Colorado Water
Dazed and confused coverage of water issues in Colorado

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

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Here's an update on last year's ruling on confined aquifers down in the San Luis Valley, from The Valley Courier. From the article:

Judge Kuenhold presided over a six-week trial in Alamosa early last year to hear arguments from the proponents and opponents of the state's confined aquifer rules. In November of last year the judge issued a ruling in favor of the state and in December amended his findings. Opponents appealed his ruling in February of this year.

On the basis that the basin is overappropriated and new withdrawals could harm senior water rights and the state's ability to meet its Rio Grande Compact obligations, the state's confined aquifer rules restrict new groundwater withdrawals from the confined aquifer in the San Luis Valley. Judge Kuenhold agreed with the state that the rules were necessary for the sustainability of the aquifer.

The judge also found that a state-sponsored computer model that was key to the state's case was adequate for its intended purposes although it needed continued refinement.

The water district board on Tuesday discussed that continued refinement process at length when the board was presented with a request for an additional $50,000 from Rio Grande Decision Support System Modeler Dr. Willem Schreüder.

The board approved the funding request from its special projects budget line item so Schreüder could continue refining the model for purposes of the water management sub-districts being formed in the Valley to reduce groundwater depletions, repair injury to senior water users and assist the state in meeting its compact obligations to downstream states.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District Engineer Allen Davey said Schreüder indicated the $50,000 would keep his work going through the end of the year. The district board requested that Schreüder meet with the board to discuss his progress in the near future.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District Board President Ray Wright said he did not expect the model would ever be completely finished. He suggested that funding for further refinement be sought through the new statewide and basin-designated pots of money set up by the legislature for water projects.

Thanks to SLV Dweller for the link.

Category: Colorado Water

9:44:42 PM    

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Here's a recap of Monday's meeting of Governor Ritter's South Platte River Basin Task Force, from The Sterling Journal Advocate. From the article:

Ideas ranged from revamping Colorado's water court system to the absolute necessity for more water storage. And for nearly every idea, there was a counter-claim from someone else. Tom Cech, manager of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, offers suggestions at the task force meeting. The South Platte River Basin Task Force members held their second day of public testimony Monday at Northeastern Junior College. Appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter, the task force is seeking a solution for the well owners in the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District whose irrigation wells have been shut down since the spring of 2006...

Alan Fountz from Akron, president of Colorado Farm Bureau, said his organization also believes that to put Colorado's water to best use, the state needs more storage. "There are people downstream who want our water and have plans to use it," Fountz said. "I hear this more, every time I go to Washington, D.C." He said Colorado Farm Bureau has been asking its members about the senior vs. junior water rights issue. Farm Bureau's position is that pre-1974 wells should be put into the prior appropriations system. But members see the water court system as too cumbersome and too costly...

Don Fritzler, who farms near Sterling, owns wells and has an augmentation plan that allows him to run these wells. He also has surface rights. "I can run these wells as long as I don't injure the surface users below me," Fritzler said. "I ask that you stick to the priority system," he added. "Any attempt to change the priority system is taking water away from someone who has it and giving it to someone else."

Farmers from the Wiggins area who had their wells shut down offered a different perspective. One had a farm that had been in the family for generations, while the other bought a farm in 1990 and installed sprinklers to use the water from wells already on the land. Both thought requiring them to replace all prior depletions from their wells was unrealistic. When the wells were drilled many years ago, no such requirement was even considered, and there is no way to accurately determine what the depletion amount would be, they said. One of the men commented, "It's like asking my 2-year-old daughter to replace something her grandmother used."...

Tom Cech, manager for the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, said nearly 1,000 wells have now been shut down in his district. Engineering can do wonders these days, Cech said, and suggested that the task force look at what new engineering might be able to do for the well owners. "There are 10,000 acre feet of water under your feet," Cech said, referring to the South Platte Aquifer. "What can we do to allow some more groundwater pumping in the basin?" The task force's first public meeting, also a testimony hearing, was June 29 in Greeley. Four additional meetings are scheduled: July 27, Aug. 13, Aug. 27 and Sept. 6, all at the state Capitol building in Denver. All the meetings are open to the public, but the task force does not plan to take more public testimony. People who are interested can still register their comments on the Web site:, click on the South Platte Task Force link. A final report from the task force is due Sept. 30 to Gov. Ritter, legislative leaders and the chairman of the Interim Committee on Water Resources.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:55:26 AM    

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The shutdown of the Shoshone Power Plant is causing officials to scramble a bit to keep flows in the Colorado River high enough for this summer's boating season, according to The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (free registration required). From the article:

Officials with the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District and Denver Water say they are looking into ways to maintain adequate flows on the river despite the recent shutdown of the Shoshone power plant in Glenwood Canyon because of a ruptured supply pipe. The hydroelectric plant has a senior water right on the river, and traditionally that has guaranteed sufficient flows downstream to support a rafting industry in Glenwood Springs that provides 72,000 trips a year. Another 50,000 people make private trips on that stretch of river, said Rich Doak, recreation program manager for the U.S. Forest Service, which regulates commercial rafting in the canyon. About a dozen outfitters operate on the river in Glenwood Canyon, and combined they make $2 million in direct revenues off those trips each year, Doak said. Representatives for several of those outfitters appeared at a meeting of the river district board Tuesday afternoon at the Hotel Colorado to voice concern about possible lower flows due to the plant problems...

[Eric Kuhn] said he thinks he has an agreement with Chips Barry, manager of the Denver Water Board, to work on a target of keeping at least 1,250 cubic feet of water (cfs) flowing through Glenwood Canyon through Labor Day, which is near the end of the rafting season. Bob Harris, owner of Blazing Adventures, told the river district board that a flow below 1,000 cfs "pretty much puts us out of business." Dave Merritt, the district's chief engineer, said the river was flowing at more than 1,400 cfs Tuesday but was heading down fairly quickly. With the spring runoff season over, the river is expected to continue dropping unless action is taken...

Water used by the power plant also helps to provide adequate flows for endangered fish recovery in the Grand Junction area. Merritt said water rights and instream flow programs upstream also have been developed on the assumption that the Shoshone plant is using its water. "We're in a real delicate balance here, and Shoshone kind of holds everything together," Merritt said. Irrigators in the Grand Junction area also hold senior water rights that can help maintain flows higher up the Colorado River. But whether they have to issue their so-called "Cameo" call to release upstream water to meet their entitlement depends on water conditions each season. Also, that call often comes later in the summer, but the rafting industry needs water sooner. The river district directly controls only one reservoir, Wolford Mountain near Kremmling. As a result, a lot of its efforts to deal with the Shoshone problem involve lobbying other water entities...

One issue to be resolved surrounds releasing water from reservoirs for recreation uses. Kuhn wants to make sure the state engineer doesn't say that isn't a beneficial use, and that reservoir operators can't refill their reservoirs if they contribute water to the rafting industry. In a phone interview, Barry said Denver Water's concern is that releasing water from its Williams Fork Reservoir for any purpose - agricultural, industrial or recreational - could be deemed to be inconsistent with its water rights decree. "I'm not going to get stuck in that box and so we're going to need a written agreement from the state engineer on that," he said. He said Denver Water is willing to try to be a partner in dealing with the Shoshone situation, as long as other water entities pitch in as well. He doesn't feel the goal should be to supply all the water that would flow based on Shoshone's water rights, but he thinks Denver Water's supplies are adequate this year to try to help address problems caused by the power plant's outage. "I think for this particular summer time we are in reasonably good shape. We can afford to be charitable and generous with water to help the West Slope solve a problem," he said. Some Western Slope water interests are worried that the Shoshone incident could lead to Xcel closing the plant permanently. But Kuhn said the utility has told him it is working on reopening it. Despite the plant's old age and limited power generation, Merritt said it helps Xcel meet its requirements for alternative energy production as required by state Amendment 37.

More coverage from The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. They write, "River district Chief Water Engineer Dave Merritt said if a Friday meeting in Glenwood Springs is successful, an agreement to make up for the potential loss of the Shoshone water could be reached. Along with rafting concerns, the district and others have to ensure enough water for endangered fish in the so-called 15 Mile Reach outside Palisade, and good water quality and low salinity levels for downstream municipalities like Silt and Rifle that remove Colorado River water for treatment, Merritt said."

Here's another article about the effects of the Shoshone shutdown from The Aspen Daily Times. They write:

Natural flows in the river might leave about 900 cfs in the river at this time of year, and the normally very reliable Shoshone water rights usually make up the difference...

Most boaters probably have no idea how dependent their white-water adventure is on Xcel Energy's Shoshone power plant and its senior water rights of 1,250 cfs, which date back to 1902. The plant diverts water upriver of the power plant and then transports it to a point high on the cliff above the plant. The water is then sent down tubes, or penstocks, into the plant to spin turbines and produce electricity. The water is then released back into the river just above the Shoshone put in...

With the plant idle and under repair, the facility can no longer, under Colorado law, demand that the 1,250 cfs of water it owns be sent downriver. And so the water is now available for the upstream owners of secondary water rights to use. To help keep the rafting companies on the river, the Colorado River District is appealing to the Denver Water board to help out by being flexible with its water. "Our goal is to cajole, encourage, push, whatever -- embarrass -- whatever is necessary to keep flows in that 1,200 to 1,300 cfs range in Shoshone," Kuhn said. Dick Merritt, chief engineer for the Colorado River District, said the reservoirs that Denver Water relies on are full this year...

But when it comes to Colorado water law, it's not always easy to be cooperative. If holders of water rights agree to try and help the local tourism economy by sending water downriver that they otherwise could put to their own beneficial uses, then they could potentially weaken their own water rights or complicate next year's water storage efforts. However, if the state's water referee, the state engineer, blesses some type of arrangement, the water may still flow and visitors to Vail, Aspen and Glenwood Springs will still have a chance to cool off by running through the white water in Shoshone. Kuhn said he received a call Tuesday morning from Chips Barry, manager of Denver Water, who said he was open to a solution as long as the appropriate safeguards and details could be worked out. And the Bureau of Reclamation was also interested in helping. "We're willing to step up and do our part where we can," said Mike Collins, acting area manager for Eastern Colorado and the Great Plains Region for the Bureau. "If there is a capability for us to make some water available, we're willing to take a look and see what that is."

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:29:29 AM    

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