Hoover Dam turns 80 this month — @westgov

Your Input is Shaping the Clean Water Rule — EPA Connect

Fen photo via the USFS
Fen photo via the USFS

From EPA Connect (Gina McCarthy and Jo-Ellen Darcy):

Water is the lifeblood of healthy people and healthy economies. We have a duty to protect it. That’s why EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are finalizing a Clean Water Rule later this spring to protect critical streams and wetlands that are currently vulnerable to pollution and destruction. On April 3 we sent the draft rule to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review. Since it’s not final yet, we can’t speak to every detail. But the spirit of this rule boils down to three facts:

First, people depend on clean water: one in three Americans get their drinking water from streams currently lacking clear protection.

Second, our economy depends on clean water: manufacturing, farming, ranching, tourism, recreation, and other major economic sectors need clean water to function and flourish.

Third, our cherished way of life depends on clean water: healthy ecosystems support precious wildlife habitat and pristine places to hunt, fish, boat, and swim.

A year ago, our agencies released the draft Clean Water Rule. Since then, we’ve held more than 400 meetings across the country and received more than one million public comments from farmers, manufacturers, business owners, hunters and anglers, and others. The input helped us understand the genuine concerns and interests of a wide range of stakeholders and think through options to address them. In the final rule, people will see that we made changes based on those comments, consistent with the law and the science. We’ve worked hard to reach a final version that works for everyone – while protecting clean water.

We’re confident the final rule will speak for itself. But we can broadly share some of the key points and changes we’re considering.

  • Better defining how protected waters are significant. A key part of the Clean Water Rule is protecting water bodies, like streams and wetlands, which have strong impacts downstream – the technical term is “significant nexus.” We will respond to requests for a better description of what connections are important under the Clean Water Act and how agencies make that determination.
  • Defining tributaries more clearly. We’ve heard feedback that our proposed definition of tributaries was confusing and ambiguous, and could be interpreted to pick up erosion in a farmer’s field, when that’s not our aim. So we looked at ways to refine that definition, be precise about the streams we’re talking about, and make sure there are bright lines around exactly what we mean.
  • Providing certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters. The rule will protect wetlands that are situated next to protected waterways like rivers and lakes, because science shows us they impact downstream waters. We will provide a clear definition about what waters are considered adjacent waters.
  • Being specific in the protection of the nation’s regional water treasures.
  • We heard concerns that the category we called “other waters” in the rule was too broad and undefined. We’ve thought through ways to be more specific about the waters that are important to protect, instead of what we do now, which too often is for the Army Corps to go through a long, complicated, case by case process to decide whether waters are protected.
  • Focusing on tributaries, not ditches. We’re limiting protection to ditches that function like tributaries and can carry pollution downstream—like those constructed out of streams. Our proposal talked about upland ditches, and we got feedback that the word “upland” was confusing, so we’ll approach ditches from another angle.
  • Preserving Clean Water Act exclusions and exemptions for agriculture. We will protect clean water without getting in the way of farming and ranching. Normal agriculture practices like plowing, planting, and harvesting a field have always been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation; this rule won’t change that at all.
  • Maintaining the status of waters within Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems. Some state and local governments raised questions about waters within these permitted systems. We listened carefully as we did not intend to change how those waters are treated and have considered ways to address this concern. We will also continue to encourage the use of creative solutions like green infrastructure and low-impact development, as many of these communities have advocated.
  • The public will see that the agencies listened carefully and made changes based on their input. That’s how an open and collaborative process works – so we can ensure everyone’s voices are heard, in a way that follows the law and the latest science. Our mission is to uphold that commitment to the American people.

    We may have different opinions on how we best protect our water resources, but we can all agree that clean water matters, and that it deserves our protection. The health of our people, our economies, and our way of life deserve protection. That’s what the Clean Water Rule is all about.

    About the authors: Gina McCarthy is the U.S. EPA Administrator and Jo-Ellen Darcy is the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works).

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

    Landmark Legal Decision Protects Rivers and Instream Flows — Western Resource Advocates

    From Western Resource Advocates (Rob Harris/Joan Clayburgh):

    Today the Colorado Supreme Court rendered a landmark decision upholding the “instream” water right for the breathtaking San Miguel River.

    The court deemed that a senior water rights holder, Farmers Water Development Company, is unaffected by the State of Colorado’s instream water rights on the San Miguel river and affirms that state water rights are a legitimate and essential tool to protect Colorado’s fish and wildlife.

    “We’re ecstatic that the Colorado Supreme Court upheld permanent protection for this scenic river in Colorado’s Red Rock Canyon country,” said Rob Harris, Staff Attorney at Western Resource Advocates (WRA) and WRA’s lead defender before the Supreme Court. “Healthy rivers are important for wildlife and recreation. This case will long be remembered for preserving healthy rivers throughout Colorado as a legacy for future generations. Fishermen, boaters, and wildlife need these sorts of instream water right protections secure water for their needs.”

    In 2013, the Water Court in Montrose ruled in favor of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s application for “instream flow” protection that permanently safeguards water flowing in the San Miguel River for fish. This will also benefit recreational users. The San Miguel River is one of the last relatively free-flowing rivers in Colorado. The Water Court approved an instream flow protection of up to 325 cubic feet per second, enough to support the vulnerable native fish in the San Miguel.

    Farmers Water Development Company challenged this decision, claiming their water right would be negatively impacted, which today the Supreme Court found to be incorrect.

    “We are proud of the part we’ve played legally defending this instream flow water right,” said Rob Harris. “We believe this ruling not only protects the distinctive San Miguel, but ensures we have a vital tool to leave a legacy of healthy rivers throughout Colorado. We thank the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management and our tireless partners in the conservation community who helped make today’s victory possible.”

    The San Miguel River is unique, rising in the San Juan Mountains southeast of Telluride and flowing through San Miguel and Norwood canyons, then past Placerville and Nucla – joining the Dolores River in Montrose County. This river is renowned for exciting whitewater boating and tremendous trout fishing.

    This visually stunning river flows through Colorado’s red sandstone canyon country and is also home to three native fish that are struggling to survive.

    Without dedicated instream flows in the San Miguel and elsewhere, these fish could require protective action under the federal Endangered Species Act. Colorado’s Instream Flow Program allows for a fair, collaborative process where local stakeholders have a voice in protecting Colorado’s rivers and streams, and the San Miguel water rights reflect that approach.

    Instream water rights help keep water in a river or lake. The rights dedicate minimum water flows between specific points to preserve or improve the natural environment. These can be used to protect fisheries, waterfowl, frogs/salamanders, unique geologic or hydrologic features and habitat for threatened or endangered fish. The rights can be monitored and enforced, thereby insuring long-term protections.

    The legal challenge by Farmers Water Development Company would have threatened the continued vitality of Colorado’s Instream Flow Program, and today’s decision allows all current and future in- stream flow protection efforts to continue.

    More San Miguel watershed coverage here and here.

    CWCB: The next Water Availability Task Force meeting is April 15

    April drought outlook via the Climate Prediction Center
    April drought outlook via the Climate Prediction Center

    From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

    The next Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 from 9:30-11:00a at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

    The agenda has been posted at the CWCB website.

    More CWCB coverage here.

    Snowpack/runoff news: Pueblo has no plans for watering restrictions

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

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

    Western Slope reservoirs that provide water to Colorado Springs Utilities are comfortably at average, but Utilities will be watching the spring runoff, said Steve Berry, a Utilities spokesman. If runoff levels are low, Utilities will focus on water levels for 2016, Berry said.

    This year had a good start when it comes to water levels in southern Colorado. Record snowfall in February made for high snowpack levels in the Arkansas River Basin.

    Although snowpack levels around the state can’t compare to the extremely high levels of 2014, Colorado is at 67 percent of its average snowpack statewide, the latest measurements from the Natural Resources Conservation Service show.

    But March has shifted the positive outlook. Drought encroached on Colorado in March, and the latest runoff forecasts to be released this week are expected to offer a poor prognosis for runoff in the south and southwestern parts of the state.

    From FOX21News.com (Aisha Morales):

    Twice a month Mark Hanratty heads up the mountain in Homestake Valley near Tennessee Pass.

    “The season so far has been just above average we started out way above average because we had good early snows,” said Mark who measures snowpack totals.

    While snow in town is great, Colorado Springs Utilities really has its eye on what’s happening up here.

    “We take the water from here through a tunnel that goes underneath the Continental Divide, and flows into tourquiose resevoir, so we’re bringing water to our community in Colorado Springs from nearly 200 miles away,” said Abby Ortega, planner with Colorado Springs Utilities.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    While California is bracing for record drought, the Arkansas River basin in Colorado will probably see a fairly typical year when it comes to water supply.

    “We have no plans to implement restrictions,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “Conditions here are certainly nothing like in California.”

    Pueblo gets some of its water from the Colorado River basin, which is in a long-term drought. But the area from which Pueblo takes water is in relatively good condition, compared with the rest of the basin.

    Snowpack in the Upper Colorado River basin is just 74 percent of median, but key sites to Pueblo Water’s collection system range from 84-103 percent, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service Snotel sites.

    The Arkansas River basin snowpack is 80 percent of normal, but sites in the Upper Arkansas, which provides streamflow to the river later in the year, is at 95 percent.

    The Cucharas and Purgatoire basins are only at 58-69 percent.

    In all cases, snow at lower elevations already has begun to melt.

    Pueblo Water also has plenty water in storage, about 40,000 acre-feet (13 billion gallons), or more than a year’s supply. Pueblo is leasing water this year in order to make space to refill its reservoirs.

    “Our philosophy going forward is that we’re trying to avoid rationing and inconveniencing our customers,” Ward said. If storage is drawn down in the next year, Pueblo Water could cut spot leases, as it did in 2013. “We’re trying to avoid doing that as well. It’s a supplemental source for farmers.”

    The outlook for the next three months calls for wetter than usual conditions in Colorado, according to the National Weather Service. Water watchers are having a hard time believing that, since March was supposed to fall into that category, but came up dry. As it is, Pueblo precipitation for the year is slightly above average, thanks to record snow in February, but lagging behind last year.

    Farmers who have filed augmentation plans, either for wells or surface supplies, should get all they asked for this year, said Steve Witte, Division 2 engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. The state will monitor water conditions before giving final approval on June 1. “We’ve not altered the plans,” Witte said.

    The Bureau of Reclamation has scaled back its projections for imports through the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, to 53,000 acre-feet. That’s down from 68,560 acre-feet at the beginning of March and assumes normal conditions from here on out, said Roy Vaughan, Fry-Ark manager.

    “Our workers are already opening the system with heavy equipment,” Vaughan said.

    Runoffs have been occurring earlier than they have historically for the past eight years, and most of the snow from lower elevations has melted in the Fry-Ark collection system, Vaughan said.

    The #ColoradoRiver in the Grand Canyon is American Rivers’ #1 endangered river for 2015

    Click here to go to the American Rivers website. here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

    Millions of Americans recognize the Grand Canyon as one of the most iconic landscapes on the planet. But this natural masterpiece of the Colorado River faces a battery of threats.

    A proposed industrial-scale construction project in the wild heart of the canyon, radioactive pollution from uranium mining, and a proposed expansion of groundwater pumping at Tusayan, all threaten the Grand Canyon’s wild nature and unique experience that belongs to every American.

    Unless the Department of the Interior acts to stop these threats, one of our nation’s greatest natural treasures will be scarred forever.

    Click here to read the report.

    Is The Public Engaged When It Comes To Colorado’s Water Plan? — KUNC #COWaterPlan

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

    From KUNC (Maeve Conran):

    …despite an extensive education and outreach campaign, just how involved is the general public in planning Colorado’s water future?

    Kate McIntire, the women in charge of public engagement and outreach for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said they’ve mostly relied on volunteers in a process that goes back 10 years when the Public Education, Participation and Outreach group was established. Later, McIntire said, they engaged the nine basin roundtables to help.

    “This is really a grassroots process and so we never intended to or didn’t have millions of dollars to throw into reaching everyone across the state in terms of a more traditional advertising campaign,” said McIntire. “Spreading the word grass roots isn’t something that happens overnight.”

    The Water Board received more than 15,000 comments directly and through the nine basin roundtables when creating the draft plan. That’s not enough for state Senator Ellen Roberts, a Republican from Durango. She still thinks there’s a lack of awareness amongst the general public.

    “I think that’s the challenge that we saw here at the legislature,” said Roberts. “The Governor and the executive branch of the Colorado government has done a lot of outreach but it’s a topic that most people… all they really care about is when they get up in the morning does water come out of the shower, can they make their cup of coffee or cup of tea?”

    In 2014 the senator co-sponsored a successful bill that called for more involvement by the legislature in water planning. That led to a series of public meetings in all the major river basins of Colorado.

    “What we were trying to do with Senate Bill 14-115 [.pdf] last year was to go out to the more general public, the kind of people who show up at our town hall meetings, who maybe have no idea about Colorado water law or how complicated it is,” Roberts said. “They’re not following like the people on the basin roundtables.”

    Theresa Connelly, a water advocate with Conservation Colorado, is heartened by what she sees as a growing awareness in water issues in the state, even if there’s a lack of awareness about an actual water plan.

    “Folks may not know as much that there’s an actual state water plan going on, but folks are very aware of water issues that we’re facing,” she said.

    But Connolly, like Senator Roberts, said the public outreach effort needs to be more inclusive. She cites the fact that many of the meetings were in the middle of the workday, which made it difficult for some to attend. People may not have time to attend a meeting, but maybe they’ve sent an email or a postcard, and those voices should also be heard.

    “I think sometimes those small actions are disregarded as a form letter or something that isn’t truly meaningful and I think that that’s absolutely not true,” Connelly said.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board has received over 2000 comments in the first few months since the draft was submitted and adds all input received through May 1 will be considered in the second draft, said the board’s McIntire. She points out that the CWCB is responding to all comments received and those responses are available for public review.

    “And all those responses are cataloged and available for review by anyone on our website.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.