2017 #coleg: NISP-related bill fails in committee

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The bill would have allowed Northern Water to run Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, water through 12 miles of the Poudre River in Fort Collins and recapture it at the Timnath Reservoir inlet for storage east of Fort Collins.

The bill failed 6-5 last week in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, with Democrats and Republicans voting against it…

Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said the district will still go through with its plan to run 14,000 acre feet of water through the river in Fort Collins with the goal of maintaining flows of 18 to 25 cubic feet per second. He attributed the lack of consensus on the bill to “uneasiness” in the water community about unintended impacts of the legislation.

“We’re still going to do it,” he said of the so-called “conveyance refinement plan.” “We’re just going to look at Plan B, probably.”

Whether Northern Water needs legal permission to carry out the plan remains a “gray area,” Werner said. But he added Northern Water will pursue the plan regardless of whether formal legislation is passed.

Werner wasn’t sure if Plan B would come in the form of another bill or pursuing the plan without legislation. He said Northern Water was trying to pass a bill to make its case “air-tight.”

2017 #coleg: SB17-036 (Appellate Process Concerning Groundwater Decisions) now #Colorado law

Groundwater movement via the USGS

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed several bills into law Tuesday, including one that GOP Sens. Ray Scott and Don Coram have been working on for a few years now.

That measure, SB36, is designed to make it harder for land developers to drag farmers and ranchers through years of court proceedings over groundwater rights disputes.

Under current law, such disputes are handled by the Colorado Groundwater Commission, but appeals to district court can include new evidence not seen by the commission.

The bill gives district judges more discretion to decide what new evidence can be heard in those appeals.

Some opposition to the bill fell away when it was amended to include language that allowed new evidence to be included in an appeal if that evidence was wrongly excluded or could not “in good faith” be presented to the commission.

Scott of Grand Junction and Coram of Montrose said they don’t buy opponents’ contention that the definition of “in good faith” is so broad that it opens the door to any evidence being presented, as is the case now.

“It’s held to a higher legal standard,” Coram said.

“The rules of evidence are very tough,” Scott added. “If they can prove evidence was stuffed in a box somewhere in the basement for the last 50 years and was just found or something like that, it’s still a high bar to reach.”

The two lawmakers said the bill fixes a long-standing problem for poorer ranchers and farmers who found themselves spending more time in court battling well-heeled developers over those water rights.

The Colorado Farm Bureau said the bill will help ensure a fairer and more equitable appeals process.

2017 #coleg: HB17-1289 (State Engineer Rules Historical Consumptive Use)

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Durango Herald (Luke Perkins):

House Bill 1289, which would extend a pilot program that streamlines the assessment of consumptive use and could ease the financial impact on water rights owner by simplifying the process, was heard by the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee Monday. It was laid over until next week while lawmakers consider the impacts of the program.

Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, said the program has proven to be a way to save money on the front end for water rights users in the Arkansas River Valley, where it was first implemented.

But this comes at a cost in the overall amount they can charge for their water rights, as the methods used generally err on the side of caution and underestimate the Historic Consumptive Use by 10-15 percent, Hansen said. “This is in a sense the horseshoes and hand grenades approach.”

In a short term transaction that is not always a drawback beause of the amount saved by not undergoing a full analysis…

Some Republican members of committee didn’t necessarily agree with that and expressed concerns that this would leave farmers losing out on the value of their rights.

They were concerned that it would place additional burden of proof on owners if they believed they didn’t receive a fair share because of the conservative nature of the analysis as opposed to buyers having to prove the engineering analysis was over valuing the rights…

Hansen disagreed, saying the bill doesn’t require the use of the program or say that it must be used by water court when deciding the value of rights.

John Stulp, water policy advisor for Gov. John Hickenlooper, agreed the program isn’t meant to be and end-all answer that would limit water right owners recourse in seeking adequate compensation for their resource…

The aim is to cut down on incidents of “buy and dry,” where a farmer sells his or her water rights to a municipality and loses the resource critical to cultivating the land.

Simplifying the process will make it easier for farmers to lease their water rights over a short term, rather than racking up vast sums of debt from engineering analysis and court costs arguing over the exact consumptive use of their rights.

While it is uncertain if there would be bipartisan support for the bill in the House, it is sponsored by Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, in the Senate.

@JFleck: the paradoxes of irrigation efficiency

All American Canal Construction circa. 1938 via the Imperial Irrigation District

From InkStain (John Fleck):

he University of New Mexico water posse had a great visit yesterday with Christopher Scott, the new director of the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona. Scott spoke a couple of times and met with students at our Community and Regional Planning program, who have been doing a lot of work on wastewater reuse (shoutout to Caroline Scruggs, who’s leading this effort, and who hosted Scott).

Scott talked about the work he’s been doing in this same area, which raises non-trivial questions with deep implications for what happens when you “conserve” water – the fact that the water you “save” was often doing something useful somewhere else, whether you meant it to our not. Like a sewage treatment plant outfall into a river. Or, as from this 2014 paper, water leaking from the unlined All-American Canal on the Lower Colorado River that recharged an aquifer:

@AmericanRivers: Lower #ColoradoRiver most endangered #COriver

Las Vegas circa 1915

From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Brooke Wanser):

The nonprofit American Rivers had placed the entire Colorado River and upper river atop its list of “most-endangered rivers” in previous years. But this is the first time the lower Colorado, which supplies Las Vegas with 90 percent of its water via Lake Mead, has been designated as in danger.

“The main criteria we use is whether there’s a key decision point in the year,” said Amy Kober, a spokeswoman for the group. In the case of the lower Colorado, much of the impact could come from President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, which would cut funds to the Department of Agriculture’s regional conservation partnership program and the Department of the Interior’s WaterSmart program, she said.

Trump also has issued an executive order that would eliminate a 2015 water rule issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which asserted federal power over small waterways like wetlands and streams for the purposes of controlling pollution under the Clean Water Act. The order had no immediate impact but could eventually lead to the rule’s repeal.

But Patricia Mulroy, who has worked within the international water community for 25 years, expressed frustration that the river is being used as “political arrow” to score public relations points.

“There was obviously a lot of emotion in this,” Mulroy, former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said of the river’s appearance atop the list. “It has now created an atmosphere where it will be harder, not easier, to forge the agreements that need to be forged this year on the river.”

Mulroy was referring to a 2012 agreement on the Colorado River between the U.S. and Mexico set to expire at year’s end and continuing negotiations on a drought contingency plan among Nevada, California and Arizona to keep Lake Mead from shrinking enough to trigger a first federal shortage declaration. That would force Nevada, which receives most of its water from the Colorado, and especially Arizona to slash use of river water.

“Those agreements have to be entered into,” Mulroy said.

Despite the political rhetoric, Bronson Mack, a Southern Nevada Water Authority spokesman, said the agency expects the agreements will get done.
“Water cuts across party lines,” Mack said.

Boring machine for Las Vegas lower Lake Mead intake.

Mack said even if water levels do reach shortage, Nevada residents won’t go without water.

“Should Lake Mead get to that severe of an elevation, Nevada has taken steps to ensure that we would be able to access that supply,” he said.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

American Rivers’ annual report, published since 1984, ranks the 10 most threatened rivers nationwide. The group said it tries to spotlight rivers that are subject to influential policy decisions, not necessarily the most polluted.

This year, it chose the lower portion of the Colorado River for greatest attention based on ongoing concerns about dwindling flows due to increasing water consumption and adverse impacts from global warming.

It’s unclear what effect, if any, the spotlighting will have. For decades, all manner of people — federal and state officials, scientists, environmentalists, recreational organizations — have sounded the alarm about drought and excess user demand causing the Colorado’s water levels to keep dropping. Yet relatively little has been done to change those dynamics.

From The Arizona Republic (Brandon Loomis):

American Rivers focused its 2017 report on the part of the river that flows from Glen Canyon Dam and past Arizona, Nevada and California because federal support for water conservation is at a crossroads. The states are counting on federal leadership and financial support for conservation at a time when the Trump administration proposes slashing the Interior Department’s budget up to 15 percent, said Matt Rice, the group’s Colorado River program director.

“There’s a real concern that the new administration has taken their eye off the ball on Colorado River issues,” Rice said.

Some water managers aren’t feeling quite the pressure they once did to reach a shortage-prevention deal thanks to a snowy winter in the Rocky Mountains that has reduced the urgency. But Arizona Department of Water Resources officials say it remains a priority for them because relying on favorable weather isn’t a plan.

The department had sought big cutbacks in consumption this year to keep water levels higher at Lake Mead through 2020. Now, spokeswoman Michelle Moreno said, the wet winter appears likely to have managed that on its own — for now.

The evolving drought plan “must adapt to the new conditions,” Moreno said, perhaps with a goal of forestalling mandatory reductions for even more years. The department is currently reviewing “an appropriate new target date and potential volume of water to get to that end.”

The department will not seek authorization for a drought plan from the Arizona Legislature this year, Moreno said. It previously had planned to do so, but, Moreno said, Central Arizona Project officials determined the state’s conservation proposal was no longer viable. The water delivery proposal has raised concerns about losing out on possible releases from Glen Canyon Dam upstream if the lower-basin states keep too much water in Lake Mead.

The federal government releases extra water through Glen Canyon Dam during wet years like this one to equalize the holdings in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The higher Lake Mead is at the start, the less extra water it gets from Lake Powell that year. The result could be that conserving water in Lake Mead without regard to the year’s weather could actually result in less water filling the reservoir to last through future dry years, CAP Colorado River Programs Manager Chuck Cullom said.

CAP objected to a plan that would designate specific conservation volumes every year instead of parceling the savings out over drier years. But the agency still supports a state effort to save water, Cullom said…

Drew Beckwith, a water policy expert with Western Resource Advocates, said he remains hopeful that Arizona can still reach agreement among various water users this year, even if it can’t get immediate legislative approval. Putting off conservation makes little sense on a river system that is routinely overextended, he said.

“Fundamentally, Arizona is still on the hook first for the largest amount of water (losses) if there’s a shortage in Lake Mead,” Beckwith said…

One alternative to a drought plan is to wait and hope for more wet winters to keep resetting the clock and buoying Lake Mead above elevation 1,075 feet — the level at which a 2007 federal-state agreement starts curtailing Arizona’s water without any compensation.

That’s a plan that American Rivers considers no plan at all. A big snow year in 2011 broke a long string of dry years and raised hopes throughout the basin, Rice noted, but ultimately proved just a blip on the drought chart.

The three lower-river states still consume more than the river can give long-term regardless of any one winter, he said.

Conservation funding isn’t the only requirement for sustainability, Rice said. The Southwest also needs federal leadership to help strike new deals like the one that the last administration made allowing Mexico to store water in Lake Mead and help prevent an earlier shortage that could have affected Arizona, he said.

The Hispanic Access Foundation joined American Rivers in calling on state and federal leaders to keep water in the river and reservoir. Foundation president Maite Arce said the group held a gathering at the Grand Canyon and learned that Latino leaders from Yuma and San Luis feared the loss of river water threatened cultural and economic values, from riverside baptisms to farm jobs.

As a result, the non-profit produced a film, “Milk and Honey,” documenting generations of river users from the area. Its release online coincided with the American Rivers report.

From National Geographic (Alexandra E. Petri):

The Lower Colorado River, which provides drinking water for more than 30 million Americans—including those in major cities like L.A., Las Vegas, and Phoenix—tops the list as the most endangered river this year. Second most endangered is the Bear River in California.

Similar to 2016’s list of the most endangered rivers, water scarcity, rising demand, and climate change put the Lower Colorado and Bear River at risk, says Amy Souers Kober, national communications director for American Rivers.

“The takeaway is that we can’t dam our way out of these problems,” Kober says. “On all of these rivers, we need 21st century water management solutions. We need political support and funding for water conservation.”

The Lower Colorado is challenged with water demands that outstrip supply and effects from climate change, the report says. Trump’s proposed cuts to the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture put the river at risk, the group argues. The reduced funding, if it passes Congress, could eventually lead to cutbacks on water deliveries to Arizona, California, and Nevada in the years ahead.

Additionally, the Lower Colorado is of particular importance to Latino communities, one-third of which live in the Colorado River Basin.

“From serving as the backbone for the agricultural industry to providing a cultural focal point for faith communities, the Lower Colorado River is essential to the livelihood of the Southwest,” said Maite Arce, president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation, in a press statement.

From The Walton Family Foundation (Ted Kowalski):

Two years ago, when the American West was reaching peak drought, The New Yorker published a lengthy story rather depressingly titled, “The Disappearing Colorado River.” The article described a parched river in crisis, its water in such high demand that in most years it runs dry before reaching the Gulf of California.

Because more water is allocated to users than the river provides reliably, “even if the drought ended tomorrow problems would remain,” the story noted.

That admonition is well worth remembering this spring, following a wet winter that produced an above-average snowpack in the Rocky Mountains. In some quarters, the prospect of a robust spring runoff is washing away persistent worries of impending water shortages.

Unfortunately the fundamental problems plaguing the Colorado persist and, if anything, require more immediate attention than ever.

The challenges are laid out in sobering detail in a new report from American Rivers that lists the Lower Colorado River – the section that runs through Arizona, Nevada and California – as the “most endangered” in the nation.

In its annual ranking of rivers in peril, the environmental group said the Lower Colorado has reached a “breaking point” that could “threaten the security of water and food supplies and a significant portion of the national economy.”

As recently as last August, the federal Bureau of Reclamation warned there was more than a 50% chance that water levels on Lake Mead – the Colorado’s measuring stick – would fall low enough to trigger a mandatory shortage declaration that would restrict water use in the lower basin.

While water levels at Lake Mead have recovered by about eight feet from the start of the year, the reservoir is still only 41% full. It’s expected Lake Mead’s level will begin falling again later this year as water is delivered to lower basin states and Mexico.

Adding to the challenges, the report from American Rivers warns that possible funding cuts to important federal programs – including the Bureau of Reclamation’s Water Smart Program and the System Conservation Pilot Program, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program – risks reversing the progress made in recent years to reduce water consumption in the Lower Colorado basin.

Thankfully, there is a path forward that can reduce the threats of a shortage on the Colorado and assure stability and water security for the region’s businesses, agricultural economy and environment.

The most immediate priority for the federal government and the lower basin states – California, Arizona and Nevada – should be the completion of a Drought Contingency Plan to help stabilize water supplies in the Lower Colorado. If successfully negotiated, the states could agree to voluntary reductions of water deliveries if Lake Mead reaches certain critical elevations. This would benefit all of the water users in the Lower Basin because it would assure that there is a plan in place to stabilize Lake Mead if difficult hydrology continues to persist.

“One of the points we want to get across is that this is exactly the right time to push this drought contingency plan across the finish line, because we have a little bit of space with the hydrology this year basin wide,” says Matt Rice, Colorado Basin director for American Rivers.

“The Lower Colorado basin is kind of teetering on the edge. The heavy snowpack might stave off a shortage declaration for a year or two. But one good winter does not stabilize a system.”

In addition to supporting a drought contingency plan, the federal government should also prioritize the renewal of a U.S.-Mexico agreement, which was negotiated in 2012 and is set to expire this December. Under the agreement, both countries share water shortages and surpluses. They work together to conserve water, increase agricultural and municipal water efficiency and improve water management for a variety of purposes including benefiting the environment.

This binational agreement is a vital tool for managing water supply, with Mexico agreeing to receive less water from the Colorado in dry years while being allowed to store some of its water in U.S. reservoirs. No one should underestimate what’s at stake if new water-sharing drought contingency plans are not reached, or shortages are declared.

The Colorado River is indispensable to the prosperity of the Southwest. It provides drinking water to almost 40 million people in several of the country’s fastest-growing cities. It irrigates more than 5 million acres of farmland that grow $600 million worth of crops each year – including about 90% of the winter vegetables grown in the nation.

For native American tribes, it holds sacred and spiritual value. For millions of others, its landscapes inspire reverence.

The river’s problems are significant and can, at times, seem overwhelming. But over the past two decades, by the collective will and cooperation among water users, we’ve started to find ways to address them. Now is not the time to hit the pause button.

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

Republican River Basin by District

From The Grant Tribune (Russ Pankonin):

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

Nebraska requirements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas retains the right to that 17,000 AF.

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

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

Kansas water management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alamosa: 20th annual five-day spring Rio Grande Leaders Course recap

San Luis Valley via National Geographic

From The Alamosa News (Stan Moyer):

Begun in 1998, the presentations by SLV water agency leaders and their longtime legal advisors brought up facts that even those who have been attending Rio Grande Roundtable meetings virtually every month for years were probably not familiar.

The course was held at the Rio Grande Water Conservancy District’s new building at 8805 Independence Way near the Alamosa County administrative facilities.

At least one participant was taking the course for the second year in a row “because there is just so much to absorb,” Frankie Wills, an official of the East Alamosa Water & Sanitation District Board commented.

The fifth day of the Monday-Friday presentations was held the evening of March 31 with a dinner at the Bistro Rialto Restaurant on Main Street in Alamosa, beginning after a social hour with a speech by Chief of Resources Management of Great Sand Dunes National Park Fred Bunch. He far and away took care of any shortage of humor found in previous presentations with rollicking stories, but also a very fact-filled outline of what brought the park into existence, including controversial political issues being solved by a purchase of a Baca Ranch area. Previous owners seemed to be potentially shipping water out of the Valley, and only a combination of forces and decisions brought about by those such as 1998 U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit and then Attorney General of Colorado Ken Salazar helped bring about the existence of the current park that now draws as many as 380,000 annual visitors and has a $28 million yearly economic impact…

An especially enlightening aspect of the Rio Grande National Forest was explained in a presentation Thursday, March 30 by RGNF Forest Hydrologist Ivan Geroy. After explaining the history of its creation over a period going all the way back to federal legislation in the 1890’s and in the first decade of the 20th Century, he emphasized that while the national forest covers 37 percent of the SLV land area,”The primary purpose is to help water management in the entire San Luis Valley.”

Earlier presentations in the course, such as one conducted by Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration official Emma Reesor and Colorado Restoration Foundation’s Andrea Bachman, brought out results of studies, including ones done both in 2001 and 2016 revealing river problems such as degraded habitat, altered hydrology, and extensive erosion, disconnected flood plain, and impaired water quality. Both the McDonald Ditch restoration project were cited as an “excellent sample of beneficial rebuilding,” and the present Del Norte Riverfront Project was noted as a good example of the promise of cooperation between numerous organizations, “including those specific to the town itself, the Del Norte Trail Organization,” to specify one.

Another feature of the course was to have a discourse by Bethany Howell of the Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative on how she leads area tours and school presentations for kindergarten to twelfth grade students throughout the SLV. She noted one comment made by a sixth grader from the Sargent area: “The way water moves is so fascinating and interesting and how it effects [SIC] life is also pretty cool.”

Information given by attorneys Bill Paddock and David Robbins that together covered an entire three-hour session were extremely enlightening. One observation that can be safely made is that on the other four days of the course, all speakers used a large screen to show highlights, while the lawyers did not. Praise has to be given in how thorough the knowledge of each was, helped by 30 to 40 years of legal experience in water law, and exhaustive awareness of how some current water laws and extremely impactful court decisions were made. The upshot is that both were there when these happened, so play-by-play knowledge of the history is amazing…

The sponsors of the spring 2017 Rio Grande Leaders Course are the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project, the Colorado Rio Grande Restoration Foundation, San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative, and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.