New septic system rules for Montezuma County

Septic system

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

New septic system regulations under the Montezuma County Health Department kicked in Jan. 1.

Under the Transfer of Title program, when a residential or commercial property meets certain criteria, an inspection of its on-site wastewater septic system will take place when the property is being sold, and repairs or replacement may be required.

The new rules are intended to prevent pollution from failing septic systems and protect the public and water resources, said Melissa Mathews, environmental health specialist for the health department.

The criteria triggering a septic system inspection when a title is transfered include: Structures older than 1974 that do not have a on-site waste water permit; properties that had a permit issued 20 years ago or longer; properties that have a higher level treatment system; properties that have had a previous septic system failure; properties that have a valid septic permit but no structure.

#Arizona lawmakers under pressure to approve Lower Basin #Dought Contingency Plan before federal deadline — The #Colorado Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Russian thistle in dry former Lake Powell along the Colorado River in Hite, October 2018. (Photo by John Herrick)

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

With a federal deadline of Jan. 31 for the states to forge a collaborative Drought Contingency Plan, Arizona remains the lone holdout. The plans for each of the states — California, Arizona and Nevada in the Lower Basin, and Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming in the Upper Basin — outline strategies for reducing demands on the Colorado River before water storage in the already record-low Lake Mead and Lake Powell drop to catastrophically low levels.

If Arizona lawmakers — who convene on Jan. 14 — fail to approve a not-yet-finalized drought plan intended to buoy Lake Mead, now only 39 percent full, the federal Bureau of Reclamation said it will step in on Jan. 31 and take action to prop up it and Lake Powell. And no one wants that, especially after the states have spent several years hammering out plans to help the Colorado River during a drought that has lasted nearly two decades.

With climate change drying the West, the drought appears to be more of a permanent situation than something that will fade away with a few snowy winters. So water managers are no longer praying for precipitation. They are looking for ways to reduce demand.

Arizona’s water-saving plan is close, said James Eklund, a commissioner of the Upper Colorado River Water Commission, which in October unveiled the four-state Upper Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan.

“California has its ducks in a row. We are really waiting on Arizona right now,” Eklund said. “When they meet next week, we are hoping that they tee this up right out of the gate, and ratify essentially what we understand that most of the stakeholders, if not all the stakeholders, are behind.”

The Upper Basin’s plan tweaks how Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico store and allot water. The plan creates a conservation bank water from Upper Basin reservoirs in Lake Powell, before it reaches Lake Mead.

This would allow Upper Basin states to store water they have conserved through demand-reduction measures, shifting water from Flaming Gorge in Wyoming, Blue Mesa in Colorado and Navajo in New Mexico. Flaming Gorge is the most robust right now, at 87 percent full while Blue Mesa, near Gunnison, filled only to is parched, 30 percent of its capacity.

California is making moves in case Arizona fails to reach agreement. On Jan. 6, California water managers started pulling more than 600,000 acre-feet of its excess water out of Lake Mead. The state is relocating its excess water in Lake Mead to storage in Southern California

  • in case Arizona fails to approve a plan and the federal government steps in with an emergency shortage plan that locks the state’s water in the Nevada impoundment.

    Eklund said California’s Plan B drawdown on the already beleaguered Lake Mead is not irreversible.

    “If we get the contingency plans across the finish line then California can essentially back water up into Mead to undo their contingency-contingency withdrawal out of the bucket,” he said…

    “Failure it not an option. If we don’t get this across, there will be disappointment all around,” [James Eklund] said. “We are so close. Tantalizingly close.”

  • Credit:

    Eagle whitewater park ready for #runoff

    From The Vaily Daily (Randy Wyrick) via The Aspen Times:

    The river part of Eagle’s ambitious river park is done, and even the fish appear to be happy about it.

    Hobbs Excavating crews recently finished the fourth of four in-river features.

    S2O Design, one of the world’s premier river engineering and whitewater design companies, designed the in-river features.

    “This setting matches the river’s natural morphology and utilizes the existing river channel really well,” said Scott Shipley, the founder and president of S2O Design. “It will surely be a new focal point for the town.”


    The in-river part of the project took two years to build, but the process started long before that with a feasibility study, then design and a detailed hydraulic modeling. The first two features were built last winter and spring when the water was low.

    Crews were back in the water last fall, and finished the other two river features in late December. The features create waves, eddies, chutes, and drops to play in for anything from tubes to surfing, standup-up paddling and kayaking.

    The park was the first built with S2O’s RapidBlocs that allows the features to be fine-tuned depending on water flows. That will lengthen the boating season in the park…

    S2O also designed the riverbank improvements, and included a bypass channel around the two upper features serving as a recreational safe route and a fish migration pathway, and mid-stream fish channels in the lower section so fish can migrate upstream.

    After Colorado Parks and Wildlife expressed some concerns about fish migration, the two features built this winter were modified, with crews installing concrete half hemispheres to make it easier for the fish to move…

    In 2016 Eagle voters approved a 0.5 percent sales tax to pay for the park and trail improvements. The entire park is scheduled for completion later this spring.

    Developers stall Lower Basin #Drought Contingency Plan negotiations #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A canal delivers water to Phoenix. Photo credit: Allen Best

    From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):

    The outstanding issues, some of which are proving contentious, range from developers’ concerns about securing future water supplies to lining up funding for Pinal County farmers to drill wells and begin to pump more groundwater.

    A disagreement has also flared up over the terms of an “offset” provision that involves leaving water in Lake Mead to boost the levels of the dwindling reservoir.

    These complications will force more talks geared toward achieving a consensus as the state Legislature begins session Monday and starts working on legislation that would authorize Arizona’s participation in a Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, with Nevada and California.

    Gov. Doug Ducey has called for the parties to quickly wrap up a deal, saying that with a critical shortfall imminent on the river, “we cannot kick the can any further.”

    But at a meeting of the state’s steering committee Tuesday, the to-do list still appeared long. And several members of the committee voiced pointed disagreements on provisions that have yet to be finalized.

    Last month, federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman set a Jan. 31 deadline for Arizona and California to finish their agreements and sign on. She said if the states fail to meet that deadline, the federal government will get involved and step in to prevent reservoirs from falling to critically low levels…

    [Tom Buschatzke] and other water managers began the meeting Tuesday with an overview of where water levels stand in the river’s main reservoirs. Lake Powell is now 41 percent full, while Lake Mead is 39 percent full, just above a level that would trigger a first-ever declaration of a shortage.

    They also reviewed a list of issues that have yet to be resolved, some of which relate to concerns of farmers in Pinal County, who have the lowest priority and face the biggest cuts in water deliveries.

    The farmers had expressed worries about taking especially large cuts in the scenario of a more serious “tier 2” shortage at Lake Mead, and Tucson city officials have proposed to help in that scenario by providing the farmers up to 35,000 acre-feet of water per year for two years. (An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, enough to cover a football field with a foot of water.)

    “We believe it’s a prudent thing to do to give the certainty to Pinal agriculture that they’re seeking on volume in the first three years,” said Timothy Thomure, director of Tucson Water. He said city officials will help finish the Colorado River deal while presenting no risks to the city.

    To make the deal possible, the city would ask that water credits in the Tucson groundwater management area be transferred to the city in exchange for credits it would get in Pinal County.

    He said Tucson is also asking for reforms affecting how treated sewage effluent figures in the state’s framework of water laws. One of the changes, Thomure said, would be to eliminate a 2025 “sunset” provision on water agencies’ ability to get storage credits for effluent. The city is also seeking more long-term storage credit when effluent is used to replenish groundwater.

    Buschatzke called it a “very creative proposal” and said he expects more talks will be needed to work out the specifics…

    Representatives of developers have been pressing for a provision conditionally granting them a certain amount of water — 7,000 acre-feet per year — for the first three years of a shortage. Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, supported the idea and said this provision for an additional water supply would go away if the Drought Contingency Plan is signed.

    As the developers have proposed it, the conditional water supply would be included to backstop a larger deal that’s already set to free up more water for future development — just in case the plan isn’t signed in the end.

    In that larger $95 million deal, the council of the Gila River Indian Community agreed last month to sell up to 33,185 acre-feet annually to the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District for 25 years starting in 2020 — enough to supply more than 99,000 homes based on the average water use in the area. The transfer would take effect once Arizona signs the Colorado River deal.

    That Gila River Indian Community’s water deal was welcomed by developers because it secures water supplies for more growth into the 2030s, said Spencer Kamps, vice president of legislative affairs for the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.

    “But having said that, like everybody around the table, we’re seeking certainty. And there is uncertainty on the DCP plan going through the legislative process,” Kamps said. “My members are seeking certainty as it relates to investment from, you know, our corporate offices.”

    He said developers want to be sure that when a shortage is triggered “that there is a reliable supply.”

    “The concern from us is the uncertainty if anything were to happen, obviously, moving forward with the DCP plan, and it wasn’t satisfactory to either the governor or whomever,” Kamps said. “And I think that’s a reasonable request, to ensure that development can move forward regardless of the conditions on the lake during this 7-year program.”

    The developers’ proposal was firmly opposed by Buschatzke, who said adding that amount of water for three years would upset the “delicate balance” that has been negotiated in the plan. Buschatzke also said: “I’m not sure where that water would come from.”

    Cynthia Campbell, a water adviser for Phoenix, called the developers’ proposal “unthinkable” and said the city won’t support it.

    “We don’t have enough water to go around for all the contract holders,” Campbell said. “Why would you start talking about adding new parties to the dole? That’s crazy.”

    Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community said he thought the issue of future water supplies for development had been dealt with already. He said the council’s resolution approving the water deal is “self-executing” once Arizona signs the Drought Contingency Plan. He offered to consult with his council and send a letter clarifying the point.

    Donald Pongrace, a lawyer for the Gila River Indian Community, said after the meeting that the developers’ proposal “would create a precedent of providing water out of priority that we and all other CAP contract holders would find objectionable.”

    Lewis’ offer of sending a letter to clarify that the signing of the Colorado River agreement will trigger the water transfer should be sufficient to resolve the issue, Pongrace said, though he said it’s “unnecessary and somewhat insulting to the community’s integrity and overall participation in the process.”


    Another issue that drew opposition from Lewis and Buschatzke was a proposal by CAP officials regarding the “offset” component of Arizona’s plan, which involves deducting some water supplies from a Lake Mead storage account and replacing those supplies on paper with water from other sources.

    Originally the idea had been a water exchange between CAP and Salt River Project, but CAP officials have instead proposed an alternative in which their agency would keep the stored water in their account. Pongrace said that’s likely a nonstarter for the Gila River Indian Community because it would give the CAP board discretion to use the water as it sees fit, and potentially take the water out.

    “It’s basically calling something conservation that isn’t,” Pongrace said. “It’s the equivalent of financial gimmickry, and we will not accept it.”

    Despite the disagreements and the short timetable for drafting legislation, Cooke and Buschatzke both expressed optimism about finishing a deal.

    “We’re going to work on things between now and when the legislature starts, and we’re going to work on things after the legislature starts,” Cooke said. “I think we’re closer than we’ve ever been, and I think we’re in closure range, definitely.”

    Cooke said CAP and state water officials will work with legislative staffers to draft the package of legislation, and the idea is to keep it simple. The legislation is to include a resolution approving Arizona’s participation in the Drought Contingency Plan together with California and Arizona, as well as other measures outlining funding for the plan and several other changes that will be necessary to make it work.

    From the Associated Press via

    An Arizona committee looking for ways to divvy up cuts from the Colorado River water supply says it has about a handful of issues to settle…

    Farmers, cities, tribes, home builders, state agencies and others on the committee met Tuesday. Their goal is to save up to 700,000 acre-feet of water over seven years.

    The Arizona Daily Star reports that farmers in Pinal County want more water and certainty in funding for groundwater wells.

    Homebuilders also want extra water until a deal with a tribe is finalized.

    Two Arizona water utilities remain at odds over water stored in Lake Mead.

    The Arizona Legislature must approve the complex plan.

    Lower #ColoradoRiver Basin #Drought Contingency Plan update #COriver #aridification

    Male Western Tanager. By Jim Conrad – JIM CONRAD’S NATURALIST NEWSLETTER. Issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon, Public Domain,

    From Audubon (Haley Paul):

    Feds don’t want to gamble on risky water future—and give new urgency to complete the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.

    Coming off the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas, southwest states have been issued a new deadline to complete the Drought Contingency Plan; otherwise, the federal government will step in.

    Remember, this Drought Contingency Plan is a suite of agreements detailing proactive actions designed to reduce water use to stave off precipitous declines in water levels in the reservoirs on the Colorado River.

    The Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), Brenda Burman, said that Arizona and the other lower basin states have until January 31, 2019 to approve their respective commitments to the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). After that, the Feds say they will act by opening up a notice in the Federal Register, where they will solicit comments from the seven Colorado River Basin states on what federal actions can best reduce the “unacceptably high” risk to Lakes Mead and Powell and the Colorado River. The comment period will be open for 30 days. After that, USBR will determine how it will protect the system ahead of their August 24-month study (where USBR determines what the following year’s water operations will be—namely what level of shortage Lake Mead is likely to be in, and the cuts each state will receive).

    While Arizona and California may be close to the completion of DCP, Burman commented “close isn’t done” and “only done will protect this Basin.” She elaborated with sobering statistics on the bad hydrology, and the need for action in the form of DCP completion. This push for action by our federal government is a big deal.

    As the Arizona Legislature opens up its 2019 session on January 14, there is much work to accomplish in a short amount of time. The Arizona Legislature must authorize the Arizona Department of Water Resource’s participation in the DCP.

    Jennifer Pitt, National Audubon Society’s Colorado River Program Director, recently stated, “The Drought Contingency Plan is the key to avoiding really catastrophic problems for people and wildlife and birds in the Colorado River Basin.”

    Audubon supports the passage of the DCP because it builds on a collaborative framework decided by the affected water stakeholders and it gives us a chance to adapt to these long-term changes in our water supply. If the collaborative approach fails, decisions on how to manage Colorado River water could become more disruptive, potentially decided through the courts or by federal officials. The DCP is key to avoid more catastrophic shortages in Lake Mead if the hydrology continues on its current trajectory.

    The current way that Arizona envisions engaging in the DCP is through what Arizona stakeholders are calling the Implementation Plan. In general, the Implementation Plan allows for certain water users to be mitigated for the losses they would experience under DCP’s water cuts by temporarily providing them with water that has been stored in Lake Mead. This mitigation, delivering actual water to lower priority water users, is what Central Arizona water stakeholders have asked for in return for accepting the DCP. Should the states not meet the January 31 deadline, as water master in the Lower Colorado River Basin, the Feds could mandate shortage volumes without this kind of “soft landing” deal for water users.

    Lake Mead is at its lowest point since the Hoover Dam was built, meaning there is less water to go around. To reduce water withdrawals from the Lake, as part of Arizona’s Implementation Plan, water users in the Lower Colorado River Basin would be financially compensated to reduce their water use. The water they don’t use will remain in Lake Mead, ensuring we contribute more water to the Lake than we take out. That reduces the chances the Lake declines beyond the point it can deliver water. Given the state of our hydrology, this is currently the best bet to avoid the risk of catastrophic water shortages that impact people and birds across the entire river basin.

    Stay tuned as the deal comes together and start of the Arizona Legislative session nears.

    From The Phoenix New Times (Elizabeth Whitman):

    First, the good news: The negotiators of Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan have crafted the most detailed, concrete proposal to date laying out how Arizona will deal with expected cutbacks to its supply of Colorado River.

    “We’re closer than we’ve ever been, and I think we’re in closure range,” said Ted Cooke, co-chair of the steering committee of the Drought Contingency Plan and general manager of the Central Arizona Project, after a three-and-a-half-hour meeting Tuesday.

    Now, the bad: The partial shutdown of the federal government is squeezing these negotiators. A January 31 deadline set by the government approaches inexorably. Meanwhile, a last-minute push on Tuesday by homebuilders to receive more water in the plan threatens the precarious balance of the existing proposal.

    “Right now, not having [our legal counsel] at work is very difficult, for us. It’s hard to move forward,” Leslie Meyers, Phoenix area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation, told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s hard to get some of the agreements done.”

    The bureau, which is under the Department of the Interior, remains funded during the shutdown because it’s funded through energy and water appropriations. But the Office of the Field Solicitor, which does legal work for the Department of Interior, is not. If the shutdown continues, Meyers said, it was possible that their legal counsel would be brought back to work, albeit with no pay…

    The Arizona Legislature and Governor Doug Ducey must also approve the plan and authorize Buschatzke to sign it before January 31. The legislative session begins January 14…

    On Tuesday, homebuilder representatives brought talks to a boil again by reiterating a demand for water that generated sharp rebukes from some participants.

    Their demand is one of the few remaining outstanding issues of Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan: They want 7,000 acre-feet of water per year to go to developers and homebuilders. The Central Arizona Project, which is putting $65 million into the Drought Contingency Plan, supports the idea. The Arizona Department of Water Resources, along with the city of Phoenix, the private water company EPCOR, the development group Valley Partnership, and several others are against it.

    They point out that through a recent agreement for the Gila River Indian Community to supply water to the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District for the next 25 years, developers and homebuilders have plenty of water for the future.

    However, that deal requires the Drought Contingency Plan to go through.

    Spencer Kamps, vice president of legislative affairs for the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona and a steering committee member, said that homebuilders wanted more certainty than that, given that the Legislature has to approve of the Drought Contingency Plan…

    What befuddled the members, however, was his demand for more water. Kamps asked, as developers have requested before, for 7,000 acre-feet to be included in the Drought Contingency Plan. This, he said, would be a backstop, just in case the Drought Contingency Plan, and thus the deal with Gila River Indian Community, did not go through…

    Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community pointed out that the deal signed with the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District was “self-executing.” Once the Drought Contingency Plan went through, he would sign it; he was authorized to do so by the tribal council in December.

    Sounding strained, he said he thought this matter had been taken care of in December. He added, “I hoped that we wouldn’t still be talking about this issue as we’re doing today.”

    Cynthia Campbell, water resources adviser for the city of Phoenix, said that including water for developers was “quizzical at best.”

    “It’s hard to understand how this even works,” she said, adding that a major flaw in the request was that it wasn’t clear where the additional water would come from. “The city of Phoenix will not support a DCP that includes that,” she said flatly.

    Doug Dunham, of the private water provide EPCOR, echoed Campbell’s comments before Cooke quietly suggested that this issue would not be resolved that day.

    From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

    Four key issues remain unsettled as negotiators for a Colorado River drought-adaptation plan wrap up discussions and prepare to send a complex package of water-saving proposals to the Arizona Legislature.

    Farmers, developers and officials of the $4 billion Central Arizona Project said Tuesday they still aren’t satisfied with various provisions in a proposed drought contingency plan aimed at propping up imperiled Lake Mead. Because of that, negotiations over details will probably have to continue even when the Legislature starts debating the plan next week.

    But leaders of the prolonged effort to produce a drought contingency plan for Arizona say they’re optimistic of getting the issues resolved and a legislative sign-off in time to meet a federally imposed Jan. 31 deadline to adopt the plan.

    Tuesday, during the eighth meeting of an advisory committee working on the plan, members groped for solutions and compromises but those remained elusive, although progress was made.

    “There are only four issues left. We have 82 things that we’ve solved,” CAP general manager Ted Cooke said at a news briefing after the meeting of the 40-member advisory committee that’s worked since July on the drought plan…

    But at Tuesday’s advisory committee meeting, these unsettled issues emerged:

  • Pinal farmers are scheduled to get 105,000 acre-feet of CAP water in both 2020 and 2021 if shortages are declared for 2020, less than half what they get now. In 2022, that supply will be whittled to 70,000 acre-feet a year if the river is running low due to dry weather.
  • Farmers, however, want 105,000 acre-feet of CAP water for 2022 as well, and it’s uncertain where that extra water would come from.

    Tim Thomure, a committee member and Tucson Water’s director, said he would be prepared to offer 35,000 acre-feet annually for two years, water that would be placed on Pinal County farm fields.

    But making that offer will require four changes in state law to make it easier for the city of Tucson to use or sell “credits” it would gain from storing the water on those fields to allow it to pump additional groundwater elsewhere, he said. State Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke praised Thomure’s proposals as “creative,” but said some other interests whom he didn’t name might not support more water for farmers out of concern that it wouldn’t be fair to other water users.

  • Paul Orme, lobbyist for four irrigation districts, wants more “certainty” about getting federal funding to help pay for the farms’ new groundwater wells, whose expected cost has escalated from $30 million to $50 million. The state and CAP have agreed to pay or support future legislation to provide close to half those costs. But Orme noted that competition for the federal funds with farmers in other states will be fierce, although Bureau of Reclamation officials in Arizona will support the Pinal farmers’ quest.
  • The Central and Southern Arizona Home Builders Associations want 7,000 acre-feet of “mitigation” CAP water set aside to serve future suburban development, although officials say there is no alternative source of water to fulfill that request. The Gila River Indian Community has already agreed to lease 33,000 acre-feet of its CAP water for future suburban growth — once it’s certain that the drought plan will pass the Legislature.
  • The homebuilders groups say they want the extra 7,000 acre-feet included in the plan as a matter of “certainty,” and that pool of water could be removed once it’s clear the Gila Indian deal will go through. A Phoenix-based developer group, the Valley Partnership, disagrees, with its director Cheryl Lombard saying its members see no need for the extra 7,000 acre-feet.

  • CAP and the Salt River Project utility are at odds over a plan for the utility to replace some water now stored in Lake Mead, which CAP wants to remove from the lake to help mitigate farm water losses. As the plan would work, the utility would supply CAP 50,000 acre-feet from 2021 to 2025. Cooke said his agency has legal, contractual and hydrological concerns with the idea.
  • He acknowledged that, currently, that issue is “the only one I don’t know how to (solve). But we’ll figure out a way to solve that.”

    #GunnisonRiver: Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project groundbreaking

    Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s Office:

    Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today applauded the groundbreaking of the Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project in the North Fork of the Gunnison River.

    “Because our parents and grandparents made necessary investments in water infrastructure, agriculture has thrived on the Western Slope,” Bennet said. “We need to make these same investments for future generations. The demands on our rivers are greater than ever as we face the challenges of climate change and a growing population. Collaborative efforts like the Fire Mountain Canal Improvement project are critical to making irrigation systems more efficient to support our agricultural economy.

    “Congratulations to all of the local, state, and federal partners who collaborated to make this project a reality. Our work to secure the Critical Conservation Area designation, and federal funding through the Farm Bill, are the first of many actions we can take to invest in Colorado’s water security,” Bennet concluded.

    In 2014, Bennet secured the Critical Conservation Area (CCA) designation for the Colorado River Basin, making the lower Gunnison basin eligible for federal funding. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Bennet then helped craft a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) in the 2014 Farm Bill, which secured $8 million for the Colorado River District project in the Lower Gunnison River Basin. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Bennet worked to reauthorize and increase funding for the RCPP and direct more funding toward water infrastructure and drought resilience across Colorado and the West.

    The $4.6 million Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project will build a buried, large-diameter pipeline along four miles of currently unlined canal. The project is part of the $50 million Lower Gunnison River Basin Project, spearheaded by the Colorado River District, with combined funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, local water conservancy and conservation districts, and local irrigation companies such as the Fire Mountain Canal and Reservoir Company.

    Here’s the Finding of no significant impact from March 2018 via USBR.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A sweeping, multi-entity effort in the lower Gunnison River Basin to boost irrigation efficiency and help the environment is marking a milestone with the start of work on a pipeline project in the North Fork Valley.

    A groundbreaking celebration Tuesday marked the beginning of the Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project. The $4.6 million undertaking, which is expected to take two years to complete, is part of the larger, $50 million Lower Gunnison Project.

    The Fire Mountain work involves converting more than four miles of open, unlined, earthen canal to a buried, large-diameter pipeline.

    That will eliminate water loss along the canal route and also result in a pressurized supply reaching irrigators who can then use methods such as sprinklers or drip systems to water crops more efficiently than with flood irrigation…

    Dave Kanzer, deputy chief engineer with the Colorado River District, which is managing the Lower Gunnison Project, said the Fire Mountain project will benefit some 5,000 acres of irrigated ground.

    The potential benefits to the Fire Mountain system were made evident last summer when drought taxed its water supply. Kanzer said Fire Mountain is what’s called a “water-short” system.

    It has a brief, limited water supply season, relying on water from Paonia Reservoir and unable to tap supplies from the Gunnison River mainstem.

    Kanzer said converting to sprinklers allows for switching to minimum- or low-till agriculture, which allows for carbon capture and accumulation of organic matter in soil, as an alternative to using chemical fertilizers.

    These changes in irrigation approaches also mean less concentration of salts and other chemicals in soil, less salt and selenium in waterways and improved river flows, which benefit wildlife, including endangered fish downstream.

    While several projects in the lower Gunnison basin have gotten underway as part of the umbrella Lower Gunnison Project, Kanzer said the Fire Mountain project is the first large one. A $5 million pipeline project in the Uncompahgre River Valley also is going forward this year, he said.

    The Lower Gunnison Project incorporates funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, local water conservancy and conservation districts, and irrigation companies including the Fire Mountain Canal and Reservoir Co.

    The project is the product of a diverse partnership and is focusing on improving agricultural water use efficiency in areas covered by the North Fork Water Conservancy District, Bostwick Park Water Conservancy District near Montrose, the Crawford Water Conservancy District and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association.

    Gunnison River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

    Report: “Environmental water transactions in the #ColoradoRiver Basin: A Closer look” — @Stanford #COriver #aridification

    From Stanford University Water in the West News (Devon Ryan):

    A new report shows environmental water transactions are happening more and more in the U.S., particularly short-term deals that allow irrigators to conserve or forgo water use for short periods of time.

    Use it or lose it. Historically, that was the prevailing understanding amongst water rights holders throughout the Western United States. Farmers, ranchers and other water right holders had to use all of their allocation or risk forfeiting their rights, which could endanger their operations in the future should they run into a dry year. Thus, there was no incentive or even ability in some cases to leave water instream for recreation, fish populations, ecological restoration, or other positive environmental uses. However, over the last 30 years, state laws have relaxed to allow voluntary transfers of water for environmental uses (also known as environmental water transactions) without risking the farm.

    A new report released today by Stanford’s Water in the West program takes a detailed look at these transactions in five states in the Colorado River Basin: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. A previous study showed that Colorado River Basin states lag behind some other western states in laws that facilitate changing water rights to environmental uses for extended periods of time. The new report shows that irrigators and conservation groups are using short term deals that require no administrative participation by the state.

    “What was most surprising is how many short-term deals set up by water right holders and conservation groups were happening in the Basin,” said Leon Szeptycki, Executive Director of Water in the West and lead author on the report. “These deals don’t involve a formal change in water right but they nonetheless accomplish the goal of conserving water and leaving more instream.”

    While they don’t legally protect water instream, flexible approaches, such as split-season leases where water right holders agree not to irrigate during the latter part of the growing season, enhance local water security and farming and ranching flexibility, while benefiting the environment with more water for fish, aquatic habitat, and recreation.

    The most notable program for informal water transactions was the System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP). Ending this year after a four-year operation period, the program was designed to test the feasibility of enhancing conservation and water security by compensating ranchers and farmers for reducing their water use. Improving instream flow for the environment turned out to be a positive co-benefit and helped Wyoming have the highest number of transactions out of the five states researched with 47 from 2014 to 2018. Conservation organizations such as Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy helped facilitate many of these transactions and worked with landowners to develop eligible projects.

    “What we found is that transactions in the Basin are increasing and it seems mostly due to increased funding through programs like SCPP,” said Szeptycki. “There’s also a greater willingness on the part of landowners to experiment with short term options that don’t commit them to these decisions in the longer term.”

    The work follows a previous report which analyzed the laws and policies regarding formal transfers of water rights to environmental uses in Colorado River Basin states and compared them, along with Oregon, considered a policy leader in this field. That report showed that the Colorado River Basin states were lagging behind those in the Columbia River Basin which had more developed mechanisms and policies for transferring water to the environment.

    “There’s a natural connection between water conservation, water security and stream flow,” said David Pilz, Director at AMP Insights and co-author on the report. “Embracing flexible and creative approaches to increasing flow instream is potentially a win-win-win.”

    This report is part of a series undertaken by Stanford’s Water in the West Program in collaboration with AMP Insights and other experts and was funded by the Walton Family Foundation. More on this series can be found here.

    Media Contact

    Leon Szeptycki, 650-721-3047

    Devon Ryan, 650-497-0444

    Colorado River Basin. Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado