Farms use 80% of the West’s water. Some in #Colorado use less, a lot less — @WaterEdCO

Cattle of the Bow & Arrow herd, graze in a frosted corn field on the 7,770 acre Ute Mountain Ute Farm & Ranch Enterprise near Towoac, Colorado. About 700 head of cattle, graze on the farm and ranch lands during the winter. During the summer the herd is moved to mountain pastures. (Dean Krakel photo, special to EWC)

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Allen Best):

At Spring Born, a greenhouse in western Colorado near Silt, you see few, if any, dirty fingernails. Why would you? Hands never touch soil in this 113,400-square-foot greenhouse.

You do see automation, long trays filled with peat sliding on conveyors under computer-programmed seeding devices. Once impregnated, the trays roll into the greenhouse.

Thirty days after sprouting, trays of green and red lettuce, kale, arugula, and mustard greens slide from the greenhouse to be shorn, weighed and sealed in plastic clamshell packages. Hands never touch the produce.

Spring Born says it needs 95% less water compared to leafy greens grown using Colorado River water a thousand miles downstream in Arizona and California. That region supplies more than 90% of the nation’s lettuce. At Silt, the water comes from two shallow wells that plumb the riverine aquifer of the Colorado River, delivering about 20 gallons per minute. The water is then treated before it is piped into the greenhouse. This is agriculture like nowhere else.

he all-mechanized operations at Spring Born’s large greenhouse near Silt, Colo., produce leafy greens by maximizing the use of water. Spring Born says it needs 95% less water compared to greens grown using Colorado River water 1,000 miles downstream in Arizona and California.
From the Hip Photo courtesy of Spring Born

Great precautions are taken to avoid contamination and prevent the spread of pathogens. Those entering the greenhouse must don protective equipment.

There’s no opportunity for passing birds or critters to leave droppings. As such, there is no need for chlorine washes, which most operations use to disinfect. Those washes also dry out the greenery, shortening the shelf life and making it less tasty. The Spring Born packages have an advertised shelf life of 23 days.

Spring Born likely constitutes the most capital-intensive agricultural enterprise in Colorado. Total investment in the 250-acre operation, which also includes traditional hay farming and cattle production, has been $30 million. The technology and engineering come from Europe, which has 30 such greenhouses. The United States has a handful.

Agribusiness in Colorado generates $47 billion in economic activity but it ties to one reality: The future is one of less water. So how exactly can agriculture use water more judiciously?

The Thirsty Future

A Desert Research Institute study published in April 2022 concluded that the warming atmosphere is a thirstier one. Modeling in the study suggests that crops in some parts of Colorado already need 8% to 15% more water than 40 years ago. Agricultural adaptations to use less water are happening out of necessity.

Grahic credit: Colorado Climate Center

Colorado has warmed about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 120 years. Warming has accelerated, with the five hottest summers on record occurring since 2000.

Higher temperatures impact the amount of snowfall and amount of snowpack converted to water runoff. “As the climate warms, crops and forested ecosystems alike use water more rapidly,” says Peter Goble, a research associate at the Colorado Climate Center. “As a result, a higher fraction of our precipitation goes into feeding thirsty soils and a lower fraction into filling our lakes, streams and reservoirs. Essentially, a warmer future is a drier future.”

This year was a good example of the drying trend.

Dolores River watershed

Snowpack was around average in the San Juan Mountains, but spring arrived hot and windy. Snow was all but gone by late May, surpassed in its hurried departure only in 2018 and 2002. Farmers dependent on water from the Dolores River, still reeling from last year’s meager supplies, were required to accept lesser supplies yet again as the growing season began this year.

The Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch Enterprise, the most southwesterly agriculture operation in Colorado, expected less than 30% of its regular water delivery from McPhee Reservoir. This was on top of a marginal year in 2021, too. Simon Martinez, general manager of the operation, said just 15 of the 110 center pivots had crops under cultivation in early June. Employment was cut in half, and the 650-head cow-calf operation had been slimmed to 570.

Pressured by compacts

The warming climate is not alone in spurring adaptations. In many river basins, irrigators must also worry about delivery of water to downstream states specified by interstate compacts.

Water conservation districts formed in the last 20 years are paying farmers to decrease pumping and planting to save the water that remains in the aquifers, comply with compacts, and transition to less water use.

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

Directors of the Republican River Water Conservation District, in northeastern Colorado were successful in voluntarily retiring 4,000 acres by June 2020. They are confident about retiring 10,000 acres in the area between Wray and Burlington before 2025. They’re less sure of achieving the 25,000 acres that compact compliance will require by 2029.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District directors in south-central Colorado have an even greater lift. They must figure out how to retire 40,000 irrigated acres by 2029. They’re at 13,000.

High commodity prices have discouraged farmer participation. The pot of local, state and federal money hasn’t been sufficient to fund high enough incentives to compete with commodity pricing. A bill, SB22-028, Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund, which passed in the Colorado Legislature in May, will allocate $60 million to both the Republican and Rio Grande basins to help them comply with interstate river compacts by reducing the acreage outlined above. The law says that if voluntary reductions cannot be attained, Colorado may resort to mandatory reductions in groundwater extraction.

From Sprinklers to New Crops

Even as center-pivot sprinklers are removed in the Republican River Basin and San Luis Valley, they are going up in the Grand Valley of western Colorado. There, instead of drafting groundwater, they are distributing Colorado River water, because they are reducing labor costs and reducing water use.

The geography of the valley from Palisade to Fruita and Loma does not immediately favor center pivots. They work best as a pie within a square, a full 40 or 160 acres. Parcels in the Grand Valley tend to be more rectangular. That means a pivot can arc maybe three-quarters of a circle. That slows the payoff on investment.

Why the pivot, so to speak, on pivots? Perry Cabot, a water resource specialist with Colorado State University’s Western Colorado Research Center near Fruita, sees two, sometimes overlapping, motivations. (Cabot also serves on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees.)

The greater motivation is the desire to save labor. That itself is good, he says, because the investment reflects an intention to continue farming. “People are obviously doing it for the long haul,” he says.

The other motivation appears to be water related. “The feedback I get is, to paraphrase the farmers, at some point in the future we are going to have less water to farm with and so we must prepare for that,” Cabot says.

Incremental improvements have improved efficiency. Experiments at the CSU research center in Walsh have shown conclusively the advantage of long-drop nozzles that spray the water just a couple feet off the ground, reducing evaporation.

Jason Lorenz with Agro Engineering talks about irrigation, soil moisture and chemistry during a soil workshop for students in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. Courtesy of AgroEngineering

Technology can help perfect a producer’s irrigation set up. Consider work in the San Luis Valley by Agro Engineering, crop consultants who seek to assist growers in producing maximum value with minimum water application. Potatoes, the valley’s largest cash crop, thrive in warm, but not hot, days and cool nights. They need 16 to 18 inches of water per year, of which 13 to 15 inches comes from irrigation. This includes two inches applied during planting, to moisten soils sufficiently for germination. They do not do well with too much water, explains Jason Lorenz, an agricultural engineer who is a partner in the firm. That, and the need to align use with legal requirements, gives growers compelling reason to closely monitor water.

The company uses aerial surveys conducted from airplanes to analyze whether the desired uniformity is being achieved. The latest advancement, multispectral aerial photography, enables the detection of green, red and near-infrared light levels. These images indicate the amount of vegetative biomass, vegetative vigor, and the greenness of the leaves. Variations show where crops are healthier and where there are problems, including insects and diseases, water quality, or soil chemistry problems.

Any discussion of water and agriculture in Colorado must include a focus on corn. In 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, almost 1.4 million acres in the state were devoted to corn, with well more than half of that irrigated.

Corn is also thirsty. So far, efforts to produce corn with less water have come up short, says Colorado State University water resources specialist Joel Schneekloth. But if corn still needs the same amount of water, researchers have succeeded in producing greater yields.

How about alternatives to corn? Sunflowers, used to make cooking oil but also for confections, came on strong, but acreage shrank from 132,000 acres to 59,000 acres statewide between 2010 and 2019. For farmers, corn pays far better.

Quinoa may be possible. It consumes less water. But no evidence has emerged that it’s viable in eastern Colorado. The demand is small. Demand also remains small for black-eyed peas, which a bean processing facility in Sterling accepts along with pinto, navy and other beans.

“We can find low-water crops, but they just don’t have huge markets,” explains Schneekloth who conducts studies for the Republican and South Platte basins at a research station in Akron. There has to be enough production to justify processing facilities, he said. One such processing facility proximate to the Ogallala aquifer in Colorado—it was in Goodland, Kansas—closed because it didn’t have enough business.

Nearly all of the corn in Colorado is grown to feed livestock. What if, instead of eating beef or pork, we ate plant-based substitutes? The shift, says Schneekloth, would save water. It takes seven pounds of forage and grain to produce one pound of meat. For a meat substitute, it’s closer to one for one. But that tradeoff isn’t that simple in most places. Much of the cattle raised in Colorado start on rangeland, feeding off of unirrigated forage, which is not suitable for crop production.

Besides, Schneekloth says he has a hard time imagining a mass migration to meat substitutes in the near future. Plant-based substitutes cost far more and the product, to many people, remains unsatisfactory. “Mass migration will be a hard one to sell,” he says. “Maybe eventually, but it won’t happen for a long time, I don’t think.”

Healthier Soils

Soil health has emerged as a lively new frontier of research and practice and the integration of livestock and crop production is one of its tenets—manure adds nutrients to the soil and builds organic matter, improving soil health.

Soil, unlike dirt, is alive. It’s full of organisms, necessary for growing plants. Wiggling worms demonstrate fecund soil, but most networking occurs on the microscopic level. This organic matter is rich with fungi and bacteria. Iowa’s rich soils have organic content of up to 9%. The native soils of Colorado’s Eastern Plains might have originally had 5%. The farms of southeastern Colorado now have 1% to 3%.

Derek Heckman is on a quest to boost the organic matter of his soil to 5% or even higher. It matters because water matters entirely on the 500 acres he farms in southeastern Colorado, just west of Lamar.

Derek Heckman, who farms near Lamar in eastern Colorado, is implementing various soil health practices to build the organic matter of his soil, improve water retention, and stretch limited water supplies farther. Allen Best

“Water is the limiting factor for our farms a majority of the time,” he explains. “We are never able to put on enough water.”

Heckman’s water comes from the Fort Lyon Canal, which takes out from the Arkansas River near La Junta. In a good year, he says, his land can get 25 to 30 runs from the ditch. Last year he got 16 runs. This year? As of early May, Heckman was expecting no more than 10 runs.

“The more organic matter there is, the more the moisture-holding capacity of the soil,” he explains. This is particularly important as water supplies dwindle during the hot days of summer.

“Let’s say we have 105 degrees every day for two weeks,” says Heckman. “Organic content of your soil of 3% might allow you to go four additional days without irrigation and without having potential yield loss or, even worse, crops loss.”

Heckman, 31, practices regenerative agriculture.

In explaining this, Heckman shies away from the word sustainable. It’s too limiting, he says. “I don’t want to just sustain what I’m doing. Regenerative is bringing the soil back to life.”

Growing corn in the traditional way involved plowing fields before planting. The working of the field might involve five passes by a tractor, compacting the soil and reducing its porosity. The plows disrupt microbial life.

For several decades, farmers and scientists have been exploring the benefits of less intrusive tilling of the soil. Beginning about 20 years ago, Heckman’s father was one of them. The scientific literature is becoming robust on the benefits of what is generically called “conservation tillage.”

Irrigated corn fields of eastern Colorado can require 10% less irrigation water depending upon tillage and residue management practices, according to a 2020 paper published by Schneekloth and others.

Heckman experiments continuously, trying to find the best balance of cover crops, minimal tilling, and the right mix of chemicals.

“A lot of guys are comfortable with what grandpa did and what dad did, and that’s what they do,” he says. “I want to see changes in our operation.”

On the Western Slope, soil health restoration is being tested in an experiment on sagebrush-dominated rangelands south of Montrose. Ken Holsinger, an ecologist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, says the intent is to restore diversity to the lands and improve the water-holding capacity of the soil.

Holsinger says the federal land was likely harmed by improper livestock grazing, particularly prior to adoption of the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934, but may well have continued until the 1970s prior to implementing modern grazing practices.

This experiment consists of a pair of one-acre plots that have lost their topsoil and have become dominated by sagebrush and invasive vegetation. Such lands produce 200 to 300 pounds of forage per acre but should be producing 800 to 1,000 pounds per acre of native grasses. The soil will be amended with nutrients to restart the carbon cycle. Afterward, 50% of the sagebrush will be removed.

“We are looking at restarting the carbon cycle and ultimately holding more water in the soil profile,” says Holsinger.

One way these enhanced, restored soils help is by preventing the monsoonal rains that western Colorado typically gets in summer from washing soil into creeks and rivers, muddying the water. If the experiment proves successful, then the task will be to cost-effectively scale it up, ideally to the watershed level.

Back in Silt, at the site of Spring Born, Charles Barr, the company’s owner, speaks to the need for innovation. “That will be the model going forward for all of these agricultural areas,” he says. “They have to find new sources of revenue, they have to find new ways of doing business, and they have to find new ways to conserve water.”

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Summer 2022 edition of Headwaters magazine

Allen Best grew up in eastern Colorado, where both sets of grandparents were farmers. Best writes about the energy transition in Colorado and beyond at BigPivots.com.

Is the #ColoradoRiver a bellwether for the [#Colorado’s] other river systems? — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the guest column on the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Eric Kuhn and Jennifer Gimbel). Here’s an excerpt:

Unfortunately, the situation on the Colorado River is not unique. Colorado’s mountains are the headwaters of four major river systems: the Colorado, the Platte, the Arkansas and the Rio Grande. Each river provides critical water supplies for the present and future needs of our state; each is being impacted by the effects of climate change; and under Interstate water compacts signed decades ago, Colorado must share each with its neighboring downstream states. Climate change, or what scientists are now referring to as aridification, has caused all of Colorado to be hotter and drier. The combined effects of climate change, interstate water compact obligations and intense competition for the available water among different communities and water use sectors within our state means that future Coloradans will have to learn to do more with less water. This will take bold action, compromise and a new era of innovation and cooperation among competing water interests within Colorado and among Colorado and its neighboring states.

Rio Grande through the eastern edge of Alamosa July 5, 2022. Photo credit: Chris Lopez/Alamosa Citizen

Already, the farmers in Colorado’s fertile Rio Grande Basin are struggling to maintain an aquifer by restricting pumping. They face an awful choice — reduce their collective uses of the aquifer to a sustainable level so that some farms can survive, or they all fail. At the same time, the surface water supply from the Rio Grande River, which must be shared with New Mexico and Texas, has diminished and most likely will continue to do so.

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

The Republican River Basin, a small but agriculturally important river system that originates on the plains and flows east to its confluence with the Missouri River, is also stressed by overuse of the river supply. Productive farm fields are being fallowed so that Colorado can comply with the Republican River Compact. Fortunately for the Rio Grande and Republican river basins, the General Assembly set aside $60 million to buy out farms in order to leave water in the aquifers and river systems. That amount is a drop in the bucket for what will be needed to recover and sustain those systems.

The Arkansas River and South Platte River systems also have significant challenges. These basins are home to 85% of Colorado’s population and to most of its commercial agriculture. The farm economy in the Arkansas has already suffered when the Colorado State Engineer had to cut back the use of alluvial wells, which were depleting flows to the Arkansas River and causing Colorado to be out of compliance with the Arkansas River Compact. The South Platte River system, which relies on return flows to sustain the river past the state line, is seeing much higher demands. The current return flow regime is threatened by Nebraska reinvigorating the proposed Perkin’s Ditch, a century-old feature provided for in the 1923 South Platte Compact. Both these basins are being hammered by the combined impacts of Front Range cities rushing to buy and dry existing farms to provide water for future growth while their water supplies imported from the Colorado River Basin have become less reliable due to climate change caused drought and compact obligations.

Colorado’s future economy will depend on implementing innovative methods to sustain, deliver and treat water supplies while leaving enough water in our streams to maintain healthy and thriving aquatic ecosystems. Water delivery entities need to think broader to collaborate with others on ways to manage and share their supplies and their systems.

Governor Polis signs bills to reduce #groundwater use, fund water #conservation projects — #Colorado Newsline

Irrigation equipment on a farm in Montrose County, Colorado on May 29, 2021 with Lone Cone in the background. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed two bills into law that are aimed at conserving a precious and dwindling resource in the state: water. For the bill signings, the governor traveled to the San Luis Valley, an important agricultural region where farmers face mounting challenges from extreme drought driven by climate change.

Republican Sens. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, plus Reps. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat, and Marc Catlin, a Montrose Republican, sponsored the first bill, Senate Bill 22-28. It puts $60 million of federal COVID-19 relief money into a new “groundwater compact compliance and sustainability” fund to help finance projects that reduce groundwater use in the Rio Grande and Republican river basins.

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Such projects might include efforts to “buy and retire” wells used for irrigation as well as portions of irrigated farmland, with the goal of restoring water to underground aquifers and helping the communities meet deadlines to reduce their water use. The Colorado Water Conservation Board can allocate money from the groundwater fund based on recommendations from the boards of directors for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the Republican River Water Conservation District.

“The timing of the availability of federal dollars and the growing sense of urgency in both basins created a unique opportunity that will serve both of these communities well,” Simpson told the Alamosa Citizen in April.

The other bill Polis signed, House Bill 22-1316, provides millions of dollars for construction projects approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The bill’s legislative sponsors included Reps. Karen McCormick, D-Longmont, and Catlin, along with Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Simpson. Among the local and regional projects funded are:

  • $3.8 million for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. By increasing water flows through the central Platte River habitat area — which stretches across northern Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska — the project is aimed at improving conditions for the interior least tern, pallid sturgeon, piping plover and whooping crane.
  • $2 million to support the state’s efforts to comply with the Republican River compact, which was first negotiated between Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska in the early 1940s. The compact governs the three states’ use of the water resources in the Republican River basin, which begins on the plains of eastern Colorado and flows through northwest Kansas and eastern Nebraska.
  • $500,000 for the Arkansas River Decision Support System. The Arkansas River DSS project involves collecting data on characteristics like climate and groundwater in the Arkansas River basin, which covers the southeast quadrant of the state, and analyzing the data to help inform future decisions about water use.

Polis, a Democrat, signed both bills into law at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District offices in Alamosa. According to a statement from Polis’ office, the governor then joined state and national officials in the nearby town of Center to champion a major development for the San Luis Valley’s potato industry.

The U.S. recently began exporting potatoes — including those grown in the Valley — to new regions in Mexico under an agreement reached late last year between the two countries. Previously, potato exports were limited to a 16-mile border zone.

“This agreement, paired with the critical work the Valley is doing to protect and conserve our water, will make a major positive difference for our farmers, meaning more money in the pockets of hardworking Coloradans,” Polis said in a statement. “Colorado is strategically positioned to lead the nation in potato exports to Mexico.”

Colorado sent its first shipment of potatoes to Mexico under the new agreement last week, according to the statement.

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Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

#Colorado, #Nebraska Jostle Over #Water Rights Amid #Drought — The Associated Press #SouthPlatteRiver

Thornton near the South Platte River November 6, 2021. Photo credit: Zack Wilkerson

Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (James Anderson). Here’s an excerpt:

[Don] Schneider and [Steve] Hanson find themselves on opposite sides of a looming, politically-fraught dispute over water resembling the kind that until now has been reserved for the parched U.S. states along the Colorado River Basin. As climate change-fueled megadrought edges eastward, Nebraska’s Republican-controlled Legislature this year voted to move forward with a plan that stunned Colorado state leaders. The Cornhusker State wants to divert water in Colorado by invoking an obscure, 99-year-old compact between the states that allows Nebraska to seize Colorado land along the South Platte River to build a canal. Nebraska’s plan underscores an increasing appetite throughout the West to preemptively secure water as winter snows and year-round rainfall diminish, forcing states to reallocate increasingly scarce flows in basins such as the South Platte and its better-known cousin, the Colorado River…

Governor Clarence J. Morley signing Colorado River compact and South Platte River compact bills, Delph Carpenter standing center. Unidentified photographer. Date 1925. Print from Denver Post. From the CSU Water Archives

Nebraska’s Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, gave precious few details in calling for $500 million in cash reserves and one-time federal pandemic funds to be spent on the project, other than to say it will benefit agriculture, power generation and municipal drinking water. Ricketts decried proposals in Colorado to either siphon or store more South Platte water, especially in the rapidly-growing Denver metro area, saying they threaten Nebraska’s water rights hundreds of miles downstream. The announcement sent Colorado officials scrambling to dust off the 1923 compact, which both Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court signed off on and still stands as the law of the land. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis vowed to “aggressively assert” Colorado’s water rights, and state lawmakers lambasted the proposal. GOP Rep. Richard Holtorf, an area cattleman, declared: “You give Nebraska what they’re due but you don’t give them much else.”

For now, Colorado is not going to legally challenge Nebraska’s right to a canal under the compact, said Kevin Rein, Colorado’s state engineer and director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “The other side of that coin is that we’ll make every effort that their operation is in compliance with the compact” and protects Colorado’s rights, Rein said.

2022 #COleg: Turf replacement, wildfire, #groundwater sustainability funding among #water wins as #Colorado legislative session ends — @WaterEdCO

Colorado State Capitol. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Larry Moriandi):

The Colorado General Assembly adjourned its 2022 session on May 11. Among the water bills that passed, four share a common theme—funding. A rare confluence of new revenue sources led to strong bipartisan support of bills dealing with groundwater compact compliance and sustainability, state water plan projects, wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration, and urban turf replacement. A bill designed to strengthen Colorado’s water speculation laws failed.

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

Groundwater compact compliance and sustainability

Senate Bill 28 creates a Groundwater Compact Compliance and Sustainability Fund to help pay for the purchase and retirement of wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican and Rio Grande basins in northeast and south-central Colorado. It appropriates into the fund $60 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) revenue that had been transferred into the state’s Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will distribute the money based on recommendations from the Republican River Water Conservation District and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, with approval by the state engineer. These are one-time dollars that must be obligated by the end of 2024; if not spent by then, they will be used to support the state water plan.

The bill seeks to reduce groundwater pumping connected to surface water flows in the Republican River to comply with a compact among Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. It will also help meet aquifer sustainability standards required by state statute and rules in the Rio Grande Basin, home to the San Luis Valley. To achieve those goals, 25,000 acres of irrigated land must be retired in the Republican Basin, and 40,000 acres in the Rio Grande, by 2029. If the targets are not met, the state engineer may have no choice but to shut down wells without compensation.

Water sustains the San Luis Valley’s working farms and ranches and is vital to the environment, economy and livelihoods, but we face many critical issues and uncertainties for our future water supply. (Photo by Rio de la Vista.)

Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, noted that agricultural production coming out of the two basins benefits the overall state economy, not just the local communities. “The state has some skin in the game,” he said, and the availability of ARPA revenue “presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to support the districts.

Simpson emphasized that neither district is looking for a handout. The Republican has already assessed its water users over $140 million since 2004 to retire irrigated land and purchase or lease surface and groundwater to meet Colorado’s water delivery obligations. The Rio Grande district has taxed its farmers nearly $70 million since 2006 to take irrigated land out of production and has cut groundwater pumping by a third. Simpson requested $80 million from the Economic Recovery Task Force and, by demonstrating the interconnectivity between the state and local economies and the commitment already shown by the districts—along with strong bipartisan support from legislators—was able to secure the $60 million appropriation.

State water plan projects

Each year the Colorado General Assembly considers the CWCB’s “projects bill,” which, among other things, has included appropriations from CWCB’s Construction Fund to support grants for projects that help implement the state water plan in recent years. The funding source for those grants is different this year, with gambling revenue from Proposition DD, which the electorate passed in 2019, becoming available for the first time. Proposition DD legalized sports betting and levied a 10% tax on sports betting proceeds, with the majority of that revenue going into the Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund.

House Bill 1316 appropriates $8.2 million from the fund for grants to help implement the state water plan; $7.2 million of that amount is from sports betting revenue. Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, said, “This is the first appropriation of funds from Proposition DD … and it looks like it’s starting to grow into what we had hoped.”

The bill also appropriates $2 million to CWCB from its Construction Fund to help the Republican River Water Conservation District retire irrigated acreage. Rod Lenz, district president, said the district has doubled its water use fee on irrigators but that “we’re in need of short-term funding while we wait for that rate increase.” The $2 million in state revenue will help the district meet its 2024 interim target of retiring 10,000 acres of the 25,000 acres necessary to comply with the Republican River Compact by 2029. This is on top of the funds the district will receive from Senate Bill 28.

A forest fire next to the Bitterroot River in Montana. UCLA-led research revealed that larger fires tend to be followed by larger increases in streamflow. | Photo by John MacColgan/Creative Commons

Wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration

Like Senate Bill 28, House Bill 1379 takes advantage of ARPA revenue by appropriating $20 million from the Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund for projects to restore, mitigate and protect watersheds from damage caused by wildfire-induced erosion and flooding. Testimony on the bill in the House Agriculture, Livestock & Water Committee emphasized how investing mitigation dollars now helps avoid spending even more on very expensive recovery efforts later.

The bill allocates $3 million to the Healthy Forests and Vibrant Communities Fund to help communities reduce wildfire risks by promoting watershed resilience. It moves $2 million into the Wildfire Mitigation Capacity Development Fund for wildfire mitigation and fuel reduction projects. And $15 million goes to CWCB to fund watershed restoration and flood mitigation projects, and to help local governments and other entities apply for federal grants under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act related to water and natural resources management.

Mrs. Gulch’s Blue gramma “Eyelash” patch August 28, 2021.

Turf replacement

While most of the focus at the Capitol in reducing water use has been on agriculture through retiring irrigated farmland, House Bill 1151 elevates urban turf replacement in importance. The bill requires CWCB to develop a statewide program to provide financial incentives for residential, commercial, institutional and industrial property owners to voluntarily replace non-native grasses with water-wise landscaping. It appropriates $2 million in general funds to a newly created Turf Replacement Fund and authorizes local governments, nonprofits and other entities to apply to CWCB for grants to help finance their programs. Landscape contractors, to whom individuals can apply for money to replace their lawns, are also eligible.

Rep. Catlin pointed out that “50% of the water that comes from the tap and goes through the meter and into the house is used outside.”

“We’re building ourselves a shortage,” he warned, “by continuing to use treated water for irrigation.” Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, added, “For too long the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains have borne the brunt of water conservation … but this is a bill that will give the tools to metro areas for them to play their fair part in this problem that is our drought.”

WAM bought this 57-acre parcel as part of a $6 million deal in January 2020, leading some to suspect the company was engaging in investment water speculation. WAM’s activity in the Grand Valley helped prompt state legislators to propose a bill aimed at curbing speculation.
CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Investment water speculation

Senate Bill 29 was an attempt to strengthen protections against investment water speculation, defined as the purchase of agricultural water rights “with the intent, at the time of purchase, to profit from an increase in the water’s value in a subsequent transaction, such as the sale or lease of the water, or by receiving payment from another person for nonuse of all or a portion of the water.” It was aimed at curbing outside investors who may have little or no interest in agriculture from using the water right to maximize its value as the price of water increases during drought. It authorized the state engineer to investigate complaints of investment water speculation and, if found, to levy fines and prohibit the buyer from purchasing additional water rights for two years without the state engineer’s approval.

The 2021 interim Water Resources Review Committee recommended the bill, but it was never viewed as more than a “placeholder.” Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, a co-sponsor of the bill, expressed her disappointment that the bill did not generate more engagement between the water community and policymakers. “I was certainly hopeful that by having a bill we would force conversation,” she said, “but it did not result in having some forthright ‘let’s get around a table and hammer this out.’” Members struggled with trying to balance concerns over speculation with protecting property rights. Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, the other co-sponsor of the bill, emphasized, “We are certainly not trying to take a farmer’s or rancher’s ability away from selling that water. In many cases that is their 401K, their retirement.”

Opposition from water user groups in the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee sent a clear message: Existing legal requirements provide the necessary safeguards to address water speculation. Travis Smith, representing the Colorado Water Congress, said what’s needed is “having more voices, taking more time.”

Senate Bill 29 was amended to strike the language in the bill and refer the issue to interim study. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who was chairing the committee, expressed his frustration: “We have an ineffective water group that won’t have a conversation with lawmakers anymore. When they have a bill they just take a position and quit working with people.”

With that said he carried the bill over for further consideration, effectively killing it since this was the last committee meeting of the year. It’s unclear whether the issue will be studied this interim since it’s an election year and fewer committee meetings will be held.

Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net.

2022 #COleg: To help refill two struggling underground aquifers, #Colorado lawmakers set aside $60 million to retire irrigation wells and acres of farmland — #Colorado Public Radio

Subdistrict 1 Program Manager Marisa Fricke clears paths for water to flow onto land the subdistrict owns. The property is one of the subdistrict’s investments in recharging the aquifer. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado lawmakers unanimously voted to set aside $60 million of federal COVID relief money to create a fund to help water users in two river basins meet groundwater sustainability targets. If signed by Gov. Jared Polis, the legislation would create a groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The money would be used to buy and retire groundwater wells used to irrigate farmland in the Rio Grande River basin in the south and the Republican River basin in the east to keep the water in underground aquifers that are struggling to keep up with drought and overuse…

Farmers and ranchers in both river basins face rapidly approaching deadlines to reduce their water use, which are necessary to maintain interstate river agreements and preserve underground water supplies. If these goals aren’t met, state water officials say there could be alarming consequences — and thousands of well users could face water cuts.

In the San Luis Valley, the state water engineer is requiring some groundwater well users to limit pumping because too many wells are all pulling from the same groundwater source. Chris Ivers, the program manager for two subdistricts in the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said farmers and ranchers have levied property taxes on themselves to fund similar local efforts to meet groundwater sustainability goals.

2022 #COleg: Bill would set $60 million fund for #groundwater sustainability — The Alamosa Citizen

The Rio Grande Canal is the largest water right in Colorado.

Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

Rio Grande and Republican River would use funds to meet state groundwater sustainability, interstate compact compliance targets

COLORADO is moving toward putting $60 million into a new groundwater compact compliance fund for the Rio Grande and Republican River basins created and funded through a state senate bill drafted and championed by state Sen. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa.

The bill, Senate Bill 22-028, creates the Compact Compliance Fund that would be administered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources and would receive an appropriation of $60 million from Colorado’s share of federal COVID relief money from American Rescue Plan funding.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, originally only established the fund, and then an amendment unanimously adopted Thursday by the Colorado House Agriculture, Livestock, and Water Committee added $60 million into it. The bill next will be heard by the House Appropriations Committee.

“Given the unanimous votes every step of the way, so far, I am hopeful the bill with the appropriation will become law in the next week or two,” Simpson told Alamosa Citizen. “The timing of the availability of federal dollars and the growing sense of urgency in both basins created a unique opportunity that will serve both of these communities well. Still some work to do, but things look very promising for both of these Colorado communities.

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

If the Compact Compliance Fund is adopted by the Colorado Legislature it would pay for efforts to meet groundwater sustainability targets in the Rio Grande Basin and interstate compact requirements for the Republican River Basin. Each basin would get an earmark of $30 million to pay for efforts like retiring groundwater wells and other conservation and water sustainability measures. The goal would be to spend all $60 million within the time constraints put on federal COVID dollars, whether it’s a 50-50 split or not.

The Republican River basin. The North Fork, South Fork and Arikaree all flow through Yuma County before crossing state lines. Credit: USBR/DOI

The threat to livelihood for farmers and ranchers and economic disaster for the regions tied to irrigated agriculture in the Rio Grande and Republican River basins was made loud and clear in the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Water Committee.

“These farmers and ranchers have done everything they possibly can,” said Marisa Fricke, one of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s program managers. “They grow produce for us and hay for our cattle.”

Farmers and ranchers in both basins have levied property taxes on themselves through the water conservation districts to pay for their efforts to help the Rio Grande and Republican River meet groundwater sustainability and interstate compact compliance goals set by the state. It has meant fallowing of crop fields, permanently retiring irrigated acreage, taking groundwater wells off line either temporarily or permanently, and compensating farmers and ranchers for their efforts to help offset loss from less irrigated acres.

State Reps. Marc Catlin and Dylan Roberts made impassioned pleas for including $60 million of the ARPA money into the compact compliance fund during their presentation of the bill in the House Ag committee. Both are House sponsors of the bill.

“This is an opportunity with these funds to say, ‘We’re with you,’” said Catlin of the risk farmers and ranchers take their sacrifices to address compact and sustainability issues on the Republican River.

“This is a great bill for the San Luis Valley and Republican River Basin,” said Heather Dutton, district manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District. “Colorado through COVID relief bills provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in our communities. The imbalance between water use and supply is a critical issue facing Colorado and especially the basins highlighted in this legislation.”

Farmers in the San Luis Valley are looking to take even more drastic steps in their efforts to meet state targets on groundwater pumping and recharging of the Upper Rio Grande Basin’s unconfined aquifer. In Subdistrict 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, farmers are facing a new proposed amendment to the subdistrict’s Plan of Water Management that would tie the level of groundwater pumping allowed to the natural surface water of the property. Some farms in the subdistrict do not have natural surface water, in which case they would have to purchase water credits from a neighboring farm or pay an overpumping fee of $500 per acre-foot.

This concept keeps the system in balance by replenishing what has been withdrawn from the aquifer with surface water and allows the community within Subdistrict No.1 to work together through the exchange and sale of credits. In the event that more groundwater is withdrawn from the aquifer and not replenished an overpumping fee of $500 per acre-foot would be assessed, according to the proposed amendment to the subdistrict’s water management plan. Money collected by the conservation district from an over pumping charge would come back to the Subdistrict 1 community in the form of payments towards enrolling in water conservation programs, according to Fricke.

“For over a decade farmers and ranchers have worked to meet sustainability levels and have taxed themselves assessments for waters taken out of the aquifer,” Fricke told House ag committee members.

Eventually the water conservation districts would establish guidelines and the state Division of Water Resources would administer drawdowns of the fund. In the unlikely chance Rio Grande and Republican River water managers didn’t spend all $60 million, the money would revert to the division of water resources.

Future state appropriations to Compact Compliance Fund would hinge on executive and legislative budget priorities.

2022 #COleg: Bill providing millions in relief to #RepublicanRiver, #RioGrande basins clears first hurdle — @WaterEdCO

A powerful sprinkler capable of pumping more than 2,500 gallons of water per minute irrigates a farm field in the San Luis Valley June 6, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

Click the link to read the article on Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

Colorado lawmakers have given initial approval to a bill that would provide millions of dollars to help two major water-short farm regions reduce water use and comply with legal obligations to deliver water to Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and New Mexico.

On Feb. 10 the Colorado Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved [SB22-028 Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund: Concerning the creation of the groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund] that creates a Groundwater Compact Compliance and Sustainability Fund to help pay to buy and retire farm wells and irrigated acreage in the Republican and Rio Grande basins in northeast and south-central Colorado. Colorado and federal tax revenue would bankroll the fund, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board would distribute the money based on recommendations from the Republican River Water Conservation District and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, with approval by the state engineer.

The need

The fund is needed, according to proponents, to help reduce groundwater use that is depleting surface water flows in the Republican River and threatening Colorado’s ability to comply with a compact among Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. It is also intended to help drought-stressed aquifers in the San Luis Valley recover and to meet aquifer sustainability standards required by the state in the Rio Grande Basin.

To achieve those goals, 25,000 acres of irrigated land must be taken out of production in the Republican basin, and 40,000 acres in the Rio Grande, by 2029. David Robbins, general counsel for both districts, noted that, “Both districts have received letters from the state engineer indicating that if they fail in the task they will receive orders shutting down the wells in each basin, which will have dramatic and very difficult consequences for everyone in both basins.”

The bill’s proponents hope to take advantage of a one-time funding opportunity—federal Covid-19 stimulus dollars under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). The General Assembly created the Economic Relief and Recovery Cash Fund last year to receive ARPA dollars and transferred nearly $850 million into it; investment in water infrastructure is among the eligible uses. It also established an Economic Recovery Task Force to recommend how to spend those funds. Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, who is also General Manager of the Rio Grande district and a co-sponsor of the bill, has requested $80 million from the task force to support the bill. The governor’s budget includes $15 million as a starting point.

Neither district is looking for a handout. The Republican has already assessed its water users $148.5 million to retire irrigated land, purchase or lease surface and groundwater, and pipe groundwater to the river near the Nebraska border to meet Colorado’s water delivery obligations. Aaron Sprague, a member of its board of directors, said the district had retired 42,000 acres of irrigated land since 2006 and thought they were in compliance, but then a court stipulation signed in 2016 by the three states, requiring 25,000 acres additional acres be retired, “effectively moved the goal posts on us.” The district has retired 3,000 acres of that additional land so far. Sprague figures the economic impact of well shutdowns to be $2.2 billion annually on local, regional and state economies.

Although the Rio Grande is also part of an interstate compact among Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, the issue there is reducing groundwater pumping to sustainable levels pursuant to state law. What constitutes sustainability is different in the shallow and deep aquifers that underlie the Rio Grande’s San Luis Valley, but it basically boils down to balancing inflows and outflows—precipitation, which averages less than 7” per year in that region, and return flows equaling groundwater withdrawals. As in the Republican basin, the Rio Grande district has taxed its farmers $69 million since 2006 to take irrigated land out of production and cut groundwater pumping, with 13,000 acres retired and well pumping reduced by a third in that period.

But 3,000 wells and 170,000 irrigated acres are at risk if the Rio Grande doesn’t meet the 2029 deadline. How would that affect the valley? Simpson emphasized that, “Irrigated agriculture in the San Luis Valley has about a $1 billion annual impact on our community…the culture, the economy were all built around it.”

The cost

So how much would it cost and where would the money come from? David Robbins suggests that each district would need at least $50 million “over and above” what they already have spent to achieve compliance. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, another co-sponsor whose district includes the Republican River Basin, said he wasn’t sure $150 million total would be enough. “When commodity prices are where they are,” he noted, “it’s much more difficult to retire acres.” Corn now is selling at over $6/bushel, its highest level in years, making irrigated acreage more valuable.

The bill will go next to the Senate floor for debate. It has strong bipartisan support and is identical to a bill recommended by the interim Water Resources Review Committee last fall. But as Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, committee chair, pointed out, there is no appropriation attached. “This bill just creates an entity,” she cautioned, “and then we’ve got the real hard work to do of making sure we find money to put into it.”

Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net.

2022 #COleg: SB22-028, “Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund” passes out of committee with unanimous vote — The #Alamosa News #groundwater #RioGrande #RepublicanRiver

A farmer uses a center pivot to battle drought on a field in Center, Colo., in the San Luis Valley on Aug. 24, 2020. Credit: Allen Best

Click the link to read the article on The Alamosa News (Priscilla Waggoner). Here’s an excerpt:

In a unanimous, bi-partisan vote, Senator Simpson’s bill [SB22-028 Groundwater Compact Compliance Fund: Concerning the creation of the groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund] passed, unamended, out of the Colorado Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Thursday. Next step is the floor of the Senate where the bill will be voted on by the body at large.

The bill creates the groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund to help finance groundwater use reduction efforts in the Rio Grande River Basin and the Republican River Basin, including buying and retiring irrigation wells and irrigated acreage.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board administers the fund and can make expenditures based on recommendations from the board of directors of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District or the Republican River Water Conservation District. A conservation district’s recommendations must first be approved by the state engineer…

Clearly referencing the water development investment group Renewable Water Resources (RWR), Donovan wanted to know how to explain a group of people wanting to export water from the valley when it is clear water scarcity is already an issue. Robbins, who was testifying at the time, responded that it was something they “were trying to understand themselves” but said that the Rio Grande Water Conservation District is united in their resolve to fight the efforts with all they have.

Referencing the RWR proposal, Donovan then commented that being given money to build a senior citizen center or for law enforcement won’t help much if there are no senior citizens or communities left. She then commented that the General Assembly is receiving the message that the group “needs to look for water somewhere else.”

‘Where’s the water coming from?’: As #Colorado eyes asserting #water rights on the #SouthPlatteRiver, #Nebraska looks at securing its own — The North Platte Telegraph #COleg

The South Platte Hotel building that sits at the Two Forks site, where the North and South forks of the South Platte River come together. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From From The North Platte Telegraph (Todd von Kampen):

Here’s the other question: “Where’s the water coming from?”

That may be the greater mystery in Keith and Lincoln counties, whose residents usually see bare trickles in the South Platte — except for four floods since 1995 — and know it’s due to Colorado agriculture and ever-growing Denver and the Front Range.

Despite all that growth, Nebraska and Colorado water officials agree, there’s still South Platte water to talk about.

Counting “return flows” from upstream irrigators, a recent Colorado study contended, Nebraska receives enough South Platte water at the state line northeast of Julesburg to fill Lake Maloney 15 times…

The Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee will hold a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. CT Wednesday [Februay 9, 2022] on Legislative Bill 1015. It would set aside $500 million to finish the Perkins canal, whether or not Nebraska routes it into Perkins County.

Its hearing follows the Colorado Legislature’s introduction of a bill late last week to make South Platte water storage that state’s top priority for water projects.

Senate Bill 22-126 says it’s intended to boost “the beneficial consumptive use of Colorado’s undeveloped waters to which Colorado is entitled under the South Platte River Compact,” as well as to reduce the need for transferring water east across the Rockies…

Jesse Bradley, assistant director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, said his department has barely begun to explore how such a canal gets built in 2022.

But the evidence suggests Nebraska should invoke its compact rights before it’s too late, Bradley said…

Rein and Lauren Ris, deputy director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said their state’s water officials are still seeking to clarify Nebraska’s concerns. Both spoke with The Telegraph before Colorado lawmakers introduced their bill to make South Platte projects the state’s top priority.

Ris said the 282-project list comes from her board’s online database of hoped-for water projects by local “roundtables” in each of Colorado’s nine river basins…

But the vast majority of those, she said, are studies and other projects that won’t sink a well or move dirt for a new water project.

Very few of them — and none between Brush and the Nebraska line — are even close to seeking major funding, Ris added…

The far larger Parker project, touching both Logan and Washington counties, would create two reservoirs as well as a pipeline. Parker lies about 107 miles southwest of Sterling and 89 miles southwest of Akron, the counties’ respective seats.

Trees, silt clog the #RepublicanRiver’s South Fork. #Colorado officials hope money can fix that — KUNC

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

From KUNC (Adam Reyes):

Read the first, second and third parts of this series.

Little to no water flows from the Republican River’s South Fork in southeast Yuma and northern Kit Carson counties into Kansas and Nebraska, where it merges with the main river. Officials have a plan that could cost about $40 million to save the fork.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, the South Fork sent 10 and 5-year averages of over 30,000 acre-feet of water across the border with Kansas and then to Nebraska. In the last 20 years, it’s only hit 5,000 acre-feet or more a few times.

There’s more to the issue than just numbers. At one point, the South Fork and the attached, now practically empty Bonny Reservoir made a very popular recreational state park. People in the surrounding communities still mourn losing that…

Silt and trees, like the invasive, water-sucking Russian olive, worsened an already bad situation for this channel. They cover the river bed in southeast Yuma County, stopping what little water flow remains after years of overuse, drought and little rainfall…

A mostly local coalition, including the Kit Carson and Yuma County governments, Three Rivers Alliance, Nature Conservancy, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Republican River Water Conservation District, aim to turn things around for this part of the river.

They want to boost flows by digging up all of the silt, Russian olives and other trees and plants that have grown into this riverbed.

Officials hope doing this will restore the river and help the flora and fauna that rely on it.

A canal, a century-old compact between #Nebraska and #Colorado, and a sea of unknowns — The Omaha World-Herald

eople work on the Perkins County Canal in the 1890s. The project eventually was abandoned due to financial troubles. But remnants are still visible near Julesburg.
Perkins County Historical Society

From The Omaha World-Herald (Sara Gentzler):

It seems to be a striking proposal: That Nebraska could use eminent domain in Colorado and build a canal that diverts water from the South Platte River for irrigation in Nebraska.

But the idea — floated earlier this month by Gov. Pete Ricketts and other Nebraska officials — is laid out in a compact agreed to by the two states and approved by Congress almost 100 years ago.

Nebraska officials want to invoke the 1923 South Platte River Compact to build that canal and a reservoir system, and ensure Nebraska continues receiving water that they say is at risk as the population on Colorado’s Front Range booms.

But with a $500 million estimated price tag, a history of failed attempts, confusion from Colorado, the potential for lawsuits and a stream of unknown details, one fundamental question hangs over the proposal: Would it be worth it?

Canal idea predates compact

Even in communications between Delph Carpenter, who negotiated the compact for Colorado, and then-Nebraska Gov. Samuel McKelvie, the canal project was referred to as “old.”

“The old Perkins County canal was projected in the early (1890s) with the object of diverting water from the South Platte some miles above Julesburg, within the State of Colorado, for the irrigation of lands in Nebraska lying south of the river and particularly of that beautiful area of land in Perkins County between Ogallala (sic) and Grant,” a 1921 letter from Carpenter reads.

Construction efforts had started in 1891, according to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. But it was abandoned due to financial troubles.

Remnants of the abandoned ditch are still visible near Julesburg.

Another effort to pursue the canal, this time by the North Platte-based Twin Platte Natural Resources District, was derailed in the 1980s because it didn’t comply with requirements of the Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act.

The compact, borne out of a desire to resolve litigation, is more than the canal…

Current director Tom Riley told The World-Herald that flows drop below 120 cfs nearly every year at times during that time period. When it happens, Nebraska calls Colorado and it addresses the issue by limiting its users who are subject to the compact.

Another part of the compact would allow Nebraska to also claim water outside that growing season — provided there’s a canal.

Ovid, entering from the east on U.S. Route 138. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56445787

The canal could run from near Ovid, Colorado, east near the route of the abandoned “Perkins County Canal,” it says. And Nebraska could buy land or even use eminent domain to make it happen.

With such a canal, the state would be entitled to divert 500 cfs for irrigation between Oct. 15 and April 1.

However, data from the Julesburg gage suggests Nebraska has been getting about that much from Colorado for the last 10 years of record during the non-irrigation season, Riley said. The goal of the project would be to keep it that way.

Asked how the state would avoid what happened in the ‘80s, Riley pointed out that was 40 years ago. And, as he understands it, those proponents chose not to try to comply with endangered species requirements…

Colorado disputes Nebraska’s rationale

In revealing his desire to resurrect the plan, Ricketts earlier this month sounded alarm bells that without the project, agriculture, drinking water across the state, power generation and the environment could be affected…

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and the state’s Department of Natural Resources said they learned of the situation the same day Ricketts announced it publicly…

Since then, officials haven’t shared a vision of an exact route for the newly proposed Perkins County Canal, nor details of the reservoir system it would feed into.

Despite its colloquial name, the canal wouldn’t be located in Perkins County, according to the Governor’s Office. It could be on or close to the county’s northern border, though.

The general manager of the Twin Platte Natural Resources District, Kent Miller, has been promoting the project for over 25 years…

Ninety-eight of the [Colorado Water Plan] projects are in process or complete, according to Sara Leonard, spokesperson for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. But not all are construction projects. Some are water conservation projects, she said, and environment and recreation enhancements.

Joe Frank, a roundtable member and general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District in Colorado, said he hadn’t sorted through how many of the projects would even impact the flow of the river, but said that many of them would not…

As for Nebraska’s assessment that flows could be restricted by 90%, he can’t understand how that figures.

A Nebraska Department of Resources fact sheet features that projection. That sheet shows the 90% was inferred from a 2017 Colorado report on water storage options along the South Platte to capture flows that would usually leave Colorado “in excess of the minimum legally required amounts.”

But Frank said that level of restriction could never actually happen…

More important than the straight cost estimate, though, may be another question: Would the water Nebraska actually gets out of this be worth the cost?

Anthony Schutz, a law professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Dave Aiken, longtime water and agricultural law specialist at UNL, both pointed out it’s uncertain how much water Nebraska could get out of such a canal…

Colorado would have dibs on some water before Nebraska, even if it were to build the canal. Colorado has the right to divert the first 35,000 acre-feet of water for its own off-season storage, Aiken said, even if it cuts into what Nebraska wants to divert…

Schutz pointed out that there are other water users in line ahead of Nebraska’s canal in the compact, too — anything on the “upper” part of the river, and uses in place before Dec 17, 1921…

Could canal lead to a court battle?

There’s some ambiguity in the compact, Aiken said, and people have built projects and invested in them in the years since it was signed. The states could resolve any differences by negotiation, or by litigation…

Riley, with DNR, said that Nebraska’s approach will be to work collaboratively with Colorado, and that he expects Colorado to comply without a need for court action. If disagreements aren’t resolved, though, he said interstate compacts and conflicts like that are addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court…

The question still remains, though: How much water would Nebraska actually get out of this? Riley didn’t give an estimate, but said actual yield would vary year to year.

The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

History forces ‘hard decisions’ in Eastern #Colorado’s declining #RepublicanRiver basin — KUNC

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 KUNC (Adam Reyes):

[The North Fork of the Republican River] is one of the only channels in the Republican River basin in Colorado with consistent flows these days.

[Tracy Travis] part-time farmer and school bus driver works here seasonally as a water engineer. His job is to get water flowing from former agriculture irrigation wells north of here “and into a tank which flows over into a 42-inch pipeline that runs about 12 miles down to the river.”

“It’s not a good thing for the people in this area because we’re giving our water up,” Travis said.

There are a lot of mixed feelings about this pipeline among the people who spoke with KUNC. Nebraskan officials see it as a net positive. Ultimately, all agree it must exist. Explaining why requires going back to 1935…

Republican River Flood of May 30, 1935. Photo credit: NWS

Today, the Republican River in Colorado is described as not even “deep enough to drown in.” But in 1935, it flooded and killed over 100 people in Nebraska and around a dozen in Colorado (if not more) — including four of Republican River Water Conservation District Manager Deb Daniel’s relatives…

Up to that point, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska had managed the river basin’s water within their borders independently.

“There was hardly any irrigation other than surface water irrigation from the rivers themselves and very little in Colorado,” said Yuma County Commissioner and farmer Robin Wiley. “The majority of it was downstream in Kansas and Nebraska.”

After the 1935 flood, the states needed dams and reservoirs to prevent future disasters. The federal government would help build them, but with one condition: the states needed to find a way to manage the river cooperatively.

After three years of negotiations, the Republican River Compact was approved in 1943.

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.

During the three following decades, new technology made it easier to use groundwater. Development of irrigation wells exploded — from around 90,000 in 1949 to over 1 million in 1992 in Nebraska alone — increasing the viability of agriculture “especially in Yuma County, but throughout our entire basin,” Wiley said.

Wiley’s family has farmed here since the 1950s. He says it’s likely that his grandfather and father knew little about the compact, until the now-drained Bonny Reservoir was built right in their “backyard.”

“I think they realized that there was a compact, signed at the time, but no inclination on really how it was going to impact us,” he said.

Even if they had carefully gone through every page of the compact, his predecessors would have missed the part that impacts water users most today — because it wasn’t written in the original document.

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

“There was no inclination that the groundwater was tied to the surface water,” Wiley said.

If water wasn’t coming directly from the river or the ground immediately around it, Colorado assumed it didn’t affect the amount of water flowing across the border (a primary measurement for compact compliance). That assumption was challenged in 1998, when Kansas sued Nebraska over its groundwater use.

“And then Colorado got dragged into it,” he said. “That brought all this to the head.”

[…]

The state engineer manages multiple (but not all) interstate river compacts in Colorado. Dick Wolfe was in that position for about 10 years, until retiring in 2017.

As water levels dropped, the interstate agreements forced officials and local water users to make many sacrifices, like draining Bonny Reservoir on the river’s South Fork in 2011.

“Folks banded together, (and did), I think, a great job looking at everything they could to try to make the best of a bad situation,” Wolfe said. “But I think all in all, when I reflect back on it, I don’t know if there’s too much more we could have done differently.”

Colorado’s efforts to reduce groundwater use, including an agreement to shut down 25,000 irrigated acres in the basin by the end of this decade, didn’t guarantee the state couldn’t fall out of compliance in the meantime. And around 2007 to 2010, it very nearly did.

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

To heavily simplify the way this compact’s complex math works: water naturally evaporating from Bonny Reservoir made Colorado get less credit for the water it actually sent across the border on the South Fork…

But, out of all the hard decisions made in 24 years of working with water in a state facing river crises in every corner, emptying that reservoir “was the toughest one,” Wolfe said.

The other reason Colorado almost fell out of compliance: quickly dropping North Fork flows.

Missouri River Reuse Project via The New York Times

“We were in the early stages, 2007, 2008 looking at what options are out there to get us back into compliance,” he said. Suggestions included importing water from the Missouri River. “Some of them just didn’t prove feasible.”

Ultimately, the decision was made to buy out irrigation wells from a producer and connect them to a pipeline. It drops the water right before a measurement gauge at the Nebraska-Colorado border.

Perrin duLac’s Map of the Banks of the Missouri River: “Carte du Missouri : levee ou rectifiée dans toute son etendue” Published the year before the Louisiana Purchase, this map records late-18th/early-19th century French names of the river branches and located settlements of the Missouri River. By Perrin du Lac, M. (François Marie) – Library of Congress, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54698291

Where’s the river?’ #RepublicanRiver basin’s disappearing water threatens Eastern Plains agriculture, ecology — KUNC

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

From KUNC (Adam Rayes):

If you look at a map of southeastern Yuma County, Colorado, you’ll find a bumpy blue line labeled “South Fork Republican River.” But, for the majority of the year, this channel contains little to no visible water flow.

“So, the thing is, if we were to go upstream four or five miles, there’s flow,” Deb Daniel said while driving along a dusty road, adjacent to the riverbed in what used to be known as Bonny Lake State Park. She points to a stretch of riverbed covered with invasive Russian Olive trees. “There’s so much trees grown up in that area, and it’s so filled in with silt, that (the South Fork) completely disappears.”

The Republican River basin sustained Daniel’s family’s farm when she was growing up. In 2017, the six Colorado counties relying most on this river’s basin brought almost $2 billion in agriculture sales — just under a third of the state’s total $7.5 billion production value.

“There is such joy when I see water flowing,” Daniel said. For the last 20 years, she’s watched over the river as its conservation district manager. “And on the North Fork, it flows year-round.”

The Republican River basin. The North Fork, South Fork and Arikaree all flow through Yuma County before crossing state lines. Credit: USBR/DOI

That’s up in Northern Yuma county. These two forks (and the also-barely-flowing Arikaree River in central Yuma County) are tributaries that start in different parts of northeast Colorado and combine in Nebraska to feed the main body of the river…

Water still flows for most of the Republican’s 453-mile stretch. But the North Fork is going down…

‘A losing battle’

With North Fork flows decreasing and the South Fork and Arikaree barely running, the ecosystem suffers, Colorado risks major legal trouble with Kansas and Nebraska and people who farm these plains stand to lose their livelihoods.

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.

The Republican River’s water levels drop partially because water in the ground surrounding it and beneath it is being used up, mostly to irrigate farms. And, in turn, part of the reason that groundwater isn’t as replenished is because of the river’s limited water.

It’s a dynamic [Joyce] Kettelson has long been aware of, weighing the water longevity for the community against her family’s economic security…

Severe drought conditions plagued portions of Yuma County for the majority of the last two years. Parts of the county have experienced moderate drought during almost half of the last two decades.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, severe drought conditions often reduce river flows and harm farming operations. Yuma is the only county that all three main tributaries of the Republican River run through…

Running out of options

Most of the irrigation shuttering has to happen near the South Fork in Yuma and Kit Carson counties. Despite the river conservation district and federal government offering to pay farmers who participate, just a third of the 10,000-acre goal has been met as of Jan. 6, 2022.

A booming market for irrigated crops, like corn and wheat, over the last two years made it hard to convince farmers to exchange those profits for the irrigation-shutoff payments.

Last month, the river conservation district board voted to more than double yearly water use fees so that they could also significantly increase the amount they offer to farmers who stop irrigating around the South Fork. Several board members of the groundwater districts Midcap manages also sit on the river district board and helped make that decision.

So now, someone farming 100 acres would have to pay $45,000 to irrigate for 15 years instead of the $21,750 they paid before the fee increase. If that farmer’s land is within a mile of the South Fork and they enter the program to totally retire the land for 15 years, they would now get paid more than $67,000 instead of $52,875.

“They’ve known that they’ve needed to retire them for eight to 10 years,” Midcap said. “But the actual process of getting the fee increased has taken at least nine months.”

Part of the reason for the hold-up, several local officials told KUNC, is that the conservation board members are often farmers and ranchers themselves. So they struggle to make decisions that could hurt them and their neighbors financially…

[Note] Midcap later made a point to say that he has hope because the county can sustain itself on the remaining groundwater for at least another century…

Midcap is confident that enough irrigated acres will be shut down to keep the state in compliance with the 2024 deadline. But there’s a second deadline: another 15,000 acres must shut down by 2029. He’s less confident about that…

“But we’re between a rock and a sword. There is no other option,” said Deb Daniel, Republican River Water Conservation District manager. “If we don’t get this done, the state of Kansas could virtually force our state engineer to shut off irrigated ag in northeast Colorado, and we can’t let that happen.”

Interest in irrigation-shutoff programs has already sharply increased since the district increased the payments it offers, she added…

The actions needed to fulfill the compact, protect the river and keep the agricultural economic backbone of these communities strong can intersect, she said, but often end up at odds. There are a lot of hard decisions to be made…

She’s inspired by the producers changing their crops to ones that use less water, and by those finding ways to farm without irrigation at all. She’s helping the conservation district, county government and Colorado Parks And Wildlife working on a $40 million plan to get water flowing through the South Fork around Bonny Reservoir again.

But, Daniel admits, the river will likely never return to its former glory. At this point, it’s all just mitigating losses.

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

Two dwindling river basins, one solution: Pay farmers and ranchers to use less #water — #Colorado Public Radio

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

Farmers and ranchers in two different river basins in Colorado are facing rapidly approaching deadlines to reduce their water use. The reductions are necessary to maintain interstate river agreements preserve underground water supplies.

The state wants to pay farmers and ranchers to stop irrigating some of their acreages to help keep more water in the ground. Gov. Jared Polis’ budget proposal for next year includes $15 million of COVID relief funds to fund such a program.

These river basins have their own legal arrangements and are managed by different rules. State agriculture commissioner Kate Greenberg said the solution for both areas is fewer irrigated acres.

Greenberg said the northeastern region needs to stop irrigating 10,000 acres by the end of 2024 and a total of 25,000 acres by the end of 2029 to stay in compliance with the agreement. So far, only 3,000 acres have been retired, she said.

Farmers and ranchers in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado also need to stop irrigating to preserve that region’s aquifer, said Kevin Rein is the director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources…

For both river basins, taking no action to reduce agricultural water use would mean “dire” consequences, said Kelly Romero-Heany, the assistant director for water at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. In the San Luis Valley, thousands of well users could face water cuts if the river basins don’t meet their goals. Those cuts could include local water utilities.

Greenberg, the state agriculture commissioner, supports the funding outlined in Polis’s budget. But she doesn’t want the water cuts to hurt agricultural production.

Greenberg says some of that funding could also be used to teach, train and equip farmers and ranchers to use drought-resistant crops and other techniques to farm and raise livestock with less water.

Governor Polis’ Budget Proposal Includes Funds to Preserve Agriculture in #RepublicanRiver and #RioGrandeRiver Basins — #Colorado Department of Agriculture

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Agriculture:

The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) joined together in strong support of $15,000,000 “high impact” stimulus funds in Governor Polis’ FY 2022-2023 budget to preserve agriculture, meet interstate river compact obligations, and reduce rural economic impacts in the Republican and Rio Grande River basins .

“The producers in the Republican and Rio Grande basins are up against quickly approaching deadlines to reduce their water use to avoid mandatory curtailment of groundwater pumping on a scale that could devastate these agricultural communities,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg. “Directing federal funds to water users in these two basins will help ag producers mitigate the costs of reducing water use while ensuring a future for agriculture in these regions. With Governor Polis’s leadership, CDA is working closely with the Department of Natural Resources to ensure these funds support the farmers, ranchers, and other water users who are facing the greatest challenges.”

The Republican and Rio Grande River basins contain some of Colorado’s most productive farm and ranchlands, and agriculture remains the economic backbone of these regions. Governor Polis’s proposal is for $15,000,000 in high impact American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the Task Force on Economic Recovery and Relief to consider.

The Republican River basin needs to come into compliance with its downstream river compact by retiring 25,000 acres of groundwater irrigated land by the end of 2029, 10,000 of which must be retired by the end of 2024. Simultaneously, the Rio Grande basin is facing imminent groundwater curtailment to prevent further drawdown of confined underground aquifers.

Despite efforts by water conservation districts and water users in both basins to solve this challenge on their own, one bad drought year can push back years of progress. This was the case in 2021 and with the high probability of subsequent droughts, more resources are needed to assist local farmers and ranchers in transitioning to a future of greater water scarcity in a way that sustains agriculture, the economy, and local communities.

“With Colorado’s ongoing systemic drought many of our communities are feeling the impact, none more acutely than agriculture, as our water supplies diminish,” said Dan Gibbs, the executive director of the Department of Natural Resources. “Working with the Colorado Department of Agriculture we need to do all we can to preserve our agricultural lands and the rural economies that depend on them. The Governor’s high impact stimulus proposal will help these river basins meet our river compact obligations and protect our groundwater resources while ensuring agriculture continues in these productive regions of Colorado.”

If passed by the legislature, this additional funding will augment local and federal conservation incentive programs to ensure the retirement of groundwater pumping is voluntary, compensated, and on a scale that minimizes disruption to agricultural production while still meeting Colorado’s compact obligations.

Agriculture generates nearly $370 million worth of ag products in the seven Colorado counties the Rio Grande supplies with water. Staple crops include barley, oats, hay, and potatoes. Colorado’s Eastern Plains are home to nine of the state’s top ten agricultural counties in terms of value of agricultural products sold, with the majority of crops grown used to feed livestock. The Republican River Basin produces nearly $1.4 billion in agricultural products, including corn, wheat, cattle, and hogs.

To find more information about the governor’s budget proposal visit the Office of State Planning and Budgeting website.

Opinion: #Nebraska’s proposed #RepublicanRiver Basin transfer could reshape #Kansas resources — The Kansas Reflector

A Blue Heron hunts the banks of the Republican River. (Shawna Bethell)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Shawna Bethell is a freelance essayist/journalist covering the people and places of Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.

I’m not a fish person. They aren’t even on my radar until my nephew catches them, cleans them, and fries them up into a fabulous meal with hushpuppies and slaw. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the role they play in both our natural ecosystems and in the Kansas economy via the sport fishing industry. I understand, too, that both hang in the balance depending on decisions being made north of our state border.

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

Under the Republican River Compact, Kansas is considered both an upstream and downstream state. Born on the eastern [plains] of Colorado…the Republican River flows east across the plains, tipping our northwest corner before entering Nebraska. There the river continues eastward until it drops south again, re-crossing our border and eventually emptying into Milford Reservoir before finally meeting up with the Smoky Hill River in Junction City to create the Kansas River.

The 1934 compact was supposed to ensure allocations of water for each state through which the river flows. However, historically, both Colorado and Nebraska have — at times — overused their shares.

In an effort to prevent such occurrences in the future, entities affiliated with water and irrigation districts in Nebraska made a 2018 application to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to transfer water from the Platte River Basin to the Republican River Basin to meet the requirements of allocation. The application was denied due to objections by interested parties, including those of Kansas’ then-Gov. Jeff Colyer, who cited the negative effects of invasive species to our waterways should an inter-basin transfer move forward.

The plan did not die, however, and a revised application was filed. Met again with objections, Nebraska conducted a hearing in July 2021, where it again gathered testimony from concerned parties. According to the agency’s legal counsel, Emily Rose, there is no set date for a final decision.

Like her predecessor, Gov. Laura Kelly also objects to the inter-basin transfer. According to Reeves Oyster, a spokeswoman for the governor: “There are too many potential impacts to the health of our state’s vital natural resources.”

Oyster also said that “as it stands right now, this is a matter that first needs to be addressed in Nebraska. We hope our neighboring state will make the right decision, but should the transfer gain any traction, we will respond and engage accordingly.”

I should hope so.

“Our most pressing concerns are Silver and Bighead Carp and White Perch,” wrote Chris Steffen, aquatic nuisance species coordinator with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. “All three species have proven in Kansas to be incredibly detrimental to the waters they invade and are located within the Platte River near the proposed point of diversion.”

According to Steffen, other states that have seen an influx of these species have experienced declines in their sport fish populations of more than 80%. If the species were allowed to take hold in Lovewell and Milford Reservoirs, it could risk the state’s $210,000 fishing industry. Aside from economics, changes to the river’s ecosystem could affect critical habitat for species such as the Shoal Chub and the Plains Minnow, which are already deemed threatened in the state.

“Kansas Wildlife and Parks has been working diligently to prevent the spread and limit the impact of aquatic invasive species,” Steffen wrote. “This project would undermine those efforts and place our natural resources at risk.” 

Last spring I traveled to Nebraska, where I spent a morning at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary that sits along the Platte. Eagles and herons hunted the shallows, while the songs of meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds pierced the air.

According to Audubon’s website, the Platte River is also critical habitat for endangered and iconic species, including the piping plover and the sandhill crane, and like the Kansas department, they and their partners have invested heavily to preserve their state’s natural resources. Reducing water flow via a transfer would alter the ecology of nesting grounds and food sources relied upon by both native and migratory birds. Although the sanctuary is not in Kansas, as residents of the Plains, we need to recognize that the entire eco-region and its wildlife are treasures to protect.

In that light, I encourage our current administration to stay informed and ready to engage as they have said they would. Not only for the state’s economic benefit, but for the assurance that the progress we’ve made so far in preserving and protecting our natural assets is sustained and encouraged hereafter.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

The Republican River Water Conservation District meeting draws crowd to discuss new rates — The #Burlington Record

North Fork Republican River via the National Science Foundation.

From The Burlington Record (Cheri Webb):

One of the meeting rooms at the Burlington Community and Education Center filled up as farmers, ranchers, landowners, bankers and concerned citizens – not just from Kit Carson County, but surrounding counties and states – filed in. They were there to listen and ask questions of the representatives of the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD).

The meeting was set to inform the public of recently approved resolutions by the RRWCD that changes the rates to be paid for conservation contracts in the South Fork Focus Zone (SFFZ). It was facilitated by Deb Daniel, general manager of RRWCD; Steve Kramer, conservation committee chairman; and Rod Lenz, board chairman.

The trio took turns laying the groundwork of how in 2016 Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska came together as the Republican River Compact Administration and agreed to a resolution giving 100% credit from Colorado’s Compliance Pipeline, allowing it to apply to Colorado’s obligations under the compact. However, in exchange for this, Colorado had to agree to retire 25,000 acres in the South Fork Focus Zone by the end of 2029, with 10,000 of those having to be retired by the end of 2024.

If the goal of retiring the 10,000 acres by 2024 and 25,000 by 2029 is not met, Kansas or Nebraska could terminate the agreement, cutting the 100% credit down to 22% credit. This would be disastrous for the whole area, landowner or not, because it would put all large capacity wells at risk of being shut down. This would include irrigation, commercial and municipal wells within the Republican River Basin.

The board then went on to outline their plan to significantly increase payments for retirement of irrigated acres to meet these lofty goals within the SFFZ. However, this did generate some rumblings throughout the crowd as the topic was slightly diverted to how these payments were going to be made.

To offset the additional expenses for the increased payments, the RRWCD is considering increasing the annual water use fee to a total of $30 per irrigated acre in 2022. This is doubling the fee that all consumers are currently being charged, while only the ones within the SFFZ will be getting the increased payments.

One member of the crowd, in a question/statement put it into layman’s terms, “So basically everyone on the inside of the zone pays the same as everyone outside the zone, but the wells outside the zone aren’t eligible for the sweet new deals.”

Daniel responded, noting the effort to determine what people think their water is worth, “We know it’s not ideal, nothing is going to be. However, expediency is key here.”

[…]

The RRWCD will be holding several more meetings throughout the month of Sept., to discuss the matter. They will be in Yuma on Sept. 21 at Quintech at 1:30; in Stratton at the community building on Sept. 22 at 1:30; in Cheyenne Wells at the fairgrounds on Sept. 28 at 1:30; and at the Idalia school on Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

Crops Struggle As A Record-Dry Summer Follows A Record-Wet Spring For Parts Of The Eastern Plains — Colorado Public Radio

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

Colorado’s Eastern Plains saw a lot of rain in the spring, which helped half of the state escape drought.

Summer was a different story. Many areas got much less rain than normal, and some spots around Washington and Yuma counties recorded their lowest amount of precipitation on record.

Courtesy of Russ Schumacher, from West Wide Drought Tracker

Now drought has started to creep back in.

State climatologist Russ Schumacher said a weather station in Akron recorded its second-wettest spring, followed by the driest summer recorded there.

Joel Schneekloth, a regional water resource specialist with Colorado State University Extension, said if the extra spring moisture had been met with average summer rainfall, it would have been a “fantastic” year for many crops.

Schneekloth said the “saving grace” of this summer for the plains was the wet spring and closer-to-normal temperatures meant farmers used just a little more water than average. He said that made the biggest difference compared to historically dry summers in years like 2012 and 2002…

The wet spring meant most corn growers in Washington County will likely have a better year than they did in 2020, Schneekloth said. The county’s average corn crop yielded around 15 bushels per acre in 2020, but that average could increase to 35 this year.

What’s hurting the most this summer is proso millet, which was the third-largest crop for Washington County, according to 2017 data from the USDA.

“In our area for the most part, it’s a disaster,” Schneekloth said.

The millet is planted in early June, and the area’s last good rain was weeks before that. Schneekloth said the shallow roots failed in the dry soil. Those dry soils will have a long-term effect going into the fall because they will make planting wheat before the winter tough, Schneekloth said. He hopes some rain will fall before then…

Ron Meyer, an agronomist for Colorado State University Extension, said the extreme rain helped some crops on the Eastern Plains.

Meyer worried there wouldn’t be any wheat to harvest after a dry fall and winter in 2020 and into 2021. But the moisture got the wheat-growing again in March, which resulted in an above-average crop.

Once it stopped raining again in the summer, spring-planted crops like corn, sunflower and millet are now struggling.

Crop residue. Photo credit: Joel Schneekloth

Meyer said the dry summer shows why it’s important for farmers and ranchers to adapt to a warming climate. One way is through “banking” soil moisture by adopting practices that promote soil health and reduce tilling, as well as using drought-adapted varieties of crops to improve their chances of having a good harvest in extreme conditions.

#RepublicanRiver district hosts meetings on water user fees — The #LaJunta Tribune-Democrat

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

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Candace Krebs):

The Republican River Water Conservation District is hosting a series of meetings this week to discuss changes in rates paid for conservation contracts along the South Fork. Due to a 2016 resolution approved by the Republican River Compact Administration, Colorado was granted 100% credit for water delivered by the compact compliance pipeline now located in northeastern Colorado. In exchange for this, Colorado agreed to retire up to 25,000 acres in the South Fork Republican drainage area. The agreement requires 10,000 acres be retired by the end of 2024 and the remaining 15,000 acres by the end of 2029. To offset the added expense for increased conservation payments, the RRWCD is considering increasing the annual water use fee to a total of $30 per irrigated acre next year. This increase would be on the 2022 tax-roll and would be payable in early 2023. The last informational meeting on the topic is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Burlington Event Center.

Whooping Cranes Celebrate American Wetlands Month at Restored #Nebraska Wetland — Farmers.gov

Photo credit: Farmers.gov

Here’s the release from Farmers.gov (Joanna Pope):

Nebraska isn’t known as a destination for celebrities, but for wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers, Nebraska had a visit from a few “A-list” celebrities recently – just in time for American Wetlands Month.

Haven for Migrating Birds

Trumbull Basin, a wetland located in Adams County in central Nebraska, was graced with the presence of four Whooping Cranes who stopped at the wetland during their migration north.

The Whooping Crane is one of the world’s most endangered species. There are currently just over 800 of these birds on earth.

Trumbull Basin, the wetland where these rare birds called home for 11 days, is in the heart of a unique geographic area known as the Rainwater Basin.

Four Whooping Cranes recently stopped at Trumbull Basin during their migration north. Photo courtesy of David Baasch and the Crane Trust via Farmers.gov

The Rainwater Basin is a complex of wetlands covering portions of south-central Nebraska. The area is also part of the migration route known as the Central Flyway. In spring, birds that have wintered on the Gulf Coast and across Texas and Mexico funnel into this 150-mile-wide area over central Nebraska that contains thousands of wetlands.

The wetlands provide habitat for migrating birds. Despite being critical to migrating and local wildlife species, the Rainwater Basin wetlands have been greatly reduced from their historic numbers.

Restoring the Basin

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Nebraska works closely with the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, a non-government organization that works with landowners who voluntarily restore wetlands on their land. The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, in cooperation with NRCS, helped restore the Trumbull Basin wetland.

“Seeing Whooping Cranes use one of the wetlands that a group of Nebraska landowners worked so hard to restore is extremely exciting and also really gratifying,” said Andy Bishop, coordinator for the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture.

Landowners Frank Hill, Larry Rouse, Don Cox, and Leo Pavelka worked with NRCS Resource Conservationist Ken Franzen and other partner agencies to help restore the large wetland near Trumbull, Nebraska. Photo taken in 2004 by Joanna Pope, NRCS.

At 465 acres Trumbull Basin is one of the largest privately owned wetlands in the Rainwater Basin. This wetland was restored through the former Wetlands Reserve Program, a voluntary NRCS conservation program that helped landowners protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. Landowners can do this now with Wetland Reserve Easements through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. Across the country, more than 5 million acres have been enrolled in easements.

When this project was initiated back in the late 1990s, there were five landowners who each owned a portion of Trumbull Basin. Initially this project started with the goal to better manage irrigation water to improve cropping potential, but the landowners soon realized there wasn’t much they could do to improve the area’s cropping capability. The alternative to farming such a wet area was to work with NRCS to restore the wetland through WRP.

“Our programs are a great tool for farmers to explore when a piece of their operation isn’t meeting their needs, and they want to find a different way to manage their land,” said Jeff Vander Wilt, acting state conservationist for NRCS in Nebraska. “In the case of Trumbull Basin, this resulted in converting poorly producing cropland into critical habitat for one of the world’s most endangered species.”

The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture worked with landowners Don and Shanda Cox on a large wetland restoration project just north of Hastings, Nebraska. Photo taken in 2011 by Joanna Pope, NRCS.

An Ideal Wetland Habitat

Restoration was an incremental process beginning in 1999, with the last tract enrolled into WRP in 2006. Thanks to the landowners working with conservation agencies, including NRCS, the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, Nebraska Game and Parks, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Trumbull Basin was restored.

The restoration required removing 66,000 cubic yards of sediment from the wetland, filling a large concentration pit, and removing nearly 1.5 miles of berms surrounding the wetland. This work restored how the wetland originally functioned in the landscape, by allowing water to flow back into the wetland where it could provide habitat, prevent flooding, improve water quality, and recharge ground water.

The continued management of Trumbull Basin has helped maintain this site as ideal wetland habitat for migrating birds. Photo courtesy of David Baasch and the Crane Trust.

Since the wetland was restored, additional steps have been taken to ensure it continues to function. A management plan was developed that included grazing, prescribed burns, herbicide treatments, and tree cutting. The continued management of Trumbull Basin has helped maintain this site as ideal wetland habitat.

“Seeing wildlife use this wetland 15 years after it was first restored is extremely rewarding,” said Andy. “It shows we’re doing something right by helping landowners create and manage the type of habitat these extremely rare animals need to make their long journey.”

Unprecedented 21st century #drought risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains — ScienceAdvances

Click here to read the article:

Abstract
In the Southwest and Central Plains of Western North America, climate change is expected to increase drought severity in the coming decades. These regions nevertheless experienced extended Medieval-era droughts that were more persistent than any historical event, providing crucial targets in the paleoclimate record for benchmarking the severity of future drought risks. We use an empirical drought reconstruction and three soil moisture metrics from 17 state-of-the-art general circulation models to show that these models project significantly drier conditions in the later half of the 21st century compared to the 20th century and earlier paleoclimatic intervals. This desiccation is consistent across most of the models and moisture balance variables, indicating a coherent and robust drying response to warming despite the diversity of models and metrics analyzed. Notably, future drought risk will likely exceed even the driest centuries of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (1100–1300 CE) in both moderate (RCP 4.5) and high (RCP 8.5) future emissions scenarios, leading to unprecedented drought conditions during the last millennium.

INTRODUCTION
Millennial-length hydroclimate reconstructions over Western North America (1–4) feature notable periods of extensive and persistent Medieval-era droughts. Such “megadrought” events exceeded the duration of any drought observed during the historical record and had profound impacts on regional societies and ecosystems (2, 5, 6). These past droughts illustrate the relatively narrow view of hydroclimate variability captured by the observational record, even as recent extreme events (7–9) highlighted concerns that global warming may be contributing to contemporary droughts (10, 11) and will amplify drought severity in the future (11–15). A comprehensive understanding of global warming and 21st century drought therefore requires placing projected hydroclimate trends within the context of drought variability over much longer time scales (16, 17). This would also allow us to establish the potential risk (that is, likelihood of occurrence) of future conditions matching or exceeding the severest droughts of the last millennium.

Quantitatively comparing 21st century drought projections from general circulation models (GCMs) to the paleo-record is nevertheless a significant technical challenge. Most GCMs provide soil moisture diagnostics, but their land surface models often vary widely in terms of parameterizations and complexity (for example, soil layering and vegetation). There are few large-scale soil moisture measurements that can be easily compared to modeled soil moisture, and none for intervals longer than the satellite record. Instead, drought is typically monitored in the real world using offline models or indices that can be estimated from more widely measured data, such as temperature and precipitation.

One common metric is the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) (18), widely used for drought monitoring and as a target variable for proxy-based reconstructions (1, 2). PDSI is a locally normalized index of soil moisture availability, calculated from the balance of moisture supply (precipitation) and demand (evapotranspiration). Because PDSI is normalized on the basis of local average moisture conditions, it can be used to compare variability and trends in drought across regions. Average moisture conditions (relative to a defined baseline) are denoted by PDSI = 0; negative PDSI values indicate drier than average conditions (droughts), and positive PDSI values indicate wetter than normal conditions (pluvials). PDSI is easily calculated from GCMs using variables from the atmosphere portion of the model (for example, precipitation, temperature, and humidity) and can be compared directly to observations. However, whereas recent work has demonstrated that PDSI is able to accurately reflect the surface moisture balance in GCMs (19), other studies have highlighted concerns that PDSI may overestimate 21st century drying because of its relatively simple soil moisture accounting and lack of direct CO2 effects that are expected to reduce evaporative losses (12, 20, 21). We circumvent these concerns by using a more physically based version of PDSI (13) (based on the Penman-Monteith potential evapotranspiration formulation) in conjunction with soil moisture from the GCMs to demonstrate robust drought responses to climate change in the Central Plains (105°W–92°W, 32°N–46°N) and the Southwest (125°W–105°W, 32°N–41°N) regions of Western North America.

RESULTS
We calculate summer season [June-July-August (JJA)] PDSI and integrated soil moisture from the surface to ~30-cm (SM-30cm) and ~2- to 3-m (SM-2m) depths from 17 GCMs (tables S1 and S2) in phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) database (22). We focus our analyses and presentation on the RCP 8.5 “business-as-usual” high emissions scenario, designed to yield an approximate top-of-atmosphere radiative imbalance of +8.5 W m−2 by 2100. We also conduct the same analyses for a more moderate emissions scenario (RCP 4.5).

Over the calibration interval (1931–1990), the PDSI distributions from the models are statistically indistinguishable from the North American Drought Atlas (NADA) (two-sided Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, p ≥ 0.05), although there are some significant deviations in some models during other historical intervals. North American drought variability during the historical period in both models and observations is driven primarily by ocean-atmosphere teleconnections, internal variability in the climate system that is likely to not be either consistent across models or congruent in time between the observations and models, and so such disagreements are unsurprising. In the multimodel mean, all three moisture balance metrics show markedly consistent drying during the later half of the 21st century (2050–2099) (Fig. 1; see figs. S1 to S4 for individual models). Drying in the Southwest is more severe (RCP 8.5: PDSI = −2.31, SM-30cm = −2.08, SM-2m = −2.98) than that over the Central Plains (RCP 8.5: PDSI = −1.89, SM-30cm = −1.20, SM-2m = −1.17). In both regions, the consistent cross-model drying trends are driven primarily by the forced response to increased greenhouse gas concentrations (13), rather than by any fundamental shift in ocean-atmosphere dynamics [indeed, there is a wide disparity across models regarding the strength and fidelity of the simulated teleconnections over North America (23)]. In the Southwest, this forcing manifests as both a reduction in cold season precipitation (24) and an increase in potential evapotranspiration (that is, evaporative demand increases in a warmer atmosphere) (13, 25) acting in concert to reduce soil moisture. Even though cold season precipitation is actually expected to increase over parts of California in our Southwest region (24, 26), the increase in evaporative demand is still sufficient to drive a net reduction in soil moisture. Over the Central Plains, precipitation responses during the spring and summer seasons (the main seasons of moisture supply) are less consistent across models, and the drying is driven primarily by the increased evaporative demand. Indeed, this increase in potential evapotranspiration is one of the dominant drivers of global drought trends in the late 21st century, and previous work with the CMIP5 archive demonstrated that the increased evaporative demand is likely to be sufficient to overcome precipitation increases in many regions (13). In the more moderate emissions scenario (RCP 4.5), both the Southwest (RCP 4.5: PDSI = −1.49, SM-30cm = −1.63, SM-2m = −2.39) and Central Plains (RCP 4.5: PDSI = −1.21, SM-30cm = −0.89, SM-2m = −1.17) still experience significant, although more modest, drying into the future, as expected (fig. S5).

Fig. 1 Top: Multimodel mean summer (JJA) PDSI and standardized soil moisture (SM-30cm and SM-2m) over North America for 2050–2099 from 17 CMIP5 model projections using the RCP 8.5 emissions scenario.
SM-30cm and SM-2m are standardized to the same mean and variance as the model PDSI over the calibration interval fromthe associated historical scenario (1931–1990). Dashed boxes represent the regions of interest: the Central Plains (105°W–92°W, 32°N–46°N) and the Southwest (125°W–105°W, 32°N–41°N). Bottom: Regional average time series of the summer season moisture balance metrics from the NADA and CMIP5models. The observational NADA PDSI series (brown) is smoothed using a 50-year loess spline to emphasize the low-frequency variability in the paleo-record. Model time series (PDSI, SM-30cm, and SM-2m) are the multimodel means averaged across the 17 CMIP5models, and the gray shaded area is the multimodel interquartile range for model PDSI.

In both regions, the model-derived PDSI closely tracks the two soil moisture metrics (figs. S6 and S7), correlating significantly for most models and model intervals (figs. S8 and S9). Over the historical simulation, average model correlations (Pearson’s r) between PDSI and SM-30cm are +0.86 and +0.85 for the Central Plains and Southwest, respectively. Correlations weaken very slightly for PDSI and SM-2m: +0.84 (Central Plains) and +0.83 (Southwest). The correlations remain strong into the 21st century, even as PDSI and the soil moisture variables occasionally diverge in terms of long-term trends. There is no evidence, however, for systematic differences between the PDSI and modeled soil moisture across the model ensemble. For example, whereas the PDSI trends are drier than the soil moisture condition over the Southwest in the ACCESS1-0 model, PDSI is actually less dry than the soil moisture in the MIROC-ESM and NorESM1-M simulations over the same region (fig. S7). These outlier observations, showing no consistent bias, in conjunction with the fact that the overall comparison between PDSI and modeled soil moisture is markedly consistent, provide mutually consistent support for the characterization of surface moisture balance by these metrics in the model projections.

For estimates of observed drought variability over the last millennium (1000–2005), we use data from the NADA, a tree-ring based reconstruction of JJA PDSI. Comparisons between the NADA and model moisture are shown in the bottom panels of Fig. 1. In the NADA, both the Central Plains (Fig. 2) and Southwest (Fig. 3) are drier during the Medieval megadrought interval (1100–1300 CE) than either the Little Ice Age (1501–1849) or historical periods (1850–2005). For nearly all models, the 21st century projections under the RCP 8.5 scenario reveal dramatic shifts toward drier conditions. Most models (indicated with a red dot) are significantly drier (one-sided Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, p ≤ 0.05) in the latter part of the 21st century (2050–2099) than during their modeled historical intervals (1850–2005). Strikingly, shifts in projected drying are similarly significant in most models when measured against the driest and most extreme megadrought period of the NADA from 1100 to 1300 CE (gray dots). Results are similar for the more moderate RCP 4.5 emissions scenario (figs. S10 and S11), which still indicates widespread drying, albeit at a reduced magnitude for many models. Although there is some spread across the models and metrics, only two models project wetter conditions in RCP 8.5. In the Central Plains, SM-2m is wetter in ACCESS1-3, with little change in SM-30cm and slightly wetter conditions in PDSI. In the Southwest, CanESM2 projects markedly wetter SM-2m conditions; PDSI in the same model is slightly wetter, whereas SM-30cm is significantly drier.

Fig. 2 Interquartile range of PDSI and soil moisture from the NADA and CMIP5 GCMs, calculated over various time intervals for the Central Plains.
The groups of three stacked bars at the top of each column are from the NADA PDSI: 1100–1300 (the time of the Medieval-era megadroughts, brown), 1501–1849 (the Little Ice Age, blue), and 1850–2005 (the historical period, green). Purple and red bars are for the modeled historical period (1850–2005) and late 21st century (2050–2099) period, respectively. Red dots indicate model 21st century drought projections that are significantly drier than the model simulated historical periods. Gray dots indicate model 21st century drought projections that are significantly drier than the Medieval-era megadrought period in the NADA.

When the RCP 8.5 multimodel ensemble is pooled together (Fig. 4), projected changes in the Central Plains and Southwest (2050–2099 CE) for all three moisture balance metrics are significantly drier compared to both the modern model interval (1850–2005 CE) and 1100–1300 CE in the NADA (one-sided Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, p ≤ 0.05). In the case of SM-2m in the Southwest, the density function is somewhat flattened, with an elongated right (wet) tail. This distortion arises from the disproportionate contribution to the density function from the wetting in the five CanESM2 ensemble members. Even with this contribution, however, the SM-2m drying in the multimodel ensemble is still significant. Results are nearly identical for the pooled RCP 4.5 multimodel ensemble (fig. S12), which still indicates a significantly drier late 21st century compared to either the historical interval or Medieval megadrought period.

Fig. 3 Same as Fig. 2, but for the Southwest.

Fig. 4 Kernel density functions of PDSI, SM-30cm, and SM-2m for the Central Plains and Southwest, calculated from the NADA and the GCMs. The NADA distribution (brown shading) is from 1100–1300 CE, the timing of the medieval megadroughts.
Blue lines represent model distributions calculated from all years from all models pooled over the historical scenario (1850–2005 CE). Red lines are for all model years pooled from the RCP 8.5 scenario (2050–2099 CE).

With this shift in the full hydroclimate distribution, the risk of decadal or multidecadal drought occurrences increases substantially. We calculated the risk (17) of decadal or multidecadal drought occurrences for two periods in our multimodel ensemble: 1950–2000 and 2050–2099 (Fig. 5). During the historical period, the risk of a multidecadal megadrought is quite small: <12% for both regions and all moisture metrics. Under RCP 8.5, however, there is ≥80% chance of a multidecadal drought during 2050–2099 for PDSI and SM-30cm in the Central Plains and for all three moisture metrics in the Southwest. Drought risk is reduced slightly in RCP 4.5 (fig. S13), with largest reductions in multidecadal drought risk over the Central Plains. Ultimately, the consistency of our results suggests an exceptionally high risk of a multidecadal megadrought occurring over the Central Plains and Southwest regions during the late 21st century, a level of aridity exceeding even the persistent megadroughts that characterized the Medieval era.

Fig. 5 Risk (percent chance of occurrence) of decadal (11-year) andmultidecadal (35-year) drought, calculated from the multimodel ensemble for PDSI, SM-30cm, and SM-2m.
Risk calculations are conducted for two separate model intervals: 1950–2000 (historical scenario) and 2050–2099 (RCP 8.5). Results for the Central Plains are in the top row, and those for the Southwest are in the bottom row.

DISCUSSION
Within the body of literature investigating North American hydroclimate, analyses of drought variability in the historical and paleoclimate records are often separate from discussions of global warming–induced changes in future hydroclimate. This disconnection has traditionally made it difficult to place future drought projections within the context of observed and reconstructed natural hydroclimate variability. Here, we have demonstrated that the mean state of drought in the late 21st century over the Central Plains and Southwest will likely exceed even the most severe megadrought periods of the Medieval era in both high and moderate future emissions scenarios, representing an unprecedented fundamental climate shift with respect to the last millennium. Notably, the drying in our assessment is robust across models and moisture balance metrics. Our analysis thus contrasts sharply with the recent emphasis on uncertainty about drought projections for these regions (21, 27), including the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report (28).

Our results point to a remarkably drier future that falls far outside the contemporary experience of natural and human systems in Western North America, conditions that may present a substantial challenge to adaptation. Human populations in this region, and their associated water resources demands, have been increasing rapidly in recent decades, and these trends are expected to continue for years to come (29). Future droughts will occur in a significantly warmer world with higher temperatures than recent historical events, conditions that are likely to be a major added stress on both natural ecosystems (30) and agriculture (31). And, perhaps most importantly for adaptation, recent years have witnessed the widespread depletion of nonrenewable groundwater reservoirs (32, 33), resources that have allowed people to mitigate the impacts of naturally occurring droughts. In some cases, these losses have even exceeded the capacity of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two major surface reservoirs in the region (34, 35). Combined with the likelihood of a much drier future and increased demand, the loss of groundwater and higher temperatures will likely exacerbate the impacts of future droughts, presenting a major adaptation challenge for managing ecological and anthropogenic water needs in the region.

MATERIALS AND METHODS
Estimates of drought variability over the historical period and the last millennium used the latest version of the NADA (1), a tree ring–based reconstruction of summer season (JJA) PDSI. All statistics were based on regional PDSI averages over the Central Plains (105°W–92°W, 32°N–46°N) and the Southwest (125°W–105°W, 32°N–41°N). We restricted our analysis to 1000–2005 CE; before 1000 CE, the quality of the reconstruction in these regions declines.

The 21st century drought projections used output from GCM simulations in the CMIP5 database (22) (table S1). All models represent one or more continuous ensemble members from the historical (1850–2005 CE) and RCP 4.5 (15 models available) and 8.5 (17 models available) emissions scenarios (2006–2099 CE). We used the same methodology as in (13) to calculate model PDSI for the full interval (1850–2099 CE), using the Penman-Monteith formulation of potential evapotranspiration. The baseline period for calibrating and standardizing the model PDSI anomalies was 1931–1990 CE, the same baseline period as the NADA PDSI. Negative model PDSI values therefore indicate drier conditions than the average for 1931–1990.

To augment the model PDSI calculations and comparisons with observed drought variability in the NADA, we also calculated standardized soil moisture metrics from the GCMs for two depths: ~30 cm (SM-30cm) and ~2 to 3 m (SM-2m) (table S2). For these soil moisture metrics, the total soil moisture from the surface was integrated to these depths and averaged over JJA. At each grid cell, we then standardized SM-30cm and SM-2m to match the same mean and interannual SD for the model PDSI over 1931–1990. This allows for direct comparison of variability and trends between model PDSI and model soil moisture and between the model metrics (PDSI, SM-30cm, and SM-2m) and the NADA (PDSI) while still independently preserving any low-frequency variability or trends in the soil moisture that may be distinct from the PDSI calculation. The soil moisture standardization does not impose any artificial constraints that would force the three metrics to agree in terms of variability or future trends, allowing SM-30cm and SM-2m to be used as indicators of drought largely independent of PDSI.

Risk of decadal and multidecadal megadrought occurrence in the multimodel ensemble is estimated from 1000 Monte Carlo realizations of each moisture balance metric (PDSI, SM-30cm, and SM-2m), as in (17). This method entails estimating the mean and SD of a given drought index (for example, PDSI or soil moisture) over a reference period (1901–2000), then subtracting that mean and SD from the full record (1850–2100) to produce a modified z score. The differences between the reference mean and SD are then used to conduct (white noise) Monte Carlo simulations of the future (2050–2100) to emulate the statistics of that era. The fraction of Monte Carlo realizations exhibiting a decadal or multidecadal drought are then calculated from each Monte Carlo simulation of each experiment in both regions considered here. Finally, these risks from each model are averaged together to yield the overall risk estimates reported here. Additional details on the methodology can be found in (17).

UPPLEMENTARY MATERIALS
Supplementary material for this article is available at http://advances.sciencemag.org/cgi/ content/full/1/1/e1400082/DC1

Fig. S1. For the individual models, ensemble mean soil moisture balance (PDSI, SM-30cm, and SM-2m) for 2050–2099: ACCESS1.0, ACCESS1.3, BCC-CSM1.1, and CanESM2.

Fig. S2. Same as fig. S1, but for CCSM4, CESM1-BGC, CESM-CAM5, and CNRM-CM5.

Fig. S3. Same as fig. S1, but for GFDL-CM3, GFDL-ESM2G, GFDL-ESM2M, and GISS-E2-R.

Fig. S4. Same as fig. S1, but for INMCM4.0,MIROC-ESM, MIROC-ESM-CHEM, NorESM1-M, and NorESM1-ME models.

Fig. S5. Same as Fig. 1, but for the RCP 4.5 scenario.

Fig. S6. Regional average moisture balance time series (historical + RCP 8.5) from the first ensemble member of each model over the Central Plains.

Fig. S7. Same as fig. S6, but for the Southwest.

Fig. S8. Pearson’s correlation coefficients for three time intervals from the models over the Central Plains: PDSI versus SM-30cm, PDSI versus SM-2m, and SM-30cm versus SM-2m.

Fig. S9. Same as fig. S8, but for the Southwest.

Fig. S10. Same as Fig. 2, but for the RCP 4.5 scenario.

Fig. S11. Same as Fig. 3, but for the RCP 4.5 scenario.

Fig. S12. Same as Fig. 4, but for the RCP 4.5 scenario.

Fig. S13. Same as Fig. 5, but for the RCP 4.5 scenario.

Table S1. Continuous model ensembles from the CMIP5 experiments (1850–2099, historical + RCP8.5 scenario) used in this analysis, including the modeling center or group that supplied the output, the number of ensemble members, and the approximate spatial resolution.

Table S2. The number of soil layers integrated for our CMIP5 soil moisture metrics (SM-30cm and SM-2m), and the approximate depth of the bottom soil layer.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

Master irrigators share learning to conserve at #OgallalaAquifer Summit — The Ag Journal

From The Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

One farmer claimed to have learned more in one day of master irrigator training than he had in five years of farming on his own.

For another, the light bulb came on when he realized by making one simple change he could save $10,000 a year.

Colorado Master Irrigator program manager Brandi Baquera was thrilled to share those glowing endorsements during a panel presentation at the virtual Ogallala Aquifer Summit in late March. She always believed the program’s “one-stop shop” format was exactly what the region’s irrigated farmers needed.

The first class of the master irrigator program, which was held a little over a year ago, offered 32 hours of instruction to 25 producers who collectively farm 20,000 acres across multiple counties in the Republican River Basin…

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.

While program participation is currently limited to the Republican Basin, Baquera is eager to see the concept spread and get adopted by other advisory teams and coordinators across the state…

How to conserve water, without putting farmers out of business or harming the local economy, has always made it difficult to translate talk into action.

“Conservation has been a conversation out here for so long,” Baquera said. “It’s not for lack of trying, it’s just finding the right formula. It’s about connecting all the dots.”

Farmers taking the training don’t just sit through a class on theory; they learn about water use efficiency practices and technologies immediately applicable to their farms.

The curriculum is developed by an advisory committee consisting of local experts, with emphasis on the unique features of the basin. Participants are awarded a $2,000 stipend, along with a package of additional incentives that include free energy audits, discounts from local businesses and service providers, and prioritization for cost-share grants through the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Most importantly, it emphasizes peer-to-peer interaction, discussion and learning…

The point of the program is that using less groundwater doesn’t necessarily mean lower yields or lower profits, it’s more a matter of understanding the tools available and knowing how to use them, she said.

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

Further #drought improvements for #Colorado’s eastern plains, mountains — The Kiowa County Press

From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):

Additional moisture following a major snowstorm two weeks ago has provided additional drought relief to portions of Colorado’s eastern plains and mountain areas according to the latest update from the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending March 23, 2021.

The most notable change appeared in southwest El Paso County, where extreme drought decreased two categories to moderate conditions. Southern Teller and a small portion of northern Pueblo counties experienced a similar two category improvement.

Elsewhere in El Paso, Elbert, Lincoln, Pueblo, Prowers and Crowley counties, extreme drought moved into the severe category. Extreme conditions also decreased in Baca and Las Animas counties.

Central Kiowa County remained in extreme drought, while a small area of extreme conditions in the northwest of the county moved to severe.

Colorado Drought Monitor March 23, 2021.

Areas of abnormally dry conditions expanded to replace moderate drought in the San Luis Valley and northern Colorado. Abnormally dry conditions also appeared in southern Yuma and eastern Kit Carson counties.

No improvement was noted in western Colorado, which has been dominated by extreme and exceptional drought for months.

Recent heavy snowfall brought snow water content close to average for mid-March across most of Colorado despite the ongoing areas of significant drought.

Colorado Drought Monitor March 16, 2021.

Overall, 15 percent of the state is in exceptional drought, unchanged from the prior week. Extreme drought fell from 24 percent to 17, while severe conditions dropped to 30 percent from 33. Moderate drought increased from 24 to 30 percent, while abnormally dry conditions increased from four to seven percent, offsetting areas of more significant drought. None of Colorado is free from drought. Percentages do not total 100 due to rounding.

Projects throughout the Western United States receive $42.4 million in grants from @USBR to conserve and use #water more efficiently

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation is awarding $42.4 million in grants to 55 projects throughout 13 states. These projects will improve the water reliability for these communities by using water more efficiently and power efficiency improvements that water supply reliability and generate more hydropower. The projects are anticipated to conserve more than 98,000 acre-feet of water per year.

“Improving water and energy efficiencies is one way Reclamation is using its resources to provide communities in the West the ability to be resilient to climate change, because conserving water is also saving energy,” said Bureau of Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton.

These grants support President Biden’s new Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. These grants will help increase resilience to the impacts of climate change and conserve water.

The selected projects are in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Projects include canal lining and piping to reduce seepage losses; installation of advanced metering, automated gates, and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems to improve water management; and programs in urban areas to install residential water meters.

The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation located in central Washington will receive $570,965 to convert more than 15,000 feet of earthen canals to PVC pipe. The project will improve water use efficiency and reliability through optimal flow rates, reduced leakages and operational losses. The project is expected to result in an annual water savings of 1,504 acre-feet remaining in the system supporting the other needs within the irrigation project.

The Greenfields Irrigation District in Teton County, Montana, will receive $1.9 million to replace a concrete drop structure with an 11-foot diameter penstock and turbine with a planned capacity of 2,400 kilowatts. The project is also expected to save 1,190 acre-feet of water currently lost to seepage. The water saved will remain in the Sun River, improving flows for fish and recreation.

In California, near the Arizona border, the Bard Water District will receive $1.1 million to complete a canal lining and piping project. The project is expected to result in annual water savings of 701 acre-feet, which will remain in the Colorado River system for other uses. Once completed, the project will also better position farmers to work with Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program to improve on-farm irrigation systems.

Some projects complement on-farm irrigation improvements that can be carried out with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to accomplish coordinated water conservation improvements.

“Infrastructure modernization is critical to enable agricultural producers to make additional improvements on their land,” said Astor Boozer, Regional Conservationist for NRCS’s western operations. “Using EQIP-WaterSMART Initiative assistance to reduce water losses and use irrigation water efficiently allows farmers to complement WEEG funded projects and to conserve additional water for prolonged droughts.”

Learn more about all the selected projects at http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/weeg/. For project descriptions click here. Here are a few:

Colorado River Indian Tribes, 73-19L-1 Canal Lining Project
Reclamation Funding: $209,182 Total Project Cost: $443,229

From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

The Colorado River Indian Tribes, located in western Arizona, will line 3,985 feet of the currently earthen 73-19L-1 canal reach of the Colorado River Irrigation Project with a geosynthetic membrane covered with shotcrete. This stretch of the canal has been identified as having the most significant seepage rate of all 232 miles of canals in the Colorado River Irrigation Project. The project is anticipated to result in annual water savings of 267 acre-feet currently lost to seepage. This area of Arizona is vulnerable to drought, having experienced drought conditions for the past 19 years, and the Tribes rely on the Colorado River as their sole source of water. The water conserved through the project will be utilized by the Tribes primarily to meet demands on the Reservation, within the limits of their existing water rights…

City of Aspen, Aspen Maroon Creek Penstock Lining Project
Reclamation Funding: $480,232 Total Project Cost: $3,001,452

A headgate on an irrigation ditch on Maroon Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

The City of Aspen will line approximately 6,235 feet of existing concrete pipe that carries water from Maroon Creek to its raw water storage reservoir and will also install a 400-kilowatt hydroelectric generation facility. The City does not currently have a large storage reservoir like most local water systems, and supplies are direct-flow water rights which are directly impacted by seasonal fluctuations and environmental conditions. The project will result in annual water savings of 360 acre-feet currently lost through the existing pipeline. Water savings will be used to meet existing municipal demands and to reduce diversions and allow for increased instream flows in Maroon Creek…

Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District, Superior Canal Delivery Efficiency Improvement Project
Reclamation Funding: $2,000,000 Total Project Cost: $4,507,591

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

The Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District, located in south-central Nebraska, will construct two new diversions for the lower Superior Canal. The District holds storage rights in Harlan Reservoir, approximately 50 miles upstream of the Superior Diversion structure. Currently, much larger than required volumes of water must be released from the reservoir to overcome canal losses incurred delivering water to the users at the end of canal, which results in end-of-canal spills. The District will install two gallery wells in the north bank of the Republican River to supply water to the lower portion of the Superior Canal instead of transporting these supplies through the entire length of the canal. The gallery wells will be linked to the District’s main office through automation for instantaneous control of the pumps to increase system efficiency. Once complete, the project is expected to result in annual water savings of 3,400 acre-feet that will remain in the Harlan Reservoir and be made available in times of shortage, thereby reducing the District’s diversions from the Republican River. The project builds on efforts to more effectively manage operations of Harlan County Reservoir and the overall water supplies of the basin, with the goal of improving the flexibility and reliability of Republican River Compact compliance activities for Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, and the various federal and local water interests in the basin…

Bard Water District, Concrete Lining of the Acoma Lateral & Decommissioning of the Titsing Sub-Main with New Pipeline (Phase 4)
Reclamation Funding: $1,117,994 Total Project Cost: $2,235,988

The Colorado River Delta via the Sonoran Institute

The Bard Water District, located in southern California near the Arizona border, will line 5,550 feet of the currently earthen Acoma Lateral with concrete and decommission the 2.5-mile Titsing Sub- Main to install a 36-inch diameter pipeline. The project is expected to result in annual water savings of 701 acre-feet, which is currently lost to seepage, evapotranspiration, and operational losses. Conserved water will remain in the Lower Colorado River System and can be used by other water users during drought years and in times of shortage, including the Quechan Indian Reservation. Once completed, the project will allow farmers to work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program to improve irrigation systems.

#Nebraska expects to meet #RepublicanRiver pact with #Kansas — #Kearney Star-Herald

From The Associated Press via The Kearney Star-Herald:

Todd Siel with the Lower Republican Natural Resources District said he expects the state will be able to meet the terms of the Republican River compact next year without putting additional restrictions on irrigation or pumping additional water into the basin.

Siel told the Kearney Hub that Harlan County Lake is still mostly full thanks to the extremely wet weather of 2019, and that is a major factor in helping Nebraska comply with the river pact next year.

The Republican River Compact allocates the waters of the basins between the states of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas.

Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado have fought for decades over water entitlements provided under the compact. The compact has resulted in lawsuits among the states, which regulate access to the water.

The compact signed in 1943 gives Nebraska the rights to 49 percent of the river’s water, while Kansas receives 40 percent and Colorado gets 11 percent. The Republican River originates in Colorado, crosses the northwestern tip of Kansas into Nebraska, then runs through Nebraska before re-entering Kansas through its northeastern corner.

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

Unusual conditions make for ‘different year,’ Brush hay producer says — The #FortMorgan Times

From The Fort Morgan Times (Sara Waite):

A combination of conditions have made it “a different year” for agriculture, according to Brush-area producer Dan Kendrick.

Kendrick has plenty of experience to make that assessment. A Morgan County native, he grew up in ag and, after what he calls a “hiatus” from the industry after college, when he spend 14 years in the lending industry, he’s been a producer for the past 20 years. His operation includes growing hay and corn, some custom farming, and raising sheep and cattle. He also works in risk management for AgWest Commodities.

Kendrick said hot, dry and windy conditions in June impacted his crops, and there wasn’t enough water in the river to go around. It wasn’t the first drought the veteran farmer has experienced – he recalled 2012 was the last really dry spell — but “it’s never fun,” he said.

Drought conditions have been felt by farmers across the state.

According to a Denver Post article in August, this year’s wheat harvest was one of the smallest the state has seen in the past decade. The lack of water, and its impact on rangeland, was forcing ranchers in the state to consider cutting their herd sizes.

Fred Midcap, a Wiggins-area farmer, told The Denver Post he thought the northeastern plains had received about 14 inches of snow over the past winter, a steep decline from the 40 inches it usually gets. Yearly average rainfall is around 13 inches; Nick Midcap, Fred’s son and a partner in the family farm, estimated the area had seen just 6 to 7 inches of total precipitation.

The Post reported that wheat yield was also down, with the USDA putting Colorado at 30 bushels of wheat per acre this year, compared to 49 bushels per acre last year…

In northeast Colorado, most of the area is experiencing severe drought, with extreme drought in portions of Washington and Yuma counties. Northwest Logan County is under moderate drought.

Kendrick said that in addition to drought, another weather-related phenomenon impacted his hay production this year, albeit in a much less significant way. Smoke from Colorado wildfires have obscured the sky off and on over the summer and into the fall. It was especially hazy the week he did his mid-summer cutting, and the hay took longer to dry and “bleached out” during the process.

His experience was in line with what Dr. Joe Bummer, a forage specialist with the Colorado State University Extension, surmised could happen. He said unless smoke is extremely dense, it’s unlikely to affect the plant’s photosynthesis – the process plants use to absorb sunlight and convert carbon dioxide and water into nutrients — but he could see it slowing the drying process a bit.

“The delayed drying would decrease the quality to some degree as there is still some respiration in the cut plants until they reach 40% or less water content,” he said.

The result, he thought, could be a slight decrease in quality, although he said the only way to be sure would be to test the hay and see how it compares to previous years.

West Drought Monitor October 27, 2020.

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