A controversial bill would weaken states’ control over water — @HighCountryNews

Here’s a report from Josh Zaffos writing in the The High Country News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

The bill, H.R. 23, would basically block or override several state water laws — contrary to conservatives’ often-stated goal of reducing the federal government’s role and giving states greater power to manage resources. “They are trying to pre-empt the state from managing its rivers to balance the benefits to the economy with the need to protect the environment,” says Doug Obegi, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The bill would override environmental rules set by California’s laboriously negotiated San Francisco Bay Delta Accord, an agreement meant to protect water quality in the Delta while guaranteeing reliable supplies for farms and cities. Instead, managers delivering water to the Central Valley would follow a less restrictive, temporary order from 1994 and do so “without regard to the Endangered Species Act.” That would prohibit the state from keeping water in the Sacramento or San Joaquin rivers solely to benefit chinook salmon, green sturgeon and delta smelt, all protected under the Endangered Species Act.

It would also repeal and replace the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement — a state-federal partnership to recover salmon — with a new farmer-friendly arrangement that allows irrigators to dry up a 60-mile stretch of the river, harming fish habitat. Overall, such measures to pre-empt state water laws are “huge and unprecedented,” says Brian Gray, an emeritus law professor now with the Public Policy Institute of California.

Outside California, the GROW Act would also fast-track permitting for new dams across the West. It would make the Bureau of Reclamation the lead agency for permitting all new water-storage projects on federal lands, and accelerate environmental review, even for complex projects with expansive effects on rivers, fish and wildlife. Environmental impact statements, which agencies complete to weigh project costs and impacts, often take years to finish, particularly if conservation groups or local governments file appeals or lawsuits. The act would require the review process to be completed within 13 months, effectively limiting critics’ ability to raise concerns.

Such expedited permitting would help water agencies like the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, whose plans for two large new reservoir projects have been under review since 2004. Chimney Hollow Reservoir, to be built on the eastern side of the Rockies, will store water diverted from the Colorado River to supply booming northern Colorado. It received federal approval this May — after 13 years of federal review that required numerous plan revisions to address potential environmental impacts. The district’s Northern Integrated Supply Project still awaits a final decision.

Northern Water hasn’t endorsed the GROW Act, but spokesman Brian Werner says that better agency coordination — between federal authorities and state fish and wildlife managers, for instance — and swifter decisions would help water suppliers address criticism in a more timely, less piecemeal way. Delays are also costly, particularly if construction costs rise, and leave water-needy towns in limbo.

@USBR needs to draw down Blue Mesa to meet winter target, water for Lake Powell

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Blue Mesa this week was brimming at 99 percent full and it was far from alone among Colorado River Basin reservoirs.

Morrow Point and Crystal reservoirs below Blue Mesa on the Gunnison River were 96 percent and 90 percent full, respectively.

“It’s going to take a lot of work” to reduce Blue Mesa’s level to 70 percent of full, or 580,000 acre-feet of water, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist Eric Knight said Thursday.

Typically, all three reservoirs are well depleted by this time of year to meet irrigation demand, as well as feeding more water into Lake Powell, the largest storage unit in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

This year, however, river managers learned late that there was more snow in the high Colorado mountains than they had believed when deciding how much water to release early on this spring, officials said during a regular update on management of the Aspinall unit.

Several factors contributed to the underestimation of snowpack, not least of them the warm March in the Colorado Rockies and the fact that some snow-monitoring gauges were covered with snow, incapable of providing accurate information, officials said.

Recent storms in the high country also have pumped more water into the reservoirs.

River managers have to balance the need to release more water out of the Aspinall unit with making sure that the Gunnison doesn’t overflow its banks in Delta.

At the same time, managers also have to get as much water as possible into Lake Powell, which can hold some 24 million acre-feet of water but which now holds about 15.2 million acre-feet.

The Bureau of Reclamation this year is to release 9 million acre-feet of water into Lake Mead.

@USBR: Releases Draft Environmental Assessment for Phase II of Piping Cattleman’s Ditches

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

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff, Jenny Ward):

The Bureau of Reclamation has released a draft environmental assessment on Phase II of the Cattleman’s Ditches Piping Project located in Montrose County, Colorado. The project would replace approximately 6.1 miles of open irrigation ditch with 5.1 miles of buried water pipeline. The purpose of the project is to reduce salinity loading in the Colorado River Basin.

The draft environmental assessment is available online at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/envdocs/index.html or a copy can be requested by contacting Reclamation.

Reclamation will consider all comments received by September 15, 2017. Submit comments by email to jward@usbr.gov or to: Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501.

@USBR: Paonia Dam intake structure repair open house, August 15, 2017

Intake structure during construction in 1961. Photo Credit Reclamation.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Tom Fowlds, Justyn Liff):

The public is invited to a public meeting on Tuesday, August 15, at 7 p.m. to meet with project representatives from the Bureau of Reclamation, Fire Mountain Canal Company and North Fork Water Conservancy District to learn about Paonia Dam intake structure repairs. The meeting will be held at Memorial Hall, 175 North 1st Street, in Hotchkiss, Colo.

Repairs will begin in mid-September 2017 to the Paonia Dam intake structure and bulkhead, part of the Paonia Project located near Paonia, Colo.

Crews will dismantle the damaged concrete bulkhead located within the intake structure and then install an aluminum trash rack and bracing to the top of the intake structure. Prior to and during intake structure repair, increased turbidity downstream of the dam will be noticeable due to reservoir operations and drawdown. These repairs are necessary to help ensure continuation of normal dam operations and water delivery to downstream users.

During repair and construction, work crews and heavy construction equipment will be operating at the dam. Turbidity will increase in Muddy Creek and the North Fork of the Gunnison River downstream of Paonia Dam, and sediment deposition will occur primarily in Muddy Creek from the dam to the confluence of Anthracite Creek until flushing flows are released in spring 2018. Repairs are expected to be completed in November 2017.

To learn more about the Paonia Project, upcoming repair work or sedimentation issues in the reservoir, visit our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wca/progact/paonia/index.html. You can also join our email list for project updates by clicking the “Contact Us” link.

@USBR: Future scientists study with current scientists at Nature High Summer Camp

Students looking at and learning about an animal pelt.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Chris Watt):

Bureau of Reclamation employees Shane Mower and Dave Snyder taught students hands-on lessons in fish data acquisition using seining, animal skull anatomy and physiology, wildlife adaptions, wildlife tracks and possible impacts to fish and wildlife from natural and human-influenced changes in the environment, at Nature High Summer Camp held July 31 to Aug. 5.

Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region, along with other Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, Utah State University, and local agencies, sponsor and participate in the Nature High Summer Camp. Started in 1991, the goal of the camp is to introduce high school students to science and natural resource fields of study and careers they might not have otherwise considered.

Federal professionals share their expertise by providing students with actual field activities and experiences in hydrology, rangeland conservation, wildlife biology, soils, and forestry. Students learn how to use information from these disciplines in creating team-based camp projects that address natural resource issues from the differing perspectives of environmentalist, farmers, ranchers, recreationists, and government agencies.

Federal resolution aims to streamline water storage permits

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

House Resolution 1654 would set the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as the agency in charge of permitting water storage projects. That agency then would coordinate all the federal agencies involved in that process, as well as the reducing redundant requirements at state and local levels that currently are part of the permitting process.

While this legislation becoming law could have substantial impacts on some proposed water storage projects in Colorado, it would not be likely to impact the process for the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP)…

“Obviously we support the basic idea of streamlining the permit process,” Brian Werner from Northern Water said of the legislation. “We’re all for finding out how we can tweak this process.”

For example, many of the studies and other preparatory work on a large water storage project like NISP could have been conducted concurrently, rather than sequentially, Werner suggested.

“Streamlining doesn’t mean that we don’t do the studies,” he said, “but we could do it more efficiently.”

[…]

Congressman Ken Buck, R-CD4, voted in favor of the resolution, even speaking for it on the House floor and mentioning proposed water storage projects in Colorado, like NISP, as why he supported it…

House Resolution 1654 would set the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as the agency in charge of permitting water storage projects. That agency then would coordinate all the federal agencies involved in that process, as well as the reducing redundant requirements at state and local levels that currently are part of the permitting process.

While this legislation becoming law could have substantial impacts on some proposed water storage projects in Colorado, it would not be likely to impact the process for the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP).

That proposed water storage project would have Northern Water build two reservoirs, Galeton northeast of Greeley and Glade northwest of Fort Collins. They would provide water to the 15 NISP participants, including the city of Fort Morgan and Morgan County Quality Water District.

“Obviously we support the basic idea of streamlining the permit process,” Brian Werner from Northern Water said of the legislation. “We’re all for finding out how we can tweak this process.”

For example, many of the studies and other preparatory work on a large water storage project like NISP could have been conducted concurrently, rather than sequentially, Werner suggested.

“Streamlining doesn’t mean that we don’t do the studies,” he said, “but we could do it more efficiently.”

Congressman Ken Buck, R-CD4, voted in favor of the resolution, even speaking for it on the House floor and mentioning proposed water storage projects in Colorado, like NISP, as why he supported it.

“Unfortunately, many water storage projects in my state face significant setbacks in permitting due to a long list of regulatory checkboxes,” he said in prepared remarks. “Much of this delay occurs because each level of government-local, state, and federal-requires (its) own studies and permitting checklists, even though many of those requirements are the same or only slightly different.”

The goal would not be to eliminate environmental or safety requirements for getting the permits, Buck pointed out. Instead it would be to seek to get the “different levels of government to work together so that our water projects can earn the permits they rightly qualify for” during the initial permitting process.

The legislation next faces debate in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, but a hearing date had not yet been set as of Monday afternoon. That committee includes Colorado’s Sen. Cory Gardner as a member.

Department of the Interior Awards $6.9 Million to 17 Projects for Drought Preparation — @USBR

Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Entities in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma and Montana will receive funding to prepare for and address drought in advance of a crisis

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced today that the Bureau of Reclamation is awarding 17 projects in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Montana a total of $6.9 million to proactively prepare for and address drought in their communities. The federal funding will be leveraged to support more than $47.9 million for the development of drought contingency plans and implementation of drought resiliency projects.

“Drought continues to have serious adverse impacts throughout the West,” Secretary Zinke said. “Reclamation and its partners have been leaders in combating this drought for a hundred years. The newest infusion of Reclamation funds announced today will help communities in five states prepare for and respond to drought.”

Reclamation’s Drought Response Program supports a proactive approach to drought. It aids water users for drought contingency planning. The Drought Response Program also provides funding for the implementation of mitigation actions through drought resiliency projects, giving priority to projects that are supported by a drought planning effort.

Complete descriptions of all the selected projects are available at http://www.usbr.gov/drought.

Five projects in California and one project in Montana were selected through a competitive process to receive funding to develop drought contingency plans. They are:

  • Bella Vista Water District (California)
    Reclamation funding: $86,580; Total Project Cost: $173,160
  • City of Rialto, California
    Reclamation funding: $200,000; Total Project Cost: $404,474
  • Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation
    Reclamation funding: $150,000; Total Project Cost: $300,000
  • Schafter-Wasco Irrigation District (California)
    Reclamation Funding: $200,000; Total Project Cost: $456,500
  • Sonoma County Water Agency (California)
    Reclamation Funding: $200,000; Total Project Cost: $501,196
  • Southern California Edison Company (California)
    Reclamation Funding: $100,000; Total Project Cost: $200,000
  • Eleven projects in California, Colorado, Nevada and Oklahoma were selected through a competitive process to receive Drought Resiliency Project grants. They are:

  • Alameda County Water District (California), Rubber Dam #3 Fish Ladder
    Reclamation Funding: $750,000; Total Project Cost: $7,121,600
  • Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, Northeast Colorado Walker Recharge Project – Phase I
    Reclamation Funding: $750,000; Total Project Cost: $7,000,000
  • City of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Caney River Water Augmentation and Intake Improvements
    Reclamation Funding: $750,000; Total Project Cost: $7,152,097
  • City of Torrance, California, Torrance Van Ness Well Field
    Reclamation Funding: $750,000; Total Project Cost: $16,703,900
  • Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians (California), West Fork Russian River Bank Stabilization and Habitat Restoration
    Reclamation Funding: $300,000; Total Project Cost: $600,000
  • Merced Irrigation District (California), Merced River Instream & Off-Channel Drought Habitat Project
    Reclamation Funding: $744,489; Total Project Cost: $2,707,763
  • Mountain Park Master Conservancy District (Oklahoma), Groundwater Supply Augmentation Project
    Reclamation Funding: $300,000; Total Project Cost: $618,500
  • Round Valley Indian Tribes (California), Mill Creek Streamflow & Riparian Corridor Restoration Project
    Reclamation Funding: $689,101; Total Project Cost: $1,444,461
  • San Gabriel River Water Committee (California), San Gabriel Inlet Structure Project
    Reclamation Funding: $300,000; Total Project Cost: $689,093
  • To learn more about Reclamation’s Drought Response Program and to see a complete description of all the projects, visit https://www.usbr.gov/drought.