 acre-feet per acre. About 300 shares of water are anticipated to be used in the program, either for exchanges, delivery or return flows. Engineering is being completed on how return flows would be handled and how dry-up would be accounted for.

Heath Kuntz, engineer for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, gave an in-depth presentation on how farms were chosen for the program and the parameters that will be used. Flood, sprinkler and drip systems will be included. No fields with alfalfa will be included.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch board approves pilot lease-fallowing arrangement with Fountain for 500 acre-feet of water with

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The board met at the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District offices in Rocky Ford, and approved the sale of 500 acre-feet of water for $510 per acre-foot under a one-year lease agreement. The cost includes a $10 per acre-foot administrative fee. “The pilot program is important because it will prove if we can actually move the water,” said John Schweizer, president of the Super Ditch and the Catlin Canal. “This will open the door for more leases.”

While the Super Ditch ultimately could use water rights from seven ditches east of Pueblo, only the Catlin Canal will be involved in the pilot program. The Catlin board will review the contract on Dec. 27…

The water will go to the city of Fountain, and possibly other members of the El Paso County Water Authority, after it is exchanged upstream to Lake Pueblo…

About 250 acres will be dried up to provide the water, and one purpose of the program is to demonstrate through engineering how land can be taken out of production and how augmentation flows can be timed to return water to the Arkansas River. Farmers retain ownership of water rights and voluntarily participate.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Arkansas River Compact Administration meeting recap: Colorado is 44,000 acre-feet in the black for deliveries at the Kansas border

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Accounting for flows through 2010 shows that Colorado has credits of about 44,000 acre-feet in a 10-year running average of flows, said Kevin Salter, of the Kansas engineering staff. The accounting is required as part of the Kansas v. Colorado U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit filed in 1985 and concluded in 2009…

Despite below-average precipitation and river flows in the Arkansas River basin the past decade, actions by water users have been paying off, said Bill Tyner, assistant Colorado Water Division 2 engineer. “LAWMA (the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association) has really helped themselves with the Kessee Ditch purchase in 2004. It has increased their ability to supply water to the appropriate account.”

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

“We see the water lease-fallowing program to be an alternative to buy-and-dry in the Western United States,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which has supported the [Arkansas Valley Super Ditch] with legal and engineering help. Winner was speaking Thursday at the annual meeting of the Arkansas River Compact Administration. He also updated the administration on the Lower Ark district’s assistance to farmers in forming a group plan for compliance to surface irrigation rules and on the progress of Fountain Creek studies and projects. A pilot program next year will involve a one-year sale of up to 500 acre-feet of water from the Catlin Canal, one of seven ditches which could participate in Super Ditch. No contracts for the lease have been signed, but El Paso County water users such as Fountain have been approached. The district is doing engineering work to determine how to mimic return flows from land temporarily taken out of production for the pilot program. The district is looking at options like ponds on the ditch itself to provide them…

“I think the transparency of the project is important and that you continue to keep us informed,” said David Barfield, chief engineer for Kansas.

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

The administration board heard a report on the pipeline in its engineering committee, but did not refer it to a special engineering committee that has been formed to resolve issues during and after the U.S. Supreme Court case filed in 1985 and resolved in 2009. The move means it would be at least another year before the pipeline could even be discussed, barring a special meeting.

“My suggestion is that we wait until they make a filing in water court and then decide on how to move forward,” said David Barfield, chief engineer for Kansas. “There’s clear language under compact article 5H on moving water out of District 67. It’s never been done before.”

“We have to let the proponent move forward and then determine the best process to address this,” said Matt Heimerich, of Olney Springs, a Colorado administration member.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Mark Pifher (Aurora water): ‘We don’t plan to buy or lease any more water in Arkansas basin in the near future’

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Aurora’s water rights include nearly all of the Rocky Ford Ditch in Otero County, about one-third of the Colorado Canal in Crowley County and water from 1,750 acres of ranches in Lake County. Those rights provide an average yield of 22,800 acre-feet per year — the equivalent of 80 percent of the potable water used by Pueblo each year.

– Aurora also uses the Homestake Project, Twin Lakes, Busk-Ivanhoe diversion and the Columbine Ditch to bring water from the Western Slope through the Arkansas River basin and into the South Platte basin. The average yield of those water rights is about 21,500 acre-feet annually.

– The city can reuse its Arkansas and Colorado basin water imports, and has built the $650 million Prairie Waters Project to directly recapture flows, rather than exchange them.

– Aurora’s South Platte water rights include wells, ranches, ditches and direct flow from the South Platte. They total about 46,000 acre-feet annually.

– Aurora has an agreement to trade 5,000 acre-feet of water a year with Pueblo West from Lake Pueblo to Twin Lakes beginning next year. It will replace a similar agreement with the Pueblo Board of Water Works that expires this year.

– The Pueblo water board sells Aurora 5,000 acre-feet of water each year.

– Aurora has a contract with the Bureau of Reclamation to store 10,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Pueblo and to move the same amount to Twin Lakes by paper trade.

– The water is moved from Twin Lakes to Spinney Mountain Reservoir through the Homestake pipeline system…

“We don’t have any current plans beyond what we’re already doing,” said Mark Pifher, director of Aurora water. “We don’t plan to buy or lease any more water in Arkansas basin in the near future.”

Instead, the city will continue developing Prairie Waters, a reuse project that pumps sewer return flows through a filtration and purification system, only at about 20 percent capacity so far. Aurora calculates that its average yield from its Arkansas River basin water rights is about 22,800 acre-feet annually. That’s roughly one-fourth of its total yield from its entire system, which includes South Platte and Colorado River basin rights. From a practical standpoint, Aurora does not move all of its water out of the Arkansas River basin each year.

More Aurora coverage here and here.

CWCB: The goal of a grant approved Wednesday is to, ‘develop a consistent way to measure crop consumptive use,’ for ag water lease-fallowing change cases

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The $279,000 study would develop a consistent way to measure crop consumptive use that can be transferred if the water is sold through lease programs such as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch. Colorado Springs Utilities, Pueblo Board of Water Works and the Lower Arkansas, Upper Arkansas and Southeastern Colorado water conservancy districts will contribute $157,500 toward the study. They received an additional $121,500 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which approved a grant in Berthoud Wednesday. “The purpose of this project is not to transfer water via temporary leases, but make possible the water transfer by constraining costs, protecting other water rights from potential injury, maintaining agricultural economies and preserving the institutionalized and long recognized water court process,” said Todd Doherty of the CWCB staff…

The water groups want to develop a commonly accepted model that would look at how much water historically has been used to grow crops in the major agricultural areas of the Lower Arkansas Valley and how much flows off fields to be returned to the Arkansas River. Traditionally, those determinations have been made on a case-by-case basis in water court…

“The reason our district is involved in looking at these temporary transfers is because they could have deleterious effects on other water rights,” [Terry Scanga of the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District] told the board. “This would provide a common platform so that transferrable use of water could be preserved. We’re looking at potential impacts, and that could reduce the costs of both objectors and applicants in water court.”

Click through and read the whole article, including the handy glossary of terms dealing with ag water transfers.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Arkansas River basin: Water for agricultural use in total far exceeds other uses

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More than 86 percent of the water diverted from the Arkansas River in Colorado goes to agriculture, but in some counties the rate is much higher. Even though water supplies have been depleted by urban transfers, irrigated agriculture is the mainstay of water use in the Arkansas Valley.

El Paso and Pueblo counties are the population centers of the basin, and water usage reflects the need to supply cities and power companies. In El Paso County, only 20 percent of water withdrawals are used for agriculture, while 41 percent of the water used in Pueblo County goes to farms, according to published estimates by U.S. Geological Survey. But in the four counties east of Pueblo, about 99 percent of the water that is diverted irrigates crops. About 250,000 acres of land have been irrigated, on average, over the past five years under the largest ditches and wells east of Pueblo…

“If you take the water off the land, you get grass and weeds,” [John Schweizer, president of the Catlin Canal and Arkansas Valley Super Ditch] said. “This year, the grass Aurora planted on the Rocky Ford Canal looks dead. This part of the country is not equipped to handle dry-land farming.”[…]

As it stands, about one-third of the farmland under the ditches east of Pueblo could eventually be dried up for other purposes — either because cities or power companies have purchased water rights or speculators purchased them with hopes of selling it to thirsty Front Range communities. Other large blocks of land were dried up after Kansas prevailed in a U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit on the point that Colorado irrigation wells were in violation of the Arkansas River Compact. A study last year by The Pueblo Chieftain showed 145,000 acres in the Arkansas River basin from Leadville to Holly could be dried up when water rights are fully developed. Figures from the Colorado Division of Water Resources show that 80,000 acres of farm ground already have been lost as water rights were transferred to cities, or well augmentation. More than 100,000 of the acres at risk are or were under the 20 largest canals east of Pueblo. Those canals at one time or another irrigated more than 300,000 acres. The canals today are unable to irrigate more than 50,000 acres in the Lower Ark Valley, mostly on the Colorado Canal and Rocky Ford Ditch, because Water Court decrees required drying up the land in order to remove the consumptive use of water — the amount once used to grow crops.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch is ‘adding another crop to our rotation’

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From the Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle:

The three-year project would pay farmers to dry up some of their land on a rotating basis and let cities temporarily lease the unused water. “Water is the most valuable thing we have. It’s what I have to have to make a living,” said Lamar-area corn and hay producer Dale Mauch, vice president of the Lower Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Co., which is working on the project…

Proponents aim to sign contracts with about 10 farmers by October for the first year of the project. Each farmer would fallow about 33 acres in 2012 to divert a total 500 acre-feet of water — enough for about 1,000 households — to Pueblo Reservoir…

Project organizers expect to file a plan in December with the state engineer’s office to allow for the farmers’ water to be used by communities in El Paso and Douglas counties. By 2014, 30 to 50 farmers and perhaps six water providers could be signed on, said project consultant Heath Kuntz of Adaptive Resources Inc. A permanent lease-fallowing program would require a trip through water court to resolve issues over farm-to-city water transfers, or perhaps a change in state law…

Participating farmers would receive $500 per acre-foot from municipal water providers. That means that on average, a farmer would receive $945 per acre that is dry for a year, Kuntz estimated. “It’s just like selling another crop. We’re adding a crop to our rotation, and we still own the water. Now I have alfalfa, corn and water to sell,” said John Schweizer, who produces wheat and has about 200 cows in Rocky Ford.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Company coverage here.

Lamar pipeline: Any potential GP Water change case faces close scrutiny from the Arkansas River Compact Administration

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Formed in 1949, after Kansas and Colorado had ratified the 1948 Arkansas River Compact, the administration has proven to be an unwieldy body when it comes to moving water. No transfer of water ever has been approved from District 67, which covers the Arkansas River and its tributaries downstream from John Martin Reservoir. Both states are committed to abide by the compact under an act of Congress, and violations are serious. A U.S. Supreme Court case filed in 1985 was the latest round in a fight that has gone on for more than a century. While the massive water district touches corners of Elbert and El Paso counties, taking water to populated urban areas would require moving water outside District 67.

The compact has “bright red letter” language that prohibits that, said Steve Witte, Division 2 engineer for the State Division of Water Resources and ARCA operations secretary. The movement of water is covered in Article V, Section H of the compact, which prohibits transferring water into other districts or upstream of John Martin Dam unless it can be proved there are no adverse effects. “It’s pretty clear you can’t change water rights in Colorado to other districts unless you can prove there are no depletions,” Witte said…

Because the commission meets only once a year and it takes the agreement of both states to pass any resolution, change in the compact is glacially slow. Kansas can stop a discussion just by not addressing the issue. In recent years, the states have started talking again, but they proceed carefully. Under procedures developed during the court case, most matters are referred to an engineering committee, and it takes action by one of the state representatives to even get the administration to hear requests…

GP Water officials have portrayed the proposed pipeline project as one which moves only the consumptive use of the water, by drying up 4,000 acres of farm ground. No change would be made in the point of diversion and returned flows would be timed to meet historic conditions.

Colin Thompson, who represents District 67 on ARCA, said he is concerned about any plans to move water along the river — including the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch — because of the potential to diminish return flows and degrade water quality…

[Matt Heimerich, who represents upstream water users on ARCA] said the compact was adopted 63 years ago, and did not anticipate that large blocks of water could be moved from agricultural to urban use. He too sees problems with how [Lower Arkansas Water Management Association] shares figure into the GP plan…

Heimerich still farms on land in Crowley County that was left behind after much of the farm water was sold to Colorado Springs and Aurora. He can relate to concerns raised by other farmers in the Granada-Lamar area about the depletion of so much water on one canal. “It is really important to keep the people who are left whole,” Heimerich said.

More Lamar Pipeline coverage here.

Colorado Water Congress summer meeting: Message to legislators — lets see if the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch ag transfers work

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

That was the message to the Colorado Legislature’s interim water resources review committee Tuesday from Jay Winner, a member of the Interbasin Compact Committee and general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

Winner outlined the plan of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch to sell water from the Catlin Canal, one of seven members of Super Ditch, to El Paso County communities next year under a substitute water supply plan. The three-year pilot program calls for 500 acre-feet to be delivered to Lake Pueblo by exchanges, with recharge ponds on the canal to deliver return flows at the proper time and location to augment depletions. Participating in the program will be 15 farms, each setting aside 100 acres. One-third of the acres from each farm will be fallowed in order to provide the water. The Lower Ark district is providing the Super Ditch with engineering to determine how well the plan works. The district sees the program as a way to avoid the permanent sale of water rights to cities.

“This isn’t just a study, but an actual project to see if this can work,” Winner said…

Winner said the engineering used in the three-year program could point the way to a model that would be acceptable to farmers, the cities and state regulators. Part of the goal is to build trust between farmers and municipal water providers who have historically insisted on owning their source of water.

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Meanwhile legislators also heard about the drought in southeastern Colorado. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

About 39 percent of the state still is in drought, despite some relief from spotty summer rains. The most extreme drought is in the Southeastern corner of the state and in the Rio Grande basin…

Pointing to the most recent assessment by the National Drought Monitor, a multi-agency assessment of conditions, [Veva Deheza, of the Colorado Water Conservation board staff] noted that Colorado is only on the tip of a drought of historic proportions covering almost the entire state of Texas and much of New Mexico…

The dry conditions are hard to fathom for much of the state, where the problem has been flooding…

Imports to the Arkansas River from the Colorado River basin totalled more than 200,000 acre-feet, more than 50 percent above average. Deliveries from the Colorado River to Lake Powell brought its level of storage to 76 percent from 43 percent before runoff, said CWCB Executive Director Jennifer Gimbel, making a Colorado River Compact call by lower basin states less likely in the immediate future.

Finally, Governor Hickenlooper is seeking disaster declarations for Elbert and Douglas counties, according to this report from Catharine Tsai writing for the Associated Press (via the Houston Chronicle). Here’s an excerpt:

Hickenlooper’s request for Elbert and Douglas counties is awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Colorado Water Availability Task Force co-chair Veva Deheza told a state legislative committee Tuesday.

The USDA already has approved primary disaster declarations for 17 southern Colorado counties, making them eligible for aid and benefits. Those counties are: Baca, Otero, Crowley, Bent, Chaffee, Custer, Fremont, Huerfano, Kiowa, Las Animas, Prowers, Pueblo, Saguache, Alamosa, Rio Grande, Costilla and Conejos. Twelve more counties that are next to them also can receive help…

Some southern Colorado ranchers are choosing to sell livestock while cattle and hay prices are both high, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Emergency grazing has been approved in Lincoln, Otero, Las Animas, Bent, Kiowa, Prowers, Baca, and Crowley counties on land that was supposed to have been set aside for conservation under the federal Conservation Reserve Program.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Reeves Brown: Why should agriculture, which is already short on water, be the reservoir for the state?

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“Why should agriculture, which is already short on water, be the reservoir for the state?” Brown asked. “We need to go forward with a better analysis of the shortage and what is needed to support agriculture.” Brown also is a member of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and Arkansas Basin Roundtable, and has often tried to keep the issue in front of those groups…

Earlier this month, the [Arkansas Basin] roundtable formed a committee to address Brown’s concerns. In the process, he hopes to guide the state to a new way of thinking about its water needs. At last week’s Lower Ark meeting, Brown expanded on the need for the committee, which is closely aligned with the district’s goals. “The agriculture industry deserves to be more than the stepchild for water supply in the future,” Brown said…

Water users in El Paso County — Fountain, Widefield, Woodmoor and Donala — have been buying farms and ranches for water in recent years. Large blocks of water have been purchased on the Fort Lyon and Bessemer canals for future municipal use. Half of the Amity Canal was sold to Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association for a future power plant. And there are agricultural operations that easily could turn into municipal supply projects throughout the valley, potentially catching the valley off-guard as GP’s plan did. Large blocks of agricultural water have been consolidated in Pueblo and Otero counties, causing public officials to worry about where the water could be headed…

The Lower Ark board is one of few water agencies in the state that firmly supports a Flaming Gorge pipeline. Last year, it supported Aaron Million’s idea for the 560-mile line from the Green River in Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range because it would develop unused state entitlement in the Colorado River basin and take pressure off Arkansas Valley farms. Million has always insisted that some water from the pipeline be set aside for agricultural and environmental uses. The state’s roundtables have committed to investigating Million’s plan, along with a similar proposal by the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition, as a way of filling the water supply gap…

At a roundtable meeting earlier this month, Fremont County rancher Tom Young asked whether the state should seriously consider importing water from the Missouri River basin in South Dakota, rather than looking for more out of the Colorado River basin from Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update: Pilot project underway to determine how fallowed land will be affected

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From the Lamar Tribune Democrat (Bette McFarren):

Four hundred acres of the 1,200 acres enrolled in the program will be fallowed. Five hundred acre-feet of water would be sold yearly to Fountain, Security and Widefield at a cost of $500 an acre-foot. The water is to be stored in Pueblo Reservoir.

The area designated for fallowing may be rotated or kept the same for the entire three-year period. Most farmers are electing to rotate the area to be fallowed, said [Heath Kuntz of Adaptive Resources Inc.], in order to do maintenance work on the land. Many intend to laser-level the ground while it is dried up. A cover crop must be planted to prevent wind erosion, but may not be irrigated. Weed control is also required. The pilot program seeks to involve as many farming scenarios as possible. “Better now with 500 acres than later with 5,000 acres involved,” said [Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District] General Manager Jay Winner…

A great deal of oversight is planned for the project. So far, State Engineer Dick Wolfe seems to be favorable to the plan, said Winner. The plan will be managed with administrative tools, not water court. The governor likes the Rule 10 engineering plan, which is the basic tool for measuring the water on the farms. The ISAM plan is agreeable to most parties involved, with modifications as the pilot program plays out. The pilot program should be ready for state approval by December.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.