South Platte Basin: Irrigators hope HB12-1278 study will help curtail pumping curtailment

January 15, 2014
HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

From KUNC (Grace Hood):

Many Northern Colorado wells were shutdown, or access to them was reduced, by a 2006 Colorado Supreme Court ruling. Other owners had to follow augmentation plans, spending thousands of dollars to replace water they’ve taken out of the South Platte River.

Prompting the study was the issue of high groundwater in some locations along the river. When some farmers weren’t allowed to pump, homeowners were starting to see flooding in their basements.

Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute spent more than a year holding stakeholder meetings and researching the 209-page report [.pdf] — much of it before last year’s flooding. The report found a connection between the lack of pumping and required augmentation plans. It also said the system helped to protect senior surface water rights from injury.

The study proposes reintroducing well pumping as a way to manage the issue in specific locations like Gilcrest and Sterling. Other CWI recommendations call for more data collection abilities for the Colorado Division of Water Resources and a basin wide entity focused on more flexible management of water rights…

Longtime farmer Bob Sakata poked at the augmentation policy requiring well owners to cover past depletion of surface water. He thinks the situation was improved by the September floodwater.

“We should not have to pay past depletion,” said Sakata to applause. “That is the biggest nonsense there is in the rule.”

Republican State Senator and gubernatorial hopeful Greg Brophy enthusiastically took on the issue of erasing all past well debt along the South Platte.

“I agree with you guys,” Brophy said, announcing plans to co-sponsor a bill with Democratic Rep. Randy Fisher to wipe out those past pumping depletions as of Sept. 12, 2013.

Scientists question just how much September’s floods filled up the South Platte’s aquifers.

Colorado Water Institute Director Reagan Waskom says that floodwater replenishment may be true for wells right next to the South Platte. But that’s not the case miles away from the river.

“The groundwater data outside of the river floodplain was not affected by the flood,” Waskom said.

Meantime, Colorado legislators will need to introduce other bills to implement the recommendations of the Colorado Water Institute.

Rep. Randy Fisher says study recommendations that require funding — like proposed pilot projects in Gilcrest and Sterling — will require follow up…

In the last decade, [Nursery owner Gene Kamerzell] says state management of water rights has become more political than scientific, and farmers are suffering.

“A lot of our friends have gone out of business,” Kamerzell said. “We have friends that have large operations that have relocated to New Mexico because the water policy in this state isn’t being managed right.”

Kamerzell hopes that the scientific report and the proposed legislation will help restore a different balance. Along with most things in Colorado water policy though, he knows it can take years — not days — to measure progress.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


A Brief History of the South Platte River Basin

February 10, 2013

Here’s a great use of social media to get the word out about HB12-1278. The YouTube video — produced and directed by Colorado Water Institute, animated by Noah Besser — follows the history of the appropriation and administration of the South Platte River downstream of the mountains.

Good luck implenting HB12-1278 Reagan and team.

Thanks to Coyote Gulch reader Greg from Nebraska for the link.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.


Gilcrest: South Platte River Basin groundwater public meeting Thursday

January 22, 2013

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From The Greeley Tribune:

The public is invited to Gilcrest on Thursday to attend the last of three meetings about the ongoing groundwater study in the South Platte River basin. The study, being conducted by the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, is studying groundwater’s interactions with streamflows and how current augmentation requirements are impacting the alluvial aquifer.

Earlier this year, Colorado House Bill 1278 was passed, authorizing the comprehensive groundwater study, which is the first since 1968, according to CSU officials. Members of the Colorado Water Institute study team have already met with the public in Longmont and Sterling this month to talk about the study, which will conclude at the of this year.

They will have another public meeting from 6­8:30 p.m. Thursday at Valley High School, 1001 Birch St. in Gilcrest.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


South Platte River Basin: ‘We have to have an oversupply along the whole system’ — Bob Sakata

January 9, 2013

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Here’s a recap of yesterday’s meeting about the South Platte River Basin groundwater study authorized last session by the legislature [HB12-1278], from Grace Hood writing for KUNC. Groundwater levels are rising, some say, due to the alluvial wells that have been shutdown and augmentation. Here’s an excerpt:

Reagan Waskom is director of the Colorado Water Institute, which hosted the event. He framed the issue this way:

“Are these the only areas in the basin? Is this beginning of a trend toward higher groundwater levels? Are we at the end of something? Was it a blip in time?”

Waskom is working with dozens of scientists, and aggregating data from as far back as the 1890’s to find the answer.

It’s something that matters to farmers like Robert Sakata. Speaking in a facilitated dialogue, Sakata explained he used to own and use wells connected to the South Platte. In the ’70s, he and other junior water rights holders were required to replace the water they used.

“We just felt like it wasn’t economically viable for us as a vegetable farmer to do that,” he said. “Our returns are usually between .5 to 1 percent. That additional cost we just couldn’t justify. So we ended up unhooking the wells.”

Fortunately for Sakata, he also owned surface water rights he could use to irrigate his crops. But other farmers weren’t as lucky. The drought of 2002 and a subsequent state Supreme Court decision in 2006 resulted in thousands of wells being curtailed and about 400 being shut down completely.

“That’s almost the analogy that I see in the state right now is that to make sure we’re not injuring every person along the way, we have to have an oversupply along the whole system,” said Sakata.

Meantime, Joe Frank with the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District spoke of another reality: some of his water rights owners aren’t getting all the water they’re entitled to.

“Going into this next year, if we continue this drought, we’re going to see severe curtailment,” he said. “So ultimately it comes down to water supply. We’re water short in this basin. We need to work together to develop that supply.”[...]

The meeting raised a lot more questions than it answered for the more than 100 who attended. But Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said it was a good beginning.

“Everyone who spoke here today said the big problem was we aren’t taking advantage of our compacts to capture the necessary water that we’re going to need as a state over the next 50 years for agriculture, municipal use.”

Conway is referring to the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), which would build two water storage reservoirs in the region. In recent years it’s become a hotly contested project in the area. Despite the intractable nature of these water debates, the Colorado Water Institute’s Reagan Waskom said he’s determined to make the South Platte River study meaningful.

More meetings are planned, click here.

More 2012 Colorado legislation coverage here. More South Platte River Basin coverage here. More coverage of the shutdown of irrigation wells in the basin here.


South Platte Basin Roundtable meeting recap: South Platte groundwater study underway

October 13, 2012

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

The South Platte Roundtable — made up of water officials and experts in the region — meets quarterly to discuss what’s needed to avoid future water shortages, but John Stencel with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union proposed Tuesday to meet at least every other month, beginning with its next meeting in January…

As was discussed on multiple occasions at the meeting, without new supply projects, municipalities and industries will continue buying up irrigated agriculture water as a way of meeting their growing water needs. Because new water supply projects are multi-year or even multi-decade endeavors, members said there needs to be more push to get them completed. Evans said the group will continue discussing its focus for 2013 at its next meeting on Jan. 8…

Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute, provided an update regarding the ongoing South Platte Basin groundwater study, which began in August. The study Waskom is heading, which will examine the relationships between groundwater and surface flows in the basin, was approved this summer when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1278 into law. Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Eaton, sponsored the measure in an effort to better understand the cause of the high groundwater levels in the LaSalle and Gilcrest areas and other regions in the basin. The overflowing aquifers have flooded basements and fields in recent years, causing damage to homes and in lost agriculture production. Many local farmers believe the high groundwater levels are a result of wells being shut down or curtailed in 2006, when the state determined the pumping of those wells was depleting flows in the basin’s rivers.

The South Platte Roundtable is serving as an advisory group for Waskom and his research team during the study. Waskom told members he’s in favor of opening up dialogue as much as possible to make sure they’re looking at all needed data, and exploring all avenues of collecting information. As Waskom explained, he’s so far coming across “a lot of data gaps” as he collects information.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


2012 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs CWCB construction funds authorization

May 20, 2012

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From email from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed several bills today in Poncha Springs, Alamosa and South Fork…SB12S-002, Water Conservation Board Construction Fund Projects, Schwartz & White / Sonnenberg & Baumgardner, Concerning the funding of Colorado Water Conservation Board projects, and, in connection therewith, making appropriations.

More 2012 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2012 Colorado legislation: SB12-132 (Issue Air & Water Quality Permits Within 12 Months) defeated by the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources committee

May 8, 2012

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From the Denver Business Journal (Ed Sealover):

Senate Bill 132, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, would have required the state to approve or reject such permits within 12 months. The Senate passed it 30-5 on May 2 after Grantham said some companies have had to wait for years to find out if they were getting permits and have delayed expansions. But Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, told the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources committee Monday that CDPHE officials pledged to work with industry leaders to address problems that have delayed permits. A department official said the same to committee members.

More 2012 Colorado legislation coverage here.


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