National Water Rights Digest Posts

Water rights weekly report for May 22. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

From U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, a perspective piece on water rights: “Too often, issues like forest management and water rights don’t make it into the news, but they have profound impacts on Coloradans. I remain committed to ensuring voices from the West are heard in the policy discussions happening in Washington.”

The Montana Farm Bureau on May 19 released a statement supporting the Water Rights Protection Act, which would eliminate a requirement that certain grazing water rights be released to federal agencies in return for permissions to graze.

At the Oroville Dam in northern California: “The flood control spillway flow is currently at 20,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Inflow is approximately 12,946 cfs. Current lake elevation is at 829.98 feet. Hyatt Powerplant is currently discharging 5,000 cfs. Total Feather River flow is 19,550 cfs.”

An ambitious Nevada water management bill, Assembly Bill 298, appears to have ground to a halt in the Nevada legislative process for this year.
It did pass the state Assembly on April 26 by a vote of 26-16, but may have run aground in the Senate.

PHOTO Spillway from the Oroville Dam in California (from the California Department of Water Resources)

Weekly Digest

Water rights weekly report for May 15. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

Oklahoma state is facing a budget deficit. Should it sell some of its waster rights to thirsty Texas to help balance the books? The idea is coming up for discussion again partly because of proposals by former Oklahoma Governor David Walters.

A new study finds that when it comes to allocating water from the Upper Deschutes River for irrigation purposes, less is more. Findings indicate that the current system encourages inefficient use of water by senior water rights holders and very efficient use of water by junior water rights holders, resulting in higher crop yields and economic value on farms that have implemented practices to improve water use efficiency.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army sent a letter to governors today soliciting input from states on a new definition of protected waters that is in-line with a Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion in the 2006 Rapanos v. United States case. Scalia’s definition explains that federal oversight should extend to “relatively permanent” waters and wetlands with a “continuous surface connection” to large rivers and streams.

The governing board of trustees of the College of Southern Idaho at Twin Falls decided May 9 to buy water rights to Pristine Springs, a nearby geothermal aquifer.

Weekly Digest

Water rights weekly report for May 1. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

The National Park Service is putting its water shortage action plan into effect, following the state’s call to cease withdrawing water from Annie Creek. Crater Lake National Park staff are asking all visitors and employees to use water wisely during the water supply shortage.

The San Luis Obispo Coastkeepers and Los Padres ForestWatch, two central-coastal California environmental groups, on May 5 sued the Santa Maria Water Conservation District to demand a different schedule on water be released to help with preservaton of the Southern California steelhead trout.

A First Nations geographer, a legal historian and a global expert on water access and sustainability will be asking — and answering — big questions about water at the Calgary Institute for Humanities (CIH) 37th annual community forum, May 12. The forum, Water in the West: Rights to Water/Rights of Water, will explore environmental concerns about water and First Nations’ perspectives on the precious resource. “First Nations are tremendously impacted by water issues, from access to clean water to resource development. And of course there’s also a spiritual dimension to water in almost every culture,” says Jim Ellis, a professor of English and director of the CIH, whose mission is to support and promote the values of humanities-based research.

Weekly Digest

Water rights weekly report for May 1. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

Fracking has not contaminated groundwater in northwestern West Virginia, but accidental spills of fracking wastewater may pose a threat to surface water in the region, according to a new study led by scientists at Duke University.

After a long-running public records battle with a conservation organization, the Utah Division of Water Resources has published online detailed records of water use information around the state.

The California State Water Resources Control Board on April 26 rescinded the water supply “stress test” requirements and remaining mandatory conservation standards for urban water suppliers while keeping in place the water use reporting requirements and prohibitions against wasteful practices.

High water levels at Lake Ontario have resulted in flooding in some areas (the Soda Point area in New York for one example), and questions have arisen about whether water use regulations may have been involved. The managing agency, the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, said not.

Weekly Digest

Water rights weekly report for March 20. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

Voters in the Blackfeet Nation on April 21 voted in favor of the Blackfeet Water Compact and Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act.
It was the last step in putting the agreement into action. That measure had been approved last year by Congress and was signed by President Barack Obama. Under its terms, water rights for the six drainages which are on the reservation will be held by the tribe.

A report released on April 18 argues that environmental water use rules in California have had severe costs for human water users across the Delta region. The document was prepared by David L. Sunding for the Committee for Delta Reliability and the Southern California Water Committee.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources will be making an extensive effort to measure water levels in wells in the Prescott Active Management Area and the Verde Basin. Every year the Department’s field services technicians collect water levels in a statewide network of about 1,600 to 1,800 “index” wells that have typically been measured annually over the last several decades. There are roughly 250 groundwater index wells measured annually or semi-annually in the Prescott AMA/Verde Basin region.

The 2017 public review draft of Oregon’s Integrated Water Resources Strategy is now available for public comment. A briefer summarizes what’s new in this 2017 version and opportunities to comment. You can also view the “Note to Reader” section at the beginning of the document to help orient you to what elements are new to this version, where to locate new sections or recommended actions, and what to expect for the remainder of 2017.

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The state of Colorado says – famously – that cannabis, or marijuana, is a crop that legally can be grown. The federal government’s rules take a dimmer view. Does that have an effect on water rights?

It certainly appears to.

And this arose in a case that doesn’t even involve marijuana. The instance concerned a western Colorado farmer growing hemp, which through biologically related to the cannabis plants, has no significant psychotropic qualities. One online description noted that “Hemp is one of the oldest domesticated crops known to man. It has been used for paper, textiles, and cordage for thousands of years. In fact, the Columbia History of the World states that the oldest relic of human industry is a scrap of hemp fabric dating back to approximately 8,000 BC.” It is often called industrial hemp. Versions of it were grown by George Washington, among others.

Hemp actually does not need pesticides and relatively little water. It should be an attractive option for farmers, but growing it is widely banned in the United States because it is related to the cannabis plants.

Nevertheless, there’s a federal ban on it. And in Colorado when a farmer wanted his standard water allotment from the Pueblo Reservoir to grow some hemp, the Bureau of Reclamation refused to release the water. The water is supposed to be held in storage for users, not parceled out at the bureau’s discretion … but then, this is a marijuana relative. That appears to override all else.

The point likely will be even more directly pertinent as marijuana crop production grows, and obviously not only in Colorado but especially in states like California, where farmers of most stripes are heavily dependent on irrigation water supplies.

There are conflicting notions here. One is that a farmer’s choice of what crops to grow isn’t much of a factor, or isn’t supposed to be, in the provision of first-in-time water rights. Then there’s also the point that in prior appropriation states (where this is coming up), water is supposed to be used for a “beneficial purpose” – and who gets to do the defining along that front?

Legislation is rolling along in Colorado (with a recent scheduling hiccup, but more efforts will be coming), and you can imagine a significant states rights vs. federal debate here, especially since in many areas the federal government has ceded basic control over water to the states.

This battle is only getting started.

Column

Water rights weekly report for March 20. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

In the final days of the 2017 Idaho legislative session, lawmakers approved a change in state law to allow people or entities to apply for the temporary use of surplus water to prevent flood damage, recharge ground water, or work on ground or surface water-quality remediation. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter signed the amendments to Idaho Code § 42-202A into law on March 30. An emergency provision makes the new law effective immediately.

Colorado legislators are struggling over legislation intended to require that the Bureau of Reclamation allow farmers to use their allotment of water stored by Bureau projects, even if that use is to grow plants in the cannabis family. The farmer whose case was on point, a grower in the Rocky Ford area near Montrose, was seeking only to grow hemp, which has no significant psychotropic qualities and is used for a wide range of other purposes. The Bureau of Reclamation denied him the water.

A high-end development of new residences near Bellingham, Washington, is slated to use existing wells for a water supply, with the water coming from the Governors Point Water Association. The development involves a half-dozen tracts on Governors Point, on a lake front south of Bellingham.

The commissioners of Washington’s Spokane County said last week they plan to set up a water bank for the county, and agreed to spend $1.2 million to get it started.

Weekly Digest

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Sophisticated mapping has become an increasingly important tool in the box of water regulators and planners. The U.S. Geological Survery is now taking some of that to a new level.

On April 6 the agency released a report showing very specific impacts of groundwater use, on a highly detailed map.

The sample map showed the reduction in flow in the Malad River in southern Idaho based on certain levels of groundwater use.

The map is a simulation, but it is specific enough to provide guidance for all kinds of water-interested people.

The USGS report noted

The Bear and Malad Rivers provide water for irrigation and to wetlands and wildlife habitat in the southern part of the study area, including the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge north of Great Salt Lake. Although withdrawal from wells is a small percentage of the water used in the area, there is concern that additional ground­water development could reduce the amount of streamflow in the Malad-Lower Bear River Area.

“The information from this study will be used to aid the state engineer in making water-rights related decisions in the future,” said James Greer, assistant state engineer for the Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Water Rights.

Recent studies have shown that groundwater and surface water should be considered a joint resource. USGS scientists developed a groundwater flow model to better understand the relation between additional groundwater development and the reduction of groundwater flow into the Malad River. Results show that the amount of streamflow depletion in the Malad River depends on both depth and location of groundwater withdrawal. Scientists created color-coded maps that illustrate how depth and location of withdrawal could affect streamflow.

Look to see much more of this.

Column

Water rights weekly report for March 20. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

A group of water users in Idaho’s Wood River Valley want the state to more tightly regulate junior groundwater users in their area, saying their surface water rights may be impacted.

The city of Thiruvananthapuram in India has responded to weakening water leels at the Peppara dam, a key source of supply, by moving to curtail water use in the city.

Alamosa city in Colorado has for years obtained much of its water supply through groundwater, via a series of wells in the Rio Grande Basin. New regulations from state Colorado state engineer, however, may restrict the city’s activities in that area, in the wake of water court decisions indicating that the city and other groundwater users have had an effect on many surface wastger rights holders. In response, Alamosa is in the market for buying water rights from other parries.

Several dozen protesters collected on April 2 near Crestline in southern California to argue against water draws by Nestlé Waters North America of mountain water supplies.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s April 2017 Total Water Supply Available (TWSA) forecast for the Yakima Basin indicates that the water supply will fully satisfy senior and junior water rights this irrigation season.

Weekly Digest

Water rights weekly report for March 20. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

A coalition of water-protection, public-health and animal-welfare organizations on March 30 filed a legal challenge over the water rights for a proposed 30,000-head mega-dairy near the Columbia River. The facility would be one of the nation’s largest dairy confined animal-feeding operations and poses a major threat to ground and surface water, air quality and public health in the region. Last month the Oregon Water Resources Department proposed approving key water rights required for Lost Valley Farm, a business venture of California dairyman Gregory te Velde.

Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Congressman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, have introduced legislation to create a negotiated settlement between the state of Utah and the Utah Navajo Nation (the Nation) over water rights claims on the Colorado River.

The publicly elected Board of Directors of Coachella Valley Water District and Desert Water Agency have decided to ask the Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling that gives unprecedented groundwater rights to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The formal request for review will likely be submitted early this summer with the U.S. Supreme Court likely to accept or deny review of the case this fall.

The national government of Nigeria said it will begin regulating and licensing water drilling and use, through an agency called the Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Management Commission.

From Stanford: “A new report from Stanford’s Water in the West program assesses progress among states in the Colorado River Basin with respect to environmental water rights transfers, a legal tool that enables water rights holders to voluntarily transfer their water to rivers, streams and wetlands to benefit the environment and potentially generate revenue.”

Weekly Digest