The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Restoration means another chapter for historic Camp Hale
Marcus Selig
August 1, 2015

Most residents and many visitors to Vail and the Eagle River Valley know of Camp Hale as a former WWII mountain warfare training camp and current recreation mecca…

Fewer visitors, however, know that this area – Eagle Park – was once a pristine, high-elevation wetland complex… When the U. S. Government constructed Camp Hale in the early 1940s, over 340 acres of wetlands were filled and over five miles of stream channel were lost as the Eagle River was channelized into a linear ditch.

Throughout the last several decades, the White River National Forest has attempted to restore some of the area’s original ecological values. Unfortunately, numerous issues… have stymied progress.

Recently, however, the National Forest Foundation, in coordination with the White River National Forest, spearheaded an effort to attempt large-scale ecological restoration at the site. This effort has garnered significant community and stakeholder support, and appears to have a realistic shot at success…

Marcus Selig is the Director of the Southern Rockies Region for the National Forest Foundation. Selig is a friend of the Watershed Council and wrote this article for our monthly column, The Current, in the Vail Daily. Click here to read more of what he had to say.

Magnificent Earth — Slate

From Slate (Phil Plait):

On July 15, 2015, the European Space Agency launched the fourth Meteosat Second Generation (MSG-4) satellite into orbit. This advanced Earth-observing bird will monitor our planet in a number of ways, including taking very high-resolution images.

MSG-4 is in its commissioning phase, being tested out to make sure it’s fully operational. Today, the ESA released this jaw-dropping picture of the Earth taken by the satellite.

European Space Agency fourth Meteosat Second Generation (MSG-4) photo taken August 4, 2015
European Space Agency fourth Meteosat Second Generation (MSG-4)

Will What’s Happening in California Stay in California? — #ColoradoRiver District Seminar Sep 10 #COriver

From email from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt):

From California to Colorado: dealing with drought today and planning for it tomorrow

The Colorado River District’s popular one-day Annual Water Seminar is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 10th from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm at Two Rivers Convention Center, 159 Main Street, Grand Junction, CO.

The theme is: “Will What’s Happening in California Stay in California?” Cost, which includes lunch, is $30 if pre-registered by Friday, Sept. 4; $40 at the door.

Speakers will draw a thread from the Pacific Ocean to Colorado River, looking at the basics of climate and weather generated by the warming Pacific, dire drought in California and related reactions, the still-on-the-drawing board plans to deal with record low water reservoir levels at Lakes Powell and Mead, and finally, an analysis of soon-to-be-finalized Colorado’s Water Plan.
The keynote speaker will be Jennifer Gimbel, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of the Interior. Gimbel oversees the Bureau of Reclamation and will provide insights to the federal responses to western water crises in California and the Colorado River Basin.

Klaus Wolter, a pre-eminent climate expert will review regional hydrological conditions and preview the growing El Nino conditions in the Pacific and what they might do to our snowpack this winter. He is a research scientist at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory’s Physical Sciences Division in Boulder and is not only renowned as a world class scientist but as somewhat of a maverick in his field.

Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, will give the insider’s look to how California is suffering under a record drought and how the state has cut back on water users’ entitlements. Cowin heads a department that protects, conserves and manages the state’s water supply, including operation of the California State Water Project (SWP). The SWP is the largest state-run, multi-purpose water and power system in the United States. It provides a supplemental water source for more than 25 million Californians and about 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland, and directly sustains over $400 billion of the state’s economy.

Also at the seminar, Colorado River District staff will speak to its policy initiative, a new paradigm in Colorado water planning: protecting existing water uses, especially irrigated agriculture in Western Colorado, in the face of diminishing supplies and increasing demands. Although many are saying that a new transmountain diversion (TMD) is a focal point in Colorado’s Water Plan, the seminar will assert that ensuring long-term water supply certainty for current uses is a top priority commanding immediate attention.

Other national experts and officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will address the future needs of irrigated agriculture with respect to new technology, efficiency, conservation planning, financing and more.

For registration assistance please contact Meredith Spyker, 970-945-8522; mspyker@crwcd.org. A registration form available at http://ColoradoRiverDistrict.org

More Colorado River Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Buying and drying: water lessons from Crowley County — The Colorado Independent #COWaterPlan

crowleycountydryupjennifergoodland

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

In Otero County, the corn is knee-high, the famous Rocky Ford cantaloupes are almost ready to pick and the onions, tomatoes, sugar beets and wheat are thriving in the fields.

But on the north side of the Arkansas River, over in nearby Crowley County, the landscape looks very different. The only bumper crops are “noxious and obnoxious weeds,” according to a county commissioner. This is what happens when a county sells its water rights.

As did many communities this year, the southeastern Colorado county had what locals are calling a “Miracle May.” Rainfall in that single month was just a couple inches shy of what the county gets, in total, most years. For the first time in recent years, Lake Meredith will have enough water for fish to survive and maybe even generate a little tourism from anglers.

Still, it wasn’t enough to resuscitate the once-thriving agricultural industry nor to save the county’s last remaining feedlot, which is scheduled to go up for bankruptcy auction later this month.

Water experts say Crowley is a parable for how bad things can get when cities and industry dry up farmland to buy rural water — a controversial practice known as “buy and dry” deals.

But the county’s dry landscape could change if, as proposed by a group of water users representing the Arkansas River basin, the state’s water plan includes a blueprint for bringing water back to the county.

crowleycountyheritagecenter

How Crowley County dried up

Water, and the agriculture industry that followed, didn’t come naturally to Crowley County.
The county was formed in 1911 out of a portion of northern Otero County – named in honor of state Sen. John H. Crowley, who represented the area at that time. The county is bordered on the south by the Arkansas River.

But the river wasn’t enough to irrigate local farms. The first irrigation systems came in through the Colorado Canal in the 1890s. In the 1920s, the state built a tunnel through the mountains to deliver water from the Roaring Fork River on the Western Slope and into a new reservoir at Twin Lakes, near Leadville. Crowley County farmers paid for the reservoir.

The county had its agricultural heyday before the dustbowl of the 1930s, but even after that farmers prospered.

Attached to Sweetness, a history of the county’s tiny town Sugar City, published in the 1980s, states “water created a Garden of Eden.”

The county easily rivaled its neighbors on crop production. It was known for tomatoes, onions, corn and wheat. It had two major feedlots for native Colorado cattle, and a sugar factory for processing sugar beets. And it was famous for cantaloupe. The juicy melons, known as Sugar City nuggets, were a “pink beauty,” according to Attached to Sweetness.

In the 1970s, more than 50,000 acres were irrigated in Crowley County.

But Crowley’s shares in the Twin Lakes reservoir earned it attention from thirsty Front Range cities.
In the late 1960s, with crops and cattle prices in decline, farmers and ranchers in Crowley County started thinking about selling their water rights. Some wanted to get out of agriculture. Others were ready to retire, and farmland was their 401(k).

crowleycountyjennifergoodland

In 1972, the Foxley Cattle Company bought water rights from farmers and ranchers all over the county. For a couple of years, that land stayed in agriculture and continued to be irrigated.

Then came the Crowley County Land and Development Company, which bought more water rights — both from Foxley and directly from farmers and ranchers willing to sell at the right price. CLADCO sold those water rights to Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Pueblo West and Aurora to quench those communities’ sprawl.

According to the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, municipal and industrial users now own 90 percent of the water stored in Twin Lakes.

The terms of the water sales included a requirement that municipalities revegetate the fallowed farms and ranches to restore the county’s natural prairie grasslands. But several current and former residents say the contractors did a poor job of re-seeding the prairie grass, and it quickly died.

A county that once had more than 50,000 irrigated acres now has only about 5,000. In the drought of 2012, the number dropped to 2,500.

Even the few remaining farmers with water rights are not guaranteed water in a year when there is not enough to go around.

Asked if Crowley is still an agricultural county, County Commissioner Frank Grant paused, and then said, “Yes. We still have cattle.”

But according to one lifelong resident, it’s mostly dairy stock, not valuable cattle that can be sold for beef.

crowleycountycattle

The prisons of Crowley County

With dwindling agriculture, the county had to find another industry for its economic base. It turned to prisons.

There are two in Crowley County: the state-run Arkansas Valley Correctional Center, just outside the town of Crowley; and a private prison operated by Corrections Corporations of America near Olney Springs.
The county’s most recent property tax revenues totalled about $1.6 million – more than half of which came from the private prison.

The most recent census in 2012 counted more than 5,823 “residents” in Crowley County, but 46 percent of them are prison inmates.

Crowley County Commissioner Tobe Allumbaugh said that outside of the prison numbers, the county’s population has declined at about the same rate as its neighboring counties – about 1 percent per year.
The prisons have brought jobs, but not necessarily to Crowley County. Most of the prisons’ workers live in nearby counties or in Pueblo or Colorado Springs.

crowleycountyprison

Commissioners Grant and Allumbaugh attribute the lack of interest in living in the county to a housing shortage. Most of the homes are small, old and asbestos-laden. It’s too expensive to tear the houses down because they would need asbestos mitigation. No one is showing any interest in building homes in the county, either, they said.

While the CCA taxes contribute to the county coffers, prisons haven’t helped businesses survive in Ordway and other communities.

Ordway, the county seat, has a population of just over 1,000. There are a few businesses on the town’s Main Street – mostly county and town government offices – an insurance company, grocery store, pharmacy, the reservoir and canal company offices, a couple of medical facilities and Chubbuck Motor, the local Ford dealer. The nearest farm tractor dealer, John Deere, is in Otero County.

Mostly, buildings along Main Street are for sale or appear to be abandoned.

Darla Wyeno, clerk for the town of Crowley, was one of those who sold water rights to the big cities. She and her husband have 120 acres on which they used to grow onions, tomatoes and melons. Today, they graze cattle on their land. She says life might have been different if the cities that bought their water had done a better job of re-seeding their land with prairie grass.

The loss of water hasn’t been all bad, she said. Their son went to college on the earnings they made from the water deal. He’s now a successful banker in Colorado Springs. Her husband has an off-farm job, and both their careers mean two steady paychecks every month instead of one uncertain one at the end of the year when they cashed in their crops.

Still, Wyeno adds, “When we sold our water, we sold our future.”

Local residents now fight the rampant dust every day, never realizing that would be the impact of losing their water. Bees won’t come to Crowley; it’s too far a flight. The hay fields today have to be pollinated with bees rented from outside the county.

crowleycountyhorses

State water plan may hold promise for the county

The state water plan, ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper two years ago, incorporates suggestions made by roundtable groups in each of Colorado’s nine river basins. The roundtables include representatives from agriculture, municipal water providers, industrial users, environmental and recreational interests and those who own water rights.

Under Colorado’s complex web of water laws, once water has been removed from the land through the purchase of a water right, it cannot be returned. It’s gone for good.

But that isn’t stopping the Arkansas Basin roundtable from trying to find ways to get water flowing back into Crowley County.

The roundtable suggests that the county should acquire water rights to maintain permanent water levels in its two major lakes: Lake Meredith and Lake Henry. Inconsistent levels have resulted in loss of fish, blowing dust and bad odors in both lakes, according to the basin’s recommendations.

Allumbaugh says replenishing the lakes could help the county become a tourist destination, although getting the water to a stable level is just one part of the solution.

Two more recommendations seek water rights for municipal, industrial and agricultural needs.

The roundtable’s recommendations don’t specify where that water will come from.
Engineer Rick Kidd represents Crowley County on the Arkansas basin roundtable. He says the group firmly supports any efforts to get and keep water rights in the Arkansas River valley.

Grant says what has gone down in Crowley County – which he has called home for the last 36 years – is pretty typical of rural communities all across the state.

“It just happened here sooner,” he says. “The water sales got us.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Castlewood Canyon Flood August 3, 1933 — Mark Afman

Click here to go to the History Colorado website for “Where were you when the dam broke?”: Castlewood Canyon Booklet Collects Flood of Memories. Here’s an excerpt:

On the evening of August 3, 1933, Elsie Henderson’s urgent voice raced down the Sullivan Telephone Exchange’s wires, outpacing Cherry Creek’s northbound floodwaters. Notified by a Douglas County sheriff that Castlewood Dam had burst and that everything along the stream’s path from Franktown to Denver was in danger, the operator told farmers and ranchers to gather their families and head for higher ground.

At that time, rural telephone customers often shared single wires called “party lines.” The telephone company assigned phone numbers made up of unique ring patterns to each customer (for example, one short ring followed by two long rings). Elsie, one of only two people available to operate the Sullivan switchboard that night, alerted people with one long ring, the universally recognized sound for an emergency. She and fellow Sullivan Exchange employee Ingrid Mosher worked through the night and into the following afternoon, saving lives, livestock, and property. Though five thousand fled the lowlands, only two people died in one of the worst floods in Colorado history.

In time, Elsie’s deeds might have been washed downriver and forgotten. The story survives thanks to George Madsen, a friend who took the time to answer a 1994 letter from Castlewood Canyon State Park staff requesting personal reminiscences about the flood. Madsen, a former telephone company employee, wrote down his own memories, along with the stories told to him by Elsie and Ingrid years earlier. Dozens of other Coloradans answered the call too, typing their recollections on legal-sized sheets of paper headed by the question, “Where Were You When the Dam Broke?” In 1997 Castlewood Canyon State Park staff members assembled these memories into a compelling book called, The Night the Dam Gave Way: A Diary of Personal Accounts.

More Cherry Creek watershed coverage here.

The latest issue of the ‘Fountain Creek Chronicle’ is hot off the presses

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Second Annual Creek Week Planned for September 2015

What do old tires, a water gun, rugs and shopping carts have in common? They are just a few of the nearly 7 tons of litter and debris collected during last year’s weeklong, watershed-wide litter cleanup event called Creek Week.

The District, along with numerous community organizations and individuals, will host this event for the second year. Creek Week is open to citizens in all 8 municipalities within the Fountain Creek watershed: Monument, Palmer Lake, Woodland Park, Green Mountain Falls, Manitou Springs, Colorado Springs, Fountain, and Pueblo. The goals of Creek Week are about fostering stewardship, raising awareness of our waterways, and making the area cleaner and safer for all to enjoy.

This year’s Creek Week will be held from Saturday, September 26th through Sunday, October 4. Organizers comment that just one week’s worth of collaborative cleanup can do much to beautify our watershed and community.

Creek Week is a perfect opportunity to form a Creek Crew and participate in your own cleanup or any of the public efforts happening in Teller, El Paso, and Pueblo Counties. Online registration for groups and individuals begins September 1. Click here for more information. Volunteer information and instruction packets will be sent along with your confirmation. Each participant is required to complete paperwork prior to starting work. Youth aged 17 and under may participate with at least one supervising adult 21 years+.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.