Wallets are Out, Water is In: Thieves of 2017 Find New Focus — University of Denver Water Law Review

Graphic via Mount Shasta Forest Property Owners Association.

Here’s a report about the increasing crime involving the theft of water from Rebecca Spence writing for the University of Denver Water Law Review. Here’s an excerpt:

In California and the Midwest, the drought has contributed to wells drying up. Some people, in response, decide to build a new well or pay to have water delivered by truck. Other people, however, have turned to taking water from neighboring wells that have not gone dry as a much cheaper and easier approach.

In addition to these household, private theft issues, there have also been instances of people stealing from public water sources. In March of 2016 in Boulder, a pair of men who worked for a ditch company had a permit allowing them to divert a certain amount of water for agricultural use. They applied for the permit using their work information, but took the water from the permit by truckload to sell at a complete upcharge to fracking companies. In Washington, water theft from fire hydrants caused loss of an estimated $145 million around the state in July 2016. People would hook up a hose to the hydrant and pump the water into trucks to be transported elsewhere. This is hazardous because hydrants could potentially deplete the water from the reservoirs. Firefighters, unless they are consistently checking the hydrants, would find out they were out of water only when they went to turn the hose on to fight a fire…

Thieves continue to draw up new ways to steal water from public spaces or neighbors, and there is no sign of it slowing. Thieves caught in the act of pumping from a stream or community water source are only required to obtain a permit in most states, and they can continue to pump without any fines or legal actions taken against them. Many household cases are never solved because water theft recidivism rates for the same source is low once necessary preventative actions are taken by the owner. For those who have a legal permit to use water, it is an issue of monitoring usage. People who do have permits are required to report usage, but in many cases they are trusted with self-policing their usage. This results in the temptation to utilize more water than originally allocated, or to utilize the water for additional operations than originally applied for. The enforcement of punishments is seemingly low across the nation as many water divisions do not completely know when or how to get law enforcement involved. The best thing that cities and individuals can do is take extra steps to prevent theft within their own water rights, and be more proactive in their security initiatives.

There has not been a proven way to completely prevent these kinds of acts of theft besides alerting the community and taking initiative to report any suspicious activity involving water trucks or piping. Victims of water theft have prevented future loss by purchasing bib locks or lock boxes and securing them over openings to wells, meters or any other potential access point to private water sources. Although this may seem excessive to some, it is undisputedly better than opening a water bill for hundreds of dollars more than expected, and subsequently defending your reputation to the court.

These water savvy thieves continue to map out new, complex ways to make a quick buck off water that is not theirs. This issue is heightened now more than ever not only because of the state of drought, but because of the unpredictable affects climate change is on water supplies. Scientists predict the increase in demand of water will come with the decrease of supply and the quality of supply.

The latest “The Current” newsletter is hot off the presses

Deep Creek via the Bureau of Land Management

Click here to read the newsletter from the Eagle River Watershed Council. Here’s an excerpt:

“There is a religious experience in coming over top of a huge rapid and burying your bowman’s face down until you maybe can’t see him,” Claude Terry describes of our 39th president, Jimmy Carter—then Georgia Governor—completing the first tandem descent of the wild Chattooga River in 1974.

President Carter grew up near rivers under the guidance of his father, an avid fisherman, which built the foundation of his admiration and respect for wild waters. Under the tutelage of Claude Terry, the co-founder of American Rivers, he learned all he could about kayaking and canoeing, and the pair became the first to run the Class IV+ rated Bull Sluice rapid in an open canoe. The experience through the beautiful, rugged, and wild rapids on the Georgia-South Carolina border led him to advocate for the listing of the Chattooga River through the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.

The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, signed into law in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, is one of the earliest pieces of environmental regulations surrounding water. The Act’s aim is to protect the natural and healthy flow of certain rivers that exhibit “outstandingly remarkable” scenic, cultural, historical, recreational, geologic, and other similar values worthy of preservation for future generations. Essentially, it ensures the river will remain in its current free-flowing form and defends against future damming or development that would harm the river and its surrounding ecosystem.

Typically, a quarter-mile buffer surrounds designated Wild & Scenic Rivers. Included with the designation of each river is a management plan specific to that stream to ensure the conservation of the “Outstanding Remarkable Values” (ORVs) for which the wild river was identified. The management plan is developed through a process that promotes participation across political boundaries and from the public. Existing water rights, private property rights, and interstate compacts are not affected by a listing or designation.

While there are about 3.6 million miles of rivers and streams in the U.S., only about 12,709 miles are protected under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act—about 0.35%. And while there is only one river in Colorado, the Cache la Poudre, currently protected by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, Deep Creek in our own Eagle County was found “suitable” for Wild & Scenic designation in 2014. American Rivers and Eagle River Watershed Council are currently working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to designate this pristine river as such.

Flowing from the Flat Tops and Deep Lake to its confluence with the Colorado River just before Dotsero, the river passes through a deep and narrow canyon of limestone rock that hosts one of the biggest and most complex cave systems in Colorado. Deep Creek is also home to rare species from riparian plants to bats, all of which will fall under the umbrella of protection with a Wild & Scenic designation. Sheep and cattle ranchers graze their livestock in the area as well. The Watershed Council and American Rivers have been working with these ranchers to ensure that their grazing rights are protected as they have used this land without impacts on the wild and scenic values of the creek for generations.

President Carter continued his legacy of environmentalism throughout his presidency, blocking numerous dam projects throughout the U.S. that would have negatively and permanently altered rivers and their ecosystems. A film by American Rivers, entitled “The Wild President” explores the groundbreaking first descent, and will be one of 10 inspiring and adventurous films shown at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival on April 12th at the Riverwalk Theatre in Edwards. The film festival was created by Patagonia and is hosted locally by Eagle River Watershed Council in an effort to increase community awareness of our relationship with the planet, particularly our waterways, and to inspire action. For more information and to buy tickets, visit http://www.erwc.org/events/calendar.

Lizzie Schoder is the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org.

March for Science to defend evidence-based policy — @CSUCollegian

Photo credit Dave Moskovitz.

From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Mq Borocz):

Participants in the March for Science plan to march in defense of science and evidence-based policy throughout hundreds of cities across the United States and the world – including Denver on April 22.

The March for Science formed in response to a trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery within the political sphere, according to the march’s website. While the march is intended to be bipartisan, many are concerned about this trend from the Trump administration.

There are 428 satellite marches to the March for Science in Washington D.C registered on the march’s website. The Denver March for Science will take place in Denver’s Civic Center Park from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Facebook, 6,300 people marked themselves as going, and 12,000 marked themselves as interested. There will be a march in Fort Collins, but the time and place is yet to be confirmed.

Several students and faculty members at CSU plan to attend the march in Denver. Michael Somers, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said he plans to go. He said that since science is currently being politicized, scientists need to stand up for their work.

“Scientists have often stayed out of politics,” Somers said. “However … we have to be able to stand up for science because it is for the betterment of the world. Scientists are not out there for money, but out there to learn things.”

Sommers cited the Trump administration’s proposed budget as an example of how scientific evidence is under attack, including evidence regarding climate change. The proposed budget cuts the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent and the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, by 12 percent. Both departments are responsible for research regarding the environment and climate change. It also cuts the Department of Health and Human Services by 18 percent, which includes cuts to the National Institutes of Health, the primary agency responsible for biomedical and health-related research, by $6 to $25 billion.

Rod Lammers, a civil and environmental engineering graduate student, conducts research that is partly funded by the EPA and feels his livelihood is threatened. Lammers said scientists need to advocate for science, especially now.

“(Scientists do their) research, write a paper, and then publish it in a journal that is really geared towards other scientists in that field,” Lammers said. “We need to start working outside of that and write in an accessible way that people can understand.”

Somers thinks that since scientific information is often inaccessible, the public is sometimes unsure about trusting scientists. Both Somers and Lammers said that scientists need to advocate for their work by showing the public and policymakers why it is important.

With the purpose of communicating and advocating for science research, Lammers and his wife Lindsay formed the student organization, Science in Action. The organization is made up of CSU graduate students, including Somers. Several others from Science in Action will be attending the march in Denver.

Kenneth Wilson, head of the CSU Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, said that several faculty at CSU have mentioned they will try to take part in the March for Science. Jan Nerger, the dean of the CSU College of Natural Sciences said she will be participating in the March for Science in Minneapolis.

It is important to focus on science and keep the March for Science bipartisan, according to Lindsay Lammers and Somers.

“We don’t want to go to the march and lash out at groups, because that only polarizes the issue even more,” Somers said. “That’s not the message we need to be sending.”

More information about the March for Science and the Denver and Fort Collins marches can be found at http://marchforscience.com, the Denver March for Science Facebook page and http://sites.google.com/site/marchforsciencefortcollins.

BLM seeking input for E. #Colorado Resource Management Plan

Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

Click here to view the information from the Bureau of Land Management website.

The BLM is seeking public input through May 5, 2017, on the Preliminary Alternatives Report and Draft Basis for Analysis for the Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan (ECRMP). The BLM is also seeking public input on the Preliminary Evaluation of Potential ACECs and Draft Wild & Scenic River Suitability Report.

From the Public News Service (Eric Galatas);

Josh Kuhn, wilderness and public lands organizer for Conservation Colorado, says he hopes the agency will protect the most pristine acres for future generations, and warns if the landscape is altered people could head someplace else to spend their outdoor-recreation dollars…

Kuhn adds the plan will also cover Badger Creek, the red-rock outcrops in Red Canyon, Echo Canyon, and rare wetland fens known for their biodiversity along Reinecker Ridge in South Park. The agency is kicking off a series of public hearings Tuesday in Denver, Fairplay on Wednesday, Salida on Thursday and next week in several other locations, including Colorado Springs.

Kuhn notes a wide range of stakeholders, including extraction industries, are likely to bend the BLM’s ears on how to make use of these public lands over the next 20 to 30 years. He says there’s an opportunity for members of the public to help preserve key areas that remain wild and virtually untouched…

Public comments can also be submitted online through the BLM’s website. The deadline for input is May 5.

Denver: @AWRACO/@OWOW_MSU Water Resources Networking Night Thursday, April 13th 5:30 pm

Click here for the details and to RSVP:

Water Resources Networking Night
Thursday, April 13th 5:30 pm
Blake Street Tavern
2301 Blake St., Denver 80205

Have you ever wondered what career opportunities are available in water resources? We invite you to join us for an evening at Blake Street Tavern in downtown Denver to network and ask questions from a panel of professionals in the field of water resources. Enter to win one of two $50 scholarships! Appetizers will be provided.

#AnimasRiver: Losses from #GoldKingMine spill revised downward

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Aurora Sentinel:

The total now appears to be about $420 million. A single law firm that originally filed claims totaling $900 million for a handful of New Mexico property owners told the AP it had lowered their claims to $120 million

Farmers, business owners, residents and others initially said they suffered a staggering $1.2 billion in lost income, property damage and personal injuries from the 2015 spill at the Gold King Mine, which tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

But the total now appears to be about $420 million. A single law firm that originally filed claims totaling $900 million for a handful of New Mexico property owners told the AP it had lowered their claims to $120 million.

It’s still uncertain whether the White House and Congress — both now controlled by the GOP — are willing to pay for any of the economic losses, even though Republicans were among the most vocal in demanding the EPA make good on the harm.

Under former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, the EPA said it was prohibited by law from doing so.

Now that they’re in charge, Republicans have vowed to slash spending on the environment, leaving the prospects for compensation in doubt…

The EPA said it received 73 claims for economic damage or personal injuries. The AP obtained copies of the claims through an open records request, although many details were redacted.

The Albuquerque, New Mexico, law firm Will Ferguson & Associates filed claims totaling $900 million for about a dozen residents of Aztec, a town of about 6,100 on the Animas River in northwestern New Mexico. The residents say the contaminated water damaged their wells, soil and plumbing and caused health problems including chronic intestinal pain, rashes and memory loss.

Will Ferguson, the firm’s managing partner, said the $900 million represented an opening position, and the attorneys never expected to recover that much.

Kedar Bhasker, another lawyer with the firm, said the claims were refiled in December. Bhasker called the lower amount “more reasonable.”

In January, the EPA was still using the $1.2 billion total for all the claims, which didn’t reflect the law firm’s revisions. EPA officials didn’t immediately provide an explanation in response to emails seeking comment.

The other claims ranged from river guides asking for a few hundred dollars in lost wages to the Navajo Nation seeking $162 million for environmental and health monitoring, among other things. The state of New Mexico asked for $130 million in lost taxes and other revenue. The state and tribe also are suing the EPA separately in federal court.

Ten tourist-dependent businesses filed claims, saying they lost money when travelers stayed away. Farmers and ranchers said crops died because the river couldn’t be used to irrigate and that they had extra expenses from hauling untainted water to livestock.

Some property owners said the value of their land plummeted because of the stigma attached to the spill…

The agency noted it had already spent more than $31.3 million on the spill, including remediation work, water testing and payments to state, local and tribal agencies for their emergency response to the disaster.

But lawmakers were infuriated — especially Republicans, some of whom portrayed the spill as a glaring example of EPA mismanagement. They have pressed the new EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, to reconsider the decision not to pay damages.

At his confirmation hearings, Pruitt promised to review it. The EPA didn’t immediately respond to emails and a phone call seeking comment on whether he had done so.

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said he believes Pruitt “will make good on his promise to work with me and my colleagues in resolving the outstanding issues that remain from the Obama administration’s EPA.”

Colorado Democrats introduced a measure in Congress in 2015, shortly after the spill, intended to allow federal compensation for economic damages, but the bill died.

Now, Congress appears to be waiting on President Donald Trump’s administration to make its intentions known.

“We don’t know what to expect from this administration in regard to that,” said Liz Payne, a spokeswoman for Republican Rep. Scott Tipton of Colorado, whose district was hurt by the spill.

“It’s still a waiting game for us at this point,” she said.

#ColoradoRiver: #Colorado scores highest in water transfer policies — The Stanford Daily #COriver

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From The Stanford Daily (Fiona Kelliher):

According to a recent scorecard released by Stanford’s Water in the West Program and consulting firm AMP Insights that assessed policies of the Colorado River Basin states, Colorado has the most state legal support for environmental water transfers, while Arizona has the least. Water transfers are a way for water rights owners to legally redistribute water rights for environmental purposes, such as replenishing wetlands or aiding wildlife habitats.

The 1,450-mile Colorado River is one of the most important water systems in the U.S., providing water to 35 million people and 4 million acres of farmland, according to the report. Its “watershed,” the Colorado River Basin, encompasses parts of Colorado, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah and Arizona.

But overuse, drought and climate change threaten the basin’s viability, while the basin’s enormous size presents unique policy challenges. For much of the basin’s history, policy did not protect water use for wetlands, habitats, streams and scenic beauty. Environmental water transfers, which are new to the last 30 years, can be a powerful tool to redirect water for environmental purposes. The transfers may also create revenue for rights holders.

“These transfers can help fish and other aquatic species, provide an alternative revenue source for water rights holders and play a role in broader water markets,” Leon Szeptycki, executive director of Water in the West and one of the report’s lead authors, told Stanford News.
Researchers assessed the seven states on four key components of support for transfers, including explicit legal authorization of water rights as well as the rights’ scope and process for implementation. Colorado received the overall highest score, particularly because its unique Water Courts system must review and approve each transfer. The system is well-established amongst governments, businesses and NGOs, and state law has clearly defined the process and enforced transfers consistently.

Meanwhile, Arizona, which houses some of the basin’s largest metropolitan areas, has the least-developed policies for water transfer. The state technically recognizes environmental water transfers, but its statutes lack clear language defining processes or enforcement of such transfers.
All states, however, still have significant room for improvement in policy implementation, the report said. Colorado’s extra level of review, for example, makes the approval process lengthy and expensive. This puts its policies a step behind those of states in the Pacific Northwest, wrote the scorecard authors. California, which ranked second behind Colorado, has struggled to approve transfers in a timely manner and enforce rights, in part due to staffing shortages.

Water in the West was established in 2010 as a partnership between the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Bill Lane Center for the American West to “address the West’s growing water crisis and to create new solutions that move the region toward a more sustainable water future,” according to its website. The program brings together Stanford faculty, researchers and policymakers to investigate water management and create solutions for increasing water scarcity.

Researchers hope the report will spur further examination of policy and encourage continuous improvements.
“The goal of this effort is to help agencies, governments and legislators understand and prioritize ways to increase market-based environmental water transfers in their state,” Szeptycki said.