Republican River Water Conservation District quarterly meeting recap

April 17, 2015
Republican River Basin by District

Republican River Basin by District

From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

The RRWCD, which operates the pipeline for the state’s compliance efforts with the 1942 compact, sent approximately 7,000 acre feet into the North Fork of the Republican River in 2014.

That was part of an initial one-year agreement between Colorado and Kansas to operate the pipeline on a trial basis. The two states, along with Nebraska (the three comprise the Republican River Compact Administration), agreed to operate the pipeline again this year on another one-year agreement.

Nebraska also has two augmentation projects to meet its compact obligations. Read more about them in the accompanying article.

RRWCD completed the 2014 delivery through the pipeline over the last two months of 2014, and continued pumping another 4,000 acre feet by March 31 to begin meeting this year’s obligation.

However, the pipeline, located at the far east end of Yuma County, continues to pump water into the North Fork.

A total of 7,000 AF currently is being sent into the North Fork of the Republican River. RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel told the Pioneer earlier this week the pipeline should meet the 7,000-AF benchmark by the end of this week. It then will be shut down until October 1, at which time pumping will resume with a target of an additional 6,000 AF delivered by the end of 2015.

Slattery has calculated Colorado is going to have to come close to pumping the full 13,000 acre feet allowed from the eight wells currently in use for the pipeline.

That is nearly double what Colorado sent into the North Fork in 2014.

Board members voiced concerns to Slattery that Colorado already is nearing its maximum pumping capacity in only the second year of the pipeline’s operation.

Ironically, it is because much of Colorado’s Republican River Basin received a welcome-amount of precipitation last summer.

Board member Brent Deterding said people are in awe so much more will be pumped this year after having more rain last year. Felloq board member Tim Pautler told Slattery last week the board needs to be equipped with an understanable explanation the members can share with the public.

Slattery explained a wet year hurts Colorado when the water does not reach the downstream gauges for the South Fork in Benkelman, Nebraska.

A wet year helps when there is so much rain that water reaches the gauges, which gives Colorado credit in compact compliance.

That was not the case in 2014. The region received healthy rain, but none of it reached the gauges, meaning Colorado did not share the extra water with its downstream partners, Slattery explained.

One of the key issues when Kansas first brought suit against Nebraska, and then Colorado, in the late 1990s and early 2000s for not meeting compact compliance, was the role played by high-capacity wells mining the underground Ogallala Aquifer.

A Supreme Court special master sided with Kansas in the early 2000s that the increased pumping since expansion of irrigation farming had impacted stream flows.

That ruling put all high-capacity wells in Colorado’s Republican River Basin in danger of being shutdown. The RRWCD was formed by state legislation in 2004, charged with finding ways to get Colorado into compliance without the forced shutdown of wells.

It eventually led to the construction of the compact compliance pipeline, which sat unused for a couple of years until Kansas finally agreed to the first one-year trail for 2014.

And so, back to the wet year resulting in Colorado having to pump more into the North Fork — the heavier rains meant more water in Colorado that was not shared downstream, the concept being it did not make it there because underground pumping has depleted the aquifer enough that the water soaks into the ground instead of making it downstream.

Therefore, Colorado has a bigger deficit to make up.

While 13,000 AF certainly is much more than Colorado expected it would have to be pumping so early in the pipeline’s use, wells within the Colorado Republican River Basin annually pump 700,000 AF out of the aquifer. Slattery noted it does not come free, as Colorado has to repay 13,000 AF — which equals 1.85 percent of the 700,000 AF pumped annually.

Slattery also warned the board that eventually Colorado is going to have to deliver up to 25,000 AF annually through the pipeline. There are eight wells being used now, and eventually seven more will have to come online. Slattery said the district will need to keep buying water rights for the pipeline.

Board members softened their remarks to Slattery by the end of the presentation.

“It just makes us nervous when we’re within 1,000 acre feet of the maximum in the second year,” Board President Dennis Coryell said.

“Basically, you’re just telling us what we don’t want to know,” Deterding added.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.


Well rules closing in — The Valley Courier

April 16, 2015
San Luis Valley Groundwater

San Luis Valley Groundwater

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Imminent well rules for the San Luis Valley are now being refined for clarity, consistency and defensibility against potential court challenges.

State Engineer Dick Wolfe reviewed the latest draft of the groundwater rules Tuesday in Alamosa with the group of local residents and water attorneys serving on the groundwater advisory committee. He said although he had hoped the April 7th meeting would be the last one, he expected there would be at least one more next month to review changes related to comments received on Tuesday and within the next couple of weeks.

Other actions that must be completed before the rules can be submitted to the court include: complete statement of basis and purpose; finish the response functions peer review; and complete/gather supporting documents that must be submitted to the court along with the rules. These documents will comprise the evidence that would be presented in court proceedings , should the rules be challenged, Wolfe explained.

The Attorney General’s office is reviewing the rules to make sure they will be defensible in court, Wolfe said. The modelers who would have to testify in court have also been working with the state engineer’s office to make sure the language in the rules is accurate and properly defined.

Wolfe has tried to minimize, if not eliminate, potential objections to the proposed rules by involving a wide variety of folks in the rulemaking process. Each of the advisory committee meetings throughout the multi-year process of formulating the well rules has been public, with crowds generally running from 50-100 people.

The audience was a little smaller Tuesday than the month before, and the questions fewer, with one of the concerns revolving around what happens if efforts to replenish the aquifers do not work, even with everybody giving it their best shot.

The state legislature has mandated that the artesian pressure in the Rio Grande Basin (the Valley) must get back to the level experienced between 1978-2000 , and the well rules are designed, in part, to meet that requirement . Because it is difficult to pinpoint what those pressure levels were, and should be, the state engineer’s office is incorporating data collection in the well rules to better understand the 1978-2000 pressure levels. The state engineer’s office will work with water conservation and conservancy districts, sub-districts and water users to collect data about the confined aquifer system and will release a report within 10 years from the time the well rules become effective.

Based on that investigation and report, the state engineer will determine what’s the best method to achieve and maintain the sustainable water supply in the confined aquifer system that the legislature is requiring.

The new draft on Tuesday included a paragraph giving the state engineer latitude to allow greater pumping in areas of the Valley that might exceed that 1978-2000 level at some point in the future.

“No one knows for sure if that will in fact happen ” if they can demonstrate they are replacing injurious stream depletions, they are in a sustainable condition ” and not interfering with the compact,” Wolfe said.

However, if the opposite is true and efforts to reach that 1978-2000 goal are not successful it might mean going back to the drawing board.

“If pumping levels don’t get them there, then we have to evaluate what else do we need to do,” Wolfe said.

Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten said the information that will come out of the data collection within the next 10 years, if not sooner, will determine if additional restrictions might be necessary to get the aquifer to the mandated sustainable level. If additional restrictions become necessary, he said, “that will be a new rule making process.”

Division 3 Assistant Engineer James Heath added, “That’s where we would have to come back and do another rule making and redefine additional parameters to reduce pumping more, recharge more “”

Well Rules Advisory Committee Member David Frees suggested that rather than going through the lengthy rule-making process again in 10 years or so, if it turned out that was the necessary course, it might be better to include some provisions in the current rules to allow the state engineer to enact stricter curtailments if necessary to meet the water sustainability goal mandated by the state legislature.

“We want to be careful we don’t specify one solution to that problem if that’s what happens after 10 years,” Wolfe said.

Frees said he was not recommending that only one provision be included, “but I think there ought to be a provision in these rules if we don’t meet that sustainability the state will take some action or require further provisions.”

Wolfe said the rules do provide for that: “Not later than 10 years from the Effective Date of these Rules, the State Engineer must prepare a report concerning the results of the investigations.” Based upon the results of the investigations, the State Engineer must determine the preferred methodology to maintain a Sustainable Water Supply in the Confined Aquifer System and recover Artesian Pressures and thereafter propose any reasonable amendments to these rules.

Wolfe said, “We created these rules. We can amend them.” Another advisory committee member suggested that the rules include a default provision if the sustainability goal is not met so the state and folks in the basin don’t have to go through another 6-8-year process to develop more rules.

Attorney Bill Paddock disagreed that a default provision should be included in the rules. He said the default provision might not work either , which would just create more problems in the future. He recommended collecting the data that will provide a better understanding of how the system operates before setting up a default provision. Advisory Committee Member Norm Slade said, “Some of these sustainability plans might be impossible ” I would like to see you put something in there so you could regulate these wells if it’s impossible to reach sustainability . If a state engineer deems a sub-district can’t or won’t meet sustainability standards, those wells may be regulated.”

Wolfe said that is in the rules, and any well owner who does not comply will ultimately be curtailed.

Slade asked if the state had to wait 10 years if it looked like it would be impossible for a particular plan to meet the requirements. Wolfe said the rules state that the engineer’s office will prepare a report and proposed amendments no later than 10 years but do not specify a time period.

“I agree we shouldn’t be waiting until the 10th year,” Wolfe said.

He said the state would continue monitoring and evaluating the various plans set up to comply with the rules to make sure they are working.

“These things are set up to allow people to adjust as they go along,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe explained that the rules’ assumption is that hydrological conditions in this basin will return to what they were in 1978-2000 , the period of time the aquifers are mandated to recover to. However, the new normal may be drier conditions, as they have been in more recent history, Wolfe explained, and people cannot just wait and hope things get better on their own.

He pointed to the first subdistrict , which is going into its fourth year of operation, and said in his opinion it has proven that water plans can be successful.

He and other Division of Water Resources staff explained that the well rules and the models the rules rely on provide flexibility and ranges to account for variables such as wet years and dry years. That helps water planners like sub-districts decide what they might need to do, for example providing enough water storage to make up for drier years.

Advisory Committee Member LeRoy Salazar said not all of the tools are in place yet, but he liked the direction things were moving and believed the work being undertaken with the rule implementation process would provide more tools for the future.

Wolfe agreed. “Even though there’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point, in some ways this is the beginning ” The state’s going to be working closely with the users as we go forward ” There’s going to be better and better tools to predict the future.”

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.


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.


2015 Colorado legislation: The South Platte Roundtable is supporting HB15-1178 (Emergency Well Pumping Damaging High Groundwater)

March 24, 2015
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

From The Fence Post (Kayla Young):

Members of the South Platte Basin Roundtable have unanimously approved a recommendation to temporarily dewater the Gilcrest and LaSalle area, which gives a needed boost to House Bill 1178 to bring down the rising water table that has been flooding area homes and farmland.

The House agriculture committee had previously requested the roundtable’s input in order to move forward on the legislation.

Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, and Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Severance, introduced the bill. Saine said the roundtable’s support establishes the framework necessary to accept dewatering recommendations and establish the estimated $450,000 to $500,000 in funding to dewater the zone for two years.

“The idea behind the bill is really to fix the problem that’s been generated by a change in water management,” Saine said, referring to wells that were shut off by the state in 2006. “This is a short-term solution that is desperately needed and is not being offered by any other venue.”

A potential well pumping site has been identified on a property managed by Harry Strohauer near Weld County Road 42, said Robert Longenbaugh, a water consultant engineer and member of the Groundwater Coalition.

The water pumped from this site will not be permitted for consumptive use. It will instead be directed to a drainage ditch that runs northeastward and eventually flows into the river.

To bring down the water table, Longenbaugh said the pump would run constantly throughout the year, generating an estimated electric bill of $25,000 a year. While temporary funding has been established to dewater through the end of June, Saine said she hopes most funding will come from the state.

Saine hopes to begin dewatering by April 1, when groundwater levels traditionally begin to rise again due to spring runoff and activity in irrigation ditches.

The Colorado Legislature will likely not have approved a final version of HB1178 by that time, so Saine and other dewatering advocates plan to begin pumping using independently procured funding until the state steps in.

“Groups have come forward with funding but a majority should come from the state general fund because the state caused this problem due to a change in water management,” Saine said.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said the vote was the first time in his six years on the roundtable that a unanimous decision was reached on a proposal.

“This is the quickest, fastest way to address issues affecting Gilcrest,” he said.

While the water table has been rising and causing damage for several years now, Conway said recent cases of flooded basements and compromised farmland have made addressing the situation unavoidable.

“You cannot deny it anymore. When someone has a basement flooded, that’s real. That’s not hypothetical,” he said.

Longenbaugh said meetings will take place next week with Colorado State University and the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District to further define which wells to pump and how to monitor them. The data taken from wells pumped this year could contribute to the creation of a long-term solution.

While dewatering will provide temporary relief, Saine emphasized that it is still necessary to identify the underlying causing of the high water table in order to develop a true solution.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.


2015 Colorado legislation: Two groundwater bills, no solutions to high groundwater near Gilcrest yet

March 17, 2015
South Platte River alluvial aquifer

South Platte River alluvial aquifer

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

Among the bills awaiting action (and funding) in the House are House Bill 15-1013 and HB 1178. The latter would take $500,000 over two years from general funds and put it into an “emergency dewatering grant account.” If the bill makes it to the governor’s desk and is signed, then the money, under the control of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), could be used to start emergency pumping of wells permitted for dewatering in the Gilcrest and LaSalle areas. Those areas are experiencing high groundwater that has damaged crops, flooded basements and streets.

Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, one of the bill’s sponsors, told this reporter she sought the legislation as a short-term fix to the groundwater problems for residents in her district. It is “the only short-term solution available for Gilcrest and surrounding areas,” she said this week.

Saine pointed out that her bill has the support of the South Platte Basin Roundtable.

But her bill is at odds with another that is intended to address the high groundwater problem in her district and in Sterling.

HB 1013 comes from the annual interim Water Resource Review Committee, of which Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, is a member. Sonnenberg is the Senate sponsor of HB 1013, along with Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton. In the House, HB 1013 is sponsored by Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose. It passed the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee in late January.

Both bills arise from the 2013 CWCB report that recommended local solutions for high groundwater problems in Gilcrest/LaSalle and north from Sterling to Julesburg, rather than a one-size-fits-all plan.

HB 1013, also awaiting action from the House Appropriations Committee, would require the CWCB to conduct a study that would test alternative methods for lowering the water table along the South Platte near the Gilcrest/LaSalle and Sterling areas. The bill sets up application and approval criteria for the pilot projects, which would last four years. The bill also deals with related issues, such as augmentation plans and recharge structures (ponds or ditches).

HB 1013 sets up a lengthy process for the pilot projects, starting with a 45 days’ notice for proposed criteria and public comment. Another 75 days is allotted for comments on the pilot project applications. Once the CWCB approves the applications, another 35 days is available for appeals.

Should it become law, the bill wouldn’t go into effect until around Aug. 5. That contrasts with the timelines for HB 1178, which addresses the problem only in Gilcrest. Because HB 1178 has what’s known as a safety clause, if signed, it would go into effect immediately.

“Had 1013 addressed the immediate problem of flooding basements and potential health and safety issues, I would not have run 1178,” Saine said this week. Testimony given during the HB 1178’s March 2 hearing indicated that pumping could start as soon as April 15.

But the emergency dewatering plan wasn’t supported by the water resources review committee. During their Sept. 30, 2014, meeting, then-Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, commented that if action was not taken soon, those affected by the high groundwater problems would take legal action. “We owe it to the people of Colorado” to solve this problem with a smart approach, Brophy said. Dewatering wells take out the water “and dump it in the river, which I think is a waste of water. How can that be okay if it’s not okay to pull it out for beneficial use?”

Coram, during the January hearing on HB 1013, said dewatering was not the solution. HB 1013 is not the only solution, he said, “but it’s a start.”

HB 1013 has another important distinction: its cost. While HB 1178 seeks $500,000 in general funds, which come from income and sales tax, HB 1013 seeks less than $100,000 over two years for evaluation of the pilot projects. Sonnenberg told this reporter this week he is attempting to get those dollars from the CWCB construction fund rather than tapping into the general fund.

HB 1013 does not address the costs for implementing the plan that would come from the pilot projects.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.


USGS: Groundwater Atlas

March 9, 2015


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