5th Annual Poudre River Forum, February 2, 2018

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“Listening to Understand” is the theme of our fifth annual Poudre River Forum.

Register now to join us! Registration includes the full day’s program, as well as breakfast, lunch, and a closing beer/soft drinks celebration with opportunities to win Poudre prizes. Topics include:

  • Provocative, dialogue-stimulating “lightening talks” from a range of speakers with contrasting views about what can damage and what can improve Poudre flows
  • Can We Grow Water Smart?
  • Poudre Farmers Improving Poudre Water Quality through Air Quality Monitoring
  • Keynote Speaker: Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs (retired) will give a glimpse from his co-authored upcoming book—little known facts about Greeley’s water history

    AND MORE!

    Back from last year:

  • Poudre Splashes—snapshots of the past year’s Poudre activities—check our website for how to submit your entry
  • New this year:

  • Awarding of our first annual Poudre Pioneer Award. Check our website to find out how to nominate someone.
  • Breakfast! Enjoy a breakfast sandwich as you take in 20+ Poudre educational displays
  • .

    2018 #COleg: Is there a sentiment, outside of @GovofCO, to raise severance taxes to implement the #COWaterPlan?

    James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent

    From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Durango Herald:

    Hickenlooper was initially expected to talk about his water legacy during the Colorado Water Congress luncheon in southeastern Denver, but instead, he addressed how he regards water and how the state ought to pay for the water plan’s estimated $20 billion price tag.

    Before the start of Hickenlooper’s remarks, the Water Congress took the pulse of those in attendance about what the next governor should do with the water plan. Seventy-three percent said “use it,” 8 percent said the next governor should ignore it and 19 percent said the state should embark on a different path with regard to its water future.

    Pollster Floyd Ciruli said the results show the new governor has to make sure the water plan and its issues remain a top priority, along with rural broadband, transportation and public education funding.

    Hickenlooper referred to his recent State of the State speech and his reference to “topophilia.” No, that’s not something bad – it’s a love of place, according to the governor. And Colorado must do all it can to preserve its clean air and water, two of the most important aspects of the state’s infrastructure, he said.

    Funding for the water plan has not been identified, Hickenlooper said. The governor said he is looking for a bipartisan approach to funding the water plan, in part to avoid the sensitivity that people have to being asked to pay more taxes. That could include, he said, using severance taxes.

    But it would take a structural change to how severance taxes are levied to raise the kind of revenue anticipated to cover the state’s share of the water plan costs: around $100 million per year for the next 30 years, beginning in 2020.

    Hickenlooper explained the state has some of the lowest severance taxes in the nation. And that hasn’t gotten any better after a 2016 lawsuit from BP that challenged certain deductions on oil and gas equipment. BP won that lawsuit, which forced the state to tap tens of millions of dollars from severance taxes to cover not only BP’s deductions but that of other oil and gas companies. That lawsuit exposed structural problems in the way severance taxes are collected, Hickenlooper said.

    A structural change to severance taxes is something the General Assembly will have to deal with, most likely through a ballot measure, the governor added.

    The idea of using severance tax money for the water plan isn’t that far-fetched an idea. Those dollars have been going to water projects for years, mostly to water providers for infrastructure and through grants and loans, although in small amounts. And severance taxes have been tapped directly to fund the initial implementation of the water plan, in areas such as alternative transfers of water in agriculture, conservation and water efficiency. But the state has, in times of trouble, also raided the severance tax fund to cover shortfalls in the budget, to the tune of $322 million in the past two recessions.

    Hickenlooper said he believes the oil and gas industry will not stand in the way if the state seeks higher severance taxes, based on conversations he’s had with oil and gas CEOs. “They’re not complaining” about how much severance tax they pay in Colorado, especially after winning the BP court case.

    Pitkin County population outlook

    The Roaring Fork River bounding down the Grottos on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. Photo Brent Gardner-Smith (Aspen Journalism).

    From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

    Pitkin County is part of a cluster of counties on the Western Slope and central mountains that is projected to grow by between 5,000 and 20,000 residents between now and 2050.

    Pitkin County is on the low end of that range, according to “The Population of Colorado,” a study completed by the demographer’s office in November.

    The county’s population was 18,006 last year. By 2050 it is projected to grow to 23,209, the study said. That’s an increase of 5,203 residents, or 29 percent…

    Regardless of how growth in Pitkin County shakes out, its neighbors are expected to grow at a faster clip. Garfield and Eagle counties are expected to gain about 65 percent in population between 2020 and 2050.

    Eagle County is forecast to swell from 57,571 residents in 2020 to a population of 94,459 by 2050.

    Garfield County is expected to balloon from 64,119 in 2020 to 105,711 by year 2050…

    In the bigger picture of Colorado population growth, Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties are dwarfed by the changes expected in counties of the Front Range. Denver, El Paso, Arapahoe, Adams, Weld and Larimer are all expected to gain more than 200,000 residents by 2050. Boulder, Jefferson, Douglas and Pueblo counties are close behind with estimated growth between 50,001 and 200,000 residents.

    #Texas v. #New Mexico and #Colorado update: #Drought is testing the accounting methods for supply and diversions below Elephant Butte

    From Water Deeply (Jerry Redfern):

    Texas and New Mexico are squaring off over water rights in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, but the issues at the heart of the disagreement were settled in 2008.

    Insert drought: for most of the past 20 years, this whole disputed territory has suffered a series of droughts. Elephant Butte has not regularly filled as originally planned, and farmers have turned to pumping groundwater to meet their needs.

    Texas’ main argument in the suit is that groundwater pumping for irrigation wasn’t covered under the 1938 compact. Texas contends that the groundwater is essentially attached to the water in the Rio Grande and Elephant Butte Reservoir. River water is drawn into the ground in times of high pumping, and more water then needs to be released from the reservoir to reach the quota bound for Texas. But Texas says that water is meant to be stored for Texas farms in drought years.

    None of this is new. In fact, after years of previous wrangling, the three players directly involved in the dispute – Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which manages water between the dam and the Texas border; El Paso County Water Improvement District, which manages water on the Texas side; and Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the physical water system – collectively created the 2008 Operating Agreement. That document clearly laid out water use and metering of both surface and groundwater along the disputed stretch.

    “It wasn’t pleasant, I’ll be honest with you,” Gary Esslinger, Elephant Butte Irrigation District manager and treasurer, said of those negotiations. But in the end, both water districts felt they had a deal they could work with, and farmers could get on with farming.

    Enter the State of New Mexico and then-Attorney General Gary King, who, in 2011, sued the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, El Paso County Water Improvement District and the Bureau of Reclamation in both state and federal courts. He argued that the Operating Agreement gave too much water to Texas. And in light of that, two years later, Texas began its Supreme Court fight.

    “Make no mistake, we had it solved,” said Phil King, professor of civil engineering at New Mexico State University. He helped negotiate the 2008 agreement with Elephant Butte Irrigation District.

    “We still think to this day that we might not be in the Supreme Court, had New Mexico not threatened the 2008 agreement,” Esslinger said.

    The stakes are high. If New Mexico loses, the state could be penalized for misappropriated water as far back as the 1940s – a bill that could reach north of $1 billion. In addition, the state may have to allocate more of its water to Texas in the future.

    Meanwhile, farmers continue to operate under the 2008 agreement. Also, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, El Paso County Water Improvement District, Bureau of Reclamation and other, smaller water users in New Mexico’s lower Rio Grande Valley are in closed-door talks to try to hammer out another deal – one amenable to both states and that makes the Supreme Court case moot. New Mexico’s current attorney general, Hector Balderas, has also indicated he wants to settle the case.

    “I’m really very optimistic that something will work out,” says John Fleck, the director of the Water Resources program at the University of New Mexico. But “however this gets resolved, there will probably be less water for farming in the lower Rio Grande.”

    And that’s because of drought.

    #Snowpack news:

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

    Here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map from the NRCS.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 29, 2018 via the NRCS.

    And just for grins, here’s a screenshot of the major sub-basin SWE map for January 29, 2018 from NRCS.

    Screenshot of the NRCS interactive SWE map for major sub-basins on January 29, 2018.

    From the Summit Daily News (Allen Best):

    Western resorts got blanketed with snow during the weekend. Telluride rejoiced with 17 inches. In Vail, people were reporting the conditions were actually pretty good.

    But Crested Butte got only 5 inches of snow, so skiing remains largely limited to those runs with manufactured snow. The extreme stuff, for which the resort is noted, is still thin.

    “The 5 inches we picked up this weekend didn’t change the world here,” says John Norton.

    Norton is the executive director of the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association and a former executive at ski areas, both Crested Butte and Aspen.

    Like many other ski towns this winter, Crested Butte’s bookings held up well through Christmas, despite the absence of snow. But in the last month the numbers have faltered significantly.

    Norton recently issued a memo in which he reported that March bookings “continue to suck. It used to be the biggest and most reliable winter month. Now it’s falling out of bed. March continues to be a puzzle.”

    Billy Barr’s climate records are valuable to #ClimateChange researchers

    Billy Barr photo via Sotheby’s

    From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins) via The Greeley Tribune:

    [Billy] Barr began taking notes in 1974 out of boredom. Every day he would record the low and high temperatures, and measure new snow, snow-water equivalent and snowpack depth. Now he has stacks of yellowed notebooks brimming with a trove of data that has made him an accidental apostle among climate researchers.

    “I recorded all this out of a personal interest in the weather. And because I’ve done it for so long, it has some benefit and some value. It wasn’t like I was some sort of forethinker, thinking ‘Oh, I’m going to write all this down and have absolutely no life whatsoever so I can stay here for 50 years,’ ” he says, tugging a gossamer beard dangling to his well-worn cricket sweater.

    “Scientifically, my data are good because I had no goals, therefore no one can say ‘Well, you are just taking data to prove a point.’ It’s just numbers. I just wrote them down,” he says. “It’s the same person in the same location doing it in the same method, so even if I did it wrong, I did it wrong every single day for 44 years.”

    He doesn’t necessarily analyze his data. But he’s seeing a trend: It’s getting warmer. The snow arrives later and leaves earlier.

    Lately, he’s charting winters with about 11 fewer days with snow on the ground; roughly 5 percent of the winter without snow. In 44 years, he’d counted one December where the average low was above freezing — until December 2017, when the average low was 35 degrees.

    More than 50 percent of the record daily highs he’s logged have come since 2010. In December and January this season, he already has counted 11 record daily-high temperatures. Last year he tallied 36 record-high temperatures, the most for one season. Back in the day, he would see about four, maybe five record highs each winter.

    Barr’s data jibe with state and federal studies showing Colorado’s snowpack sitting around the third-lowest on record. Klaus Wolter, a University of Colorado climate scientist in Boulder, recently revised his seasonal outlook for Colorado noting a very low water content in the dismal snowpack, specifically pointing to a second-lowest snow-water-equivalent since 1981 in Barr’s Gunnison River Basin.

    The second-year return of the La Niña weather pattern, Wolter wrote, “is playing out in typical fashion, leaving little hope for a recovery to near-normal snowpack or runoff in 2018.”

    David Inouye, a conservation biologist who spends his summers at Gothic’s Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, has relied on Barr’s weather data in his study of the timing and abundance of wildflowers, which he began in 1973. He counts on Barr’s wildlife observations as well — a detailed daily analysis of bird and critter sightings that show marmots emerging from hibernation a month earlier than usual and robins arriving about three weeks early.

    “Many of the researchers at Rocky Mountain Biological Lab in the summer are people (like me) who have made career-long commitments to work at that site, and Billy’s data help many of us to have a climate context for our observations,” Inouye says. “We’re fortunate, for many reasons, that Billy made a commitment to living in Gothic after experiencing it for a summer as an undergraduate student there.”

    […]

    Last year a short film featuring his life and weather research — “The Snow Guardian” — became a hit on the outdoor film circuit. He loved the movie. It prompted a steady stream of visitors last season, which he also enjoyed, even though it disrupted his carefully constructed routine. The publicity not only elevated his research, but his undeniable observations on how things are getting warmer. He’s not particularly political, but he recognizes a need to act to preserve winter.

    “Let’s say this warming, it’s not our fault but we go ahead anyway and clean up the air and clean up the water. What did we lose?” he says, sipping from a mug of tea. “Why wouldn’t we do something?”

    New Addition to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

    Looking downstream from Chasm View, Painted Wall on right. Photo credit: NPS\Lisa Lynch

    Here’s the release from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Sandra Snell-Dobert):

    On December 27, 2017, the National Park Service (NPS) and The Conservation Fund finalized a purchase to add 2,494 acres to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Located near the visitor center and along the South Rim of the canyon, this addition to the park will provide access for additional recreation opportunities, wildlife habitat, and potential utility improvements in the park, which saw over 300,000 visitors in 2017.

    The addition of this property, known as the Sanburg Ranch, will guarantee future access to the Red Rock Canyon area of the park, which is a destination for anglers and other backcountry users seeking a more gradual route to the Gunnison River. This acquisition will allow Black Canyon of the Gunnison to better preserve the viewshed from the visitor center and the popular South Rim Road, the main route through the park. The property also creates potential opportunities for NPS to provide water to the South Rim, reducing operational costs of hauling water to meet visitor and staff needs.

    The NPS acquired the property from The Conservation Fund at the end of 2017, using funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The property is included within the boundaries of the 1999 legislation that created Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Established 52 years ago, LWCF is a bipartisan federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties—not taxpayer dollars—to protect irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities.

    U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton (CO-3) supported Colorado’s request for LWCF funding and helped secure the Congressional appropriations for the program.

    “Securing the Sanburg Ranch improves public access to some of our state’s greatest backcountry hiking and fly fishing,” said Bennet. “Not only will this purchase add to the experience for visitors from around the world, but it will also improve management and bolster the water supply in the Park. The use of LWCF funds to preserve public access and improve land management further highlights the importance of reauthorizing this program before it expires later this year. I look forward to returning to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with my family and exploring this new area.”

    “This newest addition to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a great example of why the Land and Water Conservation Fund is so important to Colorado,” said Gardner. “I have fought to permanently reauthorize this program to ensure our public lands will be preserved for future generations. In this specific instance, the fund was utilized to purchase a new piece of land that will increase access to the land and the recreational opportunities it provides to Coloradoans and visitors from around the world.”

    “Protecting Colorado’s natural treasures and pristine areas like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park continues to be a priority,” said Tipton. “I commend the National Park Service and The Conservation Fund for their commitment and hard work to ensure that sportsmen, hikers, campers and families will all be able to experience this magnificent natural area for generations to come.”

    The NPS is currently working through how to process permitting and access to the newly-acquired land; no immediate changes are planned for the Red Rock Canyon Wilderness Permit lottery or access to the park from the Bostwick Park area. The former landowner will continue to hold grazing leases on the property for the next 10 years; the expiration of those leases will sunset grazing on this parcel.

    “This addition to the park will improve access to some of Colorado’s most outstanding scenery, fishing, and wildlife viewing, boosting the outdoor recreation economy that the surrounding communities depend on,” said Christine Quinlan of The Conservation Fund’s office in Boulder. “Bipartisan support from Senator Bennet, Senator Gardner, and Congressman Tipton allowed this project to succeed.”

    Montrose Board of County Commissioners Chairman Keith Caddy said, “This is exciting news for Montrose County residents. The addition of this property enhances the beauty and recreation opportunities of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for residents and tourists alike.”

    Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was first established as Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument in 1933 and was designated a national park in 1999. Known for the steep, deep, and narrow canyon carved by the Gunnison River, the Black Canyon exposes some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. The park hosts a variety of ecosystems from pinyon pine, juniper, and scrub oak forests at the rim, to the shady vertical canyon walls, and down to the riparian community along the Gunnison River.

    The Conservation Fund makes conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense the Fund is redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, The Conservation Fund has worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect nearly eight million acres of land.