Ag water providers optimistic, on target with critical flood repairs
January 15, 2014
Flood Disaster Study Committee Considers Solutions
The bipartisan Flood Disaster Study Committee turned its attention in recent weeks to legislation for the upcoming legislative session, approving two bills and debating seven others.
The two bills that received the go ahead from the committee were a bill sponsored by Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, that would give counties more flexibility to use general money to fix damaged roads and bridges, and a bill from Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, that allows a head gate for an irrigation ditch to be relocated due to a change in the natural flow of the ditch.
Both bills were approved unanimously.
Other bills included one from Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, that would streamline emergency response time and give the governor the ability to declare a disaster without prior presidential declaration.
Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Boulder, discussed with committee members an idea where property owners who had their property destroyed would not pay property taxes or would have those taxes reimbursed.
The co-chairman of the Committee, Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, proposed legislation to prioritize flood damaged schools in the allocation of revenue from school capital construction.
The Study Committee was formed in response to the devastating floods that hit Colorado in September. The committee will meet again before the start of the session to finalize its support for these proposed bills. It is uncertain whether all nine bills will be advanced during the 2014 session.
— Colorado House Democrats
Many are at different stages of recovery, but ag water providers throughout northeast Colorado believe they'll have needed irrigation-system repairs done by the upcoming growing season, and be able to deliver water to farmers.
Following September's historic flood, a number of representatives from irrigation ditches, reservoir companies and other water providers were reporting damage along their systems — ditches, dykes, gravel pits, canals, head gates and other diversion structures that need repairs, or even to be rebuilt.
For the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District — based in Greeley, Colo., providing augmentation water for more than 1,100 irrigation wells in Weld, Morgan and Adams counties, covering 56,900 acres — the damages occurred at four sites and added up to about $1.8 million.
But already the district is about half done with repairs, with work at two sites complete, according to Randy Ray, executive director of Central Water.
He added that he believes the rest of the work could be done by Feb. 1.
"Overall things are looking pretty good, and we feel pretty fortunate," he said.
Many other water officials in Weld County, Colo. — the state's most ag-production county — said this month they were optimistic. Optimism was expressed by Frank Eckhardt — chairman of the board for the Western Mutual and Farmers Independent irrigation companies, which, combined, deliver water to about 15,000 acres of farm ground in the LaSalle/Gilcrest, Colo., areas.
Eckhardt said the Western Mutual Ditch Company had about $100,000 in damage — about 400 feet of ditch bank that had been washed out.
Already it's been repaired, he added, although some more minor touching up will be needed in the future.
Across the board, Weld County seems to be in better shape than its neighbors to the west, according to Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District in Longmont, Colo.
Cronin — who also serves as chairman for the South Platte Roundtable, a group of water experts from the region who meet throughout the year to address to region's water issues — said water providers in Weld and farther upstream had more time to take precautionary measures before the floodwaters arrived, helping minimize some of the damage. He added that the floodwaters had more room to spread out once they made it to the plains, meaning they weren't carrying the same intense pressure in Weld as they did in Boulder County, where the velocity wiped out much more infrastructure.
Cronin said the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District — which encompasses about 80,000 acres, mostly in Boulder County, but stretches a little into western Weld — so far is looking at about $20 million in damages, and the assessment process still isn't complete, he added.
While there's much more work to be done in his neck of the woods, he said work is coming along, and it's too early for anyone to be worrying about the work not getting done in time.
While the work is coming along, Cronin, Eckhardt, Ray and others expressed uncertainty about how much of the cost of their repairs would be coming out of shareholders' pockets.
Each expressed uncertainty about whether they'd be reimbursed by Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars, or in some cases whether certain repairs would be covered by insurance.
"That's been the toughest part. We're still not sure how much we're going to be paying out-of-pocket for it," said Eckhardt, who farms corn, sugar beets, onions, beans and wheat near LaSalle, and noted that Western Mutual has so far paid for its repairs with money it had saved up, and also by increasing its assessment fees for shareholders by about $50 per water unit, although he and others are hoping FEMA will eventually pitch in. "But at least we know we can get water on our fields. That's the main thing." ❖