A group of county residents is appealing to those concerned about water issues in the county to attend an important water meeting March 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Road and Bridge Building in Saguache, 305 3rd Street, to sit in on a discussion with commissioners regarding water export plans.
The meeting is styled as “a listening work session,” meaning no public comment or questions will be allowed. The guest speaker is Sean Tonner, who will host a water export proposal presentation…
The water plan, apparently in the works for the past several years, was officially announced during a Rio Grande Water Conservation meeting in Alamosa, the Valley Courier reported Dec. 7, 2018…
While some of those proposing the plan are newly arrived players, the proposal is not. The plan first emerged in the late 1980s with Maurice Strong’s Arizona Land and Cattle Co. and Stockmen’s Water. After reorganizing as AWDI, the new version of the plan was opposed and defeated in the early 1990s by the Rio Grande Water District and Valley citizens.
Originally AWDI, backed by then Baca Ranch owner Gary Boyce — also owner of numerous other water rights — presented a plan to pump 200,000 acre-feet of water annually from the underground aquifer. They claimed there would be no impact on the environment or existing water users. The application was later amended to 60,000 acre-feet annually, (approximately twice the amount consumed yearly by the City of Pueblo).
The new version of the water transport plan was most recently run past Saguache County Commissioners in 2014, prior to the death of Baca Ranch owner Gary Boyce. The entity then proposing the water was Sustainable Water Resources (SWR), now retitled as Renewable Water Resources (RWR). The new company is a mix of the previous organization and new members, a media advisor for the group said Tuesday.
As Arizona and other Colorado River states move ever closer to finishing the Drought Contingency Plan to boost Lake Mead, the federal government is moving forward on a parallel track. That path would create a federal plan in case the states don’t finish by the deadline.
But what is the deadline?
On Feb. 1, Burman gave everyone another month to wrap up. But that second deadline – March 4th – has passed too. Reclamation is now accepting input from governors in the Colorado River basin on what kind of alternate plan the Department of Interior should install if needed. That input is due March 19th. Another deadline.
All the while, Arizona is continuing to work on its various agreements.
Last month, Ted Cooke, General Manager of the Central Arizona Project, told reporters Arizona wouldn’t be done by March 4th.
“That’s an artificial deadline and these are very complex agreements and very complex negotiations,” he said. “We will take the time we need to do them properly. That being said, I don’t expect it to drag on for months and months and months.”
At the time, Cooke was confident all of Arizona’s internal deals would be done before the end of April. He also said it wasn’t clear to him what the federal government considered “done.
“We do not have a clear list of things that need to be completed by that day.” he said, referring to March 4.
Reclamation would not specify to KJZZ which of Arizona’s separate agreements absolutely must be signed, sealed and delivered for the state to join Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada in the “done” column. On the February 1st press call, Commissioner Burman did say “all” agreements need to be complete.
Estevan López, who was Reclamation Commissioner from late 2014 until the end of the Obama Administration, said he would want all of the sub-agreements to be signed. “So that nobody can get cold feet and say, ‘oh wait a minute. I want to change this aspect of it.’ Because then, one little thread starts unraveling the whole thing.”
López said a contingency plan – regardless of who writes it – absolutely needs to be in place by the time an important document gets released in early August. It’s called the August 24-month Study. This tells water users in the basin the projected level of Lake Mead and what amount of cutbacks the states must take. So that makes August the ultimate deadline.
Commissioner Burman has made it clear she wants the Drought Contingency Plan to come from the states. And they very well may get there. But just in case, the parallel federal process is moving forward.
“She’s doing it. She’s doing it incrementally,” López said, referring to Burman. “But if things don’t come together by July or August, I think Reclamation will do something.”
If it came to that, the states could very well contest the broad authority the feds say they have over the Colorado River. We know no one wants it to come to that – especially not for a river system that supplies water to about 40 million people.
But until we get there, we’re likely to keep hearing about deadlines.
All eyes are on Arizona and California with Brenda Burman’s extended deadline coming up on Monday. They are dealing with the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which really should be a plan to address the declining supply and increasing demand that causes an annual deficit. (H/T Eric Kuhn over at Inkstain.
Water poured into an artificial wetland next to the Gila River near Sacaton as Arizona’s leading proponents of a Colorado River drought plan celebrated the state’s progress in moving toward a deal.
Leaders of the Gila River Indian Community touted the restoration project as an example of putting water back into a river that has was sucked dry over the years, and a symbolic step in promoting sustainable water management in the state. The inauguration ceremony on the reservation featured traditional singing by men and boys who shook gourd rattles in unison.
Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis said the community, which has agreed to contribute water under the proposed Colorado River deal, is playing a vital role in helping to finish the three-state Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP.
“This is very important and very historic,” Lewis told the audience of community members, politicians and water managers. “It goes beyond politics. It goes to the benefit and the future sustainability and existence of all of us here.”
Unresolved issues remain
Yet even as Arizona’s top water officials expressed optimism about finishing the drought agreement after months of difficult negotiations, they also voiced concerns that unresolved issues in California still could upend the entire deal.
More than 250 miles to the west in California’s Imperial Valley, leaders of the irrigation district that controls the largest share of Colorado River water were still discussing a key condition of their participation. Imperial Irrigation District officials announced at a meeting on Friday afternoon that the federal Bureau of Reclamation has agreed to their condition that the drought package include linkage to funding for the Salton Sea.
They said federal officials will write a strong letter of support backing IID’s requests for $200 million in Farm Bill funding for wetlands projects around the shrinking sea. The projects are aimed at keeping down dust along the shorelines and salvaging deteriorating habitat for fish and birds.
Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, the U.S. solicitor and staff are finalizing a letter stating that “they consider the restoration of the Salton Sea is a critical ingredient of the drought contingency plans and cannot be ignored, and they stand prepared to help the IID with the Department of Agriculture to try to get funding in whatever way possible,” said IID attorney Charles Dumars.
He cautioned that it was “a building block, nothing more,” but said it was a big one that could be used to persuade Agriculture Department officials to allocate funds for the receding lake…
The board also voted unanimously to oppose a supposed “white knight” offer by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s general manager, Jeffrey Kightlinger, to provide IID’s portion of water to be kept in Lake Mead if the agency doesn’t sign on to the drought plan.
Several board members and people in the audience chided the Los Angeles-based agency for trying to interfere in their process, saying it was ignoring the public-health issues at the Salton Sea created by the withdrawal of Colorado River water…
IID officials also discussed a timeline that Burman and her staff presented at a recent meeting in Las Vegas. The aim, Martinez said, is to have agreements adopted by all parties…in Phoenix on March 14 or 15 to sign a joint letter to Congress endorsing the plan…
Arizona working to wrap up its part
The Gila River Indian Community’s involvement is key because the community is entitled to about a fourth of the water that passes through the Central Arizona Project, and it has offered to kick in some water to make the drought agreement work.
Arizona’s plan for divvying up the water cutbacks involves deliveries of “mitigation” water to help lessen the blow for some farmers and other entities, as well as compensation payments for those that contribute water. Those payments are to be covered with more than $100 million from the state and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which manages the CAP Canal. Much of the money would go toward paying for water from the Colorado River Indian Tribes and the Gila River Indian Community…
Gov. Ducey signed a package of legislation on Jan. 31 endorsing the Drought Contingency Plan. Arizona still needs to finish a list of internal water agreements to make the state’s piece of the deal work.
State officials have presented a list of a dozen remaining agreements, two of which would require the approval of the Gila River Indian Community. But Cooke said not all the agreements need to be signed for the three-state deal to move forward.
Cooke said he’s focused most of all on finishing a framework agreement for Arizona focusing on “intentionally created surplus,” a term for unused water that is stored in Lake Mead.
Alamosa city councilors and staff are willing to join the fight against the latest water export proposal, they told water leader Cleave Simpson during a work session Tuesday night.
Simpson is the general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which has taken a position against a water export proposal by Renewable Water Resources. He shared with the council the history of former water export proposals and details about the latest one, which proposes to export 22,000 acre feet from the San Luis Valley to the south Denver metro area.
“I do believe it’s real,” Simpson said. “I think they intend to do it.”
Nothing has yet been filed in court but Simpson said the spokesman for Renewable Water Resources indicated the case might be filed by the end of this year. Simpson said the City of Alamosa could enter the case when it is filed.
The city council and staff discussed other ways they could be involved including taking an official stand through a resolution, like the water conservation district did, and participating in education and awareness.
“It would damage the agriculture of the Valley,” Councilman David Broyles commented about the proposed export.
“And economy,” added Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks.
Councilman Charles Griego said he believed the city’s first step would be to pass an official resolution during a council meeting. Brooks suggested the city council could pass a resolution either the second meeting in March or first meeting in April. “I am hearing this is something we should be taking seriously,” Brooks said.
Griego said the city needs to be clear that “not one drop” should be exported from the Valley and that the council would be against any kind of water leaving the Valley. He said the word needs to get out how devastating this would be to the Valley…
He said he is going to inform the Interbasin Compact Commission members later this week, as he is a member of that governor-appointed statewide water board.
Simpson said Renewable Water Resources on its website (renewablewaterresources.com) says “Best for the San Luis Valley. Best for the environment. Best for Colorado.” However, he sees no benefit whatsoever to the Valley of this project. “It’s not good for the San Luis Valley.”
He added that the Valley has a history of opposition to similar projects and will adamantly oppose this one too.
“Every 10-20 years, there’s another export proposal,” Simpson said.
Some of the past proposals, which were unsuccessful, were a proposal to export water from wells drilled in Costilla County to San Marcos, Texas in the 1970’s and multiple export proposals tied to the late Gary Boyce who owned land in Saguache County. American Water Development Inc. (AWDI) proposed to pump 200,000 acre feet of water from the Baca Ranch area to the Front Range.
The latest proposal is that of Renewable Water Resources, which purchased a 12,000-acre ranch north of Crestone. Their proposal is to pipe 22,000 acre feet of water from the confined aquifer out of the Valley and ultimately to the Denver area. (Simpson described 22,000 acre feet as the equivalent of 100 circles.) Renewable Water Resources representatives met with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board to seek the district’s cooperation in helping the developers use up to $60 million (about $2,500 an acre foot) to buy and retire water rights across the Valley and to help manage a $50-million community fund. Although planning to pump out 22,000 acre feet, the water developers propose to buy up twice that much, 40,000-44,000 acre feet of water rights, and retire a portion, which is a different approach than previous water exporters, Simpson explained.
He said reducing water consumption is a similar goal to the water district and sub-districts. However, “We are not pursuing permanent dry up or permanent removal of 22,000 acre feet of water leaving the Valley.”
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Bill Vogrin):
Colorado and Kansas sign historic agreement for a permanent water supply at CPW’s John Martin Reservoir State Park
A 40-year deadlock between Colorado and Kansas has been resolved with the signing of a historic agreement that will provide a new source of water for a permanent fish and wildlife conservation pool in John Martin Reservoir.
The long-sought compromise between members of the Colorado-Kansas Arkansas River Compact Administration will allow the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association (LAWMA) to transfer water from the Highland Canal on the Purgatoire River in Bent County into John Martin Reservoir on behalf of Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to maintain a permanent pool for fishery and recreation purposes.
The permanent agreement, approved by the Compact Administration on Feb. 14, began as a one-year pilot program in 2017 when CPW was allowed to run 6,000 acre feet into the reservoir. The newly approved agreement will allow water to be delivered each year from the Highland Canal from March 1 through Nov. 15.
The agreement is the culmination of decades of negotiations between a variety of agencies including CPW, the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the Kansas Division of Water Resources, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, LAWMA and the Attorney General’s office. It was brought to fruition through extensive collaboration between the State Engineers of Colorado and Kansas.
“CPW has worked for the past 40 years to get a new source of water approved by the Compact Administration,” said Dan Prenzlow, CPW’s Southeast Regional manager who directed the breakthrough negotiations together with Deputy Regional Manager Brett Ackerman. “John Martin Reservoir is a multimillion-dollar fishery and source of water recreation, camping, hiking and wildlife watching.”
In fact, visitors to John Martin spend an estimated $8.7 million a year in local businesses, making John Martin an important economic engine in the region.
“But it has constantly been in flux and at risk,” Prenzlow said. “This agreement will stabilize the valuable fishery and recreational facilities at John Martin Reservoir State Park and State Wildlife Area.”
Prenzlow listed several significant benefits to the new agreement, including:
Reducing the hundreds of thousands of dollars CPW has spent leasing Colorado River water to fill the conservation pool in previous years.
Lowering the risk of fish loss, saving CPW approximately $165,000 annually in restocking costs when the fishery is damaged.
Providing more consistent boating recreation, especially in drought years.
Prenzlow noted that visitation at John Martin drops as dramatically as the water levels fluctuate at the reservoir, which was built as a flood-control structure and completed in 1948. In wet years, the waters of John Martin can spread out to 11,000 surface acres. But in drought years, it’s not uncommon for surface acres to plunge to just 1,000. That was the case during extreme drought years of 2011-15.
“We are proud to achieve this agreement because we know the importance of a healthy John Martin Reservoir to Colorado anglers, boaters and surrounding communities,” Prenzlow said. “A consistent flow of water into John Martin will keep the boat ramps at John Martin wet and that will mean a consistent source of recreation for boaters, anglers, water skiers and campers in the park and region.”
Scott Hummer was kind enough to forward the materials below in celebration of the 140th anniversary of the creation of Colorado’s water commissioners:
This past Tuesday, February 19, 2019 marked the 140th anniversary of the creation of the position of Water Commissioner by the State Legislature/General Assembly on February 19, 1879…
The concept of Colorado’s system of Prior Appropriation, “the Colorado Doctrine”, was first established in the “gold camps” of the late 1850’s. The concept was first put into practice in the “gold camps” of California and came to Colorado with the “miner’s courts” established by the original “prospectors” in the territory.
And yes, the Water Commissioner position came before the creation of the State Engineers Office as well as the position of “Superintendent of Irrigation”, today’s Division Engineers.
In brief the original legislation created the position as well as the first ten water districts, and as many know…the legislation was in response to the “water war” along the Poudre River in the mid 1870’s…
In 2004, a “celebration” of the 125th anniversary was organized and Water Commissioner were recognized on the floor of the Colorado House of Representatives at the Capital and received an honorary proclamation from then Gov. Owens…
Also in July of 2004, water commissioners were invited to attend and participate in the annual Water Workshop, at then Western State College in Gunnison.
The title of the ‘o4 Water Workshop was “Technology, Science (including the Dismal Science, and Changing Politics of Water”.
So after 15 years, perhaps, it is appropriate to inform and educate the water users and citizens of Colorado as to the public servants that serve them so well.
“He who expects the letter of the law in relation to irrigation to be executed with the precision of clockwork, and that infallible results will be obtained, has a small conception of the tangled web of difficulties in the way, and a meager knowledge of the uncertainties of the element to be manipulated.” — J.P. Maxwell, State Engineer 1890
Here’s the release from the Gila River Indian Community (June M. Shorthair):
Today, elected officials of the Gila River Indian Community, including the Governor, Lt. Governor and several Council members, determined that the Community had received sufficient assurances that HB 2476 was “dead” and that the Community could re-engage in the effort to finalize the Arizona Drought Contingency Plan Implementation Plan. Community elected officials came to this determination after meetings with Speaker Pro Tem T.J. Shope, and House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez and Senator Lisa Otondo.
Due to unjustified attacks on the Community through the Arizona legislative process in the form of HB 2476, earlier this week the Community informed the Chairs of the Arizona DCP Steering Committee that if the Arizona legislature continued its consideration of HB 2476, the Community would have no choice but to withdraw from the Arizona Drought Contingency Implementation Plan altogether. Based on the assurances received at today’s meetings, especially those from Speaker Pro Tem Shope, the Community officials determined that HB 2476 is dead and as a result that the Community is able to move forward with the Arizona DCP Implementation Plan despite this unwarranted attack on the Community.
Speaking for the Community, Governor Stephen R. Lewis stated, “On behalf of the Community, I want to thank Rep. Shope and Rep. Fernandez for making the effort to come and speak with us directly about this very troubling attack on our Community. They listened carefully to our concerns, and Rep. Shope assured us he would take them back to the Legislature to help others understand why we perceived this legislation as highly inappropriate and an attack on our Community. He also provided us with very solid assurances that this legislation is truly dead and that there would be no further consideration of it, as did Rep. Fernandez. Their word on this is what we need to confirm this legislation is truly not moving forward and I am pleased that the Community will be able to rejoin the State’s efforts to get DCP over the finish line.”
Rep. Shope said, “As one of the members representing the Community, and a member of House leadership, I believed it was essential to come and meet with Community leaders and hear their concerns. I was pleased to provide them with the assurances that I have received from the Speaker, and my own, which I believe make clear that this bill is truly dead and will not be raised again this legislative session”
Rep. Fernandez stated, “I completely understand why the Community would have viewed this bill as the attack that it was. It is not only bad policy, but an abuse of our legislative process, and I was pleased to commit to the Community’s leaders the support of my caucus in fighting this legislation if it ever is brought back up, which I do not think will happen.”
Senator Otondo confirmed the Senate Democratic Caucus position in opposition to the bill, and sympathized with the Community, stating “I completely understand why the Community and its members would be outraged at this kind of unwarranted attack. From what I know, far from being the bad actor that they were portrayed to be, they are actually the wronged party. While most of the farmers in the Upper Valley are doing all they can to work with Community and the Community is cooperating with them, there is a small group that simply won’t pay attention to the law of the Gila River. I think the Community is fully within its rights to try to get them to comply with the law.”
Governor Lewis concluded, “This meeting was a critical turning point in Arizona’s DCP and Rep. Shope and Rep. Fernandez, and Sen. Otondo, all deserve great credit for taking this important step to reach out to us and hear our concerns and assure us of their continued support. It is this kind of leadership that will help us all move DCP over the finish line. This was an unfortunate chapter in this historic effort, but we will now do all we can to put this in the rear view mirror, and move forward together.”
The purpose of HB 2476 is ostensibly to repeal a cardinal principal of Arizona water law, the so-called “use it or lose it” rule codified in the State’s very first water code as a rule of forfeiture. Under the forfeiture statute any water right holder who does not use his water rights for an uninterrupted period of five years, without a legitimate excuse specified in the statute, can be found to have forfeited that right. This “use it or lose it” principle is an essential element of the water codes across the arid West, and appears in 16 different state water codes in almost the same form. If HB 2476 were enacted, Arizona would become the first and only state in the West to repeal such a forfeiture statute.
On February 19, 2019, a hearing was held on HB 2476. While the hearing was supposed to focus on the forfeiture statute and its effect on certain water users, the testimony and questions instead focused on the Community’s actions in federal district court to legitimately enforce its settlement and to protect its water rights under its settlement. Most of the witnesses who testified actually stated in open testimony that they were concerned for their “hot” land farming practices, a term that refers to a practice of illegally using water from the Gila River, water to which the Community has a clear and superior right. The misstatements made during the testimony and questions posed made it very clear that this hearing was intended to be a form of “show trial” for the Community, whose real purpose could only have been to somehow intimidate the Community into not enforcing its rights. At the end of the hearing, the proponent of HB 2476 asked that his bill be “held” so that he could review its legality and perhaps refine it so it could perhaps be raised again at a future time, leaving the Community with no clear indication as to whether the bill would move forward or not.
This decision to hold HB 2476 put the Community in an untenable position, as it could not proceed with its participation with DCP until this issue was clearly put to rest. Today’s meetings provided the Community with an opportunity to discuss directly with key members of the Arizona Legislature whether this legislation is for all intents and purposes “dead” for this session. In the meeting with the Rep. Shope, as a member of House leadership he was able to convey to Community tribal leadership that Speaker Bowers had assured Rep. Shope that the Speaker did not intend to take any further action to move HB 2476 forward this session. In addition Rep. Shope also assured Community leaders that even if Speaker Bowers might decide to move the legislation forward, Rep. Shope would himself vote against it on the floor. During the meeting, Community leaders made clear why they felt HB 2476 was a purposeful attack on the Community and how the hearing had completely misrepresented the Community’s legitimate actions and efforts to enforce its water settlement rights,. Rep. Shope offered to take these concerns back to the legislature to help educate other members on this issue.
In a separate meeting with the Democratic House Minority Leader, Rep. Charlotte Fernandez, and with Sen. Lisa Otondo, they both reiterated their caucuses’ support for the Community in its opposition to this unjustified attack in the form of legislation.
In a separate decision, Community leaders authorized its water team to continue its efforts to protect the Community’s water settlement and to enforce the Community’s rights as and when necessary.