YouTube video of avalanche hitting Everest basecamp. https://t.co/Ter7VyejbL
— Dave Winer ☮ (@davewiner) April 26, 2015
Global warming will have profound impacts on mountain ecosystems, @bberwyn photo.
Scientists say there’s an urgent need for more widespread data collection and observations from high elevations
FRISCO — After one of the mildest winters on record in the Colorado high country, it may come as no surprise to hear that the world’s highest mountains may be warming much faster than than the global average — and faster than previously thought.
Most of all, an international team of scientists said this week that more monitoring and observations of mountain temperature patterns are needed to assess the high-elevation changes.
Absent that data, there’s a risk of underestimating looming environmental challenges, including water shortages and the possible extinction of some alpine flora and fauna, the scientists reported in their new study.
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From The Greeley Tribune (Trenton Sperry):
At its regular meeting this week, the council introduced an ordinance allowing the city to sell $7.5 million in bonds in May. The bond revenues would be used to fund improvements to the city’s sewer system, marking Greeley’s first issuance of sewer debt since 1994.
Greeley’s annual debt payments — estimated at $550,000 for the next 20 years — would be funded by current sewer user fees, according to the ordinance.
Victoria Runkle, Greeley’s finance director and assistant city manager, said rate increases for Greeley’s sewer customers may be on the horizon, but they would adhere to the city’s current rate schedule, which raises rates by about 2 percent to 3 percent each year.
“We assume we will have to raise rates over time,” Runkle said. “Will that actually come to pass? That will depend on if revenues continue as they are. There have been years when we didn’t raise rates.”
In a draft of the bond project’s official statement, the city claims Greeley’s single-family residential customers paid less for sewer services than 17 of 24 Front Range municipalities surveyed in fall 2014. However, the city will be required to raise rates, fees or charges to balance debt payments as needed.
The bonds are being considered to help Greeley make needed upgrades to the sewer system more quickly, Runkle said.
“We’re not earning enough interest on the money we have in cash funds,” she said. “Interest rates are very low. We’re only able to make about 2 percent on cash reserves, but construction costs are up to 4 or 5 percent.”
Portions of Greeley’s sewer system date to 1889, according to the ordinance, and about 4 percent of the current system is more than 100 years old.
More infrastructure coverage here.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
Even before California declared mandatory water restrictions last week, water purveyors in the Golden State were paying top dollar for water already in the state. That suggests the price of water from upstream might fetch even more money — something that hasn’t gone without notice in the water-wealthy (relatively) and cash-poor (absolutely) places like the Western Slope of Colorado.
There is no way now to sell or lease water outside Colorado’s borders, but that so far hasn’t impeded people giving it some thought. [ed. emphasis mine]
“Are there feelers out there about creating a water market, quote unquote?” said Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users’ Association. “Obviously yes, and people are interested, on both sides of the table.”
Colorado is involved in talks aimed at circumventing a call on the Colorado River by downstream states, especially California, the nation’s most-populous state that is now in its driest condition ever.
“We’re certainly sympathetic with California’s condition,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, in an email. “As the headwaters of a major system they depend on (the Colorado River), we know how devastating 6 percent snowpack would be. This makes the contingency planning talks we’re in the middle of all the more important and urgent.”
California’s woes could very well become Colorado’s, so the Colorado River Water Conservation District is looking well ahead to find ways to make water peace before water wars break out.
“We’re trying to avoid the worst-case scenario,” River District spokesman Chris Treese said. “We know we have to answer (how to manage the river in extreme drought) even though it is too early.”
The effort to avoid that worst-case scenario includes the discussions among the basin states, an emphasis on conservation and the possibility that agreements could be arranged among water-rights holders and willing buyers.
The River District last month organized a trip to Southern California, where Western Slope residents and others saw some of the efforts that are well underway in the Palo Verde and Imperial valleys, both irrigated by Colorado River Water.
In the Palo Verde Valley, farmers have agreed to fallow portions of their lands. Los Angeles gets the water that would otherwise irrigate those fields.
The farmers whose fields lie fallow “are getting paid handsomely,” said Steve Acquafresca, the former Mesa County commissioner and Grand Junction peach grower who has “stayed immersed, pun not intended, in water.”
Those farmers seem more pleased than those in the Imperial Valley, who have a similar arrangement with San Diego, Acquafresca said.
Both cases, though, are temporary, highly managed buy-and-dry schemes.
They’re not the only ones.
The Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles is offering rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley $700 per acre foot of water, the most it has ever offered.
Given Southern California’s drier straits, “I don’t think it’s unrealistic” to think that a water-rights holder in Colorado could demand and get $1,000 an acre foot, said Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District.
No arrangements between Western Slope sellers and Southern California buyers are in the offing, though, because there is no way to assure delivery as the water passes through Utah, Arizona and Nevada before reaching California, Clever noted.
The River District is considering ways that it might be able to broker deals between willing buyers and sellers, Treese said.
“We hope not to do it on an individual farmer-by-farmer basis,” Treese said.
Sellers might get a signing bonus, possibly an annual payment and downstream buyers would have to plan ahead.
“This is an insurance policy,” Treese said. “You’re not going to be able to take one out once the fire starts.”
Participants in the California trip will meet on Tuesday to consider what they heard and what to do next.
For Acquafresca, the two key elements of any program are that participation is voluntary and temporary.
“This is not going to be new supply for growing metropolitan areas,” Acquafresca said.
More Colorado River Basin coverage here.
From the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Bryan Grossman):
According to a news release issued by the city, the stormwater program for the city of Colorado Springs has included substantial spending over the past 15 years on “new flood control and conveyance infrastructure, maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure, and water quality protection and compliance.” Expenditures for the city’s stormwater program, the release states, have come from the city’s general fund, bonds (Springs Community Improvement Program, or SCIP), grants (FEMA and others), and, for a period of time in the mid-2000s, stormwater program fees collected by the city’s stormwater enterprise, also called the “SWENT.”
“Substantial portions of the city’s stormwater infrastructure have also been constructed by the development community and as part of large transportation projects that have stormwater components,” the release states. “However, stormwater program expenditures historically did not appear in a single comprehensive financial report until now.”
This report highlights more than $240 million spent on stormwater program management and projects in Colorado Springs from 2004 through 2014.
— Colorado Springs General Fund; $40 million
— Stormwater Enterprise (SWENT); $53 million
— Federal/private grants; $13 million
— Colorado Springs Utilities; $36 million
— Private development/PPRTA; $88 million
— COS Airport; $13 million
More stormwater coverage here.
From The Durango Herald (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister):
The stream of heavy-metal pollutants gushing out of Silverton’s mines and into its waterways has grown so toxic that between 2005 and 2010, three out of the four trout species living in the Upper Animas River south of Silverton have disappeared.
Yet for two decades, vocal Silverton residents have torpedoed the Environmental Protection Agency’s many attempts to designate Silverton’s worst mines as Superfund sites, which would allow the agency to clean up the pollution and make any parties it deems responsible pay for it.
Though the environmental catastrophe has, if anything, worsened, Silverton residents long have argued against Superfund, saying federal intervention would sully the town’s reputation, deter mining companies and appall tourists.
Until now, that is.
Even three years ago, it was impossible to imagine, let alone hear, a Silverton resident publicly clamoring for federal intervention in Cement Creek, said Mark Esper, editor of The Silverton Standard. Yet in the last year, he said, there have been signs that locals’ hostility to Superfund is softening.
[Last February], Skinner said a Superfund listing would “raise property values here, provide great jobs that people here can do, bring new people in and get more kids in the school.”
Silverton resident John Poole said, “Many people, including myself, think Superfund, frankly, is the best thing that could happen to Silverton. It’s certain to open up jobs. In Leadville, Superfund certainly didn’t hurt tourism.”
There’s still local animosity toward Superfund. In 2014, at meetings of the Animas River Stakeholders Group (ARSG) and the San Juan County Commission, residents such as Steve Fearn, co-coordinator of the ARSG, warned a Superfund designation would hamper, if not ruin, Silverton’s economy.
Poole said he thought the notion of Silverton’s overwhelming opposition to Superfund was “grossly overblown.”
“As far as I’m concerned, all the opposition is coming from a few people with conflicts of interest, who oppose the EPA because they profit financially from keeping the myth of mining – the idea that mining will come back to Silverton – alive,” Poole said.
More water pollution coverage here.
From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):
[The Colorado Water Trust] has collaborated with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to restore late summer flows to a 5-mile stretch of the Little Cimarron River in the Gunnison River Basin by sharing an agricultural water right.
Water Trust Executive Director Amy Beatie told Steamboat Today this week the agreement is the first of its kind, allowing agricultural water rights holders to use their water to raise a crop in early summer and then choose to be compensated for leaving it in the river in late summer and early fall. Compensation can be in the form of a lease or sale. It’s a model they hope to see replicated around the state.
“How to meet the ecological needs of streams while keeping water in agriculture is a discussion happening at every level of water policy in the state,” Beatie said Thursday in a prepared statement. “Agriculture is an essential part of Colorado’s economy. So are recreation and the environment. This project is a great new example of how water sharing can work on the ground within the state’s existing laws to bring together what are usually seen as incompatible uses.”
Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Linda Bassi/Amy Beatie):
The Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”) and the Colorado Water Trust (“CWT”) today finalized an innovative agreement under which the same water rights will be used to both restore stream flows and preserve agriculture in the Gunnison Basin.
The CWCB is the only entity in the state that can hold instream flow water rights to preserve and improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree. Under its Water Acquisition Program, the CWCB can acquire water from willing water rights owners by donation, purchase, lease or other arrangement to include in Colorado’s Instream Flow Program. The CWCB and CWT partnership has resulted in many significant water acquisitions for instream flow use.
Under the agreement, up to 5 cubic feet per second of water that was historically diverted by the McKinley Ditch out of the Little Cimarron River (a tributary to the Cimarron River and Gunnison River in Gunnison and Montrose counties) will continue to be diverted and applied to the historically irrigated ranch until mid-summer. At that time, the water will be left in the river for instream flow use by the CWCB on a reach of the Little Cimarron River that historically saw low to no flows due to water rights diversions, as well as on the Cimarron River.
“Our rivers and our farms are at the heart of what makes Colorado so special,” said CWCB director James Eklund. “This agreement is a model for future agriculture and conservation partnerships.”
The Little Cimarron River originates in the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area and is managed as a wild trout stream by Colorado Parks and Wildlife for several miles above the area where agricultural uses have occurred for more than 100 years. Restoring flows in the Little Cimarron will re-establish habitat connectivity, an important component of a healthy river.
“This permanent, split use of an instream flow is distinctive because it acknowledges and preserves the value of irrigated agriculture as well as the value of restoring flow to a local river,” said Linda Bassi, chief of the stream and lake protection section at CWCB.
Additional information on the CWCB’s Water Acquisition Program is available on the CWCB web site: http://cwcb.state.co.us/StreamAndLake/WaterAcquisitions/
More instream flow coverage here.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A retired federal researcher whose expertise in agriculture, natural resources and water management has helped landowners up and down the Arkansas River was honored Wednesday.
The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum presented the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas Award to Lorenz Sutherland, who spent 30 years with the Colorado State University Research and Extension, U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He retired in 2013.
“This is a humbling experience,” Sutherland said.
He talked about working with the late Bob Appel, who worked for the Southeast Colorado Resource Conservation and Development Council. Appel, along with Sutherland and others, set up the annual Arkansas River basin forums 21 years ago.
Sutherland is still on the board of directors for the forum and still active in research. Last week, he presented a report on salinity studies in the Lower Arkansas River basin to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District board.
His earlier work included irrigated crop research, focusing on conservation in the Ogallala Aquifer; wind erosion prediction models; field drainage mapping; and soil management techniques related to crops. He helped establish and maintain the Colorado Agricultural Meteorological Network, which links weather stations in the Lower and Upper Arkansas Valley.
Besides his work along the Arkansas River, Sutherland also contributed to projects involving mountain meadow rehabilitation in Custer County and coal bed methane water quality in Huerfano County. He provided technical assistance to the Arkansas River Watershed Plan, State Engineer’s office and to Farm Bill Programs.
Colorado AG claims BLM regs ‘invade’ state authority
A fracking rig in western Colorado. @bberwyn photo.
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO —Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is challenging the federal government’s ability to regulate oil and gas development on federal public lands in the state. In a quiet Friday news dump, Coffman announced her department is suing the federal government over new fracking rules issued in March.
The lawsuit claims the federal rules “invade” the state’s regulatory authority, a similar argument over jurisdiction used by Gov. Hickenlooper and his administration when they sued a local jurisdiction that sought to impose fracking rules in a case that has since been dismissed.
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