Rio Grande Basin: Water rules receive no opposition — yet — The Valley Courier

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

So far, the only “statement of objection” filed in connection to the proposed Rio Grande Basin groundwater rules is one in favor of them.

Because of the way the response process is set up, all reactions to the rules must be submitted as “statements of objection.” However, “statements of objections” may be submitted in support of the rules.

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said on Monday the only response filed so far in regard to the basin groundwater rules was a “statement of objection in support” by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

He said no objections against the rules have yet been filed.

During a recent water meeting Pat McDermott from the Division 3 office explained that if there are no objections to the rules as written, they will move forward through that meticulously worked its way through the rules over the course of about six years to try to iron out any problematic “wrinkles” in the rules before they were promulgated.

The public has also been involved during that process, with all of the advisory group meetings open.

Wolfe officially filed the groundwater rules on September 23 at the Alamosa County courthouse. The rules apply to hundreds of irrigation and municipal wells in the Rio Grande Basin, which encompasses the San Luis Valley. They set up the means to halt the drawdown of the Valley’s underground aquifers and restore the aquifers to more robust levels. They also are designed to protect senior surface water rights and Rio Grande Compact compliance. the water court for approval and implementation.

Objectors have a specific amount of time to file responses after the rules have been published. The rules have been published in newspapers as well as in the water court resume.

If there is opposition to the rules, the water division will try to work out issues with objectors short of a water court trial.

State Engineer Dick Wolfe is hoping to eliminate or at least minimize the number of objections to the rules and has gone to great lengths to accomplish that goal. He developed a large advisory group, for example, The rules are clear “that nothing in the rules is designed to allow an expanded or unauthorized use of water .”

The rules are also clear that they “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. The rules apply to all withdrawals of groundwater within Water Division No. 3, unless the withdrawal is specifically exempted by the rules, and the rules pertaining to the Irrigation Season apply to all irrigation water rights.”

McDermott reminded folks attending a recent Rio Grande Roundtable meeting that once the rules go into effect which could be sooner than later if there are no objections well irrigators will have a limited time to either join a water management sub-district or submit their own augmentation plans. Those measures will have to be taken in the next year or two.

By 2018, he added, the water division will have the ability to shut down wells that have not come into compliance under the rules.

“This is an exciting time,” he said. “It’s time for us to do the right thing. We have done it in Division 1 and 2, South Platte and the Arkansas, and it’s very important to get it down here.”

Part of the groundwater rules define the irrigation season for this basin, which ended in most parts of the Valley at midnight on November 1. Unless Cotten has good reason to decide otherwise, the irrigation season will run from April 1 to November 1 for all irrigators, including those using wells as their irrigation water sources.

See the full groundwater rules for the Rio Grande Basin at

On another note, McDermott said Colorado is in good shape with Rio Grande Compact compliance this year and may in fact over deliver the amount of water it is required to send downstream to New Mexico and Texas. This winter should bring a fair amount of moisture, McDermott added. He said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting above normal precipitation and slightly below normal temperatures for the next several months in this region.

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

The Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors elects new president

South Fork of the Republican River
South Fork of the Republican River

From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

The Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors has a new president for the first time in its history.

Dennis Coryell of Burlington has held that position since the RRWCD was formed one decade ago. Fellow Burlington resident Tim Pautler also has been a board officer since the inception, the only holdovers from the original executive committee.

However, that changed a bit last week when the board held its annual officer elections, during its regular quarterly meeting held in Wray.

The board voted Rod Lenz as the president, but that was the only change to the Executive Committee. Greg Larson was the only candidate for vice president. Pautler remains as secretary, beating a challenge from Rod Mason. Incumbent Byron Weathers and Wil Bledsoe were the candidates for treasurer, with Weathers voted to remain in that role…

Six board seats also were up for appointment for new three-year terms. All the current board members were appointed to new terms — Stan Laybourn, representing Washington County; Wil Bledsoe, Lincoln County; Wayne Skold, Sedgwick County; Jack Dowell, W-Y Ground Water Management District; Brent Deterding, Central Yuma Ground Water Management District; and Coryell as the Plains District’s representative.


Dick Wolfe, Colorado’s State Engineer, reported to the board about negotiations with Kansas and Nebraska in regards to Colorado’s compact compliance pipeline, as well as credit to be received for draining Bonny Reservoir.

He said if the states can agree to an action plan by November 1, the agreement of operating the pipeline will automatically renew for 2016. He said the three states have met monthly all year, and came to a “conceptual agreement” on September 26, on the action plan. Wolfe said he expects it will be finalized when the three states meet October 28-29 in Manhattan, Kansas.

Basalt: Lake Christine seepage cause for concern, dam is safe

The low water level in Lake Christine exposes the bottom of the reservoir and keeps a fishing pier high and dry. The state is determining how high the water level can go without saturating an adjacent hillside -- photo / Scott Condon
The low water level in Lake Christine exposes the bottom of the reservoir and keeps a fishing pier high and dry. The state is determining how high the water level can go without saturating an adjacent hillside — photo / Scott Condon

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

Bill McCormick, chief of dam safety for the water resources division, said the agency worked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the reservoir owner, to determine the source of water that was saturating a hillside beneath the reservoir and above Two Rivers Road. The water isn’t leaking from the dam, he said, but water is saturating the hillside when the reservoir is full.

“It’s not a dam-safety issue, but it is a public-safety issue,” McCormick said.

The hillside got so saturated the weekend of April 18 and 19 that mud and debris sloughed onto Two Rivers Road. The town of Basalt had to use heavy equipment to remove the debris. The water resources division and wildlife division came up with a plan to determine the source of the water. Lake Christine’s water level was lowered and increased throughout the summer to gauge the effect on the seepage, according to Perry Will, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. He said Basalt Mountain is riddled with natural springs, including some in the area of Lake Christine. The springs continued flowing even when the reservoir was at its lowest level, he said.

“The dam is fine,” McCormick said. The test established that water seeps into the surrounding terrain when water is above a certain level. That makes the hillside unstable and creates the potential for slides that could endanger people traveling on the road below, McCormick said.

The water resources division hasn’t established yet what level of water is allowable in Lake Christine. The seepage appears to occur when the reservoir’s water level is above 9 feet, or about 10 acre-feet, according to Erin Gleason, a dam safety engineer in Glenwood Springs for the Division of Water Resources. The normal storage when full is about 15 feet high and 30 acre-feet, she said.

The division needs to collect more information before formally issuing the water restriction, Gleason said.

“We kind of just grew and grew together to realize we are neighbors” — Ralph Curtis

San Luis Valley Groundwater
San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

When State Engineer Dick Wolfe turned in a set of proposed groundwater rules and regulations to the division water court on Sept. 23, he channeled Yogi Berra.
“When you come to the fork in the road, take it,” he said, quoting the Hall of Fame Yankees catcher who passed away the day before.

But for nearly four decades, the San Luis Valley’s water users avoided any path that involved giving the state engineer the authority to shut down or limit pumping by the valley’s roughly 4,500 irrigation wells.

Two aquifers supply the water for those wells and help farmers irrigate valley staples such as potatoes, barley and alfalfa.

The shallower of the two, the unconfined aquifer, is fed by streams, seepage from irrigation canals and return flows from fields, and some upward leakage from a deeper aquifer.

The deeper aquifer, known as the confined aquifer, is fed by streams at the rim of the valley and is under artesian pressure.

Both aquifers are hydrologically connected to the valley’s surface streams to varying degrees, a fact that underlies complaints from surface-water users that their rights are injured by groundwater pumping.

Wolfe’s predecessor had proposed rules in 1975 only to see them shelved as the valley’s water users looked for another way to mitigate the impacts of well pumping on surfacewater users. And while this version still will have to gain approval from water court, enough had changed in the intervening decades to prompt a second stab at rules and regulations.

To begin, the federal Closed Basin Project, which pumps groundwater from the eastern edge of the valley for delivery to the Rio Grande, has been ineffective.

The valley’s water user groups signed an agreement in 1985 that divvied up how the project’s water would apply toward Colorado’s obligations to the Rio Grande Compact.

The move was regarded as an olive branch to surface-water users on the Conejos and Rio Grande rivers, since they alone carried the burden of complying with compact obligations.

Without the policing powers rules could give the state engineer, groundwater users faced no such burden.

The pact, commonly known as the 60-40 Agreement, also included a provision that kept valley surface-water users from going to court to shut down groundwater wells.

But since 2000, the amount of water produced by the project has never exceeded 20,000 acre-feet — far below envisioned amounts of up to 100,000 acre-feet when it was authorized by Congress in 1972.

Another change since the last rule proposals involved a pair of unsuccessful efforts in the 1990s to ship large amounts of the valley’s groundwater to the Front Range.

The proposals from American Water Development and later the Stockmen’s Water Company put all of the valley’s water users in the same boat, said Ralph Curtis, who managed the Rio Grande Water Conservation District for 25 years.

“We kind of just grew and grew together to realize we are neighbors,” he said.

Moreover, less was known in the 1970s about the two major groundwater bodies that sit beneath the valley floor. When the 1975 rules were proposed, a monitoring network that could measure levels in the unconfined aquifer in the north-central part of the valley still was a year away.

Exactly how much was pumped from the aquifers was not known either until 2006 when the engineer’s office implemented well-metering requirements.

Mac McFadden, who was the division engineer for the valley in 1975, and Steve Vandiver, who later would serve 24 years in the same post, both pointed to the development of the state’s groundwater computer model as an important advancement.

While that model could be a point of contention in court hearings for the current version of rules, it provides the basis for estimating how much instream losses are caused from well pumping Lastly, both Curtis and Vandiver point to the drought that began in 2002 as a pivotal point in the valley’s water politics and one that would pave the way to a new version of state rules.

“The drought of 2002 just tipped over the bucket of worms,” Vandiver said. “It was obvious then what the impacts of wells were on the (Rio Grande) — river just went away.”

The lowest flows ever recorded on the Conejos and the Rio Grande rivers where they enter the valley floor came in 2002.

And much of those meager flows were lost to aquifers that were being drawn on heavily by irrigators that had no surface supplies.

The division engineer’s annual report for that year estimated stream losses on the Rio Grande were as high as 40 percent at times, while on the Conejos they peaked as high as 60 percent.

“That provided the impetus for the surface-water users to say we’ve had enough,” Vandiver said.

Vandiver credited Manassa rancher Kelly Sowards and other surface-water users for creating the subsequent push to regulate wells.

Two years later, state lawmakers would pass a bill that created the framework for the current version of the rules and groundwater management subdistricts.

The first such subdistrict, which buys water to return to the Rio Grande and also pays ditch companies for losses caused by pumping, went into operation four years ago in the north-central part of the valley.

Fountain Creek: Kansas is keeping a watchful eye on potential dams

Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District
Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Kansas has concerns that the effects of a large dam on Fountain Creek are not adequately modeled in a study of flood control and water rights that is nearing completion.

But comments from Kevin Salter of the Kansas Division of Water Resources indicate the modeling done by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District is “reasonable” when it comes to side-detention ponds.

Kansas is an important player because its 1985 federal lawsuit over the Arkansas River Compact raised storage issues along with wells. The Supreme Court ruled in Colorado’s favor on the storage questions, but new dams would be untested waters.

“The methodology in this draft report appears reasonable to protect water rights below the confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River for the scenario involving side-detention facilities,” Salter said.

“As for the scenario to construct a multipurpose reservoir on Fountain Creek; Kansas is concerned.”

In an email to a committee looking at engineer Duane Helton’s draft report, Salter said more study is needed to look at the full impact of a 52,700 acre-foot reservoir that would include a 25,700 acre-foot pool for recreation and water supply and 27,000 acre-feet for temporary flood storage.

“Should the actual implementation of detained flood flows on Fountain Creek impact compact conservation storage Kansas would fully expect that those flows be restored,” Salter said.

Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek district, said a more complete evaluation would be made of water rights if a large reservoir is pursued.

“The district will complete a full evaluation of alternatives and a feasibility study of the preferred alternative in the future before any decision is made on flood control facilities, to include multipurpose facilities,” Small said in an email reply.

Helton’s study shows there would be little impacts on water rights if flood control structures allowed a flow of 10,000 cubic feet per second to flow through Pueblo during large floods. Water would be released as quickly as possible following the peak flow.

The study discounted extremely high flows, such as the 1999 or 1965 floods, saying there would be little damage to water rights because the high volume would fill John Martin Reservoir, creating a free river.

Division Engineer Steve Witte said Kansas concerns must be treated carefully, so a new round of litigation isn’t triggered.

Witte would like the 2015 flooding to be studied. Flows on Fountain Creek exceeded the 10,000 cfs mark on three occasions during six weeks of elevated flows. John Martin Reservoir did not fill, so it would be an ideal opportunity to explore how flood storage could be administered, he said.

“I think we need to be careful in any scenario to make sure there isn’t some material depletion,” Witte said.

After the 1999 flood, when Kansas and Colorado were in litigation over the Arkansas River Compact, Kansas raised questions about how such large flows should be divided. Those issues have not been resolved, Witte said.

Another downstream party, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association which owns half of the Amity Canal in Prowers County, said more study is needed to determine the damage if water is detained at lower flows and how water would be allocated after a flood.

The committee looking at the report, which includes some downstream farmers, Kansas, Colorado Springs Utilities, Tri-State and others, will meet again at 10 a.m. Oct. 14 at the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District offices.

#AnimasRiver: Water-treatment system announced for #GoldKing — The Durango Herald

New settlement ponds at Gold King Mine August 2015
New settlement ponds at Gold King Mine August 2015

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The $1.78-million portable treatment facility will be located in Gladstone, according to EPA officials. It will be operational by Oct. 14 and operate during the coming winter. The contract provides for 42 weeks of treatment, with the option to start or stop treatment as needed…

Water continues to flow from the mine at approximately 550 gallons per minute. Without the plant, officials have had to rely on a series of settling ponds to capture the dirty water before being discharged to Cement Creek.

Authorities constructed four ponds at the mine site, which are treating water to remove as much metal loading as possible. The treatment plant will replace the ponds.

EPA officials estimate the plant will cost $20,000 per week to operate, with another $53,200 for demobilization and bonding. EPA will use money from its Superfund coffers to pay for the project. Superfund money is used to clean up blighted areas that could be toxic to humans. Gold King still has not officially been listed as a Superfund site.

The bidding process for the plant was conducted by St. Louis-based Environmental Restoration, LLC, the contractor that was working with the EPA when the spill occurred. The treatment-system contract was awarded to subcontractor Alexco Environmental Group Inc., which has an office in Denver.

Officials said the transition to the plant is necessary as winter temperatures at high elevations can reach well below zero, making it unsafe to manually treat water at the mine site. The system is designed to handle up to 1,200 gallons per minute.

“The objective of the treatment system is to neutralize the mine discharge and remove solids and metals,” stated an EPA news release announcing the facility. “Although the Gold King Mine discharge is just one of many into Cement Creek, the treatment will remove a portion of the metal loading to Cement Creek.”

Though the system is temporary, long-term treatment will be decided after further evaluation of mine discharge, said an EPA spokeswoman.

The DWR sends rules for groundwater pumping in the San Luis Valley to water court

San Luis Valley Groundwater
San Luis Valley Groundwater

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

For the second time in 40 years, the state engineer has come up with rules and regulations for groundwater wells in the San Luis Valley.

The rules, which were submitted by State Engineer Dick Wolfe to the Division 3 Water Court Wednesday, aim to restore the valley’s two major aquifers and protect senior surface water users from the harm caused by pumping.

The rules would apply to roughly 4,500 high-capacity irrigation wells spread across the valley, with the exception of southern Costilla County, which is not above either aquifer.

Wolfe pointed to provisions that defined sustainable levels for the valley’s groundwater, noting they were a first for any of the river basins in the state.

“You see a lot of what’s going on in a lot of other parts of the Western U.S., particularly California right now, we’re going to look back on this time and say we’re glad we took this step,” he said.

The engineer’s office aims to return the two major aquifers to the levels that existed until 2000, when drought and persistent withdrawals sent them into steep decline.

Toward that end, the rules will require users of the confined aquifer — the deeper and larger of the two — to submit plans to achieve and maintain a sustainable water supply.

The rules would also give the engineer’s office the ability to shut down wells that are not operating under one of three options to mitigate pumping.

To avoid being shut down, well users could join a groundwater management subdistrict, in which its members pool resources to either buy water or pay surface water users for injury.

They could also take out individual augmentation plans for the same purpose.

Third, they could have a short-term temporary water supply plan.

The development of the sustainability section partly accounted for the six years Wolfe, his staff and upward of 100 valley water users took to come up with the regulations.

Developing the computer model that would eventually be used to calculate stream losses from groundwater pumping also took a period of years, Wolfe said.

But it is that computer model that could be one of the biggest differences from these rules and the version from 40 years ago that was never implemented.

“It was really apparent to me that we did not have the hydrologic knowledge to really effectively control wells,” said Mac McFadden, who served as division engineer in the valley in 1975.

After the water court publishes notice of the rules submission, there will be a 60-day period for objectors and supporters to file statements to the court.

Wolfe said he hoped to work out stipulations with objectors that would allow the court to avoid a trial.

It is possible that at least one group of water users in the La Jara Creek drainage will be among the objectors.

They sued the engineer’s office earlier this year, alleging the state’s computer model had failed to find pumping losses to a spring they depend on to irrigate.
Parties in that case are scheduled to meet in court Oct. 5 to determine if consolidation into the rules and regulations is appropriate.