Castle Rock #conservation goals a high priority with low Plum Creek streamflow

From The Castle Rock News-Press (Jessica Gibbs):

…Castle Rock recently implemented new water restrictions on homeowners associations and urged residents to amp up their conservation efforts. Prolonged dry, hot weather has left one of the town’s renewable sources, the East Plum Creek, at record lows.

The town has gathered data on the creek for 18 years, Marlowe said. The gauge on East Plum Creek nearest Castle Rock shows the area at its lowest level in that time frame.

The town also recorded water use at peak levels — although that is not uncommon during hot spells, Marlowe said.

Over the summer, Castle Rock typically sees an average use of 12.4 million gallons a day. This year, officials have seen that average reach 16.5 million gallons. Peak demand is usually related to outdoor irrigation, Marlowe said, such as the watering of lawns and landscaping.

In response, the town is now requiring homeowners associations to follow a similar watering schedule that has been required of single-family homes since the 1980s. Public spaces like parks, common areas and medians can only be watered between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Homeowners associations were also asked to cut back on issuing violations for distressed lawns and to encourage residents to reduce outdoor watering.

Marlowe said the efforts should save millions of gallons of water.

Additionally, residents and businesses can do their part by researching proper irrigation techniques, for which the town has a number of resources and classes…

Residential water restrictions in place through August only allow watering between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m…

Kaoch explained residents needn’t worry if grass doesn’t stay perfectly green in dry times, as going temporarily dormant can actually help strengthen new root systems. Conservation is most important, Kaoch said, expressing the district’s willingness to work with town staff under the new water restrictions.

For residents who want to learn more about proper irrigation and water conservation, the town offers numerous resources through the website The town also runs classes for people to learn efficient watering and conservation techniques.

@ColoradoStateU: Investments in conservation easements reap benefits for #Colorado

Colorado’s diverse landscape has a rich natural and agricultural heritage that fuels the economy. Photo: Michael Menefee

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Mary Guiden):

Colorado is famous for its iconic landscapes, which have helped shape the state’s identity and economy. From agriculture to recreation and tourism, from minerals and fuels to forest and wildlife, Coloradans are dependent on nature for many things that enrich our lives.

Not surprisingly, state officials have repeatedly identified conservation of the state’s natural and agricultural lands as sound public policy. This includes providing incentives for conservation easements. These are legally binding agreements between private landowners and nonprofit land trusts or government to protect conservation values of a property.

A new analysis from Colorado State University found that each dollar invested by the state for these easements produced benefits of between $4 and $12 for Coloradans. Public benefits include clean water and air, scenic views, access to things produced by local farms and ranches products, and wildlife habitat: all things that contribute to a high quality of life in the state. Researchers said these data show that easements are conserving land that is important for wildlife, agriculture, tourism and outdoor recreation for Colorado’s visitors and residents alike.

Conservation easements protect specific conservation values of a property, such as wildlife habitat. Photo: Michael Menefee

“There is a substantial return to the Colorado taxpayer on investments in programs designed to conserve the features of the Colorado landscape that are so dear to all of us,” said Andrew Seidl, one of the study authors and a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at CSU.

Based on the new analysis, the CSU research team found the investments from the state programs conserve:

  • More than 114,450 acres of preliminary priority habitat for greater sage grouse
  • Nearly 300,000 acres of prime farmland
  • 250 miles along designated scenic byways
  • More than 4,100 miles of streams, creeks and rivers
  • More than 270,000 acres of habitat used by elk during severe winter conditions
  • The state programs have invested nearly $1.1 billion on conservation easements since 1995, according to the new analysis. CSU researchers — who examined data on 2.1 million acres of Colorado lands with conservation easements — said the related benefits for state residents are as high as $13.7 billion.

    The study focused on Colorado’s investments in conservation easements funded through a tax credit program and Great Outdoors Colorado. The voter-approved program uses a portion of lottery proceeds to help with efforts to protect wildlife habitat, river corridors, productive agricultural lands, iconic scenic views. It has also created trails and open spaces for Coloradans to enjoy.

    Colorado is famous for its iconic landscapes. Photo: Michael Menefee

    Study co-author Michael Menefee, an environmental review coordinator with CSU’s Colorado Natural Heritage Program, said the investments are filling a vital need for conservation of identified priorities on private lands. “An active partnership between private landowners and public policy can achieve what neither acting alone can accomplish,” he added.

    The Colorado Office of the State Auditor released an analysis in December 2016 concluding, among other findings, that it was difficult for the public and policymakers to determine the benefits from the conservation easement program. But this new study used a more robust data set from the Colorado Ownership, Management and Protection (COMaP) database, the state’s most comprehensive map of protected lands.

    COMaP started as a Geographic Information System research project in CSU’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology in 2004. Since then, it has evolved into an important tool for those around the state with an interest in privately and publicly protected lands.

    “Easements are the primary tool in Colorado for conserving these many benefits while still maintaining land in private ownership – often as working farms and ranches,” said Drew Bennett, study co-author and a postdoctoral fellow at CSU.

    The study’s authors will present their findings later this month at a hearing of the Colorado General Assembly’s Legislative Audit Committee. Committee members will review the programs and consider potential changes.

    The study was funded by Robert L. Tate, a longtime supporter of and donor to the Warner College of Natural Resources and Colorado State University.

    Reaction to “#Colorado’s Rivers — A Report Card” from @ConservationColorado


    Conservation Colorado has released a new report analyzing several rivers flowing through our state and the Colorado River gets a grade of a “D”.

    The report covers the health and wellbeing of eight rivers and the reason behind behind the Colorado River receiving such a low grade is because more than half of the water is diverted out for human use.

    Officials say 50 percent of Denver Water comes from the Colorado River and overall 81 percent of the water is used for agriculture.

    The river once reached the ocean and with the report highlighting the population of Colorado to double by 2050, officials say it is hard to see a health future.

    Although Sarah McCarthy, Western Slope Field Manager for Conservation Colorado does say, this waterway still has a chance to thrive, “A big part of that solution is going to be urban water conservation so a huge part of the demand for the water in these rivers especially the Colorado River is water for urban municipalities. So if we within urban municipalities can work on water efficiency, water conservation, water recycling we can decrease that demand even as population grows.”

    McCarthy says there are already multiple restoration groups working towards keeping the river healthy…

    Also of the eight rivers on this report the Yampa River is the only river to receive and “A”.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The Dolores and Colorado rivers graded out poorly, and the Yampa River quite well, in an environmental group’s new scorecard grading the health of eight rivers in Colorado…

    Other grades it issued include a C for the Arkansas River, a B for the Rio Grande, a C for the South Platte and a B-plus for the North Platte…

    The group says in its release that the state’s rivers “are threatened by climate change, overuse, poor dam management, energy development, and the needs of a population that is set to double by 2050. The report provides several ideas to protect our rivers, including conserving water, voluntarily sharing water rights, avoiding large new water diversions, building water-smart landscapes, and implementing Colorado’s Water Plan.”

    Dolores River watershed

    The Dolores flows from southwest Colorado to Mesa County before veering into Utah. The report cites low flows in the river and increases in water temperature and silt and sediment that threaten coldwater native fish species. It says McPhee Dam near the community of Dolores has cut the river’s flows in half…

    Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

    On the Colorado, it points to well-known concerns such as a number of dams and reservoirs on the river and its tributaries, and heavy diversions to the Front Range, including up to 60 percent of flows in the upper reaches of some headwaters tributaries.

    Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

    The report calls the Yampa “near-pristine,” with very little diversion of water. But it adds, “Proposed new storage projects and expansions threaten this free-flowing river.”

    Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District, said Conservation Colorado deserves a “big thank you … for an excellent summation of the challenges facing the state’s rivers, not the least being the Colorado River. As is pointed out, all stake-holders need to share in balanced means for improvement for the betterment of the state. Everybody has a role to play. In many cases, stakeholders are working on solutions.”

    Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla disagrees with the Dolores River grade.

    “I believe — I’m down there on that river all the time — that it’s doing just fine,” he said.

    He said the flows don’t look any different from when he was a kid below where the dam ended up being built in the 1980s. He said the creation of McPhee Reservoir has assured minimal streamflows below it, where previously the river sometimes would almost dry up.

    That’s because of water diversion that occurs for irrigation, but the region is dependent on water from the river, he said.

    “It’s the lifeblood of Montezuma County, I can tell you that,” he said.

    Amber Clark, program coordinator for Dolores River Boating Advocates, released a statement from the group saying, “Without question the Dolores River is challenged; that is why we at DRBA do what we do.

    “However, it is extremely important to acknowledge that a lot of great collaborative work has been done and continues to be done at the local level. The problem is not dam management; there is simply not enough water for today’s competing interests and DRBA is dedicated to respecting consumptive water rights holders and working with the diversity of local stakeholders to continue finding solutions for the lower Dolores. We strongly feel that is where the best solutions come from.”

    Both the boating group and Suckla praised a special water release that was made below the dam this year thanks to plentiful snowpack, boosting runoff flows to provide environmental and recreational benefits.

    The boating group said in its statement, “Stakeholders — including water managers and farmers, recreationists, conservationists, fishery managers, and land managers — worked together to ensure that allocations from McPhee were met while providing a great boating season and accomplishing important ecological goals.”

    It said local conversations also are occurring about a possible National Conservation Area designation for the Lower Dolores.

    Ponderosa Gorge, Dolores River. Photo credit

    Longmont Councillors approve asking voters for Windy Gap bond issue

    Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

    From The Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):

    A 5-2 Longmont City Council majority decided Wednesday night to ask voters’ authorization to sell an estimated $36.3 million in bonds to help finance the city’s share of costs for the Windy Gap Firming Project…

    …the city’s water customers would pay higher rates in 2018, with rates increasing by an average 13 percent above 2017 levels. There would be another 10 percent increase in 2019 and a 6 percent increase in 2020 as the city makes annual principal and interest repayments on the 20-year bonds.

    The water rate-backed bonds, along with about $6.2 million the city projects it will be getting from development fees and other sources, would cover Longmont’s costs of paying for the project that would be able to provide the city with about 10,000 acre-feet of water. A council majority continued to endorse the 10,000 acre-feet level on Wednesday night.

    Mayor Dennis Coombs and council members Brian Bagley, Bonnie Finley, Jeff Moore and Gabe Santos voted Tuesday to direct the city staff to prepare an ordinance that will, when adopted, advance the bonding question to November’s ballot.

    Council members Polly Christensen and Joan Peck voted against the $36.3 million bonding scenario.

    Christensen and Peck instead tried to get the council to support an alternative that would have lowered Longmont’s Windy Gap Firming Project level from 10,000 acre-feet of water to an 8,000 acre-foot participation. That option would have maintained a set of 9 percent annual water rate increases that already are to take place at the start of 2018 and again in 2019, but with no rate increases above that 9 percent level in either of those years.

    The Christensen-Peck approach, however, failed on a 5-2 vote, with all other council members voting against that option.

    Santos said that when it comes to water delivery and supplies, “it’s incumbent on us to make decisions for the future, for the next generations.”

    Coombs noted that under Longmont’s tiered water-rate system, with residents’ and businesses’ actual water bills based on how much water they actually use, “people have some control,” even with the pending increases ahead.

    Customers “can take some responsibility” for conserving water, and thereby reducing the water bills they get, even with the higher rates ahead in future years, he said.

    Peck, however, said she was concerned that “we’re buying more (water) than we actually need” if Longmont sticks with the 10,000 acre-feet participation level from the Windy Gap Firming Project, which is to include construction of a new Chimney Hollow Reservoir southwest of Loveland.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Prior to the council’s Wednesday night action to direct the staff to prepare the ballot measure language for the bonding option, a number of residents spoke about their opposition to that project and questioned its need. Some also objected to the entire concept of diverting water from the Western Slope to the Front Range.

    Shed ’17 recap

    Brad Udall’s panel at Shed ’17. From left, Brad Udall, Sam Mamet, Martha Rudolph, Maggie Fox.

    What a hoot at Thursday’s Shed ’17 summit at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Great program and an outstanding venue, the Denver Botanic Gardens. Organizers included volunteers from Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Water, Aurora Water, City of Boulder, Center for Resource Conservation, Colorado Division of Water Resources, Colorado Water Conservation Board, the the One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University at Denver. (Go Roadrunners!)

    Mike Nelson’s keynote focused on Climate Change. He cited the increase in frequency of large-scale storminess and emphasized that humnankind is changing the water cycle. He is working for the future of his grandchildren he said at the end.

    To close out the presentations Brad Udall outlined major events related to climate change since last fall’s election. He ended with a series of maps showing public opinion strongly in favor of policies to combat the effects of climate change.

    A panel discussion followed Brad’s presentation. Sam Mamet explored climate change from the municipal perspective. He talked about the challenges to the folks on the front lines, city and town administrators, boards and councils, and their role in planning for a warmer future. Funding heads the list of concerns for the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. Close behind is the uncertainty about policy, rule-making, and priorities for the new administration. Maggie Fox urged climate educators to find common ground with those they seek to influence. She was adamant in her plea for everyone to stay engaged and active politically.

    We heard a great story from the recreation folks. Recreation is a muti-billion dollar industry and is responsible for many jobs across the state. The industry also has many interests aligned with the environment. Recreational In Channel Diversions, for example, can call out juniors to help keep water in the stream. The wave feature at Glenwood Springs is a great recreation draw in the valley.

    Conservation efforts are morphing towards a focus on resiliency and bolstering the natural environment. Kevin Reidy pointed out a large statewide uptick in interest for developing and revising conservation plans. In the Roaring Fork Valley entities worked together to develop a regional plan.

    Farmers are still resistant to Alternative Transfer Methods. One reason is the desire to sell their water rights when they retire. Another is the heightened risk that comes with agriculture year after year — the reality that good years are what get farmers through the other years. There is great uncertainty at the beginning of each growing season.

    John Echohawk spoke just before lunch. He catalogued the struggle to litigate Native American water rights. Most of the time the tribes are successful leveraging the Winters v. United States Supreme Court decision and the date a reservation was established. The cost of litigation is prohibitive.

    Thanks again to the committee that put this together. Sean Cronin did a great job keeping the agenda on track. It was a treat touring the gardens.

    Every Drop Counts: What You Can Do to Save Water in the West — @Water4Colorado #conservation

    From Water for Colorado (click through to view the videos and learn some tips for lawn care):

    Modern conveniences have made it easy to forget how much water we’re using and where that water really comes from. This makes it even more difficult to grasp how your water usage habits can have a long-term impact on the collective water supply.

    With a predicted water deficit of 560,000 acre-feet (one acre foot is 326,000 gallons) in Colorado by 2050, water conservation efforts in states that rely on the Colorado River for their water supply have never been more important. Though some states such as Colorado and California have adopted laws that encourage the installation of more water efficient toilets, faucets, and showerheads, these small adjustments are just the first step in preserving the water supply for the long-term.

    While water conservation efforts have historically focused primarily on water usage inside the home, the current conversation around water conservation is shifting its focus to water usage outside of the home. Continuously running your sprinklers may be healthy for your lawn, but it’s not so great for the long-term health of our water sources like the Colorado River. Although most of the water used indoors eventually makes its way to a water treatment plant where it is recycled and ultimately repurposed, the same cannot be said for water that is used outdoors. The gallons of water you’re spraying on your lawn and driveway, unlike the gallons going down your drain, don’t make their way to a treatment plant and cannot be recycled. Rather, this water is absorbed into the ground, only to later be evaporated into the air.

    To make a lasting, impactful difference everyone must do their part in order to save our water. Luckily, there are a few simple lawn care changes that not only save water but can even help keep lawns healthier.

    Opinion: Conservation easements are an investment in soils

    Saguache Creek

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Tamera Minnick):

    Soils are vital to ecosystem health. In the U.S., we learned this the hard way in the 1930s Dust Bowl. Extreme drought was just one of the drivers of the Dust Bowl. The effects were magnified by economic, policy and land management decisions during the prior decade.

    At the end of World War I, European agriculture was in disarray and American agriculture benefited. During a few years, wheat prices were high and borrowing money was easy. The result was 5.2 million acres of marginal agricultural lands plowed to grow wheat. In retrospect, we now appreciate that these lands should have stayed as native grass.

    Once that soil was destabilized by plowing and left bare in the drought, it blew. And blew. People died of dust pneumonia — not caused by a bacteria or virus, but from the dust itself.

    In 1935, Dr. Hugh Bennett, a soil scientist, prescribed protecting and revegetating these marginal lands with grasses. When government agencies insisted that soil was a resource that could not be exhausted, Bennett replied, “I didn’t know so much costly misinformation could be put into a single brief sentence.” The main problem with Bennett’s ideas, like today, was that he had to persuade Congress to fund them.

    Congress was stubborn, but Bennett rescheduled a hearing for an afternoon in which he knew that a big duster had formed and was headed for Washington, DC.

    As the meeting began, success appeared unlikely. It suddenly grew dark. The dust storm blew in and turned day to night. Funding was approved. This was the inception of what would become the Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Today, most farmers have easy access to an NRCS office.

    NRCS strives to decrease erosion by aiding farmers in adopting techniques such as low- or no-till plowing, contouring with the landscape, using buffer strips around water, and planting shelterbelts.

    Building on this success, President Ronald Reagan implemented the Conservation Reserve Program in 1985. The intent was to take marginal land, mostly land at risk for erosion, out of crop production and plant native grass. The federal government pays rent to farmers for providing this public service of stabilizing these marginal lands.

    The CRP has decreased erosion, improved wildlife habitat, and enhanced water and air quality, all while keeping the land in private ownership.

    One of the deficiencies of the CRP is the short-term nature of the contracts. For 15 or 20 years, erosion is controlled, soil organic matter gradually accumulates, wildlife populations rebound, and sites stabilize. But there can be sudden changes.

    For instance, in 2007, crop prices increased dramatically. Many marginal lands were put back into crop production. In one year, many of those public goods, paid for by taxpayers, were eliminated.

    In the late 1990s, a new conservation tool was developed — conservation easements. With conservation easements, the right to develop the land is relinquished and, in return, the owner usually is accorded significant tax credits.

    One similarity between the CRP and conservation easements is that entering into either one is voluntary. The landowner makes a personal and economic decision that the program is the right thing to do with his or her private land. Additionally, the private land remains private.

    There are some major differences between conservation easements and CRP. Under conservation easements, many land uses are allowed, including continued crop production; these are described in a contract. Also, the easement is often held by a non-profit (like our own Mesa Land Trust). The result of an easement is a substantial tax credit (which in Colorado can be transferred to others). Finally, the easement is permanent, not just a 10- or 15-year contract.

    That last point is important. At Colorado Mesa University, my colleagues, students, and I have reported that it may take our fragile western soils 50 years or more to recover to a healthy functioning status following damage (and much longer if topsoil is lost to erosion). Permanent conservation easements assure public investments will not be lost with short-term fluctuations in commodity prices.

    Another reason that conservation easements are in perpetuity? In order to gain the federal and Colorado tax credits, the easement must be permanent.

    Mesa Land Trust is phenomenally successful in our county. There is widespread support, and they have helped landowners protect, in perpetuity, over 66,000 acres. Much of this is important wildlife habitat outside of the valley, while some insures that agriculture thrives in the valley and that we have buffers between our towns to preserve the rural character of our area.

    Conservation easements are a modern tool based on our improved understanding of the science of how ecosystems function. Their perpetual nature guarantees the public’s return on this investment.

    Tamera Minnick, Ph.D., is a professor of environmental science and technology at Colorado Mesa University where she has taught soil science and sustainability. She recently renewed her membership with Mesa Land Trust. Much of the Dust bowl information came from Timothy Egan’s “Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.” Email