2020 #COleg: New law strengthens historical agricultural water uses — @AspenJournalism [#HB20-1159]

A small pool of water along the Walker Ditch is kept free of ice and snow all winter long in order to provide water for cattle on the Monger Ranch near Hayden. A bill recently passed the Colorado legislature that allows ranchers’ historical stock watering rights to stay first in line, ahead of instream flow rights for the environment. Lauren Blair/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Lauren Blair):

A bill that cleared the Colorado legislature with bipartisan support March 4 seeks to resolve an eight-year debate over how ranchers and other water users can maintain their historical water use when dry conditions trigger cutbacks to protect streamflows.

HB20-1159 [State Engineer Confirm Existing Use Instream Flow], which passed the House with a unanimous 63-0 vote and the Senate with a 31-1 vote, authorizes state water officials to confirm historical usages, such as water used for livestock, whether or not it’s held in an official water right. This allows ranchers’ uses to stay first in line for water ahead of the stream protections, known as instream-flow rights.

“It’s really a belt-and-suspenders clarification of existing authority,” said Zane Kessler, director of government relations for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which drafted the language for the bill. “I think it’s a good example of when we sit down and pore over these issues, it’s not hard to come up with a fix that protects West Slope water users and provides the state engineer the authority he needs to continue administering them.”

Instream-flow rights, which are held exclusively by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, exist for the sole purpose of preserving the natural environment of streams and lakes “to a reasonable degree.” Most of these date to the 1970s and are junior to most agricultural-water rights under Colorado’s prior appropriation system of “first in time, first in right.” To date, instream-flow rights protect roughly 9,700 miles of stream in Colorado.

Mud and manure line an access point for cattle to drink from a ditch on Doug Monger’s ranch near Hayden as winter nears its end. A bill recently passed the Colorado legislature that will protect ranchers’ historical uses without requiring them to go to water court. Photo credit: Lauren Blair/Aspen Journlism

Historical uses

The debate over historical uses has turned on whether a water user must go to water court to make their pre-existing use official in a decree.

A 2012 drought brought the question to a head when state officials cut off water users on the Elk River in northwestern Colorado in favor of instream-flow rights. Although many ranchers in the area have water rights for irrigation that are senior to the 1977 instream-flow rights and have historically used that water also for their cattle, the state Division of Water Resources determined that livestock watering wasn’t implicit in irrigation rights.

Those without specific rights for stockwatering were left high and dry once the summer irrigation season was deemed over, even though they had used the water for livestock for generations.

“My grandparents bought this piece of land in 1946,” said Krista Monger, a cattle rancher on the Elk River. “We have the records to show we’ve been using (our water) for livestock.”

Stockwatering and irrigation often go hand in hand. During the irrigation season, if a rancher’s livestock drink from the ditches used to irrigate their fields, the use is considered incidental to irrigation. But once the growing season is over and a rancher keeps the water flowing through the ditch for the exclusive purpose of watering their livestock, the use is not covered under irrigation-water rights.

The amount of water typically used for exclusive stockwatering is a fraction of what is used for irrigating, around 80% to 90% less. Some ranchers also use stock ponds, which require a water-storage right.

More than 90,000 irrigation-water rights are held across the state, of which 29,000 specifically name both irrigation and livestock uses. That means the new law could potentially apply to 61,000 water rights, although not all of these are held by ranchers raising livestock. An additional nearly 32,000 water rights are held exclusively for livestock purposes but not irrigation.

The Monger family holds both irrigation- and livestock-water rights to grow hay and to water their 300 cattle. Her family’s rights and diligent record-keeping meant their ditches kept flowing while their neighbors’ ditches were shut down in 2012, highlighting the need for better record-keeping among the region’s irrigators.

But the incident prompted a statewide debate over the meaning of Colorado statute C.R.S. 37-92-102(3)(b), which states that instream-flow rights are subject to pre-existing uses of water, “whether or not previously confirmed by court order or decree.”

The state Department of Natural Resources, home to both the Division of Water Resources and CWCB, argued that when the instream-flow protections were created, lawmakers intended for water users to make their existing use official in a decree. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado River Water Conservation District argued that the statute clearly precludes the need for a court decree and sought to protect ranchers’ historical usage without requiring them to go to water court.

“The statute says… prior uses would be honored. But they’re saying the statute doesn’t say what the statute says,” said Mike Hogue, former president of the cattlemen’s group.

After years of negotiations, stakeholders agreed on a simple piece of legislation to clarify the state water engineer’s authority “to confirm a claim of an existing use (if it) has not been previously confirmed by court order or decree,” according to the bill summary. The bill had bipartisan sponsorship from Reps. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, and Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, and Sens. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail.

“I do think this is very helpful legislation,” said State Engineer Kevin Rein, who is with the Division of Water Resources. “We had what I’d call an honest disagreement about what the statute meant. My position is if they change the law and give me a place to hang my hat on, that solves the problem.”

Ditch water trickles back under the cover of snow and ice from a watering hole for cattle on the Monger ranch near Hayden. New legislation prevents ranchers’ water for stock from being shut off by an instream flow right for the environment. Photo credit: Lauren Blair/Aspen Journalism

Wakeup call

However, what the legislation doesn’t resolve — and what is perhaps a bigger Pandora’s box opened by the 2012 incident — is the decision that state water officials made that irrigation rights do not include stockwatering rights. In practice, irrigators around the state, many of whom hold water rights dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s, have used irrigation- or agricultural-water rights not to just irrigate their hayfields, but also to water their livestock.

The new distinction means that ranchers with irrigation rights must apply for livestock water rights if they want to protect their usage into the future. Although the new legislation protects a rancher’s stockwatering use from being shut off specifically by an instream-flow right , their stockwater use could still be cut off if another water user makes a call on the river to fulfill a formal water right.

“We all thought that was part of our ag water rights,” said Doug Monger, a Routt County commissioner and a cattle rancher on the Yampa River in northwest Colorado, and also uncle to Krista Monger. “It’s a wakeup call for all of us.”

Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Craig Daily Press, Steamboat Pilot and Today and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story ran in the March 16 edition of the Craig Press.

State demand-management investigation moves ahead — @AspenJournalism

The Government Highline Canal, seen here just before its filled for irrigation season, irrigates farmland in the Grand Valley near the Utah state line. Some Grand Valley irrigators may welcome the chance to be paid to leave water in the Colorado River. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

State workgroups charged with making sense of a program to add water to a savings account in Lake Powell have begun narrowing down the complicated questions such a program would have to grapple with.

But some state officials worry that a Western Slope group is going its own way, possibly undermining the state process.

Water managers and experts from around the state met for two days in early March to compare notes on their current investigation of the feasibility of a voluntary, temporary and compensated water-use-reduction program, known as demand management.

The workshop brought together many of the participants who sit on the eight workgroups created by the state to explore different aspects of a demand-management program: law and policy; monitoring and verification; water-rights administration and accounting; environmental considerations; economic considerations and local government; funding; education and outreach; and agricultural impacts.

At the heart of a demand-management program is a reduction in water use in an effort to send up to 500,000 acre-feet of water downstream to Lake Powell to bolster levels in the giant reservoir and meet 1922 Colorado River Compact obligations. Under such a program, agricultural-water users could get paid to temporarily fallow fields and leave more water in the river.

Russell George, a former Colorado lawmaker and chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee who helped create the state’s basin roundtables, rallied participants and acknowledged that tackling demand management was a hugely ambitious and thorny project.

“It’s time for this and here we are, to wrestle to the ground this monster that just does not want to give,” he said.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board is heading up the investigation into demand management and is about nine months into the process. Workgroups have met two or three times so far, and many have acknowledged the chicken-or-egg dilemma in front of them.

“It’s like going on vacation, but we don’t know if we even want to go on vacation or where we are going or who’s going with us,” said CWCB Interstate and Federal Manager Amy Ostdiek.

Some groups say they can’t complete their work because they need the input of other groups to inform their work. Some want to know what the alternative to demand management — shutting off water rights in the event of a compact call, known as curtailment — would look like before they commit to creating a water-use-reduction program.

Under the terms of the Colorado River Compact, the Upper Basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) are required to deliver 75 million acre-feet over 10 years to the Lower Basin states (Arizona, Nevada and California). If the Upper Basin fails to deliver the water, the Lower Basin could make a “compact call,” triggering cutbacks — something water managers want desperately to avoid.

Some members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board expressed concern that the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s demand management study may be at odds with the state process. From left, back row: Steve Anderson, Dan Gibbs, Kevin Rein, Jim Yahn, Heather Dutton, Russell George, Curran Trick, Greg Felt; front row: Jessica Brody, Gail Schwartz, Celene Hawkins, Jaclyn Brown, Becky Mitchell. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Equity

Equity is one topic that demand-management discussions keep turning to again and again. Some Western Slope water users fear that their ranches and fields will be ground zero for a water-use-reduction program. And with temporarily dry fields comes the potential for secondary negative economic impacts to agricultural communities.

“The other side of the fairness coin is mistrust,” George said.

But members of the agricultural-impacts workgroup pointed out that equity means equity of opportunity, not just shared burden. Some irrigators may welcome payment for their water.

“There are many people in ag that don’t want others being too quick to take away potentially profitable opportunities for their farm or ranch,” said Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association. “If demand management can be considered a different kind of crop, farmers and ranchers will consider it because they have an economic incentive. Farmers and ranchers are not dead-set against it.”

But for all the uncertainty still out there, workgroups have begun to narrow the focus of their work down to “threshold” issues, some of which overlap among the eight workgroups.

The two-day workshop concluded with a group exercise that found the following issues to be the most important for those who could be crafting Colorado’s demand-management program: simplicity of monitoring; state-wide resiliency; environmental impacts and benefits; agriculture viability; and shared responsibility.

Some said it was time to stop talking and start acting. According to a real-time text poll, 57% of the workshop participants said the demand-management feasibility investigation was moving too slowly.

“It’s time to take the next step and start doing some pilot projects,” said Barbara Biggs, general manager of Roxborough Water and Sanitation District. “We can’t answer questions sitting around a room talking about it.”

This cornfield in Fruita is an example of agricultural land that could be temporarily fallowed and farmers paid under a demand management program. State workgroups are working toward narrowing the scope of a demand management feasibility investigation. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

River District study

A week after the state-led demand-management workshop, Colorado River Water Conservation District general manager Andy Mueller stood before the CWCB board at its regular meeting and told board members that the River District had received a grant for its own study of demand management and water marketing on the Western Slope, a move that some board members saw as subverting the state’s grassroots process.

“All the conversations we had in this room for two straight days and to preempt that discussion, that bothers me somewhat because I think we are getting out in front as a river district,” said Gail Schwartz, a former lawmaker and Basalt-based CWCB board member who represents the Colorado main stem on the board.

CWCB South Platte River Basin representative Jim Yahn agreed.

“We have to be careful because it could be somewhat confusing,” he said. “We want to project this unified front. We are looking at everything we can, but we want to be on this path together.”

Mueller said the study, which will be funded in part by a $315,721 WaterSMART grant from the Bureau of Reclamation, is meant not to compete with the state process but, rather, to feed into it. He said the decision to undertake the study is not a result of dissatisfaction with the CWCB’s work but, rather, is based on the need to fulfill the River District’s mission.

“We think our district has an obligation to the water users in the communities within our district to make sure that the water supply within our district and for water users in our district is adequate for all our needs,” Mueller said. “(The CWCB) is not the only governing body that has the right and obligation to be involved with demand management; the River District shares that obligation.”

The mission of the River District, which represents 15 Western Slope counties, is to protect, conserve, use and develop water in the Colorado River Basin. Mueller said the study is meant to come up with policy recommendations for the state if and when it develops a demand-management program.

Still, the move had echoes of a lingering and long-standing mistrust between Western Slope and Front Range water users, which George had alluded to the week before.

“There can be a perception in rural Colorado that people on the Front Range don’t have our best interest in mind,” Mueller said.

Larimer County sets #NISP hearings despite limits to gathering size during #coronavirus pandemic — The Loveland Reporter-Herald #COVID19

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Opponents ask county to delay the hearings

Larimer County has tentatively scheduled hearing dates for a county permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project — hearings that are expected to draw crowds in a time of social distancing.

Northern Water applied in February for what is known as a 1041 permit for the project, which calls for county approval of pieces of the project including a pipeline, highway relocation and recreation plan associated with the water project.

Northern Water proposes pulling 42,000 acre-feet of water, primarily from the Poudre River, and storing it in two reservoirs on behalf of 15 water providers. The largest of the two reservoirs, Glade, is proposed to be built northwest of Fort Collins, with recreation to be managed by the county.

The overall permit to build the project will come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with some requirements from state agencies as well, the result of an environmental permitting process that has stretched over a decade. A federal decision is expected this year…

Right now, the county is navigating ways to move to virtual public hearings, allowing public comments over the phone and through email for all of its meetings. There have been some hiccups as the county works to streamline the process to promote social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic…

For the Northern Integrated Supply Project, as of now, the plan is to have a public hearing before the Larimer County Planning Commission on May 6 and the Board of County Commissioners on June 8…

However, Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water, said the water district has been working on this project for a long time, has collected and is continuing to collect public input on the process. He said Northern Water will continue to work with the county to achieve that result through this hearing process.

“We want to make sure the public has a chance to offer their input on this application,” Stahla said. “I applaud the county for trying to accommodate the public while acknowledging the health risks that are out there. We want to make sure there’s a public an deliberative process, so we’ll work with the county to make sure that happens.”

Misrepresenting traditional knowledge during #COVID19 is dangerous — @HighCountryNews #coronavirus

While herbs may help address some symptoms of COVID-19 and are good for overall health, they do not prevent, treat or cure coronavirus. Photo credit: Monterrey Bay Spice Company

From The High Country News [March 23, 2020] (Rosalyn LaPier and Abaki Beck):

Indigenous scholars say claims of herbal cures amounts to malpractice.

As COVID-19 makes its way into Indigenous communities, so too does the spread of misinformation about cures. On social media, we have seen posts by Native American herbalists telling us to drink herbal teas, along with tweets promoting the healing properties of essential oils purported to be “used by Native Americans.” But when traditional knowledge is shared inaccurately as herbal “remedies” that can prevent, treat or cure COVID-19, it presents a new threat.

Herbal teas or essential oils will not cure COVID-19 and may even be harmful. As a traditionally trained ethnobotanist and professor of environmental studies, and a public health graduate student and writer, we see the sharing of misinformation about herbal remedies and ethnobotanical knowledge on social media as potentially negligent.

As the descendants of survivors of epidemics, we are also concerned about the effects of the incorrect information regarding cures currently being shared within our Indigenous communities.

Scholars tell us that up to 90% of Native American or Indigenous peoples died in the Americas when epidemics of new diseases brought by settlers ravaged their populations. The few who did survive often suffered from long-term medical issues, including infertility and other reproductive issues, as they struggled to rebuild their families and communities.

Today, the danger of not knowing how a disease is spread or how to stop it is well understood by researchers and experts. Before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, claims of herbal “cures” began circulating on social media. WHO launched a page called Myth Busters in an effort to combat false or misleading claims regarding the prevention, treatment or cure of the virus, including the use of herbal remedies. WHO’s Myth Busters even created a cartoon meme of a smiling head of garlic (Allium sativum) — a traditional herb used by people around the globe — which warned people that it cannot protect them from COVID-19.

Graphic credit: World Health Organization

Traditional knowledge, including ethnobotanical knowledge, has long been and continues to be one of the strengths of Indigenous communities. Even the United Nations recognizes the importance of Indigenous knowledge for sustaining healthy ecosystems and the biodiversity of our environments.

Herbal medicine and ethnobotanical knowledge have been used for thousands of years in cultures around the world, becoming the basis for many of our current Western medicines. The most well-known is aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), which was developed from salicylic acid, which came from the salicin found in the bark of willow (Salix spp.). Many ethnobotanists still utilize willow bark as an analgesic or pain reliever.

Traditional knowledge like this is usually acquired after years of formal training and practicing proper protocols. Our grandmother, Annie Mad Plume Wall, received ethnobotanical knowledge from her grandmothers, who were taught by their grandmothers as well. She provided herbal medicines to our family and to other members of the Blackfeet community throughout her lifetime. This kind of knowledge and its application are not taken lightly by those who are trained. Our grandmother once admonished a family member for putting berries that she used for medicine in a milkshake. “They’re medicine!” she proclaimed.

That respect for herbs and what they can and cannot do for us — as well as an awareness of the time and attention it takes to understand when, how and why to process them into useful medicine — is important to remember right now. While herbal medicines may help address some symptoms of COVID-19 and are good for our overall health, at this time they cannot prevent, treat or cure coronavirus. And believing they could do so could have dire consequences for our communities.

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, Indigenous people will need to modify their traditions, as they adhere to Western medical protocols.“Some of our old practices like ceremony, or how we gather for funerals to show respect for individuals, need to change,” Dr. Evan Adams, Chief Medical Officer of British Columbia’s First Nations Health Authority, recently stated.

As scientists work to create a vaccine, we need to protect our most vulnerable community members — our elders, the immunocompromised and those experiencing homelessness — by mitigating the impact of COVID-19. Unfortunately, many of our Indigenous communities do not have strong public health systems, and we need to follow the evidence-based protocols and prevention measures set out by WHO and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They represent our greatest opportunity to slow the spread of the disease.

As scientists work to create a vaccine, we need to protect our most vulnerable community members — our elders, the immunocompromised and those experiencing homelessness — by mitigating the impact of COVID-19. Unfortunately, many of our Indigenous communities do not have strong public health systems, and we need to follow the evidence-based protocols and prevention measures set out by WHO and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They represent our greatest opportunity to slow the spread of the disease.

Before we share that new post telling us that drinking herbal tea cures COVID-19, consider that sharing misinformation about Indigenous knowledge on social media, especially anything that claims it can prevent, treat or cure COVID-19, is dangerous. It amounts to traditional knowledge malpractice.

Rosalyn LaPier (Blackfeet/Métis), Ph.D., is an award-winning Indigenous writer, ethnobotanist and environmental activist. She is an associate professor of environmental studies at the University of Montana and a research associate at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

Abaki Beck (Blackfeet/Métis), M.P.H. candidate, is a freelance writer and public-health graduate student. She writes about Indigenous science and knowledge and gender-based issues in Native communities. She previously worked for a member of Congress and conducted community-based research on traditional plants and food systems on the Blackfeet Reservation.

Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

#Colorado Young Farmer Water Fellowship

Click here to go to the National Young Farmers Coalition website for all the inside skinny:

Young farmers and ranchers are underrepresented in Colorado’s water policy decision-making bodies, such as the Basin Roundtables, water conservancy districts, agricultural advocacy groups, local water districts, and conservation districts. As a result, the next generation of Colorado’s producers are denied a critical opportunity to help shape the implementation of Colorado’s water plan and their farming conditions, and the State of Colorado misses the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge of young producers.

The decisions made around Colorado’s water resources today will impact the state’s agricultural community for decades to come. By providing opportunities for young producers to take a more active role in water planning conversations, and by providing them with knowledge and resources to educate their local peers around water issues, the Fellowship will lead to more farmers and ranchers deeply engaging in the water supply planning process.

Read more about the Colorado Young Farmer Water Fellowship here!

Pentagon IDs Four More #NewMexico Sites At Risk Of #PFAS Contamination — New Mexico in Focus

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

From New Mexico in Focus (Laura Paskus):

On Friday, March 13, just as federal and state agencies ramped up emergency efforts to address the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Defense released a report summarizing its progress on PFAS issues through the end of last September.

According to its updated list, the military will assess whether activities at the Army National Guard armories in Rio Rancho and Roswell, the Army Aviation Support Facility in Santa Fe, and White Sands Missile Range have polluted groundwater with PFAS. The toxic compounds do not biodegrade, and have been linked to cancer and many other health problems.

Nationwide, the updated list of military sites under investigation swelled from 450 military locations to 651. The military does not appear to have notified states, including New Mexico, prior to making the list public.

According to the report from the Defense Department’s PFAS Task Force, the military’s earlier investigations focused on contamination from aqueous film forming foams, which the military used for firefighting and training from the 1970s until just a few years ago.

The updated progress report notes that the task force’s expanded investigations now also focus on “installations where PFAS may have been used or released.”

The report does not include details about specific activities that might have exposed people or the environment to PFAS. Defense Department spokesman Chuck Pritchard could not be reached for additional information before publication…

The recent Defense Department report also notes that the funding for PFAS cleanup included as part of the newly-passed National Defense Authorization Act is inadequate.

According to the report, aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicles will need to be retrofitted entirely—meaning that each vehicle component that came into contact with the firefighting foams will need to be replaced—at a cost of almost $200,000 per vehicle. That alone, according to the report, adds $600 million to earlier cleanup estimates.

Alternately, replacing the Defense Department’s current fleet of about 3,000 contaminated vehicles will cost $4 to $6 billion—and take 18 years.

The report also notes that as part of the Defense Authorization Act, the Defense Department has committed $30 million to study PFAS exposure in eight communities near former and current military installations. Those studies are happening in West Virginia, Colorado, Alaska, Massachusetts, Texas, New York, Washington, and Delaware. The military is also “developing a framework” to annually test the blood of military firefighters for PFAS levels.