San Luis Valley: Counties oppose endangered species listing for Rio Grande cutthroat

Rio Grande cutthroat trout   via Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Rio Grande cutthroat trout via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

With a recommendation due by the end of the month whether or not to list Rio Grande cutthroat trout as endangered, local officials are ramping up efforts to prove this species does not need to be listed. The SLV County Commissioners Association, encompassing the six counties in the San Luis Valley, earlier this year joined four other nearby counties in a memorandum of understanding asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to list the RG cutthroat as endangered. On Monday the Valley commissioners, joined by Hinsdale County Commissioner Cindy Dozier and Hinsdale County Attorney Michael O’Loughlin , reaffirmed their desire to do all they can to show Fish and Wildlife the species does not need to be listed because it is already amply protected in this region.

Hinsdale County has taken the fiscal lead on coordinating this effort, enlisting the help of O’Loughlin and consultant Tom Spezze to draft the memorandum of understanding as well as a conservation agreement plan. Dozier told the SLV county officials on Monday the share of each of the 10 participating counties would be about $4,000, if the counties divided up the costs for O’Loughlin’s and Spezze’s work equally. That would cover the work that has been completed to this point (approximately $24,000, about $20,000 for Spezze’s efforts and the remainder for O’Loughlin’s ) plus the work that will be performed from now through January. Dozier said Spezze is offering his time at a reduced rate.

“Both of them have been watching their hours carefully ,” she said.

Dozier said if the costs were split according to occupied habitat for the species, some counties would bear a much greater share than others, and since there will undoubtedly be other species the counties will have to work together on in the future, it would probably be best to just split up the costs equally among them. She said her county officials see this as a wise investment compared to the economic harm this listing could cause the county.

Alamosa County Commissioner Michael Yohn said he saw this type of effort as ongoing since there are many other species that could be potentially listed in the future.

The county commissioners said they would discuss the funding again at their next association meeting in September. The association will hear regional budget requests on September 29. The Valley commissioner association voted on Monday to continue using Hinsdale County as the fiscal agent for this project.

Dozier thanked the counties for signing the memorandum of understanding (MOU.) She said Las Animas County signed a letter of support but not the memorandum of understanding. Other counties involved are San Juan and Archuleta Counties.

“We are all in this boat together,” Dozier said. “It’s important we work together.”

She said each county has a vested interest in whether the RG cutthroat trout are listed or not, so it is vital the counties let their collective voice be heard at the state and ultimately the federal level.

The listing of a species can affect an area that never even had the species, she added. For example, Hinsdale County is included in the Gunnison sage-grouse critical habitat even though that species never existed in the county or within 18 miles of it.

O’Loughlin explained the next step after the MOU is a conservation agreement “showing the Fish and Wildlife Service we are doing what we can as local counties to help conserve the species.”

It is a similar process to the one Gunnison County went through on the sage grouse, he said. The conservation agreement brings the local counties to the table to have a voice on the RG cutthroat trout discussion .

O’Loughlin said the next range-wide conservation team meeting is in January and he hoped the counties represented by this conservation plan would be able to participate in that meeting.

Spezze said the recommendation is due the end of this month whether to propose listing RG cutthroat trout as endangered or whether to continue its status as not warranted for listing. Spezze added that whether or not the species is proposed for listing, the 10-county group is still ahead of the curve in developing a conservation strategy.

“It gives us a seat at the table.”

Spezze explained there are two ways to be involved, as a signatory to the conservation effort, which would obligate the group financially , or as a participating entity. Trout Unlimited, for example, is a participating entity but not a signatory.

A participating entity would be showing political support but would not be obligated directly and financially. Saguache County Commissioner Jason Anderson said some folks are discouraged by the efforts against the Gunnison sage-grouse listing that seem to be futile in light of the federal government’s unyielding hand to do whatever it wants, regardless of local input.

“I am hearing a lot of people say we are not going to do anything”until they see what happens with the sage-grouse .”

Spezze said the decision on whether to list the Gunnison sage-grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act is expected by the end of November. In May the D.C. District Court granted a six-month extension to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make the final decision.

O’Loughlin said whatever the decision is, there will likely be legal action afterwards . He said it could be years before the outcome is reached.

Dozier said Gunnison County has told the government if it lists the Gunnison sage-grouse, the county will file a lawsuit.

“Will the states succeed against the feds in a lawsuit ? We don’t know,” she said.

“What do we do in the meantime?” O’Loughlin asked. “I look at it and say we should probably do something.”

He said he believed it would be better to be proactive with the RG cutthroat trout.

Dozier added what the counties are doing now is laying the groundwork for whatever may occur in the future with this species. O’Loughlin said, “I don’t want to give Fish & Wildlife any reason to say you didn’t do anything.”

He added, “My job is to ensure we have done everything we can to be as solid as we can to get the outcome we want, which is an unwarranted decision for each of these species.”

Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen said, “I believe it will end up in court, so everything we have done will show them we have made efforts.”

Rio Grande County Commissioner Pam Bricker said, “I do think we need to move forward and be proactive.”

Saguache County Commissioner Linda Joseph said conservation efforts need to continue, regardless of the Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision. Dozier said O’Loughlin will revise and strengthen the conservation agreement within the next week and send it out to the counties again for their county attorneys’ review and subsequent approval during public meetings.

She also asked for the association’s approval of the conservation agreement once it is finalized.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Oil and gas firms dig deep for new water — BizWest

Denver Basin aquifer system
Denver Basin aquifer system

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Applications to the state of Colorado to use deep underground aquifers for oil and gas development in Northern Colorado have surged, reflecting the new lengths that oil and gas companies have gone to obtain the scarce resource in the South Platte River Basin.

More than a dozen distinct parcels of land have applied to withdraw a total of 35,600 acre feet of non-tributary groundwater for potential use in oil and gas development since 2011, according to the state Division of Water Resources. The total nearly triples the 12,700-acre-foot capacity in Lake Loveland…

Non-tributary means groundwater that is not believed to significantly connect to tributary water that feeds surface water systems such as rivers. The ancient water typically is located hundreds of feet below the surface and derived from glacial melt or prehistoric seawater. Drilling wells to reach it can be costly.

Unlike rivers and streams where people own water rights in various places, non-tributary water can be diverted by property owners if they can show it would not affect stream and river flows. Applicants must demonstrate through scientific evidence and modeling that the aquifers are in fact non-tributary before they can receive state permits to use the water.

Noble Energy Inc. (NYSE: NBL), among the top oil and natural-gas producers in the region, alone has applied for nearly 4,700 acre feet on the Wells and Ball ranches in Weld County. The company last year said about 80 percent of its water came from wells and ponds, 18 percent came from cities and 2 percent is recycled. A Noble Energy representative did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

The practice of tapping the prehistoric aquifers underscores the increasing need for water for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Northern Colorado. Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals into a drilled hole deep underground to extract oil and natural gas from dense shale formations.

The non-tributary use also reflects the challenges posed by competing interests for water in Northern Colorado, said Tom Cech, director of One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver. The use of non-tributary water for energy development relieves competition between energy development and agriculture, but tapping it now means it may not be available for future commercial and residential development.

“This is a public policy issue in the sense of, ‘Should water east of Greeley, this deep groundwater, be saved for future generations for some other purposes, or does it make sense to use it for energy development today?’ ” he said.

Property owners may choose to benefit today from the resource by selling the water because they may not have an economic incentive to keep the water intact for future generations, he added.

More oil and gas coverage here.

Boulder County: Check out this video about our collaborative Comprehensive Creek Planning Initiative

Rain or shine, Colorado State University’s Campus Weather Station celebrated July 28

The Fort Collins Weather Station on the Colorado State University campus northwest of Lory Student Center and the Transit Center
The Fort Collins Weather Station on the Colorado State University campus northwest of Lory Student Center and the Transit Center

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Kate Hawthorne Jeracki):

The important scientific contributions of the Colorado State University Campus Weather Station to the City of Fort Collins, the State of Colorado and the nation over the past 125 years will be celebrated on the 17th anniversary of the Spring Creek Flood that devastated campus and the Fort Collins community.
Weather experts will gather at Weather Station on the CSU campus for the presentation of a historic plaque, self-guided tours of the weather station, and a community open house on Monday, July 28, 3-6 p.m. with remarks at 3:30 p.m..

Event is free and open to the public.

“The Weather Station is an historical part of the University,” said State Climatologist Nolan Doesken. “Data collection began near the site of the former ‘Old Main’ in the 1870s. Daily climate records since Jan. 1, 1889, are complete and available in a variety of digital and hardcopy forms, making this one of Colorado‘s oldest weather stations and an incredible scientific resource.”
The Campus Weather Station is next to the CSU Transit Center just northwest of the Lory Student Center, off Plum Street. In case of inclement weather, the event will take place in the atrium of the Suzanne and Walter Scott Jr. Bioengineering Building, northwest of the Weather Station on the corner of Loomis and Laurel streets.

Experts on hand

Among the experts on hand will be Doesken; James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Nezette Rydel, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Boulder; and Jim Wirshborn, longtime weather reporter and CSU weather observer. Mike Nelson, meteorologist with Channel 7 News in Denver, will be the master of ceremonies.

CSU Atmospheric Science graduate students will be available to provide explanations of the various parts of the station.

The commemoration is hosted by the CSU College of Engineering, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado Climate Center and the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station.

Outreach at Colorado State University

Outreach is among the pillars upon which Colorado State University was founded upon and is an effort that continues today through interaction with our Colorado communities and around the globe. CSU’s Commitment to Community is a reflection of the University’s promise of service and engagement to Colorado citizens, executed by providing resources, participating in events, and building community partnerships.

New study from @UCIrvine finds groundwater loss greater threat to western US than understood #ColoradoRiver

Groundwater movement via the USGS
Groundwater movement via the USGS

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

While water levels at lakes Mead and Powell have visibly slipped in the current drought, another source, groundwater, is disappearing even more rapidly, according to a satellite study of the Colorado River Basin.

A University of California, Irvine, study posted on the website of the American Geophysical Union said that the three-quarters of the water lost in the basin was drawn from groundwater and noted that the extent of groundwater loss “may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.”

But for some water produced far below the surface in drilling for natural gas and oil, there is no groundwater production on the West Slope, said Jim Pokrandt, who chairs the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.

Other water production from the ground taps return flows making their way to creeks and rivers, Pokrandt said.

What is at issue in the loss of groundwater is the unregulated tapping of groundwater in California, said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

California groundwater “is completely unregulated,” Treese said. “So when drought hits, they turn on the pumps.”

Researchers said they were surprised by the extent to which groundwater appeared to be affected.

“We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” said Stephanie Castle, lead author of the study. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

The Colorado River, which serves some 40 million people, supplies water to the Colorado Front Range, as well as the populous cities of California, Arizona and Nevada.

Those lower basin states appear to be on their own, for the moment, said Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District.

The upper basin of the Colorado is ahead of its requirement to deliver 75 million acre feet of water to the lower basin over 10 years, “so I don’t think they can come back on us” for more water, Clever said.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there is water in the river to be diverted to the Front Range, Clever said.

“The key issue in this thing is that Powell is going down and there is no water to send to the East Slope.”

Lake Powell’s levels are low enough that water managers are concerned that the lake might be unable to generate electricity, a significant factor in deciding how the river will be managed.

The research was led by NASA and University of California, Irvine, scientists, who used satellite data to gauge changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin that are related to changes in water on and below the surface.

In the period from December 2004 to November 2013, the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet of fresh water.

About 41 million acre feet of the loss came from groundwater.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Grand Valley: It’s Our Food, Forests, and Water: A Climate Change Discussion August 4 #ColoradoRiver

Grand Valley Irrigation Ditch
Grand Valley Irrigation Ditch

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

A climate change panel discussion set for Aug. 4 at Mesa County Central Library features local experts who will chew over the impact of climate change on the Grand Valley.

The two-hour talk begins at 5:30 p.m.

The panel, titled “It’s Our Food, Forests, and Water: A Climate Change Discussion,” will cover topics such as geology, water and agriculture, library spokesman Bob Kretschman said.

Panelists include:

■ Jay Scheevel, a geologist;

■ Gigi A. Richard, faculty director of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University;

■ Jerry Nelson, agricultural economist and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign;

■ Chris Jauhola, who worked on wildlife and forest health issues for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Scheevel will explain carbon, its uses and impacts. He is the founder and president of Scheevel Geo Technologies, a consulting company that works with Matrix Oil Corp., which is based in Santa Barbara, California.

Richard will look at the implications of climate change on Colorado’s water resources. She teaches several relevant courses at CMU, including “Natural Hazards and Environmental Geology.”

Jauhola will focus on climate change and forest health.

The event, sponsored by Conservation Colorado, Mesa County Libraries and the John McConnell Math and Science Center, is free and open to the public.

The Largest Latino-Themed Environmental Festival to be Held in Colorado this Fall — Latino Post

anewshadeofgreenamericaslatinecofestival
From The Latin Post (Nicole Akoukou Thompson):

Non-whites, including Latinos, are disproportionately affected by water and air pollution. Patterns of environmental injustice have shown that toxic waste sites, landfills, congested highways and similar hazards are in close proximity to low-income communities and communities of color, producing health risks.

The largest Latino-themed environmental festival, “A New Shade of Green,” will be held in Colorado this fall to address those concerns; attendees will discuss counter measures and environmental protection, an important issue that’s important to the U.S. Hispanic community.

Twenty-one percent of Colorado’s population is Latino. By 2021, Latinos will constitute more than 50 percent of Colorado’s high school students, 32 percent of Denver County’s population and 24 percent of the under-18 population in Boulder, according to the Hemispheric Conservation Latino Network. Future generations of Latinos will ikely suffer health risks if the trend of positioning pollution close to minority dwellings isn’t corrected.

Colorado is the perfect state to host the event, as the many residents of the state have raised concerns over climate change, fracking and water shortages. Air pollution, landfills, and urban highways are also concerns for the state’s citizens.

“Latinos are increasingly concerned with creating and living sustainable lives and reconnecting with their cultural origins which were, and are, intrinsically green, nature driven, and traditionally marked by recycling and upcycling,” said Boulder resident and festival founder Irene Vilar in a press release. “There is a need to empower and validate the green cultural heritage of Latinos and recast the green national conversation that frames Latinos as the solution and not the problem.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council has has presented research that shows 9 of 10 Hispanic voters believe that funds should go toward renewable, clean energy sources rather than fossil fuels. Also, 86 percent of Latinos support the Obama administration’s decision to limit carbon pollution.

History has shown that urban highways were routed through minority communities because they were easier to uproot than middle-class white neighborhoods. Middle-class whites were also able to better access their homes with ease without having to stop in unsavory neighborhoods. That exposure to pollutants from highway fumes and other pollutants has been linked to heart attacks, higher risks of asthma and developmental disabilities.

The second annual Americas Latino Eco Festival (ALEF) will take place in Denver and Boulder, Sept. 11-15. The event will be produced by Americas for Conservation + the Arts (AFC+A), and presented by The Sierra Club and The Dairy Center of the Arts. Also, HCLN, which was launched by ALEF, will facilitate networking opportunities and conversation to address environmental advocacy and forge an international collation of Latino conservation leaders.

Educator, activist and actor Edward James Olmos and
environmental global leader Jean-Michel Cousteau will have a role at the environmental event. In addition, 50 organizations and 50 crucial leaders that include scientists, artists, grassroots mentors, celebrities and community and public policy leaders will offer solutions and increase awareness in diverse communities.

There will also be 50 presenters, 20 films, 10 art exhibits, and seven artists there to present to workshops. The festival will additionally showcase performances and activists for every age, race, interest and economic background. And the endeavor will help to reconnect and acquaint Latinos with their agricultural past and “green” legacy.

“A New Shade of Green” will bring forth a newfound environmental awareness and it will unlock a dialogue on environment, health, education, culture and small business entrepreneurship, to bring healthy environments to low-income individuals, minorities and America.

For more information on Americas Latino Eco Festival visit http://www.americasforconservation.org, http://www.americaslatinofestival.org, or connect on Facebook and follow on Twitter.

More education coverage here.

Fountain Creek: The Lower Ark and Fountain Creek districts are looking for common ground

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The olive branch appears to be bobbing like a log caught in the flow of Fountain Creek on a rainy day. The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday agreed to revive its nearly submerged intergovernmental agreement committee with the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and Colorado Springs Utilities after weeks of feuding.

The Lower Ark district has threatened legal action over what it considers to be misspent funds by the Fountain Creek district. Meanwhile, the Fountain Creek district is making the case that all of its actions have been done by the book.

The controversy revolves around $450,000 in expenditures that the Lower Ark says should have been entirely within the corridor, defined in state legislation as the flood plain between Fountain and Pueblo.

Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek district, pointed out Friday that the corridor is defined as the area between Colorado Springs and Pueblo as indicated in the master plan developed by the Lower Ark district and Utilities. Projects funded by the district are, in fact, in the master corridor plan, he said. Small showed photos of progress on the projects, which aim at bank stabilization and erosion control.

Contentious issues should be resolved as the district moves forward, said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart.

A meeting on July 18 among Hart, Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya (who also chairs the Fountain Creek board), Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner and Mark Shea of Utilities began to heal the wounds, Hart said.

“We recognize how crucial the Lower Ark is to this district,” Hart said. “If the Lower Ark or anyone else has concerns, we need to take those seriously.”

Montoya said if there are problems with the way money is being spent, they should be brought up as decisions are being made, rather than after the fact in threatening legal letters.

“Raise the issue right away, rather than sit and get PO’d about it,” she said.

At one point in the meeting there was friction between Small and Melissa Esquibel, a member of the Lower Ark board who also sits on the Fountain Creek board.

Hart tried to smooth the waters, saying that the IGA committee should continue to meet and clear up the past issues. He also asked the Fountain Creek district board to look into forming a committee to begin looking at how to spend the $50 million that will be coming to the district after Southern Delivery System goes online in 2016.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County’s representatives on a district formed to improve Fountain Creek appear to differ on the need for a dam.

County Commissioner Terry Hart said the district needs to urgently answer questions about water rights and other issues associated with controlling flood water on Fountain Creek.

Meanwhile, Jane Rhodes, who owns property on Fountain Creek and was chosen to represent landowners, questioned whether a dam should or could be built at a meeting Friday.

“We don’t need a dam on the river,” Rhodes said. “Where would you put it anyway?”

Hart took a different view, however.

“We can’t slow down. We have a mission and a need,” he said.

The central issue has become water rights vs. property damage.

Earlier this month, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable bowed to the opinion of downstream farmers that any dam on Fountain Creek would harm junior water rights. Later, Water Division 2 Engineer Steve Witte offered the opinion that the water from page 1A rights question must be answered before any flood control projects are built on Fountain Creek. On Friday, Hart said there could be ways that junior rights could benefit from storage on Fountain Creek, a prospect that Witte also outlined. But ditch companies are unwilling to discuss those possibilities, Hart said.

“It’s emotional for them, so they don’t even want to talk about it,” Hart said.

The issue could threaten any project that attempts to capture floodwaters, said Scott Hobson, Pueblo’s assistant city manager for community investment. He pointed to the difficulty Pueblo had in satisfying the state’s conditions for its 15-acre flood water detention demonstration project near the North Side Walmart.

“Who’s going to pay for the litigation that comes with these projects?” he asked after the meeting.

The Fountain Creek district is continuing to work with Colorado Springs Utilities to find other funding sources for its proposed study of dams.

“I get tired of coming up with an idea, then getting it shot down as weeks and months go by,” Hart said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A stormwater task force is stepping up efforts in El Paso County to put a measure on the November ballot that would create a regional stormwater authority.

“They’re gearing up for a full-fledged regional campaign,” Executive Director Larry Small told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Friday.

That includes public meetings, billboards and other methods to promote a stormwater fee for Colorado Springs and other communities in El Paso County.

The task force is proposing a fee structure based on square footage of impervious surface — roofs, driveways and sidewalks — that would cost the average homeowner about $10 monthly. That would raise about $48 million annually to address a $700 million backlog in stormwater projects throughout the region. The proposal would create a 13-member board made up of elected officials and provide services proportionate to population.

Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach disagrees with the plan, favoring an approach that takes care of the city’s problems only.

The creation of a stormwater authority would help reduce stormwater runoff — flows from cloudbursts or snowmelt — into Fountain Creek.

As a condition of its 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System with Pueblo County, Colorado Springs indicated it would continue to control stormwater at the same level as in early 2009, and would make certain that future development would not increase Fountain Creek flows. However, Colorado Springs City Council abolished the stormwater enterprise in 2009, touching off a controversy over commitment to controlling floods on Fountain Creek.

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here and here.