Satellite images reveal ocean acidification from space — Dennis Dimick

Water Values podcast: @OndaViaInc CEO Mark Peterman discusses water testing and technology advancements

Colorado Division of Water Resources: Well Construction Rules 2015 Rulemaking ― Proposed Changes to the 2005 Rules

USGS: What is the difference between weather and and climate change?

From the USGS:

What is the difference between weather and climate change?

Weather refers to short term atmospheric conditions while climate is the weather of a specific region averaged over a long period of time. Climate change refers to long-term changes.

More USGS coverage here.

Colorado hopes to protect the integrity of conservation easements by cracking down on the monkey business

Saguache Creek
Saguache Creek

From the High Country News (Jennie Lay):

Perched at the podium during a Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts gathering, Erin Toll wears a poker face, a smart black pencil skirt and sassy Jimmy Choos. Among the jeans-and-hiking-boot-clad crowd attending, this wry New York transplant seems an unlikely hero. As recently as last fall, Toll, director of the Colorado Division of Real Estate, had no idea what a conservation easement was. But now, she says, protecting the integrity of land conservation is her number-one priority – and she’s cracking down on crooked deals with a vengeance.

Toll’s new enthusiasm for conservation easements, which offer landowners tax breaks in exchange for accepting limits on their right to develop, couldn’t come at a better time for Colorado’s land trusts. The state has seen some of the fastest-paced land conservation in the country, driven by a boom in both land trusts – the nonprofit organizations that hold easements – and in government open-space programs. Coloradans have protected nearly 1.8 million acres with conservation easements, much of it fueled by innovative tools, including a lottery-funded land protection program and a transferable state income tax credit.

Unfortunately, though, tax benefits sometimes breed abuses. And questionable conservation deals are drawing intense scrutiny – including Toll’s investigation into inflated real estate appraisals in Colorado and an ongoing Internal Revenue Service audit of hundreds of tax returns nationwide claiming federal tax breaks for donated easements. While state investigation and reform is moving swiftly, the federal audits have dragged on, frustrating landowners and creating confusion about easement appraisals.

The legal and financial complexities of conservation easements have reached a crossroads in Colorado. “What happens in Colorado could bleed out to the rest of the country,” says Lynne Sherrod, Western policy manager for the national Land Trust Alliance.

To help ferret out abusers, Toll has issued 30 subpoenas since November. So far, she’s suspended two appraisers who inflated appraisal values on more than 35 conservation easements. (She’s still wading through 44 boxes of evidence and says, “Every day we find more.”) The jacked-up appraisal values exploit a state program that offers landowners up to $375,000 in transferable tax credits for conservation easement donations. Land-conservation professionals say the program has been critical in protecting more than a million acres (at a cost of about $274 million) across the state since it took effect in 2000.

Although the majority of the state’s conservation easements are rock-solid, Toll rolls her eyes as she reveals some of the more outrageous exceptions. In a sampling of conservation easements from one group, Noah Land Conservation (also known as Colorado Natural Land Conservation), Toll found gross overvaluations of 111 easements on the eastern plains. The scheme involved 6,100 acres valued at $76.5 million (hence eligible for $37 million in state tax credits) by a mere three appraisers, on parcels that were meticulously subdivided so they could slip past county and state laws regarding acreage or subdivision development. In one particularly egregious example, the appraised value of a single 640-acre ranch leaped more than $14 million in a matter of days. Toll’s investigation is ongoing, but she’s narrowed the state’s spoilers down to about eight appraisers (including the two she’s already sanctioned), a couple of attorneys and a promoter or two – and their offenses, including possible securities fraud, could spread into the realm of other government agencies.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.

Colorado water education pilot project expands nationally

Your Water Colorado Blog

By Lydia Hooper

What does it take to empower today’s youth to change their watershed? An entire community, says Donny Roush, Director of Uncommon Collaboratives and Program Director for Keep It Clean – Neighborhood Environmental Trios (KIC-NET) at the non-profit Earth Force.

“Young people are natural problem-solvers,” he said. “To better support them, KIC-NET seeks to bridge and address the needs of both urban stormwater and STEM education. The kids do the rest.”

For the past four years, Roush has leveraged funding from the EPA’s Urban Waters program and partnered with Denver Public Works to develop this transferable urban watershed education program.

KIC-NET aims to fulfill the city’s water quality requirements while also engaging students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning and supporting them to become life-long stewards of the South Platte River and other local bodies of water.

Truman Middle School students begin a day of water quality testing at the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge by carrying waders into the Rio Grande bosque. Truman Middle School students begin a day of…

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Snowpack news: Things should change for the better this weekend

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

From 9News.com (Matt Renoux):

On Thursday’s warm, dry winter day, Rick Bly watched the sky as Colorado’s next big snow storm to roll in.

“Kind of hopeful it will bring the big snow that’s predicted,” said Bly.

He records moisture near Breckenridge. He says there was an above average snow in November, which was more than two times the normal amount, followed by a good December snowpack. But January and February saw a big drop.

“January was down substantially about 40 percent below average,” said Bly.

It’s still about 20 percent above average in the central parts of Colorado but that snow has been melting fast. It’s something he can see on his nearly snow-free Breckenridge driveway.

“Normally it’s completely covered [with snow], typically you don’t see our driveway till March,”‘ said Bly.

He hopes the wind blowing in will bring big snow to Colorado reservoirs.

“‘The spring will be here soon and there will be concerns about water,” said Bly.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Durango Herald:

The snowpack at the summit of Wolf Creek Pass was at only 46 percent of the median figure for the date. Cascade was the worst off at 23 percent of the median. El Diente Peak was at 40 percent, and the Upper San Juan was at 45 percent.

Even the healthiest snowpacks in the region are well below average. Lizard Head pass was at 85 percent Wednesday, Red Mountain Pass was at 78 percent and Mineral Creek was at 75 percent.