#Platte River Recovery Implementation Program water project completion expected by October 15, 2019

From The Kearney Hub (Lori Potter):

A wet 2019 delayed construction work throughout Nebraska, including a Platte River Recovery Implementation Program water project southwest of Elm Creek.

At Tuesday’s PRRIP Governance Committee meeting in Kearney, program civil engineer Kevin Werbylo said the completion date for the project on the south side of the Platte River was moved from May 1 to Aug. 1 to Oct. 15.

“Given the conditions the contractor had to deal with, they did a nice job and the engineers did a nice job,” Werbylo said.

The project fits program goals to reduce depletions to Central Platte target flows and to protect, restore or maintain land used as habitat by threatened and endangered species — least terns, piping plovers and whooping cranes.

The basinwide plan allows entities in Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming with federal licenses, permits and/or funding to comply with the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Department of Interior is the other major participant.

The Elm Creek project will help meet an immediate goal to reduce by 120,000 acre-feet the annual depletions to target river flows set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the protected species. Water held in shallow detention cells on the broad-scale site will seep into the groundwater that eventually reaches the adjacent Platte River.

Platte water will be diverted into Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s Phelps Canal at times when flows exceed targets. According to PRRIP 1995-2017 data, that most commonly occurs in December and January.

A new pipeline built as part of the project links the canal to the 416-acre site where earthen berms up to 6 feet tall create eight shallow cells to temporarily hold water at depths of 12 inches or less.

Werbylo said the project budget is $4.3 million and there is $480,000 left to pay.

Dirt work needs to settle and vegetation is being established, he said, so it will be late spring to mid-summer 2020 before any water deliveries are made to the broad-scale project site.

PRRIP Executive Director Jason Farnsworth told the Hub that even if the original construction schedule had allowed the project’s use this fall, there would have been no diversions because of already high groundwater.

Rio Grande cutthroat trout restoration project cancelled for this year — CPW

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Joe Lewandowski):

A project to restore native Rio Grande cutthroat trout in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve has been postponed and will not occur this year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced.

Due to the long winter and cool temperatures, biological conditions in the creek and lakes were not suitable to conduct the chemical treatment operation that was planned for the week of Aug. 26. The project will be rescheduled for next summer.

The project was planned for Upper Sand Creek Lake, Lower Sand Creek Lake and Sand Creek.

All regular fishing regulations for that area will resume again on Aug. 26. In preparation for the project, CPW had removed all bag and possession limits in late July.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the National Park Service and Trout Unlimited are working cooperatively on the plan to bring the native Rio Grande cutthroat back to its original habitat.

Kevin Terry, a project coordinator for Colorado Trout Unlimited, holds up a Rio Grande cutthroat trout at Upper Sand Creek Lake.

Reservoir agreement helps trout by borrowing endangered fish water — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Some rejiggering of reservoir operations in the upper Colorado River watershed is taking the heat off trout in Grand County through the early release of water that had been set aside for endangered fish in Mesa County.

The approach is being made possible by storing water elsewhere so it can be released for the endangered fish when they need it later.

Under the agreement involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado River District, an additional 35 cubic feet per second of water started being released last week from Lake Granby, also known as Granby Reservoir, in the Colorado River headwaters. That nearly doubled Colorado River flows immediately downstream.

The increased flows help reduce daytime temperatures in the river, which had begun topping 60 degrees and threatening the health of trout. The releases involve water normally stored in Granby for use in boosting flows in the river near Grand Junction for endangered fish such as the humpback chub and razorback sucker.

The endangered fish still will get water under the deal, however. In exchange for the additional water coming out of Granby, the river district is withholding 35 cfs of water from Wolford Mountain Reservoir, which sits above Kremmling on Muddy Creek, a Colorado River tributary. That’s below the problem stretch of the Colorado River, thanks to inflows to the river coming from Muddy Creek and other tributaries, so the Wolford water that’s being withheld doesn’t hold the importance to the trout that the released Granby water does.

“There’s plenty of water in the river except for in that stretch below Granby,” said Jim Pokrandt, a river district spokesman.

Pokrandt said the Colorado River is currently a “free river” right now in Colorado. There are no calls on it to meet the needs of senior water rights holders when flows are more limited. But the upper stretch in Grand County in the Hot Sulphur Springs area is depleted due to transmountain diversions to the Front Range.

Withholding the Wolford water means it will be available for the endangered fish during lower-flow periods on the Colorado River in Mesa County, in lieu of the water that is being released from Granby.

Should Rivers Have Same Legal Rights As Humans? A Growing Number Of Voices Say Yes — National Public Radio

Satellite imagery of a toxic algal bloom on Lake Erie in 2011. The image is gorgeous, but microcystis aeruginosa, the green algae pictured here, is toxic to mammals.
NASA Earth Observatory via Popular Science.

From National Public Radio (Ashley Westerman):

In early July, Bangladesh became the first country to grant all of its rivers the same legal status as humans. From now on, its rivers will be treated as living entities in a court of law. The landmark ruling by the Bangladeshi Supreme Court is meant to protect the world’s largest delta from further degradation from pollution, illegal dredging and human intrusion…

Following the ruling, anyone accused of harming the rivers can be taken to court by the new, government-appointed National River Conservation Commission. They may be tried and delivered a verdict as if they had harmed their own mother, Matin says.

“The river is now considered by law, by code, a living entity, so you’ll have to face the consequence by law if you do anything that kills the river,” [Mohammad Abdul Matin] says.

What is environmental personhood?

Bangladesh follows a handful of countries that have subscribed to an idea known as environmental personhood. It was first highlighted in essays by University of Southern California law professor Christopher D. Stone, collected into a 1974 book titled Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Stone argued that if an environmental entity is given “legal personality,” it cannot be owned and has the right to appear in court.

Traditionally, nature has been subject to a Western-conceived legal regime of property-based ownership, says Monti Aguirre with the environmental group International Rivers.

“That means … an owner has the right to modify their features, their natural features, or to destroy them all at will,” Aguirre says.

The idea of environmental personhood turns that paradigm on its head by recognizing that nature has rights and that those rights should be enforced by a court of law. It’s a philosophical idea, says Aguirre, with indigenous communities leading the charge…

In 2008, Ecuador became the first country to enshrine the legal rights of nature in its constitution. Bolivia passed a similar law in 2011. Meanwhile, New Zealand in 2017 became the first country to grant a specific river legal rights, followed by the Indian state of Uttarakhand. This year, the city of Toledo, Ohio, passed what is known as the Lake Erie Bill of Rights to protect its shores, making it one of several U.S. communities to have passed legislation recognizing the rights of nature

In a 2018 study co-authored with Julia Talbot-Jones, O’Donnell shows that the onus of enforcement will fall on whoever is deemed the guardian of the waterway. And that can be anyone from a court-appointed body to the government itself — which may have chosen not to participate in environmentally friendly practices in the past — to nongovernmental organizations.

In Ecuador, says O’Donnell, the Global Alliance for Rights of Nature and others sued a construction company trying to build a road across the Vilcabamba River and initially won in court.

But when the construction company didn’t comply with the court’s ruling, “the NGO could not afford to run a second case,” says O’Donnell.

What’s more, the trans-boundary nature of rivers makes enforcement inherently difficult. This issue has come up in India, where the high court in Uttarakhand state in 2017 recognized the Ganges and Yamuna rivers as legal persons because of their “sacred and revered” status. The court named the state government as their guardians.

Soon after, the state government appealed to the Indian Supreme Court, arguing “that their responsibilities as guardians of the rivers were unclear because the rivers extended well beyond the border of Uttarakhand,” says O’Donnell…

he struggle to achieve this paradigm shift is also taking place on the shores of Lake Erie, in Toledo, Ohio. Earlier this year, the city passed an ordinance that would allow the its citizens to sue on behalf of the lake, arguing that it had gotten so polluted, there was no choice.

The ordinance’s constitutionality was immediately challenged by a farm in a federal lawsuit. The farm argued the ordinance made it vulnerable “to massive liability” when it fertilizes its fields “because it can never guarantee that all runoff will be prevented from entering the Lake Erie watershed.” Then the state of Ohio joined that lawsuit, arguing it — not the citizens of Toledo — has the “legal responsibility” for environmental regulatory programs.

“What’s interesting is the state of Ohio intervening on behalf of the polluter, not on behalf of the people who passed the law,” says Tish O’Dell, the Ohio community organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

The lawsuit is ongoing, though O’Dell predicts the ordinance will ultimately be overturned.

“But what I would say to people is it doesn’t matter what happens in the courts in Toledo with this case, because the genie has been let out of the bottle. And as hard as they want to try to put it back in, the people shouldn’t let them,” O’Dell says. “I mean, we have to change our environmental protection in this country and across the world, because obviously what we’re doing isn’t working.”

@POTUS administration guts Endangered Species Act #TrumpShame

Greenbacks and Colorado River cutthroat via DNR

From CBS4 Denver (Shaun Boyd):

Multiple species — including Colorado’s state fish — could be impacted by changes to the Endangered Species Act. The Trump administration plans to unveil the new rules in detail later this week. They will, among other things, allow the government to put an economic cost on saving a species and limit the consideration of climate change on a species survival…

Hailey Hawkins with the Endangered Species Coalition agrees changes are needed, but she says the changes proposed by the Trump administration will make things worse.

“In the long run, if our species don’t receive full protections immediately, that’s going to create more backlog and more red tape down the road,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins is especially concerned that economics may be used to determine whether a species receives protection.

“Life is priceless. You can not put a price tag on a species. Extinction is forever. It’s something that will never ever go away and the price of that and the price to our heritage and our culture is too big to sacrifice,” she said.

There are numerous species of fish and wildlife in Colorado that have federal protection, including the Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Colorado’s state fish. While all of the species have state protections as well, Hawkins says the state lacks the resources to recover those species. The new rules also limit the consideration of climate change on a species survival by restricting potential impacts to the foreseeable future…

Gov. Jared Polis shared the following statement with CBS4 about the possible Endangered Species Act changes.

“This rollback of the landmark Endangered Species Act is just awful. The Endangered Species Act is a huge success and has successfully brought so many species back from the brink of extinction like the bald eagle and grizzly bear. 34 of the more than 1,400 species protected under the Endangered Species Act call Colorado home and are a critical piece of the natural beauty of this state. When species become extinct it disrupts previously healthy ecosystems which could, in turn, ruin the outdoor experience for anglers, hunters and Colorado’s thriving outdoor industry and economy. Colorado’s ecological diversity is part of our strength.”

@EPA and the shame of this @POTUS administration: “They’re gutting science across the agencies, across the departments, across the government” — Christine Todd Whitman

In a historic win of the common man against a powerful corporate, chemical giant Monsanto was ordered to pay $289m damages to a man who claimed he got cancer after being directly exposed to the company’s glyphosate-based weedkillers, including the widely used Roundup. Screenshot from meaww.com

From the Associated Press via the The Aurora Sentinel:

EPA won’t approve warning labels for Roundup chemical

The Trump administration has instructed companies not to warn customers about products that contain glyphosate, a move aimed at California as it fights one of the world’s largest agriculture companies about the potentially cancer-causing chemical.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will no longer approve labels warning glyphosate is known to cause cancer. The chemical is marketed as a weed killer by Monsanto under the brand Roundup.

California requires warning labels on glyphosate products because the International Agency for Research on Cancer has said it is “probably carcinogenic.”

The EPA disagrees, saying its research shows the chemical poses no risks to public health.

“It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. “We will not allow California’s flawed program to dictate federal policy.”

California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, approved by voters in 1986, requires the government to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, as determined by a variety of outside groups that include the EPA and IARC. The law also requires companies to warn customers about those chemicals.

California regulators have twice concluded glyphosate did not pose a cancer risk for drinking water. But in 2015, the IARC classified the chemical as “probably carcinogenic,” triggering a warning label under California law. Monsanto sued, and last year a federal judge blocked California from enforcing the warning label until the lawsuit is resolved.

Federal law regulates how pesticides are used and how they are labeled. States are often allowed to impose their own requirements, but they can’t be weaker than the federal law, according to Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Hartl said it is unusual for the EPA to tell a state it can’t go beyond the federal requirements.

“It’s a little bit sad the EPA is the biggest cheerleader and defender of glyphosate,” Hartl said. “It’s the Environmental Protection Agency, not the pesticide protection agency.”

In a letter to companies explaining its decision, Michael L. Goodis, director of EPA’s registration division in its Office of Pesticide Programs, said the agency considers labels warning glyphosate to cause cancer to “constitute a false and misleading statement,” which is prohibited by federal law.

From CNN New via NBC4i.com:

Bristol Bay. By own work – maps-for-free.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3709948

EPA scientists ordered to allow Alaska mine to move forward; could endanger wildlife

In a major environmental reversal, EPA scientists have been ordered to get out of the way of a massive, controversial copper and gold mine slated for a highly sensitive area in Alaska.

The order may have originated from the President himself.

The meeting took place on the tarmac during an Air Force One stopover June 26. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a pro-mining, pro-business, anti-EPA governor, met with Donald Trump for nearly a half-hour.

Dunleavy has been pushing for approval of a massive gold and copper mine known as the Pebble Mine, planned for Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, home to the breeding grounds for one fo the world’s largest and most pristine sockeye salmon fisheries.

After his meeting on Air Force One, Dunleavy said, “He (Trump) really believes in the opportunities here in Alaska and he’s doing everything he can to help us on our mining concerns.”

Inside EPA sources now tell CNN the very next day, June 27, top EPA officials in Washington held an internal video conference with Seattle, and told staff the EPA was removing a special protection for Bristol Bay, and, in essence, clearing the way for what could be one fo the largest open-pit mines in the world.

That internal announcement was a “total shock” to top EPA scientists, sources told CNN, because their environmental concerns were overruled by Trump political appointees at EPA headquarters in Washington.

Bristol Bay and its tributaries are regarded as one of the world’s most important salmon fisheries, roughly half the world’s sockeye salmon come from there.

It’s been protected since 2014, when after three years of study, the Obama-era EPA used a rare provision of the Clean Water Act — to basically veto any mining that could pose a threat.

“EPA scientists writing a mine ‘would result in complete loss of fish habitat’ that was ‘irreversible.’ It’s mindboggling that it’s still being considered at all,” said Christine Todd Whitman, former EPA administrator.

Todd Whitman is a Republican, former New Jersey governor, and under President George W. Bush, ran the EPA. She has joined several other former EPA chiefs to publically oppose the mine.

“The potential damage is overwhelming,” she said. “The opposition to it up there is amazing and everywhere. I mean, this was a huge, the potential of over 80 miles of streams, thousands of acres, could be damaged from this project.”

This is the second time during the Trump administration the political appointees at the EPA have decided to remove special protections for Bristol Bay to pave the way for this huge mine.

In 2017, President Trump’s first EPA administrator, scandal-plagued Scott Pruitt, canceled the protections after a private meeting with the mine company’s CEO.

After a report exposed the meeting and the lack of scientific debate behind the reversal, Pruitt backed down and put the protections back in place.

Now, another private meeting, this time with the president himself, has led to yet another win for the mine, and the removal of environmental protections for this pristine watershed.

“One of the most troubling things about this administration, I mean there are a lot of things that trouble me, but on the environmental side is this disregard of science,” Todd Whitman said. “They’re gutting science across the agencies, across the departments, across the government.”

If the order is followed through with, Todd Whitman sees a number of lawsuits possibly being filed.

“Environmental groups, native Alaskans, you’ll have a host of lawsuits, I’m convinced,” she said…

At EPA headquarters, Andrew Wheeler, the former coal company lobbyist who now runs the agency, has a tie to Pebble Mine, too. He has recused himself from decision making on the project because his former law firm represents the mine.

EPA scientists said political and business favors are driving decision making.

One top EPA official said, “We were told to get out of the way and just make it happen.”

The EPA said the Obama-era protections were outdated and the mine still has to go through the approval process.

When asked about the internal EPA meeting on June 27, at first, the EPA denied it happened, but when presented with evidence, they admitted the meeting took place.

Sources said the meeting is when officials told scientists the decision had been made and their work was not needed.

@USBR uses #RioGrande high streamflow this year to expand Silvery minnow habitat

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

This year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decided to take advantage of high water levels from a strong spring runoff and create more habitat for the fish on the Middle Rio Grande.

Doris Rhodes owns 629 acres near San Antonio in Socorro County, and for years she has been advocating for her property to host a Reclamation silvery minnow project. Earlier this year, her work paid off.

Rhodes’ land is nestled on the Rio Grande near Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, making it an ideal location for restoration and conservation, according to Reclamation project manager Ashlee Rudolph.

Reclamation crews worked from January to March of this year to lower and widen the riverbank on the southern end of the property. They excavated 46,000 cubic yards of dirt to create water channels where minnows could escape the fast-moving river.

“What makes this project great is that it is a partnership between a private landowner who wanted to create habitat on her land and the federal and state agencies,” Rudolph said. “It is so rare to have that partnership.”

Slowing the river flow

Reclamation worked with the private non-profit Save Our Bosque Task Force, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s New Mexico Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to excavate zigzag patterns on nearly a mile of the river.

The Rhodes property is one of few remaining historic wetlands in the San Acacia Reach of the Rio Grande, a primary habitat for silvery minnow.

The property has no levees on the east side of the river, which has helped in the restoration of the area’s natural floodplain, according to Reclamation Albuquerque Area public affairs specialist Mary Carlson.

Chris Torres, who oversees river maintenance operations on the Middle Rio Grande for the Reclamation Albuquerque Area Office, said the slow-moving side channels are critical for minnow-spawning.

“Minnows like that edge habitat. It’s worked perfectly,” Torres said. “The water is backing the way it’s supposed to, and we can see fish moving down through there. As the water drops, everything returns back to the main river like it’s supposed to.”

Rudolph said that since 2016, there have been at least eight silvery minnow habitats constructed in the San Acacia Reach of the river. Reclamation is joined by the Interstate Stream Commission to create these sites and monitor the fish populations.

The new channels don’t just provide habitat for the small fish, which was listed on the federal endangered species list in 1994. Birds, deer and other wildlife are also drawn to the lowered riverbank…

Torres said the crews left native cottonwoods intact and planted New Mexico olive trees. Crews also completed the project quickly so as not to disturb the federally-endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.

Side channels were excavated by the Bureau of Reclamation along the Rio Grande where it passes through the Rhodes’ property to provide habitat for the endangered silvery minnow. (Dustin Armstrong/U.S. Bureau Of Reclamation)

“Normally we would go through and just clear-cut everything for excavation purposes, but for this project we elected to leave the islands and leave as much of the native vegetation as we could,” Torres said…

The property has flooded at least four times since 2006 – which Rhodes says is a good thing.

“The Rhodes Property is a release valve,” she said. “When the river’s running high, water will come on to the property. It protects farmers to the north and south and also protects Bosque del Apache.”

She said that, after the minnow project is complete, her next step will likely be more removal of the invasive salt cedar and planting of native plant species.

“The more conservation that happens down here,” Rhodes said, “the more I’m convinced that this property is on the right path.”