Wringing what’s left out of the booming South Platte river basin

Development along the I-25 corridor north of Denver is booming, according to water providers in the South Platte basin. A new proposed storage and re-use plan will help meet demands they say.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

KEYSTONE – Representatives of various water providers in the South Platte River basin said Wednesday they intend to develop a new water-storage project that includes 175,000 acre-feet of storage at three locations on the South Platte River system.

The potential project would store 50,000 acre-feet of water in Henderson, just north of Denver, 100,000 acre-feet in Kersey, downstream of Greeley, and 25,000-acre-feet further downriver on the Morgan County line at the Balzac Gage, east of Snyder.

By comparison, Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt holds about 100,000 acre-feet of water and Dillon Reservoir in Summit County holds about 257,000 acre-feet.

“We think we have something that could help the Front Range and the South Platte, and the state as a whole,” said Jim Yahn, who represents the South Platte basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District.

The proposal, which does not include a new transmountain diversion, is coming from an informal and collaborative working group that included officials from Denver Water, Aurora Water, and Northern Water, along with officials from other water providers and users, such as Yahn.

The group called itself the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, which rhymes with frog.

Now a new regional water organization is expected to be formed to guide the proposal toward permitting and funding, said Lisa Darling, the executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority.

Darling was on the working group and she was presenting the project to the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee, or IBCC, in Keystone on May 2.

She said the various water providers in the South Platte realized that “not unifying was not an option” and that the group developed “a series of projects that could be linked together to benefit everybody as a whole.”

Darling also said, “We have to be able to maintain control of the supply, and not have it leave the state unnecessarily.”

The South Platte River rises in the mountains west of Denver, runs through the city north to Greeley, and then turns east toward the Nebraska line.

According to slides presented to the IBCC, the reasons to do the big project because it would “maximize use and effectiveness of available water on South Platte” and “minimize traditional agricultural ‘buy and dry.’”

“There is no choice,” Darling told the IBCC. “We have to work together to do this, and we really don’t have a choice.”

The project, which would provide 50,000 acre-feet of “firm yield,” is based on capturing water in the river at times when it is physically and legally available, such as in wet years, and then storing it for release as needed in a regional water re-use system.

New facilities would include off-channel reservoirs, reclaimed gravel pits, and underground storage facilities, at the three strategic locations along the river to give providers more flexibility. There might also be some storage at Julesburg, near the Nebraska state line.

A key component of the project is a long pipeline and pump system from the lower river back to the metro area north of Denver, in order to re-use the water released earlier from the upstream storage facilities. Each time the water went through the system, up to 40 percent could be re-used, Yahn said.

“It’s a big one,” said Yahn, of the project. “It doesn’t fulfill all the needs, especially on the other basins, but on the South Platte it could be a pretty big deal.”

He also said the storage and re-use project would be in addition to all the other planned water projects in the South Platte basin, as listed in the “basin implementation plan” developed by the Metro and South Platte basin roundtables.

“It’s not in place of anything,” Yahn said. “It’s not in place of NISP (Northern Integrated Supply Project). It’s not in place of Gross (Reservoir) enlargement. It’s not in place of any of those other things that all of our entities are trying to do on the South Platte to meet some of our water demand.”

The project also builds upon a recently completed study of available storage sites in the lower South Platte basin. That study found there was available water to store, and a “long list of possible storage sites,” as well as a wide range of types of facilities, and costs.

A map shown by representatives of the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group to the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee on May 2, 2017, Keystone. The map shows three large water-storage facilities and a re-use pipeline back to the north metro area.

Help ag, and cities?

Yahn said that storage on the river upstream of irrigators on the lower South Platte would allow farmers to sell their water to cities in a more flexible way. They could, for example, fallow a portion of their fields instead of selling the whole farm.

He also said that would spread the potentially negative economic impact of “buy and dry,” which can change the economies of agricultural communities, across a bigger area in the South Platte basin.

“You’re not hurting, economically, any one area,” Yahn said. “You’re spreading it out and farmers are getting a little bit of extra money for their water, using it a little differently, treating it as a commodity, getting some interest out of it. But really, to do that, you need storage.”

Yahn also told the IBCC, “Basically, we’re trying to give farmer’s options. But you’ve got to have a place to put the water.”

Sean Cronin, the executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District in Longmont, also served on the working group, which was formed after the 2015 Colorado Water Plan was completed.

“I want to emphasize how significant this analysis and this effort has been, because it’s really a fundamental shift in how the South Platte was thinking of things at that time,” Cronin told the IBCC members. “It was told ‘you need to get your house in order.’ And this is very much in that vein, of getting the South Platte’s house in order.”

He also said “there is a sense of urgency for this. If you’ve traveled on I-25 between, say, north of Thornton to Ft. Collins, there is an absolute crazy boom going on right now in that corridor.”

A new home, complete with lush lawn, not far from I-25 in Thornton. The northern metro area is booming and water providers are willing to use 'buy-and-dry' as a way to move water from the ag sector to the municipal sector.

Price tag?

The project proponents did not provide a cost estimate during their presentation on Wednesday.

“As for costs, the number is, gazillions,” Darling told the IBCC members. “It is a very, very large number.”

But not large enough that the working group thought state funding would be needed.

“That was never really talked about at SPROWG, as to where the funding was coming from, or whether there was going to be state funding,” Cronin said. “In fact, it was sort of a presumption that the individual water providers would find enough value in this on a cost per acre foot that they could collectively get there and pull off a project. But we didn’t get there. There was no cost-benefit analysis.”

He said water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project, which serves the northern Front Range, was now “going for $38,000 an acre-foot, and developers aren’t even batting an eye, because houses are now going for $400,000. So, it is on in the South Platte.”

He said the storage and re-use project might actually take pressure off of water supplies from the Western Slope.

“The urgency for what we’re trying to do I think helps, ultimately, the West Slope because these guys are going to be scrambling for buy-and-dry, and when that’s all done they’re going to be looking elsewhere,” he said.

The Moffat Tunnel and water pipe, at Winter Park, is an example of existing transmountain diversion that brings water to the South Platte River basin. While the South Platte working group's project does include new transmountain water, there are concerns it could lead to more such water being shipped under the Continental Divide.

Interbasin view

The Interbasin Compact Committee, or IBCC, operates under the auspices of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is charged with sorting out potential conflicts between basins, especially those brought up by transmountain diversions under the Continental Divide.

It includes two representatives from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, six governor’s appointees and two members of the state legislature.

The South Platte project does not include new sources of West Slope water, but concerns were still raised by West Slope interests on the IBCCC last week that the South Platte project could eventually draw more water through existing transmountain diversions.

Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District who remains a governor’s appointee to the IBCC, suggested that the West Slope might want to see “some protections that these reservoirs don’t end up sitting there empty for a long time and that it doesn’t just drag additional transmountain water over the hill.”

T. Wright Dickinson, a rancher along the Green River, also serves as a governor’s appointee on the IBCC.

“I think the South Platte is clearly demonstrating what many around this table has asked, in the context of fully utilizing your own resources,” Dickinson said. “But I have a concern that the project could in fact pull water through existing projects – more water across the divide.”

Bruce Whitehead, the executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District in Durango, commented on the South Platte basin’s apparent stance that the project was happening regardless of what the West Slope thought.

“I’m a little concerned about ‘we’re moving forward, with or without you,’” Whitehead said. “I’m not sure that’s the way we’re going to get cooperation.”

He also suggested the West Slope might embrace the project if it also included “an acknowledgement there won’t be any more development of water from the West Slope.”

That drew a chuckle from some IBCC members, as Front Range water interests have said they do not intend to walk away from the Western Slope as a source of water.

There are two “water development concept workshops” set up for the public to learn more about the South Platte project, one on May 10 at 1:30 p.m. at Denver Water’s headquarters in Denver and one on May 15 at 3 p.m. at Northern Water’s headquarters in Berthoud.

Yahn said the two meeting locations does not mean the project is coming from Denver Water and Northern Water.

“Denver and Aurora were part of it, and Northern, but it wasn’t them,” Yahn said. “It was all of us just thinking outside the box together. And taking off our agency hats.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating on the coverage of rivers and waters with The Aspen Times. The Times published a shorter version of this story on Monday, May 7, 2018.

Water in the West Symposium creates foundation for work in water #WaterintheWest2018

Water in the West Symposium April 27, 2018. Photo credit: Colorado State University

From Colorado State University:

Solutions to water needs lie in the hands of the next generation, said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. He was in Denver April 27 for a conversation about water with former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who serves as a special advisor to Colorado State University, as part of the inaugural Water in the West Symposium.

“We’re seeing a lot of millennials getting their hands back into the soil,” Perdue said.

Perdue and more than 30 experts in water – ranging from conservationists, politicians, researchers, farmers, to business professionals – shared their insights during the two-day event. The sold-out Symposium drew more than 400 attendees and highlighted the greatest challenges surrounding water in the Western region. Experts explored best practices and proposed solutions to address emergent challenges – all efforts that will be continued at the future Water Resources Center at the National Western Center.

Topics discussed during the Symposium included:

  • Funding for water projects
  • Federal, state, and local policies surrounding water
  • Water education
  • Colorado’s Water Plan
  • Water research
  • Water innovation
  • Water infrastructure
  • The need for cross-sector collaboration
  • Water is an endless topic of discussion in the West. Especially in Colorado – the only headwater state in the continental United States, which means all of the water in the state flows outside state boundaries – everyone has an interest and a stake in water, but leaders at the Symposium firmly held the importance of collaboration in working toward solutions around water challenges.

    “These issues are not partisan, and we should not allow them to become partisan,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), during the Symposium. “We can actually solve these problems; and we might find ourselves able to accomplish a lot — and we should.”

    Tony Frank, president of CSU and chancellor of the CSU System, joined other speakers in reiterating the theme that water needs to be at the forefront of conversations around growth of cities, agricultural production, economic development, recreation – and all aspects of the future.

    “As you’ve heard virtually every speaker say, what happens around water will in a very real sense influence the world we leave to future generations,” said Frank.

    More from Colorado State University:

    Related news from the Water in the West Symposium

    A $10 million grant to fund the Irrigation Innovation Consortium was announced; the consortium is a collaborative research hub involving five university partners, including CSU, that will be built in Fort Collins in the next three years.

    News from day one of the Symposium.

    A full video recording of the Symposium.

    Symposium photos.

    #Colorado water managers studying #LakePowell levels issues — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

    About 120 water managers gathered Wednesday to discuss how to keep enough water in Lake Powell and avoid a demand from downstream states for more water under the Colorado River Compact, and they agreed to keep studying potential solutions.

    The meeting, held at the Ute Water Conservancy District, brought together members of four Western Slope basin roundtables to discuss the third phase of an ongoing “risk study” that seeks to define how much water might be needed to flow toward Lake Powell during a sustained dry period instead of being put to use growing crops.

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    The basin roundtables operate under the guise of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency charged with planning to meet the state’s water needs and its obligations under the interstate water compact negotiated in 1922.

    If Lake Powell — which today is 52 percent full and at 3,610 feet in elevation — drops below 3,490 feet, then the hydropower plant in Glen Canyon Dam, which backs up the Colorado River to form Lake Powell, won’t be able to continue producing electricity.

    And as the water level in the reservoir falls, it also makes it increasingly hard to release the volume of water necessary for the upper Colorado River basin states to meet their obligation to the lower basin states under the compact.

    “I don’t want to project that it’s coming, but the possibility of it happening exists,” said Karen Kwon, an attorney at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office who works on Colorado River issues, about the potential for a “compact call.”

    And she told the audience of water managers and users that the “hydrology is tanking” as the upper Colorado River basin continues to be mired in an 18-year dry period.

    An ongoing study conducted by a consultant for the Colorado River Water Conservation District has found that a series of severely dry years could produce the need to send 1 million acre-feet — about 10 Ruedi Reservoirs full of water — down to Lake Powell to keep it at sustainable levels.

    “Those are big volumes of water,” Carron said, and not easy to find in a pinch, especially after water in big upstream reservoirs such as Flaming Gorge also has been released to bolster water levels in Lake Powell.

    The water is envisioned to come from ranchers who voluntarily agree to fallow their fields, which in Colorado are mainly fields of alfalfa, in exchange for money, and send the water toward Lake Powell instead of using it for irrigation.

    But there is a long list of unanswered questions about the concept, including where the water from the “conserved consumptive use” effort could be stored until needed.

    John Carron of Hydros Consulting of Boulder, who is leading the water-modeling study, showed a graphic Wednesday of a “hypothetical” reservoir, or “water bank,” near the Colorado-Utah state line that would hold 1 million acre-feet of water, but he also said the saved water could be stored in Lake Powell itself or in existing reservoirs in Colorado.

    “The best place to put it is in Lake Powell,” said Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River District, who continues to work part-time for the district.

    However, right now there is no way, at least from a policy or legal standpoint, for the upper basin states to store water in Lake Powell in a designated, and protected, pool of water within the reservoir, as there is in Lake Mead.

    And, Carron said, trying to “bank” 1 million acre-feet of water in existing reservoirs in the upper basin states is problematic.

    Alden Vander Brink, the manager of the Rio Blanco Water Conservation District in Rangely, and a board member at the Colorado River District, asked why not work toward building new “wet water” storage projects.

    Vander Brink is currently leading an effort to gain approval for a dam and reservoir called the Wolf Creek Reservoir, which would hold up to 1.2 million acre-feet of water from the White River.

    A lot of questions were posed but left unanswered at Wednesday’s meeting, including the true cost of trying to reduce the risk of Lake Powell dropping too low, how water left in rivers and streams could be guaranteed to reach the big reservoir, how a compact call would actually unfold and who it would affect, and how much money it might take to entice ranchers to fallow fields and participate in a large water banking or “demand management” program.

    Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County Commissioner who serves on the Colorado River Basin roundtable, said Wednesday she was concerned that a demand management program doesn’t try to solve a water shortage problem while at the same time allowing new growth and development to make the problem worse.

    She also said the solution to the state’s water shortages should be equally shared on both sides of the Continental Divide.

    At the end of the meeting, none of the attendees disagreed with the proposal to keep studying the issue. A proposed outline of the next phase of the study is to be brought back before the basin roundtables and then to the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board for their review and approval.

    Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

    Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 11-12, 2018

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    From the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum via The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Streams of funding will become important to keep streams of water flowing in Colorado in the coming decades, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s top water adviser says.

    “We are looking at the appropriate revenue streams,” said John Stulp, the governor’s adviser. “One of the key questions is: How do you build certainty that new methods don’t dry up agriculture?”

    Stulp, whose home base is a farm-ranch operation in Prowers County, will speak at the 2018 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 11-12 in La Junta. This year’s forum is dedicated to the issues facing the Lower Arkansas Valley. Water lawyer David Robbins, who defended state interests in the Kansas v. Colorado case before the U.S. Supreme Court, will open the conference, while Stulp will offer closing remarks.

    Colorado’s Water Plan, completed in 2015, calls for $3 billion of new state investment in water projects from 2020-50, or about $100 million annually. Much of Stulp’s time working with the state Interbasin Compact Committee has been spent figuring out just how to do that.

    “We looked at 110 possibilities, then narrowed that to about 12. About four of those rose to the top,” Stulp said.

    Those ideas included:

    An excise tax on water activities, including recreation.

    A tap fee on all water users’ bills.

    A bottle fee on beverage containers.

    A one-time tap fee on new construction.

    In addition, a bill introduced late in the 2017 legislative session proposed a 0.1 percent sales tax to fund water.

    “None of the ideas have been implemented,” Stulp said. “It’s been a very general discussion.”

    Funding is also a very real issue at present. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has borrowed $10 million from its construction fund to fund Basin Roundtable projects that formerly would have been funded through mineral severance fees, which were curtailed by a court decision. Roundtables have been more selective in choosing projects that adhere to the Water Plan.

    “I think it’s been a good refresher for the roundtables to look at their Basin Implementation Plans and decide which projects to fund at the local level and which to take to the state level,” Stulp said. “The Arkansas Basin Roundtable has been very active and has come up with good ideas for the valley and to take back to the rest of the state.”

    [The] water forum at Otero Junior College in La Junta will include a series of presentations on agriculture, municipal water supply, environmental concerns, water quality and watershed restoration. For information, go to http://rbwf.com.

    #COWaterPlan: “We are looking at the appropriate revenue streams” — John Stulp

    James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent

    Here’s the release from the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum (Chris Woodka):

    Streams of funding will become important to keep streams of water flowing in Colorado in the coming decades, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s top water adviser said.

    “We are looking at the appropriate revenue streams,” said John Stulp, the governor’s adviser. “One of the key questions is: How do you build certainty that new methods don’t dry up agriculture?”

    Stulp, whose home base is a farm-ranch operation in Prowers County, will speak at the 2018 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 11-12 in La Junta. This year’s forum is dedicated to the issues facing the Lower Arkansas Valley. Water lawyer David Robbins, who defended state interests in the Kansas v. Colorado speaker will open the conference, while Stulp will offer closing remarks.

    Colorado’s Water Plan, completed in 2015, calls for $3 billion new state investment in water projects from 2020-50, or about $100 million annually. Much of Stulp’s time, working with the state Interbasin Compact Committee, has been spent figuring out just how to do that.

    “We looked at 110 possibilities, then narrowed that to about 12. About four of those rose to the top,” Stulp said.

    Those ideas included:

  • An excise tax on water activities, including recreation.
  • A tap fee on all water users’ bills.
  • A bottle fee on beverage containers.
  • A one-time tap fee on new construction.
  • In addition, a bill introduced late in the 2017 legislative session proposed a 0.1 percent sales tax to fund water.

    “None of the ideas have been implemented,” Stulp said. “It’s been a very general discussion.”

    Funding also is a very real issue at present. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has borrowed $10 million from its construction fund to fund Basin Roundtable projects that formerly would have been funded through mineral severance fees, which were curtailed by a court decision. Roundtables have been more selective in choosing projects that adhere to the Water Plan.

    “I think it’s been a good refresher for the roundtables to look at their Basin Implementation Plans, and decide which projects to fund at the local level, and which to take to the state level,” Stulp said. “The Arkansas Basin Roundtable has been very active, and has come up with good ideas for the valley, and to take back to the rest of the state.”

    Next month’s water forum at Otero Junior College in La Junta will include a series of presentations on agriculture, municipal water supply, environmental concens, water quality and watershed restoration. For information, go to the Web site: http://arbwf.com

    From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    This year there just wasn’t enough money in the coffers to fund the state water plan at $10 million, which it received last year. For the 2018-19 fiscal year, it’s slated to receive only $7 million. The drop in funding comes just as the water plan’s chief cheerleader, Gov. John Hickenlooper, is headed into the last eight months of his term in office.

    Severance taxes are paid by oil and gas and mineral companies when they take those resources out of the land, known as severing. Those revenues pay for some of the divisions in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), including the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and are known as Tier I funding.

    Tier II dollars, which also come from severance taxes, pay for continuing projects such as water and agriculture-related programs, clean energy development, soil conservation, wildlife conservation, invasive species control and low-income energy assistance.

    But the decline in severance tax revenues due to lower oil and gas activity, combined with the state losing a lawsuit filed by oil giant BP over property tax deductions, has wiped out a substantial portion of what the state has to fund those operational activities…

    The Joint Budget Committee stepped in with a bill, House Bill 1338, to transfer just under $30 million in general fund dollars (income and sales tax) to ensure those DNR divisions and projects keep going. That bill is one of 17 bills, referred to as “orbitals,” that go hand-in-hand with the Long Appropriations Bill, House Bill 1322. Orbitals are included to ensure sure the budget is balanced.

    The House Appropriations Committee approved HB 1338 Tuesday morning, prior to the House breaking into its separate caucuses for a JBC presentation on the budget, and to determine what amendments would be offered when the House debates the Long Bill Wednesday.

    What’s left of the severance tax money will fund a variety of projects contained in Senate Bill 18, the annual CWCB projects bill. But with less money to work with, the water plan came out with less money than it got last year.

    The $7 million for the water plan includes $3 million for storage work; $1 million for agriculture-water projects; another $1 million for grants that would put into action strategies for conservation, land use and drought planning; and $1.5 million for environmental and recreational projects. Who gets what will be decided by the board of directors for the CWCB.

    The CWCB projects bill also includes $8 million to take care of “Republican River matters.” Half of those dollars will go to Nebraska, due Dec. 31, to pay off a settlement for alleged violations of an interstate compact.

    South Platte Roundtable meeting recap

    HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

    From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

    With dozens of people and thousands of acres of farmland affected by high groundwater in Weld County, the South Platte Roundtable on Tuesday accepted recommendations from its Groundwater Technical Committee to solve the problem.

    The Tribune previously reported many of the solutions, including pumping water out of the ground and directly to the river, something Gilcrest is doing with a dewatering well officials recently turned on, resulting in groundwater receding by 7 inches in the past two weeks.

    For some, though, the recommendations are either too expensive or simply don’t address the root problem…

    In a survey of Farm Bureau members, Kammerzel found 40 of 94 people reported groundwater problems. The problems covered 2,154 acres, and conservative estimates put damages among Farm Bureau members at $4 million.

    The high water table has inundated and destroyed basements, but it also has increased salinity levels in soils, making it impossible for farmers to grow some crops. Some crops like potatoes have been found rotting in the fields, sitting in high groundwater.

    Even those presenting the recommendations say there’s no magic solution to a problem that has caused millions of dollars in damage around the county.

    “I don’t know that our work will ever be done,” said John Stulp, a member of the technical committee and an adviser to Gov. John Hickenlooper on water issues.

    Here’s where they’re at for now:

    Increase groundwater use in high groundwater areas — This is easier said than done, as farmers have a certain well pumping quota, and it’s often wise to save that well pumping allotment until the end of the year in case rainfall doesn’t cover crop needs.

    Multi-purpose storage — Basically, this involves buying or developing more storage, something officials at Central Colorado Water Conservancy District constantly are working to do. Increased storage can help provide replacement water for pumping, meaning farmers could be allowed to pump more.

    Multi-use pipelines — Gilcrest pumps water out from under its wastewater treatment plant, puts that water in a 4- to 6-inch pipeline and takes that water to the river. The pipeline also is used for sewage effluent and stormwater, though, meaning its capacity is quite limited. There’s talk of a partnership between Gilcrest and Central Water on a new pipeline both could use, with Central using it for augmentation (replacement) water.

    Conveyance improvements — Lining irrigation ditches, at $1 million per mile, is not only expensive, but it also takes away a key augmentation strategy. Ditch owners fill ditches, allow the water to seep into the ground and get to claim credit for recharging the aquifer and use that water at a later date.

    Improving drains — The Big Bend Drain, located in and around Gilcrest, has fallen into disrepair, and the committee recommends fixing it, re-digging it and allowing it to serve its initial purpose: draining high water around Gilcrest.

    There were recommendations, too, for individual farmers or landowners. But there also was this: A minority report from retired water consultant and engineer Bob Longenbaugh, who also made a presentation.

    Longenbaugh’s key recommendations include gathering more data, as well as curtailing big artificial recharge projects — where organizations such as Central Water dump water into shallow ponds to recharge the aquifer and claim water credits. Longenbaugh contends artificial recharge around Gilcrest is exacerbating the high groundwater problem.

    Randy Ray, executive director for Central Water, won’t go for that, as artificial recharge is a key tool for allowing more well pumping for Central customers.

    As for the committee report, Ray said he’d like to see more research.

    “We strongly feel that if an acre foot of water is pumped it needs to be replaced, but we need to work on timing, location and volume of depletions,” Ray said.

    Farmers around Weld County have long said the formula used to replace depletions doesn’t match Mother Nature, a point Longenbaugh hit on Tuesday, as well.

    Governor’s Forum on Agriculture recap

    Colorado Convention Center Solar Power System

    From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Durango Herald:

    Hickenlooper, speaking to an audience at the 27th annual Governor’s Forum on Agriculture this week, said that the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office met with representatives from recreation offices and outdoor recreation companies from eight states, and the result was something called the Colorado Accord. It’s a nonpartisan effort to work on issues related to clean air, water and public land – areas the trade association strongly supports and part of the reason the trade show moved to Colorado, he said.

    This accord is the start of an opportunity for Colorado to be a national leader in outdoor recreation, Hickenlooper said. The companies involved are small – around 10 to 15 employees.

    “They don’t want to live in the cities or their businesses to be in the cities,” he said. “These are companies that are naturals for smaller communities … . This is a chance to build a relationship between farms and ranches and outdoor recreation. If you want more jobs in your towns, there will never be a better chance.”

    The governor also addressed the ongoing negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the importance of maintaining partnerships with Canada and Mexico, which are NAFTA partners. The renegotiation of the 22-year old agreement hasn’t gone as quickly as he would like, Hickenlooper said.

    “Our relationships with Canada and Mexico need to remain strong,” given that more than half of Colorado agricultural exports go to those two countries, he said, adding that NAFTA has the potential to do so many good things for Colorado, and that he has talked with officials from both countries.

    “They just want a deal,” Hickenlooper said.

    Hickenlooper said he recently spoke with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and their positions align on several issues, such as the need for better and faster negotiations with South Korea, China and India on agricultural trade; about volatility in the labor market for ag, and for a more balanced approach on agricultural regulations.

    One of the state’s highest priorities for global exports, he said, is to open up Asia. “There’s an insatiable appetite for beef and pork” in South Korea, China and Japan, and the U.S. needs a fair deal with those countries.

    Hickenlooper also made a push for a long-term funding solution for the Colorado water plan. Last month, the governor said he favored a change in how the state collects severance taxes on oil and gas, saying, among other things, that Colorado has the lowest severance taxes on oil and gas in the region.

    A court case two years ago with oil giant BP dramatically reduced the amount of severance taxes the state can collect, which has been used in the past to mitigate oil and gas activities in rural communities and to pay for water projects around the state. The state had to take money out of its general fund to pay for the property tax deductions the court decided BP was owed. After that, the state’s share of severance taxes dropped from around $150 to $200 million per year in 2016 to about $25 million last year, Hickenlooper said.

    Without a structural change in how severance taxes are levied, he warned, severance taxes could come to an end. “But let’s get a referred measure on the ballot” that will provide a fair tax structure for oil and gas, he said. “It’s a social contract with the state of Colorado. If it were presented properly,” voters would not walk away from it.

    That didn’t fly with Senate President Pro tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, who was in the audience and is president of the board of the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program, which hosts the annual agriculture forum. Sonnenberg disputed the governor’s claim that Colorado has the lowest severance taxes in the region.

    Sonnenberg told Colorado Politics that “we have robbed $400 million from severance taxes” to cover budget shortfalls, including $100 million to pay BP for the lawsuit. “We need to figure out how not to rob Peter to pay Paul,” Sonnenberg added. “If we truly want to do something about severance tax, maybe we add all energy: wind, solar, nuclear and hydroelectric.”