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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Saturday, December 1, 2007

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According to The Valley Courier District Judge O. John Kuenhold will likely consolidate the objections to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District's first groundwater management sub-district plan. From the article:

The judge will preside as water and district court judge over both the objections to the state engineer's decision to approve the plan and the Rio Grande Water Conservation District's approval of the management plan. The water district is the sponsor of the sub-district. The judge held a hearing on Friday regarding the objections filed to the water district board's approval of the management plan, a district court matter. Kuenhold scheduled a status conference for December 20. He said he would consider a motion to consolidate the cases unless the attorneys involved stipulated ahead of time that they would agree to consolidate them. "In that case I would have granted that beforehand. You can pretty much assume I will consolidate."

Ingrid Barrier, attorney for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said she would contact the other attorneys to see if they would be willing to consolidate the cases. She said she anticipated the other attorneys would agree. "Having one hearing will hopefully allow everyone's objections to be dealt with in one spot on one schedule in front of one judge in front of one court," Barrier said. Timothy Buchanan, attorney for objector Bill Ellithorpe, said he had no objection to the cases being consolidated.

Barrier told the judge she also prepared a procedural stipulation between the district and the objectors that would have allowed the sub-district to begin collecting fees and assessments, but four of the sub-district board of managers had concerns about it and objected through their attorney to Barrier's procedural motion. Barrier told the judge this made her extremely apprehensive because the water district's goal has been to have "the most public and open process we could possibly imagine." She told Kuenhold based on the fact there might be some splintering on the board of managers about how the case should proceed, the water district would prefer in the best interest of the sub-district to try to consolidate the district and water court hearings. John McClure, attorney for Skyview Cooling Company, said that the proposed stipulation "was really designed to accommodate the district." He said it would have allowed the district to proceed forward with assessments of the administrative fee and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) fee with the fees to be escrowed pending the determination of the court regarding the plan. McClure said he did not think his client would have any problem with consolidating the cases. The attorney for the sub-district board members who objected to the stipulation said a consolidation of the cases would be acceptable to them as well.

Thanks to SLV Dweller for the link. More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
10:48:48 AM    

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The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) and San Juan Water Conservancy District are scrambling to come up with the cash they need to buy land for the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir, according to The Pagosa Springs Sun. From the article:

For land acquisition purposes, PAWSD applied for a long-term loan of $12,339,500 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). However, if approved as hoped, the CWCB will fund 90 percent, or $11,105,550, at 3.5 percent interest, but not until sometime after January, at the earliest. Based on advice from the CWCB last month, the loan amount was reduced roughly $10 million from an earlier request of $22,372,000, and will be used to purchase several parcels of private land. The largest, at 666 acres, is owned by Running Iron Ranch, LLC and the Weber family. Weber Ranches of Pagosa, LLC owns another 40 acres, and another 5-acre parcel is currently held by Kathryn and Donald Weber, the Kathryn L. Weber Trust and the Donald L. Weber Trust. The higher loan amount would've been used to purchase all of the above parcels, and additional acreage that would've been traded for land owned by the United States Forest Service. For now, though, the districts must close the initial purchase (of the Running Iron Ranch property) by Dec. 28, or face losing a verbal contractual agreement. While neither party has signed the actual contract documents thus far, verbal arrangements place the purchase price in the neighborhood of $9.6 million. To pay for the initial purchase, PAWSD obtained an $8.6 million "bridge loan" from Wells Fargo Brokerage Services, LLC. Another $1 million CWCB grant to the SJWCD was approved in March, but had still not been funded by this week's joint meeting of both districts.

Category: Colorado Water
10:05:41 AM    

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Montrose, San Miguel and Delta counties are looking for new uses for septage from septic tanks, according to The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

Septic disposal is a growing problem for Montrose County and Western Slope communities, but a new grant proposal may help fund a solution. Randy See, manager of the West Montrose Sanitation District, submitted the $100,000 grant proposal Thursday to the state's Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance program. "The purpose is to dispose of sludge we have on hand now, and our hope is to come up with a better system of receiving sludge after we get rid of the material on hand now," See said. The problem for Montrose, Delta and San Miguel counties is that as the population grows, there are fewer places to dispose of human waste, said Kevin Smith, owner of Roto-Rooter in Montrose.

"There's quite a few options for getting rid of septage, but the most exciting one for me is to think of it as a resource and recycle and use it for the soil," he said. Smith and other waste disposers recently formed a haulers coalition and have been meeting regularly for the last four months with Montrose and San Miguel counties as well as the Environmental Protection Agency to find solutions, See said. "The haulers formed an organization to come up with regulations for septic hauling and disposal, and what we hope to accomplish is a set of regulations in each county that are similar so haulers don't face a jigsaw puzzle of regulations," See said. If the grant is approved, See said he will look for farmers willing to use septic waste as fertilizer.

More coverage from The Montrose Daily Press. They write:

The Environmental Protection Agency has requested records of local septic waste haulers following an audit request from county governments, treatment facilities and haulers. "This is a rare situation," EPA pretreatment enforcement coordinator Aaron Urdiales said. "Rarely in any part that we regulate do we have a community of local businessmen such as yourselves asking to be regulated."[...]

Haulers who follow regulations desire an audit because those out of compliance make money by not paying for proper disposal. A local hauler recently began a 10-month prison sentence for dumping restaurant grease into a storm sewer leading to navigable U.S. waters. His sentence included a $20,000 fine. Roto-Rooter owner Kevin Smith recently assembled an association of local septic haulers in favor of better enforcement. "As a group I think we are interested in increasing professionalism of the industry -- public perception, that is. And also the original reason we gathered was to help develop regulations with the county so we take a proactive role in developing regulations," Smith said. Montrose County doesn't have regulations dealing specifically with septage disposal. Commissioner Gary Ellis said he and the other two commissioners are interested in developing such regulations. He said the recent tax increase for public safety could help with hiring a code enforcement officer next year. Smith said county staff have been supportive and cooperative in working with the hauler's association "and actually really helped us get organized." He said the association is also interested in public education, such as how to maintain an on-site disposal system.

More coverage from The Telluride Watch. They write:

Western Slope directors of the region's septic tank disposal facilities are currently trying to come to grips with a creeping dilemma and a possible environmental hazard: With recent changes to the costs of disposing of such hazardous, and quite unpleasant materials, where is it all to go, and, where is what cannot be accounted for going now? For example, in Norwood, the sanitation district has refused to accept any further dumping at its facility by companies whose business it is to service residential septic tanks and take the noxious stuff to its facility, said John Mansfield, member of the town's Board of Trustees...

Said San Miguel County Environmental Health Director Dave Schneck, while the Town of Telluride is still accepting the material at its facility, while "Telluride has been able to accommodate it, our county in general is having a big problem disposing of the waste. At the worst, if they can't go to Norwood ... there are concerns about the potential for people dumping it illegally because it's too long of a drive" to other facilities. The problem will began to surface once the costs for dumping the wastes in Montrose and Delta increased dramatically, he said. Companies had been hauling it to the West Montrose Sanitation District for years, but when the prices went up, apparently, the amount of business it received declined. "When the volume dropped off," Schneck said, "it made people wonder where it was going. It's not like there's no place to go, but I've seen it before, so I'm concerned. It's a regional thing we all need to be paying attention to."[...]

See said concerns really began to be raised when a composting facility in Delta County, CB Industries, opened up its landfill operation, "then got only half of what they were expected to get, based on their projections. It's pretty clear the material to the legitimate recovery stations is not being received, which means it's either not getting pumped every four or five years in (according to standards), or, some of it, as we know, is being dumped illegally. "It is a wake up call for what is a rural growth problem," he said

Category: Colorado Water
9:50:26 AM    

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According to The Valley Courier a Californian investment group hopes to buy 50-60% of the land and associated water rights in the San Luis Valley. From the article:

An outside investment group with $528 million to spend is interested in buying up 50-plus percent of the San Luis Valley's land and associated water with the intended purpose of leasing it back for farming operations. Many officials meeting with the group's liaison Alamosa insurance agent Richard Cline on Thursday questioned how beneficial this proposal would be for the Valley. Representatives from all six San Luis Valley counties as well as legislative aides for U.S. Senator Ken Salazar and U.S. Representative John Salazar and SLV Development Resources Group (DRG) board and staff heard Cline's presentation. Cline said he was working with an index fund looking for an intermediary in the San Luis Valley. He said the index fund is a group of investors out of California who are looking "to do a tremendous investment in the San Luis Valley to basically maintain and manage the land." Cline said the people involved in the index fund are environmentalists and want to make sure the Valley's water does not disappear and that the Valley's agricultural economic base continues...

Cline said he has put together a corporate farm he is currently calling New Generation Farm that would be leasing from the index fund the land that the index fund wants to buy. He said the index fund wants to purchase as much as 50-60 percent of the land in the Valley and is willing to pay $1,950-2,200 an acre or more depending on the quality of the property. The index fund would buy the land from the farmers and the money would go through an intermediary such as DRG which would lease the land to New Generation Farm which in turn would lease it back to farmers. Cline said the investors want to spend about $528 million and buy as much land as possible. They want a return on their investment of 7 percent, he said. That means 7 percent has to be guaranteed by the intermediary to pay the investors every year, he said. Cline said the 7 percent would be locked in for a period of time but might be increased in the future...

He said when land is bought, 7 percent of that would go into a reserve account so the first year payment to the index fund would already be on hand. He said the intermediary would receive one-fourth of one percent of what is generated or $400,000-800,000 a year. Cline said the index fund investors are saying at least 50 percent of the profits from the New Generation Farm have to be given back to the San Luis Valley through a foundation that would dispense it to applicants such as schools, municipalities and counties. In addition, he said the intermediary would have funds to guarantee farmers' loans with their bankers since the farmers would no longer have their land as collateral. Farmers would be allowed to retain their houses and machinery, however. Banker David Broyles said it is harder to make a loan to a tenant farmer than a farmer who owns his land. Cline said if New Generation Farm was not profitable and the investors did not get their required return on investment, the index fund that owns the land and the water could take it back.

More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A businessman is proposing a "win-win" scenario in which outside investors would buy San Luis Valley agricultural land and water rights without harming the region's economy. And he has a plan for keeping the water in place that hinges on the ability of a startup corporation and the valley's farmers to keep farming and turn a profit. Insurance salesman Ric Cline met Thursday with representatives from all six valley counties, including 11 county commissioners, to lay out his proposal. Cline told those gathered at the meeting, many of whom were in the valley for attempted water grabs by the American Water Development Inc. in the 1980s and then by the Stockman's Water Company in the 1990s, that his plan was the best way to keep water in the valley and away from investors hoping to export it. "People are afraid of what's going to happen in the San Luis Valley and they're running scared," he said. "As county commissioners, you need to be aware that there are people out there that are hunting for the water right now." County officials, who raised a host of questions, took no action at the meeting, nor did they finalize a meeting date with representatives from Cline's unnamed financial backers...

The intermediary group could be a municipality, a county or an economic development association managed by the counties. "They prefer that it's a government entity because that is basically what they deal with and that's what they want as the intermediate," he said. Under the plan, the investors would buy the land and water rights, the intermediary would then lease the land back to farmers or to the New Generation Farm, a corporate farming operation that Cline would put together. The proceeds from the agricultural operations would be paid back to the intermediary, which would then be responsible for getting the return on the investment back to the fund...

Conejos County Administrator Tressesa Martinez pointed out that leasing water outside the basin would be a problem for neighbors along the ditches who were still trying to make a go of it. Cline warned that even if his plan was successful, there would still be declines in the amount of acreage being farmed. Metering for irrigation sprinklers and the plans for subdistricts to take land out of production would cause reductions. "The valley as a whole probably will see a change in how they farm," he said. "We probably will get back to more cow/calf operations because there's not enough water to farm the land that we're currently farming."

Category: Colorado Water
9:27:13 AM    

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Here's a recap of Thursday's meeting, between the Southwestern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River District about planning for a possible call on the Colorado River, from The Durango Herald. From the article:

Water experts from across the Western Slope gathered Thursday to talk about their nightmare scenario: a legal demand from California, Arizona and Nevada to send more water down the rivers. It's known as a "compact call," and it has never happened since the Colorado River Compact was signed in 1922. The compact governs all of Colorado's Western rivers, including the Animas, Dolores and San Juan, because they flow into the Colorado River. On Thursday, board members from Southwestern Water Conservation District got together with their counterparts from the Colorado River Water Conservation District to discuss this possibility for the first time. Together, the two organizations are charged with protecting all the state's water west of the Continental Divide. Water managers used to treat the threat of a compact call only as a theoretical exercise. That all changed with the 2002 drought, one of the worst in centuries. "Colorado was, as we say, fat, dumb and happy until '02," said Scott Balcomb, the state's chief negotiator with the other six states in the Colorado River Basin...

It's not clear who would suffer, but the state engineer's office is writing rules to respond to a call. A call is not likely to come for several years, if at all. The state currently uses about 2.4 million acre-feet from the basin, said Eric Kuhn, head of the CRWCD. Once the Animas-La Plata dam opens and Denver fully uses its Western Slope reservoirs, the state could be using 2.6 million acre-feet - possibly everything to which it is legally entitled. If Colorado and the other upriver states used too much, downstream states could sue and force water to go down the river. If that happened, the only solid water supply would belong to Western Slope farmers whose rights date to 1922 or earlier, before the compact was signed. They would be under tremendous pressure to sell or give up their water rights to the cities. "You're not going to take water away from fire hydrants," Kuhn said.

On Thursday, the two boards decided to meet again next May or June, once they have time to study ways to avoid a call and to find out where the pre-1922 water rights are.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
9:07:34 AM    

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According to The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, "Anthony 'Andy' Williams, whose legal expertise helped keep water flowing down the Colorado and Gunnison rivers... died Thursday. He was 81."

More from the article:

A Grand Junction water lawyer for more than 50 years, Williams played significant roles in the construction and operation of Colorado River basin reservoirs that provide needed reserves of water for users downstream, such as in the Grand Valley. He also helped fend off a bid to export water from the upper Gunnison River Basin to the Front Range with the novel idea of a second-fill decree for the Taylor Park Reservoir, which kept the water from being diverted across the Continental Divide. He was in the "first line of defense" for Western Slope water, said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District...

Williams began his legal career in 1952 and was quickly immersed in the operations of Green Mountain Reservoir to the benefit of Western Slope clients, said Mark Hermundstad, who took up the firm's water practice when Williams retired. Williams also was instrumental in the legal work to build Wolford Mountain Reservoir, Hermundstad said, when not fending off Denver's reaches for water in 1964 and again in 1977, during a historic drought year...

A thriving brown-trout fishery and a river-running industry in the Taylor River in large part owe Willams for their present condition, said Dick Bratton, a Gunnison water lawyer who worked with Williams and Hermundstad to establish a recreational-use water right for releases from a reservoir. The victory by Western Slope water interests over Front Range diverters before the Colorado Supreme Court was made all the more difficult because Bratton had to step out of his lawyer's role and testify as a witness under questioning by Williams. "We made some new law, and it was a battle," Bratton said. "We weren't sure we were going to win."

Category: Colorado Water
8:51:06 AM    

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Here's an update on the proposed rules for irrigation along the Arkansas River, from The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Between Pueblo and the Kansas state line, water is used and re-used as it is diverted from and returned to the Arkansas River. Return flows from irrigation have, for more than a century, provided water for the next farmer downstream. Using more of the flows through improvements to irrigation systems could reduce the returns others depend upon, Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte said, so he is proposing rules aimed at keeping flows at historic levels. Witte has been building his case for proposed agricultural efficiency rules for surface irrigators at various forums for a little more than a year. The rules are aimed at preventing another lawsuit, like the Supreme Court litigation that has tied up the two states for the past 22 years. Witte said the compact, signed by both states in 1949, prohibits new "works" in Colorado if they reduce the supply of water available to Kansas. That concept was used as justification for 1996 well rules that required measurement and augmentation for groundwater pumping to satisfy the 1995 Supreme Court ruling that large wells had depleted flows to Kansas. The proposed efficiency rules are very clear on what works are and do not mean all the improvements will be shut down or pulled out, Witte said at a forum last week in La Junta. "It's difficult to say what will or won't (reduce flows) until you look at a specific case," Witte said. "If you've got sprinklers, it doesn't automatically mean there's a problem."

Witte's reasoning is that traditional flood irrigation - still the most prevalent method in the valley - grew crops with about 50 percent consumptive use. Consumptive use is the amount needed to grow a crop with evapotranspiration. There are also nonconsumptive uses such as seepage or use of water by weeds or salt cedars that prevent all of the water used in a field from returning to the river. Sprinklers increase the consumptive use to about 75 percent, while drip irrigation can be nearly 100 percent efficient. That could mean more acreage is put into production, reducing the amount of return flows available downstream. The new rules also mention lining of canals to reduce seepage or applying chemicals like polyacrylamide, pipelines, head stabilization ponds, tailwater recovery pits and soil amendments that improve the ability of the soil to hold water. The rules exempt crop selection, crop rotation, irrigation scheduling, cultivation, clearing weeds, dredging and other means of reducing sediment.

Any improvement on more than 1 acre made since Oct. 1, 1999, would be covered under the rules and must obtain approval from Witte's office, if newly named State Engineer Dick Wolfe approves Witte's plan. As written, the rules would require irrigators to provide an engineering report within 90 days after the rules are finalized by a court decree. If the engineering report concludes the report reduced return flows, the application could be denied, which could lead to a hearing and the possibility of shutting down or curtailing some operations.

Here's a look at farmer reaction to new conservation rules for irrigation in the Arkansas Basin, from The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Proposed efficiency rules for Arkansas Valley farmers would put an unnecessary burden on farmers who are still trying to make a comeback from years of drought. "Truthfully, we've been farming for the insurance payments these last few years," said Don McBee, who farms with his parents, Don and Alta, at the tail end of the Fort Lyon Canal in the May Valley south of Lamar. "Most farmers don't make money. At the end of their lives, they have net worth." Looking at one of the eight sprinklers - quarter-mile behemoths that are popping up all over the area - he and his father have put in since 1999, McBee frets that diesel fuel prices might be enough to shut it down. With prolonged water shortages, spotty prices and 20 years of water speculators hunting on the canal, the farmers don't need the state clamping down on them now, McBee said. Besides, the sprinklers might not be as efficient as Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte believes, said McBee, who has been unable to convince Witte to visit his operation. The ponds he pumps from leak. The sprinklers have to run as much as possible to make a good crop. The same number of acres have remained under cultivation. Water tables have remained constant.

Earlier this year, McBee met with Witte and other state officials for several hours in the State Division of Water Resources Pueblo office, but got no answers about whether the engineer believes he is using more water than before the sprinklers. "That's why we're insisting on engineering reports," Witte said, when asked about McBee's case. Witte explained the rules at water conservancy district meetings last month, and plans to hold public meetings next month to gain input. The rules are aimed at ensuring Kansas it is getting its fair share of water under the Arkansas River Compact. As proposed, the rules would cover surface irrigation improvements like sprinklers and canal lining made since 1999, when Colorado and Kansas agreed on how much water is used for irrigation in Colorado. The rules would not cover better operation of existing structures, crop patterns, weed removal, dredging or maintenance activities. They do not cover wells, which have been under new regulations since 1996...

Three of their fields are in a study of groundwater by Colorado State University, which so far has shown no change in the water table. A seep ditch, about 10-15 feet deep, cuts through one field and has for years continuously run at the same level. What irks McBee the most is that under the new rules, he is being asked to prove all those things at his own expense, even though his basic water right has not changed. "We think we've finally figured out to run the sprinklers," McBee said. "I think right now, our sprinklers are a wash."

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
8:21:17 AM    

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