Rio Grande Roundtable meeting recap

Rio Grande River March 2016 via Greg Hobbs.
Rio Grande River March 2016 via Greg Hobbs.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

With less money from severance taxes flowing into the pools that fund water projects in the San Luis Valley and around the state, those fishing for funds may have to string some pretty good bait from now on.

In the 10 years the Rio Grande Roundtable has been in operation, it has funded thousands of dollars worth of projects from studies and assessments to ditch and river repairs.

Colorado Water Conservation Board Program Manager Craig Godbout reported to the roundtable board on Tuesday that the local group still has more than $300,000 in its basin fund but needs to keep in mind it may not see any more funding until July of next year. In addition to basin-allocated funds, there is a statewide fund from which requests may be made.

In light of the tighter funding outlook, Godbout said the state water conservation board was asking for affirmation from the local board regarding its earlier approval of $67,000 towards an Upper Rio Grande assessment. The state board has to sign off on projects and is fine with the assessment project but wanted to make sure the local board was still willing to commit to it, in light of funding challenges.

Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Nathan Coombs said there was no question about the value of the project.

“We are just re-evaluating that we want money from our basin still going to this project,” he said.

Roundtable member Charlie Spielman had been opposed to the original approval of the Upper Rio Grande Assessment because he believed it was outside the primary scope of the roundtable, and he voted against it again on Tuesday, but the rest of the board affirmed their support of it.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, the Rio Grande Roundtable had $345,156 in its account, according to Godbout. The group on Tuesday approved $39,000 towards a $228,000 wetland wildlife assessment project that will take the basin’s fund balance down to $306,156.

The SLV chapter of Trout Unlimited is the fiscal sponsor and Wetland Dynamics the contractor for the assessment , which will gather and compile species, habitat and water information from public land agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks & Wildlife, develop conservation goals and identify potential projects. Wetland Dynamics principals Jenny Nehring and Cary Aloia explained that this project will help the separate entities better coordinate their efforts in providing wildlife habitat, specifically regarding water resources.

The project will be completed by January 2019. Other pending or acquired funding sources include the SLV Conservation Connection Initiative and the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.

No one opposed the wetlands /wildlife project, and funding for it was approved unanimously, but a couple of the roundtable members said they had a problem funding something that benefitted government agencies but was not being funded by those government agencies.

Other roundtable members said this project, like the SLV Habitat Conservation Plan and similar projects, would help protect private lands for traditional uses such as farming by identifying ways for public lands and water resources to be used more efficiently for wildlife habitat.

“You do anything for any species, you are benefitting lots of species,” added Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the San Luis Valley.

In improving habitat, projects like this also keep species from becoming listed as endangered, he said.

The news that funds might be tighter did not deter the board from approving funds for the wetland wildlife project or a subsequent $2,500 request from Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies Executive Director Jeff Derry for help with dust-on-snow monitoring. The information about dust storm events and their effects on snowpack are helpful in determining how fast snowmelt might occur. Derry will be seeking funds from other basin roundtables as well as the state water fund.

Coombs said less money did not mean the roundtable board should panic. He said there is nothing wrong with tightening up requirements for funding and making sure “t’s” have been crossed and “i’s” dotted.

“We have good projects,” he said.

Mike Gibson, who served as the chairman of the roundtable until retiring from the SLV Water Conservancy District, was voted back on as a board member on Tuesday following the group’s vote through a bylaw change to increase its at-large board representation.

Gibson said the roundtable board should not be secondguessing itself about whether or not to fund worthwhile projects because a better one might come along later and the roundtable wouldn’t have the money for it.

“I think it’s irrelevant because in the past we have said if money’s available and it’s a worthwhile project, we should approve it,” he said. “Speculating or considering what may come forward we may wish we had the money for at that time is irrelevant. What this roundtable has done all along if the money is available and it’s a good project we have approved it and moved forward.”

Gibson added that while the group still has $300,000 “which is an amazing amount of money available to us” “if there’s a worthwhile project out there, it needs to be brought forward while the money’s available.”

Cleave Simpson, who represents the Rio Grande Roundtable on the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), said he is now serving on a guidelines/criteria subcommittee that is working on tightening up criteria that projects must meet to receive funding, since funds are tighter. Projects will have to more closely align with the legislature’s intent when it approved the roundtable structure and severance tax funding. Projects will also need to align with basin plans and the Colorado Water Plan, which was recently developed and approved by the governor.

Simpson said the IBCC also discussed other funding sources for water projects, such as instituting a container fee on human-consumed liquid beverages in containers . That is at an initial discussion stage, he added.

Travis Smith, who represents this basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said there is a real shift from when the roundtables began 10 years ago to more stringent requirements and closer scrutiny before approving projects now.

“Funding is tighter, but good projects still get funded,” he said.

Jay Winner, who was visiting from the Arkansas Valley Roundtable, said, “The message is they are going to tighten it up ” The last 10 years were a lot of fun. The next 10 years are going to be a little bit different.”

In a side note during Tuesday’s meeting, Smith pointed out that the River Valley Group, which had been the recipient of a large roundtable request in the past, had filed a Colorado Open Records Act request for information on projects the roundtable has approved and communication between roundtable members and state water board members. Steve Massey from the River Valley Group was present at the Tuesday meeting. The group states its purpose is “too match the needs of wildlife, agriculture, and human beings in a coexistent environment while enhancing opportunities for all, both for current and future generations.”

Report: Tribes and Water in the #ColoradoRiver Basin — CRRG #COriver

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Click here to read the report from the Colorado River Research Group. Here’s an excerpt:

Tribes with reservations in the Colorado River Basin currently have quantified rights to divert about 20 percent of the basin’s annual average water supply, while over a dozen others still have outstanding claims. Yet, as the Colorado River Research Group has noted before, existing uses of basin water already exceed reliable supplies, even though many tribes are not fully using the water already allocated to them. Understandably, tribes want and deserve to enjoy the full benefits of their rights. Other water users, however, are concerned about how tribal water rights and uses integrate with already existing and planned future non‐Indian uses of basin water. These competing interests have long been viewed as on a collision course. But, in fact, much progress has been made over the fifty plus years since Arizona v. California (1963) to satisfy tribal rights without displacing other existing uses. It has not been easy.

Making additional progress will also be difficult, but is an essential step forward in basin management. This reality jumped from the pages of the 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study (“Basin Study”), and is being explored further in an ongoing joint study by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Ten Tribes Partnership, now tentatively scheduled for completion in December 2016. Given the salience of tribal rights—both to tribal and non‐Indian users—this article provides an introduction to what we currently know about tribal water rights in the basin. This article provides context for emerging policy discussions focused on providing tribes with more flexibility and opportunity in the use of their water, perhaps through voluntary transfer mechanisms such as leasing and forbearance agreements.

New Study Quantifies Benefits of Agricultural Conservation in Upper Mississippi River Basin

A harvested field in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Credit: USGS.
A harvested field in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Credit: USGS.

Here’s the release from the USGS (Anne Berry Wade/Sarah Haymaker):

Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have published a new study that demonstrates that agricultural conservation practices in the upper Mississippi River watershed can reduce nitrogen inputs to area streams and rivers by as much as 34 percent.

The study combined USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) data with the USGS SPARROW watershed model to measure the potential effects of voluntary conservation practices, which historically have been difficult to do in large river systems, because different nutrient sources can have overlapping influences on downstream water quality.

“These results provide new insights on the benefits of conservation practices in reducing nutrient inputs to local streams and rivers and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Sarah Ryker, Interior’s acting assistant deputy for Water and Science. “The incorporation of agricultural conservation practice information into watershed models helps us better understand where water quality conditions are improving and prioritize where additional conservation actions are needed.”

Until this study, nutrient reductions have been difficult to detect in the streams because changes in multiple sources of nutrients (including non-agricultural sources) and natural processes (e.g., hydrological variability, channel erosion) can have confounding influences that conceal the effects of improved farming practices on downstream water quality. The models used in this study overcame these difficulties to help validate the downstream benefits of farmers’ conservation actions on the land.

“As the results of this valuable collaboration with the USGS indicate, voluntary conservation on agricultural lands is improving water quality. When multiple farmers, ranchers and working forest land managers in one region come together to apply the conservation science, the per acre conservation benefit is greatly enhanced,” said USDA Natural Resources and Environment Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills. “While there are no short-term solutions to complex water quality issues, USDA is committed to continuing these accelerated voluntary conservation efforts, using collaborative science to target conservation in watersheds where the greatest benefits can be realized.”

Nutrient reductions attributable to agricultural conservation practices in the region ranged from five to 34 percent for nitrogen and from one to 10 percent for total phosphorus, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

High levels of nutrients containing nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural and urban areas contribute to hypoxic regions (low oxygen “dead zones”) in offshore marine waters.

The study underscored evidence that slowing the water and routing it into the ground can significantly reduce the nitrogen that is eventually transported to streams. Structural and erosion control practices, such as conservation tillage, in the Upper Mississippi River Basin have been shown to reduce runoff and peak flows, thereby increasing water infiltration into the soils and the subsurface geology. An added benefit of these conservation actions is that, in some areas, hydrological and biogeochemical conditions in the subsurface can promote the removal of nitrogen by natural biological processes.

Phosphorus reductions were lower than was seen for nitrogen, possibly because of long time lags between conservation actions and the time it may take for sediment-bound phosphorus to move downstream. In addition, some erosion control practices, such as no-till and reduced tillage, have been shown to increase soluble phosphorus levels in farm runoff, which can potentially offset some benefits from erosion control practices.

The innovative approach combined information from process-based models from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with a USGS hybrid statistical and process-based model to quantify the environmental benefits of agricultural conservation practices at a regional scale.

The USGS watershed model was calibrated with data from over 700 water-quality monitoring stations operated by numerous local, state, and federal agencies throughout the Upper Mississippi River basin. The investigation used the most recently available farmer survey data from CEAP (2003-2006), together with stream water-quality data that are approximately coincident with the time period (1980s to 2004, with the average centered on 2002) over which farmer conservation practices, as measured in the survey, were adopted.

Additional information on the USGS SPARROW modeling approach and a nutrient mapper and an online decision support tool for the Mississippi River basin is available online.

Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival slated for Friday and Saturday

Photo via Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival
Photo via Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Boat races, bounce houses, live music and plenty of refreshments are all in the lineup for this year’s Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival slated for Friday and Saturday.

Competitors will take on the waves of the Arkansas River to try everything from freestyle and downriver kayak, raft and paddle board races to inner tube and Build Your Own Boat races. For those who want to stay on dry land, competitions held in the Whitewater Kayak and Recreation Park section of the river are visible from Centennial Park and the Fourth Street pedestrian bridge.

Throughout the two-day event, live music will run on two stages. Performances are slated to kick off at 3 p.m. Friday at Centennial Park with the Polynesian- influenced alternative rock performer Kai’mi Hanano’eau of Hawaii.

In addition to dozens of water-related events, the festival will feature the Whitewater Adventure Race, or WAR, where runners get obstacles like a mud pit, ice bath, pipe crawl and other challenges thrown at them. A fun zone full of bounce houses for children, merchant and food vendors, a beer garden, yoga and a fly-casting competition will round out offerings.

Other stage performers will include the Eric Tessmer rock and blues band, the Judd Hoos country rock band, Colorado based reggae band Irie Still, country musicians Adam Ashley and Kinsey Sadler and Colorado Springs rock band Wrestle With Jimmy.

The festival favorite, the BYOB (Build Your Own Boat) Race, is slated for 5:15 p.m. Saturday and gives spectators the thrill of watching amateur watercraft builders and their crews take to the river in an all-out sprint for buoyant glory.

Admission to the festival is $5 per person. Cost for a fun zone wristband and all-day access to bounce houses is $10 per child.

For a complete schedule of events log on to http://royalgorgewhitewaterfestival.com.

San Luis Valley: Habitat study to document change — The Pueblo Chieftain

1869 Map of San Luis Parc of Colorado and Northern New Mexico. "Sawatch Lake" at the east of the San Luis Valley is in the closed basin. The Blanca Wetlands are at the south end of the lake.
1869 Map of San Luis Parc of Colorado and Northern New Mexico. “Sawatch Lake” at the east of the San Luis Valley is in the closed basin. The Blanca Wetlands are at the south end of the lake.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

A San Luis Valley consulting firm is undertaking a study of wetlands and riparian habitat that state and federal wildlife officials hope will help their management efforts in the face of climate change and pending groundwater regulation.

The $228,000 project by Wetland Dynamics will look at past and present wetland habitat across the valley, agency capacity in managing that habitat on their respective jurisdictions and the needs of 35 species.

Jenny Nehring, a partner at Wetland Dynamics, said the agencies have a good understanding of what they manage inside their boundaries but the study will make it easier for them to collaborate.

“A valleywide perspective of how these wetlands function as a whole to provide resources for wildlife is not well understood,” she told the Rio Grande Basin roundtable earlier this week. “This effort will help us determine where we have information gaps regarding changes in historic habitats and populations.”

The information they gather will include a look at how wetlands have changed in the valley since its permanent settlement in the 1850s.

Missoula, Mont.-based Intermountain West Joint Venture is partnering with Wetland Dynamics and will analyze historic survey and land records from the U.S. General Land Office.

The General Land Office oversaw the public domain from its creation in 1812 until it was folded into the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in 1934.

The analysis will also include satellite photos that were taken every 16 days between 1984 and now.

That time interval will help determine how wetlands habitat changes between seasons, Nehring said.

The final report, due in 2019, would include information for 35 species, detailing how, when and what type of habitat they use and whether the water source undergirding their habitat is secure.

It would also detail the water held by landuse and wildlife agencies and any limitations on the use of that water — a key piece of information for determining how agencies can work together.

Every March, thousands of Sandhill cranes stop in #GreatSandDunes National Park & Preserve on their way to their northern breeding grounds. The fields and wetlands of #Colorado’s San Luis Valley provide excellent habitat for these majestic #birds. With the dunes and mountains nearby, they dance and call to each other. It’s one of nature’s great spectacles. Photo @greatsanddunesnps by #NationalPark Service.
Every March, thousands of Sandhill cranes stop in #GreatSandDunes National Park & Preserve on their way to their northern breeding grounds. The fields and wetlands of #Colorado’s San Luis Valley provide excellent habitat for these majestic #birds. With the dunes and mountains nearby, they dance and call to each other. It’s one of nature’s great spectacles. Photo @greatsanddunesnps by #NationalPark Service.

Just one example of the importance of water use can be found at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, where U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials use groundwater to provide the roosting pools for the roughly 20,000 sandhill cranes that come through the valley in late winter.
Likewise, the Bureau of Land Management uses groundwater to supplement the Blanca Wetlands Recreation Area east of Alamosa that hosts migrating shore and songbirds.

The agencies that are partnering on the project and contributing manpower include the BLM, USFWS, the National Resource Conservation Service, National Park Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

But it could also help land trusts and state wildlife officials who work with private landowners.

“Really what it’s going to do is help us be better partners,” said Rick Basegoitia, area wildlife manager for CPW’s valley office.

San Luis Valley via National Geographic
San Luis Valley via National Geographic

Mancos Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR
Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR

From The Cortez Journal (Jacob Klopfenstein):

The Mancos Water Conservancy District board voted to put up for lease 150 acre-feet of water from the Jackson Gulch project, district Superintendent Gary Kennedy said.

The board approved the water lease at their meeting June 14. District officials will be going out to see if people need extra water, though they might not need extra because of the wet spring season, Kennedy said.

The board and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation found agreement on project water rights for Jackson Reservoir, Kennedy said. The rights will be assigned to the water district from the federal government, he said.

Also at the meeting, the board discussed the title transfer for the project, Kennedy said. The title transfer is an ongoing issue that will take many years to resolve.

The district had hoped to complete some appraisals of land associated with the project this summer, but that hit a snag, Kennedy said. The cost for the appraisals is almost double what the board anticipated, and another government agency will be involved, he said. Even if the board decides to pay the new price for the appraisals, Kennedy could not say how long that would take.

The district is planning a party to celebrate 75 years of the water district. The celebration will take place July 16 at noon at Jackson Gulch Reservoir on Road N north of Mancos. There will be a barbecue as well as some educational information on the history of the district. RSVP is requested by emailing Kennedy at gary.mwcd@gmail.com or calling 970-533-7325.

District officials also will be working on clearing the inlet canals to the reservoir this summer, Kennedy said. The reservoir’s two drop chutes also need some work, but that might not take place until 2019, when the district could receive money from the federal government to rehabilitate the chutes, Kennedy said.

Board member Boe Hawkins was reappointed to a four-year board term at the meeting.

The reservoir’s jet valve was rebuilt over the winter, and some safety issues came up with the valve, Kennedy said. After investigation, the valve was operating normally and there were no major problems, he said.

The hydro lease of the power permit for the project is still moving forward and the board is still working on it, Kennedy said. At next month’s board meeting July 12, board members will elect officers.

Widefield aquifer: Looking for the source of PFC pollution

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From KKTV.com (Alyssa Chin):

The Widefield Water and Sanitation District said while their PFC levels are not too far above the limit.

During a public meeting this afternoon, they suspected firefighting foam used at Peterson Air Force base years ago could be the culprit.

Perflourinated chemicals, also known as PFCs, were found in wells in Security, Widefield and Fountain.

That prompted a health advisory for pregnant women and babies, and that concern is spreading…

The Air Force started using PFC based firefighting foam in 1970 to put out fuel based fires and told us they stopped using it about 10 years ago.

A map outlines where PFC foam was used at nearby local military installations in relation to Security and Widefield.

Fort Carson told us, their one fire training site will be tested in the near future. But, added their water couldn’t have moved uphill to the affected area.

Peterson Air Force Base told us, they just tested their two fire training sites. Those preliminary results will be public in the next few months. They are scheduled to have the sites tested again in May 2017, but said, based on the results of the preliminary test, that date could be moved up.

That’s where Widefield believes their problem begins.

In May 2016, the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) lowered the allowed limit of PFCs in the water.

Widefield Water said more than 60% of their water has no traces of PFCs. And before the new guidelines, they were well below the accepted levels.

In security, the PFC levels tested much higher than Widefield’s. The water department there said it could be decades before the chemicals work their way out of the water supply.

“It made me immediately stop using everything- ice included. I don’t want another Flint happening here,” Security resident Latisha Mapu previously told us.

Widefield Water said they hope to have a plan ready to fix the problem in the next few months.

In the meantime, they said homeowners can install a reverse osmosis system or use carbon water filters in the home.

For a look at the affected areas in Security, Widefield, and Fountain click here.

For Colorado Springs Utilities customers and Pueblo Water Works customers, they told us this issue wouldn’t happen because those utilities get their water from places like Pueblo Reservoir and not well water.

From KRDO.com:

Members of the Widefield Water District held a public meeting this week, where citizens asked many questions. The most common question asked, was how people can protect themselves.

“You can get an activated carbon filter and a reverse osmosis filter,” said Brandon Bernard with Widefield Water District.

The different filter options cost anywhere from $30 to $500.

“Make sure the filters are NSF (National Science Foundation) approved, and follow all the recommended guidelines when you purchase your filter,” Bernard said.

But the idea of filters isn’t easing everyone’s mind…

Water district members say Widefield does not have a higher rate of cancer or developmental issues compared to anywhere else in Colorado.

“Widefield is going above and beyond, we’re improving our blending stations and looking into future treatment options,” said Brenard.

Meanwhile, local water companies are seeing a sudden spike in bottled water sales.

“This is by far the most interest in bottled water that we’ve seen here by far,” said Rick Baker, co-owner of Springs Mountain Water in Colorado Springs…

In just two days the business sold one month’s worth of water jugs.