From The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):
Douglas County Commissioners hold work session as they decide on $20 million investment
DOUGLAS County Commissioners were told [January 18, 2022] that there is ample water in the San Luis Valley that can be exported to the Front Range and were shown a preliminary wellfield design for the northern end of the Valley.
Bruce Lytle, engineer for Renewable Water Resources’s proposal to move 20,000-acre feet of water a year to Douglas County, walked the three Douglas County commissioners through the Valley’s complex two-aquifer system and left them with the idea that there is water available for exportation.
“It doesn’t sound like there’s any controversy about the water being there. The water is there,” said Commissioner George Teal.
“I would agree with that,” said Lytle.
While Teal demonstrated interest in Douglas County partnering with Renewable Water Resources, Commissioner Lora Thomas voiced opposition to exporting water from the San Luis Valley. (You can read her letter to The Citizen explaining her position HERE.) That would leave Commissioner Abe Laydon as the deciding vote on whether Douglas County spends $20 million of its federal American Rescue Plan Act money, or COVID relief funds, to push the project forward into state water court.
Laydon said he’s planning to visit the San Luis Valley, including possibly having a community forum in mid-March at Adams State, to hear from Valley residents. RWR is dangling a $50 million community fund as part of its plan, and said it would also make a “$68 million investment to pay local San Luis Valley farmers and ranchers who voluntarily wish to retire their water rights above the market rate,” said spokesperson Monica McCafferty.
Colorado State Deputy Engineer Mike Sullivan offered the Douglas County Commissioners a starkly different picture of the Valley’s water situation.
“There’s no extra water,” Sullivan said, explaining that the groundwater supply is over-appropriated and actual Upper Rio Grande Basin streamflows in decline.
State Engineer Kevin Rein told AlamosaCitizen.com in an earlier story that RWR has misrepresented Douglas County’s reliance on the “Denver Aquifer” and a “proposed rule change” from the state engineer that RWR said would drastically affect Douglas County’s reliance on the Denver Basin.
“The cumulative effect of RWR’s statements is an inaccurate portrayal of the State Engineer’s actions and the facts,” said Rein.
While Douglas County Commissioners were going through the RWR proposal in Castle Rock, the Rio Grande Water Conservation District Board of Directors was also in session. Board members heard little encouraging news about the Valley’s aquifers heading into the 2022 irrigation season:
The unconfined aquifer is at its lowest point since January 2013, with concerns that it hasn’t recharged as it typically does when there is little irrigation happening in the Valley. Producers in Subdistrict 5 of the conservation district will likely face another irrigation season where groundwater wells are shut down. The Great Sand Dunes National Park experienced its fourth hottest year on record and the SNOTEL station that measures the runoff expected from Medano Creek is at 50 percent of normal for the season.
RWR’s proposal neighbors the Great Sand Dunes on the northeastern end of the Valley. Lytle, the engineer for RWR, said they expect to have 22 to 25 groundwater wells pumping, with the well depth at 2,000 feet and wells spaced a mile apart.
The San Luis Creek runs through the middle of the wellfield and Rio Alto Creek through the southwestern side. “The orientation of the project is designed to take advantage of the rim recharge coming off Sangre de Cristos,” said Lytle.
Convinced that there is water available for Douglas County, commissioners Teal and Lytle played out the scenario.
“And so it would be the water court process that determines ‘Is that water available for us?’” said Teal.
“You have to follow the rules. To me, if we follow the rules, then you can get a decree augmentation plan,” said Lytle. “Now, there’s always issues. I’ve been in water court enough to know that nothing is a slam dunk in water court.
“But obviously your best chance of success is if there’s a set of rules, and you follow those rules, then it makes it more difficult for issues to be raised relative to injury.”
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
A winter storm impacted areas from the northern Plains, to the Midwest, into the Southeast and then up the east coast during the period. For many areas, this was the first time that heavy snow occurred in these regions as many have brought up “snow drought” in areas of the country where snow has been minimal. From the Missouri River west, there was very little precipitation for the week. Temperatures were warmest over the northern Rocky Mountains and Plains where departures were 10-15 degrees above normal. Cooler temperatures dominated the East as departures were 5-10 degrees below normal…
Warmer than normal conditions dominated the region with areas of the Dakotas recording temperatures that were 10-15 degrees above normal for the week. The same winter storm that impacted portions of the Midwest also brought snow to much of North Dakota, eastern South Dakota and eastern Nebraska. Much of the rest of the area recorded below-normal precipitation for the week. With an ongoing “snow drought” in portions of the western Dakotas, degradation was shown this week in the Black Hills of South Dakota where moderate drought was expanded and in western North Dakota where severe drought was expanded. Some improvements were made to areas of extreme drought this week in southeast Wyoming, western Nebraska, and central Colorado. Many of the improvements were based on a reassessment of the region after the last few weeks brought several precipitation events to these areas…
Temperatures were near normal for most of the region this week with areas of Wyoming and Montana having departures of 10-15 degrees above normal. With most of the region recording little to no precipitation for the week, most of the changes in the area were based on an assessment over the last several weeks. Improvements were made to the extreme and exceptional drought in western Montana and eastern Idaho as well as in northwest Wyoming…
Most of the region was dry for the week with only portions of northern Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi recording widespread precipitation, with some areas at 150% of normal or more. Temperatures were near normal to slightly above with departures of 2-4 degrees above normal over the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma as well as eastern Arkansas. Coastal areas of Texas into the Delta were 2-4 degrees below normal. Degradation continued as most areas have been dry since the fall and temperatures have remained well above normal during this period. In Oklahoma, a new area of exceptional drought was added in the panhandle with extreme drought areas expanded to the east. Severe drought expanded in southern Arkansas and into Louisiana and Mississippi. For Texas, severe and extreme drought expanded in the central and northern portions of the state while moderate and severe drought expanded in south Texas. There was an improvement to moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions in east Texas…
Over the next 5-7 days, it is anticipated that cooler than normal conditions will dominate the eastern half of the United States, with the greatest departures along the Canadian border in the Great Lakes region where departures of 12-15 degrees below normal are anticipated. Warmer than normal conditions over the West and northern Rocky Mountains with departures of 6-9 degrees above normal could be observed. Some precipitation is expected over the Pacific Northwest and into the Rocky Mountains. The wettest locations are expected to be in the South and Southeast and into the Mid-Atlantic where up to an inch or more of precipitation could be expected.
The 6-10 day outlooks show the high probability of colder than normal temperatures over the eastern half of the country, especially from the Great Lakes to the Mid-Atlantic into New England. It is anticipated that below normal precipitation will impact much of the country centered on the Great Basin and the Midwest. There are above normal chances for above normal precipitation in much of Alaska, central Rocky Mountains and along the Gulf Coast.
Here’s the release from the USDA:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is announcing several new and expanded opportunities for climate smart agriculture in 2022. Updates include nationwide availability of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Conservation Incentive Contracts option, a new and streamlined EQIP Cover Crop Initiative, and added flexibilities for producers to easily re-enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). These improvements to NRCS’ working lands conservation programs, combined with continued program opportunities in all states, are part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s broader effort to support climate-smart agriculture.
“Climate change is happening, and America’s agricultural communities are on the frontlines,” NRCS Chief Terry Cosby said. “We have to continue to support and expand the adoption of conservation approaches to support producers in their work to address the climate crisis and build more resilient operations. We are continuously working to improve our programs to ensure we’re giving farmers and ranchers the best tools to conserve natural resources.”
New Partnership Announced
NRCS is announcing a new partnership with Farmers For Soil Health, an initiative of the United Soybean Board, National Corn Growers Association and National Pork Board. Farmers For Soil Health works to advance use of soil health practices – especially cover crops – on corn and soybean farms. The initiative has a goal of doubling the number of corn and soybean acres using cover crops to 30 million acres by 2030.
“We are pleased to see NRCS announce this new incentive program for cover crops,” said John Johnson, coordinator of Farmers for Soil Health. “Cover crops have great potential to improve soil health, improve water quality, sequester carbon, and make our farms more resilient to severe climate events. We look forward to our partnership with NRCS, working to expand adoption of cover crop practices to help our farmers meet our sustainability goals.”
Other partners include the National Association of Conservation Districts, Soil Health Institute, and The Sustainability Consortium.
EQIP Cover Crop Initiative
To complement the new partnership, NRCS is investing $38 million through the new targeted Cover Crop Initiative in 11 states to help agricultural producers mitigate climate change through the widespread adoption of cover crops. States include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and South Dakota. States were selected for this initial pilot based on their demonstrated demand for additional support for the cover crop practice.
Sign-up dates will be determined at the state-level, and applications will be selected for funding by Feb. 11, 2022.
The initiative is aimed at improving soil health through a targeted, rapid, and streamlined application and contract approval process. NRCS will continue to build on this framework and streamlined application process to support farmers and ranchers across the country.
Cover crops offer agricultural producers a natural and inexpensive climate solution through their ability to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide into soils. Cover crops can provide an accelerated, positive impact on natural resource concerns. In fiscal 2021, NRCS provided technical and financial assistance to help producers plant 2.3 million acres of cover crops through EQIP.
EQIP Conservation Incentive Contracts
Conservation Incentive Contracts address priority resource concerns, including sequestering carbon and improving soil health in high-priority areas. Through these contracts, works with producers to strengthen the quality and condition of natural resources on their operations using management practices, such as irrigation water management, drainage water management, feed management and residue and tillage management that target resource concerns, including degraded soil and water quality, available water and soil erosion.
Conservation Incentive Contracts offer producers annual incentive payments to implement management practices as well as conservation evaluation and monitoring activities to help manage, maintain and improve priority natural resource concerns within state high-priority areas and build on existing conservation efforts. Download our “Conservation Incentive Contracts” fact sheet for a list of practices (PDF, 1 MB).
Conservation Incentive Contracts last five years. The 2018 Farm Bill created the new Conservation Incentive Contract option, and it was piloted in 2021 in four states.
CSP Re-Enrollment Option
NRCS updated CSP to allow an agricultural producer to immediately re-enroll in the program following an unfunded application to renew an existing contract. Previously, if a CSP participant did not re-enroll the year their contract expired, they were ineligible for the program for two years.
This ineligibility was imposed on CSP participants even if their failure to sign a renewal contract was due to the unavailability of funds, which is beyond their control. USDA is now waiving this two-year ineligibility restriction for all CSP applications.
This year, producers renewed 2,600 CSP contracts covering 3.4 million acres. Applicants with unfunded fiscal 2022 CSP renewals will receive letters this month, notifying them they are automatically eligible to apply for future CSP funding opportunities, rather than needing to wait two years to reapply.
How to Apply
NRCS accepts applications for conservation programs – including EQIP and CSP – year-round, however producers and landowners should apply by state-specific, signup dates to be considered for each year’s funding. To apply, producers should contact their local USDA Service Center.
Through conservation programs, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to help producers and landowners make conservation improvements on their land that benefit natural resources, build resiliency, and contribute to the nation’s broader effort to combat the impacts of climate change. More broadly, these efforts build on others across USDA to encourage use of conservation practices. For example, USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) recently provided $59.5 million in premium support for producers who planted cover crops on 12.2 million acres through the new Pandemic Cover Crop Program. Last week, RMA announced a new option for insurance coverage, the Post Application Coverage Endorsement, for producers who “split apply” fertilizer on corn.
Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is engaged in a whole-of-government effort to combat the climate crisis and conserve and protect our nation’s lands, biodiversity and natural resources including our soil, air, and water. Through conservation practices and partnerships, USDA aims to enhance economic growth and create new streams of income for farmers, ranchers, and private foresters. Successfully meeting these challenges will require USDA and our agencies to pursue a coordinated approach alongside USDA stakeholders, including state, local and Tribal governments.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit http://www.usda.gov.
From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):
Enjoy that snow you see now, because the spring is likely to be warm and dry.
Colorado’s statewide snowpack stands at 119% of average, a welcome break in the state’s prolonged dry spell.
“This is well above what we were seeing last year at this time. It’s awesome,” said Brian Domonkos, snow survey supervisor for the Lakewood-based Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Last year, January snowpacks were reading at roughly 70% of average.
Domonkos’ comments came Tuesday at a meeting of the state’s Water Availability Task Force, a group charged with monitoring water supplies and forecasts.
In Colorado, and other Western states, mountain snow levels are closely watched because when they melt in late spring, they supply the majority of water for cities and farms.
Staggered by a 20-year drought cycle, the latest forecasts, despite the recent snow, offer little hope of a break in this historic dry spell, considered by many to be the worst in 1,200 years.
The latest predictions indicate that Colorado is still at the mercy of a weather pattern known as La Niña, which this year, for the second year in a row, is expected to bring dry conditions through March to much of the state, according to Peter Goble, a climate specialist with Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center.
“Right now the tilt is toward a drier spring,” Goble said.
Holiday snowstorms delivered welcome relief to mountains with six of the state’s eight major river basins now seeing above-average snowpack. The Rio Grande Basin, in south-central Colorado, and the Arkansas Basin, in the southeastern corner of the state, continue to see below-average snowpacks, registering at 80% and 90% respectively.
But that didn’t dampen the relief among water officials, who’ve been coping with severe, back-to-back drought for much of the past three years.
“It’s great to have some good news for a change,” said Tracy Kosloff, deputy state engineer at the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
Now forecasters and water managers are turning their attention to a relatively new phenomenon, the impact of ultra-dry soils on water runoff forecasts.
Last year, though the statewide spring snowpack measured at 90% of average by late spring, streamflows were dramatically lower, registering below 30% in many of the state’s stream systems, according to the NRCS.
Prior to this 20-year drought cycle, streamflow forecasts closely followed the snowpack, but that link has been severed.
Now dry soils are absorbing melting water at high rates, throwing critical water supply forecasts off.
This year the situation should improve, Domonkos said.
“Our Jan. 1 forecasts are really showing some great potential runoff scenarios. But we’re not going to take this for granted. Things can change if it dries out significantly.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
Coyotes can be found throughout Colorado. Here are the basics of living in coyote country.
For more information about coyotes please visit: https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeCoyote.aspx
Living with Coyotes in Colorado
Perhaps no other wild animal has endured the wrath of humans while evoking such genuine heartfelt admiration quite like the coyote. Some people curse their existence; Native Americans consider them to be the smartest animal on earth, calling them “God’s dog”, and many urbanites revel in opportunities to see and hear these vocal predators.
The coyote’s success is attributed to the coyote’s own ability to adapt. Coyotes have adjusted very well to human-disturbed environments, and now thrive in close proximity to people.
Coyotes are opportunistic hunters. They prey on small mammals, domestic pets, livestock, and domestic fowl but will also readily eat carrion and plants. A coyote will adjust its diet depending on the food that is available. In Colorado, coyotes are classified as a game species and may be taken year-round with either a small game or a furbearer license. Landowners may kill coyotes, without a license, on their land if the coyotes threaten their property or livestock.