51st State Initiative: ‘…we’ve made huge progress’ — Sean Conway

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

From KUNC (Erin OToole):

Conway says the discussion has helped draw attention to important issues behind the movement, especially the sense of increasing alienation between rural counties and the state’s political center in Denver.

“Even if this vote is unsuccessful in some or all of the counties next Tuesday, we’ve made huge progress… in terms of pointing out what, essentially, started this,” Conway said. “We’re now at the point where everybody, including the governor – who previously didn’t acknowledge the problem – acknowledges the problem. Legislative leaders acknowledge the problem.”

If the vote does favor the effort, Conway says he expects more counties to join the breakaway movement.

“I think a lot of counties are sitting on the sidelines right now, saying ‘let’s see what happens Tuesday,’ ” Conway said. “So I think you’ll see additional counties decide to become part of this.”

If voters decline to approve the measure, Conway says they won’t press the issue. A few lawmakers are working on alternative ideas, including a plan to change the way rural, sparsely populated counties are represented at the capitol.

For Conway, the time and effort was worth it to get the message across to state leaders.

Meanwhile US Senate candidate Ken Buck is not on board with the movement. Here’s a report from Kurtis Lee writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck said Wednesday he will vote in opposition to a rural effort to secede from Colorado and form a 51st state.

“I think the better strategy is to work to defeat the out-of-touch politicians causing this feel of separation,” said Buck, a GOP candidate in 2014 for U.S. Senate. Five Republicans have announced their candidacies and are vying to challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall…

“It’s a symbolic gesture,” he said of the secession plan. “But there are a lot of people who feel strongly they’re being ignored. My wife, Perry, and I are traveling around the state on weekends and that sentiment is wide spread.”

Jeffrey Hare, co-founder of 51st State Initiative, said told The Denver Post Monday many rural voters, especially in Weld County, have sent in their mail-in ballots — a good indicator they back the idea of breaking away from Colorado.

“Those early rural voters seem to us to be very motivated in getting in their ballots and supporting this initiative,” Hare told the Post. “But we’ll see on election night, of course.”

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

South Platte Forum recap: Incentives for drip irrigation?

Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro
Typical Drip Irrigation System via Toro

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Incentives for drip irrigation, addressing water-consuming vegetation along rivers and more water storage are all needed to protect the future of agriculture in Colorado. Those were among the main points stressed by Brighton-area vegetable grower Dave Petrocco, who was asked to present during the South Platte Forum last week. The two-day forum featured discussions on all aspects of water — agriculture, oil and gas production, municipal use, climate and the ski industry.

While the event included presentations from ag experts with Colorado State University Extension and other CSU ag faculty, Petrocco was the only full-time ag producer who presented at the event. He took the opportunity to hammer home a few messages widely shared with others in the ag industry — which uses 85 percent of the state’s water. Drip irrigation, he stressed, uses 40 percent less water than traditional irrigating methods, but the upfront cost of implementing a drip system is $2,000 to $3,000 per acre. Petrocco — who has 225 of his 2,600 acres of farm ground under drip irrigation, and plans to have another 100-plus acres under drip next year — said farmers in California and Arizona have been pioneers in making the switch to drip.

“But in their climate, they have two growing seasons,” Petrocco said, explaining that with such large production each year, California and Arizona farmers can more easily recoup the costs of making the move to drip.

That’s not the case in Colorado, Petrocco said, and in a state where water on farms is routinely being sold to growing cities, those still farming in the future are going to need to make the most of their limited resources. While farmers need to gravitate to drip, he said he’d like to see the state of Colorado provide incentives for farmers to do so because of the high costs. If farmers aren’t more resourceful with their water, farm ground will continue disappearing in Colorado, he said.

With limited water and Colorado’s semi-arid climate, rapidly growing cities here have routinely bought their needed water from farmers and ranchers, leaving behind the land ­— an ongoing trend known as “buy and dry.” At the current rate of buy and dry, 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated farm ground could be out of production by 2050, according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, released in 2010.

That’s why Petrocco said he’s pushing for the state to help farmers move toward drip irrigation systems — and why he also is pushing for more water-storage projects, which would capture excess snowmelt in abundant years instead of sending more water than legally necessary across the state line to Nebraska, which has occurred in recent years.

Petrocco also stressed the need for the state to address the wild vegetation along the rivers — known as phreatophytes. A cottonwood tree, for example, can consume 1,000 gallons of water each day, maybe more, he explained. And as the trees and other vegetation have grown thicker along the rivers and continue to do so, those plants are soaking up water and depleting surface flows and groundwater levels, which could be used by agricultural, industrial or municipal users. That vegetation needs to be better controlled, he said.

Petrocco said he also believes the state’s augmentation requirements are too stringent, and they need to be re-examined. Augmentation water is needed to make up for depletions to the aquifer caused by pumping water out of the ground. Under the state’s current requirements, some farmers have struggled to afford needed augmentation water and have had their groundwater wells curtailed or shut off. But, in recent years, groundwater levels in the South Platte have risen, causing basements to flood in some areas, among other problems. Some, including Petrocco, believe groundwater wells pumping less than they once did is responsible for the aquifer being too full. The issue is now being studied by scientists at CSU.

“I firmly believe we’re over-augmenting,” said Petrocco, who, in referring to the many water challenges Colorado faces, stressed that addressing the issues won’t be easy. “We grow crops in a great place … close to the people and the markets, so there’s less transportation needed … a lot of sunshine during the day and cool nights — perfect for certain crops.

“We just need water, and we’ve got some things to figure out to make sure we have enough.”

More South Platte Basin coverage here and here.

Drought news: Grand Valley’s Stage I Drought Status Lifted #COdrought

Meanwhile the current drought in the Colorado River Basin is one of the worst in 1,200 years. Here’s a report from Matt Jenkins writing for the High Country News. Here’s an excerpt:

The current drought began in 2000, and is now entering its 14th year. When matched up against every other 14-year period since 762 A.D., it falls in the driest 2 percent of all those periods.

That means the current 14-year period is, as federal Bureau of Reclamation head Michael Connor told a Senate committee this summer, “one of the lowest in the Basin in over 1,200 years.”

That’s true, says Jeff Lukas, with the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado, adding that the tree rings show a half-dozen decade-or-longer droughts that were likely more severe than the current one.

‘We wouldn’t be in business without water in the #ColoradoRiver’ — George Wendt

Cataract Canyon
Cataract Canyon

From Canoe and Kayak (Eugene Buchanan):

What was OARS founder and president George Wendt doing on the 38th floor of Denver’s Grand Hyatt the day after the government shutdown ended, and his company was scrambling to resume raft trips on the Grand Canyon and other closed waterways? He was doing his part to ensure something even more important than river access … water.

Wendt was a panelist at the first ever Business of Water summit, hosted by nonprofit Protect the Flows, a group of nearly 1,000 businesses focused on the issue of water sustainability and responsible water consumption policies. On hand to hear keynote talks from the likes of U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) were representatives from utility companies, outfitters, marina operators and more than 35 corporations, including PepsiCo, AT&T, MGM Resorts International and New Belgium Brewing Co. sharing practices aimed at sustainable water management…

The Colorado River was recently named the most endangered river in America. Participating businesses, said Protect the Flows co-director Craig Mackey, have a vital stake in solutions to best manage the river’s widening supply and demand gap.

“The purpose of the summit is threefold,” he said. “It’s to build a forum for business leaders to network and engage on water sustainability, share business best practices, case studies and tools to promote water efficiency and conservation, and create a strong business voice and platform to advance water policy to incentivize water innovation, efficiency and conservation.”

The Colorado River, he added, is a major economic driver which, if it were a company, would rank at number 155 on Fortune 500 list, ahead of General Mills, and be the country’s 19th largest employer. It supports nearly 250,000 jobs in six states, produces $26 billion in economic output, contributes $3.2 billion in annual taxes and creates $10.4 billion in annual earnings, salaries and wages. The recently completed Colorado River Basin Study shows that water conservation efforts can yield at least 3 million acre feet of water and is the most cost-effective and easily implementable way to bring water supply and demand on the Colorado back into balance…

“We wouldn’t be in business without water in the Colorado River,” adds Wendt, echoing the sentiments of all of those in attendance.

More Colorado River coverage here and here.

Many eyes are starting to watch the early season snowpack #COdrought

Experimental forecasts from Klaus Wolter via the Colorado Climate Center
Experimental forecasts from Klaus Wolter via the Colorado Climate Center

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

So far this year, we’re getting off to a good start. On Oct. 29, all of western Colorado’s river basins registered at least 128% of the historical median amount of water held in the form of snow for that date. Underscoring the need to not take snowpack numbers too seriously at this time of year, however, is the fact that the same set of figures showed one river basin in southern Utah at over 2000% of the median for this date! Just one week before, the same basin showed no data.

As the water year wears on, the snow numbers will get less dramatic and start to tell us more about what to expect when next spring’s runoff begins. For now, you can learn more by looking at current hydrologic conditions and long-range weather forecasts.

October so far has been a good one for precipitation in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The only areas receiving significantly less than average are in southeastern Utah, but even that area received good moisture in September. These precipitation numbers are reflected in soil and vegetation moisture levels, which are normal-to-wet across most of the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Streamflows are not quite as good, with the Colorado River at 93% of normal near the Colorado-Utah state line, the Green River at 75% of normal at Green River, and the San Juan River near Bluff at 41% of normal for this time of year.

Reservoir levels continue to show the drought conditions the region experienced in 2012 and the first part of 2013. Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest, is 42% full; Lake Powell, the Upper Basin’s largest is 45% full, while Navajo and Flaming Gorge are doing a bit better at 56% full and 75% full, respectively. Reservoir levels in eastern Utah are significantly lower…

Klaus Wolter, a NOAA meteorologist based at the University of Colorado, has issued an experimental forecast showing above-average snowpack for most Colorado river basins on Jan. 1; but given that most of the region’s snow typically accumulates later on, even that doesn’t tell us much about what kind of water year to expect in 2014…

Two good websites for tracking a wide range of climate data are:

The National Integrated Drought Information System’s Upper Colorado Regional Drought Early Warning system, hosted by the Colorado Climate Center at http://climate.colostate.edu/~drought/

The Intermountain West Climate Dashboard maintained by Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado http://wwa.colorado.edu/climate/dashboard.html.

AWWA updates costs of regulating perchlorate

Perchlorate Pollution by State
Perchlorate Pollution by State

Here’s the release from the American Water Works Association:

A new AWWA report updates estimated costs of an anticipated perchlorate standard being developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The new cost-impact assessment updates a 2009 review by including additional treatment strategies and accounting for regulatory limits already in place in California and Massachusetts.

In addition to ion exchange, this assessment considers also costs associated with blending, source abandonment and development of new sources. In all, the estimated national compliance costs for a perchlorate maximum contaminant level ranging from 2 to 24 ppb is smaller than estimated compliance costs for other drinking water regulations.

Read the report and more about perchlorate regulation.

More water pollution coverage here.