Carpenter Ranch on Yampa River among five in Colorado to take on water rights transfer pilot | CraigDailyPress.com

Carpenter Ranch on Yampa River among five in Colorado to take on water rights transfer pilot

Tom Ross

— The latest version of Colorado's statewide water plan calls for action on numerous fronts, including getting the most out of the water available here by allowing more flexibility for rights holders to profit from the temporary transfer of their water.

Colorado's 2015 Water Plan isn't due on Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk until December, but water officials in the Rockies and the desert Southwest are already moving on a pilot transfer of water rights program to determine how effective they can be in refilling drought-starved reservoirs like Lake Powell. And a short stretch of the Yampa River east of Hayden is the first test program to be announced.

Ted Kowalski, with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, confirmed to Steamboat Today that the Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch on the Yampa River is the first among 10 temporary water rights transfer projects to ink a deal. He is the chief of the Interstate, Federal and Water Information Section of the CWCB.

The water transfer plan at the Carpenter Ranch is among five in Colorado and five more in Wyoming that are part of an historic agreement to explore how the four Colorado River states above Lake Powell can continue to meet their obligations to Arizona, California and Nevada.

Geoff Blakeslee, Yampa River project director for the Nature Conservancy, said his organization, which has a lengthy history of exploring how ranching and conservation can coexist at Carpenter Ranch, took on the pilot project to learn what its potential is. This required the cooperation of the conservancy's agricultural lessees on the ranch, he added.

"It's very much an exploratory project," Blakeslee said. "We're doing what we call a split-season fallowing of four fields on Carpenter Ranch just to help with information gathering — what are the impacts to the ranch? What are the impacts to the river?"

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"We had a tremendous response from water users in the Upper Colorado River Basin to our request for pilot project," Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, was quoted saying in an Aug. 14 news release. "We are hopeful that these projects will yield valuable information that can be used to develop a long-term program to provide incentives for people to conserve sufficient water to increase the water levels at Lake Powell during times of extreme drought."

The four fields represent a small portion of the ranch, and the plan is to use its water rights in the river up to July next summer before shutting off those four fields."

In addition to meeting the upper basin states' obligations under the 1922 Colorado River compact, it's hoped the plan will also protect hydropower generation at Lake Powell, straddling the Utah/Arizona border.

The 10 projects in Colorado and Wyoming will be funded with about $1 million and a portion of a larger $11 million Plot System Conservation Program involving all seven Colorado River states, including Utah, Arizona, California, New Mexico and Nevada.

Significantly, Denver Water, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Central Arizona Water Conservation District have agreed to join the other states and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in funding the conservation program. More participants will be solicited in autumn 2015.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

Making your voice heard

The Colorado Department of Natural Resources is seeking public comments on the second draft of the Colorado Water Plan by Sept. 17. The final draft of the plan is due on Governor Hickenlooper’s desk Dec. 10.

Learn more about the plan and weigh in on the elements dealing with conservation, improving the efficiency of the water project permitting process and developing new funding mechanisms for both providing and conserving water. Seek out the critical action plan within the larger document in Chapter 10.

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