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

Navajo Dam operations update

Update: From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows in the San Juan River Basin, and a dry weather forecast, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs on Wednesday, July 1st starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program has recommended base flows as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows in the San Juan River Basin, and a dry weather forecast, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Tuesday, June 30th starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

A kayaker makes her way down the San Juan River, which delivers water from Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Colorado researchers spent decades trying to save disappearing rainbow trout. Finally, they’re making progress — The #Colorado Sun

In the Gunnison River gorge, CPW Aquatic Biologist Eric Gardunio, holds a whirling-disease resistant rainbow trout. CPW is stocking fish resistant to the disease throughout the state. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Here’s an in-depth look at CPW’s efforts to recover Rainbow trout from Kevin Simpson that’s running in The Colorado Sun. Click through and read the whole article for the photos and details about the disease. Here’s an excerpt:

Genetics from Germany and a hardy cross with Gunnison River trout seem to be overcoming a nightmarish parasite that causes deadly whirling disease

Through dogged research that called on experts throughout the U.S. and even Europe, the rainbow has staged a remarkable recovery that required years of genetic testing, cross breeding and painstaking reintroduction into Colorado’s waters. Only recently have those efforts shown signs of enduring success against the parasite that nearly destroyed it.

And in large part, it has been developments in the rugged Gunnison River waters, where researchers cultivated a strain of rainbow — dubbed the HXG — that’s both disease-resistant and hardy enough to survive in the wild, that have pushed the effort toward sustainability.

More than 1.3 million of the new fish will be introduced into Colorado’s waterways this summer.

“It’s been an ongoing sort of thing, an evolution of little successes over time,” says George Schisler, chief of aquatic research for CPW and one of the key players in the long-running drama. “Now that we’ve got a lot of these HXGs in production, that’s the tipping point. We’re starting to see more and more little rainbows surviving in the wild.”

To get here, the fish beloved by anglers for its colorful appearance, relative ease to hook and admirable fight, had to overcome a nasty parasite, hungry browns and a whole lot of trial and error…

The department’s electrofishing along a 2-mile stretch of the Colorado near Kremmling in 1993 shocked well over 1,000 fish to the surface. Nehring recalls counting a huge population of wild rainbows from 16 to 24 inches long — but only five under 12 inches.

It was a mystery what happened to the little ones. The results of the count were nothing like they’d seen on that same stretch of river in the early ‘80s, when there were plenty of big rainbows, but most fell in the 9-inch range — evidence that the young ones were thriving.

At the same time, the brown trout population was virtually unchanged over that period. Nehring looked everywhere for possible culprits: water temperature, flow fluctuations during rainbow spawning and egg incubation, pollution, floods. But he could find no factors that seemed to make sense. That stretch of the Colorado seemed to be missing two years’ worth of wild rainbow trout fry — recently hatched fish — with no similar impact on the browns.

When Nehring called in to report the conundrum, his boss wondered if the answer might be something called whirling disease that plagued tiny rainbows but not browns.

“At that time I didn’t even know what whirling disease was,” Nehring says.

Although the life cycle of the parasite — Myxobolus cerebralis — has been understood only since 1984, whirling disease dates its discovery to the late 19th century at a trout farm in Germany. Scientific literature was sparse. In Colorado, a state fish pathologist determined after testing some infected rainbows that there was less than a 5% chance that whirling disease was responsible for the disappearance of the young rainbow population…

Although Nehring sounded the alarm, most fish and wildlife experts didn’t pick up on the damage that whirling disease was doing to the state’s rainbow trout population until years after they’d studied bottom-feeding tubifex worms. The worms, which live in the mud and sediment of river and lake beds, had proved unwitting distributors of the spores that infected young fish and fed on the cartilage that later would mature into bone.

The result is a misshapen skeletal structure, with deformities that include a telltale lateral curvature of the spine. Eventually, inflammation causes nerve malfunction. The result is a rainbow that whirls in endless circles, and either dies of the infection or becomes prey — often to the large population of brown trout. Cutthroat and some other species are vulnerable to the disease, too, but rainbows are particularly susceptible.

Arizona Department of Water Resources and @Audubon Agree to Funding Plan to Conserve #ColoradoRiver Water #DCP #COriver #aridification #fallowing

From The National Audubon Society (Joey Kahn):

Fulfilling Drought Contingency Plan commitments and achieving water security for Arizona.

Western Grebes. Photo: William Halladay/Audubon Photography Awards via The National Audubon Society

As part of an overall $38 million effort to bolster Lake Mead surface levels by fallowing irrigable farmland on the Colorado River Indian Reservation in western Arizona, the National Audubon Society has reached an agreement with the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to help fund the Colorado River Indian Tribes’ (CRIT) on-going efforts to conserve 150,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead over the next three years.

“Leaving water in Lake Mead for the greater Colorado River system creates more security for people and birds in the arid Southwest,” said Karyn Stockdale, Audubon’s Western Water Initiative Senior Director.

“This is a great first step toward completing an important piece of the funding plan approved by the Steering Committee members and the Arizona Legislature,” said ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke. “I commend the National Audubon Society for recognizing the importance of keeping Lake Mead surface levels as stable and healthy as possible.”

The three-year deal is expected to reduce water demand and add approximately two vertical feet to Lake Mead’s surface levels.

According to the agreement signed on May 21, Audubon—supported by their corporate partner Intel Corporation—will contribute to an Arizona Fund created in 2019 to incentivize the CRIT for creating up to 150,000 acre-feet of system conservation water in Lake Mead, helping to avoid precipitous declines in the Lake.

“I want to thank our partners at Audubon, Intel, and the Arizona Department of Water Resources for their ongoing support of this conservation project,” said Colorado River Indian Tribes Chairman Dennis Patch. “The partnership among the State, nonprofit organizations, corporations and our tribal government demonstrates that working together we can tackle the most enduring water supply challenges. The Colorado River Indian Tribes look forward to continuing to work with our partners ensuring the State of Arizona has a sustainable water future.”

The CRIT offered to forego irrigation water deliveries and fallow approximately 10,000 acres of farmland in exchange for the funding.

The fallowing/funding effort is a part of Arizona’s celebrated agreement among dozens of water users, agencies, tribes and conservation groups statewide in January 2019 to address instability in the Colorado River system through the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). After nearly 20 years of drought in the Colorado River Basin, the DCP is designed to promote conservation, reduce demand, and stabilize water levels in Lake Mead through projects such as the CRIT’s system conservation project.

“Intel is proud to support this vital effort, and to restore water to the community we’ve innovated and invested in for 40 years,” said Liz Shipley, Intel Arizona Public Affairs Director. “Investing in our watershed is an investment in our future.”

Signed May 21, Audubon’s funding contribution agreement with ADWR comes almost exactly one year after the May 20, 2019 signing of the DCP on the Observation Deck of Hoover Dam by the seven Colorado River States and the federal Department of the Interior.

Background on System Conservation and DCP

The months-long, public efforts of Arizona’s Steering Committee, led by ADWR Director Buschatzke and Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) General Manager Ted Cooke, opened the door to the State Legislature’s approval of legislation authorizing the ADWR Director to sign the DCP, as well as legislation necessary for the DCP to be implemented in Arizona.

On signing the legislation on January 31, 2019, Governor Doug Ducey hailed the DCP as “the most significant water legislation passed in nearly 40 years.”

The specific terms of the CRIT conservation effort were set out in an agreement by ADWR with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, operator of the Colorado River system, and the CAWCD, which delivers about 1.6 million acre-feet of Arizona’s 2.8 million acre-foot annual allocation to users mainly in central and south-central Arizona.

To fund the CRIT creation of system conservation water in Lake Mead, the State of Arizona appropriated $30 million in budget year 2019/2020. By a separate agreement, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) agreed to deposit $2 million into the Fund by January 31, 2020 and use its best efforts to raise an additional $6 million into the Fund no later than July 15, 2021.

The Audubon contribution is a part of the EDF agreement. Intel’s leadership support of Audubon made this vital project possible, and also opens up opportunities to leverage additional philanthropic support later this year.

This project demonstrates how the landmark DCP agreement is achieving the goal of creating positive partnerships among entities, fulfilling funding commitments and achieving water security for Arizona.

Durango hatchery takes first spawn from rare #cutthroat trout rescued in #416Fire — @COParksWildlife

Toby Mourning, manager of the Durango fish hatchery for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, takes eggs from a rare San Juan cutthroat trout. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

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

After nearly a two-year wait, Colorado Parks and Wildlife hatchery staff and biologists in Durango have spawned a new lineage of Colorado River cutthroat trout that were rescued from a remote stream during the 416 Fire in 2018.

This marks a major milestone for CPW’s on-going species conservation work in Colorado, and the result of decades of work by dedicated biologists, researchers and field staff.

Fertilized eggs of the San Juan cutthroats will hatch by mid-summer; some of the fingerlings will be placed in back-country streams in the southwest area of the state and others will be held at the Durango hatchery to start a sustainable brood stock. Now, the hatchery staff and biologists will continue the long-term effort to restore these native trout to their home waters.

“I’m thrilled that we’ve gotten a spawn from these fish, it’s been a long process and we’ve got a lot more work to do,” said Jim White, aquatic biologist for CPW in Durango.

The story of these fish that hold a unique genetic marker goes back nearly 150 years and includes some serious biological detective work. Since the 1970s, CPW aquatic biologists have searched back-country streams looking for isolated populations of cutthroats — Colorado’s native trout. In southwest Colorado in the 1980s and 1990s, biologists found cutthroat trout that were suspected to have unique characteristics in eight small streams. Back then, however, technology to analyze genetics fully was still being developed. The biologists kept their eyes on the fish and made sure non-native trout were not stocked nearby.

In 2012, researchers from the University of Colorado went to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History looking for preserved specimens of cutthroat trout that had been collected in Colorado. Two of the specimens they found were taken from the San Juan River near Pagosa Springs in 1874.

An analysis showed that the fish had genetic “fingerprints” specific to the San Juan River Basin. CPW researchers then began a similar analysis of the cutthroats they’d found in southwest Colorado. By this time, genetic-analysis technology had advanced and in early 2018 scientists confirmed that the marker in the museum specimens matched the cutthroat trout recently found in the wild.

Biologists and hatchery staff then made a plan to start propagating the fish. The 416 Fire helped push the project along.

The 416 Fire near Durango, Colorado, ignited on June 1, 2018. By June 21, the wildfire covered more than 34,000 acres and was 37 percent contained. Photo credit USFS via The High Country News

When the fire started north of Durango, biologists worried that ash and sediment run-off could kill the cutthroats in the remote streams. So CPW worked with the San Juan National Forest to go into the area to capture the wild trout and bring them to a special isolation hatchery in Durango. Only 54 cutthroat were recovered from the fire area.

White and Durango Hatchery Manager Toby Mourning have been concerned because the fish did not produce any spawn last year and some of the fish died. But the turnaround this year is a major milestone for the restoration effort.

“We’re not getting a lot of eggs, but enough to provide some for a limited amount of stocking and some to start a captive population that will be sustainable,” Mourning said.

In order to protect the fish, CPW is not providing details on stream locations. Biologists hope, however, that in a few years anglers will be able to find this unique cutthroat trout in the wild.

White explained that the work on this native is a significant conservation effort. In 2018, after the genetics of the fish were confirmed, he said: “We always ask ourselves, ‘What if we could go back to the days before mining, pioneer settlement and wide-spread non-native fish stocking to see what we had here? Careful work over the years by biologists, finding those old specimens in the museum and the genetic testing gave us the chance, essentially, to go back in time. Now we have the opportunity to bring this native trout back to southwest Colorado.”

Beautiful San Juan “Cut” May, 2020. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Catch a pike, save a pikeminnow — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Kenney Reservoir via Rangely Area Chamber of Commerce: http://www.rangelychamber.com/kenney-reservoir

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The toothy, predacious fish hasn’t broken any laws on its own, but someone is thought to have done so by introducing the nonnative species into Kenney Reservoir on the White River.

It’s a fish that’s fun to catch and great to eat, said Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton. But it also wreaks havoc on populations of rainbow trout and other species that make up the fishery at Kenney. Worse yet, northern pike pose a threat to endangered fish that are part of an intensive recovery program in the Upper Colorado River and its tributaries in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

That’s the back story behind why CPW and the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District are working with partners to offer anglers a $20 reward through Nov. 30 for every northern pike caught and removed from Kenney Reservoir, the White River and other waters from approximately Stedman Mesa to the Utah border…

A Colorado pikeminnow taken from the Colorado River near Grand Junction, and in the arms of Danielle Tremblay, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife employee. Pikeminnows have been tracked swimming upstream for great distances to spawn in the 15-mile stretch of river between Palisade and Grand Junction. An apex predator in the Colorado, pikeminnows used to be found up to six feet long and weighing 100 pounds. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smity/Aspen Journalism

Another concern is the threat pike pose to Colorado pikeminnow, one of four endangered fish that are the focus of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The largest adult population of the Colorado pikeminnow is on the lower White River, which is designated critical habitat for the fish upstream and downstream of Kenney Reservoir. The lower 18 miles of the White River in Utah is designated critical habitat for the endangered razorback sucker.

The reward for northern pike was first offered last year, and just 19 fish were turned in. Hampton said northern pike can be harder to catch, favoring deep, cool waters farther from shore. Organizers hope for more participation this year, to get anglers more involved in the efforts to eradicate the northern pike around Rangely.

Participants should bring their freshly caught northern pike to CPW’s office in Rangely from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays. CPW staff will dispense reward money that comes from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and is sourced from the state Species Conservation Trust Fund generated by severance tax dollars.

Partners in the effort also are planning a weekend fishing derby and expo June 5-7. It includes a $250 prize for whoever brings in the most smallmouth bass, another nonnative predator. With COVID-19 social-distancing measures being heeded, there will be interactive learning opportunities, a display of an electrofishing boat and an aquarium display including endangered fish.

White River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69281367

Questions simmer about #LakePowell’s future as #drought, #climatechange point to a drier #ColoradoRiver Basin — @WaterEdFdn #COriver #aridification

From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

Western Water in-depth: A key reservoir for Colorado River storage program, Powell faces demands from stakeholders in upper and lower basins with different water needs as runoff is forecast to decline

Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam, shows the effects of persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

Sprawled across a desert expanse along the Utah-Arizona border, Lake Powell’s nearly 100-foot high bathtub ring etched on its sandstone walls belie the challenges of a major Colorado River reservoir at less than half-full. How those challenges play out as demand grows for the river’s water amid a changing climate is fueling simmering questions about Powell’s future.

The reservoir, a central piece of the storage program for the Colorado River, provides water, hydropower and recreation to millions of people. It was designed to ensure that Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico can meet their legal obligation to let enough water pass to Arizona, California and Nevada, as well as supplying water to Mexico.

But persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin over the last 20 years and the need to keep Lake Mead, Powell’s twin reservoir downstream, from reaching critically low levels have left Lake Powell consistently about half-full. Some environmental advocacy groups, aiming to restore Glen Canyon, have called for the dam’s decommissioning.

Water managers say that’s unlikely, given Lake Powell’s key role in meeting downstream obligations and the interest of some upstream who hope to tap its waters. Recent studies point to warmer and drier conditions ahead, with reduced runoff into the river. A rewrite of the river’s operating guidelines is on the horizon, and already there is talk about how those guidelines could affect Powell.

Lake Powell and Lake Mead currently adhere to an operations protocol that determines release volumes from Lake Powell to Lake Mead and how Lower Basin water users enjoy the benefits of surplus conditions or the shared sacrifice of delivery cuts during shortage. The rules for these scenarios are found in the 2007 Interim Guidelines, the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans and international agreements with Mexico.

Chief among the Guidelines’ provisions is better coordination of the operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead each year.

As key stakeholders prepare to forge the next set of management guidelines that will update those from 2007, there may be a reassessment of Lake Powell’s operations so that it can take on the coming challenges.

“I think an honest and thorough look into the future of Lake Powell is absolutely warranted,” said Matt Rice, director of American Rivers Colorado Basin Program.

Rice, part of a February forum on the future of Lake Powell, said the crisis wrought by the coronavirus pandemic shows how rare “black swan” events can emerge and shatter existing management plans, such as those for watersheds.

The dry conditions have prompted Colorado River water agencies to undertake unprecedented, collaborative efforts to ensure water supplies are not disrupted. In Las Vegas, for instance, rebates to homeowners by the Southern Nevada Water Authority have converted 193 million square feet of thirsty grass lawns into water-efficient landscaping.

Staying ahead of future crises is critical, and officials are informally discussing the parameters of the next set of guidelines. How those talks affect future water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead will be significant.

A Reliable Lake Powell

Conditions on the river are never static. In some years, a large snowpack produces voluminous runoff, but the science is showing a pattern of decreased flow from tributaries into the mainstem Colorado River. Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center projected inflow to Lake Powell from April to July would be 65 percent of average.

The Colorado River Compact divided the basin into an upper and lower half, with each having the right to develop and use 7.5 million acre-feet of river water annually. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via The Water Education Foundation)

Upper Basin users, meanwhile, want to access their share of Colorado River water to meet growing demands. In Utah, a 140-mile pipeline proposal would divert as much as 86,000 acre-feet annually from Lake Powell to growing communities in the state’s southwest corner. Utah officials believe the $1 billion plan is necessary for places such as St. George that are bumping against their limits of water supply.

Furthermore, Utah officials say the state is well within its right to access water it has rights to.

“Utah’s right to develop water for the Lake Powell Pipeline is equal to, not inferior to, the rights of all the other 1922 [Colorado River] Compact signatory states,” Eric Millis, then-director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said in a 2019 statement by the state’s Department of Natural Resources. The Colorado River Compact divided the Basin into an upper and lower half, with each having the right to develop and use 7.5 million acre-feet of river water annually.

Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation is also looking at tapping Lake Powell water via pipeline so it can supplement limited groundwater supplies.

“The continued existence of Glen Canyon Dam is imperative if the Navajo Nation is to obtain a reliable supply of water from the Colorado River,” said Stanley Pollack, an attorney for the tribe. “A water line only works if you have Lake Powell.”

In the Upper Basin, there is concern that Lake Powell has been increasingly called on to help Lake Mead, with not much to show for it.

“We are not improving the health of Lake Mead and … until and unless the Lower Basin addresses its overuse … Mead is not going to improve and it’s just going to bring the elevations of Powell down,” said Amy Haas, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.

The storage/release paradigm between the two reservoirs has caused the most tension since adoption of the 2007 Interim Guidelines, said Colby Pellegrino, director of water resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The Upper Basin recognizes its obligation to let enough river flow pass to the Lower Basin, but occasional machinations with Lake Mead’s storage can be touchy. “Sometimes water is moved from Lake Mead downstream to other reservoirs or water users in a different pattern or timing, prompting concern from people in the Upper Basin that its neighbors seek to game the system,” she said.

Jeff Kightlinger, general manager, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California via Twitter.

The largest reservoir in the United States, Lake Mead receives the lion’s share of attention because of the efforts to keep it viable and supplying water to the many farms and urban areas – Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix, among them – south of Hoover Dam. In 2015, a third, deeper intake was completed at the lake to keep water flowing to Las Vegas’ 2 million residents and 40 million annual visitors. The lake supplies about 25 percent of the water needs of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California – even more during drought.

Having a reliable Lake Powell to back up Lake Mead is crucial especially during a period of uncertainty, Lower Basin users say.

“As we get into flashier, more volatile hydrology cycles with climate change we can likely see the occasional huge storm years with less snow and more rain,” said Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of Metropolitan Water District, the largest supplier of treated water in the United States. “Having readily available storage capacity for the occasional mega year will be extremely valuable.”

‘The Most Wonderful Lake in the World’

Controversial from the start, Lake Powell remains polarizing to some degree. Former Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Floyd Dominy, who spearheaded construction of Glen Canyon Dam that created Lake Powell in the early 1960s, said in a 2000 interview that Powell is “the most wonderful lake in the world [and] my crowning jewel.”

At capacity, Lake Powell holds more than 26 million acre-feet of water that originates as snowpack from the Upper Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation)

Former Reclamation Commissioner Dan Beard, who served in the 1990s during the Clinton administration, opposes the continued existence of Glen Canyon Dam. Because climate change and further reductions in runoff will cause Lake Powell to keep dropping, he said, stakeholders should focus their energy on saving Lake Mead.

“Lake Mead is the heartbeat of the Colorado River,” Beard said. “It is a vital and important part of the delivery system for water to the Lower Basin states and to Mexico. It is a critical facility and yet it continues to decline.”

Beard is a board member with the advocacy group Save the Colorado, which, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers last year sued the federal government to force examination of climate change science in the management of Glen Canyon Dam.

The litigants say Reclamation and the Department of the Interior should conduct a revised analysis and include a full range of alternatives based on predicted climate change-related impacts on the flow of water in the Colorado River.

“Such a full range must include an alternative that incorporates the decommissioning and removal of Glen Canyon Dam because the projections from the best available climate science indicate there likely will not be sufficient flow in the Colorado River to keep Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam operational,” a press release accompanying the lawsuit said.

At capacity, Lake Powell holds more than 26 million acre-feet of water that originates as snowpack from the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. That water gets released to Lake Mead via the Grand Canyon and helps supply the Lower Basin — Arizona, Nevada, California – as well as Mexico.

At 710 feet, Glen Canyon Dam is the second highest concrete-arch dam in the United States. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation)

However, since 2002 Lake Powell’s water elevation has rarely gone above its historical 50-year annual average of 3,639 feet above sea level, the point at which it contains about 15.8 million acre-feet of water. The operating system is flawed, some experts say.

Two years ago, the Colorado River Research Group, a highly respected group of Colorado River scholars including Colorado State University’s Brad Udall and University of Arizona’s Karl Flessa, produced a publication called It’s Hard to Fill a Bathtub When the Drain Is Wide Open: The Case of Lake Powell. In it, they noted that the system is stacked against Lake Powell in part because of an overallocated Colorado River system.

Lake Powell and Lake Mead operate under multiple laws and agreements that are collectively known as the Law of the River. Under the rules, Lake Powell is obligated to release a certain amount of water each year to Lake Mead for the Lower Basin states.

The Lower Basin states, however, collectively draw about 1.2 million acre-feet more water from Lake Mead than Lake Powell releases in a normal year. The result is a so-called “structural deficit.”

Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River Commission, is critical of the 2007 operating guidelines (Source: Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation)

“The structural deficit is the true villain in this story, mixing with the operational rules to drain Lake Powell,” the Colorado River Research Group publication said. “If storage in Lake Powell cannot rebound in an era where the Upper Basin consumes less than two‐thirds of its legal apportionment, then the crisis is already real.”

Answers, the authors say, lie partly in the ability of Lake Powell storage to recover in wet years, reducing use in the Upper Basin and re-thinking exiting reservoir management. “Lakes Mead and Powell, after all, are essentially one giant reservoir and … thinking of these facilities as two distinct reservoirs, one for the benefit of the Upper Basin and one for the Lower, now seems outdated,” the publication said.

Haas, with the Upper Colorado River Commission, said the existing operating guidelines leave room for improvement. “I feel very strongly that as long as our reservoir operations are coordinated … the future of Lake Powell hinges on the future of Lake Mead,” she said. “We need to find a more equitable mechanism by which reservoir operations are coordinated.”

Marlon Duke, spokesman with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that manages the river, acknowledged that Lake Powell draws scrutiny.

“I often get asked, ‘What’s the deal with Lake Powell?’” he said. “Shouldn’t we just drain it or is it really doing what it is supposed to do?”

Jack Schmidt, with Utah State University, analyzed the concept of “Fill Mead First.” (Source: Jack Schmidt via the Water Education Foundation)

The answer, Duke said, means looking at the lake’s performance and how it has met expectations during difficult times. Powell was near capacity in 2000. Then a period of record-setting dryness set in. Through it all, enough water was released to meet the Upper Basin’s obligation to the Lower Basin.

People in the respective basins view Lake Powell and Lake Mead with a certain degree of ownership, and perspectives vary. Upper Basin interests generally want a more robust Lake Powell. South of the lake, the desire to tap into it further is not uncommon in the Lower Basin. The degree of change, ultimately, will likely fall between those sentiments.

All of that notwithstanding, it’s important to understand the two reservoirs are tightly woven, said Jack Schmidt, the Janet Quinney Lawson chair of Colorado River studies at Utah State University.

“It’s one big system and whether Powell [or Mead] goes up or down …those are intentional societal decisions of management that have little to do with climate change,” he said.

Schmidt co-authored a 2020 white paper, Managing the Colorado River for an Uncertain Future, which cautions that future flows will be “lower, more variable and more uncertain.”

Schmidt in 2016 analyzed the concept of “Fill Mead First,” the idea of establishing Lake Mead as the primary water storage facility on the mainstem river and relegating Lake Powell to a secondary storage role when Mead is full. The savings in evaporation and seepage losses would be relatively small, Schmidt said, but the idea shouldn’t be completely discounted.

Fill Mead First “generates passions and emotions,” Schmidt said. It is embraced by some as a restorative opportunity for Glen Canyon. “Then there is the world of traditional water managers who say that’s a ludicrous idea and we don’t pay any attention.”

The disparate views “live in two worlds completely.”

But Kightlinger, with Metropolitan Water District, discounts the idea of draining Powell. “Politically, I don’t see any real support or push for a fill Mead first strategy,” he said. “Powell, even less full going forward, remains a valuable piece of very expensive infrastructure that will remain part of the Colorado River storage pool for decades to come.”

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

A Warmer and Drier Basin

A small army of water professionals and experts constantly analyze the Colorado River Basin, which supplies water to 40 million people and fuels a huge agricultural economy.

For years, scientists have looked at the drying conditions of the Colorado River Basin, employing techniques such as tree ring sampling. Analysis of that method has shown that the years 1905 to 1922 – just as the river’s waters were being allocated among the states — were exceptionally wet.

In 2012, Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study confirmed there are likely to be significant shortfalls in coming decades between projected water supplies and demands in the Colorado River Basin. Since the study, a steady stream of research points to warmer and drier conditions.

Pearce Ferry Rapid prevents predators such as catfish, bass and pike from getting upriver and destroying native fish. (Source: Cory Nielson, Arizona Game and Fish Department via the Water Education Foundation)

In April, a study published in the journal Science said the current dry period in the Southwest is one for the record books, and that its “megadrought-like trajectory” is fueled by natural variability superimposed on human-caused warming. Also in April, experts with the Western Water Assessment, whose researchers work out of the University of Colorado, Boulder and several other institutions in the region, noted that the severity and length of drought conditions can be difficult to quantify.

“This is especially true for the Colorado River system, in which total consumptive use plus other depletions typically exceeds supply, such that under even average hydrologic conditions the levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell will tend to decline,” according to Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science, the study conducted by the Western Water Assessment.

The continued variability justifies a robust Lake Powell, said Haas, with the Upper Colorado River Commission.

“We know that future flows are going to be more variable and almost clearly lower, but we also need to ensure that our non-depletion obligation is satisfied,” she said. “Powell is our repository for this water. Doing away with the reservoir, in light of our 1922 Compact obligation, is not realistic,” she said.

Furthermore, an improved, more accurate forecasting approach is needed ahead of the next set of operating criteria. “That’s especially true given the vicissitudes of hydrology and the impacts of climate change,” Haas said.

Increasing Lake Powell’s releases is potentially problematic because of the likelihood that predator fish from Lake Mead could make it upstream and devastate native fish in the Grand Canyon.

Matt Rice, director of American Rivers’ Colorado Basin Program, believes an honest evaluation of the future of Lake Powell is needed. (Source: Matt Rice via the Water Education Foundation)

As it stands, Pearce Ferry Rapid, a rugged, impassable cataract located near the downstream end of the Grand Canyon, prevents predators such as catfish, bass and pike from getting upriver and destroying native fish. The rapid exists because Lake Mead, sitting at just 43 percent of capacity, is so low that the inflow to it from the river has carved a new entry where the river plunges over a bedrock ledge.

If Lake Mead ever began to fill again, it would inundate Pearce Ferry Rapid, allowing the non-native fish to migrate upstream and prey on native Colorado River fish. “They would just eat and eat,” said Rice, with American Rivers. “All the recovery of endangered fish could be for naught.”

Playing the Waiting Game

During a period of great uncertainty about what the next water year will bring, Colorado River water users will need to think creatively while using all their tools, including storage.

“Glen Canyon Dam exists because you need all that potential storage,” said Schmidt, with Utah State University. “In some freak years you are going to get really big runoff, and nobody wants to see that go through the system.”

Colby Pellegrino, director of water resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. (Source: SNWA via the Water Education Foundation)

Meanwhile, the lake’s future role in the Colorado River Basin is a key topic as Reclamation reviews the performance of the 2007 Guidelines, with results expected at the end of this year at the annual meeting of Colorado River water users.

Pellegrino with Southern Nevada Water Authority said it would be nice to get past the controversy about Lake Powell’s releases and instead find ways to store more water in it. “We have had a lot of consternation … more because of the balancing releases than the actual behavior of any water user or basin,” she said. “Going back to something that’s more constant or more fixed would remove an element of consternation between the Basins.”

What’s likely to happen is an approach that builds upon the years of collaboration and cooperation established between everyone working on Colorado River water management, said Tina Shields, water manager with the Imperial Irrigation District, the largest user of Colorado River water.

“We know how the river works – its incrementalism,” she said. “Nobody wants to make wholesale changes because it’s too big of a deal and what if it went south? We are not quick to change these relationships and negotiations. They took a lot of time.”

Chris Harris, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, said Reclamation’s findings will be key in considering the continued conjunctive management of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

“Certainly, the [2007] Guidelines have shown that managing the reservoirs together has kept Lake Powell from crashing and has kept Lake Mead from a shortage condition,” he said. “I believe that there will be significant interest in evaluating opportunities, including with Mexico, for even more effective management of the reservoir system.”

That process will most likely look at different elevations and trigger points for excess releases from Lake Powell in a manner that’s acceptable to the Upper and Lower Basins.

“The question is, how do you get movement either way without someone saying, ‘That doesn’t work for me,’” Shields said. “Sometimes the status quo is easier to continue than the fear associated with changing those trigger points.”

As with virtually all Colorado River issues, the ramifications of actions can run far and wide. “This sounds like an esoteric argument about something hundreds of miles away, but the reality of it is what happens at Lake Powell affects the amount of water available to the Lower Basin states, Southern California and, indirectly, Northern California,” said Beard, the former Reclamation commissioner.

California’s extensive water plumbing network relies on a careful balance of imports to Southern California from Northern California and the Colorado River.

Even with Reclamation’s review of the guidelines expected to be issued at the end of the year, Schmidt with Utah State University said he believes stakeholders will let multiple years pass before committing to any radical operational changes.

Solutions to Colorado River management are built on the legacy of collaboration and cooperation, said Tina Shields, water manager with Imperial Irrigation District. (Source: IID via the Water Education Foundation)

“Every year that we wait buys a little more information about climate change and decreasing runoff and whether we go into a wet cycle,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that could happen and people will hope that nature provides a favorable condition so there can be a tiny bit more wiggle room and we don’t go into dire crisis.”

Haas echoed the comments of many stakeholders in noting that all options for Powell’s operation should be considered. “It’s not heretical to be thinking outside the norm on things,” she said. “It spurs a more robust discussion and we should not shy away from that.”

Reclamation’s Duke harkens back to Powell’s ability to consistently meet and sometimes exceed its release obligations during severe conditions.

“That is a testament to the people who came before and had to make those tough calls,” he said. “They built that reservoir and it’s done what we needed. Looking into the future, everything’s on the table, but we also need to remember there are 40 million people who rely on water from this river and over the last 20 years, we would not have been able to supply that water reliably without these storage reservoirs.”

Reach Gary Pitzer: gpitzer@watereducation.org, Twitter: @GaryPitzer
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A Decent Winter Becomes A Lousy Spring On The #RioGrande — #NewMexico in Focus #snowpack #runoff

From New Mexico in Focus (Laura Paskus):

This spring, the Rio Grande through Albuquerque is running at about 20 percent of its historic average—even though snowpack in the watershed was close to average last fall and into February. Conditions won’t get much better: Peak snowmelt occurred last week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“This year was more along the lines of what I anticipate for the future, to happen more often,” says David Gutzler, professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of New Mexico. Gutzler has been studying climate change in the southwestern United States for decades.

Increasingly warm conditions play out in predictable ways in the arid Southwest. That includes having less water in rivers, even when the region isn’t necessarily mired in drought, experiencing a deficit in snowpack or rainfall.

“You get snow in the winter when it’s really cold, but then things get warm and dry—which is the long-term outlook for springtime in the Southwest—and the snow just melts away faster than our historical statistics would suggest,” Gutzler says of this year’s conditions.

“This is more like a global warming-style of a low streamflow year, as opposed to a drought year [like 2018] that started off bad and stayed warm, and was just bad for the whole winter.”

Two years ago, then-UNM graduate student Shaleene Chavarria published her research with Gutzler about declining snowmelt and streamflows in the Rio Grande. In that peer-reviewed study, she looked at annual and monthly changes in climate variables and streamflow volume in the headwaters of the Rio Grande in Colorado between 1958 and 2015. She found that flows are declining in March, April, and May.

Chavarria, a hydrologist, saw something else in the records: Snowpack in the Rio Grande watershed is decreasing. And it’s melting earlier.

That’s definitely playing out again this year.

Looking at the data, Chavarria notes that in 2018 and 2020, snowpack melted out about a month earlier than it normally did in the past. “This is something we address in the paper, and I think it’s interesting and scary to see it happening,” she wrote in an email to NMPBS…

The changes in the timing of spring runoff and in the amount of water flowing within the banks of the Rio Grande affect farmers and cities. They also affect the river’s ecosystem—including the cottonwood bosque—and the species that depend upon its waters and cycles.

Already, according to Carolyn Donnelly with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the water management agency has released about 4,000 acre feet of water from upstream reservoirs to prevent riverbed drying—and it plans to release supplemental water again within the week.

When the Natural Resources Conservation Service released its final May streamflow this week, the numbers were “pretty grim,” says Reclamation spokesperson Mary Carlson.

“In March, we were looking at a runoff that was near average. But that just didn’t materialize,” Carlson says. “We will continue to coordinate closely with our water operations partners to ensure that every drop of the supply that we do have will be used in the most beneficial way.”

She adds that New Mexico will likely end up under Article VII restrictions by the middle of June.

Under that provision of the Rio Grande Compact of 1938, New Mexico is only allowed to store water in upstream reservoirs when levels in Elephant Butte Reservoir are above a certain threshold. With little water flowing into that reservoir this year, the state won’t be able to store waters upstream—and Elephant Butte’s levels will keep dropping, too.

The bureau anticipates Elephant Butte’s levels will drop close to its 2018 historic lows, when the reservoir was at just three percent of capacity. (The reservoir, which was built to hold two million acre feet of water, is about 25 percent full this week. Water stored there is allocated to farmers in southern New Mexico and Texas)

Reclamation also anticipates that the Middle Rio Grande will dry within the next month, beginning within Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in San Antonio…

Upper Rio Grande River Basin High/Low graph May 7, 2020 via the NRCS.

For decades, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with federal, state, tribal, and local partners, has tried to keep the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow from going extinct. The two-inch long fish was once one of the river’s most abundant. But by the 1990s, its population had plummeted, earning it the dubious distinction of requiring federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Some of those efforts include releasing water to keep the river flowing longer, and also working with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District to release water “spikes” when the minnows are spawning.

When the Middle Rio Grande does dry, as it has many summers since the 1990s, biologists end up in the riverbed, trying to salvage what live minnows they can find. They scoop the fish from pools and puddles, then transport them to sections of the river where flows are high enough to possibly sustain the tiny fish.

Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Thomas Archdeacon anticipates the river will dry around Memorial Day. When that starts happening, biologists will slog through the muddy—and then sandy—riverbed, seeking out the endangered fish.

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Watch a Breathtaking Monarch Butterfly Swarm — Nature on PBS

In the mountains of Mexico, a spy hummingbird ventures into the heart of a breathtaking monarch butterfly swarm.

@USBR: Water experiment to be conducted along the #ColoradoRiver while maintaining hydropower production this summer #COriver #GrandCanyon

Non-biting midges are one of the aquatic insects predicted to benefit from the Bug Flow Experiment. Photo credit: USGS/Freshwaters Illustrated via the Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke, Robyn Gerstenslage):

From May 1 through August 31, the Department of the Interior will conduct a Macroinvertebrate Production Flow at Glen Canyon Dam. This experiment, also known as a Bug Flow, aims to improve egg-laying conditions for aquatic insects, which are the primary food source for endangered and native fish in the Colorado River. This is the third consecutive year for the Bug Flow under the Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan.

During the Bug Flow experiment, the Bureau of Reclamation will make targeted adjustments to water releases from Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. That adjusted release schedule will include low and steady flows during weekends, while weekday operations will maintain normal flows to meet hydropower demands. Weekday release rate hourly changes will remain unchanged.

Aquatic insects lay and cement their eggs to rocks, vegetation and other materials near the river’s edge. If flows are too variable, water levels may drop below where eggs are laid, causing them to dry out and die.

Caddis fly hatch photo via http://ValiValleyAnglers.com

“Findings indicate that some aquatic insects are already benefiting from the bug flows, which also benefits fish and other animals that eat them,” said Scott VanderKooi, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center. “For example, our research suggests that caddisflies, an extremely rare aquatic insect in the Grand Canyon over the past several decades, increased nearly four-fold during the first year of the experiment in 2018, before returning to pre-Bug Flows numbers in 2019. In contrast, non-biting midges, another type of aquatic insect that is a key food source for fish and other wildlife, may have increased, and a third year of Bug Flows should help verify this finding.”

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

Recreational fishing at Lees Ferry also improved during Bug Flows, with anglers catching an average of 1-2 more rainbow trout per day during Bug Flow weekends, when flows were low and steady, compared to weekdays when flows fluctuated.
“Our current experimental plan initially recommended two to three years of Bug Flows given the complexity of the Colorado River ecosystem, which is constantly changing,” said Lee Traynham, Reclamation’s Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program Manager. “We’ve already learned a lot about the ecosystem and have observed several resource improvements over many years of experimenting with flows. We are excited to see how the ecosystem responds this year.”

The decision to conduct this experiment was based on technical input and recommendation from a collaborative team of scientists and technical experts from federal agencies and states involved in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. This team includes representatives from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs; the Department of Energy’s Western Area Power Administration; Arizona Game and Fish Department, Upper Colorado River Commission and all seven Colorado River Basin States.

Experiments are designed to maximize benefits to the Colorado River ecosystem through the Grand Canyon, while meeting water delivery requirements and minimizing negative impacts to hydropower production.

This experiment is expected to benefit aquatic insects and the fish, birds and bats that feed on them, while providing valuable scientific information for future decision making.

For more information about the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program and flow volumes below Glen Canyon Dam, please visit the following websites:

Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/amp/index.html

Flow volumes for the Colorado River at Lees Ferry: https://www.gcmrc.gov/discharge_qw_sediment/station/GCDAMP/09380000

Colorado River Storage Project: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/crsp/index.html

Citizen Science Light Trapping in Grand Canyon: https://www.usgs.gov/centers/sbsc/science/citizen-science-light-trapping-grand-canyon?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects

Science Behind the Bug Flows: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70170803

@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.

@USBR is prepared for releases from Green Mountain Reservoir for the #ColoradoRiver “15-mile reach” if needed to prevent dryups

The 15-Mile Reach is located near Grand Junction, Colorado

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Though it’s looking like it won’t be needed, officials have been standing by with 6,500 acre-feet of water set aside in Green Mountain Reservoir in Summit County. They’re ready to release it if needed in order to avoid what’s referred to as an “April hole” in rivers flows in the Colorado River between Palisade and the river’s confluence with the Gunnison River.

That stretch is known as the 15-Mile Reach, a focal point for protecting flows for the sake of endangered fish in the Colorado River. If flows fall too low between where irrigation water is diverted and the Gunnison flows boost water volume, endangered fish can be left more vulnerable to predators, reduced habitat and potentially less food availability.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Four endangered fish — the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker — are the focus of recovery efforts in the Colorado River and its tributaries in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

A court case and operating policy at Green Mountain, which is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, have resulted in establishment of a 66,000-acre-foot historic users pool there that is available to irrigators, municipal and other water users to replace water that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them due to calls by holders of senior water rights.

Victor Lee, a Bureau of Reclamation engineer, said that as part of another court case, it was decided that when the pool isn’t needed for those other uses, it could be used to augment flow in the 15-Mile Reach, for the sake of the fish. The pool is the largest single source of water for boosting flows in that reach, with 40,000 or 50,000 acre feet sometimes available for that purpose, he said.

Typically that water has helped boost flows in late summer and early fall, but over the last few years its use has been expanded to include the startup of the irrigation season when needed.

Lee said usually that startup can occur without excessively drawing down flows in the 15-Mile Reach. But the “April hole” can develop in circumstances such as when there’s little rain and a cold snap halts the beginning of spring runoff flows.

In recent years user pool managers including the Bureau of Reclamation, irrigators and state started considering how they might use, in April, water they didn’t deliver the prior fall. Last year they went a step further, decided to intentionally hold over some of the water that normally would have been released in the fall and keep it available for use this spring if need be…

The Government Highline Canal, near Grand Junction, delivers water from the Colorado River, and is managed by the Grand Valley Water Users Association. Representatives from the Grand Valley Water Users Association invited members of the Front Range Water Council to discuss demand management, but the FRWC declined. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The goal is to keep flows in the 15 miles at 810 cubic feet per second or more. On Monday the stretch had flows of about 1,440 cfs, but the Grand Valley Irrigation Co. was expected to begin diverting the same day, and the Grand Valley Water Users Association had begun increasing diversion. Lee has been consulting regularly with irrigation entities, weather and runoff forecasters and reservoir managers. While he thinks the flows in the crucial stretch will fall to 850 cfs, it looks like they will increase from there as temperatures warm and more moist weather arrives, likely making it unnecessary to augment flows to bridge the gap before spring runoff season begins in earnest.

Green Mountain Reservoir, on the Blue River between Kremmling and and Silverthorne, was built for Western Slope interests. Photo/Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District via The Mountain Town News.

2020 November election: Western Slope prepping for wolves — @AspenJournalism


Gray wolves were extirpated from Colorado in the 1930s, but a pack was recently spotted in the northwest corner of the state. In November, voters in the state will decide on a measure to reintroduce gray wolves. JOHN AND KAREN HOLLINGSWORTH, USFWS

From Aspen Journalism (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

Since Colorado’s last wild wolves were killed in the 1930s, a few lone animals have been spotted in the state. So, when a pack was spotted in northwest Colorado — several months before Colorado voters decide whether they’ll support a bill to reintroduce gray wolves to the state — it wasn’t a total surprise to Carbondale ecologist Delia Malone.

“It does give life to the idea that Colorado has ample suitable habitat for wolves,” said Malone, a member of the science advisory team for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, which hopes to reestablish a sustainable population of wolves in Colorado.

Malone and Colorado wildlife officials agree that the rural northwest corner of the state is well-suited for wolves. CPW isn’t releasing the pack’s exact location, but agency spokesperson Lauren Truitt says there is plenty of prey and room to roam.

“With Colorado not having any wolf presence, there’s not a whole lot of competition for them, so it’s very likely that they’ll hang around,” Truitt said.

CPW biologists used DNA testing on four scat samples, which revealed there are at least three females and one male in the pack, and those wolves are all closely related, probably as full siblings.

“That does not mean there’s a sustainable population of wolves in Colorado,” Malone said. “A sustainable, recovered population is a population that is ecologically effective in their role to restore natural balance; they’re well-distributed throughout Colorado; they’re well-connected. And six little wolves is not that.”

Malone says her work as an ecologist gives her a clear view that Colorado needs wolves.

“Our ecosystems are not in great shape,” Malone said.

The combination of a warming climate and lack of predators has reduced the resilience of Colorado’s aspen forests and other habitats. Malone said the presence of wolves has tremendous benefits, including improving water availability in the driest months of the year.

“They (wolves) move the elk so that they don’t overgraze, so that there’s willow left for the beavers to build their dams, to store their water, to supply streamflows in the late-summer season,” Malone said.

Malone and others point to the ecological benefits seen after wolf recovery in Yellowstone National Park as a model. The National Park Service says that without pressure from predators such as wolves, the elk population grew far beyond what was sustainable. The number of elk has since reached healthier levels.

A trail of wolf tracks observed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in
Northwest Colorado on January 19, 2020. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

While a pack sighting indicates the possibility of wolves returning to western Colorado on their own, there are also two potential paths to reintroduction.

Sen. Kerry Donovan in January introduced to the state legislature a bill that would take cautious steps toward wolf reintroduction, potentially beginning in 2025.

In November, voters will decide on Initiative 107, which would require CPW to create a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves by the end of 2023. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project has been working for years on a plan that would fully restore wolves to Colorado.

“Vast areas that are rugged and remote without humans are the ideal reintroduction sites,” Malone said.

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project identified several potential reintroduction sites, including the Flat Tops Wilderness north of Glenwood Springs; Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests; Weminuche Wilderness in San Juan National Forest; and Carson National Forest.

Gray wolves are currently listed as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act, which gives management authority to the federal government. Last year, the federal government petitioned to remove those protections and declare wolves recovered. That would mean that CPW would be in charge of management.

If Initiative 107 passes and gray wolves remain listed under the ESA and, therefore, under federal management, Truitt says the next steps are unclear.

“The ballot initiative instructs the Commission to develop and implement a plan for reintroduction, but is silent as to what CPW is supposed to do if it has no authority to reintroduce or manage wolves,” she wrote in an email.

There is strong support across the state for wolf reintroduction. In an online survey conducted by Colorado State University professor Rebecca Niemiec, 84% of respondents intended to vote for wolf reintroduction.

Bill Fales and Marj Perry raise cattle near Carbondale. They fear that the presence of wolves in Colorado would come with a significant economic hit to their ranching operations. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

Herd instinct and ranching changes

Jose Miranda raises water buffaloes, mostly for dairy, in Old Snowmass. He says it would be silly to think that wolves won’t change his operations, but he still plans to vote for reintroduction.

“My position is that morally, it’s the right thing to do,” Miranda said. “On the verge of so many species that are facing extinction, if we can do something to help some of them, we just have to.”

Miranda acknowledges that wolves would mean major changes for many ranchers, particularly those whose use permits to graze cattle on U.S. Forest Service land. Those permit areas tend to be large, with animals spread out across the landscape rather than gathered in herds.

Longtime Carbondale ranchers Bill Fales and Marj Perry use a Forest Service permit to graze up to 900 head of cattle each year in the summer and fall.

Perry has been researching ranchers’ experiences across the West, and she worries that wolf predation would be particularly severe during two times of the year: calving season, when wolves tend to hang out lower in the valleys and there are an abundance of calves available; and early fall, when wolf pups are learning to hunt.

“It’s a lot easier to learn to hunt a calf than a deer or elk,” Perry said, adding that their cattle are spread out on Forest Service lands during that time of year.

Researchers and ranchers have identified ways to minimize the loss of cattle to wolves and other predators. Matt Barnes, a rangeland and wildlife conservationist and a former rancher, says ranchers who use strategic grazing — a process in which cattle are moved from one pasture to another and work is done to encourage herd behavior — lose very few animals to predators.

“If they bunch up and stand their ground, the vast majority of the time, they all survive,” Barnes said. “A lone prey animal out there is kinda easy pickings.”

Wolves hunt by forcing their prey to run and attacking from the sides. That’s how they are able to kill animals that are four times their weight. But researchers think wolves are only successful about 15% of the time, and much of their success depends on how the prey behave — namely, if they gather in a herd.

“There is something magic about that herd effect,” Barnes said. “It’s prey animals’ primary anti-predator behavior.”

Cattle — indeed, all kinds of prey — can move the weakest members of the herd to the middle, and defend themselves using their hooves.

Miranda, who raises water buffaloes, thinks his animals stand a pretty good chance against wolves because of their herding behavior.

“I know that the water buffaloes that I have are probably going to have a better instinct protecting themselves and the younger animals as far as protecting themselves against a pack of wolves,” Miranda said.

But Perry and Fales say the landscape where their cattle graze make herding up very difficult. There aren’t many open fields on the Forest Service land where their permit is, and there’s also limited access to water.

“We try to not have the cattle in a big bunch in order not to hammer the riparian areas,” Perry said. “Our whole strategy has been to keep cattle strung out. And so far, it seems like it’ll be really hard to remedy that.”

Wolf advocates also say range riders can help minimize losses; a rider who is out with the cattle daily can watch for injured or weakened cows or calves that might become targets and keep an eye out for wolves. But Fales doesn’t think that would work, either, especially with the challenges of finding reliable labor.

“We do a lot of range riding. There’s never a day when there’s not someone out there,” he said. “But it would be totally insufficient to manage for wolves.”

The management strategy that Perry and Fales think would work in their situation is one that currently isn’t an option in Colorado: killing the problem wolves that prey on cattle.

“The only thing I would really advocate for would be lethal control,” Perry said. “You can’t have wolves without forevermore killing them.”

Killing wolves is illegal in Colorado because the species has federal protection under the ESA, but the future of that status is uncertain. Some ranchers, including Miranda, are hopeful that reintroduction would mean a larger voice in how wolves are managed than if the animals return to the state on their own.

“Some of these programs are very progressive,” Miranda said. “As long as there’s that kind of help and communication, that’s very fortunate.”

In fact, the CSU survey found that nearly 80% of people who identify as ranchers intend to vote for reintroduction. The online survey asked respondents a series of questions about how officials could manage wolves — including lethal control and compensation for ranchers for lost livestock — before asking whether people support the ballot initiative.

The initiative does not include any promise of lethal control, and management depends on a series of questions — namely, if wolves are removed from protections under the ESA. Even then, Barnes said control measures need to be carefully executed.

“For lethal control to make sense, it’s got to be targeted to the specific individuals that are involved in the conflict,” Barnes said. “Preemptive lethal control does not work.”

Also, he said, the number of cattle and sheep actually killed by wolves in states such as Montana and Wyoming is surprisingly low.

A scavenged elk carcass was found in Moffat County on Jan. 2. CPW officials confirmed that scat found nearby and from which they collected DNA samples belonged to wolves. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Wolves kill few cattle, sheep

In Montana in 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the loss of 71 livestock — 64 cattle and seven sheep — and two dogs to wolves. The USDA received 93 complaints of wolves killing livestock that year, while the state was home to an estimated 2.55 million cattle, 225,000 sheep and 819 wolves.

The numbers are similar in Wyoming, where wolves are considered “predatory animals” in most of the state, meaning they can be killed at will. In 2018, wolves were confirmed to have killed 71 head of livestock: 55 cattle, 15 sheep and 1 horse.

Wolves do kill livestock but not in big numbers.

“The rhetoric, the exaggeration, the myth is our biggest challenge,” Malone said. She said wolf advocates have work to do to assure ranchers that wolves won’t devastate their livelihood.

“We need to do work with the ranching community to be sure that they are whole and that they’re fairly treated,” Malone said. “But we can do that. We have good examples of it.”

Initiative 107 includes direction for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan to compensate
for livestock lost to wolves. Similar plans exist in other Western states, including Montana, where the state paid $82,959 to 40 livestock owners.

Funding for such a program in Colorado would come from an existing wildlife cash fund, and Malone says the goal is for public input to help shape policy on how to fairly compensate ranchers for their losses.

Still, Fales and Perry worry that wolves in Colorado would mean a significant economic hit — and an emotional one, too.

“There’s an emotional attachment (to the cattle), even though you’re selling them for a beef animal. You’re taking care of them, we’re with them just night and day when they’re calving,” Perry said. “And to go out and find them just shredded and eaten up is not something I would ever vote for.”

If Initiative 107 passes, Perry says she might quit. And her husband, Fales, thinks others might follow suit.

“I think a lot of people will quit, and certainly in this part of Colorado, there are a zillion developers ready to help you quit,” he said.

Gray wolves are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, but the Trump administration has petitioned to delist them. That decision, expected this spring, will impact the management and possible reintroduction of wolves in Colorado. Photo credit: Tracy Brooks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Aspen Journalism

Coexistence amid conflict

Historically, conflicts between ranchers and wolves have not ended well for the predators.

“Because of their depredations of domestic animals, wolves in Colorado were systematically eradicated by shooting, trapping and poisoning,” reads the CPW informational website on wolves.

In recent years, CPW officials say there have been no reports or evidence of people killing wolves in the state, except for a widely publicized incident in 2015 where a hunter shot a wolf that he said he thought was a coyote.

While wolf advocates point to the ecological benefits of restoring wolves to their historic range, the social implications might be harder to pin down. Perry says she understands why people might be attracted to the idea of wolves, but she believes the implications on the ranching industry will be far-reaching.

“There could be unintended consequences (of wolf reintroduction),” Perry said. “Loss of ranchland, which means more fragmentation, more housing development, more decline for all animals, prey and predator.”

Barnes, who has experience in both wildlife conservation and raising livestock, says part of having domestic animals is the risk of predators.

“Very little in nature gets to live out its life without the risk of getting eaten,” Barnes said. “Coexistence is possible, but it’s probably not peaceful.”

2020 November election: Multiple ag groups raise funds to battle wolf issue — RethinkWolves.com

Grey Wolf. Photo credit: USFWS via CPW

From RethinkWolves.com via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

Rio Blanco county ag groups raised $34,000 to help oppose the statewide ballot initiative to introduce wolves on the Western Slope of Colorado. The Rio Blanco Stockgrowers, in partnership with Rio Blanco Farm Bureau and Rio Blanco Woolgrowers, hosted “Dance Without Wolves,” a fundraiser dinner, dance and auction to raise money to oppose the proposal.

More than 300 people gathered at the Fairfield Center in Meeker for the sold-out event. Rio Blanco Stockgrowers President Brian Collins noted, “This sends a strong message statewide that families on the Western Slope are very concerned about introducing wolves in their backyard and the subsequent negative impact on their families and communities.”

More than 70 live and silent auction items were donated, numerous sponsorships provided, and many businesses and individuals provided services free of charge. Contributions came from surrounding communities and all areas within the county. All three organizations worked together closely to ensure success.

Rio Blanco County Farm Bureau President Janice Weinholdt said, “The outpouring of donations and support from our community was overwhelming and underlines the deep concern in our county and the surrounding communities. We thank all who made this event possible.” A listing of helpers and donations, etc. will be compiled for next week’s paper.

Proceeds from the event are dedicated to Coloradans Protecting Wildlife, the issue committee running the campaign against the initiative. Coloradans Protecting Wildlife is run by the Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Woolgrowers Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Safari Club International. People are encouraged to donate to the campaign at http://www.rethinkwolves.com.

Western Water Webinars: Saline Lakes Series Part 1 – #SaltonSea, February 20, 2020 — @Audubon

Just above the horizon here, a haboob (dust storm) can be seen heading north.
This was shot at what remains of the Salton Sea Naval Test Station. Photo credit: slworking2/Flickr

Click here to register:

Audubon’s Western Water Initiative advocates for healthy rivers and lakes in the arid West, as well as the people and birds who depend on them.

Audubon’s priority saline lake ecosystems—Great Salt Lake, Lahontan Valley, Salton Sea, Owens Lake, Mono Lake, and Lake Abert—are at risk due to changes in water quality, quantity, and timing of water delivery. These changes are brought on by drought, diversions, and climate change.

This series of webinars will focus on efforts by Audubon and others to protect some of these unique systems. In this first webinar we will focus on a unique ecosystem that lies at the intersection of Western Water priority landscapes: The Salton Sea.

Two members of Audubon California’s Salton Sea team, Andrea Jones (Director of Bird Conservation) and Frank Ruiz (Salton Sea Program Director) will discuss the history and current status of the Salton Sea, its relationship to the Colorado River and Delta, the status of birds, policy initiatives, and community engagement and education programs. Learn how you can contribute to our efforts at the Salton Sea, both locally and remotely.

Time
Feb 20, 2020 04:00 PM in Mountain Time (US and Canada)

Whirling Disease resistant rainbow trout now a reality in Colorado — #COParksWildlife

In the Gunnison River gorge, CPW Aquatic Biologist Eric Gardunio, holds a whirling-disease resistant rainbow trout. CPW is stocking fish resistant to the disease throughout the state. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

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

Whirling Disease first impacted Colorado’s rainbow trout in the mid-1990s and eliminated many wild populations of this popular sport fish. The aquatic tragedy sparked a decades-long effort by Colorado Parks and Wildlife research scientists to find a remedy and re-establish populations.

Since 2003, the researchers have been crossing a strain of rainbow trout resistant to the disease with other strains of rainbows in the hope of developing a trout that would fend off whirling disease. Now, after more than 20 years of study, frustration, experimentation and dogged persistence by CPW’s aquatic researchers, the tide has turned in the fight against the dreaded disease. Whirling-disease resistant rainbows are now thriving in the wild and the agency is collecting their spawn, enabling hatcheries to propagate millions of fish that will be distributed to rivers and streams throughout the state.

“Thanks to advance genetic testing, we know these fish are maintaining their resistance to whirling disease,” said George Schisler, CPW’s aquatic research chief. “Now they are surviving, reproducing and contributing to future generations of Gunnison River rainbows.”

This long success story started on an August day in 1994 when former CPW researcher Barry Nehring, while walking the river bank in the Gunnison Gorge, noticed small fish swimming helplessly in circles. He knew immediately that the fish were infected with a microscopic spore that damages the cartilage of young fish and prevents them from swimming and developing normally. Whirling disease had arrived in the wild.

The disease was accidentally introduced to Colorado in the late 1980s when infected fish were imported to state and private hatcheries. After those fish were stocked in 40 locations, the spore spread and within a decade infected many rivers throughout state. The disease kills young fish, so eventually natural reproduction by wild rainbows ended across much of Colorado.

In search of a remedy, CPW scientists and biologists from wildlife agencies throughout the West started researching the disease in the late 1990s. At a national conference in Denver in 2002, a researcher from Europe who studied whirling disease gave a presentation about a strain of disease- resistant rainbow trout he’d found at a hatchery in Germany. Schisler, working with the University of California-Davis, imported eggs and then tested the hatched fingerlings, known as Hofers – named after the German hatchery. He found they were 100 times more resistant to the disease than the various CPW rainbow strains.

He also learned that because these fish had been raised in a hatchery for decades, they showed no inkling of the flight response needed to elude predators in the wild. So researchers started crossing them with wild strains, such as the Harrison Lake and Colorado River rainbow to produce fish that exhibit wild behavior and maintain resistance to whirling disease. Those fish were stocked in rivers around the state and some natural reproduction started.

Biologists working in the East Portal Section of the Gunnison River gorge began documenting wild reproduction of rainbow trout in that location in the mid-2000s. These fish demonstrated strong resistance to whirling disease, but also had instincts to survive in the wild. Through advanced genetic analysis, Schisler and his research partner, Eric Fetherman, determined that a DNA marker unique to the stocked Hofer-crosses appeared to have been incorporated into this population, resulting in observed resistance to the disease.

The researchers and agency aquatic biologists determined that developing a brood stock using the Gunnison River trout would be the best way to repopulate Colorado’s rivers with wild rainbows. Since 2014, more than 500,000 eggs have been collected from these fish to stock into whirlingdisease positive rivers and to create hatchery brood stocks.

The trout now has its own moniker: The Gunnison River Rainbow.

CPW’s Glenwood Springs hatchery is propogating both the pure Gunnison River Rainbows and crosses of those fish and other strains of whirling disease-resistant rainbows. This summer more than 1.3 million of fingerling disease-resistant rainbows will be stocked in rivers and streams throughout the state.

The ultimate goal of the stocking effort is to restore natural reproduction in the wild, eliminating the need to stock rainbows in the future.

However, re-establishing the rainbows continues to be a long-term project. After rainbows vanished, brown trout took over Colorado’s big rivers. They prey on the small rainbows that are stocked or hatch and compete for food and habitat with adult rainbows. Biologists say it will take many years for rainbows to become firmly established.

Research scientists don’t declare victory easily, but Fetherman noted that the research project in the East Portal is officially closed. Populations across the state will continue to be monitored because the tiny worms that produce the spores causing whirling disease will likely always exist in Colorado’s rivers.

“I feel like we’ve done some good work and these fish are ready to be stocked statewide,” Fetherman said.

For more information on CPW’s aquatic programs, go to: https://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/Fishing.aspx

Wildscaping 101: Erie (Plant a better world for birds and people, Monday, March 09, 2020) — @AudubonRockies

Photo credit: Evan-Barrientos via Audubon Rockies

Click here for all the inside skinny from Audubon Rockies:

Jamie Weiss, Audubon Rockies’ Habitat Hero coordinator, will demonstrate the importance of restoring our communities, one garden patch at a time. From a bird’s-eye view, learn how to create wildlife-friendly gardens that help combat the loss of open spaces and create green corridors that link your garden to larger natural areas by providing habitat for wildlife.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin deltas of 1772 and today — @HighCountryNews

Here’s some of the history of the Sacramento-San Joaquin deltas from Matt Weiser writing in The High Country News, [February 27, 20214]:

When Padre Juan Crespi first sighted the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in 1772, he thought he would be able to walk around it.

The Spanish missionary and his party of 15 soldiers had been dispatched to find a land route from Monterey to Point Reyes, where Spain hoped to build a port. But 10 days into their journey, in the heart of Alta California, Crespi and his men encountered a maze of water, mud and swamp, instead of solid ground. It was the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.

Crespi expected the estuary to function like others he had seen, fragmenting into dozens of small braided channels fanning out toward the sea. Upstream, he figured, they would find a single channel to cross.

But this estuary did the opposite. As Crespi traveled upstream, the water spread out, and his hopes thinned. On foot and horseback for three days in March, he and his companions searched fruitlessly for a way through the tangle of channels.

“Crossing these rivers by boat or canoe would be apt,” a chastened Crespi wrote in his diary. “Because if you do not, it’s (necessary) to climb the mountains to the southeast and seek the path of the large river. To climb such a high pass certainly requires a greater number of soldiers and more provisions, which is why I withdrew.”

Crespi was the first European to glimpse this odd California landscape, and the first of many to be confounded by it.

Sixteen rivers and hundreds of creeks converge from all over California on the Delta’s vast central plain – all mud, tules and marsh – finally forming one mighty river that drains the state’s whole churning belly. It’s called an “inverted” estuary because its waterways unite before reaching the sea. The only place comparable is the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

When Crespi encountered the estuary, its floodplain extended 100 miles north and south, filling the Central Valley with a wealth of snowmelt, all of it destined to squeeze through the land gap later called Golden Gate. Within a century of Crespi’s expedition, European settlers were trying to engineer their own logic into the place, trenching new channels and building levees to create some of the world’s richest farmland. Today, the Delta is crossed by three state highways and hundreds of miles of railroad tracks and county roads. There are 1,100 miles of navigable channels, and 72 islands ringed by levees. Modern charts detail where to anchor, where to catch the best striped bass, where to find the most convenient bridges and ferries.

But the levees may be vulnerable to earthquakes. If they fail, the water supply would be compromised by a flood of salty water from San Francisco Bay. And rising sea levels could taint the water supply permanently.

The Delta, which still covers an area the size of Rhode Island, provides half of all the freshwater consumed by a thirsty state, serving 3 million acres of farmland and 25 million Californians from Silicon Valley to San Diego. Gov. Jerry Brown hopes to better serve them by spending $15 billion on a new water-diversion system. If approved this year, it would shunt a portion of the Sacramento River out of the estuary into two giant tunnels, 30 miles long and 150 feet underground. The intent is to divert freshwater in a way less harmful to imperiled native fish species, while protecting those diversions from floods, earthquakes and a rising sea. The tunnels would serve existing state and federal canal systems that begin in the south Delta, near Tracy, and divert water to cities and farms, mostly in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley. Another $10 billion would go to wildlife habitat improvements, in part to breach levees and restore tidal action to some islands. The state believes the proposed tunnel intakes would be far enough upstream to protect the water supply from disaster, at least under present climate-change scenarios. The intakes would also include modern fish screens, potentially preventing the extinction of the native Delta smelt, spring-run chinook salmon and other species that are being killed by the current water export system.

But after seven years of study, state officials acknowledge that removing so much freshwater upstream may cause “unquantifiable” water-quality changes. Meanwhile, critics say taking so much freshwater from the estuary could harm Delta farms and perhaps concentrate pollutants in a way that hurts the same fish that state officials hope to restore. The Delta continues to confound.

Forty-five years after Crespi turned back, Padre Narciso Durán came through with two small boats on an expedition led by Lt. Don Luis Arguello. They left the Spanish presidio, or fort, at San Franciso, which was established three years after Crespi’s visit. Their trip through the watery maze began on May 13, 1817, and lasted two weeks. Durán, who kept a journal, came along to baptize Indians.

His party had a hard time from the start: They set out in a storm, and the boats became separated at the confluence. The storm blew Arguello onto the shore of the San Joaquin River, near its mouth. Durán and a second padre, in the other boat, took refuge for the night on a soggy mound of tules in the middle of the Sacramento.

When the storm finally quit and the boats were reunited, another challenge arose. It was snowmelt season, and the downstream current in the Sacramento River was so strong that it nearly halted their progress. Without wind, days of brutal rowing followed, with little upstream progress to show for it.

On top of that, the men experienced a condition that plagues Delta visitors to this day: They became disoriented.

Seeking to remain on the Sacramento River, the party soon encountered a variety of branching side-channels. They could not be sure which one was the river itself. Because the Delta was in flood, the true riverbanks and many of the natural islands were submerged. A gap in the trees that looked like a river channel might turn out to be a flooded island where a boat would quickly run aground. “The thick leafiness makes the whole river like a tree-lined promenade,” Durán remarked.

The next day, May 16, they traveled only four leagues upriver. They also took a wrong turn and left the Sacramento on a side channel – a serious mistake, as any detour meant more labor for the rowers. Eventually, though, they got lucky and recovered their course.

Familiarity with this labyrinth benefitted the locals, who fled on rafts as soon as they spotted the expedition boats. The Europeans found two villages vacated, either because of the spring flood or because word had spread that the Indians might be conscripted as laborers in the Spanish missions.

Occupants of a third village “fled at the noise of the launches, leaving only two old women, more than 60 years old.”

Durán felt obliged to baptize both women, “because it seemed to us that they could die before Divine Providence could arrange another convenient time when we could baptize them in one or another of the missions.”

Durán, who was no naturalist, made no effort to identify important land features or tree species, and does not mention sighting any animals. But the Delta was teeming with wildlife in a way that is difficult to imagine today: Vast herds of elk and pronghorn antelope roamed here, hunted by wolf and grizzly bear. Giant tidal marshes, packed with tules and cattails, hosted millions of waterfowl. The maze of curving sloughs was a nursery for one of the world’s most productive fisheries.

The Delta remains the most important salmon fishery on the West Coast, producing most of the wild-caught king salmon in the Lower 48 states. Yet it may not survive. There are 57 endangered species here, including steelhead trout and two runs of salmon.

Modern-day Californians are as oblivious to the region’s natural wealth as Durán seemed to be. A January 2012 survey found that 78 percent of California residents don’t know where the Delta is, or even what it is.

The day after baptizing the two women, Durán and his party reached their turnaround point. They hoped to find a place to erect a cross, “and there to end our quest and retreat downriver.” After rowing upriver three more leagues, they pulled ashore to rest, where, by chance, they spotted some rafts in the tules and a village of Natives, “who came out at them armed with their customary fierce clamor.”

Arguello mustered his soldiers to confront the Indians, who “calmed down, to everyone’s relief, and said they had armed themselves believing we were hostile people.” The travelers were invited to visit a larger village one league upriver, where they were promised fish.

But Durán and his cohorts, possibly disoriented, never found the second Indian village, and never got the promised fish. Exhausted and frustrated, they were ready to turn back. Amid the flood, they could find no solid ground to erect a cross. So they carved one on an oak tree.

The exact location of that cross is unknown today. But according to Durán’s diary, they carved it about 80 miles upstream from the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, or approximately near today’s state capital, Sacramento, where Gov. Brown weighs the fate of the Delta today.

Matt Weiser covers environmental issues for The Sacramento Bee and has written about the Delta and California water for 15 years.

The contemporary translation of Crespi and Durán’s journals is by Alexa Mergen.

@USFWS to start releases from Lake McConaughy on February 17, 2020 for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

Platte River Recomery Implemtation Program area map.

From The Kearney Hub:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, plans to release water from Lake McConaughy to benefit downstream habitat used by threatened and endangered species.

Releases will start Monday and may continue through March 15…

USFWS, PRRIP and Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District staff will coordinate the releases, monitor weather and runoff conditions, and be prepared to scale back or end releases if required to minimize the risk of exceeding flood stage.

Current expectations include:

Environmental account water traveling down the North Platte channel below Lake McConaughy will be increased by approximately 300 cubic feet per second to 700 cfs.

– The river will remain well below the designated flood stage of 6 feet at the city of North Platte.

– Flows downstream of North Platte are expected to be significantly below flood stage.

– Flows at Grand Island should be approximately 700 cfs, or less than 6 inches higher than current flows.

– In the Overton to Grand Island stretch, the river stage is expected to be less than 1 foot above normal levels for this time of year.

Genetics tests confirm presence of #wolves in #Colorado — @COParksWildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) biologists have received notification back from a genetics lab confirming that four scat samples collected near a scavenged elk carcass in Moffat County in early January came from wolves. This is the first official documentation of a pack of wolves in the state since the 1940s.

Of the four samples, DNA results indicate three are female and one is male. The testing was also able to determine that all the wolves were related, likely as full siblings.

“The DNA doesn’t tell us the age,” said CPW Species Conservation Program Manager Eric Odell. “We don’t know where or when they were born. We can’t say. But that there are closely related wolves is a pretty significant finding.”

Odell also noted that “although previous reports had mentioned sightings of up to six wolves, this doesn’t do anything to alter that estimate. Just because we only collected four scat samples doesn’t mean there were only four animals.”

CPW is still waiting to receive results back from scat samples collected at a potential wolf sighting in Moffat County on January 19.

CPW would like to remind the public that wolves are a federally endangered species and fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, killing a wolf can result in federal charges, including a $100,000 fine and a year in prison, per offense.

The public is urged to contact CPW immediately if they see or hear wolves or find evidence of any wolf activity. The Wolf Sighting Form can be found on the CPW website.

Small streams and wetlands are key parts of river networks – here’s why they need protection — The Conversation


Biscuit Brook, a popular fly fishing spot in New York’s Catskill Mountains.
Ellen Wohl, CC BY-ND

Ellen Wohl, Colorado State University

The Trump administration is proposing to redefine a key term in the Clean Water Act: “Waters of the United States.” This deceptively simple phrase describes which streams, lakes, wetlands and other water bodies qualify for federal protection under the law.

Government regulators, landowners, conservationists and other groups have struggled to agree on what it means for more than 30 years. Those who support a broad definition believe the federal government has a broad role in protecting waters – even if they are small, isolated, or present only during wet seasons. Others say that approach infringes on private property rights, and want to limit which waters count.

I study rivers, and served on a committee that reviewed the science supporting the Obama administration’s 2015 Clean Water Rule. This measure, which defined waters of the United States broadly, is what the Trump administration wants to rewrite.

The Trump proposal goes completely against scientists’ understanding of how rivers work. In my view, the proposed changes will strip rivers of their ability to provide water clean enough to support life, and will enhance the spiral of increasingly damaging floods that is already occurring nationwide. To understand why, it’s worth looking closely at how connected smaller bodies of waters act as both buffers and filters for larger rivers and streams.

Ephemeral channels like upper Antelope Creek in Arizona flow only after rain or snowfall, but are important parts of larger river systems.
Ellen Wohl, CC BY-ND

Parts of a whole

The fact that something is unseen does not make it unimportant. Think of your own circulatory system. You can see some veins in your hands and arms, and feel the pulse in your carotid artery with your finger. But you can’t see the capillaries – tiny channels that support vital processes. Nutrients, oxygen and carbon dioxide move between your blood and the fluids surrounding the cells of your body, passing through the capillaries.

And just because something is abundant does not reduce each single unit’s value. For example, when we look at a tree we tend to see a mass of leaves. The tree won’t suffer much if some leaves are damaged, especially if they can regrow. But if it loses all of its leaves, the tree will likely die.

These systems resemble maps of river networks, like the small tributary rivers that feed into great rivers such as the Mississippi or the Columbia. Capillaries feed small veins that flow into larger veins in the human body, and leaves feed twigs that sprout from larger branches and the trunk.

A conservation biologist explains how the wetlands and backwaters of Oregon’s Willamette River system were critical to rescuing the Oregon chub, one of this valley’s most endangered fishes, from near extinction.

Microbes at work

Comparing these analogs to rivers also is apt in another way. A river is an ecosystem, and some of its most important components can’t be seen.

Small channels in a river network are points of entry for most of the materials that move through it, and also sites where potentially harmful materials can be biologically processed. The unseen portions of a river below the streambed function like a human’s liver by filtering out these harmful materials. In fact, this metaphor applies to headwater streams in general. Without the liver, toxins would accumulate until the organism dies.

As an illustration, consider how rivers process nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which are essential for plant and animal life but also have become widespread pollutants. Fossil fuel combustion and agricultural fertilizers have increased the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus circulating in air, water and soil. When they accumulate in rivers, lakes and bays, excess nutrients can cause algal blooms that deplete oxygen from the water, killing fish and other aquatic animals and creating “dead zones.” Excess nitrogen in drinking water is also a serious human health threat.

River ecosystems are full of microbes in unseen places, such as under the roots of trees growing along the channel; in sediments immediately beneath the streambed; and in the mucky ooze of silt, clay, and decomposing leaves trapped upstream from logs in the channel. Microbes can efficiently remove nutrients from water, taking them up in their tissues and in turn serving as food for insects, and then fish, birds, otters and so on. They are found mainly in and around smaller channels that make up an estimated 70 to 80 percent of the total length of any river network.

Map of the Missouri River basin showing its network of tributaries.
Missouri River Water Trail, CC BY-ND

Water does not necessarily move very efficiently through these small channels. It may pond temporarily above a small logjam, or linger in an eddy. Where a large boulder obstructs the stream flow, some of the water is forced down into the streambed, where it moves slowly through sediments before welling back up into the channel. But that’s good. Microbes thrive in these slower zones, and where the movement of dissolved nutrients slows for even a matter of minutes, they can remove nutrients from the water.

Flood control and habitat

Other critical processes, such as flood control, take place in small upstream river channels. When rain concentrates in a river fed by numerous small streams, and surrounded by bottomland forests and floodplain wetlands, it moves more slowly across the landscape than if it were running off over land. This process reduces flood peaks and allows more water to percolate down into the ground. Disconnect the small streams from their floodplains, or pave and plow the small channels, and rain will move quickly from uplands into the larger channels, causing damaging floods.

These networks also provide critical habitat for many species. Streams that are dry much of the year, and wetlands with no surface flow into or out of them, are just as important to the health of a river network as streams that flow year-round.

Marvelously adapted organisms in dry streams wait for periods when life-giving water flows in. When the water comes, these creatures burst into action, with microbes removing nitrate just as in perennially flowing streams. Amphibians move down from forests to temporarily flooded vernal wetlands to breed. Tiny fish, such as brassy minnows, have waited out the dry season in pools that hold water year-round. When flowing water connects the pools, the minnows speed through breeding and laying eggs that then grow into mature fish in a short period of time.

The Arikaree River in eastern Colorado is an intermittent stream that supports brassy minnow, a species of concern in the state.
Ellen Wohl, CC BY-NC

Scientific sleuthing with chemical tracers has shown that wetlands with no visible surface connection to other water bodies are in fact connected via unseen subterranean pathways used by water and microbes. A river network is not simply a gutter. It is an ecosystem, and all the parts, unseen or seen, matter. I believe the current proposal to alter the Clean Water Act will fundamentally damage rivers’ ability to support all life – including us.The Conversation

Ellen Wohl, Professor of Geosciences, Colorado State University

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

Stoneflies and mayflies, canaries of our streams — @ColoradoStateU

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Boris Kondratieff):

Editor’s note: Boris Kondratieff, professor of entomology and curator of the C. P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity at Colorado State University, wrote this piece for The Conversation in January 2020. Colorado State is a contributing institution to The Conversation, an independent collaboration between editors and academics that provides informed news analysis and commentary to the general public. See the entire list of contributing faculty and their articles here.

The presence of mayflies and stone flies indicates clean water is nearby. Andrew/flickr, CC BY-NC via CSU.

Experienced anglers recognize that for a trout, the ultimate “steak dinner” is a stonefly or mayfly. That’s why fly fishing enthusiasts will go to extreme lengths to imitate these graceful, elegant and fragile insects.

I share their passion, but for different reasons. As a an entomologist who has studied stoneflies and mayflies for over 40 years, I’ve discovered these insects have value far beyond luring trout – they are indicators of water quality in streams and are a crucial piece of the larger food web. And they are in trouble.

Collecting bugs

I have served as director of the C. P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity since 1986. The greatest thrill of my career has been collecting and adding mayflies and stoneflies to our collection.

Boris Kondratieff collecting aquatic insects in Oregon with former student Chris Verdone via CSU.

To find specimens, I have traveled to pristine streams in every U.S. state, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Brazil, Ecuador, the Arabian Peninsula and Europe. My collecting trips have yielded more than 100 new species of mayflies and stoneflies.

One of my favorites literally fell into my lap as I was beating lush foliage along a pristine stream in southern Oregon during May 2014. The beating sheet is an efficient means of sampling dense, streamside vegetation, where adult insects hide. The sheet itself is made of sturdy canvas stretched over two wooden cross members. A stick is used to knock the insects from the vegetation onto the canvas, where they are collected.

When I saw a large yellow and black insect drop onto my sheet, I knew immediately it was a new stonefly species, previously unknown to science. I was ecstatic. My colleagues and I subsequently described it as Kathroperla siskiyou, after the Siskiyou mountains of southern Oregon.

Mayflies and stoneflies thrive in unpolluted water – a fact my colleagues and I have witnessed firsthand on our numerous expeditions. Not only do we see greater overall abundance of these insects in clean streams, but more diversity of species, as well. In polluted areas, we observe the exact opposite. Without a doubt, the presence or absence of mayflies and stoneflies in a stream is a reliable indicator of the quality of its water.

The role of mayflies and stoneflies in the food chain is fundamental, as well. Immature mayflies and stoneflies consume algae, living plants, dead leaves, wood and each other. In this nymph phase, when they have gills and live exclusively underwater, they are an important food source for many animals further up the food chain, including fish and wading birds. When the mayflies and stoneflies emerge from the water as adults, they are essential food for spiders, other insects such as dragonflies and damselflies, and many kinds of birds and bats.

Mayflies are on the menu for this hungry fledgling. Keith Williams/flickr, CC BY-NC

Currently, scientists estimate that 33% of all aquatic insects are threatened with extinction worldwide. Many of these species are mayflies and stoneflies. The mayfly species Ephemera compar has already gone extinct in Colorado, and several other species of aquatic insects are threatened in my home state.

Life drains into a stream

Less than 1% of Earth’s water is potable and available for human use. Maintaining water quality has become an ever increasing challenge because of the large number of chemicals people use in everyday life and in commerce. Common contaminants such as sediment, organic enrichment including fertilizers and animal waste and heavy metals are constantly making their way into the waters, as well. Declining water quality is like a police siren alerting humanity to current, ongoing and emerging pollution problems.

Native plantings along a waterway can reduce storm water runoff. Sheryl Watson/Shutterstock.com

One of my great passions is to enlighten others on how to protect the most valuable natural resource of the planet: streams and rivers. Individually, citizens can make a difference. Storm water is the number one water quality problem nationally. Enhancing and planting riparian buffers – that is, planted areas near streams – can help to prevent precipitation and sprinkler runoff. People can also prioritize using only native plants; decreasing mowing areas; recycling or composting yard waste; using less or no fertilizer; avoiding the use of pesticides; and bagging pet waste. Insisting that environmental laws be enforced and strengthened will also help reduce water pollution.

Without clean water, life on Earth will become difficult or impossible for mayflies and stoneflies, not to mention people.

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

@COParksWildlife officers confirm latest wolf pack sighting in NW #Colorado: “…first pack to call our state home since the 1930s” — @GovofCO

A trail of wolf tracks observed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in
Northwest Colorado on January 19, 2020. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Rebecca Ferrell):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officials are confirming they have additional evidence that a group of wolves is now residing in northwest Colorado.

On Jan. 19, CPW wildlife officers investigated the discovery of an animal carcass surrounded by large wolf-like tracks in the northwest corner of Moffat County. While conducting their investigation in the field, they made an attempt to locate the wolves. In their search, they heard distinct howls in the area. Officers used binoculars to observe approximately six wolves about two miles from the location of the carcass.

“This is a historic sighting. While lone wolves have visited our state periodically including last fall, this is very likely the first pack to call our state home since the 1930s. I am honored to welcome our canine friends back to Colorado after their long absence,” said Governor Jared Polis. “It’s important that Coloradans understand that the gray wolf is under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. While the animals have naturally migrated to our state and their presence draws public interest, it’s important that people give them space. Due to their Protected status, there are severe federal penalties for anyone that intentionally harms or kills wolves in our state.”

“Right after our two officers heard the howls from the wolves, they used binoculars to observe approximately six wolves about two miles from the location of the carcass,” said JT Romatzke, Northwest Region Manager for CPW. “After watching them for about 20 minutes, the officers rode in to get a closer look. The wolves were gone but they found plenty of large tracks in the area.”

According to the officers, the tracks measured approximately 4.5 to 5.5 inches and appear to have been made by at least six animals.

“As we have made clear, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will not take direct action in these cases,” said Dan Prenzlow, Director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We have the leading experts on wildlife management and species recovery working for our agency, but while wolves remain federally protected, they are under the jurisdiction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We will continue to work with our federal partners and monitor the situation.”

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, killing a wolf can result in federal charges, including a $100,000 fine and a year in prison, per offense. The public is urged to contact CPW immediately and fill out a report if they see or hear wolves or find evidence of any wolf activity in Colorado. The Wolf Sighting Form can be found on the CPW website.

Grey Wolf. Photo credit: USFWS via CPW

States, Congress, Trump okay $156M to extend innovative Platte River recovery program — @WaterEdCO

Platte River Recomery Implemtation Program area map.

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

After a year of anxious waiting, scientists and researchers who’ve helped build one of the most successful species recovery programs in the nation have gotten a 13-year extension to finish their work.

The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program began operating in 2007 with the bi-partisan backing of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Since then it has created some 15,000 acres of new habitat for stressed birds and fish, and added nearly 120,000 acre-feet of new annual water to the Platte River in central Nebraska. An acre-foot equals nearly 326,000 gallons.

The region is critical because it serves as a major stopping point for migrating birds, including the whooping crane, the least tern and the piping plover.

In addition to helping fish, birds and the river, the program also allowed dozens of water agencies, irrigation districts and others to meet requirements under the Endangered Species Act, which can prevent them from building and sometimes operating reservoirs, dams and other diversions if the activity is deemed harmful to at-risk species.

Last year it wasn’t clear that three new governors, three state congressional delegations, and a fractious Congress could come together to re-authorize the program.

Jo Jo La, an endangered species expert who tracks the program for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said everyone was grateful that politicians united to push the federal legislation, and the new operating agreement, through. It was signed by President Trump at the end of December.

“Our program was fortunate to have the leaders it had,” La said.

But it wasn’t just politicians who were responsible for the program’s extension, said Jason Farnsworth, executive director of the Kearney, Neb.-based program.

It was the diversity among the group’s members that was also key, he said. “Everyone from The Nature Conservancy to the Audubon Society to irrigation districts in the North Platte Basin supported this. You don’t often see an irrigation district sending a support letter for an endangered species recovery program. That’s how broad the support was.”

Of the $156 million allocated, Colorado is providing $24.9 million in cash and another $6.2 million in water, Wyoming is providing $3.1 million in cash and $12.5 million in water, Nebraska is providing $31.25 million in land and water, and the U.S. Department of Interior is providing $78 million in cash, according to PRRIP documents.

With their marching orders in hand, researchers and scientists can now focus on completing the program so that at the end of this 13-year extension it will become fully operational.

Early results have won accolades from Wyoming to Washington, D.C. The CWCB’s La said congressional testimony routinely described it as one of the “marquee” recovery programs in the nation, largely because, even though it isn’t finished, species are coming back in a major way.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the endangered whooping crane, least tern and pallid sturgeon, and the threatened piping plover, were in danger of becoming extinct, with the river’s channels and flows so altered by dams and diversions that it could no longer support the species’ nesting, breeding and migratory habitats.

Today the picture is much different.

The whooping crane spring migration has risen more than 12 percent since 2007, while the number of least tern and piping plover breeding pairs have more than doubled during that same time period, a major achievement in the species conservation world.

Still ahead is the work to acquire more water and land, and research to understand how to help the rare pallid sturgeon recover. Thus far it has not responded to recovery efforts, in part because it is extremely difficult to locate.

The idea is to ensure there is enough water and habitat to keep the birds and fish healthy once the program enters its long-term operating phase.

“The intent is to spend the next 13 years working on identifying the amount of water and land that is necessary to go into [the final operating phase]. The focus will be less on acquiring and learning, and more on operating and managing,” Farnsworth 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.

@CWCB_DNR: Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Extended 13 Years

Platte River Recomery Implemtation Program area map.

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

A victory for wildlife and Colorado water, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, Colorado Governor Jared Polis, and the Governors of Nebraska and Wyoming signed a Cooperative Agreement to extend the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (Program) with $156 million.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board has played a major role in this Program’s creation and ongoing efforts, including policy and financial support.

“This collaborative program supports the recovery of four threatened and endangered species by improving and maintaining habitat in the Platte River in Nebraska while allowing for continued water use in Colorado,” said Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Rebecca Mitchell. “We look forward to continuing our role in the upcoming years of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program.”

“The commitment by the states and the U.S. Department of the Interior to continue the program’s innovative approach to species recovery and Endangered Species Act compliance is a win-win for the future of Colorado’s citizens and the environment,” said Governor Polis.

The Program was set to expire at the end of 2019. However, with support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; the Department of Natural Resources; and other state, federal, and non-governmental partners; a bill supported by the entire Congressional delegation from Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming was passed and signed by the President before the New Year.

Together with its water users, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is celebrating the Program’s more than a decade record of success. As the Program enters into its next 13 years, it has momentum to continue to recover threatened and endangered species, which provides assurance for future water use in Colorado.

Sandhill crane migration, Platte River via the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Biologists: Feds’ target numbers too low for Gunnison sage-grouse recovery — @AspenJournalism

Biologists say federal target numbers are too low to ensure recovery of the Gunnison sage-grouse, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The bird’s largest population is in the Gunnison basin. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

In the late 1980s, conservation biologist Jessica Young was an undergraduate researching the sage grouse in the Sierra Nevada when one of her professors handed her a cassette tape. He said there was a guy out in Gunnison, Colo., who claimed that the grouse there sounded different. Young listened to the recording of grouse calls and decided she had to see the birds for herself.

Young began working with Clait Braun, a researcher at Colorado Parks and Wildlife (then called the Department of Wildlife) who had discovered as early as 1977 that the Gunnison sage-grouse was different from its cousin, the wider-ranging greater sage-grouse.

The work of Young, Braun and other scientists eventually helped prove that the Gunnison sage-grouse was a separate species of ground-nesting bird, one that was officially declared a new species in 2000.

But there was a problem.

Researchers quickly realized that not only was this grouse a new species, it was also in serious trouble. By the time they discovered that this bird — which is perfectly adapted to western Colorado’s high-desert sagebrush ecosystem and famous for its elaborate spring mating dance — was a distinctive, smaller species, the bird was already on the verge of vanishing.

“It was clear to me by the mid-1990s that this was about much more than the Gunnison sage-grouse,” Young said. “I remember thinking that it was probably going to be the 21st-century test of how my nation valued both biodiversity and the economic well-being of communities across the West. I believe that is what the Gunnison sage-grouse really represents.”

Target numbers too low?

After years of conservation efforts in the Gunnison basin and elsewhere, the bird’s numbers are still declining. In 2014, in a controversial move that sparked lawsuits from the state of Colorado, Gunnison County and the Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bird as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Five years later, it remains unclear what effect the listing has had on the bird.

This past fall, the FWS released its draft recovery plan for the species, which is open for public comment through Tuesday. The plan lays out target-population numbers that must be met for seven out of nine years before the species could be considered on the road to recovery and potentially delisted. The plan also charts conservation projects and actions for the next 50 years, at an estimated cost of more than $560 million. The final recovery plan is scheduled to be completed by Nov. 1.

But environmental groups — along with Braun and Young, two scientists who have dedicated much of their careers to studying the bird — say these population targets are too low to ensure recovery of the species. The target number for the Gunnison basin is 748; in 2019, researchers counted nearly 400 fewer than this.

The largest population of the Gunnison sage-grouse — about 85 percent of the species — lives in the Gunnison basin, with smaller satellite populations scattered throughout western Colorado. Biologists estimate the bird is now found on less than 10 percent of its historic range. Credit: USFWS

Declining populations

Gunnison sage-grouse numbers have indeed declined — some say alarmingly so — in recent years.

Over the past several years, the three-year average high male count — the highest number of male birds that the researchers spot — has dropped across all populations. In the Gunnison basin, the 2019 number was 583, down from 772 in 2018, 886 in 2017 and 905 in 2016.

2019 posted the lowest bird numbers since the count methodology was standardized in 1996. The high male count for the Dove Creek population in western Dolores County dipped to zero, while high male counts at Cerro Summit and Poncha Pass in Colorado and the area near Monticello, hovered from just three to seven birds.

“You don’t want to see declines like this when you have seven birds,” said Kathy Griffin, grouse conservation coordinator for CPW. “To say we are not concerned would not be true. … We have seen these kinds of declines before, but we are getting to the lowest we’ve ever been.”

According to a paper by Braun, Young and others, the Gunnison sage-grouse once roamed throughout most of southwestern Colorado. It disappeared from Pitkin County in the 1960s. In the 1990s, it was extirpated in Eagle and Garfield counties.

The largest populations of the Gunnison sage-grouse — and around 85 percent of the bird’s remaining total population — live in the Gunnison basin. Smaller populations of the species, referred to as satellite populations, are scattered throughout western Colorado (Cerro Summit, Crawford, Dove Creek, Pinon Mesa, Poncha Pass and western San Miguel County) and eastern Utah (Monticello).

The 2014 “threatened” listing was based mostly on these shrinking satellite populations, which scientists think need to remain robust as an insurance policy should some kind of environmental-related disaster or disease befall the main population of birds in the Gunnison basin.

Those who opposed federal involvement, including Gunnison County, still feel the sting of the 2014 listing as an affront to the collaborative conservation work of local groups, including the county-led Gunnison Sage-Grouse Strategic Committee. Committee Chair and Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Houck said the recovery plan, much like the listing itself, still focuses too much on the satellite populations. The Gunnison basin, Houck said, is doing its part to help the bird.

“The draft recovery plan correctly recognizes the high resiliency of the Gunnison sage-grouse population in the Gunnison basin and also recognizes correctly the strength of the habitat protection in the Gunnison basin,” Houck said. “The irony to me is this is the entire argument we made before the listing.”

A Gunnison sage-grouse hen leads her chicks in the Gunnison basin during the summer of 2019. Some private landowners have undertaken habitat restoration projects on placed conservation easements on their property in an effort to protect the bird. Photo credit: Greg Petersen via Aspen Journalism

Bird counts

CPW uses something called “High Male Count” to track bird numbers year over year. Each spring, biologists watch from the sidelines as regal-looking male Gunnison sage-grouse perform their courtship ritual — strutting and bobbing, fanning their banded tail feathers and popping their air sacs in an effort to attract a female — on leks, which are open areas ringed by sagebrush that the birds return to year after year.

Researchers count each male they see on several trips to the leks they make each season, meaning the same bird can be counted more than once. These numbers are then averaged over three years to smooth out the seven-to-12-year fluctuations associated with grouse population and used to estimate the total population size.

The one-two punch of 2018’s extreme drought, which may have resulted in bird deaths, and 2019’s deep snow may have contributed to this year’s low counts. Counting is a logistical challenge because of the precise method used. CPW biologists were not able to access all of the leks last spring because of lingering deep snow, and in other areas, counters heard the birds’ signature popping noise but didn’t catch sight of them.

“We had a horrible year of counting,” Griffin said. “Because we could never see them, we had to put down a zero even though we knew there were birds there.”

Whatever the reason for the low counts, bird populations will need to increase in order for the FWS to consider the species recovered and to potentially delist it. The recovery plan sets a target three-year average high male count in the Gunnison basin of 748 for seven out of nine years for the population to be considered stable.

Western Colorado’s sagebrush sea is the favorite habitat of the Gunnison Sage-grouse. But much of it, like this area near Carbondale, is bisected by trails and encroached upon by piñon and juniper trees. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

The sagebrush sea

Braun and others, including environmental group Rocky Mountain Wild, also say the draft recovery plan lacks specificity when it comes to how to conserve the bird’s habitat — the silvery-green expanse known as the sagebrush sea.

Western Colorado’s sagebrush sea is naturally fragmented by canyons and mountains. But in recent decades, prime habitat has also been bisected by roads and trails, interrupted by residential developments, affected by cattle grazing, and encroached upon by pinon and juniper trees. The Bureau of Land Management manages about 42 percent of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat.

“I think the really key thing is that there needs to be habitat that is set aside from development and other threats on public land, and that isn’t really the case right now,” said Megan Mueller, a senior conservation biologist at Rocky Mountain Wild.

Although some private landowners in the Gunnison basin have participated in habitat restoration projects such as restoring wet meadows and putting conservation easements on their property to protect it from future development, Braun says those measures are not enough. He thinks a more drastic action is needed: stopping livestock from grazing on public land in Gunnison sage-grouse habitat until populations of the bird increase.

“Grazing is a key factor in why sage-grouse populations are down in the Gunnison basin,” Braun said. “Until we get a handle on the livestock grazing, nothing is going to really improve.”

Braun recognizes that his idea to temporarily outlaw grazing on public land in Gunnison sage-grouse habitat is an idea many will find unpalatable, even radical. Ranching is an important part of the culture of rural western Colorado.

“We want to keep ranching active in the Gunnison Valley,” Houck said. “It’s the thing that’s defined this place.”

One challenge to habitat conservation, Young said, is that the sagebrush sea has long been an undervalued ecosystem. It has traditionally been a place with few regulations, where mountain biking and hiking trails snake through the landscape; where people put dumps and mine tailings; where driving off-road was — and sometimes still is — common; and where overgrazing damaged the landscape.

Saving the Gunnison sage-grouse, Young said, will require reexamining the economic, social and ecological values that people hold about this landscape. Although the federal involvement may have polarized some groups, the little ground-nesting bird also has the potential to bring together disparate factions to work toward the same goal: species conservation.

“I think, in the 2000s, the Gunnison sage-grouse are asking us again to consider what our values are for both biodiversity and community success during a time of climate change,” Young said. “They are going to be an indication of how we come together and demonstrate our values and resilience.”

Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and Aspen Public Radio on coverage of water and environmental issues. This story was published online by The Aspen Times on Dec. 31 and a conversation about this reporting aired on APR on Dec. 31.

@Interior Extends #PlatteRiver Recovery Implementation Program to Protect Endangered Species

Platte River Recomery Implemtation Program area map.

Here’s the release from the Department of Interior (Brock Merrill):

Secretary of the Interior, along with Governors of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, commit an additional $156 million for recovering threatened and endangered species in the Platte River Basin

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed an amendment to the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Cooperative Agreement, along with the governors of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, committing resources to extend the program through Dec. 31, 2032. The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program utilizes federal- and state-provided financial resources, water and scientific monitoring and research to support and protect four threatened and endangered species that inhabit areas of the Central and Lower Platte rivers in Nebraska while allowing for continued water and hydropower project operations in the Platte River basin.

“This program is truly an important partnership that has been successful because of the broad collaboration between federal and state representatives, water and power users and conservation groups,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “All of these stakeholders working together to help recover imperiled species is critical as new water and power projects are continued and developed in the Platte River Basin.”

The program provides compliance for four species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for new and existing water-related projects in the Platte River Basin. Examples of existing water related projects include the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado Big-Thompson Project on the South Platte River in Colorado and the North Platte Project in Wyoming and Nebraska.

“Programs like the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program are critical to ensuring that Reclamation is able to deliver water and power in an environmentally and economically sound manner,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman “This program is a true success story of how stakeholders and government from across state lines can work together for the common good.”

The program began in 2007 and is managed by a governance committee comprised of representatives from Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, water users, environmental groups and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program has brought together three states, environmental groups, water users, and two federal agencies to forge a common goal of balancing existing use with an eye towards recovery for four threatened and endangered species,” said Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon. “This program has ensured that Wyoming continues existing water uses in the South and North Platte River Basins while making measurable contributions to species recovery.”

“The signing of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Cooperative Agreement Amendment marks the celebration of more than a decade of success,” said Colorado Governor Jared Polis. “The commitment by the states and the U.S. Department of the Interior to continue the program’s innovative approach to species recovery and Endangered Species Act compliance is a win-win for the future of Colorado’s citizens and the environment. We look forward to the next 13 years working with our partners to lead in this national model of collaboration.”

“Agriculture is Nebraska’s number one industry. Extending the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program gives Nebraska’s ag producers certainty around water and land use in the coming years,” said Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts. “We appreciate the collaboration we enjoy with the other states who are party to this agreement, and we look forward to working with them in the coming years.”

The estimated total value of federal and state contributions to the program during the first extension is $156 million. The U.S. Department of the Interior will provide one half of the funding necessary for the extension, which will be matched by states through contributions of non-federal funding and water from state-sponsored projects that is provided for the benefit of target threatened and endangered species.

To learn more please visit the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program.

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program target species (L to R), Piping plover, Least tern, Whooping crane, Pallid sturgeon

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awards >$500,000 to help threatened #RioGrande #Cutthroat survival #Colorado #NewMexico

From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

Every year in late spring, 200 volunteers hike into Rio Grande Gorge north of Taos. Their backpacks are each filled with a few gallons of water – and 100 young Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

The state fish of New Mexico thrives in clear, cold, high-altitude streams, which means its habitat is threatened by wildfires, warming waters and invasive trout species. Now, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has awarded more than half a million dollars as part of a new recovery program.

Toner Mitchell, Trout Unlimited’s New Mexico Water and Habitat and Public Lands Coordinator, said the money will fund stream improvements and fish restoration. Trout Unlimited will receive $96,059 for New Mexico projects and $152,416 for Colorado projects…

Agencies and tribes in New Mexico and Colorado renewed a conservation agreement in 2013 with a strategy to protect the fish. The groups have restored trout habitat on Comanche Creek, a main tributary of the Rio Costilla and just a few miles from the Colorado state line.

“We want to bring these new fish populations into the best available habitat,” said Kevin Terry, Trout Unlimited Rio Grande Basin Project Manager. “We have spent decades reconnecting stream miles, removing non-native trout and stocking streams with Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Then the agencies check in on those fish to make sure they’re healthy and reproducing.”

On Comanche Creek, the groups have reduced bank erosion and raised the riparian water table by at least a foot, which improves stream flow and habitat for the sensitive fish…

The new funding will help assess habitat restoration work for tributary streams of the Rio San Antonio.

The Center for Biological Diversity wants Rio Grande cutthroat trout to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. But many conservationists believe they can save the fish without federal protection.

The restoration projects are already working, said Mitchell, who added that restrictions on grazing, fishing and land use that usually accompany an endangered status could turn the Rio Grande cutthroat trout into “public enemy No. 1.”

[…]

The Rio Puerco Alliance will also receive $151,684 as part of this program to minimize bank erosion on Encinado Creek in Rio Arriba County and create a barrier to keep out invasive trout species.

#PlatteRiver Recovery Implementation Program funding included in funding bill

Platte River Recomery Implemtation Program area map.

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

The people of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska got an early Christmas present from the U.S. Senate on Thursday, and it has Don Ament breathing a sigh of relief.

Ament has said he was delighted to hear that the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan bill Thursday to extend the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program as part of the year-end spending package. The bill was introduced by Colorado Senators Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R). The bill was passed by the House of Representatives earlier this week and will now go to the president’s desk to be signed into law…

The first increment of the program is set to expire on at the end of this year; Senate Bill 990 extends the program by an additional 13 years. PRRIP is a cooperative agreement among the governors of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and the Secretary of the Interior to achieve Endangered Species Act compliance on the Platte River.

Ament, who represents Colorado’s governor on the four-entity board that oversees the program, has been concerned since April about whether PRRIP would be extended. That’s when Bennet and Gardner, along with U.S. Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), introduced the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Extension Act.

Since then, however, Washington, D.C., has been somewhat distracted by political conflict between Republicans and Democrats, making any kind of bipartisanship seem to be impossible. That has had Ament concerned that funding for the program would lapse after Dec. 31, leaving the program’s future in doubt…

In addition to addressing protections under the federal Endangered Species Act, PRRIP has allowed the three states and the Department of Interior to avoid lengthy and expensive litigation involving the Endangered Species Act. According to a statement released by the U.S. Interior Department, “The program has provided a level of certainty to water users in the Platte River drainage that litigation would not have afforded.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hoover Dam schematic via the Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Associated Press (Ken Ritter):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildlife refuges suffer under budget cuts and staff shortages — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Helen Santoro):

The key mission of the Refuge System — to protect and restore wildlife habitat — may be falling by the wayside.

Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains loom over the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. While the refuge used to have 13 people on staff to manage the reserve, they now have just three full-timers. Photo credit: Roger Peterson/U.S. Forest Service via The High Country News

The Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge is nestled between the boggy wetlands and glistening ponds of Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. Inside, near a cluttered display of taxidermy birds — a tall American white pelican with a bright orange beak and an osprey caught in midflight — Frances “Wa” Correia greets visitors. The 92-year-old has been volunteering here for 15 years, fielding questions, answering the phone and keeping the kiosk outside filled up with pamphlets. It’s work she enjoys doing. Still, as the number of full-time professional staff dwindles, volunteers like Correia are forced to take on even more tasks, while other important projects are left undone.

The refuge once employed 13 people to manage and study its land. Now, it has only three full-time staffers and one seasonal worker. Consequently, key jobs — such as bird migration surveys, weed management and prescribed wildfires — are being left unfinished. This is a problem plaguing the entire National Wildlife Refuge System, which has suffered from a string of budget cuts and a shrinking staff for the last decade or more.

That means that refuges nationwide have fewer scientists, reduced law enforcement and a lack of habitat restoration. As a result, one of the system’s central responsibilities — to protect and restore wildlife habitat — is falling by the wayside.

The National Wildlife Refuge System, a branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, protects more than 850 million acres of land and water. From the marshy Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida to arid landscapes like the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada, the Refuge System is home to nearly every species of bird, fish, reptile and amphibian in the U.S., making it the world’s largest collection of habitats set aside for wildlife conservation. Around 50 million people visit the nation’s refuges each year.

But funding has not kept up with the system’s needs. Accounting for inflation, the overall Refuge System budget has decreased by almost 18% since 2010. As a result, the number of staff is currently around 2,600, which is an almost 20% drop from 2013. Additionally, as of 2015, there were only 318 refuge officers, down 65% from 1990, according to the 2015 annual report. Fewer officers mean higher chances of damaged property and hunting violations, a matter of particular concern since the Trump administration is opening up additional refuge acreage to hunting and fishing.

On a sunny, early-October afternoon, a cacophony of birdsong — the staccato chirp of the Song Sparrow against the loud whistle of the European Starling — could be heard throughout the 2,800-acre Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. A group of visitors sat on descending rows of stairs, shaped like an open-air theater, as they watched trumpeter swans glide across the shimmering pond.

While budget and staff cuts may not diminish this experience, they do dampen scientists’ understanding of the local avian population, which includes some 240 species of migratory birds. Deborah Goslin, the refuge’s former biological technician, used to spend her days surveying the migrations of waterfowl, raptor and shorebirds and studying their responses to floods, wildfire burns and other environmental changes.

Goslin was let go, however, and now no one is doing that work. These days, the refuge leans heavily on volunteers, especially for less specialized tasks, such as running the environmental education program or staffing the visitor center. But even with that help, the visitor center is closed many days due to insufficient staffing. “There’s so much information right behind that door,” said volunteer Richard Davis, “and it’s not even available.”

The Trump administration’s budget cuts are hitting all the public-land agencies. But the National Wildlife Refuge System has been struggling for years, never receiving the funding and recognition that it needs, said Geoff Haskett, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, a nonprofit based in D.C. “I don’t think it’s a Democrat or Republican thing,” he said. He suspects that some of the Refuge System’s woes stem from its lack of visibility compared to, say, national parks. But despite these challenges, said Haskett, keeping refuges working remains crucial. Not only do they protect some of the country’s most iconic ecosystems and wildlife, refuges allow the public to connect with the nature around them.

That’s the part that keeps Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge Manager Tom Reed going. A few years ago, a family traveled all the way from Hong Kong to the refuge just to go birding, Reed recalled. “Seeing the joy on the face of what they just observed, it humbles me,” he said. “It makes me realize how lucky I am to look out at this refuge each day.”

Note: This story has been updated to include current National Wildlife Refuge System staff numbers.

Helen Santoro is an editorial intern at High Country News. Email her at helensantoro@hcn.org or submit a letter to the editor.

#FERC flooded with opposition to #LittleColoradoRiver dam proposals — The #Arizona Daily Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The Arizona Daily Sun (Scott Buffon):

Many of the comments filed before the comment window closed criticized Pumped Hydro Storage LLC’s applications for four dams in the Little Colorado River.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permits, if granted, would allow Pumped Hydro Storage to study the impacts of constructing the four possible dams. The Navajo Nation owns the land where the dams are proposed, and would need to approve any project for development. The first proposal is a half mile from the boundary of the Grand Canyon National Park and is called the Little Colorado River Pumped Storage Project. The other is five miles upstream and called the Salt Trail Canyon Pumped Storage Project.

The comments filed stem from many groups, including conservation and recreation groups as well as Native American tribes.

Earthjustice, a legal environmental organization, filed a motion to intervene in the process on behalf of seven conservation groups: Save the Colorado, Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers, Colorado Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance Inc., and Wildearth Guardians. Some of these conservation groups also filed comments on behalf of other members of the public.

The filing argues that allowing the corporations to conduct the studies would be a waste of FERC’s time, Earthjustice’s attorney Michael Hiatt said…

The Humpback Chub is endangered species that can be found in the Colorado River at the confluence where the river merges with the Little Colorado River. The proposal closer to the park, deemed the Little Colorado proposal, could directly impact the threatened fish.

The chub originally evolved within the rushing waters of the Colorado River before Glen Canyon Dam was constructed, and thrives in warmer waters. The Little Colorado River has become a critical resource for the restoration effort, as its warmer and undammed waters offer a place for it to spawn.

Steve Irwin, the applicant from Pumped Hydro Storage LLC, now understands the impact the dam could have on the chub, saying he had heard many people’s complaints. Despite the complaints, Irwin suggested the location is great for a dam due to the steady source of water and steep walls.

He defended his proposal, saying the electricity and jobs are needed in the region, and that he would be willing to modify the project going forward to a certain extent…

Proposal details

These proposals are two of five that Pumped Hydro Storage has filed around Arizona, including one on the San Francisco River, one on the Gila River and one on the Salt River, according to FERC documents.

The Little Colorado proposal would create two dams: one 150-foot high, 1,000-foot long lower dam and a reservoir that can store 15,000 acre-feet of water. The second 200 foot-high, 3,200-foot long upper dam and reservoir would store 15,400 acre-feet of water.

Both the Little Colorado and Salt Trail Canyon proposals would have water travel from the higher reservoir into the lower reservoir and pass the water through turbines to create their energy…

In order to transmit power from the dam to the Moenkopi switchyard near Cameron, Pumped Hydro Storage proposes building a 22-mile long, 500 kilovolt transmission line.

The second proposal took the name of the Salt Trail Canyon, a trail still used to this day. The Salt Trail Canyon project proposes two dams a few miles up the river, and would create reservoirs that hold 6,750 acre-feet of water and 6,000 acre-feet of water.

The transmission line from the dam to the Moenkopi switchyard would only be 20 miles long.

Opposition from many groups

The Hopi Tribe’s chairman and vice-chairman opposed the proposal due to the “living relationship” their people have with the land of the Grand Canyon, Chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma wrote in the filing. The people of the Hopi Tribe make pilgrimages and deliver offerings to their ancestral Hopi lands to reinforce that connection…

Hualapai Chairman Damon Clarke questioned why the Navajo Nation is the only tribe considered as “interested in, or affected by” the proposal in the tribe’s filing, citing the original proposal. Clarke used the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program as an example of their tribe’s inclusion in dam management, including the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni Pueblo Tribes and Southern Paiute Consortium also as active participants…

The National Parks Conservation Association also filed a motion to intervene in the project, citing impacts on the banks of the Colorado River.

When the Glen Canyon Dam was first completed, the sediment that flows down the Colorado River that forms beaches and banks decreased. The banks acted as critical habitat for the plants, animals and insects of the river, Kevin Dahl, Arizona Senior Program Manager for the association wrote.

Dahl said that the Little Colorado River has become one of two important sources of sediment for the Colorado River. Additionally, those beaches are also critical for another factor in the river’s economic ecosystem: river trips.

The Western Colorado River Runners association filed to intervene and requested consultation with many state agencies, including Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona Geological Survey and Arizona Department of Water Quality. While brief, they demanded the proposal consider the impacts to the Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992, climate impacts and mineral content.

Despite all the opposition, Irwin isn’t sure how FERC, or the Navajo Nation, will act.

“My crystal ball is foggy,” Irwin said.

Fort Collins: Bird-Friendly, Climate-Friendly Conference, January 11, 2020 — @AudubonRockies

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

Saturday, January 11, 2020, 8am-4pm

Northside Aztlan Community Center, 112 E. Willow St., Fort Collins, CO 80524

Climate change is one of the greatest threats to birds. At this conference, hosted by Audubon Rockies, learn about climate reduction programs and ways you can take action to create a better world for birds and people. Actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr. will remotely deliver the keynote via live video. See the agenda for the full schedule and the speaker bios for information on the presenters.

Pricing

We have various pricing levels and discounts available. When you register, please choose the ticket type that best applies to you.

  • Non-student: $60
  • Non-student + public transportation/carpool – $55 (available after November 1 for those who pledge to carpool, use public transportation, bike, or walk to the event)
  • Student: $20
  • Sandhill cranes. Photo: Scott Helfrich/Audubon Photography Awards

    BLM halts leases after sage grouse, climate legal brawls #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

    From E&E News (Niina H. Farah):

    Federal officials have withdrawn thousands of acres of land slated for sale to the oil and gas industry after courts demanded that the government take a closer look at greater sage grouse habitat protections and climate change impacts.

    Conservation groups opposing the Bureau of Land Management’s actions say a recent slate of deferred lease sales in Colorado, Nevada and Utah illustrate the problems with the Trump administration’s aggressive push to encourage energy development on public lands…

    “The broader pattern we’ve seen from this administration has been a headlong rush to get as much remaining sage grouse habitat under lease as possible,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands program.

    He said the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” approach has led BLM to violate federal laws like the National Environmental Policy Act.

    “That needs to stop,” Saul said. “They are not simply a real estate sales agency. Under congressional statute, they have multiple obligations, which include duties to conserve wildlife habitat.”

    BLM yesterday added to its growing list of delayed leases when it deferred its Dec. 19 Colorado sale in response to a federal court order temporarily blocking implementation of the Trump administration’s greater sage grouse plan.

    Judge B. Lynn Winmill, a Clinton appointee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, required BLM to revert to evaluating leases under sage grouse plans the Obama administration finalized in 2015…

    The six parcels covered 4,259 acres and were subject to sage grouse habitat restrictions.

    Conservation groups lauded the move, while urging BLM to take more permanent action to stop lease sales on the birds’ habitat. Other state offices could defer or cancel leases as more sales approach next month…

    The BLM office was responding to a lawsuit filed in September by the Center for Biological Diversity, Living Rivers and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which raised claims that the agency had not adequately considered the impacts of climate change from leases in the central and northeast portions of the Beehive State.

    The lawsuit encompassed eight different parcels finalized between 2014 and 2018. The leases fit into a pattern of BLM failing to adequately consider climate impacts, said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

    Altogether, Utah has had over 300,000 acres of leases suspended in response to similar litigation…

    In addition to challenges over sage grouse protections and climate change, Dascalu-Joffe said concerns about analysis of cumulative water withdrawal impacts could also become an area of legal vulnerability for BLM.

    She noted that while the preliminary injunction forced BLM to look at sage grouse impacts in a more programmatic way, the same was not true for assessing climate impacts.

    “I don’t have a lot of confidence that this is going to drive any programmatic analysis of climate impacts from the entire oil and gas program because that’s not how this agency works right now,” Dascalu-Joffe said.

    Prairie Flower Becomes Endangered Species Act Success Story: Cooperative Conservation Saved Colorado, Wyoming Botanical Gem — Center for Biological Diversity

    From the Center for Biological Diversity (Michael Robinson):

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Colorado butterfly plant from the list of threatened species today. The delisting is the result of protection of the species’ habitat through the Endangered Species Act, and represents a victory for a prairie flower that, just 20 years ago, was headed toward extinction.

    “I’m grateful that the Colorado butterfly plant is out of danger,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This beautiful flower’s pink petals will draw pollinating moths on summer evenings for decades, and maybe even millennia, to come. It’s a testament to the power of people working together through the science-based protocols of the Endangered Species Act.”

    For more than a century, livestock grazing, mowing and haying, water diversions and development had eliminated Colorado butterfly plants from the high plains streams of north-central Colorado, southeastern Wyoming and western Nebraska.

    Federal protection began in 2000, followed by the protection of 3,500 acres of critical habitat along 51 miles of streams in southeastern Wyoming in 2005.

    In addition 11 land owners agreed to conserve their own populations of the Colorado butterfly plant. Fort Collins also protected the plants on city-owned land. And the Defense Department protected the plants on Francis E. Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. Many if not all of those voluntary protections are expected to continue.

    The Colorado butterfly plant is the 45th species to be delisted for recovery in the United States, including 21 in the past five years.

    The Colorado butterfly plant’s delisting comes months after the Trump administration finalized rollbacks to key Endangered Species Act regulations. The changes could lead to extinction for hundreds of animals and plants.

    Background
    The Colorado butterfly plant is in the evening primrose family and grows 2 feet tall. It lives along streams between 5,000 and 6,400 feet in elevation in Boulder, Douglas, Larimer and Weld counties in Colorado. In Wyoming it lives in Laramie and Platte counties, and in Nebraska it may be found in Kimball County.

    Protecting a plant or animal as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act leads to science-based measures tailored to prevent its extinction. And critical habitat designated under the Act has been found to correlate closely with conservation success. The Act has been successful in saving more than 99 percent of species placed under its care, despite significant underfunding of the law’s vital measures.

    Colorado butterfly plant Credit: USFWS via the Center for Biological Diversity

    @COParksWildlife hopes enhanced wetlands will help boreal toad survival

    In an ongoing conservation project, CPW recently released 1,700 boreal toad toadlets in a wetland in the San Juan mountains. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

    In mid-September Biologist Dan Cammack walked slowly along the edge of a boggy pond in the San Juan Mountains high above the San Luis Valley and peered into the mud and black water looking for a camouflaged critter the size of a dime.

    After just a couple minutes, he saw the jumping movements of tiny boreal toads. The amphibians, colored a brownish-black, sat in the mud, on rocks, in the grass or moved on the top of the water attempting to stay clear of danger. Cammack had placed the toads in the ponds for the first time a few weeks earlier.

    “Watch where you step,” Cammack said, “We don’t want to step on them.”

    The toads are precious. Twenty years ago, they were abundant throughout Colorado’s high country. Today, however, they are scarce as they battle the mysterious chytrid fungus that is threatening amphibians throughout the world. CPW biologists are working statewide to revive populations of these high-altitude amphibians that live from 8,000 to 13,000 feet. But as is the nature of wildlife research, biologists will not know for at least three years if the work will help toads survive.

    To start the process, Cammack and his crew collected eggs from two wetlands in the Triangle Pass area near Crested Butte. The fertilized eggs, collected in early summer, were then taken to CPW’s Native Aquatic Species Hatchery in Alamosa where they were hatched in captivity. By late summer, they grew into tadpoles and were ready for stocking in the San Juans.

    In the high country above the San Luis Valley, the West Fork fire in 2013 burned through 100,000 acres of forest. Paul Jones, a now retired CPW biologist, had seen research that suggested burned areas might prevent development of the chytrid fungus. He also knew, based on historic records, that toads had once inhabited the area. So he worked with the Rio Grande National Forest, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project and the San Luis Valley Water Conservation District to build small levies in a wetland area to enhance and enlarge optimal reproductive boreal toad habit. The area mimics wetlands created by beaver ponds ‒ favorite breeding areas for toads.

    In late August, Cammack and his crew released about 2,700 tadpoles for the first time into the ponds. He traveled back to the area in mid-September to check if the tadpoles had transitioned to toadlets. All along the edge of the five-acre pond, he saw toadlets moving, swimming and hiding.

    “It looks like we have a lot of survival,” Cammack said. “The next critical test comes when we come back next spring to see if they survived the winter and hibernation.”

    What is particularly challenging for the biologists is that young toads are less likely than adults to contract the fungus. So biologists have to wait to know if toads are affected.

    “Making a determination about whether the site is positive for chytrid will not be established for about three years,” Cammack explained. “And reproductive maturity is not reached for five or six years, so it will take patience to see if the toads will breed in these ponds.”

    Until then, Cammack and his crew will continue to collect eggs and release tadpoles into the ponds. The ongoing work is needed to maintain multiple “age classes” of the amphibians.

    Cammack noted that he has found a few boreal toads at various locations in the mountains. However, outside of the Triangle Pass area, breeding in the wild has been unsuccessful.

    “While each sighting is encouraging, the numbers are a mere shadow of the past when toads were once thriving in the region,” Cammack said. “We hope that careful management and novel approaches to encourage reproduction will keep boreal toads from disappearing.”

    CPW biologists throughout the state are working on a variety of boreal toad conservation projects.

    “We’re working on creative ideas to help bring these toads back. Building these ponds in this burn area is one idea. Hopefully, one of them will work; but it will take time,” Cammack said.

    And he’s hopeful: “With wildlife we have to manage with optimism.”

    Link to this video to see how CPW biologists are working on boreal toad restoration.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dS-d8JL11_o

    Mature Boreal toad. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

    Audubon’s New Climate Report and What it Means for Birds in the Arid West

    Sandhill cranes. Photo: Scott Helfrich/Audubon Photography Awards

    From Audubon’s Western Water Initiative (Karyn Stockdale):

    Audubon just released a new scientific report, Survival by Degrees, showing that 64 percent (389 out of 604) of North American bird species are at risk of extinction from climate change. The good news is our science also shows that if we take action now we can help improve the chances for 76 percent of species at risk. We know what to do to protect the birds we love and the places we all need now and in the future.

    Climate and Water in the West
    In the West, we’re already dealing with a multi-decade historic drought and longer, more intense fire seasons. Climate change threatens western water resources and some researchers are calling our new reality “aridification.” Overall, the West has experienced increases in the severity and length of droughts over the past 50 years, taking a toll on water supplies.

    Climate change not only alters the quantity of flows, but also the timing. Rising temperatures in the winter cause more precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow in mountainous areas from Colorado to California. Furthermore, warming temperatures are causing snow to melt earlier in the spring, altering the timing of streamflow in headwaters rivers.

    The Colorado River’s water supply is stretched thin—due to diversions, over-allocation and climate change—and further increases in temperature will reduce snowpack and river flows harming the river and the 40 million people and 400 species of birds that rely on it. By mid-century, climate warming is projected to decrease total Colorado River flows by 20 percent from the observed historic average.

    Likewise, across the network of saline lakes that dot the West—including Great Salt Lake—we see reduced water levels that can negatively impact millions of shorebirds, waterbirds, and waterfowl. These drying lake beds can cause health and economic problems as well as a decrease in food and habitat for birds.

    It’s essential that we curb carbon emissions to limit temperature increases and work proactively, doubling down on conservation practices, so that these already stressed water ecosystems can sustain life in the arid West for decades to come.

    How were the species evaluated?
    Audubon scientists analyzed 140 million bird records, including observational data from bird lovers and field biologists across the country, to assess vulnerability for species based on the amount of a species’ range that may be gained or lost with climate change. Audubon designated species that may lose much more range across North America than they have potential to gain as climate vulnerable. Sources for this report include eBird, U.S. Geological Survey, North American Breeding Bird Survey, and Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

    What does this mean for bird species in the arid West?
    It should come as no surprise that western forests are one of habitat groups with the most threatened bird species in warming scenarios. As temperatures increase, drought, extreme heat, and fire will become more intense, more widespread, and more devastating across the West. This has implications for water quality and watershed health and will affect both birds and people.

    Two examples of birds associated with Western Water priority freshwater and saline lakes habitats that are highlight climate vulnerable in Audubon’s report are Yellow Warbler and Long-billed Curlew. The bright, sweet song of the Yellow Warbler is a familiar sound in streamside willows across the West. Long-billed Curlews are often found around the Great Basin of Utah around emergent wetlands and marsh, as well as using agricultural fields where nesting and brood-rearing take place in pastures and hay meadows.

    Of all the birds listed as vulnerable, there are distinctions between those that would respond favorably if we limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (versus 3 degrees C) and would benefit from our actions. For instance, if we keep the rise in temperature to less than 3 degrees C, we can protect birds like the Yellow Warbler and Long-billed Curlew in their summer range.

    Birds associated with Western Water priority habitats that are highly climate vulnerable include:

  • Yellow Warbler (High vulnerability in 3 degrees C warming scenario especially in Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Moderate in summer at both 2 and 3 C)
  • Sandhill Crane (Moderate vulnerability in summer at 2 and 3 C with species projected to shift north and mostly out of the contiguous U.S. range)
  • Long-billed Curlew (High vulnerability rangewide in summer at 3 C including in Colorado, Utah, California, New Mexico. Moderate at 1.5 and 2 C)
  • American Dipper (High vulnerability in winter at 3 C particularly in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, California, and Arizona. Moderate in summer and at 1.5 and 2 C)
  • Other vulnerable species associated with Western Water and mentioned in the report:

  • Eared Grebe
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Mountain Plover
  • Summer Tanager
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Ridgway’s Rail and Clapper Rail
  • This is not an exhaustive species list and there’s much more information in the report on the 389 species vulnerable to a changing climate. One key takeaway is that if we reduce emissions by 2050 and hold warming to 1.5 C, we expect 38 percent of the species would come off the climate vulnerable list.

    What are the best ways to help birds (and people) in the West?

  • Improve resiliency for healthy watersheds (rivers, wetlands, and lakes);
  • Increase reliability of our water supply (now and in the future) through planning and cooperative, multi-benefit agreements among stakeholders;
  • Fund conservation and clean energy measures at the local, state, and federal levels (ask your elected officials to expand conservation funding and clean energy development in your community);
  • Restore and protect priority habitats;
  • Manage water comprehensively with an understanding of the connections between surface water and groundwater, and more;
  • Sign up for the Western Water newsletter to stay in touch and look for opportunities to help.
  • A quick guide to threatened terrestrial and freshwater species in your state — @HighCountryNews

    From The High Country News (Jolene Yazzie and Helen Santoro):

    New rules would weaken protections for plants and animals listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act

    Jolene Yazzie/High Country News, Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    The Trump administration is proposing several changes to the way the Endangered Species Act is implemented that would weaken the rules governing protections. One change targets species newly listed as “threatened,” or those that are likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. Under the new rules, the Fish and Wildlife Service will have to create individual regulations for each species based on its conservation needs, rather than simply extending the same level of protection that endangered species receive. Environmental groups worry this will strain the agency’s workload and put animals and plants at risk of extinction. While this change will not impact the species currently listed as threatened, any future additions to their ranks would be subject to the new rules.

    Here are the 167 threatened species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for overseeing in the West; this list does not include marine and anadromous species that are the sole responsibility of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration:

    AMPHIBIANS
    California red-legged frog · Calif.
    Chiricahua leopard frog · Ariz., N.M.
    Oregon spotted frog · Calif., Ore., Wash.
    California tiger salamander · Calif.
    Yosemite toad · Calif.

    BIRDS
    Yellow-billed cuckoo · Ariz., Calif., Colo., Idaho, Mont., N.M., Nev., Ore., Utah, Wash., Wyo.
    Spectacled eider · Alaska
    Steller’s eider · Alaska
    Coastal California gnatcatcher · Calif.
    Streaked horned lark · Ore., Wash.
    Red knot · Mont.
    Marbled murrelet · Calif., Ore., Wash.
    Mexican spotted owl · Ariz., Colo., N.M., Utah
    Northern spotted owl · Calif., Ore., Wash.
    Piping plover · Colo., Mont., N.M., Wyo.
    Western snowy plover · Calif., Ore., Wash.
    Gunnison sage grouse · Colo., Utah
    San Clemente sage sparrow · Calif.
    Inyo California towhee · Calif.

    CRUSTACEANS
    Vernal pool fairy shrimp · Calif., Ore.

    CONIFERS AND CYCADS
    Gowen cypress · Calif.
    Santa Cruz cypress · Calif.

    FISHES
    Yaqui catfish · Ariz.
    Chihuahua chub · N.M.
    Hutton tui chub · Ore.
    Sonora chub · Ariz.
    Desert dace · Nev.
    Foskett speckled dace · Ore.
    Arkansas River shiner · N.M.
    Beautiful shiner · Ariz., N.M.
    Pecos bluntnose shiner · N.M.
    Delta smelt · Calif.
    Big Spring spinedace · Nev.
    Little Colorado spinedance · Ariz.
    Railroad Valley springfish · Nev.
    Santa Ana sucker · Calif.
    Warner sucker · Calif., Nev., Ore.
    Apache trout · Ariz.
    Bull trout · Idaho, Mont., Nev., Ore., Wash.
    Gila trout · Ariz., N.M.
    Greenback cutthroat trout · Colo., Utah
    Lahontan cutthroat trout · Calif., Nev., Ore., Utah
    Little Kern golden trout · Calif.
    Paiute cutthroat trout · Calif.

    INSECTS
    Delta green ground beetle · Calif.
    Valley elderberry longhorn beetle · Calif.
    Bay checkerspot butterfly · Calif.
    Oregon silverspot butterfly · Calif., Ore., Wash.
    Kern primrose sphinx moth · Calif.
    Ash Meadows naucorid · Nev.
    Pawnee montane skipper · Colo.

    MAMMALS
    Northern long-eared bat · Mont., Wyo.
    Grizzly bear · Idaho, Mont., Wash., Wyo.
    Polar bear · Alaska
    Wood bison · Alaska
    Columbian white-tailed deer · Ore., Wash.
    Santa Catalina Island fox · Calif.
    Canada Lynx · Colo., Idaho, Mont., N.M., Ore., Utah, Wash., Wyo.
    Preble’s meadow jumping mouse · Colo., Wyo.
    Northern Sea Otter · Alaska
    Southern sea otter · Calif.
    Olympia pocket gopher · Wash.
    Roy Prairie pocket gopher · Wash.
    Tenino pocket gopher · Wash.
    Yelm pocket gopher · Wash.
    Utah prairie dog · Utah
    Northern Idaho ground squirrel · Idaho

    PLANTS
    Purple amole · Calif.
    Encinitas baccharis · Calif.
    Parachute beardtongue · Colo.
    Dudley bluffs bladderpod · Colo.
    White bluffs bladderpod · Wash.
    Ash meadows blazingstar · Nev.
    Chinese Camp brodiaea · Calif.
    Thread-leaved brodiaea · Calif.
    Umtanum desert buckwheat · Wash.
    Colorado butterfly plant · Colo., Wyo.
    Layne’s butterweed · Calif.
    Cochise pincushion cactus · Ariz.
    Colorado hookless cactus · Colo.
    Kuenzler hedgehog cactus · N.M.
    Lee pincushion cactus · N.M.
    Mesa Verde cactus · Colo., N.M.
    Pariette cactus · Utah
    Siler pincushion cactus · Ariz., Utah
    Uinta Basin hookless cactus · Utah
    Winkler cactus · Utah
    Spalding’s catchfly · Idaho, Mont., Ore., Wash.
    Vail Lake ceanothus · Calif.
    Spring-loving centaury · Nev.
    Nelson’s checker-mallow · Ore., Wash.
    Springville clarkia · Calif.
    Big-leaved crownbeard · Calif.
    Jones cycladenia · Ariz., Utah
    Parish’s daisy · Calif.
    Conejo dudleya · Calif.
    Marcescent dudleya · Calif.
    Santa Cruz Island dudleya · Calif.
    Santa Monica Mountains dudleyea · Calif.
    Verity’s dudleya · Calif.
    Marin dwarf-flax · Calif.
    San Benito evening primrose · Calif.
    Zuni fleabane · Ariz., N.M.
    MacFarlane’s four-o’clock · Idaho, Ore.
    Colusa grass · Calif.
    Eureka dune grass · Calif.
    Ash Meadows gumplant · Nev.
    Water howellia · Calif., Idaho, Mont., Ore., Wash.
    Ash Meadows ivesia · Nev.
    Webber’s ivesia · Calif., Nev.
    Ute ladies’-tresses · Colo., Idaho, Mont., Nev., Utah, Wash., Wyo.
    Laguna Beach liveforever · Calif.
    San Clemente Island lotus · Calif.
    Kincaid’s lupine · Ore., Wash.
    Ione manzanita · Calif.
    Morro manzanita · Calif.
    Pallid manzanita · Calif.
    Tiburon mariposa lily · Calif.
    Ash Meadows milk-vetch · Nev.
    Fish Slough milk-vetch · Calif.
    Heliotrope milk-vetch · Utah
    Peirson’s milk-vetch · Calif.
    Welsh’s milkweed · Ariz., Utah
    Penland Alpine fen mustard · Colo.
    Spreading navarretia · Calif.
    Western prairie fringed orchid · Colo., Wyo.
    San Joaquin orcutt grass · Calif.
    Slender orcutt grass · Calif., Ore.
    Fleshy owl’s-clover · Calif.
    Ash-grey paintbrush · Calif.
    Golden paintbrush · Ore., Wash.
    San Clemente Island paintbrush · Calif.
    Slickspot peppergrass · Idaho
    DeBeque phacelia · Colo.
    Maguire primrose · Utah
    Mariposa pussypaws · Calif.
    San Francisco Peaks ragwort · Ariz.
    Clay reed-mustard · Utah
    Island rush-rose · Calif.
    Bear Valley sandwort · Calif.
    Navajo sedge · Ariz., Utah
    Monterey spineflower · Calif.
    Hoover’s spurge · Calif.
    San Joaquin adobe sunburst · Calif.
    Pecos sunflower · N.M.
    Ash Meadows sunray · Calif., Nev.
    Otay tarplant · Calif.
    Santa Cruz tarplant · Calif.
    Howell’s spectacular thelypody · Ore.
    Sacramento Mountains thistle · N.M.
    San Diego thornmint · Calif.
    Last Chance townsendia · Utah
    Dudley bluffs twinpod · Colo.
    Red Hills vervain · Calif.
    Gypsum wild-buckwheat · N.M.
    Southern mountain wild-buckwheat · Calif.
    Desert yellowhead · Wyo.

    REPTILES
    Narrow-headed gartersnake · Ariz., N.M.
    Northern Mexican gartersnake · Ariz., N.M.
    Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard · Calif.
    New Mexican ridge-nosed rattlesnake · Ariz., N.M.
    Olive Ridley sea turtle · Calif., Ore.
    Giant garter snake · Calif.
    Desert tortoise · Ariz., Calif., Nev., Utah
    Alameda whipsnake · Calif.

    SNAILS
    Bliss Rapids snail · Idaho
    San Bernardino springsnail · Ariz.

    Note: This story has been updated to add the northern spotted owl, San Ana sucker, Arkansas River shiner, gypsum wild-buckwheat and southern sea otter; and to reflect that the Little Colorado Spinedace is found in Arizona, the Oregon spotted frog is found in Washington, the bull trout is found in Montana, the Warner sucker is found in California and Nevada, the piping plover is found in New Mexico, and that the Canada lynx is threatened in New Mexico but not Alaska. Spelling errors have also been corrected. Seals have been removed from this list, which reflects U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data; it does not include species solely overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Helen Santoro and Jolene Yazzie are editorial interns at High Country News. Email them at helensantoro@hcn.org and joleneyazzie@hcn.org.

    U.S. District Senior Judge Marcia Krieger finds that the @USFWS’s denial of the #RioGrande cutthroat trout on the endangered list was arbitrary and unlawful

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    In a federal lawsuit filed by the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, U.S. District Senior Judge Marcia Krieger ruled that the service used one method of counting the fish when it first considered adding it to the endangered list in 2008, but changed that method when it reconsidered its decision in 2014 without explaining why.

    “Because the service had offered no explanation for the different methodologies it used in 2008 and 2014 to calculate the number of healthy trout populations, the court must conclude that the change in methodology was, on the instant record, arbitrary and capricious,” Krieger wrote.

    “It may very well be that new studies, new sampling methods, or other analytical tools developed since 2008 call into question the service’s 2008 determination that 2,500 trout are required before a population can be declared stable,” she added. “But the service has not pointed the court to evidence in the record that establishes the basis for such a change in methodology.”

    As a result, Krieger reversed the service’s 2014 denial of adding the fish to the list, and ordered the federal agency to provide more analysis and explanation for the criteria it used to calculate what constitutes a healthy trout population.

    Officials with the center said this doesn’t mean the trout will be added to the list just yet, but the ruling gets it closer to that goal.

    “We’ve been fighting to save Rio Grande cutthroat trout for more than 20 years,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate for the center. “It’s a relief to have it one step closer to getting the help it so badly needs. The trout is barely hanging on in a small number of tiny, isolated headwater streams.”

    Robinson said the service had found that the trout deserved protection in 2008, but never actually added it to the list. In 2014, it changed its mind about that determination, saying the fish didn’t need protection, but did so after arbitrarily lowering that 2,500-fish population threshold to just 500, he said.

    “The Fish and Wildlife Service moved the goal posts in order to get to a politically driven decision that the trout doesn’t warrant protection,” Robinson said. “The livestock industry and states like Colorado and New Mexico oppose trout protections.”

    The Rio Grande cutthroat normally is found in high-elevation streams and lakes of the Rio Grande, Canadian and Pecos rivers in Colorado and New Mexico, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which says the fish now only occupies about 12% of its historic habitat on about 800 miles of streams…

    Last week, Colorado joined 16 other states in challenging the Interior Department’s changes in how endangered species are put on and taken off the list, including a new rule that allows the financial cost of listing a species to be a determining factor.

    “Our biggest project yet … on america’s most important river” — @COWaterTrust

    The 15-Mile Reach is located near Grand Junction, Colorado

    From the Colorado Water Trust (Andy Schultheiss):

    You’ve been hearing a lot from us lately about a project on the notoriously troubled part of the Colorado River near Grand Junction called the 15-Mile Reach.

    You’ve been hearing about it because we’re so excited about the potential impact, and proud of the diverse collaborations involved.

    If you’ve missed it, here are the cliff notes:

  • The 15-Mile Reach is a stretch of the Colorado River known for flows that fall so low they can fail to support native federally endangered fish species. Flows often fall low twice yearly—in early spring and in late summer through early fall (spring because the snow that feeds rivers has not yet begun to melt, and Fall because it is the driest part of the year).
  • Just upstream of the 15-Mile Reach is the Grand Valley Power Plant (GVPP) – which is operated by our partners, Grand Valley Water Users Association (GVWUA) and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District (OMID). It’s a hydropower plant that was built in the 1930s.
  • GVWUA and OMID have senior irrigation water rights, and they also divert water for use in the power plant that returns to the Colorado River just upstream of the 15-Mile Reach. Which is very good for the river, as well as the local electrical grid.
  • Colorado Water Trust, GVWUA, and OMID recently completed an innovative agreement to allow us to buy water upstream to be delivered to the GVPP. That means our water can be delivered to the plant, used to generate hydropower, and then returned to the Colorado River during times when the 15-Mile Reach is in need. The aim is to keep the river at healthy flows to support native fish passage and spawning habitat.
  • Well here’s what’s new! We just did it! Last week!

    You may be thinking, well, wasn’t this a particular wet year? Why was the river in need?

    We didn’t think it was going to be, either. But as you’re probably aware, Colorado can really throw curveballs with its weather, and those curves are breaking more and more lately.

    Despite a promising water year, with snowpack levels not seen since at least 2011, and a wet early Summer on top of it, the Colorado and many other rivers in the state (including the Yampa, another of our top priorities) suffered severely decreased flow starting around Labor Day, due to a very hot, dry August. Even the GVPP wasn’t getting enough water to operate to its current capacity. We had the legal agreement in place, and we had money from our annual RiverBank celebration and from the generous folks at Coca Cola to buy water in the Colorado, so why not use it now?

    By purchasing water (that is owned by the Colorado River District, so a big shout-out to those folks as well for the very fast turnaround) from a nearby reservoir, we helped to boost flows in the 15-Mile Reach and generated clean electricity for six days. Our releases complemented the water dedicated to the river by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Program and the Historic Users Pool, a group of western Colorado water users that release water from Green Mountain Reservoir. We’re now working on long-term funding for these purchases, from Coca Cola and others, and in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Colorado River District, and of course our two water user partners, we hope to help keep the river healthy for many years to come. Thanks as well to our crucial project partner the Walton Family Foundation, which originally suggested the idea and supported its development.

    Projects like 15-Mile Reach are what drives us here at the Water Trust. The problems we address are complex, politically and technically challenging, and getting more so. The idea that a “wet” year could turn into a semi-emergency because of 45 days or so of dry heat would have been remarkable fifty years ago. These days? Not really that surprising. But this is the challenge we face, and we get excited by finding creative ways to meet them that benefit multiple river users.

    When flows decline, which we all expect in the years to come because of the changing climate and growing population, the need to share our water becomes even more important. And harder to arrange. But that’s the Water Trust’s sweet spot, and we’re happy to be able to do it on that most American of rivers, the Colorado.

    Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

    Secretary Bernhardt Announces Over $100 Million in Public-Private Funding for Wetland Conservation Projects — @USFWS

    Greater Sandhill Cranes in flight over the San Luis Valley. The annual Monte Vista Crane Festival takes place during March each year. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

    Here’s the release from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Vanessa Kauffman):

    The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, chaired by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, approved $28 million in funding for various wetland conservation projects.

    Marking its 30th anniversary since enactment, the 2019 North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants will be used to ensure waterfowl and other birds are protected throughout their life cycles. Of the funds issued, $23.9 million was allocated for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners to conserve or restore more than 150,000 acres of wetland and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds and other birds in 20 states throughout the United States. These grants will be matched by more than $72 million in partner funds.

    “These public-private grants help uphold President Trump’s important promise to America’s sportsmen and women to preserve our nation’s wildlife and provide access to our public lands for future generations,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “Landmark legislation like the North American Wetlands Conservation Act has made that possible for all Americans and these treasured natural resources during the past 30 years.”

    Wetlands provide many ecological, economic and social benefits such as habitat for fish, wildlife and a variety of plants. NAWCA grants conserve bird populations and wetland habitat while supporting local economies and American traditions such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching, family farming and cattle ranching. This year’s projects include:

  • Missouri River Valley Wetlands – $1 million to acquire, restore and enhance 4,618 acres within major wetland and grassland complexes within the Missouri River Alluvial Plain in western Iowa and northwest Missouri, benefitting northern pintail, lesser scaup and many other species.
  • Upper Snake River – $1 million to protect and enhance 1,691 acres of migrating, breeding and wintering habitat in eastern Idaho. Species that will benefit include trumpeter swan, northern pintail and mallard.
  • Texas Bays, Wetlands and Prairies II – $1 million to enhance 2,885 acres of wetland types and other critical wetland habitats in mid-coast Texas. The project will benefit mottled ducks, black-bellied whistling ducks, fulvous whistling ducks and other species.
  • The commission also received a report on 31 NAWCA small grants, which were approved by the North American Wetlands Conservation Council in March. Small grants are awarded for smaller projects up to $100,000 to encourage new grantees and partners to carry out smaller-scale conservation work. The commission has authorized the council to approve these projects up to a $5 million. This year, $3 million in grants was matched by $11.1 million in partner funds.

    NAWCA is the only federal grant program dedicated to the conservation of wetland habitats for migratory birds. Since 1989, funding has advanced the conservation of wetland habitats and their wildlife in all 50 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico while engaging more than 6,200 partners in nearly 3,000 projects. More information about the grant projects is available here.

    The commission also approved $4.2 million from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to conserve 2,200 acres in Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. These funds were raised largely through the sale of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as “Duck Stamps.”

    “Buying Duck Stamps is one of the many ways hunters contribute to conservation.” said Bernhardt. “Expanding waterfowl habitat and hunter access through this Duck Stamp-funded acquisition is a great way to kick off hunting season.”

    “NAWCA is a cornerstone funding program for DU’s conservation work across the continent,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam. “Secretary Bernhardt’s announcement of the $28 million in approved funding for the program will ensure DU and our partners are able to continue habitat improvement projects across North America. These funds will be matched dollar for dollar and are often doubled, tripled or more in conjunction with project-specific partners. This allows organizations like DU and our partners to provide critical habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds and other wildlife. We appreciate the Secretary’s foresight and his commitment to conservation.”

    “CSF applauds the Department of the Interior for the issuance of $28 million in funding for grants that are made available through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, said President of Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation Jeff Crane. “Since inception, this highly successful program has completed more than 2,800 projects spanning across nearly 30 million acres in all 50 states, Canada and Mexico. NAWCA requires that for every federal dollar contributed to the program, a non-federal source must equally match the federal contribution. Sportsmen and women are often part of this non-federal match, making this a partnership that benefits habitat conservation and our great outdoors traditions.”

    “The habitat restoration work on the Klamath Marsh Refuge is particularly important for migrating waterfowl given the water shortage and long-term decline of wetlands in the nearby Klamath Basin,” stated Mark Hennelly, Vice President of Legislative Affairs for the California Waterfowl Association. “Our Association appreciates the commission and the Department of Interior’s ongoing efforts to address waterfowl habitat needs in southern Oregon and northeastern California.”

    Funds raised from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps go toward the acquisition or lease of habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Duck Stamps – while required for waterfowl hunters as an annual license – are also voluntarily purchased by birders, outdoor enthusiasts and fans of national wildlife refuges who understand the value of preserving some of the most diverse and important wildlife habitats in our nation.

    The Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge project will restore and conserve more than 2,200 acres on the upper Williamson River for migratory birds, including several species of waterfowl, such as northern pintail, mallard, American wigeon, Canada geese, white-fronted geese and snow geese. The restoration will improve the area for native fish species, especially redband and rainbow trout, providing for world-class fishing as well as expanding public use opportunities for wildlife observation and photography.

    Since 1934, the Federal Duck Stamp Program and Migratory Bird Conservation Fund have provided more than $1 billion for habitat conservation in the Refuge System.

    The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is an unparalleled network of 567 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. There is a national wildlife refuge within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas. Refuges offer world-class public recreation, from fishing, hunting and wildlife observation to photography and environmental education. More than 55 million people visit refuges every year, creating economic booms for local communities.

    The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission is chaired by the Secretary of the Interior. Its members include Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico; Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas; Reps. Robert J. Wittman of Virginia and Mike Thompson of California; Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture; and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. The commission has helped in conserving much of this nation’s most important waterfowl habitat and in establishing or enhancing many of the country’s most popular destinations for waterfowl hunting.

    Additional information about North American wetlands and waterfowl conservation can be found at https://www.fws.gov/birds/, which offers waterfowl enthusiasts, biologists and agency managers with the most up-to-date waterfowl habitat and population information.

    Click here to view the list of approved projects. Included is a project in the San Luis Valley:

    Project Description​ The project will focus on the protection, restoration and enhancement of two major habitat types. First, it will largely use conservation easements to protect seasonally flooded wet meadows, which provide important wildlife habitat as well as hay for local ranching operations. This project will permanently protect 2,800 acres of these wet meadow habitats. Second, it will restore and enhance streams, riparian areas, and wetlands mostly on public lands with a focus on returning historic flood regimes to playa wetlands. This project restores and enhances over 2,400 acres of mostly playa wetlands. As a secondary goal, project activities will protect, restore and enhance well-developed cottonwood and willow riparian areas, which are important to wildlife but extremely rare in the upper San Luis Valley.

    From The Center Square (Derek Draplin) via The Kiowa County Press:

    Two wetland conservation projects in Colorado were among several nationally to be awarded federal grants this week, according to the U.S. Department of Interior.

    The grants for Colorado projects are part of $28 million in funding for wetland conservation approved by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which is chaired by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

    The grants are awarded through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and will affect 150,000 acres of wetland and upland waterfowl habitats on 20 states across the country, the department said this week.

    Additionally, the $28 million in federal grants will be matched by $72 million in funding from partner organizations.

    In Colorado, the North Park Wetland Conservation Partnership and the Arkansas River Wetlands Conservation Partnership each received a $1 million grant. Both projects have proposed match amounts of $2 million.

    The grants for both projects were awarded to Ducks Unlimited, a national waterfowl conservation organization.

    In the Arkansas River project, Ducks Unlimited and partner organizations will “conserve over 17,000 acres of wetlands and adjacent prairie in the Arkansas River Valley of Colorado through restoration activities and conservation easements,” a project description says.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife, The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy are among the partners with Ducks Unlimited.

    The North Park will “conserve 6,510 acres of high-quality wildlife habitat,” in conjunction with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, among other groups.

    Mike George, Ducks Unlimited’s director of conservation programs for Colorado, said the projects will also benefit clean water and recharge aquifers in the state.

    #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.”

    #Runoff news: 51 days on #DoloresRiver a boon to boaters, biologists — The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    Coming out of extreme drought, water releases a pleasant surprise

    Colorado Drought Monitor August 28, 2018.

    For 51 days this spring and summer, water managers opened the spigots on McPhee Reservoir, sending millions of gallons of water down the Dolores River – a boon to fish, farmers and boaters.

    During the last 20 years, only 10 years have been boatable. But this year was remarkable for the number of boating days after extreme drought conditions in 2018.

    McPhee Reservoir started 2019 with one of the poorest water levels in its history, but extraordinary snowfall allowed the Dolores Water Conservancy District to fill the reservoir and release 135,000 acre-feet of water.

    The high-flow days will benefit the ecology of the entire corridor, said Mike Preston, general manager of the district. The big releases occurred between Memorial Day weekend and the first week of July, with a short intermission after Memorial Day.

    The district met with stakeholders, such as boaters and biologists, weekly to determine water management strategy, Preston said.

    “So far, everybody is pretty happy,” he said.

    The Dolores River Boating Advocates were pleased with the number of boating days. While it was not the longest season ever, it was a good run, said Sam Carter, program and outreach coordinator for the group…

    The high levels in the reservoir will allow the district to provide irrigators all the water they have rights to and hold over water in the reservoir for next season, Preston said. The releases from the reservoir will also have lasting benefits for native fish and trees along the river, experts said.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

    The high flows help maintain and improve habitat for three species of native fish: roundtail chub, bluehead sucker and flannelmouth sucker, said Jim White, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    The bluehead and flannelmouth sucker populations are both depressed in the Dolores. Their populations have been hurt by non-native fish and changes in habitat because of the dam, he said…

    This summer, White said he may have observed benefits of the last big water year on the Dolores, which was in 2017. He was surveying fish in Slick Rock Canyon and found an abundance of young flannelmouth suckers possibly from 2017 or 2018, he said. Higher water helps support spawning…

    The large amount of spring runoff released from McPhee also kept the water district from needing to tap into water set aside specifically for fish, Preston said. So now the same amount of water can be released over a shorter period of time, which will be beneficial for fish.

    The high-water year will also have lasting benefits for trees, such as cottonwoods and willows, because it will recharge the groundwater in the floodplain, said Cynthia Dott, a biology professor at Fort Lewis College. Dott specializes in studying the floodplain forest habitat and has worked on the Dolores River with her students.

    Rainwater does not provide enough water to recharge the water table, and when the table drops too low, it can hurt large cottonwoods, she said. But there should be plenty of groundwater for the trees to tap into next year, she said.

    “They will have plenty of water to keep their feet wet,” she said.

    The high flows were also traditionally needed to scour the banks of rivers and leave open, muddy areas for young cottonwood seedlings to get established, she said.

    However, because there have been so many years of low flows on the Dolores, willows have established themselves along the banks and high flows now are not enough to rip them free, she said.

    Piping a +100 year-old ditch will leave 40% more water in Abrams Creek for fish #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

    From The Vail Daily (John LaConte):

    On Thursday, representatives from Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Eagle River Watershed Council, the Town of Gypsum, the Buckhorn Valley Metropolitan District and Scott Green Excavating raised a toast to the completion of a pipeline from the creek which replaces a more than 100-year old ditch…The more than $1 million project hinges on the fish screen and the data collection station. If water levels aren’t recording properly, Buckhorn Valley won’t know when they’re able to divert, as they’ve agreed to take water only when stream levels are above 1.25 cubic feet per second.

    That agreement saw some referee action in water court, said attorney Steve Bushong, who helped the metro district obtain a judge’s decree which confirmed that the project can go forward without impacting the metro district’s water rights. The decree came through in November after a slight holdup from the city of Aurora, which diverts water out of Eagle County to the Front Range via Homestake Reservoir.

    “Aurora stipulated out of that case; they just asked for some kind of no precedent language, which we were able to work out and include,” Bushong said…

    Mefford screen
    Another complicated part of the project is the diversion point itself — if it doesn’t allow fish to pass through safely from both sides, the whole project will have been in vain.

    Designed by hydraulic/fish passage engineer Brent Mefford, the Abrams Creek fish screen benefits from Mefford’s many years of research with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation studying screen layout, orientation to channel flow, debris management and use of isolation gates.

    “Having a fish person design a screen, they understand fish behavior,” said Kendall Bakich with Colorado Parks & Wildlife. “The way this screen is designed, it allows the fish to swim on the screen if it gets in there.”

    On Thursday, members of Colorado Parks & Wildlife witnessed the fish screen working properly from both directions.

    “Within 10 minutes (of arriving at the site) we had a fish in here,” Bakich said while examining the fish screen on Thursday. “It worked just like it should.”

    Learn more about the project at tu.org.