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STATE OF THE WATER STATE
On May 2, 2018, in response to persistent and prolonged drought in portions of Colorado, the Governor activated the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for the agricultural sector for select counties. The Drought Task Force, a cabinet level group, will meet throughout the period of drought activation to ensure coordination among state agencies, the Governor’s Office, and federal partners. The Agricultural Impact Task force is also meeting throughout the period of activation and will assess and track the impacts to the agricultural sector, as well as work with federal partners to get aid and resources to people in the impacted areas. The goal of these groups is to improve communication among state and federal agencies, increase the speed with which aid gets to impacted communities, and to address concerns before they become crises. Learn more about the drought.
The Land Water Conservation Fund is set to expire, thanks to a partisan Congress.
Reckoning with History is an ongoing series that seeks to understand the legacies of the past and to put the West’s present moment in perspective.
In 2015, Congress allowed the Land and Water Conservation Fund to lapse. The LWCF functions like a trust fund, where Congress directs offshore oil and gas royalties into conservation projects; it remains very popular across the country and across the political aisle. Because of the public outcry when it expired, Congress extended the fund three more years, which means that it will die at the end of September — unless lawmakers vote to revive it. If the fund folds, it will be in part because of the partisan environment that has developed since its inception. But its collapse will close off a popular and successful avenue for federal and local collaboration.
The fund’s history stretches back to the 1950s, when pent-up consumer demand and a growing population pushed more Americans into the leisure-seeking middle classes. They flooded national parks, forests and refuges to recreate, and public-land agencies needed a plan to respond to the demand. The Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, authorized in 1958 by Congress, recommended a public fund to support recreation, in places ranging from city parks to wilderness. Congress obliged and passed the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act in 1964 “to assist in preserving, developing, and assuring accessibility” for outdoor recreation opportunities “for individual active participation … and to strengthen the health and vitality” of Americans and visitors from other countries. The LWCF furnished money to acquire new lands, such as inholdings within existing federal parks or wilderness areas, and to match state grants to bolster local public parks, including those in urban neighborhoods. Support for the bill was bipartisan; just a single representative in each house of Congress voted against it.
Initially, the funding came from user fees, sales of surplus federal property and a tax on motorboat fuel. By 1968, Congress had modified the funding formula to grab a share of oil and gas leasing receipts from drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, a clever way to soothe legislators’ feelings of guilt for allowing exploitation of natural resources by funding conservation. (Today, the LWCF is nearly fully funded by offshore drilling royalties.)
The authorized annual limit of the fund has steadily increased, to $900 million, but Congress must specifically appropriate the money. Only twice in its half-century history has the Land and Water Conservation Fund been fully used. So while money flows into the account — some $36.2 billion since 1965 — Congress has only appropriated $16.8 billion. Even that deflated sum has been sufficient to acquire close to 7 million public acres. In its early years, the fund helped create new national parks and recreation areas. In 1968, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act authorized using up to $17 million from the LWCF to protect wild river corridors. More recently, the LWCF helped prevent development and acquire land to connect portions of long-distance paths, such as the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail, or more modest and local favorites like the Bonneville Shoreline Trail along the Wasatch Front. Virtually every Western county has received LWCF investments; 42,000 grants have been sent to states to partner in developing recreational opportunities.
Despite such successes, the fund has drawn the ire of lawmakers over the years, especially as the way it was distributed changed. The original law provided that 60 percent of the fund should be allocated for state projects and 40 percent for federal. Now, the law specifies that not less than 40 percent should go toward federal projects. In 1998, Congress amended the LWCF to allow for “other purposes” aside from land acquisition. In a 2000 Senate hearing about restoring full funding to the LWCF, Larry Craig, R-Idaho, put it clearly: “I don’t want the federal government owning one more acre in Idaho. I’m mainly concerned because federal lands become king’s lands.” Today, conservative and free-market environmental think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Property and Environment Research Center, similarly object to reauthorizing the fund and expanding federal holdings, drawing inspiration from the Sagebrush Rebellion’s opposition in the 1980s. Such opponents argue instead that private property and the free market offer the best path forward for improving conservation. Some critics also oppose the migration to “other purposes” and the shift toward greater benefits to federal compared with state and local projects, because they maintain that federal agencies do a poor job managing existing lands.
When Congress debated the law in the early 1960s, National Park Service Director Conrad Wirth urged senators to support it so that unborn generations could develop “their God-given right to understand, enjoy, and obtain inspiration and healthful benefits from the very land, water, and air from whence all have sprung.” No such rhetoric may be able to save the fund now, even if Wirth’s faith in parks and wildernesses still widely endures. For more than 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped create a full range of outdoor recreation and conservation opportunities, from favorite neighborhood parks to remote wild canyons and sometimes the trails that connect them, adding immeasurable wealth to the United States. Unfortunately, a conservative bloc in our partisan Congress seems unwilling to admit that.
Adam M. Sowards is an environmental historian, professor, and writer. He lives in Pullman, Washington.
This story was originally published at High Country News (http://hcn.org) on June 8, 2018 date
Bennet’s amendment would provide as much as $9 million to reimburse water utilities in Security, Widefield and Fountain for what they laid out in 2016 after learning their drinking water contained unsafe levels of perfluorinated chemicals from toxic firefighting foam released by Peterson Air Force Base.
“This builds on years of our work with the Air Force to address … contamination and is long overdue for the local water authorities who worked to provide safe drinking water to Colorado residents,” Bennet said in an email. “We’ll continue to push for its inclusion in the defense bill.”
Security Water and Sanitation District would get up to $6 million to pay for a pipeline it installed to pump clean Pueblo Reservoir water to its more than 19,000 customers.
“That’s something we have been working for and hoping for,” said district General Manager Roy Heald.
Southern El Paso County water districts began piling up bills in May 2016 after tests of water from the aquifer revealed contamination levels up to 30 times more than the maximum recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Districts’ officials assumed the Air Force would pay to fight the contamination and were shocked when the military refused to pay the bill. The Pentagon concluded it couldn’t reimburse the districts without authorization from Congress.
That’s where Bennet’s amendment comes in. The brief measure piggybacks on a similar move to reimburse towns where water contamination came from National Guard bases and expands it to include active-duty posts including Peterson.
Bennet got support from Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who signed on as a co-sponsor.
Heald said the senators have worked for months to figure out a fix for the utilities’ financial woes.
“They have both been here to talk to us directly about these issues,” he said.
But Heald isn’t counting the federal cash just yet. The provision for the money is a tiny part of the massive National Defense Authorization Act, a bill that sets spending across the military and includes hundreds of policy tweaks and changes.
With $716 billion at stake, lawmakers are expected to fight for weeks over every word the bill contains.
Bennet will need Senate approval, which seems likely with bipartisan support. But then he will have to fight with House lawmakers who signed off on their version of the defense bill, which doesn’t contain the water money.
Meanwhile U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton is pushing the EPA to keep their lawsuit active to get relief for Pueblo County from Fountain Creek stormwater. Here’s a report from Pam Zubeck writing for The Colorado Springs Independent. From the article:
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, has joined plaintiffs in the EPA’s lawsuit against the city of Colorado Springs in urging EPA chief Scott Pruitt to stay the course in the Clean Water Act litigation…
Here’s Tipton’s letter, the latest salvo in the dispute:
Dear Administrator Pruitt,
I am writing in regard to the lawsuit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Colorado Public Department of Public Health an Environment (CDPHE) have filed against the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado. The lawsuit was filed on November 9, 2016, pursuant to Sections 309(b) and (d) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the Colorado Water Quality Control Act.
The City of Colorado Springs’ failure to control stormwater has led to decades of discharge that is not in compliance with state and federal clean water laws. The stormwater has led to sediment buildup in Fountain Creek and created significant problems for downstream communities, especially for Pueblo, Colorado, which is in my Congressional District.
Recent reports that the EPA may re-enter negotiations with the City of Colorado Springs raise questions about the future of the lawsuit and the ability of the EPA to provide long-term certainty to downstream communities that their upstream neighbors are complying with clean water laws.
The long history of stormwater negotiations between Colorado Springs and downstream water users has not yielded positive, lasting results for communities like Pueblo. While I have been encouraged by the commitment demonstrated by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers to solve the long-standing problem, the lawsuit was filed by both the EPA and the CDPHE for a reason. It is imperative that the EPA work to permanently protect the water quality for communities downstream from Colorado Springs.
If you have any questions or wish to discuss this issue further, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has said he’d rather spend money on stormwater projects than litigation, but the city’s failure to fix its drainage system over the years has instilled distrust in downstream communities.
Voters approved a stormwater fee last fall that kicks in on July 1 but litigants in the lawsuit question if the $17 million a year for 20 years will be adequate to reduce flooding and mitigate sediment in Fountain Creek.
Drought impacted corn. Water stress can lead to insufficient water supply for cities, agriculture, and vegetation. Dry vegetation may facilitate the propagation and increase the risk of wildfires.
Brad Udall likes to tell folks that, “Climate change is water change,” and he is right.
Please consider voting for the environment. You owe it to those that have a good chance of being alive in 2050. With the CO2 in the environment already the atmosphere will continue to warm for generations. Science has known about the greenhouse gas effect over a 100 years.
Here’s a look at water sustainability from Rebecca Lorenzen writing for NewSecurityBeat:
Food and Floods: Challenges
“Agriculture currently uses about 70 percent of the world’s freshwater resources, with only about 10 percent going to cities and residents, and 20 percent going to industry,” said Kate Tully, Assistant Professor of Agroecology at the University of Maryland. Water is “embedded in the foods that we eat,” she said; the most “water hungry” foods—like beef and pork—represent much more water use than poultry and legumes.
Through agricultural products, virtual water moves around the world. “The globalization of trade has decoupled the environmental effects that are a result of our agricultural production from the places that are consuming those products,” said Tully. “We now are relying very heavily on a few water-rich regions to provide most of our food.”
But environmental changes, including climate change, may threaten this reliance. For example, at the current rate of sea-level rise, a good portion of habitable and agricultural land space in Bangladesh will be underwater. In Africa and Asia, eight major crops may be lost by 2050, warned Tully.
Droughts and floods in the United States also threaten trade. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages navigable rivers, channels, and dams, can recover from floods relatively quickly, said Kathleen White, the lead of the Corps’ Climate Preparedness and Resilience Community of Practice. But droughts can present significant challenges: If “you can’t get any barges down the river, then there’s a real problem.” Improving the United States’ hydroclimatic forecasts will help improve dam management, she said.