Cranes make annual return to the San Luis Valley — @COParksWildlife

Greater Sandhill Cranes in flight over the San Luis Valley. The annual Monte Vista Crane Festival is March 8-10. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

In the San Luis Valley nature is again putting on one of its most memorable displays: the spring migration of Greater Sandhill Cranes. In appreciation of this wildlife spectacle, area organizations, businesses and wildlife agencies are holding the annual Monte Vista Crane Festival, March 8-10.

“Everyone who lives in Colorado should take the time to see this ancient and magnificent migration,” said Joe Lewandowski, public information officer for the Southwest Region of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “This is one of only a few great wildlife migrations in the United States that people can easily see. The sights and sounds are absolutely amazing.”

The cranes started arriving in mid-February, flying from their winter nesting ground, primarily in New Mexico. The large wetland areas, wildlife refuges and grain fields in the San Luis Valley draw in about 25,000 birds. The cranes stop in the valley to rest-up and re-fuel for their trip north to their summer nesting and breeding grounds in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Cranes are among the oldest living species on the planet: Fossil records for cranes date back 9 million years.

The birds that migrate through Colorado are the largest of the North American sandhill subspecies standing 4-feet tall, having a wing-span of up to 7 feet and weighing in at 11 pounds. Besides their imposing size, the birds issue a continuous, distinctive and haunting call. At this time of year cranes are engaged in their mating ritual and the birds perform an elegant hopping dance to gain the attention of other birds.

The birds are abundant in areas near the town of Monte Vista and wildlife watchers can see the birds most readily in the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, about 5 miles south of town of Colorado Highway 15. Birds also gather at the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, southeast of the town of Alamosa, and at that Rio Grande, Higel and Russell Lakes state wildlife areas.

The cranes are most active at dawn and at dusk when they’re moving back and forth from their nighttime roosting areas. But in the middle of the day they graze gracefully in the grain fields of the Monte Vista refuge.

Be sure to dress warm, as winter still reigns in the valley.

During the three days of the festival, free tours are offered at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the birds are most active. Visitors take buses to various spots on the wildlife refuge, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffers talk about the migration and the refuge. If you want to take a tour, be on time because the buses leave promptly.

The number of cranes in the valley peaks in mid-March; but many birds linger through the month. So even if you can’t go the weekend of the festival there’s still plenty of time to see the birds.

Birdwatchers who travel on their own should be cautious when parking, getting out of vehicles and walking along roads. People are also asked to view birds from a distance with binoculars and spotting scopes, and to observe trail signs and closure notices.

Many other bird species – including eagles, turkeys, and a variety of raptors and waterfowl – can also be seen throughout the San Luis Valley. Look in the many cottonwood trees for owl nests.

The festival headquarters and starting point for the tours is the Ski Hi Park building located near U.S. Highway 160 on Sherman Avenue on the east side of Monte Vista. Visitors can pick up maps, schedules and information at the headquarters. Besides the tours, a variety of workshops are put on by bird, wildlife and photography experts. An arts and crafts fair continues through the weekend at the headquarters building.

Approximate distances to Monte Vista: Denver, 220 miles; Colorado Springs, 182 miles; Salida, 85 miles; Vail, 175 miles; Durango, 135 miles; Grand Junction, 230 miles.

For more information on the Monte Vista Crane Festival, see: mvcranefest.org; or https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Monte_Vista. For more information on State Wildlife Areas in the San Luis Valley, go to: https://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo.

Colorado NRCS now accepting applications for 2019 Agricultural Land Easement and Wetlands Reserve Programs — High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal

Irrigation sprinklers run over a farm in Longmont in the South Platte River basin. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

From The High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal:

Clint Evans, Colorado State conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recently announced applications for the 2019 Agricultural Conservation Easement Program—Agricultural Land Easement and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program-Wetlands Reserve Program—are currently being accepted on a rolling basis. Due to the new 2018 Farm Bill, Colorado NRCS will not be announcing an application deadline for either program at this time. A subsequent announcement will be made at least 30 days prior to any established deadline in 2019.

The purpose of the ACEP-ALE program is to protect the agricultural viability, grazing uses and related conservation values by limiting nonagricultural uses of the land. The purpose of the ACEP-WRE program is to protect and restore wetlands, wildlife habitat, and water quality on agricultural lands. These programs are voluntary and the landowner retains ownership of the land.

Applicants for ACEP-ALE must be a federally recognized Indian Tribe, state or local units of government, or a non-governmental organization. Individual landowners may apply for ACEP-WRE if their land includes farmed or converted wetlands that can be successfully restored or other eligible wetland type.

Completed application packets for ACEP-ALE should be emailed to Heather Foley at heather.foley@co.usda.gov or mailed to Heather Foley, easements coordinator, USDA-NRCS, Denver Federal Center, Building 56, Room 2604, Denver, CO 80225. Completed application packets for ACEP-WRE must be submitted to the local NRCS field offices located within USDA Service Centers. Application packets for either program must be submitted based on the 2018 guidelines.

For more information about NRCS easement programs, please contact Heather Foley at 720-544-2805 or heather.foley@co.usda.gov. You can also visit your local NRCS Service Center or visit the Colorado NRCS website at http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov.

Letter: Climate crisis and a betrayed generation #ActOnClimate

From The Guardian letters to the editor:

Activists behind recent youth-led climate protests say their views are being ignored in the debate about global warming

We, the young, are deeply concerned about our future. Humanity is currently causing the sixth mass extinction of species and the global climate system is at the brink of a catastrophic crisis. Its devastating impacts are already felt by millions of people around the globe. Yet we are far from reaching the goals of the Paris agreement.

Young people make up more than half of the global population. Our generation grew up with the climate crisis and we will have to deal with it for the rest of our lives. Despite that fact, most of us are not included in the local and global decision-making process. We are the voiceless future of humanity.

We will no longer accept this injustice. We demand justice for all past, current and future victims of the climate crisis, and so we are rising up. Thousands of us have taken to the streets in the past weeks all around the world. Now we will make our voices heard. On 15 March, we will protest on every continent.

We finally need to treat the climate crisis as a crisis. It is the biggest threat in human history and we will not accept the world’s decision-makers’ inaction that threatens our entire civilisation. We will not accept a life in fear and devastation. We have the right to live our dreams and hopes. Climate change is already happening. People did die, are dying and will die because of it, but we can and will stop this madness.

We, the young, have started to move. We are going to change the fate of humanity, whether you like it or not. United we will rise until we see climate justice. We demand the world’s decision-makers take responsibility and solve this crisis.

You have failed us in the past. If you continue failing us in the future, we, the young people, will make change happen by ourselves. The youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again.

The global coordination group of the youth-led climate strike.

Click here to go the FridaysForFuture website.

Alamosa councillors plan to oppose latest San Luis Valley water export plans

The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Alamosa city councilors and staff are willing to join the fight against the latest water export proposal, they told water leader Cleave Simpson during a work session Tuesday night.

Simpson is the general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which has taken a position against a water export proposal by Renewable Water Resources. He shared with the council the history of former water export proposals and details about the latest one, which proposes to export 22,000 acre feet from the San Luis Valley to the south Denver metro area.

“I do believe it’s real,” Simpson said. “I think they intend to do it.”

Nothing has yet been filed in court but Simpson said the spokesman for Renewable Water Resources indicated the case might be filed by the end of this year. Simpson said the City of Alamosa could enter the case when it is filed.

The city council and staff discussed other ways they could be involved including taking an official stand through a resolution, like the water conservation district did, and participating in education and awareness.

“It would damage the agriculture of the Valley,” Councilman David Broyles commented about the proposed export.

“And economy,” added Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks.

Councilman Charles Griego said he believed the city’s first step would be to pass an official resolution during a council meeting. Brooks suggested the city council could pass a resolution either the second meeting in March or first meeting in April. “I am hearing this is something we should be taking seriously,” Brooks said.

Griego said the city needs to be clear that “not one drop” should be exported from the Valley and that the council would be against any kind of water leaving the Valley. He said the word needs to get out how devastating this would be to the Valley…

He said he is going to inform the Interbasin Compact Commission members later this week, as he is a member of that governor-appointed statewide water board.

Simpson said Renewable Water Resources on its website (renewablewaterresources.com) says “Best for the San Luis Valley. Best for the environment. Best for Colorado.” However, he sees no benefit whatsoever to the Valley of this project. “It’s not good for the San Luis Valley.”

He added that the Valley has a history of opposition to similar projects and will adamantly oppose this one too.

“Every 10-20 years, there’s another export proposal,” Simpson said.

Some of the past proposals, which were unsuccessful, were a proposal to export water from wells drilled in Costilla County to San Marcos, Texas in the 1970’s and multiple export proposals tied to the late Gary Boyce who owned land in Saguache County. American Water Development Inc. (AWDI) proposed to pump 200,000 acre feet of water from the Baca Ranch area to the Front Range.

The latest proposal is that of Renewable Water Resources, which purchased a 12,000-acre ranch north of Crestone. Their proposal is to pipe 22,000 acre feet of water from the confined aquifer out of the Valley and ultimately to the Denver area. (Simpson described 22,000 acre feet as the equivalent of 100 circles.) Renewable Water Resources representatives met with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board to seek the district’s cooperation in helping the developers use up to $60 million (about $2,500 an acre foot) to buy and retire water rights across the Valley and to help manage a $50-million community fund. Although planning to pump out 22,000 acre feet, the water developers propose to buy up twice that much, 40,000-44,000 acre feet of water rights, and retire a portion, which is a different approach than previous water exporters, Simpson explained.

He said reducing water consumption is a similar goal to the water district and sub-districts. However, “We are not pursuing permanent dry up or permanent removal of 22,000 acre feet of water leaving the Valley.”

Idalia: The South Fork #RepublicanRiver Restoration Coalition Bonny Reservoir project landowner meeting March 14, 2019

From the South Fork Republican River Restoration Coalition via The Yuma Pioneer:

Bonny Reservoir, once a popular camping, boating and fishing destination located in extreme southeastern Yuma County, was drained years ago to help Colorado get into compliance with the Republican River Compact with Kansas and Nebraska.

However, efforts by a coalition of county governments and other organizations — named the South Fork Republican River Restoration Coalition — still remain underway to at least partially restore it to its formal usage.

There have been a series of public meetings since last year. The next is being planned for Thursday, March 14, in a joint meeting with the Colorado Agriculture Preservation Association. It will be at Idalia School from 5 to 6:30 p.m., followed by CAPA’s annual meeting.

The coalition has been working on the project for the past two years. Yuma County and Kit Carson County are part of the group, along with Three Rivers Alliance, the Republican River Water Conservation District, Colorado Parks & Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy.

Yuma County Commissioner Robin Wiley told the Pioneer he believes the group is making headway in a positive direction. He stressed that plans do include necessarily refilling the lake, but restoring the stream flow and possibly establishing some non-water and small water recreational activities in and around the old lake bed.

The coalition secured a grant in January 2018 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for $99,000, with The Nature Conservancy giving the cash match.

Wiley said the money is being used to do Phase I of the project, planning and design.

The coalition has hired Otak Engineering to do channel design and engineering. A firm named Stillwater is doing the habitat restoration planning, and CHM has been hired to do an economic analysis of possible recreational activities.

It had a landowner meeting last August in Idalia to tell the landowners, up and down the South Fork of the Republican River, what the coalition is trying to do and ask for their cooperation.

Last November there were two meetings, one in Idalia and one in Burlington, to get input from the public on the project.

Now comes the March 14 meeting in Idalia. All interested members of the public are invited to attend.

@Northern_Water: Farm purchase part of #NISP effort to ensure water-secure future for local communities and agriculture

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

Here’s the release from Northern Water (Brian Werner):

The recent purchase of a Weld County farm marks a new venture for Northern Water and Northern Integrated Supply Project participants – one that’s part of the ongoing, collaborative effort to secure future water supplies for both the region’s communities and our vital agricultural industry.
On Jan. 31, Northern Water and the NISP participants purchased a 28-acre farm northeast of Greeley and the property’s water rights. The farm was purchased through the NISP Water Secure program, a cooperative effort to maintain the exchange of water for NISP while keeping water on participating farms. This investment is a shift from the “buy-and-dry” approach that has stressed our agricultural communities.

This innovative program will eventually provide supplemental water to approximately 500,000 residents in northern Colorado while preserving thousands of acres of irrigated farmland. Water Secure is part of a strategic long-term plan to better plan for future growth and to consistently apply Colorado Water Plan principles to protect water for our communities, farms and the environment. Without innovative approaches such as Water Secure, the region is on pace to see hundreds of thousands of irrigated acres dried up by mid-century.

“This is an outside-the-box, ‘buy-and-supply’ approach we’re taking to address the tightening water supplies facing Northern Colorado and its future generations,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind.

The recently purchased farm sits within an area of Weld County that is key to NISP – a project that, once built, will include Glade Reservoir near Fort Collins and Galeton Reservoir near Ault, and deliver approximately 40,000 acre-feet of water annually to 15 local communities and water districts.

As part of the project, Northern Water and the NISP participants are working with the New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company and Larimer and Weld Irrigation Company ditch and reservoir systems in Weld County, to use a portion of their senior water rights in exchanges that will ensure the NISP participants receive the water from the project.

These exchanges with the two systems will keep water flowing to those farms, as well as include compensation that will enhance the long-term viability of their operations.

To avoid water leaving those farms permanently through buy and dry purchases from other entities, Northern Water will buy land and water from willing sellers to ensure those supplies remain in the two ditch systems and available for exchange.

The senior water rights in the New Cache and Larimer-Weld systems are currently among the most sought after by water providers looking to obtain future supplies.
Farms in the New Cache and Larimer-Weld systems bought by Northern Water will remain in production, through limited land use easements on the property, lease-back agreements or other arrangements that will require continued irrigation on those farms.

Furthermore, the purchase of any irrigated lands will be done with the goal of eventually returning them to private ownership.

“The Water Secure program maintains irrigated agriculture and provides open space benefits while eliminating many of the long-term challenges with the practice of buying and drying,” Wind added.

To learn more about NISP, go to http://www.gladereservoir.org.

From The Greeley Tribune (Sara Knuth):

As part of the newly implemented Water Secure program, Northern Water purchased the 28-acre farm northeast of Greeley on Jan. 31 with communities that participate in the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which will result in two reservoirs and more water for 15 communities…

Instead of municipalities buying up water rights on farmland and leaving them to dry out, the district is looking at the initiative as a way to both preserve irrigated farmland and provide supplemental water to an estimated 500,000 northern Colorado residents.

During a phone interview Thursday, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said it’s critical to make sure water is delivered annually to farms.

“It’s what makes this project work,” he said. “Keeping water on farms, as opposed to the good old way it’s been done in the past in this state. The American West, you bought land and you dried it up. We’re buying it and we’re calling it ‘buy and supply’ rather than buy and dry. So we need to keep the water on the property.”

This is how the program will work:

Northern Water and the NISP participants, which include Evans and Windsor, will work with the New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company and the Larimer and Weld Irrigation Company ditch and reservoir systems in Weld County to use a portion of their senior water rights to make sure the NISP communities get water from the project.

In turn, the exchanges with the two systems will ensure water keeps flowing to participating farms and include compensation. Farms in both systems purchased by Northern Water will remain in production through arrangements such as limited land use easements and lease-back agreements.

“To avoid water leaving those farms permanently through buy and dry purchases from other entities, Northern Water will buy land and water from willing sellers to ensure those supplies remain in the two ditch systems and available for exchange,” according to the news release.

For the district, getting rights from both systems is significant — senior water rights in New Cache and Larimer-Weld systems are among the most sought after by water providers who are looking for supplies.

Werner said the company isn’t sure yet how much the district will invest in the program but said it will likely take millions of dollars.

Still, Northern officials emphasized that the purchase of any irrigated land will happen with an end goal in sight: return the farms to private ownership again eventually.

#Snowpack/#Drought news: “Things really have been turning a corner this winter” — Peter Goble (@ColoradoClimate)

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 1. 2019 via the NRCS.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The state’s snowpack is ending February at 114 percent of median, compared to about 94 percent around the start of the year. It’s looking increasingly likely this winter will help the state at least somewhat recover from the drought and low water supplies that besieged it last year.

“Things really have been turning a corner this winter,” said Peter Goble, a climatologist with the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University.

Just this week, moister weather led to the end of a drought designation in the far-western parts of Mesa, Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties. Those areas have been downgraded to an abnormally dry U.S. Drought Monitor designation, a step below drought. Most of western Colorado otherwise remains in various stages of drought.

Some of the best moisture news in the state comes in southwest Colorado, which has had some of the worst drought conditions in the state and has struggled for years in terms of snowpack. At the year’s start, snow water equivalent levels in river basins in southwest Colorado were around 70 percent of normal. As of Thursday, that region had snowpack of 122 percent of median, tying the Arkansas River Basin for the highest amount statewide.

The Gunnison River Basin, which also had miserable snowpack a year ago and was 90 percent of normal around this year’s start, now stands at 119 percent of median. The Colorado River Basin is at 112 percent of median. No major basin in the state is below median.

A weekly climate, water and drought assessment Goble and his Colorado Climate Center colleagues help prepare says snowpack is now above average for almost all of the Intermountain West. The assessment pointed to recent storms that included nearly 2 feet of snow in Durango in 24 hours and 86 inches at Wolf Creek Ski Area in a week, an average of more than a foot a day…

…an El Niño climate pattern that has been months in developing has officially formed over the Pacific Ocean. Strautins said El Niño winters statistically lean toward wetter springs in central and southwestern Colorado, although this winter’s El Niño has been atypical in that it has taken so long to form…

Even if the storm spigots turn off, it’s worth noting that in some places in western Colorado, snowpack levels have surpassed average peak seasonal values. Peak accumulations usually aren’t reached until sometime in early to mid-April, depending on the location and elevation.

Goble said snowpack in the San Juan Mountains currently ranges anywhere from 80 to 115 percent of average annual peak.

“Roughly half of the (measuring) stations are above 100 percent,” he said.

On Grand Mesa, stations are recording levels from 73 to 87 percent of average peak, he said. Last year at this time on Grand Mesa, those figures ranged from 29 to 54 percent of average peak…

[Alsdus] Strautins said many reservoirs in western Colorado will fill when there’s an average snowpack year, even when snowpack was well below average the previous year. Refilling those reservoirs is crucial because they were drawn down last year to help meet irrigation and municipal needs due to the lack of precipitation, and have less water available to help this year if snowpack again is low.

Still, bigger reservoirs, among them Blue Mesa Reservoir, can take longer than a year to refill. And the Colorado River’s two major reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, continue to face systemic shortfalls.

Their water levels are both currently at about 40 percent of capacity, and states within the Colorado River Basin have been developing contingency plans for dealing with the possibility of continued drought.