Lake Pueblo State Park: Proposed new pumping rules to be discussed November 17 #ArkansasRiver

October 17, 2014

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Groundwater rules that could help certain farmers avoid some of the cost of water court applications are being considered for the Arkansas River basin.

“We’re not necessarily committed to this idea, but it may have benefits,” Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday. “The public needs to weigh in.”

The first chance to do that will be at a meeting at 1 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Lake Pueblo State Park visitors center auditorium.

The rules would apply to water replacement plans for post-1985 pumping, new uses for wells drilled prior to 1985 or new wells. They would provide an administrative alternative to water court, which can be too expensive for individual water users to navigate.

Witte reviewed the history of legal issues surrounding wells in the Arkansas Valley, including the 1972 attempt to reconcile surface and groundwater use, the Kansas v. Colorado case filed in 1985 that led to the 1996 well rules and the Simpson v. Bijou decision by the state Supreme Court in 2003 that took many well augmentation plans out of the hands of the state engineer.

“Decreed plans for augmentation costs have been so prohibitive in the South Platte that thousands of wells remain shut down to this day because of Simpson v. Bijou,” Witte said. There have also been instances in the Arkansas River basin, he said after the meeting.

On the same day that the Simpson v. Bijou ruling came, the state Legislature entered the Arkansas Valley well rules into law. In 2003, it also gave the state engineer’s office authority to approve five-year substitute water supply plans and to develop future rules.

Nearly 1,800 wells in the Arkansas Valley are covered by Rule 14 group augmentation plans under the 1996 rules, and those would stay in place even if new well rules are adopted.

The new rules could benefit a farmer who wants to use his own surface water rights to replace water pumped from wells, revegetation projects or even someone drilling a new well for a business, Witte said. At the same time, they would protect downstream water users and Colorado’s obligation under the Arkansas River Compact.

Witte acknowledged that there might an “augmentation gap” that makes finding sources of replacement water difficult, as discussed by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable recently. Permanently changing water uses still would require a trip to court.

But he said the purpose of the rules would be to give farmers a new tool to stay in business while complying with water law.

“We’re relying on data that were developed 30 years ago,” Witte said. “Life goes on and we need to think of ways to adjust and not be hampered by things already in place.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Arkansas Basin Roundtable approves $175,000 for tailwater study

July 14, 2014
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The state is being asked to help fund a study that looks at farmers’ contentions that estimates for return flows to the Arkansas River are inflated. A standard of 10 percent for tailwater — water that sheets off fields during irrigation before it can soak in — is used in mathematical models adopted during the 24-year Kansas v. Colorado U.S. Supreme Court case under the Arkansas River Compact. Those models also affect consumptive use rules that apply to surface water improvements such as sprinklers or drip irrigation.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable last week forwarded a $175,000 grant request to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to determine if that number is too high.

“Farmers on the Fort Lyon did not believe 10 percent was really happening,” said Leah Martinsson, a lawyer working with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which is applying for the grant.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

The ditch is more than 100 miles long and irrigates 94,000 acres and usually water short. That increases the likelihood that the estimate of tailwater runoff is too high, since much of the water never makes it back to the river, she explained. The higher the tailwater number, the greater the obligation from farmers to deliver water to the Arkansas River. So, reducing the figure in the group augmentation plans filed with the state would mean a reduction in the amount of replacement water.

While the concern of Fort Lyon farmers is the model used in the consumptive use rules, it also could affect the hydrologic-institution model that guides Colorado’s obligation from wells.

“If we are prepared with good technical data, we will go in and try to change the H-I model,” said Bill Tyner, assistant division engineer with the Division of Water Resources.

It would not be the first attempt to change the model. The state also is funding an ongoing lysimeter study at Rocky Ford to determine if evapotransporation rates in the Arkansas Valley are higher than assumed in the model.

Another study is looking at whether ponds that feed sprinklers leak more than the model assumes.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

June 20, 2014
Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More than 28,000 acres of Arkansas Valley farm ground — roughly a tenth of all irrigated land — is being covered by group plans that guard against increased consumptive use from surface irrigation improvements.

The state pushed consumptive use rules for irrigation through Division 2 Water Court in 2010. The rules are meant to protect Colorado in its 1949 Arkansas River Compact with Kansas.

Rule 10 allows groups to file plans in order to save on legal, engineering and administrative costs.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is administering two Rule 10 plans this year.

One covers farms on the Fort Lyon, which represents 18,000 acres. About 12,000 of those acres are under sprinklers, while the remainder are flood irrigated.

The second plan covers 10,000 acres not on the Fort Lyon Canal, with two-thirds of that under sprinklers and 105 acres using drip irrigation.

“About two-thirds of the farm are in the Fort Lyon plan. The goal is eventually to have them in their own group plan that would be self-sustaining,” said the district’s engineer Jack Goble during a presentation at Wednesday’s board meeting.

This year’s Lower Ark plans cover 235 improvements on 92 farms that should require almost 1,900 acre-feet of replacement water. The amount owed is determined by a mathematical model devised by the Colorado Division of Water Resources that determines how much water would have been used before and after improvements.

“It’s a guess of what we’ll owe,” Goble said. “The model is almost like a parallel universe.”

The more water used in irrigation increases the amount owed to replace depletions in the river.

“The more water that comes through the ditch, the more is owed,” Goble said.

Goble walked the board through the complicated model, which takes irrigation flows, precipitation, seepage and runoff into account.

The Lower Ark district is in the second year of a study on pond leakage, which so far is showing that more water is escaping than accounted for in the state’s model. Data from the study in some cases has been applied to specific ponds.

More Ark Valley Consumptive Use Rules coverage here and here.


Arkansas River Basin: “We’re getting screwed here. Does Kansas owe me water?” — Dale Mauch

December 15, 2013
Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.

Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Farmers are still not happy with the state’s accounting of the impact of surface irrigation improvements on return flows to the Arkansas River.

“We’ve got to change the formula,” Lamar farmer Dale Mauch told officials Friday after learning of preliminary results from a two-year pond study at a meeting hosted by the Prowers County Soil Conservation District. “We’re getting screwed here. Does Kansas owe me water?”

The pond study is being conducted under a state grant through the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and won’t be finished until next year. But results from 2013 show that ponds leak about twice as much as assumed under a state formula adopted in 2010 surface irrigation rules.

The rules are meant to assure that Colorado does not take more of its share than it is entitled to under the Arkansas River Compact with Kansas, said Assistant Division Engineer Bill Tyner.

The Lower Ark district provided 1,160 acre-feet of replacement water to make up for calculated deficits caused by sprinklers on 107 farms under Rule 10 plans this year. Most of the sprinklers are located on the Fort Lyon Canal. Those included 81 ponds, which were presumed to leak at a rate of about 10 percent under the state formula.

But a study of 20 ponds by engineers Jerry Knudsen and Brian Lauritsen shows they leaked anywhere from 3-45 percent, averaging about 18 percent. Those numbers were used in the state calculations, but only for ponds that were measured.

Ponds with higher leakage tend to crack as they dry up between irrigation runs, Knudsen said. Because of the drought, irrigation runs were less frequent this year, and most of the 50 farmers who attended the meeting expressed doubts that a water-short ditch like the Fort Lyon Canal owed any water to the river under those conditions.

Cutting back the amount of augmentation water needed for the Rule 10 plans is critical to making irrigation affordable. The price of augmentation water is expected to increase, especially in years such as this one when it is not readily available. Water used for this year’s Rule 10 plans ranged in cost from Fry-Ark water, which costs $7.50 per acre-foot, to water leased from the Pueblo Board of Water Works, at a cost of $250 per acre-foot (including storage). Other sources included the Larkspur Ditch and Twin Lakes water owned by the Lower Ark district.

While the cost is going up, water leasing also competes with well groups, said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Ark district.

“Buying water on the spot market in the future is not promising,” Winner said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


CWCB: Study for the Lower Ark shows that the average unlined farm pond leaks as much as 20%

July 31, 2013

farmponddryingup2011droughtoklahomanoaa.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Most ponds used by farmers to feed sprinkler systems are losing more than 20 percent of the water stored in them because of leakage.

A preliminary written report was released this week detailing the findings of the study, being conducted by Agritech Consulting and Valley Ag Consulting for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The study is being conducted in hopes of altering a state formula that assumes only 3 percent loss. At a meeting earlier this month, the district reported that farmers in the study already are able to claim greater leakage, but officials held out little hope the assumptions of the state formula could be changed. The study found 13 of the 22 ponds in the study had leakage rates higher than 20 percent. Measurements were taken as water flowed into ponds and as it ran through sprinklers. Overall, seepage cost farmers 300 acre-feet of the 1,340 acre-feet that flowed into ponds. The state’s formula would have given them credit for just 40 acre-feet.

Gerald Knudsen of Agritech, who analyzed the results of the study, said drought may have been a factor in the data from the first year of the study. The study will continue next year that will help researchers evaluate the relationship between seepage and physical or environmental conditions. “This further review may be significant since the data collected to date represents drought conditions when there is a longer period of time between runs and more frequent use of the ponds may reduce the seepage rates,” the report stated.

The study is being funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The state uses pond leakage as one factor in its formula to evaluate consumptive use of surface irrigation improvements under 2010 rules designed to head off future disputes with Kansas. The Lower Ark district offers a group plan that helps farmers repay water the state says is owed to the river.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

A study of leakage in ponds that feed field irrigation systems already is saving some farmers thousands of dollars in water cost.

But a state formula that assumes only 3 percent of the water leaks won’t be changed until the study results are final — and maybe not even then. The formula is used under Rule 10 of the state engineer’s 2010 consumptive use rules to prevent expansion of water rights under surface irrigation rules. The state pushed for the rules to avoid further challenges by Kansas of Arkansas River Compact violations.

Farmers have to pay for replacement water, so if they can show they are losing more than presumed, they spend less.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is funding the study by Gerry Knudsen of Agritech and Brian Lauritsen of Valley Ag Consulting to determine how much water leaks out of the ponds.

Seepage varies from 3-5 percent in some ponds to 44 percent at others, depending on how dry the ponds are when they first fill and the type of soil. A total of 26 ponds are in the study, located mostly on the Fort Lyon Canal, where most of the sprinklers are.

The ponds had 1,340 acre-feet of inflow, and lost 300 acre-feet, or 22 percent.

The results from individual ponds already are being used by the Colorado Division of Water Resources to calculate losses on specific farms, but have not altered the presumptive model.

The study, funded by a $60,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board that was obtained by the Lower Ark district, won’t be complete until 2014. Even then, it might not change the state’s outlook on pond leakage.

“My view is that the ponds will have to be measured forever,” said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Ark district. “The ponds which have instrumentation will get the credit.”

Knudsen agreed, saying it’s similar to how GPS systems were incorporated into cultivation several years ago because the initial technology soon became essential rather than optional.

Lauritsen added that better meters are needed and must be properly calibrated to get the best results.

More Arkansas Valley consumptive use rules coverage here and here.


Rules designed to limit consumptive use now cover nearly 20,000 acres in the Arkansas Valley

December 10, 2011

irrigation.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Understanding irrigation in the Lower Arkansas Valley

Consumptive use refers to the amount of water a crop uses to grow, either through uptake into the plant and transpiration, or through evaporation. Usually it is measured in inches, but presumptive factors have been incorporated into the hydrologic-institutional model under the U.S. Supreme Court Kansas v. Colorado case.

Return flow is excess water applied to fields that runs off as tailwater or infiltrates soil. Water also can seep out of earthen ditches as it makes its way to the fields.

Water-short ditches, such as the Fort Lyon Canal or Holbrook Ditch, typically have more ground available to irrigate than water supplies will cover. Other ditches, such as the Catlin or High Line canals, have plentiful water except in very dry years.

Sprinklers, drip irrigation and ditch lining allow water to be applied more efficiently to fields. In the process, more water could be consumed as more acreage is planted on water-short ditches or used more often on ditches with adequate water. Return flows could be reduced as a result.

State engineer rules were adopted in Division 2 water court in 2009 to prevent shortages of return flows on the Arkansas River, to downstream users in both Colorado and Kansas…

This year, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District established a group plan for farmers who use ponds to feed sprinklers to comply using formulas under Rule 10 of the surface irrigation rules. The plan also covers other types of improvements such as ditch lining and drip irrigation, but sprinklers account for nearly all of the impact so far. The Lower Ark district will use water from other sources, such as a five-year lease agreement with the Pueblo Board of Water Works, to provide augmentation water to make up depletions from increased consumptive use.

While the group plan requires a retainer fee and payment for augmentation water if the formula shows depletion, the payment is far less than farmers otherwise would spend on engineering at each site to show losses. So far, 88 farms with 104 improvements covering 19,767 acres are enrolled in the Lower Ark’s Rule 10 plan, said Heath Kuntz, the district’s engineering consultant. “We’re anticipating a lot of growth over the next few years,” Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district, told the compact administration.

From the state’s point of view, the program has been the backbone for enforcing the new rules. About 75 farms were signed up at the beginning of the program in April, and the others have signed on at the end of the irrigation season as the state assessed impacts, said Bill Tyner, assistant engineer for Water Division 2. “The Rule 10 plan has turned out to be the most successful part of the rules,” Tyner said, thanking the Lower Ark district and the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the seed money which launched the group plan.

More Ark Valley consumptive use rules coverage here and here.


The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District files change case for the Larkspur Ditch

December 6, 2011

coloradotransmountaindiversions.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District has spent $1 million over the past three years to purchase the ditch from the Catlin Canal. It owns about 73 percent of the Larkspur. In November, the district filed for a change of use in Division 2 Water Court to allow for domestic and augmentation uses in addition to agriculture for the water. “It’s a transmountain water right, so it’s valuable because the water can be reused after it is brought over,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district.

Larkspur Ditch brings 300-500 acre-feet of water annually from the Gunnison River basin into the Arkansas River basin through several collection ditches and a high-mountain ditch at Marshall Pass southwest of Salida. The Lower Ark district has improved the yield over the last seven years under a cooperative arrangement with the Catlin Canal Co.

Under a 1041 land-use agreement with the Otero County Commissioners, the Lower Ark has committed to offering first use of the water to users within the county. Initially, some of the water will be applied to Rule 10 group plans under the surface irrigation consumptive use rules approved in water court in 2010. The water is used to augment on-farm sprinkler systems. Several Otero County farms are enrolled in the Lower Ark’s augmentation plan.

More transmountain/transbasin diversions coverage here.


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