It should come as good news then that the bipartisan infrastructure package Congress passed last fall appropriated a landmark $8.3 billion for investment in western water, along with $50 billion earmarked for projects to bolster resilience to climate change. Collectively, the infrastructure package is the largest investment in water infrastructure and the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history. Additionally, last year’s American Rescue Plan Act delivered $3.8 billion to Colorado, a portion of which will fund necessary and overdue investments in projects to protect sources of drinking water, increase resilience to climate-driven drought, and provide capital for critical infrastructure that would finally deliver safe, reliable drinking water to Tribal communities.
While these historic federal investments have been made, the equally vital work of putting them to use has only just begun. Given the high demand and the competitive nature of the funding available through the federal infrastructure bill, Colorado must take proactive steps to secure these federal funds. As two Western Slope residents — one a former state senator and CWCB director, one the Western Rivers Regional Program Manager for Audubon Rockies — we thank the general assembly and Governor Polis for making Colorado more competitive by passing and signing into law HB22-1379 and SB22-215 this past legislative session. This is a down payment toward a more secure water future…
The billions of dollars that have been set aside for western water and climate resilience in the infrastructure package represent an unparalleled opportunity for state decision makers to advance implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan. The coalition members of Water for Colorado, along with our partners across the state, stand ready to help the administration expedite the pace and scale of efforts to fund and implement water projects across Colorado. Our investment in these efforts now will pay dividends to strengthen Colorado’s communities and protect Colorado’s water resources for future generations.
Capturing these federal funds isn’t a given. It necessitates a concerted effort and leadership from local governments and state agencies such as the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado State Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Public Health and Environment to apply for federal infrastructure funds and work with eligible entities to move swiftly, implementing projects that protect our water resources. Additionally, in many cases, access to funds is contingent upon being matched by state or private dollars, making it critically important that money appropriated toward that end from HB1379 — Wildfire Prevention Watershed Restoration Funding and SB216 — Responsible Gaming Grant Program reaches its goals. Multi-benefit projects that support healthy watersheds, protect rivers, enhance climate resilience, accelerate urban water conservation and work toward a future in which everyone has access to clean, reliable water supplies are within reach if we meet this moment.
For decades, so much water has been diverted to supply farms and cities that the Colorado River has seldom met the sea and much of its delta in Mexico has been reduced to a dry riverbed, with only small remnants of its once-vast wetlands surviving. Over the last eight weeks, water has been flowing in parts of the delta once again, restoring a stretch of river in Mexico where previously there had been miles of desert sand. The water is being released from an irrigation canal to aid the delta’s parched environment as part of an agreement between the Mexican and U.S. governments and with support from environmental groups. Those who are involved in the effort say that even as severe drought and the warming climate sap the Colorado River, the initiative shows how small amounts of water can be used to benefit struggling ecosystems…
This site, a habitat restoration area called El Chausse, is located in the southern portion of the delta, downstream from long stretches of dry riverbed, and was chosen as a place where limited water releases would boost the ecosystem by nourishing vegetation and expanding habitat for wildlife. It’s one of a few sites in Mexico where conservationists have been restoring wetlands and forests along the path where the river once flowed. Six years ago, workers removed invasive tamarisk trees at the site and planted a forest of native cottonwoods, willows and mesquites. Those trees have grown rapidly and now drape the wetland in shade, attracting a variety of birds, such as yellow warblers, blue-gray gnatcatchers and vermilion flycatchers…
This is the second straight year of water releases in Mexico. When the water flowed through part of the delta last year, plants released seeds that settled along the banks. [Eduardo] Blancas and his colleagues have seen vegetation flourish along the river channel. They’ve spotted about 120 species of birds in the area.
Click here to access the paper on the USGS website. Here’s the abstract:
Countless species of animals—big game, birds, bats, insects, amphibians, reptiles, and fish—migrate to reach suitable habitats to feed, reproduce, and raise their young. Animal migrations developed over millennia commonly follow migration corridors—unique routes for each species—to move among seasonal habitats. Changes along those corridors, whether from human development (buildings, roads, dams) or from natural disturbances (for example, climate change, drought, fire, flooding, or invasive species), can make them harder to navigate. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Ecosystems Mission Area provides science that assists land managers in mapping, enhancing, protecting, and reconnecting migration corridors critical for diverse fish and wildlife populations that migrate, such as Odocoileus hemionus (mule deer) and Antilocapra americana (pronghorn), trout and salmon, salamanders, tortoises, bats, and Danaus plexippus (monarch butterflies).
Conservation easements protect specific conservation values of a property, such as wildlife habitat. Photo: Michael Menefee
The Rio Grande cutthroat is the only trout native to the San Luis Valley. Evidence suggests it was a native fish to Lake Alamosa 700,000 years ago. Photo credit: Ryan Michelle Scavo