Archuleta County is on the drought disaster list #COdrought

US Drought Monitor February 11, 2014
US Drought Monitor February 11, 2014

From the Pagosa Sun (Shanti Johnson):

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated Archuleta County, along with fifteen other counties spanning the Colorado and New Mexico border, as contiguous disaster counties on Feb. 5. The USDA’s declaration came in response to losses suffered by farmers and ranchers in the area due to recent drought conditions.

According to a letter from USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack, sent to New Mexico Governor Susan Martinez and copied to Archuleta County, the declaration makes farm operators “eligible to be considered for certain assistance from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met. This assistance includes FSA emergency loans.”

Farmers have eight months from the date of the declaration, Feb. 5, to apply for an emergency loan. According to the USDA website, the FSA will consider each loan application based on its own merits, and will take into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability.

Further information on the FSA’s emergency loans program, and on additional programs available to assist farmers and ranchers in the affected areas, can be found at, or by contacting the local service center located at 505A County Road 600, Pagosa Springs, 731-3615.

Denver: 2014 Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture, Thursday, February 27th

Denver City Park sunrise
Denver City Park sunrise

Click here to go to the website. Here’s the pitch:

Governor John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program, in conjunction with the Colorado Department of Agriculture and Colorado State University are proud to present the 23rd annual Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture.

Colorado’s Agricultural Leadership Program is focused on developing Colorado’s future agricultural leaders. We will explore relevant industry issues and provide insight into potential outcomes and solutions to help ensure the future success of Colorado’s agricultural industry.

Our program, “Farm to Table: What Do Consumers Really Want?” seeks to engage Forum participants in a way that has never been done before. The program consists of direct participant engagement while hearing from leading industry sectors on how to best meet the demands of a changing consumer demographic.

The 2014 Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture will be presented on Thursday, February 27th at the Renaissance Denver Hotel, 3801 Quebec St, Denver, CO. Sponsors are also invited to a pre-forum reception Wednesday, February 26th at 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm at the historic Governor’s Residence located at the Southwest corner of 8th Avenue and Logan Street, Denver, CO.

Here’s the release via The Mountain Mail:

The 2014 Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture, highlighting emerging trends in Colorado agriculture, will take place Feb. 27 at the Renaissance Hotel in Denver.

Themed “Farm to Table: What Do Consumers Really Want,” the forum will include speakers from all facets of Colorado agriculture, including produce growers, dairy producers and climatologists.

“Colorado farmers and ranchers provide high-quality, diverse products that help drive the state’s economy,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said. “This forum will help connect producers and consumers and encourage an ongoing dialogue about our state’s agricultural strengths and Coloradans’ food preferences.”

“We’re approaching the entire event from the nexus of interest between consumers and producers,” said John Salazar, Colorado commissioner of agriculture. “Consumers and producers both care about having quality food and a vibrant state economy, two themes that run throughout the entire forum.”

Director Keith Schneller of the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office in Shanghai, China, will deliver the keynote address. Since he arrived in China in 2003, U.S. agricultural exports to China have increased from $6 billion per year to more than $28 billion in 2012. Schneller will talk about the rapid changes taking place in China, especially as the Internet becomes a powerful tool influencing decisions made by hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers.

The forum will be hosted by the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program (CALP), the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA), and Colorado State University.

CALP is a leadership training group that exposes emerging leaders in Colorado agriculture to the diverse aspects of the state’s farm economy. The program was re-instated last year under the leadership of Salazar and state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg after several years of inactivity.

“The ‘farm-to-table’ concept has become popular over the past several years, so I’m glad we’re taking the opportunity to weigh in on the conversation,” said Bob Mattive, CALP fellow and potato farmer in the San Luis Valley. “I think that we have a strong agenda that will foster an ongoing conversation about Colorado’s agricultural future.”
For more information, visit or contact Angie Cue at

2014 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference recap

Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle
Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Radishes and turnips are saving Valley water.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) Subdistrict No. 1 Program Manager Rob Phillips said on Thursday during the final day of the 2014 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference he was confident producers with green manure in their crop rotations are utilizing irrigation water more efficiently.

At first , he said, the RGWCD was skeptical of 2013 potato circle pumping numbers because they were coming in very low, around 13 to 14 inches versus the average 15 to 20.

“But I can see why,” Phillips said to a full audience in Monte Vista’s Ski Hi Arena. “It (green manure) is building the soil.”

Planting green manure, also known as a cover crop if it is not incorporated into the Earth, is similar to placing an umbrella over the soil. The crops offer protection from water stressing erosion and weed growth, making the soil stronger to combat disease, insects and other environmental challenges through organic recycling and nutrient transfers.

These water saving crops include legumes, grasses and root crops like radishes and turnips, and green manure mixes of all kinds are showing up more and more in Valley crop rotations in response to the drought. During the growing season, living green manures retain soil moisture when crop transpiration rates are greatest and rainfall is seasonally at its lowest.

Residues left over from killed and incorporated green manures increase water infiltration and reduce water evaporation from the soil surface, specifically in no-till planting, and allow conservation tillage systems to provide moisture that would otherwise be lost through evaporation. Covering the soil with green manures also reduces crusting and subsequent surface water runoff.

RGWCD Manager Steve Vandiver agreed on Thursday green manure is working to reduce the amount of Valley water pumped, and that it is an option producers should consider to meet reduced pumping goals.

“It’s a finite resource,” said Vandiver about the pivotal role water plays in the Valley’s economic structure. “If the aquifer goes away, you are going to be taken down with it… Be thoughtful about reducing your pumping overall. Let’s do more than required in these drought times.”

There are a variety of ways to incorporate green manure into traditional crop rotations .

In the Valley, summer green manure crops are often grown in time with cash crops and are irrigated to reach desired stages of growth. Some Valley producers are planting green manure crops in the fall, and their growth is subject to timing and rainfall once irrigation is shut off for the season. Although they are at the mercy of Mother Nature , non-irrigated green manure crops emerging before winter sets in are providing valuable biomass that assists water retention, prevents soil erosion and contributes to a healthy soil structure regardless of their size. In addition to the increasing green manure rotations in Valley fields, studies revolving around the most appropriate types of green manures for the area and their subsequent effects on nematodes in potato fields are also growing.

Agro Engineering agronomist Patrick O’Neill presented data at the conference on an intensive Colorado Potato Administration Committee (CPAC) sponsored test study looking at 500 plots containing 97 green manure varieties and/or mixes. The study’s goals, he said, include further understanding how green manure crops lend to water savings, biofumigation, weed suppression, nutrient recycling and overall soil health, and whether they will work for animal grazing or hay.

“Water limited irrigation systems mean there is more ground left out of cash crop cycles,” O’Neill said. “Cover crops can be used as a tool in the interim.”

He added, “Your farm’s situation is unique, and each field where cover crops are being considered should be addressed individually.”

During the 2012 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) reported green manures use less than 17 inches of water a year, particularly when sordan grass is incorporated into the crop rotation. Green manures also proved to lower erosion rates and water use in their studies.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

Center: ‘We haven’t sacrificed yield at all’ — Brendon Rockey

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Preaching to a slightly different choir, Center farmer Brendon Rockey shared with members of the Rio Grande Roundtable yesterday how his family’s farm has changed its agricultural practices to improve soil health and save water. He explained how Rockey Farms, in its third generation of San Luis Valley farmers, gradually moved away from traditional practices of using herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and other “cides” to address threats to its potato crops. Now the farm uses a “pro” rather than “anti” approach , Rockey explained. He used the term biotic to describe the type of farming his family has embraced, beginning with his uncle’s “We are looking at the big picture,” he told members of the Valley-wide water group in Alamosa on Tuesday.

Rockey explained that the “cides” that farmers have been using over the years, including his family farm until recent years, were not only killing off the pests, fungi, weeds and nematodes that were causing problems for potato growers but were also killing off beneficial insects, fungi, plants and worms.

“A lot of those have a good ability to control diseases for us if we would let them,” Rockey said.

Many fungi will kill harmful nematodes for the farmers if they would use them instead of killing them. Also, 90 percent of the nematodes are beneficial , he said.

In addition to using “cides” problems ranging from insects to weeds, farmers have boosted production with synthetic fertilizers that have created the negative side effect of high concentrations of salt.

“Most of the problems we are dealing with today our problems we have created ourselves,” Rockey said.

With degraded soil structures came less efficient water use, Rockey added. For example, 20 years ago the sprinklers would sink in a particular potato field every year, and the farmers would blame the soil type in that field , when the real problem was waterlogged soil. With changes in the way the family farms now, that doesn’t occur, Rockey added. The soil is literally stronger. “We are still trying to control the same diseases but the approach is different,” Rockey said.

Now Rockey Farms adds rather than taking away, he explained. One of the ways the farming family does this is by adding soil primers such as companion crops like legumes and green manure crops that enrich the soil in rotation with potato crops.

“Did that have direct water savings? Green manure crops use less than 6 inches of water. We were also surprised how much water we saved on the potato crops.”

Rockey Farms could grow a potato crop on 14 inches, while the average water use for potato crops in the Valley is 18 inches. Using less water on the potato crops, and using it more efficiently, means less rot and blight as well, Rockey said. It also means less expense to the farmer, because running sprinklers costs money.

Other area where Rockey Farms has changed its practice is in the way it uses beneficial predators to fight insects such as aphids that are harmful to their crops. In the past the family would introduce aphid predators like lady bugs to the fields, but the beneficial predators would only stay a day and then leave because they needed more food diversity than the aphids to keep them there. The Rockeys are experimenting with diverse flowers that would help keep beneficial predators like ladybugs and lacewings in their fields longer.

“This next summer we are trying to figure ways to bring more flowers into potato crops,” Rockey said.

Rockey offered to share the lessons his family has learned over time with other farmers wishing to improve their soil health and reduce water consumption.

He concluded that the changes in farming practices have not adversely affected production.

“We haven’t sacrificed yield at all,” he concluded.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Snowpack news: Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin current SWE as a percent of average peak = 90% #COdrought

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Greg Ruland):

Jeff Colton, a National Weather Service meteorologist, predicted Grand Junction will get warmer still, reaching 50 degrees by the weekend. But temperature really isn’t the story.

Water is the story. It rained and snowed so much in recent days that storms pushed precipitation counts to well above normal for the area, Colton said.

“We’re already over an inch for the year,” he said. “It looks like we’re almost a half inch above normal.”

That hasn’t happened since 2011, Colton said.

Roughly three-tenths of an inch of precipitation fell in and around Grand Junction during the 24-hour period that ended at 4 p.m. Monday, Colton said.

For moisture, snow is much preferred in February, Colton said. The mountains store the snowpack, which melts over time as it is needed. Rainwater runs off too quickly before it can be fully utilized.

Up to 10 inches of heavy snow fell north of Powderhorn Mountain Resort, while 7 inches was reported four miles south of Collbran, the National Weather Service said. More than 5 feet of snow has fallen at Powderhorn since Jan. 31.

Snowpack is 120 percent of normal in some central mountain areas, meaning the state is holding its own this year when it comes to water supply, Colton said.

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

Snowpack in Colorado’s Arkansas River Basin currently stands at 115 percent of median with upper portions of the basin experiencing above-average snow depths while lower portions of the basin continue to languish in drought conditions. District hydrologist Jord Gertson provided the information as part of a report on basin snowpack and streamflow conditions during the monthly Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District meeting Thursday in Salida.

Gertson’s report also included an overview of U.S. National Resources Conservation Service snowpack telemetry, or SNOTEL, stations, which measure snow depth, cumulative precipitation and snow-water equivalent, providing the bulk of snowpack data available in Colorado.

Looking at individual SNOTEL sites around the basin, Gertson reported the snow-water equivalent is 133 percent of median at Fremont Pass, 162 percent at Brumley, 105 percent at South Colony and 57 percent at Whiskey Creek. Overall, the Arkansas Basin snowpack stands at 193 percent of numbers recorded for the same date in 2013, with Fremont Pass at 197 percent, Brumley at 309 percent, South Colony at 165 percent and Whiskey Creek at 75 percent.

As Gertson pointed out, snowpack in upper basin locations is already approaching median peaks for an average year with at least two months to potentially add to those totals.

Gertson said the abundant snowpack translates into promising streamflow forecasts for the upper basin. For example, the streamflow forecast for Chalk Creek is for 114 percent of average, which bodes well for water users of all stripes, especially agricultural users.

SB14-115: ‘The objective of the bill is to make sure this is an open conversation’ — Ellen Roberts #COleg #COWaterPlan

Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference
Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

A measure to ensure that the public will have input to a proposed statewide water plan cleared a Senate committee Thursday. Though highly rewritten from its original version, SB115 introduced by two Western Slope lawmakers also would ensure that whatever plan is developed is nothing more than policy and not a state rule that would have the force of law.

“Our effort here is to support the work that has been done out in the basins … but that the Legislature is key in this whole thing,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, D-Durango, who introduced the bill with Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village.

“What this bill will do is define how in development of that policy the General Assembly will participate,” added Schwartz. “The objective of the bill is to make sure this is an open conversation.”

Ever since Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order last year calling for a statewide water plan to be developed by the end of 2014, several people on the Western Slope and other parts of the state outside of the more populated South Platte River Basin that serves Denver and northeast Colorado have been wary of where it might lead.

John Stulp, the governor’s water policy adviser and director of the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee, told the committee the measure will help clarify to everyone that the process will be open and thorough.

“We’re basing this on the work of a lot of people over the last eight to nine years,” he said.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

New Survey: Conservation Could Impact 2014’s Ballot Box — Colorado College


Here’s the release from the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project:

Conservation and land use issues could have the power to sway how westerners vote in 2014 elections, according to the new Colorado College State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll.

“The West is a major political battlefield this year, and the poll tells us congressional candidates would be wise to consider their position on conservation and land use issues carefully,” said Colorado College economist and State of the Rockies Project faculty director Walt Hecox, PhD. “Westerners want their air, water and land protected, and where a candidate stands on these issues could potentially sway votes.”

This year’s bipartisan survey of 2,400 registered voters across six states looked at voter attitudes on a list of issues, including land use, water supplies, air quality and public lands’ impact on the economy. The results show overwhelming -­‐ 85 percent -­‐ agreement that when the government closes national parks and other public lands, small businesses and communities’ economies in the West suffer. In a follow up message to elected officials and land managers, 83 percent believe funding to national parks, forests and other public lands should not be cut, as it provides a big return on a small investment.

“The Rocky Mountain region is politically diverse, with communities running the spectrum from red (predominantly) to purple to blue,” said Colorado College McHugh Professor of Leadership and American Institutions and regular Colorado political commentator Tom Cronin. “These poll results reinforce that a love for protected lands ties western voters together. Westerners across the political spectrum support the work of public land managers and expect conserved public lands to remain that way.”

Other public sentiments expressed in the survey include that:

• 72 percent of Westerners are more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to promote more use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.
• 69 percent of Westerners are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports enhancing protections for some public lands, like national forests.
• 58 percent of Westerners are more likely to vote for a candidate who votes to increase funding for land-­‐managing agencies like the U.S. Forest Service.

The survey also holds warning signs for candidates, including that:

• 72 percent of Westerners are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports
selling public lands like national forests to reduce the budget deficit.
• 67 percent of Westerners are less likely to vote for a candidate who reduces
funding for agencies like the U.S. Forest Service.
• 54 percent of westerners are less likely to vote for a candidate who voted to
stop taxpayer support for solar and wind energy companies.

“Hispanics view the protection of our public lands as a moral obligation. It’s natural that this community would be drawn to candidates who support conservation,” said Maite Arce, president and CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation. “With the tremendous growth of the Latino voter bloc, especially in the Western states, we’re going to see engagement in environmental policy and advocacy for our public lands at levels we’ve never seen before.”

The results reflect the strong connection Westerners feel to their public lands, with 95 percent saying they have visited public lands in the last year. More than two-­‐ thirds of those surveyed said they would recommend an out-­‐of-­‐state visitor visit the outdoors, like a national park, rather than an attraction in town.

The government shutdown’s effects on Westerners are ongoing. When asked how they felt about the resulting closure of public lands, 89 percent responded with a negative emotion like annoyed, angry, concerned or upset. Potentially as a result of seeing what happens when public lands are no longer available, opposition to the sale of public lands increased from last year’s poll, with 74 percent now rejecting this idea.

The 2014 Colorado College Conservation in the West survey is a bipartisan poll conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. The poll surveyed 400 registered voters in each of six western states (AZ, CO, NM, UT, WY, MT) for a total 2,400-­‐person sample. The survey was conducted from January 7 through 13, 2014, and yields a margin of error of +/-­‐2.9 percent nationwide and +/ -­‐4.9 statewide. The full survey and individual state surveys are available here, on the Colorado College website

Click here for the presentation slides.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

More than three-quarters of Colorado voters say they oppose diversions of water to heavily populated areas of the state, according to a survey conducted by Colorado College.

The annual Conservation in the West poll, conducted for the college by Democrat and Republican pollsters, also found that a majority of Coloradans, 55 percent, favors allowing communities to regulate hydraulic fracturing and that 22 percent want the state to regulate fracking, the approach used to free up trillions of cubic feet of natural gas from formations deep below the surface.

The finding of strong opposition to more diversions is unsurprising, said Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, the Western Slope advocacy organization.

“Agricultural interests and many Club 20 members don’t like diversions, and there are additional groups who want to see stream flows for recreational purposes and they recognize diversions as a threat,” Petersen said. “People familiar with the West understand the impacts of diversions.”

Respondents favored devoting more time and resources to better use of the current water supply and encouraging the use of recycling, the survey said.

On hydraulic fracturing, 28 percent of Colorado respondents supported tougher laws and 29 percent said there should be better enforcement of existing laws, the survey said.

The results underscore the need for greater education about hydraulic fracturing, Petersen said, noting the practice has been in use in western Colorado for 60 years “and there has not been an issue.”

Across the West, 72 percent of respondents said they were more likely to vote for candidates who favor the promotion of energy sources such as wind and solar power.

Another majority, 69 percent, said they were likely to vote for candidates who support greater protections for public lands, such as national forests, and 58 percent said they’d be likely to support candidates who want to increase funding to agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service.

The survey polled 400 registered voters in Colorado and 2,400 in the six Western states of Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The survey was conducted Jan. 7 to Jan. 13 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent.

More conservation coverage here. More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.

Southern Delivery System: CSU amends water court applications to remove facilities that will not be built

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

With Southern Delivery System well under construction, Colorado Springs Utilities is cleaning up water court applications that dealt with alternatives that are now off the table. Specifically, a recent amendment to Colorado Springs’ water exchange rights on the Arkansas River removes Elephant Rock reservoir in Chaffee County and a diversion near Penrose in Fremont County as points of exchange.

“Clearly, with the North Outlet Works almost completed, we’re not going to be building a diversion at Highway 115 (near Penrose),” said Brett Gracely, water resources administrator for Utilities.

The plan for Elephant Rock reservoir near Buena Vista met with protests when it was first suggested in Colorado Springs water plans in the 1990s. Colorado Springs kept the plan on the table in several court filings over the years, but looked to Pueblo Dam to build SDS.

Signs that read, “Don’t dam this valley” remained in view of travelers on U.S. 285 for years.w

The signs were taken down after Colorado Springs officials formally declared the Elephant Rock plan dead during a 2012 ceremony in Salida, Gracely said.

The amended application, filed last month in Division 2 water court, allows Colorado Springs to return flows to the Arkansas River from SDS on Fountain Creek for out of priority storage in Lake Pueblo.

The proposed structures in Chaffee and Fremont counties will be removed as they come up for review in water court, Gracely said.

The first phase of SDS should be online in 2016.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

The September #COflood knocked out stream gages used for administration

Typical stream gaging station via the USGS
Typical stream gaging station via the USGS

From CBS4:

As of Friday night, crews have replaced or repaired fewer than half of the gauges damaged by the September Flooding.

Engineers take the data they get from gauges and compare that with what they know about how a stream flows, where it’s deeper and shallower, wider and narrower. During the floods, rushing water changed all that, making it difficult to figure out what the data means, and which areas could flood next…

[Dave Nettles, Division Engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources] said he’s used to working with 23 gauges, but flooding ruined them.

“It will be a new world for all of us this spring, for all of us, because we never in most of our careers experienced anything like this,” Nettles said.

Last fall’s flooding changed the landscape. Crews continue to clear debris to keep it from forming new dams.
In Lyons, floods washed away boulders, leaving a clear, open channel…

Moving forward means shifting strategy. In Larimer County, Emergency Management plans to rely heavily on sending people up into the canyon to look at conditions…

“Remote reporting that we have helps us a lot, but there’s also no substitute for a pair of human eyes and judgment,” Nettles said.

Runoff season typically does not start until May. That gives a window of time to try to repair more gauges, and to survey how rivers and streams changed and where new flood dangers lie.