HB14-1028 (Oppose Federal Special Use Permit Water Rights) passes second reading #COleg

Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia
Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

A bill that would negate any federal ownership of private water rights in exchange for a special-use permit won preliminary approval in the Colorado House on Monday. The measure, HB1028, is aimed at the federal government’s recent attempts to grab water rights as a condition for renewing permits, such as those ski resorts use to operate on federal land. Under it, any successful attempt would declare those water rights “speculative,” which already is against Colorado law.

“This bill tells the federal government that you cannot basically require as a condition of a permit on a lease to sign over your water rights,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

The issue began in 2011 when various agencies of the U.S. Department of the Interior began demanding that private water rights be turned over to the federal government in exchange for renewing permits. But after much backlash from ranchers, ski resorts and the general public, the government last fall backed off those demands.

In a statement before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources that was hearing a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colorado, to ban the practice, the Forest Service said it was reconsidering its directive that required those rights. Tipton’s measure cleared that committee and awaits debate by the full House.

Regardless, some state lawmakers used the Forest Service’s reconsideration of the directive as reason enough to oppose Sonnenberg’s bill, saying it isn’t needed.

“I actually don’t believe that there’s a problem that this bill is trying to fix because the federal land management agency that was the subject of this, the United States Forest Service, has been working for well over a year to revise and reform its directive for issuing special-use permits,” said Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.

Other lawmakers said the measure was necessary in case the federal government changes its mind. The bill would send a message to the federal government that any new directive that similarly tries to take private water rights is in violation of state law and court precedent, they said.

“There was a (Nevada) lawsuit because the BLM required the water rights from a rancher in order to renew his (grazing) permits,” said Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose. “The rancher sued and he won in federal court. It was a spanking of the federal government. The judge actually accused the BLM of a RICO (Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization Act) violation in their strong-arm tactics.”

The bill requires a final House vote, which could come as early as today, before it heads to the Senate.

Lawmakers don’t know what the content of the Forest Service directive is, said Fischer, “so I think it’s premature to run a bill trying to preempt the ability of the Forest Service to implement this directive.”

San Miguel River: Project to restore the historic Hanging Flume wins the 2014 Steven H. Hart award

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

An ambitious project to rebuild a historic flume among the cliffs above the San Miguel River south of Gateway was recently recognized for its innovative effort at reconstructing history. The 2014 Stephen H. Hart Award was given to the Western Colorado Interpretive Association, Anthony & Associates, and the Bureau of Land Management — a presentation made by History Colorado, a charitable state agency under the Department of Higher Education.

The project to rebuild the flume was done over five days in 2012. In its day, the flume was essentially an open water chute used to transfer 80 million gallons of water per 24-hour period from the San Miguel River, through 10 miles of wooden flume and earthen ditch, according to the WCIA.

“The Hanging Flume is much more than a marvel of engineering. It is a statement driven in stone – a monument to an era of innovation and ‘can-do’ attitude in the 1880s,” the group said in a press release announcing the award.

The project, they say, was an effort to answer the question of exactly how the original flume builders were able to pull it off. Funding was made available by private funders the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the John Hendricks Family Foundation.

Today the flume is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the longest historic structure in the state, and the most intact flume left in North America, according to the WCIA.

And in 2006, the Montrose Placer Mining Company Hanging Flume was listed as one of the “100 Most Endangered Sites in the World” by the World Monuments Fund.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.

2013 #COflood documented in book by Lyons students — Denver Post

Bear tracks in the mud near Big Thompson River west of Loveland via Craig Young
Bear tracks in the mud near Big Thompson River west of Loveland via Craig Young

From The Denver Post (Whitney Bryen):

Lyons High School senior Cole Bonde spent two months sleeping on an air mattress while his family cleaned the debris and mud that washed up around their home during the September flood. Bonde’s family evacuated their home a couple of days after the flood — leaving in a four-wheel-drive vehicle that barely cleared the debris — to stay with friends while power was restored.

“The rebuilding was more stressful than anything,” Bonde, 17, said. “The worst part was not waking up in my own bed every morning for two months.”

Bonde is one of 20 Lyons High students who share their flood stories and photographs in the book “Our Town, Our Story: The Lyons Flood of 2013.” The students from Stephanie Busby’s fall photography class launched the project in November as a way to cope with the devastation they faced and contribute to rebuilding efforts. The proceeds from the 200 printed copies will go to the Lyons Community Foundation and are earmarked for rebuilding community trails that students used to walk to get to and from school, said Busby, an art teacher at Lyons Middle/Senior High School.

The first books will be sold Monday [February 24, 2014] at a photographers’ reception at Oskar Blues in Lyons. The students who contributed to the book will be there telling their stories and selling large prints of their photographs to raise money for the community foundation.

Loveland photographer and writer Robert Campagna helped the class develop the concept and worked with students on photography and writing.

“I felt like the kids needed to document what they went through,” Busby said. “It’s through their eyes, their point of view.”

Bonde used a wide-angle lens for most of his photos to provide a “big picture” look at the destruction in Lyons, he said. “I used the sun to capture what the flood actually did,” Bonde said. “I wanted to shine some light on the damage.”

Senior Alexis Eberhardt, 18, told the story of a close friend, Caleb, who lost his childhood home in the flood. Eberhardt’s pages feature a photograph of a wooden lamppost next to a pile of dirt and rubble where her friend’s childhood home once stood.

Senior Joe Christiansen, 17, had a different perspective. Instead of wide photographs that captured the large piles of debris and pools of muddy water, Christiansen focused on the details.

A tattered American flag and a torn and muddied page of a Bible lead Christiansen’s series of photos that he calls “the memories among the debris.”

Christiansen summed up his view of the destruction at the end of his story next to a photograph with a silhouette of a flower and a colorful sunset.

“Change is a strange thing, but it is necessary and at some point it must happen,” he wrote. “Now is as good a time as any, and sometimes we need forces beyond our control to direct the way.

Conservation easements: ‘All we’re trying to do is give farmers another option [to buy and dry]’ — Jay Winner

Purgatoire River
Purgatoire River

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two groups promoting conservation easements in the Lower Arkansas Valley agreed last week that protecting water is more important than who takes credit.

“We have been losing land to buy-and-dry,” Ginger Davidson, head of the Rocky Ford office of the Palmer Land Trust told the board of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We don’t want to see another drop leave the valley. A healthy habitat for wildlife means healthy ranch land.”

The Lower Ark district has accepted and managed conservation easements as part of its mission to protect water since it was formed in 2002. It has some easements outside its boundaries and several that do not include water rights.

The Palmer Land Trust, in connection with other nonprofit groups and federal agencies, launched its own initiative in an area that overlaps part of the Lower Ark district. Davidson said the trust is open to conservation easements outside the initiative’s boundaries.

“A lot of people say we’re in competition, but I say, ‘The more, the merrier,’ ’’ said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Ark district.

The Palmer Land Trust is working with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, Canyon & Plains and Guidestone in the 10-county initiative. The National Park Service and Nature Conservancy are cooperating as well.

Each group has its own goals in protecting farm and ranch land from development, but the Palmer trust is primarily concerned with water rights, Davidson said.

“When people lose their water, they don’t have the incentive to invest, because they don’t know if the water will be there in the future,” Davidson said. “The businesses will stay if there is a critical mass of farming.”

She agreed with Winner that the primary goal of conservation easements — which provide either tax credits or cash for forgoing development — should be to offer alternatives to selling water to cities.

“We’re not forcing anyone to do anything,” Winner told the board. “All we’re trying to do is give farmers another option.”

More conservation easements coverage here.