Say hello to Our Colorado River project from Colorado Trout Unlimited #ColoradoRiver

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From the Vail Daily (Derek Franz):

…Trout Unlimited, a non-profit conservation organization, is currently working to unite the Western Slope to ensure the region has a strong voice at the bargaining table [ed. during development of the Colorado Water Plan]. The group is asking governments to sign onto the Our Colorado River project, which outlines five “core values” that various stakeholders might agree upon.

“We’re trying to show unity and resolve on matters that have sometimes been points of contention between the agriculture and recreation communities,” said TU’s Colorado River Basin Outreach Coordinator Richard Van Gytenbeek. “By agreeing to these core values, we can provide a united focus on a common platform as we move toward the Colorado Water Plan, which is due in 2014.”

Gytenbeek said he has asked seven counties to sign the plan since this spring, including Eagle County on Oct. 15.

“I’ve also asked Routt, Summit, Gunnison, Garfield and Mesa counties,” he said. “Garfield and Mesa counties are the only ones that seem to be waffling.”

Our Colorado River project’s five core values are:

Cooperation, Not Conflict – Work together to ensure the Colorado River is able to meet our diverse needs, from agriculture to recreation and tourism. Cooperation is the key to sustaining our economy and way of life.

Protect Our Quality of Life – Maintain our open spaces through a vigorous agricultural sector and ensure that our rivers and streams are flowing and healthy.

Modernize Irrigation – Upgrade our aging irrigation infrastructure systems to make them more productive, economical and habitat-friendly.

Innovative management – Explore new ways to meet our water supply needs through innovative conservation and management practices.

Keep Our Rivers at Home – Leave water in its home basins and oppose new, large-scale, river-damaging trans-basin diversions from the Colorado River to the Front Range.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund cleanup: Cotter wants to reduce the frequency of groundwater monitoring

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Public comment is being sought on a Cotter Corp. uranium mill proposal seeking to reduce the frequency of groundwater monitoring on 11 new wells. The state health department has preliminarily approved the request and will take public input before making a final decision. Cotter Corp. Mill Manager John Hamrick indicated more than a year’s worth of sampling has been amassed on 11 new wells, which were dug in late 2011 to help establish the extent of groundwater contamination.

“Once we’ve established 12 months of measurements, we generally move to quarterly sampling as we do with all the other wells,” Hamrick explained.

The mill and a portion of the neighboring Lincoln Park community have been an EPA Superfund site since 1988 due to uranium and molybdenum contamination in groundwater and soils. Groundwater is not used by residents in the contaminated area of Lincoln Park as they all have been connected to the city water supply.

Hamrick said the average uranium value for each of the new monitoring wells is below the Colorado Groundwater Quality Standard. Only three wells have exceeded the standard for uranium — one six times, another twice and the third just once.

The average molybdenum concentration for most of the new wells also was below the state standard and only three wells have exceeded that standard out of 115 samples.

The state health department reviewed the request as did the Cotter Community Advisory Group. Regulators feel, “Significant baseline data” has been collected to allow for quarterly monitoring instead of monthly, said Jennifer Opila, unit leader for the state heath department’s radioactive materials division.

Public comment will be accepted Monday through Sept. 13. Comments can be sent to Warren Smith, community involvement manager, via email at warren.smith@state.co.us or by calling 303-692-3373.

More Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill coverage here and here.

Say hello to Lucy Waldo the new conservation director of Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas

Arkansas River Near Leadville
Arkansas River Near Leadville

From the Leadville Herald-Democrat (Ann Marie Swan):

Protecting productive, hard-won agricultural lands and their natural systems is the life work of Lucy Waldo, new conservation director of Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas. Waldo’s affinity for distinct Colorado ranchlands and the people who work them has moved her to facilitate conservation easements.

“We need to pay attention to protecting the natural resources that we depend on,” Waldo said. She calls this “one of our fundamental goals as humans.”

Before joining the Land Trust, Waldo served as director of the Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy for 11 years. There, she helped ranching families complete 25 conservation easements that protected nearly 10,000 acres of productive ranchland. Waldo was also director of the Colorado Water Workshop, a western water policy conference hosted by Western State College in Gunnison. Waldo sees conservation easements on private lands as serving landowners, the surrounding community and, ultimately, humankind. Conservation easements are voluntary, coming from landowners, and another expression of private-property rights.

“It’s a win-win solution,” Waldo said. “We need to value the agricultural lands and natural areas that provide food, water, shelter and clean air for people and other creatures.”

Waldo grew up in Maryland, where her father worked with dairy cattle at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. Her mother was a family counselor. Waldo came to Colorado in 1980 to attend Colorado State University in Fort Collins. She earned degrees in agricultural extension education and history.
Waldo found her career path in the early ’90s while working with a community group in Gunnison, focusing on a grand vision for the valley.

“There was a strong consensus to see working ranchlands continue to be a part of the community’s future,” Waldo said.

Despite her years of experience, Waldo is challenged by every conservation easement. Keeping up with ever-changing legal requirements, tax benefits and finding funding is only part of the process. Each parcel of land has unique characteristics and landowners have specific needs and desires.

“I find it especially satisfying to listen to people’s stories of how their families worked diligently to create a productive farm or ranch,” Waldo said.

“Generations have devoted themselves to improving their operations and taking care of their land. You can hear the pride and love in their voices. Helping landowners conserve the land they love is incredibly satisfying.”

Waldo is rooted in the central Rockies, her home for more than 20 years. Her work takes her to Lake, Chaffee, Fremont, Saguache and western Park counties.

“I have great respect for people who work the land in this challenging climate,” Waldo said. “I watch my neighbors haying and see the long hours, sweat and dedication that go into the year’s crop. The lush abundance of the meadows in August depends on the hard work of the ranchers, and the recurring gifts of the water and the soil.”

Waldo spends her free time riding horses, hiking and cross-country skiing.

“I hope that I will always keep this awareness of how blessed we are and how important it is to take care of the world,” Waldo said.

Waldo can be contacted at lucywaldo@ltua.org. For information about Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas, visit http://www.ltua.org.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

What happens in the Arctic does NOT stay in the Arctic

Summit County Citizens Voice

Ocean currents originating near the poles drives tropical rainfall

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Rainfall amounts in the tropics may be influenced by ocean currents originating thousands of miles away, in polar regions, according to an international team of climate scientists trying to track down how global warming might affect precipitation in different regions.

Most tropical rains fall in the northern hemisphere — Palmyra Atoll, at 6 degrees north, gets 175 inches of rain a year, while comparable locations at similar latitudes south of the equator only get 45 inches annually.

Scientists have long thought that this was due to a quirk in the Earth’s geometry — with the spin of the Earth pushing tropical rain bands north across diagonally tilted ocean basins. But the study, led by University of Washington researchers suggests the pattern is driven by ocean currents originating from the poles, thousands of miles away.

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Ag practices in Weld County impact RMNP, the Colorado Livestock Association hopes to help

Nitrogen Deposition via Knight Science Journalism
Nitrogen Deposition via Knight Science Journalism

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

The local agriculture industry is teaming up with scientists and other experts, looking to possibly take the “biggest step yet” in addressing what’s been a major concern at Rocky Mountain National Park for several years. While Greeley is about 60 miles away from the park, ammonia drifting westward from ag operations in Weld County and surrounding areas, among other sources, has impacted the park’s ecosystem, according to studies.

Biologist Jim Cheatham said the 2006 Rocky Mountain National Park Initiative report revealed that nitrogen levels in the park are about 15 times more than natural amounts — with the excess coming in the form of nitrogen oxide from sources like fossil fuels, and also ammonia from ag operations. Such levels, according to Cheatham, have altered the vegetation composition, aquatic communities and overall natural processes of the alpine tundra the park was created to protect under its designations as a National Park, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Class I Airshed.

Now, the Colorado Livestock Association is voluntarily working with climatologists and other scientists in hopes of controlling the problem.

The Greeley-based organization is spearheading an effort to develop a warning system that will tell ag producers — based on atmospheric conditions — when they should or shouldn’t scrape manure from pens at feedlots and dairies, fertilize crops or perform other tasks that release ammonia into the atmosphere. Only when weather conditions are right does that ammonia drift from farms, ranches and dairies along the Front Range and northeast Colorado plains to Rocky Mountain National Park.

“So if we can just get more exact data about how and when that ammonia is moving into Rocky Mountain National Park … and then develop a warning system … that could really go a long way in fixing the problem,” said Bill Hammerich, president of the Colorado Livestock Association. “We know we’re not the only contributor to the issue, but we certainly want to do our part to help fix it.”

Such a warning system has been in discussions for about two years, Hammerich said, and it finally got off the ground this month, thanks to a recent $100,000 boost from the Conservation Innovation Grant program.

Cheatham said he’s “very appreciative” of the efforts being made by the Colorado Livestock Association and others, saying the development of a warning system could be the “biggest step yet” in addressing the high nitrogen levels in the park.

There’s no exact numbers showing how much of an impact agriculture operations have on the high nitrogen levels, but he said the 2006 report showed that about 55 percent of the excess nitrogen was coming from sources in Colorado, while the other 45 percent drifted in from outside the state. Cheatham said ongoing studies are attempting to pinpoint precisely how much ag and other industries are affecting nitrogen levels.

“We know agriculture’s impact is significant.”

William Brock Faulkner — a professor at Texas A&M University’s Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, who’s helping with the warning-system endeavor — said the Colorado Livestock Association and other parties involved (Cheatham, the Colorado Corn Growers Association in Greeley and Colorado State University Atmospheric Science Department professors Jeffrey Collett and Russ Schumacher, among many others) are hoping to have about 30 to 40 producers in the region participating in a “pilot” program by March or April of next year, after more data is collected. Faulkner said some of the effort will be determining whether a warning system would even be economically feasible — not requiring producers to delay practices like manure removal, needed as part as of animal-health measures, for too many days.

But local producers say they’re willing to do their part.

“Myself and others in agriculture certainly don’t want to have a negative impact on the environment,” said Steve Gabel of Eaton, former president of the Colorado Livestock Association, and also operator of Magnum Feedyards, which has the capacity to hold nearly 25,000 head of cattle.

Gabel explained that many producers already have practices in place that help reduce the release of ammonia into the atmosphere, but added that, if a warning system can be developed, he could hold off on performing ammonia-releasing tasks for as many as a few days at a time, or even up to a week, if needed.

Cheatham said the overall goal is to ultimately cut nitrogen levels in the park by half — 1.5 kilograms of reactive nitrogen per hectare per year. He noted that it’s a “realistic and achievable goal,” but those levels would still be about seven or eight times the natural amounts of nitrogen in the park.

“We understand that, with human activity, natural levels are not achievable anymore,” he said, describing Rocky Mountain National Park as ahead of the curve in addressing the nitrogen issue compared to other parks. “But we certainly need to do what we can to control the problem.”

More water pollution coverage here.

Drought news: 3 years of drought, DWR enforcement regarding seep ditches leads to loss of bird habitat #COdrought

Straight Line Diagram Lower Arkansas River Valley via Headwaters Magazine
Straight Line Diagram Lower Arkansas River Valley via Headwaters Magazine

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A McClave farmer who has watched a reservoir dry up during the drought of the last three years is nearing the end of a court battle with the state and downstream water users to protect a wildlife refuge. Unless some other source of water is found, the two reservoirs that provide habitat for migrating birds, including some endangered species, could become just so many more acres of weeds and salt cedar, said Lance Verhoeff.

“There is a real risk of the wildlife refuge disappearing,” Verhoeff said. “I think there’s a real opportunity if conservation groups could come together to find water to put in the reservoirs.”

So far, there only have been efforts to take water from the small reservoirs, located just downstream of John Martin Reservoir.

In 2011, the Division of Water Resources began enforcing water rights on seep ditches throughout the Arkansas River basin — the type that used to provide water to the Bent County reservoirs.

For Verhoeff, the decision has been perplexing. His family was encouraged by the state to build the reservoirs — one in 1946 and one in 1962 — and received funding from the federal Soil Conservation Service. Using the reservoirs, the Verhoeffs were able to turn meadows into fields with the full support of state and federal agencies. In the process, the reservoirs became prime habitat for migrating birds.

In 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service even funded a habitat improvement project. “The biggest problem has been the change in the management of water, through buy-and-dry by the cities and the lawsuit with Kansas,” Verhoeff said.

In 2011, the state cracked down on seep ditches — water intercepted on its way back to the river from more senior diversions. Verhoeff filed a water court application in late 2011 seeking to gain storage rights, as well as shore up his claim to water on several ditches.

Verhoeff maintained that water development in the area early on separated the reservoirs from the river. The state and downstream water users such as the Amity Canal, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association argued that a ditch was needed to convey water to the river — and away from the reservoirs.

Trial is set for November in water court, but Verhoeff is working with the other groups on a settlement. The likelihood is that the upper reservoir will be able to store water when it is available, while the lower one, already full of tamarisk and weeds, will remain dry unless other sources of water are found.

“The reservoirs are not under restriction for any dam safety purposes,” said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer. “They could be used for storage if a way was found to put water into the reservoirs through augmentation and exchange.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

CFWE reading recommendation: Kevin Fedarko’s, The Emerald Mile

Grand Canyon from Grandview Point January 24, 2009 via the National Park Service
Grand Canyon from Grandview Point January 24, 2009 via the National Park Service

Nicole Seltzer has written an introduction to the book The Emerald Mile for Your Water Colorado Blog. Click through and read the whole thing then go out an buy the book for the author’s (Kevin Fedarko) visit in January.

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.