After expansions, Skico will use about 900 AF of water a year for snowmaking — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A snowmaking gun in action, shooting water into the air to make snow. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Two projects to increase snowmaking on Aspen Mountain and the Snowmass Ski Area have received initial approvals from the U.S. Forest Service, but any potential effects of drawing more water from the local watershed for the additional snowmaking remain unclear.

Aspen Skiing Co. is planning to use an additional 82 acre-feet — 26.7 million gallons — of water per season as part of its two snowmaking expansion projects, with most of the water coming out of Castle, Maroon, Snowmass and East Snowmass creeks.

Aspen Mountain will use an additional 57 acre-feet of water per season for new snowmaking infrastructure on 53 acres near the summit to create reliable and consistent snow coverage, according to a hydrology report that Glenwood Springs-based Resource Engineering prepared for the U.S. Forest Service.

Snowmass will use an additional 25 acre-feet of water per season to cover 33 acres of terrain on the Lodgepole, Lunkerville and Adams Avenue trails, according to an environmental assessment by the Forest Service.

The additional 82 acre-feet of water combined from both the Aspen Mountain and Snowmass expansions will be on top of the 821 acre-feet that Skico currently uses on average each season across its four ski areas, bringing the total seasonal average to 903 acre-feet, according to Rich Burkley, Skico’s senior vice president of strategy and business development.

To put that much water into perspective, Wildcat Reservoir, visible from the Snowmass Ski Area, holds 1,100 acre-feet of water.

Burkley said snowmaking has historically been used to connect natural snowfall to the lifts and base areas. The company’s snowmaking philosophy, he said, is to limit it to the bare minimum needed to open the trails, host events and reach the end of the season. Mountain managers hope increased snowmaking will help avoid a repeat of the bare, rocky slopes of the early 2017-18 season.

“We don’t want to increase snowmaking, but we have to,” Burkley said. “Our snowmaking doesn’t go to the top of any of our mountains and we’ve always relied on natural snowfall to open the mountains. Bringing snowmaking to the summit of Aspen will help ensure a Thanksgiving opening. In a year like this, it wouldn’t be necessary, but it would have helped a bunch last season.”

Although there are fewer other water users pulling from local streams — outdoor irrigation season is over — when Skico fires up its snowmaking operations in November and December, it is using water during a time of year when streamflows are at some of their lowest points of the year. Despite a close read of two recent Forest Service environmental assessments on the snowmaking expansions, it is still not easy to determine exactly what might be the impact of drawing more water from Castle, Maroon, Snowmass and East Snowmass creeks, the four streams that provide most of the water for snowmaking at Skico’s four ski areas.

The diversion dam on Maroon Creek operated by the City of Aspen, which gets its water supply mainly from Castle Creek, but also from Maroon Creek. Below this diversion is another diversion, for the Stapleton Ditch, that SkiCo uses to divert water for the snowmaking system on Buttermilk Mountain. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Environmental Concerns

In June, Pitkin County submitted to the Forest Service a comment encouraging the agency to consider the impacts of increased snowmaking on stream health and the overall watershed, including the potential violation of state minimum instream-flow requirements on Castle and Maroon creeks.

“Ultimately, we’ve found that the range of change for peak flows and watershed yields associated with the snowmaking SkiCo is proposing are within the natural annual variability of water yield and peak flow,” he said.

The Forest Service issued a draft decision notice approving the Aspen Mountain project Nov. 28 and the Snowmass project Dec. 17. Both reviews were in the form of “environmental assessments,” and both projects are currently in their respective 45-day objection period.

But those assurances from the Forest Service may not be enough for some local river advocates, especially after a hot, dry year that saw some streamflows in the Roaring Fork basin plummet to all-time lows and the city of Aspen implement Stage 2 water restrictions for the first time in history.

Ken Neubecker, associate director of American Rivers’ Colorado Basin Program and a member of the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board, has concerns about taking more water out of the streams in winter. Although most of the snowpack makes it back into the river as spring runoff, that doesn’t help the winter aquatic environment, he said. Also, while snowmaking may not require as much water as other consumptive uses such as irrigation, those relatively small depletions add up.

“Twenty-five additional acre-feet taken out over the whole season is not much water, but again, what are the cumulative impacts?” Neubecker said, referring to the Snowmass project. “When are we going to reach the straw that breaks the camel’s back, especially in a dry year when there may only be 2 (cubic feet per second) running in the stream?”

Kate Hudson, a Pitkin County resident and professional environmental advocate focused on water, agrees. Hudson, who is also a member of the county’s streams board, said that because the two projects are being considered separately, it’s hard to measure what the overall impacts might be to the Roaring Fork watershed.

“It’s just one more cut of many, but one of the many that may ultimately tip the balance,” she said. “What we are seeing now globally and locally in our environment with water is death by 1,000 cuts.”

The Forest Service review did consider the total depletions of water in the Roaring Fork River watershed from the additional snowmaking, but found they were anticipated, and covered by, an environmental review previously conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on potential future diversions upstream of a key reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction. The Roaring Fork flows into the Colorado in Glenwood Springs.

A snowcat smooths out a mixture of machine-made and natural snow at the base of Little Nell in December. Securing a good base on Little Nell is critical to Aspen Mountain operations, and machine-made snow is often critical to get the job done.

Aspen Mountain

Aspen Mountain began making snow this season Nov. 1. Its primary snowmaking pump station, located at the base of the mountain, draws water from the city of Aspen’s treated municipal supply, which originates in Castle and Maroon creeks.

According to Burkley, Aspen Mountain uses an average of 199 acre-feet of water per season for snowmaking.

The new project would add about 57 acre-feet of diversions each season, for a total of 256 acre-feet, or 83 million gallons used for snowmaking on Aspen Mountain, according to figures supplied by Burkley.

While Skico has water rights for snowmaking uses from springs on the upper mountain, the hydrology reports says it is “expected that the water supply necessary to support the proposed snowmaking will also be provided by the city.”

In terms of overall impact, it’s important to note that not all of the water used for snowmaking is taken out of the watershed permanently. The snow acts as an on-mountain, frozen reservoir.

According to the hydrology report, about 74 percent of Aspen Mountain’s water used for snowmaking makes it back into the Roaring Fork River as spring runoff. The other 26 percent is lost to evaporation or sublimation or is sucked up by thirsty plants.

The diversion dam on Maroon Creek operated by the City of Aspen, which gets its water supply mainly from Castle Creek, but also from Maroon Creek. Below this diversion is another diversion, for the Stapleton Ditch, that SkiCo uses to divert water for the snowmaking system on Buttermilk Mountain. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Instream flows

The environmental assessment from the Forest Service also warns about instream flows, which are water rights owned by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and are designed to keep water in the river to preserve natural ecosystems and fish health. The conservation board has 12 cfs of instream flow rights on the segment of Castle Creek where the City of Aspen’s diversion is located. The conservation board has 14 cfs of instream flow rights downstream from the city’s diversion on Maroon Creek.

Although streamflows in Maroon and Castle creeks are predicted to more than satisfy the three demands — snowmaking, municipal uses and instream flows — the study warns that snowmaking shortages are possible during drought conditions in the peak snowmaking month of December.

According to Margaret Medellin, utilities portfolio manager for the city of Aspen, the city will not divert if instream flows are threatened. The city has sensors on both its Maroon and Castle Creek headgates and employees manage them daily to preserve the minimum instream flows. For example, Medellin said the city shut down the Maroon Creek hydro facility last summer to protect the instream flows.

Streamflows, however, can be hard to verify. There is no public gauge on Castle Creek, and although there is a new U.S. Geological Survey gauge on Maroon Creek, the reading simply said “Ice” for several days in late December.

Snowmaking guns sit on Aspen Mountain in late December, after much of their work was done for the season. The water that is forced through the guns to make snow on Aspen Mountain comes from Castle and Maroon creeks, often at their lowest levels in late fall and early winter, which is prime snowmaking season.

Snowmass

Snowmass currently uses an average of 383 acre-feet of water per season for snowmaking from the Snowmass Creek watershed.

The water is provided to Skico by the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, which serves all of Snowmass Village and the ski area.

The district both diverts water from East Snowmass Creek, and also pumps water up from Snowmass Creek, to fill Zeigler Reservoir, which holds 252 acre-feet of water, according district manager to Kit Hamby.

The water is then sent to the ski area’s snowmaking system when it’s time to make snow. The reservoir, home to “Snomastadon,” was put into service in 2013 and provides a buffer from direct drawdowns from Snowmass Creek, where the conservation board also holds an instream flow right.

The ski area also uses another 46 acre-feet from a few ponds that start the season naturally charged.

Each season, the new project would draw an additional 25 acre-feet, or 8 million gallons, from the Snowmass Creek watershed.

As for Skico’s other two ski areas, Aspen Highlands 55 acre-feet a season on average from the city of Aspen’s municipal supply and Buttermilk uses an average of 184 acre-feet a season from Maroon Creek, according to Burkley. Including the new projects, the total seasonal-average use on all four mountains for snowmaking is expected to be 903 acre-feet of water.

Skico works hard to remain an industry leader in sustainability and the environment. Its “Give a Flake” campaign encourages skiers to take action on climate change.

Burkley admits any expansion of terrain or snowmaking contradicts the company’s sustainability message, but he adds that snowmaking is necessary. And last season’s dry and warm conditions brought to the forefront how crucial it is to have snowmaking at higher elevations.

“It definitely undercuts (the sustainability message),” Burkley said. “But we would not be in business without snowmaking so we try to minimize the impacts of it.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2018.

#ColoradoRiver #drought plan, more money for water projects top 2019 legislative agenda #COleg

From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

Colorado River drought planning as well as the funding dilemma behind the state’s ambitious water plan, are among the water issues likely to win stage time at the Colorado State Capitol this year.

When the session opens Friday, Democrats will control both chambers, having retained the majority in the House of Representatives and taken control of the Senate as a result of the November elections.

The two committees where most water bills originate have new leadership as a result of the political shift. Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) is now chair of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Dylan Thomas (D-Avon) is now chair of the House Rural Affairs Committee.

800-Pound Gorilla in the Room

There is one major issue that will loom over this session even without legislation—the Colorado River drought. In November, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water policy and planning agency, adopted a critical policy statement supporting a Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Once the plan is finalized, a process that could take months, it may require lawmakers to act.

The policy comes in response to a 19-year drought in the Colorado River Basin that has seen storage in its two largest reservoirs—Lake Powell and Lake Mead—drop below 50 percent of capacity. Continued drought could lead to water cutbacks in the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basins in order to comply with the 1922 Colorado River Compact and related agreements. The Upper Basin comprises Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, while the Lower Basin states include Arizona, California and Nevada.

Included in the DCP is discussion of a far-reaching conservation effort in Colorado and the other Upper Basin states that would free more water for storage in a protected pool in Lake Powell to ensure Lower Basin states receive their legal allotment.

Under the new policy adopted by all four Upper Basin states and the Upper Colorado River Commission, any demand management program would emphasize voluntary, temporary and compensated reductions in water use, and would not be implemented without an extensive public review process.

If it comes to actual cutbacks, water users across the state would share the pain, including Front Range communities, under the new policy.

Despite these assurances, there is a great deal of legislative concern, especially over the potential role of the federal government in deciding if and when to release water from Upper Basin reservoirs to replenish Lake Powell. Sen. Don Coram (R-Montrose) likened it to “depositing money into a bank account [Lake Powell] and authorizing someone else [the Bureau of Reclamation] to make withdrawals.”

The crisis on the Colorado River is likely to serve as context for several water policy discussions this session, though Rep. Roberts said, “There won’t be any rush to legislation.”

Donovan said lawmakers would be fully briefed on the drought plan, “and then we will be able to proceed to consider appropriate actions to put the state in the best position to comply with the Colorado River Compact.”

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado’s Water Plan

Another high priority will be examining ways to fund Colorado’s Water Plan (CWP). The CWP was prepared by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) at the direction of Governor John Hickenlooper and adopted in 2015. It contains eight measurable objectives—including new water storage, maintaining agricultural productivity, and improving watershed health. It also includes critical actions to achieve them.

The plan cites a need to raise $100 million annually over 30 years—or $3 billion from 2020-2050—to sustainably fund its implementation. It suggests a loan repayment guarantee fund and “green” bonds for environment, recreation, conservation, agriculture and education activities. Not all funding would come from the state; storage projects often rely on ratepayers to cover the costs of water development and delivery.

Legislators are expected to explore funding options for structural and nonstructural projects. The CWCB has included $20 million for CWP implementation in the 2019 “Projects Bill” that will be submitted to the legislature for approval. That is $9 million more than in 2018.

North Fork Republican River via the National Science Foundation.

Republican River Compact

Another bill that has been forwarded to lawmakers from the 2018 interim Water Resources Review Committee would redraw the boundary of the Republican River Water Conservation District in eastern Colorado to include more wells that reduce the flow of the Republican in violation of a compact with Kansas and Nebraska. The bill would allow the district to assess the same fee on those well owners that it does on all irrigators in the district to pay for a pipeline that transports water to the river to ensure compact compliance. The district borrowed $62 million to buy water rights and build the pipeline, and has assessed farmers $14.50 per acre to repay the loan.

Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

Severance Taxes

Lawmakers will also consider a bill that would change the timing of severance tax allocations for several CWCB water programs, to allow for better planning. The state collects severance taxes from oil and gas producers and other extractive industries, some of which is used to support water-related activities.

Currently the state’s severance tax revenue is transferred three times a year to the CWCB based on revenue forecasts; if the actual tax collections are below forecasts (which is often the case), funds are “clawed” back. This bill would base allocations on the amount collected in the previous fiscal year and consolidate three payments into one for the following year. Because tax collections in fiscal year 2018 exceeded forecasts, “it gives us a moment in time to do this,” Donovan said, avoiding any gap in funding.

Photo credit: AgriExpo.com.

Deficit Irrigation

Still another issue likely to surface is how to encourage more deficit irrigation, a strategy that applies less water than optimally needed by a crop in order to free up water for other uses. One proposal that did not make it out of the summer interim water committee would have added deficit irrigation to land fallowing as a type of pilot project the CWCB could approve, with the conserved water being available for short-term lease. Although the bill received support from a majority of committee members, it did not garner the two-thirds necessary to advance as a committee-sponsored bill. It may be considered again this year. (A similar bill—HB 1151—passed the House in 2018 but was withdrawn by its senate sponsor for additional study.)

The lower Crystal River was running at 8 cfs near the state fish hatchery on Aug. 1, 2018. Lows flows on the Crystal have spurred action from the state, including curtailment and a call for instream flows. Photo credit: Heather Sackett via Aspen Journalism

Instream Flows

There is also interest in legislation that could expand the state’s instream flow pilot program, where water right holders forego diversions, instead leaving their water in the stream on a short-term basis for fish and habitat protection without jeopardizing their water right. The program is voluntary, temporary, and can provide financial compensation. It may involve “split-season” use, where a farmer irrigates his or her crops early in the season and then leases the water to a nonprofit (in partnership with CWCB) to maintain instream flows later in the year. Although the committee did not report out a bill on this issue, there is reportedly interest in legislation that would encourage additional voluntary leasing while protecting agricultural water use.

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

Water Quality and Hard-rock Mining

And last but not least, the General Assembly is expected to renew consideration of a measure it rejected in 2018. Lawmakers considered HB 1301, which would have required reclamation plans for new or amended hard-rock mining permits to demonstrate an “end date” for water quality treatment to ensure compliance with water quality standards. The bill also would have eliminated the option of “self-bonding”—an audited financial statement that the mine operator has sufficient assets to meet reclamation responsibilities—and required a bond or other financial assurance to guarantee adequate funds to protect water quality, including treatment and monitoring costs. It passed the House but was defeated in a Senate committee. Rep. Roberts, the primary sponsor last year, expects a bill on the same topic this session.

Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net

Fresh Water News is an independent, non-partisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado. WEco is funded by multiple donors. Our editorial policy and donor list can be viewed here.

Winter Water Quality Tips — @GreeleyGov

Platte River photo credit US Bureau of Reclamation.

From the City of Greeley:

Winter in Colorado marks an exciting time of year. It means skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snowshoeing, and ice fishing. But winter can also mean dangerous driving conditions.

What we do to help mitigate dangerous road conditions can take a toll on our natural resources if we are not careful. What we put on our roads and driveways today may end up in our lakes, rivers, and streams tomorrow. Salt, sand, and deicers make their way into storm sewer systems and travel into local water bodies. Concentrated doses of chloride-based deicers are potentially lethal to aquatic plants and invertebrates. The introduction of sand to waterways can increase turbidity and degrade both the aesthetics and quality of the water.

Consider these best practices during the winter to help reduce pollution in our local bodies of water.

  • Shovel your driveway early during a snowfall and maintain it throughout. This will reduce the need for salt, sand, and other deicing agents by preventing ice from build-up on your driveway.
  • Use deicers according to manufacturer’s recommendations and use salt and sand sparingly, and only as needed.
  • Sweep up excess sand, salt, and deicers.
  • Consider environmentally friendly alternatives like calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), or cracked corn for traction.
  • For more information on Stormwater, visit Greeleygov.com/Stormwater

    @POTUS’s @EPA is reluctant to punish law-breaking polluters — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News (Cally Carswell):

    Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is more likely to give polluters a pass when they violate laws intended to keep the air healthy and water clean, according to recent reporting by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), a watchdog group.

    By analyzing public data and interviewing past and current EPA employees, EDGI documented notable declines in agency law enforcement this year, particularly in EPA Region 8, which includes Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and 27 Indigenous nations. According to an internal EPA report, by mid-year Region 8 had opened 53 percent fewer enforcement cases in 2018 than in 2017. And it concluded only 53 civil cases in 2018, less than half the number in any year since at least 2006. Nationally, EDGI found a 38 percent drop in the number of orders requiring polluters to comply with the law, and a 50 percent drop in the number of fines.

    Karley Robinson with newborn son Quill on their back proch in Windsor, CO. A multi-well oil and gas site sits less than 100 feet from their back door, with holding tanks and combustor towers that burn off excess gases. Quill was born 4 weeks premature. Pictured here at 6 weeks old.

    EDGI’s analyses are based on provisional numbers, which the EPA routinely cleans up at the end of each year, so the exact figures could change when the agency’s annual enforcement report is released. Still, EDGI expects the general trend to hold.

    “It’s another iteration of EPA’s industry-friendly approach,” said EDGI member Marianne Sullivan, a public health expert at William Paterson University. “It says we’re prioritizing industry’s needs and desires over the health of our environment and the health of our communities.”

    In the short term, dialing back enforcement could be a particularly effective way to relieve industry of the burdens of environmental protections. Donald Trump’s EPA appointees have tried to formally roll back regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan and a rule safeguarding water from toxic coal ash. But it’s a slow and public process that invites lawsuits. Simply declining to enforce the law, however, can subtly accomplish the same thing, because it happens largely out of public view, and EPA administrators have wide discretion over it.

    EPA officials deny ignoring violations of the law. “There has been no retreat from working with states, communities, and regulated entities to ensure compliance with our environmental laws,” spokesperson Maggie Sauerhage wrote in an email. “Focusing only on the number of federal lawsuits filed or the amount of penalties collected fails to capture the full range of compliance tools we use.”

    Still, the agency acknowledges a shift in focus from “enforcement” to “compliance.” That means it’s likely to work less as a cop than an adviser with the companies it regulates, an approach critics say could incentivize companies to cut corners.

    “Focusing on compliance instead of enforcement is a way of saying, ‘We might make people get back into compliance, but we’re resistant to the idea of punishment,’ ” explained David Janik, an attorney who managed Region 8’s legal enforcement program until 2011. But punishment helps you achieve compliance, Janik added. It deters polluters from spoiling the air and water in the first place, just as traffic tickets make drivers think twice about speeding. “If I go 90 and I get caught, I’m paying $200 for punishment,” he said. “If one chemical company has a big case and they pay $40 million to settle it, other companies will say, ‘Maybe I should hire another guy to make sure we don’t slip into noncompliance.’ ”

    In some cases, lackluster enforcement since Trump took office appears to have been a boon to corporate pocketbooks, while the environmental benefits remain murky. Consider the difference in how a series of oil and gas cases were handled under President Barack Obama.

    In 2015, the EPA and the state of Colorado jointly entered into a landmark settlement agreement with Noble Energy covering thousands of gas storage tanks that were leaking volatile organic compounds. VOCs are part of the toxic soup that contributes to smog levels on Colorado’s Front Range that exceed federal limits, exacerbating asthma and other respiratory diseases.

    Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org

    The settlement required Noble to pay a nearly $5 million fine, spend $60 million to reduce VOC emissions, and report its progress to the public. Two parallel cases resulted in smaller, but still substantial costs to companies in Colorado and North Dakota.

    But under EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, three similar cases came with remarkably cushier terms, according to the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project. In all three, the EPA declined to assess fines for the violations at all. And it’s unclear what, if anything, the companies were required to do to fix the problems. The companies were all Oklahoma-based, raising questions of favoritism from Pruitt, a pro-oil-and-gas Oklahoman.

    The Noble case was part of an Obama-era National Enforcement Initiatives program focused on air pollution from oil and gas drilling. National initiatives historically targeted problems particular to certain industries and they’re where big enforcement cases were often made. But in August, Susan Bodine, EPA’s current head of enforcement, announced that the program was being renamed “National Compliance Initiatives,” and that the agency would discontinue the campaign on oil and gas in 2019, a move industry pushed for.

    “It’s really about who’s going to benefit,” Sullivan said. “If industry doesn’t have to capture as much pollution, that may be good for their bottom line. But it puts the burden on the public. You can’t pollute for free. Either industry pays to capture it, or people pay with their health.”

    Contributing Editor Cally Carswell writes from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Follow @callycarswell. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org or submit a letter to the editor.

    @ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

    Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

    2019 #COleg: Water issues high on the list for legislators #COWaterPlan

    George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, along with others, are looking for ways to fund the Colorado Water Plan, the product of a collaborative effort during Gov. John Hickenlooper’s term in office designed to assess and meet the state’s water needs for years to come.

    That plan calls for doing many things over the years, not the least of which is to create about 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage, and save another 400,000 acre-feet through conservation efforts. Estimates to achieve all of its goals, however, have been as high as $20 billion.

    As a result, Coram says there’s no time like the present to find long-term funding sources to pay for it, and he doesn’t believe that it can come from severance taxes, which are collected by companies that extract natural resources, such as oil and gas drilling.

    Not only are severance taxes subject to huge swings in how much the state can collect because of market forces, but Front Range legislators are always quick to dip into that money when the economy goes sour, he said.

    To date, they’ve done that to the tune of more than $400 million in recent years, money the Legislature has yet to pay back.

    “The fact is, if we are going to meet our needs, the Colorado River is certainly overallocated and everybody’s got their eye on it,” Coram said. “We’ve got to come up with a sustainable funding source and not rely on severance taxes, which the General Assembly goes in and robs when it feels like it.”

    Estimates project that about $100 million a year would be needed to implement the water plan.

    Though Coram said he’s not yet sure what funding source to turn to, he’s heard talk of special taxes to pay for it all, such as a surcharge on all water users and a special bottle fee. He predicted that there is no single source that could raise the money needed to implement the plan.

    If a new tax is to be a source, it will have to be placed before the voters as required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

    “We’ve got to create a designated funding mechanism for water infrastructure, conservation and storage, and every piece to the puzzle has to be a part of it,” Coram said.

    “My concern is the Front Range wants us to change our life so they don’t have to change theirs. We’ve got to move slowly, but we’ve got to put some cash in the till to do these things.”

    Meanwhile, Rep. Don Catlin, R-Montrose, expects to be working on a water-related measure of his own.

    Catlin plans to introduce a bill to strengthen easements for irrigation ditches. He says a problem is reoccurring all around Colorado as various areas of the state become more urbanized.

    He said an increasing number of city dwellers are buying property in rural areas that include easements for irrigation ditches, but they don’t fully understand why those easements exist.

    As a result, some of those new property owners are treating the ditches as their own private streams, even placing cobblestones in them as part of their landscaping, Catlin said.

    When ditch riders try to access their systems, they’re running into conflicts with these homeowners, including being sued.

    “It’s an urban versus rural issue, but I think one of the big problems is a lot of people don’t understand water needs,” Catlin said. “This would be a way of sharpening up that right. A lot of these urban people move in, they don’t want you to walk up the easement to check your ditch. That can’t be right.”

    […]

    Rep.-elect Matt Soper, R-Delta, who also is looking for ways to fund the water plan, is considering a bill to expand the state’s grant program for school construction and infrastructure. He’s also working on measures to crack down on sexually explicit electronic messages that are sent to juveniles, and a measure to require all local governments to post meeting notices online.

    #Colorado environmentalists are demanding aggressive action on #ClimateChange in 2019 #ActOnClimate

    Graphic via the World Economic Forum

    From The Colorado Sun (Brian Eason):

    Environmental activists and lawmakers insist there’s a mandate for aggressive action. They point to Gov.-elect Jared Polis’ huge win on a platform that included a goal of 100 percent renewable energy, and to the 1.1 million votes for Proposition 112 that would have limited oil and gas drilling near neighborhoods. But the political right and energy interests see it differently, suggesting the overwhelming defeat of the proposition is justification for the status quo.

    In the middle, the new Democratic governor and legislative majorities in the House and Senate are wary about pushing too far outside the mainstream — as the party did in 2014, the last time it held the trifecta at the statehouse – and losing its support from voters in the next election.

    As a result, the early mood among policymakers seems to favor incremental progress this legislative session rather than the more aggressive approach that experts say is needed to avert catastrophic impacts from climate change. A national climate assessment released in November by the federal government concluded that time is running out to prevent widespread natural disasters that could cost the United States a tenth of its economic production by 2100.

    Still, the fact that climate change is atop the legislative agenda at all marks a dramatic shift in Colorado, where the oil and gas industry’s influence as an economic driver in the state also has given it considerable power to blunt tougher regulations.

    “We have about 10 to 12 years to address this or we are looking at serious catastrophic impacts. And Colorado, because of our geography and the importance of water with longer summers and less snowpack, we are at the tip of that spear,” said House Speaker-elect KC Becker, a Boulder Democrat who supported Proposition 112 and called climate change her top priority entering the legislative session.

    “I don’t know the approach yet, but I know I want to engage various industries in figuring it out,” she added.

    A push to limit carbon

    For Conservation Colorado, step one is clear: the state should treat carbon dioxide the way it does other harmful air pollutants.

    “Carbon’s a pollutant,” said Kelly Nordini, the environmental advocacy group’s executive director. “We need to set a limit on that pollution and say as a state how we’re going to limit that carbon pollution.”

    If the state does that, the question becomes how aggressively do regulators move to limit emissions. The “Climate Blueprint,” published by Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates, recommends a market-based solution, such as a “cap-and-trade” program or a tax that would make it costly for industries that don’t take steps to reduce carbon emissions on their own.

    But while Polis supported the idea of a carbon tax in the election, it’s not clear that the administration or state lawmakers have the appetite to install the first one in the nation.

    Instead, State Sen.-elect Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat and incoming chairwoman of the transportation and energy committee, says to expect legislation to address a lot of “small things that add up to something big” in combating climate change.