The latest newsletter from the Middle Colorado Watershed Council is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

August 18, 2014

Typical water well

Typical water well


Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Mark your calendars for a Drinking Water Well hands-on workshop on September 3rd from 5:30 to 7:00 PM hosted by the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. This evening event is designed to assist private land owners in insuring their wells are operable and clean. The workshop will cover:

  • Where does your water come from?
  • Basic well construction and components
  • Land use impacts on domestic well water quality and quantity
  • Naturally occurring contaminants
  • Treatment issues related to domestic wells and water quality
  • Well head protection and well-owner operation and maintenance tips
  • How to sample your well water, what to sample for, and where to find a laboratory.
  • More groundwater coverage here.


    San Luis Valley: Well rules heading into home stretch — Valley Courier

    August 15, 2014

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    San Luis Valley Groundwater


    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Years in the making, rules to govern wells in the San Luis Valley are likely one meeting away. In Alamosa yesterday Colorado Division of Water Resources State Engineer Dick Wolfe told the advisory group assisting his office in developing the rules that he expects next month’s meeting to be the last one before he submits groundwater rules to the water court.

    “We have been working at this a long time now,” Wolfe said. “We would like to get this through.”

    One of the goals of the rules is to reach sustainability in the confined (deep) and unconfined (shallow) aquifers in the Rio Grande Basin, which encompasses the San Luis Valley. The state legislature has set that sustainability benchmark as the time period between 1978 and 2000, and the rules specify how that goal will be determined and reached.

    Wolfe said the peer review team, which has overseen the technical aspects associated with the rules, will be meeting again on Monday to finalize changes to the g r o u n d w a t e r m o d e l t h a t will be used to implement the rules. They will finalize response functions within the next few weeks, Wolfe added, and the final draft of the rules should be ready about this time next month.

    Wolfe said anyone with further comments at this point should submit them to Deputy State Engineer Mike Sullivan.

    “I envision about a month from now will be the last meeting and would envision very shortly thereafter being in a position to submit these to the water court for their consideration,” Wolfe said.

    After Wolfe submits the groundwater rules to the court, objectors and supporters will have 60 days to file responses. If there are objections to the proposed rules, the judge will have to set a trial date to deal with objections that have not yet been resolved by that date. Wolfe said in Division 2, there were 21-22 objections filed , but the state was able to resolve all of the issues raised in the objections short of a trial.

    “I hope we get to do that on these. We would like to get these implemented and operational,” he said.

    The rules will become effective 60 days after publication or after all protests have been resolved, in the event there are protests.

    Trying to minimize the objections that might arise over proposed groundwater rules, Wolfe set up an advisory group at the onset of the rulemaking process. In January 2009 he signed an order establishing the advisory committee, which includes representatives from senior and well user associations, residents from the basin’s various geographical areas, canal and irrigation companies , municipality and county designees, federal and state agencies, engineers and water attorneys. The initial group, comprised of 56 members , met for the first time in March of 2009. At that time Wolfe told the group he hoped to submit well regulations to the water court by the end of that year.

    The process took longer than initially expected, in part due to the laborious development and revision of the groundwater model, the Rio Grande Decision Support System.

    The arduous process may soon be over, however. Advisory group member LeRoy Salazar told Wolfe yesterday he hoped the rules would be ready by October so the farmers and ranchers could have time to review them in the winter months when they are not as busy.

    “I think we are almost there,” Salazar said. “We appreciate all the work so many of you have done getting these rules.”

    Wolfe explained as he went through changes in the proposed rules yesterday that most of the modifications now are for the purpose of clarity, consistency and flexibility within the document.

    One new definition introduced into the document during yesterday’s meeting was composite water head, the metric by which sustainable water supplies will be evaluated and regulated. The composite water head represents water levels or artesian pressures of an aquifer system within specified areas. It is derived from the annual measurements collected outside of the irrigation season of multiple monitoring wells, water level or artesian pressure and applies weighting within the specified areas. The metric will refer to the change in the composite water head from a baseline rather than an aquifer’s absolute elevation.

    Water Division 3 Assistant Division Engineer James Heath explained that this is not based on individual wells but composite water head representative of different areas throughout the Valley that have been divided into four response areas: Conejos Response Area; Alamosa La Jara Response Area; Saguache Response Area; and San Luis Creek Response Area.

    “Each well would have its own percentage based on the area it represents,” he said. Wolfe said the water division has been working with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District to add new monitoring wells in areas where there might not be sufficient existing wells to provide representative data.

    Those are scheduled to be in place by March 2015, which will serve as a baseline for the groundwater rules. Wolfe said the model would utilize the data that has been gathered over time as well as the new data, which will fill in some gaps that have existed in data collection. He added within 10 years after the effective date of the rules his office, using the model and all of the collected well monitoring data, should be able to establish with a fair amount of confidence the historical average composite water head for each response area for 1978-2000 , the sustainability target set by the state legislature.

    “That’s what we are building back to,” Wolfe said. Heath said the new data would be calibrated into the model, which can go back in time to extrapolate the 1978-2000 ranges not available in existing data.

    “This 10-year time frame gives us time to add in additional information ” that will better give us confidence when estimating the water levels in these locations going forward.”

    The rules require that after five years the composite water head in each response area must be above the minimum level it was in 2015, the starting point.

    “If not, there’s a provision they’ve got to reduce their pumping levels back to what they were in the 1978-2000 period,” Wolfe explained. The next benchmark is at 10 years and the next at 20 years, Wolfe added. Between the 11th and 20th years, composite water levels must be maintained above the 1978-2000 range for at least three out of 10 years, Wolfe explained.

    “Once we reach the 20th year, they’ve got to meet absolutely that sustainability requirement from that point forward ” This is just the first step in that process getting there.”

    Salazar said the 1978-2000 target set by the legislature may have been based on faulty assumptions and may need to be modified.

    “I guess in the end we may need to go back to the legislature and say it didn’t make sense to do what you did,” Salazar said. “We didn’t have the database we needed.”

    Wolfe said the data collected from this point on may confirm the need to go back to the legislature, but “what this does is gets us started on the path so we can collect data we need.”

    He added, “We may have to come back and amend the rules at some point.”

    He said the primary purposes of this plan are to protect senior water rights and reach sustainability, and if the plan needs to be modified in the future, the state can go back to the court to do that.

    Pat McDermott from the water division office said the state is recognizing this basin has finite water supplies.

    “We have to learn to live within our means,” he said. “That’s what this is all about.”

    More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.


    New study from @UCIrvine finds groundwater loss greater threat to western US than understood #ColoradoRiver

    July 28, 2014
    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    While water levels at lakes Mead and Powell have visibly slipped in the current drought, another source, groundwater, is disappearing even more rapidly, according to a satellite study of the Colorado River Basin.

    A University of California, Irvine, study posted on the website of the American Geophysical Union said that the three-quarters of the water lost in the basin was drawn from groundwater and noted that the extent of groundwater loss “may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.”

    But for some water produced far below the surface in drilling for natural gas and oil, there is no groundwater production on the West Slope, said Jim Pokrandt, who chairs the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.

    Other water production from the ground taps return flows making their way to creeks and rivers, Pokrandt said.

    What is at issue in the loss of groundwater is the unregulated tapping of groundwater in California, said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    California groundwater “is completely unregulated,” Treese said. “So when drought hits, they turn on the pumps.”

    Researchers said they were surprised by the extent to which groundwater appeared to be affected.

    “We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” said Stephanie Castle, lead author of the study. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

    The Colorado River, which serves some 40 million people, supplies water to the Colorado Front Range, as well as the populous cities of California, Arizona and Nevada.

    Those lower basin states appear to be on their own, for the moment, said Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District.

    The upper basin of the Colorado is ahead of its requirement to deliver 75 million acre feet of water to the lower basin over 10 years, “so I don’t think they can come back on us” for more water, Clever said.

    That doesn’t mean, however, that there is water in the river to be diverted to the Front Range, Clever said.

    “The key issue in this thing is that Powell is going down and there is no water to send to the East Slope.”

    Lake Powell’s levels are low enough that water managers are concerned that the lake might be unable to generate electricity, a significant factor in deciding how the river will be managed.

    The research was led by NASA and University of California, Irvine, scientists, who used satellite data to gauge changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin that are related to changes in water on and below the surface.

    In the period from December 2004 to November 2013, the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet of fresh water.

    About 41 million acre feet of the loss came from groundwater.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    New study from @UCIrvine finds groundwater loss greater threat to western US than understood #ColoradoRiver

    July 24, 2014

    Here’s the release:

    A new study by NASA and University of California, Irvine, scientists finds more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.

    This study is the first to quantify the amount that groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal water management agency, the basin has been suffering from prolonged, severe drought since 2000 and has experienced the driest 14-year period in the last hundred years.

    The research team used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin, which are related to changes in water amount on and below the surface. Monthly measurements in the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater. That’s almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater.

    “We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” said Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the University of California, Irvine, and the study’s lead author. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

    Water above ground in the basin’s rivers and lakes is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and its losses are documented. Pumping from underground aquifers is regulated by individual states and is often not well documented.

    “There’s only one way to put together a very large-area study like this, and that is with satellites,” said senior author Jay Famiglietti, senior water cycle scientist at JPL on leave from UC Irvine, where he is an Earth system science professor. “There’s just not enough information available from well data to put together a consistent, basin-wide picture.”

    Famiglietti said GRACE is like having a giant scale in the sky. Within a given region, the change in mass due to rising or falling water reserves influences the strength of the local gravitational attraction. By periodically measuring gravity regionally, GRACE reveals how much a region’s water storage changes over time.

    The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwest part of the United States. Its basin supplies water to about 40 million people in seven states, and irrigates roughly four million acres of farmland.

    “The Colorado River Basin is the water lifeline of the western United States,” said Famiglietti. “With Lake Mead at its lowest level ever, we wanted to explore whether the basin, like most other regions around the world, was relying on groundwater to make up for the limited surface-water supply. We found a surprisingly high and long-term reliance on groundwater to bridge the gap between supply and demand.”

    Famiglietti noted that the rapid depletion rate will compound the problem of short supply by leading to further declines in streamflow in the Colorado River.

    “Combined with declining snowpack and population growth, this will likely threaten the long-term ability of the basin to meet its water allocation commitments to the seven basin states and to Mexico,” Famiglietti said.

    The study has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, which posted the manuscript online July 24. Co-authors included other scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado. The research was funded by NASA and the University of California.

    For more information on NASA’s GRACE satellite mission, see: http://www.nasa.gov/grace and http://www.csr.utexas.edu/grace

    More groundwater coverage here.


    SDS construction reaches Colorado Springs ahead of schedule and under budget — The Colorado Springs Gazette

    July 24, 2014
    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Emily Donovan):

    Huge pipes being tunneled underground near the intersection of Powers Boulevard and Constitution Avenue is the first big sign after almost two decades of work to increase the water available to the Colorado Springs area by a third…

    Pipeline construction at the busy intersection is ahead of schedule, expected to be complete in September rather than November, said SDS spokesperson Janet Rummel…

    A $125 million facility that will be able to process 50 million gallons of water a day, the treatment plant on the east side of Colorado Springs is halfway constructed, also ahead of schedule. Construction began in March 2013 and will be finished in fall of 2015. The plant is expected to put out drinking water in April 2016…

    SDS construction is estimated to cost $847 million – $147 million less than the original estimation in 2009.

    Rummel said money was saved by asking engineers to make designs that would be cost-effective without damaging drinking water quality, like keeping every part of the water treatment plant under the same roof instead of separate buildings.

    This means SDS will cause less of a utilities rate increase for CSU customers than originally expected in 2009…

    “This is the future of Colorado Springs,” said Jay Hardison, CSU water treatment plant project manager.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


    Public comment period open for Cotter Mill license

    July 21, 2014
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    Public comment is being accepted on the process of licensing the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill until decommissioning is complete. A total of six new documents are available for comment until Sept. 16. The documents outline the radioactive materials license changes that Cotter officials will operate under while cleaning up the mill site.

    The mill has not processed uranium since 2006 and Cotter officials, along with state and federal health officials, are working toward a full cleanup of the site which has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list since 1984. Although the state will not terminate the license until all decommissioning, remediation and reclamation activities are complete, provisions in the license need to change.

    The site can no longer be used to produce yellowcake from uranium and only the Zirconium ore that already is on site will be allowed there. The cleanup of the site will address an impoundment that has been used to store tailings and the recently torn down mill buildings. Cotter officials have agreed to set aside a financial assurance of $17,837,983 to cover the cost of decommissioning activities. In addition, a longterm care fund will cover post-license termination activities. The $250,000 fund was created in 1978 and has grown to $1,018,243 through interest payments.

    The documents pertaining to the license changes and a map of the Cotter Mill site can be viewed at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/2014/14cotterdocs.htm. Comments should be sent to Warren Smith, community involvement manager for the state health department via email at warren.smith@state.co.us or mailed to Smith at Colorado Department of Public Health, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246-1530.

    More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site coverage here and 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.


    The Lower Ark District approves letter to the EPA about new rule as “water grab”

    July 18, 2014
    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A district formed to protect water in the Lower Arkansas Valley plans to weigh in on proposed rules that some say amount to a federal water grab. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District voted Wednesday to send a formal comment to the Environmental Protection Agency on its proposed Waters of the United States, claiming that it goes too far in regulating wetlands and even groundwater connected to streams.

    The rules are an attempt to resolve conflicting U.S. Supreme Court decisions that center on the issue of “navigable waters.”

    “East of the Mississippi River, all waters may be navigable, but it doesn’t make sense for the arid West,” said Mark Pifher, the Arkansas River basin’s representative on the Colorado Water Quality Commission. Pifher, a Colorado Springs Utilities executive, typically attends Lower Ark meetings to update the Lower Ark on stormwater issues. He recently testified against the rule in Washington, D.C., on behalf of municipal and agricultural water interests.

    Leroy Mauch, the Prowers County director on the Lower Ark board, urged the board to jump into the federal fray.

    “We need to research this and send out a letter objecting to this,” Mauch said.

    Wayne Whittaker, the Otero County director, said the new policy sounds like continuation of years of federal attempts to insert control into state water issues.

    Most water groups in the West have taken a position that the rules are too intrusive. An exception is the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, which claims the rules have sufficient exemptions that protect agriculture.

    Some in Congress are backing legislation that would simply not fund enforcement of the policy.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Activities on several fronts are aimed at improving surface sprinkler irrigation in the Lower Arkansas Valley. Several studies are aimed at reducing the obligation of farmers in group plans, known as Rule 10 plans, under state consumptive use rules designed to prevent expanded water use through increased farm efficiencies. Sprinklers have been the most effected by the rules, although drip irrigation, ditch lining and other methods are accounted for as well.

    On Wednesday, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District reviewed its projects that aim at the rules:

    A $70,000 state grant looking at the legal implications of using flood irrigation water rights decreed for the same ground as sprinklers as augmentation water. The district has suggested legislation to allow this, but it so far has not been introduced.

    A $175,000 proposed state grant to determine if tailwater measurements in state irrigation models are too high.

    A $120,000 study to determine if leakage from ponds that supply water to surface-fed sprinklers is too high.

    The goal is to reduce the obligation and find sustainable sources of replacement water, said General Manager Jay Winner.

    “These are parallel paths,” he told the board. “The day is coming when you won’t be able to buy water on the spot market.”

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


    Forest Service ‘Groundwater Directive’ prompts questions from Western Governors on state authority, science

    July 16, 2014
    Fen photo via the USFS

    Fen photo via the USFS

    From the Western Governors Association:

    Western Governors have expressed concern to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the United States Forest Service’s (USFS) recent Proposed Directive on Groundwater Resource Management.

    Western states are the exclusive authority for allocating, administering, protecting and developing groundwater resources, and they are responsible for water supply planning within their boundaries. That authority was recognized by Congress in the Desert Land Act of 1877 and reasserted in a 1935 Supreme Court ruling.

    Despite that background, the Proposed Directive only identifies states as “potentially affected parties” and asserts that the proposed actions would “not have substantial direct effects on the states.”

    An initial review of the Proposed Directive, however, leads Western Governors to believe that this measure could have significant implications for states and their groundwater resources. (Read our letter)

    As a result, the Governors are requesting that USFS seek “authentic partnership” with the states to help achieve policies that reflect both the legal division of power and the on-the-ground realities of the region. In addition, the letter from the Western Governors’ Association — signed by WGA Chairman and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Vice Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval — also asks a number of questions, including:

  • Given the legislative and legal context, what is the legal basis for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and USFS assertion of federal authority in the context of the Proposed Directive?
  • How will USFS ensure that the Proposed Directive will not infringe upon, abrogate, or in any way interfere with states’ exclusive authority to allocate and administer rights to the use of groundwater?
  • How will definitions be established, particularly regarding the definition of “groundwater-dependent ecosystems?” Will states be able to weigh in with information regarding the unique hydrology within certain areas?
  • To read all of the Western Governors’ questions, download our letter.

    More groundwater coverage here.


    The Last Drop: America’s Breadbasket Faces Dire Water Crisis — NBC News

    July 15, 2014
    Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

    Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

    From NBCNews.com (Brian Brown):

    The scope of this mounting crisis is difficult to overstate: The High Plains of Texas are swiftly running out of groundwater supplied by one of the world’s largest aquifers – the Ogallala. A study by Texas Tech University has predicted that if groundwater production goes unabated, vast portions of several counties in the southern High Plains will soon have little water left in the aquifer to be of any practical value.

    The Ogallala Aquifer spreads across eight states, from Texas to South Dakota, covering 111.8 million acres and 175,000 square miles. It’s the fountain of life not only for much of the Texas Panhandle, but also for the entire American Breadbasket of the Great Plains, a highly-sophisticated, amazingly-productive agricultural region that literally helps feed the world.

    This catastrophic depletion is primarily manmade. By the early eighties, automated center-pivot irrigation devices were in wide use – those familiar spidery-armed wings processing in a circle atop wheeled tripods. This super-sized sprinkler system allowed farmers to water crops more regularly and effectively, which both significantly increased crop yields and precipitously drained the Ogallala.

    Compounding the drawdown has been the nature of the Ogallala itself. Created 10 million years ago, this buried fossil water is–in many places—not recharged by precipitation or surface water. When it’s gone, it’s gone for centuries…

    “The depletion of the Ogallala is an internationally important crisis,” says Burke Griggs, Ph.D., consulting professor at the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. “How individual states manage the depletion of that aquifer will obviously have international consequences.”[...]

    “We’re headed for a brick wall at 100 miles per hour,” says James Mahan, Bruce Spinhirne’s father-in-law and a plant physiologist at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service lab in Lubbock. “And, really, the effects of climate change are branches hitting the windshield along the way.”

    From NBCNews.com (Brian Brown):

    Last August, in a still-echoing blockbuster study, Dave Steward, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Kansas State University, informed the $15 billion Kansas agricultural economy that it was on a fast track to oblivion. The reason: The precipitous, calamitous withdrawal rates of the Ogallala Aquifer.

    The Ogallala is little known outside this part of the world, but it’s the primary source of irrigation not just for all of western Kansas, but the entire Great Plains. This gigantic, soaked subterranean sponge – fossil water created 10 million years ago – touches eight states, stretching from Texas all the way up to South Dakota, across 111.8 million acres and 175,000 square miles.

    The Ogallala supports a highly-sophisticated and amazingly-productive agricultural region critical to the world’s food supply. With the global population increasing, and as other vital aquifers suffer equally dramatic declines, scientists acknowledge that if the farmers here cannot meet ever-growing food demands, billions could starve.

    Steward’s study predicted that nearly 70 percent of the portion of the Ogallala beneath western Kansas will be gone in 50 years. He’s not the kind of person to shout these results; he speaks slowly and carefully. Yet, he has the evident intensity of one who’s serving a greater purpose. “We need to make sure our grandkids and our great grandkids have the capacity to feed themselves,” he says.

    Now the chief executive of the state, himself from a farming family, is using Steward’s report as a call to action.

    “One of the things we [have] to get over … is this tragedy of the commons problem with the Ogallala,” says Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican who at age 29 was the youngest agriculture secretary in state history. “It’s a big common body of water. It’s why the oceans get overfished … You have a common good and then nobody is responsible for it.”

    “That’s one of the key policy issues that you have to get around,” Brownback says in his roomy, towering office at the capitol in Topeka. “Everyone has to take care of this water.”

    In that spirit, a tiny legion of farmers and landowners in the northwest corner of Kansas, where the Rockies begin their rise, have just begun year two of what could be one of the most influential social experiments of this century.

    The group is only 125 in number but controls 63,000 acres of prime farmland in Sheridan County. Collectively, voluntarily, they have enacted a new, stringent five-year water conservation target, backed by the force of law and significant punishments.

    The Local Enhanced Management Act, or LEMA, is the first measure of its kind in the United States. Specifically, the farmers are limiting themselves to a total of 55 inches of irrigated water over five years – an average of 11 inches per year…

    “So now we have the high morality of the need to protect the ecosphere. But it’s legal to rip the tops off mountains. It’s legal to drill in the Arctic. It’s legal to drill in the Gulf. It’s legal to build pipelines. It’s legal to send carbon into the dumping ground called an atmosphere. So we’ve not yet reconciled the high moral with the legal.” [Wes Jackson]

    More Ogallala aquifer coverage here and here.


    EPA’s efforts to clarify the Clean Water Act upsets some Colorado farmers — Colorado Public Radio

    July 14, 2014

    From Colorado Public Radio (Lesley McClurg):

    “It does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act and is consistent with the Supreme Court’s more narrow reading of Clean Water Act jurisdiction,” the EPA says.

    Yet the proposal is under attack by some the agriculture industry. The National Milk Producers Federation and the American Farm Bureau say the proposal could threaten farming, ranching, homebuilding and energy production.

    Colorado Farm Bureau president Don Shawcroft worries that the changes could apply to small streams or ditches that cross his ranch in the San Luis Valley.

    “There are many places where that water is diverted into farmer lands from the Rio Grande in the San Luis Valley,” he says. “Because there’s that nexus — that connection — then it is subject to all of the rules in the Clean Water Act, including whether I can put a fence across that ditch; whether I can use herbicides or pesticides. Those are the types of pertinent implications that greatly concern us.”

    EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has been visiting farms throughout the country in an effort to further dialogue about the proposal. The EPA is taking comments on the proposed rule through October.

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


    Lamar: New water line should deliver higher quality water

    July 14, 2014

    pipeline

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Lamar has completed a new water line that will allow it to deliver cleaner water to customers.

    “We’re meeting our water quality goals by using our southern wells,” Josh Cichocki, Lamar water superintendent, told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable on Wednesday. “Not only did the project help us with water quality, but it helped with efficiency as well.”

    The roundtable approved a $200,000 state grant last year that went toward the $2 million project. Other sources of funding were a $785,000 loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and a $985,000 grant from the Department of Local Affairs.

    The project installed 6.5 miles of pipeline in a portion of the well field where pipes had become badly corroded. Completed during a drought, there were no major construction issues, Cichocki said.

    “Our biggest obstacles were wind and tumbleweeds,” he laughed.

    He explained that the southern wells used in the Lamar water system have the lowest measurement of total dissolved solids. That means the water does not require as much treatment to bring up to drinking water quality standards.

    Lamar has gained between 180-250 acre-feet (58.6 million-81.4 million gallons) per year because of the improvements.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Rifle: “Many different eyes are on each [drill] pad each day” — Michael Gardner #ColoradoRiver

    July 9, 2014

    Rifle Gap

    Rifle Gap


    From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Mike McKibbin):

    Rifle City Council unanimously approved an amendment to the company’s original 2009 watershed district permit to allow the activity, subject to conditions. The 12-square-mile, 8,000-acre watershed, approximately 5 to 6 miles southwest of Rifle, is the source of 9 percent of Rifle’s drinking water. The vast majority of the city’s water comes from the Colorado River. Several years ago, the city established the district and considers permits for certain industrial activities to help protect the water source. The company would also need drilling permits from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

    Michael Gardner, WPX environmental manager, outlined the drilling plans and noted various companies had been active in and near the Beaver Creek watershed since 1999. WPX is currently the only active company in the district. A total of 44 producing wells have been drilled from 11 pads in the district since 1999, with 27 of those wells located on a pad outside the district boundaries, Gardner said.

    “What we’re proposing is to drill up to 253 wells from 15 pads between now and 2018,” he told the council last week.

    WPX plans to drill up to 23 wells on the existing pad outside of the watershed and up to 112 wells on four new pads outside the watershed, but accessed through the watershed, Gardner noted. Up to 80 wells could be drilled on seven existing pads within the watershed and up to 65 wells on four new pads within the watershed.

    “A lot of this depends on the market price for gas, obviously,” Gardner added. “So this is a maximum-case scenario.”

    WPX would build access roads, install gathering and water lines and other associated facilities in the area, Gardner said.

    WPX spokesman Jeff Kirtland said in an interview Tuesday that the permit amendment was sought to keep the permit active, as it was due to expire soon.

    “It’s more to make sure we’re keeping up with what we need to do with the permit,” he stated. “So we would have this permit in hand if prices improved.”[...]

    Michael Erion, a water resources engineer with Resource Engineering of Glenwood Springs and a city consultant, said the amendment was acceptable and noted the target area is actually a tributary to Beaver Creek, which itself is often dry in the summer, so most direct activity in the district will be road crossings. The permit was amended last year to allow a water pipeline across the watershed and a temporary 1.5 million gallon water storage tank, Erion noted.

    Among the nine conditions already part of the permit and included with the latest amendment is a requirement for WPX to submit detailed drawings to the city at least 30 days before construction. New wells can be drilled on approved pads, provided WPX sends written notice to the city 15 days before that activity. WPX is also required to submit an annual activity plan for the entire district by March 1 of each year, and the project shall be subject to biannual inspections, or more frequently if needed, by the city and/or its consultants.

    WPX will also continue to participate in the city’s water quality monitoring program on Beaver Creek. This includes a periodic stream monitoring program with sampling at various locations along the creek and the operation and maintenance costs associated with a 24/7 monitoring system at the city intake structure on the Colorado River.

    “We understand how critical this area is to Rifle,” Gardner said. “We have all kinds of plans and procedures for spills, to protect groundwater and storm water control. Many different eyes are on each pad each day.”

    He also noted that no reportable spills, as defined by state regulations, had occurred in the district since 2008.

    More oil and gas coverage here.


    South Platte and Metro roundtables #COWaterPlan update

    June 30, 2014
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

    The Colorado Water Plan draws upon a decade of work by the state’s eight basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It also incorporates information from the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which predicted the state will have a gap between water supply and demand of about 500,000 acre feet of water by 2050, with the largest gap projected for the South Platte River Basin.

    During the past year, the basin roundtables and the CWCB have held dozens of town meetings on the water plan, seeking input from citizens and organizations interested in the state’s water future. Those meetings wrapped up in April, and then the basin roundtable members went to work to develop their basin implementation plans (BIPS), that will be submitted to the CWCB at the end of July. Those plans will be incorporated into the draft Colorado Water Plan, which is due to the Governor at the end of the year. The plan is to be finalized by December, 2015.

    In addition to the basin implementation plans, the state water plan will include a “framework” document that outlines the issues to be addressed. The CWCB has already released eight draft chapters of this framework document this year, with four coming out in the last month. The most recent drafts covered water quality, conservation and re-use, and alternative agriculture to urban transfers. The drafts will be updated based on input from the BIPs.

    The draft on agricultural transfers focused on alternative agricultural transfer methods (ATMS) and current efforts to develop more creative solutions to “buy and dry.” The draft noted several ATMs are already in place and more are on the way. These include deficit irrigation, water co-ops, water banks, water conservation easements; and flexible water markets, which was proposed in the 2014 legislative session but failed to clear the Senate. Another ATM, farrowing-leasing, which would allow for farrowing of irrigated farmland with temporary leasing of water to municipalities, is being studied under legislation passed in 2013.

    More than 1,000 emails and documents have come in to the CWCB, addressing the draft chapters. Almost half of the responses came from stakeholders in the South Platte River and Metro Denver districts.

    Most of the comments received by the CWCB have come either through emails to cowaterplan@state.co.us or through a webform on the water plan website, coloradowaterplan.com. CWCB staff responded to all of the comments, even those that might not be financially or technically feasible. One such comment said the state should cover its reservoirs with a thin membrane “similar to bubble wrap” to slow evaporation. Another suggested that the state halt all housing development along the Front Range.

    A handful of comments addressed agricultural use, including responses that encourage more efficient irrigation systems and pointing out that agriculture is far and away the biggest user of water. But one commenter suggested a new form of “buy and dry.” Kristen Martinez of Metropolitan State University of Denver said the city of Denver could pay for businesses and residents to xeriscape their lawns, similar to a plan implemented by the city of Las Vegas. She also recommended the city of Denver invest in more efficient irrigation systems for farmers, as a trade-off for buying up agricultural water rights.

    “…agriculture stands as the biggest water user, but farmers should not be the only ones to feel the pain of supply and demand,” Martinez wrote. “Most Denverites don’t give heed to the serious task of stewarding their water — not as a farmer must. Why aren’t local industries or municipal users being asked to sacrifice their lifestyle or adjust their operations?…can Colorado’s water plan please ask urban users to take ownership of their consumption, in addition to solving it by diverting farm water?”

    Sean Cronin, director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, chairs the South Platte River Basin roundtable, and pointed out that the South Platte and Metro Denver basin are collaborating on a joint BIP.

    Cronin noted that although they are submitting a joint BIP, the two districts are quite diverse and one size will not fit all. “Water is very local!” he said recently. Feedback in the town meetings has been very different throughout the two districts. In Sterling, for example, he said the focus was on agriculture. In Longmont, people spoke about groundwater because of the well issues in the area. Denver’s focus was more on municipal conservation and recreational/environmental concerns.

    So how will the two roundtables come up with one BIP, given the divergent views? Cronin said that they knew going into the process it would be difficult to address all of the different interests and cultures surrounding water. “It’s incredibly challenging to par it down to one solution that will make everyone happy,” he said. Cronin believes the draft BIP will instead reflect the diverse interests of the basin districts…

    A recent presentation on the BIP by the roundtable to Colorado Counties Inc. laid out the plan’s major premise: “You can’t have conservation without storage, and you can’t have storage without conservation.” Even with the “Identified Projects and Processes” already in discussion (which came out of the 2010 SWSI), the gap in the South Platte would at best be reduced to about 100,000 acre feet of water, and many of those solutions are years, and maybe decades, away.

    And that raised red flags for environmental groups, with one warning Coloradans that the BIP will further endanger the rivers of the South Platte basin…

    Cronin encourages people to continue to submit comments through the South Platte Basin Roundtable website (http://cwcb.state.co.us/water-management/basin-roundtables). Public comments also will be accepted on draft versions of the plan through September, 2015, and can be submitted through the Colorado Water Plan website noted earlier.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Southern Delivery System update: $359 million spent so far, >44 miles of pipe in the ground

    June 23, 2014
    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Tunneling under Fountain Creek is proving more difficult than expected for the Southern Delivery System. Some pipeline near Pueblo Dam has been laid in solid rock. And the temporary irrigation system to provide water for native vegetation over the pipeline scar through Pueblo County contains 50 miles of pipe (main line and laterals) and 15,000 sprinkler heads. Those were some of the highlights of a progress report by Mark Pifher, SDS permit manager, to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Wednesday.

    “The tunneling project was more difficult than we thought,” Pifher said. The work was being done just over the El Paso County line from the west side of Interstate 25, with a tunnel-boring machine 85 feet below ground.

    Because of the difficulty, a second borer from the east side one mile away is being used.

    “They had better meet in the middle,” Pifher joked.

    More than 44 miles of the 50 miles of 66-inchdiameter pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs has been installed; a treatment plant and three pump stations are under construction; and a Fountain Creek improvement project has nearly been completed, he said. All of the pipeline in Pueblo County has been installed, and revegetation has begun on 323 acres that were disturbed in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches. The irrigation system is so large that it has to run in round-the-clock cycles seven days a week, Pifher noted.

    “It’s apparently the largest sprinkler system in the state,” he said.

    Another 484 acres has been planted with native seed in El Paso County.

    As of March, $359 million has been spent on SDS, with $209 million going to El Paso County firms, $65 million to Pueblo County companies, $900,000 to Fremont County contractors and $84 million to businesses in other parts of Colorado.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


    Breakthrough provides picture of underground water — Phys.org

    June 18, 2014
    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    From Phys.org (Rob Jordan):

    Superman isn’t the only one who can see through solid surfaces. In a development that could revolutionize the management of precious groundwater around the world, Stanford researchers have pioneered the use of satellites to accurately measure levels of water stored hundreds of feet below ground. Their findings were published recently in Water Resources Research…

    Study co-author Rosemary Knight, a professor of geophysics and senior fellow, by courtesy, at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, compared groundwater use to a mismanaged bank account: “It’s like me saying I’m going to retire and live off my savings without knowing how much is in the account.”

    Lead author Jessica Reeves, a postdoctoral scholar in geophysics, extended Knight’s analogy to the connection among farmers who depend on the same groundwater source. “Imagine your account was connected to someone else’s account, and they were withdrawing from it without your knowing.”

    Until now, the only way a water manager could gather data about the state of water tables in a watershed was to drill monitoring wells. The process is time and resource intensive, especially for confined aquifers, which are deep reservoirs separated from the ground surface by multiple layers of impermeable clay. Even with monitoring wells, good data is not guaranteed. Much of the data available from monitoring wells across the American West is old and of varying quality and scientific usefulness. Compounding the problem, not all well data is openly shared.

    To solve these challenges, Reeves, Knight, Stanford Woods Institute-affiliated geophysics and electrical engineering Professor Howard Zebker, Stanford civil and environmental engineering Professor Peter Kitanidis and Willem Schreüder of Principia Mathematica Inc. looked to the sky.

    The basic concept: Satellites that use electromagnetic waves to monitor changes in the elevation of Earth’s surface to within a millimeter could be mined for clues about groundwater. The technology, Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR), had previously been used primarily to collect data on volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides.

    More groundwater coverage here.


    Roaring Fork watershed gets new protections — @DailySentinelGJ #ColoradoRiver

    June 15, 2014
    Thompson Creek via the Summit County Citizens Voice

    Thompson Creek via the Summit County Citizens Voice

    From the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

    The state Water Quality Control Commission this week approved a special “Outstanding Waters” designation for several branches of Thompson Creek and its tributaries in the upper Thompson Creek watershed, west of Carbondale.

    Trout Unlimited and the Roaring Fork Conservancy said in a news release that the designation will ensure that the watershed’s water quality is protected in perpetuity.

    The Water Quality Control Commission’s decision means that anyone seeking approval for development or discharge permits in the watershed must demonstrate that the proposed activity does not degrade the creeks’ baseline water quality.

    “This is a huge conservation win that ensures there will be no degradation of these pristine waters,” said Aaron Kindle, Colorado Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “The designation will safeguard the streams, wetlands and tributaries of a nationally significant watershed, and the genetically pure populations of cutthroat trout found there.”

    To qualify for the designation, a stream must exhibit high standards on 12 different water quality parameters, including ammonia, dissolved oxygen, e. coli, nitrate, pH and various metals.

    The protections will be applied to North Thompson, Middle Thompson and the South Branch of Middle Thompson Creek, as well as several tributaries, including Park Creek, a stronghold for a rare subspecies of cutthroat trout. The vast majority of the designated creeks are on Forest Service lands.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A state commission has provided new watershed protections in the Thompson Divide area, where numerous entities are trying to stop oil and gas development.

    However, such development apparently will be compatible with the “Outstanding Waters” designation by the state Water Quality Control Commission Tuesday.

    Trout Unlimited and the Roaring Fork Conservancy had sought the designation. It applies to the north, middle and south branches of Middle Thompson Creek, and tributaries including Park Creek, home to a rare subspecies of cutthroat trout. The protections cover some 130 miles of waterways.

    Stream segments qualifying for the designation must exhibit high standards based on water quality parameters such as ammonia, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, pH and various metals. Any entity discharging into a designated segment must show it won’t degrade existing water quality.

    Interests including the Thompson Divide Coalition have been trying to prevent drilling on more than 200,000 acres west of Carbondale. Much of that acreage is leased, but certain leases are currently in suspension pending a Bureau of Land Management review.

    Trisha Oeth, administrator for the Water Quality Control Commission, said Trout Unlimited testified that it reached out to energy companies holding leases in the areas and none opposed the designation.

    “Trout Unlimited indicated the companies felt the designation would not impact their activities and that the designation would be compatible with their operations and plans,” she said.

    The commission decided the sensitivity of cutthroat trout and diminishing extent of their habitat made the additional protection necessary.

    David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, called the designation “a clever maneuver that doesn’t concern us too much.”

    “As modest drilling begins in the Thompson Divide, this important designation is in alignment with what our member companies already do to protect water and wildlife resources. We have shown a tremendous ability to safely produce natural gas in other sensitive western Colorado watersheds and will do so in the Thompson Divide, too.”

    In a news release, Aaron Kindle, Colorado field coordinator for Trout Unlimited, called the designation “a huge conservation win that ensures there will be no degradation of these pristine waters.

    “The designation will safeguard the streams, wetlands and tributaries of a nationally significant watershed, and the genetically pure populations of cutthroat trout found there,” Kindle was quoted as saying.

    Greenback and Colorado River cutthroat via DNR

    Greenback and Colorado River cutthroat via DNR

    From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krinoven):

    To win approval the stream has to meet several high quality standards and, the designation prohibits certain pollutants from being discharged into the water. Aaron Kindle is with Colorado Trout Unlimited, which fought for the designation. He says it protects fish.

    “Cutthroat trout have been dwindled down to about 10 percent of their native range, so the populations that do exist are pretty critical and those creeks up there are really critical for cutthroat trout.”

    The protected creek runs through an area where energy companies would like to drill for natural gas. The gas leases are currently at a stand-still while the Bureau of Land Management does a review. Kindle says Trout Unlimited had discussions with the oil and gas companies and he says they neither supported nor disapproved of the new designation.

    More Roaring Fork watershed coverage here.


    ASARCO hopes to tap into Union Pacific for some dough for Vasquez Blvd. & I-70 superfund site

    May 16, 2014

    unionpacificunit4065

    From The Denver Post (Kirk Mitchell):

    Asarco wants the Union Pacific Railroad Co. to pay for part of the cleanup of a Superfund site where arsenic leached into Denver groundwater from rail tracks.

    A lawsuit before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says Union Pacific should reimburse Asarco for some of the $1.5 million environmental cleanup of 4 square miles near Vasquez Boulevard and Interstate 70 known as the Vasquez site, where gold, zinc, lead and other metals were smelted.

    Asarco, a Phoenix-based mining and refinery company, has paid a total of $1.8 billion at 20 Superfund sites around the country, including the much larger Globeville site in north Denver.

    In its lawsuit, Asarco claims that Union Pacific used mine tailings in rail beds traversing the Vasquez site. The tailings used to support the rail lines leached into surface and groundwater, resulting in elevated levels of arsenic and lead, the lawsuit says.

    But Union Pacific met all of its financial obligations related to the Vasquez site in a court-approved June 2009 settlement between the railroad, the government and Asarco, said attorney Carolyn McIntosh, who represents the railroad.

    “It was a full resolution,” McIntosh told a panel of three circuit court judges in Denver on Wednesday morning.

    Pepsi-Cola Metropolitan Bottling Co., a New Jersey company that owns some of the property on the Vasquez site, also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed in December 2012.

    Asarco attorney Gregory Evans said the Vasquez site is just one of many around the country that Union Pacific polluted. He estimated that cleanup costs for all the sites would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “Union Pacific has negatively impacted human health and the environment through its use and abandonment of mining waste along (railroad tracks),” Evans said Wednesday.

    Federal District Magistrate Judge Michael Watanabe previously has ruled that Asarco failed to file its lawsuit within the statute of limitations.

    Asarco attorney Duncan Getchell said Watanabe erred because the effective date of the settlement involving Union Pacific and Pepsi-Cola is Dec. 9, 2012, when Asarco’s bankruptcy was finalized.

    More water pollution coverage here.


    US Forest Service proposes new management practices for stewardship of water resources, webinar slated for May 20

    May 13, 2014

    fens

    Here’s the release from the US Forest Service:

    May 2, 2014–The U.S. Forest Service today announced its intent to strengthen agency management direction for groundwater resources and the use of best management practices to improve and protect water quality on national forests and grasslands. This action is an integral component of watershed stewardship and land management.

    “Water from national forests contributes to the economic and ecological vitality of communities across the nation and plays a key role in supplying 66 million Americans with clean drinking water,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said. “The changes to our internal management practices that we are proposing today will strengthen and support the Forest Service’s ability to manage the National Forest System to protect water resources and support healthy and resilient ecosystems.”

    The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands in 44 states across the country. Over the past few years, the agency has taken a number of steps to protect and enhance water resources on National Forest System (NFS) land to support ecosystem health, water quality and water availability. These initiatives include creating the first national Watershed Condition Framework, publishing a new National Land Management Planning Rule that emphasizes water stewardship, implementing a National Climate Change Roadmap and Scorecard, and investing in national assessments like the Forests to Faucets project.

    Today’s actions are another step towards improving agency management to protect and enhance water resources. In the draft Directive on Groundwater Resource Management, the Forest Service is proposing to amend its internal directives for Watershed and Air Management to establish direction for management of groundwater resources on NFS land as an integral component of watershed management. Specifically, the proposed groundwater direction would:

  • provide for consideration of groundwater resources in agency activities,
  • encourage source water protection and water conservation,
  • establish procedures for reviewing new proposals for groundwater withdrawals on NFS land,
  • require the evaluation of potential impacts from groundwater withdrawals on NFS natural resources and
    provide for measurement and reporting to help build our understanding of groundwater resources on NFS land.
  • These changes would improve the Forest Service’s ability to manage and analyze potential uses of NFS land that could affect groundwater resources.

    The Forest Service is also proposing to amend the internal Manual for Water Quality Management and to establish a National Best Management Practices (BMP) Program Handbook. These proposed changes to agency directives would enhance the Forest Service’s ability to protect water quality on NFS land by:

  • formalizing the National BMP Program as the primary method for control of non-point sources of water pollution to achieve federal, state, tribal or local water quality requirements;
  • requiring implementation of the National BMP Program on all NFS land;
  • establishing monitoring for implementation and effectiveness of the national BMPs; and
  • adding definitions and direction to clarify and improve consistency in the agency’s use of the national BMPs.
  • The Forest Service welcomes input on both proposals, which will be published in the Federal Register next week. There will be a 90-day public comment period on the proposed groundwater directive and a 60-day public comment period on the best management practices directives starting on the day the notices are published. Instructions on how to comment are in the Federal Register notices.

    The Forest Service will host a national webinar at 1 p.m. EST May 20 to discuss the components of the proposed policy to manage groundwater resources on the country’s national forests and grasslands. Forest Service leaders and technical specialists will provide an overview on groundwater issues and information on the intent of the agency’s directives.

    Here’s a release from US Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

    Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) stressed that the Forest Service’s newly proposed Directive on Groundwater Resource Management includes overly broad language that will expand the agency’s regulatory reach over groundwater and jeopardize privately-held water rights. The directive is strikingly similar in function and tone to the recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed rule to redefine waters of the United States to vastly expand that agency’s regulatory scope over surface water.

    “It seems like every week we uncover a new attempt by this Administration to encroach on private property rights. This latest instance would drastically expand the Forest Service’s regulatory reach to the point where if any private water rights holder so much as attempted to utilize groundwater to which they are legally entitled under long-held state water law, the Forest Service could insert itself and prevent access to that right. This bears an unsettling resemblance to the recent EPA proposed rule that would allow that agency to regulate virtually every form of surface water within the United States. These rules jeopardize every water user’s ability to freely access their water and maintain their livelihood,” said Tipton. “These backdoor attempts by the federal government to circumvent state law, take control of Western water, and trample private property rights are nefarious, coordinated and will not stand. I will continue to fight these blatant attempts to take and control our water and steadfastly defend private property rights at every turn.”

    The Forest Service’s proposed rule, which was released this month, expands the agency’s reach over groundwater, and seeks to establish new bureaucratic hurdles to interfere with private water users’ ability to access their water. View the full Forest Service Directive HERE.

    More groundwater 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.


    “…we have a lot of communities on a diminishing aquifer” — Eric Hecox

    May 11, 2014

    rueter-hessplans

    From The Denver Post (Steve Raabe):

    The shimmering surface of Rueter-Hess reservoir seems out of place in arid Douglas County, where almost all of the water resources are in aquifers a quarter-mile under ground.

    Yet the $195 million body of water, southwest of Parker, is poised to play a crucial role in providing water to one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S.

    As recently as a few years ago, developers were content to tap the seemingly abundant Denver Basin aquifer to serve the thousands of new homes built each year along the southern edge of metro Denver.

    But a problem arose. As homebuilding in Douglas County exploded, the groundwater that once seemed abundant turned out to be finite. Land developers and utilities found that the more wells they drilled into the aquifer, the more grudgingly it surrendered water.

    “Now we have a lot of communities on a diminishing aquifer,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a consortium of 14 water suppliers that serve 300,000 residents.

    As water pressure in the Denver Basin steadily declines, developers and water utilities that rely on the aquifer are being forced to drill more wells and pump harder from existing wells.

    Enter Rueter-Hess. The massive storage facility — 50 percent larger in surface area than Cherry Creek reservoir — aims to help developers wean themselves from groundwater by shifting to other sources.

    The reservoir anchors a multifaceted water plan for the south metro area that includes the purchase of costly but replenishable surface water, reuse of wastewater and a greater emphasis on conservation.

    Douglas County, long a magnet for builders enticed by easy access to Denver Basin aquifers, is taking the water issue seriously.

    A new proposal floated by the county government would give developers density bonuses — up to 20 percent more buildout — for communities that reduce typical water consumption and commit to using renewable sources for at least half of their water.

    “In the past, the county had not taken an active role in water supplies because groundwater was sufficient,” said Douglas County Commissioner Jill Repella. “But we understand that we cannot continue to be solely reliant on our aquifers. What we’re doing today will help us plan for the next 25 years.”

    Parker Water and Sanitation District launched construction of Rueter-Hess in 2006 and began gradually filling the reservoir in 2011, fed by excess surface and alluvial well flows in Cherry Creek.

    Partners in the project include Castle Rock, Stonegate and the Castle Pines North metropolitan district. Parker Water and Sanitation district manager Ron Redd said he expects more water utilities to sign on for storage as they begin acquiring rights to surface water.

    The chief source of new supplies will be the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, or WISE, in which Denver Water and Aurora Water will sell an average of 7,250 acre-feet a year to 10 south-metro water suppliers beginning in 2016. Most of them are expected to purchase storage for the new water in Rueter-Hess. An acre-foot is generally believed to be enough to serve the needs of two families of four for a year

    Parker Water and Sanitation also is exploring ways to develop recreational uses at the dam — including hiking, camping, fishing and nonmotorized boating — through an intergovernmental agreement with other Douglas County entities.

    Even three years after opening, the reservoir’s stored water has reached just 13 percent of its 75,000-acre-foot capacity. Yet Rueter-Hess is the most visible icon in Douglas County’s search for water solutions.

    At stake is the ability to provide water for a county that in the 1990s and early 2000s perennially ranked among the fastest-growing in the nation. The number of homes in Douglas County has soared from 7,789 in 1980 to more than 110,000 today, an astounding increase of more than 1,300 percent.

    The building boom slowed after the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009. Growth rates that had reached as high as 10 percent to 15 percent a year during the 1990s ratcheted down to about 1 percent to 2 percent.

    But as the economy has begun recovering, Douglas County is once again “seeing high levels of demand” for new residential development, said assistant director of planning services Steve Koster.

    One of the biggest Douglas County projects in decades is Sterling Ranch, a proposed community of 12,000 homes south of Chatfield State Park.

    The 3,400-acre ranch sits on the outer fringes of the Denver Basin aquifer, making it a poor candidate for reliance on the basin’s groundwater.

    As a result, the project developer will employ a mixed-bag of water resources, including an aggressive conservation and efficiency plan; surface-water purchases from the WISE program; well water from rights owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz; and a precedent-setting rainwater-collection program.

    Sterling Ranch managing director Harold Smethills described the Rueter-Hess concept as “brilliant,” even though his development has not yet purchased any of the reservoir’s capacity.

    “You just can’t have enough storage,” he said.

    More Rueter-Hess Reservoir coverage here and here. More Denver Basin Aquifer System coverage here.


    Aurora Water embarks on expansion of Prairie Waters

    May 8, 2014

    prairiewaterstreatment

    From The Denver Post (Megan Mitchell):

    Aurora Water has begun construction to expand the city’s Prairie Waters Project for the first time since the natural water filtration and collection system opened in 2010. Projects nixed from the original construction plan kept the $659 million project about $100 million below its initial budget. Now, those projects are being called back up to make sure Prairie Waters stays on track for exponential growth over the next 40 years.

    “The expansion part of the project has been planned from the very beginning,” said Marshall Brown, executive director for Aurora Water. “This year, we’re at a place where we can prioritize the growth and look toward the future of system capacity.”
    Crews have begun digging six new collection wells in between the existing 17 wells that collect water from a basin near the South Platte River in Weld County, downstream from the Denver Metro Wastewater Reclamation District’s plant. From there, the water is piped through wells 44 miles south to treatment and storage facilities in Aurora for residential use.

    Along the way, the water is pulled through 100 feet of gravel and sand. This 30-day, natural process helps pull large contaminants out of the water.

    Two new filter beds will also be installed at the Peter D. Binney Water Purification Facility near the Aurora Reservoir this year. At the Binney facility, water is treated with chemicals and ultraviolet lights to make it potable.

    The cost of the expansion projects is $2.9 million, said Greg Baker, spokesperson for Aurora Water. He said water tap fees will not be affected by the new wells and filters this year.

    “We plan our capital projects (which are predominantly paid for by development or tap fees) well in advance,” Baker said. “We plan for these expenses so that our rates don’t roller coaster based on immediate projects.”

    Right now, Prairie Waters is spread over 250 acres in Weld County and is only built out to about 20 percent of its total potential capacity. Baker said the system currently provides 10 million gallons of water per day. At full build-out, Prairie Waters will able to provide 50 million gallons of water per day.

    The project itself was conceived in response to extreme drought conditions in 2003.

    “Ideally, we would like to have two years’ worth of supply stored in the system at all times,” Brown said. “Aurora’s system varies between one and two years’ worth of storage now.”

    The long-term vision for the project involves well development all the way down the South Platte River to Fort Lupton, as well as adding more physical storage components. Aurora Water has already started to acquire additional property for capacity expansion in the future.

    Baker added: “As Aurora’s population grows, we will expand into the system to support that growth.”

    More Prairie Waters coverage here and here.


    2014 Colorado Legislation: SB14-192 is on its way to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk

    May 8, 2014
    Lincoln/Cotter Mill Park superfund site

    Lincoln/Cotter Mill Park superfund site

    From the Cañon City Daily Record (Christy Steadman):

    “The passage of the Uranium Groundwater Protection bill today will help restore our use and rights to our wells,” Sharyn Cunningham, Lincoln Park resident, said.

    John Hamrick, facility manager at Cotter Corp., said SB 192 ceases “a year-and-a-half of progress in the negotiation process” with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to abide by the federal rules regarding “what is the best way” concerning clean-up. He said the negotiations were a measure to clean up what would eventually “go away” naturally.

    Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said the area’s community members and activists “deserve a hearty congratulations for turning their passion into a legislative victory.”

    “No community should have to endure the long-term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Cañon City has at the hands of the Cotter Corp.,” he said.

    Hamrick said he wanted to remind people that “to the best of Cotter’s knowledge, nobody is drinking ground water (contaminated) above any health limits or ground water protection standards.”[...]

    Another issue with SB 192, said Hamrick, is the requirement to use the most expedited and best available technology for the clean-up. He said there will be only one technology that could reach both those requirements, and as of yet, nobody knows what it is nor an idea of its cost.

    “Water quality is improving in Lincoln Park naturally,” Hamrick said. “(SB 192) adds a lot of unknown costs without a lot of public benefits.”

    More nuclear 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.


    2014 Colorado legislation: SB14-192 passes the Senate #COleg

    May 1, 2014
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    From the Cañon City Daily Record (Christy Steadman):

    The Colorado Senate passed Senate Bill 192 on Tuesday, which concerns uranium licensing and groundwater protection, but causes conflict between Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill and Lincoln Park residents.

    In a press release issued by Conservation Colorado representative Chris Arend, residents of Lincoln Park “expressed support for (the) bipartisan legislation … that will help rectify 30 years of groundwater contamination by Cotter Corp.”

    “The passage of SB 192 today will help restore our use and rights to our wells and begin to rectify the damage the Cotter Corporation has caused in our community,” Sharyn Cunningham, Lincoln Park resident said in the release.

    John Hamrick, facility manager at Cotter Corp., said they have been in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to abide by the federal rules regarding “what is the best way” concerning clean-up. He said that is “now in jeopardy” because of SB 192, and a year-and-a-half of progress in the negotiation process will have to be discarded, and they will now have “to go back to zero.”

    “(Additionally), the State of Colorado is federally preempted from passing a law that requires the EPA to select a specific clean-up remedy,” Hamrick said.

    In the release, Lincoln Park resident Pete Maysmith said SB 192 “will help clean-up residents’ groundwater and restore the historic use of their water wells.”

    “No community should have to endure the long-term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Cañon City has at the hands of the Cotter Corp.,” Maysmith said.

    Here’s a release from Conservation Colorado:

    Impacted residents and members of the Colorado conservation community expressed support for bipartisan legislation passed today that will help rectify 30 years of groundwater contamination by Cotter Corporation in Canon City, Colorado. Residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Canon City had been told that the best way to deal with Cotter’s pollution was for the community to abandon use of their wells.

    “For my Lincoln Park neighbors forsaking our historic use of our water wells was never an option. We knew we needed to keep fighting for full and active clean up of our wells not only to restore our current rights but for future residents,” said Sharyn Cunningham, Lincoln Park resident. “The passage of SB 192 today will help restore our use and rights to our wells and begin to rectify the damage the Cotter Corporation has caused in our community.”

    “Today after 30 years of contamination and indifference, the residents of Lincoln Park saw significant movement in their campaign for the Cotter Corporation to finally clean up its mess in Cañon City,” said Pete Maysmith. “No community should have to endure the long term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Cañon City has at the hands of the Cotter Corporation. The legislation passed today will help clean up residents’ groundwater and restore the historic use of their water wells.”

    Although pleased that contaminated water would be cleaned-up, supporters expressed concern that the Colorado Senate stripped out licensing requirements that would protect against future contamination.

    “We are disappointed in Colorado Senate amendments to remove important protections for experimental uranium milling proposed for our community,” said Cathe Meyrick, resident of the Tallahassee Area in Fremont County. “The legislation would have clarified that licensing is required before the industry deploys experimental uranium recovery techniques with potentially grave impacts on our groundwater. Regardless of this setback, we will rely on a committed community and look for other mechanisms to protect our groundwater.”

    The proposed new technologies involve extraction through the creation of an underground uranium slurry (i.e., underground borehole mining) and concentration through physical, rather than chemical means (i.e., ablation). These new uranium recovery methods are being proposed for uranium deposits in Fremont County (Tallahassee Area/Arkansas River) and in Weld County (Centennial Project and Keota).

    Both Conservation Colorado and impacted landowners in Fremont and Weld County will work to reinstate the provisions as the bill moves forward.

    More nuclear 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.


    2014 Colorado legislation: The House turns thumbs down on HB14-1332 #COleg

    April 26, 2014
    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    A groundwater bill supported by a group of local farmers and the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District in Greeley has been defeated. House Bill 1332 — aimed at providing relief for areas of Weld County and elsewhere where groundwater wells have been curtailed, and where high groundwater levels have caused damage — narrowly passed out of the House Appropriations Committee by a 7-6 vote Wednesday morning, but that afternoon was defeated 36-29 when it went to the House floor, according to Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, who sponsored the bill.

    “It’s disappointing,” said LaSalle-area farmer Glen Fritzler, an outspoken proponent of the bill, whose groundwater wells had been curtailed in recent years, whose basement flooded and who also helped form the Ground Water Coalition. “It might be the end for us in this legislative session, but we’ll certainly try again next year.”

    HB 1332 called for de-watering measures in areas of high groundwater, funding for more groundwater monitoring and studies, and potentially creating a “basin-wide management entity.”

    The bill struggled for support from other water circles in the state.

    Earlier this month, the Colorado Water Congress voted 20-3 against supporting the bill, and members of the South Platte Basin Roundtable — a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to discuss the region’s water challenges — spoke out against the bill.

    Rather than support the proposed legislation, the roundtable voted in favor of having further discussions about the high groundwater levels and curtailed wells, and, if reaching consensus on the issues down the road, adding such suggestions to the South Platte basin’s long-term water plan and eventual statewide Colorado Water Plan, which are currently in the works.

    The majority of South Platte Roundtable members said at that meeting that such measures, like the de-watering efforts, are more complex than they appear. They also said the state putting forth more dollars for more groundwater studies is unnecessary since the recent Colorado Water Institute’s study is available for further examination, and the State Engineer’s Office is in the midst of a separate groundwater study.

    Furthermore, creating an entity for basin oversight would just add “another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy.”

    Wednesday’s defeat was another setback for LaSalle and Gilcrest area farmers, who, due to changes over the years in the state’s administration of groundwater, had their groundwater wells curtailed or shutdown several years ago. They’ve pushed for several other bills this year and in recent years that address the issue, but have been voted down.

    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. The pumping of that groundwater draws down flows in nearby rivers and streams — surface supplies owned and used by senior water rights holders. But, because of increasing water prices, some in the ag community struggle to find affordable water they can use for augmentation.

    In addition to losing the ability to pump their wells, many of those impacted believe the lack of well-pumping and increased augmentation is what’s caused the high groundwater levels that in recent years flooded basements and ruined crops in saturated fields. Many believe, however, that the high groundwater levels in recent years were caused by a variety of factors, and the existing system for groundwater management is needed to protect senior surface water rights.


    SB14-147 hits a wall in the Senate Ag Committee — indefinite postponement

    April 20, 2014
    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    From the Sterling Journal-Advocate:

    Senate Bill 14-147, “A Study to Determine the Impact of Increased Well Alluvial Well Pumping In District 2 of Water Division 1,” would have allowed wells to pump 20 percent more than their decrees permitted under the auspices of a study.

    Testimony was given during the hearing that the additional 20 percent of pumping proposed in connection with the study would injure other water rights and should not be used to solve high ground water issues. Additionally, Jim Yahn of the North Sterling Irrigation District told lawmakers that, based on court documents, there have been localized areas of high ground water in the South Platte since the early 1900s.

    “The bill would have conflicted with existing water court decrees and undo stipulations between parties in hundreds of water court cases, making it unconstitutional,” the press release from WRASP said. “It could also interfere with Colorado’s obligations under the South Platte River Compact.”

    Following the hearing, WRASP member Joe Frank expressed ongoing concern with the idea behind this legislation: “Water rights in Colorado are property rights. WRASP will always oppose proposals that undermine these property rights to the detriment of Colorado farmers. Taking our water should never be an option to solving water shortages in other areas. WRASP remains committed to working with all parties for reasonable solutions.”

    More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    Cotter and the CPDHE are still trying to work out a de-commissioning agreement for the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

    April 5, 2014
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    A broken pipe at Cotter Corp.’s dismantled mill in central Colorado spewed 20,000 gallons of uranium-laced waste — just as Cotter is negotiating with state and federal authorities to end one of the nation’s longest-running Superfund cleanups.

    Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials said last weekend’s spill stayed on Cotter property.

    In addition, uranium and molybdenum contamination, apparently from other sources on the Cotter property, has spiked at a monitoring well in adjacent Cañon City. A Feb. 20 report by Cotter’s consultant said groundwater uranium levels at the well in the Lincoln Park neighborhood “were the highest recorded for this location,” slightly exceeding the health standard of 30 parts per billion. State health data show uranium levels are consistently above health limits at other wells throughout the neighborhood but haven’t recently spiked.

    “This isn’t acceptable,” Fremont County Commissioner Tim Payne said of the spill – the fourth since 2010. “(CDPHE officials) told us it is staying on Cotter’s property. But 20,000 gallons? You have to worry about that getting into groundwater.”

    Environmental Protection Agency and CDPHE officials are negotiating an agreement with Cotter to guide cleanup, data-gathering, remediation and what to do with 15 million tons of radioactive uranium tailings. Options range from removal — Cotter estimates that cost at more than $895 million — or burial in existing or new impoundment ponds.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper intervened last year to hear residents’ concerns and try to speed final cleanup.

    Cotter vice president John Hamrick said the agreement will lay out timetables for the company to propose options with cost estimates.

    The spill happened when a coupler sleeve split on a 6-inch plastic pipe, part of a 30-year-old system that was pumping back toxic groundwater from a 300-foot barrier at the low end of Cotter’s 2,538-acre property, Hamrick said.

    Lab analysis provided by Cotter showed the spilled waste contained uranium about 94 times higher than the health standard, and molybdenum at 3,740 ppb, well above the 100-ppb standard for that metal, said Jennifer Opila, leader of the state’s radioactive materials unit.

    She said Cotter’s system for pumping back toxic groundwater is designed so that groundwater does not leave the site, preventing any risk to the public.

    In November, Cotter reported a spill of 4,000 to 9,000 gallons. That was five times more than the amount spilled in November 2012. Another spill happened in 2010.

    At the neighborhood in Cañon City, the spike in uranium contamination probably reflects slow migration of toxic material from Cold War-era unlined waste ponds finally reaching the front of an underground plume, Hamrick said.

    “It is a blip. It does not appear to be an upward trend. If it was, we would be looking at it,” Hamrick said. “We will be working with state and EPA experts to look at the whole groundwater monitoring and remediation system.”

    An EPA spokeswoman agreed the spike does not appear to be part of an upward trend, based on monitoring at other wells, but she said the agency does take any elevated uranium levels seriously.

    The Cotter mill, now owned by defense contractor General Atomics, opened in 1958, processing uranium for nuclear weapons and fuel. Cotter discharged liquid waste, including radioactive material and heavy metals, into 11 unlined ponds until 1978. The ponds were replaced in 1982 with two lined waste ponds. Well tests in Cañon City found contamination, and in 1984, federal authorities declared a Superfund environmental disaster.

    Colorado officials let Cotter keep operating until 2011, and mill workers periodically processed ore until 2006.

    A community group, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, has been pressing for details and expressing concerns about the Cotter site. Energy Minerals Law Center attorney Travis Stills, representing residents, said the data show “the likely expansion of the uranium plume, following the path of a more mobile molybdenum plume” into Cañon City toward the Arkansas River.

    The residents deserve independent fact-gathering and a proper cleanup, Stills said.

    “There’s an official, decades-old indifference to groundwater protection and cleanup of groundwater contamination at the Cotter site — even though sustainable and clean groundwater for drinking, orchards, gardens and livestock remains important to present and future Lincoln Park residents,” he said. “This community is profoundly committed to reclaiming and protecting its groundwater.

    More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund coverage here.


    The Rio Grande River Compact Commission meets today

    March 20, 2014
    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

    From the Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle:

    The tension is expected to be thick Thursday as top water officials from New Mexico, Colorado and Texas gather for an annual meeting focused on management of the Rio Grande.

    Texas and New Mexico are in the middle of a legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court over groundwater pumping along the border. The federal government is weighing in, claiming that groundwater falls under its jurisdiction and should be considered part of the massive system of canals and dams that deliver water to farmers in southern New Mexico and Texas.

    It could be years before the court makes a decision, but some experts say the case could set precedent when it comes to state rights in the drought-stricken West.

    In the meantime, farmers in southern New Mexico who are deciding whether to plant crops or leave their fields fallow are on “pins and needles,” said Scott Verhines, New Mexico’s top water official.

    “Certainly the litigation, the threat of litigation, the fear of what’s going to come out of all this is clouding everybody’s ability to work toward a solution,” he said. “I think very unfortunately that we find ourselves fighting and not solving.”

    Verhines will be among those gathering for the Rio Grande Compact Commission meeting. The decades-old compact spells out how much river water the states must share.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and 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.


    ‘Our water right requires us to replace the water in the Box Elder. That’s what they (Select Energy) should do’ — Mark Harding

    March 16, 2014
    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

    The meandering Box Elder Creek has become a battlefield as farmers and ranchers are facing off against a plan to drill wells along its banks to provide water for fracking and other oil-field operations. While the creeks wends its way north from Elbert County to the South Platte River in Weld County — Arapahoe County is ground zero for the fight.

    Boxelder Properties LLC is proposing sinking four wells to draw 500-acre feet of water annually for the fracking and other oil-drilling operations. That is enough water to supply 200 average Denver homes for a year.

    Ranchers and farmers along the Box Elder say the plan will dry out wells and pools used by cattle, as well as kill vegetation along the creek’s banks east of Aurora.

    “These boys from Texas think they can just ride in. Well, the people on Box Elder are going to meet ‘em at the hill,” said Jerry Francis, who grazes about 30 head of cattle on the creek.

    The dispute underscores the problem of trying to balance oil and gas development in Colorado with other economic activities.

    “We want oil and gas development, but we have to do it so we don’t jeopardize our agricultural community,” Arapahoe County Commissioner Rod Bockenfeld said.

    The county commissioners have sent a letter opposing the project to the Colorado Division of Water Resources, which must decide on the proposal.

    The proposal has become so controversial that Houston-based Conoco-Phillips, the main company drilling in the area, announced that it wouldn’t use water from the wells. Houston-based Select Energy Services, the Conoco contractor that initiated the plan, has also abandoned the idea, according to company spokeswoman Brooke Jones.

    Still, the permit application to drill the wells is pending with the water division, also called the Office of the State Engineer.

    “The project isn’t dependent on Conoco; there are other oil service companies,” said Walraven Ketellapper, head of Boulder-based Stillwater Resources and Investment.

    Stillwater, a water broker and agent, is handling the permit for Boxelder Creek Properties.

    The state engineer has received 16 letters — from farmers, public officials, water districts — objecting to the plan and raising concerns about its impact on water supplies.

    “We are going to do the engineering analysis, the groundwater modeling to show the wells can withdraw water without adverse impacts,” Ketellapper said. “That is our burden of proof.”

    Just 15 miles east of Denver, suburban sprawl gives way to silos, barns and broad fields seemingly running all the way to the snow-capped Rockies. It is through this landscape that Box Elder Creek snakes its way to the South Platte River, 2 feet deep in some places, sometimes as wide as 12 feet, while in other spots it is just a dry, sandy bottom most of the year.

    “We are a dry county,” said Bockenfeld, the Arapahoe County commissioner. “Many farms dry farm; there just isn’t a lot of water.”

    Only in the early spring with the first snowmelt does the creek run full, but all year long a subterranean stream feeds ponds and pools, residents say.

    “This pool is here all summer long,” Francis said as he stood in a field next to the creek. “The water and this buffalo grass gets cattle fat as a fritter.”

    A retired John Deere worker who raises cattle to keep busy, the 67-year-old Francis said what he is most concerned about is the future.

    “They take away the water, what’s left for my kids and grandkids?” he said.

    A neighboring farmer, Bill Coyle, 60, has more immediate concerns. Coyle estimates he spent about $300,000 in an eight-year battle with the state engineer to get a water right for four irrigation wells on his 1,000-acre farm. Standing at one of his center-pivot wells, Coyle can see the spot where one of the proposed wells would be. It is beyond the state-required 600-foot setback — but still within sight.

    The application for the four water wells says that they are drawing water from the creek and won’t impact local wells. Coyle doesn’t believe it.

    “They are proposing pumping at 1,000 gallons a minute,” Coyle said. “My well is 42 feet deep. It will have an impact on the well, and it will be immediate.”

    The decision to issue a temporary permit to drill and pump the four wells to produce 500-acre feet a year or 163 million gallons rests with the state engineer. The award of a long-term water right would be determined in Colorado Water Court — a process that can take as much as five years. The process is governed by Colorado water law — a byzantine set of rules organizing the right to draw water based on a priority system.

    The key to being allowed to pump the water is a so-called augmentation plan to replace it so that the older or “senior” water rights are not impaired. This is an expensive process.

    Select Energy offered four landowners — none of them local residents — $10,000 to drill a water well on their land and 1 cent for every barrel of water — about 42 gallons — pumped, according to one of the contracts.

    They also purchased shares in the Weldon Valley Ditch to replace the pumped water. The application estimates that 10.4 shares — worth about $950,000 — would be needed to replace the 500 acre-feet drawn from the water wells.

    Water, however, is vital to the oil and gas industry, with demand growing 35 percent to 18,700 acre-feet from 2010 to 2015, according to state estimates. The water, mixed with sand and chemicals, is pumped into wells under pressure to “hydrofracture” or frack shale rock and release oil and gas. About 4 million gallons is pumped into a single horizontal well.

    “Water has always responded to the market in Colorado,” said Ken Carlson, director of the Center for Energy and Water Sustainability at Colorado State University. “First it was urban areas buying the water rights of farms. Now it is oil and gas.”

    Select Energy is now getting its water from Denver-based Pure Cycle Corp., which has deep wells on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range, in Arapahoe County. Pure Cycle is opposing the plan because it also has a water right on the Box Elder that would be hurt, said Mark Harding, Pure Cycle’s president. The problem is that the plan calls for pumping along the Box Elder but returning the water about 50 miles to the north near Wiggins.

    “Our water right requires us to replace the water in the Box Elder. That’s what they should do,” Harding said.

    The state engineer will rule in the next few months on the temporary permit, which could enable pumping this year and last for as long as five years.

    “This application is unusual in that the Box Elder isn’t a continuously flowing stream where the groundwater is continuously replenished,” Deputy State Engineer Kevin Rein said.

    “We take the concerns seriously, and we’ve asked the applicant to respond to them,” Rein said. “We’ll have to see what they say.”

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    South Platte River Basin: ‘…no simple answers’ to the issue of groundwater management in the area — Bill Jerke

    March 13, 2014
    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    The question was asked: Is the conversation about agriculture issues more emotional today than ever before?

    Responding before the crowd at the University of Northern Colorado for the day’s panel on Colorado agriculture, Paul Sater, a Kersey-area farmer, threw in his two cents.

    His answer was “yes.”

    Sater said only a generation or two ago, everyone was just a grandfather or other relative away from the farm or ranch, and now, with only about 1 percent of the population involved in ag, an unknowing public has questions — leading some to even have suspicions.

    “In absence of reason, you have emotion,” he said. “That’s where we are today.”

    Taking the emotion out of the ag-conversation equation and providing information for voters on Colorado agriculture was the goal of the League of Women Voters of Greeley-Weld County, who hosted the event.

    On the panel was Bill Jerke, a LaSalle-area farmer and former Weld County commissioner and state legislator; Brent Lahman, relationship manager at Rabo AgriFinance in Loveland; Ray Peterson, a Nunn-area rancher who serves as president of the Weld County Farmers Union and as a board member of the Weld County Livestock Association; Luke Runyon, agribusiness reporter for KUNC and Harvest Public Media, the latter of which is a reporting collaboration of several public media stations across the country that covers issues related to food and food production; and Sater, a rancher and farmer with experience in the dairy industry.

    One of the topics brought up most was that of the use of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in food production.

    The farmers and ranchers on the panel explained to the crowd that humans have been genetically modifying crops and livestock for thousands of years, through cross-breeding.

    “Now, it’s just being done in a lab,” Jerke said. “That’s the only difference.”

    Jerke also stressed that he has no issue with labeling food that contains GMOs on a voluntary basis, but not making it mandatory, which has been a ballot measure in some states recently.

    Jerke said he was fine letting the producer or processor use the “GMO-free” label simply as a marketing tool, like the “organic” label is used.

    He and others on the panel further noted, though, that true GMO-free food might be tough to come by, because of genetic engineering’s deep roots historically in human food production.

    Peterson stressed the need for genetic modifying, explaining that his wheat crop one year was wiped out by pests before he began using a wheat variety that was resistant to it.

    On the issue of water, Jerke stressed that there’s “no simple answers” to the issue of groundwater management in the area, and noted the ongoing depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. One of the world’s largest aquifers, underlying portions of eight states, including far east Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas, is being mined and not replenished at an alarming rate, he said, and could become a major issue for the U.S.

    He further stressed agriculture’s needs for completion of two area water-storage projects still in the works — the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which if approved would include two new reservoirs and provide 40,000 acre feet of water to northern Colorado, and prevent the drying up of about 60,000 acres of farmground, according to supporters’ studies; and the Chatfield Reallocation, an endeavor that would raise the Denver-area lake by as much as 12 feet, and, in doing so, provide additional water for area farmers and others.

    In reference to the Chatfield project, Jerke said he didn’t understand why the studies and mitigation efforts to raise an existing reservoir just by 12 feet would cost the estimated $183 million.

    Sater stressed that one of his biggest needs in agriculture is labor, but there’s no affordable way to bring to the U.S. the migrant workers who are willing to do the work.

    “I do need labor, but don’t know what to do about it,” Sater said.

    Lahman said some of his customers tell him that labor shortage is the No. 1 issue they have.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


    Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Aaron Million still has his eye on the prize #ColoradoRiver

    March 2, 2014
    Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline -- Graphic via Earth Justice

    Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline — Graphic via Earth Justice

    From the Green River Star (David Martin):

    The Aaron Million water project continues on in the form of a request to the Bureau of the Interior. Million’s request, as published in the Federal Register Feb. 12, calls for a standby contract for the annual reservation of 165,000 care-feet of municipal and industrial water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir for a transbasin diversion project…

    Mayor Hank Castillon, who is a member of Communities Protecting the Green, said he isn’t sure what Million’s plans are with this latest move. Citing his previous denials from the Army Corp of Engineers and FERC, Castillon said the amount Million wants to use has dropped from the initial 250,000 acre feet of water his project would require. Castillon said he expects a battle to occur between the eastern and western sides of the continental divide. Castillon is aware Cheyenne and other cities in eastern Wyoming need water, along with locations in northern Colorado. The problem they need to address, according to Castillon, is the fact that the water isn’t available…

    The Sweetwater County Commissioners commented on Million’s proposal Tuesday, voicing their opposition to the idea. Commissioner Wally Johnson said the transfer of water to Colorado isn’t in Sweetwater County’s best interest, saying “it doesn’t matter if it’s Mr. Million or Mr. Disney” making the proposal. Commissioner John Kolb also voiced his opposition, saying opposition to the idea is unanimous between Gov. Matt Mead, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association and the commissioners themselves.

    “I’d like to see us not wasting our time on crazy, hare-brained schemes,” Kolb said. “(Transbasin water diversion) doesn’t work.”

    More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.


    Rio Grande River: US siding with Texas?

    February 27, 2014
    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

    From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

    Groundwater pumping in southern New Mexico could threaten the delivery of Rio Grande water to Texas, the federal government argued in a motion filed today with the U.S. Supreme Court.

    The motion dismisses arguments made by New Mexico in ongoing litigation with Texas over the river, with the U.S. government effectively taking Texas’s side in the case.

    Be sure to click through to read the whole document with Mr. Fleck’s highlights.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


    ‘Colorado Supreme Court rules against holders of vested water rights inside and outside of an Indian reservation’ — Lexology

    February 20, 2014
    Non-Tributary coalbed methane SW Colorado via the Division of Water Resources

    Non-Tributary coalbed methane SW Colorado via the Division of Water Resources

    From Lexology (Daniel C. Wennogle):

    In 2010 a group of water rights holders in Colorado raised a constitutional challenge to certain rules promulgated by the Colorado State Engineer’s Office regarding the designation of certain ground water resources as “nontributary.” The particular groundwater resources were located, in part on an Indian reservation, and the State Engineer’s determination was a part of an effort to promulgate rules regarding the permitting and regulation of oil and gas wells that extract groundwater in Colorado.**

    The rule in dispute, referred to as the “Fruitland Rule,” was part of a set of “Final Rules” promulgated by the State Engineer under its authority granted by HB 09-1303, codified at C.R.S. § § 37-90137, 37-90-138(2), and 37-92- 308(11) (C.R.S. 2009). The Fruitland Rule related to underground water in a geologic formation called the Fruitland Formation, which extends into the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. The Final Rules, which included the Fruitland Rule, contained a provision stating:

    These rules and regulations shall not be construed to establish the jurisdiction of either the State of Colorado or the Southern Ute Indian Tribe over nontributary ground water within the boundaries of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation as recognized in Pub. L. No 98-290, § 3, 98 Stat. 201 (1984).

    The Plaintiffs argued that the above-quoted provision in the Final Rules effectively divested the State Engineer from having jurisdiction to, among other things, designate water as nontributary in its rulemaking process. The trial court had agreed with this position, and stated that the State Engineer did not prove its authority. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed and held that the State Engineer’s authority came from HB 09-1303, which “authorized the State Engineer to promulgate the Final Rules to delineate nontributory groundwater extracted in oil and gas production throughout the state” of Colorado.

    The Court of Appeals held that nothing about the above- quoted statement in the Final Rules did or could divest the State Engineer of this authority.

    The Court of Appeals noted that its decision would not prevent a constitutional challenge to the Fruitland Rule based upon discriminatory application, if facts warranted.

    More coalbed methane coverage here and here.


    New free online lessons available to household well owners to protect water quality — La Junta Tribune-Democrat

    February 15, 2014
    Typical water well

    Typical water well

    From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

    our new, free online lessons are available to household water well owners at the National Ground Water Association website http://www.WellOwner.org, the Association announced today.

    The lessons were developed by NGWA with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Well owners can register by going to http://WellOwner.org or going th the following sites:

    · Arsenic in Well Water: What Is It and What Do You Do? — http://login.icohere.com/registration/register.cfm?reg=1003&evt=arseniclesson
    · Bacteria in Well Water: What Is It and What Do You Do? — http://login.icohere.com/registration/register.cfm?reg=963&evt=Bacteria
    · Nitrate in Well Water: What Is It and What Do You Do? — http://login.icohere.com/registration/register.cfm?reg=973&evt=Nitratepre-test
    · Radon in Well Water: What Is It and What Do You Do? — http://login.icohere.com/registration/register.cfm?reg=960&evt=Radon.

    Other online well owner lessons previously made available cover what to test your water for, how to get a test and interpret the results, and the basics of water treatment. Well owners also can access two recorded webinars on water testing and water treatment.

    NGWA Public Awareness Director Cliff Treyens encouraged household water well owners to take advantage of these new resources, as well as the toll-free Private Well Owner Hotline at (855) 420-9355 and the free monthly emailed Private Well Owner Tip Sheet. Subscribe to the tip sheet by going to http://www.wellowner.org.

    “It’s never been easier for well owners to get the basic information they need to be good water well and groundwater stewards,” Treyens said. “These resources will help well owners to improve and protect their water quality.”

    More groundwater coverage here and here.


    Wiggins trustees approve hitching up with the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative…augmentation credits

    February 15, 2014

    Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.

    Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.


    From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

    The Wiggins Board of Trustees voted to buy a share of the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative during its monthly meeting Wednesday night. That will cost $2,000.

    On any one day, an individual or group with an augmentation plan might have more water credits than the person or group can use or less than it needs, and having the option of sharing credits could help those who are part of the cooperative, said agricultural producer Mike Groves. As it is, if a person or group has excess water credits, the individual or group has to just let it go down the river without use, but the cooperative may change that, he noted.

    “It’s something that’s never been done before, but I get sick and tired” of seeing water lost because it cannot be used, Groves said.

    Members could transfer water credits to help out those who need them, he said.

    Even a little bit of water can make a difference at times, Groves said.

    The copperative became official as of Jan. 1, after about seven years of work to put it together, he said. So far, a number of people and groups have become members, said Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District. There are two kinds of members: voting and non-voting, which cost $2,000 or $1,000 respectively for shares. That money becomes capital, and would buy one share of cooperative stock, just like other agricultural cooperatives, Frank said.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.


    Colorado Mesa University issues RFP for high altitude fen research

    February 9, 2014

    Cancer-causing chemical PCE contaminates Colorado soil, water and homes — The Denver Post

    February 9, 2014
    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Here’s an in-depth look at the problem of mitigating PCE (perchloroethylene or perc) spills around dry-cleaning operations, from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    Spills releasing PCE, the cancer-causing chemical used in dry cleaning and metal degreasing, have produced at least 86 underground plumes across Colorado that are poisoning soil and water and fouling air inside buildings.

    Cleaning up this chemical is a nightmare — a lesson in the limits of repairing environmental harm. The best that Colorado health enforcers and responsible parties have been able to do is keep the PCE they know about from reaching people…

    Dry cleaners are found in most communities nationwide. But the PCE problem hasn’t been as visible as the large-scale industrial disasters that mobilize advocacy groups. Unlike oil rig ruptures and chemical spills into rivers, PCE plumes remain hidden.

    They formed because, in the past, PCE legally could be flushed into sewers, dumped out backdoors, emptied down alleys. Dry cleaners didn’t grasp the potential cumulative impact of day-to-day drips on their floors.

    PCE is heavy, sinking through soil and groundwater to form pools that can remain volatile for decades and do not readily break down.

    Health authorities say they worry most about sites where PCE levels in soil and groundwater are so high that vapors rise up and contaminate buildings.

    More water pollution coverage here.


    The COGCC explores expanded policy for horizontal drilling ‘communication’ with existing wells

    February 6, 2014
    Potential vertical and horizontal drilling conflict via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Robert Garcia)

    Potential vertical and horizontal drilling conflict via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Robert Garcia)

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission plans to expand statewide a policy aimed at preventing horizontal wells from causing leaks involving existing wells, due to a leak southwest of De Beque where such a possible link is being investigated.

    The Bureau of Land Management also is looking at what it can do to try to help head off such problems.

    The agencies’ actions follow the Dec. 14 discovery of natural gas and fluids bubbling up around a Maralex Resources well on Jaw Ridge, which is BLM-managed land about seven miles from De Beque. The leak’s cause continues to be investigated, and one possibility the COGCC is considering is that it resulted from hydraulic fracturing of a Black Hills Exploration & Production well that was drilled from a surface site about a mile away, but made a 90-degree turn underground and passed within about 400 feet of the Maralex well.

    The Maralex well was drilled in 1981 but was shut in shortly after its drilling. It stopped leaking Jan. 17, as work continued on permanently plugging it, an effort completed a week later. Fluids initially escaped from the well pad after the leak’s start. Maralex then opened the well and directed the flow into a pit for removal by truck. That flow fluctuated widely but averaged about 6,300 gallons a day during the month before it ceased. Authorities have found no indication of contamination of surface water or groundwater. Testing continues to try to determine exactly how far the fluids spread beyond the pad within what the BLM considers to be a known maximum spill parameter.

    ‘COMMUNICATION’ CONCERN

    The COGCC currently has a policy aimed at preventing what it calls the potential for “communication” between horizontal wells and existing wells in 11 counties in eastern Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin. That area is seeing a boom in horizontal drilling aimed at producing oil and other liquids, in an area with numerous existing vertical wells that in some cases may not have been constructed to withstand modern-day, high-pressure fracture operations nearby.

    “It is apparent that that policy needs to be pushed out statewide. It needs to be pushed out statewide very quickly,” COGCC director Matt Lepore told the commission at its last meeting.

    The policy requires the COGCC engineer to evaluate all wells within 1,500 feet of a proposed horizontal wellbore to determine whether the existing wells have adequate cement sealing around them to isolate the geological formation to be fractured, as well as all groundwater zones. Also to be evaluated is whether an existing well’s wellhead and master valve are rated to 5,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, or alternatively that there is adequate mechanical isolation down the well.

    If concerns exist regarding an existing well, the company proposing the horizontal well must take measures that can range from doing remedial cement work in the existing well to isolate all formations, to properly plugging it, to replugging it if needed or proposing alternative mitigation. An existing well’s owner cannot refuse to let mitigation work occur.

    The COGCC initially implemented the policy for horizontal wells coming within 300 feet of existing wells. It eventually expanded the distance after pressure readings and other data collected at existing wells during fracking of new ones indicated a need to do so.

    Lepore told the commission one concern companies have is the lack of data that would justify the 1,500-foot-distance standard in the case of wells outside the DJ Basin. He also noted that there are currently few plans to drill horizontal wells elsewhere in the state. Companies have been drilling a small number of such wells for exploratory purposes in the Piceance Basin.

    LEAK THEORY INVESTIGATED

    The Maralex well was drilled into the Dakota sandstone formation, while the Black Hills well targeted the Niobrara shale, part of the shallower Mancos formation. The COGCC says the Maralex well wasn’t cemented to isolate the Niobrara zone because that zone wasn’t considered a producing formation when the well was drilled. It’s looking at whether gas liberated from fracking the Black Hills well reached the Maralex well, pushing gas and water to the surface.

    Bruce Baizel, energy program director with the Earthworks conservation group, has said another concern in horizontal drilling is that it may occur around older existing wells that may have corroded pipes or cement sealing that has weakened over time and can’t stand up to fracking pressures.

    Maralex plugged its well in stages after the discovery of the leak. When it finished plugging the Dakota sandstone formation, the leak slowed but continued. The leak stopped once plugging was completed at the top of the Mancos formation. But that in itself hasn’t been enough to convince officials that the Black Hills well fracking caused or contributed to the problem.

    Test results of fluid that flowed back from the Black Hills well are still being awaited. Samples of flowback fluid from another Black Hills horizontal well farther from the Maralex well proved to differ significantly from the fluid that came up the Maralex well.

    THE BLM’S ROLE

    Agency spokesman Steven Hall called the Maralex situation a rare one for the BLM, which he believes has seen few instances where fracking has occurred close to shut-in wells on lands it administers in Colorado. While noting that the leak’s cause hasn’t been determined, he said the BLM wants to do what it can to prevent problems between horizontal and existing wells. He said the BLM is reviewing how it manages horizontal drilling and fracking on federal land in the state. The agency has no rules or policies addressing potential communication between horizontal and existing wells. But Hall said it has a lot of leeway during the process of reviewing drilling permit applications to impose conditions to try to avoid such situations. In addition, it is working to deal with the situation of wells that are shut in for a long time, to make sure they are permanently plugged, put into production, or tested to ensure their integrity.

    “We’re going to try to be very aggressive in addressing those,” Hall said.

    The agency previously has said that of 110 wells Maralex owns that involve federal lands or minerals in western Colorado, 86 are shut-in — in nearly half those cases for more than 20 years. It has met with Maralex about coming up with a strategy for addressing its shut-in wells.

    More oil and gas coverage here and 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.


    Oil shale: An alliance of conservationists are asking Utah to reconsider recent permits for groundwater disposal

    January 25, 2014
    Deep injection well

    Deep injection well

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Conservation groups are asking the state of Utah to reconsider its December approval of a groundwater discharge permit for Red Leaf Resources’ oil shale project.

    The request comes as the company hopes to begin mining shale this spring for a commercial demonstration project in the Bookcliffs about 55 miles south of Vernal.

    The groups on Tuesday filed what’s called a “request for agency action” with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and the department’s Division of Water Quality. It seeks review and remand of the division’s December decision and an order revoking the permit.

    Attorney Rob Dubuc of Western Resource Advocates filed the action on behalf of Living Rivers, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and the Sierra Club.

    In a news release, the groups said the permit “lacks measures to prevent or detect surface or groundwater pollution, in violation of state law.”

    Shelley Silbert, executive director with Great Old Broads for Wilderness, said in the release, “Amazingly, they are not even requiring monitoring of springs, seeps, or groundwater on site.”

    Spokespersons for the Department of Environmental Quality and Red Leaf Resources could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In a December news release, the department said that “leachate produced from mining operations appears to have levels of dissolved contaminants that are comparable to, or less than, the levels in existing groundwater in underlying rocks.”

    It also said rock just below the project area “is of very low permeability and protects underlying aquifers from any contaminants that could possibly be released from the capsule.”

    Red Leaf Resources plans to try out what it calls a capsule approach in which it will excavate shale from a pit, install heaters and collection pipes, replace the shale and heat it to produce oil. The groundwater permit applies to a test capsule, and if the company wants to build additional ones for commercial production it would have to seek a major modification to the permit.

    The conservation groups’ challenge of the permit says a planned 3-foot-thick liner made of up shale mixed with clay is inadequate. It says the Division of Water Quality determined groundwater just beneath the mine site doesn’t quality for protection because it is not usable, but in fact the division is required to protect all groundwater from contamination.

    Meanwhile, a British Company, The Oil Mining Co (TOMCO), is moving ahead with plans to implement Red Leaf’s kerogen recovery process just west of the Colorado Border. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    A British company filed papers in Utah to begin mining oil shale on land just west of the Colorado state line. TomCo submitted a notice of intent to begin mining on 2,919 acres in Uintah County for shale, which it plans to roast in large earthen capsules to release oil.

    Red Leaf Resources, which owns the technology that TomCo plans to use, last month received a groundwater discharge permit for its operation, and TomCo said it is working to obtain a similar permit for its leases, which are on state property.

    TomCo, which is an acronym for The Oil Mining Co., anticipates tapping the leases for 126 million barrels of oil on what is known as the Holliday Block lease. TomCo licensed the Red Leaf technology, in which oil shale is excavated and the pit is lined with a network of pipes. The crushed shale is then replaced into the pit and covered over, then heated by the network of pipes beneath, to the point at which the oil breaks free of the surrounding rock and is collected with another network of pipes. Once the oil has been recovered, the material is left in place beneath its covering.

    The EcoShale In-Capsule Process is expected to produce up to 9,800 barrels of oil per day on TomCo’s leases.

    TomCo said it hoped the Utah Division of Oil Gas and Mining would approve the permit for mining in the middle of this year, and then open the matter for a 30-day comment period.

    Red Leaf, meanwhile, expects to begin mining shale this spring for a commercial demonstration project the company hopes will allow it to tap as many as 600 million barrels of oil at the rate of 9,800 barrels per day.

    Red Leaf Resources expects it to take a year to construct its first test capsule and that it will take into next year before oil will be recovered.

    Red Leaf’s site is on Seep Ridge, about 15 miles southwest of the TomCo holdings.

    More oil shale coverage here and here.


    Loveland: Senior center utilizes geothermal for heating and cooling

    January 23, 2014
    Geothermal exchange via Top Alternative Energy Sources

    Geothermal exchange via Top Alternative Energy Sources

    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

    In most buildings, the center of heating operations is called the boiler room, but the three-story Mirasol Phase II building is unlike most buildings, and is the first of its kind in Loveland. There are no water boilers, no air conditioning units. Instead, the 60 units in the building are heated and cooled by a geothermal exchange system and hot water to faucets comes from a solar collector system on the roof…

    So how does it work? Temperatures below the earth’s surface remain unchanged throughout the year. By capturing that water and pumping it through a buried loop system, a heat exchange either cools the water down or heats it up. There are five closed loop heat exchange systems located in the basement of the Mirasol Phase II building, and the thermostat inside each unit dictates the action of the heat exchange…

    Geothermal exchange systems can also be used to heat and cool homes but carry a hefty price tag, largely because of the need for wells to access the underground water. At Mirasol, 36 holes 500 feet deep were drilled where the parking lot is currently located, according to Joe Boeckenstedt of Pinkard Construction Co., which was the general contractor for the Phase II project.

    Of the $13.4 million to build Mirasol Phase II, the solar panels and the geothermal exchange cost about $460,000, according to Loveland Housing Authority maintenance supervisor Bill Rumley, who said the agency expects to see a return on investment for the alternative energies within a decade.

    More geothermal coverage here.


    Arkansas Valley Conduit update: Project caught up in the federal Record of Decision slog

    January 21, 2014
    Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation

    Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Plans for the Arkansas Valley Conduit continue to be in a holding pattern. Federal processes have slowed the completion of a record of decision for the conduit, a master storage contract and interconnection of outlets on Pueblo Dam.

    The conduit is a plan to bring clean drinking water to 40 communities and 50,000 people from St. Charles Mesa to Lamar.

    The master contract would allow conduit users and others to purchase long-term storage in Lake Pueblo, while the cross-connection would give water users redundancy of water supply sources.

    An environmental impact study was finalized in August, but changes in the Bureau of Reclamation leadership and a federal shutdown have delayed the ROD for five months, said Christine Arbogast, lobbyist for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsors of the projects.

    “Five months seems like a long time, but it’s looking good,” Arbogast said.

    She said a decision could be made in a few weeks.

    The lack of the ROD for the projects means very little work is progressing.

    “Anything moving forward will be on hold until we get to the point where we have a ROD,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district.

    This year’s federal budget includes $1 million for the conduit, but larger appropriations are needed in future years to move the project ahead.

    More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


    ‘There’s a real urgency to this. We only have two years before wells are shut down’ — LeRoy Salazar

    January 20, 2014
    Acequia San Antonio via Judy Gallegos

    Acequia San Antonio via Judy Gallegos

    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    A water purchase nearly four decades ago may provide a major solution in the current challenge to keep farmers in business in the San Luis Valley. Representatives from the San Luis Valley Irrigation Well Owners Inc. received unanimous support from the Rio Grande Interbasin Roundtable on Tuesday to perform a feasibility study to see if surface water rights they own can be used to offset depletion requirements for various groundwater management sub-districts throughout the Valley. The budget for the study is $180,000, with the local roundtable approving $8,000 of its basin funding for the project and supporting a request for $142,000 in statewide funds, which will be considered at the state level in March. The well owners group will provide $30,000 as its match.

    The nonprofit well owners corporation was formed in 1973 to address groundwater rules and regulations that appeared imminent at the time, SLV Irrigation Well Owners Vice President Monty Smith told members of the Valley-wide roundtable group on Tuesday. In preparation for the rules/regs at that time, the well owners group, comprised of people who own irrigation wells, began an augmentation plan that incorporated the purchase of Taos Valley #3 water rights on the San Antonio River for augmentation water, Smith added.

    “The augmentation plan was never completed and never needed to be used,” Smith explained.

    “Thirty eight years later we find ourselves in a situation where we need to use that water and we need to complete the project.”

    He added, “We feel this water is an absolutely crucial piece of our replacement for not only the Conejos area but it provides benefit for the entire basin. We need to figure how it can best be used.”

    Agro Engineering Engineer Kirk Thompson provided more information about this potential water project and its importance to Valley water users, especially now that state groundwater rules and regulations for the Rio Grande Basin will soon be promulgated. Thompson said the Taos Valley #3 water rights were a relatively junior water right on the San Antonio dating to 1889. They were originally adjudicated for 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) and used for irrigation and storage. Since that time, however, a portion of the water rights was abandoned, leaving 245 cfs, which is what the well owners bought in 1976 for their augmentation plan. They converted 230 cfs of the 245 cfs total from irrigation to augmentation water and left the remaining 15 cfs in irrigation, Thompson explained. The well owners are considering converting that 15 cfs into augmentation water as well.

    The well owners bought the water for the purpose of augmenting injurious depletions in the streams resulting from well pumping, Thompson said. Since 1976, the 230 cfs, also known as the Middlemist water, has been left in the San Antonio for the benefit of the entire river system, Thompson said. Since the state did not promulgate groundwater rules in the 1970’s , there was no formal requirement for augmentation in the intervening 38 years, he added.

    Since this was a junior water right, some years the Middlemist water produced zero effect on the river system, and in other years it provided as much as 29,000 acre feet, Thompson said. Most years averaged about 10,000 acre feet of water from this water right to the river systems.

    “This is a significantly large amount of water we are talking about and a valuable consideration as we move forward,” Thompson said.

    Thompson reminded the attendees at the Tuesday roundtable meeting that the state is in the process of promulgating rules governing groundwater use in the San Luis Valley, and wells will no longer be allowed to pump unless their injurious depletions to surface rights are covered in a groundwater management sub-district or augmentation plan. Thompson said the state engineer’s goal is to have the rules/regulations to the water court by this spring, and Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Division Engineer Craig Cotten confirmed that in his report to the roundtable.

    Cotten also confirmed that the well owners’ augmentation plan would have to go back to court, since it never was finalized in the ’70’s . The plan would have to be more specific on how it would provide augmentation and would have to prove it could deliver water where it needed to go, he said.

    Thompson said the well owners group wants to perfect its Middlemist/Taos Valley #3 water right so that water can be used for augmentation purposes in a way that will benefit well owners in sub-districts throughout the Valley. Individual augmentation plans for every well owner would not be realistic at this point, so most well owners plan to join sub-districts as a means of meeting the pending state regulations. The purpose of the well owners’ project is to consider ways in which their surface water right could benefit those sub-districts , Thompson explained.

    “As of today, there’s certainly not enough augmentation water currently perfected to go around and ” will be in very short supply and probably at high value,” Thompson said.

    He said the average total depletions that well owners throughout the entire basin will have to replace will be about 30,000 acre feet every year. If the approximately 10,000 acre feet the Middlemist water produces every year could be used to offset those depletions, it could amount to about a third of the annual requirement.

    Smith said, “This is a way to carry on our living and our way of life that we all enjoy in this Valley and to keep the Valley a viable place to live. I have farmed my entire life. I am third generation. My goal is to be able to continue to preserve my wells, to replace my injuries to the streams. This is one piece in that puzzle to bring that all together.”

    The group asked the roundtable for help in funding a hydrologic feasibility study to consider the potential for using the Taos Valley #3 water for either surface water storage or groundwater recharge. Thompson said storage options are limited, so he believed recharge was a more viable option. The feasibility study would look at how the recharge could be accomplished so the water would go into the ground where it was needed to replace injurious depletions. The study would look at both confined and unconfined recharge options..

    Those who will be involved in conducting the feasibility study will be Thompson of Agro Engineering, Eric Harmon of HRS Water Consultants, Allen Davey of Davis Engineering and in an advisory capacity, Steve Vandiver of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District , the sponsoring entity for the water management sub-districts .

    The study would be the first of a multi-phased project . Phase 2 would look at physical infrastructure to get surface water where it needs to go, and the third phase would involve the court process to perfect the water right as an augmentation right, Thompson explained.

    He said the well owners want to begin some wintertime well monitoring right away, using their $30,000 match. They want to begin this study as soon as possible since Harmon envisions the feasibility phase as taking a full year.

    “If we don’t have the feasibility done this year we are talking another one or two years to get into the courts,” Thompson said. “If rules are released this spring, the subdistricts are under the gun to get formed and under the gun to find sources of water to replace injurious depletions in short order.”

    LeRoy Salazar added, “There’s a real urgency to this. We only have two years before wells are shut down ” We don’t have a lot of time.”

    Salazar said this project is key to replacing injurious depletions to surface water rights; creating a sustainable water table; and maintaining the Valley’s economy.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


    South Platte Basin: Irrigators hope HB12-1278 study will help curtail pumping curtailment

    January 15, 2014
    HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

    HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

    From KUNC (Grace Hood):

    Many Northern Colorado wells were shutdown, or access to them was reduced, by a 2006 Colorado Supreme Court ruling. Other owners had to follow augmentation plans, spending thousands of dollars to replace water they’ve taken out of the South Platte River.

    Prompting the study was the issue of high groundwater in some locations along the river. When some farmers weren’t allowed to pump, homeowners were starting to see flooding in their basements.

    Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute spent more than a year holding stakeholder meetings and researching the 209-page report [.pdf] — much of it before last year’s flooding. The report found a connection between the lack of pumping and required augmentation plans. It also said the system helped to protect senior surface water rights from injury.

    The study proposes reintroducing well pumping as a way to manage the issue in specific locations like Gilcrest and Sterling. Other CWI recommendations call for more data collection abilities for the Colorado Division of Water Resources and a basin wide entity focused on more flexible management of water rights…

    Longtime farmer Bob Sakata poked at the augmentation policy requiring well owners to cover past depletion of surface water. He thinks the situation was improved by the September floodwater.

    “We should not have to pay past depletion,” said Sakata to applause. “That is the biggest nonsense there is in the rule.”

    Republican State Senator and gubernatorial hopeful Greg Brophy enthusiastically took on the issue of erasing all past well debt along the South Platte.

    “I agree with you guys,” Brophy said, announcing plans to co-sponsor a bill with Democratic Rep. Randy Fisher to wipe out those past pumping depletions as of Sept. 12, 2013.

    Scientists question just how much September’s floods filled up the South Platte’s aquifers.

    Colorado Water Institute Director Reagan Waskom says that floodwater replenishment may be true for wells right next to the South Platte. But that’s not the case miles away from the river.

    “The groundwater data outside of the river floodplain was not affected by the flood,” Waskom said.

    Meantime, Colorado legislators will need to introduce other bills to implement the recommendations of the Colorado Water Institute.

    Rep. Randy Fisher says study recommendations that require funding — like proposed pilot projects in Gilcrest and Sterling — will require follow up…

    In the last decade, [Nursery owner Gene Kamerzell] says state management of water rights has become more political than scientific, and farmers are suffering.

    “A lot of our friends have gone out of business,” Kamerzell said. “We have friends that have large operations that have relocated to New Mexico because the water policy in this state isn’t being managed right.”

    Kamerzell hopes that the scientific report and the proposed legislation will help restore a different balance. Along with most things in Colorado water policy though, he knows it can take years — not days — to measure progress.

    More South Platte 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.”


    Sterling: ‘The plant is doing what it was built to do’ — Jim Allen

    January 12, 2014
    Reverse Osmosis Water Plant

    Reverse Osmosis Water Plant

    From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Sara Waite):

    …Allen said they have yet to receive any reports of discolored water, and there is no evidence of issues with lines breaking due to the new water. He said he didn’t believe a problem last week with the service line to Pizza Hut was due to the water treatment system, although he acknowledged it would be hard to prove either way. But, he said, when the problem arose and city crews dug up the line, they found it was an old lead service line, which they usually replace anyway with newer materials.

    Allen was reluctant to talk about the probability of those problems — he said he doesn’t like to discuss things he doesn’t want to happen — but he was happy to report that the uranium levels in the water, which prompted the need for the new treatment plant, are falling. The membranes (in the reverse osmosis system) are working, he said.

    He said that the newly treated water likely has not fully replaced the “old” water in the system, as it has to cycle through the storage tanks and into the water service. The timeline on that depends on the volume of water in storage and usage.

    The water is safe to drink, he reiterated.

    “The plant is doing what it was built to do,” he said.


    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.


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