Aspen officials say city needs to store 8,500 acre-feet of water as backup — @AspenJournalism

Site of proposed maroon creek reservoir via Aspen Journalism.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith)

The city of Aspen told the state [in late December, 2017] it will need 8,500 acre-feet of water storage in order to meet water demands in a hotter and drier world.

The disclosure of how much water storage the city thinks it will need to store in 2065 came as part of a response the city provided Friday to state officials in water court, who were seeking a “substantive” written response by Dec. 29 from the city to issues raised about the potential Maroon Creek and Castle Creek reservoirs.

As part of its response, the city included a Dec. 7 letter from its engineering consultants, Deere and Ault of Longmont, who concluded “the required storage capacity for the city of Aspen is approximately 8,500 acre-feet.”

To help put that into context, Lost Man Reservoir holds 100 acre-feet of water; Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek holds 590 acre-feet; Wildcat Reservoir, visible from the Snowmass Ski Area, holds 1,100 acre-feet; Harvey Gap Reservoir, north of New Castle, holds 5,060 acre-feet; Paonia Reservoir, west of McClure Pass, holds 20,950 acre-feet; and Ruedi Reservoir on the Fryingpan River holds 102,369 acre-feet.

Engineers at Deere and Ault based their storage estimate on a Nov. 30 study done for the city by Headwaters Corp., titled “Aspen’s Water Future: Estimating the Number and Severity of Possible Future Water Shortages.”

The report, which also was submitted to the court, assumed that a warming climate means less water will be flowing down Castle and Maroon creeks, the city’s two main sources of water, and that the runoff will come earlier.

And, working toward a worst-case scenario, they assumed that the city will not increase water conservation efforts, that large irrigation diversions from Maroon and Castle creeks will not be decreased, and that the city will still try to maintain environmental flow levels on both creeks, which it is not legally obligated to do.

The Headwaters report found that water shortages of over 1,000 acre-feet a year could occur in five out of 100 years, with “shortage” defined to include current irrigation diversions and environmental flows on top of domestic uses.

Deere and Ault then used the Headwaters risk-analysis study to come up with a necessary water storage amount of 8,500 acre-feet to offset the potential water shortages, although its two-page Dec. 7 letter does not describe in detail how it reached its conclusion based on the Headwaters report.

The conclusion from Deere and Ault is different than one made for the city by Wilson Water Group in 2016, which concluded in a report — adopted by the city — that the city would not need new water storage if it took other steps, such as increasing conservation, installing ground wells and using “reuse” water to irrigate its golf course.

In 1965, an engineer working for the city of Aspen selected this location, just below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks, as the location for a potential 155-foot-tall dam. The city is still on record with the state as intending to build the dam here, if necessary, to meet its future water needs.

Storage rights

The city has been maintaining conditional water storage rights since 1965 for the two potential reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks.

The Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam across upper Maroon Creek, within view of the Maroon Bells, and the Castle Creek Reservoir would hold, as currently decreed, 9,062 acre-feet behind a 170-foot-tall dam across Castle Creek, 2 miles below Ashcroft.

The conditional storage rights, which hold a 1971 decree, are distinct from the city’s absolute diversion rights on Castle and Maroon, which are senior rights and adequately supply the city’s water system today.

In July, the city announced its intention to try to transfer the conditional storage rights out of the Castle and Maroon creek valleys, and it has put a parcel of land next to the gravel pit in Woody Creek under contract and directed staff to begin developing a reservoir there.

A study done by Deere and Ault in September concluded the city could store up to 8,000 acre-feet of water on the Woody Creek site. The city has said it is also looking at other places to potentially store water, including the city’s golf course and the Cozy Point open space at the intersection of Brush Creek Road and Highway 82.

The city has also put forth a settlement proposal to the 10 parties opposing its efforts to maintain its water rights, and the proposal is predicated upon the city transferring its storage rights out of the Castle and Maroon creek valleys.

But no settlement has yet been reached and the city is still officially on the record with the state of Colorado, through its two applications in water court, saying it fully intends to build both the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs, someday, when necessary.

A map provided by the city of Aspen showing the two parcels in Woody Creek it has under contract. The city is investigating the possibility of building a reservoir on the site, as well as looking at the possibility of a reservoir in the neighboring Elam gravel pit.

Outstanding questions

After reviewing the two due diligence applications filed by the city in October 2016 seeking to maintain the conditional storage rights, the division engineer and water court referee in Divison 5 in Glenwood Springs raised a set of threshold issues they wanted the city to address.

The officials asked on Jan. 23 for the city to demonstrate it could secure permits and land-use approvals to build the dams and reservoirs, that it could do so in a reasonable time, that it has a specific plan to build them, and that there was sufficient population growth in Aspen’s water service area to justify storing the water.

The city’s water attorney, Cynthia Covell of Alperstein and Covell in Denver, has been reluctant to respond in detail to the court’s request, which came in the form of a summary of consultation.

In her Dec. 29 letter to the court, Covell suggested it was outside of the court’s purview to ask the city to do so at this point in the proceedings.

“Aspen maintains that much of this concern is based on the division engineer’s view of applicable law, and is beyond the proper scope of a consultation report, but nevertheless, responds as follows …” Covell said in her letter.

Covell then reiterated several points that city officials have been making over the past year, including that the city today does not have any “meaningful storage facilities” and that climate change projections “demonstrate the need for storage.”

And while she did not make a detailed case to the court that the city of Aspen could build the Castle Creek Reservoir or the Maroon Creek Reservoir, she did say Aspen could get the necessary permits and arrange financing for reservoirs.

“As a financially stable municipality, Aspen has available to it a number of financing options and therefore will be able to construct a reservoir sufficient to store 8,500 acre-feet,” Covell told the court in her letter in the Castle Creek case. “The decreed location of the Castle Creek Reservoir is primarily on private land. Aspen is able to acquire private land by purchase, lease or eminent domain. Legal procedures and mechanisms exist to obtain land-use approvals and permits on federal land, if necessary, including special-use permit, Congressional authorization and presidential authorization.”

On the other hand, Covell included language that alludes to the city’s stated intent to try to transfer the Castle and Maroon rights out of Castle Creek to another location, such as Woody Creek, and then fill that new reservoir with water from both Castle and Maroon creeks.

“Aspen will develop both the Castle Creek Reservoir storage right (to the extent of 8,500 acre-feet) [and] the companion Maroon Creek Reservoir storage right … in order to provide two sources to meet this storage need,” Covell wrote, without specifically mentioning a reservoir outside of the Castle or Maroon creek valleys. “The total amount of storage will be 8,500 acre-feet from both sources, with no more than 8,500 acre-feet to be diverted annually from Castle Creek. Aspen will relinquish the remaining 562 acre-feet decreed to the Castle Creek Reservoir.”

It’s not clear why the city is willing to relinquish 562 acre-feet from the potential Castle Creek Reservoir right, which is now decreed at 9,062 acre-feet, but it may be a reflection of two earlier agreements with adjoining land owners to reduce the size of the reservoir so as not to flood their properties.

In a separate letter to the court regarding Maroon Creek, Covell took a similar stance, saying the city “will be able to construct a reservoir sufficient to store the 4,567 acre-feet per year to be diverted from Maroon Creek,” but didn’t say where that reservoir might be located.

A status conference in the two water court cases is set for Jan. 4. The parties could agree to keep the case on a quasi-administrative track in front of a water court referee, or the case could be set on a trial track in front of a water court judge.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating on coverage of rivers and water with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily, and the Summit Daily News. The Aspen Times published this story in its print edition on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2017 and the Post Independent published it on Jan. 3.

Aspen’s proposal to move rights out of Castle and Maroon creeks well-received — @AspenJournalism

Castle Creek

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The city of Aspen has put forward a proposal that would move its conditional water-storage rights, and with it two potential dams and reservoirs, out of the Castle Creek and Maroon Creek valleys and spread a proposed 8,500 acre-feet of water storage among as much as six locations between Aspen and Woody Creek.

That deal was well-received Thursday by opposing parties in two water-court cases tied to the potential Castle and Maroon reservoirs during a brief water court status conference. The city circulated a settlement proposal Dec. 8 to the 10 parties opposing the city’s efforts to maintain a conditional right to store 4,567 acre-feet of water in a potential Maroon Creek Reservoir and 9,062 acre-feet in a potential Castle Creek Reservoir.

In its proposal, according to sources close to the negotiations, the city said it will seek to transfer its conditional storage rights from the two reservoirs to other potential reservoirs on a range of other sites that could hold as much as a combined 8,500 acre-feet of water from Maroon and Castle creeks.

The reservoirs, either surface or underground “in-situ,” would be built on a range of potential locations including the city’s golf course, the Moore, Burlingame, and Cozy Point open space parcels, the gravel pit in Woody Creek operated by Elam Construction, and a parcel of vacant land next to the gravel pit the city now has under contract.

Under the deal, the city would make a firm commitment to move its potential reservoirs out of the Maroon Creek and Castle Creek valleys, and the opposing parties would refrain from fighting the city’s future efforts in water court to transfer its conditional storage rights, and its 1971 decree dates, to the new locations.

“Based on what I’ve heard today it sounds like … there is some consensus that the cases are moving toward settlement,” Division 5 water court referee Susan Ryan said Thursday after each of the attorneys in the two cases stated their view of the ongoing settlement negotiations.

Ryan set another status conference in the two cases for Feb. 15.

The city filed two periodic applications with the court Oct. 31, 2016, to show it’s been diligent in developing its conditional storage rights for the Maroon and Castle creek reservoirs, which it first filed in 1965. The recent applications drew opposition from the U.S. Forest Service, Pitkin County, American Rivers, Colorado Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates, Wilderness Workshop, and four private landowners, two in each valley.

James DuBois, an attorney with the U.S. Justice Department in Denver, told the referee during Thursday’s status conference that “as far as the United States’ objections, I think it’s likely we’ll be able to reach settlement.”

Craig Corona, a water attorney representing the Larsen family, which owns property in Maroon Creek, also was bullish on the city’s proposal to move the water rights out of the valleys.

“Larsen Family LP feels like we’re making substantial progress in negotiating toward a settlement,” Corona told the water court referee. “And we’re happy to stay on the referee’s docket at least for another 45 days to try to finalize the settlement agreement.”

Any party in a water court case has the option at any time to re-refer a case away from a settlement track under the purview of a water court referee and put the case on a trial track in front of a water court judge.

Paul Noto, a water attorney representing American Rivers, Colorado Trout Unlimited, and another Maroon Creek landowner, told the court, “My broad view of the status is that we are making some headway toward settlement and I’d prefer, for one, to avoid trial-track deadlines and focus on settlement issues.”

Rob Harris, a staff attorney at Western Resource Advocates, who also is representing Wilderness Workshop, said, “I agree that we’ve made significant progress toward settlement and I think we’d benefit from at least another couple months or so to pursue settlement.”

Attorneys for Pitkin County and the two property owners in Castle Creek said they did not object to the case staying in front of the referee.

Aspen’s water attorney, Cynthia Covell, told the court that the city has only just recently received a number of written comments to its proposal from the opposing parties, and that the city would like about a month to review them and further discuss its proposal with the parties.

The property next to the Elam gravel pit and the Woody Creek raceway that the City of Aspen has put under contract. The city is investigating the site as a place for potential water storage, either underground or above ground.

Storage options

Aspen officials have been reviewing alternative water storage sites for about a year with the help of Deere and Ault, an engineering firm in Longmont.

A study done in September by Deere and Ault identified a range of in-situ and surface reservoirs that could be built, in differing combinations, on the Woody Creek gravel pit site and the neighboring parcel of land the city intends to buy.

The options include a 320 acre-foot in-situ, or underground, reservoir and five options for surface reservoirs in various configurations that would hold between 700 acre-feet and 8,000 acre-feet of water. The Woody Creek reservoirs range in cost from $48 million to $81 million and would require about 6.5 miles of pipeline to reach the city’s water treatment plant.

Deere and Ault has also found, in a screening study of various sites, that the city could store water in a number of potential in-situ reservoirs on other sites upvalley from Woody Creek.

In-situ reservoirs require deep trenches dug 50 to 100 feet down to bedrock, depending on the site. The trenches form the walls of the storage vessel, or bucket, while the bedrock, and sometimes a geosynthetic liner, forms the bottom of the bucket.

The rocks and dirt on the site are not excavated, but left in place between water-tight slurry walls poured into the surrounding trenches. Water is then poured into the bucket and pumped out for later use.

Deere and Ault found that an in-situ reservoir could be built on the city-owned Moore open space, across Maroon Creek Road from the Aspen Chapel, to hold 550 acre-feet of water, at a cost of $26.9 million. The water could then be pumped nearly a mile via a pipeline to the city’s water treatment plant, which is on a hill behind Aspen Valley Hospital.

The city’s golf course could hold two in-situ reservoirs, one holding 650 acre-feet and another holding 760 acre-feet, for a total of 1400 acre-feet, at a combined cost of $71.3 million.

The Burlingame, or Zoline, open space, which is 1.9 miles from the water treatment plant and owned by the city, could accommodate a 650-acre-foot in-situ reservoir, at an estimated project cost of $34 million.

The Cozy Point open space, also owned by the city, could hold two 100-acre-foot reservoirs for a combined 200 acre-feet of storage. The site is 5.6 miles from the water treatment plant and the estimated project cost for the reservoirs and pipeline system is $15.5 million.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily, and the Summit Daily on coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017.

#Texas v. #NewMexico and #Colorado update

Map of the Rio Grande watershed, showing the Rio Chama joining the Rio Grande near Santa Fe. Graphic credit WikiMedia.

From the Colorado Attorney General’s office via the Valley Courier:

[On Monday, January 8, 2018], Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman’s office presented arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court in Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado, No. 141, Original, to protect the authority and jurisdiction of the Western States to manage water rights within their own borders and across state lines in cooperation with neighboring state officials.

The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court after Texas sued New Mexico over a dispute regarding water in the Rio Grande Basin. Colorado, Texas and New Mexico are all parties to the Rio Grande Compact, an agreement that since 1938 has regulated the interstate apportionment of the waters of the Rio Grande. Texas did not make any claims against Colorado, but because Colorado is a party to the Compact, Colorado was also included in the case.

While Texas’s claims against New Mexico were pending, the U.S. government attempted to independently sue the State of New Mexico under the Rio Grande Compact. The Supreme Court invited the State of Colorado to present arguments on whether the United States has a right to sue a State under an interstate water compact, despite not being a party to it.

“Arguments over water rights have been going on since the beginning of statehood, but the authority to manage this critically important natural resource has always belonged first and foremost to the States,” said Attorney General Coffman. “We cannot allow the federal government to encroach on our rights and interfere with our ability to manage water resources on equal footing with our Sister States.”

Colorado Solicitor General Fred Yarger argued on behalf of the State, explaining that the federal government does not have a right to sue New Mexico under the Rio Grande Compact. The United States is not a party to the Compact, he explained, and the authority, jurisdiction and responsibility to manage the water of the Rio Grande lies with the States. Solicitor General Yarger argued that allowing the federal government to sue under the Compact to which it is not a party would set a very concerning precedent, harming the ability of States to work together to solve water disputes cooperatively, without federal government intrusion.

BizWest’s CEO Roundtable recap: Maximize crop per drop

Photo credit Wikimedia.

From BizWest.com (Ken Amundson):

Northern Colorado ag professionals are searching for strategies to return to profitability in the face of headwinds that include water shortages, over-regulation, labor shortages and increasing costs.

In fact, the difficulty in consistently producing a profit makes selling available water shares increasingly attractive, which makes the ag industry precarious for future generations.

Ag professionals gathered Tuesday morning at Elevations Credit Union in Windsor to participate in BizWest’s CEO Roundtable. The event is sponsored by Elevations, HUB International and EKS&H…

Markham said that about 30 percent of the water originally brought into the region by Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is used for agriculture and the remainder for municipal uses. As cities grow, there’s more pressure on water-share owners to sell.

Finding a way to mitigate that pressure from urban users of water occupies a lot of time for ag professionals. Mark Sponsler, CEO of Colorado Corn Growers, said a stopgap solution to “slow the bleeding” might be to encourage cities and farmers to work together in a way that reduces the need of farmers to sell their water rights. In a dry year, for example, it might be more advantageous for farmers to lease their water rights to cities instead of fighting drought to produce a crop. The cash payment for water in that year might enable a farmer to make improvements that would make the farm more profitable in future years. City needs could be met in the dry year without permanently drying up neighboring farms.

Sponsler called the approach a “risk-management tool” for use in dry years. He said it isn’t the ultimate answer. “We absolutely need more water storage,” to store water that would otherwise flow out of the state.

Mary Kraft, principal of Kraft Family Farm in Fort Morgan, a large dairy operation, agreed on the need for storage. She noted that Colorado water law is extremely complicated and that conservation doesn’t always produce the result that some think. She said secondary water-right owners downstream depend upon water being used upstream so there are return flows into streams and aquifers. She also said that decisions to lease water to non-agricultural uses can result in a reduction in feed grains that dairies like hers need to produce milk.

Competition for water resources, among other considerations, has resulted in Sakata Farms deciding to forego production of sweet corn and cabbage. Sakata is looking to diversity in the use of its 3,000 acres, Robert Sakata said. “We can’t sell a 4-inch ear of (sweet) corn,” he said, which can happen if there isn’t enough water to produce traditional corn ears.

And water usage is at least partially causing increased interest in hemp crops, which require less water. Morris Beegle, CEO of Colorado Hemp Co., said that Colorado hemp farmers till 9,000 of the total 25,000 acres of hemp produced in the United States. He expects the Colorado hemp acreage to double in the short term because of favorable legislation in Colorado and because some traditional farmers are looking at alternative crops that require less water.

Finding ways to “maximize crop per drop” of water is on the minds of Colorado farmers, Sponsler said. Drip technologies are advancing, but they’re expensive. “It’s like buying the farm all over again,” he said.

Yet such strategies may be necessary for the future of agriculture. Jason Brancel, CEO of Agfinity, a farm co-op, said farmers and suppliers are getting more sophisticated in how they evaluate the costs of crop inputs. “If I have an input need for diesel fuel, when is the best time to make that investment in fuel,” Brancel asked. “Last summer, there was a run-up in the price of corn. How many (farmers) took advantage of that small window of increased price?” he asked.

Bob Yost, CFO of A1 Organics, said that re-use of waste materials as compost and soil enhancements has the potential of increasing yields, saving water and decreasing costs. A1 Organics takes organic waste from farms and food manufacturers and reconditions it for use in products such as MiracleGro.

Tom Haren, CEO of AGPROfessionals, said what he’s seeing in the development of ag operations in several states across the West is that next-generation family farmers are few and far between. “We’re seeing efficient and scaled (large) operations, or specialized operations like hemp farmers” having success, he said.

Farmers also said workforce is a big issue, especially in operations that require hand labor. Kraft said her dairy operates now with about five positions unfilled because it can’t find enough labor. That means that some jobs don’t get done or some staff members work double shifts. Kraft, who said uncertainty in federal immigration law is a factor, is considering technological changes that would reduce the workforce. Yet, while a robot can accurately place a milking machine on a cow, it can’t evaluate whether that cow needs medical attention, she said.

Costs of technology plus the cost of minimum wage increases — 2018 wage increases will cost Kraft about $250,000 — come out of profit with no easy way to make it up.

A comment about potential positive impact from the new federal tax structure drew a muffled laugh from the group. “Farming should benefit (from the new law), but you have to make a profit to benefit,” said Mike Grell of accounting firm EKS&H. He said the increase in the inheritance-tax threshold — from $11 million to $22 million — could positively benefit large farmers seeking to pass their operations to the next generation.

“The catch,” Kraft said, “is that you have to die before the next administration takes office. Whoever comes in could change everything.”

Aspen increases spending on water rights for 2018

Site of proposed maroon creek reservoir via Aspen Journalism.

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Steart-Severy):

The city spent $89,000 [in 2017] on legal work to keep their rights to build reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks. The city faces opposition in water court from environmental groups, property owners and other government agencies.

One of the biggest concerns is that reservoirs on those scenic creeks would flood wilderness areas. That legal work will continue into 2018.

Next year, the budget for attorneys fees and other legal issues related to water rights grows to $330,000.

As the city works to keep the rights on Castle and Maroon creeks, staff has also hired consultants to find alternative locations to store water. So far, those studies have cost more than $300,000.

Keeping an eye on the #LakePowell water level #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Lake Powell April 12, 2017. Photo credit Patti Weeks via Earth Science Picture of the day.

From the Colorado Cattlemen’s Ag Water NetWORK via The Fence Post:

The collective water use of the upper basin states is still well below the 7.5 M acre-feet annual average depletion maximum. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reports indicate that the upper basin water use averaged 4.4 M acre-feet between 2000 and 2015. The highest use among these years was 4.9 M acre-feet.

The lower basin states, with greater population and higher evapotranspiration, have a more difficult time managing water demands within the limitations of the compact. For the last several years, annual releases from Lake Mead have averaged about 9 M acre-feet to meet lower basin water demands. Lake Mead also loses about 1.2 M acre-feet in evaporative and system losses, so the total annual outflow from Lake Mead has been about 10.2 M acre-feet.

The imbalance between Lake Mead’s recent inflows and outflows is called the “structural deficit.” This is the amount by which the lower basin states and Mexico must reduce their demands in order to reach a more sustainable withdrawal rate from Lake Mead.

Lake Powell stores water that flows from the upper Colorado River basin and is used to buffer declines in Lake Mead. Glen Canyon Dam, which creates Lake Powell, also generates 5 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power annually. The Western Area Power Administration distributes this electricity to Colorado and six other states at cost-effective rates. The total value of the electricity produced is about $120 million annually. A small, but important, portion of the annual power revenue is used to fund salinity control programs that help pay for irrigation infrastructure upgrades on the western slope, and provide funding for the Colorado River and San Juan River endangered species recovery programs.

In 1970, formal “Operating Criteria” were agreed upon by the seven states and the Bureau of Reclamation to provide for the coordinated operation of reservoirs in the upper and lower basins and set conditions for water releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The Operating Criteria allow the secretary of the interior to make releases from Lake Powell to raise the water level in Lake Mead so that the stored volume of the two reservoirs is roughly equal. The upshot is that Lake Powell will decline when Lake Mead declines, even if ample flow is entering Lake Powell from the upper basin states.

Since 2000, the two reservoirs have been drawn down to approximately half of their capacity to meet lower basin demands. The current water level of Lake Mead (1,083 feet above sea level) is the lowest since the reservoir started filling in 1935 (ref http://lakemead.water-data.com). It is currently just above the “Tier 1 Shortage level” of 1,075 feet, which is the point where water allocations to Arizona and Nevada are automatically reduced. These reductions become increasingly severe at Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels.

The current level of Lake Powell is about 3,625 feet above sea level. The concern for the upper basin states is that if the structural deficit continues and/or a drought returns, Lake Powell could be lowered to a level below 3,490 feet, which is the minimum level needed to generate electricity.

The lower basin states and Mexico have implemented conservation measures that have saved about 1.2 M acre-feet in Lake Mead since 2014. This has resulted in the lake level being 14 feet higher than it would have been otherwise.

For Colorado and the other upper basin states, the challenge isn’t complying with the usage limit spelled out in the 1922 compact. Instead, it is simply how to deal with snowpack and runoff shortages over a multi-year period. Since many Front Range cities and irrigation districts rely on Colorado River basin water via trans-mountain diversions, runoff shortages on the western slope also directly affect eastern slope residents and farmers. And of course, multiple years of drought in the upper basin could result in lowering of Lake Powell to the power pool level simply because of inadequate runoff. When the 2002-2003 drought began, Lake Powell was full. Today it is about 58 percent of its capacity.

In 2015, a program was created to determine whether voluntary, compensated reductions in consumptive use in the upper basin states could be a useful tool to put water into Lake Powell and minimize lake-level declines during drought periods. The System Conservation Pilot Program is funded by southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, Central Arizona Project, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Denver Water, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and NGOs. About $4.5 M has been spent on the program through 2017 and approximately 22,000 acre-feet of consumptive use water has been conserved through such fallow and deficit irrigation, alternative cropping and a municipal water savings program. The program is being continued in 2018.

CCA’s Ag Water NetWORK hosts webinar on new ag water leasing tool

Photo by Havey Productions via TheDenverChannel.com

From the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association via The Fence Post:

Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s Ag Water NetWORK has created an online tool that helps agricultural water right holders assess the potential of leasing their water rights for other uses. The supporting webinar describes the features of the lease screening tool, which generates a description of a water right’s lease potential based on user-inputted information about the water right, including location, seniority, acres irrigated and other criteria. Both the webinar and the lease Decision Support Tool are available at https://www.agwaternetwork.org/.

The state water plan, released in 2015, calls for more water storage, conservation and alternative transfer mechanisms (ie. ag water leasing) to help minimize ‘buying and drying’ of irrigated farm land in Colorado. Under a lease program, farmers are compensated for sharing a portion of their irrigation water with municipal, industrial or other water interests to help them meet their respective water needs. Ag water right holders retain full ownership of their water rights and land. Irrigated fields may be fallowed or deficit-irrigated to ‘free up’ consumptive use water for temporary leasing.

An ag water right holder can use the Decision Support Tool to find out the key considerations of an ag water lease and how suitable his or her water right(s) might be for leasing.The Ag Water NetWORK website includes a map which also shows locations around the Colorado where leases are occurring.

Colorado’s population of 5.4 million could nearly double to 10 million by 2050 according to the state water plan. The plan estimates that as much as one-fourth of Colorado’s irrigated agricultural land could be lost through the purchase and transfer of water rights from agriculture to urban areas. Such large-scale dry-up of irrigated agriculture would have permanent adverse economic, environmental and food security impacts.