Montezuma County: The State Historical Society ponies up $125,000 for restoration of the McElmo Flume

McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal
McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The State Historical Society announced this week it has awarded Montezuma County, which owns the Flume, $125,000 to restore and stabilize the foundation of the unique structure…

A $40,000 local match is required, and $17,500 has been raised, $15,000 from the Southwest Water Conservation Board, and $2,500 from Montezuma county.

“There is about $23,000 outstanding so we need more fundraising efforts in the next 3 to 4 months,” Towle said, adding that the State Historical Society is flexible on their deadline “as long as we are making progress.”

The grant money and matching funds will be used to repair braces on the south end of the structure. Old concrete will be removed from steel supports to repair corrosion and new concrete will be poured. The area will be graded and contoured so the flume rests on stable ground.

Once the match is raised, the project will go through a county competitive bid process.

The McElmo Flume No. 6 operated up until the mid-1990s, explained John Porter, president of the Southwestern Water Conservation Board. The old water delivery line was replaced by the Towaoc Canal and underground piping of the Dolores Project.

Fifteen years ago, a flash flood damaged a portion of the flume and undermined the foundation…

The flume system has a long and somewhat tumultuous history in the Montezuma Valley, he said.

In the late 1800s, the federal government gave the land to private companies who developed irrigation systems for new farms that spurred the city of Cortez. Once water was delivered, the irrigation companies sold the land to recoup their construction costs…

The flume is on the National Register of Historic Places and is adjacent to Highway 160, part of the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway. The organization has been awarded a $252,631 grant from the Federal Byways Program to construct a pullout and interpretive panels about the flume…

“It’s a symbol of the heritage of this valley,” Porter said. “Irrigation is what brought the population here, so it ought to be preserved.”

More San Juan Basin coverage here.

SB14-017: ‘We have no real ability to apply this, and no way to know if it has worked’ — Donna Brosemer #COleg

Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum
Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

SB 17 created some odd bedfellows at the state capitol Thursday, drawing support from environmentalists, cattlemen and farmers. The bill has bipartisan support in the House and Senate, where it is carried by Sen. Mary Hodge (D-Brighton) and Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango).

SB 17 prohibits local governments from approving new developments unless they also pass an ordinance that limits the amount of irrigated lawn to no more than 15 percent of the total area of all residential lots. The limit applies when the developer or municipality plans to use water that has been purchased from agricultural land and converted to domestic or municipal use, the so-called “buy and dry.”

During testimony on SB 17 in the Senate Ag Committee, witnesses noted that similar plans are already in place in Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Antonio, Texas. One witness estimated that a 15 percent limit would mean grass would be planted in the backyard of a home and none in the front yard.

Opponents of SB 17 complained the bill flies in the face of local control and may violate private property rights. Even Hodge noted that she has long championed local control, and that carrying the bill caused a bit of strife in her home, given that her husband is a former mayor of Brighton.

The Colorado Homebuilders Association opposed SB 17, as did the Colorado Municipal League. Kevin Bommer, representing CML, indicated the bill may be premature and that they should wait for the completion of the Colorado Water Plan. He also complained that not all stakeholders were involved in the bill-drafting process.

Testifying against the bill, Donna Brosemer of Greeley Water said the bill is about land use, not water, and that land use is the provenance of local government. “We have no real ability to apply this, and no way to know if it has worked,” she said.

Testifying in support of SB 17, Conservation Colorado’s Theresa Conley said that while they don’t want to impact private property rights, “this is the arid West” and the bill ties water use to land use. Colorado Farm Bureau and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association also support the bill, as does the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Snowpack news: Upper #ColoradoRiver region snow conditions from the USBR

Upper Colorado River Region snow conditions February 10, 2014  via USBR
Upper Colorado River Region snow conditions February 10, 2014 via USBR

Click here to go to the website. While you’re there click on any sub-basin for an ogive of the current snowpack.

Endangered species listing for the Rio Grande cutthroat?

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Another possible endangered species listing is placing a high demand on the Valley’s resources, and it’s more than caught the attention of the six county governments. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) continues to find listing the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (RGCT) warranted but precluded , according to the Federal Register, Fri. Nov. 22, 2013. The agency, however, is working on a proposed listing rule expected to publish prior to making the next annual resubmitted petition 12-month finding.

The ruling, an initial recommendation on whether the Valley’s historical breed of fish, which is also found in New Mexico, is endangered, threatened or not warranted for listing, is scheduled for September, according to agency officials. For the next few months, the FWS will continue to monitor new information about the RGCT in addition to considering public comments.

On Monday, the San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association (CCA) devoted much time to learn about the condition of the RGCT, and moved to set a work session in February to decide how they would support the long time Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) led Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Conservation Team (RGCT CT) efforts to keep the RGCT off any lists.

The RGCT CT’s findings and strategy suggest the potential listing is inappropriate , and an action that could affect the Valley’s economy and public and private land use while costing the six Valley counties thousands of dollars to accommodate on top of costs only starting to add up to fight a threatened or endangered ruling.

For the past 40 years, the Valley has spent dollars state, federal and private to keep the RGCT alive and well for reasons spanning from recreation to genetic diversity protection, fending off a species status change on several occasions.

In 1973, the species was listed as a threatened species in Colorado, and removed in 1984. Fourteen years later, a federal petition was filed under the Endangered Species Act, and it was contested in court in 2002. In 2007, the RGCT was reviewed, and a year later the FWS found the listing was warranted, but precluded.

Between 2003 and 2011, CPW expended $792,000 on RGCT conservation efforts, according to CPW data, including surveying RGCT populations, establishing conservation populations, erecting barriers preventing species contamination, stocking genetically pure RGCT populations and working with other agencies and groups to ensure there are sufficient instream flows to support native fish and their required habitat.

The RGCT CT’s undertakings are ongoing, and the group heads into 2014 monitoring 10 conservation populations and documenting new RGCT populations throughout the area, said CPW Senior Aquatic Biologist John Alves on Monday. Longtime broodstock development also continues at Haypress Lake. Since 2005, CPW has stocked 86,000 to 143,000 RGCT in high lakes and streams for angler recreation or to create new conservation populations.

RGCT CT activities, Alves added, include genetic testing to determine species, purity and level of introgression with other cutthroat species. Populations with more than 90 percent RGCT are considered conservation populations and populations with more than 99 percent RGCT are considered core conservation populations used for developing broodstocks or new populations. Other activities, he said, are focused on habitat improvement using man-made barriers to secure RGCT populations from non-native fish, replacing culverts and mitigating livestock grazing and logging in addition to a myriad of public outreach initiatives.

Other federal and state agency funded conservation plans taking into consideration water, land and their uses that do not directly address RGCT habitat and population, but support the productivity of the Valley’s ecosystem as a whole, are already helping to maintain and preserve the environmental condition of the downstream land if the fish was capable of living in the warmer river waters cutting through the Rio Grande Basin. The RGCT CT and its supporters do not foresee such a scenario unfolding because the species is primarily found in cold streams and lakes.

“The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD ) does not believe listing the RGCT as an endangered species is warranted in light of the current status of the RGCT and ongoing voluntary conservation efforts,” RGWCD General Manger Steve Vandiver stated in a letter to the FWS presented at the CAA meeting. “The RGWCD has supported the ongoing voluntary conservation efforts in the San Luis Valley and in the Rio Grande Headwaters.”

The voluntary efforts are the doing of governments and agencies in Colorado and New Mexico including the CPW, the FWS, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management , the National Park Service, the Jicarilla Apache Nation,the Mescalero Apache Nation and the Taos Pueblo Waterchief. Colorado Trout Unlimited, New Mexico Council of Trout Unlimited and the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Team (RWEACT) also support the efforts the CCA is considering signing onto next month in addition to looking at other possible county actions regarding listings based on a model partially started in the Valley.

Saguache County is facing the possible listing of the Gunnison Sage Grouse, an action that would touch 11 other Colorado counties. The governments, working with active sage-grouse groups including the Poncha Pass Gunnison Sage-Grouse Work Group, united last year to revise the species’ needs and actions to date, revisit strategy and consider the impacts of future federal intervention like potential road closures.

The collaborative, whose methods are appealing to the CCA and neighboring sage-grouse and RGCT listing threatened Hinsdale County, has made progress with the recent reintroduction of several sage-grouse on Poncha Pass, and they are maintaining . The FWS will be made aware of the reintroduction’s progress before making a ruling in March.

“The implications of a listing are very huge,” said Hindsdale County Commissioner Cindy Dozier about creating government, agency and community task forces via telephone during Monday’s meeting. “There are things we can do.”

The implications from an endangered or threatened listing for any species can vary from jeopardizing tourism dollars due to changes in the public’s access to public lands to land owners having to enter into agreements prioritizing the species existence, actual or potential. Listings also come along with the identification of critical habitat, which calls for special management and protection, and include an area the species does not currently occupy, but will be needed for its recovery.

“Designating critical habitat outside the area currently occupied by RGCT would create an additional hardship for the residents of the San Luis Valley without providing any additional benefit to the RGCT,” Vandiver stated. “These residents already face the effect of a prolonged drought and the risk that the state may seek to restrict or curtail the operation of their irrigation wells, thus making it nearly impossible to continue successful farming or ranching operations.”

Streams historically capable of supporting the RGCT that the FWS could deem critical habitat include Rio Grande, Pecos and Canadian River Basins, according to CPW data, and presently the fish only occupy about 11 percent of the historic waters. There are 127 RGCT conservation populations range wide.

Some RGCT populations thrive on private Costilla County lands like the Trinchera Ranch, Alves said. Ute Creek, where the species was first discovered in 1857, runs through the now FWS conservation easement protected ranch, further complementing its reputation for protecting natural resources.

“This is a reason we have a good start on the conservation itself,” said Alves, commending the Trinchera Ranch for its vision to protect the RGCT, which some science points out is truly being conserved because of the introduction and poor management of nonnative trout species.

“The most significant threats are the presence of non-native trout and habitat loss,” stated Council of Trout Unlimited New Mexico Chair Arnold Atkins and Colorado Chair Rick Matsumoto in a letter to the FWS. “The effects of the presence of brown trout in a cutthroat stream have been documented in the scientific literature, and the experience of our members bears out what the literature tells us: once brown trout enter a stream, the native cutthroat disappear or are dramatically reduced in numbers, typically within a decade or less.”

In Colorado, and to a lesser degree in New Mexico, according to the Trout Unlimited letter, the presence of nonnative brook trout has had a similar effect.

“Hybridization with nonnative rainbow trout or other cutthroat subspecies remains a significant threat, although the agencies have taken steps to reduce it, including stocking triploid rainbows or not stocking rainbows at all in watersheds where RGCT are found,” the chairmen wrote. “… Trout Unlimited’s objective is to ensure that the RGCT continues to exist and that RGCT populations are protected and restored over a broader and more resilient range of waters.”

The FWS is accepting comments at the following address : Susan Rogers Oetker, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 1875 Century Blvd. NE Suite 200, Atlanta, Ga., 30345.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

#COWaterPlan will address the protection of agriculture

San Luis Valley via National Geographic
San Luis Valley via National Geographic

From the Valley Courier:

Today’s agriculture landscape includes not just farming and ranching, but forestry, fruit cultivation, dairy, poultry, mushroom, bee keeping, marketing, processing, distribution of agricultural products etc. VALLEY For decades agriculture has been associated with the production of food crops. Accordingly, agriculture and farming were both one and the same, as long as farming was not commercialized. But as time In addition to food, agriculture also provides feedstuffs for livestock. This portion of agriculture ensures not only meat supplies, but also dairy products. Therefore, agriculture may be defined as the production, processing, marketing and distribution of crops and livestock products.

It is the agricultural sector that feeds this country’s trade. Products like wheat, soybeans, rice, cotton, tobacco etc. constitute the main items of exports from the US. Thus agriculture helps to balance foreign trade exchanges. Agriculture provides not only food and raw materials, but it also provides employment opportunities to a large proportion of population.

Colorado’s agriculture is no less important. According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, “Agriculture is one of largest contributors to the state’s economy, supporting more than 173,000 jobs in Colorado, generates more than $40 billion of economic activity annually, and exported nearly $1.8 billion of food and agricultural products in 2012. Colorado ranks first in the nation in millet production, ranks in the top ten in the nation in nearly 25 commodities. There are over 1 billion eggs laid in Colorado each year. Cattle and Calves is Colorado’s number one agricultural commodity with 2.7 million head of cattle in the state. ”

It is safe to say that agriculture is a big deal in Colorado . It is for that reason the preservation of agriculture’s water is being addressed in Colorado’s Water Plan. The Water Plan will leverage and incorporate nine years of work that has been done by Colorado’s Basin Roundtables , the Inter Basin Compact Committee, and Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The goal of the plan will be to determine how to implement water supply planning solutions that meet Colorado’s future water needs while supporting healthy watersheds and environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.

Agriculture is essential to Colorado’s economy and way of life. Yet, the state faces the potential for the permanent dry up of thousands of acres of farmland statewide, unless new solutions become implemented to address the looming gap between supply and demand. Agriculture represents more than 80 percent of Colorado’s consumptive water use. According to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, “Colorado’s Water Plan will develop a number of strategies designed to minimize the permanent buy-and-dry of irrigated agricultural land and begin to counter Colorado’s projected supply gap a gap potentially equivalent by 2050 to the amount of water necessary to supply all of Denver’s households for a full year.”

Some of these strategies include offering financial incentives for agriculture/ municipal partnerships that maintain land and water for agricultural uses, identifying alternatives to the permanent transfer of agricultural water to municipal use, and identifying the type and amount of infrastructure projects and methods to meet our current and future water supply needs. The Water Plan will be driven by input from each basin roundtable. The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable would like public input to be considered during the Basin Implementation Plan process. The most effective method for stakeholders to become involved is in one of three ways: 1) attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings (These meeting are held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa); 2) send comments directly to http://www.riograndewaterplan. and; 3) attend any one of the 5 BIP subcommittee meetings that can be found on the BIP website The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze, who can be contacted at It is suggested that input be submitted to the Basin Roundtable by February 28.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Water court approves new RICD for Carbondale

Roaring Fork River in winter
Roaring Fork River in winter

From the Aspen Daily News (Nelson Harvey):

Colorado District Five Water Court Judge James Boyd signed a decree on Feb. 3 granting Carbondale the recreational, in-channel water right necessary to built a whitewater park consisting of five obstructions — rocks or concrete barriers that would create waves of varying sizes — placed in the river over a 1,425-foot span between the Highway 133 bridge and the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Crystal Rivers.

The new water right is non-consumptive, meaning Carbondale can use the water for its kayak park so long as it leaves that water in the river and doesn’t divert it for irrigation, municipal use or other purposes.

Judge Boyd’s decree entitles Carbondale to varying amounts of water throughout the year, which would translate into waves that changed with the seasons.

Between March 15 and April 14, Carbondale could run 230 cubic feet per second (cfs) through its kayak park between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. That same rate would apply in the late fall, between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30.

During periods of historically high runoff, such as between May 15 and July 14, the flow rate would be boosted to 1,000 cfs. Carbondale would also have the right to as much as 1,600 cfs for two special events such as kayak competitions lasting up to four days apiece in June, and to as much as 1,160 cfs for another special event between May 15 and May 31. During the June events, water could be used until midnight to facilitate the possibility of nighttime competition.

Although Carbondale has long contemplated building a kayak park to boost recreational opportunities for locals and tourists alike, there are no active plans to do so at this point. Placing obstructions in the river to create the park would require permits from other government agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and perhaps Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Still, the recent water decree provides the town with the legal foundation necessary to proceed with the project sometime over the next six years if desired…

Over the last eight years, Hamilton has been negotiating to placate several local and Front Range water interests who registered objections to Carbondale’s application for the new water right, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the State and Division Engineers, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, the Basalt Water Conservancy District, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and Stanley and Valerie Koziel, who used to own Gateway Park near the intersection of Highway 82 and Highway 133.

More whitewater coverage here.