Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust: Garcia Ranch Conservation Easement Completed!

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust website:

The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust is proud to announce the completion of a conservation easement on the beautiful Garcia Ranch on the Conejos River. Thanks to the generosity of owners Dr. Reyes Garcia and his daughters Lana Kiana and Tania Paloma, their working ranch will remain intact with its senior water rights in perpetuity. In addition, RiGHT greatly appreciates the funding from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, through the Rio Grande Basin Round Table, the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area and the San Luis Valley Habitat Partnership Program Committee which all made this wonderful conservation project possible.

Fulfilling the opportunity to conserve this exceptional property has been a labor of love for both the landowners and the land trust over the past two years, with roots that go back much, much further. As a retired professor of philosophy, environmental and indigenous studies, Reyes Garcia is deeply attuned to the legacy of his family’s land and the way of life it has provided for generations. With the Garcia family having originally settled in Conejos County in the 1850’s, he has a long history rooted in the special area between the Conejos and San Antonio Rivers.

In an article for RiGHT’s spring newsletter, Dr. Garcia wrote that he chose to conserve the land in honor of his older brother, Jose, who worked the land for 50 years until his recent passing. “Surely, a conservation easement agreement is a recommitment to a more original contract between humanity and the whole of the natural world …. as a sacred promise to cherish and safeguard one another. Surely, an easement agreement is a prism through which to envision a future much like the past many of us have known during our best years here in El Valle de San Luis – a future also much like the present in which we face so many of the challenges of a period of transition and big changes – a future that will continue as far as possible to be sustainable and wholesome.”

Conserving the land and water is a way “to make my own small contribution to preserving the family legacy of ranching and the land-based culture of the ranchero tradition,” Garcia wrote. “After my brother gave me the responsibility for irrigating in 1983, I came to understand this tradition includes putting into practice ecological values by virtue of an instinctual love of the land that engenders good stewardship and a deep respect for all life forms, the seasonal rotation of livestock and their humane treatment, the acequia irrigation system especially, the transmission of skills which make self-reliance possible, along with an emphasis on cooperation with neighbors and mutual aid.

“How can we not hope that another seven generations will lay up a treasure of similar experiences and memories? How can we not bring ourselves to do what is necessary to make this possible for those who come after us?” Garcia wrote.

“Conserving a spectacular property like the Garcia Ranch truly fulfills the core purpose of the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust,” said Rio de la Vista, Co-Coordinator of the trust’s Rio Grande Initiative. “The rare opportunity to protect such a beautiful confluence of working lands, important water rights and exceptional wildlife habitat is always fulfilling. And this easement is all the more special due to the long-lived legacy of the Garcia family in Conejos County. We are immensely grateful to them for working with RiGHT to provide this ‘gift to the future’, of intact land and water that can sustain life and livelihoods far into the future.”

For a short film about the Garcia Ranch by co-owner Lana Garcia, click this link.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.

Grand Junction city councillors pass resolution asking for stormwater mitigation on federal land

Grand Junction with the Grand Mesa in background
Grand Junction with the Grand Mesa in background

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Amy Hamilton):

Grand Junction city councilors are going with the flow when it comes to asking the federal government to pay for problems caused by stormwater runoff on public lands. Every other municipality in the Grand Valley already has or is planning to sign on with a similar resolution. Major storms lately that caused infrastructure damages have prompted the request.

In Grand Junction’s presentation during Wednesday night’s council meeting, Greg Trainor, Grand Junction’s public works and utility director, referred to a photograph of U.S. Highway 50 under several feet of standing water after a July downpour.

“The gist of the resolution is to ask the federal government for maintenance and repairs,” Trainor said.

Councilors should talk more about initiating stormwater mitigation projects, which could create local jobs, Councilor Jim Doody said.

“Knowing this resolution is going to Washington, D.C., it’s not going to get much, but it’s great that we’re doing it,” he said of the resolution.

About three quarters of the land in the Grand Valley is federally owned so the U.S. government should be held responsible when stormwater from those lands damages local infrastructure, Councilor Duncan McArthur said.

“Basically we’re just asking the federal government to obey the law they passed,” he said. “There should be some assistance there.”

More stormwater coverage here.

Udall: BLM Should Challenge Mining Claims in Middle of Arkansas River, Proposed Browns Canyon National Monument

Suction dredge with sediment plume
Suction dredge with sediment plume

Here’s the release from US Senator Mark Udall’s office:

Mark Udall, chairman of the U.S. Senate National Parks Subcommittee, said two pending mining claims located in the Arkansas River and his proposed Browns Canyon National Monument, show the urgent need for Congress to act and protect this area — the most popular rafting destination in the country. Udall urged the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to quickly challenge these mining claims in court.

“Over the past 18 months the people of Chaffee County have told me that Browns Canyon and the Arkansas River are two of the most important economic drivers in Chaffee County. That’s why the BLM must swiftly challenge these two mining claims. Mining on the river could destroy the pristine water quality and scenery that has made Browns Canyon one of the top rafting and fishing destinations in the country. It also could be disastrous for Chaffee County, its economy and the businesses that count on the river,” Udall said. “These claims also underscore the urgent need for Congress to join me in passing my community-driven bill to protect Browns Canyon for future generations. Without a national monument designation and the grassroots protections my bill includes, Browns Canyon could lose many of the qualities that have kept Coloradans — myself included — coming back year-after-year for its unique mix of whitewater and wilderness.”

The two mining claims were filed when a September 2012 Interior Board of Land Appeals decision temporarily removed mining protections for Browns Canyon and some other lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management across the country.

Udall’s bill would create the Browns Canyon National Monument, covering 22,000 acres between Salida and Buena Vista, including 10,500 acres of new wilderness. The bill reflects the input of local businesses, residents, ranchers and other stakeholders.

From the Chaffee County Times (Maisie Ramsay) via The Mountain Mail:

A trio of gold panning enthusiasts has found themselves caught up in Sen. Mark Udall’s push to create Browns Canyon National Monument. Udall called on the Bureau of Land Management this week to “challenge” mining claims in the Arkansas River and his proposed Browns Canyon National Monument.

“Mining on the river could destroy the pristine water quality and scenery that has made Browns Canyon one of the top rafting and fishing destinations in the country,” Udall said in a press release that characterized the claims as potentially “disastrous” for Chaffee County.

The three men who hold the claims, however, have a different take.

Cañon City resident Dan Scavarda and his cousin Tom Tella bought four mining claims covering 80 acres near their property at Chateau Chaparral, a recreational vehicle campground in Nathrop. The pair described themselves as amateur gold panners who had never owned a mining claim before. They planned to follow the lead of other prospectors using dredges to glean the precious metal from the riverbed.

“We’re not gold miners. We’re not looking for profit, we’re just recreational guys,” Scavarda said, describing the dredge they planned to use as a “lawnmower on a vacuum cleaner.”
The idea, Scavarda said, was to “get off the porch, mosey on down to the river, piddle around and then go have lunch.”

“We wanted to have a little motor to make it easier on us because we’re old,” Scavarda said. “That’s all we’re looking for.”

Tella echoed Scavarda’s remarks.

“The way we filed our plan was just to do a little dredging … more of a hobby than any mining activity, so to speak,” Tella said.

Wallie Robinson said he intends to use his 20-acre claim south of Nathrop in a similar fashion. Robinson makes his living in part by selling mining claims and advertises Arkansas River claims for sale on his website. However, he said his goal with the Arkansas River No. 5 placer claim is to provide a gold-panning venue for his Pic-N-Pan Prospecting Club.

“We’re not looking to bring big equipment in. We’re looking for a place to pan for gold,” Robinson said.

The size of the equipment is not the issue, said Udall spokesman Mike Saccone.

“They could sell or transfer the claim to someone who wants to do larger-scale mining that could be disruptive,” Saccone said.

Saccone also pointed to the fact that the claims were issued through a loophole in the BLM’s permitting process created by a September 2012 decision by the Interior Board of Land Appeals. That assertion was confirmed by BLM spokesman Steve Hall.

“The IBLA decision opened up areas to claims that the BLM had previously determined to be unsuitable for mining claims, like Browns Canyon,” Hall said. “This temporarily opened the Browns Canyon area to mining claims. BLM has since initiated the process to close Browns Canyon to future claims.”

This vulnerability is exactly why Browns Canyon needs the permanent protections afforded by Udall’s national monument legislation, said Keith Baker, Friends of Browns Canyon executive director.

“The issue is not what these gents would do, but what someone might do who buys that mining claim,” Baker said. “This helps illustrate our concern that the resource is protected in a more permanent way – there is vulnerability there.”

Udall has called on the BLM to “swiftly challenge” the claims.

Tella expressed surprise at Udall’s opposition, given the location of his claims. “Well, there’s a 300-campsite trailer park right there,” he said, referring to Chateau Chaparral. “It’s not like it’s in the middle of Browns Canyon in a real pristine area.”

Tella and Scavarda said they are still working with the BLM to reach a compromise on the use of a dredge.

“They said we would be allowed to use the claims without any motorized equipment, but you can do that on public land anyhow,” Tella said. “We have claims, so it should give us more rights. That’s the issue we’re struggling with.”

The BLM has not decided whether to heed Udall’s call to contest the claims, Hall said.

“The BLM has not determined a course of action of the recent claims in Browns Canyon,” he said.

Udall introduced his official legislation creating Browns Canyon National Monument Dec. 10. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Leadville: Evans Gulch susceptible to contamination — CDPHE survey shows


From the Leadville Herald Democrat (Dan Ramey):

Parkville Water District’s surface water sources in Evans Gulch have a moderate susceptibility to contamination, according to a survey performed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The report looks at the susceptibility of a district’s sources of water to two types of contaminants.

Discrete contaminant sources are areas “from which the potential release of the contamination would be confined to a relatively small area,” according to the report. These sources include such things as Superfund sites and mining sites.

Dispersed contaminant sources are defined by the report as “broad based land uses and miscellaneous sources from which the potential release of contamination would be spread over a relatively large area.” These sources includes things such as animal pastures and septic systems.
According to the report, the district’s surface water sources in Evans Gulch are at risk from one Superfund site and 53 existing or abandoned mining sites. Meanwhile, the surface is only at risk from three dispersed contaminant sources.

The report also found that Evans Gulch surface water has a moderately high physical setting vulnerability rating. The physical setting vulnerability rating looks at how the area around a water source can buffer that source from possible contaminants. The higher the rating, the less of a buffer the water source has.

Another survey from the state also assessed the susceptibility of the district’s other water sources, all of which are groundwater sources. All of those five groundwater sources had a total susceptibility rating of moderately low. Those five water sources are threatened by just seven possible discrete contaminants and 18 dispersed contaminants, according to the report.
The physical setting vulnerability ratings for those water sources vary from moderately low to moderate.

The survey is part of the state health department’s Source Water Assessment and Protection program. The surveys are also an important part of the water district’s Source Water Protection Plan. The plan uses information found in the two state health department surveys to develop ways to prevent the district’s water sources from becoming contaminated.

Contamination of the district’s sources, especially those in Evans Gulch, could prove disastrous, Parkville General Manager Greg Teter said. The district has other sources besides those in Evans Gulch, but those other sources would likely only be able to supply half of the community’s demand.

“We’re trying to stay ahead of a potential situation,” Teter said.

One of the keys to the protection plan is the sharing of information between Parkville and other local entities. The district recently signed an intergovernmental agreement with Lake County.
As part of the agreement the county and the district will share both GIS data and information, Teter said.

For example, the Lake County Building and Land Use Department will share information with the district about potential mining applications near Parkville water sources. This will allow the district to be proactive about protecting its water sources, Teter said.

Another key part of the plan is education and ensuring that businesses and community members know where Parkville’s water sources are, Teter said. The intergovernmental agreement and protection plan do not create any new restrictions on land uses around water sources, Teter said. They merely facilitate the sharing of information and create an awareness of potential threats to the community’s water sources.

In addition to protecting the community’s water sources, the Lake County watershed is also important because of its location along the Arkansas River.

“Ours isn’t the biggest, but it’s important because it’s the first on the Arkansas,” Teter said.

More infrastructure coverage here.