The latest eTap newsletter is hot off the presses from @DenverWater

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

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Summer’s heat is off, and so are sprinklers — if you want to prevent costly damage when the first freeze falls. Winterize your irrigation system, hoses and spigots now by clearing them of any water.

Since Colorado winters can also bring periods of tepid temperatures and dry skies, trees and shrubs may still need watering. If you must water, do so the efficient way: by hand, applying water only where it’s needed.

Here are other ways to get your yard ready to weather the winter:

  • Mow. Late-season mowing helps reduce the risk of mold and other diseases. Try to get in one last cut before the next snow flies.
  • Mulch. With one easy step, you can both “rake” and bag while benefiting your yard. Just keep the bag off your mower and mulch the leaves into the grass.
  • Make plans. Start prepping next year’s garden. Consider saving water the tasty, health-conscious way by growing vegetables instead of grass. If you need inspiration, check out this customer’s veggie box haven.
  • You’ll reap the benefits of your prep work when the next growing season springs. (In the meantime, know that we’re employing some forward thinking on customers’ behalf.)

    Corn research aims for water savings — Ag Journal

    From the Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

    Colorado’s corn industry is looking for tools to boost water use efficiency, ranging from sophisticated variable rate irrigation systems to low-cost electronics and hand-made devices that can be put together with materials from the nearest hardware store.

    Colorado’s corn industry is looking for tools to boost water use efficiency, ranging from sophisticated variable rate irrigation systems to low-cost electronics and hand-made devices that can be put together with materials from the nearest hardware store.

    Farmers and agribusiness professionals got the chance to kick the tires recently on several related research projects during a meeting and tour held at Wray, Colorado. Corn harvest, which started roughly a week and a half ahead of normal in the area, was already under way in surrounding fields.

    In addition to discussing progress on drought tolerant hybrids, the group heard from private crop consultant Chad Godsey, of Eckley, who is looking into the amount of potential water savings from variable rate irrigation…

    Mark Sponsler, the association’s executive director, praised the project, saying it was right in line with heightened concerns about resource management by farmers, rural communities and the general public.

    In fact, Colorado Corn is launching a new farm stewardship award this year, to be presented at the association’s annual meeting and banquet Dec. 7 in Yuma. The honor will include a $10,000 cash award and an expense paid trip to the next annual Commodity Classic, which brings together leading producers of corn, wheat, soybeans and sorghum.

    In a field at Rogers Farm south of Wray, Godsey pointed to an irrigation tower outfitted with a variable rate motor. Blue valves mounted at the top of each drop nozzle shut on and off independently as the unit crosses the field. Godsey said he was using a soil texture grid map along with six soil moisture probes and an on-site weather station to set up his irrigation scheduling.

    “I’m confident we can save 15 percent on our water use compared to just straight irrigation, and I think our savings in sandy soils could be even better,” he said. “We’ve been pumping less than we historically have, and last year we did not see it affect our yield at all.”

    Eventually, he hopes to test his theory in a year when rainfall is more limited.

    He is also evaluating the impact of various water and fertilizer rates throughout the growing season and the effect of higher seeding rates on irrigation demand.

    One of the challenges to adopting variable rate technology is cost. Jim Williams, the president of J&J Irrigation in Wray, estimated that variable rate technology nearly doubles the cost of a new center-pivot, which starts at around $60,000. In some cases, financial incentives are available through programs like the National Resource Conservation Service’s EQIP or from rural electric cooperatives, which can help defray the costs.

    Recognizing the need for cost containment in the current economic environment, a team from USDA’s Ag Research Service in Fort Collins has been working to identify an affordable tool for diagnosing water stress and pinpointing precisely when irrigation applications are needed…

    something new has come on the market, the FLIR One thermal imaging device. For around $200, it attaches to an Android or Mac smartphone and effectively turns it into a thermal imaging camera.

    To enhance the use of the device, they also showed off two low-cost, easy-to-build accessories. A “selfie stick” for mounting the camera-phone allows them to vary the angle of photos taken from above the canopy. A simple shade-measuring tool, made by applying strips of tape to a plain white plastic pipe, can be laid on the ground under the plants and used to help judge canopy thickness.

    “It’s a cheap way of getting true facts about your field,” Willi said.

    Sponsler suggested the monitoring technique could be used to complement readings from soil moisture probes, which are expensive to install. He could also see it becoming popular among crop consultants who need quick and easy ways to monitor crop conditions in multiple fields.

    He also noted that incorporating it with CSU’s corn hybrid trials might help researchers collect more data about the how plants respond to various growing conditions throughout the season.


    Protecting Our #ColoradoRiver — Mark Udall #COriver

    Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
    Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

    From Morning Consult (Mark Udall):

    Water makes the West as we know it. Congressman Wayne Aspinall put it best: In the West, when you touch water, you touch everything. Never have these words rang more true that today, as we endure a record 16th year of drought in the Colorado River basin — and nearly everyone and everything has been affected.

    Demand for water in the river basin now exceeds supply, threatening the drinking water supply for 40 million users of the Colorado River, an indispensable agricultural yield that depends on sufficient water, and the river that powers a $26 billion outdoor recreation economy based on river-related activities. Clearly everything we can do to conserve water and use it more efficiently means a great deal at this point.

    Understanding this, President Obama has recently taken several successive measures to bring drought relief and resiliency to Colorado and many of the suffering areas that depend on the Colorado River. In March, coinciding with World Water Day, he issued a directive calling on federal agencies to ramp up the nation’s capabilities to address long-term drought resilience, ordering agencies to collaborate on drought-related activities in key watersheds. It benefits taxpayers and our environment when we ensure that drought resiliency and recovery assistance operates at peak effectiveness.

    Subsequently, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López announced in June their intent to boost funding for and better coordinate their respective key water conservation programs: the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and WaterSMART, respectively. This kind of investment and collaboration is essential at a time when drought is the new normal in the West.

    That said, our work is far from over. The WaterSMART grant program, championed by Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor, is a critical component of efforts to restore water supply and demand balance in the West. WaterSMART grants have been a powerful tool for spurring locally-led water conservation projects. These grants come with a match requirement that leverages federal investment dollar for dollar with state and private funding, which means they’re great for taxpayers as much as water users. However, very few projects that have received grants thus far have benefited fish or wildlife habitat, or put water back into our rivers, even though species recovery is one goal of the program.

    Just a few small adjustments to WaterSMART grant criteria would make the program even more productive. If we began to reward collaborative, multi-stakeholder efforts to improve watershed health while creating agriculture or municipal water supply benefits, our environment and recreation economy would also stand to benefit. We would create more drought resiliency by keeping water in our rivers and protecting wildlife habitat while improving the reliability of municipal or agricultural water supply. We should also look at how grant recipients can be more transparent about sharing data related to water use and savings. These are small changes to Reclamation’s successful WaterSMART program that would create even more public benefit by supporting local, collaborative, place-based solutions to water scarcity.

    Without question, the administration has taken important steps this year to combat drought in the Colorado River and in other key watersheds across the United States. But, there’s always more to do. Coming from “the geography of hope” Westerners are willing. I would urge the Administration to partner with us and adopt these modest but strategic changes to the Interior Department’s water conservation grant program. Water is everything in the West, and we must work together and do everything in our power to protect and sustain a healthy Colorado River — no matter how small the step may seem — so that it may continue to be an environmental, recreational, and economic resource and a vital source of life for us all.

    Conservation Prevents #ColoradoRiver Shortage Declaration — Circle of Blue #COriver

    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    A resolute effort in Arizona, California, and Nevada to reduce Colorado River water use is slowing the decline of Lake Mead and delaying mandatory restrictions on water withdrawals from the drying basin.

    The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees lake levels, forecasts that Arizona, California, and Nevada will draw less than 7 million acre-feet from the river this year, some 500,000 acre-feet less than they are permitted to consume and the lowest since 1992. (An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, enough water to flood an acre of land with one foot of water.) At Lake Mead’s current water level, 500,000 acre-feet equals slightly more than six feet in elevation — just enough water to tip the lake into shortage levels, if it had been used.

    The savings have been building. Four major conservation programs since 2014 have added roughly 10 feet of water to Lake Mead since 2014, according to Rose Davis, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Office. These programs, collaborations between federal, state, and local agencies, pay farmers not to grow crops, line earthen canals with concrete to prevent leaks, remove grass from golf courses, or install more efficient irrigation equipment. The savings are banked in Lake Mead.

    “These programs are working,” Davis told Circle of Blue. “These partnerships are working. They are making a difference.”

    The August analysis of the basin’s hydrology, an assessment carried out every month by the Bureau of Reclamation, concluded that the water level in Lake Mead will be above 1,075 feet in elevation next January. Those dates are important because the August study determines how much water the Bureau will release from Lake Powell into Lake Mead the following year and whether there will be a shortage in the three lower basin states. A shortage, which has never been declared, happens when the August study shows that Lake Mead will be below 1,075 feet in January. That will not happen next year. The lake’s forecasted water level in January is 1,080 feet.

    The benefits of conservation spread beyond next year. The risk of a shortage in the near-term will go down. The last time the Bureau ran the numbers, in April, the results showed a 56 percent chance of shortage for 2018. The updated calculations, which will be published next week, will show “greatly reduced odds,” Davis said.

    Water managers in the basin say that conservation gains can be maintained and extended. “All of the programs are long-term, reaching out several decades,” Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, told Circle of Blue.

    More Challenges Still To Come
    Even with the conservation success, hard decisions are close at hand. One, the basin must come to terms with the “structural deficit.” This is the term water managers use to describe a basic imbalance: in a year with average water releases from Lake Powell, the water level at Lake Mead will drop by roughly 12 feet because demand exceeds supply. James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, called the structural deficit “a root discussion over the last several years” among all seven basin states.

    Two, the risk calculations will change as the four states in the upper basin — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — pull more water out of the basin.

    Three, water managers and politicians alike must figure out what to do about the Salton Sea, a festering sore in the basin’s politics. The sea — in fact, a lake — was created in 1905 when the Colorado River burst through a dike and filled a desert depression that had no ocean outlet. In later years, the Salton, now California’s largest lake, swelled with farm drainage and grew saltier from evaporation.

    The Salton has been shrinking since 2003, when a historic agreement between Imperial Irrigation District and state, federal, and tribal agencies resulted in a large transfer of water from farm to city, which reduced farm runoff. As part of the agreement, Imperial delivered water to prop up the lake, which is also an important habitat for birds migrating along the Pacific flyway. But those deliveries will cease at the end of 2017, after which the lake will go into a tailspin, shrinking rapidly and becoming several times saltier than the ocean. Pesticides, salts, and toxic dust on the seabed poses an immediate health threat to the people of the Coachella Valley, Imperial County, and Mexicali, a border city of 1 million people. A solution to the Salton Sea problem is inevitably tied to Colorado River issues upstream.

    “Being one of the largest users on the river, it’s in our best interest to look out for and promote the health and welfare of the system as a whole,” Marion Champion, spokeswoman for Imperial Irrigation District, told Circle of Blue. “That said, we will need some reassurances from the state of California that it will live up to its restoration promises for the Salton Sea.”

    Imperial has the largest allocation of Colorado River water — 3.1 million acre-feet, more than one-fifth of the river’s average annual runoff — of any user in the basin. Champion said that she expects Imperial to be a part of a basin-wide drought plan, but only if the Salton Sea is addressed, with either money or water, or both.

    “That participation is contingent on a state led restoration plan and implementation commitment to ensure our community’s public health is protected,” she said.

    Colorado Corn seeking applications for new ‘Farm Stewardship’ award

    Sweet corn near Olathe, CO photo via The Nature Conservancy.
    Sweet corn near Olathe, CO photo via The Nature Conservancy.

    Here’s the release from Colorado Corn:

    Many Colorado farmers are implementing some of the latest-and-greatest production methods, aimed at improving efficiency on their farms, protecting our natural resources, and enhancing air and water quality.

    And now Colorado Corn wants to honor the producers taking these efforts to new heights.

    The organization is seeking applications for its first ever Colorado Farm Stewardship Award.

    “It will no doubt be a difficult task to select just one winner, when we know so many of our Colorado farmers are putting extensive time and energy into being excellent stewards of our resources, while also producing our food, fuel and fiber,” said Mark Sponsler, executive director for Colorado Corn. “But while it won’t be easy, we couldn’t be more excited about this new stewardship program. We feel this award will provide a platform for many growers to share their great stories – shining a light on the numerous, forward-thinking, best-management practices taking place on Colorado’s farms.”

    The Colorado Farm Stewardship Award winner is expected to be selected by a committee comprised of board member representatives from the Colorado Corn Administrative Committee (CCAC) and Colorado Corn Growers Association (CCGA), as well as other experts in agriculture, conservation and sustainability.

    The announcement of the winner will be made during the Colorado Corn Annual Banquet in Yuma on Dec. 7.

    In addition to the awards banquet recognition, the winner will be recognized in Colorado Corn’s communications and outreach efforts, and will also receive the organization’s nomination for the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Good Steward Recognition – an honor that includes a $10,000 cash award for the winner, among other prizes.

    Applicants must be Colorado Corn Growers Association members in good standing, implement conservation-tillage methods, and demonstrate practices related to soil, water or air stewardship.

    Applications are due Nov. 18. The application can be found here.

    If you have any questions, you can contact Melissa Ralston at, Eric Brown at, or call our office at (970) 351-8201.

    Questions remain on use of rain barrels — The #Colorado Springs Gazette #coleg

    Photo via the Colorado Independent
    Photo via the Colorado Independent

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jim Flynn):

    At the heart of this [water law] system, and protected by a section of the Colorado Constitution, is a concept called “prior appropriation.” The way this works is that some water users have priority over other water users, with the effect that, in times of scarcity, holders of senior water rights receive their water and holders of junior water rights do not. The seniority of water rights is generally based on a first-to-use-wins concept, meaning the most senior (and therefore the most valuable) water rights go back to the 1800s.

    Any upstream activity even remotely threatening to downstream water rights holders is cause for great alarm. This came to light in the 2016 session of the Colorado Legislature when a bill (House Bill 16-1005) was introduced intended to regulate the collection of rainwater in barrels.

    What finally emerged, after heated debate, is a new law allowing rainwater running off the rooftop of a residential property containing no more than four dwelling units to be collected in no more than two barrels having a combined storage capacity of no more than 110 gallons. These barrels must have a sealable lid; the water from the barrels can only be used at the property where the water is collected; and it can only be used for outdoor purposes “including irrigation of lawns and gardens.” The water “shall not be used for drinking water or indoor household purposes.” (Whether the water could be used for bathing activities if conducted outdoors is not clear.)

    The state engineer, “to the extent practicable within existing resources,” is instructed to provide information on his agency’s website about the permitted and prohibited uses of rain barrels and water collected therein. The state engineer is also given authority to curtail rain barrel usage in situations where it might impair the rights of downstream water users. And the state engineer is required to diligently study whether rain barrel usage is causing injury to holders of downstream water rights and to report back to the Legislature on this issue by no later than March 1, 2019.

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also gets into the act. That agency is instructed, “to the extent practicable within existing resources,” to develop “best practices” intended to address nonpotable usage of collected rainwater and issues relating to disease and pest control. When and if such best practices are developed, they are to be posted on the department’s website and on the state engineer’s website. Alternatively, the state engineer’s website can provide a link back to the department’s website.

    Finally, knowing the penchant of homeowners living in common-interest ownership communities to fight over almost everything, the Legislature added language to the new law addressing rain barrel usage in these communities. An owners association in a common-interest ownership community cannot prohibit rooftop water collection using rain barrels. The association can, however, “impose reasonable aesthetic requirements that govern the placement or external appearance of a rain barrel.” So, for any of you who have the misfortune of serving on your neighborhood architectural control committee, it’s time to develop design guidelines for rain barrels.

    #ColoradoRiver: Momentum — Doug Kenney #COriver

    How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it's caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
    How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it’s caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Carpe Diem West (Doug Kenney):

    I’ve been spending a lot of time lately talking to colleagues about the current state of the Colorado River, and if there’s one word that captures their collective assessment, it is momentum. Throughout the basin, a lot of really good innovations are occurring. Conservation has, rightly, emerged as a credible management tool, and not merely something for the hippies to talk about. Cooperation among the states, between the US and Mexico, and between the water users and environmentalists, is arguably at an all-time high. Thoughtful people hold key posts in many of the relevant agencies. And so on. Sure, there’s still too many efforts to build new straws to further depletions, some key players—such as the tribes—are still struggling for meaningful inclusion, and there’s never enough money, especially for costly reforms such as improved watershed management. But compared to 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, it’s a different world. Momentum.

    But is it enough? Can incremental progress on several fronts congeal to form a comprehensive, lasting solution to the river’s problems? And can it happen on a schedule that acknowledges that the climate will continue to warm, populations will continue to grow, and that persistently low reservoir storage makes the region increasingly vulnerable should a few really dry years be around the corner. The challenges are all growing, and despite our current momentum, Lake Mead—the unofficial canary in this coal mine—is projected to drop further over the next 2 years. We are doing better—arguably, much better. Nobody should be shy in acknowledging this; some boasting is justified. But we aren’t winning yet. Can incremental reforms ultimately tip the scales, shifting the basin’s course from one of steady decline to one leading to true sustainability, or will it only delay a day of reckoning that ushers in more sweeping changes—reforms that go beyond what current negotiations envision? I don’t pretend to definitely know that answer. Nobody does. But I suspect we likely need one or more new “grand bargains” to get us to the finish line. If so, the ultimate value of the incremental reforms may be in establishing the networks and laying the groundwork for those conversations to occur. Momentum.

    Dr. Doug Kenney
    Doug is the Senior Research Associate, Getches-Wilkinson Natural Resources Law Center and Director of the GWC Western Water Policy Program. Doug is a member of The Colorado River Research Group; a self-directed team of ten veteran Colorado River scholars. A founding member of Carpe Diem West, he also participates on the program team. He researches and writes extensively on several water-related issues, including law and policy reform, river basin and watershed-level planning.