Left Out to Dry: Wildlife Threatened by #ColoradoRiver Basin #Water Crisis — The Revelator #COriver #aridification

The drought’s ‘bathtub ring’ of Lake Mead at the inlet for Hoover Dam, May 2022. Photo: Don Barrett (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Click the link to read the article on The Revelator website (Tara Lohan):

Lost in much of the coverage of the region’s water woes is the ecological crisis caused by prolonged drought, climate warming and development.

In the Colorado River basin, our past has come back to haunt us.

We’re not just talking about the dead bodies emerging from the drying shoreline of Lake Mead. The river’s water crisis has caused the nation’s two biggest reservoirs to sink to historic lows.

It’s a problem of our own making — in more ways than one.

The Colorado River Compact, signed a century ago, overallocated the river’s water. Experts have long warned that nature can’t continue to deliver the water that the government has promised to farms, cities and towns.

A drying West, warmed by climate change, has now made that shortage impossible to ignore.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck. Credit: Brad Udall via Twitter

For years demand has outstripped natural flows on the river, and some states and Tribes have already taken cuts to their allocations. Additional conservation measures were expected as the seven U.S. states that share the river — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, California and Nevada — have been working on hammering out a new deal. The region’s more than two dozen federally recognized Tribes have also been fighting for a seat at that table and a hand in the river’s management. But the deadline for a revised agreement between all the parties came and went this summer with no resolution in sight.

To say there’s a lot at stake would be an understatement.

Some 40 million people rely on the 1,400-mile-long river in the United States and Mexico, including in many of the West’s biggest cities. It also greens 5 million acres of irrigated agriculture.

But that’s come at a cost. Long before cities and industrial farms emerged, the river supported diverse mountain and desert ecosystems, providing refuge and resources for countless animals and plants.

Many of those species now struggle to survive the cumulative pressures from drought, climate warming and human developments. And they remain an overlooked part of the region’s water crisis…

Hot Drought

A lot can happen in two decades.

In 2000 Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which help manage water supplies along the Colorado, were nearly full. Today they’re both hovering just above one-quarter capacity — the lowest ever since being filled.

Echo Bay Marina in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 2014. Photo: James Marvin Phelps (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In the intervening 20 years the Colorado River basin has seen a prolonged drought that’s now believed to be the driest period in the region in the last 1,200 years. River flows have fallen 20% compared to the last century’s average.

And it’s not just from a lack of precipitation. Researchers attributed one-third of that reduced river flow to climate change. Warming temperatures increase evaporation, as well as evapotranspiration by plants. So even when the Rocky Mountains do receive snow or rain, less of that runoff makes it to the Colorado River and its tributaries.

CO2 trend: This graph shows the monthly mean abundance of carbon dioxide globally averaged over marine surface sites since 1980. (NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory)

Experts say we’ll see more of these so-called “hot droughts” as the climate continues to warm. The basin is expected to see a five degree-Fahrenheit jump by 2050. That will make things not just hotter but drier. If we don’t dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions, the Colorado’s flow could drop 35% to 55% by the end of the century.

Years ago the region’s prolonged drought was dubbed a “megadrought,” but some of the region’s top scientists say “aridity” may be a better term. That means that the combination of warming and drying will be much more permanent.

Aridity and Animals

The region’s ecosystems — and those who live in them — are feeling the heat.

“Climate warming is just hammering this basin, and part of what we see in addition to the water disappearing is this protracted wildfire season,” says Jennifer Pitt, the Colorado River program director for Audubon, the bird-conservation organization. “The fires are more intense and cover ever-larger landscapes, that in turn has the possibility to severely impact the health of the watershed.”

Millions of trees have also been lost to insects and disease exacerbated by drought, including along riverbanks, where less shade is warming streams. Many desert plants, like ocotillos, Washington fan palms and Joshua trees, are also declining from warming temperatures, less precipitation and thirstier animals.

Across the region streams and springs are drying up, too, leading to declines in populations of aquatic amphibians, fish and insects that make up the base of the food chain.

“We haven’t seen any entire species go extinct yet,” says Michael Bogan, an assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona. “But if you project this into the future, that’s certainly something we’re worried about.”

His concern includes the fate of endangered desert pupfish and Gila topminnows.

“They used to be present in large river systems, but the changes in the habitat and the introduction of non-native fishes have basically excluded them from all of those large historic habitats,” he says. “Now the only refuge where they can survive is these smaller habitats — these headwater streams and springs — and those are the exact types of places that are disappearing now.”

Birds are at risk, too, a recent study found. The researchers visited areas of the Mojave Desert that had been studied in the previous century and found that, on average, the sites lost 43% of their species. The main driver, they believe, is decreased precipitation from climate change.

Birds who live in the desert already endure harsh conditions, but climate change could push them past tolerable limits, causing lethal hyperthermia or dehydration. A lack of water can also cause reduced fitness and or force birds to skip a breeding cycle.

We already see this happening with burrowing owls. A study by researchers from the University of New Mexico looked at how increasing air temperature and aridity affected the species.

Burrowing owls. Photo: Wendy Miller (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Between 1998 and 2013 the birds at their study area in New Mexico experienced a decline in the number of young that left the nest and a precipitous 98.1% drop — from 52 breeding pairs to just one.

The researchers associated the declines with the effects of decreased precipitation and increased temperature. “An increasingly warm and dry climate may contribute to this species’ decline and may already be a driving force of their apparent decline in the desert Southwest,” they concluded.

Mammals aren’t immune to the changes, either. Another recent study found grave threats to pronghorn across the region. Their models predicted that half of the 18 populations they studied would disappear by 2090.

A decrease in water supply affects animals’ health but can also cause behavioral changes that could put them in harm’s way. If animals need to move outside their normal range in search of declining food or water, it could lead to more interactions with predators or more human-wildlife conflicts, especially if animals look for resources in more urbanized areas.

Fewer sources of water also force a greater number of animals to congregate at the remaining watering holes. Experts say this increases the risk of disease outbreaks like the one that happened in 2020 along the Pacific flyway in California and Oregon, when 60,000 birds crowded into sparse wetlands perished from avian botulism.

An Altered River

Many of the most severe ecosystem impacts currently affecting the Colorado basin predate the 20-year drought.

Hoover Dam’s construction in 1936, followed by the building of Glen Canyon Dam 30 years later, dramatically altered river’s flow, blocked sediment that creates riparian habitat, and changed the temperature of the river…

Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. Photo: Simon Morris (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Today the 360 miles between the two dams, which include the Grand Canyon, have become “a river that’s managed to pool-to-pool,” says Pitt. “There’s not much flowing river once you get below Hoover Dam.” That’s caused a loss of riparian forest, which supported birds and other wildlife, and pushed four native fish — humpback chub, bonytail chub, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker — to the brink of extinction.

“There’s concern for quite a number of species because of the historically altered river flow,” says Pitt.

Colorado River Delta via 2012 State of the Rockies Report

It also decimated 1.5 million acres of wetlands downstream at the Colorado River Delta in Mexico.

“For most of the last 50 years, the river has not flowed to the sea,” says Pitt. “An untold wealth of wildlife disappeared off the map because of the desiccation of that landscape.”

Compounding Problems

Development, dams and water diversions along the Colorado, along with today’s drought and climate warming, have pushed many species to the razor’s edge. Some are barely hanging on.

Humpback chub

Of particular concern right now are humpback chub, which suffered after Glen Canyon Dam’s construction. Managers have spent decades trying to recover the fish — with some recent success.

But now the species faces a new threat: non-native largemouth bass — a voracious predator of humpback chub — who thrive in the warmer water that’s being released from the diminished reservoir.

In June researchers detected the fish downstream of Glen Canyon Dam, in the same habitat where humpback chub numbers were finally improving.

“The National Park Service is really worried that if those populations of non-native fish get established in the Colorado River downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, that could be catastrophic for the humpback chub,” says Pitt.

Echo Bay Marina in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 2014. Photo: James Marvin Phelps (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The situation is emblematic of the larger ecological consequences stemming from our river management.

“How we manage the dams and the water levels is directly affecting the ecology of the Colorado River itself,” says Bogan.

And while that imperiled ecology may not be the headline news regarding the Colorado River crisis, its significance shouldn’t be understated.

Millions of people visit the Grand Canyon each year to peer over the canyon’s lip and glimpse the Colorado’s path through the ancient towering walls. They come, too, to see California condors, bald eagles and southwestern willow flycatchers — all of whom could disappear if the river does.

The loss of plants and animals across the basin is also a loss of cultural resources for the region’s Tribes.

And as the river declines, so does everything around it…

Worse Before It Gets Better

As states work to deal with shortages of water from the Colorado River, there’s a chance that things could get worse before they get better.

One concern is an overdrafting of groundwater, particularly in Arizona, which legally bears the brunt of shortages on the Colorado and has many areas where groundwater pumping is not regulated.

That can leave groundwater-dependent springs and streams at risk of drying.

Another area of concern is California’s Salton Sea — the famously saline lake in the desert fed now only through agricultural runoff from the neighboring irrigation districts. One of those is the Imperial Irrigation District, which gets the biggest chunk of California’s Colorado River allotment. As the region attempts to work out a new plan to decrease water use, there’s pressure on the agency to fallow some of its 475,000 acres, but that would also mean less runoff making it to the Salton Sea.

Burrowing owls. Photo: Wendy Miller (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“The Salton Sea is some of the only remaining habitat for migrating water birds and shorebirds in interior California,” says Pitt. “The Central Valley was that habitat once upon a time, but has been completely developed. So it’s a critical habitat for many species.”

It’s also a public health threat. As winds sweep across the drying lake, particles of dust and pollution are swept into neighboring communities where residents suffer from high rates of asthma and respiratory problems.

“The answer is not that we can’t reduce any water use from the Imperial Irrigation District,” she says. “As uses of water are reduced in irrigated agriculture that drains to the sea, there needs to be mitigation.”

A plan, that includes habitat restoration and dust mitigation suppression projects, created decades ago to do just that has been slow to get off the ground. It needs to “ramp up quickly to protect wildlife and to protect public health,” she says.

The Path Forward

There is some good news.

Minute 323 environmental section signing. Photo credit: Colorado River Water Users Association

Agreements between Mexico and the United States in the past decade have enabled “pulse flows” of water to flow downstream to repair a small amount of the lost wetland habitat in Mexico’s California River Delta. And in the desert, fortunately, a little can go a long way.

“We’re seeing improvements in both the number of bird species detected there and the populations of those species,” says Pitt. She’s optimistic that the two governments will continue to support that environmental program in the future.

It’s an idea that could help upstream habitat as well.

“I think really the most important thing that’s being done at both the state level and at the local level is trying to get dedicated flows in streams that are explicitly for the conservation of aquatic species,” says Bogan. Although right now, because of the complexities of water rights, that work is limited and usually local in scope.

“But it’s something that at least has given me a little bit of hope,” he says.

Another strategy, says Pitt, is “natural distributed storage,” which means restoring wetlands and high-elevation meadows to slow water down as it runs across the landscape. That can help recharge groundwater and provide moisture to soil and plants.

“The more moisture we’re keeping around the less vulnerable these areas are to fire,” she says. “It will have an incredible wildlife benefit because those meadows are rich habitat.”

It’s akin to the work that beavers do naturally, but people can replicate.

“It sounds small if you look at it on one little creek,” she says, “but if we can start to see it implemented across the upper basin, I think it could really scale up to make a difference.”

With the cumulative impacts of human development and climate change adding up, Pitt says we should look to the federal government and states to make sure that Endangered Species Act programs are supported to help protect and restore habitat for the dozens of already at-risk species in the basin. This means going beyond supplementing the number of endangered wild fish with hatchery-raised fish, which is the current management strategy.

And of course, the region still needs to grapple with how it allocates and manages the Colorado River’s water. Pitts says she’d like to see a greater role for Tribes in that process and the inclusion of adequate water to maintain healthy ecosystems.

“Environmental water needs to be recognized as part of our objectives for water management,” says Pitt.

“It’s both extremely challenging at this moment because there’s so much less water available to carve up between users,” she says. “But it’s a moment to really rethink how we do things.”

#Beaver Ponds on Little Last Chance Creek Stayed Green During Wildfire — Emily Fairfax

A beaver complex in California, about an hour and a half north of Lake Tahoe, stayed green and healthy even as the Dixie Fire and Sugar Fire burned the surrounding landscape in 2021. A year later, the beavers and broader ecosystem are still thriving (while nearby areas remain burnt). Smokey the Beaver protects another wetland ecosystem during drought and wildfire!

Beavers are having a good week. Click the link to read “Beavers Are Finally Getting the Rebrand They Deserve” on the Mother Jones website (Jackie Flynn Mogensen). Here’s an excerpt:

It’s been a good week for beavers. On Monday, the New York Times ran an article highlighting the rodents’ position as “highly skilled environmental engineers” capable of mitigating threats like wildfires and drought. The same day, the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed beavers “one of California’s best chances to fight climate change.” And on Tuesday the Los Angeles Times reported that the Golden State is seeking applications for its brand-new beaver restoration unit to protect this “untapped, creative climate solving hero.”

And it’s not just California; pro-beaver policy changes are happening across the US. Here’s the Times:

“Beavers, you might say, are having a moment. In Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, the Bureau of Land Management is working with partners to build beaver-like dams that they hope real beavers will claim and expand…In Maryland, groups are trying to lure beavers to help clean the water that flows into Chesapeake Bay. In Wisconsin, one study found that beavers could substantially reduce flooding in some of the most vulnerable areas of Milwaukee County.”

American beaver, he was happily sitting back and munching on something. and munching, and munching. By Steve from washington, dc, usa – American Beaver, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3963858

More wolves, beavers needed as part of improving western United States habitats, scientists say — #Oregon State University

Beaver. Photo credit: Oregon State University

Click the link to read the article on the Oregon State University website (Steve Lundeberg):

Oregon State University scientists are proposing management changes on western federal lands that they say would result in more wolves and beavers and would re-establish ecological processes.

In a paper published today [September 9, 2022] in BioScience, “Rewilding the American West,” co-lead author William Ripple and 19 other authors suggest using portions of federal lands in 11 states to establish a network based on potential habitat for the gray wolf – an apex predator able to trigger powerful, widespread ecological effects.

In those states the authors identified areas, each at least 5,000 square kilometers, of contiguous, federally managed lands containing prime wolf habitat. The states in the proposed Western Rewilding Network, which would cover nearly 500,000 square kilometers, are Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

“It’s an ambitious idea, but the American West is going through an unprecedented period of converging crises including extended drought and water scarcity, extreme heat waves, massive fires and loss of biodiversity,” said Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology in the OSU College of Forestry.

Gray wolf. Photo credit: Oregon State University

Gray wolves were hunted to near extinction in the West but were reintroduced to parts of the northern Rocky Mountains and the Southwest starting in the 1990s through measures made possible by the Endangered Species Act.

“Still, the gray wolf’s current range in those 11 states is only about 14% of its historical range,” said co-lead author Christopher Wolf, a postdoctoral scholar in the College of Forestry. “They probably once numbered in the tens of thousands, but today there might only be 3,500 wolves across the entire West.”

American beaver, he was happily sitting back and munching on something. and munching, and munching. By Steve from washington, dc, usa – American Beaver, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3963858

Beaver populations, once robust across the West, declined roughly 90% after settler colonialism and are now nonexistent in many streams, meaning ecosystem services are going unprovided, the authors say.

By felling trees and shrubs and constructing dams, beavers enrich fish habitat, increase water and sediment retention, maintain water flows during drought, improve water quality, increase carbon sequestration and generally improve habitat for riparian plant and animal species.

“Beaver restoration is a cost-effective way to repair degraded riparian areas,” said co-author Robert Beschta, professor emeritus in the OSU College of Forestry. “Riparian areas occupy less than 2% of the land in the West but provide habitat for up to 70% of wildlife species.”

Similarly, wolf restoration offers significant ecological benefits by helping to naturally control native ungulates such as elk, according to the authors. They say wolves facilitate regrowth of vegetation species such as aspen, which supports diverse plant and animal communities and is declining in the West.

The paper includes a catalogue of 92 threatened and endangered plant and animal species that have at least 10% of their ranges within the proposed Western Rewilding Network; for each species, threats from human activity were analyzed.

The authors determined the most common threat was livestock grazing, which they say can cause stream and wetland degradation, affect fire regimes and make it harder for woody species, especially willow, to regenerate.

Nationally, about 2% of meat production results from federal grazing permits, the paper notes.

“We suggest the removal of grazing on federal allotments from approximately 285,000 square kilometers within the rewilding network, representing 29% of the total 985,000 square kilometers of federal lands in the 11 western states that are annually grazed,” Beschta said. “That means we need an economically and socially just federal compensation program for those who give up their grazing permits. Rewilding will be most effective when participation concerns for all stakeholders are considered, including Indigenous people and their governments.”

In addition to Beschta, Wolf and Ripple, authors from Oregon State include J. Boone Kauffman, Beverly Law and Michael Paul Nelson. Daniel Ashe, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and now the president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is also a co-author.

The paper also included authors from the University of Washington, the University of Colorado, the Ohio State University, Virginia Tech, Michigan Technological University, the University of Victoria, the Turner Endangered Species Fund, the National Parks and Conservation Association, RESOLVE, the Florida Institute for Conservation Science, Public Lands Media and Wild Heritage.

#ClimateChange Is Ravaging the #ColoradoRiver. There’s a Model to Avert the Worst — The New York Times #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

This irrigation canal helps support the Yakima Basin’s $4.5 billion agricultural industry. Photo credit: Washington Department of Ecology

Click the link to read the article on The New York Times website (Henry Fountain). Here’s an excerpt:

…a decade ago, the water managers of the Yakima Basin tried something different. Tired of spending more time in courtrooms than at conference tables, and faced with studies showing the situation would only get worse, they hashed out a plan to manage the Yakima River and its tributaries for the next 30 years to ensure a stable supply of water. The circumstances aren’t completely parallel, but some experts on Western water point to the Yakima plan as a model for the kind of cooperative effort that needs to happen on the Colorado right now…

Representative Melanie Stansbury, a New Mexico Democrat who worked on the Yakima Basin and other water issues for years before being elected to Congress in 2021, said the plan “represents the best of a collaborative, science-based process.”

[…]

Climate change and recurring drought had wreaked havoc with the water supply for irrigation managers and farmers in the Yakima Basin, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country. Conservationists were concerned that habitats were drying up, threatening species. Old dams built to store water had blocked the passage of fish, all but eliminating the trout and salmon that the Indigenous Yakama Nation had harvested for centuries. In droughts, water allocations to many farms were cut. Years of court fights had left everyone dissatisfied, and a proposal in 2008 for a costly new dam and reservoir that favored some groups over others had not helped. Ron Van Gundy, manager of the Roza Irrigation District at the southern end of the basin, went to see Phil Rigdon, director of the Yakama Nation’s natural resources division. The two had been battling for years, largely through lawyers. They both opposed the dam, but for different reasons…

The two met, and eventually other stakeholders, joined them in developing a plan for better management of the river. After several years of give-and-take, the result was the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, a blueprint for ensuring a reliable and resilient water supply for farmers, municipalities, natural habitats and fish, even in the face of continued warming and potentially more droughts. A decade into the plan, there are tens of millions of dollars’ worth of projects up and down the river designed to achieve those goals, including canal lining and other improvements in irrigation efficiency, increasing reservoir storage, and removing barriers to fish.

Created by Imgur user Fejetlenfej , a geographer and GIS analyst with a ‘lifelong passion for beautiful maps,’ it highlights the massive expanse of river basins across the country – in particular, those which feed the Mississippi River, in pink.

How to build a pollinator garden — USFWS

A hummingbird clearwing moth visits a wild bergamot flower.

Click the link to read the article on the USFWS website (Mara Koenig):

Careful planning is essential to creating a successful pollinator garden. Follow these easy steps to make sure you have everything covered before you make your investment.

Choosing your location

While flowering plants can grow in both shady and sunny locations, consider your audience. Butterflies and other pollinators like to bask in the sun and some of their favorite wildflowers grow best in full or partial sun with some protection from the wind.

Identifying soil type and sunlight

Take a look at your soil – is it sandy and well-drained or more clay-like and wet? You can turn over a test patch or check out the soil mapper for your county to learn more. Your soil type and the amount of sunlight it gets will help determine the kinds of plants you can grow.

Choosing your plants

Research which varieties of milkweed and wildflowers are native to your area and do well in your soil and sunlight conditions. Native plants are the ideal choice, because they require less maintenance and tend to be heartier. Find a nursery that specializes in native plants near you – they’ll be familiar with plants that are meant to thrive in your part of the country. It’s essential to choose plants that have not been treated with pesticides, insecticides or neonicotinoids. You’ll also want to focus on selecting perennials to ensure your plants come back each year and don’t require a lot of maintenance.

Remember to think about more than just the summer growing season. Pollinators need nectar early in the spring, throughout the summer and even into the fall. Choosing plants that bloom at different times will help you create a bright and colorful garden that both you and pollinators will love for months!

Seeds vs. plants

Once you’ve identified your plant species, you’ll need to decide whether to use seeds or start with small plants. While both are good options, your choice will depend on your timeline and budget. Seeds are more economical, especially for larger gardens, but will require more time. If you’re using seeds, plan on dispersing them the fall or late winter ahead of your summer growing season. This gives the seeds time to germinate. Nursery-started plants cost more, but will generally give you a quick return on your investment and bring pollinators into your yard during the same growing season.

Planting your garden

Purple prairie clover, purple coneflower and yellow coneflower in a native pollinator garden at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.

When you’re ready to start planting, you’ll need your seeds or plants along with essentials like gardening tools to break the soil as well as extra soil or compost and mulch.

Prepping your garden

If you’re converting an existing lawn, you’ll need to remove grass and current plant cover and turn your soil to loosen it up. If you’re planning on using raised beds or containers, there are a lot of pre-made options available, as well as simple designs to build your own. No matter where you decide to plant your garden, you’ll want to add nutrient-rich compost or soil to improve the success of your garden.

Planting your seeds or flowers

When you’re using seeds, keep in mind that they will need time to germinate, so fall and late winter are ideal times to get started. In the fall, disperse seeds and cover with soil. In the late winter, scatter seeds over the snow. The sun will heat up the seeds and help anchor them into the snow. The melted snow provides moisture that will help the seeds germinate.

If you’re starting with small plants, make sure you follow frost guidance to avoid putting your plants in too early. Dig holes just big enough for the root system, then cover and reinforce the roots with soil or compost. Add mulch to reduce weed growth.

Wait, watch, water and weed

It may take some time, but you will eventually see butterflies and other pollinators enjoying your garden. Make sure to weed and water your garden to keep it healthy. Keep in mind that it may take a couple seasons for milkweed to start producing flowers.

We wish you the best of luck with your pollinator garden. Thank you for making a difference for butterflies, bees and other pollinators!

Click for a larger view.

Wildfire Recovery Efforts Continue with Additional Federal Help — Northern Water #EastTroubleSomeFire

On August 23, 2022 Sen. John Hickenlooper joined several representatives from Northern Water, as well as officials from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado State Forest Service and Grand County at C Lazy U Ranch, from an overlook that offered a vantage point of Willow Creek Reservoir. Photo credit: Northern Water

Since fire crews were able to contain and control the East Troublesome Fire in late 2020, land managers have recognized the challenges that will confront the region for years to come: debris flows and limited forest regrowth. 

On Aug. 23, Sen. John Hickenlooper joined several representatives from Northern Water, as well as officials from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado State Forest Service and Grand County. The group of 20-plus held discussions at C Lazy U Ranch, from an overlook that offered a vantage point of Willow Creek Reservoir and the surrounding area, which is one of the most impacted portions within the burn scar.   

Properties northwest of Willow Creek Reservoir on Colo. Highway 125 have seen numerous instances of debris flows following monsoon rains in 2021 and 2022, which have frequently led to road closure.  

Sen. Hickenlooper toured the area in the wake of the passage of the Inflation Recovery Act, which earmarks funds for projects that will enhance climate-resilience of forests and watersheds. Stakeholders had an opportunity to showcase examples of collaborative initiatives that align with the intent of the Act such as the C-BT Headwaters Partnership and the Kawuneeche Valley Ecosystem Restoration Collaborative. Funding for projects in the area will benefit the ecosystem, as well as downstream properties, infrastructure and water users downstream of the affected lands. 

Hickenlooper’s staff produced this video following last week’s stop in the East Troublesome burn area, featuring an interview with the senator from the C Lazy U Ranch site, in which he talks about how some of this funding will be put to use.

The #ColoradoRiver comes alive even as it ebbs — Writers on the Range #COriver #aridification

The water replenishing the delta takes a circuitous path. A maze of irrigation infrastructure and long-neglected side channels delivers water to the 160-acre El Chaussé habitat restoration site, located 45 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border in Baja California, and to downstream river segments. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob

Click the link to read the article on the Writers on the Range website (Char Miller):

The Colorado River is revealing its secrets. For decades a World War II landing craft lay submerged 200 feet beneath Lake Mead’s surface — but now it’s beached, rusting in the sun. It’s become an unsettling marker of just how vulnerable the river is and how parched the Intermountain West has become.

The immediate impact of what’s being called the most severe mega-drought in 1,200 years, has been sharp cuts in the allocation of water to downstream users, with southern Nevada’s take slashed by seven billion gallons. Then there’s the fear that if Lake Mead’s water levels continue to fall, it may not be able to generate the power it now supplies to 1.3 million people in Nevada, Arizona and California.

Yet the diminished reservoirs tell another tale about the Colorado River, one of the world’s great plumbing systems, which enables downstream agriculture and sends potable water to an estimated 40 million residents. The story is that just where the river ends, at the Gulf of California, it has been slowly coming alive.

For decades, the United States sucked so much water from the Colorado that only a trickle, if that much, ever reached its desiccated, sprawling delta in Mexico. Once covering 9,650 square miles, the delta has shrunk to less than one percent of its original expanse. Human diversions wrung it dry.

It wasn’t always that way. In 1922, conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote about paddling a canoe through the delta’s green lagoons and marveling as “cormorants drove their black prows in quest of skittering mullets” and “mallards, widgeons, and teal sprang skyward in alarm.” When a troop of egrets settled on a far green willow, Leopold said they looked like a “premature snowstorm.”

Leopold’s lyrical vision had the misfortune a century ago of coinciding with the signing of the Colorado Compact, which sealed the delta’s fate. Approved by Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California, the compact quantified the Colorado’s annual flow and set up the seven states to contend with one another to protect, if not expand, their individual shares. The compact turned the delta into a dust bowl.

For decades, environmental and tribal activists and nonprofit organizations protested the devastation that massive diversions to fill the Powell and Mead reservoirs produced in the delta’s once-flourishing human and biological communities. They pushed hard for remedies from both the U.S. and Mexican governments and the river-hugging state legislatures.

It wasn’t until 1993, when Bruce Babbitt became Secretary of the Interior under President Bill Clinton, that the political dynamic changed. Babbitt argued that the states must demonstrate how they intended to operate within their apportioned amount. If they failed to do so, he said, he would not approve surplus water, a threat particularly aimed at California, which routinely commandeered any surplus flow the other states didn’t use.

River activists immediately demanded that some of the water savings should head down to the delta. They got nowhere until 2014, when Mexico and the United States acted on their earlier commitment to sluice more water into the delta’s riparian habitats.

Since then, the two countries have periodically released water to mimic historic seasonal flooding. These tiny pulses of liquid energy, which constitute less than one percent of Los Angeles’ total annual water consumption, have had an outsized impact.

With restoration ecologists to guide the process, some wetlands have revived, small woodlands have flourished and native plants and animals have taken hold. Remote-sensing cameras recently spotted beavers gnawing on cottonwoods.

We don’t know how current drought-management solutions might cripple these recent interventions that brought the tail end of the river to life. Meanwhile, let’s recall Leopold visiting the delta where he watched burbling sandhill cranes circling overhead. The sight brought him joy as it made him feel he was joined with them in the “remote vastness of space and time.”

That’s a compelling affirmation that the Colorado River must be kept alive to its very end.

Char Miller

Char Miller is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is an environmental historian at Pomona College; his upcoming book is Natural Consequences: Intimate Essays for a Planet in Peril.

A real gold mine: Multimillion-dollar settlements raise questions among #Colorado officials — The #Durango Telegraph #AnimasRiver #SanJuanRiver

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5, 2015. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

Click the link to read the article on the Durango Telegraph website (Jonathan Romeo). Here’s an excerpt:

With the recent news that the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to pay New Mexico and the Navajo Nation more than $63 million for damages related to the Gold King Mine spill, some Coloradoans are asking: What about us?

“I just always question, should we have been louder, because holy smokes, that’s a lot of money,” La Plata County Commissioner Matt Salka said. “And it is concerning when $60 million-plus goes to communities at the end of the river, yet (Durango and Silverton) were the most heavily impacted.”

[…]

The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency

After the plume passed by, the communities closest to the headwaters – Silverton and Durango – decided not to pursue litigation against the EPA. Instead, they chose to push for the cleanup of mines that pock the mountains around Silverton and have degraded water quality in the Animas River since the heydey of mining in the late 1800s, early 1900s. And indeed, in fall 2016, a collection of historic mines in the area, including the Gold King, received a Superfund designation with widespread local support…

Downstream communities in New Mexico and on the Navajo Nation, however, went a different route. New Mexico sued the EPA in May 2016, with the Navajo Nation following suit a few months later. The $63 million settlement, announced in June, is now under question by upriver elected officials.

“Those are funds I would have liked to see go to the actual source of the issue,” Salka said. “We should be addressing the Superfund site, making sure water quality is good and preventing another mine blowout.”

[…]

While the sheer sight of the spill alarmed even the most involved members of groups such as the Animas River Stakeholders Group (a now-defunct organization of volunteers dedicated to protecting the health of the river), the fact that a mine blew out near Silverton wasn’t a shock. It has happened many times over the years. Looking at the long view: roughly 5.4 million gallons of acid mine drainage leaches into the Animas each day, compared to 3 million in the one-time Gold King blowout. The spill, however, was the catalyst that finally secured a Superfund designation for the mines draining around Silverton. In the past, some community members objected that a Superfund declaration carried a stigma that would imperil the town’s tourism economy and destroy any possibility of reviving the local mining industry. But after the Gold King blowout drew national attention, there was no stopping the momentum, and the Bonita Peak Superfund site was established. It’s composed of 48 historic mining sites around Silverton that are the biggest culprits of metal loading…

Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

It should be noted New Mexico also reached an $11 million settlement with Sunnyside Gold, the last operating mining company in Silverton, and is still pursuing a lawsuit against the EPA’s contractor…

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

On the Navajo Nation, a different case was made about the Gold King Mine spill. From a Native American cultural perspective, waters are sacred, and the disturbing sight of a bright orange San Juan River had a traumatic impact on tribal members (not to mention the history of environmental injustice on tribes throughout North America). According to media reports, some farmers on the Navajo Nation refused to use San Juan River water for years after the spill…

That’s not to say Silverton and Durango were shorted. Both governments received some reimbursement for dealing with the spill itself. The EPA built a $1 million water treatment plant that continues to operate at a cost to the EPA of $2.5 million a year. And, the agency has spent about $100 million to date on the Superfund site and expects to spend significantly more in the coming years…

Since the Gold King Mine spill happened, a lot of money has been exchanged (and not exchanged: the EPA, for instance, denied liability for $1.2 billion in private damages, such as rafting companies that took a hit during the river closure, lost wages for the tourism sector and alleged damage to crops and livestock). EPA’s Basile added a separate lawsuit settlement will have Sunnyside Gold pay $41 million to the federal government and $4 million to Colorado, all to be used on top of the federal government’s $45 million for the Bonita Peak site…At the end of the day, however, local officials say the best payout of all would be improved water quality in the Animas River watershed. Yet, Brookie said it does sting to see the dollar amount going to a New Mexico community that may not necessarily have a case for claiming they were impacted by the Gold King Mine spill.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

#Colorado, #NewMexico struggle to save the blistered #RioGrande, with lessons for other #drought-strapped rivers — @WaterEdCO

The Rio Grande (Rio del Norte) as mapped in 1718 by Guillaume de L’Isle. By Guillaume Delisle – Library of Congress Public Domain Site: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3700.ct000666, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7864745

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

Albuquerque, New Mexico — In late June, the mornings start out at 80 degrees but temperatures quickly soar past 100. Everywhere fields are brown and the high desert bakes in glaring sunlight. But there is one long, narrow corridor of green here: the Rio Grande.

Jason Casuga, CEO of the Middle Rio Grande Water Conservancy District, and Anne Marken, water operations manager, have been watching the river’s water gauges around the clock for days, knowing that entire stream segments below Albuquerque may go dry at any time. If rains come over the weekend, everyone will relax, at least for a while.

Side channels were excavated by the Bureau of Reclamation along the Rio Grande where it passes through the Rhodes’ property to provide habitat for the endangered silvery minnow. (Dustin Armstrong/U.S. Bureau Of Reclamation)

If that moisture doesn’t come, Casuga and Marken must move quickly to release to these dry stream segments whatever meager water they can squeeze from their drought-strapped system, giving the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation time to save as many endangered silvery minnow as they can from almost certain death.

“We only have so much time to start the drying operation,” Casuga said, referring to a practice where his district shifts water in its system so that Reclamation can rescue the fish before the stream goes completely dry and leaves them stranded to suffocate.

The Rio Grande Basin spans Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Credit: Chas Chamberlin

“If we don’t do it, you might see 30 miles of the entire river go dry. It’s stressful. We’ve been doing this controlled hopscotching for weeks now.”

The Middle Rio Grande district, created in 1925, is responsible for delivering waters to farmers as well as helping the state meet its obligations to deliver water to Texas under the 1938 Rio Grande Compact. It coordinates management activity with Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of engineers on a river system that includes five major reservoirs and hundreds of miles of canals.

A crippled river

The district’s liquid juggling act is becoming increasingly common, and it is painful for everyone to watch, from the 19 tribes and six pueblos whose homes have lined its banks for thousands of years, to the 6 million people and 200,000 acres of irrigated lands that rely on the river across the three-state river basin.

“The worry is heavy,” said Glenn Tenorio, a tribal member of the Santa Ana Pueblo north of Albuquerque, who also serves as the pueblo’s water resources manager.

The Pueblo of Santa Ana lies just north of Albuquerque on the Rio Grande. Credit: Creative Commons


Under the terms of the 1938 Rio Grande Compact, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas share the river’s flows before it reaches Mexico. They have watched drought cripple the river, with flows dropping by 35% over the last 20 years.

But unlike other Western states, in New Mexico water users share both supplies and shortages, and that’s a lesson other states might benefit from, experts say. In most Western states where the prior appropriation system, known as first-in-time, first-in-right exists, water users with younger, more junior water rights are routinely cut off in times of shortage, creating expensive, conflict-ridden water management scenarios.

Water scarcity grows

Still, in response to growing water scarcity, Texas sued New Mexico in 2013, alleging that groundwater pumping in the southern part of New Mexico was harming its own share of water in the river. After being heard briefly before a special master for the U.S. Supreme Court last year, the three states—Colorado is also named in the case—agreed to pause the lawsuit while they conduct mediation talks.

Want more background on the Rio Grande Compact?
Check out this fact sheet

Whether the talks will succeed isn’t clear yet. In addition to the groundwater dispute, New Mexico owes Texas roughly 125,000 acre-feet of surface water from the river and, under the terms of the compact, cannot store any water in its reservoirs until Texas is repaid.

But there is some hope emerging, as Colorado embarks on a $30 million land fallowing program to reduce its Rio Grande water use and as New Mexico seeks new federal rules that will allow it to store more water and re-operate its federal reservoirs.

Abiquiu Reservoir, in northern New Mexico, is one of several that are being drained by the mega drought. Credit: Mitch Tobin, Water Desk, March 2022

Page Pegram helps oversee Rio Grande river issues for New Mexico’s Office of the State Engineer. Unlike Colorado, New Mexico has never had the resources to quantify its various water users’ share of the river. Until now, the state has survived on healthy snowpacks and summer rains.

Though the drought has lasted more than 20 years, in the last five years, Pegram has seen the system deteriorate significantly.

“We’re seeing a fundamental change in water availability,” she said. “Suddenly, everything is different. Temperatures are higher, evaporation is higher, and soil moisture is lower. It’s new enough that we can’t pinpoint exactly what’s happening and we don’t have time to study the issue. It’s already happened.”

The headwaters of the Rio Grande River in Colorado. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

In the beginning

The Rio Grande has its genesis in the lush high mountain tundra above Creede, Colo., flowing down through Monte Vista and Alamosa, making its way along Highway 287, crossing the Colorado state line as it flows toward Santa Fe and Albuquerque, then dropping down to the tiny town of Truth and Consequences before it hits the Texas state line. At that point it travels through El Paso and forms the border between Texas and Mexico until it hits the Gulf of Mexico.

It is in the headwaters region in Creede where the majority of its flows originate. And while the hay meadows outside Creede are lush, and the streams cold and full, water has become so scarce even here that if homeowners want to drill a water well, they have to buy water rights from elsewhere to ensure those farther downstream on the river have adequate supplies.

Creede circa 1920

Zeke Ward has lived in Creede for some 40 years, and has served on citizen advisory boards that oversee the river, water quality, and mine residue cleanup efforts.

He said the headwaters area has largely been protected from the most severe aspects of the mega-drought gripping the Rio Grande Basin and much of the American West because there are few people here and 80% of the land is owned by the U.S. Forest Service.

Still, he says, the river is vital to the region’s small tourist economy. “We don’t have a ski area,” he said. “So we have to make a living in 100 days, and that’s not easy.”

Follow the river below Creede and soon you enter the San Luis Valley, where irrigated agriculture dates back at least to the 1500s and where the combination of drought and overpumping have sapped an expansive, delicate series of aquifers. So much water has been lost that the state has issued warnings that it will begin shutting wells down if the aquifer, which is fed from the Rio Grande and its tributaries, is not restored within 10 years.

Craig Cotten is the top Colorado regulator on the Rio Grande and has overseen state and community efforts to make sure Colorado can deliver enough water to fulfill its legal obligations to New Mexico and Texas.

Craig Cotten, Colorado’s top regulator on the Rio Grande, stands on a ditch that delivers water to New Mexico to help meet Colorado’s obligations under the Rio Grande Compact of 1938. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

To do so, Cotten routinely cuts water supplies to growers, based on where they fall in the valley’s system of water rights. Right now, Colorado is meeting its compact obligations, but the cost to the valley is high and the cost of failure higher still.

“The farmers are struggling with reaching sustainability,” Cotten said. “If they don’t get there, wells will be shut down.”

But Cotten said he is cautiously optimistic that the Rio Grande can be brought back to health as the climate continues to dry out, in part because there are new tools to manage its lower flows more precisely, including sophisticated airborne measuring systems that show with greater accuracy how much snow has fallen in remote areas and how much water that snow contains.

Knowing more precisely how much water is in the system means the state can capture more when flows are higher, and see more accurately when streamflows will drop. Previously, snow-water estimates have varied widely, miscalculating by as much as 70% or more how much water is in a given mountain region.

In addition, this year Colorado lawmakers approved $30 million to begin a program that will pay San Luis Valley farmers to permanently fallow their lands, something that will relieve stress on the aquifer and the Rio Grande and which could stave off a mass well shutdown.

Plenty to learn

Cleave Simpson manages the Rio Grande Water Conservation District in Alamosa and is also a Colorado state senator.

He believes that the work on the upper Rio Grande holds important lessons for the three states sharing its water and others in the American West.

The people of the Rio Grande Basin have been living with whatever the river can produce for years now, and effectively sharing in any shortages. In addition, though the San Luis Valley aquifers are deteriorating, the farmers in the region have taxed themselves and used some $70 million from those tax revenues to fallow land, something that more and more experts agree will need to be done everywhere, including in the crisis-ridden Colorado River Basin.

“You don’t have very far to look to see your future on the Colorado River,” Simpson said. “Just look at the Rio Grande.”

Sunrise March 16, 2022 San Luis Valley with Mount Blanca in the distance. Photo credit: Chris Lopez/Alamosa Citizen

Farmers in the San Luis Valley, including Simpson, are also testing new crops, such as quinoa and industrial hemp, which use less water than potatoes, a longstanding local mainstay.

“I don’t think I can keep doing what our family has been doing for four generations,” Simpson said. “I raise alfalfa because my dad and my grandpa did. But now I am raising 50 acres of industrial hemp for fiber … it certainly uses less water than my alfalfa crop.”

Daily prayers

The work in the San Luis Valley, including the new $30 million paid fallowing program, is a major step toward bringing the Rio Grande Basin back into balance.

And while “fallowing” is a term somewhat new to the water world, it is a management practice some of the oldest users of the river, its tribes, have practiced for millennia.

Tenorio’s family has lived in Santa Ana Pueblo for thousands of years. He said tribal members have learned to balance their needs with whatever the river provides. These days that’s not easy, but he said they focus on the future, to ensure their communities can grow and that their irrigated lands continue to produce the corn, melons, grains, beans and alfalfa that they’ve raised as long as anyone can remember.

“We only can do with what we’re given from Mother Nature,” Tenorio said.

Like other tribes in New Mexico, the Santa Ana Pueblo’s water rights have never been quantified, but because they are so old, they get their water first based on how much is available.

Looking ahead, Tenorio is hopeful that better coordinated use of New Mexico’s few reservoirs, as well as more efficient irrigation systems, will allow everyone to adapt to the drier environment.

“We pray every day for our farmers and everyone who lives on the river,” he said.

Wagon Wheel Gap on the Rio Grande, by Wheeler, D. N. (Dansford Noble), 1841-1909.jpg. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Unlocking manmade infrastructure
Casuga, of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, describes himself as the CEO of bad news. But he said he has some hope that the river can be better managed.

If new rules to operate the federal reservoirs are eventually approved, he says New Mexico could easily meet its water obligations to Texas. An effort is now underway in Washington, D.C., to make that happen.

“This river is highly developed from a human standpoint,” Casuga said. “We as men impact the river so we have to unlock this manmade infrastructure to help it.”

Until then though, the day-to-day reality of operating the river remains complex. In June, when the temperatures were soaring, the rain did come, but it offered only a brief respite for the Rio Grande.

This week, as the searing heat returned, the river began drying out, forcing Casuga and Marken to launch their elaborate hopscotch game again.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Yes, #Utah got ‘lackadaisical’ about #water, Gov. Spencer Cox concedes. Here’s why he remains hopeful. From landmark reforms to state water laws to big investments in infrastructure, he believes it’s not too late for the #GreatSaltLake — The Salt Lake Tribune

Click the link to read the article on the Salt Lake Tribune website (Leia Larsen). Here’s an excerpt:

Cox lauded nearly $500 million invested in water-saving measures this year. But the governor conceded that much of that spending would not have been possible without federal pandemic aid. HB242, for example, is a sweeping bill that will require meters on nearly every secondary water connection across the state. Its $250 million price tag was funded by the American Rescue Plan Act…While secondary meters will give Utahns a better understanding of how much water they are using outdoors — and provide water districts a mechanism to charge for that use — the governor acknowledged agriculture still gulps the lion’s share of the state’s water…

On making a difference using agriculture, Cox noted that one of the most significant pieces of legislation he signed last session was HB33. That bill allows water rights holders to temporarily lease their water to the state to benefit the environment, including the Great Salt Lake…The state is negotiating with several partners to secure donated or leased water to boost stream flows and ensure that water tickles all the way to Utah’s iconic but beleaguered terminal lake. In a follow-up request sent to the Utah Department of Natural Resources, a spokesperson confirmed the state is not currently leasing water to benefit the Great Salt Lake because the details of those agreements are still getting ironed out.

Utah Rivers map via Geology.com

Helicopters are back in the air to protect northern #Colorado’s #water — KUNC

Aerial mulching. Photo credit: Colorado State Forest Service

Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Alex Hager):

Work to protect water quality on the northern Front Range resumes this week with a whir of helicopter blades in Poudre Canyon. For the second year in a row, those aircraft will drop mulch on areas burned by the Cameron Peak Fire in 2020 — an effort to stabilize burned soil and keep ashy debris out of rivers.

Colorado’s largest-ever wildfire left a charred moonscape, with soil turned into gray dust and shards of blackened trees and plants littering the ground. When it rains, ash and sediment can be swept downhill into rivers that supply water to town pipes. In 2021, that forced the City of Fort Collins to stop treating water from the river and switch to an alternate supply from Horsetooth Reservoir…

Last year, crews dropped wood shards on 5,050 acres in the Cache La Poudre and Big Thompson watersheds. This summer, they hope to cover nearly 5,000 more — with 3,500 acres identified near the Poudre and 1,200 acres near the Big Thomspon. Those efforts aren’t cheap. Last year’s aerial mulching work cost $11 million. Keeping a helicopter in the air costs $87 each minute, but local utilities justify the expense as a precaution against even more costly treatment that would be necessary without it.

Contractors will begin 2022’s aerial mulching campaign on Thursday, July 14, 2022 starting in the Pingree Park area. It will continue through the summer and fall.

The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Say hello to #Colorado DIY Forest Restoration-Log Terracing

Photos of sapling on the east side given a chance by a log. Without that support, very few made it. Photo credit: Drew Newman

Click the link to go to their Facebook page. Here’s a scan of the explainer that I received from Drew Newnam recently.

Click the image for a larger view.

Biologists’ fears confirmed on the lower #ColoradoRiver — The Associated Press #COriver #aridification

The Colorado River from Navajo Bridge below Lee’s Ferry and Glen Canyon Dam. The proposed Marble Canyon Dam would have been just downstream from here. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (Brittany Petersen). Here’s an excerpt:

For National Park Service fisheries biologist Jeff Arnold, it was a moment he’d been dreading. Bare-legged in sandals, he was pulling in a net in a shallow backwater of the lower Colorado River last week, when he spotted three young fish that didn’t belong there. “Give me a call when you get this!” he messaged a colleague, snapping photos.

Minutes later, the park service confirmed their worst fear: smallmouth bass had in fact been found and were likely reproducing in the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam.

The confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers in the Grand Canyon, shown here in a September 2020 aerial photo from Ecoflight, represents an area where the humpback chub has rebounded in the last decade. That progress is now threatened by declining water levels in Lake Powell, which could lead to non-native smallmouth bass becoming established in the canyon. CREDIT: JANE PARGITER/ECOFLIGHT

They may be a beloved sport fish, but smallmouth bass feast on humpback chub, an ancient, threatened fish that’s native to the river, and that biologists like Arnold have been working hard to recover. The predators wreaked havoc in the upper river, but were held at bay in Lake Powell where Glen Canyon Dam has served as a barrier for years — until now. The reservoir’s recent sharp decline is enabling these introduced fish to get past the dam and closer to where the biggest groups of chub remain, farther downstream in the Grand Canyon.

Where Colorado River no longer meets the sea, a pulse of water brings new life — The Los Angeles Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Water flows in the Colorado River Delta. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob

Click the link to read the article on the Los Angeles Times website (Ian James). Here’s an excerpt:

For decades, so much water has been diverted to supply farms and cities that the Colorado River has seldom met the sea and much of its delta in Mexico has been reduced to a dry riverbed, with only small remnants of its once-vast wetlands surviving. Over the last eight weeks, water has been flowing in parts of the delta once again, restoring a stretch of river in Mexico where previously there had been miles of desert sand. The water is being released from an irrigation canal to aid the delta’s parched environment as part of an agreement between the Mexican and U.S. governments and with support from environmental groups. Those who are involved in the effort say that even as severe drought and the warming climate sap the Colorado River, the initiative shows how small amounts of water can be used to benefit struggling ecosystems…

This site, a habitat restoration area called El Chausse, is located in the southern portion of the delta, downstream from long stretches of dry riverbed, and was chosen as a place where limited water releases would boost the ecosystem by nourishing vegetation and expanding habitat for wildlife. It’s one of a few sites in Mexico where conservationists have been restoring wetlands and forests along the path where the river once flowed. Six years ago, workers removed invasive tamarisk trees at the site and planted a forest of native cottonwoods, willows and mesquites. Those trees have grown rapidly and now drape the wetland in shade, attracting a variety of birds, such as yellow warblers, blue-gray gnatcatchers and vermilion flycatchers…

This is the second straight year of water releases in Mexico. When the water flowed through part of the delta last year, plants released seeds that settled along the banks. [Eduardo] Blancas and his colleagues have seen vegetation flourish along the river channel. They’ve spotted about 120 species of birds in the area.

Watershed Summit 2022 recap #shed22 #ClimateChange #COriver #ColoradoRiver #aridification #ActOnClimate

Denver Botanic Gardens was live-Tweeting from the summit yesterday. Here’s their Twitter feed. (They did not use the hash tag #shed22.)

Here’s the link to the #shed22 Twitter stream. I am always blown away at the insight and awareness displayed by others around me at theses events.

Denver Botanic Gardens is a great venue for the summit. If you need to get up and walk around to clear your mind you can take in the sights of the gardens.

Beavers & Why They Matter: A Ranch Talk with author Ben Goldfarb, July 16, 2022 — RM Land Library

Click the link for all the inside skinny and to register on the RM Land Library website:

Please join us at South Park’s Buffalo Peaks Ranch as author Ben Goldfarb discusses the world of beavers and the landscapes they create. Ben is the author of of Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, the winner of the 2019 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award and named one of the best books of 2018 by the Washington Post. This special event is FREE for all who register!

Buffalo Peaks Ranch will stay open after Ben’s talk,until 3pm. We’ll be offering a Ranch Tour, and the opportunity for you roam the ranch and river, with time to sketch, take photos, and add to the ranch’s Bird List. Bring a picnic lunch if you like. You’ll also be able to explore the ranch’s new beaver pond — but be sure to bring your boots for that!

American beaver, he was happily sitting back and munching on something. and munching, and munching. By Steve from washington, dc, usa – American Beaver, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3963858

In the face of #ClimateChange, beavers are engineering a resistance — KUNC

A beaver dam on the Gunnison River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Alex Hager). Here’s an excerpt:

[Emily Fairfax’s] latest publication suggests that ecosystems, broadly, could stand to benefit from beaver wetlands in ways that are uniquely resistant and resilient in the face of climate change. Scientists have already touted the benefits of process-based restoration, a low-tech means of rebuilding floodplains over time. The new paper contends that beavers are “a force of 15-40 million highly skilled environmental engineers” whose tiny hands and teeth are ready to help implement that restoration.

The study is largely a summary of existing research, pulling together and contextualizing established science about rivers and beavers. It makes the case that beavers were once pivotal in shaping and maintaining healthy riverscapes before their populations were crippled by years of trapping. Chris Jordan, an Oregon-based ecologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, is one of the study’s co-authors. He said the research stands in the face of “dire warnings” and the “doom” of harm beyond our control.

“In reality,” he said, “it’s not out of our control. Here is something that we can do. Here is something that we can think about as an adaptation and mitigation strategy – returning riverscapes to their natural state. And that’s going to give us climate change protection and resilience.”

That protection and resilience comes in a few forms. The first is a safeguard against flooding. Warming temperatures are increasing the frequency of heavy rain and rapidly melting snow. In the channel of a narrow stream or river, that surge of water is likely to quickly overtop the banks and flood. Beaver wetlands, with their wide swaths of soggy land, would help spread some of that water out and limit flooding downstream.

Just as they are helpful in the face of too much water, beaver complexes have proven useful in areas with not enough. High-mountain snow serves as a kind of natural reservoir for the region, slowly releasing water throughout the spring and early summer, assuring a steady supply to the places where humans divert and collect it. But as the West rapidly warms and dries, snowpack is getting smaller and melting earlier. Beavers, meanwhile, are essentially building miniature reservoirs in mountainous areas throughout the region.

Drought also means an increased risk of wildfires, and beavers have proven their mettle against the flames. Even in areas completely ravaged by wildfire, where tree trunks are scorched into blackened toothpicks and soil is left gray and ashen, beaver complexes survive unscathed. The wet earth and thriving greenery resist burning, leaving oases of green in the middle of the lifeless moonscapes left behind by wildfire.

Spreading water out across valley floors also has proven benefits for water temperature, water quality and even carbon sequestration. Water laden with sediment, nitrates or carbon slows down in beaver ponds, allowing particles in it to settle or get consumed by microbes, unlike in a fast-moving stream…

Jordan said allowing or helping beavers to expand their work would help more areas, at least locally, steel themselves against more extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change. But he is candid that the animals won’t turn things around entirely.

#Colorado Wildlife Habitat Program 2022 Request for Proposals — Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Liza Mitchell, a natural resource planner and ecologist with Pitkin County, stands near the wetlands on the North Star Nature Preserve on Aug. 26. A restoration project aims to keep water in the fen, which is habitat for many kinds of wildlife, including ducks, plovers and moose. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the release on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website (Travis Duncan):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is pleased to announce the Colorado Wildlife Habitat Program (CWHP) 2022 Request for Proposals (RFP). The CWHP is a statewide program that supports CPW’s mission by offering funding opportunities to private or public landowners who wish to protect wildlife habitat on their property, and/or provide wildlife-related recreational access to the public.

The CWHP is an incentive-based program that funds conservation easements, public access easements, and fee title purchases to accomplish strategic wildlife conservation and public access goals.

Funding for the 2022 cycle is approximately $11 million and is made possible by revenue generated from the sale of the Habitat Stamp, hunting and fishing licenses, and through CPW’s partnership with Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO).

To Apply

The landowner or a third party representative must complete application forms which address one or more of the following CPW’s 2022 funding priorities:

  • Public access for hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing
  • Big game winter range and migration corridors
  • Protecting habitat for species of concern (specifically those Species of Greatest Conservation Need, as identified in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Statewide Action Plan)
  • Riparian areas and wetlands
  • Landscape-scale parcels and parcels that provide connectivity to conserved lands
  • 2022 funding preferences include working farms and ranches and properties adjacent to wildlife crossings. Application materials will be available on Monday, June 13, 2022 here: https://cpw.state.co.us/cwhp.

    All proposals must be received by 5 p.m. on Thursday, October 13, 2022.

    Completed applications are to be emailed to: Wildlife.RealEstateProposals(at)state.co.us.

    Applicants will receive a confirmation email acknowledging receipt.

    The CWHP funds conservation easements held by CPW or qualified third parties. Third parties may submit a proposal on behalf of the landowner and applications must be signed by the landowner(s). It is strongly recommended that applicants contact the CWHP manager before submitting an application.

    Additional Information

    CPW recognizes that maintaining wildlife-compatible agriculture on the landscape is an important benefit that can be achieved through conservation easements and land management plans. All conservation easements funded through the CWHP will require a management plan. The plan must be agreed upon by the landowner and CPW prior to closing, and may include provisions for the type, timing, and duration of livestock grazing, recreational activities, and overall management of wildlife habitat.

    Landowners are encouraged to develop a clear vision for the future of the property prior to submitting a proposal. Proposals are scored and ranked through a rigorous review process to evaluate strategic conservation impacts, biological significance, public benefits, and project feasibility. Local CPW staff can help describe the wildlife and habitat values accurately. Local CPW office contact information may be found here: https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Maps/CPW_Areas.pdf.

    Initial funding recommendations will be deliberated in March 2023. Final decisions on which projects will move forward is expected to be determined at the Parks and Wildlife Commission’s May 2023 meeting.

    All conservation easement properties are required by law to be monitored annually. Third Party conservation easement holders will be required to submit to CPW copies of the annual monitoring report for each conservation easement funded through the CWHP.

    Public access is not required for all conservation easement projects, but compensation is available for granting wildlife-related public access to CPW. Landowners are welcome to submit proposals for projects where the sole purpose is to provide hunting or fishing access through a public access easement, without an associated conservation easement.

    Under Colorado law, terms of the transaction become a matter of public record after the project is completed and closed. Additionally, it is important for CPW and major funding partners to provide accurate information to the public regarding the CWHP’s efforts to protect vital habitats and provide hunting and fishing access opportunities. Applicants should be aware that after a project has closed, information about the transaction, including funding amounts, may be used by CPW for internal planning and public information purposes.

    All CWHP real estate transactions are subject to an appraisal and an appraisal review to verify value. Applicants are strongly encouraged to consult their legal and financial advisors when contemplating any real estate transaction associated with the CWHP.

    Contact Information

    For additional information about the CWHP or application process, please contact: Amanda Nims, CWHP Manager
    Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Real Estate Section 6060 Broadway
    Denver, CO 80216
    (303) 291-7269
    Amanda.nims@state.co.us

    Glenwood Canyon restoration continues, summer closures to be weather dependent — The #GlenwoodSprings Post-Independent

    Looking up at the source of the debris flow in Glenwood Canyon August 2021. Photo credit: CDOT

    Click the link to read the article on the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent website (Ike Fredregill). Here’s an excerpt:

    Repairing Glenwood Canyon, Interstate-70 and mitigating future debris flow damages has cost state, federal and local governments about $27 million so far, a Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson said. Joined by partnering agencies, CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew briefed media outlets Tuesday on efforts to repair the damage done to Glenwood Canyon by wildfires and historic debris flows in recent years…

    Work is also expected to begin shortly on a primitive trail to Hanging Lake, Forest Service spokesperson David Boyd said. While the lake itself was spared by the debris flow events, the trail leading to the pristine woodland attraction was all but eliminated. Boyd said a trail reconstruction project is planned to begin Friday [April 29, 2022], which could install a primitive trail leading to the lake by mid-summer…

    CDOT contractors Lawrence Construction and IHC Scott continue to remove material from the Colorado River at six locations throughout the canyon. More than 200,000 tons have been removed so far, CDOT Resident Engineer Andrew Knapp said…In addition to debris removal, CDOT is working with contractors and the U.S. Forest Service to build debris flow catchment fences, nicknamed “bathtubs,” alongside the roadways. The bathtubs create a basin where excess debris and water can collect during future events, minimizing impacts to the interstate and travelers, Knapp explained…

    This summer, CDOT will be working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine whether the canyon will remain open ahead of potential significant rain events above the Grizzly Creek burn scar. When NOAA issues watches or warnings about potential debris flow events, Blake said CDOT will close rest areas and the Glenwood Canyon Recreation Path. If NOAA issues a watch, CDOT staff will head out to closure points along I-70, and should a warning be issued, Blake said the canyon would be closed for the duration of the warning.

    The Middle Colorado Watershed Council receives funding to continue monitoring #GrizzlyCreekFire post fire impacts #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the newsletter on the Middle Colorado Watershed Council website (Click through and volunteer to do some sampling or whatever.). Here’s an excerpt.:

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has granted three more years of funds to the Middle Colorado Watershed Council (MCWC) to continue the United States Geological Survey (USGS) water quality and rain gauge monitoring set up in 2021, adding new mid-stream water quality monitoring stations between South Canyon and Cameo, soil moisture monitoring, and a dashboard notification system for downstream municipalities.

    The Colorado River District has agreed to serve as fiscal agent for the USGS in a three-year cooperative agreement with MCWC. The $583,396 CWCB grant will be matched with in-kind labor and cash from the USGS, Garfield County, the Glenwood Canyon Restoration Alliance, and coordinated project funding from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education (CDPHE) for a total project cost of $1.3 million over the next three years.

    Funding secured from CDPHE, $206,600, will be used to purchase the additional equipment needed for the new mid-stream water quality station, soil moisture monitors, and the user-friendly dashboard for downstream users to monitor changes in water quality and rainfall information. The CDPHE funding will also support pre-fire mitigation planning and allow the Silt Water Conservancy District to complete repair work from damage due to the continual impact of high amounts of sediment in the Colorado River in 2021.

    Since early 2021, the Middle Colorado Watershed Council has coordinated post Grizzly Creek Fire water quality and rain gauge monitoring to set up a regional notification system and lessen the impact on downstream water users. MCWC received the first year of funding from CWCB, CDPHE and the Colorado River District’s Community Partnership Funds.

    Using services from the USGS Colorado Water Science Center, the USGS Next Generation Water Observing System (NGWOS), and SGM, an engineering firm acting as MCWC’s technical advisor, water quality and precipitation information networks were set up in canyon drainages and on the Middle Colorado river corridor. Seven rain gauges were deployed throughout the Grizzly Creek burn area and a 6-parameter data sonde water quality monitoring station was set up at No Name.

    During the summer of 2021, summer monsoons caused flooding, debris flows and highway infrastructure damage in Glenwood Canyon as a result of the 2020 Grizzly Creek fire burn scar and a 500-year-rain event. MCWC and other stakeholders expect continued problems with flooding and debris flows from these canyon drainages over the next few years and sought the additional funding to continue and expand monitoring in 2022 through 2024.

    #Colorado to receive $18.1M for #wildfire mitigation projects along Front Range — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate

    Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, at the microphone, speaks during a visit to Heil Valley Ranch in Boulder County on April 11, 2022. Sens. John Hickenlooper, left, and Michael Bennet, third from left, Rep. Joe Neguse, second from left, U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, second from right, and regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region Frank Beum, right, also joined. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)

    Colorado will receive over $18 million this fiscal year from the federal government to treat thousands of acres susceptible to increasingly damaging wildfires, part of a strategy leaders hope will emphasize lowering fire risk before disaster strikes.

    The Colorado Front Range is one of 10 landscapes selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service to benefit from an initial $131 million investment with funding from last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

    In Colorado, money will head to nine identified projects in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and four projects in the Pike and San Isabel National Forests. It will treat up to 10,000 acres this year.

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    “At this point, there is no margin for error. We must and we will continue to stay coordinated, because the reality is that these days, as everyone has said, fire season is now fire years,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said during a visit to Heil Valley Ranch on Monday, with trees still blackened from the 2020 CalWood Fire on a hillside behind her.

    “Climate change is making the fire seasons more intense, as our firefighters deal with hotter, drier conditions and more extreme fire behavior. The increased frequency in urban areas is impacting more homes, businesses and communities every year,” she said.

    Colorado faced a record-year for wildfires in 2020 with the CalWood, East Troublesome and Pine Gulch fires. In December, the Marshall Fire burned over 6,000 acres and destroyed entire neighborhoods in Boulder County.

    Colorado also faces harsh, ongoing drought.

    “It is all the more reason and motivation for us to take wildfire mitigation and resiliency seriously,” Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District, said during the press conference with Haaland.

    Climate change has increased the risk of dangerous wildfires in Colorado, and it has contributed to a drought in the Southwest that has lasted more than two decades. Rising concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere, largely due to human activity, have caused many parts of the state to warm by an average of more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.

    Haaland said the financial investments enabled by last year’s bipartisan legislation will facilitate a “collaborative, multi-jurisdictional approach” to reducing wildfire risk. Wildfires, after all, do not discriminate between land managed by the county, private citizens, the Forest Service or the National Park Service, and experts say the best approach is informed by all land managers.

    Those projects are about reducing the grasses, shrubs, trees, dead leaves and fallen pine needles that increase the chances of a catastrophic wildfire, forest supervisor for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests Monte Williams said.

    “It’s about fuel,” he said. “And not just the fuel that’s standing up, but about the fuel that is actually laying on the ground. For a long time, we thought all we needed to do was go thin the forest, and that would create a place where the fire would hit, slow down and stop because there would be nothing left to burn. The truth is we recognize it’s a lot more than that.”

    In addition to forest thinning, Williams said prescribed burns are crucial in wildfire mitigation. It’s a similar strategy that he said prevented the 2020 Cameron Peak fire from spreading on two of its largest days. In that case, it was coordinated treatments on local, state and federal lands that stopped the fire in its tracks.

    “The actual results of this have already been shown,” he said of the type of projects the incoming money will fund.

    A view from the highway of the massive East Troublesome wildfire smoke cloud near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado on October 16, 2020. Photo credit: Inciweb

    The beginning of a long process

    U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said it is necessary to combat the scale of recent wildfires with an appropriately large response. A 10-year strategy from the Forest Service calls for the treatment of tens of millions of acres across the country. This fiscal year’s investment will begin the implementation of that ambitious strategy.

    “This is an opportunity for us to come from a place of want into a place of have,” Moore said. “For a long time, we’ve known what to do, but we have not had the ability to do it at a scale that made a difference on the landscape.”

    Sen. Michael Bennet said there’s still a chance Congress could pass a reconciliation bill — what was known as the Build Back Better Act — that has $27 billion in additional investments for wildfire risk reduction. That would be the largest investment into forestry in United States history. Build Back Better was stalled after holdout from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

    “That may or may not pass now,” Bennet said. “But what we’ve been able to do this year, with the 5.6 (billion dollars) we’ve been able to put in the bipartisan bill, is demonstrate that the country, for the first time, really recognizes the scale of the challenge that we have.”

    It will take much more money to implement the full 10-year plan, but Bennet said the financial puzzle is well worth it, comparing an estimated $50,000 per acre cost to fight a wildfire versus a $1,500 per acre to do mitigation work.

    “I am optimistic that we will figure out how to do it over the long haul,” he said.

    Sen. John Hickenlooper also attended the event.

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was slated to join the visit to Heil Valley Ranch with Haaland and members of the congressional delegation, but he is quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19.

    The other regions that will benefit from this initial investment are in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.

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    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    New Initiative Targets Western #Wildfire Risks: Joint Forest Service-Department of Interior effort will focus resources on priority landscapes — The Nature Conservancy

    WILDFIRE CHALLENGES The 2013 Alder Fire in Yellowstone National Park burned 4,240 acres. © Mike Lewelling, National Park Service

    Click the link to read the release on The Nature Conservancy website (Jay Lee and Lindsay Schlageter):

    The following is a statement from Carlos Fernández, state director of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Colorado, and Cecilia Clavet, a TNC senior policy advisor, in response to the announcement by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Randy Moore, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service (USFS), of “10 Initial Landscape Investments.”

    USFS highest risk firesheds January 2022.

    The announcement is part of USFS’s 10-year plan to address wildfire risk throughout the United States. According to the agency, these 10 priority landscapes will apply funds from the bipartisan infrastructure law and other funding to provide treatments that will reduce wildfire risk primarily in western states.

    Carlos Fernández, State Director, TNC in Colorado: “We are thrilled to welcome Secretary Haaland and Chief Moore to Colorado to announce the next phase of their 10-year strategy to address wildfire risk. “Colorado is no stranger to the devastating effects of increased wildfires, with the largest fires in our state’s history occurring within the last three years. We know that in order to address the growing threat of large-scale wildfires and longer fire seasons, we need to increase investments in wildfire resilience.

    That’s why it’s promising to see the Front Range landscape is a priority for federal land management agencies as they plan to scale up their efforts to address wildfire risk. Our forests are so important to our quality of life here in Colorado, they clean our air and water, sustain wildlife and provide opportunities for recreation. We look forward to working together to ensure they are healthy, our communities are safe, and our way of life can continue into the future.”

    Cecilia Clavet, Senior Policy Advisor, TNC: “Colorado is not alone. The entire western United States is facing unprecedented, large-scale wildfires, exacerbated by climate change. We need to build resilience of our forests and rangelands, reduce risk to communities and ensure people are empowered and prepared to live safely with fire. Wildfire resilience is an all-of-society challenge in need of an all-of-society approach. We commend the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior for prioritizing landscapes with the highest risk of wildfire. This will ensure investments are going to communities that need it most.

    “The announcement today is a great step forward for the Forest Service’s 10-year strategy. The investments provided through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act represent an important down payment for wildfire resilience. TNC will continue to support investing in wildfire resilience to meet the longer-term training, capacity building and workforce development needs.

    Partnerships are essential to maintain and sustain this work. TNC partners with federal land management agencies, Indigenous peoples and other federal and non-federal partners to achieve a better future with fire.

    Bent lodgepole pine in some areas revealed intensity of the wind. Photo/National Park Service via Big Pivots

    Governor Polis Applauds Biden Administration, Sec. Vilsack on Securing Critical Investment in #Wildfire Risk Reduction Using Historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Funds

    Smoke billows from the Cameron Peak Fire. Photo by Karina Puikkonen

    Click the link to read the release on Governor Polis’ website:

    Today, Governor Jared Polis released a statement following U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s announcement that $131 million in funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure law will begin work on the Forest Service’s 10-year strategy to protect communities and improve resilience in America’s forests.

    “I’m excited about this $18 million in funding to help us fight wildfires and protect communities. We thank the Biden Administration, Secretary Vilsack, and the U.S. Forest Service for making this important wildfire-fighting investment in Colorado,” said Governor Polis.

    Over the last three years, Colorado has experienced record natural disasters, from the three largest wildfires recorded in 2020 to the Marshall Fire in December 2021 – recorded as the most destructive in state history. In response, the Polis administration has acted swiftly to invest in wildfire suppression, the recovery of our lands and watersheds, as well as forward-thinking mitigation and forest health efforts.

    During the last legislative session, the Governor signed into law significant investments, including roughly $88 million to help communities recover from and prevent future wildfire devastation, and a total of $50 million to support the implementation of Colorado’s State Water Plan and fund Colorado Water Conservation Board grants supporting local projects. Colorado is one of the states that will receive the initial investment, which spans 208,000 acres of wildfire risk reduction treatments in 10 landscapes. Other Western states to receive funding include Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, and Arizona.

    Desert hydrology: Science Moab highlights talks with Eric Kuhn, Jack Schmidt, Brian Richter, and Arne Hultquist #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Colorado River near Moab, Utah.

    Click the link to read the article on the Moab Sun News website (Science Moab). Here’s an excerpt:

    In the desert, few issues are as crucial as water. As a historic megadrought continues in the West, water usage is at the top of mind for many scientists. Hydrologists can help us understand how and when to enact new water policies. In this week’s column, Science Moab highlights important messages from conversations with hydrologists, speaking with Eric Kuhn, Jack Schmidt, Brian Richter, and Arne Hultquist.

    Science Moab: Are we bound by water usage policies enacted years ago? If nature can’t sustain those, what then?

    Eric Kuhn: One hundred years ago, we had some flexibility because the river was not very well-used. Today, not a drop of the Colorado River reaches the Gulf of California, so we don’t have that luxury. The way I look at it is: we legally allocated water based on an assumption that this river system had about 20 million acre-feet. Today, we think it’s more like 13, and it might be less in the future with climate change. Predictions and models show that increasing temperatures are going to reduce flows to the Colorado River. The drama is not how much water we’re going to have in the future — we know it’s going to be less. The drama is how we’re going to decide who gets less water, and when…

    These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    Science Moab: At the start of 2021, Lake Powell was at 41% of its capacity. Why should we be so concerned that Lake Powell levels continue to fall to all-time lows?

    Brian Richter: Lake Powell serves three really important benefits. One is that it generates hydropower from the Glen Canyon Dam, which provides electricity throughout the southwestern United States. Two, Lake Powell is important for tourism, which is impacted by falling water levels. But by far the biggest concern is that if Lake Powell drops by another 85 feet — and for reference, the lake level dropped by more than 30 feet in 2020 — then the lake will drop below the hydropower outlets, so all the electricity production out of Glen Canyon Dam will stop. But even worse is that it will become physically impossible to move enough water into the Lower Basin states to provide for their water needs.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    San Juan Water Conservancy District and Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District discuss future of Dry Gulch Reservoir — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver

    View to the south into the snaking West Fork of the San Juan River as seen from US 160, halfway up to the summit of Wolf Creek Pass. By User:Erikvoss, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61976794

    Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

    At their March 10 joint meeting, the boards of the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) and Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) discussed the future of the Dry Gulch reservoir.

    The meeting opened with SJWCD board president Al Pfister providing an update on the organization’s activities related to Dry Gulch.

    “We haven’t really … done a lot of work in the past two years,” Pfister said.

    He continued to explain that SJWCD had unanimously voted to hire Wilson Water Group to perform a water needs assessment study at its meeting earlier in the day. This study will cost $15,000 and will be completed over a three- month period. The study will examine the mu- nicipal, agricultural, industrial, environmental and recreational water needs of the community and assess how these needs are likely to change in the future given the population increases the county has recently experienced…

    Secrist provided an update on SJWCD’s work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to potentially nominate the Dry Gulch site to be a state park site. According to Secrist, this process began in the summer of 2021 when Secrist was approached by CPW representatives about the possibility of locating a state park at the Dry Gulch site…He explained that the state park application would need to be submitted by June 1 and that CPW is interested in creating the park whether or not the site contains a reservoir.

    Restoration of Home Lake is underway — The #Alamosa News

    Sediment removal is underway at Home Lake. Photo credit: city-data.com

    Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa News website:

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife began restoration efforts this week to remove sediment from high spots in Home Lake just east of Monte Vista. Tyler Cerny, CPW District Wildlife Manager for the Monte Vista District, said sediment has accumulated in the lake for years primarily from the water inlet from the Lariat Ditch on the south side of the lake. With irrigation season slated to start in early April, plans are to remove as much sediment as possible before the water allotment is available. Fish restocking will begin as early as May or June with plans to include trout, bluegill, large mouth bass, catfish, grass carp and possibly crappie.

    #SouthPlatteRiver restoration project awarded $350 million in infrastructure bill funds — #Colorado Newsline

    Ducks patrol the South Platte River as construction workers shore up bank. Oct. 8, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith

    A long-planned project to restore healthy ecosystems along the South Platte River and two other waterways in central Denver got a major boost from the federal government this week, in the form of $350 million in funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    The funding for the South Platte River Project, spearheaded by Denver and Adams counties, will cover nearly two-thirds of the $550 million that civic leaders plan to spend restoring wetland habitats, improving recreation and mitigating flood risk along a 6.5-mile stretch of the river, along with Weir Gulch and Harvard Gulch.

    The funds awarded Tuesday by the Biden administration are part of the $17 billion appropriated by a new federal infrastructure law to the Army Corps of Engineers to support flood mitigation projects across the country.

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    “I’m delighted to welcome funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill for the South Platte River and surrounding communities after years of urging Washington to support this project,” Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement. “For decades, the neighborhoods bordering the South Platte River have experienced environmental hardship. This project is an important part of Denver’s efforts to protect communities and businesses from flooding, build resilient infrastructure, and help ensure that anyone who wants to live and work in Denver is able to.”

    The Army Corps of Engineers finalized a feasibility and impact study on the project in 2019, concluding more than a decade of planning and environmental reviews. In addition to restoring aquatic, wetland and riparian wildlife habitats along the South Platte, supporters say the plan will create more than 7,000 jobs and protect hundreds of homes and other structures from flood risk.

    In December, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock convened a coalition of two dozen interest groups that signed a memorandum of understanding on the project in order to secure federal funding. Signatories included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Denver Water and multiple environmental and conservation organizations — as well as business and real-estate groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Revesco Properties.

    Revesco is the developer behind the massive, multi-billion-dollar River Mile project, which aims to redevelop 62 acres along the Platte south of Confluence Park over the next 25 years, adding homes for new 15,000 residents and ultimately displacing the Elitch Gardens amusement park. The river restoration project, too, is likely to take decades to complete, with city officials estimating in 2018 that the project could be finished in 10 to 20 years.

    “The restoration and conservation of the South Platte River ecosystem is a phenomenal opportunity,” Hancock said in a statement. “Infrastructure investments like this do more than just improve our waterways, they build lives, they build communities and they build futures.”

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    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    Community Agriculture Alliance: Five principles to boost soil health in Routt County — Steamboat Pilot & Today

    Yampa River. Photo credit: Yampa River
    Integrated Water Management Plan website

    Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Clinton Whitten and Lyn Halliday). Here’s an excerpt:

    The Routt County Conservation District (RCCD) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are looking at the basin from a watershed health perspective and developing programs to improve and protect the private lands that catch the precipitation in much of the basin.

    The foundation of a healthy watershed is healthy soils. Not only do soils allow vegetation to grow, but they can act as a sponge that absorbs and stores precipitation. They provide the nutrients that allow life to flourish. At its base, soil is a combination of sand, silt and clay, but it’s much more than that. A single teaspoon of soil can contain billions of living organisms that make up an entire ecosystem. When this ecosystem is thriving, it provides the glues that hold the soil particles in place as water rushes through them, it cycles nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable for plant growth and it helps to build organic matter in the soil. Keeping a healthy soil ecosystem can help increase plant productivity, increase drought resilience and decrease the need for additional inputs.

    NRCS has developed five principles that can be followed to maintain and develop healthy soils.

    The first is to minimize soil disturbance. Plowing the soil not only destroys the habitat that these microorganisms have created, but it negates all of the benefits that they provide.

    Crop residue November 4, 2021. Photo credit: Joel Schneekloth

    The second is to keep the soil covered with plant residue. Residue increases infiltration and decreases erosion.

    The third is to maximize plant diversity. Just like any ecosystem, soil ecosystems benefit from diversity, and diversity above ground means diversity below ground.

    The fourth principle is to maintain a continuous growing root in the soil. We are limited by a short growing season, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t keep a live root in the soil year-round.

    The fifth and final principle is to integrate livestock into the growing system. Livestock play a critical role in nutrient distribution and residue cycling.

    A good first step to improving soil health on your property is to get a soil test that will give you a baseline to better understand where nutrients are limited or in abundance. The Routt County Conservation District has a grant program available that can pay for a soil test on fields that have the ability and intention of implementing management changes that could improve soil health.

    For more information, visit http://RouttCountyCD.com/. For more information on practices that can help improve the health of your soil contact NRCS at Clinton.Whitten@usda.gov.

    Lyn Halliday is the Board President of the Routt County Conservation District, and the Upper Yampa River Watershed coordinator. Clinton Whitten is the resource team lead with the National Resource Conservation Service. For more about the Community Agriculture Alliance, go to CommunityAgAlliance.org.

    Study: Estimating widespread #beaver dam loss: Habitat decline and surface storage loss at a regional scale — EcoSphere

    A beaver dam on the Gunnison River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Click the link to access the study on the Ecosphere website (Julianne E. Scamardo, Sarah Marshall, Ellen Wohl). Here’s the abstract:

    The loss of beaver populations has commonly been accompanied by the failure of beaver dams, leading to stream incision, water table lowering, and the eventual transition from a beaver meadow to a drier riparian corridor. Widespread decline in NorthAmerican beaver populations (Castorcanadensis) has been documented from pre-European settlement to the current day, representing an estimated 80% to 98% loss of historicalpopulations. While individual case studies have investigated the ecosystem impacts of local beaver population loss, few studies have quantified large-scale changes associated with widespread population decline. Here, we use the Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool to model landscape-scale habitat suitability and beaver dam capacity in Colorado, USA, in order to deter-mine whether a widespread loss in beaver population corresponds to a similar scale decline in the capacity to sustain beaver on the landscape and declines in physical benefits associated with beaver, such as surface water and sediment storage. Currently, the statewide stream network (298,119 stream kilometers) can support approximately 1.36 million beaver dams, compared with 2.39 million dams historically. All regions of Colorado have seen a decline in beaver dam capacity from historical conditions, likely due to agriculture, urbanization, and loss of vegetation necessary to beaver. Beaver dam capacity loss is accompanied by an approximate 40% decline in beaver-mediated surface water and sediment storage potential across the state. Regions with high percent loss in storage potentials also had a highpercentage of drainage network that had experienced beaver dam capacity losses of 15 or more dams per kilometer, which highlights the disproportionate impacts of losing high dam density reaches (i.e., beaver meadows).Extreme dam density declines were rare, and instead, most reaches have undergone a shift from high to moderate capacity. Statewide shifts in beaver dam capacity highlight the opportunity for using beaver-related restoration in Colorado and across the American West.

    Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership: Years-long effort aims to balance health, use of #water — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver

    Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

    Current projects

    WEP’s work to leverage the knowledge it has accumulated is reflected in the organization’s two ongoing stream enhancement projects.

    [Al] Pfister explained that stream enhancement involves “enhancing channel stability [and] doing some reworking of the river so that you have a low stream channel instead of flat stream bed.”

    WEP’s current stream enhancement projects focus on enhancements to the San Juan River both near the proposed Yamaguchi Park South and upstream from Pagosa for 2.5 miles from near Bob’s LP. Pfister stated that both of these projects build off of prior work undertaken by the Town of Pagosa Springs and its partners to enhance the section of the San Juan River that flows through downtown Pagosa.

    Yamaguchi South Planning Project site layout via the City of Pagosa Springs.

    Yamaguchi South project

    The planned stream enhancements in Yamaguchi Park South involve both modifications to the river itself and enhancements to the recreational resources along its banks. Pfister explained that, in terms of river modifications, “There’s going to be one whitewater feature in there, but then also enhancing the stream morphology. Pfister stated that these changes are aimed at providing healthier fish habitat and promoting the health of the riparian corridor for all its users, including birds, mammals and insects. He also suggested that the stream modifications required for conservation synergize with the needs of recreational users by promoting healthy fish populations for fisher people. They also provide deep stream channels and shallow bank pools that benefit boating and riverside recreation. On the banks, the project will involve the creation of a new boat put in and take out in Yamaguchi Park South to replace the current put in at the south end of Yamaguchi Park.

    Pfister commented that this will improve “access for people so there’s not the conflict that currently exists down there at the end of Yamaguchi Park now.”

    Pfister elaborated, saying, “The county and town both use that as a location to fill their water trucks. So … it can create some challenges.”

    Pfister explained that the new boat take out will include a gravel road to the new take out location, in contrast to the dirt road currently used to access the take out, and a larger area for taking out and launch- ing boats. Pfister said that the goal was “to have more of a permanent thing, whereas now it’s a dirt road, and having the put in or take out such that it doesn’t have negative impacts on the stream morphology/hydrology.”

    Pagosa gateway project

    WEP’s second major stream enhancement project is the Pagosa gateway project, which involves enhancements to the San Juan River for approximately 2.5 miles north of Bob’s LP. This project will involve similar stream improvements to the Yamaguchi South project as well as the removal of several car bodies that are currently deposited in the river upstream from Pagosa. Pfister highlighted that the removal of these car bodies is “a big issue as far as river recreationists are concerned, and it’s not healthy for the river.”

    Both the Pagosa gateway and South Yamaguchi projects are await- ing the completion of final steps, including pieces of grant funding and private landowner permissions. However, Pfister expressed optimism that both projects would begin to break ground in the “next couple years.”

    Changing snowfall makes it harder to fight fire with fire — The Associated Press

    Women in Prescribed Fire Training Exchange participants practice different controlled burning ignition patterns. Photo courtesy Lenya Quinn-Davidson, Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network via USDA

    Click the link to read the article on the Associated Press website (Brittany Peterson and Matthew Brown). Here’s an excerpt:

    [Controlled burn] operations are a central piece of the Biden administration’s $50 billion plan to reduce the density of western forests that have been exploding into firestorms as climate change bakes the region. But the same warming trends that worsen wildfires will also challenge the administration’s attempts to guard against them. Increasingly erratic weather means snow is not always there when needed to safely burn off tall debris piles like those on Colorado’s Pike-San Isabel National Forest. And that seriously complicates the job of exhausted firefighters, now forced into service year-round…Western wildfires have become more volatile as climate change dries forests already thick with vegetation from years of intensive fire suppression. And the window for controlled burns is shrinking.

    “It’s been a little bit harder just because of shorter winters,” said David Needham, a U.S. Forest Service ranger who led the Colorado burn operation in late February when the thermometer hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius). Surrounding hillsides showed barren scars from past wildfires, including a 2002 blaze that destroyed 133 homes and at the time was the largest in state history.

    Aerial view from the south of Hayman Fire June 30, 2002. Road traversing from left to right is U.S. Highway 24. Town of Manitou Springs is in lower part of photo, Colorado Springs to the right. Garden of the Gods park defined by three upright orange rock formations in right center just below smoke line. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

    Edible Extinction: Why We Need to Revive Global Food Diversity — Yale Environment 360

    Coffea stenophylla. Afrique tropicale de l’Ouest. Jardin botanique de Berlin. By Ji-Elle – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66697024

    Click the link to read the article on the Yale Environment 360 website (Dan Saladino):

    In August 2020, inside the cupping room of a London roastery, a team of botanists and baristas gathered to taste a coffee species that most believed had been lost forever. It was an important moment. Coffee experts had spent years searching in West Africa for the few remaining trees of this species, even issuing “wanted posters” to farmers asking if they had seen it.

    The coffee, named stenophylla, had last been recorded in Sierra Leone in the 1950s, but civil war and widespread deforestation had pushed it to the brink of extinction. In 2018, with the help of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, a small cluster of stenophylla trees were found, which two years later produced just nine grams of beans. The first sips provided hope. “It’s fragrant, fruity, and sweet,” said Aaron Davis, Kew’s senior research leader for Crops and Global Change. “Stenophylla is a coffee with real potential.”

    Since then, seeds have been collected from the surviving trees in Sierra Leone, and 5,000 seedlings are being grown in nurseries. This is significant for us all, not just coffee aficionados. That’s because saving diverse foods, whether plant species or animal breeds, will give us the options we’ll need in an increasingly uncertain future.

    The case of stenophylla is just one of almost 40 such stories I discovered while researching my book, Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them. In it, I argue that we’re at a pivotal moment in our food history and in a race against time to save diversity. Stenophylla helps illustrates the point. Although there are 130 coffee species so far identified, the world depends on just two, arabica and robusta. Both of these are vulnerable to climate change. Arabica is best suited to temperatures around 19 degrees C (66 degrees F); fluctuations in this can reduce productivity and encourage coffee leaf rust, a devastating fungal disease. Robusta, an inferior-tasting species, fares slightly better, growing at low elevations across much of wet-tropical Africa, but it needs consistent moisture throughout the year.

    Stenophylla, on the other hand, can cope with higher temperatures and possesses greater tolerance to drought, as well as being a great-tasting coffee, one that Victorian botanists even described as “superior” to arabica. If arabica starts to fail, as it did catastrophically across Southern Asia in the 19th century and again in Central America in 2014, millions of coffee farmers will be affected. History will repeat itself: Coffee supply chains will be put at risk, family incomes will fall, and regional economies will be devastated, triggering waves of migration. We need to keep our options open.

    Since the Second World War, we’ve created a highly productive but incredibly fragile food system. Like an investor with a stock portfolio of just a few holdings, we removed an important safety net for our food supplies: diversity. By narrowing the genetic base of the global food system and focusing on highly productive but increasingly uniform crops and animal breeds, we have increased our vulnerability to the impacts of climate change: extremes of temperature, more virulent outbreaks of disease, droughts, and erratic rainfall. Diversity gives us options and provides resilience.

    In less than a century, most of the world has become dependent on a small number of crops for its sustenance. Since the dawn of agriculture (roughly 12,000 years ago) humans have domesticated around 6,000 plant species for food, but now just nine provide the bulk of our calories, and four of these — wheat, corn, rice, and soy — supply roughly two-thirds of that intake. The bottleneck doesn’t end there. Despite the huge genetic variation found within these crops, just a few varieties of each are selected to be grown in vast monocultures.

    One of the Colorado Orange apples collected from an ancient tree in Fremont County, Colorado. (Provided by Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project)

    In Victorian Britain it was possible for people to eat a different apple every day for more than four years and never have the same one twice. Today, supermarkets typically offer four or five varieties, all extremely similar in levels of sweetness and texture. In the United States, at the beginning of the 20th century, farmers grew thousands of different locally adapted varieties of corn. By the early 1970s a small number of hybrids dominated, and all were later found to be susceptible to a disease called leaf blight. Perhaps most famously of all, although there are more than 1,500 different varieties of banana, global trade is dominated by just one, the Cavendish, a cloned fruit grown in vast monocultures and increasingly at risk from a devastating fungal disease, TR4. Where nature creates diversity, the food system crushes it.

    The decline in the diversity of our food, and the fact that so many foods have become endangered, didn’t happen by accident; it is an entirely human-made problem. The biggest loss of crop diversity came in the decades that followed the Second World War when, in an attempt to save millions from starvation, crop scientists found ways to produce grains such as rice and wheat on a phenomenal scale. To grow the extra food the world desperately needed, thousands of traditional varieties were replaced by a small number of new, super-productive ones. The strategy that ensured this — more agrochemicals, more irrigation, plus new genetics — came to be known as the “Green Revolution.”

    Farmers have grown more cereals on roughly the same amount of land since the Green Revolution. OUR WORLD IN DATA

    Because of it, grain production tripled, and between 1970 and 2020 the human population more than doubled. But the danger of creating more uniform crops is that they become vulnerable to catastrophes. A global food system that depends on just a narrow selection of plants is at greater risk of succumbing to diseases, pests, and climate extremes.

    Although the Green Revolution was based on ingenious science, it attempted to oversimplify nature, and this is starting to backfire on us. In creating fields of identical wheat, we abandoned thousands of highly adapted and resilient varieties. Far too often their valuable traits were lost. We’re starting to see our mistake — there was wisdom in what went before. And there are encouraging developments: Wherever you look in the world, you can find people working to save an endangered food and preserving the diversity we all need.

    In India, farmers are looking once again to landrace, or native, varieties of millet. Millet is a nutrient-packed and diverse cereal that sustained generations of people in India. But British colonizers, unaware of millet’s unique nutritional qualities and resilience, replaced it with varieties of bread wheat and cash crops such as indigo. Those millets that survived were mostly relegated to animal feed. The decline of millet continued after Indian independence and was intensified by the Green Revolution as rice cultivation expanded. As a result, the last harvests of many millet varieties were recorded in the early 1970s.

    Pearl millet in the field. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=393190

    Among these was a millet grown by the Khasi people of Meghalaya, in northeast India. Their millet was called Raishan, an ivory-colored grain cooked into soups and baked into biscuits and flatbreads. Like millions of Indians, the Khasi became dependent on the state-run Public Distribution System, which today provides $2.25 billion worth of subsidized food — mostly rice, wheat, and sugar — to India’s poorest 160 million households. Millet — labor-intensive to harvest and to mill — was the first food they stopped growing themselves. Then, in 2008, in India and in the rest of rice-growing Asia, a huge supply crisis caused by a sequence of bad harvests, disease outbreaks, and low grain reserves hit food systems. Governments responded by banning rice exports, which in turn triggered panic and a massive price spike. In many of the Khasi villages of Meghalaya, one response was to bring back lost millets.

    Another problem facing India is water — or the lack of it. Half of India’s rice crop is irrigated by underground water supplies, and Indian aquifers are emptying at a faster rate than they are being replenished. When a team of scientists — including water experts, plant breeders, and nutritionists — calculated what would happen if large areas of water-intensive rice cultivation were replaced with millets and sorghum, they found benefits on every level: more dietary nutrients, lower greenhouse gas emissions, greater resilience to climate change, reduced water and energy use. All of this could be achieved without losing a single calorie or expanding croplands, they concluded.

    “Despite its many achievements, the Green Revolution locked us into an unsustainable system,” says lead researcher and food systems expert Kyle Davis of the University of Delaware, “and without crop diversity we won’t break out.” This makes endangered varieties of millet, such as Raishan, look like a food of the future, not one to be lost to the past.

    In 2017, an international team of crop scientists modeled the impact of rising temperatures on yields of major crops. Their research showed that “each degree-Celsius increase in global mean temperature would, on average, reduce global yields of wheat by 6 percent, rice by 3.2 percent, maize by 7.4 percent, and soybean by 3.1 percent.” There are varieties of all of these crops, lost to farmers fields in the 20th century but stored away in seed banks, that, just like Raishan millet, possess traits that will give us greater resilience for the future.

    And building resilience in food systems in one part of the world can benefit others, as is the case with efforts to preserve an endangered type of wild vanilla found in central Brazil, important to a community known as the Kalunga.

    Descendants of escaped slaves, the Kalunga created a network of villages in the Cerrado, the immense plateau of savannah, grasslands, and tropical forest that takes up nearly a quarter of Brazil’s land mass. Here, as well as growing rice, beans, and sesame, the Kalunga use wild plants, among them an endangered type of wild vanilla with which they brew infusions and flavor food. Its pods are larger than all other known types of vanilla — it’s more the size of a banana than a bean — and its taste is more intense. The pods are harvested in spring, mostly from along the rivers that wind through the Cerrado’s forests, where it grows among moriche palms. For the Kalunga, going in search of the pods is like mushroom foraging; everyone has a secret patch. But even with this knowledge, finding a pod isn’t guaranteed because vanilla-loving monkeys provide fierce competition.

    Neither the Kalunga nor the monkeys are the cause of the vanilla’s endangered status, however; newly arrived farming businesses and mining companies are clearing or degrading the land and driving the loss of biodiversity.

    The Kalunga can help preserve the Cerrado’s remaining biodiversity, but only if they are provided with economic opportunities to do so. This is where the wild vanilla comes in. “By protecting the Kalunga communities, we can protect the Cerrado,” says Alex Atala, one of Brazil’s most high-profile chefs. “The wild vanilla provides an economic opportunity. The plant can give the Kalunga settlements a future, and the communities can help keep a check on the expansion of soy farming.”

    Projects have been set up to help the Kalunga hand-pollinate the vanilla plants (to increase yields) and to improve their processing techniques. “One family can make $50 a day,” Atala says, “more money than welfare payments or the wages paid by the illegal mines.” Saving the Cerrado isn’t just about protecting the rivers and the forests — its people need to be protected as well, he believes. “They are defenders of biodiversity. Why? Because they depend on it.”

    But then again, we all do. Although it’s less well known than the neighboring Amazon, the Cerrado is one of the richest centers of biodiversity in the world. As one of the world’s major carbon sinks, its preservation is vital in the fight against the climate crisis.

    Transformation of the food system and the need to rethink farming appeared to be low down on the agenda at COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow last November. Not one of the 10 themed days was dedicated to agriculture or our eating habits. But around the world there are grassroots food heroes and Indigenous activists taking it upon themselves to conserve diversity, save endangered foods, and keep alive knowledge and skills, some for reasons of identity and culture, others to build resilience and increase self-sufficiency. Our broken food system needs to be rebuilt with diversity at its core. This isn’t a call to return to a mythical or halcyon past, but a plea to value and celebrate the ingenuity and legacy of generations of farmers and food producers. It’s up to us to continue their legacy.

    Selection of the 2015 native heirloom maize harvest of the seed library of The Acequia Institute in Viejo San Acacio, CO
    Photo by Devon G. Peña

    #YampaRiver Fund grant requests due April 4, 2022 — Steamboat Pilot & Today

    Yampa River. Photo credit: Yampa River
    Integrated Water Management Plan website

    Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Suzie Romig). Here’s an excerpt:

    The community-based collaborative Yampa River Fund is accepting applications through April 4 for $195,000 in funds available for conservation and restoration activities that positively impact Yampa River basin flows and support natural resource-based livelihoods including agriculture and recreation.

    Eligible applicants include state and local government entities, public districts, irrigation entities, mutual ditch companies, homeowner associations and nonprofit organizations. The grant guidelines and application are posted at YampaRiverFund.org/grants. Technical support is available for applicants to help develop grant proposals.

    The Yampa River Fund, which launched in September 2019, is dedicated to identifying and funding activities that protect the water supply, aquatic habitat and multi-beneficial opportunities provided by the Yampa River. The fund was created through a partnership of 21 public, private and nonprofit entities representing the Yampa River basin. Total grants for $200,000 from the endowment fund were awarded to six projects in 2021 stretching along the Yampa River from Maybell to Craig and Steamboat Springs to Oak Creek. In 2020, five projects were awarded a total $200,000.

    Landowners Embrace Conservation as Financial Boon, Family Legacy — Public News Service

    The future site of Steamboat Lake is shown here in 1949. The barn pictured was owned by the Wheeler family, one of several families who ranched the land before it was bought by brothers John and Stanton Fetcher. John Fetcher proposed the construction of Steamboat Lake, which was built in 1967 and funded by the operators of Hayden power station and the Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. Photo via Bill Fetcher and Aspen Journalism

    Click the link to read the article on the Public News Service website (Eric Galatas). Here’s an excerpt:

    Landowners in Colorado could play a major role in President Joe Biden’s efforts to conserve 30% of the nation’s undeveloped lands by 2030, and make money at the same time.

    Jay Fetcher’s family has been ranching cattle since 1994. He said when his family looked into the idea of a conservation easement for their property near Steamboat Springs, his father was immediately sold.

    He did not want to see the land developed for the service industry; he wanted it to remain land that produced food…

    The family’s decision to conserve the land for ranching caught on, and led to Fetcher founding the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust…

    Conservation efforts also are seen as critical for protecting clean-water supplies, especially during times of severe drought. Melissa Daruna, executive director of the group Keep it Colorado, said some strategies already under way could provide a path for communities across the West.

    The May Ranch near Lamar, Colo., has never been plowed. Photo/Ducks Unlimited via The Mountain Town News

    She pointed to local stakeholders on the Eastern Plains outside Pueblo who are taking the lead to reckon with current and future impacts of a warming climate…

    In 2008, lawmakers allowed the donated value of the land set aside for conservation to be considered a state tax credit which can be resold to Colorado taxpayers with outstanding tax burdens.

    “So all of a sudden, I do an easement, I can sell the value of that easement to a Colorado taxpayer,” said Fetcher. “And I get a check in my pocket. You know, we’re not going to develop the land anyway, but all of a sudden I get paid for not doing it.”

    How Mapping Beaver Wetlands Can Chart a Path to a Better Water Future: First-of-its kind project will use machine learning and remote sensing to track beaver wetland changes in the #ColoradoRiver Basin — The Walton Family Foundation #ActOnClimate #COriver #aridification

    Beaver dam. Photo credit the Walton Family Foundation

    Click the link to read the article on the Walton Family Foundation website (Kara Stevens Peter Skidmore):

    At a time when climate change increasingly threatens water resources across the American West, what can we do to secure a future of sustainability rather than scarcity?

    One promising way forward: Look to nature-based solutions from the past.

    In the 16th century, long before Europeans settled the continent, the North American beaver was the continent’s most diligent and effective water manager.

    Beaver dams – millions of small-scale barriers of twigs, branches and mud – created ponds that acted like giant sponges on the landscape. They stored moisture and created complex wetlands that sustained diverse flora and fauna. They captured sediment and snowmelt that slowed floodwaters and – because they were imperfect and leaky – released water downstream in more even amounts throughout the year.

    Then, in a historical instant, beavers were gone from almost every creek and stream – trapped to near extinction to satisfy European trends that prized fur as fashion.

    This beaver dam supports willow carr wetlands in Colorado’s North Fork Crystal watershed. These dams can create a virtuous cycle of restoration that revives mountain meadows and stream meanders.
    Photo Credit: Kyle Jackson

    The disappearance of beavers and the natural reservoirs they built created a ripple impact across ecosystems – more erosion in rivers, fewer wetlands, drier landscapes. Many jurisdictions still consider beavers a pest that hinders agricultural productivity.

    Today, however, beavers are having a renaissance moment among scientists, conservationists, land managers and some ranchers and farmers.

    This keystone species is being rightfully recognized for its ability to restore watery habitat, improve riparian ecosystem health and improve the reliability of water supply – with potential implications for large river systems.

    Particularly in dry regions like the Colorado River basin, these rodents can come to the rescue of river systems and are inspiring humans to build beaver-related natural infrastructure.

    This beaver pond formed upstream of a partially breached beaver dam in the headwaters of Colorado’s Fryingpan River. The photo illustrates how even abandoned dams can support wetland habitat and capture sediment in mountain watersheds.
    Photo Credit: Sarah Marshall

    As part of our 2025 Environment program strategy, the Walton Family Foundation is supporting efforts to remove barriers to restoration and increasing funding for projects that re-establish structures mimicking the effects of beaver dams in degraded streams.

    This illustration by Caroline Nash shows a design for an artificial beaver dam on a degraded stream. Beaver-dam meadows can improve a watershed’s health by trapping snowmelt and releasing water more slowly, increasing available water supply and reducing flooding.

    These structures can create a virtuous cycle of restoration that revives mountain meadows and stream meanders, supports wildlife populations, provides natural firebreaks and fire refuge for wildlife and alleviates impacts of post-fire flooding.

    To assess the impact of this work, and its potential to provide system-wide benefit for Colorado River water management, the foundation has initiated an effort to identify and map changes in vegetated wetlands and beaver ponds throughout the basin.

    This inactive beaver pond is located along the Crystal River in the Roaring Fork watershed of Colorado.
    Photo Credit: Sarah Marshall

    The first-of-its-kind project, led by Lynker Technologies and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP) at Colorado State University, will use remote sensing and machine-learning techniques to map the extent of wetlands and the presence of beaver ponds – and chronicle how they have changed over time.

    Scientists will use high-resolution 4-band aerial photography from the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) remote sensing methods to map wetland extent.

    The team has developed deep-learning algorithms to identify and detect beaver ponds from existing historical data, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wetlands Inventory.