Reclamation Releases Draft Environmental Assessment for Lake Nighthorse Recreation Plan

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff):

The Bureau of Reclamation has released a draft environmental assessment for the Lake Nighthorse Recreation Plan.

The draft environmental assessment includes a no action alternative and three alternative recreation plans. The three proposed plans provide different scenarios for recreation at Lake Nighthorse while protecting water quality and sensitive natural, cultural, and other resources and ensure compatibility with the primary purpose of the Animas-La Plata Project for municipal and industrial water supply.

“We appreciate the public’s patience as we work through the process of integrating recreation into the Animas-La Plata Project, said Ed Warner, Area Manager of the Western Colorado Area Office. “We are working as quickly as possible to make sure we address everyone’s concerns, follow regulations and requirements, and consider public safety. We encourage those interested in recreation at Lake Nighthorse to review the draft recreation plan and give us your comments on the proposed alternatives. We are looking forward to recreation becoming a reality on ALP Project lands in the future.”

The draft environmental assessment is available online at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/animas/index.html, under the Environmental Compliance tab or a copy can be received by contacting Justyn Liff at 970-248-0625.

Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Written comments can be submitted by email to jliff@usbr.gov or mailed to: Ed Warner, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave., Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501. Comments are due by Monday, April 25.

Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

Lake Nighthorse is a component of the ALP Project. The ALP Project was built to fulfill the water rights settlement of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian tribes of the southwestern Colo.

Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald
Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

Radar of the entire #Denver #blizzard in all its synoptic/mesoscale/orographic glory — Stu Ostro

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The Fountain Creek District is short on operating cash

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Fountain Creek district is running on fumes.

It’s like being in a car where none of the passengers can leave, so they take up a voluntary collection to refuel, but make sure that everyone can afford dinner at the next roadside grill. It’s not like you have to pay.

Time to pass the hat again.

“We will have to fund it this way until the time we can go to voters and ask for a mill levy,” said Pueblo County commissioner Terry Hart, who chairs the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

The board looked at several options of how to distribute funding among its members, which include Pueblo and El Paso counties, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Fountain, Monument, Manitou Springs, Palmer Lake and Green Mountain Falls — the incorporated areas within the Fountain Creek watershed.

This year, the district needs $125,000 or it will run out of money in August.

“And the number is likely to grow in future years,” Hart said.

Executive Director Larry Small showed the board several alternatives based on population, the size of general fund budgets or a subjective determination based on relative sizes of the communities.

Pueblo County could pay anywhere from 6.517 percent under the various formulas, while the city of Pueblo’s share would be 7.7-15 percent. The smaller numbers occur when only population is considered.

Also included was formula for the 2013 collection of $50,000, which simply charged both counties, Colorado Springs and Pueblo $10,000 each, Fountain $5,000 and the smaller communities $1,250 each. That only partially worked, since Monument didn’t pay and Green Mountain Falls, with just 669 people, only was able to afford $150.

“If they don’t have the money, we can’t compel them to pay,” Small said. “I want to emphasize we do need the money this year.”

The district coasted for several years on a joint payment from Colorado Springs Utilities and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. It also uses management fees from grants to pay costs, including Small’s monthly salary, which has always been half of the authorized amount.

Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 27-28

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Photo courtesy of the Chaffee County Visitors Bureau

The Arkansas River flows past the Salida SteamPlant Event Center, host of the 2016 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum slated for April 27-28. Registration and sponsorship information for the 22nd annual water forum is at http://www.arbwf.org.

Arkansas River Basin Water Forum sponsors support water education

Colorado poet Thomas Ferril wrote, “Here is a land where life is written in water.” Nowhere in Colorado are Ferril’s words truer than the Arkansas River Basin.

From mountain towns to Front Range businesses and Great Plains farms, life in the Arkansas Basin hangs by a blue ribbon of water in an arid climate, and a confluence of water issues creates a complexity that breeds bewilderment.

The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum will help alleviate that bewilderment April 27-28 in Salida with a wide range of educational presentations, discussions and speakers, including retired Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs.

Now in its 22nd year, the forum has established itself as the signature water education event in the Arkansas Basin. With an expected attendance of 200 people representing agriculture, municipalities, industry, government agencies, and environmental and recreational organizations, the forum offers an educational opportunity ripe with knowledge and diverse perspectives.

Just as important, sponsors contribute to the event’s educational offerings as well as providing financial support for the water forum and its year-round educational efforts.

Water education motivated the San Isabel Land Protection Trust to sponsor the event, as Kristie Nackord, director of development with the land trust, makes clear.

“We believe the water forum is one of the most important annual water education opportunities in our basin…. We’re thrilled to know that money raised through sponsorships goes toward the education of our next generation of water leaders.”
Here in the Arkansas Basin, “where life is written in water,” we know the importance of water, but we may not always understand the complex spectrum of water-related issues.

With its dedication to water education, the water forum and its sponsors serve the citizens of the basin by providing them with the information they need to understand the various colors in the Arkansas Basin’s spectrum of water dilemmas.

This year’s premier $5,000 “Headwaters” sponsor is the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, and AROA representative Bob Hamel offered his take on the event:

“The Forum provides an opportunity for outfitters to personally thank the water community for their support of water’s recreational uses…. The Voluntary Flow Management Plan is a great example of this relationship and is a model that is recognized across the West.”

Through the Voluntary Flow Management Program, various water entities collaborate to sustain upper Arkansas River flows through August 15 each year, significantly extending the rafting and kayaking season on the nation’s most popular stretch of whitewater.

As the land trust and AROA exemplify, the water forum serves a vital function among wide-ranging interests in Arkansas Basin communities, and both Nackord and Hamel agree, financial support for the water forum’s mission is a crucial investment in the future of the Arkansas Basin.

Sponsorship and registration information for the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum is at http://www.arbwf.org.

Rio Grande: Increased river access planned for reach near Del Norte

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

For more than 130 years, the Rio Grande as it flows through this town on the west side of the San Luis Valley has been a working river.

It’s here, where the San Juan Mountain foothills meet the San Luis Valley floor, that irrigation canals begin pulling off the river to water the barley, potatoes and alfalfa that drive the region’s agricultural economy.

But a coalition of groups is looking to add a little play to that equation by making a roughly half-mile stretch of the river more accessible to the public for fishing, some boating and a little water play.

“It’s an iconic river in the history of the U.S. and yet people don’t spend time there,” said Marty Asplin, co-director of Upper Rio Grande Economic Development.

And while there is hope the Del Norte Riverfront Project will bolster tourism for local businesses, its thrust will be drawing the town’s roughly 1,600 residents to the river.

At a recent fundraiser for the project, organizers found that sentiment while gathering input for a vision statement.

“Some people just wrote, very simply, ‘I want a place to take my kids,’ “ said Heather Dutton of the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project.

Improving access to the river will take place on top of two basic building blocks.

The town government, which is a partner in the project, already owns riverfront property, and a roughly quarter-mile cement trail runs along the river from the nearby town park.

Second, Colorado Parks and Wildlife installed a fishing pier 20 years ago near the park, carved out a fishing hole along the pier and installed a rock structure just upstream in an effort to improve fish habitat.

Kevin Terry of Trout Unlimited said project planners and CPW will take another look at the “W” rock feature, and possibly replace it with a more modern one that could both improve fish habitat and serve as a play feature for small rafts, paddle boards and inner-tubers, depending on the level of stream flows.

“Right from the beginning on this project we want to work with them to get the best of both worlds,” Terry said.

A boat ramp, installed just downstream of the Colorado 112 bridge, would be a second element of the project.

And Terry said that site could also be home to a beach area.

It would be perfect for kids in the low flow conditions of late summer and early fall because it sits at the end of long, slow-moving pool, he said.

The project would also look at adding smaller, hardened access points upstream from the boat ramp.

Rio Grande River
Rio Grande River

#ColoradoRiver: Difficulties arise in efforts to save water for Powell #COriver

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

A recent Bureau of Reclamation report projects that Western river basins, including the Colorado Basin, are likely to experience a 7-27 percent decline in spring streamflows during this century.

The bureau’s 2016 SECURE Water Act Report to Congress, which can be found at http://usbr.gov/climate/secure/, is just the latest to warn of reduced streamflows in our region as temperatures climb.

The Colorado River Basin has already experienced more than a decade in which more water has been pulled out of rivers and streams for farms and cities than has come back in through rain and snow. As a result, water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell have begun to approach critical levels. For Mead, that means dropping too low to reliably meet demands. For Powell, that means dropping too low to generate hydropower and meet downstream obligations.

One of the efforts to head off this looming crisis is the System Conservation Pilot Program, which pays for voluntary, temporary water use reductions. This program, funded by major cities and other water suppliers that rely on Colorado River Basin water, was initiated in 2014 to test the feasibility of voluntary, compensated measures to curtail water use in order to prop up water levels in lakes Powell and Mead. Details on the program can be found at http://bit.ly/1UUSbIC.

Farmers and ranchers in western Colorado are among those who have participated and are considering participating in the program. Agricultural approaches tried so far include foregoing irrigation for part of a season, fallowing ground, leasing water and converting to lower water use crops. Some of these farmers recently met with program funders, researchers and supporters to discuss how the program is working.

The group included representatives of Denver Water, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Division of Water Resources, the Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, the Colorado River District, Colorado State University and Colorado Mesa University.

On the positive side, being paid to temporarily fallow land or reduce water use can provide money and time to upgrade aging headgates or other irrigation infrastructure, improve soil health or explore alternative crops.

Some farmers are hoping to use the program to receive income while transitioning ground from conventional to certified organic production, a three-year process that can lead to long-term economic benefits for the farmer. Farmers also like the opportunity to take the lead in figuring out how they could get by with less water, since there is concern that they may have to do so in the future. State law provides that participants in approved conservation programs will not have their water rights diminished as a result.

On the other hand, the first year of the pilot revealed many logistical hurdles to increasing flows into Lake Powell by paying farmers and ranchers to use less water. One major problem is how to ensure that saved water makes it to Lake Powell without being picked up by another water user that was previously short.

A related issue has so far hobbled attempts to lease water under the program. How can you lease water to an undefined recipient for an undefined use? According to some interpretations, this doesn’t square well with Colorado water law.

How to recognize the full value of agricultural water was also discussed. In addition to the need to compensate producers for forgone crop sales, concern was expressed about the impact of reduced production on farmworkers, implement dealers and the community at large. And how can you make sure that temporary water use reductions to get through a crisis really stay temporary, and don’t just permanently transfer that use elsewhere, from farms to cities? The fact that some cities are also participating in the program by reducing their water withdrawals or treating and returning wastewater helps address this concern, but doesn’t eliminate it.

The amount of water saved through the system conservation program so far is miniscule in relation to the amount needed to significantly reduce the risk of the reservoirs hitting critical lows. With all the issues involved with implementing the program and the growing demand for water, a major concern is whether this mechanism will ever be able to move enough water to really make a difference. Meeting participants noted that resolving the legal and logistical challenges, as well as building community understanding and acceptance of the program, are preconditions for scaling it up.

Avoiding critically low levels in Lakes Mead and Powell will require either significantly more action to reduce water demands or a lot more snow in the mountains. As of March 1, the 2016 water year inflows into Lake Powell were forecast to be 83 percent of average. That’s not terrible year, but it’s also not good enough to take the pressure off water users to control demand.

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