The DWR is enforcing well rules in the Upper Yampa River

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

When the Stagecoach Property Owners Association was informed by the Colorado Division of Water Resources in summer 2017 that it was temporarily suspending the issuance of well permits in unincorporated Stagecoach, 18 miles south of Steamboat Springs, it caused a significant amount of distress.

Some homeowners in Stagecoach get their domestic water from the Morrison Creek Water and Sanitation District, but many others, with lots of 1 to 2 acres, rely on water wells.

With 2,300 platted building lots and only 400 of them developed, people were concerned that the moratorium might become permanent and de-value their properties. With the arrival of spring, most of those worries have been resolved, Stagecoach Property Owners Association President John Troka said.

Since last summer, the Colorado Division of Water Resources has studied the circumstances that led to the moratorium. Decades ago, neither property owners in some rural subdivisions here nor the Routt County Planning Department had been submitting water supply plans to the Colorado Division of Water Resources for its review and approval.

In the interim, the Yampa River above Steamboat Springs, as well as the entire length of the Elk River, have become over-appropriated, placing homeowners in rural subdivisions where they depend on wells for domestic water temporarily in limbo.

However, the Division of Water Resources studied the situation through autumn 2017, and State Engineer and Director of the Division Kevin G. Rein reached a solution intended to honor the rights of senior water rights holders and do as little harm as possible to people living in rural subdivisions. He sent his findings to Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips in a lengthy memo dated Feb. 1.

Troka thinks the Division’s findings worked out as well as they could have for Stagecoach property owners.

“We put our lawyers on notice,” Troka said. “(The Division) could have drawn a hard line. This was a positive outcome for us. People in originally platted subdivisions out there can relax. Owners will be allowed to drill a well.”

What they won’t be able to do is irrigate their yards or gardens, nor will they be able to provide water to livestock. These restrictions will protect the rights of those senior water rights holders.

That’s not a big deal in Stagecoach where the large majority of people have natural yards, and as Troka pointed out, the property owners association rules forbid horses.

However, the story varies around the upper Yampa Valley. But for the present, there are far less concerns, because the Yampa in that stretch is not yet over-appropriated.

Say goodby to Green Acres?

Stagecoach wasn’t the only neighborhood in Routt County where rural subdivisions were confronted last summer with the suspension of well permitting. The same process was being applied to long-standing subdivisions in the upper Yampa Valley above Steamboat Springs and in the Elk River Valley.

The rub has to do with the fact that the waters in the Yampa River above the kayak feature in downtown Steamboat Springs, known as Charlie’s Hole, and the Elk River basin have been deemed over-appropriated. There’s no more water in the streams and rivers that isn’t spoken for.

The second issue is the Division’s recognition last year that there are rural subdivisions in Routt County in those watersheds where the Division has discovered that it never had the opportunity to review “water supply plans” required of many new subdivisions, depending on when they were approved. That means the potential to harm senior water holders was never adequately considered.

Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips described the situation in a memo to the Board of County Commissioners.

“The regulations required an applicant wanting to subdivide land to provide proof of a dependable and potable water supply,” Phillips wrote. “The regulations laid out several ways an applicant could prove this. During the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, staff did not send a referral to the Division for their covenants … because it was not required by the regulations.”

Kevin G. Rein, state engineer and director of the Division of Water Resources, wrote in his agency’s finding that in spite of the lack of the required water supply plans, the division will continue to issue well permits in the affected subdivisions “under limited conditions.”

The good news is that the division will resume issuing well permits in over-appropriated areas. The concerning news, for some, is that in certain cases the new permits will be limited to providing water for use within the home only. Using the water outside the home to water gardens or horses won’t be permitted, unless the property owners are able to arrange a contract leading to an “augmentation plan,” which would offset an outdoor use with stored water, for example, from another basin.

Division 6 water engineer Erin Light said the application of the Division’s findings varies from subdivision to subdivision.

And Rein’s memo to Phillips contains eight different scenarios about how Rein’s findings will be applied in different rural subdivisions, varying with circumstances like the layout of the subdivision and the configuration of the lots.

Rural property owners can read Rein’s findings for various categories of rural subdivisions in the appendixes at the bottom of his letter to Routt County, which is embedded in the online version of this news story.

#Nebraska: Platte River to Republican River compliance transbasin diversion in the plans

From the Associated Press via

The plan is to divert excess Platte water via canal, culvert and pipeline over the Platte-Republican divide near Smithfield in south-central Nebraska’s Gosper County and run it south into the Republican via Turkey Creek, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

The 25-mile-long stream is a tributary of the Republican starting about 3 miles west of Smithfield. It empties into the Republican between Edison and Oxford. The Republican River rises in Colorado and crosses southern Nebraska before flowing into Kansas.

The primary objective is to help ensure the state’s compliance with an interstate compact that allocates certain percentages of the Republican River’s flows to Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado, said John Thorburn, general manager of the Tri-Basin Natural Resources District in Holdrege. Although the states have been working in harmony on managing the river in recent years, disputes among the three have escalated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
After three years of active planning, project proponents submitted their initial permit paperwork to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources last week.

Tri-Basin partnered with the Alma-based Lower Republican NRD to develop the $1.4 million to $1.9 million enterprise known as the Platte Republican Diversion Project. It would tap Platte water from a canal owned by the Holdrege-based Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District. The district stores North Platte River water in Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska and delivers it downstream and into canals for delivery to farmers to irrigate cropland.

“This is precedent-setting for Nebraska,” Thorburn said. “We’d be taking otherwise ‘wasted’ water to be put to good use for a beneficial purpose.”
Thorburn and others expect resistance from environmental organizations that have raised concerns, saying there really isn’t extra water in the Platte and that it’s all precious in providing habitat for endangered bird species, including the whooping crane, piping plover and least tern.

The Platte’s floodwater — the excess flows that would be diverted at times — scrubs trees and other vegetation from sand bars and other important habitat for sandhill cranes. Downstream near Lincoln and Omaha, the river replenishes aquifers and well fields providing drinking water to the state’s two largest cities.

The diversion would not occur during the June-through-August irrigation season, Thorburn said.
The potential economic impact of the project in the Republican basin would range from $14.2 million to $33 million, depending on how much of the water required to meet interstate agreements and obligations comes from the diversion versus other sources, according to a study by the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The Platte in central Nebraska is designated by the Natural Resources Department as over appropriated, meaning there is more demand for the water than the river can provide. It is the state’s only over appropriated river. Still, there are times when floods funnel high water down the river’s usually shallow channels.

An engineering study by Olsson Associates of Lincoln for the project partners indicated that under two scenarios a potential 57,000 to nearly 140,000 acre-feet of unallocated water could have been diverted from the Platte into the Republican during the period of 2013 to 2016. An acre-foot is the volume of water that would cover an acre of land 12 inches deep.

The peak scenario would require 100 cubic feet per second of water to flow down Turkey Creek at times. A cubic foot is like a box of water measuring one foot by one foot by one foot. It contains around 7½ gallons. This rate of flow is a bit less than the volume of water Omahans see in Big Papillion Creek at Q Street in a typical March.

Turkey Creek’s current base flow is about 12 cubic feet per second. Erosion-control measures and other improvements would allow the creek to handle diverted flows up to 100 cubic feet per second without damaging the surrounding land in Gosper and Furnas Counties, according to the engineering study. The draft application calls for diverting 275 cubic feet per second from the Platte in order to provide up to 100 cubic feet per second into Turkey Creek.

Trial over Powderhorn Ski area winter water right for snowmaking starts today

Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia

From (Erin McIntyre):

Andrea Clark, Tom Kirkpatrick and Dana Black allege that Powderhorn bought a 1-cubic-foot-per-second winter water right that didn’t totally belong to the person who sold it to the resort. They also allege that removing more water from Mesa Creek in the winter will harm the other water users and worsen problems with the creek icing over, and that the ski resort can’t put the water it purchased to beneficial use at this time and bought the water rights on speculation.

The plaintiffs claim that Powderhorn should not be able to change the use of water it purchased from the Mesa Creek Ditch, which was formerly used during the winter for domestic and livestock purposes. The resort purchased the water from former Mesa Creek Ditch Association board president George Bevan.

According to court documents, Powderhorn intends to divert a maximum of 150 acre-feet of water during the winter, transport it to the H.U. Robbins Reservoir and store it there until it uses the water for making snow. The reservoir has a decreed capacity of a little more than 100 acre-feet of water and is located more than a mile from Mesa Creek, its source, according to state water records.

However, the plaintiffs allege that Powderhorn’s intent to use the water isn’t good enough — that the state’s requirement for water rights to be put to beneficial use should be applied here. In other words, they claim Powderhorn’s purchase of the water with no infrastructure for transporting it to its reservoir was speculative, which is not a legal use under Colorado law for those water rights. They also claim the resort’s reservoir needs significant repairs and has not been used for nearly 40 years, and that the resort hasn’t proved it can or will be able to transport or store the water.

Powderhorn’s attorneys claim the resort already proved the change in the water rights wouldn’t hurt any of the other water users and that Bevan owned and used the water he sold the resort for decades.

They also plan on calling Andy Daly, co-owner of Powderhorn, to testify that the water rights are necessary to have a reliable water source for snowmaking. This comes during a winter in which the resort didn’t open until the week before Christmas, snowpack levels are dismal and Powderhorn limited its operating days for weeks to keep its runs open with snow made by the resort.

Daly also plans on telling the court that Powderhorn will find one way or another to transport the water the 1.19 miles from Mesa Creek to its reservoir, though it does not have a way to do so currently, according to court documents.

“As for landowner access, Powderhorn can purchase, lease, or condemn the rights of way necessary to convey the subject water right to the ski mountain and H.U. Robbins Reservoir,” said the brief filed by the ski resort’s attorney, Glenn Porzak.

Other parties in the case include the Colorado Division of Water Resources and Ute Water Conservancy District, the largest domestic water provider in the Grand Valley. Ute Water became involved in the matter before the ski resort purchased the water in 2016, according to an agreement between the two entities that was signed by Ute’s board president at the time.

In the agreement, Ute Water agreed to not oppose Powderhorn’s application asking the state for permission to change the water right’s specified use to snowmaking. In exchange, Powderhorn offered shares of stock in the Mesa Creek Reservoir and Canal Co. and also said it would ask the state to let Ute Water have water that it bypassed and didn’t divert for snowmaking.

The plaintiffs are represented by Clark’s husband, attorney Jim French, who is handling the case pro-bono, and Isaiah Quigley, a Grand Junction attorney.

The case is set for a three-day trial in front of Chief Judge James Boyd in [

Aaron Million has a new plan for water from the Green River to the #Colorado Front Range

Split Mountain Gorge Green River June 2015 via Ana Ruiz

Updated with The Salt Lake Tribune story below.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Aaron Million has filed for a water right with the state of Utah for the project, which would involve diverting about 55,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Green River near the Browns Park area close to the Colorado line. The water would be piped east in Wyoming and then south into Colorado.

The project differs from a previous version Million proposed years ago in that it involves about a fifth as much water, and the previous incarnation would have diverted water upstream, from Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

Both the past and present versions have a hydropower element to them. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2012 denied a preliminary permit application for the pipeline proposal…

He’s doing so through the company Water Horse Resources LLC, which Million said has a new board and project team compared to the company that pursued the prior project…

Harris said there’s no evidence that Million has identified end users for the water, and speculation on water is illegal in Colorado, which raises the question of whether he’s trying to get a water right in Utah to sidestep Colorado water courts.

Million said he had subscribed interest in more than 400,000 acre-feet of water for the previous project…

Chris Treese, external affairs manager for the Colorado River District, said a Green River diversion to the Front Range would count against Colorado’s percentage of Upper Colorado River Basin water use under a 1948 compact with other Upper Basin states. Colorado already uses a higher percentage than it’s allocated under that compact, and if a water shortage kicks in under the basinwide 1922 compact and the Upper Basin has to deliver more water downstream, Colorado would have to contribute first to make up any deficit, Treese said.

He said there also are a lot of questions about what the route for the pipeline would be and whether anyone could use the water along the way.

“I think … right now the first step is trying to ascertain how serious (the proposal) is,” Treese said. “… It’s early in a process of looking at a long and complicated application.”

Million said the project’s estimated cost is $890 million to $1 billion, down from the $2.8 billion cost for the previous proposal.

He said a tripling in the cost of water on the Front Range has allowed for a much smaller project to be affordably built and still help some water-short areas.

He described the project as “a very simple plumbing project” that would be first and foremost about supplying renewable energy. He said it would include huge amounts of hydropower and pumped-storage hydropower. The latter involves pumping water at night when electricity is cheap into upper reservoirs and then sending the water through generators back to lower reservoirs to create higher-priced power during the day.

He said his company is looking at using a lot of solar and wind energy to power pump stations.

Million said that in bringing new water to the Front Range, the project would take pressure off some Front Range rivers, along with some Colorado River headwater streams now heavily taxed by diversions across the Continental Divide. That would boost water levels in the Colorado River mainstem, he said.

He also sees a benefit in tapping the Green River watershed in a year such as this one, when snowpack levels in that watershed are much higher than in the upper reaches of the Colorado River Basin.

He added, “All of the global warming models show the Green River system to be wetter than average in the future compared to the Colorado River mainstem.”

Million said moving the diversion point downstream of Flaming Gorge Reservoir addresses concerns that have been raised about impacts the project could have had on reservoir levels.

From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brian Maffly):

The proposal is a scaled-down version of Colorado resident Aaron Million’s controversial plan that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected in 2012. Under a new company name of Water Horse Resources LLC, the would-be water developer and Fort Collins-based entrepreneur filed the application Jan. 12, seeking permission to export 55,000 acre-feet of water, but with no specific use or destination offered.

His latest proposal, called Green River Pipeline or Flaming Gorge Project, would move 18 billion gallons a year — at a rate of 76 cubic feet per second — 375 miles across Wyoming, then south to Denver. Million estimates the project would cost $800 million to $1 billion, covered by private investors.

“We spent the last several years re-engineering the project and brought in a North American team and a new board of directors. Collectively they have $100 billion in net revenues,” said Million, who has also been working on his doctorate in natural-resource policy at Colorado State University.

His new vision of the project calls for powering the pipeline with wind and solar power, then recouping that energy with a series of inline hydro turbines on the downhill part of the line in Wyoming, taking advantage of the pipeline’s net elevation drop.

“At the end of the day, this is a renewable energy project,” Million said, noting the line would descend 3,800 vertical feet after cresting the Continental Divide. “That’s why we brought in the Canadians [SNC-Lavalin, headquartered in Montreal]. They are the world’s best in hydropower.”

He said the pipeline is being rebranded as Green River Sun Storage Hydropower Project, which will have a memorable acronym that resembles “grasshopper.”

The project began as Million’s master’s thesis. But from the beginning in 2006, his quest to tap the Green was ridiculed for its potentially astronomical costs, the lack of interest of water on the receiving end and subsequent denials from various permitting agencies…

“There is no indication that he is standing in the shoes of real users in Colorado, or Wyoming or anywhere,” said Rob Harris of Western Resource Advocates, a public-interest law firm that contested Million’s earlier proposals. “Water is a public resource in Utah and Colorado. As such, in both our states you need a real use to have standing to claim a water right like this.”


Now Million proposes drawing the water from two points in Utah’s Daggett County, several miles downstream from the dam and just upstream from Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge. The pipeline alignment still tracks along Interstate 80 across Wyoming but it drops south only as far as Denver…

Under Million’s application, the appropriated water would be used in a variety of ways, including municipal, industrial, commercial, irrigation, livestock and mining. It would move in a buried pipeline through inline hydroelectric turbines in Wyoming, which would allow the project to capture some of the power it would use to lift the water over the Continental Divide.

Nor does the application identify any specific destination. It is accompanied by a hand-drawn map showing the pipeline alignment and a Y-shaped “place of use” in northern Colorado outlined in red, covering 47 townships. Maps of these townships are also attached to the application…

Among the partners Water Horse lists on its web site is Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, based in Greeley, which provides augmentation water to around 600 farms in the South Platte River Valley. The district is under contract to provide 85,000 acre-feet, but its ability to meet these obligations has been “curtailed” by half, according to executive director Randy Ray…

Daggett County opposed Million’s pipeline project the last time around. County Commission chairman Jack Lytle said he was not familiar enough with the new proposal to provide comment on Monday.
Conservation groups oppose the diversion because of its potential impact on habitat for both sport fish and endangered native species, such as the Colorado pikeminnow, bonytail, humpback chub and razorback sucker.

The natives depend on occasional chaotic high flows that rearrange the stream channel, but have been widely depleted by dam operations…

“The river system is so overtaxed and these fish so overstressed, any more removal of water would jeopardize the existence of these four fish,” said Michael Saul of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Taking another 55,000 acre-feet out of the Green is a ridiculous idea in light of the fact that these fish are not recovering under the recovery plans now. This depletion is so huge, it is not covered by current biological opinions.”

For its part, Trout Unlimited has invested in programs that compensate water-rights holders for allowing more water to remain in the Colorado River system to support healthy fish habitat. A proposed diversion as big as the one Million is pursuing would defeat those efforts, according to Jordan Nielson, coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat Program.

Prior appropriation: “it works — still to this day — very well” — Jim Yahn

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Callie Jones):

“Water was so important they put it in our Constitution, how water is to be divided in Colorado, and it works — still to this day — very well,” Yahn said, explaining that the way it works is the first people who go out and get the water and start using it are the first to have the right to use it.

Water rights are decreed in water court; for the South Platte River the water court is located in Greeley, and once they’re decreed the water rights can’t be changed, even by the legislature.

After ditch companies came and started pulling water off the river and irrigating with it there wasn’t enough water in the summertime in this area, but there was in the wintertime, so farmers grouped together and the legislature passed the Irrigation District Law of 1905.

“They made it so farmers could get into bigger groups and get bonding and things like that, so that they could pay for bigger systems,” Yahn said, explaining that’s what he manages: Prewitt Reservoir, which is 32,164 acre-feet, was built from 1910-1912, has a 30,000 acre service area, and has 250 owners, and North Sterling Reservoir, which is 74,590 acre-feet, was built from 1909-1911, has a 41,000 acre service area and has about 140 owners.

Water rights development in South Platte Basin was influenced by return flows.

“Way back when, you had not only fights within the state between farmers and miners and other farmers, but you also had other states that depended on that river,” Yahn said.

The South Platte compact was negotiated by Delph Carpenter and signed by Colorado and Nebraska in 1923. In a letter from Carpenter to the governor, he said the flow was excessive in May and June and disappeared entirely during the summer; the river frequently became dry for months of each year, to points as far west as the present city of Fort Morgan. He said the flow of return seepage waters coming back to the river from irrigation in Colorado lands had resulted in a constant supply at the interstate line.

“So, he wasn’t too concerned with this agreement that we were making with Nebraska to supply them water, because he said this flow was increasing and he said it soon will be efficient to take care of the full demands of both us and Nebraska,” Yahn said.

Ralph Parshall conducted a study in 1922 on the “Return of Seepage Water to Lower South Platte.” His findings included that return flows were increasing over time and continued to increase mostly due to the general rise of the water table. He said in some areas the water table would rise each year as much as 100 feet and noted the flow increases along the river from 2 to 8 ½ second feet per mile. He also said diversions from the river after spring floods had subsided were practically all from seepage water.

“So, he’s saying after the snowmelt heads out, there’s really no source of water except for these return flows that come back to the river,” Yahn said.

From 1930s to the 1970s, America got rural electrification and people realized there was groundwater under the ground, so they began drilling wells. In the 1950s and 1960s there were droughts, so farmers were looking for other sources of water and really went after wells along the South Platte River.

In 1956, Parshall told the Rotary Club there were several issues impacting the dwindling river. While past records had indicated a steady increase in return flow to the river, in 1956 it was found that the seepage return was practically nothing and Parshall said that was partly due to the fact that between Kersey and Julesburg more than 4,000 irrigation wells pumped to deliver enough water to fill Horsetooth Reservoir four times during the 1955 season, twice as much water as it would take to fill all the reservoirs in this area — North Sterling, Prewitt, Jackson, Empire, Riverside and Julesburg.

Parshall also said it appeared obvious that we couldn’t continue depleting the groundwater at that rate. From 1954 to 1956, North Sterling Reservoir either never filled or was just a little over half full. Records show a similar pattern in the 1960s.

“You can probably feel the tension already; you have these guys with reservoir water with a 1910 water right and you have wells that were drilled in 1950, pumping away and growing crops while these guys sit here with nothing, fields blowing…” Yahn said.

He spoke about how the river is administrated, using an example with the Springdale Ditch (1886 water right), Sterling No. 1 Ditch (1873 water right) and Harmony No. 1 Ditch (1895 water right).

“What happens is you have these ditches that seep and all this water … seepage from the ditch, people call it wastewater, it actually goes back to the river and somebody else down river uses it,” Yahn said. “So, the interesting thing is even though Springdale has an 1886 water right, if Sterling No. 1 doesn’t have all their water, they call up the river commission and say ‘hey, we don’t have our water, you need to bring it us.’ The river commissioner will call up Springdale and say ‘you need to shut off; Sterling No. 1 doesn’t have enough water.’ It’s a pecking order,” Yahn said.

In the 1950s, wells were put in and intercepted water that was going back to the river. All the sudden it became evident in the reservoir system that they didn’t get any water. So, Colorado made a way that you can replenish this well pumping if you put in some recharge ponds.

“It’s a good way to allow people to pump their well, but still not injure senior water rights,” Yahn said.

In 2002, which was a dry year, not all the wells were replacing very much and the return flows back to the river per mile from Kersey to Julesburg was around four CFS for every mile. In 2012, after wells were required to replace their water, the line jumped back to what Parshall said, showing that the return flows were finally back to what they used to be.

Water is going to become an even more precious resource in the coming years, as the population in the South Platte Basin is expected to increase from 2.5 million to 6 million by 2050, and new water demand will increase from 359,000 to 525,000 acre-feet.

“We have to deal with that with water and what we’re trying to work towards is ideas that keep people farming, because if you’ve ever gone down into the Arkansas Valley, in Rocky Ford or anywhere in southeast Colorado, where Aurora went down applied for the water, took it out, it just devastates the community. So, we’re trying to come up with alternative ways to keep farmers farming, try and get water for municipalities and work together so that we can do that,” Yahn said.

There are projects that are being worked, but even if all the projects are built there will still be a shortage of 99,000 acre-feet, which is about 1.5 North Sterling Reservoirs, and if just 62 percent of the projects are completed there will be a shortage of 362,500 acre-feet, which is about five North Sterling Reservoirs.

Thornton Water Project update

Map via

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Water quality is a sticking point for Thornton, which faces challenges getting all its water to drinking quality standards. Much of the city’s water comes from the South Platte River and requires extensive treatment because it’s diverted downstream of many areas of runoff and pollution, [Emily] Hunt said.

If Thornton drew the water from the Poudre near Windsor as suggested, the city would end up with water run downstream of three wastewater treatment plants and numerous runoff areas, [Mark] Koleber said.

“Urban runoff, agricultural runoff, wastewater plants, industrial discharge — it’s just not what you do for a municipal drinking water supply,” he said.

Especially considering Thornton bought the [rights to divert] because of its high quality, Hunt added.

South Platte Roundtable meeting recap

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

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

A yearlong study centered on a decades-long trend of Colorado sending too much water to Nebraska via the South Platte River yielded dozens of potential storage projects.

But high costs, potential environmental impacts, and bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles could doom the road ahead for any of those possibilities, according to a study presented Tuesday night at the South Platte Basin Roundtable meeting in Longmont.

Further, even if several of the identified projects happen, they would barely put a dent in what’s expected to be a Front Range water needs gap of 500,000 acre feet per year.

The $200,000 study, ordered by the Colorado State Legislature and paid for by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, looked at the South Platte from Greeley to the state line and identifyed potential storage solutions along the way.

Putting any of those solutions — with costs estimates ranging from $190 million to $1 billion — to work most likely will take more time, money and study…

Consultants from Stantec Consulting Services and Leonard Rice Engineers completed the study in December and have toured the state making presentations. The Legislature has yet to get a presentation, but here are the key points legislators will hear:

A large amount of water is physically and legally available but only during wet years and during short periods.

Mainstream options have the most benefit but likely are not permittable and have significant social impacts.

Many off-channel options appear to be feasible and could be combined in different concepts.

Even multiple projects won’t make a big dent in the supply gap.

One reason for the lack of impact is how the South Platte works. When farmers divert water from the South Platte to irrigate crops, some of that water soaks underground and slowly moves back to the river. That’s called a return flow, and return flows feed the South Platte to allow it to flow long after snowmelt water is gone for the season.

That’s why the Sterling No. 1 ditch can completely dry out the river with a diversion and then a mile downriver it’s flowing again.

That’s why the best possible place for a reservoir would be near the Colorado-Nebraska border, and the best solution for keeping as much water as possible — a mainstream reservoir — is the solution that likely never will happen.

A mainstream reservoir along the South Platte essentially would be a lake on the South Platte, with the western portion feeding into the lake and the eastern portion running when the lake releases water.

Water experts agree that would be nearly impossible to get approved.

But the consultants did identify storage options away from the river, including old gravel pits.

Still, building ditches or pipes to fill those gravel pits would prove costly.

The consultants also talked about the 2013 flood and high flows in 2015, which ended up sending 1.9 million acre feet of water to Nebraska — exponentially more water than Nebraska is entitled to via the 1923 compact with Colorado.

But managing or diverting water during a flood event like that would take technology water experts said just doesn’t exist. Instead, ditch companies did everything they could to keep the flood water out of their ditches, lest they get damaged by the torrent.

Groundwater storage also was touched on, but concerns were raised about water losses and the co-mingling of other water rights. Once the water flows under another landowner’s property, for example, they would have the right to pump that water to irrigate crops.

The conversation circled back to the reason for the study. Essentially, lawmakers on the Western Slope long have pointed to the excess water the Front Range sends to Nebraska. Rather than divert more water from the Western Slope, the argument goes, Front Range farmers and municipalities need to figure out how to keep what they have.

Mike Schimmin, a water rights attorney on the roundtable, said his fear is the study will reinforce those feelings and that people will ignore the high cost to capture the extra water.