The prospect of drying up another 72,000 acres of farmland in the Arkansas River basin is the driving force behind the study of a "Super Ditch" by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. In its application for $150,000 through a water supply reserve account to continue studies of the Super Ditch - a land fallowing, water lease management program to be run by irrigators - the Lower Ark cites figures from the Statewide Water Supply Initiative that indicate 98,000 acre-feet of additional water supply will be needed by cities by 2030.
If farms are dried up, that could mean up to 72,000 acres of land taken out of production in addition to 78,169 acres already dried up by municipal transfers if alternatives are not employed. That would represent 13.4 percent on top of the 14.5 percent of available farmland already dried up in the valley, according to the application. The application is scheduled to come up for a vote of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday public meeting at the Occhiato University Center at Colorado State University-Pueblo. From there, it would still need approval of the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
"This is a very forward-looking application," said Jay Winner, Lower Ark executive director and also chairman of the roundtable's needs assessment committee. "This is the strongest application to come out of the roundtable. It addresses the SWSI gap, which is a primary mission of the roundtable and goal of the CWCB."[...]
According to its application, the water supply reserve account funds would be used for looking at economic and engineering questions, some of which would be related to a change of use case in Division 2 water court. "The goal is to find consensus," Winner said...
At the August meeting of the roundtable, some members objected to the possibility of state funds providing research for a court case which the groups they represent could oppose. The Lower Ark has revised its application to allow for groups like the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District to verify its engineering reports, Winner said. "The overarching goal of this task is to avoid litigation by developing consensus and collaboration for future water court applications necessary to the implementation of the program," the application stated. The Lower Ark has used HDR Engineering for its studies to date, but the application explained changes in personnel may require a change. "There's funding built in to help the Upper Ark find its own engineer, if that's what it takes," Winner added.
Winner also addressed the concerns raised by the City of Pueblo about the potential that flows in the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam could be affected by exchanges that would be needed to make Super Ditch work, saying the application would not look at issues directly related to an exchange case in water court.