2012 Drought Intensifies Colorado Water Pinch


by Todd Neeley, DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) — Northern Colorado communities already face the challenge of meeting urban and rural water needs, even when rain falls in abundance.

As drought intensifies in 2012, cities including Boulder have already banned water sales for hydraulic fracturing, the practice that involves cracking of underground geological formations with water pressure and chemicals to tap natural gas and oil.

City governments are concerned more chemical contamination will show up in the groundwater.

Farmers fear the future.

Officials in Loveland recently decided their city will continue water sales to companies that provide the resource to oil and gas companies for hydraulic fracturing.

Loveland city councilman Ralph Trenary said his city’s treated water demand and supply is “solid” through 2040.

An oil field service company is acquiring irrigation ditch raw water rights from Loveland that can be deposited in city reservoirs at no cost to the city, he said. Then the city sells back treated water to be injected into wells during fracturing.

However, Trenary said he believes agriculture’s future is less certain.

“My family tradition is farming and ranching,” he said. “So, the explosive expansion of fracking in this region has my attention. Our local impacts of fracking are arguably in the category of explosive growth.”


Hydraulic fracturing itself should be low on the list of water concerns for farmers, said Shawn Martini, communications director for the Colorado Farm Bureau.

The bigger issue is finding ways to keep water in state at a time when competition is growing, he said.

Painfully, the region has watched much-needed water flow to bordering neighbors in Nebraska because of a lack of storage — a problem that some say is far more threatening to Colorado agriculture than hydraulic fracturing.

“We had no way of capturing that here,” Martini said. “We haven’t built a new reservoir in decades.”

Northern Water’s planned Northern Integrated Supply Project is designed to establish water storage and distribution of some 40,000 acre feet to 15 northern Front Range water partners.

The project includes building the Glade and Galeton reservoirs, making improvements to an existing canal, building two pump plants and adding two pipelines to exchange water between two irrigation companies.

However, the project faces opposition.


Gary Wockner, executive director of Save the Poudre, said the Northern Water storage project eventually would dry the Cache La Poudre River northwest of Fort Collins. That’s because “almost every river is over-appropriated, there’s no water to get,” he said.

About 60{6b02cb02835b82b7f756ddf6717aaab7139b350de274ea97f5b53eb230607107} of the water pulled from the Cache la Poudre is used for irrigation, he said. Another 35{6b02cb02835b82b7f756ddf6717aaab7139b350de274ea97f5b53eb230607107} of the water would be diverted from the river if the project is completed.

Wockner said he believes more agriculture land will come out of production because of increasing water demands for hydraulic fracturing.

“We have a new industry that needs our water,” he said. “It has become the new big player. Whenever a farmer sells a water right… (the farmer makes) money off of it. But if you have fracking buying water at high prices it will accelerate land coming out of usage.”

Kent Holsinger, founder of Holsinger Law LLC, a Colorado firm that represents water users, said the “buy and dry” phenomenon — where cities buy up agricultural land just for the water and essentially pull the land out of land production — is ongoing in part because water projects are difficult to permit and build.

“Many farmers are also nearing retirement age and their land and water are their only 401(k)s,” he said.

“It does threaten agriculture in the long-term. It’s incredibly difficult and expensive to construct new water storage, or even expand existing storage. Permitting can take mountains of paperwork and studies which can cost tens of millions of dollars,” said Holsinger.

Environmentalists and others are concerned that Colorado cities are buying water and driving farmers away.

However, the 2007 Census of Agriculture shows 11 northeast Colorado counties saw a net gain of about 149,000 acres of farmland from 2002 to 2007.

Bill Midcap, director of renewable energy development at the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, said open ditch systems face increasing pressure from farmers who sell water rights to cities.

“When you get down to 50{6b02cb02835b82b7f756ddf6717aaab7139b350de274ea97f5b53eb230607107} of guys selling water, can a system truly deliver water?” he asked. “If they want to raise corn and beans, will the water be there?”


Part of the opposition to hydraulic fracturing is many Colorado communities fear the chemicals used with the process will contaminate groundwater. Potential contamination has popped up in wells in Wyoming and Pennsylvania in the past year, although investigations continue as to whether it was caused by fracturing.

Part of the opposition to hydraulic fracturing is many Colorado communities fear the chemicals used with the process will contaminate groundwater. Potential contamination has popped up in wells in Wyoming and Pennsylvania in the past year, although investigations continue as to whether it was caused by fracturing.

EPA is working on an updated study looking at the possible effects on drinking water from hydraulic fracturing. A first draft of the study is set for release this year with a final report slated for 2014, http://www.epa.gov/….

A Duke University study found higher methane levels in water wells near hydraulic fracturing sites, http://tinyurl.com/….

A U.S. Department of Energy task force that concluded its look at natural gas in November 2011, made a number of recommendations related to hydraulic fracturing and potential groundwater contamination.

The task force found a need to reduce emissions from hydraulic fracturing, to eliminate diesel used in fracturing fluids, to publicly disclose fracturing fluid composition, and to launch new field studies documenting possible methane migration from shale gas wells to water reservoirs. http://tinyurl.com/….

Martini said although water quality is a concern, Colorado communities should have some level of comfort in knowing the state has some of the nation’s toughest chemical-reporting requirements. In providing that information, oil and gas companies make it easier to track potential contamination.


© Copyright 2012 DTN/The Progressive Farmer, A Telvent Brand. All rights reserved.

Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp


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