Chris Woodka is at the Colorado Water Congress’ annual summer shindig up in Steamboat Springs. Yesterday the interim water resources review committee met and implementing last session’s HB13-1248 was part of the discussion. Here’s Mr. Woodka’s report:
Lawmakers are hoping a bill that would expand opportunities for demonstrating projects that share water between farms and cities is implemented as quickly as possible. The interim water resources review committee Wednesday heard from the prime backers of SB-1248, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Super Ditch, on the need for it.
“I think this is about having a conversation about keeping agriculture vital in the Arkansas River basin,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark District.
“Agricultural-municipal transfers have to become the preferred alternative, rather than continued buy-and-dry,” added Peter Nichols, attorney for both the Lower Ark and Super Ditch.
At the heart of the bill is an attempt to streamline state procedures in order to allow transfers to occur on a short-term, limited basis, said Kevin Rein, deputy director for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Winner said the current structure of law and engineering hung up a pilot project to transfer 250 acre-feet (81 million gallons) last year over the timing of delivery of 23 gallons in the 74th month of return flows. The new law gave the Colorado Water Conservation Board authority to look at programs that could sidestep those types of issues in order to allow water users to work out details of such plans. Rein said the CWCB should develop criteria and guidelines by November.
Legislators want the program to be implemented soon and smoothly. “My concern is that CWCB is on board to implement it in as timely fashion as possible and that we’re not going back to rehashing arguments made against HB1248 when we were passing it,” said Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, chairman of the House ag committee.
The arguments included that it bypassed water court proceedings meant to prevent injury to other water users. The bill also has been criticized because it disallows transfers only from the Colorado River and Rio Grande basins, while ignoring more exports from the Arkansas River basin.
“I want to make sure there is the opportunity for public input, comments and concerns,” Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, said. “There needs to be the opportunity for the public to weigh in.”
More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
The U.S. Forest Service is evaluating its policies as it deals with the damage from two years of large wildfires in Colorado and other Western states. “The unfortunate side effect of fires is flood and mud,” Dan Jiron, regional forester for the Forest Service told the interim water resources review committee of the state Legislature Wednesday. He cited recent damage in Manitou Springs from last year’s Waldo Canyon Fire as an example.
In Colorado, 60 percent of the water that affects the population comes off Forest Service lands. “We still have a very active fire season,” Jiron said. “Even though there were large fires earlier, we continue to fight fires every day. The Forest Service is looking at partnerships, as well as redirecting resources, to mitigate large fires and prevent future blazes, he said.
About $500,000 already has gone into rehabilitation of the West Fork Complex near Creede, which has been difficult because much of the fire was in steep canyons in an inaccessible wilderness area. That’s part of $35 million in resources the Forest Service has put into firefighting and remedial work in Colorado.
Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, questioned whether the Forest Service would look at changing policies in wilderness areas to allow more proactive thinning. “We were west of the West Fork Complex and it looked like an atomic bomb cloud,” she said.
“It would not have been safe to put firefighters on the ground at West Fork,” Jiron said. While firefighters are sometimes deployed in wilderness areas, the steep slopes in the West Fork Complex were more of a factor than wilderness declaration. “A lot of Forest Service land is not in wilderness,” he said.
Partnerships with timber companies, utilities, counties and water districts are providing more proactive protection in areas prone to fires, Jiron added. “It’s important how we pull together at a regional level to put resources in place, to be proactive and to protect communities,” committee chairwoman Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, said. “We are at a very important juncture. This is critical.”
More HB13-1248 coverage here.