#ColoradoRiver “Grand Bargain” in the news #COriver #aridification

Russian thistle in dry former Lake Powell along the Colorado River in Hite, October 2018. (Photo by John Herrick)

From InkStain (John Fleck):

There was more buzz this week at two big Colorado River Basin events about the idea of a “grand bargain” to deal with coming collisions between water overallocation and the Law of the River.

The idea crept into the title of the Water Education Foundation’s 2019 Santa Fe Symposium – “Can We Build a Bridge to a Grand Bargain in the Basin?”. It also came up repeatedly at the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s fall water seminar, including in a luncheon keynote by the University of Colorado’s Doug Kenney, who has done a lot of the analytical heavy lifting on the idea.

While most of the people yakking about it in public right now are folks unaffiliated with organized water interests (folks like, well, me), the interesting thing right now is the behind-the-scenes conversations among decision makers within the system. There’s been positive interest across geographic and water-using communities, including both Upper and Lower Basin folks, and both ag and municipal water users.

My collaborator Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of of the Colorado River Water Conservation District well known as a staunch defender of rural Colorado West Slope water interests, is in the middle of all this, speaking at both events. While the ideas has many parents, Eric has come to be identified with it in part because, now that he’s retired, he can thrown down a bit more than when he had the portfolio of obligations that comes with running an agency.

The idea’s been kicking around for more than a decade, but it was in fact Eric who first publicly documented what to that point had been private discussions. In a widely read 2012 white paper (p. 41, pdf here), Eric detailed a conversation at a 2005 meeting of the basin states principles at a hotel here in Albuquerque. The details are arcane (click through for Eric’s explanation) but the idea is that each basin gives up politically treasured but practically unrealistic interpretations of the Law of the River in a compromise that avoids litigation and provides more certainty for the water management communities in both basins.

@pweiser taking hard look at Trump administration’s #WOTUS rollback — The #Colorado Sun

Moose Rocky Mountain National Park July, 2016. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From The Colorado Sun (Jesse Paul):

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is taking a hard look at the Trump administration’s decision last week to roll back Obama-era clean water regulations as he determines how to respond.

The Democrat says that he might challenge the unwinding of the Waters of the United States Rule if he determines that the Environmental Protection Agency has gutted the policy to the extent that Colorado’s water quality could suffer without sufficient oversight…

Weiser said his office worked with lawyers in a host of Colorado departments, including the heads of agriculture, natural resources and public health and environment, earlier this year to urge the EPA not to cut clean water regulations beyond what they were in 2008 as they slashed the Waters of the United States rule.

In 2008, the EPA issued guidance on which waterways, including wetlands and streams, are covered by the Clean Water Act. The Waters of the United States rule implemented by the Obama administration shored up and expanded that guidance.

Weiser told The Colorado Sun last week that he was still examining the rollback and didn’t yet know exactly how the state would respond.

“The sort of guideposts are how close to the rules that were adopted to what we recommended,” Weiser said…

The Trump administration has vowed to implement revised clean water policies before the end of the year, and they are expected to be less inclusive than the Obama-era policy. President Donald Trump ordered the Waters of the United States rule repealed and replaced in February 2017.

Amid the #climatecrisis, a parent commits an act of hope — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

From the High Country News (Rebecca Hesiman):

We were walking along a trail sandwiched into a narrow strip of woods between a row of campsites and the Tucannon River. A pair of girls whizzed past us on bicycles. In a pack on my husband’s back in front of me was our 13-month-old son. It was cool under the trees, but in the moist air along the river, the mosquitoes were out in force. One landed on the baby’s left ear as I watched, and I wondered why the hell we were doing this, but then a veery began singing somewhere nearby, I caught sight of the sunlight glinting on the water through the brush, and for a moment everything felt okay.

This was our first time taking our son camping. Not having any experience doing this with a tiny human in tow, we thought it would be sensible to start small, with a single night at a state park about 30 minutes from our home in southeast Washington. It’s really just a patch of trees by the river surrounded by rippling green wheat fields that would be dry and brown by the end of summer, the campground populated mostly by RVers stopping over on cross-country treks. But in addition to the mosquitoes, it had yellow warblers flying through our campsite, muskrats swimming in a side creek, and a reputation as a good spot for trout fishing. We figured it would do as well as anywhere for a test run of sleeping in a tent with an almost-toddler.

It took me a while to decide for certain that I wanted to do this at all. Nothing else in my life is quite as effective as a walk in the woods for calming the clamor of my anxieties or quieting the never-ending to-do list in my brain. I never feel more content, more myself. I want my son to see that part of me, and I hope that a sense of kinship with the natural world might enrich his life as it has mine.

But I worry. By encouraging him to cultivate that same connection, am I only setting him up for a painful future? He’ll live to see the unfolding climate crisis diminish our planet’s living beauty in ways that will be permanent and painful. I’m afraid that by teaching him to love streams full of salmon and woods full of songbirds, I’m betraying him, dooming him to a bitter, grieving adulthood when the streams are empty and the woods are silent. Would I serve him better by spending my weekends, say, volunteering with climate justice campaigns, rather than teaching him to make s’mores and identify constellations and bird songs?

I try to justify it to myself with data. Researchers have found a connection between early experiences in nature and environmental activism later in life; kids who play in the woods become adults who invest their time and energy in taking care of the planet. There’s also evidence that kids who spend time in nature do better in school, are healthier mentally and physically, and are even more generous and altruistic than their peers.

That’s the kind of kid I want to raise. But ultimately, it wasn’t the statistics that made up my mind. It was a feeling — hope. Taking our son camping has become my stubborn way of hanging onto hope that a beautiful future is still possible. So we went to the woods.

FOR THE MOST PART, it turns out, camping with a 1-year-old is not particularly relaxing. I struggled to entertain our energetic little boy while my husband put up the tent and made dinner, and later it was a huge relief when, about 10 minutes after we put him to bed, he finally fell asleep. But the weekend wasn’t really about relaxing; it was about setting the tone for the kind of family we want to be.

And we survived. In fact, when we got home the next day — after changing a poopy diaper, coaxing my son to take a nap in his crib, showering, unpacking, and hosing a mysterious sticky substance off our tent — I made a reservation for another night the following month at a different campground. This one was a little further away, at a trailhead for a path along a river up into Washington’s Blue Mountains.

How can I help my son build a strong relationship with something that’s changing before his eyes? How can I tell him to build his sense of self on something that won’t be there for him in the same way in five years, 10, 50? I’m still figuring it out. But here’s the thing — change and loss are part of parenthood, too. My son is changing every day, the tiny baby I held last year already gone for good, and I can’t know what the future holds for him. All I can do is try to take good care of him, advocate for him, love him and teach him how to hope.

Rebecca Heisman is a science communicator and writer who lives in Walla Walla, Washington. Follow her on Twitter at @r_heisman.

Orr kids, Escalante River June 2007

A water ‘win-win’ in Colorado? Not so fast — @HighCountryNews

San Luis Valley farmer Dale Bartee, left, with his parents and his oldest son, Tyler, the fourth generation on the farm. Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

From the High Country News (Nick Bowlin):

If water flows to money, in Colorado, it flows to the Front Range. There, a booming population has strained municipal governments, which are actively looking elsewhere for new water sources. This is nothing new: In recent decades, locals have fended off several schemes to export the San Luis Valley’s water east over the mountains. The latest of these is Renewable Water Resources, a venture backed by Denver metro money and former Republican Gov. Bill Owens. Worsening drought, poor commodity prices, economic trends towards consolidation and the ever-present threat of state intervention in local water management have some people worried — and others sensing an opportunity.

Sean Tonner, a businessman and longtime state Republican operative who worked for Owens, is behind the current water export scheme. Tonner exudes salesmanship, the sort of person who calls you by your first name the second he meets you. His plan reworks one that was pushed by the late Gary Boyce, a notorious water export advocate. Tonner, who now owns Boyce’s 11,500-acre property at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, proposes a 22,000-acre-foot pipeline to carry water from the northern end of the valley over Poncha Pass to Douglas County in the southern Denver metro area. His company would buy and remove from irrigation about 30,000 acre-feet of San Luis Valley water, paying local farmers for the water rights that would offset the export.

Tonner uses the phrase “win-win” to describe the project. The front page of the project’s website reads: “Best for the San Luis Valley. Best for the environment. Best for Colorado.” Few in the valley see it that way. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District rejected the proposal in January 2019, and the board has told Tonner it would fight any attempt to export water from the valley. Several town governments oppose the plan, as well. If it goes to court, the exporters would have to prove that the plan would not injure Rio Grande water rights, the aquifer or the protected areas that rely on the aquifer, including Great Sand Dunes National Park.

At a February water conference at Adams State University, former U.S. Sen. and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — the most public member of the well-known Salazar family, which has farmed in the southern part of the valley since the 1850s — declared that “water will flow out of this valley to the North only over my dead body,” drawing a raucous cheer from the audience of farmers and ranchers.

Even so, it is easy to imagine the valley’s economic plight making it possible for Tonner’s proposal to catch on. His plan offers incentives that previous plans lacked, including a $50 million fund for local governments to use in the community. If the valley’s financial woes worsen — or if the state were to shut off thousands of wells in Subdistrict 1 — that cash could sway some desperate local officials.

Tonner claims he has local support. At a community meeting in Saguache on May 23, he told the large crowd that he had enough water users interested in selling to obtain 22,000 acre-feet of water. Few farmers and ranchers want to admit this, but the valley’s grim circumstances are pushing some to sell.

I put the question to rancher Dale Bartee in August: What would happen if the drought returns next year, the valley’s pumping fee is higher, and the export company shows up with ready money?

“If the price is right, it would be very hard to say no,” he said with a sigh, sitting at his kitchen table. It’s an admission he does not like making out loud. Like many here, Bartee sees the export advocates as turncoats, exploiting the imbalance of economic and political power concentrated on the other side of the mountains to extract rural resources. Repeated attempts to export the valley’s water make the people feel dispensable.

“For me, I will probably be one of the last ones to say yes to it, because of my boys,” Bartee said, whose two sons work the farm with him.

“They both say they want to come back, they want to farm,” their father said. “And if I sell out, what do they have left?”

If the valley’s water use were corrected, Rio Grande Water Conservation District Manager Cleave Simpson believes, the export schemes would evaporate. “Buy and dry” proposals, as they are known, seem less appealing when water supply and demand are in better balance, he said. The subdistrict model is an attempt to allow current farms to carry on at slightly diminished capacity, rather than face the “draconian” decision of either selling to exporters to get what money they can or risk having pumping rights suspended by the state engineer.

“I don’t think producers should have to make that choice,” Simpson said.

Nick Bowlin is an editorial fellow at High Country News. Email him at nickbowlin@hcn.org.