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.

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 (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.

Flood recovery funds still available — the Loveland Reporter-Herald

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Millions of dollars have been spent and thousands of hours donated to help residents throughout Larimer County affected by the 2013 floods.

But there is still a large pot of money, volunteers and a collaborative team available to help those who lost their homes to the raging waters.

“We’re still here, and there are still ways of getting help,” said Laura Levy with the Long Term Recovery Team, a collaborative of nonprofits that came together to assist residents in obtaining help and funding after the floods. She was part of a Larimer County commissioners work session Thursday about community flood recovery.

“We want to make sure the word gets out to as many people as possible that money is still available.”

The Long Term Recovery Group has distributed just over $1 million with the help of its partners and still has $1 million left to help other residents.

And through that same group, 3,100 volunteers from across the country have spent 84,000 hours cleaning up debris and helping residents rebuild. These include faith-based organizations, service groups, college students and scores of local residents…

Amy Irwin of the Loveland Housing Authority is managing Community Development Block Grand Disaster Funds to help residents with housing costs. This could be moving and storage expenses, rental assistance, repair of homes or finding new homes.

“We have $1 million in that pot, and we have not been able to assist as many families as we would like because the vacancy rates in Larimer County are less than 2 percent,” said Irwin.

Because of the tight market, residents cannot find rentals that are within their price range as well as the range allowed under the parameters of the grant money.

Money that has been committed to her office through that federal grant program totals $8.5 million. Of that, $1 million is to help families still recovering from the High Park Fire and the rest is split across home repairs and ownership, rental assistance and road and bridge repairs to allow access to homes.

Funding to keep the Long Term Recovery Group operating will be phasing out over the next year, but Levy said they are committed to finding other sources or grants so the nonprofit partners can continue helping at full steam through all of 2015.

Arkansas Valley Conduit update: Only $500,000 so far in federal budget, Southeastern Water was hoping for $5.5 million this year

Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation
Preferred route for the Arkansas Valley Conduit via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit has flatlined in the federal budget. Striking a somber tone, Executive Director Jim Broderick broke the news Thursday to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. The district sought $5.5 million for the conduit in fiscal year 2016, but so far only $500,000 is included in a constricted federal budget.

“It’s hard to pinpoint the reason for flatlining,” Broderick said. “But I think this is a short-term problem. … The issue isn’t that we’re dead in the water, we’re just going slow.”

He speculated that the federal Office of Management and Budget frowned on the project because it has not yet begun moving dirt and a general policy that water-quality projects should involve the Environmental Protection Agency.

The conduit progress has been overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation, which shifted funds this year to boost conduit funding to about $3 million. However, there may not be much money available.

Reclamation had a $96 million budget for projects nationwide this year, but allocated $50 million to deal with California drought issues and $30 million to settle claims with American Indian tribes.

District officials are continuing with attempts to encourage reprogramming federal money for the project. In the interim, the district will work closely with state officials to find money and analyze the workflow toward building the conduit.

On a positive note, Broderick said the conduit could move up in the federal pipeline by 2019.

The $400 million conduit would reach 132 miles from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads, and would serve 50,000 people in 40 communities. It was first authorized by Congress as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in 1962.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.

Is dam seepage cause for alarm? — The Pueblo Chieftain

Clear Creek Dam via Colorado Guy
Clear Creek Dam

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Pueblo Board of Water Works agreed to hire Black & Veatch Engineering for $130,000 to assess the risk of Clear Creek Dam, located in northern Chaffee County. The earthen dam, built on a glacial moraine, has experienced seepage during the past 20 years, creating the occasional need to lower water levels temporarily to fix problems, Steve Anselmo, water resources engineer, told the board. Seepage monitoring has revealed 300-700 gallons per minute at varying exit points.

In 1997, when the downstream face became set, the water level in Clear Creek was lowered and a drain blanket installed and low spots filled in. Additional low spots were filled in 2007, when the water level was lowered to replace the outlet gates.

No unusual problems occurred until 2014, when one flow stopped and a new seepage path was detected.

“The new seepage path created in 2014 has raised the question of how to determine if this seepage event and others that might occur in the future pose a risk to the safety of the dam,” Anselmo said in a memo to the board.

“What actions should be taken to address that risk?”

The Black & Veatch study will look at the probability of a significant event and develop short-term and long-term solutions.

Pueblo Water bought Clear Creek from the Otero Canal Co. in 1954 and in 2004 filed an application in water court that would nearly triple its storage capacity. Clear Creek can now store 11,439 acre-feet of water. A native water right produces a small amount of water, but most of the water in the reservoir is imported from the Western Slope through tunnels and ditches and moved into the reservoir by exchange.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.