#Kansas, #Nebraska, #Colorado reach consensus on Republican River

Photo: The commissioners of the Republican River Compact Administration sign the long-term resolutions on August 24: (from left) Commissioner David Barfield, Chief Engineer, Kansas Department of Agriculture; Commissioner Dick Wolfe, State Engineer, Colorado Division of Water Resources; Commissioner Jeff Fassett, Director of Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources, via Governor Hickenlooper's office.
Photo: The commissioners of the Republican River Compact Administration sign the long-term resolutions on August 24: (from left) Commissioner David Barfield, Chief Engineer, Kansas Department of Agriculture; Commissioner Dick Wolfe, State Engineer, Colorado Division of Water Resources; Commissioner Jeff Fassett, Director of Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources, via Governor Hickenlooper’s office.

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today announced Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska established an agreement this week in the longstanding conflict over water from the Republican River basin, as the Republican River Compact Administration signed two resolutions.

Representatives from the three states have been meeting monthly for over two years, in an effort to change the approach and improve how they manage interstate water matters. This effort has created a new focus on transparency and certainty as all three states work to serve their water users. The intent of these resolutions is to replace the need for annual reviews and instead provide long-term surety to water users.

“We are proud to be part of this historic agreement,” said Hickenlooper. “For the first time since signing the Compact, the three states have worked together to resolve their issues without litigation and have brought certainty to the water users in the basin. This is how we do our best work in Colorado and defines our approach to addressing our water challenges — cooperation and collaboration.”

“Signing these resolutions shows the commitment from all three states to engage in open and transparent dialogue for the past two years,” said Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. “This long-term agreement will ultimately improve water management for water users in Kansas as well as Nebraska and Colorado.”

The resolutions signed this week will provide flexibility and greater certainty to all water users in the region, while remaining consistent with the terms of the Republican River Compact and the Final Settlement Stipulation of 2002. The three states have been involved in various litigation and arbitration for the past 15 years over administration of water in the Republican River basin, and this agreement is a significant and positive step forward, with the next steps focusing on working with the basin’s water users to implement these agreements.

“It has been a priority of the states to collaborate on interstate water matters to ensure each state’s water users are protected while also maintaining a positive working relationship between the compacting states. “These resolutions represent a long-term strategy for representing each state and ultimately improving water management for water users in all three states,” said Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts.

The Republican River basin begins in the plains of eastern Colorado and flows through northwest Kansas and southern Nebraska, ultimately returning to Kansas. The Republican River Compact was negotiated during the early 1940s with participation by the states of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska and a representative of the President of the United States. The Compact was formally signed in 1942. Its purposes are to provide for equitable division of such waters, remove all causes of controversy, promote interstate comity, promote joint action by the states and the United States in the efficient use of water and the control of destructive floods, and provide for the most efficient use of waters in the Republican River basin.

The state official in each of the three states who is charged with administering water law serves on the Republican River Compact Administration. For more information about the Compact, go to the following websites:

Colorado: http://water.state.co.us/SurfaceWater/Compacts/RepublicanRiver/Pages/RepublicanRiverHome.aspx
Kansas: http://agriculture.ks.gov/divisions-programs/dwr/interstate-rivers-and-compacts/republican-river-compact
Nebraska: http://dnr.nebraska.gov/iwm/republican-river-compact-2

Larimer pays $8.4 million for farm, water rights — Loveland Reporter-Herald

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Here’s the release from Larimer County (Kerri Rollins):

Larimer County Department of Natural Resources purchased a 211-acre farm southwest of Berthoud, along with its valuable water rights. The deal closed Monday, August 8.

Using Help Preserve Open Spaces sales and use tax dollars, Larimer County Department of Natural Resources purchased the property, known previously as the Malchow Farm, to conserve its agricultural, historic, scenic, community buffer and educational values. General public access is not permitted at this time. Larimer County plans to continue leasing the property as an active agricultural farming operation.

The Town of Berthoud provided $100,000 to Larimer County to help purchase the farm, which will also help leverage a potential Great Outdoors Colorado funding request being submitted later this month.

“We’re excited to acquire this farm and its myriad of conservation values,” said Gary Buffington, director of Larimer County Department of Natural Resources. “The property helps us further our mission to conserve working lands and foster an appreciation for our agricultural heritage in Larimer County.”

This property is located one mile southwest of Berthoud, just north of the Little Thompson River and adjacent to U.S. 287 on the highway’s west side. It consists of high-quality agricultural soils, with approximately 188 irrigated, 18 pasture and 5 farmstead acres. Located just north of the Larimer-Boulder county line, the property serves as a gateway to Larimer County and a doorstep to the town of Berthoud, with sweeping views of Longs Peak and the Front Range. The property contains several historic features, including a pioneer gravesite, beet shack and a big red barn that can be seen for miles. The Overland Trail once crossed the property.

The property, infrastructure and minerals were purchased along with the valuable water rights, including 240 units of Colorado-Big Thompson, or C-BT, water, 16 shares of Handy Ditch native water rights and 20 shares in Dry Creek Lateral Ditch.

Larimer County is actively seeking partners to engage in a water sharing agreement on this property that will provide partnership funds toward the purchase of the water, keep the farm in active production and allow water partners to share some of the water in drought years. This water sharing agreement, known as an Alternative Transfer Mechanism, or ATM, is a cooperative solution encouraged by the Colorado Water Plan to share water across uses without permanently drying up high-quality working farms, such as this farm near Berthoud.

Larimer County has developed a stewardship plan for the property and will develop a full management plan with public input within the next several years. The property was purchased from the Malchow family, but an official name for the property, now that it’s a Larimer County open space, will be chosen at a later date. Public tours of the property are planned for later this year.

For additional information, contact Kerri Rollins, Open Lands Program manager, at (970) 619-4577.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Larimer County now officially owns the 211-acre Malchow farm south of Berthoud and its associated water rights — a unique agreement that includes a water sharing component.

The $8.4 million sale from the Malchow family to the Department of Natural Resources closed Monday.

The county bought the property to conserve its agricultural, historic and scenic values and plans to continue leasing the fields as an active farm.

One unique aspect of the sale was that the county also bought the water rights, including 240 units of Colorado-Big Thompson water, with the intention of entering into a water sharing agreement.

Under such an agreement, the farm may vary its crops over several years, so in drought years, some of the irrigation water can be sold.

This allows the farm to stay in production for the long-term and is an arrangement encouraged by the Colorado Water Plan.

The farm is located along U.S. 287 one mile southwest of Berthoud, and along with rich farmland, it includes historic buildings and a pioneer grave site believed to be tied to the Overland Trail, which once crossed the property…

The farm will not immediately be open for public access. However, a management plan that will be developed within the next few years could include an educational component in which the farm may be used to teach the public about agriculture.

The town of Berthoud pitched in $100,000 toward the purchase of the property, and Larimer County will be applying for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant to help with the cost.

2016 #coleg: Let it rain (in barrels) in Colorado — The Greeley Tribune

From The Greeley Tribune (Samantha Fox):

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1005 in May, and now it’s up to residents to buy and install rain barrels, as long as limitations are followed.

Most single-family homes and townhomes can use rain barrels to collect water, but homeowners can’t have more than two 55-gallon barrels.

Those who live in residences with homeowners associations shouldn’t buy and install rain barrels right away, though. Like the American flag, an HOA can’t ban the barrels, but it can implement requirements about how they’re used, since the barrels fall under an exterior change. Abby Bearden, office manager and architecture review committee manager for Greeley Community Management, LLC, said rain barrels should be approved prior to installment, that way there are no issues or unforeseen problems.

Once approval is given, rain barrels can be purchased in a number of hardware stores or online. Installation is relatively simple, but TreePeople, a Los Angeles company that disseminates information about rain barrels, said the water catching devices should be installed on a raised surface, attached to a gutter. A downspout will be needed to get downpour directly into the barrel. It’s also important to make sure the barrel is secure, in case of harsh weather.

Once the barrels start collecting rain, the water can’t be used for just anything. The new law allows for outside use on the owner’s property, so watering lawns and plants outside is OK, but greenhouses and indoor uses are not allowed.

Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute, said the barrels should be cleared about once a week during the summer, and should be disconnected during the winter.

It shouldn’t take too many storms before there is plenty of water gathered to use on lawns and gardens, Waskom said.

Waskom said he doesn’t anticipate too many people running out and buying rain barrels, but he said in other states, about 10 percent of the population actually uses them. That figure shouldn’t be enough to hurt water right owners, which is a big reason why the controversial legalization of rain barrels was finally approved.

The way Colorado’s water law works is similar to a first-come, first-serve model. It’s called prior appropriation. The first person to take and use the water for an agricultural, industrial or household reason got the first rights to that water. These are called senior water rights. Those who secured water rights later can use what was remaining after the senior water user took what they were allotted. These are called junior water rights.

There was concern that rain barrels can prevent runoff into the water sources people have rights to, which would hurt the non-senior holders first, but Colorado State University conducted a study that showed rain barrels shouldn’t hurt the water supply.

Not everyone was convinced, like Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. He said the bill didn’t do enough to guarantee rain barrel users would be responsible in case their use of rain barrels does hurt in senior water rights holders. He was one of three legislators to vote against the bill.

There is a provision in case there is a loss of water due to rain barrels, though. It was written into the bill that there can be a reexamination of regulation if there wasn’t enough runoff water getting to water sources.

“If everyone were to (buy barrels) there are the checks and balances in there so somebody can go back there and look on a regular basis to see if there is, indeed, an impact,” said Northern Water’s Brain Werner in May.

Escalating cost of ag water: “It’s not cheap, but you only pay for it once” — Melanie Calvert

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia
South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

Farm families in Western states like California and Colorado are increasingly under pressure to sell their water. It’s been coined “buy and dry,” as water is diverted from farm fields and instead used to fill pipes in condos and subdivisions.

Buy and dry deals are usually cut behind closed doors, in quiet, unassuming meetings. A city approaches a farmer, or a farmer approaches a city, and strikes a deal. But a recent public auction in Loveland, Colorado threw the doors wide open, bringing myriad bidders and interests into one room to duke it out. It gives a glimpse of the unique stresses and opportunities farmers face in parched portions of the West.

Bidders, some in cowboy hats, some in business suits, packed the room at the Larimer County Fairgrounds. Abuzz with a sort of nervous energy, audience members whisper about how high the prices might climb. Auctioneer Spanky Assiter takes the mic, and lays out what’s at stake.

“Today’s an opportunity to buy water,” he says.

“You see commercials on TV all the time, invest in gold, invest in silver, invest in natural resources. There’s nothing more valuable than water.”

An auction of this size — with hundreds of units of Colorado-Big Thompson water and more than a dozen shares of a local ditch company up for grabs — is rare. The Colorado-Big Thompson project moves water from the Western Slope through canals and tunnels to provide water for Front Range municipalities and farmers.

There’s also more than 400 acres of farmland, except that’s not the asset that packed the room. Even though the tracts sit just 40 miles from Denver, one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country, the water that flows into the fields is worth way more.

Scotti Reynolds, who ran a cattle operation on the property with her husband, until his death in 2012, has been contemplating how and when to sell the property.

“The land and the water have become more valuable than the income from farming.”

One by one, water shares find new owners in the crowd. When all’s said and done the grand sum for the 400 acres, and the water rights, totals $12.6 million. The water rights, between the ditch shares and the units, alone went for close to $10 million. By far, the biggest spenders were cities — like Broomfield, a Denver suburb.

“It’s not cheap, but you only pay for it once. You buy it once and you get it forever,” says Melanie Calvert, who purchases water for the city.

At the auction she bid $3.2 million for 120 units of Colorado-Big Thompson water, each unit fetching $27,000. The city’s purchase continues a longtime trend. Increasingly, water is more valuable coming out of lawn sprinklers and bathroom faucets than growing sugar beets.

Broomfield’s been on a tear. The city’s spent $12.6 million since the beginning of 2016 on acquiring water, with another $2.6 million deal in the works. Hardly the only city buttressing water supplies by buying up agricultural water rights, they’re just following in the footsteps of Thornton and Aurora, other cities with reputations for buying lots of water.

The recently adopted Colorado Water Plan laments the fact that auctions like this even exist. It attempts to offer up alternatives, some of which are still theoretical because of the legal wrangling and economic conditions needed to bring them to fruition.

Western Water Symposium recap

From Colorado State University (Jim Beers):

The politics of water in the West was the theme of the second annual Western Water Symposium, held at the end of July at Morgan Library on the Colorado State University campus. More than 130 attendees heard from a series of water experts that the politics of water in the West transcends party affiliation — and there’s probably not a more divisive issue, even in this election year.

Pat Mulroy via The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Pat Mulroy via The Earth Institute at Columbia University

Among the speakers was Pat Mulroy, senior fellow at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, who said the federal regulatory system of water management in the West is “broken.” Mulroy said leadership and creative solutions are needed to “reform the federal regulatory rigidity.”

She focused much of her talk on the Lower Colorado River Basin, which stretches through Nevada and Arizona – and forms Lakes Mead and Powell – before running into southern California and supplying the thirsty Los Angeles and San Diego markets. Mulroy said it would be necessary for those in the Lower Colorado River Basin to “redefine their relationship to water, and do more with less in the future.” Otherwise, she said there will be nothing for the region but “hydrologic leftovers.”

Hank Brown
Hank Brown

Action, not inaction
Former Colorado U.S. Senator Hank Brown also addressed the gathering. Brown, who helped to negotiate the state’s only wild and scenic designation on the Cache La Poudre River west of Fort Collins, said the designation would not have come about had there not been compromises and the desire to develop a “great thing from action, not inaction.”

That inaction, according to Brown, comes at the federal level with numerous regulations, environmental impact statements and layers of bureaucracy. He said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency primarily responsible for overseeing approval of water projects, should change its focus because “doing away with water storage has nothing to do with controlling growth,” especially along the fast-growing Colorado Front Range.

Instead, Brown said that preparing for future growth and infill should be a task that the state and communities coordinate and work together on now, so that plans could be made for preserving open space, creating dedicated traffic corridors, and planning for additional water storage.

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

Water distribution is monolithic, linear

Colorado allocates its water through a complex scenario based on prior appropriation, decrees and interstate compacts. Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water, said the “first in time, first in right” approach creates some winners and some losers, and that the current system of distributing water in the West is “monolithic and linear, but politics is driving the system.” And that it will take “leadership to get past the ‘zero-sum-gain’ approach.”

Lochhead, like Brown, was wary of several federally enacted laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, but said these regulations served as a wake-up call to the water community. Water providers, such as Denver Water, were seeing not only the prohibition of new projects, but limitations being placed on expansion of existing projects.

He said confrontation was replaced with community building, reaching out to local groups and communities to create a level of trust. Lochhead said that has resulted in better relations between urban and rural water interests, Western slope and Front Range providers, and upper basin and lower basin users.

The Western Water Symposium also featured D.C. Jackson, a noted professor of history at Lafayette College, who provided a glimpse into the integration of dam engineering in the West and politics during the 1920s.

Symposium benefits Water Resources Archive

The symposium benefits the Water Resources Archive, a joint effort between Morgan Library and Colorado Water Institute. The Archive centralizes historically important water-related collections, documenting the role that water has played in the development of Colorado and beyond. In all, more than 100 collections related to water resources throughout Colorado, the Western U.S., and from around the world are housed there, with about 5 percent of the total holdings available online at http://www.lib.colostate.edu/water.

Aspen: Public open house on 
Castle and Maroon creek water rights

Castle Peak
Castle Peak

From the City of Aspen via The Aspen Daily News:

The city of Aspen is hosting a public open house on the municipality’s conditional water rights on Castle and Maroon creeks on Thursday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Pitkin County library community meeting room.

City representatives will provide background information and host a dialogue with the public with the goal of asking for input and ideas.

Since 1965, the city has maintained conditional water rights for a reservoir on Castle and on Maroon creeks to plan for the community’s future water needs, a press release says. To keep these rights, Aspen must submit a diligence filing this October.

Aspen Journalism reported in June that, if built as currently described by the city’s plans, which were first presented to a water court judge in 1965, the Maroon Creek reservoir would store 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam just below the confluence of East Maroon and West Maroon creeks.

But the release issued Monday by the city says the diligence filing is a routine one that occurs every six years.

And it is not a proposal to actually build the reservoir, the city says.

“A conditional water right is a place holder in Colorado’s priority system for water rights,” the release says.

Silverthorne: Developer donates 1.833 cfs diversion right to the town

Silverthorne via City-Data.com.
Silverthorne via City-Data.com.

From the Summit Daily News (Elise Reuter):

Local developer Gary Miller donated a total of 1.833 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) in water rights to the town, the rough equivalent of 13.71 gallons per second, or 1,185,000 gallons per day.

Sawmill Gulch is diverted from Willow Creek, within the Eagles Nest Wilderness, Linfield said. The diversion, appropriated in 1918, was originally intended for irrigation.

“I’ve owned this water for a long time,” Miller said. “I think the town of Silverthorne has done such a great job. I thought, ‘I’ve got the water; they’ve got a lot of people moving into the town.’ I thought the best thing for me to do was to give it to them.”

[…]

Though the town has not assessed the value of the water rights, the fact that they are dated before the Colorado River Compact adds inherent value. An agreement formed in 1922 among seven U.S. states in the Colorado River Basin, the Colorado River Compact allocates water rights between the states.

“Water with earlier dates is not subject to that compact and the rules related to water use within the Colorado River Basin, including the Blue River Basin,” Linfield said.

Since the water remains untapped, the town would put in the necessary infrastructure once an appropriate use is determined.

“The town of Silverthorne has millions of dollars invested in our water rights portfolio and we work diligently to manage and maintain those rights,” Linfield said. “While we feel our water portfolio is strong, we are always looking for ways to improve and protect this valuable resource.”