El Paso County water master plan warns about Denver Basin Aquifer depletions

Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

Click here to go to the El Paso County website for the project.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Rachel Riley):

The document says the county’s current water supply is about 146,000 acre-feet per year, but demand is expected to increase to about 160,000 acre-feet per year by 2040 and 206,000 acre-feet per year by 2060…

The plan, prepared by Englewood-based engineering firm Forsgren Associates Inc., makes a variety of recommendations for closing the gap, including monitoring groundwater well levels, exploring ways to reuse water, finding new water sources and considering changes to the county’s land use approval process.

The county is home to more than 21,300 permitted groundwater wells and roughly 70 water providers, from small districts to municipal departments, according to the plan.

Water providers in once rural parts of the county, such as Monument, face mounting concerns about how to ensure that residents have enough water as the population continues to rise.

The primary water source for areas that are not served by Colorado Springs Utilities is the Denver Basin. Experts say it’s hard to pinpoint the rate at which water levels are falling in the system of aquifers, which were filled by precipitation over many years.

By 2060, the county’s current annual supply would be enough to serve a little more than half of the projected population, according to the plan. More residents could potentially be served by Denver Basin groundwater, but only if it’s still economical to pump, the plan states.

Per state law, county commissioners generally decide if there’s sufficient water to serve a new development during final platting, the stage of the land use approval process in which lots are created, said Mark Gebhart, deputy director of the county Planning and Community Development Department.

But the plan suggests that the county consider changing its rules so that determination can be made earlier, such as when a preliminary plan or zoning change is approved, to help ensure that new developments are planned with water supply in mind.

The plan also recommends that the county re-evaluate a subdivision regulation that requires developers to prove that they have a 300 years’ supply of water. The requirement, three times as stringent as a state standard that requires proof of 100 years’ supply, could be waived if developers agree to conservation-minded practices, such as reuse of captured wastewater to offset demands, the plan suggests…

The plan also advises that the county encourage water providers to find more reliable water sources that are replenished regularly by precipitation, rather than deep groundwater sources that are slow to recharge. One possibility might be importing water from the Arkansas River, the plan states.

Republican River Rules filed in water court — The Yuma Pioneer

Republican River Basin. By Kansas Department of Agriculture – Kansas Department of Agriculture, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7123610

From The Yuma Pioneer:

The Office of the State Engineer has filed the proposed Republican River Compact Water Use Rules with Water Court Division 1 in Greeley.

The filing was made last Friday, January 11.

The process for developing the rules included several public meetings with a special advisory committee. It was comprised of volunteers representing users and interests throughout the Republican River Basin. The meetings took place within the basin, and the last one was last August.

As drafted, the rules allow the state to administer surface water and groundwater wells for compliance with the 1942 Republican River Compact.

It includes the state engineer’s ability to curtail wells, which means issuing a cease and desist.

However, Deb Daniel, the general manager for the Republican River Water Conservation District, noted that wells that are within the Republican River Domain and have an augmentation plan are protected from curtailment.

That means all wells located with the Republican River Water Conservation District are protected, due to the district’s augmentation efforts such as the compact compliance pipeline, purchasing surface water rights, and providing financial incentives for well owners to voluntarily retire their wells, such as through CREP and EQIP conservation programs.

However, the Republican River Domain boundary is different than the RRWCD boundary, so there are some wells that currently are not protected from the potential curtailment. There is legislation currently before the Colorado State Legislature that will expand the RRWCD’s boundary to including all of the Republican River Domain.

Division 1 Water Court will have to rule on the proposed rules before they go into effect.

Well owners can make filings for or against the proposed rules with the water court. The case number is 2019CW 3002.

One can learn more about the rules at the Colorado Division of Water Resources website, http://water.state.co.us.

Soil moisture probe pilot project coming to the [San Luis Valley]

San Luis Valley via National Geographic

From the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District via The Monte Vista Journal:

The San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District (SLVWCD) is seeking farmers for a pilot project in 2019 to cost-share on the purchase and installation of soil moisture probes. The project will include soil mapping and placement of probes that will give farmers immediate access to soil moisture data in their fields through an online portal and smartphone app. The goal of the effort is to determine if this data can help farmers with their irrigation decisions and lead to water conservation.

The project is open to farmers in parts of Alamosa, Conejos, Rio Grande and Saguache counties. The SLVWCD will contribute up to $2,000 per quarter section of land. The financial cost to the farmer will vary, depending on the selected vendor. Farmers are allowed to leverage other incentive programs such as RCPP to meet their cost-share requirement.

Participating farmers will select a vendor who is able to complete detailed soil mapping of each field. The vendor will then install soil moisture probes in accordance with the recommendations from the soil mapping. The vendor will also provide software that will allow farmers to access real-time weather information and soil moisture data from either a cell-phone application or a web-site portal.

Participants will be required to share the following data with the SLVWCD: The Water District Structure Identification (WDID) of the well or diversion structure used to irrigate the field; the annual quantity of water applied in water years 2013-2018 by the WDID structure and other water sources; the quantity of water applied on a minimum of a monthly basis for any year(s) enrolled in the pilot program; and soil mapping and soil moisture probe data.

At the end of the program’s first year, the average water application data will be compared to 2013-2018 in an effort to determine if use of the soil moisture probes improved water conservation.

Funding for the project was provided by the San Luis Valley Conservation and Connection Initiative and the Colorado Water Conservation Board Colorado Water Plan Grant Program.

To apply for the program contact Matt at the SLVWCD at 589-2230 or matt@slvwcd.org by Feb, 28.

#RioGrande Roundtable meeting recap

Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Roundtable member Judy Lopez and her boss Sarah Parmar with Colorado Open Lands (COL) talked with the Roundtable members on Tuesday about providing more options for farmers and ranchers considering conservation easements on their properties. The Roundtable is a group of San Luis Valley residents representing a variety of water uses throughout the Valley.

Parmar said COL has protected half a million acres across the state through conservation easements. “Conservation easements are still the only permanent tool to keep land and water in agriculture,” she said.

Parmar explained that conservation easements originated on the East Coast, and when they were introduced in Colorado, “water was an afterthought.” The focus was on land protection. However, as they evolved, conservation easements also focused on protecting the water rights associated with the land, not allowing the water rights to be sold but requiring them to remain in their historical use, Parmar explained.

Up to this point, conservation easement agreements were very restrictive regarding water use, she said. To meet current conditions and needs, however, COL brought together a team to look at more flexibility with water rights under conservation easements while still protecting the investment of those funding such easements. The efforts began with the South Platte Roundtable, which was concerned that about one third of irrigated land and water would be transferred to municipal use by 2050 through “buy and dry” purchases. “Buy and dry is the easiest way for municipalities to get water,” Parmar said.

To prevent permanent loss of the water, COL began looking at ways in which property owners could lease their water rights for a certain number of years, like seven out of 10, to municipalities like Castle Rock, while retaining some agricultural use of the water. During the years their water was going to municipalities, farmers could fallow their land, deficit irrigate, irrigate for less than a full season or use a crop that used less water, Parmar explained.

Parmar said South Platte Basin water users who were surveyed on the issue were interested in the concept, with nearly 60 percent saying they would be interested in a lease situation.

Parmar said their choices were to preserve the water rights through conservation easements or sell them off entirely, the latter being more profitable. A leasing option provided farmers and ranchers with another alternative, she said. The water would remain with the land but could be involved in a long-term lease with a municipality, which would give that municipality some assurances as well, Parmar explained.

Parmar said attorneys working with COL have developed easements that would accomplish these goals and meet IRS codes for conservation easements and the tax benefits associated with them.

Lopez said the way this would likely work in the San Luis Valley would be agriculture-to-agriculture leasing, not agriculture-to-municipality leasing. This might help with some of the challenges facing the Valley now from water export threats to state regulations, she said. It might also allow some folks to keep their properties that might not have been able to, she added.

Lopez said the water portions of conservation easements would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Roundtable member Ronda Lobato asked about the possibility of changing existing conservation easements. Parmar said she did not think that was out of the realm of possibility. She said there are about two million acres under conservation easements through various organizations across the state, a lot of it in the San Luis Valley.

Roundtable member Mike Gibson was very opposed to changing existing conservation easements. He said the roundtable had approved funding for conservation easements on the basis the water would stay on the land and be used for historical purposes. He said the people who entered those agreements for their land also did so with the understanding the water would remain protected, and to change that would affect other factors like habitat.

Roundtable Chairman Nathan Coombs, who is the manager of the Conejos Water Conservancy District, said he understood that conservation easements already in place were created with some options off the table, but with the current situation in the Rio Grande Basin, it might be time to look at more flexibility.

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

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

From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Associated Press via KGUN9.com:

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

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

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

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

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

The Arizona Legislature must approve the complex plan.

The RRWCD continues its partnership with Colorado NRCS in their continuous investment in water conservation, public meeting January 10, 2018

From the Republican River Water Conservation District (Tim Davis) via The Julesberg Advocate:

The Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) acting through its Water Activity Enterprise (RRWCD-WAE) will again partner with NRCS to encourage water conservation and provide incentives to producers that voluntarily implement water conservation measures.

Since the Ogallaa Aquifer Initiative (OAI) sunset with the end of the 2014 Farm Bill, the RRWCD will partner with NRCS through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help producers transition from irrigated to drylands agriculture or grassland. The RRWCD founding will augment NRCS funding to producers that voluntarily agree to permanently retire irrigation wells and convert the irrigated cropland to drylands farming or grazing land.

NRCS will provide approximately two hundred fifty dollars ($250.00) per acre to producers that enroll in the permanent water retirement program. The RRWCD will provide additional incentives of between six hundred ($600.00) and one thousand five hundred dollars ($1,500) per acre depending on the location of the well within the District boundary.

Additional conservation practices may be appropriate on the converted acts. These practices will provide substantial water conservation and will help sustain the life of the aquifer. Recent research has suggested that in some cases higher capacity wells can reduce water consumption by as as much as twenty percent (20%) with little or no effect on the overall profitability…

Water conservation measures such as weather stations, soil moisture monitoring and conversion from sprinkler irrigation to a more efficient irrigation system can contribute substantially to prolonging the life of the quiver, while maintaining a strong irrigated agricultural economy. The EQIP program also provides these additional voluntary incentive based tools that all producers can use to prolong the life of this aquifer.

The RRWCD has consulted with groundwater management districts, the Water Preservation Partnership, and others to develop strategies to assist producers through financial incentives to voluntarily reduce water consumption. Several surveys distributed throughout the District to producers have indicated that voluntary, incentive based programs were preferred over regulatory water restrictions. It is important that each and every irrigated agriculture producer evaluate their individual irrigation practices to determine if they can help reduce the impact on the aquifer by implementing one or more of these conservations practices.

The deadline for application for EQIP is January 18, 2019 so please contact your local NRCS office at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/co/home/ or the RRWCD office in Wray, Colorado, at 970-332-3552 as soon as possible if you wish to apply for conservation funding through this program.

South Fork of the Republican River

From The Yuma Pioneer:

The Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors will have a public hearing on the proposed new water use fee policy during its regular quarterly meeting, Thursday, January 10, in Burlington.

The meeting will be held at the Burlington Community and Educational Center, 340 S. 14th St., beginning at 10 a.m.

The public hearing on the proposed new water use fee policy will be at 1 p.m.

RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel said the proposed policy would not change the fee for irrigation, while municipal and commercial wells would have a minimal reduction in the fee per acre feet pumped.

Junior surface water right fees would be based on comparing the impact on compact compliance of diversions of surface water for irrigation as compared to the impact of groundwater withdrawals.

Daniel said the proposed policy addresses the fees charged by the RRWCD for compact compliance, based on the impact each type of use and consumption has on the determination of Colorado’s compliance with the Republican River Compact as determined by the RRCA Accounting Procedures.

Public comment will be heard immediately following the water use fee public hearing.

Besides the regular reports, the board will hear a presentation from Mark Lengel about concerns on the South Fork. The board also will discuss South Fork Water Rights.

For more information, please contact Daniel at 332-3552 or email her at deb.daniel@rrwcd.com.

#Arizona Gov. Ducey and @CAPArizona Board Each Pledge $5 Million for Pinal County Farmers #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Gila River watershed. Graphic credit: Wikimedia

From The Phoenix New Times (Elizabeth Whitman):

The [CAP] board voted to authorize up to $5 million during its monthly board meeting on Thursday. At that meeting, officials from the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources also shared that Ducey would request $5 million in his executive budget.

The $10 million put forward Thursday would help match $15 million the federal government is kicking in for building pumps, wells, and other structures that farmers could use to tap into groundwater. The federal funds were given on the condition that local entities in Arizona match it, Suzanne Ticknor, water policy director for the Central Arizona Project, told the board.

The additional funding comes at a critical time for Arizona. It has until the federally set deadline of January 31 to agree on a plan to deal with looming shortages on the Colorado River. One of the major concerns with that plan has been that it requires farmers to rapidly transition from surface water to groundwater, a process with a hefty price tag.

Pinal County irrigation districts initially estimated that the groundwater infrastructure would cost $30 million to $35 million to build. On Thursday, it turned out that projected costs had been revised to as much as $50 million…

Brian Betcher, the general manager for the Maricopa Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District, explained that in its initial cost analysis, the district had looked at brand-new wells generating water 11 months of the year. Members realized that farmers really use water only about seven months each year, starting around April.

“We missed that in the analysis,” Betcher said at Thursday’s meeting.

But, he and others were quick to point out, farmers in Pinal County were not the only ones who might use those new pipes, pumps, and wells to pull water from below ground. The Central Arizona Project and other users could also use them, though they’re only allowed to recover water they had previously stored underground…

The funds that the CAP board authorized — almost unanimously — would come from ad valorem taxes, which the board is authorized to levy on property owners in Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal Counties. Board members made that funding contingent upon other groups’ helping to match federal funding, and upon the development of a program that includes infrastructure for recovering stored groundwater.

The sole dissenting vote came from Jennifer Martin, one of the board’s new members, who said she was concerned about the negative consequences of increasing groundwater pumping. In parts of Arizona, groundwater over-pumping has caused land to sink and giant fissures to open up in the ground.

The $5 million Ducey pledged would be in addition to $30 million he committed in November to Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan, which would not count toward the federal matching program for groundwater. That $30 million would go toward paying water users to leave water in Lake Mead, the reservoir on the Colorado River that supplies Arizona, in order to prevent it from dropping to catastrophically low levels.

The Drought Contingency Plan spells out how Arizona cities, tribes, industries, and farmers will share cuts amounting to at least 512,000 acre-feet from the 2.8 million acre-feet of water they take from the Colorado River each year. (An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.) Those cuts are expected to start in 2020, when the Bureau of Reclamation gives the Colorado River a 57 percent of falling into shortage.

The plan weans farmers, who gave up their rights to Colorado River water in the 2004 Water Settlement Act, off of that surface water and onto groundwater instead. According to the plan, farmers will need to pump 16,500 acre-feet of groundwater in 2022, the last year they’ll still receive some Colorado River water. The following year, their pumping will increase to 70,000 acre-feet.

The governor’s office also supports repurposing a groundwater withdrawal fee to go toward groundwater infrastructure, said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, during Thursday’s meeting. The withdrawal fee is paid by farmers in Pinal County and generates about $1.2 million a year.