@WaltonFamilyFdn Commits $35 million to America’s Great Rivers #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Here’s the release from the Walton Family Foundation (Justin Kenney):

$35 million investment will support urgent restoration priorities in the Colorado River Basin and Mississippi River Delta

The Walton Family Foundation (WFF) announced investments totaling $35 million to support the restoration and long-term health of the Colorado River Basin and the Mississippi River Delta. These investments are part of a larger five-year strategy to preserve healthy, flowing rivers and sustain the farmers, fishermen, businesses, families and wildlife that depend on them.

“The Colorado and the Mississippi are two of our greatest rivers, and they and the communities that depend on them are under serious threats,” said Rob Walton, board member and chair of the environment committee for WFF. “We are at a critical inflection point – the decisions made in the next few years will determine the long-term environmental and economic viability of both of these regions.”

Grants included in the investments announced today will support coalitions that include National Wildlife Federation, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana in the Mississippi River delta; American Rivers, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in the Colorado River basin; and Environmental Defense Fund and National Audubon Society in both regions.

Colorado River Basin

WFF has dedicated $20 million over the next two years in an effort to create a more flexible, effective water management system in the Colorado River Basin and improve the overall health of the Colorado River. The lower basin was recently named the most endangered river in the nation by the conservation group American Rivers. The Colorado River is indispensable to the prosperity of the Southwest. It provides water to almost 40 million people in several of the country’s fastest-growing cities. It irrigates more than 5 million acres of farmland, with agriculture and animal production from counties served by Colorado River water resulting in upward of $5 billion in sales.

“Water management is an important and pressing issue for the state of Arizona, and one that has been a top priority,” Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said. “It impacts our economy, our quality of life, our environment and our ability to continue to grow and thrive. This significant investment will amplify and expand efforts underway along the Colorado River.”

“Coloradans know the importance of protecting our precious rivers and streams. Water is essential to our western way of life,” said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. “The Walton Family Foundation’s investment aligns with the goals of the Colorado Water Plan in ensuring water security, promoting sustainability, supporting agriculture and more. This investment is an example of the collaboration necessary to find pragmatic solutions to these issues and make sure these rivers are healthy for generations to come.”

In the face of drastic water shortages, policymakers, water managers and others in the region agree about the urgent need for water management reform. The foundation’s efforts focus on channeling this shared urgency to achieve important agreements that address ongoing water shortages and provide long-term solutions for the benefit of people and the river.

In the Lower Colorado River, WFF-funded efforts support:

Renewing the binational Colorado River agreement between the U.S. and Mexico to improve water management in both countries,
Ensuring California meets it commitment to fund and achieve mitigation to the shrinking Salton Sea, and
Partner with Arizona to manage its scarce water resources through pro-active conservation programs.
In the Upper Colorado River, WFF-funded efforts support:

Securing long-term public funding to protect and improve river health and secure the reliability of Colorado’s water supply, and
Advancing the development of an Upper Basin market-based water bank program that benefits rivers.
Core to all of this work, the foundation supports on-the-ground restoration of river health in “proof point” tributaries including the San Pedro River, Verde River, the Escalante River, the Gila River and the Colorado River Delta.

What others leaders are saying about the importance of a sustainable Colorado River:

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock

“Water is one of our most important resources out here in the west, but it’s a limited one. The time is now to secure our water future, and it will take collaboration and innovation to protect assets like the Colorado River Basin and the livelihoods of the Coloradans it supports. Investments in the health, resiliency and sustainability of our precious water resources ensures our water security and the future of the Colorado River.”

Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, Gila River Indian Community

“Working on a sustainable Colorado River is fostering a cultural, spiritual, and meaningful awakening of our culture. This announcement is welcome news at a critical juncture in the effort to protect the Colorado River and secure our water future.”

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton

“Forward-thinking partnerships are essential to continuing the long-standing Arizona tradition of advancing smart water policy. The Walton Family Foundation’s significant and meaningful commitment to Colorado River system conservation shows how we can work together to safeguard against climate change and the continued drought that is directly impacting Lake Mead.”

Mississippi River Delta

WFF will dedicate approximately $15 million over two years to support restoration projects that will stem the devastating land loss crippling the coast of Louisiana, where every hour a football field worth of land disappears into the Gulf of Mexico. The loss of wetlands and coastal habitat has left the region vulnerable to storms and rising sea levels.

“New Orleans is a coastal city whose future depends on fixing decades of damage due to the cutting of canals, subsidence, and erosion,” said Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu. “We’re at an even greater risk due to sea level rise. Repairing what has been lost is not just important for Louisiana, but our country’s economy and security depends on our ports to transport goods, our seafood to eat and our oil and gas to fuel the nation. Together, we can build a better future for our coast, our people and the nation.”

The combination of bipartisan support for science-based solutions and funding for restoration means the region is ripe for meaningful, lasting change. The foundation’s investments will capitalize on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by supporting three core efforts:

  • Advance priority restoration projects and programs from the recently approved Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, with a target construction date of 2020;
  • Protect and maximize available restoration funds, develop innovative funding mechanisms and ensure funds are spent on restoration projects; and
  • Address future challenges through advances in science, modelling and mapping capabilities.
  • These efforts will ensure meaningful restoration of wetlands, oyster reefs, barrier islands and other coastal habitats that sustain the region’s critical seafood and tourism industries, and protects the city and port of New Orleans from devastating storms. The coast is home to a $34 billion tourism industry and 40 percent of all seafood harvested in the lower 48 states comes from the Gulf.

    About the Walton Family Foundation and its Environment Initiatives

    At the Walton Family Foundation, we believe that conservation solutions that make economic sense stand the test of time. We work to achieve lasting change by creating new and unexpected partnerships among conservation, business and community interests to build durable solutions to important problems.

    Through its environment initiatives, the foundation is investing in two of the most important conservation issues of our time: restoring the health of the oceans through sustainable fisheries and preserving functioning rivers and the quality and availability of fresh water they provide. This work spans four initiatives: Oceans, Colorado River, Mississippi River and Coastal Gulf of Mexico. Learn more at: http://www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org.

    From The Denver Post (Ethan Millman):

    This initial investment represents the first of what the foundation said will amount to more than $100 million by 2020. The foundation has also pledged $15 million to support the restoration of the Mississippi River Delta…

    “The Colorado River basin is arguably one of the most important in the country, if not in the world,” Rice said. “And we use more than the river provides. We need to figure out how to do more with less water.”

    The $20 million will be allocated toward different groups across the upper and lower river basins, including advocacy organizations such as American Rivers and the National Wildlife Federation.

    Ted Kowalski, Colorado River initiative lead for the Walton Family Foundation , said helping sustain the river is crucial to supporting both the environment and the economy.

    “If you look at the last 17 years, we’ve seen a remarkable drought,” Kowalski said. “It’s the longest and worst since the turn of the 20th century. It’s one of the worst we’ve ever seen. If we were to see a drought like 2012, the reservoirs would continue to decline.”

    […]

    While the region would take a huge economic hit, Kowalski said the environmental cost would be worse, and work in the region should be about preventing these problems rather than combating them head on.

    “The environment would be the biggest loser,” Kowalski said. “We want to hold hydrology not in the throes, but in advance of this crisis.”

    Morgan Conservation District’s 62nd Annual Meeting, February 9th, 2017

    View of runoff, also called nonpoint source pollution, from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm. Topsoil as well as farm fertilizers and other potential pollutants run off unprotected farm fields when heavy rains occur. (Credit: Lynn Betts/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)
    View of runoff, also called nonpoint source pollution, from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm. Topsoil as well as farm fertilizers and other potential pollutants run off unprotected farm fields when heavy rains occur. (Credit: Lynn Betts/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)

    From the Morgan Conservation District via The Fort Morgan Times (Angela Werner):

    Morgan Conservation District’s 62nd annual meeting will be held on February 9th.

    It will be held at the Fort Morgan Home Plate Restaurant, 19873 U.S. Hwy. 34. Breakfast will be at 8 a.m. and the meeting will start at 9 a.m. The cost of the meeting will be $25 in advance, and that will cover the annual meeting, annual membership in Morgan Conservation District, and free breakfast that morning.

    If you do not RSVP in advance, and show up on the day of the meeting, please be advised that the cost will be the same, however breakfast will not be free, due to our needing to order the food in advance. Our keynote speakers, Bill Hammerich and Andrew Neuhart.

    Bill Hammerich has served as the CEO of Colorado Livestock Association (CLA) for the past fourteen years. He grew up on a cattle and farming operation in Western Colorado and he attended CSU where he graduated with a degree in Agricultural Economics. Following graduation, he began working with Monfort of Colorado, then Farr Feeders and was with the Sparks Companies before joining CLA in 2002.

    His time spent in the cattle feeding industry provided him not only with an understanding of how to feed cattle, but also the importance of protecting and sustaining the environment in which one operates.

    Bill and his wife Sabrina live in Severance, Colorado and have two grown children, Justin and Jessica, and four grandsons.

    Andrew Neuhart completed both a B.S. in Natural Resource Management and an M.S. in Watershed Science at CSU. After spending two years assisting in precision farming studies in the San Luis Valley for the USDA Soil, Plant and Nutrient Research team, Andrew went to work for the State of Colorado’s Water Quality Control Division. For 9 years with the WQCD, Andrew led a Permitting Unit for discharge permits under the Clean Water Act, for both industrial and domestic wastewater treatment facilities. Working for Brown and Caldwell over the last 4 years, Andrew assists clients with regulatory issues under the Clean Water Act, and has been working with the Ag Task Force, part of the Colorado Monitoring Framework, to get the word out regarding nutrient regulations and their impacts to agricultural operations.

    Mr. Hammerich and Mr. Neuhart will be speaking about Regulation 85.

    Regulation 85 establishes requirements for organizations holding a NPDES permit and with the potential to discharge either nitrogen or phosphorus to begin planning for nutrient treatment based on treatment technology and monitoring both effluents and streams for nitrogen and phosphorus.

    The data from these efforts is designed to better characterize nutrient sources, characterize nutrient conditions and effects around the state and to help inform future regulatory decisions regarding nutrients. Please come to the meeting and learn more from our very knowledgeable keynote speakers!

    Please RSVP as soon as possible to Angela at morganconservationdistrict@gmail.com or call 970-427-3362. Space is limited.

    “It was essentially a winter flash flood on a continental-scale river” — Robert Criss

    December 2015 precipitation in the Mississippi River Basin via Weather.com.
    December 2015 precipitation in the Mississippi River Basin via Weather.com.

    From Science Daily:

    …only a day after the flood on the lower Meramec peaked, water levels on the Mississippi at St. Louis were the third-highest ever recorded. A few days later, record flood stages were recorded downstream at Cape Girardeau, Mo., and Thebes, Ill.

    Why was the flooding so bad? Most news reports blamed it on the heavy rain, but Robert Criss, PhD, professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, said there was more to the flood than the rain.

    “I think there was significant magnification of the flood levels on the Meramec by recent developments near the river,” he said. “Sure it rained a lot, but what happened here cannot be explained by the rainfall alone.”

    The flood on the middle Mississippi River, in turn, was remarkable for its short duration and the time of year. “It was essentially a winter flash flood on a continental-scale river,” Criss said. “The Mississippi has been so channelized and leveed close to St. Louis that it now responds like a much smaller river.”

    In the February issue of the Journal of Earth Science, Criss and visiting scholar Mingming Luo of the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, China, take a close look at data for the New Year’s flood, treating it as a giant natural experiment that allowed them to test their understanding of changing river dynamics.

    “Flooding is becoming more chaotic and unpredictable, more frequent and more severe,” Criss said. “Additional changes to this overbuilt river system will only aggravate flooding.

    “In the meantime,” he said, “inaccurate Federal Emergency Management Agency flood frequencies based on the assumption that today’s river will behave as it has in the past greatly underestimate our real flood risk and lead to inappropriate development in floodways and floodplains.”

    mississippibasin

    World Resources Institute: World’s 18 Most Water-Stressed Rivers #ColoradoRiver

    watertressbymostpopulousriverbasinsviaworldresourceinstitute

    From the World Resources Institute (Andrew Maddocks/Paul Reig):

    The world’s 100 most-populated river basins are indispensable resources for billions of people, companies, farms, and ecosystems. But many of these river basins are also increasingly at risk. As water demand from irrigated agriculture, industrialization, and domestic users explodes, major rivers on several continents are becoming so depleted that they sometimes fail to reach their ocean destinations. Add climate change, nutrient and chemical pollution, and physical alterations like dams and other infrastructure development to the mix and it’s clear that many communities rely on water resources that face an increasingly risky future.

    WRI’s Aqueduct project recently evaluated, mapped, and scored stresses on water supplies in the 100 river basins with the highest populations, 100 largest river basins, and 180 nations. We found that 18 river basins— flowing through countries with a collective $US 27 trillion in GDP —face “extremely high” levels of baseline water stress. This means that more than 80 percent of the water naturally available to agricultural, domestic, and industrial users is withdrawn annually—leaving businesses, farms, and communities vulnerable to scarcity…

    Decision-makers in many of world’s water-stressed basins have attempted to put management plans in place—with mixed results. The United States’ Colorado River is a prime example of a plan that, while well-intentioned, may ultimately be unsustainable. Starting in Colorado and running 1,400 miles to the Gulf of California, the Colorado River is the 14th most stressed among the world’s most populated river basins, and the sixth most stressed if ranked by size. More than 30 million people depend on it for water. The seven states receiving its water comprised 19 percent of the United States’ total GDP in 2010.

    Because of its naturally arid setting—and due to its large and growing number of users and resulting high level of baseline water stress—the Colorado has become one of the most physically and legally managed rivers in the world. It is also under serious duress, exacerbated by a decades-long drought. This imbalance between supply and demand means that the river often runs dry before it reaches the Pacific Ocean—posing significant problems for wildlife, ecosystems, and communities that depend on it.

    The Colorado River is an example of a basin where natural water stress is already severe. The complex web of infrastructure and governance structures around the river was, in a sense, created to ensure predictable, steady water supplies in a stressed region. On the other hand, that same development has driven increasing demands for limited supplies. Aqueduct’s country and river basin rankings deliberately do not include the effects of such extensive management, instead focusing on objective measures of underlying hydrological conditions. But the overall picture is clear: Even the most-established, iron-clad management systems start to crumble under increasing scarcity and stress…

    What Is Water Stress?

    Water stress is the ratio of total water withdrawals to available renewable supply in an area. In high-stress areas, 40 percent or more of the available supply is withdrawn every year. In extremely high-stress areas, that number goes up to 80 percent or higher. A higher percentage means more water users are competing for limited supplies. See the high and extremely high-stress areas highlighted in red and dark red on the maps.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Pipeline from the Missouri River to supplement #ColoradoRiver Basin supplies?

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    “We created the largest artificial watershed in the world,” says Pat Mulroy, the powerful head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a wholesaler that supplies Las Vegas.

    Water from the Colorado River is piped across deserts, channeled through mountains, and — after being treated in local sewage plants — winds up in rivers that flow to the southern ends of the country:

    • Some of New Mexico’s share goes into the Rio Grande, eventually flowing south and east through Texas and into the Gulf of Mexico.
    • What Denver returns to nature flows into the South Platte, a tributary of the Missouri River.
    • The coastal cities of Southern California dump a good bit of their diversion into the Pacific Ocean.

    None of these water bodies is the logical end of the line for the Colorado River, whose natural terminus is a delta at the northern crook of the Gulf of California. A delta that is, ironically, all dried up…

    The river’s web, if some have their way, could become even larger. John Kaufman, the man who proposed the Missouri River pipeline, wants to see the artificial boundaries expand. Kaufman is the general manager of Leavenworth Water, which serves 50,000 people in a town that welcomed Lewis and Clark in 1804 during the duo’s westward exploration.

    The identity of the pipeline’s proponent, who was anonymous during the Bureau of Reclamation study and is for the first time being named in the media, is important because of where he lives — outside of the natural Colorado River Basin, or in the extended web.

    In Kaufman’s vision, Kansas becomes a hydrological keystone for the West, facilitating water transfers that could affect at least 10 states and Mexico.

    “We’d hopscotch water across Kansas and sell it to communities in the state,” Kaufman told me during a phone interview last month, explaining the benefit to his home territory. Construction of the pipeline would also supply jobs to Leavenworth, where the intake facilities would be located. At least one groundwater district in western Kansas is advocating for a similar concept, a Missouri River pipeline to the High Plains to compensate for declines in the Ogallala Aquifer, an essential source for irrigation. Kaufman has presented his idea to state and local officials several times this year.

    Once the water flows past Kansas, “it’s a horse trade,” Kaufman said. Water delivered to the Front Range would be earmarked for the South Platte River Basin, which includes Denver. (The South Platte, remember, is part of the Missouri River Basin.) A pipeline would close the circle, sending South Platte water, via the Missouri, back uphill. Of course a few drops of the Colorado would be in the pipe, too.

    “It’s a reuse project, really,” said Kaufman, who serves on Kansas governor Sam Brownback’s Missouri River advisory committee…

    Then there are the swaps. Front Range cities get roughly 72 percent of their supplies from the Colorado River, according to a 2009 study commissioned by the Front Range Water Council. If water from the Missouri were imported, then some of the trans-Rocky diversions could remain within the Colorado River Basin.

    Kaufman’s idea — he calls it the Eisenhower Pipeline, in honor of the sponsor of the interstate highway system, which got its start in Kansas — was included in the Bureau of Reclamation’s final report, but top federal officials distanced themselves from the project, once word leaked a few days before the report’s official release last December.

    “In my view, [water import] solutions are impractical and not feasible,” said Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior at the time. The study actually gave the pipeline high marks for technical feasibility, but the $US 8.6 billion price tag and the high energy costs pushed the pipeline to the bottom of the pile. Conservation was the big winner, deemed to be significantly cheaper and able to deliver more water.

    Kaufman knows the scheme is expensive, which is why he says that he needs financial buy-in from the states in the Colorado’s Lower Basin and cooperative agreements among all the Basin states in order to shuffle water supplies.

    “It’s not about providing water to the Front Range,” he said. “It’s about providing water to the West.”

    More Missouri River Basin coverage here and here.

    Kansas and the Corps of Engineers are taking another look at the Kansas Aqueduct

    Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue
    Kansas Aqueduct route via Circle of Blue

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    The new analysis, to be started this year and completed in 2015, will reassess the Kansas Aqueduct, one of four projects evaluated 31 years ago to provide water to high plains farms in Kansas and reduce the draw on the Ogallala aquifer, the region’s primary source of water for irrigation. None of the water transport projects that were evaluated in the 1982 study were built.

    But one project, the Kansas Aqueduct, which would draw water from a turn in the Missouri River about 145 kilometers (90 miles) upstream of Kansas City, and drop it into a reservoir roughly 600 kilometers (375 miles) away in western Kansas, attracted significant attention.

    The cost of the new $US 300,000 study will be shared equally by the state and the federal government, said Mark Rude, executive director of the Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District. Rude added that the region’s strong farm economy and the urgency of extending the Ogallala’s life as a source of water to agriculture make this a useful period to reconsider the Kansas Aqueduct.

    “The Kansas Aqueduct Project must be pursued while production income, property values and the economic system are in place to support the project,” Rude wrote in a June letter to state water officials…

    Because of high plains geology and climate, water percolates into the aquifer each year in inches; but in order to sustain a thriving grain-and-cattle industry, water is pumped out in feet.

    The farmers and cattlemen in Rude’s district in southwest Kansas know this fact all too well. Rude told Circle of Blue that current rates of groundwater extraction – mining, really – are about nine percent sustainable. In other words, the amount of water pumped out of that part of the aquifer would have to be cut by 90 percent to find a balance. Such a reduction would decimate the region’s towns.

    Over the years, all that water has created a more prosperous life on the plains than the early pioneers could ever have imagined. The economic structure, formidable for the time being, collapses without water.

    “Everything we need is here already,” Rude says, talking about the grain elevators, equipment dealers and related agricultural infrastructure in western Kansas. “But new investment needs water-confidence. How do we provide that when we are cutting water use? It’s ideal to have both cuts and new supplies and manage the aquifer more like a reservoir.”

    Farmers in northwest Kansas, in Sheridan County, have agreed to self-imposed restrictions on the amount of water they draw from the Ogallala. It is an experiment that has yet to catch on elsewhere in the state.

    Economics are foremost in Rude’s mind because the aqueduct would be a whopper of a project, at least double the estimated $US 3.6 billion price tag three decades ago, and comparable in scale to massive water diversions like the 540-kilometer (360-mile) Central Arizona Project that was approved before the Carter administration and built mostly with federal money.

    Rude scoffs at the suggestion that a Kansas aqueduct is a relic of a by-gone age. “I’m comfortable if you say it’s a Roman project in the 21st century,” he said, recalling the channels that satiated Caesar’s capital more than two millennia ago. “The aquifer is a question that has to be dealt with.”

    The US Supreme court decides in favor of Oklahoma in Tarrant v. Herrmann

    tarrantvherrmannredriverbasinoklahomatexas.jpg

    From the Texas Tribune (Kate Galbraith):

    The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday issued a unanimous ruling for Oklahoma over a North Texas water district in a case over delivery of water from the Red River.

    The case, Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann, Rudolf J. et al, pitted fast-growing North Texas against the state of Oklahoma. The Tarrant Regional Water District, which serves Fort Worth and other North Texas communities, wanted to buy water from Oklahoma reservoirs, but Oklahoma passed laws that effectively meant it wouldn’t sell.

    The Tarrant district sued six years ago and has spent $6 million on the lawsuit, according to water district spokesman Chad Lorance. On Thursday, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

    “The Compact does not pre-empt the Oklahoma water statutes,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the Supreme Court opinion. She was referring to the 1980 Red River Compact, which stipulates that signatory states — which include Texas and Oklahoma — get an “equitable” share of water. The Tarrant district wants water flowing south out of Oklahoma, but they say that by the time the water reaches Texas it is essentially unusable, so they want to tap the reservoirs further upstream. Oklahoma state lawmakers have declined their request.

    The decision could have implications for other parts of the country. For example, legal experts have been interested in whether Oklahoma’s efforts to stop or discourage out-of-state water sales would be trumped by a multi-state compact.

    Click here to read the decision written by Justice Sotomayor (Hat tip to Ms. Galbraith).

    More Tarrant v. Herrmann coverage here. More water law coverage here and here.