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Water Blog

A blog that focuses on legal developments affecting the water community in Colorado and other western states.  We also post news about water rights, water quality, and natural resources.  If you have a suggestion for a post, please contact us.


CWCB instream flow water rights on the Colorado River — milestone

Posted March 29, 2013

On March 26, 2013, (Senior) Water Judge Ossola (Division 5) entered three decrees that provided the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) with instream flows on the main stem of the Colorado River.  Instream flows are a specific type of water right held by the CWCB that allows water to remain in a stream, without any diversion, in order to help preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree―often referred to as “minimum” flows.

With the entry of these decrees, a 70-mile stretch of the Colorado River from the Blue River to the Eagle River is protected by contiguous instream flow decrees.  The first segment covers the Colorado River from the Blue River to the Piney River; the second segment extends from Piney River to Cabin Creek; and, the third segment extends from Cabin Creek to the Eagle River, which meets the Colorado River just past Gypsum.  Year-round flows are protected in a range from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) up to 900 cfs.  

Entry of these decrees marks the early attainment of a milestone in the Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group Management Plan to provide long-term protection measures for the recreational fishing “outstanding remarkable value” on this important stretch of the Colorado River as part of the BLM’s Resource Management Plan.  These decrees will also help preserve and improve proposed environmental flows of water jointly being sought by Grand County, CWCB and Denver Water, by “attaching” that water to CWCB’s instream flow rights through this reach.  Importantly, these decrees highlight how a diverse group of interested parties successfully collaborated in order to protect Colorado’s water resources for non-consumptive uses while safeguarding traditional water rights.

Update on Division 3 ground water rules and regulations

Posted March 14, 2013

The Colorado State Engineer has recently updated the status of rules and regulations for use of wells in Water Division No. 3 (Rio Grande Basin).  Currently, the Colorado Division of Water Resources is updating the Rio Grande Decision Support System, which is the ground water model used to determine how much water from well pumping in various areas of the San Luis Valley must be replaced to prevent injury to senior surface rights.  The update of the Rio Grande Decision Support System is anticipated to be completed in April.  Once the update is complete, the ground water rules advisory committee will begin meeting again to complete the rules and regulations.  Once the rules and regulations are completed, they must be submitted to the Water Division No. 3 Water Court for final adoption.  At that time, opposers will have the opportunity to oppose adoption of the rules.  Once the rules are adopted by the water court, well users in the San Luis Valley must either replace depletions from their wells through a court-approved augmentation plan or substitute water supply plan, or in the alternative, enroll their well in a sub-district of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District that will replace the well depletions.  The first-subdistrict has been approved to replace depletions from wells in the Closed Basin portion of the San Luis Valley, and subsequent sub-districts covering other areas of the Valley are currently in the process of formation.  Read the Alamosa Valley Courier article here.   

COGCC releases new groundwater testing rules

Posted March 1, 2013

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission recently released new rules that attempt to respond to public demand for safer hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations associated with oil and gas development in Colorado.  The final rules have been under attack from all sides, with environmental and municipal interests concerned that there is not enough protection, while industry laments new requirements as burdensome.

Under the new rules, initial baseline samples and subsequent monitoring samples are to be collected from a maximum of four sites within a one-half mile radius of a proposed oil and gas well.  The new rules require sampling from all “Available Water Sources,” but there are several exceptions.  For example, if more than four “Available Water Sources” are within a half-mile radius of the oil and gas well, the operator has the discretion to choose where to take samples.  The decision is based on a range of factors: proximity to the oil and gas well, types of water sources, orientation of the sampling location relative to flow, and “preferred” aquifer depth.  As a result, some aquifers may not be sampled even though they are penetrated by an oil and gas well.  The rules require testing for a list of contaminants at each well.  However, the list of contaminants for which water samples will be tested excludes a number of chemicals regularly used in fracking fluid.       

Some Colorado groundwater users are concerned that the monitoring will not be thorough enough to catch contamination before their water supply is polluted.  At the same time, industrial representatives contend that fracking presents a low risk to drinking water aquifers and any monitoring is excessive because of the way oil and gas wells are constructed to prevent this type of contamination.  In spite of the controversy regarding the rules, Colorado is ahead of many other states in requiring this level of monitoring for fracking regulations.  Read COGCC’s new rules here.