@CFWEWater workshop: 2017 Considerations in Implementing Regional Water Solutions

WISE Project map via Denver Water

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

Our future requires that regional efforts provide some solutions to water supply shortfalls and projects. As Colorado’s urban areas grow, we must consider leveraging resources, infrastructure, water supply and facilities to secure general well-being and a healthy economy. This informative, day-long workshop provides a forum for planning and discussion around the best approaches for regional water solutions. It includes a close examination of the tradeoffs, hurdles, and opportunities for success.

“We have a different climate coming in the future and we have to think differently” — Jim Worrall

Nearly every mature spruce tree has been killed by spruce beetle in this area of the Rio Grande National Forest in southwest Colorado. (Credit: U.S. Forest Service; photo: Brian Howell)

Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

Abstract. This analysis quantifies the topoclimate niche of 14 tree species in southwestern Colorado and predicts the 2060 niche distribution for each species. It draws on comprehensive, high-resolution vegetation datasets, a precise climate downscaling model, GCMs and RCPs used by IPCC, a foremost decision-tree learning algorithm, and advanced analytical techniques. The models accurately predict recent species distributions at high resolution based on reference climate, slope, and aspect. The results are presented as spatially explicit change zones to enhance utility in management. Results can be used to: (a) determine site-specifically the most appropriate management actions for climate adaptation of vegetation, (b) focus efforts where they have the greatest likelihood of long-term success, and (c) identify potential climate refugia.

In the southern Rocky Mountains, it is increasingly evident that weather, insects, diseases, stand conditions, and fire will interact to transform forests as the climate changes. We have already seen widespread changes. Fires have been larger and more severe (van Mantgem et al. 2013, Westerling et al. 2006). Piñon ips responded to the turn-of-the-century drought by killing piñon on over 2.9 million acres in the 4-corner states (Breshears et al. 2005). In Colorado, sudden aspen decline impacted 1.2 million acres (17% of the aspen cover type) (Worrall et al. 2015), mountain pine beetle killed trees on 3.4 million acres, and spruce beetle has impacted 1.6 million acres to date (Howell et al. 2016). These agents kill stressed trees, often building their populations to kill trees in the absence of stress.

These large-scale disturbances provide a strong reminder of the powerful influence of climate on vegetation. The Forest Service and other agencies increasingly mandate extensive consideration of climate change in project, landscape, and forest planning. While vulnerability assessments and other elements provide a good overview of potential climate change impacts and general adaptation measures, they do not provide the quantitative, spatially explicit projections needed to adapt vegetation management to climate change. Impacts to tree species will vary greatly across the landscape – from habitat lost to new habitat emerging. Our management today should be quite different among these locations.

Bioclimate models offer an approach to develop spatially explicit projections of climate change impacts. By analyzing the relationship between known presence/absence of a species and reference climate (which led to the current distribution) at each point, they can predict the likelihood that a given climate will be suitable. Predicted distributions based on grids of reference climate match very well with known distributions. Grids of projected future climate then result in spatially explicit projections of future suitability. Bioclimate models have been extensively used and tested in research (Fettig et al. 2013, Gray & Hamann 2012, Hamann & Wang 2006, Iverson et al. 2008, Rehfeldt et al. 2006, Rehfeldt et al. 2014a, Sáenz-Romero et al. 2012, Worrall et al. 2013). Their application in management has been limited due to the coarse scale of mapping (~ 1 km resolution), lack of topographical response, and the complexity of results. Recent work has addressed these issues: methods for mapping at a 90-meter pixel scale suitable for landscape analysis, incorporation of topographic variables to increase fine-scale accuracy, and a method for projecting change zones that are directly applicable to management (Rehfeldt et al. 2015).

Here we report the methods, results, and some management implications of bioclimate modeling and change projections for 14 tree species in southwestern Colorado. The objectives of this phase of the project were to: (a) develop bioclimate models for dominant tree species of southwestern Colorado based on local data, incorporating topographic variables, and with results presented at a scale useful to management, and; (b) interpret the models by projecting change zones for the species (Lost, Threatened, Persistent, and Emergent) to make them useful for management.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

In the past 20 years, Southwest Colorado forests have been in the line of fire of insect epidemic and disease.

The pattern is a clue of a drying climate that could produce a much different landscape 60 years from now in the Dolores watershed, said Jim Worrall, a forest pathologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

He presented the results of a new Forest Service study during a recent meeting of the Dolores Watershed and Resilient Forest Collaborative in Cortez.

First, it was the ongoing spruce beetle epidemic in the eastern San Juan Mountains, Worrall said, then a sudden aspen decline, which focused in the La Plata Mountains.

About the same time, the round-headed pine beetle moved farther north then before, ravaging forests in northwestern Montezuma County. Add to that an emerging budworm infestation in the Dolores Valley.

Many of these forest problems can be attributed to a drying trend from the mid-1980s that culminated in a turn-of-the-century drought with record temperatures in 2001-2003, Worrall said.

“It was a climate change-type drought, and it occurred across the interior West,” he said. “Put in context, you have to go back 800 years in the tree ring data to find a drought that severe.”

Climate studies forecast that the severe dry conditions of 2002 could be the norm by mid-century, Worrall said. Other research shows they could be the norm by the 2030s.

Worrall and his team developed bioclimate models with data from 14 tree species in Southwest Colorado to tease out what the landscape might look like for the future of the Dolores River watershed.

Computer modeling of the watershed used 850,000 tree-location data points and accounted for tree type-location or absence, topography, historic climate and climate variables. It then used algorithms to predict the likelihood of the species being present there in the future.

The modeling shows significant future changes. It predicts that by 2060, a drying climate will have eliminated ponderosa pines from current locations. They will move to higher elevations, possibly replacing spruce-fir stands. Oak brush is also shown moving into higher elevations.

A lot of the stands of the Utah juniper variety would be lost to a drier climate, models show, but aspen stands will likely persist because of to their resistance to drought…

That could guide future management decisions, Worrall said. For example, the round-headed pine beetle is impacting ponderosa forests in the Lake Canyon area of western Montezuma County, the farthest the beetle has ever been seen at that concentration north of New Mexico.

Local foresters are thinning the forest there to try and stop or slow down the beetle’s damaging progress.

“Long-term ponderosa may not be the future, so where there are good piñon stands, that component should be preserved instead of hydro-axing it,” Worrall said.

Protecting seed sources is an important aspect of planning for the future, agreed Bruce Short, a silviculturist from Mancos.

“We need to be proactive in thinking about how we manage what we have in the next 50 years,” he said. “Should we start taking seeds from one area to another based on future suitability?”

The forest crystal ball also reveals potential erosion problems in the future, added Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which manages McPhee Reservoir.

“If the ponderosa pine zone comes apart, and there are no re-emergent species to replace it, it could impact water quality,” he said.

Pinus ponderosa subsp. ponderosa. Photo credit Wikimedia.

@USBR to Hold Public Meeting on Estes Valley Resource Management Plan for Lake Estes, Marys Lake and East Portal

Aerial view of Lake Estes and Olympus Dam looking west. Photo credit Northern Water.

Here’s the release from Reclamation (James Bishop):

The Bureau of Reclamation, in cooperation with Estes Valley Recreation and Park District (EVRPD), is seeking public input on a Resource Management Plan (RMP) for Lake Estes, Marys Lake and East Portal lands.

The agencies will host an open house where the public can learn and ask questions about the resource management planning process, the lands affected by the plan, and provide comments. The open house will be held on Wednesday, October 25, 2017, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Estes Park High School Commons, 1600 Manford Avenue, Estes Park, Colo. Public comments will be welcomed in writing at the open house and throughout the 30-day public comment period.

The 30-day public comment period will begin on Wednesday, October 18, 2017 and will end at close-of-business on Friday, November 17, 2017. Comments must be provided in writing and can be submitted by e-mail, fax, or regular mail. E-mail comments can be sent to EstesRMP@usbr.gov, and faxed comments can be sent to the attention of Ms. Justina Thorsen at (970) 663-3212. Regular mail comments should be sent to the attention of Ms. Thorsen at: Bureau of Reclamation, 11056 W. County Road 18E, Loveland, Colo. 80537.

Reclamation is preparing the Estes Valley RMP. The agency will also prepare an Environmental Assessment in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. Reclamation owns and operates the Colorado-Big Thompson project, which includes Lake Estes, Marys Lake, East Portal, and the surrounding federal lands. Through a management agreement with Reclamation, EVRPD is responsible for managing recreation at Lake Estes, Marys Lake, and East Portal. The RMP will guide future recreation development as well as the management of natural and cultural resources on federal lands.

Media inquiries or general questions about Reclamation should be directed to James Bishop at 970-962-4326 or jbishop@usbr.gov. Specific questions about the resource management planning process should be directed to Justina Thorsen at 970-962-4207 or EstesRMP@usbr.gov.

Bridging troubled waters — Doug McPherson @MSUDenver

Gabrielle Katz, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at MSU Denver, has been studying river hydrology and its impact on ecosystems for the last two decades. Photo by Alyson McClaran

Here’s the release from Doug McPherson writing for Metropolitan State University of Denver. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

When Colorado lawmakers wanted to know how the massive floods of 2013 affected plants along the South Platte River, they needed experts.

Enter Gabrielle Katz, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Katz has been studying river hydrology and its impact on ecosystems for the last two decades.

“I’ve been fascinated by water management influences since my graduate research in the 1990s,” Katz said.

Specifically, she’s become an expert on how flood control downstream of dams affects plant structure and composition and how groundwater pumping and hydrologic restoration affect streamside plant communities.

#ColoradoRiver: Should Nature Have the Right to Sue in Court? — Patrick J. Kiger #COriver

The Colorado River, not far below the Utah-Colorado state line, and flowing toward the lower basin.

From How Stuff Works (Patrick J. Kiger):

A federal lawsuit filed in September against the state of Colorado seeks to have the Colorado River ecosystem recognized as “possessing rights similar to a ‘person,'” including “certain rights to exist, flourish, regenerate and naturally evolve.”

The litigation, filed by Denver attorney Jason Flores-Williams, actually names the river ecosystem as the plaintiff in the suit. Environmental groups Deep Green Resistance (DGR) and the Southwest Coalition and several individual activists also are participating as the role of “next friends” acting on behalf of the river to bring the lawsuit. DGR activist Will Falk explained in a San Diego Free Press article that the lawsuit is an effort to counter a system that “currently defines nature as property.”

Flores-Williams has significant experience representing homeless people in class-action litigation against the city of Denver and city officials. He says that that previous work inspired the river lawsuit. “The only thing more homeless than homeless people is nature,” he says.

Flores-Williams says that after researching legal efforts to protect the environment, he came to the conclusion that even those “heroic” lawsuits hadn’t prevented environmental conditions from worsening. One reason, he says, is that “many environmental cases are dismissed for a lack of standing, because you can’t show what somebody, or a corporation or a state, is doing is of immediate harm to a human being.”

“It’s a real problem, a procedural defect,” says Flores-Williams.

If the river lawsuit is successful, Flores-Williams says that it would enable groups to act on behalf of the river, and make their case by showing that a defendant is damaging the waterway, without the need to prove that humans are being hurt.

The idea of nature having legal rights isn’t a new idea. Back in 1972, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, in his dissenting opinion in the case of Sierra Club v. Morton, argued that environmental issues might be put in better focus if lawsuits could be filed “in the name of the inanimate object about to be despoiled, defaced, or invaded by roads and bulldozers, and where injury is the subject of public outrage. Contemporary public concern for protecting nature’s ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation.”

Douglas cited legal scholar Christopher D. Stone, whose book “Should Trees Have Standing?” made the case that natural objects could have legal rights, which would be exercised with the assistance of appointed guardians.

Since then, an international movement has sprouted to confer legal rights on nature, and recently, several countries have afforded such status to rivers. In March 2017, for example, after long negotiations with indigenous people, the New Zealand Parliament passed legislation that declared the Whangagui (Te Awa Tupua) River to be “a legal person” with all of the rights, powers, duties and liabilities that any other New Zealand resident might have.

Shortly after the New Zealand decision, a court in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand ruled that the Ganges River and its main tributary, the Yamuna River, also deserved the same legal status as human beings.

Even so, the Colorado River lawsuit may face a difficult legal road. Reed Benson, chairman of the environmental law program at the University of New Mexico, told the New York Times that he considered it “a long shot in more ways than one.”

But Flores-Williams doesn’t seem deterred by the challenge, or by worries that some might take a dim view of a river being granted rights similar to those of a human being, or of a corporation.

“I wish people would get hung up on the idea that our environment is being diminished,” he says. “The river should have a right to exist.” Additionally, he says, “anyone knows that if the Colorado River is extinguished, it would cause an injury to us all.”

The office of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper declined to comment on the suit itself, but, via email, spokesperson Jacque Montgomery defended the state’s efforts to protect the river.

“Colorado and countless partners have long understood the significance of the Colorado River system and the need to balance our needs for water with conservation and enhancement of the river ecosystem,” she wrote. “This extends from efforts to protect — and improve habitat for — endangered fish in the river over the course of decades to the recent development of Colorado’s Water Plan. That plan’s very essence is about working together to ensure sufficient water supplies for agriculture, cities, recreation and the environment as our state continues to grow. The Colorado River, and its protection, has been a fundamental focus of Colorado as a state, but also of local governments and water utilities who themselves depend upon the river’s health and function as necessary for their own success.”

Flores-Williams says that activists in other states have expressed interest in filing similar suits

From the Colorado River District:

Colorado River Ecosystem/Deep Green Resistance v. the State of Colorado, Case No. 17-cv-02316, U.S. District Court, Colorado.

Information only.

Board members may have read recent news reports about a novel lawsuit that seeks to declare the Colorado River ecosystem as a “person” with standing to bring a lawsuit on its own behalf. The lawsuit was filed by the environmental group, Deep Green Resistance, as a “next friend”1 of the Colorado River Ecosystem. The complaint seeks a declaration from the court that the Colorado River Ecosystem is a “person” with standing to sue in court to protect its right to “exist, flourish, regenerate, be restored, and naturally evolve.” Additionally, the complaint alleges that the State of Colorado can be held liable for violating the River’s rights.

The premise of this lawsuit is certainly unique in Colorado (as well as the nation) but it is not completely without precedent. As noted in the complaint, Ecuador has amended its constitution to recognize the rights of ecosystems. Likewise, jurisdictions in Columbia and India have found rivers to have certain rights that warrant protection.

If successful, the lawsuit would be precedential not only in Colorado but throughout the country. Thus, we expect the State of Colorado will receive lots of help from others in opposing the lawsuit (we have already offered the River District’s help). A ruling granting the requested relief could totally upend environmental litigation. A key question would be why any specific group of individuals should be entitled to serve as an ecosystem’s “next friend” as opposed to any other group of individuals, organizations, municipalities, or States. The fights over the right to be appointed “next friend” status alone would be chaotic – not even taking into consideration the unique claims that could be asserted. The Attorney General’s Office will be taking the lead on Colorado’s behalf. We will continue to be in contact with the AG’s office as it prepares Colorado’s defense of the lawsuit – hopefully with a swift and successful motion to dismiss.

From The Las Vegas Sun (April Corbin):

Frustrated by what they perceive as a failure of existing environmental law, advocates are exploring a new strategy to protect natural resources: asking federal district court to recognize the Colorado River as a person.

Yes, a person — with inalienable rights to “exist, flourish, regenerate, and restoration.”

The Colorado River is seeking the judicial recognition of “legal personhood” in a lawsuit filed Sept. 25 against the governor of Colorado in federal court (the first hearing is scheduled for Nov. 14). A favorable ruling would not only affect Nevada and the six other states with direct ties to the 1,450-mile-long river; it would spark a significant shift in environmental preservation nationwide.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit public-interest law firm and a leader in the push for “rights of nature,” is adviser on the lawsuit. Executive Director Thomas Linzey says existing environmental laws focus on damage to people and their property.

“Climate change is presenting itself in full force,” Linzey says. “People are beginning to understand that environmental law is falling short. Something new is needed. … This emerging system is about recognizing that ecosystems need to be protected in the plenary sense — not just to benefit humans.”

Individuals from the nonprofit organization Deep Green Resistance have been designated as “next friends” who act as surrogates on behalf of the river. The concept is similar to guardianship in cases involving minors or people considered too mentally incompetent to vocalize their own interests.

Peru Basin acid mine drainage cleanup update

Jumbo Mine Cabin in-front of Adit September 25, 2017. Photo credit Environmental Protection Agency.

From the Environmental Protection Agency via Summit County (Brian Lorch):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking immediate action to perform mine cleanup activities at the Jumbo Mine in Summit County’s Peru Creek Basin, approximately seven miles east of Keystone Resort.

The Jumbo Mine, which produced gold, copper, lead and silver, operated from 1915 to 1918. Historic mine operations also generated significant volumes of waste rock and tailings piles. Inactive and abandoned for a century, the mine site was identified in the early 1990s by EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE), as well as in the Snake River Watershed Plan, as a significant point-source contributor of metal-contaminated flows into Peru Creek and the downstream Snake River.

Historic hard-rock mining in the Peru Creek Basin left a legacy of contaminated and abandoned mine sites, whose acid mine drainage significantly degrades water quality. Much has been done to study the problems in the Snake River watershed, beginning in the early 1970s. Most studies have focused on the Peru Creek drainage, which is home to the Pennsylvania Mine, the largest, longest-operating mine in the watershed. In coordination with Summit County and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS), EPA completed cleanup actions at the Pennsylvania Mine in 2016.

The Jumbo Mine is another high-priority abandoned mine site in the Peru Creek Basin identified by the Snake River Watershed Coalition as a remediation project site capable of significantly improving water quality in the Snake River watershed.

Summit County purchased the land surrounding the abandoned Jumbo Mine in early 2016 for public open space. A restrictive covenant placed on the adjacent property containing the abandoned mine site allows for EPA’s cleanup actions to occur, but also limits the County’s liability for the existing environmental issues and associated cleanup actions.

“We had been looking to acquire this piece of property for a long time, recognizing that it has many open space values,” said Brian Lorch, Summit County Open Space and Trails director. “But before we could take steps to purchase the property, we needed to ensure that it could be cleaned up in an economical manner.”

EPA is implementing the cleanup work as a time-critical removal action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Last week, the agency began the work, which it plans to complete in about three weeks.

Cleanup activities involve diverting water draining from a mine adit around or over adjacent tailings piles in a limestone and membrane-lined ditch. According to EPA studies, water quality of the adit drainage degrades as it crosses the mine tailings, contributing high levels of suspended and dissolved lead, zinc and other metals into the stream. Diverting drainage around the tailings into a lined ditch should greatly improve water quality.

“The overall approach will help reduce the discharge of metals into Peru Creek,” Lorch said. “A passive treatment approach at the Jumbo Mine site is quite similar to numerous mine cleanups performed elsewhere by the County.”

Since 2001, Summit County has worked with EPA to identify and prioritize mine sites in need of cleanup in the Peru Creek Basin. The County’s proactive coordination with EPA facilitated recent cleanup efforts at the Pennsylvania Mine and numerous other sites in the area.

“We are really happy and grateful to see EPA continue its mine cleanup efforts in the Peru Creek Basin,” Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. “The Summit County community is very supportive of our efforts to clean up abandoned mine sites on County property, voting in 2015 for a mill levy that provides funding for cleaning up mine-impacted sites.”

Jumbo Mine looking up at channel liner installation from lower middle section of waste rock pile. Photo credit Environmental Protection Agency.

Winter 2017-2018 look ahead

From The Mountain Mail (April Obholz):

“Colorado will favor above-average temps” in the coming winter, Mike Halpert, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center deputy director, said Thursday in a media teleconference.

“The northern part of Colorado will go toward wet. A fair amount of the state falls into the ‘equal chances’ category,” Halpert said.

The middle of the country is the dividing line, so Colorado and middle America are considered equal chance – meaning there is not a strong enough climate signal to shift the odds one direction or the other.

Colorado and other similar states can expect equal chances of above, near or below normal temperatures and precipitation.

Part of the forecast relies on computer simulation. At this point, the computer forecast is leaning toward La Niña, Halpert said, abnormally cool water around the equator in the Pacific Ocean that can influence weather patterns worldwide.

According to a forecasters’ press release Thursday, La Niña has a 55 to 65 percent chance of developing before winter starts.

Regarding snowfall, “NOAA is not issuing snow forecasts at this time. La Niña winters typically see less snow,” said Halpert.