Opinion: Forever means forever. #Colorado’s iconic landscapes require “perpetual conservation easements” protection — The Colorado Sun

From The Colorado Sun (Melissa Daruna):

There has been a lot of talk in the local news lately about perpetual conservation easements. What is this tool, and why should people care?

A perpetual conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government entity to protect land — and its associated natural resources — forever.

The core goal is permanent protection. We need this tool to permanently protect Colorado’s iconic landscapes. It’s therefore critical that we protect the tool.

Melissa Daruna. Photo credit: Keep it Colorado

Since 1965, nonprofit land trusts and their partners have helped Colorado landowners conserve more than three million acres of working lands, wildlife habitat and open spaces that define our state and contribute to our quality of life.

This work is voluntary, collaborative, nonpartisan and local. More than 30 nonprofit land trusts are responsible for the stewardship of nearly 80% of the 2.2 million acres of private land conserved in this state — and they rely on perpetual conservation easements to ensure this activity continues.

To use an example of one well-known area that is permanently protected, let’s look at Greenland Ranch.

Greenland Ranch is an undeniably gorgeous eight-mile span of rolling hills, rugged overlooks and sweeping vistas that drivers see as they travel along I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs.

Sitting on 21,000 acres, it is the oldest-operating cattle ranch on the Front Range. It’s hard to imagine that drive without the open space that, for so many, is iconic of Colorado and everything our state represents — and that draws people here in the first place.

Greenland Ranch. Photo credit: John Fielder via the Conservation Fund

And yet, given all of the growth in Colorado in recent years, it’s also easy to imagine how that view would change if dotted with subdivisions, strip malls and big-box stores. Such development would create a radically different look and feel for our Colorado.

Fortunately, that second scenario will never take place on Greenland Ranch. Urban sprawl will never define that land, thanks to a conservation easement that permanently protects it — and the commitment of land conservation partners and the landowner who shared a vision to keep the area in its natural state.

The list of properties around the state that Coloradans enjoy and that are protected by perpetual conservation easements is long — from peach orchards in Palisade, to Fisher’s Peak in Trinidad, to a mining claim now protected as open space in San Juan National Forest’s Weminuche Wilderness, to publicly accessible recreation trails in Eagle Valley; and the list goes on.

In Summit County, the Fiester Preserve adjacent to the County Commons is an example of an open space in a more urban setting that’s protected by perpetual conservation easements; its original easement was put into place to protect the property’s value as an open space, invulnerable to development.

It’s important to realize that while conservation easements are a tool designed to primarily protect private lands, they offer real public benefits — including access to clean water, unblemished views, preservation of wildlife and in many cases, access to outdoor recreation opportunities.

The rewards are also economic. According to recent studies by Colorado State University, every dollar invested in conservation through Great Outdoors Colorado and the conservation easement tax credit (which landowners can receive in exchange for their land donation) returns between $4 and $12 in public benefits.

Additionally, every dollar that has been invested in perpetual conservation easements through the Federal Farm Bill over the past decade has generated $2 of new economic activity and created more than 1,000 new jobs in Colorado — most of which were in rural areas.

Whether we’re talking about the iconic landscapes that define Colorado, or parks and open spaces in urban areas or mountain towns, it’s critical to uphold the perpetual conservation easement tool.

Without it, Colorado will look very different in the future as our population grows, and sprawl will be Colorado’s defining characteristic.

Melissa Daruna is executive director of Keep It Colorado, a nonprofit statewide coalition of land trusts, public agencies and champions for conservation in Colorado.

#YampaRiver Fund opens 1st grant cycle; applications due March 24 — Steamboat Pilot & Today #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #GreenRiver

Niche ag, along the Yampa River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Derek Maiolo):

An endowment fund to protect the Yampa River opened applications for its first grant cycle Tuesday, Feb. 11.

The Yampa River Fund, launched in September 2019, plans to award approximately $100,000 to $200,000 in grants during this cycle, according to its manager Andy Bauer. Applications will be accepted through March 24.

A partnership of 21 public, private and nonprofit entities representing the entire Yampa River Basin collaborated to create the board that governs the Yampa River Fund. Its mission, according to Bauer, is to fund projects to improve river health, protect the water supply and boost river flow in dry years.

This comes amid concerns over the health of the Yampa River, the supply of which is vital to local agriculture and a key component to recreation from rafting in the summer to snowmaking in the winter.

Kelly Romero-Heaney, Steamboat Springs water resource manager and chair of the Yampa River Fund board, cited three primary issues the fund aims to address: warming waters, the proliferation of northern pike and the deterioration of riparian forests.

Recent measurements have shown river temperatures are reaching dangerous levels. Romero-Heaney cited the 2018 Yampa River Health Assessment and Streamflow Management Plan, which found that summer water temperatures were surpassing healthy levels by about 5 degrees. Such temperatures kill off cold-water fish species, namely trout.

Non-native northern pike, which are aggressive predators, have decimated native species. Wildlife agencies like Colorado Parks and Wildlife encourage the fishing of pike through contests and the implementation of pike removal projects to limit their numbers.

Asked about the deterioration of riparian forests along the Yampa River, Romero-Heaney pointed to the last century of land management as a major factor. The number of cottonwoods has seen a particular decline, which decreases the amount of shade over the water and contributes to further warming.

Despite these issues, the Yampa River is healthier than many waterways in the country. The river remains largely free-flowing, unlike many rivers controlled with extensive dams. It is the largest, unregulated tributary remaining in the Colorado River system, according to the National Park Service. It also has been protected from extensive development along its banks, Romero-Heaney said…

As manager of the fund, Bauer listed three types of projects that will be prioritized during the grant cycle. Those include projects to sustain healthy flows, restore riparian habitats and improve infrastructure along the river, such as diversion structure and irrigation systems.

Eligible applicants include state and local government entities, public districts and irrigation entities, mutual ditch companies, homeowners associations and nonprofits, according to a news release from the Yampa River Fund. Bauer encourages private landowners to partner with these entities to secure funding.

Grant applications are available at http://yampariverfund.org/grants.

Colorado lakes, reservoirs remain free of invasive mussels; but more boats found with mussel infestations in 2019 — @COParksWildlife

Thanks to CPW’s inspection program, Colorado remains free of invasive aquatic mussels. But the number of boats that require decontamination is increasing. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

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

More boats requiring decontamination because of infestations of destructive mussels entered Colorado last year than in 2018, but the statewide inspection program coordinated by Colorado Parks and Wildlife again succeeded in keeping invasive mussels out of the state’s lakes and reservoirs.

While Colorado remains mussel free, CPW officials are concerned that the number of boats entering Colorado that need decontamination continues to increase. CPW will not let down its guard to keep invasive aquatic species out of the state.

“The Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Program continues to meet the challenge of protecting the state’s water resources and infrastructure from the establishment of Aquatic Nuisance Species,” said Elizabeth Brown, the agency’s invasive species program manager. “Colorado remains free of adult zebra and quagga mussel reproducing populations, while some nearby western states without mandatory inspection programs continue to detect infestations. Colorado has prevented the introduction of this invasive species due to the diligent efforts of watercraft inspection and decontamination, early detection monitoring, education and enforcement efforts.”

Other western states that have mussel infestations include: Arizona, Utah, Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and California. Where there are infestations, mussels can clog up pipes and important infrastructure, cover docks, shorelines, rocks, any hard surface and can ruin powerboat engines.

Throughout the state last year, 481,543 boat inspections were conducted, 7,000 more than in 2018. A total of 22,947 boats, 281 with attached mussels, were decontaminated, compared with 19,111 in 2018. Unfortunately, the number of intercepted boats fully infested with mussels increased by 40 percent, from 51 in 2018 to 86 in 2019. In 2017, only 16 mussel-infested boats were intercepted.

Brown said she’s very concerned about the substantial increase in infested boats entering the state.

“This growth trend is directly related to the growing threat invasive mussels pose to Colorado’s water infrastructure, natural resources and outdoor recreation. Along with work by our partners, CPW’s Invasive Species Program is critical to maintaining opportunities for recreation, preserving natural heritage and protecting water supply and delivery infrastructure for municipal, industrial and agricultural use,” Brown said.

A fully formed adult zebra or quagga mussel has never been detected in Colorado waters. However, the larval stage of the mussels, known as veligers, were detected as recently as 2017 in Green Mountain Reservoir in Summit County and the reservoir is still considered suspect for quagga mussels. For detection, biologists perform three types of sampling to target the three life stages of mussels. CPW confirms all visual detections with DNA analysis to confirm the genus and species of the mussel. If no additional detections are verified in 2020, Green Mountain Reservoir will be delisted.

In 2019, crews sampled 179 standing, and four flowing waters statewide for veligers. In addition to the sampling efforts performed by CPW, the National Park Service contributed 38 plankton samples. There were no detections of zebra or quagga mussels in Colorado.

CPW works in partnership with dozens of other agencies, counties and municipalities throughout the state. Help from the partners is critical in maintaining a mussel-free Colorado, Brown said.

In 2019, CPW authorized 72 locations to perform watercraft inspections and decontaminations.

Following is a list of the Colorado waters where the most inspections are conducted:

For more information about CPW’s ANS prevention program, see: https://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/BoatInspection.aspx.

#MancosRiver watershed plan update

Mancos and the Mesa Verde area from the La Plata Mountains.

From the Colorado Ag Water Alliance via the Fencepost:

Agricultural producers in southwest Colorado, mostly cow-calf ranchers, expended less labor to access the same amount of water to irrigate their pastures since implementing improvements to their irrigation ditches as part of a community-wide project. They also have seen improvement in riparian habitats. A new video, which can be viewed at https://www.coagwater.org/stream-management, portrays the impact to the community of these project improvements.

The improvements were implemented following development of the Mancos Watershed Plan in 2011. The community project was able to acquire $6 million along with Natural Resources Conservation Service cost share dollars to improve irrigation ditch diversion structures, install pipe irrigation systems and reduce ditch bank erosion in some of the 49 ditches that divert water off the Mancos River and its tributaries. The funding also allowed the watershed to improve the river’s fisheries.

“Ranchers involved in the project were skeptical at first of the help proposed by the watershed plan and the different values and perspectives of those involved in the project,” said Gretchen Rank, director of the Mancos Conservation District. “But as they saw the opportunities to improve their irrigation system, while also improving the environmental health of the river, they agreed to work together on the project.”

“We learned not to make assumptions based on personal views and knowledge,” Rank said. “Involvement in the stakeholder process enabled participants to recognize the diversity of opinions, needs and knowledge that are brought to the table. Throughout the process, participants gained respect for other perspectives, often changing the way they think about the watershed. Decisions made at the watershed level affect everyone within that watershed, so it is important that decisions are data driven and community informed for the best possible outcomes.”

Through the watershed planning process, several ditches were identified as being in dire need of better diversion structures that would require a lot less maintenance and upkeep, according to Ben Wolcott, Wolcott Ranch, Mancos, Colo., who also served on the Mancos Conservation District board of directors.

“Before any of this got upgraded, irrigation diversions were just push-up structures and anything cobbled together, sometimes tree trunks and whatever was in the river,” said Wolcott. “Most years we didn’t even get any water, but now with the new diversion structures and screens we have in place in front of piped ditches, we’ve seen leaps and bounds in (improved) efficiency. I go to each headgate once a week instead of daily, and that is mostly a five-minute maintenance check. The diversions can handle high water really well and then still divert water under low flows.”

Another rancher who has benefited from the project is Ryan Brown, Reddert Ranch, Mancos, Colo. “Over my 60 years, I’ve seen the river channel deepen, which makes it harder to dam up diversions. It was helpful when the Mancos Conservation District came to us and asked if it could help make those diversions more efficient.”

Tom Weaver, Ratliff Homestead, Mancos, Colo., said that before water piping was installed there was a lot of seepage and evaporation in his and his neighbor’s irrigation ditch. “There’s more (water) going down the river now due to increased efficiency.”

Rank added that the piping and diversion improvements have allowed fish to pass through upstream to reach their spawning grounds, while reducing soil erosion and the spread of noxious weeds.

“I think it is important for local landowners to stay involved with their communities and with the organizations that are helping facilitate the changes and improvements like this,” said Wolcott. “Their voice can be heard, and their values can be shared.”

The Mancos Watershed Plan is the second of three projects showcased in a video series. The series is produced by the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and River Network with the goal of demonstrating how farmers, ranchers, ditch companies, conservation districts, environmental groups and other entities have come together to improve river health, irrigation efficiency and environmental and recreational use of Colorado’s limited water supplies.

“As Colorado’s population grows, farmland is pressured by development, and agricultural water is being sold or rented to municipalities,” said Greg Peterson, CAWA executive director. “It is imperative that we work with others to preserve agricultural irrigation water and that farmers and ranchers get involved in watershed planning.”

To see a six-minute video of the Mancos Watershed Project, a fact sheet on this project and other resources, visit https://www.coagwater.org/stream-management. For more resources on funding for agricultural infrastructure improvements, contact Greg Peterson with the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance at coagwater@gmail.com.

Grants to help fund stream management planning, such as those used by the Mancos Watershed Project, are available through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. For more information on stream management planning in your area, visit http://coloradosmp.org or contact Alyssa Clarida with the Colorado Department of Agriculture State Conservation Board at alyssa.clarida@state.co.us

#Snowpack news: #Colorado Has Seen A Lot Of Snow This Month. That’s A Good Thing For #Drought Conditions — Colorado Public Radio

From Colorado Public Radio (Claire Cleveland):

After a very dry January, much of Colorado has seen more snow this month. In fact, statewide snowpack is above average at 116 percent.

That’s important for reducing drought in the state. The latest report says 44 percent of the state is still experiencing moderate or severe drought. But that’s down a bit from the week before. And last year at this time, two-thirds of the sate had at least moderate drought conditions and nearly 22 percent saw extreme drought.

Statewide Basin High/Low graph February 12, 2020 via the NRCS.

On the bright side, much of central and northern Colorado currently has no drought or abnormally dry conditions, according to the latest monitor map. And the next chance for snow on the Front Range comes early next week, while the mountains could see more flurries Sunday.

Colorado Drought Monitor February 11, 2020.

“We had gotten into some moderate to severe drought across the state with the dryness that happened a few months ago, and we’re still recovering from that,” [Rich] Tinker said. “But this snowpack certainly helps and everything you can put on top of the mountain is water you theoretically will be able to get into a reservoir at some point.”