EPA: Our proposal to protect clean water does not regulate puddles and water on driveways and playgrounds

July 22, 2014

From the Public News Service (Stephanie Carson):

Groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation and other “big ag” organizations are protesting proposed federal rules that would redefine which bodies of water are regulated under the Clean Water Act.

Among the exceptions to that protest are farmers represented by the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Bill Midcap, director of external affairs with the union, says he and his peers recognize the importance of maintaining the state’s limited water supply.

“We’ve broken ranks, but we think that education and clarity of these rules is something ag’s going to need,” says Midcap.

While opponents of the proposed regulations say they place a burden on the farm community, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union launched a campaign this month called “They Don’t Speak for Me,” intended to underline the fact not all farmers agree with the “big ag” lobby’s opposition to the water rules.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the proposed rule clarifications are needed to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act, and to ensure the ability of a new rule which would still offer exemptions for everyday agricultural activities. EPA representatives have been traveling around Colorado to help farmers understand the proposed regulations, and to demonstrate how the clarifications will enable farmers to continue irrigation of crops.

Julia McCarthy, environmental life scientist with the EPA, also notes the proposed regulations simply reinstate rules initially put into place in the 1970s.

“We want to make sure these headwater areas are providing a clean source of water for downstream communities and downstream irrigators so we don’t have issues with high pollution levels in the water that we’re using to water our crops,” says McCarthy.

The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 to address water pollution, but Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 limited the Clean Water Act to waters deemed “navigable.” The EPA says this has created confusion when it comes to enforcement of water regulations.

Bill Midcap says he just wants to make sure farmers have a voice as the rules develop.

“Despite the opposition, these rules are going to move forward,” he says. “So, why not try to get real clarification of how the rules are being written, before they are written?” The EPA has extended their public comment period to Oct. 20.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


Durango: CLUB 20 Water Policy Committee Meeting — July 31

July 22, 2014
Durango

Durango

From email from Club 20 (Shawna Grieger):

Here [are] the most recent agendas for the upcoming CLUB 20 Water, Agriculture, Public Lands & Transportation and Energy Policy Meetings that will be held in Durango, Colorado.

Anyone is welcome to attend CLUB 20 policy meetings during the Winter and Summer meetings. However, you must be a CLUB 20 Member to vote during committee meetings and to receive e-updates and alerts per committee. Please let us know if you are planning on attending the Summer Policy Committee Meetings July 31 and August 1 in Durango or if you have any questions regarding CLUB 20 efforts and membership.


Grand Junction: Some history of the Kannah Creek diversion #COWaterPlan

July 22, 2014
Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background

Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Greg Trainor):

From the incorporation of the town of Grand Junction in 1882 until 1911, the prospect of a firm water supply for Grand Junction citizens was in doubt. For almost 30 years, numerous recall elections, battles between the town and private water purveyors, and municipal expeditions to find mountain “water at any price” took up most of the official business of Grand Junction aldermen.

See-sawing back and forth between municipal ownership of the town water system and franchises to private companies to operate the system, the source of the town water supply also see-sawed between locations on the Colorado River at Fifth Street and the Gunnison River near the Redlands Water and Power Company Diversion. In Spring, supply was up, but so was sediment and mud. In late summer and fall, flow was down and ability to keep pipes full of water for fire protection suffered.

In 1894 the citizens voted 88 percent to build and operate a municipal water system but it took 13 years for the town to finally file for a water right in Kannah Creek, 20 miles to the southeast. The town was desperate: Could they afford a municipal system, who would buy bonds to pay for a system, where were there year-round supplies of water?

After having looked at mountain water supplies on Pinon Mesa near Glade Park, Kruzen Springs above Palisade, Whitewater Creek (later acquired by the City in 1989), the city settled on Kannah Creek. Ironically with the help of engineers from the Denver Union Water Company (later to become the Denver Water Department), the city filed a petition in eminent domain in Mesa County District Court for the first 7.81 cubic feet per second of flow from Kannah Creek.

As owners of all of the direct flow water rights on Kannah Creek, ranchers and farmers in Kannah Creek were not long in joining together in their opposition to the city’s actions. Their water was in the cross hairs of the city. An action in eminent domain is not the same as a filing for a water right in Water Court. In the latter case, a filing is made for water and proof is presented to the court that shows the water being put to beneficial use. The Water Court then establishes a priority date for use of the water, insuring that no other water user with a more senior water right is damaged. On the contrary, the city’s action in condemnation allowed the city to act under its powers of eminent domain and secure (“take”) water for the use of its citizens, provided, however, that the city make full compensation or satisfaction for all damages incurred by the taking.

In 1911, four years later, a jury awarded $182,940 to all parties from whom the city had acquired the water. The District Court also decreed that the city to be the owner of “a first, superior and paramount right to a continuous flow of 7.81 cfs over and above all other water rights claimed in Kannah Creek.” The city had the water, now it needed a way to get the water from Kannah Creek to Reservoir Hill above the city cemeteries, near Fifth Street. After years of offerings, Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (Pueblo steel mills), purchased the water bonds which allowed Grand Junction to build a state-of-the-art wood stave water line from Kannah Creek to the water plant.

To this day, the city’s pre-1922, “paramount” water right is the backbone of the city’s water supply system. Since 1911, the city has continued to acquire additional water rights and ranch properties to insure that mountain water is available to its citizens.

These actions between 1907 and 1911 colored all relationships between the City of Grand Junction and the landowners in Kannah Creek. Storage of Kannah Creek water, easements and rights of way, water for livestock, treated water for safe drinking, reservoir ownership and maintenance, and administration of the Grand Mesa “Pool” were continuous issues that festered during the entire 20th century. Yes, the landowners in Kannah Creek have long memories.

Today, the efforts to affect a State Water Plan include ideas to share water between agriculture and municipal users. It is unlikely that municipal condemnation would be the first idea implemented, but rather a series of purchase options, water banking, water rentals, or payments for fallowing would be considered. However, when circumstances cause a municipal water provider to feel it has exhausted all methods to secure a safe and reliable water supply, condemnation remains as a tool that, at the direction of a water policy board, could be employed to acquire water “at any price.”

Note: Material for this article comes from “City of Grand Junction v. Kannah Creek Water Users Association, No. 27047, Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc. December 20, 1976.

Greg Trainor is the recently retired Public Works and Utility Director for the City of Grand Junction. He is currently the Chair of the Advisory Committee for the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University and acting President of the Southwest Chapter of the River Management Society.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Drought news: It’s no picnic for direct irrigators this season #COdrought

July 22, 2014


From The Washington Post (Lydia DePillis):

At the appointed hour, [Chuck Pointon] turns the head gate at the Fort Lyon Canal, sending water sluicing through ditches bordering the fields. He tracks up and down the rows, adjusting pipes and valves to make sure the water is flowing just right. Almost as soon as he’s got it working, it’s another field’s turn, and he lifts the dams to send water in a different direction. That goes on through the night: If a piece of trash were to block a gate, they could lose thousands of gallons of water, which might leave whole rows of corn lacking the moisture they need to grow.

They call it “babysitting the water,” for its finicky nature and the sleep they lose over it. And in an age of automation, the Pointons have no machines to help. Without a sprinkler system — which the Pointons couldn’t afford to install, even if they could spare the extra land it takes up — they rely on gravity to spread it across the fields…

This drought is worse and longer-lasting than anyone here has ever seen — so punishing that it’s pushing people like the Pointons, whose families have survived on the land for decades, to the brink of giving up. Their farm is in an angry red splotch on the USDA’s drought map, indicating sustained, abnormal dryness – less rain fell in the 42 months before May of last year than in the stretch in the mid-1930s now called the Dust Bowl.

The lingering dryness, combined with the loss of access to the irrigation systems that used to make up for it, is one of the biggest forces dragging America’s rural areas further behind its dynamic cities: While the poverty rate stabilized for metropolitan areas in 2012, it kept growing on farms and in tiny towns, ticking up to 17.7 percent. Rural counties lost people overall — rather than just as a percentage of the U.S. population — for the first time ever from 2010 to 2012. With climate change shortening the wet times and prolonging the dry ones on into the future, it’s unclear that they’ll ever truly recover…

And it’s not just the weather. Over the years, the farms have also lost a war with fast-growing urban centers: There’s already much less water than there used to be trickling through the surrounding fields, since investors had bought up their water rights — which are normally attached to the land, entitling the owner to take a certain percentage of the water flowing through a river — and profited by flipping them to thirsty cities. Just down the road in Rocky Ford, melon farmers sold their shares to pay off debts in the early 2000s, for tens of thousands of dollars each, leaving the farms baking and dry. In her pessimistic moments, Anita worries about nearby cities damming Fowler Creek to make a reservoir, which could choke off her lifeline as well…

Anita and Chuck were once part of that younger generation that moved away from these ranchlands. They lived in Denver for seven years, where Anita worked as an accountant — but returned in 1990 to take over her family farm, which Anita finds more satisfying. Still, it’s not been like what she remembered growing up there as a girl. This year, the farm has weathered dust storms the likes of which nobody had seen before: high-velocity clouds of dirt and debris that coated everything in muck.

“The dirt flows in, and it’s on your walls, and in your car. You can’t do anything. You’re in the house,” Anita shudders. “It’s horrible.” Her grainy cellphone pictures just show farm equipment as smudges in a brown miasma.

The couple’s financial reserves are wearing thin. Last year, farms fed by the Fort Lyon Canal in the Arkansas Valley got less than half the volume of water they usually do and almost no rain, leaving the land bone-dry. The Pointons sold half the cattle off their land, and leaned on the insurance on their failed corn crop for income.

If the crops fail again this year, they’ll likely go further into debt. Chuck could go work at the fish hatchery, which he did during a bad spell in 2003, and Anita might focus harder on the joy she feels in watching calves grow up every spring, rather than whether she can afford to keep raising them.

“There’s a lot of things in play,” Anita said. “After you start laying it out, it’s like, why are we farming?”

“Because we don’t have enough money to move away,” says Chuck, from the living room, where he’s taking a break from irrigating with a tall glass of ice water.​


The latest newsletter from the Water Resources Archives at Colorado State is hot off the presses

July 21, 2014


Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Summer Water Reads
Think “outside the box” this summer and pick up some interesting water books that go beyond Colorado. Start with an adventure story, The Emerald Mile, which recounts the fastest ride down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, during the 1983 flooding of Glen Canyon Dam. For a tragic yet eye-opening tale, take a look at Washed Away, which examines the Great Flood of 1913, a widespread event mostly centered on Indiana and Ohio. Travel to Kansas in The Ogallala Road, a woman’s recent memoir of the plight of irrigated agriculture and dealing with the impact to the aquifer. Through fiction, experience the emotional effects of a Las Vegas groundwater grab on a rural Nevada farm family in the novel The Ordinary Truth. These books present diverse viewpoints on various water events or issues in other states, taking your mind to new places and new — perhaps debateable — thoughts. Happy reading!


Colorado Water Officials Association (CWOA) conference October 1-3

July 21, 2014
Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs

From email from the Division of Water Resources (Laura Kalafas):

Hello, we are having our annual Colorado Water Officials Association (CWOA) conference October 1-3, 2014, in Steamboat Springs, CO. Please let me know if your company/organization is interested in being an event sponsor…We would be happy to list your company/organization in our conference program and other publications.

Click here for the agenda
Click here for more information
Click here for the registration form
Click here for the sponsorship form

More Colorado Division of Water Resources coverage here.


EPA proposed rule: Normal farming activities like planting crops and moving cattle do not require permits

July 21, 2014

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