RIGHT’s May ENews is hot off the presses

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

Click here to read the newsletter from the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust. Here’s an excerpt:

Monte Vista Middle School’s Seventh Graders at La Garita Creek Ranch for Conservation Day!
The entire seventh grade of Monte Vista Middle School participated in Conservation Day at the soon-to-be conserved La Garita Creek Ranch in Saguache County a couple of weeks ago. Students had the opportunity to learn about atlatls, water flows, archaeology, bugs and fish, the importance of conservation, and so much more! Check out our Facebook page for more photos of this fun day.

The Navajo Nation is negotiating for water rights and access to Navajo Generating station facilities

From The Arizona Republic (Ryan Randazzo):

The Navajo Nation will earn $110 million in lease payments over 35 years if the deal is approved, as the owners will be required to monitor the land after the facilities are removed. But the deal includes other financial benefits for the tribe.

The Navajo Nation has identified several pieces of the operation it wants to keep when the plant closes, according to the legislation. They include the railroad between the plant and coal mine, valued at $120 million; the lake pump facility and electrical switch yard, valued at $41 million; and access to major transmission lines leading from the plant, which SRP values at about $80 million.

The access to the power lines would allow for solar or wind projects on the reservation to get their power to market.

The tribe hopes to negotiate with the state to acquire 50,000 acre-feet of water from the lake annually once the power plant no longer uses that allotment.

If the Navajo Nation Council approves the deal by July 1, any amendments the tribe makes will have to be considered and approved by the plant owners.

River management in the anthropocene — @JFleck

Photo via Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen journalism

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

“A lively debate, provocatively labeled ‘conservation in the Anthropocene,’,” my University of New Mexico colleague Ben Jones and collaborators wrote last year, “has been taking place over what conservation, and related notions of naturalness and preservation, means where large natural systems are increasingly inter-connected or coupled to human systems.” In particular, Jones et al. were interested in the Colorado River and Glen Canyon Dam, and the proper incorporation of the range of communities and values that must be incorporated in decision making regarding the dam and its relationship to the larger “coupled human and natural system.”

[…]

When I was deep into work on my book, a friend over beer was quizzing me about where I in was in the project, what I was writing about. The friend, a law professor, was doing what law professors do I guess, that sort of Socratic questioning that ultimately led me to the realization that while I said I was writing a book about the Colorado River, what I was really writing was a book about what happens with the water once we take it out of the Colorado River. It was a striking realization, with which I ultimately made peace, and it was an important insight both for the book and for how I think about the river and my work going forward.

Biello’s NYT piece, a review of David Owens Where the Water Goes, goes full Anthropocene on this point:

The people of the Western states, in collusion with the federal government, have opted for irrigation, power and sprawling cities in the desert like Los Angeles and Phoenix. The glass of Colorado River water is either half-full or half-empty, depending on whether you think water woes bring out the cooperative side of people, or the litigious. As Owen discovers on his journey, both are true — lawyers and legislators make a good living adjudicating claims, but owners of water rights also often work it out among themselves without drying anybody out. This is a system that muddles through on a blend of threats and collaboration, with the underlying understanding that everybody must win or everyone will lose, as the longtime water reporter John Fleck explores in his illuminating recent book “Water Is for Fighting Over.” It remains to be seen what the likely shortfall of rain and snow brought by global warming will do to this already fraught series of arrangements.

The river here is defined now by our decisions to take water out of it, and by the “fraught series of arrangements” with which we try to manage the problems that are upon us now that the Colorado seems to be running short. It is simply impossible to think of the Colorado absent those fraught arrangements and the implications for the “irrigation, power and sprawling cities in the desert like Los Angeles and Phoenix”. It is in fact a coupled human and natural system, deeply coupled.

#Runoff arrived about a month early this year — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Peak runoff has come and gone in many places of the West, weeks if not a full month earlier than the long-term average. It comports with a trend.

In northwest Colorado, the snowpack in the Yampa River drainage around Steamboat Springs, typically peaks on about April 10. This year, reports the Steamboat Today, the snowpack peaked March 12.

In Idaho’s Wood River Valley, the winter’s snows melted in a hurry in early May. The flood in Ketchum, at the base of the Sun Valley ski lifts, was regarded as the largest in 101 years of recorded history.

What was notable, says the Idaho Mountain Express, is both the volume of water and the runoff in early May.

Oregon State University climate scientists John Stevenson told the Express that it’s “really difficult to judge any one year” to be a result of rising global temperatures.

“That’s one of the challenges we run into in the science world where people say, ‘Oh, it’s climate change.’ We’re not at the point where we can take any one random event and say it’s climate change.”

That said, his 2015 study concluded that the point each spring when half of the water year’s streamflow had run off was occurring an average 1.9 days earlier per decades.

But more extreme events are happening with greater frequency, said Mark Davidson, director of conservation initiatives with The Nature Conservancy. He pointed out that the Big Wood River has had two 100-year floods in the last 15 yeas.

What caused the early-May flooding in the Sun Valley area? Hot temperatures, 6 to 13 degrees warmer than the normal average temperatures during the early days of May as compared to the last several decades.

In Colorado, Aspen officials continue to discuss how to make the city more resilient in the face of long-term climate change. Decades ago, the city filed for water rights on two creeks, including the potential for building dams. That’s not popular in Aspen, and so the city commissioned a study about whether the old mines in Aspen and Smuggler mountains could be used to store water in lieu of dams.

The $15,000 answer: yes, it can be done, but it would be costly and without precedent in Colorado. The better option seems to be aquifer recharge, to be tapped in time of drought. But it also comes with some risks.

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com