An #Arizona Water Policy Deep Dive with Author @JFleck — @DrewBeckwith

View of Lake Mead and Hoover dam. Photo credit BBC.

From Western Resource Advocates (Drew Beckwith):

An interview with John Fleck, the author of Water is for Fighting Over: and Other Myths about Water in the West, regarding solutions to the water challenges explored in WRA’s new report, Arizona’s Water Future.

Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates had the pleasure of interviewing John Fleck, author of Water is for Fighting Over: and Other Myths about Water in the West, regarding the overlapping issues between his new book and a new report from WRA, Arizona’s Water Future. John Fleck is a writer who has covered water issues for a quarter century and is currently the Director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program. His book makes a case that the current narrative about impending water doom is simply untrue, and that when people have less water they use less water. He documents multiple examples of water users coming together to conserve and share water across the Colorado River Basin—a promising record of cooperation often obscured by the crisis narrative.

Beckwith: Arizona has had a history of being the “skinny kid” on Colorado River issues, but recent actions suggest Arizona is collaborating much more frequently with other water users and states. Is Arizona turning over a new leaf?

Fleck: In a little more than a year since I handed in the manuscript, I think there has been a shift in Arizona’s behavior toward more collaboration with their neighbors and the development of a drought contingency plan. The state has moved away from the kind of confrontational style in dealing with the other basin states that I criticized in my book. And in some sense, the move in that direction was underway as I was doing the book. Part of my critique about their combative style is historical. There’s just always this danger that when things get really bad, blaming California is a winning political strategy within the state.

John Fleck’s newest book counters the myth that in the West, “whiskey’s for drinkin’, water’s for fightin’ over.” Instead, collaboration offers a way forward and to keep the Colorado River flowing.

Beckwith: NGOs can be a marginalized group within water politics. What is it that NGOs can do to get our perspective more incorporated into Colorado River management?

Fleck: One of the critical things for NGOs to earn their way into the room, is the hard work of learning how the system works, the needs of the system players, and being able to talk the language of the water managers. That was my insight from watching the evolution of the NGOs on the lower Colorado move from litigation in trying to get water into the Colorado River Delta, to understanding what the water managers really wanted was a solution. The NGOs figured out a way to fit their environmental values into the existing values of the water managers. NGO’s need to do the hard work to learn how the system works and why the system managers behave in the way they do, that sometimes from the outside can look a little bit zany.

Beckwith: Arizona users thought they knew who was in line to get water cuts first under a shortage declaration, yet, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke has suggested that everyone needs to share the responsibility for reductions. Is this is a new phase of Western water management?

Fleck: I think the answer is yes. In the long run, we’re going to see the kinds of side agreements that are necessary to overcome some of the difficulties embedded in the old prior appropriation allocation system. So for example, the notion that California would continue to take its full 4.4 million acre feet from the Colorado River while the Central Arizona Project goes to zero acre feet…that’s not going to happen. That’s crazy, even if that’s what the rules say. Everybody recognizes that we have to come up with some alternative arrangements to spread shortage more equitably across user classes, rather than being trapped in the arbitrary allocations made 60 and 70 years ago.

In terms of this process succeeding in Arizona, you need to have a discussion within Arizona so that everybody has some buy-in on the solution. It’s not going to succeed if Tom Buschatzke just imposes it. It’s going to succeed or fail based on Tom Buschatzke and the Arizona leadership community’s ability to create a big tent. Arizona needs to create a broad discussion. They need to find ways to compensate and benefit those people who have senior rights now and may lose out in a more equitable sharing of water in a way that makes everybody comfortable. That’s super hard to do. Importantly, it’s really hard to do in a hurry. That’s one of the lessons of West Basin in California…this kind of stuff takes a long time and so doing it in a hurry, as we’re trying to do with the Arizona Drought Contingency Plan, is much more difficult than the sort of long timeline case studies that I talk about in my book.

Beckwith: Is Arizona in a harder position than other states due to the need to pass a DCP agreement through their legislature?

Fleck: Well this also creates an opportunity because it requires engagement from the broader body politic. If you have to go through a bunch of legislators, you really have to have an agreement that doesn’t ram it down people’s throats or it’s going to fail. We’ll see.

Beckwith: What is your overall take on WRA’s water solution set for Arizona? Is it enough to make a difference? Is it doable?

Fleck: It’s doable. Every single one of the things either in an explicit way or in some form is probably going to be critical. I would also argue that it’s necessary but not sufficient. You’ve got a bunch of steps here that in order to work have to flow from a broader collaborative framework. A framework where everyone is involved in the discussions, the representatives of native communities, municipalities, farming communities, mining communities, all have to come together in a shared agreement that reduces water use and reduces pressure on Lake Mead…it’s critical. Once there’s that agreement about who takes what kind of cuts, then the solutions WRA outlines in your report become a really critical road map for how to execute the plan. The process of negotiation and establishing a collaborative framework is really a critical and necessary pre-condition for making all these issues work.

Beckwith: So given Arizona’s history, what are going to be the challenges on getting DCP/DCP Plus done?

Fleck: The tension right now between the Central Arizona Project’s goals for the DCP and its contractor’s goals has become a really difficult challenge. Part of the challenge is embodied in the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District, and how much water you need to keep setting aside through the District to support future development, versus how much of water is needed to stay in Lake Mead. And that tension right now is on display and poses some challenging problems. I think that may be one of the biggest areas of difficulty.

You also have a challenge with the difference in willingness to participate by on-river communities, Colorado River Indian tribes, and the folks down in Yuma who have the senior rights. If they’re going to participate and leave some water in the system, they’re going to need some compensation. They have a real legitimate frustration about the idea that they might be leaving water in the system that will just end up supporting future growth in Phoenix and Tucson, rather than propping up Lake Mead. And that’s what the real tension is right now in the arguments that have been going on around firming up DCP Plus.

WRA’s recent report provides immediate actions and longer term solutions for addressing Lake Mead’s falling water levels and for ensuring that Arizona’s agriculture, cities, Indian tribes, economy, and environment thrive in a future with less water.

Beckwith: Your book highlights some really impressive gains in water conservation by communities across the basin, Metropolitan Water District, Nevada, and your hometown in Albuquerque. Do you think there is a limit to these conservation successes?

Fleck: I don’t know where the limit is. If you look at, for example, Australia, at Israel, and municipal use in California in response to the drought in the last five years, you see lots of room to conserve well below the levels where we thought we’ve already conserved a lot. And so I don’t know where the floor is but we’re not anywhere near that yet. The Phoenix metropolitan area, as distinguished from the city of Phoenix, still has a lot of room to conserve. I think we’re going to see more and more conservation there successfully. But again, I don’t know where the floor is. I think it’s a long way away yet.

Beckwith: Do you have a hunch on whether additional savings are going to be more from indoor, outdoor, business, or behavioral water conservation actions?

Fleck: I think the most important piece is outdoor because that’s where the consumptive use is. If you’re being clever, and all these cities are, your indoor water use goes down the sewer pipe to a sewage treatment plant, and then that water is available for re-use. With wastewater reuse, indoor conservation is going to be less important. Indoor conservation is going to keep happening partly because the technology keeps getting better. The toilets use less and less water. The showerheads use less and less water.

But outdoor conservation, that consumptive fraction on the garden, is really where the action is. You see this evolution, especially in a place like Albuquerque and water-stressed communities in Southern California, where movement toward a much more xeric landscape is inevitable. That’s where your biggest savings are and that is, in significant part, a cultural shift and a change in people’s attitudes towards their water supply. There is a realization that we do live in a desert and we don’t need a Kentucky bluegrass lawn and tons of trees in our yard. We are going to shift in that direction. There’s still a lot of room to go.

Beckwith: What do you think are some of the best ways to grow the System Conservation Pilot Program and make it open to more participants?

Fleck: A necessary precondition is for the states as a whole, and for the major contractors within the states, to understand that their water allocations are going to have to shrink. You just have to try a bunch of experiments because it’s hard to know a priori what’s going to work, how much it’s going to cost to put the water in Lake Mead, and what kinds of water irrigation and municipal conservation approaches will work? System conservation seems like an implementation detail that we just need to keep working on.

The program does a really important thing. This idea of system water is a really valuable notion. This notion that water that we conserve is benefiting the system as a whole rather than “I’m conserving my water now, putting it in a lake or an aquifer to use it later.” If we just tag all the water that gets conserved for later use, you don’t ultimately deal with this sort of deep structural, imbalance and deal with the problem of how much water is allocated versus how much is actually available. Learning how to work with that idea is a hard problem institutionally. That’s really the key, I think, in the system conservation program.

Beckwith: It’s the embodiment of the idea that we’re all in this together.

Fleck: It is, yeah.

Beckwith: What’s your take on water markets?

Fleck: So my new job includes a faculty appointment in the Department of Economics at the University of New Mexico. And you know, I’m around economists all the time. Economists love markets. But I think that we need to not oversell the value and the idea of markets because markets, in water, have proven incredibly hard to build and you have problems of accounting for the water and moving it across distances. Water flows through a lot of environments. Whose water is what water, when? And so markets on paper looks fabulous and, in practice, the institutional implementation is really, really hard.

When we can implement markets they are really useful. For example, if you were to establish a market that would allow trading among Central Arizona Project contractors or across the border in California, that could be great. But I don’t think we should oversell them because they’re really hard to build in a functional way that works.

Beckwith: That’s certainly an NGO concern, that an unbridled market does not take into account the environment and that water would just run uphill towards money.

Fleck: This is a problem with thinking about markets, right? A market is built by humans to meet a need. So you can build a market that would include environmental values for water and have an institutional framework that pays farmers to leave water in-river for an environmental purpose. It’s just an implementation detail of building a market, it’s not intrinsic to markets. This is a question of where you draw the boundaries in and around the market and what do you include. Markets are built by people to accomplish particular goals. They’re not some magic thing off on the side. This is one of the failures of our public understanding of economics that’s gotten us in all kinds of trouble. People build markets.

Beckwith: Turning to the tribal issue, like NGOs, the tribes have not been as much a part of the water network in the past. How has tribal engagement changed over the past few years and what has been helping that along?

Fleck: So one of the interesting exceptions, it seems to me, about the role of the tribes is in Central Arizona. There are advanced negotiations of water rights under the Arizona Water Settlements Act. Tribes with strong senior water rights in the current system have been included and played an important role in the negotiations of the DCP. And that’s because of the classic principle of economics that defines and allocates a property right. We have much more clarity in Central Arizona about the property right in water for Native Americans. Unfortunately, this also imposes a very Eurocentric and Western value on the notion of ownership that’s really offensive to a lot of people, and I get that. But the reality is that’s the way we manage water. And so if we’re going to accomplish respecting native rights, you have to make sure that they have a strong property value that puts them at the table so that one has to discuss with them what their needs and ideas and values are.

Beckwith: How can NGOs do a better job of communicating the idea that over-allocation and future scarcity has real impact on wildlife, rivers, and recreation?

Fleck: So the challenge here is that you don’t get this automatically. It’s not a “gimme.” It has to be expressed through the values of the communities that are being impacted by the changes. What we saw in the environmental pulse flow in the Colorado River Delta in 2014 down in Mexico was the government and the people of Mexico coming into the negotiations with the position that the environmental value was intrinsic to what they wanted to accomplish in doing the deal. Similarly, what you see in Southern Arizona, for example, is a strong community set of values around the preservation of ecosystems and flows in the Santa Cruz River. The community has come forward and said, “We want that.” Absent the desire from the people, the NGO community can’t succeed, there’s no traction for you.

Once there is traction, then there’s a communication challenge in finding ways to be good faith representatives of a broad set of community values. If the people of Central Arizona don’t really care about whether there is water flowing in the Salt River, the Gila River, or not, then you’ve got no starting point to enforce an environmental value. And so you’re left with litigating over the Endangered Species Act, for example.
Beckwith: Anything to say about WRA’s Arizona Water Future report or our solutions that I didn’t ask about?

Fleck: There’s something really important and valuable about this report, which is that too often when we talk about shortage on the Colorado River and 1075, we just treat that as the end point of the discussion. “Oh my God, we’re going to have shortage and it’ll be a bad thing and we have to avoid it.” It’s really important to take it the next step, which you all have done in this report, which says, “Shortage for who? Who’s going to be affected by a shortage?” This is the central question. When the water runs short, who actually will be shorted and how does that affect the community? And so taking it that next step, the report is really an important, invaluable part of the public discourse.

Beckwith: Well good, thanks. That was certainly one of the things we were trying to highlight in the report. Well, those are all the questions I had. Thank you.

The latest “Water Matters” newsletter is hot off the presses from @COWaterTrust

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

Water Data in Real-time

Explaining water projects in an easy way!

We’re incredibly excited about a new tool we’ve been using to teach people about our work … story maps. If you’re not familiar with them, Esri’s ArcGIS story maps are a great way to use maps, text, images, and multimedia content to explain information quickly and easily. Our Water Resources Engineer, Mickey O’Hara, has created amazing story maps for our projects, which are now all posted on our newly-refreshed website under the “Impact” tab in our main menu.

For an example, click here for the story map regarding our McKinley Ditch project.

McKinley Ditch headgate photo via the Colorado Water Trust

Water statistics, updated daily …

The other tool on our website that we’re thrilled to tell you about is a data-driven, real-time dashboard, which shows where actual water is being returned to rivers and streams at any given time. The information is updated daily during the season, and you can search by division or by project. It’s robust, interesting, and helpful, and we can’t wait for you to see it. Follow the link here on the page titled “Where’s our water?” Then, you can geek out on data, just like we do!

S.W. #Colorado flooding of 1911

Durango flood of 1911 river scene. Photo credit Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College.

Here’s Part 1 of a look back at the 1911 flooding along the Dolores River from June Head and Joyce Lawrence writing for The Cortez Journal. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

About Oct. 8, it was reported that the course of the river east of Dolores changed to the other side of town, turning toward the bottom of Dunlap Hill. The Montezuma Journal on Oct. 12 stated that nearly every bridge in this whole region was gone. The railroad track from Dolores to Rico was washed out, taking out the bridge at Ophir loop again, and there were no present indications of getting freight over the railroad for at least two weeks.

Cortez has been without mail for a week, but it was hoped that a pack train may be put in action from Ouray to Durango until the railroads could be repaired.

Dolores was wholly under water for a time, and the damage there is great. The Mancos Times Tribune on Oct. 13 reported, “The floods that had been raging were widespread and one of the most disastrous that had been visited upon this section since its occupation by the white man.” The newspaper also reported the town of Dolores was flooded by from 1 to 5 feet of water, the town was strewn with wreckage, and train service from Durango to Silverton and between Dolores and Rico would not be restored for “many weeks at best.”

No mail reached Mancos for almost a week from any point except Durango. The area of the flood district covered the San Juan County in Colorado and New Mexico, the San Luis Valley and parts of the Western Slope. “The rivers on the rampage dealing destruction to public and private property are the San Miguel, Dolores, Mancos, La Plata, Animas, Pine, Piedra, San Juan, Navajo and Chama and the Rio Grande tributaries in San Luis valley and a number of streams in the southeastern part of the state,” the newspaper reported.

Here’s Part 2 of the series:

The Cortez area
A bad storm hit Cortez on July 10, 1911, when a storm came in and washed out the flumes, laterals and much of the irrigation system. A wall of water took off down McElmo Creek and cut a canyon within a canyon. Whole orchards and wheat fields were washed out into Utah, according to the History of Cortez website.

In 1911, it was reported that at least two homes were lost. The home of Elsworth Porter went down McElmo Creek. This house was located near the present Battlerock School. After J. D. Lamb lost a house on McElmo Creek that flooded out he hired Peter Baxstrom to build a nice new structure which is located at 12764 County Road G. Both the house on McElmo Creek and the house on Road G may have been stage stops.

The Mancos Valley
More rain and high water came as a result of the storms in the Mancos area on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 1911. The Mancos River rose that night and continued to rise all day Thursday until beginning to subside that night, according to The Mancos Times-Tribune on Oct. 6, 1911. The raging torrent brought down quantities of drift wood, trees, logs and anything that was loose. This caused the river to change its channel in many places. In town, it cut in above the post office building threatening, its safety and taking away part of the warehouse belonging to the Mancos Mercantile Co., which had been cut loose from the other building in order to save balance of the structure. In the lower side, the water got the better of the fight made by Nate Bowen to save his premises when a large portion of the water broke through direct onto his house, the Times-Tribune reported. It was saved from complete destruction by trees that grew just above the building which collected a drift and saved his building…

Pagosa Springs
The Pagosa Springs Sun on Oct. 6, 1911 stated that Archuleta County was the victim of the devastating flood the day before. “All county bridges were out,” the newspaper said. “Following the flood, a cable was suspended across the river to provide a way for people to cross the river and a way for food to be passed to the other side. The Sun also reported that 10 to 15 residences were destroyed, and 40 to 50 others were damaged.

The electric plant and train tracks were washed out. Two lives were lost in the flooding when the men were attempting to clear drift wood that had lodged above their shop on Mill Creek. Farmers, ranchers and sheep men all suffered great loss as a result of the flood. Areas surrounding the town were also affected.

The Animas Valley
The Salida Record newspaper reported that on Oct. 20, 1911, the it would cost $50,000 to $100,000 to repair the damage to the Rio Grande Southern railway in Ouray.

The Aspen Democrat-Times reported on Oct. 9, 1911, that “Floods Sweep Country in Vicinity of Durango.” In Hesperus, miners saved the town by dynamiting a new channel for the river, thus diverting the current. The town of Arboles was obliterated, and not all of the 50 inhabitants had been accounted for.

The Geological Survey reported that 13.6 inches of rain fell Oct. 4-6, 1911, caused the highest flood on record on the Animas River. The Durango Evening Herald on Oct. 6, 1911, stated that conditions in the Animas River Valley were serious: Parts of the valley were flooded to a depth of 3 to 6 feet. Many families had to move to higher ground for safety. Animas Valley from Trimble Springs to Durango “resembled one big lake.” There was general destruction of crops, roads, ditches. The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad tracks were seriously damaged.

@CUBoulderNews: New era of western wildfire demands new ways of protecting people, ecosystems

West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo the Pike Hot Shots Wildfire Today

Here’s the release from the University of Colorado (Laura Krantz):

Just four weeks ago, fire crews battled the Sunshine fire in the foothills west of Boulder. Low humidity, record-high temperatures and 40 mile-per-hour gusts of wind helped fan flames that forced over 1,000 people to evacuate their homes. Firefighters quickly contained the wildfire, with no injuries or damage reported. But the reality of a blaze this serious in March raises concerns about how we deal with wildfire in the western United States.

According to a new paper led by CU Boulder, current wildfire policy can’t adequately protect people, homes and ecosystems from the longer, hotter fire seasons climate change is causing.

Efforts to extinguish every blaze and reduce the buildup of dead wood and forest undergrowth are becoming increasingly inadequate on their own. Instead, the authors—a team of wildfire experts—urge policymakers and communities to embrace policy reform that will promote adaptation to increasing wildfire and warming.

“Wildfire is catching up to us,” said lead author Tania Schoennagel, a research scientist at CU Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “We’re learning our old tools aren’t enough and we need to approach wildfire differently.”

This means accepting wildfire as an inevitable part of the landscape, states the new paper published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The western U.S. has seen a 2-degrees-Celsius rise in annual average temperature and lengthening of the fire season by almost three months since the 1970s; both elements contribute to what the authors refer to as the “new era of western wildfires.” This pattern of bigger, hotter fires, along with the influx of homes into fire-prone areas—over 2 million since 1990—has made wildfire vastly more costly and dangerous.

“For a long time, we’ve thought that if we try harder and do better, we can get ahead of wildfire and reduce the risks,” said Schoennagel, who also is an adjunct faculty member in CU Boulder’s Geography Department. “We can no longer do that. This is bigger than us and we’re going to have to adapt to wildfire rather than the other way around.”

As part of this adaptation process, the authors advocate for actions that may be unpopular, such as allowing more fires to burn largely unimpeded in wildland areas and intentionally setting more fires, or “controlled burns,” to reduce natural fuels like undergrowth in more developed areas. Both these steps would reduce future risk and help ecosystems adapt to increasing wildfire and warming.

They also argue for reforming federal, state and local policies that have the unintended consequence of encouraging people to develop in fire-prone areas. Currently, federal taxpayers pick up the tab for preventing and fighting western wildfires—a cost that has averaged some $2 billion a year in recent years. If states and counties were to bear more of that cost, it would provide incentive to adopt planning efforts and fire-resistant building codes that would reduce risk.

Re-targeting forest thinning efforts is another beneficial reform suggested by the authors. The federal government has spent some $5 billion since 2006 on thinning dense forests and removing fuel from some 7 million hectares (17 million acres) of land, often in remote areas. But these widespread efforts have done little to reduce record-setting fires. Directing thinning projects to particularly high-risk areas, including communities in fire-prone regions and forests in particularly dry areas, would increase adaptation to wildfire, the authors said.

Additionally, as climate change forces species to move their ranges, some may vanish entirely. Familiar landscapes will disappear, a fact that makes many people balk. But such changes, including those caused by wildfire, could be necessary for the environment in the long run, says Max Moritz, a fire scientist at the University of California Cooperative Extension and a co-author on the paper. “We need the foresight to help guide these ecosystems in a healthy direction now so they can adjust in pace with our changing climate,” he said. “That means embracing some changes while we have a window to do so.”

Critical to making a policy of adaptation successful, said Schoennagel, will be education and changing people’s perception of wildfire. “We have to learn that wildfire is inevitable, in the same way that droughts and flooding are. We’ve tried to control fire, but it’s not a control we can maintain. Like other natural disasters, we have to learn to adapt.”

The latest “The Current” is hot off the presses from the Eagle River Watershed Council

Top 10 sources of plastic pollution in our oceans.

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

Plastic Rivers

Driving along I-70 in the springtime as the snow melts, various types of trash can be seen scattered along the grass median. This isn’t uncommon for a major highway running through a populated area, but unlike other communities, our roadways run parallel to our water source–the Eagle River and its tributaries.

Wind can obviously blow lightweight litter to the streams, but snow and rainfall also picks up plastic bags, motor oil, chemicals, fertilizers, cigarettes, and dog waste left on or near our roads and carries it directly into the river or into our storm drains, which aren’t filtered before emptying out into our streams. Our roadways have historically been built along the path of least resistance, following our valley floors, and as a result, everything flows downhill to the nearby rivers. Urbanization and an increase in impervious surfaces (parking lots, roads, rooftops, and other materials that aren’t absorbent) have been identified as the one of biggest threats to water quality in not just Gore Creek, but also the Eagle River and its tributaries.

In fact, this past year in Vail, dry cement mix, paint, window cleaner, cooking grease, and 120 hot dogs were dumped down storm drains, according to Pete Wadden, the Town of Vail’s Watershed Education Coordinator. Our storm drains are different than our sanitary sewers, and dumping anything down a storm drain is equivalent to dumping it directly into a creek. But this awareness isn’t fully present in our valley yet, and people that love our rivers are polluting them unintentionally from improper disposal.

The effects of trash in our rivers extends beyond the reaches of our community, too. The Ocean Conservancy found 2,117,931 cigarettes, and over one million plastic bags and plastic bottles each in our oceans in 2016. By now, plastic-covered beaches around the world have been covered widely in the news. The statistic from World Economic Forum that by 2050, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish has hit home with many. It is commonly known that water bottles and to-go containers create problems, but the lesser known forms of pollution are microplastics—either microbeads from beauty products, microfibers from our clothing, or the breakdown of bigger pieces of plastic from the sun. When these microplastics break down, the chemicals they contain such as PCBs, PETs, DEHPs, antimicrobials, and bioretardants, are released and consumed by the food chain.

“Recently a huge fact came to light, that in U.S. and Indonesian fish markets, a quarter of the fish contain microplastics, and a third of shellfish contain microplastics. And ultimately, where do those microplastics and contaminants end up? With the top predator,” explains Dr. Maria Campbell, a marine biologist with Plymouth University in the film, Plastico.

And since our rivers all flow to our oceans, it’s essential that we as a river-side community not contribute to the plastic pollution epidemic.

How can you help? Most importantly, reduce your use of disposable plastics such as to-go containers, plastic bags, straws, etc. before they make their way into our rivers, and recycle plastics whenever possible. Choose beauty products without microbeads such as natural face washes. Aside from these preventative measures, we also welcome you to join us in picking up the trash that has blown out of vehicles traveling our roadways. Each spring, following ski season and just as the trash emerges from underneath the layers of snow, the Watershed Council hosts the Community Pride Highway Cleanup with more than 950 volunteers. You can come out and help to clear trash from more than 138 miles of Eagle County roadways (I-70, Highways 6, 24, and 131) on May 6th. In the Watershed Council’s 17-year history of coordinating the event, the amount of trash cleared has decreased significantly from 45 tons collected per year to 10 tons. With greater public awareness, more recycling, and greater care for where our trash goes, hopefully this number will continue to decrease. The Watershed Council is always looking for more volunteers for this great community event. To get registered for the event, please call the office at (970) 827-5406 or email

Lizzie Schoder is the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit

Bob Rawlings retrospective — Chris Woodka

Bob Rawlings. Photo credit The High Country News

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The speech was delivered late last month at a water forum in Colorado Springs.

To say that Bob Rawlings cared about water in the Arkansas Valley would be a gross understatement. Toward the end of his life, it was his driving passion. As the water reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain and the editor directing water coverage for all of my 31 years at The Chieftain, no one knew this better than I did.

Your reaction to how Mr. Rawlings cared about water would color your interpretation of his concern. I often found that respect for him grew as I traveled east of Pueblo, where people could see first-hand the effects of drying up agriculture in the Lower Arkansas Valley. I saw his reach up here in El Paso County when I attended meetings and listened to people cuss and discuss the publisher of The Pueblo Chieftain. And, I saw more than one public figure or water developer leave his office disappointed, maybe frightful, but still respectful, after Mr. Rawlings chewed them out for not caring about the Arkansas Valley and its water as deeply as he did.

A few of you in this room probably wished, at one time or another, that Robert Hoag Rawlings would just get out of the way. But he never would. And I would suggest that water projects as a whole benefitted from his constant “interference.”

I also observed the subtle shift in Mr. Rawlings’ attitudes on water throughout the years.

When I arrived at The Chieftain in 1985, Mr. Rawlings cared about water like a farmer cares about his crops.

Water was something to be nurtured and its uses in the Arkansas Valley protected. When I came on the scene, water sales in Otero and Crowley counties were under way and a plan to take water out of the San Luis Valley was hatching. Mr. Rawlings believed the land would bloom if we could only weed out the interlopers.

One feature of his newspaper he loved dearly was the rain gauge, which would measure how much moisture different parts of town received from the same cloudburst. He even read a gauge at his own home and called in the results to a clerk for many years. Heaven help the editor who omitted the rain report after even the lightest sprinkle hit Pueblo.

After a heavy deluge, Mr. Rawlings would walk into the newsroom and ask, “So, was that what my father (who was a Las Animas banker) used to call a million-dollar rain?” He expected an answer, so we’d scramble to call all the farmers we knew to come up with one.

Which leads to the next shift. Mr. Rawlings cared about water like a homeowner assesses his property value in relation to what’s happening in the neighborhood. Water was a valuable asset.

He insisted, fairly often, that we continue to tell the story of what happened to Crowley County when the water was sold and separated from the land. He didn’t want his readers, or the state’s leaders, to forget about the value of water. We dreamed up a lot of ways to bring that point home.

Rocky Ford Ditch

During the 1990s, Mr, Rawlings reached the height of his power, I believe. He could pick up a phone on any given afternoon and get as much done as the state Legislature could accomplish in a week. When he learned that the lion’s share of the Rocky Ford Ditch was sold to Aurora, he saw the loss of farm income and referred to Aurora’s purchases as “the death knell” of the Arkansas Valley.

That’s when he went to war.

In the final years, he viewed water as a resource to be protected, and he would go to any lengths to meet that objective.

Mr. Rawlings helped to form the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, although he’d later shake his head at how that board executed its duties. When the Lower Ark District started making deals with Aurora, he took to the road one morning to confront a roomful of people in Lamar who disagreed with him and later that same day repeated the exercise in Rocky Ford, even as three members of Congress looked on.

He gave emotional speeches before federal panels. He’d use his presses to drum up community support for his views on water transfers and projects. He hired water lawyers, hoping to put himself on equal footing with the big water interests.

“They’re not smarter than us,” he’d bellow at his editorial board. “They just have more smart people.”

A staunch Republican for all of his life, he courted the favor of Democratic senators and congressmen, and even the Sierra Club, when his views of water preservation aligned with theirs. He’d politely tell even Republicans to take a hike if the disagreement was about water.

I am still not sure if I was privileged to spend so much of my journalism career pursuing water stories, or whether I was afflicted with some sort of curse all those years.

But I learned a lot about water because of Mr. Rawlings, and I will miss his drive and determination.

Chris Woodka is a former Chieftain managing editor for production who won numerous awards for his water reporting. He is the Issues Management Program Coordinator for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

For a treat read Matt Jenkins profile of Bob Rawlings (and Chris Woodka) from The High Country News.

Chris Woodka. Photo credit The High Country News

@USGS Monthly Groundwater News and Highlights: May 1, 2017

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

A new USGS assessment suggests that brackish groundwater could help stretch limited freshwater supplies. The amount of fresh or potable groundwater in storage has declined for many areas in the United States and has led to concerns about the future availability of water for drinking-water, agricultural, industrial, and environmental needs. Use of brackish groundwater could supplement or, in some places, replace the use of freshwater sources and enhance our Nation’s water security.