Water dominates [Four States Ag Expo] talks — The Cortez Journal

March 22, 2015

Montezuma Valley

Montezuma Valley


From The Cortez Journal (Tobie Baker):

Addressing less than 10 people at the Four States Ag Expo on Saturday, March 21, Colorado Representative J. Paul Brown said his top legislative issue was water storage. He’s introduced HB 1157, a bill to study water storage on the South Platte River.

A member of the House Agriculture Committee, Brown said the bill had received broad support, even from environmentalists. He added that sending water from the state’s Western Slope via transcontinental diversion had to be addressed. Since 2010, 2.5 million acre feet of water has been sent out of state on the South Platte River, Brown said.

“We don’t have anymore water to send down,” the District 59 representative proclaimed.

Much of the American west has experienced drought-like conditions in 11 of the past 14 years. Scientists have warned the area could be entering a 35-year mega drought.

“I keep hoping that we’re getting out of the drought,” said Brown. “I’m an eternal optimist. You have to be as a farmer.”

A life-long sheep rancher in Ignacio, Colo., Brown said the worst drought he experienced came in 2002.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but storage is the answer,” said Brown.

Brown added the agriculture committee had received lots of water concerns. He explained a balance was necessary between demands from environmentalists calling for more in-stream flow regulations, for example, and agriculture needs.

“Agriculture is the second leading industry in state at $40 billion,” said Brown. “That’s why we need to store water on the South Platte.”

During the informal agriculture summit discussion, one man questioned Environmental Protection Agency actions.

“The EPA wants a complete power grab,” responded Brown.

Indicating the federal government would control water collected in potholes if they could, Brown said the state would have to be remain vigilant against additional regulations and oversight.

“When they control water, then they control you,” Brown warned.

More 2015 Colorado Legislation coverage here.


2015 Colorado legislation: Two groundwater bills, no solutions to high groundwater near Gilcrest yet

March 17, 2015
South Platte River alluvial aquifer

South Platte River alluvial aquifer

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

Among the bills awaiting action (and funding) in the House are House Bill 15-1013 and HB 1178. The latter would take $500,000 over two years from general funds and put it into an “emergency dewatering grant account.” If the bill makes it to the governor’s desk and is signed, then the money, under the control of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), could be used to start emergency pumping of wells permitted for dewatering in the Gilcrest and LaSalle areas. Those areas are experiencing high groundwater that has damaged crops, flooded basements and streets.

Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, one of the bill’s sponsors, told this reporter she sought the legislation as a short-term fix to the groundwater problems for residents in her district. It is “the only short-term solution available for Gilcrest and surrounding areas,” she said this week.

Saine pointed out that her bill has the support of the South Platte Basin Roundtable.

But her bill is at odds with another that is intended to address the high groundwater problem in her district and in Sterling.

HB 1013 comes from the annual interim Water Resource Review Committee, of which Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, is a member. Sonnenberg is the Senate sponsor of HB 1013, along with Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton. In the House, HB 1013 is sponsored by Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose. It passed the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee in late January.

Both bills arise from the 2013 CWCB report that recommended local solutions for high groundwater problems in Gilcrest/LaSalle and north from Sterling to Julesburg, rather than a one-size-fits-all plan.

HB 1013, also awaiting action from the House Appropriations Committee, would require the CWCB to conduct a study that would test alternative methods for lowering the water table along the South Platte near the Gilcrest/LaSalle and Sterling areas. The bill sets up application and approval criteria for the pilot projects, which would last four years. The bill also deals with related issues, such as augmentation plans and recharge structures (ponds or ditches).

HB 1013 sets up a lengthy process for the pilot projects, starting with a 45 days’ notice for proposed criteria and public comment. Another 75 days is allotted for comments on the pilot project applications. Once the CWCB approves the applications, another 35 days is available for appeals.

Should it become law, the bill wouldn’t go into effect until around Aug. 5. That contrasts with the timelines for HB 1178, which addresses the problem only in Gilcrest. Because HB 1178 has what’s known as a safety clause, if signed, it would go into effect immediately.

“Had 1013 addressed the immediate problem of flooding basements and potential health and safety issues, I would not have run 1178,” Saine said this week. Testimony given during the HB 1178’s March 2 hearing indicated that pumping could start as soon as April 15.

But the emergency dewatering plan wasn’t supported by the water resources review committee. During their Sept. 30, 2014, meeting, then-Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, commented that if action was not taken soon, those affected by the high groundwater problems would take legal action. “We owe it to the people of Colorado” to solve this problem with a smart approach, Brophy said. Dewatering wells take out the water “and dump it in the river, which I think is a waste of water. How can that be okay if it’s not okay to pull it out for beneficial use?”

Coram, during the January hearing on HB 1013, said dewatering was not the solution. HB 1013 is not the only solution, he said, “but it’s a start.”

HB 1013 has another important distinction: its cost. While HB 1178 seeks $500,000 in general funds, which come from income and sales tax, HB 1013 seeks less than $100,000 over two years for evaluation of the pilot projects. Sonnenberg told this reporter this week he is attempting to get those dollars from the CWCB construction fund rather than tapping into the general fund.

HB 1013 does not address the costs for implementing the plan that would come from the pilot projects.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Lawn Lake dam break inundated Estes Park — Loveland Reporter-Herald

March 16, 2015
Lawn Lake Flood

Lawn Lake Flood

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Kenneth Jessen):

In 1975, a Colorado dam inspector hiked the half-dozen miles to the Lawn Lake dam and reported that it was in need of a thorough inspection after the snow melted. Another inspector reported two years later that the dam was in fair condition and suggested that its owners make repairs.

On Aug. 8, 1978, a third inspector reaffirmed the marginal rating for the dam and recommended that it be observed when the reservoir was full.

The caulking between the outlet pipe and the release valve started to allow water to trickle along the outer surface of the pipe. Once a small channel had eaten into the earthen dam under pressure, it rapidly expanded.

On July 15, 1982, the Lawn Lake dam failed catastrophically. The release of water was heard by campers along the Roaring River. One man below the dam was swept to his death in the churning water.

The wall of water forced large boulders down 2,500 vertical feet to Horseshoe Park acting as battering rams. The forested banks of Roaring River where scoured away in a landslide of thousands of tons of material.

Much of the impact of the flood was absorbed by the broad expanse of Horseshoe Park. An alluvial fan quickly formed at the mouth of Roaring River. The debris was pushed across Horseshoe Park damming the Fall River and forming a shallow lake.

Fortunately, Steve Gillette was collecting trash at the Lawn Lake trailhead. It was 6:23 a.m. when he sighted the flood coming toward him and alerted park officials.

In an interview with the Loveland Reporter-Herald, he described the noise like that of a plane crashing. Gillette said that it looked like a mudslide of the type you see in the movies.

The vast volume of water poured into Fall River and picked up finely divided glacial silt in the process.

Below Horseshoe Park was the Cascade Dam. The force of the water first backed up behind the dam, and then suddenly toppled the 17-foot high structure at 7:42 a.m. This amplified the intensity of the flood and a wall of water raced through the Aspenglen Campground killing two people.

The mud and water coursed through motels and restaurants, then hit downtown Estes Park. The entire width of Elkhorn Avenue became a river of mud-filled water combined with a great deal of debris. It did an extraordinary amount of damage as entire inventories for the summer tourist season were washed away or ruined.

State inspectors were partially to blame along with the Park Service. Much of the responsibility, however, had to be borne by owners of the dam, the Farmers Irrigation Ditch & Reservoir Co. Its 16 stockholders became worried about legal action, but they were protected by their corporation.

National flood insurance covered only 20 property owners out of some 275 affected by the flood.

High-profile trial lawyer Gerry Spence was hired by Estes Park property owners to represent their interests. He quickly concluded that the entire assets of the ditch company consisted of little more than their $1.4 million insurance policy. This money was turned over to the court system to be disbursed.

Immunity against lawsuits was evoked by both the federal government and the state of Colorado. Damages topped $30 million, which ultimately had to be absorbed by businesses and individuals.

Low interest rate loans were made available. Other federal assistance included unemployment payments, temporary housing, up to $5,000 for out-of-pocket living expenses and food stamps. However, very little compensation was received by anyone financially injured by the Lawn Lake flood.

Less than 10 cents on the dollar was paid to flood victims, forcing the permanent closure of many businesses.

The Lawn Lake disaster became the perfect opportunity for the Park Service to dismantle selected dams.

Lost Lake dam was dismantled followed by the Pear, Sandbeach and Bluebird dams. Spared were Lily, Sprague, Snowbank and Copeland.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Planning for Fort Collins’ future water needs — Kevin Gertig

March 9, 2015
Halligan Reservoir

Halligan Reservoir

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Gertig):

Fort Collins is located in a semi-arid region where the amount of water available from month to month and year to year varies, especially during dry years and drought. Fort Collins Utilities has a responsibility to provide an adequate supply of water to existing and future customers; we made long-term water supply an essential element of our planning efforts decades ago.

For more than a century, Utilities has used an integrated approach to manage our water supply, including:

•Securing senior rights on the Poudre River,

•Purchasing and improving an existing storage facility on the upper Poudre (Joe Wright Reservoir),

•Acquiring nearly 19,000 units of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and

•Establishing water conservation programs beginning in the late 1970s.

Recent updates to the Water Supply and Demand Management Policy, which provides direction to meet our community’s future water demands, identified the need for additional long-term water storage. Though the community actively conserves water year-round, storage is a valuable tool in water resources planning. Adequate storage helps meet projected demands and provides reserves for unexpected events, including pipeline failure, fires in the watershed or issues with Horsetooth Reservoir.

This policy also references Utilities’ Water Conservation Plan, which lays out a significant expansion of the water conservation program and targets residential and commercial customers, as well as indoor and outdoor water use.

Water conservation helps ensure the wise use of available water, especially during dry, hot summer months when little moisture is available. Although conservation helps stretch our water supply, Utilities’ current limited storage capacity means conserved water cannot be stored for future use.

If the Halligan Water Supply Project is permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and approved by City Council, it will help meet Fort Collins’ future water needs. Careful planning and analysis determined that enlarging Halligan Reservoir is one of the most cost-effective solutions that minimizes environmental impacts compared to constructing a new one. The project also will provide storage of mostly existing water rights and be tailored in size and operations for our specific needs.

Fort Collins Utilities is proud of its strong conservation ethic, which provides a solid foundation for the management of our current and future water use in the Poudre River Basin. Through continued conservation efforts, smart water management and additional storage capacity, such as the Halligan Water Supply Project, Utilities will be prepared to meet the future water needs of our community.

For more information, visit http://fcgov.com/halligan.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


“We need to look for innovative, creative ways to do more water sharing” — John Stulp

March 6, 2015
SIEP Project location map via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project location map via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project design via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project design via United Water and Sanitation


From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

In Israel’s Negev Desert, the agricultural community at the Hatzerim kibbutz has put innovative irrigation techniques to work to make this region’s arid landscape blossom — and Weld County has taken note.

Through the use of drip irrigation developed by Netafim, already put to use by local onion grower Fagerberg Produce, a team of researchers and water investors hopes this Israeli technology may also lead to a greener, more efficient future for Colorado’s farms and municipalities.

With water conservation in mind, Colorado State University and the 70 Ranch, located off of U.S. 34 and Weld County Road 63, have teamed up under the Subsurface Irrigation Efficienty Project to put the Netafim system to the test under local conditions.

The property, owned and operated by United Water and Sanitation District President Bob Lembke, will provide a 165-acre plot to be dedicated to drip and deficit irrigation testing over the next 30 to 40 years.

The $3.5-million study comes with funding from the Sand Hills Metropolitan District, United Water and Sanitation District, Legacy Waters Inc. and the 70 Ranch, LLC, as well as support from the Platte River Water Development Authority and Jewish Colorado.

Lembke said a 2011 trip to Israel and the Hatzerim kibbutz with Jewish Colorado left him inspired by the possibilities rendered by well-managed irrigation techniques.

“When you see what they’ve been able to do with far less than what we have, it’s amazing,” Lembke said, explaining that the project aims to distribute water more efficiently across farmland and lawns, ideally translating into more irrigated acreage.

“As the area (Colorado) continues to develop, the paradigm has been to buy ag water, move it from the farm, move it to the city and well, rural communities can fend for themselves. That hasn’t worked very well and I don’t like that structure. In examining alternatives, the Netafim technology may be one answer,” he said.

Netafim district sales manager Jason Scheibel explained the system works through polyethylene lines plowed 10 to 16 inches below the surface that supply water, fertilizer and pesticides directly to plant roots, rather than above the surface.

“We have better control over our water and fertilizer by putting it at the root zone. This allows us to control deep percolation, which keeps chemicals and fertilizers from getting to waterways and aquifers,” Scheibel said, also pointing to the benefits of reduced weed germination and lower herbicide inputs.

Drip irrigation has been found to be 20 to 30 more efficient with water use when compared to pivot systems, and up to 60 percent more efficient than furrow systems, he added. On the Colorado plains, he estimated the Netafim system costs about $2,000 an acre to install.

Lead CSU researcher Dr. Ramchand Oad said the pilot study hopes to answer cost questions for producers, by providing insight on water input and resulting yield when using the drip irrigation method. As the project moves forward, the findings of this research will be made publicly available at http://www.siep-smartwater.com.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said such knowledge could help farmers pull through difficult seasons.

“In those dry years when those junior water right farms are struggling to find water to sustain their crops, they’ll have an idea of what crops will sustain a lower water yield,” Conway said.

Regarding municipal water use, Lembke envisioned drip irrigation installed on lawns to reduce one of the greatest areas of urban water inefficiency: watering grass.

Looking at the larger picture of Colorado’s future, the governor’s water advisor John Stulp provided his support for the research project, as well: “This is consistent with what we’ve been talking about with the Colorado Water Plan. We need to look for innovative, creative ways to do more water sharing that still puts the farmer in charge.”

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

A Colorado water broker and a university researcher are testing underground crop irrigation, hoping it can make farms more efficient and reduce competition between cities and agriculture for the state’s scarce water.

The first crops will be planted this summer on a 165-acre test plot on the 70 Ranch in Weld County. Research will be overseen by Colorado State University professor Ramchand Oad (OHD).

Copying a technique used in Israel, tubes buried 10 to 16 inches underground will deliver water to plant roots, avoiding evaporation and other problems associated with surface irrigation.

Water broker Bob Lembke owns the ranch. The ranch and two water districts that Lembke heads are among the initial funders.

He says project budget is $3.5 million for five years but expects the research will continue longer.

Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM

Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


Evergreen Metro District offers help with water rights issue at Buchanan Ponds — the Canyon Courier

March 5, 2015
Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via EvergreenBound.com

Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via EvergreenBound.com

From the Canyon Courier (Sandy Barnes):

The Evergreen Metropolitan District is offering the use of its senior water rights to guarantee a supply of water for two ponds at Buchanan Park.

Since discovering that the Evergreen Park and Recreation District has no identifiable water rights for the ponds next to Buchanan Rec Center, Ellen O’Connor, EPRD executive director, has been working with state water board officials and the EMD to resolve the issue. One possibility is using EMD water in the ponds rather than attempting to acquire water rights, O’Connor said at the Feb. 24 EPRD board meeting.

Because the park district has no clear water rights for the ponds, someone else could grab them, EPRD board member Peg Linn pointed out.

A worst-case scenario is that the ponds could be drained and dry, said EPRD board member John Ellis.

Before EMD water can be brought to the ponds, the Evergreen metro and park districts need form a partnership and reach an agreement. An engineering assessment and legal work also needs to be done at an estimated cost of $35,000 — an amount the EMD is asking the park district to pay.

“EPRD will be responsible for the costs associated with the proposal research,” said Dave Lighthart, EMD general manager.

During discussion of the issue at the Feb. 25 meeting of the EMD board of directors, member Mark Davidson advised caution while proceeding with the plan.

“We can’t get our water rights harmed,” said Davidson.

“We’re going to need to a lot more information to make our decision,” said EMD board member Scott Smith.

Both Davidson and others at the EMD meeting said the cost of using EMD water would be far less for the park district than going to water court and trying to gain water rights.

“In the final analysis, the plan that we proposed is the most sustainable,” said attorney Paul Cockrel, who represents the EMD.

“There’s a way to make this work,” said Ellis, who serves on the board of both the Evergreen metro and park districts. “This process would be less expensive than acquiring water rights.”

Ellis suggested that Lighthart make a presentation at the next EPRD board meeting on the plan to assist the park district. He and Linn are on a subcommittee of the EPRD board that has been examining the water rights issue in recent months.

A related issue is that the EPRD owns the dams at Buchanan Ponds and is responsible for maintaining them, said O’Connor.

A recent state inspection of the dams revealed the need for some repairs, she said. O’Connor expressed her appreciation to the EMD, which she said assisted the park district with a camera inspection to ensure that the dams had no major repair issues.

“The big concern was with the locks and pipes, and those are fine,” said Peter Lindquist, president of the EPRD board.

The EPRD also needs to provide the state with an emergency evacuation plan in event of the dam breaking, O’Connor added.

Troublesome water source

The source of water for Buchanan Ponds is Troublesome Creek, a tributary of Bear Creek that flows under the Highway 74 overpass near the property in Bergen Park. When the EPRD bought the property for Buchanan Park in 1994, it did not appear that water rights were attached to the ponds.

David Nettles, an engineer with division 1 of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said he doesn’t see any water rights to the ponds, which formerly were part of the Village at Soda Creek development. In the early 1980s applications were filed by Gayno Inc. and George Alan Holley to acquire water rights for the planned project. Those rights were tied to an original decree dating from 1884 for the Lewis and Strouse Ditch.

It’s possible the rights were subsequently abandoned because of a failure on the part of the previous owners to file a required diligence report with the state, Nettles said.

The developers of the Village at Soda Creek were seeking a conditional water right for their project in the 1980s. According to state law, when a project is completed, the property owner must go to water court and file for an absolute right.

Every six years, the owner of a conditional water right also is required to file an application for a finding of reasonable diligence in the water court of the division in which the right exists. The owner of the conditional right has to prove that he has been pursuing completion of the project related to the water use for which he applied.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


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

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

SIEP Project location map via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project design via United Water and Sanitation

SIEP Project design via United Water and Sanitation

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

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

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

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

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

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

    Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM

    Subsurface irrigation via NETAFIM


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