Time:01:03 PM to 04:45 PM
Place:Steamboat Springs, CO
This Meeting was called to order by
Representative Sonnenberg
This Report was prepared by
David Beaujon
X = Present, E = Excused, A = Absent, * = Present after roll call
Bills Addressed: Action Taken:
South Platte River Hydrology and Administration
Rio Grande Water Conservation District Subdistrict
Division of Water Resources Budget
Water Diversion Structure Survey
Study of Green River Diversions
USBOR Colorado River Basin Study
Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission
Colorado River Cooperative Agreement
Public Testimony
Briefing only
Briefing only
Briefing only
Briefing only
Briefing only
Briefing only
Briefing only
Briefing only
Briefing only

01:03 PM

Representative Sonnenberg, chairman of the committee, called the meeting to order. A quorum was present.

01:04 PM -- South Platte River Hydrology and Administration

Jim Yahn, Manager, North Sterling and Prewitt Reservoirs, and Chairman of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, introduced himself and provided an overview of the presentation concerning the history and mechanics of the South Platte Basin (Attachment A).

Attachment A.pdf

01:07 PM

Jo Frank, Executive Director, Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, described the settlement and development of the South Platte River Basin (Attachment A). He explained that the earliest diversions from the river were for mining, agriculture, and municipal purposes and he described the development of the doctrine of prior appropriation that regulates water diversions from the South Platte River and other Colorado streams.

01:11 PM

Mr. Yahn described the development of direct flow water rights in the South Platte Basin and the development of reservoirs to store surplus water for use during water shortages. He explained that the basin receives approximately 1.4 million acre-feet (AF) of water annually from rain and snow. It also receives approximately 400,000 AF annually from the Colorado River Basin, called transbasin diversions. He also described the development of groundwater resources in the basin that started in the 1950's in response to a drought, rural electric needs, and improved well pumping technology.

1:19 PM

Mr. Frank identified historic studies of water resources in the South Platte Basin that document increased return flows related to water diversions. As a result of these return flows, seasonal surface flows have been increasing in the river. He also described the history of interstate water conflicts and the development of the South Platte River Compact that allocates water between Colorado and Nebraska.

1:29 PM

Mr. Yahn described the history of groundwater pumping regulations, which began in 1953 with the enactment of the Underground Water Act. He also described how water augmentation helps prevent injury to senior water rights by replacing water depletions caused by ground water diversions. Mr. Yahn also discussed recent litigation that determined that the water courts have exclusive authority to approve out-of-priority depletions. This litigation also determined that the State Engineer does not have the authority to approve augmentation plans.

1:32 PM

Mr. Yahn responded to questions from the committee about the effect of historic groundwater use on return flows in the South Platte River Basin.

01:35 PM -- Rio Grande Water Conservation District Subdistrict

Representative Sonnenberg announced that several individuals from the San Luis Valley submitted a letter of concern about the Rio Grande Water Conservation District Subdistrict 1 and its ability to protect other water users in the Rio Grande Basin (Attachment B).

Attachment B.pdf

01:36 PM

Steve Vandiver, General Manager, Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD), described recent legislation concerning ground water management in the Rio Grande Basin (Attachment C). Specifically, House Bill 98-1011 required that new wells in Water Division 3 (Rio Grande Basin) that affect the rate or direction of movement of water in the confined aquifer be permitted pursuant to a judicially approved plan for augmentation. It authorized the State Engineer to promulgate these rules based upon a specific study of the confined aquifer system. It also mandated that the rules permit the development of water resources in a manner that will protect Colorado's ability to meet its interstate compact obligations and to prevent injury to senior appropriators. House Bill 98-1189 appropriated moneys from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to conduct ground water studies in the basin and develop the Rio Grande Decisions Support System to help with the administration of water rights in the basin. Senate Bill 04-222 required the State Engineer to manage the use of groundwater consistent with the prevention material injury to senior surface water rights in the basin. It also requires the State Engineer to:

Attachment C.pdf

01:43 PM

Mr. Vandiver described the formation of Subdistrict 1 of the RGWCD including the adjudication of the subdistrict's groundwater management plan that was approved by the Colorado Supreme Court on December 19, 2011. He explained that subdistrict was formed to reduce groundwater depletions. It is authorized to collect an administrative fee of up to five dollars per acre to fund operations, a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) fee of up to twelve dollars per acre, and a variable fee of up to seventy-five dollars per acre foot of water used minus the water the user recharged to the aquifer. Revenue from the fees are used to purchase water to protect senior water rights and a fallowing program to reduce groundwater withdrawals. Mr. Vandiver identified crops that are grown in the subdistrict including potatoes and alfalfa. He also responded to a letter submitted to the Water Resources Review Committee expressing concern about Subdistrict 1 and its ability to protect other water users in the Rio Grande Basin (Attachment B).

1:54 PM

David Robbins, General Counsel, RGWCD, explained that the RGWCD Act authorized the formation of subdistricts to benefit a specific area within the district. He explained that the law requires approval of affected landowners of the proposed groundwater management plan. The plan must also be approved by the State Engineer and the Water Court. He explained how the hydrology of the Rio Grande Basin creates challenges to administering water rights and explained how the RGWCD plans to reduce 40,000 acres of irrigated crop lands to help stabilize groundwater levels in the basing. Mr. Robbins also commented on the letter submitted to the WRRC expressing concern Subdistrict 1 and its ability to protect other water users in the Rio Grande Basin. He also described the implementation of the State Engineers ground water rules for Water Division 3.

2:11 PM

Travis Smith, Superintendent, San Luis Valley Irrigation District, member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Interbasin Compact Committee, described efforts to reduce impacts on surface water rights from ground water use including the formation of subdistricts, well metering, and other measures.

2:16 PM

Mr. Robbins responded to question from the committee about the basis for the subdistrict fees to obtain augmentation water from willing sellers.

2:24 PM

Mr. Vandiver described efforts to prevent wind erosion on lands fallowed under the subdistrict ground water management plan. Mr. Robbins responded to questions from the committee about use of replacement water to reduce depletions of the surface streams and he explained how the land fallowing program will help reduce draws on the aquifers.

2:36 PM

Mr. Vandiver and Mr. Robbins described factors used to determine the amount of water that must be replaced by the subdistrict to protect surface water rights.

02:40 PM -- Division of Water Resources Budget

Dick Wolfe, State Engineer, Director of the Division of Water Resources (DWR), provided an overview of the division's budget and how its changed since FY 2007-08. He explained that 98 percent of the division's budget is paid for by the General Fund and 2 percent of its budget is from well permits and other fees. Due to recent economic problems, the divisions budget has been reduced by approximately $1 million since FY 2007-08 which has resulted in a permanent loss of 5 full time employees and required that 28 positions remain vacant. The budget cuts have also required the division to reassign staff duties, reduce the use of overtime pay, and decrease the number of temporary staff hired to address seasonal workload increases. He also described the effect of reduced retirements on the division's budget, and identified technology improvements that have enabled the division to increase productivity, including: remote monitoring of diversions and stream gauges, improved water administration models, and better risk assessment for dam inspections. The division has also reduced training and attendance at meetings and conferences to save money.

03:00 PM

Mr. Wolfe responded to questions from the committee about the availability of federal moneys for dam inspections and other programs. He also identified long term trends affecting the DWR work load and budget needs including climate change, population growth, and changes of water rights.

03:08 PM -- Water Diversion Structure Survey

Dick Wolfe, State Engineer, Director of the Division of Water Resources, described the division's program to use the global positioning system (GPS) to locate water diversion structures such as head gates and wells. The initial results of the survey identified a discrepancy between the decreed locations and the actual location of several structures. He explained that a law passed in 2012 (Senate Bill 12-097) helped address this problem. This law creates a simplified procedure for applications to change a surface water point of diversion. Under current law, all changes of water rights, including changes in points of diversion, must be adjudicated. The law allows surface point of diversion changes to be made under a simplified procedure if:

The law provides for the presumption that the change will not result in a greater amount of water decreed under the water right, however, this presumption may still be challenged in court.

03:15 PM -- Study of Green River Diversions

Gary Barber, Chair, Arkansas River Basin Roundtable, described efforts to identify water supply projects to address future water demands in the Arkansas River Basin including a diversion from the Green River Basin (Attachment D). The Basin Roundtable Project Exploration Committee was formed to explore interests and issues related to a possible Flaming Gorge water supply project. He identified issues considered by the committee and

discussed future committee activities. He also responded to questions from the committee about how water diversions from the Green River would be regulated under the Colorado River Basin Compact, which allocates water in the Colorado River between upper basin and lower basin states.

Attachment D.pdf

03:27 PM -- U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Colorado River Basin Study

Jennifer Gimbel, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board, described the use of the Colorado River Basin by Colorado and other river basin states, tribes, and Mexico. She explained that the Bureau of Reclamation is conducting the Colorado River Basin Study in cooperation with the seven Colorado River Basin states. The purpose of the study is to assess water demands and develop options and strategies to address water demands in the basin. The study is expected to be completed by October 1, 2012. She also responded to questions from the committee about how climate change is being considered by the study.

03:38 PM -- Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission

Senator Ellen Roberts, Chair of the Lower North Fork Wildfire Commission, described the activities and charge of the North Fork Wildfire Commission that was created by House Bill 12-1352. She explained that the threat of catastrophic wildfires is expected to continue after the end of the current drought due to beetle kill and population growth in the wild land urban interface. She recommended that the Colorado General Assembly consider authorizing an ongoing interim committee to consider responses to the wild land fires and to extend the repeal of the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority program concerning bonds to pay for fuels management projects to protect watershed areas and water collection systems. She identified potential obstacles to fire mitigation efforts including public opposition to controlled burns and air quality regulations. She also identified issues that may be considered by the commission prior to making its final report to the General Assembly at the end of 2012.

04:03 PM -- Colorado River Cooperative Agreement

Chris Treese, External Affairs Manager, Colorado River Water Conservation District (CRWCD), described the implementation of the Blue River decree and related litigation that regulates how water from the Blue River in western Colorado is diverted by Denver Water, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and other water users in the Colorado River Basin. He explained that the 2002 drought lead Denver Water to seek to expand Gross Reservoir and the Moffat Collection System to increase the reliability of it water supply system. Colorado River water interests requested that Denver Water develop a basin wide mitigation plan to address Denver Water's supply needs. Over the next five years, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA) was developed to address Denver Water's long term water needs.

04:05 PM

Chris Piper, Denver Water, described the provisions of the CRCA that help determine what water is available for use by Denver and where that water may be used. Specifically, the agreement helps settle the Blue River Decree and provides support for Denver Water's proposed Moffat Collection System expansion. It also defines Denver Water service area boundaries and authorizes the water infrastructure supply efficiency (WISE) project that would allow the delivery of Denver Water's reusable water supply to south metro water supply entities located outside of Denver Water's service area boundaries.

04:09 PM

Mr. Trees identified provisions of the CRCA that benefit the Colorado River Basin including additional water supplies for environmental purposes, snow making, and water to dilute waste water discharges. Denver Water also agrees to manage Denver Water resources for the benefit of recreation and local communities, according to the CRCA. Mr. Treese explained that the CRCA must be signed by all parties to take effect. Denver Water and the CRWCD are currently working with remaining parties to obtain their agreement. The final agreement is expected to be ratified at the October 2012 CRWCD Board meeting. He also described efforts to address administration of the water right for the Shoshone Hydropower Plant on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.

04:25 PM

Mr. Treese responded to questions from the committee about water diversions in the Colorado River Basin when the Shoshone Hydropower Plant is not diverting water and discussed the effect of the CRCA on future transbasin diversions. Mr. Piper responded to questions from the committee about the ability of Denver Water to meet its long term water supply needs under the terms of the CRCA. He also discussed the potential impact of the CRCA on agricultural water rights in the South Platte River Basin if Denver Water is unable to acquire additional west slope water to address future water demands.

04:42 PM -- Public Testimony

Michael Brod, Executive Director, Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, provided an update on the construction of the Long Hollow Reservoir in the La Plata River Basin in southwest Colorado. This project was funded, in part, by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority

04:43 PM

Representative Fischer invited members of the Water Resources Review Committee to attend a tour of the South Platte River Basin that is hosted by the Colorado Agriculture Water Alliance on September 10.

04:45 PM

The meeting adjourned