@USBR takes up review of Lake Powell Pipeline — The Deseret News

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

The elimination of the major hydropower components of the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline means a new federal agency will review the project and determine if it is environmentally sound to move forward.

“The division looks forward to working with reclamation on updating the timeline and cost estimate for the project and completing the environmental impact statement,” Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, announced Tuesday

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had been the reviewing agency. After a September decision by the Utah Board of Water Resources to eliminate two reservoirs for the generation of electricity during peak demand, that entity was no longer the appropriate reviewing agency…

Project proponents say the pipeline is necessary to meet the needs of a growing population and to diversify water supply resources. Most of southern Utah residents rely on a single and volatile source of water — the Virgin River — which has been challenged by drought conditions.

Construction of the pipeline won’t begin until 70% of the water is under contract.

Karry Rathje, with the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said the shift to another federal agency to review the project should not result in any delays.

A water ‘win-win’ in Colorado? Not so fast — @HighCountryNews

San Luis Valley farmer Dale Bartee, left, with his parents and his oldest son, Tyler, the fourth generation on the farm. Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

From the High Country News (Nick Bowlin):

If water flows to money, in Colorado, it flows to the Front Range. There, a booming population has strained municipal governments, which are actively looking elsewhere for new water sources. This is nothing new: In recent decades, locals have fended off several schemes to export the San Luis Valley’s water east over the mountains. The latest of these is Renewable Water Resources, a venture backed by Denver metro money and former Republican Gov. Bill Owens. Worsening drought, poor commodity prices, economic trends towards consolidation and the ever-present threat of state intervention in local water management have some people worried — and others sensing an opportunity.

Sean Tonner, a businessman and longtime state Republican operative who worked for Owens, is behind the current water export scheme. Tonner exudes salesmanship, the sort of person who calls you by your first name the second he meets you. His plan reworks one that was pushed by the late Gary Boyce, a notorious water export advocate. Tonner, who now owns Boyce’s 11,500-acre property at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, proposes a 22,000-acre-foot pipeline to carry water from the northern end of the valley over Poncha Pass to Douglas County in the southern Denver metro area. His company would buy and remove from irrigation about 30,000 acre-feet of San Luis Valley water, paying local farmers for the water rights that would offset the export.

Tonner uses the phrase “win-win” to describe the project. The front page of the project’s website reads: “Best for the San Luis Valley. Best for the environment. Best for Colorado.” Few in the valley see it that way. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District rejected the proposal in January 2019, and the board has told Tonner it would fight any attempt to export water from the valley. Several town governments oppose the plan, as well. If it goes to court, the exporters would have to prove that the plan would not injure Rio Grande water rights, the aquifer or the protected areas that rely on the aquifer, including Great Sand Dunes National Park.

At a February water conference at Adams State University, former U.S. Sen. and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — the most public member of the well-known Salazar family, which has farmed in the southern part of the valley since the 1850s — declared that “water will flow out of this valley to the North only over my dead body,” drawing a raucous cheer from the audience of farmers and ranchers.

Even so, it is easy to imagine the valley’s economic plight making it possible for Tonner’s proposal to catch on. His plan offers incentives that previous plans lacked, including a $50 million fund for local governments to use in the community. If the valley’s financial woes worsen — or if the state were to shut off thousands of wells in Subdistrict 1 — that cash could sway some desperate local officials.

Tonner claims he has local support. At a community meeting in Saguache on May 23, he told the large crowd that he had enough water users interested in selling to obtain 22,000 acre-feet of water. Few farmers and ranchers want to admit this, but the valley’s grim circumstances are pushing some to sell.

I put the question to rancher Dale Bartee in August: What would happen if the drought returns next year, the valley’s pumping fee is higher, and the export company shows up with ready money?

“If the price is right, it would be very hard to say no,” he said with a sigh, sitting at his kitchen table. It’s an admission he does not like making out loud. Like many here, Bartee sees the export advocates as turncoats, exploiting the imbalance of economic and political power concentrated on the other side of the mountains to extract rural resources. Repeated attempts to export the valley’s water make the people feel dispensable.

“For me, I will probably be one of the last ones to say yes to it, because of my boys,” Bartee said, whose two sons work the farm with him.

“They both say they want to come back, they want to farm,” their father said. “And if I sell out, what do they have left?”

If the valley’s water use were corrected, Rio Grande Water Conservation District Manager Cleave Simpson believes, the export schemes would evaporate. “Buy and dry” proposals, as they are known, seem less appealing when water supply and demand are in better balance, he said. The subdistrict model is an attempt to allow current farms to carry on at slightly diminished capacity, rather than face the “draconian” decision of either selling to exporters to get what money they can or risk having pumping rights suspended by the state engineer.

“I don’t think producers should have to make that choice,” Simpson said.

Nick Bowlin is an editorial fellow at High Country News. Email him at nickbowlin@hcn.org.

@USBR advances water delivery project for Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Survey work begins for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project on the Navajo Nation. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via The High Country News

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff, Marc Milller):

The Bureau of Reclamation invites members of the press and public to a meeting to continue negotiations with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. The purpose of these negotiations is to agree to terms for an operations, maintenance and replacement contract for the federally-owned Cutter Lateral features of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, located near Bloomfield, New Mexico.

This operations, maintenance and replacement contract for Cutter Lateral will facilitate water delivery to the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations. The negotiations and subsequent contract provide the legal mechanism for delivery of the Navajo Nation’s Settlement Water in the state of New Mexico. WHAT: Public meeting to negotiate the Cutter Lateral operations, maintenance and replacement contract.

WHEN: Friday, September 13, 2019, at 9:00 a.m. at 1:00 p.m.

WHERE: Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Walter F. Wolf Conference Room 2nd Floor GM Suite, Indian Navajo Route 12, Fort Defiance, AZ 86504

WHY: The contract to be negotiated will provide terms and conditions for the operation, maintenance and replacement of specific project features. All negotiations are open to the public as observers and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty-minute comment period following the negotiation session.

The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting. They can also be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, 970-385-6541, mbmiller@usbr.gov.

Arkansas Valley Conduit update

From High Plains Public Radio (Abigail Beckman):

Chris Woodka is with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. He said part of the reason we’re seeing more water systems violate water standards is that federal and state standards have changed. They are now accounting for even more minute quantities of contaminants.

He said water from wells can be especially affected because, “shallow wells in the alluvial aquifer are high in organic contaminants, nitrate and selenium.”

“Deeper wells often have elevated levels of radioactive materials,” he said. “And nearly all of the communities east of Pueblo take water from wells.”

Some communities have responded by using water filters. Las Animas and La Junta have both installed large reverse osmosis membrane systems to remove contaminants from the water supply. Woodka said that has improved the taste and appearance.

But, he said, even after filtration, radium and uranium can still remain in the water at low levels.

And then there’s the cost.

“Those communities still face tremendous expense in disposing of the waste from the treatment processes,” Woodka said, “which can only be reduced by adding more clean water.” And extra water, let alone clean water, is hard to come by in a drought-prone state like Colorado. But there is one possible solution that’s been in the works for decades.

It’s called the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation describes the conduit as a “bulk water supply pipeline designed to meet existing and future municipal and industrial water demands in the Lower Arkansas River Basin.”

It would include about 230 miles of buried pipeline, a water treatment facility, and water storage tanks. Water would be routed to six counties – Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers – and would serve an estimated 50,000 people.

The project was first approved in 1962. Some work was completed in the early 1980’s, but the actual conduit has yet to come to completion. Woodka said that’s mainly because of cost.

“[These] communities could never afford to build [the conduit] themselves.” Woodka explained.

Congress passed a law in 2009 that reduced the amount of money local governments would have to pitch in for the project. Woodka said that finally made the construction of the conduit feasible.

But it’s still a $500 million project.

“The main problem that we’ve run into,” said Woodka, ”has been getting adequate federal appropriations to start building it. He said they are working on ways to lower the overall costs of the project.”

Woodka said lawmakers at the state and national level have been “extremely active” in promoting this project on both sides of the political spectrum…

[Republican State Senator Larry Crowder] said the key now is for residents to get involved.

“We’re getting the cities involved, we’re getting the people in the cities involved to send letters to Senator Gardner, Senator Bennet and Congressmen Buck and Tipton,” he said, “to make sure that they are aware of how the people feel about it.”

#Utah Presses Forward With #LakePowellPipeline Plans Despite #ColoradoRiver Basin Constraints — #Wyoming Public Radio #COriver #aridification

Proposed Lake Powell pipeline. Map via the City of St. George.

From Wyoming Public Radio (Judy Fahys):

Despite the risk that the river resource is overcommitted and it is shrinking, four Upper Basin states – Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico – are pushing forward with dams, reservoir expansions and pipelines like the one at Lake Powell that will allow them to capture what they were promised under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California have been using that water downstream for nearly a century.

President Donald Trump signed the basin-wide drought contingency plan in April, just weeks after the state of Utah declared in a news release that the river, which serves 40 million people, is “a reliable source of water.”

“What they need to do – the lower states – is use their right that’s allocated to them, and we will use our right that’s allocated to us,” said Mike Styler, who retired recently after 14 years as director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

A former state lawmaker, Styler originally voted on pushing forward with the 140-mile Lake Powell Pipeline. Once completed, the diversion project, which would draw from the lake, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border, about 86,000 acre-feet a year. That’s enough water to support nearly 100,000 households…

The St. George metropolitan area was the third-fastest growing in the nation last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released in April. Past data showed the area as the fastest growing in 2017 and the fifth-fastest growing between 2010 and 2018.

Pipeline proponents anticipate the trend will continue, with the current population of around 171,000 residents expected to swell to around 509,000 by 2065. And that growth is why they insist the pipeline is necessary…

The state has already spent more than $30 million on its application to build the pipeline. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing the project’s environmental impacts. The Washington County Water Conservancy District, a project partner, estimates that the license could be finalized in two years, construction would begin a few years later and the pipeline would be operating by around 2030.

But pipeline critics call the project too risky, too pricey and unnecessary. They contend that too much Colorado River water has already been promised to too many people.

“We are way beyond the budget of what the Colorado River can deliver, and when you just look at how much water is in the river and how much everyone else wants to take out, it’s just not there,” said Nick Schou, conservation director for the nonprofit Utah Rivers Council.

Schou said the Lower Basin states are facing cuts of as much as 500,000 acre-feet at the same time the Upper Basin states are planning nine projects that will draw about 400,000 acre-feet.

“Not only are we overusing the water, but there’s going to be a lot less to go around in the future,” Schou said…

The project’s overall cost is another big concern for critics. Proponents estimate the pipeline’s cost between $1.1 billion and $1.8 billion. Critics say the price tag will probably be $3.2 billion or higher. And water users would be saddled with the cost, since the what used to be common federal subsidies for big water projects have evaporated.

The #ColoradoRiver is a Reliable Source of Water for #Utah — @UTAHSavesH2O #LakePowellPipeline #COriver #aridification

Upper Colorado River Basin map via the Upper Colorado River Commission.

From the Utah Department of Natural Resources:

Falling storage levels at both lakes Powell and Mead have highlighted the potential effects of climate change on the Colorado River, causing some to question its future viability as a reliable water supply source for the state of Utah.

“All water providers, including the State of Utah, understand the level of concern some have regarding the perceived uncertainty associated with the use of Colorado River water,” said Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. “The Colorado River is reliable. We work closely with our federal partners and other basin states to plan for future needs and mitigate potential impacts. The drought contingency plans recently outlined by the Upper and Lower Basin states serve as an example of such planning.”

When looking at whether the river can meet future needs, scientists, water providers, and those who manage the river look at its past performance during varying weather conditions. Colorado River flows are cyclical, as are weather patterns.

The system’s reliability is documented in the benchmark Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) 2012 Colorado River Basin Study. The study reports that, in the 10 years preceding its issuance, which had been some of the driest of the last century, the Upper Basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) have delivered more than 92 million acre feet of water to the Lower Basin states (Nevada, Arizona and California)—that’s 17 million acre feet more than the minimum required by the Colorado River Compact.[1]

“In both wet and dry cycles over the past century, the river has always provided enough water to meet established uses and compact requirements,” said Don Ostler, former Executive Director and Secretary of the Upper Colorado River Commission. “Recent hydrologic modeling, based on projected drought scenarios, has shown the river to be capable of remaining a reliable supply for the Upper Basin into the future, especially if the basin states continue to work cooperatively on sensible drought contingency plans.”

The 2012 Basin Study and associated climate model projections indicate a potential decrease in mean natural flow of the Colorado River of approximately 9 percent over the next 50 years. In

addition, some scientists predict that as a consequence of continued warming in the basin, the decrease in river flows could be even greater.

Modeling conducted by BOR in August 2018, taking into account future water uses in the Upper Basin including the Lake Powell Pipeline, indicates a near 0 percent probability of a declared 1922 Compact shortage for the Upper Basin through the year 2050 presuming hydrology remains similar to what the basin has experienced over the last 100 years. On the other hand, if the future hydrology of the basin is similar to drier, hotter climate change predictions, more closely resembling the last 30 years including historic drought, the risk of a declared 1922 Compact shortage rises to less than 13 percent through the year 2050.

“The BOR and the basin states are planning for the possibility of a long-term imbalance in supply and demand on the Colorado River. To mitigate the risks and uncertainties associated with these water supplies, Utah has worked with the other states in the Upper Basin to develop an agreement on drought contingency development. Since the river provides water to some 40 million people, it is imperative that the western states, including Utah, all do their part to protect this river,” said Millis.

Utah receives 23 percent of the Colorado River water supply available to the Upper Basin. Utah is using approximately 72 percent of the current annual reliable supply of 1.4 million acre feet, including evaporation and system loss. The reliability of the Colorado River gives Utah the opportunity to develop its water for the benefit of Utah.

Even though Utah may be developing its water rights later than some of the other basin states, it does not mean there will not be enough water for projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline. There is water available for the Lake Powell Pipeline, which is currently being permitted to meet the needs of the fastest growing region of the state. The Lake Powell Pipeline would transport 86,249 acre feet of Colorado River water from Lake Powell through a buried pipeline to Washington and Kane counties.

Utah’s share of the water is not subject to a prior appropriation or “first in time, first in right,” administrative scheme among the states. The compacts that guide each states’ use of Colorado River water were expressly developed to ensure that faster growing states would not be able to claim all of the available basin water.

“The Utah Board of Water Resources can develop a portion of Utah’s Colorado River in a manner consistent with the Law of the River,” Millis said. “Utah’s right to develop water for the Lake Powell Pipeline is equal to, not inferior to, the rights of all the other 1922 Compact signatory states.”

With the projected need for more water in southwest Utah as early as the late 2020s, the Utah Division of Water Resources continues to advance the permitting for the Lake Powell Pipeline. The Environmental Impact Statement is the next step with a Record of Decision estimated to be issued in the fall of 2020.

Click here to read the annual report from the Upper Colorado River Commission.

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

San Luis Valley water export [and augmentation] plan presented — The Valley Courier

The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

As predecessors before them, Renewable Water Resources spokesmen on Thursday outlined plans for a 22,000-acre-foot water export project stemming from the northern San Luis Valley to customers in the south metro Denver area.

“This will be a win-win,” Sean Tonner told the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) board during a special meeting Thursday morning.

Tonner is a managing partner with Renewable Water Resources (RWR), a Colorado company with support from former Governor Bill Owens (for whom Tonner worked as deputy chief of staff when he was governor), former State Senator Greg Brophy, Greg Kolomitz and others. Tonner said he purchased the former Gary Boyce holdings encompassing 11,500 acres in the northern part of the Valley. Boyce, who died of cancer in 2016, had proposed a similar water export project.

Accompanying Tonner were RWR attorney Kevin Kinnear and Jerry Berry, who manages the RWR property and has been farming in the northern part of the Valley since 1996. Berry said he has been part of the Moffat community most of his life, serving on the school board there and on the RGWCD Sub-district #4 board.

Tonner said RWR wants to partner with the water district in identifying the best sources of water to provide the one-for-one replacement for the 22,000-acre-foot export while meeting the water district’s goals of reducing irrigated acreage and bringing balance to the hydrology of the Valley. The project would budget $60 million for that water acquisition.

Tonner said RWR estimates water could be purchased at about $2,000 an acre foot, depending on the water rights. RWR will be purchasing both surface water and groundwater, he said.

Berry said there are local residents interested in selling their water.

RGWCD Board Member Peggy Godfrey added she would not be surprised that there were people in the northern part of the Valley willing to sell their water, because they have not been able to use it to the full extent they should have been able to, and what RWR could offer them might help them afford to continue doing what they love to do.

Tonner said RWR would rather work with the water district than have an adversarial relationship. He said this project would return “one for one plus”, making up for the 22,000 acre feet that would be exported, “plus” for a total of 30,000-35,000 acre feet. In addition, RWR would set up a $50 million community fund…

Water would be piped from the Valley, with the buyers footing the bill for that pipeline, Tonner said. He added that RWR was requiring the buyers to limit the size of the pipe to no more capacity than the 22,000 acre feet.

He said currently the estimated cost of building the pipeline is $550-600 million.

RGWCD Board President Greg Higel said he doubted that Aurora and Castle Rock would want to build a pipeline just for 22,000 acre feet of water, and if it were constructed for more water, “that’s the beginning of the end.”

Tonner said the partners have been clear about the pipeline restrictions and the sellers are fine with it.

“Honestly, that’s hard for me to believe,” Higel said.

RGWCD Board Member Cory Off, who extensively questioned the RWR representatives, asked how long it would take to capitalize a project of this magnitude, and Tonner said “roughly five years.”

Regarding the project timeline, Tonner estimated close to 10 years “start to finish.”

Tonner said partners have been working on this proposal for about four years and hope to file something in water court in 2019 but would be fine with it taking longer if necessary. He said those involved have been working with individuals on both sides of the hill — potential waters sellers in the San Luis Valley and potential water buyers in the Denver metro area.