Commentary: One in Four Rural Americans Can Be a Part of the #Climate Solution – Through Their Forests — The Daily Yonder #ActOnClimate

Rows of recent planted of young pine trees. Photo via the University of Michigan

From The Daily Yonder (Tom Martin):

The Biden administration has an opportunity to help small forest owners become a more significant part of the carbon markets, earn an income on their land, and help with carbon sequestration.

The Biden administration has set its climate change policy agenda, with a broad call to engage rural America. But one approach lacking a laser focus is on incentivizing rural forest owners to use their land for capturing and storing carbon.

America’s forests and forest products already capture and store more than 750 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of nearly 15 percent of annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. With the right policies that enable voluntary action, the nation’s forests can do even more, with some estimates saying the U.S. could double this important contribution to climate mitigation.

“With the right tools and partnerships, American agriculture and forestry can lead the world in solutions that will increase climate resilience, sequester carbon, enhance agricultural productivity, and maintain critical environmental benefits,” the U.S. Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, said in a new progress report on using forests and agriculture to mitigate the impact of climate change.

One of those “right tools” must be action by the government to jumpstart carbon markets for small forest owners.

Families and individuals own the largest portion of forests – 36% – across the U.S. Research from the American Forest Foundation (AFF) and the U.S. Forest Service has found that these owners want to improve forest health, but the vast majority are not employing best practices due to the high costs associated with forest management.

Helping small forest owners access carbon markets would allow them to generate income from their land that can then be poured back into the trees for increased conservation and carbon capture. And generating income from carbon markets would provide a much-needed financial boost for forest owners, as many lack resources to sufficiently maintain their forests. One in three family forest owners has an annual income of less than $50,000.

With critical #water supply project facing unacceptable risk, #Denver Water seeks relief from Boulder County process in federal court

Denver Water is planning to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. The additional storage capacity will create more balance in the utility’s storage and give water planners more flexibility in their operational strategy. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Here’s the release from Denver Water:

Denver Water today [July 14, 2021] filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Boulder County, asserting the county is overreaching its authority and jeopardizing a federally ordered reservoir expansion critical to a safe and secure water supply for one quarter of the state’s population while risking long-planned benefits for the West Slope environment.

BACKGROUND

For nearly two decades, Denver Water has conducted an exhaustive and comprehensive planning and permitting process at the direction and oversight of six federal and state regulatory agencies. That process culminated last year in a final order to commence expansion of Gross Reservoir from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has final authority over the expansion project because Gross Reservoir occupies federal lands specifically designated for hydropower production.

For years, Denver Water has also attempted good faith efforts to work with Boulder County to secure county permits, including through two attempts at an intergovernmental agreement, robust engagement with county staff and neighbors, and participation in a local land-use review known as the “1041 process.” Unfortunately, Boulder County has been unreceptive and is using the 1041 process to frustrate the project, extending and delaying its review to the point that it is now placing the entire project at risk.

DENVER WATER STATEMENT ON NEED FOR THE PROJECT

It is hard to overstate the importance of the expansion of Gross Reservoir to the future of the Denver region. It will offer crucial protection to the utility’s water supplies from the urgent threat of catastrophic wildfire and prolonged drought — the same forces that nearly 20 years ago combined to threaten Denver Water’s ability to ensure drinking water to its customers.

This risk to clean water supplies is even higher today, in an era of rapid climate change and increasing periods of extreme weather. Last year’s record wildfire fire season, which generated the three largest forest fires in Colorado history, only just missed triggering major impacts to Denver Water’s supplies. Water providers to the north haven’t been as lucky, unable to treat some supplies running black and brown with ash produced by the Cameron Peak fire. Denver Water must act now to mitigate these risks.

The Gross Reservoir expansion conforms in every way to benchmarks in Colorado’s Water Plan, a plan developed through statewide and bottom-up guidance from eight major river basins over two years and published in 2015. That plan calls for increasing the capacity of existing reservoirs as a key element in creating 400,000 acre-feet of additional storage in the state by 2050.

The State of Colorado, in comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, expressed its support for the Gross Reservoir expansion and has identified it specifically as fitting within the kind of project defined as necessary in Colorado’s Water Plan: “A significant portion of Colorado’s future needs will be met with the implementation of projects and planning processes that the local water providers are currently pursuing, including the Moffat Collection System Project” (aka Gross Reservoir expansion).

The reservoir expansion also addresses the significant need for additional supplies in the metro region, as referenced in the Water Plan’s 2019 technical update. That update projected metro Denver demand will increase by 134,000 acre-feet to 280,000 acre-feet by 2050 against a 2015 baseline and the area likely will experience a supply shortfall, even accounting for the Gross Reservoir expansion and other water projects, a drop in per-capita use, and further conservation and reuse.

DENVER WATER STATEMENT ON DEVELOPMENT OF THE PROJECT

Denver Water’s diligent and earnest work to build partnerships across the Continental Divide, conduct significant and ongoing environmental mitigation for the project and work closely with regulators since the early 2000s has earned the project the support of major environmental groups, Grand County and each of the last five governors of Colorado. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment concluded the project would result in net water quality improvement on both sides of the Continental Divide.

The dam, when built in the 1950s, was designed to be raised. In the 1980s, amid discussion of the Two Forks project southwest of Denver (later vetoed by the EPA) a coalition of environmental groups recommended the expansion of Gross Reservoir as a viable, environmentally stable project. “We feel that additional capacity at Gross Reservoir is an environmentally acceptable and cost-effective way of increasing the overall yield of the system,” the coalition wrote. It included representatives of the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and Trout Unlimited, among several other groups.

Denver Water also worked industriously with local governments and citizen groups on the West Slope to address the impacts that putting more water in an expanded Gross Reservoir would have on streams in Grand County. Those talks, often intense, and spanning half a decade, resulted in the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement in 2013, an unprecedented cooperative effort involving 18 signatories and 40 partner organizations that began a new era of collaboration and conflict-resolution between Denver Water and the West Slope.

Expanding Gross Reservoir locks in a key component to that agreement: Denver Water would place a geographic limit on its service area, putting to rest fears the utility would continue to expand its reach to an ever-sprawling suburban ring. The utility also agreed to several measures that would provide more water to West Slope rivers, towns and ski areas and invest in improvements to aquatic habitat. The landmark concord also affirmed that with the Gross Reservoir expansion, Denver Water would benefit from more flexibility in its system, and it would use that flexibility to address stream flow and stream temperature concerns more nimbly and readily in Grand County.

Additionally, Denver Water worked with the cities of Boulder and Lafayette to establish an environmental pool in Gross Reservoir to provide additional water in South Boulder Creek during low-flow periods. Water in that pool would also supplement supplies for those two cities. Many of these commitments, however, depend on the project going forward and are therefore in jeopardy through Boulder County’s actions.

As planning for the expansion moved ahead, the utility undertook a proactive strategy to reduce demand. It deployed a water recycling facility to reduce its dependence on West Slope water supplies, embarked on a conservation program renown nationally for its success — cutting per capita water use by 22% between 2007 and 2016 — and has now undertaken direct efforts at water efficiency that pinpoint savings opportunities at the individual customer level. These are only a sample: The utility remains committed to innovation to drive further savings and expand water reuse as a core part of its strategy, work that will continue to be essential even with an increase in storage at Gross Reservoir.

In short, the effort to build civic and regulatory support for the Gross Reservoir expansion has been persistent, inspired and earnest. The future of the region, its access to clean, safe drinking water, protection of its urban tree canopy and environment, and its economic development rest in large part on the ability of Denver Water to protect water supplies from emerging threats, develop a climate-resilient system and remain prepared for the demands that will result from continued growth within its service area in metro Denver.

DENVER WATER STATEMENT ON BOULDER COUNTY’S PROCESS

Boulder County is endangering the project through delays, repeated and expanding requests for information — information demands that duplicate the already completed federal permitting process in which Boulder County participated — the potential for months of additional hearings and the fact that two of the county’s three commissioners have already publicly stated their opposition to, and desire to stop, the expansion project.

Further, the county’s land use director informed Denver Water on June 29 that the utility — despite over nine months of diligent and painstaking work to respond to Boulder County’s ever-expanding queries — failed to provide sufficient information to county agencies about the project, setting the project up for failure and rendering further involvement with the 1041 process futile.

These actions also put engineering and construction deadlines at risk, threaten to disrupt FERC-ordered timelines and risk other permits and actions necessary for successful completion of the project. A project of this size and complexity requires extensive preplanning, substantial resources and a highly skilled design and construction team. Delays resulting from Boulder County’s refusal to timely process the 1041 application add substantial costs and cause permitting, procurement and logistical issues that seriously disrupt Denver Water’s ability to execute the project.

In summary, the actions of a single local jurisdiction, Boulder County, threaten to derail and undermine a federally permitted and state supported project vital to a safe and secure water supply for one-quarter of Colorado’s population. This presents an unacceptable risk to a critical project spanning nearly 20 years and involving intensive review by environmental agencies at the federal and state levels and the engagement of dozens of organizations and communities across the metro area and the West Slope.

For that reason, Denver Water must seek relief in federal court. The complaint further details Denver Water’s attempts to work with Boulder County, the reasons that federal law preempts Boulder County’s claimed authority over the FERC-licensed expansion project, and the basis for Denver Water’s request that the court prevent Boulder County from further delaying and derailing the project.

Community Agriculture Alliance: Land stewardship 101 — The Steamboat Pilot & Today

An irrigated hayfield along the lower Yampa River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From the Community Agriculture Alliance via The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Libby Christensen):

Many of you reading this article are fortunate to get to call Routt County home. Clearly after this year, word has gotten out, and we have seen an influx of new folks lucky enough to own land in our community. With this incredible opportunity, comes incredible responsibility.

In an effort to assure that everyone is stewarding this limited resource and to reduce potential conflicts, the Community Agriculture Alliance and CSU Extension are teaming up again to offer the 101 Land Stewardship class.

This course is for folks new to Routt County or to owning land in Routt County, real estate agents and anyone interested in learning more about agriculture and land stewardship. The six-week course is offered on Wednesday evenings, beginning on Sept. 15 through Oct. 20.

A wide variety of topics will be covered throughout the course. Participants will be taught how to identify common plants, weeds, grasses, and trees in the area. The course will cover the relationships between humans, soil, plants, and water.

At the end of the course, participants will be more aware of their surroundings and understand how land management decisions impact the land, water, and people around them.

Grazing and Ranching Stewardship will cover ranching in Routt County including a conversation about the impacts of wildlife on livestock and humans and vice a versa. Local experts, who represent multigenerational land stewards in Routt County, will be on hand to teach the class and to provide real world examples of positive ranch stewardship.

The Water Stewardship class will show learners how both nature and man can alter and/or improve waterways. Participants will be introduced to several different types of irrigation systems and how they work. Local experts will also provide an overview of basic Colorado water law.

In Preparing for Fire, instructors will review what steps you can take to prepare yourself, your animals, and your home for wildfire.

Community Stewardship conversations will focus on how to be a good neighbor, covering proper weed management, fence laws, and the Routt County Master Plan.

Wrapping it all together in our last class Stewardship with a Purpose, we will discuss how soil, water, animals, plants and air should all be considered when making plans to manage property.

Land stewardship is a responsibility that we owe not to the generations before us, but to those who come after us. Our forefathers thought enough of us to take care of the land so that we could use it for our benefit, and we have the opportunity to do the same for the generations who follow us.

The Land Stewardship 101 course will help you learn how to become a better steward of your property, benefiting you, your neighborhood, your community, your children, and anyone else who calls or will call our valley home.

For more information on the Land Stewardship 101 class, or to register, check out the Community Agriculture Alliance’s website http://communityagalliance.org/programs or call 970-879-4370.

Libby Christensen is an extension agent with the Routt County CSU Extension.

New Report: #ClimateChange and Biodiversity Loss Must Be Tackled Together, Not Separately — Inside #Climate News

The deforestation of a peat swamp forest for palm oil production in Indonesia (2006). By Aidenvironment, 2006 – flickr:Riau flickr user:Wakx, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10605283

From Inside Climate News (Georgina Gustin):

The two leading science groups studying ecosystems and climate urged protection of carbon-rich habitats and warned against solutions to warming that lower species diversity.

Slowing global warming and stemming the loss of biodiversity have been viewed as independent challenges for years.

But a new landmark report concludes that climate change and the rapid decline of natural ecosystems are intertwined crises that should be tackled together if international efforts to address either are to succeed.

The report, released Thursday, was written by 50 of the world’s leading experts on biodiversity and climate change, representing two major international scientific groups collaborating for the first time: the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The findings emerged from a workshop held in December and months of subsequent research, and come as leaders gear up for two major upcoming United Nations conferences, one focusing on biodiversity and the other on climate change.

Until now, the authors of the report said, global collaborative efforts to address climate change, through platforms including the IPCC and the Paris climate agreement, have operated on a different track from efforts to address biodiversity, carried out through the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and other international organizations.

“For far too long we’ve tended to see climate and biodiversity as separate issues, so our policy responses have been very siloed,” said Pamela McElwee, one of the report’s authors and an associate professor in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University. “Climate has simply gotten more attention.”

Some key efforts can contribute to both the preservation of biodiversity and controlling global warming, especially stopping deforestation in the tropics, but also halting the degradation of other carbon-rich ecosystems, including mangroves, peatlands, savannahs and wetlands.The authors say that ramping up sustainable agriculture and forestry, while cutting subsidies to destructive industries, will also be critical.

“We are seeing multiple impacts of climate change on all continents and in all ocean regions. These increasingly add to the enormous human pressure on biodiversity,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a climatologist and previous IPCC author who co-chaired the steering committee of the collaborative workshop. “So far conservation efforts have not been sufficient. Human society depends on the services that nature provides, but climate change has caused loss in natural resources, especially those that are overused.”

Pörtner also pointed out that pandemics are linked to biodiversity loss because zoonotic diseases emerge from species that thrive when biodiversity declines. “Climate change and biodiversity loss are threatening human well being as well as society. They’re closely interwoven and share common drivers through human activity,” he said. “They’re reinforcing each other.”

The authors warned that some efforts to address the climate crisis could be detrimental to biodiversity, and they urged policy makers, governments and industries to avoid solutions that could effectively backfire. These include planting monocultural, non-native trees or vast tracts of land with crops for bioenergy.

“There are a lot of things being done for climate change, especially around adaptation, and many of them can be negative for biodiversity,” said Paul Leadley, a professor of ecology with the University of Paris Sud-France. “There’s a real risk that biodiversity can die from a thousand cuts.”

Almut Arneth, one of the authors and a modeling expert at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, said that one of those adaptive efforts, planting bioenergy crops, could eventually require a land area twice the size of India. “On the other hand, we’re using much more than 50 percent [of the world’s land] for food and timber production,” Arneth said. “So as you can imagine planting those large bioenergy crops will put enormous pressure on existing natural land, which would be catastrophic for biodiversity” and for food security.

Nature-Based Solutions Are Not Enough

While the report pointed to solutions, including cutting deforestation, the authors stressed that “nature based solutions” could only go so far.

“An immediate conclusion is that maintaining biodiversity and its functions relies on phasing out emissions from the burning of fossil fuels,” Pörtner said. “Nature is offering solutions, which can be helpful if done in parallel with strong emissions reductions.”

Strong policy and action—executed quickly— will be essential to staving off the twin crises, the authors said. They intend the report to provide the current state of thinking on the issue and said they hope it prods policy makers to push for conservation efforts like President Joe Biden’s plan to conserve 30 percent of American lands. The report called for a global effort to conserve up to half the world’s ocean and lands.

“Positive outcomes are expected from substantially increasing intact and effectively protected areas,” the report said. “Global estimates of exact requirements for effectively protected and conserved areas to ensure a habitable climate, self-sustaining biodiversity and a good quality of life are not yet well established but range from 30 to 50 percent of all land and surface areas.”

Pörtner added that successful implementation “depends on rapid entry into action. Overall, every bit of warming matters, and every lost species and every degraded ecosystem matters.”

The private sector, especially financial institutions, will also be critical in the effort, the authors said.

McElwee noted the recent development of the Task Force on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures, an effort to push banks to evaluate financial risk from the loss of natural systems, similar to the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, which defines how banks should evaluate risk from climate change.

“The goal is for the private sector to think about how the loss of biodiversity actually creates risk and build that risk into decision-making,” McElwee said. “To tackle these crises we need all hands on deck.”

Summit County receives grant for habitat improvements — The Summit Daily

Swan River restoration Reach A gravel removal. Photo credit: Summit County

From The Summit Daily (Lindsey Toomer):

Summit County received a $300,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, among other partners, to restore the area’s riparian floodplain, wetlands and upland habitat.

The foundation awarded $3.1 million to 10 habitat restoration projects across the state from its Restoration and Stewardship of Outdoor Resources and Environment — or RESTORE — Colorado program. Grant awards from this fund are meant for projects on public and private conservation lands that have the greatest benefit for wildlife habitat and local communities.

The grant will contribute to a project meant to improve habitat quality and connectivity for native cutthroat, brown and brook trout species in the Swan River Valley. The project will restore 0.8 miles of the main stem of Swan River as well as 30 acres of riparian and upland habitat.

Map of the Blue River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69327693

The June 2021 Audubon Rockies newsletter is hot off the presses

Marsh Wren. Photo: Ramkumar Subramanian/Audubon Photography Awards

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

Inspiration to Preservation in Pagosa Springs

Promoting community-driven wetland conservation with Pagosa Wetland Partners.

The story of Pagosa Wetland Partners (PWP) begins with a verdant, 15-acre stretch of wetlands teeming with birds adjoining the San Juan River in the southwestern Colorado town of Pagosa Springs. Uniquely fed by geothermal hot springs, this wetland is an ecological and cultural treasure. It harbors rare species, provides a key winter refuge and nesting site for birds, and serves as a premier site for nature observation. It is considered a birding hotspot by residents and tourists alike, with more than 180 species identified to date.

However, this downtown wetland area faces diverse threats, some of which include limited protections in local county and town building codes, possible light and noise pollution, and harmful water runoff. The possibility of inadvertent disruption to the unique warm geothermal water inflows is a primary concern that we are collaborating with the town and local developers to ensure doesn’t occur.

PWP began at a November 2019 meeting of the local Weminuche Audubon Society, where local conservationist Bob Lecour alerted the chapter to the possibility of proposed development that would threaten the Riverwalk Conservation Area. In the months to follow, a group of concerned citizens, including future PWP leaders Randy McCormick and Barry Knott, assembled and delivered a presentation to the Pagosa Springs town council on the environmental and tourist value of these unique wetlands. This presentation began the critical step of building awareness within the town government and community about the importance of wetland conservation. The proposed development did not materialize, however. The organization recognized that more extensive and far-reaching work would be required to ensure lasting protection of the wetlands.

PWP has grown in the year since its formation. We have recruited new members and articulated our mission and objectives to conserve, protect, and enhance the wetlands.

Our work has been shaped by three strategies:

  • Building partnerships wherever possible with local businesses and town government
  • Educating stakeholders about the value of wetlands
  • Striving for clear policy successes
  • From its inception, PWP has positioned itself as a willing collaborator with all stakeholders, including town government, environmental groups, and local developers. We have framed our environmental protection work in terms of promoting responsible development and science-driven conservation. We are very careful to avoid simplistic antagonism towards development. This approach has been key in building fruitful partnerships with developers and town government. Although there have been times when PWP has taken a firm stand against a potentially damaging project, more broadly, our relationships have been congenial and have allowed us to gain support and financial backing for our initiatives.

    At the same time, our focus on rigorous science has allowed us to collaborate effectively with diverse conservation organizations, including a wetland water-monitoring partnership with River Watch of Colorado, utilizing Weminuche Audubon as a non-profit recipient for donations, and receiving ongoing guidance from Audubon Rockies staff. These partnerships have built our base of support, expanded our options for financial backing, and allowed us to connect with a diverse cross-section of the community, including many key decision-makers.

    Our education initiatives aim to expand community knowledge and engagement with the wetlands, thus creating political pressure to preserve the area. This education initiative, inspired by advice from Abby Burk of Audubon Rockies, started with a series of educational articles in the local newspaper, the Pagosa Sun, in December 2020. These articles aim to educate the community about the unique ecology and beauty of the area as well as its importance as a tourist destination. They include pieces on wetland ecology, profiles of specific wetland species, and coverage of human threats to wetlands. As COVID-19 restrictions have loosened, our education and outreach have expanded, including a successful booth at the recent local Earth Day event and the upcoming launch of our Riverwalk Naturalist Program, which will provide guided nature tours of the wetlands to visitors and residents. Our education efforts have been successful in building community interest in the wetlands and in framing them as a key natural resource in the minds of residents and policymakers.

    Great Blue Heron at the Pagosa Springs wetlands. Photo: Barry Knott

    Our efforts also include the appointment of PWP co-chair, Barry Knott, to the Land Use and Development Code (LUDC) revision steering committee. He is working, along with other committee members, to update and add more significant wetland protection provisions into the revised code, which will be finalized in 2021.

    PWP has also collaborated with the town to develop environmentally responsible approaches to proposed initiatives in the wetlands. These collaborations have included providing scientific and citizen input on the proposed placement of night lights along the wetlands pathway and the installation of a wind harp in the wetlands. In both cases, the information provided by PWP resulted in a reassessment of the environmental viability of the projects by the town and their collaborators. These collaborations are the most tangible markers of our growth as an organization. However, they would not be possible without the strong foundation of partnerships and public education that underlie them.

    In addition to its value as a community conservation success story, I hope this article will offer a blueprint for other organizations looking to promote conservation in their communities. The three main themes of PWP’s development (building partnerships, educating the public, and pursuing policy protections) are easily transferable to many environmental causes. In addition, many of the organizational strategies we have used, including delegating tasks to match members’ skills, being willing to connect with key decision-makers, and being highly flexible about securing resources and building partnerships, are also useful to a range of start-up conservation organizations. Our work to protect the wetlands continues with the LUDC revision process and the launch of our naturalist program coming in the near future. As our work continues, I hope it provides an inspiration for others to advance their conservation goals. If you want to learn more, you can contact Pagosa Wetland Partners at pagosawetlands@gmail.com.

    Whooping Cranes Celebrate American Wetlands Month at Restored #Nebraska Wetland — Farmers.gov

    Photo credit: Farmers.gov

    Here’s the release from Farmers.gov (Joanna Pope):

    Nebraska isn’t known as a destination for celebrities, but for wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers, Nebraska had a visit from a few “A-list” celebrities recently – just in time for American Wetlands Month.

    Haven for Migrating Birds

    Trumbull Basin, a wetland located in Adams County in central Nebraska, was graced with the presence of four Whooping Cranes who stopped at the wetland during their migration north.

    The Whooping Crane is one of the world’s most endangered species. There are currently just over 800 of these birds on earth.

    Trumbull Basin, the wetland where these rare birds called home for 11 days, is in the heart of a unique geographic area known as the Rainwater Basin.

    Four Whooping Cranes recently stopped at Trumbull Basin during their migration north. Photo courtesy of David Baasch and the Crane Trust via Farmers.gov

    The Rainwater Basin is a complex of wetlands covering portions of south-central Nebraska. The area is also part of the migration route known as the Central Flyway. In spring, birds that have wintered on the Gulf Coast and across Texas and Mexico funnel into this 150-mile-wide area over central Nebraska that contains thousands of wetlands.

    The wetlands provide habitat for migrating birds. Despite being critical to migrating and local wildlife species, the Rainwater Basin wetlands have been greatly reduced from their historic numbers.

    Restoring the Basin

    USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Nebraska works closely with the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, a non-government organization that works with landowners who voluntarily restore wetlands on their land. The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, in cooperation with NRCS, helped restore the Trumbull Basin wetland.

    “Seeing Whooping Cranes use one of the wetlands that a group of Nebraska landowners worked so hard to restore is extremely exciting and also really gratifying,” said Andy Bishop, coordinator for the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture.

    Landowners Frank Hill, Larry Rouse, Don Cox, and Leo Pavelka worked with NRCS Resource Conservationist Ken Franzen and other partner agencies to help restore the large wetland near Trumbull, Nebraska. Photo taken in 2004 by Joanna Pope, NRCS.

    At 465 acres Trumbull Basin is one of the largest privately owned wetlands in the Rainwater Basin. This wetland was restored through the former Wetlands Reserve Program, a voluntary NRCS conservation program that helped landowners protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. Landowners can do this now with Wetland Reserve Easements through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. Across the country, more than 5 million acres have been enrolled in easements.

    When this project was initiated back in the late 1990s, there were five landowners who each owned a portion of Trumbull Basin. Initially this project started with the goal to better manage irrigation water to improve cropping potential, but the landowners soon realized there wasn’t much they could do to improve the area’s cropping capability. The alternative to farming such a wet area was to work with NRCS to restore the wetland through WRP.

    “Our programs are a great tool for farmers to explore when a piece of their operation isn’t meeting their needs, and they want to find a different way to manage their land,” said Jeff Vander Wilt, acting state conservationist for NRCS in Nebraska. “In the case of Trumbull Basin, this resulted in converting poorly producing cropland into critical habitat for one of the world’s most endangered species.”

    The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture worked with landowners Don and Shanda Cox on a large wetland restoration project just north of Hastings, Nebraska. Photo taken in 2011 by Joanna Pope, NRCS.

    An Ideal Wetland Habitat

    Restoration was an incremental process beginning in 1999, with the last tract enrolled into WRP in 2006. Thanks to the landowners working with conservation agencies, including NRCS, the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, Nebraska Game and Parks, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Trumbull Basin was restored.

    The restoration required removing 66,000 cubic yards of sediment from the wetland, filling a large concentration pit, and removing nearly 1.5 miles of berms surrounding the wetland. This work restored how the wetland originally functioned in the landscape, by allowing water to flow back into the wetland where it could provide habitat, prevent flooding, improve water quality, and recharge ground water.

    The continued management of Trumbull Basin has helped maintain this site as ideal wetland habitat for migrating birds. Photo courtesy of David Baasch and the Crane Trust.

    Since the wetland was restored, additional steps have been taken to ensure it continues to function. A management plan was developed that included grazing, prescribed burns, herbicide treatments, and tree cutting. The continued management of Trumbull Basin has helped maintain this site as ideal wetland habitat.

    “Seeing wildlife use this wetland 15 years after it was first restored is extremely rewarding,” said Andy. “It shows we’re doing something right by helping landowners create and manage the type of habitat these extremely rare animals need to make their long journey.”

    #BlueRiver Watershed Group presents annual update and #drought predictions — The Summit Daily #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Map of the Blue River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69327693

    From The Summit Daily (Lindsey Toomer):

    Experts from different organizations presented updates specific to their work, all focusing on water rights, drought outlooks and river basin updates.

    Russ Schumacher, director of the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, went through the recent history of the ongoing drought in the state. He said throughout the past few months, eastern Colorado has seen decent drought improvement, but western Colorado has remained about the same.

    Schumacher presented a chart showing average temperatures and precipitation from April through September, which showed that 2020 was somewhat of an outlier.

    “It was the driest April through September on record and one of the few hottest on record, and that is a recipe for a drought that develops quickly,” Schumacher said…

    Richard Van Gytenbeek, Colorado River Basin outreach coordinator for Trout Unlimited, provided an overview of the goals and accomplishments from phase one of the Blue River Integrated Water Management Plan. The first objective of the plan, which Van Gytenbeek said the group has spent most of its time on, is to understand potential causes for declining fish populations between the Dillon and Green Mountain reservoirs and how the decline can be mitigated…

    The second objective is what Van Gytenbeek called a “literature search,” which aims to compile information regarding physical and biological aspects of the Blue River Basin’s water resources. This would then formulate objectives and goals for future phases of the plan.

    Van Gytenbeek said the phase one report is currently being finalized, and they intend to submit it to an advisory committee in the middle of June. He said he expects the report to be made public in July or early August.

    Once the report is completed the second phase of the project will continue, with hopes of having the final phase two report ready for the public by March 2022. Van Gytenbeek said he thinks integrated water management plan organizations like the Blue River Watershed Group should get some support to keep the dialogue going past the life of phase two of the project.

    Dave Kanzer, deputy chief engineer at the Colorado River District, talked about supply issues within the Colorado River Compact…

    Nathan Elder and Jason Finehout of Denver Water said there is a low likelihood of filling the Dillon Reservoir this year, predicting an inflow of about 50-60% of normal. Finehout went on to explain that many of Denver Water’s annual summer watering rules are the same as many jurisdictions’ stage one drought restrictions…

    Swan River restoration Reach A gravel removal. Photo credit: Summit County

    Brian Lorch, trails director of Summit County Open Space and Trails, provided an update on the Swan River Restoration Project, which aims to naturalize more than two miles of the Swan River Valley impacted by historical dredge mining.

    Lorch said this summer, Reach B of the project will start to take shape, as contractors will create about another mile of stream channel.

    Forest Service, #Boulder County scramble in $6.5 million push to stabilize burned slopes — The #Denver Post

    Scenes of the CalWood Oct. 17, 2020 (Jivan West/CU Independent)

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    New research shows forests not bouncing back from fires as quickly, which could lead to erosion and strains on drinking water

    The U.S. Forest Service and Boulder County have begun a $6.5 million emergency push to try to stabilize slopes here before hard summer rain. It’s an immediate fix for what research indicates could be a long-term problem…

    In Washington, D.C., Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse are pushing legislation to deploy tens of thousands of workers to thin western forests before fires break out — a technique Boulder County land managers have used repeatedly over the last decade. Federal land managers, meanwhile, said they’re evaluating whether to replant and how much in an effort to promote at least partial recovery from a wildfire…

    Focus on forest health

    Wildfires played key roles in forming forests over thousands of years, bringing balance and diversity. But natural cycles were distorted by decades of humans aggressively suppressing fire, which is still a priority in Colorado and other western states. The resulting tree density, along with high temperatures and aridity, led to last year’s record-breaking megafires in California and Colorado.

    “In many recently burned areas, trees aren’t reestablishing. We’re seeing this especially in wildfires that burned in Ponderosa pine forests,” said Tony Cheng, director of the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute and professor of forest and rangeland stewardship at Colorado State University.

    Cheng recently testified in Congress, warning that forest fires are releasing more carbon into the atmosphere, that forest recovery may take centuries — if it happens at all — and that the United States’ capacity to sequester carbon is diminishing.

    “If recent research is providing insight into the future, the prospects are low for forests to return to what people were used to seeing,” Cheng told The Denver Post. “Forest cover could be sparser, trees would be replaced with shrubs and other plants, the wildlife might be different, and the water-holding and filtering capacity of forests would be altered for a long time.”

    A University of Colorado study published in February tracks with his assessment and blames climate warming. A 2017 study using data from 1,485 burn sites found increasingly unfavorable conditions for forests to regenerate throughout the Rocky Mountain West.

    Slopes above Cheesman Reservoir after the Hayman fire photo credit Denver Water.

    And northwest of Colorado Springs, the 70-square-mile core of the 214-square-mile scar from the 2002 Hayman fire shows how severe burning can reduce a towering 200-year-old Ponderosa and Douglas fir forest to grasses and shrubs two decades later.

    Fighting to ‘keep the soil on the slopes’

    Up on the blackened mountainsides between standing dead pines, orange-vested contractors recently were scoping sites to install 30 small dams and a pond to try to keep soil, crucial for new growth, from eroding.

    Ground crews sawed into the pines, leaving roots in place. Amid a staccato thudding, red helicopters crisscrossed overhead, hoisting cut trunks using dangling hooks and hauling them into massive piles. A tractor-sized grinder turned the trunks to tons of mulch, which helicopters hauled in nets and dropped over severely scorched slopes six inches thick.

    This emergency effort must stabilize the burned terrain as quickly as possible, Glowacki said, adding, “Our role in this is to keep the soil on the slopes.”

    But by May 21, only 200 acres out of 1,800 acres prioritized in the project had been covered. The grinder had broken.

    If scorched slopes remain barren, hard rain likely will cause flooding, possible slides and wash sediment into Geer and Plumley creeks, which flow into Lefthand Creek, the drinking water source for communities north of Boulder.

    Environmental analysis puts Marble wetlands donation within reach — @AspenJournalism #CrystalRiver #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The slag pile left over from a 1900s smelting operation on a wetlands property subject to a unique conservation play that is working its way through various agencies. An analysis by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that the material does not post a significant health risk if it is fenced off.
    CREDIT: CURTIS WACKERLE/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Curtis Wackerle):

    You wouldn’t want to put it in your granola, in the words of Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association President John Armstrong, but a heap of waste material left over from a 1900s smelting operation near the banks of the Crystal River in Marble does not appear to pose enough of an environmental hazard to prevent the donation of 55 acres of otherwise stunning, mostly wetlands terrain to a land conservation organization.

    But the road to reach this point has been long for the private owner of the now three contiguous parcels across the river that the owner has been trying since 2016 to see donated and permanently preserved in its natural state. In that time, concerns about potential liabilities associated with the slag pile have held up the initiative.

    But support from CVEPA, which agreed to put $1,000 toward an analysis of the material, plus a discussion with the Pitkin County Health Rivers and Streams board about a grant, gave momentum to the effort last year. This spring, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) completed its analysis of the site and determined that contaminant levels in the material are within the range considered to be non-threatening to human health for a day-use recreation site.

    In the end, the analysis work was completed pro bono, and proponents hope that funds pledged can be used for materials to fence off the slag heap and put up some interpretive signage explaining the history of the smelter and the slag left behind. This would complement an eventual management framework in which a land-conservation agency holds title to the property and allows passive, non-motorized public access along an existing route following the river.

    Blocks of marble, likely connected to a historic railroad line running to a quarry, were artistically stacked by a previous owner along what one Marble resident referred to as “The Trail With No Name.”
    CREDIT: CURTIS WACKERLE/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    That would adhere to long-held use patterns on the land, where private owners have allowed the public to hike, bike or Nordic ski. The biodiverse area straddling the river and the wooded hillside, referred to by Marble history museum curator Alex Menard as the Trail With No Name, has been the site of nature walks hosted by the Roaring Fork Conservancy to observe the beaver dams dotting the wetlands. A portion of it near the slag heap is also marked by giant slabs of marble — probably left over from a railroad that used to run through the site to a marble quarry on Treasure Mountain — that a previous owner artistically stacked just off the trail. The trail itself leads to scenic waterfalls on Yule Creek, although the falls are just over the property line on an adjacent parcel controlled by a separate owner.

    “This is really a wildlife refuge,” said Menard, who was instrumental in bringing the project to the attention of the CVEPA. “It’s a place where you can see an eagle taking a trout out of water with its talons, then half a mile farther up, there is a moose; walk a little more, there’s a bear, a blue heron. It’s a wild place.”

    As noted by Armstrong, it could also be a desirable spot for a “McMansion,” if not for the benevolence of the private donor — an out-of-state woman who also donated the land in town that is becoming Marble Children’s Park. That land is now owned by Aspen Valley Land Trust, which is working with the town and obtaining additional grant funding to spruce up the site.

    AVLT is critical to the conservation effort on the wetlands parcel, as well. AVLT staff is completing survey and title work on the property and will soon be proposing action to the land trust’s board. However, the exact shape of that action is still to be determined, according to AVLT director Suzanne Stephens.

    “(We) have talked with our lands committee about potentially accepting fee ownership, but we are also investigating potential partnerships and other options for the property, so it’s not a foregone conclusion that we’ll end up with it,” Stephens wrote in an email. “However, we are committed to seeing it protected one way or another.”

    Potential partners include Colorado Parks and Wildlife, CVEPA, Pitkin County and other entities, Stephens said.

    A beaver dam along the Crystal River as it runs through a property that a private owner is seeking to donate for conservation purposes. Also visible in this photo is a Canada goose island nesting site with a large beaver lodge.
    CREDIT: COURTESY PHOTO BY ALEX MENARD

    The site is “unquestionably one of the most important wetlands and riparian parcels in the valley,” Stephens said.

    “The fact that it adjoins Beaver Lake and almost the entirety of its acreage is wetland and river make it extremely important from a land and water conservation perspective,” she wrote, referring to the body of water located on a CPW-owned parcel to the north. “The habitat is crucial and threatened across the west, and combined with the proximity to the town of Marble and the fact that the smelter site has historic significance and the parcel offers flat, easy access and a lovely walk make it a rare gem that deserves to be conserved for a multitude of reasons.”

    The parcels outlined in yellow across the Crystal River from Marble are subject to a unique conservation effort. Beaver Lake is located on state-owned land abutting one of the parcels to the north.
    CREDIT: SCREENSHOT VIA GUNNISON COUNTY GIS MAPPING WEBSITE

    ‘Like a glass blob’

    In the early days of industrialization and European settlement in the Crystal River Valley, a smelting and ore-crushing operation known as the Hoffman Smelter was erected on the site, according to Menard’s historical accounting. The site processed silver, lead, zinc and copper ore hauled by mule train from mines around Marble from roughly 1898 until 1911.

    The smelter is long gone, but its shadow still hangs over the site. According to Armstrong, initial donation efforts in 2016 and 2017 ran aground on concerns about the slag heap, although proponents have long held that such concerns would ultimately be inconsequential.

    A close-up view of the rock-like material that crumbles off the slag heap, left over from a 1900s smelting operation near Marble.
    CREDIT: CURTIS WACKERLE/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    The heap in question — perhaps 50 feet long and 10 feet high and located near the edge of the trail — “looks like something volcanic,” Armstrong said.

    The mostly solid mound is, however, shedding pieces the size of small rocks. But there is not a strong presence of dust or other material that could wash away in a rainstorm or become airborne in dry conditions. CVEPA’s hope has been that any toxic material is inert, locked up in the rock.

    “I have a strong feeling that it shouldn’t be something that should preclude something from acquisition,” Armstrong said in December, when CVEPA was awaiting the results of a materials analysis involving a private lab and CDPHE.

    CDPHE — which was reviewing the site following a grant process where projects are submitted that present a public benefit — has substantially completed its analysis, and its findings line up with Armstrong’s characterization.

    “Nothing is alarming,” said Mark Rudolph, an environmental protection analyst and brownfield site coordinator with CDPHE. He referred to the slag material as “like a glass blob.”

    Rudolph noted that vegetation around the slag pile is healthy and that water quality in the Crystal River, about 50 yards from the material, meets the highest standards. Lead concentrations in the material fall in the range deemed acceptable for recreation sites, he said, and most of it appears locked up in the rocklike formation.

    A final report from CDPHE is pending and will include recommendations on how to manage the site for public use. Those recommendations are likely to include clearing from the road any particles that have come off the slag heap. The road was recently built using a historic easement that allows access to a neighboring property owner, who is developing a home. Other strategies could include reseeding areas around the heap and using crushed marble or some other material to cover the slag particles that are visible on the shoulder of the road.

    “It’s going to be a great addition to the town if we can get it all the way through,” Menard said of the conservation effort.

    Protecting continued public access to these waterfalls along Yule Creek, just over the property line from a parcel set to be donated to a land conservation agency, is an ongoing priority for the CVEPA.
    CREDIT: COURTESY PHOTO BY JOHN ARMSTRONG

    For Armstong and CVEPA, there is further work to be done to ensure public access to the falls, which are about 1.5 miles in from the beginning of the walk through the wetlands. The falls are on the property owned by the man who recently built the road. He could not be reached for comment.

    “The owner of the private property seems amenable to allowing access, as he has placed ‘no trespassing’ signs farther up the road beyond the access to the falls,” the CVEPA wrote in a winter 2020 newsletter article about the Marble wetlands donation initiative.

    This story ran in the May 29 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Forests and #climatechange: ‘We can’t plant our way out of the #climatecrisis’ — The University of #Michigan

    Rows of recent planted of young pine trees. Photo via the University of Michigan

    Here’s the release from the University of Michigan (Jim Erickson):

    Some climate activists advocate large-scale tree-planting campaigns in forests around the world to suck up heat-trapping carbon dioxide and help rein in climate change.

    But in a Perspectives article scheduled for publication May 21 in the journal Science, a University of Michigan climate scientist and his University of Arizona colleague say the idea of planting trees as a substitute for the direct reduction of greenhouse gas emissions could be a pipe dream.

    “We can’t plant our way out of the climate crisis,” said Arizona’s David Breshears, a top expert on tree mortality and forest die-off in the West. His co-author is Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability and an expert on paleoclimate and climate-vegetation interactions.

    Instead of wasting money by planting lots of trees in a way that is destined to fail, it makes more sense to focus on keeping existing forests healthy so they can continue to act as carbon “sinks,” removing carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and storing it in trees and soils, according to the researchers. At the same time, emissions must be reduced as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

    Overpeck and Breshears say they hope the role of the world’s forests—and specifically the urgent need to protect existing forests and keep them intact—is thoroughly debated when the world’s climate action leaders gather at the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow this November.

    “Policymakers need to enable new science, policy and finance mechanisms optimized for the disturbance and vegetation change that is unstoppable, and also to ensure that the trees and forests we wish to plant or preserve for the carbon they sequester survive in the face of climate change and other human threats,” Overpeck and Breshears wrote.

    “Failure to meet this challenge will mean that large terrestrial stores of carbon will be lost to the atmosphere, accelerating climate change and the impacts on vegetation that threaten many more of the ecosystem services on which humans depend.”

    Keeping forests healthy will require a new approach to forest management, one that Overpeck and Breshears call managing for change. As a first step, policymakers and land managers need to acknowledge that additional large-scale vegetation changes are inevitable.

    Climate change has been implicated in record-setting wildfires in the western United States, Australia and elsewhere, as well as extensive tree die-offs that are largely due to hotter, drier climate extremes. Those disturbing trends are expected to accelerate as the climate warms, according to Overpeck and Breshears.

    “Even in a world where climate change is soon halted, global temperature rise will likely reach between 1.5 and 2 C above pre-industrial levels, with all the associated extreme heat waves that brings, and thus global vegetation will face up to double the climate change already experienced,” they wrote.

    At the same time, deforestation continues to expand globally and is especially damaging in tropical forests, which hold vast amounts of biodiversity and sequestered carbon.

    The next step toward a new managing-for-change paradigm is to manage forests proactively for the vegetation changes that can be anticipated—instead of trying to maintain forests as they were in the 20th century, Overpeck and Breshears say.

    Managing for change means, for example, more aggressive thinning of forests to reduce the buildup of fuels that stoke massive wildfires. It also means selectively replacing some trees—after a wildfire, for example—that are no longer in optimal climate zones with new species that will thrive now and in coming decades.

    Such activities, where needed, will inevitably increase the costs of forest management, according to the researchers. But such costs should be considered a prudent investment, one that helps preserve an underappreciated service that forests provide to humanity for free: carbon storage, also known as carbon sequestration.

    Forests are already managed to preserve the natural resources and ecosystem services they provide. In addition to supplying timber, fuelwood, fiber and other products, forests clean the air, filter the water, and help control erosion and flooding. They preserve biodiversity and promote soil formation and nutrient cycling, while offering recreational opportunities such as hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.

    Carbon sequestration should rank high on the list of invaluable services that forests provide, and efforts to preserve and enhance this vital function should be funded accordingly, Overpeck and Breshears say.

    For example, there’s a big opportunity to improve the ability of forests to store carbon through increased use of biochar, a form of charcoal produced by exposing organic waste matter—such as wood chips, crop residue or manure—to heat in a low-oxygen environment. Large amounts of wood generated during forest thinning projects could be converted to biochar, then added to forest soils to improve their health and increase the amount of carbon that is locked away, Overpeck says.

    “Thinning of forests, conversion of the removed wood to biochar and burial of the biochar in forest soils is a way to bring new jobs to forested rural areas while allowing forests to play a bigger role in keeping carbon out of the atmosphere and thus fighting climate change,” he said. “Forest carbon management could be a boon for rural areas in need of new economic engines.”

    In the long run, such projects are likely to benefit forests and enhance their ability to store carbon far more than massive tree-planting campaigns conducted without appropriate management strategies, according to Overpeck and Breshears.

    “Tree-planting has great appeal to some climate activists because it is easy and not that expensive,” Breshears said. “But it’s like bailing water with a big hole in the bucket: While adding more trees can help slow ongoing warming, we’re simultaneously losing trees because of that ongoing warming.”

    In their Perspectives article, Overpeck and Breshears explore the implications of a new study by Ondřej Mottl et al., also scheduled for publication May 21 in Science, titled “Global acceleration in rates of vegetation change over the past 18,000 years.”

    More information:

    Summary: The growing challenge of vegetation change

    Webinar: #Colorado State of the River, May 27, 2021 — Colorado River District #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

    Topic
    Colorado State of the River

    Description
    Join the Colorado River District for the Colorado State of the River, a webinar addressing issues across the basin.

    Learn how last year’s wicked wildfire season has impacted our water supplies and how to prepare for the impacts of post-fire floods. Get information about water availability amid impending summer drought and find out more about funding available for local water projects.

    If you cannot attend the webinar live, register to receive a recording of the webinar in your email inbox to watch later.  

    Agenda:
    • Welcome – Colorado River District
    • Colorado River District’s Community Funding Program – Colorado River District Director of Strategic Partnerships Amy Moyer
    • Water Supply Updates and Drought in the Colorado River Basin – Division 5 Assistant Division Engineer James Heath
    • Impacts of 2020 Wildfires and Fire Recovery in the Colorado River Basin – U.S. Forest Service Hydrologist Liz Schnackenberg, Joel Cochran, Grand County Director of Emergency Management, Northern Water Source Water Protection Specialist Kimberly Mihelich and Middle Colorado Watershed Council Executive Director Paula Stepp
    • Learning By Doing: Updates and Fire Recovery – Learning by Doing Coordinator Kiki Sayre and Water Quality Technical Assistance Consultant for Grand County Kayli Foulk

    Time
    May 27, 2021 06:00 PM in Mountain Time (US and Canada)

    Opinion: The Windy Gap settlement is a win for the West Slope and its waters — The #Colorado Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    An aerial view of Windy Gap Reservoir, near Granby. The reservoir is on the main stem of the Colorado River, below where the Fraser River flows into the Colorado. Water from Windy Gap is pumped up to Lake Granby and Grand Lake, and then sent to the northern Front Range through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    Here’s a guest column from Merrit S. Linke, Jack Buchheister, Kathy Chandler-Henry, and Marti Whitmore that’s running in The Colorado Sun:

    As Western Colorado leaders, we congratulate the parties involved in continuing a history of cooperative solutions to benefit water users and choosing collaboration over litigation.

    The history of Western Colorado’s water is told in stories of hard-fought wins and losses, of lawsuits and government petitions, of tough negotiations and collaboration.

    In Grand County, the history of West Slope water — and Front Range demand for that water — is more visible than in other areas west of the Continental Divide. It is visible at the base of a concrete spillway below Windy Gap Reservoir that disconnects our state’s namesake river; and at the Fraser River’s edge, where visitors see only a fraction of the river that once carved its way downstream.

    Top row: Merrit S. Linke, Jack Buchheister. Bottom row: Kathy Chandler-Henry, Marti Whitmore. Credit: The Colorado Sun

    But Grand County has also been the backdrop for stories that center on the importance of collaboration and negotiation. Stories of water users coming together to protect and preserve Western Colorado’s water security, communities and local economies.

    A recently-announced $15 million settlement between environmental groups and Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict is a win for the Western Slope, adding to the nearly $100 million in benefits already secured for water users in Grand County and further downstream.

    We commend the parties for reaching this settlement and look forward to partnering with them on projects to further restore and enhance the aquatic environment in Grand County.

    The settlement allows the Windy Gap Firming Project to move forward with construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Loveland. It also unlocks the benefits of water, reservoir storage and funding outlined in a nearly 10-year-old agreement and clears the way for the long-promised Colorado River Connectivity Channel to break ground in Grand County.

    The enhancements secured by the prior agreement will create a healthier river system and benefit irrigators, communities and people who recreate on Grand County’s rivers.

    In 2012, after years of negotiation, the Colorado River District, Grand County, Middle Park Water Conservancy District and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments signed an intergovernmental agreement with Northern Water that secured hard-fought yet collaborative resolutions to restore and protect the health of our rivers and communities in Grand County.

    This agreement provides a secure water supply for Middle Park water users in Grand and Summit counties. It also secures perpetual reservoir releases for the environment, which will improve aquatic habitat and water quality and boost flows for recreation and endangered fish downstream in the Colorado River.

    These releases will provide more cool water in the river when it is most needed, alleviating low flow in the hottest, driest portion of summer and early fall. In addition, Grand County residents and visitors will enjoy preserved open space and public access to Willow Creek.

    Finally, the agreement supports the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, which will boost river health by reconnecting the Upper Colorado River to its channel around Windy Gap Reservoir. The Connectivity Channel demonstrates how diverse interests can collaborate on solutions that benefit both water supply and watershed health.

    Security of our West Slope resources remains at the forefront for Grand County leaders, and the agreement includes important protections barring Northern Water from future water development or water rights acquisitions in Grand County without prior approval from Grand County and the Colorado River District.

    Each of these enhancements contribute to better water quality and a healthier river, and they will increase the resilience of our water supply in drought years. This is an achievement for everybody who uses the river.

    When the Chimney Hollow Reservoir was first proposed more than a decade ago, West Slope leaders had the foresight to secure these protections for water users.

    We congratulate the parties involved in the recent settlement in continuing a history of cooperative solutions to benefit West Slope water users and choosing collaboration over litigation.

    Merrit S. Linke is the chair of the Grand County Board of County Commissioners. Jack Buchheister is the president of the Middle Park Water Conservancy District. Kathy Chandler-Henry is the chair of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments’ Water Quality and Quantity Committee. Marti Whitmore is the president of the Colorado River District Board of Directors.

    The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District endorses Fremont County #restoration project — Heart of the Rockies Radio

    Van Norman Project graphic credit: River Science via Heart of the Rockies Radio

    From Heart of the Rockies Radio (Joe Stone):

    Members of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors agreed to support a stream restoration project for a 2-mile section of Oak Creek on the Van Norman Ranch near Cañon City.

    Luke Javernick, executive director of Cañon City-based River Science, provided an overview of the project at the District’s May board meeting.

    As a demonstration project, the endeavor promises to provide important information to guide future restoration efforts, and since the land lies within the Upper Ark District, directors and staff agreed on the importance of being involved to better understand the risk to water rights as well as the benefits.

    Javernick said the benefits of “process-based stream restoration” include wildfire suppression and habitat improvements in the stream as well as in the riparian zone. “But the real impact is restoring hydrologic connectivity between the surface water and groundwater.”

    Process-based restoration involves hand-building stream features that mimic natural structures, he said. “We’re mimicking nature, encouraging natural river processes for beneficial restoration,” and those structures can be modified or removed to accommodate the dynamics of the stream. “It takes time … five to 10 years.”

    From the District’s perspective, one of the most important questions the project will attempt to answer is how stream restoration effects flows and, therefore, water rights.

    “If you’re slowing the water down and allowing it to soak into the aquifer, when do you get that equilibrium?” Javernick asked. “We need UAWCD support because you’re the experts in water rights administration. … We need your help in navigating what types of creative solutions might be available.”

    The Van Normans have an Oak Creek water right. However, the Town of Rockvale has the senior water right on Oak Creek, Javernick said, and “the Town is onboard.”

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board has awarded a $99,900 grant to the Van Norman Project, and Javernick indicated that the Phase I project budget includes $10,000 for the Upper Ark District. “We’re asking for a $10,000 (in-kind) match.”

    Reconnecting the #ColoradoRiver to the Sea — @Audubon #COriver #aridification

    Delivery of water for the environment in the Colorado River Delta, May 3, 2021. Photo: Adrián Salcedo, Restauremos el Colorado

    From Audubon (Jennifer Pitt):

    Binational Water Conservation Making the Colorado River More Sustainable for People and Birds

    **Este artículo se puede encontrar en español**

    The Colorado River is flowing again in its delta. This is a big deal for a river that has not flowed through its delta in most years since the 1960s, resulting in an ecosystem that is severely desiccated and devastated.

    Thanks to commitments from the United States and Mexico in the Colorado River binational agreement—Minute 323 – 35,000 acre-feet of water (11.4 billion gallons) dedicated to create environmental benefits will be delivered to the river from May 1 to October 11. The expectation is that this will create and support habitat for birds like the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yuma Ridgway’s Rail, and Vermilion Flycatcher, and give life to the many plants and animals in this ribbon oasis of green in the midst of the Sonoran Desert.

    Cattle Egrets and Snowy Egrets in the Cienega de Santa Clara, the largest remaining wetland in the Colorado River Delta. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob via Audubon

    The last time the two governments cooperated to put water for the environment into the Colorado River was in 2014, when they released a “pulse flow” of water from Morelos Dam (the furthest downstream dam on the Colorado River, located at the U.S. – Mexico border). For eight glorious weeks, the Colorado River was conjured back to life in its final 100 miles. Birds took notice (bird abundance increased 20% from the previous year, and species diversity increased 42%) and local communities celebrated with a spontaneous river fiesta that went on for weeks.

    This time, the water will flow for more than five months. Thanks to lessons learned from scientists who studied the 2014 pulse flow, the water will be less likely to infiltrate into the ground, and more likely to fill the river channel providing environmental benefits all the way down to the Gulf of California. System operators are using Mexico’s canal system to bypass Morelos Dam and the driest parts of the channel, delivering the water into the river some 45 river-miles downstream. There it will fill the river where the channel is already wet, maximizing water use efficiency. The scientists’ design optimizes the location and timing of flow to support the hundreds of species of birds that use the delta, and the floodplain habitats they rely on.

    Audubon and its partners in Raise the River—the non-governmental organization (NGO) coalition working to restore the Colorado River Delta—are excited to see this sophisticated approach to environmental water delivery. Scientists will study the flow again this year in order to add to our understanding of how to best use the limited supply of water available for the environment.

    Roberto Salmon and Edward Drusina at the Minute 323 signing ceremony September 27, 2017. Photo credit .U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    The agreement that made these flows possible—Minute 323—lasts through 2026. The agreement also commits more than $30 million for water conservation infrastructure in the Mexicali Valley. The water savings will improve local resilience to global warming, increase the water supply stored in Lake Mead, make additional water available to water users in the United States, and create additional water supply for the environment (the coalition of NGOs will also contribute from a local water trust). Minute 323 also ensures that the United States and Mexico conserve Colorado River water and share in shortages when supplies are low. In the context of a drought on the Colorado River that has persisted since 2000, and the expectation of climate change exacerbating drought conditions, these provisions create water supply reliability for both people and nature.

    This spring, water for the Colorado River Delta creates a renewed sense of hope. Over the next few months we have the opportunity to see what a small volume of water can do to revive the remnant ecosystem, to nurture its birds, and gift local communities with the return of their river. We can be reassured that, at least in parts of the delta, the Colorado River lives again. In an extraordinarily dry year, deliberate management of water to sustain the environment is the kind of management we will need throughout the Colorado River Basin to ensure that persistent drought and long term impacts of climate change do not lead to the end of river ecosystems in the arid West.

    Scientists: Beavers latest tool to emerge in rebuilding #drought-stricken streams — @WaterEdCO

    Beaver dam on the Crystal River in Colorado. Credit: Sarah Marshall, Colorado Natural Heritage Program via Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Beavers, known for their work ethic, tenacity and sometimes destructive instincts, are making a comeback in the worlds of science and water as researchers look for natural ways to restore rivers and wetlands and improve the health of drought-stressed aquifers.

    “The concept of beavers and their ability to restore streams is not new,” said Sarah Marshall, an ecohydrologist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Natural Heritage Program who has been studying these semi-aquatic rodents for years. “Now we have a body of groundwater and sediment capture studies that have really resonated with folks who are managing water, especially with these nagging problems of drought and earlier snowmelt.”

    This fall, Colorado Headwaters, a nonprofit that advocates for protecting and restoring headwater regions in the state, is sponsoring a beaver summit, a conference designed to unveil some of the latest ecological research on creatures once valued only for their glossy fur.

    “The idea is to drive the knowledge to the general public and legislators so they have a better handle on how to address this,” said Jerry Mallett, Colorado Headwaters founder and president.

    Beaver advocates would like to see more funding for research, new programs, such as a beaver census, and better integration of wetland restoration efforts in headwaters areas.

    Before beavers were nearly trapped out of existence in the mid-1800s, they inhabited high mountain wetlands and river basins across Colorado and the West. They played an important ecological role, according to Marshall. Their dams trapped water, allowing it to flood wetlands and soak into underground aquifers. Those same dams also trapped sediment, enhancing habitat for fish and other wildlife.

    But beavers also did their fair share of damage as the West was settled, garnering a reputation for damming irrigation ditches and flooding culverts and roads, angering ranchers and city dwellers alike.

    Even in urban areas, beavers are considered a nuisance because their never-ending dam building often floods city parks and harms trees.

    But Marshall is hopeful that events such as the upcoming summit as well as ongoing education of policy makers and the public on the benefits of the water-related work beavers do will help improve their reputation.

    “One of the most important things about how beavers help streams is that they are very dynamic. They don’t just create a dam. They move around in watersheds creating systems that are constantly changing.

    “By creating a series of dams they do everything from refilling alluvial aquifers to physically trapping sediment and creating physical habitat for rare species such as boreal toads and trout,” she said.

    Carlyle Currier, president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, said beavers remain a sore topic in the agricultural world because their dams often harm expensive irrigation systems and cause flooding.

    “Certainly they can be a nuisance if they’re in the wrong place,” Currier said.

    There is also concern that if beavers significantly alter how water moves through a stream, it could injure water rights.

    Currier said he and his ranching colleagues are willing to listen to what the beaver scientists are recommending.

    “The devil is always in the details,” he said. “But in headwaters areas, you could argue that they do more good than harm.”

    The Colorado conference, slated for Oct. 20 and 22 in Avon, comes on the heels of similar confabs that have been held recently in California and New Mexico, Mallet said.

    As drought and climate change cause widespread reductions in river flows and aquifer levels, researchers and others are re-evaluating how wetlands and rivers evolved. They are hopeful that the furry architects and general contractors who originally helped shape them can be restored and put to work again in a way that aids everyone, Marshall said.

    “We built all of this infrastructure and managed land in a context that did not include beavers. As we’re changing how we view them culturally, there is an opportunity for co-existence,” Marshall said.

    “People are starting to realize that when you have beavers in a stream reach you have nice green grass growing along the banks for your cattle. It’s a fascinating path that we are on. People are starting to see them in a new light,” Marshall said.

    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.

    Long-term monitoring shows successful restoration of mining-polluted streams — University of #California, Santa Cruz

    Here’s the release from the University of California, Santa Cruz (Tim Stephens):

    Despite differences in aquatic life and toxic metals in streams across a broad region of the western United States, scientists found common responses to cleanup of acid mine drainage

    Leviathan Creek below an abandoned open pit mine, an EPA Superfund site in the Sierra Nevada, where iron oxide deposits coat the stream bottom. (Photos by David Herbst)

    Many miles of streams and rivers in the United States and elsewhere are polluted by toxic metals in acidic runoff draining from abandoned mining sites, and major investments have been made to clean up acid mine drainage at some sites. A new study based on long-term monitoring data from four sites in the western United States shows that cleanup efforts can allow affected streams to recover to near natural conditions within 10 to 15 years after the start of abatement work.

    The four mining-impacted watersheds—located in mountain mining regions of California, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana—were all designated as Superfund sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which helps fund the cleanup of toxic-waste sites in the United States. They are among the few acid mine drainage sites where scientists have conducted extended studies to monitor the effectiveness of the remediation efforts.

    “The good news from them all is that Superfund investments can restore the water quality and ecological health of the streams,” said David Herbst, a research scientist at UC Santa Cruz and coauthor of a paper on the new findings to be published in the June issue of Freshwater Science, now available online.

    A few kilometers downstream from the mine, significant recovery of water quality and aquatic life has occurred since remediation of acid mine drainage. Photo credit: David Herbst

    Leviathan
    For the past two decades, Herbst has been monitoring streams affected by acid mine drainage from the Leviathan mine in the central Sierra Nevada. The new study developed out of discussions he had with other scientists involved in long-term studies of similar sites.

    “There are not many of these long-term studies of impacted watersheds, and by combining our data we could identify the common threads of recovery between these different sites,” Herbst said.

    To assess the recovery of aquatic life in streams and rivers severely polluted by the abandoned mines, the researchers combined data from long-term monitoring over periods of 20 years or more. They used aquatic insects and other diverse invertebrate life (such as flatworms and snails) as indicators of the restoration of ecological health, with nearby unpolluted streams serving as standards for comparison.

    Even with differing mixes of toxic metals and different treatment practices used to control the pollution at each site, the studies documented successful recovery to near natural conditions within 10 to 15 years. Much of the recovery was rapid, occurring within the first few years of treatment.

    “These promising results and shared paths suggest that even daunting environmental problems can be remedied given the effort and investment,” Herbst said.

    Common responses
    The research also revealed that the sites shared common responses despite differences in the species of aquatic life occurring across this broad geographic region. Shared feeding habits, patterns of development, and behavioral characteristics unified how stream invertebrates responded to the alleviation of metal pollutants.

    Species with traits such as feeding on algae, long life cycles, and clinging to the surfaces of stones became increasingly common as toxicity declined over time. Species that were more prevalent when metal concentrations were higher had traits such as rapid development, short life cycles, feeding on deposits of organic matter, and an ability to escape quickly off the bottom by drifting into the flow of water.

    The species most sensitive to toxic metals are the mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies. Across all streams, the loss of these sensitive insects occurred at a toxicity level predicted by lab bioassays based on the combined levels of the toxic metals present.

    “The convergence of these responses across streams and at a level consistent with how water quality criteria are established lends support to guidelines established for what chemical conditions are protective of stream and river ecosystems,” Herbst said.

    The additive toxicity of the metals present determined the response to pollutants, he noted, showing that water quality standards should be based on combined metals present rather than singly for each metal. In other words, even if a metal is below its toxic level, when it is present with other metals the combined effect may exceed the tolerance of aquatic life.

    “It is vital to account for this factor in how water quality standards for metals are applied,” Herbst said.

    The other coauthors of the study are William Clements at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Michelle Hornberger and Terry Short at the U.S. Geological Survey in California, and Christopher Mebane at the USGS in Idaho.

    Scientists are counting #SouthPlatteRiver critters to see what happens as the river gets redeveloped — Denverite

    Workers pose in front of the Boston and Colorado Smelter at Argo
    Photo Colorado Historical Society

    From Denverite (Kevin Beaty):

    It’s dawn on a Friday, and the small team of experts is making its way from Globeville Landing Park down to the South Platte River to count birds. Yes, the watershed is girded by a massive sewer pipe, garbage, railroad tracks and highways. Yes, cranes and construction crews loom over the water.

    And yes, it still teems with life.

    This once-neglected stretch of the river’s ecosystem was the reason for their visit, which formally kicked off the third-annual South Platte BioBlitz. It’s a regular count of all kinds of wildlife that thrive where the Platte passes the National Western Center, a massive construction project that’s turning historic stockyards and this isolated stretch of river into a center of commerce and culture.

    “Here we’re just tying to measure the impact of the construction and the improvement of the Western Stock Show Complex,” Azua told us. “Obviously urbanization has impacts on wildlife, and we’re just trying to monitor over several years to see what happens.”

    While Azua was hesitant to make any predictions, there was a general sense among the group that the project will first disrupt the habitat nearby and then, slowly, create conditions for a better quality of life. But they won’t know without data. So for now, they count…

    “(The river) was doing better than we thought,” he said. “Some of the species that are indicators of better quality habitat, like the dragon flies, were here. So that was a very pleasant surprise indeed.”

    […]

    Water quality in this bend of the river is not much different than other parts of town. Jon Novick, who oversees the city’s water monitoring program, told us most chemicals and metals on his radar don’t show up in higher concentrations here, even though it is the most-downstream segment in the city…

    “We need a few more years as we progress with the restoration,” Reading said. “My guess is, and my hope is, we’ll see a big increase in pollinators.”

    Why Rivers Need Their Floodplains — EOS

    The restored floodplain of the South Fork McKenzie River in Oregon, USA after the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire. Credit: Kate Meyer, USDA Forest Service

    Here’s the release from the American Geophysical Union (Ellen Wohl):

    Floodplains store materials moving downstream and, in doing so, provide habitat for a wide variety organisms. Water, dissolved materials, sediment, and organic matter move downstream, but individual water or solute molecules or sediment grains can be stored on floodplains for periods that range from a few minutes to 10,000 years for sediment on the floodplain of the Amazon River. Storage reflects the strongly three-dimensional movements of materials in a river corridor. Episodic exchanges of water, solutes, sediment, and organic matter between the channel, floodplain, and subsurface create a dynamic environment with diverse habitat. A recent article in Reviews of Geophysics examines the influencing factors and nature of floodplain storage. Here, the author answers our questions about floodplain storage.

    What different materials move around and are stored on floodplains?

    The main categories of material moving within and stored on floodplains are water, solutes, sediment, and organic matter.

    Storage of water on floodplains is critical during the extremes of weather: overflow of high water onto a floodplain can reduce the peak flow and limit flood damage, and storage of water in the subsurface of a floodplain can sustain base flow during dry periods.

    Among solutes, nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus receive a lot of attention, partly because they represent a paradox. Although these elements are necessary to most living organisms, human activities have introduced such large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus to rivers that the excess now creates severe environmental problems such as eutrophication, or lack of dissolved oxygen in the water that results in fish die-offs.

    Contaminants such as heavy metals or synthetic chemicals that attach to silt and clay can also be stored in floodplains, limiting the concentrations of these toxins in the channel.

    Burned uplands adjacent to the South Fork McKenzie floodplain after the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire. Credit: Kate Meyer, USDA Forest Service

    How does the concept of a “budget” help us to understand inputs, outputs, and storage on a floodplain?

    Thinking of a budget that applies over specified time and space scales can help to identify sources and processes that create inputs, outputs, and storage.

    The measurements used to create a sediment budget, for example, could help to identify whether a floodplain is losing mass through time (net erosion of sediment) at a rate that might alter the ability of the floodplain to attenuate flood peaks. Or, measurements that quantify sediment inputs and outputs could identify a net gain of sediment through time as a result of upstream changes in land cover or changing climate across the watershed.

    A floodplain integrates processes occurring throughout the upstream contributing area and creates a stratigraphic record of these processes. Changes in floodplain budgets over thousands of years can be interpreted from this stratigraphic record, facilitating our ability to infer the associated changes in watershed processes.

    What are some of the main natural factors that affect floodplain storage?

    Primary natural controls on floodplain storage are the width of the valley floor relative to the width of the channel. Many natural rivers alternate repeatedly downstream between relatively narrow and wider portions of the valley.

    The heterogeneity of the floodplain surface and stratigraphy also strongly influence storage. Generally, the more heterogeneous or patchy the floodplain, the greater the storage because the irregular surface and stratigraphy effectively slow the downstream movement of water, solutes, sediment, and organic matter.

    The fluxes of material moving down the channel also influence floodplain storage. Some of the sediment moving down a channel with a large sediment flux is more likely to be stored on the floodplain than in a river corridor with very little sediment moving downstream.

    How do human activities affect floodplain storage?

    Human activities can directly affect floodplain storage by disconnecting the channel and floodplain.

    Artificial levees and flow regulation exemplify human-induced changes that typically limit overbank movement of materials from the channel to the floodplain.

    People also change the character of the floodplain via land drainage and groundwater pumping that dry the floodplain and by changing the floodplain land cover through agriculture and urbanization.

    Aggregate mining on floodplains not only reduces sediment storage but severely disrupts the movement and storage of other materials on floodplains.

    Human activities can increase floodplain storage by introducing larger quantities of solutes or sediment to a river network. Excess nitrogen resulting from fossil-fuel combustion and agricultural fertilizers is sometimes referred to as the nitrate time bomb because, even after nitrate inputs to a river network are reduced, the excess nitrate continues to accumulate at progressively higher levels in floodplain sediments.

    Overall, however, human alterations simply and homogenize floodplains and reduce floodplain storage.

    The restored floodplain of the South Fork McKenzie River during the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire. Credit: Kate Meyer, USDA Forest Service

    What is “floodplain restoration” and why is it needed? Can you give a specific example of a floodplain restoration scheme that improved resilience to natural and human disturbances?

    Floodplain restoration involves restoring processes that create and maintain floodplain functions, typically by restoring the three-dimensional exchanges of water, solutes, sediment, and organic matter between the channel, floodplain, and subsurface.

    Floodplain restoration is needed for at least three reasons. First, floodplain storage reduces downstream hazards associated with floods and excess sediment. Second, fully functional floodplains host high levels of biodiversity and provide ecosystem functions such as clean water. Third, floodplains have not received the legal protection afforded to navigable rivers in the US and other countries.

    Floodplains are likely to be in private ownership and to be heavily altered by agriculture and urbanization; consequently, they are endangered ecosystems. Ongoing river restoration at the South Fork McKenzie River in Oregon, USA has reconnected the channel and floodplain. When the Holiday Farm fire burned through the area in 2020, the presence of water on the newly reconnected floodplain decreased the burn severity in the restoration area.

    What are some of the unresolved questions where additional research, data, or modeling is needed?

    We have made good progress in measuring and modeling some of the processes involved in floodplain storage, especially for surface water and sediment, but there are huge discrepancies between our understanding of surface water and sediment dynamics and our understanding of subsurface water, solute, and organic matter inputs, outputs, and storage.

    Because our understanding of the movements of these latter materials is limited, we cannot yet integratively model how subsurface water, solutes, microbial communities, and organic matter, for example, interact within a floodplain over diverse scales of time and space. The ability to develop this type of model would be ideal for predicting floodplain response to restoration.

    In the meantime, treating floodplain restoration projects as experiments that are monitored and used to gain understanding that can inform future restoration is critical.

    —Ellen Wohl (ellen.wohl@colostate.edu, ORCID logo 0000-0001-7435-5013), Colorado State University, USA

    Thornton wins lottery award for Big Dry Creek work — #Northglenn/#Thornton Sentinel

    Screen shot from the City of Thornton Big Dry Creek Recreation & Floodplain Restoration Master Plan (Click image to read the report)

    From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Northglenn/Thornton Sentinel:

    Thornton’s work restoring 25 acres of the Big Dry Creek Open Space has been recognized by the Colorado Lottery.

    The Colorado Lottery announced on April 21 that it had awarded the city a Starburst Award for the project, which used lottery proceeds to help pay for the work.

    “Conservation is a key pillar for the Lottery. It includes not only conserving open space, but also upgrading recreational spaces, creating new places for Coloradans to play, and supporting ecosystems and wildlife,” said Tom Seaver, director of the Colorado Lottery. “This year’s Starburst Award winners aptly reflect the wide-ranging projects that our proceeds support. With now $3.6 billion going to our proceeds beneficiaries, we continue to look for new ways to grow revenue responsibly to protect more of Colorado’s great outdoors.”

    The $1,745,000 project used a $75,000 planning grant and $100,000 Great Outdoors Colorado Habitat Restoration grant to the City of Thornton, both Colorado Lottery proceeds, to help pay for the work.

    The city restored approximately 25 acres of Big Dry Creek Open Space, an important natural resource and ecosystem for east-west wildlife migration, as part of the project. Due to erosion and noxious weeds, Big Dry Creek’s floodplain had been severely compromised. GOCO funding was used to improve conditions along the creek and create overflow wetlands that will reduce flood hazards and protect water quality. These restoration efforts have also helped improve critical habitat for bald eagles, blacktailed prairie dogs, peregrine falcons, red foxes, and great blue herons, among other species.

    The Big Dry Creek project was the last remaining open space ‘pearl’ needed to create a complete system of open space corridors in Thornton. Big Dry Creek provides outstanding opportunities for passive recreation and wildlife habitat and encompasses almost 300 acres of open space areas that have been preserved through acquisition by Thornton and Adams County.

    Archuleta County designated as #wolf reintroduction sanctuary — The #PagosaSprings Sun

    Image from Grand County on June 6, 2020 provided courtesy of Jessica Freeman via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    “Artificially introduced” wolves are not welcome in Archuleta County, according to the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC).

    At a work session held by the BoCC on April 6, the board discussed a trio of statewide concerns, including its opposition to the reintroduction of Canadian gray wolves within the county.

    Commissioner Alvin Schaaf expressed his concerns and dissatisfaction with the recent approval of Colorado Proposition 114, Gray Wolf Reintroduction Initiative, that was passed in November 2020.

    “It’s a hard pill to swallow when our citizens, the majority voted no on this topic and it’s still getting shoved down our throats just because there’s more population in the greater Denver area,” Schaaf said.

    Later that day, the BoCC approved Resolution 2021-26, reaffirming the county’s opposition to the reintroduction of the wolves and specifically designating Archuleta County as a wolf reintroduction sanctuary…

    “They’re already here. I don’t know why we’re reintroducing something that already exists,” Schaaf added.

    Resolution 2021-26 highlights how the proposition was approved by voters “in only five western slope counties, including Pitkin, Summit, San Miguel, San Juan and La Plata Counties.”
    At the work session, Schaaf stated, “It seems like a constant attack on the rural way of life and the ability of the American people to make a living and provide food.”

    Beef cattle on a feedlot in the Texas Panhandle. Photo credit: Wikimedia

    “A lot of people that live in the highly populated areas don’t understand the rural lifestyle,” Maez added. “I think in the populated areas, they need to teach them where their food comes from.”

    […]

    The resolution declares Archuleta County “to be a Wolf Reintroduction Sanctuary County, allowing only for the natural migration and repopulation of Gray Wolves without the competi- tion from artificially introduced wolves.”

    Colorado County Map via Geology.com

    Opinion: If we fight each other over #water, we’ll all come out losers — Kirk Klancke #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Kirk Klancke Erica Stock Fraser River. Photo credit: Bob Berwyn

    Here’s a guest column from Kirk Klancke that’s running in the Colorado Sun:

    There are no easy answers to water issues in the West. We have to consider all possible solutions and avoid the trap of single-minded thinking.

    of a very complex water project so succinctly. In his March 15 Colorado Sun article, “Colorado’s latest proposal to divert water from the Western Slope is a complex, disputed set of pipes,” he was able to explain a project in understandable terms that most people in Colorado have little understanding of.

    Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin

    I do want to clarify a couple of the statements made by people quoted in his article. I think that it is important to point out that the Windy Gap Connectivity Channel is not a drainage ditch, as John Fielder was quoted saying. Instead it is a multi-million-dollar stream channel designed by hydrologists and stream biologists to optimize habitat for macroinvertebrate and trout life and the riparian zone on both sides of the river.

    The existing stream channel is at the bottom of a muddy reservoir with no ability to sustain any of these environmental values. A new stream channel around the reservoir will reconnect the disappearing aquatic species below the dam with the healthy species above the reservoir. When Fielder states that this new stream reach will not restore wildlife, he could not be more wrong.

    The article ended with quotes from Gary Wockner that I feel need a reality check. His suggested solutions to Colorado’s water shortage should be taken with a grain of salt.

    His first suggestion was to dry up agricultural land. Doing so has played a major role in damaging the Fraser and Upper Colorado rivers. Ranches that used to divert water from those rivers returned most of that water to those rivers. When Front Range cities bought that agricultural water and took it from the basin of origin to those cities, all of those return flows were lost to the river.

    “Buy and Dry” has been bad for our headwaters rivers and for our cultural heritage of ranching. My friends in the ranching business don’t need the target put on their back, and our rivers can’t afford to lose any more return flows.

    Gary also proposed ramping up conservation as an important solution to our water shortage. While I applaud this idea, I also know that it is only a piece of the puzzle in the water shortage problem. Every city in the West knows how important of a role conservation plays, and every city in the West has concluded that conservation will not solve their water shortage problems alone.

    Conservation, however, is under-utilized here in Colorado and we do need to pick up the pace to help preserve our rivers and the environment that depends on them. We just can’t rely on conservation alone.

    Gary’s final point was to stop all growth, stating that he will applaud the sanity of anyone that can accomplish this. I don’t find much reality in this possibility, but if he feels that there is, then I would like to see him use his talents to work toward that goal. This would allow him to work on solving most of Colorado’s problems with the exception maybe of the economy.

    There are no easy answers to water issues in the West. We have to consider all possible solutions and avoid the trap of single-minded thinking. Protecting our rivers will require cooperation from every entity that has an impact on our rivers.

    The broad priorities of the Colorado Water Plan as put forward by Becky Mitchell in a June 20, 2017 presentation to three Front Range roundtables. The slide reflects the competing priorities in Colorado when it comes to water and rivers.

    This is the reason that Colorado wrote a state Water Plan. If we allow that plan to guide us, conservation organizations, municipalities and the agricultural community will work together to assure that water is distributed equitably. If we decide instead to fight each other over water, all of us will come out losing.

    Kirk Klancke is the president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited, “an environmental organization with lots of members who like to fish.”

    Re-seeding effort underway for #PineGulchFire area — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

    Firefighters on the march: The Pine Gulch Fire, smoke of which shown here, was started by alighting strike on July 31, 2020, approximately 18 miles north of Grand Junction, Colorado. According to InciWeb, as of August 27 2020, the Pine Gulch Fire became the largest wildfire in Colorado State history, surpassing Hayman Fire that burned near Colorado Springs in the summer of 2002. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Mangement-Colorado, via InciWeb and National Interagency Fire Center.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Alex Zorn):

    More than 20,000 pounds of fresh seed airdropped over the area of the Pine Gulch Fire [the week of February 21, 2021] is intended to help regrow the sagebrush, pinyon, juniper and other timber and brush that were lost to the record-setting blaze.

    By the time the last ember went out, the fire burned more than 139,000 acres — the largest in Colorado history before being overtaken by fires later in the season. Rehabilitation efforts are planned over the next year, including these seed drops…

    The BLM will receive $3.5 million in funding from the Department of Interior for rehabilitation efforts.

    “The majority of it will recover naturally. It’s a part of the ecosystem and (fire) stimulates new growth. We’re only seeding 22,000 of the 138,000-acre fire in areas where the fire burned hottest,” Coulter explained. “Sometimes, in those areas, the soil won’t absorb water and support regrowth.”

    With a smaller fire, BLM may have used a team of volunteers to seed the burned areas but, on Colorado’s third largest fire in history, aerial drops were necessary…

    Seed was also dropped on other nearby burn scars in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife…

    Seed was purchased mostly from producers, though some volunteers were used to collect seeds from the land.

    The best time to seed is when there is still a fresh layer of snow on the ground.“It’s a tremendous conditions. It’s all snow-covered, the timing is optimal” Sullivan said.

    Reclaiming Abandoned Mines: Turning #Coal Country’s Toxic Legacy Into Assets — The Revelator #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    From The Revelator (Tara Lohan):

    New legislation could help states and tribes clean up decades-old mining liabilities and restore the environment while creating needed jobs.

    Mined lands reclaimed for biking trails, office parks — even a winery. Efforts like these are already underway in Appalachia to reclaim the region’s toxic history, restore blighted lands, and create economic opportunities in areas where decades-old mines haven’t been properly cleaned up.

    The projects are sorely needed. And so are many more. But the money to fund and enable them remains elusive.

    Mining production is falling, which is good news for tackling climate change and air pollution, but Appalachia and other coal states are also feeling the economic pain that comes with it. And that loss is more acute on top of pandemic-related revenue shortfalls and the mounting bills from the industry’s environmental degradation.

    Local leaders and organizations working in coal communities see a way to flip the script, though. The Revelator spoke with Rebecca Shelton, the director of policy and organizing for Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Kentucky, about efforts focusing on one particular area that’s plagued coal communities for more than 50 years: cleaning up abandoned mine lands.

    Shelton explains the history behind these lands, the big legislative opportunities developing in Washington, and what coal communities need to prepare for a low-carbon future.

    What are abandoned mine lands?

    Technically an abandoned mine land is land where no reclamation was done after mining. Prior to the passage of Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977, coal-mining companies weren’t required to reclaim — or clean up — the land they mined.

    What SMCRA did, in addition to creating requirements for companies to do reclamation into the future, was create an abandoned mine land fund to distribute money to states and tribes with historic mining so that they could clean up those old sites. The revenue for that fund comes from a small tax on current coal production.

    The program has accomplished a lot. It has closed 46,000 open mine portals, reclaimed more than 1,000 miles of high walls, stabilized slopes, and restored a lot of water supplies.

    t’s been a successful program, but the work is far from done. A conservative estimate is that there’s still more than $11 billion needed to clean up existing identified liability across the U.S. [for sites mined before 1977].

    What are the risks if we don’t do this?

    There are safety, health and environmental issues.

    Just this spring we’ve already gotten calls from folks living adjacent to abandoned mine lands that are experiencing slides [from wet weather causing slopes destabilized by mining to give way]. People’s homes can be completely destabilized, and if they don’t get out in time, it can be really dangerous.

    There’s also a lot of existing acid mine drainage across coal-mining communities, which is water that’s leaking iron oxides and other heavy metals from these abandoned mine lands. This is bad for the ecology of the streams, but heavy metals are also not safe for humans to be exposed to.

    Acid mine drainage in a stream. Photo: Rachel Brennan (CC BY-NC 2.0) via The Revelator

    There’s legislation in Congress now that could help deal with this issue. What are those bills?

    One bill is the reauthorization of the abandoned mine land fund. That bill is absolutely critical because the fee on coal production, which is the only source of revenue for the fund, will expire at the end of September if Congress doesn’t take action.

    If Congress fails to extend that, we may not see any more funding for the $11 billion needed to clean up abandoned mine lands. If passed, the bill would reauthorize the fee at its current level for 15 more years.

    The challenge is that even if the fee is reauthorized, it’ll likely generate only around $1.6 billion — based on current coal-production projections — and that’s vastly inadequate to cover all of the liabilities that exist.

    Also, when the abandoned mine land fund was first started, there were some funds that were not redistributed to states and tribes and have just remained in the fund — [about] $2.5 billion that’s not being dispersed on an annual basis.

    So another bill, the RECLAIM Act, would authorize [an initial] $1 billion to be dispersed out of that fund that would go to approximately 20 states and tribes over the next five years. This money would be distributed differently than the regular funds in that any kind of project would have to have a plan in place for community and economic development.

    So though the funds can only be used for reclamation, they need to be reclamation with a plan. There are so many high-priority and dangerous abandoned mine land sites that exist, and the RECLAIM Act funds would prioritize supporting community and economic development for communities adjacent to these lands.

    How much support are you seeing for these bills?

    We see momentum in this Congress, and there’s a lot of conversation around investing in our nation’s infrastructure. We see abandoned mine lands and their remediation as natural infrastructure that we need to invest in to keep our communities safe and prepare them for the future.

    But we also see these bills as important pieces of an economic recovery package. COVID-19 has really exacerbated so many of the existing health and economic crises already in coal communities.

    When we talk about economic stimulus and job creation, we also see reauthorizing the abandoned mine land fund as contributing to that because it takes a lot of work and creates a lot of jobs to do land reclamation.

    Abandoned mines can pose serious health and safety hazards, such as landslides, erosion and surface instability. Photo: USGS via The Revelator

    We’ve talked about the legacy issues from lands mined before 1977, but what concerns are there from current or recent mining? Is that reclamation being done adequately?

    That’s an area that also needs a closer look.

    As the industry declines, we’ve seen coal companies file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy or reorganization. And when they do this, oftentimes they’re granted permission to get rid of liabilities that would affect their solvency. Sometimes those liabilities are reclamation obligations, pension funds or black lung disability funds.

    And then what you see is smaller companies taking on these permits that the reorganizing company no longer wants. But many are under-capitalized and they sometimes don’t have the ability to even produce coal, or if they do they can’t keep up with the reclamation. And it’s dangerous for communities if there’s environmental violations that aren’t getting addressed.

    I’ll give you a recent example. Blackjewel [the sixth-largest U.S. coal producer] went bankrupt in the summer of 2019. Since then there’s been very little done to address any kind of environmental violations existing on their permits.

    Because of SMCRA, companies are required to have bonds in order to obtain their mining permits, but these bonds are not always adequate. The Kentucky Energy and Environment cabinet made a statement in the Blackjewel bankruptcy proceedings that it estimated that reclamation obligations on these permits were going to fall short $20 to $50 million.

    What else is needed to help coal communities transition to a low-carbon economy?

    That’s a big question. We have to address these legacy issues in order to help transition these communities into the future. And we have to address the problems right now of folks who are losing their jobs and need to be supported through training programs or through education credits.

    But we also need to be thinking about the future more broadly. What will be in place 20 years from now for the younger generation?

    There’s going to be a lot of gaps in local tax revenues because so much of the tax base has been reliant on the coal industry, which makes it really difficult for communities to continue to provide public services and keep up infrastructure as that industry declines. It’s going to be critical to think about that and invest in that.

    I think the best approach is to find solutions that work for [specific] places. And to do that we need to listen to community leaders and folks in these communities that have already been working to build something new for many years. There are solutions that I think can apply to all places, but there also needs to be a targeted intention to create opportunities where communities can develop their own paths forward.

    2020 Report on the Health of #Colorado’s Forests — @CSFS_Outreach

    2020 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests cover

    Click here to read the report:

    The Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) published its annual forest health report today, highlighting the current conditions of forests across Colorado and how the agency is improving the health of the state’s forests in the wake of historic wildfires.

    After a devastating wildfire season, the report highlights the growing need to increase forest management across the state.

    It also takes a regional look at forest health, offering statistics, insect and disease trends, and successes in forest management specific to four quadrants of the state.

    As always, the report also offers a statewide outlook on trends in insect and disease activity in Colorado’s forests, as well as a look at the carbon storage problem in our state’s forests.

    “Last year reminded us how important our forests are, as Coloradans escaped to forested areas in their communities and wildlands for tranquility, peace and a place to recreate and exercise,” said Mike Lester, state forester and director of the CSFS.

    “Colorado’s forests are experiencing many challenges, from longer fire seasons to ongoing drought to more people living in the wildland-urban interface. In this report, we take a look at what is needed to protect the many benefits our forests provide in the face of these challenges – and what the Colorado State Forest Service is doing to address them.”

    The 2020 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests focuses on “Protecting Our Future After a Historic Wildfire Year.” Key takeaways from the report include:

    Living with Wildfire
    The forest management needed to reduce wildfire risk to residents, lands, water supplies and economies is not happening fast enough. Colorado is primed to face the same types of uncharacteristic wildfires as last year unless an increase in the pace and scale of forest management is made a statewide priority, work is done more quickly and the buildup of beetle-killed and living fuels is addressed across the landscape in areas that can be accessed.

    Carbon and Climate
    Despite encompassing over 24 million acres, Colorado’s forests emit more carbon than they store. Our state is one of the five worst Lower 48 states in forest carbon emissions by some estimates. Colorado is contributing to a global problem, partly because our trees are not as healthy as they could be. Colorado’s forests need to be healthy in order to store carbon and mitigate climate change.

    Insects and Disease
    The spruce beetle remains the most damaging forest pest in Colorado. The report details the state’s top forest insects and diseases – and how bark beetles may affect wildfire behavior. The report also contains a map of where forests affected by spruce and mountain pine beetles overlap with the burn perimeters of last year’s wildfires.

    FRWRM Grants
    The Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation Grant Program continues to be a critical source of funding to address forest health issues on a local level. The report offers an example of how a state grant helped a community in Colorado Springs successfully mitigate its wildfire risk prior to the Bear Creek Fire in November.

    Regional Project Highlights
    Northeast Area

    The CSFS is working to keep in check a hyperactive invasive species that is pushing out native vegetation, degrading wildlife habitat and draining water at Jackson Lake State Park and the nearby Andrick Ponds and Jackson Lake state wildlife areas. The CSFS is removing about half of the Russian olives that line picnic areas, campsites and hunting spots.

    Southeast Area
    Last year at Lake Pueblo State Park – one of the most popular state parks in Colorado with annual visitors exceeding 2.4 million – CSFS foresters assessed 191 trees over 200 acres of land to help keep park visitors safer. They focused on trees along trails and in campground areas, tagging those that posed safety concerns for mitigation by Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

    Southwest Area
    While time seemed to slow down for many last year with stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, foresters in Gunnison County were in a rush to contain an outbreak of another kind ̶ the mountain pine beetle in the Taylor Canyon area. Had the beetle continued to increase populations at a rapid pace within lodgepole pine tree stands in this area, the risk of a catastrophic wildfire in the forest would greatly increase.

    Northwest Area
    In the southeast corner of Jackson County, the CSFS is improving the forest landscape at Owl Mountain while at the same time bolstering revenue for the timber industry. Despite a declining wood products industry in the state, the CSFS is helping sustain this local economy in northwest Colorado through a 376-acre project that is creating jobs for loggers and timber mills and generating revenue for state and federal agencies through a timber sale.

    Each year, the forest health report provides information to the Colorado General Assembly and residents of Colorado about the health and condition of forests across the state. Information for the report is derived from an annual aerial forest health survey by the CSFS and U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, as well as field inspections, CSFS contacts with forest landowners and special surveys.

    Copies of the 2020 report are available at all CSFS field offices. A PDF of the report and interactive maps of insect and disease activity are available at https://csfs.colostate.edu/forest-management/forest-health-report/.

    Phase I River Improvements Complete — City of #Montrose #UncompahgreRiver

    Here’s the release from The City of Montrose:

    The City of Montrose is pleased to announce that Phase I of the Uncompahgre River Improvements Project near North 9th Street is complete and open to the public. The project was completed under budget, ahead of schedule, and injury-free.

    Construction of the Uncompahgre River Improvements Project started last fall and included the stabilization of riverbanks, restoration of a more natural stream system, improvement of aquatic and riparian habitats, and improvement of river access and fishing opportunities for the public. The project was made possible through a partnership with the Montrose Urban Renewal Authority and with the assistance of $784,000 in grants received from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    “We are excited to bring this new recreational and fishing asset online for our residents,” City Engineer Scott Murphy said. “We feel that it will be a great complement to the recently-completed GOCO Connect Trail and it further expands our collection of great outdoor amenities right here in town.”

    Uncompahgre River improvements via the City of Montrose.

    The city would like to express a special thank you to the design and construction team Ecological Resource Consultants and Naranjo Civil Constructors for a job well done, Mayfly Outdoors for their 41-acre land donation within the project area, and to the volunteer river advisory committee who helped to guide the project through its planning phases.

    The public is welcome to attend a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the project scheduled for Thursday, April 22, at 1 p.m. The live ceremony can be viewed online at the City of Montrose’s Facebook page.

    Watch a video of the project:

    Any questions regarding the project may be directed to City Engineer Scott Murphy at 970.901.1792.

    Northern #Colorado Fireshed Collaborative Launched to Increase Pace and Scale of Prescribed Fire Along Front Range — The North Forty News

    Prescribed fires are conducted in specific areas under desired conditions to reduce hazardous fuels build-up and restore the natural role of fire on the landscape. USDA Forest Service photo

    From The North Forty News (Steven Bonifazi):

    The Northern Colorado Fireshed Collaborative is officially launching to make forests more resilient to protect communities and keep water supplies reliable.

    The group is forced to address wildfire risk through strategic and coordinated cross-boundary forest and fire management on the state’s northern Front Range. The Northern Colorado Fireshed Collaborative’s (NCFC) vision is that landscapes throughout Northern Colorado can support wildfires without causing long-term damage to watersheds and the communities they serve.

    “We live in a fire-dependent landscape, but years of suppressing fires have left us with unhealthy forests that can fuel large, high-intensity wildfires as we saw in 2020,” said Ch’aska Huayhuaca, NCFC’s Coordinator and a Research Associate at the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute. “Prescribed fire is an important forest restoration tool that leverages a natural process to help foster ecosystem health and decrease fire risk to communities,” Ch’aska said.

    The NCFC’s mission involves increasing the pace and scale of fuel reduction treatments (mechanical/hand trimming and pile burning and prescribed fire and strategically managed wildland fires across jurisdictional boundaries). NCFC will increase the effectiveness of wildfire mitigation treatments and improve watershed protection outcomes through planning and implementation collaboratively across federal, state, county, and private lands.

    NCFC plans to treat 20 percent of the strategic priority areas within the first five years that they have identified using a combination of mechanical, manual, and managed fire methods. The location and size of treatments will be sufficient to reduce the risk of large contiguous areas of severe fire.

    “A Fireshed is an area where social and ecological concerns regarding wildfire overlap and are intertwined,” said Jen Kovecses, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed and a member of the NCFC. “We need to think and act at the scale of a wildfire – at a ‘fireshed’-scale – if we are going to successfully bring fire back into our watershed management toolbox,” Jen said.

    The NCFC consists of representatives from federal, state, and local natural resource agencies, non-profits, community groups, and researchers. Partners of NCFC include the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, The Nature Conservancy, City of Fort Collins, City of Greeley, Fort Collins and Big Thompson Conservation Districts, Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed, Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, Boulder Watershed Collective, Estes Valley Watershed Coalition, Lefthand Watershed Center, The Ember Alliance, Forest Stewards Guild, Larimer County, Colorado State Forest Service, Natural Resource Conservation Services, Peaks to People Water Fund and Rocky Mountain Research Station.

    Fecal matter elevated in #SouthPlatteRiver as #Denver fights state health agency over water pollution — The Denver Post #stormwater

    Harvard Gulch. Photo credit: DenverGov.org

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Denver drainage carries contaminants into waterways at levels up to 137 times higher than federal safety limit

    Colorado health officials this week declared water quality in the South Platte River as it flows through Denver highly deficient, pointing to E.coli contamination at levels up to 137 times higher than a federal safety limit.

    This intestinal bacteria indicates fecal matter and other pollution from runoff after melting snow and rain sweeps Denver pollution through drainage pipes into the river. To deal with the problem, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment has imposed, in a permit taking effect next month, stricter requirements for managing runoff water pollution.

    But Denver officials are fighting those requirements and twice petitioned the state health department to relax the new permit.

    “What the new requirements do is drastically increase the amount of expensive system maintenance beyond what could make a meaningful impact on E.coli concentrations,” city spokeswoman Nancy Kuhn said.

    Colorado public health officials last month rejected Denver’s latest appeal. They issued a statement standing by their demands for the city to reduce its water pollution, saying the agency hopes to avoid litigation.

    A more aggressive approach is required, state health officials said in the statement, “because the South Platte remains in bad shape for pathogens.”

    Denver officials told The Denver Post on Wednesday “no lawsuit has been filed” challenging the permit in state court and that they are “having conversations with the state on five or so new requirements with the hope of reaching compromise.”

    […]

    “Denver’s storm sewer system is a clear part of the problem,” CDPHE permitting officials said in an email. When inspectors in 2019 sampled water flowing out of city drainage “outfall” pipes into the South Platte, they detected E.coli at levels as high as 1,970 cfu from one pipe and 8,400 cfu from another, state data shows…

    “Denver has never opposed the numeric limit of 126 cfu per 100 milliliters,” [Nancy Kuhn] said, but opposes “the specific measures that CDPHE is mandating to achieve that limit.”

    A consultant analyzing Denver stormwater runoff in 2018 proposed, in a document included in a 419-page state fact sheet accompanying the new permit, a comprehensive effort to slow down drainage flows, treating runoff water as a useful resource for re-greening in a semi-arid area. He recommended wide use of low-cost measures such as flattening crowned streets, installing small dams in alleys to re-direct culvert-bound gushing runoff, and converting sidewalks to “semi-pervious” surfaces that let water sink between stones into the soil.

    Denver’s population growth and development boom have worked against greening to improve water quality. Developers have paved over more surfaces, leaving Denver as one of the nation’s most paved-over cities — especially in newly developed areas — sluicing away runoff water at high velocity without removing contaminants.

    Denver officials directed contractors at the city’s new Globeville Landing outfall drainage pipe, in a park built over a former toxic dump site, to install an ultraviolet light. This light, city officials say, zaps away more than 90% of E.coli before runoff water reaches the river.

    Wild animals such as raccoons in storm sewers add to the fecal pollution contaminating runoff, Kuhn said, and “dog waste that people don’t pick up is a huge problem and a significant source of E.coli.”

    #ColoradoSprings plans #wetland restoration along South Academy Boulevard — The Colorado Springs Gazette

    Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    Overgrown invasive trees and trash that once dominated an 18-acre parcel near Pikes Peak Avenue and South Academy Boulevard have largely been cleared away in recent weeks as Colorado Springs city crews prepare to put in new wetlands.

    The lot looks more like a construction site following several weeks of work by crews who removed 200 tons of trash, but this is just a first step in a project expected to take about two years and cost several million dollars to restore the site to a more natural state. The work will slow down stormwater and help improve water quality before it flows downstream, said Richard Mulledy, Stormwater Enterprise manager.

    The city will need to change the topography of the property, in part because Spring Creek and a tributary have cut deep ravines across the lot, and plant new native vegetation, including willows and cottonwoods for new wetlands, he said. The creeks themselves could see new boulders and structures to help slow the water down, he said…

    In southeastern Colorado Springs, few large undevelopable properties remain, and once restored the parcel could provide a welcoming open space for the neighborhood, he said. The Stormwater Enterprise is working with the parks department on potential trail connections to the property, he said.

    The wetlands could improve stormwater quality by removing nutrients from the water, such as nitrogen, that flow in from yard fertilizers and contribute to algae blooms that can kill off wildlife. Wetland plants, such as cattails and bulrushes, can also remove heavy metal particulates from the water and keep them from flowing downstream, he said…

    The project is one of hundreds the city has done over the last five years to improve stormwater quality after years of not properly funding infrastructure. The neglect of the stormwater system led to the city recently agreeing to spend $45 million on projects to settle a lawsuit brought by the Environmental Protection Agency, Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…

    The Colorado Springs City Council approved an increase to monthly stormwater fees set to take effect in July to help cover the cost of those projects. Residential fees will go up from $7 per month to $8 per month over three years.

    The project near Pikes Peak Avenue could see some of that funding as it takes shape in the coming years. The recent work to clean up the property and remove trees cost about $100,000 and the full restoration of wetlands could take $2 to $3 million, Mulledy said.

    WEBINAR: Land Conservation and Water, March 9, 2021 — @WaterEdCO

    Click here for all the inside skinny and register:

    As land trusts conserve private land, they also protect water rights. Some of Colorado’s land trusts are going beyond the parcel-by-parcel approach to conservation and are tackling big water challenges in a regional way.

    During this March 9 webinar, we’ll learn how land trusts work with water rights in Colorado. Then we’ll focus on two visionary projects: Colorado Open Lands and partners in the San Luis Valley are reimagining conservation easements and putting them to work to slow groundwater decline and encourage aquifer sustainability. And the Palmer Land Conservancy is protecting irrigated farmland east of Pueblo along the Bessemer Ditch with conservation easements and, thanks to a high-level landscape-scale analysis, Palmer is combatting the effects of buy and dry by keeping water on the area’s most productive ag land.

    How are land trusts making these projects work? Why are they well-positioned to play such an important role in water management? Is there an opportunity for more land trusts to tackle water management challenges in these big, innovative ways? Join us to explore these questions and come prepared with your own.

    With speakers:
    Melissa Daruna, Keep It Colorado
    Sarah Parmar, Colorado Open Lands
    Ed Roberson, Palmer Land Conservancy

    Presented in partnership by Water Education Colorado and Keep It Colorado

    When
    March 9th, 2021 12:00 PM through 1:00 PM

    Big questions loom after inspection of #GrizzlyCreekFire burn scar — The #Aspen Times

    From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

    The Grizzly Creek Fire covered 32,631 acres before it was officially deemed contained Dec. 18. It shut down Interstate 70 for two weeks after it ignited on Aug. 10. It threatened Glenwood Springs’ water supply and forced the closure of popular hiking trails and rafting put-ins.

    The disruption likely isn’t finished.

    “We’re going to learn a lot this summer,” said Steve Hunter, a former engineer with the White River National Forest and member of the Burn Area Emergency Response team, or BAER. That group of scientists and specialists started assessing the Grizzly Creek burn area for soil burn severity and potential problems areas for flooding and debris flows even before the fire was out.

    Hunter discussed the role of the BAER team and the major issues facing the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar during a videoconference Thursday night hosted by Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt nonprofit that explores all issues related to water in the Roaring Fork Valley.

    The BAER team’s work helped determined that 12% of the terrain within the perimeter of the fire suffered a high level of burn severity. That means all or nearly all of the pre-fire ground cover and surface organic matter was consumed. The soil became hardened and will shed water instead of absorb it.

    Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) specialists recently completed their data gathering and verification field work of the Grizzly Creek Fire burn area. The Soil Burn Severity map has been finalized. Soil Burn Severity levels are Unburned, Low, Moderate, and High. The map shows that in the Grizzly Creek Fire area, approximately 45% of the 32,370 acres analyzed by the BAER team is either unburned (12%) or low (33%) soil burn severity, while 43% sustained a moderate soil burn severity, and 12% burned at high soil burn severity. Map credit: Inciweb

    Firefighters did a remarkable job protecting two of the major drainages from the fire. No Name Creek, which drains down into a residential area, was only 8% burned. Grizzly Creek was 14% burned. Terrain in other catchments was up to 40% burned.

    The areas that suffered the most fire damage may be most susceptible to flooding, debris flows and rock falls. The Glenwood Canyon walls are steep, Hunter said.

    Many of the roots and vegetation that anchored rocks and dirt have disappeared. So a canyon that was susceptible to rock falls events even before the fire is even riper now…

    The Grizzly Creek Fire jumped Grizzly Creek north of Glenwood Canyon. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

    Several steps have already been taken to try to gauge the risks and provide tools to warn about threats to Interstate 70, utilities in the Colorado River corridor and homes in populated parts of the canyon.

    Numerous rain gauges were installed high up the canyon walls to help foresee flash flooding potential. The U.S. Geological Survey has run hydrologic modeling and runoff for major drainages within the burn area. (The website wasn’t operating properly Friday.) The U.S. Service assessed areas where culverts need to be cleared, repaired and even enlarged to handle expected debris flows…

    At this point, the Forest Service does not plan to reseed significant acreage within the burn area. One hurdle is the terrain itself. Sending hand crews up the steep slopes is not practical or safe and it would be difficult to seed by airplane…

    Where access isn’t as big of a challenge, the Forest Service will monitor conditions to determine if terrain can be managed for natural recovery. In other areas, such as the interstate right-of-way and at trailheads, the Forest Service is working on reseeding with the Colorado Department of Transportation…

    Places where firebreaks were cut by bulldozers or hand crews, for example, need soil amendments at the least to help natural vegetation grow back. Some of those areas may also need to be seeded.

    The Forest Service has also secured funding for trail and road stabilization. Some of the work started last fall and will continue when the snow melts out.

    Celebrating our wetlands — @AudubonRockies via The Pagosa Springs Sun

    Pagosa Springs River Walk Wetlands. Photo credit: Pagosa
    Wetland Partners

    Here’s a From The Pagosa Daily Post (Keith Bruno):

    Swamps, wet meadows, floodplains, bottomlands, bogs, freshwater and saltwater marshes, places where the water stands still and the soil becomes inundated to the point of saturation — these are wetlands.

    Tuesday, Feb. 2, marked the annual celebration of World Wetlands Day (check out http://worldwetlandsday.org). Though this day will have passed once this edition of The SUN makes it to print, it’s important to note that this often-neglected habitat type is a true reflection of life and biodiversity, so let’s celebrate it.

    After all, wetlands are the great defenders. They control flooding events by slowing down and spreading out pulse runoff flows, they absorb and purify water by trapping excess sediment, they sequester many impurities by trapping and storing them in their anaerobic soils, thereby protecting the adjacent and often more vulnerable aquatic life in riparian zones. Along coastlines, wetlands act as bulwarks, taking the brunt of tidal shifts and defending inland waterways from erosion.

    Why, then, must we continue to undermine and take for granted this portent of necessity and life? In 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s National Wetlands Inventory determined that between the 1780s and 1980s in what we now call the lower 48 of the United States, we had somewhere close to a net loss of 53 percent of its total wetlands. A startling figure, it’s been estimated that during this 200-year period, 60 acres of wetland were lost every hour to development and associated means. A more recent (2019-2020) toll included the devastating and uncensored groundwater pumping from the iconic 2,400- acre San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona for border wall construction. This wetland complex houses a wide array of diverse life, including two species of native and endangered fish found nowhere else. The bottom line is: We have a long-standing debt to pay back on our wetland take.

    Now for the good news. Among other top-line priorities, the current administration plans to restore protections ensured within the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), two measures that offer wetlands hope and security. If you have access to water rights and have an interest in re-establishing defunct wetlands, consider contacting the Colorado Division of Water Resources to learn more about what you can do to provide valuable habitat. Additionally, development projects can visit Colorado’s Wetland Information Center to learn more about the difference between Compensatory Mitigation vs. Voluntary Restoration.

    Ask yourself, how familiar are you with your local wetlands? Consider a visit to a local wetland and ask some questions. If you have children, here are a few activities to try out:

    (1) How many different types of plants can you find in and around the wetland? Notice that some of the plants are either partially or fully submerged in the water. These are hydrophytes. What adaptations may these plants have adopted to live in a wetland?

    (2) What kind of wildlife can you detect? Though it’s still winter time, pay a visit to our warm-water wetlands downtown and with a few minutes of observation, one may note a surprising amount of life. There are roughly 180 species of birds that visit this area yearly. How many can you spot? Once the red-winged blackbirds arrive, watch for their unique breeding and nesting activities.

    (3) As we advance toward spring, keep an eye out for increased activity and noises. One spring tradition I have with my daughter is to crawl commando-style on our bellies as close to our neighborhood wetland as possible to see if we can spot the Houdini-act of the boreal chorus frogs as they emanate piercing mating songs. Give it a shot.

    (4) For more age-appropriate challenges, visit http://plt.org/stem-strategies/ watch-on-wetlands/ where Project Learning Tree offers STEM-based activities ranging from mapping activities to quantifying ecosystem goods and services gained from preserving wetlands.

    For more regional-appropriate resources, visit http://rockies.audubon.org and enter “wetlands” into our search bar. Additionally, learn of upcoming plant and bird walks along the downtown San Juan Riverwalk by following Weminuche Audubon Society events at http://weminucheaudubon.org and by following Pagosa Wetland Partners, an associated group, on Facebook.

    Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

    Local Nonprofit Launches Initiative to Protect #BigThompsonRiver #Water Supplies — The North Forty News

    Moraine Park and the headwaters of the Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park. Moraine Park is on the east side of the park and of the continental divide, near the town of Estes Park. This region has a number of areas call “parks”, which refer to open, level areas in the mountains, usage which comes from the French word parque. The names of these areas predate the establishment of the national park and are unrelated to the use of the word “park” in that context. By The original uploader was Kbh3rd at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1009783

    From The North Forty News (Steven Bonifazi):

    Peaks to People Water Fund have launched its Big Thompson Initiative in Northern Colorado to proactively treat wildfire risk through accelerated forest restoration and stewardship in the watersheds.

    The Big Thompson watershed’s water infrastructure supplies between 40 percent and 55 percent of Fort Collins, Loveland, and Greeley’s annual water needs, providing water to 30 additional towns and cities along the state’s front range. The state’s forests have become dense and overgrown after years of protection from wildfire, which has increased the risk of severe wildfires such as the Cameron Peak Fire that threaten water supplies with sedimentation and debris.

    “Living in an environment where fire is part of the natural cycle is our reality in Northern Colorado, but Peaks to People and its partners are working to return the forest to a healthy condition that minimizes the intensity of fires when they do strike,” said Alex Castino, Great Outdoors Colorado Land Protection Program Officer. “This allows people and small businesses, plants and animals, waterways and water infrastructure, to bounce back quickly and thrive in this beautiful place we all call home,” Alex said.

    East Troublesome Fire and Cameron Peak Fire map via Inciweb December 7, 2020.

    The Cameron Peak and East Troublesome wildfires west of Fort Collins emphasize the urgent need for proactive treatment with a combined cost of over $149 million to suppress them and more than 1,000 miles of river impacted. The Peaks to People Water Fund team has analyzed and determined that treating 37,000 acres within the 575,000-acre Big Thompson watershed could reduce 90 percent of severe fire risk while conserving the forests most essential for water supply.

    Peaks to People plans to invest a total of $90 million through the Big Thompson Initiative over the course of the next ten years to restore forests to their natural state and reduce the risk of severe wildfires. Treatments are costly at as much as $3,600 per acre with Peaks to People working with partners to leverage funds to stretch contributions…

    Peaks to People have partnered with the Colorado State Forest Service, Nature Conservancy of Colorado, Big Thompson Conservation District, Larimer County Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, Brendle Group, and the Center for Collaborative Conservation to make this initiative successful. More funding must be raised to accomplish the initiative’s goals even though some funding is already in place.

    Fishing the Big Thompson River. Photo credit: Larimer County

    Great Expectations: Deconstructing the Process Pathways Underlying #Beaver-Related #Restoration

    Three beaver-related restoration methods via BioScience online.

    Click here to read the article (Caroline S Nash, Gordon E Grant, Susan Charnley, jason B Dunham, Hannah Gosnell, Mark B Hausner, David S Pilliod, Jimmy D Taylor). Here’s the abstract:

    Beaver-related restoration is a process-based strategy that seeks to address wide-ranging ecological objectives by reestablishing dam building in degraded stream systems. Although the beaver-related restoration has broad appeal, especially in water-limited systems, its effectiveness is not yet well documented. In this article, we present a process-expectation framework that links beaver-related restoration tactics to commonly expected outcomes by identifying the set of process pathways that must occur to achieve those expected outcomes. We explore the contingency implicit within this framework using social and biophysical data from project and research sites. This analysis reveals that outcomes are often predicated on complex process pathways over which humans have limited control. Consequently, expectations often shift through the course of projects, suggesting that a more useful paradigm for evaluating process-based restoration would be to identify relevant processes and to rigorously document how projects do or do not proceed along expected process pathways using both quantitative and qualitative data.

    #SanLuisValley ranchers see dividends in #water for fish. Are they on to something? — @WaterEdCO #RioGrande

    Nathan Coombs, left, and Kevin Terry at the Manassa gate on the Conejos River. Credit: Susan Moran

    From Water Education Colorado (Susan Moran):

    Nathan Coombs, a burly alfalfa farmer in the San Luis Valley, never imagined he would trust an environmentalist, much less partner with one to improve habitat for fish in the region’s rivers and streams. As manager of the Conejos Water Conservancy District, Coombs cares first and foremost about supporting the livelihoods of agricultural water users in the upper Rio Grande Basin. As such, he had figured that more water for fish meant less water for farmers and ranchers.

    And that was unthinkable.

    But things took a surprising turn about seven years ago when Coombs met Kevin Terry, a fish biologist at Trout Unlimited. Terry, who manages the organization’s efforts in the Rio Grande Basin, approached Coombs with what seemed like an outlandish idea, if only because it had never been suggested before, at least not here: shift the timing of some water deliveries from storage reservoirs to provide enough water for trout to survive the winter, while still meeting the requirements of the Rio Grande Compact. Even a small boost in streamflows can be enough to significantly help trout and other fish hang on until the late-spring snowmelt naturally improves their ability to reproduce.

    For decades reservoirs in the basin have only released water for agricultural, the basin’s primary water users, during the April-through-October irrigation season. As a result, many streams and ditches run dry or slow to a trickle in the winter.

    What kept Coombs, whose district operates the Platoro Reservoir on the Conejos River, from rejecting Terry as just another antagonizing environmentalist or silver-spoon fly-fisherman, as he might have previously, was that Terry didn’t pontificate or try to persuade. Rather, he asked Coombs and other board members and residents what they needed to support their farms and ranches.

    Re-timing releases

    Terry then suggested a way to help them: Pay irrigators to re-time reservoir releases, providing them with cash, while giving native and wild fish a leg up.

    Over the course of many discussions with Terry and heated debates among district board members, Coombs became convinced that this did not need to be a zero-sum proposition. About two years later, in 2015, he joined Terry in creating the Rio Grande Winter Flow Program. That same year the district board voted unanimously to change a longstanding rule to allow for the re-timing of water released from reservoirs.

    The program works like this: Trout Unlimited pays participating water users to shift the release of a portion of their water allocation from the growing season to the winter months. Those landowners then pay a fraction of what they receive from TU to their local water conservancy district to release that amount of water from their storage reservoir, and they can keep the difference.

    Dennis Moeller, for instance, owns a 2,000-acre ranch near the town of Antonito that stretches to the Conejos River in the southern San Luis Valley. Some 80 head of cattle roam the ranch in the winter, and another 400 graze on public land in the mountains. Now, the Conejos district releases a portion of Moeller’s allocated water from Platoro Reservoir into his ditch through the winter. Not only does this help the trout upstream of Moeller’s ranch, but he no longer needs to truck in winter water for his cattle. Trout Unlimited pays him $10 per acre-foot. Moeller pays the Conejos district $4.50 per acre-foot and pockets the $5.50 difference. For a total of about 84 acre-feet, he netted $462. Hardly a 401(k) plan, but it’s easy money. He said he still comes out net positive even if he needs to buy extra water to irrigate his meadow grass and alfalfa hay during the growing season.

    And the collaboration is paying off across the valley.

    “I promise you, I was considered the most anti-environmentalist in the room a few years ago,” said Coombs. “And the attitude of the board in the beginning was ‘no and hell no.’ But we realized that the [winter flow] program could benefit operators in the district, and that fish were a footnote. And we came to recognize that it also helps fisheries and tourism broadly in the region. The genius of this [program] is getting enough people in the room who understand what the common goal is, and enough trust.”

    A voluntary approach

    Five storage reservoirs in the basin participate in the program: Platoro, Continental, Terrace, Beaver Creek and Rio Grande. They operate on the Conejos, Rio Grande and Alamosa rivers.

    For the voluntary program with an annual budget of about $80,000, Trout Unlimited does not set firm goals, but Terry noted that any additional water in the winter helps fish and their habitat. “The more the better, but we consider the program a success if we get any additional acre-feet of water for instream flows,” he said.

    Last year was Colorado’s second-driest year on record, making precious little water available for additional instream flows.

    The situation is also made more complicated by the Rio Grande Compact. Under this agreement, formalized in 1938, water users in the valley must make sure that certain amounts of water are delivered across the state border en route to New Mexico and Texas every year.

    And the winter flow program, which works cooperatively with the water users, is able to work within the constraints of the compact.

    Although Terry said Trout Unlimited’s goal to raise streamflows in the basin is not specific, the Conejos district set a goal of adding at least three cubic feet per second (cfs) per day, a 43 percent increase from its minimum required release of 7 cfs, in the non-irrigation season, amounting to roughly 900 acre-feet total to the program.

    Last winter the Conejos far exceeded its goal—releasing an additional 4,345 acre-feet during the winter months. Overall, the winter flow program generated more than 5,000 acre-feet, according to Terry. And although it was not the most productive year, it was a pleasant surprise.

    “The message is that we made a small portion of the [Rio Grande] Compact water do more work while it was still in Colorado, by re-timing some of it so that Colorado’s streams benefitted and we still paid the bill,” Terry said.

    Estevan Vigil is an aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife who has been researching fish populations and their habitat in the Conejos and Rio Grande rivers. He said the program has helped to restore and improve some trout and insect habitat, although low flows in the last two years especially have made it difficult to survey fish populations. Going forward, he said, climate change and drought will pose major slow-moving threats.

    “Doing things like the winter flow program, where we’re keeping flows higher in rivers as often as we can, allows us to try to mitigate the impacts of those changes,” Vigil said.

    Changing mindsets

    Anecdotal evidence from fly-fishing outfitters suggests that the winter flows have helped bring more wild brown and other trout into local rivers and streams. Randy Keys, owner of Riffle Water LLC in Antonito, said the program has helped restore certain areas for fishing, drawing more anglers to the area. “It has made a huge difference,” he said. “For example, before the program the area right below the Platoro [Reservoir] was nothing but meadow water, with not a lot of holding places for trout. Now it’s great for fishing.”

    As water in this region, and more broadly in the West, becomes increasingly scarce, the winter flow program may become one of many examples of how different water interests with seemingly competing priorities are reassessing their historic perspectives in order to figure out how to squeeze more out of every drop, for everyone.

    “It’s one of those things where we’re just changing people’s mindsets,” said Craig Cotten, Division 3 engineer at the Division of Water Resources, which has been working with Trout Unlimited to administer water under the winter flow program. “We don’t have to do everything exactly like we did in the past. We can adjust it a bit to get multiple benefits.”

    Susan Moran is a freelance journalist based in Boulder, Colo. She can be reached at susankmoran@gmail.com or @susan_moran.

    This article was supported by a grant from The Water Desk, an independent journalism initiative based at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Environmental Journalism.

    First #ColoradoRiver District project spending from tax to tackle #GrandCounty project — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

    Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The Colorado River District will spend the first $1 million in partner project funds made possible from a recent tax approval to help pay for a Grand County effort to address environmental impacts from a reservoir.

    The district board last week approved the contribution to a $23.5 million project for a channel to reconnect the Colorado River where the Windy Gap Reservoir blocks its flow.

    The decision means nearly a quarter of the annual amount that the tax approval will generate for such projects will be spent in just one of the 15 counties in the river district. But district General Manager Andy Mueller believes it’s a good place to start. And a district policy newly approved by the board aims to ensure that over the long run, funding is allocated fairly and broadly around the district…

    In November, voters, including in Mesa County, approved roughly doubling the district’s property tax rate to 0.5 mills. The measure is expected to boost its revenues by nearly $5 million in the first year. Some of the annual revenues from the new tax will help the district address operating budget needs, but most of it — about $4.2 million this year — is to go toward partnering on projects addressing agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, and conservation and efficiency.

    Under the board’s new policy to implement the program, it is seeking over time to spread funds among those categories and among counties and river basins in the district, while also considering factors such as the relative populations of counties and basins, and the district’s strategic goals.

    The district also plans to use funds to help lobby for contributions of funds from other sources, rather than paying for projects by itself…

    Mueller told the board the Windy Gap project is the kind of funding partnership he had in mind, in that “it really brings together all of these folks to fix something.”

    Among those who already have committed to the project are the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service (about $5.67 million), the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District and related entities ($5 million), the Colorado Water Conservation Board (more than $3.2 million) and Grand County ($1 million).

    With the river district commitment, the project remains more than $6.3 million short of full funding, but Mueller plans to use the district’s commitment to push for further funding from a variety of sources, including by pressuring the Northern Colorado Water to chip in more…

    The bypass project partly involves reconfiguring the reservoir through construction of a redesigned dam, and building a roughly mile-long natural channel around the reservoir to reconnect the river upstream and downstream of it.

    The project is expected to improve Gold Medal trout habitat and improve water quality for downstream irrigators…

    Steve Acquafresca, Mesa County’s representative on the river district board, told fellow board members that the project is necessary…

    He said it provides a lesson to the current generation of the water community about the need to “really pay attention to what you’re doing” to avoid unintended consequences…

    As for other projects that the new river district tax revenue could someday fund, the district more locally has pointed to possibilities such as helping rehabilitate the Grand Valley Roller Dam in Mesa County, and working to maintain for the long term Colorado River flows secured by the senior water right associated with the aging Shoshone hydropower plant in Glenwood Canyon.

    Outflow from the dam across the Colorado River that forms Windy Gap Reservoir. Taken during a field trip the reservoir in September, 2017.

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    “This one was right up there, one of those the district thought was really qualified to be the initial (recipient),” said Catlin, of Montrose, who also represents State House District 58 in the Colorado Legislature. “Hopefully, it gets started right away, but all the communities will be able to apply for funding for projects across the district.”

    Montrose and the 14 other counties that make up the Colorado River District voted in November to increase the district’s mill levy to 0.5. The same ballot measure eliminated spending and revenue caps under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, but not the tax-rate cap, and allows the district to keep and spend state and local grant funds.

    The mill levy increase was projected to generate about $5 million in 2021, with the bulk going to partnerships for priority water projects.

    Applications may be made for the awarding of partnership funds, which are to be direct to priority projects; the money can also serve to leverage other funds from state, federal or private sources.

    “The projects supported by the Partnership Project Funding Program will protect and sustain West Slope water for all of us who rely on it,” River District General Manager Andy Mueller said, in a provide statement announcing the Windy Gap funding.

    “In launching this program and funding our first project, we’re fulfilling our promise to the voters who make our work possible. This and future projects will help build a brighter water future for Western Colorado.”

    Under the Partnership Project Funding framework, the river district has created a line item in its general fund budget, identifying the moneys available for such funding.

    Staff analyze requests for funding and forward those that match up with several criteria to the board for further consideration. Under those criteria, the proposed project must fit with the mission of the district and language of the 2020 ballot measure.

    Risk analysis is part of consideration and applicants need buy-in from their respective local governments. Mostly, the river district will offer partial financial support, although some projects may also receive technical, legal or administrative advocacy.

    District funds are not intended to be the sole funding source for any project.

    Projects may involve improvements related to agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health/water quality, conservation and efficiency. The framework calls for geographic equity in awarding the funds.

    #ColoradoRiver restoration project crawls forward as some environmental groups call for radical change — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

    The dam that forms Windy Gap Reservoir on the Colorado River, just below its confluence with the Fraser River in Grand County. The River District board approved $1 million toward a project to build a connectivity channel aimed at improving deteriorated conditions caused by the dam and reservoir. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District at a board meeting [January 19, 2021] voted to give $1 million of their taxpayer-raised funds to help construct the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, which will improve deteriorated conditions at the headwaters of the Colorado River.

    “When I look at this, it has benefits that are assisting our communities in the damage caused by transmountain diversions,” River District General Manager Andy Mueller said during the meeting.

    The district’s vote is the first step in a final push to fund and build the long-awaited channel, which has been in the works since the early 2000s. The connectivity channel is the first project to which River District board members have allocated money as part of the organization’s new Project Partnership Funding Program.

    Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin

    If built, the channel would mitigate much of the damage to the Colorado and Fraser rivers that has been caused by the Windy Gap reservoir in Grand County. While the channel itself has broad support, its fate is tangled in that of a more controversial project that will draw additional water from the Colorado River system.

    The Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District constructed the original Windy Gap Project in the 1980s to divert water from the Colorado River to customers across the Continental Divide.

    “It’s an unchanneled reservoir, meaning that it’s just plopped right in the middle of the Colorado River,” said Mely Whiting, the legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “It basically blocks the river all the way across, and that has serious consequences.”

    The project cut off the river’s flow and led to large stretches of river that went dry. It caused sediment buildup and a documented decline in biodiversity below the reservoir, including a 38% loss of its aquatic insect species and declines in fish populations.

    The connectivity channel, which is designed to undo some of this damage, would reconnect the Upper Colorado and Fraser rivers to the main stem of the Colorado by routing the river around the dam of the Windy Gap Reservoir, creating a path for fish, water and sediment to flow down the river.

    Since the release of its original conceptual design in the early 2000s, the connectivity channel has seen its estimated costs grow from about $10 million to $23.5 million. The River District money would help close the remaining $7 million funding gap — but not completely. According to Mueller, the River District voted to give the money in hopes that it would entice other groups to do the same.

    The project has been lauded as a rare example of collaboration in the world of water management. It carries support from an unusual coalition of environmental groups, local government and water-management groups on both sides of the Continental Divide. The River District is just one of 10 of the project’s financial backers, which include Northern Water, Grand County and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    But the channel’s construction does come at a cost. Much of the funding for the project depends on the construction of the Windy Gap Firming Project — an expansion of the Windy Gap Project that would result in the construction of a 90,000-acre-foot reservoir in Larimer County.

    To date, the Windy Gap’s junior water right has meant that the project’s managers have not been able to divert water in dry years and have not had a place to store water for their customers during wet years. The reservoir would give the project’s customers a consistent supply — or “firm yield,” as it’s called — of 30,000 acre-feet annually.

    Drawing additional water from the beleaguered Colorado River was controversial, so to win support for their plan, Northern Water signed on with a battery of agreements with environmental groups and Western Slope municipalities and water managers.

    Included in these agreements was $5 million for the connectivity channel, a guarantee to maintain a minimum streamflow below the dam, construction of water storage for Western Slope communities and a promise to open negotiations over other water rights that impact the Western Slope.

    This graphic from Northern Water shows the lay out of the Windy Gap Firming Project. The River District has voted to spend $1 million on the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, an aspect of the project meant to mitigate impacts from the dam and reservoir.

    Environmental mitigation

    For many groups that traditionally oppose moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the benefits from the project were enough to win them over. Additional supporters and sponsors of the project include Trout Unlimited and the Grand Board of County Commissioners.

    “We have to look at this in a realistic light,” Mueller said of the compromise. “This won’t fix the original sin of placing the Windy Gap Reservoir right in the middle of the Colorado River channel, but it does mitigate it.”

    Trout Unlimited has used the funds from Northern Water as leverage for attracting other funding and grants for the connectivity channel and other projects to improve the habitat quality on the river. These include plans to protect the river from some of the effects of climate change by narrowing parts of the river channel to lower stream temperatures and adding fire protection.

    “Everything that we’re doing is to make the river more resilient,” Whiting said. “It’s not going to be what it would be naturally in terms of size and volume and flows, but it will function naturally and it will function as good habitat in spite of all those limitations.”

    But while many have heralded the Windy Gap Firming Project as the beginning of a new era of cooperation in water management, not everyone agrees that mitigating environmental damage to the river is enough.

    “We are past the point where we can do work around the margins,” said Jen Pelz, the Wild Rivers Program Director for the environmental group WildEarth Guardians. “There is a climate crisis, there’s a water crisis. These things are real, and they are not going away by us mitigating them around the edges.”

    WildEarth Guardians is one of six environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Save the Colorado, that filed a lawsuit against the Windy Gap Firming Project. The 2017 suit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers alleged that the agencies violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the Clean Water Act by approving the permits for the Windy Gap Firming Project. Northern Water was not a defendant in the case.

    In the lawsuit, the environmental groups argued that the agencies did not consider conserving water instead of building a diversion project as an alternative for providing water to Front Range communities.

    The call for conservation came as a surprise to Northern Water, which used the state’s water-demand projections to justify the need for their project. Those projections already assume that municipalities will adopt a certain level of conservation measures.

    “We’ve been pretty confident with our project that we addressed all the issues in our environmental work that they had questions about,” said Jeff Drager, Northern Water’s director of engineering. “And part of the reason they take so long is because the federal agencies are nervous about getting sued like this, and they want to make sure they check all their boxes and get things done.”

    A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in December. In his ruling, the judge did not analyze water conservation as an alternative. Instead, he noted that the agencies followed the procedural laid out in the law and that he was required to give deference to the agencies’ decisions.

    While the plaintiffs weigh whether to appeal the case, Northern Water and the other supporters of the Windy Gap Firming Project have begun taking small steps toward constructing their projects. Barring another legal challenge, they will begin construction on the project’s reservoir as soon as this summer and on the connectivity channel in the fall.

    For now, the supporters of the firming project are excited about what they see as a paradigm shift in water management: a move toward cooperation over competition for water resources. Those against the project also are hoping for an eventual shift, but their idea of what that looks like is something more dramatic.

    “This just highlights for me that federal environmental laws aren’t really working anymore. When you have deference to the agency, it’s hard for someone else to come in and say that here are other ways that this can be done,” Pelz said. “I think one of the things that needs to happen, which is a radical thing, is that we need to actually live within the river means.”

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. Its water desk is supported by Sam Walton via the Catena Foundation. AJ was supported by the Walton Family Foundation from 2016 to 2018, and the foundation has also supported Trout Unlimited. This story ran in the Jan. 20 editions of The Aspen Times and The Vail Daily.

    Tinkering with a pollutant, Colorado ranch seeks to improve fish habitat — @AspenJournalism

    A fly fisherman on the Blue River in Silverthorne on Nov. 28, 2020, which is designated a “gold medal” status based on the size and abundance of trout. A downstream ranch is proposing adding phosphorus to the river in an effort to improve fish habitat. Photo credit: John Herrick/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (John Herrick):

    A private ranch is seeking Colorado environmental regulators’ permission to inject the Blue River with phosphorus — a chemical regulated as a pollutant — as part of an experiment that could help improve trout habitat at a popular high-country fishing destination.

    Kremmling-based Blue Valley Ranch, owned by the billionaire philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones II, proposes beginning the project as soon as next summer on an 8-mile stretch of the river running through its 25,000-acre ranch, which is located on both sides of the river between Green Mountain Reservoir and Colorado River.

    The ranch has not yet applied for a state discharge permit, which it will need before beginning the project. In September, the Colorado Basin Roundtable, a 35-member group of water planners, voted to provide Blue Valley Ranch, which did not request a financial contribution, with a letter of support.

    The ranch sits alongside the lower section of the river. Areas on this stretch that have public access are home to relatively large and abundant trout, earning a “gold medal” status from the state. The experiment may help explain why trout farther upstream above the Green Mountain Reservoir appear undernourished. The ranch expects that adding phosphorus to the river will grow more algae, a building block in the aquatic food-chain supporting fish.

    Map of the Blue River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69327693

    If the project helps the fish, water managers could use a similar one to restore the gold-medal status of a section of the Blue River upstream from the ranch’s property that the state delisted in 2016. The designation is based on the size and abundance of fish in rivers with public access. The rare delisting on the river section, north of Silverthorne, was a blow to residents who saw the designation as a way to attract outdoor tourism to the region.

    Scientists warn that adding too much phosphorus could create problems downstream. Excess phosphorus [enables algae blooms including cyanobacteria], an algae that can be toxic to humans. Last summer, such algae blooms prompted the state to issue warnings and closures to lakes across the state, from Steamboat Lake, north of Steamboat Springs, to Denver’s Cherry Creek Reservoir.

    This is one reason why the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is working on new rules to limit phosphorus pollution based on the chemical’s ecological impacts. The state may soon require owners of large facilities, such as wastewater-treatment plants, to make costly upgrades to comply with new limits.

    That same agency will have to decide whether to grant the ranch a discharge permit, weighing the possibility of improving trout habitat with the environmental risks. MaryAnn Nason, a spokeswoman for the state’s Water Quality Control Division, said in a statement that the state would evaluate whether the additional phosphorus protects aquatic life, drinking water and recreation, and complies with the state’s regulations on phosphorus.

    The theory behind the project is that the river has too little phosphorus, a circumstance that may be preventing the growth of periphyton, an algae eaten by aquatic insects that state biologists say are “sparse” in the river. One of the reasons the river lacks nutrients is that the 231-foot dam in Silverthorne is causing it to back up. The dam was built in 1963 to create the Dillon Reservoir, which Denver Water uses to ship drinking water under the Continental Divide to residents on the Front Range. The dam traps nutrients such as phosphorus and prevents downstream flooding, a natural process that can pull phosphorus back into the river. In the 1980s, the state imposed strict limits on phosphorus pollution from wastewater-treatment plant operators in the basin, which has kept phosphorus concentrations to about 10 parts per billion in the reservoir to prevent algae blooms. That means the cold water flowing out of the bottom of the dam also is relatively low in phosphorus.

    “This is a success story,” said William Lewis, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and director of its Center for Limnology and who has studied the reservoir’s chemistry for decades.

    Whether the successes of curbing pollution are hurting fish habitat downstream is hard to say for sure, Lewis said. But supporters of the Blue Valley Ranch proposal say the experiment could test this one factor among the many affecting the river.

    “We have to better understand those factors. And measure them. And then rate them,” said Richard Van Gytenbeek, the Colorado River Basin outreach coordinator for Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit that advocates for fish habitat and supports the ranch’s proposed experiment.

    According to a presentation to the Colorado Basin Roundtable by Blue Valley Ranch, the company proposes placing jugs of liquid fertilizer at six sites along the river bordering its property, injecting it with as much as nearly 2,000 gallons per year. In an emailed statement from the company, it said it plans to increase the phosphorus concentrations in the river by 3 parts per billion. It would then sample the growth of periphyton, aquatic insects and the fish population. The company cites a project on Idaho’s Kootenai River in which researchers increased phosphorus levels of as much as about 12.5 parts per billion. Bob Steed, the surface water manager for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, said the Kootenai River project has increased the size and number of fish without causing toxic algae blooms or other problems with water quality.

    But scientists still have reservations. Lisa Kunza, a professor of chemistry biology and health sciences at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology who has studied the ecological impacts of the Kootenai River project, said she wondered whether Blue Valley Ranch plans to spend enough time studying baseline conditions before the experiment. And she wondered what’s motivating the company to do the project.

    The Blue River in Silverthorne on Nov. 28, 2020. The state has designated this section of the river a “gold medal” status based on the size and abundance of trout. Photo credit: John Herrick/Aspen Journalism

    According to the company’s website, the ranch seeks “to be a leader in conservation.” Its owner, Jones, is an investor whose philanthropy has earned him recognition as a “conservationist.” Jones spent $805,000 on Highway 9 wildlife crossings north of Silverthorne as well as other projects across the county, including setting up a foundation aimed at protecting the Florida Mangroves. The property is known for its intensive management, such as using a diesel-powered backhoe to make the river narrower and deeper, and locals call the stretch of river flowing through the ranch “Jurassic Park.”

    Brien Rose, a biologist with Blue Valley Ranch who has worked as a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey, has been giving presentations on the project and speaking with the Department of Public Health and Environment. Rose did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

    Before the ranch stepped up with the idea, the concept of its experiment was already being discussed among the region’s water managers, some of whom are monitoring conditions upstream and perhaps laying the groundwork for a similar project. The Blue River Watershed Group, which helps manage the river, is backing the project. Supporters see it as a way to help restore the river to a more natural state before the dam trapped its nutrients.

    “Studies of the lower Blue River have shown that it is deficient in some nutrients because of the two upstream impoundments on the river. A major goal of this research is to add to the base of knowledge that will ultimately benefit other impounded rivers in the Western United States,” said Brett Davidson, a manager with Blue Valley Ranch, in an emailed statement.

    But what the river looked like before the dam is unclear, researchers say. Aside from the Dillon and Green Mountain reservoirs, the Blue River has been impacted by hardrock mining and the growing mountain towns of Silverthorn, Frisco and Breckenridge. For decades, the state has been stocking the river with brown and rainbow trout, game fish that white settlers introduced to Colorado. One of the reasons the middle section of the Blue River lost its gold-medal status was because the state scaled back stocking.

    Sarah Marshall, an ecohydrologist with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program at Colorado State University, said she sees the value in Blue Valley Ranch’s experiment. She, too, wants to better understand the effects of phosphorus on a river’s ecology.

    But Marshall said “further tinkering” with the river to restore it could have its risks. She added: “The proposed study sounds like a Band-Aid, rather than fixing the underlying causes of degraded stream habitat.”

    This story ran in the Dec. 28 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Guest commentary: #Colorado wildfires are impacting our water; here’s what we can do — the Aspen Times

    The Cameron Peak fire soon after it started on Aug. 13, 2020. By Sept. 11, the fire had grown to more than 102,000 acres (now >200,000 acres) and was not expected to be considered out until Oct. 31. Photo credit: InciWeb via The Colorado Sun

    From The Aspen Times (Jill Ozarski):

    One year ago, exactly zero parts of Colorado were officially designated as being abnormally dry or in drought. What a difference a year makes.

    Now, even as the ski season starts up, every corner of our state is facing drought conditions. As the effects of unchecked climate change continue to worsen, these conditions, which previously would have been considered extreme, are sadly becoming the new normal, and the impacts are wide ranging.

    As Coloradans know all too well, these hot, dry conditions played a significant role in fueling wildfires that tragically steal away lives, communities and our beloved natural landscapes. Images from recent months of families fleeing burning homes and beleaguered firefighters waging battle while air tankers swoop overheard are pictures that we won’t soon forget.

    Some of these record-breaking wildfires — like Cameron Peak — are still burning, even as it snows. Last year, the Fern Creek Fire burned all winter, in a place where fire has not occurred in 500 years.

    The impacts of these disasters stretch well beyond the fire lines, and have downstream effects on our precious rivers and waterways.

    Colorado’s mountains supply water to seven downstream states and the wildfires can directly impact the quantity and quality of that water. This problem is likely to only worsen in the years and decades ahead, which is why we need to take action now to safeguard our water supplies and ensure that our state’s vital natural resources are protected.

    This may seem like a daunting problem, but there is so much that our society can do. Fortunately, voters know that protecting our water is critical. Colorado voters are notoriously anti-tax, but on Nov. 3, voters in 23 Colorado counties approved two ballot measures to protect our water and rivers. That follows 2019, where statewide voters approved a measure to provide as much as $29 million annually to implement Colorado’s Water Plan. Similar local county measures were enacted in 2016 and 2018.

    The results are clear: Coloradans are aware of the threats facing our water supplies and are willing to dedicate state resources toward preserving and protecting them.

    The dollars from these measures are critical and will go a long way toward protecting our water for future Coloradans, but only if we leverage them in the right ways and build on a coalition. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, and if we’re serious about tackling these issues we need to marshal all of the support we can find and elicit the help of as many stakeholders as possible.

    The federal government can help by funding water conservation efforts by both cities and the agricultural sector, who have both been largely leading the charge. It also can help support natural water storage and build on “natural infrastructure,” i.e. natural or naturalized areas that are strategically managed to conserve the ecosystem’s protective functions while also providing economic and societal benefits.

    What does that mean in layman’s terms? It means providing jobs to restore healthy forests. It means safeguarding the wetlands and streams that naturally clean our water, provide firebreaks, and support the wildlife and scenery for which our state is famous. We know these techniques can work, we just need the resources to properly implement them.

    And the only way to protect enough forests, wetlands and streams at a big enough scale to make a difference is to layer public funds with other sources of funding in creative ways. The innovative Environmental Impact Fund under development in southwest Colorado is a perfect example of such creativity.

    This fund is the result of years of partnerships and collaboration that have brought all stakeholders together with local leadership — homeowners, water providers, agriculture, hikers and agencies. They are working together to combine and leverage funding so that they can protect forests and water resources in a coordinated and cost-efficient way that provides jobs, reaches economies of scale, and protects the community and its water for people, agriculture and nature.

    Finally, let’s not forget that all of this helps implement Colorado’s Water Plan, which is currently marking its fifth anniversary. The plan was developed with input from community leaders and residents throughout the state. The resulting plan outlines solutions to address the gap between our finite water supplies and demand, while setting a goal of achieving 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water conservation savings by 2050. It also outlines steps for maintaining our vital agricultural economy, which bolsters our communities while supplying food and fiber around the world.

    Studies show that the entire American Southwest is on the precipice of a historic megadrought, which means that our climate and ecosystems are entering into uncharted territory. The future is already here: We must act now to help our communities and environment navigate future wildfires and intensifying drought.

    Protecting Colorado’s rivers and streams today means acting to protect future generations of Coloradans. But we’re Coloradans. We have proven that water is an issue that unites us, and we are poised to lead the nation on creative and effective solutions to address this issue head-on.

    Jill Ozarski is a program officer in the Environment Program focusing on the Colorado River initiative for the Walton Family Foundation.

    #Colorado mitigation “bank” to offset #wetland damage, meet Clean Water Act rules — @WaterEdCO

    Here at the confluence of the Big Thompson and South Platte rivers near Greeley, a new conservation effort is underway. It restores wetlands and creates mitigation credits that developers can buy to meet their obligations under the federal Clean Water Act to offset any damage to rivers and wetlands they have caused. Credit: Westervelt Ecological Services

    From Water Education Colorado (Sarah Kuta):

    Developers often dropped by unannounced at the Allely farm to ask if the family would consider selling their 70-acre property south of Greeley at the confluence of the Big Thompson and South Platte rivers. The answer was always no — the Allelys did not want their land, which had been in the family since in the early 1960s, to be developed, now or in the future.

    So when staff from Westervelt Ecological Services first approached the Allelys about creating a habitat preservation program on their farm roughly three years ago, the family was skeptical. But over the course of many months and long conversations, they began to warm to the idea and eventually agreed.

    Instead of selling their property to the highest bidder or leaving it to the next generation, the family established a conservation easement — a permanent agreement to never develop the land — and, for a fee, allowed Westervelt to create the new Big Thompson confluence mitigation bank. The project broke ground in late October.

    Now, a developer who disrupts wetlands or streams elsewhere along the Front Range and in parts of eastern Colorado can offset that impact by buying credits generated from floodplain and ecosystem restoration work completed on the Allelys’ land. Purchasing credits from this new mitigation bank allows developers to meet their obligations under the federal Clean Water Act.

    “It’s a very important piece of property to us as a family,” said Zach Allely, the fifth-oldest of the six children who grew up on the farm. “If there’s an opportunity for us to say, ‘No, this is a place where native fauna, native flora can thrive forever,’ we’ll take that.”

    Mitigation banks, explained

    Mitigation banks are not new in Colorado — there are some 21 pending, approved, sold-out or suspended throughout the state, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ database — but this is the first new mitigation bank approved on the Front Range in 20 years.

    Across the country, mitigation banks have become more popular since 2008, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressed a preference for mitigation banks (over other types of mitigation) and offered clearer guidance, standards and timelines for these projects.

    Mitigation banks like this one are a byproduct of the federal Clean Water Act, first enacted in 1948 as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and then expanded and reorganized in 1972. More specifically, they relate to Section 404 of the act, which aims to protect the country’s wetlands from the discharge of dredged or fill materials during the construction of dams, levees, highways, airports and other development projects.

    Under Section 404, developers must take steps to avoid and minimize damage to wetlands and streams by adjusting the scope, location, design and type of project they wish to undertake. After avoidance and minimization, they must turn to a third mitigation type: compensatory mitigation.

    Under compensatory mitigation, developers can restore, establish, enhance or preserve wetlands at the project site or somewhere else nearby. But this type of work isn’t always practical or possible, which is where mitigation banks come into play. Instead of going to all that trouble, a developer can pay for someone else to do the heavy lifting at a different, nearby location.

    A mitigation banker, in this case Westervelt, pays for the upfront costs of finding a suitable piece of land, gaining approval from the right regulatory agencies, and doing the actual mitigation work. Then, depending on the scope and size of the project, the banker can sell a certain number of credits to offset the impacts of future development within the bank’s general vicinity.

    Restoring historical floodplain

    Today, crews are hard at work on the Allely property, re-establishing the historical floodplain to help restore the ecosystem for plants and animals and improve flood resiliency for nearby communities.

    This restoration work also creates 34.76 wetland credits and 460 stream credits — released in phases — that developers, public agencies, mining companies and others can buy to help mitigate the unavoidable damage their projects will cause to other Colorado wetlands and streams.

    Lucy Harrington, the Rocky Mountain region director for Westervelt Ecological Services, declined to say how much the company is charging for credits from the new 72.4-acre bank, citing variable pricing and bulk discounts.

    But the Colorado Department of Transportation, which regularly buys credits from mitigation banks across the state, recently paid $200,000 for a credit from the new bank to help offset the impact of its Central 70 highway improvement project, said Becky Pierce, CDOT’s wetlands program manager.

    To find potential mitigation bank sites, Westervelt staffers perform geographic information system (GIS) analyses that take into account a property’s proximity to streams, hydrology, oil and gas infrastructure, and proximity to other conserved properties, among other factors, Harrington said.

    The company, which opened its newest regional office in Centennial in 2016, also looks at community-identified areas for wetland restoration and conservation, as was the case with the new Big Thompson confluence bank. Westervelt staff worked with the Middle South Platte River Alliance to understand local priorities and identify possible sites for the new bank. The alliance helped introduce Westervelt to the Allely family.

    “It’s really a confluence of technical work, relationship-building and a little bit of luck, to be perfectly honest,” Harrington said.

    Westervelt and other mitigation bankers often buy property outright. But in this case, Westervelt paid the Allely family an undisclosed amount to use their land for the mitigation bank and, in return, the Allelys protected the property in perpetuity with a conservation easement, which comes with its own tax benefits and incentives. Westervelt and the Allelys also established a long-term endowment for the site’s management with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

    After creating a detailed plan and getting approval from regulatory agencies like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and others, Westervelt began work.

    Credits going fast

    The company has released its first round of credits, which includes 8.69 wetland acres and 115 functional feet of stream credits. So far, the company has sold more than half of the wetland credits, Harrington said.

    “Any project, whether it’s a highway widening that may cross a river, home development that may affect ephemeral or perennial drainage, a Walmart parking lot that’s expanding, a pipeline going in, any of those development items that could impact wetlands and streams, instead of having to provide a wetland offset themselves can just come to us, write a check and just walk away,” Harrington said. “We take on all the liability of the site in perpetuity.”

    Meanwhile, the Allely family knows that their property will never be developed and is instead being restored to its historical conditions. They can also still access the land under the conservation easement, which is held by the nonprofit land trust Colorado Open Lands.

    Staff at Colorado Open Lands say they hope the success of the Big Thompson mitigation bank will inspire other landowners to conserve their land.

    “It’s just another tool, another way for us to look at getting creative about protecting open space in Colorado,” said Carmen Farmer, conservation project manager with Colorado Open Lands. “Traditionally, we protect land throughout the state using state tax credits and federal tax deductions and incentives. Sometimes the traditional model doesn’t necessarily pencil out for landowners. This is another way for us to go about incentivizing landowners to help protect their properties and make sure they’re compensated for doing so.”

    Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.

    Scouring soil, sowing seeds and spending millions for wildfire recovery in Glenwood Canyon — The #Colorado Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Grizzly Creek Fire August 11, 2020. Photo credit: Wildfire Today

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    Glenwood Springs is spending more than $10 million on repairs and upgrades to water supply infrastructure following Grizzly Creek Fire.

    The Grizzly Creek Fire was not even 10% contained. Jumbo jets still were dousing flames as firefighting teams from across the country scrambled to protect Glenwood Springs and a critical watershed above the Colorado River. And teams of scientists were in Glenwood Canyon, too, battling alongside firefighters.

    Those hydrologists, biologists, geologists, archaeologists and recreation specialists are still there, even after the flames are gone, waging a behind-the-scenes battle to protect water and natural resources…

    Burned Area Emergency Response — or BAER — teams typically come in when a fire is 50% contained to assess damage and create a multi-year restoration plan. Roberts and the Grizzly Creek Fire BAER crew were on the ground when less than 10% of the fire was contained as both forest and fire managers recognized threats to water supplies. In less than three weeks, they had a map detailing where the Grizzly Creek Fire burned hottest, which helped the Colorado Department of Transportation identify areas where rockfall hazards increased in the fire.

    In a twist on the BAER assessment — which usually focuses on protecting resources after a fire — the team helped build an emergency communication plan that helped firefighters in the canyon, and identified areas where they could swiftly take cover in the event of rockfall or a sudden rainstorm that could sweep debris and rocks off canyon walls…

    It was this early assessment that sparked an urgent plea for help from Glenwood Springs. As firefighters battled back flames on the western edge of the wildfire, the city’s leaders rallied politicians far and wide to acknowledge damage to the city’s water supply infrastructure. Barely three weeks after the wildfire sparked along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, the city had a list of immediate work needed to protect the city’s watershed.

    Sen. Michael Bennet prodded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to unleash millions from the federal Emergency Watershed Protection program. Glenwood Springs was first in line, with a clear message that spring snowmelt, or even a rainstorm, could cripple the city’s water supply…

    It didn’t take long for Glenwood Springs to identify immediate repairs and upgrades to protect water systems from expected sediment and debris flowing from scorched canyon walls. First on the list were intake systems on Glenwood Canyon’s Grizzly and No Name creeks. The city also needed an upgrade to a backup water intake on the Roaring Fork River, should the systems in the canyon go down. And finally, the city is eager to finish a long-planned bridge that could help residents flee a wildfire on the south end of town.

    By early September, less than a month after the Grizzly Creek Fire started, the city had a list of $86 million in projects. And the money started flowing almost immediately.

    The city secured more than $1 million from the NRCS’s Emergency Watershed Program for projects to protect intake infrastructure on No Name and Grizzly creeks, high above the Colorado River…

    The Grizzly Creek Fire jumped Grizzly Creek north of Glenwood Canyon. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

    The city asked the NRCS for wiggle room on the requirement that municipalities pay 25% of the total grant. The service agreed to an 80-20 split, which meant the city needed a little less than $200,000 to protect the structures that funnel millions of gallons of water a day into the city’s water treatment plant.

    Work on the Grizzly Creek intake started first, with helicopters ferrying workers 3.8 miles up the drainage. The workers put in steel plates to protect the diversion and valve systems from debris that could clog the intake during the next big rain or spring melt. They stabilized the banks upstream and downstream of the intake, which required flying 11 cubic yards of cement up the drainage.

    New plating at the Glenwood Springs water intake on Grizzly Creek was installed by the city to protect the system’s valve controls and screen before next spring’s snowmelt scours the Grizzly Creek burn zone and potentially clogs the creek with debris. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

    The team finished in October and then turned to No Name Creek, where intake diversions and valves are accessible by truck. That work included similar protections as Grizzly Creek, plus a concrete wall to keep debris from hitting a city structure on No Name Creek.

    The No Name work also included upgrades to a 1962 tunnel near the bottom of the creek, with new strainers and filters designed to remove bulky sediment before water reaches the treatment plant. The No Name work is ongoing but will be completed before the spring melt.

    In addition to the intake repairs and upgrades, Glenwood Springs this month secured an $8 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The money was among the first awarded through the board’s 2020 Wildfire Impact Loan program, which streamlines funding for municipalities racing to protect watersheds after a wildfire. The program offers 30-year loans with no payment necessary for the first three years.

    The $8 million will help design and construct new pipelines from the city’s pump station on the Roaring Fork River, which delivers water uphill to the Red Mountain Water Treatment Plant. Glenwood Springs has two water sources: the intake systems on No Name and Grizzly creeks and the pumps on the Roaring Fork River. The Roaring Fork water is a backup in case either of the intakes on the creeks above the Colorado River go down. But the intakes in Glenwood Canyon and the pumps on the Roaring Fork cannot run at the same time, and the city is building a second pipeline into the Red Mountain Water Treatment Plant so the two sources can deliver water simultaneously, if needed.

    “This will give us a lot of resiliency moving into the future. Not just fire resiliency, but it gives us a lot of water resource resiliency,” said Matt Langhorst, the public works director for Glenwood Springs. “Having one water source is not acceptable. We need two or three and this would give us three.”

    Glenwood Springs is applying for a Department of Local Affairs grant for the pipeline running from the Roaring Fork River, which would reduce its loan amount from the CWCB.

    A third project, still part of that $8 million from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will plan and construct a concrete basin above the Red Mountain Water Treatment plant that will mix water coming from the Grizzly Creek and No Name intakes with the water from the Roaring Fork River. The mixing basin helps remove sediment and creates a consistent type of water so technicians do not need to overhaul various treatment processes to accommodate different sources of water.

    A fourth project — and the biggest — would upgrade the entire Red Mountain Water Treatment Plant, which has not been updated since 1977. An upgraded plant, with new technology, would be able to more quickly and efficiently remove sediment from higher volumes of incoming water…

    Sprinkling special-made seeds

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s emergency loan program was developed in response to the 2013 floods. The idea was to get emergency funds approved by the board ahead of time so communities do not have to wait through a prolonged application and review process. The board’s emergency loan program distributed $23 million in emergency watershed protection funding following the devastating floods in September 2013…

    With the fire climbing out the canyon by the middle of September and the risk to crews reduced through communication plans and safety maps, Roberts’ BAER team of specialists started their work on emergency stabilization and long-term restoration.

    They created a second burn severity map along with a satellite-derived data map of vegetation in the burn zone. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Landslide Hazards Program also created a similar map identifying areas where debris flow could be heaviest during a rainstorm.

    The BAER team started hiking into the canyon, sometimes driving up to the top of the canyon and dropping in from above, and sometimes hiking up. They scoured the soil in burn areas for organic, woody debris and intact roots, which raise the likelihood of natural recovery. Roberts said new plants already are pushing through the charred topsoil.

    “What we have seen to date is there is a lot of that organic material and native seed left in the soil that is allowing a lot to come back,” Roberts said, describing a patchy burn in a “mosaic” pattern. “We see good potential for recovery.”

    […]

    Roberts and her team assisted the natural recovery process, sprinkling seeds as soon as rain and snow dampened the soil. They walked all the fire suppression lines where bulldozers hastily cleared entire swaths of forest and yanked out non-native weeds that took root. And they threw seeds everywhere.

    Roberts collected native grass seed from the nearby Flat Tops to create a seed mix for Glenwood Canyon. The mix will produce resilient grasses that help stabilize soil and combat invasive weeds. The team’s reseeding of suppression lines is nearing completion as the snow piles deeper. The stabilization work will continue into next summer.

    Emergency trail and road stabilization will pick up in the spring, when Roberts will move into the restoration phase, which includes aggressive mitigation to prevent non-native weeds and monitoring vegetation growth.

    Researchers with Utah State University also joined Roberts in the field and launched a year-long study of how the Grizzly Creek Fire impacts runoff and erosion. The researchers expect the data — gathered from USGS gauges upstream and downstream of the burn zone as well as monitoring equipment inside the canyon — will help better calibrate the models used to predict debris flow in areas burned by wildfire.

    Construction to Begin on #UncompahgreRiver Improvement Project

    Starting the week of Oct. 26, 2020 contractors working for the City of Montrose will begin a river improvement project along 0.65 miles (3,400 feet) of the Uncompahgre River.
    (William Woody/City of Montrose)

    Here’s the release from the City of Montrose:

    Starting the week of October 26, contractors working for the City of Montrose will begin a river improvement project along 0.65 miles (3,400 feet) of the Uncompahgre River. The project will include the stabilization of riverbanks, restoration of a more natural stream system, improvement of aquatic and riparian habitats, and improvement of river access and fishing opportunities for the public.

    Construction will start around North 9th Street and continue downstream within a 41-acre river corridor tract within the Montrose Urban Renewal Authority boundaries. The property was recently donated to the City of Montrose by Colorado Outdoors.

    For safety reasons, public access to the Uncompahgre River within the project area will be closed throughout construction. However, the new recreation trail situated alongside the project, as well as boating access on the remainder of the Uncompahgre River, will remain open throughout the construction project. Through boaters are encouraged to take out at the West Main Trailhead upstream of the project. Although a temporary takeout will be constructed at the beginning of the project area, vehicular access to this area will be much more limited than at West Main. Project activities are expected to last until June 2021.

    The river improvement project is being made possible largely due to approximately $785,000 in grants received from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The remainder of the $1.6M project is being funded by the Montrose Urban Renewal Authority.

    #Colorado cutthroat restored to 23 miles of Hermosa Creek — The #Durango Herald

    Connor Bevel, an Aquatic technician with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, holds one the 450 adult Colorado River Cutthroat trout released into the Hermosa Creek drainage October 9, 2020. Photo credit: Joe Lewandowski/Colorado Parks & Wildlife via The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    A decades-long effort to restore the Colorado River cutthroat trout to the upper reaches of Hermosa Creek has been completed, resulting in the largest continuous stretch of waterway for the native fish species in the state…