2016 Colorado legislation #coleg: Implement alternative ag transfer methods with a water bank?

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The idea of a statewide water bank is being floated by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

Coincidentally, they would be tied to ATMs.

Not automated teller machines, but alternative transfer methods, one of the key elements in the upcoming state water plan.

The state Legislature’s interim water resources committee heard the proposal Thursday from Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner and attorney Leah Martinsson, who are working with state Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, to draft a bill for the 2016 session.

“ATMs are in the state water plan, and the district has been a leader in these types of temporary transfers since it was formed in 2002,” Martinsson told the panel. “The district realized the old way of going to court to dry up the land was not going to work.”

Other programs to provide temporary transfers have not worked because they are tied to permanent water rights changes adjudicated in water court, Martinsson said. That includes flex marketing legislation Arndt sponsored in the last session.

“Farmers don’t trust the process,” she said.

The Lower Ark worked to form the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch in 2008. Under the 2013 law, HB1248, the group was able to operate a pilot program this year that leased water from the Catlin Canal to Fowler, Fountain and Security.

The concept of the water bank would build on that, limiting administrative transfers to just three years in 10 under the supervision of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Transfers from the Rio Grande and Colorado River basins would be prohibited, Martinsson said.

“The banks would be set up on a conservative model, so you don’t argue over 23 gallons of water,” Martinsson said, referring to water accounting challenges that doomed Super Ditch’s early efforts. “We’re proposing leaving 5-10 percent in the river above what was historically left there.”

That would provide environmental benefits, she said.

Winner said the goal is to keep water on the land by providing an option where water is not sold on a permanent basis.

“What we’re trying to do is have another tool for farmers,” Winner said. “I think this would prevent speculation both by water developers and farmers. It helps keep water on the land, but gives the water rights holders the opportunity to use the water.”

Spinney Mountain Reservoir
Spinney Mountain Reservoir

Water supply good, storage space short — La Junta Tribune-Democrat

Lower Arkansas River near Bent
Lower Arkansas River near Bent

From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District maintains its position on current issues with flood control in Colorado Springs but acknowledges not much storage space available for water.

Roy Vaughan of the Bureau of Reclamation reported as of Aug. 16, 230,980 acre-feet are stored in Pueblo Reservoir. Turquoise, Twin Lakes and Pueblo Reservoir are all fuller than they were last year at this time.

Jack Gobel and Henry Schnable of Lamar reported the Colorado Water Protection and Development Association and possibly other well associations will go together to talk with lobbyist and try to get more water storage, for the benefit of well farmers.

Henry Schnable is interested in creating a role for John Martin Reservoir in the storing of water for areas nearer that reservoir.

State Senator Larry Crowder reported he is withdrawing his support for a dam on Fountain Creek because local constituents oppose it.

The Lower Ark is borrowing $2.5 million to buy Colorado Canal shares

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):

he Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Wednesday voted to apply to the state for a $2.5 million loan to purchase Colorado Canal shares.

The district purchased 408 shares of Colorado Canal water from Ordway Feedyard in November and was working with the company to finance the deal.

The goals were to keep the financially troubled feedlot in business and to keep the water in the Arkansas Valley.

However, the feedlot continued to fall on hard times and will be auctioned in July, so the Lower Ark district needs to finalize the sale.

The district is seeking the loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board at a 1 percent interest rate, which is an improvement over a 4 percent bridge loan from an area bank, General Manager Jay Winner explained.

The Colorado Canal once irrigated 50,000 acres in Crowley County, but has largely fallen into the hands of Colorado Springs and Aurora through purchases made in the 1980s.

More Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.

“It’s the same conversation, the same lack of movement that we’ve had” — Melissa Esquibel to Colorado Springs

Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.
Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pleas to reconsider a federal lawsuit over water quality fell on skeptical ears Wednesday.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board listened patiently to Colorado Springs Councilman Merv Bennett’s assessment of stormwater protection progress, but in the end voted to continue to pursue a federal court filing charging that Colorado Springs is violating the Clean Water Act.

The board instructed attorney Peter Nichols to continue building a case.

Bennett urged the Lower Ark board to stay out of court, saying money would be better spent elsewhere. Still the board voted 7-0 to continue the lawsuit.

“Nothing’s binding on this council, the next council or the next mayor,” board member Melissa Esquibel said, clearly frustrated by Bennett’s promises. “It’s the same conversation, the same lack of movement that we’ve had. What’s going to happen?”

Colorado Springs City Council last month commit­ ted $19 million annually to stormwater projects, shuffling existing funds in the city’s general fund and adding $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities beginning in 2016.

But Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark, asked Bennett if other funds in the city would be shorted in the process and political pressure would again lower stormwater as a priority.

Bennett countered that the current council is committed to funding stormwater control, as well as the candidates for mayor in the April municipal election. He said the city’s other problems, such as potholes, would be settled in some other way not related to stormwater. He maintained the city currently is spending the required amount on stormwater and council’s action makes the funding permanent.

“I believe in the integrity of the people running,” Bennett said in response to Esquibel’s comments. “I feel we’ve made progress and we’ll continue to make progress.”

But he acknowledged that three to five new members may be elected to the nine-member council, and he could not personally guarantee that the stormwater money would remain in place.

“I can’t solve it by myself and we can’t solve it overnight,” Bennett said.

Winner pressed Bennett on several issues, including the council’s 2009 decision to dissolve its stormwater enterprise, stormwater funding that has been missing in the intervening years and whether the money would go toward projects identified when the enterprise was formed in 2005.

Bennett agreed that council made the wrong decision in response to Doug Bruce’s Issue 300 in 2009. He said Colorado Springs is working on a report that would show its funding level for stormwater projects has been higher than the $17 million the stormwater enterprise would have generated each year.

He pledged to have city staff develop a side-by-side comparison of projects.

The stormwater issue is tied to Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System, which was negotiated earlier in 2009, before the stormwater enterprise was abolished. Flood control is needed because growth in Colorado Springs has elevated flows on Fountain Creek, increasing the danger of flooding in Pueblo.

More stormwater coverage here.

Lower Ark pushes to make the value of agriculture more prominent in the #COWaterPlan

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water that grows food also protects wildlife and provides fun for humans.

So the district formed to protect water in the Arkansas Valley wants to make agriculture more prominent in the state water plan.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District will push for a plank in the Arkansas Basin Roundtable implementation plan to strengthen its commitment to farms.

“It’s been a struggle to increase the awareness of the value of water,” said Beulah rancher Reeves Brown, who sits on both the Lower Ark board and the roundtable. “We’re emphasizing that the values of ag water go beyond just the economic value. It’s also water that you can raft, boat and fish on.”

Brown said the roundtable just last week received the long-term plan from the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority, which includes finding more water from the Arkansas River over the next 50 years.

“The threat is out there,” Brown said.

“There are benefits of ag water to recreation and the community, not just making food,” said Lynden Gill, chairman of the Lower Ark board.

Jay Winner, general manager of the district, said a proposed statement should be accompanied by a way to measure the benefits of ag water to recreational and environmental uses.

“There are a lot of warm and fuzzy statements (in the water plan),” Winner said. “We’re trying to make a statement that’s precise.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Annual Agricultural Water Symposium Set for Rocky Ford — The Prowers Journal

Click here to go to the Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium & Trade Show website for all the inside skinny.

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

The 11th Annual Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium and Trade Show will be held February 5, 2015, in Rocky Ford at the Gobin Community Building. Registration begins at 8:00 am, with programming starting at 8:30 and ending at 4:00 pm. Early registration of $20.00 per person/$30.00 per couple ends January 30, 2015, after that it goes to $25.00 per person/$35.00 per couple.

Topics to be included are: Weather Outlook by Nolan Doesken, Colorado State Climatologist; Pond Seepage Study report by Brian Lauristen, Valley Ag Consulting; Risk Management by Rebecca Davis, RMA Regional Director; USDA update by Chuck Hanagan, CE Crowley and Otero Counties; Farming for the Future by Tyrell Fickenscher, Upward Ag Systems; Grass Growth and Grazing by Arlan (Chip) Hines, rangeland consultant; and A Legislative Outlook by On the Ballot Consulting.

For more information or to register call the CSU Otero County Extension Office at 719.254.7608 or visit the website http://www.farmranchwater.org.

Fountain Creek: “When they talk [Colorado Springs] to us about stormwater, all we get is fuzzy math” — Jay Winner

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs is trying to talk its way out of its stormwater commitment, and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is losing its patience.

“You can talk the talk, but you’ve got to walk the walk. That’s not what I’m hearing,” Jay Winner, Lower Ark manager, told his board Wednesday. “When they talk to us about stormwater, all we get is fuzzy math.”

The board will consider whether to proceed with the federal lawsuit next month.

Winner is frustrated because his discussions with Colorado Springs Utilities have been similar to 2005 and 2007, when he was assured by Utilities the city would live up to its commitments to control drainage into Fountain Creek caused by increased runoff from development. When enumerating stormwater projects, Colorado Springs points to street projects that Winner said have nothing to do with controlling the flow into Fountain Creek.

In November, the Lower Ark board voted to prepare a lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act over violations of its stormwater permit. Since then, the district has hired a firm to sample water quality and has been moving toward a lawsuit.

“Everybody seems to say the right things,” Winner said. “But I keep getting told, ‘Nothing happens until we get a new mayor.’’’ In November, Colorado Springs Councilman Merv Bennett asked the Lower Ark to have patience just days after voters in El Paso County rejected a drainage authority that would have raised nearly $40 million annually to improve Fountain Creek stormwater issues.

Colorado Springs council has made no overtures since then to address Lower Ark’s concerns.

“I’m not hopeful we’ll get anywhere,” Winner said.

Colorado Springs had a stormwater utility in place in 2009, when Pueblo County commissioners approved a 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

The Lower Ark district lobbied Colorado Springs City Council in 2005 for creation of a stormwater utility, specifically to address past stormwater issues on Fountain Creek.

Colorado Springs has a backlog of about $535 million in stormwater projects, according to its most recent accounting.

More Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District coverage here.