David Nickum: ‘This is a huge missed opportunity’

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Update: Here’s the release from Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

A settlement to one of Colorado’s longest-running water disputes – and the opportunity to launch the largest native trout restoration in Colorado’s history – was dealt a blow by the Forest Service’s refusal to accept a collaborative arrangement for funding the project.

Colorado Trout Unlimited (CTU) and the Water Supply and Storage Company (WSSC) last year agreed to settle a long-standing dispute regarding how best to address environmental impacts of the Long Draw Reservoir in the Cache la Poudre headwaters. But the Forest Service on Sept. 3 rejected the cost-sharing arrangement at the heart of the proposal.

The parties based the proposal on a Forest Service concept for restoring native greenback cutthroat trout in 40 miles of the Cache la Poudre headwaters, but they developed a collaborative framework for doing so under which WSSC would provide seed money for the program while CTU and the State of Colorado would leverage that contribution through public and private grants and in-kind contributions. The Forest Service supported the greenback restoration alternative, but rejected the collaborative approach and instead placed full responsibility for the program on WSSC.

“The good news is that the Forest Service, WSSC, and CTU all agreed that restoring native trout in the Poudre headwaters is the right approach to mitigating Long Draw’s impacts,” said David Nickum, Executive Director of CTU. “The bad news is that the Forest Service rejected a carefully crafted proposal that had allowed stakeholders to find common ground after more than 10 years of legal battles. This is a huge missed opportunity.”

Under the proposed collaborative effort, WSSC would take responsibility for reclaiming and restoring native cutthroat trout in Long Draw Reservoir and its tributaries – establishing a large and stable recovery population. WSSC, CTU, and state agencies including the Division of Wildlife and Colorado Water Conservation Board would then leverage that contribution to extend restoration into multiple adjacent drainages that could ultimately create a “metapopulation” – a network of native fish populations across a larger watershed that is more resilient and sustainable than small isolated populations. The effort would be the largest native trout restoration project in Colorado’s history and would represent a major step toward recovery and de-listing of greenbacks under the Endangered Species Act.

“We worked diligently to develop the Forest Service’s concept into a balanced, win-win proposal,” said Dennis Harmon, General Manager of WSSC. “We are disappointed and frustrated that the Forest Service has missed this opportunity to resolve the dispute and has instead adopted a decision that will extend the controversy over Long Draw as well as its economic and environmental costs. We simply do not feel that the cost to the company (estimated by the Forest Service at more than $800,000 and maybe much more) to renew a permit for 53 acres around the perimeter of Long Draw Reservoir is appropriate or fair to the Company and its shareholders.”

The Forest Service has an administrative appeal process by which parties can seek reconsideration of agency decisions. Despite the setback posed by the current decision, CTU and WSSC hope to work with the agency through its appeal process to advance a collaborative approach, avert further legal battles, and bring this long conflict to a positive close for the Poudre River and the fish and farmers that rely upon it.

From the Fly Rod and Reel weblog (David Nickum/Dennis Harmon):

“The good news is that the Forest Service, WSSC, and CTU all agreed that restoring native trout in the Poudre headwaters is the right approach to mitigating Long Draw’s impacts,” said David Nickum, Executive Director of CTU. “The bad news is that the Forest Service rejected a carefully crafted proposal that had allowed stakeholders to find common ground after more than 10 years of legal battles. This is a huge missed opportunity.”

Under the proposed collaborative effort, WSSC would take responsibility for reclaiming and restoring native cutthroat trout in Long Draw Reservoir and its tributaries – establishing a large and stable recovery population. WSSC, CTU, and state agencies including the Division of Wildlife and Colorado Water Conservation Board would then leverage that contribution to extend restoration into multiple adjacent drainages that could ultimately create a “metapopulation” – a network of native fish populations across a larger watershed that is more resilient and sustainable than small isolated populations. The effort would be the largest native trout restoration project in Colorado’s history and would represent a major step toward recovery and de-listing of greenbacks under the Endangered Species Act.

“We worked diligently to develop the Forest Service’s concept into a balanced, win-win proposal,” said Dennis Harmon, General Manager of WSSC. “We are disappointed and frustrated that the Forest Service has missed this opportunity to resolve the dispute and has instead adopted a decision that will extend the controversy over Long Draw as well as its economic and environmental costs. We simply do not feel that the cost to the company (estimated by the Forest Service at more than $800,000 and maybe much more) to renew a permit for 53 acres around the perimeter of Long Draw Reservoir is appropriate or fair to the Company and its shareholders.”

Here’s the USFS record of decision for the project.

More Cache la Poudre watershed coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Aspen Planners to draw down Maroon Creek as demonstration project for proposed hydroelectric plant

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

Water levels in Maroon Creek will be drawn down from the current flow of about 50 cubic feet per second to 14 cfs on Tuesday and Thursday this week as the city of Aspen demonstrates the “look and feel” of a stream running near the minimum rate associated with the proposed Castle Creek hydropower project. The demonstrations are technically site visits with Aspen City Council members, and thus are public meetings…

Maroon Creek has a state-mandated minimum instream flow of 14 cfs. The site visit is intended to allow council members to observe the “look and feel of a stream at those levels,” Hornbacher said.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Windy Gap Reservoir drained to attack siltation

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Windy Gap Reservoir outside Granby was drained recently so crews could remove a build-up of silt that was threatening the pumping facility…The reservoir will be refilled when construction is complete.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

2010 Colorado elections: U.S. Senator Bennet and U.S. Representative Markey will host an agriculture forum Thursday

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From The Fort Morgan Times:

The offices of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Betsy Markey, along with the USDA, are hosting a forum on agriculture, conservation and rural development in Fort Morgan on Thursday, Sept. 9. The event is to be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Morgan Community College in the Founders Room in Spruce Hall. MCC is at 920 Barlow Road. The forum will allow participants to provide feedback on agriculture, conservation and rural development issues and will include a conversation about the 2012 farm bill…

Key questions for discussion include how to cultivate the next generation of farmers and ranchers, how to provide Colorado producers with the risk management tools and safety net they need in a fiscally responsible manner, and how to address natural resource concerns, such as water quantity and quality, erodible soils and wildlife habitat, while keeping land in production and opportunities open for rural economic development. Those interested in attending should RSVP to agriculture@bennet.senate.gov.

More Morgan County coverage

San Luis Valley: Documentary film makers plan to spend a year and a half gathering and telling the valley’s water stories

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From the Valley Courier:

At Wednesday’s natural resources and energy workshop sponsored by Adams State College Community Partnerships, about two dozen of the Valley’s water users, including a few of those whom Gibson calls “water buffalos,” gathered to meet Karuna Eberl, film maker and director/producer of Wandering Dog Films. Eberl and her crew plan to spend the next year and a half gathering the stories of water in the San Luis Valley and creating a series of HD-TV documentaries for nationwide distribution.

Under the nonprofit fiscal sponsorship of EarthNest Institute, based in the Sangre de Cristo Ranches of Fort Garland, the project’s first public gathering showed trailers of the production company’s other documentaries and opened the meeting to questions and comments.

As Eberl explained, “This is your documentary, your story. We’re going to take our time, listening very closely and learning about your complex water issues. And we’re going to tell your stories with integrity and with respect for your differences.”[…]

Those who have a water story to tell, contact Nicole Langley, at EarthNest Institute, at 719-588-4109. To see samples of Karuna Eberl’s documentary film productions, go to www.wanderingdogfilms.com.

A look at water and farming in the Arkansas Valley

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Mauch was president of the Fort Lyon Canal during the 2002 drought, when many of the shareholders decided it was time to sell to High Plains A&M. The investors bought up nearly a quarter of the canal and persuaded others to vote with them. “We were this close to giving up control of the canal,” Mauch said. “Even though our lawyer said we’d be protected, I wasn’t so sure.” Since then, there have been other nettling water issues that Mauch believes continue to chip away at narrow profit margins.

Along with Don McBee, Mauch is helping organize a $200,000 study of leakage in 20 ponds that feed sprinklers. They want to prove something they believe is just common sense: Those ponds lose a lot of water. The Colorado Division of Water Resources has filed a court case on rules governing the consumptive use gains from irrigation improvements and could plug the information into a model that presumes 3 percent seepage. Steering his pickup onto the rim of one of his ponds, Mauch pointed to the curling mud chips on the bottom of the pond: “Three days ago, this was full of water. You’re telling me that’s a 3 percent loss?”

Driving past Harry Reed’s farm — Reed is one of several farmers whose seep ditch rights are under measurement requirements for the first time in 100 years — Mauch shook his head and waved an arm.
“That water never made it back to the Arkansas River,” he said. It’s too close to his own troubles with the state. “They can put a giant pipeline to suck the river out at Pueblo Dam. They talk about building dams on Fountain Creek and recapture water using the Holbrook. I’m 10 miles away from the Arkansas, and they say I’m cheating the river?”[…]

The most important step farmers have taken in recent years to protect their water is the Super Ditch, in Mauch’s opinion. The Super Ditch is the only way to stop municipal water speculators from continuing to raid the Arkansas River basin, Mauch said. “You might think you can keep them away, but you can’t,” Mauch said. “The more prepared we are with a leasing program, the longer we can delay. We have to give them a place to shop, or they’ll buy the store.”

Mauch was among the farmers who incorporated the Super Ditch and praised the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District for helping get it off the ground. The leases should not be limited to the Arkansas Valley in order to realize the full value or the water, he said. Temporarily drying up some land can be beneficial, and in very dry years, water could be more valuable in an urban shower than put on a crop that’s not going to make it anyhow, he added.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The most important tool in the Lamar farmer’s [Dale Mauch’s] shed appears to be the cell phone, even though he often would rather set irrigation tubes than try to deal with computers, global positioning systems and other technology that dominates modern farming.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.