Energy policy coalbed methane: Aguilar town council hears presentation about coalbed methane well produced water

September 30, 2010

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From The Trinidad Times (Randy Woock):

A presentation at the town council meeting on the water monitoring had been arranged, Pioneer’s Senior Public Relations Advisor, Karen Brown, told the meeting’s attendees, “So you all could hear more about what it is we do to protect the water that is coming off of the discharges CBM production…the intent (of the presentation) is to open the discussion, provide some information about how Pioneer is approaching this, that we want to approach it from a scientific perspective and have documentation to prove that, in fact, water is, in fact, within its permit limits.”

Pioneer has been discharging around the Apishapa River since 2005, though none of its four outfalls are on the Apishapa River’s mainstem. Pioneer is currently discharging at a rate of 1.8 acre-feet of water, or 600,000 gallons, per day. Pioneer has about 2,450 wells in the basin. The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit it has applied for, according to Pioneer’s senior energy environmental advisor, Gerald Jacob, would allow for a maximum surface discharge amount of 999,999 gallons per day.

The discharge permitting process begins with the preparation of a draft permit, of which are considered possible impacts of the proposed discharge levels, measured against the water quality standards as adopted by the Water Quality Control Commission. The standards consider variables like effluent limits based on in-stream water quality, the quality and types of expected effluents coming from the discharge facility and as well as impacts on the stream at extreme low-flow periods…

The three monitoring stations deployed on the Apishapa River — at Lisonbee, Eichler and Nations — were placed and are monitored by the Norwest Corporation, a environmental consulting firm specializing in hydrology. Norwest’s stations monitor in 15-minute intervals water levels and salinity at their deployment points, as well as conducting flow measurements and water quality sampling every two weeks. Processed data and the resultant charts are uploaded to the website, apishapawatershed.org, after several weeks, though each station also contains a direct display that updates every minute. “I really encourage you to use the website, and if you’re concerned and you want to keep track of stuff…we post all the lab data results, we’re comparing it to what we’re finding in the stream…it’s a really useful tool,” Hyrdrologist Angela Welch of Norwest said. “We really are trying to help you guys out by protecting your assets, which is your stream.”

More coalbed methane here and here.


HB 09-1067, Instream Flow Tax Incentives

August 5, 2009

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From email from the Colorado Water Trust:

On June 4, 2009, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed HB 09-1067 (pdf) into law. This new legislation becomes effective today, August 5, 2009. This exciting piece of legislation creates the Instream Flow Tax Credit program, which provides a tax credit of up to 50% of the value of a water right donated to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”) for use in the state’s instream flow program. This program encourages voluntary water rights donations to preserve Colorado’s streams and lakes. Please note, however, that the amount of annual revenue which the legislature can spend is limited by state statute. The ISF tax credit will not be allowed in years (such as this year) in which revenues are not expected to exceed this limit.

Here’s the link to their FAQ on the legislation.

More 2009 Colorado legislation coverage here.


H.B. 09-1129: Sterling Ranch development hopes to utilize rainwater catchments

August 3, 2009

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A Douglas County development — Sterling Ranch near Chatfield Reservoir — hopes to incorporate rainwater catchments into the design. Here’s a report from Andrew Simons writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

[Harold Smethills the major investor of Sterling Ranch] hopes Sterling Ranch will be one of 10 pilot residential developments to get statehouse approval for a rainwater collection system for use in the development. The rest of the rain that falls along the Front Range “is lost through evaporation” or is absorbed by native plants, such as field grasses, Smethills says…

Within the development, Smethills plans to install systems that will capture, store and recycle rainwater. These systems, Smethills says, will reduce the development’s consumption of municipal water by 50 percent…

For example, Sterling Ranch planners will install tanks underneath street roundabouts. Roads in the development will be constructed so rainwater will flow into the roundabouts. “This process utilizes tributary water in average or better rainfall years supplemented with storage and Denver Basin water in drought years,” according to the Sterling Ranch website. “This plan maximizes natural stream flows, traditional water storage, and by using the Denver Basin, we will dramatically reduce the water losses from evaporation while ensuring a dependable supply.”

Other water storage systems could include roof capture, where water is directed from a roof through a special gutter system and stored in a tank at the home. According to a study done by Headwaters Corp., a typical residential system where water is stored underground would run about $10,000 to $15,000…

In June, Gov. Bill Ritter signed HB 1129 into law. Getting permits won’t be easy. Prospective pilot projects must ensure water that’s captured in a neighborhood would not otherwise go into streams.

More Coyote Gulch 2009 legislative session coverage here.


S.B. 09-080: Rainwater catchments legislation limited to properties with an ‘exempt well’

August 1, 2009

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Here’s a look at S.B. 09-080 which allows collection of precipitation for properties that have an exempt well, from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit Daily News. From the article:

Some of the early news stories on the change were unclear about the change in the law, creating an expectation that this “new” source of water would be widely available. But the new rule is very limited in scope. It doesn’t enable everyone to start catching and using rain water willy-nilly. In fact, the only people eligible are those who have a well permit from the state. “We’re starting to get some calls on this,” said local water commissioner Scott Hummer. “You can only use rain water for the same domestic indoor uses authorized by a well permit.”

In other words, people who get their water from a utility are not allowed to capture and use rainwater. The fundamental premise of state water law is still that every drop of rain needs to flow back into a river or into the groundwater, where it becomes part of a downstream water right owned by someone else who previously claimed it.

The tiny new exception is only for people who use a well for domestic water. And it only allows them to use the water for the same purposes specified by the well permit. In most cases, that means only indoor domestic use. It’s not legal to capture the rainwater and use it on outside plants, and it’s not legal to fill a hot tub with it, Hummer explained.

More Coyote Gulch 2009 Colorado Legislation coverage here.


S.B. 09-080, Precipitation Collect Limited Exemptions

June 29, 2009

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From the Associated Press via the Aspen Times (Stephen K. Paulson): “It will be legal for homeowners to use rainwater for fire protection, animals, irrigation and household use,” [with an exempt well].

Here’s the New York Times article that got everyone’s attention.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


H.B. 09-1185, Water Rights Applications Documents

June 28, 2009

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House Bill 09-1185 (pdf) will become state law on Wednesday. The bill allow electronic filing of documents for water rights applications. From the Durango Herald:

House Bill 1185 allows people filing paperwork for water rights to e-mail the application instead of mailing four paper copies to state regulators. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, were the sponsors.

•SB 80 allows homeowners with a well permit to collect rain and snow from their rooftops for use in the house, to water a garden and for stock watering. Isgar and Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, were the sponsors.

Here’s the link to the new streamlined water court rules also slated for their debut on Wednesday.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


Colorado Conservation Voters: 2009 scorecard

June 16, 2009

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Here’s the link to the Colorado Conservation Voters 2009 Scorecard. They’re pleased overall with the 2009 legislative session.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


H.B. 09-1067, Instream Flow Tax Incentives

June 4, 2009

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From PRNewswire via the Denver Post:

Passed by the legislature during the 2009 session, House Bill 1067 creates a new incentive for individuals to contribute to the long-term health of important stretches of stream in all of Colorado’s river basins. Under current law, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) can receive donations of water rights to protect stream flows and benefit the environment. The legislation authorizes the Colorado Water Conservation Board to award tax credit certificates to donors of water rights that the Board deems worthy of such consideration. The Board negotiates the tax credit values with the water right donor.

“Giving Colorado’s family farmers more options in deciding how to benefit from their property will help our agricultural communities,” said Kent Peppler, President of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “As good land stewards, family farmers will look favorably upon this program as an alternative to selling their rights to water developers who often export the water to urban and suburban parts of the state.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage <a href="


H.B. 09-1308, Funding for Div Of Water Resources

June 4, 2009

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From the Telluride Watch (K.C. Mason):

House Bill 1308 (pdf), introduced by Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, sets new ground rules for water produced from the development of coal bed methane gas wells. “It probably was one of the most important bills of the whole session because it really is a new section in Colorado water law,” [State Senator Jim Isgar] said. “We’ve been working on it for several months with the State Engineer’s office, the Water Congress, the oil and gas industry, and senior water rights holders.” The new law, presuming the bill is signed by Gov. Bill Ritter, creates a process for determining whether produced water has a beneficial use and whether shallow wells that are used in energy production are on tributaries that can cause injury to senior water users.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


Fountain Creek Flood Control and Greenway District: Kickoff event Monday

May 16, 2009

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From the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Fountain Creek Flood Control and Greenway District, signed into law last month by Gov. Bill Ritter, has no money yet, and in fact won’t officially come into existence until July 1. Ritter will attend an event to mark the formation of the new district at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Fountain City Hall. In the meantime a governing board created by the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force has been meeting. It will next meet at 10 a.m. May 29 at Fountain City Hall. The interim board has met to provide continuity and many of its members probably will sit on the district board in July. The nine-member board will have equal representation between the two counties. A joint appointment by the Pueblo County commissioners and City Council should be made in the next month. About a dozen people had applied before the deadline for applications closed Friday, [Pueblo County Commissioner Jeff Chostner] said.

The district will get $50 million over five years from Colorado Springs if the Southern Delivery System is completed from Pueblo Dam. Colorado Springs Utilities is now doing a business evaluation of the costs of their preferred route or an alternative through Fremont County.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.


H.B. 09-1303: Admin Mineral Development Water Wells

April 28, 2009

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Here’s a look at last week’s ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court which upheld a water court decision that water produced from coalbed methane wells is a beneficial use of the water and therefore subject to regulation by the state, from Randy Woock writing for the Trinidad Times-Independent. From the article:

The Supreme Court’s decision cited the Water Right Determination and Administration Act of 1969, which defined beneficial use as “…the use of that amount of water that is reasonable and appropriate under reasonably efficient practices to accomplish without waste the purpose for which the appropriation is lawfully made.” The court’s decision stated that, “Under the language of the Act, the (CBM) process “uses” water – by extracting it from the ground and storing it in tanks – to “accomplish” a particular “purpose” – the release of methane gas. Consequently, the extraction of water to facilitate (CBM) production is a “beneficial use” as defined in the Act and a “well” as defined in the Colorado Ground Water Management Act. ” The produced water from the CBM process had previously been considered a waste by-product, but the court’s decision rejected such a classification. “We reject the argument that water used in (CBM) production is merely a nuisance rather than a ‘beneficial use.’” the decision stated. “On the contrary, the use of water in (CBM) production is an integral part of the process itself. The presence and subsequent controlled extraction of the water makes the capture of methane gas possible.”[...]

Pioneer Natural Resources, the largest operator of CBM wells in Las Animas County, issued a response Thursday to The Times regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in the Vance case. “Pioneer has been following the case for some time and is presently evaluating the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s ruling,” Tom Sheffield, Vice President of Pioneer’s Rockies Assets Team, stated. “We appreciate the foresight of Representative (Kathleen) Curry, Senator (Jim) Isgar and the (SEO) for introducing a measure providing adequate time for a coordinated roll out of activities required by the new ruling while protecting existing tributary water rights in the state. That legislation, House Bill 1303, will be key to all Las Animas County water owners when it is passed and signed into law.”

According to Curry, House sponsor of HB 09-1303, the bill would provide breathing space for the large number of operators whose wells were just rendered out of compliance by the court’s decision. The bill would extend the amount of time available to operators to bring their wells into compliance with the permitting process as required by the court’s decision from 60 days to 270. “If I hadn’t run (HB 09-1303)…the Vance case affirms that about 5,000 gas wells would have been shut down, so we ran that bill to make sure there was a permitting process in place for (CBM) wells,” Curry said. “If we hadn’t run the bill, the Vance case, based on the ruling…all of those wells would have been out of compliance; we were guessing the the Supreme Court would rule that produced water is a beneficial use.”

Curry described the primary goal of the bill as setting up a regulatory process to “ensure that preexisting water users aren’t injured,” while also creating a process to brings all the CBM wells into the SEO’s regulatory framework. “It implements the decision, so I think we did a preemptive strike, knowing that the decision could put us in a position where they (the SEO) could have to review well permits for 5,000 wells in a 60 day period, and that’s just not practical,” she said. “They only do 1,000-2,000 well permits a year, and there would have been a 60 day period where all the operators on those (CBM) wells would have had to come into the (SEO) to get a permit. At least this way now we’ve got a way where the state can handle the workload and the operators can come into compliance.” HB 09-1303 also provides a requirement for augmentation for wells that might be depleting senior domestic water rights or existing domestic wells, and gives the state engineer the right to set additional guidelines for determining tributary versus non-tributary waters, along with the right to take the necessary steps to bring an operation into compliance should the operator have failed to have done so within the 270 day period. The bill stated that it was the legislature’s general intent to “clarify the circumstances under which permits are required when non-tributary ground water is removed in conjunction with the mining of minerals.” Non-tributary water is defined by HB 09-1303 as possessing several characteristics, such as being “withdrawn from a well that is completed in a confined sedimentary bedrock formation,” in addition to, “the well is not completed…in the Raton Basin and the well is located more than (12) miles from any point of contact between the aquifer and any natural stream, including its alluvium.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.


Governor Ritter signs H.B. 09-1233 (Recognize Acequias)

April 24, 2009

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From the Valley Courier:

House Bill 1233 promotes and encourages the continued operation of acequias, or historic community ditches such as those located in Vigil’s home county of Costilla County. The bill also promotes the viability of the historic communities that depend on this system as a means of irrigation and cultural preservation in southern Colorado. Democratic State Senator Gail Schwartz, who also represents the San Luis Valley as part of her senate district, was the Senate sponsor.

The acequia bill was a significant victory for freshman legislator Vigil who introduced the bill in the House of Representatives. It was personally significant for the representative because his great grandparents were the first water rights owners in Colorado. “The passage of this bill has been long overdue. It is important that we recognize all of Colorado’s diversity,” Vigil said. “House Bill 1233 attempts to tell a story of the culture and history of some of Colorado’s first Hispanics to move to southern Colorado, specifically the San Luis Valley. San Luis is the oldest town in Colorado, and home of the state’s first water right and the San Luis People’s ditch. I am extremely proud and thankful to my colleagues in the House and Senate to recognize the importance of this legislation.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.


S.B. 09-147, Water Supply Plans Pre-2003 Depletions

April 14, 2009

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Here’s a look at S.B. 09-147 — legislation that will give some groundwater irrigators a break on water they pumped from the South Platte alluvial aquifer prior to 2003 — by allowing augmentation using leased water, from K.C. Mason writing for the Sterling Jounral Advocate. From the article:

A new law allowing South Platte River well users to use leased water for payment of past depletions in decreed augmentation plans is being hailed as proof that groundwater and surface users can resolve their differences. The heavy hitters attending a recent bill-signing news conference emphasized the importance of Senate Bill 147 to the agriculture economy of northeastern Colorado…

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, and Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, will allow groundwater irrigators to buy or lease water from wherever they can, including the Colorado-Big Thompson project, for use in substitute water plans that are recognized in water court. Before the new law, well users could not get decreed water rights without paying back depletions from pumping between 1974, when wells were brought into the prioritization system, and 2003, when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in the Empire Lodge case that the state engineer no longer could approve annual substitute plans. “The key is that they won’t have to keep going back to water court to amend their augmentation plans, which is both costly and time consuming,” [Harris Sherman, DNR director] said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.


H.B. 09-1174, Exempt Pre-1974 Well Depletions

April 11, 2009

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We missed it but Governor Ritter signed H.B. 09-1174 (pdf) which would let groundwater irrigators off the hook for pre-1974 well depletions on March 25, 2009. Here’s a report from the Associated Press (Steven K. Paulson) via Forbes.


H.B. 09-1303: Admin Mineral Development Water Wells

April 6, 2009

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Here’s a look at House Bill 09-1303 (Admin Mineral Development Water Wells) (pdf) from Joe Hanel writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

William and Elizabeth Vance and James and Mary Fitzgerald sued the state engineer’s office in 2005, claiming that coalbed methane wells were depleting their water wells. They won in a La Plata court in 2007. The case, Vance v. Simpson, is on appeal to the state Supreme Court. A ruling is expected any time. Sen. Jim Isgar and others worry the court could require every one of Colorado’s 38,000 gas wells to get a water well permit, which would overwhelm the state engineer’s office. So Isgar, D-Hesperus, and Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, drafted House Bill 1303, which brings coalbed methane wells into Colorado’s water rights system. Without the bill, the court decision could force the state engineer to roll all coalbed methane wells into the legal water system in two months. Other observers have said the court decision could apply to every gas or oil well in the state. “We aren’t in session until next January, and if this ruling comes out the day after we adjourn, we leave the state engineer in the position of having to approve 3,000, 4,000 wells in 60 days,” Curry said.

The House Agriculture Committee passed the bill on a 13-0 vote Wednesday, sending it to the full House…

The bill allows the state engineer to make rules for when a gas well should be treated as tapping “nontributary” water – that is, deep water that will not harm nearby water rights. For tributary wells, it allows time for gas drillers to prepare a substitute water supply plan, just like farmers use when they’re using well water for irrigation. HB 1303 puts a three-year moratorium on integrating gas wells into the water system, to give the state engineer and the gas companies time to adjust.

Coalbed methane wells pump out water before they start producing gas. The wells are especially plentiful – and rich – in La Plata and Archuleta counties. The Raton Basin near Trinidad also has many coalbed methane wells.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.


Farm disaster on the South Platte

April 2, 2009

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Here’s a look at the fallout from the shut down of wells earlier in the century in the South Platte Alluvial Aquifer, from the Associated Press via CBS News. From the article:

The farmers’ plight traces back to the late 1800s, when reservoir and ditch companies bought senior rights to the Platte. Some 30 years later, farmers drilled their first wells in the South Platte River Valley…

For years, the state water engineer worked out ad hoc deals with farmers, allowing them to pump their wells without replacing water required by the law. There was enough to go around, and senior rights holders were satisfied. But trouble cropped up during drought years earlier this decade. In 2003, the state Supreme Court ordered the engineer to force individual farmers to adhere to the law to satisfy the needs of senior rights holders. “We’re not interested in putting anybody else out of business,” said Tim Buchanan, an attorney for Harmony Ditch Company, a contingent of alfalfa farmers in Logan County. “We just want our share of the water.” The decision ultimately shut down or severely curtailed pumping at 4,000 area wells, said Doug Sinor, a water court attorney. As many as 2,000 farmers were affected: Potatoes, corn, beans, cabbage and sugar beets all dried up.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


S.B. 09-141, Fountain Creek Watershed

March 31, 2009

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S.B. 09-141 which would authorize the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District is awaiting Governor Ritter’s signature. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain:

The new district — officially named the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District — has numerous boundaries with varying authorities. Its overall purpose is to address flooding, drainage, water quality and erosion problems within the creek’s basin.

Initially, El Paso County officials complained that the district included too much of northern county and not enough of Pueblo County. Pueblo County officials, meanwhile, argued that was because most of the creek valley is up north, and most flood or drainage problems naturally begin there. That’s why the 60-page measure includes four different boundaries, each with limited authority…

The last major battle over the measure came in how to define its boundaries. The full boundaries of the district include all of El Paso and Pueblo counties, but a fee and taxing area includes an area smaller than that, but larger than the actual Fountain Creek drainage. The last, and smallest boundary is the flood plain area, a narrow strip that extends from the south end of the city of Fountain to Pueblo’s northern edge. Only there would the district have powers over land-use issues. While the district will have the ability to address wastewater issues, the bill makes it clear that it would be unable to regulate that activity because the state already does that. The House had placed language in the bill to prevent it from addressing wastewater, but it was later taken out. “The amendments in the House were problematic, but they were stripped out, so basically it was the same version that came out of the Senate,” Tapia said. “I talked to the principal players, and they were very happy with how the bill came out. We have a document that we can be pleased that Pueblo is going to be taken care of, and Colorado Springs can buy into.”[...]

The bill also limits to 5 mills how much the district may ask voters to approve to pay for improvements. That amount would raise only about $30 million a year. The district, however, hopes to see more money come to it from a $50 million Southern Delivery System mitigation fund, which it would use to receive a $150 million matching federal grant. That’s where U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., is expected to come in.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.


S.B. 09-165, Drinking Water Wastewater Small Grants

March 30, 2009

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S.B. 09-165 passed the Colorado House on second reading last Thursday, according to a report from the Fort Morgan Times. From the article:

[State Senator Cory Gardner] was joined on the bill by Rep. Cathleen Curry (D-Gunnison), Sen. Isgar (D-Hesperus), and Sen. Penry (R-Fruita). The bill creates the “Small Communities Drinking Water and Wastewater Grant Fund” and directs up to $10 million a year to small communities across Colorado. The bill does not raise taxes or fees but instead utilizes existing severance tax dollars.

“The passage of SB 165 is a great victory for the people of rural Colorado,” Gardner said. “The funding of these water projects can be very difficult for a small community to bear on their own, and this grant fund will provide the assistance they need to provide clean water for their citizens.” Gardner’s bill will help offset the cost of unfunded federal and state mandates on drinking water and water treatment systems.

The House is expected to take up SB 165 on third reading this week, and if the bill passes it will be sent to the Governor’s desk to be signed.

More coverage from the Greeley Tribune:

Senate Bill 165, co-sponsored by Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, and Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, and sponsored in the House by Reps. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and Cathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, creates the Small Communities Drinking Water and Wastewater Grant Fund and directs up to $10 million a year to small communities across Colorado. It passed on second reading in the House last week. The bill does not raise taxes or fees but instead uses existing severance tax dollars. Gardner said the funding would help offset the cost of unfunded federal and state mandates on drinking water and water treatment systems.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


S.B. 09-080, Precipitation Collect Limited Exemptions

March 28, 2009

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State Senator Jim Isgar’s bill that would allow limited rainwater catchments for rural properties that have an “exempt” well has passed the Colorado House, according to a report from Charles Ashby writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The measure, SB80, allows for the collection of rainwater from up to 3,000 square feet of roof, but only from a residence that is not connected to a domestic water system that serves more than three single-family homes. Additionally, the water can only be used for ordinary household purposes, fire protection, watering of livestock and irrigation up to 1 acre of gardens or lawns. “This is another historical moment in Colorado water law,” said Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan. “For over 100 years, the state engineer would tell you that it’s against the law to capture rainwater in rain barrels. This will allow us to relieve stress and pressure from our groundwater supplies and our stream systems.”

Under the bill, property owners who want to collect rainwater must get a permit from the engineer’s office, and pay a fee for it. The bill, which cleared the Senate early last month, requires a final House vote. Because of changes in the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, it will have to return to the Senate to agree to those changes before it can head to Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.


Lower Ark settles with Reclamation over Aurora long-term storage contract

March 25, 2009

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Colorado’s two U.S. Senators are looking closely at the deal struck between the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation over Reclamation’s long-term storage contract with Aurora. Part of the deal is pegged to federal legislation that would authorize Aurora to use Fryingpan-Arkansas Project facilities to move water out of basin — via exchanges enabled by storage in Lake Pueblo — something that Arkansas Valley irrigators and water providers have opposed on the grounds that such movement was not part of the original authorizing legislation for the project. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Other members of the delegation were asked if they would look at such legislation. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, responded to the question Monday. “Senator Bennet looks forward to speaking with the parties to the settlement to learn more details and to determine what next steps may be necessary,” said Deirdre Murphy, spokeswoman for Bennet. “Understanding that the two parties have spent the past several years negotiating this process, (Bennet) will work with them and with members of the congressional delegation to ensure that the needs of the water users in the Arkansas River Valley are addressed.

“(Udall) appreciates that the two sides have reached a settlement. He understands that an element of that settlement may involve federal legislation,” said Tara Trujillo, spokeswoman for Senator Mark Udall. “(Udall) plans to work with all parties – including the Bureau of Reclamation – to review the settlement and make sure that the farmers and other water users in the Arkansas River Valley are protected.”[...]

Should a federal water project intended to help farms and cities in the Arkansas Valley be used to wheel water? If legislation were adopted, what kind of limits would you put on it? If legislation were adopted, what kind of mitigation should be made to the Arkansas Valley?

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.


H.B. 09-1308, Funding For Div Of Water Resources and S.B. 09-216, Increase Cash Funds Div Water Resources

March 24, 2009

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Here’s an update on legislative efforts to stretch oil and gas severance tax revenue and adequately fund the Colorado Division of Water Resources, from K.C. Mason writing for the Fort Morgan Times. From the article:

While about $200 million still needs to be cut from state government spending in the next 10 weeks, several rural lawmakers, including Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and the Democratic chairs of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, are looking at severance taxes to help fill a $2.5 million gap in the state engineer’s budget. The budget hole is partially to blame for the freezing of eight water commissioner positions statewide. “There’s water running right now and we have to have people on the ground administering our prior appropriations system in Colorado immediately,” Sonnenberg said. “If not, we better increase our law enforcement because there will be fights at the headgates.”

State Engineer Dick Wolfe said the frozen positions are a problem, but not as large as Sonnenberg fears. “It’s a matter of determining the highest priority,” Wolfe said. “Some things will go unadministered and we will reprioritize and reassign commissioners where they are most needed.” Wolfe said his division also will continue to trust the water users themselves. “A lot is based on the trust of the people out there,” he said. “We have a pretty good compliance with our water users and don’t spend a lot of time on enforcement. That’s not to say people might not do mischievous things but generally people are pretty cooperative.”[...]

[Senator Jim] Isgar and [Representative Kathleen] Curry also are co-sponsoring a bill that would move the water resources division into a better position to get funding from severance tax revenue. By doing so, they hope to avoid substantial fee increases that officials have proposed for well permits and inspections, dam design review and administering substitute water supply plans. “We’re trying to get more money to the (water) division to cope with expected budget cuts the next two years,” Curry said. “If the fees are not increased, then we have to find a way to fund this division. These people are needed out in the field to administer our water.”[...]

House Bill 1308 (pdf), with Curry and Isgar as the primary sponsors, puts the state engineer’s office in the same category as all other agencies within the Department of Natural Resources to receive a share of funding from the operational account of the Severance Tax Trust Fund. Currently, the water division is the only DNR agency that gets most of its funding from the general fund. The rest, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Division of Wildlife and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, are the so-called Tier One agencies that are funded from the operational account. Other programs funded from the operational account are considered Tier Two programs and include LEAP, the Endangered Species Trust Fund and the Water Supply Reserve Account. The diminishing severance tax revenue only adds to the competition among those funds.

Scheduled for debate on the House floor later this week is Senate Bill 216, which originally contained the proposed $2.5 million worth of fee increases to make up for general fund budget cuts to the state engineer’s office. The House Agriculture Committee approved Sonnenberg’s amendment to delay the fee increases until at least July 1 and replace them with $500,000 from unallocated funds within the Governor’s Energy Office. “This is not a long-term solution; it only deals with the shortage of trying to manage the waters of the state in this fiscal year,” Sonnenberg said. “Rather than funding the state engineer with premature fee increases, we look at unused funds in the governor’s office.”

Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, defended the JBC’s original version of SB 216 and indicated he would seek to restore the fee increases. “The point of the bill was to move costs of providing various water-well and related services from the general public to the people who use those services,” Pommer said. “Right now we’re taxing everyone to subsidize a small group who receives services.” Committee members countered that water administration is a statewide issue.


S.B. 09-141, Fountain Creek Watershed

March 24, 2009

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S.B. 09-141 — the bill that would set up the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District — received preliminary approval in the state House, according to a report from Charles Ashby writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A measure that officials on both sides of the Pueblo-El Paso County line hope will end the water war between the two is only two more steps away from a gubernatorial signature. That happened Monday when the Colorado House gave preliminary approval to SB141, which would create the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District…

The measure garnered no negative votes or comments, but did generate jokes about how Pueblo and Colorado Springs — termed by more than one lawmaker as the Hatfields and McCoys — could quit feuding over the creek. After several lawmakers came to the microphone praising each other’s work on the bill, Rep. Elizabeth McCann, D-Denver, who was running floor debate on the bill, asked: “Would we all like to sing Kumbaya now?” she said. The measure requires a final House vote, which could come as early as today, before heading back to the Senate for a last vote. After that, it will head to Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.


SB09-141, Fountain Creek Watershed District

March 23, 2009

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From the Colorado Springs Gazette (John Schroyer): “SB141 was introduced only after the deal was approved last year by both counties’ boards of commissioners. In El Paso County, the proposal passed 3-2. It would create a new governmental entity to oversee Fountain Creek and address issues such as water quality, erosion and flood control.”

[More...]

The district’s nine-member board, which would be made up of officials and appointees from both counties, will have the power to impose new fees and place mill levy increases on county ballots. Placing a tax increase on the ballot would require the support of at least seven members, and a mill levy hike would be limited to 5 mills. That could raise up to $30 million a year for new projects. For the time being, the board will have at least $10 million a year for the next five years, which could be doubled by federal funds. The initial money comes out of the budget for the $1 billion Southern Delivery System, the pipeline from the Pueblo Reservoir that Colorado Springs Utilities plans to build. The district would include all of Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Four smaller districts would be created within the umbrella district, which stretches from south of Pueblo, where Fountain Creek feeds into the Arkansas River, to north of Colorado Springs, where the creek begins. The four districts would have separate powers, and new fees would likely differ between them.

The bill was approved unanimously by the House Agriculture Committee and is expected to head to the full House. But [Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan] said she won’t breathe easy until it’s signed by the governor. “Water bills, they’re an unusual beast. Things will fly through (the Legislature), and then on second or third reading they can die,” she said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


John Salazar: I’m not sure I’m happy about this stuff

March 22, 2009

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Part of the settlement announced last week by the Lower Arkansas Valley Conservancy District and Reclamation hinges on authorizing legislation that would allow Aurora to use Fryingpan-Arkansas facilities to move water out of basin. The Lower Ark and Reclamation should have talked to Colorado’s congressional delegation before they struck the deal. Congressman John Salazar is opposed to Aurora moving the water out of basin. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

At least one lawmaker was caught off-guard by the proposal, and raised doubts about whether he could support such legislation in any form. “It upsets me and maybe gives me just cause to not support any legislation,” U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., said Friday. Other lawmakers in the area’s congressional delegation have not yet weighed in on the deal.

Salazar acknowledged that he had not seen the agreement, but he made it clear that Aurora has little say in whether the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a $300 million water supply pipeline for the lower valley, is approved in Congress. Support for the conduit is one piece of the new agreement, but Salazar said it appears the conduit is being “held hostage” by the two groups.

Legislation which should move to the house floor next week has been suggested by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and would use excess-capacity revenues – including Aurora’s lease, but with many more leases within the Arkansas Valley – to repay construction costs of the conduit. Salazar said if legislation is introduced, it should be written so that Aurora is not able to take any more water from the valley. “If we continue bleeding the Arkansas basin, it will just be Pueblo and Colorado Springs left,” Salazar said. While the agreement would provide opportunity for the Super Ditch, a corporation formed by farmers with the help of the Lower Ark district to lease water, Salazar said he is concerned about the impact of taking more water out of the river and what that will do to local economies. “I still have concerns with the Super Ditch concept,” Salazar said. “I’m not sure I’m happy about this stuff.”

More coverage from the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The authorization, which would be only for Aurora and no other out-of-basin water user, has not been introduced in Congress, but Lower Ark and Aurora officials plan to talk to members of Congress about it later this month. The authorization would remove the two key elements of a 2007 federal lawsuit filed against Reclamation by the Lower Ark district that challenges Aurora’s ability to use the Fry-Ark Project because it was not authorized in either the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Act or the 1958 Water Supply Act. “We have not been asked to, and I’m not sure we’d be willing to support that agreement,” Salazar said Thursday. “We were caught off-guard that it was even in the works.”

The agreement is the culmination of four years of on-again, off-again negotiations related to the Preferred Storage Options Plan between Aurora and the Lower Ark that Salazar and his brother, former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, helped launch in 2005. Lower Ark attorney Peter Nichols explained Wednesday that talks had broken several times over the four-year period, most recently last June. Talks restarted in January, leading to the agreement approved this week. Any new legislation should not be used to give Aurora more water and the conditions in the agreement unnecessarily link the Arkansas Valley Conduit’s future to Aurora’s ability to move water. “I believe at the very least, there would not be a single drop of more water going to Aurora through this proposed legislation,” Salazar said. “I have serious concerns that there are no conditions in this agreement to stop any more water from leaving the Arkansas Valley.”

Salazar said the Arkansas Valley Conduit would continue to move through Congress as part of the Public Lands Bill that won Senate approval for the second time Thursday. The bill will go back to the House, where it failed for lack of a two-thirds vote last week, and will only need a simple majority to pass…

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsors of the Fry-Ark project, the conduit and PSOP, was supportive of the Aurora-Lower Ark agreement during a brief presentation Thursday, and some expressed hope that PSOP might be resurrected as a result. Aurora could pay more than $50 million over 40 years under excess-capacity contracts with the Bureau of Reclamation signed in 2007. The conduit legislation proposes using those revenues, along with other excess-capacity contracts, to repay construction costs of the conduit and other underfunded parts of the Fry-Ark project. District officials have said Aurora’s participation is helpful, but not necessary to make the plan work. The agreement between Aurora and the Lower Ark would put the federal lawsuit on hold for up to two years until legislation could be adopted, at which time, the Lower Ark would move to dismiss the case with prejudice, Nichols said. That means the Lower Ark could not file another lawsuit over the contract.

More coverage from the Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

The $300 million pipeline project [Arkansas Valley Conduit] that Colorado lawmakers have been prodding through Congress is just one item in a lengthy public lands bill that the Senate approved on a 77-20 vote Thursday. It was the second time since January that the Senate approved the legislation, but the public lands package was rejected in the House just a week ago. That’s not expected to happen a second time. Hoping for fast action, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had brought the bill to a vote on “special consideration” – a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority – and House Republicans, plus some Democrats, stopped the bill by keeping the final tally two votes short of two-thirds. Pelosi has said she will bring the measure back for another vote soon and a simple majority will be all that’s needed. It passing is very likely given the Democratic majority in the House.

More coverage from the Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Last week’s potential settlement of a federal lawsuit about using a project intended to provide more water to the Arkansas River basin to move water from the basin stirs long-standing issues with yet another agreement…

In late 2004, and often since then, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District ook a hard line opposing the authority of the Bureau of Reclamation to allow Aurora to use the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to move water out of the valley…

In 2007, after Reclamation approved a 40-year deal for Aurora to store and move water upstream, the Lower Ark dug its heels in and filed a federal lawsuit against Reclamation. The suit was joined by Aurora and Arkansas Valley Native, a group of four influential men who own water rights and also opposed the contract. It was the most rigorous challenge to the deals with Aurora since 1986, when Reclamation began leasing excess-capacity space in Lake Pueblo to the city of 300,000 east of Denver…

With the federal court challenge, however, it became evident there was never clear authority for Aurora’s involvement in the Fry-Ark Project. While Reclamation claimed the authority has always been implicit in federal statutes, the Lower Ark challenged the leases under specific legislation by Congress in 1958 and 1962. The [Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District] was never comfortable with Aurora’s participation in the Fry-Ark Project – which dates back to the beginnings of the Homestake Project in the 1950s – and sought to incorporate formal authority as part of its suggested Preferred Storage Options Plan legislation, which continually failed in Congress.

However, Aurora is able, under the agreement, to buy new water rights in the valley if a new pipeline that would take water out of the valley is built. The Southern Delivery System, still in the permit process, is not counted as a new pipeline under the agreement. The agreement reads: “Should additional delivery systems, which are neither promoted, financed nor used by Aurora, become operational that allow for the delivery of additional agricultural water rights from the mainstem of the Arkansas River for use in other locations, the parties recognize that the competition for agricultural water rights will increase significantly and that it is in the best interests of the owners of such rights to maximize the market for such water.”[...]

While the Lower Ark has spent much of the last five years fighting Aurora, Lower Ark officials believe they may have enlisted an ally in keeping other water interests outside the valley at bay. “We continuously worry about Aurora, but what about Denver and the South Metro District?” asked Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “This agreement with Aurora will help keep other pipelines out of the basin.” Provisions requiring Aurora’s support for studies of past water transfers, water quality in the Arkansas River basin and regional water management are also important to preserving water for the basin, Winner said. Aurora’s support on the conduit legislation is needed to assure the project will continue to move smoothly through Congress and into reality, he added…

Beyond the old fight with Aurora, there are numerous opportunities for partnerships built into the agreement. Besides the water leasing and studies, there are provisions that allow the Lower Ark, primarily on behalf of the Super Ditch, to gain storage space in existing reservoirs like Lake Henry and Lake Meredith in Crowley County, and in future projects like Box Creek Reservoir in Lake County. Aurora will also share the expertise it has gained in its farming programs under the Rocky Ford Ditch – where it worked with farmers to study drip irrigation and alternative cropping – with the rest of the valley. Aurora also committed to working with Crowley County on revegetation. The city revegetated lands under its court decree for shares of the Colorado Canal it purchased in the 1980s. However, over time and especially following the 2002 drought, weeds overcame the dried-up farmland, creating conditions for a tragic brush fire last year. While the negotiations for the current deal occurred out of the public eye – they’ve been going on with staff and lawyers since January, but were not discussed in an open meeting until last week – it’s no secret that Aurora and the Lower Ark have had on-again, off-again talks since 2005…

“We are confident that our agreement with Aurora Water mitigates our concerns and we are pleased to have their financial and technical support for future projects that benefit the Lower Arkansas Valley,” said Pete Moore of Crowley County, who was elected chairman of the Lower Ark board in January.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here, here, here, here, here and here.


SB09-141: Fountain Creek Watershed District

March 21, 2009

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SB09-141 cleared the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee this week, according to a report from Charles Ashby writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

House members from Pueblo and El Paso counties applauded Wednesday’s vote by the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee in support of the flood- and water-quality district. “We have all sorts of issues that have needed to be addressed over the many years but, because it was difficult to get many of the stakeholders on the same page, we were not able to address those issues,” said Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, who’s carrying the bill in the House with Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo. “But Representative Pace and I, along with the elected officials (from both counties), can say those days are behind us,” she added. “Those communities, El Paso County and Pueblo County, have joined together in this extremely important piece of legislation to move those counties forward.” The 60-page measure, which Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, ushered through the Senate last month, would establish a nine-member board that would oversee the flood plain from Fountain to Pueblo.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.


SB09-216, Increase Cash Funds Div Water Resources

March 18, 2009

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From the Durango Herald (Joe Hanel): “The Legislature’s budget committee wanted to increase well fees to $665 starting March 1, a dramatic and sudden jump from the current $100. Senate Bill 216 was the last and most controversial part of the budget-balancing package for the 2008-09 year. Rural lawmakers forced the bill to be sent to the House Agriculture Committee, which voted 9-4 against the fees Tuesday. Instead, the bill now takes about $530,000 out of the Governor’s Energy Office to make up this year’s deficit in the State Engineer’s Office, which administers water rights…

“The fight is far from over. The full House and full Senate have to approve the Agriculture Committee’s action on SB 216, and even then, the bill doesn’t provide enough money to hire more water commissioners who will be needed this spring, said State Engineer Dick Wolfe. And Wolfe’s office is $2.5 million short for the next budget year, which starts July 1. Curry’s Agriculture Committee will continue to work on providing funds for the State Engineer’s Office budget today.

“The Colorado Water Congress supported a smaller fee increase, and several representatives said Tuesday that water fees will have to increase in the future to keep the State Engineer’s Office properly funded.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


SB09-165, Drinking Water Wastewater Small Grants

March 14, 2009

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SB09-165 is sailing through the state legislature so far, according to a report from K.C. Mason writing for the Sterling Journal-Advocate. From the article:

“There’s no money for the foreseeable future,” said Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, who along with Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, is the House sponsor of Senate Bill 165 (pdf).

The measure creates a new fund from severance taxes for grants from the Water Quality Control Commission to communities with a population of 5,000 or less. The grant program already exists, but hasn’t had any funding for three years. Under the bill, the state would have to collect at least $200 million in severance taxes for any money to go into the new fund. The latest estimates show severance tax revenue dropping from $238.3 million this year to $77.6 million next year and $171.4 million in fiscal year 2010-11. “The water providers in these communities are facing extreme challenges to keep up with unfunded federal and state mandates,” Gardner said. “There is a $1 billion backlog in funding for communities like Hillrose, Eckley, Julesburg and Brush.” SB 165 unanimously cleared the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee earlier this week and is scheduled for floor debate on Monday…

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


HB09-1233: Recognize acequias

March 14, 2009

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Here’s a look at State Representative Ed Vigil’s HB09-1233 which would recognize acequia ditch corporations under Colorado water law, from Charles Ashby writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Long before [prior appropriation] laws were put in place, Hispanic settlers in Colorado had and still use a different way of allocating water use among themselves, using something called acequias. Now, under a bill working its way through the Legislature, ancestors of those first settlers will be able to ensure that practice can continue by forming their own ditch companies to help manage water use. An acequia (pronounced “a-see-ke-a”) is Spanish for “community ditch.”[...]

“The Hispanic culture has a communal way of doing business,” Vigil told the Senate Local Affairs Committee on Tuesday, which approved his HB1233 on a unanimous vote. “This is the way the water was managed, not by ownership, not as a commodity, but rather a shared ownership to the water. This is to preserve that land, to preserve that water, and to preserve these people’s continued way of life.”

The bill would ensure that the communal practice of allocating water and maintaining a ditch are as they’ve always been while, at the same time, allow it to operate similar to any other ditch company. Under the bill:

District members can hold elections based on each landowner getting a single vote.

Require each landowner who gets water from the acequia to contribute to the labor needed to maintain or repair the ditch or pay an assessment in lieu of doing that work.

Hold a right of first refusal on any sale, lease or exchange of surface water from an acequia that is used to irrigate long-lot land…

Most acequias in the state operate along tributaries near small towns along the New Mexico border.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


HB09-1233: Recognize Acequias

March 12, 2009

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Here’s an update about State Representative Ed Vigil’s bill that would authorize Acequia Ditch Corporations, from Larry Winget writing for the Conejos County Citizen. From the article:

According to the office of State Senator Gail Schwartz, (D-Dist. 5), Schwartz is sponsoring the bill in the Senate and it has already been approved on its first reading by the Senate Committee on Local Government and Energy. Her office said it would go to the full Senate for a second reading on Tuesday, March 10. If it passes there it would be scheduled for a third reading in the Senate, and if passed then, would be sent to the governor for his signature.

The original version of the bill amended Colorado Revised Statue Article 2 of title 37 concerning “Acequia conservancy district-subdistrict-creation-conversion-definition.” The amended bill affects CRS Article 42 of title 7 and reads, “Acequia mutual ditch-definition-powers.”

Both versions concern irrigation ditches created before Colorado statehood that historically treated water as a community resource and which attempted to allocate water based on equity rather than just priority.

The bill concerns acequia ditches located wholly in Conejos, Costilla, Huerfano, and Las Animas Counties.


HB09-1174, Exempt Pre-1974 Well Depletions

March 9, 2009

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From KJCT8.com: “The Senate gave final approval Monday to House Bill 1174 (pdf), which would excuse the farmers from having to replace water their wells drew before March 15, 1974, from an aquifer that supplies the river…

“The bill is intended to help farmers whose wells were shut down in a water rights dispute in 2006. Greg Hertzke of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District says the bill would benefit the owners of about 100 wells.”


HB09-1233: Recognize Acequias

March 4, 2009

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Representative Ed Vigil’s bill, HB09-1233, was approved last week by the Colorado House of Representatives and wending its way through the state senate, according to a report from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

The legislation is specific to the counties of Costilla, Conejos, Huerfano and Las Animas. House Bill 09-1233, regarding acequias (community irrigation ditches), is now before the state senate which assigned the legislation to its local government and energy committee on Monday.

State Senator Gail Schwartz, who also represents the San Luis Valley as part of her senate district, is carrying the bill in the senate.

The acequia bill:

• Allows the creation of acequia conservancy districts, acequia conservancy sub-districts, acequia water conservancy districts and acequia water conservancy sub-districts.

• Allows an existing conservancy district or water conservancy district or sub-district to convert to an acequia conservancy district or an acequia water conservancy district or sub-district, respectively.

• Specifies the eligibility and other requirements for the creation and conversion of such districts. For example, petitions requesting the creation or conversion of an acequia conservancy district must be filed with a district water court and the court must hold a hearing and determine if the requirements have been met to create a new district or convert an existing one. The bill only authorizes the creation of acequia conservancy districts in the four counties listed above.

• Allows such a district to: Hold its elections pursuant to a one landowner-one vote system; require owners of land irrigated by an acequia within the district to contribute labor to the maintenance and repair of the district’s acequias or pay an assessment in lieu of such labor; and hold a right of first refusal regarding the sale, lease, or exchange of any surface water right that has historically been used by the acequia to irrigate long-lot land within the district…

When Colorado adopted the prior appropriation system as its water law under the state constitution, it was “inconsistent with the community-based principles upon which acequias were founded,” Vigil’s legislation stated, so the communities that historically used the acequia system continued through informal methods “to allocate water based upon equity in addition to priority and to treat water as a community resource.”

The legislation concludes, then, that it is important to recognize this long-used practice. “Recognition by the general assembly of the continuing existence and use of acequias, while continuing to comply with the constitutional requirements of priority administration of tributary water, is critical to preserving the historic value that acequias provide to the communities in which they are located. The general assembly hereby declares that the purpose of this act is to promote and encourage the continued operation of acequias and the viability of the historic communities that depend on those acequias.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.


HB09-1233: Recognize Acequias

February 28, 2009

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Representative Edward Vigil. Vigil, a Democrat from Costilla County, has introduced HB09-1233, Concerning the Recognition of Acequias, and, in Connection Therewith, Authorizing Acequia Ditch Corporations (pdf), according to a report from Larry Winget writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

The bill would allow an existing water conservancy district to convert to an acequias conservancy district, an acequia water conservancy district, or a subdistrict. Under 09-1233, such a district would: Hold elections pursuant to a one landowner-one vote system; Require owners of land irrigated by an acequia within the district to contribute labor to the maintenance and repair of the district’s acequias or pay an assessment in lieu of labor; Hold a right of first refusal regarding the sale, lease, or exchange of any surface water right that has historically been used by the acequias to irrigate long-lot land within the district.

Section 37-2-107 defines an acequia as a community irrigation ditch with several features. One: an acequia must have originated in Spanish Law and Land Grants prior to Colorado’s Statehood. Two: It has historically treated water as a community resource and has therefore attempted to allocate water based upon equity in addition to priority. Three: It relies essentially on gravity-fed surface water diversions. Four: It supplies irrigation water to long lots that are perpendicular to the stream or ditch to maximize the number of landowners who have access to water. Five: It has historically been organized pursuant to a one landowner-one vote system. Six: An acequia has historically relied on labor supplies by the owners of irrigated land within the acequias community.

The House bill concerns acequia conservancy and acequias water conservancy districts to be formed which are located “wholly in one or more of the Counties of Costilla, Conejos, Huerfano and Las Animas.” In the reasoning placed into the bill for its adoption, Vigil mentions that the Town of San Luis is recognized as the oldest town in Colorado. He states that citizens of San Luis brought the acequia system of community irrigation with them from colonial Mexico and that the San Luis People’s Ditch is the oldest water right in Colorado. It carries a priority date of April 10, 1852, in the amount of 21 cubic feet per second from the Culebra Creek, in Costilla County. In the bill, it is written that Colorado’s Territorial session laws from 1868, 1872, and 1874 recognized the validity of acequias within the Counties of Costilla, Conejos, Huerfano, and Las Animas. The bill states, “Upon adoption of Colorado’s Constitution, the prior appropriation system became the law governing water allocation; and The prior appropriation system is, in fundamental ways, inconsistent with the community-based principles upon which the acequias were founded.”


SB09-141: Fountain Creek Watershed District

February 18, 2009

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The Pueblo city council is taking a long look at the IGA between the towns and counties that will enable the authority. SB09-141 is the enabling legislation. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka wrting for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Council is the last governmental body to sign on to a proposed intergovernmental agreement on Fountain Creek among Pueblo County, El Paso County, cities in both counties and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. It will take at least two meetings, one next week and one in March, to approve an ordinance entering the IGA.

The agreement and SB141, which would create the Fountain Creek Watershed District, envisions a nine-member board that could funnel money into projects to improve the creek, charge fees and even – if voters desire – levy taxes. The primary goal is to control the periodic floods which eat up parts of Pueblo and other communities further up the creek, but there is also plenty in the IGA and bill about recreation, wildlife and wetlands.

In SB141, authority is limited to the narrow corridor of the 100-year flood plain from Fountain to Pueblo, fee authority to the watershed, although all of both counties would be included as a possible tax base. The documents even suggest a nine-member board which would include a representative from the City of Pueblo.


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