Forest to Faucet Partnership: Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service to pony up $33 million for watershed protection

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Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region announced their plans to equally share an investment of $33 million, over a five-year period, in restoration projects on more than 38,000 acres of National Forest lands, at an event in Dillon, Colo., today.

This partnership will accelerate and expand the U.S. Forest Service’s ability to restore forest health in watersheds critical for Denver Water’s water supplies and infrastructure. Forest thinning and other wildfire fuels reduction projects will take place around and upstream of Strontia Springs, Gross, Antero, Eleven Mile Canyon and Cheesman reservoirs, and in an area near the town of Winter Park. The projects will reduce the risk of wildfires upstream of Denver Water’s reservoirs and other water delivery infrastructure.

“Thirty million Americans depend upon water from Colorado’s public and private forests. Maintaining the health of these forests is everyone’s business,” said Harris Sherman, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. “I applaud Denver Water for their long-term investment in our National Forest watersheds. By leveraging our shared resources, we are able to do more work, faster, and in the critical areas. This partnership is a model for forest managers and water providers throughout the country.”

“There is a direct connection between healthy forests and sustainable supplies of clean water,” said Greg Austin, vice president of the Denver Board of Water Commissioners. “Denver Water has spent more than $10 million in the aftermath of the Buffalo Creek and Hayman fires. We are taking this proactive step to invest in the future, by keeping our watershed healthy rather than paying for impacts from a catastrophic crown fire in the future. Denver Water is committed to managing water supplies, developing resources and carrying out projects in an environmentally responsible way, and we’re happy this partnership has such mutual benefit.”

Forest health treatments will help protect water resources for Denver Water’s customers as well as millions more downstream beneficiaries, including homes, businesses and agriculture. Restoration also will help the forests become more resistant to future insect and disease, reduce wildfire risks and maintain habitat for fish and wildlife. More resilient forests will also be more adaptive to the impacts of a changing climate.

Gov. Ritter applauded the creation of this partnership between Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service. “The scale of the ongoing mountain pine beetle infestation is well beyond anything anyone of us has experienced,” Gov. Ritter said. “It is going to take unprecedented levels of collaboration to address these serious threats to our forests, our communities and our watersheds. This is an historic commitment and a vital step toward healthier forests in Colorado.”

More coverage from the Summit Daily News (Robert Allen). From the article:

The work is intended to protect critical watersheds against catastrophic wildfires in areas impacted by mountain pine beetle, as well as other tree-killing infestations…

Areas treated are to be include the Blue River watershed as well as forests upstream of Strontia Springs, Gross, Eleven Mile Canyon and Cheesman reservoirs. Colorado has about 3 million acres of dead trees — amid 17-18 million across the West — because of beetle infestation. [Harris Sherman, U.S. Department of Agriculture under secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment] said the problem relates to past fire suppression efforts and climate change.

More coverage from the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn). From the article:

Part of the Forest Service share of the funding will come from money that’s already been allocated to the Rocky Mountain region of the Forest Service, said Harris Sherman, Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. Additionally, several national forests in Colorado competed favorably for a separate slice of forest health funds that will also specifically toward these critical watershed treatments. Denver Water customers will pay for the other half of the work, seen as an effective way to prevent the huge back-end costs associated with cleaning up after a fire. “I don’t think we’ll have any problems selling this to our rate payers,” said Greg Austin, vice president of the Denver Board of Water Commissioners. Austin explained that Denver Water has already spent $10.5 million on dealing with impacts to Strontia Springs Reservoir after the disastrous Hayman fire. It could cost up to another $30 million to complete the restoration, and more if there are significant rainfall events that lead to more erosion and sedimentation.

“The Forest Service can’t do this alone,” said Sherman, adding that about 33 million people in 13 states depend on water that come from Colorado watersheds. “Maintaining these forests is everybody’s business. I applaud Denver Water for their long-term investment in our national forest watersheds.”

The work will focus in thinning, fuel reduction, creating fire breaks, erosion control decommissioning roads, and, eventually, reforestation. The partnership could serve as a model for similar agreements across the West and with other industries, Sherman added, singling out the ski industry and power companies with infrastructure on forested lands. Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead said the agreement is a critical partnership based on mutual interest, and credited former Denver Water manager Chips Barry with laying the groundwork for the announcement. The work will take place on the Upper South Platte River, in the South Platte River headwaters, the St. Vrain River, and in the Colorado River headwaters, including the Blue River.

More restoration coverage here.

Grand Junction: Colorado Riverfront Project update

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Katie Steele and Bennett Boeschenstein):

Restoration efforts began in 1985 with a clean-up project on the 30-acre weed- and junk-infested Watson Island. For two years, volunteers spent countless hours cleaning the island by hand. They hauled 25 years of salvage yard scrap metal, 4,000 tires and over 400 truckloads of waste to the landfill. It was only the beginning. What began as a local clean-up project expanded into a valleywide effort to reclaim the rivers and their floodplains as social, economic, wildlife and recreational amenities — the highlight of which is the Colorado Riverfront Trail. Today, communities across the Grand Valley are connected by over 30 miles of trails. Over 450,000 visitors enjoy the neighboring Colorado River State Park to bike, fish, swim, camp, hike and boat. There are numerous community events around the rivers, including concerts, triathlons, bike rides, raft races and festivals.

More restoration coverage here.

Colorado Water Congress’ Annual Summer Meeting recap

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Republican Dan Maes and Democrat John Hickenlooper, the Denver mayor, spoke a day apart at the conference, addressing water conservation and storage as solutions to the state water woes.

Hickenlooper said he is committed to urban water conservation, saying Denver has cut per capita use by 20 percent. “In the end, maybe it’s not Denver’s water, but Colorado’s water,” Hickenlooper said. “Maybe it’s in Denver’s best interest that we keep every drop of water we can in the Colorado River, the Arkansas River, the [Fraser] River and the South Platte River.”

It is important to preserve water for farms, the ski industry and energy production throughout the state to boost Denver’s economy, Hickenlooper said. He called for an end of the adversarial relationship among the state’s water interests and to collaboratively reach solutions to water problems…

Maes focused more on storage. “If it starts in Colorado, it’s our water. The question is how do we keep it here,” Maes said in a Thursday appearance. “We need to store as much of our water in the state as possible.”

He spoke in favor of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which would construct two new reservoirs in Northern Colorado. And he favored keeping small farmers in business through state water policy that does not automatically shift water from agricultural to urban purposes.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s third party candidate for governor, Tom Tancredo, is still in the race, according to a report from Gary Harmon writing for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

He has two words for Colorado water, Tancredo said: “Store it.”

More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.

Arkansas Valley: New irrigation efficiency rules

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From the Ag Journal (Bette McFarren):

To avoid another lawsuit [by Kansas over flows in the Arkansas River], rules have been put in place and Kansas is involved in developing the rules for water usage for Colorado farmers and must be compensated for overuse of the water in the Arkansas River. A new rule, Rule 10 Compliance Plan, is said to be better than the previous rule. But farmers are wondering about the fairness of it all. Under Rule 10 farmers who make certain improvements, such as lining ditches and laterals and/or the use of sprinkler systems, would have to provide a fee per farm and per acre, plus maps of acreage and details of irrigation practices.

This will be a problem for Don McBee, who irrigates off the Fort Lyon Canal. McBee has known for a long time that trouble was coming, and he has tried to warn other farmers. McBee said that the water received in the ending part of the Fort Lyon and Amity canals is so full of silt that the farmers have to let the water settle out before it can be used in sprinklers or drip systems. He has advised the farmers to line all of the ditches they can before regulations are put in force next year which may prevent lining of ditches and laterals. Now any improvements he makes could be fined. The pond loss through seepage is extreme. He has proposed a pond study that will establish the water loss to seepage that occurs when water is stored in ponds. When water is short, ponds dry up and crack. He hopes to establish a standard percentage of loss to be credited to farmers.

Dr. Mark Bartolo of the Colorado State University Arkansas Valley Research Center in Rocky Ford is working with an experiment called a lysimeter. The lysimeter is a measurement device rather like an eight-foot cube flower pot buried out in a field, he said. The gauges are on top, but the inward part is reached by going down a ladder underground. The lysimeter measures how much water a plant uses, how much passes through, and how much evaporates. The results from the lysimeter are used as a mathematical basis to correlate with weather data obtained from 12 small meteorological stations located from Pueblo to Holly. New developments in technology are happening all the time, but the lysimeter offers the most scientifically valid data for water consumption available at the present time. McBee hopes that his pond seepage study may receive approval similar to that granted to the lysimeter data…

Farmers who have been increasing the efficiency of their systems by going to sprinklers instead of flood irrigation, and also by other improvements, such as lining of ditches and laterals, are affected by the rules. If and when these rules go into effect, these farmers will be required to submit an application and a contract in order to use irrigation water because their more efficient practices reduce the water going back to the river through surface runoff and first level alluvial drainage. The application form will include 1) owner information, 2) farm information (water shares, acres of flood and sprinkler, headgates), 3) map of the areas, 4) statement and signature. Assessment by the Water Conservancy District must be paid in order that the Water Conservancy may buy the acre feet of water to replace the reduced runoff. New membership applications are proposed to be due on January 1 for the next season coverage, with applications accepted until April with late fees attached. Assessments will be determined by the board of directors annually.

More Arkansas Valley consumptive use rules coverage here.

Lone Tree: City to be recognized for conservation communication efforts

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From the Douglas County News Press:

The City of Lone Tree will be recognized by the City-County Communications and Marketing Association at the organization’s annual conference in September in Atlanta. Lone Tree will receive an award in the category of Go Green Communication Program Efforts for its community outreach during the implementation of its Homeowners’ Association Irrigation Efficiency Grant Program. The Savvies are awarded to skilled and effective city, county, agency or district professionals who have creatively planned and completed successful innovations in communications and marketing.

Lone Tree demonstrated its efforts in reaching out to residents during its Irrigation Efficiency Grant Program that began at the beginning of 2009. Lone Tree partnered with Denver Water to create a program to complete a citywide irrigation system audit of the common areas for each homeowners association. As a result, 2.5 million irrigated square feet were audited and the opportunity for water conservation of an estimated 18 million gallons annually was identified.

More conservation coverage here.