Colorado Water Wise: Sign up for the @projectwet workshop on February 10 in Greeley

January 22, 2015


Resolve to conserve in 2015

January 2, 2015

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

2015 on snow at mountains
We all can take more steps to use water wisely. This year, make a resolution to conserve with these five easy steps:

  1. Look at the upper right corner of your bill. See that chart? That’s how much water you’re using on average per day. Each person in an average single-family house should use roughly 40 gallons inside per day. Aim for that number, or better yet, shoot for less!
  2. Rethink your fixtures. Some people think their 10-year-old toilet is efficient, when it probably isn’t. You can save on your water and sewer bill by replacing your toilets with an ultra-high-efficiency model. And as an added bonus, get a rebate for up to $150.
  3. Make a plan to modify part of your landscape. Winter is the perfect time to outline changes for your outside living area. Maybe your landscape could benefit from an efficient drip system, or maybe part of…

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“There are a lot of good tools out there that could create informal and formal benefits” — Amy Beatie

December 26, 2014

Screen shot from Peter McBride's video arguing that the Crystal River should be left as is

Screen shot from Peter McBride’s video arguing that the Crystal River should be left as is


From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board unanimously agreed Thursday to approve a $45,000 grant to help the East Mesa Water Co. repair an irrigation ditch on the Crystal River as long as the ditch company agrees to talk with the county about ways to leave more water in the river.

The grant comes with the condition “that the shareholders of the East Mesa Ditch agree to engage with the river board and consider working with Pitkin County on matters of irrigation efficiency and measures to protect instream flows and the free-flowing nature of the Crystal River.”

The condition was left broad, as there are no routine ways in Colorado to improve an irrigation system and then leave any saved water in a river despite the fact that 86 percent of the water diverted from Colorado’s rivers is for agriculture.

On Friday, Dennis Davidson, a consultant helping East Mesa secure funding for the ditch-repair project, said the 12 shareholders in the ditch company would likely accept the county’s condition.

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” said Davidson, who had not conferred with the shareholders yet. “There is no reason for them not to talk with them.”

After presenting to the river board Nov. 20, Marty Nieslanik, president of East Mesa Water Co., said, “I think all of us we want to see the river healthy, too. I mean, it’s not like we’re trying to hog all the water; it just takes water to do what we do.

“We need the water to maintain our lifestyle, but if there is any way that we can make that water more efficient, then maybe there is some way that we can leave some of it the river.”

The East Mesa Ditch repair project includes shoring up a collapsing tunnel and installing 1,200 feet of new pipe. The project is still being engineered, and the projected cost is now $700,000.

East Mesa has raised $410,000 for the project from state and federal sources so far. That does not include the river board’s $45,000 grant, which still must be approved by the Pitkin County commissioners, who are set to review it Jan. 6.

The repairs to the ditch are not expected to result in more water for the river, but other improvements, such as piping or lining more sections, installing high-tech control gates and using sprinklers in fields, could likely save water.

The 8.5-mile-long ditch irrigates 740 acres of land southeast of Carbondale. Of the 740 acres, 180 acres are under a conservation easement either through Pitkin County Open Space and Trails or the Aspen Valley Land Trust.

East Mesa is the second-largest diversion on the Crystal River, which in summer can run well under the environmental minimum set by the state of 100 cubic feet per second.

The ditch has two water rights that allow it divert as much as 42 cfs of water. One right is from 1904 and is for 32 cfs. The second is from 1952 and is for 10 cfs.

Pitkin County’s river board, created in 2008, is funded with a 0.1 percent sales tax, which is expected to generate $850,000 in 2015. The board has budgeted $150,000 for grants next year.

The board is charged with “improving water quality and quantity” in the Roaring Fork River watershed and “working to secure, create and augment minimum stream flows” in conjunction with nonprofits and government agencies. The board also can improve and construct “capital facilities.”

While the vote to award East Mesa the grant was unanimous, some board members questioned whether fixing an irrigation ditch was consistent with the board’s mission.

“Our job isn’t supporting ag and open space,” said Andre Wille, the chairman of the board. “Agriculture and healthy rivers are two different things.”

But board member Bill Jochems supported the grant, saying it could increase support among irrigators for federal protection of the upper Crystal River.

And board member Dave Nixa suggested that East Mesa talk to the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust, which works with water-rights owners to find ways to leave water in rivers.

“There are a lot of good tools out there that could create informal and formal benefits,” said Amy Beatie, the executive director of the water trust, who was pleased Friday with the river board’s decision.

Rick Lofaro, the executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, is working with irrigators in the Crystal River Valley as part of developing a management plan for the river.

“The goodwill and the momentum this could create could really be precedent-setting,” Lofaro told the river board Thursday.

Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Meanwhile, he East Mesa Water Company is asking Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board for dough to pipe the ditch, according to this article from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism:

The East Mesa Water Company is asking Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board for a $45,000 grant to help cover the $550,000 cost of installing 1,450 feet of new pipe in the 8.5-mile-long East Mesa Ditch.

The irrigation ditch can divert up to 42 cubic feet per second of water out of the Crystal River 9 miles above Carbondale, but it typically diverts about 32 cfs.

The proposed East Mesa Ditch project entails installing 48-inch plastic pipe on a failing section of the irrigation ditch that includes an 80-year-old, 650-foot-long tunnel and a hillside that often sheds rock and mud down toward the ditch.

The work will keep the ditch functioning but won’t result in more water being left in the Crystal River, which is a goal of the county river board.

“As a board, with our mission, we’d like to keep as much water in the river as we can,” Andre Wille, the chair of the county river board, said Nov. 20 during the review of the East Mesa application. “If we can improve the efficiency of that ditch, and leave the rest in the river, that would be in our interest.”

Dennis Davidson, a consultant for East Mesa Water Co. with more than 40 years experience at the Natural Resource Conservation Service, said there would be “minimal” water added to the river from the repair project, as it only included adding 1,450 feet of pipe to a 8.5-mile-long ditch.

But, he noted, if the ditch were fully piped, which he said would cost $20 million, there would be water savings.

“If we lined the East Mesa Ditch from beginning to end, we would probably get by diverting 50 percent of the water that we divert,” Davidson told the river board.

The ditch “loses as much as 35 percent of the water in the ditch due to seepage through the course and rocky soil,” according to a feasibility study from East Mesa submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in a funding application.

The East Mesa Ditch typically runs the first two weeks of May until about mid-October. It sends water to 740 acres of land between 1 and 5 miles south of Carbondale, most if it with big views of Mount Sopris and some of it protected with conservation easements.

The water is used for cattle ranching, and growing nursery trees, forage crops and hay.

On paper, the East Mesa Ditch is the second biggest diversion on the lower Crystal.

The largest diversion on the river is the Sweet Jessup Canal, which can divert 75 cfs. It is located about a mile-and-a-half upstream from the East Mesa diversion structure.

When the Sweet Jessup, the East Mesa and the Lowline Ditch, which is just downstream of East Mesa, are all diverting, water levels in the Crystal River often drop well below the environmental minimum of 100 cfs set by the state.

According to a study done by consultant Seth Mason in 2012, the river below the diversions dropped to 4 cfs Sept. 4 and to 1 cfs Sept. 22, 2012.

“Near complete dewatering of the stream channel was observed through much of September at Thomas Road and near the Garfield/Pitkin County line,” Mason, with Lotic Hydrological, LLC, said in his 2012 report.

Need to divert all the water?

The East Mesa Ditch has a senior water right for 32 cfs that dates back to 1894 and a second water right for 10 cfs from 1942.

Davidson told the river board that in his experience in the Roaring Fork River Valley, 20 cfs is usually enough to irrigate 800 acres of land.

As the East Mesa Ditch typically diverts 32 cfs to irrigate 740 acres, does that mean there is as much as 12 cfs of water that could potentially be left in the river and still allow for adequate irrigation?

No, according to Marty Nieslanik, president of the East Mesa Water Co.

He said the full 32 cfs of water needs to be diverted today to act as “push water” to convey water to the end of the long irrigation ditch.

“We figure we lose two feet of water from our head gate to the last person who takes it out,” Nieslanik said.

He also said that some of the diverted water also returns to the river.

“After it dumps out at our ranch, it comes down the draw and drops in right below the fish hatchery,” Nieslanik said. “So that’s why you see the big difference as you drive down the Crystal, it’s almost dry and then all of a sudden there is a lot of water there.”

Nieslanik told the river board that the company was “trying to make our water go further.”

“If we can get that whole mesa irrigated with 25 feet of water, we may let six or eight of water go by to help the river maintain its levels,” he said.

“It would be good to understand the benefits,” river board member Lisa Tasker told Nieslanik about the project. “We are very interested in the natural hydrograph and trying to mimic that as best as possible.

“Speaking for myself, I would love to leave a little bit of water coming down the river to help the river out, if we could somehow make that happen,” Neislanik said after the meeting. “We need the water to maintain our lifestyle, but if there is any way that we can make that water more efficient, then maybe there is some way that we can leave some of it the river.”

Money for water

The East Mesa Water Company is on track to raise $410,000 toward its ditch-repair project, whether or not the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board agrees to a grant.

The company will receive a $300,000 grant from the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service when the work is complete.

It has secured a $60,000 grant from the Colorado River Basin Roundtable and a $25,000 grant from the Colorado River District. And it has requested a $25,000 grant from the Colorado Soil Conservation Board.

The company also has obtained a $375,000 loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is to serve as a bridge loan until the project is complete and grant funds come in, Davidson said.

There are 12 shareholders in the East Mesa Water Co., and 1,003 shares have been issued to them, based on the size of their land holdings. Owners are assessed an annual fee of $15 a share, which brings in $15,000 a year. The company has no debt.

“The East Mesa Water Co. operates on assessments of the water users,” according to the feasibility study given to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “For many years, the ditch company has kept the assessments as low as possible as many of the users are just getting by.”

The largest shareholders in the company include Paul Nieslanik, who owns 200 shares, John Nieslanik, who owns 185 shares, Tom Bailey, whose Iron Rose Ranch owns 185 shares and Richard McIntrye, who owns 168 shares.

Marty Nieslanik told the county the hay grown with water from the East Mesa ditch was worth about $500,000 a year under a calculation of four tons of hay per acre, on 740 acres, at $170 per ton.

At the end of Nieslanik’s presentation, the members of the Healthy Rivers and Stream Board agreed to meet in December to continue to review East Mesa’s application.

The Healthy Rivers and Streams Board will next consider the East Mesa application Thursday at 4 p.m. in Pitkin County’s Plaza 1 meeting room.

Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

More Crystal River coverage here.


“Our agriculture water is the low-hanging fruit” — J. Paul Brown

December 22, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Protecting Western Slope agriculture appears to be one area of agreement as the region looks for ways of speaking with one voice on Colorado water issues. That was one takeaway from what was effectively a Western Slope water summit held [December 18] in Grand Junction with the goal of presenting some consolidated messages on the state’s newly drafted water plan.

Members of four roundtable groups — representing the Gunnison and Colorado river basins, southwest Colorado and the Yampa, White and Green river basins — already have developed their own plans that were incorporated into the newly completed draft plan. Representatives from all those roundtables gathered Thursday to talk about common themes that have emerged that they can be jointly voicing to the rest of the state as a final plan is developed.

In the case of agriculture, Colorado roundtable basin chair Jim Pokrandt said it’s important that the state not engage in poor water planning that forces farmers and ranchers out of business.

Said state Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, who works in agriculture himself, “Our agriculture water is the low-hanging fruit. It’s the easy water to buy and that’s exactly what’s happened.”

He talked about a need for more Front Range storage of its own water and alternatives like bringing in water from the Missouri River “so you’re not buying that agricultural water.”

Jim Spehar, a former Mesa County commissioner and Grand Junction mayor, agreed about the importance of considering agriculture in state water planning.

“If this discussion isn’t done by and for agriculture I think it will be done to agriculture,” he said.

Thursday’s discussion also turned to other areas including municipal and agriculture conservation. Gunnison County rancher Ken Spann said one thing those in agriculture need to know is where any water they might free up from conservation would go. He’d like to see it help fill Lake Powell to help states in the Upper Colorado River basin meet interstate compact water obligations.

But he worries that instead it could just end up supplying another new subdivision, or perhaps simply being offset by new water use being sought in the Yampa basin, which would mean no net increase in Colorado River water reaching Powell.

“The trade-offs (from conservation efforts) have to be identified and we are now at the point where we have to do that or people won’t play,” he said.

Western Slope water interests plan to continue talking about seeking a unified voice on water, including by addressing issues such as a somewhat controversial proposed framework for discussing any possible new diversions of western Colorado water to the Front Range.

“This is just the start of the West Slope conversation,” said Moffat County rancher T. Wright Dickinson, who also sits on Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide forum for discussing water issues.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


Conservation easements aren’t working out for everyone, assessed land values were inflated

December 21, 2014
Saguache Creek

Saguache Creek

David Migoya hits it out of the park with this in-depth look at Colorado’s conservation easement program, which was designed to be self-regulated and what happened when that didn’t work out. Take the time to read the whole thing. Follow the links as well:

From The Denver Post (David Migoya):

Rocky Ford hay farmer Timothy Crow despises staring at bankruptcy. The 61-year-old says he hates it even more that Colorado put him there. “This was supposed to be a good thing for everyone,” Crow says of the state’s conservation easement program, where land-rich but cash-poor ranchers and farmers like him can preserve their property forever in return for needed income. “It’s become a living nightmare,” he said.

Crow and thousands of others like him preserved millions of acres of land in return for state income-tax credits they could either sell for cash or use to pay their own income tax bill.

Now, the state is forcing a handful of those landowners — and hundreds of people who bought those credits — to pay as much as $220 million in back taxes because the state says the land isn’t worth what the landowners claimed.

“It’s like a bait-and-switch scam,” Crow said. “Now my land is worth nothing, and I’m broke because of it. The only one making out is the state.”

At issue are nearly 500 conservation easements like Crow’s, the bulk of them donated between 2003 and 2007, that were created under a state law that for years had no oversight.

Things went wrong from the start. Wealthy investors and their lawyers latched onto an apparent loophole where the amount of tax credits they could get — and later sell at huge profits — were maximized by way of an appraisal method the state later said was flawed.

And although many landowners went into the program honestly, they relied on appraisers who used the flawed method.

Although it took years to unravel, state investigations ensued, and corrective action was taken to prevent further abuses and works well today.

But the fallout to taxpayers who bought in during the program’s earliest days is just now reaching a crossroad.

Instead of looking to the landowners who reaped the cash from selling the tax credits, the state is reaching into the pockets of the taxpayers who used the credits to pay their tax bills. The taxpayers say they bought the credits believing the state had scrutinized the process.

“This just stinks all the way around,” said Fort Collins businessman Michael McCurdie, who today is staring at a $100,000 bill for back taxes and penalties because he bought $65,000 in easement credits in 2003.

“How is any of this our fault?” he asked.

Landowners also are reeling, with many pushed into bankruptcy or its edge, because the taxpayers who bought the credits now want their money back. Landowners, such as Crow, used the tax-credit money to keep their farms and ranches operating. A few made improvements to homes or vehicles. There isn’t much left for refunds.

“The state created, advertised, and promoted the conservation easement program with the full understanding of the (land) appraisals, and (knew about) them for years,” said Fort Collins businessman Mark Lueker, who paid $52,000 to buy about $60,000 in easement tax credits. The state has since disallowed most of his credits and forced him to pay an additional $43,000 in taxes and penalties.

State officials say they’re merely collecting on taxes due.

“It is inaccurate to suggest that buyers of (conservation easement) credits, which were subsequently disallowed, have paid their tax twice,” state Department of Revenue spokeswoman Daria Serna said in an e-mail to The Denver Post. “They were private deals negotiated by private parties, and as with any investment there is risk.”

Serna said the original idea in creating the tax credits was for landowners and tax-credit buyers to keep each other honest, not for the state to police them.

The legislation was enacted in 1999 “with the intention the program would be self-regulated,” Serna said. [ed. emphasis mine]

Lueker, like others, says the state is culpable for creating the monster and not keeping track. The mere existence of the state tax credits led many buyers to believe they were safe, he said.

“The state has to accept responsibility for fiscal losses due to its internal negligence,” Lueker said.

Triple play

The conservation easement program was to be a triple play for Colorado.

“You want landowners to put their property into easements. That’s what makes our state beautiful. That’s a win,” McCurdie said. “And the tax credit helps us, the taxpayer, facilitate it. Everyone is winning.”

The state wins because easements are donated to a nonprofit land trust that ensures it remains pristine forever, protected from urban sprawl and development.

That’s how Crow saw it when he placed his 30-acre farm into an easement in 2003. He said he wanted to ensure it would never be developed, “that it would stay part of the valley forever.”

Crow claimed income-tax credits worth $160,000 based on an appraisal that valued his land on its potential use for a housing development should nearby Rocky Ford reach him.

Crow either could apply the credits against what he owed on his own income taxes, or he could sell the credits to someone else, who in turn could use the credits to pay their taxes.

To entice buyers, tax credits are typically sold at a discount, so $10,000 of tax credits would sell for as little as $8,000. The buyer can claim the whole $10,000 against their state income-tax debt or stretch it out over a few years.

And instead of paying the state, the buyer’s money went to the landowner.

Thousands bought into the idea. To date there have been 4,243 easement donations comprising nearly 2 million acres of land since it began.

Like hundreds of other ranchers, Crow had little use for tax credits — he never owed that much — and preferred the cash-flow for his small farm.

“I’m one of the small guys,” he said. “Like so many others, I’m usually just waiting around for the wrath of God to change things.”

He sold the credits through a broker.

“We didn’t get rich, but that money sure helped when times were tough,” Crow said. “Those were not easy years.”

Everything would have been fine had state revenue agents not noticed some tax-credit buyers were making claims in dollar amounts that were out of line from others participating in the program. Something was wrong.

Money-making scheme

Investigators found a small group of investors and attorneys had twisted the fledgling program into a monumental money-making scheme.

Not only were land appraisals abused, but the investors decided a 1,000-acre donation could garner many more times the state maximum of $260,000 in tax credits by carving it into smaller donations.

Suddenly one property was worth millions of dollars in tax credits that could then be sold for cash.

Retired attorney Stanley Mann led a group of real-estate investors whose 1,000-acre development near Walsenberg was at a near stand-still with only two houses built.

“Developing in Walsenberg doesn’t happen overnight, and we saw a minimum of 19 years to get it done,” Mann said. “But we were getting older, and the (easement) idea made perfect sense.”

The group pared the land into two dozen 35-acre donations at $260,000 in tax credits each, then sold them.

It was a payday. Between 2003 and 2007, there were 2,417 donations statewide totalling $498 million in tax credits, state officials said.

About a third of them — covering nearly half the tax-credit total — were found to have faulty appraisals.

Landowners such as Crow saw only needed money they could make on land they never wanted used for anything other than what it had been for generations — for pasture and plow.

“There were those who got sucked in because it probably seemed like just another Farm Bill program,” said John Swartout, special policy adviser to Gov. John Hickenlooper and former executive director of Outdoors Colorado.

Faulty appraisals

Irregularities first caught investigators’ eyes in about 2007. The early abusers eventually were taken down, some attorneys were sanctioned, a handful of appraisers lost their licenses, and a few speculator investors repaid millions of dollars of credits they had sold to hundreds of unsuspecting taxpayers.

Meanwhile, the state backtracked through hundreds of other donations, disallowing tax credits that were claimed on 682 donations based on faulty appraisals from 2000 to 2010.

More than 80 percent of the problem donations were from 2003 to 2007.

So many credits were disqualified that the state Department of Revenue, which was in charge of the easement program at the time, couldn’t keep up. Cases were tied up in administrative red tape and legal challenges for years.

In 2011, the legislature devised a shortcut in HB11-1300, creating three regions of conservation easement district courts where the cases would go. All those involved — the state, the taxpayers and the landowners — would be part of a court process to work out who was to pay and how much.

Although landowners could choose a hearing before revenue department administrators, few did. Ultimately 478 easements headed to court, each with a dozen or more credit buyers.

“The state encouraged the conservation easements then turned around to nail everyone who had one,” said Walter Kowalchik, a retired lawyer in Jefferson County who was part of Mann’s group. “It was a horrible disappointment to hundreds of people.”

In dozens of cases since, tax-credit buyers have been told they can either repay the original amount of income tax they owed from as long as a decade ago — penalties and interest forgiven — or fight it out and risk hefty add-ons later.

“Basically I had two choices: Settle, be happy and pay the smaller amount, or complain and then pay the whole thing with penalties and interest,” said Julius Medgyesy, who runs Front Range Cancer Specialists in Fort Collins. “I had to cut another fat check.”

Not every credit buyer had to pay. Some wealthy landowners and developers, like Mann’s group, covered the tab because tax credits are sold with a promise of indemnity. If something goes wrong, the seller agrees to pay up.

Many, like Crow, couldn’t afford that. They had little money left or not enough equity in their property to pay the taxpayers back.

The money was spent long ago on their farms. Worse, their land is permanently stuck in a conservation easement that’s worth nothing now. They can never develop it, never change its current use. Selling won’t get very much. For Crow, it’s forever a hay farm.

“It’s a State of Colorado Ponzi scheme,” Medgyesy said.

“The state doesn’t care”

When the Department of Revenue told Crow the appraiser’s error on his easement donation meant he should not have gotten $160,000 in tax credits, his heart sank.

“When they pulled the plug, that was it for us,” Crow said.

The 10 people who bought the tax credits from Crow had to pay up.

That meant Jeannine Thomas, who in 2003 paid Crow about $12,000 for $15,000 of his income tax credits, had to write a second check for taxes she thought she’d handled years ago.

In all, she’s repaid about $40,000.

“What I’ve paid the state is on top of what I gave the land donors,” she said. “I can put a lien on their property or force a sale of what little they have left.”

Thomas takes a long pause.

“So, I can either kick them out of their homes or simply be quiet and eat the loss,” she said. “The state says the easements did not meet their standards, and that it’s just business. Is this what this program was intended to do? Pit the tax-credit buyers against the conservation easement donors? To hurt people?”

Many say they’ve simply put their head down and accepted their fate.

“We’ve tried to make noise, but no one wants to go toe to toe with state (tax) revenue,” McCurdie said.

The Lamar landowner from whom McCurdie and 13 others purchased tax credits works three jobs today, his land nearly worthless because of the easement on it and the subsequent disallowance of its donation value. All the money from the tax credits he sold years ago was put into the farm.

With penalties and interest, Colorado pegged McCurdie and the others for roughly $1.4 million — on top of the nearly $1 million they’d already paid for the tax credits.

“We’ve tried to make the point that we bought into (the program) on good faith,” McCurdie said. “The state simply doesn’t care. They’re very clear this is their money and they will have it.”

No one has helped

Efforts at fixing the problem have fallen on deaf ears, several say. There have been letters to officials, meetings with agencies, phone calls to the governor’s office. No one has helped.

“Our point is that the (Department of Revenue) had by far the better chance to catch this abuse back in 2004 than we did,” Fort Collins builder David Neenan wrote Hickenlooper in March, appealing for a solution.

Neenan bought $80,000 of tax credits for himself and his family for $64,000. Earlier this year, he paid the state $128,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest.

A tax bill of $80,000 has now cost him more than $200,000.

“I received a form letter thanking me for my letter,” Neenan said of his plea to Hickenlooper.

The farmers from whom Neenan bought the credits have gone bankrupt or have only a small house or a few tractors in assets.

“There’s nothing to collect from,” he said.

Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, said he’d like to take up the cause, but it’s uphill. Two earlier legislative efforts at amnesty have died.

“There’s an element of fairness here, and we need to find a way to deal with that,” Kefalas said. “But it’s a challenge.”

Even some businesses have suffered.

“We thought of participating with the state for a good cause,” said Mark Bower, executive vice president and CFO at Home State Bank in Lafayette. “It was their program. We thought we’d be a good corporate citizen and participate.”

In all, the bank lost $225,000 because of disallowed credits. Bower said it was “unpleasant” having to explain the loss to the bank’s board of directors.

“And what were we going to do, evict a rancher over it?” Bower said.

Today, mostly disabled and a widower, Crow gets by on his wife’s death benefit, too proud, he says, to apply for disability.

“This whole thing sucked the last bit of life right out of my wife,” he said of his wife, Jane, who died last year.

Looking north over the barren land behind his small home, Crow sighs.

“I was broken-hearted about how it’s all fallen apart,” he said, “and now we’re all backed into a corner.”

Even if Crow had the money to pay the buyers back, nothing would change.

His small farm is trapped in an easement for Colorado to enjoy — forever.

Click here to go to the November 23, 2007 Coyote Gulch post when things first breaking. Here’s a post about HB11-1300 designed to provide some relief to taxpayers that got caught up in the shenanigans.

Kudos to The Denver Post for keeping links alive in the archives.

More conservation easement coverage here.


Why saving water makes sense, and how one Front Range utility does it award-winningly well

December 19, 2014

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

The first draft of Colorado’s Water Plan was delivered to Gov. John Hickenlooper last week, moving the state one step closer to having a comprehensive plan for meeting future water demand while protecting the state’s many water values. As we continue to explore the way people care about water in Colorado here on the blog, we shine the spotlight this week on Front Range efforts to value water by using it wisely. We invited Patrice Lehermeier of Colorado Springs Utilities to share their water conservation successes.  

By Patrice Lehermeier

If you work with water, you get it. Increasing demand and supply challenges in Colorado are placing even more importance and value on water. As stewards of this resource, the greater test—and opportunity—comes as we work to educate and influence individuals and communities on the wise use of this limited and invaluable resource.

Ann Seymour, Colorado Springs Utilities' water conservation manager, receives the award Oct. 9, 2014 Ann Seymour, Colorado Springs Utilities’ water conservation…

View original 1,296 more words


Mancos: “It’s a Front Range-Western Slope standoff” — Mike Preston #COwaterplan

December 9, 2014
Mancos and the Mesa Verde area

Mancos and the Mesa Verde area

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Recently in Mancos, the Southwest Basin Water Roundtable met with 30 local residents about the plan.

Front Range water demand was a central topic. The Front Range’s water supply is augmented by 500,000 acre-feet per year of transmountain diversions from the Western Slope. (For comparison, McPhee Reservoir holds 380,000 acre feet.)

“The model we have now is not sustainable, so we’re here to find solutions,” said Ann Oliver, roundtable moderator.

The concern is that as urban areas grow, unallocated water from Gunnison’s Blue Mesa Reservoir and Flaming Gorge reservoir will be drawn into the transmountain tunnels to meet demand. That could put pressure on other basins to meet water and power obligations to lower basin states fed by Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Many say failure to control the situation threatens Western Slope agriculture.

“We depend on the water to grow the food, and the Front Range depends on us to put dinner on the table,” said one farmer.

The state is flirting with conservation mandates to save water, but has run into stiff political resistance from water districts in Denver, said roundtable chairman Mike Preston.

A recent bill by state Sen. Ellen Roberts, a Durango Republican, would have put water restrictions on the lawns for new Front Range housing development. But the bill was stripped of its teeth in the legislative process.

“It’s a Front Range-Western Slope standoff,” Preston said. “The bill would have been effective, but Denver water is saying they don’t need it.”

Another proposal is to adjust the 60/40 water-use model on residential development to a conservation-minded 70/30 model by 2030. The strategy divides residential water use this way: 70 percent for indoor use and 30 percent for lawn and garden. Reducing outdoor water use on lawns and gardens is seen as a solution because plants consume water, whereas household water is eventually flushed and drained back into the watershed beyond the sewer treatment plants. The proposed 70/30 rule for new development would also help offset the “buy and dry” trend currently happening on the Front Range.

“When municipalities buy up agricultural water for urban growth, that farmland is lost,” Preston said.

When Front Range housing developers tap water diverted from the Western Slope, they should be held to a higher water-conservation standard, he added.

J. Paul Brown, Colorado representative-elect, said Front Range water managers need to come up with options.

“The Front Range should develop their own water before thinking about ours,” he said. “They have water they could legally store on the South Platte River, but let it flow out of state instead.”

Drought and diminished water supply have spurred debate. And that’s a good thing, said John Porter, president of the Southwest Water Conservation board.

“This plan wold not take precedent on water compacts, private water rights, or prior appropriation law,” he said. “Rather this process is recognizing we have a problem and need to satisfy the doubling of our population.”

Public distaste for mandates on water conservation needs to be overcome, said Sam Carter, of the Dolores River Boating Advocates.

“It is up to the state, cities and counties to try and regulate use,” he said. “Why are there not stronger laws for conservation?”

Eric Janes took issue with the water plan for not considering recycling waste water as a conservation measure.

In Southwest Colorado, 55 projects totaling $7 million has been spent including water-management working groups, more efficient irrigation systems, water optimization studies, and drought-resilient agricultural practices and technology.

The final Colorado state water plan is due out next year.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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