Key takeaways from the omnibus spending package: What’s in it for rivers? — @AmericanRivers

The Rappahannock River | Virginia. Photo credit: American Rivers

Click the link to read the article on the American Rivers website (Jaime Sigaran):

On December 20, 2022 appropriators released the highly anticipated fiscal year 2023 omnibus spending package which includes modest environmental and conservation funding increases.

In the remaining days of 2022, we’re happy to share some important wins for rivers – including funding for critical clean water and river restoration programs, as well as new Wild and Scenic River designations. While there’s much to be thankful for, the bill still has a number of shortcomings. In this blog, we break down the funding and policy highlights. 

On December 20, appropriators released the highly anticipated fiscal year 2023 omnibus spending package which includes modest environmental and conservation funding increases. Overall, the bill would fund the government at $1.7 trillion for most of 2023 – $858 billion toward defense and $772.5 billion in domestic spending.  

The omnibus spending bill funds federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Interior (DOI). The EPA received a $576 million increase from current levels to support the agency’s science, environmental, and enforcement work. The bill also includes $14.7 billion for DOI programs, an increase of $574 million above fiscal year 2022. 

These funding increases support river restoration and river health goals across the country.  

Key Takeaways From The Omnibus Spending Package: 

  • General increases to EPA, DOI, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 
  • Additional supplemental funding for National Park Service to restore 500 of the 3,000 staff positions that have been lost over the past decade 
  • $40 billion for disaster recovery and drought 
  • $600 million to address water issues in Jackson, Mississippi. 
  • $682 million for EPA’s geographic program including $92 million for Chesapeake Bay Program and $368 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative 
  • $1.67 billion for EPA’s Clean and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds 
  • $50 million for EPA’s Sewer Overflow & Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grant program 
  • $65 million for Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART grants 

KEY RIVER BUDGET PRIORITIES & PERFORMANCE: 

AgencyProgramFY 23 Rec. from 
American Rivers
Omnibus Spending bill 12/20/22About the Program
EPAReducing Lead in Drinking Water$100M$25MReduces the concentration of lead in drinking water.
EPASewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants Program $280M$50M Manages combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows, and stormwater flows. 
USBRDam Safety Program $200M $210.2M Ensures Reclamation dams do not present unreasonable risk
USBRKlamath Project $25M $34.8M Provides funding to improve water supplies in the Klamath River Basin. 
USBRLower CO Operations Program $45M $46.8M Implements the Drought Contingency Plan and the Lower Colorado Multi-species Conservation Program. 
USBRYakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project $30M $50.3M Enhances streamflows and fish passage for anadromous fish in the Yakima River Basin. 
CorpsUpper MS River Restoration $55M $55M Ensures the viability and vitality of Upper Mississippi River fish and wildlife. 
CorpsEngineering with Nature $12.5M $20M Aligns natural and engineering processes to deliver economic, environmental, and social benefits 
FEMAFloodplain Mgmt. & Mapping $200M $206M Improves floodplain management, develops flood hazard zone maps, and educates on the risk of floods 
FEMANational Dam Safety Program $92M $9.65M Reduces the risks to human life, property, and the environment from dam related hazards. 

Policy Wins for Wild and Scenic Rivers, Western Water 

In addition to the funding noted above, American Rivers is very pleased to share that key provisions supporting river restoration are advancing. We applaud the hard work championed by Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and many others on the Hill to make this omnibus spending bill a bipartisan effort. Though we are disheartened that we didn’t get to see the bipartisan, bicameral public lands and water package, we can celebrate two new Wild and Scenic River designations: the York River in Maine and Housatonic River in Connecticut. Together these bills would designate more than 70 river miles. Two Wild and Scenic River studies from Florida were also added. 

Upper Mississippi River, IA. Photo credit: American Rivers

Several western water bills made it into the omnibus spending bill which will improve drought resilience, boost water supply, and support wetland conservation. For example, the Colorado River Basin Conservation Act (S. 4579/H.R. 9173) would allow DOI to continue to partner with Upper and Lower Basin states alike, to keep more water in the Colorado River and its reservoirs, by incentivizing voluntary water conservation projects at the user level.  

Shortcomings in the Omnibus Spending Bill 

The omnibus spending bill falls short of meeting bold river health goals that are grounded in advancing scientific efforts, supporting enforcement, and directing growth in river communities that could have benefited from additional funding. While we noticed gains in WaterSMART, Dam Safety Program, Yakima, and Klamath Projects under Bureau of Reclamation, American Rivers noted less than optimal funding levels for the Central Valley Project Restoration Fund in California and the Columbia and Snake River Salmon Recovery Project in the Pacific Northwest. 

Ansel Adams The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service. (79-AAG-1). By Ansel Adams – This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=118192

The Army Corps of Engineers programs such as Engineering with Nature, Floodplain Management Services, Sustainable Rivers Program, and the Upper Mississippi River Restoration programs did not suffer significant cuts. Nor did NOAA programs specifically Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. However, we acknowledge small reductions in funding to the Flood Hazard Mapping and Risk Analysis Program (RiskMAP). 

Another item American Rivers noticed is large money carve outs for “Community Project Funding Items” also known as earmarks. When taken out of the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRFs) capitalization grants, it leaves the EPA programs with less than half of what these programs received in Fiscal Year 2021. The long-term viability of the SRFs is in question and American Rivers will work hard to ensure its success in future years so high-priority projects are not delayed or increase the risk to public health and the environment. 

We’re disappointed the sweeping omnibus legislation did not boost more funding to protection, restoration, and enhancement of fish and wildlife, but are hopeful that the focus in drought resilience in the Southwest, water infrastructure in Jackson, Mississippi, as well as modest increases to Corps, DOI, NOAA and EPA programs will continue to place a focus on water quality and quantity.

Bipartisan bill aims to extend protections of endangered fish: Upper #ColoradoRiver and #SanJuanRiver Basins Recovery Act targets preservation of native species — The #Durango Herald #COriver #aridification

Endangered Razorback sucker. Photo credit: Reclamation

Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Megan K. Olsen). Here’s an excerpt:

U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Mitt Romney, along with Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse, have teamed up to ensure the continuation of conservation programs aimed at protecting native and endangered fish species through the Upper Colorado and San Juan Basins Recovery Act. The recovery act has been included with the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Government Funding Bill that has already been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and is awaiting approval from President Joe Biden…

The Upper Colorado and San Juan River Recovery Programs are set to expire on Sept. 30. The recovery act would extend any programs that currently study, monitor and stock four endangered fish species of the Upper Colorado and San Juan rivers through the end of 2024…

{Senator] Romney also showed interest in the impact of human activity and climate change on the Colorado River and its native species in 2021, when he went on a rafting trip with Sen. Michael Bennett and the Colorado River Commissioner and director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Becky Mitchell.

#Water Resources Development Act signed with NGWA-supported MAR study

Figure 2: Recharge basin with down-gradient recovery well.

Click the link to read the release on the NGWA website:

President Joe Biden signed the National Defense Appropriations Act, which also included the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 (WRDA), on December 23.

WRDA is a biennial bill that grants authority and funding to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to carry out water resource development projects and studies.

For the first time since its creation, this year’s Water Resources Development Act contains a provision focused on studying the expansion of managed aquifer recharge (MAR) in current and future USACE projects. MAR is the purposeful resupply of water to aquifers for subsequent recovery or for environmental benefit.

The provision was drafted with the assistance of NGWA and its members and was a key policy focus for the Association throughout the year.

The provision:

  • Authorizes the USACE, in consultation with nonfederal partners, to conduct a national assessment on the implementation of MAR in current and future projects
  • Creates a working group within the USACE to centralize the corps’ knowledge on MAR and assist with feasibility studies
  • Requires a report to Congress on the results and data collected from the study and an evaluation of the benefits of a potential center of expertise for MAR
  • Authorizes up to 10 MAR feasibility studies with a 90:10 federal/nonfederal partner cost share.

The study would focus specifically on regions that have experienced prolonged drought, aquifer depletion, or water scarcity issues. The study would also include tribal lands and territories.

“Our country’s water future will rely heavily on finding new opportunities to expand and implement managed aquifer recharge programs which is why this study is so vital,” said NGWA CEO Terry S. Morse, CAE, CIC. “I would like to thank the NGWA membership who helped advocate for this provision and those lawmakers who continuously fought for it throughout the process.”

NGWA has been a leader in MAR research. The November-December 2022 issue of its hallmark technical journal, Groundwater®, was a special issue dedicated to MAR. The Association is also hosting a conference titled Managed Aquifer Recharge: Unleashing Resiliency, Protecting Groundwater Quality April 24-25, 2023, in San Antonio, Texas. Learn more about MAR by visiting the resource center NGWA has dedicated to it.

Congress sends the #Water Resources Development Act of 2022 to the desk of the President — American Rivers

Elwha River. By Elwhajeff at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9740555

Click the link to read the release on the American Rivers website (Katie Schmidt):

On December 15th, 2022, the Senate voted to pass the National Defense Authorization Act in which the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 (WRDA 2022) is included. It was passed by a vote of 83-11. Last week, the House passed the bill on December 8th with an overwhelming majority of 350-80. It will now go to President Biden’s desk for signing into law.

This is the largest Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in history and comes in at a time when our nation needs it most. The bill provides authorization for the Army Corps of Engineers to carry out water resources infrastructure projects to address flooding, waterway transportation, and ecosystem restoration. Importantly, this bill includes provisions to support Tribal and underserved communities, and address climate change.

American Rivers has worked with Congress to include provisions to protect and restore our nation’s rivers and floodplains. Below are some of the key provisions that we are most excited about.

Sections 8111. Tribal Partnership Program; 8112. Tribal Liaison; 8113. Tribal Assistance; 8114. Cost sharing provisions for the territories and Indian Tribes; and 8115. Tribal and Economically Disadvantaged Communities Advisory Committee are valuable provisions. We support these efforts to improve outreach to, and engagement with, these communities and give them a seat at the table. We are also pleased to see the initiative to build out the Corps of Engineers workforce through outreach in schools, colleges, and universities with a prioritization of recruiting from economically disadvantaged communities. We believe these steps will serve both the Corps and the communities well.

With climate change impacting the nation, promoting nature-based approaches on a project and watershed level scale is imperative to adapt to increasing floods and water scarcity. WRDA 2022 includes several provisions that will help promote the use of nature-based approaches and better serve and protect our communities while promoting ecosystem resilience through more responsible levee management and floodplain restoration.

Section 8103 – Shoreline and riverbank protection and restoration mission calls for restoring the natural functions and values of rivers and shorelines throughout the United States. Section 8121– Assessment of Corps of Engineers levees, will assess for opportunities for modification of levees, including for restoring connections with adjacent floodplains. American Rivers also worked to include language for the Corps to identify floodplain reconnection opportunities on federal lands. While this provision was not included in the final bill, we will work with the Corps to support sections 8103 and 8121, while continuing to work on getting additional federal levees assessed.

General currents upstream and downstream from a low-head dam. Graphic via Bruce a. Tschantz

American Rivers worked diligently with our partners at American Whitewater and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to include section 8122- National Low-Head Dam Inventory. This inventory will contribute significantly to public safety as low-head dams are known public safety hazards, and yet not inventoried nationally, and making this information publicly available will help river users identify life-threatening low-head dams. We also hope that this inventory will help the public identify obsolete structures that continue to pose a safety hazard and would be suitable for removal. In areas where dam removal is not an option, we support additional funding to go towards grants for signage and public education about low-head dams

Section 8123– Expediting hydropower at Corps of Engineers facilities, allows for retrofitting Corps dams with hydropower. We support this provision with the understanding that the structures in question are already serving their legislatively authorized purpose and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Recognizing that retrofitting a non-powered Corps dam with hydropower is not always feasible, we will continue to advocate for the diligent assessment of these projects and their use to determine if they would better serve the taxpayers, community, and local ecosystem by being disposed of instead of extending their life solely for non-power purposes.

Wetlands, which are havens of biodiversity, offer priceless ecological benefits. As wetlands are lost to development nationwide, critics of the dam project worry about its local impact. (Photo Credit: John Fielder via Writers on the Range)

The consideration of reforestation in section 8137 is an exciting and forward-thinking provision that encourages measures to restore swamps and other wetland forests in studies for water resources development projects. This is another important step towards focusing on ecosystem restoration. The benefits of flood control and water quality improvements that come from healthy swamps and wetlands are incalculable.

There are several provisions related to river restoration and protection and better river management, including section 8144 – Chattahoochee River Program, section 8145 – Lower Mississippi River Basin demonstration program, and section 8219 – Hydraulic evaluation of Upper Mississippi River and Illinois River. The Chattahoochee River program will provide assistance to non-federal interests for water-related resource protection and restoration projects affecting the Chattahoochee River Basin. The Lower Mississippi program will provide assistance to non-federal interests for projects focused on flood or coastal storm risk management or aquatic ecosystem restoration. The hydraulic evaluation of the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois River basins will provide studies on the flows for rivers in the upper basin, which we hope will contribute to more effective management and restoration plans.

Chattahoochee River in Georgia. Photo credit: The Department of Interior

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) studies authorized in section 8236 are encouraging, especially the review of mitigation projects and the evaluation of their performance. These studies will require a report on the results of projects and activities to mitigate fish and wildlife losses that occurred as a result of a water resources development project. Within this section, we also support the study on the integration of information into the national levee database as this information is essential to the management and improvement of our nation’s levees.

We are pleased to see section 8140 – Policy and technical standards directing the Secretary to update the agency standards. With this update, the Corps will have to include climate change and nature-based solutions in their practices. We look forward to the report on the Corps of Engineers reservoirs under section 8153 so that Congress may further evaluate the operation, utility, and future of these reservoirs.

Overall, we applaud the safety and environmental provisions in this bill and the passing of this paramount piece of legislation to protect our natural and engineered water infrastructure and the people that rely on it.

Section by section summary can be found here and the full WRDA bill can be found here.

This blog was written by Katie Schmidt. Jaime Sigaran, Ted Illston, Brian Graber, and Eileen Shader

Think big! #Colorado #water projects on tap for $800M to $1.2B in federal money — @WaterEdCO

The Chimney Hollow Reservoir under construction in Colorado’s Larimer County, July 8, 2022. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Thy Anh Vo):

Since 1962, people in Colorado’s Lower Arkansas Valley have heard talks of a pipeline that would bring them clean drinking water from Pueblo Reservoir upstream.

The 103-mile Arkansas Valley Conduit promises to be a long-term source of clean water for the region, where many people rely on poor-tasting and contaminated well water. The project was planned as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, but for decades, the pipeline was too expensive for the small towns to afford, $600 million by today’s estimates.

If the project stays on schedule, the pipeline will reach its easternmost destination, the town of Lamar, Colorado, in 2035.

But with $60 million in new funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, officials are hoping to cut the project’s remaining 13-year timeline in half — and ensure steady access to clean water for more than 50,000 people living east of Pueblo along the Arkansas River.

“People have waited 60 years to build this,” says Chris Woodka, a spokesperson for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has made it entirely feasible that we could do this in a much shorter time.”

Also known as the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the 2021 law authorizes more than $550 billion in new investment that will be spread across the nation, including more than $50 billion for clean water programs and another $8.5 billion for Western water needs. The historic federal investment comes as Colorado and other Western states face growing pressures from climate change, drought and a regional crisis along the Colorado River.

Colorado windfall?

Colorado could receive between $800 million and $1.2 billion for water projects alone, according to an early estimate from Gov. Jared Polis’ budget office. A companion bill that passed in August 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act, dedicates another $4 billion for drought resiliency in Western states.

The funding won’t resolve the drought. But the law is an opportunity to fund critical repairs on neglected water systems, many of which were built at the turn of the century.

Amy Moyer, director of strategic partnerships at the Colorado River District, hopes it will inspire water managers and public servants, who are used to engineering workarounds and funding projects piecemeal, to be more ambitious.

“It’s really giving [people] the license to think big,” Moyer says. The river district is giving grants to entities in its 15-county area to conduct studies and develop competitive applications for the federal money. “Projects that were previously unachievable because of a huge financial cost might be back on the table.”

How much money Colorado ultimately gets, however, will depend on efforts by state agencies, regional boards and advocacy groups to help communities, especially small and rural areas, navigate funding programs and pull together competitive applications. Entities eligible for funds include cities and towns, special districts, tribes, water suppliers, and nonprofit cooperative associations like mutual ditch companies.

“We have so many small water users and water providers that are maxed out by just trying to keep their systems running,” says Moyer, whose team has been helping people wade through federal programs to match their projects to the right opportunity.

Largest investment ever

The $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is the largest single federal investment in the nation’s water infrastructure ever, with billions available for programs aimed at improving clean water access, fixing century-old facilities and dams, and investing in the health of watersheds and forests.

Most of the one-time dollars will flow through longstanding programs. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART program, which invests in projects that improve water efficiency, will get $400 million through the BIL. Another Reclamation program for Water Storage, Groundwater Storage and Conveyance Projects will get $1.15 billion, almost twice the total that the program received between 2016 and 2021.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, will receive $50.4 billion for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure improvements, including $15 billion to replace lead service lines. States will receive those dollars through their state revolving funds, programs that provide low-interest loans and use the money that borrowers pay back, through interest and principal, to provide additional future funding.

Colorado’s revolving funds — administered jointly by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, and the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority — will get $680 million over the next five years, or nearly three times usual annual funding levels.

The money won’t make up for decades of neglect of the country’s water infrastructure; a 2020 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, for example, estimated that the U.S. needs to invest $109 billion each year over the next two decades to catch up. The EPA’s own estimate calls for more than $744 billion in capital investments over that time period to bring communities into compliance with federal water quality and safety standards.

It’s still a “tremendous opportunity” for utilities to make a serious dent in their deferred infrastructure needs, says Tommy Holmes, legislative director for the American Water Works Association.

“We’ve got to use this money effectively if we want to see any future federal investments on a big scale,” says Holmes.

Finally, cash

Other programs are getting funded for the very first time. Reclamation’s aging infrastructure account, created in 2009 to help fund operations and maintenance work at Reclamation facilities, has until now never received any money. Most of the agency’s facilities are between 60 and 100 years old. BIL allocates $3.2 billion to that account, or 39% of Reclamation’s total funding under the law.

The law also sets aside $1 billion for water initiatives in rural communities nationwide.

Tribal communities will receive $3.5 billion through the Indian Health Service, a recognition of the historical dearth of funding for tribal water infrastructure. Nearly 48% of tribal homes do not have access to clean drinking water or basic sanitation, according to a 2021 report from the Water and Tribes Initiative, with Native American families 19 times more likely than white households to lack indoor plumbing.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has been awarded more than $1.1 million in BIL dollars for two wastewater projects, including a project to repair damaged sewage pipes and improve service to more than 1,000 homes. Another $1 million will help improve drinking water service and water pressure to more than 152 homes in Towaoc, the headquarters of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in southern Colorado.

The $3.5 billion represents the entire construction funding gap identified by IHS to bring tribal communities to federal standards and tackle a backlog of critical clean water projects.

“This is the first time in history that gap has been filled with funding,” says water policy expert Anne Castle, who is co-leader of Universal Access to Clean Water for Tribal Communities, a project of the Water and Tribes Initiative. “I don’t want to suggest it is a complete eradication of the problem of lack of access to water and sanitation in Indian country, but it is a huge forward step.”

Pressure to act

Groups will need to act relatively quickly to pull together applications for the federal funding opportunity, which can take months to years to prepare.

At the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, general manager Steve Pope is used to navigating federal requirements. The association manages a federally owned system that diverts water from the Gunnison Basin to over 76,000 acres of land in Montrose and Delta counties.

The association hired a consultant to write a grant for a $6 million project to line a one-mile section of canal. Planning on any of its bigger pursuits, which range from $25 to $30 million, are still eight or nine months away from the grant-writing stage, a process that can cost tens of thousands of dollars, Pope says.

“We’re probably going to get one crack at it,” says Pope. “You really have to have your ducks in a row.”

Small organizations with limited capacity may decide it’s not worth the work, says Sonja Chavez, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. Many projects need engineering work or a feasibility study to make their application competitive. To go after federal dollars, groups also need to secure state and local matching funds.

“For me to put in the effort to go after federal funds, I probably wouldn’t do it unless I had a significant project to go after,” says Chavez.

The advantage will go to “shovel-ready” projects that have already been studied and planned. Colorado’s revolving funds, for example, have so far awarded BIL-funded loans to four projects, all of which have been in development for years.

“There’s a lot of pressure to get this money out the door as quickly as possible,” says Alex Funk, director of water and senior counsel for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which is convening policy groups to strategize and support environmentally sustainable projects funded by the law.

A slow roll-out

Although the legislation was passed in November 2021, the money has been slow to roll out. Reclamation and state revolving funds will award funding on a rolling basis over the next five years, meaning organizations that aren’t yet ready to apply can try for a later round. Many programs have not released any funds, while some new programs have yet to release the criteria for applications.

Unlike the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act, which requires public agencies to spend all of their dollars by the end of 2026, there’s no uniform deadline for when organizations must spend their BIL funds.

The state revolving funds have one year to obligate the BIL dollars they receive each year and another two years to spend them, says Keith McLaughlin, executive director of the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWRPDA), which serves as the banker for Colorado’s revolving funds.

In Northwest Colorado, the 126-year-old Maybell Ditch still delivers water from the Yampa River to 18 agricultural producers. Adjusting the headgates – which were built in the 1960s and are now broken – requires a one-mile hike into the canyon and the effort of a few people, says Mike Camblin, a rancher and volunteer manager of the Maybell Irrigation District.

Now with a $1.92 million BIL grant, the district hopes to begin construction next year on a project to build an access road, replace the headgates with an automated system, and to reconstruct portions of the ditch to address low-flow areas and large debris that make it impassable for boaters and too shallow and warm for fish.

The district and its partners worked for nearly five years to raise money for the project, get support in the community and from the Moffatt County Board of County Commissioners, and secure a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

All that helped the project’s application to Reclamation’s WaterSMART Grants program, says Diana Lane, sustainable food and water program director at The Nature Conservancy, the project’s fiscal partner. The application criteria awards points for projects that build on state or local planning efforts.

Finding workers

Amid a nationwide labor shortage, finding the skilled workers and planners to move projects forward expediently will be challenging.

Many state and local governments are still trying to fill positions that opened up months ago. And while a large water utility or municipality has staff dedicated to grant writing or to support project development, smaller organizations often need to hire a consultant to write a grant, conduct a study, or do engineering work.

That kind of expertise can be hard to come by, especially in rural Colorado communities.

At the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance, executive director Greg Peterson is focused on a watershed program under the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which received $918 million in BIL funding, that could help irrigators and agricultural users address issues like soil erosion and flood mitigation. Local entities only have to put up a quarter of the costs of a project and can receive up to $25 million.

Peterson is working with eight different communities on applications for the program. He struggled to find a Colorado expert with experience applying to the fund and ended up reaching out to a group in Oregon for help.

“If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t go after [the money] at all, probably,” he says.

State, regional groups step up

Early rounds of BIL grants went to states like Arizona and California that had more “shovel-ready” projects to put forward, says Moyer.

This year, officials are hoping money set aside by state lawmakers will give Colorado a competitive edge and help communities that don’t have the capacity to go after grants on their own.

“We’ve been really impressed with Colorado leadership in terms of recognizing that you have to work for these funds,” says Funk. “I think Colorado is actually a big competitor for this funding and could be a model for other states.”

The governor’s office estimates that Colorado needs $1 billion in local or state matching funds to successfully secure $4.1 to $7.1 billion in federal infrastructure dollars. Most federal programs require a local funding contribution, with some as high as 75%.

In addition to the $80 million in state matching funds set aside by state lawmakers, the state legislature also set aside $5 million for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to provide technical assistance for groups going after the dollars. Half of that will be available as direct grants for agencies to hire their own contractors, while the other half will pay for in-house contractors at CWCB who will provide assistance.

State agencies are also staffing up to conduct outreach about opportunities under the BIL. The Department of Local Affairs and Office of Recovery are hosting roundtables and webinars to answer questions from prospective applicants. Each of the state’s regional councils of government will receive funding to hire a coordinator to help local groups navigate federal and state programs. 

“We want to make sure communities have the opportunity to say yes or no to these funding opportunities – we don’t want a community to say, ‘I wasn’t aware,’” says Meredith Marshall, infrastructure coordinator at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

This article first appeared in Water Education Colorado’s Fall 2022 issue of Headwaters Magazine.

Fresh Water News is an independent, nonpartisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado. WEco is funded by multiple donors. Our editorial policy and donor list can be viewed at wateredco.org.

Thy Anh Vo is a freelance journalist based in Colorado. She’s passionate about journalism that shows people how government works and how to hold it accountable. Thy has reported for The Colorado Sun, ProPublica, The Mercury News in San Jose, and Voice of OC. 

How the global energy crisis is pressuring countries at #COP27 – while some race to #renewables, others plan more natural gas production — The Conversation #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #methane

Europe’s natural gas prices have risen dramatically in 2022. Privetik/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Robert Brecha, University of Dayton

Russia’s war on Ukraine has cast a shadow over this year’s United Nations climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where officials from around the world are discussing the costs of climate change and how to cut emissions that remain near record highs.

The war has dramatically disrupted energy markets the world over, leaving many countries vulnerable to price spikes amid supply shortages.

Europe, worried about keeping the heat on through winter, is outbidding poor countries for natural gas, even paying premiums to reroute tanker ships after Russia cut off most of its usual natural gas supply. Some countries are restarting coal-fired power plants. Others are looking for ways to expand fossil fuel production, including new projects in Africa.

These actions are a long way from the countries’ pledges just a year ago to rein in fossil fuels, and they’re likely to further increase greenhouse gas emissions, at least temporarily.

But will the war and the economic turmoil prevent the world from meeting the Paris climate agreement’s long-term goals?

Kerry leans toward Scholz and raises a finger as if to point while seated during the UN climate conference.
U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry speaks with Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, on Nov. 7, 2022, in Egypt. Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

There are reasons to believe that this may not be the case.

The answer depends in part on how wealthy countries respond to a focus of this year’s climate conference: fulfilling their pledges in the Paris Agreement to provide support for low- and middle-income countries to build clean energy systems.

Europe speeds up clean energy plans

A key lesson many countries are taking away from the ongoing energy crisis is that, if anything, the transition to renewable energy must be pushed forward faster.

I work with countries as they update national climate pledges and have been involved in evaluating the compatibility of global emissions reduction scenarios with the Paris Agreement. I see the energy crisis affecting countries’ plans in different ways.

About 80% of the world’s energy is still from fossil sources. Global trade in coal, oil and natural gas has meant that even countries with their own energy supplies have felt some of the pain of exorbitant prices. In the U.S., for example, natural gas and electricity prices are higher than normal because they are increasingly tied to international markets, and the U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

The shortage has led to a scramble to find fossil fuel suppliers in the short term. European countries have offered to help African countries produce more natural gas and have courted authoritarian regimes. The Biden administration is urging companies to extract more oil and gas, has tried to pressure Saudi Arabia to produce more oil, and considered lifting sanctions against Venezuela.

However, Europe also has a growing renewable energy supply that has helped cushion some of the impact. A quarter of the European Union’s electricity comes from solar and wind, avoiding billions of euros in fossil fuel costs. Globally, investments in the clean energy transition increased by about 16% in 2022, the International Energy Agency estimates.

Developing countries face complex challenges

If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a wake-up call to accelerate the clean energy transition in wealthier countries, the situation is much more complex in developing countries.

Low-income countries are being hit hard by the impact of Russia’s war, not only by high energy costs, but also by decreases in grain and cooking oil exports. The more these countries are dependent on foreign oil and gas imports for their energy supply, the more they will be exposed to global market gyrations.

Renewable energy can reduce some of that exposure.

The costs of solar and wind energy have dropped dramatically in the last decade and now represent the cheapest sources of energy in most regions. But advances in expanding access to clean electricity have been set back by the war. Borrowing costs can also be a barrier for low-income countries, and those costs will increase as countries raise interest rates to fight inflation.

As part of the Paris Agreement, wealthy countries were supposed to make good on promises to make US$100 billion per year available for climate finance, but the actual amounts provided have fallen short.

To achieve the Paris Agreement targets, coal, oil and natural gas consumption must decrease dramatically in the next decade or two. International cooperation will be necessary to help poorer countries expand energy access and transition to low-emissions development pathways.

Africa’s fossil fuels and stranded asset risks

A number of developing countries have their own fossil fuel resources, and some in Africa have been calling for increasing production, although not without pushback.

Without a strong alternative within local contexts for sustainable energy resources, and with wealthy countries scrambling for fossil fuels, developing countries will exploit fossil resources – just as the wealthiest countries have done for over a century. For example, Tanzania’s energy minister, January Makamba, told Bloomberg during the U.N. climate conference that his country expects to sign agreements with Shell and other oil majors for a $40 billion liquefied natural gas export project.

While this intersection of interests could boost some developing countries, it can also set up future challenges.

Encouraging the construction of new fossil-fuel infrastructure in Africa – presumably to be earmarked for Europe in the short to medium term – may help ameliorate some near-term supply shortages, but how long will those customers need the fuel? And how much of that income will benefit the people of those countries?

The IEA sees natural gas demand plateauing by 2030 and oil and coal demand falling, even without more ambitious climate policies. Any infrastructure built today for short-term supplies risks becoming a stranded asset, worthless in a low-emissions world.

Layer chart shows natural gas use leveling off in the 2020s while coal and oil demand fall.
The International Energy Agency’s projections show natural gas demand plateauing soon. IEA 2022, CC BY

Encouraging developing countries to take on debt risk to invest in fossil fuel extraction for which the world will have no use would potentially do these countries a great disservice, taking advantage of them for short-term gain.

The world has made progress on emissions in recent years, and the worst warming projections from a decade ago seem to be highly unlikely now. But every tenth of a degree has an impact, and the current “business-as-usual” path still leads the planet toward warming levels with climate change costs that are hard to contemplate, especially for the most vulnerable countries. The outcomes from the climate conference will give an indication of whether the global community is willing to accelerate the transition.

Robert Brecha, Professor of Sustainability, University of Dayton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland action launches public comment period for Thompson Divide mineral withdrawal — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #ActOnClimate

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, left, and Sen Joe Manchin participated in a roundtable event hosted by the White House Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities, on March 18, 2022. (Interior Department via Flickr/Public domain)

Click the link to read the article on the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb). Here’s an excerpt:

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has moved forward with proposing that nearly 225,000 acres stretching from the Glenwood Springs area south to Crested Butte and east of Crawford be withdrawn from new federal oil and gas leasing and mining claims for 20 years. Haaland acted on a petition announced by the Biden administration last week as President Biden also created the new Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument during a visit to the Camp Hale World War II training grounds outside Leadville. Haaland approved a petition by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to file the withdrawal application…

Her approval, announced in a Federal Register notice Monday [October 17, 2022], automatically kicks off a two-year period when new mining claims and new federal mineral leases will be prohibited on parts of the White River National Forest, the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, and BLM lands, while the agencies consider moving forward with the 20-year withdrawal in those same areas. Private lands and existing rights, including current oil and gas leases, aren’t affected by the two-year action, and the 20-year withdrawal likewise wouldn’t apply to them. Haaland’s action also kicks off a 90-day public comment period on the proposed withdrawal.

The President and Congress Deliver $11 Billion for Abandoned Mine Cleanups — @CircleofBlue

The abandoned Horse Creek Mine near Pinckeyville, Illinois. Photo © Department of the Interior

Click the link to read the article on the Circle of Blue website (Laura Gersony):

Part one of two in Circle of Blue’s series on abandoned coal mines.

Dan Fisher’s father was a coal miner. So was his grandfather. So was his wife’s father and grandfather. So was just about everyone’s grandfather in Gillespie, Illinois, a town that was born to power the Great Chicago & North Western railway system.

West of the Appalachian shadow, the Midwest isn’t thought of as coal country. But until about half a century ago, coal was king in southern Illinois. Home to the largest deposit of steelmaking metallurgical coal in the country, Illinois was one of the cradles of the nation’s labor movement. It employed hundreds of thousands of people at its peak in the 1920s. And though the number of Illinois mines has dwindled to double digits, it remains the fourth-largest coal producing state in the U.S.

Spoiled lands and waters was the cost of doing business. Coal companies routinely walked away from gaping chasms in the land, polluted streams, and deforestation. As hotspots for this early, unregulated mining, the three states which make up the Illinois coal basin — Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana — have some of the highest environmental burdens from abandoned mines.

For the last 45 years, the U.S. chipped away at these cumulative environmental damages. Since the country began regulating abandoned mines in 1977 under the Abandoned Mine Land program, the country spent $5 billion, and about $400 million in the Illinois basin, to repair clogged and polluted streams, recontour steep highwalls, and reforest denuded landscapes.

But the program, funded by a per-ton tax on coal extraction that was not tied to inflation, was never going to be enough. The Illinois basin still has over 30,000 acres of unreclaimed land and waters, joining over 3 million acres nationwide.

(A separate program regulates mines abandoned after 1977, the subject of the next article in this series.)

In 2021, the Biden administration and Congress responded to the deficit. The infrastructure package enacted earlier this year adds $11 billion into the pre-1977 mine cleanup program to be spent over the next 15 years to finish the job. It joins the Inflation Reduction Act, enacted last month, in a renewed commitment by the country to address systemic ecological challenges and economic stress in former energy strongholds.

The latest infusion into the program, the largest in its history by far, could be enough to reclaim the vast majority of remaining pre-1977 abandoned mine sites. Accompanied by other federal and state jobs programs, it could breathe new life into affected communities, and the land and waters they depend on.

“This is huge. It is a historic investment in restoring the land, eliminating the hazards in coal country,” said Joe Pizarchik, former head of the federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement. “There’s been only five or six billion dollars put into reclamation over the previous 40-something years. Now you’ve got 11 billion coming in in 15 years.”

Nearly half a century after its start, the AML program produced measurable accomplishments. The program spent $4.5 billion cleaning up 5 million acres of land. 

But 3 million acres—with an estimated $11 billion in damages—are still unreclaimed. Illinois has a total backlog of about 9,000 acres of reclamation, with 4,000 more in Indiana, and roughly 18,000 in western Kentucky, according to federal AML data

Some environmental harms have been long-term and diffuse. Many old mines were retired without modern-day flooding techniques. An estimated 10 percent of emissions of methane — a gas with 34 times more planet-warming potential than carbon dioxide — come from active or abandoned coal mines. One mine in White County, Illinois that just closed is one of the country’s top 5 methane emitters.

About a third of the nation’s 4,000 hazardous water bodies on the AML list are still unreclaimed. So are 6,000 miles of clogged streams, according to federal data.

Other harms are more proximate. Disheveled land, without either the thrum of industry or the solace of the environment, represents a liability for a community struggling to find its footing as coal fades. 

“When industry closes, it’s not like it packs up and leaves. You gotta deal with whatever’s left behind, like a bad divorce,” said Dan Fisher, the resident of Gillespie in Macoupin County, Illinois, a former coal stronghold.

It’s a story that Paul Robinson, a reclamation expert at the Southwest Research and Information Center in New Mexico, has seen across the country and across extractive sectors: “the company is getting the gold, the community is left with the shaft and the empty hole in the ground worth nothing.”

As former head of the federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement during the Obama administration Joseph Pizarchik knows well that state regulators’ experience with the program has long been defined by triage.

“States were constantly having to make difficult choices about which AML problems to address,” he said. “Based on the numbers that were coming in from the Energy Information Administration, there was never going to be enough money for states to finish reclaiming their most dangerous mines,” 

Acid mine drainage at the Lead Queen Mine tunnel in Arizona. Photo © U.S. Geological Survey

Change in Fund Financing – From Private to Public

The infrastructure act’s use of taxpayer dollars to finance the AML fund marks an abandonment of the intention of the mine cleanup law. The original law made coal companies pay for the industry’s past environmental harms. It exacted a per-ton fee on coal, and funneled tax revenue to state agencies to reclaim land and waters that were damaged before the 1977 law was passed.

The roots of the deficit that soon emerged reach back to the birth of the AML program, with the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. After an era when land and water degradation was treated by polluters as externalities, SMCRA was on the cutting edge of environmental legislation that sought to internalize the costs of environmental damage.

“SMCRA focused on surface restoration: establishment of approximate original contour and post-mining land use,” said Robinson. “Those were innovative and aggressive, and derived from the concerns of people who lived in and near mines.”

The program made slow but steady progress, cleaning up about a hundred thousand acres every year. It was designed to be reauthorized every few years as needed, to finish the job.

But as market trends started signaling trouble for the coal industry, lawmakers began to demand less and less from coal companies and rely more on taxpayers to keep the fund afloat.

In recent rounds of reauthorization, Congress reduced the AML fee: the 2006 reauthorization reduced the fee by 10 percent in 2008, and another 10 percent  in 2013. Accounting for inflation, the AML fee was equivalent to one-quarter of its original value, or less than half of the inflation-adjusted value of coal per ton, according to a 2020 report by the Appalachian Citizens Law Center. In 2021, the fee was lowered by an additional 20 percent.

The mid-2000s also marked a turning point in relying on taxpayers and not the AML fund to pay for cleanup. The political story behind this change in financing has a main character: the Wyoming congressional delegation. Appalachian and Midwest coal peaked decades earlier than in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, which became the nation’s largest source of coal. Wyoming lawmakers represented state coal mine operators who objected to paying into the AML fund because Wyoming has few abandoned mines eligible for AML funds.

“That disconnect between who’s paying a large share of the fee, versus where fees are used, creates an imbalance,” said Shannon Anderson, of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a community group.

A regular tug-of-war ensued. In 2006, the Wyoming delegation pushed for an amendment, which established a new, taxpayer-funded AML revenue stream for a handful of states. In 2012, though, lawmakers from other states placed a cap on Wyoming’s AML funds after news broke that AML dollars were seen as a funding source to upgrade the University of Wyoming’s athletic facilities. 

The program never scaled up again to meet demand. In recent years, the closing of coal-power electric plants contributed to the deficit of the AML program. While markets for Powder River Basin and certain Illinois coal are still strong, the shift away from coal in Appalachia and the Midwest caused overall production nationally to fall to 577 million tons last year. That’s half of total US production in 2008, when production peaked at nearly 1.2 billion tons. It’s simple math: less coal means less AML revenue. 

Coal production has been in precipitous decline since 2008. Photo © U.S. Energy Information Administration

“The Best Social Binding Agent We Have”

Dan Fisher’s home town of Gillespie has been spared the downturn of the last few years: the last coal mine there closed in 1968, so Gillespie absorbed the job losses about 50 years ago. Because of reclamation law, former mine sites are now soccer fields or home to new manufacturing. 

But the nation’s coal-based energy overhaul will not be as kind to other communities further south in Illinois’ heartland, where most of the state’s AML acres are located, and where a prolonged dependence on coal still prevents economic diversification: Saline County in southern Illinois is one of the 25 counties hardest hit by job losses, hemorrhaging thousands of jobs in the last decade. 

Economic numbers suggest that the opportunity offered by mine reclamation is substantial. In addition to neutralizing the threat of dangers, reclaimed lands are an economic asset. Analyzing data from the Department of Interior, one study by the Appalachian Citizens Law Center estimated that the AML program, on net, supported about 4,700 jobs across the country in 2013, and added half a billion dollars to the U.S. economy that year: a 137 percent return on investment.

Even more difficult might be the socioeconomic piece of the puzzle. Fisher’s interest in abandoned mine cleanup stems mostly from his role as the founder and president of Grow Gillespie, a civic group interested in revitalizing their hometown. In conversation, Fisher comes across not with the tunnel-mindedness of most issue activists, but as something of a town historian. With a keen awareness of local history and community, he knows that mine cleanup programs could provide more than just jobs: they rebuild the culture, history, and sense of community that coal once provided.

“This is an industry in which there is a social and cultural context to it,” he said. “A melting pot of European immigrants formed this area. Coal mining was the bond that tied everyone together.”

One newer feature of AML is the Economic Revitalization program, established during the Obama Administration. It funds local investments, with the goal of “sustainable long-term rehabilitation of coalfield economies.”  Things like restoring parkland to attract tourism, fixing up industrial sites to attract manufacturing, or building music and event venues. With a total budget of just over $120 million, the plan currently focuses only on Appalachian states, though advocates on Capitol Hill are pushing for its expansion to other regions. 

In Illinois, new transition funding from Illinois’ recent Climate and Equitable Jobs Act has a similar goal of creating training and employment programs for displaced coal workers. Likewise, the 2021 infrastructure bill funding includes a nonbinding recommendation that states and tribes use their AML cleanup dollars to put former coal miners to work.

Coal country advocates say this is a good, if modest, start.

“Brick and mortar projects are some of the best social binding agents we have. It’s like getting a new suit, or a haircut: you just feel better about yourself, and better about your community,” said Fisher. “It’s not an accident that all of these things — the legislation, social activism, et cetera — those were by-products of the coal mines. You’ve gotta find that other thing that acts as a social engine.”


Laura Gersony

Laura Gersony covers water policy, infrastructure, and energy for Circle of Blue. She also writes FRESH, Circle of Blue’s biweekly digest of Great Lakes policy news, and HotSpots H2O, a monthly column about the regions and populations most at-risk for water-related hazards and conflict. She is an Environmental Studies and Political Science major at the University of Chicago and an avid Lake Michigan swimmer.

Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

The @CWCB_DNR “Confluence Newsletter October 2022” is hot off the presses

Click the link to read the news letter on the Colorado Water Conservation Board website. Here’s an excerpt:

Federal Technical Assistance Grants for Colorado Water Projects

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, a total of $5 million in federal funding has been allocated for technical assistance grants that will enable eligible entities to work with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) contractors or to hire contractors to expand their capacity and expertise, in pursuit of federal funding opportunities that directly support the Colorado Water Plan objectives. The allowable uses of this grant funding are broad in scope, to allow for the wide range of federal opportunities available. Funding can be used for: preliminary project planning and design, preliminary permitting, development of estimated project costs, navigation of available federal opportunities, grant writing, and federal grant application submittal. A minimum of 25% matching funds is required. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis through December 2024; grant funds must be fully expended by December 2026.

There are two categories of technical assistance for federal grants:

  1. Local Capacity Grants: There is $2.5 million total available for technical assistance for local water projects in which local grantees hire their own contractor(s) to assist with the application process. This funding is currently available.
  2. CWCB Technical Assistance: The remaining $2.5 million is available for technical assistance for local water projects in which the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) provides selected contractors to support the application process. NOTE: This option for technical assistance is not yet available. Information will be provided on this webpage as it becomes available.

For a list of potential federal grant opportunities, visit the Water Funding Opportunity Navigator.

Interior Secretary Haaland, Partners Celebrate #GreatSandDunes National Park Land  Acquisition During #Colorado Visit

Zapata Ranch. Photo credit: The Nature Conservancy

Click the link to read the release on the U.S. Department of Interior website:

 Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and National Park Service (NPS) Director Chuck Sams today celebrated the transfer of approximately 9,362 acres of the Medano Ranch from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to Great Sand Dunes National Park. The acquisition was made possible through funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This enhancement of the national park will allow for more holistic management as a connected landscape and provides long-term protection areas that contribute to the formation of the dune field. 

“Great Sand Dunes and The Nature Conservancy have built a model for collaboration that will help guarantee that future generations have access to this special place,” said Secretary Haaland. “This acquisition underscores the central role that locally led conservation efforts play in the Biden-Harris administration’s America the Beautiful initiative and our ongoing efforts to conserve, connect and restore public lands and waters.”

Great Sand Dunes National Park was established as a national monument in 1932 and redesignated as a national park and preserve in 2000 to protect the tallest dunes in North America for current and future generations. The dunes are the centerpiece in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, forests, alpine lakes and tundra. Last year, more than 603,000 visitors came to experience the singular dunes and starry skies,and learn about the cultural history. In 2021, park visitors spent an estimated $41.3 million in local gateway regions while visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, supporting more than 530 jobs.

“The lands being transferred to the Park contain important springs and wetlands that support a rich diversity of life,” said Great Sand Dunes National Park Superintendent Pamela Rice. “This acquisition marks an important step toward completing the plan for Great Sand Dunes National Park that was established in 2004.”

“We are excited to complete this project and add to the spectacular Great Sand Dunes National Park,” said Nancy Fishbein, director of resilient lands for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado. “Protecting the Medano-Zapata Ranch and contributing to the creation of the national park are among the most significant successes in the history of TNC in Colorado.”

Currently, TNC operates a bison herd on the ranch property through a permit from NPS. This operation will continue for up to seven years following the current acquisition while TNC determines future plans for their conservation herd. TNC will continue to own and manage the 20,000-acre Zapata property that is adjacent to the national park.

This acquisition continues a long-standing partnership between NPS and TNC to expand Great Sand Dunes. TNC purchased the Medano-Zapata Ranch in 1999 and soon after developed the plan to transfer some of the acquired land for the creation of Great Sand Dunes National Park. In November 2000, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act passed, which more than quadrupled the size of Great Sand Dunes. Since that time, TNC has worked collaboratively with NPS to manage the inholdings with the hope that the additional parcels would eventually be transferred to the Park. Approximately 12,498 acres of the Medano Ranch lie within the boundaries of Great Sand Dunes National Park; TNC plans to transfer the remaining 3,192 acres in the future. 

The LWCF was established by Congress in 1964 to fulfill a bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. The Great American Outdoors Act authorized permanent funding of LWCF at $900 million annually to improve recreational opportunities on public lands, protect watersheds and wildlife, and preserve ecosystem benefits for local communities. The LWCF has funded $4 billion worth of projects in every county in the country for over 50 years.

Secretary Haaland also visited Browns Canyon National Monument in Chaffee County, Colorado. The Secretary met with local leaders as well as Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff to discuss how the 2015 national monument designation has helped strengthen the local economy and elevated the area as a magnet for outdoor recreation. They also highlighted recent fire management strategies that have led to reduced wildland fuels in Chaffee County and surrounding areas in the Arkansas River Valley region.

Sandhill Cranes West of Dunes by NPS/Patrick Myers

What does the Inflation Reduction Act mean for rivers — @AmericanRivers

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the American Rivers website (Eric Boucher):

On August 16, 2022 President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which will provide an estimated $369 billion to tackle climate change over the next decade. That’s a big number, but what does it mean for rivers?  

Overall, this is a bold step forward, as it provides a significant investment that would cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2030, and provides over $30 billion in financial assistance for green house gas reduction projects. In a country like the U.S. where passing climate change legislation can be difficult, these investments could be game- changing.  

Here are some key provisions:  

Drought Response  

$4 billion for water infrastructure modernization projects, as well as projects to reduce harmful effects of drought on rivers and inland water bodies. This comes in three main forms:  

Water users would be compensated for voluntary reductions that are made in water deliveries.  

Conservation projects to help bolster water levels in the Colorado River system would receive funding support.  

Environmental restoration projects to mitigate damage from drought con- ditions will be a central priority. The funds, to be administered by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over the next four years, could be used to pay farmers, rural districts and others to fallow crops and in- stall efficient watering technology, or to pay for other voluntary water reductions in the Lower and Upper Colorado Basins, which combined provide drinking water and irri- gation to nearly 40 million people across seven states and Mexico.  

Tribal Nations  

$12.5 million through FY 26 for near-term drought relief actions to mitigate drought impacts for Indian tribes that are impacted by the operation of a Bureau of Reclama- tion water project.  

$220 million for tribal climate resilience and adaptation programs, and $10 million for fish hatchery operations and maintenance programs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  

Conservation and Climate Resilience  

$3 billion in grants to states, tribes and municipalities and community-based nonprofit organizations for financial and technical assistance to address clean air and climate pollution in disadvantaged communities.  

$3 billion in investment to help reduce air pollution and carbon emissions at and surrounding our nation’s ports. Most of our nation’s ports continue to use antiquated diesel technology that pollutes our air, harms our planet, and is not fuel efficient.  

$250 million for wildlife recovery and to rebuild and restore units of the National Wildlife Refuge System and state wildlife management areas. Restored habitat will mit- igate the impacts of climate-induced weather events and increase resiliency, benefit- ting wildlife and surrounding communities.  

$2.6 billion for NOAA to assist coastal states, the District of Columbia, Tribal Gov- ernments, local governments, nonprofit organizations, and institutions of higher edu- cation to become more prepared and resilient to changes in climate.  

$190 million for high performance computing capacity and research for weather, oceans and climate.  

$50 million for NOAA to administer climate research grants to address climate challenges such as impacts of extreme events; water availability and quality; impacts of changing ocean conditions on marine life; improved greenhouse gas and ocean carbon monitoring; coastal resilience and sea level rise. This research will provide the science that Americans need to understand how, where, and when Earth’s conditions are changing.  

$12 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop and implement recov- ery plans under Section 4(f) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Section 4(f) of the Endangered Species Act requires the Secretary to develop and implement recov- ery plans for listed species.  

$250 million to carry out projects for the conservation, protection and resiliency of lands and resources administered by the National Park Service (NPS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  

$250 million to carry out conservation, ecosystem and habitat restoration projects on lands administered by the NPS and BLM.  

Environmental Justice  

$1.5 billion to plant trees, establish community and urban forests, and expand green spaces in cities, which combats climate change and provides significant community benefits by increasing recreation opportunities, cooling cities, lowering electric bills, and reducing heat-related death and illness.  

$50 million for investments in Urban Parks through grants to localities for acquisi- tion of land or interests in land, or for development of recreation facilities to create or significantly enhance access to parks or outdoor recreation in urban areas.  

$397.5 million for programs aimed at building resilience across Tribal govern- ments and communities by providing support to transition electrified homes to re- newable energy sources and provide renewable energy to homes without electricity; address drinking water shortages and provide financial assistance for drought relief; maintain and operate hatcheries; and fund Tribal climate resilience and adaptation programs.  

$550 million to ensure disadvantaged communities have the resources needed to plan, design, and construct water supply projects, particularly in communities and households that do not currently have reliable domestic water supplies.  

$1 billion to improve Energy Efficiency or Water Efficiency or Climate Resilience of Affordable Housing, that help covers the cost of energy efficiency upgrades.  

$1.9 billion to support efforts to improve walkability, safety, and affordable transportation access, including natural infrastructure and stormwater management improvements related to surface transportation in disadvantaged areas. 

Energy  

$260 billion in new and extended clean-energy tax credits meant to incentivize energy companies and public utilities to produce more solar, wind and hydropower energy.  

It also expands or creates a host of new environmental tax credits for electric vehicles, residential and commercial buildings, certain manufacturing, and carbon sequestration.  

Wildfire Protections and other Forestry improvements  

$5 billion to protect communities from wildfires while combating the climate crisis and supporting the workforce through climate-smart forestry, including:  

$2.15 billion for National Forest System Restoration and Fuels Reduction projects  

$1.8B for hazardous fuels reduction projects on National Forest System land within the wildland-urban interface  

$200M for vegetation management projects on National Forest System land 

$100M for environmental reviews by the Chief of the Forest Service  

$50M for the protection of old-growth forests on National Forest System land and to complete an inventory of old-growth forests and mature forests within the National Forest System  

Plus $2.75 billion for investing in climate-smart forestry to boost carbon sequestration and another $1.5B to provide grants for tree planting and related activities.

A day in Uranium Country — @Land_Desk #DoloresRiver

Hmmm…. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson):

It’s one of those days when the clouds pile up in the azure blue, their shadows gliding across the sandstone and sage, offering a bit of relief from the late June heat. They also promise rain, but I have my doubts. This is the Paradox Valley, after all, which lives up to its name in more way than one, a place of beauty and brutality.

Manhattan Project 1944, Uravan. Photo credit: Uravan.com

The Uravan Mineral Belt, which roughly follows the lower Dolores River in western Colorado, slices perpendicularly across the Paradox Valley just like the river, giving it its name. The mineral belt, meanwhile, got its name from the elements that lie within: vanadium and uranium. The belt was the center of the radium boom from the early 1900s into the 1920s and was ravaged for uranium from the 1940s into the 1980s. Vanadium was mined here in between. 

Dolores River watershed

Jennifer Thurston, the executive director of the Colorado mining watchdog group INFORM, tells me there are 1,300 mining sites, abandoned and otherwise, in the Dolores and San Miguel River Basins, making it among the most heavily mined sites in the West. And it shows. 

I’m here with Thurston and Soren Jespersen to take a look at myriad wounds inflicted by the mining industry, most still gaping and oozing with uncovered waste rock, rusty equipment, and other detritus decades after they were last active. But this is more than a journey into the past, it’s also a look at what might happen again in the not-so-distant future. A renewed interest in nuclear energy as a low-carbon power source and a desire to source reactor fuel domestically could wake the U.S. uranium industry from its long dormancy and rouse some of the mineral belt mines back into action. 

“Here we go again,” Jespersen, of Colorado Wildlands Project, said earlier in the day, as we examined what looked a tombstone-looking monument marking the internment site of nearly 1 million tons of radioactive tailings from the Naturita Mill. “Are we going to stumble blindly down the same path?” Thurston and Jespersen are both working, in their own way, to prevent that from happening.

Abandoned car and uranium mine in the Uravan Mineral Belt. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

The U.S. uranium industry has been on a downward slide since the eighties. First the 1979 Three Mile Island incident gave Americans the nuclear power jitters (Chernobyl, in ’86, didn’t help matters). Then the Cold War ended, allowing the fissionable material in dismantled nuclear warheads to be downgraded to a concentration that could be used as reactor fuel, and opening up Russian and former Soviet republic markets to the world. Uranium prices dropped significantly, gutting the domestic mining industry. Now at least 95% of all of the uranium used to fuel American reactors is imported from Kazakhstan, Canada, Australia, Russia, and other countries. 

After the Fukushima disaster it seemed as if nuclear power would gradually fade away, at least in the U.S. New conventional reactors are simply too expensive to build and low natural gas prices and a flood of new renewables on the power grid threatened to make the existing, aging nuclear fleet obsolete. But as the effects of climate change become more and more apparent, and the sense of urgency around the need to decarbonize the power sector intensifies, climate hawks are giving nuclear power a new look

The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant outside San Luis Obispo, California, for example, is scheduled to shut down in 2025, but now California Gov. Gavin Newsom is leading a push to keep it open longer. His reasoning: The state’s grid doesn’t have the renewable generation capacity yet to replace the big plant, meaning if it were to close now grid operators would have to rely on carbon-emitting natural gas-fired generation. 

Meanwhile, a Bill Gates-backed firm called TerraPower is working to build an advanced nuclear reactor in Kemmerer, Wyoming, and Oregon startup NuScale is looking to install a battery of small modular reactors at the Idaho National Laboratory and sell power to small, Western utilities.

Any of these initiatives, on their own, can’t revive the U.S. uranium industry. But this mild resurgence in nuclear power, paired with the fallout (only figurative, we hope) of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has caused the price of uranium to double over the last couple of years. If that trend continues—and if the federal government pitches in subsidies for the industry—it might be enough to make U.S. uranium mining economically feasible and spark renewed interest in the Uravan Mineral Belt.

The JD-7 open pit mine in the Paradox Valley. The landscape was torn apart to remove the overburden, but the mine never produced any ore. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

“Mining has to be part of this energy solution,” Thurston says. “The problem is, mining is not just about siting, but also bringing regulations into modern times and the future. It’s about convincing the government it’s not 1872 anymore.” 

Thurston has tirelessly worked to bring regulations and regulators out of the 19th century, sometimes by dragging them into court. She was instrumental in the fight to block a proposal to build a uranium mill in the Paradox Valley several years ago and more recently has forced regulators to revoke long-idled mines’ “temporary cessation” status, clearing the way for them to be cleaned up. (For more on her efforts, check out this Land Desk dispatch from March.

Jespersen is taking a different tack, he explains as we stand next to the confluence of the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers, swatting away pesky horse flies. His organization was formed with the aim of achieving landscape level protection for Bureau of Land Management lands on the Colorado Plateau. In this case, they are looking at the Dolores River watershed, specifically the lower, northern end, which manages to be spectacular, remote, and industrialized by uranium mining, all at once.

A piece of that is moving forward. In July, Sen. Michael Bennett introduced a bill that would establish a National Conservation Area along the Dolores River from McPhee Dam to the San Miguel County line, just upstream from Bedrock and the Paradox Valley. That would add a layer of protections to a 76-mile stretch of the river corridor, including prohibiting new mining claims. However, it would not stop mining on existing claims or Department of Energy leases, both of which are abundant.

Looking down the Dolores River from its confluence with the San Miguel. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

But, thanks to local political opposition, Bennett’s bill leaves out the lower 100 river miles—along with serpentine canyons, slickrock expanses, isolated mesas, and the western edge of the Uncompahgre Plateau. Jespersen and Colorado Wildlands Project are looking to up protections on that remaining section, specifically the area from the Dolores River’s confluence with the San Miguel River downstream. During uranium mining times, much of that section of river was dead, thanks to tailings and other waste dumped into the river from the mills and mines. But still other areas remain relatively unmarred and even qualify for wilderness designation.

We drive along the Dolores River, stop for lunch at the Bedrock recreation area, which was once a well-tended and crowded takeout zone for Dolores River rafters. But since McPhee Dam’s operators have released little more than a trickle into the river due to aridification, the picnic area no longer serves much of a purpose and is sad-feeling and overgrown. Thurston tells us mining speculation has picked up in the area, but not much else. And then she explains a sort of ore pre-processing technique called ablation that some mining companies are hoping to use to save costs and maybe get around regulations.

Jennifer Thurston walks near the head frame of the JD-5 mine above the Paradox Valley. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Then we drive into the heart of the wreckage on a nearby mesa. From there we see the JD-7, a big, open pit mine in the Paradox Valley that never even produced ore. Now it sits idle and unreclaimed. We peer down into the darkness of a mine shaft and poke around in a dilapidated building where packrats have taken up residence among old equipment. This is one of the mines that INFORM won a cleanup case against, but regulators haven’t approved a reclamation plan, so nothing’s happened. “This whole formation is basically Swiss cheese,” Thurston says as we ponder yet another abandoned site, replete with a couple of ancient cars with “straight eights” under the hoods. And we go out to a point where we can look out on the landscape and see the web of roads scraped through the piñon, juniper, and sagebrush decades ago to give prospectors access to every inch of this vast space.

It’s heartbreaking to see, but hopeful, too, as the land is slowly healing. Yet it’s infuriating to think that the wounds may one day be torn open again.

Sylvie’s Seat and the La Sal Mountains. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Well how about that. You may remember our story last month about the Horseshoe-Gallup oil field and about how a determined group of activists and land protectors were trying to bring regulators’ attention to the blight there. Not only did they get the Bureau of Land Management’s attention, but they got their boss—Interior Secretary Deb Haaland—to come out and see one of the worst sites. Haaland also announced $25 million in federal funding to plug and reclaim orphaned oil and gas wells in New Mexico during her visit.

Interior Department Completes Removal of “Sq___” from Federal Use: Decisions of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names are Effective Immediately

Secretary Haaland meets with tribal, local leaders regarding conservation efforts in southern Nevada

Click the link to read the release on the Deparmtment of Interior website :

The Department of the Interior today [September 8, 2022] announced the Board on Geographic Names (BGN) has voted on the final replacement names for nearly 650 geographic features featuring the word sq___. The final vote completes the last step in the historic efforts to remove a term from federal use that has historically been used as an offensive ethnic, racial and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women.

“I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming. That starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have graced federal locations for far too long,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “I am grateful to the members of the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force and the Board on Geographic Names for their efforts to prioritize this important work. Together, we are showing why representation matters and charting a path for an inclusive America.”

The list of new names can be found on the U.S. Geological Survey website with a map of locations.

The final vote reflects a months-long effort by the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force established by Secretary’s Order 3404, which included representatives from the Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, National Park Service, Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Civil Rights, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, and the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service.

During the public comment period, the Task Force received more than 1,000 recommendations for name changes. Nearly 70 Tribal governments participated in nation-to-nation consultation, which yielded another several hundred recommendations. While the new names are immediately effective for federal use, the public may continue to propose name changes for any features — including those announced today — through the regular BGN process.

The renaming effort included several complexities: evaluation of multiple public or Tribal recommendations for the same feature; features that cross Tribal, federal and state jurisdictions; inconsistent spelling of certain Native language names; and reconciling diverse opinions from various proponents. In all cases, the Task Force carefully evaluated every comment and proposal.

In July, the Department announced an additional review by the BGN for seven locations that are considered unincorporated populated places. Noting that there are unique concerns with renaming these sites, the BGN will seek out additional review from the local communities and stakeholders before making a final determination.

Secretary’s Order 3404 and the Task Force considered only the sq___ derogatory term in its scope. Secretary’s Order 3405 created a Federal Advisory Committee for the Department to formally receive advice from the public regarding additional derogatory terms, derogatory terms on federal land units, and the process for derogatory name reconciliation. Next steps on the status of that Committee will be announced in the coming weeks.

Inflation Reduction Act includes $4B for #ColoradoRiver — Steamboat Pilot & Today #COriver #aridification

The Yamcolo Reservoir was conceived by ranchers of the Upper Yampa River Basin and the Toponas Basin in the early 1960’s to alleviate frequent shortages of crucial irrigation water. Photo credit: The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District

Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Dylan Anderson). Here’s an excerpt:

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, says it will be “months, not years” before billions of dollars meant for water infrastructure, forest health and drought mitigation will start to have an impact in places like the Yampa Valley. In a speech at Colorado Water Congress in Steamboat Springs on Tuesday, Aug. 23, Bennet touted money for water in the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed at the end of last year, as well as drought-focused dollars in the Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Joe Biden last week…Democrats have heralded the Inflation Reduction Act as the biggest investment ever to address climate change.

“The No. 1 reason the Colorado River is providing less water every year is climate change,” Bennet said. “Between the voluntary (Yampa River) closures and the threat of mandatory closures, Steamboat’s economy faces a stark new reality. The same is true for Colorado’s $46 billion outdoor recreation sector and our $47 billion agriculture sector.”

[…]

Bennet said he believes many of these cuts need to come from the lower end of the basin, which includes Arizona, California and Nevada…The money in the Inflation Reduction Act is specifically meant to purchase or save water to be left in the river and prop up the nation’s largest reservoirs.

Freedom in the west, but not for women — Writers on the range

Click the link to read the article on the Writers on the range website (Rebecca Johnson):

I moved to Wyoming a few years ago for its outdoor recreation, but I also liked the state’s history of championing equal rights for women. As early as 1869, it codified women’s voting rights, 50 years before the 19th Amendment did the same thing. Western women in the 19th century quickly proved their mettle, helping to build communities in rugged and isolated landscapes.

But now, sadly, Wyoming has agreed to subjugate women. In March, Wyoming’s governor signed a “trigger bill” that would ban abortions in the state five days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, which it did June 24.

Around the West, other states including Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota and Oklahoma also passed bills restricting women’s reproductive health soon after the Supreme Court acted. Texas had a tough law that banned virtually all abortions since 2021, although their new law, set to take effect in the next month, introduces even harsher measures — a near-total ban, even after incest and rape.

Fortunately, some Western states recognize the needs of women, and are already being sought out by women seeking abortions who are blocked at home. Colorado passed an act in March giving anyone pregnant the “fundamental right to continue the pregnancy… or to have an abortion.”

Three coastal states, California, Washington and Oregon, said they would be havens for women seeking abortions. In addition, Oregon allotted $15 million to help cover abortion costs even for non-residents.

Corporations are also becoming allies. Apple, Citi, and Yelp adjusted their corporate policies in Texas to include travel for abortions as part of health insurance packages. Lyft and Uber have promised to pay legal fees if their drivers are charged with the crime of “assisting” abortion patients.

Ironically, when Covid-19 was rampant, I often heard Westerners express a common sentiment about getting vaccinated, or not: “It’s my body and my choice.” I almost laughed, as that’s the cry of women who want the choice of becoming a mother, or not.

Before the Supreme Court decision was announced, I began talking to people about their views on access to abortion, and as you would expect, reactions were mixed, though no one I spoke to for this opinion agreed to be quoted by name due to privacy concerns. At a block party, a 22-year-old Jackson man, who self-identified as Hispanic, said he thought of abortion as “one of the worst sins.” Then he surprised me by adding, “But a woman should be able to make that decision.”

At a pizza joint, a fourth-generation Jackson resident I’ve gotten to know, said, “I don’t think the government should have a say about your individual body… The government should be building roads. We don’t believe in big government.”

An Indigenous man in his late 20s said, “Humans should be able to make choices for their own human bodies. Otherwise, we’re going back to slavery.”

Still, I get the sense that many well-intentioned men, trying to be supportive of the women around them, are opting to step back and let women fight this battle. This reticence has started to feel like men are saying, “Not my body, not my problem.” Perhaps our state legislators recognize this reluctance to get involved, thus freeing them to vote against women’s rights.

Sometimes an abortion is unwanted but necessary for a woman’s health. Sometimes an abortion is wanted but will now be illegal. I think whatever a woman decides must be her decision, not a ruling from the out-of-touch Supreme Court or from a male-dominated state legislature.

Five years ago, a friend was forced to travel to a Wyoming clinic to get an abortion after a doctor in Idaho told her that abortion was “wrong.” She was angry, and later when she told her father, he said he was proud of her for “sticking up for herself.”

“It was the best money I’ve ever spent,” my friend told me later. “I wouldn’t be half the person I hope to be without making that decision.”

Men retain control over their bodies, but in too many parts of this country, women no longer can. Deciding whether to bear a child is perhaps the biggest decision in any woman’s life. Controlling and criminalizing a woman’s choice is a tragic mistake.

Rebecca (Bex) Johnson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, http://writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. She works and writes in Jackson, Wyoming.

Biden-Harris Administration Announces Members to #Wildfire Commission

The Silver City Hotshots conduct firing operations along Highway 518 west of Holman, New Mexico, on May 9, 2022, during the Hermits Peak Fire. The fire became New Mexico’s largest wildfire in state history in May 2022, scorching more than 315,000 acres. (Inciweb)

Click the link to read the article on the USDA website:

Today, the Departments of Agriculture, the Interior and Homeland Security through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are announcing the selection of members to the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission.

Established by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and announced in December 2021, the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission will play a key role in recommending ways that federal agencies can better prevent, mitigate, suppress and manage wildland fires. It will also recommend policies and strategies on how to restore the lands affected by wildfire.

The call for nominations for the non-federal members was issued in March. More than 500 applications were received, and 36 non-federal members — 18 primary and 18 alternates — have been selected to serve on the commission. Along with 11 federal members, the commission will be co-chaired by Departments of Agriculture, the Interior and FEMA leadership. Commission members represent federal agencies, Tribes, state and local municipalities, and private entities, as directed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Details on commission members are available at the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission website.

he commission will prepare a report with policy recommendations and submit them to Congress within a year of its first in-person meeting in August. A virtual introductory call is scheduled for this month. The Departments of Agriculture, the Interior and FEMA will provide support and resources to assist the commission with coordination and facilitation of their duties.

The commission’s work will build on existing interagency federal efforts such as the Wildland Fire Leadership Council and the White House Wildfire Resilience Interagency Working Group and will continue to pursue a whole-of-government approach to wildfire risk reduction and resilience. It’s creating comes at an important time as shifting development patterns, land and fire management decisions, and climate change have turned fire “seasons” into fire “years” in which increasingly destructive fires are exceeding available federal firefighting resources.

In addition to establishing the commission, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides historic funding for a suite of programs aimed at reducing wildfire risks, detecting wildfires, instituting firefighter workforce reforms and building more resilient infrastructure.

This year, the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior have allocated an initial $234 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investments for wildfire resilience efforts and established a new joint mental wellness program to equip federal wildland firefighters with post-traumatic stress disorder care and address environmental hazards to minimize on-the-job exposure.

These investments support the USDA Forest Service’s “Confronting the Wildfire Crisis” (PDF, 32 MB) strategy, which aims to treat 20 million acres of national forests and grasslands and 30 million acres of state, local, Tribal and private lands over the next 10 years to reduce wildfire risk where it matters most. They also support efforts to implement the Department of the Interior’s “Five-Year Monitoring, Maintenance, and Treatment Plan,” which aligns with the USDA 10-year strategy and provides a roadmap for addressing wildfire risk on Department of the Interior and Tribal lands.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also supports landmark pay increases for federal wildland firefighters, announced on June 21, which aim to bring federal firefighter pay in alignment with their state and local counterparts, while aiding in recruitment and retention of a more permanent and stable wildland firefighting force across the federal government.

For more information visit the commission website or email wildlandfirecommission@usda.gov.

Biden-Harris Administration Announces Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Investments for Dam Safety Programs in Tribal Communities — DOI

Men working on the Oglala Dam project, 1940. By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17409996

Click the link to read the article on the Department of Interior website:

The Department of the Interior today announced $29 million in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to invest in Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) Irrigation, Power, and Safety of Dams programs.

President Biden’s historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests more than $13 billion directly to Tribal communities across the country. Today’s announcement includes funding to repair the Oglala Dam in South Dakota, and develop designs for six other dams that currently exceed safety guidelines. This is the first allotment of approximately $150 million the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest over the next five years to address safety deficiencies at dams.

“Through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are making critical infrastructure investments in Tribal communities across the country,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “In addition to the resources we have allocated for irrigation power systems and water sanitation systems in Indian Country, today’s announcement will further safeguard Tribal water supplies, supporting families and communities. This is yet another step in the Biden-Harris administration’s effort to put investments into communities that need them most.”

“Maintenance and repairs on our dams have been postponed for many years, leading to deferred maintenance costs of more than a billion dollars,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. “This important funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is an important step to addressing these problems, which will make communities safer and provide additional water for irrigation and other purposes.” 

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Fiscal Year 2022 investments will fund designs and construction projects to address known dam safety deficiencies at the following locations:

  • A1, Bootleg, Cooley and Davis Dams, Fort Apache Reservation, Arizona
  • Willow Creek Dam, Crow Reservation, Montana
  • Allen Dam, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
  • Oglala Dam, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
  • Assistant Secretary Newland and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Wizipan Garriott will highlight today’s announcement while visiting the Oglala Dam. The reservoir formed by Oglala Dam was drained in 2019 to protect communities downstream following flood damage that compromised the spillway and outlet works. The project will address these damages at a cost of more than $20 million. Upon completion in 2026, this work will restore an important local water supply for the Pine Ridge community.

    U.S. Interior secretary to promote big spending jump for tribal, #climate programs — #Colorado Newsline

    Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, center, and U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas, right, visit Castner Range National Monument in Texas on March 26, 2022. (Courtesy of Interior Department/Public domain)

    Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will ask a U.S. House spending panel to increase funding for the department’s tribal programs and climate resilience efforts, according to written testimony released ahead of a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

    The administration’s budget request for fiscal 2023 would significantly increase spending for the Interior Department. Its agencies oversee onshore oil and gas drilling, tribal assistance, national parks and wildlife policy, and manage public lands accounting for 10% of acreage across the country.

    Haaland’s written testimony to the House Appropriations Energy-Environment Subcommittee was published on a House website ahead of the hearing.

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    The budget “sets ambitious goals, but they are achievable,” Haaland’s written testimony to the committee reads. “Working together, we have the opportunity to invest now to strengthen our Nation for all Americans, protect our environment, and ensure our future generations continue to not only enjoy, but improve our way of life.” 

    Haaland is scheduled to appear before the panel Thursday. Her opening statement will likely be shortened from the written version. Members of the panel will be able to question her.

    Though President Joe Biden released a budget request last month, Congress has the sole authority to write spending bills. Cabinet officials typically appear on Capitol Hill to defend the spending request as part of the process.

    Biden’s request included a 19% increase for Interior — nearly four times the 5% boost for all domestic discretionary spending. Haaland’s written testimony summarizes some of the largest line items in the proposal.

    At several points in the testimony, Haaland characterizes the fiscal 2023 request as a supplement to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law that included billions for Interior programs to clean up abandoned mines, reduce wildfire risk and build water infrastructure.

    Her remarks call for passing a 2023 funding bill that “complements this investment.”

    Tribal programs

    Biden’s fiscal 2023 request includes a significant boost for several funding sources for tribes. 

    Haaland, who is the first Native American person to serve in a Cabinet, wrote that it was “deeply meaningful” for her to promote the budget blueprint, including the request for tribal programs.

    The administration proposed increasing spending on Indian Affairs programs by nearly 25% to $4.5 billion, a sum Haaland called “unprecedented.” The request would prioritize sovereignty and advance equity and opportunity for tribal communities, Haaland said. 

    The infrastructure law provides $2.5 billion to help deliver water resources to tribes. That spending is included in the request, as is another $340 million over 10 years to support the operation and maintenance of that effort.

    The Bureau of Indian Affairs would receive $2.8 billion, an increase of more than $500 million from fiscal 2022. A major piece of that funding would go toward operating costs for tribal self-governance of federal programs.

    Bureau of Indian Education funding would go from $1.3 billion in fiscal 2022 to $1.6 billion under the Biden request. Construction money for tribal schools would see a nearly 60% increase to $420 million.

    Climate priorities

    Haaland will ask for funding to help transition to renewable energy and take other steps to mitigate climate change, while also highlighting the need to adapt to a certain amount of climate change that is already unavoidable.

    “Worsening drought, increased weather risks, more extreme wildfires, profound threats to wildlife habitats, warming water temperatures, and new threats from invasive species are among the tangible challenges land and resource managers face right now,” her testimony reads.

    Climate-driven Colorado River ‘megadrought’ worst in 1,200 years, study concludes

    The request includes $1.4 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water projects to deal with droughts that are expected to worsen in coming years. That funding would build on $8.3 billion in the infrastructure law. 

    A separate Appropriations panel, the Energy-Water Subcommittee, is responsible for that part of the department’s funding.

    The request also includes $1.2 billion for wildfire management, an increase of nearly $175 million over the fiscal 2022 level.

    The request would also target climate resilience spending for tribal communities. The administration has asked for $61 million for a tribal climate resilience program, nearly double the $32 million enacted for the current fiscal year.

    The request includes funding across several Interior agencies for restoration and conservation.

    “Healthier lands are more resilient to the effects of the changing climate, and investments that are made now will help ensure the unique and spectacular lands and resources Interior manages endure for future generations,” the testimony says.

    The department also continues to work on its initiative to protect 30% of lands and waters by the end of the decade. Haaland’s testimony does not mention specific funding for the program.

    Interior support of jobs 

    The Interior department supported an estimated 1.9 million jobs in 2019, according to Haaland’s testimony. 

    Those jobs were mainly driven by the department’s energy programs.

    The 2023 request includes extra funding to spur job creation from money in the infrastructure law and the Great American Outdoors Act, a 2020 law that provided permanent funding for public lands infrastructure, Haaland said.

    The administration’s request aims to grow renewable energy sources, but spending on wind and solar is still dwarfed by oil and gas programs.

    The request would provide about $101 million for renewable energy programs for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Land Management programs. It would also send $11 million to the BLM to plan renewable energy projects on public lands.

    Meanwhile, the request calls for $477 million for oil and gas programs, 13% more than the same programs received in 2022.  

    The administration’s climate and conservation programs will also create jobs, Haaland says, including in a Civilian Climate Corps and through new jobs in clean energy.

    Still, Interior plays a role “in balancing conservation and development,” Haaland will tell the committee. 

    The budget request includes money to speed permitting for clean energy infrastructure and for a Fish and Wildlife Service program to support development that protects migratory birds. 

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

    Native American tribes assert #water rights on #ColoradoRiver Basin: 1922 compact that divided the water between states left out tribes, which own 25% rights — The #Cortez Journal #COriver #aridification

    Lake Nighthorse in the Ridges Basin in La Plata County, Colorado. The view is from the overlook on County Road 210. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81402953

    Click the link to read the article on The Cortez Journal website (Jim Mimiaga). Here’s an excerpt:

    Ute Mountain Chairman Manuel Heart and Southern Ute Council member Lorelei Cloud presented their perspectives and plans for water management during a session of the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s annual meeting Friday [April 22, 2022] in Durango. The tribes were not invited to the discussions when the states and federal government divided water rights in the West during the early 20th century. Native Americans did not gain U.S. citizenship until two years after the 1922 Colorado River Compact divided Colorado River water between upper and lower basins.

    Cloud said the Southern Ute Tribe has 129,000 acre-feet per year of federally reserved water rights on seven rivers that run through its reservation, but they only have the capacity to divert 40,600 acre-feet per year. The tribe stores water in Vallecito, Lemon and Lake Nighthorse Reservoirs.

    The tribe recently built a reservoir to store water for its water treatment plant, which serves 500 households, many of which are nontribal homes in the checkerboard area of the reservation that includes private and tribal lands. The new reservoir allows for a 30-day reserve, up from one-day reserve. Water storage at the treatment plant is critical because it is served by the tribe’s junior water rights on the Pine River, which are vulnerable to calls from senior right holders…

    In a historic meeting on March 28 in Albuquerque, 20 tribes, including Utes, met with U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to discuss their involvement with Colorado River Basin water negotiations. Haaland is the first Native American appointed to the post. Cloud said tribes are now at the table to provide input on the Drought Response Operation Agreement set by the Bureau of Reclamation. The guidelines determine how water is released from Colorado River storage reservoirs.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    3 big reasons why the Biden #climate agenda is floundering — #Colorado Newsline

    Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, left, and Sen Joe Manchin participated in a roundtable event hosted by the White House Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities, on March 18, 2022. (Interior Department via Flickr/Public domain)

    President Joe Biden’s climate agenda took a hit this month when the Interior Department said it would open 144,000 acres of federal land up for oil and gas development to comply with a court order to restart fossil fuel development.

    The announcement marked yet another setback for a presidential climate plan that was once seen as historically ambitious. 

    Biden’s signature climate bill has gone nowhere in the U.S. Senate, he’s called for more domestic fossil fuel production to combat rising gas prices, and members of his own party doubt whether he can meet goals for a U.S. transition to electric vehicles.

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    After noting climate as one of four crises facing the nation during his 2020 campaign, Biden gave it only a passing mention in his State of the Union address in March.

    The White House defense on the oil and gas leases is that a court order forced adoption of a policy contrary to Biden’s climate objectives. Accompanying the move was a raise in the royalty rates for energy companies drilling on federal land, a reform long sought by environmental advocates. 

    But it still represented a departure from the president’s campaign rhetoric that promised no more drilling on federal lands, and it was met with derision by some environmental advocates. 

    Randi Spivak, the public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity, called it “a reckless failure of climate leadership.”

    Other advocacy groups were more understanding — the National Wildlife Federation, for example, stressed provisions of the restart that raised rates for fossil fuel development and limited the area that would be available.

    As the nation having celebrated Earth Day on Friday, the administration has said it is still committed to climate action. 

    The evidence? Biden’s move to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, funding to target carbon reduction and electric vehicles in last year’s transportation infrastructure law, and a goal set to reduce carbon emissions by 50 to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030.

    “The press and the pundits may want to declare President Biden’s climate agenda dead,” an administration official said at a press briefing Monday. “But this week, we will show how it is very much alive and well.”

    Thursday, the Transportation Department announced a $6.4 billion program funded by the infrastructure law to help state transportation departments limit greenhouse gases from vehicles. Biden addressed climate issues in an Earth Day speech in Seattle Friday.

    Here are three big reasons why the White House has struggled with its climate agenda:

    Court decisions

    During the presidential campaign, Biden pledged to end new fossil fuel development on federal lands. He followed through on that promise on his first day in office, issuing an executive order to pause new oil and gas leases as the administration reviewed the program and its impact on climate change.

    A federal judge, though, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Louisiana, found the executive order was illegal and ordered the administration to restart leasing.

    In a tweet, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said that the order forced the new oil and gas lease sales. 

    She noted the parcels available for lease were decreased 80% from what had been nominated for leases in 2021 and touted the raise in royalty rates from 12.5% to 18.75%.

    Oil and gas infrastructure is seen on the Roan Plateau in far western Colorado. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)

    White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the move “was the result of a court injunction that we continue to appeal. And it’s not in line with the president’s policy.” 

    House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and former chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who has pushed the Biden administration for more ambitious climate action, accepted that the court order forced the administration’s hand and credited Haaland with the reforms. 

    “I’m glad we finally have an administration that recognizes that the status quo for our oil and gas leasing program is a rip-off for the American people,” Chair Grijalva said.

    But some outside groups called it a violation of Biden’s campaign pledge.

    Kyle Tisdel, director of energy and climate at the environmental legal group Western Environmental Law Center, said in an interview the administration had options, even after the “flawed” injunction from Doughty.

    The court order only said the administration could not issue a blanket pause on new leases, he said. But the Bureau of Land Management could still decline to issues new leases on a case-by-case basis, he said.

    Congress

    Bipartisan members of the House and Senate passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that the administration helped steer and Biden signed last year.

    A group of progressive lawmakers almost sank the measure over concerns it would exacerbate — not solve — the climate crisis. The administration and congressional leaders promised to pair the infrastructure bill with a sweeping $3.5 trillion bill that would include major climate provisions.

    The House passed the larger bill, but the Senate never took it up. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III came out against the legislation in December. With no Republican support, Manchin’s opposition doomed the bill in the evenly divided Senate.

    “What the last year has shown us is that the Biden administration trying to calibrate action to the whims of certain senators or congresspeople or midterm elections has been sort of a fool’s errand,” Tisdel said.

    Some members of Congress remain optimistic that a climate bill can be passed. Manchin has indicated an openness to supporting the clean energy tax credits in the Biden plan, but also has said that negotiations on the so-called Build Back Better plan must start from scratch.

    U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who earlier this year called for passing the climate provisions of the Biden spending plan, said in a Thursday statement he remained focused on expanding clean energy, funding conservation work and supporting fish and wildlife protections.

    “All eyes are rightly on the Biden administration and on Congress to pass transformative climate investments,” Heinrich said. “We need to deliver.”

    War and spiraling gas prices

    Biden’s State of the Union address this year focused on the war in Ukraine, then just days old, and spiking prices for consumer goods — including energy. 

    His top priority, he said, was “getting prices under control.”

    The drive to cut costs seemed to displace climate action, which he only mentioned twice, once in the context of lowering energy prices.

    To address rising prices in the short term, Biden has also called on domestic producers to pump more oil and has released millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a complex of underground storage caverns in Louisiana and Texas. 

    Biden, in Iowa, also waived a regulation banning sales of the ethanol blend E15 during the summer months. The Environmental Protection Agency normally doesn’t allow sales from June to mid-September due to concerns over air pollution.

    Julie McNamara, a deputy policy director with the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a climate advocacy group, said using rising energy prices to make the case should be an opportunity to hasten a transition away from fossil fuels to less volatile energy sources.

    “We’re seeing a push from the fossil fuel industry and their supporters to increase our dependence on fossil fuels, to increase production and fighting back against clean energy,” she said.

     “When every indicator says now is the time to be doubling down on our commitment to this clean energy transition.”



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

    Federal Funding Provides Some Wins for #Water #Conservation and Birds in the West — The Audubon Society

    American Dipper, Lolo National Forest, Montana. Photo: Troy Gruetzmacher/Audubon Photography Awards

    Click the link to read the article on the Audubon website (Caitlin Wall):

    In March, Congress passed and President Biden signed a federal spending bill that will fund the government through September 30, 2022. Overall, the funding is a win for conservation and provides helpful increases for programs that address climate change, build community resilience, and protect birds and wildlife. Compared with four years of drastic funding cuts implemented from 2016-2020, this bill sets the stage for a positive trend in federal funding for the environment.

    One bright spot is the (at least) $1.25 million included for Saline Lakes science, a key Audubon priority. In addition to this startup funding, Audubon is hopeful that Congress works to pass the bipartisan Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act and additional appropriations for this critical assessment and monitoring program.

    For the Colorado River, the spending bill is a bit of a mixed bag. The Cooperative Watershed Management Program received only $5 million, which is a slight increase over the $4.25 million it received last year, but far below our request of $20 million. However, this program received a huge boost in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)—$200 million over five years. And the relatively new Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program received only $100,000 in Fiscal Year (FY)22, but will benefit from $250 million over five years in IIJA funding. These programs fund multi-benefit projects that support rivers, wetlands, communities, and water users and we are hopeful they continue to receive additional funding in future years. Audubon urges Congress to continue boosting annual funding for programs like these. Coupled with the historic amounts of funding in the IIJA, the river is receiving an influx of funding over the next few years to address the ongoing drought and water challenges.

    Yuma desalting plant. Photo credit: USBR

    We were also pleased to see that funding for the operation of the Yuma Desalting Plant was prohibited by the omnibus bill. Audubon remains opposed to the operation of the Yuma Desalting Plant, and encourages Congress to continue prohibiting appropriations for this purpose, as it would decimate irreplaceable bird habitat in the Colorado River Delta, particularly in the Ciénega de Santa Clara. And, the Lower Colorado River Basin received $25 million to implement the Drought Contingency Plans (DCP); this critical funding is in addition to $250 million in the IIJA, pointing to ongoing interest in ensuring these plans are implemented effectively.

    For the Department of Agriculture, several important conservation programs were fully funded (meaning they received no cuts)—these include the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). RCPP promotes innovative regional approaches to improve the health of working landscapes and rivers with partner-driven, multi-benefit projects. EQIP promotes the voluntary application of land use practices to maintain or improve the condition of natural resources, including grassland health, water quality, and wildlife habitat. Both of these helps support overall watershed health and build the resilience of these ecosystems.

    The Salton Sea is a major nesting, wintering and stopover site for about 400 bird species (Source: California Department of Water Resources)

    Finally, the FY22 spending bill included Congressionally Directed Spending projects (previously known as earmarks) for the first time in many years. Audubon supported numerous project requests, and was pleased to see $2.546 million for a Salton Sea Research Project, secured by Representative Vargas. And, Representative Stanton secured $1.841 million for the Tres Rios project in Arizona, which Audubon also supported.

    Audubon looks forward to the implementation of this funding for on-the-ground conservation activities, habitat restoration projects, and community resilience efforts. Federal dollars are critical to addressing climate change and the ongoing Western drought and aridification. Protecting watersheds protects people and birds, particularly in the West.

    Looking ahead, President Biden released his FY23 budget on March 28, which initiated the appropriations process for the rest of this fiscal year. While the budget is only a statement of priorities and Congress will decide the actual spending amounts, Audubon was pleased to see investments for clean energy research, a civilian conservation corps, and equity initiatives to help historically marginalized communities.

    The budget appropriates $1.4 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the West’s major waterways. This funding would include $2.254 million for the Cooperative Watershed Management Program and $500,000 for the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program. Audubon urges Congress to fully fund these programs at $20 million and $15 million, respectively. Audubon also supports a full $5 million for the Saline Lakes science program at USGS, to build upon the initial investment made last year. We will be working with our partners to support other conservation programs and projects for FY23, and help continue this positive trend in funding.

    Audubon urges the Administration and Congress to continue increasing funding amounts for programs that restore habitat, build community resilience, combat climate change and its devastating effects, and protect the places that people and birds need.

    #Colorado to receive $18.1M for #wildfire mitigation projects along Front Range — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate

    Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, at the microphone, speaks during a visit to Heil Valley Ranch in Boulder County on April 11, 2022. Sens. John Hickenlooper, left, and Michael Bennet, third from left, Rep. Joe Neguse, second from left, U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, second from right, and regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region Frank Beum, right, also joined. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)

    Colorado will receive over $18 million this fiscal year from the federal government to treat thousands of acres susceptible to increasingly damaging wildfires, part of a strategy leaders hope will emphasize lowering fire risk before disaster strikes.

    The Colorado Front Range is one of 10 landscapes selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service to benefit from an initial $131 million investment with funding from last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

    In Colorado, money will head to nine identified projects in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and four projects in the Pike and San Isabel National Forests. It will treat up to 10,000 acres this year.

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    “At this point, there is no margin for error. We must and we will continue to stay coordinated, because the reality is that these days, as everyone has said, fire season is now fire years,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said during a visit to Heil Valley Ranch on Monday, with trees still blackened from the 2020 CalWood Fire on a hillside behind her.

    “Climate change is making the fire seasons more intense, as our firefighters deal with hotter, drier conditions and more extreme fire behavior. The increased frequency in urban areas is impacting more homes, businesses and communities every year,” she said.

    Colorado faced a record-year for wildfires in 2020 with the CalWood, East Troublesome and Pine Gulch fires. In December, the Marshall Fire burned over 6,000 acres and destroyed entire neighborhoods in Boulder County.

    Colorado also faces harsh, ongoing drought.

    “It is all the more reason and motivation for us to take wildfire mitigation and resiliency seriously,” Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District, said during the press conference with Haaland.

    Climate change has increased the risk of dangerous wildfires in Colorado, and it has contributed to a drought in the Southwest that has lasted more than two decades. Rising concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere, largely due to human activity, have caused many parts of the state to warm by an average of more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.

    Haaland said the financial investments enabled by last year’s bipartisan legislation will facilitate a “collaborative, multi-jurisdictional approach” to reducing wildfire risk. Wildfires, after all, do not discriminate between land managed by the county, private citizens, the Forest Service or the National Park Service, and experts say the best approach is informed by all land managers.

    Those projects are about reducing the grasses, shrubs, trees, dead leaves and fallen pine needles that increase the chances of a catastrophic wildfire, forest supervisor for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests Monte Williams said.

    “It’s about fuel,” he said. “And not just the fuel that’s standing up, but about the fuel that is actually laying on the ground. For a long time, we thought all we needed to do was go thin the forest, and that would create a place where the fire would hit, slow down and stop because there would be nothing left to burn. The truth is we recognize it’s a lot more than that.”

    In addition to forest thinning, Williams said prescribed burns are crucial in wildfire mitigation. It’s a similar strategy that he said prevented the 2020 Cameron Peak fire from spreading on two of its largest days. In that case, it was coordinated treatments on local, state and federal lands that stopped the fire in its tracks.

    “The actual results of this have already been shown,” he said of the type of projects the incoming money will fund.

    A view from the highway of the massive East Troublesome wildfire smoke cloud near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado on October 16, 2020. Photo credit: Inciweb

    The beginning of a long process

    U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said it is necessary to combat the scale of recent wildfires with an appropriately large response. A 10-year strategy from the Forest Service calls for the treatment of tens of millions of acres across the country. This fiscal year’s investment will begin the implementation of that ambitious strategy.

    “This is an opportunity for us to come from a place of want into a place of have,” Moore said. “For a long time, we’ve known what to do, but we have not had the ability to do it at a scale that made a difference on the landscape.”

    Sen. Michael Bennet said there’s still a chance Congress could pass a reconciliation bill — what was known as the Build Back Better Act — that has $27 billion in additional investments for wildfire risk reduction. That would be the largest investment into forestry in United States history. Build Back Better was stalled after holdout from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

    “That may or may not pass now,” Bennet said. “But what we’ve been able to do this year, with the 5.6 (billion dollars) we’ve been able to put in the bipartisan bill, is demonstrate that the country, for the first time, really recognizes the scale of the challenge that we have.”

    It will take much more money to implement the full 10-year plan, but Bennet said the financial puzzle is well worth it, comparing an estimated $50,000 per acre cost to fight a wildfire versus a $1,500 per acre to do mitigation work.

    “I am optimistic that we will figure out how to do it over the long haul,” he said.

    Sen. John Hickenlooper also attended the event.

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was slated to join the visit to Heil Valley Ranch with Haaland and members of the congressional delegation, but he is quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19.

    The other regions that will benefit from this initial investment are in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.

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

    New Initiative Targets Western #Wildfire Risks: Joint Forest Service-Department of Interior effort will focus resources on priority landscapes — The Nature Conservancy

    WILDFIRE CHALLENGES The 2013 Alder Fire in Yellowstone National Park burned 4,240 acres. © Mike Lewelling, National Park Service

    Click the link to read the release on The Nature Conservancy website (Jay Lee and Lindsay Schlageter):

    The following is a statement from Carlos Fernández, state director of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Colorado, and Cecilia Clavet, a TNC senior policy advisor, in response to the announcement by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Randy Moore, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service (USFS), of “10 Initial Landscape Investments.”

    USFS highest risk firesheds January 2022.

    The announcement is part of USFS’s 10-year plan to address wildfire risk throughout the United States. According to the agency, these 10 priority landscapes will apply funds from the bipartisan infrastructure law and other funding to provide treatments that will reduce wildfire risk primarily in western states.

    Carlos Fernández, State Director, TNC in Colorado: “We are thrilled to welcome Secretary Haaland and Chief Moore to Colorado to announce the next phase of their 10-year strategy to address wildfire risk. “Colorado is no stranger to the devastating effects of increased wildfires, with the largest fires in our state’s history occurring within the last three years. We know that in order to address the growing threat of large-scale wildfires and longer fire seasons, we need to increase investments in wildfire resilience.

    That’s why it’s promising to see the Front Range landscape is a priority for federal land management agencies as they plan to scale up their efforts to address wildfire risk. Our forests are so important to our quality of life here in Colorado, they clean our air and water, sustain wildlife and provide opportunities for recreation. We look forward to working together to ensure they are healthy, our communities are safe, and our way of life can continue into the future.”

    Cecilia Clavet, Senior Policy Advisor, TNC: “Colorado is not alone. The entire western United States is facing unprecedented, large-scale wildfires, exacerbated by climate change. We need to build resilience of our forests and rangelands, reduce risk to communities and ensure people are empowered and prepared to live safely with fire. Wildfire resilience is an all-of-society challenge in need of an all-of-society approach. We commend the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior for prioritizing landscapes with the highest risk of wildfire. This will ensure investments are going to communities that need it most.

    “The announcement today is a great step forward for the Forest Service’s 10-year strategy. The investments provided through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act represent an important down payment for wildfire resilience. TNC will continue to support investing in wildfire resilience to meet the longer-term training, capacity building and workforce development needs.

    Partnerships are essential to maintain and sustain this work. TNC partners with federal land management agencies, Indigenous peoples and other federal and non-federal partners to achieve a better future with fire.

    Bent lodgepole pine in some areas revealed intensity of the wind. Photo/National Park Service via Big Pivots

    Congratulations, soon to be Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson

    Ketanji Brown Jackson via the White House. Photo credit: Lelanie Foster, a young black photographer from the Bronx

    Click the link to read the remarks from President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on the White House website:

    THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Good morning. (Applause.) Good morning, America. (Laughs.) Have a seat, please.

    President Joe Biden, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, members of Congress, members of the Cabinet, members of our administration, and friends and fellow Americans: Today is, indeed, a wonderful day — (applause) — as we gather to celebrate the confirmation of the next justice of the United States Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. (Applause.)

    President George Washington once referred to America as a “great experiment” — a nation founded on the previously untested belief that the people — we, the people — could form a more perfect union. And that belief has pushed our nation forward for generations. And it is that belief that we reaffirmed yesterday — (applause) — through the confirmation of the first Black woman to the United States Supreme Court. (Applause.)

    THE PRESIDENT: Whoa! It’s about time!

    THE VICE PRESIDENT: And, Judge Jackson, you will inspire generations of leaders. They will watch your confirmation hearings and read your decisions.

    In the years to come, the Court will answer fundamental questions about who we are and what kind of country we live in: Will we expand opportunity or restrict it? Will we strengthen the foundations of our great democracy or let them crumble? Will we move forward or backward?

    The young leaders of our nation will learn from the experience, the judgment, the wisdom that you, Judge Jackson, will apply in every case that comes before you. And they will see, for the first time, four women sitting on that Court at one time. (Applause.)

    So, as a point of personal privilege, I will share with you, Judge Jackson, that when I presided over the Senate confirmation vote yesterday, while I was sitting there, I drafted a note to my goddaughter. And I told her that I felt such a deep sense of pride and joy and about what this moment means for our nation and for her future. And I will tell you, her braids are just a little longer than yours. (Laughter.)

    But as I wrote to her, I told her what I knew this would mean for her life and all that she has in terms of potential.

    So, indeed, the road toward our more perfect union is not always straight, and it is not always smooth. But sometimes it leads to a day like today — (applause) — a day that reminds us what is possible — what is possible when progress is made and that the journey — well, it will always be worth it.

    So let us not forget that, as we celebrate this day, we are also here in great part because of one President, Joe Biden — (applause) — and — (laughs) — and because of Joe Biden’s vision and leadership and commitment — a lifelong commitment — to building a better America.

    And, of course, we are also here because of the voices and the support of so many others, many of whom are in this audience today.

    And with that, it is now my extreme and great honor to introduce our President, Joe Biden. (Applause.)

    THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Kamala. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The first really smart decision I made in this administration. (Laughter.)

    My name is Joe Biden. Please, sit down. I’m Jill’s husband — (laughter) — and Naomi Biden’s grandfather.

    And, folks, you know, yesterday — this is not only a sunny day. I mean this from the bottom of my heart: This is going to let so much shine — sun shine on so many young women, so many young Black women — (applause) — so many minorities, that it’s real. It’s real.

    We’re going to look back — nothing to do with me — we’re going to look back and see this as a moment of real change in American history.

    I was on the phone this morning, Jesse, with President Ramaphosa of South Africa. And he was talking about how — the time that I was so outspoken about what was going on and my meeting with Nelson Mandela here. And I said, “You know” — I said, “I’m shortly going to go out,” look- — I’m looking out the window — “I’m going to go out in this — what they call the South Lawn of the White House, and I’m going to introduce to the world — to the world — the first African American woman out of over 200 judges on the Supreme Court.” And he said to me — he said, “Keep it up.” (Laughter.) “Keep it up.” (Applause.) We’re going to keep it up.

    And, folks, yesterday we all witnessed a truly historic moment presided over by the Vice President. There are moments, if people go back in history, and they’re literally historic, consequential, fundamental shifts in American policy.

    Today, we’re joined by the First Lady, the Second Gentleman, and members of the Cabinet, the Senate Majority Leader. Where — there you are, Chuck. The Senate Majority Leader. And so many who made this possible.

    But — and today is a good day, a day that history is going to remember. And in the years to come, they’re going to be proud of what we did, and which (inaudible) — Dick Durbin did as the chairman of the committee. (Applause.) I’m serious, Dick. I’m deadly earnest when I say that.

    To turn to our children and grandchildren and say, “I was there.” “I was there.” That — this is one of those moments, in my view.

    My fellow Americans, today I’m honored to officially introduce to you the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ketanji Brown Jackson. (Applause.)

    After more than 20 hours of questioning at her hearing and nearly 100 meetings — she made herself available to every single senator who wanted to speak to her and spoke for more than just a few minutes, answered their questions, in private as well as before the committee — we all saw the kind of justice she’ll be: Fair and impartial. Thoughtful. Careful. Precise. Precise. Brilliant. A brilliant legal mind with deep knowledge of the law. And a judicial temperament — which was equally important, in my view — that’s calm and in command. And a humility that allows so many Americans to see themselves in Ketanji Brown Jackson.

    That brings a rare combination of expertise and qualifications to the Court. A federal judge who has served on the second most powerful court in America behind the Supreme Court. A former federal public defender with the — (applause) — with the ability to explain complicated issues in the law in ways everybody — all people — can understand. A new perspective.

    When I made the commitment to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, I could see this day. I literally could see this day, because I thought about it for a long, long time. As Jill and Naomi would tell you, I wasn’t going to run again. But when I decided to run, this was one of the first decisions I made. I could see it. I could see it as a day of hope, a day of promise, a day of progress; a day when, once again, the moral arc of the universe, as Barack used to quote all the time, bends just a little more toward justice.

    I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I knew the person I nominated would be put through a painful and difficult confirmation process. But I have to tell you, what Judge Jackson was put through was well beyond that. There was verbal abuse. The anger. The constant interruptions. The most vile, baseless assertions and accusations.

    In the face of it all, Judge Jackson showed the incredible character and integrity she possesses. (Applause.) Poise. Poise and composure. Patience and restraint. And, yes, perseverance and even joy. (Applause.) Even joy.

    Ketanji — or I can’t — I’m not going to be calling you that in public anymore. (Laughter.) Judge, you are the very definition of what we Irish refer to as dignity. You have enormous dignity. And it communicates to people. It’s contagious. And it matters. It matters a lot.

    Maybe that’s not surprising if you looked to who sat behind her during those hearings — her husband Dr. Patrick Jackson and his family. (Applause.) Patrick, stand up, man. Stand up. (Applause.) Talia and Leila, stand up. (Applause.) I know it’s embarrassing the girls. I’m going to tell you what Talia said. I said to Talia, “It’s hard being the daughter or the son of a famous person.” I said, “Imagine what it’s like being President.” And he said — she said, “She may be.” (Laughter and applause.) I couldn’t agree more. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    And Ketajh, her brother, a former police officer and a veteran. Ketajh, stand up, man. (Applause.) This a man who looks like he can still play, buddy. He’s got biceps about as big as my calves. (Laughter.) Thank you, bud. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    And, of course, her parents: Johnny and Ellery Brown. Johnny and Ellery, stand up. (Applause.) I tell you what — as I told Mom: Moms rule in my house. (Laughter.) No, you think I’m kidding. I’m not. My mom and my wife as well.

    Look, people of deep faith, with a deep love of family and country — that’s what you represent; who know firsthand, Mom and Dad, the indignity of Jim Crow, the inhumanity of legal segregation, and you had overcome so much in your own lives.

    You saw the strength of parents in the strength of their daughter that is just worth celebrating. I can’t get over, Mom and Dad — you know, I mean, what — what you did, and your faith, and never giving up any hope. And both that wonderful son you have and your daughter.

    You know, and that strength lifted up millions of Americans who watched you, Judge Jackson, especially women and women of color who have had to run the gauntlet in their own lives. So many of my Cabinet members are women — women of color, women that represent every sector of the community. And it matters. And you stood up for them as well. They know it — everybody out there, every woman out there, everyone — (applause) — am I correct? Just like they have. Just like they have.

    And same with the women members of Congress, as well, across the board.

    Look, it’s a powerful thing when people can see themselves in others. Think about that. What’s the most powerful thing — I’ll bet every one of you can go back and think of a time in your life where there was a teacher, a family member, a neighbor — somebody — somebody who made you believe that you could be whatever you wanted to be. It’s a powerful, powerful, powerful notion.

    And that’s one of the reasons I believed so strongly that we needed a Court that looks like America. Not just the Supreme Court. (Applause.)

    That’s why I’m proud to say, with the great help of Dick Durbin, I’ve nominated more Black women judges to the federal appeal courts than all previous presidents combined. (Applause.) Combined.

    And that’s why I’m proud that Kamala Harris is our Vice President of the United States. (Applause.) A brilliant lawyer. The Attorney General of the State of California. Former member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kamala was invaluable during this entire process. (Applause.)

    And, Chuck, our Majority Leader, I want to thank you, pal. You did a masterful job in keeping the caucus together, getting this vote across the finish line in a timely and historic manner. Just watching it on television yesterday, watching when the vote was taken — and the Democratic side, they’re brave people — there was such enthusiasm, genuine. You can tell when it’s real. You can tell when it’s real. You did an incredible job, Chuck. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

    Folks, because you’re all able to sit down and don’t have to stand, I’m going to go on a little longer here and tell you — (laughter) — I want to say something about Dick Durbin again. Dick, I’m telling you, overseeing the hearing, how you executed the strategy by the hour, every day, to keep the committee together. And you have a very divided committee with some of the most conservative members of the Senate on that committee. It was especially difficult with an evenly divided Senate.

    Dick, I served as chairman of that committee for a number of years before I had this job and the job of Vice President. As did all the Democrats, you did an outstanding — I think all the Democrats in the committee did and every Democrat in the Senate, all of whom voted for Judge Jackson.

    And notwithstanding the harassment and attacks in the hearings, I always believed that a bipartisan vote was possible. And I hope I don’t get him in trouble — I mean it sincerely — but I want to thank three Republicans who voted for Judge Jackson. (Applause.) Senators Collins, who’s a woman of integrity. Senator Murkowski, the same way — in Alaska — and up for reelection. And Mitt Romney, whose dad stood up like he did. His dad stood up and made these decisions on civil rights.

    They deserve enormous credit for setting aside partisanship and making a carefully considered judgment based on the Judge’s character, qualifications, and independence. And I truly admire the respect, diligence, and hard work they demonstrated in the course of the process.

    As someone who has overseen, they tell me, more Supreme Court nominations than anyone who’s alive today, I believe that respect for the process is important. And that’s why it was so important to me to meet the constitutional requirement to seek the advice and the consent of the Senate. The advice beforehand and the consent.

    Judge Jackson started the nominating process with an imper- — an impressive range of support: from the FOP to civil rights leaders; even Republican-appointed judges came forward.

    In fact, Judge Jackson was introduced at the hearing by Judge Thomas Griffith, the distinguished retired judge appointed by George W. Bush.

    She finished the hearing with among the highest levels of support of the American people of any nomination in recent memory. (Applause.)

    So, soon, Judge Jackson will join the United States Supreme Court. And like every justice, the decisions she makes will impact on the lives of America for a lot longer, in many cases, than any laws we all make. But the truth is: She’s already impacting the lives of so many Americans.

    During the hearing, Dick spoke about a custodial worker who works the night shift at the Capitol. Her name is Verona Clemmons. Verona, where are you? Stand up, Verona. I want to — (applause) — if you don’t mind.

    She told him what this nomination meant to her. So he invited Ms. Clemmons to attend the hearing because she wanted to see, hear, and stand by Judge Jackson.

    Thank you, Verona. (Applause.) Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    At her meeting with Judge Jackson, Senator Duckworth introduced her to 11-year-old — is it Vivian?

    AUDIENCE MEMBER: Vivienne.

    THE PRESIDENT: Vi-vinne?

    AUDIENCE MEMBER: Vivienne.

    THE PRESIDENT: Vivienne. I’m sorry, Vivienne. There — that’s her — that’s your sister. He’s point- — (laughter) — who was so inspired by the hearing that she wants to be a Supreme Court justice when she grows up. (Applause.) God love you. Stand up, honey. Am I going to embarrass you if I just ask you to stand up? Come on, stand. (Applause.)

    There’s tens of thousands of Viviennes all through the entire United States. She met Judge Jackson and saw her future. Vivienne, you’re here today, and thank you for coming, honey. I know I embarrassed you by introducing you, but thank you.

    People of every generation, of every race, of every background felt this moment, and they feel it now. They feel a sense of pride and hope, of belonging and believing, and knowing the promise of America includes everybody — all of us. And that’s the American experiment.

    Justice Breyer talked about it when he came to the White House in January to announce his retirement from the Court. He used to technically work with me when I was on the Judiciary Committee, and that’s before he became a justice. He’s a man of great integrity. We’re going to miss Justice Breyer. He’s a patriot, an extraordinary public service [servant], and a great justice of the Supreme Court.

    And, folks — (applause) — let me close with what I’ve long said: America is a nation that can be defined in a single word. I was in the foothi- — foot- — excuse me, in the foothills of the Himalayas with Xi Jinping, traveling with him. (Inaudible) traveled 17,000 miles when I was Vice President at the time. I don’t know that for a fact.

    And we were sitting alone. I had an interpreter and he had an interpreter. And he looked at me. In all seriousness, he said, “Can you define America for me?” And I said what many of you heard me say for a long time. I said, “Yes, I can, in one word: possibilities.” (Applause.) “Possibilities.” That, in America, everyone should be able to go as far as their hard work and God-given talent will take them. And possibilities. We’re the only ones. That’s why we’re viewed as the “ugly Americans”: We think anything is possible. (Laughter.)

    And the idea that a young girl who was dissuaded from even thinking you should apply to Harvard Law School — “Don’t raise your hopes so high.” Well, I don’t know who told you that, but I’d like to go back and invite her to the Supreme Court so she can see the interior. (Laughter.)

    Look, even Supreme Court of the United States of America.

    Now, folks, it’s my honor — and it truly is an honor; I’ve been looking forward to it for a while — to introduce to you the next Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson. (Applause.)

    JUDGE JACKSON: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you all. Thank you, all, very much. Thank you.

    Thank you so much, Mr. President. It is the greatest honor of my life to be here with you at this moment, standing before my wonderful family, many of my close friends, your distinguished staff and guests, and the American people.

    Over these past few weeks, you’ve heard a lot from me and about me, so I hope to use this time primarily to do something that I have not had sufficient time to do, which is to extend my heartfelt thanks to the many, many people who have helped me as part of this incredible journey.

    I have quite a few people to thank. And — and as I’m sure you can imagine, in this moment, it is hard to find the words to express the depth of my gratitude.

    First, as always, I have to give thanks to God for delivering me as promised — (applause) — and for sustaining me throughout this nomination and confirmation process. As I said at the outset, I have come this far by faith, and I know that I am truly blessed. To the many people who have lifted me up in prayer since the nomination, thank you. I am very grateful.

    Thank you, as well, Mr. President, for believing in me and for honoring me with this extraordinary chance to serve our country.

    Thank you also, Madam Vice President, for your wise counsel and steady guidance.

    And thank you to the First Lady and the Second Gentleman for the care and warmth that you have shown me and my family.

    I would also like to extend my thanks to each member of the Senate. You have fulfilled the important constitutional role of providing advice and consent under the leadership of Majority Leader Schumer. And I’m especially grateful for the work of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, under Chairman Durbin’s skillful leadership. (Applause.)

    As you may have heard, during the confirmation process, I had the distinct honor of having 95 personal meetings with 97 sitting senators. (Laughter.) And we had substantive and engaging conversations about my approach to judging and about the role of judges in the constitutional system we all love.

    As a brief aside, I will note that these are subjects about which I care deeply. I have dedicated my career to public service because I love this country and our Constitution and the rights that make us free.

    I also understand from my many years of practice as a legal advocate, as a trial judge, and as a judge on a court of appeals that part of the genius of the constitutional framework of the United States is its design, and that the framers entrusted the judicial branch with the crucial but limited role.

    I’ve also spent the better part of the past decade hearing thousands of cases and writing hundreds of opinions. And in every instance, I have done my level best to stay in my lane and to reach a result that is consistent with my understanding of the law and with the obligation to rule independently without fear or favor.

    I am humbled and honored to continue in this fashion as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, working with brilliant colleagues, supporting and defending the Constitution, and steadfastly upholding the rule of law. (Applause.)

    But today, at this podium, my mission is far more modest. I’m simply here to give my heartfelt thanks to the categories of folks who are largely responsible for me being here at this moment.

    First, of course, there is my family. Mom and Dad, thank you not only for traveling back here on what seems like a mos- — moment’s notice, but for everything you’ve done and continue to do for me.

    My brother, Ketajh, is here as well. You’ve always been an inspiration to me as a model of public service and bravery, and I thank you for that.

    I love you all very much. (Applause.)

    To my in-laws, Pamela and Gardner Jackson, who are here today, and my sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, William and Dana, Gardie and Natalie: Thank you for your love and support.

    To my daughters, Talia and Leila: I bet you never thought you’d get to skip school by spending a day at the White House. (Laughter.) This is all pretty exciting for me as well. But nothing has brought me greater joy than being your mother. I love you very much. (Applause.)

    Patrick, thank you for everything you’ve done for me over these past 25 years of our marriage. You’ve done everything to support and encourage me. And it is you who’ve made this moment possible. (Applause.)

    Your — your steadfast love gave me the courage to move in this direction. I don’t know that I believed you when you said that I could do this, but now I do. (Laughter and applause.) And for that, I am forever grateful.

    In the family category, let me also briefly mention the huge extended family, both Patrick’s and my own, who are watching this from all over the country and the world. Thank you for supporting me. I hope to be able to connect with you personally in the coming weeks and months.

    Moving on briefly to the second category of people that warrant special recognition: those who provided invaluable support to me professionally in the decades prior to my nomination, and the many, many friends I have been privileged to make throughout my life and career.

    Now, I know that everyone who finds professional success thinks they have the best mentors, but I truly do. (Laughter.) I have three inspiring jurists for whom I had the privilege of clerking: Judge Patti Saris, Judge Bruce Selya, and, of course, Justice Stephen Breyer. Each of them is an exceptional public servant, and I could not have had better role models for thoughtfulness, integrity, honor, and principle, both by word and deed.

    My clerkship with Justice Breyer, in particular, was an extraordinary gift and one for which I’ve only become more grateful with each passing year. Justice Breyer’s commitment to an independent, impartial judiciary is unflagging. And, for him, the rule of law is not merely a duty, it is his passion. I am daunted by the prospect of having to follow in his footsteps. And I would count myself lucky, indeed, to be able to do so with even the smallest amount of his wisdom, grace, and joy.

    The exceptional mentorship of the judges for whom I clerked has proven especially significant for me during this past decade of my service as a federal judge. And, of course, that service itself has been a unique opportunity. For that, I must also thank President Obama, who put his faith in me by nominating me to my first judicial role on the federal district court. (Applause.)

    This brings me to my colleagues and staff of the federal district court in Washington, D.C., and the D.C. Circuit: Thank you for everything. I am deeply grateful for your wisdom and your battle-tested friendship through the years.

    I also want to extend a special thanks to all of my law clerks, many of whom are here today, who have carved out time and space to accompany me on this professional journey.

    I’m especially grateful to Jennifer Gruda, who has been by my side since nearly the outset of my time on the bench — (applause) — and has promised — has promised not to leave me as we take this last big step.

    To the many other friends that I have had the great, good fortune to have made throughout the years — from my neighborhood growing up; from Miami Palmetto Senior High School, and especially the debate team; from my days at Harvard College, where I met my indefatigable and beloved roommates, Lisa Fairfax, Nina Coleman Simmons, and Antoinette Sequeira Coakley — they are truly my sisters. (Applause.)

    To my time at Harvard Law School and the many professional experiences that I’ve been blessed to have since graduation: Thank you.

    I have too many friends to name, but please know how much you’ve meant to me and how much I have appreciated the smiles, the hugs, and the many “atta girls” that have propelled me forward to this day.

    Finally, I’d like to give special thanks to the White House staff and the special assistants who provided invaluable assistance in helping me to navigate the confirmation process.

    My trusted sherpa, Senator Doug Jones, was an absolute godsend. (Applause.) He was an absolute godsend. He’s not only the best storyteller you’d ever want to meet, but also unbelievably popular on the Hill, which helped a lot. (Laughter.)

    I’m also standing here today in no small part due to the hard work of the brilliant folks who interact with the legislature and other stakeholders on behalf of the White House, including Louisa Terrell, Reema Dodin, and Tona Boyd, Minyon Moore, Ben LaBolt, and Andrew Bates. (Applause.)

    I am also particularly grateful for the awe-inspiring leadership of White House Counsel Dana Remus. (Applause.) Of Paige Herwig. Where is Paige? (Applause.) And Ron Klain. (Applause.)

    They led an extraordinarily talented team of White House staffers in the Herculean effort that was required to ensure that I was well prepared for the rigors of this process and in record time. Thank you all. (Applause.)

    Thank you, as well, to the many, many kind-hearted people from all over this country and around the world who’ve reached out to me directly in recent weeks with messages of support.

    I have spent years toiling away in the relative solitude of my chambers, with just my law clerks, in isolation. So, it’s been somewhat overwhelming, in a good way, to recently be flooded with thousands of notes and cards and photos expressing just how much this moment means to so many people.

    The notes that I’ve received from children are particularly cute and especially meaningful because, more than anything, they speak directly to the hope and promise of America.

    It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. (Applause.)

    But we’ve made it. (Applause.) We’ve made it, all of us. All of us.

    And — and our children are telling me that they see now, more than ever, that, here in America, anything is possible. (Applause.)

    They also tell me that I’m a role model, which I take both as an opportunity and as a huge responsibility. I am feeling up to the task, primarily because I know that I am not alone. I am standing on the shoulders of my own role models, generations of Americans who never had anything close to this kind of opportunity but who got up every day and went to work believing in the promise of America, showing others through their determination and, yes, their perseverance that good — good things can be done in this great country — from my grandparents on both sides who had only a grade-school education but instilled in my parents the importance of learning, to my parents who went to racially segregated schools growing up and were the first in their families to have the chance to go to college.

    I am also ever buoyed by the leadership of generations past who helped to light the way: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Justice Thurgood Marshall, and my personal heroine, Judge Constance Baker Motley. (Applause.)

    They, and so many others, did the heavy lifting that made this day possible. And for all of the talk of this historic nomination and now confirmation, I think of them as the true pathbreakers. I am just the very lucky first inheritor of the dream of liberty and justice for all. (Applause.)

    To be sure, I have worked hard to get to this point in my career, and I have now achieved something far beyond anything my grandparents could’ve possibly ever imagined. But no one does this on their own. The path was cleared for me so that I might rise to this occasion.

    And in the poetic words of Dr. Maya Angelou, I do so now, while “bringing the gifts…my ancestors gave.” (Applause.) I –“I am the dream and the hope of the slave.” (Applause.)

    So as I take on this new role, I strongly believe that this is a moment in which all Americans can take great pride.

    We have come a long way toward perfecting our union.

    In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States. (Applause.)

    And it is an honor — the honor of a lifetime — for me to have this chance to join the Court, to promote the rule of law at the highest level, and to do my part to carry our shared project of democracy and equal justice under law forward, into the future.

    Thank you, again, Mr. President and members of the Senate for this incredible honor. (Applause.)

    1:15 P.M. EDT

    Tribes assert #water rights on #ColoradoRiver Basin: 1922 Colorado River Compact that divided resources between states left out Native Americans — The #Durango Herald #COriver #aridifcation

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Jim Mimiaga). Here’s an excerpt:

    The Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes of Southwest Colorado are fighting for water, including an effort to reclaim rights flowing downstream to other users. Ute Mountain Chairman Manuel Heart and Southern Ute Council member Lorelei Cloud presented their perspectives and plans for water management during a session of the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s annual meeting last week in Durango…

    Native Americans did not gain U.S. citizenship until two years after the 1922 Colorado River Compact divided Colorado River water between upper and lower basins. Now, the 1922 compact is under review for water management changes in the mega-drought era and has a 2026 deadline for new interim guidelines. This time, tribes are asserting their water rights and demanding to be included in negotiations about how Colorado River Basin water is divided…

    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

    Thirty tribes within the Colorado River Basin hold 25% of the water rights, but some of the water has not been available for use or has not been recognized as tribe-owned.

    “When the laws were made, we were not included; we were an afterthought. We know (tribes) have 25% or more of that water,” Cloud said. “If tribes were to put that water to use, it will be a major impact for those downstream who have been using it for free. As tribes put our water to use, there will be less water down river.”

    Cloud said the Southern Ute Tribe has 129,000 acre-feet per year of federally reserved water rights on seven rivers that run through its reservation, but it only has the capacity to divert 40,600 acre-feet per year. The tribe stores water in Vallecito, Lemon and Lake Nighthorse reservoirs…

    Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Manuel Heart said his tribe is also continuing its fight for water rights. He is chairman of the 10 Tribe Partnership, a coalition of tribes working to protect their water rights and provide input on Colorado River Basin water management.

    University of #Denver Water Law Review Symposium, April 14-15, 2022: 100 Years of the #ColoradoRiver Compact: Flowing into a New Era #COriver #aridification

    Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

    Click the link to register for the symposium.

    Here’s the release:

    The University of Denver Sturm College of Law is home to the Water Law Review, the premier water law journal in the nation. This year, the annual Water Law Review symposium will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Colorado River Compact, a document designed to guide seven western states and Mexico in allocating and sharing water from the river.

    Water is a precious resource, and the Colorado River is becoming more important than ever before due to climate change and growth of western cities putting pressure on an over-allocated resource. To learn from history, the symposium will first discuss what went into drafting the Compact 100 years ago. As a foundation for panel discussions, we will have a hydrology report to learn the state of the river and the status of this precious resource. Colorado River professionals will then come together from each of the basin states, Mexico, and the Tribes to discuss how the Compact has affected each of their communities, and how we can continue to work together to share a diminishing resource.

    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

    We have created a unique opportunity to hear perspectives from such distinguished speakers, including our keynote speaker: Tanya Trujillo, the Assistance Secretary for Water and Science at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

    Our panel speakers include:

    ▪ William Philpott, Associate Professor of History, University of Denver
    ▪ Michelle Garrison, Senior Water Resource Specialist, Colorado Water Conservation Board
    ▪ Terry Goddard, Attorney, President of the Central Arizona Project, Former Arizona Attorney General
    ▪ Peter Fleming, General Counsel, Colorado River District
    ▪ Daniel Galindo, Deputy Director of the Colorado River Mexican Section of the International Boundary
    Water Commission
    ▪ Peter Ortego, General Counsel for Ute Mountain Ute
    ▪ Puoy Premsrirut, Attorney, Chairwoman of the Colorado River Commission of Nevada
    ▪ Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, Director, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission
    ▪ Gene Shawcroft, Utah Colorado River Commissioner
    ▪ Chris Brown, Wyoming Senior Assistant Attorney General
    ▪ Philip Womble, Fellow, Stanford Law School; Postdoctoral Fellow, Woods Institute for the
    Environment, Stanford University
    ▪ James Eklund, Founder of Eklund Hanlon, LLC, Former director of the Colorado Water Conservation
    Board, Former Colorado River Commissioner for Colorado
    ▪ Amy Ostdiek, Section Chief of Interstate, Federal, and Water Information Section, Colorado Water
    Conservation Board
    ▪ Celene Hawkins, Colorado and Colorado River Tribal Engagement Program Director
    ▪ Christopher Harris, Executive Director, Colorado River Board of California

    The event is April 14th and 15th at the University of Denver. All Pertinent details can be found on our website. Registration ends midnight on Sunday April 10th.

    For any questions, please reach out to Andie Hall at ahall22@law.du.edu or Andrea Thomas at athomas24@law.du.edu.

    #SouthPlatteRiver restoration project awarded $350 million in infrastructure bill funds — #Colorado Newsline

    Ducks patrol the South Platte River as construction workers shore up bank. Oct. 8, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith

    A long-planned project to restore healthy ecosystems along the South Platte River and two other waterways in central Denver got a major boost from the federal government this week, in the form of $350 million in funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    The funding for the South Platte River Project, spearheaded by Denver and Adams counties, will cover nearly two-thirds of the $550 million that civic leaders plan to spend restoring wetland habitats, improving recreation and mitigating flood risk along a 6.5-mile stretch of the river, along with Weir Gulch and Harvard Gulch.

    The funds awarded Tuesday by the Biden administration are part of the $17 billion appropriated by a new federal infrastructure law to the Army Corps of Engineers to support flood mitigation projects across the country.

    GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

    “I’m delighted to welcome funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill for the South Platte River and surrounding communities after years of urging Washington to support this project,” Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement. “For decades, the neighborhoods bordering the South Platte River have experienced environmental hardship. This project is an important part of Denver’s efforts to protect communities and businesses from flooding, build resilient infrastructure, and help ensure that anyone who wants to live and work in Denver is able to.”

    The Army Corps of Engineers finalized a feasibility and impact study on the project in 2019, concluding more than a decade of planning and environmental reviews. In addition to restoring aquatic, wetland and riparian wildlife habitats along the South Platte, supporters say the plan will create more than 7,000 jobs and protect hundreds of homes and other structures from flood risk.

    In December, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock convened a coalition of two dozen interest groups that signed a memorandum of understanding on the project in order to secure federal funding. Signatories included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Denver Water and multiple environmental and conservation organizations — as well as business and real-estate groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Revesco Properties.

    Revesco is the developer behind the massive, multi-billion-dollar River Mile project, which aims to redevelop 62 acres along the Platte south of Confluence Park over the next 25 years, adding homes for new 15,000 residents and ultimately displacing the Elitch Gardens amusement park. The river restoration project, too, is likely to take decades to complete, with city officials estimating in 2018 that the project could be finished in 10 to 20 years.

    “The restoration and conservation of the South Platte River ecosystem is a phenomenal opportunity,” Hancock said in a statement. “Infrastructure investments like this do more than just improve our waterways, they build lives, they build communities and they build futures.”

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

    President Biden and USDA Invest More Than $166.5 Million in Infrastructure to Protect American Communities

    Map of the Duchesne River drainage basin in Utah, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69278387

    Click the link to read the release on the USDA website:

    President Joe Biden and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing more than $166.5 million in 108 infrastructure projects as part of implementing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is working with local communities in 23 states to invest in new dam and flood prevention projects and in repairs on existing watershed infrastructure, which are all part of USDA’s broader national infrastructure investment.

    Through this first round of projects the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is funding, NRCS prioritized projects in communities heavily impacted by drought and other natural disasters as well as historically underserved and limited resource communities.

    “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to building back better, and this starts with our infrastructure,” Vilsack said. “Protecting our watersheds and saving lives is paramount. These investments in our watershed programs will provide much needed support for communities to build resilience in the face of climate change. We can extend financial assistance to underserved communities that live in constant fear of flooding, help with the effects of severe weather events, and put systems in place that will ensure a climate resilient future to help communities thrive in the years to come.”

    Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed in November by President Biden, provided $918 million for NRCS watershed programs, which includes the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations (WFPO) Program, Watershed Rehabilitation Program (REHAB) and Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program. Through NRCS watershed programs, NRCS works with local, eligible sponsors, including state government entities, local municipalities, conservation districts and federally recognized tribal organizations.

    REHAB focuses on repairing existing infrastructure, and examples include:

  • Athens, Ohio: This investment includes two rehabilitation projects for two dams on Margaret Creek near Athens, Ohio. Funds will enable the Margaret Creek Conservation District to raise the embankment of the Meeks Lake Dam, armor its spillway, and extend its lifespan by at least another 50 years. Meanwhile, for the second project, the Margaret Creek Conservation District will bring the Fox Lake Dam into compliance with Ohio’s safety regulations and restore the original flood protection benefits of the structure to last another 50 years or more.
  • Añasco, Puerto Rico: This investment focuses on two dams in the the Añasco River Watershed, Site 3 (Daguëy Dam) and Site 2A (Ajies Dam), which help prevent flooding. These structures were able to perform their intent and prevented major flooding to the Añasco valley communities and industries during Hurricane Maria in 2017, but both dams suffered damages. With the funds, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) bring both structures to compliance with current safety criteria and performance standards, extend their lifespan and in turn reduce flood risk to life and property.
  • Meanwhile, WFPO projects focus on new infrastructure, and examples include:

  • Alakanuk, Alaska: Funds will support planning, design, construction, and the removal of damaged property from the floodplain. This work will assist the Alakanuk community with flood damage reduction and mitigation measures.
  • Duchesne County, Utah: Funds will support projects that address water use, improve agricultural operations and reduce flood damage throughout the watershed. Specifically, the project will address drought concerns by improving irrigation canals that serve approximately 38,000 acres of cropland and increased flood protection in four communities within the watershed.
  • Glacier County, Montana: Funds will be used to help implement a new ag-water management strategy for the St. Mary Canal and address areas of deterioration that need to be repaired. Modernization will help the surrounding agricultural community build towards climate resiliency.
  • IIJA also provided EWP funds and those funds are available for communities to respond to natural disasters. NRCS will continue to assist communities as it receives disaster requests.
  • A full list of projects is available on NRCS’ Landscape Planning and Watershed Programs webpage.

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    RE: Potential environmental impacts of #groundwater export proposal to #GreatSandDunes National Park — @SenatorHick and @SenatorBennet

    Sandhill Cranes West of Dunes by NPS/Patrick Myers

    Click the link to read the letter to Interior from senators Hickenlooper and Bennet (February 19, 2022):

    Dear Secretaries Haaland and Vilsack:

    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.

    Rio Grande River Basin Drought Monitor map February 15, 2022.

    Tribes to Receive $1.7 Billion from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to Fulfill Indian Waters Rights Settlements: Funding will help develop infrastructure projects that fulfill the terms of Tribal #water settlements — @Interior

    Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Click the link to read the release from the Department of Interior:

    Following a trip to the Gila River Indian Community with members of the Arizona congressional delegation today, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the Department’s plan to fulfill settlements of Indian water rights claims using historic funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

    The Law invests more than $13 billion directly in Tribal communities across the country and makes Tribal communities eligible for billions more in much-needed investments. That includes $2.5 billion to implement the Indian Water Rights Settlement Completion Fund, which will help deliver long-promised water resources to Tribes, certainty to all their non-Indian neighbors, and a solid foundation for future economic development for entire communities dependent on common water resources.

    Following feedback received from Tribal consultation, the Department will allocate $1.7 billion of Infrastructure Law funding this year to enacted settlements that have outstanding federal payments necessary to complete their terms.

    “Water is a sacred resource, and water rights are crucial to ensuring the health, safety and empowerment of Tribal communities. With this crucial funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Interior Department will be able to uphold our trust responsibilities and ensure that Tribal communities receive the water resources they have long been promised,” said Secretary Haaland. “I am grateful that Tribes, some of whom have been waiting for this funding for decades, are finally getting the resources they are owed.”

    Thanks to investments made by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s Indian Water Rights Settlement Completion Fund and funds available from the existing Reclamation Water Settlement Fund, the following Tribes and settlements will receive funding this year: Aamodt Litigation Settlement (Pueblos of San Ildefonso, Nambe, Pojoaque, and Tesuque), Blackfeet Nation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Crow Nation, Gila River Indian Community, Navajo-Utah Water Rights Settlement and Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, San Carlos Apache Nation, Tohono O’odham Nation, and White Mountain Apache Tribe.

    The Reclamation Water Settlement Fund was created by Congress in 2009 and receives $120 million in mandatory funding annually from 2020 through 2029. Pending congressional action on the President’s FY 2022 budget, additional Tribes will also see investments to address ongoing federal obligations such as operation, maintenance and repair costs under existing settlements.

    There are 34 congressionally enacted Indian Water Rights settlements as of November 15, 2021, when the Infrastructure Law was signed. Indian reserved water rights are vested property rights for which the United States has a trust responsibility. Federal policy supports the resolution of disputes regarding Indian water rights through negotiated settlements. Settlement of Indian water rights disputes breaks down barriers and helps create conditions that improve water resources management by providing certainty as to the rights of all water users who are parties to the disputes.

    As part of the implementation strategy, an Indian Water Rights Settlement Completion Fund Executive Committee has been established, comprised of the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, Chairperson of the Working Group on Indian Water Settlements, Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Assistant Secretaries of Water and Science and Indian Affairs, and the Solicitor. The Executive Committee will recommend future allocations of the remainder of the Completion Fund to the Secretary based on current project needs.

    White House Council on Native American Affairs to Engage Tribal Leaders on Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Public Safety and Criminal Justice — @Interior

    At considerable risk, Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians traveled to Denver in September 1864 to seek an understanding of peace. Front row, on left, John Wynkoop, the commander at Fort Lyon, in southeastern Colorado, and Silas Soule. Behind Wynkoop was Black Kettle. Photo via The Mountain Town News

    Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

    The U.S. Department of the Interior today announced the White House Council on Native American Affairs (WHCNAA) will convene an engagement session on January 31 with Tribal leaders focused on the implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and public safety resources across Indian Country. The session will be led by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who serves as co-chair of the WHCNAA.

    During the virtual session, Tribal leaders will share their guidance, recommendations and perspectives on the WHCNAA Committees’ all-of-government efforts. The meeting will follow nation-to-nation consultations on the Infrastructure Law to be held earlier that same week.

    “The White House Council on Native American Affairs is an important tool in the Biden-Harris administration’s all-of-government approach to strengthening Indian Country,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “As we work to tackle public safety and criminal justice issues impacting Indigenous people or the implementation of the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, I’m proud to bring Tribal leaders and government officials together to further invest in our trust relationship.”

    The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests more than $13 billion directly in Tribal communities across the country to bolster community resilience, replace aging infrastructure, expand access to clean drinking water and help ensure everyone has access to high-speed internet.

    The session will also focus on President Biden’s Executive Order on Improving Public Safety and Criminal Justice for Native Americans and Addressing the Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. Within the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris administration, Secretary Haaland created a new Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services to pursue justice for missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. Interior is committed to working with Tribal governments, law enforcement agencies, survivors, families of the missing, and all communities impacted to coordinate interagency collaboration to address this crisis.

    During the November 2021 White House Tribal Nations Summit, Secretary Haaland committed to convening her Cabinet colleagues three times a year to meet with Tribal leaders to share the work of the WHCNAA and listen to feedback, questions and concerns from Tribal communities. January’s session will be the first of these meetings.

    For more information, visit the WHCNAA website.

    Reclamation releases blueprint for implementation of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2022: $1.66 billion investment provided to Reclamation annually for next five years

    An irrigation canal in the Palo Verde Valley near Blythe, CA. Photo credit: Bureau of Reclamation

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Robert Manning):

    The Bureau of Reclamation today submitted its initial spend plan for fiscal year 2022 funding allocations authorized in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to the U.S. Congress. This spend plan represents a blueprint for how Reclamation will invest in communities to address drought across the West as well as greater water infrastructure throughout the country. Reclamation will be provided $1.66 billion annually to support a range of infrastructure improvements for fiscal years 2022 through 2026.

    “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is the largest investment in the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “Reclamation’s funding allocation for 2022 is focused on developing lasting solutions to help communities tackle the climate crisis while advancing environmental justice.”

    “The Bureau of Reclamation serves as the water and power infrastructure backbone for the American West. The law represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve our infrastructure while promoting job creation,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “The funding identified in this spend plan is the first-step in implementing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and will bolster climate resilience and protect communities through a robust investment in infrastructure.”

    The FY 2022 spend plan allocations include:

  • $420 million for rural water projects that benefit various Tribal and non-Tribal underserved communities by increasing access to potable water.
  • $245 million for WaterSMART Title XVI that supports the planning, design, and construction of water recycling and reuse projects.
  • $210 million for construction of water storage, groundwater storage and conveyance project infrastructure.
  • $160 million for WaterSMART Grants to support Reclamation efforts to work cooperatively with states, Tribes, and local entities to implement infrastructure investments to increase water supply.
  • $100 million for aging infrastructure for major repairs and rehabilitation of facilities.
  • $100 million for safety of dams to implement safety modifications of critical infrastructure.
  • $50 million for the implementation of Colorado River Basin drought contingency plans to support the goal of reducing the risk of Lake Mead and Lake Powell reaching critically low water levels.
  • $18 million for WaterSMART’s Cooperative Watershed Management Program for watershed planning and restoration projects for watershed groups.
  • $15 million for Research and Development’s Desalination and Water Purification Program for construction efforts to address ocean or brackish water desalination.
  • $8.5 million for Colorado River Basin Endangered Species Recovery and Conservation Programs.
  • Detailed information on the programs and funding provided in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the FY 2022 BIL Spend Plan and materials from recent stakeholder listening sessions are available at http://www.usbr.gov/bil.

    Interior Department Seeks Nominations for Committee to Replace Derogatory Names

    A Colorado pikeminnow taken from the Colorado River near Grand Junction, and in the arms of Danielle Tremblay, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife employee. Pikeminnows have been tracked swimming upstream for great distances to spawn in the 15-mile stretch of river between Palisade and Grand Junction. An apex predator in the Colorado, pikeminnows used to be found up to six feet long and weighing 100 pounds. Photo credit: Lori Martin, Colorado Parks and Wildlife via Aspen Journalism

    Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

    The Department of the Interior announced today that it is seeking nominations for members of the new Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names. The committee will identify geographic names and federal land unit names that are considered derogatory and solicit proposals on replacement names.

    On November 19, 2021, Secretary Deb Haaland directed the National Park Service to form the committee as part of a broad effort to review and replace derogatory names of the nation’s geographic features. Secretary Haaland also declared “squaw” to be a derogatory term and instructed the Board on Geographic Names – the federal body tasked with naming geographic places – to implement procedures to remove the term from federal usage.

    “Too many of our nation’s lands and waters continue to perpetuate a legacy of oppression. This important advisory committee will be integral to our efforts to identify places with derogatory terms whose expiration dates are long overdue,” said Secretary Haaland. “I look forward to broad engagement from Tribes, civil rights scholars and academics, stakeholders, and the general public as we advance our goals of equity and inclusion.”

    “The establishment of this committee is a momentous step in making our nation’s public lands and waters more welcoming and open to people of all backgrounds,” said National Park Service Director Chuck Sams. “These committee members, who will reflect the diversity of America, will serve their country in an important way.”

    The Committee will consist of no more than 17 discretionary members to be appointed by the Secretary, including:

  • At least four members of an Indian Tribe;
  • At least one representative of a Tribal organization;
  • At least one representative of a Native Hawaiian organization;
  • At least four people with backgrounds in civil rights or race relations;
  • At least four people with expertise in anthropology, cultural studies, geography, or history; and
  • At least three members of the general public.
  • Nominations must include a resume providing an adequate description of the nominee’s qualifications, including information that would enable the Department to make an informed decision regarding meeting the membership requirements of the committee and contact information. More details on the committee and how to apply are available in the Federal Register.

    Nominations for the committee must be submitted to Joshua Winchell, Office of Policy, National Park Service, at joshua_winchell@nps.gov.

    Renewable Water Resources proposes selling San Luis Valley #water to Douglas County—SLV opposition organizes — The #Crestone Eagle #RioGrande

    The country’s second largest potato producing region, is in its 18th year of drought in 2020. The San Luis Valley in Colorado is known for its agriculture yet only has 6-7 inches of rainfall per year. San Luis Valley via National Geographic

    From The Crestone Eagle (Lisa Cyriacks):

    RWR’s proposal to Douglas County is, for an initial payment of $20 million, to build a pipeline that would bring 22,000 acre-feet of water from the San Luis Valley aquifer to the Front Range. If Douglas County agrees, the $20 million would come from ARPS stimulus money.

    Struggling with water scarcity, changing climate, and aquifer depletion, San Luis Valley residents object to the proposal. A formidable group has organized around the belief that there is no water available to move outside the San Luis Valley.

    Protect Our Water–San Luis Valley lists as members: 15 local water districts and entities; 22 cities and towns; 22 conservation and environmental groups; and two farm groups. On its website local governments in opposition to RWR’s proposal include the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the Towns of Crestone and Saguache.

    Despite their marketing assertions, RWR’s plan to export water from the San Luis Valley was not devised by locals nor will it benefit the entire valley.

    RWR needs to find a customer like Douglas County to move its proposal forward. The plan relies on drawing water from the Upper Rio Grande Basin and exporting it to the Front Range. Without an identified end user for the exportation and sale of the water, RWR can’t file its plan in Colorado Water Court.

    While the project has been in the works for some time, many questions remain unanswered.

    RWR does not own municipal water rights, and RWR would need to buy wells and well rights before filing in court to convert irrigation water rights to municipal water rights.

    Until recently, RWR executives asserted specifics about project locations, timetables, or costs were uncertain because they are focused on winning valley support and filing a legal case in Colorado’s water court, which could take three to five years to process. That case would help determine whether the San Luis Valley has enough water for RWR to legally export without hurting existing users.

    In general, the proposal before Douglas County Commissioners reveals that RWR would build a wellfield northeast of Moffat. A pipeline would carry water north along state Highway 17, more than 1,000 feet up and over Poncha Pass to two access points along the South Platte River Basin, one at Antero Reservoir and another Elevenmile Reservoir, both in Park County.

    In addition, a $50 million “community fund” would be developed under the RWR proposal to assist local communities with schools, broadband or food banks, senior services or job training. A separate pool of money, about $68 million, would pay farmers and ranchers who agree to sell their water rights, known in agriculture circles as “buy and dry.”

    Those dollars will come from long-time private investors, according to Sean Duffy, a spokesman for RWR.

    An agreement using stimulus money would give Douglas County access to needed water at less than half the typical rate of $40,000 to $50,000 per acre-foot, said RWR spokesman Sean Duffy…

    Duffy also pointed out that both the water and economic status quo in the valley are not currently sustainable. Critics say the RWR project will only make the situation worse, while supporters argue it offers a more sustainable solution to the state’s water woes.

    The San Luis Valley is described as one of the most arid regions in Colorado, receiving less than 9 inches of precipitation annually. In recent years snowfall on the Sangre de Cristos has been perceptibly less, resulting in reduced stream flows and reduced recharge of the two aquifers below the valley floor.

    The shallow unconfined aquifer has been tapped with wells for crop irrigation for several generations and is over-appropriated. Below lies the confined aquifer which Renewable Water Resources believes holds a billion-acre foot of water.

    That one-billion-acre foot estimate is highly disputed by local water managers, farmers and ranchers.

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    Since 2012 many farms and ranches in the valley have already made self-imposed cuts in irrigation to try and prevent further depletion of the shallow aquifer. A number of subdistricts have been formed as local farmers’ only way of buying more time to solve depletions to the aquifer in their own way. Each subdistrict has until 2031 to replenish water to a predetermined level. Failure to meet those targets could result in the State Engineer’s office shutting down wells until the aquifer reaches that target through unimpeded recharge with no groundwater pumping.

    RWR’s proposal is offering very similar benefits to those proposed by Stockman’s Water in 1998, a project that ultimately failed.

    Stockman’s Water proposed to export at least 100,000 acrefeet annually, mitigating any water losses by offering, in exchange, 25,000 to 50,000 acre-feet of senior water rights.

    Gary Boyce, the manager/ owner of Stockman’s Water, also promised a $3 million trust fund to be administered by Saguache County, and environmental benefits—more riparian and wetland habitat. Renewable Water Resources offers the potential opportunity to add over 3,000 acres to the Baca Wildlife Refuge located off of County Road T.

    Cleave Simpson has met with the Douglas County Commissioners. Using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for the RWR proposal is a twist he didn’t see coming.

    “I think it’s unconscionable to use those federal dollars to diminish one community in support of another community,” he said. In addition to representing the San Luis Valley in the Colorado Senate, Simpson is the general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, which is leading the opposition to the RWR plan.

    Simpson reminds us that there is a long history of legal fights over water export claims in the San Luis Valley. The Rio Grande Water Conservancy District already had money set aside to challenge the RWR proposal after the court awarded valley residents legal fees from a previous failed export case involving a developer in the 1970s, called American Water Development Incorporated.

    After decades, some of America’s most toxic sites will finally get cleaned up: New funding and the revival of a long-lapsed tax on chemical makers in the bipartisan infrastructure law mean cities like Newark will get money to restore toxic Superfund sites — The Washington Post

    Leviathan Creek below an abandoned open pit mine, an EPA Superfund site in the Sierra Nevada, where iron oxide deposits coat the stream bottom. (Photos by David Herbst)

    From The Washington Post (Dino Grandoni):

    The laboratories and other buildings that once housed a chemical manufacturer here in New Jersey’s most populous city have been demolished. More than 10,000 leaky drums and other containers once illegally stored here have long been removed. Its owner was convicted three decades ago.

    Yet the groundwater beneath the 4.4-acre expanse once occupied by White Chemical Corp. in Newark remains contaminated, given a lack of federal funding…

    But three decades after federal officials declared it one of America’s most toxic spots, it’s about to get a jolt. This plot in Newark is among more than four dozen toxic waste sites to get cleanup funding from the newly-enacted infrastructure law, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday, totaling $1 billion…

    On that same day in November that Freeman looked out at the White Chemical site, President Biden signed legislation reviving a polluter’s tax that will inject a new stream of cash into the nation’s troubled Superfund program. The renewed excise fees, which disappeared more than 25 years ago, are expected to raise $14.5 billion in revenue over the next decade and could accelerate cleanups of many sites that are increasingly threatened by climate change.

    The Superfund list includes more than 1,300 abandoned mines, radioactive landfills, shuttered military labs, closed factories and other contaminated areas across nearly all 50 states. They are the poisoned remnants of America’s emergence as a 20th-century industrial juggernaut.

    The 49 sites receiving money from the infrastructure law include a neighborhood in Florida with soil contaminated from treating wooden telephone poles, a former copper mine in Maine laced with leftover metals, and an old steel manufacturer in southern New Jersey where parts of the Golden Gate Bridge were fabricated.

    America’s toxic spots

    Many of these sites are also in poor and minority communities, such as Newark, where most residents are African American. Biden has said easing the pollution burden that Black, Latino and Native Americans bear is central to his environmental policy.

    No state boasts more Superfund sites than New Jersey. Some of them, such as the White Chemical site, have lingered on the agency’s “priorities list” for decades…

    The law that established the Superfund program in 1980 gives the EPA the power to compel polluters to clean up their noxious messes. But many of these companies have gone out of business, or in some cases, it is hard to find the culprits. Congress taxed the chemical and oil industry to create a trust fund for these orphaned sites, but the taxes expired in 1995.

    By the early 2000s, the trust fund was drained. The agency has grappled with a mounting list of costly and complex hazardous waste sites ever since…

    The new bipartisan infrastructure law reestablishes fees on the sale of more than 40 chemicals often found in fuels, plastics and other products, ranging from 44 cents to $9.74 per ton depending on the compound.

    The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and other groups lobbied unsuccessfully to defeat the proposal…

    Biden administration officials, however, said the tax revenue will provide a critical boost for underfunded projects. Carlton Waterhouse, Biden’s nominee to head the EPA’s land office, said that even after paying for projects that got no financial support last year, there will still be money left over…

    To fully clean up the ground where White Chemical once stood, crews will have to inject a cocktail of chemicals underground to break down lingering volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethene, which is linked to neurological problems and several kinds of cancer. Right now, no building can be constructed over the contaminated aquifer without the risk of hazardous fumes accumulating indoors…

    Until Friday, the EPA had to shelve the plan for nearly a decade because it cost $16.6 million. But with the tax reinstated and with Congress providing an additional $3.5 billion for the Superfund program, work in Newark and on dozens of other orphaned sites will begin “as soon as possible,” according to the agency.
    Global warming gives these projects even greater urgency. The Frelinghuysen Avenue lot is one of more than 900 toxic waste sites facing ever-increasing risks from rising seas, fiercer wildfires and other disasters driven by climate change, according to a 2019 report by the Government Accountability Office.

    Climate impacts could unleash hazardous waste at 60 percent of Superfund sites, mainly due to flooding. More than a dozen Superfund sites flooded after Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas Gulf Coast in 2017. In Newark, even a Category 1 hurricane could damage the White Chemical site, the GAO said…

    Reviving the chemical production fee is a step toward making the Superfund program operate as originally intended, with industry paying to clean up its messes even after companies go bankrupt. The tax will be up for renewal again in 2031.

    Tribes seek to secure their water rights as #ColoradoRiver dries — The #Nevada Current #crwua2021 #COriver #aridification

    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

    Historically excluded from Colorado River negotiations, tribes are demanding to be included in policy discussions on how the water is managed.

    Ahead of a conference of the Colorado River Water Users Association in Las Vegas, a group of conservationists and tribal leaders held a press conference on the overuse of water within the Colorado River Basin Monday.

    “There’s a wide range of people who are a part of this but what weight does each individual state have when they come to the table? What weight does each tribe have?” said Timothy Williams, Chairman of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe. “I don’t see any tribe at that signing table, yet our water is being used.”

    The Fort Mojave Tribe, whose reservation lies partially within Nevada, is one of 10 federally recognized tribes with reserved water rights in the Colorado River Basin. 

    Yet, the tribe has been left out of the policymaking process for the river despite having a senior priority date that supersedes even that of the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Clark County, meaning they take precedence over most other water users whose rights have later dates.

    In 1922, seven states in the Colorado River Basin — Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada — signed the Colorado River Compact, an agreement on how to divide the river water equitably among states.

    However, tribal members, who weren’t considered U.S. citizens at the time, were excluded from negotiations. Tribal nations were again excluded from policymaking in 2007 when states renegotiated water divisions due to increasing drought conditions.

    That agreement is set to expire in 2026, meaning states will need to agree on a new set of Colorado River rules. Tribes are now pushing to be included in those negotiations for the first time.

    “Being left out of those groups and trying to squeeze in at different times has been something,” Williams said, during the conference. “The table keeps moving and moving and moving.” 

    Williams said tribes have now built the capacity to demand a spot at the negotiating table. Part of that capacity is the work of the Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership, also known as the Ten Tribes Partnership, created in 1992 by federally recognized tribes to strengthen tribal influence in water policy.

    “Hopfully when the 2026 guidelines come out you’ll see tribes,” Williams said. 

    Basin tribes hold water rights to about 3 million acre-feet of Colorado River water, which equates to about 25% of the river’s current average annual flow. That percentage will only increase as climate change continues to reduce the amount of water available to states with newer water rights. That water allocation makes Basin tribes a powerful force in negotiations, said Williams.

    The Fort Mojave Tribe alone has the right to divert more than 136,000 acre feet, including 3,787 acres in Nevada.

    However protecting the tribes’ water is about more than the raw acre feet they are entitled to, said Williams. It’s also about protecting the health of the land, including Avi Kwa Ame, or Spirit Mountain, a culturally significant area that’s part of the various tribes’ spiritual ideology and is featured in Mojave creation beliefs.

    “We have to answer to our membership, we have to answer to our elders, we have to answer to our environment and ask if we are truly protecting it the best way we can,” Williams said. 

    Forrest Cuch, a Ute Indian Tribe Elder and former director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, said the Uinta River in Utah, once a major waterway to the Colorado River, has been reduced to a trickle over the years as a result of overuse. 

    “In the Uinta Basin we have farmers plowing up lands that are not fit for production,” Cuch said. “They think it’s okay to make the desert bloom like a rose. That doesn’t sit well with Native people. We say the desert blooms on its own and if it were meant to be a lush green meadow it would be such and the desert is not such. ”

    “Exploitation, extraction and development at all costs” has damaged the Colorado River, said Cuch, calling for a shift in culture that would protect the river.

    “This knowledge comes from our strong spiritual connection to the land which is nurtured by our ceremonies that keep us earthbound and earth connected,” Cuch said. “In truth we have always been earth people that seem to find it necessary to stop the destruction of mother earth.” 

    The call for inclusion from Colorado River Basin tribes on water policy comes after 20 tribes, including the Moapa Band of Paiutes in Southern Nevada, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland last month asking the government to fulfill its “federal trust responsibility” and include tribes in river negotiations.

    “Basin Tribes’ involvement in these ongoing decisions… is a necessity with regard to, and in recognition of, the impacts to Basin Tribes of the continuing drought and looming basin-wide shortages,” reads the letter.

    Tribes argue they must be included in upcoming Colorado River policymaking negotiations to correct historical injustices. 

    In the letter to Haaland, tribes say federal and state governments must recognize and include support for tribal access to clean water, tribal water rights settlements, tribal sovereignty, and provide tools that will help Basin Tribes to fully utilize their water rights. 

    The Biden administration has pledged to work more closely with tribes during the upcoming negotiations, which are likely to happen over the next two years. During a trip to Nevada on Sunday Haaland said the federal government understands the importance of involving tribes in negotiations and discussions around water infrastructure and policymaking. 

    “We have had many, many tribal consultations on this issue and many others,” Haaland said. “President Biden has made tribal consultation a priority in his administration. We are approaching these issues with an ‘all of government’ approach.”

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

    Interior Secretary Deb Haaland promises governors federal help for fires, #drought — #Colorado Newsline #crwua2021

    A burnt sign on Larimer County Road 103 near Chambers Lake. The fire started in the area near Cameron Peak, which it is named after. The fire burned over 200,000 acres during its three-month run. Photo courtesy of Kate Stahla via the University of Northern Colorado

    U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland pledged federal resources and cooperation with governors from 19 Western states to tackle wildfire resilience, drought management, oil and gas cleanup efforts and other issues made more difficult by climate change. 

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

    The American West went through #climate hell in 2021. But there’s still hope — The Los Angeles Times

    Firefighter Lindsay Freitag sprays down a giant sequoia along the Trail of 100 Giants to extinguish heat.(Garrett Dickman / National Park Service)

    From The Los Angeles Times (Sammy Roth, Tony Barboza, Anita Chabria, Ian James, Anna M. Phillips, Lila Seidman, Hayley Smith, Alex Wigglesworth and Rosanna Xia):

    To visualize the hellishness of the climate crisis in 2021, look no further than General Sherman, the world’s largest tree, wrapped in fire-resistant foil to protect the legendary giant sequoia from flames burning a path of destruction through the Sierra Nevada.

    California’s so-called Ancient Ones evolved with fire. It’s crucial to their reproductive cycle. But they aren’t prepared for blazes like those of the last year, which are burning hotter and more intensely as Earth warms, mostly because of the combustion of fossil fuels. Last year, flames killed roughly 10% of the world’s giant sequoias.

    The General Sherman sequoia tree is wrapped in fire-resistant foil to protect it from the KNP Complex fire. (National Park Service)

    The sight of General Sherman wrapped in foil this fall was a cry for help. It was also a sign that the American West has entered a dangerous new era of hotter heat waves, ever-more-brutal droughts and a growing threat of violent extremism on public lands.

    There’s still hope for the future. But in a part of the country mythologized for its rugged individualism, going it alone will be a recipe for disaster, climate experts say. States and tribes, big cities and rural towns, liberals and conservatives alike will need to cooperate…

    Though climate continued to polarize Washington, D.C. — see the near total lack of Republican support for the clean energy investments proposed by President Biden — there were at least some encouraging signs west of the 100th meridian.

    Take the Colorado River and its tributaries, whose waters quench the thirst of tens of millions of people and irrigate millions of acres of farmland from Wyoming to Mexico…

    West Drought Monitor map November 30. 2021.

    The region has always whipsawed between drought and floods, but now global warming is exacerbating the swings, with an overall drying trend that scientists call aridification. As summer turned to fall, nearly 95% of the American West was saddled with drought conditions. The “bathtub ring” at Lake Mead outside Las Vegas kept growing, showing how much water had vanished from the nation’s largest reservoir…

    In August, federal officials declared the first-ever water shortage on the Colorado, triggering cutbacks in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

    The shortage declaration, while scary-sounding, was the result of a landmark pact in which Southwestern states agreed to forgo some of the water to which they’d otherwise be entitled, in an effort to keep Lake Mead from falling even farther and prompting a true emergency.

    If the situation worsens, California will accept cutbacks too. John Fleck, a water resources professor at the University of New Mexico, has described the agreement as a model for the future cooperation that will be needed as the Colorado dwindles.

    “The river’s future is not all dark,” Fleck and Eric Kuhn wrote. “Innovation, cooperation and an expanded reliance on science are now the foundation for basin-wide solutions.”

    There were signs of long-overdue action on the wildfire side of the climate equation too, as the Biden administration raised pay for federal firefighters and worked with California to reduce fire risk by thinning overgrown forests — a stark change in approach from President Trump, who bluntly blamed the Golden State for not “raking” its forests. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $15-billion climate package that included money to fight fires, droughts, extreme heat and sea level rise.

    Officials also increasingly agreed on the need to set intentional, low-intensity fires — known as “prescribed burns” — of the type that helped protect Lake Tahoe this summer…

    Record temperatures compounded the threat, drying out landscapes and making fires harder to put out. California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah endured their hottest summers on record, with the nation as a whole tying the Dust Bowl for the hottest summer in modern history.

    In the Pacific Northwest, a heat wave killed hundreds of people, whose bodies failed them as they roasted in their homes, or on the streets — a dark reminder that heat waves are deadlier than hurricanes and fires, and are only getting more dangerous…

    The combination of heat, fire and drought wreaked havoc on the electric grid. A blaze in Oregon took down an interstate power line and nearly forced much of California into rolling blackouts…

    Declining reservoirs, meanwhile, produced less hydroelectricity, which in a cruel twist forced utilities to burn more natural gas, one of the fossil fuels heating the planet.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck.

    Federal officials warned that by 2023, there’s a 1 in 3 chance that Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border will fall so low that Glen Canyon Dam, one of the region’s largest producers of cheap, zero-emission power, won’t be able to generate electricity at all…

    Though some Western states at least tried to follow California’s lead on climate — Colorado, Oregon and Washington in particular — others followed a different playbook…

    In Arizona, regulators backtracked on a plan to require 100% clean energy, only to backtrack again and offer a preliminary sign-off — but with a deadline of 2070, decades beyond what global climate commitments will require. New Mexico’s Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, talked a big game on climate but also criticized President Biden for attempting to limit oil and gas production. Wyoming lawmakers kept up a years-long effort to protect the state’s coal, oil and gas companies from economic headwinds.

    Then there was Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who responded to worsening drought by declaring a need for “divine intervention” and asking Utahns to pray for rain.

    The same worldview that led some elected officials to dismiss the urgency of the climate crisis fueled a burgeoning movement that protested pandemic-era vaccine mandates, demonized public health officers and sought to wrest control of hundreds of millions of acres of public lands from the federal government…

    Rising demand for sprawling solar and wind farms created new pressure on public lands, forcing the Biden administration to balance the needs of conservation and climate action…

    Rising temperatures threatened iconic species, with a federal judge ordering the Biden administration to reconsider its decision not to protect Joshua trees under the Endangered Species Act.

    Coastlines weren’t spared, either: The Pacific Ocean kept rising, hastening a reality of vanishing beaches, dangerously eroding cliffs and saltwater intruding on precious groundwater supplies. Nobody wanted to confront the possibility of “managed retreat,” but some communities finally felt they had no choice. Marine heat waves took a deadly toll on ocean ecosystems already stressed by a history of overfishing and pollution…

    Environmental activists rallied around the idea of “30 by 30,” a campaign to protect 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030. The goal is to protect habitat, promote biodiversity, preserve landscapes that keep carbon in the ground and otherwise save some semblance of the natural world as we know it. Biden endorsed the concept…

    In one positive development, firefighters managed to protect General Sherman and other iconic sequoias from this fall’s fires.

    But thousands of the giants were still killed by flames. And the climate emergency is just getting started. 2021 will probably go down as one of the coolest years this young century. There’s still plenty of time for the rest of the Ancient Ones to meet their match.

    Infrastructure Bill will Help Address Declining #Water Levels and #Drought in the West — Audubon

    Bald Eagles. Photo: Jaime Lyons/Audubon Photography Awards

    From Audubon (Caitlin Wall):

    The recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) brings hope for birds, ecosystems, and communities in the arid West. The Act is a cornerstone of the Biden-Harris Administration, addressing long-awaited infrastructure needs with historic amounts of funding for transportation, electricity, and broadband internet projects. Audubon widely supported this bill, especially funding that will address the ongoing climate crisis, including for clean energy projects, climate resiliency upgrades, transit, and electric vehicles. But more funding, including many of the proposals in the current reconciliation bill, is needed to more completely address our changing climate and water security challenges.

    In addition to these more “traditional” projects, the infrastructure bill includes a significant number of programs aimed at addressing the challenging drought conditions of the West. This funding comes none too soon, as the situation becomes more dire—the result of ongoing, multiple, connected crises: long-term megadrought, crippling heat waves, and disastrous fire seasons. The bill includes funding to address water and drought in the West through a variety of programs; Audubon is extremely pleased to see the following included:

    • $300 million for Drought Contingency Plan implementation, including $50 million for Upper Basin States
    • $400 million for WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Grants, including $100 million for natural infrastructure projects
    • $100 million for the Cooperative Watershed Management Program, focusing on natural feature or nature-based feature improvement projects
    • $250 million for the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program
    • $100 million for multi-benefit watershed projects
    • $50 million for Colorado River fish species recovery programs
    • Reauthorization of the Clean Water and Drinking Water state revolving funds (SRFs) and supplemental appropriations for the following:
      • Clean Water SRF: $19.9 billion
      • Drinking Water SRF: $17.3 billion
      • Lead Line Replacement funds: $15 billion
      • PFAS targeted funds: $1 billion through the Clean Water SRF, $4 billion through the Drinking Water SRF, $5 billion through the Small and Disadvantaged Communities drinking water program
    • And $1.9 billion in supplemental funding for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers aquatic restoration projects.

    (note: all funding amounts are for five years)

    The bill also includes funding for water recycling and reuse, rehabilitation and replacement of aging infrastructure, rural water projects, and water storage projects. There are also significant increases in funding for existing Tribal water settlements and provisions to address climate resilience, especially in Indigenous communities. Altogether, the variety of funding amounts to a historic investment in natural, technical, and built solutions for the ongoing water crisis.

    We are actively engaged in supporting drought response and water conservation to protect birds and people. The federal funding provided in the infrastructure bill supports our long-term efforts to improve science, provide federal engagement, deliver clean drinking water, and protect natural resources to promote solutions that benefit birds and build resilient communities and ecosystems. Audubon looks forward to the distribution of this funding and the implementation of projects and programs to support birds and people throughout the West.

    Historically left out of #ColoradoRiver negotiations, 20 Tribes urge Interior Secretary Haaland to include their voices — #Colorado Public Radio #COriver #aridfication

    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    Leaders of 20 Tribes in the Colorado River basin signed a letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, urging for inclusion in the upcoming negotiations on how to manage the Colorado River system in a changing climate.

    Daryl Vigil, water administrator for the Jicarilla Apache Nation, has pushed for increased tribal participation in Colorado River renegotiation discussions. Courtesy of Bob Conrad via The High Country News

    “As the legal structure exists in terms of the policy of the Colorado River, we don’t have any formal inclusion,” said Daryl Vigil, a member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation with Jemez Pueblo and Zia Pueblo affiliation.

    Vigil is the water administrator for Jicarilla Apache Nation and the co-facilitator of the Water and Tribes Initiative, a group of Tribal members and water experts working together to build capacity of Tribes to participate in Colorado River negotiations. The efforts of the initiative helped create the letter to Haaland.

    Leaders of the two Tribes in Colorado, Chairman Manuel Heart of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Chairman Melvin Baker of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, both signed the letter.

    When the Colorado River Compact was signed in 1922 by the seven states in the basin, the Tribes were not included in the allocation of Colorado River water. Since then, the states have continued to leave the 30 federally recognized Tribes in the basin out of the decision making process on how to manage the river.

    In 2007, the states adopted interim river management guidelines to respond to worsening drought conditions without input from the Tribes. The guidelines will be replaced by a new framework in 2026.

    The letter to Secretary Haaland calls for the Tribes to have an “essential role” throughout the process of developing the new guidelines.

    Vigil said since the Tribes are sovereign governments, they should be invited to a “sovereign table that doesn’t exist” to discuss how the Colorado River is managed. Instead, the states act as a trustee to represent tribal water interests, he said.

    #Blanca #water system to receive boost through USDA — The Valley Courier

    A potato truck unloads onto the machine which transports the potatoes for sorting at the Blanca Potato Factory. Photo credit: Jean Butler (2005)

    From the USDA via The Valley Courier:

    United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Colorado Acting State Director Irene Etsitty announced that USDA is investing over $188 thousand to improve infrastructure in Colorado’s rural areas through the Community Facilities (CF) Direct Loan and Grant Program. The Town of Blanca will receive a $9,000 grant to replace the town’s water system meter reader. The current handheld reader is outdated, the new unit will assist the Town in collecting accurate readings for residents which will contribute toward appropriate billing for the water system. “The CF Program is key to ensuring that rural areas enjoy the same basic quality of life and services enjoyed by those in urban areas. The assistance provided today will help keep rural Colorado’s communities resilient and will assist with public safety, educational resources, and other public services,” said Etsitty.

    Including Blanca other Colorado projects announced are:

    * Custer County will receive a $48,700 grant to purchase a new vehicle for the County Sheriff’s Department. The all-terrain cruiser will ensure that law enforcement officials will be able to adequately respond to any incident in the county.

    * The Town of Kersey will receive a $18,000 grant to purchase office equipment and furniture for the renovated Town Hall which houses the municipal departments and employees, including the law enforcement department.

    * The Town of Oak Creek will receive a $28,400 grant to purchase a vehicle for the town’s Public Safety Department. Road conditions and inclement weather have made it challenging for public safety officials to respond and the addition of this all-terrain vehicle will help improve the speed and efficacy of responses.

    * Phillips County will receive a $24,200 grant to purchase a patrol car for the Sherriff’s Department. The new 2021 Chevy Tahoe will ensure that law enforcement in this rural community have the reliable equipment they need.

    * Season’s Schoolhouse Inc. will receive a $10,000 grant to purchase equipment for the daycare facility in Gunnison.

    * Spanish Peaks and Bon Carbo Fire Protection District in Aguilar will receive a $50,000 grant to purchase a new fire apparatus with the capacity to transport large quantities of water to the scene of a fire. The new apparatus equipped truck will effectively cut response time in half and double the capacity of the District to fight fires.

    More than 100 types of projects are eligible for Community Facilities funding. Eligible applicants include municipalities, public bodies, nonprofit organizations, and federally recognized Native American tribes. Projects must be in rural areas with a population of 20,000 or less. For more information, visit https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/community-facilities/community-facilities-direct-loan-grant-program.

    Investments complement the recently announced funding availability under USDA’s Emergency Rural Health Care Grants, which also is being administered through the Community Facilities program, Through this program, USDA is making up to $500 million available through the American Rescue Plan to help rural health care facilities, tribes and communities expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, health care services and nutrition assistance.

    Under the Emergency Rural Health Care Grants, Recovery Grant applications will be accepted on a continual basis until funds are expended. For more information, visit http://www.rd.usda.gov/erhc.

    Nationwide, USDA is investing $222 million to build and improve critical community facilities in 44 states, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico

    To learn more about these programs, interested parties should contact the specialist servicing their county. Also see theCommunity Facilities Direct Loan Program Guidance Book for Applicants (PDF, 669 KB) for a detailed overview of the application process.

    Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities, create jobs, and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural, tribal and high-poverty areas. For more information, visit http://www.rd.usda.gov/co.

    Largest-Ever U.S. #Climate Investment Clears U.S. House of Representatives: Build Back Better Act includes major investments in clean energy, climate action — Nature

    Coyote Gulch’s Leaf charging in the Town of Kremmling Town Park August 21, 2017.

    Here’s the release from The Nature Conservancy (Eric Bontrager):

    The following is a statement by Kameran Onley, director of North American policy and government relations at The Nature Conservancy, after the U.S. House of Representatives approved the $1.7 trillion Build Back Better Act that includes the United States’ largest-ever investment in climate action:

    “The Build Back Better Act would help us achieve the emissions cuts and nature gains we need to ensure a cleaner, healthier, safer future. It includes $555 billion in climate investments and stronger policies to address the climate crisis than we’ve ever seen before.

    “These are vital investments for supporting a strong economy, a healthy population and a sustainable, resilient natural world.

    “This bill would bring unprecedented investments in clean energy, climate-smart forestry and agriculture initiatives and a civilian climate corps. All are substantial and much-needed advances that would also create jobs and improve our quality of life. These are vital investments for supporting a strong economy, a healthy population and a sustainable, resilient natural world.

    “Today’s progress on this bill, along with the newly enacted bipartisan infrastructure bill, gives us a healthy dose of the momentum and hope we need to fully tackle the twin climate and nature crises. They are also a promise to the world that the United States will live up to its climate commitments and lead the way on providing solutions. Together with recent international commitments to reduce methane emissions and global deforestation, this collective movement to get serious on climate action can make a tremendous difference and energize us for continued progress.

    “As the bill heads to the Senate for consideration, we look forward to working with congressional leaders to ensure the final Build Back Better Act contains robust and effective climate provisions.”

    How the new $1.2 trillion #infrastructure bill will help #Colorado brace for the next disaster: “That’s how we got here in the first place––by economizing on things you just don’t economize on” — CU #Boulder News

    The Colorado National Guard responds to flooding in Boulder in 2013. (Credit: U.S. Department of Defense)

    Here’s the release from CU Boulder News (Daniel Strain):

    On Monday, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law––targeting roughly $1.2 trillion to shore up the nation’s aging, sagging and crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure. According to estimates from the White House, Colorado alone could receive $3.7 billion to improve its roads, $917 million for public transportation and more.

    Keith Porter is an adjunct professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering at CU Boulder. He led a 2019 report called “Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves.” In it, Porter and his colleagues argued spending money now could save the nation trillions of dollars in coming decades––through reducing the costs for repairs, preventing deadly disasters such as bridge collapses, keeping commercial trucks on the move and more.

    Porter sat down with CU Boulder Today to talk about the new infrastructure bill and why living with aging roads and bridges is like living with credit card debt.

    A lot of critics of this bill have expressed sticker shock. But you’ve made the case that it will cost us a lot more money in the long term not to invest in infrastructure.

    It’s a false economy to skimp on our utility and transportation infrastructure. We all rely on it. Society doesn’t work without roads, bridges and water systems.

    What will this bill mean for Colorado?

    If Colorado is like the rest of the nation, this bill is going to partially close our investment gap in infrastructure, but it’s not going to close it completely. Nationwide, the $1.2 trillion investment is about half of what the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says we need to spend over the next 10 years just to have adequate infrastructure. And the number keeps climbing because we under-invest.

    So you see this as just a start?

    It’s like paying only half your credit card bill. We can’t live off that credit indefinitely.

    When you look at Colorado, what are some of the biggest challenges facing our infrastructure?

    We’ve got hail and tornados, and we’ve got flooding, just like our neighboring states. We’ve got fire in the wildland-urban interface. To some extent, we have earthquakes, less than California, but we also build weaker. We have all of the natural disasters that cost the country big bucks, except for coastal flooding and hurricanes, obviously.

    How much money do we stand to save by making our infrastructure more resilient to those kinds of hazards?

    We estimate, for example, the money that gets spent on making our roads and bridges more resilient to flooding will save $8 for every dollar spent. You either pay for it now, or you pay for it a whole lot more later.

    Flooding is clearly a big issue in Colorado—something we learned in 2013 and again this summer when a mudslide shut down I-70 around Glenwood Canyon for weeks. Can investment in infrastructure prevent that kind of disaster in the future?

    The climate is getting hotter, and we’re going to have more and more wildfires. They’re going to be followed by more severe rains, and we’re going to get mudslides. It’s going to be really hard to make that road mudslide-proof.

    But most of our roads are the stuff you drive on to get to the 7-Eleven or your child’s school. What you do is build the road higher and the storm sewer system better so the water can run off into a storm sewer rather than sweeping you and your kid away.

    This week’s wildfire near Estes Park also drove home just how vulnerable the state is to fire. What can we do to reduce those risks?

    We have guidance called the International Wildland-Urban Interface Code. If we adopt that for areas where cities grow into wildlands, it could save $3 dollars for every dollar spent and maybe more.

    What kind of actions does that code recommend?

    It says you can’t build the sidings of buildings out of vinyl––use cement board or stucco, instead, something that can’t ignite. It requires you do things like put a noncombustible skirt around the house so there aren’t trees and bushes right up against it. Just having that gravel skirt makes a huge difference.

    Now that this bill has been signed, what do you think the biggest priorities are for improving infrastructure around the country? Roads? Bridges? Power grids?

    If you look at the America’s Infrastructure Report Card from the ASCE, there are Cs and Ds across the board. We have to do it all. It’s too late to say, “Yes this, but not that.” That’s how we got here in the first place––by economizing on things you just don’t economize on.

    #Wyoming Water Development Commission seeks $281M for dams, domestic supply, other projects: Lawmakers advance three appropriation measures including one to claim $95 million from American Rescue Plan Act money — WyoFile

    From WyoFile (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):

    In what could be one of the biggest requests to the Legislature in years, state water development officials are eyeing $281 million or more to fund agricultural irrigation works, dams, reservoirs, domestic water projects and other programs.

    During three days of meetings last week, lawmakers first advanced about $33 million in appropriations recommended by the Wyoming Water Development Office. Funded projects include a few municipal supply projects, numerous irrigation improvements, cloud seeding and a review of aging infrastructure, among other things.

    The Legislature’s Select Water Committee then backed a draft bill seeking an additional $95 million from American-Rescue-Plan-Act or general-fund money to establish a statewide water infrastructure grant program.

    Then, in an 11th-hour proposal, the legislative committee asked its staff to draft an amendment — or another stand-alone bill — to add another $152.8 million to 2022 appropriations, mostly for five major agricultural dam, reservoir and irrigation projects.

    There could be even more added to the almost $153 million amendment or new bill.

    “If people have things that they would like to include in that draft, I think that would be appropriate,” Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) told Select Water Committee co-chairman Rep. Evan Simpson (R-Afton).

    Wyoming has turned a corner since facing a diminished state budget due to declines in coal and oil-and-gas tax revenue, Hicks suggested. There’s “a certain amount of money, funds, available,” he said, pointing to the American Rescue Plan Act that seeks to pull the country out of its COVID-19 slump. Additional funds, possibly from rising oil and gas activity, also could be available, he said.

    All of which could be used to shore up a water development program that Hicks has said repeatedly has been unfairly plundered by the Legislature.

    “By the time we get through this biennium, we will have raided water development account[s] to the tune of about $55 million,” he told lawmakers last week. In recent years, the Legislature directed funds that should have been used for water development, Hicks said, to instead finance other projects and the State Engineer’s Board of Control, which settles disputes over water rights.

    Three avenues for appropriations

    The Select Water Committee’s three-pronged agenda would fund the $33 million in 2022 water development commission programs, add the $95 million statewide infrastructure grant program using ARPA and general-fund money and spend another $152 million under Hicks’ water development amendment.

    Hicks’ call for $152 million — the largest funding avenue — could be added to the ARPA bill or emerge as a separate stand-alone measure, according to discussion by the committee. It would see $35 million go toward the Alkali Reservoir near Hyattville in Big Horn County, the cost of which has increased from $35 to $59 million.

    Jason Mead in 2015 describes to irrigators and others the plans for expanding the Upper Leavitt Reservoir in Big Horn County. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

    Another $30 million would go toward the Leavitt Reservoir expansion, an additional $25 million would armor the Fontenelle Dam to increase its usable capacity and $21.8 million more would help resolve the collapse of the Goshen irrigation tunnel.

    Hicks’ proposed amendment or stand-alone bill also would earmark $30 million to help rebuild the dangerous LaPrele Dam above Douglas. The proposed appropriation also would infuse several other water development accounts with $11 million.

    The next largest block of funds advanced by the Select Water Committee last week — $95 million from ARPA money for a statewide infrastructure grant program — would be disbursed by the Wyoming Water Development Office in coordination with two other state agencies. The Office of State lands and Investments, which oversees drinking water funds, and the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is responsible for aspects of wastewater projects and discharges, would be involved with the grants.

    Grants would be limited to $7.5 million per project and they would cover 85% of the cost of a proposal.

    Funds appropriated through the ARPA bill could be constrained by the caveats in that federal rescue program, however. The federal emergency COVID-19 relief program funds water infrastructure programs that appear to be directed mainly toward domestic and municipal drinking water and wastewater programs, not agricultural and irrigation dams, reservoirs and canals.

    ARPA funds are being distributed according to an interim rule that in one clause specifies investments will be made for “projects that improve access to clean drinking water [and] improve wastewater and stormwater infrastructure systems.”

    The Select Water Committee’s third avenue for funding grew from the Water Development Office and Commission’s annually scheduled advancement of water programs that this year totals about $33 million. Those projects involve everything from new and ongoing cloud seeding and a review of its effectiveness to municipal and domestic water supply projects, irrigation and agricultural programs and a statewide assessment of crumbling infrastructure.

    What about the infrastructure bill?

    During last week’s meetings there was little if any discussion regarding the $1 trillion infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law Monday. But earlier this year the Select Water Committee wanted that measure to include provisions for water development in the state.

    “As we start to see an infrastructure bill develop … it’s certainly something that we’ve conveyed to our congressional delegation that water is a big issue in Wyoming,” Hicks said in April, “and that we’d like to see a significant component in any infrastructure bill.”

    Although he stopped short of endorsing the federal infrastructure bill, Hicks asked Wyoming legislative staff to stay in touch with the congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., and to get updates.

    On Aug. 10, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis provided one public update when they voted against the infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate 69-30. On Nov. 5, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney also voted against the infrastructure bill as the measure passed the House 228-206.

    To further buttress water development and prevent what developers see as a raid on funds, Hicks and Wyoming Water Development Office Director Brandon Gebhart in April proposed an explanatory program to be presented to “anybody willing to listen.”

    Such a presentation may “enlighten some people in the Legislature,” Gebhart said. Hicks called the planned presentation “education” for lawmakers and said it should come during the first day or two of the 2022 legislative session.Last week’s funding proposals did not include several other ongoing projects — including a proposal to build a 280–foot-high dam on the West Fork of Battle Creek above the Little Snake River in Carbon County, and a plan to lower New Fork Lake by some 21 feet to provide late-season irrigation. While those were not immediately included in Hick’s amendment, they are on a $414-million wish list of water infrastructure projects reviewed by WyoFile that the state assembled earlier this year.

    WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.