Department of Natural Resources Seeking Applications for #Colorado Forest Health Council

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):

The Colorado Department of Natural Resources is seeking applicants to serve on the Colorado Forest Health Council (Council), a volunteer stakeholder body whose role is to provide a collaborative forum to advise the Governor, through the Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources, and the Colorado General Assembly, on issues, opportunities, and threats to Colorado’s forests.

“Colorado’s forests face unique challenges including climate change, year-round wildfire risk, and population growth. The reconstituted Council, now at the Department of Natural Resources and with increased diverse membership, will have the opportunity to help shape our State’s forest management and wildfire risk management policies and priorities for the future. I encourage interested Coloradans to apply,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

(Photo: Colorado State Forest Service)

The Council was reconstituted during the Colorado 2021 Legislative Session through SB21-237, and will consist of 26 members, including two state legislators, 18 seats from all corners of Colorado appointed by Governor Polis, along with other agency representatives.

Applications are due August 16, with the Governor’s seat selections due September 2. The Council will meet multiple times per year for half- or full-day meetings with virtual attendance options, with meeting frequency and schedule confirmed by the new council. Applicants should anticipate at least 5 hours of Council-related business per month.

Please note that the council may still be listed under its old name, the “Forest Health Advisory Council,” but will be updated shortly to its new name, the “Colorado Forest Health Council”. Applications submitted under the council’s old name will still be fully considered.

Environmental releases from Stagecoach aimed at boosting flows, cooling temperatures in #YampaRiver — Steamboat Pilot & Today #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Coyote Gulch along the Yampa River Core Trail July 21, 2021.

From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Dylan Anderson):

Flows in the Yampa River dropped to near 40 cubic feet per second on Sunday afternoon — just a quarter of the amount of water flowing the same day last year.

The water’s temperature eclipsed 80 degrees last Thursday and has often been well over 75 degrees in the past week — the temperature that closed the river to recreation earlier this month.

Pelicans hanging out at the inlet to Stagecoach Reservoir July 22, 2021.

But at 8:45 a.m. Monday morning [July 26, 2021], the outlet valve at Stagecoach Reservoir was opened a little bit further and 20 cfs more of water was flowing into the river.

This will bring the outward flow from Stagecoach up to about 40 cfs with the goal of boosting water levels and decreasing temperature in the Yampa as it flows through Steamboat Springs.

“I think (the strategic releases) are very effective at protecting the health of the river,” said Andy Rossi, general manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, which owns and operates Stagecoach.

The releases hope to buoy flows in the Yampa and protect its aquatic species, as Northwest Colorado is entrenched in the worst level of drought recorded by the U.S. Drought Monitor and several stretches of the river have been closed to recreation, including one of the most popular stretches to fish in the state…

While the release will help increase flows and sustain the health of the river, Rossi said it likely wouldn’t have enough of an effect on its own to open the river back up for commercial outfitters and anglers.

The release was purchased by the Colorado Water Trust, which finalized a contract to purchase 1,000 acre-feet of water with an option for another 1,000 acre-feet with the conservancy district earlier this month.

This amounts to 40 acre-feet of additional water released into the river each day, with the first 1,000 acre-feet lasting until about the third week in August, Rossi said. The district and trust will meet weekly about the releases, and Rossi said he expected to know when and how much of the other 1,000 acre-feet of water would be released before then.

When that 2,000 acre-feet of water has been used up, the city of Steamboat Springs plans to coordinate with community partners to release additional water and maintain the health of the river.

The water trust raised over $100,000 to support releases this year from both Stagecoach and Elkhead Reservoir further downstream. More than 90% of that money came from the Yampa River Fund, which is a collaboration with more than 20 community partners, including outdoor recreation businesses, the city of Steamboat, the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and Routt and Moffatt counties, among others…

The trust opted to release the water now because of how hot the water in the river got last week and how low flows had dwindled. It will likely take at least a day to see the impacts of the release, as it will take time for the water to flow from Stagecoach, which includes going through Lake Catamount.

The trust has spent nearly a half-million dollars since 2012 on 12,000 acre-feet of water releases from Stagecoach. The first 1,000 acre-feet of water from the most recent release will cost $45,560.

This water will be shepherded by the Division of Water Resources locally, ensuring that another water user does not remove the release from the river until at least the Steamboat wastewater treatment plant to the west of town.

The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District has already released about 1,600 acre-feet of water this year for environmental purposes when water was only coming into the reservoir at a trickle…

Starting Aug. 1, the reservoir is required to release at least 20 cfs to satisfy permits for hydropower production, though it has been releasing about that much for most of the year.

The release requires navigating some legal hoops, as the current laws were not designed for purchases of water that are meant to stay in the river. This requires the trust to partner with an entity like Steamboat, which is justifying the release as water temperature mitigation.

#Colorado’s #Monsoon2021 Season Is Struggling To Bring Relief To Rivers, Ranchers And Wildfires As The #Climate Warms — Colorado Public Radio #ActOnClimate

Last nights storm (July 30, 2021) was epic — Ranger Tiffany (@RangerTMcCauley) via her Twitter feed.

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

The North American monsoon has returned to Colorado, and the rain has brought some much-needed relief to some of the driest parts of the state — after multiple back-to-back years of almost no summer rain…

The seasonal moisture from the tropics creates afternoon cloud cover that protects his drought-stricken creeks from baking in the sun. The rain helps lower the risk for wildfires.

The timing of the monsoon is vital to Colorado’s ecosystem, which evolved on its schedule. Science suggests that climate change is making these rains less helpful.

Colorado’s Western Slope has been labeled a climate hot spot, where average temperatures are increasing faster than the global average. A climate change-fueled megadrought has plagued the state and parts of the West for 20 years…

[Bill] Trampe said hotter days and four years of almost no monsoon rain turned into “horribly dry” conditions during the summer of 2020. Many ranchers in Gunnison couldn’t grow enough hay to feed their cattle, which meant they had to buy it — a pricey added expense, he said.

Trampe was worried the land was too dry to feed the number of cattle in his herd, so he was forced to slaughter more animals in the fall than he planned. He also sold cattle over the winter, something he doesn’t usually do. Trampe said he was fearful 2021 would be another dry year…

While Trampe can grow hay on his private land using irrigated water from the Gunnison River, his cattle graze on federal land. Trampe said the federal rangeland is running out of water. “These rains are super important,” he said.

Monsoon rains are getting less reliable and less effective. Recent research from the Desert Research Institute in Nevada has found that less rain is making it into rivers as the climate warms.

Desert Research Institute scientist Rosemary Carroll measures stream discharge in the East River, Colorado. Credit: Kenneth H. Williams via the Desert Research Institute

This deficiency starts with snowpack, which collects in the mountains during the winter, said Rosemary Carroll, an associate professor of hydrology and the lead author of the study. If a big snowpack lasts into the summer, the soil can stay moist if temperatures are cooler.

Those conditions would mean rainfall would more likely reach a stream. If the snowpack is low, temperatures are higher and the soil is dry, less monsoon rain makes it into the stream, Carroll said. With climate change, an average water year can look more like a moderate drought.

Carroll stood on the edge of a high dirt road in Gothic, Colo., overlooking a winding tributary that eventually feeds water to the Colorado River, which supplies 40 million people in the Southwest. The nation’s two largest reservoirs are on this river — Powell and Mead. Those levels are dwindling to record lows, and climate change means less water is making it into the system.

Carroll is worried about where things are headed.

“It would be hard not to be,” she said. “With decreasing snowpack, warmer temperatures and now the volatility of the monsoon itself, this is just not great news for everybody.”

Next, the team explored the ability of these summer rains to produce streamflow during cool years with high snow accumulation, and during warm years with less snow accumulation. During cool years with more snow, soil moisture levels were higher going into summer, and greater streamflow was generated by the monsoon rains. During warmer years with low snowpack, dry soils absorbed much of the monsoonal rains, and less runoff made it to the streams.

“You can think of the soil zone as a sponge that needs to fill up before it can allow water to move through it,” Carroll said. “So, if it’s already depleted because you had low snowpack, the monsoon then has to fill it back up, and that decreases the amount of water you actually get in the river.”

As the climate warms, snowpack in the Rocky Mountains and other mountain systems is expected to decline, leading to reduced streamflow. Rising temperatures also lead to increased soil evaporation and increased water use by plants. According to the results of Carroll’s study, these changes will reduce the ability of water from the monsoon to make it to the river as streamflow.

“Our results indicate that as we move toward a climate that is warmer and our snowpack decreases, the ability of monsoon rain to buffer these losses in streamflow is also going to go down,” Carroll said. “So, the monsoon is not some silver bullet that is going to help mitigate those changes.”

Research from the University of Arizona finds dry periods are lasting longer across the West as the climate changes. When rain does fall, it often comes in fewer and larger storms, which hurts grasses with shallow roots that need a steady supply of moisture.

Even if the total amount of rainfall is the same during a growing season, it’s not as helpful if it comes in the form of occasional large rainstorms, said Joel Biederman, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who co-authored the paper.

Gothic mountain shrouded in clouds behind several cabins in the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado, USA. By Charlie DeTar – Own workby uploader, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Without consistent rain, dry plants become fuel for wildfires.

Separate research from the University of Arizona suggests that wildfires are harder to rein in without monsoon rains, which effectively end the fire season after July. Tree ring studies in neighboring states like Arizona and New Mexico link years that have weak monsoons to widespread fires in mountainous areas.

Photos Capture New Flows in #ColoradoRiver Delta — Audubon #COriver #aridification

Colorado River water diverted at the border into Mexicali Valley irrigation canals is being returned to the river, starting on May 1, 2021, via a spillway about 35 miles downstream, bypassing the driest part of the channel (where water infiltrates quickly into the sand). Photo: Jennifer Pitt/Audubon

From Audubon (Jennifer Pitt):

Water delivered through the desiccated channel will benefit the environment.

I had the great fortune to take my first, post-pandemic trip to Mexico to see the river flowing in the Colorado River Delta (click HERE for background). For 164 days the United States and Mexico are cooperating under the terms of Minute 323 to deliver environmental water. The flow rates and locations for water delivery are intended to optimize benefits for the delta ecosystem, and over time monitoring reports will tell that story. For now, I can share what I saw:

The river is flowing! Observers have not yet confirmed that the freshwater has met the sea, but they think it may with the next high tide. Photo: Jennifer Pitt/Audubon
Environmental water delivery is timed during the late spring and summer to help native trees germinate. The cottonwood seeds were evident. Photo: Jennifer Pitt/Audubon
It’s hot in the delta (122F/47C the day of my visit). My Mexican friends say the wildlife is loving the water. Photo: Jennifer Pitt/Audubon
People love the river too! Photo: Jennifer Pitt/Audubon

#ColoradoRiver Water flows across U.S.-Mexico border through historic cooperation — @Audubon #COriver #aridification

Ridgway’s Rail in the Ciénega de Santa Clara, Colorado River Delta, Mexico. Photo: Claudio-Contreras Koob via Audubon

From Audubon (Jennifer Pitt):

On May 1, 2021, water began flowing into the arid Colorado River Delta as part of a program of scheduled deliveries to restore this region, sanctioned under a bi-national agreement between the U.S. and Mexican governments for advancing sustainable management of the Colorado River. The water deliveries are part of an ongoing plan of vital and historic importance implemented through the U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission and supported by an alliance of conservation organizations from the United States and Mexico.

“Our collaborative efforts have been a paradigm shift in the way water is managed,” said Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director, National Audubon Society. “We are showing how we can share water, conserve water, and invest in new water projects and the health of the river itself. This demonstrated commitment to improving water supply for nature and people is a shining example of what two nations can achieve when we work together.”

The releases of water designed to mimic the river’s natural spring flows began on Saturday, May 1 and will extend through early October, delivering a total of 35,000 acre-feet (43 mcm) of water downstream into the long-depleted Colorado River Delta in a managed program designed to maximize the water’s impact. The water releases are planned to reach their highest flow rate in early June and have been specifically designed to amplify the environmental and recreational benefits for the central delta. The water flows will continue for a total of twenty-three weeks, bring much needed support for wildlife habitat, while also being able to be enjoyed by local communities.

“This is an exciting time for both countries,” said Carlos de la Parra, Academic in border studies specializing in water issues, and a member of the Minute 323 monitoring group. “By allocating resources to improve water delivery infrastructure, Mexico and the U.S. are helping Mexicali Valley farmers increase their profits and resilience to the impacts of climate change.”

An important part of Minute 323 implementation and monitoring is being conducted by members of Raise the River – a coalition of conservation non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to bring water and life back to the Colorado River Delta. Participating organizations include the National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Pronatura Noroeste, The Redford Center, Restauremos el Colorado, and Sonoran Institute.

“We have worked hand-in-hand with our partners over the years to achieve the best results possible for the delta,” said Francisco Zamora, Director General of Sonoran Institute Mexico. “Working together to monitor prior water flows and determine their impacts on the delta, our observations have informed this current effort to stimulate healthy ecosystems in the Colorado River delta.”

Water will be delivered to the river corridor in the delta via irrigation canals in the Mexicali Valley that distribute Colorado River water to Mexicali’s farmers. The Colorado River’s water is diverted into this canal system just south of the United States – Mexico border. Once there, it will flow down the canals to specific locations where the Raise the River coalition partners have built highly successful restoration sites, and where this programmed release of water can benefit those habitats and the wildlife that use them.

“These water releases are a vital part of supporting our ongoing restoration efforts,” said Gaby Coloca, Coordinator, Water and Wetlands Program, Pronatura Noroeste, a Mexico-based non-profit conservation organization which manages several of the restoration sites. “Based on our prior work and the careful monitoring of its impact, we now know that relatively small amounts of water can make a big difference in the health of the delta region.”

These water releases are just one component of a multi-faceted policy agreement formally known as Minute 323 – an historic bi-national agreement negotiated between the U.S. and Mexico in September 2017 that defines how the two countries share Colorado River water through 2026 amidst growing pressures on water resources. This agreement is a part of a larger Colorado River policy framework that more broadly provides multiple benefits for water users on both sides of the border including sharing surpluses in times of plenty and reductions in times of drought, providing incentives for leaving water in storage, and conserving water through joint investments in projects from water users in both countries.

The water flows are an important element of Minute 323, which allocates water for the restoration and conservation of riparian habitat, and which extends the international cooperative management standard established by Minute 319 (in effect from 2012 – 2017). These restored sites are providing proven benefits to wildlife species and communities along the Colorado River in both countries and in the Colorado River Delta region in Mexico.

This 164-day program of scheduled water releases is part of a broader commitment under Minute 323 to provide water to support key restoration sites in the river’s riparian corridor through 2026. The United States and Mexico will provide 2/3 of the total water committed (140,000 acre-feet or 173 mcm over 9 years) and the Raise the River coalition of NGOs will provide 1/3 of the water (a total of 70,000 acre-feet or 86 mcm, over 9 years).

“Previous monitoring of environmental flows from Minute 319 have shown us how to obtain the greatest benefits from the smallest amounts of water delivered into restoration sites.,” said Eloise Kendy, Ph.D., Senior Freshwater Scientist, The Nature Conservancy. “It has been – and will continue to be — very helpful for both governments to obtain information that becomes increasingly relevant as we face droughts with more frequency, not only in the Colorado River basin but also in other watersheds.”

By raising awareness, funding and, ultimately, the water level of the river, Raise the River’s goal is to restore native habitat that reconnects the river with the Gulf of California and to establish a framework for the long-term dedication of water to the restoration of the Colorado River Delta.

“Through these cooperative efforts, we are rewriting history by increasing the resilience of the Mexicali Valley, reestablishing ecosystems and returning some of the river’s natural amenities to local communities which have been deprived of a healthy environment,” says Pitt. “Since the initial releases of water for the environment in 2014, we are demonstrating the long-term benefits of binational cooperation not only for the environment, but for all water users in the region. Our work in the Colorado River Delta is becoming a model for long-term water-sharing agreements across borders.”


Background Information on Raise the River, including the binational agreements pertaining to the Colorado River and reported results achieved to date from managed restoration projects…

Raise the River is a unique partnership of six United States and Mexico non-governmental organizations working to revive the Colorado River Delta through activities that support environmental restoration for the benefit of the people and the enhancement of wildlife in the Delta. Members include: The Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society, Pronatura Noroeste, the Redford Center, Restauremos El Colorado, and the Sonoran Institute. The coalition has worked with policymakers, water agencies and governmental representatives from the U.S. and Mexico since 2012 to cooperatively create historic change for the Colorado River Delta.

To learn more about Raise the River, visit

Good luck @LukeRunyon we hope to see you back on the #water beat soon

Luke Runyon and Coyote Gulch getting set for the Twitter fest at the Colorado River District seminar September 15, 2017.

Luke Runyon KUNC is moving on in his career. I will miss his enthusiasm and rigor but most of all his story-telling ability. Let’s hope that he finds his way back to the Colorado water beat in the future.

He posted one last story from the bottom of the Colorado River, “Even In An Epically Dry Year, Water Flows Into Parched Colorado River Delta.” Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s an attempt to reconnect portions of the river left dry from decades of overuse, and it’s happening in one of the driest years the basin has ever seen…

There’s no good substitute word for what the Colorado River delta is now. The Gulf of California’s tides still reach up into the Sonoran Desert. But there’s no river water. Dams along the Colorado River’s length in the U.S. and Mexico draw its water away to serve farms and cities throughout the region. Rather than emptying into the ocean, its water grows citrus in Arizona and greens up lawns in Los Angeles.

The delta’s exposed salt flats aren’t a wasteland. As Rivas explained, if you look close enough, you’ll see the animals and plants able to make a home: jumping spiders, tiny turquoise fiddler crabs, hardy species of saltgrass.

“These are harsh conditions here,” [Tomás] Rivas said. That day, it reached 120 degrees…

Rivas’ group, along with other Mexican and American environmental groups, are working to bring water back into this part of the estuary and study what happens…

Additional water releases into the delta began May 1 and will extend to October, with peaking flows in early summer. The water volume won’t be enough to fully revive the tidal bore, but Rivas said it can help restore riverine habitat.

Colorado River water diverted at the border into Mexicali Valley irrigation canals is being returned to the river, starting on May 1, 2021, via a spillway about 35 miles downstream, bypassing the driest part of the channel (where water infiltrates quickly into the sand). Photo: Jennifer Pitt/Audubon

‘A little bit of repair”

This spring and summer, portions of the Colorado River delta flowed again. But unlike 2014’s pulse flow, where the dam at the U.S.-Mexico border sent a huge volume all at once, this year’s releases of water are targeted to restoration sites…

“For Mexico, living with a dead river has been, I’ll say, sort of a wound,” said Jennifer Pitt, director of the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River program…

The Colorado River is grabbing national headlines this summer as water shortages become more urgent. Hot and dry conditions are coming home to roost in its reservoirs, dropping the two biggest — Lakes Mead and Powell — to record lows. Even in a dry year like this one, Pitt said both the U.S. and Mexico have agreed to set aside water for the environment.

“If we don’t figure out at this moment how to support the river itself and all of nature that it supports, I fear that we lose them permanently. So I think at this time it is more important than ever,” she said.

That idea of carving out water supplies just for the river itself remains controversial. Some skeptical city leaders and farmers in Mexico have said any water spilling into the ocean is wasted, said Carlos de la Parra, a professor at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, who’s acted as an adviser to the International Boundary Water Commission…

The flows happening this year were part of an update to the 1944 treaty that the U.S. and Mexico use to govern their shares of the Colorado River. Over the last 21 years of ongoing hot and dry conditions, de la Parra said the two countries have transitioned from a relationship held at arm’s length to one of mutual respect. That led to a commitment from the U.S. to fund irrigation efficiency projects in Mexico, with some of the conserved water from those upgrades being set aside for environmental flows…

Martha Gomez-Sapiens, a monitoring team member and postdoctoral research associate in the UA Department of Geosciences, stands on a riverbank next to willows and cottonwoods that germinated as a result of the pulse flow. (Photo: Karl W. Flessa/UA Department of Geosciences)

But [Rocio Torres] Torres said the flows happening this year wouldn’t have occurred without the pulse flow seven years ago. The event galvanized communities in the region, she said. It built a base of support from water officials in both countries who agreed to set aside a small amount of water to benefit the plants and animals deprived for so long.

“I think that’s the way human beings, we learn,” she said. “We messed things up. We realized we shouldn’t have done that,” and bringing it back happens little by little.