“This project is a great new example of how water sharing can work” — Amy Beatie

April 26, 2015
Little Cimarron River via the Western Rivers Conservancy

Little Cimarron River via the Western Rivers Conservancy

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

[The Colorado Water Trust] has collaborated with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to restore late summer flows to a 5-mile stretch of the Little Cimarron River in the Gunnison River Basin by sharing an agricultural water right.

Water Trust Executive Director Amy Beatie told Steamboat Today this week the agreement is the first of its kind, allowing agricultural water rights holders to use their water to raise a crop in early summer and then choose to be compensated for leaving it in the river in late summer and early fall. Compensation can be in the form of a lease or sale. It’s a model they hope to see replicated around the state.

“How to meet the ecological needs of streams while keeping water in agriculture is a discussion happening at every level of water policy in the state,” Beatie said Thursday in a prepared statement. “Agriculture is an essential part of Colorado’s economy. So are recreation and the environment. This project is a great new example of how water sharing can work on the ground within the state’s existing laws to bring together what are usually seen as incompatible uses.”

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Linda Bassi/Amy Beatie):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”) and the Colorado Water Trust (“CWT”) today finalized an innovative agreement under which the same water rights will be used to both restore stream flows and preserve agriculture in the Gunnison Basin.

The CWCB is the only entity in the state that can hold instream flow water rights to preserve and improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree. Under its Water Acquisition Program, the CWCB can acquire water from willing water rights owners by donation, purchase, lease or other arrangement to include in Colorado’s Instream Flow Program. The CWCB and CWT partnership has resulted in many significant water acquisitions for instream flow use.

Under the agreement, up to 5 cubic feet per second of water that was historically diverted by the McKinley Ditch out of the Little Cimarron River (a tributary to the Cimarron River and Gunnison River in Gunnison and Montrose counties) will continue to be diverted and applied to the historically irrigated ranch until mid-summer. At that time, the water will be left in the river for instream flow use by the CWCB on a reach of the Little Cimarron River that historically saw low to no flows due to water rights diversions, as well as on the Cimarron River.

“Our rivers and our farms are at the heart of what makes Colorado so special,” said CWCB director James Eklund. “This agreement is a model for future agriculture and conservation partnerships.”

The Little Cimarron River originates in the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area and is managed as a wild trout stream by Colorado Parks and Wildlife for several miles above the area where agricultural uses have occurred for more than 100 years. Restoring flows in the Little Cimarron will re-establish habitat connectivity, an important component of a healthy river.

“This permanent, split use of an instream flow is distinctive because it acknowledges and preserves the value of irrigated agriculture as well as the value of restoring flow to a local river,” said Linda Bassi, chief of the stream and lake protection section at CWCB.

Additional information on the CWCB’s Water Acquisition Program is available on the CWCB web site: http://cwcb.state.co.us/StreamAndLake/WaterAcquisitions/

More instream flow coverage here.


Southern Delivery System: Closing arguments expected to conclude today in Walker Ranch lawsuit

April 22, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Closing arguments are expected to wrap up sometime today in a jury trial to determine the value of the Southern Delivery System easement across Walker Ranches in Pueblo County.

Expert witnesses for Colorado Springs testified Tuesday, the seventh day of the trial.

Attorneys for both sides indicated the testimony would wrap up soon and they were preparing to present closing arguments today. After that, the jury will begin its deliberations.

Court records indicate Gary Walker was offered $100,000 for easements on a 150-foot wide strip 5.5 miles long through Walker Ranches in northern Pueblo County. Colorado Springs, which is building SDS, also paid Walker $720,000 to relocate cattle during three years of construction.

Construction on SDS began in 2011, and includes 50 miles of underground pipeline 66 inches in diameter in Pueblo and El Paso counties. The final phase of construction in Pueblo County is the Juniper Pump Station being built near Pueblo Dam.

Walker claims the choice of pipeline route has contributed to erosion and diminished the value of his land. His court records claim SDS has caused $25 million worth of impact on his ranches, which total 65,000 acres. He’s also claiming damages under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS, which protects landowners from out-of-pocket expenses and requires Colorado Springs to use eminent domain only as a last resort.

District Judge Jill Mattoon is presiding over the trial.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


Ute Water hopes to lease 12,000 acre-feet of water stored in Ruedi for endangered fish

April 20, 2015
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Aspen and Pitkin County officials are raising questions about plans to send more water from Ruedi Reservoir down the Colorado River to benefit endangered fish.

The water is owned by the Ute Water Conservancy District, which purchased 12,000 acre feet of Ruedi water in 2012, in anticipation of growth and as a backstop for its more than 80,000 customers and others in the Grand Valley should Grand Mesa supplies dry up in a drought year.

With no need for Ruedi water this year, Ute approached the Colorado Water Conservation Board about leasing the water to benefit four endangered species of fish in the Colorado — a project that the state agency is considering.

“This is Ute trying to do something for the environment,” Ute General Manager Larry Clever said on Friday.

Aspen and Pitkin County officials, however, have questions about the deal and have asked the conservation board to explain it in a meeting Tuesday in Carbondale.

Aspen and Pitkin county officials want to know more about how the lease would affect the level of the reservoir, electricity generation for Aspen, and the Fryingpan River angling industry below Ruedi Dam, among other concerns.

Ute paid $15.5 million for the unclaimed water in Ruedi and, Clever said, can call it down the river anytime it wishes.

“We knew there would be outrage at the Aspen Yacht Club” when Ute told the water conservation board that water for the fish might be available if needed, Clever said.

“You know why they’re against it,” Clever said. “If I pull water out (of Ruedi), the Aspen Yacht Club wouldn’t be able to float so well.”

There’s more to it than that, said Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority.

“We’ve worked for years with the Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service to handle releases in a way that is compatible with the recreational use on the river, and that’s worked out fairly well under normal circumstances,” Fuller said.

“Depending how these supplemental releases get managed, that could all go out the window.”

The Ruedi Water and Power Authority supplies electricity generated at Ruedi Dam to Aspen and other communities. Fluctuating levels in the Fryingpan River also could make it impossible for flycasters to wade into the Gold Medal waters, officials noted.

Releasing Ute’s water from Ruedi would have another benefit, Clever said.

“My goal was to put the water in Lake Powell,” which some fear could drop so low as to hinder electricity generation at Glen Canyon Dam.

That could require the Bureau of Reclamation to take action to lower Upper Colorado River reservoirs to maintain the dam’s generating capacity.

“If I can put water in Powell, the whole upper basin is in better shape,” Clever said.

Generating capacity at Ruedi also weighs on his mind, Fuller said. “We would like to be able to work in a proactive and synergistic relationship on how to make different pots of water work together so the Fryingpan doesn’t just become a flume,” Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards said.

The water conservation board remains interested in reaching a deal with Ute.

“We applaud Ute Water’s willingness to work with us on an approach benefiting a recovery program that helps water users throughout the Colorado River Basin,” CWCB Director James Eklund said in an email. “We’re all connected throughout Colorado by our most precious natural resource as demonstrated by this important recovery program.”

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


#ColoradoRiver pulse flow — one year later

April 16, 2015
Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute

Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute

From Arizona Public Media (Vanessa Barchfield):

One year ago the governments of the U.S. and Mexico worked together on a historic project to send water down the parched Colorado River Delta in Mexico…

University of Arizona geoscientist Karl Flessa said Tuesday that the eight-week flooding helped to germinate and establish cottonwoods and willows that will live for up to 50 years, demonstrating that even a small amount of water can have long-lasting effects on an ecosystem.

But, Flessa said, the impact of the water varied.

“In some places the pulse flow did enormous amount of good work in establishing vegetation and sustaining that vegetation. In other parts of the river it didn’t really make that much of a difference,” he said.

He and his team are studying why that was the case.

“So we’re really trying to map out the river and identify those prime restoration sites.”
Future efforts will be targeted in those conservation sites that responded best to the returned flow of water.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Colorado Supreme Court upholds San Miguel River instream flows — Telluride Daily Planet

April 15, 2015

From the Telluride Daily Planet (Mary Slosson):

The CWCB initially decided in 2011 to protect a 17-mile stretch of the San Miguel River stretching from Calamity Draw down to the confluence with the Dolores River in order to prevent water levels from dropping too low for three fish species — the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and the roundtail chub — to survive and thrive.

All three are classified by the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Division as sensitive species, with human water diversion listed as the main reason for their precarious situation.

“Fundamentally what this case is about is that environmental water rights are going to be treated just the same as other water rights,” said Rob Harris, a staff attorney for conservation group Western Resource Advocates, which filed a supporting brief in the case.

“It’s a model for the West to follow on how to provide that local voice while also creating concrete, substantive protections that keep water in rivers for generations to come,” Harris continued…

Officials at the Bureau of Land Management and the Colorado Department of Wildlife requested the instream flow protections in 2008. A district water board upheld the 2011 CWCB vote and that was that, until the Farmers Water Development Company objected. The group said that the CWCB’s actions were quasi-judicial in practice and in violation of the Constitution.

The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed and, in a decision authored by Justice Allison H. Eid, upheld the water board decision by affirming that the CWCB was acting in a quasi-legislative capacity granted it by the state legislature.

“We’re very, very pleased with the ruling,” said Linda Bassi, the chief of the CWCB Stream and Lake Protection Section. “It was an important decision for our agency.”

State lawmakers empowered the CWCB in 1973 to use instream flow water rights to protect the environment of streams, rivers and lakes in order to assist imperiled fish and other species and to protect nearby vegetation.

“It’s a big deal for us because the court affirmed that the process my board uses is correct,” Bassi added. “It strengthens our whole program.”

The Colorado high court’s ruling is particularly important for the board in 2015, as several of its proposed instream flow protections have already been challenged. One of the sections in question is along the Dolores River in Montrose and Mesa Counties.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.


San Miguel
 water rights 
are upheld
 — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

April 9, 2015

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A Colorado Supreme Court ruling this week that upheld an instream flow water right in the San Miguel River in Montrose County also is being praised as an important one for the state’s instream flow program as a whole.

The court Monday ruled in favor of the Colorado Water Conservation Board in connection with its process for pursuing the water right for a 17-mile reach of the river. The board sought the right at the urging of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and what is now Colorado Parks and Wildlife to preserve habitat for three sensitive fish species — the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub — and for “globally imperiled riparian communities.” A water court approved an instream flow protection of up to 325 cubic feet per second.

The Farmers Water Development Company had argued to the Supreme Court that the 
CWCB’s action was quasi-judicial, and as a result its notice and comment period failed to follow procedural due process. The high court found instead that the instream flow process is a quasi-legislative one that “concerns the rights of the people of Colorado, with a prospective policy focus on protecting the environment.”

The court’s opinion, written by Justice Allison H. Eid, said the legislature vested the CWCB with the exclusive authority to appropriate instream flows on behalf of state residents, and such an action is a policy determination within the agency’s discretion. The opinion also pointed out that the agency doesn’t decree instream flow rights, but decides whether to seek such a right from water court.

The Western Resource Advocates conservation group, which was a party to the case, called the ruling a landmark decision that will have a bearing on other instream flow applications by the CWCB.

“This is more than just a technicality. It’s about the very nature and strength of the instream flow program,” said WRA staff attorney Rob Harris.

CWCB director James Eklund said the decision affirms the agency’s instream flow program process. Had the court determined that the process is quasi-judicial, the agency would have to follow rigidly spelled-out proceedings involving legal pleadings and procedures, rather than its current system involving a hearing process involving a board, he said.

“Our board gets to ask the kind of questions they want to ask. There’s not as much in the way of getting them to the meat of the issue,” Eklund said. A quasi-judicial process would be more difficult for the agency to follow, he said.

Christopher Cummins, the attorney representing Farmers Water Development Co., could not be reached for comment.

Eklund said the ruling is important because the instream flow program “is the most robust tool that we have as a state to protect streamflows for the environment.”

“It does double duty for us,” he said, because it also protects flows at the state or local level, as opposed to the federal government doing so through Wild and Scenic River designations.

Western Resource Advocates said that, if not for instream flow protections, the fish to be protected in the San Miguel River might require protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Instream flow rights are nonconsumptive, aimed at maintaining minimum flows between points on a stream, or certain levels in natural lakes. According to the 
CWCB, since 1973 it has appropriated instream rights on more than 1,500 stream segments covering more than 8,500 miles of stream, and 477 lakes.

Eklund said the court ruling provides certainty to everyone involved in the instream flow rights process, including opponents to proposals. “You want to know the rules of the game when you get into it and this opinion helps provide some clarity on that,” he said.

Harris said the ruling will have some bearing on some big fights coming up this year on instream flow proposals, including one that ExxonMobil is challenging involving Yellow Creek in Rio Blanco County.

He noted that when it comes to allocation of water, instream flow rights are junior to rights already in existence before they were decreed. But he said some entities are seeking “carve-outs” that would give priority over instream rights to other water uses that haven’t even been come up with yet, and he objects to making instream rights second-class rights.

“Water rights for instream flows, they deserve a seat at the table like any other water right,” he said.

More water law coverage here.


Colorado Supreme Court ruling bolsters stream protection

April 9, 2015

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

The San Miguel River near its headwaters in Telluride, Colorado. @bberwyn photo. The San Miguel River near its headwaters in Telluride, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

Challenge to instream flow rejected by state’s top judges

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The Colorado Supreme Court this week rejected a legal challenge to a state program designed to protect rivers and streams.

The ruling makes it clear that the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s instream flow program furthers state policy of preserving the natural environment for the people of Colorado.

At issue is in the case is an instream flow right in the wild and remote San Miguel River, flowing out of the high San Juans near Telluride to its confluence with the Dolores River in Montrose County. The San Miguel is one of the last relatively free-flowing rivers in Colorado. As such, water experts say it still has some water that could be developed in the future. The instream flow right will help ensure that…

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