Western Governors Association Annual Meeting recap

Photo of the Governors at the Annual Meeting via the Western Governors Association
Photo of the Governors at the Annual Meeting via the Western Governors Association

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2014 Annual Meeting: June 9-11, The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs

Ten Western Governors attended WGA’s 2014 Annual Meeting. WGA Chairman and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Vice Chairman and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval welcomed Arizona’s Jan Brewer, Idaho’s Butch Otter, Kansas’s Sam Brownback, Montana’s Steve Bullock, North Dakota’s Jack Dalrymple, South Dakota’s Dennis Daugaard, Utah’s Gary Herbert and Wyoming’s Matt Mead.

Check out a slideshow of photos featuring Governors, special guests and Annual Meeting events.

Day 1

June 9, 2014: Opening day was historic for Western Governors, as they participated in a live video-teleconference with President Barack Obama to discuss the wildfire season and efforts to improve forest management, including an end to the practice of “fire borrowing.” The conversation represented the first time the Western Governors have had an in-person conversation with any president during a WGA meeting.

The day began with members of the Western States Tourism Policy Council, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and other federal agency heads today signing a memorandum of understanding aimed at promoting federal-state dialogue and cooperation on western states tourism and public lands issues. Governor John Hickenlooper spoke and was joined at the ceremony by governors Matt Mead of Wyoming, Gary Herbert of Utah and Butch Otter of Idaho.

The afternoon session included a keynote by Secretary Jewell, followed by a roundtable on “Preparing for and Responding to Drought and Flooding,” moderated by South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Guests on the panel included Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), Department of Defense, and Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary, Department of Agriculture.

The afternoon session concluded the signing of an MOU by WGA Chairman Hickenlooper and Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Administrator, to continue a collaboration on drought, flooding, and wildfire preparedness. The official business of the day concluded with the governors conducting a press conference attended by the Colorado Springs Gazette, Associated Press, E&E News and Washington Post.

Read more about Day 1 and download the MOU.

Day 2

June 10, 2014: Western Governors met with the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency to discuss the recently proposed regulations on carbon emissions from existing coal plants during the second day of the 2014 WGA Annual Meeting in Colorado Springs.

While several Governors take issue with the rule, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy later characterized the discussions in a press conference as “collegial.”

McCarthy went on to say that the regulations aren’t “the end-all be-all” and that she hopes it changes companies’ strategies on energy development.

Read more about Day 2.

Day 3

June 11, 2014: Western Governors elected Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval Chairman of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber was elected as Vice-Gov SandovalChairman on the final day of the Annual Meeting.

After the announcement, the Nevada governor delivered remarks on his initiative for the coming year: the Western Governors Drought Forum. Gov. Sandoval said, in part, the goal of the forum “is to bring our states together to combat drought, and to recommit WGA to play a leading role in that fight.” Read more about the Drought Forum.

The Western Governors also announced six new policy resolutions on a variety of issues that range from Species of Concern and Candidate Species to Regional Wildfire Fighting Resources.

Read more about Day 3 and find links to the resolution.

Media: Stories about the Governors call with the President and their conversation with EPA’s chief appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette. The Associated Press covered Governor Sandoval’selection as chairman.

The Protect the Flows June newsletter is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows
Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

Click here to read the newsletter from Protect the Flows. Here’s an excerpt

Business of Water 2.0 in Las Vegas- reserve your space now! Change the Course campaign gives you the chance to help restore water to the CO River.

EPA and USACE extend comment deadline to October 20 for clarification of “Waters of the US”

wetlandssouthplatte

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers extended the comment period for new rules on Waters of the United States under the federal Clean Water Act. The federal agencies added an additional 90 days in extending the deadline for comments to Oct. 20.

The move came after urging by political and water interests, including Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats.

The rules, published in the Federal Register on April 25, are an attempt to resolve federal jurisdiction issues after conflicting U.S. Supreme Court opinions on that authority.

Water users, particularly in the West, fear that the new rules would affect mostly dry washes and wetlands along with streams that have been traditionally regulated.

Runoff/snowpack news: “…the bottom line for Lake Powell this year is that it’s [inflows are] going to be right about average” — Eric Kuhn #ColoradoRiver

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Steamboat Springs — Residents of the Yampa Valley, where the meadows are lush and snow still lingers on the peaks, easily could conclude that this is a year of water abundance. But in terms of the water produced by the entire Colorado River Basin, the summer of 2014 won’t be outstanding.

Eric Kuhn, of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, told an audience of about 50 state legislators, water managers and educators at the Sheraton Steamboat Thursday the abundance of snowmelt in the upper Colorado, Yampa and Green rivers early this summer isn’t indicative of the entire Colorado Basin.

“We have wet years, we have dry years but the bottom line for Lake Powell this year is that it’s going to be right about average,” Kuhn said…

“Currently, Lake Mead (below the Grand Canyon) and Lake Powell (just above the Grand Canyon) are 42 percent full,” Kuhn said. “Does that make us nervous? Yeah that makes us very nervous.”[…]

Water storage in Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River just upstream from its Colorado stretch is expected to be 140 percent of average, and Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River is expected to be 126 percent of average, Kuhn told his audience. But 25-mile-long Navajo Reservoir, straddling the Colorado and New Mexico state line and capturing flows from the San Juan River, will be just about 67 percent of average. It’s the southernmost reaches of the upper basin that are below par.

Kuhn and his audience had gathered in Steamboat Springs Thursday to begin a tour of the Yampa River Basin sponsored by the nonprofit Colorado Foundation for Water Education. CFWE program manager Kristin Maharg told the gathering that the purpose of the tour is to explore the compatibility of consumptive water uses (agriculture and power plants) and non-consumptive uses (recreation and habitat conservation) along the length of the Yampa in Routt and Moffat counties.

“The Yampa is no longer a valley too far, and we want to look at some of the demands this basin is facing,” Maharg said. “This is a very cooperative basin in terms of resource management and conservation.”

Thursday’s audience included more than a half dozen state legislators, members of their technical support staff, including an economist and an attorney who work on water bills, a Pitkin County commissioner and an Eagle County water district official, as well as college educators from Colorado State University, the University of Colorado Denver and Colorado Mesa University.

If there is some good news for the Colorado Basin and the people who depend on Lake Powell this summer, it’s that the abundance in the Green River basin will give the reservoir a boost this summer. Flaming Gorge Reservoir, about 30 miles upstream from the point where the Green makes a dog leg into Colorado on the way to its confluence with the Yampa, is currently releasing large amounts of water. That’s being done to mimic the spring floods that occurred before the dam was built in order to support the ecosystem that evolved around those floods. When the river is restored to its baseline sumer flow, it will be at double the flows seen in the last few years, or about 1,600 cubic feet per second. The net result of those additional flows should boost Lake Powell to 50 percent full by the end of July, Kuhn confirmed.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver predicted Monday that the total volume of flows in the Yampa in Steamboat Springs in June and July will be 118 percent of average, and maybe more if precipitation is abundant. And flows in the Elk, one of the Yampa’s biggest tributaries, could be at 145 percent of average during the heart of the summer.

The streamflow projections issued by the NRCS shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning the flows in the Yampa consistently will be at 118 percent of average, Mage Hultstrand cautioned. She is the assistant snow survey supervisor with the NRCS in Denver. Hultstrand explained that the streamflow projection anticipates the total volume of water that will flow under the Fifth Street Bridge from June through July.

“It’s based on current (snowpack) conditions and weather patterns in the area the past few months,” Hultstrand said.

The weather in terms of temperature and precipitation will have much to say about streamflow from week to week.

The Yampa at Steamboat peaked for the season May 30 at 4,850 cubic feet per second, Brenda Alcorn, senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, said Wednesday. The Elk peaked at 6,300 cfs also on May 30. The Yampa came close to going higher June 2, but fell just short, Alcorn said. Flows in the Yampa were in decline this week, but the snowpack still has a kick in it; the Forecast Center expects the Yampa to rally Thursday and Friday, jumping from Wednesday morning’s flow of 2,300 cfs to perhaps 3,400 cfs by Friday. The median flow for June 11 is 2010 cfs. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-70s under clear skies Thursday and Friday.

The streamflow projection issued by the NRCS really is intended to inform reservoir managers and help them understand how full their reservoirs will be and how much water they can release.

It’s safe to say the upper Yampa will be carrying more water than average for much of the next seven or eight weeks, but the streamflow forecast doesn’t guarantee there will be above average water in the river for irrigating hay fields or providing thrills for tubers during the last week in July, for example, Hultstrand said.

More Green River Basin coverage here.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable: “…we’re still beating our heads over rotational fallowing” — Gary Barber #COWaterPlan #COleg

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is compiling a reservoir of ideas that could go into making the Colorado Water Plan. The main difficulty will be putting them all to beneficial use: First in the Arkansas River basin’s implementation plan, then translating those into the state plan — all under conditions that still appear to be changing.

“It does appear to be a flood,” quipped Alan Hamel, who represents the basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Last month, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation (SB115) that instructs the CWCB to have hearings in each basin and for the draft plan to be presented to the Legislature’s interim committee on water resources.

Meanwhile, the roundtable has received 60 written comments, some with multiple suggestions, on what needs to be in its basin implementation plan. The group has no organized way of incorporating comments into the volumes of information already compiled. There has been little time for point-by-point discussions.

The CWCB will review basin plans in July.

And the state plan being developed is in a different format than the basin plan.

“How do we integrate all this?” asked Reed Dils, a retired Buena Vista outfitter and former CWCB member.

“The timeline was a tough, tight timeline even before the legislation,” Hamel added.

Hickenlooper ordered the CWCB to produce a draft plan by December. For the past few months, the roundtable has expanded its meeting time and talked extensively about its own basin plan, the product of nine years of meetings. Some of that time has been devoted to providing new members background on past actions of the roundtable.

“Dozens of people have presented information to us,” said Bud Elliott of Leadville, one of the original roundtable members. “The public has been well represented.”

Gary Barber, who chaired the roundtable for several years and is now under contract to help write the basin plan, said some findings of the roundtable have stalled.

“I tell you, five years later, we’re still beating our heads over rotational fallowing, based on the experience of Fowler,” he said at one point.

A deal by Super Ditch to supply water to Fowler under a state pilot program this year fell through when farmers pulled out. It’s the third year the group has tried, but failed, to demonstrate a new method for agricultural transfers that leaves ownership in the hands of farmers.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Sixth annual Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival June 20-21

Royal Gorge
Royal Gorge

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Big water and a bountiful batch of boating events will mark the Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival as it boasts a blue-collar celebration for the “Average Joe” boater. Planners are touting plenty of “Boats, bands and beer,” for the sixth annual celebration June 20-21. Festivities are held at Centennial Park, known to locals as Duck Park, at Fourth and Griffin streets. With 20 events, a roaring Arkansas River and an increase in vendors, the festival will be the biggest to date.

“There are plenty of events for professional and expert level paddlers, but there are not a lot of events for the Average Joe weekend paddler, so we are creating our own niche,” said Kyle Horne, an event organizer. “It is something you can come in and compete in, have a good time and enjoy without competing with the big dogs.”

The pinnacle event will be the Build Your Own Boat Race slated for 5:15 p.m. June 21, but that is just one of the thrilling boating events which include stand up paddling, a duckie (inflatable kayak) dash, a kayak big air event, a Hyside Raft competition and even an inner tube race. Equipment from stand-up paddle boats and inner tubes to safety gear will be supplied to those who need it thanks to donations from local rafting companies, Horne said.

The only serious event for professional boaters and experienced long-distance paddlers, is the 6:15 p.m. June 20 kayak and raft race from Parkdale to Canon City. River flows which have been fluctuating between 4,500 and 3,400 cubic feet per second recently, will have to be at 4,000 cfs or less in order for the race to run, Horne said.

The event also features a fly casting competition for anglers, running races, a Whitewater Adventure Race featuring a run, obstacles and a muddy “slip and slide” finish as well as bicycling events for participants of all ages.

A 4:30 p.m. June 21, Rotary Rubber Duck Fundraiser hosted by Canon City and Florence Rotary Clubs will feature hundreds of little bathtub-sized rubber ducks racing along the river for a chance to win their “owners” prizes. In addition, a Kids’ Fun Zone and a trampoline jump will be set up at the park.

For those who would prefer to sit in the shade and relax, there will be live bands on two stages such as Pueblo’s Atomic Fireballs, local favorite The Highside Command, as well as James and the Devil, Wrestle with Jimmy and others. In addition, a wide variety of food and craft vendors will be set up at the park.

The festival was formed to help establish a Whitewater Park in Canon City and with the help of the Canon City Recreation District, the Whitewater Kayak and Recreation Park committee and the Fremont Community Foundation, the park became a reality in 2009 and is the center of the festival’s boating events. Fremont Adventure Recreation joined as a fourth partner and has added several entertaining competitions.

A fundraising live auction is slated for 8:15 p.m. June 21 and will include items such as a stand-up paddle boat from Jackson Kayak, a wooden canoe made by inmates working in Colorado Correctional Industries, a fly fishing package from Royal Gorge Anglers, and more. All funds raised during the festival go back into the community.

“A hundred percent of proceeds go toward community projects such as expansion and improvements to the whitewater park, recreation district programing, charitable projects and recreation projects,” Horne said.

For a complete list of activities, log on to http://royalgorgewhitewaterfestival.com.

More whitewater coverage here.