Here’s the release from the Department of Interior (Brock Merrill):
Secretary of the Interior, along with Governors of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, commit an additional $156 million for recovering threatened and endangered species in the Platte River Basin
U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed an amendment to the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Cooperative Agreement, along with the governors of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, committing resources to extend the program through Dec. 31, 2032. The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program utilizes federal- and state-provided financial resources, water and scientific monitoring and research to support and protect four threatened and endangered species that inhabit areas of the Central and Lower Platte rivers in Nebraska while allowing for continued water and hydropower project operations in the Platte River basin.
“This program is truly an important partnership that has been successful because of the broad collaboration between federal and state representatives, water and power users and conservation groups,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “All of these stakeholders working together to help recover imperiled species is critical as new water and power projects are continued and developed in the Platte River Basin.”
The program provides compliance for four species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for new and existing water-related projects in the Platte River Basin. Examples of existing water related projects include the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado Big-Thompson Project on the South Platte River in Colorado and the North Platte Project in Wyoming and Nebraska.
“Programs like the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program are critical to ensuring that Reclamation is able to deliver water and power in an environmentally and economically sound manner,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman “This program is a true success story of how stakeholders and government from across state lines can work together for the common good.”
The program began in 2007 and is managed by a governance committee comprised of representatives from Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, water users, environmental groups and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
“The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program has brought together three states, environmental groups, water users, and two federal agencies to forge a common goal of balancing existing use with an eye towards recovery for four threatened and endangered species,” said Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon. “This program has ensured that Wyoming continues existing water uses in the South and North Platte River Basins while making measurable contributions to species recovery.”
“The signing of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Cooperative Agreement Amendment marks the celebration of more than a decade of success,” said Colorado Governor Jared Polis. “The commitment by the states and the U.S. Department of the Interior to continue the program’s innovative approach to species recovery and Endangered Species Act compliance is a win-win for the future of Colorado’s citizens and the environment. We look forward to the next 13 years working with our partners to lead in this national model of collaboration.”
“Agriculture is Nebraska’s number one industry. Extending the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program gives Nebraska’s ag producers certainty around water and land use in the coming years,” said Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts. “We appreciate the collaboration we enjoy with the other states who are party to this agreement, and we look forward to working with them in the coming years.”
The estimated total value of federal and state contributions to the program during the first extension is $156 million. The U.S. Department of the Interior will provide one half of the funding necessary for the extension, which will be matched by states through contributions of non-federal funding and water from state-sponsored projects that is provided for the benefit of target threatened and endangered species.
In a sign that perhaps Nestlé Water might not find its Chaffee County 1041 permit renewal quite as easy as it had hoped, the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners has again changed the date of the public hearing, returning it to the April 26 date that they had initially expected would be honored…
During a Dec. BoCC session, commissioners were not altogether pleased to learn that Nestlé had asked for the required public hearing to be moved forward to Jan. 2020. They appeared “surprised” that county staff appeared to have acquiesced to the company’s request for an earlier date.
Public comments made in response to an earlier Ark Valley Voice article about the topic indicate that there are some who are not pleased with what they consider to be a rubber stamp approval of the state permit that allows Nestlé to continue to draw water from Chaffee County. During the Oct. BoCC session, county staff had indicated that Nestlé had met all the terms of the expiring ten-year contract.
“They have met all the requirements and they been a good neighbor,” said Chaffee Planning Manager Jon Roorda.
It would appear that commissioners are aware that renewal of the permit issued in 2009 for Nestlé Water to take water from Chaffee County for its branded, bottled water product might be more contentious than it was ten years ago. In 2009, the country was in the grips of the Great Recession, identified as the most serious economic downturn since the 1930s, and Chaffee County had experienced that economic impact. In addition, current public sensibilities to water shortages, heightening wildfire danger and the need to protect our natural environments was not as high then as they are a decade later.
Take a walk back in time to read about Nestlé here and here.
Much of Southwest Colorado remains listed in a severe drought although it has accumulated 130% of average snowpack.
According the U.S. Drought Monitor as of Dec. 24, all of Montezuma County and all but the northern edge of La Plata County and the eastern edge of Archuleta County remain listed in severe drought. Virtually all of Dolores, Montrose and Ouray counties were designated in a severe drought.
As of Dec. 30, the severe drought designation remained despite an above-average snowpack for Southwest Colorado.
A SNOTEL map showed 130% of the 30-year average snowpack for the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel river basins as of Dec. 30.
The reason the region remains in the drought category is because the drought monitor tracks precipitation over many previous months, said Ken Curtis, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District that manages McPhee Reservoir.
July through October was very dry, with below-average moisture. It will take continued average, to above-average moisture to knock the area out of drought, he said…
A large part of Colorado’s Western Slope remains in severe or moderate drought.
In fact, only the northeast section of the state, including the Denver metro area and the northern mountains around Steamboat Springs, are not under some kind of drought listing.
In all, nearly 70% of Colorado is abnormally dry or in moderate or severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. A year ago, roughly 85% of the state had some kind of drought status, including 11% that was listed as being in exceptional drought.
Despite the continued dry conditions, forecasters said things are better than they were last year at this time when exceptional and extreme drought – the worst categories – had set in. Over the last three months, parts of southern Arizona and New Mexico recovered but portions of Utah and Colorado dried out…
Purgatory Resort was reporting a 54-inch base depth Monday, Telluride Ski Area was reporting a 43-inch base, and Wolf Creek Ski Area was reporting an 81-inch midway base depth.
From the Monte Vista Crane Festival via The Mineral County Miner:
Mark your calendars for the 37th Monte Vista Crane Festival, scheduled for March 6 – 8, 2020. Ticket sales for the tours, speakers, movies and other events will go live Jan. 2 at http://mvcranefest.org.
The annual festival celebrates the remarkable journey of some 25,000 Sandhill Cranes through the San Luis Valley each spring—a migration that begins in southern New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and ends at the nesting grounds in the greater Yellowstone area of Wyoming and Idaho. While passing through the Valley, the tall, elegant birds gather by the thousands in and around the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge staff manage the on-site wetlands and barley fields specifically to attract cranes and other wildlife. “The wetlands offer nighttime roosting sites,” said refuge manager Suzanne Beauchaine. “We mow the barley fields just before the festival, which provides a virtual smorgasbord.”
The cranes feed on the fallen grain as well as small animals attracted to the food. “If you watch closely, you may see a crane spear a vole or mouse with its long beak and toss it to its partner,” Beauchaine said. “You’ll also see cranes hop and dance in courtship and hear collective sound of their calls, which is breathtaking, especially with the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background.”
This year’s festival includes crane- and hawk-viewing tours as well as expert-led excursions to Elephant Rocks, Blanca Wetlands, the Scott Miller Archaeological Site and a private conservation site protected under the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust. Local ornithologist John Rawinski will return to lead bird walks around the Home Lake State Wildlife Area (the bird walks sold out quickly in 2019). The wildly popular craft and nature fair will once again be held in the Monte Vista’s Ski Hi Building, with live birds on display from Hawks Aloft, a raptor rescue and rehabilitator out of New Mexico.
This year’s keynote speaker is Colorado-based historian and Theodore Roosevelt re-enactor Kurt Skinner, who whisks audiences of all ages back to a time when the former president imprinted on Americans a love of the natural world. Other speakers include Cleave Simpson and Max Ciaglo. Simpson is general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District in Alamosa, Colorado. His talk, “Dealing with Water Scarcity,” will spotlight water issues facing the Rio Grande Basin and San Luis Valley. Ciaglo, a biologist and intern with Colorado Open Lands, will present on the “Grains for Cranes” project—a unique partnership between federal agencies, local businesses and private barley growers to manage barley as a vital food for cranes.
This year’s featured movies include “Rango” and “Bird of Prey.” “Rango” is a good, old-fashioned (animated) western about a less-than-courageous chameleon who unwittingly ends up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost populated by desert creatures. Rango becomes sheriff—as well as the town’s last hope from a greedy developer’s water grab. Winners of the fourth Annual Kid’s Crane Coloring Contest will be announced before the movie. “Bird of Prey” weaves together stunning footage of the critically endangered Great Philippine Eagle with the remarkable story of wildlife cinematographer Neil Rettig and a small group of conservationists from the Philippine Eagle Foundation—who work tirelessly to save the bird from extinction.
Please note that except for the Friday night movie this year all tours, speakers and movies will require a ticket for admittance. For schedule and ticket information, visit mvcranefest.org.
The crane festival is organized every year by a dedicated group of volunteers who depend on sponsorship dollars to support the event. Without sponsorship, the crane festival would not happen. Folks interested in supporting this important community event can email email@example.com or call 720-940-7561, or donate directly at http://mvcranefest.org.
Greater Sandhill Cranes in flight over the San Luis Valley. The annual Monte Vista Crane Festival takes place during March each year. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Sandhill cranes. Photo: Scott Helfrich/Audubon Photography Awards
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.
Sandhill Cranes in flight via Colorado Parks and Wildlife
The other big story of the decade was the environment. As the drought steadily worsened in the early teens, President Ben Shelly found himself between a rock and a hard place. A proposed settlement of the water rights on the Little Colorado River, which would have included the Nation sacrificing a portion of its water rights in exchange for infrastructure, proved so wildly unpopular that he was forced to back down, leaving the Nation to take its chances in court.
A plan to round up Dinétah’s feral horses, which ranchers accused of drinking up and fouling the ever-scarcer watering holes, stirred an international uproar from humane organizations and even actor Robert Redford. It was eventually abandoned and the animals remain a problem, now numbering in the tens of thousands with few natural predators.
Water issues continued in 2015 as an estimated several hundred Navajos — including President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer — joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in protesting the construction of an oil pipeline beneath the tribe’s main water source, braving sub-zero temperatures, tear gas and rubber bullets.
In the summer of that year, the Diné had their own water issue to contend with, watching in amazement as the Animas River ran orange with dissolved metal compounds from an abandoned gold mine near Silverton, Colorado — the result of a botched containment effort by the US. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Navajo Nation joined the states of New Mexico and Utah in suing the agency and its contractor. As of this writing the litigation is still pending.
Then there was Bears Ears National Monument, created by President Barack Obama on Dec. 28, 2016, and reduced by 85 percent by President Donald Trump less than a year later. That’s also slogging through the courts.
But by far the biggest environmental story was the rapid dethronement of King Coal, which for decades had propped up state, local, and tribal economies in the Four Corners.
As prices for natural gas and renewable energy declined, power plant owners beat a hasty retreat from the dirty fossil fuel that had sustained generations of Navajo miners and a good chunk of the Navajo and Hopi tribes’ budgets.
In 2013, the Navajo Nation managed to stave off the closure of BHP Billiton’s Navajo Mine by creating a company to buy it, but there was no stopping the demise of the Navajo Generating Station and the two mines on Black Mesa that fed it.
Environmentalists had for years been pressuring the tribal government to create a plan to replace the revenue that would be lost when the plant closed, preferably by converting it to a sustainable energy producer, but as the last coal shovelful of coal was turned this past November, the only plan was to dig into the Permanent Trust Fund former President Peterson Zah had created in 1985 for just this eventuality.
Meanwhile the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, the tribal enterprise created to buy the Navajo Mine and then lead the Nation into a more sustainable energy future, purchased three more coal mines in Wyoming and Montana — a move that shocked not only environmentalists but the president and Council.
The San Juan Generating Station in Waterflow, New Mexico, is next on the chopping block, slated to close in 2022 unless the state’s Public Regulation Commission approves a plan to convert it to a carbon capture facility.
We’re reporters of the news, not prognosticators. But it’s not too risky to predict that all these environmental issues will extend into 2020 and most likely beyond, joined by ones no one has even thought of yet as irreversible climate change takes hold.