Greeley Community Development Director Brad Mueller said Greeley, Kersey and Evans had equal goals for the South Platte River Corridor, including maintaining the area’s natural habitat and recognizing the recreation potential.
The agreement, which recognizes the growth boundaries of the cities and the town, creates a cooperative planning area and makes a protocol for future annexations in the area.
Additionally, the agreement sets guidelines for the way the land can be used. Adult businesses and industrial companies, such as junkyards and dispensaries, would be prohibited on the land.
Forest mortality increased nearly 50 percent across New Mexico in 2018, the first jump in five years, according to an annual report on the health of the state’s forests.
More than 120,000 acres of ponderosa pine, spruce, piñon and other trees were lost, said the recently released report.
Near-record heat and a drought across the state weakened the ability of trees to fight off beetles and other pests, according to John Formby, an entomologist who heads the state forest health program.
“The trees can’t defend themselves, produce resin,” Formby said.
He said the health of the state’s forests should improve this year due to heavier winter snows and a wet start to spring, but said the trend is for continued forest loss because of hotter, drier weather brought on by climate change.
“Long term, I’m not expecting [annual mortality] numbers to vary very much,” Formby said.
Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have said it is highly likely New Mexico will lose the vast majority of its forests by 2050.
The directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board voted Thursday [March 21, 2019] to start exploring the feasibility of a demand-management program as part of a larger effort to manage falling water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead and avoid violating the Colorado River Compact.
Basalt resident Gail Schwartz, a former Colorado senator sworn onto the CWCB board Wednesday, said the effort to develop a demand-management, or water-reduction, program was “equally as large in concept and far-reaching” as developing the state’s 2015 water plan.
“This is a statewide conversation,” said Schwartz, who spent eight years working on water bills while on the Senate’s agriculture, natural resources and energy committee.
And Schwartz encouraged CWCB staff to find ways to involve citizens outside of the professional water-management sector in developing the plan.
“I think the whole state needs to have an opportunity to weigh in,” she said.
To fund the demand-management feasibility study, expected to take until at least January, the state budget bill now includes a $1.7 million line item.
A Thursday memo from CWCB staff and the state Attorney General’s Office said a demand-management program was part of an effort to avoid “mandatory” cutbacks in water use.
“The term ‘demand management’ loosely refers to the intentional conservation of water for the purpose of helping assure compliance with the Colorado River Compact, and in so doing, avoiding the need to implement mandatory water administration strategies to fulfill the Upper Basin’s compact obligations,” the memo said.
The demand-management study effort is in addition to the ongoing effort by CWCB staff to update the 2015 water plan. A technical update of a 2010 water-supply study is due this summer from CWCB, and there also is a $5 million effort planned to update the plans and project lists in each of the state’s river basins.
Brent Newman, the CWCB’s section chief for Colorado River issues, said he would begin the demand-management effort this week by setting up dates for workshops on the topic and developing lists of experts to serve on small work groups.
But he emphasized that starting an investigation of demand management is different than implementing the program.
Newman said a project team would be formed to guide the demand-management study, with representatives on the team from the CWCB, the Attorney General’s Office, the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Division of Water Resources, and the Upper Colorado River Commission.
Also, eight work groups of selected experts will be formed to look at demand management from various perspectives: law and policy, monitoring and verification, water-rights administration and accounting, environmental considerations, economic considerations; funding, education and outreach and agricultural impacts.
“To have these work groups operate in the way they need to, they are going to have to be efficient,” Newman told the CWCB board at its meeting in Fort Collins last week. “And when I say efficient, I mean small.”
Information from the work groups will then be shared with the various basin roundtables and the public, he said.
DCP in DC
The state’s emerging demand-management program is tied to a seven-state drought-contingency planning effort, which is to be presented to Congress this week.
James Eklund, the commissioner for Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission, is scheduled to testify Thursday on the drought-contingency plan before the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife.
Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman also is slated to testify at both the House hearing, as well as at a Senate subcommittee hearing on the drought plan Wednesday.
The seven states want Congress to approve a short piece of legislation authorizing the Interior secretary to implement the drought-contingency plan “in order to respond to the historic drought and ongoing dry conditions in the basin,” according to a March 19 letter sent to Congress by representatives of the seven basin states.
If the federal legislative effort is successful, the states will still need to finalize and sign the drought-contingency planning documents and agreements.
There are different sets of DCP agreements in the upper and lower basins. In the lower basin, agreements define how the lower-basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada will cut back on water use to maintain water levels in Lake Mead.
In the upper basin, agreements create a new regulatory pool of water within Lake Powell where water saved through demand management can be stored to be used as needed by Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico.
The upper-basin agreements also allow for water stored in Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs to be released to prop up water levels in Lake Powell.
In November, the CWCB adopted a demand-management policy stating that a demand-management program would be a voluntary, temporary and compensated.
The water savings would come, in large measure, by paying willing irrigators to fallow hayfields and let water that would otherwise have been consumed run down the Colorado River system to Lake Powell, which is less than 40 percent full.
Eklund, the former director of the CWCB, said he understood that the state’s study of demand management may take a year or more to complete, but he said despite this winter’s good snowpack, renewed drought and falling reservoir levels may still force the state’s hand.
“I understand that we have to hear from the many stakeholders, but at some point, Mother Nature may not cooperate with us,” Eklund said. “If that’s the case, we will have to move from study mode and talking mode to doing mode, whether we are comfortable with it or not.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily, the Summit Daily and the Steamboat Pilot. The Times and the Post Independent published the story on Monday, March 25, 2019.
This opinion piece was penned by Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources; L. James Eklund, Colorado state representative on Colorado River issues; Peter Nelson, chairman of the board of the California Water Service Group; John J. Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority; John R. D’Antonio Jr., state engineer of New Mexico; Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources; Pat Tyrrell, state engineer of Wyoming; Matt Rice, Colorado basin director at American Rivers; David O’Neill, Chief Conservation Officer at the National Audubon Society; Maurice Hall, associate vice president, ecosystems – water at the Environmental Defense Fund; Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director at The Nature Conservancy; Scott Yates, director of the Western Water and Habitat Program at Trout Unlimited; Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer at The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership; Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program Director at Western Resource Advocates
Last week, the seven Colorado River basin states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — sent a letter to Congress calling for federal legislation to authorize the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Congressional House and Senate committees are holding hearings on the plan. It’s a historic moment for a river that supports two countries, seven states, 40 million people, 5.5 million acres of agricultural land, 22 federally recognized tribes, 11 national parks, seven wildlife refuges, four national recreation areas, and seven endangered species.
In recent days, there have been contentions that the DCP has left a major factor out of the equation: the Salton Sea, California’s largest inland lake. But this simply is not the case.
Preserving the health and the long-term sustainability of the Colorado River is one of the most important issues we face in the United States. The DCP is a mitigation plan to avoid catastrophic water supply shortages in the western United States, and is the result of a years-long, state-driven process conducted during the previous and current federal administrations. The DCP is designed so that users agree to leave more water in the Colorado River system by reducing the use of this imperiled resource. The DCP has received broad support from the seven Colorado River basin states, many Native American tribes that depend on the river, and a wide array of environmental groups and agencies.
From its inception, the DCP was designed to function within rigorous environmental analysis review and permitting processes that have already been completed.
The Imperial Irrigation District has yet to sign on to the DCP. The DCP has an on-ramp for IID’s participation if they change their minds. But with or without IID’s participation, the DCP will not adversely impact the Salton Sea—a fact acknowledged by IID at a September 2018 Board of Directors meeting, among others.
Is the Salton Sea imperiled? Yes. People and wildlife are at risk as the sea’s receding shoreline generates public health issues, among other undesirable environmental outcomes. Nearly $280 million in California funding is currently available to initiate dust control and habitat restoration efforts to begin addressing these issues today. The proposed DCP actions are not the cause of the Salton Sea’s problems nor will they exacerbate the situation in any way when implemented.
In recent years, the Colorado River has become imperiled by a historic, unprecedented drought that has caused Lake Powell and Lake Mead to plummet from nearly full to just 40 percent of their full capacity. If no action is taken to preserve the river system, these reservoirs will continue to decline, threatening the ability to deliver water to tens of millions of people in the United States and Mexico. If that happens, the current issues will become dwarfed by many unimaginable and unsolvable crisis points. It is this eventuality the DCP is specifically designed to prevent.
All seven Colorado River basin states and the NGO partners remain supportive of the need to solve the Salton Sea’s environmental challenges. The States and undersigned NGOs recognize and support California’s current Salton Sea Management Plan to mitigate its decline and manage the sea over the next decade. But attempting to delay or derail the DCP, a critical action to preserve the lifeblood of the entire American Southwest, is not the right way to achieve that solution.
Undoubtedly, the Salton Sea needs a lifeline through swift actions, and the Colorado River needs a lifeline through swift approval of the Drought Contingency Plan in Congress.
FromThe Summit Daily (Deepak Dutta) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
Over the past month, Colorado has gone from nearly 70 percent of the state in drought to less than 5 percent. That drenching happened over the past month, a four-week period that included the snowiest early March that most Summit residents can remember. Yet it remains to be seen whether the season’s precipitation will put much of a dent on the region’s near-20-year drought.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, which uses water flow levels and other data to assess drought conditions across the country, shows that only 6.4 percent of the state’s land area is experiencing drought conditions, with 46.1 percent being considered at least “abnormally dry.” Compare that to the middle of February, when 67.2 percent of the state was in a drought and 91.8 percent abnormally dry.
For Summit County, the difference has been especially staggering. Summit and 39.7 percent of Colorado were experiencing at least a “severe drought” on Feb. 19. Today, the county is back to normal conditions, with only 0.6 percent of the state experiencing severe drought or worse…
And while the new precipitation is very promising, it is just one drop in the stream of time. According to the drought monitor, Colorado has been experiencing sustained dryness since the late ’90s. Since 2000, the longest duration of drought in Colorado lasted 395 weeks, or nearly eight years, beginning in October 2001 and ending in May 2009.
“The drought monitor is a snapshot of what’s happening now and ramifications into this upcoming summer,” said Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District. “But there’s a longer-term picture, the long-term drought from the year 2000 through this year.”
Pokrandt said that since 2000, Colorado has only had four years at or above average levels. The 2018-19 winter will be the fifth, but he said one big year does not end a long-term drought.
“If we have three or four more of these years of average snowpack, we might talk differently,” Pokrandt said. “But I would not say the drought’s back is broken.”
County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier echoed Pokrandt’s words of caution, noting that the drought was so bad just last summer that remnants of Old Dillon resurfaced from the bottom of the lake. There is a lot of recovery left to go, she said.
“We’ve had very high temperatures for March, and the snow is already starting to melt off,” Stiegelmeier said. “Just because we have all this precipitation now doesn’t mean that in two months that we won’t be dry again since we get most of our precipitation in March and April.”
Abundant and much needed precipitation across Colorado`s High Country over the past few months has allowed the US Drought Monitor to indicate marked improvement in the drought that has plagued much of Colorado over the past year. Abundant precipitation through the first half of March, with statewide Colorado Snotel observations reporting 289 percent of average March precipitation through the first 19 days of the month, has allowed for continued improvement. With that said, the latest Drought Monitor, issued Thursday March 21st 2019, has removed all of the Extreme Drought (D3) conditions across the state, with Severe Drought (D2) conditions now confined to extreme southern portions of Costilla County, and extreme southwestern portions of Las Animas County.
Moderate Drought (D1) conditions are now depicted across most of the rest of Costilla County, extreme southeastern and southwestern portions of Conejos County, western portions of Las Animas County, the western 2/3rds of Huerfano County, eastern Custer County, extreme southwestern Pueblo County and south central portions of Fremont County.
Abnormally Dry (D0) conditions are now indicated across Mineral County, Rio Grande County and the rest of Conejos County, as well as, eastern portions of Saguache County, Alamosa County and extreme southwestern portions of Costilla County. Abnormally Dry (D0) conditions are also depicted across extreme southeastern Chaffee County and the rest of Fremont and Custer Counties, as well as, Teller County, most of El Paso County, and the rest of Pueblo County. Abnormally Dry (D0) conditions are also indicated Crowley County, western Kiowa County, extreme northwestern portions of Bent County, extreme eastern Otero and Huerfano Counties, as well as central into eastern portions of Las Animas County.
Drought free conditions are now indicated across western portions of Saguache County, most of Chaffee County, Lake County and extreme northern portions of El Paso County. Drought free conditions are also depicted across the rest of Kiowa, Bent, Otero and Las Animas Counties, as well as Prowers and Baca Counties.
Fall and Winter precipitation has helped to ease fire danger across much of South Central and Southeast Colorado. However, with cured fuels and more windy weather associated with the early Winter Season, fire danger across non snow covered areas could be moderate to high at times into the early Spring.