Where now with Alternative Transfer Methods in CO?
This special report, released by the Colorado Water Institute, summarizes the discussions, conclusions, and recommendations from three meetings held in the fall of 2016 to address Colorado’s Water Plan’s measurable objective to provide at least 50,000 acre-feet of agricultural water to municipal water providers through voluntary, compensated Alternative Transfer Methods (ATMs) by 2030. These meetings convened water stakeholders from across the state, representing the interests of diverse sectors of the water community – agricultural, urban, and environmental. The report is intended to provide a foundation on which further progress toward meeting Colorado’s Water Plan’s ATM goal can be built. The report was co-authored by Anne Castle, MaryLou Smith, John Stulp, Brad Udall, and Reagan Waskom and is available on Colorado’s Water Plan website under Implementation.
From the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable (Helen Smith) via The Valley Courier:
Water is the glue that holds the San Luis Valley together. It is vital to the people, the economy, lifestyle and even the physical landscape of the Valley itself.
There are two aquifers that lie beneath the Valley floor. One is the confined aquifer that is trapped below a series of clay lenses deep beneath the Valley floor. The other is the unconfined aquifer that is generally found within the first 100 feet of the surface. Without the water from these aquifers, the San Luis Valley would very likely not be the agricultural workhorse that we know today.
There are also unique geological structures such as Rio Grande Rift that contributes to when and where water travels throughout the Valley subsurface. Aquifers are key, particularly the unconfined. The water of the unconfined aquifer functions very much like surface water. The recharge of this important commodity comes from the mountains and the snow that brings down their runoff. The unconfined aquifer supplies 85 percent of agricultural well water. The largest concentration of these wells lies within Sub-district #1.
The confined aquifer lies beneath the unconfined aquifer. There are clay layers that separate the aquifers. Historic Alamosa Lake is likely responsible for the formation of these layers. The water that lies beneath the surface is heavily relied upon by the agricultural community. There are also differences in how each of the aquifers react. In addition, any well in the San Luis Valley inevitably impacts the river flow at some point.
As a Valley native from Saguache, Allen Davey of Davis Engineering Services has studied the San Luis Valley aquifer system extensively. He also has a great deal of background on the Valley’s water issues. Davey points out that the aquifers and well levels have been monitored since 1970, when accurate measurements were first available. Since that time, there have been notable trends in the increase and decrease of the aquifer and well levels. The water table itself has seen a significant and steady decline partly due to the sheer number of wells that have been drilled. More water has been taken than replaced. The worst decrease was the extreme drought that began in 2002. Historically speaking, demand has simply outweighed supply. Because of these factors, there are now big implications for the future.
Davey also explained that the aquifers are situated very much like a bowl of water. This means that there is pressure that pushes the water upward from beneath the clay and downward pressure from the surface. The result is wells in the confined aquifer have high amounts of pressure, the result of which is artesian flow. Both confined and unconfined wells are heavily relied upon especially for agriculture irrigation. This has resulted in a widening gap between the aquifer waters and the surface.
Because this gap between the water and the surface has increased, it is now not impossible that there is potential for the Valley floor to begin sinking if the aquifer is not replenished. Rebuilding the aquifer system has now become even more necessary than many once thought. It has now become imperative that this issue be addressed. It is also critical that the recharge process is working properly.
The effort to replace the depletions and rebuild the aquifer is another piece to this puzzle. This is where sub-districts, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the pending well rules and regulations for Division 3 come in. The pending regulations for Division 3 require well users to replace their depletions. There is also a slow gain in the northern portions of the aquifer system being seen though studies and reports that Davis Engineering Services provides to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. Because the well owners of Sub-district #1 have been replacing their depletions, Davey believes that the aquifer is headed in the right direction because of monitoring and reduced pumping. Replacing depletions will only help agriculture as well as Colorado’s obligation to the Rio Grande Compact.
The well rules for Division 3 and the replacement efforts are still a work in progress. However, it would appear that these measures are producing some results. The trial to finalize the rules for Division 3 is set for January of 2018. If and when these rules are approved, a great deal of change will arrive. Arguably, it is necessary change.
The future remains to be seen. There is certainly a great deal of importance in this matter when considering the agriculture, the people and the future of the San Luis Valley. This is a unique situation that will require a unique solution.
Helen Smith is the Outreach Specialist for the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable.
The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable meets the second Tuesday of every month. Meetings are located at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 4th St. Alamosa. For more information visit http://www.RGBRT.org.
Although there are currently no cloud seeding operations in the San Luis Valley, some folks believe this might be a good place for it.
Joe Busto, who oversees weather modification permits for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, gave the Rio Grande Roundtable group a crash course on cloud seeding during its Tuesday meeting. The Valley-wide water group funds many water related projects in the Rio Grande Basin from ditch repair to reservoir rehab. The group was not asked for funding at this time.
Busto said that another form of weather modification, hail cannons, previously operated in the San Luis Valley under a permit with Southern Colorado Farms, but the agricultural operation discontinued the practice.
Cloud seeding occurs all around the region from Texas to North Dakota, Busto stated.
Many of the cloud seeding operations in Colorado are associated with ski areas such as Vail, Crested Butte and Breckenridge, Busto explained. Others are connected to water districts. There are currently 110 machines in the state. He described the primary catalysts as either silver iodide, which is expensive but effective (and not harmful to the environment), or propane, which is cheaper.
Before setting up a machine, plume dispersion tests are conducted to determine how the winds are blowing and from what direction so the cloud seeding operation can be set up to provide the most good.
Operations are also the most effective when machines are set up at higher elevations, Busto explained.
Roundtable member Travis Smith asked, “Is the Rio Grande ready to start participating in a winter time cloud seeding program?”
Roundtable member Charlie Spielman said he saw this as a solution to the imbalance between water supply and demand.
“Cloud seeding is the best opportunity within our reach of making a real dent in that supply/demand gap,” he said.
He encouraged “getting a program going here … Let’s put something into this because I think this is our best chance.”
Busto said he believed a lean cloud seeding operation could be put in place for about $60,000 a year. He said he believed there could be many benefits to this area as well as downstream.
Click here to read the newsletter from the Gunnison Basin Roundtable. Here’s an excerpt:
This newsletter is a project of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable to serve all water stakeholders in the basin. Since we all depend on water, that means everyone! The newsletter operates in conjunction with the http://GunnisonRiverBasin.Org website, which is still under construction but already has some good information. Please send your feedback on the newsletter and the website, as well as announcements of events you would like to have featured in future newsletters, to email@example.com.
COLORADO REACHES A SECOND PEAK AFTER A WARM SPELL
After a very dry start to the winter, the snowpack in the mountains of the Gunnison Basin started piling up in December and hit a first peak in early March, about a month earlier than average. Unseasonably warm temperatures brought significant melting, but storms at the end of March increased accumulations again, at least at higher elevations.
Here’s the release from the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum (Jean Van-Peldt):
Denver Water lawyer to share message of cooperation
Water agreements are always tricky, a matter of give and take.
Most importantly, they require cooperation.
That’s the message Patricia Wells, general counsel for Denver Water, will bring to the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum when she kicks off the second day of the forum on April 27 at Hotel Elegante, 2886 S. Circle Drive, Colorado Springs. The two-day forum will feature panels and tours to discuss water issues of concern to the Arkansas River basin, and El Paso County in particular.
“We’ll be talking about examples of how, when you’re dealing with the supply gap, you need to deal with others,” said Wells, who is also a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “Multiple parties can accomplish more.”
Wells has represented Denver Water since 1991, coming on board just after the EPA veto of Two Forks. It changed how the state’s largest water provider dealt with the growth of its system, as well as the way it treated its neighbors. Wells came superbly prepared for the job, with her background as Denver City Attorney and as a staff attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund.
“The Two Forks veto came as a result of the environmental laws in the 1970s and ‘80s and was a paradigm shift,” Wells said. “Most large water organizations have gone through a metamorphosis in the last 30 years.”
In the case of Denver Water, that has meant two of the most far-reaching agreements in the history of Colorado Water, both occurring during Wells’ tenure at the legal helm. They were very different types of negotiations.
The first was the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which brought together 40 parties, primarily on the Western Slope, which had fought for decades over Denver’s appropriation of Colorado River water. Denver sought the support, or at least lack of opposition, from the communities in order to enlarge Gross Reservoir, a key supply for Denver Water located in Boulder County.
“We did all the right things,” Wells said. “But we’re still in the 13th year of permitting on Gross Reservoir. If we can’t get Gross Reservoir done then water projects can’t be done in Colorado.”
The second was the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency), which looked at how Denver, Aurora and water providers in the South Metro Water Supply Authority could pool resources.
They were far different negotiations, but the common thread was the need to work together for common interests and to overcome operational hurdles.
“The state Water Plan talks about CRCA and WISE as how projects should be developed,” Wells said. “But I don’t think there’s a single way to do things.”
The Upper Arkansas River Voluntary Flow Management Program, which will be discussed in one of the workshops at the forum, is an example of multiple parties working together in the Arkansas River basin. That program has been in effect since 1991.
“These agreements take a lot of time to put together and a long time to get organized,” Wells said. “It’s about how you work with other people and why you work with other people.”
Seven Western Slope Republican lawmakers have sent Gov. John Hickenlooper a message: No more water for the Front Range until it better uses what it already has.
The message, delivered through a Feb. 4 letter obtained by The Colorado Independent, is directed mostly at just one area of the state: Denver and the northern Front Range.
For the past 100 years, as the Front Range population and the state’s Eastern Plains agricultural economy have grown, water from the Western Slope has been diverted to the Front Range through a series of tunnels built through the mountains, known as transmountain diversions. But Western Slope water watchers are getting increasingly nervous about the potential for more of those diversions, pointing to a growing need for water in their area for agriculture and recreation and to fulfill multi-state contracts that require Colorado to send Western Slope water to other states, such as California, Arizona and Nevada.
The Front Range must do a better job of storage and conservation before turning to more diversions, the lawmakers wrote. To that end, they implored the governor to make sure any water projects that receive state funds match criteria outlined in the Colorado water plan. The plan calls for the state to conserve at least 400,000 acre-feet of water and to build storage, without specific projects identified, for another 400,000 acre-feet of water. One acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, the amount of water used by two families of four per year.
“We would ask for the consistent – and transparent – use of those criteria” when looking at new water projects that would divert water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope, they wrote.
The letter is a follow-up to one sent in November 2015, just before the water plan was finalized. That four-page document said the water plan “cannot place Front Range development interests over the autonomy, heritage and economy of Western Slope communities. Nor can the Plan allow the protection of agriculture in one area of state [sic] to come at the expense of agriculture in other areas of the state.”
The water plan is intended to address a looming water shortage of one million acre-feet of water by 2050, when the state’s population is expected to nearly double from about 5 million to more than 10 million people.* The lawmakers worked with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments’ water committee on both letters, said Torie Jarvis, the staff person to the committee. She said the letters are primarily directed at the South Platte Basin, which covers most of the northern Front Range, the northern half of the Eastern Plains and the Denver metro area.
Jarvis said the letter is not about current water projects underway in the region that also plan to use water from the Western Slope, most notably two reservoir projects under the control of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
“We have good agreements in place” on those projects, Jarvis told The Colorado Independent.
The issue also is the water plan itself. “It imagines what a new diversion would look like,” Jarvis said, which means a focus on development and growth rather than on conservation.
The 2015 letter was signed by eight Republican lawmakers, six of whom are on the 2017 version (two of the 2015 signees are no longer in the legislature). The five Democratic lawmakers who also represent the Western Slope were not included. Also not included: Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush of Steamboat Springs, a member of an interim water resources review committee that led a statewide review of the water plan. Mitsch-Bush said she had not been asked to sign it but would have, based on its description. Jarvis said the Republican lawmakers decided who should sign the letter, adding that she believes all of the Western Slope Democrats would have signed it.
James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which authored the water plan, said this week that the letter “underscores the importance of Colorado’s Water Plan and demonstrates that implementation will be a collaborative effort.”
He also noted that an annual water projects bill that was introduced in the state House last week would focus on implementing key parts of the state water plan and would address water needs in every part of the state.
*Correction: to note that Colorado’s population in 2050 is expected to be more than 10 million people.
From the Colorado Ag Water Alliance (Marsha Daughenbaugh) via Steamboat Today:
If you have an agriculture water right, then the Colorado Ag Water Alliance workshop is for you. If you are concerned about the future of Colorado’s water, then the CAWA workshop will be of interest to you. If you want to learn more about water, you might attend the CAWA workshop.
The Colorado Ag Water Alliance is composed of representatives from all the major ranching and farming organizations in the state. The organization’s goal is to preserve Colorado’s irrigated agriculture through education and constructive dialogue. Its role is to provide the best information to Colorado’s agricultural water users and increase the understanding of water rights to help balance the gap between limited water supplies, population growth and the deficit in the Colorado River Basin.
CAWA engages with a variety of entities to address environmental and economic concerns. Currently, CAWA is hosting a series of meetings throughout Colorado to allow and encourage agricultural producers to take an active role in the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan.
A workshop for the Yampa-White-Green River Basins will be held from noon to 4 p.m. March 22 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave. The workshop is free, and lunch, featuring locally produced food, will be served.
Discussion topics will include the Colorado Water Plan, status of the Colorado River Basin, alternative transfer methods, water leasing, water banking, “use it or lose it” policies, water efficiency and waste, challenges of ditch renovations, collaboration opportunities and research results.
Speakers from CAWA, Colorado Water Institute, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Colorado Division of Water Resources, Colorado Water Trust, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and the Maybell Ditch Company will give spirited, quick presentations explaining different parts of Colorado’s complex water issues. Attendees will be encouraged to ask questions and provide feedback throughout the afternoon.
Colorado’s population is predicted to double to 10 million people by 2050, bringing with it a water shortage of more than 500,000 acre-feet per year. Agricultural water rights are being scrutinized as a potential solution to the deficit.
Ideas take time and multiple discussions before anything becomes reality. This workshop is part of a much larger conversation, and it is critical that agricultural producers provide their invaluable knowledge and voices to the deliberations. If not you, then who will speak up? This is a close-to-home opportunity for Northwest Colorado agriculture to participate.
Those planning to attend are encouraged to RSVP to yampaag.eventbrite.com for a lunch count.
This workshop hosted by CAWA, Community Agriculture Alliance and the Yampa-White-Green Basins Roundtable. Other sponsors include CSU Routt County Extension, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, CSU’s Colorado Water Institute, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Corn and Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union.
Marsha Daughenbaugh is the executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance and a member of the Routt County CattleWomen.