This morning in Evergreen, Governor Jared Polis was joined by local and state leaders, legislators, first responders, and local forest mitigation groups today to give an update on the significant progress state, federal, and local entities have made on forest health and wildfire mitigation initiatives since the disastrous fire year of 2020. Over the last 2 years, the Polis administration has committed around $145 million in state funds and leveraged millions in federal funds for forest health and wildfire mitigation work to protect Colorado’s communities, critical infrastructure, and watersheds from future wildfires. Lesley Dahlkemper, Jefferson County Commissioner and State Rep. Lisa Cutter joined today’s event.
“Colorado now has a nearly year-round fire season and our administration in partnership with the legislature are stepping up to better support first responders and communities. More work needs to be done to help protect our homes, our forests and our air so we are continuing our efforts and committing ourselves to significantly expand our wildfire prevention work,” said Governor Jared Polis.
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources is moving $13.3 million for on the ground forest mitigation work and landscape scale projects this year and $44 million dollars to protect and restore watersheds threatened by catastrophic wildfire. The Colorado State Forest Service also saw significant boosts to its grant programs to communities for fuels mitigation work, new funds for a state nursery to support post-fire reforestation, and investments to enhance state wildfire risk awareness campaigns.
The Polis-Primavera administration understands that there are more needs than funds or teams available and has been working hard to get resources and support to where it’s needed most and make an impact on the ground for communities and Colorado’s critical infrastructure.
“We are extremely excited to get funds and these conservation corps and DOC SWIFT crews out to communities who are in immediate need of forest health and wildfire mitigation projects. In many areas of Colorado there are projects waiting for funding or may not have the people power to get off the ground. This Grant is here to kick start these needed projects and place hand crews where they are needed to protect life, property and critical infrastructure. We appreciate the support of the Governor, legislators, our federal partners and local and regional entities who are working hand in hand together on our forest health and wildfire prevention priorities,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
Governor Polis and Director Gibbs discussed the importance of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources’ Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program (COSWAP) which has funded over $13 million in wildfire mitigation projects focusing on workforce development and landscape resilience. Within that, COSWAP’s Workforce Development Grant has invested over $6 million to support on the ground wildfire mitigation work by conservation corps or Department of Corrections (DOC) State Wildland Inmate Fire Teams (SWIFT), and wildfire mitigation workforce training. The Landscape Resilience Investment program focuses on larger investments in cross-boundary wildfire mitigation projects with a shared stewardship approach. $7 million has been awarded to 8 landscape projects across 8 counties.
The Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program (COSWAP) within the Department of Natural Resources was launched by the Polis administration through the bipartisan SB21-258 to invest $25 million in targeted wildfire risk mitigation, prioritize and fund key mitigation projects. COSWAP is designed to quickly move $17.5 million state stimulus dollars to start on-the-ground work on fuels reduction projects and increase Colorado’s capacity to conduct critical forest restoration and wildfire mitigation work that will increase community resilience and protect life, property and infrastructure.
COSWAP has allocated funding through two grant programs. Workforce Development Grant:
1. 41 Projects, 17 Counties, 3,664 Acres
2. 3 wildfire mitigation workforce training grants supporting over 150 people in receiving S130/S190, S212 and a prescribed fire training exchange.
Landscape Resilience Investment: 8 projects spread throughout COSWAP’s strategic focus areas have been selected for funding. Projects range from $500,000-$1,000,000 and will be matched by $4 million in local, federal, or other state funding.
1. Larimer County: Pole Hill / Waltonia, $1,000,000
2. Boulder County: Phase 1: St. Vrain Forest Health Partnership Project, $1,000,000
3. Jefferson County: Jefferson County Wildfire Safe, $1,000,000
4. RMRI Upper Arkansas – Chaffee County: Upper Arkansas Thrives – Landscape Level Resilience in Chaffee County, $500,000
5. RMRI Southwest Colorado – Mancos Conservation District: RMRI SW Colorado – Northwest Mancos Priority Zone, $1,000,000
6. RMRI Upper Arkansas – Lake County: Lake County CWPP Fuels Reduction Project, $500,000
7. RMRI Upper South Platte – Jefferson Conservation District: Upper South Platte Landscape Resilience, $1,000,000
8. Colorado State Forest Service – Teller County: Teller County Forest Health and Resilience Project (TCFHR), $1,000,000
“The partnership between Colorado conservation corps and the Polis-Primavera administration represents the best of Colorado: channeling resources into an efficient, proven solution that will protect the lives of millions of residents. The COSWAP program helps hundreds of young Coloradans find their purpose through service while addressing the existential crisis of climate change,” said Scott Segerstrom, Executive Director of the Colorado Youth Corps Association following today’s event.
“The Conifer/ Evergreen area has some of the highest wildfire risk in the state and requires funding sources that support mitigation work at multiple scales. Financial support that focuses on community protection is critical to ensuring safe and effective fire response. Implementation of projects in this area is not easily achieved and requires an immense amount of cross boundary collaboration with many partners and landowners,” said Benjamin Yellin, Wildfire Captain, Elk Creek Fire Protection District. “The flexibility of COSWAP in Jefferson County and the Upper South Platte Watershed will fund multiple landscape scale projects, support needed defensible space for residents, while facilitating critical planning processes that will align regional efforts and policy for the future.”
Captain Yellen, Matt McCombs with the Colorado State Forest Service and Garret Stevens with the Jefferson Conservation District spoke at today’s event
In addition to making forest mitigation a priority, Colorado also has invested significantly in watershed protection- a key component of forest restoration. Approximately 80 percent of Colorado’s population relies on forested watersheds to deliver water supplies. Senate Bill 21-240 appropriated $30 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for watershed restoration and flood mitigation grants and a statewide watershed analysis. The majority of this funding has gone towards post-fire restoration from the East Troublesome, Cameron Peak, Grizzly Creek, and Calwood Fires.
This year, Governor Polis in partnership with the Colorado state legislature also invested $20 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds to conduct wildfire mitigation work to protect watersheds, provide additional funds for DNR’s COSWAP program, and provide technical assistance and local-capacity to secure federal funding for projects that promote watershed and forest resilience. This spring, the US Department of Agriculture also announced significant federal investments in forest management in Colorado. The USFS 10-Year Wildfire Crisis Strategy directs $18.1 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investments to Colorado National Forests in 2022, and $170.4 million over 2022-2024. Several Colorado projects also secured $6 million through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) this year.
Today [July 6, 2022], Governor Jared Polis traveled across the Eastern Plains to hear directly from farmers, ranchers, and local leaders working to boost Colorado’s agriculture economy and to protect Colorado’s water.
This morning, Governor Polis, administration officials and community members visited Julesburg Gauge on the South Platte River to discuss water issues.
“It was great to be in Sedgwick, Phillips, Yuma, Kit Carson, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Lincoln, and Elbert counties hearing directly from producers and discussing how our administration is working together even more to protect Colorado’s water, grow Colorado’s thriving agriculture industry, and support our hardworking farmers and ranchers,” said Governor Polis.
Gov. Polis was then joined by the Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg, and toured Vision Angus, a local family owned ranch and farm in Phillips county that has been passed down for four generations. Vision Angus is a second year recipient of the Agricultural Workforce Development Program which aims to keep developing the next generation farmers and ensure our agriculture industries continued growth.
Governor Polis then headed to the South Republican State Wildlife Area and was joined by board members and other officials to discuss groundwater conservation in Yuma county. The Republican River Basin is supported by SB22-028, which was signed by Gov. Polis creates groundwater compact compliance and sustainability fund water conservation efforts in order to protect our water supply and retain irrigation systems in the river basins across Colorado. The Polis-Primavera administration is fighting to ease the effects of climate change induced drought seen across the state.
Governor Polis then visited the Eads Fire Department in Elbert county and met with first responders to discuss the Polis Administration’s continued support for first responders, including legislation that Governor Polis signed into law this year to provide additional resources and support for volunteer firefighters.
Governor Polis then traveled to Kit Carson county to visit the Old Town Museum. The museum is a historic site that has been restored to display the history of the Colorado Plains and local agriculture.
Governor Polis later traveled to Cheyenne county to sit down with local leaders and county commissioners from Cheyenne and Kiowa counties to discuss soil health and drought resilience efforts. Cheyenne Conservation District will receive support from SB22-195, a bipartisan law signed by Governor Polis which allocates additional annual funding for conservation districts across the state.
Governor Polis then visited two recipients of the Colorado Proud grant, Grant Grains and the Cleantec Mushroom Facility in Lincoln and Elbert counties, and where he discussed the administration’s support for producers and discussed tax relief for farmers including a bipartisan bill the Governor signed into law in the form of SB21-293.
KATE Greenberg, agriculture commissioner for Colorado, is leaving Cactus Hill Farm in Conejos County when she reflects on the farm operations she’s visited so far on her weekend tour of the San Luis Valley.
Greenberg had made stops at the non-profit Rio Grande Farm Park in Alamosa, the large-scale Esperanza Farms managed by Virgil Valdez, and then the niche Cactus Farm where Elana Miller-ter Kuile spoke about the unsustainable nature of fast fashion that the wool farmer sees in an era of water scarcity and climate change.
It was during her time as western program director for the National Young Farmers Coalition that Greenberg would begin to acquaint herself with the area, particularly neighboring New Mexico where she was schooled on the practice of acequia farming and the generational ties to agricultural lands in the high-desert terrain of the region.
It’s been pointed out that she is the first female ag commissioner for Colorado, and maybe the youngest ever after she was appointed to the position in 2018 by Gov. Polis. What’s less described is her ease of command on the issues facing farmers at different scales of operation, and her willingness to engage in the divide between Front Range and rural Colorado as it wrestles with issues like the affluent bedroom community of Douglas County looking to raid the aquifers of the San Luis Valley to quelch its population thirst.
On her visit to the Valley, she sat in the living room of Virgil and Sherry Valdez at Esperanza Farms and heard about fears of getting crops out of the ground and to market this summer due to the lack of farm labor. Earlier she spent time with Jesus Flores and conversed entirely in Spanish with the Rio Grande Farm Park manager, and helped bottle-feed newborn sheep at Miller-ter Kuile’s Cactus Hill Farm.
Across America agricultural leaders like Greenberg wrestle with how to balance the rise of corporate farms that have sliced away at mid-level farming and ranching operations but left a bit of space for the family farmer, community organic operations, and enterprising people like Elana Miller-ter Kuile who clearly has found a niche in the wool-making world.
“Here in the Valley I feel like the different scale, whether it’s very small, or very large, or somewhere in between, it’s all about how do you support your family, support your business, take care of the land and find a market,” Greenberg said.
“I think all of the different operations we’ve seen, whether it’s Rio Grande Farm Park helping families provide food for themselves or for farmer’s markets, Elana selling wool all across the country, or Virgil and Sherry (Valdez) growing for potato sheds for exports, all of that has a place in our ag economy and you could see that just within a few miles of each other here.”
She grasps the very real burnout of farmers and the disappearance of the next generation of ag producers, but even there she found new hope in what’s happening across the San Luis Valley to maintain an agricultural sector.
Her trip into San Luis and Costilla County to attend Saturday’s Congresso de Aquequias 2022 and to learn about the Move Mountains Youth apprenticeship in acequia farming gave her more thought and more ways to move forward in her job handling Colorado’s $7 billion ag economy.
“I think from my experience throughout the years in New Mexico in particular, I come here humbly,” Greenberg said. “Even though I was invited to speak (at the Congresso), I intend to listen a lot more than I speak. I have a farmer friend whose dad always said, ‘We were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason.’ So I hope that’s what I can do, is listen and learn from the folks in San Luis.”
In this video interview with Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Greenberg, she reflects more on the job of ag commissioner, her visit to the San Luis Valley, and why the Renewable Water Resources exportation plan is the wrong approach for managing water in Colorado. Watch our car-ride interview with Commissioner Greenberg:
[Phil] Weiser was on a tour of northeast Colorado and met in Sterling with representatives of local government, law enforcement, education, mental health providers and others.
During the meeting, Weiser said he doubts the recently resurrected Perkins County Canal plan will ever see fruition. He said Nebraskans are as puzzled about Gov. Pete Rickett’s idea to complete the abandoned canal as Coloradans are.
“The Nebraska idea is not born of reasonable dialogue,” Weiser said. “We don’t know where it’s coming from, but it appears to be more (politically motivated) than any real need for water. We are going to work to protect our water.”
The AG said Coloradans shouldn’t be overly concerned about the Perkins project, calling it a “product of one moment in time.”
While water storage, conservation and creative allocation ideas are laudable, Weiser said, those ideas have to be good for everyone involved. He pointed to the plan to drill into the aquifer under the San Luis Valley and pipe water to Douglas County as the kind of “buy and dry” scheme that should be avoided.
Today, Governor Jared Polis released a statement following U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s announcement that $131 million in funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure law will begin work on the Forest Service’s 10-year strategy to protect communities and improve resilience in America’s forests.
“I’m excited about this $18 million in funding to help us fight wildfires and protect communities. We thank the Biden Administration, Secretary Vilsack, and the U.S. Forest Service for making this important wildfire-fighting investment in Colorado,” said Governor Polis.
Over the last three years, Colorado has experienced record natural disasters, from the three largest wildfires recorded in 2020 to the Marshall Fire in December 2021 – recorded as the most destructive in state history. In response, the Polis administration has acted swiftly to invest in wildfire suppression, the recovery of our lands and watersheds, as well as forward-thinking mitigation and forest health efforts.
During the last legislative session, the Governor signed into law significant investments, including roughly $88 million to help communities recover from and prevent future wildfire devastation, and a total of $50 million to support the implementation of Colorado’s State Water Plan and fund Colorado Water Conservation Board grants supporting local projects. Colorado is one of the states that will receive the initial investment, which spans 208,000 acres of wildfire risk reduction treatments in 10 landscapes. Other Western states to receive funding include Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, and Arizona.
During its March meeting, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) – a group of 15 governor-appointed representatives from each major Colorado river basin with expertise in water policy and planning – approved 52 grants through the Water Plan Grant Program.
“The Colorado Water Conservation Board is pleased to approve more than 50 projects this month to help advance the Colorado Water Plan, many of which are a direct result from recent stimulus funding approved by Governor Polis,” said CWCB Chair Jackie Brown. “We also look forward to utilizing funding from sports betting as enacted by Proposition DD in the near future to make an even bigger impact. And as we prepare to release the next Water Plan, securing future funding will become increasingly important for our water future.”
This grant program provides critical funding for multi-beneficial water projects in all eight river basins that advance actions outlined within the Colorado Water Plan.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser filed a lawsuit Monday against companies that produce PFAS, which are man-made chemicals that have been associated with cancer and serious disease.
The complaint was filed in Denver District Court against 15 manufacturers including Chemguard, Corteva and DuPont and alleges that those companies should have known the extreme health risks associated with their firefighting products before marketing and distributing them.
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PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are also known as “forever chemicals,” is a component in aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), which is used to fight high-hazard fires, like jet fuel fires and chemical fires. PFAS is also used in cookware and cleaning products. It persists in the environment for an extremely long time and has been linked to cancer, kidney disease, serious birth defects and lower vaccine efficacy.
“The companies responsible for making firefighting foam with toxic forever chemicals and selling it for use in our state long after they knew or should have known of the harmful nature of this foam have caused harm to our communities. Colorado now has forever chemicals in our soil and drinking water systems and people’s health is at risk,” Weiser said in a statement.
A map from the non-profit Environmental Working Group shows a high number of PFAS contamination sites in Colorado, especially in drinking water and on military sites near Colorado Springs. The lawsuit notes that AFFF has been used at Peterson Air Force Base, Buckley Air Force Base, Fort Carson, the Suncor oil refinery and other federally-regulated airports. A 2020 from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows PFAS contamination in 34% of the sampled drinking water systems.
Weiser wants a court order for the companies to investigate, restore and monitor sites where AFFF was released. The lawsuit accuses the defendants of negligence, public nuisance, trespassing and unjust enrichment. It accuses DuPont, Chemours and Corteva of violating the Colorado Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act.
“These companies knew that these chemicals posed significant threats to human health and the environment and nonetheless put Colorado at risk; it is important that they pay for the harm they caused,” Weiser said.
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We write today to bring to your attention a matter in Colorado’s San Luis Valley where your agencies play an important and unique oversight role under Public Law 102-575. Through the attached letter from the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (the District), we have been alerted to a proposal called Renewable Water Resources which would transfer groundwater out of the basin from the confined aquifer beneath the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Baca National Wildlife Refuge, and Closed Basin Project. After hearing concerns from our San Luis Valley constituents about this proposal for months, the District’s letter from yesterday, and considering Colorado’s current exceptional drought, we both oppose this proposal. Further, we ask for your attention under the Wirth Amendment, if an opportunity for review comes before your agencies.
The San Luis Valley is experiencing unprecedented drought that has placed a severe demand on local water resources. Valley residents, including farmers, ranchers, and business owners, rely heavily on groundwater aquifers to support their economy and way of life. Since 2005, in response to this drought, local farmers have undertaken an ambitious, collaborative effort to reduce their own pumping with the goal of achieving sustainability. This export proposal continues to seek funding to move forward despite the fact it would exacerbate local water challenges, even with conservation efforts. In addition to concerns from the District, five San Luis Valley counties are opposed to this proposal.
Public Law 102-575, also called the “Wirth Amendment”, was passed in 1992 and provides a legal framework and elevated standard of environmental review for any transfer of groundwater out of the basin that may adversely affect these public resources. We highlight this law because of its relevance to the San Luis Valley and an elevated standard of review for any project that might adversely affect Great Sand Dunes National Park, Closed Basin Project, Baca National Wildlife Refuge. For your convenience, we have pulled out the relevant language on page 64 of P.L. 102-575 (Title XV, Section 1501-1504):
SEC 1501: PERMIT ISSUANCE PROHIBITED
(a) No agency or instrument of the United States shall issue any permit, license, right-of way, grant, loan or other authorization or assistance for any project or feature of any project to withdraw water from the San Luis Valley, Colorado, for export to another basin in Colorado or export to any portion of another State, unless the Secretary of the Interior determines, after due consideration of all findings provided by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, that the project will not:
(1) increase the costs or negatively affect operation of the Closed Basin Project;
(2) adversely affect the purposes of any national wildlife refuge or Federal wildlife habitat area withdrawal located in the San Luis Valley, Colorado; or
(3) adversely affect the purposes of the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, Colorado.
(b) Nothing in this title shall be construed to alter, amend, or limit any provision of Federal or State law that applies to any project or feature of a project to withdraw water from the San Luis Valley, Colorado, for export to another basin in Colorado or another State. Nothing in this title shall be construed to limit any agency’s authority or responsibility to reject, limit, or condition any such project on any basis independent of the requirements of this title.
The Colorado delegation previously raised similar concerns with your agencies. In 2014, Senator Bennet led a letter with Senator Udall, Congressmen Tipton and Gardner elevating these same responsibilities to your attention in the face of a similar groundwater export proposal.
On behalf of our San Luis Valley constituents and the water resources so critical to their economic future, we must oppose the Renewable Water Resources proposal. We thank you for your assistance when your agencies are presented with the opportunity to review this matter.
Gov. Jared Polis has appointed a Kremmling rancher to replace former state Sen. Gail Schwartz on the state’s top water board.
Paul Bruchez will now represent the main stem of the Colorado River on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Bruchez, 40, currently serves as the agriculture representative and vice chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable.
Along with his family, Bruchez runs Reeder Creek Ranch, a 6,000-acre cattle and hay operation, about five miles east of Kremmling, which is irrigated with water from the headwaters of the Colorado River. Bruchez is also a fly-fishing guide and has been active since about 2012 in state-level water management discussions. He is a governor appointee to the Inter-Basin Compact Committee and is on the board of the Colorado Water Trust.
“For the last 23 years, everything Colorado River and water has touched and impacted my life substantially, as well as my entire family,” he said. “We all live and breathe Colorado River issues.”
Bruchez is also spearheading a project with other neighboring irrigators to see what happens when water is temporarily removed from high-elevation hay meadows. The results of the state grant-funded study could have implications for demand management, a program state officials are exploring, designed to save water by paying irrigators to temporarily fallow fields.
As the new legislative session kicked off, Coloradans got a glimpse at what state legislators are prepared to prioritize. There’s a lot of good stuff: education, public safety and the economy.
Unfortunately, of the 102 bills and resolutions already submitted in the House and Senate, few appear ready to seriously tackle the root causes of climate change — fossil fuels.
To suggest this oversight is irksome would be a gross understatement. In the past few years, Colorado has seen firsthand the impact of a rapidly changing climate. Most recently, the Marshall fire became the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history, destroying nearly 1,100 structures worth over half a billion dollars.
Before that, Colorado has been experiencing growth of extreme wildfires, including a truly historic 2020 fire season. This included the Pine Gulch Fire, the Cameron Peak fire and the East Troublesome fire, all of which easily passed 100,000 acres burned — and one over 200,000 acres — breaking records multiple times within the same season.
Then there were the Glenwood Canyon mudslides in 2021 that went well beyond anything engineers had prepared for due to the intensity of the fires.
The slides closed I-70 on and off for weeks at a time, severing the primary connection across the state and prompting officials to seek over $116 million of taxpayer dollars for repair costs. The intensity of the mudslide was a direct impact of climate change.
Setting extreme wildfires and mudslides aside, there’s been a myriad of record-breaking events in Colorado as of late: record-breaking heat, record-breaking winds, record-breaking drought, record-breaking hail, record-breaking tornadoes, record-breaking cold and even record-breaking bombogenesis. Of note, my iPhone desperately wants to autocorrect that last one to “bimbo jeans,” a testament to the relative newness of word use.
Particularly concerning is that it’s no longer unique enough to simply break existing records. Now we shatter previous records, even breaking the record-breaking heat, winds, drought and hail with new record-breaking heat, winds, drought and hail all in the same darn season.
For all intents and purposes, the solution is deceptively simple: more policies that reduce the burning, release and accumulation of carbon into the atmosphere.
Yet for years the urgency to act has been lacking, as if climate change is still yet to come. We set goals for 2030 or 2050, implying we have time when we don’t. Climate change is not an on/off switch; it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long, roiling boil, and for years the molecules have already been moving faster and faster.
For this reason, the climate crisis must be a constant legislative priority this year, next year, and every year to come for the foreseeable future. We must also be exceptionally clear in our messaging: Actions taken now are not to prevent climate change from occurring — this is impossible, it’s already under way. Instead, today’s actions are to mitigate the severity of impact from our past actions. What we are experiencing now is merely a warning sign.
Critically, prioritizing the climate crisis does not mean we somehow abandon other priorities. On the contrary — almost any area of policy addressing climate change is part of the solution.
Consider the economy. If the goal is to save Coloradans money, one of the best solutions is to address climate change. At a personal level, we won’t gain nearly as much from a few dozen tax dollars back per year as we do by avoiding a loss of thousands of dollars in insurance deductibles, lost wages and displacement costs when a wildfire fueled by climate change burns down much of our town.
Similarly, we can’t achieve social equity without mitigating climate change — the burdens will fall disproportionately on disadvantaged communities. We can’t achieve sustainable agriculture or outdoor tourism on the West Slope without mitigating the lack of precipitation. We can’t even achieve a sufficient education with sweltering classrooms, reduce health concerns or maintain a federal budget with increasing billion-dollar disasters.
It should be noted that there are several bipartisan wildfire mitigation bills this session, and that’s something to be proud of. Still, this is adaptation, not a mitigation strategy for climate change. Without doing more to target the underlying source of the problem — by and large the burning of fossil fuels — there’s only so much that can be done.
After listening to the State of the State last Thursday, it became incredibly clear that climate change is simply not the focus this session — and unless the messaging changes drastically, it won’t be. As one journalist keenly pointed out on Twitter, the governor used the word “climate” three times, just once more than he mentioned Taylor Swift.
This got me thinking.
Perhaps Coloradans would do well to make our pleas directly to Ms. Swift instead. After all, a catchy song on climate change appears to be the only way it will ever make center stage.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.
The beginning of 2022 has brought a wonderful gift for our mountains: many feet of snow. While it’s still early in the season, we remain hopeful for more moisture to come, including out to the Plains. Recently, I presented at the Colorado River Water Users’ Association meeting to highlight the ways Colorado’s farmers and ranchers are advancing voluntary stewardship to conserve water and build resilience through dry times.
In addition to the much-needed snow, we are also celebrating the good work accomplished in 2021 by Colorado producers, CDA staff, and many others. We have distributed over $30 million of the $76 million in state stimulus grants across the state to support agricultural events, advance soil health initiatives, increase processing capacity, and help producers build drought resilience. We will continue to distribute stimulus funds in the months ahead, including through another round of Farm to Market processing grants and the launch of the first-ever CDA Revolving Loan Fund that will provide affordable financing to processors as well as beginning and underserved farmers and ranchers.
I was fortunate to hear first-hand the impact of these dollars when I attended Chaffee County’s agriculturally focused community workshop last month. Governor Polis joined us for the entire evening, sharing a meal and listening to producers from across the county. Ag Commission member and local rancher George Whitten was there to hear from folks, as well. This was one of the dozens of field visits I’ve made this year to be sure that the work we do at CDA makes sense out in the field where the work of producing food gets done.
Through all this we are saying goodbye to some incredible staff, and looking for new team members to continue to carry the torch for Colorado agriculture. In particular, I want to thank Deputy Commissioner Steve Silverman for three years of dedicated service to Colorado agriculture and CDA. We couldn’t have made it through this time without him. See below for important job openings at CDA!
The ag community is no stranger to tough times. Despite recent challenges, we keep getting back up, dusting ourselves off, and supporting each other every way we can. That’s what Colorado agriculture is all about.
Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture
Colorado’s governor is warning he will “protect and aggressively assert” his state’s water rights after Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a plan to spend $500 million on a canal and reservoir project.
FromOmaha World-Herald (Nancy Gaarder) via The Lincoln Journal-Star:
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday that his state would work to protect its water rights in light of Nebraska’s proposal to build a canal in his state to pull water from the South Platte River.
In a statement, Polis said Colorado would “protect and aggressively assert Colorado’s rights under all existing water compacts.”
Ricketts said the canal is needed because Colorado is planning “nearly 300 projects and over $10 billion of expenditures to ensure no ‘excess’ water leaves its state.”
If those proposals are carried out, Ricketts estimates, there would be a 90% reduction in flows coming into Nebraska.
Polis said Ricketts’ comments reflect a “misunderstanding of Colorado’s locally driven water planning projects.”
Polis said Colorado has used roundtable discussions to generate grassroots ideas for solutions to Colorado’s water needs. These brainstorming ideas “should not be taken as formally approved projects.”
Colorado, he said, has complied with the South Platte Compact for its 99 years and continues to respect the agreement. “We hope that our partners in Nebraska will show they share that respect.”
In response, Ricketts issued a statement saying he “welcomes future conversations with Gov. Polis as we move forward to secure Nebraska’s access to water.”
Any project involving U.S. waterways typically faces rigorous scrutiny. Polis said any project by Nebraska in Colorado would have to comply with the compact, private property rights, state and federal laws and regulations, including environmental ones.
Right now, leaders from across the world are gathered in Scotland for the latest UN climate conference, seeking to address the climate crisis. Here in Colorado, we are already seeing the impacts of climate change, with the largest wildfires in state history, air quality impacts from wildfires across the west, and the closure this summer of I-70 due to mudslides following last year’s Glenwood Canyon fires.
Luckily, there is a LOT being done here in Colorado to address these challenges. Three years ago, Gov. Jared Polis campaigned on a platform of 100% clean electricity generation by 2040 and bold climate action, and in the intervening period the state has vaulted to the forefront of climate action. Through legislation, regulations, public investment and partnerships with local government, unions and the private sector, we have made real progress on an equitable transition towards a low carbon, clean energy future — all while strengthening the economy, addressing inequities, and working to improve local air quality.
In 2019 Gov. Polis signed legislation establishing science-based targets to reduce GHG pollution 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and 90% by 2050. For a sense of scale, this means cutting annual GHG pollution by 70 million tons by 2030. We immediately got to work on both implementing obvious “no regrets” strategies and developing a strategic GHG roadmap to determine the most important actions to take to achieve the 2030 targets.
The first big area we focused on was electricity generation, one of the two largest sources of GHG pollution. We got commitments from utilities representing 99% of the fossil fuel generation in the state to achieve at least 80% reduction in pollution by 2030. We have locked these commitments in through legislative requirements and action by state air and utility regulators. In practice, it looks like we will exceed these targets. Xcel Energy, the largest utility in the state, filed a plan at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to achieve 85% by 2030, and based on our analysis, we are advocating for the PUC to approve a plan that gets to 90%. The second largest utility, Tri-State, has a plan to close every coal plant they have in Colorado and replace them primarily with wind and solar. All of this is enabled by the remarkable advances in cheap renewables, in which the cost per kilowatt hour of NEW wind and solar is often about half the cost for just operating and maintaining EXISTING coal plants.
We also worked with the Colorado Legislature this year to pass binding requirements on industry to achieve the sector-specific targets set in the GHG roadmap. State air regulators are now required to adopt new rules that will reduce pollution from the oil and gas industry by 60%, and from the rest of industry by 20% by 2030. State air regulators are already in the process of adopting rules for oil and gas, and a first set of industrial rules focused on steel mills and cement plants. And regulators have already adopted a phaseout of superpolluting hydrofluorocarbons.
Burning natural gas in buildings is another one of the top sources of GHG pollution. Legislation passed this year will expand gas and electric utility programs to help their customers electrify heating and improve efficiency, require large commercial buildings to improve their energy performance, expand investment in low income weatherization, and create new financing tools for building upgrades. Tying all of this together is a first in the nation requirement for gas utilities to develop “clean heat plans” that will achieve at least 22% reduction in pollution by 2030.
Transportation is the largest single source of GHG pollution. The state has already adopted low and zero emission vehicle regulations, and has taken major steps on supporting the transition to electric cars, trucks and buses, including through the legislation requiring utility investment in EV infrastructure, and to invest new state transportation revenue in EV infrastructure and incentives. Together, these will invest about $1 billion in EV infrastructure and programs, to support a million EVs on the road by 2030. And the state is adopting an innovative new GHG pollution standard which will require state and regional transportation plans to shift funding towards public transit and walkable, bikeable communities.
The net effect of these policies is projected to achieve 95 % of the 70 million ton target, while improving air quality. And we have big plans to do more in the coming year. We need to work with local governments to reform exclusionary zoning that keeps housing out of our prosperous cities, harming low and middle income workers while forcing far longer drives that contribute to pollution. The governor is proposing a half-a-billion dollars of investments in this year’s budget to improve air quality and reduce GHG emissions – accelerating adoption of electric school buses, supporting industrial emissions reduction, rebates for Ebikes, expanding public transit, making fares free during the high ozone season, and more. We will be finalizing the state clean trucking strategy this winter, and considering zero emission vehicle standards for trucks next spring. This just touches the surface — there is action on carbon capture, green hydrogen, improved building codes, natural and working land… this is an all-of-government effort.
The work isn’t over. In many ways, it is just beginning: addressing climate change is the great work of our time, and will be an ongoing effort through our lifetimes and our children’s lifetimes. But I couldn’t be prouder of the innovation and leadership of the state of Colorado over the last three years.
Will Toor is Executive Director of the Colorado Energy Office. It’s mission is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and consumer energy costs by advancing clean energy, energy efficiency and zero emission vehicles to benefit all Coloradans.
A center pivot irrigates a field in the San Luis Valley, where the state is warming farmers that a well shut-down could come much sooner than expected. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado
Center pivot sprinklers in the Arikaree River basin to irrigate corn. Each sprinkler is supplied by deep wells drilled into the High Plains (Ogallala) aquifer.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Agriculture:
The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) joined together in strong support of $15,000,000 “high impact” stimulus funds in Governor Polis’ FY 2022-2023 budget to preserve agriculture, meet interstate river compact obligations, and reduce rural economic impacts in the Republican and Rio Grande River basins .
“The producers in the Republican and Rio Grande basins are up against quickly approaching deadlines to reduce their water use to avoid mandatory curtailment of groundwater pumping on a scale that could devastate these agricultural communities,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg. “Directing federal funds to water users in these two basins will help ag producers mitigate the costs of reducing water use while ensuring a future for agriculture in these regions. With Governor Polis’s leadership, CDA is working closely with the Department of Natural Resources to ensure these funds support the farmers, ranchers, and other water users who are facing the greatest challenges.”
The Republican and Rio Grande River basins contain some of Colorado’s most productive farm and ranchlands, and agriculture remains the economic backbone of these regions. Governor Polis’s proposal is for $15,000,000 in high impact American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the Task Force on Economic Recovery and Relief to consider.
The Republican River basin needs to come into compliance with its downstream river compact by retiring 25,000 acres of groundwater irrigated land by the end of 2029, 10,000 of which must be retired by the end of 2024. Simultaneously, the Rio Grande basin is facing imminent groundwater curtailment to prevent further drawdown of confined underground aquifers.
Despite efforts by water conservation districts and water users in both basins to solve this challenge on their own, one bad drought year can push back years of progress. This was the case in 2021 and with the high probability of subsequent droughts, more resources are needed to assist local farmers and ranchers in transitioning to a future of greater water scarcity in a way that sustains agriculture, the economy, and local communities.
“With Colorado’s ongoing systemic drought many of our communities are feeling the impact, none more acutely than agriculture, as our water supplies diminish,” said Dan Gibbs, the executive director of the Department of Natural Resources. “Working with the Colorado Department of Agriculture we need to do all we can to preserve our agricultural lands and the rural economies that depend on them. The Governor’s high impact stimulus proposal will help these river basins meet our river compact obligations and protect our groundwater resources while ensuring agriculture continues in these productive regions of Colorado.”
If passed by the legislature, this additional funding will augment local and federal conservation incentive programs to ensure the retirement of groundwater pumping is voluntary, compensated, and on a scale that minimizes disruption to agricultural production while still meeting Colorado’s compact obligations.
Agriculture generates nearly $370 million worth of ag products in the seven Colorado counties the Rio Grande supplies with water. Staple crops include barley, oats, hay, and potatoes. Colorado’s Eastern Plains are home to nine of the state’s top ten agricultural counties in terms of value of agricultural products sold, with the majority of crops grown used to feed livestock. The Republican River Basin produces nearly $1.4 billion in agricultural products, including corn, wheat, cattle, and hogs.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Agriculture:
The Colorado Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for a competitive grant program to assist with projects that help Colorado anticipate, prepare for, mitigate, adapt to, or respond to any event, trend, or climatological disturbance related to drought or climate. Resulting from Senate Bill 21-234, this funding is intended to support drought and climate resilience efforts for agricultural producers.
“Many farmers and ranchers have been affected by multi-year hazards: 2018 drought, 2019 freeze, 2020 drought and wildfires. Climate extremes can be very detrimental to producers and the 2021 season does not look any more forgiving,” said Conservation Services Division Director Les Owen. “These hardships have caused deep economic and ecological costs to agriculture in Colorado and this program aims to mitigate some of those losses and help prepare ag producers for changing climatic conditions.”
The purpose of the competitive grant program is to respond to Colorado’s prolonged drought conditions caused by absent monsoon seasons, record-high temperatures, and extreme evaporative demands from wind, low humidity and high temperatures. After several years of unusual weather patterns, a warm spring, dry summer, and critically hot autumn further contributed to the 2020 record-breaking wildfire season. So far in 2021, Colorado has experienced a long lasting and severe drought in most parts of the state.
CDA will award approximately $1.5 million in grants for drought-related projects. Projects that can demonstrate long-term and widespread benefits will be the most competitive. Funding can also be used to match investments in new projects.
Applications for the competitive grants are open now and the deadline to apply is September 30, 2021. All applications must be submitted via an online form (to see all application questions, click here but please note that this is for informational purposes only and cannot be used to submit an application). Applicants will be asked to include narrative statements about the project they are applying for, including the expected outcomes and drought preparedness impacts.
Eligible entities include Tribes; state government, municipalities, enterprises, counties and agencies; districts including Authorities, title 32/Special Districts (conservancy, conservation and irrigation districts); Federal agencies that apply with a state entity; Private Incorporated entities including mutual ditch companies, homeowners associations and corporations; Private individuals, partnerships and sole proprietors; and Non-Governmental Organizations.
Tackling the challenges surrounding climate change and water supply will require collaboration and creative thinking, Colorado’s top water leaders and senior federal officials agreed Thursday.
More than a dozen state officials and water leaders from across the state met at Denver Water’s Operations Complex with Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to discuss the impacts of climate change, the ongoing drought across the Colorado River Basin and how leadership and collaboration at every level will be needed to help address it.
After the discussion, Jim Lochhead, Denver Water’s CEO/Manager, welcomed the group — which included Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo, Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg — to a news conference at the utility’s Administration Building, completed in 2019, that is itself a demonstration of the future of water and water efficiency in an urban setting.
Lochhead said the roundtable also included a discussion of the investments Denver Water is making in watershed health, through its From Forests to Faucets program that includes partners at the state and federal level, water conservation, resiliency and sustainability.
Haaland said she was glad to tour “this beautiful building” and praised the roundtable for bringing a wide range of people together for a thoughtful and important discussion…
Greenberg said it meant a lot to the people working across Colorado’s agriculture sector to know issues surrounding climate change were “top of mind” at both the state and federal level…
Attendees at the water leaders’ roundtable discussion were:
Deb Haaland, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of Interior.
Davis Raff, Chief Engineer, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Carly Jerla, Senior Water Resources Program Manager, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Diana DeGette, U.S. Representative for Colorado’s First Congressional District.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
Colorado Lt. Governor Dianne Primavera.
Kate Greenberg, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture.
Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager, Denver Water.
Christine Arbogast, representing Colorado Water Congress.
Peter Fleming, General Counsel, Colorado River Water District.
Jim Broderick, Executive Director, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservation District.
Ken Curtis, General Manager, Dolores Water District Manager (retired).
Steve Wolff, General Manager, Southwest Water Conservation District.
Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director, National Audubon Society
Western governors told top federal officials that it was time to dramatically rework programs to help states recover from wildfires, thin overgrown, drought-ravaged forests, and protect mountain water systems.
Governors representing 17 states gathered last week for the virtual Western Governors’ Association conference, which included sessions on forest health, climate change and broadband initiatives, among other policy concerns.
Because the federal government owns vast swaths of land across the West, expanding shared stewardship programs, building in more flexibility to distribute more cash in new ways, and creating a new “green” timber industry to help thin ailing forests and reduce wildfire risk are all needed quickly, according to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who addressed a roundtable meeting with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
“With the federal government owning a big part of our state, it’s a shared responsibility to address forest health and fire mitigation,” Polis said. “Shared stewardship agreements are a valuable tool. But these need to be reimagined and re-upped given this new normal.”
The Western Governor’s Association represents 19 western states, as well as Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The federal government owns roughly 30 percent of Colorado’s land and even more in other states, such as Idaho and Montana.
Thinning forests and protecting mountain watersheds is an often daunting, cross-boundary exercise between the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and state and local agencies.
Congress has been working on a massive infrastructure bill that has some bipartisan support and which will, if approved later this year, provide millions of dollars in new spending for roads, bridges and rural broadband networks, and may also include new funding to help deal with the devastation from wildfires across the West.
Governors made clear to federal leaders that forest health needs to be included in that definition of infrastructure, in part because of its importance to the West’s water supplies. In Colorado, for instance, approximately 80 percent of the drinking water for all residents flows off of forested watersheds.
“We have to have more treatment and to do that we will need more resources,” said Idaho Gov. Brad Little. “Hopefully we can get Congress to understand that as they are working on infrastructure [funding] for bridges and roads, we need to invest in our forests as well.”
Vilsack told governors he was hopeful that the new infrastructure bill as well as other federal legislation, such as the Great American Outdoors Act, would deliver funding and new programs that would help the West cope with a warming climate, water shortages and more frequent wildfires.
“We’re aware of the fire issue and we know the importance of having additional money on the treatment side, as well as ways to create more markets for the wood we produce [when forests are thinned],” Vilsack said.
“But I see a lot of opportunity, especially if we innovate and create voluntary programs and encourage people to take advantage of the income crops that are going to be created,” Vilsack said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
The state of Colorado has passed a bill that sets the groundwork for the exploration of blockchain technology for water management. State lawmakers approved the law that also studies other emerging technologies such as remote sensors, satellite systems and unmanned aerial vehicles.
House Bill 21-1268 was passed by both chambers of the state’s legislature and was sent to Governor Jared Polis, and once he appends his signature, it becomes law. The governor recently floated the idea of the state accepting taxes in digital currencies someday. “I’d love to set that up and wouldn’t it be great to be the first state to do that?” Polis said.
The bill was co-sponsored by 45 legislators. It states that it’s in the public interest to authorize and direct the University of Colorado and the Colorado Water Institute to “conduct feasibility studies and pilot deployments of these technologies and to report to the general assembly on the potential of these technologies to improve Colorado water management.”
The use of these technologies will improve the monitoring and management of both surface and groundwater. They will also reduce inefficiency and waste as well as allow all parties to have more confidence in the data gathered.
It then lists the technologies that it will direct the university to explore, one of which is blockchain. It advocates for the use of “blockchain-based documentation, communication, and authentication of data regarding water use; fulfillment of obligations under Colorado’s system of prior appropriation, including augmentation plans; and water conservation.”
On or before July 15, 2022, the university shall provide live testimony and a written report on the progress of the feasibility studies and pilot deployment, the bill states.
FromThe Center Square (Derek Draplin) via The Kiowa County Press:
President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order halting new leases for oil and natural gas development on federal land, a move criticized by the industry and some state governors.
“We’re going to review and reset the oil and gas leasing program,” Biden said Wednesday at the White House.
Biden said his administration is going to “properly manage lands and waterways in ways that allow us to protect, preserve them and the full value that they provide for us for future generations,” adding that his administration won’t ban fracking.
The administration cites greenhouse gas emissions and “irresponsible leasing” that negatively affects communities as the reason for the order, which won’t affect existing oil and gas development on federal land and doesn’t apply to tribal land.
The lease moratorium, which also applies to offshore leases, expands a secretarial order signed last week suspending new land leases and drilling permits for 60 days unless approved by Department of Interior (DOI) leadership. It’s also part of broader executive actions Biden took on Wednesday.
The executive actions establish an Office of Domestic Climate Policy in the White House along with a National Climate Task Force. Biden is also directing DOI to establish a plan that will conserve 30% of the country’s land and water by 2030…
Other states, like Colorado, welcomed Biden’s climate actions and pledge to work with his administration.
“We will also work closely with the Biden administration as they begin a program-wide review of energy development policy on public lands to ensure that it works for Colorado,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement. “And as long as the review is completed expeditiously we don’t expect an economic impact in the short-term with current market factors and the many existing unused leases and permits.”
Environmental advocacy groups praised the moratorium along with the administration’s broader efforts on fighting climate change.
“Hitting pause on oil and gas leasing is a crucial first step toward reforming a rigged and broken system that for too long has put oil and gas lobbyists ahead of the American people,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director for the Denver, Colo.-based Center for Western Priorities.
The Sierra Club said the lease moratorium “will improve the health of our communities, our climate and our wild places.”
“We look forward to working with the Biden administration to secure lasting solutions that address the climate impacts of coal, oil and gas leasing and put in place long-overdue protections for communities, taxpayers, and the climate,” said Athan Manuel, the Sierra Club’s director of Public Lands Protection.
Here’s the release from Governor Polis’ office (Chris Arend):
The State of Colorado, through the Department of Natural Resources, filed a complaint today in Colorado federal court challenging the approval of the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Uncompahgre Field Office. The Uncompahgre RMP, finalized in April 2020, governs mineral extraction and other land use activities on federal lands spanning five counties in southwestern Colorado. The Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) protested the proposed RMP in July 2019, and Governor Polis also submitted inconsistencies between the RMP and state policies, but those concerns were dismissed by the BLM in the final plan.
The State’s complaint details how William Perry Pendley, a BLM deputy director, violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) when he improperly exercised the authority to resolve DNR’s protest while unlawfully occupying the role of the agency’s acting director. Resolving such protests is a responsibility reserved exclusively to the Secretary of Interior, a U.S. Senate-approved BLM Director, or a legitimate acting director nominated by the President.
Mr. Pendley’s appointment by Secretary David Bernhardt was never reviewed by the U.S. Senate and had extended beyond the legal 90-day limit for temporary officials at the time when the plan was finalized. Colorado’s lawsuit follows a recent ruling in a federal lawsuit in Montana that invalidated two RMPs and an RMP amendment that were approved based on a similar unlawful protest resolution by Mr. Pendley.
“The unfortunate fact is that if the Trump Administration had followed the law in appointing a Senate-confirmed nominee to lead the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Colorado and other western states would not be in this predicament,” said Governor Jared Polis. “It is now Colorado communities and the State of Colorado who face unnecessary uncertainty and potential impacts to local recreation and outdoor industry jobs.”
“The Department of Natural Resources raised legitimate concerns in its protest that the final Uncompahgre RMP runs counter to Colorado’s goals to protect sensitive habitat for big game species and other wildlife, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “The complaint provides facts demonstrating that these concerns were not addressed appropriately, and the approval of the plan by Pendley’s BLM was invalid. We are hopeful that the uncertainty caused by the questionable appointment can be clarified by the court so that Western Slope and Southwest Colorado communities can reliably plan for the future.”
Attorney General Phil Weiser said: “In Colorado, our public lands are critical to our quality of life and economy. Over the years, the Bureau of Land Management has taken a series of illegal actions in developing the resource management plan that harms and conflicts with our state’s policies. We are bringing this lawsuit to address those harms and safeguard public lands and wildlife in Colorado.”
The state’s argument that Pendley, the BLM’s “acting director,” did not have the authority to approve anything mirrors a federal case in Montana that overturned three resource-management plans.
Gov. Jared Polis didn’t like the Bureau of Land Management’s long-range management plan for the Uncompahgre Plateau, saying the expansion of oil drilling in the region did not jibe with state laws and regulations protecting water, air, wildlife and recreation.
And because the agency did not resolve those issues in its Resource Management Plan, Polis on Friday sued the BLM, as well as agency bureaucrat William Perry Pendley and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, asking a federal judge to overturn the Resource Management Plan (or RMP) for nearly 680,000 acres of federal land in western Colorado.
The state is following the lead of Montana, arguing not just that the management plan conflicts with state laws, but that Pendley, who was never formally approved by the U.S. Senate as director of the BLM, did not have the authority to approve the RMP in April.
“The unfortunate fact is that if the Trump Administration had followed the law in appointing a Senate-confirmed nominee to lead the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Colorado and other western states would not be in this predicament,” said Polis in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “It is now Colorado communities and the state of Colorado who face unnecessary uncertainty and potential impacts to local recreation and outdoor industry jobs.”
The final plan approved by Pendley was the first resource management plan approved under the Trump Administration’s “energy dominance” agenda to bolster domestic oil, gas and coal industries. It did not limit drilling in the North Fork Valley and expanded energy development across 675,800 acres of land and 971,200 acres of mineral estate in Montrose, Gunnison, Ouray, Mesa, Delta and San Miguel counties. And it did not weigh the state’s concerns about energy projects potentially injuring wildlife, habitat and air quality.
The preferred plan that was on track in the fall of 2019 — crafted after many years of BLM meetings and work with local communities — was replaced by a new Trump Administration alternative in the spring of 2020 that identified energy and mineral development as key planning issues alongside reducing regulatory burdens for extractive industries and economic development. The BLM said the plan would contribute $2.5 billion in economic activity to the region and support 950 jobs a year for the next two decades.
Earlier this month the BLM approved two oil and gas drilling projects in the North Fork Valley that allow up to 226 wells.
Colorado’s lawsuit, being handled by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, says the plan’s conflicts with state laws were never resolved, so the approval should be overturned.
As Colorado is experiencing extreme drought conditions, and farmers and ranchers are facing significant challenges as a result, Gov. Polis is taking action by expanding Phase 2 activation of the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for the state’s remaining 24 counties and is calling on the USDA to expedite disaster aid payments to support Colorado producers.
In June, Governor Polis activated Phase 2 of the Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for 40 of Colorado’s 64 counties. Due to increased drought conditions, he decided to expand this to the remaining 24, which includes Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Douglas, Gilpin, Grand, Jackson, Jefferson, Lake, Larimer, Logan, Moffat, Morgan, Park, Phillips, Rio Blanco, Routt, Sedgwick, Summit, Teller, and Weld.
“Exceptional (D4) drought conditions returned to Colorado and continue to hold in Kiowa county; 50% of Colorado is currently experiencing extreme (D3) drought conditions; and 39% of the state is under severe (D2) drought (according to the Sept. 17th US Drought Monitor). As of the September 4th record, USDA drought disaster designations are active for 59 of 64 Colorado counties. Record breaking temperatures statewide are projected to persist over the next three months, meaning imminent relief is unlikely,” the Phase 2 activation Phase 2 activation letter reads.
The Governor also sent a letter to Secretary Perdue, encouraging the USDA to provide emergency relief for Colorado producers as a result of persistent drought conditions. “Colorado producers, in all four corners, continue to experience dire ecosystem conditions with depleted soil health, pest pressures, rangeland damage, and a heavy reliance on declining groundwater reserves,” the letter reads.
Governor Jared Polis and members of his administration released a statement following the Trump administration’s increased efforts to rollback the bedrock National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
“This bedrock law helps protect the air we breathe and the water that is the lifeblood of our communities. We know NEPA needs to be more streamlined to ensure renewable energy and infrastructure projects can get moving. The voices of Coloradans should be heard on the projects that impact our communities,” said Governor Jared Polis. “Yet the Trump administration continues to put its thumb on the scale in order to favor special interests over hardworking Coloradans who value our environment and support a deliberative, citizen involved government. While I share the goal of cutting red tape, this latest Trump move is a misstep.”
Director Lew and members of the Polis administration testified at a field hearing in Denver in opposition to the Trump administration’s misguided NEPA roll-back
“Our nation’s roads connect our country and economy, but, historically, they divided many communities in their path,” said CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew. “Construction of the interstate cut through the heart of many cities and rural areas in America, with right of way often acquired disproportionately from lower-income and minority communities. On the heels of this activity in the 1950s and 1960s, NEPA provided a structured way to ensure a conversation with citizens about how a road, bridge or railway would affect their neighborhood, and to ensure opportunity for them to articulate their views or concerns. We can and should always find ways to improve these processes, but it is critical that we do so in ways that improve our understanding of the cumulative, direct, and indirect impact of projects on both our environment and our neighbors. This action misses the mark.”
“The decision by the Trump Administration to significantly alter NEPA implementation is the wrong direction for our country and Colorado,” said DNR Executive Director Dan Gibbs. “Coloradans highly value clean air and water. They want to protect our wildlife and open spaces, and ensure their communities are safe and healthy. The Trump Administration’s changes reduce safeguards, minimize the need to consider the broader or long-term impacts of federal decisions, and put arbitrary limits on environmental studies. These are contrary to Coloradans’ values and will likely result in further harm to Colorado’s natural resources, our economy, and communities.”
“Colorado’s economy and quality of life depend on clean air, clean water, and a stable climate,” said CEO Executive Director Will Toor. “The Trump administration’s new guidelines appear to be surgically designed to avoid consideration of the climate impacts of projects, will eliminate consideration of the cumulative impacts of fossil fuel development, and will undermine efforts to protect air quality in Colorado and other states.”
“This is what disempowerment looks like,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “The federal government is telling agencies to tune out community voices and ignore the most important issues when making decisions. This includes disregarding or diminishing questions of environmental justice, climate change, ozone pollution, and cumulative impacts. Colorado will once again step into the breach to protect its communities’ health, as well as our air, water and lands.”
The Trump administration’s adoption of narrower protections for wetlands and waterways can take effect almost everywhere in the nation, except Colorado, while courts review whether the move was legal.
A federal Judge in California on Friday rejected a request for a nationwide injunction of the rule. Hours later, a federal Judge in Colorado agreed to freeze the federal rule within that state.
The California court’s decision is a major blow to environmentalists and states that had hoped to block the Navigable Waters Protection Rule across the country before it takes effect Monday. Colorado, meanwhile, is celebrating its success in blocking the rule in the Centennial State.
A coalition of liberal states and cities challenged the joint rule from the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers, saying the agencies violated multiple federal laws. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California heard a marathon session of arguments June 18…
Colorado had filed its own legal challenge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
Judge William J. Martinez said some of the state’s arguments were “unusual and partly self-contradictory,” but concluded that the state met the bar for a preliminary injunction, which will put the regulation on hold in that state while the litigation plays out.
Other lawsuits attacking the regulation are pending in district courts across the country, where litigants are pursuing similar efforts to block the measure.
The Trump rule defines which types of wetlands and waterways are subject to federal regulations under the Clean Water Act. The interpretation replaces the Obama-era Clean Water Rule and a set of Reagan-era regulations.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
NARROW WOTUS ON HOLD IN CO
The adoption of narrower Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands is currently blocked in Colorado, as a result of a court ruling on the state’s challenge to the new federal rule. Details are in this Bloomberg Law report.
Result of Denver’s 2017 voter initiative now showing up in greener buildings
In 2017, Denver residents approved a voter-initiated proposal to require green roofs on buildings of more than 25,000 square feet.
Now comes the first report since the initiative was folded into a broader Green Buildings Ordinance in November 2018. City officials say that nearly all the approximately 65 projects subject to the law have been able to include a cool roof.
The U.S. Department of Energy identifies a cool roof as one designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than a standard roof. Cool roofs can be made of a highly reflective type of paint, a sheet covering, or highly reflective tiles or shingles. Nearly any type of building can benefit from a cool roof, but consider the climate and other factors before deciding to install one.
The voter initiative was amended to give developers and builders more options to meet the intent of the law, which was to more briskly take action to reduce energy use, in keeping with the city’s bold climate-change goals, and tamp down the heat-island effect.
The green-building ordinance also gives builders and developers other options for complying with the intent of the law. Those options include on-site solar power production, purchase of off-site solar power, payment to the city’s Green Building Fund, and other conservation methods, or some combination of them.
This story is from May 11, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. For a copy, send your e-mail to email@example.com
The initiative was passed over the opposition of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who said it went “too far,” echoing what development and real estate lobbies said.
Ean Tafoya, who was deputy director of the 2017 campaign, said his side won handily despite being outspent 10 to 1. Now, he’s been to see the results of that on a hotel roof in RiNo, and he’s proud of what he sees.
“We’re excited that it is actually being implemented,” he said. He also notes the benefit that the green rooftops will help with not only the long-term climate impact, but the short-term air quality.
The idea was first broached formally in Denver in 2008 by a task force. “But the overriding lesson is that citizens can use the initiative to effect change.” Following the success of the cool roof law in 2017, others have used the same process to effect other changes in Denver.
Denver planning officials credit the green building ordinance with sparking conversations among developers and builders.
“Developers, property owners, and project teams are participating in important conversations around the value of higher-performing buildings, both to the environment and for the people who live and work in as well as visit these places,” said Laura E. Aldrete, executive director, Denver Community Planning and Development.
“Continuing these conversations will be central to the development community’s ability to meet mandatory building codes designed to help Denver achieve its broader climate action goals,” she added.
“The Green Buildings Ordinance has accelerated the citywide conversation about the role of our built environment in combating climate change,” said Grace Rink, executive director, Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency. “New codes and programs, including the Denver Green Code adopted in December 2019, will build upon this foundation to work toward our community’s climate action goals.”
The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade announced a total of $7.3 million in Advanced Industries Accelerator grants Thursday to companies and educational institutions around the state, including in Northern Colorado and the Boulder Valley…
Sandbox Solar, Fort Collins — $250,000 — Currently, agriculture and renewable energy compete over the remnants of land space in our urban centers across the U.S. Sandbox Solar is developing a method, service, and technology for the two industries to exist compatibly and enable optimal land use. More distributed solar energy will be able to be deployed in strategic locations that keep agriculture in production. This relationship will increase the overall economics to the farmer and to solar developers…
Why Cycles dba Revel Bikes, Carbondale — $250,000 — Revel Bikes designs and builds the best, and most fun, full-suspension mountain bikes you’ll ever ride, and they do it in the most sustainable way possible. Their bikes, as well as their wheels and other high quality bike products, are created with superior materials for strength and performance, unique engineering for comfort and speed, and cutting edge technology for advancing the industry and diminishing the environmental footprint throughout the process.
Colorado and other Western states will be hard pressed to shield their rivers and streams under a new federal Clean Water Act rule finalized last month, largely because hundreds of shallow Western rivers are no longer protected, and writing new state laws and finding the cash to fill the regulatory gap will likely take years to accomplish, officials said.
“We are pleased the final rule protects important agriculture exemptions and provides continued assurance that states retain authority and primary responsibility over land and water resources…However, the federal government’s decision to remove from federal oversight ephemeral waters, certain intermittent streams, and many wetlands is based on flawed legal reasoning and lacks a scientific basis,” Weiser said in a statement.
Whether Colorado will seek an injunction to stop the new rule from being enforced and whether it will join other Western states in a legal challenge isn’t clear. Weiser and Pfaltzgraff declined to discuss their legal strategy, other than vowing to take action.
The Colorado Water Congress, which represents hundreds of water agencies and agricultural interests, had been largely supportive of the new rule before it was finalized. But Executive Director Doug Kemper said the group hasn’t finished its analysis of the final version.
Formally adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency April 21, the move to significantly revise the WOTUS rule began after President Trump took office and vowed to reverse policies established under the Obama Administration.
The new rule has already triggered a handful of lawsuits seeking to stop the EPA from enforcing them. One was filed by cattle growers in New Mexico alleging that the rule is still too onerous, and at least two others have been filed by environmental interests in South Carolina and Massachusetts, who say the rule leaves too many streams unprotected.
And more are expected.
The Clean Water Act (CWA) has been legally hamstrung for years over murky definitions about which waterways fall under its jurisdiction, which wetlands must be regulated, what kinds of dredge-and-fill work in waterways should be permitted, what authority the CWA has over activities on farms and Western irrigation ditches, and what is allowable for industries and wastewater treatment plants to discharge into streams.
One rule never fits all
Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA, the CWA, now nearly 50 years old, is credited with making U.S. waters some of the cleanest in the world. But it has also been, at times, fiendishly difficult to administer, in part because of the nation’s widely different geographies.
Go to the East or Midwest, and massive rivers, such as the Ohio and Missouri, are filled with barge and shipping traffic and are clearly “navigable.” That was the term early courts used to determine how water would be regulated. If a stream was considered navigable, it was subject to federal law.
But Colorado and other Western states rely on shallow streams that don’t carry traditional commercial traffic. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates 44 percent of Colorado’s streams are intermittent, meaning they are sometimes dry, and 24 percent are ephemeral, meaning they can be dry for months or years and appear only after extraordinary rain or snow. Just 32 percent of Colorado streams are classified as being perennial, meaning they flow year round.
Under the new rule, only perennial and intermittent streams, or those deemed navigable, will be regulated, meaning that thousands of miles of streams in Colorado and other Western states would no longer be protected under the law.
A financial quandary
And that worries state water quality officials who are responsible for protecting Colorado’s streams.
They warn that writing state rules and finding millions of dollars in new cash to enforce water quality protections will be difficult, especially as the COVID-19 budget crisis unfolds. Officials of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which includes the Water Quality Control Division, say that until state rules are in place, new housing developments and other projects could be stopped because there is no mechanism yet to issue the permits that were once issued by the federal government.
“While the specific impacts of this rule still are being determined, there’s no question this rollback removes huge swaths of Colorado’s waters from federal jurisdiction—the most of any administration since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. The state will need to put in significant resources to determine how to continue to protect these waters and to determine how this rule will be implemented as the rule is unclear as written,” the CDPHE said in an email.
“Specific construction projects and associated permitting processes that were originally covered…won’t be able to move forward without doing so illegally and harming the environment,” the CDPHE said.
Melinda Kassen, general counsel for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said it would make sense to pursue an injunction to give the state time to set up its own regulations and find a way to fund them.
“If you read the economic analysis that accompanies the rule, there are assumptions that the states will step up and take this over. The potential is for it to be really dysfunctional. We’ve got to get something set up,” Kassen said.
EPA officials have said they don’t expect federal funding to enforce the Clean Water Act will be reduced, even though the new WOTUS rule is smaller in scope and governs fewer waterways.
Still the CDPHE and most opponents of the new rule believe millions of dollars will be needed to fill in any regulatory gap.
How far Colorado will go to challenge the new rule isn’t clear. The CDPHE’s Pfaltzgraff said his agency is still analyzing its next steps.
“It is now up to the state to provide the necessary protection of both Colorado’s economy and the environment,” Pfaltzgraff said in a statement. “We are going to do everything we can, while also addressing the impacts from COVID-19, to ensure Coloradans live in the healthy state they deserve.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt has been appointed by Governor Jared Polis to serve on the Colorado Water Conservation Board; a three year term of office effective February 12, 2020 to February 12, 2023. According to Felt, the appointment represents a shift from what has traditionally been a Front Range focus.
“The Front range gets more attention than we do. But what has been happening is a recognition and an understanding that these upper basins of our major river systems of the state are where the big, forested watersheds are,” said Felt earlier this week. “A lot of those are like ours – not in the best of health and at risk for wildfire. We need to focus more attention on those challenges, as we’ve done through the Envision process here.”
Felt’s viewpoint; that our water infrastructure is dependent upon a healthy forest. “The forest is our greatest reservoir [of water] of all and if we don’t give it some attention, all the dams, and pipelines and ditches aren’t going to be nearly as effective. Watershed health is becoming a big part of the picture.”
While he sees progress ahead, Felt says there are challenges. “How do we achieve those greater goods, without compromising the property? There are trade-offs – what are we willing to do to protect what we value? It will take some creative thinking – getting folks involved who aren’t purely part of the institutions of water management.”
Felt, who still faces Colorado Senate confirmation, says that the role he is taking on is only possible because of the great mentorship he has received over the past several years. “I think I been fortunate to have some great mentors in this field. People like Terry Skanga, Ken Baker and Jim Broderick down at Southeastern [Colorado Water Conservancy] – Alan Hamel of Pueblo board of Waterworks – without their help and guidance I don’t think I’d be at the point where I’m ready to try this. It takes a long time to learn this stuff, and it’s important that we keep passing on the knowledge.”
Three appointments were made to the CWCB. Felt is unaffiliated. Also reappointed to the CWCB were Celene Nicole Hawkins of Durango, Colorado, a resident of the San Miguel-Dolores-San Juan drainage basin and a Democrat, and Heather Renae Dutton, a Republican of Del Norte, Colorado, representing the Rio Grande drainage basin.
Rebecca Mitchell was named to the Colorado Water Conservation Board on July 5, 2017. Photo credit the Colorado Independent.
Detailed Colorado River Basin map via the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arendt):
Governor Jared Polis appointed Rebecca Mitchell as the Colorado Commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission today. The Upper Colorado River Commission is an interstate water agency consisting of the Upper Colorado River Basin States of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.
“The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the American West and is critically important for Colorado’s economy, agriculture, outdoor recreation and our way of life,” said Governor Polis. “Rebecca Mitchell will bring experience, leadership and a thorough knowledge of Colorado River issues and will enhance the shared mission of the Upper basin states of comity and collaboration as the Colorado River Commissioner.”
The Upper Colorado River Commission’s function is to ensure compact compliance with the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Commission was established so states work together and in partnership to meet their obligations to the lower basin states while safeguarding the Upper basin states’ Colorado River water rights and allocations. The Commission is comprised of one representative appointed by the Governor of each Upper basin state and one member appointed by the President to represent the United States.
“The Colorado River faces unique future challenges with increased population, persistent drought, and impacts of climate change,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “We appreciate the service of outgoing Commissioner James Eklund, and Becky is ready to take the reins. She has been an incredible leader at the Colorado Water Conservation Board and her experience is needed now more than ever as the Upper basin states’ enact their provisions of the Colorado River drought contingency plans signed earlier this year.”
“It’s an honor to serve as the Colorado Commissioner for the Upper Colorado River Commission,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board. “There is no more important river than the Colorado both here and across the American West. In Colorado we have built a strong culture of collaboration, innovation, and smart policy to drive future water planning and I plan on bringing the same cooperative spirit and leadership to the Upper Colorado River Commission.”
“I am so proud to have represented Colorado in achieving interstate and international solutions for the Colorado River,” said outgoing Commissioner James Eklund. “The innovative tools we created and put in place are ready for implementation to the benefit of the entire basin. Colorado is now well-positioned to continue its legacy of leadership under the Polis Administration collaboratively and inclusively.”
Rebecca Mitchell (Becky) serves as the Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). She is an accomplished water leader with over 17 years experience in the Colorado water sector and highly knowledgeable in the water laws of the State. Mitchell played a significant part in working with the State’s Basin Roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee, the public at large and CWCB staff in producing Colorado’s Water Plan. Becky has worked in the public and private sector as a consulting engineer; she received both her B.S. and M.S. from the Colorado School of Mines.
Governor Polis also appointed John McClow, General Counsel for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and David Robbins, Hill & Robbins, P.C. to serve as alternate commissioners.
David Robbins photo via Hill and Robbins P.C.
Sean Cronin and John McClow at the 2014 CFWE President’s Award Reception
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday named Rebecca Mitchell as Colorado’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission, replacing Mesa County native James Eklund.
Mitchell also is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
The Upper Colorado River Commission works to ensure compact compliance with the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources said in a new release. Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico are represented on the commission, with the goal of partnering to meet obligations to Lower Basin states while safeguarding Colorado River water rights and allocations in Upper Basin states.
Eklund, who has deep family roots in the Plateau Valley, is a former CWCB director who in that position led the effort to create Colorado’s first water plan.
He stepped down as director in 2017 to take a job as an attorney at a law firm, but remained as Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission, serving without compensation.
Both Eklund and Mitchell played roles in Colorado reaching agreements with other basin states for drought contingency planning…
Mitchell got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Colorado School of Mines, has worked as a consulting engineer, and has more than 17 years of experience in Colorado’s water sector. She also played a significant part in the development of Colorado’s water plan.
County to consider 1,000-foot standard for all new oil and gas wells
Adams County could become the first community in Colorado to require a larger separation between new wells and occupied buildings than the state mandates, as leaders at both the state and local level wrestle with how to implement a historic oil and gas reform law passed this year.
The Denver Post got an early look at a draft of the county’s oil and gas regulations, which the commissioners will likely vote on at the end of the month. They call for a 1,000-foot buffer between wells and homes, schools and day care centers — doubling the distance the state presently requires.
The issue of well setbacks became the topic de jour during the 2018 election, when voters were asked to increase the distance between new wells and homes and schools to 2,500 feet statewide. The ballot issue, Proposition 112, was soundly defeated.
But after the passage of Senate Bill 181 in April, which ended state preemption over energy extraction matters and tasked state regulators with putting health and safety ahead of industry expansion, local governments now have the opportunity to increase setbacks on their own.
Adams County in March put a six-month moratorium on any new drilling so that it could rewrite its rules for the industry. There are hundreds of pending permits for wells in the county…
It’s likely communities that have taken an even firmer stance against oil and gas activity in the past, such as Boulder and Larimer counties, may put in place even larger setbacks than what Adams County is proposing…
Just two years ago, when the state did have total authority over setbacks, Thornton was successfully sued by oil and gas industry groups when the city attempted to enlarge setbacks by 250 feet over the state’s minimum.
The judge, in casting aside Thornton’s rules, found that municipalities “cannot authorize what state law forbids or forbid what state law allows.” That has all changed in the wake of SB 181 becoming law.
The state is just embarking on what is expected to be a months-long process to write rules to implement the new oil and gas law. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission held two days of public hearings last week, which were marked with repeated disruptions from fracking opponents in the audience.
Meanwhile, communities continue crafting or revamping their own rules.
“A fundamental obligation of local governments is to mitigate incompatible land uses,” Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio said. “Large-scale oil and gas facilities are often intense industrial uses, which can be incompatible with residential neighborhoods.”
But O’Dorisio said the 1,000-foot buffer being considered is not a “hardline” threshold, as there is language in the proposed rules that would allow oil and gas operators to apply on a case-by-case basis for a waiver to drill closer.
Matt Samelson, an attorney with Western Environmental Law Partners, said Adams County’s proposed setback shouldn’t come as a shock to many of the energy companies that operate in the congested and mineral-rich north suburban corridor.
Many communities, like Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield, have already gotten drillers to agree to setbacks greater than 500 feet as part of voluntary operator agreements that the municipalities have hammered out with the industry over the past few years.
he U.S. Congress Climate Crisis Committee came to Colorado this week seeking guidance for a new national push to reduce the heat-trapping air pollution that worsens global warming — boosting the state’s position as a center for innovative action.
Members of this select committee and staffers explored energy research labs for two days. They quizzed scientists at work on accelerating a shift off fossil fuels to lower-cost wind and solar electricity.
And on Thursday the lawmakers held their first formal field hearing in a jam-packed courtroom at the University of Colorado law school, repeatedly asking state and city leaders how best the federal government could weigh in…
Gov. Jared Polis testified first, telling the lawmakers climate change poses “the existential threat” that in Colorado is affecting water supply, food production and a recreation industry that needs healthy forests. State agencies are girding for “a hotter, drier, more erratic future,” Polis said, and summarized work “to accelerate the retirement of costly coal assets” that pump out heat-trapping carbon dioxide.
Bold federal action “is more than just a moral imperative,” Polis said. “We also have an economic imperative to lead the global clean energy revolution.”
Colorado still relies on coal as the source for 52% of the electricity people use. However, gradual phasing out of coal-fired power plants, initiated by voters 15 years ago, has begun to reduce carbon dioxide…
Persuading the rest of Congress, under a Trump administration that frowns on utterances of the words “climate change,” looms as a political challenge.
Governor Jared Polis has declared August “Colorado Proud Month” in honor of the Colorado Department of Agriculture local-product program’s twentieth anniversary. Colorado Proud got its start in 1999, long before the local food movement caught fire (and some time after the Always Buy Colorado campaign disappeared into history). Initially, Colorado Proud’s membership consisted of 65 companies selling state-grown and -made products; today it has more than 2,700 members, including growers, food manufacturers, restaurants, ranchers and retailers.
Wendy White, marketing specialist for the ag department, has been with Colorado Proud from the beginning. “I don’t know where the time went,” she says. “We’ve seen such a shift. When Colorado Proud started, I was knocking on doors and encouraging them to participate…we were local before it was hip to be local.” Now, though, it’s not only hip, but consumers are increasingly interested in knowing more about the products they’re buying and the practices of the ranches and farms that produce them.
New businesses are jumping in all the time, too. “We’ve seen a lot of growth in microgreens,” says White. “Lavender we’re really starting to see blossom — pun intended. Hops and hemp, too. Even manufactured food products such as salsas and sauces.”
“Colorado Proud is a national leader in championing the diverse agricultural products grown, raised or processed in our state,” says new Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg, who lists three major goals for her department: supporting the next generation of farmers and ranchers; scaling up investment in high-value agriculture and diversifying market opportunities; and promising and incentivizing soil, water and climate stewardship.
To mark its anniversary, Colorado Proud not only got that Polis proclamation, but replaced its purple-and-gold sunrise logo with one that more closely resembles the Colorado flag (not to mention Polis’s new state logo). It’s also adopted a new outreach theme, “The Next Generation of Ag,” and will be hosting an agricultural community tour around the state this month, including stops at the Union Station Farmers’ Market on Saturday, August 3; the South Pearl Street Farmers’ Market on Sunday, August 4; and the Broomfield Farmers’ Market on Tuesday, August 6.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Alex Zorn):
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser met with Mesa County officials at a Grand Junction Economic Partnership roundtable discussion last Tuesday regarding ways the state office can better serve the Western Slope.
Weiser touched on the AG’s role outside of Denver and protecting Colorado water was among the main points of focus.
“Most people don’t really know what the AG does,” he began…
The Colorado Attorney General leads an office of 500 people out of Denver but, despite this, Weiser said he’s committed to having a greater presence in Grand Junction and would be open to hiring representation in the community…
Protecting the water rights of every Coloradan is a central issue.
Weiser told the roundtable he doesn’t want to see a future in which Colorado doesn’t have Palisade peaches because of water access rights.
He referenced Crowley County, where water rights were sold off and it devastated the community, and Weiser doesn’t want to see a similar situation in this part of the state.
As far as water rights are concerned, Weiser said he doesn’t want to see Coloradoans fighting with each other, nor does he want Colorado fighting with other states for the precious resource.
“This is going to be among the most important things we do,” he said…
Weiser and state Rep. Matt Soper will be hosting a town hall at the Colorado Mesa University Center Monday beginning at 5:30 p.m. The event will be in CMU’s University Center, Room 213, and parking will be provided in the parking garage off of 12th Street.
Here’s a report from The Denver Post (Judith Kohler). Here’s an excerpt:
As state agriculture commissioner, Greenberg wants to travel to as many places as possible. She has also mapped out a set of four major priorities and relishes detailing them.
“Are you ready for the next one?” Greenberg asks as she dives into discussing her priorities. “Are you ready for No. 3? Are you ready for No. 4?”
The road Greenberg traveled to her new job as Colorado ag commissioner is different from most of her immediate predecessors, many of whom grew up farming and ranching. Greenberg did not.
Besides her background, Greenberg is different from her predecessors in an even more fundamental way. She is the first woman to hold the job in the state’s history.
Greenberg grew up in Minnesota, was around agriculture and had friends and neighbors who farmed and ranched. However, it wasn’t until she moved to eastern Washington state that she farmed and ranched herself. There and in western Washington, Greenberg raised vegetables and livestock on community-supported farms. While with the Sonoran Institute, Greenberg worked with communities on restoration projects and managed greenhouse operations.
Most recently, Greenberg was the Western Program Director for the National Young Farmers Coalition, working on water issues and based in Durango. She graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., with a degree in environmental studies-humanities.
“I’ve always loved and worked on behalf of the outdoors, natural world,” Greenberg said. “The piece that really shifted when I came West was realizing the work people put in behind the scenes…
She wants to ensure that agriculture remains vital by supporting the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
“We don’t have enough young people coming into agriculture, which means not only do we risk losing the legacy of the current generation, the assets, but also the land,” Greenberg said. “We are really at a fork in the road with the aging demographic overall of farmers, paired with the economics of farming right now.”
Agriculture contributes about $40 billion annually to the state’s economy, Greenberg said, making it the second-largest sector of the state’s economy.
Click here to read the report. Here’s the vision section:
Governor Polis ran on a bold platform of achieving 100% Renewable Energy by 2040. This goal is motivated by the moral imperative to fight climate change and curb pollution of our air and water, as well as the opportunity to drive innovation and harness the consumer savings and economic bene- fits of leading the transition to a clean energy economy. This is our roadmap to achieve this goal.
This transition is already underway and shows no signs of slowing down. The two fastest-growing professions in the United States are solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine service technicians. Fourteen Colorado towns and counties have already taken the initiative and adopted the goal of getting 100% of their electricity from clean renewable energy: Denver, Pueblo, Boulder, Fort Collins, Summit County, Frisco, Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Breckenridge, Longmont, Lafayette, Nederland to Golden. These diverse communities know that protecting Colorado’s way of life means doing our part to combat climate change, and that swiftly adopting renewable energy in our electricity sector and then extending the impact of that clean electricity across the economy will protect the health of our communities, create good paying jobs, strengthen our economy and keep rates low for customers.
The Polis Administration has taken a number of significant steps that make a down payment on our commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2040. By partnering with the Legislature, we’ve empowered the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to facilitate a rapid transition to renewable energy across the state that includes working with our largest utility to invest in renewable energy and meet a goal of reducing greenhouse gas pollution 80% by 2030. We’re building a regulatory framework that will enable the PUC to work with our second largest utility to transition from coal-fired power to cheaper, cleaner sources of renewable energy. We are also making it easier for individual Coloradans to participate by expanding access to energy efficiency and community solar gardens. Additionally, the Legislature passed House Bill 1261, which sets economy-wide targets for reducing greenhouse gas pollution, with goals of 26% reduction by 2025 below 2005 levels, 50% reduction by 2030 and 90% reduction by 2050, and delegates authority to the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt rules to make progress towards those goals.
One of the most important parts of our transition to cleaner energy is electrifying transportation in Colorado. In order to meet the Governor’s goal of 940,000 zero emission vehicles on the road by 2030, state agencies have taken a number of steps, including allocating approximately $14 million to transit agencies across the state to deploy cleaner buses. The agencies are also expeditiously estab- lishing public-private partnerships to build 33 fast charging stations along major highways in the state. Working with the Legislature, we’ve also made it easier for utilities, with oversight from the PUC, to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure.
While we’ve already taken important strides towards our renewable energy vision, there’s much work to do. The policies adopted this legislative session provide the foundation for much higher levels of renewable energy integration, but additional strategies will be needed to get to 100% by 2040. It’s going to take the perspective, expertise, and commitment from diverse voices across the state to forge a renewable energy future that works for all of Colorado. Together, we can do our part to fight climate change, improve air quality and the health of our communities, diversify and strengthen our economy across the state, and ensure the good-paying jobs of the quickly growing green energy economy are created here in Colorado.
Here’s an interview with Nathan Fey from Jason Blevins that’s running in The Colorado Sun. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
Nathan Fey is the new director of the Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry.
Fey, who has served as acting director for the past month, is a sixth-generation Coloradan who spent 12 years as Colorado’s regional director for American Whitewater. He grew the national organization’s network of regional paddling groups to more than 20 from four and fostered the development of recreational water rights so communities could build whitewater parks.
Fey, an accomplished kayaker, replaces Luis Benitez, the climber who founded the state’s outdoor recreation office — the second in the nation — four years ago and helped build a growing coalition of state outdoor recreation offices across the country.
On the opportunities for growing the outdoor recreation economy in Colorado …
“Here along the Front Range, in Larimer, Summit, Boulder, Gilpin, I see an opportunity to learn from how impacted those landscapes have been, particularly on the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests. We are in discussions with a big range of stakeholders to figure out how we can disperse that use, manage it better so that we are not having such a huge footprint on the land. So the opportunity is, one, correcting the mistake, and two, learning from that and being able to implement new strategies, and perhaps new tools, in other parts of the state that don’t have those issues yet, but are interested in growing their rec economy and will potentially have to address overuse or mismanagement in the future. So now we can stay in front of that one.
“On the development side, I look at communities like Nucla, Naturita and places like Craig; their identity and their economy has been one thing and they are on the cusp of transitioning into something new. They’ve got this incredible wealth of public lands and the Yampa River and the San Miguel River, BLM and Forest Service right out their backdoor. There’s an opportunity there to improve public access and safety and use of those places and create an amenity that draws visitors and more money and more investment.
“It’s about recognizing the diversity of landscapes and attributes we have in the state. Everybody thinks of Colorado as being mountains and ski resorts and what’s accessible from the Front Range. We have incredible opportunities in the San Luis Valley with the Great Sand Dunes, but beyond that, it’s climbing in Penitente Canyon and the trail system surrounding Del Norte and the investment that valley is making into improving river recreation. That just hasn’t been on people’s radar. It’s an example of what we are seeing around the state, where we’ve got really high-quality outdoor opportunities but I guess we just haven’t been marketing them or managing them appropriately.”
Colorado is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to significantly alter new Clean Water Act rules proposed by the Trump Administration, saying the new rules will leave thousands of miles of streams with fewer protections than they have had in nearly 50 years.
In comments submitted to the EPA last week, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser called for a halt to any rollback of protections for streams and wetlands, and said the new rules threaten Colorado’s ability to manage safely the waters that originate here in mountain headwaters and which eventually flow to 19 other U.S. states and Mexico.
“We don’t hate everything that is in the new rule,” Weiser said, such as the affirmation that states need to control their own waters and ongoing protection for farmers. “But these comments reflect critical concerns that need to be addressed.”
Weiser’s actions represent another major shift in Colorado’s relationship with the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA).
In 2015, shortly after the Obama Administration approved a controversial expansion of the CWA, Colorado’s then-Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, sued to stop the rules, along with 11 other states, winning an injunction that remains in place.
Now, under Democrat Weiser, the state has reversed course, pulling out of that 2015 lawsuit and seeking to stop the Trump Administration from dismantling key parts of the CWA and removing what they believe are important protections.
Dozens of environmental and policy groups in Colorado, fearful that the new rules will wipe out more wetlands and negatively impact thousands of small streams and aquatic areas which are crucial to the state’s watersheds, support Weiser’s actions. Among them are Trout Unlimited, Conservation Colorado, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP).
Melinda Kassen is a longtime Colorado water attorney who now serves as general counsel to the TRCP. “Our constituents, hunters and anglers specifically, are about the most pro clean water of any constituency you could have. They want those habitats to be protected and clean and still there,” Kassen said.
Some water utilities and agriculture groups, however, are backing the 2019 proposed rules, though they believe more clarity will help make the act easier to administer.
“It’s huge for us,” said Taylor Szilagyi, spokeswoman for the Colorado Farm Bureau. “It’s not perfect, but generally we’re very supportive of it.” Szilagyi said the newly proposed rules remove much of the uncertainty that farmers have been forced to deal with over the years, including whether their irrigation ditches and canals are subject to the act.
The Colorado Water Congress, which represents some 400 water utilities and farmers and ranchers, also backs the proposed rules, anticipating they will make the water project permitting process faster, more predictable and less costly for members.
“The CWC is concerned with the predictability and certainty of whether a water body is subject to the Clean Water Act and in reducing costs and delays in obtaining CWA permits. The changes reflected in the proposed rules are generally welcome, but additional clarification is required…to achieve fully the predictability and certainty our members seek,” the Colorado Water Congress wrote in a letter submitted to the EPA on April 15.
The CWA has been legally hamstrung for years over murky definitions about which waterways fall under its jurisdiction, which wetlands must be regulated, what kinds of dredge and fill work in waterways should be permitted, what authority the CWA has over activities on farms and western irrigation ditches, and what industries and wastewater treatment plants can discharge to streams.
Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA, the CWA is credited with making U.S. waters some of the cleanest in the world. But it has also been, at times, fiendishly difficult to administer, in part because the U.S. is home to widely different geographies.
Go to the East or Midwest, and massive rivers, such as the Ohio and Missouri, are filled with barge and shipping traffic and are clearly “navigable.” That was the term early courts used to determine how water would be regulated. If a stream was navigable, it was subject to federal law.
But Colorado and other Western states rely on shallow streams that don’t carry traditional commercial traffic. The United States Geological Survey estimates that 44 percent of Colorado’s streams are intermittent, meaning they are sometimes dry, and 24 percent are ephemeral, meaning they can be dry for months or years and appear only after extraordinary rain or snow. Just 32 percent of Colorado streams are classified as being perennial, meaning they flow year round.
Under the new rules, only perennial and intermittent streams, or those deemed navigable, would be regulated, meaning that thousands of miles of streams in Colorado and other Western states would no longer be protected under the law.
Arriving at definitions that apply consistently across the country has been a tortured, and some believe, unsuccessful process. Still, by 2008 the EPA had arrived at a set of policy definitions, known as the 2008 guidance, that established better standards for defining when a stream was perennial, when it was intermittent, and when it was ephemeral. The same was true for better guidelines for wetlands. But significant inconsistencies within that guidance, due to conflicting legal opinions, remained, opening the door for the Obama Administration to simplify the act, and in doing so, include more waters and wetlands under the act’s protection.
Within months, industry groups successfully sued to stop the 2015 rules from being implemented.
The big question now is where to go from here. The Colorado Water Congress would like to see the newly proposed 2019 rules remain in place, with additional work done to clarify key aspects and obtain more consensus among the competing interests, according to Executive Director Doug Kemper.
Colorado is hopeful the EPA and Corps will, at the urging of many states, go back to using the 2008 guidance, rather than adopting the much looser guidance now being proposed. But few believe that will happen under the Trump Administration.
As a result, environmental groups expect they will be forced to sue to stop the new rules from taking effect, just as industry groups sued to stop the 2015 Obama Administration rules from being implemented.
“We will be part of the fight to try to stop any rules that leaves the duck factory and the prairie potholes of the central Midwest and headwater streams across the West and elsewhere unprotected,” Kassen said.
“But what we really need is change that can withstand political swings. The 2015 rules did not assuage critics, and it did not build lasting change,” she said.
Weiser isn’t ready to say whether Colorado would join a new lawsuit challenging the 2019 proposed rules.
“This regulatory system requires a difficult balancing act that addresses a range of interests and is mindful of the role of federal and state authorities,” he said. “It is really important that the Corps of Engineers and EPA take their time and think about the relevant issues and develop an approach that can last.
“If we end up moving back to the 2008 rules, which we would urge, I would hope it would be lasting because the extent of litigation and uncertainty around these rules isn’t healthy for anybody,” he said.
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.
The Colorado Senate Transportation and Energy Committee convened the first hearing for Senate Bill 19-181, dubbed Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations.
The bill would make a variety of changes to oil and gas law in Colorado, including the following:
It would change the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission from one of fostering oil and gas development to one of regulating the industry. It also changes the makeup of the COGCC board.
It would provide explicit local control on oil and gas development, opening the door for local government-instituted bans or moratoriums, which have previously been tied up in court battles because the industry has been considered one of state interest.
It would change the way forced or statutory pooling works, requiring a higher threshold of obtained mineral rights before companies can force pool other mineral rights owners in an area.
Testimony during the committee hearing ran the gamut, including state officials, industry officials, business interests and residents, and it was expected to go well into the night…
Talking about the rallies beforehand — both pro-181 and anti-181 groups — as well as the overflow rooms necessary for all of the attendees, [Carl] Erickson said the scene was wild…
Dan Gibbs, executive director of department of natural resources; and Jeff Robbins, acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; both came out in support of the legislation.
So, too, did Erin Martinez, who survived a home explosion in Firestone that killed her brother and her husband.
“With proper regulations and inspections and pressure testing, this entire tragedy could have been avoided,” Martinez said in closing.
The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee opened the hearing with testimony from Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, the measure’s co-sponsor, according to reporting from The Denver Post.
As he told The Tribune on Sunday, he said during the hearing that the Tuesday hearing was the first of several — with six total to come.
“At the forefront, objective of this bill is to ensure that we are protecting the health and safety and welfare of Coloradans, the environment, wildlife, when it comes to extraction of oil and gas across the state,” said Fenberg, D-Boulder, according to The Post.
From email from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources:
Governor Polis has announced three new board appointments to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
· Gail Schwartz of Basalt, Colorado, representing the Colorado River basin
· Jackie Brown of Oak Creek, Colorado, representing the Yampa-White River basin
· Jessica Brody of Denver, Colorado, representing the City and County of Denver
In addition, the Governor appointed Russ George as the Director of the Inter-Basin Compact Committee in addition to five gubernatorial appointees.
“I’m excited to work with these appointments,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources. “Their collective experience is unmatched.”
Gail Schwartz has spent over two decades serving Colorado in both appointed and elected office. Jackie Brown brings a diverse background in natural resources and is a leader in the water community as the current Chair of the Yampa-White-Green basin roundtable. Finally, as General Counsel for Denver Water and formerly with the Denver City Attorney’s Office, Jessica Brody brings both municipal and environmental law experience.
“I’m looking forward to working with the newly appointed board and IBCC members to continue implementing Colorado’s Water Plan. They bring valued expertise and leadership to the water community,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Director of the CWCB. “We sincerely thank the outgoing Board members and IBCC appointments for their service. Their dedication has been instrumental on numerous policy and planning efforts, including bringing a diversity of perspectives to Colorado’s Water Plan.”
Russ George is a fourth generation native of the Rifle, Colorado area and brings a depth of state government and public service. Russ was instrumental in creating the IBCC and basin roundtables.
“As the first champion of the IBCC and roundtable process, there’s no one better equipped to lead the IBCC. We’re embarking on a future of great opportunity in water, and Russ is the perfect choice to navigate the times ahead,” said Gibbs.
The senate confirmed Gibbs unanimously in a 34-0 vote, with one abstention. Gibbs had already been preparing for the role in the weeks since he resigned as Summit County commissioner, meeting staff and attending meetings to get up to speed on the department’s work.
The state agencies Gibbs will oversee include the Division of Forestry; Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety; the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; the Colorado Avalanche Information Center; the State Land Board; the Water Conservation Board and the state’s Division of Water Resources.
Gibbs said he was thrilled to be confirmed, and was already engaged in high-level work, including the seven-state Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency plans that is seeking to create an updated water distribution compact in the West.
“It’s really amazing being a part of that, and being part of those important conversations happening right now,” Gibbs said. “What we do will have legacy impact on how we manage the Colorado River moving forward. It involves everything from human services to road and bridge to environmental health, I’m learning about a lot of different positions.”
Along with conserving water, other precious natural resources Gibbs oversees includes Parks and Wildlife, which will be the largest department under Gibbs’ purview with 900 employees. One of his priorities with CPW is to find a more sustainable funding model for the agency aside from hunting and fishing license fees…
Gibbs, who had served as a Congressional staffer, state house representative and state senator before his eight years as commissioner, said that his experience working at the federal, state and local levels made him realize the unnecessary barriers that spring up between various levels of government. He plans to use his experience to negotiate among the different players and break down those barriers.
“I want to work to try to demolish those silos isolating them from each other,” Gibbs said. “I want to look at how we manage our land, water and minerals and do what’s best for Colorado as a whole, not just piecemeal management based on federal, state and local ownership. I want a more holistic approach on how we manage and steward on natural resources.”
Ultimately, Gibbs’ most important responsibility as steward of the state’s natural resources is to preserve them for later generations, so they can experience and enjoy the grandeur and freedom this wild country has to offer.
“I have two young kids, and every day I wake up thinking about how we can shape natural resources policy not just now, but for future generations,” Gibbs said. “With 80,000 people moving to the state every year, a lot of it depends on how we manage growth, and how to avoid loving our natural resources to death.”
Honig: You’ve worked with young people as a leader with the National Young Farmers Coalition. Can you talk about ways we could lower barriers that right now make farming for young people pretty difficult?
Greenberg: This is sort of the nexus of a lot of these challenges. For a lot of young people, whether you’re coming at it from a multi-generational angle, or you’re starting fresh, there are tons of challenges.
There are enough challenges with just the weather, with the hail storm that can wipe out your entire crop and water. But then you get the challenges of access and affordability, especially around land. The rising cost of land is prohibiting lots of young people from either entering the business or scaling up their businesses. Same is true with access to credit and capital. Financing a farm business is tough, especially when you’re starting out on your own.
So in my mind we’ve got a ton of things to face but the way I see the world is that they are also opportunities. Agriculture has risen to those opportunities at every obstacle in the past and I’m excited to see how we do so again.
Gov. Jared Polis, a first-term Democrat who was elected in November, listed a range of water issues that the state faces: declining irrigation supplies for farms and ranches, less snowpack for the ski industry, and pollution from the energy industry.
A ballot initiative that would have restricted the location of oil and gas infrastructure failed last November. Polis opposed Proposition 112, which would have established a 2,500-foot setback distance from homes, schools, drinking water sources, and other vulnerable areas. Current law is 500 feet.
“It’s time for us to take meaningful action to address the conflicts between oil-and-gas drilling operations and the neighborhoods they impact, and to make sure that all of our communities have clean air and water,” Polis said, without going into more detail.
Polis reiterated his goal of powering the state with 100 percent renewable electricity by 2040, and advocated for a nascent industrial hemp industry. Proponents argue that hemp, which Congress legalized in the 2018 farm bill, could be a water-saving crop for dry states.
Polis also endorsed the state water plan, negotiated by his predecessor, John Hickenlooper.
“Now we’re going to do our part in implementing it,” he said, asking the Legislature for funding.
“The first thing is listening,” Greenberg said Friday, as Week 1 of her new role drew to a close.
“I’m planning to get out into the field as much as possible to understand what people are up against and to build out our game plan. I see this work as being highly collaborative. It’s my role to bring as many people together as possible to come up with what we need to do down the road.”
Greenberg, appointed by Gov. Jared Polis, oversees the state ag department’s daily operations and its divisions: animal health, brand inspection, Colorado State Fair, conservation services, inspection and consumer services, laboratory services, markets and plant industry.
She is no stranger to the Western Slope and its agri-issues, having served as the western program director for the National Young Farmers Coalition in Durango. Her duties there entailed working with basin roundtables, working on the state’s water plan and Colorado River basin water policy…
“I am excited about Western Slope agriculture. I see so much creativity and perseverance from folks doing it for generations and people coming in now and starting their own businesses…
“With Western Colorado being so rural, and a vast majority of people being on the Front Range and the vast majority of water on the Western Slope, we are going to depend on that creativity to keep agriculture thriving out there and rural agriculture alive.”
Water is the lifeblood for the entire state and that creates challenges for all producers.
“I think producers know that better than anyone, in terms of how precious water is and how important it is that we find solutions that allow agriculture to continue to thrive in Colorado,” Greenberg said.
Montrose’s upcoming Western Food and Farm Forum helps grow agriculture by connecting producers, indicated Greenberg, who is set to address the conference on Jan. 26. She previously helped organize the annual forum and worked with steering committees.
Greenberg, in her first media interview as commissioner, said she grew up split between Minneapolis and in Minnesota’s farm country near Mankato, before moving to Washington where she began farming, working on small-scale, mixed vegetable operations that direct marketed to consumers. Her day job during that time, she said, involved visiting operations of all sizes and types across the West. She said her work has woven between agriculture and conservation, two worlds she said that are one in the same.
Greenberg has spent the past six years based in Durango, Colo., with the National Young Farmers Coalition, building the organization’s staff and the membership. She traveled throughout the intermountain West, including Colorado, working with farmers and ranchers to help young producers return to the land.
“I worked finding ways, through policy, through business services, and through network building to get more young people out in ag,” she said.
To this end, she said she worked with farmers of all ages on the issue of succession, their options to keep operations in business, and working with the next generation. Her other concentration has been getting elected officials onto farms and ranches to give policymakers a better understanding of the challenges agriculture producers face. She said this is meant to ensure policymakers are making decisions based on practice rather than theory after seeing the boots on the ground. Working to give farmers a seat at the table, she said, is vital for agriculture in Colorado.
“Since coming to Colorado to Durango, I have been serving in the role of advocate for farmers and ranchers, connecting producers with their policymakers and ensuring that we have folks standing up for family ag in Colorado,” she said.
Voters in the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District passed a bond issue worth $48.7 million 57.99 percent to 42.01 percent, according to preliminary election results.
Central’s boundaries stretch through parts of Weld, Adams and Morgan counties and serve about 550 farmers who operate about 1,000 irrigation wells. But thousands of people live and vote in the district.
The Yes for Water campaign helped sway those voters, and in a statement sent Tuesday night to The Tribune, officials said they were pleased with the passage of Ballot Question 7E.
“Issue 7E’s passage demonstrates our region’s commitment to supporting family farms and our agricultural economy, providing water storage and resources now and in the future, and protecting and maintaining our rural way of life,” according to the statement.
The bond issue represents a property tax increase of about $22.80 per year for a home valued at $500,000.
Those taxes will go toward paying off debt for a variety of projects, including more lined reservoir storage near Fort Lupton, Greeley and Kersey to increase the district’s holdings by 25 percent, allow the district to buy more water rights and help construct a massive artificial recharge project in Wiggins near the Weld and Morgan county line.
Four Colorado counties next week will ask voters to approve new or to extend existing taxes to preserve land, and to protect and improve waterways.
Denver, Park and Chaffee county initiatives involve sales taxes, while Eagle County voters will be asked to extend an existing property tax.
If all measures are approved, it would mean more than $50 million annually in new funds for these land and water efforts.
“It just demonstrates the importance that rivers and open space and parks have in Colorado,” said Fay Augustyn, American Rivers’ conservation director for the Colorado River Basin. “Counties continue to recognize the importance of protecting this.”
Denver’s Ballot Question 2A asks voters to raise the city and county sales tax .25 percent, or 25 cents on a $100 purchase, with funds dedicated to acquiring and improving park lands and restoration of waterways. If approved it would raise an estimated $45 million annually.
Eagle’s County’s Ballot Question 1A asks voters to extend a 1.5 mill property tax to protect working farms, wildlife habitat, wetlands, floodplains and public access points to rivers and streams. The existing tax generates $4 million to $4.5 million annually, according to Matt Scherr, a backer of the campaign.
Chaffee County Ballot Question 1A is seeking a new sales tax of .25 percent or 2.5 cents on a $10 purchase. If approved the new tax would generate $1.2 million annually, a portion of which would help to protect watersheds in the region.
And in Park County Ballot Question 1A seeks to extend an existing 1 percent sales tax through 2028 and 1B seeks authorization to use those tax dollars to preserve, acquire, lease, improve and maintain water rights, along with water systems and infrastructure, among other items. The existing tax raises $850,000 annually.
“They all take a slightly different angle,” said Gini Pingenot, legislative director at Colorado Counties Inc. Given that nearly one-third of Colorado’s 64 counties are seeking some kind of tax hike, she said it was surprising to see land and water issues landing a spot on the ballot.
“Knowing the amount of stress [counties] are under, I found it intriguing that they would be seeking voter approval for natural resource protection. It probably plays into their recognition that it is part of the lifeblood of their community. Clearly their residents are valuing it,” she said.
Anti-tax forces, however, believe the call for new taxes may be premature. Opponents, of the Denver measure, point out that the city is facing its longest ballot in history with four requests for new taxes, including 2A.
Mike Krause, public affairs director for the Independence Institute in Denver, said the local tax measures are in keeping with Colorado’s TABOR Amendment, which requires local approval of any new taxes. “That’s working the way it should,” he said. But he cautioned that Denver’s 2A, would add unneeded revenues to Denver’s healthy tax coffers.
“The Denver city budget is already growing faster than inflation and population growth. We see 2A as a way to avoid having to use existing revenue to expand the parks, even though they could do it if they really want to,” Krause said.
Denver City Council President Jolon Clark said he hopes voters give the city the go ahead, in part because Denver is one of the only counties in the state that doesn’t have its own open space tax. And, he said, preserving water is key to protecting other green spaces in the city.
“Forty years ago, the South Platte was largely dead ecologically, but today we have trout that are thriving. If you look at the reach between Overland and Grant Frontier [parks, south of downtown Denver], we were able to re-channelize that whole stretch of the river to create high flow and low flow channels because the water had become so slow moving and wide that it would heat up and kill everything in that stretch. Those are the kinds of projects that 2A will help fund,“ Clark said.
The tax questions come as Colorado water officials are researching how best to raise money to help implement the state’s water plan, an effort with a price tag of roughly $20 billion. The money would help create water conservation programs, environmental programs and some water storage projects to stave off future shortages.
Whether these initiatives will serve as an indicator of voters’ willingness to fund bigger projects isn’t clear. Pingenot said counties, traditionally, are much better at convincing residents to tax themselves to reach community goals. Statewide taxing questions are a tougher sell.
“We will know more after November,” Pingenot said. “But I think it is probably instructive for the legislature to observe the sentiment and the desire by communities to protect their resources.”
The idea of asking local residents to pay up to protect regional watersheds isn’t new. In 2003, the state approved the Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund income-tax check-off. After falling into dormancy, it came back in 2016 and was broadened to accept non-income tax related donations. To date the fund has raised nearly $1.5 million, according to Casey Davenhill, executive director of the Colorado Watershed Assembly, which administers the fund.
But it is Pitkin County that has created the most far-reaching watershed tax. In 2008, voters approved the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Fund, which has generated $8 million for water projects. To date, it has helped build a recreational in-channel diversion on the Roaring Fork River, among dozens of other projects.
Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said the initiative’s backers hoped other counties would follow suit.
“We always thought other counties would join in but it has been slow,” he said. “It’s nice to see other people joining us now.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
Click here to read the latest “Fresh Water News” from Water Education Colorado.
Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:
This study, conducted by Southwick Associates for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, estimates the economic contributions of outdoor recreational activity in Colorado during 2017. The results are provided at the state-level as well as for 7 regions within the state.1 Focusing on the state-level results below, the total economic output associated with outdoor recreation amounts to $62.5 billion dollars, contributing $35.0 billion dollars to the Gross Domestic Product of the state. This economic activity supports over 511,000 jobs in the state, which represents 18.7% of the entire labor force in Colorado and produces $21.4 billion dollars in salaries and wages. In addition, this output contributes $9.4 billion dollars in local, state and federal tax revenue. Similar interpretations can be applied to the regional results. Outdoor recreation constitutes a substantial part of the Colorado economy.
Note: Part of the analysis for this study was based on work performed or supported by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA, 2017). This study uses a broader definition of outdoor recreation, and for this reason the results of these two studies should not be directly compared. Rather, these two studies should be used together to gain a better understanding of the economic contributions of outdoor recreation to the Colorado economy.
Gov. John Hickelooper joined staffers from several different state and federal agencies, outdoor businesses and conservation groups along the South Platte River in Lower Downtown to unveil the latest survey of the state’s outdoor recreation economy. Hickenlooper noted the big increase in the overall economic contribution — to $62.5 billion from $34 billion in 2013.
“This puts it as one of the top economic drivers of our economy,” Hickenlooper said. “That’s a $35 billion contribution to our GDP (Gross Domestic Product). That’s more than 10 percent.
“And this is the one that is really staggering. This is up about 60 percent from the last number I saw — 511,000 jobs. That is a monster of commitment to our economy,” Hickenlooper said.
Those jobs, up from roughly 313,000 about five years ago, include those directly supported by the industry and jobs indirectly associated with and benefiting from outdoor recreation.
The results are in a report conducted by Southwick Associates for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. It estimates the contributions of outdoor recreational activity in Colorado in 2017. The last report by Southwick looked at activities during 2012 and 2013.
The economic figures in the new study differ from those in the Outdoor Industry Association’s numbers for Colorado. The trade association places Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy at $28 billion and the number of direct jobs at 229,000. The difference, said state officials, comes from the state report’s inclusion of more activities, like using urban hiking and biking trails and parks, and builds on previous surveys as part of Colorado’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.
The governor signed an executive order Friday creating the Interagency Trails and Recreation Council. It directs state agencies to continue collaborating to promote conservation and outdoor recreation and advance the Colorado the Beautiful initiative, whose goal is ensuring that every Coloradan lives within 10 minutes of a park, trail or green space.
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s water plan has been big on collaboration, but short on action. He’ll leave the toughest decisions to his successor.
Colorado had plenty of reasons to worry about water by the time it elected John Hickenlooper in 2010.
The state was in its 11th year of drought. The health of its rivers was waning. And early projections of a statewide shortfall had cities and suburbs starting to stress out.
More urgent concerns have surfaced over Hickenlooper’s two terms as governor.
The drought has now lasted 19 years. Low precipitation and hotter temperatures have cut river flows by nearly 20 percent, with no end in sight. And the Colorado River, the state’s main source of water, is over-tapped to the point of possible federal intervention.
Colorado’s population, in the meantime, has skyrocketed with help from Hickenlooper’s pro-growth agenda, while its main source of water funding has proven unreliable. Ranchers are auctioning their cattle early because vegetation is so dry. Trout this past summer were too hot and sluggish to put up a fair fight. And nearly all Coloradans could smell the smoky urgency as wildfires burned our parched forests.
The “dry heat” that used to seem like a plus in Colorado has started, increasingly, to seem like a minus.
Hickenlooper has touted his administration’s 567-page water manifesto as the answer to a looming shortfall in which the state’s water demands are expected to exceed its supply. “Colorado’s Water Plan shows us how we can move forward together to ensure we continue to enjoy sufficient supplies for our vibrant cities, productive farms and incomparable environment,” he said when releasing it in 2015.
“We are not at a crisis,” he told The Colorado Independent earlier this month. “I don’t think (Coloradans) should be hysterical, but I think it’s a necessary concern for everyone.”
Factors both in and out of Hickenlooper’s control, however, have cast doubts about Colorado’s ability to avert a water shortage. Though the governor with the glass-half-full outlook has raised awareness about the state’s water supply problems, he’ll leave office in January without a strategy on how, specifically, to solve them. A growing chorus of experts says his failure to put forth lasting solutions has left Colorado in hot water.
“We’re not goring oxes any more.”
Colorado’s governors typically have acted as referees rather than visionaries on water policy, if they’ve acted at all. Hickenlooper set out to make a difference in 2013 when he ordered the first statewide water plan to stave off what at that point was projected to be a shortfall in 2050.
By most accounts, he didn’t engage in the specifics. But he saw to it that planners invited input from farmers and ranchers, anglers, rafters and kayakers, environmentalists, and industrial users and municipal users, meaning those of us who hope to keep washing our dishes and showering. All told, his administration likes to note, some 30,000 Coloradans commented on the plan as it was being drafted.
It fell to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), a division of the state Natural Resources Department, to write a plan that reflected the state’s diverse water interests and put them in the broader context of 19th century water laws and 20th century legal obligations to keep the Platte, Arkansas, Rio Grande and Colorado rivers flowing to neighboring states.
Released in November 2015, the plan calls for gleaning 500,000 acre-feet of additional water a year – or enough to supply nearly a million people – to avoid the projected shortfall. It seeks to achieve 80 percent of that through conservation, 10 percent through storing more water in aquifers or reservoirs created by new dams, and 10 percent through temporary water transfers from agriculture.
Environmentalists, though unhappy with the prospect of more dams, applauded the plan for acknowledging the effects climate change is having on water supplies. (Utah’s water plan avoids that subject altogether.) They, along with members of Colorado’s $28-billion-a-year outdoor recreation industry, saw it as a victory that the plan seeks to keep as much water as possible flowing in rivers.
Farmers and ranchers, though fearful that those environmental goals might threaten their water rights, embraced the plan’s commitment to preserving agriculture at a time when massive swaths of farmland and the water rights tied to them are being sold off to cities. That practice, known as “buy and dry,” has, along with urban sprawl, caused Colorado to lose about 1 percent of its agricultural acreage a year since the turn of the century.
For the officials who run municipal water districts, the plan didn’t much affect their efforts to keep water flowing from the faucets, toilets and sprinkler systems of the 90 percent of Coloradans who live in cities and suburbs. Though most of those districts were already managing their limited supplies, they embraced the spirit of statewide collaboration with agriculture and environmentalists that Hickenlooper says is needed to work out solutions.
That spirit, that ethos that “we’re joined at the hip,” as the governor puts it, has earned his water plan props in a state that is said to have coined the term “whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting.” Those who’ve worked around water policy long enough to remember the bitter, two decade-long fight over the proposed Two Forks Dam see the kinder, gentler approach as the only path forward.
“Colorado’s water world badly needed a new construct,” said Melinda Kassen, a Colorado-based water policy expert with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “What the water plan does is make a shift in who needs to be at the table, and insist that there be a table instead of just litigation in the first place.
“We’re not about goring oxes any more.”
“Because this administration opened lines of communication about water,” added CWCB Director Becky Mitchell, “we’re in a better place than before Gov. Hickenlooper took office.”
Where the plan falls short
For all its big ideas about collaboration, the state water plan lacks specifics.
Its broad-brush, aspirational goals have left water users in all sectors wondering about details. Some are asking how, for example, the state will be able to preserve its farming and ranching heritage while also quenching the needs of population growth, which long has been slurping up agricultural water supplies. Others wonder how, especially in a prolonged drought, the state will manage to store more water in aquifers and reservoirs while simultaneously keeping more water flowing in rivers.
“There are a lot of ideas in that plan that seem, to me at least, mutually exclusive,” said Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District in Palisade. “If you ask me, it’s all feel-good words with nothing concrete coming out of it. I mean, they’re not even working with current numbers.”
By numbers, Schmidt means data projecting water demands and supplies. CWCB’s last comprehensive set of projections, known as the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI), was released in 2011 but was based on 2008 data that didn’t factor in climate change. Those were the numbers upon which the projected 2050 water shortfall was based.
James Eklund, who ran the Colorado Water Conservation Board while the plan was being written, told The Colorado Independent in 2015 that a new SWSI would be ready in 2016. Months later, he pushed that date to early 2017. That deadline came and went as Eklund quit for a job as a private water lawyer. Mitchell, the state water planner who replaced him at CWCB’s helm, said the agency had been having problems coming up with roughly $2 million to pay for the study, which is now expected for completion in July 2019, three years behind schedule.
“We were overly optimistic about when we could get it out,” said Greg Johnson, the state’s chief of water supply planning.
Some experts question the wisdom of having released a water plan based on such outdated numbers. Tying the plan to more accurate supply and demand projections, they say, would have offered a clearer picture of Colorado’s water realities and conveyed to policy makers a more pressing sense of urgency.
That urgency stems not just from the fact that 19 years of drought have dropped significantly less snow in Colorado’s high country, but also from research showing hotter temperatures are causing what water there is to evaporate or be absorbed by plants at alarming rates. A study by Colorado State University shows that from 2000 to 2014, flows in the Colorado River averaged 19 percent below those recorded the previous 93 years. Similar shifts could be seen this past summer when the state had to set unprecedented use restrictions on the Yampa and Crystal rivers to keep them from running dry.
Hydrologists note that so much has changed in their projections that they are no longer referring to the 19-year dry spell as a drought because that term implies a return to 20th century snowpack levels, which they say is not going to happen. If temperature and precipitation trends continue, as they are expected to, CSU’s data shows Colorado’s water supplies would diminish another 15 percent more by 2050 in addition to the 19 percent decrease that already has taken place.
“That 34 percent turns this drought from a serious challenge to a disaster,” said CSU hydrologist Brad Udall, co-author of the CSU study (and former member of The Colorado Independent’s board of directors). “Policy makers need to be paying attention, close attention, to this data.”
Aside from updated data, the water plan also lacks specifics on strategy. The planners assigned to write it struggled for more than a year with the last section, Chapter 10, which promised to lay out “measurable objectives, goals, and critical actions,” and was meant to be the plan part of the plan.
But a close read of that chapter shows very few measurable goals for which the administration can be held to account. The plan underscores the importance of “instream flows” – keeping more water in rivers to protect their ecological balance – for example, but avoids setting levels for what those flows should be. Without those kind of specifics, critics say it’s toothless.
“I found that incredibly frustrating,” said Amy Beatie, former executive director of the Colorado Water Trust, a nonprofit that buys and leases water so it can be returned to rivers. “We need more than conceptual agreement. We need specific expectations and goals before we’ll see any real progress.”
The administration’s reluctance to commit to specific strategies is perhaps most apparent in the way it has structured decision-making. Under the plan, nine “roundtable” groups – representing Colorado’s eight river basins plus metro Denver water users – are free to choose which water projects should receive state funding.
“You’d think that if they’re spending the state’s money, there would be a clear articulation by the state of the objectives for that spending,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, Colorado’s biggest municipal water district. “Instead, what you get with that type of bottoms-up approach is a grab bag, a something-for-everyone dynamic that’s not particularly effective in advancing a statewide vision.”
Lochhead is a former state Department of Natural Resources director who served as Colorado’s lead water negotiator under three governors. Although he has described Hickenlooper’s willingness to create a water plan as an “act of political courage,” he has been saying for three years that the end product is not a plan at all, but rather a “compendium of ideas and platitudes.”
He is especially critical that Hickenlooper has not done more to address the impact urban sprawl is having on water supplies. He says the administration should have made more progress helping to establish water markets to allow farmers and ranchers to temporarily lease their water rights without losing them long term. And he cites what he calls the state’s “failure” to not eliminate regulatory impediments to water reuse and recycling projects and to not speed up permitting processes that, for example, have delayed Denver Water’s proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir for almost 20 years.
“A commitment to collaboration is all well and good, but it’s not going to get us there,” Lochhead said. “Somebody needs be more aggressive in making some real decisions on where we’re going to come up with enormous amounts of water. But that’s not going to happen, at least under this administration.”
More than a dozen municipal and state water officials interviewed over the past year have echoed Lochhead’s frustrations, but would not speak on the record for fear of losing their jobs or jeopardizing their agencies’ working relationships. Almost all said the water plan lacks clear strategic goals. And several felt that the public engagement aspect took on absurd proportions. Though they laud efforts to seek public comments while the plan was being drafted, they say the administration’s insistence that the number of comments reach into the tens of thousands had less to do with an authentic interest in those comments than it did an interest in inoculating the plan from criticism.
One Front Range water manager who asked not to be named likened state water planners, during the public comment phase, to “those kids in high school who rushed around asking everybody to sign their yearbook.” The manager added: “The thinking seemed to be that the more people they got to comment, the more validating or popular … the plan would seem. It’s kind of hard to take a plan like that seriously.”
For all the time and the nearly $4 million the administration put into creating the water plan, Beatie, the Colorado Water Trust’s former executive director, says she expected it would reflect what she calls “the strategic heart of Colorado’s water community” – an honest recognition that “there’s not enough water right now, right here, for progress, real progress not to hurt.”
“But what they came up with is basically just a multi-page tome that’s more narrative than a plan. It’s just a giant thing that just sits on everybody’s desk.”
Hickenlooper dismisses criticism that his plan lacks depth, saying, “One of the most important things we laid out are sets of priorities.”
“Any time you try to do something for the first time and you are … a pioneer, you’re going to get some challenges,” he added. “We knew it was going to be hard and that’s why we tried to engage so many people in the process.”
Who should conserve
The governor raised the hopes of environmentalists and water policy reformers in his 2014 State of the State address by saying that “any conversation about water needs to start with conservation.” The “C” word long had been left out of statewide water discussions.
It still is.
That’s because Hickenlooper’s plan puts the entire conservation burden on municipal districts, whose users consume about 8 percent of the state’s water. The plan expects virtually no conservation from agriculture, which consumes about 87 percent.
The governor defends the approach, saying, “Denver Water and all the utilities along the Front Range” have “a moral obligation” to “conserve as much as humanly possible,” and also an obligation to help “sustain food supplies.”
Colorado’s biggest municipal water districts say their conservation programs are meeting those obligations.
Denver Water has reduced per-capita water consumption by 25 percent and says it’s using about the same amount of water district-wide since 2000 despite the addition of about 250,000 more customers. The agency serves about a quarter of Colorado’s population with 2 percent of the state’s water.
“We and the other Front Range water utilities are all basically moving as fast as we can through water efficiency. It’s not something we need to be told to do or incentivized to do by the state. It’s something that we’ve been doing and paying for by ourselves for a long time,” Lochhead said.
Aurora Water has more junior water rights than Denver’s water rights and has started quenching many of its customers’ needs with a $653-million reuse project that turns Platte River water captured downstream of Denver’s wastewater treatment plant into drinkable water. Fast-growing communities such as Castle Rock and Parker have similar projects in the works.
Though most of Colorado’s large municipal water districts are willingly embracing further conservation efforts, their managers say the additional water they’ll collectively be able to save won’t be nearly enough to meet Hickenlooper’s 400,000 acre-foot statewide conservation goal.
“The numbers aren’t realistic because the margins don’t make sense. It’s not feasible to expect all the conservation to come from municipalities when they don’t use even close to most of the water in the state,” said Alexandra Davis, Aurora Water’s deputy director and head of its water resources division.
“What the plan doesn’t say – what nobody will say out loud – is that some of the conservation burden is going to have to fall on agriculture because there’s nowhere else for it to come from. It just is. We need to face that idea rather than pretending that agriculture doesn’t need to be part of this equation.”
That equation, Davis and other municipal water bosses say, needs to address what they describe as enormous amounts of water being wasted by flood irrigation techniques and by seepage from the unlined, dirt ditches through which water is still delivered to many farms and ranches. If cityfolk and suburbanites have to use water more efficiently, they argue that countryfolk should, too.
John Harold, a sweet corn grower in Olathe, is one of the few growers who’ll agree, at least publicly.
“What you see out here are farmers buying all kinds of fancy new tractors but using irrigation methods and open ditches that are more than 100 years old,” he said.
“We’ve got to wake up and become more efficient. But, unfortunately, you have to hit most farmers with a sledgehammer to get them to realize that.”
Others say it’s a myth that farms waste massive amounts of water, and a misconception that more efficient farming and ranching practices could save enough to make a significant difference in the statewide conservation goal.
“That portrayal of us as big water wasters, it’s offensive,” said Paul Kehmeier, a farmer in Eckert who says his 93-year-old father Norman raised him, like Norman’s father and grandfather before him, to use only what’s needed.
As Kehmeier tells it, water delivered through the kind of unlined dirt ditches his forebearers built “isn’t being wasted” through seepage, “it’s just being rerouted to natural drainage.” He says any amount that could be saved through lining those canals would be “marginal.” Likewise, he adds, it would make no significant difference if he watered his alfalfa “using flood irrigation or using an eyedropper” – “those alfalfa are going to consume the same amount of water to grow, no matter what.”
That viewpoint is shared by some outside the agricultural community. Anne Castle, who served as assistant secretary for water and science in the Obama administration’s Interior Department, agrees that “agricultural efficiency doesn’t necessarily save water.”
“So it’s a hard question about what additional contribution agriculture should make,” said Castle, now a senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment at the University of Colorado. She said expects that economics, not efficiency efforts, will ultimately drive agriculture’s role in helping to avert a statewide water shortfall.
A leap of faith
Colorado’s water law system is predicated on the notion of “beneficial use” – meaning that water must be “used,” even if that means wasted, in order for users to keep their rights to it. That system long has created a built-in disincentive for farmers and ranchers to conserve.
It also has led to suspicions about “alternative transfer mechanisms,” the kind of economic incentive on which Hickenlooper’s water plan is banking. ATMs are deals in which farmers or ranchers are paid to temporarily fallow their land and transfer their water rights for municipal use or conservation purposes. Water planners tout them as a flexible way to save more water as prolonged drought and population growth are putting firmer demands on state supplies.
“The key word here is ‘flexible,’ meaning that by changing cropping patterns temporarily – which is something agriculture has a long history of doing – these are short-term solutions when there’s a squeeze,” said Eric Wilkinson, who recently retired as chief of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
But few growers have been willing to agree to such deals, fearing that the process will strip them of their water rights.
“Farmers, from my perspective, don’t like change. They also don’t like risk,” said CSU’s Udall. “For these things to work, farmers need to believe they won’t lose their water.”
In the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District – which spans from Brighton north to Greeley, and east to Fort Morgan – not even one grower has been willing to make that leap of faith. The concern, says Executive Director Randy Ray, is that even temporary water transfers like ATMs require applicants to go to water court and quantify their “yield” – the amount of water their farms or ranches use. Once a yield is quantified, it’s open to public examination, which can trigger long and expensive battles in which more junior water rights holders pose challenges, sometimes trying to degrade or devalue the applicant’s senior water rights. Ray likens that process to getting an involuntary haircut.
“Once you go to water court to quantify your yield, you make yourself vulnerable to getting scalped. Nobody wants to take that risk, at least around here.”
Some 340 miles to the west in Eckert, Paul Kehmeier rolled the dice on the land his great-grandparents homesteaded in 1894. In the hierarchy of water rights, his are senior – and valuable.
When the drought hit in 2001, he and his father Norman figured it would pass the way other dry spells had on the West Slope. Farmers, Kehmeier notes, are “eternal optimists.”
But in 2016, after a decade and a half of drought conditions, father and son decided that waiting for more rain and snowmelt would be less an act of optimism than of foolishness. And so they agreed to participate in a pilot project with CSU and the Nature Conservancy whereby, for a price, they stopped irrigating about 60 acres of land from late June through mid-September of that year and let the water flow “down the creek” into the Gunnison River, then to the Colorado River. The deal was part of a larger project funded by the Walton (as in Walmart) Family Foundation to test the efficacy of water markets in Colorado.
“The only way to meaningfully conserve water in agriculture is to not grow crops, plain and simple. And the only way to make that happen is to make it worth a farmer’s while financially,” said Kehmeier, who was pleased with the outcome and would agree to similar water transfers in the future.
Although he said he and family appreciate what he calls “all the nostalgia and warm feelings about agriculture” put forth in Hickenlooper’s water plan, they realize that “when push comes to shove, (municipal) users with the political power and money are going to get what they want, and everybody knows that.
“I don’t think we can turn back the tide.”
The funding question
Paying farmers to send water “down the creek” on a scale large enough to achieve meaningful savings will require money. Lots of it. And the most frequent criticism of Hickenlooper’s water strategy is that nobody knows where that money will come from.
Even the water plan’s price tag has been questionable.
Eklund said in 2015 that implementing the plan would cost $20 billion. He wouldn’t specify which water priorities and projects that amount would fund. Rather, he said that his estimate was a rough, “back-of-the-napkin” analysis that considered “numerous funding areas.”
Weeks after her appointment as Eklund’s successor in 2017, Mitchell put the water plan’s price tag at what she called “a more realistic $40 billion.” That higher price included water quality projects and funding to restore flows and ecosystems in Colorado’s rivers.
Hickenlooper’s pro-business-, pro-development-, and PR-sensitive office cringed at that disclosure. Over the past year, Mitchell has reined the figure back to $20 billion. “It’s what we can do, reasonably, as a state,” she now says.
Of the $20 billion, about $16 billion is expected to come from municipal water districts via consumer water rates, and another $1 billion from federal grants and revenues from the state severance tax. That tax, levied on oil and gas companies for drilling, long has been Colorado’s biggest source of water funding. Revenues were at $68 million annually in fiscal year 2014-2015, but took a nosedive in fiscal year 2015-2016 just as the water plan was being released. State officials have decided that severance tax revenues fluctuate too dramatically to reliably carry out the water plan.
That leaves a funding gap of more than $3 billion for parts of the plan that don’t already have revenue streams. Those include subsidizing conservation by municipal water districts in economically depressed parts of the state, paying to rehabilitate streams and rivers after decades of over-depletion, and paying farmers like the Kehmeiers to temporarily fallow their land.
Hickenlooper will leave office in January without having identified a way to fill that funding gap. “Some of the funding is still not locked down,” he acknowledges. His departure comes just as a new development on the Colorado River has created additional pressure – one far more urgent than a looming shortfall in 2050 – to conserve.
The federal government has given Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah until the end of the year to agree on a plan to send more water to Lake Powell, the massive reservoir in which the four Upper Basin states store Colorado River water, to ensure they can meet their contractual obligations to deliver a certain amount annually to the lower basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California. Lake Powell is less than half full after years of drought and overuse. If Colorado fails to conserve enough water to help replenish it or otherwise meet the terms of the “drought contingency plan” the Upper Basin states are currently negotiating, the feds could step in and curtail our access to river water.
“If the same hydrology (patterns) that started in 2001 continue, Lake Powell will be dry within three years. It is a very serious situation, an existential threat that we need to be acting on sooner rather than later,” Lochhead said, noting that the state’s water strategy needs to be more proactive than simply hoping we have a few big snow years “To me, that’s not preparing. We’re staring a crisis in the face.”
“We have to get after it,” added CU’s Castle. “Every year we wait, it gets worse.”
Tom Gougeon is president of the Denver-based Gates (as in Gates Rubber Company) Family Foundation, which funds ways of balancing Colorado’s disparate water needs. Given that “there’s a lot of stress on the system right now,” he says it’s important to harness “that sense of impatience and urgency.”
Gates has an ally in the even deeper-pocketed Walton Family Foundation, the biggest private funder of sustainable water projects on the planet. Walton has taken a special interest in funding conservation projects and water banks along the Colorado River.
Recognizing that Colorado can’t wait for Hickenlooper’s successor to come up with a funding source, the two philanthropies have formed a 25-member working group to make a recommendation.
“This plan is only as valuable if it has secure, sustainable funding to support it,” said Ted Kowalski, the head of Walton’s Colorado River Initiative.
Made up of experts representing a wide variety of water interests throughout the state, the working group is considering a bottle tax, a tourism tax, and a tax on sports betting as possible funding options. Whichever of those or other methods it picks, the goal is to raise $100 million in revenues annually, totalling $3.2 billion by 2050, the year in which the shortfall is currently projected.
The group aims to come up with a suggested funding plan in the next few weeks, then urge lawmakers to start crafting bills for the 2019 session, which starts when Hickenlooper leaves office in January.
In the meantime, a state-organized group called the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) is attempting a parallel effort to come up with a water funding recommendation, but sources close to those talks say they’re languishing.
By most accounts, it’s easier for philanthropies to prod movement because they don’t face the political pressures that politicians do. Hickenlooper is eyeing a bid for president.
“We don’t operate on two- or four- or six-year terms. We’re uniquely situated in asking people to participate in the conversation because we can have a longer view,” said Kowalski.
Added Gougeon: “The fact that we’re not the decision makers, I think, gives us the freedom to explore these possibilities.”
Whichever funding option is recommended, it will likely require voter approval. The working group is eyeing the 2020 ballot, allowing almost two years to educate Coloradans about statewide water needs.
But state Sen. Don Coram, a Republican from Montrose who serves on the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, wants to push for a ballot issue in 2019: “The truth is that Colorado doesn’t have the luxury of waiting,” he said.
Regardless of which year, there will be obstacles. A long list of other statewide needs – such as education, health care, rural broadband, and possibly transportation – will be competing for state funding. And Coloradans have a less than stellar record of approving water taxes. Voters in 2003 soundly rejected a statewide water funding ballot measure in a defeat blamed largely on the fact that the initiative gave no specifics about which water projects it would fund. Politicos say a future measure, if it’s to succeed, would need to be more specific than the 2003 effort and than Hickenlooper’s 2015 water plan.
It will be in the ironing out of those specifics and deciding which water projects would and wouldn’t be funded that one of Colorado’s most outspoken water watchdogs expects the spirit of collaboration at the core of Hickenlooper’s water plan could break…
As Castle, the former Interior Department undersecretary, tells it, “It will require dedicated leadership at the highest levels in order to make progress” convincing voters to approve a statewide water tax and leading Coloradans to conserve enough water to start replenishing Lake Powell.
“I don’t know the extent to which either of the two candidates (for governor) will prioritize achieving some of these goals,” she said.
Neither Democrat U.S. Rep. Jared Polis nor Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton has much experience with water policy. Neither tends to raise the issue on the campaign trail. And neither particularly impressed their audiences when speaking to state and local water officials at the Colorado Water Congress in August. In prepared remarks that Stapleton recited like a term paper and Polis delivered with a notable lack of energy, both said they’d carry out the water plan and find a way to raise the $100 million a year to do so.
Stapleton seemed to favor sports gambling as a funding option. He hedged when asked about climate change’s effects on water resources. And he said the state will need to build new ways to store water because “conservation won’t get us where we need to go.” Some water wonks bristled when he mispronounced the word aquifer.
Polis emphasized a heavy investment in conservation and water efficiency. He said “growth needs to pay its own way” when it comes to water infrastructure. And he said he would oppose any transmountain diversions (projects carrying water from the West Slope to the Front Range) “that are not universally agreed upon.”
Both campaigns since have refused to answer The Independent’s questions about the specifics of their candidates’ water stances.
“I would like to hear more specifics from them about some of the fundamental policy issues. I think a lot of people would,” Lochhead said. “My concern is that we’re not moving fast enough. Things need to move more quickly, a lot more quickly, than they are today.”
Whichever candidate wins in November will have to persuade state lawmakers and voters from urban areas – who already will be shouldering 80 percent of the cost of implementing the plan through their water rates – to agree to an additional water tax.
He also will have fences to mend with folks who’ve complained that Hickenlooper’s administration has iced them out about where state water policy is headed.
In September, a group of West Slope water users slammed Eklund (the former CWCB director whom Hickenlooper kept as Colorado’s lead negotiator on the Colorado River), accusing him of a lack of transparency about his talks with other Upper Basin states on how to manage water in severe drought and replenish Lake Powell. Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, had especially harsh words about what he saw as Eklund’s refusal to keep his group apprised on the agreement to bank water in Lake Powell. Growers on the West Slope fear that water banking efforts could strip them of their water rights.
“We haven’t seen those documents that are about to be executed. We’ve been told that we don’t need to see them. We’re not OK with that. We don’t think it’s acceptable. We think those documents need to be shared with us and frankly the impact of those documents needs to be shared with the water users of the Western Slope and the state of Colorado,” Mueller was quoted last month by The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction.
His remarks called into question how “joined at the hip” statewide water interests really are, despite Hickenlooper’s push for collaboration and trust.
Eklund since has shared the details Mueller sought, but continues to be distrusted not just on the West Slope, but also among some of his former state colleagues and other water officials who have questioned whether his work practicing water and infrastructure law at the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs conflicts with his representation of the state on Colorado River issues. In response, he says he won’t make his client list public. “My firm wouldn’t allow that.”
Though he has advised Polis on water, infrastructure and regulatory issues, Eklund says he’s not vying for another political appointment. “I’m not interested in a position with a Polis administration, or a Stapleton administration, for that matter,” he told The Independent Sunday.
He says he has told Polis what he tells anyone who asks about the water challenges Colorado is facing: “That at this point, we’ve not been doing the kind of conservation that we need to bend the curve at Lake Powell, and that Colorado’s governor will need to oversee and encourage scaling up by the entire water community for it to do any good. That’ll take leadership right now, when it’s hard for me to overstate the urgency that we face on this river.”
Eklund lauds Hickenlooper for setting a tone of collaboration not just in Colorado, but with the six other Colorado River states with whom he negotiates. That approach, that ethos of “we can work together to control our destiny,” he said, “has become our brand as a state.”
“Governor Hickenlooper believes that our brand can be exported.”
Leadership on water and other environmental issues requires a certain art in messaging, the ability to strike a balance of conveying urgency without creating panic. Udall underscores this point by quoting Colorado physicist and environmental activist Amory Lovins: “You can’t depress people into action.”
“In politics, being a doomsdayer doesn’t get you anywhere,” said Udall, the son of a congressman and presidential candidate, nephew of an interior secretary, and brother of a U.S. senator. “This state has more positive things going on than anywhere else in the West. We have a lot of really good people here trying to come up with solutions. Are they trying hard? For the most part, yes. Are they doing enough? No.”
As Udall tells it, Colorado needs more than branding to avert a water crisis.
“Climate change is coming at us faster than anyone expected just a few years ago. The wheels are coming off and nobody seems to be responding quickly enough,” he said. “We need leaders willing to take swifter action.”
The district, which has boundaries that stretch through parts of Weld, Adam and Morgan counties, serves about 550 farmers who operate about 1,000 irrigation wells. As part of the ballot question, proposed through Central’s Groundwater Management Subdistrict, the district is planning for long-term projects officials said would give farmers and ranchers a reliable source of water, even during drought conditions.
According to the district, taxpayers living in a $500,000 home would pay $1.90 per month or $22.80 per year.
If approved, the money would go three places:
Construction of 5,000 acre-feet of additional reservoir storage near Fort Lupton, Greeley and Kersey.
Purchasing additional senior water rights, including those currently leased by the district.
Construction of the Robert W. Walker Recharge project in Wiggins, near the Weld and Morgan county line.
In September, executive director Randy Ray said the recharge project, the biggest of the three, would claim $15 million of the funding to divert water from the South Platte River and send flows to groundwater basins about 5 miles away from the river. Officials said the storage would increase drought resiliency for the district’s water users.