Fountain Creek: “It seems to me at some point there will be a balance between water rights and property rights” — Steve Witte

July 23, 2014
Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek flood debris May 2014 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Would a dam on Fountain Creek make a difference in a situation such as last week’s drainage along the Arkansas River?

“It is something we need to talk about,” Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte said Monday, looking back at a wild ride of a week on the river. “It’s a discussion that needs to take place. It seems to me at some point there will be a balance between water rights and property rights.”

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable earlier this month turned away a grant request from the Fountain Creek Flood Control and Greenway District to study the practical effects of building a dam or system of detention ponds on Fountain Creek.

Chief among objections: the damage to junior water rights. By changing the peak flow on Fountain Creek floods — delaying the time it takes water to reach points downstream — junior water rights might not come into priority.

On the other hand, the peak flows that came crashing off the prairie into already full canals caused three of them to blow out after storms early last week.

“We already have an example, Pueblo Dam, of how we can reduce flood damage,” Witte said. “On the South Platte, they already are using upstream, out-of-priority storage. They use the water where it exists and determines who gets it later.”

Answering the basic question of whether those types of programs might work on Fountain Creek — the largest single tributary to the Arkansas River in Colorado — needs to be explored. Otherwise the only option to catch floodwater below Lake Pueblo is John Martin Reservoir, Witte said.

“I hope they’ll come back with a revised request,” he said.

One of the problems with last week’s storms is that much of the water was flowing in from unmeasured creeks and gullies. There are no gauges on Chico Creek or Kramer Creek, both a few miles east of Pueblo. Chico Creek boosts flows past the Avondale gauge, but no one can be sure just how much is being contributed to the river. The break in the Colorado Canal was caused by heavy flows on Kramer Creek near Nepesta.

“We were just flying blind,” said Witte, who witnessed the flooding at Nepesta.

The water from several tributaries hit the Arkansas River at the same time, creating “waves” that peaked quickly and then subsided. Some falsely high readings caused unnecessary worries downstream, where no major flooding occurred.

While the system of satellite river gauges has grown in the past 25 years, and provide easy access to information on the Internet, some malfunctioned during last week’s storms. Division of Water Resources staff scrambled to find out what was happening.

“I think we’ve improved, but there is still an element of human judgment,” Witte said. “We need to have people on the ground to verify if our gauges are accurate.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

Colorado Water Officials Association (CWOA) conference October 1-3

July 21, 2014
Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs

From email from the Division of Water Resources (Laura Kalafas):

Hello, we are having our annual Colorado Water Officials Association (CWOA) conference October 1-3, 2014, in Steamboat Springs, CO. Please let me know if your company/organization is interested in being an event sponsor…We would be happy to list your company/organization in our conference program and other publications.

Click here for the agenda
Click here for more information
Click here for the registration form
Click here for the sponsorship form

More Colorado Division of Water Resources coverage here.

A look at Rio Grande Compact administration this season #RioGrande

July 20, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

After years of drought, more water in the San Luis Valley’s rivers is a welcome change, but it comes with a price.

With higher stream levels comes a higher obligation that must be paid to downstream states. Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division 3 Craig Cotten reminded Valley residents of that fact during his report on Tuesday to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board.

When the forecasts increased for the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems, so did the curtailments on irrigators, he explained, because Colorado’s obligation to New Mexico and Texas also increased.

Cotten said the annual forecast for the Rio Grande has increased every month since May because more water is expected now than forecasters predicted this spring. The May forecast for the Rio Grande was 475,000 acre feet. In June the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) increased the projected annual index for the Rio Grande to 545,000 acre feet and this month bumped it up even higher to 590,000 acre feet.

“That’s up significantly from what we had projected earlier on in the season,” Cotten said. The obligation to downstream states from the Rio Grande is 158,400 acre feet from that new 590,000-acrefoot forecast. With the water that has already been delivered , estimated deliveries for this winter, and a contribution from the Closed Basin Project, the water resources division is projecting it must deliver about 22,000 acre feet during the remainder of the irrigation season. To reach that goal, the division is curtailing irrigators 25 percent, which is significantly higher than curtailments earlier in the irrigation season. Curtailments in April and May were 7-10 percent, with curtailments increasing to 15 percent in June, 21 percent by July 3 and 25 percent July 4th.

“That’s just because of the increased forecast amount and needing to deliver quite a bit more to the downstream states,” Cotten said.

“We are watching that pretty closely,” he added. “Depending on the monsoon season, if we do get a significant amount of rain and rain events, there’s a possibility we may have to go up a little higher than that.”

Curtailments on the Conejos River system are even higher. Since July 4, the curtailment on the Conejos has been 32 percent with only the #1 and #2 ditches in priority right now, according to Cotten . The curtailment on April 1 was 12 percent, decreasing to 6 percent by April 4 and 1 percent by May 7, but then increasing to 14 percent on June 7 and jumping to 27 percent by June 21.

“Curtailment of the ditches is indicative of raising the forecast every month,” he said. The projected annual index for the Conejos River system was 185,000 acre feet in May, 210,000 acre feet in June and is now estimated at 220,000 acre feet.

Of the 220,000 acre-foot annual flow , the Conejos River system owes 57,000 acre feet to New Mexico and Texas. To reach that goal, the Conejos will have to send about 8,000 acre feet downstream during the remainder of the irrigation season, according to Cotten.

Cotten shared the threemonth precipitation outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for August, September and October.

“For the first time in quite a few years we are in the above-average range,” he said. “It’s looking like we are going to have a pretty good monsoon season.”

Temperatures during that three-month period will be another court case where the fine could top that.

“We are watching the well meter usage and metering and making sure everybody has active and accurate meters on their wells,” he said.

In his report to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board on Tuesday, District Engineer Allen Davey said both the unconfined and confined aquifers had shown some improvement recently, but the basin has a long ways to go to re-establish the kind of aquifer levels the state legislature mandated, reflecting the levels of the period from 1978-2000 .

The confined aquifer, or deeper aquifer, has improved this last year by an overall total of about 2.66 feet in the wells included in Davey’s study. He said if the weather returned to a wetter cycle, with improved run off, irrigators would not need to pump as much, and the aquifers would naturally improve.

He added, “If we have bigger water years and the pumping stays the same, the aquifer will recover, and if the pumping is reduced, the aquifer will recover more.”

Since 1976 the unconfined aquifer, or shallow aquifer, in an area representative of the area now covered by the first groundwater management sub-district has declined a total of more than one million acre feet. Davey said the study area showed some improvement this spring with the aquifer level increasing by 105,000 acre feet during June, for example. “equal chances” of being in the average range.

Cotten said his office has had to file four or five court cases in the last month or so against well owners who did not comply with the well use rules, specifically not turning in well usage numbers or not having valid well meters in place. Fines could range from a few hundred dollars in simple cases to thousands of dollars. One irrigator is looking at a fine of more than $8,0000, Cotten said, and his office is currently working on He reminded the group that the target level required by legislators is -200 ,000 to -400 ,000 acre feet for a fiveyear running average.

“Right now it’s about 500,000 acre feet below that -400 ,000,” he said.

He said it’s like gas in a vehicle’s tank, and the more the vehicle uses, the lower the gas level is.

“What we need to do in order to recover is reduce the amount of ‘driving’ we are doing ,” Davey said. “Well users need to ‘drive’ less, pump less water, irrigate less land.”

More Rio Grande 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.

Audit: Division of Water Resources needs to step up pace of dam inspections

June 3, 2014
Barker Reservoir

Barker Reservoir

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

State engineers should move faster on inspecting Colorado’s largest and most critical dams, according to an audit made public Monday. Despite the tardiness, however, the dams in question weathered last September’s record floods in good shape, according to the report. Auditors reviewed paperwork on 213 high-hazard dams and found that the Division of Water Resources failed to inspect 27 during the 2012 “water year,” measured as Nov. 1 to Oct. 31. Twelve others were at least six months past their annual inspection dates, auditors found.

“Regular inspections help ensure that dams operate safely and identify when a dam’s water level should be restricted for safe operation,” the Office of State Auditors said in a statement about the review.

Only 27 of the more than 1,800 dams under the state’s authority were affected by the rainfall and flooding, resulting in an estimated $5 million for repairs related to cracking, erosion and collected debris.

Auditors and representatives of the state engineer’s office agreed on the findings and recommendations for improvement during a hearing before the legislature’s audit committee Monday morning.

“So the public knows, what we’ve found here is we don’t have an issue regarding public safety for our dams, but we can work on our process, our paper trail, to make sure we have them inspected in a timely manner,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

Inspectors also need to pick up the pace on reviewing dams that could be reclassified for their hazard risks. The review completed last July that elevated Droz Creek Dam in Chaffee County from low risk to significant risk, for example, took 14 years to complete, auditors found.

“Delays in reclassifying dams to a higher hazard rating could pose a risk to public safety,” auditors stated.

And although state regulations require dam owners to update emergency action plans annually, those on file with the division are, on average, 7½ years old, and one had not been updated in 31 years, according to the auditors.

The agency also has not updated some of its fees for dam design review since 1990, so taxpayers pick up about 80 percent of the cost. Auditors recommended that the agency work with legislators to find a solution.

More Division of Water Resources coverage here.

Well augmentation enforced by the Colorado Division of Water Resources

May 12, 2014
Typical water well

Typical water well

Domestic and irrigation well pumping both come with augmentation requirements under Colorado Water law. Here’s a story about augmentation education and enforcement in the Blue River watershed from Alli Langley writing for the Summit Daily News. Here’s an excerpt:

As water commissioner for District 36 of the state Division of Water Resources, [Troy Wineland] manages water rights in the Blue River basin. This runoff season, he will focus on getting residents using “exempt wells” illegally to change their ways.

“I’m just continually optimistic,” he said, that “if given the information people will make better choices, the right choices.”

Of the county’s 2,500 wells, three-quarters are exempt, meaning the prior appropriation system that governs Colorado water rights doesn’t apply to them…

Exempt wells aren’t shut off during shortages because they require special sewage systems that return used water to the ground. If done properly, the water loss is about 5 percent, which the law says isn’t enough to impact those with senior water rights.

Permits for exempt wells say water must be used only inside the walls of a single-family housing unit and restrict the amount used per year. Owners can pay to use water in ways that violate their permit as long as they augment the water, or ensure that the used water won’t affect the surrounding watershed and senior water rights.

Summit well owners can buy augmented water through the county or Vidler Water Co.

In the next six weeks, Wineland will knock on hundreds of doors where people without the right permits are irrigating, filling hot tubs or using water in other illegal ways. If the well owners are home, he’ll talk with them about the rules and why they’re important.

“You have to back out from the micro level. ‘Oh, this is my own little fiefdom, and what I do here is not going to affect anyone else,’” he said. Remember the long-term drought and projected shortages, he said. Think about the hundreds of nearby wells and cumulative impact on local streams and rivers. They feed the Colorado River, which supplies seven states.

He’ll explain the options: Stop the illegal use or get an augmentation contract. Most people are responsive, he said. They just didn’t know or didn’t think it was important.

In a couple of weeks, if well owners haven’t done anything, he’ll issue a courtesy warning and deadline. After that deadline, violators will receive an injunction and be fined for unpermitted uses: $500 a day.

People who contact Wineland by July 1 with the necessary information will have until June 1, 2015, to get into compliance.

“I’m going to put it in their hands and say, ‘Hey, you can do this on your own time line,’” he said, “‘or if I come and knock on your door, you can adhere to my time line,’ which is much tighter, more than likely 30 days.”

Meanwhile groundwater sub-district 1 implementation rolls on, with state approval of their augmentation plan, in the San Luis Valley. Here’s a report from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier:

Colorado Division of Water Resources State Engineer Dick Wolfe approved the 2014 Annual Replacement Plan for Subdistrict No. 1 on Monday. The state decision will be submitted to the Division No. 3 Water Court today, April 29. Wolfe determined the plan adequately identified sources and amounts of replacement water and remedies the subdistrict would use to make up for injurious stream depletions this year.

The sub-district plans to use up to 2,806 acre feet of transbasin water; up to 5,608 acre feet of Santa Maria Reservoir water; up to 2,500 acre feet of Closed Basin Project water; and up to 4,300 acre feet of forbearance water to meet its obligations this year.

The forbearance agreements are with the Rio Grande Canal Water Users Association (up to 2,000 acre feet); San Luis Valley Irrigation District (up to 1,000 acre feet); San Luis Valley Canal Company (up to 400 acre feet); Prairie Ditch Company (up to 100 acre feet); Monte Vista Water Users Association (up to 300 acre feet); and Commonwealth Irrigation Company-Empire Canal (up to 500 acre feet.) Water currently in storage will be released from the Rio Grande, Santa Maria and Continental Reservoirs at the direction of the division engineer to replace injurious stream depletions in time, location and amounts that they occur, beginning May 1.

Wolfe approved the annual replacement plan with about a dozen terms and conditions including daily replacement water accounting every month to the local division office and replacement water deliveries in a manner acceptable to the division engineer.

The terms also excluded the use of “Big Ruby” water, water purchased from Navajo Development Company (John Parker II) in the last two years and held in Rio Grande Reservoir but previously stored in Big Ruby Reservoir. Wolfe stated his office had not yet received all of the information it required to approve a Substitute Water Supply Plan application so he was denying the use of Big Ruby water in the Annual Replace Plan.

“The approval of this ARP is made with the understanding that if the ARP proves insufficient to remedy injurious stream depletions, the State Engineer has the authority to invoke the retained jurisdiction of the Division No. 3 Water Court,” Wolfe stated.

Wolfe’s approval followed approval locally by the subdistrict board of managers and the board for the subdistrict’s sponsoring district, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. The plan is required each year to show how the water management sub-district will replace injurious stream depletions caused by well pumping in the sub-district area. The sub-district encompasses more than 3,400 wells pumping about 230,000 acre feet annually on about 163,500 irrigated acres. The amount of pumping in the sub-district has decreased from nearly 308,000 acre feet in 2010 and nearly 325,000 acre feet in 2011 to about 259,000 acre feet in 2012 and approximately 228,500 acre feet last year.

The Annual Replacement Plan anticipates well pumping this year to be about what it was last year.

A groundwater model is used to calculate depletions the sub-district must remedy each year. The only river for which the groundwater model predicts depletions from Sub-district No. 1 is the Rio Grande. This year the estimated total depletions affecting the Rio Grande due to past and projected pumping is 3,971 acre feet. The total lag stream depletions from prior and projected pumping total more than 30,000 acre feet. The sub-district is required to make up those depletions over time in addition to the ongoing depletions.

The state is holding the sponsoring water district financially responsible to make up those lag depletions if Sub-district No. 1 goes under. In previous years Subdistrict No. 1 has offered fallowing programs, with more than 8,200 irrigated acres fallowed to some extent last year. This year the sub-district is not offering that program but is relying on other measures such as the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) re-authorized in the new Farm Bill and administered through USDA Farm Service Agency offices. FSA offices have informed the sub-district that sign-up for the Rio Grande CREP would resume sometime in May.

More groundwater coverage here.

Arkansas Valley augmentation plans will enable 3x the pumping this year over last

May 7, 2014
Typical water well

Typical water well

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Farmers who use wells will pump more than three times as much water than in 2013 under augmentation plans approved last week by the state.

“I think one of the things that helped out was that there was so little pumping last year that there are no return flows to be replaced this year,” said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer.

The plans from the three major groundwater associations, including 1,780 wells, total nearly 102,000 acre-feet (33.2 billion gallons), compared with 32,384 acre-feet in 2013. That’s also about 115 percent of the 12-year average from the three major well pumping plans.

The largest group is the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, which plans to pump 60,756 acre-feet this year, up from 13,534 acre-feet in July.

“In District 67, below John Martin Reservoir, they are influenced by Purgatoire River flows, so that’s had an effect,” Witte said.

The Colorado Water Protective and Development Association plans to pump 33,000 acre-feet, while the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association has plans for 8,231 acre-feet in farm wells.

Another factor in the ample well allotments is a reduction in the state presumption of depletions, which dropped to 36.5 percent this year, from 39 percent in the past.

Surface water replacement plans, primarily driven by large farm sprinkler systems also have been approved.

There are three major plans under the Rule 10 plans adopted in the 2010 consumptive use rules which prevent injury to downstream users, including Kansas.

On the Fort Lyon Canal, 161 improvements on 57 farms will require 1,000 acre-feet of replacement water. Non-Fort Lyon plans for 74 improvements on 35 farms will require 891 acre-feet. Both of the plans are administered by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

A third plan, filed by LAWMA for four farms owned by GP Resources call for 836 acre-feet of replacement water.

More Arkansas River Basin 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.

San Luis Valley: Pumpers worry about augmentation water debt

April 28, 2014
San Luis Valley Groundwater

San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Paying past water debts while trying to keep up with current ones could be a make-or-break proposition for new water management sub-districts throughout the San Luis Valley. the Valley, members of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) began developing an alternative several years ago that it hoped would allow Valley farmers to stay in business while complying with state regulations. The larger water district sponsored sub-districts for various geographical areas of the Valley, with the first lying in the closed basin area in the central part of the Valley. The sub-districts’ goals are to make up for depletions well users have caused in the past and are causing in the present , plus rebuild the Valley’s aquifers. One of their objectives is to take irrigated land out of production to reduce the draw on the aquifers.

The first sub-district is operational now with fees collected from farmers within the sub-district paying for water to offset the depletions and injuries to surface Background Knowing the state would soon be regulating the hundreds of irrigation wells in users caused by their well pumping. As the late RGWCD President Ray Wright described the effort, it was a “pay to play” proposition. For example, those who did not have surface water rights would pay more to continue operating their wells than those who had both surface and groundwater.

The first sub-district is also putting water in the river to replace injurious depletions its well users have caused to surface rights. One of the methods the sub-district has used to meet its goals is to purchase property. Another has been to support the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which is included in the farm bill. That program pays folks to fallow land either permanently or for a specific time period, with cover crops planted for ground cover and erosion Sub-district #1 submitted its annual replacement plan to its board, its sponsoring district and the state engineer and court this week. The subdistrict board of managers and RGWCD board approved the plan, and RGWCD General Manager Steve Vandiver personally presented it to Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten on Tuesday.

The 2012 annual replacement plan was challenged, with some of those legal challenges still pending in court. (The 2013 plan was not contested.) RGWCD Attorney David Robbins told the board on Tuesday the Colorado Supreme Court has not yet set the matter for arguments, and if it does not do so in the next week or two, it will probably not schedule the arguments until September or October. The local water court upheld the plan, but objectors appealed to the Supreme Court, which has received briefs from the parties in the case but has not yet set a time to hear arguments.

Robbins said there are three issues involved in the court case regarding the 2012 annual replacement plan: 1) use of Closed Basin Project water as replacement water, “that’s a good legal argument ;” 2) the way augmentation plans were accounted for in the 2012 replacement plan, “that’s a slap my hand argument;” and 3) when the annual replacement plan becomes effective, a procedural argument. Current activity

Now that the first subdistrict is operational and the state’s groundwater rules likely to be filed in the next month or two, the sponsoring water district is fervently assisting sub-district working groups from Saguache to Conejos and everywhere in between. One of the proposed sub-districts , for example, lies along the alluvium of the Rio Grande.

RGWCD Program Managers Rob Phillips and Cleave Simpson are working to get the new sub-districts formed.

Vandiver told the RGWCD board on Tuesday that Simpson is working hard with working groups for Subdistricts #2, 3, and 4 to get petitions ready to be signed by landowners in those subdistricts and to draft a plan of management and budget for each sub-district . Those will be presented to the water court when they are completed. Simpson told the RGWCD board on Tuesday all three of those sub-district working groups plan to present their completed petitions to the sponsoring water district board before the end of this calendar year.

Vandiver added that Subdistricts #5 and 6, Saguache Creek and San Luis Creek, are not as far along. The Saguache Creek group has held numerous meetings but is waiting on final numbers from the state’s groundwater model to know how much it will owe in depletions before it can proceed much further. The working group for the San Luis Creek sub-district fell apart, Vandiver said, but a few well owners in that area are getting back together and will meet next week for the first time in a long time.

Vandiver also told the RGWCD board on Tuesday that a group of federal and state agencies that own wells in the Valley are meeting to discuss their options. They will also have to comply with the groundwater regulations, as will municipalities with wells. Vandiver said state, federal and local agencies/ municipalities will have to join/form a sub-district or create augmentation plans to comply with the pending state rules. Many of the agencies are interested in joining subdistricts , he added. In doing so, they would either have to pay with cash or water, and many of them have water they could contribute, which would be helpful for the subdistricts . Water debt challenges RGWCD Director Cory Off brought up the issue of the district having to provide a guaranty to the state for lag depletions from past pumping , which was determined in the case of Sub-district #1 to be 19 years. Off said District Judge O. John Kuenhold in 2008 ruled the sub-district had to pay lag depletions to the river but did not say the sub-district had to provide a guaranty. The first plan of water management, which the state engineer approved, required the sub-district to have two years of wet water in storage, Off added.

The state engineer did not say anything about a guaranty in 2011, but in 2012 the state required the district to sign a letter of guaranty, which it did, Off added. He said he believed the water district board needed to rethink this matter because he did not believe the district had an obligation to file a guaranty, particularly for Sub-district #1 since it had already been approved by the court, or any future sub-districts. By signing the letter of guaranty for Subdistrict #1 the district was putting future sub-districts in a precarious position, he said, because subsequent sub-districts do not have the economic ability to cover lag depletions like Sub-district #1 does. Off said the first sub-district is comprised of a large number of farmers, but some of the other sub-districts have a fraction of the populace but even greater depletions to make up.

RGWCD Director Lawrence Gallegos said that was true of the two sub-districts in Conejos County, and if those sub-districts had to provide a guaranty for lag depletions, their fees would be astronomical.

“I think it could be make-it or break-it especially for the two sub-districts that are in the county I represent,” he said. “I think we need to have the sub-districts working ” We don’t want to set anybody up to fail.”

He said the RGWCD board needs to ask its legal counsel to talk to the state engineer about other arrangements that wouldn’t break the subdistricts .

RGWCD Director Dwight Martin said Sub-district #4, with which he has been involved, has been trying to determine what its obligation will be. It does not have firm numbers yet. Martin said if the depletions are 22,000 acre feet, it is going to be extremely difficult if not impossible to meet that obligation. If the depletion repayment is 8,000 acre feet, the sub-district can put together a workable budget with the approximately 400 wells involved in that sub-district .

Robbins said Sub-district #1 is close to having enough water or cash to pay its lag depletions if it went out of business today, and each area of the Valley where depletions have occurred must make up for its depletions either cooperatively through sub-districts or individually through augmentation plans. He said the district does not yet know what the lag depletions will be for the rest of the sub-districts because they are hydrologically different than Sub-district # 1. For example, Sub-district #2 is right along the river.

“The state engineer cannot approve a plan of management unless he’s given assurance the depletions that are caused by the pumping will be replaced so that there is no injury to senior water rights,” Robbins said.

Cotten agreed. He said it is like getting a 20-year loan. If someone told the bank he would pay the first year but provided no guaranty he would pay the next 19 years, he would probably not get the loan. He added that this is not the only basin where the state engineer has required this type of thing.

Off said he was not saying the depletions should not be replaced.

“Paying depletions to the river obviously has to happen ,” he said.

His problem was with the guaranty for lag depletions, he said.

Robbins said there might be several ways those lag depletions could be covered . It could be through a permanent forbearance, for example, he said.

“There are a lots of ways to solve the problem other than simply putting money in escrow,” Robbins said.

RGWCD President Greg Higel said as a senior water owner he wanted to see lag depletions paid back and wanted to see some sort of guaranty in place that they would be.

Vandiver said the state engineer’s responsibility is to protect the surface water users that the sub-district plan was designed to protect. He said the senior/surface water users drove the point home to the court and the state that replacement of depletions was a critical issue that must be addressed. “The objectors from the very beginning have said it wasn’t enough, it just wasn’t enough.”

Vandiver said he was not opposed to going back to the state engineer to talk about lag depletions, but he believed the district must present some options.

Robbins said, “If the board wants me to talk to the state engineer, we can come up with the options.”

He added he was not opposed to having a preliminary discussion with State Engineer Dick Wolfe to see how much flexibility he might be willing to provide.

The RGWCD board unanimously voted to have Robbins speak with the state engineer about the lag depletion guaranties and alternatives.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

HB14-1026: “In theory, it sounds good [flexible markets], but there are still not enough sideboards on it” — Jay Winner #COleg

April 19, 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):

Local officials still are skeptical of pending legislation that would establish a flex marketing water right. The bill, HB1026, as introduced would have allowed agricultural water to be used anywhere, any time and for any purpose, apparently in contradiction of the state’s anti-speculation doctrine.


It breezed through the state House, but has been snagged for weeks in the Senate agriculture committee.

“In theory, it sounds good, but there are still not enough sideboards on it,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

Winner has been trying to get a provision added to the bill that would limit fallowing of farmland to three years in 10 — a staple of current law regarding temporary transfers. Backers of the bill have pushed for allowing transfers to occur five years in 10, with nearly unlimited dry-up of farm ground during that time.

The bill was supposed to be heard in the Senate ag committee Thursday, but was again delayed. Winner thinks it should be referred to the interim water resources committee to work out differences.

Meanwhile, the Pueblo Board of Water Works also is backing off from supporting the bill. Even though provisions were added that prevent moving water from the water district where it originally was used, farms might be permanently dried up, said Terry Book, executive director of the water board.

“Our question is does it do what it’s intended to do?” Book said. “We would support something that allows farmers to market water, but not this bill.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Ditch companies are running out of time for repairs, the runoff is coming #COflood

April 6, 2014
St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

From the Longmont Times-Call (Tony Kindelspire):

Left Hand Creek has been diverted from its main channel by a temporary earthen dam with two 48-inch pipes running through the middle of it. That’s so the workmen can rebuild the diversion dam and headgate that last September’s flood obliterated.

“We have like 13 spots that we’re working on, various levels of destruction, with this being the worst. This is the Allen’s Lake diversion,” said Plummer, vice president of maintenance and operations for the Left Hand Ditch Co. “Most everything was just buried in debris. … The Allen’s Lake diversion was just rolled up into a ball of concrete and steel.”[...]

Ditch companies control the water rights to irrigation ditches and are charged with maintaining them. The Left Hand Ditch Co. is typical of most such entities: it’s privately held and owned by shareholders — in the case of Left Hand, 460 shareholders. Sixteen percent of its shares are owned by the Left Hand Water District and goes toward drinking water, and the rest goes to agriculture.

Ditches operate using diversion dams and headgates. The dams slow the water and back it up so it can then flow through the headgate, which is opened to let water through.

In the Allen’s Lake diversion both the dam and headgate were wiped out, and in the narrow riverbed of Left Hand Canyon, the only way to replace them is to divert the river, build half the structure, then move the river again and build the other half.

“We’ll get that (side) done and then we’ll move the river back over,” Plummer said as he watched the construction crew pour concrete. “What we’re doing is racing, we’re racing the run-off.”[...]

Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, attended an emergency meeting of the Highland Ditch Co. in the days following the flood.

“Not repairing this is not an option,” Cronin recalls hearing the shareholders — many of whom are farmers — saying in the meeting. “This is how we make our living.”

Cronin said there are 94 ditches and reservoirs within the St. Vrain & Left Hand district, and of those 43 suffered some amount of damage, totaling about $18 million. Some, such as the Highland, were completely destroyed.

September’s flood all but wiped out the Highland’s diversion dam and headgate, which were built in 1870. What little remained after the water subsided was not repairable.

The Highland Ditch, the biggest in the St. Vrain basin, goes all the way to Milliken, primarily serving ag land but also providing some of the city of Longmont’s drinking water.

The diversion dam and headgate were rebuilt at a cost of $750,000, according to Wade Gonzales, superintendent of the Highland Ditch Co…

The “Big Three” headgates, as far as Longmont is concerned — the Highland, the Oligarchy and the Rough & Ready/Palmerton — were all destroyed by the flood, according to Kevin Boden, environmental project specialist with the city of Longmont’s Public Works and Natural Resources Department.

The Oligarchy, it should be noted, actually held up during the initial flood but then finally gave way the following Sunday during heavy rains.

All three either have been or will be repaired by May 1, Boden said…

[Dave Nettles] said that although the Poudre, Big Thompson and Boulder Creek watersheds all sustained some damage, none of them reached the “catastrophic” levels seen in the St. Vrain and Little Thompson watersheds.

More infrastructure coverage here.

The Spring 2014 Water Information Program newsletter is hot off the presses

March 31, 2014
US Drought Monitor March 25, 2014

US Drought Monitor March 25, 2014

Click here to read the newsletter.

Announcement: State and Division One Engineers forum, April 15

March 19, 2014
South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

The State and Division One Engineers will be hosting a forum on Tuesday, April 15, 2014 at the Southwest Weld County Services Building (4209 Weld County Rd 24 ½, Longmont, CO 80504) from 8:30 am to 11:30 am. Water professionals, attorneys, engineers and the general public are invited to attend.

This forum will provide an opportunity to hear personnel from the State and Division offices talk about current issues regarding engineering practices for establishing historical consumptive use in change of water right cases, summary of consultation changes and participation with the Water Court, and new policy. The goal of this forum is to generate awareness among the water community and provide a discussion on issues, including a question and answer session with personnel from the State and Division offices.

Please plan to attend! Space is limited. Please RSVP by Wednesday, April 9th, via email to or by calling Linda at (970) 352-8712 if you plan to attend.

More Colorado Division of Water coverage here.

‘Think about how we can work together to keep this community alive’ — Leroy Salazar

March 16, 2014
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Heading a water solutions team, San Luis Valley resident LeRoy Salazar told those attending a groundwater advisory meeting on Wednesday it is time to get beyond the blame game and work together to preserve Valley communities and the agricultural livelihoods that keep them alive. Part of a group trying to find solutions to affordable, equitable and successful water sustainability, Salazar said a year ago he was only 20 percent convinced “we would be able to make this thing work.”

He said he is presently up to 60 percent and hopes by the time the state well rules are in place, “I will have an 80 percent probability we are going to be able to keep this thing going.”

He added, “We are all working really hard.”

He commended the state engineer’s office for working hard to develop a groundwater model that would work and rules that would work for everybody.

“The well owners want these as bad as surface users,” he said. “We want to know what hand we are going to be dealt with.”

He said some flexibility may be required in the next year or two as water users work through some of the challenges they will come up against in complying with the state’s new rules.

“Some of those things may take us five to six years to work out,” Salazar added. “We may not be able to live at exactly the letter of the law. We can create a little bit of flexibility in there.”

He said it might not be possible to always replace depletions to the river in exactly the right time and place that the regulations will require.

“Think about how we can work together to keep this community alive.”

State Engineer Dick Wolfe said he believed “our greatest successes come from our greatest challenges,” and he is at an 80-percent confidence level. The well rules Wolfe hopes to submit to the water court yet this spring will require wells to make up for the injuries and depletions they have caused senior water rights and the aquifers.

Salazar said he has both senior water surface rights, which date back five generations , in addition to wells, which are junior water rights. He said wells are part of the reason that rivers are drier and aquifers diminished, but they are not the sole problem. The multi-year drought and the demands of the interstate Rio Grande Compact are also responsible, he said.

However, he said those trying to reach solutions must get beyond the blame game “and think what’s in the best interest of keeping our communities alive and keep them going.”

He said he could see at least 100,000 acres of land going out of production, and if solutions cannot be reached to the Valley’s water problems, that total could be twice that.

“Think what that will do to communities,” he said.

He said the two main issues to address are sustainability and depletions.

He said some of the solutions to sustainability are fairly easy. Changing farming practices to use less water would be a better solution than shutting wells down, he said. For example, while alfalfa requires 28-30 inches of water annually, barley only requires 20 inches, so a switch from alfalfa to grain would cut water usage by one third.

“We can do a little bit better than that,” Salazar added. “A lot of us that are raising grain and potatoes, there are a lot of conservation crops that can apply 6-8 inches that will raise some pasture for cows.”

A crop like sorghum sudan grass would only require 6-8 inches but would still provide pasture for cattle, for example.

“There’s alternatives without having to shut a bunch of wells down to increase sustainability,” Salazar said. “We know we have to reduce the drain on the aquifers. I think sustainability can be dealt with fairly easily if we all agree we need to cut back. I don’t think there will be too many farms go out of business if we cut back.”

Addressing the issue of replacing depletions is a bit trickier, Salazar said. He explained it would take on the order of 20,000-30 ,000 acre feet to replace those depletions throughout the Valley, with the Conejos system owing about 6,000 acre feet. If the drought continues, however, that number could increase to 8,000-10 ,000 ace feet on that river system, he said.

Forbearance is one key way to deal with the depletions , he said. Some senior water users who have been injured by well pumping may be willing to accept money instead of water, Salazar explained. However , there will be water right holders who will want “wet water,” and that will not always be easy to provide, he said.

“A lot of depletions we are seeing are owed on the lower Conejos might owe 10,000-15 ,000 acre feet of depletions. How do we get 10,000 acre feet down to that lower part if we have to replace it exactly in time and place and we can’t find enough forbearance agreements ?”

Another obstacle is reservoir storage in that area. Salazar said the Platoro Reservoir would be a good place to store water that could later be used to replace depletions. However, that reservoir is often restricted under the Rio Grande Compact on whether it can store water or not.

“It’s a Compact reservoir and a post-Compact reservoir , which means we can’t really store water from one year to the next ” which is what we really need to do if we are going to make this thing work. Trying to find storage is going to be a big issue.”

Dry riverbeds create other obstacles, Salazar added. If water has to move from one part of the stream to meet depletions on the other end, but there’s a dry riverbed in the middle, “we lose it all.”

Folks have four options in responding to the state’s pending groundwater rules, Salazar said. One option is to join a sub-district ; another is to formulate an augmentation plan; a third is to take the rules to court and try to keep them there as long as possible “that’s not a real good solution;” and a fourth option is to seek legislative mandates to force polices on the well users. Salazar said he would rather see the Valley work out its own solutions than to go to the state legislature.

The solutions committee, or team, has been trying to develop alternatives since last April, Salazar said. The team set up technical and legal sub groups and has held numerous meetings in the past year.

The team has looked at several alternatives such as diverting numerous junior water rights to pay for depletions and replenish the aquifer. Some of the people who own those junior water rights are not producing that much with them and would just as soon get paid for them. The San Luis Valley Well Owners own some junior water rights that produce a lot of water on certain years, Salazar said. That could be a source of replacement water.

The solutions committee is looking at many options and trying to find the most affordable and efficient ones, Salazar said.

More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

The September #COflood knocked out stream gages used for administration

February 16, 2014
Typical stream gaging station via the USGS

Typical stream gaging station via the USGS

From CBS4:

As of Friday night, crews have replaced or repaired fewer than half of the gauges damaged by the September Flooding.

Engineers take the data they get from gauges and compare that with what they know about how a stream flows, where it’s deeper and shallower, wider and narrower. During the floods, rushing water changed all that, making it difficult to figure out what the data means, and which areas could flood next…

[Dave Nettles, Division Engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources] said he’s used to working with 23 gauges, but flooding ruined them.

“It will be a new world for all of us this spring, for all of us, because we never in most of our careers experienced anything like this,” Nettles said.

Last fall’s flooding changed the landscape. Crews continue to clear debris to keep it from forming new dams.
In Lyons, floods washed away boulders, leaving a clear, open channel…

Moving forward means shifting strategy. In Larimer County, Emergency Management plans to rely heavily on sending people up into the canyon to look at conditions…

“Remote reporting that we have helps us a lot, but there’s also no substitute for a pair of human eyes and judgment,” Nettles said.

Runoff season typically does not start until May. That gives a window of time to try to repair more gauges, and to survey how rivers and streams changed and where new flood dangers lie.

“Colorado’s obligations under the ESA are ‘above and beyond’ the requirements of the compact” — Wildearth Guardians

February 3, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Taos News (J.R. Logan):

Wildearth Guardians has given notice that it plans to sue the state of Colorado over the amount of water pumped out of the Río Grande before it crosses into New Mexico each year. The group argues that irrigation in the San Luís Valley leaves so little water in the river that it imperils habitat of two endangered species — the Río Grande silvery minnow and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.
Jennifer Pelz with Wildearth Guardians told The Taos News that while the lawsuit is based on requirements under the Endangered Species Act, it is meant to address the health of the Río Grande in general. “My focus is the river, the silvery minnow just happens to be the canary in the coal mine,” Pelz said.
Sporadic flows in the Río Grande have long alarmed environmentalists because of the effect on vegetation and wildlife that have adapted to the natural cycle of ups and down. The current drought has left some parts of the Río Grande dry, and diversions up and down the river have significantly altered its natural pattern.

River guides in Taos County have also taken issue with how water in the river is managed. Some have pointed out that Colorado irrigators pull out as much as 98 percent of the river during peak irrigation season, which often coincides with rafting season. They contend that low flows are killing business and hurting the local economy.

However, Colorado farmers point out that the drought is hurting them as well. Officials there point out that the state is still meeting its obligations under the Río Grande Compact, which spells out exactly how much water Colorado must deliver to the state line every year.
The notice from Wildearth Guardians contends that Colorado’s obligations under the Endangered Species Act are “above and beyond” the requirements of the compact.

Pelz said the notice is meant to bring Colorado into the discussion with wildlife managers and irrigation districts in New Mexico to talk about how to manage flows for the health of the river. “We’ve always known that [Colorado] had a role,” Pelz said. “Now is the time that everything is on the table.”

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here and here. More Rio Grande silvery minnow coverage here.

Republican River Basin: Over-pumping will be part of the permanent well record under new rule

January 25, 2014
Yuma Colorado circa 1925

Yuma Colorado circa 1925

From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

Any overpumping of a large-capacity well from now on will remain on that well’s permanent record, no matter how many times ownership might change.

The Colorado Division of Water Resources held a meeting in Wray last week to discuss the overpumping issue. It was reported that about 60 people attended. State Engineer Dick Wolfe was among those representing the state government.

The state enforced overpumping orders beginning with the 2012 irrigation year. A total of 292 wells were overpumped, which actually accounts for only 8.8 percent of the 3,300 active high-capacity wells in Colorado’s Republican River Basin. Total overpumping by those 292 wells was 14,819 acre-feet, which is about the same amount as the maximum that could ever be sent downstream into Nebraska by the compact compliance pipeline. (Per the pipeline’s wells historical consumptive use.)

As reported in the past, the state issued orders dictating a one-for-one reduction in pumping in 2013 for those offending wells, i.e., a well that overpumped its allowed amount by 50 acre-feet in 2012 was to pump 50 acre-feet below its allowed amount in 2013.

All offending wells that complied with the overpumping orders in 2013 will be allowed to return to normally permitted acre-foot allocations in 2014.

It was reported last week at the Wray meeting that only 18 of the 3,300 high-capacity wells (0.5 percent) overpumped during the 2013 irrigation season. The total overpumped amount was 393.6 acre feet.

Of those 18, three were wells that also overpumped in 2012, meaning the owners did not follow the required overpumping orders from the state. Division of Water Resource staff is in the process of filing complaints with the court against those well owners. State officials said they will collect fines for pumping in violation of the orders. The Attorney General’s Office is in the process of preparing a settlement package for each owner, which the owners have the option to either agree to and sign or not.

The owners will be under orders again in 2014, only this time it will be a two acre-foot reduction for every one acre-foot overpumped.

Those wells will now be under order to never overpump again, and if do, the owners could be subjected to additional hefty fines, contempt and possibly more.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.

2014 Colorado legislation: Potential groundwater bills bring hope for some irrigators in the South Platte Basin

January 13, 2014
HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Talks of a proposed bill, one that’s expected to draw plenty of attention, highlighted the first meeting of the Ground Water Coalition on Friday. During the meeting, guest speakers Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, and gubernatorial candidate Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, each said they plan to push legislation that would allow South Platte River Basin groundwater users to stop making up for depletions to the aquifer that precede September’s flooding.

For someone to legally pump water out of the ground in Colorado, most wells must have an approved augmentation plan to make up for depletions to the aquifer. When Colorado’s augmentation requirements became more strict in the mid-2000s, many groundwater pumpers were not only required to fully augment for their depletions going forward, but also to make up for their estimated depletions to the aquifer going back years, or even decades. In some cases, the rules have farmers making up for depletions from as far back as the 1970s.

In their discussions Friday, Fischer, Brophy and others stressed that, with the many reports of high groundwater problems in recent years and the historic flooding in the South Platte Basin during September, the aquifer is believed to be plenty full, and groundwater pumpers — mostly farmers — only need to make up for their depletions from September 2013 and on.

The bill comes as yet another source of discussion — and likely friction — about how groundwater is used in the South Platte Basin. In general, some believe the existing rules and system work well, but others — many of whom have lost the ability to pump some of their groundwater wells — believe groundwater is being mismanaged and changes need to be made to get the maximum beneficial use out of groundwater and surface water and address the water shortages the region is expected to face in coming decades.

In 2012, the heated debate led to legislative approval of a groundwater study in the basin. That study was recently completed, and a report was delivered to lawmakers Dec. 31. Now, some lawmakers are looking to continue the discussions during the 2014 legislative session.

Talk Friday of Fischer and Brophy’s bill was music to the ears of many in attendance.

When the state increased its augmentation requirements in 2006, many farmers couldn’t afford all of the needed augmentation water, and thousands of wells were either curtailed or shut down across Weld County and northeast Colorado, and many remain so. Some have estimated that the curtailment and shutdown of the many groundwater wells has amounted to about a $50-100 million loss in agriculture’s economic impact.

Glen Fritzler — a LaSalle-area farmer and member of the new Ground Water Coalition, which was formed last month by other local farmers with the help of Weld County commissioners — said such a bill, if put into law, would help his agriculture operations, and that of others, tremendously.

The portion of water resources he’s been using to make up for his past depletions could be used for augmentation going forward. That would allow Fritzler to pump much more water from his curtailed wells without acquiring more augmentation resources.

“It’s certainly a good starting point,” said Fritzler, who, like several others in the LaSalle, Glicrest and Sterling areas, saw his basement flood and some of his fields become over-saturated from high groundwater in recent years. “There’s still a lot of things to be addressed.”

Many, like Fritzler, believe the high groundwater levels were caused by the state increasing its augmentation requirements in the mid-2000s. They’re now over-augmenting and over-filling the aquifer, they say.

But others disagree, saying the high groundwater levels were caused by a variety of factors — such as the historically wet years of 2010 and 2011 — and they believe the existing augmentation rules are needed to protect senior surface water rights. Over-pumping of groundwater — in addition to depleting the aquifer — also depletes surface flows, because it draws water that would otherwise make its way to rivers and streams over time.

All sides agree farmers years ago were pumping too much water out of the aquifer and not enough was being put back in the system. There just hasn’t been agreement on how much groundwater pumpers should be augmenting, among other issues.

The debate came to a head in 2012. That summer, Weld County farmers, along with Weld County commissioners, asked Gov. John Hickenlooper to make an emergency declaration that would allow them to temporarily pump some of their curtailed wells — in hopes of bringing down the damaging high groundwater, and to also save their crops during the ongoing drought. But objectors, and ultimately Hickenlooper, said no to the idea.

While those in attendance Friday were excited to hear of Fischer and Brophy’s proposed legislation, they’re also predicting the bill will see plenty of pushback. However, they also believe it’s just one of many things that need to be addressed when it comes to groundwater issues in the South Platte Basin.

One of the main objectives of the new Ground Water Coalition, organizers say, is to make sure groundwater is fully taken into account in the South Platte Basin and statewide long-term water plans.

“It’s a resource that’s an estimated 10 million acre feet underneath us, but we’re not including it in our long-term plans, and that’s unacceptable,” said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway. “That’s why we started this coalition … to make sure this resource is not only a part of the equation, but is used responsibly, and to its full potential.”

HB12-1278, South Platte Groundwater Study Augmentation report released

January 7, 2014
HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

Here’s the executive summary. Click here to access the full report.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A long-awaited groundwater report suggests lawmakers give Colorado’s state engineer more say in future water functions, add staff to the Water Resources Division office in Greeley and further monitor areas where high groundwater caused extensive damage in recent years in Weld and Logan counties. The groundwater research endeavor in the South Platte River Basin — referred to as the HB 1278 study, and spearheaded by Colorado Water Institute Director Reagan Waskom — was initiated in 2012 and has been of great interest to many northeast Colorado farmers and other residents. Waskom’s report and his 2014 legislative suggestions had to be finished and delivered to state lawmakers by Dec. 31. He met the deadline, and his findings were posted on the Colorado Water Institute’s website on Monday morning.

Many water providers and users might have something to gain or lose from any new policy in the state’s groundwater management. Some believe the existing system works well, but others believe changes need to be made to get the maximum beneficial use out of groundwater and surface water and address the water shortages the region is expected to face in upcoming decades. The debate goes back years and came to a head during the 2012 drought, when crops were struggling in fields but some farmers couldn’t pump their wells to provide relief, even though groundwater was at historically high levels in some spots — even seeping into basements, over-saturating fields and causing other issues. Many impacted residents and others believed the high groundwater problems were caused by the state’s augmentation rules, which had become more stringent in 2006.

For someone to legally pump water out of the ground in Colorado, most wells must have an approved augmentation plan to make up for depletions to the rivers because groundwater pumping draws water that would otherwise make its way into nearby rivers over time. When the state increased its requirements in 2006, some farmers couldn’t afford the augmentation water, and about 8,000 wells were either curtailed or shut down in Weld County and northeast Colorado.

In the summer of 2012, local farmers, along with Weld County commissioners, asked Gov. John Hickenlooper to make an emergency declaration that would allow them to temporarily pump some of those curtailed or shutdown wells — in hopes of bringing down the damaging high groundwater, and to also save their crops. But many other water users — particularly surface users downstream from Greeley — urged the governor not to allow it. They said it would deplete senior surface water supplies to which they were entitled. The governor didn’t allow any emergency groundwater pumping for local farmers, saying that the state would likely face a barrage of lawsuits if he did so.

However, those 2012 discussions led to lawmakers approving the groundwater study, to see if the state has rules in place that are getting the best use out of its water supplies. Now, that study is complete.

In his recommendations, Waskom wrote that the state engineer — the head of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, a position currently held by Weld County native Dick Wolfe — should be more involved and have more input in augmentation and recharge projects.

Waskom also wrote that “the state engineer should be directed by the General Assembly to promulgate new rules for the S. Platte to establish a framework for the voluntary movement of excess water supplies between augmentation plans … ” and “promulgate new rules for the S. Platte to establish basin specific guidelines for the implementation of administrative curtailment orders … that reduce waste and facilitate efficient management and distribution of available water supplies …”

A number of farmers have called for the state engineer to have more authority and more of a say in water functions, rather than being dominated by Colorado’s Water Court system.

Additionally, Waskom also writes that:

• “Two pilot projects should be authorized and funded by the General Assembly to allow the state engineer to track and administer high groundwater zones for a specified period of time to lower the water table at Sterling and Gilcrest/LaSalle while testing alternative management approaches.”

• “Funding should be authorized to provide the Division 1 Engineer (Dave Nettles in Greeley) with two additional FTEs (full-time employees) and greater annual investment in technology upgrades. Additionally, Colorado DWR (Division of Water Resources) needs one additional FTE to focus on data and information services.”

• “The General Assembly should authorize the establishment of a pilot basin-wide management entity with a defined sunset date.”

• “The CWCB (Colorado Water Conservancy Board), CDA “Colorado Department of Agriculture” and DWR (Colorado Division of Water Resources) should work with the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) to implement the basin-wide groundwater monitoring network outlined in this report.”

• “The State should cooperate with the S. Platte Basin Roundtable and water organizations in the basin to fund and conduct a helicopter electromagnetic and magnetic survey to produce detailed hydrogeological maps of the S. Platte alluvial aquifer.”

More groundwater coverage here.

Rio Grande Roundtable meeting recap: Pumping down 30,000 acre-feet from 2012

December 16, 2013
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

VALLEY Pumping in the Valley’s first sub-district is down 95,000 acre-feet from 2011, and 30,000 acre-feet from last year. Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Program General Manager Steve Vandiver said during the Rio Grande Roundtable meeting on Tuesday afternoon the fees for the 2013 irrigation year were tallied up last month, totaling $7.1 million, down a touch from last year. About 168,000 irrigated acres were charged for 230,000 acre-feet of water pumped.

Sub-district No. 1 affects 175,000 irrigated acres and 500 or more individual property owners, and lies north of the Rio Grande in what is known as the Closed Basin area within Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache Counties . Its purpose includes repairing the damage from well users to surface water rights, helping the state meet its Rio Grande Compact obligations to downstream states and replenishing the Valley’s underground aquifers.

“It’s not like the well owners in that area aren’t doing something,” Vandiver said. “It is working well.” One problem unveiled this year, he said, was found in some well metering systems, but alternative methods were used to obtain pumping data.

One problem solved this year, he added, was figuring out how some government entities like the Center Conservation District existing within the sub-district pay their dues since they are tax-exempt. The Colorado State University San Luis Valley Research Center, however, has not reached an agreement with the sub-district .

The pumping decline complements the snowfall of late, which Division 3 Water Engineer Craig Cotton said is between 130 and 140 percent of the annual average.

“We are looking better than we have in a number of years,” Cotton said. “We still have a lot of winter to go… hopefully we will get more snow.”

While the Valley waits to see what will happen this season, preparations for water challenges in the future are being addressed. Vandiver said the RGWCD is moving forward with meetings regarding the creation of more Valley sub-districts and groundwater rules and regulations, which are scheduled for adoption next spring. “We are pushing really hard to get started (with the new sub-districts ),” Vandiver said. “Those participating in a sub-district or participating in an augmentation plan need to pay attention (to the groundwater rules and regulations). It is a pretty important time.”

He added, “There is power in the sub-district . We can do it as a group instead of one-on-one , and it makes a lot of sense.”

The Division of Water Resources (DWR) will conduct meetings today regarding several proposed Valley sub- districts. The meetings will discuss the modeling results and the replacement and sustainability requirements of the sub-districts , and are as follows:

  • Saguache and San Luis Creek Sub-districts , 9:30 a.m., Saguache County Road and Bridge Department
  • Alamosa La Jara Subdistrict , 1:30 p.m., Monte Vista Coop
  • Rio Grande Alluvial Sub-district , 7 p.m., Monte Vista Coop The San Luis Valley Advisory Committee to the state engineer concerning rules and regulations for ground water use in the Rio Grande Basin meets tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Inn of the Rio Grande in Alamosa, and, Vandiver said, all water users are encouraged to attend.
  • In addition, the RGWCD purchased a property within the sub-district boundaries with two irrigation wells and Rio Grande Canal water rights, he said. The parcel will be placed in a permanent forbearance plan.

    “This is certainly very helpful to Sub-district No. 1,” Vandiver said. outdoor recreation opportunities . A complete list of grant awards is available at

    GOCO invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife , rivers and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created by voters in 1992, GOCO has funded more than 3,500 projects in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support . The grants are funded by GOCO’s share of Colorado Lottery revenues, which are divided between GOCO, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Conservation Trust Fund and school construction. Projects in Saguache County have received more than $13.1 million in GOCO funds over the years.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage 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.

    San Luis Valley Advisory Committee Meeting October 24

    October 22, 2013
    Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

    Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

    Click here to go to the Division of Water Resources website to view the agenda and draft rules.

    More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

    2014 Colorado legislation: Well users hope to see legislation grease the skids for aquifer recharge

    September 1, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The state needs to take another look at groundwater storage as a way to improve efficiency in water use. “We need to come back and revisit aquifer storage, and look at a better way to manage groundwater resources,” Dick Brown, representing El Paso County water users, told the water resources review committee of the state Legislature this week.

    In 2007, there appeared to be momentum for water storage in the Upper Black Squirrel Creek aquifer east of Colorado Springs. The state had funded technical studies that showed there was ample space in the groundwater basin for water storage.

    But the technological and legal hurdles are daunting for local water districts, said Sean Chambers, manager of the Cherokee Metropolitan District, one of 11 water providers in El Paso County looking at groundwater storage as a potential solution for future water needs. “It’s one of the challenges that management districts have,” Chambers said. “Our resources are minimal, so support from a larger government agency is needed to make sure it is managed well.”

    Groundwater storage would fit well with water leasing programs or water bank plans that are being eyed in the Arkansas River Basin.

    Water attorney Andy Jones said several of his clients in the South Platte River basin also see the need for changes to improve management of resources. He submitted draft legislation to the committee.

    Kevin Rein, deputy director for the Division of Water Resources, told the committee legislation is needed to give management districts more latitude in making decisions. “One size does not fit all,” he said.

    More 2014 Colorado Legislation coverage here.

    ‘Back then, we used computer punch cards’ — Bruce Smith

    August 1, 2013


    From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

    Salida resident Bruce Smith recently retired as Colorado Division of Water Resources district water commissioner after 40 years with the division, including 34 years as commissioner in the Upper Arkansas River Valley.

    The Division of Water Resources, also known as the Office of the State Engineer, administers Colorado water rights, and as the Division 2 (Arkansas River Basin) District 11 (headwaters to Salida) commissioner, Smith oversaw two deputy commissioners and approximately 1,400 water rights.

    He said he knows of only one other commissioner in the state who has done the job longer; in fact, he said, “When I started, river calls came by postcard. Now, with the Internet, people want (river) calls administered instantly.”

    Colorado water rights are administered according to the Prior Appropriation System, which dictates when water can be used based on water-right seniority – “first in time, first in right.”

    Water commissioners work within their respective districts to ensure the system is followed, enforcing Colorado water laws and decrees, sometimes by cutting off an irrigator’s water in order to meet a call on the river by the holder of a senior water right. Senior rights holders file river calls with the division engineer when they fail to receive all of the water they have been decreed. A call on the river is essentially a request for the division engineer to curtail all upstream water rights junior to the calling right until the senior right is satisfied.

    Once the division engineer’s office receives a river call, it becomes the responsibility of the local water commissioner to ensure the call is met by curtailing water diversions by junior rights holders.

    Smith said a typical day as water commissioner starts with a check of real-time gauges to see if the river is rising or falling.

    The next order of business is to go to calling rights holders’ ditches to see how much water they have. “To put a call on the river, (rights holders) have to take all available water at their headgates,” Smith explained. If the calling ditches really are low, Smith said the water commissioner must then figure out how much water is needed to meet the call, based in part on how much the river is rising or dropping.

    Smith said it then becomes a matter of shutting irrigation headgates of junior upstream water rights to try to get enough water to the calling ditch.

    If the calling ditch still does not receive its decreed amount of water, Smith said, “you go out and do it again” until the ditch receives its decreed amount.
    “It takes up to 3 days to get a dropping river set,” Smith said. “Sometimes you have to cut off three to five times as much water as the calling ditch needs” because of factors like evaporation.

    “I always tried to be fair – hit a medium ground – and give people the benefit of the doubt,” Smith added.

    Smith said he grew up around water. His father was deputy state engineer, but Smith planned to be a teacher and earned his education degree at the University of Northern Colorado.

    While attending college in the early ’70s, Smith said, he took a job filling in for the Laramie River water commissioner. The job helped pay for college and gave Smith his start working for the State Engineer’s Office.

    But Smith still had no plans to pursue a career in water until discovering that he could not land a job as a teacher. At that point, Smith accepted a deputy commissioner position on the Cache La Poudre River, where he worked until 1979. “Back then, we used computer punch cards,” he said.

    Even after accepting the job as District 11 commissioner, Smith said, the state provided no supplies for years. “I didn’t have a state truck for 15 years. But since I was using my own truck, I took the kids with me a lot, which was great for them growing up.” Smith said “the kids” – Don, 36, and Erik, 34 – still talk about those experiences.

    The downside back in those days, Smith said, was all the phone calls at home.
    “Before cell phones,” Smith recalled, “I had an answering machine. I would get home in the evening, play messages and have to go back out. And for 5 years I didn’t finish a video with my kids without getting a water phone call.”

    During the ’80s, Smith said, he would make a weekly trip through Bighorn Sheep Canyon to deliver an old 5¼-inch floppy disk to the Division Engineer’s office in Pueblo. “The first time I did that, the disk got corrupted. Eventually, I started making three disks. One would usually make it, but something in the canyon would corrupt those disks.”

    Smith also recalled the first time he made the trip up the steep, rocky jeep trail to Boss Lake. “I went up with Doc Hutchinson in the back of his truck,” Smith said with a look of dismay. “Later, people would tell me, ‘Nobody rides with Doc up there.’”

    Overall, Smith said he thinks he had the best commissioner job in the state here in the Upper Ark Valley. “I’ve had a lot of fun. I definitely have mixed feelings about retiring.”

    Colorado Division of Water Resources 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


    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.

    A look at the management of water in the San Luis Valley

    May 8, 2013


    From the Valley Courier (Virginia Simmons):

    In the 1860s the legislative branch of the Territory of Colorado had already made provisions about water use in the relatively small ditches by appropriation. The first ones created in the early 1850s were soon followed in the 1860s and 1870s by ditches that diverted water from the main stem of the Rio Grande River itself. In 1876 the constitution of the State of Colorado established appropriation of water rights in the order of priority, the doctrine of prior appropriation, and by the 1880s Colorado was making considerable headway in organizing the state government. The filing of ditch rights began in 1881.

    In 1881, the Judicial Branch of the State of Colorado was granted final authority over priority, amount, location, and use of water rights. The judicial branch of Colorado’s government still has the authority over water matters relating to water, from district courts up to the Colorado Supreme Court.

    Much later, in 1969, seven judicial districts would be established, overlapping with the seven major river basins of Colorado. The Colorado Twelfth Judicial District is in the Third Water District, the same geographical area as the San Luis Valley. Besides being a water court, the district court deals with many other types of cases, of course, so district judges get assistance of water referees, attorneys who examine cases related to water and make recommendation to the district judge. In Colorado Judicial District 3, District Judge Pattie M. Swift is the water judge.

    Since 1881 also, the state has had an Office of the Water Engineer, our Colorado water pooh bah. Beginning as a one-man office, it was responsible for such activities as records of surface and ground water rights, decrees, stream flow and water use, and dam safety. The state engineer also serves as Colorado’s commissioner on the Rio Grande Compact Commission. The Division of Water Resources (DWR) is currently headed by Director Dick Wolfe.

    Division 3 of the Division of Water Resources (DWR) was established in 1969, whereby the state designated seven divisions, one for each of Colorado’s major water basins. Division 3 occupies the San Luis Valley, the drainage of the Rio Grande River in Colorado and the same geographical area that is served by the judicial District Court, District 3.

    In the DWR’s Division 3, Rio Grande Basin Division, the division engineer is Craig Cotten, with his office at 301 Mullins, Alamosa. He oversees monitoring stream flow, water use, well permits, ditch repair, and dam repair, and files reports with the Denver office. Local water commissioners’ offices are located at present at Monte Vista (District 20), Antonito (22), and Saguache (25, 26, 27). Water commissioners measure stream flows at gaging stations, coordinate calls for users with senior and junior rights, and send reports to the division engineer. Ditch riders are hired by ditch companies to maintain ditches and headgates, open headgates, and other on-the-ground jobs, some of which may get touchy.

    Municipalities must comply with DWR regulations, water quality policies of the Colorado Water Quality Commission, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, the Colorado Water and Wastewater Facility Operators Board Certification, and the local code of ordinances, and federal laws. In a large town such as the City of Alamosa, the contact is the Director of Public Works, whereas smaller towns may have a water and sewer department. Residents of rural areas and small villages use domestic wells.

    Not until 1957 and 1965 was legislation passed regarding wells, ground water, and augmentation. Permits for ground water wells were then required and are administered by DWR. Statutes also were passed that included tributary water in wells that were affecting surface water rights. Since 1972, DWR has administered domestic well permits on property of less than 35 acres. Restrictions on permits may differ from one county to another, but they still must comply with DWR’s state regulations.

    Over all, then, administration of the Colorado Division of Water Resources (DWR) for the entire, diverse state is a large responsibility. And this is just one division within the present Colorado Department of Natural Resources (CDNR), where some other divisions are also related to water. Mike King is director of CDNR.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

    San Luis Valley: State Engineer Approval of the 2013 Annual Replacement Plan for Subdistrict No. 1

    May 1, 2013


    From email from the State Engineer’s office (Kathryn H. Radke):

    On April 30, 2013, State Engineer Dick Wolfe approved the Annual Replacement Plan for Subdistrict No.1.

    This approval will be filed with the Division No. 3 Water Court later today.

    All documents are located on DWR’s website at the following location:

    Note: these documents can also be downloaded from the DWR’s FTP site:

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    State Engineer Dick Wolfe approved a water replacement plan Tuesday aimed at mitigating harm from groundwater pumping in the north-central San Luis Valley.

    Wolfe’s approval made few changes to the proposal from Subdistrict No. 1, which is required to lay out what sources of water it will use to replace water lost by the pumping of nearly 3,400 wells in the subdistrict’s boundaries.

    He did bar the use of 86.5 acre-feet of water from Ruby Reservoir southwest of Creede until a substitute water supply plan is submitted to and approved by his office.

    But that still leaves the subdistrict with a pool of more than 7,500 acre feet of water it can release into the Rio Grande to mitigate the injury to surface water rights holders.

    A state computer model estimated that pumping would cause 5,389 acre-feet in depletions that the subdistrict must replace.

    More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1130, sans the thirty year term, passes the Senate Ag committee #COleg

    April 20, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A watered-down version of a controversial bill that would expand state authority to approve water leases is making its way through the Legislature. The legislation, HB1130, was approved this week by the Senate agriculture committee. It would alter the state’s interruptible water supply statute. The statute now allows temporary transfers of water from farms to cities with approval from the state engineer for three years in a 10-year period.

    Aurora, supported by farmers on the High Line Canal, is backing the legislation. Aurora leased water from the High Line Canal in 2004-05. Numerous water interests, particularly in the South Platte basin, opposed the original legislation as an end-run around water court. Originally, the bill allowed the state Division of Water Resources to approve water transfers for up to 30 years without going to water court.

    The legislation, as amended by the ag committee, now limits renewal to just one 10-year period, and only in the Lower Arkansas Valley (water districts 14, 17 and 67 in water division 2). Aurora argued for two renewal periods in order to give cities more certainty of supply.

    The bill also strengthens water court appeals and state engineer notification procedures, while giving opponents 126 days, rather than 30, to respond to notifications.

    The bill also prohibits transfer of water across the Continental Divide, at the request of Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, who chairs the Senate ag committee. It does not prohibit transfers from the Rio Grande or Arkansas River basins using interruptible supply.

    The bill was sent to the Senate floor on Wednesday, and could be approved by the Senate as soon as Monday. The House would then have to reconsider the legislation, since substantial changes were made.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

    2013 Colorado legislation: SB13-019 still alive #coleg

    April 6, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A controversial water bill that would give the state engineer authority over water transfers for up to 30 years was discussed Thursday in the Senate Agriculture Committee. Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, who chairs the committee, scheduled a vote for next Thursday after about three hours of testimony for and against the bill. She had concerns that the bill could be used to increase diversions from one basin to another. She added that the bill should be laid over to allow sponsors time to make amendments based on testimony, but did not call for a vote.

    Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulfur Springs, are sponsoring the bill after Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, removed her name as a sponsor.

    The bill would expand current legislation on interruptible supply agreements. Currently, cities may lease water for three years out of 10 from farms without changing use of a water right. The bill extends the arrangement for two additional 10-year periods.

    Opponents of the bill, mostly water interests in the South Platte basin, objected to the legislation because it could allow injury to senior water rights without due process in water courts.

    The bill was supported by Aurora, farmers from the Rocky Ford area, the Colorado Farm Bureau and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. They argued the 30-year period would facilitate lease agreements between cities and farmers and prevent permanent dry-up of farmland. “I support it because it eliminates re-engineering and rediscussion,” said Alan Frantz, a Rocky Ford farmer who participated in a 2004-05 lease to Aurora. “We don’t pay any more to prove that it didn’t hurt anybody down the stream.”

    Schwartz asked Kevin Rein, deputy state engineer, if farmers and cities could simply apply for an extension now. Rein said the current statute prohibits extending an application, but added that a completely new application would require less engineering work after going through the process the first time.

    More water law coverage here and here.

    San Luis Valley: Groundwater Sub-District #1 plans to fallow 9,073 acres to reduce pumping by 15,600 AF

    April 5, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    A groundwater subdistrict designed to reduce aquifer pumping and protect surface water users released its draft annual replacement plan Thursday. The plan for Subdistrict No. 1, which takes in just under 3,400 irrigation wells in the north-central San Luis Valley, is subject to public comment and must still be approved by the state engineer. The subdistrict has set a 7 p.m. meeting Thursday, April 11, in the Adams State University Student Union to take public comment.

    The draft plan projects the subdistrict will send 5,102 acre-feet of water into the Rio Grande to mitigate the impacts to surface water users from groundwater pumping. Groundwater pumping by subdistrict wells is estimated to come in at 270,000 acre-feet this year. The plan lists 10 sources for the replacement water that amount to 11,165 acre-feet in available water. One of those sources is a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project that pumps groundwater from the eastern side of the valley and delivers most of it to the Rio Grande to assist with interstate compact requirements. The subdistrict’s ability to use water from the Closed Basin Project remains under review by the Division 3 Water Court.

    The subdistrict’s other main goal is to reduce groundwater use through the fallowing of agricultural land. It has contracts with landowners to allow the fallowing of 9,073 acres this year, a move that is projected to reduce pumping by 15,600 acre-feet.

    More San Luis Valley Groundwater coverage here and here.

    Colorado River Basin: Denver Water, et. al., are operating under the Shoshone Outage Protocol

    April 4, 2013


    Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

    Two back-to-back, drought-plagued winters in Western Colorado have triggered an agreement to “relax” a senior water rights call on the Colorado River at the Shoshone Hydro Plant to allow water providers to store more water this spring, a move that benefits Denver Water and the West Slope.

    The Shoshone Hydro Plant is owned by Xcel Energy and is located in Glenwood Canyon. Its senior 1902 water right of 1,250 cubic feet a second (cfs), when called, is administered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources against junior water storage rights upstream that include Denver Water’s Dillon and Williams Fork Reservoirs, the Colorado River District’s Wolford Mountain Reservoir and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Green Mountain Reservoir.

    The agreement “relaxes” the call to 704 cfs when river flows are low, or takes a Shoshone call totally off the river when flows are rising, which is the current situation. This practice gives the upstream juniors water rights holders the ability to store water once the spring runoff begins in earnest. Currently, the Colorado River is flowing through Glenwood Canyon at about 825 cfs. (The long-term historical average for this date is about 1,150 cfs.)

    Two tripping points activate the agreement: when Denver Water forecasts its July 1 reservoir storage to be 80 percent of full or less, and when the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center predicts spring runoff flows at Kremmling in Grand County will be less than or equal to 85 percent of average. Currently, the reservoir forecast is 74 percent full on July 1 and the Kremmling forecast is 60 percent of average.

    Denver Water has already enacted its Stage 2 Drought Restrictions to limit outdoor water use and enact other conservation measures.

    The winter of 2012 was the fourth worst on record in the Colorado River Basin and 2013 has been tracking just as poorly. The only improvement between the two winters occurred in March 2013 as storms continued to build snowpack. By this time in 2012, runoff was already under way.
    The relaxation period is between March 14 and May 20, in deference to boating season on the river and irrigation needs in the basin.

    As for the water that Denver Water gains by the relaxation, 15 percent of the net gain is saved for Xcel Energy power plant uses in the Denver Metro Area and 10 percent is delivered to West Slope entities yet to be determined by agreement between Denver Water and the Colorado River District.

    “This is a statewide drought, and we all need to work together to manage water resources for the health and safety of our residents, our economic vitality and the environment,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Shoshone Outage Protocol are great examples of the partnership between Denver Water and the West Slope to do just that. Last year, even though the CRCA was not yet in effect, Denver Water released water to the river even though the Shoshone Power Plant was not operating and the call was not on. This year, under the Denver Water-Xcel Energy agreement, the Shoshone call will be relaxed.”

    “Relaxing the Shoshone water right in this limited way benefits the West Slope as well,” said Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn. “It might make the difference between having a full supply at Green Mountain Reservoir and not having a full supply. In a year like this every extra drop of water we can store now will help us later.”

    Arkansas Valley: The Division 2 engineer further curtails groundwater pumping #codrought

    April 4, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Further reductions for more than 1,000 wells in the Lower Arkansas Valley were ordered this week by the Colorado Division of Water Resources. The reductions come after accounting of last year’s pumping showed almost 6,000 acre-feet of water still is owed to the Arkansas River from last year’s pumping to satisfy in-state demand, said Steve Witte, Division 2 engineer. The Arkansas Valley has been in drought since August 2010. “The unreplaced deficits through the end of January have to be taken into consideration for the new year’s plan,” Witte said.

    Three major well users groups operate plans under 1996 rules that were implemented primarily to make sure Colorado complied with the Arkansas River Compact during a federal lawsuit with Kansas. However, the depletions at issue this year reflect shortages to senior water rights holders within Colorado, he explained. The groups submitted annual operating plans that go into effect April 1. Of the three, only the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association had water available to make up last year’s depletions. The group calculated its plan based on the 2012 deficit and does not face any state-ordered changes.

    The Colorado Water Protective and Development Association told irrigators in February that there would be no water available for well augmentation unless farmers had their own supplies.

    Domestic water supplies, including those for towns and cities, have not been curtailed. Leases of Twin Lakes water will cover some of those replacement needs. CWPDA also is seeking an emergency allocation of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water to cover losses, but the allocation won’t be finalized until May.

    Engineering showed a 3,000 acre-foot in-state deficit owed by CWPDA at the end of January, Witte said.

    The Lower Arkansas Water Management Association was ordered to cut pumping to 10 percent of normal, rather than 30 percent as planned. The group serves farmers east of John Martin Reservoir and its in-state shortfall was calculated at 2,800 acre-feet. The 10 percent figure will be re-evaluated in May, because the state wants LAWMA to recalculate the yield of its replacement sources on dry years such as 2002, 2003 and 2012, rather than average years…

    ● Arkansas Groundwater Users Association will pump at 30 percent of its normal level on the Arkansas River mainstem and 48 percent on Fountain Creek. About 250 wells are affected.

    ● Colorado Water Protective and Development Association members will be able to pump only if they have their own sources of water. About 500 wells could be affected.

    ● Lower Arkansas Water Management Association members will be able to pump only 10 percent of normal under a temporary plan that could be changed in May. About 400 wells are affected.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

    Montrose County ponies up $50,000 for whitewater park engineering

    January 22, 2013


    From the Montrose Daily Press (Will Hearst):

    The greater Montrose community came one step closer to a collaborative application for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant Tuesday, after the city locked in an agreement with Montrose County for $50,000 toward the engineering of the whitewater park project.

    All five city council members voted to accept the $50,000 offered, which will not only help cover the upfront design costs, but make for a much stronger application to GOCO because of the multi-agency participation. In exchange, the county asked that the city contribute an equal amount to an improvement project in the future to the fairgrounds or other county asset.

    Councilor Bob Nicholson, while on board with the plan, hesitated at the way a letter worded the county’s agreement. Nicholson said he was more than willing to keep the city’s side of the bargain, but had assumed the county would ask for repayment only for fairgrounds improvements.

    More Uncompahgre River coverage here and here.

    Water commissioners primer

    December 15, 2012


    Here’s a great primer of sorts about the role of water commissioners in the administration of diversions on Colorado streams, from the University of Northern Colorado (Joshua Zaffos). Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    As the District 4 water commissioner for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, [Jason Smith] is doing his monthly check of reservoir levels within the Big Thompson River Basin to help him prepare for the upcoming spring snowmelt and runoff. The task is as old as the post of water commissioner, which dates back to 1879, when Colorado officially began recognizing water rights and managing the flows that pulse through streams and irrigation ditches.

    Smith is among 114 commissioners across the state, each patrolling a district covering part, or all, of a river basin. Their job of administering water rights based on legal priority and the decrees of the state’s water courts is both straightforward and nebulous. Depending on climate and weather, runoff rates and stream volumes, commissioners say when cities can fill their reservoirs, or irrigation companies can open their diversion ditches. Sometimes known as water cops, they are also faced with telling people when they must limit their diversions to protect senior, or older, water rights.

    Smith finds Green Ridge Glade and other reservoirs sitting at relatively high and steady levels through early February. But the dry and windy Colorado winter serves as a forewarning. Smith has heard from plenty of colleagues and ditch riders that the seasonal conditions so far are reminiscent of the brutal drought of 2002 — supported by media reports in May that statewide snowpack totals were tracking at 19 percent of the 30-year average.

    Working long hours and often tramping through the field, or buried under paperwork, water commissioners are unsung heroes in keeping water flowing to farm fields and household faucets. In many ways, the job hasn’t changed much in 130 years — except for the pickup trucks and stream-gauge technology that greatly reduce uncertainty and delays.

    More Colorado Division of Water Resources coverage here.

    ‘The water levels in the San Luis Valley aquifers are dropping, and have been dropping’ — Craig Cotten

    November 9, 2012


    Here’s the latest installment in the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Craig Cotten. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Rio Grande is in the fourth year of below average streamflows. Other parts of Colorado are also in a severe drought this year, with some areas having a more severe single year drought than the San Luis Valley. However, much of Colorado had very good precipitation and streamflow last year which filled their reservoirs and aquifers. In fact, some areas in the northern part of the state had one of their best years ever last year in terms of precipitation and streamflow, while this basin languished in the midst of a multi-year drought. Since the extreme drought year of 2002, there have only been three years of above normal flow on the Rio Grande and only two years on the Conejos River. Some smaller streams around the valley have fared even worse, with only one year of above normal flows in the last ten.

    The water levels in the San Luis Valley aquifers are dropping, and have been dropping, over the last several years. This drop is in response to the lower than normal recharge into the aquifers from the area rivers, streams, and ditches. After seeing modest gains during the years of 2007 to 2009, the unconfined aquifer is once again dropping substantially.

    According to the aquifer study conducted by Davis Engineering, the unconfined aquifer in the West Central part of the San Luis Valley has lost nearly 500,000 acre-feet of water during the last three years. There is not a formal, comprehensive study of the confined aquifer throughout the Valley, but this aquifer is also seeing significant declines in the amount of artesian pressure. While it is not known exactly how much water is in the aquifers, it is obvious that the San Luis Valley cannot continue this drastic drop in the aquifers without severe long-term consequences…

    In order to address the problem of injury to surface water users and the decline in the aquifers due to well pumping, the State Engineer is in the process of developing Rules and Regulations concerning the withdrawal of groundwater in Division 3. The State Engineer is being assisted in the development of these rules by a 55 member advisory committee made up primarily of area water users.

    While these rules are not completed yet, we do know generally what they will require. In general, the rules will require that large capacity wells in the San Luis Valley repay the injury that they are causing to senior water rights, which are generally ditch and canal rights. In addition, the rules will have a sustainability component which will require that well owners ensure that the underground aquifers are brought back to a sustainable level.

    The repayment of injurious depletions and ensuring sustainability can be accomplished by a well owner in two ways. A well owner may choose to implement an individual augmentation plan in which that owner will cover his individual well or wells. Otherwise, a well owner may choose to join a subdistrict, which, in exchange for monetary payment, will provide the repayment of injurious depletions and the sustainability of the aquifers for that owner.

    More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

    ‘The court had made it absolutely clear our main priority was to replace depletions, keep the river whole’ — Steve Vandiver

    October 31, 2012


    Here’s a recap of day one of the water court trial over the implementation plan for groundwater sub-district #1 down in the San Luis Valley, from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    The plan spells out how the sub-district would replace injurious depletions from well users to surface water rights this year, the first full year of operation for the sub-district, which covers about 3,000 wells in portions of Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache Counties.

    Two of three anticipated witnesses took the stand on Monday: Steve Vandiver, general manager for the sub-district’s sponsoring district, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD); and Allen Davey, district engineer for the water district. Expected to testify today is State Engineer Dick Wolfe who approved the sub-district’s annual operating plan for 2012…

    Tim Buchanan, attorney for San Antonio, Los Pinos and Conejos River Acequia Preservation Association and Save Our Senior Water Rights, LLC, objectors to the sub-district plan, explained that since this was the first year for the operating plan he and other attorneys representing senior water users initially brought up every possible issue they thought might need to be addressed because they were concerned about being foreclosed from addressing them in the future if they did not.

    He added the counsel for objectors and supporters have come to an agreement on general stipulations regarding most of those issues, but two remained as the subject of the abbreviated trial before Judge Swift this week:

    1) Whether the sub-district’s amended plan approved by the water court in 2010 authorized the inclusion of augmentation plan wells.

    Buchanan argued, “The annual plan must comply with the terms of the amended plan. The inclusion of the augmented wells in the amended plan is not an issue within the amended plan. The amended plan does not address that.”

    2) Whether Closed Basin Project water is a logical source of supply to replace depletions caused by wells in the sub-district.

    Closed Basin Project water was used this year to replace sub-district depletions. Buchanan said since the series of wells that comprise the project supplies were appropriated in 1963, they are extremely junior water rights to his clients’ senior water rights and were not an appropriate source of water to replace depletions…

    Vandiver reminded the court of the sub-district’s goal to replace injurious depletions from the wells in the sub-district to surface senior water rights and stabilize the Valley’s aquifers. He outlined the sub-district’s historical timelines from the trial court’s decree in 2010 to the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the lower court in December 2011; the court order to begin assessing fees of irrigators in the sub-district; the acquisition of water supplies to cover depletions; and the development of first the sub-district plan and more recently the annual operating plan or ARP. When asked from whom he acquired replacement water, Vandiver replied “anybody who would listen to me.”

    He said he was able to acquire transmountain water and negotiated one-year agreements from private individuals and entities, with future plans for permanent sources. He said this year he needed to obtain water that was readily available in a short time to meet the sub-district water replacement requirements. “The court had made it absolutely clear our main priority was to replace depletions, keep the river whole … eliminate injuries to senior water rights,” Vandiver said…

    Vandiver also testified about the Closed Basin Project, a federal water salvage project operated by the RGWCD and Bureau of Reclamation. The project includes 170 shallow wells designed to capture water that would otherwise be lost through evaporation. Vandiver testified that the project was constructed to help Colorado meet its Rio Grande Compact obligations to downstream states, mitigate impacts of the project on wetlands, repay Colorado’s indebtedness and sell water to entities in the Valley if there was water available. The project is expected to deliver 11,500 acre feet of water this year. The sub-district is using 2,500 acre feet as a replacement water source this year.

    More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

    San Luis Valley irrigation season ends on November 1

    October 26, 2012


    From email from the Division of Water Resources (Matt Hardesty):

    The Division Engineer for Division 3 of the Colorado Division of Water Resources has announced that the irrigation season will end on November 1, 2012 for irrigation structures within the following water districts: Water District 20, which is the drainage area of the Rio Grande; Water District 25, which is the drainage area of San Luis Creek; Water District 26, which is the drainage area of Saguache Creek; Water District 27, which is the drainage area of La Garita and Carnero Creeks; and Water District 35, which is the drainage area of Trinchera Creek. The irrigation season will end on November 9, 2012 for irrigation structures within Water District 21, which is the drainage area of the Alamosa and La Jara Creeks and Water District 24, which is the drainage area of the Culebra Creek.

    This announcement is to comply with the State Engineer’s policy number 2010-1 regarding the setting of an irrigation season in Division 3.

    Future announcements will be made regarding the end of the irrigation season for the Conejos River drainage area.

    If you have any questions, please contact the Division of Water Resources at (719) 589-6683.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and <a href="

    Rio Grande River Basin: The State Engineer is cracking down on over-pumping

    October 18, 2012


    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    This week [State Engineer Dick Wolfe] issued a draft policy concerning pumping limits for large-capacity wells in the Rio Grande Basin, Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten announced to those attending the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board meeting yesterday in Alamosa.

    The draft policy involves pumping limits for wells, specifically nonexempt large capacity wells, which have been required to meter usage for a few years now. Some of these wells have exceeded the pumping limits in their permits or decrees, Cotten explained, so they may be required to curtail or shut down pumping next year.

    “We have actually started ensuring those limitations are complied with,” Cotten said on Tuesday, “but this policy sets it more in stone how we are going to do that and what steps we are going to take to ensure the wells are pumping within their limitations.”

    He said this was something that needed to be handled, and this policy will set limits in black and white “so there’s no question.”

    He described the bases that will be used to determine if a well has exceeded its limits. Some wells have maximum annual production they cannot exceed in any one year, such as 200-300 acre feet. On that basis, the water office has already ordered some wells to shut down, Cotten said.

    “We do know there have been several that have exceeded their maximum annual production, and we have issued orders on those,” Cotten said…

    The “volumetric pumping limits of nonexempt wells in the Rio Grande Basin” draft policy refers to the extreme multi-year drought in the basin as one of the main reasons this policy is under consideration. It says the drought years have affected the recharge and storage in groundwater aquifers serving as the water supply for municipal, domestic, irrigation and other water users throughout the Valley. The policy states that during this summer alone, for example, water table elevations declined up to six feet in some areas, and the unconfined aquifer storage in the closed basin, which has been measured over a period of 30-plus years, decreased by about 166,000 acre feet.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

    Upper Ark diverters question state administration by water commissioners

    October 13, 2012


    There are a lot of moving parts along our over allocated rivers, especially during drought. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

    “It’s like a threedimensional Chinese checkers board that spins on an axis, and the marbles keep changing colors and sometimes disappear. And then you have to make your play under a stopwatch,” Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte told the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District Thursday. Witte was invited to the meeting to address the concerns of Upper Arkansas ditch users that their senior water rights are being curtailed for more junior calls downstream. The district also is concerned that the river is being managed in a way that would allow Colorado Springs or Aurora to exchange out of priority at the expense of upstream ditches. Witte said that’s not the case.

    “We have been splitting calls more frequently than in the past because we’re trying to do a better job,” Witte said.

    The river call is set each morning by the water commissioner in La Junta, Lonnie Spady, based on conditions. Most of the large canals in the Arkansas River basin are clustered in Pueblo-Otero counties. However, conditions along the river can change quickly if isolated thunderstorms hit a particular drainage.

    In a normal year, that doesn’t matter as much, but the effects show up more profoundly in a drought, particularly in the Upper Arkansas, where there are fewer water rights that predate the most significant water rights in the Lower Arkansas Valley, Witte said.

    This year, the call most often has been split between two or three reaches of the river in order to reflect varying conditions, Witte said.

    The superintendents of four large canal companies in the Lower Arkansas River basin showed up and supported Spady’s decisions in this difficult year.

    “This is the worst year we’ve ever had,” said Manny Torrez, superintendent of the Fort Lyon Canal.

    “We’ve been out of water for the last 90-110 days.”

    Fort Lyon saw some water a few weeks ago after a localized thunderstorm in the Rocky Ford area, an example of the type of situation creating a split call.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

    San Luis Valley: Groundwater Subdistrict No. 1 implementation plan trial scheduled for October 29

    October 12, 2012


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    One of the main groups objecting to how irrigators in part of the San Luis Valley mitigate the harm caused by groundwater pumping has chosen not to withdraw a number of its claims from court. The move by surface water users from the Conejos River basin and the northwestern corner of the valley, which came in a Tuesday filing to the water court for the Rio Grande basin, means a scheduled trial is still on for Oct. 29.

    The objectors reaffirmed their claim against the use of water from the Closed Basin Project, which pumps groundwater from the east side of the valley and sends it down the Rio Grande River to assist Colorado in meeting the Rio Grande Compact.

    Subdistrict No. 1, which includes just under 3,400 groundwater wells in the north-central part of the valley, had proposed using up to 2,500 acre-feet from the federal reclamation project to replace an estimated 4,700 acre-feet in depletions this year.

    The subdistrict also has leased rights to roughly 5,500 acre-feet from reservoirs and trans-basin diversions near the Rio Grande’s headwaters to meet the depletions.

    Judge Pattie Swift said last week the issue concerning the reclamation project could not be decided without a trial since there were issues of fact that were in dispute.

    Swift also said the proposal from objectors to have a special master appointed likely would not be decided until after the trial.

    More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

    ‘Water Wranglers’ is George Sibley’s new book about the Colorado River District #coriver

    October 10, 2012



    Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:

    Water Wranglers
    The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District:
    A Story About the Embattled Colorado River and the Growth of the West

    The Colorado River is one of America’s wildest rivers in terms of terrain and natural attributes, but is actually modest in terms of water quantity – the Mississippi surpasses the Colorado’s annual flow in a matter of days. Yet the Colorado provides some or all of the domestic water for some 35 million Southwesterners, most of whom live outside of the river’s natural course in rapidly growing desert cities. It fully or partially irrigates four-million acres of desert land that produces much of America’s winter fruits and vegetables. It also provides hundreds of thousands of people with recreational opportunities. To put a relatively small river like the Colorado to work, however, has resulted in both miracles and messes: highly controlled use and distribution systems with multiplying problems and conflicts to work out, historically and into the future.

    Water Wranglers is the story of the Colorado River District’s first seventy-five years, using imagination, political shrewdness, legal facility, and appeals to moral rightness beyond legal correctness to find balance among the various entities competing for the use of the river’s water. It is ultimately the story of a minority seeking equity, justice, and respect under democratic majority rule – and willing to give quite a lot to retain what it needs.

    The Colorado River District was created in 1937 with a dual mission: to protect the interests of the state of Colorado in the river’s basin and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado – a region that produces 70 percent of the river’s total water but only contains 10 percent of the state’s population.

    To order the book, visit the Wolverine Publishing website at It can also be found at the online bookseller Amazon.

    More Colorado River District coverage here.

    Flaming Gorge Task Force meeting recap: Concern that Colorado does not have the ‘courage’ to build projects

    September 1, 2012


    Here’s a recap of the recent Flaming Gorge Task Force meeting, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    “I’m left with the feeling that other states have the courage to embark on water projects. We don’t have that,” said Mike Gibson, president of Colorado Water Congress and manager of the San Luis Valley Conservancy District.

    The task force reviewed projects that other Western states have undertaken — including California’s state water project, started in late 1950s, and a $19 billion project to manage demands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta; Arizona’s water bank program and Central Arizona Project; and Utah’s proposal to build a $1 billion Lake Powell pipeline similar to the Flaming Gorge proposal…

    …the state lacks a water plan and unlike other states, has no way to centrally plan projects or allocate water.

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here and <a href="

    Elk River: Late summer water rights administration has water commissioners hopping

    August 29, 2012


    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    The Elk just above its confluence with the Yampa was flowing at 29 cubic feet per second Tuesday morning, well below its median flow of 100 cfs for the date…

    Water Commissioner Brian Romig has shut down eight ditches because they had no flow-measuring device to confirm the water rights holder was not taking more water from the Elk than he or she was entitled to. In addition, Light said, Romig has pulled 20 pumps from the river. That step was taken because the pump owners did not have a decreed water right, did not have a measuring device or were removing water under a right that was junior to the Colorado Division of Water Resources’ right to protect a baseline flow, which dates back to 1977.

    In two cases, Romig required water users to reduce the amount of water they were taking out of the river…

    Even though the Colorado Division of Water Resources’ minimum flow right is junior to most of the agricultural water rights along the Elk, it takes precedence when those rights holders do not use proper measuring devices on their head gates, [District 6 State Water Engineer Erin Light] explained. An improperly installed flow-measuring device can indicate that a water rights holder is removing more water than he or she is entitled to, she said…

    The Colorado Division of Water Resources has the right to put a call on the Elk when its flow dips below 65 cfs, Light said. But that doesn’t mean the result will be that the river is restored to that level. So far, she said Romig’s efforts have increased the flow of the river by 6 to 10 cfs, and he may not be able to find much more water that can remain in the Elk in order to protect the natural systems…

    The enforcement of water rights comes at the end of the irrigation season when most of the hay crop has been harvested and irrigators are turning water on their hay fields to generate some regrowth in order to pasture cattle and to demonstrate continuous use of their water rights.

    More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

    South Platte River Basin: New stream flow and river call map from United Water and Sanitation

    August 10, 2012


    Update: It was early this morning when I first posted this and I neglected to point out that they have mapped selected stream gages as well.

    Sometimes it’s nice to look at the calls on the river graphically. Thanks to the United Water and Sanitation District you don’t have to haul out your straight line diagram for the South Platte Basin. They’ve built an online map with current river calls.

    Click on the thumbnail graphic for a screen shot of this morning’s map.

    Here’s the release from United Water and Sanitation:

    United Water and Sanitation District has unveiled a first-of-its-kind South Platte River Basin map that allows water users and providers throughout the Front Range to get real-time, visual information about the status of the South Platte River and its tributaries.

    The map (”>) aggregates hourly data from a variety of sources, including the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Colorado Division of Water Resources, providing comprehensive streamflow information from the South Platte River Basin. Map users can scroll over dozens of river locations to get valuable and timely information, including:

    - River height (ft)
    – Streamflow rates in cubic feet per second(cfs)
    – Active calls on the river
    – Apparent dry-up points

    “This map allows users to see the supply side along with the demand side of the river basin as conditions change,” said Josh Shipman, asset manager for United Water and Sanitation District. “We have taken a tremendous amount of data and put it in a visual, interactive format, making it easier for water users and providers to quickly and easily get information. It now only takes a few seconds to get information on the river that previously took hours to compile and compare.”

    With numerous water rights and supply interests along the South Platte River basin, United Water anticipates a variety of interest in the map – from ditch companies and water districts to farmers and municipalities – particularly in a dry year like one we are currently experiencing.

    “Ultimately this map allows any interested party to monitor real time, stream conditions to ensure they are receiving the full allocation of their call on the river,” said Ron von Lembke, chief of staff at United Water and Sanitation District. “But it can also be useful for water recreationalists such as kayakers and fishermen who are interested in water conditions related to their activities.”

    The map encompasses all of the South Platte River basin – including each of the 16 Districts included in Water Division 1 of the Colorado Division of Water Resources( Maps/ColoradoRiverBasins.pdf) While there is potential to expand the map to other divisions throughout the state, United Water’s immediate focus will be on adding streamflow monitoring stations and select weather stations in these districts to further enhance its current functionality.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

    Grand Junction: CSU Extension and the Natural Resources Conservation Service Host Free Water Education Webinar Series

    July 14, 2012


    Here’s the release from Colorado State Universilty (Jennifer Dimas):

    Colorado’s unique situation as a headwaters state provides the backdrop for diverse issues and concerns related to a most precious resource: water.

    Colorado State University Extension, in partnership with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, is hosting a Water Education Webinar Series to help landowners understand these contentious issues and provide ideas and recommendations to help ensure water security. The four-part, online series will highlight water conservation practices that don’t compromise crop production or livestock health.

    The water situation in Colorado is rapidly changing, and understanding how to adaptively manage this finite resource will ensure this water is available for everyone’s use in the future.

    In these free online webinars, offered from noon to 1 p.m., participants will learn:

    • the Colorado Doctrine and tips to ensure the protection of your water rights, July 27;
    • Colorado climate and drought trends now and in the future, Aug. 2;
    • water administration, urban versus agricultural use, water quality implications, Aug. 15; and
    • waterwise landscape solutions and recommended plant materials for use, Aug. 23.

    Although these webinars are especially designed for small acreage landowners, anyone who owns or manages rural land will learn useful tips on how to manage water resources.

    Presenters include Nolan Doesken, CSU state climatologist; Denis Reich, CSU Extension water specialist for the Western Region; Robert Cox, horticulture Extension agent; and Aaron Clay, former water referee for the Colorado Water Court.

    The webinars are broadcast live and participants can interact with and ask experts questions during the presentation. To sign up for any and all of the webinars, visit The session also will be recorded and viewable through this web link after the webinar.

    Thanks to The Fort Morgan Times for the heads-up.

    More education coverage here.

    Republican River Water Conservation District meeting July 12

    July 7, 2012


    From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

    The Republican River Water Conservation District will hold its quarterly meeting on Thursday, July 12, at the Phillips County Events Center in Holyoke. It will begin at 10 a.m. and last until about 4 p.m. Public comment will be heard at 1 p.m. State Engineer Dick Wolfe will be giving an update on the State of Colorado’s efforts to obtain approval from the State of Kansas for the compact compliance pipeline. GEI Consultants, Inc. will provide an update on the pipeline construction project. The board will be discussing whether to exercise the option to lease a portion of the Laird Ditch water right owned by the Yuma County Water Authority, for 2013-15. There will be engineering and legal counsel updates. The 2011 audit report will be presented at the meeting.

    More Republican River Basin coverage here and here.

    LaSalle: Farmers and their supporters rally to pressure Governor Hickenlooper to allow pumping

    June 8, 2012


    From the Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):

    A coalition of more than 100 Weld County farmers and agribusiness people — along with several Weld County commissioners and some of the area’s state lawmakers — met for a Wednesday morning rally at Glen Fritzler’s LaSalle-area farm at 20861 County Road to make their case for an emergency drought disaster declaration from the governor, who wasn’t present. Hickenlooper could issue an executive order to allow them to pump water to their fields from underground supplies, those farmers argued, for up to 30 days, with the possibility of renewing that permission by issuing subsequent orders for additional 30-day pumping permission periods, if they continue to be needed. The farmers, along with Weld County officials and members of the area’s legislative delegation, said they expect to present Hickenlooper and his staff with their plea for a disaster-emergency executive order during a more formal meeting in Denver, possibly as early as next week…

    In many past drought years since the 1930s, farmers in the South Platte basin, all the from Weld County to the Sterling and Julesberg area, were able to tap into the underground water aquifer to supplement inadequate surface stream flows.

    The state’s courts, however, found that that longstanding practice violated Colorado water law, because the farmers hadn’t been augmenting the well water with supplies they’d bought or leased from other sources, in order to ensure that the area’s rivers and streams were getting the equivalent of groundwater believed to be seeping naturally into those surface waterways. Local water users questioned the science behind that water-law decision, but the courts ordered that hundreds of wells be shut down completely and that pumping be curtailed from hundreds more.

    On Wednesday, Fritzler was one of several people who questioned the rationale behind that 6-year-old court order. “Our wells have been curtailed for six years now,” he said, but even without the pumping, “the river has never run so low.”

    More coverage from Lance Hernandez writing for From the article:

    “If we don’t get rain in 10 days, irrigated agriculture in this area will be over for the year,” said longtime farmer Gene Kammerzell. “Farmers will then have to decide which crops to sacrifice.”[...]

    Weld County commissioners said they hope it doesn’t come to that. The commissioners plan to meet Monday to formally declare a drought disaster. “We’re going to pass an emergency declaration and send it on to the governor,” said commission Chairman Sean Conway. “We’ll ask him to declare one too.”

    “We’ll also ask him to convene the drought task force,” said Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer…

    Jim Yahn, who manages both North Sterling and Prewitt Reservoirs in Logan County, told 7NEWS that pumping ground water effects return flows. “When you pump, there’s an effect,” Yahn said. “It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow, but there will be an effect.”[...]

    The governor’s water policy advisor, John Stulp, said the threshold for a disaster declaration is typically a 30 percent (crop) loss in a designated area. He said it doesn’t appear that there’s been that big of a crop loss yet.

    The farmers said they want the governor to take action before they suffer that loss. “We want to close the barn doors before the horses get out,” Conway said.

    More South Platte River basin coverage here and here.

    Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: Objectors question the State Engineer’s authority to approve this season’s substitute water supply plan

    June 1, 2012


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The case is one of the first major decisions facing newly appointed Division 2 Water Judge Larry Schwartz. “We think the state engineer has exceeded his statutory authority,” said Richard Mehren, attorney for the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association. LAWMA, along with the Amity Mutual Ditch Co., District 67 canals and Tri­State Generation and Transmission Co., filed the complaint last week in water court. It asks Schwartz to require the Super Ditch to file in water court in order to operate its pilot program…

    The lawyers who filed the complaint say the Super Ditch transfer program have effects that would persist longer than five years — the return of groundwater to the Arkansas River. Mehren pointed out that the Super Ditch engineering shows this and LAWMA had to account for its own lagging return flows in a court case. Super Ditch engineers say recharge ponds would be put in place to account for the timing of return flows, and Wolfe agreed to the engineering design under a lengthy list of conditions. Several farms were eliminated from the plan because they could not meet recharge requirements, and in fact the pilot project’s scope was cut in half for that reason. Opponents also say the one-year pilot program sets a precedent, giving them little time to respond to claims made from one year to the next. They also point out the program could be renewed annually for another four years.

    “We have an interest in keeping the water we think we have,” said Colin Thompson, a farmer on the Amity. “We’re out real money when we can’t irrigate, and we believe the burden of proof should be on the Super Ditch.” “LAWMA gets hurt in two ways,” said Don Higbee, manager of the well owners’ group. “We’re very cautious that our water rights won’t be depleted, but we also must make up flows at the state line.”

    More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here.

    The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch pilot project is good to go for this water year

    May 3, 2012


    The State Engineer can approve a substitute water supply plan if certain conditions are met. The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch pilot project is good to go this water year now that the SEO has blessed the scaled-back plan. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

    “Many people said we’d never get this far in 20 years, but we’ve managed to do it in just four years,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which is funding Super Ditch program. “This will be a benefit to every farmer in the Lower Arkansas Valley.” The transfer is seen as a test case for a much larger program that would move larger amounts of water from as many as seven ditches east of Pueblo. Under Super Ditch, water could be leased by farmers to cities, the state or even farmers on other canals without selling water rights…

    Wolfe rejected an assertion by Tri-State Generation and Transmission that a water court filing must precede the substitute water supply plan, saying he has statutory authority to issue a permit as long as all conditions are met. He also rejected Tri-State’s claim that some of the return flows from the transfer will lag more than five years. The Super Ditch plans to build ponds to return water to the river over multiple years, just as the water historically would have run off the fields. The pilot program follows accepted ways to return flows to the river, Wolfe said.

    More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

    Rio Grande River basin: The State Engineer has approved the groundwater Subdistrict No. 1 Annual Replacement Plan

    May 3, 2012


    The State Engineer has approved the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s annual replacement plan for groundwater Sub-district No. 1.

    From email from the State Engineer’s office:

    On May 1, 2012 State Engineer Dick Wolfe approved the Annual Replacement Plan for Subdistrict No. 1. This Approval was filed with the Division No. 3 Water Court.

    All documents are located on DWR’s website at the following location:

    Note: these documents can also be downloaded from the DWR’s FTP site:

    More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.


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