Here’s a guest column from the White River Conservation District that’s running in The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:
The State of Colorado adopted the Colorado Water Plan in 2016. The Plan proposes to create a water management roadmap to achieve a productive economy, vibrant and sustainable cities, productive agriculture, a strong environment and a robust recreation industry. Specific to protecting and enhancing stream flows, the plan calls for 80% of locally prioritized rivers to be covered by Stream Management Plans (SMP) by 2030.
Through this effort, locally-led groups are encouraged to develop plans that will help meet the above 80% goal. The Water Plan initially encouraged only SMPs using biological, hydrological, geomorphological and other data to assess the flows or other physical conditions that are needed to support collaboratively identified environmental and/or recreational values.
However, experience across the State has shown the need to incorporate a more holistic approach including consumptive uses (agriculture, municipalities, energy, etc.). These types of plans are often called an Integrated Water Management Plan (IWMP). The local community is encouraged to determine what they want to accomplish and then find the right planning effort to help them achieve their goals.
The White River and Douglas Creek Conservation districts embarked on an effort in 2019 to identify what local needs can be met through the development of a plan and to determine community support for this effort. The districts are working with a Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) made up of 16 individuals representing agriculture, municipalities, industry, environment, recreation and land/water right holders. The committee is well balanced geographically within Rio Blanco County and members have strong knowledge of water rights, water quality and quantity concerns, water planning efforts, and local customs and cultures.
During December, district staff conducted approximately 25 interviews of local citizens identified by the committee. Questions developed by the committee were used for the interviews. The information gathered from the interviews are being used to develop a starting point for the much broader discussion within the community during January…
More information on the process and Planning Advisory Committee is available on the districts’ website at http://www.whiterivercd.com. Please contact the district office at 970-878-9838 with any questions. We look forward to your input.
After years of their questions and concerns not being met, Colorado’s top water engineers are looking to formally oppose the water rights associated with a proposed reservoir project in northwest Colorado.
In November, the Colorado Division of Water Resources filed a motion to intervene in the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District’s application for a 90,000-acre-foot conditional water-storage right on the White River. The state DWR is now waiting for a judge to determine whether it will be allowed to file a statement of opposition in the case.
For more than 4½ years, state engineers have expressed concerns that the conservancy district has not proven there is a need for the water, which would be stored in the proposed White River reservoir and dam project between Rangely and Meeker. The issue is whether Rio Blanco has shown that it can and will put to beneficial use the water rights it applied for in 2014. It remains unclear whether the town of Rangely needs the water.
“And throughout this case, the Engineers have consistently maintained that RBWCD must demonstrate that its claimed water right is not speculative,” the motion reads. “Although RBWCD has addressed some of the Engineers’ concerns in the past six months, the Engineers maintain that RBWCD has not met its burden.”
State Engineer Kevin Rein said his office had been trying to resolve its concerns with Rio Blanco’s claims to water informally and doesn’t take filing a motion to intervene lightly.
“We are very aware of the influence we can have on the process and costs and delays, so we don’t just frivolously file a statement of opposition every time we have some issue with a case,” Rein said. “We believe there are issues that need to be fixed in this water-court application in order for it to go forward.”
Rio Blanco declines comment
The White River storage project, also known as the Wolf Creek project, would store anywhere from 44,000 to 2.92 million acre-feet of water. The water would be stored either in a reservoir formed by a dam across the main stem of the White River — this scale of project proposal is now rare in Colorado — or in an off-channel reservoir at the bottom of Wolf Creek gulch, just north of the river. Water would have to be pumped from the river uphill and into the off-channel reservoir.
Rio Blanco District Manager Alden Vanden Brink declined to comment on the state’s opposition, citing concerns about litigation. Vanden Brink also is chair of the Yampa/White/Green River Basin Roundtable and sits on the board of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
Rio Blanco is a taxpayer-supported special district that was formed in 1992 to operate and maintain Taylor Draw Dam, which creates Kenney Reservoir, just east of Rangely. The district extends roughly from the Yellow Creek confluence with the White River to the Utah state line.
Rio Blanco says Kenney Reservoir is silting in at a rate of 300 acre-feet per year, threatening the future of Rangely’s water supply and flatwater recreation, and a new off-channel reservoir on the White River could help solve this problem.
If a water-court judge grants the motion to intervene, the state will become the second opposer in the case. Currently, the only other remaining opposer is 4M Ranch, owned by Deirdre Macnab.
Tucked between rolling hills of arid, sagebrush-covered rangeland, the proposed reservoir and dam site abut her 13,000-acre property along the White River.
Macnab, who bought the beef and hay operation nearly five years ago, is on the board of the conservation group White River Alliance, as well as the Yampa/White/Green River Basin Roundtable. Macnab said the main reason she opposes the reservoir project is because of the state’s concerns.
“If we felt that there was a clear purpose and need that would benefit the public, then we would, in fact, be supportive of this,” Macnab said. “But the fact that the experts are saying there does not appear to be a clear purpose and need means that this would be a real travesty and waste of taxpayer money. It’s something we will continue to oppose until that changes.”
State engineers are also concerned about the vagueness of the revised amounts of water for various uses that Rio Blanco says it needs.
In a 2018 report, Division 6 engineer Erin Light questioned Rio Blanco’s claims that it needed water for industrial/oil and natural gas/oil shale and irrigation uses. In response, Rio Blanco dropped those claims but almost doubled the need for municipal and industrial use for the town of Rangely and added a new demand for recreation.
The conservancy district also set the amount of water for environmental needs for threatened and endangered species at between 3,000 and 42,000 acre-feet despite its acknowledgement that the actual amount needed for this use was unknown. Rio Blanco then added a new demand for a sediment pool of 3,000 to 24,000 acre-feet and an insurance pool of up to 3,000 acre-feet but did not describe either of these uses.
“Thus, despite removing its claims for industrial/oil and natural gas/oil shale, which originally accounted for over half the demand for the claimed water right, the total demands for water identified by RBWCD actually increased to 24,000-100,000 acre-feet,” the motion to intervene reads.
Since 2013, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has given roughly $850,000 in grant money to Rio Blanco to study the White River storage project, including a $350,000 Colorado Water Plan grant in 2018. According to CWCB communications director Sara Leonard, Rio Blanco has so far spent about 60% of these most recent grant funds.
Leonard said that DWR’s motion to intervene was not a surprise to the CWCB, that the two state agencies with seemingly differing views on the project have met and that the CWCB is aware of the state engineers’ concerns.
“The grants that have been awarded to the applicant to date have all been with the intention of helping the District with the evaluation process,” Leonard wrote in an email. “In other words, the motion has not changed the scope of the ongoing work in the grant.”
The Colorado River Water Conservation District has also given Rio Blanco $50,000 toward investigating the feasibility of the storage project.
“We are not advocates and we are not opposers,” said Jim Pokrandt, director of River District community affairs and chair of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. “It’s a regional question that our constituents need to figure out.”
Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Craig Daily Press and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Jan. 17, 2020 edition of The Craig Daily Press.
Here’s the release from the Utah Department of Natural Resources (Kim Wells:
After reviewing and incorporating over 330 public comments, the Utah Division of Water Resources has finalized regional water conservation goals. Goals were established for nine regions around the state for municipal and industrial (M&I) water conservation. M&I includes residential, commercial, institutional (for example, schools and parks), and industrial water use, and excludes agriculture, mining and power generation.
“We appreciate all those who took the time to review the goals and share their opinions,” said Division of Water Resources Director Eric Millis. “There were some insightful comments, which were incorporated into the report. There is always value in soliciting public input.”
Although the numbers did not change, the comments improved the readability of the report including text clarifications that make the report better. All 334 comments and the division’s response to them are included in Appendix J of the report. The comments were collected during a 30-day comment period that ran from Aug. 27-Sept. 25.
The goals vary by region. When every region reaches its goal, a 16% water use reduction will be realized by 2030. This approach allows the goals to be tailored to each region’s characteristics.
“When you look at the amazing variety we have in our great state – from southern Utah’s red rocks to the Alpine mountains in the north – targeting goals for a specific region allows the goals to account for things like climate, elevation, growing season and specific needs,” said Millis. “It’s a more local and customized approach.”
“The regional goals replace the ‘25% by 2025’ goal. They also build on the previous statewide goal and will require everyone to do their part to conserve this precious resource,” said River Basin Planning Manager Rachel Shilton. “Every step counts and water conservation needs to become a way of life for all Utahns.”
Utah’s previous statewide conservation goal of reducing per-capita use 25% by 2025 was introduced by Gov. Gary Herbert during his 2013 State of the State address. (Gov. Mike Leavitt first set a target to use 25% less water by the year 2050 back in 2000.) Utahns were making great progress on the water conservation front, so Herbert challenged Utahns to cut the time in half. The regional goals are designed to continue to improve the state’s conservation efforts.
To formulate the regional water conservation goals, the Division of Water Resources first gathered public input. During fall 2018, over 1,650 people participated in a water conservation survey, and eight open houses across the state were held. After public input was tallied, a team consisting of water providers, members from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, and Water Resources staff worked with a third-party consultant to provide input on the region-specific goals. Public input was gathered during a 30-day comment period, reviewed and incorporated.
“These goals will help guide the state’s water managers in planning future infrastructure, policies and programs consistent with Utah’s semiarid climate and growing demand for water,” said Millis. “They will also be used to plan conservation programs.”
From the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts (Callie Hendrickson) via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:
To date, there has not been a call on the White River. Therefore, the community has enjoyed the benefits of a “free river,” meaning it has not been under administration by the state. However, we are seeing more and more demand for Colorado’s precious water resource. Agriculture and other consumptive uses that rely on the Colorado River and its tributaries feel a target on their back as the thirsty cities continue to grow in Colorado and other states. Unfortunately, irrigated agriculture is the easiest and cheapest source of additional water for those that don’t understand the multiple benefits agriculture water provides. All Coloradans and visitors benefit from agriculture providing food, fiber, wildlife habitat, environmental benefits and open spaces.
Therefore, the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts have been looking for opportunities to help Rio Blanco County ag producers protect their water rights. We have held multiple water seminars in the county and will continue to do so to ensure producers can learn, ask questions, and provide input to attorneys and others involved in water policies.
District 43 (Rio Blanco County) Lead Water Commissioner Shanna Lewis met with the Douglas Creek Conservation District Board to answer questions regarding how producers can ensure their water usage is being recorded at the state. If the state does not have record of your water usage, your water right could be in jeopardy. Currently, Lewis is the only water commissioner working in White River Basin and she is working diligently to record water use.
As the irrigation season comes to a close, Lewis will begin entering water use data into the state’s data system in November and December. She will enter the information she has collected and the information that is submitted by the water user. Therefore, it is imperative for all water users to submit their water usage to Lewis by November 15 each year. If you do not have a measuring device, report the dates you turn your water on and off. If you do have a measuring device, report the amount you are diverting throughout the year. Indicate if you are using the water for irrigation and/or for livestock watering and when there are changes in the amount diverted. The more accurate your records and reporting to the state, the more protection for your water right.
How do you report your data to the water commissioner? Lewis will accept your data via email, mail and/or text. Visit the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts’ website at http://www.WhiteRiverCD.com and click on the “Water tab” for a form provided by the State Division of Water Resources that can be filled out and submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to P.O. Box 1388, Meeker, Colorado, 81641, attention Shanna Lewis. Or, send text messages as you turn water on and off and she will record your information. Her cell phone number is 970-439-8008. Please call Lewis with any questions and/or if you would like her to verify your measuring device, diversion structure or recorded usage. She is eager to help you.
Also note that taking a picture showing the water level on your measuring device is a great way to provide proof of the amount of water you are diverting. Most cell phones will document the date the picture was taken. Lewis welcomes you to either send her the pictures at the time you take them or send them all at the end of the irrigation season. This is a great way to assist the water commissioner in her documenting of your water use. Be sure to keep copies of all your records and pictures.
Additionally, the Conservation Districts encourage you to also review the state’s website to see what is recorded for your diversion structure. You can access that site through the Districts’ website noted above.
Remember, the best way you can protect your water right is to submit your water usage to the commissioner by Nov. 15.
Sounds of the Poudre River rolling over rocks, children and adults laughing and screaming and live music could be heard just north of Old Town at the Poudre River Whitewater Park Saturday.
An ongoing project since 2014, the Poudre River Whitewater Park was finally opened to the public [October 23, 2019].
A number of people spoke at the ribbon-cutting event, including Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell, Councilmember Susan Gutowsky, local business owner and project donor Jack Graham and City Manager Darin Atteberry.
“This is really a gem now in Fort Collins, and I’m really excited to be here today and to appreciate all the things this great City can do for the people of Fort Collins,” Troxell said. “The Poudre River is indeed a treasure, and we must guard it, and we must protect it and we must also enjoy it.”
Alex Mcintosh, a Fort Collins resident and kayaker, said the construction of the Whitewater Park in Fort Collins means a lot to him as a kayaker.
“I think it will bring a bunch of different subcultures and communities together: fishermen, rafters and people during the summer for tubing,” Mcintosh said. “It’s nice to see they’ve taken the initiative to create something in town for everyone to enjoy and learn and educate themselves about the river.”
Troxell said the Poudre River has been a working river for a long time, so a lot of diversions, irrigation ditches and canals have already been built into the river. He said this particular part of the river already had a lot of man-made additions to it, which makes the river uninhabitable and inaccessible.
The goal of the Poudre River master plan is to reclaim the river for natural habitat and create accessibility for the people of Fort Collins, and the completion of the Whitewater Park marks the beginning of that process.
“When I was growing up here, the river was the back door,” Troxell said. “It had the riff-raff, it had the old cars and now, today, it’s our front door.”
Gutowsky said the Heritage Trail Program plans to add signs throughout the river corridors, along with viewing areas that will allow visitors to understand the messages of history and the environment of the Poudre River.
“Here we are today celebrating the Poudre River, and it is the jewel of our City,” Gutowsky said. “Over the decades, our river has seen great drama and interesting characters. It has many interesting stories to share. Not only will our Whitewater Park be a recreational phenomenon, but it will also serve as a heritage gateway: a physical and informational gateway created through a funding partnership.”
Graham said there was a massive amount of people who contributed to the project, and nothing could have been accomplished without the support of Fort Collins citizens who voted for and donated to the park.
“We should point to the success of this park as a great example of how investing in our community works, and we should continue to invest wisely,” Graham said. “People will be attracted to come to Fort Collins to see the Whitewater Park and the River District. New businesses will be formed, and the help of our community to even higher levels of economic strength are going to occur. The park is going to be a great asset to our City.”
Atteberry said the park is only the beginning, and new ideas and projects are already in motion for the Poudre River. He also said the main goals of the Whitewater Park were recreation for citizens of Fort Collins, river safety and the juxtaposition between the man-made and the natural environment.
“Recreation matters to this town, not only because it’s fun, but because we want to be a healthy community, and this is forwarding that strategic objective,” Atteberry said. “Safety matters. There are going to be fewer properties that are flooding because of this project. It’s not just a pretty face. It has a deep function to it, and that is it helps take properties out of the floodplain.”
Kurt Friesen, director of the Park Planning and Development department for the City of Fort Collins, said the construction of the park wasn’t easy, and seeing it open was so rewarding because he knew the process it went through.
Friesen said the project underwent a number of obstacles, including the limited timeframe given to get the work done in the river. He said a series of very old manholes were found in the river that were used to direct flows into the old power plant.
Friesen said that, normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but since the team was racing against the clock to get the work done before the snowmelt in April, it was a problem.
However, the contractors and their team were able to get the manholes removed quickly, and the project was able to continue.
“I just want to say thank you to those that committed themselves,” Friesen said. “I believe this will be Fort Collins’ next great place largely because of that commitment.”
Erin Light is the division engineer for the Yampa, White and North Platte River basins for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the state agency that manages water rights. Light said she’s sent orders requiring 575 water users to install headgates and measuring devices as required by Colorado law. Most of these orders went to users in the Yampa River basin, though Light estimated about 100 of them went to users in the North Platte River basin in North Park.
In March, water rights holders received notice that they would be required to install headgates and measuring devices. Light estimated fewer than 25% of the users who received notices actually installed the required infrastructure.
Now, those water rights owners have been sent an order to install these devices by Nov. 30. After that date, they’ll be required to either have devices in place or stop using their water.
“If you choose to not divert water and say ‘Fine, I only have a headgate, I’m shutting it. Again, I’m shutting it. I’m not going to put a measuring device in.’ That’s fine, as long as you don’t divert water,” Light said. “But if you have a headgate, no measuring device and choose to divert water contrary to that order after Nov. 30, next spring, May or whenever you turn on (your water), and we see that, we’re going to shut the headgate, and if necessary, we’ll lock the headgate.”
If users break the lock or open the gate, the division could pursue enforcement actions with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, Light said.
Without a headgate, users and engineers can’t shut off water. For users who divert water without a headgate, Light said the fine for diverting water contrary to the order is $500 each day water is flowing.
Colorado water rights are a “use-it or lose-it” commodity. If a person is not using all of their water right, they can lose part or all of their water right through the abandonment process. Every 10 years, division engineers are required to provide the water court with a list of water rights they believe are abandoned partially or entirely. Light’s office is working through this process now. A preliminary list will be published on July 1, 2020.
“We’re talking to people about the fact that their water right is being considered for abandonment, because we do have an initial list that we’ve developed,” Light said. “Our water commissioners are inspecting structures with water rights on the list and talking to water users, and there’s a lot of frustration (from users) about ‘How could my water right be on the abandonment list?’”
Light said some users don’t realize they can lose part of their water right, but statute says water rights can be abandoned “in whole or in part.”
Keeping accurate records can help. Light encourages water rights owners to track the water they’re using as her office works through the abandonment process. Light said water users should keep note when and at what flow they turn their diversions on or off, any time they adjust flows or anytime water levels in streams and ditches significantly fluctuate.
“Maybe they did divert their water right, but we never got a record of it,” she said. “We observe something less because we weren’t out there at peak flow, and if water users would provide us accurate records of their water use, it’s possible that some of these water rights wouldn’t be included on the list. … It’s really critical that people start taking on that responsibility to protect their water right and keep records. It’s critical in many instances, but one of them is abandonment.”
From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:
Anyone who has talked to Lex Collins knows how much the E Lazy S Ranch means to him. For years Collins stewarded its landscape with former landowners, Tom and Ruth Pearce, and their daughter Denise. The ranch’s productive hayfields combined with spectacular scenery and a mile of White River frontage make it easy to see why Collins cares so deeply about this landscape. As of July 25, 2019, with leadership from Collins and in partnership with Hal and Christine Pearce and multiple conservation organizations, the E Lazy S Ranch was permanently conserved, ensuring that it will remain undeveloped forever.
Sandwiched among three existing conserved ranches, the E Lazy S Ranch was one of the largest remaining unprotected properties along the White River in an area known as Agency Park. Conservation of the ranch conserved 562 additional acres and tied together a 4,492-acre block of conserved land in the heart of the valley. The landscape is highly visible from County Road 8, also known as the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway, and makes up a portion of the view shed for travelers on State Highway 13.
The ranch’s meadows and forests provide crucial habitat for local elk and mule deer herds for which northwest Colorado is renowned, as well as coyote, bald eagle, greater sandhill crane and numerous small mammals. The riparian areas along the property contain a box elder-narrowleaf cottonwood/red osier dogwood forest—a forest type unique to the Yampa and White River basins of northwest Colorado.
While the E Lazy S boasts spectacular conservation values, its story of ownership and generational transfer make it unique. Formerly known as the Pearce Ranch, the E Lazy S Ranch was owned by Tom and Ruth Pearce who purchased the ranch in 1961. Tom and Ruth ran a successful agricultural operation and were honored as the commercial breeders of the year by the Colorado Hereford Association in 1987. For many years, Lex Collins managed the ranch with Tom, Ruth and their daughter Denise. In 2014, after both Tom and Ruth had passed, the ranch was left to their three children: Denise, Hal, and Christine. Tragically, Denise passed away in 2015, but not before leaving her share of the ranch to Collins. It was the goal of Hal and Christine to honor the legacy of their family by keeping the ranch intact as an agricultural entity, and they were able to work together with Collins to develop a plan to allow him to become the sole owner of the ranch, using a conservation easement as the primary mechanism to generate revenue.
“I’m trying to carry on what Denise Pearce invested her life in: the Pearce Ranch. The conservation easement is the only way that is possible. I thank everyone involved for enabling this ranch to continue forward with its true heritage,” Collins said when asked about the conservation project. Now that the E Lazy S ranch is conserved, he plans to continue to raise cattle and hay on the property, and eventually his daughter, Macy, plans to take over the agricultural operation.
“GOCO is proud to partner in this project, helping to conserve forever a ranch that contributes to a large block of conserved ranchland in the area, which is important wildlife habitat, and which also protects amazing, wide open views for those traveling along the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway, and State Highway 13,” said GOCO Executive Director Chris Castilian. “Our sincere thanks to all who made it possible, especially Lex Collins and the Pearce family.”
Conservation of the ranch was also supported by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). “Conserving working agricultural lands is one of the NRCS’s highest priorities,” said Clint Evans, NRCS Colorado State Conservationist. “The Agency’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program provides the much needed opportunities to forge and maintain valuable partnerships between organizations and landowners that make it easier for NRCS to help people help the land.” The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited were also important partners for the project, providing funding to help offset the transaction costs.
“Few people have the opportunity to leave a perpetual legacy,” said CCALT’s Molly Fales, “but that is what Mr. Collins has done here. By conserving the E Lazy S Ranch, he has ensured that the Pearce family’s ranching legacy will remain, and he has cemented his own conservation legacy in the valley.”
Hal Pearce echoed these sentiments saying: “It may no longer have the Pearce name attached to it, but it’s still home. In the end it’s about the land and is really bigger than any of us.”
Pearce Ranch Conservation Legacy, $420,000 grant to Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust
GOCO will help CCALT acquire a conservation easement on the two parcels making up the Pearce Ranch, totaling 620 acres. Proceeds from the easement will enable the ranch’s long-time manager to purchase the property. Conserving the property will continue its ranching legacy, in addition to protecting wildlife habitat and water rights benefiting all of the properties in the Highland Ditch system.
Picture taken 6/25/18 from the Miller Creek bridge. Algae bloom. Photo credit: White River AlgaeTechnical Advisory Group
A view of the White River foreground, and the Wolf Creek gulch, across the river. The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District has been using state funds, and their own, to study two dam options for this area between Meeker and Rangely on the White River. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith