Coyote Gulch's Colorado Water
The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land. -- Luna Leopold

Urban Drainage and Flood Control District

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Monday, November 19, 2007

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The proposed expansion of the Union Reservoir up in Weld County is meeting with opposition, according to The Longmont Daily Times-Call. From the article:

The master plan assumes that Union Reservoir will eventually have its elevation increased by 13 feet. All the existing attractions and activities -- such as sailing, swimming, fishing and camping -- would remain. Things are coming to a head. On Wednesday, the advisory board recommended the new master plan 5-1, with Hayden opposed. The Longmont City Council is scheduled to review background information Dec. 4 and then vote on the master plan at either its Dec. 11 or Dec. 18 meeting.

Supporters say that it's important to get the plan nailed down now. Three annexations may be coming along in the future -- Union, West Union and Fairview Estates -- and Weld County development isn't likely to slow down. "Commercial development is knocking at our doorstep all around the reservoir," advisory board member Mike Swedbergh said. "If we don't have a plan, we could end up hurt." But several opponents say the process has been too hurried, and more study is needed. "I understand your concern about the urgency of this, but adopting this plan tonight isn't going to do anything on this reservoir for at least 15 years," Jeff Thompson told the advisory board during a recent meeting. "There are so many unknowns. There are so many disagreements, and it's because we don't have the information we need to do a good plan yet. It was rushed through."

"All of the north and part of the west and east (reservoir) are important habitat areas," said Paula Fitzgerald, the city's park planner. "However, no one has done site-specific mapping to determine how far the wetlands goes. There needs to be mapping done, and you usually want that three years prior to any activity, because wetlands can change." However, advisory board member Heather Ogle was uncomfortable with being vague on the size of the buffers, fearing it could send the wrong message. "I can't approve fuzziness," she said. "There's too much wiggle room here." At the board's request, the revised version will include wording designed "to make sure the intent is there to preserve wildlife according to best practices." For some opponents, though, the best practice would be to slow down for a full ecological study. That includes a closer look at whether eagles are using nearby trees for roosting and how dependent they are on a pair of nearby prairie dog colonies. "The city's 51/2-page ecological assessment is not sufficient," Ruby Bowman said, referring to a summary by ERO Resources of Denver.

Category: Colorado Water

6:56:22 AM    

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From The Greeley Tribune (free registration required), "If Colorado's reserves of oil shale ever become as lucrative as the oil sands of Canada, the state could be in for a potential windfall for the economy and a possible downfall for the environment. That is part of what Gov. Bill Ritter learned as he visited the oil sands last week as part of a trip through several Canadian provinces. Proponents and developers say the oil sands, which are located in Alberta province, contain enough resources to satisfy North America's oil demands for generations to come. Opponents and environmental groups worry that the extraction process does too much damage, not to mention that it could allow Americans to stay reliant on oil instead of developing new energy technologies. Ritter said before his visit that he had been told that to fully understand what commercializing oil shale in Colorado would look like, he needed to visit the oil sands. After his tour Thursday, the governor said he was amazed at the scale of the mining operation and what it has done to the landscape."

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

6:42:35 AM    

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Here's a look at the complications of developing excess water in the Colorado River Basin in light of the fact that the Colorado River Compact (The law of the river.) was drawn up during a particularly wet period in the basin, from The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Is there water left to develop on Colorado's Western Slope? The state is taking pains to address the question in the context of complicated negotiations among seven states in the Colorado River Compact. Some of its efforts were shared at a joint meeting of water roundtables from the Arkansas, South Platte and Metro basins last week...

"It was done at the wrong date," said James Eklund, assistant Colorado attorney general. "They thought there was more water in the basin than there was." Unfortunately, the numbers stuck in the 1948 Upper Colorado River Basin Compact [pdf] and the earlier 1944 treaty with Mexico, he said. The numbers could get further out of whack in the future, both from climate change and from any of five still highly speculative plans to bring Western Slope water to the Front Range. Complicating the issue, the states do not agree on how much is owed when. While the compact gives 7.5 million acre-feet consumptive use per year to both the upper and lower basins, it further defines the obligation of the upper states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) as maintaining the flow at Lee Ferry in Arizona at 75 million acre-feet over a 10-year period, Eklund said. Additionally, while Colorado is apportioned 51.75 percent of the upper basin's share, it's not clear whether that's the full 7.5 million acre-feet or the long-term average of 6 million acre-feet - potentially a difference of 800,000 acre-feet available for the state's use. Finally, Mexico is due 1.5 million acre-feet each year, and the states dispute how much each state would make up in a shortage. "There are no shortage guidelines, only surplus guidelines," Eklund said...

There are 33 diversions from the Colorado River basin to other basins, as well as several between sub-basins of the Colorado River. In addition, there are 43,000 decreed water rights on the Colorado River and its tributaries, with less than a quarter of them senior to the 1922 compact, said Ken Knox of the Colorado Division of Water Resources. "When we start talking about compact curtailment, we're still trying to get our arms around the problem," Knox said. "It's overwhelming, but that's no excuse not to do it." The state engineer's office is trying to develop rules in anticipation of a compact call, looking at triggers, timing and how transmountain diversions would be affected. It could also look at interruptible water supply plans or other temporary mechanisms, Knox said. "That's where the roundtables can help," Knox said. "If we do our job right (at the roundtables), there really should be no need for the rules."

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:39:01 AM    

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Here's an recap from last week's combined Arkansas, South Platte and Metro roundtable meeting from The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A case study of a water lease and a formative effort to work out better ground rules for water deals were spotlighted last week at a joint meeting of roundtables from the Arkansas, South Platte and Metro basins. Such transfers may become more common in years to come as state municipal water providers scramble to find water for growing populations. The details of Aurora's lease of water from the Rocky Ford High Line Canal in 2004-05 were shared by the city and ditch officials who participated in the deal.

Peter Binney, Aurora utilities director, said the leases were only part of the city's integrated supply plan following the drought of 2002. The city is looking at more cooperative agreements with farmers, as well as obtaining more water rights, reusing water, building more reservoirs and improving efficiency, Binney said. Conservation measures adopted during the drought have been kept in place and Aurora now plans to keep a three- to five-year supply of water in storage. "We had nine months of drinking water left...In the spring of 2003, we only had water in three (of 10) of our accounts in reservoirs and two of those were more than half empty," Binney said. "We were taking demand off the system." Total storage dropped to 29 percent of capacity...

Tom Simpson, Aurora's water engineer in the Arkansas River basin, explained how the lease worked. Aurora entered 124 contracts and dried up 8,200 acres along the High Line, about 37 percent of the land irrigated. Colorado Springs purchased half of the lease during the second year of the program. The lease was widely accepted along the canal, said Dan Henrichs, High Line superintendent. "In 2002, 87 percent of the shareholders voted to change the by-laws to allow the lease," Henrichs said. Payments to shareholders and the canal company totalled $10.9 million, and Aurora assumed other costs for storage, exchange and engineering. A substitute water supply plan was used, although Aurora and the High Line have since filed an application for a decree in water court. The lease was a lifesaver for farmers, Henrichs said. "They were in drought recovery and this was a guaranteed income. The farmers had expenses in the 2002 crops. The money stayed in the valley and the farmers used it to pay bank notes and make improvements," Henrichs said. Binney said it was more than he would normally like to pay for water. "You can afford to do these projects only during a drought," he said...

In a second presentation, Wayne Vanderschuere of Colorado Springs Utilities and Virgil Cochran of Prowers County discussed how the water transfers committee has overcome initial trust issues and is working toward mutual understanding about how water deals can work out for both urban and rural communities. Both urban and rural users had concerns about the 2004 Statewide Water Supply Initiative that estimated as much as 72,000 acres of Arkansas Valley farmland could be dried up by 2030 to meet the needs of cities...

The committee was open to all roundtable members, but few have time for the half-day or daylong meetings of the group. While representation is from areas up and down the valley, the group is bringing in experts to share knowledge. "We're trying to create something that would be valuable in any water transfer," Cochran said. "What we've learned is that whatever you do about water, you have to keep it flexible and give yourself room to adapt. All of us need to do a better job of looking out for each other." Todd Doherty, a staff member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, explained the procedures for applying for $1.5 million in state funds for studies of ag to urban transfers. Currently, there are two studies in the state looking at the impact of such transfers. Parker is paying $1 million for a CSU study to look at the impact of ag dry-ups. Meanwhile, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District has paid more than $500,000 for studies related to a Super Ditch, or a land fallowing, water leasing program that would be controlled by irrigators.

Category: Colorado Water

6:24:43 AM    

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Here's a look at cloud seeding from The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

For 31 years, Larry Hjermstad has been making snow in the skies over Colorado's mountains. Or has he? He's manager of Durango-based Western Weather Consultants, and his cloud-seeding equipment pumps silver iodide particles into the air around ski resorts and high mountain basins, ostensibly aiding the process by which icy crystals in clouds turn into snowflakes. There's a flurry of interest lately in cloud seeding in Colorado. Ski resorts and water suppliers -- including Colorado Springs Utilities -- will spend an estimated $900,000 this winter, more than ever before, on the technique. And for the first time, Arizona, Nevada and California -- downstream states in the Colorado River Basin -- are contributing large amounts of money to Colorado efforts. All for something that many weather experts say doesn't work, and that even advocates agree needs more research. Hjermstad, though, has no doubt. "We have research information that can substantiate this," he said. "It just depends on whether you want to look at this with an open mind or a fixed opinion."

Cloud seeding occurs from Nov. 1 through April 15 in eight counties in the central mountains. When a snowstorm hits, residents who work as contractors for Hjermstad turn on cloud nuclei generators, which melt silver iodide and send the particles aloft. A snowstorm has to be in the area, and the silver iodide causes cloud moisture to freeze into ice crystals, which enlarge and fall as snowflakes. In theory, seeding can make a storm drop up to 8 percent more snow.

It began in the 1970s as a tiny operation to improve the skiing at Vail. Aside from a brief increase during a late-1970s drought, it remained a small, localized effort until 2002. That was the year of the Hayman fire and the zenith of a paralyzing drought. In the years since, the state's major water suppliers have gotten involved. Utilities allocated $80,000 in 2002 for cloud seeding, and last winter spent $115,000. This year, the Colorado Water Conservation Board awarded $150,000 in grants for cloud seeding, up from just $20,000 in 2004. Three other states contributed $135,000. Joe Busto, who oversees cloud seeding for the board, said the procedure has come a long way from the days when companies were regarded as snake oil salesmen. "When people start to look around and see there are 10 states in the U.S. doing this, and many countries, you start to accept it more," Busto said...

In 2003, a National Academies of Science report concluded that there is no convincing evidence cloud seeding works. Supporters found some hope in the report, however. "In some instances there are strong indications of induced changes," it said, "but this evidence has not been subjected to tests of significance and reproducibility." Research into cloud seeding has all been too brief or too localized, hampered by a lack of funding. Though lab testing shows the process does make snow, how much impact it has on a mountain -- especially considering the variations between winters each year -- is up in the air. Colorado State University climate researcher Bill Cotton conducted one cloud-seeding study five years ago. A $100,000 grant to study weather modification in Colorado produced no definitive results. He said there is a "good chance" cloud seeding boosts snowfall, adding that to have so much spending on it without conclusive research is "kind of sad." "It's not a very effective way to do science," he said.

Supporters and skeptics hope a congressional bill introduced by Colorado U.S. Rep. Mark Udall to provide $110 million for weather-modification research is approved this session, to finally reach an answer in this debate. For Colorado Springs Utilities officials, the debate is over. Budget concerns forced the utility to scale down its seeding program to $65,000 this winter, but engineer Kevin Lusk said seeding has added 3 to 11 percent to snowpack in the high mountain basins that provide the city with its water.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:05:33 AM    

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