“If we can’t save the rivers in Grand County, every river in Colorado is doomed” — Kirk Klancke #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The Colorado Sun (Moe Clark):

For decades, the Fraser River has struggled with low flows, rising stream temperatures, sediment build-up, plummeting fish populations and degrading aquatic habitats due in large part to Front Range water diversions that drain 65% of the river.

But after years of heated negotiations — and the formation of a partnership between environmentalists, Grand County officials and Front Range water diverters — some stretches of the Grand County tributary of the Colorado River have started to show improvement.

Some are heralding the success as the beginning of a new era of collaboration between historically fraught Front Range and Western Slope water stakeholders…

Proponents of the collaboration have rejoiced at the results of the work, saying that it’s the first time that major Front Range water diverters have participated in meaningful river restoration projects, and have taken responsibility for damage done to Colorado’s rivers. The partnership, dubbed the Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort, or LBD, includes the two biggest water utilities in the state, Denver Water and Northern Water, as well as Trout Unlimited, Grand County officials and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The partners celebrated their first success in 2018: the completion of a $200,000 restoration project called the Fraser Flats Habitat, which rehabilitated a mile of the river near Tabernash by narrowing the streambed to increase the river’s depth and velocity, to improve the aquatic ecosystem.

A winter wonderland in Winter Park, Colorado, near the west portal of the Moffat Tunnel, which delivers water from the Fraser and Williams Fork River basins, under the Continental Divide and on to the Moffat Treatment Plant in Lakewood, Colorado. Photo credit: Denver Water. (Photo taken in winter of 2016-2017.)

For decades, the Fraser River has struggled with low flows, rising stream temperatures, sediment build-up, plummeting fish populations and degrading aquatic habitats due in large part to Front Range water diversions that drain 65% of the river.

But after years of heated negotiations — and the formation of a partnership between environmentalists, Grand County officials and Front Range water diverters — some stretches of the Grand County tributary of the Colorado River have started to show improvement.

Some are heralding the success as the beginning of a new era of collaboration between historically fraught Front Range and Western Slope water stakeholders. But with future restoration projects being contingent on two new water diversion projects that will siphon even more water from the Fraser to the Front Range, some worry that the efforts might only be a mirage.

“They’re basically putting a Band-Aid on the issue, they’re not helping the underlying cause of the problem, which is that too much water is being taken out of a river to meet human needs,” said Jen Pelz, wild rivers program director for the organization WildEarth Guardians.

Proponents of the collaboration have rejoiced at the results of the work, saying that it’s the first time that major Front Range water diverters have participated in meaningful river restoration projects, and have taken responsibility for damage done to Colorado’s rivers. The partnership, dubbed the Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort, or LBD, includes the two biggest water utilities in the state, Denver Water and Northern Water, as well as Trout Unlimited, Grand County officials and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The partners celebrated their first success in 2018: the completion of a $200,000 restoration project called the Fraser Flats Habitat, which rehabilitated a mile of the river near Tabernash by narrowing the streambed to increase the river’s depth and velocity, to improve the aquatic ecosystem.

Kirk Klancke, pictured Aug. 21, 2019, in front of the Fraser Flats area, was the visionary for the restoration efforts that improved fish habitat along the 1-mile stretch of the Fraser River. The efforts, which were partially funded by Denver Water, involved narrowing parts of the river to create deeper channels and faster flows. (Matt Stensland, Special to The Colorado Sun)
Seeing the river flowing again brought tears to the eyes of Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited and longtime resident of Grand County.

“It was like I was looking at a completely different river,” said Klancke, who has been an integral part of the collaborative. “In the 48 years I’ve lived in Grand County, it was the first time that I saw the river actually looking healthier.”

“We’ve got the most heavily diverted county in Colorado, about 300,000 acre-feet a year comes out of Grand County. The next highest competitor is Pitkin County, with 98,000… We consider ourselves ground zero. If we can’t save the rivers in Grand County, every river in Colorado is doomed.”

Chaffee County applies for new #Colorado state fire resiliency grant — Ark Valley Voice

From the Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

Chaffee County’s proactive steps to address our community’s wildfire challenges is getting noticed. Because of the work of Envision Chaffee County, combined with the resulting 1A Ballot question known as Chaffee Common Ground, Chaffee County has been asked to participate in a very large and brand new statewide grant program that, if awarded, would super-size the county’s efforts toward fire resilience, forest health action and watershed protection.

A pre-grant joint proposal of Chaffee and Lake counties was submitted and the counties were invited to formally submit their joint grant proposal to the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative (RMRI). The full proposal was completed Nov. 3. Only eight communities are competing for funding from the three focal areas for the grant: two are in Southwest Colorado, four in Central Colorado and two along the I-70 Corridor. One of the other communities is Durango, which experienced severe fire during the summer of 2018.

Now the county is moving to the next stage of the grant process, with a Nov. 13 presentation in Golden to about 40 representatives of the various agencies and entities involved in the grant award. The comprehensive grant review board includes a mix of agencies. Among them: representatives of the forest service, water resources, the energy and power grids, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The team from Chaffee County will include Commissioner Greg Felt, U.S. Forest Service District Manger Jim Pitts, and Cindy Williams representing the Central Colorado Conservancy. According to Williams, Chaffee is the only county showing up represented by a cohesive group including a County Commissioner, the forestry agency and the private non-profit sector.

Think of it as a sprint toward resiliency – with the state, as well as other Colorado communities and counties taking notice.

“This probably wouldn’t have happened if Chaffee County hadn’t passed the funding for forest health,” said Williams. “This is the first time we’ve been invited to do something like this. We understand that the likely thing is that three of the eight applications will be selected. We’re not sure how much money is available, we think somewhere between one and four million a year for the county. But as a 10 year plan we’re presenting for $40 million over ten years, not just for Chaffee, but we are working together with Lake County on this grant proposal. Together we’re the Arkansas River watershed.”

Paired historical and current photographs of the Cheesman Reservoir landscape (near Denver CO) illustrating the general increase in forest density and loss of openings that occurred from the late 1890’s to 2000. These types of paired photos can help us to give scientists a broad idea of how forests have changed over time (photos from 2000 by M. Kaufmann) via the Rocky Mountain Research Station.

@COParksWildlife hopes enhanced wetlands will help boreal toad survival

In an ongoing conservation project, CPW recently released 1,700 boreal toad toadlets in a wetland in the San Juan mountains. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

In mid-September Biologist Dan Cammack walked slowly along the edge of a boggy pond in the San Juan Mountains high above the San Luis Valley and peered into the mud and black water looking for a camouflaged critter the size of a dime.

After just a couple minutes, he saw the jumping movements of tiny boreal toads. The amphibians, colored a brownish-black, sat in the mud, on rocks, in the grass or moved on the top of the water attempting to stay clear of danger. Cammack had placed the toads in the ponds for the first time a few weeks earlier.

“Watch where you step,” Cammack said, “We don’t want to step on them.”

The toads are precious. Twenty years ago, they were abundant throughout Colorado’s high country. Today, however, they are scarce as they battle the mysterious chytrid fungus that is threatening amphibians throughout the world. CPW biologists are working statewide to revive populations of these high-altitude amphibians that live from 8,000 to 13,000 feet. But as is the nature of wildlife research, biologists will not know for at least three years if the work will help toads survive.

To start the process, Cammack and his crew collected eggs from two wetlands in the Triangle Pass area near Crested Butte. The fertilized eggs, collected in early summer, were then taken to CPW’s Native Aquatic Species Hatchery in Alamosa where they were hatched in captivity. By late summer, they grew into tadpoles and were ready for stocking in the San Juans.

In the high country above the San Luis Valley, the West Fork fire in 2013 burned through 100,000 acres of forest. Paul Jones, a now retired CPW biologist, had seen research that suggested burned areas might prevent development of the chytrid fungus. He also knew, based on historic records, that toads had once inhabited the area. So he worked with the Rio Grande National Forest, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project and the San Luis Valley Water Conservation District to build small levies in a wetland area to enhance and enlarge optimal reproductive boreal toad habit. The area mimics wetlands created by beaver ponds ‒ favorite breeding areas for toads.

In late August, Cammack and his crew released about 2,700 tadpoles for the first time into the ponds. He traveled back to the area in mid-September to check if the tadpoles had transitioned to toadlets. All along the edge of the five-acre pond, he saw toadlets moving, swimming and hiding.

“It looks like we have a lot of survival,” Cammack said. “The next critical test comes when we come back next spring to see if they survived the winter and hibernation.”

What is particularly challenging for the biologists is that young toads are less likely than adults to contract the fungus. So biologists have to wait to know if toads are affected.

“Making a determination about whether the site is positive for chytrid will not be established for about three years,” Cammack explained. “And reproductive maturity is not reached for five or six years, so it will take patience to see if the toads will breed in these ponds.”

Until then, Cammack and his crew will continue to collect eggs and release tadpoles into the ponds. The ongoing work is needed to maintain multiple “age classes” of the amphibians.

Cammack noted that he has found a few boreal toads at various locations in the mountains. However, outside of the Triangle Pass area, breeding in the wild has been unsuccessful.

“While each sighting is encouraging, the numbers are a mere shadow of the past when toads were once thriving in the region,” Cammack said. “We hope that careful management and novel approaches to encourage reproduction will keep boreal toads from disappearing.”

CPW biologists throughout the state are working on a variety of boreal toad conservation projects.

“We’re working on creative ideas to help bring these toads back. Building these ponds in this burn area is one idea. Hopefully, one of them will work; but it will take time,” Cammack said.

And he’s hopeful: “With wildlife we have to manage with optimism.”

Link to this video to see how CPW biologists are working on boreal toad restoration.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dS-d8JL11_o

Mature Boreal toad. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

City of Denver, Army Corps launch $11 million+ rehab program on the #SouthPlatteRiver — @WaterEdCO

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

From Water Education Colorado (Dan England):

A stretch of the South Platte River that has been hampered for years by construction, pollution and debris has been approved for a major face lift, thanks to a new agreement between the City of Denver and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The 2.4-mile, $11 million project was approved by the agencies in mid-September. The idea is to offset damage to the river caused by Bear Creek Lake and Chatfield dams, as well as urbanization, according to Jennifer Williams, who leads the project for Denver Public Works.

The Southern Platte Valley Project will restore natural flows and habitat in a stretch from West Yale Ave. to West Mississippi Ave., Williams said.

Natural river flows support conditions that provide shelter for fish and breeding grounds for organisms that feed them. They also help keep the river cool. Plants along the banks help filter trash and sediments from runoff before it flows back into the South Platte.

But rivers that thread their way through cities battle for the room and the flows they need to remain healthy.

“We’ve just encroached on the river and made it less efficient as a hospitable place for animals,” Williams said.

The new rehab project comes as Denver voters and politicos have vowed to improve and expand the city’s natural areas. In 2018, voters said yes to a new sales tax that will raise an additional $46 million a year, part of which will be used to restore waterways in the city.

This project is especially exciting, Williams said, because it will stitch together other scattered restoration projects along the Denver reach of the South Platte.

“This will tie all the projects together and really leverage that previous investment we’ve made and turn it into a great corridor for birds and fish,” she said.

The project will restore 22 acres of aquatic habitat and 11 acres of riparian habitat, Williams said. The area is along the Central Flyway, and visited by more than 400 bird species every year, including 14 that are of special concern in the eyes of the federal government, which means they may receive special management considerations but not yet formal protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Perhaps just as importantly, the project could make residents proud and more willing to keep the river clean.

“Our goal is to get people living there connected to the river,” said John Davenport, a member of Trout Unlimited Denver, who keeps a close eye on the South Platte.

Studies show that perception, more than the economic welfare of an area and its residents, tends to determine whether a natural area stays clean: Once people recognize it as a special place, they try to keep it that way, he said.

The project will take roughly three years to complete, Williams said, and she is cautiously optimistic that there will be enough money to begin the design this year, with hopes of starting construction in 2021.

Davenport is satisfied with the way the South Platte looks now, but he believes it has room for improvement.

“We have a river that could really be something,” he said.

Dan England is a freelance writer who lives in Greeley and the media adviser for Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyo.

#CA plans to jump-start #SaltonSea work, but locals remain frustrated — Environmental Defense Fund #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From the Environmental Defense Fund (Pablo Garza/Ronna Kelly):

The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, but it’s hard to grasp its immense size – and beauty – until you see it with you own eyes. Last week, roughly 200 people gathered in this unique area – both residents and leaders from around the Salton Sea and from outside the region – for the Salton Sea Summit, a conference that explored the many challenges and solutions facing the Salton Sea region.

The summit was important because, as California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot noted during his keynote on the first day, the Salton Sea has “major problems.”

Chief among these: The Salton Sea is receding.

The shrinking of the Salton Sea is a longer-term trend that was exacerbated by the largest rural-urban water transfer in the U.S., finalized in 2003. Under the transfer, the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to send up to 300,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water per year to Los Angeles and San Diego. Since 2003, the Sea has receded more rapidly, exposing some 40 acres of new shoreline and toxic dust. This dust, in turn, is contributing to already poor air quality and high rates of respiratory illnesses in the region.

As part of the transfer agreement, the state committed to thousands of acres of dust suppression and habitat restoration projects, and state lawmakers and voters have approved $365 million in funding for such projects. But action has long been stalled, and local residents and leaders are fed up.

This frustration was evident at the summit and reached a boiling point on Tuesday when the Imperial County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to declare a local emergency for air pollution at the Salton Sea. The vote came just days after state leaders stressed efforts to jump-start long-delayed projects at the summit.

The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, covering 330 square miles, and a major drop along the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds. But it is receding, threatening to create a public health and ecological crisis. By NWSPhoenix – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56724223

From popular destination to ecological tragedy

It is easy to understand why residents are frustrated and want to see more action to restore and protect this sometimes otherworldly place. As Crowfoot noted, the Salton Sea is like putting Lake Tahoe in the desert with dramatic mountains as the backdrop.

The Sea is also a critical stopping point along the Pacific Flyway for nearly 400 bird species. And, not that long ago, it was a popular recreation spot for residents and tourists alike.

More recently the Sea has made news headlines for massive bird die-offs as it shrinks and salinity increases.

The state needs to step up quickly to make up for lost time. The Newsom administration has gotten off to a good start, but much more is required. Still, there are some signs of hope.

Will promises finally be fulfilled?

Crowfoot noted that he has visited the Salton Sea “four or five times” since becoming secretary in January. “Our focus now is not making more promises but getting projects done on the ground,” he said. “I’m really optimistic.”

He highlighted the upcoming milestones:

  • By year-end, ground will be breaking on a 200-acre dust suppression pilot project that Crowfoot said would “catalyze treating many more acres for dust suppression.” (The state’s 10-year plan calls for 15,000 acres of dust suppression projects completed by 2028.)
  • By year-end, a community meeting will be held for input on the 9,000 acres of dust suppression projects.
  • By early 2020, permits will be acquired for the 9,000 acres of dust suppression projects.
  • By summer 2020, ground will be broken on a nearly 3,800-acre, design-build habitat restoration project.
  • The upcoming community meeting is a positive development and signal the state is responding to criticism that it has inadequately engaged and informed residents about Salton Sea plans. The state will also create a new Salton Sea website and email newsletter to update residents.

    However, these efforts may not be enough, as other engagement challenges remain for communicating with residents around the Sea, including disadvantaged communities.

    During a community engagement forum at the summit, panelists noted that many residents don’t have Internet access or computers, or know how to use a computer. “The digital divide is very real,” said Karen Borja, a former community organizer and now director of community affairs at Planned Parenthood in Riverside County. “That website will not be accessible to everyone.”

    The Newsom administration would be wise to follow advice offered at the summit. Panelists suggested hiring a community organizer, holding meetings after 5 p.m. in Spanish and English, and providing child care and food.

    Significant challenges remain for the Salton Sea region, but the Newsom administration appears to be listening and acting. Hopefully, by the next Salton Sea Summit, stakeholders and panelists will be discussing their successes and offering lessons learned.

    Read or download “Salton Sea Vision 2025,” a vision for the Salton Sea created by EDF and partners Alianza, Audubon California, KDI, Pacific Institute and the Sierra Club.

    Audubon’s New Climate Report and What it Means for Birds in the Arid West

    Sandhill cranes. Photo: Scott Helfrich/Audubon Photography Awards

    From Audubon’s Western Water Initiative (Karyn Stockdale):

    Audubon just released a new scientific report, Survival by Degrees, showing that 64 percent (389 out of 604) of North American bird species are at risk of extinction from climate change. The good news is our science also shows that if we take action now we can help improve the chances for 76 percent of species at risk. We know what to do to protect the birds we love and the places we all need now and in the future.

    Climate and Water in the West
    In the West, we’re already dealing with a multi-decade historic drought and longer, more intense fire seasons. Climate change threatens western water resources and some researchers are calling our new reality “aridification.” Overall, the West has experienced increases in the severity and length of droughts over the past 50 years, taking a toll on water supplies.

    Climate change not only alters the quantity of flows, but also the timing. Rising temperatures in the winter cause more precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow in mountainous areas from Colorado to California. Furthermore, warming temperatures are causing snow to melt earlier in the spring, altering the timing of streamflow in headwaters rivers.

    The Colorado River’s water supply is stretched thin—due to diversions, over-allocation and climate change—and further increases in temperature will reduce snowpack and river flows harming the river and the 40 million people and 400 species of birds that rely on it. By mid-century, climate warming is projected to decrease total Colorado River flows by 20 percent from the observed historic average.

    Likewise, across the network of saline lakes that dot the West—including Great Salt Lake—we see reduced water levels that can negatively impact millions of shorebirds, waterbirds, and waterfowl. These drying lake beds can cause health and economic problems as well as a decrease in food and habitat for birds.

    It’s essential that we curb carbon emissions to limit temperature increases and work proactively, doubling down on conservation practices, so that these already stressed water ecosystems can sustain life in the arid West for decades to come.

    How were the species evaluated?
    Audubon scientists analyzed 140 million bird records, including observational data from bird lovers and field biologists across the country, to assess vulnerability for species based on the amount of a species’ range that may be gained or lost with climate change. Audubon designated species that may lose much more range across North America than they have potential to gain as climate vulnerable. Sources for this report include eBird, U.S. Geological Survey, North American Breeding Bird Survey, and Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

    What does this mean for bird species in the arid West?
    It should come as no surprise that western forests are one of habitat groups with the most threatened bird species in warming scenarios. As temperatures increase, drought, extreme heat, and fire will become more intense, more widespread, and more devastating across the West. This has implications for water quality and watershed health and will affect both birds and people.

    Two examples of birds associated with Western Water priority freshwater and saline lakes habitats that are highlight climate vulnerable in Audubon’s report are Yellow Warbler and Long-billed Curlew. The bright, sweet song of the Yellow Warbler is a familiar sound in streamside willows across the West. Long-billed Curlews are often found around the Great Basin of Utah around emergent wetlands and marsh, as well as using agricultural fields where nesting and brood-rearing take place in pastures and hay meadows.

    Of all the birds listed as vulnerable, there are distinctions between those that would respond favorably if we limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (versus 3 degrees C) and would benefit from our actions. For instance, if we keep the rise in temperature to less than 3 degrees C, we can protect birds like the Yellow Warbler and Long-billed Curlew in their summer range.

    Birds associated with Western Water priority habitats that are highly climate vulnerable include:

  • Yellow Warbler (High vulnerability in 3 degrees C warming scenario especially in Oregon, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Moderate in summer at both 2 and 3 C)
  • Sandhill Crane (Moderate vulnerability in summer at 2 and 3 C with species projected to shift north and mostly out of the contiguous U.S. range)
  • Long-billed Curlew (High vulnerability rangewide in summer at 3 C including in Colorado, Utah, California, New Mexico. Moderate at 1.5 and 2 C)
  • American Dipper (High vulnerability in winter at 3 C particularly in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, California, and Arizona. Moderate in summer and at 1.5 and 2 C)
  • Other vulnerable species associated with Western Water and mentioned in the report:

  • Eared Grebe
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Mountain Plover
  • Summer Tanager
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Ridgway’s Rail and Clapper Rail
  • This is not an exhaustive species list and there’s much more information in the report on the 389 species vulnerable to a changing climate. One key takeaway is that if we reduce emissions by 2050 and hold warming to 1.5 C, we expect 38 percent of the species would come off the climate vulnerable list.

    What are the best ways to help birds (and people) in the West?

  • Improve resiliency for healthy watersheds (rivers, wetlands, and lakes);
  • Increase reliability of our water supply (now and in the future) through planning and cooperative, multi-benefit agreements among stakeholders;
  • Fund conservation and clean energy measures at the local, state, and federal levels (ask your elected officials to expand conservation funding and clean energy development in your community);
  • Restore and protect priority habitats;
  • Manage water comprehensively with an understanding of the connections between surface water and groundwater, and more;
  • Sign up for the Western Water newsletter to stay in touch and look for opportunities to help.
  • Left Hand and Creek restoration update

    Left hand creek restoration. Photo credit: Colorado Ag Water Alliance

    From AgInfo.net (Maura Bennett):

    Click here for an audio report.

    A new project by the Colorado Ag Water Alliance highlights how various water users in the state came together to restore Left Hand Creek in Boulder County after the devastating 2013 flood.

    The Alliance’s project involves a series of stories like the Left Hand Creek’s restoration. The Boulder County restoration is first to go up in a video and shows how working together made the creek better for all users. And Colorado Ag Water Alliance’s Executive Director Greg Peterson says that includes improvements for irrigators.

    One of the people behind the years-long restoration is Jesse Olson, Executive Director of the Left Hand Watershed Center.

    Olsen: “This project wasn’t just a great win for the environment it was a great win for the landowners and the ag producers as well. Examples of that include protection of the diversion structure, also improving the water delivery efficiency and reducing the amount of sediment flowing downstream and clogging the diversion structures. It also provided cattle access for the cattle to safely get to the water source which was the creek. It also stabilized the land and allowed for more land to be used for grazing by stabilizing the banks. There were also environmental benefits for fish and bugs and improved water quality with the reconstruction of flood plains and improving the wetland vegetation along the creek.”

    The CAWA’s Peterson says collaborations with multiple groups often is slow and sometimes just don’t happen. The Left Hand Creek example shows how farmers, ranchers, ditch companies, conservancy districts, environmental groups and private citizens all played a vital role. To see the video, go to http://www.coagwater.org.

    Here’s a case brief for Coffin v. Left Hand Ditch, Co. for you water law enthusiasts. The case was pivotal in establishing prior appropriation.

    Left Hand Creek NW of Boulder, Colorado. By Kayakcraig – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48080249