United Water and Sanitation and CSU team up to test subsurface irrigation efficiency and crop yield

March 4, 2015
SIEP Project location map via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project location map via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project design via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project design via United Water and Sanitation

Bob Lembke thinks that irrigation technology developed in Israel to grow crops in the Negev Desert should have application here in the US and particularly in the South Platte Basin. To that end United Water and Sanitation has dedicated 165 acres of their 70 Ranch property for a 30-40 year pilot project with Colorado State University researchers. Their plan is to test cropping patterns, deficit irrigation, and other variables to assesss the potential for subsurface irrigation as an alternative to “Buy and Dry” in the basin.

Project participants hope to grow more with less and also help drought harden operations that have been water short traditionally.

According to Skip Dinges from HMD Consulting subsurface irrigation has many benefits:

  • Better control of water resources and fertilizers.
  • Subsurface irrigation reduces groundwater infiltration and therefore pollution of the environment from herbicides and fertilizers.
  • Subsurface irrigation is 25% to 30% more efficient than center pivots and up to 60% more efficient than flood irrigation.
  • The dry farming surface reduces weeds that require herbicide application for control.
  • Subsurface irrigation reduces fungus and pests on plant surfaces by not having to wet the plants during irrigation.
  • Dr. Ramchand Oad is the CSU researcher helping with the project. He emphasizes that subsurface irrigation lessens evaporation as compared with surface irrigation. He also mentioned that farmers should be able to bring more acreage into production with their available water.

    Efficiency if is a double-edged sword however. South Platte irrigators divert far more water each season that is available from natural streamflow and transbasin diversions. The reason that they can do that is the return flows from flood irrigation.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

    Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM

    Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM


    Estes Park to consider water rate study and system’s capital needs — Estes Park News

    March 3, 2015
    Estes Park

    Estes Park

    From the Town of Estes Park via the The Estes Park News:

    To ensure continued high-quality utility services and plan for future upgrades through capital improvement projects, the Town of Estes Park periodically reviews the cost of providing services as well as projected revenue – the rates paid by customers. The Town’s public water utility is a cost-based entity that relies solely on user fees to operate. Costs and revenues must be balanced in order to maintain operations and keep utilities in line with ever-increasing federal standards. The Town’s Water Division is capable of serving Estes Park on the busiest day of summer. Yet like water utilities across the U.S., it is facing rising operational costs, aging infrastructure and increasingly stringent regulatory requirements.

    Several upcoming public meetings will include water rate discussions. Visit http://www.estes.org/boardsandmeetings for dates and complete meeting details:

    • March 10: Town Board study session to review rate study results and options

    • March 24: Town Board meeting review draft rate plan

    • April 28 (tentative): Final public hearing and potential adoption of new rates

    The last time a water rate study was conducted, the Town opted to keep rates lower than recommended by the study in order to assist residents and businesses through the national economic downturn. Therefore, the Town has not completed a large capital project since replacing 600 feet of water main under Virginia Avenue in 2012. Funding capital infrastructure projects requires multiple years of savings, and postponement means they will cost more in the future. The following water system improvements are needed:

    1. Establishment of secondary water sources for the Town’s two water treatment plants to ensure water treatment plants are not shut down due to problems with source water.

    2. The Town’s system has grown and inherited older, private water distribution systems such as the one serving Carriage Hills. In 2014, the water crew repaired 27 leaks throughout the system, most caused by older pipes resting on shifting granite in acidic soil. Approximately 50 miles of the Town’s pipes need to be replaced to meet today’s standards. This costs $500,000 to $1 million per mile depending on blasting, excavation and road replacement costs.

    3. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations have a direct influence on the operations and maintenance of distribution system and treatment facilities. For example, to meet the Surface Water Treatment Rules the Town uses enhanced treatment methods, which increase operating costs. Past rate increases funded the $8.25 million upgrade at Marys Lake Water Treatment Facility for membrane filtration in order to prepare for more stringent standards in the future.

    For more information on the water rate study, please contact the Utilities Department at 970-577-3587.

    More Big Thompson watershed coverage here.


    The Colorado River District, et. al. appeal May 2014 Aurora Busk-Ivanhoe diversion water court decision

    March 2, 2015

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

    A water court case in Pueblo over the size of water rights from the upper Fryingpan River delivered through the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel to the East Slope has now blossomed into a Colorado Supreme Court case full of powerful interests opposing each other across the Continental Divide.

    A bevy of West Slope entities, including Pitkin, Eagle and Grand counties, the Colorado River District and the Grand Valley Water Users, Association are arguing against a May 2014 water court decision that gave Aurora the right to use 2,416 acre-feet of water from the Fryingpan for municipal purposes in Aurora instead of for irrigation purposes in the Arkansas River valley.

    The new decree gives Aurora the right to divert up to 144,960 acre-feet of water over a 60-year period.

    The other West Slope entities in the case are the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, the Ute Water Conservancy District and the Basalt Water Conservancy District.

    On other side, a list of the most powerful water entities on the East Slope have filed legal briefs supporting Aurora’s positions, including Denver Water, Colorado Springs, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the Northern Water Conservancy District and the Southeastern Water Conservancy District.

    Pitkin County is specifically arguing that the water court judge should have counted Aurora’s 22 years of undecreed use of the water for municipal purposes — between 1987 and 2009 — when determining the historic lawful use of the water right, and thus, the size of the right’s “transferable yield” from irrigation to municipal use.

    Instead, the judge set 1928 to 1986 as the representative sampling of years and excluded the 22 years of Aurora’s admittedly undecreed use.

    Expert testimony in the case indicated that if Aurora’s years of undecreed, or “zero,” use were averaged in, the size of the transferable water right would be reduced by 27 percent — which is what Pitkin County believes should happen.

    “When water rights have been used unlawfully for more than a quarter of their period of record, a pattern of use derived solely from the other three-quarters of the period of record will not most accurately represent the historical use of the rights at issue,” attorneys for Pitkin County told the Supreme Court.

    The Colorado state water engineer and division engineers in water divisions 1, 2 and 5 are also arguing alongside Pitkin County that the judge should have included the 22 years of “zero” use in a representative sampling of years.

    “This court should remand the case with instructions to determine the average annual historical use between 1928 and 2009, including zeros for years when Aurora diverted water through the Ivanhoe Tunnel solely for undecreed uses,” attorneys for the state and division engineers wrote.

    The various East Slope entities are arguing in the case that the judge did the right thing by not counting Aurora’s 22 years of undecreed municipal use.

    “The water court’s quantification of the Busk-Ivanhoe rights followed all of the rules for a change case — it was based on a representative period of lawful decreed use, it was not based upon undecreed use, and it employed several other factors endorsed by this court to determine a representative period,” Aurora’s attorney’s wrote. “The water court correctly determined it need not go any further, rejecting the appellants’ novel legal theory and finding it unnecessary to prevent injury.”

    UNDECREED STORAGE

    Meanwhile, other West Slope entities, including the River District and Eagle County, are arguing that Judge Larry C. Schwartz erred in his opinion regarding the right to store water on the East Slope without a specific decree to do so.

    “The water court misinterpreted the law and erroneously looked beyond the record in the original adjudication to conclude that no storage decree was necessary and then included water stored and water traded to others within the amount of the changed right,” attorneys for the West Slope entities wrote.

    But the East Slope entities support the judge’s conclusion regarding storage.

    “The water court correctly interpreted prior case law and ruled East Slope storage was within the ‘wide latitude’ accorded importers of transmountain water provided such storage did not result in an expansion of the Busk-Ivanhoe water rights,” attorneys for Aurora wrote.

    Attorneys for Denver Water also told the court that “it does not matter whether a decree specifically identifies storage in the basin of use of the imported foreign water” because “once imported, the foreign water can be stored wherever.”

    Built between the early 1920s and 1936, the Busk-Ivanhoe water system now diverts about 5,000 acre-feet of water a year from Ivanhoe, Pan, Lyle and Hidden Lake creeks, all tributaries of the upper Fryingpan River.

    The system gathers water from the high country creeks and stores it briefly in Ivanhoe Reservoir, which sits at 10,900 feet. It then sends the water through a 1.3 mile-long tunnel under the Continental Divide to Busk Creek and on into Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville.

    From there, the water can either end up in the lower Arkansas River basin, or via pumps, end up in the South Platte River basin, where Aurora is located, just east of Denver.

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works owns half of the Busk-Ivanhoe water rights, which have a primary 1928 decree date. In 1990, Pueblo received a decree to use its half of the water for municipal purposes, and that decision is not at issue in this case.

    Aurora bought 95 percent of its half of the Busk-Ivanhoe water rights in 1986, and by 2001 had purchased 100 percent of the right, paying at least $11.25 million, according to testimony in the case.

    INTO WATER COURT

    Aurora came in from the cold in 2009 and applied in water court to change its half of the Busk-Ivanhoe water to municipal uses.

    And it also applied for specific water storage rights, including in a new reservoir to be built on the flanks of Mount Elbert called Box Creek Reservoir.

    After a five-day trial in Div. 2 Water Court in Pueblo in July 2013, which resulted in 1,075 pages of transcripts and 6,286 pages of exhibits, Schwartz ruled in May 2014 in Aurora’s favor.

    West Slope entities filed appeals in October with the Colorado Supreme Court, which directly hears appeals from the state’s water courts.

    Opening briefs in the case were filed by West Slope entities in December, and a round of “answer briefs” and “friend of the court” briefs were filed last week by various entities.

    The West Slope entities now have until March 21 to file reply briefs in the case.

    Once the case is set, oral arguments will be heard before the Supreme Court justices in Denver.

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.


    Forum on Agriculture: “Conservation, reuse, storage, and you have to do all of it now” — Greg Fisher

    February 27, 2015
    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

    Gov. John Hickenlooper addressed Colorado’s agricultural community Thursday in full Western style, donning a black Stetson cowboy hat for the annual Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture at the Renaissance Hotel.

    While the variation from the governor’s typical attire lightened the mood, the day touched on some of the most serious issues affecting the future of agriculture.

    Water reigned as the topic of the day, carrying through not only Hickenlooper’s presentation, but also the day’s panel discussion led by 7News meteorologist Mike Nelson and the keynote speech by the governor’s water adviser, John Stulp.

    Hickenlooper lauded the Colorado State Water Plan as vital to creating long-term security and better preparing the state for the challenges of climate change.

    Stulp described the plan as achieving five major goals: fostering collaborative solutions to address the state’s looming supply gap, creating alternatives to the buy and dry of agricultural lands, protecting Colorado’s compact entitlements, pushing federal regulators to move more quickly on approval processes, and aligning state policies with dollars.

    Stulp applauded the basin roundtable discussions that contributed to much of the legwork behind the water plan for bringing together diverse state interests that “would have otherwise only gotten together in a courtroom to sue each other.”

    With Hickenlooper looking to expand international exports in agriculture, water security will play a key role in establishing confidence and capacity to move forward.

    “Ag is one of the leading, if not the leading, industries in the state,” Hickenlooper said.

    To bolster the sector further, he encouraged the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to expand export markets for beef and pork. The proposed treaty would expand trade routes for U.S.-made goods in Asia, the Pacific and Latin America.

    Hickenlooper also praised the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program for bringing new advocates into the sector, and the Western Dairy Association for its efforts to afford veterans opportunities in agriculture.

    Earlier in the day, a lively panel discussion led by Nelson touched on national, statewide and local water challenges, addressed by panelists Robert Sakata, Carlyle Currier, Reagan Waskom, Greg Fisher and Bart Miller.

    The panel captured the complexity of Colorado’s state water laws, which often translate to decades of work to conclude infrastructure projects. With concern over excess flows entering Nebraska and potential calls on the Colorado River by western neighbors, one audience member asked why the state is not able to create more storage areas.

    Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute, said uncertainty often leads well-intended projects off course.

    “We see participants pull out because they’ve been putting money in and they don’t know if they’re going to get the storage in the end,” he said.

    Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning for Denver Water, said, while additional storage would help, the state needs to look at supply development holistically.

    “Storage will help, but we must take an all-of-the-above approach: conservation, reuse, storage, and you have to do all of it now,” Fisher said.

    The panel differed on its opinions regarding the overall water use from fracking operations.

    Waskom said the estimated 20,000 acre-feet of water that goes into hydraulic fracturing on the South Platte represents a drop in the bucket for the capacity of the river. Most of the water comes from systems such as Greeley’s that permit multiple use, which avoids additional demand.

    One acre-foot of water is enough to serve four homes for a year.

    Bart Miller, water program director for Western Resource Advocates, said while 20,000 acre-feet may not sound like a lot, when compared to the enormous cost of creating storage for such water, the quantity does equate to a meaningful amount in the grand scheme of things.

    The panel also turned to the high groundwater levels damaging homes and farmland around Gilcrest and LaSalle in Weld County.

    While Waskom said he has been living this drama for a decade, the water expert could not provide an easy solution.

    “This is a really hard one to solve without someone getting harmed,” he said. “This is a classic Colorado water fight.”

    While unity served as a recurring theme, discussion over Weld’s groundwater headache served as a reminder that on many water issues, cohesive solutions have yet to be found.

    More education coverage here.


    Is dam seepage cause for alarm? — The Pueblo Chieftain

    February 20, 2015
    Clear Creek Dam via Colorado Guy

    Clear Creek Dam

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Pueblo Board of Water Works agreed to hire Black & Veatch Engineering for $130,000 to assess the risk of Clear Creek Dam, located in northern Chaffee County. The earthen dam, built on a glacial moraine, has experienced seepage during the past 20 years, creating the occasional need to lower water levels temporarily to fix problems, Steve Anselmo, water resources engineer, told the board. Seepage monitoring has revealed 300-700 gallons per minute at varying exit points.

    In 1997, when the downstream face became set, the water level in Clear Creek was lowered and a drain blanket installed and low spots filled in. Additional low spots were filled in 2007, when the water level was lowered to replace the outlet gates.

    No unusual problems occurred until 2014, when one flow stopped and a new seepage path was detected.

    “The new seepage path created in 2014 has raised the question of how to determine if this seepage event and others that might occur in the future pose a risk to the safety of the dam,” Anselmo said in a memo to the board.

    “What actions should be taken to address that risk?”

    The Black & Veatch study will look at the probability of a significant event and develop short-term and long-term solutions.

    Pueblo Water bought Clear Creek from the Otero Canal Co. in 1954 and in 2004 filed an application in water court that would nearly triple its storage capacity. Clear Creek can now store 11,439 acre-feet of water. A native water right produces a small amount of water, but most of the water in the reservoir is imported from the Western Slope through tunnels and ditches and moved into the reservoir by exchange.

    More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.


    “It’s the same conversation, the same lack of movement that we’ve had” — Melissa Esquibel to Colorado Springs

    February 19, 2015

    Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.

    Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Pleas to reconsider a federal lawsuit over water quality fell on skeptical ears Wednesday.

    The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board listened patiently to Colorado Springs Councilman Merv Bennett’s assessment of stormwater protection progress, but in the end voted to continue to pursue a federal court filing charging that Colorado Springs is violating the Clean Water Act.

    The board instructed attorney Peter Nichols to continue building a case.

    Bennett urged the Lower Ark board to stay out of court, saying money would be better spent elsewhere. Still the board voted 7-0 to continue the lawsuit.

    “Nothing’s binding on this council, the next council or the next mayor,” board member Melissa Esquibel said, clearly frustrated by Bennett’s promises. “It’s the same conversation, the same lack of movement that we’ve had. What’s going to happen?”

    Colorado Springs City Council last month commit­ ted $19 million annually to stormwater projects, shuffling existing funds in the city’s general fund and adding $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities beginning in 2016.

    But Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark, asked Bennett if other funds in the city would be shorted in the process and political pressure would again lower stormwater as a priority.

    Bennett countered that the current council is committed to funding stormwater control, as well as the candidates for mayor in the April municipal election. He said the city’s other problems, such as potholes, would be settled in some other way not related to stormwater. He maintained the city currently is spending the required amount on stormwater and council’s action makes the funding permanent.

    “I believe in the integrity of the people running,” Bennett said in response to Esquibel’s comments. “I feel we’ve made progress and we’ll continue to make progress.”

    But he acknowledged that three to five new members may be elected to the nine-member council, and he could not personally guarantee that the stormwater money would remain in place.

    “I can’t solve it by myself and we can’t solve it overnight,” Bennett said.

    Winner pressed Bennett on several issues, including the council’s 2009 decision to dissolve its stormwater enterprise, stormwater funding that has been missing in the intervening years and whether the money would go toward projects identified when the enterprise was formed in 2005.

    Bennett agreed that council made the wrong decision in response to Doug Bruce’s Issue 300 in 2009. He said Colorado Springs is working on a report that would show its funding level for stormwater projects has been higher than the $17 million the stormwater enterprise would have generated each year.

    He pledged to have city staff develop a side-by-side comparison of projects.

    The stormwater issue is tied to Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System, which was negotiated earlier in 2009, before the stormwater enterprise was abolished. Flood control is needed because growth in Colorado Springs has elevated flows on Fountain Creek, increasing the danger of flooding in Pueblo.

    More stormwater coverage here.


    Steamboat Springs: The city and Yampa Valley Housing Authority collaborate on project

    February 17, 2015
    Steamboat Springs

    Steamboat Springs

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    The city of Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority are advertising for bidders on a water and sewer project in Fish Creek Mobile Home Park that would combine replacement of the city’s sanitary sewer interceptor that happens to run through the park, while accomplishing a much needed replacement of water and sewer lines to park’s 67 mobile homes.

    “Talk about a partnership — the city has been terrific,” Housing Authority Board Chairwoman Kathi Meyer said Monday. “The city’s departments that do the bid work and public works have been very helpful in putting this together.”

    Combining the city’s sewer interceptor project with water and sewer line replacement for the homes in the mobile home park, which is owned and managed by the Housing Authority, represents an economy of scale, Meyer said. It will allow the successful bidder to stage the job site once for both jobs and avoid incurring the extra expense of disrupting homeowners’ driveways and retaining walls twice.

    Replacement of the city sewer interceptor already was on its list of prioritized capital projects. Merging the two projects required multiple departments having the will to “figure out how do we do it?” Meyer added.

    The city loaned the Housing Authority $954,000 in 2007 to help with purchase of the mobile home park from Bob and Audrey Enever, who had owned it for 33 years. The Housing Authority took out an additional bank loan of $2.58 million, counting on lot rent to cover the debt.

    Everyone involved understood that the park’s infrastructure was aging and required frequent repairs, but the Housing Authority’s cash flow was tied up with debt service.

    Three years ago, the Authority’s consulting engineering firm, Drexel Barrell, informed the board that it needed to replace the water and sewer lines.

    “We knew it was original infrastructure. Some of the sewer lines run underneath the homes,” Meyer said. “Over the last eight years, there have been ongoing maintenance issues. We’ve been lucky that although breaks over the last few years have caused inconvenience to tenants, there hasn’t been a significant incident.”

    Fortunately, prevailing lending terms allowed the board to refinance the original bank loan, this time with Alpine Bank, at a lower interest rate. The freed-up revenue stream allowed the Housing Authority to leverage a loan through the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to fund the water and sewer work.

    “The stars aligned,” Meyer said, securing an important source of workforce housing in the community for perhaps another 50 years or so.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


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