@EPA: “…abolishing the agency…I personally think it’s a good idea” — Myron Ebell

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Peter Marcus) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The man who led transition efforts for President Trump at the EPA said the administration’s proposed budget signals a commitment to abolish the agency.

But Myron Ebell, a Colorado College graduate and an outspoken climate change skeptic who leads energy and environment policy at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, said it is not an overnight effort.

The administration’s preliminary 2018 budget proposal released Thursday charts a course that could lead to the end of the federal environmental agency, Ebell said, speaking to a conservative group at the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute in Denver on Thursday.

Ebell had proposed Trump make a 10 percent cut to the EPA in his first budget request. The proposal unveiled Thursday would cut the agency by significantly more, up to 31 percent. It represents about a $2.6 billion cut to the agency’s relatively small, when compared to other federal agencies, $8.2 billion budget.

The cuts would result in about 3,200 employees being laid off in the initial wave, which could include many regional staff. Denver is home to Region 8 headquarters, a multi-state jurisdiction that covers much of the Intermountain West, which employs about 500 people.

“I think there’s a serious commitment here to draining the swamp,” Ebell, calling upon a popular Trump campaign mantra, said to applause.

The preliminary budget request would eliminate as much as a fifth of the agency’s workforce, which stands at around 15,000. More than 50 programs would be eliminated, including energy grants that help to fight air pollution. Scientific research would also face massive cuts.

Environmental interests had feared Trump’s budget proposal would start to chip away at the EPA, ultimately leading to closure. News of the preliminary budget sent many into a tailspin, as it potentially signals a much faster outcome.

Trump also proposed a 12 percent cut to the Interior Department and a 5.6 percent cut to the Department of Energy.

“The president’s budget is a moral document, and President Trump has shown us exactly where he stands. These unprecedented cuts will hamper the ability of our park rangers, scientists, those who enforce the law against polluters, and other Coloradans from doing their important work,” said Jessica Goad, spokeswoman for Conservation Colorado.

“This is not just cutting the fat, this is a complete butchering of programs and jobs that are critical to Colorado.”

The move leaves specific uncertainty in Colorado, where the EPA has promised to cleanup toxic leaking mines that are spilling into the Animas River in Durango. The Gold King Mine spill in August 2015 was triggered by an EPA engineering error, causing about 3 million gallons of mustard yellow sludge to pour into the river.

In the aftermath of the spill, the EPA declared the area a Superfund site, which allows it to spend significant resources to implement a long-term water quality cleanup effort. Some worry those efforts would be diminished by reductions at the EPA.

But Ebell said a pushback to the EPA’s “regulatory rampage” does not mean that environmental controls would go away. He said regulations would still be enforced – especially on the state level – including around Superfund sites and clean drinking water.

“The question is, why do we need 15,000 people working for the EPA?” asked Ebell. “I understand why we need some … Maybe abolishing the agency is something that President Trump … would want to have a discussion about … I personally think it’s a good idea.”

Busting up the EPA is not a good idea, Myron.

Environmental Defense Fund looking for win-wins with farmers RE: groundwater depletion

The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation’s irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

[ed. Coloradans know that ranchers and farmers are key stakeholders in the preservation of habitat and water resources, and they grow our food.]

Here’s an interview with EDF staffers from Matt Weise writing for Water Deeply. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Environmental Defense Fund is launching a new Western water strategy that aims to solve the problems of groundwater depletion and habitat restoration by working jointly with farmers.

FARMERS AND ENVIRONMENTALISTS have often been at odds. Farmers, for instance, rarely want it known that their land might host an endangered species, for fear regulations could come crashing down. Environmentalists are fond of regulations to protect natural resources, but rarely do much to help farmers comply.

These old patterns are beginning to change as the two camps find they have more in common than stereotypes suggest. One group working along this path is Environmental Defense Fund, which is developing a new Western water strategy aimed at helping farmers cope with scarcity.

The new policy, still being developed, aims to help farmers and irrigation districts comply with California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). EDF also plans to help create water markets, so farmers can sell or trade water when they have a surplus…

To get a preview of the new strategy and how it can help both wildlife and farm economies, Water Deeply recently spoke with three EDF staffers: David Festa, senior vice president, ecosystems; Maurice Hall, associate vice president, ecosystems and water; and Ann Hayden, senior director, California habitat and Western water.

Water Deeply: What region are you focusing on, exactly?

Maurice Hall: Generally, we think of our problem set as the areas where irrigated agriculture is the prominent water use. That tends to correspond to the area where we have the biggest stresses on water and water scarcity issues.

Right now, there are two really big opportunities to insert new solutions. One is California, and in large part the opportunity we have now is due to passage of SGMA. Because of the stresses that is going to add to an already stressed system, it will cause us to have do a lot of things differently.

The second big opportunity is in the Colorado River Basin, especially in the Lower Colorado region. There are clear signs of imbalance on Lake Mead, the big storage reservoir that the Lower Basin states depend on.

Water Deeply: You’re developing an open-source toolkit to help people comply with California’s SGMA and a series of workshops. That’s kind of unusual for an environmental group, isn’t it?

Ann Hayden: We recognized that the responsibility SGMA was going to put on local agencies to figure this out was going to be a huge burden. Our strategy is really to target those folks in the Central Valley who seem more willing and better positioned to get out ahead of the far-off deadlines in SGMA, and figure out ways they can be credited for doing those things.

Specifically, we’re thinking of ways we can help with groundwater recharge and developing a groundwater market. We’re focusing on where those opportunities lie.

We also recognized that in order for this to be a sustainable solution, we really need to figure out ways in which we can get disadvantaged communities to have a seat at the table, and equip them with tools and resources to engage in decision-making. We’re working with partners on the ground in the Central Valley to establish a Water Leadership Program.

Water Deeply: And you’re actually working on trying to incubate new water markets. How will that work?

Hall: Consider, right now, the agriculture water users who have water rights. Because of the way we’ve built our system and the social norms and policies we have established, they have few choices of how they can use their water. They can either grow their crops or not use their water. Because if you don’t use your water, you lose the water right. So there’s an incentive to use the water whether or not it’s really economically viable, or whether it’s really what you want to do most.

So the value of water markets, generally, is to give those who have the rights some flexibility in how they use water, so they can manage it as an asset, as opposed to just an input of their agricultural production. That opens up a lot of options. Maybe I’m growing a crop I’m barely making money on, and somebody downstream needs some water to supplement their almond orchard. And I can trade my water to them and use less on my land, and we’re both better off.

One of the problems is that if you do that without the right sideboards in place, you can have some undesirable impacts. For instance, you might reduce the recharge to groundwater in your local areas because you’re not irrigating your field. So building water-trading programs that include those externalities is what is necessary going forward, and why we see the importance of us being involved in making this happen.

Water Deeply: You sponsored a bill last year, AB 2304, to help launch water markets in the state. What’s the status of that bill, and what comes next?

Hayden: We started working with the Association of California Water Agencies, which is also coming out with its policy principles on what should and could happen to improve water markets. There was a lot of common ground. Unfortunately, there’s a whole spectrum of perspectives among its members. When it came down to it, it was too challenging to gain full support of ACWA at this point to make movement on legislation. That said, we are committed to working with ACWA on other possible policy improvements, maybe those that don’t require legislation at first.

Hall: There have been really bad examples of what ill-planned water trades can do. A dramatic example happened on the Front Range of Colorado, where pretty significant communities have been dried up through purchase of agricultural land and the water rights that go along with them – so-called “buy-and-dry” transitions that have been in the news for decades. So we recognize we have more education to do.

Water Deeply: You also want to incentivize farmers to idle land for environmental purposes. Is this a kind of land trust?

Festa: What we’d like to do is create the economic systems that will allow farmers and ranchers to look at the environment, essentially, as a crop. They can manage their lands in ways that produce a very specific environmental benefit and get paid to do it. The concept is a cousin to things like conservation easements and land banks, where land is taken out of production. But in a lot of those cases, not much, oftentimes, is actually done to manage it for a particular environmental outcome.

Hayden: In the groundwater context, it is one area where we may have a nice linkage with land restoration. We’re probably going to see more land that has to go idle in order for farmers to adjust to how water supply is going to change under SGMA. We want to get out ahead of that and help farmers design good habitat on their land – and have them be paid for that. There also could be opportunities for farmers to do on-farm groundwater recharge, and ways we can design those activities that are also beneficial to creating habitat.

Water Deeply: Any examples on the ground now?

Hayden: We have a number of pilot projects where we have been able to test our habitat quantification tool. It’s a tool to be able to measure a habitat function on a parcel of agricultural land. It allows you to plug in different practices a farmer could implement to improve that function for a suite of at-risk species.

The one site where we’re about to launch a restoration project is called Elliott Ranch in West Sacramento. We were able to get Proposition 1 funding from the Delta Conservancy to be able to compensate that landowner to make some changes in agricultural practices and direct deliberate restoration on the property. We’re about to start on the actual project and get shovels in the ground in the next couple of months. That’s a project that’s really focused on Swainson’s hawk.

Groundwater movement via the USGS

Roaring Fork Valley: Cutthroat Trout — Conservation Through Uncertainty — Wilderness Workshop

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Click here for all the inside skinny on the presentations March 1st and March 2nd. Here’s an excerpt from the website:

For decades, biologists accepted that Colorado’s native cutthroat trout could be distinguished by their location: Greenbacks were east of the Continental Divide, Colorado River cutthroat were west, Rio Grande cutthroat were in their namesake watershed, and the Yellowfin cutthroat have been extinct from Twin Lakes since the early 1900s.

However, using innovative genetic technology, researchers recently revealed that remnant Greenback populations on the eastern slope were actually Colorado River cutthroat trout, and fish that genetically resembled Greenbacks were unexpectedly numerous on the western slope. This was a blow to recovery efforts for Colorado’s Greenback cutthroat trout, a Threatened Species, and native trout conservation in general. It was unclear if this reflected the widespread sportfish stocking efforts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or a gap in the knowledge about our indigenous cutthroat trout. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) conducted an investigation to solve this mystery.

Kendall Bakich, Fisheries Biologist at CPW, will discuss and explain these results. CPW has always used the “best available science” to protect the legacy of our native cutthroat and Kendall will outline how the agency continues to work on the frontline to preserve native trout diversity and enhance resiliency so the species persist well into the future.

Kendall is an Aquatic Biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Her work focuses on the management and conservation of sportfish populations in the Eagle and Roaring Fork watersheds, as well as the Colorado River and its tributaries between Canyon Creek and State Bridge.

CARBONDALE — Wednesday, March 1st, at 5:30 P.M. at Third Street Center
ASPEN — Thursday, March 2, at 7:00 P.M. at ACES at Hallam Lake

The Naturalist Nights series is presented by the Wilderness Workshop, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and Roaring Fork Audubon. Presentations are hosted Wednesdays at the Third Street Center in Carbondale at 5:30 P.M. and Thursdays at ACES at Hallam Lake in Aspen at 7:00 P.M.

#Colorado river otters enjoying modest success

North American River Otter: Live in coastal estuaries, rivers and even mountain streams. Sightings of river otters in the wild are rare because they prefer uninhabited areas with clean, clear water where food is abundant. Photo credit South Carolina Aquarium.
North American River Otter: Live in coastal estuaries, rivers and even mountain streams. Sightings of river otters in the wild are rare because they prefer uninhabited areas with clean, clear water where food is abundant. Photo credit South Carolina Aquarium.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists say that, after completing the reintroduction of about 120 young male and female otters 25 years ago, otters are multiplying with a statewide population now numbering in the hundreds.

The recovery here, mirrored in other states that reintroduced otters decades ago, stands out in the struggle for wildlife survival because biologists consider otters a “sentinel species” that is highly sensitive to pollution. It shows how a relatively modest state effort to keep an imperiled species off the federal endangered species list — the U.S. ecological equivalent of an emergency room — can lead to a comeback.

State-run reintroduction “has made a significant contribution to the conservation of river otters throughout the state of Colorado,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Leslie Ellwood said. “We’re now seeing river otters in streams and lakes where they had not been seen for the past 100 years.”

Although Colorado officials could not produce current population survey data or a peer-reviewed study, and while otters still are classified as “threatened” in the state, CPW tables indicate otters exist in 38 of 64 counties.

This means habitat suitable to otters in Colorado is relatively healthy, said Reid DeWalt, assistant director of wildlife and natural resources for the state. “CPW is vested in the long-term sustainability and balance of wildlife for future generations.”

[…]

Otters eat practically any animal that moves in riparian corridors: fish, frogs, snakes, turtles, crayfish, birds, salamanders. They grow to be 3- to 4-feet long, with males weighing about 25 pounds and females about 18 pounds. When predators such as coyotes lurk, otters have the ability to chase them away. And they energetically chase one another, sliding crazily along muddy banks — activities biologists describe as pure play for fun.

The prospect of a widening recovery has emerged as a success at a time when conservationists warn that scores of other plant and animal species are vanishing…

Starting in 1976, Colorado wildlife crews reintroduced river otters at five sites: Denver Water’s Cheesman Reservoir, Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Gunnison, Piedra and Dolores rivers. Similar efforts were happening elsewhere in the United States. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that more than 4,000 otters were reintroduced across 21 states.

Colorado kept up the reintroductions until 1991.

In 2003, members of the Colorado Wildlife Commission decided to down-list the status of the river otter to “threatened” from “endangered.” It’s still illegal to hunt them.

Colorado wildlife officials contend that the reintroduced otters are thriving with established populations around the Western Slope in waterways, including the Colorado, Green, Yampa, Dolores, Gunnison and San Miguel rivers, as well as tributaries in each basin.

Yet state monitoring is limited. CPW relies on Colorado residents to serve as eyes and ears — filling out and submitting forms giving details when they spot otters. Mink, beavers and muskrats share the same habitat as otters and, sometimes when seen swimming, are confused with otters.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, charged with enforcing the federal Endangered Species Act, welcome state efforts to head off crises, said Marjorie Nelson, the USFWS regional chief of ecological services.

Humpback chubs are making a comeback in the Little #ColoradoRiver

NPS and USFWS personnel use a seine net to trap humpback chubs in the Little Colorado River. Photo credit Mike Pillow (USFWS) via the Arizona Daily Sun.
NPS and USFWS personnel use a seine net to trap humpback chubs in the Little Colorado River. Photo credit Mike Pillow (USFWS) via the Arizona Daily Sun.

From the Arizona Daily Sun (Emery Cowan):

Thanks to fewer predators and more food at the upriver location, the transplanted fish have come to thrive compared to their downstream brethren, making for a conservation success story that just received national recognition.

The fish-moving process, called translocation, is headed up by a team from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with help from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service. The team received the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2016 Rachel Carson Award for Exemplary Scientific Accomplishment for its contribution to the recovery of the endangered humpback chub, a distinctive and well-known pillar of the Grand Canyon ecosystem…

Humpback chub congregate in the lower part of the Little Colorado, close to its confluence. Before translocations started the species hadn’t been found above a natural travertine dam 14 kilometers upriver. But that stretch of the river, above what’s called Chute Falls, has warmer water, abundant food sources like insects and the tiny speckled dace and far fewer predators, which for the chub include invasive trout and catfish. Like an in-stream fish hatchery, the area makes for an ideal natural rearing habitat that comes with less disease transmission and genetic challenges, said Randy Van Haverbeke, a senior fish biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service who is involved in the work. Seeing an opportunity to expand the chub’s range and establish another aggregation that could contribute to the population downriver, biologists started translocating humpback chub above Chute Falls in 2003 and now move about 300 baby fish annually, said Mike Pillow, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

More than a decade in, biologists have consistently measured increased growth and survival among the translocated chub compared to non-translocated chub, indicating promise for the conservation tactic to augment the species’ populations in Grand Canyon, Van Haverbeke said.

In the area above Chute Falls, biologists have recaptured an average of 24 percent of fish translocated the year before, Pillow said.

In the bigger picture, he said, the project’s goal is to build up humpback chub numbers to enable the eventual delisting of the species.

Going beyond the Little Colorado River, the translocation process has been replicated by officials at Grand Canyon National Park as well, where chub from the Colorado River were transported up Havasu and Shinumo creeks. The goal was the same: to establish new population groups of chub within the species’ ancestral habitat where they may be better able to survive. Doing so in more locations creates redundancy, so if something were ever to happen in the Little Colorado River “all our eggs aren’t in one basket,” Van Haverbeke said.

Biologists with the National Park Service have seen as much as a five to 10-fold increase in chub in the mainstem of the Colorado River below those two creeks, suggesting translocation is having a positive impact, he said.

Measurable impacts on total chub population numbers in the Little Colorado River are harder to determine because the population is bigger and the fish are affected by other factors like the temperature of water releases from Glen Canyon Dam, Pillow and Van Haverbeke said.

“But the bottom line is we have increased survival and growth rates compared to not translocating (the fish). Then you have to assume it’s a positive (impact),” Van Haverbeke said.

Also important to note is the fact that this is a feasible, doable conservation action proven to help the fish, as opposed to something much harder to influence like modifying dam operations, he said.

The process also involves relatively minimal human impact, Pillow said, instead helping Mother Nature with “little nudges.”

Humpback chub photo credit US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Humpback chub photo credit US Fish and Wildlife Service.

#ColoradoRiver Headwaters Project #COriver

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.
Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

Here’s a guest column from Paul Bruchez that is running in Steamboat Today:

A few years ago, I saw an opportunity to fix the irrigation problems while also improving river and wildlife habitat. My family’s ranch is in one of the most intact traditional agricultural communities remaining in Colorado. Like most ranchers, we’re independent folks — but in a pinch, we know we can count on each other.

Our neighbors came together and agreed on the need for action. Our group of 11 private ranches and the Bureau of Land Management, the irrigators of lands in the vicinity of Kremmling, received a couple of grants for a pilot project to restore a riffle/pool structure on a stretch of the river. It was an exciting start.

But I quickly realized that, given the scale of the problems, we needed to think bigger.

We worked with a variety of partners — Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, the Colorado Basin Roundtable, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Grand County government, Northern Water, Denver Water, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Upper Colorado River Alliance, the Colorado River District and other river stakeholders — to put together an ambitious proposal for restoring a significant stretch of the Upper Colorado River.

In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recognized that big vision, awarding ILVK and our partners $7.75 million under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to improve irrigation systems and reverse the decline in water quality and fish habitat in the headwaters of the Colorado River.

This funding is an amazing win for all Coloradans, because a healthy Colorado River sustains all our lives.

The Colorado River Headwaters Project will install several innovative instream structures designed to improve water levels for irrigation, while enhancing critical river habitat by rebuilding riffles and pool structure. A crucial piece will be restoring approximately one mile of the Colorado River’s former channel, currently inundated by Windy Gap Reservoir. This ambitious bypass project will reconnect the river — for the first time in decades — and improve river habitat in the headwaters area.

When fully implemented, the Headwaters Project will directly benefit more than 30 miles of the Colorado River and 4,500 acres of irrigated lands and make available up to 11,000 acre-feet of water to improve the river during low-flow conditions.

What have I learned from this project? That the interests of agriculture producers can align with the interests of conservation groups, state agencies, water providers and other river users. It’s not just the waters of the Colorado River that are connected — so are the people who depend on it.

The Colorado River flows through all of our lives. By working together, we can find smart, creative solutions that keep the Colorado healthy and working for all of us.

Paul Bruchez is a rancher who lives near Kremling.

@COParksWildlife: Small Colorado native fish no longer “Federally Endangered” candidate

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

The Arkansas darter is a two-and-a-half inch native perch found throughout southeastern Colorado, Kansas and a few other states. On Oct. 6, 2016, after a 12-month finding, these fish were official categorized as “ not warranted” for federal listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, bringing some relief to more than 40 years of concern for the species.

Arkansas darter were listed as threatened at the state level by Colorado Parks and Wildlife in 1975, and through a collaborative effort with FWS and other state wildlife management agencies, were designated a federal candidate species in 1991. Candidate species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, are described as “having sufficient concern for their biological status but for which development of a proposed listing regulation is precluded by other higher priority listings.”

In 1994 (with recent updates) these status listings prompted CPW biologists to partner with the FWS and other wildlife agencies to develop an individual recovery plan for the species. The plan included ramping up conservation efforts, such as work with private landowners, habitat conservation, hatchery propagation, reintroduction and re-establishment of populations, and long term monitoring and research, among other actions.

“This ‘not warranted’ decision is a testament to the dedication and effort of many CPW staff over many years,” said Harry Crockett, CPW Native Aquatic Species Coordinator.

The decision was based on a recent status assessment of the Arkansas darter throughout its range in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Representative species biologists from each state, FWS biologists, as well as climate and hydrology scientists worked throughout 2014 and 2015 on assessing the species’ health, distribution and potential future.

“The Species Status Assessment Report for the Arkansas darter, and the FWS’s resulting 12-month finding was a superb collaboration between the affected states and the FWS,” said Vernon Tabor, Species Biologist, FWS; Arkansas darter assessment lead. “While the finding was solely FWS responsibility, we needed the excellent data, coordination and expertise we found in our state partners, including Colorado Parks and Wildlife. This allowed us to make our decision based on the most sound and recent science available.”

Threats to Arkansas darters still persist, as illustrated by their listing as a Tier One species in CPW’s 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan.

“Probably our greatest concern for the long term stability of Arkansas darters is specifically related to the future of water, especially spring water and headwater reaches, that provide good habitat on the plains of the Arkansas River Basin,” said Paul Foutz, Native Aquatic Species Biologist – CPW Southeast Region.

The darter occupy cool, clear spring-fed streams and seeps with abundant vegetation and feed primarily on invertebrates. The fish are found throughout the Arkansas River Basin, however populations are now typically isolated from one another. These populations are primarily found in the Big Sandy Creek, Chico Creek, Fountain Creek, and Rush Creek drainages, as well as several drainages north and east of Lamar, Colorado.

Historical records of Arkansas darters date back to 1889, but records were scant until a 1979-1981 CPW native fishes inventory of the Arkansas River Basin identified a far more widespread distribution of the species.

CPW will continue to make recovery and conservation of Arkansas darters a high priority.

“CPW is fully committed to continuing work to ensure that the species persists and fulfills its important niche in a fundamentally water-scarce region which is likely to become drier in the future. However, we, along with our partner agencies throughout the species’ range, can all be proud to have achieved the level of security and stability for the species that this ‘not warranted’ decision reflects,” said Crockett.