STAFF SUMMARY OF MEETING
WATER RESOURCES REVIEW COMMITTEE
|Time:||10:05 AM to 06:14 PM|
|This Meeting was called to order by|
|This Report was prepared by|
X = Present, E = Excused, A = Absent, * = Present after roll call
|Bills Addressed: ||Action Taken:|
|Water Administration and Water Conservation|
Agriculture Water Efficiency and Conservation
Arkansas River Irrigation Improvement Rules
OLLS Legal Opinion on USFS Directive
Update on USFS Water Rights Directive
Public Testimony on USFS Ski Area Policy
Regulation of San Luis Valley Groundwater
Formation of Subdistrict 1 of RGWCD
Concerned San Luis Valley Residents
10:13 AM -- Water Administration and Water Conservation
Kevin Rein, Deputy State Engineer, Division of Water Resources, discussed Colorado water law concerning water efficiency and conservation (Attachment A). Under Colorado water law, a water right is a right to divert water for irrigation or other legally recognized beneficial purpose. Beneficial use is defined in statute as the use of that amount of water that is reasonable and appropriate under reasonably efficient practices to accomplish without waste the purpose for which the appropriation is lawfully made. The measure of a water right is its historical consumptive use. Mr. Rein explained that water "efficiency" is the ratio of water consumed by a specific beneficial use to the amount of water that must be diverted to achieve the beneficial use. He identified efficiency measures in agriculture, such as lining an irrigation ditch or switching from flood to sprinkler irrigation, and explained how such measures can affect return flows to a stream. Water not diverted due to efficiency improvements becomes available to water users of the state to be beneficially used in accordance with the priority system. Increased efficiency may affect the amount of water that needs to be diverted. Mr. Rein explained how water conservation differs from water efficiency. Specifically, water conservation is the effort to modify the use of water, with the primary objective and result being a reduction in the amount of water consumed or taken out of the hydrologic cycle. Conservation measures include reducing the area of land irrigated or the retirement of certain types of sprinklers.
Under Colorado water law, a water right is presumed to be abandoned if all or a portion of the water right is not exercised for a consecutive 10-year period. Mr. Rein explained how water conservation measures may result in abandonment if the nonuse of the water right is not the result of participation in a state recognized conservation program or land fallowing program. He also responded to questions from the committee about changes in irrigation practices and how these changes can affect return flows, other water users, and interstate water deliveries.
10:39 AM -- Agriculture Water Efficiency and Conservation
Carlyle Currier, Colorado Ag Water Alliance, explained that a dialogue between agriculture water users and conservation organizations led to the development of the Reduced Diversion Guidelines (Attachment B). He explained how changes in certain irrigation practices may reduce the need to divert water from a stream and how such changes may benefit the environment and the irrigators. However, some irrigators may be reluctant to take such action because of concerns that they may lose part of their water right through abandonment. Under Colorado Water law, a water right owner may lose that right, in whole or part, if they stop diverting water for ten consecutive years. Water rights are declared abandoned through a water court proceeding.
Russell Schnitzer, Agriculture Policy Advisor, Colorado Trout Unlimited, described the importance of irrigated agriculture to Colorado's economy and environment and discussed the threat of abandonment and how it can affect the willingness of irrigators to reduce diversions through irrigation system improvements. He explained that the reduced diversion guidelines are meant to guide legislation instead of promote a specific legislative outcome and he identified western river systems that provide opportunities to increase water conservation.
Peter Nichols, representing himself, discussed Colorado's water supply challenges and described the effect of municipal diversions by certain western Colorado communities on the environment. He explained that the reduced diversion guidelines may help guide policies to address impacts related to these municipal diversions.
Doug Kemper, Executive Director, Colorado Water Congress (CWC), discussed the activities of the CWC State Affairs Committee and its subcommittee to examine agriculture water conservation measures. He also identified concerns of some water users about policies to promote increased conservation and identified other issues of concern to Colorado's water community including the development of the Colorado water plan and recent flood impacts to water infrastructure.
The panel responded to questions from the committee about injury to other water users related to changes in water diversions and the need for legislation to further define injury.
Chris Treese, Colorado River Water Conservation District, responded to questions from the committee about litigation concerning conditional water rights owned by the Colorado River Water Conservation District to address stream flows in the Crystal River.
Mr. Nichols responded to questions from the committee about the need to consider legislation to clarify injury and the implementation of Senate Bill 13-019.
Mr. Schnitzer responded to questions from the committee about provisions of the reduced diversion guidelines concerning mandatory reporting requirements to evaluate the effectiveness of the policies to implement the guidelines.
Mr. Currier responded to questions from the committee about the effect of reduced diversion on a water right and the risk of abandonment.
Chris Treese provided an update on the implementation of Senate Bill 13-19 (Attachment C).
11:28 AM -- Arkansas River Irrigation Improvement Rules
Dick Wolfe, State Engineer, provided an overview of the Irrigation Improvement Rules for the Arkansas River Basin and discussed the role of the Division of Water Resources in ensuring that Colorado complies with its interstate water delivery obligations under water compacts.
Bill Tyner, Assistant Division Engineer, Division of Water Resources, discussed the regulation of water use in the Arkansas River Basin and recent interstate litigation concerning Colorado's use of water from the Arkansas River Basin (Attachment D). He also discussed the effect of snow melt and transbasin diversions on streamflows in the Arkansas River Basin and identified major water diversions in the basin for irrigation and municipal uses. He also discussed Colorado's water delivery obligations to Kansas under the Arkansas River Compact and lawsuit between Colorado and Kansas concerning Colorado's overuse of the river.
Mr. Tyner described the model that is used to determine how much groundwater pumping is allowed in Colorado under the Arkansas River Compact and explained how the Irrigation Improvement Rules seek to allow improvements to the efficiency of irrigation systems while ensuring compliance with the Arkansas River Compact. Mr. Tyner also discussed changes in irrigation practices in the Arkansas River and the effect of the rules on farmers in the basin. He also discussed the regulation of small ponds used to temporarily hold water prior to use in drip irrigation systems.
Dale Mauch, representing himself, discussed the impact of the Irrigation Improvement Rules on his farm and the need for irrigation ponds. He also discussed return flows from his irrigation ponds and how they benefit stream flows.
Don McBee, representing himself, discussed the impact of the Irrigation Improvement Rules on his farm and the need for irrigation ponds (Attachment E).
Mr. Wolfe responded to questions from the committee about the Irrigation Improvement Rules and objectors to the water court case related to these rules. He also discussed enforcement action taken by his office to address out-of-priority diversions into ponds used for irrigation.
The committee recessed.The committee returned to order.
01:42 PM -- OLLS Legal Opinion on USFS Directive
Tom Morris, Office of Legislative Legal Services, discussed a 2013 legal opinion concerning HB 13-1013 and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) ski area permit terms (Attachment F). He explained that a 2012 USFS ski area permit directive sought to limit the alienability of certain ski area water rights and requires the transfer of those water rights to the United States without compensation upon termination of the permit. HB 13-1013, postponed indefinitely, would have prevented, as a condition of granting a special use permit, a landowner from requiring that the owner of a water right assign to the landowner ownership of the water right or limit the alienability of the water right. Mr. Morris' legal opinion examines whether state law or federal law determine if the federal permit condition is lawful.
Mr. Morris responded to questions from the committee regarding the authority of the federal government under federal law to impose restrictions such as those specified in the 2012 directive and other issues.
02:17 PM -- Update on USFS Water Rights Directive
Jim Pena, Associate Deputy Chief, National Headquarters, USFS, discussed use of USFS lands in Colorado and other states for ski areas and associated economic benefits from these developments (Attachment G). He explained that the USFS is developing a water rights directive for ski areas to ensure that the ski areas remain viable on USFS lands and to ensure that sufficient water remains available for permitted uses. He identified states that require water to remain with state owned lands including Colorado. He also discussed federal law that allows the USFS to issue permit clauses that determine how permittees may use USFS lands and related facilities.
Mr. Pena discussed the drafting process for the proposed water rights directive and the opportunity for the public to comment on the draft directive. He responded to questions from the committee about alternatives to meet the USFS objectives including purchasing the water rights from permitees. He also discussed federal forest management policies and efforts to improve watersheds on federal lands.
02:59 PM -- Public Testimony on USFS Ski Area Policy
Mike Dudick, Colorado Association of Ski Towns (CAST), explained that his organization has not endorsed a position on the USFS ski area directive and discussed the importance of ski areas to local economics (Attachment H). He also distributed comments of the Summit County Board of Commissioners to the USFS concerning the water rights clause in ski area permits (Attachment I).
David Corbin, Aspen Skiing Company, National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), and Colorado Ski County USA, discussed the importance of water rights to ski area operations and the need to protect these rights from federal actions (Attachment J). He also identified water rights owned by the Aspen Skiing Company, explained why ski areas are unlikely to dispose of ski area owned water rights, and expressed concern about the effect of USFS policy on the value of the ski area water rights. He also proposed policies to address the USFS objectives to ensure that availability of water for ski areas.
Doug Allen, Vice President of Mountain Operations, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corporation, discussed water rights owned by his ski area for snow making and other purposes and he described the value of these water rights to the ski area and the greater Steamboat Springs area (Attachment K).
Jon Monson, Director, Greeley Water and Sewer Department, discussed water rights owned by Greeley that are obtained from USFS lands and expressed concern about USFS policies that may affect these rights.
03:24 PM -- Regulation of San Luis Valley Groundwater
Dick Wolfe, State Engineer, discussed the regulation of ground water use in the San Luis Valley (Attachment L). He described the history of water development in the San Luis Valley and the interstate water litigation concerning Colorado's water delivery obligation under interstate compacts. He discussed the role of the Closed Basin Project and efforts by the Division of Water Resources to regulate ground water pumping as required by Senate Bill 04-222 and Division of Water Resources regulations. Senate Bill 04-222 required the State Engineer to manage the use of groundwater consistent with the prevention of material injury to senior surface water rights in the basin. It also requires the State Engineer to:
- maintain a sustainable ground water supply;
- preserve the state's ability to comply with the Rio Grande compact;
- adopt rules that recognize valid existing contractual arrangements between water users;
- establish an irrigation season for the Rio Grande basin;
- not credit the eradication of phreatophyes as a source of replacement water; and
- not require surface water right holders to divert using wells.
Mr. Wolfe discussed the groundwater model that the Division of Water Resources is developing to assist with the regulation of groundwater pumping and described the development of subdistricts of the Rio Grande Water Conservation Districts to manage groundwater depletions. He responded to questions from the committee about the implementation of groundwater pumping regulations and measures to address impacts to senior water rights related to out-of-priority pumping. He also discussed the development of the Rio Grande Decision Support System and the implementation of ground water rules.
Mike Sullivan, Division of Water Resources, discussed the development of the Rio Grande Decision Support System and the implementation of the Water Division 3 ground water rules.
04:13 PM -- Formation of Subdistrict 1 of RGWCD
David Robbins, General Counsel for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) and Subdistrict 1 of the RGWCD, introduced the members of the panel discussing the formation of Subdistrict 1.
Mike Mitchell, Board of Managers for Subdistrict 1 of the RGWCD, explained that he represents surface water users on the subdistrict's board and he discussed the formation of the subdistrict. Subdistrict 1 was recognized as a legal entity in 2006 and formed in order to take action and help restore a balance between available water supplies and current levels of water use so that the San Luis Valley can continue to remain a sustainable agricultural community. He explained that the district set fees for ground water pumping to generate revenue to pay for irrigated land retirement to help balance groundwater withdrawals.
Sheldon Rockey, San Luis Valley Irrigation District, Board of Managers for Subdistrict 1 of the RGWCD, explained that the irrigation district supports the development of the subdistricts to manage groundwater withdrawals and he discussed the roll of land fallowing to reduce groundwater pumping. He also discussed water obtained by the subdistrict to offset impacts to senior water users and identified changes in agricultural practices that reduce the need for groundwater pumping.
Dee Greeman, Chair of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, described the development of groundwater models to assist with the regulation of groundwater pumping and discussed the effect of fees assessed on groundwater pumping in Subdistrict 1.
George Whitten, President, Rio Grande Water Conservation District, described the formation of Subdistrict 1 and explained how it will help reduce impacts on water resources.
Steve Vandiver, General Manager, Rio Grande Water Conservation District, described the formation of Subdistrict 1 and how it will help reduce impacts on water resources (Attachment M). He also discussed the Closed Basin Project and explained how its pumping rates are adjusted based on aquifer conditions. He discussed the use of aquifers in the San Luis Valley to store water and the use of wells to divert this water for irrigation and other purposes. He also described water court litigation concerning the formation of the subdistricts.
Mr. Robbins described the regulation of wells to protect other water users from injury from ground water pumping. He also explained how the subdistricts will help reduce groundwater depletions and protect senior water rights.
Greg Higel, Rio Grande Water Users Association, described how the subdistricts provide water to offset groundwater depletions.
05:02 PM -- Concerned San Luis Valley Residents
Ed Nielsen, representing himself, expressed concern about the regulation of groundwater pumping in the San Luis Valley and the effect on his senior surface water rights (Attachment N). He urged the Governor to appoint a special master to oversee groundwater use in the San Luis Valley.
Tom McCracken, Green Earth, Inc., expressed concern about the regulation of groundwater pumping in the San Luis Valley and the effect of this pumping on his senior surface water rights and the environment (Attachment O).
John Werner, Saguache Creek Water Users Association, expressed concern about the regulation of groundwater pumping in the San Luis Valley and its effect on his senior surface water rights. He expressed concern about well pumping by a farm that boarders his farm and its effect on crop an livestock production. He urged the state engineer to enforce the doctrine of prior appropriation.
Tim Lovato, representing himself, expressed concern about the regulation of groundwater pumping near Saguache Creek and the effect on his senior surface water rights (Attachment P). He urged the Governor to appoint a special master to oversee groundwater use in the San Luis Valley and requested the repeal of SB 04-222 concerning the State Engineer's authority to regulate groundwater pumping in Water Division 3 (the Rio Grande Basin).
Martin Shellabarger, representing himself, expressed concern about the regulation of groundwater pumping in the San Luis Valley and the effect on his senior surface water rights and the environment. He urged the state engineer to enforce the doctrine of prior appropriation and requested that SB 04-222 be repealed.
Peggy Godfrey, representing herself, expressed concern about the regulation of groundwater pumping in the San Luis Valley and the effect on her senior surface water rights and the environment (Attachment Q). She urged the State Engineer to enforce the doctrine of prior appropriation. She also discussed role of groundwater pumping on fluctuations in ground water levels in the basin and expressed concern about the impact of the Closed Basin Project on groundwater levels and the environment. She requested that SB 04-222 be repealed and that the State of Colorado pay for an independent water study to examine the impact of groundwater pumping on streams and downstream states.
Richard Mehren, Conejos Water Conservancy District, spoke in support of the formation of the subdistricts of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District to address impacts of groundwater pumping on surface streams.
Bill Padock, Rio Grande Water Users Association, described the history of groundwater pumping regulation in the San Luis Valley and described the role of the Closed Basin Project.
Lawrence Gallegos, Rio Grande Water Conservation District, expressed concern about declines in groundwater levels in the San Luis Valley and requested that the Water Resources Review Committee authorize a work group to propose amendments to SB 04-222 to ensure the stability of aquifer levels.
Cory Off, Senior Water Users of the Rio Grande, expressed concern about depletions to streams caused by ground water pumping and urged the committee to ensure that the impact from these depletions is addressed.
Jason Anderson, Saguache County Commissioner, urged the committee to find solutions to protect water user in his county.
The meeting adjourned.