Newly inaugurated Governor Jared Polis had a low-key and positive start on water. His natural resource transition included Hickenlooper’s in-house water expert, John Stulp. Water policy in his State of the State address was only one paragraph, but it succinctly supported the State Water Plan and advocated getting it funded. He linked Colorado’s water to its agricultural needs, which is one of the key principles of the plan. That is, preserving agriculture in Colorado requires intelligent and prudent water management.
State of the State on Water
“The lifeblood of our agriculture industry is water – which is why we must commit to a bipartisan and sustainable funding source for the Colorado Water Plan. Governor Hickenlooper, along with the leadership of John Stulp, did extraordinary work bringing together a coalition of Coloradans from all corners of our state to create the Water Plan. Now we’re going to do our part by implementing it.” State of the State address, Jan. 10, 2019
Dealing with the water gap that is well identified in the State Plan is essential to protect irrigated agriculture and support the state’s quality of life and economy. The largest number of residential, business and agricultural water users are in the Arkansas and Platte basins. Their needs must be balanced with other users and uses, including recreation, wildlife and aesthetics.
From the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District via The Monte Vista Journal:
The San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District (SLVWCD) is seeking farmers for a pilot project in 2019 to cost-share on the purchase and installation of soil moisture probes. The project will include soil mapping and placement of probes that will give farmers immediate access to soil moisture data in their fields through an online portal and smartphone app. The goal of the effort is to determine if this data can help farmers with their irrigation decisions and lead to water conservation.
The project is open to farmers in parts of Alamosa, Conejos, Rio Grande and Saguache counties. The SLVWCD will contribute up to $2,000 per quarter section of land. The financial cost to the farmer will vary, depending on the selected vendor. Farmers are allowed to leverage other incentive programs such as RCPP to meet their cost-share requirement.
Participating farmers will select a vendor who is able to complete detailed soil mapping of each field. The vendor will then install soil moisture probes in accordance with the recommendations from the soil mapping. The vendor will also provide software that will allow farmers to access real-time weather information and soil moisture data from either a cell-phone application or a web-site portal.
Participants will be required to share the following data with the SLVWCD: The Water District Structure Identification (WDID) of the well or diversion structure used to irrigate the field; the annual quantity of water applied in water years 2013-2018 by the WDID structure and other water sources; the quantity of water applied on a minimum of a monthly basis for any year(s) enrolled in the pilot program; and soil mapping and soil moisture probe data.
At the end of the program’s first year, the average water application data will be compared to 2013-2018 in an effort to determine if use of the soil moisture probes improved water conservation.
Funding for the project was provided by the San Luis Valley Conservation and Connection Initiative and the Colorado Water Conservation Board Colorado Water Plan Grant Program.
To apply for the program contact Matt at the SLVWCD at 589-2230 or firstname.lastname@example.org by Feb, 28.
Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis took the oath of office, in a ceremony that included poets and blessings from a variety of faith leaders. Thursday, the state’s 43rd governor presented his first state of the state address under a theme of “A Colorado for All.”
“The state of our state is solid. It is strong. It is successful. It is daring. And it is bold,” one of Polis’ favorite watchwords and one that he repeated eight times during the speech….
On agriculture, Polis pointed out that “volatile commodities markets, a damaging trade war from Washington” and an increasingly serious water shortage are making life harder for those in the ag industry. He said his pick for ag commissioner — Kate Greenberg, formerly of the National Young Farmers Coalition — will focus on the future of farming.
Polis also pledged to a “bipartisan and sustainable funding source” for the state water plan, and to partner with groups like the Rocky Mountain Farmers’ Union to “reduce barriers to employee ownerships and to grow wages in the ag sector,” as well as expanding access to capital for the next generation of farmers.
Polis emphasized his commitment to renewable energy and addressing climate change, both which will require less dependence on fossil fuels. But he also pledged to find ways to take care of those who work in the energy industry. “Some of the hardest-working people in Colorado today work in the coal and oil-and-gas industries and we will not leave them behind,” he pledged. That means transitioning to good-paying jobs that take advantage of the skills and experience of those workers…
Polis later told reporters he would favor a 3 to 5 percent reduction in the income tax rate, a proposal contained in a bill introduced in the state Senate on Thursday.
Senate Bill 55 is sponsored by northeastern Colorado lawmakers Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling and Rep. Rod Pelton of Cheyenne Wells. Polis said he had not yet seen the bill as of Thursday, but it appears to match his proposal from the speech.
SB 55 would reduce the individual and the corporate state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.49 percent; and reduces the state alternative minimum tax by 0.14 percent. It has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee; no hearing date has yet been set…
“While it is important to look towards the future of agriculture, it’s vital not to forget the lessons the past has taught us,” said Colorado Farm Bureau president Don Shawcroft. “Support of all farmers and ranchers across the state is key, whether they are big or small, organic or conventional, young or old.”
As to the water plan, Shawcroft added that agriculture “is most profitable and most productive when farmers and ranchers have access to the water resources they need. Those resources can’t be tied up on the Front Range.”
On Monday, that committee is scheduled to review House Bill 1029, which would redraw the boundaries of the Republican River District. Democratic Rep. Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins is sponsoring the bill on behalf of the interim Water Resources Review Committee, and told this reporter that new boundaries will pull in well owners whose groundwater pumping is depleting the flow of the Republican as well as interfering with compact compliance. The district was drawn by the legislature in 2004 along a geographic ridge and now must be modified to include these additional well owners. Arndt said that those in the district pay $14.85 per irrigated acre for compact compliance; the well owners brought in under HB 1029 will also pay that fee.
The largest group of well owners to be brought into the district are located in Kit Carson and Cheyenne counties. The redrawn boundaries also would bring in a small portion of Washington County.
Polis’ uber-reasonable tone had a disarming effect. Who would profess to be against early childhood education or lower health-care costs? The new governor artfully framed long-contentious issues as solvable so long as lawmakers have the state’s best interests at heart…
Other items that resonated with rural communities: supporting the outdoor recreation economy, but “doubling down” on supporting the state’s agricultural producers. That means protecting the industry’s lifeblood — water. “We must commit to a bipartisan and sustainable funding source for the Colorado Water Plan,” Polis said…
Infastructure — broadband, roads, public transit — all need investment and funding sources. Polis’ framed his call for 100 percent renewable energy as “not just about climate change,” but saving money for consumers withe cheaper energy and “making sure the good-paying green jobs of the future are created right here in Colorado.”
The governor’s speech hit on all the points meaningful for his supporters without causing undue fear for the rest of the state — with the possible exception of oil and gas companies and “influential” corporations. Polis indicated he wants to let communities have more say about industrial activities withing their borders and he wants to make the tax code more fair. That means closing loopholes that benefit corporations.
In his first major policy speech in office, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis outlined an optimistic and ambitious plan for his first year in office and promised to work to make law his lofty goals regarding education, climate change, health care, infrastructure and energy and to work to keep Colorado “the best state in the nation.”
He won applause early in his speech when he acknowledged the “record-setting number of women” now serving in the General Assembly – second in the U.S. to Utah. And he received another standing ovation for a thinly-veiled dig at the Trump administration.
“Here in Colorado, we treat each other with respect. We reject efforts to intimidate immigrant families, or tear children from their parents’ arms,” Polis said. “We don’t tolerate bigotry or discrimination of any kind. And we don’t accept hostage-taking as a form of governance. … So, in the spirit of putting problem-solving over partisanship, let’s work together.”
Regarding energy, Polis reiterated his commitment to Colorado using 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 and said there would be no more doubting the effects of climate change.
“Climate change is a scientific reality. It’s real. There’s no pretending otherwise for farmers and ranchers wo are facing historic water shortages. There’s no pretending otherwise for the 46,000 men and women who work in Colorado’s ski industry and see their jobs threatened by decreased snowpack,” Polis said. “And there will be no pretending otherwise in this administration.”
He said that his administration would also “do right by all the men and women in today’s energy workforce” and acknowledge the state’s coal and oil and gas workers, saying, “We will not leave them behind.”
“We will embrace the skills and experience these Coloradans bring to the table. Their help will be needed and rewarded at every single step of this transition,” Polis said. “And we will support the communities these jobs have sustained, to ensure they can continue to thrive in the renewable-energy economy.”
But at the same time, Polis hinted that he would allow for local control over some industries, like oil and gas, which several Front Range communities have called for in the face of new fracking development.
“Just as we stand up for workers and good jobs, so too must we stand up for our communities and their right to have a voice when it comes to industrial activities within their borders,” he said. “It’s time for us to take meaningful action to address the conflicts between oil-and-gas drilling operations and the neighborhoods they impact, and to make sure that all of our communities have clean air and water.”
The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District is seeking a new water right to divert as much as 500 acre-feet of water a year from the Roaring Fork River as backup in case something happens to its primary water sources on East Snowmass Creek and Snowmass Creek.
Under the proposed right, the district could divert, at a point just downstream from Jaffee Park, as much as 9 cubic feet per second of water from the Roaring Fork and pump it up to Snowmass Village via a roughly 6-mile pipeline running along the Brush Creek valley.
The district calls the project the “Roaring Fork intake pipeline.”
“This is an insurance policy for the district,” district manager Kit Hamby said.
The district, whose service area includes the town of Snowmass Village, filed an application for the water right in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs on Dec. 31, 2017.
The proposed diversion point will allow the district to capture and reuse water that has flowed down Brush Creek from the district’s wastewater-treatment plant on the Snowmass golf course.
The diversion would deliver water from the river to a pumphouse located “river right” a few hundred yards below the put-in for the popular Toothache run on the Roaring Fork and about a mile above Woody Creek’s post office.
The project’s initial pump station would be built on what is now private land, and the pipeline would come up along the river, cross it and then head up the Brush Creek valley, where other pump stations would be used to move the water.
The Roaring Fork water would be sent either to the district’s wastewater-treatment plant, which sits under the Village Express chairlift at the Snowmass Ski Area, or to Ziegler Reservoir, which holds 252 acre-feet of water.
From Ziegler, which sits on the divide between the Snowmass Creek and the Brush Creek basins, the district can gravity-feed the water to the rest of its system.
“This is a project that probably won’t happen for years, maybe even decades, and it may never happen,” Hamby said, noting it’s in the category of “long-term resiliency planning.”
“We’d have to have some catastrophic event in Snowmass Creek to move forward with this,” he said, referencing a drought, landslide or wildfire. “If we were to lose that source of water, we’d need to go to another source of water, and we wouldn’t want that source of water to be in Snowmass Creek.”
Hamby said there is no current cost estimate on the project.
Given the project’s long-range nature, he said, “In today’s dollars, (an estimate is) just about meaningless.”
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, which filed a statement of opposition in the district’s water-court case, holds a series of “instream flow” rights in the Roaring Fork meant to leave water in the river to benefit the environment.
The state agency’s rights include a 1985 right in the section between Maroon Creek and the Fryingpan River of 30 cfs from Oct. 1 to March 31 and 55 cfs from April 1 to Sept. 30, and Hamby said the district intends to honor those instream flow rights, and won’t divert if the river is too low.
The district also plans to use the 500 acre-feet of water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir, on the Fryingpan River above Basalt, as a backup supply water so that the new water right does not get “called,” or turned off, by senior downstream water rights on the Colorado River above Grand Junction.
If the senior water rights call out upstream junior water rights, instead of turning of the diversion into its new pipeline, the district would release the water it owns in Ruedi to flow down the Fryingpan through Basalt and onto the Colorado River.
The district has existing water rights to divert out of East Snowmass Creek as many as 5 cfs, which the district can gravity-feed down a pipeline to Ziegler Reservoir.
Hamby said about 96 percent of the water used daily in the resort town comes from the East Snowmass Creek diversion point, at a steady flow of about 2 cfs.
The district also has a right to divert as much as 6 cfs out of Snowmass Creek, just downstream from the Campground lift. It can then pump that water uphill to Ziegler.
Hamby said about 2 percent of the water used by the district now comes from Snowmass Creek, and most of that is used for snowmaking.
The Ziegler effect
Until 2013, the district provided water for snowmaking directly from Snowmass Creek, but a complex instream-flow right held by the CWCB limited the amount of water available.
Now, the district provides water for snowmaking directly out of Ziegler Reservoir, buffering the creek and allowing the ski area’s snowmaking system to turn on and go all out.
Expansion of Ziegler Reservoir started in 2011, and was delayed when the bones,tusks and horns of prehistoric animals started emerging from the bottom of the reservoir during excavation. The reservoir started holding water in 2013. According to Hamby, Aspen Skiing Co. put $3.75 million into the project, which cost $10.7 million.
The district also has a right to divert .77 cfs of water out of West Fork Brush Creek, a tributary of Brush Creek that forms Garrett Gulch at the ski area.
Hamby says the project is not meant to simply allow the district to use more water or to allow the town of Snowmass to grow more than it has to date.
He said he’s proud the district has driven down the amount of water used by it and town residents, adding that Roaring Fork water is truly seen as backup.
In 2002, the district was annually providing 660 million gallons, or 2,025 acre-feet, of water. Today, the district is annually providing 425 million gallons, or 1,304 acre-feet.
Hamby credits the reductions to the district’s aggressive leak-detection and repair program and high-tech smart meters, which let homeowners closely track their indoor- and outdoor-water use.
A status conference in the ongoing water-court case is set for Jan. 3.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborated on this story with the Snowmass Sun, which published the story on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2019.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, along with others, are looking for ways to fund the Colorado Water Plan, the product of a collaborative effort during Gov. John Hickenlooper’s term in office designed to assess and meet the state’s water needs for years to come.
That plan calls for doing many things over the years, not the least of which is to create about 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage, and save another 400,000 acre-feet through conservation efforts. Estimates to achieve all of its goals, however, have been as high as $20 billion.
As a result, Coram says there’s no time like the present to find long-term funding sources to pay for it, and he doesn’t believe that it can come from severance taxes, which are collected by companies that extract natural resources, such as oil and gas drilling.
Not only are severance taxes subject to huge swings in how much the state can collect because of market forces, but Front Range legislators are always quick to dip into that money when the economy goes sour, he said.
To date, they’ve done that to the tune of more than $400 million in recent years, money the Legislature has yet to pay back.
“The fact is, if we are going to meet our needs, the Colorado River is certainly overallocated and everybody’s got their eye on it,” Coram said. “We’ve got to come up with a sustainable funding source and not rely on severance taxes, which the General Assembly goes in and robs when it feels like it.”
Estimates project that about $100 million a year would be needed to implement the water plan.
Though Coram said he’s not yet sure what funding source to turn to, he’s heard talk of special taxes to pay for it all, such as a surcharge on all water users and a special bottle fee. He predicted that there is no single source that could raise the money needed to implement the plan.
If a new tax is to be a source, it will have to be placed before the voters as required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
“We’ve got to create a designated funding mechanism for water infrastructure, conservation and storage, and every piece to the puzzle has to be a part of it,” Coram said.
“My concern is the Front Range wants us to change our life so they don’t have to change theirs. We’ve got to move slowly, but we’ve got to put some cash in the till to do these things.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Don Catlin, R-Montrose, expects to be working on a water-related measure of his own.
Catlin plans to introduce a bill to strengthen easements for irrigation ditches. He says a problem is reoccurring all around Colorado as various areas of the state become more urbanized.
He said an increasing number of city dwellers are buying property in rural areas that include easements for irrigation ditches, but they don’t fully understand why those easements exist.
As a result, some of those new property owners are treating the ditches as their own private streams, even placing cobblestones in them as part of their landscaping, Catlin said.
When ditch riders try to access their systems, they’re running into conflicts with these homeowners, including being sued.
“It’s an urban versus rural issue, but I think one of the big problems is a lot of people don’t understand water needs,” Catlin said. “This would be a way of sharpening up that right. A lot of these urban people move in, they don’t want you to walk up the easement to check your ditch. That can’t be right.”
Rep.-elect Matt Soper, R-Delta, who also is looking for ways to fund the water plan, is considering a bill to expand the state’s grant program for school construction and infrastructure. He’s also working on measures to crack down on sexually explicit electronic messages that are sent to juveniles, and a measure to require all local governments to post meeting notices online.
From the The Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (Al Pfister) via The Pagosa Sun:
The Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP) is coordinating an effort to identify opportunities to optimize the use of our water resources in the face of a drier and warmer climate.
Rivers and streams provide a bounty of beneficial uses — agricultural, municipal, industrial, recreational and environmental. The WEP’s goal is to promote cooperative efforts to ensure that all uses are met.
The geographic area of focus includes the Upper San Juan River watershed, to include the San Juan, Piedra, Navajo and Chama rivers and their tributaries.
The WEP wants to work with all water users to identify opportunities for cooperative projects that will enhance our ability to use our water resources in recognition of the “prior appropriation doctrine” of water use in Colorado. This is a locally driven effort supported by funding from the Colorado Water Plan.
Over the past few months, the WEP has formed a steering committee comprised of representatives from the agricultural, municipal and industrial, recreational and environmental communities. The committee has developed a proposed framework for moving forward. Goals and objectives have been drafted and are awaiting stakeholder input, involvement and refinement. More details can be found at http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan/smp.
We want to secure input from the public to make sure our efforts adequately address the concerns of the community. A public meeting will be held with the goal of informing all stakeholders interested in the future of our water resources. The meeting is Jan. 10, 2019, at the CSU Extension Office from 6 to 8 p.m. Light snacks will be provided.
The group is also offering the opportunity to offer input through a survey. You can find it on the website. We hope you can attend and provide your input on this important topic for our community.
On Nov. 15 Wyoming started using small airplanes to flare silver iodide into snowstorms that roll into the Sierra Madre and Medicine Bow mountains, north of the Colorado-Wyoming border. North Dakota-based Weather Modification Inc. operates the planes. Since starting this fall, WMI has seeded clouds over southern Wyoming four times.
Now, the Jackson County Water Conservancy District wants to expand the practice near the headwaters of the North Platte River in northern Colorado. The district is seeking a permit from the state’s Water Conservation Board to begin aerial seeding during winter storms.
Recent studies have shown cloud seeding can marginally increase snowpack in theory. But a 2018 study from researchers at the University of Wyoming and the University of Colorado said big questions still remain regarding the practice’s effectiveness.
If the state approves the permit, this would be Colorado’s first aerial cloud seeding program.
Wyoming’s program costs the state roughly $425,000, with Cheyenne’s water utility contributing $45,000. The state also oversees cloud seeding towers in the Wind River mountain range, which are partially paid for by water agencies in Arizona, California and Nevada.
Some of Colorado’s cloud seeding operations receive funding from the same states, all in the Colorado River’s lower basin. Earlier this year, water managers in the seven basin states signed a new agreement to continue cloud seeding operations in the southern Rockies, allocating up to $2 million annually. The practice was included as a way to increase water supplies in Drought Contingency Plans being negotiated now, and recently approved by Colorado’s top water authority, the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Aerial seeding in northern Colorado could begin later this month.