From the Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):
Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch is continuing to question the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the procedure to file claims for damages caused by the Gold King Mine spill.
Branch presented her concerns and issues in a Nov. 18 letter to Avi Garbow, general counsel for the EPA. Her letter, which was released by the tribe on Monday, questions the EPA’s efforts to address claims and recovery efforts for the Aug. 5 spill…
Branch’s letter was in response to a Nov. 3 letter Garbow wrote to the attorney general, which was a reply to two letters Branch wrote in October.
The attorney general stated she was “surprised” by Garbow’s suggestion the EPA has not determined if the Federal Tort Claims Act applies to the spill. The Federal Tort Claims Act is a federal law that permits private parties to sue the United States in federal court for damages committed by individuals acting on behalf of the country.
“This position cannot be squared with the U.S. EPA’s repeated public statements of responsibility for the spill,” Branch wrote.
She added that indecision does not seem to jibe with the EPA’s distribution of Standard Form 95 on the Navajo Nation and on the EPA website.
Branch’s second expressed concern is that the EPA still does not have a process in place to “ensure full, fair and prompt recovery” for the Navajo people and tribe.
She added that Garbow’s letter did not accept the tribe’s proposal to establish an interim claims process and relief fund for tribal members who seek compensation without releasing future claims or those unknown to the claimant.
“I was disappointed to hear your position that the U.S. EPA does not ‘have the ability to establish’ such a process,” Branch wrote.
The attorney general said the tribe is continuing to examine all options, including working with Congress on legislation to improve the process to allow interim claims.
In hopes such congressional action occurs, Branch stated Navajo officials are providing tribal members with claim forms that include language reserving the claimant’s right to file supplemental claims.
She said tribal officials have been talking to individuals who were impacted by the spill, and many of those people have wondered about the need to present documentation to support their claims.
“My concern is that my people may forego submitting legitimate claims because they do not have itemized documentation of every loss,” she wrote.
In concluding her letter, Branch stated she remains committed to working with federal agencies, and she hopes Garbow clarifies statements made in his Nov. 3 letter.
In Garbow’s letter to Branch, he assured Branch the EPA remains committed to cleanup responsibilities and to a long-term monitoring strategy.
He mentioned the EPA is continuing an internal review of events leading up to the spill. In addition, the agency received the results of an independent evaluation by the U.S. Department of the Interior and is waiting for the release of a review by the Office of Inspector General.
“The findings and conclusions of these reports and investigations, once complete, will be carefully reviewed by EPA’s Claims Officer in order to assess the applicability of the FTCA for purposes of paying legitimate claims against the United States for money damages arising from the Gold King Mine incident,” Garbow wrote.
He added it is “not unusual” for claimants to need additional time to assess damages, and the Federal Tort Claims Act allows claimants up to two years to file a claim.
Garbow wrote the EPA does not have “the ability to establish an interim claims process by amending the Standard Form 95,” which was requested by the Navajo Nation.
“I am also committed to exploring and considering all options to seek means of providing compensation as allowed by law for legitimate money damages arising from the incident, both within the Navajo Nation, and in other impacted communities,” Garbow stated in the conclusion of his letter.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Greg Walcher):
Ever since the writings of Solomon more than 900 years BC, it has been said that “there is nothing new under the sun.” He was not referring to Colorado’s continual water planning, but he could not have described it better.
Gov. John Hickenlooper just announced what he called Colorado’s “first-ever” comprehensive water plan. It is the final product of a decade of meetings, committees, and proposals. As finally adopted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the 500-page plan calls for $20 billion worth of conservation measures, though no specific strategy for funding it.
Interestingly, the press reports mention the 10-year process, but also claim this governor ordered CWCB to begin statewide water planning in 2013. In fact it has been underway a long time — not one decade, but several. But when things go well, there is plenty of credit to go around, and much of this new water plan is praiseworthy.
It calls for a new statewide conservation goal of 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050. It also mentions a projected shortfall in municipal and industrial water demand of 560,000 acre-feet by 2050, and proposes to reduce that shortfall to zero by 2030. Again, the math is a bit unclear, but whether we plan to conserve 400,000 or 560,000 acre feet, it would be a good thing either way.
Interestingly, the plan also calls for construction of 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage — which many of us have advocated for years. Our state is growing, not shrinking, and our need for water will continue to grow. Colorado is entitled under interstate agreements to substantially more water than it uses, so it is simply irresponsible not to store the water we get during wet periods, so we can use it during dry periods. When I served on the CWCB 15 years ago, we advocated creative new ways to store water, by expanding existing reservoirs, and using underground storage in closed aquifers. Both techniques have been used successfully elsewhere, and both are now part of Colorado’s official state plan. Bravo.
Unfortunately, the plan also mentions the prospect of new trans-mountain diversions — which should not and will not happen. Half of the Colorado River is already diverted to the Front Range, more than enough. There are, as the plan points out, plenty of ways for Denver to conserve water, and to store more of its own supply. In fact, as Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead points out, their residents have already reduced usage 20 percent over the last 10 years without any major problems. Lochhead was quoted saying, “We can go a lot lower without sacrificing quality of life.” He is right.
We have been down this road many times before, and the same giant unresolved issue is always present — funding. Much of the anticipated $20 billion cost of these water measures would be borne by utilities and their customers (who have not yet been asked if they want higher water bills), but the state also needs another $100 million a year for its share. The report suggests new federal funding (unlikely from today’s budget-sensitive Congress), tax increases (perhaps a statewide mill levy, higher severance taxes, or a sales tax increase) — or a new bond program. Only the latter approach would really be new, and believe me, it is a can of worms.
You see, new water projects are always viewed with suspicion in Colorado. A 2003 initiative [Referendum A] to create bonding authority for water projects became so thoroughly unpopular that it was defeated in every county, and became a campaign issue against candidates (including me) in three consecutive elections. That measure authorized no water projects; it was merely a future funding mechanism. Still, a century of history gave Coloradans good reason to suspect the worst: that someone might eventually use it to build trans-mountain diversions to “steal” water from one basin to another. So the proposal went down in flames at the ballot box and the result was, for another generation, no new water storage at all.
The comprehensive plan completed this week provides some hope that Coloradans might eventually emerge from those years of distrust and work together on a long-term solution. That could involve both conservation and creative new storage in every river basin of the state (instead of diverting water between them), public-private partnerships, bonding and other new funding sources, and a genuinely more prosperous future for all of Colorado. That would be something new under the sun, and would be worth all the effort that has gone into it.
Greg Walcher is president of the Natural Resources Group and author of “Smoking Them Out: The Theft of the Environment and How to Take it Back.” He is a Western Slope native.
Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited:
Trout Unlimited praised the final Colorado Water Plan unveiled today by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, saying that it recognizes the key role that healthy rivers and streams play in sustaining the state’s economy and quality of life.
“We’re pleased that the Colorado Water Plan recognizes that healthy rivers are central to Colorado’s quality of life and help drive our booming, $13 billion recreation economy,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “If we want a future of Gold Medal trout rivers and outdoor opportunities, we need to plan for that future—and this plan is a step in the right direction.”
“Instead of fighting over a dwindling resource, with winners and losers, Coloradans should work together to find solutions that meet all of our diverse needs, from agriculture and industry to recreation and the environment. Collaboration is key,” said Drew Peternell, director of TU’s Colorado Water Project. “There are a number of concepts highlighted in the Water Plan that could lead Colorado to a better water future.”
Trout Unlimited pointed to three specific features of the Water Plan that, if adequately supported and funded by state lawmakers, will help protect Colorado’s rivers and sustain our economy:
1. The Water Plan calls for irrigation modernization.
Across Colorado, TU is a leader in working with ranchers and farmers on innovative irrigation modernization projects that improve water delivery while protecting river flows and habitat. “We are pleased that the plan recognizes the benefit of modernizing irrigation infrastructure,” said Peternell. “But ranchers and farmers need support and incentives to undertake these improvements.”
TU called on the Colorado General Assembly to provide increased funding for irrigation modernization and innovation projects and to enact substantive legislation to facilitate these projects.
Peternell noted that water rights are valuable property interests, and TU strongly believes that agricultural producers who use their water rights to improve stream flows should be compensated for doing so. “We look forward to working with state lawmakers, the CWCB and other stakeholders to promote irrigation modernization and innovation during the plan implementation,” said Peternell.
“We need to get money to the ground for good projects,” he added. “That’s the next challenge—moving from good ideas to on-the-ground action.”
2. The Water Plan encourages local communities to create stream management plans.
TU also praised the plan for encouraging local communities to create stream management plans (SMPs). SMPs will help stakeholders gain a better understanding of the stream flows necessary to support river health and recreational uses of water, while continuing to meet other water uses. Healthy flow levels can be integrated into community-driven water plans that meet diverse water needs.
“Steam management plans bring local water users together to determine how best to use limited water resources,” Peternell said. “They are an exercise in collaboration.”
TU applauded the CWCB and General Assembly for setting aside funding for SMPs through the 2015 projects bill. However, the $1 million currently earmarked will not be sufficient for these important plans in coming years. TU calls on the CWCB and General Assembly to increase funding for SMPs in future years.
The Water Plan establishes a framework for evaluating proposed trans-mountain diversions of water.
TU is also pleased that the Water Plan contains a “Conceptual Framework” for evaluating new proposed diversions of water from one basin to another. TU believes that the Conceptual Framework should prevent unnecessary, river-damaging trans-mountain diversions (TMDs).
TU has argued that Colorado should reject all new TMDs unless the project proponent (1) is employing high levels of conservation; (2) demonstrates that water is available for the project; and (3) makes commitments that guarantee against environmental or economic harm to the basin of origin.
The Colorado Water Plan, requested by Gov. Hickenlooper in 2013, is the product of more than two years of public meetings, thousands of public comments and eight Basin Implementation Plans. Trout Unlimited staff and volunteers have been actively involved throughout the Colorado Water Plan process, submitting comments and helping shape Basin Implementation Plans. Through its Our Colorado River program, TU has helped unite tens of thousands of Coloradans around core water values such as collaboration, infrastructure modernization, and conserving healthy rivers and streams.
While the final plan contains a host of strong ideas, TU said that implementing these good ideas will be the true measure of success.
“The Final Water Plan is a beginning not an end,” said Nickum. “The key to Colorado’s water future will be actual on-the-ground collaboration to meet our water needs while protecting our state’s rivers and agricultural heritage.”
From the Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):
“Seeing what California is going through, it’s much better to plan ahead than having to react to an emergency,” said Karn Stiegelmeier, one of Summit County’s commissioners, and vice chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, a council tasked with management and assessment of the Western Slope’s water supply. “That’s why we’re focused on conservation, which is obviously the most cost-effective way to ‘get more water,’ or share more water.”
Many, including a wide array of environmental and conservation groups endorse the new plan, citing a balanced safeguarding of the state’s $9 billion outdoors and recreation economy with its robust agricultural industries as well as the wildlife that call Colorado’s waterways home. They say it helps lay out Colorado’s environmental and outdoor values, and the timing is key.
“It’s very crucial in this moment, because it’s the best narrative of what is going on,” said Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a public water policy agency in charge of protecting the Colorado River Basin. “Water is something people take so for granted until you go to your spigot and it doesn’t come out.
Pokrandt, also the chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and f0rmer Summit Daily editor, used the swelling weekend traffic of the I-70 mountain corridor as an analogy for this story of the West and how, similarly, increased measures will be necessary to help counterbalance an already stressed system. The state’s water network, he said, needs the liquid equivalent of traffic metering, a toll road and extra lanes bored through Veterans Memorial Tunnels, to negate the effects of earlier decisions like water-centric Kentucky bluegrass across the state’s suburban neighborhoods.
“The offshoot of that is the water equation,” said Pokrandt. “Those people are already coming. They’re already here. How are we going to build water infrastructure for the next increments of residential development? Are we going to put more importance on urban, grassy landscapes, or are we going to moderate that and keep an eye on a better future for the Colorado River and agriculture?”[…]
The mountain communities have consistency voiced concern over additional trans-mountain diversions, taking more of that melted snowpack downstream to the state’s largest population zones, such as Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs, that demand and require it. Before the final water plan was announced, a community group calling themselves the Citizens for Western Slope Water submitted a petition to Gov. Hickerlooper with almost 15,000 signatures against any new diversions from the headwaters. Fears of doing so consist of more negative environmental impact due to the rivers being tapped further, which could affect the rafting and fishing industries, in addition to producing more strain on local farmers and ranchers.
Colorado was one of the last Western states to adopt a water plan. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Texas and California all have one. Because Colorado’s individual municipalities are the ones that make decisions as to who gets water and how much, rather than the state itself, there is some question as to whether Colorado even needed one.
Proponents call the water plan historic in its deployment, even if at this stage, it provides no big solutions and produces little more than a suggested course of action that requires prolonged implementation of its guidelines. Few argue with the intent of the policy, however, in its attempts to solidify local awareness as well extend the conversation about Western water for decades to come — a move which even the plan’s harshest critics can agree upon.