Teaching sixth-graders about water is no small feat. It took a group of talented actors to pull it off.
DENVER – A relaxed and candid Gov. John Hickenlooper told a luncheon crowd at the annual Colorado Water Congress meeting today at the Denver Tech Center that finding money for water projects, education, broadband services, and transportation infrastructure were all high priorities for him this year.
“Certainly what’s going on in Washington is a little disconcerting,” the Democratic governor said early on in his remarks. “You know, I’m an optimist, I think we’re going to be fine. I think we’ll figure this all out.”
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, Hickenlooper released a statement about President Trump’s executive order freezing grants and contracts at the EPA.
“This freeze could potentially impact the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s ability to carry out its federally mandated commitment to protect clean air, clean water and safe drinking water,” Hickenlooper said in the statement. “We have sought clarification from the EPA and have asked for assistance from Senators Gardner and Bennet.”
Acknowledging that three-quarters of the people in the room probably voted for Donald Trump, as water buffaloes in Colorado tend to be politically conservative, Hickenlooper quipped, “We’ve changed our Facebook relationship status with Washington, D.C., to ‘It’s complicated.’”
That got a laugh from the crowd.
Hickenlooper then turned to climate change, noting it wasn’t clear yet whether Colorado would see more or less water in the future. And he said whether one believes climate change is caused by human activities or not, Colorado should still be preparing for the worst.
The governor also praised the Colorado Water Plan that was presented to him by the Colorado Water Conservation Board in December 2015, after he called in 2013 for the plan to be prepared in two years, a blink of an eye in “water time.”
“Over the last year we’ve made progress on pretty much every measurable goal in the plan,” Hickenlooper. “We’ve really worked hard to make sure that water can be a way to unite this state. Historically that hasn’t been the case.”
Hickenlooper also cited the work of the regional basin roundtables in creating the water plan.
“My sense is that water should not be a partisan issue,” Hickenlooper said. “It shouldn’t be about one party or the other. We should work hard, just like we did in creating the water plan to come up with a shared, consensus, plan and then we should all work together. If we have disagreements, sit down, work through the disagreements, but keep it the hell out of politics.”
He also talked about the idea of creating “a hub for water data” in Colorado so that people get more information about how water is used. And he said he wanted the state to be a leader in innovative water management.
The governor also made a plug for the annual “projects bill” presented to the state Legislature from the CWCB. This year’s bill includes a $25 million investment in what Hickenlooper called “Colorado water plan activities,” including water supply projects.
The bill also includes a $90 million loan from the CWCB to Northern Water to help finance a new reservoir as part of its Windy Gap project, which would deliver more Colorado River water to the northern Front Range.
The governor said despite the state’s “fiscal thicket” created by two statewide tax-limiting measures, water issues should be given bipartisan support, along with education, transportation, and broadband. And, he noted, that rural counties in Colorado will likely get hurt the most if new revenue sources are not eventually supported by voters.
Water, and beer
Hickenlooper, who has been mentioned as a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, published a memoir last year called “The opposite of woe: my life in beer and politics.” And he managed a way to work beer into his short speech by bringing up new regulations around water reuse.
“The more water reuse we have, the more we’re going to have to put on crops,” he said. “It’s basic math. Once we get regulations in place, the home builders, businesses, and all kinds of water users are going to be able to safely implement gray water and direct potable reuse systems. It’s really going to take pressure off of irrigated agriculture as well as … that pressure of taking water from the West Slope.”
The governor, who founded Wynkoop Brewing Co. in Denver in 1988, then turned to what he called the “highest and most beneficial use” of water – the making of beer.
“I’d like the opportunity to lead you all in a toast,” Hickenlooper said as CWCB Director James Eklund approached the podium and poured him a glass of beer.
“Where’s our beer?” someone called out from the tables.
“If you want to run through a statewide election and get elected governor, you get your own pint on the lectern too,” Hickenlooper said to much laughter, while taking a sip and apologizing for not having beer for everyone.
“If it was my meeting … ,” he said, to more laughter, before toasting, “let’s raise a glass to the strong state of the headwaters state.”
What I heard from the water pros: collaboration, climate change — and the state water plan recited as a poem.
The Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention starts today and I’ll be there live-Tweeting (@CoyoteGulch). Posts on Coyote Gulch may be intermittent through Friday. I’ll catch up on the weekend.
If you’re at the convention please come by and say hello. I’ll be up front with my Macintosh laptop.
From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller) via the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent:
The snowpack around Vail — and throughout the upper Colorado River Basin — has not only caught up with the 30-year median, but has surpassed it.
At the measurement site on Vail Mountain, the amount of water in the snowpack there, the snow water equivalent, on about Jan. 1 had matched the peak snow water number from the drought year of 2011-2012.
The snow water number on Vail Mountain was 13.9 inches on Monday, well above the 30-year median number of 10 inches.
Diane Johnson, the communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, said there’s good snowpack news around the region.
The district keeps its closest eye on the snow measurement sites at Vail Mountain, Fremont Pass and at Copper Mountain. The Fremont Pass site is important since it’s the headwaters of the Eagle River. The Copper Mountain site is the closest official measurement site to the top of Vail and Shrine passes, the headwaters of Gore Creek.
The snowpack at Copper Mountain right now is 155 percent of the 30-year median, and the Fremont Pass site is at 140 percent of that median number.
Johnson said the entire Upper Colorado basin is at 145 percent of the 30-year median, and the Colorado basin feeding the reservoirs at Lake Powell and Lake Meade is at more than 160 percent of the median.
“Is that enough to counteract a 17-year drought? No, but it’s still good,” Johnson said.
The graphs of a winter’s snowpack usually climb on a fairly gradual slope, then fall as if from a cliff in the spring. This season’s snowpack chart has climbed virtually straight up since Dec. 1. The Vail Mountain site is already at more than 60 percent of the median snowpack peak…
While the snowpack is in good shape for now, we’re still in the midst of the annual snowfall season, and snowpack doesn’t usually peak until about the end of April. And, while there’s almost certainly more snow to come, the outlook is uncertain.
Megan Stackhouse, a meteorologist at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said the patterns look to be a bit drier until Feb. 2.
But, at least for the next several days, temperatures will take a snowpack-preserving dip.
After that, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, which uses models to predict weather trends, sees a less-certain trend.
A weak La Nina pattern of cooler-than-average water in the Pacific Ocean west of Ecuador never really established itself well enough to influence weather patterns into North America, Stackhouse said. That leaves the climate models into the spring calling for an equal chance of above- or below-average precipitation.
The precipitation uncertainty persists into the March-April-May period, with a slight chance of above-normal temperatures.
From Denverite (Andrew Kenney):
As the story unfolds, organizations large and small are scrambling to determine what it could mean for them. The potential impacts are limited not just to obvious environmental programs, such as the cleanup of the Gold King Mine spill, but also to the small local nonprofits and businesses that serve the EPA’s offices here in Denver.
The suspension may threaten the state’s ability to carry out its environmental work, according to Governor John Hickenlooper. In all, the federal government reports the EPA has awarded nearly $200 million in grants and contracts since October 2014, which marked the beginning of the 2015 fiscal year, where the primary work is done in Colorado.
What we know so far:
As ProPublica reported on Monday, the new leadership of the EPA has ordered a temporary suspension of the agency’s grants and contracts. What’s unclear is whether the new freeze merely stops the agency from taking on new spending or whether it will disrupt existing grants and contracts…
The Associated Press has reported that the freeze affects “new” grants and contracts, but ProPublica reports that ongoing work is “temporarily suspended.” We may not know for a while, as the administration has banned EPA employees from talking to reporters, according to AP.
The Associated Press was eventually able to get a little information out of Doug Ericksen, the communications director for Trump’s transition team at EPA.
“We’re just trying to get a handle on everything and make sure what goes out reflects the priorities of the new administration,” he told the AP.
Ericksen clarified that the freeze on EPA contracts and grants won’t apply to pollution cleanup efforts or infrastructure construction activities…
Who it impacts:
In either case, we’re working to assess the role and impact of this funding in Colorado. Recent EPA grants here include the $2.2 million that Colorado State University received in 2014 to support a water-cleaning science project and $260,000 that Sen. Cory Gardner announced would aid in the cleanup of the Gold King Mine spill.
Federal contracts and grants can be viewed at usaspending.gov. In the previous fiscal year, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment received $17.6 million in grants from the EPA, while the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority received $25 million. The authority provides low-cost financing for water and wastewater infrastructure projects. The city of Durango received $29 million to rehabilitate a water treatment plant in response to the Gold King Mine spill. It’s possible work like this would fall under the exemption for environmental clean-up and infrastructure construction.
The EPA’s contracts, meanwhile, include a huge range of work that the EPA pays external companies to do. Take Bayaud Enterprises, the Denver nonprofit that provides employment and support for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment. Bayaud also runs the city’s employment program for homeless people. Bayaud did more than $500,000 of contract work for the EPA last fiscal year, mostly relating to building maintenance…
How Colorado’s agencies are reacting:
Colorado State University has almost $5 million in active EPA grants funding projects that involve some 700 faculty, although most of that money has already been received, according to Alan Rudolph, vice president for research at the school.
He said that the university understands that funding can change in the year-to-year government cycle, but staff are worried about the idea that existing funding would suddenly be stopped.
“If those were frozen, that would be of great concern to us,” he said. The university is in regular contact with program officers at the EPA, but even those employees can give little sense of what’s to come as the new administration takes power.
Changes at the EPA also could significantly affect some Colorado governments’ environmental activities.
“We’re still trying to understand the impacts of the order, including if this affects only new grants or current too,” wrote Kerra Jones, spokeswoman for the Denver Department of Environmental Health, in an email.
She added that much of the city’s EPA money is routed through the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, which “will be affected much more than us.”
Mark Salley, spokesman for CDPHE, wrote that the department has “received little to no clarification as of yet as to what is even meant by ‘grants and contracts.’ We hope to receive additional information in the coming weeks.”
Late on Tuesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a statement saying that his office had received notice of the suspension that day.
“The communication was ambiguous and did not explain the duration or scope of the freeze. This freeze could potentially impact the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s ability to carry out its federally mandated commitment to protect clean air, clean water and safe drinking water. We have sought clarification from the EPA and have asked for assistance from Senators Gardner and Bennet.”