#RioGrande Roundtable meeting recap

Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Roundtable member Judy Lopez and her boss Sarah Parmar with Colorado Open Lands (COL) talked with the Roundtable members on Tuesday about providing more options for farmers and ranchers considering conservation easements on their properties. The Roundtable is a group of San Luis Valley residents representing a variety of water uses throughout the Valley.

Parmar said COL has protected half a million acres across the state through conservation easements. “Conservation easements are still the only permanent tool to keep land and water in agriculture,” she said.

Parmar explained that conservation easements originated on the East Coast, and when they were introduced in Colorado, “water was an afterthought.” The focus was on land protection. However, as they evolved, conservation easements also focused on protecting the water rights associated with the land, not allowing the water rights to be sold but requiring them to remain in their historical use, Parmar explained.

Up to this point, conservation easement agreements were very restrictive regarding water use, she said. To meet current conditions and needs, however, COL brought together a team to look at more flexibility with water rights under conservation easements while still protecting the investment of those funding such easements. The efforts began with the South Platte Roundtable, which was concerned that about one third of irrigated land and water would be transferred to municipal use by 2050 through “buy and dry” purchases. “Buy and dry is the easiest way for municipalities to get water,” Parmar said.

To prevent permanent loss of the water, COL began looking at ways in which property owners could lease their water rights for a certain number of years, like seven out of 10, to municipalities like Castle Rock, while retaining some agricultural use of the water. During the years their water was going to municipalities, farmers could fallow their land, deficit irrigate, irrigate for less than a full season or use a crop that used less water, Parmar explained.

Parmar said South Platte Basin water users who were surveyed on the issue were interested in the concept, with nearly 60 percent saying they would be interested in a lease situation.

Parmar said their choices were to preserve the water rights through conservation easements or sell them off entirely, the latter being more profitable. A leasing option provided farmers and ranchers with another alternative, she said. The water would remain with the land but could be involved in a long-term lease with a municipality, which would give that municipality some assurances as well, Parmar explained.

Parmar said attorneys working with COL have developed easements that would accomplish these goals and meet IRS codes for conservation easements and the tax benefits associated with them.

Lopez said the way this would likely work in the San Luis Valley would be agriculture-to-agriculture leasing, not agriculture-to-municipality leasing. This might help with some of the challenges facing the Valley now from water export threats to state regulations, she said. It might also allow some folks to keep their properties that might not have been able to, she added.

Lopez said the water portions of conservation easements would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Roundtable member Ronda Lobato asked about the possibility of changing existing conservation easements. Parmar said she did not think that was out of the realm of possibility. She said there are about two million acres under conservation easements through various organizations across the state, a lot of it in the San Luis Valley.

Roundtable member Mike Gibson was very opposed to changing existing conservation easements. He said the roundtable had approved funding for conservation easements on the basis the water would stay on the land and be used for historical purposes. He said the people who entered those agreements for their land also did so with the understanding the water would remain protected, and to change that would affect other factors like habitat.

Roundtable Chairman Nathan Coombs, who is the manager of the Conejos Water Conservancy District, said he understood that conservation easements already in place were created with some options off the table, but with the current situation in the Rio Grande Basin, it might be time to look at more flexibility.

“The state of our state is solid. It is strong. It is successful. It is daring. And it is bold” — Governor Jared Polis #COleg

Colorado’s diverse landscape has a rich natural and agricultural heritage that fuels the economy. Photo: Michael Menefee

Click here to read Governor Jared Polis’ State of the State Address.

From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis took the oath of office, in a ceremony that included poets and blessings from a variety of faith leaders. Thursday, the state’s 43rd governor presented his first state of the state address under a theme of “A Colorado for All.”

“The state of our state is solid. It is strong. It is successful. It is daring. And it is bold,” one of Polis’ favorite watchwords and one that he repeated eight times during the speech….

On agriculture, Polis pointed out that “volatile commodities markets, a damaging trade war from Washington” and an increasingly serious water shortage are making life harder for those in the ag industry. He said his pick for ag commissioner — Kate Greenberg, formerly of the National Young Farmers Coalition — will focus on the future of farming.

Polis also pledged to a “bipartisan and sustainable funding source” for the state water plan, and to partner with groups like the Rocky Mountain Farmers’ Union to “reduce barriers to employee ownerships and to grow wages in the ag sector,” as well as expanding access to capital for the next generation of farmers.

Polis emphasized his commitment to renewable energy and addressing climate change, both which will require less dependence on fossil fuels. But he also pledged to find ways to take care of those who work in the energy industry. “Some of the hardest-working people in Colorado today work in the coal and oil-and-gas industries and we will not leave them behind,” he pledged. That means transitioning to good-paying jobs that take advantage of the skills and experience of those workers…

Polis later told reporters he would favor a 3 to 5 percent reduction in the income tax rate, a proposal contained in a bill introduced in the state Senate on Thursday.

Senate Bill 55 is sponsored by northeastern Colorado lawmakers Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling and Rep. Rod Pelton of Cheyenne Wells. Polis said he had not yet seen the bill as of Thursday, but it appears to match his proposal from the speech.

SB 55 would reduce the individual and the corporate state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.49 percent; and reduces the state alternative minimum tax by 0.14 percent. It has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee; no hearing date has yet been set…

“While it is important to look towards the future of agriculture, it’s vital not to forget the lessons the past has taught us,” said Colorado Farm Bureau president Don Shawcroft. “Support of all farmers and ranchers across the state is key, whether they are big or small, organic or conventional, young or old.”

As to the water plan, Shawcroft added that agriculture “is most profitable and most productive when farmers and ranchers have access to the water resources they need. Those resources can’t be tied up on the Front Range.”

[…]

On Monday, that committee is scheduled to review House Bill 1029, which would redraw the boundaries of the Republican River District. Democratic Rep. Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins is sponsoring the bill on behalf of the interim Water Resources Review Committee, and told this reporter that new boundaries will pull in well owners whose groundwater pumping is depleting the flow of the Republican as well as interfering with compact compliance. The district was drawn by the legislature in 2004 along a geographic ridge and now must be modified to include these additional well owners. Arndt said that those in the district pay $14.85 per irrigated acre for compact compliance; the well owners brought in under HB 1029 will also pay that fee.

The largest group of well owners to be brought into the district are located in Kit Carson and Cheyenne counties. The redrawn boundaries also would bring in a small portion of Washington County.

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.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Polis’ uber-reasonable tone had a disarming effect. Who would profess to be against early childhood education or lower health-care costs? The new governor artfully framed long-contentious issues as solvable so long as lawmakers have the state’s best interests at heart…

Other items that resonated with rural communities: supporting the outdoor recreation economy, but “doubling down” on supporting the state’s agricultural producers. That means protecting the industry’s lifeblood — water. “We must commit to a bipartisan and sustainable funding source for the Colorado Water Plan,” Polis said…

Infastructure — broadband, roads, public transit — all need investment and funding sources. Polis’ framed his call for 100 percent renewable energy as “not just about climate change,” but saving money for consumers withe cheaper energy and “making sure the good-paying green jobs of the future are created right here in Colorado.”

The governor’s speech hit on all the points meaningful for his supporters without causing undue fear for the rest of the state — with the possible exception of oil and gas companies and “influential” corporations. Polis indicated he wants to let communities have more say about industrial activities withing their borders and he wants to make the tax code more fair. That means closing loopholes that benefit corporations.

Photo credit The Climate Reality Project.

From TheDenverChannel.com (Blair Miller):

In his first major policy speech in office, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis outlined an optimistic and ambitious plan for his first year in office and promised to work to make law his lofty goals regarding education, climate change, health care, infrastructure and energy and to work to keep Colorado “the best state in the nation.”

[…]

He won applause early in his speech when he acknowledged the “record-setting number of women” now serving in the General Assembly – second in the U.S. to Utah. And he received another standing ovation for a thinly-veiled dig at the Trump administration.

“Here in Colorado, we treat each other with respect. We reject efforts to intimidate immigrant families, or tear children from their parents’ arms,” Polis said. “We don’t tolerate bigotry or discrimination of any kind. And we don’t accept hostage-taking as a form of governance. … So, in the spirit of putting problem-solving over partisanship, let’s work together.”

[…]

Regarding energy, Polis reiterated his commitment to Colorado using 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 and said there would be no more doubting the effects of climate change.

“Climate change is a scientific reality. It’s real. There’s no pretending otherwise for farmers and ranchers wo are facing historic water shortages. There’s no pretending otherwise for the 46,000 men and women who work in Colorado’s ski industry and see their jobs threatened by decreased snowpack,” Polis said. “And there will be no pretending otherwise in this administration.”

He said that his administration would also “do right by all the men and women in today’s energy workforce” and acknowledge the state’s coal and oil and gas workers, saying, “We will not leave them behind.”

“We will embrace the skills and experience these Coloradans bring to the table. Their help will be needed and rewarded at every single step of this transition,” Polis said. “And we will support the communities these jobs have sustained, to ensure they can continue to thrive in the renewable-energy economy.”

But at the same time, Polis hinted that he would allow for local control over some industries, like oil and gas, which several Front Range communities have called for in the face of new fracking development.

“Just as we stand up for workers and good jobs, so too must we stand up for our communities and their right to have a voice when it comes to industrial activities within their borders,” he said. “It’s time for us to take meaningful action to address the conflicts between oil-and-gas drilling operations and the neighborhoods they impact, and to make sure that all of our communities have clean air and water.”