The April 2016 “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses from the ERWC

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

Cutthroat restoration facing uncertainty; lineages baffle

Colorado fish biologists have been embroiled in a mystery surrounding Colorado’s native cutthroat trout.

For decades, biologists accepted that Colorado’s native cutthroat could be distinguished by their location: Greenbacks were east of the Continental Divide while Colorado River and Rio Grande cutthroat were in their namesake watersheds. This was important because the Colorado River and green back cutthroat are difficult to differentiate due to similar coloration and spotting.

Thought to be extinct by the 1930s, vestige greenback populations were discovered by biologists in the 1950s. Subsequent recovery efforts led to their down-listing from “endangered” to “threatened” in 1978. However, several years ago, researchers using innovative genetic technology, revealed half of these remnant greenback populations were actually Colorado River cutthroat trout.

This was a blow to recovery efforts since many of these populations were used to establish new populations. Spurred by the revelation, fish biologists tested cutthroat populations statewide and discovered that fish genetically-resembling greenbacks were numerous on the Western Slope, suggesting a possible deficiency in the genetic analyses.

At the time, genetic researchers were confident that their tests were reliable and thought the unexpected distributions of cutthroat could be reflecting the widespread sportfish stocking efforts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Colorado Parks & Wildlife, still wary of the findings, partnered with genetecists to develop a new genetic test to clarify the differences between our native cutthroats.

FISHING FOR INFORMATION

Fish taxonomists dug through historic federal and state records and accounts of fish stocking to develop a better understanding and a more detailed history of past events. Researchers also evaluated extensive museum collections of trout specimens assembled and preserved up to 150 years ago by explorers, before fish stocking was rampant. These historic specimens revealed that, prior to settlement, each major river basin had a distinct lineage of cutthroat trout.

It is now clear that Colorado historically had six – not three – distinct lineages of native cutthroat trout: Greenback cutthroat originated in the South Platte River; yellowfin cutthroat, thought to be indigenous only to Twin Lakes, actually inhabited cold waters throughout the Arkansas River basin; Rio Grande cutthroat continue to persist in their namesake watershed; a previously undescribed lineage existed in the San Juan River; and, two Colorado River cutthroat lineages were isolated in the Yamp/White and Upper Colorado watersheds. Historic fish stocking widely distributed fish, resulting in the inadvertent preservation of the greenback cutthroat outside of their native basin. Unfortunately, extensive searches for the descendants of yellowfin and San Juan cutthroat within and outside of their native drainages have failed.

Recovery efforts for our native cutthroat have always used what is considered to be the best science available. For a time, reintroduction efforts used fish that were not necessarily indigenous to the waters where they were introduced, but this increased the number of native cutthroat populations across Colorado, preserving the genetic diversity and resiliency of the species. As well, existing habitat was protected, rehabilitated and restored; and streams were secured from invasion by exotic fish species and disease. Now we are tasked with continuing these preservation efforts and expanding our unique remnat populations to ensure the legacy of Colorado’s cutthroat long into the future.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

RRWCD joins Colorado NRCS in funding 2016 OAI

From the Republican River Water Conservation District (Deb Daniel):

The Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) acting through its Water Activity Enterprise will again partner with NRCS to encourage water conservation through the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (OAI). The RRWCD will provide incentives to producers that voluntarily implement certain water conservation measures. Last year the RRWCD teamed up with NRCS on this program and provided $510,000 to convert approximately five hundred ten acres (510 acres) from irrigated to dryland agriculture or grassland.

This year the District has expanded their participation in the program and will also provide funding along with the NRCS incentives on short-term irrigation rotations, and certain water management improvements such as soil moisture monitoring systems, weather stations, and conversion from sprinkler irrigation to an underground drip irrigation system.

In addition to the NRCS incentives, the RRWCD will provide between six hundred ($600.00) and one thousand two hundred dollars ($1,200.00) depending on the location of the well. In addition to the permanent well retirement practice, the District will be providing incentives to eligible producers that enter into short –term (1 -3 years) rotations from irrigated cropland to dryland cropping practices. Priorities have been established to focus RRWCD funding in areas that provides the highest level of credit for Colorado in the Republican River Compact.

Recent research has suggested that high capacity wells can reduce water consumption by as much as twenty percent (20%) in some cases, with little or no effect on the overall profitability of that particular well. To supplement NRCS incentives the RRWCD has earmarked fifty thousand dollars ($50,000.00) to producers who wish to continue to irrigate, but agree to reduce pumping by at least ten percent (10%) using water conservation measures such as weather stations, soil moisture monitoring and conversion from sprinkler irrigation to an underground drip system. More efficient irrigation systems can contribute substantially to prolonging the life of the aquifer, while maintaining a strong irrigated agricultural economy.

The RRWCD has consulted with groundwater management districts, the Water Preservation Partnership, and others to develop strategies to assist producers through financial incentives to voluntarily reduce water consumption. Several surveys distributed throughout the District to producers have indicated that voluntary, incentive based practices were preferred over regulatory water restrictions. The OAI provides yet another voluntary incentive based tool that all producers can use to help prolong the life of this aquifer. It is important that each and every irrigated agriculture producer evaluate their individual irrigation practices and determine if they can help reduce their impact on the aquifer by implementing one or more of these water conservation practices.

Republican River Basin
Republican River Basin

Walker Ranch conservation easement: Black-footed ferrets are dancing amongst the cholla

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Walker Ranch now is home to a 1,315-acre conservation easement in partnership with the Department of Defense, furthering its protection of Fort Carson and wildlife habitat, The Nature Conservancy announced Friday.

The addition brings the Walkers’ total conservation easements to about 22,292 acres, conserving land next to Fort Carson through money from the Army Compatible Use Buffer program.

The Walker Ranch conservation is one of the largest, most successful such projects, creating a buffer against development along more than 20 miles of the Fort Carson boundary, The Conservancy said in a news release.

Gary Walker’s family has worked with the Conservancy and the U.S. Army since 2005, ensuring continued military use of a key installation and economic driver for the Colorado Springs area.

The easement protects not only the post, but also habitat for the ferruginous hawk, scaled quail, burrowing owl, Cassin’s sparrow, mule deer and pronghorn antelope…

The ranch also became the first restoration site in eastern Colorado for the endangered black-footed ferret in 2013.

“I hope to have all our lands under a conservation easement in my lifetime,” Walker said in a Conservancy news release. “This ranch is meant to be protected, and there is nothing more destructive to this fragile ecosystem than subdivision. Build up, not out.”

Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes). Photo © Kimberly Fraser/USFWS
Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes). Photo © Kimberly Fraser/USFWS

Fountain Creek: Waldo Canyon burn scar still a hazard

Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar
Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

The threat of flash floods continues to linger in the minds of western El Paso County residents.

That worry loomed large for a group that met last week in Green Mountain Falls. They were focused on what might happen if torrential rains pound the Waldo Canyon burn scar and strike areas further upstream this summer.

Their concern has precedent. Thunderstorms on the barren, burned out slopes northeast of U.S. Highway 24 and in Woodland Park have filled Fountain Creek to its edges the last few years, leaving residents of Cascade, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls spending each spring stacking sandbags and cleaning up after a series of floods.

Residents of those towns find themselves repeatedly asking the same question:

“What are they doing upstream?”

[…]

Those downstream remember a brief but powerful storm that hit Woodland Park in August 2013 and sent “a wall of water” pouring down Fountain Creek.

In an interview with The Gazette, Bill Alspach outlined years of planning and channel reconstruction that he said the Teller County city at the headwaters of Fountain Creek have been doing.

“We understand the creek,” Alspach said. “We’ve committed ourselves to being good stewards of the headwaters and good stewards to our neighbors. We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do.”

Mayor-elect Jane Newberry said there is a “general feeling” in Green Mountain Falls that growth in Woodland Park has led to more storm runoff and a greater threat that Fountain Creek could pour over its banks and threaten bridges, homes and businesses in the communities below.

During the Aug. 22, 2013 storm, two bridges were damaged in Green Mountain Falls and several homes flooded in Green Mountain Falls and Cascade.

Newberry said she has “seen the city leaders in Woodland Park” focus on updating their development requirements to include a priority on drainage mitigation.

Alspach echoed that, saying that Woodland Park began its foundation of “stormwater stewardship” when the city council passed a resolution in 1994 requiring strict criteria for runoff retention.

In 2011 Alspach updated city code to require developers to include designs that slow runoff and reduce effect on Fountain Creek. He said that entails using landscaping, ponds and other features to force water into the ground before it flows toward the channel.

Alspach said businesses with large impervious parking lots and homeowners need to be aware of runoff on their property.

“Everybody contributes to impervious areas,” he said.

In 2014 Woodland Park partnered with Colorado Springs and El Paso County officials to have consistency within the watershed, Alspach said. Woodland Park has since rebuilt the west and east forks of Fountain Creek through town with help from CDOT and the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Alspach said the water now flows through culverts that include several features to help slow the flow.

Now, the city is focused on the next phase, which runs from the convergence of those forks to Aspen Garden Way just east of the Safeway store. Alspach said the city will begin taking bids from contractors on Wednesday to rebuild that portion of the creek. The work will include clearing the channel of debris and installing cutoff walls, boulders and other elements to control flow speeds.

The creek further east is beyond Woodland Park city limits and the responsibility falls to Teller County and private landowners.

Bryan Kincaid, who manages floodplain concerns for Teller County, said consultants who have worked with Woodland Park are in the midst of a stream bed stability assessment from the edge of Woodland Park to the El Paso County line.

“Everybody knows about the feud that has started between everybody downstream and Woodland Park,” Kincaid said. “We’re stuck right in the middle.”

Roads for private landowners along Crystola Road and near Crystola Canyon Road have been closed during heavy rains that send water churning down the usually dry creek bed.

Kincaid said Teller County maintains creek crossings at County Road 21, Creekside Drive and Crystola Canyon Road. The rest of the creek is on private land, he said. Alspach added that while Woodland Park and Teller County seek federal and state aid to help pay for channel maintenance, it’s a challenge for private residents to find money to maintain the creek on their property.

“They own the creek,” Alspach said, noting that landowners can partner with volunteer agencies like the Coalition for the Upper South Platte and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute to help keep the channel safe.

CUSP and RMFI have worked with residents all along Fountain Creek and other drainages plagued by flash flooding since the June 2012 Waldo Canyon fire. The more than 18,000-acre blaze left mountain slopes west of Colorado Springs without vegetation needed to help slow runoff flows during heavy rains. Continued concerns four years later prompted the Green Mountain Falls preparedness meeting.

From TheDenverChannel.com (Anne McNamara):

Flooding is a threat to historic buildings across the country, and most communities are not prepared to protect their valuable resources.

Those are the findings of a new study published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, and co-authored by professors at the University of Colorado Denver and the University of Kentucky.

“Historic resources are a big part of the local economy,” said Andrew Rumbach, Assistant Professor of Planning and Design at the University of Colorado Denver. “So losing those resources is not only bad for the character and identity of the place, but it’s also bad for the local economy.”

Rumbach says Manitou Springs in Colorado is a classic example of an historic tourist town that has done a good job at preservation.

With help from the state, the town has put millions of dollars into improvements to direct water away from historic structures.

The town, named for its mineral water springs, has experience significant flooding in recent years. The flood waters caused more than $100,000 in damage to one of Manitou’s oldest buildings, an inn named The Cliff House at Pikes Peak.

“The Cliff House was here before the flood maps were developed,” said Paul York, the general manager. “You can’t exactly move The Cliff House’s location, it’s right here!”

The hotel has built flood walls to protect its parking structure. They say the wall can be deployed by a single person in less than 30 seconds, in case there is little warning about an oncoming flood.

“It’s come to this,” said York, as he demonstrated how to seal off the flood wall.

Fountain Creek: “It’s the right thing to do. And it’s something we should do” — #Colorado Springs Mayor Suthers

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Bllie Stanton Anleu):

After nearly a year of negotiations, a stormwater deal has been reached between the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo County commissioners.

The tentative intergovernmental agreement, which Mayor John Suthers outlined Monday to the City Council, will benefit not only Pueblo and Pueblo County, but also local residents, by providing $460 million in stormwater projects by 2035.

Those improvements are sorely needed, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency noted in dismal audits of the city stormwater program in 2013 and last August. Unless the situation improves dramatically, the EPA likely would sue Colorado Springs and restrict the MS4 permit that allows the city to send stormwater into the interstate water system.

The more immediate concern was Pueblo County’s threat to withhold the 1041 permit it granted to Utilities for the $825 million Southern Delivery System. That massive water system is scheduled to start delivering water April 27, and the intergovernmental agreement would be signed just in the nick of time…

Suthers started negotiating almost immediately after he was sworn in as mayor last June, and the mayor, Council President Merv Bennett and key leaders from Utilities made repeated trips to Pueblo to smooth the frayed relations and ensure that stormwater improvements would be forthcoming.

The talks proved tricky, as Pueblo’s city and county leaders felt increasing pressure to play hardball with Colorado Springs.

Suthers squeezed the city budget hard to produce millions of dollars. When the city’s southern neighbors balked because they had no guarantee, he placed the burden on Utilities to come up with future funding if and when the city fell short.

Along with that assurance, Pueblo County won a promise that if 71 critical stormwater projects aren’t completed by 2035, the pact will be renewed for five years with continued, commensurate funding increases.

The City Council and Pueblo County commissioners are set to vote on the pact in two weeks.

Provided they enact the agreement, it will mark a hard-fought resolution to Suthers’ most vexing challenge during his 10 months as mayor.

“I personally don’t think we could come up with any better result by litigating on two fronts,” he hold the council. “We could litigate with Pueblo at risk of jeopardizing the SDS being turned on … But I have a certain level of confidence the stormwater program we’re funding here will go a long way toward resolving our (legal) issues with the EPA.”

Besides, he noted: “I mean this very sincerely. It’s the right thing to do. And it’s something we should do.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs would pay more than $605 million to cover environmental damage for the Southern Delivery System if a draft intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County is approved.

The proposed deal includes a guarantee to spend at least $460 million over the next 20 years to repair and build stormwater structures in Colorado Springs in a way that benefits downstream communities, particularly the city of Pueblo.

“This has been a tough, arduous negotiation that has taken months,” said Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen. “After years of Colorado Springs’ failure to honor that commitment we finally have a deal the citizens of Pueblo County can rely upon. We now have guaranteed projects, guaranteed funding and a mechanism for enforceability to back up the guarantees.”

A public hearing on the agreement will be at 1:30 p.m. April 18 in commissioners chambers at the Pueblo County Courthouse. The soonest the board is expected to act on the IGA would be April 25, which gives Colorado Springs time to consider it as well.

Mayor John Suthers is presenting the deal to Colorado Springs City Council today. That group, sitting as the Utilities Board, could pass it on April 20 at the soonest.

Colorado Springs Utilities wants to turn on SDS on April 27.

“I want to make it clear we have not voted on this,” said Commissioner Sal Pace. “I intend to listen to the public next week.” [ed. emphasis mine]

In addition to the stormwater projects, the deal includes nearly $20 million for flood control projects on Fountain Creek within the next nine months, $125,000 to keep the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District afloat and $3 million to the city of Pueblo to dredge Fountain Creek.

The $20 million is part of Colorado Springs’ commitment to pay $50 million over five years to the Fountain Creek district under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS. Within 30 days of signing the IGA, about $9.6 million will be paid, which takes into account credit for $600,000 already provided by Colorado Springs Utilities to the district. Another $10 million would be paid on Jan. 15, 2017, ending a dispute about timing of this year’s payment.

“These immediate payments to the District are desperately needed to study the possibility of, and to potentially construct, a dam on Fountain Creek – this is our opportunity to comprehensively evaluate all options to protect the citizens of Pueblo,” said Commissioner Terry Hart.

The $125,000 would fund operating costs of the district, which now has few financial resources to draw upon.

“The $125,000 was a line in the sand for us,” McFadyen said.

The $3 million to the city of Pueblo for Fountain Creek dredging would require an equal match, part of which could come from $1.8 million held by Pueblo County from an earlier agreement.

The stormwater agreement requires a continued working relationship between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs. Engineers representing both areas have rated 71 current projects for benefits to Colorado Springs and to downstream communities. All but 10 of the projects benefit both.

The list will be reviewed and adjusted over the next 20-25 years to assure compliance and reflect changes in the drainage area.

The accounting includes only money provided by Colorado Springs and Utilities toward projects on the list and require expenditures of $20 million annually the first five years, expanding to $26 million per year in 2031-35. If the list is not complete by 2036, spending of $26 million annually would be required for another five years.

The payments would be guaranteed by transfer funds already paid to the Colorado Springs by Utilities.

Ray Petros, Pueblo County’s water attorney explained the agreement to the board today. Colorado Springs would agree to pay Pueblo County’s engineering costs for drawing up the list and to resolve any IGA disputes in Pueblo District Court.

In addition to the $460 million for stormwater, $50 million for Fountain Creek flood control and $5.2 million for dredging, Colorado Springs previously agreed to spend $75 million by 2024 for sanitary sewer upgrades and $15 million for damage to roads related to SDS.

The total cost for construction of SDS is about $825 million.

From KOAA.com (Andy Koen):

Seven years ago, the Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners gave Colorado Springs Utilities permission to build the Southern Delivery System Pipeline through what’s known as a 1041 Permit. That agreement required the City of Colorado Springs to keep water from flowing faster down Fountain Creek.

But a few short months after the SDS agreement was signed, Colorado Springs voters passed ballot issue 300 and the City Council promptly ended the Stormwater Enterprise.

The backlog of storm water improvement languished for a time and it looked like things were headed to court. Commissioner McFadyen expressed relief that things didn’t reach that point.

“Hopefully it saves taxpayers dollars on both sides and actually has an agreement that’s worthwhile and get to the point, it solves the problem.”

In November, Colorado Springs received notice of violation by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for noncompliance with its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit under the federal Clean Water Act. That complaint was referred to the US Justice Department for legal action.

The basis of the violation was for failure to provide adequate resources to develop and enforce the MS4 Program…

All of the money committed by Colorado Springs in the proposed agreement comes from the city’s general fund. However Mayor Suthers said the IGA is a flexible agreement.

“If at some point in time Colorado Springs decides to join the rest of the world and have a storm water enterprise, they’re free to do so and that funding source can be utilized, but the voters have turned that down as recently as November of 2014.”

Both the Colorado Springs City Council and Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners must vote to approve the agreement. Pueblo will hold its first public hearing on the issue at their next regularly scheduled board meeting April 18.

2015 #coleg: HB16-1276, State House advances bill for $100,000 for emergency mine cleanups

Big 5 adit
Big 5 adit

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

State legislation aimed at helping government deal with inactive mines contaminating waterways advanced Monday, a step toward cleanups at sites that cannot qualify for a federal Superfund designation.

The bill backed by Reps. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and Don Coram, R-Montrose, passed the House on its second reading. It allows for the use of funds collected by state mining regulators at inactive mine sites where hazardous circumstances exist.

But the amount, $100,000 in an emergency fund, is tiny compared with the magnitude of the problem, with hundreds of mines draining into streams and rivers.

“It’s a small amount of money, but every bit can help, and it provides more flexibility,” said Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers for 2016 — @AmericanRivers

MER2016_map

Here’s a report from Jessie Thomas-Blate writing for the AmericanRivers.org blog. Here’s an excerpt:

This report identifies the 10 most threatened waterways in the country and highlights the urgent need for conservation, greater efficiency, and better management of water resources to prevent further harm to river health, wildlife, fish and recreation. Fierce competition for water from rivers under ever greater strain from growing demand and the impacts of climate change is threatening the health of rivers across the country. As pressure on limited water resources grows, conflict must give way to cooperation if we are to satisfy the nations’ growing water needs and maintain clean and healthy rivers.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

This year, we found that outdated and ineffective methods of water management threaten major river basins on both the east and west coasts. The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin, which includes portions of Alabama, Georgia and Florida, ranks number one on the list, followed by the San Joaquin River in California at number two.

More than eight million people depend on clean drinking water from these two systems combined, and water shortages threaten billions of dollars in agricultural production and fisheries.

The America’s Most Endangered Rivers list spotlights rivers facing urgent threats across the country. The Susquehanna River, for example, which flows through Pennsylvania and Maryland, is threatened by harmful dam operations. In Montana, the Smith River is at risk from a proposed mine and remains on the endangered list for a second year.

From National Geographic (Brian Clark Howard):

What do two rivers in the Southeast and California have in common? Both are threatened by battles over their water.

The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida tops a new list as the most endangered river in the U.S. this year, according to an annual report from the Washington, D.C.-based conservation group American Rivers. Second most endangered is the San Joaquin River in northern and central California.

“Both rivers suffer from increasing conflict among stakeholders who depend on their water,” including cities, farmers, and wildlife, says Chris Williams, a senior vice president at American Rivers. “And these issues are exacerbated by population growth and climate change.”

Other rivers high on the list include the Susquehanna in Maryland and Pennsylvania, the Smith in Montana, and the Green-Duwamish in Washington.

The annual list, which dates back to 1984, is based on three criteria: A river must be under serious threat, of regional or national significance, and at a turning point in a decision related to conservation. Last year, the Colorado River was number one, and since then two of its three biggest threats have been withdrawn: a controversial development and a plan for a tram. (A uranium mine proposal remains a threat.)

Past annual lists also helped raise awareness about the Hoback River in Montana, where oil and gas leases were defeated, and the Elwha River in Washington, where a series of dams was removed to restore the ecosystem.

Water conflicts are particularly timely now, notes Williams, given several imminent regulatory and court decisions.

“It is time to move away from the old-fashioned model of fighting over water, through grabs and lawsuits, and toward a cooperative model in which stakeholders sit down together and hammer out agreements, so everybody can get what they need,” Williams says.

He points to recent successes in negotiating water-sharing agreements on the Colorado and Yakima Rivers. (Learn more about restoration work in the Colorado Basin.)