2015 #coleg: HB16-1337 (Appellate Process For Decisions About Groundwater) killed in Senate Judiciary Comm.

Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture
Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

A bill to prevent new evidence from being presented in groundwater rights appeals got caught in a legislative maelstrom Tuesday from which it can’t return.

After more than two hours of public testimony, most of which was in favor of the idea, the measure at first failed to get a motion to be referred out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leaving it in a kind of legislative limbo for a while.

Later, however, the panel returned and killed HB1337 long after its sponsor, Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, had left.

During that time, Scott had started to investigate ways to get the support he needed to revive the bill in hopes of persuading the chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Ellen Roberts, to have an actual vote on it.

Problem was, though, that Durango Republican was one of a majority of senators on the five-member committee who opposed the bill, which the committee ultimately killed on a unanimous vote.

Scott wasn’t happy at the outcome because he believed he had the votes to get the measure out of committee even though it was opposed by Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, who took nearly three weeks to assign it to a committee.

“Sad to see such disingenuous activities by senators,” the Grand Junction Republican said. “Didn’t even have the courage to kill the bill in front of farmers and ranchers who are left holding the empty water bucket.”

The measure was designed to align the Colorado Groundwater Commission with other state panels when it comes to adjudicating certain issues, in this case, groundwater rights. Unlike decisions made by that commission, appeals in all other state panels — much like lower courts in general — bar the introduction of new evidence on appeal.

Scott said that practice has allowed well-funded water rights sellers to try a case twice, something small farmers and ranchers told the committee they can’t afford to do.

The bill also pitted two well-heeled investors against each other: former GOP Gov. Bill Owens and billionaire businessman Phil Anschutz. Owens, who opposed the bill, is executive director of a land and water development and asset management company; Anschutz, who supported the bill, has numerous farming interests, many of which rely on groundwater supplies…

On Tuesday, the Senate gave final approval to SB97 to bar the Legislature from using severance tax revenues for anything other then their intended purpose.

Those taxes, paid by mineral extraction companies, go to fund the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and in grant and direct disbursements to local communities, to offset the impact of such industries as mining and oil and gas development.

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

A legislative battle over ground-water disputes that divided top Republicans washed out in committee Tuesday afternoon.

House Bill 1337 would have made it harder for municipalities, developers or others to win court cases for permits to pump water that might otherwise be used agriculture didn’t get a motion for a vote after hours of testimony from farmers and water districts.

The bill would keep those who would dispute decisions from the state Ground Water Commission from introducing new evidence in the appeal process. Their competitors said it would allow them to out-spend farmers, ranchers and rural water districts to overpower them in court.

“The size of a checkbook should not determine how water is managed,” Marc Arnusch, a Weld County farmer and member of the Lost Creek Ground Water Management District told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Committee chairwoman Ellen Roberts, a Republican from Durango who is a lawyer, said that instead of the routine 2 out of 100 state Ground Water Commission cases a year that are appealed to district court, many more would have to pay for studies and legal expertise up front to hedge against the potential of an appeal later.

“I don’t see how this would reduce costs for everybody,” she said. “It would drive them up.”

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ray Scott, a Republican from Grand Junction who is considering a run for governor in 2018.

Scott and House sponsor Don Coram have been at odds over the bill with Republican Senate President Bill Cadman and the last Republican governor, Bill Owens, who personally urged Republican lawmakers to kill the bill.

Owens works for an investment group that deals in water.

The legislation sailed through the Democrat-led House, passing 60-5 on April 1. It was not assigned to a Senate committee until three weeks later.

“It’s been a wild ride to get to this hearing,” Scott said.

The bill’s supporters fear municipalities getting well permits to pump year-round instead of seasonally, as agriculture does.

“No one wants to see more ‘buy and dry’ of ag water,” Colorado Farm Bureau president Don Shawcroft said. “This legislation is necessary to level the playing field on applications to change water rights in designated basins. What’s happened is that if the application is appealed to the district court, the applicant is using legal maneuvering to bring new information that was not presented to the Ground Water Commission.”

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

A measure that aimed to level the playing field for farmers and ranchers appealing groundwater rights rulings drowned in the Legislature on Tuesday.

The legislation would have prohibited entering new evidence on appeal after a state commission makes a decision on groundwater disputes…

The bill had powerful opposition from former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, and Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs.

“Big boy politics at its worst,” lamented Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who co-sponsored the bill in the House, where it passed 60-5, with the support of Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

The 12-member Colorado Ground Water Commission issues decisions on disputes. Appeals, however, are handled by water court judges in district courts across the state.

State law allows for new evidence to be entered upon appeal when the issue hits water court, though such appeals are rare.

At that time, larger water interests – often those that try to transfer water from agricultural to municipal use – rely on water engineers and other experts to stack evidence in the case, say proponents of the bill.

Smaller farmers and ranchers – who are fighting for their water rights – are forced to invest in attorneys to combat the insertion of new evidence. Costs can become unbearable.

“It finally puts a stop to the games being played by those looking to take advantage of our designated basin system,” Marc Arnusch, a member of the Ground Water Commission, said of the legislation.

“A case must be heard again completely from the beginning, which causes a great deal of time and money.”

Coram assumed the measure would be a simple fix to an obvious problem. But that was before it became embroiled in politics.

Since leaving office in 2007, Owens has worked on water and land resource issues, including proposing water sales to municipalities. Coram gave Owens and Cadman “100 percent credit” for the bill’s troubled path in the Senate.

“I’ve worked on things in this building that’s taken me two, three years to get through. I’ll be back,” Coram said.

Critics of the bill – including Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango – say the measure would erode an unbiased appeals process before a judge. They point out that most of the commission members are political appointments by the governor, unlike a court.

“It’s a stacked commission,” Roberts said.

“When you go to court, there is an independent judge … there are procedural differences.”

Who owns the water in Ruedi Reservoir? The list includes, indirectly, ancient fish.

There are three main types of water in Ruedi Reservoir.
There are three main types of water in Ruedi Reservoir.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

BASALT — Knowing who owns, or controls, the water in Ruedi has become of greater public interest since 2013, when all of the water in the reservoir was sold, as the new ownership regime could change how much water is released from the reservoir in any given year.

And how much water is released from Ruedi has implications for the quality of the trout fishing on the lower Fryingpan River and the health of four species of endangered fish in the Colorado River below Palisade.

Given that, we thought it worth figuring out who owns the water in Ruedi, and the resulting list, signed off on by the Bureau of Reclamation, is below.

There are three types of water in Ruedi. The first is “fish water,” or water held in storage in Ruedi until it is released to benefit struggling populations of native fish in the Colorado River between Palisade and Grand Junction, in what’s known as the 15-mile reach.

The fish water is released from Ruedi and sent down the Fryingpan River, which flows into the Roaring Fork River in Basalt, which in turn flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs.

The second type of water in Ruedi is “contract water.”

This is water that has been sold by the Bureau of Reclamation to recover the costs of building and operating the reservoir.

Contracts for annual delivery of water from Ruedi 
vary in size from 12,000 to 15,000 acre-feet (AF) and there are now over 30 individuals and entities with water contracts.

When these Ruedi water owners are called out by senior downstream water rights holders, most significantly the large diverters near Grand Junction collectively known as “the Cameo call,” then they can ask Reclamation to release their “augmentation” water in Ruedi instead of stopping their normal use of water from their local sources.

In practice, this does not happen very often. But in a dry year, it could be important to many of the contract holders.

The third type of water can be viewed as “reservoir water.”

This is water not generally released from the reservoir, and includes the “dead” pool, the “inactive” pool, the “recreation and regulatory” pool and the “replacement” pool in Ruedi.

Ruedi was built, in part, to provide a “replacement” pool for the big upstream diversions of the Fry-Ark project, but these various “reservoir” pools are not a big factor in shaping the amount of flow out of the reservoir.

An angler in the Fryingpan River last fall, when the river was running about 300 cfs.
An angler in the Fryingpan River last fall, when the river was running about 300 cfs.

2015 flows

The question of how much water was flowing out of Ruedi, and who owns it, became an issue for many anglers on the lower Fryingpan River in September and October last year, when the river was consistently flowing at about 300 cubic feet per second.

At that level, the river can be hard to wade across, and local fly-fishing guides began to get complaints from some regular customers, who prefer levels in the 230 to 250 cfs range.

The river was high last year because 24,412.5 AF of water was released from Ruedi to help the endangered fish. This was an increase from 2014 and 2013, when 15,412 AF and 10,412 AF was released, respectively, as fish water.

There are three sub-pools of fish water in Ruedi, totaling 15,412.5 AF.

The first pool is 5,000 acre feet of fish water under contract to the CWCB and provided to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for use in the 15-mile reach.

The second pool of fish water contains 5,412.5 AF. This pool is under contract to the Colorado River District, which acts as a custodian for the water on behalf of Western Slope interests.

The third pool contains another 5,000 AF and remains under the control of Reclamation, which considers it available for use in four-out-of-five years, or 80 percent of the time.

This third pool of fish water is, in essence, “extra” water that is provided by Reclamation to help the fish when conditions in Ruedi allow.

So while there is a total of 15,413.5 AF of fish water in Ruedi, only 10,413.5 AF of it is counted in our tally under the heading of “fish water.” We list the third pool of 5,000 AF, under the heading of fish water, but it is actually included in the “reservoir water” category.

A view of Ruedi Reservoir showing the face of the dam, the spillway, the building that houses a hydropower plant, and an overflow outlet just above it. The pool just below the outlets often has the biggest fish on the river lurking within it.
A view of Ruedi Reservoir showing the face of the dam, the spillway, the building that houses a hydropower plant, and an overflow outlet just above it. The pool just below the outlets often has the biggest fish on the river lurking within it.

Contract water as fish water

In addition to the 15,413.5 AF of fish water released in 2015, there was also 9,000 AF of contract water released as fish water, which was a new development for both Ruedi and the lower Fryingpan River.

The 9,000 AF of contract water released as fish water was part of a 12,000 AF pool of water bought in 2013 by Ute Water Conservancy District in Grand Junction.

Ute Water bought its 12,000 AF for $15.6 million, or $1,300 an AF, to use as a back-up source of water. But last year it entered into a lease contract with the CWCB, at $7.20 an AF, so that the water could be used instead to benefit the endangered fish.

After Ute Water and CWCB finalized a lease arrangement in August to release up to the full 12,000 AF, only 9,000 AF could be released by the end of October without bringing flows over 300 cfs in the lower Fryingpan.

This year, though, Ute Water and CWCB hope to get an earlier start on releasing the full 12,000 AF as fish water, on top of the three pools of fish water totaling 15,412.5 AF.

If they succeed, that could mean 27,412.5 AF of water could be released from Ruedi as fish water, and flows in the Fryingpan could again be in the range of 300 cfs.

Given the discussion of water in Ruedi, a lingering question is, how much of the other contract water can be turned into fish water?

Bob Rice, a contracts specialist at Reclamation, said some of the water in contracts held by the Colorado River District could potentially be used for fish water, but it is currently unlikely that they will be.

While other contracts may also include the flexibility for the water to be used for “piscatorial,” or fish, uses, almost all of the water held by other contract holders is limited to use within their individual jurisdictions, and not in the 15-mile reach. The 12,000 acre-feet owned by Ute Water is a rare case, as the 15-mile reach is within their boundary.

So while more contract water may not turn into fish water in the future, it is the case that a fair amount of contract water could also be released along with fish water, at the request of the owners of the water. And that could bring the river up.

A map showing Ruedi Reservoir, the Fryingpan River, and the 15-mile reach on the Colorado River near Grand Junction.
A map showing Ruedi Reservoir, the Fryingpan River, and the 15-mile reach on the Colorado River near Grand Junction.

The list

Here’s the list of who owns water in Ruedi, by acre-feet.

Some entities have multiple contracts for water in Ruedi. In those instances, we have added up the AF in each contract and combined them and included the amount of AF in each contract in parenthesis.

Ownership of Water in Ruedi Reservoir

Fish Water

5,000 AF Colorado Water Conservation Board, for 15-mile reach
5,412.5 AF Colorado River District, for 15-mile reach

Subtotal: 10,412.5 AF

(5,000 AF) (CWCB, for 15-mile reach, available 4-out-of-5 years. It’s often used as fish water, but technically it is in the “reservoir water” pool).

Contract Water

12,000 AF Ute Water Conservancy District
11,413.5 AF Colorado River District (500, 530, 700, 4,683.5, 5,000)
6,000 AF Exxon Mobil Corp.
2,000 AF Colorado River District (tied to 5,412.5 fish water as “insurance” water)
1,790 AF Basalt Water Conservancy District (300, 490, 500, 500)
1,250 AF Battlement Mesa Metropolitan District
600 AF West Divide Water Conservancy District (100, 500)
550 AF City of Rifle (200, 350)
500 AF Town of Basalt (200, 300)
500 AF City of Glenwood Springs
500 AF Snowmass Water and Sanitation District
500 AF Town of Carbondale (250, 250)
400 AF Mid-Valley Metropolitan District (100, 300)
400 AF City of Aspen
400 AF Town of New Castle
400 AF Garfield County
330 AF Summit County
300 AF Town of Silt (83, 217)
200 AF Town of Palisade
185 AF Ruedi Water and Power Authority
150 AF Wildcat Ranch Association (50, 100)
140 AF Wildcat Reservoir Company
125 AF Town of DeBeque (25, 100)
100 AF Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District (38, 62)
100 AF W/J Metropolitan District
75 AF Town of Parachute
43 AF Starwood Water District
35 AF Thomas Bailey
30 AF Elk Wallow Ranch LLC
21 AF Owl Creek Meadows
20 AF Westbank Ranch Homeowners Association
15 AF Owl Creek Ranch Homeowners Association
15 AF Ted and Hilda Vaughan
Subtotal: 41,087.5 AF

Reservoir Water

28,000 AF replacement pool
21,778 AF recreation and remaining regulatory pool
1,032 AF inactive pool
63 AF dead pool
Sutotal: 50,873 AF

Total Water

102,373 AF

#Colorado’s share of the Rio Grande outsized and ill-timed according to #NM water users

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From Taos News (J.R. Logan):

Shortly after midnight last Friday (April 1), irrigators in Colorado’s San Luis Valley opened the gate on a diversion dam and pushed 80,000 gallons-a-minute of the Río Grande into a canal system that includes 210 miles of ditch and serves hundreds of farmers.

April 1 marks the beginning of irrigation season for the valley’s farmers. The Río Grande is at the heart of the valley’s massive agricultural industry, and farmers waste no time in taking their share…

Agriculture is big business north of the border. An incredibly complex infrastructure of dams and canals spreads water from the river across the valley, most of it to fill shallow aquifers that feed hundreds of center pivot sprinklers. But the water demands of the industry on that side of the state line in spring often leave little water in the river by the time it hits New Mexico. At times in recent years, the river at the border was more than 90 percent smaller than when it entered the valley.

Environmentalists complain that dramatically altering the natural pulse of spring runoff has devastating ecological effects that extend far downstream. And rafting outfitters in Taos County have said Colorado irrigators sucking most of the river dry hurts their business by making popular sections of the river — namely the Taos Box through the Río Grande del Norte National Monument — impassible. “They’re starting earlier, and it’s more intense,” says Cisco Guevara, outfitter and owner of Los River Runners. Guevara and other outfits started running the Taos Box in March, when early runoff swelled the river enough to get a boat through. But between April 1 and April 5, flows at the state line dropped by more than half…

Exactly how low the flow will go depends on the snowpack in the Río Grande’s headwaters in Colorado. Under the Río Grande Compact — a water sharing agreement struck by Colorado, New Mexico and Texas nearly 80 years ago — Colorado must “deliver” a certain percentage of the river to the state line every year. That percentage varies, depending on the total amount of water that goes downriver each year.

The catch – for New Mexico – is that the delivery is calculated on an annual basis, meaning Colorado can let every drop of the river go to New Mexico during the fall and winter while taking most of the river during the spring and summer and still fulfill its debt to New Mexico.

Unfortunately for river rats like Guevara, peak rafting season happens to coincide with irrigation season.

Still, the demands of thirsty irrigators in Colorado don’t necessarily mean the river will shrink to a trickle at the state line. Peak runoff is still weeks off, and when ample snowpack melts in earnest and the Río Grande really gets rolling, farmers can only take so much water, meaning there’s plenty left for those downstream…

As of Wednesday (April 6), snowpack in the Río Grande headwaters was at 86 percent of the 30-year average, suggesting flows this year will be slightly below average. But that could change if the mountains see additional spring snow storms that bolster snowpack, as was the case last year.

Raft guides aren’t the only ones griping about the way water in the Río Grande is shared.

In 2014, Santa Fe-based environmental group WildEarth Guardians served notice of its intent to sue the state of Colorado, arguing extreme diversions for agricultural use imperiled the habitat of the endangered silvery minnow in the Middle Río Grande Valley.

No such lawsuit has been filed. Instead, the group is suing the state of New Mexico, hoping to compel the state engineer to limit the amount of water that can be diverted by the Middle Río Grande Conservancy District, which serves farmers in the center of the state.

Westwide SNOTEL map April 10, 2015 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL map April 10, 2015 via the NRCS.

East Mesa Ditch owners open to leaving water in Crystal River

A graphic from the Snapshot Assessment of the Roaring Fork Watershed , a report done by Seth Mason of Lotic Hydrological. The graphic shows how a section of the Crystal River below several major diversions can be nearly dried up.
A graphic from the Snapshot Assessment of the Roaring Fork Watershed , a report done by Seth Mason of Lotic Hydrological. The graphic shows how a section of the Crystal River below several major diversions can be nearly dried up.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The East Mesa Water Co. has told the Colorado basin roundtable it could potentially leave in the Crystal River about a third of the water it now diverts in late summer if enough improvements are made to its 8.5-mile-long irrigation ditch.

Today about 30 to 40 percent of the water sent into the antiquated East Mesa Ditch is lost to evaporation and ditch leakage. But adding pipes and improving structures could reduce those water losses and allow more water to flow down the often de-watered lower Crystal River.

The East Mesa Ditch has a senior 1902 water right to divert 31.8 cubic feet per second from the Crystal, as well as a 1952 right to divert another 10 cfs. The diversion structure for the ditch is nine miles south of Carbondale, on river right.

“A 30 percent savings could mean, potentially, 10 (cubic) feet of water back into the Crystal River system,” said Richard McIntyre, the treasurer of East Mesa Water Co., during a grant application presentation to the Colorado roundtable on March 28.

The ditch company is currently seeking $60,000 from the roundtable to improve three sections of the ditch as part of a $114,000 project planned for this year.

McIntrye, representing the 12 owners in the East Mesa Water Co., also read a prepared statement to the roundtable as part of the grant presentation.

“The ditch company believes that there are avenues becoming available to us that may assist in easing some pressures on the Crystal River system and benefit the shareholders as well,” McIntrye said. “However, before we are able to intelligently assess and address the issues it is essential that we make our delivery system efficient.”

The biggest shareholders in the East Mesa Ditch include McIntrye, Paul and John Nieslanik, Tom Bailey of the Iron Rose Ranch, Hal Harvey, Tom Turnbull and Willa Doolan. Marty Nieslanik is the president of East Mesa Water Co.

“Although we have made concentrated efforts to rehabilitate the infrastructure on the ditch recently, it remains in poor to satisfactory condition,” McIntrye continued.

McIntrye said the ditch company was developing a five-year plan to “rehabilitate failing aspects of the ditch” and a 10-year plan to “pipe much, or even all” of the ditch.

Last year the Colorado roundtable gave East Mesa Water Co. $60,000 to help fund what turned out to be a $760,000 project to repair a 450-foot-long tunnel and install 1,200 feet of pipe in the ditch. East Mesa also received a $300,000 grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service for the work.

“With irrigation efficiencies made by managing shareholders, combined with an effective delivery system, we hope to be a contributor to resolving the pressing issues that we all face in maintaining substantial water flows in the Crystal River and beyond,” said McIntrye, concluding his prepared remarks.

The lands irrigated by the East Mesa Ditch are shown in purple, according to a technical report from Lotic Hydrological called Water Rights Allocation and Accounting Model Development for the Lower Crystal River.
The lands irrigated by the East Mesa Ditch are shown in purple, according to a technical report from Lotic Hydrological called Water Rights Allocation and Accounting Model Development for the Lower Crystal River.

‘The four questions’

A member of the roundtable then asked McIntyre if East Mesa was involved in the ongoing process to develop a stream management plan for the Crystal River.

“We’ve attended a lot of the meetings,” McIntrye said. “And over years of attending those meetings we keep asking the four questions, as they obviously want some of our water: one, when do you want the water; number two, how much water do you want; number three, what’s the water worth to you; and number four, who is going to pay us? And it’s been impossible to get any one of those questions really answered, but we still attend the meetings.”

McIntyre said East Mesa is forming an association of diverters on the Crystal River to gather information on its own and to possibly present an offer to the community.

There are 12 irrigation ditches on the lower Crystal River and collectively they divert about 171 cfs of water from the river each day during irrigation season, according to Ken Ransford, the secretary of the Colorado roundtable.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board holds an instream environmental flow right of 100 cfs on the Crystal, but the river often drops far below that level in late summer, at least in the section below the bigger irrigation ditches,

East Mesa is the second largest diverter on the Crystal, behind the Sweet Jessup Canal.

According to Ransford, the East Mesa ditch has diverted an average of 9,626 acre feet of water annually from 1952 to 2014. In 2014, it diverted 8,774 acre feet.

According to records gathered and maintained by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, East Mesa irrigates 383 acres of hay fields, which Ransford notes in his minutes of the March 28 roundtable meeting works out to “25 acre feet for each of the 383 irrigated acres.” In a follow-up email, Ransford notes it typically only takes two acre feet of water to grow an acre of hay.

The East Mesa Water Co., in its grant application to the roundtable, says the ditch has a service area of 740 acres.

And it says the hay grown on that 740 acres is worth about $500,000 annually, assuming a yield of four tons per acre and a hay price of $170 a ton.

The ditch company, however, also says there is more value in how the hay fields look to tourists than in the hay itself, saying the economic value is “closely related to recreation and tourism.”

“The effect on overall commerce would be significant if one of the most scenic views in the valley, that approaching Mt. Sopris, were to be brown and dry rather than green and lush because this ditch failed,” East Mesa’s grant application states.

The proposed $114,000 ditch improvement project pitched to the Colorado roundtable last week includes replacing the measuring device at the headgate and replacing two failing sections of the ditch where it crosses Nettle and Thomas creeks. East Mesa says the improvements could save 150 acre feet of water a year.

The 12 shareholders in the ditch company plan to put up $19,000 of the $114,000 project and are hoping to get a $35,000 from a grant from the Colorado River District and $60,000 from the Colorado roundtable.

The roundtable gets its funds from the state’s Water Supply Reserve Account program. In turn, that account is funded with oil and gas severance taxes, which are down sharply this year.

The Colorado roundtable now has $353,327 in its account for 2016. On March 28 the roundtable was presented with four grant requests totaling $263,500, including the $60,000 request from East Mesa.

A next steps meeting has since been set for April 11. The roundtable is expected to vote on East Mesa’s application at its May meeting.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch on coverage of rivers and water in Colorado and the West. The Daily News published this article on Monday, April 4, 2016.

2016 #coleg: HB16-1005 (Rain Barrels) is on its way to Gov. Hickenlooper’s desk

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

“As a farmer’s daughter, I’m proud to have helped pass this common-sense water-conservation measure,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat from Wheat Ridge who was one of the bill’s sponsors.

Conservation groups hope the legislation encourages Coloradans to capture and use runoff from their rooftops on their lawns and gardens to help people recognize that water is a precious resource in this arid state, compared to the amount they would have used from their garden hoses, otherwise.

Photo via the Colorado Independent
Photo via the Colorado Independent

2016 #coleg: HB16-1005 (Rain barrels) passes initial Sen. vote

Photo from the Colorado Independent.
Photo from the Colorado Independent.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Though many homeowners already do it, Colorado residents soon could be able to use rain barrels — legally — to collect water from their rooftops under a bill that won preliminary approval in the Colorado Senate on Thursday…

Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said the measure has been altered to address as many concerns as possible to comply with Colorado’s complicated water laws, including making it clear that the use of rain barrels does not constitute a water right.

Merrifield said a chief benefit of the bill is it will help educate Colorado residents about the importance of water, and how it is the life-blood of the state.

“It allows urban residents to connect themselves to the water system of our state,” he said. “We are not blessed with a huge amount of water. The more our urban residents understand the system, the better for all users.”

Under the bill, rain collection is limited to above-ground barrels and only for rooftops of single-family homes. It also bars homeowners’ associations from banning such barrels, although they are allowed to make rules governing the appearance of the barrels that are used.

While no one spoke out against the bill when it won a voice vote on the floor of the Senate, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, expressed his opposition to the measure when it cleared the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee on Wednesday.

“My concern here is that if indeed we have rain barrels that may cause depletions out of order of priority storage … the next person in line would be the one curtailed,” Sonnenberg said. “That’s a concern for me, given that agriculture has 85 percent of the water.”

To help address that issue, the bill was amended to require the State Engineer’s Office to report to the Legislature by 2019 whether there is any evidence that the use of rain barrels has caused injury to downstream users.

Also opposing the measure in committee were Sens. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, and Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs. Supporting it from the Western Slope included Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Ellen Roberts, R-Durango.

The bill requires a final Senate vote before it heads to the governor’s office. It passed the House last month on a 63-1 vote.

When the ground shifted under the hooves of #Colorado’s water buffaloes — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

During the next few years, two major installations will take shape in Denver that will seek to inform urban development of the future, including the use of water.

Along I-25, jut southwest of downtown, Denver Water has already started redeveloping its administrative campus. Most of the buildings there are more than 50 years old, but the water agency also sees it as an opportunity with the $195 million redevelopment to demonstrate the technology and concepts of the future.

Jim Lochhead -- photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)
Jim Lochhead — photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)

With all that it has planned said Jim Lochhead, the chief executive of Denver Water, the agency thinks it can reduce the amount of water needed for the campus by 50 percent. The agency, he said, is embracing “total reuse.”

The other project to keep an eye on within Denver is at the Coliseum and Western Stock Show complex along I-70 north of downtown Denver. With state backing, the aging complex will be redeveloped by Denver in concert with Colorado State University using cutting-edge building technologies but also minimal water uses.

Denver and the West have entered a new era that recognizes limits. Lochhead, in a recent presentation at the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute. During the 25 years of the conference there has been an “extraordinary remarkable transition in the paradigm of water,” he said.

In the first half of the 20th century, water developers, commonly called “water buffaloes,” encountered little opposition to their work. But after World War II, they “really ran into this new world that they didn’t understand,” said Lochhead.

The South Platte River typically all but vanishes as it passes through Denver’s industrial neighborhood north of downtown, downstream of the Burlington Ditch diversion, near the Cherokee power plant. Photo/Allen Best
The South Platte River typically all but vanishes as it passes through Denver’s industrial neighborhood north of downtown, downstream of the Burlington Ditch diversion, near the Cherokee power plant. Photo/Allen Best

The buffaloes understood water development in ways that were both monolithic and linear. Major cities and other agencies developed water, and they just ran over the opposition. Their development was linear, in that they just expected to do one more project after another. Their attitude, he said, was “if we run out of water, we’ll just get more.”

Lochhead identified a pivotal change in the 1950s, when a proposal to dam the Yampa River at Echo Park in northwest Colorado was fought by environmental groups and conservationists such as Wallace Stegner.

“They really didn’t see the first signs of the world shifting from under them as the Sierra Club was able to defeat construction of the dam in Echo Park,” he said. The water buffaloes didn’t see what was coming as Congress adopted the Wilderness Act and then a raft of environmental legislation. They didn’t see it when Jimmy Carter issued his “hit list” of federally funded reclamation projects in 1977, which effectively became the end of the era of dam building.


In Colorado, according to Lochhead, the pivot came in the early 1990s, when Two Forks Dam was defeated. It was a stern rebuke to the thinking of Colorado’s water developers, who believed if “just only they could get one more big water project.”

Denver, in the 21st century, has been part of the new wave of thinking. This has been evident most clearly in the plans to enlarge Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder. The increased water will come from stepped-up diversions from across the Continental Divide, in the Fraser and Williams Fork valleys, at the head of the Colorado River.

At first glance, this looks like business as usual. But this project has been different. Nobody questioned Denver’s right to the water under Colorado water law. But Denver at the outset admitted that there were other considerations, especially when the streams were already nearly tapped out. With the increased diversions, up to 80 percent of the flows of the Fraser River will be diverted.

West portal Moffat Water Tunnel
West portal Moffat Water Tunnel

The plan worked out after lengthy negotiations between Denver Water representatives and those from Grand County and the Western Slope is complex. What is pertinent is that some of the major environmental groups, most notably Trout Unlimited, endorsed the settlement. And here’s a key principle:

When diversions occur will matter equally, or even more so, than how much is diverted.

Lochhead also pointed to the need for partnerships with irrigators downstream on the South Platte River. Denver has pledged to step up the reuse of the water it imports from the Western Slope, and it is entitled, by law, to use that water to extinction. Using the water to extinction, however, means less water for those downstream.

“We will have to have partnerships in how we deal with those impacts,” said Lochhead.

Also speaking on the same panel at the Rocky Mountain Land Use institute was Lawrence McDonnell, an adjunct professor of water law at the University of Colorado. The broad change in the West in the last quarter-century has been a small shift of water from agricultural produce to municipal uses, to accommodate rapid population growth. In the eight states, population grew 60 percent from 1990 to 2010, with most of that growth occurring on urban areas.

“Leadership has to come from cities,” he said, and it has. Growth has occurred “in ways that often resulted in far less per-capita water use.”