10 Tips for Resource Stewardship Planning on Your Farm — Farmers.gov

Photo credit: USDA

Here’s the release from Farmers.gov (Nate Birt):

American farmers are conservationists at heart, but it can be a challenge to know where to start when it comes to conservation planning. Finding the right technical assistance and determining whether a conservation practice actually works for your land isn’t always easy.

The new Resource Stewardship Planning Guide, backed by NRCS science and developed by the editors at Farm Journal, is now available to help. This free workbook is the first in a three-part series published as part of America’s Conservation Ag Movement, a public-private partnership that helps producers use profitable and conservation-minded practices. The Soil Health Guide is currently available, and a Water Quality Guide will be available soon.

Here are 10 tips from this new interactive workbook—available in digital format to download for free.

Tip 1: See what other farmers are doing
Learning from other producers’ conservation experiences is a great way to evaluate what might work in for you. In this workbook, you’ll find plenty of stories from farmers across the U.S., including row crop producers from the Midwest, cattle ranchers from the Plains, and more.

Tip 2: Make a plan and write it down
Check out pages 4-7 for a primer on the process of conservation planning. Then fill out workbook pages 8-10 to see where your own farm stands and to identify some practical next steps you might take. There’s a cheat sheet on page 11 with some examples to get those gears turning!

Tip 3: Same farm, different land types
A farm is rarely composed of a single giant parcel. Instead, it often spans soil types, terrains, and counties. That’s why it’s important to know where you are and what type of land within a field you’re dealing with. Page 12 breaks down four common categories: cropland; associated agricultural lands; grazing, pastureland, and rangeland; and animal feeding operations.

Tip 4: Scout for conservation opportunities with cropland
If you raise crops such as corn or soybeans, pages 13-16 are for you. Starting with a soil loss assessment, you can begin to identify where conservation in your fields can deliver the strongest ROI. This section will also help you take stock of unique attributes of individual fields, such as proximity to adjacent bodies of water. The flow chart on page 15 can help you determine what you need and who can help.

Tip 5: Reduce costs through associated ag lands
Some spots in fields have notorious problems like ponding, erosion, or poor productivity. In these places, it might make sense to consider how you might save a precious resource—capital. Pages 17-21 provide insights on associated ag lands and illustrate how farmers are reimaging them for better lands and a better bottom line.

Tip 6: Grazing opportunities
Fencing is an infrastructure investment that NRCS programs can use to help livestock producers. From pages 23-27, you’ll discover that conservation planning isn’t just for row crop—it applies to every farm or ranch, albeit with its own specific toolbox of best management practices.

Tip 7: Stewardship spans feed, manure, and more
If you raise livestock, then feed handling, waste management, and other activities have a central role in conservation planning. Learn how to integrate stewardship into these staples of farm life from pages 28-36. Then meet hog producers from South Dakota who are putting these principles to work.

Tip 8: Rent land? Engage the owner
Conservation might seem like a big investment of time and money, but in many cases, stewardship begins with an evaluation of what you—and your landlord—care most about when it comes to the farm. Pages 37-40 illustrate practical ways to start a conservation about rented land to ensure both parties benefit.

Tip 9: Pencil it out
If you’re skeptical about whether conservation can have positive financial benefits, check out page 41. There is a step-by-step example of how stewardship can be a win-win for your business and the natural resources you manage.

Tip 10: Find a trusted adviser
Now that you’ve explored the many ways in which conservation planning can make a difference for farms like yours, it’s time to ask: Who can help me do that? From pages 43-46, you’ll find practical tips for locating the right kind of technical service provider in your local area. There are plenty of links so that you can do your own research online.

Interested in learning more about how conservation can help your farm? Click here to get your free guide to explore what the next step of your own conservation journey might be.

More Information

America’s Conservation Ag Movement is organized by Trust In Food, a Farm Journalinitiative, in partnership with the Farm Journal Foundation. Financial and technical support is provided by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and leading agribusinesses, food companies and nonprofit organizations.

The Confluence Newsletter June 2021 is hot off the presses from @CWCB_DNR

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, after unveiling the Colorado Water Plan in Denver in November 2015. Photo credit: Colorado River District

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Scoping Phase Finalized for Colorado Water Plan Update
The scoping phase for the Colorado Water Plan update process took place between March and early June 2021. During this phase, the Colorado Water Conservation Board collected feedback and input by hosting 13 workshops including 40 speakers and involving 600 participants. Topics ranged from environmental and recreation impacts, forest health, land use planning, climate change, agricultural viability, and more.

The updated Water Plan will also incorporate eight Basin Implementation Plans – smaller, tailored plans for water issues in each of Colorado’s river basins. These sections of the Plan are set to be finalized in January 2022.

To follow the Water Plan update timeline, visit http://engagecwcb.org.

2021 #ColoradoSprings Urban Water Cycle, June 11 or 12, 2021 — @WaterEdCO

Photo credit: Water Education Colorado

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

Join us June 11 or 12 along Cottonwood Creek for the inaugural Urban Water Cycle Bike Tour in Colorado Springs!

Join us for a fun, free regional bike tour along Cottonwood Creek in Colorado Springs. This tour will connect community members to local water and recreation resources through an approximately 9-mile (mostly downhill) ride.

Both tour days start at Frank Costello Park, with a short ride to Cowpoke Flood Detention and Development. You will then ride downhill all the way to a creek restoration site on Monument Creek. With a short ride back uphill, you will end at Crit Cafe for our final speakers, networking and refreshments on your own.

Tour topics include:

  • What are the Cottonwood Creek, Fountain Creek, and Arkansas River watersheds?
  • Why water quality is important? What is stormwater? What is point source and nonpoint source pollution?
  • How is Colorado Springs conserving water and planning for its future water supply?
  • How are community partners connecting neighborhoods to trails and creeks?
  • How can maintaining pipes allow us to restore creeks?
  • How do we ensure our water is clean and safe?
  • How can you protect stream health?
  • We thank our supporters at Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Colorado Springs Utilities, El Pomar Foundation, and Fountain Creek Watershed District. In addition, our partners at the Trails and Open Space Coalition and the City of Colorado Springs Stormwater Enterprise (SWENT) and Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services made this tour possible. We look forward to a fun and educational day along Cottonwood Creek!

    June 3, 2021 Water Supply Forecast Discussion — #Colorado Basin River Forecast Center #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    May 2021 percent of normal precipitation. (Averaged by basins defined in the CBRFC hydrologic model). Map credit: Colorado Basin River Forecast Center

    Click here to read the discussion:

    The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) geographic forecast area includes the Upper Colorado River Basin, Lower Colorado River Basin, and Eastern Great Basin.

    Water Supply Forecast Summary

    Early June water supply volume forecasts are below to much below normal throughout the Colorado River Basin and Great Basin. Upper Colorado River Basin water supply forecasts range between 15-80% of the 1981-2010 historical April-July average. Great Basin water supply forecasts are 5-50% of average. Many April-July volume forecasts fall in the bottom (driest) five on record.

    The trend in water supply volume guidance over the past month generally followed the trend in May observed precipitation. Near normal May precipitation across the Upper Green, Upper Colorado mainstem, and San Juan Basins led to relatively minor changes in water supply guidance over the past month while below normal May precipitation across the White/Yampa and Great Basins resulted in decreases in water supply guidance compared to a month ago. June water supply forecast ranges (percent of April-July normal volume) by basin are listed below.

    Below normal soil moisture and snowpack conditions in addition to mostly below average spring precipitation and relatively mild (near normal) spring temperatures across the Upper Colorado River Basin and Great Basin have resulted in much below normal and in some cases record low observed April-May flows (unregulated streamflow volumes) across the region. A number of streamflow sites across Utah reported the lowest April-May observed flow on record, with most locations falling in the bottom three. Many streamflow sites across western Colorado have reported April-May observed flows in the bottom five on record.

    Snow water equivalent (SWE) at the majority of SNOTEL stations across the region peaked between 70-85% of the normal peak SWE this season. Early June SWE conditions are below to much below normal at most SNOTEL stations across the Colorado River Basin and Great Basin. Basins with the best remaining snowpack are the Upper Green headwaters and Upper Colorado headwaters, where a handful of high elevation SNOTEL stations are reporting 5-10 inches of SWE (50-85% of normal). Little to no snow is being reported at SNOTEL stations across Utah/Great Basin and southwest Colorado (Gunnison, Dolores, San Juan Basins).

    April-July unregulated inflow forecasts for some of the major reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin include Fontenelle 345 KAF (48% of average), Flaming Gorge 395 KAF (40%), Green Mountain 150 KAF (55%), Blue Mesa 310 KAF (46%), McPhee 76 KAF (26%), and Navajo 335 KAF (46%). The Lake Powell inflow forecast is 1.8 MAF (25% of average), a three percent decrease from May.

    A Flood Ravaged Downtown #Pueblo 100 Years Ago. Now, The Community Dedicates A New #ArkansasRiver Levee — #Colorado Public Radio

    Graphic credit: The City of Pueblo

    From KRCC (Shanna Lewis) via Colorado Public Radio:

    Pueblo is remembering the victims of the flood that devastated the city a century ago. And on June 3, exactly 100 years later, celebrating its newly rebuilt Arkansas River levee.

    The original flood control structure was constructed after the deadly 1921 deluge. Repairs to bring the 2.8-mile long levee up to current FEMA standards began in 2014 and cost some $25 million…

    The top of the levee now sports a walking trail, and a million-dollar pedestrian suspension bridge connects the trail to the bike path on the other side of the river.

    Grants from the Colorado Department of Transportation and Department of Local Affairs paid for the bridge. Leaf-shaped shade structures, benches and bike racks will be added to the trail later this year.

    It’s all part of a larger recreation plan that includes a second bridge, upgrades to the existing whitewater park and better access to the river from various neighborhoods.

    Along with flood protection and outdoor fun, there’s also a cultural aspect to the levee. Artists covered the old concrete facing of the levee with huge murals over the years, like a giant outdoor art gallery…

    The Pueblo Downtown Association and Pueblo Arts Alliance are hosting a celebration of the new levee on Saturday, June 5, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Activities will include a walk on the levee, actors telling the story of the 1921 flood and group drone photos on the new bridge.

    May showers bring hope to #water experts — The #Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Heather Willard):

    May in Pueblo brought nearly five inches of rain to the county, marking the month as the third wettest May in the region’s history, and also colder than average.

    Only May 2015, where 5.5 inches of rainfall was recorded, and May 1957, when 5.43 inches of rainfall was recorded, beat the nearly five inches of rainfall in May 2021.

    On May 25th, most of the eastern plains and eastern mountainous region of Colorado have been declared drought-free, defying forecasts from earlier in the year that predicted low precipitation amounts throughout the spring, leading to further drought levels in the summer.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map June 1, 2021.

    In fact, drought levels west of the Continental Divide remain in extreme and exceptional levels, while east of the Divide has shifted the opposite direction. The shift is dramatic, as severe to extreme drought levels have persisted since August 2019…

    Pueblo averages about 1.6 inches of rainfall in May, [Tony] Anderson explained, and the area received about 4.95 inches this May. The trend was similar across the region, with areas like Colorado Springs recording almost double rainfall amounts from the averages used by the National Weather Service.

    Anderson called the drought clearing “remarkable,” but also expressed concerns that the area could still have a poor water year…

    He also noted that reservoir levels are part of the bad news in this “good news/bad news year.” He said the Arkansas river reservoirs are on average about 80% full, and reservoirs in the Rio Grande are averaging about 67%. “So there’s a lot of storage to fill up going into next year,” he said…

    Anderson explained that the split of drought and non-drought levels in Colorado resulted from storms rising from the east and dropping precipitation as it hit the mountains, instead of the standard Colorado weather pattern of storms approaching from the west.

    Todd Ballard, an agronomy extension agent with Colorado State University who works in Sedgwick County, noted in a recent column that the above average rainfall could be a boon for the state’s eastern agricultural businesses.

    How to ‘build back better’ health habits after the pandemic year — The Conversation

    People around the country are ready to celebrate.
    janiecbros/Getty Images

    Claudia Finkelstein, Michigan State University

    The U.S. is in far different shape today than it was last Memorial Day, and many Americans are, too.

    According to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, undesired changes in weight driven by pandemic stress are widespread: 42% of adults reported gaining weight, with a median weight gain of 15 pounds, while 18% reported undesired weight loss. About 66% of people reported changes in their sleep habits, and 23% of respondents reported an increase in alcohol use.

    In addition, many people have delayed routine medical and dental maintenance: Think mammograms, childhood immunizations and teeth cleaning. There’s also a mental health pandemic underway in parallel with increased substance use, which must also be addressed.

    I am a physician and associate professor of medicine at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. In my role as the director of wellness, resiliency and vulnerable populations, I hear the concerns of faculty and staff regarding returning to on-site work.

    The switch that got flipped in March 2020 to social distancing, remote schooling, mask-wearing and long-distance work – or no work – is switching back almost as abruptly. With little preparation time, many people are faced with wanting to be in top form for reentry. Resuming – or beginning – healthier habits is a wonderful goal. Trying to get back to normal too quickly, however, may be hard on joints and hearts. Here is a guide to help you get back in shape without hurting yourself.

    Attitude matters

    It is vital to begin with acceptance of your current state while you plan and implement changes. It may be necessary to hold two seemingly contradictory truths at once – a core tenet of dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT. A classic example of DBT is when a therapist tells a client, “I love you exactly the way you are, and I’m here to help you change.” The statements are simultaneously in opposition to each other and true.

    Hand using pen to write checklist on notebook.
    Setting concrete, actionable goals can help make them feel more achievable.
    Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash, CC BY

    Doing this in terms of pandemic-driven changes involves three steps:

    • Take note of the current reality, such as, “I am up 10 pounds,” “I am drinking more than before the pandemic,” or “I’m not getting enough exercise anymore,” but without negative self-judgment.

    • Make realistic, measurable goals for change: “I want to lose a pound in four weeks,” “I want to climb a flight of stairs without becoming breathless,” or “I will drink alcohol only when out with friends.”

    • Create a plan to achieve these goals.

    Also, wanting to take good care of oneself, rather than wanting to look or be a certain way, is an important focus. A little self-knowledge goes a long way here. People who tend to go “all in,” rather than doing things gradually, need to be sure their plans are safe by seeking professional guidance from a reliable source, such as getting weight loss advice from a family doctor rather than from people or companies that a New York Times opinion writer recently described as “weight-loss profiteers.”

    How can this process be applied to some common pandemic-driven health problems? Here are some suggestions.


    One of the most effective and “simple but not easy” ways to normalize sleep is to pay attention to one’s sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene includes having a distraction-free, dark, quiet place to sleep. This may require using a sleep mask, blackout curtains or a white noise machine, and having no TV in the bedroom.

    Even parents of very young children who may find these steps unrealistic can make some changes to help improve sleep, such as avoiding naps, sticking to a schedule, developing a routine, and engaging in some physical activity to tire oneself out before bedtime. Having a cutoff time for caffeinated beverages, as well as avoiding late night dining and too much alcohol, also help.

    Arm entangled in bedsheets reaching towards a pair of glasses.
    Small behavior changes can help build healthy sleep habits.
    Matheus Vinicius/Unsplash, CC BY

    If excessive snoring is a problem, or getting very sleepy and dozing off throughout the day, or any other unusual symptoms, consulting a doctor should be part of the plan.


    There are many shades of alcohol consumption between complete abstinence and full blown alcohol use disorder. If the goal is to stop drinking alcohol entirely, it’s important to stay alert to signs of alcohol withdrawal, which can range in severity from symptoms of a mild hangover to delirium tremens (experiencing a sudden and severe state of confusion), seizures and delusions. The good news is that there are now medications in addition to behavioral and support groups that can help.

    If you’re concerned, try a brief self-screening test and talk with your physician.

    Physical activity

    To come up with a safe exercise plan, start with an honest self-assessment. This includes looking at your current age and physical condition (particularly knees, hips, lungs, heart and balance); weight and weight changes during the pandemic; and activity levels before and during lockdown. The National Academy of Sports Medicine offers a downloadable questionnaire that can help with making this self-assessment.

    Legs of someone wearing orange and gray shoes walking up concrete steps.
    Checking in with your body can help you safely and effectively reach your health targets.
    Bruno Nascimento/Unsplash, CC BY

    Remember there are weight bearing, aerobic and stretching types of exercises. With each, begin at a level of comfort and gradually go slightly further. For example, if the goal is to start running, consider starting small, with a 30-minute routine a few days a week that involves a jog for one minute followed by walking for four minutes. Each week up the ante, such as shifting on the second week to jogging for two minutes then walking for three.

    If the goal is to start walking, setting a time limit can help to achieve tangible goals: a 10-minute walk a few days the first week, 15 minutes the next week and so on, until the walk lasts 30 minutes and happens a few times a week. Then focus on increasing the pace.

    Chest or arm pain, dizziness or extreme discomfort, are all signs to stop. While it’s useful to get to know what it feels like to be a little sore from working hard and how that differs from pushing it too far, it’s also a good idea to become familiar with the warning signs of a heart attack.

    Whether they involve mental or physical health – while this tends to be an artificial separation – post-lockdown behavior changes should begin with an accurate assessment of how things are, a realistic goal for what they will become, and a plan to get there. All of these should reflect care and love for one’s self and one’s body.

    Have a happy – and safe – reentry!The Conversation

    Claudia Finkelstein, Associate Professor of Medicine, Michigan State University

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    TerraPower, #WY Governor and PacifiCorp announce efforts to advance nuclear technology in Wyoming

    With a sodium fast reactor, integrated energy storage and flexible power production, the Natrium technology offers carbon-free energy at a competitive cost and is ready to integrate seamlessly into electric grids with high levels of renewables. Graphic credit: http://NatriumPower.com

    Here’s the release from Governor Gordon’s office (Michael Perlman):

    Natrium™ Reactor Demonstration Project will bring new energy development and jobs to the state

    TerraPower and PacifiCorp, today announced efforts to advance a Natrium™ reactor demonstration project at a retiring coal plant in Wyoming. The companies are evaluating several potential locations in the state.

    “I am thrilled to see Wyoming selected for this demonstration pilot project, as our great state is the perfect place for this type of innovative utility facility and our coal-experienced workforce is looking forward to the jobs this project will provide,” said Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon. “I have always supported an all-of-the-above energy portfolio for our electric utilities. Our state continues to pave the way for the future of energy, and Wyoming should be the place where innovative energy technologies are taken to commercialization.”

    The development of a nuclear energy facility will bring welcome tax revenue to Wyoming’s state budget, which has seen a significant decline in recent years. This demonstration project creates opportunities for both PacifiCorp and local communities to provide well-paying and long-term jobs for workers in Wyoming communities that have decades of energy expertise.

    “This project is an exciting economic opportunity for Wyoming. Siting a Natrium advanced reactor at a retiring Wyoming coal plant could ensure that a formerly productive coal generation site continues to produce reliable power for our customers,” said Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power, a business unit of PacifiCorp. “We are currently conducting joint due diligence to ensure this opportunity is cost-effective for our customers and a great fit for Wyoming and the communities we serve.”

    “I commend Rocky Mountain Power for joining with TerraPower in helping Wyoming develop solutions so that our communities remain viable and continue to thrive in a changing economy, while keeping the state at the forefront of energy solutions,” said Wyoming Senate President Dan Dockstader.

    “Wyoming has long been a headwaters state for baseload energy. This role is proving to be ever more important. This effort takes partnerships, and we welcome those willing to step up and embrace these opportunities with us,” said Wyoming Speaker of the House Eric Barlow.

    The location of the Natrium demonstration plant is expected to be announced by the end of 2021. The demonstration project is intended to validate the design, construction and operational features of the Natrium technology, which is a TerraPower and GE Hitachi technology.

    “Together with PacifiCorp, we’re creating the energy grid of the future where advanced nuclear technologies provide good-paying jobs and clean energy for years to come,” said Chris Levesque, president and CEO of TerraPower. “The Natrium technology was designed to solve a challenge utilities face as they work to enhance grid reliability and stability while meeting decarbonization and emissions-reduction goals.”

    Wyoming’s Governor Gordon committed in early 2021 to lead the state in becoming carbon net negative while continuing to use fossil fuels through the advancement and utilization of next-generation technologies that can provide baseload power to the grid, including nuclear and carbon capture solutions. Wyoming is the largest net energy exporter in the United States and finding carbon solutions will ensure the state continues to provide energy to consumers across the nation while decreasing CO2 emissions.

    In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), through its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial funding to demonstrate the Natrium technology. TerraPower signed the cooperative agreement with DOE in May 2021. Next steps include further project evaluation, education and outreach as well as state and federal regulatory approvals, prior to the acquisition of a Natrium facility.

    Learn more about this project and the Natrium technology at http://wyadvancedenergy.com

    As iconic #YampaRiver flows drop, #Colorado moves to tighten oversight — @WaterEdCO #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The Yampa River, June 29, 2019. Credit: Kelsey Ray, CU News Corps, The Water Desk

    From Water Education Colorado (Sara Kuta):

    With drought and climate change continuing to dry the American West, the state of Colorado is moving to declare one of its last, mostly free-flowing rivers, the Yampa, over-appropriated.

    The action, initiated in March, is emblematic of the water situation across Colorado and the West: growing demand, shrinking supplies.

    “It’s a sign of the times, that is, it’s happening in the context of lower flows and increased demand — and we’re seeing that all over the West,” said Anne Castle, senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment at the University of Colorado Law School. “The majority of the problem in the Yampa is created by a decrease in flows, although there has been some increase in demand.”

    According to a recent analysis by the state, the Yampa’s flows have dropped roughly 25 percent over the past 100 years, from 1.5 million acre-feet to 1.12 million acre-feet annually, a change attributed to sustained drought and climate change.

    “The combination of continued adjudication of new water rights and the potential for a hotter, drier climate will likely cause the trend of declining streamflows to continue,” wrote Erin Light, the top water regulator in the region, in her report detailing why she’s recommending the over-appropriation designation.

    The river is important not just because of its key role in Northwestern Colorado, but also because it is one of the largest tributaries to the drought-stressed seven-state Colorado River system.

    Kevin Rein, the state engineer and Colorado Division of Water Resources director, is still considering Light’s March 17 recommendation, which encompasses the Yampa River and all of its tributaries upstream of its confluence with the Little Snake River to the town of Steamboat Springs. If approved, the designation will affect 2,321 total square miles, which includes 148 miles of the Yampa itself.

    Credit: Chas Chamberlin via Water Education Colorado

    At a virtual meeting in March, some Yampa-area stakeholders expressed concerns about the quick pace of the process and the lack of in-person conversations. They also asked for more information and more time to understand the implications and potential ripple effects of the designation.

    Before he makes his decision, Rein said he wants to be able to meet in person with the basin’s residents, something the COVID-19 pandemic has so far prevented. He said he did not yet have an anticipated timeline.

    “I’m not confident that people understand some of the nuances, and so I want people to be believers in why we’re doing this,” Rein said. “I want to be out there meeting with people in person, answering all the hard questions before we make a decision that sets things in motion.”

    Over-appropriation, explained

    The state uses the over-appropriation designation when it has determined that there’s not enough water in a stream system, some or all of the time, for all of the people and organizations who hold water rights in the system.

    Over-appropriation is the norm in Colorado — other portions of the Yampa system are already designated as over-appropriated, as are the majority of other stream systems in the state.

    Still, the recommendation to designate this new section of the basin as over-appropriated is a major change to the status quo in this region, where water has historically been so abundant and demand so low that a majority of water users never measured what they took from the stream.

    Scott Hummer, water commissioner for District 58 in the Yampa River basin, checks out a recently installed Parshall flume on an irrigation ditch. Hummer said most water users in the Yampa are complying with a state order issued 2019 that requires measuring devices. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    To more accurately glean the full water picture in the Yampa Basin, the state ordered water users there to install measuring devices in September 2019. Though installation was initially slow-going, the state and several local community groups have been working with water users in the intervening months, which has brought the proportion of water users with measuring devices up to 58 percent as of April 2021, according to state officials.

    “It’s normal for people to want to be able to continue the water use they’ve enjoyed in the past, but the hydrology is changing,” Castle said. “The overall balance of the system is different and that means that the way we do business in terms of administering water has to change as well. It’s quite understandable that people may not be welcoming this kind of additional state regulatory overlay that they are used to doing without.”

    For divvying up the state’s water, Colorado uses a “first in time, first in right” system known as prior appropriation. This means that the people or organizations with the oldest decreed water rights, known as senior water rights, get priority over later-decreed, or junior, water rights.

    When there isn’t enough water to satisfy those senior water rights, the state can stop or slow the flow for junior water rights, a measure known as a call or a curtailment.

    This temporary action, taken to ensure that senior water rights holders can get all of the water they’re legally entitled to, is becoming more and more common in the Yampa River Basin. State officials have implemented calls in two of the last three years — in 2018 and 2020.

    There would likely have been additional calls in the basin, but the community avoided them by sharing water, getting by with less, and releasing stored water from reservoirs into the river and allowing it to remain there rather than diverting it for irrigation or drinking water, according to Light.

    “We have many stream systems where water rights are not fully met but owners opt to not request our office to place a call,” Light wrote in her recommendation. “While their cooperative approach to ‘make do’ with water they have and/or share it among their neighbors is admirable, it is yet one more indicator that, more and more frequently, the water supply of the Yampa River Basin cannot support the … demand.”

    Groundwater vs. surface water

    The overarching goal of the over-appropriation designation is to protect the rights of senior water rights holders moving forward, Light said.

    If the designation is applied, people will still be able to obtain new surface water rights, for instance to take water from streams and rivers for approved uses like irrigation, but they should be aware that there may not be enough water available to satisfy those rights, Light said.

    The over-appropriation designation would also affect groundwater rights, or water pumped up from below ground. More specifically, the designation will affect residents’ ability to drill new wells and bring into compliance existing wells with unpermitted uses.

    Under the designation, landowners who want permission to drill a new well would need to meet stricter criteria and might need to be prepared to replenish that well water to the river, a process known as augmentation.

    The reason for the distinction between surface and groundwater? Groundwater diversions like wells have a delayed impact on rivers and streams, whereas surface water diversions like ditches have a more immediate impact.

    When water is in short supply, state officials can simply stop the flow to junior ditches to ensure there’s enough water for senior water rights holders. They can’t do that as easily with wells, which is where plans for augmentation come into play.

    For some landowners in the proposed over-appropriation region, creating an augmentation plan will be a difficult process, one requiring lawyers, court filings and engineers. For others, it will be as simple as reaching out to a nearby reservoir manager and paying for stored water to meet the augmentation needs.

    The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, for example, has a blanket augmentation plan that covers some of the proposed over-appropriation area. Landowners within the plan’s boundaries can apply to the district for augmentation water, which costs from $212.54 to $248 per acre-foot, according to district spokesperson Holly Kirkpatrick.

    Meanwhile, augmentation is less straightforward for water users who live outside of those bounds.

    “The community really has a choice of whether to continue with the status quo where people have to have their individual augmentation plans … or come together and implement some sort of blanket augmentation plan to remove that barrier to water development,” said Hunter Causey, senior water resources engineer for the Colorado River District, during the 2021 Yampa Valley State of the River meeting in May.

    Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.