#Denver streams are glorified fountains, supplied mostly by your sprinkler heads — The #Colorado Sun

Lakewood Gulch. Photo credit: Muller Engineering

From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

Toss a Frisbee too far at the disc golf course in west Denver and you’ll hit water burbling at the bottom of Lakewood Gulch.

Your errant Frisbee shouldn’t be underwater. Not this time of year. The other stream that runs into the confluence that makes up the disc golf park has a more historically accurate name: Dry Gulch.

A new study from Colorado State University researchers shows that about 80% of the water running through Denver’s inviting stream parks late in the summer flows there from lawns drenched in Denver tap water and leaks from the agency’s intricate system, not from snow runoff or foothills rain.

By history, geology and hydrology, these greenbelts should be bone dry. It’s only the return flow from all your lawn watering that makes a Denver stream anything other than a dry gulch for much of the year, according to the study. Watering to excess — meaning the grass doesn’t need all of it or the sprinklers are hitting concrete instead of green space — makes up most of that 80%. Leaking pipes and system flushes flowing down into stream beds make up the rest.

“It was surprisingly high,” said lead researcher Aditi Bhaskar, assistant professor at CSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Water engineers know tap water flows have an influence on urban streams, but Bhaskar had not expected them to make up effectively the entire creek.

A new Conservation Corps for the #climate: What it means to contribute to the future of a place — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

Image credit: Sally Deng/High Country News

From High Country News [August 27, 2021] (Surya Milner):

Wearing leather gloves caked dry with mud, I grasped a pickax and began to hack. Beyond the occasional ring of metal striking mineral, there was no sound where I stood, on a rough-hewn alpine trail in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, under the breezeless blue of a summer sky. I paused, taking in my broken, unfinished line of dirt, then watched the rest of my crew move upward under spruce trees, away from the objects of our recent lunchtime adoration: wild raspberries, peanut butter and jelly, coveted 10-minute naps. By day’s end, we’d be spent, having cut a dozen yards of trail with miles more to go.

At 18, I had come to these mountains in response to the Montana Conservation Corps’ call to “find your place.” With family scattered across a 2,000-some-mile swath of the U.S. and the West Indian state of Maharashtra, I approached the corps hoping to anchor myself in this particular area. I wanted a visceral connection to these gentle, sloping foothills and granite peaks, which I would wrangle, in my mind, into some idea of home.

But “home” is a fickle concept, swiftly muddled when projected onto an actual, climate change-addled landscape. One week, my crew cleared underbrush to lessen the impact of future forest fires, working from a basecamp of a half-burnt forest floor encircled by fallen, scorched logs. It reminded me that no matter what sliver of the Earth I call home, an unstable climate suspends any illusion of continuity in that place.

The Montana Conservation Corps is a reincarnation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. In late July, Congress convened a subcommittee on another potential reinvention of the CCC: the Climate Conservation Corps. Nestled within President Joe Biden’s January executive order on the climate crisis and his American Jobs Plan in March, the corps would expand a number of existing AmeriCorps programs, including Montana’s, to create a hybrid program focused on conservation and climate change mitigation.

By creating jobs in clean energy and climate resiliency, the new CCC would revive the old CCC’s multibillion-dollar public relief program, formed during the Great Depression in 1933. In its early iterations, the CCC plucked young poor men from Eastern cities and shipped them to the forests of the West. Many had never swung an ax. The program sprang from the economic desperation that plagued countless American families at the time; participants earned $30 per month and were required to mail $25 home to their families, many of whom subsisted on government relief.

FDR’s immediate goal was to get 250,000 men to camps across the United States within four months. This was a task of war-sized proportions. “Never in peacetime had such a mass of men been recruited,” wrote CCC alum Robert Egan, in a 1983 article titled “Remembering the CCC: City Boys in the Woods.” The specter of war, and the American investment in war, appear throughout the archival materials that document the CCC’s nine-year existence. “CCC soldiers,” or the “forest army,” as enrollees were called, fought wildfires, planted trees and built trails, bridges and campground structures.

In many ways, the CCC of the 1930s set out to rescue what the U.S. then deemed two of its most precious resources: land and young men. As the Great Depression hollowed out the economy, there were fears that the latter had become listless and disaffected. When the program died, it was because resources were diverted to a new battlefront: World War II.

While the original CCC was lauded, receiving broad bipartisan support in Congress, it served an exclusive group of Americans: Most enrollees were young and white, and the relatively few Black and Indigenous corps members — and the veterans and women — were segregated from their fellows. The camps were separate and not equal: The corps proposed monthly wages of $5 per month in the women’s camps, compared to the men’s $30. Still, some non-citizens enrolled, and some camps celebrated “I Am An American Day” to honor newly naturalized citizens. In 1942, as the program came to a close, the government retooled abandoned CCC camps across the West, from Idaho to Montana, into Japanese American internment camps.

The CCC was born out of, and conformed to, the structural inequities inherent in the federal government at the time. These structures still persist, albeit often in more subtle ways — today, national parks see mostly white visitors, for example, and environmental groups still have a diversity problem — and they will inevitably inform the CCC’s next iteration. Perhaps to remedy this, in July, dozens of lawmakers sent a letter to congressional leaders supporting a new CCC that prioritizes investment in “environmental justice communities.” The authors don’t define this term but instead point to collaboration with tribal members, immigrants, refugees, people granted asylum, veterans, out-of-school or out-of-work youth and the formerly incarcerated.

It remains to be seen whether focusing on “environmental justice communities” will result in a more diverse and equitable corps, or if the term is an incoherent label that few claim as their own. Whatever the case, it’s possible to design a new CCC that attracts a multiracial workforce, one that’s generously compensated — not by a volunteer’s sense of pride, certificates or other intangible promises. Corps members willing to brave the intensifying climate crisis could do so because they care about softening its blows and because it’s a solid job.

During my time with the Montana Conservation Corps, I earned just $270 in four weeks; I was pursuing the program’s promise that I’d find my place rather than a paycheck. On some of those long summer afternoons with my crew, several miles up a winding, unfinished trail, I considered whether my actions — me and my ax, working in the wilderness — were in fact about me finding my place. Up there, thousands of feet above sea level, I found a series of fleeting and tangible sensations: sinking my knees into tawny, fragrant soil; arching my neck toward wildflowers; swatting horseflies with more vigor than I swung my tools.

I don’t recall a summer spent building a relationship with the land. I remember arguments about the merits of Lana Del Rey’s woozy ballads, which dominated the airwaves that summer, and conversations with my nonbinary, polyamorous crew leader about the mechanics of open relationships and the subtle misogyny of calling women “chicks.” The landscape’s sweeping vistas were merely a backdrop to these scenes. In the end, I didn’t find my place. But what I did find was enough: the seed of a realization that not having a romantic attachment to this stretch of land could coexist, beautifully, with a real resolve to care for it.

Late one afternoon, my crew and I traversed the ground we’d broken over the past few days. Within 10 minutes, we’d reached the end of our fresh-cut trail and stepped onto the section others had carved in previous years. I grasped, then, the size of our enterprise, decades in the making, and the work it would require in the years to come. This changing landscape wasn’t my home, but what we did here — the trail-building, the brush-clearing, the learned resolve — might ensure some semblance of one for others, in a future world. As I fell into step with my crew, my eyes traced the trail, its crooks and contours, on the long walk down.

Surya Milner is a former editorial intern at High Country News. She is currently based in Bozeman, Montana.

A nursery manager plants a whitebark pine at Glacier National Park in Montana in September 2019, part of an effort to restore vegetation following a wildfire. Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via Pew Research

#Drought forces North American ranchers to sell off their future — Reuters #ActOnClimate

Cattle have their evening meal in the San Luis Valley. Credit: Jerd Smith

From Reuters (Rod Nickel and Tom Polansek):

…liquidations of breeding stock are expected to limit cattle production in the coming years, tightening North America’s beef supply and driving up consumer prices, according to two dozen ranchers and cattle experts.

North American Drought Monitor map July 31, 2021.

The drought spanning much of western North America – from western Canada to California and Mexico – has cooked pastures and hay crops that fatten cattle. The ranchers’ plight is one impact of many from the punishing drought, which has also damaged wheat across North Dakota and cherries in Washington state, weakened bee colonies, and forced California to shut a major hydroelectric plant. In British Columbia, an entire town burned, while California is expected to see a record number of acres go up in flames this year. read more

Climate scientists say global warming makes extreme heat and drought occur more frequently, but some ranchers interviewed by Reuters dispute the link to climate change. They view the current drought as an unremarkable shift in the weather from which the industry will recover. read more

Adding to ranchers’ problems, prices of feed alternatives such as corn, soy and wheat are the highest in years. There is so little feed available that Manitoba farmers have bought 280 tons of hay from as far away as Prince Edward Island, some 3,400 kms (2,000 miles) to the east.

In a normal year, 10% to 12% of breeding stock in western Canada, the country’s top beef-producing region, are culled due to age or other routine reasons, and farmers replace most of it, said Brian Perillat, senior analyst at CanFax.

This year, ranchers are likely to cull 20% to 30%, reducing the size of herds, according to industry group Alberta Beef Producers. That would be an unprecedented reduction of the breeding stock, based on records going back to 1970, Perillat said…

In the United States, the world’s third-biggest beef exporter, analysts expect a smaller impact because the herd is more spread out. Still, a third of U.S. cattle are in drought areas, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and producers are making the painful decision to send animals to slaughter early…


Sending female cows to slaughter in 2021, instead of keeping them for breeding, will reduce market-ready cattle inventories in 2023, economists say. The animals have long gestation periods and take time to fatten after birth.

“When we liquidate cow herds, these supply impacts last years,” said Mike von Massow, associate professor of food, agricultural and resource economics at University of Guelph, Ontario. “You have this hangover.”

Tyson Foods (TSN.N), the biggest U.S. meat company by sales, said in a recent earnings call it expects operating margins for its booming beef business to decline next year amid herd liquidation, though results should still be strong…

Consumers will also feel the pinch, analysts said. The USDA in August trimmed its estimates for U.S. beef production this year and next as ranchers are raising animals to lighter weights.

After a 2014 drought, beef prices in Canada rose about 25% over the following year, and stayed elevated for at least two years, von Massow said, citing Statistics Canada data. Beef prices are likely to increase as early as this fall, reflecting the higher prices to feed cattle, he said.

In Mexico, the northern state of Chihuahua has gone from around 1.2 million breeding cows in 2019, to about 700,000 because of drought, said Fernando Cadena, head of Mexican ranching company Carnes Ribe based in Ciudad de Chihuahua, just south of Texas.

Cadena said other major northern Mexican ranching states like Sonora, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Durango, saw similar rates of drought-induced slaughter, in addition to cows that died on parched land due to lack of food or water.

The hardest hit ranchers in northern Mexico will likely need two to four years to recover herd levels, he said.

Fewer cows in Mexico could impact the U.S. beef supply, as more than a million cows are imported across the southern border each year…

Ponds that used to provide drinking water for cattle are dried up in parts of California, said Tony Toso, 58, who raises cows and calves in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Opinion: Put the cost of oil and gas clean-up back where it belongs — #Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

If there’s one thing most Coloradans can agree on, it’s that our communities and public lands need to be protected. Laws and regulations are there to make that happen, but there are instances where the federal government could be doing more.

One example: The federal oil and gas program has been failing Coloradans, undermining our communities, and harming our public lands. Fortunately, there are aspects of the program our leaders in Congress can fix right now.


To start, they can address the growing number of orphaned oil and gas wells on our public lands that will cost taxpayers millions, if not billions, to clean up. Putting these costs back where they belong — on the oil and gas companies who made the mess — is something Congress can do today by strengthening the financial assurance requirements for drilling on public lands.

They can also update the more than 60-year-old rates oil and gas companies are required to pay when they lease public lands, which have cost all of us billions in lost revenues over the last decade. Updating these requirements will finally hold irresponsible oil and gas companies accountable. Instead of Coloradans paying to cap orphaned wells, we can invest that money in schools, health care, and other priorities.

According to the Government Accountability Office, as many as 99% of the bonds posted by oil and gas companies are inadequate, leaving taxpayers with billions of dollars in potential clean-up costs when companies go bankrupt due to the highly volatile oil market.

It’s not right that oil and gas companies get to extract resources from publicly owned lands, profit on them for years, then leave behind toxic wells that we, the owners of the lands, must pay to clean up. By a conservative estimate, there are more than 600 wells on federal public lands in Colorado that are at risk of being orphaned. We shouldn’t be left with that tab.

According to the Government Accountability Office, as many as 99% of the bonds posted by oil and gas companies are inadequate, leaving taxpayers with billions of dollars in potential clean-up costs.

Colorado is working to fix this problem at the state level but needs the federal government to do its part and adopt solutions. Luckily, Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are two of the champions in Congress working on a fix.

Bennet recently introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Hickenlooper, that would require oil and gas companies to actually set aside enough money to clean up wells before they start drilling. Bennet’s bill would also provide federal funding to address wells that are already orphaned.

Congress has a great opportunity to step up and get common-sense reforms like these done, and it’s critically important they do so now. The Department of the Interior recently announced that it will resume oil and gas leasing on federal public lands. If the government continues to let oil and gas companies off the hook, nothing will prevent this problem from getting much worse. It’s not enough to just provide funding to clean up wells, as the bipartisan infrastructure deal did. Congress must also modernize bonding rates, as outlined in Bennet’s bill, so that Coloradans aren’t using our valuable public dollars to pay for a mess we didn’t create.

Coloradans and our neighbors across the West deserve federal leasing policies that serve our best interests, not those of irresponsible actors in the oil and gas industry. These federal oil and gas leasing program reforms should be a priority for Congress and the White House, and we’re all counting on Bennet and Hickenlooper to make it happen.


Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

A New Name for an Ancient River — @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver #COriver

A image shows a guest column by Rep. Edward Taylor that appeared from the Steamboat Pilot in 1921. Graphic credit: Northern Water

From the Northern Water Archives:

Happy anniversary, Colorado River. It was 100 years ago this summer that President Warren G. Harding signed a bill that renamed the “Grand River” to the “Colorado River.”

Before 1921, the stretch of river between its headwaters and its confluence with the Green River in Utah had been called the Grand River. Because of that prior designation, geographic locations such as Grand Lake, Grand County and Grand Junction received their names.

Through the work of Rep. Ed Taylor, legislation was passed at the federal level and in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. In an April 6, 1921, opinion piece published in the Steamboat Springs Pilot, Taylor wrote about the reasons behind his effort and how he overcame initial skepticism from the business community in Grand Junction. He noted that while the Green River might be longer, the Grand River contributed much more water to the main stem.

Taylor’s hard work led to passage of the act changing the river’s name, and President Harding’s signature made it official.

Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.