#ColoradoRiver: The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch is participating in a pilot project aimed at finding better ways to share water resources in the thirsty West

The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” -- via The Mountain Town News
The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” — via The Mountain Town News

From The Nature Conservancy:

RANCHING AND CONSERVATION GO HAND IN HAND
The Carpenter Ranch, located near Steamboat Springs, is a great site for a pilot project. The ranch is owned by the Conservancy but leased to a rancher who grows hay and raises cattle. The four fields participating in the pilot, totaling 197 acres, were irrigated for only the first half of the irrigation season last summer.

Geoff Blakeslee, the Yampa River project director, says that the Conservancy has a long history of combining ranching and conservation and finding creative solutions. “This pilot is an exploratory project to understand the impacts of temporary fallowing on the ranch, the Yampa River and the overall Colorado River system,” he says. “There’s a lot of common interest to find solutions that work for our communities, farms and rivers.”

“Colorado’s Front Range receives about 50% of its water from the Colorado River,” adds Taylor Hawes, the Conservancy’s Colorado River program director. “If a crisis does hit—an even more severe or prolonged drought—the information from projects like this one can be used to design a fair way of sharing the water. It benefits all of us to figure out an equitable path forward.”

Although the short-term consequence of reducing irrigation may be a smaller hay yield and fewer cattle on the Carpenter Ranch this fall, finding ways to share water will ultimately help all who depend on the Colorado River for survival.

#coleg: SB16-044, Sonneburg’s conservation easement bill hearing, February 9

Saguache Creek
Saguache Creek

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Senate Bill 16-044 is scheduled for a hearing before the Colorado Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 9, according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

The bill would require the state to stop trying to collect back tax credits, penalties, and interest from landholders whose conservation easement appraisals have been summarily labeled “fraudulent” by the Department of Revenue. In an interview over the weekend, Sonnenberg said the largest obstacle the bill faces is the fiscal impact.

“The DOR has to compile those numbers and come up with a fiscal note, that is, what is the cost to the state of enacting that bill,” Sonnenberg said. “What that fiscal note will tell us is just how much we’ve screwed the people by breaking our contract with them.”

Across Colorado more than 700 conservation easements, most of them donated between 2003 and 2007, were created under a state law that for years had no oversight. Thousands of landowners set aside millions of acres of land in return for state tax credits they could use against their own income taxes or could sell for cash to others to help pay their income taxes. At last report, the state had lost as much as $220 million to those tax credits.

Subsequently, state officials summarily deemed hundreds of the land appraisals those credits are based on as fraudulent and the donated land as worthless. No one has ever been charged with fraud, let along convicted of it, in relation to any of those land appraisals.

Sonnenberg’s bill would forbid the DOR from “contesting certain claims for conservation easement claims unless the valuation of the easement is supported by an appraisal from an appraiser convicted of fraud or misrepresentation in connection with preparing the appraisal.”

The bill also calls for a refund of “tax, interest, or penalty paid by a taxpayer” in connection with a contested appraisal that otherwise would meet the bill’s requirements.

Sonnenberg acknowledged that the impact on the state’s coffers could be in the millions of dollars beyond what the DOR is already trying to collect…

The bill is scheduled for a Finance Committee hearing at 7 a.m. Feb. 9 in Room LSB B in the Capitol. Sonnenberg said anyone who wants to attend the hearing or even testify on its behalf can contact his office for assistance.

White River Conservation District’s annual meeting recap

White River via Wikimedia
White River via Wikimedia

From the White River Conservation District via the Rio Blanco Herald Times:

More than 100 people enjoyed the White River Conservation District’s annual meeting Friday at the Meeker Fairfield Center.

The District was recognized by Colorado State Conservation Board in 2015 as “District of the Year,” and Executive Director Callie Hendrickson received the Conservation Excellence Award by Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Brown, “for giving a strong voice to locally led conservation at home, in Colorado and nationally.”

Hendrickson highlighted the district’s’ natural resource priorities including rangeland health, wildlife, water and natural resource information and education…

Attendees were updated on the progress of the Land and Natural Resource Use Plan. Hendrickson asked all Rio Blanco County citizens to be prepared to review and comment on the plan in March. The district will publicize the exact dates of public comment meetings. The plan will then be applied to influence federal regulatory frameworks that govern the management of public lands.

The district recognized Rocky and Sparky Pappas and Travis Flaharty as Conservationists of the Year. President Neil Brennan highlighted the Pappas’ conservation accomplishments, including water development, grazing practices, weed control and community involvement. The Pappases and Flaherty manage first for wildlife and second for livestock.

The property they manage is leased to several local producers to graze sheep and cattle during the summer. The livestock are removed before fall to allow for rejuvenation for wildlife habitat. With the ongoing partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Pappas’ and Flaherty reclaimed some farm ground in the Josephine Basin to provide critical winter range for mule deer and to improve the migration corridor for deer and elk.

They battle weeds through aerial applications and are experimenting with biological control such as beetles and pathogens for leafy spurge and thistles. They have improved water quality and quantity by converting manual pumps to solar, adding water tanks and installing pipelines to spread the water across the properties. In addition to their conservation efforts, the three volunteer on local boards such as the Historical Society, and the Flat Tops chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. They also sponsor youth hunts and help approximately 200 Colorado hunters with the Ranching for Wildlife program…

Keynote speaker David Ludlum, West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s executive director, addressed the audience regarding the various ways industries convey their purpose and message to the public. While industries think they are doing a good job by providing great detail about “how they do their work,” they miss the important message about “why they do their work.”

Ludlum showcased how individuals that “bash” industry and the general public need to hear “industry develops these resources simply to provide the tires for your bicycles, the concrete you walk on, the fiberglass on your surfboards, the polyester and nylon in your clothes, the polycarbonate in your sunglasses, the ethane used to make your artificial hips, the heat you enjoy on a cold night, the gas in your car, the fertilizer used to grow your food, etc.”

Ludlum expressed how important it is that our industries help people understand what they provide for your standard of living. Most people, he said, don’t care “how” you do it until they understand “why” you do it.

#Snowpack news (part 2), statewide snowpack map and basin high/low graphs

Water park for Eagle?

Eagle circa 2010
Eagle circa 2010

From the Vail Daily (Pam Boyd):

As Eagle contemplates a plan to develop a water park — complete with in-stream features, beaches, trails and green space at what is currently the truck parking area west of Chambers Park and east of the Eagle County Fairgrounds — the town organized a panel discussion featuring representatives from Colorado towns that have completed their own park projects. This week, a large crowd of Eagle residents gathered to hear about Colorado communities that were transformed by their river park developments. Representatives from Salida, Buena Vista and Golden shared their respective experiences, offered advice as Eagle looks at its own river project and generally shared the notion that great river spaces make great towns even better.

Salida businessman and Arkansas River Trust member Mike Harvey noted that the community is historically a railroad town, and while boat races on the river date back to the 1940s, the waterway was not truly integrated into the community. However, once the trust was formed in the late 1990s, Salida was able to attract grant money for river park projects.

“What has really happened over the past 15 years is the Arkansas River has become a focal point for our community,” said Harvey.

Businesses have sprung up along the river corridor, community events are planned along the riverbanks and the Arkansas has transformed into a community-defining amenity.

“The economic value of the river is significant. It has become the economic attraction for Chafee County,” said Kitson. “It’s not unusual to see 10 tubers, 20 fisherman and 40 rafts on the river on any given day.”

LOOKING FOR BEAUTY

In neighboring Buena Vista, developer Jed Selby saw the Arkansas River as the focus of his South Main development. The multi-use project features housing, retail and restaurant uses and has a strong focus on riverfront space.

“Our town had turned its back on the river,” said Selby.

The first part of his project was a river park, and Selby said he has learned a lot of lessons from his attempts to build perfect in-stream features to attract water sports enthusiasts.

“It’s one thing to have a wave. It’s another thing to have a spectacular wave,” he said. “We have kept at it year after year after year.”

OCCUPY CLEAR CREEK

Rod Tarullo, director of parks and recreation for the city of Golden, noted Clear Creek “has become the heart and soul of Golden.”

Tarullo noted for the past 18 years, the Clear Creek Park has become an integral part of the community, but when 2012 brought an exceptionally hot summer, the park proved almost too popular.

“We called it Occupy Clear Creek,” said Tarullo, while he shared a picture of an average day on the river that year which showed the waterway crowded with inner-tubes and the riverbanks teeming with people.

After that year, Golden undertook a massive master planning process for its popular amenity to make sure is was not loved to death. “We didn’t want to screw it up. We knew that it is something really good,” said Tarullo…

No one argued the potential of the plan, but some residents questioned the cost. The Eagle Town Board is contemplating a sales tax question for the April 5 municipal election that would increase the local tax by 0.5 percent to generate money for the initial phase of development. That tax is estimated to generate around $4 million over a 20-year period and the total park plan is estimated to cost around $10 million. Eagle hopes to attract grants and funding partners to complete the overall vision.

Dara MacDonald, city administrator for Salida, noted that river park development is expensive, but said it can also be the catalyst for broader economic development.

“Private investment follows public dollars,” she said. “There is so much more vitality in our downtown (since the river park development).”

“These river parks are more than water parks. They are magnets for people,” said Harvey.

Eagle River Basin
Eagle River Basin