Lower Ark board meeting recap: “We’re trying to see if a lease-fallowing program is viable” — Jay Winner

September 18, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board last week approved a pilot project that will provide the town of Fowler water from several farms on the Catlin Canal over the next 10 years. The project is the first to be attempted under 2013 legislation, HB1248, that authorized demonstration projects that determine if lease-fallowing projects are a viable alternative to permanent dry-up of farms. It is also the first test of the viability of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

Participating farms would be dried up no more than three years of the next 10 in order to supply 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons) annually to Fowler. Seven farms with 1,128 acres will be dried up on a rotational basis to provide the water under a plan filed by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

The CWCB reviewed comments on the project expressing concern from Aurora, the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado Beef, a Lamar feed lot. The comments were similar to filings made in the past in water court cases that sought to permanently change water rights. Most expressed concern that their water rights would not be injured by the program and sought to assure that measurements in the program are accurate. Some were supportive of the program and all wanted to be notified of progress or changes in the program.

“We’re trying to see if a lease-fallowing program is viable,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We’re trying to keep the water in the Arkansas basin. That’s what it’s all about.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

How much water is staying down on the farm?

The state will spend $175,000 to study the amount of water returning to the Arkansas River from fields on the Fort Lyon Canal. That will be matched with $50,000 from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved the grant last week as a way to address contentions from farmers that the amount of tailwater return to the Arkansas River has been overestimated. The outcome could affect the formulas used by the Colorado Division of Water Resources in administering the Arkansas River Compact and rules that govern wells or surface irrigation. It could also make more water available to farmers to lease under the Super Ditch or other rotational lease-fallow programs.

The grant was approved in July by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

The state now recognizes a 10 percent return of water from fields, or tailwater, that are flood irrigated. That water must be replaced under state rules adopted during the 24-year Kansas v. Colorado court case.

The Fort Lyon Canal is 100 miles long and irrigates 94,000 acres, so farmers contend water soaks into the ground and never makes it to the river. It is anticipated that the collection and analysis of data will take about two years to complete, at which time further work could be contemplated.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Leaky ponds are good news for farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley. The second year of a pond study in a normal water year is showing similar results as last year, when drought gripped the region.

“We’re not seeing a significant difference,” said Brian Lauritsen, a consultant on the study being funded through the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Water leakage on more than 20 ponds averaged about 20 percent this year, compared with 18 percent last year. Most are on the Fort Lyon Canal. It had been thought the numbers would be higher when the ground was drier.

“Usually, you don’t want to see ponds leaking,” said Jack Goble, engineer for the Lower Ark district.

But in this case, there is a chance the state will adjust its formula used to determine how much water irrigators owe for return flows that are reduced through more efficient irrigation techniques such as sprinklers. More leakage means less water owed to the river.

The Lower Ark also has built two ponds on the Catlin Canal designed specifically to leak. Called recharge ponds, they are designed to return water to the Arkansas River over time, the way that water flows through the aquifer in farming operations. One pond fills part of the need for Rule 10 surface irrigation plans, while the other is credited to Rule 14 well plans. One pond contributed 135 acre-feet (44 million gallons) in a month, while the other leaked 120 acre-feet (40 million gallons) in 21 days.

“I hope we’re able to get more of these ponds, especially in the lower part of the basin,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark District.

More HB13-1248 coverage here. More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.


DWR: HB13-1248 Fowler Pilot Project Lessons Learned Workshop, June 5

April 28, 2014
Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center

Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From email from the Colorado Division of Water Resources (Kevin Rein):

During the 2013 legislative session, the General Assembly enacted HB-1248 to provide for fallowing-leasing pilot projects. At its November 2013 Board meeting, the CWCB approved Criteria and Guidelines for the pilot projects and in December, the CWCB received an application for selection and approval of a pilot project for the Town of Fowler. That application was subsequently withdrawn.

On June 5, 2014, CWCB staff will hold an informal workshop to review the Fowler Pilot Project and discuss the lessons learned through the application and review process. The CWCB’s objective is to apply lessons learned to any upcoming pilot project applications.

Fowler Pilot Project
Lessons Learned Workshop
June 5, 2014
9:00 am to Noon
1313 Sherman Street
Room 318

RSVP Not Required

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1248 (Irrigation Water Leasing Municipal Pilot Projects) implementation

August 22, 2013

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Chris Woodka is at the Colorado Water Congress’ annual summer shindig up in Steamboat Springs. Yesterday the interim water resources review committee met and implementing last session’s HB13-1248 was part of the discussion. Here’s Mr. Woodka’s report:

Lawmakers are hoping a bill that would expand opportunities for demonstrating projects that share water between farms and cities is implemented as quickly as possible. The interim water resources review committee Wednesday heard from the prime backers of SB-1248, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Super Ditch, on the need for it.

“I think this is about having a conversation about keeping agriculture vital in the Arkansas River basin,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark District.

“Agricultural-municipal transfers have to become the preferred alternative, rather than continued buy-and-dry,” added Peter Nichols, attorney for both the Lower Ark and Super Ditch.

At the heart of the bill is an attempt to streamline state procedures in order to allow transfers to occur on a short-term, limited basis, said Kevin Rein, deputy director for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Winner said the current structure of law and engineering hung up a pilot project to transfer 250 acre-feet (81 million gallons) last year over the timing of delivery of 23 gallons in the 74th month of return flows. The new law gave the Colorado Water Conservation Board authority to look at programs that could sidestep those types of issues in order to allow water users to work out details of such plans. Rein said the CWCB should develop criteria and guidelines by November.

Legislators want the program to be implemented soon and smoothly. “My concern is that CWCB is on board to implement it in as timely fashion as possible and that we’re not going back to rehashing arguments made against HB1248 when we were passing it,” said Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, chairman of the House ag committee.

The arguments included that it bypassed water court proceedings meant to prevent injury to other water users. The bill also has been criticized because it disallows transfers only from the Colorado River and Rio Grande basins, while ignoring more exports from the Arkansas River basin.

“I want to make sure there is the opportunity for public input, comments and concerns,” Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, said. “There needs to be the opportunity for the public to weigh in.”

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The U.S. Forest Service is evaluating its policies as it deals with the damage from two years of large wildfires in Colorado and other Western states. “The unfortunate side effect of fires is flood and mud,” Dan Jiron, regional forester for the Forest Service told the interim water resources review committee of the state Legislature Wednesday. He cited recent damage in Manitou Springs from last year’s Waldo Canyon Fire as an example.

In Colorado, 60 percent of the water that affects the population comes off Forest Service lands. “We still have a very active fire season,” Jiron said. “Even though there were large fires earlier, we continue to fight fires every day. The Forest Service is looking at partnerships, as well as redirecting resources, to mitigate large fires and prevent future blazes, he said.

About $500,000 already has gone into rehabilitation of the West Fork Complex near Creede, which has been difficult because much of the fire was in steep canyons in an inaccessible wilderness area. That’s part of $35 million in resources the Forest Service has put into firefighting and remedial work in Colorado.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, questioned whether the Forest Service would look at changing policies in wilderness areas to allow more proactive thinning. “We were west of the West Fork Complex and it looked like an atomic bomb cloud,” she said.

“It would not have been safe to put firefighters on the ground at West Fork,” Jiron said. While firefighters are sometimes deployed in wilderness areas, the steep slopes in the West Fork Complex were more of a factor than wilderness declaration. “A lot of Forest Service land is not in wilderness,” he said.

Partnerships with timber companies, utilities, counties and water districts are providing more proactive protection in areas prone to fires, Jiron added. “It’s important how we pull together at a regional level to put resources in place, to be proactive and to protect communities,” committee chairwoman Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, said. “We are at a very important juncture. This is critical.”

More HB13-1248 coverage here.


Sterling Ranch gets another chance in front of the Douglas County Commissioners

July 1, 2013

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From The Denver Post (Carlos Illescas):

A special hearing is scheduled for next month, when Douglas County commissioners will hear from Sterling Ranch and the public to see whether the county will give a thumbs-up to the project, which includes up to 12,050 new homes in the Chatfield Basin.

The hearing comes after a judge blocked the project in August. Citing state law, the judge argued that Sterling Ranch had not lined up enough water and needed to prove it had enough water secured though build-out.

Douglas County appealed that ruling, and then sought and received a change in state law this legislative session. Now, Sterling Ranch officials believe the project can finally move forward.

More 2013 Colorado Legislation coverage here.


2013 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs SB13-019 (Promote Water Conservation) #COleg

May 19, 2013

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From email from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Saturday, May 18, 2013 — Gov. John Hickenlooper signed 13 bills into law today and yesterday…

SB13-019, Promote Water Conservation, Schwartz / Fischer Concerning the promotion of water conservation measures.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2013 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB13-1044 (Authorize Graywater Use) #COleg

May 16, 2013

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From email from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed 12 bills into law today and yesterday…

HB13-1044, Authorize Graywater Use, Fischer/Schwartz, Concerning the authorization of the use of graywater.

More HB13-1044 coverage here. More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2013 Colorado legislation: ‘Each one of these things was epic’ — Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carrol #COleg

May 12, 2013

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Joe Hanel sums up this year’s legislative session in his article running in The Durango Herald. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

During the last 120 days, Democrats used their majorities in the House and Senate to push through a progressive agenda that’s been pent up for a decade.

Election Day voter registration. Background checks for guns. Renewable-energy mandates. More health care for the poor. A $100 million tax break for low-wage workers. Civil unions for same-sex couples, and in-state tuition for students in the country illegally. Democrats in many other states can only daydream about the goals that Colorado Democrats achieved during the 2013 legislative session, which ended Wednesday.

For good or ill, Capitol veterans called it the most consequential session in memory.

“Each one of these things was epic,” said Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora. “We were (able) to do public-safety measures with commonsense background checks that Congress couldn’t get done. Any one of these things by themselves would have been historic and epic for a session, and we did one after another after another.”

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


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