Some diverters in the #YampaRiver and #NorthPlatteRiver basins get orders from @DWR_CO to install measuring infrastructure by November 30, 2019

Ralph Parshall squats next to the flume he designed at the Bellevue Hydrology Lab using water from the Cache la Poudre River. 1946. Photo Credit: Water Resource Archive, Colorado State University, via Legacy Water News.

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

Erin Light is the division engineer for the Yampa, White and North Platte River basins for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the state agency that manages water rights. Light said she’s sent orders requiring 575 water users to install headgates and measuring devices as required by Colorado law. Most of these orders went to users in the Yampa River basin, though Light estimated about 100 of them went to users in the North Platte River basin in North Park.

In March, water rights holders received notice that they would be required to install headgates and measuring devices. Light estimated fewer than 25% of the users who received notices actually installed the required infrastructure.

Now, those water rights owners have been sent an order to install these devices by Nov. 30. After that date, they’ll be required to either have devices in place or stop using their water.

“If you choose to not divert water and say ‘Fine, I only have a headgate, I’m shutting it. Again, I’m shutting it. I’m not going to put a measuring device in.’ That’s fine, as long as you don’t divert water,” Light said. “But if you have a headgate, no measuring device and choose to divert water contrary to that order after Nov. 30, next spring, May or whenever you turn on (your water), and we see that, we’re going to shut the headgate, and if necessary, we’ll lock the headgate.”

If users break the lock or open the gate, the division could pursue enforcement actions with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, Light said.

Without a headgate, users and engineers can’t shut off water. For users who divert water without a headgate, Light said the fine for diverting water contrary to the order is $500 each day water is flowing.

Colorado water rights are a “use-it or lose-it” commodity. If a person is not using all of their water right, they can lose part or all of their water right through the abandonment process. Every 10 years, division engineers are required to provide the water court with a list of water rights they believe are abandoned partially or entirely. Light’s office is working through this process now. A preliminary list will be published on July 1, 2020.

“We’re talking to people about the fact that their water right is being considered for abandonment, because we do have an initial list that we’ve developed,” Light said. “Our water commissioners are inspecting structures with water rights on the list and talking to water users, and there’s a lot of frustration (from users) about ‘How could my water right be on the abandonment list?’”

Light said some users don’t realize they can lose part of their water right, but statute says water rights can be abandoned “in whole or in part.”

Keeping accurate records can help. Light encourages water rights owners to track the water they’re using as her office works through the abandonment process. Light said water users should keep note when and at what flow they turn their diversions on or off, any time they adjust flows or anytime water levels in streams and ditches significantly fluctuate.

“Maybe they did divert their water right, but we never got a record of it,” she said. “We observe something less because we weren’t out there at peak flow, and if water users would provide us accurate records of their water use, it’s possible that some of these water rights wouldn’t be included on the list. … It’s really critical that people start taking on that responsibility to protect their water right and keep records. It’s critical in many instances, but one of them is abandonment.”

#Platte River Recovery Implementation Program water project completion expected by October 15, 2019

From The Kearney Hub (Lori Potter):

A wet 2019 delayed construction work throughout Nebraska, including a Platte River Recovery Implementation Program water project southwest of Elm Creek.

At Tuesday’s PRRIP Governance Committee meeting in Kearney, program civil engineer Kevin Werbylo said the completion date for the project on the south side of the Platte River was moved from May 1 to Aug. 1 to Oct. 15.

“Given the conditions the contractor had to deal with, they did a nice job and the engineers did a nice job,” Werbylo said.

The project fits program goals to reduce depletions to Central Platte target flows and to protect, restore or maintain land used as habitat by threatened and endangered species — least terns, piping plovers and whooping cranes.

The basinwide plan allows entities in Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming with federal licenses, permits and/or funding to comply with the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Department of Interior is the other major participant.

The Elm Creek project will help meet an immediate goal to reduce by 120,000 acre-feet the annual depletions to target river flows set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the protected species. Water held in shallow detention cells on the broad-scale site will seep into the groundwater that eventually reaches the adjacent Platte River.

Platte water will be diverted into Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s Phelps Canal at times when flows exceed targets. According to PRRIP 1995-2017 data, that most commonly occurs in December and January.

A new pipeline built as part of the project links the canal to the 416-acre site where earthen berms up to 6 feet tall create eight shallow cells to temporarily hold water at depths of 12 inches or less.

Werbylo said the project budget is $4.3 million and there is $480,000 left to pay.

Dirt work needs to settle and vegetation is being established, he said, so it will be late spring to mid-summer 2020 before any water deliveries are made to the broad-scale project site.

PRRIP Executive Director Jason Farnsworth told the Hub that even if the original construction schedule had allowed the project’s use this fall, there would have been no diversions because of already high groundwater.

Winner of the Best Tasting Water in the Rocky Mountain Section-City of Fort Collins — @RMSAWWA

Winning cities representatives 2019.
Photo credit: AWWA — Rocky Mountain Section

Here’s the release from the AWWA — Rocky Mountain Section:

The water has been tasted, the water has been tested and the winner of the “Best of the Rocky Mountain Section” water taste test has been announced! City of Fort Collins took first place with a panel of veteran judges and media reporters evaluating water appearance, quality, order, and taste, of course. Competition was stiffer this year with 15 municipalities, from Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico, competing for the title of the best drinking water in the mountain west during the 2019 annual conference of the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works (RMSAWWA) in Keystone, Colorado. You can learn more about the winner, City of Fort Collins Utility, by visiting http://www.fcgov.com. Second place was awarded to Aurora Water, Colorado with the City of Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities, Wyoming coming in third.

City of Fort Collins will now go on to represent the mountain west in the national “Best of the Best” water taste test at the American Water Work Association’s Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE20) in Orlando, Florida, June 14-17, 2020. Over 11,000 water professionals across the country will gather at ACE20 where the best-tasting tap water in North American will be declared.

The RMSAWWA is the regional section for the AWWA, which is the largest non-profit, science-based organization in the world for drinking water professionals. The RMSAWWA covers Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico and has over 2,400 members, representing water utilities, engineering consultants and water treatment specialty firms.

#Wyoming Governor Gordon praises collaborative effort in wake of positive @USDA crop insurance decision

Gering-Ft. Laramie-Goshen canal. Photo credit: Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation

Here’s the release from Governor Gordon’s office:

Governor Mark Gordon expressed his gratitude to Wyoming and Nebraska’s congressional delegations, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and State of Nebraska agencies, and especially to State of Wyoming agencies for their collaborative efforts to address the ongoing needs of farmers impacted by the July 17 Goshen/Ft. Laramie irrigation tunnel collapse. These efforts contributed to today’s announcement by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency that crop losses and prevented planting due to the collapse will constitute an insurable event.

“We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the diligent work of the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security, Wyoming State Geological Survey, Wyoming State Engineer’s Office and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, alongside our counterparts in Nebraska, to help provide the necessary information to open the doors for crop insurance coverage for producers in the affected area,” said Governor Gordon. “The State of Wyoming will continue our ongoing efforts to obtain additional assistance for farmers impacted by this event. Many thanks to the numerous federal, state and local elected officials for bringing their resources to the table as well.”

The July 17, 2019 irrigation tunnel collapse and subsequent breach of a canal wall cut off irrigation to more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Wyoming and Nebraska. Work to repair the irrigation tunnel and stabilize a sinkhole that formed above the tunnel’s roof is continuing.

“The Wyoming Office of Homeland Security, our other sister agencies and Goshen Irrigation District have provided much-appreciated leadership since the collapse,” added Doug Miyamoto, Director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. “We need to continue this collaboration to ensure that the irrigation system is restored as quickly as possible. It is vital that we exhaust all avenues of potential assistance to our producers in the aftermath of this disaster.”

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

Crop insurance and the tunnel collapse: Unanswered questions remain for farmers in Goshen, Gering-Fort Laramie crop areas

Gering-Ft. Laramie-Goshen canal. Photo credit: Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation

From The University of Nebraska Lincoln< (Jessica Groskopf/Cory Walters):

As repairs continue on the tunnel that collapsed on the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal, unanswered questions remain about whether crop insurance will cover crop losses stemming from the loss of irrigation water.

Crop Insurance provides protection against “unavoidable, naturally occurring events.” Due to the complexity of the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie situation, it is unknown if crop insurance will cover crop loss.

Three tunnels are used to deliver water from the Whalen Dam on the North Platte River to the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal. The second tunnel, south of Fort Laramie, Wyo., collapsed on July 17. Water has been shut off at the Whalen Dam since the incident occurred in order to inspect and repair the tunnel. This has left 107,000 acres of cropland in Nebraska and Wyoming without irrigation water during a critical time in the growing season.

Several factors may have contributed to the tunnel collapse. According to a report by the National Weather Service in Cheyenne “precipitation has been upwards of 200-300% above normal for the past water year (1 Oct. 2018 to present).” However, the tunnel in question was built in 1917 by the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the structure. The Goshen Irrigation District and Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District were responsible for operating and maintenance of the tunnel.

Crop insurance is a federal program administered by the USDA Risk Management Agency. All crop insurance policies, regardless of the crop insurance agent, are subject to the same provisions. Thus if it is determined that the tunnel collapse was not from an “unavoidable, naturally occurring event,” all crop insurance policy holders on the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal would not receive an indemnity payment for their crop loss.

Farmers in the affected area need to continue to manage their crop as if water will return to the canal and they will covered by their crop insurance policy. Failure to do so may negate individual crop insurance coverage. Producers must receive written permission from the insurance company to replant, abandon or destroy a crop.

This information is designed to support and help clarify existing crop insurance policy provisions and procedures. For more detailed information and options you may have, please consult a crop insurance agent.

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

Tunnel Collapse Cuts Off Irrigation To 100,000 Acres In Western Nebraska And Eastern Wyoming — NETNebraska.org

Gering-Ft. Laramie-Goshen canal. Photo credit: Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation

From NETNebraska.org:

The Gering-Ft. Laramie-Goshen canal ordinarily carries water from the North Platte River to irrigate more than 100,000 acres in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. But last Wednesday, part of a 102-year old concrete tunnel on the canal collapsed, blocking that water. Wednesday, an overflow crowd packed a Scottsbluff meeting room to hear an update on the situation.

Gering-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District General Manager Rick Preston said officials are working on a temporary fix which will involve working into the tunnel, inserting steel ribs covered with metal plates and grout, hoping to clear a path to resume the flow.

“This is a long shot. We don’t even know what’s in there. In a perfect situation, you’re looking at 21 days before we can get water back into the system,” Preston said.

Gering–area farmer Preston Stricker said he’s coped with water shortages before, but never a complete cutoff. “The effects? Nobody’s ever tried this, so we don’t know yet. But it could be devastating, with no rain and the heat the way it generally is at the end of July, the first part of August. Corn’s in its pollinating stage within the next week to 10 days, and a very, very critical time, so the yield drag could be tremendous,” Sticker said.

Xin Qiao, a University of Nebraska irrigation management specialist, said that if corn doesn’t get any irrigation water by mid-August, that could cut yields by 80-90 percent.

In addition to how long the outage will last, other questions include who will pay for repairs, and how much, if any of the losses will be covered by crop insurance.

From the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation:

According to a Goshen Irrigation District news release, during the early morning hours on July 17, an apparent collapse in a tunnel on the Fort Laramie Canal, about one and a half miles south of the town of Fort Laramie, caused water to back up and breach the canal bank upstream of the tunnel. The Fort Laramie Canal provides irrigation water to approximately 107,000 acres in Wyoming and Nebraska served by the Goshen and Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Districts and the Wright and Murphey Ditch Company.

Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Vice President/Goshen County Farmer Cole Coxbill says the magnitude of the tunnel collapse is devastating. “In 13 miles, the water in the canal rose by four feet in just a half hour,” he explained. “It just went from bad to worse as the severity of the washout and tunnel collapse was discovered. The crew’s quick action and response to get the canal shut down as soon as they did saved additional destruction.”

All hands are on deck to determine a plan to repair the tunnel and canal to restore service. “Tunnel experts are onsite as well as engineers, legislators, irrigation district board members and other interested parties,” Coxbill said. “Today, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon toured the damage and is in touch with and working with Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts.”

To put the scope in perspective, Coxbill explained the size of Tunnel 2; the tunnel that collapsed. “Construction started in 1916 and finished in 1917. It is 2,160 feet long; 140 foot to 180 foot below ground and it is a 14 foot by 14 foot concrete tunnel,” he explained. “The cave in blocked it off totally and backed the water up in the canal washing out a good quarter mile of the canal. All of this is about 13 miles from the diversion dam on the river and the canal’s length in Wyoming alone is 85 miles.”

According to Coxbill, a state economist gave an initial forecast guess of a $60 million direct economic impact to Wyoming and Nebraska. “That doesn’t include the turnover effect,” Coxbill explained. “That is the direct economic impact the loss of irrigation water will have on our states.”

There are approximately 52,000 acres in Wyoming impacted with the loss of irrigation water. “Farmers are all in at this point in the season,” Coxbill stated. “All our chips are on the table and now we face the outlook of no irrigation water.”

“We are hoping to have some more answers as the irrigation boards meet again tomorrow to discuss what the tunnel company found and what they think,” he said.

“The devastation and reality of no water is still setting in and on how tragic this can and will be to the farmers and the community,” Coxbill concluded.

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

Editorial: #Nebraska should be vigilant to protect its #SouthPlatteRiver water allocation — Omaha World-Herald

The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.

From The Omaha World-Herald editorial board:

Momentum is building in Colorado to create new reservoirs to draw more water from the South Platte River, reducing the flow into Nebraska. Nebraska officials should monitor this situation closely, now and in coming years, to make sure the water volume continues to meet the requirements under a 1923 South Platte River agreement between the two states.

Maintaining a proper flow in the Platte River — formed by the confluence of the South Platte and North Platte Rivers in western Nebraska — is crucial to our state’s agriculture, hydropower and long-term metropolitan water sources for Omaha and Lincoln.

Colorado apparently has considerable room at present to make further diversions and still remain in compliance. “In many years, more water is passing that gauging station at the state line than needs to” under the agreement, Colorado State Engineer Kevin Rein says.

A group called the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, is proposing to store 175,000 acre-feet of water in a series of reservoirs on the South Platte River, from north of Denver to the Morgan County line. The project also includes a long pipeline to pump water from the river back to the metro area to be cleaned and re-used. Graphic credit: CWCB via Aspen Journalism

The proposed reservoirs, to serve Front Range urban residents, would keep about 150,000 acre-feet of water in Colorado, the Denver Post reports. That’s about half of the estimated amount that Colorado lawmakers claim their state can legally divert on average each year under the 1923 agreement. For comparison: When full, Nebraska’s Lake McConaughy has a capacity of 1.74 million acre-feet.

A 1993 study of Nebraska water history by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln stated, “Some Nebraskans may still bemoan that the state gave away too much water to Colorado in the South Platte Compact of 1923, but it was a voluntary agreement.”

The tremendous metro growth in Colorado’s Front Range is spurring the call for new reservoirs. Urban groundwater levels are declining in the face of dramatically increased demand. Meanwhile, agricultural producers in Colorado’s South Platte River basin support reservoir creation as a way to safeguard their own groundwater from urban diversion. Officials in western Colorado are in favor, saying the South Platte water could reduce the current allocation of western Colorado water to the Front Range via tunnels. Supportive, too, are Colorado water-policy officials, who included the South Platte reservoir concept in their 2015 State Water Plan.

In short, a wide-ranging set of powerful urban and rural interests in Colorado have come together to press for more South Platte water. “We owe it to our state, to our water users and our farmers to capture as much water as we can” out of the South Platte, said Joe Frank, manager of Colorado’s Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District.

Nebraskans can take heart that strong legal protections are in place to safeguard the significant water volume the state receives via the North Platte River, a vital irrigation source. The river supplies Lake McConaughy, for example, with its wide-ranging irrigation and groundwater recharge role for more than half a million acres in the Platte River valley, plus hydropower generation and recreation.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decree in 1945 setting out a legal framework for interstate water allocation along the North Platte. In 2001, Nebraska and Wyoming reached a settlement on sharing North Platte water after 15 years of legal wrangling. The agreement essentially froze Wyoming’s water use at the 2001 level and stipulated that groundwater hydrologically connected to the North Platte be included. The settlement created a committee — of federal, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado officials — to work out future disagreements.

“In contrast to the meager and seasonal administrative execution of provisions contained in the South Platte Compact,” a 2006 UNL analysis stated, “administrative actions in the North Platte River watershed are extensive and occur year-round.”

Whooping crane standing in shallow water. Credit: Randolph Femmer, USGS (public domain)

Nebraska may have future legal leverage regarding the South Platte if any Colorado diversions raise environmental concerns, such as negative effects on protected animal species. Two examples: sandhill cranes and whooping cranes, which congregate in great numbers annually in central Nebraska.

The proposed South Platte reservoirs are “one of those rare solutions that really is good for both rural Colorado and folks who live in the Denver metro area,” a Colorado state senator stated. Evidently so, but on this side of the border, Nebraskans need to remain watchful and assertive to ensure our state’s rights are recognized and safeguarded to the full extent of applicable law.

Platte River photo credit US Bureau of Reclamation.