Video: Crop Residue Management and Water Resources — Colorado Ag Water Alliance

Crop Residue Management and Water

Watch the recent webinar with CSU’s Joel Schneekloth on crop residue management.

Watch the webinar here!

Ogallala Aquifer’s shallowness has meant growers have to adjust — High Plains Ag Journal

The Ogallala aquifer, also referred to as the High Plains aquifer. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration

From The High Plains Ag Journal (Bob Kjelland):

The vast Ogallala Aquifer has been on the minds of growers in many states but it certainly has been on the minds of growers in Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska who share the crucial resource with differing regulations. We all share a common bond to try to preserve it for future generations.

Timothy Pautler became involved with water conservation district matters with the settlement of the Arkansas River Compact dispute between Colorado and Kansas. The state of Colorado was in litigation with Kansas and Nebraska on the Republican River Compact. The state decided to approach the defense of this conflict differently than the Arkansas River Compact, so through legislation, Colorado created an entity to assist the state in achieving compact compliance and in August 2004 the Republican River Water Conservation District was formed.

The board members represented, at the time, seven counties, seven Ground Water Management Districts and one member from the Colorado Ground Water Commission. Pautler was appointed by the Kit Carson County Commission.

“My understanding of what was happening to the Ogallala Aquifer in my area of the basin was the driving force behind my desire to participate in the decision to assist the state,” he said. “The economy that was created by the state, in its determination to allow the mining of the Aquifer, and the resulting decline, was a concern.”

In 2019, the boundary for the RRWCD was expanded, to include all the irrigated acres that are actually contributing to the compact issue. This change affected folks in the southeast part of Kit Carson County and the northern part of Cheyenne County and in the East Cheyenne Ground Water Management District. This change created two more board member positions, representing those two new entities. This expansion added approximately 45,000 new irrigated acres to the RRWCD fee assessment.

The RRWCD assists the state in reaching compact compliance on the Republican River Compact that was signed in 1942. In the beginning, the state told growers that if they retired 30,000 acres from irrigation the state would be in compliance. To fund the required budget that was going to be needed, the RRWCD assessed all irrigated acres a fee of $5.50 per irrigated acre. At that point in time, the basin did not have meters on any of the wells, so a per acre charge was really the only option and was easy to do, using county assessors’ records. The RRWCD worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency, to create programs that would financially compensate producers for voluntarily retiring some of their irrigated lands.

Over time the district has been actively involved with purchasing surface water rights on the Arikaree and the North and South Forks of the Republican. It was involved with the Pioneer and Laird ditch rights. When they were purchased by the Yuma County Water Authority, the RRWCD leased those rights from the YCWA for $5 million for 20 years. This transaction leaves water in the North Fork of the Republican, and is accounted for at the gauging station located just east of Wray, Colorado

“We are continually working with surface water folks, in order to acquire their rights, this practice is ongoing,” he said. “Because of the way surface water irrigation is accounted for under the compact the retirement of these water rights is very helpful in achieving compliance.

He noted the 15-member board showed tremendous leadership in helping stakeholders understand what was at stake.

“As we moved through time, the collective efforts started to bring results for the basin. We were well on our way to retiring the 30,000 acres of irrigated land. The programs were working rather smoothly, and the process was a success,” Paulter said. “But then our general manager, Stan Murphy, and our engineer, Jim Slattery, started to look at the numbers and realized that the retirement of acres alone, was not going to get us where we needed to be, in order to be in compliance.”

The acreage retirements were coming so far from the three streams—the North Fork, the Arikaree, and the South Fork—to achieve the goal. The retirements were still a good concept and leaving water in the hole is always a positive, the producer and board member said. But the lagged depletion effect that existed in the aquifer was not allowing the impact of acreage retirement to result in immediate stream flow. The lagged depletion, describes the impacts that distant well pumping has on stream flow. As a result of the lag effect, the impact of present day pumping will have negative effects for 30 to 50 years, according to the engineers, even though a well has been retired. The effects that those distant retired wells created, prior to retirement, continued to haunt the long-term goals of the RRWCD.

In 2002, the Republican River settlement had been signed. The final settlement stipulation agreed that Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado would not fight about water use that was in the past, but only work toward achieving future compliance with the compact that allocates how much water each state is entitled to use, he said. As part of the stipulation between the states, the accounting for all three states started at zero, it also allowed that any one of the states could use a pipeline to get additional water to the river in order to get into compliance.

So that became the next challenge for the board. Where do we get enough water to make a difference?

“We started looking at an exhausting list of possibilities, including The Dakota formation below the Ogallala, areas of the basin that were under appropriated, and imports from the South Platte at the time we left no stone unturned. Every idea had issues that came along with it,” Pautler said.

The Dakota was going to be too salty and too costly to bring to the surface and not enough water. The unappropriated area was going to require too many easements and a pipeline of extreme length. The South Platte was too expensive.

“In the end we were able to make a deal with one family. Their water rights were located northeast of Wray. This area of the basin has absolutely the greatest amount of saturated thickness.”

It was far enough away from the North Fork to minimize effect on stream flow, but yet close enough that the pipeline length was a doable deal, approximately 13 miles, he said. About 13,500 acre feet of historical consumptive use, from 62 permits, were acquired.

The Colorado Ground Water Commission then approved the RRWCD application, allowing it to consolidate the 62 existing wells into 15 wells to be used for compact compliance, without any injury to surrounding water rights. Along with the water purchase, the district negotiated easements from the landowners for the pipeline route. The cost of the water and easements was $50 million. The engineers designed a pipeline system that cost $20 million.

Informational meetings were key because a $70 million project was not an easy sell, especially when budgets were compiled. The $5.50 per acre assessment needed to go to $14.50. This created a budget of $7 million. A loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the $60 million, at an interest rate of 2% was secured and the 20-year note will be paid off in 2028. “The public acceptance of the concept, came with a lot of questions,” Pautler said. “As their understanding of the entire compact issue increased, so did their support.”

Not so fast

Even with the pipeline it did not mean going back to old practices, Paulter said. Wells in every county and management district that once pumped 800 to 1,000 gallons per minute had diminished to 200 to 500 gpm.

When the pipeline was completed and functioning, the board started to hear comments like, “now we can pump it till it is dry.”

“The pipeline did give us all a false sense of security that nothing else has to change; the perception was the economies of the communities can now continue as always; the threat of shut downs is taken care of,” he said. “But in reality, our small communities are changing so slow we don’t even see it happening, especially in areas of the basin that never did have sufficient saturate thickness, to expect life to go on as usual, or forever.”

A safe statement would be, “most wells in the basin, do not have the yield they originally had.” Conservation has always been an underlying effort, but the urgency to get into compact compliance was paramount and trumped conservation.

The fee assessment has been a problem for the basin, in terms of conservation. For $14.50 per acre, a producer can pump all he wants, up to his permitted amount. Paulter said a per acre foot charge would have been better formula to achieve conservation. The meters did not come into existence until about 2010. Meters alone will not create conservation, although the irrigators, today, do pay more attention to the amount pumped. They are required to stay within their annual appropriation.

What has worked

Conservation has been attained in the areas where irrigated acres were retired. That unused volume assures more water for domestic and livestock use. That is vital for those areas long term. Travel west of the RRWCD boundary and there are large ranches with very limited water resources. Pipelines have been installed with USDA cost share dollars to move the water for miles. And now, even those pipelines are in jeopardy of not having enough water for livestock numbers to adequately make an economic enterprise work.

When the pipeline was completed, the RRWCD’s Conservation Committee started looking at ways to encourage meaningful conservation. They formed a subcommittee made up of members from all the Ground Water Management Districts.

Different soils

The basin is very different north to south and east to west. Saturated thicknesses vary from having very little left to those areas that still have a 40-year supply left. Soil types very vastly as well.

“We have good heavy soils that will support dry land farming, to sugar sand that without water becomes rangeland. It is a classic case of the ‘haves and the have nots,’ depending on where you are located,” Pautler said. “We are all human, and no one wants to limit their neighbor’s ability to have an economic gain. Admittedly, a tough issue to struggle with.”

Another problem is the fact that the RRWCD has no statutory authority to impose water use restrictions on the basin. That is under the authority of the GWMD. By design, when the RRWCD was given statutory authority to help the state get into compact compliance, GWMDs were very outspoken and insisted that the RRWCD should not be allowed to take over the authority that the management districts already had. These are some of the challenges in trying to achieve meaningful and measureable conservation.

“I would hope that we in the Republican basin can come up with a fair and equitable solution that fits the needs of all water users in the basin. The list of water users has to include discussion with the municipalities, domestic users, commercial interests, and livestock folks. Finding agreement affects everyone, not just the ag irrigators,” he said. “We all have economic interests that are effected by the discussions moving forward. The emotional part of the discussion, kind of stems from the fact that, if we do nothing, ever so slowly, the water passes by our neighbors and we don’t care until it is our turn. A restriction that imposes conservation on all water users happens immediately. The economic impact is immediate.”

This was edited by Dave Bergmeier who can be reached at 620-227-1822 or dbergmeier@hpj.com.

Kansas River Basin including the Republican River watershed. Map credit: By Kmusser – Self-made, based on USGS data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4390886

Discussion with @JoelSchneekloth, Regional Water Resource Specialist at @ColoradoStateU, on crop residue management, July 28, 2020

Crop residue. Photo credit: Joel Schneekloth

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

About this Event

Join us for a digital presentation on crop residue management:

  • What impact can crop residue have on retaining soil moisture and water resources?
  • What does the current science say about the possible benefits of crop residue?
  • How can I implement crop residue management on my farm?
  • What are realistic outcomes and goals of implementing a crop residue management program?
  • 2020 #OgallalaAquifer Summit will take place March 31-April 1, 2020 in Amarillo, Texas

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):

    The 2020 Ogallala Aquifer Summit will take place in Amarillo, Texas, from March 31 to April 1, bringing together water management leaders from all eight Ogallala region states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota and Wyoming. The dynamic, interactive event will focus on encouraging exchange among participants about innovative programs and effective approaches to addressing the region’s significant water-related challenges.

    “Tackling Tough Question” is the theme of the event. Workshops and speakers will share and compare responses to questions such as: “What is the value of groundwater to current and future generations?” and “How do locally led actions aimed at addressing water challenges have larger-scale impact?”

    “The summit provides a unique opportunity to strengthen collaborations among a diverse range of water-focused stakeholders,” said summit co-chair Meagan Schipanski, an associate professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at CSU. “Exploring where we have common vision and identifying innovative concepts or practices already being implemented can catalyze additional actions with potential to benefit the aquifer and Ogallala region communities over the short and long term.”

    Schipanski co-directs the Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP) with Colorado Water Center director and summit co-chair Reagan Waskom, who is also a faculty member in Soil and Crop Sciences. The Ogallala Water CAP, supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, has a multi-disciplinary team of 70 people based at 10 institutions in six Ogallala-region states. They are all engaged in collaborative research and outreach for sustaining agriculture and ecosystems in the region.

    Some Ogallala Water CAP research and outreach results will be shared at the 2020 Ogallala Summit. The Ogallala Water CAP has led the coordination of the event, in partnership with colleagues at Texas A&M AgriLife, the Kansas Water Office, and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service-funded Ogallala Aquifer Program, with additional support provided by many individuals and organizations from the eight Ogallala states.

    The 2020 Summit will highlight several activities and outcomes inspired by or expanded as a result of the 2018 Ogallala Summit. Participants will include producers; irrigation company and commodity group representatives; students and academics; local and state policy makers; groundwater management district leaders; crop consultants; agricultural lenders; state and federal agency staff; and others, including new and returning summit participants.

    “Water conservation technologies are helpful, and we need more of them, but human decision-making is the real key to conserving the Ogallala,” said Brent Auvermann, center director at Texas A&M AgriLife Research – Amarillo. “The emergence of voluntary associations among agricultural water users to reduce groundwater use is an encouraging step, and we need to learn from those associations’ experiences with regard to what works, and what doesn’t, and what possibilities exist that don’t require expanding the regulatory state.”

    The summit will take place over two half-days, starting at 11 a.m. Central Time (10 a.m. MDT) on Tuesday, March 31 and concluding the next day on Wednesday, April 1 at 2:30 p.m. The event includes a casual evening social on the evening of March 31 that will feature screening of a portion of the film “Rising Water,” by Nebraska filmmaker Becky McMillen, followed by a panel discussion on effective agricultural water-related communications.

    Visit the 2020 Ogallala summit webpage to see a detailed agenda, lodging info, and to access online registration. Pre-registration is required, and space is limited. The registration deadline is Saturday, March 21 at midnight Central Time (11 p.m. MDT).

    This event is open to credentialed members of the media. Please RSVP to Katie.ingels@kwo.ks.gov or amy.kremen@colostate.edu

    The Ogallala aquifer, also referred to as the High Plains aquifer. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration

    2020 #OgallalaAquifer Summit in Amarillo, #TX, March 31 – April 1, 2020 — The #Kansas #Water Office

    Here’s the release from the Kansas Water Office (Katie Patterson-Ingels, Amy Kremen):

    8-State Conversation to Highlight Actions & Programs Benefitting the Aquifer, Ag, and Ogallala communities

    The 2020 Ogallala Aquifer Summit will take place in Amarillo, Texas, from March 31 to April 1, bringing together water management leaders from all eight Ogallala region states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota and Wyoming. The dynamic, interactive event will focus on encouraging exchange among participants about innovative programs and effective approaches being implemented to address the region’s significant water-related challenges.

    “Tackling Tough Questions,” is the theme of the event. Workshops and speakers share and compare responses to questions such as: “What is the value of groundwater to current and future generations” and “how do locally-led actions aimed at addressing water challenges have larger-scale impact?”

    “The summit provides a unique opportunity to strengthen collaborations among a diverse range of water-focused stakeholders,” said summit co-chair Meagan Schipanski, an associate professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at CSU. “Exploring where we have common vision and identifying innovative concepts or practices already being implemented can catalyze additional actions with potential to benefit the aquifer and Ogallala region communities over the short- and long-term.”

    Schipanski co-directs the Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP) with Colorado Water Center director and summit co-chair Reagan Waskom, who is also a faculty member in Soil and Crop Sciences. The Ogallala Water CAP, supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, has a multi-disciplinary team of 70 people based at 10 institutions in 6 Ogallala-region states, engaged in collaborative research and outreach aimed at sustaining agriculture and ecosystems in the region.

    Some Ogallala Water CAP research and outreach results will be shared at the 2020 Ogallala Summit. The Ogallala Water CAP has led the coordination of this event, in partnership with colleagues at Texas A&M AgriLife, the Kansas Water Office, and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service-funded Ogallala Aquifer Program, with additional support provided by many other individuals and organizations from the eight Ogallala states.

    The 2020 Summit will highlight several activities and outcomes inspired by or expanded as a result of the 2018 Ogallala Summit. Participants will include producers, irrigation company and commodity group representatives, students and academics, local and state policy makers, groundwater management district leaders, crop consultants, agricultural lenders, state and federal agency staff, and others, including new and returning summit participants.

    “Water conservation technologies are helpful, and we need more of them, but human decision-making is the real key to conserving the Ogallala,” said Brent Auvermann, Center Director at Texas A&M AgriLife Research – Amarillo. “The emergence of voluntary associations among agricultural water users to reduce ground water use is an encouraging step, and we need to learn from those associations’ experiences with regard to what works, and what doesn’t, and what possibilities exist that don’t require expanding the regulatory state.”

    The summit will take place over two half-days, starting at 11:00 a.m. Central Time on Tuesday, March 31 and concluding the next day on Wednesday, April 1 at 2:30 p.m. The event includes a casual evening social on the evening of March 31 that will feature screening of a portion of the film “Rising Water,” by Nebraska filmmaker Becky McMillen, followed by a panel discussion on effective agricultural water-related communications.

    Visit the 2020 Ogallala summit webpage to see a detailed agenda, lodging info, and to access online registration. Pre-registration is required, and space is limited. The registration deadline is Saturday, March 21 at midnight Central Time.

    This event is open to credentialed members of the media. Please RSVP to Katie.ingels@kwo.ks.gov or amy.kremen@colostate.edu.

    Ogallala Aquifer. This map shows changes in Ogallala water levels from the period before the aquifer was tapped to 2015. Declining levels appear in red and orange, and rising levels appear in shades of blue. The darker the color, the greater the change. Gray indicates no significant change. Although water levels have actually risen in some areas, especially Nebraska, water levels are mostly in decline, namely from Kansas southward. Image credit: National Climate Assessment 2018

    South Fork #RepublicanRiver Restoration Coalition (SFRRC) meeting recap

    The Republican River’s South Fork near Hale, Colorado, with the region’s seemingly endless fields. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Jeffrey Beall

    From the Republican River Water Conservation District (Deb Daniel) via The Burlington Record:

    Over 60 people attended the meeting of the South Fork Republican Restoration Coalition (SFRRC) on Monday evening, Feb. 10 at the Old Town Museum meeting room, in Burlington.

    Dave Hornung, Kit Carson County Commissioner, opened the meeting, welcoming everyone and thanking them for attending the meeting.

    Hornung listed the members of the SFRRC: Three Rivers Alliance, Kit Carson County, Yuma County, The Nature Conservancy, the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) and the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife.

    He introduced members of each organization including MaryLou Smith, facilitator, formerly from CSU.

    Hornung made it very clear that the meeting was not to discuss refilling Bonny.

    He read the list of objectives the SFRRC compiled in the stream management grant for this phase of the project.

    He emphasized that the focus of the meeting is to describe the best option to restore streamflow to the South Fork Republican River.

    Rod Lenz, president of the RRWCD, gave a brief history of the SFRRC and talked about how much cooperation there has been with all the entities involved in this project.

    Robin Wiley, Yuma County Commissioner commented on how much cooperation the SFRRC has received from the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), Senator Cory Gardner’s office and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

    He especially thanked the TNC for all their work on the project and for supplying the $120,000 cash match for our grant CWCB application.

    “We simply would not be as far along with this project if it were not for The Nature Conservancy being a big part of our project and we appreciate them partnering with us,” Wiley added.

    Frank McGee, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), Area Wildlife Manager explained the CPW’s support of this project and how well the BOR has worked with the SFRRC.

    He also mentioned the new area management agreement between BOR and CPW and how important it is to this project.

    William Burnidge, from The Nature Conservancy, gave a presentation explaining the research and analysis that went into the options the SFRRC considered.

    Burnidge stated that the option that the SFRRC has chosen is the most cost effective and leaves the ability for additional actions to be taken in the future, while restoring streamflow to the river and bringing back recreation to the area now.

    Those in attendance had several questions including how to manage the silt and cat tails, concerns about EPA and restoring the facilities at Bonny, questions about funding, etc. were answered by SFRRC members.

    Smith pointed out how cohesive this project has been. She explained that projects that have this much cooperation from all parties including state and federal legislators, federal agencies, CSU and all of our local entities that are in SFRRC — are usually very successful.

    She commended everyone for their efforts and encouraged the public to continue to be involved and informed in this project. With everyone pulling in the same direction, she was certain we will be able to reach our goal.

    The public was very receptive to the project and expressed how much they appreciated the efforts of the SFRRC. Anyone wishing to review the presentation can find it on the RRWCD website: http://republicanriver.com.

    If you have questions or concerns about the project contact any SFRRC member or the RRWCD office at 970-332-3552.

    Report: #Groundwater Availability of the Northern #HighPlainsAquifer in #Colorado, #Kansas, #Nebraska, #SouthDakota, and #Wyoming — @USGS #OgallalaAquifer

    Click here to download the paper. Here’s the executive summary:

    The Northern High Plains aquifer underlies about 93,000 square miles of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming and is the largest subregion of the nationally important High Plains aquifer. Irrigation, primarily using groundwater, has supported agricultural production since before 1940, resulting in nearly $50 billion in sales in 2012. In 2010, the High Plains aquifer had the largest groundwater withdrawals of any major aquifer system in the United States. Nearly one-half of those withdrawals were from the Northern High Plains aquifer, which has little hydrologic interaction with parts of the aquifer farther south. Land-surface elevation ranges from more than 7,400 feet (ft) near the western edge to less than 1,100 ft near the eastern edge. Major stream primarily flow west to east and include the Big Blue River, Elkhorn River, Loup River, Niobrara River, Republican River and Platte River with its two forks—the North Platte River and South Platte River. Population in the Northern High Plain aquifer area is sparse with only 2 cities having a population greater than 30,000.

    Droughts across much of the area from 2001 to 2007, combined with recent (2004–18) legislation, have heightened concerns regarding future groundwater availability and highlighted the need for science-based water-resource management. Groundwater models with the capability to provide forecasts of groundwater availability and related stream base flows from the Northern High Plains aquifer were published recently (2016) and were used to analyze groundwater availability. Stream base flows are generally the dominant component of total streamflow in the Northern High Plains aquifer, and total streamflows or shortages thereof define conjunctive management triggers, at least in Nebraska. Groundwater availability was evaluated through comparison of aquifer-scale water budgets compared for periods before and after major groundwater development and across selected future forecasts. Groundwater-level declines and the forecast amount of groundwater in storage in the aquifer also were examined.

    Major Findings

  • Aquifer losses to irrigation withdrawals increased greatly from 1940 to 2009 and were the largest average 2000–9 outflow (49 percent of total).
  • Basin to basin groundwater flows were not a large part of basin water budgets.
  • Development of irrigated land and associated withdrawals were not uniform across the Northern High Plains aquifer, and different parts of the Northern High Plains aquifer responded differently to agricultural development.
  • For the Northern High Plains aquifer, areas with high recharge and low evapotranspiration had the most streamflow, and most streams only remove water from the aquifer.
  • Results of a baseline future forecast indicated that groundwater levels declined overall, indicating an overdraft of the aquifer when climate was about average and agricultural development was held at the same state as 2009.
  • Results of two human stresses future forecasts indicated that increases of 13 percent or 23 percent in agricultural development, mostly near areas of previous development, caused increases in groundwater pumping of 8 percent or 11 percent, and resulted in continued groundwater-level declines, at rates 0.3 or 0.5 million acre-feet per year larger than the baseline forecast.
  • Results of environmental stresses forecasts (generated from two downscalings of global climate model outputs) compared with the baseline forecast indicated that even though annual precipitation was nearly the same, differences in temperature and a redistribution of precipitation from the spring to the growing season (from about May 1 through September 30), created a large (12–15 percent) decrease in recharge to the aquifer.
  • For the two environmental stresses forecasts, temperature and precipitation were distributed about the same among basins of the Northern High Plains aquifer, but the amounts were different.
  • Citation

    Peterson, S.M., Traylor, J.P., and Guira, M., 2020, Groundwater availability of the Northern High Plains aquifer in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1864, 57 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/pp1864.

    Small streams and wetlands are key parts of river networks – here’s why they need protection — The Conversation


    Biscuit Brook, a popular fly fishing spot in New York’s Catskill Mountains.
    Ellen Wohl, CC BY-ND

    Ellen Wohl, Colorado State University

    The Trump administration is proposing to redefine a key term in the Clean Water Act: “Waters of the United States.” This deceptively simple phrase describes which streams, lakes, wetlands and other water bodies qualify for federal protection under the law.

    Government regulators, landowners, conservationists and other groups have struggled to agree on what it means for more than 30 years. Those who support a broad definition believe the federal government has a broad role in protecting waters – even if they are small, isolated, or present only during wet seasons. Others say that approach infringes on private property rights, and want to limit which waters count.

    I study rivers, and served on a committee that reviewed the science supporting the Obama administration’s 2015 Clean Water Rule. This measure, which defined waters of the United States broadly, is what the Trump administration wants to rewrite.

    The Trump proposal goes completely against scientists’ understanding of how rivers work. In my view, the proposed changes will strip rivers of their ability to provide water clean enough to support life, and will enhance the spiral of increasingly damaging floods that is already occurring nationwide. To understand why, it’s worth looking closely at how connected smaller bodies of waters act as both buffers and filters for larger rivers and streams.

    Ephemeral channels like upper Antelope Creek in Arizona flow only after rain or snowfall, but are important parts of larger river systems.
    Ellen Wohl, CC BY-ND

    Parts of a whole

    The fact that something is unseen does not make it unimportant. Think of your own circulatory system. You can see some veins in your hands and arms, and feel the pulse in your carotid artery with your finger. But you can’t see the capillaries – tiny channels that support vital processes. Nutrients, oxygen and carbon dioxide move between your blood and the fluids surrounding the cells of your body, passing through the capillaries.

    And just because something is abundant does not reduce each single unit’s value. For example, when we look at a tree we tend to see a mass of leaves. The tree won’t suffer much if some leaves are damaged, especially if they can regrow. But if it loses all of its leaves, the tree will likely die.

    These systems resemble maps of river networks, like the small tributary rivers that feed into great rivers such as the Mississippi or the Columbia. Capillaries feed small veins that flow into larger veins in the human body, and leaves feed twigs that sprout from larger branches and the trunk.

    A conservation biologist explains how the wetlands and backwaters of Oregon’s Willamette River system were critical to rescuing the Oregon chub, one of this valley’s most endangered fishes, from near extinction.

    Microbes at work

    Comparing these analogs to rivers also is apt in another way. A river is an ecosystem, and some of its most important components can’t be seen.

    Small channels in a river network are points of entry for most of the materials that move through it, and also sites where potentially harmful materials can be biologically processed. The unseen portions of a river below the streambed function like a human’s liver by filtering out these harmful materials. In fact, this metaphor applies to headwater streams in general. Without the liver, toxins would accumulate until the organism dies.

    As an illustration, consider how rivers process nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which are essential for plant and animal life but also have become widespread pollutants. Fossil fuel combustion and agricultural fertilizers have increased the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus circulating in air, water and soil. When they accumulate in rivers, lakes and bays, excess nutrients can cause algal blooms that deplete oxygen from the water, killing fish and other aquatic animals and creating “dead zones.” Excess nitrogen in drinking water is also a serious human health threat.

    River ecosystems are full of microbes in unseen places, such as under the roots of trees growing along the channel; in sediments immediately beneath the streambed; and in the mucky ooze of silt, clay, and decomposing leaves trapped upstream from logs in the channel. Microbes can efficiently remove nutrients from water, taking them up in their tissues and in turn serving as food for insects, and then fish, birds, otters and so on. They are found mainly in and around smaller channels that make up an estimated 70 to 80 percent of the total length of any river network.

    Map of the Missouri River basin showing its network of tributaries.
    Missouri River Water Trail, CC BY-ND

    Water does not necessarily move very efficiently through these small channels. It may pond temporarily above a small logjam, or linger in an eddy. Where a large boulder obstructs the stream flow, some of the water is forced down into the streambed, where it moves slowly through sediments before welling back up into the channel. But that’s good. Microbes thrive in these slower zones, and where the movement of dissolved nutrients slows for even a matter of minutes, they can remove nutrients from the water.

    Flood control and habitat

    Other critical processes, such as flood control, take place in small upstream river channels. When rain concentrates in a river fed by numerous small streams, and surrounded by bottomland forests and floodplain wetlands, it moves more slowly across the landscape than if it were running off over land. This process reduces flood peaks and allows more water to percolate down into the ground. Disconnect the small streams from their floodplains, or pave and plow the small channels, and rain will move quickly from uplands into the larger channels, causing damaging floods.

    These networks also provide critical habitat for many species. Streams that are dry much of the year, and wetlands with no surface flow into or out of them, are just as important to the health of a river network as streams that flow year-round.

    Marvelously adapted organisms in dry streams wait for periods when life-giving water flows in. When the water comes, these creatures burst into action, with microbes removing nitrate just as in perennially flowing streams. Amphibians move down from forests to temporarily flooded vernal wetlands to breed. Tiny fish, such as brassy minnows, have waited out the dry season in pools that hold water year-round. When flowing water connects the pools, the minnows speed through breeding and laying eggs that then grow into mature fish in a short period of time.

    The Arikaree River in eastern Colorado is an intermittent stream that supports brassy minnow, a species of concern in the state.
    Ellen Wohl, CC BY-NC

    Scientific sleuthing with chemical tracers has shown that wetlands with no visible surface connection to other water bodies are in fact connected via unseen subterranean pathways used by water and microbes. A river network is not simply a gutter. It is an ecosystem, and all the parts, unseen or seen, matter. I believe the current proposal to alter the Clean Water Act will fundamentally damage rivers’ ability to support all life – including us.The Conversation

    Ellen Wohl, Professor of Geosciences, Colorado State University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) reopened as RRWCD tries to retire wells for Republican River agreement — The Yuma Pioneer

    From the Republican River Water Conservation District (Deb Daniel) via The Yuma Pioneer:

    The USDA recently published the 2018 Farm Bill Environmental Assessment. It states that the 2018 Farm Bill provides the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, the discretion to permit dryland agricultural uses on land enrolled under a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) agreement.

    In Section 2.4 of the Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment of the Conservation Reserve Program it states that the USDA has determined to not allow dryland agricultural uses of land while enrolled in CRP under a CREP agreement.

    USDA also announced that the agency is once again accepting CREP applications. Well owners interested in applying for this conservation program should contact their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices. The sign-up deadline for CREP this year is September 30, 2020. The Republican River Water Conservation District also offers supplemental contracts to well owners who have a CREP contract with FSA. Annual payments received from FSA are dependent on which county the well is located in. The RRWCD pays different levels depending on the location of the well. In 2016, the Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA) approved the operation and accounting for the compact compliance pipeline and Colorado’s compliance efforts in the South Fork Republican River Basin.

    South Fork of the Republican River

    This agreement also requires Colorado to voluntarily retire up to an additional 25,000 acres from irrigation in the South Fork Republican River Basin. Of that amount, Colorado must retire at least 10,000 acres by 2024 and the remaining 15,000 acres by December 31, 2029.

    As part of this requirement, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado agreed upon a boundary of the South Fork Republican River drainage basin (shown as South Fork Focus Zone (SFFZ) in map). Wells located in the SFFZ are paid a higher annual payment by the RRWCD to encourage permanent retirement of acres in this area.

    Anyone interested in applying for a CREP contract should contact your local FSA office or Deb Daniel, General Manager of the RRWCD at the RRWCD office (970) 332-3552, mobile (970) 630-3525 or by email deb.daniel@rrwcd.com.

    Kansas River Basin including the Republican River watershed. Map credit: By Kmusser – Self-made, based on USGS data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4390886

    Central Plains Irrigation Conference February 18-19, 2020, Burlington, #Colorado, Burlington Community Center

    The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation’s irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

    Click here for all the inside skinny from Kansas State University.

    Wray: #RepublicanRiver Water Conservation District to Hold Regular Quarterly Board Meeting, November 19, 2019

    Wray in 2004. By No machine-readable author provided. Waltraux~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=398753

    From the Republican River Water Conservation District via The Julesberg Advocate:

    The Board of Directors of the Republican River Water Conservation District will be holding its regular quarterly meeting in Wray, Colorado. The date, time, and location of the meeting and a summary of the agenda for the meeting are provided below.

    Regular Meeting of the RRWCD Board
    Date: Tuesday November 19, 2019
    Time: 10:00AM to 4:30PM

    Agenda:

  • Consider and potentially approve minutes of previous meetings; Board President’s report, General Manager’s report and consider and potentially approve quarterly financial report and expenditures.
  • Report from the Compact Compliance Pipeline operator.
  • Hearing of the Board, 2020 Budget Hearing and Water Use Fee Policy Hearing.
  • Receive report from chairmen of all RRWCD committees and associated organizations.
  • Receive report from Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.
  • Receive program updates and reports from the RRWCD’s engineer, federal and state lobbyists and legal counsel, Report by State Engineer’s Office, presentation by Alexander Funk to report on new funding programs available through CWCB.
  • Discuss and vote on Resolutions, discuss and vote on incentive payments to well owners in the South Fork Focus Zone who permanently retire their irrigation water right through the CREP program.
  • Receive and vote on support for soil moisture probe grant request from Yuma County Conservation District
  • Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District board meeting recap — Sterling Journal-Advocate

    South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    Owners of 12 so-called “gap wells” in Sedgwick County won’t be double-billed for being in two augmentation plans thanks to an agreement in the works with the Republican River Water Conservation District.

    Left unanswered is the question of whether the wells would have to be curtailed if the Republican District is required to shut down its wells.

    Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, told his board of directors Tuesday that the Republican District has met with the Sedgwick County well owners to discuss an agreement that would prevent them from having to pay the per-acre fee to that district as long as they’re included in another augmentation plan. Eleven of the wells are in the LSPWCD’s augmentation plan and the twelfth well is another plan.

    The proposed agreement is the upshot of state legislation establishing new boundaries for the RRWCD to include wells in Kit Carson, Cheyenne and Washington counties that are impacting the Republican River. When the Colorado Department of Water Resources used the U.S. Geological Survey’s data to redraw the boundaries, however, it was found that the 12 “gap wells” in Sedgwick County, originally thought to be in the South Platte River basin, actually were inside the Republican River basin. One of those wells is physically less than a mile from the South Platte River…

    Wells within the district are assessed an annual fee of $14.50 per irrigated acre to pay for augmentation of the Republican River to keep Colorado in compliance.

    Frank said that he doesn’t know whether that agreement has been signed yet. The Journal-Advocate had not been able to contact the Republican District Tuesday afternoon.

    While the agreement over fees would be a fairly easy fix – the legislation adopting the new boundary has nearly identical language in it protecting those well owners – the question of curtailment is stickier. Frank said a practical solution would be to not curtail the Sedgwick County wells, since they have so little impact on the Republican River…

    In other business, the LSPWCD formally adopted it 2020 budget on a voice vote.

    The district’s proposed budget is $1,173,586, about a 4 percent increase over the 2019 budget. Most of the increase is accounted for by increased personnel costs and an anticipated increase in legal costs.

    Again this year the budget is swollen by a quarter-million-dollar grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to fund the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative. Irrigators and other water users often have augmentation plans to offset the effects water well pumping has on the river. These plans can result in users having credits, or excess water available, that they can’t use. Rather than just lose the credits downstream, NCWC helps transfer those credits to someone who needs them in an efficient manner. Members of the cooperative also work to find ways to develop infrastructure for water exchanges, primarily when water augmentation plans are involved.

    Say hello to the #Colorado Master Irrigator program

    Photo credit: Colorado Master Irrigator

    Click here to visit the website:

    Colorado Master Irrigator is an intensive, 4-day, 32-hour educational course for Republican River Basin irrigators.​

    The Colorado Master Irrigator program is focused on offering advanced training in conservation-oriented, irrigation management practices for farmers and farm managers. Area producers from the Republican River Basin have led the curriculum development of this program.

    Topic experts including University Extension specialists will serve as instructors for this course. The in-depth and interactive class format will encourage peer-to-peer exchange among participants and instructors.
    The goal of Colorado Master Irrigator is for producers to graduate from program equipped with examples and insights on how they might potentially increase or maintain profitability by implementing different tools and strategies on their operations to improve:
    – water use efficiency
    – energy-use efficiency
    – water conservation
    – soil health

    From Colorado Master Irrigator (Brandi Baquera) via The Julesberg Advocate:

    How to improve agricultural water management to increase water and energy use efficiency, water conservation, and overall farm profitability is the focus of a new, annual four-day educational program called “Colorado Master Irrigator” that will be available to Republican River Basin irrigators next year.

    The Colorado Master Irrigator program curriculum will be taught by topic experts from Colorado and from other Ogallala states. The program’s interactive course format will encourage peer-to-peer exchange among farmers, including with some farmer instructors who will share insights they’ve gained through taking steps to increase water and energy-use efficiency and conservation on their operations. The main goal of the Colorado Master Irrigator program is to serve today’s farmers while benefitting the Ogallala aquifer resource that is so important for irrigators and the region’s communities.

    A ~35-member advisory committee has met monthly throughout 2019 to design and prepare the program for launch in early 2020. The advisory committee is made up of producers from across the Republican River Basin along with agricultural consultants, local landowners, Colorado State University Extension, state and federal agency staff, and others.

    The Colorado Master Irrigator program will cover practical and economic aspects related to the adoption of a wide range of agricultural water management tools, technologies, and strategies. “Colorado Master Irrigator is about helping us farmers figure out how we can get the perfect amount of water on our crops,” said Brian Lengel, a Burlington-area producer who serves on the program’s advisory committee.

    On September 18, 2019, Colorado Master Irrigator was awarded a Water Reserve Supply Fund (WSRF) grant that will help support the program’s continued development over the next three years. Several local grants, along with funds awarded by CSU’s Water Center, served as matching funds required in applying for this state-level funding.

    “Significant amounts of time and creativity, contributed by area farmers in particular, has been crucial in terms of developing the Colorado Master Irrigator program and attracting the support necessary to successfully establish this program,” said Brandi Baquera, Colorado Master Irrigator’s program coordinator.

    The four-day course, which will cost $100, will take place in Wray over four consecutive weeks: February 12, February 17, February 26, and March 4, 2020. To graduate, participants must complete all 32 course hours, engage with classmates and instructors, and consider committing to using certain agricultural water management strategies and tools covered by the program.

    For more information, visit http://www.comasterirrigator.org. Colorado Master Irrigator is also on Twitter (@COIrrigator) and Facebook (@comasterirrigator).

    Ogallala aquifer via USGS

    Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) Board meeting recap

    Kansas River Basin including the Republican River watershed. Map credit: By Kmusser – Self-made, based on USGS data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4390886

    From the Republican River Water Conservation District (Deb Daniel) via The Julesberg Advocate:

    At the beginning of the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) Board meeting last week, the Board welcomed 2 new Board members. Rod Lenz, RRWCD Board President, swore in Brooke Campbell, from Cheyenne Wells, who will be representing the East Cheyenne Ground Water Management District and Jim Hadachek, also from Cheyenne Wells, who will be representing Cheyenne County on the RRWCD Board.

    On August 2, 2019, House Bill 19-1029 went into effect. The bill modified the boundary of the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) to include the southern portion of Kit Carson County and an area in the northern portion of Cheyenne County. All counties and groundwater management districts in the RRWCD are represented on the Board of Directors

    The change in the boundary brought approximately 332 wells and the associated irrigated acreage into the RRWCD. The annual diversions from these wells has always been included in the groundwater model which tracks the use of water within each state, from which the depletions to the river are calculated, but because they were not been included in the RRWCD boundary, they have not paid the Water Use Fee as have the well owners that are located in the current RRWCD boundary.

    For 2019, the RRWCD Board voted to charge a pro-rated rate of $6.00 per irrigated acre to the wells in this area instead of the $14.50 that is assessed on irrigated acres in the RRWCD. All irrigated acres will have the same assessment in 2020.

    Effective immediately, the Board approved allowing all acres in the RRWCD be eligible for the EQIP program, which is administered through the NRCS. Anyone interested in more information on the EQIP program should contact your local NRCS office.

    Former Senator Greg Brophy gave a presentation on House Bill 19-1327, which is now Proposition DD, to put sports betting on the ballot. The goal of this legislation is to provide a stable funding source to implement the Colorado Water Plan.

    The RRWCD approved conservation grant applications from Marks Butte, Frenchman, Sandhills and Central Yuma Groundwater Management Districts (Big 4 GWMDS). The Big 4 GWMDs requested that the grant funds be forwarded to the Colorado Master Irrigator program.

    The Board also approved the conservation grant application by W-Y GWMD, requesting funds that will assist in covering costs for implementing conservation efforts in their district.

    The RRWCD endorsed an agreement for well owners in the northern portion of the district who have augmentation plans to the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District or to Sedgwick Water District.

    Well owners located in the South Fork Focus Zone who enter into a new CREP contract are now eligible for an additional one-time payment of $200 per irrigated acre retired. The two million dollars of funding for the supplemental contract is provided by the State of Colorado.

    If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Deb Daniel, RRWCD General Manager (970)332-3552.

    Republican River Water Conservation District board meeting, August 20, 2019

    Shirley Hotel Haxtun, Colorado via History Colorado

    From the Republican River Water Conservation District (Deb Daniel) via The Julesberg Advocate:

    The Board of Directors of the Republican River Water Conservation District will be holding its regular quarterly meeting in Haxtun, Colorado. The date, time, and location of the meeting and a summary of the agenda for the meeting are provided below.

    Regular Meeting of the RRWCD Board Date: Tuesday August 20, 2019 Time: 10:00AM to 4:15PM

    Agenda: Consider and potentially approve minutes of previous meetings; Board President’s report, General Manager’s report and consider and potentially approve quarterly financial report and expenditures. Report from the Compact Compliance Pipeline operator; receive report from chairmen of all RRWCD committees; receive program updates and reports from the RRWCD’s engineer, federal and state lobbyists reports, legal counsel reports. Public Comment will be at 1:00PM rrwcd Report by State Engineer’s Office and Attorney General’s Office, Consider grants applications from Groundwater Management Districts, consider various Resolutions including, RRWCD meeting date changes, increasing area of EQIP program to include acres from boundary change, approve edits in RRWCD By-laws, and consider edits made to Board Manual, and consider water use fee on acres brought into the RRWCD boundary due to HB19-1029. Consider contract with well owners who have augmentation plan to the Lower South Platte If necessary, the RRWCD Board of Directors will hold an executive session to receive legal advice on legal questions and litigation concerning South Fork water rights; to discuss and determine positions, develop strategies, and instrauct negotiators concerning the purchase or lease of water rights; determine positions and instruct negotiators concerning water supply acquisition, receive legal advice on legal questions related to such agreements, contracts and easements, discuss program applications; Compact Compliance and discussions with Kansas (to the extent subject to privilege), and the Compact Compliance Pipeline and Bonny Reservoir

    Location: Haxtun Community Center
    145 South Colorado
    Haxtun, CO 80731

    For further information concerning the details of this meeting, please contact:

    Deb Daniel, General Manager
    Republican River Water Conservation District
    Phone 970-332-3552 Email deb.daniel@rrwcd.com
    RRWCD Website http://www.republicanriver.com

    Republican River Basin. By Kansas Department of Agriculture – Kansas Department of Agriculture, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7123610

    Governor Kelly appoints three members to #Kansas Water Authority

    Rivers of Kansas map via Geology.com

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

    Governor Laura Kelly appointed three members to the Kansas Water Authority. The Kansas Water Authority plans for the development, management and use of state water resources by state or local agencies.

    Kelly appointed the following members:

    1) David Stroberg (R), Hutchinson, for the central Kansas groundwater management district seat, from names provided per statute K.S.A. 74-2622 by districts #2 and #5.

    2) Chris Ladwig (U), Derby and Spirit Aerosystems, for the industrial water users seat, from names provided per statute K.S.A. 74-2622 by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

    3) State Senator Carolyn McGinn (R), Sedgwick, for the environment and conservation seat, replacing Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Secretary Brad Loveless.

    The Kansas Water Authority is made up of 24 members. Of these 24 members, 13 are appointed positions. The governor appoints 11 members, including the chair. One member shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and one member shall be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

    Of the members appointed under this provision, the Governor appoints from the following requirements:

    1) One shall be a representative of large municipal water users;
    2) One shall be a representative of small municipal water users;
    3) One shall be a board member of a western Kansas Groundwater Management District;
    4) One shall be a board member of a central Kansas Groundwater Management District;
    5) One shall be a member of the Kansas Association of Conservation Districts;
    6) One shall be a representative of industrial water users;
    7) One shall be a member of the state Association of Watershed Districts;
    8) One shall have a demonstrated background and interest in water use, conservation and environmental issues;
    9-10) Two shall be representatives of the general public.

    The Republican River Water Conservation District Purchases Several Surface Water Rights: Irrigated acres associated with 27.5 CFS subject to dry-up

    From the Republican River Water Conservation District via The Julesberg Advoacate:

    In an effort to increase the surface water flows in the Republican River system, the Republican River Water Conservation District has recently purchased and leased multiple surface water rights on both the North Fork and South Fork Republican Rivers. By keeping the surface water in the river, the RRWCD is greatly enhancing the ability of the State of Colorado to stay in compliance with the Republican River Compact. Due to the extensive efforts of the RRWCD and the Colorado State Engineer’s office, Colorado will be in compliance with the Compact in 2019.

    This will be the first year since the Final Settlement Stipulation was signed in 2002, that Colorado will be in compact compliance.

    In the Annual Compact accounting 60% of all surface diversions are treated as depletions to the flows of the rivers and those depletions must be replaced through the Compact Compliance Pipeline. This requires considerably more water than off-setting comparable groundwater pumping. Last week, the RRWCD purchased the Hayes Creek Ditch and the Hayes Creek Ditch #3 surfacewater rights on a tributary of the North Fork Republican River. Some of these water rights were diverted each year, and the RRWCD was required to off-set those diversions with additional pumping from the compact compliance pipeline.

    The RRWCD also purchased and leased a total of 27.5 cubic feet per second of surface water rights formerly owned by the Hutton Foundation Trust. Significant diversions on the South Fork have impacted Colorado’s efforts to come in to compliance with the Compact. As part of the Compact accounting there are tests for State Wide compliance and tests for each sub-basin. When calculating the sub-basin non-impairment test, additional diversions on the South Fork can contribute to a failure to meet the Compact non-compliance. By purchasing the surface water rights, the RRWCD can insure that the water will stay in the stream and will be measured at the state-line gage and again at the compact gage near Benkelman, NE.

    After years of legal conflict, all entities can stop litigation because by purchasing these surface water rights, all legal actions by the Hutton Foundation Trust or by CPW, Inc. will be terminated. By purchasing the South Fork surface water rights, the RRWCD will not have to operate the Compact Compliance pipeline an additional 17 days that would be required to off-set the amount of water these rights would otherwise be entitled to divert.

    The Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA) has approved the operation and accounting for the Compact Compliance Pipeline. As part of getting this approval, Colorado agreed to voluntarily retire up to 25,000 acres in the South Fork Focus Zone (SFFZ) by 2029. Colorado is pursuing 10,000 retired irrigated acres in the SFFZ by 2024 and an additional 15,000 retired irrigated acres by 2029.

    Drying up the acres formerly irrigated by these surface water rights will contribute to the total of retired irrigated acres in the SFFZ, but Colorado is still far from the 10,000 acres to be retired by 2024.

    The RRWCD continues to offer supplemental contracts for CREP and for EQIP conservation programs. The District offers increased annual payments for acres retired in the South Fork Focus Zone.

    Currently the FSA, NRCS, the State of Colorado and the RRWCD are waiting for the USDA to publish the Rules and Regulations for the 2018 Farm Bill. As soon as the rules and regulations are published, producers can start applying for these conservation programs.

    The consensus of the RRWCD Board is that by completing these purchases, it improves the ability to secure compact compliance now and into the future.

    The RRWCD also approved a Water Use Fee Policy during the quarterly Board meeting on April 25th in Yuma. The Water Use Fee Policy includes a fee for junior surface water right diversions, and it modifies the annual fee for municipal and commercial wells. A copy of the fee policy is available on the RRWCD website at http://www.republicanriver.com.

    If you have any questions please contact Rod Lenz, RRWCD President, 970-630-3265, Deb Daniel, RRWCD General Manager, 970-332-3552 or contact any RRWCD Board member.

    Livingston Ranch in Kit Carson County receives the 2019 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award — The Sand County Foundation

    The soil’s health rebounded as it retained organic matter left on the land as crop residue. This reduced the need for fertilizer, and resulted in higher yields from their wheat, milo, corn and hay fields. Photo credit: Sand County Foundation

    Here’s the release from the Sand County Foundation:

    Mike and Julie Livingston of Kit Carson County have been selected as the recipient of the 2019 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award®.

    Sand County Foundation, the nation’s leading voice for private conservation, created the Leopold Conservation Award to inspire American landowners by recognizing exceptional farmers, ranchers and foresters. The prestigious award, named in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, is given in 13 states.

    In Colorado the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    The Livingstons [were] presented with the $10,000 award on Monday, June 17 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s 2019 Annual Convention held at the Steamboat Grand in Steamboat Springs.

    Agricultural conservation practices have given Mike and Julie Livingston and their land the resiliency to overcome adversity.

    When they bought their ranch near Stratton in 2003, its weed-filled landscape had been abused by years of over-grazing, severe erosion and drought. When rain did fall on barren spots of land, sediment would wash into nearby rivers and aquifers.

    “We had owned the property for three years, and each year we reduced our cow numbers because the grass wasn’t recovering. What we were doing wasn’t sustainable,” Mike recalls.

    Other challenges loomed on the ranch’s horizon. In 2009 a multi-state lawsuit took away their access to water for irrigation, and three years later a historic drought took hold. Their backs against the wall, they enrolled in the Ranching for Profit School. Mike said the “life-changing experience” opened his mind to agricultural conservation practices like cover crops, no-till and planned grazing.

    Not tilling the soil and keeping it covered year-round with specialty crops soon led to better rainwater utilization and less soil erosion and runoff. The soil’s health rebounded as it retained organic matter left on the land as crop residue. This reduced the need for fertilizer, and resulted in higher yields from their wheat, milo, corn and hay fields.

    Mike and Julie, who farm and ranch with their children, Kari and Justin, and their families, also embraced conservation practices that benefitted their beef cattle and created wildlife habitat.

    They implemented a planned grazing system with assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Inefficient watering systems were replaced with 100,000 feet of new pipeline. Miles of new fencing replaced the configuration of 36 old pastures, with 119 pastures that are grazed less often. The extended rest period, coupled with planting cool season grasses meant two more months of green grass.

    In addition to a 120-acre wildlife sanctuary the Livingstons created, hundreds of additional acres are left ungrazed from summer through winter to provide additional habitat for turkeys, prairie chickens, pheasants, bobcats, and herds of whitetail and mule deer. Hay fields are harvested with wildlife protection in mind, and cattle watering stations were designed for access and safety for birds, bats and other wildlife.

    The Livingstons share what they’ve learned with fellow ranchers, academic researchers, business and youth groups.

    Through hard work, holistic management, and perseverance, the Livingstons have built a ranch that is sustainable for generations to come.

    “The 2019 Leopold Conservation Award nominees featured an impressive array of families and operations from around the state. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust is proud of the conservation accomplishments of each of the applicants,” said Erik Glenn, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust Executive Director. “These applicants showcase the diversity of agriculture in Colorado and the dedication that farming and ranching families have to the lands they steward, their communities, and their families. We are particularly proud of this year’s recipient the Livingston Ranch and the entire Livingston family.”

    “Agriculture producers feed a growing society, domestically and abroad, through sustainable production practices that produce more by using less. This approach is the very backbone of stewardship that the Leopold Conservation Award honors,” said Mike Hogue, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association President. “Congratulations to the Livingston family on their well-deserved recognition, and being leaders in Colorado’s conservation and ranching industry.”

    “The Natural Resources Conservation Service has proudly partnered to support the Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado for more than 10 years. The families that are nominated each year illustrate the commitment Colorado farmers and ranchers have to implementing sound conservation practices. The NRCS congratulates the Livingston family for their conservation ethic and land stewardship,” said Clint Evans, NRCS State Conservationist.

    Among the many outstanding landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Cory Off of Del Norte in Rio Grande County, and Gregg, Chris and Brad Stults of Wray in Yuma County.

    The 2018 recipient was Beatty Canyon Ranch of Kim, Colorado.

    The Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Stanko Ranch, Gates Family Foundation, American AgCredit, The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, and McDonald’s.

    Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 13 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation.

    For more information on the award, visit http://www.leopoldconservationaward.org.

    “Virtually all levels in south-central #Kansas wells were up, along with a good portion of those in northwest Kansas” — Brownie Wilson ((Kansas Geological Survey)

    Dragon Line irrigation system. Photo credit: AgriExpo.com.

    Here’s the release from the University of Kansas:

    Groundwater levels during 2018, on average, rose slightly or remained about even throughout most of western and central Kansas, according to preliminary data compiled by the Kansas Geological Survey.

    “By and large, 2018 was a good year for groundwater levels,” said Brownie Wilson, KGS water-data manager. “Virtually all levels in south-central Kansas wells were up along with a good portion of those in northwest Kansas, and although southwest Kansas saw a few decline areas in the usual spots, they were not as great as in years past.”

    The KGS, based at the University of Kansas, and the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources (DWR) measure more than 1,400 water wells in Kansas annually. Most of the wells are drilled into the High Plains aquifer, a network of water-bearing rocks underlying parts of eight states and the state’s most valuable groundwater resource.

    Ninety percent of the collected data comes from wells tapping the aquifer. The other wells are drilled into other aquifers underlying the High Plains aquifer and shallow aquifers adjacent to surface-water sources, such as the Arkansas River. Most of the 1,400 wells have been measured for decades.

    In Kansas, the High Plains aquifer comprises three individual aquifers—the widespread Ogallala aquifer that underlies most of the western third of Kansas, the Equus Beds around Wichita and Hutchinson, and the Great Bend Prairie aquifer around Pratt and Great Bend.

    Water levels in the Ogallala aquifer are influenced mainly by the amount of water withdrawn each year, which in turn is affected by the rate and timing of precipitation. Recharge, or water seeping down from the surface, adds little groundwater to the Ogallala. In central Kansas, however, recharge has more of an impact because the Equus Beds and Great Bend Prairie aquifer are shallower and average precipitation in that part of the state is higher.

    Most of the wells in the network monitored by the KGS and DWR are within the boundaries of the state’s five Groundwater Management Districts (GMDs), which are organized and governed by area landowners and local water users to address water-resource issues.

    In Southwest Kansas GMD 3, average levels dropped .39 feet. Although down, the change was less than in 17 of the last 20 years when levels fell between .5 and 3.5 feet annually. A rise of .05 feet in 2017 was the only positive movement during that time.

    For the second summer in a row, water flowed for a time from the Colorado state line to Garden City. The river, which interacts with its adjacent shallow alluvial aquifer, has been mainly dry in western Kansas for decades.

    Wells monitored in GMD 3 are drilled into the Ogallala aquifer except in a few areas where they draw from the deeper Dakota aquifer. The district includes all or part of Grant, Haskell, Gray, Finney, Stanton, Ford, Morton, Stevens, Seward, Hamilton, Kearny and Meade counties.

    Western Kansas GMD 1 experienced a slight drop of .18 feet following a slight gain of .07 feet in 2017. The GMD includes portions of Wallace, Greeley, Wichita, Scott, and Lane counties, where the majority of wells are drilled into the Ogallala aquifer.

    “West central was basically unchanged as a whole but the average is bookended by declines in Wallace County and rises in Scott County,” Wilson said.

    Northwest Kansas GMD 4 had an average increase in water levels of .26 feet following a rise of .38 feet in 2017. GMD 4 covers Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan and parts of Cheyenne, Rawlins, Decatur, Graham, Wallace, Logan and Gove counties. Groundwater there is pumped almost exclusively from the Ogallala aquifer and shallow alluvial sources associated with streams. Besides being influenced by precipitation, water-level results in part of GMD 4 were tied to crop loss.

    “Some producers south of the Goodland to Colby area got hailed out early in the 2018 growing season,” Wilson said. “With hail damaged crops and higher precipitation rates in the eastern portion of GMD 4, wells there had less declines or even slight recoveries.”

    Big Bend GMD 5 had an average increase of 1.21 feet following an increase of .30 feet in 2017. The GMD is centered on the Great Bend Prairie aquifer underlying Stafford and Pratt counties and parts of Barton, Pawnee, Edwards, Kiowa, Reno and Rice counties.

    Equus Beds GMD 2, a major source of water for Wichita, Hutchinson and surrounding towns, experienced a gain of 1.35 following a 1.93-foot decline in 2017. The GMD covers portions of Reno, Sedgwick, Harvey and McPherson counties.

    The KGS measured 581 wells in western Kansas and DWR staff from field offices in Stockton, Garden City and Stafford measured 223, 260 and 357 wells in western and central Kansas, respectively. Measurements are taken annually, primarily in January when water levels are least likely to fluctuate due to irrigation.

    The results are provisional and subject to revision based on additional analysis. Data by well is available at http://www.kgs.ku.edu/Magellan/WaterLevels/index.html.

    The #RepublicanRiver Water Conservation District meeting tomorrow includes public hearing on new water use fee policy

    Yuma Colorado circa 1925

    From the RRWCD (Deb Daniel) via The Yuma Pioneer:

    A public hearing on the proposed new water use fee policy will be held during the Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Director’s regular quarterly meeting next week in Yuma.
    The meeting will be Thursday, April 11, in the banquet room at Quintech, 529 N. Albany St., beginning at 10 a.m.

    The public hearing on the proposed water use fee policy will be at 1 p.m.

    The new water use fee policy establishes and corrects water use fees for non-groundwater irrigation use in accordance with the Republican River Compact Administration accounting procedures and reporting requirements. It includes fees for all water uses, including junior surface water rights “as each water use affects compact compliance” according to the meeting release from the RRWCD.

    A copy of the six-page proposed policy can be found on the district’s website, http://www.republicanriver.com.

    It states that the policy is intended to provide a fair and equitable fee structure for all types of water use and consumption. The fees are set at a level to fund the necessary programs of the RRWCD “intended to meet the statutory responsibilities and limitations of the District.” It will not impact water use that was decreed or permitted earlier than December 31, 1942, prior to the Republican River Compact.

    Water users that have a decreed plan for augmentation that replaces depletions will not be assessed a fee for that water use and consumption.

    General public comment will be heard immediately following the public hearing on the proposed policy.

    Among the presentations to be made at the April 11 meeting is one by Margaret Lenz regarding the Yuma County Conservation District soil moisture monitoring program.

    The board will discuss and vote on sending comments regarding the new proposed WOTUS Rule. It also will discuss and vote on an agreement to offer well owners who are required to provide an augmentation plan to another river basin.

    It will receive reports from the general manager, the compact compliance pipeline operator, from chairmen fo the RRWCD committees, the RRWCD’s engineer, federal and state lobbyists and legal counsel. The board also will receive a report by the State Engineer’s Office and discuss South Fork Water Rights.

    For further information concerning the April 11 meeting, please contact RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel at 332-3552 or email her at deb.daniel@rrwcd.com.

    Idalia: The South Fork #RepublicanRiver Restoration Coalition Bonny Reservoir project landowner meeting March 14, 2019

    From the South Fork Republican River Restoration Coalition via The Yuma Pioneer:

    Bonny Reservoir, once a popular camping, boating and fishing destination located in extreme southeastern Yuma County, was drained years ago to help Colorado get into compliance with the Republican River Compact with Kansas and Nebraska.

    However, efforts by a coalition of county governments and other organizations — named the South Fork Republican River Restoration Coalition — still remain underway to at least partially restore it to its formal usage.

    There have been a series of public meetings since last year. The next is being planned for Thursday, March 14, in a joint meeting with the Colorado Agriculture Preservation Association. It will be at Idalia School from 5 to 6:30 p.m., followed by CAPA’s annual meeting.

    The coalition has been working on the project for the past two years. Yuma County and Kit Carson County are part of the group, along with Three Rivers Alliance, the Republican River Water Conservation District, Colorado Parks & Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy.

    Yuma County Commissioner Robin Wiley told the Pioneer he believes the group is making headway in a positive direction. He stressed that plans do include necessarily refilling the lake, but restoring the stream flow and possibly establishing some non-water and small water recreational activities in and around the old lake bed.

    The coalition secured a grant in January 2018 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for $99,000, with The Nature Conservancy giving the cash match.

    Wiley said the money is being used to do Phase I of the project, planning and design.

    The coalition has hired Otak Engineering to do channel design and engineering. A firm named Stillwater is doing the habitat restoration planning, and CHM has been hired to do an economic analysis of possible recreational activities.

    It had a landowner meeting last August in Idalia to tell the landowners, up and down the South Fork of the Republican River, what the coalition is trying to do and ask for their cooperation.

    Last November there were two meetings, one in Idalia and one in Burlington, to get input from the public on the project.

    Now comes the March 14 meeting in Idalia. All interested members of the public are invited to attend.

    Scottsbluff, #NE: Becky McMillen’s “Rising Water” to screen on March 2, 2019

    Nebraska Rivers Shown on the Map: Beaver Creek, Big Blue River, Calamus River, Dismal River, Elkhorn River, Frenchman Creek, Little Blue River, Lodgepole Creek, Logan Creek, Loup River, Medicine Creek, Middle Loup River, Missouri River, Niobrara River, North Fork Big Nemaha River, North Loup River, North Platte River, Platte River, Republican River, Shell Creek, South Loup River, South Platte River, White River and Wood River. Nebraska Lakes Shown on the Map: Harlan County Lake, Hugh Butler Lake, Lake McConaughy, Lewis and Clark Lake and Merritt Reservoir. Map credit: Geology.com

    From Farm & Ranch (Spike Jordan):

    Water is a contradiction for Western Nebraska. It’s both seemingly abundant, yet simultaneously finite and scarce.

    A new film by a local award-winning documentary filmmaker explores this contradiction and tells the story of water in the Panhandle, from the founding of the numerous irrigation and natural resources districts that line the North Platte valley, to the legal fights surrounding the regulation, distribution and control of that water.

    Insight Creative Independent Productions Executive Producer and Director Becky McMillen’s “Rising Water,” was originally designed to be a web series, and viewers will get a first peek at it when the film premiers at the Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering on Saturday, March 2, at 1 p.m. The screening of the documentary is in conjunction with The Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street the Water/Ways” exhibit, which is open now until April 13 at Legacy.

    “Everyone knows how to use YouTube, and they’ve gotten used to web series,” McMillan said. “They’re used to watching short pieces.”

    In essence, each of the segments of the film is a self-contained documentary which covers a different facet of the story of our water, she said.

    The hour and fifteen minute feature is the product of more than three solid years of work, with much of the footage and information gathered over a greater period of time. McMillen said that her father, Udell Hughes Sr., helped her with much of the technical research for the film. It also contains material gathered during production of McMillen’s last major project, “River of Time: Wyoming’s Evolving North Platte River,” a half-hour program which premiered on Wyoming PBS in November 2012.

    “We’ve been sort of building up towards this film,” she said. “A lot of my historical research was actually done at Legacy of the Plains.”

    The film contains interviews with managers of irrigation districts, farmers, UNL researchers and footage from public hearings concerning water issues.

    “I knew that I needed to talk about the Ogallala Aquifer, but it took me a while to understand that issue,” McMillen said.

    So she consulted UNL research hydrogeologist Jim Goeke, who is known as “Mr. Water.” Goeke researched the aquifer and arguably knows more about the water under our feet than any other human being.

    McMillen said she was surprised by how candid Goeke.

    “He gave me courage to address issues that probably weren’t very popular and won’t be very popular,” she said. “We have sucked so much water out of the aquifer and I’ve been watching the Pumpkin Creek battle for years, but lost track of it.”

    The challenge for McMillen was to tie together the surface water and ground water portions of the story.

    And it was a lawsuit over the little western Nebraska stream that became a big State Supreme Court case.

    In 2009 The Spear T Ranch settled with more than a dozen upstream ranchers and farmers in a dispute between irrigators feuding over water in Pumpkin Creek.

    “I was thinking about Pumpkin Creek, but I didn’t have any visuals,” she said. “I’d filmed a meeting of farmers years ago, but the camera went south on me and there was no way I could recover the footage.”

    Then synchronicity struck. McMillen’s bookkeeper was from the Spear T Ranch, and the family over time had saved all of the newspaper clippings about the fight.

    “That helped me tie it all together,” McMillen said. “You just have to be able to listen and when you hear something say ‘What was that?’”

    And the hunger for investigative work is what fuels most of her projects.

    “I have to tell myself to stop, take notes and check things out,” she said. “I hear stories all the time and I’d love to go chase them, but I have to be responsible and pay my bills.”

    McMillen said a lot of the project has been self-funded because she couldn’t kick the habit once a lead seemed promising.

    Newspapers also provided McMillen a window into the issues. As the “first draft of history,” clippings are featured at prominent portions of the film.

    “The Star-Herald is in a lot of these stories that I brought back from the past,” she said. “There was so much information that really help me understand what was going on at the time.”

    Another portion of the film is spent exploring contamination concerns, especially the 2015 fight against a Colorado company who sought permission to use an abandoned oil well in Sioux County as a wastewater disposal site. Sioux County landowners eventually won their appeal and state lawmakers reformed the process in which permits are granted.

    “I documented almost everything, and there is a lot of that in there, along with newspaper clippings” she said. “The physical thing is really important, because I couldn’t have told any of this story without the work of reporters from back in the 1800s on to the present day.”

    And those are the little things, McMillen said.

    “I saw articles where they hung effigies of law makers because they were going to shut the water off,” she said. “There’s always a fight about water. One guy will say ‘I was here first,’ and another guy will say, ‘hey I need that.’ And just because you were here first doesn’t mean you get to have all of it.”

    And over the course of making the film McMillen said that she’s learned that there needs to be change to protect and preserve not only the Valley’s greatest gift, but the way of life for Farmers and Ranchers who live here.

    “We’re going to have to look beyond what we’re calling ‘traditional practices,’” she said. “We can continue on the same track that we have been. We can’t keep expanding and still be able to sustain that.”

    It was her discussions with farmers that drove home the point for her.

    “I think we need to look at it as growing food,” she said. “I would like us to grow more food that doesn’t have to be shipped, because we’re going to have to address climate change and reverse it.”

    And at the same time, caution needs to be exercised when employing solutions, she said.

    “What we think are the solutions are not always the best way of doing things,” she said. “We can’t just blindly forge ahead just because we think it’s a good idea. At the time we’re looking at sustainable energy, we’re also wanting to put it in places that will never be the same.

    “We need to work within the infrastructure we already have and not go to condemning land so that we can use it for transmission lines or wind farms. There is plenty of space for that without tearing up areas that can’t be returned to their natural state.”

    National Climate Assessment: Great Plains’ Ogallala Aquifer drying out — @NOAA

    Ogallala Aquifer. This map shows changes in Ogallala water levels from the period before the aquifer was tapped to 2015. Declining levels appear in red and orange, and rising levels appear in shades of blue. The darker the color, the greater the change. Gray indicates no significant change. Although water levels have actually risen in some areas, especially Nebraska, water levels are mostly in decline, namely from Kansas southward. Image credit: Nation Climate Assessment 2018

    From NOAA (Michon Scott):

    The Ogallala Aquifer underlies parts of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. From wheat and cows to corn and cotton, the regional economy depends almost exclusively on agriculture irrigated by Ogallala groundwater. But according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), producers are extracting water faster than it is being replenished, which means that parts of the Ogallala Aquifer should be considered a nonrenewable resource.

    This map shows changes in Ogallala water levels from the period before the aquifer was tapped to 2015. Declining levels appear in red and orange, and rising levels appear in shades of blue. The darker the color, the greater the change. Gray indicates no significant change. Although water levels have actually risen in some areas, especially Nebraska, water levels are mostly in decline, namely from Kansas southward.

    In the early twentieth century, farmers converted large stretches of the Great Plains from grassland to cropland. Drought and stress on the soils led to the 1930s Dust Bowl. Better soil conservation and irrigation techniques tamed the dust and boosted the regional economy. In 2007, the market value from the Ogallala region’s agricultural products totaled roughly $35 billion. However, well outputs in the central and southern parts of the aquifer are declining due to excessive pumping, and prolonged droughts have parched the area, bringing back Dust Bowl-style storms, according to the NCA4. Global warming is likely to make droughts across the Ogallala region longer lasting and more intense over the next 50 years.

    The Agriculture chapter of NCA4 describes the risks and opportunities for resilience across the Ogallala region:

    “Recent advances in precision irrigation technologies, improved understanding of the impacts of different dryland and irrigation management strategies on crop productivity, and the adoption of weather-based irrigation scheduling tools as well as drought-tolerant crop varieties have increased the ability to cope with projected heat stress and drought conditions under climate change. However, current extraction for irrigation far exceeds recharge in this aquifer, and climate change places additional pressure on this critical water resource.”

    Republican River Rules filed in water court — The Yuma Pioneer

    Republican River Basin. By Kansas Department of Agriculture – Kansas Department of Agriculture, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7123610

    From The Yuma Pioneer:

    The Office of the State Engineer has filed the proposed Republican River Compact Water Use Rules with Water Court Division 1 in Greeley.

    The filing was made last Friday, January 11.

    The process for developing the rules included several public meetings with a special advisory committee. It was comprised of volunteers representing users and interests throughout the Republican River Basin. The meetings took place within the basin, and the last one was last August.

    As drafted, the rules allow the state to administer surface water and groundwater wells for compliance with the 1942 Republican River Compact.

    It includes the state engineer’s ability to curtail wells, which means issuing a cease and desist.

    However, Deb Daniel, the general manager for the Republican River Water Conservation District, noted that wells that are within the Republican River Domain and have an augmentation plan are protected from curtailment.

    That means all wells located with the Republican River Water Conservation District are protected, due to the district’s augmentation efforts such as the compact compliance pipeline, purchasing surface water rights, and providing financial incentives for well owners to voluntarily retire their wells, such as through CREP and EQIP conservation programs.

    However, the Republican River Domain boundary is different than the RRWCD boundary, so there are some wells that currently are not protected from the potential curtailment. There is legislation currently before the Colorado State Legislature that will expand the RRWCD’s boundary to including all of the Republican River Domain.

    Division 1 Water Court will have to rule on the proposed rules before they go into effect.

    Well owners can make filings for or against the proposed rules with the water court. The case number is 2019CW 3002.

    One can learn more about the rules at the Colorado Division of Water Resources website, http://water.state.co.us.

    The RRWCD continues its partnership with Colorado NRCS in their continuous investment in water conservation, public meeting January 10, 2018

    From the Republican River Water Conservation District (Tim Davis) via The Julesberg Advocate:

    The Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) acting through its Water Activity Enterprise (RRWCD-WAE) will again partner with NRCS to encourage water conservation and provide incentives to producers that voluntarily implement water conservation measures.

    Since the Ogallaa Aquifer Initiative (OAI) sunset with the end of the 2014 Farm Bill, the RRWCD will partner with NRCS through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help producers transition from irrigated to drylands agriculture or grassland. The RRWCD founding will augment NRCS funding to producers that voluntarily agree to permanently retire irrigation wells and convert the irrigated cropland to drylands farming or grazing land.

    NRCS will provide approximately two hundred fifty dollars ($250.00) per acre to producers that enroll in the permanent water retirement program. The RRWCD will provide additional incentives of between six hundred ($600.00) and one thousand five hundred dollars ($1,500) per acre depending on the location of the well within the District boundary.

    Additional conservation practices may be appropriate on the converted acts. These practices will provide substantial water conservation and will help sustain the life of the aquifer. Recent research has suggested that in some cases higher capacity wells can reduce water consumption by as as much as twenty percent (20%) with little or no effect on the overall profitability…

    Water conservation measures such as weather stations, soil moisture monitoring and conversion from sprinkler irrigation to a more efficient irrigation system can contribute substantially to prolonging the life of the quiver, while maintaining a strong irrigated agricultural economy. The EQIP program also provides these additional voluntary incentive based tools that all producers can use to prolong the life of this aquifer.

    The RRWCD has consulted with groundwater management districts, the Water Preservation Partnership, and others to develop strategies to assist producers through financial incentives to voluntarily reduce water consumption. Several surveys distributed throughout the District to producers have indicated that voluntary, incentive based programs were preferred over regulatory water restrictions. It is important that each and every irrigated agriculture producer evaluate their individual irrigation practices to determine if they can help reduce the impact on the aquifer by implementing one or more of these conservations practices.

    The deadline for application for EQIP is January 18, 2019 so please contact your local NRCS office at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/co/home/ or the RRWCD office in Wray, Colorado, at 970-332-3552 as soon as possible if you wish to apply for conservation funding through this program.

    South Fork of the Republican River

    From The Yuma Pioneer:

    The Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors will have a public hearing on the proposed new water use fee policy during its regular quarterly meeting, Thursday, January 10, in Burlington.

    The meeting will be held at the Burlington Community and Educational Center, 340 S. 14th St., beginning at 10 a.m.

    The public hearing on the proposed new water use fee policy will be at 1 p.m.

    RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel said the proposed policy would not change the fee for irrigation, while municipal and commercial wells would have a minimal reduction in the fee per acre feet pumped.

    Junior surface water right fees would be based on comparing the impact on compact compliance of diversions of surface water for irrigation as compared to the impact of groundwater withdrawals.

    Daniel said the proposed policy addresses the fees charged by the RRWCD for compact compliance, based on the impact each type of use and consumption has on the determination of Colorado’s compliance with the Republican River Compact as determined by the RRCA Accounting Procedures.

    Public comment will be heard immediately following the water use fee public hearing.

    Besides the regular reports, the board will hear a presentation from Mark Lengel about concerns on the South Fork. The board also will discuss South Fork Water Rights.

    For more information, please contact Daniel at 332-3552 or email her at deb.daniel@rrwcd.com.

    The Great #Kansas Aqueduct: Solution or Folly from a Bygone Era? — Water Finance & Management

    Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue

    From Water Finance & Management (Michael Warady):

    In 1982, the Army Corps of Engineers released the Plains Ogallala Aquifer Regional Resources Study, which detailed for the first time (in any official capacity) the cost and opportunity related to the construction of a 360-mile concrete aqueduct beginning at the Missouri River in the Northeastern part of Kansas and ending in Utica – traveling nearly three-quarters of the way across the state. This aqueduct would deliver approximately 3.4 million acre-ft (AF) of water annually (1 acre-ft = 325,851 gallons) to parched farmers and communities. In turn, the canal would require 15 pumping stations in order to rise nearly 1,750 ft in altitude to reach its ultimate, Utica reservoir.

    The cost? $18 billion up-front with an estimated $1 billion in annual ongoing expenses ($400 million in operational costs and $600 million in interest).
    The costs are exorbitant – resulting in a $470/AF price of new water for farmers who, according to a 2013 report by the US Department of Agriculture, currently pay approximately $47/AF for off-farm purchased water. Can an agricultural industry with shrinking margins due to increased competition and international trade tariffs handle a 10x increase in water prices?

    And yet, there remains something romantic about the Great Kansas Aqueduct. Arizona has its 336-mile Central Arizona Project; California has its 701-mile State Water Project; why shouldn’t Kansas have its Great Kansas Aqueduct? After all, as the Kansas Aqueduct Coalition has stated, “With sedimentation reducing water storage in the East, and the Ogallala being rapidly depleted in the West, Kansas stands to lose more than 37 percent of its water in 50 counties across the state by 2062, or an annual shortfall of 1.86 million acre-feet.”

    Thirty-six years after this project was first conceived in full, though, shovels and backhoes remain in their sheds as the Ogallala aquifer drops nearly two feet per year in some counties due to groundwater over pumping. If groundwater withdrawals continue at current rates, most of southwest Kansas will exhaust its water reserves within 25 to 50 years. One tends to think that in times of yesteryear, individuals would have begun construction on this project in February of 1982, begging for forgiveness later. But the time of unbridled infrastructure construction has passed and Kansas continues to stress its water resources.

    As one sits and considers the need for the Great Kansas Aqueduct, three questions come to mind: 1) does the Great Kansas Aqueduct solve a problem? Yes – it would increase water supplies for Western Kansas. 2) would it solve the problem for generations? Yes – it would likely be operational for decades. And 3) would it be cost-effective? Unfortunately, not. While the volume of water delivered to Western Kansas may increase, very few people would actually be able to afford it. In fact, the $18 billion estimated to build the Great Kansas Aqueduct does not even include the legal, economic, and ethical costs inherent to initiating eminent domain and forcibly removing people in the way of the canal off of their land.

    Legislation needed to change current boundaries of the Republican River Water Conservation District to include all depletions

    Map shows current water district boundary in red, proposed boundary in black. Blue area shows the Ogallala Aquifer. (Courtesy Republican River Water Conservation District)

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    [Deb Daniels] told the commissioners her district is working with the Colorado legislature to redraw the boundaries of the RRWCD after it was discovered two years ago that the district’s borders didn’t match the Republican River’s drainage basin. That basin’s northwest border matches the South Platte’s southeast border, although experts differ on exactly where the dividing line is.

    The problem, Daniels said, is that there are wells in the southern area of the Republican basin that aren’t covered by the conservation district’s augmentation plan. That plan is necessary in order for Colorado to be in compliance with a 1943 water compact with Nebraska and Kansas that allocates water from the Republican River among the three states…

    Several hundred wells, mostly in Cheyenne and Kit Carson counties, have been found to be depleting the river aquifer, and so need to be brought into the RRWCD. Those well owners will then have to pay the per-acre fees to help pay for Colorado’s augmentation plan.

    Daniels said there are a few wells in Logan County that now are part of the Lower South Platte’s augmentation plan that would be taken into the Republican district, but because those wells already are covered by an augmentation plan, they wouldn’t be charged the Republican district’s fees.

    Joe Frank, contacted at the LSPWCD office after the meeting, said changing the Republican district’s boundary wouldn’t affect Lower’s boundary, as there is a narrow strip of property between the two district boundaries.

    “Right now we’re in a fact-finding mode, but we will make a recommendation to the legislature before the bill comes up next year,” Frank said.

    Bill to expand Republican River water district headed to lawmakers — @WaterEdCO

    More than 9,000 Landsat images provide vegetation health metrics for the Republican River Basin. Credit: David Hyndman

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Early next year Colorado lawmakers will consider a bill that expands the Republican River Water Conservation District, helping the district pay for a program that ensures the state delivers enough water to Kansas and Nebraska to meet its legal obligations.

    Colorado has spent millions of dollars battling lawsuits over the problem and earlier this year agreed to pay Kansas and Nebraska another $4 million in damages.

    Last week, the Colorado General Assembly’s Water Resources Review Committee recommended a bill that would redraw the boundary of the Republican River district to include several hundred additional wells whose pumping is reducing the flow of the river.

    The bill would allow the district to assess the same fee on those well owners that it does on all irrigators in the district in order to pay for a pipeline that transports additional water to the river.

    Manhattan #Kansas: Republican River Compact Administration to Meet August 21, 2018

    From the Republican River Compact Administration via The High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal:

    The Republican River Compact Administration will hold its 58th annual meeting at 10 a.m. CDT on Aug. 21. The meeting will be hosted by the Kansas Department of Agriculture at 1320 Research Park Drive in Manhattan, Kansas.

    The RRCA meeting will focus on water-related issues and activities, including compact compliance, within the Republican River basin in Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska.

    In addition, RRCA will hold a work session to prepare for the annual meeting at 8 a.m. CDT Aug. 21, also at the KDA Manhattan office. Both the work session and the annual meeting are open to the public.

    Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska entered into the Republican River Compact in 1943 to provide for the equitable division of the basin’s waters, remove causes of potential controversy, and promote interstate cooperation and joint action by the states and the United States in the efficient use of water and the control of destructive floods. The RRCA is composed of three commissioners representing Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska: Kansas Department of Agriculture, Division of Water Resources Chief Engineer David Barfield; Colorado State Engineer Kevin Rein; and Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Director Jeff Fassett.

    Individuals who have questions regarding the meeting should contact KDA water management services program manager Chris Beightel at Chris.Beightel@ks.gov or 785-564-6659 for more information.

    For additional information about the Republican River compact and this year’s annual meeting, please http://visitagriculture.ks.gov/RRCA.

    Burlington: Republican River Compact Use Rules meeting, Monday, August 13, 2018

    Downtown Burlington (2014) via Wikipedia.

    From The Yuma Pioneer:

    A public meeting will be held in Burlington on Monday to go over the state engineer’s Republican River Compact Use Rules.

    The meeting will be 10 a.m. at the Burlington Community and Education Center, 340 S. 14th St. State Engineer Kevin Rein and staff will provide updates involving the rule making.

    An advisory committee of volunteers met with the State Engineer’s Office monthly for a while to provide input. The committee has not met in quite some time as the state worked on various issues.

    Republican River Water Conservation District General Manager Deb Daniel explained the formulation of these “basin rules” came about as the Republican River Domain is larger than the RRWCD boundaries.

    The RRWCD was created through legislation in the Colorado Legislature early last decade, to assist the State of Colorado in coming up with ways to help bring the state into compliance with the 1942 Republican River Compact.

    Well owners within the RRWCD pay an assessment fee annually to help fund augmentation efforts, such as the creation of the compact compliance pipeline located at far east edge of Yuma County right by the state line with Nebraska. Many wells also have been retired through the CREP program, and surface water rights purchased — all in an effort to get the State of Colorado in compact compliance.

    Most of the wells located within the domain but outside the RRWCD are located south of Burlington and down into Cheyenne County.

    The wells owners have not been subjected to the assessment fee, but Daniel explained the wells still are factored into compact compliance. Those wells do not have an augmentation plan.

    Eventually, when these new rules are put into place with the Water Court, there possibly could be forced curtailment unless an augmentation plan is put in place. The wells could be brought into the RRWCD, and pay the annual assessment fee.

    Daniel said efforts to have a bill carried in the Colorado Legislature to change the RRWCD boundaries to match the Republican River Domain have not come to fruition.

    Any interested parties are invited to attend Monday’s public meeting.

    #Kansas, #Colorado reach agreement on Republican River

    More than 9,000 Landsat images provide vegetation health metrics for the Republican River Basin. Credit: David Hyndman

    From the Kansas Department of Agriculture via The High Plains Journal:

    The Governors and Attorneys General of Kansas and Colorado announced that they recently reached a settlement of claims regarding Colorado’s past use of water under the Republican River Compact. The Compact allocates the waters of the basins between the states of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas.

    “This settlement is an investment in the basin to ensure a better future for Kansas water users.” said Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer. “Kansas and Colorado are committed to continuing to make the Compact work for the benefit of the citizens of our states, and this settlement recognizes the ties that bind our states together and is an important step for the economic development of the region.”

    Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt also expressed his approval. “The Kansas water team at the Department of Agriculture and our legal team at the Attorney General’s office have done an outstanding job of resolving years of past disputes without litigation,” Schmidt said. “This settlement going forward promises a more cooperative approach to what really matters—the best possible management of the water resources in the basin’s South Fork on both sides of the state line.”

    Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper agreed that “This settlement provides funds that could be used in the Republican River Basin within Kansas and Colorado and creates additional opportunities for cooperative water management between the States.”

    Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman also expressed her approval, saying the agreement “avoids the costs and uncertainty of litigation and furthers the principles of the Compact, including removing controversy and fostering interstate cooperation.”

    The agreement resolves the existing controversies between the two states regarding Colorado’s past use of water under the Republican River Compact and allows them to continue to work collaboratively through the compact as part of an overall ongoing effort which also involves the state of Nebraska.

    The settlement was signed by the governors and attorneys general of both states. A copy of the settlement is available at http://agriculture.ks.gov/RRCA.

    #Colorado agrees to $2 million payment to #Kansas to benefit the South Fork of the Republican River

    South Fork of the Republican River

    From the Associated Press via KOAA.com:

    Colorado has agreed to pay Kansas $2 million in a settlement resolving claims regarding Colorado’s past use of water under the Republican River Compact.

    Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer said in a news release Friday that the settlement is an investment in the basin to ensure a better future for Kansas water users…

    Under the provisions of the settlement , Kansas agreed to pursue “a good faith effort” to spend the money Colorado paid for the benefit of the South Fork of the Republican River Basin within Kansas.

    Colorado also agreed to pursue an effort to spend an additional $2 million by 2027 in the basin within Colorado.

    @WaterLawReview: Crisis on the High Plains: The Loss of America’s Largest Aquifer – the Ogallala

    Center pivot sprinklers in the Arikaree River basin to irrigate corn. Each sprinkler is supplied by deep wells drilled into the High Plains (Ogallala) aquifer.

    From the University of Denver Water Law Review (Jeremy Frankel):

    The grain-growing region in the High Plains of America—known as America’s breadbasket—relies entirely on the Ogallala Aquifer. But long term unsustainable use of the aquifer is forcing states in the region to face the prospect of a regional economic disaster. As the High Plains states reach the verge of a major crisis, the states have taken different approaches to conservation with varying results.

    The Ogallala Aquifer supports an astounding one-sixth of the world’s grain produce, and it has long been an essential component of American agriculture. The High Plains region—where the aquifer lies—relies on the aquifer for residential and industrial uses, but the aquifer’s water is used primarily for agricultural irrigation. The agricultural demands for Ogallala water in the region are immense, with the aquifer ultimately being responsible for thirty percent of all irrigation in the United States. The Ogallala Aquifer has long been unable to keep up with these agricultural demands, as the aquifer recharges far slower than water is withdrawn.

    Aside from the obvious agricultural ramifications from the Ogallala’s depletion, recent studies have shown that groundwater depletion also has a severe effect on freshwater ecosystems in the region. Each state has had to confront the issue in their own way, but the depletion of the aquifer has become severe enough to warrant the attention of the federal government as well. At the state level, the focus has been on maintaining an orderly depletion of the aquifer rather than developing a plan for sustainable use. However, some states have achieved some level of success in slowing down the aquifer’s depletion. Kansas, for example, has recently achieved mild success by adopting a program that put conservation in the hands of the State’s farmers. On the other hand, Nebraska has seen more success than Kansas by being tougher on farmers and exercising its enforcement powers. The federal government has also set up financial and technical assistance for farmers who commit to conservation and is funding large-scale pipeline projects to bring in water to the more desperate areas of the High Plains.

    Recap of the first Ogallala Water Summit

    From The Hutchinson News (Chance Hoener):

    When early explorers Zebulon Pike and Francisco de Coronado came upon the High Plains, they described it as a desert — an impossible region to farm.

    Irrigation changed that. It allowed residents to pull water from the Ogallala Aquifer, and grow crops nearly anywhere. The first irrigation wells in Kansas were drilled east of Garden City in 1908.

    The Ogallala is a massive, underground sponge, spanning from South Dakota and Wyoming, down through the High Plains to west Texas and New Mexico. Over 27,000 of the total 35,000 wells with active water rights in Kansas overlie the Ogallala, with 87 percent used for irrigation.

    But decades of pumping water out, with little return, has taken its toll.

    After 110 years of drilling and draining, the world’s largest aquifer is drying up.

    The Ogallala is the primary source of water for western Kansas farms, ranches and some communities, but projections indicate several areas that will go dry within 25 to 50 years at current usage rates. Some regions in Haskell County may have a decade or less…

    The Ogallala Aquifer Summit was organized by Colorado State University’s Ogallala Water CAP Program — a coordinated agriculture project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture – National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The summit brought together scientists, government agents and producers from the eight states situated over the Ogallala to discuss shared challenges and current initiatives to preserve the aquifer.

    Conversations between states had a rocky start, partly because they were spurred out of litigation regarding the Republican River basin along the Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas borders. The conflict led to monthly meetings of the Republican River Compact Administration — comprised of one member from each state — to change the approach and improve water management.

    “No offense to those that are here, but I’m just excited to come to an interstate water conference that doesn’t have more lawyers than it does farmers and ranchers,” Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey said to applause from the summit crowd.

    Nebraska Natural Resources Program Director Jesse Bradley and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown joined McClaskey for the first panel of the summit, discussing the cultivation of interstate conversations.

    Brown joked that the whole problem was Nebraska’s fault — Nebraska native Frank Zybach invented center pivot irrigation while living in Colorado — and Bradley fired back that ‘you always blame the upstream state.’

    She credits interstate conversations regarding the Republican River as a critical factor for changing the tone of the discussion. Instead of fighting over the water, the group is now working together to preserve water.

    “The biggest way we learned this lesson is from the complete 180 we’ve done on the Republican River discussions,” McClaskey said. “In July 2014, we started meeting month-to-month and created a true, long-term agreement, and are using those lessons to expand to all the states.

    “Now, I would call my colleagues from Nebraska and Colorado friends, which may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a lot easier to solve a problem with a friend than with an enemy.”

    @Ogallala_water: Ogallala Aquifer Summit April 9-10, 2018

    High Plains aquifer water-level changes, predevelopment (about 1950) to 2015. Figure 1 from USGS SIR 2017-5040.(Public domain.)

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register.

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

    From the Associated Press via ARGUS-Press.com:

    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.

    Colorado to pay Nebraska $4M in Republican River settlement

    North Fork Republican River via the National Science Foundation.

    From the Associated Press (Grant Schulte) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    The settlement announced Thursday requires Colorado to make the payment by Dec. 31, 2018. Colorado officials did not admit to violating the Republican River Compact, and legislators in that state must still approve the funding.

    The agreement seeks to resolve disagreements between the states over Colorado’s past use of water. The Nebraska governor’s office says it will allow both states to continue to work cooperatively.

    The settlement bars Nebraska from suing Colorado for alleged violations on or before Dec. 31, 2013.

    It was signed by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson as well as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

    The Republican River’s South Fork near Hale, Colorado, with the region’s seemingly endless fields. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Jeffrey Beall

    From The Courthouse News Service (Ted Wheeler):

    Subject to approval by the two states’ legislatures, the payment is due by Dec. 31, with the money earmarked for surface water projects that will bolster water management plans in the basin, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said in a statement.

    “This settlement provides funds that could be used in the Republican River Basin within Nebraska and creates additional opportunities for cooperative water management between the states,” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said.

    Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts echoed the sentiment of cooperation: “Nebraska and Colorado can now continue to focus on providing their water users with greater certainty and to pursue other collaborative opportunities to benefit their shared economies.”

    The 452-mile-long Republican River originates in the high plains of Colorado and cuts across sections of western Nebraska and Kansas. The Republican River Compact of 1943 allocates river water for the three states, with 49 percent going to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado.

    The river basin has been a frequent subject of litigation, including a 2014 Supreme Court judgment that ordered Nebraska to pay $5.5 million to Kansas for its own excessive water use upriver.

    Colorado officials said the threat of more litigation and its associated costs was a driver in the new settlement. Coffman said the agreement “avoids the costs and uncertainty of litigation and furthers the principles of the compact.”

    The region has been relatively free of major drought in recent years, which has helped states stay in compliance despite exponential growth in the number of irrigation wells. According to the United States Drought Monitor, the Republican River Basin region is drought-free or abnormally dry, the least severe drought rating.

    But the threat of drought and overuse of groundwater has kept agriculture officials and farmers on edge for years. Nebraska farmers have been suing the state over groundwater for years, in what has become a near-annual tradition.

    Steve Nelson, the president of Nebraska Farm Bureau, welcomed the new agreement.

    “We applaud the collaborative efforts of both states to address past issues and to work together, putting both parties’ interests on a better path for shared water use,” Nelson said.

    Western water law, immensely complicated by decades of litigation in multistate jurisdictions, is further complicated by “use it or lose it” allocations that often discourage conservation.

    From The Yuma Pioneer:

    The Republican River Water Conservation District’s “compact compliance pipeline” continues to pump ground water into the North Fork of the Republican River near the Colorado/Nebraska state line.

    The pipeline first started operating for compact compliance in January 2014. It is part of Colorado’s effort to come into compliance with the Republican River Compact, a 1942 agreement among the states of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, concerning water rights along the Republican River.

    A stipulated agreement among the three states requires Colorado to send a minimum of 4,000 acre-feet through the pipeline each year. The Republican River Compact Administration groundwater model approved by the three states is used each year to analyze and determine how much more water above the minimum needs to be delivered each year.

    Approximately 11,000 acre-feet was delivered into the North Fork in 2017.

    The final portion for 2017 was delivered from October through December after the irrigation season was completed.

    The pipeline continues to operate as Colorado delivers the 4,000 acre-feet minimum prior to the upcoming growing season.

    RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel said the estimate of how much above the minimum will need to be delivered in 2018 will not be made until September.

    Various factors figure into how many acre feet need to be delivered each year — such as the amount of groundwater pumping throughout the Republican River Basin with the amount of precipitation and where it falls within the basin. The more rainfall in Colorado’s portion of the basin can actually increase the state’s obligation to the downstream states.

    Daniel noted the state has not had any problems meeting its obligations using the pipeline. Water for the pipeline comes from a series of wells located north of Laird that were purchased by the RRWCD as part of the pipeline project.The appropriation for all of the water rights has been designated to 15 wells within the pipeline project. Currently eight wells are connected and delivering water into the pipeline. In the near future, as the need to off-set depletions and deliver additional water increases, the remaining seven wells will be added to the pipeline system.

    Groundwater levels steady in western Kansas, decrease around Wichita — @KUNews

    Graphic via the University of Kansas.

    From the University of Kansas:

    Groundwater levels during 2017, on average, rose slightly or nearly broke even in western Kansas but fell in the Wichita area, according to preliminary data compiled by the Kansas Geological Survey. This was a reversal from 2016 when overall groundwater levels dropped in western Kansas and increased significantly near Wichita.

    The KGS — based at the University of Kansas — and the Division of Water Resources (DWR) of the Kansas Department of Agriculture annually measure levels in about 1,400 water wells in western and central Kansas. The collected data are used to monitor the condition and long-term trends of the High Plains aquifer, the state’s most valuable groundwater resource, as well as smaller deep and shallow aquifers.

    The High Plains aquifer is a network of water-bearing rocks that underlies parts of eight states and, in Kansas, comprises three individual aquifers—the far-reaching Ogallala aquifer that makes up the majority of the High Plains aquifer, the Equus Beds around Wichita and Hutchinson, and the Great Bend Prairie aquifer in the center of the state. Ninety percent of the measured wells draw from these three aquifers.

    Water level changes or stability in the Ogallala aquifer in western Kansas correspond primarily with the amount of water withdrawn for irrigation, which in turn is influenced by the rate and timing of precipitation.

    “Much of the western border of Kansas and eastern Colorado saw above normal precipitation patterns in 2017, especially through most of the growing season,” said Brownie Wilson, KGS water-data manager. “As a consequence, water levels were at or above the 2016 levels in much of the region.”

    Water level increases in western Kansas mainly occur when the levels in wells rebound as pumping slows. Recharge — water seeping down from the surface — is negligible in western Kansas. In central Kansas, where the aquifer is shallower and average precipitation is higher, recharge can make a difference.

    “For areas that have higher local recharge capabilities, such as along and north of the Arkansas River in the Equus Beds and Great Bend Prairie aquifer, precipitation generally influences both pumping and recharge,” Wilson said. “There you can get large swings in declines and rises from year to year.”

    The 2017 growing season around the Equus Beds was fairly dry, which led to low recharge and higher withdrawal for irrigation, industry and municipal water supplies. Consequently, the Equus Beds declined nearly 2 feet. The Great Bend Prairie aquifer, which encompasses Great Bend, Kinsley, Greensburg and Pratt, fared better with an increase of about a quarter of a foot.

    Most of the wells in the network monitored by the KGS and DWR are within the boundaries of the state’s five Groundwater Management Districts (GMDs), which are organized and governed by area landowners and local water users to address water-resource issues.

    In Southwest Kansas GMD 3, average levels dropped just 0.05 feet, the lowest decline there since since the state began administrating the water-level program in 1996. In comparison, the average level fell a total of 23 feet over the previous 10 years.

    “Water levels were notably higher in Morton County and along and north of the Arkansas River,” Wilson said. “Still, there were localized areas in the GMD that experienced declines of 1 to 3 feet.”

    Even with better overall measurement results in the region for the year, the aquifer is nearly depleted in places.

    Wells monitored in GMD 3 are drilled into the Ogallala aquifer except in a few areas where they draw from the deeper Dakota aquifer. The district includes all or part of Grant, Haskell, Gray, Finney, Stanton, Ford, Morton, Stevens, Seward, Hamilton, Kearny and Meade counties.

    Another rare water-related event in the region occurred in the summer of 2017 when the Arkansas River flowed in Garden City. The river there has been mainly dry for decades due to high water use and less river flow from Colorado. When there is surface water in the river, it interacts with groundwater in an adjacent shallow alluvial aquifer.

    Western Kansas GMD 1 experienced a slight drop of 0.19 feet in 2017 following a 0.55 feet in 2016. Although decreases there have been less drastic than farther south, annual levels have risen only twice since 1996. The GMD includes portions of Wallace, Greeley, Wichita, Scott and Lane counties, where the majority of wells are drilled into the Ogallala aquifer.

    Northwest Kansas GMD 4 had an average increase in water levels of 0.33 feet after falling slightly in all but two year since 1996. GMD 4 covers Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan and parts of Cheyenne, Rawlins, Decatur, Graham, Wallace, Logan and Gove counties. Groundwater there is pumped almost exclusively from the Ogallala aquifer and shallow alluvial sources associated with streams.

    Big Bend GMD 5 had an average increase of 0.26 feet following an increase of 0.88 feet in 2016. Since 1996, annual levels there rose nine times and fell 13 times. The GMD is centered on the Great Bend Prairie aquifer underlying Stafford and Pratt counties and parts of Barton, Pawnee, Edwards, Kiowa, Reno and Rice counties.

    Equus Beds GMD 2, a major source of water for Wichita, Hutchinson and surrounding towns experienced a decline of 1.93 feet, which followed an increase of 2.08 feet in 2016. Since 1996, annual levels there rose nine times and dropped 13 times. The GMD covers portions of Reno, Sedgwick, Harvey and McPherson counties.

    “Even with the big declines in GMD 2, this is one of the best years we’ve seen in quite a long time,” Wilson said.

    The KGS measures approximately 570 wells in western Kansas each January, and DWR staff from field offices in Stockton, Garden City and Stafford measure about 220, 224 and 360 wells in western and central Kansas, respectively. Most of the wells, spread over 48 counties, are used for irrigation and have been measured for decades.

    Measurements are taken primarily in January when water levels are least likely to fluctuate due to irrigation. Infrequently, however, later-than-normal pumping during dry conditions may affect measurement results.

    The results are provisional and subject to revision based on additional analysis. Data by well will be available in late February at http://www.kgs.ku.edu/Magellan/WaterLevels/index.html.
    The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. The university’s mission is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities and making discoveries that change the world. The KU News Service is the central public relations office for the Lawrence campus.

    #NE Supremes: State not liable for delivery shortages due to Republican River Compact compliance

    More than 9,000 Landsat images provide vegetation health metrics for the Republican River Basin. Credit: David Hyndman

    From The Omaha World-Herald (Joe Duggan):

    The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state is immune from lawsuits when compliance with the three-state river agreement reduces the amount of water available for irrigation…

    The high court upheld a district court ruling that had dismissed a lawsuit by Rodney and Steven Cappel, who own irrigated farmland in the Republican River valley in south-central Nebraska.

    The Cappels showed that from 2013 to 2015 they were blocked from using surface water by the compact because the river was too low. The landowners sued the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, claiming a constitutional loss of property rights and violation of due process rights. They sought monetary damages and restitution.

    Hitchcock County District Judge James Doyle dismissed the lawsuit, saying the landowners did not properly state a claim for relief. The Supreme Court upheld the dismissal, although it ruled the claims couldn’t proceed because the state had not waived immunity to such lawsuits.

    Two Republican Basin water projects in #Nebraska get boost from state panel

    More than 9,000 Landsat images provide vegetation health metrics for the Republican River Basin. Credit: David Hyndman

    From The Hastings Tribune (Andy Raun):

    On Dec. 8, the commission announced an award of $2 million to the Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District for the automation of the Franklin Canal and a grant of $897,300 for the Platte to Republican High Flow Diversion project, which would redirect excess Platte River flows to the Republican River via Turkey Creek in Gosper and Furnas counties.

    Both grants were awarded from the state’s Water Sustainability Fund, which was established to assist high-priority conservation projects around the state. They were two out of the five large-project grants (amounts of $250,000 and up) awarded from the WSF, and among 12 total projects that received a combined overall total of more than $10 million in commitments…

    According to the grant application form, the Franklin Canal project would allow for timelier and more precise deliveries of water to surface irrigation customers, eliminating average annual spillage of 2,721 acre-feet from the canal plus additional, unmeasured spillage, and allowing water releases from the Harlan County Reservoir to be timed more appropriately for maximum benefit.

    The Nebraska Bostwick district, headquartered in Red Cloud, serves water to 22,455 surface-irrigated acres below Harlan County Dam through the Naponee, Franklin, and Courtland/Superior canals. The water is provided by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation under a long-term contract between the irrigation district and the federal agency.

    The Franklin Canal stretches from the north side of the Harlan spillway to about 10 miles east of Red Cloud. Tracy Smith, Nebraska Bostwick general manager, said about 150 customers irrigate a combined total of around 13,000 acres off that canal.

    The Natural Resources Commission approved the full $2 million requested for the canal project, which has an estimated price tag of $3.2 million. An additional $1 million has been committed by the LRNRD, with Nebraska Bostwick to cover the remaining $200,000.

    Dicke said NRD and Nebraska Bostwick officials have been meeting with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to work out details of getting the project built.

    Smith said construction activities for the project are expected to take about four months, and that if weather delays and other snags don’t interfere, the newly automated canal will be ready in plenty of time for the 2018 irrigation season.

    When the LRNRD board agreed to include $1 million for the work in its fiscal 2017-18 budget, it made the commitment contingent on NDNR agreeing to provide an “acceptable” credit to the Lower Republican district under Republican River Compact accounting for water savings achieved through the investment.

    Dicke said the accounting issue will be covered a memorandum of agreement between the NRD and the irrigation district that is being developed to outline how the project will work to everyone’s satisfaction. The NRD board will review the memorandum when it is complete, but Dicke said all parties are anxious to see the project move forward…

    Nebraska Bostwick is working with a company called Rubicon Water on the plan to install Rubicon’s Total Channel Control system, or TCC.

    Rubicon Water was founded in Australia and does business around the world. The company has a U.S. office in Fort Collins, Colo.

    The Nebraska Bostwick project involves installing precise flow measurement and control gates along the length of the canal. The automated gates will be integrated into a radio telemetry network that provides real-time field measurement of water levels and flows at locations all along the canal.

    Based on those field measurements, a central computer located in Red Cloud will continually update real-time flow setpoints for each check structure along the length of the canal, matching flows to demand and eliminating spillage.

    Smith said both Nebraska Bostwick and Rubicon Water employees are to be involved in the automation project, with Rubicon building and installing 38 structures and installing the computer to run them.

    The planned Rubicon project is just the latest of Nebraska Bostwick’s efforts to make water deliveries more efficient…

    In an interview, Smith said he was happy to secure the Water Sustainability Fund grant. He said the idea for the Rubicon Water system came from a system already in place in the Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District upstream on the Republican.

    Smith credited his district board of directors for its interest in pursuing the idea when it came up for discussion last summer…

    Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and the federal government are signatories to the Republican River Compact, a 1943 agreement allocating the waters of the Republican River Basin to the three states through which the river flows.

    In times of hydrological shortage, Nebraska is obligated to ensure that Kansas, its downstream neighbor, receives its rightful share of river water. To accomplish this, the Department of Natural Resources can issue a “compact call” requiring the Lower, Middle and Upper Republican NRDs to take extra management steps to offset projected deficits in their beneficial consumptive use of groundwater as compared to their assigned share of the river basin’s virgin water supply.

    For the Lower Republican district, those management steps include pumping groundwater toward the river for streamflow augmentation through the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement project, or N-CORPE.

    N-CORPE, which operates a giant wellfield in southern Lincoln County, was established by the Lower, Middle and Upper Republican and Twin Platte NRDs five years ago. When the wellfield is being pumped, each NRD pays whatever share of the pumping costs is commensurate with the accounting credit that district is trying to earn.

    Even though the N-CORPE project is in place, the Lower Republican district — which encompasses all of Furnas, Harlan and Franklin counties, plus most of Webster County and southern Nuckolls County — continues to pursue other initiatives that could generate compact accounting credit and reduce the need for pumping in Lincoln County.

    Nebraska Bostwick’s Franklin Canal project is one such initiative. Another is the Platte to Republican High Flow Diversion project, or PRD for short, which would divert water from the Platte through the Central Nebraska Public Power & Irrigation District’s E-65 Canal, then release it into the east branch of Turkey Creek at a location between Smithfield and Elwood.

    The diverted water would flow about 3,000 feet through a pipeline, then be released into the open creek channel. It would enter the Republican River roughly 25 miles to the south, at a point between Edison and Oxford.

    The Platte-to-Republican planning effort is being advanced by an interlocal agency of the same name — a joint venture of the Lower Republican NRD based in Alma and the neighboring Tri-Basin NRD based in Holdrege. The NRDs are working cooperatively with CNPPID, which also is headquartered in Holdrege.

    The overall cost of building the project is estimated at $1,495,500, plus $95,000 worth of engineering costs already incurred. According to the WSF grant application, the Lower Republican and Tri-Basin NRDs would provide $141,600 each, and CNPPID would provide $315,000, for a total of $598,200 in funding by those three entities to match the state contribution.

    Construction features would include riprap to prevent erosion in 21 locations; nine grade control structures; four new drainage structures; three new culvert crossings; and improvements to seven farm ponds to prevent adverse impacts along the creek.

    Dicke said he was gratified to see that the Natural Resources Commission had assigned its top score to the Platte-to-Republican grant application. As with the Nebraska Bostwick project, the commission awarded the full amount of funding that had been requested.

    Now, however, the NRDs and Central district are working on the all-important application for a surface water appropriation from the state of Nebraska that they must have in order to operate the project. A surface water appropriation is also is commonly known as a “water right.”

    Dicke said putting that application together, and doing it correctly, is the project partners’ current top priority…

    Mike Thompson, division head for NDNR’s Permits and Registrations Division, said that in order to proceed with the type of proposed project he understands the Platte-to-Republican to be, the project partners first would need a variance from his department’s director giving them permission to apply for a appropriation in an area subject to a moratorium or stay on new applications.

    This variance would be needed, Thompson said, because CNPPID would be diverting water for the Platte-to-Republican project near North Platte, which is in a stretch of the Platte River Basin that has been designated as overappropriated.

    If that variance petition were to be granted, Thompson said, the project partners then would officially file their application, and NDNR would issue a public notice in newspapers and on its website inviting any interested parties to file written comments. The application packet would address many issues including whether the diverted water would be put to beneficial use.

    Anyone objecting to the application also could pay a small fee and request a public notice on the matter, Thompson said. Alternatively, the NDNR director could call for a hearing on his or her own accord.

    The department’s internal review of the application would include consultations with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission concerning whether the proposed project would have adverse impacts on threatened or endangered species, four of which rely on the Platte River for habitat.

    Thompson said that in addition to meeting all the requirements for a normal surface water appropriation, the Platte-to-Republican applicants would need to address a number of additional issues since they are proposing an interbasin diversion, transferring water from one river basin to another…

    Dicke said it’s important to note that the potential water right being sought for the Platte-to-Republican project would be only for occasional excess flows in the Platte (up to 100 cubic feet per second, for no more than five days at a time due to erosion concerns) that were not earmarked for any other project — for example, in times when extra water is being released from or passed through upstream reservoirs to prevent flooding.

    The water right for the Platte-to-Republican project would be junior to all existing projects and even all future projects on the Platte itself…

    Project officials expect the construction required to bring the Platte-to-Republican project online would take about seven months, with the timing to be dictated by when a water right might be granted and other permits could be obtained. Meanwhile, conversations continue with landowners along the creek to obtain the needed easements and maintenance agreements…

    One possible need is for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, which is required when projects affect public waters in certain ways.

    @NSF: How much water flows into agricultural irrigation? New study provides 18-year water use record

    Here’s the release from the National Science Foundation (Cheryl Dybas/Val Ostrowski):

    Irrigation for agriculture is the largest use of fresh water around the globe, but precise records and maps of when and where water is applied by farmers are difficult to locate. Now a team of researchers has discovered how to track water used in agriculture.

    In a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers detail their use of satellite images to produce annual maps of irrigation. The findings, the scientists said, will help farmers, water resource managers and others understand agricultural irrigation choices and make better water management decisions.

    “We want to know how human activities are having an impact on the environment,” said hydrogeologist David Hyndman of Michigan State University (MSU), principal investigator of the project. “Irrigation nearly doubles crop yields and increases farmer incomes, but unsustainable water use for irrigation is resulting in depletion of groundwater aquifers around the world. The question is: ‘How can we best use water?'”

    The paper highlights the need to know when and where irrigation is occurring to effectively manage water resources.

    The project focuses on an economically important agricultural region of the central U.S.–the Republican River Basin–that overlies portions of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, and provides surface water and groundwater to the High Plains Aquifer. The team found that irrigation in this area roughly doubled between 2002 and 2016.

    Water use in this region can be complicated because it is regulated to preserve stream flow into Kansas in accordance with the Republican River Compact of 1942.

    “Previously, we knew what farms were equipped to irrigate, but not which fields were actually irrigated in any particular year,” said Jillian Deines, also of MSU and the paper’s lead author. “Our irrigation maps provide this information over 18 years and can be used to understand the factors that contribute to irrigation decisions.”

    The researchers used Google Earth Engine, a cloud-computing platform that makes large-scale satellite and environmental data analyses available to the public, to quantify changes in irrigation from year to year–an important finding for farmers, crop consultants and policymakers working to improve the efficiency of irrigation.

    Google Earth Engine has been an asset for computing the large number of satellite images needed, the scientists said. “It allows researchers to use consistent methods to examine large regions through time,” Deines said.

    The project, which also involves MSU research associate Anthony Kendall, is supported by the joint National Science Foundation (NSF)-USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Water, Sustainability and Climate (WSC) program and the joint NSF-NIFA Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS) program.

    “Knowing what to plant, how much land to plant, and how much irrigation water is necessary to support a crop through harvest has been a challenge for farmers throughout time,” said Tom Torgersen, NSF program officer for WSC and INFEWS. “Farmers can now envision a future where models will provide options to help guide decisions for greater efficiency and crop productivity.”

    Program managers at USDA-NIFA said that demand for agricultural products will likely increase in the future, while water for irrigation may decrease due to water quality issues and competitive uses.

    The Republican River Basin researchers “leveraged new computing power to handle the ‘Big Data’ of all available Landsat satellite scenes, and developed irrigation maps that help explain human decisions about irrigation water use,” said Jim Dobrowolski, program officer in NIFA’s Division of Environmental Systems. The maps hold the promise, he said, of the ability to make future water use predictions.

    A NASA graduate fellowship program award also funded the research.

    High Plains Aquifer pumping is impacting surface water and native fish

    High Plains Aquifer via Colorado State University.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    The agricultural overpumping from thousands of wells continues despite decades of warnings from researchers that the aquifer — also known as the Ogallala, the world’s largest underground body of fresh water — is shrinking.

    Even if farmers radically reduced pumping, the latest research finds, the aquifer wouldn’t refill for centuries. Farmers say they cannot handle this on their own.

    But there is no agreement among the eight affected states (Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, South Dakota) to try to save the aquifer. And state rules allow total depletion.

    Republican River Basin by District

    In fact, Colorado officials faced with legal challenges from Kansas over dwindling surface water in the Republican River have found that their best option to comply with a 1942 compact is to take more water out of the aquifer. The state bought wells from farmers during the past decade and has been pumping out 11,500 acre-feet of water a year, enough to satisfy a small city, delivering it through a $60 million, 12-mile pipeline northeast of Wray to artificially resuscitate the river.

    The overpumping reflects a pattern, seen worldwide, where people with knowledge that they’re exceeding nature’s limits nevertheless cling to destructive practices that hasten an environmental backlash.

    The depletion of the High Plains Aquifer has been happening for decades, according to bulletins U.S. Geological Survey has put out since 1988. Colorado farmers this year pumped groundwater out of 4,000 wells, state records show, siphoning as much as 500 gallons a minute from each well to irrigate roughly 580,000 acres — mostly to grow corn, a water-intensive crop.

    The depth where groundwater can be tapped has fallen by as much as 100 feet in eastern Colorado, USGS data show. That means pump motors must work harder to pull up the same amount of water, using more energy — raising costs for farmers. The amount of water siphoned from the aquifer since 1950 to irrigate farm fields across the eight states tops 273 million acre-feet (89 trillion gallons) — about 70 percent of the water in Lake Erie.

    On one hand, the industrial center-pivot irrigation techniques perfected after World War II have brought consistency to farming by tapping the “sponge” of saturated sediment that links the aquifer to surface water in streams and rivers. America’s breadbasket produces $35 billion of crops a year. On the other hand, intense irrigation is breaking ecosystems apart.

    Overpumping has dried up 358 miles of surface rivers and streams across a 200-square-mile area covering eastern Colorado, western Kansas and Nebraska, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife-backed researchers from Colorado State University and Kansas State University who published a peer-reviewed report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers also determined that, if farmers keep pumping water at the current pace, another 177 miles of rivers and streams will be lost before 2060…

    Disappearing fish species — minnows, suckers, catfish that had evolved to endure periodic droughts — signal to biologists that ecological effects may be reaching a tipping point.

    The amount of water held in the aquifer under eastern Colorado decreased by 19.6 million acre-feet — 6.4 trillion gallons — from 1950 until 2015, USGS records show. That’s an average loss of 300,000 acre-feet a year. Between 2011 and 2015, records show, the water available under Colorado in the aquifer decreased by 3.2 million acre-feet — an annual average shrinkage of 800,000 acre-feet. Climate change factors, including rainfall, play into the rate of the drawdown…

    They say they’re trying. They’ve reduced the land irrigated in eastern Colorado by 30,000 acres since 2006. They plan to retire another 25,000 acres over the next decade, said Rod Lenz, president of the Republican River Water Conservation District, who for years has advocated use of technology to grow more crops with less water…

    Farmer and cattleman Robert Boyd, a leader of the Arikaree Groundwater Management District, said the federal government should intervene to ensure survival of High Plains agriculture…

    Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue

    He pointed to proposals to divert water from the Missouri River Basin and move it westward through pipelines across the Great Plains…

    But drawing down the aquifer does not violate any law in Colorado. The state engineer’s office monitors well levels and requires permits for wells, limiting the number of acres a farmer can irrigate. But there’s no hard limit on how much water can be pumped…

    [Mike] Sullivan and state engineer Kevin Rein emphasized that thousands of acres no longer are irrigated. “And there need to be some more retirements of land to get us into a more balanced situation,” Sullivan said.

    They defended Colorado’s practice of pumping more groundwater out of the aquifer, saying this is necessary to comply with the Republican River Compact. Disputes over river flows have risen as far as the U.S. Supreme Court and Colorado’s legal obligations to deliver water to Nebraska and Kansas are clear.

    @ColoradoStateU: Groundwater pumping drying up Great Plains streams, driving fish extinctions

    A Google Earth image of the crop circles in the lower Arikaree River watershed, highlighting the river reaches that were dry (red), disconnected pools (yellow), and flowing (blue) at the lowest water in late summer 2007. Only one segment of 9 miles of flowing river remained as habitat for fish. The river flows from left to right. Image created by Jeff Falke, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University:

    Farmers in the Great Plains of Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas and the panhandle of Texas produce about one-sixth of the world’s grain, and water for these crops comes from the High Plains Aquifer — often known as the Ogallala Aquifer — the single greatest source of groundwater in North America. A team of researchers, including Colorado State University Professor Kurt Fausch and Jeff Falke, a CSU alumnus and an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, have discovered that more than half a century of groundwater pumping from the aquifer has led to long segments of rivers drying up and the collapse of large-stream fishes.

    If pumping practices are not modified, scientists warn that these habitats will continue to shrink, and the fish populations along with them.

    The research team combined modeling from the past and future to assess changes in Great Plains streams and their fish populations associated with groundwater pumping from the High Plains Aquifer. The findings have implications for watersheds around the world, because irrigation accounts for 90 percent of human water use globally, and local and regional aquifers are drying up.

    A ‘train wreck’

    The Arikaree River in 2000 in early summer, when water is near its maximum extent. Photo: Kurt Fausch

    Fausch said the study results are sobering. Based on earlier observations and modeling by Falke and a team of graduate students and faculty at CSU, the Arikaree River in eastern Colorado, which is fed by the aquifer and used to flow about 70 miles, will dry up to about one-half mile by 2045.

    “You have this train wreck where we’re drying up streams to feed a growing human population of more than 7 billion people,” Fausch said.

    Fausch described the situation as a “wicked problem,” one with no good solution. “More water is pumped out every year than trickles back down into the aquifer from rain and snow,” he said. “We are basically drying out the Great Plains.”

    Pumping has dried up streams, small rivers

    Since the 1950s, pumping has extracted nearly as much water as what exists in Lake Erie — about 100 trillion gallons — and almost none of it trickles back into the aquifer.

    “This pumping has dried up long segments of many streams and small rivers in the region,” Fausch said. From 1950 to 2010, a total of 350 miles of stream dried up in the large area the team studied in eastern Colorado, southwestern Nebraska and northwestern Kansas. “Our models project that another 180 miles of stream will dry up by 2060,” Fausch said.

    An orangethroat darter, one of the nine remaining native fish species in the Arikaree River. Photo: Jeremy Monroe, Freshwaters Illustrated.

    The loss of fish in the area is also a concern. “What we’re losing are the fishes that require habitat found only in the rivers and large streams of the region, and replacing them with those that can survive in the small streams that are left,” Fausch said. “We are losing whole populations of species from rivers in that region because there’s no habitat for them.”

    As an example, seven of the 16 native fish species that were once found in the Arikaree River have disappeared since the first surveys were done in the 1940s. These fish include small minnows, suckers and catfish, species that the CSU scientist said are not among those that are currently federally endangered or threatened, so there’s little regulatory authority to preserve the habitats.

    “We’re losing fish that people really don’t know about,” said Fausch. “They are cool and very beautiful, but not charismatic.”

    Losing a river means losing more than fishes

    Effects from the groundwater pumping will extend beyond the fishes and streams, too. Farmers in that area hope to conserve enough water so that future generations can continue to work on the land. And the everyday places that benefit from water could also disappear.

    “If they lose the river, they’ll not only lose fishes, but they’ll also lose water for their cattle, and cottonwoods that provide shade,” Fausch explained. “They also lose the grass that grows in the riparian zone, which is critical forage for cattle in summer. Some of that’s your livelihood, but it’s also the place you go for picnics, and to hunt deer and turkeys. If you lose the river, you lose a major feature of what that landscape is.”

    Center pivot sprinklers in the Arikaree River basin to irrigate corn. Each sprinkler is supplied by deep wells drilled into the High Plains aquifer.

    Fausch said that there are some signs of progress, despite the grim findings. Local officials have put meters on wells to ensure that farmers pump only the amount of water allowed under their permits. And farmers are always experimenting with new technology that will allow them to optimize the amount of water they use to achieve the highest crop yields, since it takes electricity to pump the water from deep underground and this is an important cost to them. This doesn’t mean that the groundwater levels that feed streams are not declining, but instead are declining at a slower rate than in the past, he said.

    Growing dryland crops an option

    One additional option, though it might be a hard sell, is for farmers to grow dryland crops, meaning that they rely only on rainfall each year, instead of pumping water. The problem is the crop yields then vary widely from year to year, depending on the rain.

    “Every farmer understands that eventually they will no longer be able to afford to pump as much water,” said Fausch. “Farmers are amazing economists. New options such as economical drip irrigation are being discussed, and farmers will likely switch to these options when they become available.”

    Fausch, who has studied rivers throughout his entire career, grows wistful when talking about the research. “When we lose these rivers, we will lose them for our lifetime, our children’s lifetime, and our grandchildren’s lifetime,” he said.

    Even if all pumping were stopped tomorrow, the aquifer would refill very slowly, over the next 100 years or more, said Fausch. As the groundwater table rose, rivers would start to flow again.

    “Groundwater declines are linked to changes in Great Plains stream fish assemblages” was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Falke received his doctorate in fisheries biology from CSU in 2009. The research team includes scientists from Kansas State University, Tennessee Technological University, U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Westar Energy and The Nature Conservancy.

    @USGS: High Plains Aquifer Groundwater Levels Continue to Decline

    High Plains aquifer water-level changes, predevelopment (about 1950) to 2015. Figure 1 from USGS SIR 2017-5040.(Public domain.)

    Here’s the release from the USGS:

    The U.S. Geological Survey has released a new report detailing changes of groundwater levels in the High Plains aquifer. The report presents water-level change data in the aquifer for two separate periods: from 1950 – the time prior to significant groundwater irrigation development – to 2015, and from 2013 to 2015.

    “Change in storage for the 2013 to 2015 comparison period was a decline of 10.7 million acre-feet, which is about 30 percent of the change in recoverable water in storage calculated for the 2011 to 2013 comparison period,” said Virginia McGuire, USGS scientist and lead author of the study. “The smaller decline for the 2013 to 2015 comparison period is likely related to reduced groundwater pumping.”

    In 2015, total recoverable water in storage in the aquifer was about 2.91 billion acre-feet, which is an overall decline of about 273.2 million acre-feet, or 9 percent, since predevelopment. Average area-weighted water-level change in the aquifer was a decline of 15.8 feet from predevelopment to 2015 and a decline of 0.6 feet from 2013 to 2015.

    The USGS study used water-level measurements from 3,164 wells for predevelopment to 2015 and 7,524 wells for the 2013 to 2015 study period.

    The High Plains aquifer, also known as the Ogallala aquifer, underlies about 112 million acres, or 175,000 square miles, in parts of eight states, including: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. The USGS, at the request of the U.S. Congress and in cooperation with numerous state, local, and federal entities, has published reports on water-level changes in the High Plains aquifer since 1988 in response to substantial water-level declines in large areas of the aquifer.

    “This multi-state, groundwater-level monitoring study tracks water-level changes in wells screened in the High Plains aquifer and located in all eight states that overlie the aquifer. The study has provided data critical to evaluating different options for groundwater management,” said McGuire. “This level of coordinated groundwater-level monitoring is unique among major, multi-state regional aquifers in the country.”

    High Plains aquifer water-level changes, predevelopment (about 1950) to 2015. Figure 1 from USGS SIR 2017-5040.(Public domain.)
    Bar graph showing change in water-in-storage, predevelopment to 2015, by state and in total for the High Plains aquifer. States in region include Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. (Public domain.)
    Bar graph showing change in recoverable water in storage, 2011 to 2013 (orange) and 2013 to 2015 (green), in million acre-feet by state and in total for the High Plains aquifer. Recoverable water in storage from 2013 to 2015 for the aquifer declined 10.7 million acre-feet, which is about 30 percent of the recoverable water in storage change from 2011 to 2013. This difference is likely related to reduced groundwater pumpage during the 2013 and 2014 irrigation seasons as compared to the 2011 and 2012 irrigation seasons. (Public domain.)

    RRWCD meeting in holyoke Thurs., july 13

    Holyoke photo credit dankalal.net.

    From the Holyoke Enterprise:

    The Board of Directors of the Republican River Water Conservation District will be holding its regular quarterly meeting in Holyoke Thursday, July 13, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Phillips County Event Center Biesemeier Room.

    The agenda includes board president’s report; general manager’s report; quarterly financial report and expenditures; report regarding the Compact Compliance Pipeline; program updates and reports, including reports from the RRWCD’s engineer and legal counsel; RRWCD committee reports; Associated Organization Reports, including Colorado Water Congress, South Platte Roundtable, Water Preservation Partnership, Yuma County Water Authority and Yuma County Weed Control; report on South Fork Project by Nancy Smith, The Nature’s Conservancy; report by Yuma County Pest District; report by Mike Sullivan, assistant state engineer, and Scott Steinbrecher, Colorado attorney general assistant on negotiations with Kansas regarding Bonny; donation to Yuma County Pest District, WPP Resolution 17-01; and engagement letter for 2017 audit with Winfrey, County and Hays.

    @USGS: Water-level and recoverable water in storage changes, High Plains aquifer, predevelopment to 2015 and 2013–15

    Click here to read the report. Here’s the release from the US Geological Survey:

    The U.S. Geological Survey has released a new report detailing changes of groundwater levels in the High Plains aquifer. The report presents water-level change data in the aquifer for two separate periods: from 1950 – the time prior to significant groundwater irrigation development – to 2015, and from 2013 to 2015.

    “Change in storage for the 2013 to 2015 comparison period was a decline of 10.7 million acre-feet, which is about 30 percent of the change in recoverable water in storage calculated for the 2011 to 2013 comparison period,” said Virginia McGuire, USGS scientist and lead author of the study. “The smaller decline for the 2013 to 2015 comparison period is likely related to reduced groundwater pumping.”

    In 2015, total recoverable water in storage in the aquifer was about 2.91 billion acre-feet, which is an overall decline of about 273.2 million acre-feet, or 9 percent, since predevelopment. Average area-weighted water-level change in the aquifer was a decline of 15.8 feet from predevelopment to 2015 and a decline of 0.6 feet from 2013 to 2015.

    The USGS study used water-level measurements from 3,164 wells for predevelopment to 2015 and 7,524 wells for the 2013 to 2015 study period.

    The High Plains aquifer, also known as the Ogallala aquifer, underlies about 112 million acres, or 175,000 square miles, in parts of eight states, including: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. The USGS, at the request of the U.S. Congress and in cooperation with numerous state, local, and federal entities, has published reports on water-level changes in the High Plains aquifer since 1988 in response to substantial water-level declines in large areas of the aquifer.

    “This multi-state, groundwater-level monitoring study tracks water-level changes in wells screened in the High Plains aquifer and located in all eight states that overlie the aquifer. The study has provided data critical to evaluating different options for groundwater management,” said McGuire. “This level of coordinated groundwater-level monitoring is unique among major, multi-state regional aquifers in the country.”

    Upper Republican Natural Resources District’s second annual water conference recap

    Republican River Basin by District

    From The Grant Tribune (Russ Pankonin):

    Officials from Nebraska and Kansas outlined some of the key details of the agreement during the Upper Republican Natural Resources District’s second annual water conference March 27 in Imperial.

    Nebraska requirements

    One of Kansas’ goals in the the new agreement was to provide irrigators in the Kansas Bostwick Irrigation District (KBID) and other water users water when they needed it.

    Nebraska agreed not to release water from Harlan County Lake (HCL) just to meet compact compliance.

    Instead, they will work with Kansas to achieve the most efficiency from the water released.

    Compliance calculations for the three Republican Basin NRDs (Upper, Middle and Lower) showed they would need to offset about 37,000 acre feet of overpumping in 2016.

    Because the compliance calculations are made after the pumping season, Jesse Bradley, assistant director of Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources, said the state needed some latitude in making up any differences.

    That allows Nebraska to use augmentation and streamflow to ensure there is sufficient water in HCL by June 1.

    Kansas estimated it would only need about 20,000 AF from HCL in 2017. So rather than pump the other 17,000 AF, the balance will be stored underground. This reduces water loss due to evaporation from the HCL, improving efficiency of the water.

    Kansas retains the right to that 17,000 AF.

    Bradley said this gives Nebraska more flexibility to meet compliance with Kansas set forth by the 1943 water compact between the three states.
    Kansas agreed to give Nebraska 100 percent credit towards compliance for any augmentation water released in the basin.

    Bradley said the agreement provides for preserving water supplies for the future by not pumping augmentation or poorly-timed releases from HCL.
    On Oct.1, the two states decide whether or not to pump the water stored underground to meet compliance.

    Kansas water management

    As part of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015, Nebraska was ordered to pay Kansas $5.5 million in damages for over-pumping in 2012-13.
    Earl Lewis, director of the Kansas Water Office, said they happily accepted the money. Since KBID suffered the most from Nebraska’s non-compliance, Kansas allocated $3.5 million back to that area.

    Lewis said they are using $2.5 million to convert KBID canals to underground pipelines. He said this will save the district between 8-10,000 AF of water on an annual basis.

    Susan Metzger, Kansas’ assistant ag secretary, said technology will play a key role in the conservation of water going forward.

    She said Kansas has created three water technology farms where they put into practice a variety of technological advances and conservation measures.

    She said they held a field day at one of the farms and drew nearly 300 people, showing the great interest of farmers in this research.

    She added they want to expand to another four farms this year.

    Kansas has also created local enhanced management areas, which resemble Nebraska’s NRD system, and provide for local control in water management and conservation.

    The program is starting to build momentum across the state and six management areas have been approved.
    Bradley said the integrated management plans (IMP) in the Republican Basin will evolve as Kansas and Nebraska continue to work together.

    The basin is already on its third generation of IMPs and predicts the fourth generation won’t be far behind. That means things are working, he added.

    He noted that 2013 wasn’t a shining year for compact compliance due to drought conditions.

    He said prospects for the basin, water-wise, look good going forward.

    The system as a whole looks better with more water in reservoirs. In addition, the department hasn’t had to issue any closing notices on surface water for the past three years.

    He added that groundwater declines in some areas are starting to stabilize.

    As part of the three-state agreement, Kansas and Colorado also crafted resolutions to deal with Colorado’s compact compliance efforts.

    Ogallala Aquifer — different water law by state

    Map sources:
    Houston, Natalie. 2011. Hydrogeologist, Texas Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey. Personal communication, October 2011.
    Houston, Natalie, Amanda Garcia, and Eric Strom. 2003. Selected Hydrogeologic Datasets for the Ogallala Aquifer, Texas. Open File Report 2003-296. August 2003.

    From High Plains Public Radio (Susan Stover):

    Texas manages groundwater with the Rule of Capture. The groundwater belongs to the landowner without a defined limit. It’s sometimes known as the Law of the Biggest Pump.

    Colorado and Kansas water law is based on prior appropriation, known as First in Time, First in Right. A water right owner can pump their permitted amount if it doesn’t impair a more senior right – a water right that was established earlier in time. When there isn’t enough water to meet all needs, the owners of senior water rights have priority. The priority system works well for streams. When stream flow is low, it is generally clear which upstream, junior users must be cut off to protect the more senior water rights.

    For groundwater, it is more complex to identify which water wells are impairing a more senior water well. Groundwater often provides a baseflow to streams; when heavy groundwater pumping lowers the water table so there is no longer a connection to the stream and stream flow declines, is that impairment?

    Colorado state law dealt with such concerns by defining “designated groundwater basins,” those in which groundwater contributes little to stream flow. The Ogallala aquifer lies in designated groundwater basins. This allows more groundwater to be pumped, which lowers the water table, but with less risk of impairing surface water rights.

    In Kansas, action is taken when a junior water right well’s pumping directly impairs a senior water right well, whether it uses groundwater or surface water. However, no action is taken if problems are due to regional groundwater declines. Like Colorado, Kansas allows the decline of the Ogallala aquifer to get the economic benefit from the water.

    Management of the Ogallala aquifer is a balance between protecting existing water right holders and conserving water for the future. Attitudes change over time on what is a proper balance. Much water law encouraged development of the aquifer and protects current users. Is that balance shifting more toward conserving and extending this resource further into the future?

    Ogallala Aquifer: “We’re burning up our savings account” — Jay Garetson

    Map sources: Houston, Natalie. 2011. Hydrogeologist, Texas Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey. Personal communication, October 2011. Houston, Natalie, Amanda Garcia, and Eric Strom. 2003. Selected Hydrogeologic Datasets for the Ogallala Aquifer, Texas. Open File Report 2003-296. August 2003.
    Map sources:
    Houston, Natalie. 2011. Hydrogeologist, Texas Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey. Personal communication, October 2011.
    Houston, Natalie, Amanda Garcia, and Eric Strom. 2003. Selected Hydrogeologic Datasets for the Ogallala Aquifer, Texas. Open File Report 2003-296. August 2003.

    From the Las Vegas Daily Sun (Ian James):

    By permanently barring the use of two wells in an area where farmers rely on the Ogallala Aquifer to grow corn, the judge concluded the Garetson family’s senior water right had been “impaired” by their neighbor – a company that holds a junior water right.

    “What made this case so important is the precedent that is now set,” said Jay Garetson, who filed the lawsuit in 2012 together with his brother Jarvis. The Garetsons have said they sued not only to defend their livelihood but also to press the state to enforce its water laws, and to call attention to the urgent need for action to preserve the aquifer.

    “Our goal was to force this to the forefront,” Garetson said in an interview on Wednesday. “The best-case scenario would be it forces people to recognize that the status quo is no longer an option.”

    Kansas’ “first-in-time, first-in-right” water rights system gives priority to those who have been using their wells the longest. And farmers are actually using much less water than they would be permitted under the system of appropriated groundwater rights established decades ago.

    But with aquifers levels dropping and a limited supply left that can be economically extracted for farming, the Garetsons and others argue that the state and water districts should step in to establish limits on pumping…

    Garetson said the decision should help bring order to a chaotic situation, and he hopes the case will be a catalyst for management of groundwater. He said he thinks the local groundwater district should establish a water budget and institute a sort of “cap-and-trade” system, in which water use would be scaled back based on established rights and could be sold between farmers, thereby allowing the market to sort out the scarcity problem.

    He thinks such a system could serve as a model across the Ogallala Aquifer and in other areas of the country where aquifers are declining due to excessive pumping.

    Garetson has seen some wells go dry on his farm, where he and his brother grow corn and sorghum. And he acknowledges his own pumping contributes to what is effectively the “mining” of groundwater.

    He wants state officials and the region’s water managers to establish limits to move “in the direction of sustainability” – even though that’s a high bar to reach given the area’s limited water supplies and slow rate of aquifer recharge.

    Garetson said he hopes the court decision will help Kansas farmers move away from the pattern of unchecked pumping that is draining the aquifer. Under the status quo, he said, “we’re actually just borrowing from the future. We’re burning up our savings account.”