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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Sunday, September 16, 2007

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Here's a look at a new Family Farm Alliance report about the pressure on irrigation exerted by unbridled growth, from the The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Using irrigation water as drought insurance for growing urban areas is an unwise course that could threaten the nation's food supply, a new study [pdf] looking at climate change reports. A Family Farm Alliance study says climate change could reduce snowpack, increase the need for water and decrease groundwater recharge. The group recommends more reservoirs to capture earlier runoff and balance stream flows. It also cites effective programs in which agricultural needs are incorporated into planning for future water shortages. The study, however, has harsh criticism for water policies that rely on ag water to meet supplies for cities, a major thrust in Colorado, where a Statewide Water Supply Initiative identified a municipal supply "gap" that would most likely be filled by converting farm water to supplies for cities. "Relying on agriculture to be a shock absorber to soften or eliminate the impending water shortage is not planning," said Patrick O'Toole, president of the alliance. "It is a choice to put our heads in the sand and hope for the best. It is a decision that could worsen the overall impact of climate change on our nation's economy and security."[...]

Redundancy - whether for watersheds or supply lines - is a concept municipal planners often stress, but farmers often see their plight as the whims of Mother Nature. Looking at the variety and location of crops throughout the West and the development of farmland in areas inhospitable to dryland farming, O'Toole sees an equal danger to the nation's food supply if redundancy throughout the industry is removed...

The report says climate change could tip the scales even further against agriculture, since water already is a scarce commodity in the West. In addition, the report says climate change could reduce snowpack while increasing the need for water as temperatures rise. In Colorado, the U.S. Geological Survey has begun looking for signs of climate change. "What we're seeing is a variability in the timing of snow melts, and the trends are small if there are trends," said David Clow, USGS snow hydrologist. While spring runoff is occurring earlier, nothing has yet occurred outside the range of the historical record. Clow said it will be necessary to group data from a variety of sites to determine how the state's water supply is being affected. On a larger scale, climate change is considered a real possibility by many scientists, although how it will affect specific regions is largely unknown. The possibility of reducing water supply in the West, where water supplies are already inadequate to meet demands, alarms the Family Farm Alliance...

Changed climate and agriculture -- some of the negative effects:

Colorado is losing 460 acres per day of agricultural land, and will lose 3.1 million more acres by 2022 on its present course.

Environmental programs on the Platte River have the potential to dry up hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in Wyoming and Nebraska.

Growth of cities in Arizona and Nevada are drying up farms at record rates. In a few years, the Salt River Project in Arizona will cease to provide water for agriculture, the report said. Las Vegas is adding 70,000 new residents a year, and is hunting water supplies in rural areas even as it maximizes conservation through programs like reuse and paying residents to remove lawns.

California converted 1 million acres of farmland to urban use from 1988 to 1998, and likely will lose more ground as the population is projected to increase to 59.5 million, from 37 million today, by 2050.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

Category: Colorado Water

9:34:39 AM    

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Here's a look at water quality in Colorado from The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

As Colorado grows and climate changes, the state will struggle with more water quality issues, the state's top water quality official said Friday. "Most climate change models say there will be more pressure on state water resources," said Steve Gunderson, director of the Colorado Water Quality Control Division. "That means more demand to use sources of water that are now marginal." Gunderson's comments came on the heels of "Water Under Pressure," a report by Environment Colorado...

Gunderson said while the number of impaired segments of streams in Colorado has increased, the reason may be better enforcement of the Clean Water Act. More reporting, tighter standards and increased emphasis on stormwater permits could be skewing the statistics, he said. "The primary reason we see more impairments is that we see more data," Gunderson said. About two-thirds of the 121 streams classified as impaired - out of 690 in the state - fail to meet a single standard. There might be 15 standards for any reach. The most frequent reason for impairment, in about 40 percent of reaches, is selenium, which is subject to much tighter standards. Next on the list is zinc, usually associated with increased mining activity on the Western Slope...

The Environment Colorado Report is especially critical of the number of inspectors for stormwater permits, saying only 1 percent of stormwater sites were inspected in 2006. Of the 5,600 permits issued in 2006, about 10 percent were inspected, using four staff members and numerous contractors, Gunderson said. About 3,700 of the permits were short-term, small construction projects, such as building a house on an acre of land. Another 116 are municipal permits, which usually means multiple projects, and in some cases, inspection by local authorities. Pueblo, for instance, has a stormwater utility that provides inspections...

But other activities contribute as well, according to the report:

Energy Development: In 2006, nearly 6,000 drilling permits were approved, bringing the active number of wells to 34,000. There are no requirements for producers to disclose chemicals that are being used, the report said.

Agriculture: Fertilizers, pesticides and sediments are leached into rivers with no pollution controls. The report calls for better management practices, but acknowledges they would cost more than $50 million to implement.

Mining: There are 23,000 abandoned mines in Colorado, which leach heavy metals into streams. Cleanup costs could be $314 million.

Water rights: The report criticizes the prior appropriation doctrine of Colorado water law for putting emphasis on water quantity while doing little to address quality.

The report concludes better enforcement of laws, more resources for remediation and more efficient use of water is needed. Thomas said the hardest question to answer is what to do about the growth itself that is causing degradation of the state's waterways. She said legislation that would tie growth to water - requiring at least a 100-year supply - is needed.

9:17:52 AM    

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Here's a look at the water supply system(s) for the city of Greeley, from The Greeley Tribune (free registration required). From the article:

The Poudre River, with headwaters near the top of the Continental Divide northwest of Fort Collins, was the first water supply developed by Greeley. In the 1870s, residents used artesian wells along the Poudre near the city. Then the No. 3 ditch was built to draw water out of the river to the slowly growing town. The city's first water treatment plant at Bellvue, near the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, became operational in 1907, delivering treated water to the city through a 36-mile, 20-inch diameter wooden pipeline. The city purchased several high mountain reservoirs along the Poudre River in the late 1930s and early '40s. Peterson Lake, about 50 miles west of the city's Bellvue treatment plant, is the highest of those water storage reservoirs, joining Comanche, Hourglass, Barnes Meadow, Twin Lakes and Seaman reservoirs in the mountains northwest of Fort Collins. All those reservoirs feed the Poudre River, and the six have a storage capacity of about 8,400 acre-feet of water. In recent years, the city has purchased portions of the Larimer Ditch Tunnel, Bob Creek and the Water Supply and Storage Co., all of which can feed water into the Poudre River...

The second water supply for Greeley is the Colorado River and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project over the Continental Divide from Estes Park. The Colorado-Big Thompson Project is the result of a group of visionary northern Colorado residents led by the late Charles Hansen, former publisher and owner of the Greeley Tribune, and W.D. Farr, who died earlier this year at the age of 97. That group, following the drought of the 1930s, recognized the need for a supplemental water supply if the region was to survive and thrive. Farr often referred to the C-BT, which began delivering water on to the Eastern Slope from the Western Slope of the mountains in 1957, as a second Poudre River for northern Colorado. Built between 1938 and 1957, It is the largest transmountain water diversion in the state. The C-BT consists of two systems -- a water collection system on the Western Slope near the town of Granby, and the distribution system which starts at Estes Park on the east side of the Continental Divide. The project delivers about 220,000 acre-feet of water annually to eight northern Colorado counties; this year Greeley received about 18,000 acre-feet. The amount varies from year-to-year, based on a quota delivery set each April by the board of directors of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Here's another article about Greeley's future needs (along with the South Platte River Basin in general) from The Greeley Tribune. From the article:

About 80 percent of Colorado's surface water supply comes from snow in the Rocky Mountains. When drought conditions ushered in the 21st century, Colorado farmers were hit hardest. And that drought, combined with growth, has put additional stress on water supplies to meet the demands of a steadily increasing population. The two are also putting additional stress on water providers, who take that snowflake and turn it into a drop of water that comes out of a faucet several miles from the mountains. It's not an easy proposition, and it won't get any easier. State officials estimate that in the next 23 years, the population of the South Platte River Basin alone will nearly double. The water demand by the year 2030 is expected to increase by at least 50 percent in the South Platte basin because of population growth, agricultural water needs and an increased focus on recreational and environmental uses...

State Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, conducted a water forum recently and expressed his concern about a growing movement in the state legislature that sees water as more important to recreation than it is for agriculture. There are, he said, members of the legislature want to keep the water in the mountains for river rafting, fishing and other recreational activities. "There are those in the legislature who don't seem to have an idea where their food comes from. As long as the shelves of grocery stores are full, they don't seem to mind where we get that food," Riesberg said. "The U.S. has had a reputation of feeding the world, but today we are a net importer of food." Harold Evans, chairman of the city of Greeley's Water and Sewer Board, has been a representative for the South Platte on the statewide water discussions. He said each of the river basin roundtables have concluded their discussions and findings. Evans said several cities in the South Platte are developing plans to use some water to extinction by recycling water that comes from sewer plants, storing it in gravel pits, then returning it for re-use. Only that water brought to the Eastern Slope from the Western Slope -- with the exception of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project -- can be used to extinction. All other is considered one-use water -- it can be used once, such as for irrigation, but run-off must be returned to the river to be used by another entity downstream. But Evans said plans by Aurora, Parker and even Greeley to use water to extinction throws another hitch into future requirements. "That's going to have a huge impact on future flows in the river and is something that has to be considered in meeting future demands," he said...

Barry Anderson farms near Eaton and is the president of the board of the Larimer & Weld Reservoir & Irrigation Co., a system which provides irrigation water to several thousand acres of land in Larimer and Weld counties. He realizes that agricultural water will be the first source of meeting population growth demands. "How we're going to replace that water is the $64,000 question," Anderson said. "I would hope that additional storage facilities and wet years will help, but the fact remains that cities are buying ag water."

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

8:39:30 AM    

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The Greeley Tribune (free registration required) is advocating for new reservoir storage in Northern Colorado. From the opinion piece:

The future is now. Back in the Depression and drought of the 1930s, there were Greeley visionaries -- folks like Charles Hansen, Delph Carpenter and W.D. Farr, among others -- who recognized that if northern Colorado was to prosper, water was the key. They negotiated, pleaded, threatened and cajoled farmers, businessmen and politicians into developing what became the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest transmountain water diversion project in the state. Its start began in the '30s, but it wasn't until 1957 that the C-BT began delivering water from the Colorado River on the Western Slope to northern Colorado on the east side of the Continental Divide. It was, as W.D. Farr often said, a second Poudre River for northern Colorado. So now, 50 years later, the region faces another crisis -- drought combined with a rapidly growing population. While the economy of the past year or so has slowed, people will not stop moving to Colorado but, instead, continue to stream into the state, to work, to retire, to re-create, to live. The state, recognizing that fact, developed the Statewide Water Supply Initiative shortly after we entered the new century to look at project growth factors, present water supplies and demands, and future water supplies and demands...

...there are five major water projects in the planning stages -- including three by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and one each by the cities of Greeley and Fort Collins. Those projects include the building of three new reservoirs and the expansion of two others, again by Greeley and Fort Collins. But even with those projects on line by 2030, the statewide initiative showed there will still be a void to meet all the demands. So it is imperative that those projects stay on schedule or the region will come up drastically short of supplies needed to maintain the quality of life northern Colorado's residents already enjoy, thanks to the vision of our forefathers. And history has shown that the lack of water supplies has not prevented, or even slowed, growth.

Here's a summary of the Northern Integrated Supply System (NISP) from The Greeley Tribune (free registration required):

* The Glade and Galeton reservoirs are a part of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which was set in motion by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and 16 partners that include towns and cities, as well as water districts/irrigation companies.

* NISP is designed to reduce the amount of water transferred from agriculture in northern Colorado without limiting farmers' rights to sell their water. To do that, traditional water supply infrastructure has been combined with innovative agricultural water-sharing agreements.

* Glade Reservoir, built off the Poudre River as it comes out of the canyon northwest of Fort Collins, will take water from the Poudre that historically been used by farmers for irrigation. In exchange, farmers will get water from the South Platte River, which will be pumped to the Galeton Reservoir from a point east of Greeley.

* The Environmental Impact Statement on NISP is expected to be complete before year's end; construction on Glade could be started by 2010 with completion by 2014. Galeton Reservoir will not be built until the completion of Glade.

Here's an article detailing proposed storage plans for northern Colorado, from The Greeley Tribune (free registration required). From the article:

Many wonder if today's northern Colorado leaders have the vision to ensure enough water to supply so that agriculture and population growth can peacefully co-exist. With increasing pressure from the Denver metropolitan area for water and a prediction of another 2 million people moving into the South Platte River Basin by 2030, meeting future demands will take new storage reservoirs, according to water experts.

Major storage projects on the drawing board or under construction:

* Glade Reservoir, planned for north of Ted's Place, east of the mouth of the Poudre Canyon northwest of Fort Collins, will hold about 170,000 acre-feet.

* Galeton Reservoir, planned for east of Ault just off Colo. 14, will hold about 40,000 acre-feet.

* Chimney Hollow, west of Carter Lake near Loveland, will hold about 90,000 acre-feet.

* Seaman Reservoir, owned by the city of Greeley in the Poudre Canyon, will be expanded from 5,000 acre-feet to 53,000 acre-feet by 2025.

* Halligan Reservoir, owned by the city of Fort Collins in the Poudre Canyon, will be expanded from 6,400 acre-feet to 40,000 acre-feet by 2015.

* Dry Creek Reservoir, built by the Central Weld County Water District and the Little Thompson Water District to meet domestic needs of several towns and cities in Weld and Larimer counties, is in the process of filling. That reservoir, southeast of Carter Lake, will hold about 10,000 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water by 2009.

The Glade and Galeton reservoirs are a part of the Northern Integrated Supply Project through the South Platte Water Conservation Project set in motion by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and 16 partners that include towns and cities, as well as water districts and irrigation companies. NISP, as it is commonly called, is designed to reduce the amount of water transferred from agriculture in northern Colorado without limiting farmers' rights to sell their water. To do that, traditional water supply infrastructure has been combined with innovative agricultural water-sharing agreements.

Chimney Hollow is the major expansion of what is called the Windy Gap Firming Project. Windy Gap, completed in 1985, is located west of the town of Granby. Windy Gap can deliver an average of 48,000 acre-feet of water annually, primarily between April and July. During the spring runoff, Fraser River water is pumped from Windy Gap Reservoir to Lake Granby, where it is stored for delivery through the Colorado-Big Thompson Project facilities to water users on the Front Range. Chimney Hollow will provide an additional storage facility on the East Slope and will take water that has not been available due to a lack of storage in Lake Granby. Project participants include the cities of Broomfield, Evans, Fort Lupton, Greeley, Longmont, Lafayette, Louisville and Loveland; the towns of Erie and Superior; the Central Weld County Water District, the Little Thompson Water District, the Platte River Power Authority and the Middle Park Water Conservancy District. The environmental study on that project, being prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, should be completed by the end of the year, or early 2008, said Jeff Drager, project manager. If everything falls in place, construction would begin in 2010, and the reservoir would be completed by 2013.

Meanwhile, the city of Greeley is investing $36 million to buy 6,000 acre-feet of additional water supplies. The city has adopted annual 1.5 percent increases in water rates for six years to fund that plan, which is about two-thirds complete. Major acquisitions include the Poudre Ponds gravel pits between 23rd and 35th avenues, gravel pits under construction on the upper Poudre near Fort Collins, one-sixth of the Laramie-Poudre tunnel, 7,000 acre feet of storage in the Windy Gap Firming Project, and the purchase of about 20 shares of the Waster Supply and Storage Co. Jon Monson, director of the city's water and sewer department, said the water board also has increased the budget for water conservation almost four-fold the last five years to $495,000 in 2007. And in 2005, Greeley joined with Fort Collins to create the Halligan-Seaman Water Management Project, which is currently in the federal permitting process. That project enlarges the two reservoirs owned by the respective cities in the Poudre Canyon.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.

Category: Colorado Water

8:34:05 AM    

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Here's an update on the proposed Super Ditch for southeastern Colorado from The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

...after big Front Range water districts dried up about 60,000 acres of southeastern Colorado farmland in the 1970s and 1980s by buying agricultural water rights, even cash-strapped farmers have been loath to give up claims to the lifeblood of their land. Government leaders have taken a defensive posture against any more "buy-and-dries,' and some have even worked to keep Colorado Springs and Aurora from using water to which they have rights. It is somewhat peculiar, then, to see the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which includes much of the once-fertile dust bowls, work feverishly on a program that would send water north to places such as the Springs and Monument. But this time, farmers would get to keep cash and the water rights. Under the plan known as Super Ditch, farmers could keep part of their fields dry each year, rotate unplanted areas annually and lease out the portion of their water allotment that they would have poured upon the fallowed land. Property owners from throughout the southeastern part of the state would pool their water into eight ditches and would contract yearly allotments to cities or water authorities needing more.

Lower Arkansas officials, who are leading the effort, hope to have enough infrastructure and contracts together to apply for change-of-use permits in water court by early next year. If so, it could lead to the first such ditch company in Colorado and could establish a symbiotic relationship between formerly antagonistic urban and rural interests. "Basically, we're creating a new crop: water," said Peter Nichols, water attorney for the Lower Arkansas. "The shareholders would realize the appreciating value of water."[...]

Nichols proposed the idea that the farmers who agree to become a part of Super Ditch allow 25 percent of their land to lie fallow annually. In return, proponents say, they will get guaranteed income in lieu of the uncertainties that come with growing and harvesting crops on that land. Without the pressure of having to make every inch of land produce, some farmers could start growing more experimental cash crops, which would require an investment in the farm businesses in the community, Colorado Farm Bureau President Alan Foutz said. They also would be likely to spend more money on restaurants or entertainment, also an economic boost. The demand for water would be highest in dry years when cities must replenish their reservoirs. Those same dry years are when farmers would benefit most by allowing some land to lie fallow, Lower Arkansas general manager Jay Winner said. Some water companies, like Colorado Springs Utilities, are unlikely to need water from the ditch every year but could purchase when it sees shortages, Utilities water manager Gary Bostrom said. Utilities has a water supply expected to cover city growth at least through 2040. But regions such as northern El Paso County, which subsist mainly on nonrenewable ground water, could look to Super Ditch to not just supplement their current water supply, but to replace it. Gary Barber, manager of the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority, which serves most of the northern area, said his group may be able to end its long search for a permanent water source if Super Ditch could construct a pipeline to get the water to the area...

Although Super Ditch would be the first major project of its kind in the state, small-scale fallowing and water leasing has occurred. The High Line Canal Company contracted with Aurora, which has long been seen as an enemy of the southeastern area, and both sides have reported benefits. A more relevant comparison might be to Palo Verde Irrigation District in Southern California, which began a program in 2004 in which farmers can sign up to fallow as much as 25 percent of their land a year while metro areas declare a year in advance how much water they will buy. Ed Smith, general manager of the irrigation district, said land value has increased and farmers' incomes have become more stable...

One practical problem could be the question of permanency of the water supply for cities and counties that need it every year. Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works, said he has asked Lower Arkansas officials to clear up that concern, possibly by agreeing to long-term contracts. Most importantly, proponents say, the loss of irrigated farmland that has marked the area for seven decades could slow to a trickle if economic pressure is taken out of the picture.

Here's an opinion piece from The Pueblo Chieftain detailing some of the possible problems with the Super Ditch. They write:

Lower Ark District Chairman John Singletary has stated in the past there are enough users in this river basin to pay for the leased water. But the real fear is that the leased water would end up leaving this basin. The maxim in Colorado is that water flows uphill to money. And areas like Aurora and Douglas County are wealthy enough to outbid potential customers in this basin. To move the irrigation water up north, the most logical answer would be for a series of exchanges from the Lower Valley to the Otero Pumping Station near Buena Vista, where it could be siphoned into the South Platte River. That, of course, would mean less water flowing down the Arkansas below the Otero Station. The results would be lower quality of water in the river - the solution to pollution is dilution - and diminished flows through the fabled white water rafting and kayaking reaches of the Upper Arkansas River. Those activities are major contributors to that area's economy.

So, the final plan for a Super Ditch would have to preclude any out-of-basin leases, no more exchanges in the Upper Ark, and protections for the economy of the Lower Ark Valley [ed. Emphasis ours]. The latter depends heavily on agriculture, and so sending water out of basin would harm the economy of townsfolk in the area. We hope the Lower Ark District also will support the proposal by Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., for a comprehensive study of the cumulative effects that past and future water deals will have on the river and its people. We can no longer do business as usual when it comes to water in Colorado.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

8:23:49 AM    

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According to The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (free registration required), recycling produced water is catching on in oil and gas operations. From the article:

Williams Production recycles all of the water it produces during drilling and gas production, Dave Cesark, an environmental specialist for the company, said at the Colorado River District's annual water seminar in Grand Junction Friday. "We take water very seriously at Williams. We do our best to conserve water, to recycle it and to minimize our fresh-water use," Cesark said. David Grisso, an operations field leader with EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), said the company expects to recycle a total of about 8.5 million barrels of produced water in its Piceance Basin operations this year. Water is injected into a well to fracture it to increase production, then brought back up for fracturing in a different well. "If I can use produced water to 'frac' with, I don't need river water, fresh water," Grisso said...

The 9 million barrels of water that it produces annually - 378 million gallons - would be enough to irrigate only about 350 acres of alfalfa, he said. Williams is putting the water to another beneficial use by using it for fracturing in lieu of using fresh water, he said. EnCana injects some produced water into deep wells for disposal but hopes to end that practice. Williams does no disposal injections. Grisso said EnCana holds a temporary permit to release treated, produced water into the Colorado River, where it would become a resource for the state, but the company has never done that. It costs about 60 cents a barrel to inject water underground, and would cost more than $2 a barrel to clean it enough to put it into the river, he said. Both companies treat produced water before reusing it. And they are increasingly using pipelines rather than trucks to transport the water to well pads for fracturing. Grisso said that practice has cut truck traffic or in some cases eliminated it altogether. Cesark said one 66-well project it developed included a closed-loop piping system to a treatment center and back that did away with 12,500 truck trips. The company is able to do remote fracturing from more than a mile away from a well, "so we don't have to transport tanks and water back and forth," he said. Eliminating the need for on-site fracturing fluid tanks also enables Williams to build smaller well pads, which reduces the surface impact of drilling, he said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

8:12:29 AM    

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