Click here to go to the Division of Water Resources website to view the agenda and draft rules.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-1130, sans the thirty year term, passes the Senate Ag committee #COlegApril 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.
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.
San Luis Valley: Groundwater Sub-District #1 plans to fallow 9,073 acres to reduce pumping by 15,600 AFApril 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 CottenNovember 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 VandiverOctober 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.
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="
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.
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.
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.
Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:
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 http://wolverinepublishing.com/water-wranglers. It can also be found at the online bookseller Amazon.
More Colorado River District coverage here.
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.
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 (http://map.unitedwaterdistrict.com/”>) 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(http://water.state.co.us/DWRIPub/DWR 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.
Grand Junction: CSU Extension and the Natural Resources Conservation Service Host Free Water Education Webinar SeriesJuly 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 http://www.ext.colostate.edu/sam/. 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.
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.