Collaboration will yield a lot more South Platte River water for Nebraska than trying to finish a ditch that’s been abandoned for more than a century. That was the consensus at a freewheeling panel discussion in Sterling Monday afternoon as Nebraska Sen. Theresa Thibodeau met with water experts from Colorado to learn more about the water that flows into her state across the state line near Julesburg.
Thibodeau is a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in Nebraska. Her visit was prompted a proposal by incumbent Gov. Pete Ricketts to finish digging the Perkins County Canal from the South Platte River near Ovid to a reservoir somewhere in Nebraska. The canal is allowed under the terms of the South Platte River Compact of 1923, and can divert up to 500 cubic feet per second out of the river. But without the canal, Nebraska can’t exercise that water right…
The panel consisted of Thibodeau, Bruce Gerk, a member of the South Platte Roundtable, Jim Yahn, manager of the Prewitt and North Sterling reservoirs, Don Chapman, manager of Riverside Irrigation District near Sterling, and Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platter Water Conservancy District. Among the dozen or so attendees were Colorado Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, former state senator and agriculture commissioner Don Ament, Gene Manuello, vice president of the LSPWCD, and Logan County Commissioner Byron Pelton. During Monday’s discussion, Thibodeau made it clear that Nebraskans will do whatever is necessary to protect the water they now get and that they have a right o in the 1923 compact…
Yahn. Chapman and Frank gave Thibodeau a short course on Colorado’s water reality. The most important point, and one they stressed repeatedly, is that return flow and seepage from irrigation in Colorado is what makes the South Platte the year-round river it is today. Sonnenberg pointedly asked the panel what would happen to the multitude of water augmentation projects that operate during the winter months along the lower Colorado reach of the river if Colorado had to try to deliver 500 cubic feet per second into the Perkins Canal. Chapman said it was “very likely” that those projects, which replace water drawn out by pumps during the irrigation season, would be harmed, leading to curtailment of pumping. It also would probably diminish the return flow that ends up in Nebraska. Manuello said one of the worst myths about the river is the amount of water that flows out of Colorado. He said that, while it’s true spring runoff and occasional flooding send large amounts of water downstream, those events are of short duration and probably wouldn’t be available for use in the Perkins Canal.
Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District based in Sterling, shared the bill with his board of directors during their regular meeting [February 8, 2022]. The board later voted to support the bill.
The bill specifically lists two intended purposes of the prioritization – to “(increase) the beneficial consumptive use of Colorado’s undeveloped waters to which Colorado is entitled under the South Platte River Compact,” and to “reduce reliance on transmountain diversions.”
According to the bill, the CWBC would create a construction fund into which any money appropriated by the General Assembly for water projects would be held. Interest on the investments from the fund would revert back into the fund, and unexpended funds would not be returned to the legislature at the end of the year.
In addition, when allocating money for water storage projects, CWBC would give projects in the South Platte Basin top priority.
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.
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.
A South Platte River Water Update will be held in Brush on Wednesday [January 12, 2022]. The half-day program includes updates on the Master Irrigator Program, the Northern Integrated Supply Project, salinity in the South Platte and the Platte Valley Water Partnership project.
The update will be held at the Riverview Event Center, 19201 County Road 24, near Brush. It will begin at 8:50 a.m. and run until noon. Lunch will be served.
The Colorado Master Irrigator program offers farmers and farm managers advanced training on conservation- and efficiency-oriented irrigation management practices and tools. The program is the product of efforts led by several producers, district management representatives, and others interested in conserving groundwater in eastern Colorado. The program is modeled on the award-winning Master Irrigator program created and run since 2016 by the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in the Texas panhandle.
Greg Peterson of the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and Roxy McCormick, Master Irrigator in the Republican River Basin, will present the information.
[Brad] Wind, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, will provide an update on NISP. Construction has been under way for several month on the project, which will provide about 40,000 acre-feet of new, reliable water supply. The project consists of two reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, a forebay reservoir, three pump plants, pipelines to deliver water for exchange with two irrigation companies and for delivery to participants, and improvements to an existing canal to divert water off the Poudre River near the canyon mouth.
Grady O’Brien, CEO of Neirbo Hydrology, will present information on salinity in the lower reaches of the South Platte River. Salinity has been a growing problem as urban development and agricultural irrigation have added to the river’s saltiness. The water doesn’t taste salty – it contains only 0.12 percent salts compared with ocean water’s 3.5 percent – but the increasing salinity does have a negative impact on the soil. Salt in the soil suppresses the level of potassium, which is necessary for plants to take up nitrogen and create new plant material.
Old-fashioned flood irrigation used to leach the salts out of the soil, but more efficient irrigation methods don’t put enough water on the ground to do that. And, while the amount of salt in the river at Sterling seems miniscule, it is nearly twice the amount in the Denver area, just above Broomfield, and more than six time the salinity of the river above Denver.
Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, will talk about the Platte Valley Water Partnership. It is a joint water supply project by the LSPWCD and the Parker Water and Sanitation District to use a new water right that the two entities are developing along the South Platte River near Sterling.
The project will use new and existing infrastructure to store and transport water for agricultural use in northeastern Colorado and municipal use along the Front Range. The partnership involves the phased development of the water right. The early phases would involve a pipeline from Prewitt Reservoir in Logan and Washington counties to Parker Reservoir, which supplies the City of Parker. Later developments would see a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir near Iliff on land owned by Parker, and a 72,000-acre-foot reservoir near Fremont Butte north of Akron. A pipeline, pump stations, and treatment facility will also be built as part of the project.
Anyone wanting to attend the update presentations can register by contacting Madeline Hagan, firstname.lastname@example.org (970) 427-3362 or Amber Beeson, email@example.com (970) 571-5296.
Colorado’s agriculture industry saw COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror in 2021 and focused on securing a future for farmers and ranchers. As if low commodity prices and rising input costs weren’t enough, ag folks – especially in the livestock sector – saw themselves beset by even more challenges.
Colorado’s livestock industry staged a statewide celebration in March as thousands of Coloradans feasted on beef at an estimated 100 events across the state.
The events were held as a protest against Gov. Jared Polis’ proclamation recognizing the national MeatOut observance on March 21. MeatOut is a national movement to reduce or eliminate animal protein from Americans’ diet.
Sterling’s Meat-In event was conceived by Jason Santomaso, hosted by Sterling Livestock Commission Co. and the Santomaso family, and drew approximately 2,400 people to dine on all-beef hamburgers and bratwursts. They also bid on a wide range of items to raise funds for the Santas of Sterling Miracle Letter program. The event raised in the neighborhood of $130,000, some of which the Santas turned back to help a family in need.
At the time, Gov. Polis was already trying to mend fences after backlash from his MeatOut proclamation. On March 12 the Colorado Livestock Association was notified that Polis had signed a proclamation naming March 22 Colorado Livestock Proud Day.
The governor had another opportunity to support the livestock industry in Colorado, and didn’t hesitate to grab it. At the end of March, as if to nail down his credibility among stockmen, Polis issued a strongly-worded statement opposing the proposed Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation initiative, nicknamed PAUSE, saying it would destroy the state’s livestock industry and devastate Colorado’s economy.
Livestock producers claimed that, if passed, PAUSE would criminalize many widely accepted animal husbandry practices necessary for successful livestock production. The question, officially known as Initiative 16, passed muster with the state’s Title Board, but that decision was appealed by a coalition of agricultural organizations. In June, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously struck down the initiative, saying it didn’t meet statutory requirements.
Landowners suffered another setback at the hands of the Colorado General Assembly when Colorado’s conservation easement fix bill failed get needed support.
Senate Bill 21-033, Sponsored by Sterling’s Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, would have created a new state income tax credit for certain taxpayers who were denied state income tax credits for conservation easements donated between 2000 and 2013 if the IRS allowed a federal income tax deduction for the same donation.
The bill would have helped landowners who donated development rights on their properties by setting aside $149 million from the state treasury to pay for the conservation easement tax credits rejected by the Colorado Department of Revenue more than a decade ago.
Sonnenberg and his allies had shepherded the bill, seen by many as the last chance to correct a gross injustice, through six committee hearings and a Senate floor vote before it arrived in the House Appropriations Committee to be referred to the House floor for final vote. On the last day of the legislative session, however, Democrats on the committee killed the bill with a 7-4 party line vote…
Water continued to be an issue of contention in 2021 with two steps forward and one step backward. The forward steps were in the formation of a partnership between the Parker Water and Sanitation District and the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District to develop a new water right in the lower South Platte. But a lawsuit filed against the LSPWCD, if successful, would probably end that partnership.
In September, LSPWCD and PW&SD issued a joint press release announcing the formation of the Platte Valley Water Partnership, a joint water supply project to use a new water right that the two entities own along the South Platte River near Sterling.
The project will make use of new and existing infrastructure to store and transport water for agricultural use in northeastern Colorado and municipal use along the Front Range. The partnership involves the phased development of the water right. The early phases would involve a pipeline from Prewitt Reservoir in Logan and Washington counties to Parker Reservoir, which supplies the City of Parker. Later developments would see a 4,000 acre-foot reservoir near Iliff on land owned by Parker, and a 72,000 acre-foot reservoir near Fremont Butte north of Akron. A pipeline, pump stations, and treatment facility will also be built as part of the project.
Two months later, however, a Colorado taxpayer group filed a class action lawsuit in the 13th Judicial District Court in Logan County to try to overturn a mill levy increase by the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District. The increase was primarily to help pay the District’s share of the cost of developing a new water right and building infrastructure for the Platte Valley Water Partnership project.
The Public Trust Institute, a Colorado-based public interest law firm, and the National Taxpayers Union Foundation of Washington, D.C., filed the lawsuit on behalf of an ad hoc group of taxpayers in Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick and Washington counties. Jim Aranci of Crook, Charles Miller, Jack Darnell and William Lauck of Morgan County and Curtis Werner of Merino are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Besides the water district, the defendants include the county treasurers of the four counties, who collected the taxes and handed the funds over to the district.
The suit was filed, the plaintiffs said, because although LSPWCD voters relieved the district of the requirements of the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, the district still promised to go to the public for a vote to raise taxes. They maintain that raising the district mill levy from 0.5 mill to 1 mill violates that promise.
The district argues that it was authorized to levy up to 1 mill when it was created in the 1960s, but had never done so because it wasn’t needed. Now that it’s needed, the district says, the 1964 statute forming the district supersedes TABOR and levying the full mill without a vote is legal.
Big Colorado water diversion projects itching to get going on long-sought dam and pipeline dreams are rushing to get first in line for thirsty Douglas County’s $68.2 million in federal stimulus money.
Drinking water dams and pipelines have joined smaller-scale local water treatment and sewage projects, for totaling $247 million of the $280 million in overall stimulus requests in Douglas County so far, a county spokeswoman said. The other categories making up the remainder of the $280 million in proposals include broadband, economic recovery and mental health delivery.
Some of the biggest requests for Douglas County’s share of American Rescue Plan Act spending come from drinking water developers looking to jumpstart projects that can take decades to complete.
An $828 million, two-reservoir, 125-miles-of-pipeline project led by Parker’s water department wants $20 to 30 million of Douglas County’s stimulus to jumpstart the engineering and environmental work. The project would pull junior water rights off the South Platte River near Sterling in high runoff years, fill the new reservoirs, and pipe drinking water down to high-growth cities such as Parker, Castle Rock and others…
A second big request on Douglas County’s plate is a $20 million bid from Renewable Water Resources, which has raised near-unanimous opposition to its proposal to buy up San Luis Valley groundwater, pipe it over the Front Range, and sell it to drinking water providers in Douglas County and other growing communities…
Douglas County held the first of a planned series of live and streamed town halls discussing the American Rescue Plan requests [December 9, 2021], with staff providing information on each of the $280 million in proposals so far. More town halls are planned for early 2022, county spokeswoman Wendy Manitta Holmes said. County commissioners have months of deliberations to go before they allocate the $68.2 million.
The ambitious, multi-county water projects could be in for disappointment. County officials are not sure yet what restrictions the U.S. Treasury could put on stimulus spending, Holmes said. County staff has asked the Treasury department to provide more guidance on, for example, whether DougCo’s share of the stimulus could be spent in other counties for sprawling projects like the water diversions.
Other, simpler water projects making up the bulk of the $247 million in category requests include water treatment, reservoir and pipeline capacity, and sewage disposal, from Highlands Ranch to Sedalia. Seeking citizen input on the biggest priorities is exactly the reason for the extended town halls, Holmes said…
Parker’s proposal, a joint project with the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District and Castle Rock’s water department, notes that population growth in Parker alone will balloon the city from 60,000 residents to 160,000 in coming years. The South Platte diversions would fill two new reservoirs to be built in farm and ranch country straddling Interstate 76, one called Iliff and the other, in a Phase 2, called Fremont Butte…
As for competition from the San Luis Valley pipeline, Redd said, “We’re not real fans of the project.” There are too many political hurdles to the proposal, and the valley is already suffering from water depletion, Redd said.
A Colorado taxpayer group has filed a class action lawsuit in the 13th Judicial District Court in Logan County to try to overturn a mill levy increase by the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District.
The Public Trust Institute, a Colorado-based public interest law firm, and the National Taxpayers Union Foundation of Washington, D.C., filed the lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of an ad hoc group of taxpayers in Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick and Washington counties. Jim Aranci of Crook, Charles Miller, Jack Darnell and William Lauck of Morgan County and Curtis Werner of Merino are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Besides the water district, the defendants include the county clerks of the four counties, who collected the taxes and handed the funds over to the district.
At issue is the interpretation of a 1996 ballot question in which the LSPWCD “de-Bruced,” or excused itself, as the result of a public vote, from provisions of the TABOR amendment. In that ballot question, the district stated it would seek a public vote in order to raise taxes.
But other wording in that ballot question, and the district’s original mill levy allowance when it was formed in 1964, are at the crux of the conflict. When it was formed, the water conservancy district was allowed by state statute to levy up to 1 mill on property within the district, which includes parts or all of the four counties. The district’s board of directors had previously only asked for 0.5 mill because that was all that was needed.
At the end of 2019, however, the district’s board decided to raise the levy to the statutorily allowed 1 mill for 2020 to, among other things, help fund preparatory work on a project that eventually will help supply both the district and the City of Parker extra water from the lower reaches of the South Platte River. That mill levy was certified by county commissioners in the four counties at that time, and the district began collecting the tax revenues in 2020.
As the district board was planning its 2021 budget in December of 2020, however, a group of taxpayers objected, pointing to the 1996 ballot measure’s final sentence. It reads, “No local tax rate or property mill levy shall be increased at any time, nor shall any new tax be imposed without the prior approval of the voters of the LSPWCD.”
Jim Aranci, a former chairman of the district’s board, said Wednesday that the wording of that 1996 de-Brucing question was quite clear…
Joe Frank, general manager of the conservancy district, said Friday he’d heard rumors of a lawsuit being filed, but was not at liberty to discuss the issue further. He did, however, reaffirm the board’s position that the increase was thoroughly researched in 2019 before it was instituted for the 2020 budget year. He said the district’s legal counsel pointed to other wording in the de-Brucing ballot question: That the district could “utilize the full proceeds and revenues received from every source whatever, without limit.” And those “full proceeds and revenues” included the remaining half-mill originally allowed by statute but never used. In other words, the public vote would only be needed if the district wanted to exceed its original allowance of 1 mill.
Frank reiterated Friday that the board did not take the step lightly, and spent a lot of resources getting the right answers to its questions…
The water district has still been allowed to collect its 1 mill levy, since it was certified for the 2020 budget year. According to Colorado Revised Statute 39-1-111 (3) “If the board of county commissioners … fails to certify such levies to the assessor, it is the duty of the assessor, upon direction of the division of local government, to extend the levies of the previous year …”
Here’s the release from the two entities (Deirdre Mueller):
Parker Water & Sanitation District (PWSD) and the
project to use a new water right that the two entities own along the South Platte River near Sterling, Colo. The announcement kicks off a unique collaboration between a Colorado conservancy district and a municipal water provider.
Known as the Platte Valley Water Partnership, the project will make use of new and existing infrastructure to store and transport water for agricultural use in northeastern Colorado and municipal use along the Front Range. The project will increase the renewable water supply for PWSD’s existing and expanding customer base while preserving and supporting agricultural uses in the South Platte River Basin. This renewable water supply is predominately available during spring runoff and major storm events, and would otherwise leave Colorado.
LSPWCD General Manager Joe Frank said of the agreement, “It’s critical for our community to avoid the buy-and-dry issues that have become commonplace. By working together with Parker Water & Sanitation District on an agreement that meets both of our needs, we’ve found a solution that addresses both agricultural and municipal water shortages without further drying up irrigated agriculture.”
“We look forward to working together with Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District,” said PWSD District Manager Ron Redd. “We’ve been guided by the principles laid out in the Colorado Water Plan; by opening up a dialog we discovered we had many shared values and were able to create a regional solution that benefits us all.”
More information about the Platte Valley Water Partnership and the project agreement can be found at https://www.pwsd.org/PVWP.
According to Thursday’s announcement, the project will make use of new and existing infrastructure to store and transport water for agricultural use in northeastern Colorado and municipal use along the Front Range…
The partnership involves the phased development of the water right. The early phases would involve a pipeline from Prewitt Reservoir in Logan and Washington counties to Parker Reservoir, which supplies the City of Parker. Later developments would see a 4,000 acre-foot reservoir near Iliff on land owned by Parker, and a 72,000 acre-foot reservoir near Fremont Butte north of Akron. A pipeline, pump stations, and treatment facility will also be built as part of the project,
The LSPWCD and PWSD have been in talks with each other and with landowners for several years. Lower South Platte general manager Joe Frank publicly briefed his board of directors in December 2019 about progress on the project and negotiations have been ongoing since then.
The project will be used to capture excess water that would otherwise leave Colorado, primarily during spring runoff and storms. Colorado and Nebraska have an interstate compact that requires a certain amount of water to leave the state for downriver users, but in some cases millions of gallons of water in excess of that escape across the state line.
Frank said Thursday the Platte Valley Water Partnership is a win-win for urban and rural water users…
PWSD District Manager Ron Redd said the project is in line with Colorado’s Water Plan, a 2015 document that provides guidelines for providing an adequate water supply for the state’s growth through 2050.
It’s going to be difficult for legislators to strengthen Colorado’s already strong water anti-speculation laws, but that’s what a study group is looking at.
Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, told his board’s executive committee Tuesday it will be tough for the study group to come up with viable recommendations to the legislature.
The study group was authorized by Senate Bill 20-048 during the 2020 legislative session. The bill “requires the executive director of the department of natural resources to convene a work group to explore ways to strengthen current anti-speculation law and to report to the water resources review committee by August 15, 2021, regarding any recommended changes.”
Frank said the 18-member working group, which has been meeting since November 2020, is “a pretty diverse group,” and that has caused some concerns about the viability of recommendations that it may propose.
“The hard part, in my mind, is how you distinguish between traditional speculation and investment speculation, and how you protect people’s property rights,” Frank said. “How do you tell a landowner who he can and can’t sell his property to? (Some states have) laws about selling (farmland) to people outside the state, but I’ve talked to some (Colorado) tenants whose out-of-state landowners are really good landlords.”
Water speculation is generally thought of as buying water rights without having an immediate beneficial use for the water, hoping to later sell the water for a profit. The concern is that agricultural water would be taken off the land and sold out-of-state. Current water law requires that anyone buying water shares or buying ag land with a water right must have an immediate beneficial use for the water.
That has led to the practice “buy and dry,” in which cities and utilities buy agricultural land and use the water for their own purposes. One example is when Sterling purchased the Scalva Bros. farm in the early 2000s so it could use the farm’s strong water right to augment pumping for municipal use. Although the water is still being used to irrigate crops on the farm, eventually it will have to be taken off the cropland and the land returned to a natural state.
Board member Gene Manuello said anti-speculation legislation can be a double-edged sword. He referred to a 2009 Colorado Supreme Court decision in which the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District and San Juan Water Conservancy District were denied permission to build Dry Gulch Reservoir. Trout Unlimited sued the districts claiming their projections of water needs over the coming 50 years were excessive and amounted to water speculation.
The high court ruled that the Pagosa area water districts, which supply water to nearly all of Archuleta County, had not sufficiently demonstrated a need for the amount of water they claimed, based on projected population growth and water availability over a 50-year planning period…
A report on recommendations from the study group is due in mid-August, Frank said.
In other business Tuesday the executive committee when into executive session to discuss legal and negotiation issues concerning the proposed Fremont Butte project. That project would store excess South Platte River runoff in Prewitt Reservoir and a new reservoir south of there, to later be pumped upstream for use by the Parker Water and Sanitation District.
Chuck Miller of Fort Morgan has been vocal in opposing action by the LSPWCD to raise its mill levy from 0.5 mill to 1 mill for the 2020 budget year and retaining that level for 2021. Miller contends that the increase is a violation of the TABOR amendment to the Colorado Constitution. He and others have appealed to county commissioners in Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick and Washington counties to refuse to certify the water district’s mill levy…
The group asserts that, although the water conservancy district freed itself from the restrictions of the TABOR amendment in 1996, it still promised not to raise taxes without a vote. The district board, however, takes the position that, when it was formed in 1964, it was statutorily authorized to levy up to 1 mill on real property within the district, and the 1996 “de-Brucing” question allows the district the right to levy up to 1 full mill; the public vote would only be needed if the district wanted to exceed its original allowance of 1 mill.
The mill levy must be certified in each of the four counties covered by the district. Only Sedgwick County, where Commissioner Chairman Donald Schneider also is a member of the LSPWCD board of directors, voted to certify the mill levy. Washington County Commissioner LeAnne Laybourn told the Journal-Advocate Thursday morning that, contrary to what was previously reported, the Washington County Commissioners pulled the water district’s mill levy from a group of levies they were to certify.
Miller said he has gotten conflicting answers to questions about who enforces the provisions of the so-called Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a 1992 amendment to the state constitution. TABOR restricts government spending and forbids raising taxes without voter approval.
Colorado Department of Local Affairs spokesperson Brett McPherson told the Journal-Advocate Wednesday that the state has no role in enforcing TABOR.
“TABOR contains the mill levy/tax rate restriction but is locally interpreted and enforced through the courts,” McPherson said. “TABOR is locally enforced by taxpayers, who elect board members and who can also bring a lawsuit against the taxing entity. There is no state agency role in enforcing TABOR.”
According to state statute, if a mill levy is not certified, the county can be instructed to extend the previous year’s mill levy which, in this case, is still 1 mill, since that was certified the previous year.
A fast-growing Douglas County city has filed a new claim for water on the South Platte River, a move that could allow it to boost its future water supplies by some 60 percent.
But the action could also undermine SPROWG, an innovative, collaborative effort by more than a dozen Front Range communities to capture and reuse water on the South Platte River near the Nebraska state line and return it to Eastern Plains farm communities, northern Front Range cities, and the metro area.
Parker’s legal move to claim water rights in the same region, in partnership with the Sterling-based Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, is unfolding just as SPROWG completed a major feasibility study indicating its project could be built for roughly $3.2 billion to $4.2 billion.
Parker’s project, slated to be done in about 10 years, would add 20,000 acre-feet to the city’s current supply of 34,400 acre-feet…
Though SPROWG’s feasibility study has been completed, years of planning lie ahead before the cooperative effort is ready to deliver water, with a completion date yet to be set.
“We are light years ahead of them,” said Ron Redd, manager of the Parker Water and Sanitation District. “We’ve offered to partner on anything they want to do. I hope, especially when it comes to storage, they will want to partner. But we are just way ahead of them.”
The Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, whose boundary encompasses much of the northern Front Range and extends out to the Nebraska border, is alarmed by Parker’s $500 million proposal, saying it violates the spirit of collaborative water planning embodied in SPROWG and that it could dramatically shrink the amount of water available for others at the table.
“It’s disappointing to me,” said Brad Wind, general manager of Northern Water. “SPROWG was initiated as a community effort. We were going to share the good, the bad and the ugly. When one entity files, it’s a much different process to look at community involvement and decide how to share the yield.”
Parker and the Lower South Platte district plan to develop at least 20,000 acre-feet of water for urban use, a number that rises to 30,000 acre-feet when the agriculture component is added in, according to Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte district.
Frank also said Parker’s project is important to northeastern Colorado because it won’t result in a permanent dry-up of farmland and will give farmers in his district a more reliable source of water, helping stabilize farm communities that are already struggling.
Parker’s Redd said he’s hopeful, given the similarities between the two proposals, that a partnership can be developed with the existing SPROWG collaboration.
“I like the idea of controlling our own destiny,” he said. “And right now we’re assuming we’re going it alone. But my hope is they will join us.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
Click here to read the report from the South Platte Regional Opportunites Work Group.
The South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group (SPROWG) Concept will provide water supplies to meet future municipal and agricultural water needs in the South Platte Basin. Several aspects of the SPROWG Concept were collaboratively researched in this feasibility study (Study) including identification of future water demands, strategies for incorporating environmental and recreational enhancements, needed infrastructure, water treatment strategies, potential costs, governance considerations, and communication needs.
Extensive outreach was conducted and included meetings with potential future SPROWG participants and stakeholders and a survey that was sent to over 100 municipal, agricultural, environment, and recreation water users and stakeholders. The results of the outreach informed the types of governance structures that could be viable for a future SPROWG organization, the configuration and delivery goals for SPROWG infrastructure, water treatment strategies needed to provide supplies of suitable water quality, and communication and outreach needs.
Communications and outreach are an important aspect to developing the SPROWG Concept and tailoring it to fit the broadest spectrum of water users and needs. A Communications and Outreach Plan was developed that includes goals, suggested stakeholders, recommended near-term activities, recommended activities to facilitate recruitment of participants, recommended key messages, and metrics to track the success of various types of communication. The Communications and Outreach Plan serves to:
Educate stakeholders and create awareness needed to refine the recommended governance, operational, and infrastructure concepts.
Educate potential SPROWG Concept participants to facilitate recruitment.
Educate ratepayers/taxpayers on the need for the SPROWG Concept and funding.
Continue stakeholder engagement and transparency to build stakeholder support.
The South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group has released the findings of its year-long study to help bridge the water shortage gap in the South Platte River Basin.
SPROWG’s study evaluated four concept alternatives that would use a combination of off-channel water storage at multiple locations, infrastructure and water exchanges to develop additional water supplies from the South Platte River.
The study results were presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board Thursday in Denver.
Joe Frank, General Manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, who oversaw administration of the grant funds that paid for the study, said the purpose of the study was to find as many options as possible that would still be feasible…
The four water supply alternatives evaluated include multiple linked storage facilities capable of holding between 215,000 and 409,000 acre-feet of water at various locations between Denver and the Colorado Nebraska state line. The water would be transported via a pipeline or through “exchanges” or trading water from one location to another. The study’s alternatives are combinations of four water storage projects: Henderson Storage, Kersey Storage, Balzac Storage and Julesburg Storage. Each is named for the approximate location of the storage facility.
Alternative One includes Henderson, Kersey and Balzac; Alternative Two is the same three sites but with different capacities at each site. Alternatives Three and Four include all four sites but, again, each with different capacities. Alternatives Two, Three and Four also include a pipeline from the Balzac site to pump 30 cubic feet per second of water upstream to Denver.
The alternatives seek to efficiently use these sources of in-basin supply without relying on past practices of diverting additional water from the Western Slope or permanently drying up agricultural lands in the South Platte basin…
The SPROWG study, funded in large part by a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, built upon the work of others who had analyzed various strategies that would develop several types of South Platte water supplies to meet multiple benefits.
The conceptual cost estimates for the concepts ranged from $18,400 to $22,800 per acre-foot for raw water and $33,600 to $43,200 per acre-foot for treated water, which are in line with other large regional water projects. These costs included the anticipated water treatment strategies that were evaluated to make the water suitable for potable uses. While the most expensive to build, Alternative 4 had the lowest per acre foot cost of the alternatives because it has the highest yield.
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.
Brad Wind, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District based in Berthoud, and Jim Hall, Northern Water’s senior water resources engineer, briefed the LSPWCD’s board of directors on Northern’s efforts to keep Colorado-Big Thompson water from leaving the Northern District…
Wind told the Lower board that Northern is working to enforce Article 19 of the 1938 contract between Northern Water and the federal government, known as the Project Repayment Contract. That article, one of 27 contained in the contract, specifies that all seepage and return flows from the use of Colorado-Big Thompson project water are reserved to Northern Water and are not to be taken outside the district’s boundaries.
On May 9, Northern adopted a resolution saying it would “take appropriate actions to enforce Article 19 consistent its interpretation of Article 19.”
Wind said the heavy lifting in that effort will be tracking how C-BT water, and resulting seepage and return flow, are used. He used the phrase “colors of water,” which is a concept that holds that, through close monitoring and accounting, mixed waters from various sources actually can be tracked through multiple uses. For instance, water that is native to the South Platte Basin can be accounted differently from C-BT water, which is diverted from the Colorado River into Grand Lake and piped through the Adams Tunnel to Estes Park and held in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake for distribution to C-BT members.
Return flows are water that has been diverted from the river, used to irrigate crops or for municipal use, and either seeps back to the river through the ground or is discharged after treatment. Much of the river’s flow in the lower reaches in late summer and through the winter is from return flows from upstream use. Return flows are crucial to irrigators in Weld, Morgan, Washington, Logan and Sedgwick counties.
“To protect return flows, we have to know what they are,” Wind said. “We have to be able to quantify what return flows are coming from C-BT use and what’s from native water. It’s complicated.”
Hall told the Lower board that there is the danger that “change of use” cases going through Colorado water courts could result in return flows from C-BT water being shipped out of the Northern district in violation of Article 19.
“We’re starting to see change cases on irrigation ditches moving water outside the district boundaries,” Hall said. “That’s why it’s important to track this stuff. It’s easier to track municipal water because we can look at their (wastewater treatment facility) discharges, but it’s harder to prove agricultural return flows.”
Hall said return flows from native water are not subject to Article 19, only C-BT return flows.
Wind said Northern will be watching closely all change of use cases that go through Colorado’s water courts and will continue monitoring water usage in the district to make sure C-BT water doesn’t leave the district.
Authorized and funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the South Platte Master Plan was launched two years ago to find ways to make the river more “flood resilient,” both to handle the flooding as it occurs, with minimal damage to property and structures, and to quickly recover from a flood in the aftermath.
The project area includes 130 miles of the South Platte River from the Weld-Morgan County Line to the Nebraska state line.
Project representatives will present the plan Feb. 12 at the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s board of directors meeting at 9 a.m., then meet with the Logan County Water Conservancy District board at 11 a.m. The plan will be presented again at 1 p.m. at the CSU Engagement Center.
Both conservancy districts are interested in seeing how they can work with the Master Plan…
The LCWCD recently decided to change its focus away from the idea of building a flood control dam across Pawnee Creek. Miller has said the “big project” simply isn’t feasible and may not be for some time. Instead, the district will shift its focus to smaller projects that will mitigate flooding in the immediate future.
The Lower South Platte district, meanwhile, is interested in finding water storage potential and funding for storage projects along the lower reaches of the river.
The meetings on Feb. 12 are public meetings but space is limited in all of the venues.
Brad McCloud, a public relations specialist with EIS Solutions, told the Sterling City Council Tuesday evening that the Logan County Water Conservancy District is shifting its focus away from a single large project to a series of smaller ones.
“There have been a lot of changes over the past two years, so (LCWCD) has re-devined their mission and taken a new direction,” McCloud said. “We’re in the process of developing a master plan to take (the district) to the next level.”
McCloud said the “major project” of building a flood-mitigation dam across Pawnee creek isn’t completely off the table, but it probably won’t be done in the foreseeable future…
The conservancy district was formed in 2000 after flash flooding of Pawnee Creek in the spring of 1997 caused widespread damage in the Sterling area. The district was formed specifically to mitigate flooding in the Pawnee Creek drainage area of Logan and Weld Counties.
The centerpiece of the district’s efforts at that time was a proposed dam 131 feet high and 6,800 feet long across the Pawnee about a mile north of where the creek passes under Colorado Highway 14, 11 miles west of Sterling. In the case of a flood along the order of the 1997 event, which flooded southern parts of Sterling, the dam would hold back about 90,000 acre-feet of water.
During an interview Tuesday, prior to the city council meeting, McCloud and LCWCD General Manager Shane Miller said the “big project” simply isn’t feasible and may not be for some time. While they weren’t specific about what other projects should be done, Miller said the district will shift its focus to smaller projects that will mitigate flooding in the immediate future…
McCloud said the LCWCD hopes to work closely with the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, which is looking into water storage possibilities in the basin. Although LCWCD isn’t legally allowed to store water for irrigation or recreational uses, McCloud said some of its work may fit with projects that would be proposed by Lower South Platte.
LCWCD also will work closely with the sponsors of the South Platte River Master Plan, which was developed in 2017 to find ways to mitigate flooding damage on the river in Morgan, Washington, Logan and Sedgwick counties.
The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s board of directors tentatively accepted the 2019 budget. Technically, the district’s budget will soar to $1.35 million next year, but like the 2018 budget, much of that is in the form of grants for specific water study projects.
The district will manage almost $350,000 in Colorado Water Conservation Board grant funds to create the South Platte Regional Development Concept. The project, being done by the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, would help identify viable water storage projects in the South Platte basin.
Another grant, this one for $236,245 from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, would be used by the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative to find ways to develop infrastructure for water exchanges, primarily when water augmentation plans are involved.
The $1.35 million figure also includes $316,312 in leftover funds from the 2018 budget. Actual operating expenses for the conservancy district are budgeted at just under $760,000 for 2019.
The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District will submit a proposal to act as fiscal agent for the Water Supply Reserve Fund Proposal being drawn up by the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group. That decision came during Tuesday’s meeting of the district’s Executive Committee.
The $390,000 project, described in the nearly impenetrable technical language of water experts, is essentially the next step after the South Platte Storage Study, which was completed late last year.
The study, authorized by the Colorado General Assembly in House Bill 16-1256, looked at the stretch of the South Platte River between Kersey and the Nebraska state line in an attempt to find water storage to fill a crippling water gap that is just 12 years away. According to the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, by 2030 the need for water in Colorado will exceed supplies by 560,000 acre feet, or 182 billion gallons per year, and most of that is here in the South Platte River Basin.
Joe Frank, general manager of the LSPWCD, said the study is good at indicating what can or should be done to meet the growing water gap, but it says nothing about how to do it or by whom. And it’s the “by whom” part that needs to be addressed next, Frank said, because without an entity to fund an promote projects, nothing gets done.
Drawing pipelines and pumps is the easy part, for me, because I’m an engineer,” Frank said. “But we have to figure out who we are, and that’s the hard part. The institutional structure is what we still have to figure out, and that’s a big part of this (new project.)”
The new project first establishes a fiscal agent and project sponsors, initially SPROWG members, to prepare a funding proposal and a work plan. It’s that fiscal agent part that Frank asked his executive committee to consider. LSPWCD was the fiscal agent on the South Plate Storage Study; the job entails making sure funds are paid to the right people at the right time and are properly accounted for.
According to an Outline of Proposed Tasks, the next task – and the one Frank thinks will be most crucial – is to identify or create an organization to support “the development, operation, financing, ownership and governance of the South Platte Basin regional water development concept …”
The district’s board of directors approved the resolutions by a 9-0 voice vote.
The district levies one-half mill on all property within the district, which includes parts of Morgan, Washington, Logan and Sedgwick counties.
The budget itself was formally approved by the board’s executive committee during the November meeting.
For the first time in the district’s history the budget has inched up over the $1 million mark, although a large chunk of that is for grants for specific projects in 2018. The bottom line on the budget is $1,024,992.
The district will use almost $350,000 in Colorado Water Conservation Board and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation funds to help the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative find ways to develop infrastructure for water exchanges, primarily when water augmentation plans are involved.
The budget also contains $269,107 for contingency reserve, a capital reserve of $20,000, and a TABOR reserve fund of $10,000. Subtracting the reserve funds and project grants from the $1,024,877 budget proposal leaves a little more than $376,000 for district operations.
On the revenue side, the district anticipates a 4.3 percent increase in general property tax revenues based primarily on higher valuations for property as opposed to greater value because of development.
The budget includes a separate budget for the Julesburg Recharge Project, which is a subsidiary of the LSPWCD. Although all of the funds for the JRP are contained within the overall LSPWCD budget, they are accounted separately. The JRP began in 1990 as a recharge demonstration project. In 1993 it was incorporated into the LSPWCD as a water activities enterprise. That means participating well users pay for all costs associated with the recharge project and well augmentation while LSPWCD manages the project and provides water and financial accounting for the augmentation plan.
The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s budget will exceed $1 million for the first time in 2018.
The district’s Board of Directors Executive Committee got its first look at the proposed budget during Tuesday’s meeting.
District manager Joe Frank pointed out that the budget is somewhat inflated by two grants totaling more than $341,000 the district has received, one from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and one by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The CWBC grant will be used to match the USBR grant to help develop a marketing plan for the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative.
The district also will enjoy about a 4 percent increase in general property tax, mostly from increased valuations on real estate.
Total increase in the budget is about $70,000, or roughly 6.8 percent over this year’s budget, which also contained large water study project grants.
The Bureau of Reclamation grant of $236,245 is one of nine the bureau awarded earlier this month as part of its WaterSMART Water Marketing Strategies program.
LSPWCD will use the funds to help the NECWC find ways to develop infrastructure for water exchanges, primarily when water augmentation plans are involved…
…pumps and pipelines cost money, Frank said, and a lot of it, and that means heavy participation by everyone who needs water. The “water marketing strategy” the NECWC has in mind would try to expand participation with municipalities and industrial water users who are not yet part of the cooperative.
That’s all part of an effort established by the Colorado Water Plan unveiled in November 2015 to address a looming gap in water supplies. Without water development, the gap between supply and demand in the South Platte River Basin is expected to grow to 196,000 acre feet by 2050. That, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s statement on the grants, “is creating a growing incentive to identify creative solutions, driving up interest in water marketing by multiple types of water users.”
The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s board of directors decided Tuesday to not object to a plan to move the proposed Galeton Reservoir from its original site.
Galeton is part of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s controversial Northern Integrated Supply Project, which would use water from the Cache la Poudre and South Platte rivers to irrigate, provide domestic water, and bolster the Poudre through Fort Collins.
Northern Water originally planned to build the reservoir on the southeast side of Colorado Highway 14 near Galeton, but in the 10 years since the project was proposed Nobel Energy has drilled almost two dozen oil and gas wells in the area. Those wells would have to be capped, at tremendous cost to Northern, in order to use the site for a reservoir.
Northern has applied to have the water rights instead transferred to land on the northwest side of the highway.
LSP board member Brad Stromberger, who also is on the Northern board of directors, said the Berthoud-based water district is “in the design stages” on the project already and plans to begin construction on the reservoir within about five years.
“This is a big project,” he said. “This is a new water source we need.”
The LSP’s water lawyer, Kim Lawrence, had recommended that the district file an objection to Northern’s request. Such objections are commonplace primarily to get access to crucial engineering and financial information about water projects. LSPWCD has previously gone on the record as being entirely in support of NISP, and during Tuesday’s meeting the district’s manager, Joe Frank, cautioned that objecting to the change in the Galeton application could be used by NISP opponents to claim that the lower South Platte doesn’t support NISP.
“We could, potentially, see about 10,000 acre feet of return flow per year from this project,” Frank told the board. “There might be a day here and there when they would take water that might have come down (the South Platte River) but the return flows will more than make up for that.”
After a brief conference call with Lawrence, the board decided to not take any action on the Galeton Reservoir…
The board did, however, vote to file an objection to an application by the Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater Authority to pipe 1,500 acre feet of water from the South Platte River into the off-channel Binder Reservoir, also known as the Brighton Lateral Reservoir. ACWWA wants to use the water to exchange with other water entities along the river. Lawrence’s recommendation to the LSP was to file an objection because the proposed project “affects many (irrigation) ditches in this reach.”
The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s executive committee approved the district’s nearly $1 million budget for 2017 Tuesday morning.
At its October meeting the full board authorized the executive committee to move ahead with formal adoption in November after a public hearing. Board Chairman Ken Fritzler briefly adjourned the executive committee meeting Tuesday to hold a public hearing, but there were no public comments. After re-convening, the attending members adopted the budget.
The bottom line of $995,257 includes a beginning fund balance of $250,885, total tax revenue of $244,104, and two grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board totaling $363,168, which the district will administer. One grant is to help manage the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative and the other is for the year-long South Platte Storage Study.
The other big chunk of revenue, $146,600, comes from the myriad services LSPWCD provides to water users in the area.
On the expenditure side, the largest portions are personnel costs of $254,450 and a contingency reserve of $215,387. The funds shown on the revenue side for the two CWCB grants also show on the expenditure side, since they are merely pass-through funds.
In other business Tuesday, Manager Joe Frank formally notified the committee that the district has selected MWH Global, formerly Montgomery Watson Harza, headquartered in Broomfield, and Leonard Rice Engineers of Denver as contractors on South Platte river storage survey. The survey is a study of water storage potential in the South Platte River basin. It is the first project in eastern Colorado to result from the Colorado Water Plan that was presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper in November 2015.The study is mandated by HB 16-1266, which is the first legislation to emanate from that water plan.
Frank also told the committee that terms for five seats on the district’s governing board will expire at the end of this year. They include two seats in Logan County, two in Morgan County, and one in Sedgwick County. Board members who want to re-apply for their positions must do so in writing by the end of November.
The local water district agreed Tuesday to manage the financial aspects of a study of water storage potential on the South Platte River basin. The study is the first project in eastern Colorado to result from the Colorado Water Plan that was presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper in November 2015.
The study is mandated by HB 16-1266, which is the first legislation to emanate from that water plan.
The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District Board of Directors voted Tuesday to allow the district and its staff to act as “fiscal agent” for the $211,168 study, which is to be completed by November 2017. As fiscal agent, the district will assure that the grant money is paid to the appropriate contractors in a timely manner. In return, it will charge a fee of 5 percent, or about $10,500.
The board also got its first look at a revised version of the scope of work for the study. A primary point of discussion Tuesday was just what part of the basin will be studied. Joe Frank, manager for the district, pointed out that while the law authorizing the study specifies that the study is to “Evaluate sites in the Lower South Platte Basin from Greeley to Julesburg,” it also allows for the inclusion of “promising sites in other parts of the Basin.” However, Frank said, it’s doubtful that many promising sites can be found above Greeley because of population density.
“They’re going to have to narrow it down to ten or so sites, because the grant is only so big,” Frank said. “I think they’re going to have to look at the most promising sites between Greeley and Galesburg.”
The large crowd at Progressive 15’s Water Summit had their fill of water-related information March 28 at the Country Steak-Out in Fort Morgan, but it seemed they were still thirsty for more, asking nearly every speaker lots of questions and seeking more resources.
The speakers addressed a number of different topics, including: potential and currently pending legislation and ballot issues that could affect water law, and weather forecasts and the plan the state is forming for dealing with water for the future.
After Progressive 15 Chairman Barry Gore explained the nonprofit group’s mission as an advocacy agency for its members, Joe Frank from the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District spoke about the history of public trust doctrine and how it could affect Colorado if adopted here…
After a break for lunch, the crowd heard from National Weather Service Senior Hydrologist Treste Huse about weather and flood forecasts for Colorado.
She said that while Morgan County received 300 percent of normal precipitation in 2013, “it’s drying up this year.”
Northeast Colorado could see higher risks of flooding this spring and summer due to higher water tables, reservoirs already at capacity and the melting of a high snow pack. Landslides also could be possible with that flooding.
Huse also said that it was possible that 2014 would have El Nino weather patterns in Colorado, which could lead to wetter than average conditions in the south and far east parts of the state.
Later, former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp, who now is an advisor in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Water Office, spoke about the Colorado Water Plan.
He said that while drought was growing in southeast Colorado, most of the state was not in a drought.
Yet, he recognized that flooding could become an issue again.
“We’re hopeful that the snowpack comes down in an orderly manner,” he said.
The Wiggins Board of Trustees voted to buy a share of the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative during its monthly meeting Wednesday night. That will cost $2,000.
On any one day, an individual or group with an augmentation plan might have more water credits than the person or group can use or less than it needs, and having the option of sharing credits could help those who are part of the cooperative, said agricultural producer Mike Groves. As it is, if a person or group has excess water credits, the individual or group has to just let it go down the river without use, but the cooperative may change that, he noted.
“It’s something that’s never been done before, but I get sick and tired” of seeing water lost because it cannot be used, Groves said.
Members could transfer water credits to help out those who need them, he said.
Even a little bit of water can make a difference at times, Groves said.
The copperative became official as of Jan. 1, after about seven years of work to put it together, he said. So far, a number of people and groups have become members, said Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District. There are two kinds of members: voting and non-voting, which cost $2,000 or $1,000 respectively for shares. That money becomes capital, and would buy one share of cooperative stock, just like other agricultural cooperatives, Frank said.
More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.
Here’s a recap of yesterday’s meeting about the South Platte River Basin groundwater study authorized last session by the legislature [HB12-1278], from Grace Hood writing for KUNC. Groundwater levels are rising, some say, due to the alluvial wells that have been shutdown and augmentation. Here’s an excerpt:
Reagan Waskom is director of the Colorado Water Institute, which hosted the event. He framed the issue this way:
“Are these the only areas in the basin? Is this beginning of a trend toward higher groundwater levels? Are we at the end of something? Was it a blip in time?”
Waskom is working with dozens of scientists, and aggregating data from as far back as the 1890’s to find the answer.
It’s something that matters to farmers like Robert Sakata. Speaking in a facilitated dialogue, Sakata explained he used to own and use wells connected to the South Platte. In the ’70s, he and other junior water rights holders were required to replace the water they used.
“We just felt like it wasn’t economically viable for us as a vegetable farmer to do that,” he said. “Our returns are usually between .5 to 1 percent. That additional cost we just couldn’t justify. So we ended up unhooking the wells.”
Fortunately for Sakata, he also owned surface water rights he could use to irrigate his crops. But other farmers weren’t as lucky. The drought of 2002 and a subsequent state Supreme Court decision in 2006 resulted in thousands of wells being curtailed and about 400 being shut down completely.
“That’s almost the analogy that I see in the state right now is that to make sure we’re not injuring every person along the way, we have to have an oversupply along the whole system,” said Sakata.
Meantime, Joe Frank with the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District spoke of another reality: some of his water rights owners aren’t getting all the water they’re entitled to.
“Going into this next year, if we continue this drought, we’re going to see severe curtailment,” he said. “So ultimately it comes down to water supply. We’re water short in this basin. We need to work together to develop that supply.”[…]
The meeting raised a lot more questions than it answered for the more than 100 who attended. But Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said it was a good beginning.
“Everyone who spoke here today said the big problem was we aren’t taking advantage of our compacts to capture the necessary water that we’re going to need as a state over the next 50 years for agriculture, municipal use.”
Conway is referring to the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), which would build two water storage reservoirs in the region. In recent years it’s become a hotly contested project in the area. Despite the intractable nature of these water debates, the Colorado Water Institute’s Reagan Waskom said he’s determined to make the South Platte River study meaningful.
Two new members joined the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District Board last week, bringing a full board for the first time in several years. Filling the two empty positions are Pete Kohn and Bill Lauck, both of the Brush/Fort Morgan area.
Kohn farms near Brush on a third-generation farm and raises hay, corn and sugar beets. He is married and has two grown daughters and has served on a number of water related boards and committees. He has served on the Fort Morgan Ditch Board since 1997; the Jackson Lake Board since 2003/04; and has served on The Fort Morgan Water Company, which handles the purchase of water by the Pawnee Power Plant. Kohn also has a residential and commercial contracting business…
Bill Lauck also farms with his son in the Fort Morgan/Brush area. He is a member of the Fort Morgan Ditch Board; is president of the Fort Morgan Water Company and serves on the SS Lateral Ditch Board. Lauck has four children and eight grandchildren.
More Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District coverage here.
LSPWCD board member Lou Rinaldo took time to brief the Sterling Rotary about operations recently. Here’s a report from Callie Jones writing for the Sterling Journal Advocate. From the article:</p.
Rinaldo also talked about irrigation wells and how there haven’t been any shut down from Prewitt Reservoir to the state line. Wells are protected because every ditch company has recharge projects, where they replace their consumptive use…
Some of the projects include, for instance, a bunch of places east of Fort Morgan where there has been water and there isn’t water. Rinaldo said you probably won’t see any water in those recharge ponds until the spring, because it may be only 60 days until the water gets back to the river. There are some projects that are 1,200 days before the water gets back to the river.
City Water Superintendent John Turner told the water board during its monthly meeting that an agreement with Quality Water could help the city in the event the supply of water from the city’s treatment plant west of town is somehow shut down. At least one connection already exists between the two water systems, Turner said, and an additional connection would be advisable. The city’s current emergency plan in the event of the loss of its water supply calls for the city to revert to the use of several wells that are still online in the city, Turner said. But the city stopped using those wells because of the high concentration of nitrates, uranium and other contaminants in the water, he noted…
Water board member Bill Baker raised the issue of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, which many Fort Morgan residents support through a mill levy tax. LSP officials made a presentation to the water board last spring, outlining all of the water measuring and data collection the group does, Baker recalled. But he said none of the things the LSP district does have anything to do with the city of Fort Morgan. “Northern (Colorado Water Conservancy District) is our water district as far as I’m concerned,” Baker said. “But I looked at (LSP’s) budget and most of their revenue is our money. I think we should look at withdrawing (from LSP).” Powers pointed out that while individual property owners in Fort Morgan are assessed the mill levy for the LSP water district, Fort Morgan as a city does not “belong” to the district and therefore cannot withdraw…A motion by water board member Jeff Canfield, to ask the council to instruct Wells to look into possible options for withdrawing from the LSP water district, was approved unanimously…
The water board also discussed proposed bylaws governing its structure and function. Although the board has essentially been operating without bylaws since its inception, Wells said the city council approved a resolution this year that all city boards and commissions must have formal bylaws. Some exceptions were made, including the city planning commission, which is governed by state law. One of the elements of the bylaws dictated by the council is term limits. But several members of the water board felt the complex nature of the water issues it deals with make the knowledge and experience of the board members more crucial than on some other city boards, and might qualify it for such an exception. Board member Jim Green said longevity and historical knowledge are especially important on the water board. “That perspective is invaluable,” Green said. “We’re looking at things, projects, plans 20 years from now, but a lot of that depends on things that happened 20, 30, 50 years ago.”
Here’s a recap of Tuesday’s meeting of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, from Judy Debus writing for the Sterling Journal Advocate. From the article:
The board suspended their meeting for a public hearing on the inclusion of a well at the Ovid School District into the LSPWCD plan. The executive committee approved it subject to the approval of a specialty contract with the district. Joe Frank, manager, reported that it was published in the paper and there has been no written or public protests. Receiving no public comment, the board reconvened and moved for the approval of adding the specialty contract. It was approved and placed into the March 10 executive committee meeting minutes…
In his manager’s report, Frank presented information of telemetry remote measurement and reporting. He and Fritzler attended a presentation on the use of that on wells. A possible demo-project is being considered using radios and repeater towers. “The big issue that I was concerned with was if the radios would be reliable,” he said. He and Fritzler also reported that the requirements of manpower and cost for data were concerns, as is long-term maintenance and cost. “The key is for us to find something that really works before someone actually goes out and starts putting this in,” Frank said. There was also discussion of licenses and fees and if that investment should be made now in order to do a demo project. Also discussed was satellite telemetry that might be available through the state. Further investigation into the issue will be made.
The annual Water Festival has been scheduled for May 19 at Northeastern Junior College. Frank reported that there are 475 children are signed up and 22 presenters will be involved.