A setback for dark sky in Colorado’s Wet Mountain Valley — The Mountain Town News

Photos by Allen Tian, The Colorado Independent, and courtesy of Dark Skies Inc of the Wet Mountain Valley.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Dark week for star-gazers as Colorado county rejects limits on lights

Dark sky proponents in Colorado’s Custer County had hoped to become the first international dark-sky reserve in North America certified by the International Dark-Sky Association.

They were buoyed in their effort by the great success of dark-sky designations for Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, the two adjoining towns in the Wet Mountain Valley.

It didn’t happen, though. Idaho earned that distinction late last year for a broad swath of the state that includes the headwaters of the Salmon River as well as the land around Ketchum and Sun Valley.

But even being No. 2 may now be out of the question. Last week the local planning commission rejected a resolution to change the definition of light pollution.

Partly at issue has been the intensity of new energy efficient LED lights. With less energy, they produce more light, and more disruptive white light. Dark sky proponents in Custer County wanted to throttle down the color temperature to 3,000 Kelvin, a warmer and less intense light. A regular incandescent or Halogen light has a “color” of about 2,700 Kelvin. More industrial settings, such as the lights you often see on the sides of warehouses, use 5,000 Kelvin lights or even stronger.

John Barentine, director of conservation for the International Dark-Sky Association, says removing all reference to light pollution in the county ordinances, as county commissioners want, “would be a significant step backward.”

Barentine tells Mountain Town News that he’s dubious the Wet Mountain Valley will achieve designation as a dark-sky preserve. “It would be a very uphill effort, if not outright impossible,” he said by e-mail.

For Idaho to achieve the designation, it took amended regulations in three counties as well as towns.

The Wet Mountain Tribune reported a packed courtroom for the meeting. In persuading the planning commissioners, opponents warned of government over-reach. “We don’t need the strong arm of government,” said one individual, who instead advocated voluntary compliance. Opponents of the limitations on light-pollution also fretted about fines imposed and possible jail time meted out to offenders.

Jim Bradburn, president of the Dark Skies, Inc. of the Wet Mountain Valley, said he and other proponents will continue to make their case. The valley’s ranchers opposed the proposed restriction on high-intensity lights. He says that as American’s shift their diets away from beef, the valley will need economic development strategies. The dark sky is an asset that can be used to draw overnight visitors from Denver, three hours away, and from Colorado Springs, about 90 miles away.

“They all love dark skies, but when you ask them how are they going to preserve it, nobody seems to have an answer,” says Bradburn of the rural property owners. “The voluntary thing is great, but we have been doing voluntary now for 10 years, and the lights keep showing up. … It’s not working,” he tells Mountain Town News.

Located along the Sangre de Cristo Range in south-central Colorado, Custer County has often had fractious political fights. In November, two of the three county commissioners were recalled.

Custer County Stockgrowers Association annual meeting recap #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

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From The Wet Mountain Tribune (J.E. Ward):

One of the most significant issues addressed during the meeting surrounded water. It is a problem not only for the county, but the state as a whole.

“Water ownership, immunization and management are the key issues with the water problems,” Kattnig explained.

“For us, water is vital to our Valley and our industry. We know we will have to change, but it is incumbent upon us as landowners to be at the table as these decisions are being developed.”

Local water laws were developed for the mining industry here, and as industrial utilization of water declined, agriculture became the biggest user. Today, given the size of Custer County’s population and voting strength, Kattnig said that water policies can be changed. These issues affect not only Custer County and the Arkansas River Basin, but also the Colorado River, the Rio Grande and the Platte River basins.

“People in San Diego and Los Angeles have a voice in water in the Colorado River,” Kattnig said, “and indirectly there is potential impact for water in Custer County. These water laws were made through legislation, and can be changed with legislation.”[…]

Among the dignitaries in attendance were the president of the Colorado Cattlemen Association, Gene Manuello, and the Director of the Southeast Quarter and past CCA president David Mendenhall. Together they produced information concerning Senate Bill 17, which covers the use of agriculture water transfer to new municipal developments. This bill limits the percentage of water used for lawn landscaping and to promote xeriscaping.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.

Fourth Custer County Water Forum, March 1

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Wet Mountain Valley

From The Wet Mountain Tribune (J.E. Ward):

The Fourth Custer County Water Forum will be held on Saturday, March 1 in the Multi-Purpose room at the high school. County extension agent Robin Young explained that the conference is important for everyone.

“We might have had a lot of moisture so far this year,” Young said, “but we are always in a water crisis. Colorado is in a longer drought cycle. Though the moisture now is helpful, it depends on the spring’s showers if we produce good crops this year or not.”

Not only is the Wet Mountain Valley waiting to see if those spring rains come, but the state is in a crisis because it gives water to 18 other states, including California. As of now, many cities in California are about to run out of water and still have not adopted any water regulations.

“It impacts us greatly,” Young said. “We have strict water regulations, but they don’t.”

Young explained that the state, and the Valley, have been in a drought since the early 2000s. Climatologists have said that snow levels must consistently be met to end the drought.

The water conference is free for people to attend, though lunch will cost $3.50 or $4. The conference will focus on “Water on the Land and in the Ground.”

There will be an Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District update, an update on water issues in Custer County, a balanced approach to tying water to the land, and the use of 1041 regulations by Huerfano County to protect water resources. Other lectures are also scheduled.

For pre-registration, contact the Custer County Conservation District office at 783-2481.

More Custer County coverage here and here.

Upper Arkansas River Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

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From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District recently finalized acquisition of a new source of water in the Wet Mountain Valley. Attorney Kendall Burgemeister with Wilderson, Lock & Hill LLC reported at the district meeting Thursday that the judge had issued a “final signed decree” in the district’s water court case to change the use of water purchased from Hermit Basin Lodge in Custer County. The district will use the water as a source of replacement water under its augmentation plans, and engineer Ivan Walter said, now that the decree has been signed, his goal is to complete the engineering work so the district can use the water this year…

With the Colorado Legislature in session, consultant Ken Baker reported on several bills under consideration, including Senate Bill 41, which would expand the beneficial uses of water to include storage. Baker said the bill is likely to pass.

Baker also reported on SB 19, sponsored by District 5 Sen. Gail Schwarz, who has described the bill as a way to “encourage farmers and producers to take water efficiency measures or upgrade their irrigation technology.” Baker pointed out that a provision of the bill would allow senior water-rights holder to curtail their water usage without losing credit for beneficial use of the water. This would allow junior rights holders to use water that they could not otherwise use, allowing them to expand their beneficial use of the water, which would affect future water court cases.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Custer County: The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District is pushing its augmentation plan

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From The Wet Mountain Tribune (Nora Drenner):

Once again, Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board chairman Bob Senderhauf urged the county commissioners to move forward with bringing a water augmentation plan to Custer County. Such discussion ensued during a regular county commissioner’s meeting earlier this month…

…the commissioners have met in Salida with the UAWCD board. During one meeting, UAWCD board chairman Bob Senderhauf asked the county commissioners to consider signing a memorandum of understanding with the UAWCD outlining the details regarding how the two entities should proceed with bringing a proposed water augmentation plan to water court. That has yet to occur.

During the recent commissioners meeting, Senderhauf said that the UAWCD continued to pursue the building of reservoirs in the county as part of a blanket water augmentation plan, and those reservoirs would help to keep Custer County water in Custer County.

More Custer County coverage here and here.

Custer County: The Round Mountain board approves water and sewer tap fees

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From the Wet Mountain Tribune (Nora Drenner):

During their regular monthly meeting on Sept. 6, the board of directors unanimously approved raising the fee from $9,000 to $10,500, which equates to $6,000 for a water tap and $4,500 for a sewer tap. The fee increase takes effect April 2013 to give property owners adequate time to purchase the taps at the current price even if they choose not install them until a later date.

More infrastructure coverage here and here.

Wet Mountain Valley: Round Mountain directors election results

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From the Wet Mountain Tribune (Nora Drenner):

Elected to the RMW board were current board members Charles Bogle with 147 votes and Chris Haga with 99 votes, followed by newcomer Ken Felty with 130 votes. Also running for a seat on the board was Dana Wyrick who received 78 votes. There were 760 eligible voters in the RMW election with 170 voters casting a vote, a 22 percent voter turnout.

The three will take office on June 7.

Rounding out the RMW board are Peggy Dunlap and Dee Hoag who were not up for re-election.

More Custer County coverage here.