Who’s who in water Part 2: The Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From From The Alamosa News (Helen Smith):

The Colorado Division of Water Resources is the authority behind daily water administration across the state. Many are not aware that this agency has been highly instrumental in shaping how water in the San Luis Valley is distributed and utilized.

The Division of Water Resources operates under the authority of the office of the State Hydraulic Engineer, an office created by the state legislature in 1881. The office was directed by governor’s appointment and the initial duties included water rights administration, streamflow and diversion measurements, and reservoir capacity, cost and location. The office was added to the Department of Natural Resources in 1969.

The first and foremost responsibility for the Division of Water Resources is the oversight of all surface and groundwater across the state. It is the only state agency that is tasked with the direct and daily administration of water. The division is required to uphold Colorado water law which operates under what is known as the Prior Appropriation Doctrine. This means that those who were first to utilize the water are the first to have access to it during periods of shortage. In 1879, water commissioners were established in order to administer this doctrine. This made Colorado the first state that provides water administration by public officials. Currently, the major responsibilities of DWR include water administration, public safety, groundwater permitting, interstate compacts, a hydrographic program, and public information services.

The Division of Water Resources also has the authority to make recommendations in water court cases. This is an operation that occurs on a regular basis. Additionally, DWR can join the opposition in a case if there is potential for an injurious outcome and it is deemed necessary. Also, DWR can issue orders to those who refuse to comply with statutes and even take the matter to court.

There are seven divisions in DWR, divided by Colorado’s major drainage basins. Each division is under the direction of a division engineer who administers ground and surface water within the division. The San Luis Valley falls within Division 3. As of 2017, there are approximately 30 DWR employees for Division 3 including 11 water commissioners and eight districts. There are also well metering technicians and hydrographers at DWR. The Division 3 Engineer is Craig Cotten.

During his tenure, Cotten has observed that there are reasons why Division 3 is unique. The first reason is that it is arguably the most over-appropriated of all the divisions in Colorado. Secondly, it has one of the lowest storage capacities. This means that many of the other divisions have much larger reservoirs, hence much more ability to utilize and distribute water. However, Cotten attributed many challenges that occur within the division to over- appropriation. This has resulted in the need for closer monitoring of water usage in the San Luis Valley including well meters and 60 gauging stations along all of the rivers and streams of Division 3 to ensure that the correct amounts of water are delivered where they need to go.

An important aspect of Division 3 is well rules and regulations. Due to a limited amount of highly appropriated water, DWR found the need to consider long term considerations in the San Luis Valley. Also, maximum utilization was/is needed to assure that water rights are fulfilled but not inappropriately curtailed, and to maintain the economy. The replacement of injurious depletions and maintaining a sustainable aquifer system were/are also key considerations as to why the rules now exist. The conclusion became that less pumping is necessary, particularly for the aquifer system. Thus, the result was the drafting of the rules and their submission to the court by the State Engineer in 2015. The current rules require well owners to choose one of three options. The first option is to obtain a plan for augmentation. The second option is to participate in a groundwater management subdistrict. The third option is to cease pumping. The rules are now set to be finalized by the court in January of 2018. DWR is currently working towards resolutions with objectors.

One of the most important tasks that DWR oversees is the Rio Grande Compact. Quite simply, the Rio Grande Compact is law. Signed in 1938, it is an agreement between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. Reasons for this agreement include a limited water supply and over- development of surface and groundwater resources. The compact is intended/designed to equitably apportion the waters of the Rio Grande above Ft. Quitman, Texas. This law is administered by three commissioners who are the state engineers of Colorado and New Mexico and a governor’s appointee from Texas. Colorado is required to deliver water to the New Mexico state line and New Mexico has been required to deliver to Elephant Butte Reservoir since 1949.

The other compact that Division 3 administers is the Costilla Creek Compact. This is an agreement between Colorado and New Mexico. In addition, Cotten pointed out that the Costilla Creek Compact is also the only compact where Colorado is classified as the downstream state. This agreement operates under a priority system much like the Prior Appropriation Doctrine.

“These compacts are the only ones to be administered directly from our office,” said Cotten. Yet another aspect that is unique to Division 3.

This is also a time of transition at DWR due to the retirement of State Engineer Dick Wolfe. His successor is Kevin Rein. Despite the change, Cotten expressed confidence in the laws and system that are in place and that the high standard that was set by Wolfe will continue to be upheld.

There are many tasks that the Division of Water Resources is charged with and there is a great deal that happens daily to ensure that they are all accomplished. The Division 3 office can be reached by calling 719-589-6683 or on the web at http://www.dwr.state.co.us.

The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable meets the second Tuesday of every month at 623 East Fourth Street in Alamosa. For more information visit us at http://www.rgbrt.org

Helen Smith is the Outreach Specialist for the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable. Read part 1 here.

Rein appointed as new state engineer

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today announced Kevin Rein’s appointment as the new State Engineer and Director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Rein replaces Dick Wolfe, who retired at the end of June after 10 years in the position.

Rein has served as the Deputy State Engineer since 2008, where he directed and supervised the review and engineering evaluation of substitute water supply plans; water court and well permit applications; subdivision water supply plans; and other instruments that guide the management of water rights throughout Colorado. He has worked for the Division since 1998.

“The importance of water administration has never been more clear as we implement Colorado’s Water Plan,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “Kevin’s experience and leadership will be crucial to our state’s long-term success in protecting this vital resource.”

As State Engineer, Rein will oversee and manage the Division of Water Resources within the Department of Natural Resources. The Division is responsible for administering Colorado’s water rights system, issuing water well permits, representing Colorado in interstate water compact proceedings, monitoring streamflow and water use, approving dam construction repair and safety inspections, and maintaining numerous water information databases.

“The chance to serve the state in this new capacity is an honor and a privilege,” Rein said. “The Division of Water Resources boasts a team of committed individuals focused on administering the state’s water resources and serving the public, and I am honored by this leadership opportunity. We will work with our customers to solve problems, exercise good stewardship, and assist the public in understanding Colorado’s water heritage.”

The State Engineer’s Office was created in 1881 and includes 260 employees. Its mission is to competently and dependably administer and distribute the waters of Colorado in accordance with the laws of the state, ensure that dams and water wells are properly constructed and maintained to ensure public safety, and to develop, maintain, and provide access to accurate and timely information regarding water resources.

Ten Years The State Engineer Dick Wolfe Celebration — Greg Hobbs

Greg Hobbs was one of the guests at the celebration of Dick Wolfe’s retirement as State Engineer hosted by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources at the Governor’s Mansion’s Carriage House. He sent in this short poem and gallery of photographs.

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Ten Years The State Engineer Dick Wolfe Celebration

Invite Dick Wolfe to his farewell party,
you’d expect somewhere out there
along a Colorado creek

A water commissioner on the other end
would be holding up a cell for

The Mother of Rivers dialing-in
to say, “Well done, my
faithful friend!”

Greg Hobbs 6/28/2017

Adiós Dick, it has been my great honor knowing you. I really appreciate your support for Coyote Gulch over the years. Keep on trucking. Here’s a quote from that blues guitarist we both loved. I think he could be talking about your service to Colorado:

“I don’t like to feel that I owe anything. I like to feel that I pay my own way — there’s no free lunch. And when people give me all these great compliments, I thank them but still go back to my room and practice. And a lot of times I say to myself ‘I wish I could be worthy of all the compliments that people give me sometime.’ I am not inventing anything that’s going to stop cancer or muscular distrophy or anything, but I like to feel that my time and talent is always there for the people that need it.” — B.B. King, from an interview on Slate.

Photo: The commissioners of the Republican River Compact Administration sign the long-term resolutions on August 24, 2016: (from left) Commissioner David Barfield, Chief Engineer, Kansas Department of Agriculture; Commissioner Dick Wolfe, State Engineer, Colorado Division of Water Resources; Commissioner Jeff Fassett, Director of Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources, via Governor Hickenlooper’s office.

@CWCB_DNR: June 2017 #Drought Update

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

May was characterized by wet and cool conditions, particularly in southeast Colorado. The first 20 days of June were a drastic change characterized by hot temperatures and little rainfall. In most parts of the state, streamflow forecasts throughout the summer season are projected to be near normal to above normal and reservoir storage remains high. These conditions leave municipal suppliers generally feeling comfortable with current levels of supply and demand in their systems.

  • After an early peak snow accumulation across the state, snow has melted out in most areas.
  • Reservoir storage statewide remains high at 109% of normal.
  • After receiving 132% percent of average precipitation in May at Snotel stations, June precipitation to date statewide is only 30% of average as of June 21.
  • Long-term forecasts for the summer season are not suggesting any major departure from normal conditions across Colorado.
  • Per the June 20 U.S. Drought Monitor, only 6 percent of Colorado is classified as abnormally dry (D0), the same as last month, with no other drought classification area in the state.
  • #Runoff news: Low-head dam hazards

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Alicia Stice):

    In the past 10 years, more than 15 people have drowned on the river from various accidents. Lopez’s death was the first in years involving a low-head dam.

    These [weirs] dot rivers across the country, including in Fort Collins, where there is one low-head dam every 1.5 to 2 miles along much of the Poudre.

    In Colorado, there is no agency in charge of overseeing safety at these dams. Instead, the Division of Water Resources has a team charged with overseeing the risks associated with large dams at sites such as Horsetooth Reservoir that could pose a hazard if they failed, Colorado Division of Water Resources Dam Safety Chief Bill McCormick said.

    “I think these are some of the most dangerous type of structures we have in the country because most people are unaware of the dangers,” said Bruce Tschantz, a Knoxville, Tennessee, water resources engineer who has studied low-head dams extensively. “People tend to overestimate their ability to overcome the current and underestimate the dangers.”

    General currents upstream and downstream from a low-head dam. Graphic via Bruce a. Tschantz

    In much of the country, low-head dams have been in place for more than 100 years to serve now defunct mills. In Colorado, many of these dams are still active, diverting water into irrigation ditches for agricultural use. While the structures are old, the danger is relatively new.

    “The problem of safety around them is more a recent phenomenon as people are using the rivers more,” McCormick said.

    The dams slow water upstream and divert it away from the main channel. The water that flows over them creates a rapid on the downriver side that mimics the hydraulics of a washing machine. The water can force victims underwater and spin them around, making it nearly impossible to swim back up to the surface.

    “These structures are often very deceiving,” said Kenneth Smith, Indiana Department of Natural Resources assistant director…

    Simple engineering solutions can make low-head dams built today much safer by breaking up the flow of water as it moves over the dam. Solutions could include a set of concrete stairs or large rocks on the downstream side of the structure. In many cases, those solutions could be added to existing dams, but that can be costly, and it can be difficult to track down the owners of these century-old structures.

    Poudre Fire Authority has been in discussions about what might be done to make sure people know about the dangers of the dams, including the possibility of installing signs along the river warning people of where they are.

    @CWCB_DNR: May 2017 #Drought Update

    Click here to read the update:

    Cool and wet conditions across much of Colorado throughout May have resulted in widespread elimination of drought conditions, abnormally dry conditions are present in Mesa and Park counties and will continued to be monitored. Water providers have no immediate concerns and expect reservoirs to fill. Some crops have been lost as a result of freeze, but will be replanted.

  • Statewide water year- to- date snowpack as of May 25th is at 149% of normal, however this time of year small amounts of snow accumulation can result in large percentile increases. All basins have seen their peak accumulation for the year and begun to melt out.
  • Reservoir storage statewide remains high at 112% of normal and all basins are at or above normal, with the highest storage levels in the Gunnison (126 percent) and the lowest in the Upper Rio Grande (98 percent).
  • While the higher elevations were a bit drier in April (89% of average precipitation), the statewide average April precipitation was 117% of average, primarily due to the large amounts that accumulated at the end of the month in southeast Colorado.
  • Given recent precipitation both streamflow forecasts and the Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) are expected to rise in the June 1 update.
  • The June-August forecast from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) supports the possible development of an El Nino with more moisture than average through the growing season. The temperature outlook indicates warm conditions in the south and west with equal chances of below, normal and above average temperatures in the east and north.
  • The Flood Threat Bulletin began May 1st and can be found at http://www.coloradofloodthreat.com/
  • Colorado Drought Monitor May 29, 2017.

    HB16-1228 Agriculture Protection Water Right Transfer Mechanism meeting recap

    Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Division of Water Resources is holding a series information and input meetings on the new Agricultural Water Protection Water Right law. A handful of local farmers and other interested parties attended the session on Wednesday at the Sterling Public Library.

    The new law, which was sponsored by both Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, installs safeguards in the event that irrigators want to change part of their water right to a new beneficial use.

    Deputy State Engineer Kevin Rein conducted the session, first walking through the process of writing rules and regulations to put the new law into effect, and then encouraging questions and discussion of the new rules.

    Much of the discussion centered around whether the new program was even feasible for individual irrigators or would be a better fit for irrigation districts and ditch companies. It was generally agreed that, because of costs and the intricacies of water law, the larger the entity managing the lease, the better the plan would work. Individual irrigators could pledge a certain number of their water shares toward the ditch company’s AWPWR program and let the company worry about return flows, legal fees, and other details based on the total amount of water leased.

    Don Ament, who represents Colorado in the South Platte Recovery Program, said he wants to follow up to see whether irrigators in the South Platte River Basin would, by virtue of being part of the SPRP, be automatically part of a conservation program, as required by the new law. He was told during the meeting that “Title 38” of Colorado Revised Statutes might prohibit that. It’s possible the wrong CRS was cited, since Title 38 has to do with tenant and landlord rights, while Title 37 is about water and irrigation. Ament said he would have to look into the law…

    There also was significant discussion of just how much water a farmer could lease. The new law limits the amount of water an irrigator can lease out to half of his consumptive use right. That’s to help make sure most of the irrigation water still goes to irrigate crops.

    Early in the discussion, Rein displayed a graphic that showed a water right that allowed 10 cubic feet per second of water flow through an irrigator’s head gate. If his historic return flow was four CFS, that meant his consumptive use is six CFS. He would then be allowed to lease half of the six CFS, or three CFS, under the AWPWR program. That would leave him a total of seven CFS of ditch flow to irrigate with. Because he would be running less water on his land, his return flow would naturally diminish. That’s why the law requires a substitute water supply plan; it would show how the irrigator would maintain his historic return flow of 4 CFS.

    But that, it turns out, is the simple part. To complicate matters, irrigators don’t actually measure their water rights in a ditch company in cubic feet per second, but in shares. And farmers typically wouldn’t want to lease half of their total shares as part of an alternative transfer, even temporarily.

    If, for instance, a farmer owns 100 shares in a ditch company, he may want to commit half of that, or 50 shares, to the AWPWR program. Because he would have only 50 shares in the program, he could lease only half of those 50 shares. But return flow still needs to be calculated, and return flow is measured in acre feet of water per year or in cubic feet per second. The irrigator (or his ditch company) would have to show how that return flow would be maintained.

    To further complicate matters, shares don’t necessarily mean a specific amount of water. The amount of water a farmer’s 50 shares contains depends on how much water is available, who else is taking water with a higher, or older, priority, and other factors.

    Rein said all of those factors would be up to the state engineer’s office to determine…

    While discussion moved into the more esoteric realm of hypothetical legal matters, John Stulp, who serves as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s special policy advisor for water, reminded the group of the purpose of the new law.

    “Keep in mind that the spirit of the law was to protect agriculture, and to give farmers the chance to participate in some of those revenue opportunities that are available through ATMs,” he said. “You need to be getting ready; it may not be your generation (that participates) but you need to do the groundwork for being flexible with your water right.”

    Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, is known to be skeptical of ATMs because there is rarely any mention of how the water is to be stored for transfer and what kind of infrastructure will be needed to transfer it. He said after the meeting that, while he thinks flexibility in determining the end user on an ATM is a good thing, the new law still doesn’t address some of his concerns.

    “There are still the inherent question marks about ATMs,” Frank said. “This just gives somebody who’s thinking about ATMs the ability to go to court once, change their water right, and be able to be flexible in who they lease the water to.

    “But ATMs in general still have the issues that I brought up; you need a place to store it, you need a way to get it to the end user, you need a way of bringing multiple users together, so there are still those inherent issues.”

    Frank said ATMs still represent a “drying up” of some farmland because the water is being diverted from irrigation to other consumptive uses.

    “My alternative to ‘buy and dry’ is new supply,” he said. “We need to capture unappropriated water and store it, and maybe plug in ATMs. In my perfect world the best way to plug in an ATM is as part of a new project that takes advantage of available water supplies.”

    Here’s the summary from the Colorado General Assembly website:

    The act authorizes an owner of an absolute decreed irrigation water right in water division 1 or 2 that is used for agricultural purposes to seek a change-in-use decree in water court to obtain an agricultural water protection water right.

    Under the changed water right available in water division 1 or 2, the water right owner may apply for a renewable one-year substitute water supply plan through which the water right owner may lease, loan, or trade up to 50% of the historical consumptive use portion of the water subject to the water right without designating the specific beneficial use for the leased, loaned, or traded water. The one-year substitute water supply plan authorizing the lease, loan, or trade of water may be renewed twice without reapplying if the terms and conditions of the plan remain unchanged. A new application is required every 3 years to maintain the substitute water supply plan.

    Pursuant to rules developed by the state engineer and reviewed by the water judge for water division 1, the state engineer may approve a one-year renewable substitute water supply plan authorizing the lease, loan, or trade of water subject to an agricultural water protection water right in water division 1 or 2 if the following conditions are met:

  • The remaining portion of the water subject to the water right must continue to be used for agricultural purposes;
  • The water right must be protected by the owner’s participation in an agricultural water protection water program, for which the Colorado water conservation board will establish minimum criteria and guidelines;
  • The owner shall not lease, loan, or trade water subject to the water right outside of the water division with jurisdiction over the location of historical consumptive use; and
  • The transferable portion of the water subject to the water right must be delivered to a point of diversion that is subject to an existing water court decree.