Water forum targets pumping in Colorado — Salina Journal

April 4, 2015
Republican River Basin by District

Republican River Basin by District

From the Salina Journal (Tim Unruth):

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and a few water-conscious underlings plan to discuss with locals Tuesday in St. Francis how water is being used in a three-state region.

Water from the Ogallala Aquifer, the huge underground driver of farm economies in portions of several states, is being mined to satisfy federal streamflow requirements on the Republican River.

Rep. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, wonders about the wisdom of taking a resource that developed over centuries to enhance a river, losing some of the resource to seepage and evaporation.

“It makes no sense,” he said. “Here we are, trying to get a new vision out to preserve water for 50 years, and we have Colorado across the line, pumping from the Ogallala to replace surface water.”

The meeting will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Cheyenne County 4-H Building in St. Francis.

Billinger aims to gather input on the pumping project and “possible ways to preserve the Ogallala for future users.”

Two similar augmentation projects just ceased in two areas of western Nebraska.

The Republican River Water Conservation District in northeast Colorado is pumping from eight irrigation wells into a pipeline that dumps into the north fork of the Republican. The district delivers 7,000 acre feet of water to the river from November through December, and from January through mid-April will pump another 7,000 acre-feet, said Deb Daniel, manager of the district based in Wray, Colo…

“The only way we can supply enough water to be in compact compliance is by delivering water to the stream,” she said.

Another effort to comply consisted of draining Bonny Reservoir northeast of Burlington during 2011 and 2012. It was the only lake in the region.

Evaporation and seepage from the lake were working against Colorado’s compliance, Daniel said…

Rep. Billinger argues that the pumping project benefits the north fork of the Republican, which doesn’t enter Kansas until it reaches Jewell County, in the north-central part of the state. The south fork dips into Kansas through Cheyenne County and flows back into Nebraska.

Among Billinger’s options is to influence Colorado to stop pumping water from the Ogallala to replace surface water.

Hoping for long-term solutions

The Kansas lawmaker also would advocate for Colorado putting water back in Bonny Reservoir, earmarking storage for Kansas, and enhancing the region’s fishing and other recreation opportunities.

Given the demands for compliance, Colorado’s Daniel said the district “didn’t have any choice.”[…]

Representatives from Daniel’s district are planning to attend the Tuesday meeting in St. Francis. NRD officials from Nebraska also are interested in what’s said at the meeting, Jenkins said, and some may attend.

Accompanying Brownback will be Kansas Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey, Chief Water Engineer David Barfield and Kansas Water Office Director Tracy Streeter.

Meanwhile the Republican River Water Conservation District board meeting is next Thursday. From the Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

Yuma will be the site for the Republican River Water Conservation Board of Directors regular quarterly meeting, Thursday, April 9.

It will be held in the banquet room at Quintech, 529 N. Albany St. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Public comment will be heard at 1 p.m.

A discussion regarding negotiations with the Jim Hutton Educational Foundation is on the agenda. The board will discuss possible financial support to the Water Preservation Partnership, as well as membership in the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, along with other matters.

Pipeline operator Tracy Travis will give a report, and the board will hear reports on other recent meetings and programs. The board holds out the right to have an executive session if necessary.

For further information, please contact RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel at 332-3552, or on her cell phone at 630-3525, or email her at deb.daniel@rrwcd.com.

More Republican River Basin coverage here and here.


State ditches well plan — The Pueblo Chieftain

March 29, 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):

The Colorado Division of Water Resources last week dropped plans to institute new well rules for Arkansas River basin.

The rules would have applied to appropriations of groundwater after 1985, when Kansas sued Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court over groundwater appropriations. The state was not interested in pursuing the rules if water users thought them unnecessary.

“There wasn’t a consensus that it was needed,” said Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte.

A survey of ditch company officials, water attorneys and other interested parties was mixed with 39 percent favored new rules, 32 percent opposed and 29 percent neutral. Survey results were posted online.

Under current rules, new appropriations for wells must have a court-approved augmentation plan or can be approved temporarily under a substitute water supply plan.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Republican River Basin: Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado continue cooperation with water agreement — McCook Gazette

March 11, 2015
South Fork of the Republican River

South Fork of the Republican River

From the Republican River Compact Administration via the McCook Gazette:

Today, reflecting the continued spirit of cooperation, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, along with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, have reached an agreement that will ensure more certainty to the basin’s water users in both Nebraska and Kansas. The agreement, signed through the Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA), was achieved through collaborative negotiations that began in January 2015 and will provide timely access to water for the 2015 irrigation season.

The agreement provides additional flexibility for Nebraska to achieve its Compact obligations while ensuring Kansas water users’ interests are also protected. The additional flexibility allowed the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to open Nebraska reservoirs and water user’s rights that were initially limited in 2015. Opening the Nebraska water rights allowed the Bureau of Reclamation to agree to modify certain contract provisions for its irrigation districts, ensuring the availability of the water that was pumped from Nebraska augmentation projects for Compact compliance.

Additionally, the agreement allows for the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to ensure no additional regulatory water supply reductions for Nebraska surface water irrigation user’s water supplies for the 2015 irrigation season.

Current RRCA Chairman Jim Schneider, Acting Director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, said, “This is a significant step forward for the states and our water users. Our collaborative work and this agreement further demonstrate the benefits of the recent cooperation that the states have been able to achieve. I am optimistic that the states and Bureau of Reclamation can work toward ensuring these types of arrangements can be in place each year so that both Nebraska and Kansas water users will secure the benefits of having more certainty in their water supplies.”

Kansas Commissioner David Barfield said, “Today’s agreement continues to move us forward toward a longer-term solution benefiting the basin’s water users. I appreciate not only Nebraska’s continued willingness to work through these issues, but also the Bureau of Reclamation and its irrigation districts for their part in reaching today’s agreement.”

Colorado Commissioner Dick Wolfe said, “These recent agreements are emblematic of the new cooperation among the states and the federal government. I hope it continues to be a model for cooperation and successful settlement of the remaining issues within the basin.”

At the Nov. 19, 2014, meeting in Manhattan, Kansas, the states reached an agreement that provided Nebraska with 100% credit for water delivered from augmentation projects to Harlan County Lake prior to June 1, 2015, and dedicated that water to be used exclusively by Kansas irrigators.

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 meeting is scheduled for August to be hosted in Lincoln, Nebraska.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.


Colorado Division of Water Resources: Well Construction Rules 2015 Rulemaking ― Proposed Changes to the 2005 Rules

February 20, 2015


Palmer Lake: “If we could all get together and try to figure this out without getting attorneys involved, I’m all for it” — Rafael Dominguez

January 26, 2015

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

The towns of Palmer Lake and Monument are in a gridlock over 21.8 million gallons of water, a bitter debate that could pit the towns against each other in court.

Palmer Lake residents, desperate to use the water to save their dry lake, thronged Monument’s Tuesday evening board of trustees meeting to plead for water.

Palmer Lake has been grappling with the state and other southern Colorado water districts since December 2013, when it asked to convert an old railroad water right into something that could save the lake.

The railroad water right has gone unused since the late 1950s, when Colorado’s railroads stopped running steam engines.

For the Town of Monument, losing 67 acre feet of water – an acre foot of water is enough to cover a football field in a foot of water – could have a serious impact on Monument Lake. The towns are working on a negotiation, but without a settlement their dispute will be take to court on Feb. 3.

Monument carefully monitors the lake, and even when it is down 1/100th, town administrators know, said Tom Tharnish, director of public works. Sixty-seven acre feet, or 21.8 million gallons a year, is about a month’s worth of drinking water for Monument.

“If you take 67 acre feet, there’s going to be an effect on Monument Lake,” he said.

While others have steadily dropped from the case, Monument has remained staunch about protecting the town’s water. But Tuesday’s meeting brought together residents from both towns, many of whom pleaded with the board of trustees to let Palmer Lake take the water.

Most argued that the towns are one community and should be invested in each other’s prosperity. Jodie Bliss, a Monument business owner, was one of a few Monument residents who spoke in favor of using the water right to fill the lake.

“I support filling Palmer Lake,” she told the trustees. “My point of view has to a lot to do with the fact that we are one community.”

Residents like Bliss packed the town hall and filled the parking lot. One man in the audience spoke out against Monument turning the water rights over to Palmer Lake. Other audience members joked that the famed “tri-lakes region” has only two lakes.

Jeff Hulsmann of Awake Palmer Lake, a group founded to help resuscitate the lake, was the last to speak on Tuesday. He echoed earlier pleas to encourage cooperation between the two closely connected towns.

“It’s incredible to me how many people came up here and said, ‘Well, I live in Palmer Lake but I used to live in Monument’,” he said. “I implore you, do something that works for all of us.”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

When Palmer Lake resident Cynthia Graff took her seat in front of the Monument board of trustees last week, she was one in a long line of area residents who came to plead for a timeless Western right – water.

Water, specifically in Palmer Lake, is part of what drew Graff and others to the Tri-Lakes region. Even after development cut off the flow of runoff into the natural lake, Palmer Lake residents have fought for six decades to keep the iconic lake full. But now the town is fighting for the water against close competitors, the town of Monument and its lake, pitting the survival of one lake against another.

For some locals, the fight over an old railroad water right has one resolution – to fill Palmer Lake, which has been dry since 2012 and began losing water a decade ago.

“We just think this is our water,” Graff said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We deserve to have it back in our lake so we can deserve to be the Tri-Lakes area again.”

Although the meeting was thronged with Monument business owners, Palmer Lake residents and combinations of both advocating to fill the lake, the towns’ lawyers have yet to agree on the fate of 21.8 million gallons of water.

Palmer Lake has been unofficially tapping into the water, once used to fill steam engines on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, since the engines were pulled from the tracks in the late 1950s. But when the town filed in December 2013 to make that water use official, it met with state and local resistance – common in a state where water rights have always been carefully protected.

The town asked for 67 acre feet of water to fill the lake each year – an acre foot is enough to cover a football field in a foot of water.

One by one, objectors to Palmer Lake’s plan to fill the lake settled with the town, all except Monument. Using the water to fill Palmer Lake would lower levels in Monument Lake, which has been declining because of evaporation, said Tom Tharnish, Monument’s director of public works.

“If you take 67 acre feet, there’s going to be an effect on Monument Lake,” Tharnish said.

Unless the towns can settle on the fate of the water, the fight is headed to court Feb. 3. Jeff Hulsmann of Awake Palmer Lake, a nonprofit created to help restore the lake, believes the town stands a good chance to secure the water it needs.

“We have an awful lot of confidence that we will win in court,” he said.

Hulsmann has a complicated relationship with both towns – as do many people who live in one town but own a business in the other. Hulsmann knows that ultimately helping Palmer Lake could mean harming Monument Lake.

“I lose on both ends of this deal,” he said.

A rare body of water

As legend has it, when General William Jackson Palmer scouted southern Colorado for railroad routes, he believed Palmer Lake – the only natural lake for miles around – to be truly unique.

“He apparently said, ‘It was the only open body of water between Denver and El Paso, Texas,'” said Tom VanWormer, of the Palmer Lake Historical Society.

Palmer Lake became an essential part of southern Colorado life, supporting a resort town and providing water for steam engines and ice for refrigeration. Palmer wasn’t the first to discover it, however – Ute Indians lived nearby long before William Finley Thompson plotted the area in the 1880s and christened “Loch Katrine.”

Although Palmer eventually gave his name to the lake, it remained a contested source of water and recreational spot for railroads passing through, VanWormer said. Palmer’s Denver & Rio Grande railway later competed with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway for use of the lake’s water and shores.

“It was a great place to come and picnic, to row boats around,” VanWormer said. But to keep the rival railroad’s passengers from venturing to the lake, Palmer had an “8-foot tall barbed wire fence” built on the AT&SF side, VanWormer said.

Later, reservoirs and dams would add Monument and Woodmoor lakes – giving the Tri-Lakes region its name. None of lakes were used for drinking water. Instead, the towns relied on reservoirs and wells to put water in their taps and used creeks to fill their lakes. But when railroads retired steam engines, water in the Tri-Lakes area took on a new significance – supporting increasing populations and keeping the lakes, diminished without runoff, full.

‘It’s an emotional issue’

Thanks to a lease from the railroad, Palmer Lake had tacitly used the old railroad water right to fill its lake for half a century. But in 2002, a severe drought year, publicity about the lake’s ability to stay full brought scrutiny to that agreement, Hulsmann said.

“In 2002, the state comes down and says, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing?'” Hulsmann recalled. “So essentially the state says you can’t use the water right (because) it’s an industrial water right.” [ed. emphasis mine]

Palmer Lake purchased the leased water right in the 1980s, but in state records, the right was still marked for industrial use. According to Colorado’s water laws, it could not be used to fill the town’s lake. In December 2013, Palmer Lake filed to have the right declared a municipal one, fair game for lake-filling. But nothing is that simple in water court.

“So basically everybody downstream objects, and we expected that. If you don’t object then you get no information,” Hulsmann said.

To prove its right to use some of the water abandoned by the railroad, Palmer Lake hired expert witnesses to delve into decades of data on the railroad’s water use. Calculating the number of engines that passed by the lake per day between 1871 and 1955 – 20 to 30 – and factoring in tank size, the study determined that Palmer Lake could use 112 acre feet a year to fill the lake. The town settled for 67 acre feet, Hulsmann said.

The objectors – among them the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the city of Colorado Springs – eventually settled with Palmer Lake, but the town of Monument remained the sole objector, claiming that Palmer Lake abandoned the water and had no right to champion for its official use to fill the lake. Monument officials believe that Palmer Lake has yet to exhaust all ways to get water – for instance digging wells or purchasing another water right. Nonetheless, administrators from both towns say an agreement is in the works.

“There are still negotiations going on,” said Gary Shupp, the lawyer for the town of Monument. “Whether this case goes to trial or not still remains to be seen.”

Palmer’s days of railroad wars are long over, but the subject of water clearly remains a deeply personal one when it comes to Palmer Lake’s survival. At Tuesday’s trustees meeting, residents claimed all chairs and standing room. All but one person spoke up and asked the board to drop Monument’s objection to Palmer Lake’s water use request. Ultimately, Monument Mayor Rafael Dominguez had the last word.

“If we could all get together and try to figure this out without getting attorneys involved, I’m all for it,” he said. “We don’t want to harm Palmer Lake at all. But it’s a water rights issue. And water rights are a big issue in the state of Colorado.”

The residents absorbed his comments and then, one by one, got up and left the room.

More water law coverage here.


Higher streamflow, groundwater Subdistrict No. 1 curtailments, boost unconfined aquifer by 71,440 acre-feet in 2014

January 25, 2015
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Irrigators and water officials looking to conserve groundwater in the San Luis Valley got a small dose of good news this week. The volume in the unconfined aquifer — the shallower of the valley’s two major groundwater bodies — increased by 71,440 acre-feet in 2014.

“We did turn the corner,” said Allen Davey, an engineer who conducts the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s groundwater monitoring.

The increase was the first since 2009.

Davey attributed the hike to better stream flows than had been seen in recent years.

He also pointed to a decline in pumping in Subdistrict No. 1, which has used a combination of fees on pumping and the fallowing of farm ground to reduce demand on the aquifer in the north-central part of the valley.

The unconfined aquifer has traditionally been used by farmers in the valley to water crops like potatoes, barley and alfalfa when the availability of surface water declines in mid- to late-summer.

Recharge to the shallow aquifer occurs from streams entering the San Luis Valley floor, canal leakage and irrigation return flows.

Despite this year’s slight improvement, the unconfined aquifer has declined by more than 1.2 million acre-feet since monitoring began in 1976.

An acre-foot is the equivalent of roughly 325,000 gallons of water.

The long-term decline is of concern to the managers of Subdistrict No. 1, who have the goal of increasing the volume of the unconfined aquifer by 800,000 to 1 million acre-feet.

David Robbins is an attorney for the Rio Grande district, which acts as the umbrella organization for the subdistrict.

He said the subdistrict’s board is wrestling with the question of whether to seek a change in its water management plan.

“There are many within the subdistrict boundaries and elsewhere who are concerned there hasn’t been a more dramatic increase in water supply within the subdistrict,” he said.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.


First lease-fallowing pilot project under HB13-1248 to move to CWCB next week

January 20, 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 state engineer’s review of a plan to lease water from the Catlin Canal to upstream cities will move to the Colorado Water Conservation Board later next week. The state board is scheduled to review the plan on Jan. 26, the first day of its two-day meeting in Denver.

The plan is the first pilot project under 2013 legislation, HB1248, that allows the CWCB to review projects that lease water from farms to cities on a long-term, temporary basis. In order to provide the water, agricultural land must be dried up during the lease. No more than 30 percent of any given farm may be fallowed during the 10-year lease period.

Seven farms with 1,128 acres on the Catlin Canal will be dried up on a rotational basis to provide up to 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons) per year to three municipal water users: Fowler in Otero County, and Fountain and the Security Water and Sanitation District in El Paso County. If approved, the lease would begin this year.

The CWCB accepted the project in September, but will look at the details in the upcoming review. The state engineer’s office reviewed the plans in a way similar to a water court application or substitute water supply plan.

Bill Tyner, assistant Water Division 2 engineer, told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Thursday that a review of the application has been completed and will go to the CWCB next week with a recommendation to proceed.

The review included concerns about impacts on other water rights from Southeastern and other groups in the Arkansas Valley.

“It’s an important time in the Arkansas River basin for those who have tired to get a lease-fallowing program going. It’s finally going to occur,” Tyner said.

The program is supported by the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, a corporation that includes members from several ditches, as well as the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

More HB13-1248 coverage here. More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


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