Douglas County says no to developers’ San Luis Valley #water export proposal — @WaterEdCO #RioGrande

Construction workers build a single family home in Castle Rock. The community needs new surface water supplies to reduce its reliance on non-renewable groundwater. Credit: Jerd Smith

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

Douglas County officials said Tuesday they would not use their COVID-relief funding to help finance a controversial $400 million-plus proposal to export farm water from the San Luis Valley to their fast-growing, water-short region.

In a statement the commissioners said the federal rules would not allow the funds to be spent to help finance early work on the proposed project, and that it faced too many legal hurdles to justify the time and money the county would need to devote to it.

The county made public Tuesday two extensive legal memos, based on its outside attorneys’ review of engineering, and legal and regulatory requirements the project would have to adhere to in order to proceed. The memos formed the basis for the county’s rejection of the funding request.

“The Board of Douglas County Commissioners has made the decision, based on objective legal recommendations from outside counsel, that American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds are inapplicable to the RWR proposal and that RWR has significant additional hurdles to overcome in order to demonstrate not only a ‘do no harm’ approach, but also a ‘win-win’ for Douglas County and the San Luis Valley,” the board said.

The proposal comes from Renewable Water Resources (RWR), a well-connected Denver development firm that includes former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens.

Among other things, the memos said that RWR’s claim that there was enough water in the valley’s aquifers to support the export plan, was incorrect, based on hydrologic models presented over the course of several public work sessions.

The county’s attorneys also said the proposal did not comply with the Colorado Water Plan, which outlines how the state will meet future water needs. That lack of compliance means that Douglas County would likely not win any potential state funding for the export proposal.

County Commissioner Lora Thomas came out against the idea early, with Commissioner Abe Layden joining her this week in voting against the proposal. Commissioner George Teal voted for the proposal.

“I am ecstatic that I got a second vote to stop it,” Thomas said. “The hurdles are too steep for us to get over. I don’t see a future for it.”

RWR declined an interview request regarding the decision, but in a statement it said it planned to continue working with the county to see if the legal concerns raised could be resolved.

“Our team is eager to address the county’s remaining questions as raised in the legal analysis. We are confident in our ability to mitigate any areas of concern,” it said.

Opposition to the proposal sprang up quickly last December after RWR submitted its $10 million funding request to the commissioners.

Critics, including the Rio Grande Water Conservation District in Alamosa, argued that no water should be taken from the San Luis Valley because it is already facing major water shortages due to the ongoing drought and over-pumping of its aquifers by growers. The valley faces a looming well-shutdown if it can’t reduce its water use enough to bring its fragile water system back into balance.

RWR said its plan to shut down agricultural wells could help the valley, but many disagreed.

State Sen. Cleave Simpson, who also manages the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said in a statement that he was pleased with Douglas County’s decision. “This is good news for the San Luis Valley and it speaks to the hundreds and perhaps thousands of people who spoke out against this unviable proposal.”

Environmental groups also came out in opposition, as have numerous elected leaders including Democrats Gov. Jared Polis, Attorney General Phil Weiser, U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, as well as Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, who represents the valley.

Douglas County does not deliver water to its residents, but relies on more than a dozen individual communities and water districts to provide that service. And they are all facing the need to develop new water supplies.

But two of the largest providers, Parker Water & Sanitation District and Castle Rock Water, have said they would not support the RWR proposal because they had already spent millions of dollars developing new, more sustainable, politically acceptable projects. Those projects include a South Platte River pipeline that is being developed in partnership with farmers in the northeastern corner of the state.

What comes next for RWR’s proposal isn’t clear yet. RWR spokeswoman Monica McCafferty said the firm’s attorneys were still reviewing the legal memos the county released Tuesday.

RWR has said previously that it might ask lawmakers to change state water laws to remove some of the legal barriers to its proposal.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

A powerful sprinkler capable of pumping more than 2,500 gallons of water per minute irrigates a farm field in the San Luis Valley June 6, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

Click the link to read “Douglas County commissioners reject using federal money for water project, will continue talks” on the Colorado Politics website (Marianne Goodland). Here’s an excerpt:

At the heart of Tuesday’s decision: Two memos from water attorneys regarding the project that has been kept under wraps since mid-March. Commissioners authorized their release to the public Tuesday.

The first memo, dated March 23, is from attorneys Stephen Leonhardt and April Hendricks of the firm Burns, Figa & Will. Its executive summary said there is “no unappropriated water” available in the confined aquifer, the source for the RWR project. In addition, RWR has not come up with an augmentation plan in sufficient detail to demonstrate that its plan will meet the requirements of the state water rules and avoid injury to other water rights, the memo added. The RWR project “is not consistent” with the state’s water plan, so no state dollars would likely be available for it; and that Douglas County will face numerous hurdles to obtain federal, state and county permits for the project after a decree from state water court is entered. “RWR does not intend to obtain permits before going to Water Court, and RWR’s current proposal calls for Douglas County to bear all responsibility for obtaining the required permits for this project. Obtaining the required federal, state, and county permits likely will take several years, at a substantial financial cost to Douglas County, with a risk that one or more permits will be denied.”

The May 2 memo notes that Leonhardt and Douglas County attorney Lance Ingalls attended a meeting with RWR’s attorneys at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Shreck as well as RWR principal John Kim on April 1…

The May 2 memo is divided into several sections, including water availability, sale of water rights, water supply impacts, sustainability of the closed aquifer, and dry-up of irrigated agricultural lands. Among the findings:

  • Questions on whether ARPA money could be used for the project
  • Recognition that an RWR-supported community fund would not mitigate economic losses from the dry-up of irrigated lands and impacts on related businesses
  • Opposition from the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which is managed by state Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, a major opponent of the projects
  • Difficulty in rehabilitating the land once the water is removed
  • The closed aquifer cannot sustain any new pumping, and that a buyer of water rights could only use those rights for their originally decreed purposes, meaning RWR would have to go to water court to change those uses from agricultural to municipal, which could mean a lengthy court battle
  • Both Laydon and Teal directed the commission’s staff to continue working on a deal with RWR that does not use ARPA money.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    Douglas County will not use COVID funds on San Luis Valley #water project: County may consider proposal in future, but Laydon’s vote puts on brakes for now — The #CastleRock News-Press #RioGrande

    Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

    Click the link to read the article on the Castle Rock News Press website (Elliot Wenzler). Here’s an excerpt:

    The Douglas County commissioners have decided not to use American Rescue Plan Act dollars on a controversial water supply project but may consider it again in the future. Commissioner Abe Laydon, the decisive vote on the issue, announced his vote during a May 24 work session…

    Laydon said his decision was because the county’s outside legal counsel concluded that the project was not eligible for ARPA funds and recommended the county not participate…

    One issue outlined in the memo is that Renewable Water Resources has not formed an augmentation plan — as would be required by law — showing how they will avoid injury to other water rights through their project. Commissioner Lora Thomas has been against the proposal since it was brought before the county and said she is not in support of continuing any conversations with RWR or paying for outside legal counsel to continue assessing it.

    Governor Polis signs bills to reduce #groundwater use, fund water #conservation projects — #Colorado Newsline

    Irrigation equipment on a farm in Montrose County, Colorado on May 29, 2021 with Lone Cone in the background. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

    Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed two bills into law that are aimed at conserving a precious and dwindling resource in the state: water. For the bill signings, the governor traveled to the San Luis Valley, an important agricultural region where farmers face mounting challenges from extreme drought driven by climate change.

    Republican Sens. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, plus Reps. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat, and Marc Catlin, a Montrose Republican, sponsored the first bill, Senate Bill 22-28. It puts $60 million of federal COVID-19 relief money into a new “groundwater compact compliance and sustainability” fund to help finance projects that reduce groundwater use in the Rio Grande and Republican river basins.

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    Such projects might include efforts to “buy and retire” wells used for irrigation as well as portions of irrigated farmland, with the goal of restoring water to underground aquifers and helping the communities meet deadlines to reduce their water use. The Colorado Water Conservation Board can allocate money from the groundwater fund based on recommendations from the boards of directors for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the Republican River Water Conservation District.

    “The timing of the availability of federal dollars and the growing sense of urgency in both basins created a unique opportunity that will serve both of these communities well,” Simpson told the Alamosa Citizen in April.

    The other bill Polis signed, House Bill 22-1316, provides millions of dollars for construction projects approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The bill’s legislative sponsors included Reps. Karen McCormick, D-Longmont, and Catlin, along with Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Simpson. Among the local and regional projects funded are:

    • $3.8 million for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. By increasing water flows through the central Platte River habitat area — which stretches across northern Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska — the project is aimed at improving conditions for the interior least tern, pallid sturgeon, piping plover and whooping crane.
    • $2 million to support the state’s efforts to comply with the Republican River compact, which was first negotiated between Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska in the early 1940s. The compact governs the three states’ use of the water resources in the Republican River basin, which begins on the plains of eastern Colorado and flows through northwest Kansas and eastern Nebraska.
    • $500,000 for the Arkansas River Decision Support System. The Arkansas River DSS project involves collecting data on characteristics like climate and groundwater in the Arkansas River basin, which covers the southeast quadrant of the state, and analyzing the data to help inform future decisions about water use.

    Polis, a Democrat, signed both bills into law at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District offices in Alamosa. According to a statement from Polis’ office, the governor then joined state and national officials in the nearby town of Center to champion a major development for the San Luis Valley’s potato industry.

    The U.S. recently began exporting potatoes — including those grown in the Valley — to new regions in Mexico under an agreement reached late last year between the two countries. Previously, potato exports were limited to a 16-mile border zone.

    “This agreement, paired with the critical work the Valley is doing to protect and conserve our water, will make a major positive difference for our farmers, meaning more money in the pockets of hardworking Coloradans,” Polis said in a statement. “Colorado is strategically positioned to lead the nation in potato exports to Mexico.”

    Colorado sent its first shipment of potatoes to Mexico under the new agreement last week, according to the statement.

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    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    Subterranean Ogallala Blues — @BigPivots

    Horizontal sprinkler. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

    Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

    A Kansas farm boy goes home to understand his role in groundwater depletion. He finds the culture and politics as confused and confounding as the geology of the Ogallala Aquifer itself.

    Simple metrics of the Ogallala Aquifer astound. This somewhat interconnected body of water underlying the high plains accounts for one-third of all irrigation in the United States. It supports one-sixth of the world’s annual grain production.

    Water in the underground sands, silts, and gravels stretching from South Dakota to Texas – including parts of eastern Colorado — was deposited over millions of years. Now, in not even a flutter of geologic time, barely more than the lives of the oldest baby boomers, this most precious resource has been mined nearly to extinction across broad swaths of the High Plains.

    This is particularly true along its edges, such as in New Mexico, but even in some central portions, including southwestern Kansas. Wells can be drilled deeper, but that can only hasten the reckoning that many seem to want to deny. The seeming plentitude of today manifested in the many circles of hay and alfalfa irrigated by center-pivot sprinklers simply cannot continue indefinitely. Evidence of precipitous decline abounds.

    Lucas Bessire, an anthropologist and native son of southwestern Kansas, explores this depletion in his masterful “Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains.” For good reason it was a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award.

    Depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer has produced several books plus other journalism. Bessire has a more narrow but interesting approach. Instead of trying to tell this across the eight-state region, he focuses on southwestern Kansas through the lens of four generations of his family: a great grandfather who was a pioneer in this new groundwater mining of the mid-20th century, his grandmother who was at its ragged hard-to-reconcile edges, and a father from whom Bessire was at least semi-estranged but who becomes, in this book, a partner in detective work.
    Not least Bessire’s book is of his own journey to the place of his upbringing to examine it with new eyes, as if a stranger, and in that way probe his own complicity.

    Always in these pages Bessire looks over his shoulder, both to his family but also of the region’s history, rife with depletions of earlier times. In this, he seeks to make sense of the present so as to take responsibility for the future. In this struggle to define what it will take to live in a more sustainable way in the world, he takes guidance from his long-departed grandmother. She had in her life struggled to end her dependency on alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. The first step, she wrote in notes now a half-century old, “is to admit that I am not responsible for the past, but that I am accountable to tomorrow.”

    That observation borne of his grandmother’s pain is one for all of those of Ogallala Country – and, although Bessire does not dwell on this, all of humanity.

    Working through the many big ideas in “Running Out” never taxes. Every page has sentences to be savored and, in my case, paragraphs to be highlighted in yellow, for later savoring and deepened understandings.
    “Running Out” has a dreamy, confusing theme, one clearly intended. In his quest to understand, Bessire finds mazes of depletion, layers of deception, a dried river, and a waterless spring that was part of his family’s operation, an area where hydrologists now estimate three-quarters of the water has been removed. There are clouded memories, a strange mist, a numbing vapor, and a ghostly presence.

    Always, there is ghost of his grandmother who in her life was subjected by her handlers to electroshock therapy in an attempt to create amnesia. She spent the rest of her life, says Bessire, trying to recapture the water of her youth that had disappeared.

    There are also blurred boundaries, conundrums, and contradictions, plus the confounding logic used to justify the depletion. Meetings of the groundwater management districts that he and his father attend showcase this distorted logic.

    These districts, under Kansas Law, have authority over the depletion. At one meeting, he attends in expectation of debate about the future of the aquifer, he instead finds blandness, words, and a mood “strangely flattened and trivial, as if veiled behind some gauzy medium that muffled words and distorted time.” The gatherings of aging white men he describes as dishonesty disguised by dullness.

    Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue

    At one of these meetings, “John,” whom he describes as the official playing the part of emcee, belabors the distinction between “impairment,” a word he discourages, and his strong preference, “drawdown allowances.” The talk then extends to the solution, imported water.

    Another meeting produces more fuzzy logic: Imposing limits on pumping does not provide an answer because it would force the transition of irrigated land to less valuable non-irrigated farm land and hence a yanking of the economic platform for the region. As such, depletive irrigation must continue. Again, the answer to the inevitable lies in importing water from elsewhere, presumably with the federal government footing the bill for a canal (and pumps) from the Mississippi River.

    Ogallala Aquifer. Credit: Big Pivots

    That solution is only slightly less improbable than the giant machines that some envision for sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
    The federal government played a role in creating this mess through its insurance programs for crops that favor irrigation, says Bessire. Even more clearly he blames corporate agriculture, the majority owners of the land in this county of southwestern Kansas and the mostly hidden influence that makes the groundwater districts forums for doublespeak. A few farmers use disproportionate amounts of water, and those farmers advocating for restraint in pumping have little voice. The exploitation, he says, is anti-democratic.

    Bessire’s four chapters – Lines, Bones, Dust, Clouds – are carefully crafted, at least partly a result of a year’s fellowship at Harvard University. The prose constantly delights. Driving in the night with his father, he observes “the spinning pivots, under the turning stars.” On another trip through “towns with courthouse squares and false fronts” he sees “emptied houses (that are) falling down in arrested motion.”

    Exploitation, extinction, and extermination are subthemes to his focus on depletion. He tells of the killing of the once vast bison herds that virtually disappeared in a burst of gluttony in 1872-74. The buffalo bones at the railroad siding in Granada, in southeastern Colorado, were 12 feet high, 12 feet wide, and a half-mile long. Most of the buffalo hunters made no money, he observed – a metaphor, if you will, for the farmers depleting the aquifer today.

    The buffalo extermination was also a somewhat conscious decision, a way to force Native American tribes off the land so it could be farmed and ranched. Part of this was the Sand Creek Massacre, whose site in Colorado, just across the border from Kansas, he visited in the company of his grandmother in the 1990s. He wonders at his own lack of understanding of this history that was prelude to his existence there, a child of the plains. “We lived among the rubble of genocide and dispossession in a landscape that had been transformed,” he says.
    No mention is made of critical race theory, but this conclusion does invite comparisons.

    The book has no spare baggage. It has disciplined focus reflected in its relative brevity that belies enormous research. There’s no fat here. The bibliography cites more than 400 books and other sources. His telling of the Sand Creek Massacre, something I have ready deeply about, illustrates this depth.

    One might have wished for just a bit more in two areas. A groundwater district in northwestern Kansas in 2017 voluntarily adopted restrictions on the pace of decline. Bessire explains this but does not identify what was different there, why corporate interests did not prevail.

    The second element is about the end result of the water pumping. Most crops grown with Ogallala drafting feed livestock. Bessire addresses this – really, it’s at the heart of his book:

    “The scale of industrial farming is staggering,” he says. “Southwest Kansas is home to some of the nation’s largest corporate feeders, beef- and poultry-packing plants, slaughterhouses, dairies, milk-drying plants, and hog farms. Multinational meat-packing companies operate slaughterhouses that process several thousand cattle each day. All are billion-dollar businesses. They drive farmers’ choices to produce corn, silage, sorghum, or alfalfa. Their profits depend on aquifer deletion. In other words, there is a multibillion-dollar corporate interest to prevent regulation and to pump the water until it’s gone.”

    I might have liked to have seen this livestock story developed more fully, another full chapter, actually. Maybe it’s another book, a sequel.

    Trucks deliver the corn harvest at a feedlot near Imperial, Neb. Photo/Allen Best

    The cost of eating meat is heavily, heavily subsidized and cannot continue at its current pace. We are borrowing against the opportunities of future generations with no clear way to pay that debt. I am, by the way, a meat-eater.

    This conclusion was derived in part from my own research into the Ogallala in the context of eastern Colorado. My work has been marginal. My commissioned assignments have been to extol the efforts made to innovate. I was not given a blank check to investigate, nor did I take a second-mortgage on the house while I asked the hard questions that Bessire did (he camped out in the barn of his father).

    But I sensed what Bessire explains in his opening, that “depletion of the High Plains aquifer is a defining drama of our times. Within it, planetary crises of ecologies, democracy, and interpretation are condensed. It demands a response.”

    To that I will add a quote from my most recent interviews, a water district official who said that ultimately Ogallala farmers are selling water. As such, he said, they should be mining the groundwater for high-value crops.

    Truth searching rarely comes easily. Geology can be very complex, too. In his opening passage, Bessire tells us about the difficulty of working through the politics and cultures of depletion.

    “The sediments are vertically stacked in layers. They are patchy and unevenly spread. Repetitive themes run between them: memory and amnesia, homelands and exile, holding on and letting go. At times, the layers flow together and connect. At others, they are interrupted and blocked.”
    That he emerged with a book worthy of being considered for the nation’s top book-writing award testifies to his success in navigating these physical and other subterranean passages.

    2022 #COleg: Turf replacement, wildfire, #groundwater sustainability funding among #water wins as #Colorado legislative session ends — @WaterEdCO

    Colorado State Capitol. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Larry Moriandi):

    The Colorado General Assembly adjourned its 2022 session on May 11. Among the water bills that passed, four share a common theme—funding. A rare confluence of new revenue sources led to strong bipartisan support of bills dealing with groundwater compact compliance and sustainability, state water plan projects, wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration, and urban turf replacement. A bill designed to strengthen Colorado’s water speculation laws failed.

    An orangethroat darter, one of the nine remaining native fish species in the Arikaree River. Photo: Jeremy Monroe, Freshwaters Illustrated.

    Groundwater compact compliance and sustainability

    Senate Bill 28 creates a Groundwater Compact Compliance and Sustainability Fund to help pay for the purchase and retirement of wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican and Rio Grande basins in northeast and south-central Colorado. It appropriates into the fund $60 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) revenue that had been transferred into the state’s Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will distribute the money based on recommendations from the Republican River Water Conservation District and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, with approval by the state engineer. These are one-time dollars that must be obligated by the end of 2024; if not spent by then, they will be used to support the state water plan.

    The bill seeks to reduce groundwater pumping connected to surface water flows in the Republican River to comply with a compact among Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. It will also help meet aquifer sustainability standards required by state statute and rules in the Rio Grande Basin, home to the San Luis Valley. To achieve those goals, 25,000 acres of irrigated land must be retired in the Republican Basin, and 40,000 acres in the Rio Grande, by 2029. If the targets are not met, the state engineer may have no choice but to shut down wells without compensation.

    Water sustains the San Luis Valley’s working farms and ranches and is vital to the environment, economy and livelihoods, but we face many critical issues and uncertainties for our future water supply. (Photo by Rio de la Vista.)

    Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, noted that agricultural production coming out of the two basins benefits the overall state economy, not just the local communities. “The state has some skin in the game,” he said, and the availability of ARPA revenue “presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to support the districts.

    Simpson emphasized that neither district is looking for a handout. The Republican has already assessed its water users over $140 million since 2004 to retire irrigated land and purchase or lease surface and groundwater to meet Colorado’s water delivery obligations. The Rio Grande district has taxed its farmers nearly $70 million since 2006 to take irrigated land out of production and has cut groundwater pumping by a third. Simpson requested $80 million from the Economic Recovery Task Force and, by demonstrating the interconnectivity between the state and local economies and the commitment already shown by the districts—along with strong bipartisan support from legislators—was able to secure the $60 million appropriation.

    State water plan projects

    Each year the Colorado General Assembly considers the CWCB’s “projects bill,” which, among other things, has included appropriations from CWCB’s Construction Fund to support grants for projects that help implement the state water plan in recent years. The funding source for those grants is different this year, with gambling revenue from Proposition DD, which the electorate passed in 2019, becoming available for the first time. Proposition DD legalized sports betting and levied a 10% tax on sports betting proceeds, with the majority of that revenue going into the Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund.

    House Bill 1316 appropriates $8.2 million from the fund for grants to help implement the state water plan; $7.2 million of that amount is from sports betting revenue. Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, said, “This is the first appropriation of funds from Proposition DD … and it looks like it’s starting to grow into what we had hoped.”

    The bill also appropriates $2 million to CWCB from its Construction Fund to help the Republican River Water Conservation District retire irrigated acreage. Rod Lenz, district president, said the district has doubled its water use fee on irrigators but that “we’re in need of short-term funding while we wait for that rate increase.” The $2 million in state revenue will help the district meet its 2024 interim target of retiring 10,000 acres of the 25,000 acres necessary to comply with the Republican River Compact by 2029. This is on top of the funds the district will receive from Senate Bill 28.

    A forest fire next to the Bitterroot River in Montana. UCLA-led research revealed that larger fires tend to be followed by larger increases in streamflow. | Photo by John MacColgan/Creative Commons

    Wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration

    Like Senate Bill 28, House Bill 1379 takes advantage of ARPA revenue by appropriating $20 million from the Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund for projects to restore, mitigate and protect watersheds from damage caused by wildfire-induced erosion and flooding. Testimony on the bill in the House Agriculture, Livestock & Water Committee emphasized how investing mitigation dollars now helps avoid spending even more on very expensive recovery efforts later.

    The bill allocates $3 million to the Healthy Forests and Vibrant Communities Fund to help communities reduce wildfire risks by promoting watershed resilience. It moves $2 million into the Wildfire Mitigation Capacity Development Fund for wildfire mitigation and fuel reduction projects. And $15 million goes to CWCB to fund watershed restoration and flood mitigation projects, and to help local governments and other entities apply for federal grants under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act related to water and natural resources management.

    Mrs. Gulch’s Blue gramma “Eyelash” patch August 28, 2021.

    Turf replacement

    While most of the focus at the Capitol in reducing water use has been on agriculture through retiring irrigated farmland, House Bill 1151 elevates urban turf replacement in importance. The bill requires CWCB to develop a statewide program to provide financial incentives for residential, commercial, institutional and industrial property owners to voluntarily replace non-native grasses with water-wise landscaping. It appropriates $2 million in general funds to a newly created Turf Replacement Fund and authorizes local governments, nonprofits and other entities to apply to CWCB for grants to help finance their programs. Landscape contractors, to whom individuals can apply for money to replace their lawns, are also eligible.

    Rep. Catlin pointed out that “50% of the water that comes from the tap and goes through the meter and into the house is used outside.”

    “We’re building ourselves a shortage,” he warned, “by continuing to use treated water for irrigation.” Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, added, “For too long the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains have borne the brunt of water conservation … but this is a bill that will give the tools to metro areas for them to play their fair part in this problem that is our drought.”

    WAM bought this 57-acre parcel as part of a $6 million deal in January 2020, leading some to suspect the company was engaging in investment water speculation. WAM’s activity in the Grand Valley helped prompt state legislators to propose a bill aimed at curbing speculation.
    CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Investment water speculation

    Senate Bill 29 was an attempt to strengthen protections against investment water speculation, defined as the purchase of agricultural water rights “with the intent, at the time of purchase, to profit from an increase in the water’s value in a subsequent transaction, such as the sale or lease of the water, or by receiving payment from another person for nonuse of all or a portion of the water.” It was aimed at curbing outside investors who may have little or no interest in agriculture from using the water right to maximize its value as the price of water increases during drought. It authorized the state engineer to investigate complaints of investment water speculation and, if found, to levy fines and prohibit the buyer from purchasing additional water rights for two years without the state engineer’s approval.

    The 2021 interim Water Resources Review Committee recommended the bill, but it was never viewed as more than a “placeholder.” Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, a co-sponsor of the bill, expressed her disappointment that the bill did not generate more engagement between the water community and policymakers. “I was certainly hopeful that by having a bill we would force conversation,” she said, “but it did not result in having some forthright ‘let’s get around a table and hammer this out.’” Members struggled with trying to balance concerns over speculation with protecting property rights. Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, the other co-sponsor of the bill, emphasized, “We are certainly not trying to take a farmer’s or rancher’s ability away from selling that water. In many cases that is their 401K, their retirement.”

    Opposition from water user groups in the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee sent a clear message: Existing legal requirements provide the necessary safeguards to address water speculation. Travis Smith, representing the Colorado Water Congress, said what’s needed is “having more voices, taking more time.”

    Senate Bill 29 was amended to strike the language in the bill and refer the issue to interim study. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who was chairing the committee, expressed his frustration: “We have an ineffective water group that won’t have a conversation with lawmakers anymore. When they have a bill they just take a position and quit working with people.”

    With that said he carried the bill over for further consideration, effectively killing it since this was the last committee meeting of the year. It’s unclear whether the issue will be studied this interim since it’s an election year and fewer committee meetings will be held.

    Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net.

    2022 #COleg: To help refill two struggling underground aquifers, #Colorado lawmakers set aside $60 million to retire irrigation wells and acres of farmland — #Colorado Public Radio

    Subdistrict 1 Program Manager Marisa Fricke clears paths for water to flow onto land the subdistrict owns. The property is one of the subdistrict’s investments in recharging the aquifer. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado lawmakers unanimously voted to set aside $60 million of federal COVID relief money to create a fund to help water users in two river basins meet groundwater sustainability targets. If signed by Gov. Jared Polis, the legislation would create a groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The money would be used to buy and retire groundwater wells used to irrigate farmland in the Rio Grande River basin in the south and the Republican River basin in the east to keep the water in underground aquifers that are struggling to keep up with drought and overuse…

    Farmers and ranchers in both river basins face rapidly approaching deadlines to reduce their water use, which are necessary to maintain interstate river agreements and preserve underground water supplies. If these goals aren’t met, state water officials say there could be alarming consequences — and thousands of well users could face water cuts.

    In the San Luis Valley, the state water engineer is requiring some groundwater well users to limit pumping because too many wells are all pulling from the same groundwater source. Chris Ivers, the program manager for two subdistricts in the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said farmers and ranchers have levied property taxes on themselves to fund similar local efforts to meet groundwater sustainability goals.

    Douglas County to release redacted Renewable #Water Resources memo with their decision — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    San Luis Valley irrigation crop circles. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website:

    DOUGLAS County will release a redacted version of an attorney memorandum at the same time it gives its decision on whether to move ahead with a proposal by Renewable Water Resources to transport water from San Luis Valley aquifers to the affluent metro-Denver suburb.

    The three county commissioners met for over an hour in a closed-to-the-public executive session Thursday to discuss which portions of water attorney Steve Leonhardt’s analysis and recommendations on the RWR plan would be redacted.

    “We will release our decision alongside this redacted memorandum,” said Commissioner Abe Laydon, chair of the board. A disappointed Commissioner Lora Thomas said she was under the impression a redacted version would be released as early as Thursday but now the release will occur at a future board work session.

    SLV WATER: Find more coverage of the RWR plan and other Valley water issues HERE

    Laydon said a “large majority” of the information contained in Leonhardt’s memorandum to the commissioners would be made public. Redacted would be any information privileged to Renewable Water Resources or any information that would harm Douglas County in any future water discussions. Personal information of individuals Laydon and Leonhardt said they met privately with in the San Luis Valley would also be redacted.

    Meanwhile, the SLV Ecosystem Council submitted 255 signatures to the Douglas County commissioners in opposition to the water exportation plan. In the letter, SLV Ecosystem Council Director Chris Canaly slammed the commissioners for canceling a public meeting in the San Luis Valley and for their treatment of water and environmental experts who took time to educate the commissioners on the Valley’s dire water situation.

    “… SLV representatives compiled critical research and presented significant facts and valuable findings that embody generations of historical water knowledge of the Rio Grande basin. Your reaction to this good faith effort has been complete dismissal, even disdain.”

    [San Luis] Valley farmers tie their fate to Mother Nature — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    Subdistrict 1 Program Manager Marisa Fricke clears paths for water to flow onto land the subdistrict owns. The property is one of the subdistrict’s investments in recharging the aquifer. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

    MOTHER Nature will determine how much groundwater pumping occurs in ag-rich Subdistrict 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District under a new plan of water management making its way to the state for approval.

    The subdistrict and its parent Rio Grande Water Conservation District have been under pressure to bring the unconfined aquifer of the Upper Rio Grande Basin to a sustainable level or face curtailment of wells. The San Luis Valley has two aquifers – one unconfined and one confined.

    In the draft of its new plan, which is the fourth amendment to the subdistrict’s Plan of Water Management, Subdistrict 1 members spell out the situation with the unconfined aquifer:

    “Although the Subdistrict successfully remedied injurious depletions to senior surface water rights caused by groundwater withdrawals from Subdistrict Wells, it has not been successful in achieving and maintaining a Sustainable Unconfined Aquifer. This Plan is intended to address the now-apparent deficiencies of the previous Amended Plans of Water Management and adopts new means needed to achieve a Sustainable Unconfined Aquifer.

    “The Subdistrict realizes that if more restrictive steps are not taken to achieve a Sustainable Unconfined Aquifer, the State Engineer will, at some point, be unable to approve a future Annual Replacement Plan, resulting in the curtailment of Subdistrict Wells. State Engineer denial of an Annual Replacement Plan could result in the curtailment of all Subdistrict Wells, causing severe negative impact on the agricultural economy of the Subdistrict and the San Luis Valley as a whole.”

    The board of managers for Subdistrict 1 gave final approval to the plan on Tuesday. It now goes to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District Board for consideration. If approved there, it would be submitted to the Colorado Department of Water Resources and State Engineer Kevin Rein for review and approval.

    “A lot of hard work has gone into this from everyone involved,” said Subdistrict 1 Board President Brian Brownell. “It’s been a struggle. Overall this is the best plan we could come up with.”

    The amended plan relies on covering any groundwater withdrawals with natural surface water or the purchase of surface water credits.

    The subdistrict is asking the state for 20 years to make the plan successful in recovering the aquifer, with a goal to restore 40,000 to 50,000 acre-feet a year over that 20-year period to bring the unconfined aquifer to a sustainable level.

    TO get there the plan calls for a 1-to-1 augmentation, meaning for every acre-foot of water used, an acre-foot has to be returned to the unconfined aquifer through recharging ponds.

    “Our pumping will be adjusted to whatever climate brings us,” said ex-officio board member Mike Kruse.

    If the Valley experiences wet periods, groundwater pumping in Subdistrict 1 can match it. If the Valley continues with the persistent drought it has experienced over the past 20 years, groundwater pumping in the subdistrict will reflect the dryness.

    “This plan takes into account the climate. That’s the beauty of it,” Kruse said

    The predicament of the depleted unconfined aquifer is the result of the state granting too many well permits for groundwater pumping decades ago, now coupled with decades of drought going back to 2002.

    “The state has to bear some responsibility,” said Subdistrict 1 board member James Cooley. “It isn’t all our fault.”

    Subdistrict 1 Program Manager Marisa Fricke said the subdistrict had been making progress toward meeting the state’s goals with the unconfined aquifer up until 2018, when a particularly dry year hit the Valley. A wet 2019 brought some relief to the aquifer, but the subdistrict lost the progress it made after back-to-back dry years in 2020 and 2021, and now so far 2022.

    The change in climate, said Brownell, has been the biggest factor in working to restore the unconfined aquifer. “It’s nothing anybody could have foreseen and that is why we’re addressing it.”

    “This concept we have is probably the only way we can address climate,” said Subdistrict 1 Board Member Jake Burris. “With this plan we’re living within our means.”

    Based on modeling conducted by Willem Schreuder, president of Principia Mathematica in Denver, there is a high level of confidence among farm operators that the new plan will succeed in meeting the state’s requirement of a sustainable unconfined aquifer. The earliest the amended plan would take effect is for the 2023 irrigation season.

    Some farm operators in Subdistrict 1 are filing their own augmentation plans with the state Division 3 Water Court in lieu of joining a new amended plan by the conservation district.

    Renewable Water Resources, in its discussions with Douglas County, has tried to use the unconfined aquifer condition in Subdistrict 1 to further its case by approaching farmers with buyouts for their water rights. The RWR water exportation proposal is not in Subdistrict 1, but that hasn’t stopped RWR from trying to leverage the situation to their advantage, telling Douglas County that farmers in the Valley are facing imminent widespread water well curtailments, which isn’t the case.

    Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon made it a point in his recent visit to the San Luis Valley to bring up well shut downs as a reason why Douglas County could help the Valley by investing in Renewable Water Resources and buying out farmers and establishing a Valley-wide community fund.

    A state Senate bill offered by Sen. Cleave Simpson, who also works as general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, would help address the strategy of retiring groundwater pumping wells in all the Valley’s subdistricts. If adopted – the proposed legislation has cleared major committee hurdles – the Compact Compliance Fund would make available at least $30 million to the Rio Grande Basin to help with groundwater sustainability measurements and would offer the Rio Grande Water Conservation District another pot of money to execute its strategies.

    Latest settlement involving 2015 #GoldKingMine spill to send $90 million for cleanup: Federal officials say they’ll drop their cases against mining companies with the settlement — The #Denver Post

    Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

    Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Conrad Swanson). Here’s an excerpt:

    The Sunnyside Gold Corporation and its corporate owner will pay about $45 million under yet another settlement connected to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, which dumped a yellow plume of heavy metals into the Animas River, federal officials announced Friday [April 29, 2022]. The federal government will kick in another $45 million as well. Under the finalized settlement, the company and its Canadian owner, Kinross Gold Corporation, will pay the United States $40.1 million and another $4 million to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for cleanup efforts, Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Rich Mylott said in a release.

    Cleanup is needed in the broader Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, in southwest Colorado’s San Juan County. That site includes dozens of abandoned mines, which are polluting the area’s waterways but it’s also the location of the 3-million-gallon spill at the Gold King Mine, which EPA officials triggered…

    Already, cleanup efforts have cost more than $70 million, The Denver Post previously reported. Sunnyside also agreed to a $1.6 million settlement in December and agreed last year to pay $10 million to the Navajo Nation and $11 million to New Mexico, downstream of the mines and spill site.

    5 candidates run for Centennial #Water board — The #HighlandsRanch Herald

    Centennial

    Click the link to read the article on the Highlands Ranch Herald website (McKenna Harford). Here’s an excerpt:

    Running for the open seats are Tammy Essmeier, Allen Dreher, Frank J. Johns, Neil L. Arney and Frank McNulty. Each candidate answered questions about themselves to provide Centennial Water voters with some information about their reason for seeking a seat on the board.

    Arney is an attorney with knowledge of Colorado special districts who is new to Highlands Ranch and running to give back to his community.

    Essmeier is a consultant on environmental regulations and laws, who has served as a volunteer with Centennial Water’s Citizen Engagement Committee.

    Dreher, a former journalist, serves on the Highlands Ranch Metro District and is interested in joining the board to protect water sustainability.

    Also a volunteer with the Citizen Engagement Committee, Johns is an engineer with previous experience operating water and wastewater facilities.

    A former Colorado representative, McNulty owns Square State Strategy Group and previously served as the consulting attorney for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

    Centennial Water users can vote in person from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 3 at 92 Plaza Drive or drop an absentee ballot in the drop-box at the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Highlands Ranch substation by 7 p.m. May 3.

    2022 #COleg: Bill would set $60 million fund for #groundwater sustainability — The Alamosa Citizen

    The Rio Grande Canal is the largest water right in Colorado.

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

    Rio Grande and Republican River would use funds to meet state groundwater sustainability, interstate compact compliance targets

    COLORADO is moving toward putting $60 million into a new groundwater compact compliance fund for the Rio Grande and Republican River basins created and funded through a state senate bill drafted and championed by state Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa.

    The bill, Senate Bill 22-028, creates the Compact Compliance Fund that would be administered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources and would receive an appropriation of $60 million from Colorado’s share of federal COVID relief money from American Rescue Plan funding.

    The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, originally only established the fund, and then an amendment unanimously adopted Thursday by the Colorado House Agriculture, Livestock, and Water Committee added $60 million into it. The bill next will be heard by the House Appropriations Committee.

    “Given the unanimous votes every step of the way, so far, I am hopeful the bill with the appropriation will become law in the next week or two,” Simpson told Alamosa Citizen. “The timing of the availability of federal dollars and the growing sense of urgency in both basins created a unique opportunity that will serve both of these communities well. Still some work to do, but things look very promising for both of these Colorado communities.

    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

    If the Compact Compliance Fund is adopted by the Colorado Legislature it would pay for efforts to meet groundwater sustainability targets in the Rio Grande Basin and interstate compact requirements for the Republican River Basin. Each basin would get an earmark of $30 million to pay for efforts like retiring groundwater wells and other conservation and water sustainability measures. The goal would be to spend all $60 million within the time constraints put on federal COVID dollars, whether it’s a 50-50 split or not.

    The Republican River basin. The North Fork, South Fork and Arikaree all flow through Yuma County before crossing state lines. Credit: USBR/DOI

    The threat to livelihood for farmers and ranchers and economic disaster for the regions tied to irrigated agriculture in the Rio Grande and Republican River basins was made loud and clear in the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Water Committee.

    “These farmers and ranchers have done everything they possibly can,” said Marisa Fricke, one of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s program managers. “They grow produce for us and hay for our cattle.”

    Farmers and ranchers in both basins have levied property taxes on themselves through the water conservation districts to pay for their efforts to help the Rio Grande and Republican River meet groundwater sustainability and interstate compact compliance goals set by the state. It has meant fallowing of crop fields, permanently retiring irrigated acreage, taking groundwater wells off line either temporarily or permanently, and compensating farmers and ranchers for their efforts to help offset loss from less irrigated acres.

    State Reps. Marc Catlin and Dylan Roberts made impassioned pleas for including $60 million of the ARPA money into the compact compliance fund during their presentation of the bill in the House Ag committee. Both are House sponsors of the bill.

    “This is an opportunity with these funds to say, ‘We’re with you,’” said Catlin of the risk farmers and ranchers take their sacrifices to address compact and sustainability issues on the Republican River.

    “This is a great bill for the San Luis Valley and Republican River Basin,” said Heather Dutton, district manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District. “Colorado through COVID relief bills provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in our communities. The imbalance between water use and supply is a critical issue facing Colorado and especially the basins highlighted in this legislation.”

    Farmers in the San Luis Valley are looking to take even more drastic steps in their efforts to meet state targets on groundwater pumping and recharging of the Upper Rio Grande Basin’s unconfined aquifer. In Subdistrict 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, farmers are facing a new proposed amendment to the subdistrict’s Plan of Water Management that would tie the level of groundwater pumping allowed to the natural surface water of the property. Some farms in the subdistrict do not have natural surface water, in which case they would have to purchase water credits from a neighboring farm or pay an overpumping fee of $500 per acre-foot.

    This concept keeps the system in balance by replenishing what has been withdrawn from the aquifer with surface water and allows the community within Subdistrict No.1 to work together through the exchange and sale of credits. In the event that more groundwater is withdrawn from the aquifer and not replenished an overpumping fee of $500 per acre-foot would be assessed, according to the proposed amendment to the subdistrict’s water management plan. Money collected by the conservation district from an over pumping charge would come back to the Subdistrict 1 community in the form of payments towards enrolling in water conservation programs, according to Fricke.

    “For over a decade farmers and ranchers have worked to meet sustainability levels and have taxed themselves assessments for waters taken out of the aquifer,” Fricke told House ag committee members.

    Eventually the water conservation districts would establish guidelines and the state Division of Water Resources would administer drawdowns of the fund. In the unlikely chance Rio Grande and Republican River water managers didn’t spend all $60 million, the money would revert to the division of water resources.

    Future state appropriations to Compact Compliance Fund would hinge on executive and legislative budget priorities.

    ‘Morally wrong’ for Douglas County to be coveting water from the San Luis Valley — @AlamosaCitizen #RioGrande

    Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon, right, with attorney Steve Leonhardt, who Douglas County has hired to help it work through RWR’s water exportation proposal. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

    RIO Grande County Commissioner John Noffsker made Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon a counter-offer to the Renewable Water Resources exportation proposal: Douglas County gives the San Luis Valley its annual sales tax collections from Park Meadows Mall in exchange for some water.

    Noffsker’s point? That the Valley has no more right to sales tax dollars collected by Douglas County than Douglas County has to water in the San Luis Valley aquifers.

    Pleasantries were exchanged Saturday [April 23, 2022] between Laydon and a few mostly elected officials during a two-hour exchange at Nino’s Restaurant in Monte Vista. The conversation didn’t reveal anything new or anything Laydon and Douglas County haven’t heard over the past four months as Douglas County weighs whether to invest in the Renewable Water Resources water exportation plan.

    “You’re the tip of the spear on this one,” Noffsker said in making Laydon aware that people watching Douglas County’s deliberations know Laydon holds the deciding vote on the three-member commission, with Commissioner Lora Thomas dead set against RWR and Commissioner George Teal in support.

    “Once you start putting a straw in this body of water, there’s no end game,” Noffsker said.

    “You’re basically saying to us, much as what happened to the Native Americans, that you have something we want and we can do more with it than you can, and that is wrong,” said Noffsker. “It’s morally wrong. When we have to sit here and defend how we use our water, we shouldn’t have to do that. This water belongs to the Valley. It should not be taken out of here to benefit somebody else.”

    The meeting at Nino’s with Noffsker and other local elected officials was Laydon’s second of the day. Earlier Laydon and Special Counsel Steve Leonhardt met privately with farmers who Laydon said expressed a variety of concerns, from lack of knowing what’s going on in the subdistrict formations of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District to concerns about their small operations and whether small farms would survive the period of persistent drought and climate change.

    With the local elected officials, which included Monte Vista Mayor Dale Becker and Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman and Commissioner Lori Laske, Laydon raised the idea of a community fund that Renewable Water Resources has touted as part of its proposal. The Douglas County commissioner was told the community fund was a slap in the face to residents of the San Luis Valley.

    “It’s not about money, it’s about keeping the (water) resource here,” said Alamosa City Councilman Mike Carson. Carson works at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and is coordinating the Protect San Luis Valley campaign fighting the RWR exportation proposal.

    Karla Shriver, president of the Rio Grande Water Conservation Subdistrict 2 board, said additional financial relief for Valley farmers is on the way through legislation currently moving through the state legislature. A bill sponsored by state Sen. Cleave Simpson would create a new compact compliance fund and would have around $30 million of American Rescue Plan Act money awarded to Colorado in it to help farmers in the San Luis Valley meet groundwater compliance targets set by the state. Read more about the legislation HERE.

    Renewable Water Resources has voiced opposition to the legislation. It sees the bill as a government bailout for San Luis Valley farmers at a time when RWR is asking for money from Douglas County and dangling those tax dollars in front of Valley farmers to buy them out.

    San Luis garden. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Noffsker said the RWR proposal is only about making a return on investment, while the Valley fights for its economic livelihood.

    “I don’t mean any urban/rural fights,” said Noffsker. “But what’s happening is an urban area that apparently wants to grow more, wants to take from us to do it. If we do something like this, we are being dictated to by the Front Range on what our lives are going to be. That is not correct.”

    Laydon, as he’s said in other meetings, told the group that Douglas County only wants to partner with communities that welcome Douglas County and that want to partner with it. He didn’t find that broad support on his weekend trip to the San Luis Valley, and he hasn’t heard any outpouring of support in the months he and his colleagues have been studying the Renewable Water Resources exportation plan.

    Unless, of course, Douglas County wants to give up its retail sales tax revenues. Sacrificing a golf course or two might help as well.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    #Colorado, #Utah tribe worries nation’s last uranium mill is contaminating water, causing uptick in illness — The #Denver Post #nuclear

    Energy Fuels’ White Mesa Mill from inside Bears Ears National Monument. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Conrad Swanson). Here’s an excerpt:

    The White Mesa Mill produces refined uranium, vanadium and rare earth compounds used for nuclear fuels, the creation of steel, batteries and electric cars. Toxic compounds left over from the process, called tailings, are poured into massive ponds on site. White Mesa residents take note when smoke rises from the mill and keep close watch over the tailing ponds, Badback said. They cough painfully when the wind blows. Children suffer from respiratory problems and adults worry about cancer. Little information is shared with those in White Mesa, part of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s territory that extends into Colorado and New Mexico, Badback said. Residents are mostly on their own.

    Documents obtained and analyzed by The Denver Post show that Utah regulators have cited the mill at least 40 times since 1999 for violations ranging from administrative issues and failures to adequately collect and report data to “discharging pollutants” into the state’s waterways. For all those violations the mill has paid a total of $176,874.91 in penalties. For context, in the third quarter of 2021, Energy Fuels, the company that owns and operates the mill, reported that it had more than $100 million in cash. Monitoring wells at the site show concentrations of uranium, nitrates, cadmium, nickel and more regularly testing above state limits. Uranium levels at one well spiked over 600% higher than acceptable federal limits for drinking water, data collected by the mill shows.

    Tribal officials say recent protests and official appeals against contamination in the ground water only resulted in state regulators raising the thresholds for acceptable limits. Experts hired by the tribe caught leaks at the tailing ponds and say other leaks are likely. Ultimately tribal officials and residents in the area say they’re concerned the toxins will seep deeper into the ground and contaminate the Burro Canyon Aquifer — which is already showing signs of contamination — and then into the Navajo Aquifer underneath, on which some 50,000 Native Americans depend.

    The family-owned Pankey Ranch in Moffat and Routt counties has been honored with the 2022 Leopold Conservation Award

    Front row (left to right): Ryan, Adyson, Shelley, and Jack Pankey. Back row: Justin, Shea, Keith, Kevin, and Sarah Pankey. Photo credit: Sand Country Foundation

    Click the link to read the release on the Sand County Foundation website:

    The Pankey family’s resilience was put to a test when a wildfire burned nearly half of their ranch in 2018. Among the devastating impacts of the fire was livestock and wildlife could no longer drink from ponds because they were covered in ashes.

    Keith and Shelley Pankey raise beef cattle with their sons, Kevin and Justin and their families, in Moffat and Routt counties. They have a history of doing right by their land. Following the fire, they cleaned the ponds and aerially reseeded native grasses on 900 acres in the fire’s path. It’s not the first time investing in conservation practices has paid off for this family and the landscape they share with livestock and wildlife.

    Keith’s great grandfather homesteaded an area of high desert known as Great Divide. The Pankeys are still able to graze cattle in the drought-prone region from spring through fall thanks to improved water distribution and rotational grazing systems.

    They replaced windmill-powered wells with solar pumps. New water storage tanks and nearly three miles of natural flow pipelines were also added. By expanding the number of watering stations (from six to 12) the Pankeys increased their ability to properly graze cattle while creating wildlife habitat across the ranch.

    Precipitation, range conditions, and animal performance all impact how the Pankeys plan pasture rotations and stocking rates. They analyze pasture rotations to determine which areas benefit from early, middle or late season grazing. They’ve also found that some areas benefit from longer or shorter periods of grazing, while others benefit from being grazed twice in the same season.

    When cattle widely disburse themselves, the Pankeys find that grass recovers at a faster rate, and taller grass is left behind when the cattle are rotated to another pasture. The ranch’s wildlife populations have greatly increased thanks to rotational grazing and the improved water system. By working with neighbors to control noxious weeds, desirable grasses have become dominant across the ranch.

    Pankey Ranch borders Colorado’s largest Greater sage-grouse lek, a breeding ground for this declining species. The Pankeys hosted Colorado State University students to study grasses, insects, and Greater sage-grouse habitat in the Great Divide range. Their study was helpful in determining which conservation practices to adopt. The Pankeys fenced off a large area around a natural spring to provide cover. They also equipped water storage tanks with overflows that provide water and prolonged green vegetation to encourage production of insects that grouse chicks consume.

    The Pankeys are involved with a large-scale conservation effort led by Trout Unlimited to stabilize Elk Head Creek’s riparian corridor. They have installed rock toe and erosion control mats, and reseeded stream banks to prevent erosion. Hundreds of willow trees have been planted in corridors to preserve wetlands and fish habitat. Less erosion in the creek means cleaner water downstream in the Elk Head Reservoir and Yampa River. This family’s leadership in raising awareness of the creek’s impaired health, and commitment to on-the-ground conservation practices, is inspiring other landowners to follow suit.

    The Pankeys also provide public hunting opportunities on their land. In 2011, they obtained a conservation easement on their Routt County property through the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to ensure future agricultural uses on the land. As a longtime volunteer with the Moffat County Fair, Keith shares his land ethic and conservation practices with youth, neighbors and the general public.

    Click the link to read “Pankey Ranch’s conservation efforts earn attention from Colorado Cattlemen’s Association” on the Craig Press website (Amber Delay). Here’s an excerpt:

    According to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Leopold Award was created in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold to recognize farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their voluntary conservation efforts on private, working lands…

    The Pankeys will be presented with the award June 13 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Convention in Colorado Springs…

    To mention a few who have contributed in addition to Trout Unlimited were: The National Resources Conservation Services, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the City of Craig, The Yampa-White-Green-Basin Roundtable and The Lower Colorado River Habitat Partnership Program.

    Zephyr Minerals’ Dawson Gold Mine permitting process extended a year — The #CañonCity Daily Record #ArkansasRiver

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Click the link to read the article on The Cañon City Daily Record website (Carie Canterbury). Here’s an excerpt:

    Zephyr Minerals’ Dawson Gold Mine permitting process has been extended by at least a year after they’ve been told by the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety that they need to drill five groundwater monitoring wells and monitor them for five quarters, as well as one compliance well. This pushes out the potential approval of the mining permit to late 2023. Under current regulations, DRMS must respond, by approving or denying the mining permit application, within one year from the date on which DRMS considered the application to be complete, July 15, 2021.

    “Clearly, it is impossible timewise to do five quarters of monitoring between now and the 15th of July 2022,” said Will Felderhof, who is the executive chairman for Zephyr Minerals. “That’s why we withdraw the application, do our monitoring and then resubmit the application to address these questions regarding the information they are requesting with the water wells.”

    […]

    Additionally, the decision to ask for a two-month extension will allow for more time to get more exact locations for the additional water monitoring wells. Once those are approved, he said, Zephyr will withdraw the application in order to move forward with the five quarters of water monitoring.

    Wild Earth Guardians letter to Douglas County April 12, 2022

    Sunrise March 16, 2022 San Luis Valley with Mount Blanca in the distance. Photo credit: Chris Lopez/Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the letter on the Wild Earth Guardians website (Jen Pelz):

    Dear Commissioners Laydon, Teal, and Thomas,

    We write to you today, on behalf of our organizations and tens of thousands of supporters across the American West, to express extreme concern over Renewable Water Resources’ proposal to develop a groundwater pumping project in the San Luis Valley that would then export water to the Colorado Front Range. This project represents a serious threat to the water security of the San Luis Valley and to the plant, wildlife, and human communities that depend on this water source. As downstream neighbors we have grave concerns over the cascading effects of this project throughout the entire Rio Grande Basin, and we urge the Commission to reject this proposal.

    The Rio Grande Basin cannot afford for any water to be exported out of the Valley.

    This project would be the first pipeline built in the San Luis Valley with the intent to export water. But the idea of taking water out of the San Luis Valley for use in other basins is not new. Renewable Water Resources’ proposal is the most recent in a string of such schemes that began in the 1980s. Similar proposals have been decidedly shut down by Colorado courts, which have noted the adverse effects these proposals would have on the aquifer and to surface water rights. In fact, surface waters in the Valley have been recognized as over appropriated since the early 20th century, meaning every drop that flows through the Valley and more is promised to someone. It is incredibly clear that the San Luis Valley has no water to spare.

    Sandhill Cranes West of Dunes by NPS/Patrick Myers

    Exporting water from the San Luis Valley will threaten hope for a sustainable aquifer.

    In addition to surface waters, groundwater is also over appropriated in the Valley. We have serious concerns over the effects of the proposed pumping on overall groundwater levels and their impacts to surrounding wetlands and streams. Of particular concern are potential effects to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and the Baca National Wildlife Refuge. Farmers in the Valley are already working together and making sacrifices to reduce water demand through the sub-district project, which was created following decades of drought conditions. This voluntary project facilitates farmers within the Valley combining efforts to ensure groundwater levels are maintained. Renewable Water Resources’ proposal undermines years of this difficult work. The demands for water and challenges associated with allocating it equitably will only increase as the impacts of climate change continue to intensify, this proposal will make an already challenging situation worse and undo years of community-driven efforts to find solutions.

    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

    Exporting water from the San Luis Valley will have consequences for the entire Rio Grande Basin.

    The concerns over this project expand beyond the San Luis Valley. The project also has the potential to threaten the downstream communities and the environment in the Rio Grande Basin for thousands of miles. The Rio Grande Compact and the 1944 treaty with Mexico define how much water must flow from the Rio Grande’s headwaters in Colorado to New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. As a headwaters state, Colorado has a significant responsibility to its neighbors and it is keenly felt downstream when those responsibilities are ignored. For example, during the twentieth century, Colorado consumed more water than it was allotted under the Compact and subsequently accrued a nearly one-million-acre-foot debt to downstream states. This overuse had consequences to downstream communities, agricultural production, and ecosystems. It resulted in lawsuits that ultimately ended with the U.S. Supreme Court requiring Colorado to repay this debt over time. Luckily for Colorado, a wet period of hydrology that filled downstream reservoirs triggered a provision of the Compact that forgave the prior debt and wiped the slate clean for better management going forward. With projected precipitation regime shifts under climate change, we are unlikely to see such a wet period again.

    The water challenges we are facing within the Rio Grande Basin make it painfully obvious that a repeat of this situation would be catastrophic for water users across all three states and Mexico. We must think more holistically about the river systems on which we all depend. The San Luis Valley is an integral part of the Rio Grande Basin, a river that runs nearly 1,900 miles and sustains municipal and irrigation uses for more than six million people and two million acres of land across three states and two countries. We urge the Commission to not further complicate this situation by taking vital water from the San Luis Valley and threatening it and others’ water futures.

    The communities of the San Luis Valley are working to address their water scarcity challenges in collaborative and inclusive ways. Although there is still much work to do to create a sustainable aquifer and healthy Rio Grande for people and the environment, Renewable Water Resources’ proposal flies in the face of these efforts. Please do the right thing for the communities within the San Luis Valley and those that depend on the water, also vital downstream, by rejecting this ill-advised project.

    Watershed moment: The Grand Valley grapples with proposed #water quality standards — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

    Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

    Click the link to read the article on The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb). Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division is proposing the limits for 11 Colorado River tributaries in the valley with impaired water quality because of high levels of dissolved selenium and total recoverable iron, and in the case of two of the tributaries, E. coli. The river itself along that stretch, which meets water quality standards for selenium and E. coli, but not iron, is not itself targeted by the proposal, although it would benefit from it.

    As required by the federal Clean Water Act and by Environmental Protection Agency regulations, the state is developing what it calls total maximum daily loads (TMDL) that would establish how much of those pollutants can enter each of the tributaries each day while maintaining water quality standards.

    The Government Highline Canal flows past Highline State Park in the Grand Valley. CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    The area being targeted by regulators altogether encompasses about 138 square miles, stretching from Lewis Wash in the Clifton area to Salt Creek in western Mesa County. The area is all north of the Colorado River and is bounded on the northern end by the Government Highline Canal. That location beneath the canal is noteworthy because selenium is naturally occurring in the Mancos shale geological formation in the area, but at high levels in water can be harmful to fish and aquatic birds. The Water Quality Control Division, in its draft Grand Valley TMDL public notice, says that “the predominant source of selenium in all of the watersheds is likely groundwater inflow from canal seepage and deep percolation from irrigated lands.” Put another way, the valley’s irrigated agriculture, lying downgrade of the Government Highline Canal, is mostly driving the selenium problems in the drainages.

    But as it happens, state water-quality regulators have little say over that agricultural activity. The Water Quality Control Division holds permitting authority over point sources of surface water discharges. Agricultural stormwater discharges, and return flows from irrigated agriculture, aren’t considered point sources under the Clean Water Act. The state relies on incentive-based approaches to encourage partners to work on voluntary measures to address contaminants, something that grant funding is available to support. This can include measures such as lining or piping canals and changing irrigation methods and schedules to reduce the leaching of selenium…Still, a concern for some people, including Trent Prall, public works director for the city of Grand Junction, is that because of the state’s lack of authority over the agricultural side of things, it will lean on permitted sources of surface water discharges to fix a problem that is largely agriculture-driven.

    Bulkheads caused the Gold King Mine spill. Could they also be part of the solution? Remediation tool can limit acidic drainage, but experts must also understand the complicated hydrology — The #Durango Herald

    Bulkheads, like this one at the Red and Bonita Mine, help stop mine water discharges and allow engineers to monitor the mine pool. Credit: EPA.

    Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Aedan Hannon). Here’s an excerpt:

    Bulkheads remain relatively obscure except to those involved in mine remediation, but their purpose is to plug mines and limit the release of mine waste while reversing the chemical processes that contribute to acid mine drainage. They can be simple fixes for extraordinarily complex mining systems and produce unintended consequences. But they are also a critical tool for the EPA and those working to improve water quality and reduce the lingering effects of more than a century of mining in the Bonita Peak Mining District…

    The role of bulkheads in the Gold King Mine Spill

    In its October 2015 technical assessment of the incident, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation argued that bulkheads were at least partially responsible for the Gold King Mine spill. The Gold King Mine is a maze of tunnels, faults and fissures located at different elevations inside Bonita Peak and the surrounding mountains in Gladstone. The mine opening that drained when the EPA crews struck a plug holding back water was actually what’s known as the “Upper Gold King Mine,” or Gold King Mine Level 7. A short distance away lies the “Gold King Mine,” which refers to a mine adit called American Tunnel…

    With oversight from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, Sunnyside Gold Corp. first installed a bulkhead in American Tunnel in 1995 to stop mine drainage from entering Cement Creek. The company closed the valve on the first bulkhead in October 1996 and would go on to install two other bulkheads in American Tunnel. With the installation of the bulkheads, the flow of toxic mine waste into Cement Creek decreased from 1,700 gallons per minute to about 100 gallons per minute. But as the impounded water rose behind the bulkheads, the water rose elsewhere, including in Gold King Mine Level 7, which sits about 750 feet above American Tunnel, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s assessment…The EPA has yet to determine if it was faults and fractures in the rock or other internal mine workings that carried water from American Tunnel to Gold King Mine Level 7, but the EPA and the Bureau of Reclamation have both said the spill was in part the result of this buildup from the bulkheads in American Tunnel. Bulkheads have been used in mine remediation efforts in Colorado for more than three decades, and there are about 40 installed across the state, said Jeff Graves, director of Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety’s Inactive Mine Reclamation Program…Bulkheads back up water and fill mine tunnels. When they do so, they limit the air rocks can come into contact with, preventing the chemical reaction that creates acid mine drainage…

    Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Acid mine drainage can also still make its way into river systems. Water naturally moves through rock and can turn into acid mine drainage when exposed to oxygen, though in smaller volumes.

    The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency

    Fast-growing Douglas County communities need more #water. Is a controversial San Luis Valley export plan the answer? — @WaterEdCO #Water22 #RioGrande

    Construction workers build a single family home in Castle Rock. The community needs new surface water supplies to reduce its reliance on non-renewable groundwater. Credit: Jerd Smith

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith:

    Castle Rock’s building boom has barely slowed over the past 20 years and its appetite for growth and need for water hasn’t slowed much either.

    The city, which ranks No. 1 in the state for water conservation, will still need to at least double its water supplies in the next 40 years to cope with that growth. It uses roughly 9,800 acre-feet of water now and may need as much as 24,000 acre-feet when it reaches buildout.

    With an eye on that growth and the ongoing need for more water, Douglas County commissioners are debating whether to spend $10 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to help finance a controversial San Luis Valley farm water export proposal.

    Thirteen Douglas County and South Metro regional water suppliers say they have no need or desire for that farm water, according to Lisa Darling, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority. [Editor’s note: Lisa Darling is president of the board of Water Education Colorado, which is a sponsor of Fresh Water News]

    “It is not part of our plan and it is not something we are interested in,” said Mark Marlowe, director of Castle Rock Water. “We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in our long-term plan and we are pursuing the projects that are in that plan. The San Luis Valley is not in the plan.”

    Renewable Water Resources, a development firm backed by former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Sean Tonner, has spent years acquiring agricultural water rights in the San Luis Valley. It hopes to sell that water to users in the south metro area, delivering it via a new pipeline. In December, RWR asked the Douglas County commissioners for $10 million to help finance the $400 million plus project.

    Tonner did not respond to a request for comment for this article, but he has said previously that the water demands in south metro Denver will be so intense in the coming decades, that the San Luis Valley export proposal makes sense.

    Opposition to the export plan stems in part from concern in the drought-strapped San Luis Valley about losing even a small amount of its water to the Front Range. But RWR has said the impact to local water supplies could be mitigated, and that the proposed pipeline could help fund new economic development initiatives in the valley.

    Stakes for new water in Douglas County and the south metro area are high. In addition to demand fueled by growth, the region’s reliance on shrinking, non-renewable aquifers is putting additional pressure on the drive to develop new water sources.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    Marlowe and other water utility directors in the region have been working for 20 years to wean themselves from the deep aquifers that once provided clean water, cheaply, to any developer who could drill a well. But once growth took off, and Douglas County communities super-charged their pumping, the aquifers began declining. Because these underground reservoirs are so deep, and because of the rock formations that lie over them, they don’t recharge from rain and snowfall, as some aquifers do.

    At one point in the early 2000s the aquifers were declining at roughly 30 feet a year. Cities responded by drilling more, deeper wells and using costly electricity to pull water up from the deep rock formations.

    Since then, thanks to a comprehensive effort to build recycled water plants and develop renewable supplies in nearby creeks and rivers, they’ve been able to take pressure off the aquifers, which are now declining at roughly 5 feet per year, according to the South Metro Water Supply Authority.

    The goal among Douglas County communities is to wean themselves from the aquifers, using them only in times of severe drought.

    Ron Redd is director of Parker Water and Sanitation District, which serves Parker and several other communities as well as some unincorporated parts of Douglas County.

    Like Castle Rock, Parker needs to nearly double its water supplies in the coming decades. It now uses about 10,000 acre-feet annually and will likely need 20,000 acre-feet at buildout to keep up with growth.

    Parker is developing a large-scale pipeline project that will bring renewable South Platte River water from the northeastern corner of the state and pipe it down to the south metro area. Castle Rock is also a partner in that project along with the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District in Sterling.

    Redd said the San Luis Valley export plan isn’t needed because of water projects, such as the South Platte Water Partnership, that are already in the works.

    “For me to walk away from a project in which we already have water, and hope a third party can deliver the water, just doesn’t make sense,” Redd said.

    The costs of building two major pipelines would also likely be prohibitive for Douglas County residents, Redd said.

    “We would have to choose one. We could not do both.”

    Steve Koster is Douglas County’s assistant planning director and oversees new developments, which must demonstrate an adequate supply of water to enter the county’s planning approval process.

    Koster said small communities in unincorporated parts of the county reach out to his department routinely, looking for help in establishing sustainable water supplies.

    He said the county provides grants for engineering and cost studies to small developments hoping to partner with an established water provider.

    “All of them are working to diversify and strengthen their water systems so they are sustainable. Having a system that encourages those partnerships is what we’re looking at,” Koster said.

    Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

    Whether an RWR pipeline will play a role in the water future of Douglas County and the south metro area isn’t clear yet.

    Douglas County spokeswoman Wendy Holmes said commissioners are evaluating more than a dozen proposals from water districts, including RWR, and that the commission has not set a deadline for when it will decide who to fund.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    How thirsty is Douglas County? #Water providers work to transition to renewable sources — #Colorado Community Media #RioGrande #SouthPlatteRiver

    Rueter-Hess Dam before first fill. Photo credit: Parker Water & Sanitation

    Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Community Media website (Elliot Wenzler):

    On an average day, 25 people move to Douglas County. Each one needs to drink, shower, water their lawn and wash their dishes. The full impact of that growth is difficult to see, but it’s easy to understand: more people need more water. And in a county where thousands of homes rely on a limited supply of underground aquifers, water providers are constantly working to shift to more sustainable resources before they run out.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    Some aquifers buried under Douglas County have lost two to six feet in depth of water. Local water providers have noticed their supply wells aren’t producing like they once did.

    “It’s like sucking water out of the bathtub with a straw,” said Rick McLoud, water resources manager for Centennial Water & Sanitation. “There’s only so much water in the bathtub and the sooner you suck it out with a straw, the sooner it will be gone.”

    […]

    To meet those demands, water providers are planning a mix of conservation efforts, wastewater projects and new infrastructure for renewable resources of water. The county government is also looking at how to bring in more water and is considering spending a portion of their $68 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act on the issue.

    ‘Overreliance on groundwater’

    As Douglas County’s development has surged since the 1990s, many of the largest communities such as Parker and Castle Rock have relied on groundwater to fill residents’ bathtubs and sinks, said State Engineer Kevin Rein…Groundwater from aquifers makes up about 65% of the water used by Parker Water and Sanitation, which is the provider for Parker and parts of Lone Tree and Castle Pines, and by Castle Rock Water. Centennial Water uses about 20% groundwater. Those ratios can change depending on drought conditions…

    Douglas County sits on a layer of several aquifers, including the Arapahoe, Denver, Dawson and the Laramie-Fox Hills aquifers. Most major water providers use the water in the Arapahoe and Denver aquifers, which reach depths of 1,700 and 600 feet beneath the ground, respectively…

    Under Douglas County’s guidelines for development in unincorporated areas, only the western part of the county is not allowed to rely on their groundwater for development, said Steve Koster, assistant director of planning services for the county. Those communities must provide either a renewable water source or use groundwater from the eastern part of the county. Koster said the county is not actively looking at requiring or incentivizing developers to instead look for renewable resources of water…

    Parker Water and Sanitation is working on a project that will partner with a water conservancy district in Sterling, a town in eastern Colorado, to capture unused water during high runoff years from the South Platte River there and store it to pipe back to the town. The project won’t impact existing water rights and won’t allow buy-and-dry of nearby agriculture, Redd said. In order to meet Parker’s projected water demands, the project will need to be complete by 2040, Redd said. That project would get Parker Water to 75% renewable water and would provide water for more than 300,000 people in Douglas County, including in Parker, Castle Rock and portions of Castle Pines and Lone Tree, according to a project proposal. Castle Rock Water is a partner on that project.

    Over the next 20 to 30 years, Castle Rock plans to invest about $500 million in renewable water projects including new pipelines, additional storage and water rights. Marlowe said the reason they spread out those projects over time is to keep rates for their customers down. By 2050, Castle Rock plans to move to 75% renewable and by 2065 have a 100% renewable system for wet or average years.

    Dominion Water and Sanitation, which serves about 1,200 homes in Sterling Ranch, plans to be 90% renewable by 2040. Sterling Ranch is slated to add about 11,000 more homes to their community in that same time period at a rate of 450 homes per year. Dominion also plans to include about 700 other existing homes from smaller communities to their service area soon. Right now, Dominion is 100% renewable but is set to drill wells in the Cherokee Ranch area to blend some groundwater into their system, making it more drought-resistant, Cole said. They are also planning to build a river intake on the South Platte River and a wastewater treatment facility, which will provide at least 1,600 acre-feet of water per year to Sterling Ranch…

    Castle Rock plans to incorporate programs in the coming years that encourage more efficient utilities and lawns that don’t require heavy irrigation. At the statewide level, a bill being considered by the legislature this session would pay residents up to $2 per square foot to rip out their irrigated turf and replace it with less thirsty alternatives. Sterling Ranch has focused on a program they call “demand management” that allows residents to have a live look at their water usage and bills…Their community also has banned the use of bluegrass, a type of turf that demands lots of water. Instead they offer a variety of drought-resistant plants for landscaping…

    A view of public lands around the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and just south from the area Renewable Water Resources has proposed a wellfield for water exportation. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

    As the commissioners consider how to approach the issue, $68 million in federal funds has the potential to aid in addressing the water demands of a growing community. One proposal for the money, which the commissioners have dedicated six two-hour meetings to discussing, would pump about 22,000 acre-feet of water per year to Douglas County from the San Luis Valley. Renewable Water Resources, the private company proposing the project, says that’s enough for 70,000 houses. The project has been met with ire from many in the valley, though, as multiple water conservation districts and elected officials there have said they don’t have enough water to spare and it would damage their agriculture-based economy…So far, all the major water providers in Douglas County have said they are not interested in using the water from the RWR proposal. Darling says that’s in part because many providers have already heavily invested in other projects…

    Commissioners have also heard presentations from Parker Water, who asked them to consider using about $20 million of the federal funds to help their South Platte River project, and Dominion, who asked for help funding their regional wastewater plant in partnership with Castle Rock Water and the Plum Creek Reclamation Authority.

    #Nebraska gubernatorial candidate: Nebraska #water solutions shouldn’t harm #Colorado — The #Greeley Tribune #SouthPlatteRiver

    Click the link to read the article on The Greeley Tribune website (Jeff Rice, The Fort Morgan Times). Here’s an excerpt:

    Collaboration will yield a lot more South Platte River water for Nebraska than trying to finish a ditch that’s been abandoned for more than a century. That was the consensus at a freewheeling panel discussion in Sterling Monday afternoon as Nebraska Sen. Theresa Thibodeau met with water experts from Colorado to learn more about the water that flows into her state across the state line near Julesburg.

    Thibodeau is a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in Nebraska. Her visit was prompted a proposal by incumbent Gov. Pete Ricketts to finish digging the Perkins County Canal from the South Platte River near Ovid to a reservoir somewhere in Nebraska. The canal is allowed under the terms of the South Platte River Compact of 1923, and can divert up to 500 cubic feet per second out of the river. But without the canal, Nebraska can’t exercise that water right…

    The panel consisted of Thibodeau, Bruce Gerk, a member of the South Platte Roundtable, Jim Yahn, manager of the Prewitt and North Sterling reservoirs, Don Chapman, manager of Riverside Irrigation District near Sterling, and Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platter Water Conservancy District. Among the dozen or so attendees were Colorado Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, former state senator and agriculture commissioner Don Ament, Gene Manuello, vice president of the LSPWCD, and Logan County Commissioner Byron Pelton. During Monday’s discussion, Thibodeau made it clear that Nebraskans will do whatever is necessary to protect the water they now get and that they have a right o in the 1923 compact…

    Yahn. Chapman and Frank gave Thibodeau a short course on Colorado’s water reality. The most important point, and one they stressed repeatedly, is that return flow and seepage from irrigation in Colorado is what makes the South Platte the year-round river it is today. Sonnenberg pointedly asked the panel what would happen to the multitude of water augmentation projects that operate during the winter months along the lower Colorado reach of the river if Colorado had to try to deliver 500 cubic feet per second into the Perkins Canal. Chapman said it was “very likely” that those projects, which replace water drawn out by pumps during the irrigation season, would be harmed, leading to curtailment of pumping. It also would probably diminish the return flow that ends up in Nebraska. Manuello said one of the worst myths about the river is the amount of water that flows out of Colorado. He said that, while it’s true spring runoff and occasional flooding send large amounts of water downstream, those events are of short duration and probably wouldn’t be available for use in the Perkins Canal.

    #Arizona’s Future #Water Shock: Smaller cities. Soaring water prices. Scorched desert towns — Circle of Blue

    Arizona monsoon cloud with lightning striking the beautiful Sonoran desert in North Scottsdale. Photo by James Bo Insogna. Title: Arizona Monsoon Thunderstorm. Taken on August 15, 2016. Used under a Creative Commons license.

    Click the link to read the article on the Circle of Blue website (Keith Schneider). Here’s an excerpt:

    What’s happening in the million-dollar homes of Rio Verde Foothills, one of the Phoenix metropolitan region’s choice places to live, is a future shock “buyer beware” scenario certain to be replicated over the next several decades in many other Arizona communities contending with urgent water constraints.

    Bridges across the Tempe Town Lake on the Salt River in Tempe, Arizona. Tempe Beach Park in the foreground, and the building with HOPE on it at 350 W Washington St across the river. By Dicklyon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65090199

    Another View

    About 50 miles south, another scenario of 21st century Arizona is taking shape. The nearly 23,000-member Gila River Indian Community is modernizing: adding to its group of casinos, preparing to expand its irrigated farm acres, and elevating its influence in Arizona’s politics and economy. It’s doing so by virtue of one of the most secure and abundant water supplies in Arizona and the entire Southwest.

    Following decades of brutal discrimination and abuse by white settlers and state authorities during which the two Gila River tribes’ rights to their historic water supply were not honored, Congress approved an agreement between the United States and the State of Arizona that essentially guarantees tribal access to 653,500 acre-feet of water per year…

    …from previous statements by tribal leaders and in interviews with state water authorities, it is clear that the Gila River Indian Community, or GRIC, is using its abundant water to build a new age of wealth and influence on the 372,000-acre reservation south of Phoenix. GRIC is constructing a federally-financed irrigation network to increase farming operations to 75,000 ancestral acres from the current 35,000. It negotiated lucrative agreements to lease water to Phoenix, Chandler, and other communities. It is also marketing water that it stores in aquifers to willing suburbs and subdivision builders interested in long-term leases.

    Since 2016, GRIC has played a central role in storing over 370,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead, plus 130,000 more acre-feet this year to keep lake levels high enough to prevent a water shortage declaration more dire than the one the federal government issued last August. GRIC received $274 per acre-foot from the state and federal governments. In short, ample and secure water supply is the basis of the community’s plan to rebuild the vitality of its 8,000 year-old desert civilization that was ruined in the 20th century…

    Arizona’s Future Water Shock

    The water-abundant and thriving Gila River Indian Community amounts to one bookend scenario of Arizona’s 21st century condition. The other bookend is the arid Rio Verde Foothills, where government decisions and meteorological disruptions trap residents in a water-related crisis that heat and drought aggravated, and state law did not anticipate.

    In 1980, Arizona enacted an innovative groundwater management program intended to ensure adequate reserves of water for rapid home development and expansive population growth by designating four regions from Prescott to Tucson as Active Management Areas. (Santa Cruz, the fifth AMA, was carved out from the Tucson AMA in 1994.) The program included two important exemptions, however: its provisions did not apply to groundwater withdrawals outside of the AMAs. And within the AMA boundaries, owners of private wells that pumped less than 35 gallons per minute — in other words, many of the wells drilled for the state’s exploding residential real estate markets — did not come under state oversight.

    In 1995, the law set in place a consumer protection measure to require developers building subdivisions in AMAs with six or more homes to assure buyers that their houses had a 100-year supply of water. But the requirement did not apply for residential construction projects with less than six homes. Builders constructing individual homes, or clusters of five homes or less in an AMA, avoided the 100-year water requirement. Outside the AMAs, groundwater safeguards did not apply, creating what amounted to a home construction free-for-all.

    Little more than 40 years after the statute was enacted and less than 30 years after the 100-year assured water supply rules were adopted, the subdivision and private well waivers have resulted in Rio Verde’s emergency. They also influenced a boom in home construction that has caused — and continues to cause — thousands of wells to fail inside and outside of AMAs. It is clearer by the day that, without significant strengthening, the state’s water management program is becoming increasingly irrelevant. The emergence of serious instances of water shortage from Kingman in the north, to the Chino Valley north of Prescott, to Cochise County in Arizona’s southeast has prompted civic campaigns for reform. They have yet to attract sufficient legislative support.

    That seems certain to change. And soon, because of climate change.

    Ranking and time evolution of summer (June–August) drought severity as indicated by negative 0–200 cm soil moisture anomalies. Maps show how gridded summer drought severity in each year from 2000–2021 ranked among all years 1901–2021, where low (brown) means low soil moisture and therefore high drought severity. Yellow boxes bound the southwestern North America (SWNA) study region. Time series shows standardized anomalies (σ) of the SWNA regionally averaged soil moisture record relative to a 1950–1999 baseline. Black time series shows annual values and the red time series shows the 22-year running mean, with values displayed on the final year of each 22-year window. Geographic boundaries in maps were accessed through Matlab 2020a.

    This year alone, the latest scientifically respected studies reveal a number of disconcerting findings. The megadrought that has Arizona in its tightening grip is the worst in 1200 years. Climate change is responsible for at least 40 percent of the decline in Colorado River water supplies. And the Southwest, like other desert regions, is getting steadily hotter, drier, and more dangerous. Though future weather conditions are always difficult to accurately predict, a worst-case scenario for Arizona looks like this: Population growth stops. Residents start to migrate in droves away from the stifling hot and dry state. Home values collapse. The state enters an era of relentless decline. By 2060, according to several published projections, extreme heat and water scarcity could make Phoenix one of the continent’s most uninhabitable places.

    It’s not much of a reach to conclude that Arizona is at the intersection of two paths to the future. By mid-century it will be a model of desert dwelling resiliency. Or it will be a weakened civilization that is starting to waste away…

    Taken as a whole, the data mean that Arizona’s share of the Colorado River will likely shrink to less than half the current 2.8 million acre-feet allotment. Arizona will rely much more heavily on its finite groundwater reserves to support population growth, residential construction, and new business starts that state officials continue to encourage. And though Arizona has stored over 13 million acre-feet of water underground to supplement supply during years of water shortage, never since statehood in 1912 has Arizona encountered such a long and deep period of water scarcity that science predicts will grow steadily more severe…

    This year, the governor proposed establishing a new state agency, the Arizona Water Authority, to pursue new supplies and also asked the Legislature for $1 billion more, framing the request around the need to build a desalination plant, perhaps in Mexican waters, to produce 250,000 acre-feet a year.

    Other ideas for securing Arizona’s water supply — regulating groundwater use in rural areas, metering private water wells, increasing use of recycled wastewater, restricting natural grass lawns, and imposing land use and urban design requirements to collect and store stormwater — haven’t reached nearly the same level of clarity and legislative purpose.

    There’s a reason for that. Regulatory changes in water policy and practice are some of the steepest cliffs in Arizona’s political landscape. Any proposal judged by lawmakers to challenge property rights, raise costs, and impede growth is dead on arrival in the Legislature. Such proposals generate powerful winds of opposition in the executive offices of home builders, chambers of commerce, and every other economic development agency.

    #Empire still without #water as leak detection efforts continue: Public updates at 10 a.m. March 28, 2022 and 6:30 p.m. March 29, 2022 at Town Hall — The #ClearCreek Courant

    Empire as seen from Douglas Mountain. By Xnatedawgx – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25798349

    Click the link to read the article on the Clear Creek Courant website (Corinne Westeman):

    Most Empire residents and businesses are still without water, as of March 25, 2022 as town officials continue to search for a suspected large leak in the town’s water infrastructure. Anyone who does have water service is under a boil warning, which will remain in place until water service is restored to the entire town and it has been tested, Mayor Wendy Koch said. According to Koch and Police Chief John Stein, most of the town’s infrastructure has been pressurized with gas to locate the suspected leak. Those efforts didn’t yield any major leaks, but several smaller issues were noted and are now being addressed, Koch said. Now, Empire is restoring water service to different sections of the town to see if that helps to locate the suspected leak.

    Stein said Empire will be hosting public updates at 10 a.m. March 28 and 6:30 p.m. March 29 at Town Hall. The latter will include an opportunity for public comment, but the former is an informational meeting only…

    An emergency declaration has been made to assist with resources and seeking funding, Stein stated. Colorado’s Water/Wastewater Agency Response has been activated and is assisting, and volunteers were scheduled to deliver two cases of bottled water to every housing unit on March 25…

    Stein said that, thankfully, several municipalities have offered to help fix whatever the problem is. However, the town is “still in detection mode,” he said. Another piece of good news, Koch detailed, is that surface water levels are back up thanks to the warmer weather. Additionally, Koch and Stein stated, Empire is adding a new filtration system to its old well. The state health department approved the design on March 24, and crews will start work on March 28.

    If all goes according to plan, Koch said the town might have water service mostly restored by April 1. However, she stressed that she couldn’t guarantee it.

    USBR, #Pueblo Water, Southeastern #Colorado #Water district ink new deal to ease Lower Arkansas Valley water contamination — @WaterEdCO #ArkansasRiver

    The Lower Arkansas River below Lake Cheraw. Credit: Jerd Smith

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

    Thousands of people in the Lower Arkansas Valley who’ve struggled to deal with contaminated water for more than 20 years will have access to clean water by 2024 under a new agreement signed by the federal government and two Colorado water agencies last week.

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), as the clean water delivery project is known, will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir through the city of Pueblo and out to communities on the Eastern Plains, such as Avondale and Boone, by 2024, and other communities, such as La Junta, as soon as 2027.

    Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

    Water officials said the entire pipeline should be completed by 2035 if not sooner. The project will ultimately serve 50,000 people, officials said.

    Under the agreements, signed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Pueblo Water Board, and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District March 18, some $40 million in federal and local funding will be available to launch construction, with subsequent funding for the $600 million project anticipated to come from Congress and local water agencies.

    In addition, the agreement allows Reclamation and Southeastern to pipe the water through the city of Pueblo’s water system, rather than building a separate system to move the water out to the Eastern Plains. Officials said this new agreement will shave costs and several years off the project.

    “This contract signing marks one of the most significant milestones to date towards making the AVC a reality and bringing clean water to communities that desperately need it. It advances the project over 14 miles east from Pueblo Reservoir which puts us much closer to our first participants in Avondale and Boone,” said Brent Esplin, regional director of the Missouri Basin and Arkansas-Rio Grande-Texas Gulf regions for Reclamation, in a statement.

    Naturally occurring selenium and lead, as well as radionuclides, have dogged the region’s water systems since the 1960s. Many of the communities face enforcement actions from the state health department because they don’t have the financial resources to treat the water for drinking and then to treat it again for discharge into the wastewater systems that discharge to the Lower Arkansas River and its tributaries, according to Chris Woodka, senior policy manager with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Southeastern operates the federal Fryingpan-Arkansas Project’s Pueblo Reservoir.

    “This project will relieve some of the pressures that they face. They will get better quality drinking water and they will see improvements to their discharged water,” Woodka said.

    Pueblo Reservoir

    The idea is to deliver clean water from Pueblo Reservoir directly to the communities via the 34-mile pipeline, reducing and sometimes eliminating the contaminants that the water now picks up when it travels through streams and irrigation ditches.

    The conduit has been on planning boards for more than 50 years but it wasn’t until a new federal law was approved in 2009 stipulating that the federal government would pick up 65% of the costs that the plan began to advance, Woodka said.

    Since then the region has wrestled with getting federal cash to start work and convincing local water agencies and the communities who need the water to cooperate on design issues and costs, Woodka said.

    “People are convinced it will get built,” Woodka said. “Now the questions are about affordability.”

    And for small towns, those are big questions.

    Tom Seaba is La Junta’s director of utilities. His city has comparatively clean water, with no radionuclides and a selenium issue that it is treating via reverse osmosis.

    “It could be the silver bullet that everyone would like to take care of the contaminants that are in the water. The flip side is the cost,” Seaba said.

    La Junta charges customer $2.50 per thousand gallons for water now, which includes treatment costs. The new water will cost $2.19 per thousand gallons, untreated, and La Junta will still have to find a way to recoup the cost to disinfect and treat the water.

    “Now that we’re getting down to brass tacks, we need to see if the underlying reality will do for us what everyone hopes it will. If we can connect and that takes care of the problems we have, sign us up. But if it doesn’t, we will have to do something else,” Seaba said.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    It’s sit and wait while Douglas County figures out move on Renewable Water Resources — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    San Luis Valley. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

    THIS was supposed to be the week that the three Douglas County Commissioners, Lora Thomas, Abe Laydon and George Teal, visited the San Luis Valley to host a community meeting on Douglas County’s consideration of the Renewable Water Resources proposal to export water out of the Valley north.

    There’s still an expectation that Laydon and Teal will find their way down, on their own, away from the public spotlight in their own pursuit of reasons to support or not the Renewable Water Resources plan.

    For her part, Thomas has been opposed from the outset and prefers that Douglas County focus on a water project in its own backyard – the Platte Valley Water Project with Parker Water & Sanitation and Castle Rock Water.

    She’s also been troubled by what she sees as conflicts of interest among her fellow commissioners for their public positioning of RWR and their perceived coziness with Republican moneyman Bill Owens, a former governor of Colorado, and his entourage at Renewable Water Resources.

    It would have been those dynamics, a split and at times feuding Douglas County commission, that would have arrived at the Ski Hi Regional Events Complex in Monte Vista to hear from Valley residents. But after Teal made comments that there was nothing to gain from such a meeting since Valley residents didn’t seem interested in finding a deal with Douglas County and supporters of RWR felt threatened and silenced, the commissioners punted.

    That doesn’t mean Douglas County – and Laydon and Teal, specifically – has lost interest in RWR. Quite the contrary. What’s puzzling is nobody outside RWR understands why, particularly since Douglas County is not a provider of water services and would find itself entangled in years of litigation at a minimum.

    “I have zero ulterior motives, other than wanting to secure proactive win/win water solutions for both communities,” Laydon said to Alamosa Citizen. “I’m persuaded by facts, not noise or propaganda. We have engaged in a deep-dive water series and study with a hydrologist and water attorney who have yet to compile their findings into final recommendations.”

    The three commissioners huddled in executive session for two hours Monday to hear from Stephen H. Leonhardt with the law firm Burns Figa & Will, and Tom Hatton from Applegate Group, Inc. Leonhardt and Burns Figa & Will have been retained as special counsel to help Douglas County understand the legal issues surrounding the Renewable Water Resources proposal, while Applegate Group, Inc., has been retained to consult on engineering and hydraulic aspects of the RWR plan, according to public files.

    Both the special legal counsel and Applegate consultants had their contracts recently amended to include more money and more time on the RWR plan. Douglas County also this month issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) for additional water consultant services. The RFQ has an April 8 deadline.

    Following Monday’s lengthy executive session, the commissioners will receive a confidential memo summarizing what they heard. Where they are with a decision on RWR is harder to determine. Since Thomas is opposed and Teal is in support of RWR, the past weeks have become the Abe Laydon show to see where he lands.

    “I don’t know where we’re headed,” said State Sen. Cleave Simpson, who is also general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and is a farmer and rancher in the San Luis Valley.

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    Like others who have made presentations to help Douglas County commissioners understand the ever-declining water conditions of the San Luis Valley aquifers – the unconfined and confined – and threats to the Valley’s ecosystem from 20 years of drought and loss of wetlands, Simpson is frustrated at the spectacle Douglas County has created.

    “To make this thing work they have to change the rules and regulations that we all have lived under and crafted over the last 20 years,” he said of the Renewable Water Resources proposal.

    It’s not simply Laydon casting the deciding vote to move the RWR proposal forward. If he were to take that gamble for Douglas County, RWR then would have to ask State Engineer Kevin Rein to change the rules governing water to meet the intent of their proposal, said Simpson.

    “If I was Douglas County I’d say ‘I’m not going to give you a dime until you get the rules changed’ and the likelihood of them changing the rules here is nearly zero percent from my perspective,” Simpson said.

    Coming out of Monday’s executive session with their special counsel and hydrologist consultant, Laydon said he was happy to hear the expertise and “objective facts” that were discussed. He and Teal have made it a point to say Valley representatives and residents they’ve heard from are not objective and instead overfilled with emotion.

    “I very intentionally have taken the emotion out of my presentations and conversations with them,” said Simpson. “And honestly, even the folks at RWR from the very beginning, I said ‘I appreciate this is a business proposition from your perspective, I’m happy to sit down with you and let’s debate the pros and cons, but you can’t put out false information.’

    “They claim we’re putting out false information and I can say with absolute certainty none of the stuff that I’ve presented or the meetings I’ve been in with them is false information. It’s all 100 percent accurate and quite the contrary from the other perspective. I can demonstrate without doubt that the information they’re getting is false.”

    Rio Grande River basin drought monitor map March 22, 2022.

    Simpson has sat with Laydon and extended invitations to bring in others like Ken Salazar, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and one of Colorado’s foremost experts in water law, to help Laydon better grasp the drought conditions and over pumping situation in the Valley. Former Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen is another person Laydon has been invited to hear from.

    For Laydon, he’s focused on the consultants that Douglas County has hired to help him make a decision. Presumably he heard some of what he’s looking for in Monday’s closed meeting. Following it he, Thomas and Teal sat through their first presentation on the Platte Valley Water Project.

    Hydrogeologist: Please reject Renewable #Water Resources’ proposal — The #Alamosa Citizen

    San Luis Valley irrigation crop circles. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

    ERIC Harmon is the type of person Douglas County says it wants to listen to.

    He’s a hydrogeologist with expertise on the San Luis Valley aquifers of the Upper Rio Grande Basin. In fact, his team completed the groundwater component of the Rio Grande Decision Support System, which is generally described in state water court documents as “an interactive computer-based system that utilizes data and computer models to help decision makers solve unstructured problems.” The RGDSS is what the state relies on to determine the impact of groundwater pumping.

    Harmon is also retired and hasn’t been part of any of the presentations that the three Douglas County commissioners have heard on Renewable Water Resources and its pitch to Douglas County to partner on exporting from the San Luis Valley.

    What does Harmon’s experience and expertise say about the RWR proposal? He wrote a letter to the Douglas County commissioners outlining his concerns and recommendation that Douglas County reject the RWR proposal. He has yet to hear back from the commissioners. Alamosa Citizen also asked Douglas County for a response to Harmon’s letter.

    Hydrogeologist Eric J. Harmon

    “The Renewable Water Resources (RWR) proposal to Douglas County to use ARPA funds should be rejected in favor of less risky projects,” Harmon told the commissioners. “RWR’s project would place undue risks on San Luis Valley (SLV) water users and ratepayers (water customers) in Douglas County. Why? For that, we need to get down into the weeds on the SLV aquifers.”

    You can read the letter HERE.

    Harmon said he has given expert testimony in the Division 3 Water Court (San Luis Valley) in the AWDI case (1991), the Confined Aquifer New Use Rules case (2006), the Great Sand Dunes In-Place Groundwater Right case (2008) and the Groundwater Rules case (2018).

    “Confined aquifer tests in the SLV by my testing team were done as part of Colorado’s Rio Grande Decision Support System (RGDSS) in the early 2000s,” he said to the commissioners. “Our tests showed repeatedly that pumping impacts move outward from a confined aquifer well very rapidly, often causing drawdown (water level decline) up to ½ mile away within one day of pump startup. At several locations, pumping a deep well caused measurable drawdown in layers much shallower than the pumping zone. This is how confined aquifers work: drawdown spreads out very far, very fast. The SLV confined aquifer is ‘leaky.’”

    After he sent along his letter to AlamosaCitizen.com for publishing, we asked him a few additional questions. The exchange is below:

    AC: What concerns or thoughts, if any, can you share on the drought the San Luis Valley has been experiencing going back to 2002?

    EH: Conditions are never static in hydrology. The dynamic nature of water, weather patterns, and the hydrologic cycle means that conditions are always changing. But where there is a long-term drought, the job of scientists and engineers becomes harder. It means that any predictions we are asked to make may be less reliable than we would like, because we don’t always have similar historic conditions we can look back on to compare to.

    AC: The streamflow measurements documented by Davis Engineering for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District demonstrate troubling patterns. Have you recently looked at those streamflow measurements? In your view what type of impact is drought, climate change having on the basin and should that be a concern with the RWR proposal?

    EH: I have tried to keep up with the general hydrologic trends in the Valley, including snowpack and streamflow. I have also kept up with the trends of Unconfined Aquifer storage change that Davis Engineering has done for RGWCD for many years. It is clear that even after a number of years of self-imposed pumping reductions in the Subdistricts, there is still too little water available to meet the irrigation demand, and to replenish the groundwater storage deficit in the Unconfined Aquifer in the Closed Basin. If drought or climate change persist in the future, as appears likely, then these impacts should be of concern in any new appropriation of water, whether by RWR or anyone else.

    AC: Would the change in conditions, drought persistence, declining snow melt, particularly along the Sangre de Cristo range factor into a water court proceeding?

    EH: Declining snowpack, earlier and faster runoff, and drought persistence certainly are of concern in the Sangre de Cristos, as they are in the San Juans. Valley-wide, the water supply from the Sangres is considerably less than it is from the San Juans. Smaller drainage areas, the “rain shadow” effect of the San Juans before the snowstorms get to the Sangres, and differences in topography and geology between the two ranges all are factors. If asked, I would advise the water court to look very hard at all of these factors. If groundwater recharge is less in the future than is predicted, it would almost certainly have an impact on the question of injury.

    AC: Commissioner Teal said at the last meeting (March 8) that Douglas County has heard repeatedly that there is a “million acre feet” of water in the SLV aquifer. How does one address that notion?

    EH: I can’t find any reference to a “million acre feet” in RWR’s proposal or in the presentations to Douglas County. RWR has stated that 22,000 acre-feet per year, the amount they intend to pump, is 2.5% of the aquifer’s annual recharge. So RWR’s number for annual recharge is 880,000 acre-feet. I do not know if this is what Commissioner Teal is referring to. The important thing, however, is not the annual groundwater recharge or the volume of groundwater in storage in the aquifer. The important thing is that the Valley’s water resources are over-appropriated. As Colorado Division of Water Resources officials have pointed out, this means there is no water available for appropriation and full (“1 for 1”) replacement is required under the Rules.

    Douglas County cancels San Luis Valley live town hall after protest warning: Two commissioners say they still want to visit valley regarding water proposal — The Douglas County News Press #RioGrande

    Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

    Click the link to read the article on the Douglas County News Press website (Elliott Wenzler). Here’s an excerpt:

    The decision to cancel the event came during a March 9 work session in which county staff told the commissioners they were expecting 300 to 400 people to attend and that it appeared a protest was planned to take place…

    Commissioner George Teal, who has voiced his support for the project, said was in favor of canceling the meeting, adding that he had initially hoped to have “actual conversations” with residents and “get past the visceral, emotional aspects of this project.”

    He said he’s heard from people in the valley who support the RWR project but feel they are being intimidated to remain quiet….Commissioner Abe Laydon, who has said he hasn’t yet decided if he supports the project, said he still wants to go to the valley but said the event had been “hijacked by a group of folks” and said he didn’t want to be part of it…Commissioner Lora Thomas, who has vocally opposed the plan, said she’s not interested in going to the valley…

    When asked where the county learned of reports of intimidation, a county spokesperson referenced comments from a speaker during one of the commissioners work sessions on the topic — Jerry Berry, who is a farmer in the San Luis Valley and a representative for RWR…

    In a Feb. 28 meeting, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority Lisa Darling told the commissioners that none of the major water districts in Douglas County are interested in the water from RWR.

    #Colorado health officials investigating contaminated #PFAS plume near #Denver fire training center — @WaterEdCO

    The South Adams County Water and Sanitation district is one of several water providers around the state now treating to remove PFAS from its drinking water supplies. Nov. 23, 2021. Credit: Jerd Smith

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education website (Jerd Smith):

    The Colorado health department is investigating a contaminated underground plume issuing from land next to the Denver Fire Training Academy to determine whether it is responsible for high levels of so-called “forever chemicals” in the raw water supply of an Adams County water district that serves more than 65,000 people in the north metro area.

    Photo credit: Denver Fire Department

    The contamination was discovered in 2018, and since then, officials said, the City of Denver’s fire training center has stopped using the fire-fighting foam containing hazardous PFAS, or poly- and per-fluoroalkyl substances. The compounds have long lifespans and have been linked to certain cancers. Contained in such common substances as Teflon and Scotchguard, they are also widely used to fight fires.

    A spokesperson for the fire academy declined to comment on the investigation and referred media inquiries to the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, which said via email that it was working with the state to address the problem. It declined an interview request.

    Jennifer Talbert, a hazardous materials expert overseeing the investigation for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), said she expects the investigation to be done later this year, at which time decisions on how to clean up the contaminants will be made.

    “They did discover PFAS within a certain region of the [fire academy] site, but we need to do more sampling and investigation. We’re developing the plume boundary now,” Talbert said.

    The four contaminated wells owned by the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District were shut down quickly in 2018 after testing showed extraordinarily high PFAS levels, 2400 parts per trillion (ppt), in the raw water, according to Kipp Scott, manager of water systems at the district.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory standard for PFAS says levels should be no higher than 70 ppt.

    Since then the state and the Tri-County Health Department have issued alerts to private well owners in the area, notifying them not to drink the contaminated water. Other residents in the region are served by the South Adams County district, whose water is being treated to reduce PFAS levels to 35 ppt, a level that is considered safe under the existing voluntary federal guideline.

    Anyone concerned about potential contaminants in their drinking water can have free testing done.

    The CDPHE’s Talbert said it hasn’t determined who is responsible for the contamination and won’t be able to do so until its investigation is finished.

    But Scott said no other PFAS sources within the district have been identified other than those found at the fire academy, whose site is less than a half mile from the contaminated wells.

    “We infer that that is the largest source in the area that is affecting our groundwater supply,” Scott said. “There are no other sources identified.”

    Little was known about the unregulated PFAS chemicals in Colorado until 2015 when national news began appearing about their links to cancer, their prevalence in fire-fighting foam used at military bases and fire-fighting centers, and their presence in groundwater.

    Two years ago, as more testing revealed more contaminated sites, the CDPHE vowed to boost its oversight. Since then the Colorado Legislature has provided the health department with more authority and money to combat the problem. CDPHE’s approach has included conducting surveys to identify contaminated sites and affected drinking water systems, spending as much as $8 million to buy contaminated firefighting foam and store it, and helping communities whose water has been tainted by the compounds with testing support and grants to help cover treatment costs.

    Dozens of fire departments, military facilities, water utilities, and commercial properties as diverse as hotels and apartment complexes are now monitoring and testing for the substances.

    As Colorado ramped up its oversight, last year the EPA announced it would begin work on a regulation that will, for the first time, set an official limit on PFAS compounds in drinking water. It is set to be available for public review this fall and would be finalized by the fall of 2023.

    In the meantime, Scott said the South Adams County Water and Sanitation District has spent $5 million to build a sophisticated testing and monitoring lab, and to strengthen its treatment program enough to comply with the 70 ppt federal health advisory limit.

    But that won’t be enough long-term to ensure its customers have access to safe drinking water, Scott said, so the district is preparing to install an advanced $70 million treatment system to reduce PFAS levels even further. That price tag is almost three times the size of the district’s annual $26 million budget.

    “If the health advisory number should go lower, and we think it will, we don’t have enough capacity to go to a lower number,” Scott said. “And we need that raw water from the wells we shut down to meet future demand.”

    Who will pay to correct the situation isn’t clear yet, but Scott said the cost should not fall on his district. “We’ve spent around $5 million treating for this contaminant that is in our water supply, and we did not put it there. But that $5 million cost is being paid by each one of our residents through higher rates and fees.”

    CDPHE’s Talbert said cleaning up the contamination near the fire training facility and other sites will likely be complicated because the chemicals have never been regulated and, as a result, methods and technologies for clean-up are still being developed. But she said most residents in the region have access to treated drinking water through their water utilities.

    “The science is new,” Talbert said,” and we don’t know the extent of the contamination. If we find that people have an exposure we will get them on bottled water and/or a reverse osmosis system.”

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    Governor Polis opposes Renewable Water Resources #water export plan, US Senators Bennet & Hickenlooper concur, invoking Wirth Amendment — The #Crestone Eagle #RioGrande

    A view of public lands around the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and just south from the area Renewable Water Resources has proposed a wellfield for water exportation. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on the Crestone Eagle website (Lisa Cyriacks). Here’s an excerpt:

    Polis has issued a statement that he is: “against any inter-basin transfer without local support of impacted communities. This is a proposed inter-basin transfer with deep concerns and opposition in the San Luis Valley and the governor is opposed.”

    Polis joins Colorado Attorney General, Phil Weiser, who has already expressed strong opposition to the trans-basin export.

    Last week, US Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper issued a statement opposing the RWR proposal and invoking Public Law 102-575, also known as the Wirth Amendment. The Amendment, named for former Colorado Senator Tim Wirth, provides for review by the Department of the Interior prior to approval of any export of water from the San Luis Valley.

    #PFAS manufacturers sued by #Colorado attorney general for environmental and health damages — Colorado Newsline

    Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser filed a lawsuit Monday against companies that produce PFAS, which are man-made chemicals that have been associated with cancer and serious disease.

    The complaint was filed in Denver District Court against 15 manufacturers including Chemguard, Corteva and DuPont and alleges that those companies should have known the extreme health risks associated with their firefighting products before marketing and distributing them.

    GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

    PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are also known as “forever chemicals,” is a component in aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), which is used to fight high-hazard fires, like jet fuel fires and chemical fires. PFAS is also used in cookware and cleaning products. It persists in the environment for an extremely long time and has been linked to cancer, kidney disease, serious birth defects and lower vaccine efficacy.

    “The companies responsible for making firefighting foam with toxic forever chemicals and selling it for use in our state long after they knew or should have known of the harmful nature of this foam have caused harm to our communities. Colorado now has forever chemicals in our soil and drinking water systems and people’s health is at risk,” Weiser said in a statement.

    A map from the non-profit Environmental Working Group shows a high number of PFAS contamination sites in Colorado, especially in drinking water and on military sites near Colorado Springs. The lawsuit notes that AFFF has been used at Peterson Air Force Base, Buckley Air Force Base, Fort Carson, the Suncor oil refinery and other federally-regulated airports. A 2020 from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows PFAS contamination in 34% of the sampled drinking water systems.

    Weiser wants a court order for the companies to investigate, restore and monitor sites where AFFF was released. The lawsuit accuses the defendants of negligence, public nuisance, trespassing and unjust enrichment. It accuses DuPont, Chemours and Corteva of violating the Colorado Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act.

    “These companies knew that these chemicals posed significant threats to human health and the environment and nonetheless put Colorado at risk; it is important that they pay for the harm they caused,” Weiser said.

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    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    San Luis Valley-to-Douglas County #water pipeline proposed. Critics call it a “buy and dry” scheme. The company, Renewable Water Resources, isn’t the first or even the second or third to eye the valley’s water — The #Denver Post #RioGrande

    Third hay cutting 2021 in Subdistrict 1 area of San Luis Valley. Photo credit: Chris Lopez

    Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Conrad Swanson). Here’s an excerpt:

    Trouble swirls above the aquifers of Colorado’s San Luis Valley, where farmers and ranchers raise and grow much of the region’s cattle, potatoes, alfalfa and barley. Those aquifers are losing water as the American West dries out and whatever remains is spoken for. Farmers and ranchers have labored for decades to use less of the valley’s most precious resource. Today, the farmers say, a new but familiar threat approaches.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    A Front Range company called Renewable Water Resources, backed by a cadre of builders, developers and former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, wants to drill into the aquifers storing the valley’s declining water supply and pipe it to the ever-growing Douglas County.

    The Front Range has money, Renewable Water Resources’ Managing Partner Sean Tonner often says. And the San Luis Valley has water. Tonner is quick to cite poverty statistics for valley residents and says his company can pay those willing to sell their water rights and bring millions more to stimulate the local economy. It’s a win-win deal, he said.

    Opposition is widespread among the valley’s farmers, ranchers, water managers, environmentalists, bankers and politicians. Alamosa, Rio Grande and Mineral counties, alongside the cities of Alamosa, Monte Vista, La Jara, Manassa and Crestone passed resolutions opposing the project. So have Conejos Clean Water, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council. People in the valley describe the plan as an old-fashioned “buy and dry” scheme…

    Not only would Tonner’s plan further dry life in the mountain valley but, residents warn, it would also set a dangerous precedent that other fast-growing Front Range communities could quench their thirst by taking the one thing the San Luis Valley needs most. Money the project would bring into the valley – including a $50 million community fund – isn’t the “magic bullet” for the area’s economic woes, but Tonner argues it’s the best plan proposed yet. And in return, if Douglas County moves now, he said its commissioners can lock-in a renewable source of high-quality water at rates far below market prices.

    The deal hinges on Douglas County’s split, three-person Board of County Commissioners.

    Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

    Letter: San Luis Valley #water export proposal will harm wildlife and land — Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

    Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the letter on the Water Education Colorado website (Alexander Funk):

    Douglas County Commissioners should not move forward with Renewable Water Resources’ (RWR) request to utilize American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) stimulus funds to export water from the northern San Luis Valley (SLV). The RWR proposal would significantly impact the economy, environment, and culture of the San Luis Valley, a unique region home to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and three national wildlife refuges, which collectively attract more than 600,000 visitors annually to the SLV. The SLV cities, farmers, and residents universally oppose the RWR proposal. The project would result in the “buy and dry” of agriculture, which has led to the devastation of other rural communities in Colorado.

    Wet hay meadow on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge in July 2008. By Fred Bauder – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11556466

    As conservation organizations, we represent thousands of hunters and anglers in Colorado. Healthy wildlife habitats are necessary to sustain wildlife populations, and wetlands, riparian corridors, and mesic areas are critical in our arid state. The proposed RWR project would impact fish and wildlife habitats on multiple fronts. Groundwater and surface water resources in the SLV are connected, with aquifers sustaining streamflow, which supports habitat for cold-water fisheries. Therefore, removing water from the aquifers could negatively affect aquatic ecosystems important to the region. For example, the proposed wellfields of 22 to 25 groundwater pumping wells for the RWR project would neighbor the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, potentially impacting the wetland and aquatic ecosystems that support breeding and feeding grounds of migratory birds and waterfowl. Baca is also home to the state’s most viable population of Rio Grande Chub, a state species of concern. Other potentially affected species include the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout and Gunnison Sage Grouse. The RWR proposal would also require the dry-up of 20,000 irrigated acres in the valley. Impacts to irrigated agriculture in the SLV resulting from the RWR project would also negatively affect fish and wildlife since most of the SLV’s wetlands occur on private property and are sustained through irrigation and water delivery.

    Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

    The RWR plan runs contrary to the Colorado Water Plan. The plan, which guides state water planning and policy, establishes a conceptual framework for guiding negotiations around new transbasin diversion projects, including developing adequate measures to reduce socio-economic and environmental impacts on the basin of origin, which the RWR fails to accomplish meaningfully. The Colorado Water Plan also strongly condemns the practice of “buy and dry,” which has led to significant socio-economic and environmental impacts in rural communities and instead supports alternative approaches such as investments in conservation and smart land-use planning.

    More cost-effective strategies exist, including investments in water conservation and water recycling/reuse. And there is no surplus water in the SLV to export. The SLV aquifers are over-appropriated and climatic trends point to less available water. Therefore, the RWR proposal presents a likely expensive, unpopular, and risky approach to meeting the growing water needs of Douglas County.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    Our organizations recognize that Douglas County is growing and reliant on an unsustainable groundwater resource. We encourage Douglas County to use the federal funds to make needed investments to address water supply needs in a way that prioritizes local water supplies, promotes conservation, and creates jobs for the community rather than siphoning these funds to a speculative and costly water export proposal that will have significant impacts on rural Coloradans and the unique environment of the San Luis Valley.

    Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

    Trout Unlimited

    National Wild Turkey Federation

    Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

    Colorado Wildlife Federation

    Alexander Funk is the director of water resources and senior counsel at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

    #Nebraska Must Act Now to Secure Our #Water — Governor Pete Ricketts #SouthPlatteRiver

    The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

    Click the link to read the release from Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts office:

    Nebraskans know every drop of water is precious. Agriculture is our top industry. It makes up 20% of our economy, and it generates one in four jobs in our state. Access to water makes this possible. We have the most irrigated acres of cropland in the country. Three of eight acres of farmland in Nebraska are irrigated.

    Fifty years ago, far-sighted Nebraskans set up a system of water management, including our Natural Resources Districts (NRDs), that has allowed us to manage our water based on river basin. This has allowed our state to maintain the Ogallala Aquifer within one foot of where it was in the 1950s.

    The Ogallala aquifer, also referred to as the High Plains aquifer. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration

    By contrast, Colorado has mined their water. The Ogallala Aquifer under Colorado has dropped nearly 15 feet since the 1950s. Now, Colorado is aggressively planning new developments that threaten Nebraska’s water resources. Last year, Colorado released their South Platte Basin Implementation Plan. It was updated last month and now includes 282 total projects to meet their growing demands. Altogether, these projects cost an estimated $9.8 billion.

    Governor Clarence J. Morley signing Colorado River compact and South Platte River compact bills, Delph Carpenter standing center. Unidentified photographer. Date 1925. Print from Denver Post. From the CSU Water Archives

    Thankfully, 100 years ago Nebraskans negotiated an agreement with Colorado over the use of South Platte River water. The South Platte River Compact (Compact) was signed by Nebraska and Colorado in 1923 and ratified by Congress in 1926. It entitles Nebraska to 120 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from April 1st through October 15th (irrigation season) and 500 cfs of water from October 16th through March 31st (non-irrigation season). Under the Compact, we can only claim our non-irrigation season water entitlement by building a canal and reservoir system—known as the Perkins County Canal—along the South Platte River. Until we build the canal, Colorado has no obligation to deliver the water.

    South Platte River Storage Study Area. Illustration shows water availability, in blue circles, compared with demand at various places along the South Platte River. The yellow area is the study area. (Illustration by Stantec).

    As Colorado’s desire for water grows, they’re acting as if Nebraska’s non-irrigation season water rights under the Compact don’t exist. In 2016, the Colorado Legislature passed HB16-1256, the South Platte Water Storage Study, into law. Its purpose was to identify water storage options along the lower South Platte River. Colorado wants to make sure no water “in excess of the minimum legally required amounts” gets to Nebraska. In the study’s final report, Colorado clearly assumes that Nebraska’s legal requirement is only the 120 cfs during irrigation season. Since we haven’t built the canal, Colorado is not planning to deliver any water to us during non-irrigation season. Zero.

    The good news is that the Compact gives Nebraska undeniable authority to construct a canal to claim our non-irrigation water flow. It even gives us legal entitlement to land in Colorado to build it. Senator Dan Hughes, of District 44, has prioritized LB 1015, authorizing the Department of Natural Resources to design, construct, and operate the Perkins County Canal and reservoir system. My budget recommendation to the Legislature includes $500 million for the project. This is a bargain compared to the nearly $10 billion Colorado is preparing to spend on their water resources.

    Our proposed canal has caused a stir in Colorado. In response to our plans, a legislator in Colorado introduced SB22-126 earlier this month to prioritize water storage projects in the South Platte Basin. Colorado’s leaders believe that “possession is nine-tenths of the law.” I am concerned that even though Nebraska has clear entitlements to South Platte River water under the terms of the Compact, it will be difficult for us to claim what we are owed once municipalities in Colorado become reliant on the water.

    There’s no doubt that Colorado plans to take the 500 cfs of water guaranteed to Nebraska during non-irrigation season under the Compact. On February 7th, a coalition of water districts gave a presentation to the Colorado Legislature on ways to shore up South Platte River resources. The presentation indicates that Colorado only recognizes its 120 cfs delivery commitment to Nebraska during irrigation season. In other words, the presentation assumes Nebraska is not entitled to receive a single drop of South Platte River water for almost half the year.

    We must take action now to protect this water from being taken. Our ag producers rely on it for irrigation. Communities along the Platte River use it for drinking water. The water is critical to power generation in Nebraska, and our natural habitats along the Platte depend on these water flows.

    People have asked, “why not slow down and discuss reworking the terms of the compact?” Any renegotiation would take time to hammer out. It would require approval from the Colorado Legislature and Nebraska’s Unicameral. What are the odds of that happening anytime soon? Keep in mind: delays only benefit Colorado. Remember, Colorado is trying to accelerate their work along the South Platte River. Pausing our plans, while they move full steam ahead, would put us at risk. The longer we delay, the more we risk losing access to the water we’re due.

    This month, I’ve held town halls across the state to inform Nebraskans about our water rights with Colorado. There has been overwhelming support for moving forward on the canal. People understand that the price of inaction is far higher than the funding needed to secure our water rights. I’ll encourage you to do what I asked of them: contact your state senator to let them know your thoughts on LB 1015. The passage of this bill is a necessary first step.

    Fifty years from now, Nebraskans will look back on this generation. Will they say we had the foresight to secure our water resources? Or will they say this generation failed?

    If you have questions about the proposed canal, write me at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244.

    RE: Potential environmental impacts of #groundwater export proposal to #GreatSandDunes National Park — @SenatorHick and @SenatorBennet

    Sandhill Cranes West of Dunes by NPS/Patrick Myers

    Click the link to read the letter to Interior from senators Hickenlooper and Bennet (February 19, 2022):

    Dear Secretaries Haaland and Vilsack:

    We write today to bring to your attention a matter in Colorado’s San Luis Valley where your agencies play an important and unique oversight role under Public Law 102-575. Through the attached letter from the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (the District), we have been alerted to a proposal called Renewable Water Resources which would transfer groundwater out of the basin from the confined aquifer beneath the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Baca National Wildlife Refuge, and Closed Basin Project. After hearing concerns from our San Luis Valley constituents about this proposal for months, the District’s letter from yesterday, and considering Colorado’s current exceptional drought, we both oppose this proposal. Further, we ask for your attention under the Wirth Amendment, if an opportunity for review comes before your agencies.

    The San Luis Valley is experiencing unprecedented drought that has placed a severe demand on local water resources. Valley residents, including farmers, ranchers, and business owners, rely heavily on groundwater aquifers to support their economy and way of life. Since 2005, in response to this drought, local farmers have undertaken an ambitious, collaborative effort to reduce their own pumping with the goal of achieving sustainability. This export proposal continues to seek funding to move forward despite the fact it would exacerbate local water challenges, even with conservation efforts. In addition to concerns from the District, five San Luis Valley counties are opposed to this proposal.

    Public Law 102-575, also called the “Wirth Amendment”, was passed in 1992 and provides a legal framework and elevated standard of environmental review for any transfer of groundwater out of the basin that may adversely affect these public resources. We highlight this law because of its relevance to the San Luis Valley and an elevated standard of review for any project that might adversely affect Great Sand Dunes National Park, Closed Basin Project, Baca National Wildlife Refuge. For your convenience, we have pulled out the relevant language on page 64 of P.L. 102-575 (Title XV, Section 1501-1504):

    SEC 1501: PERMIT ISSUANCE PROHIBITED
    (a) No agency or instrument of the United States shall issue any permit, license, right-of way, grant, loan or other authorization or assistance for any project or feature of any project to withdraw water from the San Luis Valley, Colorado, for export to another basin in Colorado or export to any portion of another State, unless the Secretary of the Interior determines, after due consideration of all findings provided by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, that the project will not:
    (1) increase the costs or negatively affect operation of the Closed Basin Project;
    (2) adversely affect the purposes of any national wildlife refuge or Federal wildlife habitat area withdrawal located in the San Luis Valley, Colorado; or
    (3) adversely affect the purposes of the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, Colorado.
    (b) Nothing in this title shall be construed to alter, amend, or limit any provision of Federal or State law that applies to any project or feature of a project to withdraw water from the San Luis Valley, Colorado, for export to another basin in Colorado or another State. Nothing in this title shall be construed to limit any agency’s authority or responsibility to reject, limit, or condition any such project on any basis independent of the requirements of this title.

    The Colorado delegation previously raised similar concerns with your agencies. In 2014, Senator Bennet led a letter with Senator Udall, Congressmen Tipton and Gardner elevating these same responsibilities to your attention in the face of a similar groundwater export proposal.

    On behalf of our San Luis Valley constituents and the water resources so critical to their economic future, we must oppose the Renewable Water Resources proposal. We thank you for your assistance when your agencies are presented with the opportunity to review this matter.

    Rio Grande River Basin Drought Monitor map February 15, 2022.

    Water for #Colorado Coalition Opposes Damaging Proposal to Export San Luis Valley #Water — @Water4Colorado #RioGrande

    Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the release from Water for Colorado:

    A recent proposal by Renewable Water Resources (RWR) plans to divert 22,000 acre feet of water annually from the San Luis Valley to Douglas County through a transbasin diversion over Poncha Pass. Douglas County would utilize federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) stimulus funds to partially pay for the acquisition and development of water rights in the San Luis Valley. In response, Water for Colorado has issued the following statement:

    “This controversial proposal threatens the economy and way of life for those who live in the San Luis Valley, and demonstrates a harmful use of federal funds. Water for Colorado and its nine partner organizations representing diverse interests across the state stand with the residents of the San Luis Valley and Protect our Water Coalition and join state leaders, including Governor Jared Polis, in strong opposition to the proposal and encourage the Douglas County Commissioners to reject it. Our coalition urges collaborative solutions to Colorado’s water supply concerns that do not irrevocably harm one community in favor of another.

    Water is the lifeblood of the San Luis Valley — from supporting the potato crops and grains that have grown on family farms for generations, to providing essential refuge for wildlife, to bolstering recreation at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and across the Valley. Water is everything to the Valley and its people.

    With an average of only 7 inches of rain a year, there is no renewable water in the Valley to export. The proposed diversion hurts both the communities from which the water is taken and the sources from where the water comes. There are also no requirements for the cities that receive the water to apply more stringent water conservation standards in recognition of the valuable water resources being taken from the Valley.

    Using ARPA funding to sap water from a region that plays home to countless species of wildlife including pronghorn, mountain lion, black bear, beavers and pika; supports over 300 bird species and 119,330 acres of wildlife habitat; and provides critical runs for Rio Grande cutthroat trout, is deeply harmful.

    Additionally, the price tag could well exceed $2 billion, which would be borne primarily through water ratepayers. We know that we’re facing extreme water challenges now and in the future, but we must prioritize more cost-effective and immediately available conservation and sustainable water use over diversions. Proposals like this mark an irresponsible use of federal funding, and set a dangerous precedent. The recently-released State of the Rockies poll shows 81% of Westerners oppose these kinds of water diversions preferring, instead, projects that utilize water conservation, reduction in use, and increased water recycling.

    It’s incumbent upon us all to use every drop wisely, and for every community in Colorado to achieve the highest conservation and water reuse standards possible. Colorado’s locally-based, collaborative approach to water management relies on us all working together rather than pitting basins against one another. When we start approving dangerous water proposals and short term investments like the ones discussed above, we’ve already lost the battle against drought and climate change.”

    Douglas County officials will visit the San Luis Valley on March 26, 2022 — The #Alamosa Citizen

    Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Click the link to read the article on The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):

    A morning tour of property owned by Renewable Water Resources, a tour of an irrigated farm, a meeting with elected officials and a community meeting at the Ski-Hi Regional Events Center in Monte Vista is how Douglas County commissioners plan to spend March 26 in the San Luis Valley.

    The three Douglas County commissioners – Abe Laydon, George Teal and Lora Thomas – have scheduled the visit to help them decide if they should invest in Bill Owens’ Renewable Water Resources plan and pump groundwater from the Valley to the Denver suburb.

    Laydon called it an opportunity to “listen and learn” when the commissioners discussed the visit and tentative agenda on Monday.

    Thomas, who has been outspoken in her opposition to the RWR plan because of its impact on the Rio Grande Basin and the Valley communities, said it was important to show respect when Douglas County officials arrive at the end of March.

    As for Teal, who supports the RWR plan, he is hoping to find compromise among the Valley’s elected officials to what otherwise has been what he called a lot of unfactual rhetoric coming from Valley residents toward the Renewable Water Resources plan, he said.

    “Nine out 10 words we’ve heard is ‘You’re going to dry us to the bone,’” Teal said of the four meetings Douglas County has held so far to study the RWR plan, “while 10 percent has been ‘We’re only taking a little bit and we’re giving something back.’”

    By meeting with local elected officials, “hopefully we can get to a workable deal that reasonable people can come to,” Teal said.

    He said presentations and comments made to the Douglas County commissioners have been “very contrary to the facts of this case.” He thinks elected officials in the Valley will be more sensible in the conversations.

    “What I was hoping for with the elected official lunch is being able to have elected officials talk beyond the simple rhetoric and maybe, yeah, come up with a compromise that could be an element in the town hall,” Teal said to his fellow commissioners as they discussed their visit.

    Renewable Water Resources has approached Douglas County about partnering in its water exportation proposal as a way to bring water to the Front Range bedroom community noted for its golf courses and sprawling housing developments. Owens, the former governor of Colorado, is pushing the water exportation plan. Teal was heavily backed by RWR-affiliated money in his 2020 run for Douglas County commissioner.

    The RWR plan continues to be met by opposition among Colorado elected officials. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weisner has voiced concerns and opposition to the plan, and so now has Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

    Polis, through a spokesperson, told Colorado Politics that he is opposed to the Renewable Water Resources plan. In a statement to Colorado Politics, the spokesman said Polis is “against any inter-basin transfer without local support of impacted communities. This is a proposed inter-basin transfer with deep concerns and opposition in the San Luis Valley and the governor is opposed.”

    Visit our water archives to read more on the Rio Grande and Renewable Water Resources: ​​https://www.alamosacitizen.com/slv-water-archives/.

    Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

    2022 #COleg: Bill providing millions in relief to #RepublicanRiver, #RioGrande basins clears first hurdle — @WaterEdCO

    A powerful sprinkler capable of pumping more than 2,500 gallons of water per minute irrigates a farm field in the San Luis Valley June 6, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

    Click the link to read the article on Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

    Colorado lawmakers have given initial approval to a bill that would provide millions of dollars to help two major water-short farm regions reduce water use and comply with legal obligations to deliver water to Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and New Mexico.

    On Feb. 10 the Colorado Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved [SB22-028 Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund: Concerning the creation of the groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund] that creates a Groundwater Compact Compliance and Sustainability Fund to help pay to buy and retire farm wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican and Rio Grande basins in northeast and south-central Colorado. Colorado and federal tax revenue would bankroll the fund, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board would distribute the money based on recommendations from the Republican River Water Conservation District and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, with approval by the state engineer.

    The need

    The fund is needed, according to proponents, to help reduce groundwater use that is depleting surface water flows in the Republican River and threatening Colorado’s ability to comply with a compact among Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. It is also intended to help drought-stressed aquifers in the San Luis Valley recover and to meet aquifer sustainability standards required by the state in the Rio Grande Basin.

    To achieve those goals, 25,000 acres of irrigated land must be taken out of production in the Republican basin, and 40,000 acres in the Rio Grande, by 2029. David Robbins, general counsel for both districts, noted that, “Both districts have received letters from the state engineer indicating that if they fail in the task they will receive orders shutting down the wells in each basin, which will have dramatic and very difficult consequences for everyone in both basins.”

    The bill’s proponents hope to take advantage of a one-time funding opportunity—federal Covid-19 stimulus dollars under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). The General Assembly created the Economic Relief and Recovery Cash Fund last year to receive ARPA dollars and transferred nearly $850 million into it; investment in water infrastructure is among the eligible uses. It also established an Economic Recovery Task Force to recommend how to spend those funds. Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, who is also General Manager of the Rio Grande district and a co-sponsor of the bill, has requested $80 million from the task force to support the bill. The governor’s budget includes $15 million as a starting point.

    Neither district is looking for a handout. The Republican has already assessed its water users $148.5 million to retire irrigated land, purchase or lease surface and groundwater, and pipe groundwater to the river near the Nebraska border to meet Colorado’s water delivery obligations. Aaron Sprague, a member of its board of directors, said the district had retired 42,000 acres of irrigated land since 2006 and thought they were in compliance, but then a court stipulation signed in 2016 by the three states, requiring 25,000 acres additional acres be retired, “effectively moved the goal posts on us.” The district has retired 3,000 acres of that additional land so far. Sprague figures the economic impact of well shutdowns to be $2.2 billion annually on local, regional and state economies.

    Although the Rio Grande is also part of an interstate compact among Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, the issue there is reducing groundwater pumping to sustainable levels pursuant to state law. What constitutes sustainability is different in the shallow and deep aquifers that underlie the Rio Grande’s San Luis Valley, but it basically boils down to balancing inflows and outflows—precipitation, which averages less than 7” per year in that region, and return flows equaling groundwater withdrawals. As in the Republican basin, the Rio Grande district has taxed its farmers $69 million since 2006 to take irrigated land out of production and cut groundwater pumping, with 13,000 acres retired and well pumping reduced by a third in that period.

    But 3,000 wells and 170,000 irrigated acres are at risk if the Rio Grande doesn’t meet the 2029 deadline. How would that affect the valley? Simpson emphasized that, “Irrigated agriculture in the San Luis Valley has about a $1 billion annual impact on our community…the culture, the economy were all built around it.”

    The cost

    So how much would it cost and where would the money come from? David Robbins suggests that each district would need at least $50 million “over and above” what they already have spent to achieve compliance. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, another co-sponsor whose district includes the Republican River Basin, said he wasn’t sure $150 million total would be enough. “When commodity prices are where they are,” he noted, “it’s much more difficult to retire acres.” Corn now is selling at over $6/bushel, its highest level in years, making irrigated acreage more valuable.

    The bill will go next to the Senate floor for debate. It has strong bipartisan support and is identical to a bill recommended by the interim Water Resources Review Committee last fall. But as Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, committee chair, pointed out, there is no appropriation attached. “This bill just creates an entity,” she cautioned, “and then we’ve got the real hard work to do of making sure we find money to put into it.”

    Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net.

    2022 #COleg: SB22-028, “Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund” passes out of committee with unanimous vote — The #Alamosa News #groundwater #RioGrande #RepublicanRiver

    A farmer uses a center pivot to battle drought on a field in Center, Colo., in the San Luis Valley on Aug. 24, 2020. Credit: Allen Best

    Click the link to read the article on The Alamosa News (Priscilla Waggoner). Here’s an excerpt:

    In a unanimous, bi-partisan vote, Senator Simpson’s bill [SB22-028 Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund: Concerning the creation of the groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund] passed, unamended, out of the Colorado Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Thursday. Next step is the floor of the Senate where the bill will be voted on by the body at large.

    The bill creates the groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund to help finance groundwater use reduction efforts in the Rio Grande River Basin and the Republican River Basin, including buying and retiring irrigation wells and irrigated acreage.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board administers the fund and can make expenditures based on recommendations from the board of directors of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District or the Republican River Water Conservation District. A conservation district’s recommendations must first be approved by the state engineer…

    Clearly referencing the water development investment group Renewable Water Resources (RWR), Donovan wanted to know how to explain a group of people wanting to export water from the valley when it is clear water scarcity is already an issue. Robbins, who was testifying at the time, responded that it was something they “were trying to understand themselves” but said that the Rio Grande Water Conservation District is united in their resolve to fight the efforts with all they have.

    Referencing the RWR proposal, Donovan then commented that being given money to build a senior citizen center or for law enforcement won’t help much if there are no senior citizens or communities left. She then commented that the General Assembly is receiving the message that the group “needs to look for water somewhere else.”

    2022 #COleg: SB22-126 Prioritize #Water Storage Projects South Platte Basin #SouthPlatteRiver

    South Platte River Storage Study Area. Illustration shows water availability, in blue circles, compared with demand at various places along the South Platte River. The yellow area is the study area. (Illustration by Stantec).

    Click the link to read the article on The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice). Here’s an excerpt:

    The [SB22-126 Prioritize Water Storage Projects South Platte Basin: Concerning a requirement that the Colorado water conservation board prioritize water storage in the South Platte river basin in choosing projects to finance with money from the Colorado water conservation board construction fund.], sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, would require that water storage in the basin would be prioritized when the CWCB decides what projects to fund.

    Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District based in Sterling, shared the bill with his board of directors during their regular meeting [February 8, 2022]. The board later voted to support the bill.

    The bill specifically lists two intended purposes of the prioritization – to “(increase) the beneficial consumptive use of Colorado’s undeveloped waters to which Colorado is entitled under the South Platte River Compact,” and to “reduce reliance on transmountain diversions.”

    According to the bill, the CWBC would create a construction fund into which any money appropriated by the General Assembly for water projects would be held. Interest on the investments from the fund would revert back into the fund, and unexpended funds would not be returned to the legislature at the end of the year.

    In addition, when allocating money for water storage projects, CWBC would give projects in the South Platte Basin top priority.

    #Firestone will soon treat #water at its own facility — The #Greeley Tribune

    The water treatment process

    Click the link to read the article on The Greeley Tribune (Ken Amundson). Here’s the excerpt:

    Beginning in April, Firestone will begin to produce treated water from its new water-treatment facility, dubbed the St. Vrain Water Treatment Plant.

    The plant is one part of a multi-million dollar investment into diversifying the town’s water supply that includes the water plant, surface reservoirs, subsurface water in alluvial wells, conversion of irrigation water to municipal use and reuse of some water resources…

    Firestone, like several growing communities along the northern Front Range, was largely dependent upon water from the Colorado-Big Thompson water project, which draws water from the Colorado River on the Western Slope and transports it to reservoirs and a network of supply lines in Northern Colorado…

    All of Firestone’s water, prior to the opening of the new treatment plant, is treated at the Carter Lake Filter Plant, which is jointly operated by regional water districts. In Firestone’s case, the Central Weld County Water District is under contract to treat and deliver C-BT water for Firestone…

    The investment has not been cheap. The town has spent $76 million so far.

    It issued bonds to build the treatment plant and build a storage system. Those bonds will be repaid by tap fees, a storage and infrastructure fee, and the usual monthly water bill payments from residents…

    Developers who own irrigation water now can dedicate it to the town in satisfaction of the town’s water requirements for new development. The treatment plant will process that native water and reduce the town’s reliance on C-BT, he said.

    Insteading of drawing the water from the creek, the town will draw water from alluvial wells — wells that are replenished from surface water — and also inject water when available back into the wells for storage, Teneyck said. The alluvial wells are relatively shallow at about 35 feet and are located north of the historic coal mines in the Carbon Valley.

    The town also is a partner in the Windy Gap Firming Project and the Northern Integrated Supply Project — NISP. A reservoir to hold Windy Gap water is under construction near Carter Lake. The NISP project will include two large reservoirs when it is built…

    The treatment plant, which will be operated by the St. Vrain Water Authority, an entity jointly controlled by Firestone and the Little Thompson Water District, will initially treat 1.5 million gallons of water a day. Two expansions are planned, the first of which will expand capacity to 2.25 million gallons per day, and the second expansion will bring it to 5 million gallons per day by 2050. Firestone uses 2.23 million gallons of treated water per day today…

    All of this is being paid for with fee schedules meant to recover the costs of growth. Developers will pay storage and infrastructure fees while homebuilders and commercial building contractors will pay tap fees that currently sit at $13,000 each for a residential tap.

    South Platte River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

    #Nebraska Governor announces $500 million plan to claim #water in #SouthPlatteRiver: Why this concerns the San Luis Valley — The #Crestone Eagle #RioGrande

    Wet hay meadow on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge in July 2008. By Fred Bauder – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11556466

    Click the link to read the article on The Crestone Eagle (Lisa Cyriacks). Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado released a report in January that identified 282 new projects within the South Platte River Basin on their side of the border, at a total cost of $9.87 billion…

    Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, a Republican, said Colorado has been issuing water usage permits that would cut into Nebraska’s rightful share…

    Douglas County Commissioners are currently considering a plan to supplement their water supply by bringing water from the San Luis Valley (SLV) to their county. Douglas County relies primarily on water from the Denver Basin. The South Platte serves as a principal source of water for the Colorado Front Range and the Eastern Plains.

    Renewable Water Resources (RWR) is proposing to move 20,000 acre-feet of water annually from the San Luis Valley’s aquifer to Douglas County…

    The unconfined aquifer, which provides irrigation water, has not recharged this winter as it typically does during the off-irrigation season.

    Producers in Subdistrict 5 of the conservation district (western Saguache County) will likely face another irrigation season where groundwater wells are shut down…

    Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

    The San Luis Creek runs through the middle of the wellfield and Rio Alto Creek through the southwestern side. Both these creeks supply the wetlands on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge created under the Great Sand Dunes National Park Act.

    RGWCD plans to challenge RWR’s proposal in the Water Court. “We can’t see a path forward without injury or that would comply with rules and regulations as they exist today,” [Cleave] Simpson said.

    Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

    #Colorado releases California Gulch settlement funds — The #Leadville Herald-Democrat #ArkansasRiver

    View of the Yak Tunnel and Mine Complex in California Gulch near Leadville, Colorado; shows mill buildings and ore car tracks. Mount Elbert, Mount Massive, and the Sawatch Range are in the background. Denver Public Library Special Collections
    Creator
    Beam, George L. (George Lytle), 1868-1935. Date: 1908

    Click the link to read an article from The Leadville Herald-Democrat (Patrick Bilow):

    The Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative (ARWC), which also includes groups like Trout Unlimited, submitted an initial application last fall under the project title “Upper Arkansas Comprehensive Watershed Restoration Project.” The application requested $5 million from damages associated with the California Gulch Superfund Site for various initiatives, including culvert replacement and fuels mitigation…

    Commissioner Sarah Mudge, who helped submit the application in December, said the group will submit a new request in February for consideration under a new round of funding. Mudge said ARWC has altered the scope of work slightly for the new application, but that culvert work and fuels mitigation will remain a priority.

    Last September, the trustees, including Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, visited Lake County for a landmark tour of California Gulch, a Superfund site that was heavily impacted by mining operations. After the tour, the trustees heard proposals from groups like ARWC, which presented the “Upper Arkansas Comprehensive Watershed Restoration Project.”

    […]

    Fuels mitigation will entail thinning efforts and the implementation of a county-wide slash management program. Mine impact mitigation refers to ongoing efforts to prevent soil and water pollution from old mine operations. And river restoration will include post-wildfire flood defense along waterways and culvert repair in four or five areas throughout Lake County.

    Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

    #Nevada, #Utah set to battle over the West’s most precious resource — The Las Vegas Review-Journal

    Cedar City historic main street. CC BY-SA 3.0.

    Click the link to read the article at the Las Vegas Review Journal (Blake Apgar). Here’s an excerpt:

    But the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District, which serves Cedar City and the surrounding area, said the project is important to not just fuel growth in the city of about 35,000 people. It will ensure water can be delivered to people who already live there.

    Cedar City, about 170 miles northeast of Las Vegas, gets its water from an aquifer in Cedar Valley. The city and its surrounding area uses about 28,000 acre-feet per year from an underground system that is only capable of producing about 21,000 acre-feet.

    Last year, Utah adopted a groundwater management plan last year that will roll back water rights and reduce the amount of water that can be pumped out of Cedar Valley.

    Because of this, municipalities in the area stand to lose about 75 percent of their water rights, Central Iron County Water Conservancy District General Manager Paul Monroe said…

    Pine Valley Mountains with St. George, Utah in the foreground. By Óðinn – Own work  This image was created with Hu