Cattlemen disheartened by Browns Canyon designation — The Mountain Mail

Browns Canyon via
Browns Canyon via

From The Mountain Mail:

Officials with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) said in a press release they were “disheartened” to learn of the presidential declaration of Browns Canyon as a national monument.

“We worked in good faith with former Sen. Udall and others to find a way to prevent a presidential declaration,” Tim Canterbury, chair of the Public Lands Council, said in the release.

“Now, all we can do is ask for a seat at the table and hope that the voices of ranchers will be heard and respected in the designation’s implementation process,” he said.

After learning about the designation, CCA officials spoke to Sen. Michael Bennet and Gov. John Hickenlooper, both of whom agreed to work on ensuring grazing would continue without changes or restrictions.

According to the release, CCA will work to ensure the following points are included in the declaration and clarified:

  • Motorized access must continue to be allowed for permit administration, range improvements and water maintenance.
  • Explicit language must be written into the designation that allows sheep and cattle producers to trail their livestock to and from federal grazing allotments through portions of the designated area.
  • Weeds and weed control must also be addressed in the rules of implementation, particularly in headwaters areas.
  • Language must be included in the designation implementation to ensure that changes in the numbers of authorized livestock are based on facts and not the whim of individual land managers.
  • Language that would explicitly ensure permits will be transferable to new permittee/owners in the same manner as was the case prior to the designation of the national monument is also required.
  • Water rights must be expressly recognized in wilderness acts that further codify states’ water laws.
  • The changes must be applied throughout the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service so that administration at all levels carry out the intent of the law without personal deference that subsequently limits or harms livestock grazing through administrative bias.

    “We stand by the fact that a presidential declaration is not in the best interest of the agricultural community, and we sincerely hope that the president and his administration have heard our concerns and will ensure that the rule-making process addresses the concerns of landowners and ranchers,” said Canterbury.

    He emphasized the organization will keep pushing for legislation that will clarify grazing permit rights for Browns Canyon and any future designation.

    Circle of Blue: Of new water projects Congress authorized last year, ecosystem restoration fared best in Obama budget

    Top story of 2014: Grand Mesa landslide — Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post
    Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Emily Shockley/Amy Hamilton):

    Even if you’re not technically “family,” you’re family in Plateau Valley.

    Folks who raise livestock, hunt wildlife, send their children to the same schools, open businesses and relish living among the pastoral hills with views of the Grand Mesa have bonded and blended for generations.

    It’s more uncommon not to know your neighbors than to have known them your whole life in and around Collbran, an outpost of about 200 people tucked in the shadow of the world’s largest flattop mountain.

    So it was with a heavy heart that two of the area’s founding families lost three men this year when a flank of the mesa peeled off at lightning speed the night of May 25.

    The massive slide was the top story of 2014, as chosen by Daily Sentinel editors and reporters.

    Searchers including friends, family and professionals immediately dispatched to the site as word circulated that Clancy Nichols, 51, his 24-year-old son Danny Nichols, and father of five children, 46-year-old Wes Hawkins, were missing and possibly buried in the sea of mud and debris. The three were checking up on reports that nearby ranchland was seen shifting and irrigation pipes weren’t working.

    At 5:44 p.m. a fatal mix of pounding rain and melting snow caused a Grand Mesa hillside to unleash a rumbling cascade of 39 million cubic meters of mud, rock and scenic landscape. It also left anxious residents of Collbran on edge, waiting to see whether more wreckage would follow.

    Dubbed a once-in-10,000-years event, the West Salt Creek landslide traveled nearly three miles downhill in two minutes, according to seismic data.

    Hawkins worked for the Collbran Conservancy District, coached a variety of sports teams, photographed local athletes during games and was a loving father to five children.

    Clancy Nichols was a veteran employee of Mesa County’s Road and Bridge Department and was known as both a generous man and a stickler for perfection, requiring his two sons to build everything to code and drive the speed limit along Plateau Valley’s winding roads before they could attempt to get a driver’s license.

    Clancy Nichols’ only surviving son, Matt Nichols, told The Daily Sentinel a couple weeks after the landslide that his brother Danny probably went up the hillside with their father on that tragic day to investigate a report of a smaller landslide uphill from the landslide that would claim the father and son’s lives.

    Danny earned a degree in geology from the University of Wyoming in Laramie and was a geologist with Olsson Associates in Grand Junction. He dreamed of moving to New Zealand, according to his brother, but decided after becoming a geologist to settle in Plateau Valley. He had considered purchasing a piece of land across KE Road from his grandmother’s home before his death.

    The human toll of the landslide left Plateau Valley residents grieving. That grief was mixed with another emotion — anxiety — for residents and members of an incident command team formed immediately after the slide, all of whom weren’t sure at first if another slide was coming.

    More than 250 residents of the Collbran area who crammed into a public information meeting at Collbran Town Hall four days after the landslide were told the site remained active, with three or four rockslides per hour.

    The incident command team, which comprised representatives from various county departments, the U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado School of Mines, and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, was most concerned about a 500- to 600-feet-wide hunk of dirt resting near the top of the slide. Water continued to pool behind the dirt chunk, creating a makeshift lake. If the lake continued to grow, Jeff Coe with U.S. Geological Survey told the standing-room-only crowd, the water could send the block tumbling down the landslide route. Global Positioning System monitors and cameras were strategically placed around the slide site to gauge whether the block or any other debris was starting to wobble.

    “If (movement) starts increasing, that’s where we need to be concerned,” Coe said.

    Luckily, another landslide has not come to pass and the water level behind the block has decreased over time. Still, monitoring continues. In October, the county received a $60,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Safety’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to purchase equipment and services needed to continue monitoring the landslide area throughout the winter. That’s on top of the half a million dollars offered by the state’s Disaster Emergency Fund for response efforts through an executive order Gov. John Hickenlooper signed five days after the slide.

    Mesa County Deputy Administrator for Operations Pete Baier said this week not much is expected to happen at the site over the winter because the ground has frozen. “The next milestone will be when we have spring runoff next year,” Baier said. “There is still about 50 million yards of dirt sitting in that valley, but the water behind it has stopped” flowing into the slide-made lake near the top of the slide.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

    Planning for population growth and water scarcity in the West — The Colorado Springs Independent #COWaterPlan

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Taylor Winchell):

    ‘We are booming,” says Jorge Figueroa, water policy analyst for Western Resource Advocates. In population, that is. But there’s a problem: “You can’t have growth if you don’t have water.”[…]

    But we’ve survived drought before.

    “The West has been experiencing drought on and off for as long as we have information about rainfall,” says Sally Thompson, University of California at Berkeley professor and hydrologist. Through a detailed study of the oldest living trees in California, scientists have analyzed drought records that date back almost 5,000 years. Supplementing this study are thousands of additional precipitation data sets collected with modern meteorology equipment.

    “Every data source we have suggests that droughts are a natural part of the climate of the Western USA,” Thompson says.

    And some water advocates argue that the gap between the water available and that which growth will demand can be closed with increased preparation efforts, including conservation.

    “Drought is also going to compel us to make those changes even if we are not willing to,” Figueroa says.

    The timing for implementing change couldn’t be more perfect, with Colorado developing its first statewide water plan, a first draft of which became available Dec. 10 at According to the website, it hopes to illuminate “a path forward for providing Coloradans with the water we need while supporting healthy watersheds and the environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.”

    It’s a daunting challenge, as California’s case makes clear. According to a 2014 report from the California Department of Water Resources on its current extreme drought, water allocations to State Water Project users have been decreased to zero. This includes cutting off water to approximately 750,000 acres of irrigable farmland. One of the most productive agricultural regions in the world has been left to fend for itself.

    Can Colorado avoid making similar harsh decisions? Figueroa remains optimistic.

    “If you do smart water infrastructure projects, if you do [agriculture]-urban cooperation,” he says, “you maximize reuse and conservation, you would not only fill the gap for the Front Range but you would have water in excess. Conservation is the fastest, cheapest way that you can help cities deal with drought and with climate change.”

    River conservation activists have raised concerns about the consideration of any new infrastructure projects in Colorado, which could include dams, reservoirs, diversions and pipelines. The draft of Colorado’s Water Plan makes mention of several of those, including the Northern Integrated Supply Project, Windy Gap Firming Project and Moffat Project, as well as mention of another possible major trans-mountain diversion…

    Extending beyond the household to the regional scale, the West should focus its attention on its thriving agricultural industry. According to a 2010 report by the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, 86 percent of Colorado’s water goes to agriculture.

    “One part of it is making irrigation more efficient, but then there’s the whole other question, from a systems perspective, of what crops are we growing and what crops should we be growing,” says Joseph Kasprzyk, University of Colorado Boulder professor and water resources specialist.

    Small improvements in irrigation efficiency integrated with smart crop management can have substantial impacts on regional conservation.

    As cities expand, new opportunities arise to facilitate water cooperation between agricultural and urban sectors. Cooperative agreements encourage sharing unused water instead of wasting it. A 2012 Filling the Gap report released by Western Resource Advocates in collaboration with Trout Unlimited and the Colorado Environmental Coalition states that “voluntary and compensated ag/urban cooperative water sharing arrangements can provide 129,000 acre-feet of new supply for the Front Range annually by 2050 without permanently drying irrigated acreage.”

    The same report projects that through maximizing opportunities for water reuse, the “Front Range will have approximately 246,000 acre-feet of reuse water available annually in 2050.”

    What’s necessary to make these changes come to fruition?

    “A good beginning would be funding,” Figueroa says.

    Preparing for growth through adaptive water management will require a commitment from a diverse group of contributors, Kaspryzk adds. “This is an integrated problem that requires a lot of people to collaborate to find solutions.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    CWCB: February 2015 Drought Update

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

    January was the 15th warmest on record as well as being the driest January statewide since 2003. February precipitation to date statewide is 81% of average. D1 drought conditions have been introduced to the western slope. In the next two weeks, much needed precipitation is forecasted to come to the state that could benefit the western slope and the northwestern part of the state in particular.

     Year-to-date precipitation at mountain SNOTEL sites, as of February 17, has dropped from 87% of normal on January 20th to 81% statewide. The South Platte basin continues to have the highest snowpack at 105% of normal, while the Upper Rio Grande basin has the lowest at 61% of normal. Six basins need more than 120% of normal precipitation to reach peak snowpack and make up for their big deficits.

     According to NRCS SNOTEL data, January was the driest in the Yampa/White basin in 30 years of collecting snowpack data. The basin experienced 33% of precipitation in January. They have almost seen near average precipitation in February at 86% but they would need to experience 147% of normal snowpack accumulation to reach their normal snowpack peak.

     The Southwest basins and the Rio Grande basins need 207% and 220% respectively of precipitation to reach their normal peak. As of February 17, the Southwest basins have only experienced 18% of average precipitation and the Rio Grande basin has experienced 33% of average precipitation.

     Last month, 103 daily maximum temperature records across Colorado were tied or broken. As of February 15, there have been 199 maximum temperature records tied or broken statewide.

     Reservoir Storage statewide is at 104% of average as of February 1st a slight drop from last month. The lowest reservoir storage in the state continues to be the Upper Rio Grande basin, with 69% of average storage. The South Platte has the highest storage level at 119% of average.

     February 1st streamflow forecasts are near normal for the South Platte, Colorado, and northern portions of the Arkansas and Rio Grande basins. Streamflow forecasts are well below normal for the basins in the southwest, Rio Grande and Yampa basins.

     The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) for the state is near normal across much of the state. The lowest value in the state reflects low reservoir levels in Platoro reservoir.

     The 8-14 day forecast predicts the state will see below average temperatures and an above average chance for precipitation.

    More CWCB coverage here.

    Pueblo Reservoir winter operations update

    Pueblo dam releases
    Pueblo dam releases

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Water users are playing the annual guessing game of how much water will be in Lake Pueblo when it comes time to ensure enough space is left for flood protection.

    While there could be a slight chance for a spill, the Bureau of Reclamation is working with other water interests to reduce the odds.

    “The long-term forecast for this spring is for cooler temps and increased precipitation,” said Roy Vaughan, Reclamation’s local manager for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

    Right now the reservoir holds about 247,000 acre-feet, and at the current pace of filling would be at 267,000 acre-feet by April 15 — about 10,000 acre-feet above the limit for flood control.

    Of the total, nearly 49,000 acre-feet is in “if-and-when,” or excess capacity, accounts subject to spill if there is too much water in Lake Pueblo. Fry-Ark Project water would be the last to spill.

    However, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is again seeking a waiver to hold a little more water until May 1, the deadline for releasing about 14,500 acre-feet of holdover water.

    At the same time, flows below Pueblo Dam are increasing to balance the winter water program, Division Engineer Steve Witte said.

    “That’s not good news for the work that’s going on along the levee,” Witte said.

    Some winter water also is stored in John Martin Reservoir, which is very low, or in reservoirs owned by ditch companies. Winter water storage ends March 15 and is running close to the 20-year average for the first time in years.

    Snowpack news: Another weekend, another upslope storm bumps up the South Platte Basin, Wet Mountains get 20″

    Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal February 22, 2015
    Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal February 22, 2015

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Sarah Jane Kyle):

    As of Feb. 1, the Poudre basin was at 92 percent of the median, seeing a rise in snowpack levels during the first part of February while levels in much of the Colorado declined. The same time last year, the Poudre Basin’s snowpack was 112 percent.

    But February, March and April are historically the snowiest months on the Poudre basin and will be the determining factors in how much snowmelt will be stored in reservoirs, run down the Poudre River and quench the thirst of forests and foothills.

    Snowpack accounts for 50 to 80 percent of Colorado’s average annual water supply, says Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor Brian Domonkos, with USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

    “(Snowpack) is a beautiful, low-cost reservoir that refills every year, but not in a consistent fashion,” State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said. “That’s the challenge. You never know for sure what you’re going to have from one year to the next.

    “You need to be keenly aware of just how much it can vary.”

    Snowpack in the Poudre basin has been below average eight years and above average seven years since 2000, April 1 NRCS data show…

    Warming temperatures and declining snowpack statewide have shifted snowmelt and peak runoff in Colorado river basins by one to four weeks earlier over the past 30 years, according to the report.

    “It seems to be more of a long-term picture on how the snowpack will continue to be affected,” said Dennis Ojima, a CSU professor and one of the editors of the study.

    These trends have been more common in southern parts of the state, Doesken said. The Cache la Poudre River Basin, which is part of the greater South Platte River Basin, is “historically a bit more reliable” than other parts of the state, Doesken said.

    Meet Don Brown Colorado’s new agriculture commissioner — KUNC

    Here’s an interview with newly minted Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown from Luke Runyon and KUNC. Here’s an excerpt:

    On Taking Over The Department

    “I’m filling mighty big shoes. And that would be my predecessors Commissioner Salazar, Commissioner Stulp, Commissioner Ament and prior ones. And so I don’t plan any universal changes immediately. I don’t think they’re necessary. Those of us in the production world primarily, and not always, but primarily view the Colorado Department of Ag a friendly organization, one that’s there to help the producers.”

    On Priorities In The New Role

    “Over the years the Colorado Department of Ag has branched from a regulatory agency to an educational agency also. One my primary focuses is this idea that we continue to educate our consumer, the consumer of our food, about the safety of our food. We’re such a narrow sliver of society any more as producers and ag-oriented people, that we need to carry our message to people who are consuming at the end of the day.”

    On Helping Farmers Adapt To Climate Change

    “By the very nature of the business they adapt very quickly to changing weather conditions no matter how they’re perceived to be caused or otherwise. So they’ll probably adjust first because they’re growing things and they rely on adapting different crops, different water uses. They will adapt.

    Ciruli: It’s Colorado’s move on water planning #COWaterPlan

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Here’s a guest column about the Colorado Water Plan written by pollster Floyd Ciruli that’s running in The Denver Post:

    Colorado’s statewide water planning is overdue. California and Texas, the nation’s two largest states and users of Colorado headwaters, have moved well ahead of the state in planning and investment.

    Both downstream states are facing major shortages. Texas voters, using a rainy-day fund, approved a $2 billion bond with 20 percent reserved for conservation, 10 percent for rural areas and the remaining funds for investments in reservoirs, recycling aquifer recharge and other supply infrastructure. California, which experienced gridlock for more than a decade among its perennial competitors — farmers, environmentalists and municipalities — and a horrendous divide between north and south water users, managed to craft a $7 billion conservation and infrastructure bond initiative that passed last November by 65 percent with help from serious drought and a very popular Gov. Jerry Brown.

    Colorado, after more than a decade of discussions — river basin by river basin — has finally produced a draft plan, making 2015 potentially the year for making progress on water. But the state faces forces similar to California’s contentious factions. A continuing division exists among east and west slopes, environmentalists who argue for conservation measures to the exclusion of most other options, and basin parochialists who want to protect only their water and support strategies that send it out of state rather than storing and reusing it.

    One of the most useful aspects of Colorado’s planning effort has been conducting two scientific studies of the state’s water needs and supply. The first took place in 2004, during Gov. Bill Owens’ administration, and the second was completed in 2010, near the end of the Bill Ritter’s term. Both studies confirmed a water supply gap up to 600,000 acre-feet by 2050, and that figure assumes a host of projects and programs will be in place within the next few decades — including conservation, storage and reuse.

    Fortunately, Colorado voters have prioritized water supply and conservation and strongly support addressing the supply gap. A statewide voter survey conducted for the Colorado Water Congress in the summer of 2013, as the water planning process was accelerating in preparation of the draft report, indicated that voters were strongly supportive of the assumptions and approach of the planning effort.

    The poll of voters statewide showed Coloradans strongly support the planning process to address the supply gap; want to avoid the loss of irrigated agriculture in the state; believe meeting the supply gap will require the full range of approaches (including conservation, reuse, water storage and new supply); greatly prefer the cooperative approach that the state’s planning process has adopted and recognize that compromise will be necessary; and they encourage the collaboration among urban and rural and small and large communities.

    Colorado voters were generally not supportive of extreme views. When asked if conservation alone would be sufficient to make up the water supply shortage, they strongly disagreed and said it would have to be accompanied by storage. And nearly 90 percent of voters want Colorado to claim its legal share of water rather than allow it to flow out of state, rejecting the view that any one basin has sole control of its supply and can choose to send it to Nebraska, California or Texas before allowing full use by Coloradans.

    The identified water gap will require decisive action by the governor and Colorado’s other political leaders. After a decade of study and talk, time is running out. Taking measures to ensure Colorado maintains its strong economy and quality of life can no longer wait, and our downstream competitors have already made their moves.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.