Range restoration use of herbicides questioned economically, environmentally

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Coyote Gulch readers are an interesting lot. Greg sends this link to an article about the perils of using herbicides in rangeland restoration, from Don Comis writing for the USDA. From the article:

Cattle grazing can help native forbs thrive because cattle prefer grasses over forbs, and cattle trample soil, loosening soil for seeds that the animals inadvertently plant when seeds are caught in their hooves or fur. That said, when herbicide wasn’t used, most native forbs did as well with or without cattle grazing.

Herbicide caused the native plants Missouri goldenrod and yarrow to become rarer over the 16-year study period. Barring herbicides, these two species proved capable of co-existing indefinitely with the exotics.

Four native perennials became rarer in sprayed plots, but only when grazing was excluded: velvety goldenrod, white prairie aster, vetch, and prairie sagewort. Herbicide spraying caused no long-term harm to four other native perennials. Rockjasmine and other plants belonging to the Androsace spp. group were not affected by the herbicide even initially.

That says a lot for the argument against tampering with the land — it’s damn hard to put things back. Another point to consider: There was only one application. What happens to the natives and spurge with multiple applications?

In other cattle business news the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has come out against S. 787 the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2009. Here’s a release from the organization via the Oregon Natural Resource Report:

Under the Act, family ranchers and farmers may be required to obtain permits from the EPA or Corps before conducting common, everyday operations, like watering their cattle or farming their land. The federal government is already struggling to handle a backlog of 15,000 to 20,000 existing section 404 permit requests. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the average applicant for an individual Clean Water Act permit spends 788 days and $271,596 in complying with the current process, and the average applicant for a nationwide permit currently spends 313 days and $28,915 – not counting the substantial costs of mitigation or design changes (Rapanos, 447 U.S. at 719, plurality opinion). Considering U.S. farmers and ranchers own and manage approximately 666.4 million acres of the 1.938 billion acres of the contiguous U.S. land mass, the massive new permitting requirements under this Act would be an unmanageable burden for the government, and could literally bring farming operations to a standstill.

Chilton shared from personal experience about a time his family ranch had to apply for a 404 permit to construct a road across a dry wash on their private property. The regulatory approval process took over a year and cost his family nearly $40,000.

“As a rancher, I wholeheartedly understand the critical importance of a clean water supply; it’s necessary for the health of my animals and my land,” said Chilton. “Federal agencies have ample authority under existing law to protect water quality, and it’s essential that the partnership between the federal and state levels of government be maintained so states can continue to have the essential flexibility to do their own land and water use planning.”

More Coyote Gulch restoration coverage here and here.

Megan Graham named to lead San Juan Citizen’s Alliance

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

Graham, 35, bested about 30 other applicants from far and wide, Joe Griffith, chairman of the organization’s board, said Friday. [Mark] Pearson’s last day is July 31. Graham will start Aug. 17…

Graham knew how to answer questions – deep answers – and she knew when to stop, Griffith saida. Graham’s work as a director of membership and communications for the Colorado Environmental Coalition prepared her to work with the players she’ll be rubbing elbows with now. Writing editorials allowed her to master local, state and national issues, he said…

Graham has been in Durango since 1995. She earned a degree in communications at Fort Lewis College and was a reporter and editor at Herald from 1998 through 2000. In 2001, she started a five-year stint with the Colorado Environmental Coalition. She left the organization to return to the Herald as an editorial writer. “I want to continue Mark’s programs and expand the presence of the organization in the community,” Graham said. “I want to engage a broad cross-section of the San Juan Basin in our work.” Griffith said Graham’s immediate challenges are two:•Learn in depth the issues related to each staff member’s assigned field. Staff members handle specific issues such as water, federal land and environmental policies or gas and oil.

More Coyote Gulch San Juan Basin coverage here.

CWCB: Front Range water suppliers asking for top-down planning (and modification of environmental protections)

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Large Front Range water suppliers wrote a letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board on July 15 asking for a review of regional water planning to date. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

A July 15 letter from the major importers of Western Slope water – Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver, Pueblo Board of Water Works and the Southeastern and Northern water conservancy districts – outlines the concerns about water planning in the state. The letter was to the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Interbasin Compact Committee. It included a review of regional cooperative water planning to date and a “white paper” of suggested future actions.

“A major (although not exclusive) water supply challenge facing Colorado is the projected gap in water supply needed for the growing population in the Front Range urban corridor from Fort Collins to Pueblo,” the letter signed by managers of the six water providers states. “Unfortunately, the ability of Front Range water supply agencies to meet this water supply gap is complicated by a variety of political, institutional and regulatory factors that significantly hamper the ability to pursue new supply alternatives.”

However, each of the six water suppliers currently are moving their own projects forward, including the Southern Delivery System by Colorado Springs, Bessemer Ditch purchases by the Pueblo water board and the Arkansas Valley Conduit by the Southeastern district in the Arkansas Valley alone. [ed. Add the Windy Gap Firming Project, Northern Integrated Supply Project, Moffat System expansion, Colorado-Wyoming Coalition.]

“The prospects for arriving at a statewide consensus on the right timing and mix of water supply and demand management alternatives is further hampered by Colorado’s balkanized water supply and development framework,” the letter states. The letter goes on to call for CWCB and IBCC leadership to confront the political or legal obstacles to develop water projects in an “efficient and cost-effective manner.”

While commending the Front Range providers for taking a “positive step” toward resolution of problems, Eric Kuhn, manager of the Colorado River District, said it is important to continue addressing the underlying conflicts, in a letter he wrote on July 17. “I believe without airing . . . underlying conflicts on (identified) projects, reaching a consensus on longer term projects is going to be impossible,” Kuhn wrote. “Without a resolution of the issues and inherent conflicts among (identified projects), how can there possibly be a consensus on the next generation of projects.” There is a “cultural divide” between the Front Range and the rest of the state which places the water needs of outlying areas as subordinate to those of the Front Range, Kuhn said. “Overcoming this cultural gap is very critical to establishing a positive environment that will open the door for the roundtable to succeed,” Kuhn wrote…

The list of “obstacles” the water providers included in their white paper included the Endangered Species Act, wild and scenic designation, wilderness designation, the National Environmental Policy Act, the need for “reform” of county land reviews under 1974’s HB1041, clean water certification, reuse regulations, water court decrees, recreational in-channel diversions and use of water in energy development.

Meanwhile, here’s a report on the current state of the roundtable process, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Meeting over the past four years, the IBCC and nine basin roundtables have yet to produce any agreements that would lead to a new transbasin water project. In fact, there are as often comments that such projects are no longer possible suggestions about how to move them forward. [Harris Sherman, Department of Natural Resources director], taking over the job as Gov. Bill Ritter’s appointee in 2007, redirected the IBCC to think in terms of a 50-year vision, looking toward the best possible future for all. “As we double our population in the next 50 years, it’s not a question of if we grow, but how we grow,” Sherman said. “The 2005 HB1177 (which set up the IBCC and roundtables) was a way to look at a future not as destructive to agricultural communities.”

The need for Front Range growth is frequently questioned, but big water interests counter they are merely preparing for an inevitable surge of urban population growth. The Western Slope has revived the specter of oil shale, which could drink up the remaining allocation of water to Colorado under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Many are skeptical because the energy and water costs of producing oil shale are so high, no matter what price is set by the world market. Without a new transmountain project using unclaimed flows, agriculture would be dried up. There are studies about how to make the transfer of water easier, and what happens to local economies if all the water is taken from one area. It appears to be taboo to suggest that any Western Slope agriculture be diminished, however. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for this group to write the death knell for agriculture,” said T. Wright Dickinson, a northwestern Colorado rancher…

The lines of the problem have been clearly drawn and haven’t changed in the last four years. The IBCC and roundtables were created in 2005 after the worst annual drought in state history in 2002, a failed ballot measure to build unspecified big water projects in 2003 and a study revealing a gap in municipal water needs in 2004. The state has between 445,000 and 1.438 million acre-feet of water to develop from the Colorado River basin under the Colorado River Compact, although prolonged drought or climate change could affect the amount. The state demographer says the state’s population will double to 10 million people by 2050, with most of the growth occurring in the Pueblo-Fort Collins corridor. Right now, the state uses 1.2 million acre-feet for treated water supplies, and will need at least 2 million acre-feet by 2050. Only about one-third of the new supply will be developed under identified projects such as Colorado Springs Southern Delivery System, the Arkansas Valley Conduit, the Northern Integrated Supply Project, Aurora’s Prairie Waters or the Windy Gap water supply firming project. Oil shale development could require as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water, if it ever happens.

“There are no single or simple solutions. It’s all about trade-offs,” Kuhn said. “The more water we develop, the greater the risk. This is as much about risk management as water development.”

More Coyote Gulch Colorado water coverage here.