@csindependent: A toxic water supply has left beloved Venetucci Farm in limbo

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Nat Stein):

To say that the 2016 season didn’t go well for Venetucci Farm is an understatement.

It was historically bad, but not for lack of rain or a pest infestation or anything that farmers are accustomed to dealing with. First, toxic chemicals discovered in the farm’s water supply in May prompted the suspension of produce sales mid-season. Then, at season’s end, a brutal hail storm wiped out the remaining solace of Venetucci’s fans — its hallmark pumpkin crop.

News isn’t improving. In a normal year, planting would be coming up in late March, but operations on the farm are currently stalled. This could be the first season in over a century that area consumers go without fresh, local food from the region’s oldest working farm.

Uncertainty reigns. Nobody knows the full consequences of irrigating crops with water containing perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) at levels above what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for drinking. And then there’s the question of who will own and run Venetucci Farm, which was entrusted to the Pikes Peak Community Foundation in 2006 by Bambina “Bambi” Venetucci after the 2004 death of her husband, local farmer Dominico “Nick” Venetucci.

Bambi passed away in 2015 with the desire and belief that the family’s land would carry on in perpetuity as a working farm that welcomes schoolchildren to come pick pumpkins, free of charge, every fall. (Their generosity remains legendary — there’s a statue of Nick next to the Pioneers Museum and a depiction of him gifting a pumpkin on the label of Bristol Brewing Company’s highly popular annual Venetucci Pumpkin Ale.)

But, even before the water crisis arose, PPCF, under new leadership, had begun reevaluating all of its legacy assets, including Venetucci Farm. Over the past few months, an advisory committee has been meeting to vet visions for a post-PPCF Venetucci, with a recommendation expected in early March. The board will take it from there — without any chance for public input.

Whatever the foundation decides to do with the farm, recently installed CEO Gary Butterworth is unequivocal that the legacy of Nick and Bambi Venetucci will carry on. But no matter who stewards it into the future, their legacy may already be tainted by decades of chemical build-up in the aquifer beneath the farm.

Indeed, none of this sits well with longtime consumers like across-the-street neighbor Brittany McCollough. She’s less worried about what’s in the water — “everything’s poison these days,” she notes dryly — and more worried that those who actually eat Venetucci-grown food no longer have a seat at the table.

“It seems like the ‘community’ part has been taken out of ‘community foundation,'” she says, telling the Independent that “[consumers] have been left in the dark even though we’re impacted the most.” A teacher during the school year, McCollough helps run Venetucci’s farm stand over the summers, distributing weekly boxes of produce to community-supported agriculture (CSA) members in exchange for her own share. She’s been getting fresh vegetables for herself and her young son this way for about seven years. For her, all the extraneous factors affecting the farm are beside the point. “There are so many choices to make in the world and knowing the people who grow my food, right across the street in my own watershed — that’s really important to me,” she says.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Nat Stein):

Scientists from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Axys, a private lab in Canada, all came to the farm to investigate. They took water, soil, plant and meat samples to test for PFC content. It took months for results to come back, and even then, their data took the form of raw numbers — not risk assessment, which is what the farm really needed.

For an official interpretation of the results, Venetucci counted on the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE). Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Mike Van Dyke was willing to oblige, since he had received multiple inquiries from citizens who wanted to know whether food grown with PFC-contaminated water was safe. There just wasn’t much research out there.

“If it were something like lead, that’s more common and actually regulated, there’d be a framework out there,” he tells the Indy. “But basically what we did was the School of Mines had done some research on uptake of PFCs by fruits and vegetables. So they’ve developed models saying, ‘If you have x amount in soil and x amount in water, you’re likely to end up with x amount in the vegetables.”

So he and his team looked at the data those other labs had previously collected, picking out the highest concentrations to use in their analysis.

“We used maximums, not averages, to kind of get a worst case scenario,” Van Dyke says. “The idea was to get a conservative estimate at first, then become more lenient over time if we get additional data that warrants it.”

For the other variables, the team borrowed federal standards: EPA’s drinking water advisory for the acceptable limit of PFCs and USDA’s recommendations for daily food consumption. (That’s three vegetable servings and two fruit servings for children, and one more of each for adults. A serving equates to 100 grams of vegetables and 150 grams of fruit.)

Given all that, CDPHE found that eating the federally-recommended amount of Venetucci’s produce, even with the highest possible uptake levels, likely won’t expose you to dangerous levels of PFCs. And in reality, let’s admit it, most people get their produce from different sources and don’t eat enough of it.

Rio Grande: Special master’s report, “indicates Texas has a strong case against the Land of Enchantment” — Laura Paskus

Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full
Elephant Butte Reservoir back in the day nearly full

From NMPoliticalReport (Laura Paskus):

When the special master’s 351-page final report arrived this week, it didn’t vary much from the draft this summer, in which Gregory Grimsal delivered some grim messages to New Mexico.

The exhaustively-researched report details the history of water agreements and disputes along the lower Rio Grande and indicates Texas has a strong case against the Land of Enchantment.

Anticipating that the case would be moving forward, earlier this year New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced a new joint defense strategy with the state’s two water agencies, the Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission.

The Attorney General’s office was unable to accommodate an interview this week about the new strategy, but office spokesman James Hallinan issued an email statement to NM Political Report.

“Attorney General Balderas is committed to seeking the best result for New Mexico in the decades-long water litigation he inherited from his predecessors, and will work with the joint defense team he formed with New Mexico’s Lower Rio Grande water users and the Office of the State Engineer throughout the legal process,” Hallinan said. “Attorney General Balderas knows that water is the lifeblood of New Mexico’s unique economy and culture, and now that the court has ruled on the preliminary filings, he can push forward his targeted, technical, data-driven strategy towards the most favorable resolution for New Mexico.”

NM Political Report repeatedly requested to speak with someone from the Office of the State Engineer, which is responsible for groundwater permits, or the Interstate Stream Commission, the agency authorized under state law to negotiate compact disputes.

None of those phone calls or emails were returned.

According to Balderas’ office, the three state agencies will work together and also enter into joint defense agreements with New Mexico State University, PNM, the New Mexico Pecan Growers Association, Southern Rio Grande Diversified Crop Farmers Association, the City of Las Cruces and Camino Real Regional Utility Authority.

One entity from the state absent from the list is the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which sits below the dam in New Mexico, but in the legal world of western water, is considered a part of Texas.

‘No man’s land”

In southern New Mexico today, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District delivers water to about 60,000 acres of fields of crops like pecans, chile and onions.

The district covers more than 90,000 acres, but due to a lingering drought, some of those lands are fallow.

“These are family farms, people who are good stewards of the land,” EBID manager Gary Esslinger told NM Political Report. “It’s a different type of atmosphere here compared with large corporate farms in California that are owned by a bank or an insurance company.”

The irrigation district is different in other ways, too.

To know why, it takes understanding the 1938 Rio Grande Compact and how it divvies up the river’s water among Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

Annually, New Mexico’s fair share from Colorado is based on streamgage measurements near the state line.

Sending Texas its water is trickier. That’s because New Mexico delivers that water to a reservoir 90 miles north of the state line.

Built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over 100 years ago, Elephant Butte Dam holds back water for what’s called the Rio Grande Project—water the federal government must deliver to farmers in New Mexico and Texas, downstream cities, and Mexico.

Battlement Mesa: Ursa Resources backs off injection well application

Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.
Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Ursa Resources and the developer of Battlement Mesa have dropped a zoning change proposal necessary for Ursa to pursue…operating a wastewater injection well near the community’s water intake on the Colorado River.

Battlement Mesa Co. is cutting by about half the size of a proposed zone district that would allow injection wells as a special use. The move eliminates the northern portion of what had been a 37-acre proposed district. That northern portion included a well-pad location where Ursa has approvals to drill for natural gas and had hoped to operate the injection well.

The revised zone district proposal still would encompass another location to the southwest where Ursa has begun the process of seeking approvals for an oil and gas pad that also could hold an injection well if local and state approvals are obtained.

The Garfield County Planning Commission was to have considered the original zone district proposal Wednesday night, but instead agreed to consider the revised application March 8.

Ursa had encountered considerable opposition to its original planned location for the injection well, which would have been about 600 feet from the water intake.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had objected to that location because of concerns that leaks from the well and associated storage tanks could threaten the water supply. That agency’s opposition was a primary factor in Garfield County planning staff also recommending that the Planning Commission and county commissioners reject the zoning change.

On Tuesday, Kent Kuster, an environmental specialist for CDPHE, wrote to the county that in a recent meeting with Ursa representatives his agency was made aware of an alternative injection well location to the west of Ursa’s originally envisioned site. Kuster wrote that the potential location would “reduce the associated risk to the public water supply,” is more protective of that supply and may warrant further local discussion.

Battlement Mesa is an unincorporated community of several thousand people. Dave Devanney of Battlement Concerned Citizens said the group’s members don’t want an injection well anywhere within Battlement Mesa. But the group had been particularly alarmed by the idea of an injection well in the vicinity of the water intake.

In a news release Wednesday, Devanney called the change in Ursa’s plans a victory for residents.

“It was clear that public opinion was against the idea of creating an injection well zone in our community, especially one so close to our drinking water supply,” Devanney said. “Although we may see this proposal resurface in another form, tonight residents of Battlement Mesa can take comfort knowing their water is safe — for now.”


Matt Honeycutt, Ursa’s operations superintendent, declined to say much Wednesday night about the revision in the injection well plans.

“Ultimately it’s to make a better project,” he said.

Don Simpson, Ursa’s vice president of business development, said earlier Wednesday, “We think we’ve come up with a better plan. We’re always looking at different locations, better locations.”

Eric Schmela, president of Battlement Mesa Co., which as the landowner is the applicant for the zoning change, said a number of considerations played into its decision to revise its proposal, from public input, to its own research and additional due diligence.

One member of the Planning Commission, Greg McKennis, sought unsuccessfully Wednesday night to postpone further consideration of the zoning application for 60 to 90 days to give Battlement Mesa residents a chance to fully learn what’s now being proposed and be able to better comment on it.

“This is a big change and we have no idea what those impacts will be,” he said. “… It’s vital that that community … has more than a couple weeks to do what they need to do to review this,” he said.

However, the applicants had a right to request another hearing sooner unless they waived it, which they weren’t willing to do.

“This timing becomes critical down the road to remove trucks off the road for our development plan,” Honeycutt told the commission.

Ursa says having an injection well will eliminate the need to truck away wastewater from drilling. It currently has approvals to drill more than 50 wells from two pads in Battlement Mesa and now is seeking approvals for three more well pads there.

From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Alex Zorn):

Battlement Mesa Partners, requesting the zoning change for Ursa Resources’ natural gas operations, asked commissioners before a packed hearing room for time to amend the proposal…

The hearing was moved to the March 8 Planning Commission meeting. The Planning Commission staff last week recommended rejecting the proposal in large part because it is close to the community’s water intake.

“I think it would be in the board’s best interest to allow for a continuance so that we can make changes to our application,” said Eric Schmela, president of Battlement Mesa Co. “A continuance would allow us to bring you more complete information on the request.”

Among the biggest changes would be to change the size of the area requested for rezoning to allow wells to dispose of wastewater from the fracking process. Drilling within the Planned Unit Development already has been approved by Garfield County and the state.

According to Schmela, the revised application will reduce the area of the project by nearly half. The previous proposal sought to rezone 37 acres along the north end of the community by the Colorado River. An updated application will reduce that area by 50 percent, stated Schmela.

Not only will the new application reduce the size of the injection zone, but it will also move the well away from the Colorado River and water treatment intake.

Garfield County planning staff urge commissioners to reject Battlement Mesa injection well

Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.
Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.

From the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Alex Zorn):

The well location, the staff said, “will have unreasonable adverse effect on the surrounding area, including the safety of the Battlement Mesa Metro District public water supply intake,” which is roughly 600 feet from the area proposed for rezoning.

The well is on the agenda for Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting, to decide whether to create a new zone district that would allow injection wells in Battlement Mesa under a special use permit.

The zone would be called the “Public Service, Recreation and Injection Well” zone and would set aside 37 acres along the north end of the community by the Colorado River.

Since Ursa Resources owns the mineral rights beneath Battlement Mesa, the company won approval last year from state regulators to develop 53 natural gas wells within the residential boundaries of Battlement Mesa. Injection wells, though, used to dispose of wastewater from the drilling process, are currently not permitted within Battlement Mesa.

The proposal for changes to the unincorporated area’s zoning map has seen strong opposition from community activist groups throughout Garfield County.

“We’re ecstatic about the staff rejecting the injection well permit application, but we know the members of the Planning Commission and the county commissioners are the real deciders, “ said Leslie Robinson, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance. “The Planning Commission and county commissioners have their own agenda when it comes to oil and gas, so I don’t know how they will lean.”

Robinson said that she remains apprehensive heading into the vote because the county commissioners have consistently voted to approve oil and gas activities over citizen concerns.

“We just don’t know if staff arguments will be strong enough to persuade the Planning Commission, but it was definitely a pleasant surprise,” she added.

The staff report cites comments from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last February as evidence.

“The proposed location is not well located and safe as reflected in referral comments from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) identifying risks to the Battlement Mesa Metro District public water supply intake,” the staff report states.

The letter has been consistently referenced by opposition of the injection well as the bid has progressed.

“The department believes it creates a significant contamination risk to the public water supply for Battlement Mesa,” the letter said. “The department believes Class II injection wells should not be located in urban mitigation areas.”

Asked about the letter last month, Ursa Vice President of Business Development Don Simpson said he didn’t believe it held much weight because of all the changes the company has made to the proposed well since then. Asked about it again Monday in light of the staff recommendation, Simpson said he believed changes to the proposed pad sufficiently mitigated risk.

“We’re a little surprised [by the staff comments] and intend to have more discussion on our plan, and we’ll see what happens,” he said.

“We’re always looking to improve our project if we can,” he said. “We’re going to talk it out on Wednesday and see if we can come up with a solution.”

The report, which was released late last week by the Garfield County Community Development Department staff, identifies many concerns with the proposed injection well that have been laid out by opposition within Garfield County.

“I wasn’t really surprised by the staff’s decision,” said Dave Devanney of Battlement Concerned Citizens. “In a lot of ways it’s a common sense decision because you just don’t put waste removal within a community.

“I’m just happy that they have taken this position and hope it will be taken into consideration by the county commissioners,” he added. “I’ve been doing this enough that I never get too confident.”

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Ursa Resources has begun the process for seeking approvals to drill 74 oil and gas wells from three pads in a second phase of drilling in the community of Battlement Mesa, while also hitting new resistance to its hopes of operating a wastewater injection well from a previously approved pad near the Colorado River.

Garfield County commissioners on Monday agreed to invoke its rights under new state rules to consult with Ursa about locations and measures to reduce impacts associated with the three additional pads.

Ursa previously received approval to drill more than 50 wells from two pads in the unincorporated community of several thousand people, but hasn’t yet begun drilling. It’s also hoping to operate the injection well on one of those two pads. But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and now Garfield County’s planning staff, have recommended against approval of a zoning change proposal by Battlement Mesa’s developer to allow injection wells on 37 acres, which would take in an approved Ursa pad and a proposed one.

A county planning staff document says Battlement Mesa’s public water intake from the Colorado is 600 feet west of the area proposed for rezoning.

Injection wells also would require approval by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. A CDPHE official recently reiterated to the county its past recommendation against approving an injection well from the approved Ursa pad near the intake because of the threat the well and associated storage tanks would pose to it.

Garfield County’s planning staff pointed to the CDPHE’s concern in urging the county planning commission to recommend to Garfield commissioners that they deny the injection well zoning.

“The proposal will affect in a substantially adverse manner the public interest by creating a risk to the Battlement Mesa Metro District public water supply intake,” the planning staff said in their recommendation.

The planning commission will consider the zoning change Wednesday night.

In a letter to the county, the metro district referenced the CDPHE recommendation that alternative locations for an injection well be analyzed, and said it hadn’t had the chance to conduct an expert evaluation of the potential impacts of an injection well close to the intake.

The county’s oil and gas liaison, Kirby Wynn, recommended that the planning commission give strong consideration to health department comments, and Garfield County Environmental Health also pointed to the potential risks to the water supply and potential benefits of other sites farther away.

Dave Devanney, with Battlement Concerned Citizens, appreciates the position taken by the county planning staff and others. While activists in the community oppose oil and gas development in Battlement Mesa more generally, Devanney said that the idea of pumping wastewater underground near the river and intake “is kind of a line in the sand that they just can’t tolerate.”

Park County to install additional monitoring well at old landfill

Graphic via GeologicResourcs.com
Graphic via GeologicResourcs.com

From the Fairplay Flume (Lynda James):

The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment required additional monitoring activities after 1,4 dioxane was found in a monitoring well…

According to County Administration Officer Tom Eisenman, CDPHE is requiring one more groundwater monitoring well in addition to the four currently on site.

A revised monitoring plan is due to CDPHE by the end of March.

Neighboring residents were notified last December by BLM that dioxane was found in one monitoring well.

The BLM stated in a memo to the county that CDPHE said the level found at the landfill was too low to cause health problems.

Eisenman said the surrounding groundwater wells on 12 private properties were tested.

One tested positive for dioxane, so a second sample was pulled as well as on an adjacent property’s well. Those results haven’t been received.

Eisenman said the county is providing water to the residents whose well was positive and currently working on a cost analysis of various options to provide a permanent solution for these residents’ well, at the county’s cost.
Landfill history

According to BLM, the landfill was operated from 1967 to Oct. 1993.

According to CDPHE, the closure plan met state requirements at the time it was approved. Since then state regulations have changed.

Waste was deposited into unlined trenches that were about 20 feet deep and regularly burned, according to Doty and Associates, the county’s consultant for the landfill post-closure requirements.

Located in Golden, Doty is an environmental, groundwater and waste management engineering firm.

Eisenman told The Flume that two groundwater monitoring wells were installed in 1991, both several hundred feet from the landfill trenches. They are LF-1 and LF-2 on the adjacent map.

The following history was taken from a 2014 Doty report.

A compliance advisory from CDPHE in 2004, stated the county needed to report groundwater monitoring. In 2006, one sample was tested and contained several volatile organic compounds.

Another advisory sent in 2007, stating groundwater monitoring needed to be implemented and based on the 2006 sampling, explosive gases needed to be identified.

When the state didn’t receive a response from the county, CDPHE conducted a site visit in 2013 and sent a third memo in 2014.

That led to digging excavation test pits both in the landfill and adjacent to it in 2015.

Because gas measurements at the pits showed the landfill is still generating gases, the state is now requiring the installation of gas probes.

The state also required more groundwater monitoring wells in the 2014 memo and implementation of a groundwater monitoring plan.

Doty developed a monitoring plan and two additional wells, LF-3 and LF-4R, were installed by BLM in early 2016.

All four wells were sampled three times in 2016, starting with the second quarter of the year and dioxane was detected in LF-2 and LF-3 in the fourth quarter, according to documentation from CDPHE.

The Flume’s request for copies of the landfill laboratory results was denied by the county.

Eisenman said the county is financially responsible for installing the gas probes and another groundwater monitoring well plus any remediation that is necessary.

According to an online article by Geosyntec Consultants, a world-wide company with two Colorado offices, dioxane removal is very complex and most treatments don’t remove it.

The article stated the process used at one site in Colorado is an advanced oxidation process.

“It has the capability to reduce the dioxane concentration to non-detect levels under the right conditions, but this is likely not achievable for many groundwater matrices,” the article stated.

Advanced oxidation process can include processes using ozone, hydrogen peroxide and/or ultraviolet light to break dioxin into other benign substances.

Research is ongoing regarding the best way to remove dioxane.

The good news

According to the Doty report, the geology in the area indicates that the groundwater found in the monitoring wells are in moraine deposits that were left after glaciers retreated.

These deposits have varying sizes of boulders, cobbles, gravel, sand and silt, usually without any cementing as found in other formations such as sandstone, shale or limestone.

Water can travel through moraine deposits easily.

The report states that the groundwater appears to be a perched aquifer underlain with a reddish clay, probably from a weathered Minturn formation which is a red siltstone.

The clay keeps the groundwater from moving downward, confining it to the depths of the moraine deposits. In the area, the moraine deposits range from 80 to 134 feet.

Aquifers below that may not be contaminated.

Eisenman said the monitoring wells are about 150 feet deep and most private wells in the area use an aquifer at around 250 feet.

The following two sections were obtained the Environmental Protection Agency and National Library of Medicine websites.

What is dioxane?

Dioxane is a synthetic heterocyclic organic compound. This means it is a manmade chemical that contains carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules that are connected in a circular pattern.

Dioxane is classified as an ether. It is a colorless liquid with a faint sweet odor. It is flammable; it mixes with and migrates quickly through groundwater.

Dioxane can degrade in the atmosphere into other harmless substances through photosynthesis. But that takes several days.

Health effects of a short term, high dose exposure include nausea, drowsiness, headache, and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat.

Chronic exposure can cause dermatitis and damage to the liver and kidneys. It is considered a possible carcinogen.

The BLM press release stated that according to CDPHE, the amount found in the Park County landfill monitoring well was not high enough to cause health hazards.

Currently, there is no EPA drinking water standard for dioxane. In 2012, EPA established a lifetime health advisory of 0.2 milligrams per liter in drinking water.

Colorado has adopted an interim groundwater quality cleanup standard of .35 micrograms per liter…

Dioxane uses

Dioxane is used as a solvent in paint and varnish removers, a corrosion inhibitor in chlorinated solvents, a purifying agent in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and is a by-product in the manufacture of polyethylene terephthalate plastic.

It is used as a wetting and dispersing agent in the textile industry.

Traces may exist in food supplements and food containing residues from packaging adhesives or on food crops treated with certain pesticides.

Dioxane can be an impurity in antifreeze and aircraft deicing fluids and in some consumer products, such as deodorants, shampoos and cosmetics.

2017 #coleg: Rep. Jeni Arndt is proposing a framework for ASR projects

Colorado Capitol building
Colorado Capitol building

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Nick Caltrain):

“It’s another storage vehicle,” state Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, said. “It’s logical, it’s practical. It should be part of our future water plan.”

To that extent, Arndt introduced a bill in the Legislature requiring the state engineer to create rules for artificially recharging these [aquifers]…

The proposal doesn’t jump-start the development of aquifer recharging programs, but it would create the framework for such programs at a state level. Arndt and others said the key is putting in guards against contaminating an aquifer and avoiding entanglements with the water rights of individuals and neighboring states.

It’s not as revolutionary an idea as some may think. Denver Water is working on a pilot program for aquifer storage and recovery and Arizona uses aquifer recharging to prevent undue evaporation in desert climates.

“It’s not really debatable if (aquifer recharging) is proven or not. It is,” said Joe Meigs, a senior project manager with Lytle Water Solutions. “It would be really good if people embraced that and then people tried to move forward with an (aquifer recharge) program to buffer their water supplies.”

Typical use of these programs works like this, he said: Some years have a lot of surface water, such as when high snow totals melt and flow down the Rockies and inundate normal needs. When that happens, some of the overflow is diverted back into the aquifers — after a making sure its clean, of course — where it can be pumped out during low-flow periods…

Brian Werner, spokesperson for Northern Water, said recharging aquifers along the north Front Range wouldn’t be a panacea for Northern Colorado’s future water needs. Northern Water looked at the hydrology of the area and concluded that above-ground storage remains the “biggest bang for your buck.” Northern Water is proposing the controversial Northern Integrated Supply Project, which would include construction of the Glade and Galeton reservoirs in Northern Colorado.

Ogallala Aquifer: “We’re burning up our savings account” — Jay Garetson

Map sources: Houston, Natalie. 2011. Hydrogeologist, Texas Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey. Personal communication, October 2011. Houston, Natalie, Amanda Garcia, and Eric Strom. 2003. Selected Hydrogeologic Datasets for the Ogallala Aquifer, Texas. Open File Report 2003-296. August 2003.
Map sources:
Houston, Natalie. 2011. Hydrogeologist, Texas Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey. Personal communication, October 2011.
Houston, Natalie, Amanda Garcia, and Eric Strom. 2003. Selected Hydrogeologic Datasets for the Ogallala Aquifer, Texas. Open File Report 2003-296. August 2003.

From the Las Vegas Daily Sun (Ian James):

By permanently barring the use of two wells in an area where farmers rely on the Ogallala Aquifer to grow corn, the judge concluded the Garetson family’s senior water right had been “impaired” by their neighbor – a company that holds a junior water right.

“What made this case so important is the precedent that is now set,” said Jay Garetson, who filed the lawsuit in 2012 together with his brother Jarvis. The Garetsons have said they sued not only to defend their livelihood but also to press the state to enforce its water laws, and to call attention to the urgent need for action to preserve the aquifer.

“Our goal was to force this to the forefront,” Garetson said in an interview on Wednesday. “The best-case scenario would be it forces people to recognize that the status quo is no longer an option.”

Kansas’ “first-in-time, first-in-right” water rights system gives priority to those who have been using their wells the longest. And farmers are actually using much less water than they would be permitted under the system of appropriated groundwater rights established decades ago.

But with aquifers levels dropping and a limited supply left that can be economically extracted for farming, the Garetsons and others argue that the state and water districts should step in to establish limits on pumping…

Garetson said the decision should help bring order to a chaotic situation, and he hopes the case will be a catalyst for management of groundwater. He said he thinks the local groundwater district should establish a water budget and institute a sort of “cap-and-trade” system, in which water use would be scaled back based on established rights and could be sold between farmers, thereby allowing the market to sort out the scarcity problem.

He thinks such a system could serve as a model across the Ogallala Aquifer and in other areas of the country where aquifers are declining due to excessive pumping.

Garetson has seen some wells go dry on his farm, where he and his brother grow corn and sorghum. And he acknowledges his own pumping contributes to what is effectively the “mining” of groundwater.

He wants state officials and the region’s water managers to establish limits to move “in the direction of sustainability” – even though that’s a high bar to reach given the area’s limited water supplies and slow rate of aquifer recharge.

Garetson said he hopes the court decision will help Kansas farmers move away from the pattern of unchecked pumping that is draining the aquifer. Under the status quo, he said, “we’re actually just borrowing from the future. We’re burning up our savings account.”