#ColoradoRiver supply concerns mounting — The Durango Herald #drought

September 29, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The water in Navajo Reservoir could play a role in meeting Colorado River Compact obligations in the event of continued drought, said Bruce Whitehead, director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

Release of water to Lake Powell from Navajo Reservoir, Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River in Utah and Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River is one of three measures his district and the Colorado River District want implemented if water storage in the network that supplies seven Western states approaches crisis level, Whitehead said.

The other measures call for increasing the amount of water available and, lastly, reducing use.

“We’re not in crisis now,” Whitehead said. “The 2013-2014 water year has been almost normal as far as the amount of water in Lake Powell.

“But the reality is that in spite of some good water years, we’re in a 15-year drought,” Whitehead said. “We need a plan to meet a crisis if the same conditions continue.”

The three measures to meet a critical water shortage came out of a recent meeting of Southwestern and the Colorado River District, which between them cover the Western Slope.

The recommendations went to the Upper Colorado River Commission, which regulates water matters in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, the Upper Basin states that supply Arizona, Nevada and California, the Lower Basin states…

The concern about Lake Powell is that if water drops below the level needed to generate electricity, federal agencies would lose $120 million a year in power sales.

The revenue from power sales funds among other things environmental programs such as protecting fish species in the San Juan River, Whitehead said.

If the water level in Lake Powell allows generation of power, there should be enough water to satisfy the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Whitehead said.

Again, Whitehead said, Lake Powell and Lake Mead aren’t at critical levels. But the Upper Colorado River Commission and counterparts in Lower Basin states are looking at what-if situations.

Thus, the recommendations from his district and the Colorado River District, Whitehead said…

Measures to increase the amount of water available through cloud seeding, removal of water-hungry nonnative vegetation such tamarisk and Russian olive and evaporation-containment methods are a first step, Whitehead said.

A second early step, Whitehead said, would be the release to Lake Powell of water from Navajo, Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge reservoirs which, respectively, have acre-feet capacities of 1.7 million, 829,500 and 3.79 million.

The contributions of Navajo and Blue Mesa could be less than optimal because of contractual obligations, Whitehead said. Blue Mesa also generates electricity.

If the first two steps aren’t enough, water users would be affected directly, Whitehead said. The consumption of cities and agricultural users would be reduced. Fallowing of fields also could be required.

The two commissions said if water for agriculture is reduced, the loss must be shared by Colorado River water users on the Front Range.

Front Range users receive 500,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water a year from Colorado River transmountain diversions, Whitehead said.

Another transmountain diversion sends 90,000 to 100,000 acre-feet a year to the San Juan/Chama Project from the Blanco and Navajo rivers, Whitehead said. Users in Santa Fe and Albuquerque benefit.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


It All Comes Down to Water: Justice Hobbs Meanders Through Water Law — the Watch

September 28, 2014
Land Office Map of Colorado (1902) via Greg Hobbs

Land Office Map of Colorado (1902) via Greg Hobbs

From the Watch (Samantha Wright):

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs’ favorite tool for teaching about the history of water law in Colorado is the Land Office Map of 1902. All of the forces at play that shaped Colorado’s water-scape today are there to see, from Indian reservations to homesteads to growing cities and vast forested watersheds out of which plummet the headwaters of great rivers that flow on journeys toward the sea.

Some pink blobby areas near the bottom of the map signify the Mexican Land Grants. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo required the United States to recognize the rights of the settlers on those lands – including their age-old water rights.

The town of San Luis, one of the oldest communities in Colorado, lies within one of these pink blobs in the heart of the Sangre De Cristo Grant. And here, at the south end of town, Hobbs said reverently, “You can see the 1852 People’s Ditch.”

San Luis People's Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain

San Luis People’s Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain

Serving the village of San Luis de la Culebra before Colorado was even a territory, let along a state, the People’s Ditch began as a hand-dug irrigation channel and was later widened by oxen pulling a plow. It was one of many acequias (gravity-fed ditches) in the San Luis Valley, allowing agriculture to flourish through a water-sharing network originally based on equitable allocation, rather than priority.

This “beautiful ditch” that delivers water from the west side of the towering Sangre de Cristo range to the dry lands of the San Luis Valley holds a special place in Hobbs’ heart. That’s because it holds the very first adjudicated water rights in Colorado – rights that Hobbs has been sworn to uphold through his role as a Colorado Supreme Court Justice.

The People’s Ditch still serves water users today, irrigating approximately 2100 acres of hay and other row crops.

It was only one stop in Hobbs’ romp through Colorado’s water history and law, delivered as a keynote address at the Annual Water 101 Seminar hosted in Telluride on Monday, Sept. 21. The annual seminar is an outreach program coordinated by the Durango-based Water Information Program.

Other stops along the way ranged from an ancient (long dried-up) ditch-fed reservoir near Mesa Verde that is believed to be one of the oldest water supply structures in North America (“This just proves the Mormons and miners invented water law,” Hobbs quipped); to utopian agricultural communities along the Poudre River where the doctrine of public ownership subject to allocation for beneficial use (basically “We were here first – put the water back!”) was first hashed out; to Glorieta Pass in northern New Mexico, where in 1862 a ragtag bunch of Colorado farmers and miners “made the Texans go back to Texas.”

This decisive western battle of the Civil War thwarted the dreams of a Confederate stronghold in the southwest, and paved the path for continued settlement of the region under Union terms via the Railroad Act, Homestead Act, and various land grants.

It all fits into Hobbs’ intricate and nuanced understanding of the complexities of Colorado water law, which evolved alongside the evolution of Colorado as a territory carved out of surrounding states, “to hold against confederates the whole area where gold might be found.”

While Colorado’s headwaters, along with its gold, are high in the mountains, the roots of its system of prior appropriation and the beneficial use of water can be traced to the Eastern Plains, Hobbs said.

Simply put, the system evolved out of the need of Front Range farmers to have the assurance they could raise crops on intermittently arid lands to feed the miners and residents of growing cities, on a landscape where water must be conveyed great distances via rivers and ditches across other peoples’ property, to reach one’s crops.

Thus, as irrigators in an arid land, the foundation of Colorado’s water law is the right to cross intervening private and public lands to build a ditch to get water where you need it, “because if an intervening land owner could block your ditch you could not perfect a water use right,” Hobbs explained.

As Hobbs wrote in his “Colorado Water Law Summary,” the water provisions of the state’s 1876 Constitution laid out four key principals that are still in place today, that together comprise the Prior Appropriation Doctrine:

  • All surface and groundwater within Colorado is owned by the public and dedicated to the use of the people through water rights established as prescribed by laws of Colorado and the United States;
  • Court decrees and groundwater permits enforced by state water officials define the right of water use for a wide variety of agricultural, municipal, commercial, recreational and instream flow purposes (together described as “beneficial uses”);
  • Water users paying just compensation may obtain a right-of-way across the lands of others for the construction and operation of needed diversion, conveyance and storage structures;
  • The streams and aquifers can be used to transport and store water without interference by riparian landowners.
  • “It’s a doctrine of scarcity, not of plenty,” Hobbs said, and it has held up well over the years, largely thanks to Colorado’s groundbreaking 1881 legislation that set up an administrative and judicial system to enforce priority rights.

    Hobbs will be turning 70 this December, and is retiring from the court in Aug. 2015. As a Colo. Supreme Court Justice, he has fully embraced his role as final arbiter in water disputes, which in Colorado bypass the Court of Appeals and ascend straight from the state’s seven water courts to the Supreme Court level…

    Greg Hobbs, Dick Bratton, Jim Pokrandt

    Greg Hobbs, Dick Bratton, Jim Pokrandt

    A poet, author and historian who has taught water history and culture throughout the country as well as in the Netherlands and France, Hobbs is particularly well-versed in the bipolar nature of Colorado, and its “80 percent problem” – stemming from the fact that 80 percent of Colorado’s water is on the Western Slope, and (almost) 80 percent of its population on the Front Range.

    Adding to the complexity of this problem, Colorado’s waters spill off the Continental Divide and flow to the Gulf of Mexico and (sometimes) the Sea of Cortez, with 19 states including Colorado dependent upon this snowmelt.

    Nine interstate compacts ensure equitable apportionment of water among the states that share the system; Colorado is only permitted to consume about one third of the water that arises in the state and must ensure that the remainder stays in the rivers for downstate water users.

    These compacts will be tested in the years to come, with the predicted gap between demand and supply, and some states like California already in crisis.

    As Hobbs said, “It all comes down to water.”

    More water law coverage here.


    Water: Does the Colorado River compact need tweaking?

    September 27, 2014

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    ‘Demand-cap’ concept could avert a compact call

    The time to address water planning is before the reservoir run dry.

    The time to address water planning is before the reservoir run dry.

    By Bob Berwyn

    FRISCO — Water managers in the Southwest are considering all sorts of options to address what is expected to become a huge shortage of water in the Colorado River Basin. But one path they haven’t explored in detail is a fundamental re-allocation of water between the Upper Basin and Lower Basin states.

    That reluctance is understandable. Since 1922, the Colorado River Compact has functioned to the satisfaction of all the states using Colorado River Water. But persistently lower-than-average flows, the looming threat of an overall shortage and the uncertainties of climate change may require a new way of thinking, said Doug Kenney, head of the Colorado River Governance Initiative.

    View original 1,029 more words


    #ColoradoRiver District seminar recap

    September 27, 2014

    From KREXTV.com (Brian Germ):

    The Colorado River District held its annual seminar on Friday [September 18] at Two Rivers Convention Center to discuss water issues concerning the Colorado River Basin.

    Each year, there is a certain topic of discussion at the seminar involving development plans or water-allocation. This year, District leaders and speakers focused on agriculture efficiency and conservation when it comes to water. Some of the challenges that are facing agriculture water users include climate change and drought.

    The Colorado River District encourages the public and representatives to voice their opinions and get involved with them. They say it’s important to talk about the water in the Colorado River Basin and its use, priorities, and development.

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Amy Hadden Marsh):

    What would the Colorado River and Roaring Fork valleys look like without the ranches and farms? That question has been haunting me ever since I attended the Colorado River District’s water seminar in Grand Junction last week. Close to 300 people listened to speakers Brad Udall, of the Colorado Water Institute, Jeff Lukas, lead author of a report about how climate change could effect water management in the state, CSU’s Perry Cabot, Aaron Citron of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Mark Harris of the Grand Valley Water Users Association and author Kevin Fedarko.

    Agriculture is a large part of life on the West Slope. But, it’s not just about bucolic landscapes; it’s also about what goes on behind the scenery – the rural lifestyle and economy that depend on agriculture to survive as well as a healthy, natural environment that supports animals, plants, and humans.

    So, what could make West Slope farms and ranches disappear? No water. Or, at least, not enough water, which is what experts from all sectors agree could very well be Colorado’s future.

    Here’s the numbers part. The Colorado River serves about 40 million people right now. But, that won’t always be the case. Two years ago, the Bureau of Reclamation issued the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, which predicted a population increase anywhere from 9.3 million to 36.5 million people within the Colorado River Basin. That means the amount of people living in the seven basin states could almost double within the next four decades. As a result, says the study, we could be short 3.2 million acre-feet of water…

    …does that mean farmers and ranchers have to give up their livelihoods and thereby cause a domino effect around the rural West in order to satisfy Front Range urban needs?[...]

    Basically, the answer was “no” but, according to most of the speakers, that doesn’t mean ag folks and Front Range municipal water users should stand on their respective ends of the tug ‘o war rope, arms akimbo, refusing to budge. “Efficiency” and “conservation” were the buzzwords of the day, meaning everyone basically needs to use less water. That’s sort of a no-brainer but the real conundrum is getting everyone to agree on what that looks like.

    EDF’s Aaron Citron writes a sort of ag blog for the organization’s website and he said he thought people would laugh at the idea. When I asked him why, he said that in the West, environmentalists are seen as anti-agriculture or anti-growth. But, he added, that is changing. And, it’s all because of water.

    “As we talk about the future of water in the West,” he said, “there really is an important alignment between agriculture who want to keep water in place and tend to be some of the best stewards of the land and environmentalists and conservationists who also want to see the protection of open space and who want to keep water in place.”

    In other words, environmentalists and ranchers can be friends. And, in terms of the West’s water future, they have to be…

    Solutions at this point are experimental and include new irrigation techniques and incentives to use them, and efficiency technology like smart ditches and soil monitoring. But, what it comes down to is education, open-mindedness (particularly about climate change), agreement, and respect.

    More Colorado River Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Engineering and Water Practice Under the “New” Water Court Rules: From All Perspectives – CLE, October 17

    September 23, 2014

    Lower Ark board meeting recap: “We’re trying to see if a lease-fallowing program is viable” — Jay Winner

    September 18, 2014

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board last week approved a pilot project that will provide the town of Fowler water from several farms on the Catlin Canal over the next 10 years. The project is the first to be attempted under 2013 legislation, HB1248, that authorized demonstration projects that determine if lease-fallowing projects are a viable alternative to permanent dry-up of farms. It is also the first test of the viability of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

    Participating farms would be dried up no more than three years of the next 10 in order to supply 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons) annually to Fowler. Seven farms with 1,128 acres will be dried up on a rotational basis to provide the water under a plan filed by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

    The CWCB reviewed comments on the project expressing concern from Aurora, the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado Beef, a Lamar feed lot. The comments were similar to filings made in the past in water court cases that sought to permanently change water rights. Most expressed concern that their water rights would not be injured by the program and sought to assure that measurements in the program are accurate. Some were supportive of the program and all wanted to be notified of progress or changes in the program.

    “We’re trying to see if a lease-fallowing program is viable,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We’re trying to keep the water in the Arkansas basin. That’s what it’s all about.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    How much water is staying down on the farm?

    The state will spend $175,000 to study the amount of water returning to the Arkansas River from fields on the Fort Lyon Canal. That will be matched with $50,000 from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved the grant last week as a way to address contentions from farmers that the amount of tailwater return to the Arkansas River has been overestimated. The outcome could affect the formulas used by the Colorado Division of Water Resources in administering the Arkansas River Compact and rules that govern wells or surface irrigation. It could also make more water available to farmers to lease under the Super Ditch or other rotational lease-fallow programs.

    The grant was approved in July by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

    The state now recognizes a 10 percent return of water from fields, or tailwater, that are flood irrigated. That water must be replaced under state rules adopted during the 24-year Kansas v. Colorado court case.

    The Fort Lyon Canal is 100 miles long and irrigates 94,000 acres, so farmers contend water soaks into the ground and never makes it to the river. It is anticipated that the collection and analysis of data will take about two years to complete, at which time further work could be contemplated.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Leaky ponds are good news for farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley. The second year of a pond study in a normal water year is showing similar results as last year, when drought gripped the region.

    “We’re not seeing a significant difference,” said Brian Lauritsen, a consultant on the study being funded through the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Water leakage on more than 20 ponds averaged about 20 percent this year, compared with 18 percent last year. Most are on the Fort Lyon Canal. It had been thought the numbers would be higher when the ground was drier.

    “Usually, you don’t want to see ponds leaking,” said Jack Goble, engineer for the Lower Ark district.

    But in this case, there is a chance the state will adjust its formula used to determine how much water irrigators owe for return flows that are reduced through more efficient irrigation techniques such as sprinklers. More leakage means less water owed to the river.

    The Lower Ark also has built two ponds on the Catlin Canal designed specifically to leak. Called recharge ponds, they are designed to return water to the Arkansas River over time, the way that water flows through the aquifer in farming operations. One pond fills part of the need for Rule 10 surface irrigation plans, while the other is credited to Rule 14 well plans. One pond contributed 135 acre-feet (44 million gallons) in a month, while the other leaked 120 acre-feet (40 million gallons) in 21 days.

    “I hope we’re able to get more of these ponds, especially in the lower part of the basin,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark District.

    More HB13-1248 coverage here. More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Fountain Creek flood mitigation dam(s) and the issue of prior appropriation

    September 4, 2014
    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A discussion about water rights, the first step to looking at building dams or detention ponds on Fountain Creek, is moving ahead. The project is being coordinated by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, and would fit in with a larger study looking at flood control on Fountain Creek.

    It’s a hot-button issue with farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley, who see the capture of flood flows on Fountain Creek as a threat to junior water rights. At an Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting last month, the need for a water rights study killed a proposal to look at the feasibility of building dams.

    A $58,000 program by the Fountain Creek district will look at just the water rights issue. It will be funded by Colorado Springs Utilities, Pueblo West, Security, Fountain, the Pueblo Board of Water Works and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, with in-kind support from Utilities and the Fountain Creek district. The process will bring together downstream water rights holders and state officials in a series of meetings to identify how water rights could be harmed by projects meant to provide public safety and what action could be taken to mitigate the damage.

    All of the questions about how water moves throughout the Arkansas River basin would not be answered, but some ways to provide water through releases from Lake Pueblo or by timing releases from Fountain Creek structures would be explored, said Mark Shea, Fountain Creek point man for Utilities.

    “There could be other beneficial uses, providing waterfowl or fish habitat, and allowing flood flows to be exchanged up Fountain Creek,” Shea said.

    Melissa Esquibel, Pueblo board member of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, said the Lower Ark also should be involved in the project.

    “There is a lot mistrust and misinformation, so we need to take the right path,” she said. “There are legitimate concerns that arise from past issues.”

    Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart agreed.

    “If we are perceived as an 800-pound gorilla, we’ll get nowhere,” Hart said. “We’re talking about people and their livelihoods.”

    Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya, who chairs the Fountain Creek board, said the dialogue is an opportunity to balance public safety and the need to protect water rights.

    “We need to rebuild trust,” she said.

    More prior appropriation coverage here.


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