Reservoir agreement helps trout by borrowing endangered fish water — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Some rejiggering of reservoir operations in the upper Colorado River watershed is taking the heat off trout in Grand County through the early release of water that had been set aside for endangered fish in Mesa County.

The approach is being made possible by storing water elsewhere so it can be released for the endangered fish when they need it later.

Under the agreement involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado River District, an additional 35 cubic feet per second of water started being released last week from Lake Granby, also known as Granby Reservoir, in the Colorado River headwaters. That nearly doubled Colorado River flows immediately downstream.

The increased flows help reduce daytime temperatures in the river, which had begun topping 60 degrees and threatening the health of trout. The releases involve water normally stored in Granby for use in boosting flows in the river near Grand Junction for endangered fish such as the humpback chub and razorback sucker.

The endangered fish still will get water under the deal, however. In exchange for the additional water coming out of Granby, the river district is withholding 35 cfs of water from Wolford Mountain Reservoir, which sits above Kremmling on Muddy Creek, a Colorado River tributary. That’s below the problem stretch of the Colorado River, thanks to inflows to the river coming from Muddy Creek and other tributaries, so the Wolford water that’s being withheld doesn’t hold the importance to the trout that the released Granby water does.

“There’s plenty of water in the river except for in that stretch below Granby,” said Jim Pokrandt, a river district spokesman.

Pokrandt said the Colorado River is currently a “free river” right now in Colorado. There are no calls on it to meet the needs of senior water rights holders when flows are more limited. But the upper stretch in Grand County in the Hot Sulphur Springs area is depleted due to transmountain diversions to the Front Range.

Withholding the Wolford water means it will be available for the endangered fish during lower-flow periods on the Colorado River in Mesa County, in lieu of the water that is being released from Granby.

Firestone: Fred Sekich Farm to be auctioned off August 28, 2019, split into smaller parcels, and the water rights sold separately

Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

From The Denver Post (Mark Samuelson):

…the game of selling farm property has changed — particularly the auction game — as information technology makes offerings much more attractive for sellers and widens the opportunities for buyers and investors.

“Today’s farm auction is structured to create better potential for the buyer,” says Scott Shuman, partner in Hall and Hall, brokers and auctioneers who have been selling western real estate since the 1940s. In 2010, Hall and Hall made a move into auctioning — and have been pioneers in structuring auctions to get better returns for farm sellers.

When the Fred Sekich Farm, east of I-25, north of Firestone, is auctioned at The Ranch/Larimer County Event Complex on Aug. 28, its 546 acres will be cut into 58 offerings — one as small as 4 acres, one as large as 141 acres, with the parceled surface water rights (176 Colorado-Big Thompson Units and 18.75 ditch shares) auctioned separately.

Those water rights may be as valuable as the land, maybe more.

“Water is gold,” says Rick Sekich, who along with his mom and two brothers are the sellers…

Grandpa Nick Sekich would have had little idea the value that surface water would hold as Colorado grows.

“It’s really gone up,” says Sherri Rasmussen, contract manager for Northern Water, administering the CB-T’s vast distribution all the way east to Sedgwick County. When the project began in the 1930s, an acre-foot sold for $1.50; by 2013, it was 10,000 times that…

All of this could stay agricultural — selling to an owner with holdings nearby. But either way, Shuman adds, sellers make out better in these auction sales, where buyers have an opportunity to customize a purchase…

Hall and Hall, with 15 offices across the West, is in Eaton, Colo., 800-829-8747. The complete sale catalog is at HallandHall.com.

The latest “E-WaterNews” is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water:

A “rooster tail” is formed by the water descending the Granby Dam spillway on July 19. Photo credit: Northern Water

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Cool spring, late storms fill C-BT Project

A cool and wet spring in Northern Colorado coupled by unusual late snowstorms combined to top off the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in 2019.

At Lake Granby, water reached the spillway over the weekend of July 13-14. In the days before that, managers had been releasing additional water into the Colorado River to make room for incoming snowmelt.

Because of a storm that dumped snow on the headwaters of the Colorado River on June 21, the inflow into Lake Granby climbed significantly. While earlier models had indicated Lake Granby wouldn’t fill, that storm boosted streamflows considerably.

Northern Water was not the only organization surprised by the late snowmelt and heavy late-season storms. Denver Water, which manages Lake Dillon and collects water at the headwaters of the Fraser River, reported the snowpack that feeds its system was also far above normal this year.

Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Brad Wind, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District based in Berthoud, and Jim Hall, Northern Water’s senior water resources engineer, briefed the LSPWCD’s board of directors on Northern’s efforts to keep Colorado-Big Thompson water from leaving the Northern District…

Wind told the Lower board that Northern is working to enforce Article 19 of the 1938 contract between Northern Water and the federal government, known as the Project Repayment Contract. That article, one of 27 contained in the contract, specifies that all seepage and return flows from the use of Colorado-Big Thompson project water are reserved to Northern Water and are not to be taken outside the district’s boundaries.

On May 9, Northern adopted a resolution saying it would “take appropriate actions to enforce Article 19 consistent its interpretation of Article 19.”

Wind said the heavy lifting in that effort will be tracking how C-BT water, and resulting seepage and return flow, are used. He used the phrase “colors of water,” which is a concept that holds that, through close monitoring and accounting, mixed waters from various sources actually can be tracked through multiple uses. For instance, water that is native to the South Platte Basin can be accounted differently from C-BT water, which is diverted from the Colorado River into Grand Lake and piped through the Adams Tunnel to Estes Park and held in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake for distribution to C-BT members.

Return flows are water that has been diverted from the river, used to irrigate crops or for municipal use, and either seeps back to the river through the ground or is discharged after treatment. Much of the river’s flow in the lower reaches in late summer and through the winter is from return flows from upstream use. Return flows are crucial to irrigators in Weld, Morgan, Washington, Logan and Sedgwick counties.

“To protect return flows, we have to know what they are,” Wind said. “We have to be able to quantify what return flows are coming from C-BT use and what’s from native water. It’s complicated.”

Hall told the Lower board that there is the danger that “change of use” cases going through Colorado water courts could result in return flows from C-BT water being shipped out of the Northern district in violation of Article 19.

“We’re starting to see change cases on irrigation ditches moving water outside the district boundaries,” Hall said. “That’s why it’s important to track this stuff. It’s easier to track municipal water because we can look at their (wastewater treatment facility) discharges, but it’s harder to prove agricultural return flows.”

Hall said return flows from native water are not subject to Article 19, only C-BT return flows.

Wind said Northern will be watching closely all change of use cases that go through Colorado’s water courts and will continue monitoring water usage in the district to make sure C-BT water doesn’t leave the district.

#Snowpack/#Runoff news: @Northern_Water declares a 70% quota for the 2019 season #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR. Granby Dam was retrofitted with a hydroelectric component and began producing electricity earlier this year as water is released in the Colorado River.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Sam Lounsberry):

Unit owners of the Colorado-Big Thompson project, which delivers Colorado River water from the wet Western Slope to the dryer Front Range, will get 70% of their quota this year, according to a Northern Water news release.

The 70% allocation means that a farmer who owns 10 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water will get seven in a year, with the remaining three kept in storage for use in dry years…

In wet years like this one, Northern sometimes downsizes the quota of Colorado-Big Thompson water distributed, since native streams can be full enough to provide farmers late-season growing supply, which provides Northern a storage opportunity for use in dry years.

But the move to boost the Colorado-Big Thompson quota from 50% — the level normally set at the start of Northern’s water year in November just to get users through the winter so snowfall can inform spring allocation rates — ensures farmers will have a more flexible late growing season.

The quota increases available Colorado-Big Thompson water supplies by 62,000 acre-feet from the initial 50% quota made available in November…

The snow-water equivalent mark for the Upper Colorado Basin is 120% of the normal median as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, with snowpack levels in other river basins across the southwest at even higher marks. But KUNC and The Aspen Times reported this year that despite the good snowfall this winter, officials predict spring runoff won’t be enough to replenish reservoirs across the southwest, because years of drought have left dry soil that sucks up extra drops.

“Modeled soil moisture conditions as of November 15th were below average over most of the Upper Colorado River Basin and Great Basin,” the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center stated in its April 1 report. “In the Upper Colorado River Mainstem River Basin, soil moisture conditions were below average in headwater basins along the Continental Divide, and closer to average downstream.”

Water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area, across parts of eight counties, the Northern release said.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 11, 2019 via the NRCS.

Loveland: @Northern_Water Spring Water Users Meeting Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Click here to read the agenda.

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

Colorado-Big Thompson water units increasingly packaged for lease to N. #Colorado farmers #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Boulder. By Gtj82 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Patriot8790., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11297782

From The Longmont Times-Call (Sam Lounsberry):

As ownership of Colorado-Big Thompson water units shifts from agricultural interests to municipal control, farmers in the Longmont and Boulder areas are becoming dependent on the cities’ water rental programs.

And with more municipal control of the Colorado-Big Thompson system, the market has changed in focus from acquisitions to leasing programs for farmers.

Colorado-Big Thompson units can be bought, sold and transferred between water users anywhere within its manager Northern Water’s eight-county region without new uses having to be approved by a state water court, even when a deal involves users in different native stream basins. For that reason, the units have been attractive to those looking to buy in the water market — especially real estate developers needing to dedicate raw water to a municipality or water district to annex in new structures for utility service.

Farmers own less, but still get half

When the Colorado-Big Thompson project made its first deliveries in 1957, more than 85 percent of its water was owned by agricultural users.

In 2018, though, municipal and industrial ownership of the 310,000 Colorado-Big Thompson water units…crept to 70 percent, leaving just 30 percent owned by agricultural users.

But more than half of the system’s water still has been delivered to farmers in recent years, according to Northern Water data.

That discrepancy reflects how much Colorado-Big Thompson water — originally intended to be a supplemental supply late in the growing season — farmers are renting from cities such as Boulder and Longmont.

‘Nearly out of range’

Boulder last year leased 7,690 acre-feet of water, including 6,950 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water, and has leased an average of 3,410 acre-feet per year since 2000; Longmont last year leased 612 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water, along with some city shares of supply ditches that deliver water from native sources such as the St. Vrain River and Left Hand Creek, figures provided by the cities show.

Longmont revenues generated by its water rental program over the last four years total nearly $3.9 million; Boulder has generated $861,850. The reason for the discrepancy in revenue despite Boulder renting more Colorado-Big Thompson water than Longmont is Longmont rents more of its native water, and its rates for much of its Colorado-Big Thompson water are higher than Boulder’s.

But the rental market for water also is sliding out of reach for local farmers as outright purchases of Colorado-Big Thompson water have skyrocketed in price — units were sold for $36,000 apiece in an October auction. The water issue has been compounded by a weak commodity market for Front Range crops…

Northern Water in years wet enough to lease excess Colorado-Big Thompson water does so through a bidding system known as its regional pool, and how those bids shake out in the spring influences the overall rental market for water each year.

The minimum successful bid on an acre-foot of water in the spring 2010 regional pool was $22, but last year it was $132, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said, a six-fold increase over the decade.

No longer a ‘go-to’ supply

Developers aiming to annex housing into municipalities or water districts that don’t accept cash in lieu of dedicating new raw water units might be forced to look into acquiring shares of ditch companies delivering water from streams native to a city’s or district’s service area.

“We have 10 percent of that ag (Colorado-Big Thompson) supply yet to be transferred” to municipal or industrial control, Werner said, predicting about 20 percent of the system will likely stay under agricultural ownership for the foreseeable future.

“It’s slowed down. About 1 percent a year” is being transferred from ag to municipal and industrial control, Werner said. “Inside the next decade or so, (that system) goes off the table as a go-to water supply.”

Storage may preserve agriculture

With more interest in water markets individualized to native stream basins — as opposed to the trans-basin Colorado-Big Thompson market — applications to state water courts to change ownerships and uses of those native basin shares could pick up, as developers continue trying to satisfy their obligations to give new water to Northern Colorado’s growing municipalities.