The grant, part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is a ‘game-changer’ for the small district.
The funding will be used for infrastructure improvements, such as permanent diversion and water monitoring structures, and 650 acres of wildfire mitigation in the Mancos River watershed…
“We’re so grateful and thankful for this opportunity,” said MCD Executive Director Gretchen Rank. “We are really looking forward to working with our team at the Bureau of Reclamation and our private landowners here.”
The Mancos River headwaters meet north of its namesake community, pass east of Mesa Verde before cutting southwest and ultimately converging with the San Juan River.
The grant will fund the conservation district’s work to benefit irrigators, as well as the ecosystem. The MCD will build three permanent diversion structures, replacing the push-up dams currently in place. The existing dams are made of stream bed material and are washed away regularly and tend to block fish passage. Instead, the push-up dams will be replaced by permanent tiered structures that create a consistent flow of water for irrigators and allow fish to pass…The project is part of an ongoing effort to enhance fish passage in the Mancos River. In addition to the three diversion installations, 10 existing diversion points will be upgraded with advanced metering technology…There are over 50 irrigation ditches in the Mancos River watershed, Wolcott said. Federal funding will also support wildfire mitigation work on 650 acres of forested private land and riparian zone invasive plant removal.
Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Bruce Finley). Here’s an excerpt:
Mountain snow-melting intensified this week with an unusually abrupt “flick of the switch” from cold to hot, leading to flooding that on Thursday cut off northwestern Colorado’s main transportation route and forced a shutdown of schools. The statewide heat that brought Denver temperatures to 85 degrees, breaking two records, combined with mountain snowpack more than a third above the norm, also has boosted the potential for early replenishment of water supply reservoirs, including those along the Colorado River…
But rapid melting here and around the Southwest this week has brought higher-than-expected flows in rivers, such as the Mancos River in southwestern Colorado, along U.S. 160, and in the Yampa River in northwestern Colorado, along U.S. 40…Water in the Yampa and tributaries on Thursday gushed over banks and submerged a bridge near Hayden, forcing state transportation officials to close U.S. 40, the main transportation route in northwestern Colorado, between Steamboat Springs and Craig…
As the Mancos River swelled near Cortez, Montezuma County officials who had anticipated possible flooding in May or June suddenly faced those perils a month early.
Click the link to read the article on the Water Education website (Sensa Wolcott):
My family has been raising cattle in the Southwest for almost 50 years, and last year we experienced a first – producers in our valley did not receive any supplemental irrigation water from the reservoir. Agricultural producers in the river valleys and winding canyons of the Southwest are feeling the impacts of climate change. Temperatures are rising, snowpack is decreasing, runoff is occurring earlier in the year, and it’s becoming drier. As climate change continues to impact the Southwest, understanding how these environmental changes impact us will help farmers and ranchers like myself adjust our land management practices to remain resilient to drought and climate change.
Ecosystems Adapt & So Can We!
Areas that receive low amounts of rainfall are especially susceptible to changes in the environment. The plants and animals that live in dry areas are specialized to this unique landscape, and as the world around them changes, they must adapt or face extinction. Fortunately, healthy ecosystems respond to change, and so can we. The key to responding is diversity. Biodiversity is what gives species the genetic advantage they need to adapt to changing environments. The environment is changing, and just as genetic diversity allows for change, farmers and ranchers can proactively use innovative, versatile strategies to respond and help their enterprises survive.
Healthy Livestock Make Happy, Profitable Ranchers
Ensuring livestock remain healthy is the top priority for those who raise animals. Managed grazing that supports healthy soils and robust forage is a must. Lack of water affects the nutritional content and digestibility of forage. This leads to animals – and ranchers – becoming stressed. Adjusting stocking rates and pasture rotation are a few strategies recommended by the USDA Southwest Climate Hub that can help support the health of your pastures, which in turn supports the health of your animals.
Increased temperatures aren’t just uncomfortable; livestock consume more water when it is hot, making stock water especially important when water is scarce. Warmer temperatures also directly impact the health of our livestock, which in turn reduces profits. Providing access to pastures with trees or shade structures where livestock can get out of the sun is just as important as providing access to water.
It’s No Surprise That Plants Need Water
When water is limited, our fields produce less hay, forage and produce, making it challenging to grow what we need to be successful. Changing temperature will affect which crops thrive in particular areas. The Colorado State University Extension office provides many helpful strategies for how we can tackle these challenges. Prepare to make adjustments to the specific plants that you cultivate. Try planting crop varieties that require less water to thrive and research how specific crops use water. Rotate crops in a way that better promotes growth and productivity during drought and incorporate strategies that slow down water and increase infiltration, such as installing contour swales in fields.
Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns will impact the harvest timing of hay and produce and increase the likelihood of weeds popping up. Be prepared for changes in when you typically harvest and focus on increasing biodiversity by planting a mixture of different types of plants in a hayfield or pasture. Variety provides resilience as well as defense against invasive species, which are less likely to move into healthy, drought-resilient pastures and hayfields.
Healthy Watersheds Support Us All
Water is critical to life in Colorado because it supports the biodiversity and health of the entire watershed, including the animals and plants so important to farmers and ranchers. Improving irrigation efficiency and upgrading diversion structures can help us adapt to rising temperatures that cause snow to melt and runoff earlier in the year. Early runoff means there is less water later in the season, when animals, plants, and irrigators all need water. Practicing irrigation strategies that encourage keeping rivers wet and implementing practices that increase groundwater storage support healthy waterways and support the needs of farmers and ranchers.
Riparian area management techniques like those mentioned in this article from Agri-Food Canada can benefit producers and the ecosystem. Try fencing livestock out of parts of the riparian corridor to support healthy riparian ecosystems. Livestock can cause erosion and water quality concerns – but well-planned access points that provide livestock with access to crucial drinking water can support both a healthy herd and a thriving waterway.
Farmers and ranchers want to see water in the river – the longer the better – which also supports the health and well-being of the aquatic ecosystem. Protecting our riparian areas is imperative; when our riparian corridors are healthy and thriving, so are we.
We Have a Choice
The future of agriculture is tied tightly to the future of our waters. Healthy ecosystems that have a variety of plants and animals are vital. Choosing innovative management strategies enables us to be good stewards of the natural world while also improving our farms and ranches so that we all can remain resilient in the face of drought and a changing climate.
Sensa Wolcott works as the Watershed Coordinator for the Mancos Conservation District. She is pursuing her Masters in Biology through Miami University’s Project Dragonfly, where her work focuses on community-based conservation and connecting people with the land through dialogue and collaboration. Sensa and her family live on their family owned and operated cattle ranch and enjoys hiking, camping, mountain biking, and photography.
From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga) via The Durango Herald:
Limited water supply consolidated to keep corn crop and flour mill operating; jobs lost, canal payment assistance requested
In the Ute Mountain Ute language, paa is the word for water, nüvav means “snow,” uway means “to rain” and tühpar üatüaa means “dried up cropland.”
These words weigh heavily on the minds of Ute Mountain Utes in Southwest Colorado because they are missing the critical ingredients of snow in the mountains and rain in the valleys.
Tribal member Wilford Lang drove a tractor for more than 20 years for the tribe’s 7,600-acre alfalfa and corn farm, southwest of Towaoc.
He has seen water supply fluctuate up and down. But when flows in the Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir came in at 10% for the 2021 season, he and 20 other workers on the farm suddenly lost their jobs…
Water is sacred for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and with less to go around, the tribe is searching for ways to augment its supply.
Tribal elders remember water scarcity long before the Colorado Ute Water Rights Settlement of 1988, which provides water for tribal lands from the Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir.
Vera Summa remembers the 1950s, when she and her grandmother collected water from the springs and mesas of Sleeping Ute Mountain. During winter, adults, elders and children collected snow in bundles and hauled it out on their backs, Summa said…
The Mancos River runs through Ute Mountain reservation lands, but it dried up after Jackson Reservoir was built in 1950 to serve the Mancos area upstream, said elder Laverna Summa, Vera’s sister.
Water shortages are happening again, brought on by a worsening dry spell that started in 2002…
In 2021, drought-stricken fallow fields have replaced the bounty of alfalfa and corn harvests on the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch operations, an economic hardship brought on by the worst water year in McPhee Reservoir history.
Marginal mountain snowpack was sucked up by dry ground and whisked away on the warm spring wind.
The runoff from mountain snowmelt never made it to McPhee, where the water level already was low from the previous parched year.
The 2021 deficit caused a 90% water shortage for farmers tied to the Dolores Water Conservancy District, including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
The tribe’s 7,600-acre farm received just 10% of its 24,517 acre-foot allocation.
The water shortage dried out fields and brought financial challenges for the farming and ranching operations. The tribe laid off half its farm workers, about 20 total, most of whom are tribal members…
Farm operations include the Bow and Arrow mill, a state-of-the-art facility opened in 2014 that sells non-GMO, gluten-free and kosher cornmeal to food manufacturers, grocery stores and distilleries.
The mill’s products are used to make chips, polenta, pasta, grits, cornbread, whiskey and more.
Simon Martinez, general manager of the Ute Mountain Ute Bow and Arrow Brand and Farm & Ranch Enterprises, talks Oct. 20 near Towaoc about how drought and reduced irrigation have affected crop production. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
The Ute Mountain Ute Bow and Arrow Brand mill on Oct. 20 near Towaoc. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Martinez used most this year’s limited water supply to irrigate the white, yellow and blue corn crops and keep the mill and its staff of 13 going. The tribe’s ranching operation, with a 600 cow-calf herd, has been kept whole.
So far, business has been brisk at the corn mill, but the drought weighs on everyone’s mind…
Lang said the farm and ranch operation and Bow and Arrow corn mill have been an economic boon for the tribe. They provide well-paying careers for many tribal members and create a deep sense of pride…
The drastic drop in crop revenue fell short of the $660,000 in annual delivery costs for the water on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Towaoc-Highline Canal.
So far this year, Martinez said, the tribe has paid $150,000 of that bill and has asked the Bureau of Reclamation for drought assistance to pay the rest…
Martinez and his reduced farm staff still must tend to thousands of acres of fallow fields, and they are discing the soil and controlling weeds to prep the fields for next year.
Long-term forecasts for the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah call for abnormally dry and hot weather…
Senior water rights buffer drought impacts
Ute Mountain Ute water rights have a complex history.
As part of the Colorado Ute Water Rights Settlement of 1988, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe gave up 1868 rights on the Mancos River in exchange for more junior water rights to the Dolores River in McPhee Reservoir, said Mike Preston, a water consultant for the tribe.
The settlement was made partly in response to the Mancos River going dry through Ute Mountain Ute land after Jackson Lake was built upstream in Mancos.
As original inhabitants, Native American tribes have inherent water rights, which were codified by the Winters Doctrine, a 1908 U.S. Supreme Court decision that mandates that tribal reservations have access to water.
As part of the 1988 settlement, the Dolores Project and McPhee Reservoir satisfied Ute Mountain Ute water rights via delivery from McPhee and the gravity-fed 39-mile Towoac-Highline Canal to Ute Farm and Ranch.
The settlement also created a reliable domestic water line to Towaoc from the Cortez water treatment plant, which gets the water from McPhee…
Ute Farm and Ranch shares equally with other water district farmers when water supply is below normal.
Consequently, the tribe took a 90% hit this year, along with other ranches and farms. The fish pool, 32,500 acre-feet earmarked for native fish habitat downstream of McPhee Reservoir, also took the cut. Municipalities do not share in the shortage.
McPhee, the Dolores Water Conservancy District and the tribe are more exposed to drought because their water rights on the Dolores River are junior to those of Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co.
In these dry times, the tribe has redoubled its efforts to study and potentially claim all its water rights, including on the San Juan River, said Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Manuel Heart. The river touches the Ute Mountain reservation while flowing from New Mexico to Utah…
Colorado’s prior appropriation water system of “first in line, first in right” can leave more junior water right holders high and dry in extreme drought, a situation that is playing out now.
The practicality and fairness of the system in a new era of aridification and chronic water shortage has been a point of discussion, Heart said.
“We have been here the longest, but don’t have senior status, plus we have OandM costs on the canal to get our water,” Heart said. “We’re seeing a megadrought. In the future if the drought gets worse, who will get cut short, Montezuma, Cortez or us?”
The tribe has hired additional staff to work on water issues, and Heart encourages leaders to “think out of the box.” He said the tribe should have looked into buying Totten Lake, which recently was sold to Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. Totten feeds McElmo Creek, which flows through tribal lands…
“We’d like to talk about adding storage to Jackson Lake, so we could release our share down the Mancos and collect it here,” Heart said. The water could augment water shortages from the Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir.
Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. has senior rights
Montezuma Valley Irrigation’s senior water rights date to 1888 and 1885 and include the first 795 cubic feet per second of the Dolores River. Anything above that flow mostly goes to Dolores Water Conservation District.
In normal runoff years, the river flows well above that level and is enough to satisfy MVIC rights and fill McPhee reservoir.
But during extreme dry periods, MVIC’s senior position buffers the impact of drought somewhat for its shareholders because at lower flows, their river rights are more senior and more likely to be filled.
MVIC, which stores water in Narraguinnep, Groundhog and Totten reservoirs, has rights to about 130,000 acre-feet of Dolores River Basin water annually. This year, it received only 92,000 acre-feet because of the drought.
The poor snowpack caused a 30% shortage this year for MVIC, and the irrigation season was shortened by about 20 days, said MVIC manager Brandon Johnson.
From KSJD (Lucas Brady Woods) via KUNC:
Alfalfa growers ideally need 30 inches of irrigation water per acre, per season, for their crops. This season, some farmers in the county are only getting a fraction of an inch from their reservoirs. As a result, farmers have to adjust, by selling cattle, limiting acreage or shutting down completely. And some of the sacrifices they’re forced to make can be really hard on their mental health, Nolan said.
“Sometimes you look in the mirror and you’re like, ‘Should I be doing this?’” [Mike] Nolan said. “‘Like, does this make any sense?’ That stuff just builds. And it’s in seasons like this, it can crack. And that’s the scary part.”
Nolan is not the only one noticing the mental health effects that drought is having on farmers.
According to data compiled by Celebrating Healthy Communities, a Colorado-based suicide-prevention group, farmers and ag workers are the second-highest at-risk population in Montezuma County, where Nolan farms. That means they’re more likely to die by suicide than almost any other occupational group.
And the data show another concerning correlation.
Researchers also compared the state of Colorado’s drought data for the past decade with the state’s suicide data for the same period. When drought conditions worsened, so did the suicide rate among farmers.
JC Carrica, the CEO of Southeast Health based in La Junta, Colorado isn’t surprised by those findings. He specializes in behavioral health care in rural communities.
“There’s seasonality,” Carrica said. “There’s peaks of anxiety, peaks of depression. It’s ever flowing, because it’s weather-related or market volatility.”
He also says that drought can be especially devastating.
“When you see the wind come through and shear off whatever little bit of grass you had from a quarter inch of rain a couple of days prior,” he said. “It’s kind of the carrot and the stick, and sometimes there’s just not enough carrot to keep people’s hopes high.”
Many mental health issues in the agricultural community can be compounded by a lack of services. The answer, Carrica said, is to make more of an effort to get mental health care to farmers, on their level.
Kate Greenberg is the Commissioner of Agriculture for the state of Colorado.
“As we see financial stress increase, as we’ve seen, in the last decade or so,” Greenberg said. “We also see spikes in suicide rates among agricultural communities.”
Greenberg says her department is working with local partners across the state to get more resources to rural areas. What works in a city might not translate to agricultural communities. So, she says, resources like online training manuals or public service announcements should be written with that in mind. Colorado also maintains a crisis hotline — a free and confidential mental health resource that’s available 24/7.
But as climate change continues to heat up and dry out the West’s farmland, Greenberg said the stress that comes with water scarcity will remain a challenge in keeping agriculture viable, and those who do it mentally well.
Back in the Mancos Valley, Mike Nolan said this year’s lack of water is changing his operation in a fundamental way.
“The big one was laying off everybody, which was a real bummer,” he said. “Never had to do that. It was really hard to do.”
But Nolan says off-and-on therapy has really helped.
From the Colorado Ag Water Alliance via the Fencepost:
Agricultural producers in southwest Colorado, mostly cow-calf ranchers, expended less labor to access the same amount of water to irrigate their pastures since implementing improvements to their irrigation ditches as part of a community-wide project. They also have seen improvement in riparian habitats. A new video, which can be viewed at https://www.coagwater.org/stream-management, portrays the impact to the community of these project improvements.
The improvements were implemented following development of the Mancos Watershed Plan in 2011. The community project was able to acquire $6 million along with Natural Resources Conservation Service cost share dollars to improve irrigation ditch diversion structures, install pipe irrigation systems and reduce ditch bank erosion in some of the 49 ditches that divert water off the Mancos River and its tributaries. The funding also allowed the watershed to improve the river’s fisheries.
“Ranchers involved in the project were skeptical at first of the help proposed by the watershed plan and the different values and perspectives of those involved in the project,” said Gretchen Rank, director of the Mancos Conservation District. “But as they saw the opportunities to improve their irrigation system, while also improving the environmental health of the river, they agreed to work together on the project.”
“We learned not to make assumptions based on personal views and knowledge,” Rank said. “Involvement in the stakeholder process enabled participants to recognize the diversity of opinions, needs and knowledge that are brought to the table. Throughout the process, participants gained respect for other perspectives, often changing the way they think about the watershed. Decisions made at the watershed level affect everyone within that watershed, so it is important that decisions are data driven and community informed for the best possible outcomes.”
Through the watershed planning process, several ditches were identified as being in dire need of better diversion structures that would require a lot less maintenance and upkeep, according to Ben Wolcott, Wolcott Ranch, Mancos, Colo., who also served on the Mancos Conservation District board of directors.
“Before any of this got upgraded, irrigation diversions were just push-up structures and anything cobbled together, sometimes tree trunks and whatever was in the river,” said Wolcott. “Most years we didn’t even get any water, but now with the new diversion structures and screens we have in place in front of piped ditches, we’ve seen leaps and bounds in (improved) efficiency. I go to each headgate once a week instead of daily, and that is mostly a five-minute maintenance check. The diversions can handle high water really well and then still divert water under low flows.”
Another rancher who has benefited from the project is Ryan Brown, Reddert Ranch, Mancos, Colo. “Over my 60 years, I’ve seen the river channel deepen, which makes it harder to dam up diversions. It was helpful when the Mancos Conservation District came to us and asked if it could help make those diversions more efficient.”
Tom Weaver, Ratliff Homestead, Mancos, Colo., said that before water piping was installed there was a lot of seepage and evaporation in his and his neighbor’s irrigation ditch. “There’s more (water) going down the river now due to increased efficiency.”
Rank added that the piping and diversion improvements have allowed fish to pass through upstream to reach their spawning grounds, while reducing soil erosion and the spread of noxious weeds.
“I think it is important for local landowners to stay involved with their communities and with the organizations that are helping facilitate the changes and improvements like this,” said Wolcott. “Their voice can be heard, and their values can be shared.”
The Mancos Watershed Plan is the second of three projects showcased in a video series. The series is produced by the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and River Network with the goal of demonstrating how farmers, ranchers, ditch companies, conservation districts, environmental groups and other entities have come together to improve river health, irrigation efficiency and environmental and recreational use of Colorado’s limited water supplies.
“As Colorado’s population grows, farmland is pressured by development, and agricultural water is being sold or rented to municipalities,” said Greg Peterson, CAWA executive director. “It is imperative that we work with others to preserve agricultural irrigation water and that farmers and ranchers get involved in watershed planning.”
To see a six-minute video of the Mancos Watershed Project, a fact sheet on this project and other resources, visit https://www.coagwater.org/stream-management. For more resources on funding for agricultural infrastructure improvements, contact Greg Peterson with the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grants to help fund stream management planning, such as those used by the Mancos Watershed Project, are available through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. For more information on stream management planning in your area, visit http://coloradosmp.org or contact Alyssa Clarida with the Colorado Department of Agriculture State Conservation Board at email@example.com
Click here for all the inside skinny:
The 37th Annual Water Seminar will be kicked off by SWCD’s new executive director, Frank Kugel. He has a strong track record of building partnerships and leveraging local resources for collaborative water solutions. Frank will speak to some of the challenges SWCD sees facing water management in southwestern Colorado, and opportunities for our communities to proactively address them.
Anxious for winter storms? First, we’ll hear about the forecast from KKTV meteorologist Brian Bledsoe, and cutting-edge methods for snowpack measurement from Jeff Deems of the National Snow & Ice Data Center.
No water seminar in 2019 would be complete without a discussion of the state’s current feasibility investigation of a demand management program. Mark Harris, Grand Valley Water Users Association, will moderate a panel of heavy hitters on the topic: Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Becky Mitchell, The Nature Conservancy Water Projects Director Aaron Derwingson, and Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller.
Further expanding on the subject, we’ll hear a proposal from local economist Steve Ruddell and consultant Dave Stiller which challenges the notion that a successful *and* voluntary, temporary, compensated demand management program would be impossible. State Senator Don Coram and State Representative Marc Catlin will react to this proposal and provide their thoughts more generally on funding water management in Colorado.
And if you haven’t heard the latest results of the West Slope Risk Assessment, John Currier, Colorado River District, will be summarizing the report for southwestern Colorado and taking questions. Jayla Poppleton, Water Education Colorado, will also preview several exciting programs and content making waves across the state. Watch your inbox for the final program, coming soon!
Reserve your seat now. Registration includes catered breakfast and lunch. Click here to register or call 970-247-1302.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Southwestern Water Conservation District Hires New Executive Director
Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) is pleased to announce the confirmation of their new Executive Director, Frank Kugel.
Kugel was the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District for almost 13 years, and is a registered Professional Engineer with a Civil Engineering degree from the University of Colorado – Denver. Frank was involved in construction engineering in the Denver area before joining the Colorado Division of Water Resources as a Dam Safety Engineer. He served in the Denver and Durango offices of DWR before moving to Montrose where he ultimately became Division 4 Engineer for the Gunnison, San Miguel and lower Dolores Basins. Frank joined the UGRWCD upon leaving DWR in 2006. He was a member of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable since its inception and chair of its Basin Implementation Planning Subcommittee.
WIP had a brief chat with Frank to give you a bit more information. Here are a few questions and answers from our conversation.
WIP: What experience and knowledge do you bring to the District?
Frank: I have been the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District for the past 13 years. During that time I worked on local and statewide water issues and reported to an 11-member board. Prior to that, I was Division Engineer for Water Division 4, encompassing the Gunnison, San Miguel and lower Dolores River basins. As Division Engineer, I frequently attended SWCD board meetings and the SW seminar. Before that, I lived in Durango for 11 years while inspecting dams for the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
WIP: As the new Executive Director of SWCD, what is your vision for the district?
Frank: My vision as Executive Director is to build upon the many successes accomplished by the Southwestern Water Conservation District. I intend to work closely with the board of directors in developing policies that will help guide the district. Instream flows and drought contingency planning are two of the areas that could benefit from policy guidance.
WIP: What are some of your top priorities with/or within the district?
Frank: A top priority for me is to reach out to the local communities. I plan to attend a county commissioner meeting in each of the nine counties within my first year at the district. Working on Colorado River issues will also be a high priority.
WIP: What do you foresee being challenges?
Frank: Facing a future with reduced water supplies due to climate change, coupled with increasing population, is a challenge for all of Colorado. The Southwest District can play a lead role in educating our constituents about this pending gap between water supply and demand and how the District can mitigate its impact.
We welcome Frank Kugel to SWCD and wish him all the best in his new position!
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marc Miller, Justyn Liff):
The Bureau of Reclamation is initiating negotiations on an amended repayment contract with the Mancos Water Conservancy District for the rehabilitation of the Jackson Gulch Canal System and other infrastructure. The first negotiation meeting is scheduled for Monday, November 5, 2018, at 6:00 p.m. at the Mancos Community Center, 117 North Main Street, Mancos, Colorado.
The amended contract to be negotiated will provide updated terms, and further flexibility to fund rehabilitation work for the project. All negotiations are open to the public as observers, and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty-minute comment period following the negotiation session.
The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting, or can be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81301, 970 385-6541 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
From 2000 to 2003, a series of wildfires ripped through Mesa Verde National Park, burning about 24,000-acres – nearly half of the park’s old growth forest.
Now, almost two decades later, park managers and biologists are concerned that the piñon-juniper woodland is showing virtually no signs of growing back, posing the tough question: Will Mesa Verde’s iconic forests ever be the same?
“We’re very concerned about the park’s woodlands,” said George San Miguel, Mesa Verde’s natural resource manager. “Because if we lose the park’s forests entirely, or if we have only scattered remnants, it won’t tell the same story.”
Mesa Verde is both a national park and World Heritage site, home to more than 4,300 archaeological sites of the ancestral Puebloan people, and most notably known for the 600 cliff dwellings within the park’s 52,485-acre boundary…
Yet as researchers rediscovered Mesa Verde in the late 19th century, leading to a national park designation in 1906, it became abundantly clear the original inhabitants of the area used the piñon-juniper woodland in ingenious ways.
“The people that lived here learned to be part of the ecosystem, part of woodland,” San Miguel said.
Ancestral Puebloans not only harvested wood to endure harsh winters, build structures and make tools, they also relied heavily on the protein-rich piñon nuts as a staple of their diet…
A vulnerable forest
In the mid-to-late 1990s, the invasive Ips beetle found its way into Mesa Verde and wiped out the old-growth piñon in its path, the oldest of which ranged from 500 to 1,000 years old.
Then, a severe drought in the 1990s caused perfect fire conditions – dead, dry trees – so when a lightning strike hit private property near the entrance of Mesa Verde at about 1:30 p.m. July 20, 2000, it wasn’t long before a fire spread, ultimately consuming 19,607 acres within the park.
Though this fire, called the Bircher Fire, consumed the greatest amount of forest, several other fires in the ensuing years, notably the Pony and Long Mesa fires, also took their toll in the park. Both were also caused by lightning strikes.
“If you fly over, there’s fire scars everywhere,” said Steve Underwood, park fire-management officer. “You’re seeing these forests change, and it’s very startling. And it’s happened not just over the course of my lifetime, but my career.”
Piñon and juniper woodlands thrive in high-elevation deserts, usually between 4,500 to 7,500 feet. And while the hardy plants can survive a mere 7 to 25 inches of rain a year, they are terribly ill equipped to deal with wildfire.
“These trees evolved not to deal with fire,” said Renee Rondeau, a conservation biologist with Colorado Natural Heritage Program. “They can go without fire and it would not affect them, which tells you the places they grow did not, historically, have a lot of fires.”
Yet with the introduction of Western civilization in the American Southwest, and the impacts associated with climate change, such as drier years and an increased risk of wildfire, the new reality is that piñon-juniper woodlands may not be adapted for future survival.
Conditions inhibit regrowth
Even in perfect natural conditions, piñon and junipers take a long, long time to grow.
Piñon, for instance, don’t produce germinating seeds until they reach 75 years in age. And even then, the plants only produce seeds every seven to eight years, requiring non-drought conditions and proper dispersing by animals.
According to National Park Service data, piñon-juniper woodlands cover as much as 15 percent of land in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
“How can something that’s that picky be that common?” Rondeau said. “That just tells you the climate has been fairly stable for quite a while.”
Yet now a multitude of factors seem to be inhibiting piñon-juniper regeneration in the burned areas of Mesa Verde.
Warmer and drier conditions, associated with the impacts of climate change, and therefore increased fire risk, seem to be directly affecting the woodland’s regrowth, researchers said.
And then enter issues with more competitive Gambel oak and invasive species, such as cheat grass, and the question surfaces whether the piñon-junipers can ever gain a stronghold again.
The issue is not specific to Mesa Verde.
At Bandelier National Monument, another ancestral Puebloan site in New Mexico, a series of high-severity wildfires consumed the predominately ponderosa forests, which are now overtaken by a variety of shrubs.
“We’re researching that question right now: Why aren’t we getting pine regeneration?” said chief of resource management Jeremy Sweat. “And we may have to redefine recovery, because we’re not sure some of these forest types will ever return.”
Last year, the Los Alamos National Laboratory released a study that suggested piñon-junipers could be wiped out of the American Southwest by the end of this century as a result of climate change.
Rondeau said models of different scenarios of piñon-juniper habitat in 2035 and 2065 found that while there may be some refuges for the woodland, suitable habitat will significantly diminish over time.
“If we can get our carbon emissions down and … keep (these forests) from burning, maybe our grandkids will be able to have piñon here,” Rondeau said.
What about the future?
“One of the most common questions we get is when and why was there a burn,” Underwood said of Mesa Verde’s visitors, which hit 583,527 last year. “We’ve added signs around the park, delineating each fire.”
San Miguel said there are indications in the park that piñon-junipers can grow back. A 200-acre area known as the Glades that burned around 1700 or so does have a patch of young piñon-juniper trees, about 200 years old.
“That’s our reference,” San Miguel said. “That’s what happens with fire and natural regeneration under good conditions.”
But if global temperatures continue to rise at their current pace and increase 5 to 7 degrees by the end of this century as scientists predict, San Miguel said, and fires continue to plague the arid desert landscape, it may be time to rethink what Mesa Verde will look like.
Carbon dating conducted a few years ago in the park of sediment deposits went back tens of thousands of years, finding that Mesa Verde at one time supported ponderosa and Douglas fir in wetter years, and was absent of piñon-juniper in drier years.
These are indications that Mesa Verde’s forests have changed over time, San Miguel said. But human impacts are creating a complication of unknowns in the process.
“What we’re heading for now is not necessarily unprecedented,” San Miguel said, “but you throw in invasive plants and fires, and then you have a wild card that throws everything into question.”
From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):
The Dolores Water Conservancy District board voted unanimously on Thursday to close Totten Lake to all boating to prevent contamination by non-native quagga and zebra mussels…
The Totten closure follows a boating ban on Narraguinnep Reservoir, enacted last week by the privately owned Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., which also cited the mussel threat.
“To prevent a mussel contamination, and to be consistent with MVIC’s decision, the board voted to prohibit all boating on Totten,” said DWCD general manager Mike Preston.
The boating ban on the two lakes is for all non-motorized and motorized, and includes kayaks, canoes, stand-up boards, windsurfers, oar boats, rafts and jet-skis. Fishing at the popular lake will be allowed from the shore.
“There was a lot of debate on our board about possible exceptions, but the board decided that to be clear, and best protect our irrigators, the ban will be to all boating,” said MVIC manager Brandon Johnson.
A boating closure order for Totten is being drawn up in cooperation with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which manages the fishery. A locked gate on the boat ramp will be installed soon. Narraguinnep already has a locked gate installed. Violators at Totten and Narraguinnep will be issued tickets by Parks and Wildlife and the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office.
Boat inspection stations are effective at preventing a mussel contamination in lakes. But there is no funding for inspection stations at Totten or Narraguinnep, so managers say their only other option is to close them to boating because the contamination risk is too great.
The Dolores Water Conservancy District is also tightening up boating access on McPhee this year to better prevent the mussels from entering the regional irrigation reservoir.
Boating is still allowed at McPhee because there is funding for boat inspections. But access for motorized and trailered watercraft is only allowed during the season through two boat inspection stations at the McPhee and House Creek boat ramps.
When the stations are closed, newly installed locked gates will prevent lake access. In the past, boats could still launch when the inspection stations were closed.
To accommodate boaters who return to the ramps after the boat stations are locked, one-way spike strips will be installed this season to allow boaters to exit the lake after hours.
“We made that concession to prevent boaters from becoming stranded on the lake,” said McPhee engineer Ken Curtis.
McPhee managers adopted the state standard for preventing the mussel that requires trailered and motorized boats to be inspected, but allows non-motorized, hand-launched craft to enter the lake anywhere without inspection.
In general, non-motorized kayaks, canoes, rowboats, stand-up boards, and windsurfers pose less of a risk or contaminating a waterway with mussels.
However, mussels on a boat from an infected lake can be transported to another waterway.
All boats and their motors should be cleaned, drained and dried before entering a waterway and after leaving a waterway.
MVIC also owns Groundhog Reservoir, and is considering closing it to boating. A decision is expected soon.
From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):
Board President John Porter and Vice President Steve Fearn, representatives of Montezuma and San Juan counties, respectively, were voted off the board by commissioners in their respective counties.
Fearn, a prominent longtime coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, has represented San Juan County on the water conservation board since 1990 and served as vice president since 2007.
But San Juan County commissioners said Fearn’s representation no longer reflects county values, which have changed significantly since Silverton’s mining days to include more recreational interests with respect to water, county attorney Paul Sunderland said…
Commissioners voted to appoint Charlie Smith, part-time Silverton resident and eight-year general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, as Fearn’s replacement.
“Commissioners thought Charlie Smith would better represent San Juan County,” Sunderland said. “He has a lot of water expertise, and he’s probably more in tune with the wants of the current board. Historically, San Juan County has been largely dominated by mining interests, and Steve Fearn is very much associated with those interests, but the board’s interests have shifted more toward recreation.”
The fact that the state of New Mexico named Fearn in a lawsuit as a “potentially responsible party” for mine pollution in the Gladstone area was noted in the county’s decision, Sunderland said.
“It’s definitely something we’re aware of, given his ownership interests around Gladstone,” he said…
The board consists of nine members representing Archuleta, Dolores, Hinsdale, La Plata, Mineral, Montezuma, Montrose, San Juan and San Miguel counties. Board directors can serve an unlimited number of three-year terms.
“I want to make sure the county’s views are represented,” Smith told The Durango Herald. “I have an understanding of their water rights, and a lot of work needs to be done to secure those rights and make sure the uses align with what the county envisions.”
Montezuma County commissioners selected Don Schwindt to replace Porter, who was general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District for 22 years and a Southwestern board director for 26.
Schwindt is a director on the Dolores Water Conservancy District board and a critic of the Dolores National Conservation Area, a controversial proposal in Montezuma County to congressionally protect land and water along the lower Dolores…
Porter thinks the proposal, criticized by Montezuma County commissioners, influenced his removal. Under Porter’s leadership, Southwestern Water Conservation District contributed funds to hire a water attorney to rewrite draft National Conservation Area legislation, which Porter thinks was perceived as support for the bill.
“I perceived the funding as an effort so everyone involved knew all the problems, the facts on both sides and could intelligently make a decision,” Porter said. “I think Southwestern’s involvement was perceived by others that we were very much in favor of the NCA legislation. That had something to do with it, and the fact that I’m 80-plus, and my 26 years on the board.”
Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Suckla said the commission chose Schwindt because of his water knowledge, and the conservation area proposal did not play a part in the decision.
“Don has shown ways that he would save water and retain water for farmers and ranchers,” Suckla said. “John Porter is an icon for Montezuma County. He was involved in the management of the lake (McPhee Reservoir), and all the benefits the county has received from that is because of the work he did, but it felt like it was time for new eyes.”
When Porter joined the board in 1990, he said water storage and dam construction were the district’s primary focus, including such projects as Lake Nighthorse. But gradually, the focus broadened to consider recreational water use and water quality.
Porter refers to his tenure as a career highlight, and said the importance of inter-basin relations and dialogue will only increase as time goes on, water supply dwindles and population grows.
“You’re asking someone who’s biased, but I’ve always felt that the Southwestern board tried its very best to represent all interests,” Porter said. “True, the majority of the members, including myself, were and still are agriculture-oriented. Yet to me, as Colorado’s population grows, it’s inevitable that our water supply will be drying up agriculture. And that’s not in our best interest, but I don’t see a way of satisfying municipal needs that we’re going to have without drying up some ag use. Irrigation takes a lot of water, and just that amount converted to municipal use will take care of a lot of families in an urban situation.”
Representatives of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe were in Washington D.C. for President Barack Obama’s eighth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, according to this report from Jim Mimiaga writing for The Cortez Journal. President Obama was informed that the Ute Mountain Utes back a Bears Ears National Monument and fulfillment of original intent of the Animas-La Plata Project to build supply infrastructure. Here’s an excerpt:
…councilwoman Regina Whiteskunk…also reminded Obama of the Bears Ears Monument plan, which is supported by a coalition of five tribal leaders in the Southwest.
“I was able to shake President Obama’s hand and said ‘Remember Bears Ears,’ and he responded, ‘There is still work to do’,” Whiteskunk said. “It was not a ‘No,’ so I am pushing forward and maintain the thought that it can still get done.”
Currently, a key issue for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe is delivering water to the reservation from Lake Nighthorse near Durango, [Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart] said. The tribe owns 40 percent of the water in the 120,000-acre-foot reservoir, and a component of the Animas-La Plata Project built to satisfy Ute Mountain, Southern Ute and Navajo water rights. But while much of the lake’s water is owned by the Ute Mountain Utes, it is out of reach for practical uses, Heart said.
“It’s like a pitcher on a high shelf we can’t reach. We need delivery to our land, which was initially promised but was eventually cut out, so we have been fighting to get that back.”
One possibility is to use local rivers to deliver the water to the reservation.
It could be released from the Lake Nighthorse spillway into the Animas River, then flow to the San Juan River, which meets up with the Ute Mountain reservation near the Four Corners Monument.
Heart said that idea is being discussed, but has legal and topographical challenges.
“From the San Juan River, it would require many miles of new pipe and pumping the water uphill before it could arrive at our farms,” he said.
Delivering it to the tribe via pipelines directly from higher Lake Nighthorse is preferred because it would be gravity-fed, he said. Piping it to Jackson Reservoir could allow it to be delivered via the Mancos River to reservation lands.
“Delivering it to our land gives us control of our water to grow our economy, expand our farms or build a new community on the east side,” Heart said.
Federal support is key to getting things done in Indian Country, he said, and Obama’s annual Tribal Nations Conference helps influence federal officials to act and secure funding.
“I have been so privileged to learn from you while visiting more tribal communities than any other President,” Obama said at the conference. “We haven’t solved every issue. We haven’t righted every wrong. But together, we’ve made significant progress in almost every area.”
Under the Obama administration:
The White House Council of Native American Affairs was created, a cabinet level office that focuses on Indian Country issues. More than 428,000 acres of tribal homelands were restored back to their original owners, and the Cobell settlement was signed into law that established the $1.9 billion Land Buy Back Program to consolidate individual Indian lands and restore them to tribal trusts. Reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act so that tribes can prosecute those who commit domestic violence against women in Indian Country, whether they’re Native American or not. Provided health care services in Indian Country through the Affordable Care Act, including permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
Whiteskunk praised Obama for “elevating the voice of Native Americans and valuing us” during his administration. In her meetings with federal officials, she pushed for improved consultation with tribes on projects and laws affecting Native American lands.
“We discussed in great length about how consultation is either weak, vague or not consistently applied,” Whiteskunk said.
“As president he has reached out to work with Native Tribes,” Heart said. “He is the first president to hold these annual meetings, and the hope is that the next president will continue them, so we have to wait and see.”
From The Cortez Journal (Jacob Klopfenstein):
This summer, the Mancos Water Conservancy District has continued investigating a possible title transfer for the Jackson Gulch Project, Superintendent Gary Kennedy said Wednesday.
The district has been pursuing a transfer of ownership from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, so that the district could be the sole owner of the reservoir project. It’s a lengthy process that could take five years or more and requires an act of Congress, Kennedy said.
One issue with the transfer is what would become of federal lands that have been withdrawn to become part of the project, Kennedy said.
“Our concern is that if we took the title, that land would stay with the project, instead of going back to the Forest Service,” he said.
The MWCD board also has had general discussions about other issues regarding the transfer, including liability.
No funds have been committed to the title transfer, and the process is still in baby steps, Kennedy said. Either party — the Bureau of Reclamation or the MWCD — can withdraw from the process at any time, he said.
Some funding may come through in the next three to four years for the project rehabilitation effort, Kennedy said. The next item the district is focusing on rehabilitating is the reservoir inlet chute.
The cost to get those chutes into top shape would be about $1.2 million, which could be funded by both Bureau of Reclamation grants and MWCD funds, Kennedy said. The district has put in a request for funding to the BOR, he said.
A contractor is on site working on rock mitigation around the project site, especially in West Mancos Canyon, Kennedy said. People are asked not to go in the canyon when there is work taking place there, and signs are posted around the site to make people aware, Kennedy said.
From The Cortez Journal (Jacob Klopfenstein):
The Mancos Water Conservancy District board voted to put up for lease 150 acre-feet of water from the Jackson Gulch project, district Superintendent Gary Kennedy said.
The board approved the water lease at their meeting June 14. District officials will be going out to see if people need extra water, though they might not need extra because of the wet spring season, Kennedy said.
The board and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation found agreement on project water rights for Jackson Reservoir, Kennedy said. The rights will be assigned to the water district from the federal government, he said.
Also at the meeting, the board discussed the title transfer for the project, Kennedy said. The title transfer is an ongoing issue that will take many years to resolve.
The district had hoped to complete some appraisals of land associated with the project this summer, but that hit a snag, Kennedy said. The cost for the appraisals is almost double what the board anticipated, and another government agency will be involved, he said. Even if the board decides to pay the new price for the appraisals, Kennedy could not say how long that would take.
The district is planning a party to celebrate 75 years of the water district. The celebration will take place July 16 at noon at Jackson Gulch Reservoir on Road N north of Mancos. There will be a barbecue as well as some educational information on the history of the district. RSVP is requested by emailing Kennedy at email@example.com or calling 970-533-7325.
District officials also will be working on clearing the inlet canals to the reservoir this summer, Kennedy said. The reservoir’s two drop chutes also need some work, but that might not take place until 2019, when the district could receive money from the federal government to rehabilitate the chutes, Kennedy said.
Board member Boe Hawkins was reappointed to a four-year board term at the meeting.
The reservoir’s jet valve was rebuilt over the winter, and some safety issues came up with the valve, Kennedy said. After investigation, the valve was operating normally and there were no major problems, he said.
The hydro lease of the power permit for the project is still moving forward and the board is still working on it, Kennedy said. At next month’s board meeting July 12, board members will elect officers.
Here’s the executive summary.
The western United states is in the midst of a growing water crisis. extended drought, climate change, and a booming population are increasing demand for food and fresh water. in the U.s. colorado river Basin, a seven state region that produces around 85% of U.s. winter produce, demand for water is expected to significantly outpace supply by 2060. as more entities vie for this increasingly tenuous resource, agriculture is looked to as the primary sector to reduce the gap in water supply and demand.
Yet another supply-demand gap looms that is equally urgent: the shrinking number of family farmers. currently, farmers over 65 outnumber those under 35 by a ratio of six to one. nationwide, over 573 million acres of farmland are expected to change management in the next 20 years. if we fail to recruit enough new farmers, we risk furthering the consolidation of our food system, increasing permanent losses of agricultural lands, and losing a generation of water stewards.
Young farmers are critical to addressing both our dwindling water resources and producer populations. in 2015, the national Young Farmers coalition surveyed young farmers and ranchers across the arid West. Most of these farmers are young enough to have never farmed outside of drought: over 15 years ago, when the current drought began, most had yet to begin a career in agriculture. and while western farmers have always wrestled with aridity, millennial farmers can expect the entirety of their careers to be influenced by the effects of a changing climate, forcing them to develop innovative solutions for hotter, drier times.
Following the charge of many farmers before them, more young farmers are managing their operations holistically, integrating economic, ecological, and social health into a working whole. conservation is embedded in the very way they do business. the problem is our policies, programs, and funding priorities lag behind these evolving values and practices.
Over the decades, massive water projects have been developed to bring water to population centers. these continue to be proposed today: take the recent $9 billion proposal to pipe water from Wyoming’s Flaming gorge reservoir to colorado’s Front range. But too often these projects come at the expense of working lands and the communities that connect them. imagine, instead, if we invested some of those dollars in conservation instead of concrete? can we tackle our water challenges with creativity while simultaneously upholding viable and resilient agriculture?
As a region and a nation we have a choice: to continue the status quo and risk losing the land, water, and knowledge with which a new generation of producers will grow food and conserve our shared water resources; or invest in the next generation of farmers as allies in finding solutions to water scarcity. this report illustrates the urgent need—and great opportunity—to pursue the latter.
From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):
The survey, conducted by Fort Lewis College professors, polled 379 young farmers and ranchers in the arid West and held eight focus groups in four Colorado River Basin states. Most respondents, whose average age is 36, are in Colorado and California, are in their first 10 years of farming and did not grow up on ranches or farms.
According to the report, 82 percent of survey respondents cited water access as the top concern. Access to affordable, irrigated farmland came in fourth, at 53 percent, after drought and climate change.
Census data shows the average age of the U.S. farmer is rising, and La Plata County presents a two-fold predicament: land prices are steep, and land is dry if you can get it. The two factor heavily into the county’s dwindling agriculturists.
“For most farmers, if they’re ready to buy land, they leave La Plata County. They go to Montezuma County or get out of farming,” said Kate Greenberg, Western water program director for Young Farmers.
As a 20-something farmer, James Plate of Fields to Plate Farm can’t afford land in La Plata County. Instead, he’s taking advantage of the Old Fort Market Garden Incubator program, which allows farmers to temporarily lease land – with water rights – on the Old Fort campus in Hesperus.
“I was born and raised in Colorado and want to supply my state with local vegetables, but we are finding it difficult to get access to the proper acreage of land with water to supplement that space,” Plate said.
He and business partner Max Fields have looked at properties that range from $1.5 million to $100,000 with seasonal water rights. Cheaper land is often on the “dry side” of the county, which means farmers are confined to growing dry native crops such as corn and pinto beans.
“You can’t afford land with water,” said Tyler Hoyt, who owns a 72-acre farm in Montezuma County. “There’s plenty you can afford without.”
Hoyt, who participated in the coalition survey, purchased the farm for $330,000 11 years ago, citing the lack of affordable land in La Plata County as a reason for purchasing land in Montezuma.
“Water is definitely a premium in the West,” said The Wells Group real estate broker Thad Trujillo, who recently sold a 40-acre farm with water rights from March through July for $220,000.
Trujillo said while tracts in the southwestern part of the county may sell for under $150,000, prime parcels in North Animas Valley can go for $10,000 an acre at minimum. Apart from the valley, the most expensive (read: wet) farmland is along the river corridor and the “triangle” where the county’s three municipalities converge.
Forty-year-old Gabe French, on his third career, was fortunate to buy his Bayfield farm on County Road 509 three years ago. He grows vegetables and hay with May to October water rights from Pine River and Vallecito.
As much as 80 percent of water used by humans in the Colorado River Basin is devoted to agriculture, and much of the region’s water comes from reservoirs and is supplemented by snow-melt runoff. It’s not that the county is devoid of water – the Animas is one of the most under-appropriated rivers in the state – but getting and saving it is a different, costly story.
The analysis shows 94 percent of young farmers in the arid West practice water conservation in some capacity, but for many farmers, methods are either unknown or inaccessible. Of the 94 percent who said they conserve, just 20 percent received Natural Resources Conservation Services funding, a federal cost-share program to improve efficiency.
“It’s hard to invest money into efficient irrigation for hay,” French said.
But local farmers appear to be trying to work around their barricades with methods such as crop rotation, cover-cropping, rotational grazing and mulching to preserve the soil; drip and flood irrigation to water crops; and getting innovative in scouting usable land – like leasing property at second homes that would otherwise go unused.
Greenberg said failing to invest in the next generation of farmers will lead to land lost to fallowing, development and consolidation, which jeopardizes both water supply and food security. But until something shifts, the issues may continue to deter potential agriculturists in La Plata County.
“The water is there. The land is there,” Hoyt said. “The change has to be monetary.”
From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):
The aging Mancos water system is getting a financial boost from regional agencies, and it may receive more money from the state.
The town is looking to improve its raw water system, replace a major valve that reduces pressure, and install new water-distribution lines on the south side of town.
The entire project is estimated to be about $530,600, said Town Clerk and Treasurer Heather Alvarez.
So far, the Southwest Water Conservation District has granted the project $75,000, and the Southwest Basin Roundtable has agreed to pitch about $81,800. The town currently has an application pending with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for about $265,000.
If the town receives the state grant, it have to cover about $108,324 of the project.
The town would like to finish design work for the project this year and be ready to start construction in 2017, said Town Administrator Andrea Phillips
The lines the town is looking to replace are at the end of their useful life, and replacing them should help cut down on the need for repairs…
Improving the raw water system should also help stop the spills at the raw water inlet, she said.
In addition, the valve responsible for taking water pressure down from 120 pounds per square inch to 55 pounds per square inch will be replaced with three valves to create greater redundancy in the system, said Public Works Director Robin Schmittel.
The town completed two major water infrastructure projects last year. It installed a new $1.1 water storage tank, replaced all the town’s water meters and rebuilt 100 water meter pits. The pits are plastic cylinders that protect the water meters in the ground.
In 2014, the town adopted a four-year plan to increase water rates in order to pay for water infrastructure improvements. The February bill from the town of Mancos will reflect a $2.50 increase.
From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
A Master Leasing Plan doesn’t sound provocative, but bitter lines have been drawn as a result of the Bureau of Land Management planning the future use of its federal land in Southwest Colorado, 92 percent of which is open to gas and oil development.
Debate now lingers over whether the BLM should engage in such a plan to further analyze when and where new wells should be drilled.
Conservationists and recreationists in support of a master plan say the study will give natural resources and recreational uses the same level of priority as gas and oil development, which the BLM has historically favored.
Energy companies and those dependent on the industry argue the BLM already has protections in place, and the call for additional review is a cheap attempt by those who wish to see fuels remain in the ground.
The BLM falls somewhere vaguely in between.
Leveling the playing field
Around 2010, the Tres Rios BLM office estimated up to 3,000 new wells would be drilled over the next 20 years for federally controlled minerals in western La Plata County and eastern Montezuma County.
And within the 820,000-acre area of minerals, only 62,000 acres would be closed to drilling.
The plan caught the ire of some community members who felt the boundaries come too close and adversely impact naturally valued lands, including the corridors into Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, around the mountain biking destination Phil’s World and on the edge of two wilderness study areas.
In February 2015, the BLM released an updated Resource Management Plan, outlining guidelines for land use, including future exploration and development of new well pads in the region.
But environmentalists say the resource plan fell short of keeping oil and gas in check, leaving too many areas of discretion and loopholes for over-development.
Concerned with effects on wildlife migration, cultural resources, water quality and air quality, the groups pressured the BLM to consider a master plan, which could tighten restrictions in the two-county area.
“We’re not going to make the entire area on the map a park,” said Nada Culver, director and senior counsel for the Wilderness Society. “The idea is to get more balanced with oil and gas. (A master leasing plan) takes resources like wildlife, recreation, agriculture – and evens the playing field.”
Bringing together interests from across the board, the BLM set up and assigned an advisory committee to draft a recommendation on whether a master leasing plan is warranted. A sub-group of that committee is holding public hearings in Durango and Mancos on Thursday.
But not all are in favor of a second look at resources and interests on BLM lands.
“This is being done for political reasons,” said Eric Sanford, operations and land manager for SG Interests, which is representing the energy industry on the sub-committee…
BLM has final say
BLM officials pointed to the $247 million the state of Colorado received in 2015 from royalties for all federal minerals, including oil and gas, as well as the more than 22,900 jobs tied to the industry’s operations on public land.
The BLM Tres Rios Field Office will receive the advisory committee’s recommendation in August, but ultimately, the federal agency has the final say whether it will undertake a master leasing plan project.
“We haven’t taken a stance one way or the other,” said Justin Abernathy, assistant field manager for the BLM’s Tres Rios office. “We’re a multiple-use agency, and in my experience with BLM – the people, the employees really try to balance their approach on how we manage public lands we’re responsible for.”
The BLM ceased all gas and oil leasing on the area in question until the matter of a master leasing plan is resolved. Still, the federal agency has 35 previously authorized leases covering about 13,500 acres within the master plan’s boundaries.
Between the 3,740-square-mile area that covers La Plata and Montezuma counties, the most recent data show nearly 6,000 gas wells dot the countryside.
Throughout the mineral-rich San Juan Basin, the total number of drilling operations are hard to pin down, yet some reports reach into the tens of thousands.
And numbers like those make the battle for the landscape of the West worth fighting for, the Wilderness Society’s Nada said.
“This is a new culture,” Nada said. “The BLM has historically left it up to the oil and gas industry to decide when and where they drill.
“We’re in a new territory for everyone where the BLM and public are gong to mix in.”
From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):
Whether you call him the epitome of the Greatest Generation or the man who would not give up, former Durango Mayor Frederick V. Kroeger, who died Saturday at 97, left a legacy for generations of Southwest Coloradans to come.
The most visible parts of that legacy? Lake Nighthorse, Kroeger Hall and the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College and the business he founded in 1967, Kroegers Ace Hardware, an expansion of his family’s Farmers Supply that dates back to 1921…
“He had a huge talent for leadership and was always positive and forward-looking,” Short said, “He never gave up. When I think about all the support, rallying and lobbying he did for the (Animas-La Plata Project) … he wasn’t going to stop until he saw it through.”
Water conservation and storage were key issues for Kroeger most of his life, in part because of his family’s connection to the agricultural sector through Farmers Supply and in part because extended family members lived in southwest La Plata County, where water is scarce. Kroeger made countless trips to Washington, D.C., and Denver to lobby federal and state agencies on behalf of Southwest Colorado.
“What more can I say? He’s one of the great figures in Colorado water history,” said former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs, who told the Herald in 2009 he’d been inspired by his Southern Colorado counterparts while serving as the counsel for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District…
“He was from that Greatest Generation, and he did everything with the highest integrity and ethics,” [Sheri Rochford Figgs] said. “I admired all of them so much – Fred Kroeger, Robert Beers, Morley (Ballantine) – because if they said they were going to do something, they did it, and they did it with gusto and enthusiasm.”
From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):
Years of drought and overgrazing have dried out the fields in southwestern La Plata County. Dust easily blows away in the wind.
Last year, from March until May, dust storms caused problems for students, drivers and farmers, and without enough precipitation, the dirty storms could return…
The area from Breen into New Mexico and west of Black Ridge to the La Plata County line was hit hard last year by dust, said Sterling Moss, district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Durango.
The recent snowfall earlier this week dumped about a foot of snow near Breen and Kline, and more snow is expected to accumulate this weekend.
“This is a huge blessing, but we are still way far from being out of the woods,” said Trent Taylor, owner of Blue Horizons Farm Inc.
The entire river basin, which includes the Dolores, Animas, San Juan and San Miguel rivers, would need to receive 218 percent of historical snowfall to get back on track, said Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.
“I don’t think we’ll make it to normal snowpack this year,” he said.
A long dry spell in January and February left local conservationists and farmers nervous. In mid-February, Moss dug down to test soil moisture as wind dried the field of winter wheat all around him.
In southwestern La Plata County, snow should have blanketed the field near County Road 119 for weeks. But instead, Moss didn’t even find enough moisture in the soil to support the wheat through harvest.
“I’ve never seen a February like that,” Taylor said.
The newly fallen snow could ease the situation. If it melts slowly, it can soak deeper into the soil than rain does.
But re-establishing healthy fields is key to preventing dust storms through the spring winds.
Moss and his office have been working with landowners to plant grass in areas dedicated to conservation reserves to keep the top soil from blowing away. These areas are dedicated to wildlife habitat, and landowners receive a government subsidy for not working the land. This helps farmers survive in the worst drought years, Taylor said.
But it has been challenging.
“A lot of grass has been planted that hasn’t been established yet,” Moss said.
The stands of grass are key to keeping valuable topsoil in place. An inch of topsoil can take 100 years to accumulate, he said.
But without precipitation at the right time, the grasses won’t grow. This year, Moss might recommend planting grass or another cover crop in mid-summer in hopes the monsoons will come.
In the past few years, fall rains have brought most of the moisture for the year.
Leaving the stems from last year’s crop in place also can prevent wind and rain erosion and keep the soil cooler, said Abdel Berrada, a soil scientist with Colorado State University.
This stubble helps conserve soil, but it also provides habitat for pests, like cut worms that may require herbicide, Taylor said.
Planting trees as wind breaks or setting up snow fences can help keep the dust down. But trees can’t thrive when there’s very little water…
“Growing plants on bare bones soil with little to no water can be an uphill challenge,” said Darrin Parmenter, county extension agent for Colorado State University.
From Washington State University (Eric Sorensen):
Washington State University researchers have detailed the role of localized climate change in one of the great mysteries of North American archaeology: the depopulation of southwest Colorado by ancestral Pueblo people in the late 1200s.
In the process, they address one of the mysteries of modern-day climate change: How will humans react?
Writing in Nature Communications, WSU archaeologist Tim Kohler and post-doctoral researcher Kyle Bocinsky use tree-ring data, the growth requirements of traditional maize crops and a suite of computer programs to make a finely scaled map of ideal Southwest growing regions for the past 2,000 years.
Their data paint a narrative of some 40,000 people leaving the Mesa Verde area of southwest Colorado as drought plagued the niche in which they grew maize, their main food source. Meanwhile, the Pajarito Plateau of the northern Rio Grande saw a large population spike.
The plateau “also happens to be the place where you would want to move if you were doing rain-fed maize agriculture, the same type of agriculture that people practiced for centuries up in southwest Colorado,” said Bocinsky, who built the data-crunching programs while earning a WSU Ph.D. with support from a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship.
People try to ‘keep on keeping on’
The dramatic changes in the Southwest took place near the end of the Medieval Warm Period, the warmest in the Northern Hemisphere for the last 2,000 years. The period had a smaller temperature change than we’re seeing now, and its impact on the Southwest is unclear. But it is clear the Southwest went through a major change.
“At a very local scale, people have been dealing with climate fluctuations of several degrees centigrade throughout history,” said Bocinsky. “So we need to understand how people deal with these local changes to generate predictions and help guide us in dealing with more widespread changes of that nature.”
Bocinsky, the paper’s lead author, said the study is particularly significant for modern-day subsistence farmers of maize, or corn, the world’s largest food staple.
“People are generally going to try and find ways to keep on keeping on, to do what they’ve been doing before changing their technological strategy,” he said. “That was something extremely interesting to me out of this project.”
Tree rings yield precipitation, temperature info
To get a more granular look at the changing climate of the Southwest, Bocinsky and Kohler used more than 200 tree-ring chronologies, which use the annual rings of ancient trees to reconstruct the area’s climate patterns over time. Pines at lower elevations will have their growth limited by rainfall, making their rings good indicators of precipitation. High-elevation trees get good rain but are susceptible to cold, making them good indicators of temperature.
The shifting patterns of rainfall and temperature let Bocinsky and Kohler isolate to a few square kilometers the areas that would receive just under a foot of rainfall a year, the minimum needed for ancestral maize varieties still farmed by contemporary Pueblo people.
The area in what is now southwest Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park ended up being one of the best places to grow maize, with good conditions more than 90 percent of the time. The Pajarito Plateau ended up being highly suitable as well, with slopes that would shed cold air and precipitation levels suited to rain-fed agriculture.
Large disparities in small areas
Such big climate differences in such a small area illustrates how some areas could be hit harder than others by the extremes of global climate change, said Bocinsky. He said it is telling that, when the Pueblo people moved, they moved to where they could preserve their farming techniques. He said that could be important to keep in mind as farmers, particularly subsistence farmers on marginal lands, face localized climate impacts in the future.
“When we are looking for ways to alleviate human suffering, we should keep in mind that people are going to be looking for places to move where they can keep doing their type of maize agriculture, keep growing the same type of wheat or rice in the same ways,” he said. “It’s when those niches really start shrinking on the landscape that we start having a major problem, because you’ve got a lot of people who are used to doing something in one way and they can no longer do it that way.”
From the Pagosa Daily Post (Bill Hudson):
We’re lucky here in Colorado. When we grow weary of ordinary, everyday political controversies — federal immigration policy, perhaps, or governments collecting personal data on private citizens, or another federally mandated standardized test foisted on our children, or more locally, streets and roads slowly crumbling into asphalt dust — we always have one big controversy that can serve as a welcome diversion:
I attended a couple of diversionary discussions last month in Pagosa Springs, on the subject of Colorado water. The first discussion took place on November 17 at the Ross Aragon Community Center, in the South Conference Room, and was hosted by the Southwest Basin Roundtable.
The second meeting — related in a somewhat diversionary way — involved the elected board members of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) and resulted, after considerable discussion, in a closed-door executive session. More about that later… we’ll start with a summary of the Roundtable meeting .. which, interestingly enough, was attended by not a single member of the PAWSD board…
The November 17 meeting was sparsely attended — about 24 people, mostly members of various water boards or commissions — even though the subject matter may ultimately prove relatively momentous: namely, the impending Colorado Water Plan, and more specifically the portion of that plan known as the Southwest Basin Implementation Plan. We started the meeting by going around the room and introducing ourselves. I was struck by a comment from one of the non-governmental attendees.
“I’m Donna Formwalt, Pagosa Springs. We’re ranchers here. And I’m very interested in the water takeover by the Forest Service.”
The Colorado Water Plan is an initiative of Governor Hickenlooper’s office, begun as the result of an executive order issued in May 2013. A press release posted on the Governor’s website states:
Gov. John Hickenlooper today directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to begin work on a draft Colorado Water Plan that will support agriculture in rural Colorado and align state policy to the state’s water values.
“Colorado deserves a plan for its water future use that aligns the state’s many and varied water efforts and streamlines the regulatory processes,” Hickenlooper said. “We started this effort more than two years ago and are pleased to see another major step forward. We look forward to continuing to tap Colorado’s collaborative and innovative spirit to address our water challenges.”
But as Ms. Formwalt hinted with her comment about the Forest Service, Colorado’s innovative and collaborative spirit will be challenged, in the coming months and years, by officials serving non-Colorado governments. The U.S. Forest Service, for one. And the governments of the “Lower Basin States” for another.
Are we preparing well enough for that conflict?
From the Colorado Water Plan website:
Colorado’s Water Plan will provide a path forward for providing Coloradans with the water we need while supporting healthy watersheds and the environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.
Of course, no one — not even Governor Hickenlooper — can actually “provide Coloradans with the water we need.” Only Mother Nature can actually provide water, last I looked. But what the Governor and the Colorado Water Conservation Board mean to provide is a generally accepted plan for portioning out the limited water Mother Nature provides, in a state where supposedly conflicting interests want to preserve the status quo. History has taught us, you can preserve the status quo for only so long — and then people start fighting.
In the case of an ever-more-precious resource like water, the key battles might be between Rural Colorado and Urban Colorado, or they might be between this state where so many American rivers find their source — Colorado — and the several states where those rivers end up in water taps, a thousand miles away.
The Colorado Water Plan is, I assume, an attempt to keep both types of battles from getting too nasty.
The Southwest Basin — a geographic area defined by the Colorado Water Conservation Board — is located in the southwest corner of Colorado and covers an area of approximately 10,169 square miles. The largest cities are Durango (pop. 15,213) and Cortez (pop. 8,328). The region also includes three ski areas: Telluride, Wolf Creek, and Durango Mountain Resort.
A good deal of water flows through the Southwest Basin, and a good number of people want to get their hands on a share of it — including the people who will likely move into the region over the next 30 years or so. The Southwest Basin is projected to increase in municipal and industrial (M&I) water demand between 17,000 acre feet (AF) and 27,000 AF by 2050, according to Roundtable projections.
From the Roundtable web page:
Southwest Basin’s Major Projects and Programs
Dry Gulch Reservoir
Animas-La Plata Project
Long Hollow Reservoir
La Plata Archuleta Water District
It’s confounding, how that Dry Gulch Reservoir keeps showing up… like a bad penny.
From The Mancos Times (Mary Shinn):
The Mancos Water Conservancy District board on Thursday weighed the consequences of taking ownership of Jackson Gulch Reservoir, the dam, the canal system and the land it sits on from the federal government.
If the district worked with the Bureau of Reclamation to take ownership, the district would have to take over all the contracting and inspections…
The Bureau of Reclamation currently budgets $160,000 a year to manage the irrigation project, and and $150,000 a year for recreational use of the lake.
Kennedy estimates that if the district did all the work the bureau does for irrigation and water management, it would cost $20,000 to $40,000 because the district wouldn’t have as much administrative overhead. The district doesn’t plan to cover any of Mancos’ state parks expenses if the board pursues the transfer of ownership.
A major question the board members tried to address at the Thursday workshop was: What value does the Bureau of Reclamation add to the project?
They determined it isn’t a reliable source of funding…
If the district took ownership of the project, it would still be subject to some state inspections for dam safety.
Currently, the Bureau of Reclamation does regular inspections, but the district is responsible for maintenance or replacement. For example, the district paid $3 million for the recent rehabilitation project.
There is one exception to the maintenance rule. The Bureau of Reclamation would step in if the dam started to experience a failure. But the agency would also send the district a bill for half the cost, and it would be due in three years…
At an initial meeting about the transfer with James Hess, a bureau representative from Washington, Hess said the transfer process can take years.
Only 27 other water projects in the nation have been fully transferred from the federal government to a local organization.
More Jackson Gulch Reservoir coverage here.
From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):
The Montezuma County landfill has taken a proactive measure to help save taxpayers any unnecessary expense when disposing of nonhazardous waste from the Red Arrow mill in Mancos.
Landfill manager Deb Barton recently requested clarification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about accepting any non-hazardous waste from the federal Superfund site. Acting as a concerned citizen, Barton said she sought the clarification in order to help lower waste disposal transportation costs associated with the cleanup effort.
“Why pay an extra 50, 60 or 70 miles of transportation when we’re basically 20 miles from Mancos?” she asked. “If this will reduce the cost to taxpayers, isn’t that my responsibility as a citizen?”
“The EPA is going to tear down everything at the mill, and they would like to keep any non-hazardous material as close as possible,” she said.
After an environmental investigation by state authorities, the EPA issued a temporary 60-day permit for the landfill on Feb. 28. Barton said state and federal laws prohibit the landfill from accepting anything but non-hazardous and non-liquid waste only.
“We’ve been certified to meet EPA standards,” said Barton. “Does that mean they can bring the material to me willy-nilly? No. They have to prove that it is non-hazardous.”
Barton said a certified EPA lab report stating the waste was not hazardous would have to be produced before receiving any non-hazardous waste from Red Arrow. Any mercury tainted waste from the milling site must be less than 0.2 parts per million, and any lead or arsenic polluted material must be less than 5 parts per million, she said.
“The EPA will test everything that comes out of the milling site, because they don’t want another Superfund site along the way,” Barton said. “The EPA would not allow any waste to come that doesn’t meet their standards, so I’m not going to screw the pooch either.”
Because of the EPA lab results, Barton said she remained confident that no hazardous material would ever enter the local landfill. She added that nearby archeological sites, ranchers and ordinary citizens also have nothing to fear.
“If the waste doesn’t have that EPA lab report, then it will be going someplace else,” Barton said. “I’m not going to take any hazardous material.”
More Montezuma County coverage here.
From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):
On Monday meteorologist, Marta Nelson, installed a temporary radiometer at Jackson Lake near the Mancos Water Conservancy District. The instrument is able to determine the best combination of water content in clouds and temperature to use a cloud-seeding generator.
Cloud-seeding generators throw up silver iodide into the atmosphere to harvest the extra water because snow will form around it.
“We can see relative humidity and vapor and the potential for a cloud to form. We can also see inside a cloud that’s already formed, so if we’re looking for liquid water versus ice that is frozen in the cloud the radiometer can tell the difference and help tell the cloud-seeding people when to run the generators or when it’s not going to do any good,” she said. Nelson works for Radiometrics Corp., based in Boulder, which installs similar machines all over the world.
The new data also will help scientists decide if the local cloud-seeding generator at Spring Creek should be run later into the winter season, said Jeff Tilley, director of weather modification at the Desert Research Institute in Reno. The institute operates the local cloud-seeding generator remotely. The data collected over the next month will be applied to operations next winter because the Spring Creek generator is almost out of cloud-seeding solution, he said.
The institute is collaborating with the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the project, and the board is paying the $8,500 to lease the radiometer for a month.
Across the state, about $1 million is spent on cloud seeding, and about 65 percent of the funds are provided by local entities such as ski areas, water districts and towns. The other 35 percent of the funds are provided by state and other funding.
The generator near Mancos has been in place for about five years, and in that time, there has been some benefit in the area, Tilley said.
“The impression we have is that we have seen some difference,” he said.
Cloud seeding is safe because silver iodide won’t break down in any way that’s harmful, Nelson said.
From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel) via the Cortez Journal:
The state spent more than $49,000 to stabilize mercury-tainted material at an illegal gold mill in Mancos. Now the state mining board wants Red Arrow Gold Corp. to repay the money, and it moved Wednesday to revoke the company’s mining permit.
Red Arrow owner Craig Liukko did not attend Wednesday’s hearing in Denver, but in letters to regulators, he blamed the problems on a former business partner and a receiver appointed by a bankruptcy court, who has controlled access to Red Arrow’s property since April.
The state excavated and isolated soil at the mill, and it isn’t currently presenting a hazard, said Loretta Pineda, director of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…
More mercury remains to be removed from the Out West mine north of U.S. Highway 160, mining inspectors said. Pineda’s division is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on a permanent cleanup. And she still does not know the degree of pollution the mill produced in the past. The EPA is testing samples to figure out if there was a past risk, Pineda said…
On Wednesday, the Mined Land Reclamation Board found Red Arrow in violation of its order from August to clean up the site and pay a $100,000 fine. The board increased the fine to $285,000, increased Red Arrow’s bond and started the procedure to revoke Red Arrow’s mining permit in the next two months.
As part of the cleanup, the state removed mill tailings from a nearby pasture and the Western Excelsior aspen mill, across the street from the Red Arrow operation. Western Excelsior officials thought they were getting sand to patch holes in their lot, said Kyle Hanson, a manager at the aspen mill. The state did a good job of removing the mill tailings, he said…
The mining division spent its entire emergency fund on the initial cleanup, Pineda said. State officials want Red Arrow to repay them…
The Mined Land Reclamation Board also cracked down Wednesday on another Red Arrow property, the Freda mine west of Silverton. Both portals at the mine have collapsed, and stormwater berms have failed, allowing tainted water an tailings to flow off the site toward Ruby Creek, said Wally Erickson, an inspector for the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. The board fined Red Arrow $2,500 for the violations at the Silverton mine.
More water pollution coverage here.
From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):
The site was recently ordered to cease and desist by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, who fined Liukko $337,167 for operating a mill without a license and five other mining violations.
Inspectors found dangerous levels of mercury inside the building and arsenic pollution in tailing piles outside the site and at the mine site in the nearby La Plata mountains. The Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating the sites for cleanup and remediation.
“We did not know it was there, and did not receive any plans from the operator that it was going on,” said county planning director Susan Carver. “It is a violation of the land use code because it is an industrial use that requires a high-impact permit and hearings before the county planning board and commission.”
Carver said Red Arrow Gold Corporation could face penalties for non-compliance but the decision would be up to the county commissioners.
“Operations there have ceased at this point,” she said. “It is a concern because of the health hazards for neighbors and for employees. Safeguards would have been required and evaluated under our permit system.”
Commissioner Larry Don Suckla, who represents the Mancos area, was angered by the illegal mill site.
“It is very upsetting because (the mill) broke the rules and created a risk to the safety of county residents and the town of Mancos as well,” he said. “This type of operation is far different than panning for gold.”
The commissioners are considering holding a community meeting with mine regulators to inform the public of the situation. Whether the county will levy penalties of its own, Suckla said, “Everything is on the table at this point. I feel like we were misled.”[…]
Decontaminating the milling site and mine have been handed over to the EPA and are in the planning stages. State mine regulators are expecting a cleanup to be completed by the end of the year.
More coverage from Nancy Lofholm writing for The Denver Post:
While the town of Mancos worries over what a rogue gold mill might have put into its air, water and soil, Colorado mining authorities have called on the federal government to deal with what is being described as one of the most serious cases of pollution from illegal gold milling in the state.
The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine just how bad contamination is from a mill that had been using mercury to remove gold from ore at an under-the-radar, unlicensed mill on the edge of the southwestern Colorado town.
The EPA also will decide whether the mill should be designated for a Superfund cleanup. The Superfund program was created in 1980 to clean up the worst uncontrolled hazardous waste sites in the country.
The Red Arrow Gold Corp. mill contamination was discovered in June, and the mill was shut down by the state that same month. Mercury was found in two metal and cinder-block buildings just west of town when the company, which also owns the historically rich Red Arrow Mine, was placed in receivership. The division has fenced off and locked the site.
An initial investigation of the mill buildings turned up mercury contamination throughout the operation. Mercury was found in plastic buckets of sludge and in an overturned washtub that served as a vent hood. Inspectors’ photographs show droplets of mercury on drains, a jug marked “21.5 lbs Mercury” and stock tanks filled with sediment. Piles of processed material outside the building were covered with plastic tarps held down by old tires.
“This is one of the most serious cases we’ve come across of illegal milling,” said Tony Waldron, who is with the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. Testing thus far has shown the entire mill is probably contaminated with mercury. On some pieces of equipment, it is concentrated as much as 744 times the allowable level. The highest concentrations were measured at 32,000 parts per million. The standard considered safe for industrial operations is 43 parts per million.
Mercury can cause nerve damage in humans, and its use in separating gold from ore would not have been approved, Waldron said.
Tailings outside the mill buildings and also piled outside a nearby lumber operation were found to be contaminated with arsenic, but Waldron said the arsenic-laced tailings don’t pose a health hazard where they now sit.
“Obviously, we are concerned about the potential spread of mercury,” said Mancos town administrator Andrea Phillips. “We don’t know enough yet to know exactly what our concerns are.” Phillips has asked the EPA and state mining regulators to hold a public information meeting so that concerned Mancos residents who have been calling town hall can get some answers.
Red Arrow Gold Corp. president Craig Liukko might be able to provide some of those answers, but he did not show up at a Mined Land Reclamation Board hearing in Denver on Aug. 14, and he has not been seen lately around Mancos, Phillips said. In his absence, the board cited Liukko for the contamination and for operating a mill without a permit. The board fined him $285,000 for the 57 days the mill was believed to have operated in violation of state laws. All but $100,000 of that will be suspended if Liukko complies with corrective actions the division orders. Red Arrow was also ordered to reimburse the division $52,167 for the cost of its response to the mill discovery.
Liukko did not return a call asking for comment. In a conversation a month ago, he said his company had gone to great lengths to be cautious with the small amount of mercury he said was used in the gold-separating process. He said he did not think the mill needed approval to operate because it was a “pilot project.”
Liukko, whose family acquired the Red Arrow Mine nearly 30 years ago, also blamed an out-of-state hedge fund for Red Arrow’s troubles.
In a tangled financing agreement, Maximillian Investors of Delaware sued American Patriot Gold, He-Man LLC and Red Arrow Gold Corp., resulting in the receivership and the revelation that Red Arrow, which had promised investors large returns, had only $2,043 left in a bank account.
The Red Arrow Mine had delivered riches in another era. The mine’s ore body discovered in 1933 produced 4,114 ounces of gold between 1933 and 1937. In those days, ore from the mine was shipped to Leadville for smelting and then sent to the Denver Mint. The gold from Red Arrow included a legendary 5.5-pound nugget.
Marcie Jeager, who is handling the receivership through Jeager Kottmeier Associates of Denver, said she is focusing her asset-recovery efforts on the mine. It is permitted to operate by the state and is not contaminated like the mill. “We want to preserve the mine permit so someone else can buy that as a permitted mine that has value,” she said.
The Red Arrow Mine’s ore body discovered in 1933 produced 4,114 ounces of gold between 1933 and 1937. The gold mine and mill had operated off and on since 1988. It had most recently resumed operations in 2006.
State authorities took emergency actions in June to shut down the mine over mercury contamination. 43 parts per million of mercury is the standard measure considered safe for industrial operations 32,000 parts per million of mercury measured on equipment at the Red Arrow Mine, the highest concentration found there.
From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):
It’s “one of the uglier cases of using hazardous chemicals and illegal milling” that state mining regulators have seen, said Julie Murphy, a lawyer for the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…
On Wednesday [August 14], the state Mined Land Reclamation Board slapped fines totaling $337,167 on the mill’s operator, Red Arrow Gold Corp. If Red Arrow cooperates with the cleanup and increases its bond with the state, $185,000 of the fine will be suspended. The facility has been shut down since April because of a bankruptcy dispute. The state got involved in June and issued a cease-and-desist order on the mill. The state contracted with Walter Environmental to test for contamination inside and outside the two buildings on the site, and the results came back last week…
Inspectors painted an alarming picture of what they found at the two small buildings, which sit across Grand Avenue to the north of the Western Excelsior aspen mill. They showed pictures of a series of machines that use mercury to separate tiny gold particles from rock taken from Red Arrow’s mine about 10 miles northwest of Mancos. The mercury-gold mixture was heated to separate the gold and attempt to recycle the mercury through a scrubber. A galvanized steel washtub was flipped upside down and used as a hood to catch mercury near the scrubber.
From The Mancos Times (Jeanne Archambeault):
Gary Kennedy, superintendent of the Mancos Water Conservancy District (MWCD) , started the day off with a talk about the organization and what it does for the Mancos Valley. He gave information and statistics about Jackson Gulch Reservoir – how much water it can hold, what it holds now, and where the water comes from. He said the MWCD is #36 priority for water and can capture about 250 cubic feet of water from the Mancos River between March and May. The MWCD fills water priorities as they come up and are called in…
Mike Rich, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) gave a talk about what’s been going on in the last 10 years with the Mancos River and the watershed that surrounds it.
Then, Kirsten Brown, of the Colorado Department of Reclamation Mining and Safety, and Cathy Zillich, of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gave an extensive talk about the East Mancos River and the mining impacts on it. Ann Oliver talked about the Middle Mancos River and the management measures they are doing.
George San Miguel talked about the part of the Mancos River that runs through Mesa Verde National Park, and Colin Laird, a water quality specialist, talked about the lower watershed on the Ute Mountain Ute land.
The workshop was the beginning of an an ongoing discussion. There will be more workshops and informational sessions to come.
More Mancos River Watershed coverage here.
From The Mancos Times:
For all interested people, there will be a meeting at the Mancos Community Center called “Water 101 in the Mancos Valley” on Saturday, Jan. 26, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Water will the subject and various people will talk about it. Gary Kennedy, superintendent of the Mancos Water Conservancy District will speak about the Jackson Reservoir; Marty Robbins of the Department of Water Resources will talk about the priority water systems, Brandon Bell of Mancos Rural Water will be there to address any concerns. Questions and comments will be encouraged from all who attend.
The workshop is hosted by the Mancos Conservation District and will be a good starting point for the discussion on water.
More Mancos River Watershed coverage here.
Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Bruce Whitehead. Here’s an excerpt:
Southwestern Colorado’s rivers are unique in that many of the rivers and tributaries flow from north to south and are administered as independent river systems.
This is due to the fact that many, such as the Navajo, Blanco, Piedra, Pine, Florida, Animas, La Plata, and Mancos Rivers, are tributary to the San Juan River in New Mexico or just upstream of the state line. The Dolores River flows from north to south, but makes a “U-turn” near Cortez and heads back to the northwest and joins the Colorado River in Utah. The San Miguel River originates just above Telluride, and flows to the west where it joins the Dolores River just above the Colorado-Utah state line.
The southwest basin has many areas that are under strict water rights administration on a regular basis, but there is still water available for appropriation and development pursuant to Colorado’s Constitution and the Colorado River Compact. The region is also known for its beautiful scenery and recreation opportunities, which is the basis for the establishment of the Weminuche Wilderness area as well as nearly 150 reaches of streams with in-stream flow water rights. Over 50 natural lake levels are also protected by the state’s In-Stream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program.
Water leaders have been active for many years in the basin and recognized early on that in order to meet agricultural and municipal demands storage would need to be developed. The Southwestern Water Conservation District was formed in 1941, and has been responsible for the planning, development, and water rights acquisition for many of the federal projects in the region. Reservoirs such as McPhee (Dolores Project), Jackson Gulch (Mancos Project), Ridges Basin a.k.a Lake Nighthorse (Animas-La Plata Project), Lemon (Florida Project), and Vallecito (Pine River Project) provide for a supplemental supply of irrigation and municipal water in all but the driest of years. The delivery of these supplemental supplies assists with keeping flows in many critical reaches of river that historically had little or no flow late in the season due to limited supplies and water rights administration.
Southwest Colorado is also home to two Sovereign Nations and Indian Reservations that were established by treaty in 1868. Under federal law the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Southern Ute Indian Tribe were entitled to federal reserved water rights, which had the potential to create conflicts with Colorado water law and non-Indian water users in the basin. After nearly a decade of negotiations, a consent decree was entered with the water court that settled the tribal claims. The Tribal Settlement included some early dates of appropriation for the tribes, and a water supply from some of the federal storage projects including the Dolores, Animas-La Plata, Florida, and Pine River Projects. This landmark settlement is evidence that both tribal and non-Indian interests can be provided for with water storage and cooperative water management.
More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.
From The Mancos Times (Jeanne Archambeault):
…according to the [Mancos Water Conservancy District] who keeps track of precipitation each year, there was slightly less this year than in 2002. There was a total of 12.39 inches in the 2011/12 winter, and 12.98 inches in 2002. In the last 10 years, they were the two lowest precipitation years. The highest was 2005 with 23.22 inches…
At the moment, the level of the Jackson Gulch Reservoir is “just shy of 15 percent,” [superintendent Gary Kennedy] said. The average for the shutdown, which was Sept. 20 this year, is usually 40 percent. “We let the water out of the reservoir about a month early,” he said.
Kennedy is adamant about the fact that without the reservoir being here in the Mancos Valley, the Mancos River would have been dry in June and the town would have had to take water from the river. The next step, he said, is for the town to lease water.
From Reclamation via the Cortez Journal:
Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 3,914 acrefeet with a 9,948 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 7,322 acre-feet average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 52/31 cubic-feet-per second was released into the Mancos River, and 69 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.
McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 260,582 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 315,968average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 4,301 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 42,398 acre-feet were released for trans-basin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 71/69 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.
From the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Cortez Journal:
Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 6,020 acre-feet with a 9,948 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 9,014 acre-feet average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 76/51 cubic-feet-per second was released into the Mancos River, and 88 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.
McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 299,646 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 343,394 average (1981-2010) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 4,120 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 45,079 acre-feet were released for trans-basin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 70/57 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.
Questions can be directed to the Southern Water Management Group, Resource Management Division of the Western Colorado Area Office, Durango.
From the Cortez Journal:
Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 3,703 acre-feet with a 9,977 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 4,492 acre-feet average (1980-2010) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 11/0 cubic-feet-per second was released into the Mancos River, and 15 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.
McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 289,298 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 270,692 average (1986-2010) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 1,835 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 2,958 acre-feet were released for transbasin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 31/30 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.
From the Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District (Jane Maxson) via the Pagosa Sun:
The Southwestern Water Conservation District will hold its 30th annual Water Seminar on Friday, April 6, at the Doubletree Hotel, 501 Camino del Rio, Durango.
This year’s theme is “2012“ — Water Through the Looking Glass,” and we have a lineup of notable speakers who will address water history in Colorado and water issues in the West. Invited speakers include a political analyst, the state’s climatologist and a water policy consultant, among others.
Registration is $30 in advance and $32 at the door, per person. This fee includes morning and afternoon snacks and a buffet lunch.
Registration on April 6 begins at 8 a.m. The seminar will conclude approximately 4:30 p.m.
Registration forms and a draft agenda can be found at our website, http://www.swwcd.org/.
Here’s a guest commentary written by Eric Kuhn, David Modeer and Fred Krupp running in The Denver Post. The trio are issuing a call to arms of sort, asking for input for the Colorado River Basin Study. Here’s an excerpt:
Management of the Colorado River is a complex balancing act between the diverse interests of United States and Mexico, tribes, the seven basin states, individual water users, stakeholders, and communities. The challenges posed by new growth and climate change may dwarf anything we faced in the past. Instead of staring into the abyss, the water users, agencies, and stakeholder groups that make managing the Colorado River responsibly their business are working together, using the best science available to define the problem, and looking for solutions.
We’re calling our inquiry the Colorado River Basin Study, and we want your help. As Colorado River management professionals, we have a lot of knowledge and ideas, but we know that we don’t have them all. We want ideas from the public, from you, but we need your input by February 1. You can submit your suggestions by completing the online form at: http://on.doi.gov/uvhkUi.
The big question we need to answer is: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system? We don’t believe there’s a single silver bullet that will resolve all of our challenges. We want to continue to explore the benefits and costs of every possibility, from conservation to desalination to importing water from other regions.
The West was built on innovation and hard work, and that spirit is still strong. Our landscapes and communities are unparalleled in their beauty, resilience, and character. The economic well-being of our rural and urban communities in the Colorado River basin is inextricably linked to Colorado River and its environmental health.
That’s why we are asking for the public’s input to help us craft a study showing a path forward that supplies our communities with the water they need to thrive and protects the health of the Colorado River-and the ecosystems and economies it supports.
More Colorado River basin coverage here.
From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):
For the water fund, [City Public Works director Jack Nickerson] asked for a 25 cent increase in the residential base rate for water service from $13.50 to $13.75 per month. A 10 cent increase is proposed to the additional usage rate from $1.65 per 1,000 gallons to $1.75. He said the increase is necessary to keep up with the rising costs of water treatment chemicals and replacement projects. He cited the recently completed South Broadway waterline replacement project costing approximately $700,000 and approximately $25,000 still needed for water tank repairs.
More infrastructure coverage here.
Here’s an in-depth look at restoration and conservation efforts in the Mancos River watershed from Jeanne Archambeault writing for The Mancos Times via The Durango Herald. From the article:
There are many organizations in Mancos that have a direct influence on the river, the watershed that surrounds it and the condition and health of the river itself. The Mancos Conservation District is concerned with the river water and soil that is moved by the water.
The Mancos Valley Watershed Project was started in 2005 by the Mancos Valley Watershed Group, formed because of a need to conserve soil and water in the Mancos River. Integral partners of the watershed project are the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Mancos Conservation District (formerly the Mancos Soil Conservation District) and the town of Mancos. The project also has brought together riverfront landowners, farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, irrigation companies, recreationalists and community members to address a number of goals.
Goals include improving fishing along the river, reducing the loading of dissolved copper from the east fork, working with irrigators and irrigation companies and landowners along the river to rebuild and restore functioning of the diversion systems, and improving the riparian ecosystem and in-stream flows through the summer…
The Mancos River supplies water to the town of Mancos and outlying residents, to ranchlands and farms for irrigation, to Mesa Verde National Park, and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe and its agricultural interests. It also provides essential habitat for wildlife.
Ann Oliver is the watershed project manager contracted by the MCD. She has been instrumental in bringing interested parties together.
Russell Klatt, conservation technician for the project, also serves the landowners in the Mancos Watershed. Klatt designs the way the river is going to flow, and Keith Duncan Construction helps him move the rocks and do the work. “The large boulders in the water block and divert the water to where you want it to go,” Klatt said…
The project is a further positive step toward the MCD’s objective of achieving a greater balance between ranching and healthy ecosystems and especially our water.
The MCD also offers workshops and classes throughout the year, all free to the public, on such subjects as irrigation-water management, weeds and rangeland.
From the Cortez Journal:
Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 8,594 acre-feet with a 9,977 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 7,306 acre-feet average (1971-2000) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 61/49 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Mancos River, and 22 acre feet were released for municipal purposes.
McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 349,845 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 335,208 average (1986-2000) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 4,612 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 47,372 acre-feet were released for transbasin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 82/74 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.
More San Juan River basin coverage here.
From the Cortez Journal:
Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 9,977 acre-feet with a 9,977 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 9,296 acre-feet average (1971-2000) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of 42/0 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Mancos River, and 51 acre feet were released for municipal purposes.
McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 366,023, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 354,188 average (1986-2000) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 17,380 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 35,094 acre-feet were released for transbasin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 1,001/51 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.
From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):
“In 2007 we began to study mercury because very little was known about its presence in Southwest Colorado other than that reservoirs had fish-consumption advisories, and that precipitation sometimes deposited heavy concentrations of mercury at Mesa Verde National Park,” former institute director Koren Nydick said last week by telephone.
As result of mercury accumulation in fish, the state of Colorado has posted advisories at McPhee, Totten, Narraguinnep and Vallecito reservoirs and Najavo Lake cautioning about consumption of fish from those waters.
Kelly Palmer, a Bureau of Land Management hydrologist, said as a result of the Mountain Studies Institute pilot study at Molas Pass, the San Juan National Forest in 2009 initiated a long-term mercury-monitoring program there.
“It appears the levels of mercury are notable,” Palmer said last week…
Analysis of mercury and weather data collected from 2002 to 2008 at Mesa Verde points to coal-fired power plants in New Mexico as potential sources of mercury. Analysis of pollution components as well as potential sources and storm pathways support the theory, Nydick said.
But they don’t pinpoint specific sources and don’t definitely rule out the possibility that storms were carrying pollution from elsewhere when they passed over the New Mexico plants…
In June 2009, researchers from MSI and other agencies spent a day in Mancos Canyon trapping and releasing songbirds after testing their blood for mercury. They also collected crayfish, spiders, sow bugs, cicadas and centipedes and planned to return to electro-shock fish for testing.
“Wetland-dependent songbirds were chosen for study, in addition to fish and crayfish, because research shows they can accumulate methyl mercury,” Nydick said at the time. “It appears they accumulate methyl mercury from prey such as spiders that are a link between the aquatic and terrestrial food webs. That is why we collect invertebrates, soil and dead foliage to analyze for mercury, too.”
From the editorial staff at The Denver Post:
Salazar has shown an ability to work with people from differing political views to seek solutions that work for the district. In significantly advancing the prospects for a veterans’ cemetery in the Pikes Peak region, Salazar, an Army veteran, has worked with Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn and former Sen. Wayne Allard, and more recently with Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. He also managed to get a $6 million appropriation for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, which will bring clean drinking water to 40 cities and towns along the 140-mile pipeline. The promise of clean drinking water to these poorer communities was made in the 1960s. It’s about time that promise is kept.
Salazar’s challenger in the race, Scott Tipton, is a conservative Republican and Cortez businessman who lost to Salazar by a wide margin in 2006. Tipton, a state lawmaker who also has deep roots in the district, is knowledgeable about the issues, and touts his private sector experience. He’s clearly qualified for the job.
We just think voters in the 3rd district will be better off with Salazar, a known quantity and reliable voice for the district.
More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.
From The Durango Telegraph (Allen Best):
The electrical production will be relatively small, 22 kilowatts, but enough to power the pumps used to circulate water at the nearby Ouray Hot Springs Pool. It is, in the eyes of Bob Risch, the mayor of Ouray, a start of what he hopes to see more broadly – not just in Ouray, but across the San Juans and beyond. “A bunch of small facilities like this can add up to a significant contribution,” says Risch, an astronomy teacher now retired in Ouray, where he was born and raised…
With access to seed money through the federal stimulus program, many small governments and some individuals have been taking a new look at small hydro across the Colorado Rockies and more broadly across the West. A forum held in Ouray during June drew 100 people, and a similar session held in Durango recently attracted 50 participants.
The potential is great. In a broad-brushed survey conducted several years ago, the Idaho National Laboratory concluded that 1,800 megawatts of electricity could be produced within Colorado without invading wilderness, roadless or other sensitive areas. This compares with the 1,500 megawatts output from the proposed Desert Rock coal-fired plant in New Mexico. More selectively, Colorado energy officials did a quick study of 100 sites, with potential for 100 megawatts – without building new dams, they hasten to add.
Congress has also started paying attention. A subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing in July to find out what the federal government could do to expedite development of what Grace F. Napolitano, chairwoman of the subcommittee, characterized as low-hanging fruit. “Small hydropower is not the sole answer to generating enough renewable energy to meet our future needs, but it should be an important part of the solution,” she said in an opening statement…
A small hydro installation in Cortez had been identified as feasible even 20 years ago. But federal money administered through the Governor’s Energy Office recently tipped the scale. The project harnesses the power of water flowing year round in a canal from McPhee Reservoir to the town’s water-treatment plant. The unit produces 240 kilowatts of electricity, more than enough to operate the water-treatment plant and enough to feed back into the electrical grid. The extra power is sold to Empire Electric…
Silverton, too, may get a small hydro plant. There, the San Juan County Historical Society has received $140,000 in grant funding and hopes for another $50,000 to build a generating plant at its Mayflower Mill, located two miles east of Silverton. Even with the low flows of fall and winter, production would more than pay group’s $500 to $600 monthly electrical bills for the historical society’s museum in Silverton. “This is huge for our little old historical society,” says Beverly Rich, the president. “We don’t get any other subsidies or tax moneys.”
From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):
The workshop, sponsored by Colorado State University Extension and BUGS Consulting, was a gathering of all the major players in watershed activities in Southwest Colorado…
Representatives were on hand from a number of local, regional and state entities, including the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, Mancos Water Conservancy District, Dolores River Restoration Partnership, Dolores River Dialogue, Colorado Watershed Assembly, Colorado Water Conservation Board, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Dolores Water Conservancy District, Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., U.S. Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico Environment Department, Rocky Mountain Watershed Network, Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation…
Peter Butler, vice chair of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, discussed the history of the Animas River Stakeholders Group. The San Miguel Watershed Coalition was introduced by Peter Mueller, a volunteer with the organization and The Nature Conservancy’s North San Juans project director. Chester Anderson, owner of BUGS consulting, addressed work being done by the Dolores River Dialogue, which includes the Lower Dolores Management Plan Working Group. Felicity Broennan detailed efforts of the Mancos River Watershed Project, an undertaking of the Mancos Conservation District…
Jeff Crane, executive director of the Colorado Watershed Assembly, explained to participants that there is no such thing as an ideal model for a watershed organization. The assembly is a coalition of more than 70 watershed groups in Colorado. “You have been hearing about the groups in the Southwest, and they are really diverse,” Crane said. “And really, they are diverse throughout the state. It is all over the place how they are structured, and how they are organized is also all over the place. It is a lot of thinking outside the box.”
Afternoon sessions at the workshop dealt with the benefits of local watershed groups, group dynamics and best management practices…
On the Net: Animas River Stakeholders Group, http://sanjuanrcd.org/watermanagement.php#ARSG; Mancos River Watershed Project, http://www.sustainablemancos.com/watershed_project; San Miguel Watershed Coalition, http://www.sanmiguelwatershed.org; Dolores River Dialogue, http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/drd/default.asp.
From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):
Jackson Gulch Reservoir supplies water to the town of Mancos, the Mancos Water Conservancy District, and the Mancos Rural Water Company. The reservoir is also the sole source of municipal water for Mesa Verde National Park. Jackson Gulch has been in the middle of rehabilitation for approximately six years, and the project is not cheap, according to Gary Kennedy, superintendent of the Mancos Water District. “We started this process about six years ago,” Kennedy said. “We came up with a price tag of a little over $6 million at the time, we ended up with a total price of $8.2 million and today it is even higher.” The primary goal of the project is infrastructure repair. Construction began on Jackson Gulch in 1941, and time has left the project in desperate need of additional work. “We have earthen sections that need to be rebuilt or realigned,” Kennedy said. “They need to be lined with some kind of sealing material so they won’t leak. We have approximately 30 per cent loss in the canals. Flow capacity is 2/3 of what it should be. If we can get that back up where it is designed to be, basically we can have a brand new canal system put back in.”[…]
While this year’s appropriation, which Jackson Gulch should receive next May, makes it easier for the project to continue to obtain federal funds, each year is a new process. “With this first appropriations, it makes it an ongoing funded project,” Kennedy said. “That makes it easier to get funded in the future.”
The Jackson Gulch Project is one of the first Bureau of Reclamation projects in the West to find funding through appropriations, according to Kennedy, but the appropriation sets the stage for more federal money to flow into other water projects.
More Jackson Gulch Reservoir coverage here.
From the Cortez Journal: “Jackson Gulch reservoir live content stood at 3,532 acre-feet with a 9,948 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 5,008 acre-feet average (1971-2000) end-of-month content. At Jackson Gulch, a daily maximum/minimum of zero cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Mancos River, and 37 acre-feet were released for municipal purposes.
“McPhee Reservoir live content stood at 283,214 acre-feet, with a 381,051 acre-feet maximum capacity and a 305,596 average (1986-2000) end-of-month content. At McPhee, 3,766 acre-feet were released into the Dolores River, and 2,348 acre-feet were released for transbasin purposes. At McPhee, a daily maximum/minimum of 76/48 cubic-feet-per-second was released into the Dolores River.”
From the Cortez Journal: “The board of Montezuma County Commissioners is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Monday, April 13, in the commissioners room at 109 W. Main St., Cortez. Jodi Downs, with the Dolores Soil Conservation District, will give an update on tamarisk control in the county…For more information on the meeting, contact the county administration office at 565-8317, or visit http://www.co.montezuma.co.us.”