Click here for the summaries for this week. Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary.
From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel) via the Cortez Journal:
Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, won unanimous support for Senate Bill [13-041] in the agriculture committee. Her bill counteracts a 2011 court ruling on the Yampa River that said reservoir owners can’t get an absolute right to water in their reservoirs unless it is all put to a “beneficial use.”
Colorado law has a “use it or lose it” approach to water, in order to prevent hoarding or speculation. But legislators and their allies in the water business think the court took that doctrine to an extreme…
Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said that unless the bill passes and reverses the Supreme Court ruling, utilities would have to suck their reservoirs dry before they could get new water rights…
The bill declares that storing water for firefighting and drought mitigation is a beneficial use, and it says water rights can’t be considered to be abandoned when the water is in long-term storage.
More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.
From The Aspen Times (Janet Urquhart):
According to weather data tracked by the Aspen Water Department, 80 percent of January’s snow fell during the final week of the month, providing a string of powder days on the slopes and keeping the month out of the top five driest Januarys on record. Still, last month nearly cracked the top 20 with a total snowfall that was well short of average. The Water Department measured 18.3 inches of snowfall at the town’s water plant, located at an elevation of 8,161 feet, for the month. The average is 25.9 inches…
Last week’s snows helped boost the statewide snowpack to 75 percent of normal thanks to huge dumps that added several feet of new snow to parts of Colorado, including the southwest mountains (Telluride reported nearly 3 feet by Thursday), the Grand Mesa and the Steamboat Springs area…
Snowpack in the Roaring Fork Basin stood at 63 percent of average on Sunday. It was at 60 percent of average on Independence Pass, southeast of Aspen, and at 76 percent of average on North Lost Trail, outside Marble, according to the conservation service.
By comparison, the snowpack in the river basins of southwest Colorado — the Dolores-San Miguel and San Juan — stood at 75 and 74 percent of average, respectively. The Yampa/White River basin, including Steamboat Springs, was at 78 percent of average, and the Upper Colorado River headwaters, which encompass ski resorts that include Vail and Copper Mountain, was at 72 percent.
From the High Country News (Sarah Jane Keller):
“Normal” climate is often measured in 30-year increments, adapted every decade by many weather-watching organizations. Until recently, Morrisey’s NRCS, whose SNOTEL sites track Western snowpack, used 1971-2000 as its standard. Now, however, it uses 1981-2010, meaning precipitation averages exclude the 1970s’ wet years. Instead, the dry 2000s have replaced them, so this year’s Western snowpack conditions may sound better than they are. This affects far more than peeved powder hounds; irrigators and rafters hoping to avoid parched crops and rocky rivers will have to adjust their notions about what a normal snowpack is.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A water developer who is planning to build reservoirs along the Arkansas River in Pueblo County says his plan is to cash in on the worldwide need for food. “I can’t attract investors with water,” said John McKowen, CEO of Two Rivers Water Co. “They are investing in food supply.”
McKowen talks about growing vegetables instead of corn and hay as a way to increase farm revenues, but admits he is not a farmer. “I’m a businessman,” he said. “If we can put the right structure together, we can attract the capital.”
McKowen already has raised about $44 million in the last five years since organizing a company to acquire farmland and reservoirs in Huerfano and Pueblo counties. He has restored farmland under the HuerfanoCucharas Ditch and under Orlando Reservoir. He bought a farm on the Bessemer Ditch, and is looking for more opportunities.
If all McKowen’s plans come together, he could create more than 100,000 acrefeet of storage space, which could be used for multiple purposes. He eventually plans to fallow some ground in order to sell some of the water as another source of revenue. He went into the venture knowing nothing about farming, but has found farmers, scientists and water professionals to improve his chances. Two Rivers was able to raise crops profitably during last year’s drought.
But some in the water community have expressed doubts because he is paying more for water than farmers should be able to pay. “Our first interest is to develop the water so we can support our agricultural interests on the Arkansas River,” McKowen said.
As for moving water permanently off the river, he flatly says he is not interested. “Moving water somewhere means you’re betting on the developers,” McKowen said. “Every developer I know is broke.”
From The Telluride Daily Planet (Heather Sackett):
Placer mining on the San Miguel River has recently come under the scrutiny of the Colorado Bureau of Land Management, but not for the methods described above [panning, metal detectors]. What the BLM says it’s worried about are suction dredges, which suck up sediment — and gold — from the river bottom, sometimes creating large holes in the process. The operation consists of a gas-powered dredge pump, hoses and a metal sluice box that filters sediment through screens. Sometimes a prospector will don a wetsuit and regulator and get into the water to help guide the hose.
BLM Uncompaghre Field Office Manager Barbara Sharrow says last fall her agency discovered several places where placer miners had been digging and dredging into the riverbanks, causing erosion and in some cases resulting in four-by-five-foot pits. If the holes aren’t filled in, the spring runoff causes the river to widen, Sharrow said. Some holes have been dug underneath trees, making it almost certain they will be washed away. The most popular places for placer mining on the San Miguel — and where the most damage is taking place — are near the Piñon River bridge, the Norwood bridge and around the town of Naturita.
“We are getting into some resource damage there,” Sharrow said. “We need to work closer with the clubs and a lot of individuals who go out. We need to come up with some options.”
To that end, the BLM is currently researching the issue and is planning on meeting with regional placer mining clubs this winter. Grand Junction and Olathe also have clubs. The meetings will also address claims and Sharrow encourages aspiring miners to get maps from the BLM office in Montrose.
[Toby Walker] said members of his club are good stewards of the river, and if they dig holes, they fill them in. The club also helps keep the waterways healthy by walking the banks and picking up trash during every outing, he said. “It just gives us all a bad name,” he said. “The people in our club are great. If they dig any holes, they fill them in. There’s always a bad seed that comes in.”
He said it would be a great idea for the BLM to come and present alongside the geologists, historians and other guest speakers at the group’s monthly meetings. “It would be great if they would come talk to us about the regulations and what they mean,” Walker said.
Sharrow is not against placer mining. But with gold prices high — an ounce is worth nearly $1,700 — the hobby is sure to continue to attract amateur prospectors. She said the activity has gotten more popular since the economy tanked. “It’s kind of a cool activity I think,” Sharrow said. “We need to work with the folks so we are not damaging the resources and we come to a good place there. That’s my goal.”
More restoration/reclamation coverage here.