CSU Extension Pueblo County: Agriculture Sustainability and Climate Change

Statewide annual average temperature 1900-2012 via Western Water Assessment
Statewide annual average temperature 1900-2012 via Western Water Assessment

Here’s the release via the Prowers Journal (Wilma Trujillo):

Early last year, the US government released the National Climate Assessment Report. The report concluded that climate change is unequivocal and that agriculture will be on the front lines with those most impacted by its effect.

Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to continue increasing over the next 25 years. Producers and land managers will face increases in the frequency of extreme weather events which will cause significant erosion, runoff and nutrient losses, prolonged droughts; increased pressure from weeds, pests and diseases, and higher temperatures which will affect crop pollination and lower yields.

As bad as those challenges sound, farmers and ranchers currently have a number of strategies to adapt to the changing climate conditions. These adaptation strategies include changing selection of crops, timing of field operations, and increasing use of pesticides to control increased pressure from pests and diseases. Diversifying crop rotations, integrating livestock with crop production systems, improving soil health and quality, minimizing off-farm flows of nutrients and pesticides and other practices typically associated with sustainable agriculture also increase the resiliency of the agricultural systems to climate change. Thus, an adaptation plan consisting of integrated changes in crop rotations, irrigation methods, and fertilization and tillage practices, may be an effective approach to managing climate risk.

However, other potential constraints to adaptation must be recognized and addressed. In addition to the availability of critical basic resources such as land and water, there are potential constraints related to farm financing and credit availability. Farm resilience to climate change is also a function of financial capacity to withstand increasing variability in production and economic returns. As climate change intensifies, “climate risk” from more frequent and intense weather events will add to the existing risks commonly managed by producers, such as those related to production, marketing, regulation, and personal health and safety factors.

Although agriculture has a long history of successful adaptation to climate variability, the accelerating pace of climate change and the intensity of projected climate change represent new and unprecedented challenges to agriculture sustainability.

Mechanisms for adapting to and miti­gating climate change are important for continued agricultural production and stewardship of natural resources. New research, education, and extension activi­ties are necessary to increase the resilience of agronomic systems to climate change and to benefit from new opportunities that may arise.

@NWSBoulder: Heavy snow will continue tonight. Up to 2 inches of snow per hour will be possible with the heavier snow bands

Future Lower Dolores management topic of meeting

David Robbins photo via Hill and Robbins P.C.
David Robbins photo via Hill and Robbins P.C.

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Forty agriculture and political leaders and Robbins met Tuesday about issues on the Lower Dolores River that have made for rough water lately.

Forest Service and mostly BLM land below the dam are being considered for additional federal protection, including designating separate areas as the Dolores Canyon Wilderness Area and Dolores River National Conservation Area. The proposal in the form of a draft bill was released last month.

Feds control river

Other preservation measures are also on the horizon.

Struggling native fish in the shallows of the Lower Dolores could be listed under the Endangered Species list, which would trigger federal action. Sections of the river are poised to become a National Wild and Scenic River if Congress so desires. Or the area could be named a National Monument by President Barack Obama.

Local ag officials and water managers want to know how each of these scenarios could impact rights to water stored in McPhee Reservoir.

“A legal review can tell us what we are doing wrong, what we’re doing right, or if we should even do anything,” said Dolores County Commissioner Ernie Williams. “I believe some kind of action is needed to protect Dolores and Montezuma County water.”

Agriculture and water interests in Dolores and Montezuma County are negotiating with Robbins to conduct a legal analysis.

One key message is that agencies including the BLM, Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Bureau of Reclamation are mandated by Congress on how to manage lands.

Agencies have discretionary power on how to carry out Congressional direction. But limiting that power is possible through the carefully crafted laws drafted at the local level.

“We get mad at local fed officials for implementing laws we don’t agree with, but after all it is Congress who told them what the standards are they need to follow,” Robbins said. “I encourage all of you to find ways to pass a law that constrains the otherwise open discretion of federal officials to manage the federal lands and water running through them.”

Implied water rights

There has been much speculation on which special federal designation — a monument, an NCA, a Wilderness Area, a Wild and Scenic River, or an ESA listing for native fish, could force more water out of McPhee Reservoir.

According to Robbins, they all could, unless federal legislation passes that prohibits it for an area.

“Whenever the government reserves land for a purpose, there is potential for reserving sufficient water to fulfill that purpose whether or not water is mentioned in the withdrawal,” he said.

A Wild and Scenic River designation typically comes with a federally reserved water right.

A 108-mile section of the Dolores from McPhee Dam to Bedrock is considered “suitable” for Wild and Scenic. A draft NCA bill proposes to drop the suitability status as a compromise for prohibiting new dams or mining.

If one of the struggling native fish on the Dolores River is listed under the Endangered Species list, it triggers a recovery plan that could force more water downstream.

Another perplexing issue: Sections of the Dolores below a proposed NCA from the Bradfield Bridge to Bedrock are also eligible for Wild and Scenic. If they became designated, would McPhee Reservoir continue to a target for additional water?

Robbins has been successful drafting legislation on Sand Dunes National Park and the Rio Grande River that protects agricultural water rights along with native fish.

He said he’s willing to research the issues regarding the Lower Dolores River, and is expected to submit a bid for a review. A public meeting is planned once it is completed.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.

Dolores River Restoration Partnership annual report


From Telluride Daily Planet (Stephen Elliott):

In a presentation to the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners at their meeting Wednesday, Nature Conservancy Southwest Colorado Project Director Peter Mueller updated the board on the work of the Dolores River Restoration Partnership, a private-public partnership that works to preserve the wildlife and ecology of the river that starts in the San Juan Mountains and runs to its confluence with the Colorado River near Moab…

In 2014, according to Mueller, the DRRP developed and approved a transition plan for long-term monitoring and maintenance of the river, which sets forth strategies for fundraising, communications, governance and physical conservation work needed to support the diversity and health of the Dolores River’s riparian corridor for the next five years.

The DRRP works to preserve the habitat surrounding the Dolores River, and it has done well at that in the six years since it started implementing its ecological goals. But that’s not all DRRP wants to accomplish, Mueller said…

A significant part of DRRP’s workforce comes from Conservation Corps crews, which are made up of young adults typically aged 18 to 24, “consistent with out commitment to the next generation of stewards,” according to the DRRP’s 2014 annual report.

In 2014, 49 members of those teams contributed a combined 13,400 hours of work restoring the Dolores River, including an average of 130 hours per person of training…

In addition to ecological and social goals, the DRRP 2014 annual report outlines the economic impact the partnership had on the local community. According to the report, the total amount of money that went into the local economy because of the group’s expenditures, job creation and partnerships was $1,182,800.

The Colorado Nonprofit Association awarded the DRRP the 2014 Colorado Collaboration Award at a ceremony in October, a state-wide award that goes to an organization that exemplifies collaboration between many different entities, and it comes with a $50,000 prize, which the DRRP says will be used to “support long-term stewardship of the Dolores River.”

At the time, Colorado Nonprofit Association President and CEO Renny Fagan applauded the DRRP for its success at bringing different groups together to work toward a common goal.

“The Dolores River Restoration Partnership is an outstanding example of how nonprofits, businesses and government agencies are working together,” Fagan said. “Collaborating isn’t always easy. It takes a lot of work and commitment, but when we get together and identify our common goals, we can accomplish remarkable things.”

More Dolores River watershed coverage here.

Vail Whitewater Series Kicks Off May 12 — Vail Recreation District

gorecreekkayakvailviavailrecreation
Here’s the release from the Vail Recreation District:

The Vail Recreation District will kick off the Vail Whitewater Series Tuesday, May 12 at the Vail Whitewater Park in Vail Village. This is the first race in the five race series, which is presented by the Town of Vail and Howard Head Sports Medicine, with course design by Alpine Quest Sports.

Races will begin at 5:30 p.m. and offer competition featuring kayaking (under 9’6″), two-person raft and stand up paddleboard (SUP). Races will start at the Covered Bridge and finish at the International Bridge. The course for each week will be determined the day prior based on river flows. Each week, the two round format will consist of an individual time trial with results determining the seeding for the second round, head-to-head race. Check vailrec.com or Vail Whitewater Race Series Facebook page at facebook.com/vailrace for updates. Lakota Guides will be onsite with rafts available for R2 Teams to use. Spectators will enjoy viewing from the banks of Gore Creek.

Participants can register for all five races for $40, preregister for $10 for individual races or register on race-day for $15. Preregistration ends at 5 p.m. Monday, May 11. Onsite day-of registration will begin at 4:30 p.m. at the Vail Whitewater Park.

The Covered Bridge will be under construction during Tuesday’s race and competitors will need to access the start on the south side of Gore Creek by crossing the river on Vail Valley Drive or the International Bridge. Participants and spectators are asked to park in the Vail Village parking structure during the event. Short-term gear drop off/pick up will be available at Checkpoint Charlie before and after the race.

An after party will be hosted at Vendetta’s in Vail Village where cash and product prizes will be awarded to the top three winners of all three categories. All participants and spectators over age 21 will receive a free beer courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Company, the race series’ new beverage partner.

Four additional races are scheduled throughout the spring and will take place at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 19, May 26, June 2 and June 9 at the Vail Whitewater Park.

Also new for 2015, the Vail Recreation District and Alpine Quest Sports will raffle off a Hala Atacha SUP board (retail value $1,350). The board will be raffled off on June 9 at the Pazzo’s Vail after party for the final race of series. Everyone who competes in a Vail Whitewater Series event will be automatically entered, once for each race they participate in (up to five entries). Spectators can enter to win by taking a photo with the board at any of the five races, then posting it on Facebook and tagging Vail Whitewater Series and Alpine Quest Sports. Additionally, between May 12 – June 8, anyone can go into Alpine Quest in Edwards to take a photo with the board and posting and tagging will get them an entry. Must be present at Pazzo’s Vail on June 9 to win.

The Whitewater Series is brought to you by the Town of Vail, Alpine Quest, Howard Head Sports Medicine, New Belgium, Vail Recreation District, Altitude Billards & Club, Stolquist, Hala SUP, Red Lion, Vendetta’s, Pazzo’s, Optic Nerve, Astral and Kokatat.

To register or for more information, call the VRD Sports Department at 970-479-2280 or visit http://www.vailrec.com/sports/whitewater-race-series.

More whitewater coverage here.

@NWSGJT: Low pressure continues marching east today bringing snow and some storms #cowx

Snowpack news: The NRCS May 1 news release is hot off the presses

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of early May statewide snowpack maps from the Natural Resources Conservation Servise. Remember the good old days in 2011? The four years of drought in southwest Colorado really stand out.

Here’s the release from the NRCS:

April Precipitation Disappoints Statewide But Satiates South Platte

Typically, by May 1 nearly all mountain snowpack measuring locations in Colorado are dominated by snowmelt opposed to snow accumulation, with the turning point or peak accumulation occurring slightly after April 1. However, this year all basins experienced the turning point in early March with the exception of the South Platte which, due to mid-April storms, was able to achieve a snowpack peak this year close to normal.

When viewed from the Front Range, it may seem that recent precipitation has substantially increased the statewide year-to-date total (currently at 80 percent of normal), but the fact is that statewide April 2015 precipitation was only 71 percent of normal, while the South Platte April precipitation was 110 percent of normal. Mountain snowpack follows the same storyline; the South Platte snowpack is at 96 percent of normal on May 1, while statewide snowpack is just 61 percent of normal. The Rio Grande snowpack is the lowest in the state at 25 percent of normal on May 1.

“Statewide snowpack peaked during mid to early March at about 75% of the normal peak snowpack. This means that mountain snowpack this year will only provide about three quarters of the typical snowmelt to contribute to streamflow” said Brian Domonkos, Hydrologist with the USDA NRCS Colorado Snow Survey Program…

Statewide Basin High/Low graph May 6, 2015
Statewide Basin High/Low graph May 6, 2015

During the snowmelt season, when attempting to get a better understanding of water supply for the remainder of the water year, it is important to remember that snowpack is not the only factor involved in spring and summer runoff. Other factors to consider include snowpack peak timing and spring rain. Snowpack peak timing, which occurred early this year, often results in poor runoff efficiency. Monthly precipitation has been well below normal in nearly every basin for the last two months, which carries more weight since March (63 percent of normal) and April are the two months of the year in which Colorado typically receives the most precipitation. Additionally, April often provides rain at the lower elevations which does not add to the snowpack, but often augments streamflow. Largely that rain has not come to Colorado.

These factors and many others, Domonkos goes on to say, “paint a poor streamflow forecast picture for much of the state heading into spring and summer of 2015.” Future near or above normal precipitation would improve streamflow prospects in most watersheds that are currently below average. However, without abundant rain, streamflow outlooks will likely not improve enough to make a substantial difference in the entire water budget.

statewidesnowpackreservoirstoragemay12015vianrcs

For more information about Colorado’s snowpack or supporting water supply related information, please go to the Colorado Snow Survey website at:

http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/co/snow/

Or contact Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor at Brian.Domonkos@mt.usda.gov or 720-544-2852.