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.


The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch files pilot rotational fallowing application with the CWCB

July 23, 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):

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch is planning a pilot program next year under a 2013 state law encouraging water sharing programs as an alternative to permanent dry-up of farm ground. The plan, filed with the Colorado Water Conservation Board last week, would lease up to 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons) annually from the Catlin Canal to Fowler, Fountain and Security. About 1,128 acres would be dried up on a rotational basis to deliver the water.

“What we’re trying to do is 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.”

The application is the first to be filed under HB1248, passed last year by the state Legislature, which allows the CWCB to look at 10 test projects throughout the state. The projects are supervised by the state water board, with input from the state engineer. It may finally launch Super Ditch pilot projects that have stalled because of drought and second thoughts by farmers.

The Super Ditch submitted a substitute water supply plan with the state Division of Water Resources in 2012 for a lease-fallowing pilot project with Fountain and Security that failed because there was not enough water to move. The state restrictions that were placed on the project, fueled by objections from other water users, made moving any water in that dry year futile, Winner explained.

Last year, the Super Ditch was prepared to move some High Line Canal water to Fowler, but the deal was stopped when farmers pulled out. Fowler leased 125 acre-feet of water for $25,000 from the Pueblo Board of Water Works instead.

Under the plan outlined in the application, Fowler would lease up to 250 acre-feet, while Fountain and Security would lease up to 125 acre-feet each annually.

State law provides that the plan can be operated for 10 years.

“I think we’ll try it for a year or two, just to see if lease-fallowing is feasible,” Winner said. “We have to see if we can move water to Lake Pueblo. One of the drawbacks of HB1248 is that it only allows for municipal leasing, but if this works, there’s the possibility for industrial or agricultural leases as well.”

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.


Arkansas Basin Roundtable: “…we’re still beating our heads over rotational fallowing” — Gary Barber #COWaterPlan #COleg

June 13, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is compiling a reservoir of ideas that could go into making the Colorado Water Plan. The main difficulty will be putting them all to beneficial use: First in the Arkansas River basin’s implementation plan, then translating those into the state plan — all under conditions that still appear to be changing.

“It does appear to be a flood,” quipped Alan Hamel, who represents the basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Last month, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation (SB115) that instructs the CWCB to have hearings in each basin and for the draft plan to be presented to the Legislature’s interim committee on water resources.

Meanwhile, the roundtable has received 60 written comments, some with multiple suggestions, on what needs to be in its basin implementation plan. The group has no organized way of incorporating comments into the volumes of information already compiled. There has been little time for point-by-point discussions.

The CWCB will review basin plans in July.

And the state plan being developed is in a different format than the basin plan.

“How do we integrate all this?” asked Reed Dils, a retired Buena Vista outfitter and former CWCB member.

“The timeline was a tough, tight timeline even before the legislation,” Hamel added.

Hickenlooper ordered the CWCB to produce a draft plan by December. For the past few months, the roundtable has expanded its meeting time and talked extensively about its own basin plan, the product of nine years of meetings. Some of that time has been devoted to providing new members background on past actions of the roundtable.

“Dozens of people have presented information to us,” said Bud Elliott of Leadville, one of the original roundtable members. “The public has been well represented.”

Gary Barber, who chaired the roundtable for several years and is now under contract to help write the basin plan, said some findings of the roundtable have stalled.

“I tell you, five years later, we’re still beating our heads over rotational fallowing, based on the experience of Fowler,” he said at one point.

A deal by Super Ditch to supply water to Fowler under a state pilot program this year fell through when farmers pulled out. It’s the third year the group has tried, but failed, to demonstrate a new method for agricultural transfers that leaves ownership in the hands of farmers.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


CWCB: Does the draft #COWaterPlan rely too much on unproven alternative ag transfers?

May 23, 2014
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A state water plan may be putting too much weight on alternative transfer programs that seek to temporarily provide water to cities from farm lands. While the goal of such programs is to reduce the possibility of permanent dry-up of agriculture, there is little evidence to prove they would work, said Patricia Wells, a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, meeting in Pueblo this week.

“Has any transfer method actually happened with rotational fallowing?” Wells, general counsel for Denver Water, asked during Wednesday’s CWCB meeting at the Pueblo Convention Center.

The board was reviewing draft chapters of the state water plan being developed by CWCB staff. Other topics included conservation, water quality and project permitting.

“This chapter paints a rosy picture of alternative transfers,” Wells added. “This doesn’t mean alternative transfer methods can’t be done, but they haven’t been done.”

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch formed in 2008, but has had difficulty launching pilot programs because drought reduced water availability, permit complications and farmer participation.

In 2013, the Legislature passed HB1130, which set up a framework for long-term lease arrangements, and HB1248, which allowed for 10 pilot programs that have not materialized.

Super Ditch attempted to run a pilot program under HB1248 with the town of Fowler this year, but plans fell through.

This year, a proposal to create a flex marketing water right failed because opponents said it amounted to legalizing speculation.

In 2004-05, Aurora and the Rocky Ford High Line Canal engineered a temporary transfer program that was successful, although it raised questions of moving water from one river basin to another.

Since then, the state has spent millions of dollars on grants to study alternative transfer methods, but large metro providers are reluctant to enter long-term deals without more certainty.

“Unless we find some way to do this, there are barriers,” Wells said.

Board member John McClow, a Gunnison attorney, questioned CWCB staff for using language from the Interbasin Compact Committee’s report rather than taking a fresh approach.

Travis Smith, a board member of both the CWCB and IBCC, responded that the IBCC reached agreement on using alternative transfers several years ago, and thought that should be reflected in the state water plan.

Meanwhile the Arkansas Valley Conduit was also a topic at yesterday’s CWCB meeting in Pueblo. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The state showed more support for the Arkansas Valley Conduit Thursday, pledging cooperation in helping to obtain federal funding for the $400 million project.

“This is the last piece of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “It’s been a long wait for something that was promised 50 years ago.”

Broderick gave an update of the conduit to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which met Thursday at the Pueblo Convention Center.

Contract negotiations will begin later this year for the conduit and two associated federal contracts to provide a master storage lease in Lake Pueblo and a cross-connection between south and north outlets on Pueblo Dam.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here. More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here. More CWCB coverage here.


Farmers pull out of first Arkansas Valley Super Ditch project

March 11, 2014
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The first pilot program under a new state law that would allow temporary water transfers under the supervision of the Colorado Water Conservation Board has been scuttled. The planned lease of water to Fowler by the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch was pulled from the table last week after farmers who were leasing the water pulled out. It was the first plan introduced under last year’s HB1284, which allows the CWCB to monitor pilot programs that develop alternatives to buy-and-dry water transfers.

“It’s disappointing that we weren’t able to put the program in place,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We need to make sure Fowler survives. The first job of the Super Ditch is to keep small towns viable. This is really about the Arkansas Valley solving the Arkansas Valley’s problems.”

Fowler uses wells to supply its water, but needs an outside supply to augment those wells, City Manager Dan Hyatt explained. The town has been under water restrictions.

“It appears Fowler will be fine with water this year,” Hyatt said.

Monday, the town council considered its options, which could include leasing water from the Pueblo Board of Water Works. The water board has not taken action on water leases this year.

This is the second pilot program that has fallen through for the Super Ditch. In 2012, the group set up a pilot program with Fountain and Security, but could not pull all of the pieces together in time to execute the lease. Severe drought played a role in that program.

Last year, Aurora made an offer to Super Ditch to lease water, but farmers rejected it because the asking price was too low.

The Super Ditch and Lower Ark district supported HB1248 because of the technical backlash from other water users that surfaced under the existing rules for a substitute water supply plan.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.


Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update: ‘The objective is to develop a tool to look at lease-fallowing effects’ — Rick Parsons

January 22, 2014
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A comprehensive study of Arkansas River water use that will aid the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch in temporary water transfers is nearing completion. “The objective is to develop a tool to look at lease-fallowing effects and quantify the amount of water to be exchanged,” Rick Parsons, an engineering consultant, told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District on Wednesday. The district has helped Super Ditch since its formation in 2008 as a way to allow farmers to lease water without selling their underlying water rights, preventing the dry-up of farmland. The district and Super Ditch are working on a pilot program with Fowler this year.

The Super Ditch has contemplated several strategies for moving water, including filing an exchange decree in water court, using existing substitute water supply plans and creating pilot projects under last year’s HB1248. The problem has been getting water users to agree to how those exchanges will avoid damaging other water rights.

Since 2011, Parsons has been compiling information about how water is used in the Arkansas River basin, looking at river operations from 1980-2013. His model should be complete in May. The Super Ditch needs a model that will be generally accepted by other water users, Parsons said. Parsons has met with the state, Colorado Springs Utilities, Aurora and the Pueblo Board of Water Works to glean information. He also has worked with ditch companies to obtain additional data.

The major obstacles at this point are reconciling data from different sources and understanding reservoir operations. Some Lake Pueblo operations related to Southern Delivery System are not clear because of proprietary information held by Colorado Springs Utilities, Parsons said. Reservoirs on the Colorado, Holbrook and Fort Lyon systems are operated by private companies.

“There are a million numbers in this model, and a million in the state database. Some of them are wrong,” Parsons said. “If this is used in a court document, it will be challenged to the nth degree. It has to be as transparent as possible.”

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.


Arkansas River Basin: ‘If Jay Winner cared about agriculture, he would be asking us about that story’ — John McKowen

August 10, 2013

arkbasinditchsystem.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. not only plans to continue farming, but wants to expand its operations on the Bessemer Ditch. But the company is facing challenges from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District that it violated a conservation easement by not irrigating a property it owns. “We’re here because we want to grow vegetables,” John McKowen, Two Rivers CEO, shot back Wednesday as he surveyed newly planted rows of sorghum on the 15-acre property. “This is a great place to farm and the only people trying to move water out of this valley are the Lower Ark district and (its manager) Jay Winner.” The Lower Ark board last month notified Two Rivers of a potential violation of the easement. Two Rivers answered the complaint, saying it is in compliance with the easement. McKowen has bumped heads with Winner in the past over his plan to build reservoirs on the Excelsior Ditch.

“So far, he’s taken two potshots at us and neither one is true,” McKowen said. “We’re walking our talk. He’s not.” He produced documents filed with the federal Farm Service Agency showing wheat, corn and hay were planted on the ground last year, while there was a failed crop of onions earlier this year.

In fact, the land is getting more water from its 36 shares of the Bessemer Ditch under Two Rivers than it would as a freestanding farm, said Russ Dionisio, who manages Two Rivers’ farms. “The way we combine our water (from Bessemer shares and augmented wells), we’re able to irrigate 15 acres,” Dionisio said. “If all somebody had was this farm, this year it would be about 5 acres.”

Two Rivers, which also has farms in other parts of Pueblo and Huerfano counties, has plans that include lease-fallowing possibilities similar to the Lower Ark district’s Super Ditch in the future. But for now, the company is focused on farming. It’s planning to double vegetable production next year and create opportunities for neighboring farmers in the process. “We’re a private enterprise that wants to improve the value of farming, not a government agency,” McKowen said. “If Jay Winner cared about agriculture, he would be asking us about that story.”

Winner defended the Lower Ark district’s action, saying nothing appeared to be growing on it. If crops are now planted on it, that’s all that the district had asked for, he said.

“We represent the people of the Arkansas Valley, not a Wall Street farmer who lives in Denver,” Winner said. “People receive a huge amount of money for conservation easements, and as a land trust, it’s our duty to see the ones we hold are enforced.”

On the water question, Winner reiterated his past statement: “We have not moved a drop of water out of the valley.”

More about Two Rivers from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Box upon box of cabbages the size of volleyballs line a refrigerated warehouse at Dionisio Farms near Avondale. “This is our cooling facility,” Two Rivers Water and Farming Co. CEO John McKowen shouted over the hum of a refrigeration unit. “We’re planning on expanding it, doubling the size, next year.”

The cabbages grown in nearby fields have to be cooled to 38-40 degrees before shipment to processing plants in Colorado Springs, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Most of the cabbage will wind up as cole slaw for restaurant chains.

The purchase of Dionisio Farms by Two Rivers last year has allowed nearly full planting of the acres dedicated to vegetables this year, while grain crops have been cut back due to drought, said Russ Dionisio, who oversees all Two Rivers farming operations. “Two Rivers has benefitted us, because we’ve been able to farm 60 percent of our ground this year, while only about 40 percent of the ground is planted on the rest of the ditch,” Dionisio said. Two Rivers made water available from a five-year lease with the Pueblo Board of Water Works this year to its own and other farms in the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association. While many other farmers have had to cut back production, Dionisio will ship more than 10 million pounds of cabbage this season.

In addition, another 100 acres of pumpkins will be harvested, and some corn is being grown for the first time in decades on Two Rivers land in Huerfano County. McKowen said the vegetables are important crops. “The corn will bring about $800 an acre, but the cabbage will be many multiples of that,” McKowen said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. is refuting the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District’s claim that the terms of a conservation easement on the Bessemer Ditch were violated. “Water from the 36 Bessemer Ditch shares has been and continues to be used solely on the property to aid in the production of agricultural crops,” Two Rivers attorney John Keilbach of Pueblo wrote last week. His letter was in response to a July 17 letter from the Lower Ark district claiming the property was not in agricultural production, which is a condition of a conservation easement placed on the property by a former owner.

Dionisio Farms, owned by Two Rivers, grew corn on the land last year, planted onions which froze this spring and is now growing 15 acres of sorghum on the farm, according to the letter. “In comparing the general agricultural purposes of the easement, the specifically authorized crops and the fact these crops are commonly found in the community surrounding the property . . . we do not understand your conclusion that no irrigated agriculture is being practiced on the property,” Keilbach’s letter stated. “Nothing that Dionisio Farms or Two Rivers has done would indicate or even imply any interruption of agriculture or any intent to move water rights off the property.”

The letter also says the inspection was made without informing Two Rivers, although the easement has a notice requirement.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


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