Republican River: Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska optimistic after latest agreement

RRCA resolution signing August 27, 2015. From left to right: David Barfield, Dick Wolfe and Jeff Fassett(Photo courtesy RRCA)
RRCA resolution signing August 27, 2015. From left to right: David Barfield, Dick Wolfe and Jeff Fassett(Photo courtesy RRCA)

From the Kansas Department of Agriculture:

Republican River Compact Adjustments to Benefit Basin Water Users

(Lincoln, Neb.) Today, the states of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska have reached an agreement that will ensure more certainty to the basin’s water users in both Nebraska and Kansas. The agreement, in the form of a Resolution approved by the Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA), was achieved through collaborative negotiations that began in April 2015 and will provide timely notice and access to water for the 2016 irrigation season.
The agreement provides additional flexibility for Nebraska to achieve its Compact obligations while ensuring that the interests of Kansas are protected. The additional flexibility will allow the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to provide a portion of the forecasted compliance water early in 2016 and provide any additional shortfall later in 2016 and through April 1, 2017. This also provides some improved operational predictability for Nebraska water users in that water users will not be subjected to closing notices related to the 2016 irrigation season.

The 2016 agreement builds upon the agreement reached for the 2015 irrigation season with further beneficial developments for water users. This agreement provides more advanced notice to irrigators in the basin of compliance activities that will likely occur in 2016, allowing for an advanced planning period producers desire for their efficiently run operations.

The States’ agreement is contingent upon the Nebraska and the Kansas Bostwick Irrigation Districts, working with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, – reaching agreement on modifications of certain contract provisions contained in their Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) also adopted last year. Thus, ensuring the availability of the water pumped from Nebraska augmentation projects for RRCA compliance.

Current RRCA Chairman, Gordon W. “Jeff” Fassett, Director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, said, “Today’s agreement is good news for Nebraska water users and represents the continuation of the cooperative and positive collaboration we’ve fostered between our states as we work to find mutually agreeable solutions that best serve our citizens. Additionally, we are hopeful that this positive momentum will continue to move us closer to the goal of securing a long-term agreement. With significantly more planning time, Nebraska’s water users will have greater certainty in their water supply and make the best decisions for their operations.”

“We are pleased to collaborate with Nebraska and Colorado as we continue to develop balanced and fair water solutions benefiting all of the basin’s water users that reflects good water management,” said Kansas Commissioner David Barfield. “This fourth in our series of recent agreements with Nebraska allows Kansas to make effective use of its water supply in 2016 and allows the states additional time and experience with Nebraska’s compliance activities as we continue to move toward long-term agreement.”

Colorado Commissioner Dick Wolfe said, “This agreement exemplifies the success that can be achieved through collaboration and cooperation of the RRCA and the water users in the basin.”

The RRCA is comprised of one member each from the States of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. The purpose of the RRCA is to administer the Republican River Compact. This Compact allocates the waters of the Republican River among the three states. The next RRCA annual meeting is scheduled for August of 2016 and will be hosted by the State of Colorado in a location of their choice.

Groundwater rules for the Rio Grande Basin are now in final draft form, next stop water court

San Luis Valley Groundwater
San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Time’s almost up.

In the works for several years, the groundwater rules for the Rio Grande Basin are now in final draft form and should be filed with the water court within the next month. Last-chance comments on the final draft of the rules are due tomorrow, August 19, with the rules anticipated to be filed with the water court either by the end of this month or next, depending on how many comments come in.

The groundwater rules, which will apply to well owners in the Rio Grande Basin (San Luis Valley), are designed to protect senior surface water rights and Rio Grande Compact obligations in addition to promoting long-term sustainability of the basin’s aquifers.

The rules apply to hundreds of well owners in the Valley including towns and cities. A well solely permitted for in-house use would not need to be regulated under these rules. Primarily these rules will affect those who are using their wells for irrigation of crops, livestock or municipal water supplies, wells required to be metered. Although there’s been a moratorium on new wells for many years, the existing wells have continued to negatively affect senior surface water rights, a problem the well regulations are designed to rectify either en masse through collective water management sub-districts or individually through augmentation plans or substitute water supply plans.

“Essentially, the Confined Aquifer New Use Rules recognize that there is no unappropriated water in the confined aquifer, so that any new withdrawal requires one-for-one replacement,” the proposed rules state.

“The rules are designed to allow withdrawals of groundwater while providing for the identification and replacement of injurious stream depletions and the achievement and maintenance of a sustainable water supply in each aquifer system, while not unreasonably interfering with the state’s ability to fulfill its obligations under the Rio Grande Compact.”

Those themes are stressed throughout the regulatory document: no new withdrawals will be all o w e d w i t h – out the same amount being replaced; injuries to surface r i g h t s m u s t be replaced; and the state’s agreement with downstream states in the Rio Grande Compact must be upheld.

“Nothing in the rules is designed to allow an expanded or unauthorized use of water ,” the rules state.

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten told local water leaders last week that State Engineer Dick Wolfe advised legislators serving on the water resources review committee the rules would be completed within the next month.

“We do have the final draft of the rules out for public comment until the 19th,” Cotten said. “We think the rules are basically done, just giving everybody a last chance to make comments. After that we will take those comments and then file in court.”

Deputy State Engineer Mike Sullivan, who previously served as Division 3 engineer, said water court resume timelines start from the end of a month, and folks have 60 days after that to respond to the case in court.

“It doesn’t matter if we filed the rules August 10 or August 31, as the clock starts essentially August 31. Thus I think the earliest we could/ would file would be the end of August or September. It all depends on getting any comments considered and gathering all the pieces into a complete package for the court,” Sullivan stated.

“After all the work from the water user community in helping craft the rules I imagine folks would like to get the next phase rolling as soon as possible.”

The rules will be effective 60 days after publication unless protests are filed in the water court, which would delay the process until the protests were resolved.

An approximately 50-member advisory committee has been working with Wolfe since 2009 to develop groundwater rules for this basin. Advisory committee members included representatives from water conservancy and irrigation districts, water user associations, counties, state and federal agencies, municipalities and attorneys . As a group, the advisory committee concluded its work in May, after meeting 25 times over the last several years. The state sent its final draft out to the advisory committee members for one last look this month.

Once the groundwater rules are in place, well owners in the Valley will have two years to come into compliance with the rules by joining one of several water management sub-districts or filing an individual augmentation plan or substitute water supply plan. The other alternative is to be shut down.

One of the delays in getting the groundwater rules to this stage was the development and refinement of the Rio Grande Decision Support System groundwater model that simulates groundwater flows in this basin and helps determine how much water well users must pay back to make up for the injuries they have caused in the past and are currently causing. That model and subsequent simplified calculations called response functions have been under refinement for several years.

After the first water management sub-district (a subdistrict of the sponsoring Rio Grande Water Conservation District) was formed, subsequent sub-districts throughout the Valley waited for the model and its response functions to be refined to the point that well owners in those sub-districts would know what kind of water debts they were looking at before they formally formed their sub-districts . Many of them have been ready to collect signed petitions from those who will be included in the sub-districts , or have already collected petitions, pending those model runs that would tell them how much they would need to replace to senior surface rights.

Most of the sub-districts are organized by geographical areas of the basin such as Conejos River, San Luis Creek and Saguache Creek, while some are organized by the type of wells they encompass, such as confined aquifer wells.

Only the first sub-district is operating (encompassing wells north of the Rio Grande), but four or five others are in various stages of preparing to file their paperwork and petitions with the water court.

Well irrigators who are part of recognized sub-districts with state-approved water management and replacement plans essentially possess a “get out of jail free card,” but the rules state the sub-districts have to live by their management plans and show some progress over time, or the state will require additional action. Another reason it took longer to finalize the well rules was the lengthy discussions over how to meet the state legislature’s mandate to restore this basin’s confined, or deeper, aquifer to the healthy level it presumably experienced between the years 1978 and 2000, before the devastating drought of the early 2000’s . The draft of the rules, as proposed, allows for fluctuations in the aquifer in the same way the aquifer fluctuated during those years, as long as the average levels are similar to those occurring between 1978 and 2000. Fluctuations will also be permitted in the unconfined , or more shallow, aquifers, which the rules acknowledge are underground water storage reservoirs.

Because artesian pressure data is lacking for the confined aquifer during the period from 1978-2000 , the rules provide for a well network to collect data over the next decade to help estimate artesian pressures in the confined aquifer. Once that data is collected, the state tngineer will define the methods proposed to maintain a sustainable water supply in the confined aquifer system, and if that means a change in the rules, that could trigger another rule making process at that point.

The proposed rules also specify the irrigation season for this basin, presumed to begin April 1 and end on November 1, given some flexibility in climate and other conditions. See http:// water. state.co.us/

CWCB/DNR: July 2015 #Drought Update


From the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Tracy Kosloff):

Following the wettest May since record keeping began in1895, June and July have continued to provide beneficial moisture to the state. For the first time since August 2009, 97% of the state is drought free. As of July 20, the state has received 200% of average in precipitation based on SNOTEL sites. The year-to-date precipitation totals for the state have risen from 80% on May 1 to 97% of average as of July 1.

  • Water year-to-date precipitation at mountain SNOTEL sites statewide, as of July 21, is at 97% of normal. Southwestern Colorado and the Rio Grande Basin, which did not receive as much moisture over the winter, have had a wet spring and early summer. All eight basins have experienced above average precipitation so far in July with the Gunnison basin experiencing 270% of average.
  • June was the 14th warmest June on record (1985-2014) but so far in July, the state has experienced near normal temperatures with a few pockets on the west slope and the Front Range that are two to five degrees below average.
  • All of the CoAgMet sites measuring evapotranspiration (ET) continue to report below average ET and the Olathe and Lucernce stations are reporting record low ET. These stations have been collecting & reporting ET data since the early 1990s.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 112% of average as of July 1st, up five percent from last month. Seven out of eight basins have over 100% of average. The Rio Grande has the lowest value at 89% of average, however, storage has improved since last month when they were at 66% of average. Storage in the Arkansas Basin is the highest since 2000. Between May 1 and July 1, John Martin reservoir, in the Lower Arkansas River basin gained over 250,000 acre feet of additional storage.
  • The NRCS Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) shows improvements in all but two SWSI values in the Upper Arkansas and South Platte. Several SWSI values in the Southwest basins increased nearly five index points. Only three SWSI values remain below normal, two in the North Platte basin and the other in the Rio Grande.
  • Agriculture officials in attendance reported 131,000 prevented planted acreage due to such wet conditions. The crops that have been planted are expected to do well as soil moisture has greatly improved.
  • The Division of Water Resources announced the completion of the SWSI Automation Project. They will discontinue the 1980’s era SWSI and will begin reporting the automated SWSI, which is similar to the NRCS SWSI, which has been produced since 2011. Additional information is available at: http://water.state.co.us/DWRDocs/Reports/Pages/SWSIReport.aspx
  •  According to water providers in attendance, their respective systems are in good shape as reservoirs are full and customer water demand is low.

    Landowner challenges state’s interpretation of old decree — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Fountain Creek Watershed
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A Fountain Creek landowner has filed a complaint in Pueblo water court saying he has a right to the Fountain Creek underflow, as well as surface water.

    Ralph “Wil” Williams, trustee of the Greenview Trust, filed the complaint in June, saying the state has incorrectly administered the water right to the 313-acre farm as solely surface water.

    The property, located 8 miles north of Pueblo on Fountain Creek is emblematic of man’s interaction with Fountain Creek throughout recorded history. It was first settled by “Uncle Dick” Wooten in 1862 and has always been in farmland.

    In the 1990s, it began to experience severe erosion from growth upstream, particularly the development in Colorado Springs.

    Problems with the ditch came to a head after the 1999 flood, leading the owners to sue Colorado Springs for dumping more water in the creek, only to be locked out when the Legislature granted governmental immunity for flood damages.

    In the most recent floods of the past five years, the Greenview has continued to lose land, including about 10 acres of trees to the storms in May and June.

    “We’re trying to conserve the farm,” Williams said. Pueblo County, through a program in conjunction with the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, is interested in purchasing the property as a restoration project.

    The water rights are crucial to determining land value, Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

    “We weren’t successful in a Great Outdoors Colorado grant this cycle, and one of the things we have to do is shore up the land and water value,” Hart said.

    Williams contends that past owners always intended to use the underflow of Fountain Creek as an alternate source to irrigate 315 acres of the property. Fountain Creek had intermittent flows, so the underflow would have been used during dry times when surface water could not be diverted, he claims.

    Other water users employed the strategy in the early 1900s, when well technology was more limited. Most famously, the Ball brothers — who found success in the canning jar and aerospace industries — used the underflow of Fountain Creek to fill reservoirs in hopes of selling the water to Puebloans. The quality was unsuitable for drinking, however.

    In preparing for the water court case, Williams collected old plats that show the location of underflow structures, basically horizontal wells that draw water by gravity.

    The Colorado Division of Water Resources does not recognize the dual water right, and says Greenview Trust needs a substitute water supply plan if it plans to irrigate with wells.

    “It’s based on an old statement that was not picked up in the decree itself,” said Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte. “It appears to us that there never was the intention to have a well.”

    Williams disagrees, saying he spent two years collecting information in state files that he was initially told did not exist. “For me to have to spend two years researching the archives is ridiculous,” Williams said. “We are decreed against the source and the underflow. It’s one natural stream.”

    More Fountain Creek coverage here.

    Pueblo Board of Water Works hopes to get a substitute water supply plan for the Riverwalk

    Historic Arkansas Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com
    Historic Arkansas Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works has filed a substitute water supply plan with the Colorado Division of Water Resources in order to supply water to the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo.

    The plan is to replace water to HARP that is now being diverted by Black Hills Energy, which supplied HARP through a tailwater right, according to Bill Paddock, attorney for Pueblo Water.

    Black Hills is planning on tearing down old Stations 5 & 6, the Downtown power plant, which would throw the diversion into question.

    Pueblo Water has a 1993 water right for 30 cubic feet per second which provides the base flow for HARP. It is planning to supply another up to 90 cfs next year in order to prevent weeds and algae from growing and to maintain water quality.

    Pueblo Water plans to use its fully consumable water rights, mainly those from transmountain diversions, but including some in-basin rights that have been converted, to supply HARP.

    Documents in the case were filed Wednesday and are subject to comments from other water users who might be injured.

    HARP water is diverted just upstream of the Downtown Whitewater Park near the East Fourth Street bridge. The intake became a matter of concern during discussions of the Pueblo Conservancy District in May regarding reconstruction of the levee through the area.

    More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.

    “Miracle May” revisited

    Federal Water Year precipitation as a percent of normal thru May 31, 2015
    Federal Water Year precipitation as a percent of normal thru May 31, 2015

    From The Produce News (Lora Abcarian):

    “We started in May with a rain cycle,” said Dick Wolfe, Colorado’s state engineer. “Things really turned around.”

    He said conditions during March were not as snowpacked as is typical for the Centennial State. “We were way behind,” Wolfe explained. “But May was a huge turnaround in what we saw.”

    According to Wolfe, the National Weather Service has deemed the month of May the wettest month, setting a national record “which is pretty impressive.” He added that this is the first turnaround of significance to have occurred during more than a decade of drought.

    “Reservoirs are full or nearly full,” he commented. “We’ve got good reservoir storage.”

    Coloradans saw an extended winter season in 2015 with cooler-than-normal temperatures moving into May. Monsoonal flows, typically seen during the summer months, took hold early and resulted in heavier-than-normal springtime rains. News accounts were rife with stories about flooding or potential for flooding.

    The flirtation with summer began in early June as temperatures climbed and rains diminished. But, as Wolfe noted, weather forecasters have been keeping their eyes to the skies and are predicting that rainy patterns will return in July and continue into September.

    “July through September is supposed to be above-average precipitation,” Wolfe commented. “Colorado is right in the bull’s-eye for rainfall predictions.”

    Although the majority of Colorado falls outside the drought profile at the current time, he said areas from the western part of Colorado’s San Luis Valley to Gunnison are still dry.

    According to Wolfe, the much-needed precipitation and favorable water storage condition mean that agricultural producers will have more water available for irrigation in 2015. “With good runoff and water supply, there aren’t the calls on the river that been restricted in years past,” he explained.

    Lower Ark nets 800 acre-feet this season from a recalculation of pond seepage

    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum
    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A recalculation of the seepage rate of ponds used to feed irrigation sprinklers means farmers will have to repay less water than originally calculated this year under 2010 surface irrigation rules.

    The savings amounts to about 800 acre-feet (260 million gallons) for Rule 10 plans operated by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, a 40 percent savings.

    The Lower Ark’s 2-year study still is not complete because of technical glitches. The Colorado Division of Water Resources accepted results for only some of the more than 20 ponds studied, and the state has asked for additional study in some areas.

    But the results altered the basic formula for the Irrigation System Analysis Model. An interim seepage calculation method has been adopted as a result.

    “(The division) does believe that the limited amount of pond study data from ponds where inlet and outlet meters were verified to be accurate are more comprehensive than what was used to derive the original seepage method in ISAM,” the state’s report noted.

    Under the previous ISAM formula, the state estimated losses from the more than 145 farms covered by Lower Ark’s Rule 10 plans would create about 1,947 acre-feet of deficits. Under the interim method, the deficits total 1,137 acre-feet.

    The 2010 rules were written to cover farms that have installed sprinklers or drip irrigation systems fed by ponds as well as other improvements in order to prevent increased consumptive use and potential litigation with Kansas over the Arkansas River Compact. Similar rules, written in 1996, already cover wells in the Arkansas Valley.

    More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.