The reserve sluice at Chatfield reservoir
According to a Denver Post examination, Colorado could increase its water storage capacity by the equivalent of four Chatfield Reservoir’s if the state’s water project funds were adequate. Many dams in the state are far from full capacity, limited by safety concerns from the Department of Natural Resources. The department says it lacks the funds to repair existing dams that have been deemed unsafe.
Over the last five years the state loaned $80.5 million to landowners to help rehabilitate 35 dams. But since 2009, lawmakers have siphoned off $120 million from the states water project fund to help close the budget gap.
Lawmakers this year alone attempted to take another $10 million from the fund, but Rep. John Becker (R- Ft. Morgan) told members at the CFB Legislative Conference that he was able to block the joint budget committee from taking the full amount. Thanks to his efforts, the JBC only raided $5 million from the fund.
All of this comes at a time when water managers across the state are looking for ways to increase water storage capacity in the face of a growing population. Repairing existing dams requires much less money and does not require the long regulatory approval process that is necessary to build new dams.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board released Wednesday its Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) 2010 report. The SWSI report finds that if water use follows current trends, large supplies will inevitably be shifted away from agricultural uses, resulting in significant loss of farmlands, economic damage to the state’s agricultural regions and potential environmental harm. The report concludes that between 500,000 and 700,000 irrigated acres could be dried up by 2050.
The report as well as a summary of key findings is available at the Colorado Water Conservation Board website.
Charlie Bartlett, Merino area farmer and current board member of the Colorado Corn Administrative Committee, was recently elected Chair of the Colorado Ag Water Alliance (CAWA). John Stencel, former president of Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union, was elected Vice-Chair. Both will serve a one-year term.
The CAWA is unique in that its membership is comprised of producers and executives of agricultural organizations who are committed to the preservation of irrigated agriculture, spanning all watersheds, and most agricultural sectors in Colorado.
When asked about his involvement Bartlett responded, “I’m excited to help educate people about water usage in Colorado. CAWA is an organization that represents all facets of agriculture. It provides and promotes a cooperative venue for industrial, municipal, and agricultural water users to come together in order to protect this important natural resource.”
According to Bill Jackson at the Greeley Tribune
While the state “needs serious conservation” efforts, the needs of agriculture also have to be met when it comes to water, Hickenlooper told a crowd of close to 200 at the 2010 Colorado Ag Classic at the Embassy Suites in Loveland.
The soon-to-be governor was asked where he stands on the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project, which includes a new reservoir northwest of Fort Collins that would supply 40,000 acre-feet of water annually to 15 water providers in Larimer and Weld counties.
“I have seen a presentation, and I think I’m inclined to support it. But I want to see the results of the environmental study first,” Hickenlooper said.
Takeaway? Hickenlooper is learning about water. While he still touted Denver’s conservation efforts during his tenure, he now realizes that what is good for cities is not always good for agricultural users. We hope the Hickenlooper team continues to leverage Ag groups as they learn more about water and other rural issues.
The Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Wyoming
A veteran Colorado engineer said last week that entrepreneur Aaron Million’s hopes to move 250,000 acre feet of water from the Flaming Gorge to Colorado’s thirsty Front Range are dubious at best. According to estimates, if the pipeline is approved, municipal and other entities in southwest Wyoming and western Colorado that rely on the Green River may not have enough water to meet their future recreation, tourism and industrial growth needs.
“There’s just no water for Million for this project,” Colorado River Water Conservation District General Manager Eric Kuhn told members of a local group opposing the pipeline project.
Million estimates that high-alpine glaciers in Wyoming’s Wind River Range pour about 1.18 million acre feet of water into the Flaming Gorge Reservoir via the Green River each year. But records show in the past two decades that inflows have only averaged about 970,000 acre feet of water into the popular lake.
Farmers and ranchers would face burdensome federal regulatory control if provisions of a restrictive Senate water bill make it through the “lame duck” session of Congress, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
AFBF and a coalition of other groups are vowing to oppose any effort to attach the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act (S. 1816) to any bill that might be addressed during the lame duck session.
“While carrying a title that suggests it is limited in scope, provisions of this bill would have drastic negative impacts on agriculture,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “The bill makes sweeping changes to the Clean Water Act and sets adverse water policy precedents that would impact watersheds throughout the nation.”
According to Stallman, the bill strips state and local governments within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed of their authority under the Clean Water Act and grants it instead to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Bigger federal government and expanded federal authority is not in the best interest of our nation,” Stallman said. “By granting EPA the authority to issue what are called Total Maximum Daily Loads without allowing states the opportunity to address water issues, this bill would give EPA greater control over land-use decisions that should be made at the local level.”