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

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Project Healing Waters

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

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From the Conejos County Citizen: "The Conejos Water Conservancy District is the latest County organization to name a representative to become a part of State Water Engineer Dick Wolfe's proposed well water rules committee. Michael Willett, president of the CWCD has been nominated to the position, but the State has not announced a final list of members of the water advisory committee."


The Conejos Water Conservancy District, with offices at the corner of Fourth and Main, in Manassa, includes more than 100 large volume irrigation wells, dozens of irrigation ditch companies, and more than 100,000 acres of farm land using wells and/or surface water rights for irrigation. The District contains the Conejos and San Antonio Rivers.

District Manager Bob Robins said a major reason the district wants to participate is to control the cost of litigation. Robins echoed the comments of John Shawcroft, an official with the Alamosa and La Jara Creek Water Conservancy District who stated recently that Valley water users spend large amounts of money every year on court battles over water use.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
7:10:04 PM    

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From the Mineral County Miner (Mary Johnson): "Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) Executive Director Nancy Butler spoke and gave an update on the Rio Grande Initiative. Conservation efforts in Mineral County began in 2003 when Dorothy Steele granted an easement to protect Wright's Ranch. In 2008, Butler said, the initiative and its partners helped conserve Rio Oxbow Ranch, phase 1. According to Butler, an easement does not ensure public access.

"A grant application for a conservation easement along the Silver Thread is currently in process, Butler explained. There are different easement programs and she handed out a page to everyone describing the Rio Grande Initiative and the many issues involved. After consideration, the commissioners voted to donate $300 toward this project."

Category: Colorado Water
7:03:42 PM    

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A while back Pat Mulroy the General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority was out in Washington D.C. pitching the use of Mississippi River high flows to recharge the Ogallala aquifer.

The idea seems to be catching on. Here's a report about a recent meeting of the Rio Grande Basin Roudtable where hay farmer Gary Hausler was talking about moving water from the Mississippi to the Front Range, from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

Hausler proposed that Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska form a new interstate compact, the Central Plains Compact, that would run 1,200 miles of 22-inch diameter pipe from the Mississippi River at a point near Hickman, Kentucky, to Colorado at a point between Denver and Colorado Springs on Monument Hill. The pipeline would include laterals along the way to provide water to all of the states between the river and the Rockies. Hausler estimated the cost of the project at $22.5 billion including permits, rights of way (possibly through eminent domain), engineering and construction. He also estimated the project would span 30 years from idea to construction with about 10 years spent on forming the compact, another 10 years on permits and 10 years on the construction itself.

Hausler has a mining and heavy construction background in addition to a stint in corporate finance before becoming a hay farmer and rancher near Gunnison. He said his idea for a water pipeline was sparked by an Exxon presentation years ago, and he has been working on the idea in earnest for the last several years.

More coverage from the Gunnison Times (Michelle Burkhart):

While [Gary Hausler's] idea didn't originally pass many straight face tests, that has begun to change. Gunnison water expert John McClow, longtime attorney for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD), believes the idea has merit. "It's a long range plan that has a lot of moving parts and many obstacles to overcome, but Colorado needs to find some long-range solutions to our water supply," he said. "The state demographer is predicting a large increase in population and our water resources are finite."[...]

Around 70 percent of the state's farms and ranches would need to be dried up to meet population demands by 2050 -- according to a Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) staff analysis -- unless new water is introduced to the state, McClow said. Rep. Kathleen Curry, from Gunnison, agrees the idea is legitimate. "I think it's gaining ground," she said. "I'm willing to look at it as a long-term solution, because I really think it would relieve pressure on our side of the divide." She said that people are realizing the water issues on Colorado's eastern slope are not solvable unless new water is introduced.

Hausler conceived the Mississippi diversion idea about eight years ago while at Union Park, northeast of Almont, he said. He was pondering a trans-mountain diversion that was proposed to take water from that area to the Front Range...

The state's projected gap between water supply and demand by 2050 has widened to approximately 700,000 acre-feet (af) per year, Hausler said, referencing a CWCB study. To fulfill this gap, the CWCB has looked at conservation, trans-mountain diversions and drying up a large portion of agriculture in the state. "But they have not looked outside the state," Hausler said. The Mississippi River, in the area of Hickman, Ky., has average annual flows that exceed 240 million af, he said. Colorado River's annual flow, in comparison, is approximately 15 million af. Hausler wants to divert 1 million af per year, which equates to less than .5 percent of the average flow in the Mississippi, he said...

Hausler's proposed route for the pipeline is 1,200 miles long with 7,000 feet of "total lift." Pumping the water would require an additional 1,600 megawatts of power, which is essentially the equivalent to the power generated at the Hoover Dam, Hausler said. Right-of-way issues would need to be accomplished through eminent domain and purchased at market rates, he advised. Hausler estimates that the total tab for the project would tally up to $22.5 billion, including permitting, land purchases, engineering and construction costs. That equates to $22,500 per af for water delivery...

"I think the beauty of (Hausler's) idea is that it brings in new water, but I don't know about its feasibility with its basin of origin -- how they would feel about it," Curry said. "I think they would have to get something out of it for them to consider it."

Hausler estimates it would take at least 30 years to complete the grand plan. During that time, the project could be financed by those who would benefit from the pipeline. For example, he said there are approximately 3 million active water customers on the eastern slope of Colorado. "If you charged an additional $8 a month to everyone's water bill, that's 300 million dollars," he said, explaining that that money could go towards debt service to borrow money...

Water guru and environmentalist Steve Glazer -- who "adamantly" opposes the idea because of its potential "severe environmental degradation and societal and economic impacts" -- said he believes the idea would take too long to complete. "It would take decades to accomplish, by then other alternatives will have been executed," he said -- surmising that water rationing or drying up agriculture would likely be implemented in the meantime.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:31:22 PM    

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From the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Tom Ross): "'Colorado lost a legend on Friday -- a lover of life, a caretaker of our precious land and water, a tireless worker, a pioneer in the ski industry, a rancher, a devoted public servant, a loving father and grandfather, and one of the finest men I have ever met," Salazar said.

"Salazar, a San Luis Valley Democrat who represents Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, described Fetcher as a personal mentor who epitomized the phrase "the stuff that legends are made of.'"

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
6:14:56 PM    

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From the Greeley Tribune: "The 2009 Lower South Platte Water Symposium will cover topics related to 'Today's Issues Impacting Tomorrow's Livelihood', and is scheduled March 11 in Sterling...

"Jim Hall with the Colorado Division of Water Resources in Greeley will discuss administration of the South Platte in 2007 and 2008. He also will discuss the water supply from those years and current water supplies in the basin. Hall also will discuss future issues within the basin that may impact water. Several other speakers and topics will be covered throughout the day.

"The symposium will begin at 8 a.m. at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling. Cost is $20 prior to Feb. 27 and $40 after that date. Lunch is included."

Category: Colorado Water
6:02:52 PM    

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Here's a look at the current stimulus package the the money picture for Colorado, from Peter Roper writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Udall and Bennet itemized the federal program money intended for Colorado in the Senate bill, which includes: $775 million to help with increasing Medicaid health insurance coverage; $426 million for highway construction; $487 million in state government "stabilization" aid; $126 million for public transportation; $66 million for water projects; $120 million for Title 1 low-income program funds for public schools; $48 million for weatherizing homes and businesses; and $24 million in Child Care and Development grants.

More coverage from the Rocky Mountain News (Jerd Smith):

At least six major water utilities, including Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs, have lined up to claim a share of the giant spending package working its way through Congress. The water utilities hope to use the money to help construct new water delivery systems, repair aging pipelines and clear trees in fire-prone watersheds. Also in line are dozens of small communities that can't afford to fix aging waterworks. "Everything helps," said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress, a nonpartisan group that represents water interests across the state...

Denver Water, Colorado's largest water utility, is seeking $32.2 million for 12 projects that could generate 825 jobs this year. "In some ways it looks like the world's biggest earmark party," Denver Water Manager Chips Barry said, referring to the practice of Congress doling out money with strings attached. "We're not counting on the availability of that money, but we think these are good stimulus projects." Denver hopes to win grants to help protect forested water sheds on the Upper South Platte River and on the West Slope that are threatened by pine beetles. Denver also has several aging pipelines it hopes to repair.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
5:55:07 PM    

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The Colorado Independent (David O. Williams) is reporting that water rights are suddenly all the talk along the Yampa River. From the article:

According to the Steamboat Pilot and Today newspaper, the town of Yampa's board of trustees last week voted unanimously to join any organized legal efforts to block the water grab by Shell.

More from the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Melinda Dudley):

Although Yampa does not have the financial resources to mount its own legal battle against Shell Frontier Oil and Gas, the town could become a party to any opposition filed without incurring potentially huge legal costs. In the past, Yampa has piggybacked onto other water rights oppositions with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, Town Clerk Janet Ray said.

"A future demand on this over-adjudicated river will just make things tougher," Trustee Tom Yackey said. "Any new rights that are filed on it stand to make us vulnerable."[...]

Shell Oil's filing for 375 cubic feet per second was made Dec. 30 in the District 6 Water Division office in Steamboat Springs. The water, which would be drawn from the Yampa during high flows fed by snowmelt in the spring and early summer, would fill a proposed 45,000 acre-foot reservoir for use in oil shale development. That amount represents a minority of the Yampa's peak spring flows, which commonly exceed 11,000 cfs west of Maybell, where the river is about to meet its confluence with the Green River. The 375 cfs being sought by Shell is comparable to the typical mid-July flow of the Yampa River at the Fifth Street Bridge in Steamboat Springs. The reservoir would be built off the main stem of the Yampa in the Cedar Springs Draw in Moffat County. The proposed reservoir's potential 45,000 acre-foot size compares to the 33,275 acre-feet in Stagecoach Reservoir and 25,450 acre-feet in the newly expanded Elkhead Reservoir between Hayden and Craig.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Climate Change News
5:46:36 PM    

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Senator Isgar thinks his bill (pdf) would make common practice legal, that is, allow small scale rainwater catchment installations for properties that have an "exempt well."

Here's a report about SB09-080 from K.C. Mason writing for the Telluride Watch. From the article:

Senate Bill 80, which unanimously passed the Senate this week, could legalize a common practice in arid Colorado. "We don't see a lot of people rushing forward to say I'm breaking the law," Isgar said. "But it's possible people have been using runoff in a questionable way that this would make legal."[...]

Isgar's bill would apply only to owners of exempt wells, which are not administered under the priority system. Exempt well permits are issued only to those who can not get water from a municipality or water district but its uses are restricted. "There hasn't been a lot of opposition because it's tied so closely to the well permit," Isgar said. "You cannot expand usage beyond what the well permit allows." Isgar said allowing rainwater catchment actually could reduce injury to downstream users because it would reduce well pumping that draws down the aquifer. SB 80 now goes to the House, where it will be sponsored by Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan.

The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled later this week to take its first look at the annual "projects bill," which outlines next year's spending on water projects approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Most of the appropriations are to continue projects that previously have been authorized, such as a $1 million appropriation for the Colorado River water availability study or $1.5 million to develop a statewide grant program for water projects that prevent the permanent dry-up of agricultural land. "There's really nothing controversial in it and the money's there because we get 10 percent of the FML (federal mineral lease) dollars," said Isgar, who is sponsoring the bill.

Isgar also said Western Slope concerns about a "water grab" are being addressed in a pair of bills aimed at helping South Platte River irrigators whose wells have been shut off or sharply curtailed because they don't have augmentation plans in place.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water
5:26:05 PM    

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From the Greeley Tribune: "The second program of the Greeley History Museum Earth Reveries series, which will focus on Greeley's water history, will be 7 p.m., Feb. 18, at the at the downtown museum, 714 8th St. Jon Monson, director of Greeley's water and sewer department, will host the event. The program is free and open to the public. The Earth Reveries project is a campus and community-wide collaboration exploring environmental matters from a wide range of viewpoints. Monson will introduce the Written in Water DVD and describe the efforts of Greeley residents over the decades to secure long-term water rights in an area that was known as the Great American Desert. When settlers first came to the area they needed to secure long-term supplies."

Category: Colorado Water
6:38:14 AM    

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Alamosa received some bad news recently as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the city that they may have to pay for reconstruction of the levee along the Alamosa River. Here's a report from Ruth Heide writing for the Valley Courier. From the article:

Alamosa City Manager Nathan Cherpeski brought the situation to the city council's attention during his weekly Friday update and commented further about it on Monday. He said although the Corps designed the current levee, and it was built according to the Corps' design, the Corps is now telling the city the levee was constructed incorrectly.

The big problem with the levee is the tree growth on the land side of the levee, Cherpeski said. He pointed out that the Corps left many large trees in place when it constructed the new levee in 1997 but is now apparently blaming the city for the potential structural problems the trees could cause to the levee. "These are big, big trees and they are saying they shouldn't have been allowed to grow on the levee," he said. He said the trees that the Corps sees as a potential problem did not grow up in the last 12 years. Some are 100 years old or so, he estimated. "They are accusing us like we let them grow there," he said...

Cherpeski said the Corps sent the city a new vegetation management standard adopted in 2008, and the city's levee does not meet that standard. A Corps inspector raised the concerns with the city, Cherpeski said, and suggested the city should remove the offending trees. The Corps' old maintenance rules comprised 5 pages but the new rules are 70 pages long, he added. "With these new rules our levee built in 1997 appears to not meet standard." Cherpeski said removal of the trees would not only be costly - perhaps requiring reconstruction of the levee in places - but would be aesthetically and emotionally painful for those landowners on whose properties the trees reside. "Nobody likes to cut down significant trees and some of the trees they sent us pictures of are three feet or more in diameter," he said. "Some of these trees if we take them out we have to rebuild the levee."[...]

Alamosa falls under the jurisdiction of the Albuquerque Corps of Engineers office, Cherpeski explained. He said he is hoping for a meeting soon and a resolution fairly quickly, within the next couple of weeks if possible. He said the Corps invited the city officials to a meeting in Washington state, but Alamosa officials are hoping to set up a meeting closer to home. Cherpeski said he would like for the Corps staff members to come to Alamosa and actually walk the levee with the city staff and council to show where the problems are. Cherpeski said the City of Alamosa is responsible for maintaining the levee and city crews routinely fix problem areas such as locations where people driving all-terrain vehicles have caused damage to the levee. "Those come up every year. We fix that stuff. The big issue is the trees."

Another situation creating concern with the Corps is access. Cherpeski said people living along the levee put up fences, something they are allowed to do. However, landowners' easements require them to allow the city and Corps access to the levee, so residents will have to install gates.

Category: Colorado Water
6:32:54 AM    

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