Snowpack news: Some improvement from the weekend storm #COwx

Click on the thumbnail graphic for a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“The #YampaRiver is a unique, irreplaceable resource” — Kristin Green #COWaterPlan

From the Craig Daily Press (Kristin Green):

Recently, over burritos and margaritas at Vallarta’s Restaurant, I was asked what the number one thing is that I should know about rivers in Colorado. Like a deer in the headlights, I sat in silence. His brusque follow up was, “the Yampa is the last wild river in Colorado, and it had better stay that way.” I quickly nodded in agreement.

The man is certainly not alone in his opinion. The Yampa has a dedicated following of boaters, anglers, sportsmen and conservationists who don’t want to see the heart of Northwest Colorado dammed and diverted. As Soren Jespersen, of the local group Friends of the Yampa, recently stated in a Steamboat Today article on the Colorado Water Plan, “The Yampa is one of the last major untamed waterways in the entire Colorado River system. If we were to start diverting its waters to the Front Range, we wouldn’t just be diminishing its flows; we’d be killing the very thing that makes the Yampa River unique.”

Unfortunately, there is good reason to be concerned about the future of the Yampa. In an era viewed by some as the last “water grab” in Colorado, attention is shifting towards the Yampa under the presumption of having water to spare. That opens up a debate about what qualifies as excess water. Anyone who has enjoyed a day on the Yampa will attest water left in the river is still water being put to good use, albeit a non-consumptive one.

It isn’t just about the quantity of water that places a target on the Yampa Basin. Colorado is a prior appropriation state, which means the seniority of a water right is everything. The older the date on a water right, the further towards the front of the line you get to stand. Some municipalities, such as Steamboat Springs, have junior water rights putting their ability to meet demand during drought conditions at jeopardy. Luckily the issue of a “call” from senior water rights holders on the Yampa is fairly rare occurrence, but in a warmer, drier future, things could get more complicated if we don’t have a plan in place.

So, to head off those problems here and to alleviate existing issues elsewhere, Colorado is in the process of crafting its first ever state water plan. This plan will shape how we manage water well into the future. Every interest group, from municipalities, agricultural producers, industries, outdoor recreation professionals and conservationists, is fighting for their interests to be protected within the plan.

Few would dispute that we need a Colorado Water Plan that protects agricultural, municipal and recreational needs — and the $9 billion economy river related recreation supports. However, when it comes down to how the water is managed, tensions rise quickly. The hot-button issues of cities buying agricultural water rights leaving an alfalfa field to wither and transmountain diversions creating huge reservoirs and pipeline systems to send water across the continental divide get most of the attention. The risks and consequences of both those ideas are just too great for rivers like the Yampa, so we need to look elsewhere.

The most obvious answer is to maximize the water we currently have available before looking to develop additional new supply. The idea of living within our means isn’t new, especially in a blue-collar town like Craig. Conservation is effective and costs significantly less than new, large pipelines and other projects. The bright new shiny thing might look good on paper, but the environmental damage and huge costs to taxpayers makes them a dream to developers and a nightmare for everyone else.

The Yampa is a unique, irreplaceable resource not just for the residents of northwest Colorado, but the nation. The last major free-flowing river on the Colorado Plateau deserves every bit of deference, because it’s the last of its kind. Many other parts of west slope and the west in general have their own “Yampa.” We’ve seen the Dolores turned into a trickle and the majority of the Fraser’s water sent over the divide, not to mention everything that has happened to the Blue, Eagle, Roaring Fork, etc.

With a draft of the Colorado Water Plan already in motion, it’s time to step up and protect local resources across our state. As Rep. Don Coram quipped at the closing of a CLUB 20 debate, “Empty your bladder before you go. No water leaves the Western Slope.” It drew a good chuckle from the crowd, but if we really want to protect our west slope rivers, we need to step up and make sure the plan prioritizes them too.

You can submit comments on the Colorado Water Plan at

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Farmers adapt to #drought and increase productivity — National Young Farmers Coalition

From the National Young Farmers Coalition:

The National Young Farmers Coalition released a report today highlighting innovative farmers who are adapting to record drought in the arid Southwest. “Sustaining Farming in the Arid West: Stories of young farmers, water and resilience” demonstrates how Western farmers are saving water, stewarding the land and enhancing productivity in increasingly dry times.

“All too often, water is taken off the land for growing cities at the expense of agriculture, the health of the land and the economic vitality of rural communities,” says Kate Greenberg, Western Organizer for the National Young Farmers Coalition. “Irrigated agriculture is central to our communities in the Southwest. We need to keep it productive, vibrant and viable for today and the generations ahead while responding to existing and future pressures on our limited water supply. We all have a shared responsibility to protect this critical resource, and these farmers are helping lead the way.”

Highlights from the report, which profiles farmers from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, include:

Marana, AZ: Jason Walker, cotton-turn-grain farmer. Walker irrigates through a combination of wells and surface water provided by the Central Arizona Project, which delivers water from the Colorado River. Spurred by drought, Walker laser-leveled 175 acres of his 2,850-acre operation, a practice noted to be 20-30% more water efficient. Walker is lining ditches, reducing run-off and utilizing conservation tillage to save water, retain topsoil, and enhance his grain crops and what remains of his cotton crop. As Walker says, “It’s absolutely our responsibility to conserve our finite resources. Farming takes everyone. We are all in this together and we have to protect the opportunity for the future.”

Bosque Farms, NM: Mike De Smet, organic, raw dairy farmer. In response to drought, De Smet laser-leveled all his fields and transitioned to no- and minimum-till planting to support the productivity of his herd and save water. Mike says, “We have changed our entire operation due to the lack of water. Our planting dates have changed, double cropping wheat and corn have stopped, and we are planting shorter maturity date varieties.” By enhancing his irrigation efficiency and stewardship, Mike expects to grow his herd to full capacity—around 100 head—in the next five years while simultaneously saving water.

San Luis Valley, CO: Brendon Rockey, certified seed and specialty potato grower. When drought hit hard seven years ago, Rockey replaced his barley rotation with a cover crop. Not only did this reduce that years’ water use, but also reduced the water needs of the following potato harvest as the cover crop retained moisture in the soil throughout the year. His healthy soil also enhanced the effectiveness of his center pivot irrigation. In the last seven years, Rockey’s pumping costs from the shallow aquifer have decreased—his cumulative annual consumptive use cut nearly in half—while his crop quality increased. What income he lost from his barley crop he more than makes up for in reduced input expenses due to enhanced nutrient availability in healthy soil. His neighbors now come to him for advice on maintaining a productive business through drought. As Rockey says, “Farmers need to become biologists again,” as supporting life in the soil builds resilience.

The Colorado River is one of the most dammed, diverted and in-demand rivers in the world. From its headwaters in the Rockies to its dry Delta, the Colorado travels through seven states, two countries and brings water to over 36 million people. In addition, it provides irrigation for nearly one fifth of our nation’s produce, including 80% of winter vegetables. Now entering its 14th year of drought, residents of the Colorado River Basin face challenging questions of what kind of West we want and can sustain.

The agriculture industry is the largest user of water in the West, consuming over 70% of surface water. As precipitation patterns shift, climate trends lean toward hotter, drier times, and cities continue to grow, many are looking to farmland for new supplies of water.

But taking agriculture out of the West is not the answer. Alternatives to what is known as “buy-and-dry,” or buying water from agriculture, which leaves the land unproductive, exist. These alternatives promote a vibrant agricultural economy and land that is being made better for the next generation of farmers and ranchers who grow our food.

It is a Herculean achievement that farmers and ranchers are able to save water while enhancing productivity in a period of unprecedented drought. As stewards making a life and a living off the land, these producers are exploring solutions to some of the most daunting challenges facing the Colorado River Basin and the West as a whole. It is time we work together as farmers and ranchers lead in the innovation and stewardship of the Wests’ most valuable resources.

Download the report here:

From The National Geographic (Sandra Postel):

Sipping raw, whole, grass-fed milk is a bit like tasting fine wine: a familiar experience, but much more special.

That was my feeling when I drank a glass this week from De Smet Dairy in Bosque Farms, New Mexico, a small town nestled in the middle Rio Grande Valley.

With his wife Erica, Mike De Smet, a mid-thirties, third-generation farmer, owns and operates the state’s only Grade A dairy farm and bottling facility for raw milk.

After locals had come by to stock up – at $10 a gallon, it’s not cheap – De Smet would load up his truck and transport that day’s bottled production up to Albuquerque, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north. His milk sells out every week.

De Smet Dairy is one of six western farm operations profiled in a new report just released by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) that showcases how these young farmers are adapting to drought and water stress, and raising productivity on their lands.

New #RepublicanRiver deal hints at cooperation — Scott’s Bluff Star-Herald

Republican River Basin by District
Republican River Basin by District

From the Associated Press via the Scott’s Bluff Star-Herald:

A new agreement about managing the Republican River’s water this winter suggests more cooperation is possible in the long-running dispute between Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. The Lincoln Journal Star reports the states signed a one-year deal last month that allows Nebraska to keep some water in Harlan County Reservoir this fall, so it will be there next spring to help farmers downstream.

Without the new agreement, the 1943 compact between Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado would have required the water to be released this fall when farmers couldn’t use it…

But the new agreement could signal the states might be more willing to settle their water disputes cooperatively in the future but it’s still early, said Don Blankenau, who represents Nebraska in Republican River litigation.

“Until an arrangement like that becomes permanent, my enthusiasm is a bit contained, but I think it is a good start,” he said.

Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey agreed the pact appears promising.

To help make sure Kansas receives enough water, natural resource districts in Nebraska have bought thousands of acres of land along the Republican River and ended irrigation there. The water that had been used for irrigation is being pumped into the river to boost its flow.

Before last month’s agreement, Nebraska wasn’t getting credit for all the water being pumped into the river and the compact called for more water to be released this fall and winter, said Jim Schneider, deputy director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources.

“We basically went to them and said this water is going to have to get released if we’re going to follow the compact accounting as it is currently written. If you would like to avoid that, we’d like to talk about these augmentation plans as well,” Schneider said.

Now Kansas irrigators can receive between 20,000 and 25,000 acre feet of water next year when it will be more useful to farmers. And Nebraska farmers in the Bostwick Irrigation District will be able to use some of the water being kept in the reservoir.

The new agreement will also allow Colorado irrigators to use wells to pump water into the river to make up for that state’s overuse this year. [ed. emphasis mine]

Schneider said the states are close to finalizing a similar agreement for 2015. That should allow time for the states to work on a long-term compromise.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.

‘Art of Water’ comes to gallery in Littleton, November 6 to January 5 — the Parker Chronicle

This is what it looks like when it starts snowing in Colorado in October!
From the Parker Chronicle (click through for the photo gallery):

Four area painters will combine their works in a show called “The Art of Water” at Town Hall’s Stanton Gallery in Littleton from Nov. 6 to Jan. 5. A meet-the-artists reception is planned from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 22. The four are: Colette Brooks, Kay Juricek, Joanne Sisun and Kate Wyman.

Brooks, who paints with oils, is a graduate of the Colorado Institute of Art. She has studied with Dennis R. Pendleton, Ken Velastro and Chuck Ceraso, who traces his training to French and American impressionists through his instructor, Charles Hawthorne. Brooks’ paintings include European subjects, animal portraits, and Colorado landscapes.

Kay Juricek said that her paintings in this exhibit “are of barrier islands: low-lying, narrow strips of land that sit precariously off the coastline. They’re lovely, secluded tropical places to shell, watch wildlife such as pelicans and other birds, soak up sun and relax. We visit southwest Florida often and especially love these beautiful, unpopulated beaches.”

She grew up in Nebraska and graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, where she studied with landscape artist Keith Jacobshagen. A master’s degree in library science from Columbia University followed, and she has been a faculty member at the university of Wyoming and at Colorado School of Mines in Golden. She began painting portraits on commission in 1990, as well as landscapes and still lifes in acrylics, oils and pastels, and has exhibited locally and nationally. She now paints in her Denver studio and enjoys travel in the American West.

Joanne Sisun has bachelor’s and master’s degrees and an MBA, and worked in business before she began studying at the Art Students League of Denver in 2000. She has studied with Ron Hicks since 2001 and is an assistant for his Atlier group at ASLD. She writes that she “is interested in the challenge of creating atmosphere and narrative in paintings of figures, landscapes and objects. In the musical, `Anything Goes,’ dressing up in disguises is a recurrent theme.” Her “Theatrical Figure #1” illustrates her interest in painting figures in theatrical disguises, which offer opportunities for “creating narrative and atmosphere.” (Perhaps her masked figure appeared along Venice canals during Carnival?)

Kate Wyman said she grew up on the Jersey Shore, although she has lived in Colorado most of her adult life. She has always enjoyed art and “creating” and is mainly self-taught, although she has enjoyed workshops and classes in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Virginia. She likes to work in watercolors because of the clean, fresh look and is a Signature member of the Colorado Watercolor Society and a member of Park Hill Artists, Roxborough Arts Council, Grace Gallery (Santa Fe Arts District) and Shadow Mountain Gallery in Evergreen.

“The Art of Water” exhibit runs through Jan. 5 in the Stanton Gallery at Town Hall Arts Center, 2450 W. Main St. in downtown Littleton. The Stanton Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and during performances. An artists’ reception will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 22. 303-794-2787.