2019 #NMleg: Professor warns legislators: Get serious on climate — The Sante Fe New Mexican #ActOnClimate

Photo via the City of Santa Fe

From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Andrew Oxford):

“The world will be moving away from fossil fuel production,” David Gutzler, a professor at the University of New Mexico and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told members of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Gutzler went on to paint a stark picture of New Mexico in a changing climate.

The mountains outside Albuquerque will look like the mountains outside El Paso by the end of the century if current trends continue, he said.

There will not be any snowpack in the mountains above Santa Fe by the end of the century, Gutzler added.

We have already seen more land burned by wildfires, partly because of changes in forest management and partly because of climate change, Gutzler said.

Water supply will be negatively affected in what is already an arid state, he said.

“It’s real. It’s happening. We see it in the data. … This is not hypothetical in any way. This is real and we would be foolish to ignore it,” Gutzler said.

The professor warned lawmakers that the state must get serious about greenhouse gas emissions now by expanding clean energy sources and mitigating the societal costs of moving away from fossil fuels.

That cost, though, will be a sticking point for Republicans. Many of them represent southeastern New Mexico and the Four Corners, where oil and mining are big industries.

El Paso County water master plan warns about Denver Basin Aquifer depletions

Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

Click here to go to the El Paso County website for the project.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Rachel Riley):

The document says the county’s current water supply is about 146,000 acre-feet per year, but demand is expected to increase to about 160,000 acre-feet per year by 2040 and 206,000 acre-feet per year by 2060…

The plan, prepared by Englewood-based engineering firm Forsgren Associates Inc., makes a variety of recommendations for closing the gap, including monitoring groundwater well levels, exploring ways to reuse water, finding new water sources and considering changes to the county’s land use approval process.

The county is home to more than 21,300 permitted groundwater wells and roughly 70 water providers, from small districts to municipal departments, according to the plan.

Water providers in once rural parts of the county, such as Monument, face mounting concerns about how to ensure that residents have enough water as the population continues to rise.

The primary water source for areas that are not served by Colorado Springs Utilities is the Denver Basin. Experts say it’s hard to pinpoint the rate at which water levels are falling in the system of aquifers, which were filled by precipitation over many years.

By 2060, the county’s current annual supply would be enough to serve a little more than half of the projected population, according to the plan. More residents could potentially be served by Denver Basin groundwater, but only if it’s still economical to pump, the plan states.

Per state law, county commissioners generally decide if there’s sufficient water to serve a new development during final platting, the stage of the land use approval process in which lots are created, said Mark Gebhart, deputy director of the county Planning and Community Development Department.

But the plan suggests that the county consider changing its rules so that determination can be made earlier, such as when a preliminary plan or zoning change is approved, to help ensure that new developments are planned with water supply in mind.

The plan also recommends that the county re-evaluate a subdivision regulation that requires developers to prove that they have a 300 years’ supply of water. The requirement, three times as stringent as a state standard that requires proof of 100 years’ supply, could be waived if developers agree to conservation-minded practices, such as reuse of captured wastewater to offset demands, the plan suggests…

The plan also advises that the county encourage water providers to find more reliable water sources that are replenished regularly by precipitation, rather than deep groundwater sources that are slow to recharge. One possibility might be importing water from the Arkansas River, the plan states.

Lower Ark board meeting recap

Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

Peter Nichols, an attorney for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, at the agency’s meeting Wednesday, updated the board on the long-standing controversy with Colorado Springs concerning water quality in Fountain Creek…

A lawsuit filed by the Environmental Protection Agency in November 2017 alleges the City of Colorado Springs’ stormwater system degraded the creek on its way to Pueblo and, eventually, the Arkansas River. The Pueblo Board of County Commissioners and the LAVWCD were permitted to intervene in the case, on the side of the environmental agency.

On Nov. 9, Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled that Colorado Springs violated its permit that regulates stormwater discharges into Fountain Creek.

Following Matsch’s decision, the parties asked the judge to put the litigation on hold for three months, to see if they could agree how to remedy the city’s violations. That request was granted.

The post-trial settlement conferences were scheduled for Dec. 6, 2018; Jan. 10 (which was cancelled because of the federal government shutdown); Feb. 7, March 7, April 11 and May 9.

#Drought/#Snowpack news: #ArkansasRiver Ag impacts in water year 2018, hope for water year 2019

From KRCC.com (Ryan Maye Handy):

Drought in Colorado has a widespread impact on an economy where tourism and recreation play important parts, with money-drawing activities like rafting, fishing and skiing. But when it comes to agriculture – a $40 billion industry that generates $7 billion in revenue for the state, ultimately a fraction of Colorado’s GDP – Colorado is a state divided. Some counties have no ties to ranching and farming, but those that do rely on it heavily for taxes, jobs and revenue.

That divide has meant that many Colorado residents sailed through the summer mostly free of drought concerns, while ranchers and farmers faced a significantly different picture. With nearly all of Colorado experiencing some level of dryness or drought, many farmers opted not to plant at all due to lack of water, creating an economic shortfall.

“I am certain that the dry conditions that we saw up to July — the warm and dry conditions — will have an impact on the economy,” said Peter Goble, a drought specialist with the Fort Collins-based Colorado Climate Center. “We saw plenty of crops fail.”

The decisions to cut back on planting have Colorado high on the list of states that had to abandon acres this planting season, with more than 152,000 that weren’t planted due to lack of water. State officials are expected to release early next year an exact tally of economic losses wrought by this year’s drought, but stories and numbers from around the state suggest that they will be noticeable.

Farmers around Colorado have been forced to sell off cattle they couldn’t afford to feed, according to reports given to state officials. In southeastern Colorado, Baca, Kiowa, Otero and Prowers counties had, in total, tens of thousands of acres that went unplanted due to fears that the crops would fail, otherwise known as “prevent planted” acres. The USDA declared a drought disaster in 47 of 64 counties in Colorado, making farmers eligible for federal aid. As hay prices climbed at the end of the summer, Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order easing regulations on hay transport in an effort to reduce the cost of hay for ranchers.

To be sure, Colorado farmers planted nearly 4 million acres of crops this year, and the losses might be significantly less than what farmers faced in 2013, another severe drought year, when more than 340,000 acres were prevent planted and as twice as many acres failed. But in the past, even losses of many thousands of acres have cost agricultural communities hundreds of millions of dollars.

Since 2002, drought has affected Colorado’s urban and rural residents differently. While Front Range and mountain residents have grappled with major wildfires, Colorado’s agricultural communities have ridden a roller coaster of good years and bad. Farmers, for instance, have prevent planted hundreds of thousands of acres over the past six years, even as vast networks of reservoirs have allowed Front Range cities to keep their residents largely free of water restrictions. This year’s summer drought was no exception…

Too little water in the Arkansas River meant that Otero County, home to the famous Rocky Ford cantaloupes and a major corn and wheat producer, lost nearly half its corn crop this year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture records. Nearby Prowers County lost thousands of acres of wheat, sorghum and corn. And just a little bit further north, Elbert County rated 100 percent of its crop this fall as poor quality, state officials reported.

Otero County, with nearly 15,000 unplanted acres, is the among the top five counties in Colorado where farmers chose not to plant this year due to drought, according to the USDA. Farmers there typically plant 20,000 acres of corn a year, but this year nearly 9,500 acres went unplanted, records show…

Insurance will offer farmers some protection, but it can’t make up for having a crop. Other insurance policies, administered through the federal Farm Service Agency, require farmers to lose half their crop to be eligible for coverage. Those policies do not take into account losses from acres that were fallowed, that is, remain unplanted, Hanagan said.

The economic damage has been done, but farmers are already looking forward to next season with hopes for a better water year. While a lack of precipitation stunted summer planting, the state’s winter wheat crop, which has a fall growing season, got a good start with plenty of moisture.

But a lot depends on the winter and spring weather cycles, said Taryn Finnessey, the senior climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

State officials, meteorologists and farmers are expecting an El Niño cycle, which originates over the Pacific Ocean and tends to bring wet winters to Southern Colorado. In a place like Otero County, where farmers are heavily dependent on river water and snowmelt, that’s good news.

“We are hoping that we can get an El Niño,” said Finnessey. “We just don’t know when that is going to materialize. Or if it will materialize.”

#ColoradoSprings scores $4.6 million from FEMA for two high priority stormwater projects

Douglas Creek, Colorado Springs. Photo credit: Pam Zubeck/Colorado Springs Independent

Here’s the release from the City of Colorado Springs:

Thanks to grant funding totaling $4.6 million awarded through FEMA to the State of Colorado, work will soon begin on two separate mitigation projects in Colorado Springs to restore a severely degraded drainage channel along Douglas Creek and Pine Creek.

The first grant, for $2,612,325, will fund a bank stabilization project along a 1,100-foot stretch of Douglas Creek, just south of Garden of the Gods Road that is threatening I-25, Sinton Road, major utilities and surrounding business property. This area eroded during 2013 and 2015 flood events, continues to erode today and was identified as a finding in the 2013 EPA audit of the City’s MS4 permit.

When complete, this stretch of Douglas Creek will be designed to withstand a 100-year flood event. It will function as a natural stream corridor, build resilience in future events by restoring floodplain function, and will help downstream communities by reducing sediment in the Fountain Creek watershed.

The second grant, for $2,005,125, will fund restoration and stabilization along a 1,750 foot section of Pine Creek that has experienced signification erosion and bank failure since the 2013 flood. This project will use natural channel construction to reconnect with the natural floodplain and will utilize an upstream detention pond to be constructed separately by the City. The stabilization of this area will protect adjacent properties and significantly reduce a heavy sediment load currently impacting downstream areas.

FEMA’s grant represents 75 percent of the total cost for the project; total cost is approximately $3,483,100 for Douglas Creek and approximately $2,673,500 for Pine Creek. The 25 percent match will come from the City.

The 25 percent local grant match funding was made possible through a provision in the City’s Inter-Governmental Agreement with Pueblo that earmarks funds that can be leveraged toward grants for much larger projects.

Federal funding is provided through FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, which is designed to assist states, U.S. territories, federally-recognized tribes, and local communities in implementing a sustained pre-disaster natural hazard mitigation program. The goal is to reduce overall risk to the population and structures from future hazard events, while also reducing reliance on federal funding in future disasters.

From KRDO (Scott Harrison):

City officials announced last week that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide a $4.6 million grant from a pre-disaster mitigation program, designed to reduce risk and spending from future disasters.

FEMA is paying 75 percent of the cost of two projects to stabilize creek banks and stop erosion caused by flooding in 2013 and 2015.

The city will use $2.6 million of the grant on a section of Douglas Creek, below Sinton Road and south of the interchange at Interstate 25 and Garden of the Gods Road.

Erosion at that location is affecting two adjacent commercial properties, has already damaged some utility lines and could eventually undermine Sinton Road.

The city will use the remaining grant on a similar project in Pine Creek, near the intersection of Briargate Parkway and Chapel Hills Drive.

Homes line both sides of the creek but are closer on the north side, where some work has been done to improve drainage and reduce erosion.

The Pine Creek project will include an upstream retention pond to prevent flash flooding and erosion by holding runoff during heavy storm events and gradually releasing it later.

The actual cost of both projects is $6.1 million but the city is paying 25 percent to qualify for the 75 percent match from FEMA.

Fountain Creek lawsuit negotiations update

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

Negotiations are underway between Pueblo County, a water conservancy district and environmental protection agencies on one side, and Colorado Springs on the other side, to resolve disputes of many years regarding that city’s defiling of Fountain Creek.

The Pueblo Chieftain has obtained court documents stating that the parties in a two-year-old lawsuit are trying to reach an agreement to settle it, instead of pursuing it further in the U.S. District Court for Colorado.

Both sides have met three times in recent weeks “to discuss potential resolution of the (lawsuit) without further litigation,” states a court document filed last week at the court in Denver. It was filed by Pueblo County commissioners, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

Those four entities sued Colorado Springs in 2016, claiming the city violated clean water laws by discharging excessive stormwater and pollutants into the creek, which flows through Pueblo County into the Arkansas River at Pueblo.

After a trial, the judge overseeing the case decided on Nov. 9 in favor of the four entities that sued. Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled Colorado Springs violated its permit that regulates stormwater discharges into Fountain Creek.

The four entities in the court fight with Colorado Springs state in the new court document that the discussions so far “were productive.” They and the city asked the judge to put litigation on hold for three months, to see if they can agree how to remedy the city’s violations.

Matsch on Thursday granted the request.

#ArkansasRiver: Southeastern District approves $22.3 million budget

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

Southeastern District approves $22.3 million budget

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board of Directors Thursday approved a $22.3 million budget for 2019 that includes payments for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, support for the Arkansas Valley Conduit and the anticipated opening of a hydroelectric generation plant at Pueblo Dam.

Most of the budget comprises pass-through payments to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Fry-Ark Project costs total $8 million, which includes $1.46 million for repayment and $6.54 million for operation and maintenance. An amendment to the repayment contract this year established a fixed rate of repayment, and a maintenance fund for the project. The project includes Pueblo Dam, Twin Lakes, Turquoise Lake and a Western Slope collection system that brings water from the Colorado River basin into the Arkansas River basin.

Fountain Valley Authority payments total $5.36 million. The Fountain Valley Authority includes Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security, Widefield and Stratmoor Hills. Its water supply comes from Pueblo Dam through a pipeline constructed in the 1980s.

The District also will pay $272,382 on behalf of participants in the Excess Capacity Master Contract at Pueblo Reservoir. The contract was established in 2016 to allow participants to store water in the reservoir when space is available.

The budget projects $350,000 for spending in support of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Reclamation has $6.8 million available for AVC-related activities as well.

The $20.3 million hydroelectric plant at Pueblo Dam is expected to come online in early 2019. The plant is nearing completion and was financed with a $17.3 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and a $3 million loan from the District’s Enterprise Fund. Power will be sold to the city of Fountain and Fort Carson through Colorado Springs Utilities. Revenues are expected to total $900,000 in 2019.

The District mill levy for the coming year will by 0.944 mills, which is not substantially different from previous years. The District covers parts of nine counties from the Arkansas River headwaters to the Kansas state line.