The City of #Boulder is asking citizens to contribute to a crowdsourced #boulderflood assessment map #COflood

Business Week: Why Are So Many Counties Trying to Secede From Their States?

51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record
51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record

From Bloomberg Business Week (Claire Suddath)

“It’ll be North Colorado. Or maybe New Colorado,” says Jeffrey Hare, founder of the so-called 51st State Initiative and a resident of Weld County, currently in the northern part of regular Colorado. In November, residents of Weld and 10 other counties will vote to determine if residents are interested in seceding from the state. Hare says he knows he’s fighting an uphill battle and that forming a new state is much more complicated than just redrawing a few borders. New (or North) Colorado would have to come up with a school system, maintain its own roads, and collect taxes—the latter a tricky prospect for a state conceived by Tea Partiers. But Hare is so sick of “those people in Boulder,” as he calls them, that he’s willing to take a stab at it.

He’s not alone. Northern Californians are trying to assemble the new state of Jefferson—again. (They tried in 1941, going so far as to inaugurate a governor.) Last year, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula briefly considered independence from the downstate mitten. And in Maryland, a man named Scott Strzelczyk is leading a movement to allow the five westernmost, Republican-leaning counties to separate from the rest of the state. “Here at the state level, we’re controlled by a single party—Democrats—and we feel we have no other recourse,” he says. “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. We want to be our own state.”

It’s important to point out that none of these movements are attempts to secede from the United States. They’re not like the dozens of online petitions signed in the wake of President Obama’s re-election that sought to declare independence from America, and which were openly embraced by white nationalist groups. (Secession-happy Texas is keeping its petition alive; it had over 125,000 signatures before the federal shutdown took the petition temporarily offline.) And while the movements that are furthest along, those in Colorado and Maryland, are backed by Tea Partiers (you can find people urging each other to to sign up for the 51st State Initiative on the Tea Party Community website), not every proposed state would be populated with conservatives.

Last year, Arizona’s liberal-leaning Pima County, home to Tucson, tried to declare itself the state of Baja because it didn’t want to be governed by Arizona’s conservative majority. In a twist, the impetus for the Baja movement was a proposed bill that would have allowed Arizona to nullify federal laws it didn’t like; the bill was defeated. Pima was thus trying to secede from Arizona because Arizona was distancing itself from the U.S. Or, as early Baja organizer Paul Eckerstom told the Wall Street Journal at the time: “We actually want to stay in the union. It seems Arizona doesn’t.”[…]

The interesting thing about these new movements isn’t their likelihood of success, but the fact that they constitute blatant attempts at ideological gerrymandering. “In previous state secession movements, there was usually a sense of compromise in the end that often diffused these things,” says Michael Trinklein, author of Lost States, a book about past statehood movements, “but now that we’re so polarized, it’s feeling as if these are movements of last resort.”[…]

Leaders of Colorado’s 51st State Initiative have said they’re modeling their efforts on the Kansas movement. Hare points to a host of issues—Colorado’s alternative energy requirements, water rights, taxes—that compelled him to try breaking away from his home state. “But when we saw the gun control bills that were happening, myself and a couple of other people thought: How can we nullify this? The concept of statehood came out of that—we could bring a proper constitution to the new state,” he explained. A problem is that local voters have already recalled two state senators who proposed the gun control legislation and are in the process of trying to recall a third. So the 51st State Initiative is addressing something that has already been resolved via Colorado’s democratic process.

That’s the difference between the new crop of state secessions and its predecessors. The United States isn’t just divided into red and blue states; it has further split into red and blue counties. Instead of celebrating that together, they reach agreements that are essentially purple, people get angrier and angrier whenever the other color bleeds into their own.

From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

Proponents and opponents of the 51st state measure on the Weld County ballot can agree on one thing: North Colorado would be different from what Colorado is now. But those on either side of the issue disagree on whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

At a panel discussion hosted by the Greeley/Weld County League of Women Voters on Monday night, Weld County commissioners Barbara Kirkmeyer and Sean Conway said they believe a different state would not disenfranchise residents, as they feel our current state legislators do, while Bob Ruyle, a water attorney and a member of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board, and Steve Mazurana, retired professor of political science at the University of Northern Colorado, said a new state would mean new problems.

Education, water, financial feasibility and commissioners’ legal authority to initiate the 51st state movement were whittled down to the finer points, the issues volleying among panelists as more than 200 people moaned and clucked their tongues during the forum at Hensel Phelps Theater at the Union Colony Civic Center.

“Whether this passes or not, the disconnect is a problem,” Conway said.

Mazurana said he wasn’t even sure of that. He said this year’s state legislation demonstrates the ebb and flow of politics, and questioned whether the argument for a 51st state would be a moot point if Republicans dominate the state Legislature in coming years.

“Take it easy,” he said. “This is one legislative session.”

Commissioners countered that this past legislative session was one of the worst they have seen, citing complaints from constituents who wished to testify before bills who were turned away and the rural renewable energy bill and proposed oil and gas regulations as times when commissioners and others imperative to those processes were not invited to speak at the state Capitol.

On a number of points, either side insisted they were in the right:

» On the power of commissioners to initiate the 51st state, Ruyle said that power is not expressly listed in state statute or the county’s home rule charter, which it must be, if commissioners take any action. He said the power to alter or change government lies solely with the citizens, and the initiative must be citizen-led. Kirkmeyer said a provision in the county’s charter allows commissioners to go through a process to get an initiative or referendum on the ballot, which gives them that power. She said commissioners are expressly charged with representing their constituents.

» On financing the new state, Mazurana said the new state would have to purchase UNC, three state parks and three prisons, and pay for a national guard, state infrastructure, state law enforcement and other services. Ruyle said about 83 percent of the new state’s assessed value would come out of Weld County, so the county would be subsidizing the other 10 counties that wish to form North Colorado. He said oil and gas may be helping Weld to thrive economically, but he said he doesn’t have faith in the long-term stability of the industry.

Conway said an I-News Network analysis of the financial aspect of the 51st state, which said the 11 northeastern counties receive more state funding for education and other services than they contribute, left out $115 million that Weld County gives to the state land board, meaning North Colorado actually gives more money to state coffers than it receives. He said the new state’s business philosophy would be similar to that of Delaware, another small state, which has the greatest number of Fortune 500 companies in the country.

» On water issues, Ruyle said a number of things would have to be renegotiated, such as the new state’s compact with Colorado on water use. In the interim, he said the new state could be left with no water rights. Ruyle said the new state would have to get permission from a water court for every acre-foot of water that flows outside of Colorado’s boundaries, at a cost of about $1.5 million per year. Ruyle and Conway differed on the results of a U.S. Supreme Court case that Conway cited as precedent for why Colorado could not completely impede the water received by North Colorado, and he said resolutions of support from Colorado counties on the Western slope would mean hassle-free headwaters for the new state.

» On the cost of tuition, Mazurana and Ruyle said students who were formerly a part of Colorado would have to pay out-of-state tuition to go to the likes of the University of Colorado and Colorado State University. Conway countered that tuition in Wyoming is cheaper for Colorado students to pay out-of-state than to pay for an education at CU and CSU, thanks to the state Legislature’s lack of attention to funding for higher education. Ruyle said part of the problem is Colorado’s TABOR law, which doesn’t allow the legislators as much taxing authority.

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

Steamboat Springs: Stormwater enterprise not in the cards

Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs

From Steamboat Today (John F. Russell):

A task force created this year to study the stormwater needs in Steamboat has concluded a new fee or utility shouldn’t be created at this time to help cover the cost of maintenance and upgrades.

Instead, the task force is recommending that for the time being, the city’s stormwater upgrades can be covered out of its own budget by hiring more personnel and dedicating more equipment and materials to maintain the infrastructure…

The demand for the millions of dollars worth of stormwater improvements in Steamboat was the result of the city never having a comprehensive plan to keep up and expand its current system, City Manager Deb Hinsvark said as the task force was being created in January.

Last year, the city tapped Short Elliott Hendrickson, a firm of engineers, architects, planners and scientists based in St. Paul, Minn., to perform a $180,000 infrastructure study of Steamboat’s bridges, culverts and dams.

The firm recommended that the city invest at least $17 million in new capital projects to upgrade its stormwater system and help manage future flooding.

The consultant also found Steamboat’s stormwater infrastructure included “aging drainage infrastructure, much of which is in need of replacement immediately or within 5 to 10 years.”

The task force of 13 community members and five representatives from the city staff was created to help the city plan for the future.

Since February, they usually met once every two weeks and became experts in the city’s stormwater master plan.

“They deserve tremendous kudos for all the time they put into it,” Beall said about the task force, adding the discussion was robust and technical at times.

More stormwater coverage here and here.

State launches website for disaster recovery

Evans Colorado September 2013 via
Evans Colorado September 2013 via

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today announced a new website that will serve as a comprehensive one-stop location for information about recovery efforts related to the historic flooding in Colorado last month.

The website,, includes the latest recovery news, current information about impacted areas and how to get help. There is also a place where the public can contact the Recovery Office through a simple form that will be reviewed and responded to within 24 hours.

“All of Colorado is united in helping communities impacted by flooding recovery,” Hickenlooper said. “This website puts important information all in one place and will serve as a resource for people and businesses that are rebuilding. The site will also include the latest updates about recovery efforts and give people a way ask questions and get help quickly.”

The name ColoradoUnited was chosen to illustrate how communities in and out of the flooded areas are coming together to help recovery efforts and are united in making Colorado better and stronger after the disaster.

Visitors to the new website will find an interactive Google map that includes information about road closures, shelters, weather conditions and current traffic flow. The site also includes embedded links to traffic cams and dozens of pictures taken by the Civil Air Patrol.

A “Get Help” part of the website includes information about temporary housing, financial and insurance assistance, medicine and counseling, legal assistance, rebuilding houses, businesses and farmers, and disaster unemployment assistance.

Another section about “Home Safety” includes tips for returning home safely to engage in cleanup and rebuilding. There are other resources for water and food safety, clearing debris and sanitation and winterizing homes.

Chronicling the rainfall from the September storms #COflood

Upper Colorado River Basin September 2013 precipitation as percent of normal
Upper Colorado River Basin September 2013 precipitation as percent of normal

From (Alan Gionet):

“The evidence that is left for us we’re going to try to make the best sense out of it and try to come up with some answers,” said Russell Stroud, lead hydrographer in the area for the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

Stroud was joined by U.S. Geological Survey workers as they tried to compute the amount of water that poured down the Big Thompson Canyon. Those workers are now furloughed and the numbers have been delayed. But people in the area have guessed the water’s flow at 15,000 cubic feet per second.

They will compute the maximum flow — how high the water got.

“Agencies like (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) will use that to delineate their flood maps and insurance will use FEMA’s flood maps to determine insurance rates and zoning and so forth,” said Jeff Kitchen, a USGS hydrologist…

The heaviest rains were in Larimer County, Boulder County and Aurora. In some areas of the Eastern Plains there was little rain, just downstream flooding. Boulder County had the most.

“If you just simply average those numbers, we came up with 8.9 inches in seven days across the county,” said the National Weather Service’s Bob Glancy.

Lake Powell: ‘It can’t be considered a reliable source of water anymore’ — John Weisheit #ColoradoRiver

Monkey Wrench Gang cover via The Tattered Cover Denver
Monkey Wrench Gang
Ken Sleight the original Monkey Wrencher photo via Salon
Ken Sleight the original Monkey Wrencher photo via Salon

Here’s an in-depth look at the movement to decommission Glen Canyon Dam from Brandon Loomis writing for Arizona Central. Click through and read the whole article and check out the photos. Here’s an excerpt:

Two men sat beside the Colorado River at Lees Ferry slugging Coors and stoking a “probably illegal” fire into the morning, cooking up a dream that would infuse both their lives’ quixotic work.

The new friends shared a brainstorm for a bold plan, which a sly smile from one of them 4-1/2 decades later indicates was only half-bluster:

Let’s get rid of Glen Canyon Dam.

It was a radical idea that got them proudly labeled as “kooky.” Today, for everyone from government water managers to university professors to wakeboarders, the concept is at least as wild now that the thirsty Southwest has grown up. But some people still sit around dreaming of draining Lake Powell, and a few think science is on their side…

If this sounds like the plot of a suspense novel, it kind of is. [Ken Sleight’s] campfire companion was Edward Abbey, who had by then written his “Desert Solitaire” memoir but not “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” That 1975 novel envisioned a handful of saboteurs battling the West’s creeping industrialism and working for Glen Canyon Dam’s demise. Abbey died in 1989…

Sleight became the inspiration for the book’s big-eared, Jack Mormon river runner, “Seldom Seen Smith,” and to this day, he remains committed to the cause. He has filed lawsuits and staged rallies, and he still believes. Maybe, he said, the current drought will persuade water managers to drain Powell so they can fill Lake Mead, the critical trough for big population centers downstream of the Grand Canyon.

“I’m on the threshold of going,” he said of his mortality. “But I always wanted to see that water flowing freely.”[…]

For technical expertise, Sleight defers to John Weisheit, a fellow Moab environmentalist with the Living Rivers group. Weisheit notes that Powell is less than half-full, its water level is dropping, and it is projected to have larger swings in water level as climate change takes hold. The government could restore the river’s — and the Grand Canyon’s — ecological health by draining Powell and still could fill Lake Mead, he said.

“It can’t be considered a reliable source of water anymore,” Weisheit said of Lake Powell. “Send (the water) down to the place it’s been going for 6 million years, which is the Gulf of California,” he said of excess water that Mead could not hold…

To some grappling with the Southwest’s water future, dam removal is inconceivable.

“It’s a non-starter,” said Dave White, co-director of Arizona State University’s Decision Center for a Desert City, which studies water-sustainability options to deal with climate change. “(There is) zero probability of removing either Glen Canyon or Hoover.”

The reason is that those dams, after a wet-weather cycle, can capture and store four years of river flows to dole out during drought.

“(Dam removal) would be fairly catastrophic,” White said. “We have too much demand on an annual basis to be met by the natural in-flow of the river.”

Even without accounting for climate change, he said, the Bureau of Reclamation’s water-supply study found that population growth in coming decades would suck Lake Mead to below 1,000feet in elevation in 7percent of the years. That elevation is low enough to trigger a water shortage and rationing among the states — something that has never happened. The lake’s current elevation is about 1,107feet. Farm fields across the Sonoran Desert, which currently use the majority of Arizona’s Colorado River water, could go fallow…

Floods that could destroy Glen Canyon Dam have occurred more commonly than was assumed 50 years ago. “Nature will decide when this is a problem and how much of a problem it is, but there are data that were not available when Glen Canyon was designed,” Baker said. “Dams are things that last for 100 years, but they don’t last forever.”[…]

…activist Sleight said much of the area can be as beautiful as he remembers. Some of the side canyons already have responded to the lower water level. He remembered a trip to Davis Gulch in the 1990s, the last time the water neared this low point. New cottonwoods were growing.

“The main canyon is going to take years and years — 100years — to come back,” Sleight said. “Maybe it’ll never come back. But the side canyons, they will come back. They’re flushed out by floods.”

Paul Ostapuk, a reservoir booster with the group Friends of Lake Powell, hopes it never comes to that. He imagines dredging, sediment bypasses and other fixes keeping the dam functional for 1,500 years. Even then, he said, the mud piling up behind the dam may have built up to become prime soil for a farming boom.

“I see Lake Powell never really going away,” Ostapuk said.

From USA Today (Brandon Loomis):

Paul Ostapuk of Page and a Friends of Lake Powell member sees it differently. Pacific Ocean patterns dictate snowfall cycles that feed the Colorado River, and they have swung wildly before. Ostapuk finds it ironic that those who swore high water would topple the dam in the early 1980s when huge releases of water dangerously ripped rock from dam-bypass tunnels now are saying drought spells doom.

“It’s hard for me to believe that right at 2000, when (Lake Powell was) basically full, that a permanent climate switch happened,” he said. “Don’t give up on the Colorado River. It could come roaring back, and I think people will be surprised how much water comes down.”

The river is erratic, draining anywhere from 5 million acre-feet in a drought year to 20 million after an epic winter. Each acre-foot supplies roughly enough water for two households for a year. Without both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, Ostapuk said a water shortage already would be drying up Arizona farms. California has older, superior rights to Colorado River water that would trump Arizona’s during a crisis.

“You have to have the ability to catch the wet years, so you can ration it out in the lean times,” he said. “If you’d only had Lake Mead (during the current drought), it would be totally empty. Lake Powell’s what’s getting us through this.”

The Bureau of Reclamation concurs. It calls Lake Powell critical to the mix of water-supply options already projected to fall short — barring extensive conservation and reuse efforts — during the coming half century.

“Drawing down Lake Powell would result in reduced yield to the system,” bureau spokeswoman Lisa Iams said in an e-mail. “Losses due to evaporation would increase if additional water currently stored in Lake Powell were released to Mead,” because Mead is at a lower, hotter elevation.”[…]

Below the dam, the aquatic legacy is mixed. Water gushing through the hydropower turbines comes from deep in the reservoir is colder than native fishes such as the endangered humpback chub evolved to withstand. As chubs and other species declined downstream in the Grand Canyon, non-native cold-water trout thrived and created Arizona’s finest trophy rainbow fishery at Lees Ferry.

The dam also blocked the sand that had flowed through the canyon for ages, altering fish and wildlife habitat while depleting beaches river rafters use. Smaller beaches support less windblown sand to root mesquites and other vegetation, or to cover and preserve archaeological sites from erosion.

“The Colorado River Storage Project Act passed in ’56, and the big dam-building era was on us,” said Jan Balsom, Grand Canyon National Park’s deputy chief of resource management. “It wasn’t until years later that we realized what was happening environmentally.”[…]

Visitors to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area pump some $400 million into northern Arizona and southern Utah, according to Friends of Lake Powell. That figure is similar to a $380 million estimate that Northern Arizona University researchers made in 1999.

The dam generates hydropower to supply cooperatives that have 4 million customers spread from Arizona to Wyoming. It generates less power now when the water is low.

The dam has eight turbine units, each capable of producing 165 megawatts. A single megawatt is enough to power 250 homes at a given moment.

But that capacity is available only when the reservoir is full. Plant supervisor Roger Williams said the water pressure now yields 135 megawatts per unit. Another water-level drop of 100 feet and the dam would have to cease hydropower production or risk damage to the turbines. By that time, the units would be producing just 75 megawatts apiece.

These economic drivers are apart from the development and crops grown through the reservoir’s water deliveries, or its cooling of the nearby Navajo Generating Station, the West’s largest coal-fired power plant.

Growing awareness of the damage to the Grand Canyon led to an environmental-protection act in 1992, mandating dam releases that take river ecology into account.

Since then, the Interior Department has sought to restore something of the river’s past characteristics. Since 1996, and most recently last fall, the department has loosed four huge water flushes from the dam to mimic historic floods and churn up sandbars…

Rafters who don’t mind starting below the dam have an argument for corralling the Colorado. The dam evens out the peak flows each spring and keeps the river a little higher through fall, said Korey Seyler of Colorado River Discovery tours in Page. He has paying customers March through November.

Without the dam? He figures he would close shop in September when river rocks emerged.

Ostapuk, the Friends of Lake Powell member, said Glen Canyon remains wild, with uncrowded side canyons requiring no permit to explore.

“It’s just pure, raw adventure out there,” Ostapuk said.

Fifty years after that last bucket of concrete, when Page Mayor Diak stops to look at the dam and the high-voltage lines spreading from it across the Colorado Plateau, he still sees the future. Whether building a dam here was ideal is now pointless to argue, he said.

“You can’t live in the 15th century and expect to have the things that we have now,” Diak said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.