#ColoradoRiver District Annual Water Seminar September 21, 22, 23, and 24, 2020 #COriver #aridification

Click here to register and for all the inside skinny:

Topic: Colorado River District’s Annual Seminar: Zooming in on West Slope Water

Description

Monday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “West Slope Water 101.” This session will cover how water rights are deployed in irrigation, drinking water and recreation. Transmountain diversions will be described as will be the importance of water rights associated with irrigation in the Grand Valley and the Shoshone Hydropower Plant.

Tuesday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “Water Works: the Colorado River District in Action.” Learn how the Colorado River District overcomes challenges with its partners and constituents to protect the water security of western Colorado while promoting better water use and protection of the environment with projects across the district.

Wednesday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “Heating Up the Talk About Why River Flows are Down.” Rising temperatures are robbing the Colorado River system of flows. Drought, aridification of the West and reduced river flows are driving down Lakes Powell and Mead while impacting local water use at the same time. A panel of speakers will review the current science, the on-the-ground impacts and how two major water providers are planning for a new normal

Thursday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “Of Primary Importance: The Secondary Economic Impacts of Demand Management.” The River District and its partners in the Water Bank Workgroup commissioned a study of how demand management of water, meaning not using it and sending it to Lake Powell, would impact communities if water were to become a “cash crop.” Spending patterns could change. How would demand management impact our mainstreet economies? How would it change spending at rural businesses such as local diners and mechanics?

6 states ask government to halt #LakePowellPipeline project so concerns can be addressed — The St. George News #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

From The St. George News (Mori Kessler):

In a joint letter Tuesday, water officials from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming asked Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to “refrain from issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement of Record of Decision regarding the Lake Powell Pipeline until such time as the Seven Basin States and the Department of the Interior are able to reach consensus regarding outstanding legal and operational concerns raised by the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project.”

The letter also states that the Colorado River Basin states face the daunting challenge of supplying water to growing population centers in the West while relying on a source that is threatened by climate change and continuing drought.

If the approval process for the Lake Powell Pipeline is not halted so concerns can be addressed, the letter states it may result in “multi-year litigation” that could also complicate future interstate cooperation concerning use of the Colorado River…

Despite a potential threat of litigation if their concerns are not resolved, Brock Belnap, an assistant general manager at the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said Thursday the water district hopes issues can be resolved without too much disturbance to the pipeline’s timetable.

“We appreciate that they express they want to resolve the issues they may have and we are pledging likewise to work with them to address the issue they may have in regard to the Law of the River in the Colorado River,” Belnap said…

An example of the issues some of the other states have is that Washington County is geographically located in the Lower Colorado River Basin, Belnap said, and the compacts state that water rights cannot be transferred from the one basin to the other. However, Utah is counted among the Upper Colorado River Basin States, and the compacts also say each state has a right to develop its allocated portion of the Colorado River within its boundaries, he said…

The government received more than 10,000 public comments on an environmental impact report for the proposed pipeline before Tuesday’s deadline, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Marlon Duke said. The Interior Department, which oversees the bureau, is expected to issue a final report, which could bring the project a step closer to approval.

Although the proposal isolates Utah from the other states that rely on the river, it’s committed to bringing water it’s entitled to tap to those who need it, said Todd Adams, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.

He said the project has been under review for about 20 years, and many other projects have gone through federal review while states worked through unresolved issues…

Zachary Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, attended the meeting and asked if the committee planned to halt the project due to the concerns expressed by the other states in Tuesday’s letter.

Here’s the release from the Utah Rivers Council:

Utah’s largest new water diversion in Colorado River Basin ignites a modern water war, results in veiled threat of litigation by other states.

In a stunning letter to the Secretary of Interior, a coalition of state water agencies, large water suppliers, and Governors’ representatives of Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico are asking that Utah’s controversial Lake Powell Pipeline be placed on hold.

The shocking move demonstrates how out of touch the Utah Division of Water Resources and its lobbying partners have been in understanding the impacts of climate change on the Colorado River and of the Pipeline’s impact to the water supplies of seven states. The letter notes:

“As Governors’ representatives of the Colorado River Basin States of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming, we write to respectfully request that your office refrain from issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) or Record of Decision (ROD) regarding the Lake Powell Pipeline until such time as the seven Basin States and the Department of the Interior (Interior) are able to reach consensus regarding outstanding legal and operational concerns raised by the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project.”

The strong letter of opposition was signed by representatives of the Colorado River Board of California, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Colorado River Commission of Nevada and the State of Wyoming.

They joined scores of groups and many hundreds of people across seven states submitting comments of opposition to the Lake Powell Pipeline to the Provo Office of the Bureau of Reclamation for the DEIS. The project drew criticism across the American West because the Colorado River has dropped dramatically with reservoir levels at 50% of capacity in an era of water cuts and climate change.

This is a historic first for 6 of the 7 Colorado River Basin States to reprimand another state on what they see as:

“Serious legal concerns relating to the 1922 and 1948 Compacts, including the accounting of the Lake Powell Pipeline diversion and other operational issues under the Law of the River.”

Utah ignited the water war with other Colorado River Basin states by pushing the Lake Powell Pipeline even without a demonstrable need for the water. Utah water officials justified the Pipeline with a high municipal water use of over 300 gallons per person per day, while other cities like Las Vegas, Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix have water use between 120 and 150 gpcd, or less.

In a separate letter, the Southern Nevada Water Authority noted:

“What the Utah Board of Water Resources characterizes as extreme conservation efforts and impractical conservation, are actually commonly applied in an efficient and effective manner in many other communities.”

“This project is water hoarding at its finest. Utah wants to cash in on its ‘water entitlement’ under the Colorado River Compact so badly that it is willing to upset the fragile balance of a basin that supports 40 million people, recreational and agricultural economies, tribal lands and cultures, and irreplaceable landscapes and ecosystems.” — said Jen Pelz, the Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians

“Secretary Bernhardt should listen to the six Colorado River states that just asked him to delay any decision regarding the Utah’s unnecessary and harmful proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. All six states, especially Arizona, would be hurt by Utah’s attempted water grab from the drought- stricken Colorado River.” — said Douglas Wolf, Senior Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity

“It is not often where grassroots groups and government water buffaloes are aligned on bad water projects, but the Lake Powell Pipeline is such a boondoggle that opposition is now widespread. We hope St. George finally begins to follow the lead of communities like Las Vegas, Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix and others that have implemented world-class conservation programs.” — said Kyle Roerink, Executive Director of the Great Basin Water Network

A coalition of groups also submitted extensive comments opposing the embattled Lake Powell Pipeline. The coalition has requested the Bureau of Reclamation explore other less expensive and environmentally destructive means for meeting the water needs of residents of Washington County in southwest Utah. This is also an Alternative identified as missing from the DEIS in the letter sent to the Secretary of the Interior by the 6 State Coalition. The 224 page letter can be found HERE.

The letter was submitted by Utah Rivers Council, Save the Colorado, WildEarth Guardians, Great Basin Water Network, Living Rivers, Glen Canyon Institute, Utah Audubon Council, SUWA, Conserve Southwest Utah, Citizen’s Water Advocacy Group of Arizona, Sunrise Movement of Las Vegas, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, San Diego Coast Keeper and Grand Staircase Escalante Partners. It details flaws in Reclamation’s environmental review including challenging the basis and need for the project itself, the lack of examining more cost-effective and less destructive alternatives, and its failure to analyze and mitigate the environmental harms that would arise if the project goes forward.

The Lake Powell Pipeline is one of the projects identified by the Trump Administration–in its June 4, 2020, Executive Order No. 13927–to be fast tracked through the environmental review process.

Looser standards for showerheads could send a lot of #water and money down the drain — The Conversation


Most Americans take water for granted, but many areas are struggling with water shortages.
slobo/Getty Images

Robert Glennon, University of Arizona

For more than 25 years, Congress has directed U.S. government agencies to set energy and water efficiency standards for many new products. These measures conserve resources and save consumers a lot of money. Until recently, they had bipartisan support.

But President Trump has turned efficiency standards into symbols of intrusive government. His administration has opposed many of these rules, including standards for light bulbs, commercial boilers, portable air conditioners and low-flow toilets. His latest target: showerheads.

The Energy Policy Act of 1992, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush, set the maximum flow rate for showers at 2.5 gallons per minute. President Trump is proposing to increase the rate, which he calls inadequate to wash his “beautiful hair.”

It may sound funny, but it’s not. As someone who writes and teaches about water law and policy, I know that the U.S. water supply is finite and exhaustible. Most Americans take water for granted, but as population growth and climate change exacerbate water shortages, experts increasingly argue that water policy should promote conservation

EPA graphic describing water and energy savings from efficient showerheads.
The Trump administration is proposing to roll back a regulation that has spurred manufacturers to produce high-efficiency showerheads.
EPA

When is a showerhead not a showerhead?

On Aug. 13, the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend the existing standard for showerheads. The documentation prints out at 25 pages of mind-numbing rationalization. Its definition of showerheads exemplifies the byzantine logic behind this policy shift.

For example, the proposed rule provides three images of fixtures with between three and eight heads attached to a single pipe coming out of the wall. So long as none of the individual heads has a flow greater than 2.5 gallons per minute, the measure asserts that each fixture satisfies Congress’s quest for water and energy conservation.

Images of shower outlets with multiple heads.
Under the Trump administration’s proposed rule, each of these fixtures could produce up to 2.5 gallons of water per minute from each separate nozzle. Current law limits the entire device to 2.5 gallons per minute.
DOE

How can the Energy Department allow shower fixtures with as many as eight heads, each emitting 2.5 gallons per minute? For context, Webster’s dictionary defines a showerhead as a “fixture for directing the spray of water in a bathroom shower.”

But the proposed rule interprets “showerhead” to mean “an accessory to a supply fitting for spraying water onto a bather.” With this sleight of hand, a congressional rule limiting showerhead flows can be deftly avoided by installing a hydra-headed fixture with multiple “showerheads,” each flowing at 2.5 gallons per minute.

Vertical column with seven nozzles.
The proposed new rule classifies this device as a ‘body spray,’ not a showerhead.
DOE

The agency also released a fourth image of a wall fixture with seven nozzles, which the rule would not subject to the 2.5 gallons per minute maximum. The Energy Department deems these fixtures a “body spray” rather than a showerhead because they are “usually located” below the bather’s head. (Of course, the person showering may be short, or the plumber may install the fixture high on the shower wall.) Body sprays may have six or eight nozzles with no flow limits.

The sad part of this foolishness is that the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program, which identifies water-efficient projects and promotes water conservation, has been spectacularly successful, at virtually no cost to consumers or the regulated community. Showers constitute 17% of residential water use. That’s 40 gallons per day for the average family, or 1.2 trillion gallons annually in the United States.

WaterSense fixtures and appliances have saved Americans more than 4.4 trillion gallons of water and US$87 billion in water and energy expenses since the program began in 2006. Low-water-use fixtures – including showerheads, toilets and washing machines – are now the accepted norm across the United States.

Some early products, such as the first high-efficiency toilets, had some hiccups. But that was 20 years ago. Today, notwithstanding President Trump’s declaration that “people are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once,” consumers embrace low water-use fixtures because they work well, save money and reduce water and energy consumption.

[Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get expert takes on today’s news, every day.]

Tapped out

Today the United States faces serious water problems. Georgia and Florida are fighting a prolonged battle over flows in the Apalachicola River. Excessive groundwater pumping is causing water levels in wells to plummet and springs to dry up. As I explain in my book, “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It,” farmers are competing with cities for water.

COVID-19 has helped to make the affordability of water a national issue. Some rural areas, such as the Navajo Nation, where many people need to haul water to their homes and villages, have higher rates of coronavirus infection. People who have lost their jobs find themselves unable to pay their water bills, which in turn compromises the financial stability of water providers.

More than 2 million Americans don’t have running water in their homes, according to a 2019 report.

Allowing showers to use more water would have several unfortunate consequences for cities across the country. It would increase the amount of water cities must treat; raise the chances of raw sewage overflows at water treatment plants – especially in cities such as Washington, D.C. that combine storm and sewer water; and increase the amount of energy used to pump and treat water.

Disrupting low-flow fixture rules would create special hardships for western cities, such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, that have struggled with water shortages for decades. Both cities remarkably reduced their total water use between the 1980s and 2020, despite rapid population growth, partly by converting residences to low water-use fixtures.

Water is not just another natural resource. Without it our bodies cease to function, our crops dry up, and our economy grinds to a halt. We can’t make any more water, so it makes sense to use the water we have wisely.The Conversation

Robert Glennon, Regents Professor and Morris K. Udall Professor of Law & Public Policy, University of Arizona

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

How municipal water #conservation is keeping the #RioGrande through #Albuquerque from going dry — @JFleck

New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation

From InkStain (John Fleck):

One of the traditional “tragedy narratives” of western water is the idea that thirsty cities are draining our rivers. But in two of the last three years, precisely the opposite has happened here in Albuquerque.

We’ve been limping along on a very bad year on the Rio Grande, with some of the lowest flows through Albuquerque that we’ve seen in a while. And the limping will continue. But with irrigation water in storage just about gone, an agreement is taking shape that will use an unused chunk of Albuquerque’s imported Colorado River water to keep the Rio Grande from drying through Albuquerque in coming months.

This is possible because Albuquerque’s water conservation success has left it with more water rights than it currently needs, including water we import through the San Juan-Chama project, a transbasin diversion that brings Colorado River water through tunnels beneath the Continental Divide. Some of that, now sitting in storage in reservoirs up on the Chama, will be released in coming weeks to maintain flows in the river here in town.

A similar deal in the very dry summer of 2018 also used some of Albuquerque’s unused Colorado River apportionment to keep the Rio Grande wet.

To be clear, this isn’t a charitable contribution on Albuquerque’s part. As I understand the deal, three government agencies with a shared interest in keeping the river wet – the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – are paying the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority for the water…

But it’s intriguing to see the traditional narrative turned on its head – water available for the environment because a city has more than it needs.

@Audubon Conservation Ranching Webinar: An Emerging Land Ethic, September 3, 2020 — @AudubonRockies

Western Meadowlark, Pronghorn Ranch, Wyoming, 18,000 acres enrolled in the Audubon Conservation Ranching Initiative. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon

Click here register:

Thursday, September 3, 2020 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM ET

You are probably familiar with Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, but did you know that he wrote an essay in Audubon magazine in 1942 that essentially proposed the concept of market-based conservation and the power of the consumer? This webinar will look at how the Audubon Conservation Ranching Initiative seeks to turn Leopold’s bold ideas into reality, with beneficial outcomes for the land, birds, and the ranchers that bring a conservation ethic in the management of their lands. Learn how you can further the emergence of a conservation ethic through your food purchases that bear the Audubon certification seal.

Partners Protect Banded Peak Ranch from Development, Completing 30-Year Effort to Conserve 65,000 Acres in Southwest Colorado — Colorado State Forest Service

Here’s the release from the Colorado State Forest Service:

[On July 28, 2020], The Conservation Fund, Colorado State Forest Service and USDA Forest Service announced the permanent protection of the 16,723-acre Banded Peak Ranch in Colorado’s southern San Juan Mountains. The protected land will connect a largely undisturbed forest landscape, prevent development in critical wildlife corridors and conserve an essential watershed that provides water to Colorado and New Mexico communities downstream. The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund played a critical role to permanently safeguard these private forestlands from the threat of development.

Banded Peak Ranch. Photo credit: Christine Quinlan via the Colorado State Forest Service

The completion of a conservation easement on Banded Peak Ranch is the final phase of a 30-year effort by The Conservation Fund in the Navajo River Watershed – protecting a total of 65,000 acres that connect wilderness ranches in the upper reaches of the watershed to conserved working ranches at lower elevations on the Navajo, Little Navajo and East Fork of the San Juan rivers. Permanent protection of these lands is the product of public-private partnerships involving 10 different ranches. Over the years, the Navajo River watershed project area has attracted $37 million from federal, state and private partners, including private foundations, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the federal Forest Legacy Program, which is managed in Colorado by the Colorado State Forest Service, and private landowner donations.

These privately owned lands are surrounded by some of the most remote, expansive and undisturbed national forest and wilderness lands in Colorado. As the last, large unprotected property in the upper Navajo River watershed, Banded Peak Ranch completes the protection of a wilderness watershed and preserves one of the most important wildlife migration corridors for mule deer and elk in the Rocky Mountain region.

“The headwaters of the Navajo River is one of the wildest and most pristine landscapes we have protected in Colorado. It is a majestic place that has inspired many others to join us in the effort,” said Tom Macy, Western Representative of The Conservation Fund. “If we are going to see grizzlies return to Colorado, it is likely to be here.”

Critical Water Supply, Wildlife Habitat, Working Forests

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

The watershed has critically important benefits for downstream users in Colorado and New Mexico, providing irrigation and drinking water for 1 million people in New Mexico, including 90 percent of Albuquerque’s surface water supply. Protecting Banded Peak safeguards 33 miles of streams on the ranch, including a 5-mile stretch of the Navajo River, along with 850 acres of riparian and wetland habitat.

Banded Peak Ranch – roughly 20 miles southeast of Pagosa Springs – hosts a premier deer and elk hunting program that provides stimulus to the regional economy, while the carefully managed timber operation supports regional wood processing mills. The ranch has been an active participant in the Colorado State Forest Service’s Forest Ag program for two decades and manages its forests with the guidance of a management plan written in conjunction with the agency.

“Our family has been dedicated to land conservation and land stewardship in Colorado and elsewhere for many years,” said Karin Griscom, the family’s representative. “We were privileged to partner with The Conservation Fund, which has diligently worked with us to protect strategic lands and wildlife corridors in the Upper Navajo River watershed over the last 20 years. We also greatly appreciate the help of the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service, elected officials and especially the Wyss Foundation that were all instrumental in the protection of this legacy ranch.”

‘Myriad of Ecological Values’

Navajo River Watershed map via the Colorado State Forest Service

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs along the eastern border of the family’s properties for approximately 10 miles. Almost completely surrounded by 3.75 million acres of the San Juan National Forest, South San Juan Wilderness and Rio Grande National Forest, protection of the Banded Peak Ranch enhances the adjacent public lands by maintaining healthy forests, critical wetland and riparian areas, and crucial wildlife corridors. Fire modeling shows this ranch is the first line of defense in the watershed for reducing the risk and cost of wildfire.

The conservation easement on Banded Peak Ranch will be held by the Colorado State Forest Service. The two adjacent ranches – Catspaw and Navajo Headwaters – are owned by members of the same family and protected through a series of conservation easements held by the Colorado State Forest Service and Colorado Open Lands. These perpetual easements ensure that the natural richness and ruggedness of these lands will remain largely undisturbed, allowing ranch operations to continue while eliminating future subdivision for residential or commercial development.

“We’re proud to partner with The Conservation Fund, USDA Forest Service and owners of Banded Peak Ranch to conserve the myriad of ecological values on the ranch,” said Mike Lester, State Forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service. “By protecting Banded Peak and its forests from future development, we’re ensuring the public benefits that these forests provide – from clean air and water to habitat for our iconic wildlife – persist in Colorado for generations to come.”

Support from Colorado’s Congressional Delegation

The protection of Banded Peak Ranch was made possible by $7 million from the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which is funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF uses offshore drilling revenue – not taxpayer dollars – to fund conservation projects across the country. The Great American Outdoors Act, a bill that has passed both the House and Senate and is on its way to the President’s desk for signature, provides full and permanent funding for LWCF and future conservation victories like this one. Colorado’s Congressional delegation, led by U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, is united in its support for this program and for the protection of the Banded Peak Ranch.

“The conservation of Banded Peak Ranch is excellent news for southwestern Colorado and a testament to the work of local leaders and landowners, The Conservation Fund, the Colorado State Forest Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Thanks to this decades-long effort, the Navajo River Watershed, and its valuable wildlife habitat, will now be protected for future generations,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. “Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund, projects like this simply wouldn’t be possible. I’m glad to have supported this project throughout the process, and to have secured full funding for LWCF, so that Colorado can continue to invest in public lands, wildlife habitat and our economy.”

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the crown jewel of conservation programs and has played a critical role in protecting public lands in Colorado and across the nation,” said U.S. Senator Cory Gardner. “Protecting the Banded Peak Ranch completes 65,000 acres of protected wilderness and watershed which will help wildlife in the area flourish. Additionally, preserving the streams at Banded Peak Ranch ensures that communities downstream, including areas in southwest Colorado, have access to clean water for drinking and irrigation.”

“The addition of the Banded Peak Conservation Easement is a welcome expansion to safeguard critical wildlife habitats in southwestern Colorado,” said U.S. Representative Scott Tipton. “I am proud to have worked to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund so that important projects like this will continue benefitting communities in Colorado for years to come.”

Iconic Wildlife

Realizing the opportunity to protect this last piece of the headwaters of the Navajo River, the Wyss Foundation has played an essential role in the Banded Peak Ranch project, providing funds to match the LWCF dollars.

“Thanks to the determination of The Conservation Fund and support from Coloradans demanding more protections for their lands and waters, Banded Peak Ranch will be preserved forever,” said Wyss Foundation President Molly McUsic. “Collectively we must continue taking every opportunity to accelerate our conservation efforts, to safeguard imperiled wildlife and to ameliorate the worst impacts of a changing climate.”

Most of the wildlife species found along southern Colorado’s Continental Divide inhabit the Banded Peak Ranch. Elk, black bear, mountain lion, peregrine falcon, bald eagles, bighorn sheep and many others thrive in the area. Federally threatened Canada lynx also live on the property. The streams on Banded Peak Ranch support the recovery of the San Juan strain of the Colorado cutthroat trout, which was presumed extinct for 100 years, until it was rediscovered on the ranch in 2018. Grizzly bears were once present in this remote wilderness area until the late 1970s. In fact, this was the last place in Colorado to host the iconic and threatened species. Two books were written about the grizzly bears’ presence in this watershed, including Ghost Grizzlies: Does the Great Bear Still Haunt Colorado by David Petersen, and The Lost Grizzlies: A Search for Survivors in the Wilderness of Colorado by Rick Bass.

Ogallala Aquifer’s shallowness has meant growers have to adjust — High Plains Ag Journal

The Ogallala aquifer, also referred to as the High Plains aquifer. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration

From The High Plains Ag Journal (Bob Kjelland):

The vast Ogallala Aquifer has been on the minds of growers in many states but it certainly has been on the minds of growers in Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska who share the crucial resource with differing regulations. We all share a common bond to try to preserve it for future generations.

Timothy Pautler became involved with water conservation district matters with the settlement of the Arkansas River Compact dispute between Colorado and Kansas. The state of Colorado was in litigation with Kansas and Nebraska on the Republican River Compact. The state decided to approach the defense of this conflict differently than the Arkansas River Compact, so through legislation, Colorado created an entity to assist the state in achieving compact compliance and in August 2004 the Republican River Water Conservation District was formed.

The board members represented, at the time, seven counties, seven Ground Water Management Districts and one member from the Colorado Ground Water Commission. Pautler was appointed by the Kit Carson County Commission.

“My understanding of what was happening to the Ogallala Aquifer in my area of the basin was the driving force behind my desire to participate in the decision to assist the state,” he said. “The economy that was created by the state, in its determination to allow the mining of the Aquifer, and the resulting decline, was a concern.”

In 2019, the boundary for the RRWCD was expanded, to include all the irrigated acres that are actually contributing to the compact issue. This change affected folks in the southeast part of Kit Carson County and the northern part of Cheyenne County and in the East Cheyenne Ground Water Management District. This change created two more board member positions, representing those two new entities. This expansion added approximately 45,000 new irrigated acres to the RRWCD fee assessment.

The RRWCD assists the state in reaching compact compliance on the Republican River Compact that was signed in 1942. In the beginning, the state told growers that if they retired 30,000 acres from irrigation the state would be in compliance. To fund the required budget that was going to be needed, the RRWCD assessed all irrigated acres a fee of $5.50 per irrigated acre. At that point in time, the basin did not have meters on any of the wells, so a per acre charge was really the only option and was easy to do, using county assessors’ records. The RRWCD worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency, to create programs that would financially compensate producers for voluntarily retiring some of their irrigated lands.

Over time the district has been actively involved with purchasing surface water rights on the Arikaree and the North and South Forks of the Republican. It was involved with the Pioneer and Laird ditch rights. When they were purchased by the Yuma County Water Authority, the RRWCD leased those rights from the YCWA for $5 million for 20 years. This transaction leaves water in the North Fork of the Republican, and is accounted for at the gauging station located just east of Wray, Colorado

“We are continually working with surface water folks, in order to acquire their rights, this practice is ongoing,” he said. “Because of the way surface water irrigation is accounted for under the compact the retirement of these water rights is very helpful in achieving compliance.

He noted the 15-member board showed tremendous leadership in helping stakeholders understand what was at stake.

“As we moved through time, the collective efforts started to bring results for the basin. We were well on our way to retiring the 30,000 acres of irrigated land. The programs were working rather smoothly, and the process was a success,” Paulter said. “But then our general manager, Stan Murphy, and our engineer, Jim Slattery, started to look at the numbers and realized that the retirement of acres alone, was not going to get us where we needed to be, in order to be in compliance.”

The acreage retirements were coming so far from the three streams—the North Fork, the Arikaree, and the South Fork—to achieve the goal. The retirements were still a good concept and leaving water in the hole is always a positive, the producer and board member said. But the lagged depletion effect that existed in the aquifer was not allowing the impact of acreage retirement to result in immediate stream flow. The lagged depletion, describes the impacts that distant well pumping has on stream flow. As a result of the lag effect, the impact of present day pumping will have negative effects for 30 to 50 years, according to the engineers, even though a well has been retired. The effects that those distant retired wells created, prior to retirement, continued to haunt the long-term goals of the RRWCD.

In 2002, the Republican River settlement had been signed. The final settlement stipulation agreed that Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado would not fight about water use that was in the past, but only work toward achieving future compliance with the compact that allocates how much water each state is entitled to use, he said. As part of the stipulation between the states, the accounting for all three states started at zero, it also allowed that any one of the states could use a pipeline to get additional water to the river in order to get into compliance.

So that became the next challenge for the board. Where do we get enough water to make a difference?

“We started looking at an exhausting list of possibilities, including The Dakota formation below the Ogallala, areas of the basin that were under appropriated, and imports from the South Platte at the time we left no stone unturned. Every idea had issues that came along with it,” Pautler said.

The Dakota was going to be too salty and too costly to bring to the surface and not enough water. The unappropriated area was going to require too many easements and a pipeline of extreme length. The South Platte was too expensive.

“In the end we were able to make a deal with one family. Their water rights were located northeast of Wray. This area of the basin has absolutely the greatest amount of saturated thickness.”

It was far enough away from the North Fork to minimize effect on stream flow, but yet close enough that the pipeline length was a doable deal, approximately 13 miles, he said. About 13,500 acre feet of historical consumptive use, from 62 permits, were acquired.

The Colorado Ground Water Commission then approved the RRWCD application, allowing it to consolidate the 62 existing wells into 15 wells to be used for compact compliance, without any injury to surrounding water rights. Along with the water purchase, the district negotiated easements from the landowners for the pipeline route. The cost of the water and easements was $50 million. The engineers designed a pipeline system that cost $20 million.

Informational meetings were key because a $70 million project was not an easy sell, especially when budgets were compiled. The $5.50 per acre assessment needed to go to $14.50. This created a budget of $7 million. A loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for the $60 million, at an interest rate of 2% was secured and the 20-year note will be paid off in 2028. “The public acceptance of the concept, came with a lot of questions,” Pautler said. “As their understanding of the entire compact issue increased, so did their support.”

Not so fast

Even with the pipeline it did not mean going back to old practices, Paulter said. Wells in every county and management district that once pumped 800 to 1,000 gallons per minute had diminished to 200 to 500 gpm.

When the pipeline was completed and functioning, the board started to hear comments like, “now we can pump it till it is dry.”

“The pipeline did give us all a false sense of security that nothing else has to change; the perception was the economies of the communities can now continue as always; the threat of shut downs is taken care of,” he said. “But in reality, our small communities are changing so slow we don’t even see it happening, especially in areas of the basin that never did have sufficient saturate thickness, to expect life to go on as usual, or forever.”

A safe statement would be, “most wells in the basin, do not have the yield they originally had.” Conservation has always been an underlying effort, but the urgency to get into compact compliance was paramount and trumped conservation.

The fee assessment has been a problem for the basin, in terms of conservation. For $14.50 per acre, a producer can pump all he wants, up to his permitted amount. Paulter said a per acre foot charge would have been better formula to achieve conservation. The meters did not come into existence until about 2010. Meters alone will not create conservation, although the irrigators, today, do pay more attention to the amount pumped. They are required to stay within their annual appropriation.

What has worked

Conservation has been attained in the areas where irrigated acres were retired. That unused volume assures more water for domestic and livestock use. That is vital for those areas long term. Travel west of the RRWCD boundary and there are large ranches with very limited water resources. Pipelines have been installed with USDA cost share dollars to move the water for miles. And now, even those pipelines are in jeopardy of not having enough water for livestock numbers to adequately make an economic enterprise work.

When the pipeline was completed, the RRWCD’s Conservation Committee started looking at ways to encourage meaningful conservation. They formed a subcommittee made up of members from all the Ground Water Management Districts.

Different soils

The basin is very different north to south and east to west. Saturated thicknesses vary from having very little left to those areas that still have a 40-year supply left. Soil types very vastly as well.

“We have good heavy soils that will support dry land farming, to sugar sand that without water becomes rangeland. It is a classic case of the ‘haves and the have nots,’ depending on where you are located,” Pautler said. “We are all human, and no one wants to limit their neighbor’s ability to have an economic gain. Admittedly, a tough issue to struggle with.”

Another problem is the fact that the RRWCD has no statutory authority to impose water use restrictions on the basin. That is under the authority of the GWMD. By design, when the RRWCD was given statutory authority to help the state get into compact compliance, GWMDs were very outspoken and insisted that the RRWCD should not be allowed to take over the authority that the management districts already had. These are some of the challenges in trying to achieve meaningful and measureable conservation.

“I would hope that we in the Republican basin can come up with a fair and equitable solution that fits the needs of all water users in the basin. The list of water users has to include discussion with the municipalities, domestic users, commercial interests, and livestock folks. Finding agreement affects everyone, not just the ag irrigators,” he said. “We all have economic interests that are effected by the discussions moving forward. The emotional part of the discussion, kind of stems from the fact that, if we do nothing, ever so slowly, the water passes by our neighbors and we don’t care until it is our turn. A restriction that imposes conservation on all water users happens immediately. The economic impact is immediate.”

This was edited by Dave Bergmeier who can be reached at 620-227-1822 or dbergmeier@hpj.com.

Kansas River Basin including the Republican River watershed. Map credit: By Kmusser – Self-made, based on USGS data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4390886

Leprino Foods Greeley, Colo., plant recognized for its focus on sustainability — The Fence Post

Leprino Foods headquarters in North Denver.

From The Fence Post (Amy G. Hadechek):

Leprino Foods Company in Greeley, Colo., has earned a 2020 sustainability award for its outstanding dairy processing and manufacturing, and has been recognized (as one of six dairy businesses across the U.S.) as a “technologically advanced and environmentally friendly dairy manufacturing facility improving the well-being of people, animals and the planet.”

Leprino, headquartered in Denver, is a global leader in the production of premium-quality cheese and dairy ingredients. The awards program, managed by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, was established under the leadership of dairy farmers, through their checkoff, and dairy companies.

Leprino’s employees are credited with earning this impressive award.

“We were very surprised and honored to have our employees’ hard work recognized by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Every employee has contributed to our success in both Greeley and across our operations — starting at the top. Our leadership is committed to global responsibility and reinforcing the importance of sustainability in how we operate, every day,” said Adam Wylie, associate director of environment and global responsibility at Leprino Foods. “We have worked diligently over the past several years, but our work isn’t done. We will continue to focus on sustainability as part of the core values and priorities of our company.”

The Greeley plant is built on an abandoned sugar-processing factory site, and is Leprino Foods’ newest facility. The company purchased the Greeley property in 2008, then began construction in 2010.

The plant has approximately 550 employees and produces mozzarella cheese, nonfat dry milk, and several nutrition ingredients including whey protein isolate, lactose, native whey and micellar casein.

“Leprino Foods is the largest producer of mozzarella cheese in the world and a leading manufacturer of lactose, whey protein and sweet whey,” said Leprino Foods Company President Mike Durkin. “Our commitment to sustainable operations allowed us to improve environmental performance while simultaneously reducing costs, enhancing worker safety, and benefiting the community.”

[…]

Leprino’s dairy plant was recognized for relying on a combined heat and power system generating electricity from two natural gas turbines which handle 75 percent of the plant’s power needs. The plant uses technology that pulls water from milk during the cheesemaking process to clean the facility, which reduces the need for fresh water. Leprino also uses recycled water that goes through treatment, resulting in feedstock for the plant’s anaerobic digester, which in turn creates renewable biogas. Leprino management said these projects add up to $4.5 million in estimated annual energy cost savings and provided a quick return on investment…

The U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards, made possible through sponsors, show appreciation to farmers, companies and organizations for their commitment to improving communities, the environment and their businesses. For this year’s awards, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy recognized DeLaval, Zoetis, Phibro Animal Health, Syngenta and USDA for their support.

These awards are held annually. The next call for entries will go out this fall. A farmer or company is nominated by someone, to become eligible. More than 70 U.S. dairy farms, businesses and collaborative partnerships have been honored since 2011.

“The program shines a light on the many ways our industry is leading the way to a more sustainable future,” said Dairy Management Inc. Executive Vice President of Global Environmental Strategy Krysta Harden, in a statement.

From using an anaerobic digester to make cow bedding and crop fertilizer out of cow manure to using no-till and strip cropping in the fields, Twin Birch Dairy of Skaneateles, N.Y., partnered with an environmental group to safeguard good water quality in New York’s Finger Lakes, and also earned a 2020 Sustainability Award.

Then, through genetics and breeding cows that live longer and are less susceptible to disease and illness, Rosy-Lane Holsteins of Watertown, Wis., earned a 2020 award for producing 70 more semi-tankers of milk a year; using the same inputs as other dairy farms.

An award also went to Oregon’s largest dairy farm; Three Mile Canyon Farms of Boardman, for its closed-loop system of mint harvest byproducts included in the cows’ feed, manure — used as fertilizer, and its methane digester that produces renewable natural gas.

When runoff and pollution from six states including Pennsylvania severely affected the Chesapeake Bay’s habitat, Turkey Hill Dairy of Pennsylvania partnered with local farms, the private and public sectors. That resulted in dairy farmers developing modern housing for cows, manure storage, tree planting, cover crops and nutrient management and improving the farms’ soil, the Chesapeake Bay, and earned a 2020 award.

The sixth dairy award went to Sustainable Conservation, Netafim, De Jager & McRee Dairies, Western United Dairies of California, who together developed a subsurface drip irrigation system so crops can benefit from manure’s nutrients, which are applied closer to the the plants rootzone for improved growth.

The awards are judged by an independent panel of dairy and conservation experts. Among the criteria to apply is participation and good standing in the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) animal care program and use of the FARM Environmental Stewardship online tool for determining their GHG and energy footprint…

Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at rotatingstorm2004@yahoo.com.

Gothic permanently protected under conservation easement: Research and education in perpetuity

Gothic mountain shrouded in clouds behind several cabins in the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado, USA. By Charlie DeTar – Own workby uploader, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4795644

From The Crested Butte News (Katherine Nettles):

We all may be missing visits to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Gothic this summer, but a conservation easement finalized last week ensures that the 92-year-old research site will remain in perpetuity beyond just one summer season.

The RMBL site itself has been relatively quiet this summer with its usual camps, tours, cafeteria, visitor center/general store and coffee house closed to the public to protect researchers and staff from the risks of coronavirus.

But a smaller number of field scientists are conducting their own business as usual there and RMBL announced on Thursday, July 16, that its 270-acre “living laboratory” has been permanently protected under a conservation easement with Colorado Open Lands for the entire town of Gothic.

The contract will create requirements for RMBL to uphold its mission for research and science, and will in turn protect the area from development beyond those purposes…

The conservation easement prevents subdivision of and development on the land and preserves the site for education and recreation into perpetuity…

This means, as RMBL stated in a press release, “that the hundreds of scientists and students that RMBL normally hosts each year have guaranteed access to conduct field research in a large, intact outdoor environment and that tens of thousands of visitors will have unique opportunities to explore environmental science in a beautiful and informal setting.”

[…]

As RMBL executive director Dr. Ian Billick phrased it, “The community can know that the Gothic Townsite is dedicated to research and education in perpetuity.”

All of the buildings must have a primary purpose of research and education. There are several buildings outside the building envelope, which Billick explains are in an avalanche zone and will eventually be replaced by structures inside the building envelope…

In 1997, Gunnison County voters approved a 1 percent sales tax to fund the protection of open space, agriculture, wildlife habitat, wetlands and public parks and trails. With these funds, the Gunnison Valley Land Protection Fund provided a transaction costs grant to support this project. The cost was $65,000, according to Billick.

Tony Caligiuri, president of Colorado Open Lands added, “This is a unique opportunity for a land trust to conserve an entire town, and knowing that the space will be used in perpetuity to advance critical research makes it even more meaningful.”

Larimer County Planning Commission recommends #NISP permit by split vote –The Loveland Reporter-Herald

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The Northern Integrated Supply Project moved a step closer to construction Wednesday when the Larimer County Planning Commission recommended approval of the reservoir storage project.

Four members of the volunteer planning board voted to recommend that the Larimer County Board of Commissioners approve a 1041 permit for the project that would include a new reservoir west of Fort Collins for water storage and recreation. Two voted against it, and the other three members stepped back from the decision because of perceived conflicts of interest.

Planning Commission member Curtis Miller, a Loveland resident, said he is convinced that the project meets all the criteria for the permit and will be a benefit for the entire region…

Drake resident Abbie Pontius, a member of the Planning Commission, also spoke in favor…

However, Nancy Wallace, chair of the Planning Commission and a Fort Collins resident, voted against the project. She said that the water primarily will benefit residents outside Larimer County, and the reservoir would draw unwanted and unneeded traffic to the region…

John Barnett, a Fort Collins resident on the Planning Commission, also voted against the project after saying he worries that it will affect water levels in the river downstream from Mulberry Street, particularly at several natural areas…

The main approval for the project will come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which after more than a decade of analysis, is expected sometime in 2020.

But the project also requires a 1041 permit from the county on issues including the pipeline, realignment of U.S. 287 and recreation. A 1041 permit allows the county to make requirements on certain aspects of the project that would affect county residents.

The Larimer County commissioners have the final say on the permit. That elected board has a public hearing scheduled over four consecutive Mondays starting Aug. 17. A final decision will come at the end of that hearing and will include consideration of the recommendation from the planning board…

The last night of the Planning Commission hearing, on Wednesday, included several representatives of Northern Water answering questions previously posed by members of the Planning Commission as well as response to public comments. Those include:

  • Stephanie Cecil, water resources engineer, and Brad Wind, general manager, both said they realized that Northern Water needs to do a better job reaching out to people who live near the proposed Glade Reservoir and associated pipeline. Both committed to doing better at reaching residents, especially those who live in the Eagle Lake subdivision through which the pipeline will run. “Based on what we heard at the last meeting we missed the mark,” Cecil said.
  • The reservoir and dam will be built in an area that includes the North Fork and Bellvue faults. Jennifer Williams, a civil engineer with AECOM, a consultant hired by Northern Water, stressed that both faults are considered inactive, meaning they have not shown movement in the last 1.3 million years. In fact, the most recent movement is estimated to be 30 million to 60 million years ago, Williams said.
  • The project would require a new route for a section of U.S. 287 northwest of Fort Collins. This new stretch of highway would be completed before the existing route is decommissioned, and construction of the highway would commence at the same time as construction begins on Glade Reservoir. A specific schedule depends upon the timing of permits that are still outstanding. The new route will be about 1.6 miles longer than the existing highway.
  • Northern Water also clarified that the NISP participants have committed to paying $16.35 million, or 75%, of the construction of recreation facilities on the land around Glade Reservoir. The remaining 25% would be paid by other partners. Those have not been determined yet but could include corporate sponsors, grants or even Larimer County, which is looking to manage recreation at the reservoir.
  • Wallace, who voted against the permit, disagreed with that piece, saying that she believes that boating at the proposed reservoir should be changed to wakeless only without motorboats, and that associated savings could reduce the costs potentially paid by Larimer County…

    Miller and Jeff Jensen, another Planning Commission member from Fort Collins, strongly disagreed, saying that there is a demand for recreation including motorized boating. They said this added reservoir would help meet that need and provide a resource to Larimer County residents.

    The initial proposal was that Northern Water and Larimer County pursue a 25-year recreation lease with the option for a 25-year renewal. At Jensen’s suggestion, the Planning Commission voted to recommend a 35-year lease also with the option for renewal to manage recreation at Glade Reservoir in the future.

    Jensen, too, spoke strongly in favor of NISP and voted to recommend approval of the 1041 permit by the commissioners.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    The Planning Commission voted 4-2 to recommend approval of the permit, with commissioners Nancy Wallace and John Barnett in opposition.

    Commissioners said the long-debated project, which would provide water to 15 regional communities and water districts, would be a benefit to the county and the state.

    Commissioner Curtis Miller said the proposal met all of the county’s criteria for approval…

    The requested 1041 permit – named for the state law that grants local governments permitting authority over certain infrastructure projects – is for siting Glade Reservoir and its proposed recreational facilities, including a visitor center, campgrounds and boat ramps…

    The permit also covers the routes of four pipelines needed to convey water from Glade, including one that would release water into the Poudre River to run through Fort Collins and another to take it out again for delivery to communities to the south.

    As part of the project, Northern would build recreational facilities that would be managed by the Larimer County Natural Resources Department. The department manages recreation at Carter Lake and Horsetooth, Pinewood and Flatiron reservoirs…

    Under a condition of approval added by the Planning Commission, the county would have a 35-year management agreement for recreation on the reservoir with an option for another 25 years. The condition was one of more than 80 recommended by the commission and county staff…

    Representatives of Northern Water had answers for each of the objections, in part citing the exhaustive research and planning that went into a federal Environmental Impact Statement process for NISP that began in 2004.

    NISP would pay $53 million to mitigate its impacts to wildlife and the environment, with more than 90% of that funding spent in Larimer County, Northern Water officials said.

    NISP would provide 40,000 acre-feet of water annually to its participants, which include the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and Windsor…

    A decision of record on the Environmental Impact Statement for NISP is expected to be released this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project has received water quality certification from state regulators.

    What’s next

    The Larimer County Board of County Commissioners has scheduled the following hearings on NISP:

  • 6 p.m., Aug. 17 – Presentations only; no public testimony.
  • 2 p.m. Aug. 24 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
  • 3 p.m. Aug. 31 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
  • 6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 – questions, final deliberation and decision
  • Testimony will be taken in person and online. Registration to speak will be available online beginning Aug. 3.

    Speakers will be limited to 2 minutes each. Borrowing, lending or grouping time will not be allowed.

    Information: http://larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041

    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