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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Friday, September 14, 2007

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Here's an update on a briefing Wednesday to the State Water Resources Review Committee on the effects from last summer's District 7 Water Court decision by Judge Gregory Lyman on produced water from coal-bed methane operations, from The Durango Herald From the article:

A local judge's ruling could halt gas production on 3,900 coal-bed methane wells across the state, or potentially all 30,000 of Colorado's oil and gas wells, lawyers told a legislative committee Wednesday...

The state engineer plans to appeal Lyman's ruling to the state Supreme Court, said Dick Wolfe, who has worked on the problem of coal-bed methane water for the state engineer since 1999. "If we were forced to abide by that order, we would have been put in a position to have to go out and curtail several thousand coal-bed methane wells," Wolfe said. Wolfe's office has won a stay of the ruling in order to file the appeal. The engineer's office handles about 8,000 well permits a year, Wolfe said, and it would need a bigger staff if it had to deal with methane wells. Colorado has 3,909 coal-bed methane wells. Almost all are in either the San Juan Basin or the Raton Basin, near Trinidad, according to information Wolfe gave to the Water Resources Review Committee on Wednesday. Wolfe said it's unclear if Lyman's ruling applies only to coal-bed methane wells or to all oil and gas wells. The gas industry is siding with the state engineer in the appeal...

[Attorney Sarah Klahn] expects to see an appeal filed in the next few weeks, but she said a briefing before the Supreme Court wouldn't be likely until next spring. Legislators briefly reacted to the case. Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, asked Wonstolen what the industry could do to protect senior water rights owners. "Our job is to make sure those folks are protected from injury," she said. "It's not a heck of a lot (of water), but it is for them, probably." Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, chairman of the Water Resources Review Committee, said, "For years, we've tossed around whether we should do legislation." However, legislators, he said, have shied away from the complex problem. "But maybe the time has come," he added.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water

7:10:25 AM    

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Here's Part I of a series "Cities of the River" about the Colorado River, those that depend on it and western water law, from The Colorado Springs Business Journal. From the article:

More than 70 percent of Colorado Springs' water comes from tributaries of the Colorado River, captured in dozens of impoundments and transported through a complex network of pipelines and tunnels. The Springs, along with Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix, lives because of the Colorado River. If its flow falters, if the river fails, so too will the cities...

The cities' claims are based on western water law, which is unique to Alaska and the 17 conterminous states of the West. The doctrine of prior appropriation, commonly referred to as "first in time, first in right," was developed in California during the 1850s. In 1882, the Colorado Supreme Court made the definitive ruling that established the extraordinary reach of the prior appropriation doctrine. In "Coffin v. Left Hand Ditch Co." the court ruled that the upstream water user who held senior water rights could legally divert an entire river out of basin, despite the burden that was placed on Coffin, a farmer who was the downstream user.

In the other 32 states, water use is based on riparian law, which originated in English common law. Riparian rights are available to any property owner whose land borders a waterway and entitle them to the natural flow of water beside or through their land, without any significant change in the quantity or purity of the water. While riparian law recognizes the river as an entity, something greater than the people and communities that it serves, prior appropriation encourages a very different view. In the West, a river's water, like gold in a mining claim, is a resource. It belongs to those who are smart enough, tough enough, rich enough and lucky enough to seize it...

Category: Colorado Water

6:49:43 AM    

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According to The Pueblo Chieftain the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is unhappy with the proposed Super Ditch for southeastern Colorado. From the article:

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District does not like a proposal for a Super Ditch being promoted at the other end of the valley. The board generally agreed Thursday with General Manager Terry Scanga's assessment that the Super Ditch - a land fallowing, water lease management plan by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District - could reduce flows in the Arkansas River if leases were exchanged through the Otero Pumping Station. "There are no terms spelled out for when the change cases go on," Scanga told the board. "My concern is that Colorado Springs is the main customer - point blank - and they want to take the water through the Otero Pump Station."

In a memo to the roundtable, Scanga spelled out conditions he would like to see prior to voting on approval of a $150,000 application through the Colorado Water Conservation Board to study parts of the Super Ditch concept. Scanga wanted to see funding to reimburse objectors to the change of water rights to cover costs to review Lower Ark engineering, as well as restrictions on how and where water could be taken through the Super Ditch. Most roundtable members had not seen the memo before voting 28-3 to submit the application, but it was discussed Wednesday with the roundtable by Scanga and Alan Hamel, chairman of the roundtable...

Pat Alderton of Poncha Springs, who sits on both the Upper Ark board and the roundtable, said she voted for the application, as many others on the roundtable, not to support the Super Ditch, but to learn more about its impacts. "No one was voting to support the Super Ditch," Alderton said. "I support Terry's minority opinion." Other Upper Ark board members agreed with Scanga's stance. "Isn't (reducing flows in the Arkansas River) out of sync with the Lower Ark's mission to keep water in the Arkansas Valley," said Upper Ark board member Jeff Ollinger.

The Lower Ark is proposing a private corporation or cooperative of irrigation rights owners from seven ditch companies below Pueblo Dam. It is seen as a way to avoid past practices in which water rights are permanently sold to cities and farmland is lost forever, attorney Peter Nichols told the roundtable Wednesday. The Lower Ark has spent $500,000 so far to study the idea. Some ditch company board members have participated in discussions, but have not endorsed the concept. Only two of the seven ditches, the Fort Lyon and High Line, have bylaws that allow transfers outside ditch service areas. The Bessemer, Catlin, Holbrook, Otero and Oxford ditches would have to change bylaws to even allow transfers. "We have a long, long way to go," Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner told the roundtable Wednesday in urging the study.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:35:13 AM    

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Here are the recommendations of the DU Water Futures Panel, from The Rocky Mountain News. They write:

Panel members included former Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis, former Colorado State University President Albert Yates, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and CH2M Hill Chairman Ralph Peterson.


1. Embrace fairness, trust, respect and openness in water supply planning.

2. Encourage water conservation.

3. Encourage partnerships between urban and agricultural water users.

4. Remove high water consuming plants from river beds.

5. Streamline water court.

6. Encourage statewide perspective on water projects, including new reservoirs.

7. Facilitate cooperation between river basins.

8. Plan for climate change.

9. Maintain healthy rivers.

Nice goals all. We're surprised that no one had thought of them before.

More coverage from The Denver Post. They write:

Colorado will not meet its water needs in the coming decades without collaboration among groups that have historically fought, a panel of water experts said Thursday. The 24-member University of Denver Water Futures Panel spent the past six months studying the pressures brought by urban growth, climate change and the state's complex system of water compacts and said cooperation will be key in providing water for the future. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper said this will be looked back on in 25 or 50 years as one of the "pivotal points" where water agencies realized if they collaborated "their ultimate gain will be much greater than if they stick to their ... more historical narrow interests." Hickenlooper acknowledged "the history of the bad feeling and antagonism is deep," but he said the DU panel is to Colorado water what the Geneva Convention was to treatment of prisoners. "By having all the stakeholders come forward and agree to a framework of shared values, you are able to move forward and create a different set of relationships," the mayor said.

More coverage from The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. They write:

Water Quality Control Division Director Steve Gunderson said Environment Colorado's statistics don't tell the full story. There's more pressure from development and rising population on the state's water quality, he said, but the state has tougher water quality standards and more data on streams than it did eight years ago, skewing numbers Environment Colorado says show the state's water is dirtier. Gunderson said the state is able to inspect up to 10 percent of its approximately 6,000 storm-water permits annually using four staff inspectors, local health departments and contractors. The Legislature, he said, has allocated money to the division for new staff. "With the oil and gas activity, there is a lot of concern on the storm-water," Gunderson said. "Any time you have a lot of construction, you move the soil, you have storm-water, and you can have sediment and other pollutants enter water bodies."[...]

Oil and gas wells pose other problems for clean water in Colorado, the report says: Chemicals in pits on well pads can leak into waterways, while hazardous materials can be easily spilled. "To make this more difficult, currently, the energy industry in Colorado is not even required to disclose the nature and content of the chemicals it uses in its development processes, unless a producer reports a spill," the report said. Dodson said he thinks most people in Colorado realize the need to protect the state's water quality.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:20:14 AM    

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