Economic Benefits of Protecting 30% of Planet’s Land and Ocean Outweigh the Costs at Least 5-to-1 — Campaign for Nature

Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

Here’s the release from the Campaign for Nature:

First-of-its-kind report shows the global economy is better off with more nature protected

In the most comprehensive report to date on the economic implications of protecting nature, over 100 economists and scientists find that the global economy would benefit from the establishment of far more protected areas on land and at sea than exist today. The report considers various scenarios of protecting at least 30% of the world’s land and ocean to find that the benefits outweigh the costs by a ratio of at least 5-to-1. The report offers new evidence that the nature conservation sector drives economic growth, delivers key non-monetary benefits and is a net contributor to a resilient global economy.

The findings follow growing scientific evidence that at least 30% of the planet’s land and ocean must be protected to address the alarming collapse of the natural world, which now threatens up to one million species with extinction. With such clear economic and scientific data, momentum continues to build for a landmark global agreement that would include the 30% protection target. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has included this 30% protected area goal in its draft 10-year strategy, which is expected to be finalized and approved by the Convention’s 196 parties next year in Kunming, China.

This new independent report, “Protecting 30% of the planet for nature: costs, benefits and economic implications,” is the first ever analysis of protected area impacts across multiple economic sectors, including agriculture, fisheries, and forestry in addition to the nature conservation sector. The report measures the financial impacts of protected areas on the global economy and non-monetary benefits like ecosystem services, including climate change mitigation, flood protection, clean water provision and soil conservation. Across all measures, the experts find that the benefits are greater when more nature is protected as opposed to maintaining the status quo.

The nature conservation sector has been one of the fastest growing sectors in recent years and, according to the report, is projected to grow 4-6% per year compared to less than 1% for agriculture, fisheries, and forestry, after the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Protecting natural areas also provides significant mental and physical health benefits and reduces the risk of new zoonotic disease outbreaks such as COVID-19, a value that has not yet been quantified despite the extraordinarily high economic costs of the pandemic. A recent study estimated the economic value of protected areas based on the improved mental health of visitors to be $6 trillion annually.

“Our report shows that protection in today’s economy brings in more revenue than the alternatives and likely adds revenue to agriculture and forestry, while helping prevent climate change, water crises, biodiversity loss and disease. Increasing nature protection is sound policy for governments juggling multiple interests. You cannot put a price tag on nature — but the economic numbers point to its protection,” said Anthony Waldron, the lead author of the report and researcher focused on conservation finance, global species loss and sustainable agriculture.

The report’s authors find that obtaining the substantial benefits of protecting 30% of the planet’s land and ocean, requires an average annual investment of roughly $140 billion by 2030. The world currently invests just over $24 billion per year in protected areas.

“This investment pales in comparison to the economic benefits that additional protected areas would deliver and to the far larger financial support currently given to other sectors,” said Enric Sala, co-author of this report, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society and the author of the forthcoming book The Nature of Nature: Why We Need the Wild (August 2020). “Investing to protect nature would represent less than one-third of the amount that governments spend on subsidies to activities that destroy nature. It would represent 0.16% of global GDP and require less investment than the world spends on video games every year.”

The Campaign for Nature (CFN), which commissioned this report, is working with a growing coalition of over 100 conservation organizations, and scientists around the world in support of the 30%+ target, and increased financial support for conservation. CFN is also working with Indigenous leaders to ensure full respect for Indigenous rights and free, prior, and informed consent. CFN recommends that funding comes from all sources, including official development assistance, governments’ domestic budgets, climate financing directed to nature-based solutions, philanthropies, corporations, and new sources of revenue or savings through regulatory and subsidy changes. As 70-90% of the cost would be focused on low and middle income countries because of the location of the world’s most threatened biodiversity, these countries will require financial assistance from multiple sources.

GOCO awards $1.6 to conserve local ranches — The Mountain Mail

Uncompahgre Fritillary butterfly. By USFWS Mountain-Prairie – Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74757856

From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Mountain Mail:

The Great Outdoors Colorado board awarded a $1,625,000 grant this month to Central Colorado Conservancy in partnership with The Trust for Public Land and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to help conserve four ranches covering more than 2,400 acres in Chaffee County.

The project is part of the Heart of the Arkansas Initiative, aiming to protect water resources and diverse landscapes surrounding the Arkansas River.

The grant is part of GOCO’s Special Opportunity Open Space grant program, which funds high-value conservation projects that seek funding beyond the $1 million maximum request amount set in GOCO’s ongoing Open Space grant program.

Those projects help give outdoor recreationists places to play and enjoy scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, safeguard the state’s water supply and watersheds and sustain local agriculture.

“This GOCO grant will help match the conservancy’s easement awards received through Chaffee County’s new Common Ground Fund, which supports community-based conservation projects for local agriculture, healthy forests and managing recreation impacts,” Adam Beh, conservancy executive director, said.

“Our local communities value these ranchland conservation projects and have shown their support through generous donations to match our other fundraising efforts. We appreciate and respect the local landowners who have made the choice to help protect this beautiful valley.”

The three organizations will protect four ranches: Centerville Ranch, Arrowpoint Ranch, Pridemore Ranch and Tri Lazy W Ranch. The cattlemen’s trust will hold the conservation easement on Pridemore Ranch, while the conservancy will hold the conservation easements for the other three ranches.

This conservation work is also supported by funding from the Gates Family Foundation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The properties boast several miles of stream and riparian corridors along the Upper Arkansas River as well as significant water rights that support agricultural production while contributing to overall watershed health. They also support outdoor recreation experiences for visitors to Browns Canyon National Monument and nearby public lands along the Arkansas River.

In conjunction with surrounding private and public lands, the properties create a continuous corridor of open space that serves as a seasonal migration route for big game species.

The riparian areas and surrounding wetlands support several species listed as “greatest conservation need” by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and birds of “conservation concern” as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Data from the Fish and Wildlife Service also indicates the landscape is suitable for several federally threatened or endangered species, including North American wolverine, Mexican spotted owl and Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly.

The properties operate as working ranches and will continue to do so after conservation easements are in place. Tri Lazy W Ranch has won numerous awards for exceptional stewardship of the land, and Arrowpoint Ranch provides natural beef to several local restaurants.

Centerville Ranch and Pridemore Ranch both feature several hundred acres of irrigated land and produce thousands of tons of hay each year.

While unrestricted public access is not permitted on any of the properties, visitors can access and fish a section of the Arkansas River that flows through Pridemore Ranch via the adjacent Pridemore State Wildlife Area.

Centerville Ranch and Arrowpoint Ranch will feature limited opportunities for guided hikes, 4-H programs and volunteer work days.

To date, GOCO has invested more than $14.2 million in projects in Chaffee County and conserved more than 3,500 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported conservation of Steel Ranch, Buena Vista River Park, Ruby Mountain Campground and Salida River Trail, among other projects.

Great Outdoors Colorado invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.

GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,300 projects in all 64 Colorado counties without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.

Arkansas River headwaters. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The Conservation Fund finalizes its acquisition of Sweetwater Lake #LWCF

Sweetwater Lake, Garfield County, Colorado. Photo credit: Todd Winslow Pierce with permission

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

The Conservation Fund on Tuesday finalized its acquisition of Sweetwater Lake, getting a bargain price and marking a milestone in the effort to protect the 488-acre property long eyed for big development.

It’s been almost a year since the fund began negotiating with investors who owned the lake surrounded by White River National Forest and bordered by the Flat Tops Wilderness. The plan was to buy the property for $9.3 million and then transfer it over to the White River National Forest, which would tap the Land and Water Conservation Fund to pay back the national conservation organization.

“We knew we were taking a risk, but this is why The Conservation Fund exists; to bridge the gap between private landowners who can’t wait around all day and federal agencies who have their own processes,” The Conservation Fund’s project manager Justin Spring said. “We can’t thank the investors enough for taking a chance on conservation. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”

[…]

As developers circled the property in 2019, The Conservation Fund and the Eagle Valley Land Trust built their plan to raise money that could bolster a bid for Land and Water Conservation Fund support. Things fell into place quickly. Eagle County pledged $500,000 to help protect the lake in Garfield County. Great Outdoors Colorado loaned The Conservation Fund money. The White River National Forest’s $8.5 million plan for Sweetwater Lake landed at No. 9 on the LWCF’s plans for the coming year. That marked the largest request on the Forest Service’s list of 36 projects. And, if approved, it will be among the largest allotments of LWCF money ever in Colorado…

The Forest Service is in a holding pattern as it awaits a final decision from Congress on LWCF project funding.

“But because of the ranking and the very strong support we feel very confident about that funding,” said White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.

There are many more steps before the Forest Service can open Sweetwater Lake to visitors. After title and appraisal work, the Forest Service will study how existing structures may fit into its overarching recreation plan. The agency is still in talks with Colorado Parks and Wildlife about a unique management partnership.

Heart of the Arkansas Initiative: Conservancy receives $1.6M GOCO grant — The Chaffee County Times #ArkansasRiver

Looking westerly from a meadow on the Centerville Ranch. Photo credit: Central Colorado Conservancy via The Chaffee County Times

From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Chaffee County Times:

The Great Outdoors Colorado board awarded a $1,625,000 grant to Central Colorado Conservancy this month in partnership with The Trust for Public Land and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to help conserve four ranches covering more than 2,400 acres in Chaffee County.

The project is part of the Heart of the Arkansas Initiative, aiming to protect the water resources and diverse landscapes surrounding the Arkansas River.

This grant is part of GOCO’s Special Opportunity Open Space grant program, which funds high-value conservation projects that seek funding beyond the $1 million maximum request amount set in GOCO’s ongoing Open Space grant program.

These projects will help give outdoor recreationists places to play and enjoy scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, safeguard the state’s water supply and watersheds and sustain local agriculture.

“This GOCO grant will help match the Conservancy’s easement awards received through Chaffee County’s new Common Ground Fund, which supports community-based conservation projects for local agriculture, healthy forests and managing recreation impacts,” said Adam Beh, executive director for the Conservancy.

“Our local communities value these ranchland conservation projects and have shown their support through generous donations to match our other fundraising efforts. We appreciate and respect the local landowners who have made the choice to help protect this beautiful valley.”

TPL, CCALT and the Conservancy will protect four ranches: Centerville Ranch, Arrowpoint Ranch, Pridemore Ranch and Tri Lazy W Ranch. CCALT will hold the conservation easement on Pridemore Ranch, while the Conservancy will hold the conservation easements for the other three ranches.

This conservation work is also supported by funding from the Gates Family Foundation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“The Trust for Public Land has been working with the Conservancy and CCALT for nearly 13 years to help give working landowners in the valley conservation options to help them achieve their financial goals, so we don’t lose the working lands and water rights that are the lifeblood to agriculture and public recreation in the Upper Arkansas Valley,” said Wade Shelton, TPL senior project manager. “By working together, we’ve been able to achieve far more than we’d ever be able to accomplish working on our own, so we don’t lose the very things that make the Upper Arkansas Valley such a special place.”

The properties boast several miles of stream and riparian corridors along the Upper Arkansas River as well as significant water rights that support agricultural production while contributing to overall watershed health. They also support high quality outdoor recreation experiences for visitors to Browns Canyon National Monument and nearby public lands along the Arkansas River.

In conjunction with surrounding private and public lands, the properties create a continuous corridor of open space that serves as a seasonal migration route for big game species.

The riparian areas and surrounding wetlands support several species listed as “greatest conservation need” by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and birds of “conservation concern” as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Data from USFWS also indicates that the landscape is suitable for several federally threatened or endangered species, including North American wolverine, Mexican spotted owl and Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly.

The properties operate as working ranches and will continue to do so after conservation easements are in place. Tri Lazy W Ranch has won numerous awards for exceptional stewardship of the land, and Arrowpoint Ranch provides natural beef to several local restaurants.

Centerville Ranch and Pridemore Ranch both feature several hundred acres of irrigated land and produce thousands of tons of hay each year. Conservation will ensure that these lands continue to support the local economy and sustain the area’s rich agricultural heritage.

The Arkansas River provides numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation and is designated as Gold Medal waters for trout fishing.

While unrestricted public access is not permitted on any of the properties, visitors can access and fish a section of the Arkansas River that flows through Pridemore Ranch via the adjacent Pridemore State Wildlife Area.

Centerville Ranch and Arrowpoint Ranch will feature limited opportunities for guided hikes, 4-H programs and volunteer work days.

Anyone passing through the area will enjoy the exceptional views of the open land stretching between the Arkansas River and the Collegiate Peaks.

To date, GOCO has invested more than $14.2 million in projects in Chaffee County and conserved more than 3,500 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported the conservation of Steel Ranch, Buena Vista River Park, Ruby Mountain Campground and Salida River Trail, among other projects.

Great Outdoors Colorado invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.

GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,300 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live near a Trust for Public Land park, garden or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year.

The properties boast several miles of stream and riparian corridors along the Upper Arkansas River as well as significant water rights that support agricultural production while contributing to overall watershed health. They also support high quality outdoor recreation experiences for visitors to Browns Canyon National Monument and nearby public lands along the Arkansas River.

In conjunction with surrounding private and public lands, the properties create a continuous corridor of open space that serves as a seasonal migration route for big game species.

The riparian areas and surrounding wetlands support several species listed as “greatest conservation need” by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and birds of “conservation concern” as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Data from USFWS also indicates that the landscape is suitable for several federally threatened or endangered species, including North American wolverine, Mexican spotted owl and Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly.

Uncompahgre Fritillary butterfly. By USFWS Mountain-Prairie – Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74757856

The properties operate as working ranches and will continue to do so after conservation easements are in place. Tri Lazy W Ranch has won numerous awards for exceptional stewardship of the land, and Arrowpoint Ranch provides natural beef to several local restaurants.

Centerville Ranch and Pridemore Ranch both feature several hundred acres of irrigated land and produce thousands of tons of hay each year. Conservation will ensure that these lands continue to support the local economy and sustain the area’s rich agricultural heritage.

The Arkansas River provides numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation and is designated as Gold Medal waters for trout fishing.

While unrestricted public access is not permitted on any of the properties, visitors can access and fish a section of the Arkansas River that flows through Pridemore Ranch via the adjacent Pridemore State Wildlife Area.

Centerville Ranch and Arrowpoint Ranch will feature limited opportunities for guided hikes, 4-H programs and volunteer work days.

Anyone passing through the area will enjoy the exceptional views of the open land stretching between the Arkansas River and the Collegiate Peaks.

To date, GOCO has invested more than $14.2 million in projects in Chaffee County and conserved more than 3,500 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported the conservation of Steel Ranch, Buena Vista River Park, Ruby Mountain Campground and Salida River Trail, among other projects.

Great Outdoors Colorado invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.

GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,300 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live near a Trust for Public Land park, garden or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year.

To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit http://www.tpl.org.

The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust is a nonprofit land conservation organization whose mission is to “…conserve Colorado’s western heritage and working landscapes for the benefit of future generations.” Visit ccalt.org for more information.

Central Colorado Conservancy protects the lands, waters and quality of life of Central Colorado as our communities face pressure and rapid growth.

Through land easements, restoration efforts and connecting our communities to conservation, Central Colorado Conservancy is leading the change to preserve the places and quality of life we all love for generations to come.

Visit http://centralcoloradoconservancy.org for more information.

GOCO awards more than $7.7 million to five special opportunity land #conservation projects across #Colorado

The Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd, a genetically pure, Brucella abortus-free bison herd is released in the City of Fort Collins Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Larimer County Red Mountain Open Space, November 1, 2015, National Bison Day.

Here’s the release from Great Outdoors Colorado:

June 11, 2020
DENVER – Today the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) board awarded $7,763,775 in grants to five critical land conservation projects in Colorado, permanently conserving 18,411 acres of land across six counties.

These grants are part of GOCO’s Special Opportunity Open Space grant program, which funds high-value conservation projects that seek funding beyond the $1 million maximum request amount set in GOCO’s ongoing Open Space grant program. These projects will help give outdoor recreationists places to play and enjoy scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, safeguard the state’s water supply and watersheds, and sustain local agriculture.

Funded projects will protect more than 15,000 acres of high-priority conservation areas, expand public access and outdoor recreation opportunities, and support regional and statewide collaborative efforts toward landscape-level conservation. The projects will leverage more than $18.8 million in matching funds and more than $7.9 million in landowner donations.

Grant details are as follows:

Coffman Ranch, $2,500,000 grant to Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT)

AVLT, in partnership with Pitkin County and others, will purchase the 141-acre Coffman Ranch, located less than two miles outside of Carbondale. The property features three-quarters of a mile of Roaring Fork River frontage, which will provide Gold Medal waters fishing opportunities. Local ecologists have recognized the ranch as one of the most important properties along the river to be conserved due to the health and biodiversity of its riparian areas and wetlands. The land supports habitat for deer, bald eagle, great blue heron, sandhill cranes, owls, and osprey. Portions of the ranch will remain in agricultural production, while others will be opened to the public for opportunities to access the Roaring Fork River. Looking ahead, AVLT hopes to raise funds needed to build a Conservation Learning Center for community use.

Heart of the Arkansas, $1,625,000 grant to Central Colorado Conservancy (Conservancy), in partnership with The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT)

TPL, CCALT, and the Conservancy will protect four ranches: Centerville Ranch, Arrowpoint Ranch, Pridemore Ranch, and Tri Lazy W Ranch. The properties boast several miles of stream and riparian corridors along the Upper Arkansas River as well as significant water rights that support agricultural production while contributing to overall watershed health. They also support high quality outdoor recreation experiences for visitors to Browns Canyon National Monument and nearby public lands along the Arkansas River. In conjunction with surrounding private and public lands, the properties create a continuous corridor of open space that serves as a seasonal migration route for big game species. The properties operate as working ranches and will continue to do so after conservation easements are in place. Conservation will ensure that these lands continue to support the local economy and sustain the area’s rich agricultural heritage.

Keystone Phase 1 Conservation Easement, $1,576,300 grant to Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

Buffalo Horn Ranch spans 23,966 acres surrounded by thousands of acres of conserved private and public properties. This funding will support the first phase of conserving the ranch, permanently protecting 12,684 acres. Conserving the property will protect vital habitat and migration corridors for Colorado’s largest elk herd, the White River elk herd, and for some of the state’s largest herds of mule deer and bighorn sheep. The parcel features 69 miles of intermittent and perennial streams, including Deep Channel Creek, Price Creek, Strawberry Creek, and Twin Wash. Portions of the ranch are also open for restricted hunting access through Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Ranching for Wildlife program and through surrounding lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Laramie Foothills Mountains to Plains 2020 Expansion Project, $812,475 grant to Larimer County

In partnership with the City of Fort Collins, Larimer County will use this grant to conserve four working ranches totaling 2,893 acres in the Laramie Foothills, an important regional conservation area with rich ecological and cultural resources. The four working ranches are located adjacent to Red Mountain Open Space and the 16,000-acre Roberts Ranch conservation easement. These properties and the entire Laramie Foothills region serve as important wildlife migration corridors and offer critical habitat for elk, pronghorn, mountain lion, deer, and black bear. The area is also designated as one of high biodiversity significance by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. The properties also boast red rock and bluff features that create a contrasting, rugged landscape, making for exceptionally scenic views.

Tucker Open Space Property, $1,250,000 grant to Boulder County

With the help of GOCO funding, Boulder County will purchase a 322-acre property located one mile west of Nederland and convey a conservation easement to Colorado Open Lands. The property is located within Arapaho National Forest and is surrounded by several other protected lands, including Boulder County Open Space, U.S. Forest Service property, and other private conserved lands. The land provides summer habitat for elk, deer, and moose. The rich forests provide critical habitat for several species of concern, and the riparian areas from Coon Track Creek and North Beaver Creek support a vital wetland ecosystem. Once conserved, the property will be incorporated into the county’s open space system and undergo management planning to accommodate appropriate passive recreation while safeguarding its rich biodiversity and ecological resources.

Sandhill cranes. Photo: Scott Helfrich/Audubon Photography Awards

Another release from Great Outdoors Colorado:

June 11, 2020
DENVER – Today the GOCO board awarded $8.1 million in funding to 19 projects across the state, with grants awarded from the Special Opportunity Open Space (SOOS), Conservation Easement Transaction Costs, and Director’s Innovation Fund (DIF) programs.

The majority of the funding, totaling $7,763,775, was awarded through GOCO’s Special Opportunity Open Space grant program, which funds high-value conservation projects that seek funding beyond the $1 million maximum request amount set in GOCO’s ongoing Open Space grant program. These projects will help give outdoor recreationists places to play and enjoy scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, safeguard the state’s water supply and watersheds, and sustain local agriculture.

Another $215,000 was awarded through GOCO’s Conservation Easement Transaction Costs program, which aims to remove financial barriers associated with transaction costs and expand the amount of land conserved statewide, especially through projects that further efforts toward landscape-scale conservation and conservation on properties along waterways or containing water resources.

The remaining $149,999 was awarded through GOCO’s CPW Director’s Innovation Fund (DIF), a partnership between GOCO and CPW. The program is designed to fund small-dollar, innovative projects across the agency.

In total, GOCO funding will:

  • Fund 19 projects in 13 counties including 3 statewide projects
  • Protect more than 21,000 acres of land
  • Conserve 5,365 acres of land along 4 national scenic byways and more than 3,500 acres along major river corridors
  • Open 5 properties to public access, including hunting, fishing, river access, hiking, biking, and educational opportunities
  • Leverage $19.3 million in local match dollars and more than $11 million in donated land value
    Special Opportunity Open Space Grants
  • Coffman Ranch, $2,500,000 grant to Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT)

    AVLT, in partnership with Pitkin County and others, will purchase the 141-acre Coffman Ranch, located less than two miles outside of Carbondale. The property features three-quarters of a mile of Roaring Fork River frontage, which will provide Gold Medal waters fishing opportunities. Local ecologists have recognized the ranch as one of the most important properties along the river to be conserved due to the health and biodiversity of its riparian areas and wetlands. The land supports habitat for deer, bald eagle, great blue heron, sandhill cranes, owls, and osprey. Portions of the ranch will remain in agricultural production, while others will be opened to the public for opportunities to access the Roaring Fork River. Looking ahead, AVLT hopes to raise funds needed to build a Conservation Learning Center for community use.

    Heart of the Arkansas, $1,625,000 grant to Central Colorado Conservancy (Conservancy), in partnership with The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT)

    TPL, CCALT, and the Conservancy will protect four ranches: Centerville Ranch, Arrowpoint Ranch, Pridemore Ranch, and Tri Lazy W Ranch. The properties boast several miles of stream and riparian corridors along the Upper Arkansas River as well as significant water rights that support agricultural production while contributing to overall watershed health. They also support high quality outdoor recreation experiences for visitors to Browns Canyon National Monument and nearby public lands along the Arkansas River. In conjunction with surrounding private and public lands, the properties create a continuous corridor of open space that serves as a seasonal migration route for big game species. The properties operate as working ranches and will continue to do so after conservation easements are in place. Conservation will ensure that these lands continue to support the local economy and sustain the area’s rich agricultural heritage.

    Keystone Phase 1 Conservation Easement, $1,576,300 grant to Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

    Buffalo Horn Ranch spans 23,966 acres surrounded by thousands of acres of conserved private and public properties. This funding will support the first phase of conserving the ranch, permanently protecting 12,684 acres. Conserving the property will protect vital habitat and migration corridors for Colorado’s largest elk herd, the White River elk herd, and for some of the state’s largest herds of mule deer and bighorn sheep. The parcel features 69 miles of intermittent and perennial streams, including Deep Channel Creek, Price Creek, Strawberry Creek, and Twin Wash. Portions of the ranch are also open for restricted hunting access through Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Ranching for Wildlife program and through surrounding lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

    Laramie Foothills Mountains to Plains 2020 Expansion Project, $812,475 grant to Larimer County

    In partnership with the City of Fort Collins, Larimer County will use this grant to conserve four working ranches totaling 2,893 acres in the Laramie Foothills, an important regional conservation area with rich ecological and cultural resources. The four working ranches are located adjacent to Red Mountain Open Space and the 16,000-acre Roberts Ranch conservation easement. These properties and the entire Laramie Foothills region serve as important wildlife migration corridors and offer critical habitat for elk, pronghorn, mountain lion, deer, and black bear. The area is also designated as one of high biodiversity significance by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. The properties also boast red rock and bluff features that create a contrasting, rugged landscape, making for exceptionally scenic views.

    Tucker Open Space Property, $1,250,000 grant to Boulder County

    With the help of GOCO funding, Boulder County will purchase a 322-acre property located one mile west of Nederland and convey a conservation easement to Colorado Open Lands. The property is located within Arapaho National Forest and is surrounded by several other protected lands, including Boulder County Open Space, U.S. Forest Service property, and other private conserved lands. The land provides summer habitat for elk, deer, and moose. The rich forests provide critical habitat for several species of concern, and the riparian areas from Coon Track Creek and North Beaver Creek support a vital wetland ecosystem. Once conserved, the property will be incorporated into the county’s open space system and undergo management planning to accommodate appropriate passive recreation while safeguarding its rich biodiversity and ecological resources.

    Conservation Easement Transaction Costs Grants

    Borrego Ranch Conservation Easement, $50,000 grant to Palmer Land Trust

    Palmer Land Trust will conserve the 637-acre Borrego Ranch, a working cattle operation located in the Upper Arkansas River basin in Fremont County. The ranch’s mixed conifer forests provide nesting, migratory, and habitat range for a variety of wildlife species including the ruby-crowned kinglet, black bear, elk, and mule deer. Irrigated hay meadows, diverse woodlands, and nearly 30 acres of lush wetlands add to the incredible ecosystem diversity on the property. The property lies along the Gold Belt Tour National Scenic Byway, an area valued for its rich agricultural heritage and scenic values.

    Meek Ranch, $50,000 grant to Colorado West Land Trust (CWLT)

    CWLT will conserve a 1,208-acre property located adjacent to Gunnison National Forest. The property is a working hay and cattle ranch that includes 500 acres of irrigated ground and willows, cottonwoods, and oakbrush. Crystal Creek and Cottonwood Creek flow for more than two miles through the ranch, creating ponds and wetland habitat for various species of wildlife, including deer, elk, bald eagles, ferruginous hawks, and sandhill cranes. Travelers on the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway along Highway 92 pass by the property and enjoy stunning vistas of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Curecanti National Recreation Area, the West Elk Mountains, and other conserved lands in the area.

    Protecting Monte Vista Working Wetlands, $65,000 grant to Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT)

    RiGHT, in partnership with Colorado Open Lands, will acquire conservation easements on more than 1,000 acres of exceptional wetland and foraging habitat. The conserved lands are part of a landscape-scale effort to protect local watershed health, migratory bird and big game habitat, and working agricultural lands. The project builds on a decade of conservation work and adds to more than 3,000 acres of conserved lands along the Rio Grande River. It will also protect senior water rights that support significant wetland habitat for elk, the yellow-billed cuckoo, southwestern willow flycatcher, and the greater sandhill crane, the San Luis Valley’s most iconic bird.

    Putt Creek Conservation Easement, $50,000 grant to Colorado Open Lands (COL)

    With this funding, COL will help conserve the 4,691-acre Putt Creek parcel in northwestern Colorado. The parcel, which is part of the larger Battle Mountain Ranch, lies in the rolling plains of the Little Snake River Valley, an area characterized by wetlands, grasslands, and mixed brush. The property is also home to one of the largest greater sage-grouse “leks,” or mating grounds, and is an important winter habitat for the Bears Ears elk herd, the second largest migratory elk herd in the world. Home to the largest mule deer and pronghorn herd units in the state, Putt Creek is also a part of CPW’s Ranching for Wildlife program.

    Director’s Innovation Fund Grants

    Aerial Estimation Software for Wildlife Population Estimates, $3,554 grant to CPW

    CPW will purchase software that creates maps and 3D spatial data from aerial photographs taken from the agency’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) drones. The UAS initiative was supported with previous DIF funds and has helped with wildlife management and data analysis. As the program has developed, so has the desire for more efficient and innovative aerial data collection. This software will allow CPW to use UAS systems to capture orthomosaic images, which are aerial photographs that are corrected to a uniform scale, providing the same lack of distortion as a map. These photos will help the agency better meet the goals of the UAS initiative.

    Bear Translocation Collars, $9,000 grant to CPW Area 8

    The Glenwood Springs CPW office and Area 8 will use this DIF grant to purchase bear tracking collars as part of an ongoing effort to minimize human-bear conflicts in the Glenwood Springs region. In 2019, CPW began using a wildlife management application to track and record all bear incidents and analyze the data. Since that time, staff recorded 1,255 conflicts in the area, more than 20% of all bear incidents reported statewide. In partnership with city efforts to minimize these conflicts, CPW will purchase 10 Globalstar satellite communication collars to track the movement of select relocated bears. These findings will help determine a long-term solution for bear management in the area.

    Bosque del Oso Solar Water Wells, $25,000 grant to CPW

    Bosque del Oso currently has 11 solar water wells, but only three are in operation. The functioning wells are miles apart, and the two forks of the Purgatoire River that run through the property are on opposite ends. In addition, the lake and streams are typically dry by June each year, limiting water resources for wildlife and their habitat. This funding will help CPW make improvements to four of the non-functional wells to ensure they operate properly. This will directly benefit all wildlife by creating proper access to water and will help distribute wildlife more equally across the property, enhancing hunting and viewing experiences.

    CPW Podcast, $5,500 grant to CPW

    This funding will help CPW start the Colorado Outdoors podcast, an effort by the agency to tell its story and the story of the state’s outdoor spaces through an accessible platform. The program will share the work happening across CPW, including topics related to parks, wildlife, trails, outdoor recreation, safety, natural resources, biology, and more. It will also be used as a communication tool to share information on pressing topics, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

    Mueller State Park Backcountry Toilet, $18,570 grant to Mueller State Park

    Mueller State Park will soon feature two clusters of backcountry campsites designed for backpackers, skiers, snowshoers, and equestrians. This funding will support the purchase of a composting toilet for one of the sites. Backcountry campgrounds do not typically feature such amenities, resulting in the need to bury human waste, a Leave No Trace principle that is not always followed. These will be the first backcountry campsites in the Southeast Region, and this project has the potential to be implemented at other parks throughout the system.

    Navajo State Park Decontamination Station, $8,830 grant to Navajo State Park

    This funding will support the installation of an on-demand watercraft decontamination system for invasive species. Traditionally, boats are decontaminated using hot water pressure washers, which are noisy, require frequent re-fueling, and are expensive to maintain and operate. On-demand decontamination systems use propane-fueled water heaters, which are more effective in removing invasive species by keeping the water at a consistent temperature. Navajo Reservoir is one of the highest-risk bodies of water in the state for potential introduction of invasive animals and plants. Effectively killing and removing these species from watercraft prior to launch is important to avoid long-lasting ecological damage.

    Rabbit Mountain Hunting Program, $23,478 grant to CPW

    This funding will support a term hunt coordinator position under Boulder County Parks and Open Space, which facilitates the Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain Elk and Vegetation Management Plan and the newly approved Red Hill Elk Management Plan, which provide elk hunting opportunities to more than 100 hunters annually. The hunt coordinator has helped implement the program at Rabbit Mountain and will be essential in developing the program at Red Hill. The coordinator manages the hunt schedules, ensures the properties are safe and accessible, communicates with hunters and nearby landowners, assists with public relations, develops orientation programs, and compiles reports at the end of hunting season.

    Rifle Gap State Park Hammock Camping, $24,458 grant to Rifle Gap State Park

    Rifle Gap State Park will use its DIF grant to transform five campsites at the park’s Pinion Campground into hammock camping sites and to purchase 16 Eagle’s Nest Outfitters hammocks to loan to future campers. Hammock camping has increased in popularity in recent years, but due to previous damage to natural resources, CPW has taken a careful approach to adopting the trend at state park campgrounds. The existing five campsites will be upgraded with raised camp pads and rounded timber in three corners, allowing guests to use tents or hammocks with no impact on surrounding vegetation.

    River Watch Sondes, $10,359 grant to CPW

    This funding will help CPW purchase sondes, or real-time water quality meters, for the agency’s River Watch program. The program is a collaboration between CPW and Uviation World Water River Science, a nonprofit whose mission is to use technology and education to achieve water conservation impacts and create innovative programs for participation. Since 1989, River Watch has operated as a statewide, citizen-volunteer water quality program that has trained more than 3,000 people and monitored 59,000 river miles. Currently, volunteers are only able to collect data on a monthly or semi-annual basis, and the new sensors will provide consistent data for analysis.

    Steamboat Springs Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Trash Can Partnership, $21,250 grant to CPW Area 10

    The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) works to develop and test trash cans that are able to withstand wear and tear from bears. These cans are the standard residential trash receptacle for many mountain communities in Colorado, and Steamboat Springs recently mandated that all residents and businesses use IGBC-certified containers. For some, the costs associated with the new program are prohibitive, and this funding will be used to purchase trash cans for those who need assistance. This initiative aims to significantly reduce these conflicts and ensure that Steamboat’s wildlife stays wild.

    Southwestern Willow flycatcher

    From The Craig Daily Press (Joshua Carney):

    The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) board awarded two grants totaling $1,626,300 for two projects in Moffat County June 11, giving the norwestern Colorado community a big financial boost.

    The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) received a $1,576,300 grant to conserve 12,684 acres of Buffalo Horn Ranch, located northwest of Meeker in Moffat and Rio Blanco Counties. Additionally, Colorado Open Lands (COL) received a $50,000 transaction costs grant to conserve 4,961 acres of Battle Mountain Ranch in northeast Moffat County.

    The first grant is part of GOCO’s Special Opportunity Open Space grant program, which funds high-value conservation projects that seek funding beyond the $1 million maximum request amount set in GOCO’s ongoing Open Space grant program.

    The projects will help give outdoor recreationists places to play and enjoy scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, safeguard the state’s water supply and watersheds, and sustain local agriculture.

    Buffalo Horn Ranch spans 23,966 acres surrounded by thousands of acres of conserved private and public properties. The funding will support the first phase of conserving the property, permanently protecting 12,684 acres, according to a press release from GOCO. After the first phase is completed, RMEF expects to begin a second phase, which will conserve remaining acreage and protect the property in its entirety…

    The Putt Creek parcel, which is part of the larger Battle Mountain Ranch, lies in the rolling plains of the Little Snake River Valley, an area characterized by wetlands, grasslands, and mixed brush. The property is also home to one of the largest greater sage-grouse “leks,” or mating grounds, and is an important winter habitat for the Bears Ears elk herd, the second largest migratory elk herd in the world.

    “By conserving Putt Creek, we protect the Fan Rock greater sage-grouse lek, which is among the largest in the state,” said CPW wildlife biologist Brian Holmes. “Protecting mating grounds and habitat is critical to the future success of this species that has declined steeply and steadily in population over the last 100 years.”

    The property supports Battle Mountain Ranch’s multi-generational cattle grazing operation. Home to the largest mule deer and pronghorn herd units in the state, Putt Creek is also a part of CPW’s Ranching for Wildlife program.

    Conserving Putt Creek is part of a larger, landscape-scale effort that will help protect the area from further development and wildlife habitat fragmentation.

    Pictured here is Buffalo Horn Ranch, which was awarded $1.5 million in GOCO grants on June 11, 2020. Courtesy Photo / GOCO via the Craig Daily Press

    #BlueRiver Watershed Group moves forward with long-term plan to assess water issues — The Summit Daily #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Map of the Blue River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69327693

    From The Summit Daily (Taylor Sienkiewicz):

    In 2019, the Blue River Watershed Group started working on an integrated water management plan in partnership with Trout Unlimited to understand why there is a decline of fish between the Dillon and Green Mountain reservoirs and how to reverse or mitigate the problem.

    The plan and its associated research is also intended to guide future goals and projects in the Blue River basin watershed.

    The local water management plan is part of the larger Colorado Water Plan
    , which aims by 2030 “to cover 80% of the locally prioritized lists of rivers with stream management plans and 80% of critical watersheds with watershed protection plans.”

    Blue River Watershed Group Executive Director Erika Donaghy said the local water plan is a way to protect the Blue River watershed for its multiple uses, including being part of Summit County’s summer and winter recreation economy.

    “In terms of planning for our future — and as the climate is changing and we know water is getting more and more scarce — … it’s a proactive plan to make sure that we are really using this scarce resource really wisely going forward and how do we protect its quality,” Donaghy said.

    The conservation efforts in the plan also line up with Summit County Open Space and Trails efforts. Summit open space Senior Resource Specialist Jason Lederer explained that the county’s main goal is to have thoughtful management of natural water resources.

    “The county has, in partnership with groups like the Blue River Watershed Group, worked hard to restore streams to a natural condition so that they provide better ecological function in terms of habitat and water quality components,” Lederer said.

    The Blue River Watershed Group is in phase one of the plan, which includes assessing the conditions of the entire watershed by breaking up the watershed into three reaches. Donaghy explained that in this first phase of the plan, the group is putting together detailed descriptions of each of the reaches, including compiling information such as the average temperature of the water, the state of aquatic life, whether there are mining impacts and types of habitats.

    These descriptions will come from data and studies that already have been done as well as new studies. The plan is meant to evaluate all uses of the watershed, including municipal as well as agricultural uses. Once the initial stage of the plan is complete, Donaghy said there will be some areas where there simply isn’t enough information to move forward, requiring more research and studies be conducted. In other areas, the group will have the information they need and can come up with solutions to improve issues that have been identified.

    Opinion: Don’t hurt farmers to save the #ColoradoRiver — Explore Big Sky #COriver #aridification #DCP

    A large irrigation canal in the Grand Valley, which relies on water from the Colorado River to irrigate fields. The state is exploring how a voluntary, temporary and compensated water-use reduction plan, known as demand management, might work. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Explore Big Sky (Andy Mueller):

    No one denies it: Overconsumption of water and extreme drought caused by climate change are realities driving the Colorado River into crisis. But some solutions are better than others.

    Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt suggested recently in a Writer’s on the Range column that “retiring” 10 percent—some 300,000 acres—of irrigated agriculture would save 1 million acre-feet of the Colorado River. Secretary Babbitt wants the federal government to pay farmers in both the Lower and Upper Colorado River basins to dry up their cropland.

    The imbalance on the Colorado River needs to be addressed, and agriculture, as the biggest water user in the basin, needs to be part of a fair solution. But drying up vital food-producing land is a blunt tool. It will damage our local food supply chains and bring decline to rural communities that have developed around irrigated agriculture.

    Let’s look at the river’s problems. First, Secretary Babbitt minimizes the challenge as the overuse of the river’s system is even greater than 1 million acre-feet. The flow is so diminished that the end of the line, the Colorado River Delta, hardly receives any water.

    The three states that make up the Lower Colorado River Basin—including the former Secretary’s home state of Arizona—have in recent years consumed at least 1.2 million acre-feet more per year than the 8.5 million acre-feet allotted to them under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

    This overuse has been perpetuated because the Lower Basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation fail to account for the losses caused by evaporation from reservoirs and the transit losses during water deliveries. The first step in fixing the imbalance must be elimination of the Lower Basin’s overuse.

    Through the Drought Contingency Plan, the Lower Basin is actively reducing its water consumption when Lake Mead hits critically low levels. But while this is a good start, more must be done.

    Climate change is a major cause in reducing Colorado River flows, with recent studies putting the reduction between 3-5.2 percent for every 1 degree rise in temperature. Important water-producing parts of our basin, such as Western Colorado, have already seen temperatures rise by as much as 4 degrees since 1895, and predictions for a 2- to 5-degree increase in the foreseeable future will compound the trend.

    It might be surprising to learn that the Upper Basin’s annual consumption of Colorado River water—less than 4.5 million acre-feet—is far below the 7.5 million acre-feet allotted to the four Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. But this is hardly the time to increase diversions. To sustain the communities and the ecosystems that depend upon the Colorado River, all water users—both Upper and Lower Basin states—will need to consume less water.

    The Colorado River District has taken a stand against “buy-and-dry” practices because we recognize the environmental and economic harm of drying up agricultural lands. If the health of the river is balanced solely on the back of agriculture, the 10 percent suggested by Secretary Babbitt today will almost certainly lead to 20 percent tomorrow.

    In Western Colorado, most of our agriculture is family owned and operated. These family farms provide a local food supply, form the backbone of our rural communities, and they are already under economic stress. So what can be done to both help the river and keep rural life intact?

    Initiatives must be aimed at reducing consumptive losses due to inefficient irrigation systems. At the same time we need to incentivize selective retirement of marginal land, all while providing technical support and funding for growers to switch to higher-value crops. The Lower Basin must reduce the cultivation of highly water consumptive crops in the increasingly hot desert, such as cotton and alfalfa raised solely for export.

    Increased funding is better directed to off-farm and on-farm irrigation improvements and growing alternative crops. An example of that kind of effort is the Lower Gunnison Project in Western Colorado, a partnership between agricultural producers, the Colorado River District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. This project improves diversion structures by piping delivery ditches and modernizing irrigation technology on farms. The producers are also experimenting with new crops such as hemp and hops.

    From a purely mathematical standpoint, the Lower Basin has to reduce its 1.2 million acre-feet in overuse. That’s a big start. But in both basins, agriculture must improve the way it uses scarce water taken from the river. We have no time to lose.

    Andy Mueller is a contributor to Writers on the Range (writersontherange.org), a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is general manager of the Colorado River District and spends his time protecting the flows of the Colorado River and its tributaries in Western Colorado.

    New fresh produce greenhouse sprouts behind Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace — The Aurora Sentinel #ActOnClimate

    Basil. Photo credit: GothamGreens.com

    From The Aurora Sentinel (Quincy Snowdon):

    Gotham Greens, a Brooklyn, New York-based purveyor of high-tech greenhouses that sells fresh produce to a growing swath of restaurateurs and grocers, opened its newest facility in a plot behind 2501 Dallas St. in Aurora May 20, according to a news release. The 30,000-square-foot agricultural hub is expected to cultivate some 2 million heads of various leafy greens each year.

    Situated beside a long-abandoned aircraft runway, the building marks the fast-growing company’s eighth such greenhouse in the country. Founded about a decade ago, the firm now operates greenhouses in Chicago, Illinois Baltimore, Maryland and Providence, Rhode Island, netting more than 35 million heads of lettuce each year.

    All of Gotham Greens’ grow houses use about 95% less water and 97% less land than traditional farming.

    The new Aurora facility cost approximately $4 million to design and construct, according to Gotham Greens co-founder and CEO Viraj Puri.

    Residents of the metroplex and beyond can soon expect to see the Aurora-grown greens on the shelves of several local supermarkets, including Whole Foods, Safeway and Alfalfa’s…

    Co-founder and CEO Viraj Puri said the new Aurora location is poised to infill an increasing number of broken links in the food chain spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

    “Given the current pressures on our country’s food system, one thing is clear: the importance of strengthening our national food supply through decentralized, regional supply chains,” Puri said in a statement.

    The company is expected to hire a total of 30 workers in the coming weeks. That comes as the global pandemic continues to decimate the regional economy, with nearly 500,000 unemployment claims filed in Colorado in the past three months, according to statistics compiled by the state department of Labor and Employment.

    The company is currently seeking production assistants. Anyone interested in applying is encouraged to visit http://gothamgreens.com/careers and email jobs@gothamgreens.com.

    USFS announced that the purchase of land around #Colorado’s Sweetwater Lake is among its top 10 acquisition priorities for 2021 #LWCF

    Sweetwater Lake, Garfield County, Colorado. Photo credit: Todd Winslow Pierce with permission

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    A promise of support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund bolsters the year-long campaign to protect the Garfield County lake and its surrounding acres from development

    The U.S. Forest Service last week released its list of top priority land acquisitions for 2021 and the purchase of 488 acres around Garfield County’s Sweetwater Lake made the top 10.

    After a year-long campaign to acquire and protect the lake and surrounding acreage in the shadow of the Flat Tops Wilderness, the Forest Service ranked the Sweetwater Lake acquisition ninth among 36 projects and asked for $8.5 million in support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund…

    For almost four decades, a rotation of six deep-pocketed owners floated big plans for the 488-acre property. They dreamed up a golf resort, private mansions and even a water-bottling plant.

    Coulton Creek Capital in Greenwood Village took over the property when a Castle Rock entrepreneur’s 12-year plan to bottle and sell “Vaspen” water from a local spring evaporated. Coulton Creek listed the property in 2017 for $9.3 million.

    The Conservation Fund in 2018 approached Coulton Creek Capital with a proposal to buy the property for protection. The investment firm welcomed the idea and is under contract with the fund in a deal set to close this summer.

    The fund borrowed some money from Great Outdoors Colorado to support the acquisition, with the plan to transfer the property to the White River National Forest.

    Federal lawmakers still need to discuss Land and Water Conservation Fund support for the Forest Service’s list of priority projects for $87.1 million worth of land acquisition. The list includes 36 ranked projects and the Sweetwater Lake property is the largest request at $8.5 million.

    “While the list looks really favorable, we are paying close attention to the budgeting process,” said Justin Spring with The Conservation Fund’s Colorado office. “We are a far cry from having money in hand, but we are excited with the momentum we are seeing.”

    Acquisition is only the first step in a longer plan for Sweetwater Lake. The Forest Service wants to improve a deteriorating campground that doesn’t quite reach the water’s edge. The property needs investment to host the expected increase in visitors that will come if the land around the lake is open to the public.

    From The Associated Press via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    The agency’s list released last week ranked the purchase in Garfield County ninth among 36 land acquisition projects.

    The forest service requested $8.5 million from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund…

    The Sweetwater Lake property is the largest request on the forest service’s $87.1 million list of priority projects.

    “What often makes these things successful, in addition to being appropriate parcels, is having broad-based support and that is something we feel really good about,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said. “We have a wide range of governments, agencies and groups supporting this.”

    Fitzwilliams hopes to partner with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to improve and maintain a campground and boat launch at the property if federal funding is approved.

    Opinion: Here’s how we can save the #ColoradoRiver — Bruce Babbit #COriver #aridification

    A hayfield near Grand Junction irrigated with water from the Colorado River. State officials are now exploring a demand management program that would pay willing irrigators to fallow hay fields and send the water otherwise use to Lake Powell. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Here’s a guest column from Bruce Babbit that is running in The Vail Daily:

    It is no exaggeration to say that a mega-drought not seen in 500 years has descended on the seven Colorado River Basin states: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California. That’s what the science shows, and that’s what the region faces.

    Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas and San Diego have already reduced per capita water use. Yet they continue to consume far more water than the river can supply. The river and its tributaries are still overdrawn by more than a million acre feet annually, an amount in consumption equaled by four cities the size of Los Angeles.

    To close the deficit, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the states have been struggling to apportion the drastic cuts necessary.

    So far, the parties have proceeded by adhering rigidly to historic doctrines: first users have absolute rights, though those rights were based on rosy projections of the river’s annual flow.

    For example, in Arizona, the six million residents of Phoenix and Tucson will lose 50% of their share before California gives up a single drop.

    Nevada, which has a 2% share, the smallest of any state, is called on to take more cuts ahead of California, which has the largest share, 29%.

    Within California, water to 20 million residents in cities will be completely shut off before farming districts adjacent to and within the Imperial Valley take any cuts.

    And in the upper basin, the states of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico are faced with draconian reductions in their entitlements because they must deliver water to the lower basin states.

    Brad Udall, a water scientist at Colorado State University, warns that something must give — that we cannot continue with a system that increasingly “violates the public’s sense of rightness.”

    There is a better, more equitable pathway for reducing the deficit without forcing arbitrary cuts. It involves 3 million acres of irrigated agriculture, mostly alfalfa and forage crops, which consume more than 80% of total water use in the basin.

    By retiring less than 10% of this irrigated acreage from production, we could eliminate the existing million acre-foot overdraft on the Colorado River, while still maintaining the dominant role of agriculture. Pilot programs in both the upper and lower basins have demonstrated how agricultural retirement programs can work at the local level. What’s lacking is the vision and financing to bring these efforts to a basin scale.

    Fortunately, there’s a precedent administered by the Department of Agriculture; it’s the Conservation Reserve Program, established in 1985 by the Congress. It authorizes the Farm Service Agency in the Department of Agriculture to contract with landowners to retire marginal and environmentally sensitive agricultural lands in exchange for rent.

    Farmers who join the Conservation Reserve remain free to return the lands to production at the end of the renewable contract period, typically 10 to 30 years.

    The national Conservation Reserve currently holds nearly 22 million acres under contracts with more than 300,000 farms. This legislation has strong support from the farming community and in Congress, which appropriates nearly $2 billion each year for the program.

    With this precedent, it’s time to create an Irrigation Reserve Program. To work, it must be voluntary, and farmers who participate must be adequately paid for the use of their irrigation rights.

    A new Irrigation Reserve on a basin scale will also require significant public funding. But the mechanism for financing an Irrigation Reserve is already available in existing federal law.

    In 1973, faced with deteriorating water quality in the River, the Colorado River Basin states came together and persuaded Congress to enact a law known as the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act.

    To fund salinity control projects throughout the Basin, Congress allocated revenues from the sale of hydropower from Hoover Dam, Glen Canyon Dam and other federal dams throughout the Basin.

    Three hydropower accounts — the Lower Colorado River Basin Development Fund, the Upper Colorado River Basin Fund and the Hoover Powerplant Act — continue to capture and allocate revenues to basin projects. Congress should now add financing of an Irrigation Reserve to the list of eligible expenditures.

    With these two precedents, the Conservation Reserve Program and the Salinity Control Act, we have the road map to establish a basin-wide irrigation reserve. I urge the seven basin states to make common cause and join together to obtain congressional legislation.

    Bruce Babbitt is a contributor to Writers on the Range.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively discussion about Western issues. He served as Secretary of the Interior from 1993-2001.

    Thirsty Future for American West, as ”#Megadrought” Grips Some of the Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities — Fair Warning #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Farm Security Administration members post on a cooperative pipe line used for irrigation in Saint George in 1940. Contributor Names Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer Created / Published-1940 Oct.-Subject Headings – United States–Utah–Washington County–Saint George

    From Fair Warning (Alexandra Tempus):

    In 2002, Utah was reeling from four years of dry conditions that turned the state ‘’into a parched tinderbox,’’ as the Associated Press reported at the time. “Drought Could Last Another 1-2 years,” the headline proclaimed. Right on time, in 2004, the Salt Lake Tribune ran a similar article, on “Coming To Terms with Utah’s Six-Year Drought,” that was “believed to be the worst to strike the Southwest in half a millennium.”

    Almost two decades later, the drought has raged on. In October 2019, the water supplier for St. George, a rapidly growing resort and retirement community in southwest Utah, released a statement declaring the city’s longest-ever dry spell: 122 days without rain.

    A study published last month in the journal Science identified an emerging “megadrought” across all or parts of 11 western states and part of northern Mexico—a drought likely, with the influence of climate change, to be more severe and long-lasting than any since the 1500s. The area includes Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California and portions of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

    This region is also experiencing explosive population growth—with Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and Utah topping the list of states with the highest percentage increase in residents from 2018 to 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For decades, these states and their mushrooming municipalities have been grappling with the twin concerns of rapid growth and dwindling water supply projections. Now, in the midst of an historic megadrought predicted to last many more years, the issue has grown increasingly urgent.

    For the megadrought study, scientists analyzed tree rings from nearly 1,600 trees that had grown across the region over hundreds of years, says the study’s lead author, A. Park Williams, an associate research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Examining the rings under a microscope, the researchers could see when growth was slow, indicating time periods when the region was especially dry.

    The authors identified megadroughts—droughts more severe and much longer than anything observed in the written record, says Williams—over the last 1200 years. The most recent was in the late 1500s, until now. Today’s megadrought has been marked by more frequent and severe wildfires, a decline in groundwater, lake and river levels and a reduced snowpack.

    And climate change, added Williams, is “making it easier to go into a megadrought without the ocean and atmosphere needing to team up in as extreme of a way” as they did to create such conditions in the past.

    In Utah, the situation might be considered dire.

    “Our population is one of the fastest-growing in the country and we’re also one of the driest states in the country and our water supply in large part is mountain snow,” said Michelle Baker, an aquatic hydrologist at Utah State University who was project director for iUtah, a years-long research effort to transition the state to sustainable water usage.

    With the mountain snowpack dwindling due to climate change, Utah researchers identified several ways to help close the supply gap, said Baker. One included storing more water underground than in reservoirs to limit the amount of water lost to evaporation. Another involved replacing Utah’s old-fashioned dirt-lined irrigation canals with pipes to curb evaporation and seepage.

    In March, Utah adopted a law creating a new water banking program, similar to those in other states, that will allow water rights holders to “bank” their unused water rights and lease them temporarily to others without selling them outright…

    St. George currently uses 33,000 acre-feet of water per year, Karry Rathje, a spokesperson for the Washington County Water Conservancy District, told FairWarning in an email. (An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land with one foot of water, and is roughly enough to supply three homes for a year.

    Washington County, which includes St. George, “is projected to need an additional 86,000 acre feet of water to meet the demands of a population that’s projected to nearly triple by 2060,” Rathje said.

    This is to say nothing of exponential growth in greater Salt Lake City, which by 2060 could swell to the size of the Seattle metropolitan area of 3.7 million residents, according to one estimate.

    Utah Rivers map via Geology.com

    Water restrictions now in effect for #ColoradoSprings Utilities’ customers — KOAA.com

    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    From KOAA.com:

    As of May 1 customers cannot run sprinklers or water your lawn more than three days a week. You can choose which days to water, but it’s best to spread it out.

    Also under the Water-wise Rules, you can only run sprinklers before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

    Those restrictions remain in place through October 1.

    Collins Ranch receives Colorado Leopold #Conservation Award — SandCountyFoundation.org

    Collins Ranch. Photo credit: San County Foundation

    Here’s the release from the Sand County Foundation:

    The Collins Ranch of Kit Carson have been selected as the recipient of the 2020 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award®.

    The Collins Ranch is owned and operated by the Toby and Amy Johnson family of Cheyenne County. The conservation practices that the Johnsons have implemented on their cattle ranch have improved the wildlife habitat, water quality and grass and soil health.

    The award, given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, recognizes ranchers, farmers, and foresters who inspire others with their conservation efforts on private, working lands.

    The Johnsons will be presented with the $10,000 award on Thursday, July 30 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s 2020 Annual Convention held at the Colorado Springs Marriott in Colorado Springs.

    In Colorado the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    “The 2020 Leopold Conservation Award nominees and applicants showcase the diversity of agriculture in Colorado and the dedication farming and ranching families have to the lands they steward, their communities, and their families,” said Erik Glenn, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust Executive Director. “These applicants featured an impressive array of families and operations from around the state. CCALT is proud of this year’s recipient the Collins Ranch and the entire Johnson family.”

    “Agriculture producers positively benefit the environment, our communities, and our economy while feeding a growing society through sustainable production practices that produce more by using less. This approach is the very backbone of stewardship that the Leopold Conservation Award honors,” said Steve Wooten, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association President. “CCA warmly extends its congratulations to the Collins Ranch and the Johnson family on their well-deserved recognition, and for being leaders in Colorado’s conservation and ranching industry.”

    “The Collins Ranch demonstrates what’s possible through sound conservation efforts like rotational grazing and improved water distribution systems,” said Clint Evans, NRCS State Conservationist in Colorado. “The NRCS appreciates the Johnson family for their dedication to conservation and their accomplishments as land stewards.”

    “Recipients of this award are real life examples of conservation-minded agriculture,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer. “These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”

    Among the many outstanding landowners nominated for the award were finalists: LK Ranch of Meeker in Rio Blanco County, and May Ranch of Lamar in Prowers County.

    The Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sand County Foundation, Gates Family Foundation, Stanko Ranch, American AgCredit, The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, and McDonald’s.

    Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 21 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation.

    For more information on the award, visit http://www.leopoldconservationaward.org.

    ABOUT COLLINS RANCH

    Resiliency has defined Collins Ranch for more than a century. Under the same family’s management, the ranch has weathered the Dust Bowl, crippling droughts, volatile commodity prices and sizeable prairie fires.

    Today, the ranch’s fragile grassland environment benefits from continued stewardship provided by Toby and Amy Johnson and their children: Brad, Haley, and Tess.

    The Johnson’s cow-calf ranch on Colorado’s Eastern Plains consists mostly of shortgrass and sandsage prairie. The family believes they are grass farmers first and cattle ranchers second. They take pride in how well their grass grows in a semi-arid region.

    They know overgrazing during a drought, or overstocking their herd when beef prices are high, could have devastating consequences for this brittle rangeland.

    Transitioning to a rotational grazing system from grazing an area all season long has improved their soil’s health. Now each pasture is grazed for less than a week before the land gets a minimum of 100 days rest. Utilizing more, but smaller, pastures protects against overgrazing, allows for rapid range improvement, and achieves optimal nutrition for cattle.

    By moving cattle to fields of corn stalks and wheat during the winter, native grasses and riparian areas have been protected. Likewise, switching the herd’s calving season from late winter to May also proved beneficial to the health of cattle and grass.

    The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service assisted Collins Ranch with 35 miles of underground pipelines to widely distribute water for livestock and wildlife. More than 50 water sources have been replaced or installed, with bird ramps placed in all water tanks. All water sources are located uphill to prevent erosion in meadows and riparian areas along creeks.

    Tamarisk leaf beetles at work

    Among their other innovative conservation practices, the Johnsons released tens of thousands of beetles as a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to eradicate invasive and water-intensive tamarisk trees from riparian areas. They also work with Colorado Parks & Wildlife and a hunting outfitter to sustain the strong population of deer on their ranch, and they defer grazing and mark barbed wire fences to protect lesser prairie-chicken leks.

    Tucked away on Colorado’s Eastern Plains, Kit Carson (population 234) is what some would call flyover country. That compels the Johnsons to focus not only on the health of their ranch, but on the health of the community.

    Amy is the chairperson of Kit Carson Rural Development, a nonprofit that works to fill the gaps that exist in a community without a department of public health, public housing, hospital, day care and recreational center. Since 2006 the group has built the town’s only park and a business incubator, cleaned up a massive brownfield site, and created affordable housing for teachers and local families, by leveraged more than $2.7 million in grants and contributions. Likewise, Toby serves on the local school board, which successfully sought a grant to build a new school.

    The Johnsons are doing more than their part to keep this small town thriving so future generations will continue ranching and caring for Colorado’s landscape.

    Stewart Udall: A Remembrance — Sierra Club Magazine

    Stewart Udall stands at Rainbow bridge, one of the world’s largest known natural bridges, in Utah.
    Courtesy of the Udall family

    Here’s an in-depth remembrance of Stewart Udall from John De Graaf writing in Sierra Club Magazine. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    The 1960s interior secretary was a man ahead of his time. Now it’s time to remember him.

    There’s another political figure who, in the halls of government at least, was the leading prophet of environmental protection and sustainability: Interior Secretary Stewart Udall. Beyond the environmental history books and the memories of political junkies, Udall is too little known or recognized. And that’s a shame, because his accomplishments were unmatched, and deserve to still be celebrated today. As President Barack Obama said when Udall passed away in 2010, “Stewart Udall left an indelible mark on this nation and inspired countless Americans who will continue his fight for clean air, clean water, and to maintain our many natural treasures.”

    UDALL’S LEGACY

    Stewart Lee Udall served as secretary of the interior under both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. During that time, he provided the political leadership for a legacy that includes the original Clean Air and Water Acts, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Highway Beautification Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers and National Scenic Trails Acts, the Pesticide Reduction and Mining Reclamation Acts, the Solid Waste Disposal Act, the creation of a host of national parks and monuments, and large-scale funding for public transportation. Of course, in this he worked with activists like the Sierra Club’s first executive director, David Brower—who convinced Udall that the power dams the Bureau of Reclamation had proposed for the Grand Canyon would be tragically destructive. Udall also collaborated with political figures across the spectrum, especially Pennsylvania Republican congressman John P. Saylor. Most of his victories would have been impossible without his ability to win bipartisan support; today, many of them are being undone by the Trump administration.

    But Udall was more than an environmentalist. With his brother, Mo, he challenged Jim Crow policies at the University of Arizona while both were students and basketball stars there in the 1940s. With support from President Kennedy, he forced the integration of the Washington Redskins football team in 1962. He spoke out for peace and against the Cold War, traveling that same year with poet Robert Frost to the Soviet Union to meet Khrushchev. He fought for compensation for the victims of atomic testing and uranium mining, reshaped the Bureau of Indian Affairs to respect tribal rights, and warned early on of the dangers of global warming. Several of his children continue his activism. His son, Tom, represents New Mexico in the United States Senate.

    Udall was a prolific writer and speaker, authoring dozens of articles and nine books, including his noted environmental wake-up call, The Quiet Crisis. An advocate of the arts and humanities, he championed national endowments for both during the 1960s. He was an unabashed liberal who believed deeply in a robust government and the power of public policy to address the nation’s problems and promote a better quality of life for its people…

    More than ever, as the current administration rolls back our environmental legacy and turns a blind eye to a warming planet, we need leadership and examples like Stewart Udall’s. He understood the issues of environment, peace, and justice as interconnected in “a single web,” and sensed that a love for art and beauty could inspire us to take better care of the planet.

    Stewart Lee Udall died on March 20, 2010, at the age of 90. His memory must not.

    Grand Canyon from Grandview Point January 24, 2009 via the National Park Service

    @TomUdall: It’s past time we confront the #climate and nature crises — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

    A cottonwood forest in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Matthew Schmader/Open Space Division

    From The High Country News [January 31, 2020] (Tom Udall):

    In his 1963 book The Quiet Crisis, my father, former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, sounded the alarm about the creeping destruction of nature. “Each generation has its own rendezvous with the land, for despite our fee titles and claims of ownership, we are all brief tenants on this planet,” he wrote. “By choice, or by default, we will carve out a land legacy for our heirs.”

    Stewart Udall stands at Rainbow bridge, one of the world’s largest known natural bridges, in Utah.
    Courtesy of the Udall family

    [January 31, 2020] would have been Stewart Udall’s 100th birthday. And 57 years after he wrote the The Quiet Crisis, it is more urgent than ever that we heed his words — and follow his example — in order to save the natural world.

    As Interior secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, my father was the visionary leader of a burgeoning conservation and environmental movement. During his first year as secretary, then-Bureau of Reclamation Chief Floyd Dominy took him on a flight over southern Utah to show him the “next” big dam. My dad took one look at the red-rock spires below and saw not a dam, but the next national park. He carried this vision back to Washington, D.C., and worked to establish what is today Canyonlands National Park.

    The confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers, in September 2018. Most of the water that flows into Lake Powell each year flows past this remote spot in Canyonlands National Park.

    Canyonlands is one of four national parks, six national monuments, nine recreation areas, 20 historic sites and 56 wildlife refuges that Stewart Udall helped create as secretary of the Interior. In the face of environmental damage and species loss, he worked with Congress and the president to enact some of our country’s most successful conservation programs, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Clean Air Act, and the national wilderness system. In the process, he protected millions of acres of public lands.

    In the span of a few years, Stewart Udall and other conservation leaders significantly deepened our national commitment to the lands and waters that sustain us. In addition to providing our generation and future ones with cleaner air and water, the lands they preserved and the protections they put in place created the bedrock of a strong economy today.

    But now, the quiet crises that my father warned us about have risen to a crescendo that is impossible to ignore. Climate change is widely acknowledged as an existential threat to our planet. Meanwhile, the nature crisis has accelerated close to the point of no return. We lose a football-field’s-worth of nature every 30 seconds. And according to a United Nations report, 1 million species are at risk of extinction because of human activity.

    The Trump administration has helped inflame these crises, eviscerating landmark protections like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Power Plan. President Donald Trump has already created the worst environmental record of any president in history as his administration hacks away at the nation’s proud conservation tradition.

    But merely reversing Trump’s environmental attacks would be like putting a Band-Aid on a life-threatening wound. These crises were already worsening before he took office, and the trajectory will continue after he leaves unless we drastically rethink our approach to conservation.

    If we fail to enact the kind of bold conservation framework my father envisioned, we will forever lose millions of plant and animal species — the biodiversity critical to our rich natural inheritance and fundamental to our own survival. We will lose not just our way of life, but the planet as we know it.

    Today, just as we did 50 years ago under Stewart Udall’s leadership, we must write an aggressive new playbook to confront the climate and nature crises head-on. And we need to act fast.

    That’s why I’ve introduced the Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature — a resolution to set a national goal of protecting 30% of our lands and waters by 2030, with half protected by mid-century. The resolution reflects the will of the scientific community, including and scientists like E.O. Wilson, who say that we need to protect half the planet to save the whole.

    We must also face down climate change with the urgency it requires. To do so, we should make our public lands pollution-free. Emissions from fossil fuels extracted on public lands account for nearly one-quarter of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. Instead of being a source of pollution, public lands can and should be part of the solution. Knowing that we must transition away from fossil fuels, we need an inclusive approach that gets us to net zero carbon pollution.

    And as we transition, we must support and protect the communities, tribes and states that have long relied on fossil fuels. No one should be left behind in our transition to a clean energy economy.

    Indeed, equity, inclusion and environmental justice must be our guiding lights — our true North Star — just like they were for my father. After a long career in public office — during which he fought segregation and discrimination at every turn — my dad spent his final chapter fighting alongside the widows of Navajo uranium miners. His mission was to ensure that families hurt by the federal government’s nuclear weapons activities were justly compensated, because he understood that low-income communities, communities of color and Native communities often bear the worst consequences of the environmental desecration and destruction too often caused by the rich and powerful.

    Our conservation work must provide equitable access to nature and a just distribution of its benefits. We must ensure environmental justice for all. The future of our planet — and of humanity itself — depends on it.

    Today, on what would be my father’s 100th birthday, let us remember a man who saw a national park where others saw a gigantic dam — a man who clearly saw the peril in mortgaging the land for short-term economic incentives.

    Just a few years before his passing, my father and my mother, Lee, published a letter to their grandchildren in High Country News. This was their call: “Go well, do well, my children. Cherish sunsets, wild creatures and wild places. Have a love affair with the wonder and beauty of the earth.”

    Now, with the wonder and beauty of the earth under threat, we must listen to Stewart Udall’s plea: that we do well — by the planet, and by future generations.

    Tom Udall is a United States Senator representing New Mexico. A member of the Democratic party, he has also served as a U.S. Representative and New Mexico’s State Attorney General. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

    How a trickle of water is breathing life into the parched #ColoradoRiver Delta — #Arizona Central #COriver #aridification

    Here’s an in-depth look at restoration efforts in the Colorado River Delta from Ian James writing for ArizonaCentral.com. Click through and read the whole article and to enjoy the beautiful photography. Here’s an excerpt:

    In the long-dry Colorado River Delta in Mexico, environmental groups are using small amounts of water to restore wetlands and forests one area at a time

    The Colorado River once flowed with so much water that steamboats sailed on its wide, meandering stretches near the U.S.-Mexico border. When the environmentalist Aldo Leopold paddled the river’s delta in Mexico nearly a century ago, he was filled with awe at the sight of “a hundred green lagoons.”

    Now, what’s left of the river crosses the border and pushes up against the gates of Morelos Dam. Nearly all the remaining water is shunted aside into Mexico’s Reforma Canal, which runs toward fields of cotton, wheat, hay and vegetables in the Mexicali Valley.

    Downstream from the dam sits a rectangular lagoon that resembles a pond in a city park. Swallows swarm over the water, diving and skimming across its glassy surface. From here, a narrow stream the width of a one-lane road continues into a thicket, flanked by tall grasses.

    Morelos Dam. Photo credit American Rivers.

    About a dozen miles farther south, the Colorado River disappears in the desert. Beside fields of alfalfa and green onions, the dry riverbed spreads out in a dusty plain where only gray desert shrubs survive…

    [Jennifer] Pitt is director of the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River program. She visited the delta with Gaby Caloca of the Mexican environmental group Pronatura Noroeste. The two co-chair a cross-border environmental work group that includes government officials and experts from both countries, and they’re working together on plans to restore wetlands in parts of the Colorado River Delta.

    These efforts to resurrect pieces of the delta’s desiccated ecosystems face major challenges, including limited funds, scarce water supplies, and the hotter, drier conditions brought on by climate change.

    But in the past decade, environmental groups have had success bringing back patches of life in parts of the river delta. In these green islands surrounded by the desert, water delivered by canals and pumps is helping to nourish wetlands and forests. Cottonwoods and willows have been growing rapidly. Birds have been coming back and are singing in the trees.

    Martha Gomez-Sapiens, a monitoring team member and postdoctoral research associate in the UA Department of Geosciences, stands on a riverbank next to willows and cottonwoods that germinated as a result of the pulse flow. (Photo: Karl W. Flessa/UA Department of Geosciences)

    Pitt, Caloca and other environmentalists say they’ve found that even though there isn’t nearly enough water available to restore a flowing river from the border to the sea, these modest projects planting trees and creating wetlands are showing promise. Even relatively small amounts of water are helping breathe life into parts of the delta.

    And during the next several years, more water is set to flow to the restoration sites under a 2017 agreement between Mexico and the U.S…

    Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic

    In the spring of 2014, a surge of water poured through the gates of Morelos Dam on the border. That “pulse flow” of 105,000 acre-feet of water brought back a flowing river in areas that had been dry since floods in the late 1990s.

    Crowds of jubilant revelers gathered by the resurrected river. They dipped their feet into the water and waded in.

    Some danced on the banks and drank beer. Others tossed nets into the water and pulled out flapping fish…

    …the pulse flow gave Mexican and U.S. officials a visual demonstration of the potential of restoration efforts — an example that nudged them toward budgeting water for the environment as they negotiated a new Colorado River agreement.

    “I think having that river flowing piqued people’s interest,” Pitt said. “It opened people’s imagination to the idea. It gave them a vision of the Colorado River here that has energized these restoration efforts.”

    When representatives of the governments signed the next deal in 2017, it cleared the way for smaller but substantial flows to expand several habitat restoration sites.

    The agreement, called Minute 323, acknowledged that the work group led by representatives from both countries had recommended goals including expanding the habitat areas from 1,076 acres to 4,300 acres, and setting aside an annual average of $40 million and 45,000 acre-feet of water for environmental restoration in the delta…

    The deal included pledges for about half that much water, a total of 210,000 acre-feet through 2026 — enough water that if spread across Phoenix would cover two-thirds of the city a foot deep. This water — averaging 23,000 acre-feet a year — represents a small fraction of the 1.5 million acre-feet that Mexico is entitled to each year under a 1944 treaty, and an even smaller fraction of the larger allotments that California and Arizona take from the river upstream.

    Mexico and the U.S. each agreed to provide a third of the water, while a coalition of environmental nonprofits pledged to secure the remainder. Each government agreed to contribute $9 million for restoration projects and $9 million for research and monitoring work.

    So far, environmental groups have been buying water in Mexico through a trust and pumping it from agricultural canals into three restoration areas. More water is scheduled to be delivered by the two governments over the next several years, including water the U.S. plans to obtain by paying for conservation projects in Mexico.

    When the infusion comes, the wetlands and newly planted forests will get a bigger drink.

    “We are scaling up,” Pitt said from the backseat, while Caloca drove through farmlands toward one of the restoration sites.

    The Spring 2020 Headwaters Magazine: Pursuing Water Justice is hot off the presses from @WaterEdCO

    Please enjoy the article below and then Click here to become a member at Water Education Colorado.

    From Water Education Colorado (Laura Paskus and Caitlin Coleman):

    Interstate 70 and a Nestle Purina pet food factory loom above northeast Denver’s Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods. By Matthew Staver

    When Water Justice is Absent, Communities Speak Up

    Two years ago, a company that analyzes property data crunched the numbers on more than 8,600 zip codes in the United States and found that America’s most polluted neighborhood was in northeast Denver. The study, from ATTOM Data Solutions, shows that Denver’s 80216 zip code, which includes Globeville, Elyria-Swansea and River North, topped its “environmental hazard index.” As of 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory reported that 22 facilities were still releasing toxic chemicals in 80216, chemicals such as nickel, lead, methanol, creosote and more.

    “The neighborhood is parked between gas refineries, the former airport, and then, also, what was at one time an Army base making mustard gas,” says University of Denver law professor Tom Romero, II, who has spent his career dissecting the factors behind environmental injustices in Colorado. There are two Superfund sites and six brownfield sites in 80216, plus the knot of Interstate 70 and Interstate 25 severs the neighborhood from the rest of Denver and increases pollution from highway traffic. The area is also home to a predominantly low-income, Hispanic and Latinx community, says Candi CdeBaca, Denver City Councilwoman for northeast Denver’s District 9.

    Last year, CdeBaca became the first person from the neighborhoods to represent on the Denver City Council, ever. She points to an opposition campaign to the Central 70 Project as the beginning of the neighborhood rallying to achieve representation against environmental inequities.

    The Central 70 Project broke ground in 2018 to widen the highway through Denver. It will demolish the viaduct that carries I-70 over Elyria-Swansea, replacing it with a below-grade highway. Residents had a list of worries: losing their homes to eminent domain, living even closer to the highway, and unearthing a Superfund site, which they feared would re-expose harmful heavy metals and increase health risks, CdeBaca says.

    Their opposition campaign didn’t stop the highway work, but the community came together and won in one sense—the Colorado Department of Transportation will pay for a long-term health study, collecting data to determine whether toxins in the air, soil and water are making residents sick. They also gained a louder voice. “Those losses were the first start of me galvanizing some community power around environmental racism,” says CdeBaca. “Now we have this amplification of groups who never had representation in our government from the neighborhoods that were polluted.” She points to the importance of local voice and representation in all issues, particularly for communities that want to bring about environmental justice. “There is nothing that I support more than activating people power,” CdeBaca says.

    With water affordability, access and quality challenges—all of which can translate into health impacts—the role of water in Colorado isn’t always one of fostering healthy communities, yet it could and should be. What contributes to these less-than-whole communities? And what does it take to recognize the issues and how they evolved, address power imbalances, engage the community, and restore equity where it’s been missing?

    What is Environmental Justice?

    Environmental injustices in Colorado, or anywhere, can span cities and suburbs, sovereign tribal lands, and rural communities. They have their roots in narratives of immigration, development and industry, and political power dynamics, further influenced by evolving legal and regulatory frameworks.

    In 1990, EPA Administrator William Reilly created an Environmental Equity Workgroup to assess evidence that “racial minority and low-income communities bear a higher environmental risk burden than the general population.” The agency, which went on to establish an Environmental Equity office in 1992, later changing its name to the Office of Environmental Justice in 1994, defines environmental justice as the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” It has since expanded to offer a range of programs that provide services from grant funding to technical assistance and training. It also runs a National Environmental Justice Hotline.

    Another early definition of environmental justice came from University of Michigan professor Bunyan Bryant, who said it refers to places “where people can interact with confidence that the environment is safe, nurturing and productive. Environmental justice is served when people can realize their highest potential.”

    Scholars add additional layers to the term—it’s not just about identifying who is or isn’t harmed but includes some form of restitution, says Kelsea MacIlroy, an adjunct professor and PhD candidate in the sociology department at Colorado State University.

    “There are a lot of different ways to talk about justice that aren’t just about who and how but also about a long-term social justice component,” MacIlroy says. “Does the community actually have an authentic seat at the table in addressing the ills?”

    80216 may feel it all. “Denver was segregated, and that segregation manifested itself in a variety of ways in terms of water,” Romero says. “It meant that Denver’s communities of color, particularly African Americans and Mexican Americans, were living in close proximity to the areas with heavy industry, where the affordable housing is.” That’s a pattern and practice, he says, that was established in the 20th century and continues today. Many environmental justice cases have similar roots, as repeated practices that ultimately create winners and losers.

    When Government Fails

    Americans watched one of the most high-profile environmental justice cases unfold in Flint, Michigan, in 2015 and 2016 when corroded lead pipes poisoned the population.

    To save money, in April 2014, the city switched its drinking water source and began supplying residents with Flint River water that wasn’t treated under federal anti-corrosion rules. The population was predominantly black, and more than 40 percent of residents were below the poverty threshold. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, no level of lead exposure is safe but higher lead exposure leads to more health challenges including anemia, kidney and brain damage, heart disease, decreased IQ and more. In children, the impacts are especially toxic.

    In 2016, labor and community activists in Lansing, Michigan, called for Governor Rick Snyder to resign over the Flint water contamination crisis. The former governor did not step down—his term lasted through 2019. Photo by Jim West

    Residents began noticing a rusty tint to their tap water in the summer of 2015, but it wasn’t until October 2015 that the governor ordered Flint’s water source switched. By then, though the new water was safe, the plumbing wasn’t—corroded pipes continued to leach lead into drinking water. Bottled water and free faucet filters to remove lead at the point of use were distributed.

    More than five years after the crisis in Flint began, the city and its residents are still recovering. The city’s FAST Start program is removing and replacing lead and galvanized steel service lines across the city, but it’s a big, expensive job. FAST Start has been funded with $25 million from the State of Michigan and $100 million allocated by Congress through the Federal Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation Act of 2016. As of December 2019, less than 40 percent of the city’s pipes had been replaced, with many residents still relying on faucet filters or bottled water.

    Fifteen state and local officials were charged with various crimes, including involuntary manslaughter—some took plea deals and most cases were dropped. Residents now mistrust their water and water providers. That mistrust has flooded the nation, with many more communities now coping with elevated lead levels and lead pipe replacement.

    According to the independent Flint Water Advisory Task Force’s final report, released in 2016, breakdowns in protocol, dismissal of problems, and failure to protect people occurred at nearly every level of government. Not only were customers supplied with unsafe drinking water, government officials were slow to acknowledge the problems and rectify the issue by providing safe water. According to the 2016 report, the Flint water crisis is a “story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental justice.” Had there been local control of resources and decisions, they write, the problems wouldn’t have occurred in the first place.

    Coping with Forever Chemicals

    Flint’s toxic water is not unlike the water quality issues discovered in 2016 in the Colorado towns of Fountain and Security-Widefield. That’s when water providers and residents learned that PFAS chemicals, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, were detected at levels above EPA’s new 2016 health advisory levels. The source of the chemicals: firefighting foam used for decades to extinguish training fuel fires at the U.S. Air Force’s Peterson Air Force Base. The Air Force now uses a replacement foam at the base, and in 2019, the Colorado Legislature enacted restrictions and bans on PFAS foam, but the damage has been done. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they bioaccumulate and remain in the environment for a long time, with half lives (the amount of time it takes the chemical to decrease to half its original value) in humans of two to eight years, depending on the chemical. They have been linked to cancers, liver and kidney damage, high cholesterol, low infant birth weight, and other ailments.

    “We ended up having 16 family members that lived within that area that had cancer, and five of them died of kidney cancer,” said Mark Favors, during a public event on PFAS at Colorado School of Mines in January 2020. Favors is a former resident of Security, a U.S. Army veteran, a PFAS activist, and member of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition. “A lot of [my family] are military veterans. One of my cousins, while he was doing two combat tours in Iraq, the Air Force was contaminating their drinking water. That’s the crazy part. How they’ve admitted it and it’s just hard to get any type of justice on the issue,” Favors says.

    Concerned members of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition took a bus to Colorado School of Mines in January 2020 to hear fellow coalition member Mark Favors speak alongside experts about PFAS. Panelists included Dr. Christopher Higgens, an engineering professor working on PFAS cleanup at Colorado School of Mines; Rob Bilott, the attorney who fought DuPont on PFAS contamination in West Virginia; and others. Photo by Matthew Staver

    These southern El Paso County towns aren’t home to what are often considered disadvantaged populations—the poverty rate is between 8 and 9 percent, slightly less than the statewide average; about 60 percent of residents are white, and about 20 percent are Hispanic or Latinx, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. However, census numbers don’t represent military personnel who temporarily reside in the area. According to El Paso County’s Health Indicators report, published in 2012, four military bases in the county employ 40,500 military personnel and about 21,000 contract personnel.

    When EPA tightened its health advisory levels in 2016, they were 10 times more restrictive than what the agency had previously advised, and water providers realized they had a problem. They acted quickly to provide residents with free bottled water and water filling stations while they suspended use of the aquifer, then worked to broker deals to purchase clean water from other municipalities. Some of those deals were only temporary. Since June 2018, the City of Fountain has worked to get back on its groundwater supply, treating the groundwater with granular activated carbon units provided by the Air Force. Now it is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a full, permanent groundwater treatment plant. The story in Security is similar—the Security Water and Sanitation District has been importing water, primarily from Pueblo Reservoir, to meet the needs of its residents since 2016, which involved building new pipelines and purchasing extra water from Colorado Springs Utilities—an added cost. Security avoided raising water rates for a time, paying those costs out of its cash reserves. By 2018, residents had to absorb a 15 percent rate increase, with another 9.5 percent increase in 2019.

    The Army Corps of Engineers is constructing a treatment facility in Security, too, which should be complete by the end of 2020. Once the plant is finished, Security will switch back to a combination of groundwater and surface water, and rates should stabilize once the costs of those pipelines are recovered, says Roy Heald, general manager at Security Water and Sanitation Districts.

    Who pays to protect the health of those who rely on this water? “What responsibility did [the Air Force] have in rectifying this? What about the local sanitation districts? They have to deal with this. It’s not their fault but they’re tasked with giving clean water,” says MacIlroy at Colorado State University.

    “The Air Force really has stepped up,” Heald says. But they may have to step up further—in 2019, the Security Water and Sanitation Districts and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, another affected entity, sued the Air Force to recoup the costs of purchasing and piping in clean water. Their lawsuit cites negligence for disposal of chemicals, remediation of contamination, and breaching a responsibility to prevent dangerous conditions on the defendant’s property. Heald wouldn’t comment on the pending lawsuit, but says, “As long as [cash] reserves are at an adequate level, if we received a windfall there would be no place else for it to go besides back to our customers.” Those recouped costs would likely take the form of lower or stabilized rates.

    Residents are also pushing for justice through a class-action lawsuit brought by the Colorado Springs-based McDivitt Lawfirm, which has teamed up with a personal injury law firm in New York to file against 3M, Tyco Fire Products, and other manufacturers of the firefighting foam.

    “There’s going to have to be some sort of accountability and justice for these people who unknowingly, for years, drank colorless, odorless high amounts of PFAS,” says Favors. He calls for better oversight and demands that polluters are held accountable.

    As for coping with PFAS-related health challenges, there are still a lot of unknowns, but El Paso County was selected to participate in two national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies to better assess the dangers of human exposure to PFAS, and to evaluate exposure pathways.

    Locally, the study and lawsuits might help recoup some financial damages—but PFAS-related water contamination isn’t isolated to these Colorado communities. In July 2019, the Environmental Working Group mapped at least 712 documented cases of PFAS contamination across 49 states. Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives, hoping to implement a national PFAS drinking water standard, estimate the number is even higher: 1,400 communities suffer from PFAS contamination. A U.S. Senate version of a PFAS-regulating bill has yet to be introduced. But in February, EPA released a draft proposal to consider regulating PFOS and PFOA, just two of the thousands of PFAS.

    Justice through Water Rights

    Environmental justice isn’t exclusively an urban issue. Injustices involving pollution, public health, access, affordability and water can be wrought anyplace—including rural and suburban areas. For rural communities, the issue comes to a head when people, organizations or entities in power seek more water for their needs at the cost of others.

    In southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, acequia communities fought for years to protect their water rights and way of life. Acequias are an equity-based irrigation system introduced by the original Spanish and Mexican settlers of southern Colorado. “What it means is that the entire community is only benefitted when all resources are shared,” says Judy Lopez, conservation project manager with Colorado Open Lands. There, Lopez works with landowners to preserve wildlife habitat, forests, culturally significant lands, and ag lands—including those served by acequias.

    The Town of San Luis, the heart of Colorado’s acequia community, is one of the most economically disadvantaged in the state. It’s in Costilla County, where more than 60 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latinx—more than any other county in Colorado—and 25 percent of the population live in poverty, according to the 2017 U.S. Census. But the people there are long-time landowners, never separated from the land their ancestors settled, four to seven generations back, Lopez says. They have the state’s original water rights to match, including Colorado’s oldest continuously operated water right, the San Luis People’s Ditch, an acequia established in 1852.

    Prior to statehood, the territorial government recognized acequia water rights. But when the Colorado Constitution established the right of prior appropriation, the priority scheme of “first in time, first in right” became the law, challenging communal rights.

    “It was very difficult for [acequias] to go to water court and say, ‘This guy is taking my water,’” Lopez says. “It was very difficult to quantify the use and who was using it.”

    In southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, Judy Lopez with Colorado Open Lands and landowner Dave Marquez discuss upcoming restoration work on the Culebra River, which
    traverses his property. Marquez irrigates from the Francisco Sanchez Acequia to grow alfalfa-grass hay. The acequia worked with Colorado Open Lands and the bylaws
    project to develop bylaws that preserve their oral traditions. Photo by Christi Bode

    It wasn’t until 2009 that the Colorado Legislature passed the Acequia Recognition Law. The law was developed by Rep. Ed Vigil with the help of the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, an entity that represents more than 73 acequias and 300 families who depend on them. Amended in 2013, the law solidifies the rights of acequia users. According to the Colorado Acequia Handbook, it allows “acequias to continue to exercise their traditional roles in governing community access to water, and also strengthens their ability to protect their water.”

    In order to be recognized under the Acequia Recognition Act, acequias needed bylaws. Over the past six years, Colorado Open Lands, the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, and the University of Colorado Boulder have partnered to help 42 acequias write bylaws, thereby protecting their water. “The bylaws were still based, in large part, on those oral traditions,” Lopez says, “and included protective language that said, ‘If a water right is sold, or a piece of land is sold, that acequia gets the first right to purchase those rights.’”

    Even having water rights doesn’t guarantee water access: Over the past few decades, the federal government has settled longstanding water rights cases with sovereign tribes, in many cases backdating tribal water rights to the dates of their reservations’ establishment. Although the tribes now have the nation’s oldest established water rights, they haven’t always, and they still come up against structural and financial barriers that prevent them from developing water and getting the real benefit of those rights.

    Of the more than 570 federally recognized tribes in the United States, as of 2019 only 36 tribal water rights settlements had been federally approved. The Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes in Colorado are among that small number, but despite their long journey, the tribes still don’t have access to all the water they own.

    Tribal water rights have their roots in the Winters Doctrine, a 1908 case which established tribal water rights based on the date the federal government created their reservations—thereby moving tribal water rights to “first in line” among users.

    In the 1970s and ‘80s, the U.S. government filed and worked through claims on behalf of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes to surface waters in southwestern Colorado. In the 1980s, Congress approved a settlement between the tribes, the federal government and other parties; in 2000, the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act was amended, entitling tribes to water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s proposed Animas-La Plata Project (A-LP), as well as from the Dolores Project’s McPhee Reservoir. Construction on A-LP began in 2001, and the project’s key feature, Lake Nighthorse—named for Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell—began filling in 2009.

    Prior to the Dolores Project, many people living in Towaoc, on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, did not have running water and instead trucked it in to fill water tanks at their homes, says Ernest House, Jr., senior policy director with the Keystone Policy Center and former director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. His late father, Ernest House, Sr., was pivotal in that fight for water. “I was fortunate, my father was able to see A-LP completed. I think he probably, in his own right, couldn’t believe that it would have been done and could be done,” he says. But even today, some Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute communities still lack access to water, and aging infrastructure from the 1980s needs updating and repairs.

    “Our tribes as sovereign nations cannot maintain or move forward without access to water,” House says. “We have to remind people that we have tribal nations in Colorado, and that we have other tribes that continue to call Colorado home, that were removed from the state, either by treaty or forced removal,” he says, adding that acknowledging the difficult past must be a part of conversations about the future.

    Those conversations include state, regional, and federal-level water planning. The Colorado tribes are engaged in Colorado’s basin roundtable process, with both tribes occupying seats on the Southwest Basin Roundtable, says Greg Johnson, who heads the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Supply Planning Section (and serves on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees). Through the roundtables, local stakeholders conduct basin-wide water planning that is eventually integrated into the statewide Colorado Water Plan. However, until recently, tribal involvement in regional Colorado River negotiations between the seven U.S. basin states and federal government has been nonexistent. Change is brewing—a 2018 federal Tribal Water Study highlighted how tribal water resources could impact Colorado River operations, while a new Water and Tribes Initiative is working to build tribal capacity and participation in water negotiations throughout the basin.

    “The Utes have been in what we call Colorado for the last 10,000 to 12,000 years,” House says. “It would be a shame if we were left out of the conversations [about water].”

    The External Costs of Industry

    Government is vital to addressing the legacy of environmental injustice, and preventing future problems, but finding solutions also demands reconsidering how business is done.

    Consider Colorado’s relationship with the extraction industry, visible in the 19th-century mines that pock mountain towns, uranium-rich communities like Nulca, and the escalation of oil and gas drilling today. Colorado is an “epicenter” of extraction and environmental justice issues, says Stephanie Malin, associate professor at Colorado State University and a sociologist who studies energy development and extraction.

    Lack of local control in the past has been especially frustrating, Malin says, since private corporations earn profits off the resources but then outsource the impacts. In the end, extractive industries have a track record of leaving communities and governments to bear the costs of cleanup.

    Take Gold King Mine as one high-profile example. In August 2015, wastewater from an abandoned mine in San Juan County contaminated the Animas River between Silverton and Durango. Contractors hired by EPA accidentally caused 3 million gallons of mine waste, laden with heavy metals, to wash into the Animas. New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation all filed to sue EPA, with farmers reporting that they couldn’t water their crops and others saying they had to truck in alternative water supplies. But those responsible for the contamination were long-gone. Like tens of thousands of other mines in the region, the Gold King Mine was abandoned in the early 20th century.

    In August 2015, wastewater from the Gold King Mine was flowing through a series of retention ponds built to contain and filter out heavy metals and chemicals about a quarter of a mile downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colorado. Photo by Blake Beyea

    The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)—more commonly called Superfund—which Congress passed in 1980, was originally set up as a “polluter tax” on oil, gas and chemical companies at risk of contaminating communities or the environment. But Congress never reauthorized the tax, which expired in 1995. By the early 21st century, the fund was bankrupt. Today, these cleanups are funded entirely by taxpayers.

    “It’s part of a bigger pattern of privatizing profit and nationalizing, or socializing, risk,” Malin says. “Then, communities and the environment are left holding the ‘external’ costs.” Those external costs, she says, are nearly unquantifiable: “The intergenerational impacts in particular are so hard to gauge, in terms of what the communities are absorbing.”

    While these problems can seem intractable, there are solutions, Malin says. For example, the bond amounts companies are required to pay up-front should better reflect the actual cost of cleanup, she says. Last year, Colorado lawmakers made strides to unburden taxpayers in just that way, with an update to Colorado’s old mining law.

    The new Colorado law, HB19-1113, makes sure water quality impacts from mining are accounted for and long-term impacts are avoided. The law says that the industry can no longer self bond—a practice that allowed mine operators to demonstrate they had the financial resources to cover clean-up costs rather than providing the resources up front. Without self bonding, taxpayers won’t be left paying for remediation if the company goes bankrupt. It also requires mine operators to factor water quality protection costs into their bond—and requires most to develop a water quality treatment plan. This means that reclamation plans must include a reasonable end date for any needed water quality treatment, hopefully ensuring Colorado will avoid new perpetually polluting mines.

    State lawmakers are currently looking at a more encompassing environmental justice bill, HB20-1143, introduced in January 2020. At press time the bill was still under consideration. If it moves forward as introduced, the bill would increase the maximum civil fine for air and water quality violations—from $10,000 per day to $47,357 per day, which would be adjusted annually according to the consumer price index—reallocating some of the financial burden back on polluters. It would also authorize the use of the money in the state’s water quality improvement fund, which is where those water quality violation fines go, to pay for projects addressing impacts to communities. The bill would also bolster the state’s environmental justice efforts, with a new environmental justice advisory board and environmental justice ombudsperson who would run the advisory board and advocate for environmental justice communities.

    Speaking up for Tomorrow’s Climate

    Environmental justice can’t be about a single issue, says Lizeth Chacón, executive director of the Colorado People’s Alliance, a racial-justice, member-led organization based in Denver and Pueblo. That means looking at water-focused environmental justice alongside related issues such as climate change, racial justice, inequities, poverty, housing, power dynamics, and more.

    “When we are talking to our members, we are talking to them about the fact that they are working two jobs and still cannot put dinner on the table in the week, talking that they live in fear of being deported and being separated from their families, talking about the fact that they are sick, or have headaches, or have to spend money on water because they can’t drink the water coming out of their tap like other people can,” she says. “It can’t be seen as one issue … This work has to be holistic.”

    Lizeth Chacón is the executive director of the Colorado People’s Alliance, a racial justice organization that is working on a climate justice campaign.
    Chacón, a first-generation immigrant from Mexico, emphasizes the importance of engaging and creating opportunities for disadvantaged communities to lead. Photo by Matthew Staver

    Currently, the Colorado People’s Alliance is working on a climate campaign directed by its members in Commerce City. “They said, ‘This is something that’s impacting all of us, regardless of where we’re from, whether we’re undocumented or documented, what our economic status is,’” she says. The Alliance is focused on greenhouse gas emissions, which have immediate health impacts and long-term water effects.

    Another approach in northeast Denver is proceeding thanks to an EPA environmental justice grant, in which organizers will convene youth, local leaders, and scientists to create a community science project that leads to a more fishable and swimmable Denver South Platte River. The river flows through Elyria-Swansea and Globeville, but it used to be a dumping ground, with a landfill beside its banks. Clean ups and improved recreational access, much of which has been spearheaded by the nonprofit Greenway Foundation since its founding in 1974, have created opportunities for kayakers downtown, but river access in northeast Denver, beyond the popular Confluence Park, is limited. In addition, E. Coli levels are often high, making swimming inadvisable. Access to a healthy waterway makes communities more vibrant and whole, supporting health, wellbeing, recreation, and cultural and spiritual practices, but also connection. This may be the only recreational water access available to some urbanites.

    “Rivers are one of the major pathways to healing the environment and healing ourselves,” said Jorge Figueroa at an initial workshop for this project in December 2019, where they began to establish a youth advisory board. Figueroa runs El Laboratorio, an organization that brings people together from different disciplines and cultures to creatively solve environmental challenges. (He is also on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees.) He’s working on this project with Lincoln Hills Cares, a nonprofit that provides outdoor education, recreation and experiences to youth who may not otherwise have these opportunities; and Colorado State University, which is developing a new campus at the National Western Center, called Spur, in the neighborhood. The partners expect to have a plan ready by the end of 2020, and the project should begin in 2021.

    Figueroa, who grew up and has family in Puerto Rico, also witnessed, up close, the wave of climate refugees who left his home state after Hurricane Maria devastated it in 2017.

    “It’s critical for us to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure and in the reliability of our municipal potable water systems,” Figueroa says. “But from an equity perspective, we need to ensure that the more than a trillion dollars that will be invested in the nation’s public water systems provide the most benefit to the most people.” His suggestion to build climate resiliency in an equitable way: water conservation. “Water conservation can be a supreme water equity tool: It provides cheaper water for the community and more resiliency and reliability for the system. It’s not only an ideal climate change adaptation strategy but also is one of the top, by far, equity water strategies.” When you don’t consider equity in water decisions, you can make vulnerable communities more vulnerable, he says.

    Whether working to improve environmental justice structurally and physically through conservation and resiliencies, or politically and financially through new regulations, bonding or taxation, there are many opportunities to do better. But there are also social justice elements to work on. Chacón recommends involving community members at the beginning of a process—not at the end. She says it’s important to listen—and to not dismiss people when they disagree.

    Looking forward, it’s up to everyone in positions of power to actively create space for disadvantaged communities to lead, says Chacón. “To us, the people who are closest to the pain are the ones closest to the solution because they know what’s happening in their community best of anyone.”

    Some of the principles of engaging communities in these situations are “almost universal,” says Colorado’s Michael Wenstrom, an environmental protection specialist in EPA’s Environmental Justice Program. Wenstrom worked in Flint over the course of a year following the water emergency, “assisting them to connect with processes, in understanding what their rights are, and helping them learn how to raise their voices effectively,” he says.

    He says that where communities and families are already overburdened—with poverty, crime, racism—they often don’t have time, expertise or resources to recognize the problems, nevermind address them. “In addition, people in low-income communities may be less inclined to raise their voices for various reasons,” Wenstrom says. Reasons could include racism, job discrimination, or, for some, the fear of being identified as an illegal resident.

    He says officials like him who come into communities as outsiders must be careful, persistent, and work to build trust. “As trust builds, we can then start pointing people toward tackling issues related to pollution or public health,” he says. But, Wenstrom cautions, if people don’t believe they can make a difference, they won’t raise their voices in the first place.

    Laura Paskus is a reporter in Albuquerque N.M., where her show, “Our Land: New Mexico’s Environmental Past, Present and Future,” airs on New Mexico PBS. Caitlin Coleman is editor of Headwaters magazine.

    How Colorado’s water conversation has shifted in the 21st century — The Mountain Town News

    Xeriscape landscape

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Water providers have shifted their focus

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board, the primary water-policy agency for the state, met last week in Westminster, and afterward I had dinner with a friend. The friend, who has long worked in the environmental advocacy space, spoke of some matter before the board, and added this: “Twenty years ago this conversation never would have happened.”

    Water politics in Colorado have undergone a Big Pivot. As the century turned, environmental issues had made inroads into the conversation, but water development remained a dominant theme. Then came the drought of 2002, which more or less changed everything. So has the growing realization of how the changing climate will impact the already over-extended resources of the Colorado River.

    Instead of a deep, deep bucket, to be returned to again and again, the Colorado River has become more or less an empty bucket.

    Jeff Tejral. Photo via The Mountain Town News

    Those realizations were evident in a panel discussion at the Colorado Water Congress about water conservation and efficiency. Jeff Tejral, representing Denver Water, spoke to the “changes over the last 20 years” that have caused Denver Water and other water utilities to embrace new water-saving technology and altered choices about outdoor water use.

    Denver Water literally invented the word xeriscaping. That was before the big, big drought or the understandings of climate change as a big, big deal. Twenty years ago, the Colorado Water Congress would never have hosted panels on climate change. This year it had several.

    Tejral pointed to the growth in Denver, the skyscrapers now omnipresent in yet another boom cycle, one that has lifted the city’s population over 700,000 and which will likely soon move the metropolitan area’s population above 3 million. That growth argues for continued attention to water efficiency and conservation, as Denver—a key provider for many of its suburbs—has limited opportunities for development of new supplies. “The other part of it is climate change,” he said. “That means water change.”

    Denver Water has partnered with a company called Greyter Water Systems on a pilot project involving 40 homes at Stapleton likely to begin in June or July. It involves new plumbing but also water reuse, not for potable purposes but for non-potable purposes. John Bell, a co-founder of the company, who was also on the panel, explained that his company’s technology allows water to be treated within the house and put to appropriate uses there at minimal cost.

    “It makes no sense to flush a toilet with perfectly good drinking water, and now with Greyter, you don’t have to,” he said.

    For decades Denver has had a reuse program. Sewage water treated to high standards is applied to golf courses and other landscaping purposes. Because of the requirements for separate pipes—always purple, to indicate the water is not good for drinking—its use is somewhat limited.

    A proposal has been moving though the Colorado Department of Public Health rule-making process for several years now that would expand use of greywater and set requirements for direct potable reuse. The pilot project at Stapleton would appear to be part of that slow-moving process.

    Greyter Water Systems, meanwhile, has been forging partnerships with homebuilders, the U.S. Department of Defense, and others in several small projects.

    “It seems like 40 homes in Colorado is a small step,” said Tejral, “but a lot of learning will come out of that, which will open the door for the next 400, and then the next 4,000.”

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    There are limits to this, however, as water cannot be recycled unless it’s imported into a basin. Water users downstream depend upon releases of water from upstream. Water in the South Platte River Basin is estimated to have 6 or 7 uses before it gets to Nebraska.

    In the Eagle River Valley, the streams gush with runoff from the Gore and Sawatch ranges, but there can be pinches during years of drought. That area, said Linn Brooks, who directs the Eagle River Water and Sanitation Districts, has a population of between 35,000 and 60,000 between Vail and Wolcott, “depending where we are during our tourist year.”

    Water efficiency programs can make a big difference in what flows in the local creeks and rivers. Brooks pointed to 2018, a year of exceptionally low snowfall. New technologies and policies that put tools into the hands of customers reduced water use 30% during a one-month pinch, resulting in 8 cubic feet per second more water flowing in local creeks and rivers. During that time, Gore Creek was running 16 cfs through Vail. It flows into the Eagle River, which was running 25 cfs. “So saving 8 cfs was really significant,” she said.

    Many of Eagle Valley’s efficiency programs focus on outdoor water use. That is because the water delivery for summer outdoor use drives the most capacity investment and delivery expenses. “Really, that is the most expensive water that we provide,” Brooks said.

    Tap fees and monthly billings have been adjusted to reflect those costs. One concept embraced by Eagle River Water and Sanitation is called water budgeting. “Our hope is that water budgeting will continue to increase the downward trend of water use per customer that we’ve had for the last 20 years for at least another 10 years,” she said.

    Linn Brooks. Photo via The Mountain Town News

    Eagle River also has tried to incentivize good design. The district negotiates with real estate developers based on the water treatment capacity their projects will require. “That is a way to get them to build more water-efficient projects, especially on the outdoors side,” explained Brooks. “When we execute these agreements, we put water limits on them. If they go over that, we charge them more for their tap fee. That can be a pretty big cost. We don’t like to do that, but we have found that in those few cases where new developments go over their water limits, we have gone back to them and said, we might have to reassess the water tap fees, but what we really want you to do is stay within your water budget.” That tactic, she added, has usually worked.

    In this concept of water budgeting, she said, “I don’t think we have even begun to scrape the surface of the potential.”

    Outdoor water use has also been a focal point of efforts by Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the agency created to deliver water to customers from the trans-mountain diversion at Grand Lake. Municipalities from Broomfield and Boulder north to Fort Collins and Greeley, even Fort Morgan, get water from the diversion.

    Frank Kinder was recently hired away from Colorado Springs Utilities to become the full-time water efficiency point person for Northern. Part of the agency’s effort is to introduce the idea that wall to wall turf need not be installed for a pleasing landscape. Instead, Northern pushes the idea of hybrid landscapes and also introduces alternatives for tricky areas that are hard to irrigate. The ultimate goal falls under the heading of “smiles per gallon.” Some of the district’s thinking can be seen in the xeriscaping displays at Northern’s office complex in Berthoud.

    Kevin Reidy, who directs water conservation efforts for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the Colorado Water Plan posited a goal of reducing water use by 400,000 acre-feet. Don’t get caught up in that precise number, he advised. “It’s really about trying to figure out a more stable water future for our cities,” he said.

    Readers might well be confused by an agency named “water conservation” having an employee with the title of “water conservation specialist.” The story here seems to be that the word conservation has changed over time. In 1937, when the agency was created, water conservation to most people meant creating dams and other infrastructure to prevent the water from flowing downhill. Now, conservation means doing as much or more with less.

    On why Eagle River Water takes aim at outdoor use

    The amount of water used outdoors is generally twice that used for indoor purposes, and only about 15% to 40% of water used outdoors makes its way back to local waterways.

    None of this water is returned to local streams through a wastewater plant. Most of the water is consumed by plant needs or evaporation; what is leftover percolates through the ground and may eventually make its way to a local stream.

    — From the Eagle River Water website

    This was originally published in the Feb. 18, 2020, issue of Big Pivots.

    Video opinion: Battle over San Luis Valley water draws in sandhill cranes — The #Colorado Sun

    Here’s a guest column from Max Ciaglo that’s running in The Colorado Sun:

    Sandhill cranes have been migrating through the San Luis Valley of Colorado for thousands of years. The Rio Grande River likely attracted the first cranes to the Valley, providing the ideal habitat and abundant food resources that they required to complete their migration.

    Early settlers brought agriculture to the San Luis Valley with them. To irrigate fields to grow hay, farmers diverted water from rivers onto the land, mimicking natural wetlands and effectively expanding habitat for cranes to thrive. When wheat and barley farming began in the valley in the 1900s, it also provided a high-calorie food resource that buoyed crane populations that were dwindling throughout North America.

    Max Ciaglo. Photo credit: Colorado Open Lands

    More than 50% of land in the valley is now publicly owned, but over 90% of existing wetlands are on private farmlands. Although these lands and the water on them are managed as part of private business operations, they provide critical habitat for sandhill cranes.

    However, we in Colorado relate all too well to the sentiment that “whiskey’s for drinking; water’s for fighting.”

    The battles are fought on many fronts: agricultural versus municipal users; rural towns versus urban centers. Water often flows towards money.

    Water in Colorado’s rivers and streams is sometimes diverted from one river basin to meet the demands of another. These exports take water from once-productive agricultural lands and dry them up in the process, and the wildlife that depend on these lands are often left out of the discussion entirely.

    In the San Luis Valley declining groundwater and extended drought have already left the land thirsty for water. But even now, as Colorado knocks on the door of a third decade of consistent drought conditions, other interests are eyeing water from the valley’s underground aquifer to export to growing cities on the Front Range of Colorado.

    Farmers and ranchers across the valley have been working together with partners like Colorado Open Lands and other local coalitions for decades to protect and conserve their water. As they come together once again to fight the threat of water export, they are fighting to make sure that there is a future for agriculture in the Rio Grande Basin. And as long as there is a future for agriculture there will be a future for sandhill cranes.

    Max Ciaglo is the Grain for Cranes Fellow at Colorado Open Lands, a statewide land and water conservation nonprofit. The Grain for Cranes program aims to support sandhill crane habitat by supporting agriculture in the San Luis Valley. Find out more at ColoradoOpenLands.org.

    Sandhill cranes. Photo: Scott Helfrich/Audubon Photography Awards

    #ColoradoRiver drought study advances as participants call for fairness between cities, ranches — @WaterEdCO #COriver #aridification

    Lake Powell would become home to a special 500,000 acre foot drought pool if Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico agree to save enough water to fill it. Credit: Creative Commons

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    If Colorado decides to join in an historic Colorado River drought protection effort, one that would require setting aside as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Powell, can it find a fair way to get the work done? A way that won’t cripple farm economies and one which ensures Front Range cities bear their share of the burden?

    That was one of the key questions more than 100 people, citizen volunteers and water managers, addressed last week as part of a two-day meeting in Denver to continue exploring whether the state should participate in the effort. The Lake Powell drought pool, authorized by Congress last year as part of the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, would help protect Coloradans if the Colorado River, at some point in the future, hits a crisis point, triggering mandatory cutbacks.

    But finding ways to set aside that much water, the equivalent of what roughly 1 million people use in a year at home, is a complex proposition. The voluntary program, if created, would pay water users who agree to participate. And it would mean farmers fallowing fields in order to send their water downstream and cities convincing their customers to do with less water in order to do the same. The concept has been dubbed “demand management.”

    Among the key issues discussed at the joint Interbasin Compact Committee and demand management work group confab last week is whether there is a truly equitable way to fill the drought pool that doesn’t disproportionately impact one region or sector in the state.

    In addition, a majority of participants reported that they wanted any drought plan to include environmental analyses to ensure whichever methods are selected don’t harm streams and river habitat.

    Some pointed to the need to identify “tipping points” when reduced water use would create harmful economic effects in any given community, and suggested that demand management be viewed as a shared responsibility.

    Flipping the narrative of shared responsibility, participants said sharing benefits equally was important as well. They want to ensure that people selected to participate would do so on a time-limited basis, so that a wide variety of entities have the opportunity to benefit from the payments coming from what is likely to be a multi-million-dollar program.

    “People are starting to get it,” said Russell George. George is a former lawmaker who helped create the 15-year-old public collaborative program which facilitates and helps negotiate issues that arise among Colorado’s eight major river basins and metro area via basin roundtables. He chairs the Interbasin Compact Committee, composed of delegates from those roundtables.

    “It’s understood that we have to be fair about this and we have to share [the burden] or it won’t work. I think we’re making great progress,” George said.

    The Colorado River is a major source of the state’s water, with all Western Slope and roughly half of Front Range water supplies derived from its flows.

    But growing populations, chronic drought and climate change pose sharp risks to the river’s ability to sustain all who depend on it. The concept behind the drought pool is to help reduce the threat of future mandatory cutbacks to Colorado water users under the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

    The public demand management study process, facilitated by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, has caused concern among different user groups, including farmers. Because growers consume so much of the state’s water, they worry that they are the biggest target for water use reductions, which could directly harm their livelihoods if the program isn’t implemented carefully and on a temporary basis.

    In early 2019 the seven states that comprise the Colorado River Basin—Arizona, California and Nevada in the Lower Basin, and Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming in the Upper Basin—agreed for the first time to a series of steps, known as the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan, to help stave off a crisis on the river.

    Colorado River Basin. Map credit: The Water Education Foundation

    And while Lower Basin states have already begun cutting back water use in order to store more in Lake Mead, the four Upper Basin states are still studying how best to participate to shore up Lake Powell. For the drought pool program to move forward, all four states would need to agree and contribute to the pool. George pointed to Colorado as a leader among the four states, saying it would likely be responsible for contributing as much as 250,000 acre-feet to the pool.

    “We appreciate the focus, dedication and collaboration of our work group members,” said CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell in a statement. “This workshop was the next step in sharing ideas for Colorado’s water future, and positioning our state as a national leader for cooperative problem solving.”

    The eight major volunteer work groups, addressing such topics as the law, the environment, agriculture and water administration, will continue meeting throughout the year, with a mid-point report based on their findings to date due out sometime this summer.

    Travis Smith, a former CWCB board member from Del Norte who is now participating on the agriculture work group, said he is hopeful that the work groups will be able to come up with a plan the public will endorse. Any final plan will likely have to be approved by Colorado lawmakers.

    “Coming together to address Colorado’s water future is something we’ve been practicing through the [nine river basin roundtables] for years. Will we get there? Absolutely,” Smith said.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    Bennet, Bipartisan Senators Introduce Legislation to Fully Fund LWCF, Invest in Public Land Infrastructure — @SenatorBenett

    A wetland along Castle Creek. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s office:

    After Decade-Long Effort to Secure Full LWCF Funding, Support Builds around Bennet’s Proposal

    Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Great American Outdoors Act, legislation to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and reduce the $19 billion dollar maintenance backlog on our public lands. Bennet announced the bipartisan legislation at a press conference last week.

    “From Rocky Mountain National Park to the Animas River Trail, Colorado’s public lands are central to our identity and vital for our economy. After working on these proposals for years, I’m hopeful that we’ve reached a tipping point with the legislation we’ve introduced today to fully fund LWCF and address the staggering maintenance backlog, which is the result of years of chronic underfunding for our public lands,” said Bennet. “I hope that this is the start of something that our children and grandchildren can look back on and thank us for. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this bill over the finish line.”

    The Great American Outdoors Act would permanently fund LWCF at a level of $900 million and establish a separate restoration fund to address the maintenance backlog at the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Education, and the Bureau of Land Management using existing revenues from on and offshore energy development.

    Bennet has made permanently reauthorizing and fully funding LWCF a top priority since joining the Senate in 2009.

    Bennet led the effort to permanently reauthorize the program in Congress with U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), introducing bipartisan legislation in 2015, and in every subsequent Congress. When LWCF expired in September 2015, Bennet spoke on the Senate floor and wrote to Congressional leadership to help secure a three-year authorization in the end-of-year spending bill. When the program was set to expire again in September 2018, Bennet worked with Burr to file an amendment to the Farm Bill. He also introduced a separate bill with U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Burr to permanently reauthorize and fully fund LWCF. In March 2019, he successfully advocated for the permanent reauthorization of LWCF as part of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. He joined the full funding bill again in April 2019 when it was reintroduced.

    Over the years, Bennet has visited several LWCF-funded projects in Colorado, including the Animas River Trail in 2016 and the Yampa River Project in 2018, to learn about and highlight the importance of LWCF in Colorado. LWCF has invested more than $281 million in Colorado projects since its inception.

    Bennet has also advocated for robust funding for federal land management agencies for years, sending a letter to former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in 2017 with proposals to address the national park maintenance backlog in Colorado. Bennet cosponsored the Restore Our Parks Act in 2018, and was an original cosponsor of the legislation when it was reintroduced in 2019.

    Most voters favor enviroment protections — The #ColoradoSprings Independent @RockiesProject

    From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West poll, released Feb. 20, shows Colorado voters support protecting more public lands in the face of climate change and energy development threats. The 10th annual poll also surveyed voters in Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming and found:

    • 69 percent of those polled label themselves as “conservationists” and vote accordingly.
    • 81 percent consider an elected official’s stance on issues involving water, air, wildlife and public lands “important” when deciding how to vote.
    • 47 percent say those are “primary” issues in their voting decision, a sharp increase from 31 percent in 2016.

    “… voters in Colorado and across the West increasingly believe their lands and lifestyles are coming under attack from the impacts of climate change and energy development,” CC associate professor and director of the State of the Rockies Project Corina McKendry said in a release. Read more at https://www.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies/conservationinthewest/.

    Colorado College poll: Western voters find common ground on environment as priority — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    Climate change has long been one of the most polarizing issues dividing conservative and progressive voters, but a recent Colorado College poll of residents in eight Western states found potential for common ground on environmental protections..

    National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara said he expected the hyper-local effects of climate change, such as wildfire and drought, to succeed in uniting voters on the need for action, where national climate campaigns focused on puffins and polar bears had failed.

    “When we’re talking about fires in your backyard … talking about the droughts, things that affect backyards, it all of a sudden becomes real and it all of a sudden becomes a shared value,” O’Mara said, during a panel about the poll results.

    The 10th annual State of the Rockies survey conducted in January supports O’Mara’s expectation showing 80% of voters in Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico and Idaho consider a public official’s stance on air, water, wildlife and public lands protections a primary election issue on par with the economy, health care and education.

    Decades of political inaction on climate change and carbon-cutting measures was driven, in part, by a “false choice” between protecting the environment and hurting the economy, said former Democratic Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University.

    Now that renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, have fallen below the cost of coal-fired power plants, he said he expects more conservatives to back a transition to clean energy because there is a strong business case for it.

    Market forces have already pushed major electrical utilities in Western states to embrace ambitious targets for cutting coal power in the coming years because renewables are a more economical choice, he said. Since 2008, all of the coal-powered generation that has been retired in the West has been replaced by renewable generation, he said…

    Many Republicans in Western states believe in conservation, in part, because they are hunters and anglers, said Greg Brophy, Colorado director for The Western Way, a right-leaning conservation group. His assertion is backed up by the recent poll, which found 69% of voters across all eight states identify as conservationists.

    However, Republicans want to make sure environmental protection is done in a way that is affordable and makes economic sense, he said…

    Nationally, concern about climate change is rising faster among Democrats than Republicans with some ranking it as the No. 1 issue over health care, housing and the economy nationally, said Dave Metz, with FM3 research, a left-leaning company that worked on the poll.

    Among conservative voters, climate change has not risen to the top as dramatically, but awareness about it is growing as they observe severe weather patterns over time, said Lori Weigel, with New Bridge Strategy, a right-leaning company that worked on the poll.

    The poll reflected that changing sentiment with 32% of voters across five Western states, including Colorado, naming climate change the most important environmental problem, up from 5% in 2011.

    The poll examined the views of 3,200 voters on a range of environmental issues, including renewable energy, water, public land and wildlife protections. Of those polled, 39% identified as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 23% as an independent or another affiliation and 3% refused to identify their political party.

    Here’s a guest column from Marne Hayes that’s running in Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

    A decade of polling by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies project shows that people across the West care deeply and are increasingly concerned about issues related to our outdoor way of life and the quality of our air, water, wildlife and public lands. The Colorado College Conservation in the West poll surveys the views of eight Mountain West states including Montana and looks at how these priorities and concerns influence voters.

    The poll results released this week show that nationally, 80% consider a decision maker’s stance on issues involving air, water, public lands and wildlife when gauging their support; up significantly from just 31% in 2016. In Montana, that number jumps to 84%, with 75% of us considering ourselves conservationists, concerned with issues that affect our outdoor way of life, and our natural assets. Half of those polled across the West – 44% – said that these issues are not just important, but a “primary factor” in their decision to support elected officials.

    The poll touches on everything from the basic qualities of our air, water and wildlife issues woven through our public lands, as well as the opinions about policies that focus on protections, issues related to oil and gas development, mining on public lands, climate change concerns and support for programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund that invest in our outdoor infrastructure.

    In Montana, 67% of us support full, dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and 73% think that portions of existing public lands where wildlife migrate each year should not be open to oil and gas drilling. Fifty-seven percent of those polled think that action should be taken to address climate change – a +12 percentage-point jump from 2011. Past research by the University of Montana offers related findings, with 82% of Montanans overwhelmingly saying that public lands help the economy.

    Clearly, our public lands and the outdoor way of life that supports our communities, jobs and the economy of the state are of deep importance to us in Montana. The Colorado College poll shows that support for conservation on public lands remains consistent and strong over the last decade, with “urgency and demand for action” intensifying as voters in Montana and the West “increasingly believe their lands and lifestyles are coming under attack” from impacts of threats to our public lands. The urgency behind these concerns is not just about our way of life, but our livelihoods as well.

    Montana’s outdoor industry supports 71,000 jobs and consumer spending at over $7 billion. With nearly 34 million acres of public lands serving over 20 million visitors annually, our outdoors are a critical pillar in a thriving and robust economy across the state.

    Gov. Bullock, who this week presented on the findings of the Conservation in the West Poll summed it up, saying, “Folks out West have a special appreciation for our public lands, and we know our public lands are our heritage, our birthright, and our great equalizer.” In addition to providing the backdrop for our Montana way of life, study after study shows our public lands are crucial to our economic future and the small businesses leading the way.

    Our public lands, our air, clean water and wildlife are all critical to our Montana way of life. In the roster of Business for Montana’s Outdoors, 225 business and roughly 4,600 jobs are directly impacted by our outdoors, and the competitive advantages that our public lands provide. It is clear that as Montanans, and citizens of the West, we are increasingly concerned, and want our elected leaders to fight for responsible conservation policies because jobs and our economic future depend on it. We hope those officials and those campaigning to hold public office are listening.

    To see the full poll, visit http://www.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies/conservationinthewest

    Report: Colorado’s farm water use exceeds national average, despite efforts to conserve — @WateEdCO

    An irrigation ditch flows on the Marshall Mesa in Boulder County. A new USDA report shows little progress has been made in reducing overall ag water use in the state, despite millions of dollars spent on water-saving projects. Credit: Jerd Smith via The Fresh Water News (Water Education Colorado)

    From The Fresh Water News (Jerd Smith):

    Colorado’s farm water use remains stubbornly high, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, despite millions of dollars spent on experimental water-saving programs and a statewide push to conserve water.

    Farm water is critical to Colorado’s effort to balance a growing population with a water system stressed by drought and climate change. Farmers are the largest users of water in Colorado and other Western states. On the Front Range, for instance, growers use about 89 percent of available supplies, according to the Colorado Water Plan, while cites and industry consume less than 10 percent.

    State water officials and environmentalists have long called for finding ways to use less water on farms as one way to make Colorado’s drought- and growth-pressured supplies go further.

    Although some individual operations are finding success in improving water efficiency, the new report shows little progress has been made on a statewide level. While the national average has gone steadily down since 2003, Colorado’s ag water use has not changed, remaining almost exactly where it was 17 years ago, according to the USDA’s Irrigation and Water Management Survey, which is conducted every five years.

    Colorado growers applied an average of 1.6 acre-feet of water per acre in 2018, according to the USDA, slightly above the 1.5 acre-foot-per-acre average nationwide.

    Graphic via Water Education Colorado

    Bill Meyer, Colorado director of the USDA program that produces the survey, said it wasn’t clear why the numbers aren’t showing a reduction. “You would assume that with better technologies and farming practices that it would have gone down.”

    A complex beast

    But Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg said the USDA report doesn’t capture the layered realities of Western water.

    “These surveys and charts don’t tell the whole story,” Greenberg said. “It’s an incredibly complex beast, both from the legal and hydrologic perspective.”

    The new report comes at the same time Colorado cities, such as Denver, have become remarkably savvy in cutting water use, saving more than 20 percent in the last decade. They’ve done this largely by shrinking lawns, offering incentives to use water-saving plants, and enacting price increases, strategies that are largely unavailable to farmers.

    And Colorado isn’t the only state struggling.

    Seven arid states comprise the Colorado River Basin—Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California—and all exceed the national average for farm water use, with the exception of Wyoming, which uses 1.5 acre-feet of water per acre, in line with the national average.

    While it comes as no surprise that arid states would use more water than rain-rich states like Nebraska and Missouri, it doesn’t make the problem any less urgent, water officials said.

    The pressure is on

    Water managers are well aware of the public call for conservation.

    “There is no doubt that with climate change and urbanization, the pressure is on [to reduce the use of] ag water,” said Aaron Derwingson, a farm water expert with The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Project. “A lot of people are saying, ‘If ag got more efficient we wouldn’t have [these looming shortages] this problem.”

    Numerous programs are aimed at further improving farm water efficiency and conserving water that could eventually be freed up to share with cities or to benefit the environment while preserving farm economies.

    Derek White Heckman farms 1,200 acres near Lamar in southeastern Colorado. In an effort to become more efficient with his water use, he is experimenting with cover crops, which when grown after a major crop such as corn is harvested help boost soil nutrients and, equally important, help keep moisture in the soil. Because rain is so scarce in this region, he’s willing to try almost anything to make sure he uses every drop of water that comes through his irrigation ditch.

    And none of the work is easy, Greenberg said.

    “Producers have been making progress in using new efficient technologies, but just because they are getting more efficient, doesn’t mean that they are going to divert less,” Greenberg said. “The legal liability for water right holders is that if they don’t use the full amount, they risk losing it.”

    She is referring to Colorado’s prior appropriation system, in which the right to use water can be maintained only if it continues to be put to beneficial use. Water rights are subject to complex quantification analyses in the event of a transfer or sale. Although the only part of the water right that is transferable is the part that is technically “consumed” to grow the crop, much misconception remains around the notion of “use it or lose it.” Farmers who divert less, as they’re being encouraged to do, often don’t, because they fear losing their full water right, Greenberg said.

    Ancient v. modern irrigation

    Decades ago, the majority of Colorado farm fields were watered using flood irrigation, a simple, but labor-intensive method that fills field furrows with water to saturate adjacent rows. It is considered only 50 percent efficient. Today, less than half of those fields are watered using flood irrigation, with the majority now using a much more efficient technology that sprinkles fields, allowing water to be applied more precisely and reducing evaporation, according to the USDA report.

    An irrigation system known as a center pivot sprinkler sits in a field near Longmont, Colo. The systems have helped Colorado use its farm water more efficiently, but state use still exceeds the national average. Credit: Jerd Smith via The Fresh Water News (Water Education Colorado)

    Still, the most modern, efficient systems for irrigating crops, subsurface or drip irrigation, are used on fewer than 1 percent of Colorado fields, according to the USDA, in part because they are much more expensive than traditional methods and because they don’t fit well with Colorado’s crop mix.

    Nationwide roughly 10 percent of farm fields use these modern systems, according to the USDA survey.

    Drip systems work best with high-dollar crops, such as vegetables, which comprise a small portion of Colorado’s farm economy.

    Pricey upgrades

    The vast majority of Colorado farmers grow corn, wheat and hay, whose low commodity prices don’t justify pricey high-tech watering technologies, Greenberg said.

    Installation of one sprinkler system, for instance, can cost $700 per acre, while a subsurface drip irrigation system can cost nearly twice that amount, at $1,331, according to research done at Kansas State University.

    The lack of progress frustrates farm conservation experts. They say that changes to Colorado’s laws to remove conservation disincentives may be needed as well as more funding to modernize farm ditches and diversion structures.

    “It’s a tough situation,” said Joel Schneekloth, regional water resource specialist with the Colorado State University Extension Service.

    Finding just enough

    Colorado’s scenic, historic irrigation ditches lose significant amounts of water to seepage and evaporation, some of which actually enhances wildlife habitat and streams and helps ensure farmers downstream have enough water (via return flows) to fulfill their own water rights.

    “It takes a certain amount of water just to run a canal system,” Schneekloth said. “Often you can’t reduce that amount unless you line the canals, but then you run into reduced return flows farther downstream.”

    “We would like to get to a point where we are putting on just enough water, but not excess water,” Schneekloth said.

    Clint Evans is Colorado State Conservationist with the USDA. His agency spent $45 million in 2019 on some 600 farm water conservation projects, all with the hope of helping Colorado farmers use their water more efficiently. And the projects have shown some success.

    One project in the Grand Valley has lined and piped miles of irrigation ditches, allowing some 30,000 acre-feet of previously diverted water to remain in the Colorado River.

    Still, given the vast amounts of water used, these small programs have yet to move the needle significantly, according to the report.

    Food or development?

    Even as Colorado considers new ways to conserve farm water, some fear that across-the-board cuts in farm water use could cripple local farm economies, hurt streams and wetlands that have come to rely on the excess water that flows off of irrigated fields, and eventually limit Colorado’s ability to grow food.

    “The most common way I’ve seen the narrative framed is, ‘If ag uses 80 percent of the water, and we could get that down to 70 percent, the Front Range could grow [urbanize] as much as it wants,” Greenberg said, “meaning that growth has a greater value than water used in farming.

    “What we could choose to say, instead, is that we value our farmers and ranchers, and we value being able to produce our own food just as much as the rampant development that is gobbling up ag land and ag water,” Greenberg said.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    Study Details Effectiveness of Kansas Program That Pays Farmers to Conserve Water — @UnivOfKansas

    Plots of land in Finney County, Kansas, utilize irrigation water from the High Plains Aquifer. Credit: NASA via the University of Kansas

    From the University of Kansas (Jon Niccum):

    Crops need water. And in the central United States, the increasing scarcity of water resources is becoming a threat to the nation’s food production.

    Tsvetan Tsvetanov, assistant professor of economics at the University of Kansas, has analyzed a pilot program intended to conserve water in the agriculture-dependent region. His article “The Effectiveness of a Water Right Retirement Program at Conserving Water,” co-written with fellow KU economics professor Dietrich Earnhart, is published in the current issue of Land Economics.

    “Residential water use is mostly problematic in California, and not so much here in Kansas. However, people don’t realize that residential use is tiny compared to agricultural use,” Tsvetanov said.

    “I don’t want to discourage efforts to conserve water use among residential households. But if we want to really make a difference, it’s the agricultural sector that needs to change its practices.”

    That’s the impetus behind the Kansas Water Right Transition Assistance Program (WTAP).

    “If you’re a farmer, you need water to irrigate. If you don’t irrigate, you don’t get to sell your crops, and you lose money. So the state says if you reduce the amount of water you use, it’s actually going to pay you. So it’s essentially compensating you to irrigate less,” he said.

    But this is not a day-to-day solution. The state recompenses farmers to permanently retire their water rights. The five-year pilot program that began in 2008 offers up to $2,000 for every acre-foot retired.

    This benefits the High Plains Aquifer, the world’s largest freshwater aquifer system, which is located beneath much of the Great Plains. Around 21 million acre-feet of water is withdrawn from this system, primarily for agricultural purposes.

    Tsvetanov and Earnhart’s work distinguishes the effectiveness between two target areas: creek sub-basins and high-priority areas. Their study (which is the first to directly estimate the effects of water right retirement) found WTAP resulted in no reduction of usage in the creek areas but substantial reduction in the high-priority areas.

    “Our first thought was, ‘That’s not what we expected,’” Tsvetanov said.

    “The creeks are the geographic majority of what’s being covered by the policy. The high-priority areas are called that for a reason — they’ve been struggling for many years. Our best guess is that farmers there were more primed to respond to the policy because there is awareness things are not looking good, and something needs to be done. So as soon as a policy became available which compensated them for the reduction of water use, they were quicker to take advantage of it.”

    Of the eight states sitting atop the High Plains Aquifer, Texas is the worst in terms of water depletion volume. However, Kansas suffers from the fastest rate of depletion during the past half-century.

    “Things are quite dire,” Tsvetanov said. “The western part of Kansas is more arid, so they don’t get as much precipitation as we do here in the east. Something needs to change in the long run, and this is just the first step.”

    Tsvetanov initially was studying solar adoption while doing his postdoctoral work at Yale University in Connecticut. When visiting KU for a job interview, he assumed the sunny quality of the Wheat State would be a great fit for his research. He soon realized that few policies incentivized the adoption of solar.

    “At that point, I thought, ‘I can’t really adapt solar research to the state of Kansas because there’s not much going on here.’ And then I started getting more interested in water scarcity because this truly is a big local issue,” he said.

    A native of Bulgaria who was raised in India (as a member of a diplomat’s family), Tsvetanov is now in his fifth year at KU. He studies energy and environmental economics, specifically how individual household choices factor into energy efficiency and renewable resources.

    The state of Kansas spent $2.9 million in the half decade that the WTAP pilot program ran. Roughly 6,000 acre-feet of water rights were permanently retired.

    “Maybe it’s a start, but it’s not something you would expect to stabilize the depletion,” Tsvetanov said. “This is just a drop in the bucket. Essentially what we need is some alternative source of income for those people living out there, aside from irrigation-intensive agriculture.”

    Opinion: Forever means forever. #Colorado’s iconic landscapes require “perpetual conservation easements” protection — The Colorado Sun

    From The Colorado Sun (Melissa Daruna):

    There has been a lot of talk in the local news lately about perpetual conservation easements. What is this tool, and why should people care?

    A perpetual conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government entity to protect land — and its associated natural resources — forever.

    The core goal is permanent protection. We need this tool to permanently protect Colorado’s iconic landscapes. It’s therefore critical that we protect the tool.

    Melissa Daruna. Photo credit: Keep it Colorado

    Since 1965, nonprofit land trusts and their partners have helped Colorado landowners conserve more than three million acres of working lands, wildlife habitat and open spaces that define our state and contribute to our quality of life.

    This work is voluntary, collaborative, nonpartisan and local. More than 30 nonprofit land trusts are responsible for the stewardship of nearly 80% of the 2.2 million acres of private land conserved in this state — and they rely on perpetual conservation easements to ensure this activity continues.

    To use an example of one well-known area that is permanently protected, let’s look at Greenland Ranch.

    Greenland Ranch is an undeniably gorgeous eight-mile span of rolling hills, rugged overlooks and sweeping vistas that drivers see as they travel along I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs.

    Sitting on 21,000 acres, it is the oldest-operating cattle ranch on the Front Range. It’s hard to imagine that drive without the open space that, for so many, is iconic of Colorado and everything our state represents — and that draws people here in the first place.

    Greenland Ranch. Photo credit: John Fielder via the Conservation Fund

    And yet, given all of the growth in Colorado in recent years, it’s also easy to imagine how that view would change if dotted with subdivisions, strip malls and big-box stores. Such development would create a radically different look and feel for our Colorado.

    Fortunately, that second scenario will never take place on Greenland Ranch. Urban sprawl will never define that land, thanks to a conservation easement that permanently protects it — and the commitment of land conservation partners and the landowner who shared a vision to keep the area in its natural state.

    The list of properties around the state that Coloradans enjoy and that are protected by perpetual conservation easements is long — from peach orchards in Palisade, to Fisher’s Peak in Trinidad, to a mining claim now protected as open space in San Juan National Forest’s Weminuche Wilderness, to publicly accessible recreation trails in Eagle Valley; and the list goes on.

    In Summit County, the Fiester Preserve adjacent to the County Commons is an example of an open space in a more urban setting that’s protected by perpetual conservation easements; its original easement was put into place to protect the property’s value as an open space, invulnerable to development.

    It’s important to realize that while conservation easements are a tool designed to primarily protect private lands, they offer real public benefits — including access to clean water, unblemished views, preservation of wildlife and in many cases, access to outdoor recreation opportunities.

    The rewards are also economic. According to recent studies by Colorado State University, every dollar invested in conservation through Great Outdoors Colorado and the conservation easement tax credit (which landowners can receive in exchange for their land donation) returns between $4 and $12 in public benefits.

    Additionally, every dollar that has been invested in perpetual conservation easements through the Federal Farm Bill over the past decade has generated $2 of new economic activity and created more than 1,000 new jobs in Colorado — most of which were in rural areas.

    Whether we’re talking about the iconic landscapes that define Colorado, or parks and open spaces in urban areas or mountain towns, it’s critical to uphold the perpetual conservation easement tool.

    Without it, Colorado will look very different in the future as our population grows, and sprawl will be Colorado’s defining characteristic.

    Melissa Daruna is executive director of Keep It Colorado, a nonprofit statewide coalition of land trusts, public agencies and champions for conservation in Colorado.

    Estes Park: Public Invited To Land Trust Event Focusing On The Future Of Land #Conservation

    From the Estes Valley Land Trust via The Estes Park News:

    On February 13 at 5 p.m., the Estes Valley Land Trust will host the Love Our Land Social at the Estes Valley Community Center. Drop-ins are welcome, refreshments will be provided and this event is free and open to the public.

    Since 1987, the Estes Valley Land Trust, along with its partners, has preserved nearly 10,000 acres of land in and around Estes Park. “Our first 30 years were defined by major conservation successes, such as working with landowners to help them preserve Hermit Park Open Space, Meadowdale Ranch, and the Eagle Rock School,” said Jeffrey Boring, Executive Director of the Estes Valley Land Trust. “We want to continue to engage our partners and the broader community to plan the future of land conservation across the region.”

    While many acres of land in the valley have already been preserved, there are more than 28,000 acres still available for development. The land trust is hosting a social event to receive public feedback on the types of land that are most important to preserve in the future.

    “There is a tremendous amount of support for land conservation around Estes, but we want to know what types of land the community considers the most important to conserve,” Boring said. Lands that protect the most iconic views, lands that are critical for wildlife habitat, new outdoor recreation opportunities, or lands of historic significance are all potential conservation opportunities.

    The public will be invited to complete a survey to help prioritize these conservation opportunities.

    Results from the survey will be used to develop a regional Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Plan. The plan will highlight land conservation goals and include partnerships that could be formed to preserve key areas. “The Estes Valley Land Trust Board of Directors will consider the Open Space and Outdoor Plan our strategic plan and will guide our future conservation efforts,” said Boring.

    The plan may also help guide the Town’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan and identify where growth and development is appropriate and where it is not. “Consideration of open space and outdoor recreation opportunities is a critical part of developing a good Comprehensive Plan,” said Travis Machalek, Town Administrator, Town of Estes Park. “The Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Plan will be a valuable source document as the community works to create an updated Comprehensive Plan for Estes Park.”

    The communities of Estes Park, Allenspark, Glen Haven, Drake, and residents of unincorporated Larimer County have a long legacy of preserving land and protecting habitat. The Love Our Land Social is an opportunity to continue this legacy and chart the future of land conservation.

    The Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Plan is funded by a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado and matching funds from the Town of Estes Park, Larimer County, Estes Park Economic Development Corporation and the Estes Valley Board of Realtors.

    Aerial view of Lake Estes and Olympus Dam looking west. Photo credit Northern Water.

    2020 #COleg: HB20-1095 [Local Governments Water Elements In Master Plans]. “Everybody has to do something in order to create sustainability” — Greta Follingstad

    From The Colorado Sun (Moe Clark):

    To ensure that they don’t develop beyond the limits of their water supply, Riley says [Woodland Park] has closely integrated its land-use decisions with local water conservation and efficiency goals that align with the Colorado Water Plan.

    A new bill at the Colorado Capitol hopes to encourage more local governments to do the same. House Bill 1095 says that if a community identifies it will need more water to grow, it should also include conservation measures for its existing supply.

    “In a state that hates mandates, this is a gentle nudge for communities to make sure they are planning for the future when it comes to water,” said state Rep. Jeni Arndt, a Fort Collins Democrat who is bringing the bill.

    Woodland Park via Ute Pass Cams.

    The Colorado Water Plan five years ago set the goal that by 2025, 75% of Coloradans will live in communities that have incorporated water-saving actions into land-use planning.

    Currently, 24 communities have completed the Sonoran Institute’s Growing Water Smart Training, a leading program that helps communities integrate land use planning and water conservation efforts, said Sara Leonard, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Leonard estimates that 15 to 20 more communities have participated in similar workshops, but many more would need to take part in order to meet the state’s goal…

    HB20-1095 would also make permanent a temporary, partially grant-funded position in the Department of Local Affairs that assists local governments in integrating water conservation in their land use planning — though there is currently no money allocated in the bill to support the position.

    “Historically, water resource planning and land-use planning have been implemented on parallel tracks. By separating these planning areas into different silos, the impacts from each on the other are not fully addressed,” Leonard said.

    “With a growing population in Colorado, it is imperative to synchronize land and water planning to help planners to better understand the impact of new growth and redevelopment on future water demand in our urban areas.”

    Today, Woodland Park has added dozens of regulations and ordinances into its zoning and building codes that focus on water conservation. It also limits the number of houses that can be built each year by setting a cap for how many new taps can be installed.

    What the bill would do –– and what it wouldn’t

    One of a dozen water bills introduced this session, ranging from water well inspections to fee exemptions, House Bill 1095 requires that if a local government’s comprehensive plan includes a water supply element, it must also include conservation policies.

    A comprehensive plan is an advisory document that outlines long-term goals for community development, and often includes guidelines for things like transportation, utilities, land use, environmental protection, recreation and housing.

    But comprehensive plans are not regulatory documents.

    These conservation policies may include “goals specified in the state water plan, and may also include policies to implement water conservation and other state water plan goals as a condition of development approval, including subdivisions, planned unit developments, special use permits, and zoning changes,” the bill says.

    Jeni Arndt. Photo credit: ColoradoCapitolWatch.com

    Though state statute requires every municipality or county in Colorado to have a comprehensive plan, it doesn’t require them to include water element. But if it does, water conservation measures must be added the first time the plan is amended after the bill takes effect, but no later than July 1, 2025.

    Gretel Follingstad, a Colorado-based land use planner and consultant who specializes in water resource management, said the language in the bill makes the recommendations “optional” and minimizes the bill’s potential impact.

    “If you really want a strong policy around water, and you really want the state water plan goals to come to fruition, you need a will, not a may,” she said. “Because otherwise communities won’t do it if they don’t have the funding for it or they don’t have the political will, or if they don’t feel like they have a problem.”

    But just by adding water into the local comprehensive plans, it’s changing the conversation, she said.

    “We can’t change the fact that Colorado uses water districts as water suppliers and that those water districts are separate entities from their community,” Follingstad said. “All we can do is to teach the community planners that water is not infinite.”

    […]

    In July, the Colorado Water Conservation Board released a technical analysis and update to the state’s supply and demand projections. The update examined water supply under five scenarios, with the two biggest drivers for water supply gaps being population growth and a warming climate.

    The scenarios project that municipal and industrial water users may see water supply gaps ranging from 250,000 to 750,000 acre-feet by 2050. Approximately one acre-foot can support the needs of two families of four to five people a year, according to the Colorado Water Center at Colorado State University.

    “It’s unlikely that conservation efforts can completely close the gap,” Arndt said. “But it can certainly help.”

    Colorado Counties Inc., which lobbies on behalf of the state’ county governments, testified at the bill’s Feb. 3 hearing before the the House Rural Affairs and Agriculture Committee that its members worry the measure could open the door to formal regulations…

    Gervais also added that counties and local governments already have the authority to include water planning in their land-use planning process. A 1991 law requires water utilities with a demand of greater than 2,000 acre-feet annually to have a water conservation plan.

    “I’m glad we have that, but that’s not a substitute for a five- or 10-year visionary master plan,” Arndt said.

    For Follingstad, comprehensive plans are crucial tools for communities envisioning the future. And that they can provide a policy framework for zoning and development regulations…

    Avoiding the worst case scenario

    Even though the bill doesn’t give local governments more authority, advocates hope it helps bring water conservation into the land-use conversation at the beginning of the community planning process, not the end.

    “So, basically, utilities have been expected to come up with a supply to meet the demands,” Follingstad said.

    “But when you insert population growth that’s beyond the capacities of many watersheds and water systems, and you insert climate change, which is making water, especially in the West, especially in Colorado because of the Colorado River compact, much more scarce — that’s not a sustainable system.”

    Follingstad helped create the Growing Water Smart handbook — a guidebook that helps local governments integrate water conservation measures into their land use planning.

    Since 2017, Colorado’s Water Conservation Board has worked with the Sonoran Institute and Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy to host Growing Water Smart workshops in communities across Colorado. The next workshop is May 6-8 in Breckenridge.

    The training focuses on reducing the demand for water by utilizing three key strategies: decreasing water use by modifying consumption behaviors; using technology and optimizing building or site designs to use less water; and increasing water recycling.

    She says Colorado lags behind other states in terms of integrating water conservation into land use plans. And that lack of governmental guidance has created a false sense of security for some communities.

    “Everybody has to do something in order to create sustainability,” she said. “And this is a way of making sure that towns and communities across Colorado, No. 1, understand that there is a state water plan and that the goals in that plan are real and serious and have consequences. And two, that there is a way at the local level that they can make a difference.”

    If signed into law, the bill would take effect on Aug. 5.

    2020 #COleg: SB20-135, Conservation Easement Working Group Proposals

    Saguache Creek

    From The Denver Post (David Migoya):

    Colorado lawmakers are set to consider [SB20-135, Conservation Easement Working Group Proposals] next week that could refund hundreds of millions of dollars to people who innocently bought into the state’s conservation easement tax credit program, only to see officials dismiss the tax credits as worthless and tag them with hefty bills.

    The individuals bought the credits from landowners who had received them after protecting millions of acres of property from future development, or their representatives.

    But revenue officials eventually said the land wasn’t worth what the landowners claimed and negated more than $220 million in credits, leaving the buyers on the hook for the tab.

    That was a decade ago.

    After years of public hearings, focus groups and stakeholder conferences, Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, seek to undo the mess and ensure those individuals who unknowingly bought into the program are repaid. House co-sponsors include Dylan Roberts, D-Steamboat Springs, and James Wilson, R-Salida.

    The bill is largely the result of a task force empaneled from a bill Sonnenberg successfully pushed last year. The leaders of the task force — a landowner caught in the tax-credit debacle and the director of a land trust that managed many easements — were frequently at odds on the issue but worked together to find solutions.

    Greeley Central sophomore raising money to replace school faucets as part of environmental contest — The Greeley Tribune

    Jorge Rubio via GoFundMe.com

    From The Greeley Tribune (Trevor Reid):

    After representatives of an annual environmental contest spoke at Greeley Central High School in 2019, sophomore Jorge Rubio started looking around for opportunities to reduce water waste.

    When he went to wash his hands in a restroom at the school, the answer hit him.

    “So much water was coming out,” Jorge said. “We do not need this much water to wash our hands.”

    Jorge, 16, set out to replace his school’s water faucets, which use 3.5 gallons per minute. That’s more than twice the maximum volume of water per minute allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program. Faucets that qualify for the WaterSense marker use a maximum of 1.5 gallons per minute.

    Jorge took his idea to his chemistry teacher, Amy Bekins, who supported it and gave Jorge some advice on how to proceed. They met with the building manager and district officials who would install the new faucets. Jorge went to home improvement stores and began researching faucets.

    Caring for Our Watersheds is an annual environmental contest challenging students to find ways to care for their local water resources. The contest is sponsored by Nutrien, an agricultural producer and distributor with a location in Loveland. The individual or team whose project wins first place is awarded $1,000 for their school.

    Limited by that $1,000, Jorge began by looking at replacing the faucets on the first floor of the school. He estimated they would save 30,000 gallons of water per year by changing out the faucets on the first floor. After submitting his proposal, Jorge’s project was selected as a top 10 finalist out of 491 projects from 650 students in northern Colorado.

    Before he knew he was selected as a finalist, Jorge started dreaming a little bigger. He decided he wanted to replace faucets for all three floors.

    Aimee Nance, Jorge’s seminar teacher and a marketing teacher at Greeley Central, offered help to find creative funding opportunities for the project’s expansion. Whether that means working with local businesses or crowdfunding, Nance told Jorge it never hurts to ask for help…

    Jorge has started a GoFundMe with a $1,000 goal to fund replacing the faucets on the second and third floors of the school. He hopes to have the project implemented by the end of March before going in front of judges in May.

    @DenverWater ‘evaluating options’ after Gross project ruling — The Arvada Press #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Gross Reservoir, west of Boulder. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Arvada Press (Casey Van Divier):

    A court ruling from the end of 2019 determined Denver Water officials must obtain an additional permit for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — a project that Arvada is depending on so it can continue developing land…

    Arvada has a contract to purchase raw water from the reservoir and, in return, is sharing the cost of the project with Denver Water…

    Denver Water is one of two sources through which Arvada obtains its water, with the other being Clear Creek, said Jim Sullivan, the city’s former director of utilities.

    In total, the city has the rights to roughly 25,000 acre-feet of water, with about 19,000 of that provided through its existing contract with Denver Water, he said.

    “We have a comprehensive plan that shows what the city limits will eventually grow to” by 2065, when an estimated 155,000 people will live in Arvada, Sullivan said. This plan would require approximately 3,000 additional acre-feet of water, which will be provided by the expansion project.

    If the project was canceled, the city would need to halt development until it could secure alternate resources, Sullivan said.

    Those other resources “have been harder and harder to come by,” said Arvada water treatment manager Brad Wyant. Other entities have already laid claim to the other major water supplies in the area, he and Sullivan said.

    “The next big water project will be some kind of diversion of water from the Western Slope to the Denver area,” Sullivan said. This would be a major endeavor and “there’s nothing even on the horizon at this point,” he said, making the success of the Gross project a necessity for Arvada development.

    So far, the city has contributed about $3 million to the project, with plans to contribute about $100 million by 2030.

    The contributions are funded through Arvada Water’s capital improvement budget, which consists of one-time tap fees that customers pay when they first connect to the Arvada Water system. Resident’s bimonthly water billing funds ongoing operations and will not be used for the Gross project, Sullivan said.

    Denver Water has estimated the project will cost a total of $464 million.

    @USDA Invites Input on Agricultural #Conservation Easement Program Rule

    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    Here’s the release from the NRCS:

    USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) seeks public comments on its interim rule for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). ACEP is USDA’s premier conservation easement program, helping landowners protect working agricultural lands and wetlands. The rule – now available on the Federal Register – takes effect on publication and includes changes to the program prescribed by the 2018 Farm Bill.

    “Through easements, agricultural landowners are protecting agricultural lands from development, restoring grazing lands and returning wetlands to their natural conditions,” NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr said. “The new changes to ACEP under the 2018 Farm Bill make it stronger and more effective and will result in even better protection of our nation’s farmlands, grasslands and wetlands.”

    NRCS is investing more than $300 million in conservation easements for fiscal 2020. NRCS state offices will announce signup periods for ACEP in the coming weeks.

    Changes to ACEP for agricultural land easements include:

  • Authorizing assistance to partners who pursue “Buy-Protect-Sell” transactions.
  • Requiring a conservation plan for highly erodible land that will be protected by an agricultural land easement.
  • Increasing flexibility for partners to meet cost-share matching requirements.
  • Changes to ACEP for wetland reserve easements include:

  • Identifying water quality as a program purpose for enrollment of wetland reserve easements.
  • Expanding wetland types eligible for restoration and management under wetland reserve easements
  • “Conservation easements have a tremendous footprint in the U.S. with nearly 5 million acres already enrolled. That’s 58,000 square miles,” Lohr said. “This is a great testament to NRCS’s and landowner’s commitment to conservation.”

    Submitting Comments

    NRCS invites comments on this interim rule through March 6 on the Federal Register offsite link image . Electronic comments must be submitted through regulations.gov under Docket ID NRCS-2019-0006. All written comments received will be publicly available on regulations.gov, too.

    NRCS will evaluate public comments to determine whether additional changes are needed. The agency plans on publishing a final rule following public comment review.

    Applying for ACEP

    ACEP aids landowners and eligible entities with conserving, restoring and protecting wetlands, productive agricultural lands and grasslands. NRCS accepts ACEP applications year-round, but applications are ranked and funded by enrollment periods that are set locally.

    For more information on how to sign up for ACEP, visit your state website at nrcs.usda.gov or contact your local NRCS field office.

    Community Agriculture Alliance: NRCS and #conservation on private lands — Steamboat Today

    Bear River at CR7 near Yampa / 3:30 PM, May 16, 2019 / Flow Rate = 0.52 CFS. Photo credit: Scott Hummer

    Here’s a guest column from Clinton Whitten (NRCS) that’s running on Steamboat Today:

    The Natural Resources Conservation Service is an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides free technical assistance, or advice, to land owners and managers regarding resource concerns on their property. The main mission of the NRCS is to help address natural resource issues on private lands through voluntary conservation activities.

    We can help landowners conserve and restore water, air, forests, rangelands and other natural resources. The services we provide range from providing a simple soils report of your property to developing a full conservation plan for an agricultural operation. These services are free, private and voluntary.

    Every county in the U.S. has resource concerns that are unique to the climate and land uses of the area. The following is a list of the common resource concerns in Routt County that NRCS currently encounters. This list is not comprehensive, but it covers the issues that we address the most.

  • Irrigation improvements help increase water use efficiency. In Routt County, this primarily involves improving infrastructure to increase control of flood irrigation water.
  • Grazing management plans help ensure the sustainability of livestock operations and the ecosystems they are utilizing. This can include assistance with infrastructure that would help to facilitate a grazing plan, such as cross fences and watering facilities.
  • Wildlife habitat management plans help improve the habitat of a variety of species on private lands.
  • Forest management plans help improve the health of private lands forest ecosystems. Implementation of management practices, such as thinning, planting, mastication, etc., have the goal of creating a more sustainable forest.
  • Seeding recommendations for the restoration of rangeland, pastureland and disturbed areas to reestablish native grasses which benefits soils and overall ecosystem health.
    Stream and riparian restoration improve both water quality and fish and wildlife habitat.
  • Many of these resource concerns are best addressed using the expertise of a range of organizations and agencies. That is why the NRCS works to develop partnerships with many different local groups.

    We are currently working with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District to develop a grant program that will better assist local irrigators to upgrade their head gates and install measuring devices. Forest management plans and projects are developed in coordination with the Colorado State Forest Service.

    The Steamboat NRCS office currently has two partner biologists from Trout Unlimited and Bird Conservancy of the Rockies who assist with the development of conservation plans. By partnering with different entities the NRCS is able to leverage more funds and provide better technical expertise to the private land owners and managers of Routt County.

    If you think you have a resource issue on your property and would like technical assistance, contact the NRCS office at 970-879-3225.

    Clinton Whitten is the resource team lead with the National Resource Conservation Service.

    The Southern Nevada Water Authority is looking at investing in a S. #CA #reuse project in exchange for #ColoradoRiver water #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate

    Some Colorado River water users in 2020 will begin taking voluntary reductions to protect the water elevation level at Lake Mead. (Source: Bureau of Reclamation)

    From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

    The Southern Nevada Water Authority has expressed interest in helping finance a wastewater reuse project being pursued by Southern California’s municipal wholesale water provider.

    The goal: To free up Colorado River water.

    The concept looks something like this. If the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) could recycle a portion of its water, it could reduce its overall consumption of Colorado River water stored at Lake Mead. In turn, the water authority would help fund the project in exchange for additional water that MWD would be able to leave in the reservoir because of it.

    Such a project is in the early stages, and it could take at least a decade to build out. Still, the water authority and MWD are actively discussing a potential partnership. John Entsminger, the water authority’s general manager, said he hoped there would be a preliminary deal next spring…

    If the project moves forward, it would cost about $3.4 billion, recycling water for about $1,800 per acre-foot, Hasencamp said. It has not yet been determined what Nevada’s financial contribution would be. The project would still need to be approved by both the water district’s full board the MWD board.

    The project is similar to other water-swapping proposals. Minute 323, a binational agreement between the United States and Mexico, tasked a working group with studying desalination plants. New supplies would allow Colorado River users to more easily exchange water at Lake Mead.

    Shavano Conservation District: The past and the present — The Montrose Press

    Photo credit: Shavano Conservation District

    Here’s a report from Michael Cox that’s running in The Montrose Press:

    Prior to the Great World War (great only signifying size and intensity), one of the most productive pieces of land on the Western Slope of Colorado was regularly converted to a destructive river of Spring snow or Summer storm runoff from the Uncompahgre Plateau.

    The Shavano (shav-a-no) Valley was named for a Ute Chief, and was either visited or inhabited by native peoples as early as 3,000 years ago. The Ute’s came about a thousand years ago. It was fine winter ground and in spring and summer the grass was lush, affording excellent feed for the tribe’s livestock.

    American settlers came in the late 1800s and found the Valley to have the most fertile and easy-to-till soil in the area. There was also a bit of water from an artisian spring that feed a meandering creek. There is an excellent explanation for how the soil developed in the valley. In all probability, it was those regular floods that swept from the plateau and covered much of the Valley, at various times of the year, in water. Along with the water, the floods were depositing a new layer of silt to the already deep soil.

    But enough is enough already. By the late 1930s and early 1940s the farmers in the Valley grew weary of rebuilding and reclaiming after the floods. The damage to their infrastructure was immense and included dead livestock, ruined roads, and lost homes. The locals tried some small diversions, dykes, and flood ways, which had only minimal effect. The task was tantamount to parting the sea, but Moses and his stick were nowhere nearby. Enter the Shavano Conservation District, a cooperative of farms and ranches joining together and forming the district with the idea of petitioning the Bureau of Reclamation to help put up some defenses against the floods.

    “The farmers had figured out that they needed some serious diversion dams along the west side of the Valley,” says Mendy Stewart the Shavano District chief of education and communication. “But they had neither the tools nor the money to build them.”

    In May of 1937, the Shavano Soil Conservation District (SSCD) was organized under the Colorado Soil Conservation District Act. By October of 1941, the intensifying world war not withstanding, the district plan got the nod from 111 landowners, representing 20,200 acres in Montrose County.

    Eventually, two other smaller districts, the Uncompahgre and the Cimarron, joined the Shavano group – soil conservation became a way of life. Now the district covers 1.2 million acres in Montrose, Ouray, Gunnison and Delta counties. The Delta County segment is a tiny bit of acreage on the Montrose/Delta County line. In 2002 the District dropped the use of the word “soil” from the name as did other such entities across the country…

    Eventually, with grants from the Bureau of Reclamation and using the equipment and manpower pool of the district, three diversion dams were built to stop the wild flow off the plateau and divert it into ditches. This kept the flood waters off the farm land and out of the homes and barns in the Valley.

    The largest of the three dams is at the south head of the Valley and involves an earthen structure measuring more than a half mile from one end to the other. The spillway and some of the dam are concrete reinforced. The runoff from the Plateau collects behind the dam. The flow out of the pool is controlled and put into ditches, such as the M&D canal below the dam…

    According to Stewart the list of things the SCD is involved in includes irrigation water management, flood control, technical assistance with conservation efforts, youth and adult environmental education, and special projects such as the Western Colorado Soil Health Conference. The 2020 conference is scheduled for February 20 and 21 at the Delta Center for the Performing Arts.

    2020 #COleg: #Colorado lawmakers to tackle #ColoradoRiver issues, funding water projects, and environmental streamflows in 2020 — @WaterEdCO #COriver #aridification #COwaterPlan

    From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

    Saving water on the Colorado River system, funding the state water plan, and preserving more water for streams are expected to top lawmakers’ water agenda when the Colorado General Assembly begins its work Jan. 8

    Saving Water on the Colorado River

    Last May the seven Colorado River Basin states signed a drought contingency plan that requires the three lower basin states, Arizona, Nevada and California, to cut water use. It also gives the four upper basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — the option to create a large-scale water conservation program that would add more water to storage in Lake Powell. That water would be credited to the Upper Basin states and protect them from cutbacks if levels in Powell start to fall below those needed to generate power and to meet water delivery obligations to the Lower Basin. Colorado and other Upper Basin states are exploring whether such a conservation program, known as demand management, is feasible. Any water users who contributed to the new Powell storage account would do so voluntarily and would be paid for their participation.

    Where would that water come from? Since irrigated agriculture is the largest user, most of it is likely to come from farmers and ranchers. That troubles Colorado Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, former manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association in southwest Colorado. “We’re still looking at agriculture as a living reservoir that we don’t have to build,” he says.

    But Catlin sees “some shifting in the conversation” about sharing water cuts with East Slope communities, where there’s a growing recognition that “if it hurts western Colorado, it hurts the whole state.” That’s because East Slope urban water providers rely on transmountain diversions for much of their water supply. Denver Water, for example, counts on Colorado River imports for half its water. And since most of those rights are junior — acquired after the 1922 Colorado River Compact was signed — the metro area, along with irrigators in the South Platte and Arkansas River valleys that receive water via transmountain diversions, would also be affected by any cutbacks in Colorado River water deliveries. It is anticipated that those entities and regions would participate in conservation alongside West Slope irrigators.

    While the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) is now examining whether to create such a program, lawmakers this year will consider a bill that would require CWCB to involve the public and the state’s nine river basin roundtables in developing a demand management program. Although CWCB would have final say, it would have to submit any draft program to the Water Resources Review Committee and consider its feedback.

    Funding Colorado’s Water Plan

    Implementing Colorado’s Water Plan is projected to cost $3 billion over the next 30 years, or $100 million annually. The CWCB and the General Assembly have provided some funding for the water plan, but those amounts cover only a fraction of the water plan’s estimated costs.

    Enter Proposition DD, approved by voters in November. It legalizes sports betting and assesses a 10 percent tax on casinos’ net proceeds. The state can collect up to $29 million per year, with more than 90 percent of that going into a newly created Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund run by CWCB. Experience with sports betting in other states suggests that no more than $16 million in tax revenue will be generated annually, and during the first year just $7 million is expected.

    Lawmakers are expected to discuss options giving them some say in how CWCB allocates that revenue, but those talks may not result in legislation this year.

    Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, a member of the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) and prime sponsor of the general fund water appropriations last year, does not expect Proposition DD to affect JBC’s water plan funding recommendations this year. Last year, for the first time, lawmakers approved $10 million in general fund money for the water plan. But Rankin cautions that appropriating another $10 million in general funds to support water plan implementation and demand management development will depend on how revenue forecasts shake out.

    Instream Flows

    Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, said he plans to introduce a bill that would expand the existing instream flow loan program. Under current law, a water right holder can loan water to the CWCB to further preserve water for rivers on stream segments where the board already holds an instream flow water right. The loan may be exercised for no more than three years in a single 10-year period. Roberts’ bill would increase the number of years the loan could be exercised from three to five, and allow for two additional 10-year periods.

    The proposed bill is similar to one that passed the House of Representatives but was defeated in Senate committee last year. Opposition to that bill centered on the potential impact on historical irrigation return flows from leaving water in the stream rather than applying it on the land, the effects on soils fallowed for long periods, and the tight comment period allotted after a loan application is filed in which opponents can make their case. Those issues were discussed during the interim session, but the Water Resources Review Committee took no action.

    Roberts says that recommendations developed by a Colorado Water Congress working group to provide water right holders with more opportunities to comment and protect downstream users will be incorporated into the new bill. With those changes, he’s optimistic that “we have arrived at a place where more of the water community feels comfortable with the program’s expansion.”

    Other Issues

    The Water Resources Review Committee recommended three other bills for consideration this session. One would address water speculation, with concerns raised that agricultural water rights are being sold to entities with no real interest in farming that are holding those rights for future, profitable transactions. The bill would create a working group to explore ways to strengthen anti-speculation laws and report its findings and recommendations to the committee next year.

    Another bill would task the University of Colorado and Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Center with studying new technologies to improve monitoring, management, conservation, and trading of water rights and report back to the committee in 2021.

    The final bill would increase the number of state water well inspectors and require rulemaking to help the state engineer identify high-risk wells for inspection.

    And although no legislation has yet been drafted, Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Wolcott, said she anticipates discussion of how to better dovetail water planning with land use development to ensure large new communities have sustainable water supplies.

    Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net.

    Fresh Water News is an independent, non-partisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado. WEco is funded by multiple donors. Our editorial policy and donor list can be viewed at http://www.wateredco.org.

    George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

    #ColoradoRiver Water Users Association Annual Conference recap #CRWUA2019 #COriver #DCP

    Intake towers for power generation at Hoover Dam.

    From UPI (Jean Lotus):

    At a meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association in Las Vegas last week, federal officials accepted a drought contingency plan crafted this summer that will jump start voluntary conservation efforts by states and Mexico in the lower Colorado River basin beginning Jan. 1.

    Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry. Photo credit. Gonzo fan2007 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3631180

    Nevada, Arizona and Mexico, which all drain water below Lee’s Ferry, in Marble Canyon, Ariz., have agreed to pull back water use. For the first time, California, which has a prior water right by law, has agreed to curtail water use if Lake Mead’s elevation drops significantly further…

    U.S. Secretary of the Interior David [Bernhardt] told state water managers that the federal water reclamation bureau will immediately begin its review of the official river water apportionment plan, instead of waiting until the end of 2020…

    Water professionals in the Colorado River watershed got scared in 2002, the driest year in recorded history, when the river trickled to 25 percent of its usual flow, said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

    By 2005, river water users faced a new drought reality and states squabbled and threatened to sue each other.

    “That’s when [Interior Secretary] Gail Norton laid down the gauntlet,” Entsminger said. Federal regulators stepped in and offered to come up with water-shortage guidelines.

    Since then, states have tried to work together.

    Lower-basin cities have ramped up water conservation efforts. For example, Las Vegas pays residents $3 per square foot to replace grass lawns with water-friendly landscaping.

    “Our population has increased by 46 percent — more than 700,000 people have moved here — but our water consumption has decreased by about 25 percent during the same time period,” said Bronson Mack, a Southern Nevada Water Authority spokesperson.

    Southern California cities also have drastically cut water use, drawing less from Lake Mead than ever before.

    But the river flow problem won’t disappear from conservation because 80 percent of Colorado River water is used in agriculture and industry, Entsminger said. Agriculture, even with water conservation practices, uses about 2.5 times as much water as the same land developed for residential use.

    Colorado River Basin. Map credit: The Water Education Foundation

    #ColoradoRiver Water Users Association Annual Conference recap #CRWUA2019 #COriver

    Hoover Dam from the Arizona Powerhouse deck December 13, 2019. As John Fleck said in a Tweet, “Friends who have the keys showed us around this afternoon.” Thanks USBR.

    Here’s a report from Andrew Davey writing for Nevada Today. Click through and read the whole article, here’s an excerpt:

    Around this time last year, Commissioner Brenda Burman delivered this ultimatum to CRWUA attendees: “Close isn’t done, and we are not done. Only done will protect this basin.” This year, as in just yesterday, Burman said, “It was truly remarkable to have the divergent interests of the basin forge a compromise and make the difficult agreements to complete the DCP.”

    And unlike last year, when Burman urged officials from across the Colorado River Basin to finish the DCP already, this year she urged patience on matters like renegotiating the 2007 agreement that turned Lake Mead into a sort of regional water bank. On that, Burman declared, “It’s not yet time to take up that task.”

    Yet despite Burman’s more relaxed approach, some at CRWUA want to see more “fierce urgency of now”. While the DCP successfully fended off the threat of federal water rations, and while Upper Colorado River Basin snowpack is currently running 15% above average, ongoing legal concerns and the ever escalating threat of climate change may yet upend the delicate peace that the DCP has ushered in for now…

    While Burman voiced confidence in the states’, municipal water agencies’, and Native American tribal authorities’ ability to cooperate, some of these very local officials were voicing notes of warning and caution. Shortly after Burman’s presentation on the main stage, Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) Director of Water Resources Colby Pellegrino noted their use of data from the U.S. Geological Survey and UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) showing less Colorado River water for everyone to work with in the next 50 years.

    As Pellegrino described this challenge, “It’s a pretty severe stress test for our water resource portfolio.” Pellegrino then noted how SNWA and the larger community have already been rising to this challenge with conservation programs like outdoor watering schedules and turf removal. As Pellegrino put it, “There’s significant water savings to be achieved by changing the mindset of how we use it.”

    Later in the day, I caught up with Pellegrino to talk some more about her presentation and the challenges that lie ahead for her agency and the entire region. When asked how SNWA plans to handle those future challenges, she replied, “Conservation is still right here, under our noses, the quickest and most cost effective way.”

    [Friday], it was Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s turn to make news here in Nevada. And make news he did, as Bernhardt announced the federal government will launch an early start of its review of the 2007 Interim Guidelines (as in, the 2007 agreement that launched the ICS program to manage the Lower Basin’s water supply).

    Soon after his main floor presentation, Bernhardt spoke with reporters about this and other pressing water issues. On his announcement to jump-start review of the Interim Guidelines, Bernhardt said, “We have an opportunity right now. We have the people in place. We might as well build on the success we have here.”

    So what can we expect in this review? And for that matter, what kinds of future changes might we expect in federal oversight of the Colorado River? When I asked Bernhardt whether he’d take into account climate science and the changing needs and consumption patterns of the increasingly urban American Southwest, he replied, “I’ve never taken a position of what we need to tell a city or county what they need to do.”

    Yet as Bernhardt’s discussion with reporters continued, the conversation occasionally veered into other environmental matters. And when a couple reporters asked about the proposed oil and gas leases on public lands that have run into local opposition, including right here in Nevada, in the Ruby Mountains outside Elko and in parts of Lincoln County that supply drinking water for Mesquite, Bernhardt declared, “The president was clear when he ran for office what his policy is on energy. He supports an ‘all of the above’ approach.” Bernhardt also suggested these leases are required by federal statute, even though the Obama administration took a more cautious and targeted approach toward such fossil fuel extraction on public lands…

    Funny enough, one of my takeaways from my conversation with SNWA’s Colby Pellegrino on Thursday was that regardless of what becomes of the long-fought pipeline plan, SNWA has enough water available to keep the Las Vegas region going for the next 50 years. Also, I noticed that regardless of the Trump administration’s curious comments on climate change and “all of the above” approaches to water infrastructure and fossil fuels, SNWA officials recognize the clear and present danger of climate change, and they’re already acting on it.

    And it may not just be SNWA doing this. Even as Trump appointees are skirting around acknowledgement of climate science, fossil fuel pollution, ongoing regional tensions, or the reality of urban and suburban growth in the Colorado River Basin, federal civil servants continue to collect data, analyze trends, and manage the water we all share. We’ll talk more about that next week.

    Still, there’s a rather large gap between the rhetoric and overarching policies of the Trump administration and the promises of strong climate action that U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), former Vice President Joe Biden, and the other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are providing. And yet, we don’t hear as much about the Colorado River and our fragile water supply as you’d expect considering their environmental and geopolitical importance. Yet no matter how much we ignore it, all we have to do is glimpse at Lake Mead to remember how important it truly is to our very livelihood.

    Click here to view the Tweets from the conference hash tag #CRWUA2019. Click here to view the @CRWUAwater Twitter feed.

    Hoover Dam schematic via the Bureau of Reclamation.

    From The Associated Press (Ken Ritter):

    U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told federal, state and local water managers that abiding by the promises they made will be crucial to ensuring that more painful cuts aren’t required…

    “We need to be proud of what we’ve done,” Burman told hundreds at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference at a Las Vegas Strip resort, while also warning of “tougher challenges in the future.”

    Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will start taking less water from the river Jan. 1 under a drought contingency agreement signed in May. It followed lengthy negotiations and multiple warnings from Burman that if the seven states didn’t reach a deal, the federal government, which controls the levers on the river, could impose severe water restrictions.

    California would voluntarily cut water deliveries if reservoir levels keep falling at the river’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead…

    Cuts will most affect farmers in Arizona. The Central Arizona Project will stop storage and replenishment operations and cut water for agricultural use by about 15%. The agency gets more than half of Arizona’s entitlement of water from the Colorado River…

    The drought contingency plan is a voluntary agreement to use less water than users are allowed, and its success is measured at the surface level of Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam east of Las Vegas.

    The agreements are designed to prevent a more drastic drought-shortage declaration under a 2007 pact that would cut 11.4 percent of Arizona’s usual river water allocation and reduce Nevada’s share by 4.3 percent. That amount of water, combined, would serve more than 625,000 homes.

    California would reduce its Colorado River use by about 6 percent.

    Due to a relatively wet winter, Lake Mead is now 40% full and Lake Powell, an upstream reservoir, is at 53% capacity, Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Patricia Aaron said. A year ago, Lake Powell was 43% full, and Lake Mead was at 38%…

    Water managers have called the last 20 dry years a drought, but climate researchers warn the river will continue to carry less water in coming years.

    “Respected climate scientists have conservatively estimated declines in river flows of 20% by the middle of the 21st century and 35% by the end of the century,” researchers Anne Castle of the University of Colorado Law School and John Fleck of the University of New Mexico wrote in a study released in November.

    The report refers to a “structural deficit” under which states and Mexico are promised more water than the river usually carries and encourages the seven states to clarify rules for handling future shortages.

    Brad Udall: “…latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck

    “Science be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the #ColoradoRiver” — @R_EricKuhn/@jfleck

    I finished Eric Kuhn and John Fleck’s new book in the hotel last night on my way to Las Vegas for the Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference.

    It’s a page-turner that charts the history of the “Law of the River” and how politics and enthusiastic engineers that loved the big projects mostly trumped science in the debate and decisions since the Colorado River Compact negotiations. That trumping set the stage for we users of the Colorado River going forward. The book has praise for current decision makers and the deliberate effort to listen to the scientists regarding the hydrology of the river and the acidification in the basin due to the climate crisis.

    Click here to order your copy of “Science be Dammed”.

    Brad Udall: “…latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck

    Adam Beh named Executive Director of Central #Colorado Conservancy — The Ark Valley Voice

    Adam Beh. Photo credit: Central Colorado Conservancy

    From the Central Colorado Conservancy via The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

    Adam Beh has joined the Central Colorado Conservancy as its new executive director, bringing more than 20 years of experience in conservation and rural development to the position. He started the job in late October, relocating from northern Colorado where he served as the Chief Conservation Officer for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.

    Beh, an active outdoorsman, received his PhD in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources from Colorado State University (2010). He says he is always interested in exploring the social dynamics that influence success in landscape-level conservation. With a focus on applied science, land stewardship and community education, he led the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies land stewardship investments in the Intermountain West, including public-private partnerships among federal, state and nonprofit groups.

    He says Central Colorado Conservancy’s focus on community involvement, including the countywide Envision process, was a strong draw in his decision to take the position. The Conservancy’s support of the agricultural community was another key facet in his decision.

    “I wanted to stay focused on true community-based conservation efforts,” said Beh, adding that he is excited at the prospect of exporting the community-driven model to other places. “Not every organization out there has a rural way of life component as a driver.” He points to the Conservancy’s Hands for Lands volunteer program as a good example of reaching out to the rural community and supplying help with labor-intensive tasks such as spring ditch clearing.

    He notes that the Conservancy recently began the important Forever Chaffee project. It includes conservation easements of nearly 2,000 total acres for the Centerville Ranch, the Tri Lazy Ranch property (which connects the Centerville land east to Brown’s Canyon National Monument), and the Arrowpoint Cattle Company, which lies north of the Tri Lazy W.

    Beh plans to continue to grow the Conservancy’s existing programs, including restoration of the Sands Lake Wildlife Area. The project serves to restore Sands Lake to enhance the site for both wildlife and citizens of Colorado, using Natural Resource Damages settlement money from the California Gulch Mining Site. The project collaborates with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Southwest Conservation Corps, with volunteer help from Hands for Lands.

    Based on his work with birds, Beh emphasizes the importance of habitat links across the landscape. “Birds need those spaces – from Canada to Mexico. It makes you think differently.” He sees Central Colorado Conservancy as “a different type of land trust” that brings multiple resources to a property to enhance habitat, water quality and other factors that support the long-term health and beauty of the space.

    He can be reached at adam@centralcoloradoconservancy.org.

    Interview: #Colorado’s Water Leader on the New Water Year — @AudubonRockies #COWaterPlan @CWCB_DNR

    The Colorado River. Photo credit: Abby Burk

    Here’s an interview with Becky Mitchell Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, from Abby Burk, that’s running on the Audubon Rockies website:

    Interview with Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

    Rebecca Mitchell was named to the Colorado Water Conservation Board on July 5, 2017. Photo credit the Colorado Independent.

    October 1st kicked off the new water year. This is when water managers and water wonks focus on existing water supplies and precipitation predictions. Water years run from October 1st through the following September 30th, and Water Year 2020 is poised to be one we will all be talking about for years to come. During it, we’ll see the start of discussions around the agreement that needs to be reached in 2026 to replace the Colorado River Interim Operating Guidelines, further investigation of a potential Upper Colorado River Basin demand management program after the adoption of the Drought Contingency Plans in 2019, and the launch of the first update to Colorado’s Water Plan. It’s a dynamic time for both Colorado River and Colorado water management!

    Abby Burk, western rivers regional program manager for Audubon Rockies, reached out to Becky Mitchell—director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and Colorado commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission—to ask six key questions and learn how she’s leading Colorado through these water milestone moments.

    Q: Water is such a broad issue that connects all of us. Colorado’s Water Plan, completed in 2015, is four years old. What have been the plan’s successes and challenges? What is your most celebrated Water Plan implementation project?

    A: At the CWCB, we work every day to implement the Water Plan, and because of that, I would call the plan’s biggest success its ability to bring all of the important projects and programs that the agency does into better focus with a cohesive whole. In fact, far beyond the CWCB, the Water Plan continually helps to unite countless efforts occurring throughout the state at every level of the public, private, and nongovernmental sphere. While it will always be an ongoing and iterative process, the concrete goals and objectives of the Water Plan have really helped to motivate our community to collectively address our (many) water challenges, which include maintaining momentum, coordinating efforts at every level, and continually funding the innovative and effective projects.

    While it’s hard to pick just one example of a celebrated project, the first one that comes to mind is the Homestake Arkansas River Diversion Project. Currently under construction, this project is managed by the City of Aurora and Colorado Springs Utilities to improve the reliability of a major aging diversion structure while at the same time removing the last critical barrier to boat and fish passage on the Upper Arkansas River and restoring important habitat. The CWCB contributed $700,000 to help fund the project, along with funding from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, various other project supporters, and donated easements from the Pueblo Board of Water Works, totaling $7.7 million.

    Q: Water is a critical issue for all Coloradans. Whether you play in/around our world class rivers, irrigate your crops, or take a sip of our abundant clean drinking water, our valuable and limited water supply impacts each of us every day. How will the Water Plan keep pace with a growing Colorado and protect what makes Colorado so special: our rivers?

    A: From day one, the Water Plan has been a living document. The plan is fundamentally a broad ongoing effort to collectively meet our state’s evolving water challenges in the most effective and mutually beneficial ways. To keep pace with a growing Colorado, Chapter 11 of the plan sets the process for continually refreshing the plan. We have now unified all of the Water Plan components into three main pillars: the main Water Plan (the primary policy document), the Basin Implementation Plans (the local application of the plan), and the Analysis and Tech Update (the plan’s technical foundation). In summer 2019, we finalized the Tech Update and are now updating the Basin Implementation Plans and the Water Plan to support the Tech Update.

    A critical aspect of all of these efforts is protecting our special rivers. The Tech Update included the development of an environmental flow tool to help interpret how potential future stream conditions may change, and how to plan for those impacts. We hope this tool and the wealth of other data in the Tech Update will better inform local efforts to address environmental needs, starting with updated analyses in the Basin Implementation Plans.

    Q: This is an exciting time for Colorado River water management with the passage of the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) and the ramp up to the renegotiation of the 2007 interim guidelines in 2026. Considering the DCP, how are you leading Colorado’s place in exploring a possible demand management program? How is Colorado working with other Upper Basin states in looking at options for demand management?

    A: The CWCB has taken two major policy actions regarding a potential demand management program. First, the board passed a support and policy statement back in November, 2018. This statement took into account public comments, stakeholder and water user concerns, as well as board guidance and support for the draft DCPs. This was aimed at guiding the assessment of demand management feasibility.

    The board also adopted the 2019 Work Plan in March of this year. This Work Plan represents the first steps toward assessing demand management feasibility as identified in the support and policy statement. The Work Plan tasks CWCB with setting up workgroups to help identify priority issues regarding demand management and holding public regional workshops to garner input and discussion. It also directs the legal, technical, and policy investigations that will inform the Board’s next moves in determining whether a demand management program is appropriate for Colorado.

    We communicate regularly with our Upper Basin state partners on their own intrastate efforts to assess demand management feasibility, who are all engaged in similar processes within their borders. As the intrastate investigations continue, the Upper Basin states will share information through the auspices of the Upper Colorado River Commission and their committees to further assess the feasibility of demand management across borders and throughout the Upper Basin.

    Q: We have to acknowledge that storage is a part of our water portfolio future. However, none of us have an appetite for big new reservoirs. What are ways that storage can be leveraged for fulfilling the growing needs of water certainty while still supporting Colorado’s healthy rivers?

    A: Without sufficient water storage, the vast majority of our current population could not live in this environment; and with a growing population, we will very likely need some additional storage. However, we also need to more effectively manage our existing infrastructure to support healthy rivers.

    Examples of this include iterative efforts to re-operate the Ruedi and Chatfield Reservoirs to meet multiple needs, and in the case of Chatfield, to increase storage without raising the dam. Another example is the South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group, which is currently conducting a feasibility study to examine aquifer storage and recharge, off channel reservoirs, and storage of municipal reuse water, among other things.

    Q: What’s your message for people who care about Colorado’s rivers, and the birds and wildlife they support? How will the state take care of its rivers as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of droughts?

    A: The takeaway message here is healthy rivers are vital to Colorado’s conservation efforts and quality of life, and the CWCB is committed to maintaining those stream flows for all fish and wildlife that depend on them as well as for the enjoyment of our outdoor recreationists.

    More specifically, the CWCB works with partners on appropriating new instream flow water rights to maintain stream flows that support Colorado’s fish, birds, and wildlife and the food and habitat that they need. Particularly in dry years, we work with the Colorado Water Trust, other nonprofit organizations, and water rights owners on leases and other mechanisms for providing and protecting stream flows.

    The Tomichi Water Conservation Program involves regional coordination between six water users on lower Tomichi Creek to reduce consumptive use on irrigated meadows as a watershed drought management tool. The project will use water supply as a trigger for water conservation measures during one year in the three-year period. During implementation, participating water users would cease irrigation during dry months. Water not diverted will improve environmental and recreational flows through the Tomichi State Wildlife Area and be available to water users below the project area. Photo credit: Business for Water.

    In last year’s example of the Coats Brothers Ditch temporary lease on Tomichi Creek, the ditch owners used the water right for irrigation until July 1, when the CWCB started using it for the Tomichi Creek instream flow water right. This lease provided approximately 202 acre-feet of water to the stream during low flow conditions while providing an economic benefit to the ditch owners. This type of flexible tool is very effective at addressing low flow conditions.

    In the face of climate change, which we know will present unique challenges to protecting our rivers and streams, we are committed to finding ways to address those challenges, including working with groups who have identified needs and opportunities in their stream management plans to implement additional stream protection.

    Q: What is the one thing that gives you the most hope about where we are heading with water in Colorado?

    A: We have engaged stakeholders who care deeply about maintaining the Colorado way of life and the values in the Colorado Water Plan. These stakeholders work with the CWCB, the basin roundtables and communities every day to collaboratively plan for our future and implement projects that drive the Colorado Water Plan forward. These efforts forge partnerships, remove barriers, inspire new generations and encourage a spirit of cooperation that is so important to building multi-purpose, multi-benefit initiatives that meet multiple water needs for farms, urban communities and the environment.

    For the Water Plan to be successful, we need to balance all of these needs. Our stakeholders are the lifeblood of Colorado water planning and they serve as a shining example of what public engagement can accomplish.

    Colorado water utilities, pushed to respond to climate change, are giving up their energy-guzzling ways — @WaterEdCO

    Workers put finishing touches on Denver Water’s new super-sustainable administrative complex. July 17, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Colorado’s water utilities, seeking environmental street cred and pushed by citizens, are slashing energy use and carbon emissions.

    Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility, uses lots, and lots, and lots of energy every year, some 56 million kilowatt hours. That’s roughly the same amount of power that 6,900 homes would use during that same period, according to the U.S. EPA.

    Brian Good, the utility’s chief administrative officer, can cite, almost without limit, one energy use statistic after another. That’s because it is his job to take the utility into a new uber sustainable world, one in which it produces as much clean energy as it uses, a quest in the energy world known as “net zero.”

    The utility is on track to hit that mark, system-wide, by the end of next year, according to Good.

    The heart of the initiative is the utility’s new headquarters on the west side of central Denver. When it is finished it will generate the electricity it needs and will be able to capture rainwater and wastewater on site, treating it so that it can be reused.

    Good and others believe the facility will be the most sustainable facility in Colorado. By operating in a way that reduces climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions, Good said the utility is helping protect the watersheds that are threatened by a warming climate.

    “Our water comes from the environment,” Good said, “so we have to demonstrate that we are doing our part to take care of it.”

    Large industrial users, such as water utilities and wastewater treatment plants, are among the biggest users of electricity and, as a result, among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

    But that may be changing. Utilities from Grand Junction to Englewood, from Colorado Springs to Boulder and Longmont, are investing heavily in climate-friendly technology.

    According to a report by the Colorado Energy Office, industrial operations account for one-third of total energy consumption in the United States.

    The state is working hard to change that with new laws and emissions goals. By 2050, Colorado plans to have greenhouse gas emissions slashed to the same levels as 2005, according to Michael Turner, director of commercial and industrial energy services for the Governor’s Energy Office.

    Water and wastewater utilities are key players in that initiative, according to Turner. He is leading an effort to help major industrial sectors across the state become more sustainable, and he said water and wastewater utilities, as well as large breweries, are poised to make major contributions to the greenhouse gas reduction effort.

    “Denver Water has demonstrated that they want to be at the forefront of the conversation,” Turner said. “But a lot of [utilities] have expansive industrial complexes and they have invested in significant reduction goals and projects.”

    Net zero is a sort of holy grail in the sustainability world and Denver Water has been chasing it since 2014.

    In 18 months, by the end of 2020, the agency will have replaced its 40-year-old, administration building with a new structure that is net zero and whose inner workings include the ability to use carefully constructed interior wetlands to process rainwater from the roof and wastewater generated on-site so that it all can be reused on the campus. The entire seven-building complex will use nearly 60 percent less energy than the old complex, according to Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman, dropping from 6.25 million kilowatt hours annually to 2.5 million.

    “We need to demonstrate the future of sustainable urban water use but also demonstrate that it is not just water. It’s energy as well,” Good said.

    Brian Good, chief administrative officer at Denver Water, is leading the effort to help the utility achieve “net zero,” meaning it produces as much clean energy as it uses. July 17, 2019 Credit: Jerd Smith

    Once the complex opens, it will have one of the smallest eco footprints possible with existing technologies, Good said. Several of the buildings will be at least partially buried to help reduce heating and cooling loads. Electricity use will be offset by an extensive solar grid and by the utility’s seven hydroelectric plants. All told, the $204 million project is expected to save about $4 million a year in energy costs.

    In some parts of the project, Denver Water has pushed out ahead of technologies and the regulators who oversee them.

    One Denver building inspector visited the site several months ago to examine its hyper-sophisticated plumbing system for wastewater reuse, only to leave early because he had never seen the technology being deployed and could not render a decision on whether it had been properly installed, according to Good.

    The effort to reuse wastewater has been particularly challenging with state regulations still being written for on-site wastewater reuse systems.

    “We thought it would be great to capture the rainwater off our roof before it hits the ground. We also thought it would be great to capture our wastewater and use it to flush our toilets. Neither of these was legal at the time [planning began],” Good said.

    Since then the utility secured a water right to capture the rainwater, but regulations governing how wastewater can be treated on-site and reused have yet to be finalized, though Denver Water is working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop them.

    “We eventually got a permit to build the [wastewater] system,” Good said. “But we still don’t have a permit to run it.”

    Denver Water’s net-zero initiative comes as concerns over climate change and rising greenhouse gas emissions grow.

    But it isn’t the only large utility spending big bucks to slash emissions.

    South Platte Water Renewal Partners, which processes wastewater for Englewood, Littleton and several small water districts, next month will become the first wastewater utility in the state to capture the biogas emitted from its waste treatment facility, converting it to natural gas, and injecting it into a pipeline for Xcel Energy. The program benefits the environment by reducing the amount of methane, a highly damaging greenhouse gas, released into the atmosphere. It also allows SPWRP to earn a climate credit, which it then sells in a climate exchange marketplace.

    Grand Junction was the leader in biogas capture and conversion, using the natural gas to fuel its fleet operations.

    The City of Boulder’s utility division too is preparing to capture and convert its biogas, rather than flaring it off, and will likely sell it to Western Disposal, a regional trash hauler, according to Cole Sigmon, the project engineer overseeing the program. Western will use the gas to power 15 of its trucks as part of a fleet conversion from diesel to natural gas.

    Longmont is close to finalizing its own biogas recapture facility and Colorado Springs is in the midst of a feasibility study.

    In addition, when the new National Western Center is completed in 2025, it will be heated with waste heat captured from the Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District’s wastewater collection system.

    At SPWRP, much of the work has been driven by the cities, their citizenry, and their joint quest for sustainability, said Dan DeLaughter, data and regulatory program manager.

    “Water and wastewater [operations] account for 35 percent of municipal energy bills,” DeLaughter said. “So we are continuously looking for ways to reduce energy use.”

    As the solar panels go up at Denver Water’s new complex and the high-tech interior wetlands are built, Good continues to watch the electric meter reports.

    Two years ago, he said, even before the complex was complete, the utility almost hit net zero, thanks to the large amounts of power its hydroelectric plants were able to produce that year.

    By the end of 2020, Good believes the utility should be able to fully hit the net zero mark.

    “It’s going to be close, but we set a stretch goal. If we miss, we’ll keep plugging away. If we hit it, we will set a new goal,” he said.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org.

    “We know population will double by 2050, and we know the rivers won’t” — Chris Matkins

    Poudre River Bike Path bridge over the river at Legacy Park photo via Fort Collins Photo Works.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    The all-American ideal of an expansive, emerald green lawn accounts for almost two-thirds of the average Fort Collins resident’s water bill.

    But the two main water providers serving Fort Collins taps — Fort Collins Utilities and Fort Collins-Loveland Water District — want to change that. The two districts are focusing increasingly on outdoor irrigation to meet conservation goals and deal with the water demands of a growing population…

    Fort Collins Utilities provides water to most of Fort Collins north of Harmony. Fort Collins-Loveland Water District provides water to most of Fort Collins south of Harmony as well as parts of Loveland, Timnath, Windsor and Larimer County.

    Fort Collins Utilities, whose water use has consistently declined since the ’80s, has a goal of reducing water use another 10% by 2030. Fort Collins-Loveland Water District is headed toward a goal of reducing water use 10% between 2015 and 2024.

    “We know population will double by 2050, and we know the rivers won’t,” said Chris Matkins, Fort Collins-Loveland Water District general manager. “So we understand that we’ve got to make some changes.”

    Fort Collins Utilities has lowered its overall water use since the ’80s, and the community’s per-capita use reached 143 gallons a day in 2018 (down from 248 in 1989). Fort Collins-Loveland Water District’s per-capita use reached about 177 gallons a day in 2014 and has significantly declined since then, Matkins said.

    #COleg: Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin demand management program update, Interim Water Resources Committee meeting recap #COriver #aridification

    Changing nature of Colorado River droughts, Udall/Overpeck 2017.

    From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

    A local legislator is questioning the need for a new drought contingency plan on the Colorado River that would help boost supplies in Lake Powell and protect the state against a future demand for its water from California, Arizona and Nevada.

    State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, has questioned a possible water conservation plan that could become part of the drought plan that all seven states that share the river – Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and California – signed earlier this year.

    As part of that agreement, the Upper Basin states —Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico — were for the first time ever given the legal right to store extra water in Lake Powell that is not subject to mandatory releases to the Lower Basin’s Lake Mead. The storage pool is authorized to hold up to 500,000 acre-feet of water — enough for roughly 1 million homes — and could help the Upper Basin meet future obligations to the Lower Basin during an especially dry period on the river.

    But now the Upper Basin states are exploring whether it makes sense to create a so-called demand management program that would pay farmers and cities to voluntarily and temporarily slash their water use —and be compensated for it — and to take that saved water and put it in Lake Powell.

    Sonnenberg has questioned the need for the program, saying that as long as Colorado complies with the rules of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, its water users should be protected by the courts from any legal demands from the Lower Basin states.

    “Are we worried that the Supreme Court would not hold our compact to the letter of the law?” Sonnenberg asked. His questions came during a meeting earlier this month of the state legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee.

    In fact, the main concern isn’t the terms of the 1922 compact, but the ability of the Colorado River to continue supplying the 40 million people who rely on its flows. If flows drop too low, due to ongoing drought and climate change, then the Upper Basin might have difficulty meeting its compact obligations to the Lower Basin, putting its water users at risk. Agriculture producers and communities across the state rely on the Colorado River, and major metropolitan areas, including Denver, import Colorado River water to serve their residents and industries.

    But Sonnenberg isn’t alone. The likely focus on ag cutbacks troubles Rep. Marc Catlin (R-Montrose), former manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association.

    “We’re still looking at agriculture as a living reservoir that we don’t have to build,” he said, “because we can just keep chipping away at the acreage.”

    And Catlin questioned the temporary nature of the program, citing testimony from earlier in the meeting by Colorado State University climate scientist Brad Udall suggesting stream flows throughout the Colorado River Basin will continue to drop due to higher temperatures, earlier runoff and reduced snowpack, creating a permanent, rather than temporary, need for the water.

    Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), said the water-saving effort could give everyone breathing room, so that if and when Colorado River supplies drop, the seven states can manage the issue themselves, rather than relying on the courts.

    Since irrigated agriculture consumes 85 percent of water in the West, cutting back farm water use to fill the Lake Powell pool is one method that would most likely be used if Colorado ultimately decides to create this conservation program. Mitchell and her agency have committed that no matter the shape the program takes it would be voluntary, temporary, and compensated.

    Andy Mueller, general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, said he isn’t sold on the need for the conservation program, but that Colorado water users need to be looking ahead in order to be prepared. “The concern has to be where we are headed right now,” he said.

    Surplus deliveries to the Lower Basin from high water years in 2011 and 2012 have dropped off, he noted, and “we can see a rising risk of the Upper Basin being in a position where we may violate the compact.”

    Committee chair, Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Wolcott), committee chair, said the uncertainty that lies ahead should be dealt with now, “We don’t know [the potential for a compact call] but not knowing that, and the significance of the issue we’re dealing with, is motivation enough to not go through the experience of learning the answer after (we spend) years in the court system.”

    The CWCB, which has convened a series of public work groups to study the feasibility of the new drought pool, has not set a deadline for a decision on the program.

    Renewable Water Resources San Luis Valley transmountain diversion project update

    Aerial view of the San Luis Valley’s irrigated agriculture. Photo by Rio de la Vista.

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Dangling money, the developers at Renewable Water Resources — which counts former Gov. Bill Owens as a principal — contend that because the urban Front Range is the richest part of the state, it has the potential to give the most to the poorest.

    They envision pumping 22,000 acre-feet per year from 14 wells drilled 2,000 feet deep at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, building a pipeline costing $250 million to $600 million, and then pumping water at least 40 miles northward over Poncha Pass toward Front Range cities.

    “We need between 300,000 acre-feet and 500,000 acre-feet of new water for the Front Range. The question is: Where’s that going to come from?” said Sean Tonner, managing partner of Renewable Water Resources.

    “We can take it out of the Colorado River, but we know what the stresses are there. The Poudre River? The Arkansas? The South Platte is already the most over-appropriated river. Folks are looking at moving water from the Mississippi River back to Colorado,” he said. “These are the lengths people are looking to for adding water.”

    Exporting San Luis Valley water would be “fairly easy” compared with other options, Tonner said…

    The San Luis Valley retort? “There is no win-win,” said Cleave Simpson, manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and a farmer, who has been traveling statewide to make the case against this trans-basin diversion of water…

    The intensifying water battle here reflects the rising tensions and inequities across the arid western United States, where water and control over water looms as a primary factor of power. Thirsty Castle Rock, Parker, Castle Pines and other south metro Denver suburbs, where household incomes top $110,000 and development has depleted the groundwater, can marshal assets that dwarf those of farmers in the San Luis Valley, where families’ average income is less than $35,000…

    State officials in Denver say they will study Renewable Water Resources’ proposal once the developers file it at the state water court in Alamosa.

    “We’ll have to have a perspective of being open to anything,” said Colorado Department of Natural Resources director Dan Gibbs, declining to take a position…

    A Renewable Water Resources diagram provided to The Denver Post presented details of a water-siphon project that would begin near Moffat on a company-owned ranch with 14 wells spaced 1 mile apart. A pipeline, 24 inches to 32 inches in diameter, would convey no more than 22,000 acre-feet of water per year northward at least 40 miles over Poncha Pass to Salida, and also to a point west of Fairplay, Tonner said.

    San Luis Valley water then could be diverted into the Arkansas River, the Eleven Mile Reservoir used by Colorado Springs and the upper South Platte River that flows into a series of Denver Water reservoirs, he said.

    The exported valley water purchased by south Denver suburbs ultimately would be stored in the newly enlarged Chatfield Reservoir southwest of Denver and Parker’s Rueter-Hess Reservoir, still barely half full. Suburban water users would pay the cost of the pipelines, Tonner said, and Renewable Water Resources would use $68 million raised from investors to purchase water rights in the valley — rights to pump 32,000 acre-feet of water for irrigation. But the developers would export no more than 22,000 acre-feet a year. The difference would mean a net gain for the aquifer…

    At least 40 farmers have inquired about selling water rights, some of them meeting with former Gov. Owens and other Renewable Water Resources officials. Tonner also declined to identify those farmers…

    The ethics of siphoning water away from low-income areas toward the richest parts of the state would have to be considered as part of the state’s water project planning process, said Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    “That is definitely something that has to be looked at. Is that the way we want to grow as a state? Is that what the value structure is?” Mitchell said. “There are cases where those (trans-basin diversions) can be win-win. But without the buy-in of the local community, there are going to be struggles.”

    In recent months, Renewable Water Resources’ principals have been working quietly in the valley, meeting with farmers and proposing the creation of a $50 million “community fund” and possibly other payments. Just the annual interest income from such a fund could exceed Saguache County’s current budget, Tonner said.

    By paying farmers for a portion of their water rights, Renewable Water Resources could help them stay on their land, perhaps growing different crops that require less water such as hemp, and infuse the valley with the $50 million and possibly other payments while also retiring wells to ensure a net gain of water in the aquifer.

    ‘Greywater’ Could Help Solve Colorado’s Water Problems. Why Aren’t We All Using It? — Colorado Public Radio

    Graywater system schematic.

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    Colorado was the last Western state to legalize greywater usage in 2013. Officials say that by 2050, our water supply could fall short for over one million people. Climate change makes the future of Colorado water even more uncertain.

    Colorado’s Water Plan wants to close the gap and recognizes greywater as one tool to help make that happen. However, not a single state-approved greywater system has been built since it was legalized. Only Denver, Castle Rock and Pitkin County have adopted the code, known as Regulation 86, that regulates how greywater gets done in the state.

    Avery Ellis isn’t happy about that. He was closely involved when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment set the rules.

    “It takes a little civil disobedience and a little public support to push these laws into local adoption,” the greywater installer said.

    In his yard in Longmont, there are young trees and shrubs that are watered through one of his greywater systems.

    Longmont isn’t Denver or Castle Rock and it’s nowhere near Pitkin County. In addition to his water saving rebellion, Ellis teaches and helps others how to go greywater without a permit. Because so far, even in the places where it’s been adopted, no one has even applied for a greywater permit.

    Not a single one.

    In Colorado, only two types of greywater systems are legal. This first one is called “laundry to landscape.” The second is more complicated and costly. Wastewater from a shower or sink is collected in a storage tank and is used for the landscape or to flush toilets. There’s internal plumbing and the water needs to be filtered and treated and can’t be stored for more than 48 hours…

    There’s been some interest in these water saving systems in Pitkin County, which adopted greywater in 2018, but environmental health manager Kurt Dahl thinks that “due to the complication of the regulation they didn’t see the benefit.”

    […]

    The city of Castle Rock is the newest to adopt the state’s greywater rules, but only for new construction. Retrofitting an old home or building isn’t allowed. Mark Marlowe, the director of Castle Rock Water, cites cost as the contributing factor behind that decision…

    That doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen, Marlowe said, but they don’t have the resources to allow just anyone to put in a greywater system.

    And that’s why some cities and counties have chosen not to take on greywater at all. Douglas County said it would be too complicated and costly for the county to oversee. They also point to the potential for public health risks.

    Boulder won’t either, at least right now. Joe Taddeucci, the city water resources manager, said they first need to study if adopting greywater is worth it. One major concern are water rights. Does the city have the OK to use greywater on lawns, instead of sending it back to the river for the next user downstream? How much water would actually be conserved? And what would it take to regulate this?

    …One of the only examples of a large-scale greywater system in the state is a dorm at the University of Colorado Boulder. Williams Village North was built with plumbing that collects wastewater from showers and sinks to flush toilets. Since the city of Boulder hasn’t adopted greywater, the system operates under a research exemption.

    “Testing for chlorine levels, alkaline levels. And greywater systems of this size and magnitude are still fairly new technology, and we do want to make sure that we understand it better before we implement in a new building.”

    At peak use, when students are in school and the dorm is full, the system uses about 2,000 gallons of greywater a day to flush toilets. It’s an example of where some of the biggest year-round savings can happen.

    Sybil Sharvelle, an associate engineering professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, has been involved in greywater research for nearly 20 years. She also advised the state on the rules and is disappointed to see all the growth and construction over the past 10 years has failed to include greywater.

    @ASU water policy expert addresses new #drought plan: State will take less water from the #ColoradoRiver under a new contingency plan #DCP #COriver #aridification

    Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, shows the effects of nearly two decades of drought. (Image: Bureau of Reclamation)

    Here’s the release from Arizona State University (Marshall Terrill):

    The Southwest’s long-standing drought has left the state staring down a historic and first-ever Colorado River water cutback in 2020.

    Starting Jan. 1, Arizona will see a 6.9% reduction of Colorado River water under the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which was finalized in May with California, Nevada and the federal government. Mexico will give up 3% of its allotment under a separate agreement.

    The cuts are part of a plan to keep Lake Mead, a reservoir at the Arizona-Nevada boundary, functional. Water levels for both Lake Mead and Lake Powell have precipitously dropped as a result of historic over-allocation and a drought that started in 2000.

    ASU Now spoke to Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, about the cutbacks and what they will mean for Arizona’s agriculture and the state’s roughly 7 million residents.

    Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Photo credit: Arizona State University

    Question: Are these cuts a move that has been anticipated for some time, and should Arizona residents be worried?

    Answer: Yes, the cuts have been anticipated and were agreed to by the parties to the Drought Contingency Plan or DCP. In fact, until a few months ago, we expected deeper cuts, but good mountain snowpack last winter and aggressive conservation efforts shored Lake Mead up a bit. The cuts are part of a larger plan to safeguard the Colorado River system. The plan was negotiated for several years and finalized this spring.

    The Lower Basin DCP incentivizes conserving water in Lake Mead while also imposing bigger and bigger cuts should lake levels fall to certain levels. Water users on the Central Arizona Project, which brings Colorado River water to central and southern Arizona, are in line to take largest cuts because they are the lowest priority users.

    The 2020 cuts won’t really be felt by Arizona water users because the state has never built out demand for all of its Colorado River supplies. For years, Arizona water managers have used “extra” Colorado River water for aquifer recharge and other purposes. Annually starting in 2015, Arizona has voluntarily conserved in Lake Mead the equivalent amount of this year’s cut.

    Rather than worry, Arizona residents should continue to find ways to permanently use water more efficiently. Statewide, Arizona uses the same amount of water today as it did in the mid-1950s, though we now have seven or eight times the population and a much larger economy. There are still lots of opportunities to stretch our water supplies through conservation and efficiency measures.

    Q: Who will be the first group of people to feel the sting of cuts in Colorado River supplies?

    A: If Lake Mead falls below 1,075-feet elevation, Arizona will take additional cuts and farmers in Pinal County will be the first to feel the impacts. They plan to turn to groundwater (that is, water pumped from wells) to make up for some of those cuts.

    Cities are in a different situation. Municipal providers that use CAP supplies tend to have high priority rights, so they would be among the last CAP users to experience cuts. Many cities in the Phoenix and Tucson areas have diverse water portfolios, including groundwater, reclaimed water and other surface water, which gives them a measure of resilience against cuts in Colorado River supplies. And since passage of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act, growth has been tied to long-term water supplies in the state’s most populous areas, so water providers must plan well in advance for foreseeable supply reductions.

    Q: So if agricultural is the first to take a hit, will this mean the cost of fruits and vegetables will likely go up — and by how much?

    A: That’s a question for an economist, but I will note that Arizona’s agriculture industry is not monolithic when it comes to water supplies. Right now, only Pinal County farmers are facing cuts — other Arizona farmers have higher priority Colorado River rights or get their water from other sources. Two-thirds of Pinal County’s agricultural revenues come from cattle and dairy. That production will not be directly affected by cuts in CAP deliveries. The county’s main irrigated crops are cotton and hay.

    Q: What’s the effect going to be on individual households and what should consumers be mindful of, or start practicing?

    A: For some households, water rates may increase as their water providers take additional steps to ensure water deliveries in the event of decreased Colorado River supplies. In addition, some households in newer developments in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima Counties depend on groundwater and are required to pay into a fund to purchase water supplies to replenish the groundwater withdrawn for their use. This amount shows up as an assessment on county property-tax bills. As fewer supplies become available, the costs of water to meet the replenishment obligation may also increase.

    We should always treat water as the precious resource it is here in Arizona. The single best way for an individual household to help is to permanently reduce the amount of water used for outside landscaping.

    Q: Is this going to be the new normal or a sign of things to come?

    A: We should think of this as the new normal. Lake Mead is over-allocated. The prolonged drought has exacerbated the problem because it results in less extra water in the system. There are signs that the region is aridifying, meaning that average flows in the Colorado River may decrease.

    We shouldn’t overlook the conservation efforts that are critical to keeping the Colorado River system functional. The Drought Contingency Plan includes important ground rules for conserving water in Lake Mead, and Arizona’s Colorado River Indian Tribes and the Gila River Indian Community, along with CAP, will be conserving and storing significant quantities of water in the lake.

    Changing nature of Colorado River droughts, Udall/Overpeck 2017.

    Water equity a concern for Western Slope water users — @AspenJournalism #cwcsc2019 #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Pitkin County is using this irrigation system to grow potatoes for vodka on county open space land. The state is exploring how a voluntary, temporary and compensated water-use reduction plan, known as demand management, could incentivize irrigators to leave more water in the river. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Colorado’s agricultural-water users have concerns about how exactly the state would fairly implement a voluntary water-use reduction plan known as demand management.

    That was the takeaway from some of the first meetings organized by the Colorado Water Conservation Board as part of its investigation into how a demand-management program might work in the state. Water managers discussed the issue of equity at the first meeting of the agricultural-impacts workgroup in Delta in early August and again at Colorado Water Congress in Steamboat Springs on Thursday.

    If Western Slope agricultural-water users don’t see cuts being taken by water users in municipalities, on the east slope and in the lower Colorado River basin, they won’t want to participate in a demand-management program, said Ken Curtis, chief of engineering and construction for the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

    “If (Western Slope users) don’t see that question of fairness, they don’t even want to open the conversation,” he said at the meeting in Delta.

    A large irrigation canal in the Grand Valley, which relies on water from the Colorado River to irrigate fields. The state is exploring how a voluntary, temporary and compensated water-use reduction plan, known as demand management, might work. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Social and cultural perceptions

    This sentiment is not surprising to Colorado State University doctoral candidate Kelsea Macilroy, who spent last spring interviewing about 40 irrigators and water managers on the Western Slope. At CWC on Thursday, she unveiled her Nature Conservancy-funded research on the social and cultural perceptions of demand management.

    There are three key conclusions of the report: Awareness and understanding of demand management vary greatly, defining what demand management is and how it will work is not straightforward, and conversations about demand management are connected to other tensions that create a general sense of vulnerability and fear.

    “People don’t see this as a discussion about feasibility,” she told Thursday’s audience. “It feels like something that’s going to happen.”

    The CWCB has formed nine workgroups, each tasked with helping to identify and solve one of the following issues: agricultural impacts, law and policy, water-rights administration, environmental considerations, economic considerations and local government, funding; education and outreach, monitoring and verification, and tribal interests. The workgroups began meeting this summer.

    At the heart of a demand-management plan is a reduction in water use by agriculture on a voluntary, temporary and compensated basis, all in an effort to send up to 500,000 acre-feet of water downstream to Lake Powell to meet Colorado River Compact obligations. Under pilot programs, the state could pay ranchers and farmers to leave more water in the river.

    But the description “voluntary, temporary and compensated” also is the crux of the problem for many water users.

    “Compensation is one of the stickiest and hardest to define,” Macilroy said. “It’s not just a number; it’s an idea and a value. Is it even truly possible to compensate for reductions in water use? Water is more than just a commodity.”

    Water and agriculture on the Western Slope are tied to Colorado’s rural identity, culture and landscapes. Demand management provokes an emotional response for some who fear that without irrigated, green fields, a community’s way of life is threatened.

    Some said they feared that demand management is a back door to “buy and dry.” Several people invoked the tough lesson of Crowley County, a formerly agricultural hub on Colorado’s southeastern plains. Many of the county’s agricultural-water users sold off their water rights to Front Range municipalities. As irrigated farmland dried up, so did the county’s economic base.

    “I’ve been worried about this because these communities are smaller and ag-dominated,” Cindy Lair, program manager for the State Conservation Board of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, said at the Delta meeting. “They don’t have the resiliency for decreased water. They don’t have the buffering capacity.”

    Macilroy’s results also revealed a complicated relationship between “voluntary” and “parity.” Water managers want to ensure that a demand-management program would spread the burden across different user groups and basins in the name of fairness. But that conflicts with the requirement that participation in any program be voluntary.

    “A voluntary program appeals to people,” Macilroy said. “It also has some major weaknesses. Because it is voluntary, it serves as a direct challenge to implementing parity. You can’t have voluntary and parity at the same time.”

    Brent Newman, head of CWCB’s section on Colorado River issues, said the research findings were not surprising. Helping people understand demand management is a key part of the program, he said.

    “I think that’s a question all the workgroups have identified as one of the key threshold questions: How do you have a voluntary program but also disincentivize negative proportionate impacts to basins?” he said. “We are just starting to wrap our heads around that.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Times on coverage of water and rivers.

    Middle #Colorado Watershed Council “Watershed by Bike Tour” #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    @USBR uses #RioGrande high streamflow this year to expand Silvery minnow habitat

    Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

    From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

    This year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decided to take advantage of high water levels from a strong spring runoff and create more habitat for the fish on the Middle Rio Grande.

    Doris Rhodes owns 629 acres near San Antonio in Socorro County, and for years she has been advocating for her property to host a Reclamation silvery minnow project. Earlier this year, her work paid off.

    Rhodes’ land is nestled on the Rio Grande near Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, making it an ideal location for restoration and conservation, according to Reclamation project manager Ashlee Rudolph.

    Reclamation crews worked from January to March of this year to lower and widen the riverbank on the southern end of the property. They excavated 46,000 cubic yards of dirt to create water channels where minnows could escape the fast-moving river.

    “What makes this project great is that it is a partnership between a private landowner who wanted to create habitat on her land and the federal and state agencies,” Rudolph said. “It is so rare to have that partnership.”

    Slowing the river flow

    Reclamation worked with the private non-profit Save Our Bosque Task Force, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s New Mexico Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to excavate zigzag patterns on nearly a mile of the river.

    The Rhodes property is one of few remaining historic wetlands in the San Acacia Reach of the Rio Grande, a primary habitat for silvery minnow.

    The property has no levees on the east side of the river, which has helped in the restoration of the area’s natural floodplain, according to Reclamation Albuquerque Area public affairs specialist Mary Carlson.

    Chris Torres, who oversees river maintenance operations on the Middle Rio Grande for the Reclamation Albuquerque Area Office, said the slow-moving side channels are critical for minnow-spawning.

    “Minnows like that edge habitat. It’s worked perfectly,” Torres said. “The water is backing the way it’s supposed to, and we can see fish moving down through there. As the water drops, everything returns back to the main river like it’s supposed to.”

    Rudolph said that since 2016, there have been at least eight silvery minnow habitats constructed in the San Acacia Reach of the river. Reclamation is joined by the Interstate Stream Commission to create these sites and monitor the fish populations.

    The new channels don’t just provide habitat for the small fish, which was listed on the federal endangered species list in 1994. Birds, deer and other wildlife are also drawn to the lowered riverbank…

    Torres said the crews left native cottonwoods intact and planted New Mexico olive trees. Crews also completed the project quickly so as not to disturb the federally-endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.

    Side channels were excavated by the Bureau of Reclamation along the Rio Grande where it passes through the Rhodes’ property to provide habitat for the endangered silvery minnow. (Dustin Armstrong/U.S. Bureau Of Reclamation)

    “Normally we would go through and just clear-cut everything for excavation purposes, but for this project we elected to leave the islands and leave as much of the native vegetation as we could,” Torres said…

    The property has flooded at least four times since 2006 – which Rhodes says is a good thing.

    “The Rhodes Property is a release valve,” she said. “When the river’s running high, water will come on to the property. It protects farmers to the north and south and also protects Bosque del Apache.”

    She said that, after the minnow project is complete, her next step will likely be more removal of the invasive salt cedar and planting of native plant species.

    “The more conservation that happens down here,” Rhodes said, “the more I’m convinced that this property is on the right path.”