Biodiversity: Feds want more input on critical habitat plan for threatened yellow-billed cuckoos

Summit County Citizens Voice

ioh Can critical habitat help recover vanishing western yellow-billed cuckoos?

Proposed protections not popular with western water users

Staff Report

FRISCO — Threatened yellow-billed cuckoos will have to hang on just a bit longer before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalizes a critical habitat proposal. The agency this week announced it is extending a public comment period on the plan for another 60 days, through Jan. 12, 2015.

The agency announced its original critical habitat plan back in August, proposing to designate 546,335 acres of critical habitat in 80 separate units in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

Now, federal biologists say they want more input on the birds’  biology and habitat and justification for exclusions from critical habitat. The agency also seeks information on the incremental economic effects of the proposed critical habitat designation.

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#COWaterPlan moving along #ColoradoRiver


from The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

As it stands, Colorado no longer has enough water to satisfy unlimited wants of growing Front Range urban areas, farmers and ranchers and environmental and recreational interests – not to mention states with legal rights to Colorado water, they said.

There is still time to reach compromises, which is the reason the Colorado Water Plan is vital, said Bart Miller, water program director with Western Resource Advocates, Amelia Whiting, the Colorado Water Project counsel with Trout Unlimited, and Katie Greenberg, the Western contact for the Young Farmers Coalition.

Whiting is a member of the Southwest Basin task force, which has scheduled four public meetings in Southwest Colorado during the next two months to educate residents on the issues.

The first draft of the plan – the result of an executive order by Gov. John Hickenlooper last year – is expected to be unveiled in December. Each of seven major basins in the state is defining goals.

“As the plan rolls out, it’s conceptual at this time,” Miller said.

Certain issues are flash points.

Nothing raises hackles on the Western Slope as quickly as talk of transmountain diversions, a fancy way of describing the emptying of Western Slope water sources to support the Front Range, where most urban growth is occurring.

Miller said Front Range basins have not committed to specific targets.

The three stakeholders said urban water conservation, advanced agricultural practices, recycling, storage projects and soil stewardship can play a role assuring everyone of water.

If enough moderate measures are taken, large transmountain diversions won’t be necessary, Miller said.

Miller said major changes may well require legislative action.

Pueblo Board of Water Works raw water lease revenue = $9 million

Pueblo photo via Sangres.com
Pueblo photo via Sangres.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo Water’s role as a water broker has kept customers’ rates the lowest among major Front Range cities.

In next year’s $35.9 million budget, about $8.9 million of $33.1 million in operating revenue will be generated from raw water leases, according to projections studied this week at a workshop with the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

“It’s becoming a greater percentage of the budget,” said Seth Clayton, director of administrative services.

That, along with deeper spending of reserves, is keeping Pueblo water rates the lowest among major Colorado cities.

Water rates are on course to increase 3.25 percent next year, and the decision will be finalized after a public hearing at 2 p.m. Nov. 18. The increase will amount to about $1 per month in the typical bill.

Even with that, Pueblo’s rates will remain less than half of Colorado Springs or Aurora, and lower than Denver, the only large city that comes close to the level.

At the same time, Pueblo customers have reduced average household consumption to an average 114,400 gallons per year in 2014, about 20 percent less than in 2005. Part of the decrease was due to a rainy summer, but Clayton noted there is a declining trend to water usage that has continued since the drought of 2002.

Next year’s budget assumes a slight increase in usage, with an average of 117,000 gallons per household. A total of about 8.12 billion gallons is expected to be consumed.

The board also reviewed a projected decline in operating capital from $17.9 million in 2014 to $9.6 million in 2012. Clayton explained the decrease is expected in order to service debt, which will cost about $5.22 million next year. Much of the debt was assumed with the purchase of Bessemer Ditch shares in 2009.

At the same time, Pueblo Water will begin to increase its water development fund with contributions from some of the lease revenues. Contributions to the fund were halted for several years in order to repay debt. Next year, the fund is expected to grow by $1.02 million.

Major expenditures include $3.26 million for utilities (mostly electricity), $1.73 million for outside services, $1.65 million for repairs or maintenance, $807,000 for water rights maintenance, $764,000 for chemicals and $220,000 for gas and oil.

Employee salaries and benefits will increase 2.5 percent.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.

Experimental High-Flows from Glen Canyon Dam Benefits Important Phys. and Bio. Resources #ColoradoRiver

November 2012 High Flow Experiment via Protect the Flows
November 2012 High Flow Experiment via Protect the Flows

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Matthew Allen):

The Department of the Interior initiated its third high-flow release from Glen Canyon Dam today under an innovative science-based experimental protocol. The goal of the releases is to help restore the environment by creating flood-like conditions below Glen Canyon Dam, which rebuild sandbars that are important habitat and recreational resources.

During the 2014 high-flow experiment, or HFE, high volumes of water will be released through Glen Canyon Dam’s powerplant and four outlet tubes. The duration of the peak release of approximately 37,500 cubic-feet-per-second will be 96 hours. The annual release volume from Lake Powell will not change as a result of the 2014 HFE, no additional water will be released.

“Dams have impacts, but as we have learned over the last 50 years, we can operate Glen Canyon Dam in ways that both meet our demands for water and hydropower, but also achieve our goals for natural resources and recreation,” said Deputy Commissioner for Operations Lowell Pimley.

Similar experimental releases have been conducted over the years. The releases include continued scientific research, monitoring, and data collecting along the Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Mead, while continuing to meet water delivery and hydropower needs. These successful experiments were the result of extensive collaboration among various agencies of the Department of the Interior, including the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as the Colorado River Basin States.

The HFE protocol is part of the Department’s efforts to improve conservation of limited sediment resources in the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam. It is intended to improve understanding of how to better distribute sediment to conserve downstream environmental resources by allowing for multiple high-flow tests through 2020, while still meeting needs for water delivery and hydropower generation.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Snowpack news: “It’s across the board pretty bare…And it’s more than just western Wyoming” — Bob Comey

Upper Colorado River Basin October 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center
Upper Colorado River Basin October 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center

From WyoFile (Kelsey Dayton):

On Nov. 6, Bob Comey, director of the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center, checked the center’s forecasting cameras and monitors making sure they were ready to go, while scouting the snow in the area.

The ground was clear on aspects below 9,000 feet and on sunny landscapes above 9,000 feet. Only a couple of inches of snow has accumulated on north faces at the high elevations.

“It’s across the board pretty bare,” he said. “And it’s more than just western Wyoming.”

Comey noted that few forecasters across the region were reporting much snow as of the first week of November.

The center starts its daily forecasts once there’s enough snow to warrant worry about avalanches, although it does provide weekly snowpack summaries. In the last 14 years, the latest it’s ever started forecasting was Nov. 17 — that was in 2008. It’s begun regular forecasts as early as Oct. 25 in 2010. As of Nov. 6, Comey wasn’t sure when the center would need to start forecasting this year, but thought it could be a while. There wasn’t much snow predicted for northern Wyoming in the next 10 days.

“But that can always change quickly,” he said. “A week of steady snowfall could change the whole story.”

Parts of Wyoming did experience early season storms that were then followed by warm spells melting most of the snow other than that on the very high north-facing mountainsides, Comey said…

“Everyone should want snow,” [Jim] Woodmencey said. “More snow means more water for the rest of the year.”

Volunteers work on South Arkansas riparian corridor — The Mountain Mail #ArkansasRiver

Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District
Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

From The Mountain Mail (J.D. Thomas):

The South Arkansas River riparian corridor in Poncha Springs received a facelift from 25 volunteers during a volunteer workday Friday.

Volunteers, along with students from Salida Middle School and Longfellow Elementary School, dug holes and planted willow, alder and chokecherry close to the river, while further away juniper and pines were planted as part of a riparian buffer.

“In a year or so, this will all look a lot different,” Andrew Mackie, executive director of Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas, said.

Along with removing brush, volunteers removed old car bodies from the banks of the river. Mackie said in the 1960s and 1970s putting car bodies on riverbanks was a practice used to prevent erosion.
Mackie said a steel deck also was removed on the 1,100-foot stretch of riverbank, all of which lies on private property.

Part of the rehabilitation involved creating eddies, which help trout catch food in pockets on non-rapid water, he said.

“The trout can sit in the eddy,” Mackie said. “The food flows into the eddy, which allows the trout to get the food without using a lot of energy.”

One of the property owners is Fred Klein, who said he comes from a family where fishing and the river are important. His father was a fish biologist, Klein said.

Klein said he got involved in the Murray Ditch, which he said brought water access to people without damaging the habitat. “It got me going in habitat rehabilitation,” he said.

“Logs which were used on the banks were locally sourced from property owners along the river,” Klein said.

The section of the river volunteers were working on was near the intersection of Chipeta Avenue and Shavano Street.

The estimated cost of the project when completed will be around $20,000, said Mackie.

The project is being conducted in conjunction with Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas, Collegiate Peaks Anglers Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Colorado State Forest Service and other volunteers. Butala Sand & Gravel donated 142 tons of rock for the project.

Mackie said people who want to donate can send checks to SWAC, c/o LTUA, P.O. Box 942, Salida, CO 81201, or call 539-7700.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Carpe Diem West: An interview with [Denver Water’s] Laurna Kaatz

Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003
Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003

From Carpe Diem West:

Looking Forward into the Climate & Water Future

An Interview with Laurna Kaatz

Laurna Kaatz is the climate scientist and adaptation coordinator for the Planning Division at Denver Water, where she coordinates climate investigations and implements the findings into Denver Water’s planning process.

Why is it important for utilities to address the climate issues now as they reach out to their rate payers and different constituencies?

For Denver Water, we really want our customers to know that we are actively engaged and reviewing scenarios on this topic. This is not about scare tactics, but rather reasonable and forwarding-looking approaches to address a future changing climate. We are active and we are engaged, and we are a leader on climate adaptation. Being able to get that type of message out takes a lot of background and it takes a lot of time. It’s not just something that you throw up on a billboard and say, “Yeah, we’re prepared for climate change, check; move on.” It’s going to take a proactive and strategic approach and a lot of dialogue with our customers to really develop the type of understanding of what does climate change even mean; what are the changes we’ll see; and why does it matter if your utility is on top of it.

Were Denver Water communications plans developed internally or with a consultant?

Most of it was done internally, though we did work with a consultant on a message mapping tool. A lot of this work can be done internally. I’ve found the message mapping tool to be really easy to use. It just helps you systematically think through how to talk about this issue. [Message mapping tool is available in the WRF report].

Are billing statements are a good communications vehicle for this kind of messaging?

Denver Water has focused on the message that climate change is an issue we’re addressing in our long-term planning and something that we’re thinking about as a future challenge. We weave it into all of our communication materials, including bill inserts and mailers. In this day and age, it’s important to include information that’s important to your customers in every type of communications channel – from bill inserts to social media messages and everything in between. People get their information from a variety of channels and we need to make sure we are using all options available to us.

Are you thinking about what audiences you want to prioritize reaching with these messages, and what methods you’re going to use to reach them?

Our priority first and foremost is to work on bringing climate adaptation to the decision-making process within our organization and get people on board with it here. The term for this is “mainstreaming.” It’s important to do this at all levels of the organization — from our board and executive team to all of our managers, all the way to every employee. Everyone in the organization needs to have an understanding of what it is we’re talking about and why we’re talking about it.

We’re still working through our external communications plan. We’re looking at who we’re going to focus on, who we’re going to partner with, what businesses we should work with, and how we will communicate it. There are a lot of options to consider, from messaging on our website to ads to videos to e-newsletters and more.

Our first priority is to work on our internal efforts, and then we’ll take the step of communicating climate change to our customers.

As you do the internal work to get everyone on the same page, mainstreaming, what does that look like?

We’re going to be talking to a lot of people! We are talking about focusing first on the areas within the organization that are most impacted by the natural system, like Operations & Maintenance and Engineering. We then would work through the other areas of the organization because climate change impacts everything – from financial decisions to planning and much more.

Is regional mainstreaming practical? Might that be an effective approach for the smaller utilities, or does the mainstreaming need to be totally internal?

Because mainstreaming means bringing climate adaptation to the decision-making process, becoming an informed regional community could be a form of mainstreaming as well.

One example of regional mainstreaming is the Joint Front Range Climate Change Vulnerability Study that Denver Water led a few years ago. This was a regional collaboration, which allowed us to develop the tools we needed to analyze climate change. This was helpful because in the West, we don’t have all these tools already developed for our region. This project also allowed utilities that couldn’t talk about climate change or move forward with climate adaptation planning or any analysis on their own to work under the umbrella of a regional collaboration. They were able to participate, provide resources to staff and financial resources, and stay in-the-know about what’s going on with climate information.

That study was completed a few years ago, but we still meet on a quarterly basis to talk about all the issues related to climate change that the different organizations are dealing with.

I think there are a lot of opportunities and good examples out there of mainstreaming. The Water Utility Climate Alliance is a national example of mainstreaming this conversation across utilities in the United States.

Digging into the data a little bit, we now know what incredibly powerful messengers utilities are. How do we leverage that? Who else is important to bring along? What do the choir’s expected messengers look like?

I’m not a communications expert, but from my thinking, we have a very good opportunity to talk about this issue both internally and externally.

In Colorado, we have a truly unique situation where we have one of the highest densities of climate scientists in the world, so there are a lot of really good resources here. We also have some really good folks to work with on the communication side. A big part of what we’ve already been talking about is drought — how to be prepared for that and what our customers need to do. In that sense, we have a lot of themes lined up that I think are going to be really helpful in bringing in climate change messaging. We’re fortunate that the research shows customers trust their utilities, so it’s important to find the right ways in which to talk to them about climate change.