CWCB: Colorado Watershed Symposium Succeeds At Preparing Coalitions to Move Forward on Stream Recovery

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Kevin Houck):

More than 150 community leaders last week resolved to work together in strong coalitions to focus on rebuilding streams and watersheds damaged by last fall’s flooding.

The Colorado Watershed Symposium, a daylong event July 18 in Loveland with the theme “Working with Watersheds: It’s More Than Just the River”, included presentations on disaster-relief funding, watershed master-planning, and intergovernmental agreements. Most importantly, representatives from nine watershed coalitions met and developed joint plans for the “next steps” in restoring their watersheds.

The symposium was sponsored by the Colorado Recovery Office, the Department of Local Affairs, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Molly Urbina, Colorado’s Chief Recovery Officer, told participants: “Each of you have taken a collaborative approach to watershed planning, even though it may be easier to plan alone. If nothing else, this past year has taught us just how interdependent we are. Every action in the watershed impacts another point in that watershed, up or down stream. We are in this together.”

The nine watershed coalitions in attendance echoed Urbina’s call for continued collaboration. Representatives from each coalition shared best practices from their public outreach programs and emphasized the need to continue involving private stakeholders in the recovery process.

“Creek restoration cannot happen in a vacuum. It must be accomplished along with efforts to restore public and private infrastructure and floodplain management.” said Julie McKay, director of the Boulder, Left Hand, and St. Vrain coalitions. “It’s really great to be able to compare experiences and approaches of all the coalitions across the Front Range.”

“When you win the hearts and minds, you win the river,” said Gordan Gilstrap, of the Little Thompson Coalition. Dave Skuodas of the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District echoed Gilstrap’s sentiments. “Even though we have the power to dictate, we choose to facilitate. We want people down in the stream using it and recreating in it. We want people to take ownership in the creek.”

Carol Ekarius, director of the highly successful Coalition of the Upper South Platte, delivered the day’s keynote address, emphasizing the need for coalitions to consider a broad array of potential issues when they create master plans. “The flood doesn’t start in the corridor; the flood starts in the shed,” said Ekarius. “I tell people we’re a watershed collaborative, forest collaborative, and emergency response collaborative. It allows us to do all kinds of work.”

Each of the nine coalitions split into breakout sessions to coordinate next steps. In their informal discussions, many expressed interest in becoming formal non-profit organizations. They also agreed that Colorado’s watersheds are interconnected and that any successful recovery effort has to take into account both the upstream and downstream portions of the river.

“I was pleased at how the various coalitions came together and focused on how they can move forward,” said Chris Sturm of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This is very important, because the coalitions will be very well positioned for disaster relief funding as it becomes available.”

Representatives from the Big Thompson, Boulder Creek, Coal Creek, Fall River and Fish Creek, Left Hand, Little Thompson, St. Vrain, Upper Fountain and Cheyenne Creek, and South Platte all reported different challenges and expressed interest in continued coordination on recovery issues.

All stakeholders recognized the difficulties of the recovery process and emphasized the need for effective long-term recovery planning. The Symposium is part of a larger series of events that work toward achieving coordinated and efficient recovery planning. For those interested in attending the next event, the 2014 Sustaining

Colorado Watersheds Conference will be held in Avon on October 7-9 at the Westin Riverfront Resort.

The flooding affected 24 counties. It triggered nine small dam failures, damaged or destroyed nearly 225 water-diversion structures, damaged an estimated 32,000 acres of croplands and swept away $540,000 in state-owned stream-gauge equipment. During the floods, many northern Colorado waterways experienced 100-year or 500-year events.

Before there was plumbing there was a pancake-powered donkey — The Fairplay Flume #ColoradoRiver

Brighty the pancake-loving donkey:  Bobby McKee rides his trusty partner, Brighty, while fetching water for residents at the Wylie Way camp in the Grand Canyon in 1918. (Photo courtesy of Marth Krueger)
Brighty the pancake-loving donkey: Bobby McKee rides his trusty partner, Brighty, while fetching water for residents at the Wylie Way camp in the Grand Canyon in 1918. (Photo courtesy of Marth Krueger)

From The Fairplay Flume:

In honor of Park County’s upcoming famous festival, Burro Days, Pine resident Martha McKee Krueger shared a story with The Flume about her father, and a donkey.

In 1917, Krueger’s father, Robert “Bobby” McKee, with his parents, founded the first tourist lodge on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at Bright Angel Point called the Wylie Way.

Burros held a very important job at this lodge. They were responsible for carrying water. In the summer of 1918, Bobby found Brighty; not only a hearty work donkey, but also a friend.

Every morning, Brighty would show up at the back of the kitchen ready for work, and of course, pancakes. Following breakfast, Bobby and his burro would ride down to a spring about half a mile west of Wylie Way, dropping 200 feet in elevation. At the spring, Bobby would fill two five-gallon buckets, and load them up in Brighty’s canvas bags, and head back up. Though, within the next two summers, Brighty’s load increased to two ten-gallon Ford gas tanks. When they were full, they weighed just under two hundred pounds.

It is unknown how many years Brighty was of service to Bobby and the Wylie Way camp but in “The McKee Family Collection,” a book of memoirs by Bobby in 1989, it is written that every spring someone would encourage Brighty to come up from the canyon and was there when the McKees arrived.

“He simply came with the territory,” wrote the author.

Bobby and his incredible burro would make four to seven trips a day. Through all this, Brighty carried on, always looking forward to a pancake reward at the end of each load.

CWCB: July 2014 Drought Update #COdrought

From the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

Despite the warm temperatures of the past week, temperatures for the summer, and the water year as a whole, have been very close to average. Mild temperatures have helped to moderate impacts from a very dry June statewide, where only 29% of normal precipitation fell and some portions of the state (Southwest) saw only 9% of normal precipitation for the month. By comparison, July has been quite wet (92% of average to-date) and has resulted in large improvements to drought designations along the eastern plains, including southeastern Colorado where they have been dealing with extreme and exceptional drought conditions for nearly 4 years. Weak El Nino conditions have developed but are unlikely to result in short term significant moisture. Water providers indicated that storage levels remain strong, with many reservoirs near or at capacity.

  • Currently, 40% of the state is in some level of drought classification according to the US drought monitor. 13% is characterized as “abnormally dry” or D0, while an additional 11% is experiencing D1, moderate drought conditions. 12% is classified as severe, 3% as extreme and less than 1% of the state remains in exceptional drought (D4). These conditions are an improvement over last month.
  • Year-to-date precipitation at mountain SNOTEL sites is 101% of average, with the northern half of the state seeing more moisture than the southern half.
  • Current streamflow forecasts statewide range from greater than 150% of average in the South Platte and Colorado to a low of 36% of average in parts of the Rio Grande basin. The northern portion of the state has forecasts that are near to above normal, while the southern portion of the state has forecasts below normal.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 94% of average at the end of June 2014. The lowest reservoir storage statewide is in the Upper Rio Grande & Arkansas basins, with 58% and 66% of average storage, respectively. The Yampa/White and the South Platte have the highest storage level at 115% and 113% of average.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) for the state, which takes into account both reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts, is near normal across much of the state, with an “abundant” index in the northern basins of the South Platte, North Platte, and Colorado. The lowest values in the state are in the Southwest and indicate moderate to severe drought.
  • El-Nino ENSO conditions continue, but remain weak. The next few months are not likely to see major changes in that condition, but above average moisture is more likely by fall.
  • The short term forecast projects continued warm conditions west of the divide with cooler temperatures east of the continental divide over the next 14 days; coupled with above average probability of moisture in the southern half of the state.
  • August is typically the month with the most monsoon activity in Colorado, and a strong monsoon may help to further alleviate drought conditions.
  • Feds sued over #RioGrande flow for minnow, bird — Albuquerque Journal

    From the Albuquerque Journal (Mike Bush/John Fleck):

    Citing “two decades of broken promises by federal and state water managers,” a Santa Fe-based environmental group filed a federal lawsuit against two government agencies Thursday alleging they failed “to secure dynamic and perennial flows for the Rio Grande” needed to protect the silvery minnow and Southwestern willow flycatcher.

    Water managers of one agency say they have made major changes in how they operate, while another said it has spent at least $50 million over the past decade to protect the fish.

    In its suit, WildEarth Guardians accuses the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of failing to adopt “even the most modest changes in management on behalf of the Rio Grande.”

    WildEarth Guardians has its eye on the two endangered species the silvery minnow and a small bird, the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

    “The primary objective of this litigation is to secure the congressionally mandated protections of the (Endangered Species Act) to protect and conserve the silvery minnow and the willow flycatcher,” it says.

    Neither of the defendant agencies would comment on the complaint Thursday, although the Corps of Engineers said it may issue a statement next week after a review of the document.

    Here’s the release from Wild Earth Guardians:

    WildEarth Guardians filed suit today [July 24, 2014] in federal court citing two decades of broken promises by federal and state water managers to secure dynamic and perennial flows for the Rio Grande. The group believes that these agencies’ failure to exercise the full range of their authority to protect the river and its imperiled species not only violates the Endangered Species Act, but also makes it impossible to restore a functioning Rio Grande ecosystem.

    “The Rio Grande is central to the history, culture and beauty of New Mexico,” said Jen Pelz the Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “The river has sustained the valley for centuries, and we have a moral obligation to hold water managers and users accountable to ensure that the river does not vanish.”

    The group’s lawsuit details the failures by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to implement even the most modest changes in management on behalf of the Rio Grande. A 2003 management plan attempted to return some balance to the Rio Grande in central New Mexico by requiring certain flows and physical infrastructure changes—reconnecting the river from fragmentation by dams—for the benefit of the species. The federal and state agencies, however, failed to honor their commitments to the detriment of the endangered species.

    “The plan of the past decade did not go far enough to protect and maintain a living river,” added Pelz. “This lawsuit seeks to provide the shake up necessary to realign our collective values and secure new commitments from all water managers to ensure that the river has a right to its own water and it is a sustainable, dynamic ecosystem.”

    The lack of oversight and accountability in the Rio Grande also adds to the decrease of flows in the river. As just one example, the “Water Bank” operated by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District—which distributes water throughout the District to land without water rights—requires authorization by the State and federal government. However, even though both entities have expressed notable concerns about the validity of the Water Bank and requested proof of beneficial use of the District’s water rights prior to any such approval, the District operates the Water Bank each year without any oversight or authorization.

    “It’s a bank without a charter. Not even the worst Wall Street bankers could have established a system so lacking in accountability and supervision,” said Pelz. “Stealing water like this from our river and our future is reckless and cannot continue.”

    Steve Sugarman and in-house lawyer, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, represent the organization in the litigation. This lawsuit is the latest action in WildEarth Guardians’ campaign to protect and restore the Rio Grande, America’s third longest and one of its most iconic rivers.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

    This year’s snowpack has been good for the rafting business

    Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph June 26, 2014 via the NRCS
    Arkansas River Basin High/Low graph June 26, 2014 via the NRCS

    From The Mountain Mail (Allison Dyer Bluemel):

    Due to higher waters and a better overall economy, local rafting outfitters report the 2014 season has been a fruitful one. Overall, the feeling is that business is up anywhere from 15 to 20 percent from last year, said John Kreski, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area rationing and agreement coordinator.

    “It’s been going gangbusters. It’s been busy, busy,” Independent Whitewater owner Mike Whittington said.

    This time last year, 15,585 commercial rafts floated the Arkansas within the AHRA management area, according to the 2013 season summary.

    Overall, 2013 saw 36,508 commercial rafts, 4,320 kayaks and 186,268 paying clients on the Arkansas, according to the summary.

    This year, outfitters such as Independent Whitewater, Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center and Wilderness Aware Rafting have been seeing an increase in inquiries and traffic on the river.

    Wilderness Aware has seen an 8-percent increase from last year, but is still down in numbers from its record years, owner Joe Griener said.

    The increase for companies is due to more water from winter snowpack and an increase in tourism to the area, he said.

    “There’s a lot more water in the ditch. The increase in water also means a decrease in fire risk, which definitely helps tourism,” RMOC owner Brandon Slate said.
    While RMOC has seen “exponentially more rafting,” it canceled inflatable kayaking trips and reduced the size of stand-up paddleboard outings earlier in the year due to safety concerns, Slate said.

    “Safety is No. 1, but it can make it harder to profit when we run lower ratios,” he said.

    Whittington and Griener said their most popular section was Browns Canyon this year.
    “Browns Canyon is the longest half-day trip. It offers good, solid Class III rapids,” Whittington said.

    American Adventure Expeditions owner and operator Mike Kissack said the company’s most popular trips this year were Browns Canyon and Royal Gorge half-day trips.

    Wilderness Aware has had a banner year for multi-day trips on sections of the river starting north of Buena Vista all the way down to Cañon City as well, Griener said.
    The popularity of the river is due to the variety of whitewater and the lengthier season, Whittington said.

    “All is great on the river, but the best thing is the variety. We have 100 miles of Class II to Class V rapids to raft,” Slate said.

    The difference in rapid difficulty throughout the river means there is something for every type of person looking to float the Arkansas, Griener said.

    “There’s no measure as to how much variety we have. It is what it is on other rivers, but on this one there’s 100-plus miles of river and stuff that’s also good for kids,” he said.

    Additionally, the Arkansas’ longer season means tourists are drawn from across the state after other rivers’ seasons end.

    “The word is out that we’re still rafting,” Slate said.

    Griener said the “Front Range is creeping closer,” and visitors from the area are realizing outfitters in the Arkansas River Valley “offer one more thing to do while they’re in the area.”

    “I believe the main reason that people come to the Arkansas River is because of the perfect mix of world-class whitewater and breathtaking Colorado scenery,” Kissack said.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

    Brett Walton: Want a thesaurus of gloom? Ask a California water manager what 2015 is like if there’s another dry winter #ColoradoRiver

    California Drought Monitor July 22, 2014
    California Drought Monitor July 22, 2014

    In Colorado rainwater harvesting is complicated


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Don’t run out and buy a rain barrel. Even if you’re lucky enough to catch a downpour, it is illegal to collect rainwater from rooftops in Colorado in most cases.

    The Pueblo Chieftain ran an article in its Real Estate section Friday that suggested rain barrels could be used to meet water needs. That may be true in other parts of the United States, but collecting water in rain barrels in Colorado is allowed only under certain circumstances.

    Two bills passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor in 2009 allow for rainwater collection:

    SB80 allows residential well owners to collect water from the roof of primary homes only, if no other water supply is available from a city or water district. The collection has to be part of the well permit for the property.

    HB1129 provided for developers to build in rainwater collection if the development is approved as one of 10 statewide pilot projects.

    Otherwise, rainwater collection is illegal.

    The Colorado Division of Water Resources considers rainwater to be part of the property of the people of the state as defined by the Colorado Constitution.

    “As a result, in much of the state, it is illegal to divert rainwater falling on your property expressly for a certain use unless you have a very old water right or during occasional periods when there is a surplus of water in the river system,” the division states on its website.

    “This is especially true in the urban, suburban and rural areas along the Front Range.

    “This system of water allocation plays an important role in protecting the owners of senior water rights that are entitled to appropriate the full amount of their decreed water right, particularly when there is not enough to satisfy them and parties whose water right is junior to them.”

    More water law coverage here.

    Op-Ed: Happy Birthday, Colorado River – long may you live!

    Contribute to Bob’s father-son climate reporting project here.