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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Pueblo District Attorney Jeff Chostner will ask the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court ruling on Fountain Creek.
Last week, a three-judge appellate panel overturned District Judge Victor Reyes’ order for the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to redo its certification of Colorado Springs’ mitigation plan for Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River. The case was originally filed by former District Attorney Bill Thiebaut. “I think there are contradictions within the opinion about what Judge Reyes could and couldn’t do,” Chostner said Tuesday. “They were also wrong on the facts and in saying that he acted in a capricious way.”
One of the major criticisms in last week’s reversal of Reyes’ order was that he chose to adopt Thiebaut’s complaint almost in its entirety. “It’s not unusual for a judge to pick one side over the other,” Chostner said. A petition for a writ of certiorari will be filed with the Supreme Court by the Aug. 29 deadline, Chostner said.
John Barth, a Hygiene water attorney hired by Thiebaut, and Chostner’s staff will work on the appeal.
Reyes issued the order last year for the commission to re-evaluate its certification for Colorado Springs Utilities’ plan for mitigation of impacts from the Southern Delivery System on Fountain Creek and the reach of the Arkansas River from Pueblo Dam to Avondale.
Thiebaut and the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition opposed the plan, mainly because it relies on an adaptive management program that was spawned in the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental impact statement for SDS. The opponents argued for a numerical standard instead.
The state certification is necessary for Army Corps of Engineers’ approval to work in Fountain Creek under the federal Clean Water Act.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A program that keeps flows for fish and recreation in the Upper Arkansas River is being recognized by the Palmer Land Trust with an innovation in conservation award. The award will be presented Oct. 9 in Colorado Springs. It recognizes unique partnerships that protect natural heritage.
The voluntary flow program allows transfer of water in the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project in a way that benefits fish on the Arkansas River. Water brought from the Colorado River basin is stored in Turquoise and Twin Lakes and moved to Lake Pueblo under the Fry-Ark Project. In 1990, a program was established to move the water at opportune times in order to control temperature and spawning conditions for fish, as well as to boost flows for rafting during the summer months. During the drought, the water has been crucial to meeting flow targets on the river. “This year we’ll move 14,000 acre-feet,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fry-Ark Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “It’s water that we would have to move anyway.”
The program is coordinated by Reclamation, which controls river releases; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District; and the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, along with other water users and groups in the Arkansas River basin.
From The Denver Post (Emilie Rusch):
An offensive against the Russian olive tree — an invasive species that chokes out native cottonwoods and willows — has been launched by Denver, Lakewood, Englewood, Colorado Heights and the Fort Logan National Cemetery. “They’re thorny, nasty trees,” said Drew Sprafke, an official with the city of Lakewood Regional Parks. “When they form those dense stands, no one can get through them.”
Using a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, an 11-person crew from Mile High Youth Corps will be working through early August removing the trees from the lower Bear Creek watershed.
Introduced to Colorado as an ornamental tree, Russian olives can be identified by their narrow, silvery leaves and olive-shaped fruit. They prefer moist, riparian areas, but can be found just about anywhere — along streams, in fields and open space, even ditches, Sprafke said
The eventual goal, Sprafke said, is to remove every Russian olive from Bear Creek Lake Park to the South Platte in Denver during a multiyear process.
The trees are considered a List B noxious weed by the state of Colorado, meaning local governments are required to manage and limit their spread.
Sprafke estimates there are 1,500 Russian olives between Bear Creek Lake Park and Wadsworth Boulevard.
More invasive species coverage here.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):
Attendees of the Colorado Water Workshop in Gunnison July 17-19 heard sobering news about the long-term, devastating impacts expected from the West Fork Fire complex east of Alamosa in the San Juan and Rio Grande national forests.
The fires are burning in an area hard hit by beetle kill, with many dead trees. Despite previous scientific disagreements about how beetle kill would affect wildfire behavior, anecdotal evidence suggests that areas with extensive beetle kill burn with much greater thoroughness and intensity than areas with healthy trees. This appears to be the case with the West Fork Fire complex.
The 100,000+ acres the complex has burned so far encompass the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, in a basin even harder hit by drought in recent years than the rest of Colorado.
And now the monsoon rains are here: Good for putting out fires, but problematic in other ways. Hard rain hitting burned over ground can create tremendous destruction: Land slides and loads of sediment and debris choking streams, reservoirs and other water infrastructure on which downstream communities depend.
More education coverage here.
From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):
The Colorado Water Trust started releasing the water it leased in Stagecoach Reservoir this week to help with flows through town, but Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist Billy Atkinson is asking anglers to get their fishing in early. “The water temperature is a lot more favorable in the morning,” Atkinson said Thursday. “By the afternoon, water temperatures are well into the 70s.” It would be beneficial for the health of the fish in the Yampa if people refrained from fishing in the afternoon, he said.
There’s no closure, like what happened during last year’s even lower flows, but if anglers could call it a day by noon, it would help. Dissolved oxygen levels in the river still are good, he said, and the fish still are spread out.
From the Vail Daily (John LaConte):
Water temperatures in recent days have exceeded the magic number — 70 degrees — where fish have a difficult time surviving and improper fishing can mean death, even for fish you release. “Trout have a slime-like coating over their bodies, which helps protect them against infectious diseases,” said Brad Dunkle, a guide with Minturn Anglers. “Mishandling, or using improper equipment such as a nylon net, will strip the fish of its slime. The warmer water makes it harder for them to regenerate that slime, so mishandling a fish in warm water can be a death sentence.”
From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):
What does the most endangered river in America look like? Its color was a little off this week, mucked up by a series of gully washers that blasted the arroyos lining its banks. It’s noticeably shallow, too, flowing at an undernourished water level quickly warmed by the July sun. And it’s crowded, filled with rafters, fishermen, tubers and paddle surfers seeking one of the precious few places with water to play in during another summer of drought. There are signs posted along the river asking anglers to avoid late afternoon fishing, minimize handling during catch-and-release and try to keep fish in the water in an effort to sustain the fishery through adverse conditions. There’s a growing amount of green algae drifting in the current, countless rocks jutting above the waterline and the odor of death luring dogs to roll on the beach of an otherwise inviting eddy. Almost everyone, save the dog’s owner, is smiling.
Maybe that’s because they know that in spite of all the troubles currently facing the Colorado River, things could be worse. The smile might fade if they considered the future reality of 2013’s “Most Endangered River,” as named by the conservation group American Rivers. Things will be worse, at least before they get better. “This year’s America’s Most Endangered Rivers report underscores the problems that arise for communities and the environment when we drain too much water out of rivers,” American Rivers president Bob Irvin said. “We simply cannot continue with status quo water management. It is time for stakeholders across the Colorado Basin to come together around solutions to ensure reliable water supplies and a healthy river for future generations.”
Recreational setbacks are but a fraction of the overarching Colorado River quandary, but hardly an irrelevant one. Basin-wide, the Colorado River supports a growing annual recreation economy of $26 billion, and its recreational relevance is obvious here at the headwaters.
The river’s over-allocation is also obvious, painfully so in times like this, and well-documented. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study released late last year found that water demand in recent years is already outpacing river flows. The future poses even greater challenges, with about a 10 percent reduction in flows forecast by 2060 because of climate change, persistent drought and other factors. The government’s self-proclaimed “call to action” report projects water demand outpacing supply in the Colorado River basin by 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060.
While we watch the river deteriorate here at home, they’re at least talking about it in Washington. A recent Senate subcommittee hearing included testimony on potential solutions that have been batted around for years, including agricultural and municipal conservation measures and infrastructure upgrades to ensure healthy flows. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and make the tough decisions for the river’s future,” said Russ Schnitzer, agriculture policy adviser for Trout Unlimited. “We know what’s needed — increased collaboration and partnerships among water stakeholders, including municipalities, industry, farmers and ranchers, and sportsmen. We’re all in this together.”
Thirty-six million people from Denver to Los Angeles drink Colorado River water. The river irrigates nearly 4 million acres of farmland, which grows 15 percent of the nation’s crops. Cities continue to grow; meanwhile irrigated agriculture currently consumes more than 70 percent of the water supply within the basin. “Irrigation efficiency projects, habitat reconnection and restoration, and improving in-stream flow conditions are the kind of low-hanging fruit that can benefit multiple interests,” Schnitzer said.
Sportsmen and recreational users of all walks can be counted among those interests. Because if outdated and inadequate water management persists in the Colorado basin, we most certainly will be counted out.
Scott Willoughby: 303-954-1993, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/willoughbydp
Colorado River Day
Thursday marks the 92nd anniversary of the day the Colorado River was officially re-named from the “Grand” to the “Colorado.” Denver is one of six cities hosting a celebratory event and day of action as part of Colorado River Day. The event unites urban and rural constituencies who are calling on the Department of Interior and state governors across the basin to implement an actionable plan to improve conservation and river flow, not just further study. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock will participate at a press conference at Tory Chavez Peace Garden (3825 Shoshone St.) at 11 a.m. A press conference will also be held on the river in Grand Junction at Eagle Rim Park (2746 Cheyenne Dr.) at 11:00 a.m.