University of Colorado: 2015 Martz Winter Symposium, February 12-13

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Click here for the inside skinny and to register. Here’s an excerpt:

Many believe that global institutions and frameworks are failing to generate necessary progress on issues such as climate change, water scarcity, biodiversity, food security and nutrition, and poverty eradication; and that state, tribal, and local governments and communities, innovative companies, social and technology entrepreneurs, NGOs, impact investors, consumers and philanthropists increasingly are taking the lead in creating bottom-up solutions to these challenges.

The conference will explore this dynamic in detail, with an emphasis on the drivers behind these ground level innovations, and on how they can better “filter up” to inform the global conversations occurring on how best to address various dimensions of “global change”.

CPW: Elkhead Reservoir and native fish to be discussed at open house in Craig

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Residents of Craig and the surrounding areas will have the opportunity to discuss the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and Elkhead Reservoir fish management with several key partners during an open house, Thursday, Feb. 5, beginning at 6 p.m. at Craig City Hall, 300 West 4th Street.

The open house format will allow program representatives to answer questions and provide information about the multi-faceted program and its goals of protecting four endangered native fish – the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, bonytail and razorback sucker – found only in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

“People who attend will learn what they can do to help us achieve what we all want, that is to bring this recovery effort to a successful conclusion,” said Senior Aquatic Biologist Sherman Hebein of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We understand that people have questions and concerns, so we welcome this opportunity.”

Among the various topics up for discussion will be how Elkhead Reservoir’s predominantly non-native fishery affects local native fish populations, and actions that Recovery Program partners are taking to manage non-native fish populations in the Yampa River and throughout the upper Colorado River basin.

According to principal investigators working on native fish recovery, escapement of non-native fish such as northern pike and smallmouth bass, found in significant numbers in Elkhead Reservoir and several other waters in Western Colorado, are among the primary obstacles to the full recovery of the endangered fish.

“Non-native fish often escape from reservoirs, ponds and other bodies of water into rivers where they not only compete with natives for available habitat, they also eat them,” said Hebein. “Based on years of data analysis, we have determined that non-native predators are the main reason we have yet to fully recover our native fish populations. It’s a major problem that we can overcome, but it will take significant effort from the partners and cooperation from the public.”

Recent reports that the reservoir might be drained and chemically reclaimed to remove the non-natives led to much discussion and concern in the community; however, at a joint workshop with Moffat County Commissioners and the Craig City Council last December, Hebein announced that CPW and its partners are implementing the installation of a net across the reservoir’s spillway to reduce the number of northern pike and smallmouth bass that escape into the Yampa River. Netting the spillway would provide time to implement other non-chemical management actions to reduce the numbers of smallmouth bass and northern pike in the reservoir.

“We anticipate that there will be many questions about the net and Elkhead’s future,” said Hebein. “We look forward to the opportunity to explain the complexities of the issue to the public.”

Hebein says that the public will have the opportunity to provide both written and verbal comments during the meeting.

For more information about the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, visit http://www.coloradoriverrecovery.org/

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Snowpack news: Southern basins struggling, help on the way this weekend

From CBS Denver (Chris Spears):

The latest numbers for statewide snowpack show northwest and southwest Colorado are running behind where they should be for this time of year.

Some of the driest conditions can be found in the Upper Rio Grande and the San Juan-Dolores-San Miguel-Animas River Basins.

The South Platte River Basin, which includes Denver and much of the Interstate 25 Urban Corridor is doing the best at 103 percent of median.

You might notice I said median instead of average.

Even though the two terms are often used synonymously, there is a difference.

A median ranks data from largest to smallest and then picks the value in the middle, leaving an equal number of points on either side and helping to keep the data from being skewed.

An average can be used, but it might be significantly influenced by a few values if they are clustered at either end of the range.

Therefore, when it comes to talking about snowpack, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has set a standard to use the median versus the average.

While you might be inclined to look at these numbers and feel discouraged, especially if you live in one of the basins that are running behind, don’t be.

There is still plenty of time left in the snow accumulation season to make a difference.

And the most recent outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is calling for a wetter-than-normal end to winter and start of spring.

I always think back to 2003 when I look at numbers like we have now on the statewide snowpack.

One good slow-moving, soggy storm can change the outlook dramatically, as it did that March.

Snowpack news: Colorado snowpack dropping as a percent of normal

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal January 25, 2015 via the NRCS
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal January 25, 2015 via the NRCS

You can count on some melting this week as sunny days dominate and temperatures are above average.

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

Last year wasn’t the hottest on record for Aspen, according to daily maximum and minimum temperature data stretching back to 1940, but data shows a definitive long-term trend toward significant warming, according to Jaime Cundiff, forest program director for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

The number of annual frost-free days has soared since the 1950s and the number of consecutive frost-free days also is trending higher, Cundiff said. Snowpack levels vary from year to year with no definitive trend, but evidence shows that the snowpack is melting out sooner in the spring, she said. And the number of winter days with temperatures at or below zero is falling, creating more mild winters.

All of those factors have consequences for the environment, Cundiff said. Frost-free days, for example, can affect the budburst of vegetation and the overall species composition of an area.

ACES is analyzing weather and snowpack data for Aspen, among other mounds of data, as part of its Forest Health Index — an ongoing project to monitor a wide range of interlocking environmental conditions that affect forest health.

As part of the study, ACES found that the number of frost-free days in Aspen increased from an average of 73 per year in the 1950s to 99 in the 1990s and 107 in the 2000s.

Aspen also is experiencing milder winters. In the 1940s, there was an average of 35 days per year at or below 0 degrees during the 1940s. That fell to an average of 15 days per year during the 2000s.

“Extreme low temperatures are understood to play an important role in forest ecology,” the Forest Health Index said. “For instance, hard freezes are believed to help control insect-related disturbances such as the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation. Changes in extreme cold also serve as a broader indicator of change to the region’s climate.”

The index also found, in general, that the Aspen-area snowpack starts melting a week earlier in the spring and reaches the half-way melt-out period about one week sooner in the summer than it did in earlier decades.

A second report, Climate Change and Aspen, prepared by the Aspen Global Change Institute for the city of Aspen, noted many of the same environmental trends.

“For Aspen, climate change will likely include longer summertime warm periods, earlier onset of spring snowmelt, more precipitation arriving as rain rather than snow, and longer dry periods with heavier precipitation events in between,” said the report, released in December. “These types of changes could exacerbate already risky wildfire conditions, place extra pressure on already stretched water providers and users, provide additional challenges to ski area operators and other winter and summer recreation providers, as well as result in other impacts to every sector important to the Aspen community.”

Cundiff said the Forest Health Index places more stock in extremes, such as number of days with high and low temperatures rather than average annual temperatures. Statistics for any given year aren’t really useful. It’s trends that the index is seeking.

Nevertheless, she analyzed maximum and minimum daily temperatures for Aspen since 1940 and found that the average annual temperature between 1940 and 2014 was 41.44 degrees. The average for 2014 alone was 42.71 degrees. However, 2014 didn’t stand out. Several other years were at or above that temperature, she said. So, climate change didn’t make 2014 the hottest on record for Aspen, but trends show global warming is stressing Aspen’s environment.

EPA’s McCarthy will make a number of appearances in Aspen today. She will speak to an Aspen Middle School class, visit the Winter X Games, meet for lunch with Aspen Skiing Co. officials and give a press conference — all designed to build support for regulations the EPA is drafting to battle climate change.

Palmer Lake: “If we could all get together and try to figure this out without getting attorneys involved, I’m all for it” — Rafael Dominguez

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

The towns of Palmer Lake and Monument are in a gridlock over 21.8 million gallons of water, a bitter debate that could pit the towns against each other in court.

Palmer Lake residents, desperate to use the water to save their dry lake, thronged Monument’s Tuesday evening board of trustees meeting to plead for water.

Palmer Lake has been grappling with the state and other southern Colorado water districts since December 2013, when it asked to convert an old railroad water right into something that could save the lake.

The railroad water right has gone unused since the late 1950s, when Colorado’s railroads stopped running steam engines.

For the Town of Monument, losing 67 acre feet of water – an acre foot of water is enough to cover a football field in a foot of water – could have a serious impact on Monument Lake. The towns are working on a negotiation, but without a settlement their dispute will be take to court on Feb. 3.

Monument carefully monitors the lake, and even when it is down 1/100th, town administrators know, said Tom Tharnish, director of public works. Sixty-seven acre feet, or 21.8 million gallons a year, is about a month’s worth of drinking water for Monument.

“If you take 67 acre feet, there’s going to be an effect on Monument Lake,” he said.

While others have steadily dropped from the case, Monument has remained staunch about protecting the town’s water. But Tuesday’s meeting brought together residents from both towns, many of whom pleaded with the board of trustees to let Palmer Lake take the water.

Most argued that the towns are one community and should be invested in each other’s prosperity. Jodie Bliss, a Monument business owner, was one of a few Monument residents who spoke in favor of using the water right to fill the lake.

“I support filling Palmer Lake,” she told the trustees. “My point of view has to a lot to do with the fact that we are one community.”

Residents like Bliss packed the town hall and filled the parking lot. One man in the audience spoke out against Monument turning the water rights over to Palmer Lake. Other audience members joked that the famed “tri-lakes region” has only two lakes.

Jeff Hulsmann of Awake Palmer Lake, a group founded to help resuscitate the lake, was the last to speak on Tuesday. He echoed earlier pleas to encourage cooperation between the two closely connected towns.

“It’s incredible to me how many people came up here and said, ‘Well, I live in Palmer Lake but I used to live in Monument’,” he said. “I implore you, do something that works for all of us.”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

When Palmer Lake resident Cynthia Graff took her seat in front of the Monument board of trustees last week, she was one in a long line of area residents who came to plead for a timeless Western right – water.

Water, specifically in Palmer Lake, is part of what drew Graff and others to the Tri-Lakes region. Even after development cut off the flow of runoff into the natural lake, Palmer Lake residents have fought for six decades to keep the iconic lake full. But now the town is fighting for the water against close competitors, the town of Monument and its lake, pitting the survival of one lake against another.

For some locals, the fight over an old railroad water right has one resolution – to fill Palmer Lake, which has been dry since 2012 and began losing water a decade ago.

“We just think this is our water,” Graff said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We deserve to have it back in our lake so we can deserve to be the Tri-Lakes area again.”

Although the meeting was thronged with Monument business owners, Palmer Lake residents and combinations of both advocating to fill the lake, the towns’ lawyers have yet to agree on the fate of 21.8 million gallons of water.

Palmer Lake has been unofficially tapping into the water, once used to fill steam engines on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, since the engines were pulled from the tracks in the late 1950s. But when the town filed in December 2013 to make that water use official, it met with state and local resistance – common in a state where water rights have always been carefully protected.

The town asked for 67 acre feet of water to fill the lake each year – an acre foot is enough to cover a football field in a foot of water.

One by one, objectors to Palmer Lake’s plan to fill the lake settled with the town, all except Monument. Using the water to fill Palmer Lake would lower levels in Monument Lake, which has been declining because of evaporation, said Tom Tharnish, Monument’s director of public works.

“If you take 67 acre feet, there’s going to be an effect on Monument Lake,” Tharnish said.

Unless the towns can settle on the fate of the water, the fight is headed to court Feb. 3. Jeff Hulsmann of Awake Palmer Lake, a nonprofit created to help restore the lake, believes the town stands a good chance to secure the water it needs.

“We have an awful lot of confidence that we will win in court,” he said.

Hulsmann has a complicated relationship with both towns – as do many people who live in one town but own a business in the other. Hulsmann knows that ultimately helping Palmer Lake could mean harming Monument Lake.

“I lose on both ends of this deal,” he said.

A rare body of water

As legend has it, when General William Jackson Palmer scouted southern Colorado for railroad routes, he believed Palmer Lake – the only natural lake for miles around – to be truly unique.

“He apparently said, ‘It was the only open body of water between Denver and El Paso, Texas,'” said Tom VanWormer, of the Palmer Lake Historical Society.

Palmer Lake became an essential part of southern Colorado life, supporting a resort town and providing water for steam engines and ice for refrigeration. Palmer wasn’t the first to discover it, however – Ute Indians lived nearby long before William Finley Thompson plotted the area in the 1880s and christened “Loch Katrine.”

Although Palmer eventually gave his name to the lake, it remained a contested source of water and recreational spot for railroads passing through, VanWormer said. Palmer’s Denver & Rio Grande railway later competed with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway for use of the lake’s water and shores.

“It was a great place to come and picnic, to row boats around,” VanWormer said. But to keep the rival railroad’s passengers from venturing to the lake, Palmer had an “8-foot tall barbed wire fence” built on the AT&SF side, VanWormer said.

Later, reservoirs and dams would add Monument and Woodmoor lakes – giving the Tri-Lakes region its name. None of lakes were used for drinking water. Instead, the towns relied on reservoirs and wells to put water in their taps and used creeks to fill their lakes. But when railroads retired steam engines, water in the Tri-Lakes area took on a new significance – supporting increasing populations and keeping the lakes, diminished without runoff, full.

‘It’s an emotional issue’

Thanks to a lease from the railroad, Palmer Lake had tacitly used the old railroad water right to fill its lake for half a century. But in 2002, a severe drought year, publicity about the lake’s ability to stay full brought scrutiny to that agreement, Hulsmann said.

“In 2002, the state comes down and says, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing?'” Hulsmann recalled. “So essentially the state says you can’t use the water right (because) it’s an industrial water right.” [ed. emphasis mine]

Palmer Lake purchased the leased water right in the 1980s, but in state records, the right was still marked for industrial use. According to Colorado’s water laws, it could not be used to fill the town’s lake. In December 2013, Palmer Lake filed to have the right declared a municipal one, fair game for lake-filling. But nothing is that simple in water court.

“So basically everybody downstream objects, and we expected that. If you don’t object then you get no information,” Hulsmann said.

To prove its right to use some of the water abandoned by the railroad, Palmer Lake hired expert witnesses to delve into decades of data on the railroad’s water use. Calculating the number of engines that passed by the lake per day between 1871 and 1955 – 20 to 30 – and factoring in tank size, the study determined that Palmer Lake could use 112 acre feet a year to fill the lake. The town settled for 67 acre feet, Hulsmann said.

The objectors – among them the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the city of Colorado Springs – eventually settled with Palmer Lake, but the town of Monument remained the sole objector, claiming that Palmer Lake abandoned the water and had no right to champion for its official use to fill the lake. Monument officials believe that Palmer Lake has yet to exhaust all ways to get water – for instance digging wells or purchasing another water right. Nonetheless, administrators from both towns say an agreement is in the works.

“There are still negotiations going on,” said Gary Shupp, the lawyer for the town of Monument. “Whether this case goes to trial or not still remains to be seen.”

Palmer’s days of railroad wars are long over, but the subject of water clearly remains a deeply personal one when it comes to Palmer Lake’s survival. At Tuesday’s trustees meeting, residents claimed all chairs and standing room. All but one person spoke up and asked the board to drop Monument’s objection to Palmer Lake’s water use request. Ultimately, Monument Mayor Rafael Dominguez had the last word.

“If we could all get together and try to figure this out without getting attorneys involved, I’m all for it,” he said. “We don’t want to harm Palmer Lake at all. But it’s a water rights issue. And water rights are a big issue in the state of Colorado.”

The residents absorbed his comments and then, one by one, got up and left the room.

More water law coverage here.