President Obama signs public lands bill which includes Arkansas Valley Conduit authorization

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Here’s an update on authorizing legislation for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, from Chris Woodka writing for the Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

At a White House ceremony, Obama signed the bill, which has attracted national attention because it incorporates 170 separate bills and creates 2 million acres of wilderness designation on federal lands. Obama called the new law among the most important in decades “to protect, preserve and pass down our nation’s most treasured landscapes to future generations.” The bill represents one of the largest expansions of wilderness protection in a quarter-century by giving the government’s highest level of protection on land in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia…

Wilderness areas at Rocky Mountain National Park and Dominguez Canyon near Grand Junction are set up and wildlife areas in the San Luis Valley are further protected under the omnibus bill. The bill also includes funds for rehabilitation of irrigation canals in Montezuma County. For Southeastern Colorado, however, the $300 million conduit would be the lasting legacy of the legislation. The conduit was a part of 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, but never was built because the communities of the Lower Arkansas Valley could not shoulder the entire cost. About 50,000 people live in the area to be served by the conduit, but many are on low or fixed incomes. The new legislation provides for a 65 percent federal cost share and a plan to repay the entire cost of the project using revenues from Bureau of Reclamation excess-capacity contracts.

“On behalf of the beneficiaries of the conduit, we’re happy that it was signed so quickly,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and a resident of Las Animas, one of the 42 communities that could be served by the conduit. “Hopefully the rest of the project will move as fast.” Long, who also is a Bent County commissioner, has worked on the Southeastern committee trying to secure funding for the conduit for nearly a decade. He thinks the political climate to obtain funding is good since the federal government is looking for shovel-ready infrastructure projects as part of the economic stimulus plan. “This is a good infrastructure project, one that’s been well vetted,” Long said. “We are ready to start the next phase.”

Here’s a summary of the public lands bill proposals for Colorado, from the Associated Press via the Denver Post:

• Rocky Mountain National Park: Designates nearly 250,000 acres of the park as wilderness but allows the National Park Service to battle a bark beetle infestation and fight fires.

• Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area: Designates approximately 210,000 acres of federal land on the Uncompahgre Plateau as a conservation area, including 65,000 as a wilderness area.

• Arkansas Valley Conduit: Obligates the federal government to pay 65 percent of the cost of building the 130-mile water-delivery system from Pueblo Dam to communities throughout the Arkansas River Valley.

• Jackson Gulch: Authorizes $8.25 million to rehabilitate the Jackson Gulch irrigation canal, which delivers water from Jackson Gulch Dam to residents, farms and businesses in Montezuma County.

• Baca Wildlife Refuge: Amends the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act to establish the purpose of the nearby Baca National Wildlife Refuge as “to restore, enhance, and maintain wetland, upland, riparian and other habitats for native wildlife, plant, and fish species in the San Luis Valley.” The law establishing the park lacked a statement of purpose for the refuge.

• Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area: Designates a heritage area in Conejos, Costilla and Alamosa counties in the San Luis Valley. Authorizes up to $10 million in matching funds to protect historic, cultural, natural and recreational resources.

• Colorado Northern Front Range Study: Directs the U.S. Forest Service to study ownership patterns in the lands in the Front Range mountain backdrop, identify areas that may be at risk of development and recommend ways to protect them.

More coverage from Fort Collins Now:

“Folks in communities around this park know they don’t have to choose between economic and environmental concerns; the tourism that drives their local economy depends on good stewardship of their local environment,” Obama said. “Year after year, these communities have worked together with members of Congress in an attempt to ensure that Rocky Mountain National Park will forever remain as breathtaking as it is today. And that is what this bill does from coast to coast.”[…]

Water projects had been a concern for the bill’s detractors, who feared the wilderness designation would impact water infrastructure that predates Rocky, especially the Grand Ditch, which helps irrigate thousands of acres of farmland in Weld County. Larimer County Commissioner Steve Johnson said he supported the measure after hearing from water groups that it wouldn’t harm existing water infrastructure in the park. “Rocky Mountain National Park is the No. 1 environmental gem in our state, in my opinion,” he said. “Preserving that for future generations, I think, is a very, very wise investment.”[…]

Obama quoted Theodore Roosevelt, whom he called “our greatest conservationist president”: “I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

“This legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas for granted; but, rather, we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share,” Obama said. “That’s something all Americans can support.”

Update: From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The law designates as wilderness about 250,000 acres of the park’s backcountry — 95 percent of the park. It also adjusts the boundaries of the Indian Peaks Wilderness by adding 1,000 acres from the adjacent Arapaho National Recreation Area. The park has been managed as wilderness, even though it lacked the formal designation. The designation won’t affect developed facilities inside the park, including roads and structures used to bring water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. Past efforts to get wilderness designation for the park were hung up by liability issues surrounding the Grand Ditch, which is owned and operated by the Fort Collins-based Water Storage and Supply Co. The designation won’t hamper the park’s efforts in firefighting or fighting the mountain pine beetle. It also won’t block maintenance on 350 miles of trails in the park’s backcountry.

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