@OWOW_MSUDenver and @botanic partner to meet #Colorado’s supply challenges

Here’s the release from Metropolitan State University at Denver (Dan Vaccaro):

Denver’s urban university and botanic garden team up to make an even bigger impact on water issues in Colorado.

The next time you’re sitting in traffic on Interstate 25 (this afternoon, probably), consider this: Colorado’s population is expected to grow by 1.5 million by 2030. And that doesn’t just mean more traffic. It means more pressure on the state’s scarcest natural resource – water.

Between the population boom and rising global temperatures, the imagination doesn’t need to wander far to see what the future of Colorado might look like. Hint: If you thought lawn-watering restrictions were bad, how about living in a world like the one imagined in the movie “Mad Max: Fury Road”?

Thankfully, there are people and organizations teaming up to tackle water issues in the state. This past spring, the Denver Botanic Gardens and the One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver signed a partnership that will have long-term implications for the future of water education and stewardship in the Centennial State.

“Both organizations were already pursuing similar objectives,” says Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd, director of marketing and social responsibility for the Denver Botanic Gardens. “By joining forces, we can do so much more and have a bigger reach for our work.”

The plan includes stronger collaboration between MSU Denver professors and Botanic Gardens scientists, shared research projects and the pursuit of joint funding. Wherever possible, the aim is to involve students. The end goal, Riley-Chetwynd says, is to make an even bigger impact on watershed restoration and health.

As part of the agreement, Riley-Chetwynd also becomes co-director of the OWOW Center in addition to her work at the Botanic Gardens, helping to further unite the organizations. She already serves as an affiliate faculty member in the Journalism and Technical Communication Department at MSU Denver.

For Tom Cech, co-director of the OWOW Center, the partnership will help better educate future water leaders and stewards. “Our goal has always been to raise awareness of current water challenges and opportunities both in the Colorado community and among our students,” he says. “This partnership amplifies those efforts.”

While MSU Denver students have interned at the Botanic Gardens, Cech sees increased opportunities in light of the new agreement. He also imagines more events like the recent Shed ’17 water summit, co-hosted by the organizations June 29 at the Gardens.

The event brought together nearly 200 leaders from across the state and country to discuss water challenges and co-create solutions. Topics at the conference included the importance of watershed health and outdoor recreation, agriculture’s role in Colorado’s water future, and the evolution of conservation. The keynote speaker for the event was Mike Nelson, chief meteorologist at Denver7, who spoke about climate change.

Another distinctive feature of the agreement is the development of a co-branded logo, which will appear at water-related events, an aspect that Deputy Provost Sandra Haynes describes as “unique.”

“It is a testament to the breadth and depth of this collaboration between two of Denver’s most recognized institutions,” she says.

Haynes hopes the partnership will also provide more exposure for innovative university programs such as the water studies and urban agriculture minors.

This partnership comes at an important time in state history, Riley-Chetwynd says. A statewide water plan released in 2015 creates a roadmap for the future of water in Colorado. One of the main principles is removing silos to ensure that diverse groups are working efficiently and effectively.

“We need to work together to answer questions about how to deal with our population growth, where our water will come from and how we will keep urban communities viable without endangering our environment,” she says. “No one group can do all of that alone. It’s the only way forward if we’re going to make Colorado’s future sustainable.”

If all goes according to plan, the only “Fury Road” in Colorado will be I-25, particularly during rush hour.

South Platte Master Plan — a stream corridor evaluation – is complete

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

The South Platte Master Plan is a study of flood mitigation and recovery possibilities along 130 miles of the South Platte River from the Morgan-Weld county line to the Nebraska State Line. Authorized and funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the plan will suggest ways to make the river more “flood resilient,” both to handle the flooding as it occurs, with minimal damage to property and structures, and to quickly recover from a flood in the aftermath.

Five big problem areas were identified in the evaluation, according to Brian Murphy, project director for CDM Smith of Denver, the contractor on the flood study. They were the amount of sediment the floods of 2013 and 2015 deposited in the study area, basically clogging the river and making flooding worse; uncontrolled water in ditches and canals, which can back up and cause damage to structures, homes, and fields; the railroad railroad right of way southwest of Messex, which contains the river along the northwest shoreline but worsens flooding on the opposite shoreline; the hunting lands along the river that provide game habitat but also blocks water flow during a flood, causing the water to spread out into neighboring cropland; and the washed-out headgates of the Henderson-Smith and Lowline ditches, which essentially turn those ditches into another channel of the river.

Stakeholders attending the meeting may have gotten some ideas of how to tackle those challenges from a 90-minute presentation by Jerry Kenny, executive director of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. That program comes from an agreement among Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and the U.S. Department of the Interior to preserve habitat for whooping cranes, least terns, piping plovers and pallid sturgeons, four species on the endangered species list. The program maintains water at an adequate level along an 80-mile stretch of the Platte River the Nebraska cities of Lexington and Grand Island in an area call the Big Bend Area.

Kenny’s description of challenges faced in maintaining habitat for those four species brought home to the stakeholders how the river system has been affected by settlement all along its length. For instance, sediment – mostly sand – that once washed downstream past what is now Sterling and settled in the Big Bend area to create habitat for those species no longer makes it that far. Instead, repeated diversion of the river for irrigation reduces and slows down the water flow during what was once rapid spring runoff, depositing the sediment here.

That problem is exacerbated by Lake McConaughy on the North Platte near Ogallala, which traps sediment that once drifted down into Big Bend.

Kenny told the meeting that some of the challenges have been met by practices in all three of the states that have increased stream flow in the Platte River. Most notable in Colorado is the Tamarack Recharge Project near Crook, in which water is pumped into small reservoirs when there is no irrigation demand on the river, and allowed to seep back into the river so more water is available downstream.

Kenny also showed the group slides of off-stream water storage projects that have been used to create wetlands and much-needed sand islands in the project area. Presumably, some of those ideas could be used to mitigate flooding and provide some off-channel water storage in the South Platte basin as well.

After the meeting Morgan County Commissioners Jim Zwetzig and Laura Teague said they are encouraged by the “collaborative effort” shown in the PRRIP agreements…

Project manager Brian Murphy said one of the biggest challenges, once ideas and practices are identified, will be finding the dollars to do it. The PRRIP get about half of its funds from the federal government, and there is tremendous incentive in the form of a mandate to save endanger species. There is no such incentive, other than reducing unpredictable costs of recover, in flood mitigation.

“The big question is, what are the things that can bring dollars to fund this project,” Murphy said. “What are the drivers? There’s been a lot of discussion of duck habitat, open space, trails, and I think it’s going to come down to those things.”

On a more positive note, he said, the PRRIP process has broken new ground when working with the federal permitting process. Some of the techniques that project uses, such as tilling riparian areas to keep vegetation down, are considered agricultural, and so don’t need federal permits.

Monday’s meeting was the third since the plan was introduced to the public in February.

Steamboat Springs: @COWaterCongress Summer Conference, August 22-24

The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

Click here to go to the website for all the inside skinny.

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

From WesternSlopeNow.com:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

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

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

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

Dolores River watershed

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

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderosa Gorge, Dolores River. Photo credit RiverSearch.com.

The Colo. Corn Administrative Committee is investing in research to help farmers produce more with less — @COgrown

Photo credit Wikimedia.

From Colorado Corn:

One of the top priorities of the Colorado Corn Administrative Committee (CCAC) has long been assisting local farmers in their quest to produce more food, feed, fuel and fiber with less resources and through more economically and agronomically sustainable production methods.

And that tradition continued in 2017, as the CCAC’s Research Action Team in January committed another $130,100 to various projects focusing on drought-tolerance, crop disease mitigation, hybrid development, crop residue management, and other aspects of sustainability in agriculture.

These investments come in addition to the $650,000-plus that the CCAC invested in research endeavors from 2011-2016.

For decades, the CCAC has provided dollars – as well as input and other resources – to a long list of projects that have evaluated irrigation practices, alternative water-transfer methods, seed varieties, root structure, meat quality, farm safety, environmental impacts, biofuels and rotational fallowing, among a number of other focuses.

Along the way, the CCAC has teamed up with municipalities, businesses, universities, research facilities, the state of Colorado and many others – relationships the organization will continue building upon in the never-ending effort to bring more tools and knowledge to Colorado’s producers.

The funds for these research projects comes from a one-penny-per-bushel assessment on corn grown in Colorado, with the farmers who serve as CCAC board members ultimately deciding where those dollars are invested.

“The Colorado Corn Administrative Committee invests and leverages its dollars and resources toward endeavors that run the gamut of market development, outreach, education and regulatory affairs. But our research projects rank among the most important investments, if not the most critical,” said CCAC President Mike Lefever, a Longmont-area resident who farms ground near Haxtun. “Taking continuous steps forward in producing more with less resources – and discovering the most sustainable methods of doing so – is absolutely vital, not only for us farmers, but for everyone. And with the knowledge gained from these research projects, we continue taking the needed steps forward.”

Following meetings and presentations in recent weeks, the CCAC’s Research Action Team agreed to fund the following projects:

• $48,249 to Colorado State University’s John McKay, to fund various local efforts needed for involving Colorado in a national collaborative project, aimed at identifying the specific genes that cause elite hybrids to be sensitive to drought.

• $43,663 to CSU’s Kirk Broders, to further examine the bacterial pathogen Xanthomonas vasicola pv vasculorum (Xvv) – officialy reported in the U.S. in 2016 (although it had likely been present before that), with some of the most severe disease pressure observed in Colorado. The information gained from the research will be used to develop mitigation strategies and outreach and education materials.

• $30,000 to CSU’s Todd Gaines, to lead research on the glyphosate-resistant weed Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri), with specific goals aimed at addressing environmental and economic sustainability for growers, providing practical value for weed management, and addressing management issues related to biotechnology.

• $8,188 to CSU Extension’s Joel Schneekloth, to quantify the effects of residue removal and/or tillage on winter soil moisture recharge in irrigated agriculture, as well as the impacts to irrigation requirements for the following growing season and other aspects of these corn-production methods.

***

The projects listed above come in addition to the Colorado Corn Administrative Committee’s investments in other ongoing or recently concluded research projects, which are :

• $141,282 ($47,094 per year, over three years) to Colorado State University’s Raj Khosla, Robin Reich and Louis Longchamps, to research and determine the most productive, efficient, profitable and sustainable practices in irrigated corn production. In particular, this project will examine the agronomic advantages of using variable-rate and precision irrigation methods, precision-nitrogen management, and variable-seeding rates.

• $45,747 over three years to Colorado State University to evaluate precision water and nutrient management practices.

• $31,580 to Kirk Broders at Colorado State University, to complete a comprehensive survey of bacterial, fungal and viral pathogens of corn grown in Colorado, including foliar, ear, stalk and root pathogens. This information will later be used to direct future pathological studies of corn at CSU. Read more here.

• $30,425 to Colorado State University’s Troy Bauder and Erik Wardle, for their “BMP Research and Demonstration” project, which over two years will monitor the effects of improved nutrient management methods commonly practiced by corn growers, to better understand the agronomic and water quality benefits from these practices. This is expected to be useful in a triennial review for the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, helping quantify the good work producers are already doing in this area. Read more here.

• $26,700 to Erick Carlson at CSU, to develop additional methods for reducing deep percolation of nitrates into groundwater, through investigating the functioning of wetlands created by irrigation runoff to trap and process nitrates. Read for here.

• $26,520 to CSU for evaluation of drought-tolerant corn varieties in dryland conditions.

• $25,000 to CSU’s Phil Westra and Scott Nissen, for various objectives at the Center for Ecology, Evolution & Management of Pesticide Resistance.

• $24,850 to Godsey Precision AG LLC, to look in-depth at water savings with variable-rate irrigation for farmers using water from the Ogallala Aquifer. Specifically it will examine the water-holding capacity of the top two feet of soil and the crop’s water use throughout the season, and also determine the differences in fields with 39,600, 36,000 and 32,000 plants per acre, and how many soil probes are needed in-season to accurately monitor soil moisture.

• $21,240 to Jerry Johnson and Sally Sauer with Colorado State University, to continue testing yield performance of four drought tolerant corn hybrids compared to four traditional, non-drought tolerant hybrids, at three different plant densities, under dryland production conditions in northeast Colorado.

• $17,287 to Louis Comas with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, to continue overseeing development of a tool for monitoring and managing water stress in corn.

• $15,604 to Louise Comas with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, to create a tool to help corn producers identify when their crop is going into stress, help estimate potential yield impacts of that stress, and help producers in assessing potential impacts from constraints in their water supplies.

• $11,900 to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for a 2016 water stress monitoring project.

• $3,866 to Joel Schneekloth with the Colorado Water Institute, to study the impact of residue removal and tillage upon the soil characteristics important to crop production and crop-production economics

Late May precipitation breaks most of the W. U.S. #drought

West Drought Monitor July 4, 2017.

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Candace Krebs):

From Colorado to California, a snowy late spring finally broke through what was left of the drought’s fierce grip. Soil is saturated again, reservoirs are full and water worries have temporarily receded as farms return to their full productive capability.

Even so, wrestling over water during the recent shortages was a wake-up call for agricultural leaders who are now putting heightened importance on developing better outreach to the public while still pushing long-term resource planning.

“Consumers enjoy what we produce but they don’t really understand what it takes to do it,” summarized Alicia Rockwell, the director of corporate communications for Blue Diamond, a large almond growing cooperative with more than 3,000 members who each farm on average 50 to 70 acres of trees. Agricultural groups in the two states are undertaking new forms of what Rockwell calls “ag reputation management” while looking ahead at how to address future water needs…

In Colorado, the Ag Water Alliance, a decade-long collaboration among representatives of the state’s agricultural groups, has put much of their emphasis in recent years on educating farmers and water-users on water rights issues and exploring new alternatives for sharing water between high priority uses.

In recent weeks the group hosted two bus tours, geared specifically to the general public, which traveled through some of the most highly productive irrigated farmland in the state. By demonstrating how irrigation systems work, explaining terminology and discussing evolving conservation practices, growers of high value crops like fruit and vegetables, wine grapes, dairy products and feed hope to begin a long-term dialogue that will pay off down the road.

During the tours, participants had a chance to learn more about alternative transfer methods, which make it possible for farmers to lease water rights to municipalities for use in times of scarcity. It is one of the most innovative and promising solutions to come out of the water shortages of the last two decades.

“We’re just trying to keep the water tied to the land,” explained Phil Brink, director of the Ag Water NetWORK, a collaborative project funded by a grant from the Partners for Western Conservation and the Walton Family Foundation. “We want to avoid what happened in Crowley County, where the county was dried up and it never recovered from that.”

Not only do these flexible leasing arrangements give farmers the option to lease water without selling it outright, they also help enhance revenue for ditch companies and irrigation districts. Municipalities use it like an insurance policy, knowing they can make a call on the water during critical shortages, while farmers rotate into low-water crops or fallow marginal land.

“We know it’s better than buy-and-dry, because as a farmer you maintain ownership of the water,” said Gene Manuello, a farmer-feeder from Sterling, past president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and a long-time member of the ag water alliance. “But whenever water is transferred, you’re still drying up agricultural acres. As a farmer, I don’t like to think of myself as being in the business of leasing water.”

In short, Manuello doesn’t want to see these new leasing arrangements take the emphasis away from something better: building more storage to capture ample spring runoff before it leaves the state, which would expand the total amount of available water and help alleviate recurring shortfalls.

Building new reservoirs is a lengthy, expensive process and an increasingly hard sell with the public. That’s what makes interaction and education so important.

California is in a similar quandary, as Jim Morris, communications manager for the California Rice Commission, explained recently.

“We’re both an agricultural state and an urban state, and there are challenges that go with that,” he said.

Ag groups there are backing the Sites project, a large reservoir planned for the foothills west of the Sacramento Valley that would increase water storage in northern California by 23 percent, in part by expanding flexibility to leverage additional storage from existing reservoirs as well.

Billed as meeting “co-equal” goals of water supply enhancement and ecosystem improvements, it has been carefully designed not to dam an existing river or block fish migration.

Colorado, too, appears to be making slow progress toward its own goal of increasing water storage.

In 2016, a bill instructed the state legislature to examine 72 sites for future reservoirs, a list that has since been winnowed down to 12 of the most promising locations. Meanwhile, the Windy Gap project near Granby received its final permit in May.

In addition, the state’s water conservation board is investing $25 million of new grant money over five years in exploring “multi-partner, multi-benefit” pilot projects, according to John Stulp, the state’s water czar.

When a collaborative approach is taken, surprising synergies can emerge. In California, Morris describes an interesting case concerning rice-growing practices. After Northern California rice growers were forced to stop burning their straw, due to air quality concerns, and began flooding their fields in the winter with about four inches of water to aid the straw’s decomposition, birds and wildlife suddenly flourished. While the new production method is more costly, it has paid unexpected dividends in support from conservation and wildlife groups, Morris said.

“Having the Audubon Society lobbying on behalf of rice is much more effective than if we do it ourselves,” he said. “The story that moves the needle with the public is the environment.”

Morris said the benefits discovered so far are likely to lead to other breakthroughs. For example, University of California-Davis researchers are now looking into whether flooded rice fields can be used to raise threatened species of Pacific salmon and other types of fish.

“There’s a lot of research going on and it’s really exciting,” Morris said. “People are receptive, which is encouraging. It just shows you that communication is everything.”