@POTUS’s infrastructure order threatens local right to protect the environment — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

From The High Country News (Carl Segerstrom):

Washington blocked a coal terminal under the Clean Water Act. New rules could subvert that authority.

At nearly 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is part of the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. Meanwhile, about a thousand miles south in Longview, Washington, on the banks of the Columbia River, decades of industrial waste mar the proposed site for the largest bulk coal terminal in North America.

On the surface, these places may not have much in common, but they’re both part of a simmering nationwide conflict over state and federal power. In the Tongass, that means the Administration deferring to Alaska’s desire to rewrite federal rules to promote logging, while in Longview, that looks like an executive order designed to limit a state’s ability to block fossil fuel projects — including the Millennium coal export terminal.

A recently signed executive order looks to fast-track permitting for coal terminals. Photo credit: Peabody Energy, Inc./Wikipedia Commons

The [President’s] administration’s treatment of these areas demonstrates its all-in support for extractive industries. In the name of energy dominance, the federal government is looking to curtail state environmental reviews and promote fossil fuel exports. By doing so, it’s wading into an ongoing fight between coastal and Interior West states over permit denials for export facilities on the West Coast. Where the administration stands on that battle — and its apparent willingness to trample on some states’ regulatory authority — exposes the uniquely flexible nature of its support for states’ rights: It appears interested in shifting power to states only when the goal is less environmental protection.

[The President’s] April 10 executive order was part of a package of directives designed to pave the way for infrastructure like the Millenium coal terminal. In the order, [the President] asked the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite the policies for how Section 401 of the Clean Water Act is implemented. That section of the linchpin federal law gives states and tribes authority over whether to permit facilities that release pollution into federally protected waters within their borders. [The President’s] directive declares that the current process “cause(s) confusion and uncertainty, leading to project delays, lost jobs, and reduced economic performance.”

While it’s unclear exactly how the EPA will change the guidelines, environmental lawyers are skeptical that the executive branch has the authority to weaken state and tribal oversight. That’s because the right of states to protect their rivers, lakes and coastal waters is fundamental to the Clean Water Act, and the 401 certification process gives affected communities a voice in that process. Andrew Hawley, a lawyer with the Western Environmental Law Center, put it bluntly: “To undermine that goes straight to the heart of the Clean Water Act.”

The orders come as states are battling over export infrastructure along the Pacific Coast. Fossil fuel-producing states in the Interior West — frustrated that local and state governments in Washington, Oregon and California have stymied a string of projects — see [the President’s] directives as a crack in the coast’s green wall. “I stand with governors across the land in asserting our states’ rights to access markets foreign and domestic,” said Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, R, following the orders’ announcement. “The states along the West Coast have abused their authority under section 401 of the Clean Water Act to unfairly discriminate against Wyoming coal.”

Gordon blamed the blocking of export facilities on climate politics, but Washington denied the Longview permit because of local impacts, not big-picture threats. In a summary of the decision, the state’s Department of Ecology wrote that the project “would cause irreparable and unavoidable harm to the Columbia River,” by driving hundreds of pilings into the riverbed, destroying nearly 30 acres of wetlands and aquatic habitat, increasing ship traffic on the Columbia River by 1,680 trips a year, and impairing tribal access to protected fishing sites.

Elsewhere, the…administration has sought to shift power to the states — so long as the end result would slash environmental protections. In the past couple years, the Interior Department has implemented policies that defer wildlife management to states, thus allowing controversial hunting practices like killing coyotes and wolves during denning season on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. And the Forest Service is working with Utah and Alaska to weaken restrictions on carving roads into roadless forests. That would mean major changes in areas like the Tongass, where most of the forest is inaccessible to industry.

As some Western states get more leeway to weaken environmental safeguards, green activists are left wondering how far the federal government will go to subvert state regulatory authority in their communities. Diane Dick, who lives just outside the Longview city limits, has spent the better part of a decade fighting the Millenium coal terminal. From the beginning, she said, the fight over the terminal felt bigger than just one project; she’s watched it become a poster child for a national debate over energy infrastructure. Now, as the executive branch tilts the scales against local environmental protection, Dick sees a larger question looming: When and based on what can a community protect itself?

Longview, Washington, residents gather to protest the coal terminal project. The community has been fighting the proposed terminal for years. Photo credit: Power Past Coal

Carl Segerstrom is an assistant editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies from Spokane, WA.

#Runoff news: #RioGrande streamflow is above average through Albuquerque

From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

This time last year, the riverbed of the Rio Grande south of Socorro was sandy, the edges of its channel strewn with desiccated fish. Even through Albuquerque, the state’s largest river was flowing at just about 400 cubic feet per second, exposing long sandbars and running just inches deep.

This year, the Middle Rio Grande is booming, nearly ten times higher than it was last April—and it’s still rising. Running bank-to-bank, the river’s waters are lapping up over low spots along the bank, nourishing trees and grasses, replenishing groundwater and creating much-needed habitat for young fish and other creatures.

This year’s high flows through the Middle Rio Grande come thanks to a mix of natural conditions, like snowpack, and also manipulation of the river’s flows from dams, diversions and interstate water-sharing agreements.

“These late spring storms are really the icing on the cake heading into the spring runoff,” said Mary Carlson, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Office. “The snowpack is far above average and we expect a few months of really good flows on the Rio Chama and Rio Grande.”

This month, Reclamation released its 2019 operating plan for the Middle Rio Grande and the stretch of the river below Elephant Butte Dam. In southern New Mexico, the federal agency plans to move water from Elephant Butte Reservoir to Caballo Reservoir beginning on May 3. Then, on May 31, they’ll begin sending water from Caballo downstream to irrigators in southern New Mexico and Texas.

Combined storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo is about 324,000 acre feet as of Thursday, or roughly 14 percent capacity. Last fall, storage in the two reservoirs dropped below three percent.

Levels in those two reservoirs matter not only to downstream water users, but also those upstream along the Rio Grande.

Since last May, New Mexico has had to abide by Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact of 1938. When combined storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs drops below 400,000 acre feet, Colorado and New Mexico can’t store water in any of the upstream reservoirs built after 1929. This includes Heron, El Vado and Heron reservoirs in New Mexico.

Now, water managers expect that New Mexico will be out of Article VII restrictions in mid-May.

Once that happens, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which supplies water to irrigators in the Albuquerque area, can start holding water in upstream reservoirs. They’re expecting to store about 40,000 acre-feet of water before water levels drop again later this year.

And, Reclamation expects that New Mexico will remain out of Article VII until late August or early September.

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

‘Umbrella species’

The river’s spring flows will also give a boost to endangered species, including the Rio Grande silvery minnow.

Biologists are already finding eggs, though spawning will peak later in the spring as the temperature rises.

“The water’s not quite warm enough all day, so it will probably be another three weeks before there’s a huge peak in the number of fish that are spawning,” said Thomas Archdeacon, a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. “I’d guess in a year like this, there could be a two-month long spawning period.”

The slow, backwater habitat created by the rising river is good for the fish, allowing eggs and larvae to survive. And what’s good for endangered species is good for the rest of the river’s ecosystem, said Archdeacon.

Later this spring and summer, the river will shift again. Runoff will decline and once the state is out of Article VII, water will be stored in upstream reservoirs instead of passing through the Middle Rio Grande to Elephant Butte. Plus, irrigators will pull more water from the river during the summer months.

And biologists like Archdeacon will keep an eye on what happens to endangered species.

“I like to call it the umbrella species,” Archdeacon said of the silvery minnow. Protecting species like the minnow means protecting all the other species as well, he said, and protecting the cottonwood galley.

Livingston Ranch in Kit Carson County receives the 2019 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award — The Sand County Foundation

The soil’s health rebounded as it retained organic matter left on the land as crop residue. This reduced the need for fertilizer, and resulted in higher yields from their wheat, milo, corn and hay fields. Photo credit: Sand County Foundation

Here’s the release from the Sand County Foundation:

Mike and Julie Livingston of Kit Carson County have been selected as the recipient of the 2019 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award®.

Sand County Foundation, the nation’s leading voice for private conservation, created the Leopold Conservation Award to inspire American landowners by recognizing exceptional farmers, ranchers and foresters. The prestigious award, named in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, is given in 13 states.

In Colorado the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Livingstons [were] presented with the $10,000 award on Monday, June 17 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s 2019 Annual Convention held at the Steamboat Grand in Steamboat Springs.

Agricultural conservation practices have given Mike and Julie Livingston and their land the resiliency to overcome adversity.

When they bought their ranch near Stratton in 2003, its weed-filled landscape had been abused by years of over-grazing, severe erosion and drought. When rain did fall on barren spots of land, sediment would wash into nearby rivers and aquifers.

“We had owned the property for three years, and each year we reduced our cow numbers because the grass wasn’t recovering. What we were doing wasn’t sustainable,” Mike recalls.

Other challenges loomed on the ranch’s horizon. In 2009 a multi-state lawsuit took away their access to water for irrigation, and three years later a historic drought took hold. Their backs against the wall, they enrolled in the Ranching for Profit School. Mike said the “life-changing experience” opened his mind to agricultural conservation practices like cover crops, no-till and planned grazing.

Not tilling the soil and keeping it covered year-round with specialty crops soon led to better rainwater utilization and less soil erosion and runoff. The soil’s health rebounded as it retained organic matter left on the land as crop residue. This reduced the need for fertilizer, and resulted in higher yields from their wheat, milo, corn and hay fields.

Mike and Julie, who farm and ranch with their children, Kari and Justin, and their families, also embraced conservation practices that benefitted their beef cattle and created wildlife habitat.

They implemented a planned grazing system with assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Inefficient watering systems were replaced with 100,000 feet of new pipeline. Miles of new fencing replaced the configuration of 36 old pastures, with 119 pastures that are grazed less often. The extended rest period, coupled with planting cool season grasses meant two more months of green grass.

In addition to a 120-acre wildlife sanctuary the Livingstons created, hundreds of additional acres are left ungrazed from summer through winter to provide additional habitat for turkeys, prairie chickens, pheasants, bobcats, and herds of whitetail and mule deer. Hay fields are harvested with wildlife protection in mind, and cattle watering stations were designed for access and safety for birds, bats and other wildlife.

The Livingstons share what they’ve learned with fellow ranchers, academic researchers, business and youth groups.

Through hard work, holistic management, and perseverance, the Livingstons have built a ranch that is sustainable for generations to come.

“The 2019 Leopold Conservation Award nominees featured an impressive array of families and operations from around the state. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust is proud of the conservation accomplishments of each of the applicants,” said Erik Glenn, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust Executive Director. “These applicants showcase the diversity of agriculture in Colorado and the dedication that farming and ranching families have to the lands they steward, their communities, and their families. We are particularly proud of this year’s recipient the Livingston Ranch and the entire Livingston family.”

“Agriculture producers feed a growing society, domestically and abroad, through sustainable production practices that produce more by using less. This approach is the very backbone of stewardship that the Leopold Conservation Award honors,” said Mike Hogue, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association President. “Congratulations to the Livingston family on their well-deserved recognition, and being leaders in Colorado’s conservation and ranching industry.”

“The Natural Resources Conservation Service has proudly partnered to support the Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado for more than 10 years. The families that are nominated each year illustrate the commitment Colorado farmers and ranchers have to implementing sound conservation practices. The NRCS congratulates the Livingston family for their conservation ethic and land stewardship,” said Clint Evans, NRCS State Conservationist.

Among the many outstanding landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Cory Off of Del Norte in Rio Grande County, and Gregg, Chris and Brad Stults of Wray in Yuma County.

The 2018 recipient was Beatty Canyon Ranch of Kim, Colorado.

The Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Stanko Ranch, Gates Family Foundation, American AgCredit, The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, and McDonald’s.

Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 13 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation.

For more information on the award, visit http://www.leopoldconservationaward.org.

#ArkansasRiver Basin Water Forum recap

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

Pushing the…administration to continue financial support for the Arkansas Valley Conduit pipeline is a priority, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner told an audience of water district officials here Wednesday.

The 130-mile pipeline — which would run from Lake Pueblo to Lamar — was first authorized in 1962 but was unfunded until 2009, when Congress began authorizing planning funds for the long-awaited project.

Speaking to the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum in Pueblo, the Republican senator said he recently met with officials of the Bureau of Reclamation earlier this month to press the administration to support the pipeline project.

“I won’t let the federal government walk away from its obligation to the communities along the project,” he told the audience of several hundred water district officials at the Pueblo Convention Center.

Most recently, the federal bureau completed a feasibility study of the project.

Headwaters of the Arkansas River basin. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journlaism

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

[Colorado and Kansas] are working together now on how to share a river that is lifeblood to eastern Colorado and western Kansas farmers and ranchers, according to experts at the 25th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum here this week.

The states have been to the U.S. Supreme Court seven times since 1902, most often because Kansas officials charged that Colorado was overusing the river. That wasn’t an empty claim, lawyer Matt Montgomery told the audience Thursday.

“The river essentially runs dry every summer near Dodge City because of its heavy use by agriculture in Colorado and Kansas,” he said.

Of course, it resurfaces further east and continues its way to the Mississippi River.

The historic source of the water feud was the fundamental clash in water philosophy. Colorado’s landowners and Legislature believed in an appropriated system of awarding water rights. People with the most senior water rights on the river get water before any junior rights are recognized.

Kansas, which was settled earlier, had a more land-based view. Owning land next to a river granted the landowner automatic water rights. The problem was the Arkansas might be used up before it reached some Kansas landowners.

Also, Colorado farmers were quick to drill wells in the valley. More than 1,000 new ones were installed after World War II, Montgomery said.

When states fight, it’s the U.S. Supreme Court that has primary jurisdiction. The court ordered the two states to reach some accommodation — and they created the Arkansas River Compact in 1949.

John Martin Reservoir back in the day

To help regulate water flow in the river, John Martin Reservoir was built in the 1940s near Lamar.

“But then Lake Pueblo and Trinidad Reservoir were built (in the 1970s), and that triggered the last lawsuit from Kansas, that Colorado was storing too much water,” Montgomery said.

But the two new lakes weren’t the problem; it was the additional wells that were depleting the river, he noted.

Today, the two states monitor the river use — and in Colorado, water courts require augmentation to the river before new wells are added.

noosa yoghurt and Morning Fresh Dairy named Northeast Region Partner of the Year — #Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Water courses through the new fish passage at Watson Lake State Wildlife Area. The passage allows fish to swim up and down the river past a diversion dam. Photo credit: Northern Water

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

The Graves family, owners of Morning Fresh Dairy and noosa yoghurt, was honored Thursday night with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northeast Region Partner of the Year Award for 2019.

The award was announced at the annual Partners in the Outdoors Conference awards dinner held at the Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center.

The Graves’ were nominated by CPW Assistant Area Wildlife Manager Jason Surface. Rob and Lori Graves were on hand at Thursday’s dinner and banquet to accept the award.

“The entire Graves family, and Rob in particular, deserve this award for their unwavering commitment to the natural resources of Colorado and the mission of CPW,” Surface said. “Through all facets of his life, Rob has recognized the importance of connecting all Coloradoans, including his employees, children, grandchildren and community members to their natural resources and building successful partnerships.”

Rob Graves is co-founder of noosa yoghurt and the Graves family owns a sixth generation dairy farm, Morning Fresh Dairy, in Bellvue, Colo.

The Graves family epitomizes a CPW partnership and has improved the state’s natural resources through stewardship, education, and monetary contribution.

The recently completed fish ladder at the Watson State Wildlife Area and Watson Lake is one recent project that exemplifies their commitment and generosity, and it will be on display next week with the ribbon cutting ceremony to showcase the project’s completion. Graves has been heavily involved with the project from its inception in 2016, funding the conceptual design in 2017 and his leadership and contributions were instrumental in moving the habitat improvement project a reality.

The Watson Lake fish ladder is reconnecting over two river miles on what was a fragmented Poudre River. The stretch there at Watson Lake contains important spawning habitat and deep pool that provides refuge for aquatic life.

“The Graves family have been and continue to be a great partner to CPW and truly help us achieve the goals laid out in both our Strategic Plan and Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP),” Surface said.

“Both of these plans emphasize the importance of wildlife conservation, outdoor stewardship and connecting people to the great outdoors by providing sustainable access and opportunities to outdoor recreation. These are goals they believe deeply in and he has made these a priority for not only himself, but his family, employees and the community of Bellvue as well.”

There are many arenas where the Graves’ family plays a hand in sharing the mission of CPW through conservation and community enhancement.

They develop and make outdoor stewardship ethics a priority, organize volunteer work and maintenance on our public lands, particularly at the Watson State Wildlife Area that they have adopted as their own. They organize and host events like the Pleasant Valley Days, which is focused on bringing the community together and getting people of all ages outdoors.

The ribbon cutting event for the Watson Lake fish ladder is taking place on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, at 11 a.m.

Earth Optimism: Reasons to Feel Positive in 2019 — The Nature Conservancy #ActOnClimate #EarthOptimism

Climate news is not all gloom and doom. Here’s a report from the Nature Conservancy (Justine E. Hausheer/Matthew L. Miller). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

If you’re a fan of nature documentaries, you’ve probably heard about the unsettling images in Netflix’s new series, Our Planet. In one episode, the lack of sea ice forces walruses to rest on a steep cliff face… where many fall to their deaths.

This disturbing image is emblematic of so many environmental stories: not only are they dreary, but they suggest that we are heading for the cliff. All of us.

Earth Day originated as a way to bring attention to environmental issues. But it’s also fundamentally about hope. There has been great progress made on many conservation issues. While we need to be realistic about the challenges ahead, we can’t lose sight of what we have achieved so far. You can help make a difference.

Here is a selection of stories to feel optimistic about his Earth Day. Check out the Earth Optimism movement, and follow #EarthOptimism on Twitter for many more.

Pop-Up Wetlands Provide New Habitat for Migrating Shorebirds

Foraging shorebirds. Photo © David Ledig / USFWS

Migrating shorebirds can’t afford to be choosy about where they stop — whether the right habitat is there or not, they can only fly so far and so long.

In California’s Central Valley, flocks of 20-40 million waterfowl once used the plentiful wetlands to rest and refuel. But today those flocks are a mere fraction of their former numbers, as more than 90 percent of these wetlands and riparian areas have been converted to agricultural fields.

TNC’s California program came up with a creative solution to help the birds and benefit farmers. By temporarily flooding rice fields, they can provide “pop-up” habitat when the birds need it most. Now, science shows that this ingenious method is working, yielding the largest average shorebird densities ever reported for agriculture in the region…

Congress Reauthorises the LWCF

Every March, thousands of Sandhill cranes stop in #GreatSandDunes National Park & Preserve on their way to their northern breeding grounds. The fields and wetlands of #Colorado’s San Luis Valley provide excellent habitat for these majestic #birds. With the dunes and mountains nearby, they dance and call to each other. It’s one of nature’s great spectacles. Photo @greatsanddunesnps by #NationalPark Service.

In 1964 the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) became law, allocating a tiny fraction of federal royalties from oil-gas leases to fund habitat protection, public access, public recreation, and historical preservation.

LWCF quickly became America’s main tool for protecting and restoring historic sites, like battlefields, and for providing matching grants to states for urban and suburban recreation facilities, like ballfields.

Most importantly, it became a tool for acquiring wildlife habitat and public access — through purchase and conservation easements — to be managed and improved by states, the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management.

That history of conservation success appeared to end last September, when Congress declined to reauthorize LWCF and it expired. Luckily, due to action by Nature Conservancy members and many others, that setback was temporary. In January, Congress permanently reauthorized LWCF, a major victory for both wildlife conservation and public recreational access.