Bob Rawlings and Chris Woodka set a high standard for water reporting in Colorado

Bob Rawlings via the High Country News
Bob Rawlings via the High Country News

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Looking back at the past five decades, it is clear that most major events in Southern Colorado have been in some way influenced by Robert Hoag Rawlings, publisher and editor of The Pueblo Chieftain.

Water wars, military expansion or base closures, economic development, colleges and universities, retention of state facilities in the region and community amenities such as libraries all have been passions of the man from L.A. — that’s Las Animas to the uninitiated, as he would almost certainly let you know.

Rawlings turns 90 years old today [August 2], and is still hard at work protecting his vision of Southeastern Colorado.

The Chieftain staff and community threw him a surprise birthday party Friday, and don’t think that’s easy for a man whose finger has been on the pulse of the community all these years. Praise for Rawlings and the work of The Chieftain has come from many corners over the years.

In 1994, when he won the state’s top business award for the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, then-Gov. Roy Romer declared: “He is one of the greatest human beings we have in this state.”

Rawlings’ donation of $4 million to the city library that bears his name today was lauded by architect Antoine Predock, who observed that The Chieftain publisher never stopped dreaming of a better Pueblo.

“The aspiration to the sky that the building represents is a symbol of that attitude,” Predock told donors to the library at a fundraiser in 2001.

Rawlings was born in Pueblo on Aug. 3, 1924.

The son of John and Dorothy Hoag Rawlings, he was reared in Las Animas, where his father was a banker, and graduated from Bent County High School in 1942.

Those early years formed the basis of his fierce defense of the Arkansas Valley’s water. He explained this in an opinion piece he authored on Dec. 12, 2004:

“My particular story started in the 1930s,” Rawlings wrote. “The Arkansas Valley was experiencing the most severe drought in recorded times, resulting in horrific weather conditions we called the Dust Bowl. These conditions lasted nearly 10 years. Hundreds of people in the Valley lost their jobs and the farmers, while laboring valiantly to raise a crop without adequate water, found market prices so low it wouldn’t even pay them to harvest the meager crop they had. School teachers were let go. . . .

“The storms were frightening. A virtual wall of dirt moved relentlessly toward us. Propelled by fierce winds, they picked up tons of topsoil, tumbleweeds, trash, parts of building materials, whirling all this in a scary wall some 2,000 to 3,000 feet high.”

Rawlings spent years trying to convince others to share his alarm at the sale of water from farm ground in the Arkansas Valley, and was never one to hold his tongue when he perceived that position to be compromised. He concluded that particular op-ed with this statement, one he often repeated:

“The sad fact is that many of our local water officials still can’t seem to comprehend that to continue to pursue these unwise agreements with Colorado Springs and Aurora is to further assure that the entire Lower Arkansas Valley will become another Crowley County.

“How shortsighted can we be?”

If there is anything that motivates Rawlings more than water, it is patriotism.

“This stirring memorial will be a tribute to Pueblo’s four Medal of Honor recipients and also to all those heroes who contributed so gallantly to ensure the freedoms we enjoy in this wonderful country,” he said during the 1998 unveiling of bronze statues outside the Pueblo Convention Center.

He chaired the committee that erected the statues.

Two years later, Rawlings was a major sponsor for the national Medal of Honor Society convention.

He continues to advocate for the return of the USS Pueblo to the United States. The ship was seized by the North Korean government in 1968.

The publisher set a standard for all daily newspapers in publishing a full-page American flag in the newspaper on national holidays.

There is more than symbolism to his activities, however, including his ringing support for the Armed Forces and its activities in this part of the state. Of particular concern over the years has been maintaining activities at Fort Carson and finding new uses for the Pueblo Chemical Depot.

There also has been the wise counsel against further destruction of ranch land that would come with the expansion of Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site south of Pueblo.

That fervor also goes back to episodes from his own life.

Rawlings enrolled at Colorado College in Colorado Springs in the fall of 1942 and in December of that year enlisted in the United States Navy V-12 at the college. The following year he was transferred to the Navy ROTC unit at University of Colorado in Boulder where he subsequently received a commission as an ensign in the Navy.

He spent a year and a half in the South Pacific as supply officer and later executive officer of the Subchaser 648, serving in Leyte Gulf, Mindanao, Subic Bay and Manila in the Philippine Islands, and in Brunei Bay in the province of Sarawak, Borneo. When the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, he helped liberate from a Japanese prisoner of war camp near Kuching, Sarawak, more than 100 British and Dutch officers who had been imprisoned by the Japanese for five years.

He received an honorable discharge from the Navy in July 1946 and returned to Colorado College to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1947.

That launched his career later that year as a reporter for The Chieftain and The Pueblo Star-Journal.

In 1951 he became an advertising salesman for the two newspapers; in 1962 he was named general manager; and in January 1980 he was appointed publisher and editor; in 1984 he was elected president of The Star-Journal Publishing Corporation.

The career has been personally rewarding.

Rawlings is a past chairman of the board of the Colorado Press Association; he was president of the association in 1985-86. He is a member and past-chairman of the Colorado Bar-Press Committee; past president of Rocky Mountain Ad Manager’s Association and past president of The Colorado Associated Press.

More importantly, Rawlings has given back to the community in numerous ways.

He was instrumental in helping to form the Pueblo Economic Development Corp., which sought to bring new industry here after massive layoffs at CF&I Steel in 1982.

Rawlings has tirelessly advocated for the city’s half-cent sales tax, and continues to protect it from those who would use it for purposes other than creating primary jobs.

To name a few of his other activities: He is past-chairman of the advisory board of Colorado National Bank-Pueblo (now US Bank); a member of the Air Force Academy Foundation and the University of Southern Colorado Foundation. He is president of The Robert Hoag Rawlings Foundation and the Southern Colorado Community Foundation.

His work has not gone unnoticed in the community.

In 1994, Rawlings was awarded the Pueblo Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year award, which recognized his all-out plunge into philanthropy through his business, professional, political and personal activities.

Abel Tapia spoke for the community when he said at the time:

“Even with these outstanding gifts to the community, one of the substantial benefits to the community has been the continued professional management of The Chieftain and the use of the newspaper to work for improvements which enhance the lives of all the citizens of Pueblo and Southeastern Colorado.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Wilderness idea birthed in Colorado’s ‘cradle’ — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Arthur Carhart via
Arthur Carhart via

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Fifty years after the Wilderness Act became law, wilderness areas can be found in 44 states and Puerto Rico. But only one state, Colorado, can lay claim to what’s called the Cradle of Wilderness. It’s right here on the Western Slope, in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area east of Meeker, at a place called Trappers Lake.

The place has taken on its wilderness moniker thanks to the efforts of one Arthur Carhart, a native Iowan who had a degree in landscape architecture. In 1919, at the age of 27, he was sent by the Forest Service to the lake with instructions to survey it for 100 summer homes and a road circling the lake.

According to information on the White River National Forest website, Carhart did his work but “closed his report with a strongly worded recommendation that the area remain roadless and undeveloped.”

He wrote, “There are a number of places with scenic values of such great worth that they are rightfully the property of all people. They should be preserved for all time for the people of the nation and the world. Trappers Lake is unquestionably a candidate for that classification.”

“This was sort of the beginning of the idea that some places are too beautiful to be developed,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop nonprofit group, based in Carbondale. “He came back with this idea of wilderness for wilderness’ sake.”

“The whole wilderness ideal started right there,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, of which Trappers Lake is a part. “Here’s this 20-some-year-old … telling the agency, you’re on the wrong path.”

Carhart’s boss ended up agreeing with him.

Trappers Lake
Trappers Lake

“In 1920 Trappers Lake was designated as an area to be kept roadless and undeveloped. It remains so to this day. That designation marked the first application of the wilderness preservation concept in Forest Service history.”

That’s according to a biography on Carhart on the website of the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, a federal interagency organization based in Missoula, Montana.

Although no one person can be called Father of the Wilderness 
Concept, Carhart has been referred to as “the chief cook in the kitchen during the critical first years,” the biography says.

He eventually became acquainted with another Forest Service employee, Aldo Leopold. The two put into a memorandum their shared vision for what at the time was still a nascent wilderness concept that they and others turned into a movement. Carhart left the Forest Service in 1923, but not before visiting and recommending preservation of what now is known as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota.

He saw his dreams come to fruition with the passage of the Wilderness Act and designation of the Boundary Waters as wilderness in 1964.

“During his long life, Carhart continued to write about and work for the ideal of wilderness,” his training center biography reads. “On March 3, 1973, at the age of 81 Carhart said of himself: ‘I sometimes wonder how I had the nerve as a young punk to get my superiors turned around on some of these things. I feel real good about how it all turned out.’”

Carhart died in 1978. That was long enough to see the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, including Trappers Lake, designated three years earlier.

Shale industry scales back potential in region — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #ColoradoRiver

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

An oil shale industry in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming is likely to be about one-third the size it had been envisioned, an industry association said. Instead of a 1.5-million barrel-per-day industry, the more likely scenario is a 500,000-barrel-per-day industry, according to estimates by the National Oil Shale Association. The estimates were dramatically reduced “in light of a more pragmatic view of what an industry might look like in 50 years or so,” the association said, in an estimate that also noted that oil shale production would demand less water than had been previously believed.

The United States in 2013 consumed 6.89 billion barrels of petroleum products or 18.89 million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The oil shale association’s estimate is based on production of 225,000 barrels per day from in-situ means, or heating shale deep below the surface; 200,000 barrels per day from retorting shale on the surface; and 75,000 barrels per day from modified techniques, such as heating it in an earthen capsule, which is left in place.

Additional information about water demands of each technique sharply lowered the association’s estimate of water use from its 2013 estimate of 1.7 barrels of water per barrel of oil. Depending on approach, production from oil shale could require between 0.7 barrels of water per barrel of oil to 1.2 barrels of water per barrel of oil. Production of 500,000 barrels per day could demand between 16,400 acre feet to 28,900 acre feet of water per year…

The reduction in the anticipated size of an oil shale industry is the result of new information that came to light this year, the association said.

“Projects have matured, and some developers have taken a new look into technologies that dramatically reduce water needs,” the association said. “However, estimates are still preliminary and may change as projects reach commercialization.”

More oil shale coverage here and here.

#ColoradoRiver Concerns Mount as Lake Mead’s Surface Continues to Fall — Colorado PBS

From Colorado PBS (Jim Trotter):

Western water expert Brad Udall, a senior fellow at the University of Colorado Law School, believes it will take a “full-out” crisis to bring meaningful reforms, but that such a crisis may well be at hand.

The surface elevation of Lake Mead reached the historic low of 1,081.75 feet above sea level during the week of July 7, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, and is projected to fall to 1,080 by November. On July 31, it was projected at 1080.61.

However, should it fall to 1,075 feet it would trigger a declared shortage on the river, at which point water deliveries could be impacted. The lake has dropped 128 feet since 2000.

But, Udall told Rocky Mountain PBS I-News, water providers are looking at solutions to avoid a shortage declaration.

There’s a plan underway right now that involves Denver water, involves three of the lower basin water providers, one in each state, plus the Bureau of Reclamation, to put $11 million dollars on the table next year to start buying these water rights from voluntary agriculture users and have them not exercise those rights in order to keep the two reservoirs – Lake Mead and upstream Lake Powell – keep them higher than they might otherwise be.”

To effectively meet the challenges of this century, the basic premise underpinning the Law of the River – first in time, first in right – will have to be rethought.

“The other way to look at this is that the glass is half full,” Udall said. “We still have 80 percent of the river, still a lot of water. But we’ve got to use it correctly, and that means a healthy agriculture industry that doesn’t use 70 percent. It could be a system in which agriculture is paid handsomely not to plant in very dry years. We need to do better in using water wisely.”

From InkStain (John Fleck):

While all eyes have been on Lake Mead’s bathtub ring, Lake Powell is forecast to rise by nearly 1.4 million acre feet by the end of September. But Mead’s 2 million acre foot drop will more than offset the increase, leaving us with the lowest end-of-year total storage in the two reservoirs combined since 1967, when they were first filling Lake Powell.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here

Northern Water is increasing rates to stop the drain on cash reserves

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From the North Forty News (Jeff Thomas):

Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District moved to triple the yearly assessment for agricultural users by 2018, beginning with a 9 percent increase this year, though North Poudre Irrigation Co. users will be largely unaffected.

“It’s a fairly significant increase for agricultural users,” said Northern spokesman Brian Werner. “But we’ve been dipping into our reserves the last couple of years, and the board felt that we had to take a more fiscally responsible path.”

The Northern board in June set the 2015 assessment for a per acre-foot unit of Colorado Big-Thompson water at $30.50 for municipal and industrial users, up from $28, and $10.90 for agricultural users, up from $10. The board also approved a plan in which the rates will rise in 2018 to $53.10 for municipal and industrial and $30.20 for farmers.

The increase does not affect subject-to-change contracts or fixed-rate contracts, established between the creation of the water district in 1937 and 1959, when the district went to open rates. Today only one third of the district’s shares have a fixed-rate contract, which pay only a $1.50 a year assessment, but that includes all 40,000 C-BT shares owned by North Poudre Irrigation Company.

“We’ve really wrestled with these fixed-rate contracts,” Werner said, noting that while attorneys have been asked to take a long look at whether they could be changed, some fixed-rate contract holders have already threatened suit if the board takes such action.

At any rate, the hit on agriculture changes a long-held emphasis at Northern Water of trying not to price farmers and ranchers out of the market.

“We’ve always been focused on ability to pay, but now we are moving to more cost-of-service,” Werner said, noting the board attempted to come somewhere in between. “More than two thirds of our shares are now owned by municipal and industrial users, and they are yelling about why they are taking the brunt of the costs.”

Taking into consideration only the assessment cost, Werner said, the water is fairly inexpensive for agriculture, moving from about 6 cents per 1,000 gallons to about 16 cents through 2018. But after next year, the steep incline begins for farmers and ranchers, as in 2016 the rate will increase 61 percent, followed by a 61 percent raise in 2017.

And that may be just the tip of the iceberg, as the district’s future plans reveal a rate change through 2023 in which municipal and industrial users could be assessed more than $100 per acre foot and agriculture, $80…

For Colorado agriculture, however, the fastest growing cost is most probably water. A share of C-BT, with an average yield of 0.7 acre feet, is now selling for between $20,000 and $25,000, compared to $9,500 in January 2013, Werner said.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Gov. Hickenlooper announces additional $12 million for wastewater and drinking water systems with flood recovery projects #COflood

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office (Click through for the details):

Representing his continued commitment to restoring Colorado’s world-class water systems, Gov. John Hickenlooper today announced a second round of grant funding aimed at rebuilding, improving and protecting Colorado’s water quality and treatment infrastructure.

Sixteen community drinking water and wastewater systems impacted by the September 2013 flooding will receive $12 million to fund planning, design, construction, improvement, renovation or reconstruction of systems that were damaged or destroyed as a result of the floods. Part of the funding will go to four counties (Boulder, Jefferson, Larimer and Weld) to help them repair or replace private, non-community septic systems.

“When the flooding receded, we said we would rebuild a better, more resilient Colorado. This funding will help address not just short-term needs but also help communities design and rebuild with the long-term in mind,” said Gov. Hickenlooper. “It’s another boost to spur repairs and improvements in areas that need it most.”

In Jamestown, this funding will provide critical support in rebuilding service lines to individual residences, allowing displaced families to return to their homes. In the City of Evans, the funding allows for the planning and design of a new facility that will have expanded capacity for residents while decreasing vulnerability from future flood events.

This funding is in addition to the $14.7 million awarded last year to help the state address nutrients in Colorado’s rivers, streams and lakes. High levels of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, can use up valuable oxygen and choke aquatic life.

These grants are part of the governor’s plan to ensure Coloradans have a reliable infrastructure that ensures safe, clean water for future generations.

“It was a complete defeat for the Western Slope” — Pitkin County Attorney John Ely

Busk-Ivanhoe system diversions
Busk-Ivanhoe system diversions

From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Pitkin County and the Colorado River District are planning to appeal a judge’s ruling that gives the city of Aurora the right to use water from the upper Fryingpan River basin for municipal purposes, without a penalty for 23 years of “unlawful” water use.

“It was a complete defeat for the Western Slope,” Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said of the order issued on May 27 by Larry C. Schwartz, a state water court judge in Pueblo.

As it stands today, the court’s ruling means Aurora can retain the 1928 priority date on its full right to divert 2,400 acre-feet a year through the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel for municipal instead of irrigation purposes. Over 60 years, Aurora can divert 144,960 acre-feet under the right.

Pitkin County and other Western Slope entities wanted the court to reduce the scope of Aurora’s water right, as the Front Range city has been using the water from the Busk-Ivanhoe system for municipal purposes, without a decree, since 1987.

The “West Slope Opposers,” as the court called them, also argued that the court should consider that Aurora was also storing water on the East Slope without an explicit right to do so, which they felt constituted an “expansion” of its water rights.

The board of the River District agreed on July 15 to appeal the judge’s ruling, while the Pitkin County commissioners agreed shortly after the May ruling. Ely said he understands the Colorado State Engineer’s Office also plans to appeal.

Pitkin County has spent $247,500 on the Busk-Ivanhoe water case so far, and using money from the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams fund to pay for outside water attorneys.

Other parties from the Western Slope in the case are Eagle County, Basalt Water Conservancy District, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and the Ute Water Conservancy District. Trout Unlimited is also a party to the case, which is 09CW142 in Water Division 2.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Transbasin water

Since 1928, about 5,000 acre-feet of water a year has been diverted from Ivanhoe, Lyle, Hidden Lake and Pan creeks, headwater streams of the Fryingpan River.

The water is sent from Ivanhoe Reservoir to Busk Creek through a pipe in the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel, first built as a railroad tunnel in the late 1880s. From Busk Creek, the water flows to Turquoise Reservoir and the Arkansas River, and eventually reaches Aurora and Pueblo.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works owns the right to half of the water diverted through Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel, and in 1993 it changed the use of its water right from irrigation to municipal.

In 1987, Aurora bought the other half of Busk-Ivanhoe water and started using its half of the water for municipal purposes. But it didn’t come in for a change-of-use decree from water court until 2009.

Aurora’s 2009 application received 35 statements of opposition and as is common in water court, opponents were winnowed down to a core group. Many cases are settled before trial, but this case went to a five-day trial in July 2013.

Judge Schwartz’s subsequent ruling in May established the parameters of how a new decree for Aurora’s water should read, and the draft decree is now being prepared, Ely said. Once the proposed decree is filed with the court, it will trigger the appeal period in the case. Appeals in water court cases go directly to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Greg Baker, the manager of public relations for Aurora Water, was contacted early Friday afternoon for comment. He said officials were in various meetings throughout the day, and they couldn’t be reached by deadline.

Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel entrance
Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel entrance

“Zero” years

Ely said Pitkin County is primarily concerned about the judge’s decision not to take into account the 23 years that Aurora used water for undecreed purposes, i.e.,, municipal instead of irrigation.

Ely said it is a “fundamental” part of Colorado water law that non-use diminishes the scope of your water right when you go to change it, and it appears Aurora is getting “special treatment” because the water right is a transmountain diversion.

He said that when determining the “historic consumptive use” of a water right — which is what can legally be changed to another use — it is common practice for the court to reduce the scope of a water right by averaging in any years of “zero” or non-use. And undecreed uses typically count as “zero” years.

“But what the court said in this case said was, ‘We’re just not going to look at those years’ of zero use,” Ely said.

Judge Schwartz decided that the period from 1928 to 1986 — before Aurora started using the water — was the best “representative period” to use to determine how much water Aurora had been putting to proper use.

“The representative study period to be utilized should be based on a period of time that properly measures actual decreed beneficial use, and that excludes undecreed uses,” Schwartz concluded.

“The use of zeros during the years of undecreed use would permanently punish (Aurora) for the undecreed use after 1987,” Schwartz also wrote. “This court does not view a change application case as a means to permanently punish a water user for undecreed use.”

In regard to the issue of undecreed storage, the judge looked at the history of the water right, and found that while the original decree from 1928 may have been silent on the subject of East Slope storage, it was always part of the plan by the water developers to store water in a reservoir on the East Slope.

“West Slope Opposers assert that the storage of the Busk-Ivanhoe water in the Arkansas River Basin is an ‘expansion’ of use,” Schwartz wrote. “Storage of the Busk-Ivanhoe water in the Arkansas River Basin is not an expansion. Said storage has always been a part of the water right.”

Ely said the Colorado River District is more concerned about the storage issue than Pitkin County is. However, the county does feel the judge’s overall response to Aurora’s request to change its water right was faulty.

“We knew they were going to be able to change their use, it was just a question of how much,” Ely said. “And it was a question if the Front Range would be held to the same standard as everybody else, in terms of using their water consistent with a decree, or if they get some kind of special treatment for being a transbasin diversion. The judge, and his order, found that they should get some kind of special treatment, and we think that runs contrary to the law.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of land and water in Pitkin County. More at http://www.aspen

More water law coverage here.