Fishing to be a big part of Rueter-Hess recreation — The Parker Chronicle

Rueter Hess Reservoir
Rueter Hess Reservoir

From the Parker Chronicle (Chris Michlewicz):

Parker Water has begun the first phase of a fish-stocking program that will excite anglers for years to come.

The district’s initial purpose in stocking the reservoir is to follow through with an aquatic vegetation management plan, required by the district’s environmental impact statement.

“The reservoir’s volume has now reached a point that we are comfortable with implementing the stocking plan,” said Ron Redd, district manager.

The approved fish-stocking strategy was developed by Aquatics Associates Inc., with the initial plan being implemented from 2015-19. The recommended phased approach is to first stock the reservoir with forage species, including fathead minnows and bluegill.

Each stocking phase, at an anticipated cost of $27,000-$29,000, will span four consecutive years, with populations expanding on their own as the reservoir increases with size. Other game fish will be introduced in 2016 or later, including, but not limited to, channel catfish and rainbow trout. Stocking largemouth bass in 2017 will help to maintain a balanced and successful fishery.

The fishery biologists at Aquatics Associates predict that in future years, the reservoir will be able to support up to 20-pound rainbow trout.

To find out more about recreation at Rueter-Hess Reservoir, click here.

More Rueter-Hess Reservoir coverage here and here.

NISP water project hearing draws support at Greeley hearing — The Greeley Tribune

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of NISP maps.

From The Greeley Tribune (Catherine Sweeney):

A Northern Colorado water project had its second public hearing in Greeley on Thursday night, and speakers were overwhelmingly in favor.

About 150 people attended the meeting for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which aims to cure the region’s water woes by diverting from the Cache la Poudre River via pipeline into two newly constructed reservoirs.

The Army Corps of Engineers held the meeting. The agency is acting as the project’s federal supervisor, making sure it is in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, and it will ultimately decide whether the plan will come to fruition.

More than 30 people offered to speak, and less than a handful voiced opposition to the project. Those who spoke in favor — which included local farmers, government officials speaking on behalf of their constituents, water policy experts and environmentalists — were passionate. Some were angry, others on the verge of tears.

The project, which has been in the planning process for 12 years, had its first public meeting in Greeley seven years ago. The Corps had released its first report on the project’s potential environmental impacts. Participants in that meeting and a similar one in Fort Collins raised enough concerns to prompt the Corps to conduct a second report. It was published this year.

In 2008, the Greeley meeting’s speakers were predominantly in favor of the project, according to Tribune reports from the time.

Fort Collins’ speakers were staunchly opposed, said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway. This time, he said, it was 60-40 in support.

The commissioner chalked it up to two changes since 2008: the Corps’ second environmental report and natural events that have transpired since the last meeting.

He said the second report calmed some fears residents might have had. But more importantly, since 2008, Colorado faced one of the worst droughts in its history, as well as some of the worst floods.

It made people realize the need for a water system like NISP, he said…

Proponents voiced their support for a variety of reasons; fear for future generations’ water needs, the damage of “buy and dry” deals, and the effect of population growth. Opponents were inspired by environmental concerns and lifelong love for the Poudre River.

Josh Cook, a speaker who said he has worked for several water districts, approached the stand with a shaking voice.

“I don’t know what we’ll do without NISP,” he said. “I don’t know where my children are going to get food. I don’t know where farmers are going to get water.”

There is already a water shortage in Colorado, said Conway said in his speech. He was speaking on behalf of the South Platte Roundtable.

The current water gap is estimated at 190,000 to 630,000 acre-feet across Colorado, he said.

The gap illustrates the difference between how much water the state needs and how much is available. One acre-foot is 325,851 gallons.

NISP is projected to add 40,000 acre-feet to the region’s water supply.

One solution Coloradans have used to cure water shortages is “buy and dry” deals. Here, municipalities and water districts lease land from farmers to use their water.

These arrangements render farmland useless.

U.S. Congressman Ken Buck’s area representative, Wes McElhinny, was one of the many who raised population growth concerns.

“The population has doubled since 1970, but our storage abilities have barely increased,” McElhinny said.

The region is one of the fastest-growing in the nation, and the discrepancy is only going to get worse.

One of the opponents was Gina Jannet, a Fort Collins resident and Save the Poudre member. She raised water quality concerns. Namely, reducing the amount of water in the river could lead to a higher concentration of pollutants.

“What may appear to be modest changes to water quality… can have significant impacts on the bottom line of Fort Collins,” she said.

This was the last open meeting the Corps has scheduled, but the public input period, during which people can write in to the agency, lasts until September 3rd.

The Corps will take about a year to analyze all of that input and public the final environmental impact report, said John Urbanic, a project manager for the Corps. It’ll be another year until a final decision is made.

“We’re feeling confident,” said Brian Werner, a spokesman for Northern Water, which is overlooking the project.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) coverage here and here.

Sentiments on NISP continue to run high — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of NISP maps.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

Disagreement over the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project and its impact on the Poudre River has not mellowed with time.

Supporters of the project, which would build two new reservoirs, say NISP is needed to meet the future water needs of growing Northern Colorado communities.

Opponents say the project would drain and irreparably harm the river and its ecosystem, especially through Fort Collins.

Both sides turned out in force Wednesday for a public hearing in Fort Collins on a supplemental draft Environment Impact Statement, or EIS, for the project, just as they did when the document was initially released in 2008.

The issues haven’t changed over the years, several speakers noted.

Longtime Fort Collins resident and former City Council member Gina Janett said NISP is about growth, not about saving farmland from being bought and “dried up” by municipalities for water.

Development of irrigated farmland has gone on for decades and will continue, she said.

“The truth is, this project will provide water to buy and develop thousands of acres of irrigated farmlands, the willing sellers will be the farmers in the areas adjacent to the towns … and farms won’t be dried up and remain vacant but will be sold along with their water to developers to build new subdivisions and shopping centers.”

Proponents of the project said the “buy-and-dry” phenomenon is real and threatens to take thousands of acres out of agricultural production.

Bruce Gerk, a farmer from Julesburg, said water from NISP is needed to keep farms and cities viable in Colorado’s arid climate.

“If we are going to have a society that has the surety of water in this desert … then we have to control that resource and we need to do it in a responsible way,” Gerk said. “But we do need storage.”

Fifteen municipalities and water districts are participating in NISP through Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, also known as Northern Water.

The project would yield 40,000 acre feet of water a year to participants. An acre-foot is roughly 325,851 gallons, enough to meet the water needs of three to four urban households for a year.

The draft EIS looks at four alternatives for the project, including a “no action” alternative. The version of NISP preferred by Northern Water is Alternative 2, which would build Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins.

Glade would be a bit larger than Horsetooth Reservoir and inundate the valley through which U.S. Highway 287 currently runs from north of Ted’s Place to a point south of Owl Canyon Road.

Water would be drawn from the Poudre near the mouth of its canyon during times of peak flow, primarily May and June, to fill the reservoir with up to 170,000 acre feet. Seven miles of U.S. 287 would be rebuilt to the east.

Galeton Reservoir would be built east of Ault and draw water from the South Platte River. It would hold about 45,000 acre feet of water.

The project would use new pipelines and existing canals to transfer water and meet requirements for returning water to the rivers.

Opponents of the project maintain the water that would be provided by NISP could be realized through conservation. Another concern is the ecological impact of reduced river flows as water is diverted into reservoirs.

Fort Collins resident Greg Speer said plans for reducing flows in the original draft EIS were “fatally flawed.” The supplement document is no better, he said.

“There are a lot of problems with NISP as well,” he said. “The bottom line is these flows still as projected are fatal for the Poudre.”

Representatives of several communities participating in NISP said they have taken steps to increase their conservation efforts. Dave Lindsay, town manager of Firestone, said the town had reduced its per capita water consumption by 13.5 percent.

“That’s substantial but it’s not enough,” he said.

To have a sustainable future, Colorado needs projects like NISP to store water that otherwise would flow out of the state, he said.

The EIS is required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for its production. The EIS process for NISP began in 2004.

Northern Water expects the final EIS to be issued next year, with a decision on the project coming in 2017.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) coverage here and here.

Pro-Con: The Northern Integrated Supply Project — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative
Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

Michael D. DiTullio is general manager of Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, a proponent of the Northern Integrated Supply Project. Mark Easter, an opponent, is the board chair for Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper. Here’s what they had to say about the proposal to build two reservoirs that would add 40,000 acre feet of water to the Front Range’s inventory.

Question: Recently released is the Army Corps of Engineers’ nearly 1500-page supplemental draft environmental impact statement for proposed NISP. What do you want community members to know?

DiTullio: The biggest takeaway is that the SDEIS reveals the impacts of the project are minor and can be successfully mitigated. The participants are committed to making sure this project is built in an environmentally responsible manner. For instance, the low-flow augmentation release will increase the flows in the river at the times it is most needed, which is generally through the summer. By building bypass structures at four diversion dams through Fort Collins the project will allow those minimum flows to move downstream and also allow fish passage back upstream. Both of which do not occur today.

Easter: In nearly every aspect, NISP/Glade Reservoir is as bad, or worse than was previously proposed. The SDEIS reveals that NISP/Glade has not fundamentally changed — it would further drain and destroy the Cache la Poudre River, stripping the heart of the June Rise and diverting a huge chunk of the river at the canyon mouth. The Poudre will not survive if NISP/Glade is built. The Poudre would become a silted up, stinking ditch through Fort Collins.

Q: There’s debate about whether Glade Reservoir, if built, would reduce flows in the Poudre River.

DiTullio: This issue has been studied extensively for the past six years, and the results show there will be a small reduction during the spring rise but only when the snow pack is above normal. The biggest take to the river is that the project will provide more water when it is needed most, when the river is at its lowest level. This will provide for a live stream through Fort Collins year-round and to maintain a trout fishery in downtown Fort Collins. No other group or entity have done anything close to cleaning up the river that this project will.

Easter: The Water Resources Technical Report, published with the SDEIS, shows the stark truth — flows below the canyon mouth would be hurt in almost all years. May, June and July flows — the peak flows so critically important to healthy Front Range rivers — would be cut the most, nearly 15 billion gallons in wet years, 3.8 billion gallons in dry years and 6.1 billion gallons on average at the Lincoln Street Bridge.

Q: A lot of people talk about Glade Reservoir and damming the Poudre River as one in the same. Is that correct?

DiTullio: The Glade Reservoir is not a dam on the main stem of the Poudre River. The reservoir is located off stream, making NISP more environmentally friendly. The reservoir will create a new flat water fishery and recreational area that will benefit the citizens of Northern Colorado.

Easter: No matter where you put the reservoir, the result would be the same. The last free-flowing, unallocated water left in the Poudre would be diverted at the canyon mouth, along with an additional 20,000 acre feet per year (6.5 billion gallons) of water typically diverted by farmers downstream. The river downstream suffers identical fates when that water is diverted, regardless of where the water is stored.

Q: With this project, there is so much information to digest. What are falsities you’d like to address?

DiTullio: There are two major misconceptions that are advanced by the opponents to NISP: No. 1. That the project will dam the Poudre River, and No. 2. is the project will cause the Poudre to dry up. The Glade Reservoir will be located in a dry valley north of Ted’s Place and will have minimal impact on the area. Although the project will take water from the river during the spring runoff, it will not cause the Poudre to run dry. To the contrary, it will in fact add water back to the Poudre, 3600 acre feet annually at critical times to enhance the environment and the fisheries. Further, in response to the concerns of Fort Collins, the NISP participants have agreed not to divert water into Glade if the minimum streamflow’s are not being met.

Easter: The proponents absurdly claim a winter flow “augmentation” plan would leave the river better than before. They refuse to acknowledge the devastating impact of stripping the peak flows off the river. The proponents have some of the highest per-capita water use rates in the region, yet they claim further water conservation is impractical. And, they turn a blind eye to the fact that NISP would harm agriculture at least as much or worse than if no project were built.

Q: It could be years until the final EIS is released and further public comment collected, not to mention the possibility of a group challenging the decision in a court of law. Will Glade Reservoir come to fruition? How many years from now?

DiTullio: We don’t think it will take years. The project is needed now and should be built as soon as possible. The Army Corps on their website states they will release a final EIS next year. When the record of decision is released in 2017 we believe the project will move forward at that time. Obviously, any one or group has the right to challenge the Army Corps if they so choose to do so. One of the reasons that the Corps moved forward with a SDEIS was to have certainty that whatever decision they make is defensible in court.

Easter: It could take the Corps at least three more years to permit or deny the project. If permitted, both EPA and the Colorado Water Quality Control Division have to sign off, taking years more. The Corps faces lawsuits, court battles, and legal action from any proponent or opponent who doesn’t get what they want. Expect at least a decade before a resolution or the project dies of its own weight. We will oppose the project as long as it takes.

Q: What, if any, are alternatives to NISP?

DiTullio: There are no reasonable alternatives. This is well documented in the SDEIS documents. The “no action alternative” is to significantly increase the purchase of water that is used by agriculture which would lead to dry up of existing farmland. Many of the participants rent irrigation water to the ag community and value what they do to enhance the quality of live here in Northern Colorado. Conservation alone will not solve the water issues for Northern Colorado. The opposition champions a scheme that simply is not realistic and will not work.

Easter: The Corps touts the project proponent’s straw man “no action alternative,” an unrealistic and ironic “alternative” that is really no such thing. The Corps and NISP/Glade proponents refuse to accept that new water diversions are a thing of the past, and that conservation, efficiency and partnerships with agriculture must be embraced to keep our rivers alive. The fate of the Cache la Poudre — our home river — depends on collaboration and innovative thinking.

Q: How do we address water in Fort Collins, while also looking at the state’s water future as a whole?

DiTullio: The City of Fort Collins has done a good job of taking care of its citizen’s water needs. They were able to secure senior river water rights on the Poudre before many of the participants existed. However, not all of the citizens of Northern Colorado reside in Fort Collins. The water right for the NISP is junior to those of Fort Collins and the city will not be harmed by the project. The participants have an obligation to their citizens to provide a water supply for the future. It is ironic that my district, the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, currently serves approximately 32,000 residents within the City of Fort Collins.

NISP is only part of how we address the future water needs of Northern Colorado. The water community and this includes the City of Fort Collins must come together in harmony to collectively manage the water resources that we have. None of us can do it alone or should we. We are all citizens of this planet and we all have the right to choose where we live with our families and this includes Northern Colorado.

Easter: The Fort Collins water utility is not a NISP/Glade participant. Fortunately, our water utility “gets it.” City staff appears to understand the critical importance of innovation in keeping our home river healthy and vibrant while it meets our water needs. In contrast, Northern Water and the NISP/Glade proponents rely on 19th Century solutions to solve 21st Century problems. It is time to embrace the future.

Want to weigh in?

•There is an open house at 5 p.m. Wednesday and a 6 p.m. hearing thereafter at the Hilton Fort Collins, 425 W. Prospect Road. Attendees may share their perspectives during a public comment period.

•Those who can’t attend may submit comments in writing to:

John Urbanic, NISP EIS Project Manager

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District

Denver Regulatory Office

9307 S. Wadsworth Blvd.

State water board rules against Glenwood’s proposed whitewater rights — Aspen Journalism #ColoradoRiver

Upstream view of the Colorado River at the mouth of the Roaring fork River
Upstream view of the Colorado River at the mouth of the Roaring fork River

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

IGNACIO — The ongoing effort by the city of Glenwood Springs to establish a new water right for three potential whitewater parks on the Colorado River was dealt a setback Thursday by the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The CWCB board voted 8-to-1 to adopt staff “findings of fact” that the proposed water rights for a “recreational in-channel diversion,” or RICD, would “impair Colorado’s ability to fully develop its compact entitlements” and would not promote “the maximum beneficial use of water” in the state.

James Eklund, the director of the CWCB, and a nonvoting board member, was asked after the meeting what he would tell a kayaker in Glenwood about the board’s vote on Thursday.

“These are complicated issues,” Eklund said. “The CWCB values recreational water projects and takes very seriously its charge to strike a balance among recreational, environmental and consumptive uses. The proponent’s data and analysis weren’t able to demonstrate that the RICD as proposed struck this balance to the satisfaction of the CWCB.”

The CWCB board is required by state law to review all applications made in water courts for new recreational water rights, and to make a determination if the water right would prevent the state from developing all the water it legally can.

Colorado’s “compact entitlements” stem from the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which requires seven Western states to share water from the larger Colorado River basin.

The compact requires that an unspecified amount of water be divided between Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and estimates of the amount of water Colorado can still develop under the compact range from zero to 400,000 acre-feet to 1.5 million acre-feet.

Mark Hamilton, an attorney with Holland and Hart representing Glenwood, told the CWCB board members Thursday that there would be “no material impairment” to the state’s ability to develop new water supplies.

“If the issue really is what’s the additional upstream development potential, we would point out that significant upstream development can still occur,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton also said that the recreational water right would be non-consumptive, meaning the water would stay in the river and simply flow over u-shaped, wave-producing concrete forms embedded into the riverbed.

Glenwood is seeking the right to call for 1,250 cubic feet per second of water to be delivered to three whitewater parks at No Name, Horseshoe Bend and Two Rivers Park, from April 1 to Sept. 30.

It also wants the right to call for 2,500 cfs for up to 46 days between April 30 and July 23, and to call for 4,000 cfs on five consecutive days sometime between May 11 and July 6 in order to host a whitewater competition.

Aurora and Colorado Springs, together as partners in the Homestake transmountain diversion project, are opposing Glenwood’s water rights application, which was filed in December 2013.

“We do not oppose reasonable RICDs, but we believe this RICD claim is extraordinary by any measure,” Joseph Stibrich, the water resources policy manager for the city of Aurora, told the CWCB board, which was meeting in Ignacio on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

“We believe that a water claim of over 581,000 acre feet will seriously impair full development of Colorado’s compact entitlement,” Stibrich said. “This claim will severely impact the state of Colorado’s ability to meet its future water needs.”

Stibrich also said “this RICD is going to shift the burden of water supply development to meet the future needs of the state to the Yampa, to the Gunnison, and to the Rio Grande basins, while promoting further dry-up of irrigated lands throughout the state.”

Denver Water is also opposing Glenwood’s water rights application.

As part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Denver Water agreed not to oppose a RICD application from Glenwood, but only if Glenwood did not seek a flow greater than 1,250 cubic feet per second, which is the same size as the senior water right tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant.

Casey Funk, an attorney with Denver Water, said the utility stands by its agreement, but since Glenwood has asked for more than 1,250 cfs, it is opposing the city’s water court application. However, Funk said Denver Water is willing to keep negotiating with Glenwood.

The city made the case on Thursday that it was asking for more than 1,250 cfs on only 46 days between April and September, and it was doing so because the stretch of the Colorado from Grizzly to Two Rivers Park was more fun to float at 2,500 cfs than 1,250 cfs.

According to testimony Thursday, Glenwood also offered to include a “carve-out” in its water right to allow for 20,000 acre-feet of water to be diverted, stored and transported upstream of the proposed whitewater parks at some point in the future.

But that did not do much to sway the concerns of the CWCB staff.

“Staff is concerned with this provision, as it does not include water rights for transmountain diversions,” stated a July 15 memo to the CWCB board from Ted Kowalski and Suzanne Sellers of the CWCB’s Interstate, Federal & Water Information Section.

The CWCB staff memo also found that Glenwood’s recreational water rights would “exacerbate the call on the river and materially impact the ability of the state to fully use its compact entitlements because the RICDs will pull a substantial amount of water downstream.”

Peter Fleming, the general counsel for the Colorado River District, suggested the CWCB board give the parties in the case more time to continue negotiating before it ruled on its staffs’ findings.

The River District, which is also a party to Glenwood’s water court case, represents 15 counties on the Western Slope.

“We think that compact issues are effectively done,” Fleming told the board about Glenwood’s application. “We believe there is sufficient water above the RICD to develop.”

But the CWCB board did not take Fleming’s suggestion, and after relatively little debate and discussion, a motion was made to accept the staff’s findings that Glenwood’s RICD failed two of the three criteria the CWCB board was supposed to rule on.

“I think it is really unfortunate that the board took the approach they did,” said Nathan Fey, the Colorado stewardship director for American Whitewater, after the board’s decision against Glenwood.

American Whitewater and Western Resource Advocates are both parties in the water court case, and they are supporting Glenwood’s application.

“It is unclear what evidence the staff presented that shows it is of material impairment to developing our water, or maximizing use of the state’s water,” Fey said. “Those are significant concerns, but I don’t think the state made a very strong case on those points. And it sounds like we would prefer to see another transmountain diversion and some future use on the Front Range, rather than protect the current river uses we have in our communities, like Glenwood Springs, now.”

The board’s finding will now be sent to the Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs, where the city filed its water rights application and the process is still unfolding.

And while the CWCB board’s determination is not binding on a water court judge, it has to be considered by the court as part of the ongoing case.

But Hamilton, Glenwood’s attorney, said after the meeting that the court would also need to consider additional balancing information presented by Glenwood.

It could be an uphill journey for Glenwood, though, as the CWCB staff has also been directed by the CWCB board to remain a party in the water court case and to defend its “findings of fact,” which includes more issues than were considered by the CWCB on Thursday.

Given the board’s vote on Thursday, Stibrich of Aurora said settlement discussions with Glenwood Springs are now likely.

“I’m certain they will make overtures to us and we’ll talk,” Stibrich said. “We’ll see if something can be reached or not.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Post Independent published this story online on July 16, 2015.

More whitewater coverage here.

City of Glenwood Springs proposed whitewater parks via Aspen Journalism
City of Glenwood Springs proposed whitewater parks via Aspen Journalism

2015 Colorado legislation water bill recap

Colorado Capitol building
Colorado Capitol building

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

It began with the interim water resources review committee, which last summer held hearings on studies on groundwater levels in the South Platte River Basin area. That led to four bills dealing with flooding and groundwater issues in the Basin.

House Bill 15-1178 provided $165,000 in 2015-16 for grants administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to be used for emergency dewatering of wells in LaSalle and Sterling, due to high groundwater levels that have damaged crops, homes and businesses in those areas. The money comes the CWCB construction fund. It was signed into law on June 5 and went into effect upon the governor’s signature. Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, said emergency dewatering started in LaSalle in April. Another $290,000 will be available in 2016-17 for additional dewatering.

A related bill, HB 1013, requires the CWCB and state engineer to select two pilot programs, one from LaSalle/Gilcrest and the other from Sterling, to test different ways for lowering the water table. The law requires an annual report on the project to the General Assembly, with a final report due in 2020.

The law also tasks the state engineer with making changes on operations and design of recharge structures (such as wells) for augmentation plans that include construction of those wells. Augmentation plans are required when someone wants to take water out-of-priority and must replace enough water to avoid injury to the river or other water users.

Currently, when the water court considers an application for an augmentation plan with a well, the court looks at whether the plan will provide that replacement water, but the court hasn’t looked at the effect on groundwater for nearby water users. HB 1013 requires the state engineer to examine that issue. The bill was signed into law on May 29 and goes into effect on August 5.

A bill from the water resources review committee puts off a change to state law regarding the Dawson aquifer. The aquifer is one of four within the Denver Basin, which extends from Colorado Springs to Denver and east to Limon and into Morgan County. On July 1, 2015, those who pump from Dawson would have been required to use calculations based on the aquifer’s current condition when figuring out how much water would be needed to replace stream depletions. This dates back a law passed in 2001, and delayed several times since then. Because the state has never had the money to do the modeling necessary, the requirement needed to be postponed again. The legislation did not provide a new implementation date.

Finally, the annual CWCB projects list included $125,000 for South Platte River basin groundwater level data collection, analysis and remediation.

Among other significant water bills passed in the 2015 session:

• Major changes to the fallowing program administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Currently, agricultural land-owners can lease their water rights to municipalities for up to 10 years. This pilot program was expanded by the General Assembly to allow for leasing of water rights for other agricultural, industrial, environmental and recreational uses.

Garrett Mook, a fourth-generation farmer from Lamar, talked about the value of expanding the program with the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee in March. Mook cited as an example a feedlot in Swink that relies on well water. The well was shut down because of the drought in Southeastern Colorado, and farmers in the area wanted to help the lot owner by leasing some of their water. They weren’t able to do that because the lease-fallow program only allows leasing water rights to municipalities, and the feedlot owner had to find water elsewhere.

“The way crop prices varies from year to year and rainfall varies from year to year, a new source of revenue is crucial for us…It gives farmers my age a fighting chance,” he said.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) and Rep. Ed Vigil (D-Fort Garland), sailed unanimously through both the House and Senate and was signed into law by the governor on May 1. The new law goes into effect on August 1.

• A $5 million grant program was set up to manage invasive phreatophytes. These are deep-rooted plants that draw their water from a nearby water table. In Colorado, that means tamarisk and Russian-olive trees. The bill, HB 1005, came from the water resources review committee.

Colorado has been dealing with these problem plants for more than a decade. The grant program goes into effect on August 5.

• Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, called SB 183 the most important water bill of the session. The bill quantifies historical use of consumptive water (water that is consumed by crops, for example, and not returned to a stream).

The bill ran into problems in the House, in the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee. It was opposed by the Colorado River District, Trout Unlimited and the Audubon Society. Chris Treese of the Colorado River District said the issue had become a West Slope/Eastern Plains dispute. He pointed to two water court cases where the bill would hamper, rather than hinder, appropriate determinations of consumptive use.

In one case, an agricultural water right that came through a transmountain diversion (water that is diverted from the West Slope to the Eastern Plains) was sold to two municipalities. The Pueblo water board sought an immediate change-of-use decree from the water court. The city of Aurora did not, although it used the water for 22 years. The city finally went to water court in 2009 to seek the proper permit. But the judge in the case counted all the water used in the decree, including the 22 years of non-decreed (illegal) use. The state Division of Water Resources argued that the water decree should be reduced by 27 percent to account for the years of illegal use. That would be done by using zeros in the calculation, representing the years of non-decreed use.

The case is pending in the state Supreme Court.

Becker told this reporter that SB 183 would provide certainty and stability in water court cases. He disagreed with the suggestion that the court use zeros in its calculation of consumptive use. “Non-decreed uses can’t be a benefit but it shouldn’t be a detriment,” Becker said. The courts should use a calculation based on actual consumptive use. He also pointed out that in Aurora’s case, the state engineer had the authority to stop non-decreed use, and didn’t.

The law established under SB 183 would allow the courts to base the consumptive use on wet years, dry years, and average years, and exclude the year(s) of non-decreed use.

The law went into effect on May 4 when the governor signed the bill.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Larimer Co. to buy flood-ravaged properties — The Fort Collins Coloradan

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Nick Coltrain):

The Larimer County Board of Commissioners gave the OK [June 9] for the county’s Community Development Department to move forward with the plan. The properties, all in the Big Thompson Canyon and North Fork areas, were substantially damaged in the floods to the point where they can’t be built upon.

Terry Gilbert, the community development director, emphasized that the program is voluntary. The estimated value of the parcels range from about $10,000 to $30,000, with a total cost estimate of about $1.2 million. The money would come from federal reimbursements for road work the county did in the immediate aftermath of the flood.

“We know there’s a lot of landowners struggling and wanting to move forward,” Larimer County Emergency Management Director Lori Hodges said…

Gilbert said the county had looked at chasing a FEMA grant to buy 18 of the properties, but found the process onerous for the government and the property owners and potentially not worth the savings. The use of FEMA funds would have required every property to be assessed at least twice and, if sold to the county, maintained in perpetuity.

The assessments alone could have exceeded the value of some of the parcels, Gilbert said.

Using county money gives more flexibility for buying, reselling and the level of maintenance provided for the properties. It is also potentially a quicker process for property owners looking to get rid of land they can no longer build upon.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.