Montezuma County, et al., come out against a National Conservation Area — Lower Dolores River

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Montezuma County commission and San Juan Basin Farm Bureau have publicly come out against a fledgling proposal to create a National Conservation Area on the Lower Dolores River.

Citing concerns that the designation could result in additional water being released downstream from McPhee Reservoir, the commissioners voted 3-0 to oppose any such plan…

But others involved said it is too early to take sides because the bill is still in a draft form and has not been released to the public yet.

“I think there is some misunderstanding of the intent of the NCA,” said Al Heaton, also a member of a legislative committee. “Once it’s out, there will be significant time for the public to read the draft and weigh in on it. It’s good to air it out, because there’s room for discussion, clarification and negotiation.”

The Lower Dolores Plan Working Group has been researching legislation for an NCA on the Lower Dolores River below McPhee dam since 2010. A draft is near completion and is expected to be available for review in the coming weeks.

At Monday’s commissioner meeting, Suckla said a draft he saw was “disturbing.” He was critical of the balance of 15 organizations listed in a memorandum of agreement directing the NCA proposal.

“This list is so unfair as far as equal representation for citizens of the county,” he said. “As a commission, our job is to protect property and water rights in Montezuma County, and I only see five entities here that side with that. Where’s the mining interests, the farm bureau, the private landowner interests?”

A compromise

The Lower Dolores Working group, representing various stakeholders, has been studying the environmental and commercial needs of the river below the dam for over a decade.

One conclusion reached was that improving habitat for the native roundtail chub, bluehead sucker, and flannelmouth sucker on the Lower Dolores will help prevent them from being listed by the Endangered Species Act, federal intervention local officials want to avoid.

An NCA in the valley from below McPhee dam to the confluence with the San Miguel River was proposed because the designation is seen as a flexible management tool with more local control in finding negotiated solutions to problems.

As part of the deal, the section of Dolores River that runs through the proposed NCA would be stripped of its “suitability” status for a Wild and Scenic River, a highly protectionist federal designation. If Congress ever approved Wild and Scenic for the Dolores, it would likely come with a federally reserved water right, a situation opposed by local officials.

Proponents say an NCA is a good fit because it balances conservation with commercial uses, eliminates Wild and Scenic potential for that section of river, and offers more local control than, say, a national monument.

“The group reached consensus to pursue an NCA as a way to protect values in a way that doesn’t feel threatening to some stakeholders,” Amber Kelley, Dolores River coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance, said in an earlier interview. “The decision to develop an NCA as an alternative to Wild and Scenic suitability entails a compromise for everyone involved. A grass roots proposal is a far better option than having something imposed from the outside.”

But at the commission meeting some were skeptical of the NCA plan, and urged that the area continue under BLM management.

“I believe there is another way to protect fish without an NCA,” Suckla said.

‘Unintended consequences’

In a letter, the local Farm Bureau outlined its opposition, saying an NCA threatened the region’s water resources managed by the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company and the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which operates McPhee Reservoir.

“The proposal has conflicting requirements with respect to its description of water rights and could set the stage for serious litigation,” according to the letter. “Except for new storage, the only . . . water supply . . . is from either MVIC or DWCD. This legislative path would set up a community fight between MVIC shareholders and DWCD full-service farmers.”

The letter goes on to say that the NCA proposal “does not include a water right” but because of uncertainties in federal and state water law, an NCA may have “unintended consequences driven by political or judicial actions initiated by folks with interests different than our interests.”

“We must ask ourselves, ‘are we supporting actions that may expand the ability of those interests to use the legal process to acquire water we did not intend to be available for acquisition?’”

A crux of the issue is how to improve downstream flows to benefit native fish. State and federal fish biologists have long recommended increasing McPhee’s designated fish pool for release to the Lower Dolores to 36,500 acre-feet from it’s current allocation of 31,800 acre-feet. But where the additional 4,701 acre-feet will come from has been a long-running debate.

Farm Bureau spokesperson Linda Odell said the fear is that an NCA could force the Bureau of Reclamation to acquire the additional 4,701 acre-feet from existing users.

In a statement, Marsha Porter-Norton, a facilitator with the Lower Dolores Plan Working Group, urged the public to be take time to review the proposed legislation.

“This process has always been very open and responsive to concerns that have been brought forward,” she stated. “Everyone involved knows that any successful legislation requires community support. If there are adjustments to the proposal that can be made to ensure a comfort level on the part of water users, I believe the legislative subcommittee, which contains leaders from the water community, is open to discussing those ideas.”

More Dolores River coverage here.

The latest “Headwaters Pulse” is hot off the presses from the Colorado Foundation for Water Education


Click here to read this issue. Here’s an excerpt:

Advancing the water dialogue through leadership

Greetings Reader,

This is an exciting time at the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Staff and Board just updated our strategic plan. Our work, as called for in our founding legislation, will be guided by a strategy that helps Coloradans make “informed water decisions”.

For me, that means we examine and understand the trade-offs of alternate actions… where civil debate moves the discussion past positions to implementable solutions and uncommon allies work together. Does this resonate with your idea of a sustainable water future?

CFWE’s many upcoming programs epitomize these values. We will soon announce the 8th class of Water Leaders, who will join almost 100 graduates in receiving leadership skills. Just a couple weeks back, we hosted an advanced training for alumni to explore the urgent leadership challenges of our time and how we can collaborate to have the greatest impact. It is one of my greatest privileges to run this program and be surrounded by such thoughtful professionals.

Two of our newest programs are advancing the water dialogue. The Water Educator Network is setting the bar for water education in Colorado where we work with educators statewide to strengthen the amount, quality and effectiveness of water education. These members will convene at a symposium on March 11 in Westminster to showcase their accomplishments and set an ambitious agenda moving forward.

And, you may have heard about CFWE’s inaugural Water Fluency course, which launches this spring to educate local leaders on the implications of water policy and planning decisions to create positive change in their community. Here we’re widening our reach to those who may not see themselves as water decision-makers, but in fact are. Registration opens the first week of March.

These forms of education allow our participants to cross boundaries and appreciate diverse perspectives. I’m hopeful that future generations will benefit from this welcoming environment for conversations about water. Join CFWE in cultivating that vision and let’s have fun doing it! –Kristin [Maharg]

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1144 (Prohibit Plastic Microbeads Personal Care Products) passes second reading in House

Graphic via
Graphic via

From the Associated Press (Kristen Wyatt) via The Denver Post:

Colorado may be the latest state to ban tiny plastic particles that are often included in soaps and cosmetic products.

The so-called “microbeads” turn up in face scrubs, acne treatments and toothpaste. The particles are too fine to be caught in wastewater treatment plants, and the plastic bits can pollute lakes and rivers.

A Colorado bill to ban the microbeads by 2020 has won preliminary approval in the House and faces a final vote before heading to the Senate.

“These tiny plastic beads are washed directly down the drain and into our water systems, where they harm our waterways and the animals that live there,” said Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield and sponsor of the bill.

The microbeads are about the size of fish eggs and can be swallowed by aquatic life, leaving them with plastic bits they can’t digest.

The microbeads ban has the backing of large personal-care product manufacturers including Johnson & Johnson. The companies supporting the ban say they are already replacing plastic microbeads with biodegradable exfoliators.

“Once they heard there was a problem with the water-treatment facilities, they thought, whoa, what can we do differently?” said Cathy Wanstrath, a lobbyist for the Personal Care Products Council, which represents the manufacturers.

Two other states have already banned microbeads. Dozens more states are considering joining Illinois and New Jersey.

“We’re trying as an association to get this introduced and passed in as many states as possible,” Wanstrath told Colorado lawmakers.

The measure faced some skepticism from Republicans, though some voted for it. Those that didn’t said that if makers of the soaps and lotions are already taking out plastic bits, there doesn’t need to be a law banning them.

“Market forces should control this, more than the industry cutting a deal with the environmental people,” said Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton.

California legislators rejected a ban last year. A microbeads ban has been proposed in Congress without coming to a vote.

Question for Rep. Everett: Can you name an instance where market forces mitigated or better yet eliminated a water pollution problem?

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here

Snowpack news: The southern basins continue to lag, central mountains doing OK

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

The latest briefing from Western Water Assessment is hot off the presses

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal February 15, 2015 via the NRCS
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal February 15, 2015 via the NRCS

Click here to go to the Western Water Assessment Climate Dashboard website to read the latest briefing. Here are the highlights:


January was overall very dry for the region, with nearly all mountain areas receiving below-average precipitation.

The region’s snowpack has suffered since January 1 due to the dry and warm conditions, with most basins now reporting below-median SWE. Basins in southwestern Colorado and southwestern Utah remain the driest in the region, with less than 65% of median SWE.

The February 1 spring-summer runoff forecasts show widespread reductions compared to the January 1 forecasts. Most forecast points are now in the below-average and much-below-average categories, with near-average runoff expected in central Colorado and northern and western Wyoming.

“El Limbo” continues in the tropical Pacific; by some measures weak El Niño conditions are occurring, but the likelihood of an official El Niño event has dropped slightly compared to one month ago.

New NASA videos show two climate-change scenarios: bad and really bad — Fusion

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

Click here to view the videos from NASA.

Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

In the Southwest and Central Plains of Western North America, climate change is expected to increase drought severity in the coming decades. These regions nevertheless experienced extended Medieval-era droughts that were more persistent than any historical event, providing crucial targets in the paleoclimate record for bench- marking the severity of future drought risks. We use an empirical drought reconstruction and three soil moisture metrics from 17 state-of-the-art general circulation models to show that these models project significantly drier conditions in the later half of the 21st century compared to the 20th century and earlier paleoclimatic intervals. This desiccation is consistent across most of the models and moisture balance variables, indicating a coherent and robust drying response to warming despite the diversity of models and metrics analyzed. Notably, future drought risk will likely exceed even the driest centuries of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (1100–1300 CE) in both moderate (RCP 4.5) and high (RCP 8.5) future emissions scenarios, leading to unprecedented drought conditions during the last millennium.