2015 Colorado legislation: Farm to farm leasing bill to be introduced

March 1, 2015

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that would allow farmers to lease water to other farmers under rotational fallowing programs, such as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, is being planted in the state Legislature.

The bill does not yet have a number, but will be co-sponsored by Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, and Rep. Ed. Vigil, D-Fort Garland.

“We think it’s going to help farmers in the Arkansas River basin solve their own problems,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

The bill would modify HB1248, signed into law in 2013, to add agricultural, environmental, industrial and recreational uses to a state pilot program that allows 10 projects throughout Colorado. Three of those can be located in any one basin.

Pilot projects are overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and limited to fallowing only 30 percent of any given farm at a time for three years out of 10.

The bill allows only agricultural to municipal transfers, however. It passed in response to statewide concerns about a gap in future municipal water supplies.

The Lower Ark district funded a 2011 study that shows the agricultural demand for temporary water supplies — primarily water for augmentation of well- or surface-fed sprinklers — could be as much as 58,000 acre-feet (16 billion gallons) more each year by 2050.

There already is competition for supplemental water from traditional sources such as the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Aurora and Colorado Springs Utilities.

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch formed in 2008 as a way to pool the resources of Arkansas Valley canals to keep them from getting picked off by cities.

The Super Ditch is the only applicant under HB1248. It plans to lease up to 500 acre-feet of water to Fountain, Security and Fowler by drying up parts of 1,128 acres on seven farms on the Catlin Canal.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Arkansas Basin Roundtable recap: Focus on agriculture

February 25, 2015
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While its purpose is to find ways to fill the municipal water gap, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable wants to elevate the importance of agriculture. That was apparent in several actions at its monthly meeting this week.

The most obvious was the adoption of a statement proposed by Reeves Brown, a Beulah rancher and board member of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, that stresses the irrigated agriculture to tourism, food production, recreation, environment, general well-being and the economy.

The roundtable also selected a rural advocate rather than a water utilities manager for a vacancy on its executive committee.

Finally, it demanded more details from El Paso County interests seeking a state grant to determine if it would ultimately encourage more dry-up of agriculture.

“I would like to give my thanks to the roundtable for supporting agriculture. This is an important issue,” Brown said.

Support came without objection after Gary Barber, a consultant who chaired the roundtable until becoming a consultant for it, detailed years of projects that aimed at reducing buy-and-dry of farmland for municipal supply.

Some of those projects included : A 2005 Colorado State University study that assigned per-acre economic value for farm crops.

A 2008 template for community considerations developed by roundtable members.

An economic report that pegged farm losses from the 2011 drought at $100 million in the Arkansas Valley. That was followed in 2012 by a roundtable project that estimated the value of agriculture in the valley at $1.5 billion.

A 2013 workshop hosted by the roundtable that brought national speakers to discuss how ag water is valued.

The roundtable selected Sandy White, who touted his upbringing on a Wyoming Ranch and his desire to preserve agriculture, for vice president over Brett Gracely, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities. The vote was not close, 26-5.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


Cattlemen disheartened by Browns Canyon designation — The Mountain Mail

February 23, 2015
Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

From The Mountain Mail:

Officials with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) said in a press release they were “disheartened” to learn of the presidential declaration of Browns Canyon as a national monument.

“We worked in good faith with former Sen. Udall and others to find a way to prevent a presidential declaration,” Tim Canterbury, chair of the Public Lands Council, said in the release.

“Now, all we can do is ask for a seat at the table and hope that the voices of ranchers will be heard and respected in the designation’s implementation process,” he said.

After learning about the designation, CCA officials spoke to Sen. Michael Bennet and Gov. John Hickenlooper, both of whom agreed to work on ensuring grazing would continue without changes or restrictions.

According to the release, CCA will work to ensure the following points are included in the declaration and clarified:

  • Motorized access must continue to be allowed for permit administration, range improvements and water maintenance.
  • Explicit language must be written into the designation that allows sheep and cattle producers to trail their livestock to and from federal grazing allotments through portions of the designated area.
  • Weeds and weed control must also be addressed in the rules of implementation, particularly in headwaters areas.
  • Language must be included in the designation implementation to ensure that changes in the numbers of authorized livestock are based on facts and not the whim of individual land managers.
  • Language that would explicitly ensure permits will be transferable to new permittee/owners in the same manner as was the case prior to the designation of the national monument is also required.
  • Water rights must be expressly recognized in wilderness acts that further codify states’ water laws.
  • The changes must be applied throughout the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service so that administration at all levels carry out the intent of the law without personal deference that subsequently limits or harms livestock grazing through administrative bias.

    “We stand by the fact that a presidential declaration is not in the best interest of the agricultural community, and we sincerely hope that the president and his administration have heard our concerns and will ensure that the rule-making process addresses the concerns of landowners and ranchers,” said Canterbury.

    He emphasized the organization will keep pushing for legislation that will clarify grazing permit rights for Browns Canyon and any future designation.


    Pueblo Reservoir winter operations update

    February 23, 2015
    Pueblo dam releases

    Pueblo dam releases

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Water users are playing the annual guessing game of how much water will be in Lake Pueblo when it comes time to ensure enough space is left for flood protection.

    While there could be a slight chance for a spill, the Bureau of Reclamation is working with other water interests to reduce the odds.

    “The long-term forecast for this spring is for cooler temps and increased precipitation,” said Roy Vaughan, Reclamation’s local manager for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

    Right now the reservoir holds about 247,000 acre-feet, and at the current pace of filling would be at 267,000 acre-feet by April 15 — about 10,000 acre-feet above the limit for flood control.

    Of the total, nearly 49,000 acre-feet is in “if-and-when,” or excess capacity, accounts subject to spill if there is too much water in Lake Pueblo. Fry-Ark Project water would be the last to spill.

    However, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is again seeking a waiver to hold a little more water until May 1, the deadline for releasing about 14,500 acre-feet of holdover water.

    At the same time, flows below Pueblo Dam are increasing to balance the winter water program, Division Engineer Steve Witte said.

    “That’s not good news for the work that’s going on along the levee,” Witte said.

    Some winter water also is stored in John Martin Reservoir, which is very low, or in reservoirs owned by ditch companies. Winter water storage ends March 15 and is running close to the 20-year average for the first time in years.


    A look at the state of the whitewater business along the Arkansas River

    February 22, 2015

    raftingarkriver

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    A nearly 7 percent increase in Arkansas River rafting business last summer bodes well for a further rebound in the industry, yet some fear the river is slowly losing its share of the market. The Arkansas River reported 191,307 boaters last summer, up 6.6 percent from 2013, according to a report issued this week by the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

    While the Arkansas River remains the most rafted river in the state by a large margin, it has lost about 3 percent of its market share to other rivers, according to the rafters group.

    Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

    Clear Creek watershed map via the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation

    One river showing big gains is Clear Creek west of Denver. Clear Creek reported 72,224 rafters last summer, up from 61,172 in 2013 and 35,422 in 2012.

    “Clear Creek has been drawing substantially because of its convenience to Denver,” said the outfitter association’s Joe Greiner of Wilderness Aware Rafting in Buena Vista. “They are taking more (of the) people who used to come to the Arkansas River from Denver.”

    The main staging area for Clear Creek rafting is Idaho Springs on Interstate 70.

    Greiner said rafting on the Arkansas remains “well off its peak” of just over 252,000 customers in 2001. That peak was followed by an all-time low of 139,178 boaters during the drought year of 2002.

    It was a plunge that the local industry hasn’t fully rebounded from. In 2007, the river came close with 239,887 boaters. Then came the Great Recession and a string of summers marred by drought and wildfires.

    Rafting is big business.

    The $23.7 million in direct 2014 expenditures on Arkansas River rafting multiplies to an overall economic impact of $60.7 million when spending for items like lodging, gas and food is factored into the equation.

    Greiner credits strong water flows and the absence of major wildfires as big contributors to the increased business last summer. Last summer’s river-related deaths totaled 11 — three of which were attributed to commercial rafting accidents — but were not seen as scaring away business.

    “The public is more educated and not reacting to headlines like they used to. People are taking responsibility for which section of the river they choose based on their physical limitations, river conditions and experience,” Greiner said.

    If the Arkansas River is to get back to its past peak season of 250,000 customers, Greiner thinks the Browns Canyon national monument status designation would do the trick. The canyon, located between Salida and Buena Vista, is being considered for the federal status. [ed. President Obama signed the executive order designating Browns Canyon as a nation monument on February 19, 2015.]

    “It would put a star on the map and people would plan their trip around that. If they find out the best way to see the national monument is by raft I think it would improve the status of the river,” Greiner said.

    Friends of Browns Canyon have lobbied in Washington, D.C. and gotten positive feedback.

    “There is a good chance of it,” Greiner said.

    Another positive sign for this year’s rafting season is the snowpack.

    “It is in pretty good shape although it has been warm and we’ve lost some (snow), if you look at the three critical gauges, they are all above average,” Greiner said.

    Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

    Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org


    Arkansas Valley Conduit update: Only $500,000 so far in federal budget, Southeastern Water was hoping for $5.5 million this year

    February 20, 2015
    Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation

    Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit has flatlined in the federal budget. Striking a somber tone, Executive Director Jim Broderick broke the news Thursday to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. The district sought $5.5 million for the conduit in fiscal year 2016, but so far only $500,000 is included in a constricted federal budget.

    “It’s hard to pinpoint the reason for flatlining,” Broderick said. “But I think this is a short-term problem. … The issue isn’t that we’re dead in the water, we’re just going slow.”

    He speculated that the federal Office of Management and Budget frowned on the project because it has not yet begun moving dirt and a general policy that water-quality projects should involve the Environmental Protection Agency.

    The conduit progress has been overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation, which shifted funds this year to boost conduit funding to about $3 million. However, there may not be much money available.

    Reclamation had a $96 million budget for projects nationwide this year, but allocated $50 million to deal with California drought issues and $30 million to settle claims with American Indian tribes.

    District officials are continuing with attempts to encourage reprogramming federal money for the project. In the interim, the district will work closely with state officials to find money and analyze the workflow toward building the conduit.

    On a positive note, Broderick said the conduit could move up in the federal pipeline by 2019.

    The $400 million conduit would reach 132 miles from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads, and would serve 50,000 people in 40 communities. It was first authorized by Congress as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in 1962.

    More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


    Is dam seepage cause for alarm? — The Pueblo Chieftain

    February 20, 2015
    Clear Creek Dam via Colorado Guy

    Clear Creek Dam

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works agreed to hire Black & Veatch Engineering for $130,000 to assess the risk of Clear Creek Dam, located in northern Chaffee County. The earthen dam, built on a glacial moraine, has experienced seepage during the past 20 years, creating the occasional need to lower water levels temporarily to fix problems, Steve Anselmo, water resources engineer, told the board. Seepage monitoring has revealed 300-700 gallons per minute at varying exit points.

    In 1997, when the downstream face became set, the water level in Clear Creek was lowered and a drain blanket installed and low spots filled in. Additional low spots were filled in 2007, when the water level was lowered to replace the outlet gates.

    No unusual problems occurred until 2014, when one flow stopped and a new seepage path was detected.

    “The new seepage path created in 2014 has raised the question of how to determine if this seepage event and others that might occur in the future pose a risk to the safety of the dam,” Anselmo said in a memo to the board.

    “What actions should be taken to address that risk?”

    The Black & Veatch study will look at the probability of a significant event and develop short-term and long-term solutions.

    Pueblo Water bought Clear Creek from the Otero Canal Co. in 1954 and in 2004 filed an application in water court that would nearly triple its storage capacity. Clear Creek can now store 11,439 acre-feet of water. A native water right produces a small amount of water, but most of the water in the reservoir is imported from the Western Slope through tunnels and ditches and moved into the reservoir by exchange.

    More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.


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