Crop insurance and the tunnel collapse: Unanswered questions remain for farmers in Goshen, Gering-Fort Laramie crop areas

Gering-Ft. Laramie-Goshen canal. Photo credit: Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation

From The University of Nebraska Lincoln< (Jessica Groskopf/Cory Walters):

As repairs continue on the tunnel that collapsed on the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal, unanswered questions remain about whether crop insurance will cover crop losses stemming from the loss of irrigation water.

Crop Insurance provides protection against “unavoidable, naturally occurring events.” Due to the complexity of the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie situation, it is unknown if crop insurance will cover crop loss.

Three tunnels are used to deliver water from the Whalen Dam on the North Platte River to the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal. The second tunnel, south of Fort Laramie, Wyo., collapsed on July 17. Water has been shut off at the Whalen Dam since the incident occurred in order to inspect and repair the tunnel. This has left 107,000 acres of cropland in Nebraska and Wyoming without irrigation water during a critical time in the growing season.

Several factors may have contributed to the tunnel collapse. According to a report by the National Weather Service in Cheyenne “precipitation has been upwards of 200-300% above normal for the past water year (1 Oct. 2018 to present).” However, the tunnel in question was built in 1917 by the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the structure. The Goshen Irrigation District and Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District were responsible for operating and maintenance of the tunnel.

Crop insurance is a federal program administered by the USDA Risk Management Agency. All crop insurance policies, regardless of the crop insurance agent, are subject to the same provisions. Thus if it is determined that the tunnel collapse was not from an “unavoidable, naturally occurring event,” all crop insurance policy holders on the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal would not receive an indemnity payment for their crop loss.

Farmers in the affected area need to continue to manage their crop as if water will return to the canal and they will covered by their crop insurance policy. Failure to do so may negate individual crop insurance coverage. Producers must receive written permission from the insurance company to replant, abandon or destroy a crop.

This information is designed to support and help clarify existing crop insurance policy provisions and procedures. For more detailed information and options you may have, please consult a crop insurance agent.

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

Meet your local anti-government extremist groups — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Tay Wiles, September 27, 2017):

Since the election of President Donald Trump, a steady stream of right-wing street rallies have brought together an array of extremist groups — from white supremacists to self-styled militias that espouse anti-government ideologies.

Meanwhile, investigations continue into the Trump team’s potential collusion with Russia during his presidential campaign, raising the prospect of impeachment or indictments. Roger Stone, a former adviser and longtime confidant to Trump, recently told a reporter with TMZ that an impeachment of the president would cause “a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen.” Stone also supported Trump’s recent pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted in federal court for criminal contempt. Stone is now urging a pardon for Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who is about to go on trial for leading an armed confrontation with federal employees. Given Stone’s insurrection statement, the push for presidential pardons in spite of federal court orders, and a spike in hate or bias incidents following the election, it’s worth understanding some of the key players of anti-federal ideology, hate and extremism in the West today.

Oath Keepers

The Oath Keepers are one of two of the most well known of the country’s 165 or so militia groups. They are named for the oath that members of the military or police take to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. You might see the oft-armed Oath Keepers in camouflage battle dress uniforms posturing as peacekeepers or security at “free speech” rallies.

Oath Keepers were among the militia groups that showed up to support Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy during the 2014 armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service. They also spent weeks in the fray in Burns, Oregon, during the 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

You might also see them doing community service, running security for your local Republican, Libertarian or Tea Party events, or in the mix at a variety of emergency situations from the 2015 riots in Ferguson, Missouri, following the killing of Michael Brown, or the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The Oath Keepers are fixated on apocalyptic scenarios. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a progressive organization that tracks extremist groups, calls the Oath Keepers’ core tenets “a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans.” For instance, they are committed to “NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.”

Yale Law School graduate Stewart Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers in 2009. The group now claims 30,000 members and specifically recruits current and former members of the military and law enforcement.

In recent months they have tried to distance themselves from the white supremacist and nationalist movements emboldened since Trump’s election. For instance, Oath Keepers nixed their plans to attend a right-wing rally in San Francisco in August because the organizing group, Patriot Prayer, couldn’t promise white nationalists wouldn’t show up. Similarly, the Three Percent leadership told its members to “stand down” after anti-racist activist Heather Heyer was killed during protests organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August.

Danny Vanderschelden, the grounds keeper for the Sugar Pine Mine group. He says he makes a living mining up in the mountains. Oath Keepers, a group of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders, who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic” in Josephine County, Oregon stood up at the Sugar Pine Mines in April to defend miners’ rights to due process.

Three Percent

Like the Oath Keepers, the Three Percent are Second Amendment activists and one of the most well known militia groups today. Their network is less centralized than the Oath Keepers’, with individuals using the name to create loosely affiliated local groups across the country.

In 2008 Michael Vanderboegh of Alabama, who died last year, founded the Three Percent. The group takes its name from the unsubstantiated claim that only three percent of American colonists took up arms against the British. Vanderboegh was a fierce critic of gun control laws, the SPLC reports: “In the wake of the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre, he warned in emails sent to more than 1,000 employees of the Connecticut State Police that they risked ‘initiating hostilities’ if they tried to enforce the state’s tough new gun control law.”

Three Percent members participated in the 2014 Bunkerville standoff, in support of the Bundys. Vanderboegh said after the incident: “It is impossible to overstate the importance of the victory won in the desert today. The feds were routed.” Eric Parker, a defendant who will appear alongside Cliven Bundy in court for the standoff in October, is a former vice president for the Three Percent of Idaho. “The militia were shopping for a cause,” when the Bunkerville standoff happened, says J.J. MacNab, an anti-government extremism expert.

A Three Percenter spokesman Chris McIntire distanced the group from the Malheur occupation, at the time saying, “We didn’t make any calls to arms nor plan or advocate any form of armed uprising.” But like the Oath Keepers, they lingered in the nearby town of Burns, Oregon, during the occupation, posturing as peace-keepers or even mediators between law enforcement and the occupiers.

Three Percent and Oath Keepers are just two of the most well-known of 623 far-right anti-government groups operating nationwide today. That number is down from 1,360 in 2012, according to the SPLC. Yet as of last year, multiple armed groups were active in every Western state, from the Washington Light Foot Militia to the Arizona State Militia.

Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association

In 2011 former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack created CSPOA, which asserts that county sheriffs represent the supreme law of the land, superseding federal law enforcement. As of last year, the group claimed 4,500 members, including 200 sheriffs. The constitutional sheriffs movement has been particularly strong in Western states, where local and county officers can have tense relationships with federal land agencies.

Two prominent CSPOA sheriffs recently made national headlines for their ties to Trump. Last month Trump used his presidential authority to pardon former sheriff Joe Arpaio, who helped found the CSPOA. “Trump does seem to buy into the idea that sheriffs are the highest law enforcement of the land,” MacNab says, “which signals to the anti-government extremist movement that he’s one of them, though I don’t know if he’s one or not.”

Another CSPOA member, former sheriff David Clarke, of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, was rumored to be in the running for a position at the White House last month. Clarke was a vocal supporter of Trump during the campaign last year. He has since taken a position with the pro-Trump America First Action PAC.

According to Politico, Michael Barkun, an expert on political extremism, calls the CSPOA philosophy “radical localism” because “it valorizes and exploits subnational sources of power. In theory, that kind of localism could be a vehicle for many kinds of politics, but in practice constitutional sheriffs and their followers tend to occupy the edges of anti-government conservatism.”

Border militias

Independent militia groups have sporadically patrolled the U.S.-Mexico border for many years, aiming to stop drug smugglers, human traffickers and undocumented immigrants from entering the country, where they say federal border patrol agents aren’t doing their job. The movement dwindled in the late-2000s. One of the most well-known groups, the Minutemen, which once claimed 12,000 members, is now defunct. But other groups around the country still operate in the area, as Mother Jones chronicled through undercover reporting with the Three Percent United Patriots last year. Another organization, Arizona Border Recon, founded in 2011, may now be “the only vigilante group with a continuous presence on the Arizona-Mexico border,” Arizona Republic reports.

While militia members describe positive relationships with the federal government and see themselves as the eyes and ears of U.S. border patrol, there have been many reports of paramilitary groups getting in the way of the feds and local officers. According to the Arizona Republic, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada “is a vocal critic of Arizona Border Recon, saying such groups can do more harm than good to local law enforcement’s efforts ability to police their jurisdictions.”

Sovereign citizens

This movement emerged in the 1980s, based on a mix of anti-Semitic and anti-government beliefs. Sovereign citizens see government institutions as illegitimate and are known for evading taxes and resisting judicial authority by filing unnecessary court motions with fringe legal theories, or putting liens on judges to ruin their credit ratings as a form of protest. (A sovereign citizen appears to have recently filed a lien for $1.5 million against U.S. District Court of Nevada judge Gloria Navarro, for her dealings with the federal case against the Bundys.) In 2011, experts estimated about 100,000 hard-core sovereign citizens existed nationwide. “In the late 2000s and early 2010s, most new recruits to the sovereign citizens’ movement are people who have found themselves in a desperate situation, often due to the economy or foreclosures, and are searching for a quick fix,” the SPLC reports. “Others are intrigued by the notions of easy money and living a lawless life, free from unpleasant consequences.” While sovereign citizens represent a distinct movement, there is some overlap with other so-called “Patriot” groups, which include militias and a variety of other far-right organizations.

Hate groups

Aside from these typical Patriot groups, the West is home to a large number and wide variety of hate groups. According to the SPLC, the number of hate groups grew from 784 to 917 between 2014 and 2016; within that, anti-Muslim groups rose sharply, from 34 to 101. Hate groups can be found in every Western state, ranging from the white nationalist American Vanguard in Utah, Arizona, California and Washington, to the anti-Muslim Treasure Valley Refugee Watch in Meridian, Idaho, and the anti-LGBT Family Watch International in Gilbert, Arizona.

Many of these groups have existed in the West for a long time, and it remains unclear how they will grow or change now that a candidate many of them supported is in the White House.

Jeff Rieker named Area Manager for @USBR’s Eastern Colorado Area Office

Horsetooth Reservoir

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

Great Plains Regional Director Mike Black announced today that Jeff Rieker will succeed Signe Snortland as Eastern Colorado Area Office manager September 15, 2019. Rieker will serve as the Eastern Colorado Area Manager after serving as the Operations Manager for the Central Valley Operations Office where he oversaw the day-to-day water and power operations of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project (CVP), one of the largest water storage and transport systems in the world. The CVP is comprised of 20 dams and reservoirs, 11 power plants and more than 500 miles of canals and aqueducts within California’s Central Valley.

“Jeff brings a history of technical ability and collaboration with regional, local and international parties on a variety of issues that will benefit Reclamation and the numerous stakeholders,” said Black. “Jeff is a great asset to our leadership team and I am confident he will serve the people of Colorado well.”

Rieker joined Reclamation in 1999 as a student hydraulic engineer in Reclamation’s Technical Service Center. Over his Reclamation career, he has served in a variety of positions including Special Studies Division Manager for the Lahontan Basin Area Office, Special Assistant for the Mid-Pacific’s Office of the Regional Director, and the Mid-Pacific Region’s Liaison Officer in Washington, D.C.

Rieker holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, a master’s degree in civil engineering with an emphasis in water resources planning and management from Colorado State University, and a Ph.D. in the same subject from Colorado State University.

#Drought news: D0 (Abnormally Dry) in Moffat, Rio Blanco, Dolores, Montezuma, La Plata and Archuleta counties

From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):

Colorado was free from drought and abnormally dry conditions for eight consecutive weeks – something that hasn’t happened for even a single week in records going back to January 2000 – however dry conditions have been making their way back into the state over the past two reports.

Two weeks ago, abnormally dry conditions returned to Dolores, Montezuma, La Plata and Archuleta counties. In the latest report from the National Drought Mitigation Center, western portions of Moffat and Rio Blanco counties are also seeing a return of abnormally dry areas.

Colorado Drought Monitor July 30, 3019.

More than 95 percent of the state remains drought-free, thanks to heavy, late-season snow storms, particularly in the southern mountains and Colorado’s western slope. A cool spring also helped slow snowmelt in the mountains.

On January 1, less than 18 percent of the state was free from drought, and 27 percent – mainly in the southwest – was in extreme and exceptional drought, the two worst categories. In late September last year, half the state was in extreme and exceptional drought.

Colorado Drought Monitor January 1, 2019.

As recently as June, the United States Department of Agriculture and Small Business Administration were designating more than half of Colorado’s counties as disaster areas, making producers and businesses eligible for federal assistance and loans.

While northeast Colorado benefitted from rain over the past week, much of the state has been dry, with warmer than normal temperatures – occasionally reaching the low 100s.

@USBR uses #RioGrande high streamflow this year to expand Silvery minnow habitat

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

This year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decided to take advantage of high water levels from a strong spring runoff and create more habitat for the fish on the Middle Rio Grande.

Doris Rhodes owns 629 acres near San Antonio in Socorro County, and for years she has been advocating for her property to host a Reclamation silvery minnow project. Earlier this year, her work paid off.

Rhodes’ land is nestled on the Rio Grande near Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, making it an ideal location for restoration and conservation, according to Reclamation project manager Ashlee Rudolph.

Reclamation crews worked from January to March of this year to lower and widen the riverbank on the southern end of the property. They excavated 46,000 cubic yards of dirt to create water channels where minnows could escape the fast-moving river.

“What makes this project great is that it is a partnership between a private landowner who wanted to create habitat on her land and the federal and state agencies,” Rudolph said. “It is so rare to have that partnership.”

Slowing the river flow

Reclamation worked with the private non-profit Save Our Bosque Task Force, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s New Mexico Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to excavate zigzag patterns on nearly a mile of the river.

The Rhodes property is one of few remaining historic wetlands in the San Acacia Reach of the Rio Grande, a primary habitat for silvery minnow.

The property has no levees on the east side of the river, which has helped in the restoration of the area’s natural floodplain, according to Reclamation Albuquerque Area public affairs specialist Mary Carlson.

Chris Torres, who oversees river maintenance operations on the Middle Rio Grande for the Reclamation Albuquerque Area Office, said the slow-moving side channels are critical for minnow-spawning.

“Minnows like that edge habitat. It’s worked perfectly,” Torres said. “The water is backing the way it’s supposed to, and we can see fish moving down through there. As the water drops, everything returns back to the main river like it’s supposed to.”

Rudolph said that since 2016, there have been at least eight silvery minnow habitats constructed in the San Acacia Reach of the river. Reclamation is joined by the Interstate Stream Commission to create these sites and monitor the fish populations.

The new channels don’t just provide habitat for the small fish, which was listed on the federal endangered species list in 1994. Birds, deer and other wildlife are also drawn to the lowered riverbank…

Torres said the crews left native cottonwoods intact and planted New Mexico olive trees. Crews also completed the project quickly so as not to disturb the federally-endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.

Side channels were excavated by the Bureau of Reclamation along the Rio Grande where it passes through the Rhodes’ property to provide habitat for the endangered silvery minnow. (Dustin Armstrong/U.S. Bureau Of Reclamation)

“Normally we would go through and just clear-cut everything for excavation purposes, but for this project we elected to leave the islands and leave as much of the native vegetation as we could,” Torres said…

The property has flooded at least four times since 2006 – which Rhodes says is a good thing.

“The Rhodes Property is a release valve,” she said. “When the river’s running high, water will come on to the property. It protects farmers to the north and south and also protects Bosque del Apache.”

She said that, after the minnow project is complete, her next step will likely be more removal of the invasive salt cedar and planting of native plant species.

“The more conservation that happens down here,” Rhodes said, “the more I’m convinced that this property is on the right path.”