2019 #COleg: It’s a wrap: Colorado lawmakers approve #drought work, #COWaterPlan funding, and more — @WaterEdCO

From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

Colorado lawmakers wrapped up the 2019 session last week, approving five water bills this year which address the Colorado River drought, funding for the state’s water plan, Republican River compact issues, severance taxes and hard-rock mining.

It put off for now another bill that would have expanded the state’s nationally recognized instream flow program, which allows water for fish and aquatic habitat to be left in streams.

Colorado River Drought and Water Plan Funding

Faced with a 19-year drought that has seen storage in the Colorado River’s two largest reservoirs—Powell and Mead—drop below half full, the legislature took a first step in reducing water use to ensure compliance with the Colorado River Compact. Although it did not adopt new policy, it appropriated $1.7 million as part of Senate Bill 212 for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to explore a demand management program that would incentivize voluntary cutbacks of Colorado River use, where saved water could be stored in Lake Powell as a hedge against future shortfalls. It also set aside $8.3 million to fund the Colorado Water Plan. The combined $10 million lawmakers approved is far less than the $30 million Governor Jared Polis had requested, but the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) pared that figure due to competing demands from other big ticket items. Senator Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), the bill’s chief sponsor and a JBC member, noted that the remaining $20 million in Polis’ original request “was really meant to be a contingency plan against demand management in the future and so it could probably wait until next year to be appropriated.” That is if revenue forecasts allow.

Still Rankin said the funding is an important step forward for the water plan. “This is the first time we’ve started to put general fund money against the water plan.”

Republican River Compact

The General Assembly also opted to approve a measure that redraws the boundary of the Republican River Water Conservation District to include more wells that reduce the flow of the Republican River in violation of a compact with Kansas and Nebraska. The legislature created the district in 2004. Its original boundary was drawn at the topographic boundary of the Republican River and did not accurately reflect the impact of groundwater pumping outside the district on the river’s flows.

House Bill 1029 incorporates the groundwater boundary agreed to by Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado in a Supreme Court settlement and allows the district to assess the same fee on those well owners that it does on all irrigators in the district. Those fees help to pay for a pipeline that transports conserved groundwater 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 annually to repay the loan. Absent the legislation, wells that do not have water augmentation, or replacement, plans to mitigate their surface water depletions could face curtailment under new rules issued by the state engineer; now they are automatically part of the district’s approved augmentation plan.

Severance Taxes

The General Assembly passed another bill that changes the timing of severance tax allocations that support several water programs to allow for better planning and budgeting. Currently the tax revenue is transferred three times a year to the CWCB based on revenue forecasts; if the actual tax collections are less than forecasted (which has often been the case), funds have to be taken back. Senate Bill 16 bases allocations on the amount collected in the previous fiscal year and consolidates three payments into one for distribution the following year. Because tax collections in 2018 exceeded forecasts, there’s enough revenue available to avoid any funding gap moving forward.

Water Quality Impacts of Hard-Rock Mining

The General Assembly passed a bill to protect water quality from the impacts of hard-rock mining. House Bill 1113 requires reclamation plans for new or amended hard-rock mining permits to demonstrate a “reasonably foreseeable end date” for water quality treatment to ensure compliance with water quality standards. It also eliminates the option of “self-bonding”—an audited financial statement demonstrating that the mine operator has sufficient assets to meet reclamation responsibilities—and requires a bond or other financial assurance to guarantee adequate funds to protect water quality, including treatment and monitoring costs.

Representative Dylan Roberts, (D-Eagle), the bill’s prime sponsor, emphasized that it applies only to hard-rock mining—not to coal or gravel mining—and “aligns statute with what’s already happening in current practice by the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…so that we can avoid creating more chronically polluting mines.” The bill was similar to one that passed the House but failed in the Senate last year.

Instream Flows

The Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee set aside a bill that would have expanded an existing program to protect streamflows for environmental purposes, but with a commitment to study the issue further this summer. Under current law, a water right holder can loan water to the CWCB to boost instream flows in stream reaches where the CWCB holds an instream flow water right. The loan may be exercised for no more than three years in a single 10-year period. House Bill 1218, which had passed the House earlier in the session, would have increased the number of years the loan could be exercised from three to five, and permitted a loan applicant to reapply to the state engineer for two additional 10-year periods.

Opposition to the bill centered on concerns that expanding the number of years would reduce irrigation return flows to other farmland dependent on them for crop production and risk damaging soils. Senator Kerry Donovan (D-Vail), the bill’s sponsor and a rancher, asked the committee to postpone it with an understanding that the Interim Water Resources Review Committee would study it further this summer. She noted that with “some of the concerns that have been raised, as well as the level of attention that this issue deserves, we need to get this right, and I’m not sure we have consensus on a way forward today.”

Wastewater continued to stream out of the Gold King Mine on Tuesday [August 11, 2015] near Silverton, several days after a rush of 3 million gallons of it flooded Cement Creek and the Animas River. At the top of the photo is the mine’s opening, where an Environmental Protection Agency cleanup team was working with heavy machinery Aug. 5 and hit an earthen wall that had millions of gallons of water built up behind it

@COParksWildlife, @NatlParkService cooperating on native trout restoration project in Great Sand Dunes Park and Preserve

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Joe Lewandowski):

CPW, National Park Service cooperating on native trout restoration in Great Sand Dunes; meetings schedule to explain project

DRUANGO, Colo. – In the continuing effort to restore native cutthroat trout to state waters, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the National Park Service are cooperating on a major project set for late summer in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

Two public meetings to explain the project are scheduled: 6 p.m., May 20 at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District office, 8805 Independence Way in Alamosa; and 6 p.m., May 21 at the library in Westcliffe, 209 Main Street.

The ambitious project will help re-establish Rio Grande cutthroat trout in Upper Sand Creek Lake, Lower Sand Creek Lake and in Sand Creek. The area is located high on the west flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range.

“This is a challenging project, but it will provide ideal and protected habitat for these fish,” said John Alves, senior aquatic biologist for CPW’s Southwest Region. “We appreciate that the National Park Service shares CPW’s goals to re-establish native cutthroats in the waters of the San Luis Valley. Trout Unlimited is also working as a partner on this project.”

The project is tentatively scheduled to start the last week of August. To re-establish the native cutthroats, the lakes and creek will be treated with Rotenone, an EPA-approved organic chemical that has been used for decades in Colorado and elsewhere for aquatic management projects. The chemical will kill all the non-native trout. If the treatment is successful, the earliest the area could be restocked with Rio Grande cutthroat would be the fall of 2020.

The Sand Creek area will be closed to public access during the treatment project.

CPW, the National Park Service, the state of New Mexico and Native American tribes have been working to re-establish Rio Grande cutthroats for more than 20 years. Currently, the cutthroat can only be found in about 11 percent of its historic habitat. Mining, water development, intensive land-use and over-fishing have caused the trout’s populations to decline significantly during the last 100 years. Conservation groups have asked the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place the fish on its threatened and endangered species list.

“All the agencies involved in the restoration are working diligently to make sure this trout is not listed. This restoration project is just one of many that will be done in the next decade,” Alves said.

The Rio Grande cutthroat is one of three native trout indigenous to Colorado. The Colorado River cutthroat is found on Colorado’s Western Slope, and the Greenback cutthroat is found in drainages of the Front Range. CPW is also working on a variety of projects to restore those populations.

To learn more about Colorado’s native trout, go to: https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/Aquatic.aspx.

@USBR makes up to $3 million available for 2019 Water Marketing Strategy Grants funding opportunity

San Luis People’s Ditch March 17, 2018. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The 2019 Water Marketing Strategy Grants funding opportunity is now available from the Bureau of Reclamation. This funding opportunity is available to water entities to establish or expand water markets or water marketing activities. Reclamation will make available up to $200,000 for simple projects that can be completed within two years and up to $400,000 for more complex projects that can be completed in three years. Up to $3 million is available for this funding opportunity.

“The water marketing strategy grants provide entities an opportunity to leverage their money and resources with Reclamation to develop a water marketing strategy to increase water supply reliability,” program coordinator Avra Morgan said.

The funding opportunity is available at http://www.grants.gov by searching for BOR-DO-19-F006. Applications will be due on July 31, 2019, at 4:00 p.m. MDT.

Those eligible to apply for these grants are states, Indian tribes, irrigation districts, water districts or other organizations with water or power delivery authority located in the western United States or United States territories. This includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands.

Water markets support the President’s memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West. They are between willing buyers and sellers and can be used to help water managers meet demands efficiently in times of shortage, helping prevent water conflicts. These planning efforts proactively address water supply reliability and increase water management flexibility. Learn more about water marketing at https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/watermarketing.

The funding is part of WaterSMART. WaterSMART is a Department of the Interior initiative that uses the best available science to improve water conservation and help water resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand. For more information on the WaterSMART program, visit https://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART.

2019 #COleg legislative session wraps up

George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Julia Rentsch):

  • HB 19-1329, Wholesale Sales Agricultural Fertilizer Tax Exempt
  • This bill came about due to the Colorado Department of Revenue’s decision to impose sales taxes on the wholesale sale of fertilizer to greenhouses and nurseries. Since fertilizer is used to grow plants that would later be sold themselves, McKean thought to exempt wholesale sales.

    “It didn’t make sense to tax an input that is part of a product on which sales taxes would be collected at point of sale,” McKean wrote. “…The margins for many, if not most, of our farmers are too tight to push this kind of additional cost on them.”

    HB 19-1329 passed the House May 1 and the Senate May 3. As of Thursday, it had not yet been sent to the governor’s desk.

    From Dylan Roberts via Steamboat Today:

    Last Friday, the gavels fell in the Colorado House and Senate to close the 120th and final day of the 2019 legislative session. It will take a few months for the dust to settle but I believe that when we look back on this past session, it will be seen as one of the most productive and transformative sessions for Colorado in recent memory.

    I am very proud of the work that my colleagues and I were able to accomplish and am confident that the counties that I represent, Eagle and Routt, will be better off in the coming years because of that work.

    Over the last four months, I made sure to prioritize the most pressing issues for Eagle and Routt counties: health care, transportation, housing, education and environmental protection. I was the lead sponsor of 35 bills; 30 of them passed and have been signed into law or are sitting on the Gov. Jered Polis’ desk awaiting his signature and every single one of those bills had bipartisan sponsorship or received bipartisan votes…

    Acting to protect our state’s natural beauty and the outdoor economy and agriculture on which our community relies was also an urgent task. We passed historic climate change legislation that will make Colorado a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions along with several other bills to protect our environment. I also was excited to see the Governor sign my bill to protect Colorado’s water from mining spills and a bill to increase funding for Colorado’s water plan

    Interview: Nathan Fey, director of #Colorado’s outdoor recreation office, ferries river #conservation and rural economic development skills into his new job — The Colorado Sun

    Here’s an interview with Nathan Fey from Jason Blevins that’s running in The Colorado Sun. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Nathan Fey is the new director of the Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry.

    Fey, who has served as acting director for the past month, is a sixth-generation Coloradan who spent 12 years as Colorado’s regional director for American Whitewater. He grew the national organization’s network of regional paddling groups to more than 20 from four and fostered the development of recreational water rights so communities could build whitewater parks.

    Fey, an accomplished kayaker, replaces Luis Benitez, the climber who founded the state’s outdoor recreation office — the second in the nation — four years ago and helped build a growing coalition of state outdoor recreation offices across the country.

    Nathan Fey, seen here paddling the Lower Dolores River in an Alpacka raft, is a veteran kayaker who served 12 years as Colorado’s stewardship director for American Whitewater. He is the new director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. (Photo courtesy Nathan Fey)

    On the opportunities for growing the outdoor recreation economy in Colorado …

    “Here along the Front Range, in Larimer, Summit, Boulder, Gilpin, I see an opportunity to learn from how impacted those landscapes have been, particularly on the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests. We are in discussions with a big range of stakeholders to figure out how we can disperse that use, manage it better so that we are not having such a huge footprint on the land. So the opportunity is, one, correcting the mistake, and two, learning from that and being able to implement new strategies, and perhaps new tools, in other parts of the state that don’t have those issues yet, but are interested in growing their rec economy and will potentially have to address overuse or mismanagement in the future. So now we can stay in front of that one.

    “On the development side, I look at communities like Nucla, Naturita and places like Craig; their identity and their economy has been one thing and they are on the cusp of transitioning into something new. They’ve got this incredible wealth of public lands and the Yampa River and the San Miguel River, BLM and Forest Service right out their backdoor. There’s an opportunity there to improve public access and safety and use of those places and create an amenity that draws visitors and more money and more investment.

    “It’s about recognizing the diversity of landscapes and attributes we have in the state. Everybody thinks of Colorado as being mountains and ski resorts and what’s accessible from the Front Range. We have incredible opportunities in the San Luis Valley with the Great Sand Dunes, but beyond that, it’s climbing in Penitente Canyon and the trail system surrounding Del Norte and the investment that valley is making into improving river recreation. That just hasn’t been on people’s radar. It’s an example of what we are seeing around the state, where we’ve got really high-quality outdoor opportunities but I guess we just haven’t been marketing them or managing them appropriately.”

    “Life on Earth is an intricate fabric, and it’s not like we’re looking at it from the outside…We are threads in that fabric” — Sandra M. Díaz #ActOnClimate #Biodiversity

    Sagebrush landscapes are important habitat for maintaining biodiversity in much of the United States. Image credit: Steve Knick, USGS.

    From The New York Times (Brad Plumer and Somini Sengupta):

    On Monday, I wrote about a sweeping new United Nations report warning that humans were destroying Earth’s natural ecosystems at an “unprecedented” pace.

    The findings were sobering: As many as one million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction because of farming, hunting, pollution and, increasingly, climate change. Almost everywhere you look, nature is vanishing before our eyes.

    But the report, which was written for world leaders and policymakers, also wrestled with another big question: Why should anyone care about the loss of nature? Why should countries take drastic steps, as the report urges, to halt the decline in biodiversity?

    The scientists and experts who wrote the report spent a lot of effort trying to frame biodiversity loss as an urgent issue for human well-being. Natural ecosystems, they explained, provide invaluable material services to people, from mangrove forests that protect millions from coastal flooding to wild insects that pollinate our crops. When we destroy nature, they concluded, we undermine our own quality of life.

    That’s a compelling argument, and it’s one that many conservationists and ecologists have emphasized in recent years. There’s now an entire field of research around “ecosystem services;” scientists try to quantify in dollar terms all the benefits that nature provides to humanity, in order to make an economic case for conservation.

    It’s worth noting that some ecologists have long been skeptical of this line of thinking, and have countered that it’s simply wrong to drive other species to extinction even if they’re not crucial for economic growth or humanity’s survival. And the new report does acknowledge that nature also has a spiritual or inspirational value that can often be “difficult to quantify.”

    But it’s been 27 years since the first global treaty to protect biodiversity, and the world’s nations are still faltering in their efforts to halt the decline of natural ecosystems around the globe. That helps explains why the authors of this latest report felt they had to appeal more forcefully to humanity’s own naked self-interest.

    “Life on Earth is an intricate fabric, and it’s not like we’re looking at it from the outside,” Sandra M. Díaz, a lead author of the report and an ecologist at the National University of Córdoba in Argentina, told me. “We are threads in that fabric. If the fabric is getting holes and fraying, that affects us all.”

    Growing and flourishing in a desert – News on TAP

    How Israel’s approach to water sustains 9 million people on about 10 inches of rain a year.

    Source: Growing and flourishing in a desert – News on TAP