Ken Sleight remembers the stunning beauty of Glen Canyon before it was flooded by a massive dam in the 1960s. Taylor Graham’s film “Seldom Seen Sleight” – winner of the Yale Environment 360 Video Contest – shows the magnificent landscape lost and offers hope it might someday be restored.
When Ken Sleight first floated through Utah’s Glen Canyon in 1955, he fell in love with its majestic landscape of red rock ravines and lush green Colorado River riverbed. He became a rafting guide, leading trips through a place where, he says, “You were in heaven, actually.”
But even then, the mammoth Glen Canyon Dam was being built downstream in Arizona, and when the dam was completed in 1963, the canyon was flooded. Sleight, now 88, watched as the water quickly rose up the cliff walls, obliterating the riverbanks and side canyons.
Taylor Graham’s film “Seldom Seen Sleight” — the winner of the 2019 Yale Environment 360 Video Contest – focuses on Sleight, now 89, as he describes the Glen Canyon he knew before it was flooded. Using never-before-seen archival footage, the film provides a poignant view of the pre-dam canyon and what has been lost.
Sleight — who was the inspiration for the character Seldom Seen Smith in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang — voices support for a campaign, now gaining interest, to take down the Glen Canyon Dam and restore that stretch of the Colorado River. “I seldom go down there anymore,” he says. “I have it in mind what it all was. We lost most of it. But you keep praying for something to happen, and it’s happening, I think. I just wish they would hurry it up a little.”
About the Filmmaker: Taylor Graham is a multimedia storyteller and National Geographic Explorer interested in water sustainability issues and protecting the world’s free-flowing rivers. Graham recently spent a year in India as a Fulbright-Nehru Research Scholar, where he produced a series of documentary shorts about India’s diverse water challenges. He is currently completing work on a National Geographic Society-funded documentary film, Glen Canyon Rediscovered, for which he and his team completed a 350-mile through-paddle of the Colorado River and Lake Powell.
About the Contest: The Yale Environment 360 Video Contest honors the year’s best environmental films, with the aim of recognizing work that has not previously been widely seen. Entries for 2019 were received from six continents, with a prize of $2,000 going to the first-place winner.
Here’s a Coyote Gulch post which about Ken Sleight and his views about de-commissioning Lake Powell (Lake Foul).
This U.S. Department of Agriculture station outside Greeley and other sites across the Southwest are experimenting with drones, specialized cameras and other technology to squeeze the most out of every drop of water in the Colorado River — a vital but beleaguered waterway that serves an estimated 40 million people.
Remote sensors measure soil moisture and relay the readings by Wi-Fi. Cellphone apps collect data from agricultural weather stations and calculate how much water different crops are consuming. Researchers deliberately cut back on water for some crops, trying to get the best harvest with the least amount of moisture — a practice called deficit irrigation.
In the future, tiny needles attached to plants could directly measure how much water they contain and signal irrigation systems to automatically switch on or off…
Researchers and farmers are running similar experiments in arid regions around the world. The need is especially pressing in seven U.S. states that rely on the Colorado River: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
The river has plenty of water this summer after an unusually snowy winter in the mountains of the U.S. West. But climatologists warn the river’s long-term outlook is uncertain at best and dire at worst, and competition for water will only intensify as the population grows and the climate changes.
The World Resources Institute says the seven Colorado River states have some of the highest levels of water stress in the nation, based on the percentage of available supplies they use in a year. New Mexico was the only state in the nation under extremely high water stress.
The federal government will release a closely watched projection Thursday on whether the Colorado River system has enough water to meet all the demands of downstream states in future years…
The researchers’ goal is understanding crops, soil and weather so completely that farmers know exactly when and how much to irrigate.
“We call it precision agriculture, precision irrigation,” said Huihui Zhang, a Department of Agriculture engineer who conducts experiments at the Greeley research farm. “Right amount at the right time at the right location.”
The Palo Verde Irrigation District in Southern California is trying deficit irrigation on alfalfa, the most widely grown crop in the Colorado River Basin…
Sensors placed over the test plots indirectly measure how much water the plants are using, and the harvested crop is weighed to determine the yield.
“The question then becomes, what’s the economic value of the lost crop versus the economic value of the saved water?” said Bart Fisher, a third-generation farmer and a member of the irrigation district board.
Blaine Carian, who grows grapes, lemons and dates in Coachella, California, already uses deficit irrigation. He said withholding water at key times improves the flavor of his grapes by speeding up the production of sugar…
He also uses on-farm weather stations and soil moisture monitors, keeping track of the data on his cellphone. His drip and micro-spray irrigation systems deliver water directly to the base of a plant or its roots instead of saturating an entire field.
For Carian and many other farmers, the appeal of technology is as much about economics as saving water.
“The conservation’s just a byproduct. We’re getting better crops, and we are, in general, saving money,” he said.
But researchers say water-saving technology could determine whether some farms can stay in business at all, especially in Arizona, which faces cuts in its portion of Colorado River water under a drought contingency plan the seven states hammered out this year.
Drone-mounted cameras and yield monitors — which measure the density of crops like corn and wheat as they pass through harvesting equipment — can show a farmer which land is productive and which is not, said Ed Martin, a professor and extension specialist at the University of Arizona.
“If we’re going to take stuff out of production because we don’t have enough water, I think these technologies could help identify which ones you should be taking out,” Martin said.
Each technology has benefits and limits, said Kendall DeJonge, another Agriculture Department engineer who does research at the Greeley farm.
Soil moisture monitors measure a single point, but a farm has a range of conditions and soil types. Infrared images can spot thirsty crops, but only after they need water. Agricultural weather stations provide a wealth of data on the recent past, but they can’t predict the future.
From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):
Western Water Spotlight: a Colorado partnership is engaged in a river restoration effort to aid farms and fish habitat that could serve as a model across the west
“What used to be a very large river that inundated the land has really become a trickle,” said Mely Whiting, Colorado counsel for Trout Unlimited. “We estimate that 70 percent of the flow on an annual average goes across the Continental Divide and never comes back.”
Ranchers on the river who once relied on floodwater from the Colorado River to irrigate their hayfields now must pump from the river to irrigate. The river is shallow, sandy and warm in spots. Irrigation ditches have sloughed. The stretch of the river near Kremmling has not been working well for ranchers or the environment.
Now, a partnership of state, local and conservation groups, including Trout Unlimited, is engaged in a restoration effort that could serve as a template for similar regions across the West. Centered around the high plateau near Kremmling, a town of about 1,400 people in northern Colorado about 100 miles west of Denver, the partnership aims to make the river function better for people and the environment.
Paul Bruchez, a fifth-generation rancher of 6,000 acres near Kremmling who also runs fly fishing expeditions for tourists, sees the river’s challenges from both perspectives.
“Some of us involved with fly fishing care deeply about the environmental conditions within the river corridor,” said Bruchez. “Other landowners are more focused on the agricultural sustainability. But the one thing we agreed about is that things were collapsing.”
Restoring a Healthier River
The partnership, known as the Irrigators of the Lands in the Vicinity of Kremmling (ILVK), obtained grant funding in 2015 to start the process of assessing the river’s conditions and identifying possible pilot projects, such as stabilizing riverbanks and reviving irrigation channels across a meandering 12-mile stretch of the Colorado River. As projects are identified, ILVK members attempt to prioritize them and apply for grants with the project costs evenly divided between grantors and landowners, Bruchez said.
River improvements often have immediate benefits for irrigation infrastructure.
“Many of our irrigation laterals had washed into the river system and there was no large-scale look at the system as a whole and how it connects,” Bruchez said. “A lot of these simple bank stabilization projects not only create habitat but are literally safeguarding some of our irrigation laterals that we all rely on to deliver the water to our crops.”
The key, he said, is realizing that less can be more in re-establishing a proper flow regime. “You set the stage for the river then you let the river do the work itself instead of getting in there and manipulating everything,” he said.
Story continues below slideshow.
Trout Unlimited is a full partner in the project. It applied for all the funding and is the fiscal agent and manager of the grants. Whiting and Bruchez consult on project management, retention of consultants and scope of work.
“It’s a complete win for everybody. It’s just a question of money,” Whiting said. “It’s been so successful and such a good story and so far, we have been able to draw quite a bit of funding and turn that into impressive improvements for the river and the ranchers.”
The partnership has obtained $2.6 million in grants from funders such as the Colorado Water Conservation Board ($500,000), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service ($2 million) and the Gates Family Foundation ($120,000).
Four miles downstream from Bruchez, the Colorado River becomes a smaller river with warmer temperatures that have spurred algae growth. “The minimum stream level of the Colorado River at Kremmling is 150 cubic feet per second,” said rancher Bill Thompson. “That’s not much.”
Thompson, who ranches about 400 acres, moved to Kremmling in 1959. He said he’s spent about $200,000 to match grant funding for two grade-control projects that have raised the river channel 18 inches near his property. While helping him get the water he needs, the structures also help create fish habitat.
“I speed the water up, I’ve got them [fish] more oxygen and I’ve cooled [the water] down,” he said. “It’s a healthier river now because of it.”
River projects are undertaken to be cost-effective. “We are trying to do this in a capacity where it is more affordable,” Bruchez said. “These are not people that live on limitless budgets that are doing this for building Disneyland fish habitat. These are multigeneration ag producers that just want to be able to irrigate.”
Overcoming Skeptical Landowners
Moving water great distances helps meet Colorado’s water supply demand. The Continental Divide spans the length of the state, with watersheds on the west side flowing toward the Pacific Ocean and those on the east feeding the Atlantic Ocean. The more rural Western Slope of the Rockies gets most of Colorado’s precipitation, about 80 percent, and a vast network of storage and conveyance infrastructure moves water to major cities like Denver, Boulder and Aurora.
That diversion has come at the expense of the Colorado River in the area near Kremmling. “Where you had a very large river there is now a very small river,” Whiting with Trout Unlimited said. “It doesn’t have enough water; it is overly wide and shallow, and it gets really hot.”
Prior to the diversions, the Colorado River’s floodwaters washed over the land and helped prepare it for planting.
“You didn’t even need a water right,” said Thompson, the longtime rancher. “All you had to do was take your rake out there and scrape off the logs and the willows and start haying.”
Getting to a place where landowners agreed to commit themselves to projects took time. “It’s fair to say most landowners were pretty skeptical,” Bruchez said. “These are people that like private lives. They don’t like public dollars; they don’t like meetings and they don’t like talking about stuff. They like doing their thing.”
Eventually a cost-sharing structure emerged that focused on improving the condition of the river, with grant funding helping to cover the gap beyond out-of-pocket expenses for traditional repairs. River fixes run the gamut, from rebuilding lost banks to altering the channel with rock that makes the current meander, ebb and flow. This, in turn, stimulates the production of insects that fish feast on. Bruchez said anglers tell him the results are “off the charts.”
A restored Colorado River means good things for the ranchers near Kremmling and the trout that thrive in its waters. How much further work happens and at what scale remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the merits have been demonstrated. For her part, Whiting said the next challenge and hard conversation will entail finding ways to leave more water in the river.
Beyond the physical improvements to the river, the interaction between stakeholders has also worked well, Bruchez said, especially with trans-mountain diverters such as Denver Water. “We all view it now as a one-river thing, and when we all work together and are able to talk about the issues, we can solve problems,” he said. “If we all go to our corners and put up our fists, it doesn’t work so well.”
Whiting said partnerships between landowners and outside agencies work best when people like Bruchez are there to serve as a bridge.
“They can go in and say, ‘These guys are not coming to take your water, they are not here to take your land,’” she said. “All these suspicions can be calmed when you have a trusted source who walks stakeholders through it.”
As 2019 moves toward 2020, more bank and river channel work is scheduled. Centered at the swirl of activity, Bruchez said he wants to keep things in perspective.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do and we are trying to not get too big for our britches,” he said. “We also recognize there are river-system challenges all over the country, especially in the Southwest, and we are hoping as a collective group that this project is enough of a success that we can really try and demonstrate to others how people can come together and accomplish a successful project, especially by reasonably affordable techniques of installation.”
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Click here to read Coyote Gulch posts about Paul Bruchez’s influence.
Water left behind by severe weather in northeast Colorado Springs has some neighbors are concerned about rising water in ponding basins near their homes.
Taxpayers agreed to pay more money for improvements to the stormwater system in the Colorado Springs area and while some folks in Wolf Ranch were concerned about a detention pond filling up, the experts say it’s evidence the stormwater system is doing its job.
On the surface it’s calm, but the stormwater system below this detention pond in Wolf Ranch is moving thousands of gallons of water down stream. Seeing this normally dry basin full of water had some neighbors on edge. Even some of the wildlife came in for a closer look, but stormwater expert Richard Mulledy says the system is performing at a high level.
“You’ve got to give it an “A”,” said the Colorado Springs Stormwater Enterprise Manager. “I mean, it really took a hard hit and we didn’t see anything major.”
Just down the road near Research Parkway and Black Forest Road, work is going on to build another detention pond to help mitigate flooding during severe weather.
“Our stormwater infrastructure is enormous. we’re 195 square miles we’re actually the largest landwise city in the state,” said Mulledy.
It’s become a requirement for new neighborhoods because if there isn’t somewhere for the water to go it could cause major problems.
“If this facility wasn’t here you would’ve seen that giant flash flood come down erode the banks, flow over the top of roads, that’s when you see people’s backyards caving in. things like that,” said Mulledy.
The water in this Wolf Ranch detention pond will completely drain into Cottonwood Creek within 72-hours. Across the city, ponds like this are used to control the water flow making areas near waterways safer downstream all the way to Pueblo.
Here’s a guest column about water projects for the upper Eagle River Valley, from Jack Holmes, that’s running in theThe Vail Daily:
There are at least five water-related project proposals being considered for the Upper Eagle River Valley from Dowd Junction to the top of Tennessee Pass in the next 50 years. These include several tributaries of the Eagle River.
One combined project could take care of all major stakeholders and turn the area into a model for the future. The alternative will be five decades of litigation and a patchwork of projects that will be costly to all communities.
It is not about who will get the water. That is settled by Colorado Water Law and the 1989 Memorandum of Understanding. It is about whether the parties involved will work together, which happened during the drought of the early 2000s, or go in separate directions, which was the case during the middle 1950s.
The common project would be an Upper Eagle Pipeline and Storage Co. from Dowd Junction to Tennessee Pass. Storage, if needed, could be at Bolts Lake and Camp Hale. The 20-mile-long pipeline would follow the route of the Eagle River, the Railroad, the U.S. 24 highway or some combination thereof depending on what works and preserves the existing scenic corridor between Dowd Junction and Tennessee Pass.
That is the lowest continental divide pass in the Central Rockies. Those wanting to move or store water would need to pay accordingly. A trench and bury pipeline approach would seem to a good approach.
This proposal would give all major parties what they need at a reasonable cost. Memorandum of Understanding obligations could be met. To be sure, this would require some compromise. Camp Hale restoration might need to shift from some limited and expensive wetland restorations to a series of small reservoirs but probably would get more visitors to honor the 10th Mountain Division. Extensive wetlands are a few miles away on Homestake Creek in the original Camp Hale boundaries.
Building the one project pipeline and reservoirs would require funding, but it should cost less than tunnels, which are problematic to begin with because of potential seismic activity that would destroy the tunnels. In fact, the concept could be sold as a demonstration project worthy of grant funding.
While moving of water is not attractive to environmentalists, the concentration of project impacts in a well-established corridor makes sense. To be sure, the rail corridor would need to be preserved for possible future use, but an adjoining pipeline could be helpful in this regard.
If Front Range communities are more willing to pay for initial construction than Western Slope entities, the first phase of the project could start at the junction of Fall Creek and the Eagle River.
A major environmental question is how much effort should be spent to erase existing environmental impacts in the Eagle River and its Homestake Creek tributary basins above their lower Red Cliff junction. Such actions could merely shift impacts to the other basin at great public and environmental expense.
Anybody familiar with these issues knows that this proposal is a simplified summary. However, it also is known that 50 years in court and countless engineering and field hours can be curtailed by working together. The public has every right to insist that every attempt be made to arrive at a unified approach. While there are some good studies of limited areas, consideration of the larger area is missing at this point.
Jack Holmes is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Hope College in Holland, Mich., and vice-chair of the Holy Cross Wilderness Defense Fund. He has backpacked in the Holy Cross Wilderness since 1959 and is a summer resident on Homestake Creek above Red Cliff. For many years, he taught a summer course on wilderness politics.
Minturn turned down a proposal Wednesday that would have provided enough water for substantial growth within the town, including the Battle Mountain developer’s proposal to build up to 712 homes near Maloit Park and Tigiwon Road.
The Minturn Town Council voted 7-0 to deny the proposed deal between Minturn, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Battle Mountain developer.
Most residents who spoke at the meeting opposed the deal.
“We need to control our water,” said Minturn resident Woody Woodruff. “We can’t turn over that control to somebody else, because water is going to set the future of this town.”
The developer had asked for a decision to approve or deny the deal Wednesday.
Earle Bidez, mayor pro tem, cited continued concerns on the part of Minturn with the agreement — as well as an increasingly “negative” tone from the developer.
“We have not been able to reach a deal with the district,” he said. “We didn’t get far enough with Battle Mountain to know what we would have ended up with. But I don’t think we can get there from listening to (residents) for the last few months. The negotiation would have to change very much to get there.”
Minturn currently provides its own water from Cross Creek, separate from the rest of the valley’s supply. But the water from Cross Creek is limited — more water is needed if the town wants to grow significantly.
Under the proposal, the developer would have paid for a $5.6 million water pipe, or “interconnect,” that would have connected the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District’s water supply to Minturn’s, providing more water for growth and a redundant supply in case of emergency. The developer also offered more than $3 million in other infrastructure improvements for Minturn, whose aging water system is in need of significant repairs.
The deal also would have allowed the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District to build a $48 million reservoir at Bolts Lake, which is now dry.
It would have been contingent upon the developer receiving the approvals it needs to build the 712 homes.
From The University of Nebraska Lincoln< (Jessica Groskopf/Cory Walters):
As repairs continue on the tunnel that collapsed on the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal, unanswered questions remain about whether crop insurance will cover crop losses stemming from the loss of irrigation water.
Crop Insurance provides protection against “unavoidable, naturally occurring events.” Due to the complexity of the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie situation, it is unknown if crop insurance will cover crop loss.
Three tunnels are used to deliver water from the Whalen Dam on the North Platte River to the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal. The second tunnel, south of Fort Laramie, Wyo., collapsed on July 17. Water has been shut off at the Whalen Dam since the incident occurred in order to inspect and repair the tunnel. This has left 107,000 acres of cropland in Nebraska and Wyoming without irrigation water during a critical time in the growing season.
Several factors may have contributed to the tunnel collapse. According to a report by the National Weather Service in Cheyenne “precipitation has been upwards of 200-300% above normal for the past water year (1 Oct. 2018 to present).” However, the tunnel in question was built in 1917 by the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the structure. The Goshen Irrigation District and Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District were responsible for operating and maintenance of the tunnel.
Crop insurance is a federal program administered by the USDA Risk Management Agency. All crop insurance policies, regardless of the crop insurance agent, are subject to the same provisions. Thus if it is determined that the tunnel collapse was not from an “unavoidable, naturally occurring event,” all crop insurance policy holders on the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal would not receive an indemnity payment for their crop loss.
Farmers in the affected area need to continue to manage their crop as if water will return to the canal and they will covered by their crop insurance policy. Failure to do so may negate individual crop insurance coverage. Producers must receive written permission from the insurance company to replant, abandon or destroy a crop.
This information is designed to support and help clarify existing crop insurance policy provisions and procedures. For more detailed information and options you may have, please consult a crop insurance agent.