Meet the veteran insider who’s shepherding Governor Newsom’s plan to bring climate resilience to #California water — Water Education Foundation @WaterEdFdn

From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

WESTERN WATER Q&A: FORMER JOURNALIST NANCY VOGEL EXPLAINS HOW THE DRAFT CALIFORNIA WATER RESILIENCE PORTFOLIO CAME TOGETHER AND WHY IT’S EXPECTED TO GUIDE FUTURE STATE DECISIONS

Nancy Vogel, director of the Governor’s Water Portfolio Program, highlights key points in the draft Water Resilience Portfolio last month for the Water Education Foundation’s 2020 Water Leaders class. Source: Water Education Foundation

Shortly after taking office in 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom called on state agencies to deliver a Water Resilience Portfolio to meet California’s urgent challenges — unsafe drinking water, flood and drought risks from a changing climate, severely depleted groundwater aquifers and native fish populations threatened with extinction.

Within days, he appointed Nancy Vogel, a former journalist and veteran water communicator, as director of the Governor’s Water Portfolio Program to help shepherd the monumental task of compiling all the information necessary for the portfolio. The three state agencies tasked with preparing the document delivered the draft Water Resilience Portfolio Jan. 3. The document, which Vogel said will help guide policy and investment decisions related to water resilience, is nearing the end of its comment period, which goes through Friday, Feb. 7.

In an interview with Western Water, Vogel acknowledged that every governor seeks to put their stamp on solving the state’s water resource issues. The hope with the Water Resilience Portfolio, she said, is that it can be a catalyst for progress because California’s next drought or flood is never far away and the time to act is now.

Western Water: How would you describe the purpose of the portfolio?

NANCY VOGEL: It’s a high-level policy planning document, much like the Water Action Plan was for the Brown administration. It sets forth our priorities and it’s the blueprint for state agencies working on water. I’ve been impressed with just how much time and energy people have put into providing us input and making sure that it’s on the scale we need.

WW: You have been presenting the portfolio around the state. What’s the response been?

VOGEL: Its generally positive. People say they feel as if they’ve been heard. A lot of people say ‘I can see my comments reflected in the Portfolio, but I’m going to send you another set of comments because I have a quibble with this or that or you forgot X, Y or Z,’ and that’s a good opportunity for us to take another look.

WW: The Sierra Club wrote that the document ‘suffers from an unprioritized list of actions and is ultimately a restatement of water policy depending heavily on a few large-scale and outdated water fixes.’ How do you respond to that?

VOGEL: We’ll have to agree to disagree on that. I do not think the draft portfolio depends on a few big projects. Our approach is diversified, as a portfolio should be. As for the criticism that this is a restatement, we have momentum coming out of the 2012-2016 drought and we want to continue to make progress without massive new mandates on local water districts or attempts at drastic reforms that would unleash uncertainty and stall progress.

WW: What’s the relevance of the portfolio to the average Californian?

Nancy Vogel, a former journalist, is director of the Governor’s Water Portfolio Program. Source: Water Education Foundation

VOGEL: We all need water and food and want our grandkids to experience spring-run chinook salmon and snow geese. Nobody wants a California where fellow residents lose their homes to flood or tap water to drought. It takes a lot of planning and investment to maintain water supplies and natural systems in a state with such big geographic and timing imbalances in its water resources. This is a document that tries to steer state resources and efforts toward helping the very diverse regions of California be ready for more extreme conditions — drought and flood — and to be able to supply water to communities, the economy and the environment into the future despite climate change and increasing population.

WW: How does the portfolio address the land use changes that are anticipated to occur as a result of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act?

VOGEL: The draft portfolio acknowledges that local planners face changes in their tax rolls, workforce and land uses, and the state can help local governments anticipate and adjust to those changes with funding and resources for planning. Land uses will change in some places, and that’s going to have a ripple effect on communities and county budgets.

WW: The portfolio says a new emphasis on cooperation across state agencies and with regional groups and leaders is needed. How does that occur?

VOGEL: Our approach to the draft Portfolio embodies cooperation — we asked for extensive input. We wanted to hear about local concerns and what water managers think the state can best do to support them as they address those concerns. I think it’s a mindset. Sometimes people forget how much [Integrated Regional Water Management] has accomplished in terms of the way we look at collaboration on a watershed scale. And it’s easy to focus on the things that IRWM isn’t doing or isn’t doing as well as we’d like. But we’re in a much different place now in 2020 than we were in 2000 because of IRWM and we want to build on that. There are lots of other ways for regions to collaborate on a watershed scale and we’re open to that and we want to support that too. But we don’t want to take everything that’s been accomplished and all those human relationships forged in the planning efforts under IRWM — we don’t want to just toss that aside and start over. We want to build on that. And we need to improve the way we coordinate at the state level, too.

WW: How do you make sure this just doesn’t end up another book on a shelf and that there is follow through?

VOGEL: That will take sustained, high-level focus from Secretaries [Wade] Crowfoot, [Jared] Blumenfeld and [Karen] Ross [from Natural Resources, Cal EPA and Food and Agriculture, respectively] and I know they’re committed to that. We also task ourselves with doing an annual update on progress, in which the public will hold us accountable for what we’ve accomplished and have yet to accomplish. We get the resources, the right people in the right places, and we make progress.

WW: How did your experience in journalism prepare you for this task and to be an advocate for this portfolio?

Vogel answers questions from members of the Water Leaders class. Source: Water Education Foundation

VOGEL: A journalist learns to listen and to absorb information quickly and to organize it. We had a lot of information coming in quickly as we began to prepare the portfolio and I think my experience with organizing information in a way that I could then disseminate to people who needed to make decisions helped. Journalists get to interview everybody who cares about an issue and so they end up with a unique perspective on a problem that’s valuable. And I felt like I got to do that in some ways as the person who was herding cats on the portfolio. I got to hear everybody’s concerns and that was a privilege. It’s hard to do justice to all the experience and knowledge and often conflicting but heartfelt values reflected in the input we got. We did our best. It was a team effort across the departments and the agencies. It’s been a lot of hours but so worthwhile. I just want to improve the document now and make it the best it can be.

Reach Gary Pitzer: gpitzer@watereducation.org, Twitter: @gary_wef. Know someone else who wants to stay connected with water in the West? Encourage them to sign up for Western Water, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

2020 #COleg: SB20-135, Conservation Easement Working Group Proposals

Saguache Creek

From The Denver Post (David Migoya):

Colorado lawmakers are set to consider [SB20-135, Conservation Easement Working Group Proposals] next week that could refund hundreds of millions of dollars to people who innocently bought into the state’s conservation easement tax credit program, only to see officials dismiss the tax credits as worthless and tag them with hefty bills.

The individuals bought the credits from landowners who had received them after protecting millions of acres of property from future development, or their representatives.

But revenue officials eventually said the land wasn’t worth what the landowners claimed and negated more than $220 million in credits, leaving the buyers on the hook for the tab.

That was a decade ago.

After years of public hearings, focus groups and stakeholder conferences, Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, seek to undo the mess and ensure those individuals who unknowingly bought into the program are repaid. House co-sponsors include Dylan Roberts, D-Steamboat Springs, and James Wilson, R-Salida.

The bill is largely the result of a task force empaneled from a bill Sonnenberg successfully pushed last year. The leaders of the task force — a landowner caught in the tax-credit debacle and the director of a land trust that managed many easements — were frequently at odds on the issue but worked together to find solutions.

Breathing a little easier thanks to new air quality regulations — #GlenwoodSprings Post-Independent #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Here’s a guest column from Mark Pearson, Steve Allerton, and Leslie Robinson that’s running in The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent:

Good news for public health and the environment recently, with lots of work ahead. That’s the short version about what’s happening with oil and gas regulations in Colorado.

On Dec. 17, the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) adopted a host of new rules that will reduce ozone, methane and other noxious emissions from oil and gas operations throughout Colorado. In addition, the commissioners agreed to a rule supported by Western Colorado Alliance, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC) that will require monthly inspections of wells and other infrastructure located within 1,000 feet of homes, schools and businesses, with prompt repairs when leaks are found.

The commissioners deserve a big thanks for taking decisive action to reduce emissions not only on the Front Range where ozone is a persistent problem but throughout the entire state where emissions are also problematic. In Southwestern Colorado, for instance, there is a massive methane cloud that hangs over a 2,400-square-mile area that includes Durango and Cortez. In Garfield County, the American Lung Association has documented worsening ozone levels despite claims from the county commissioners that the air is clean.

By adopting statewide rules, the AQCC recognized that air pollution knows no boundaries and that all Coloradans deserve to breathe clean air, no matter where they live. By adopting tighter regulations near homes and schools, the Commissioners responded to the legitimate concerns that people living in energy-impacted communities across the state have been raising for years.

It is also important to acknowledge that hundreds of residents living in places such as Grand Junction, Rifle, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Telluride, Durango and Bayfield took the time to craft arguments in favor of strong statewide regulations and attend hearings to have their voices heard. Their testimony had real effects on the commissioners’ opinions and deliberations. It was our democracy working at its best.

The AQCC will be picking up the mantle again in May 2020 when it considers new rules for pneumatic devices that control pressure in wells, pipelines and storage tanks. These devices are notoriously leak prone, and both industry and conservation groups have been working together for nearly three years to come up with solutions. Throughout the year, the AQCC will take up other regulatory changes that address the mandates of Senate Bill 181, the law passed last year which changes the way oil and gas is regulated in Colorado.

For too many years, state regulators have acknowledged but largely ignored the concerns of citizens living in the shadow of oil and gas wells. Communities like Battlement Mesa in Garfield County live today with wells just a little more than 500 feet from some neighborhoods. Residents regularly report noxious smells and are literally shut into their homes when the wind is blowing the wrong direction.

The new rules adopted last month are an important step in the right direction for communities like Battlement Mesa, but they are just the beginning of a process of regulatory reform that will make our air cleaner and reduce our impact on the climate. There is much work ahead, and we urge residents to remain involved in the coming year.

Leslie Robinson is chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, based in Garfield County; Steve Allerton is board president of the Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action, based in Grand Junction; and Mark Pearson is executive director of San Juan Citizens Alliance, based in Durango.

Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau

Clovis City Water Tests Find Toxic [#PFAS] Linked To Cannon Air Force Base — #NewMexico in Focus

From New Mexico in Focus (Laura Paskus):

New tests by Clovis’ water utility show toxic chemicals associated with groundwater contamination from Cannon Air Force Base have been found in the city’s water supply.

According to a letter sent to customers of the utility EPCOR late this week, trace amounts of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances were found in about 10 percent of the company’s 82 intake wells. In the letter, Clovis operations supervisor Mark Huerta wrote that EPCOR detected the chemicals at levels between four and seven parts per trillion.

Saturday, EPCOR posted an undated copy of the letter on its website, which continued to feature posts from 2018 with headlines such as “Cannon Air Force Base Plume and Why it Doesn’t Affect your Water.”

[…]

In his letter, EPCOR’s Huerta wrote, “None of the sample results came close to EPA’s health-based recommended advisory level. And none of the water EPCOR supplies to you comes from the area surrounding the Cannon plume…”

[…]

The presence of the toxic chemicals in the municipal water supply for Clovis, however, raises questions about how the plume might be moving underground, or if other above-ground uses could be spreading contaminated water.

In the letter to customers, Huerta wrote that “there is no health concern,” and added that the wells that sampled positive for PFAS have been taken out of service…

The Air Force and the New Mexico Environment Department have filed suits and countersuits over the PFAS contamination and its cleanup.

In early 2019, the Air Force sued the state, challenging New Mexico’s attempt to force the military to address the PFAS contamination under the hazardous waste permit issued by NMED. In March 2019, New Mexico filed its own complaint against the Air Force, asking a federal District Court judge to order the military to act on and fund cleanup at Cannon and Holloman.

On Feb. 14, New Mexico In Focus will feature an interview with New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney about PFAS contamination, including the latest revelations by EPCOR. In August 2019, environmental correspondent Laura Paskus interviewed Kenney about the state’s battle with the Air Force over PFAS.

If you’ve been affected by PFAS contamination in your community, call our tip line at (505) 433-7242.

Clovis, New Mexico. Photo credit: Clovis and Curry County Chamber of Commerce