Monte Vista Crane Festival 2019

Greater Sandhill Cranes in flight over the San Luis Valley. The annual Monte Vista Crane Festival takes place during March each year. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

From Colorado Outdoors Magazine (Crystal Egli):

I’ve known for awhile that a crane’s diet consists of crop waste grain such as corn, wheat, barley, oats, as well as snails, crayfish, insects, small vertebrates and the eggs of other birds, but what I observed over the next hour was completely unexpected. The cranes used their elongated beaks to root around for potatoes, with great enthusiasm. At first I thought they were just slicing them into smaller and smaller pieces in order to eat them – which some of them were, but then I saw one throw back an entire potato and swallow it whole. Then another, and another. I pressed record.

The sandhill cranes were swallowing potatoes whole like a pelican eating a fish! After years of capturing footage of the cranes flying in and out of fields, it was quite interesting and unexpected to witness a behavior I had never before observed in this species.

Lessons Learned
I am so glad I got the courage to ask the landowner for permission to access their land. My trip was shaping up to be pretty fowl but by the end I was happy as a lark. I think next year I’ll time my visit for the heart of the festival when there are guided tours lead by birding professionals, volunteers to ask for advice and help, fellow birders to compare notes with and a craft fair to chill at instead of brooding in my hotel lobby. Honestly, the festival is a hoot. If you’ve never been to one before I highly recommend it– maybe I’ll see you there next year! We’re always looking to add more crane enthusiasts to our flock.

Job opportunity: Professional Engineer 3 level for the Lead Assistant Division Engineer, Division 3 (#RioGrande Basin). Closes on March 22, 2019

Click here to apply:

Description of Job
Although the Division of Water Resources Office is located in Alamosa, the position’s primary duties are performed within 30 miles of the border of Colorado.

This position assists the Division of Water Resources (DWR) State Engineer in carrying out the statutory duties required of the DWR and any written instruction of the State Engineer within the geographic area of State Division Three; serve as Division Engineer as designated; assure integrity of the Prior Appropriations Doctrine while maximizing beneficial use of water; coordinate the regulation of water within the Division; consult with the Water Court; resolve disputes that exceed the abilities of Water Commissioners; supervise field and office personnel; assist the public through the Water Court process and well permit application process and in the understanding of water law, hydrology and water supply, and other water-related issues; prepare expert witness reports; consult with the Water Court regarding Water Court applications; respond to water user complaints and write reports summarizing the agency’s position; and negotiate or provide expert engineering support / testimony to litigate any conditions necessary to protect existing water rights. Other duties as assigned.

‘Mission-Oriented’ #ColoradoRiver veteran takes the helm as the US Commissioner of International Boundary Waters Commission — @WaterEdFdn #COriver #aridification #WomenInWater

From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

Western Water Q&A: Jayne Harkins’ duties include collaboration with Mexico on Colorado River supply, water quality issues

Jayne Harkins, the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission. (Image: IBWC)

For the bulk of her career, Jayne Harkins has devoted her energy to issues associated with the management of the Colorado River, both with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and with the Colorado River Commission of Nevada.

Now her career is taking a different direction. Harkins, 58, was appointed by President Trump last August to take the helm of the United States section of the U.S.-Mexico agency that oversees myriad water matters between the two countries as they seek to sustainably manage the supply and water quality of the Colorado River, including its once-thriving Delta in Mexico, and other rivers the two countries share. She is the first woman to be named the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission for either the United States or Mexico in the commission’s 129-year history.

The IBWC, whose jurisdiction covers the 1,954 miles of border from San Diego to the Gulf of Mexico, is responsible for applying the boundary and
he United States and Mexico, and settling differences that may arise in their application.

The IBWC is recognizable to many people as the implementing body for the additions to the 1944 U.S.-Mexican Water Treaty on the Colorado, Rio Grande and Tijuana rivers known as Minutes. In 2017, the latest addendum, Minute 323, built on previous agreements that specified reductions in water deliveries to Mexico off the Colorado River during a shortage and allowed Mexico to store water in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir which sits near Las Vegas.

The New River, a contaminated waterway that flows north from Mexico, spills into the Salton Sea in southwestern California’s Imperial Valley. Transborder pollution is among Jayne Harkins’ priorities as U.S. IBWC Commissioner. (Image: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

There are other issues, as well. Transborder pollution – from the New River spilling into the Salton Sea and from the Tijuana River fouling San Diego County beaches – is on her radar. Last year, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board sued the U.S. section of the IBWC, claiming it is violating the Clean Water Act by not monitoring or stopping the untreated waste flowing to the Pacific Ocean from the Tijuana River that has caused beach closures in San Diego County.

Harkins, who lives in El Paso, Texas, spoke recently to Western Water about her new mission, transborder pollution and addressing Colorado River shortages with Mexico. The transcript has been lightly edited for space.

You are the first woman to be selected as IBWC commissioner. Do you see that as a significant accomplishment?

Yeah, I do. It is [significant] but I wish it weren’t. It should have happened a long time ago from my perspective. For me, you just plow on and get work done.

What is the significance of the IBWC and how its mission affects the various stakeholders?

We started as the International Boundary Commission and, of course, that is more straightforward. They work to demarcate the boundary, [and] maintain our boundary monuments.

Jayne Harkins (seated, far left), as executive director of the Colorado River Commission of Nevada, was one of the signers in 2017 of domestic agreements that were part of Minute 323, the addendum to the 1944 U.S.-Mexican Water Treaty. (Image: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

In 1944, of course, we got the treaty with Mexico that went beyond boundary stuff. That is what distributed waters between the United States and Mexico on the Colorado River. A part of that treaty authorized the joint construction and operation of international storage dams on the Rio Grande, and there is some discussion on a preferential solution to the issue of border sanitation problems.

I think a lot of what IBWC can do in both the U.S. and Mexico is bring all the stakeholders together into binational meetings to talk about the data we have, what are we lacking and then try to resolve issues.

What are your priorities as commissioner?

My priority is border sanitation. We have a number of areas with border sanitation issues and that’s one to try and figure out and see what we can do. Also, we have our treaty water deliveries and water quantity and quality responsibilities, depending on what the minutes require. We have those pieces that we need to make sure get done. We have got infrastructure issues on some of our dams and we just need to be operating and maintaining older infrastructure and make sure we are repairing and replacing as needed.

What is the IBWC’s role in water quality issues?

We are coordinating with others because there are some things that we can’t do that others can, and so we are trying to bring a coordinated effort among the federal U.S. entities. With Mexico, it’s what are the appropriate entities, federal and state, that they have to have. Each one of these is a local issue and we’ve got to bring in the local stakeholders because they have an interest as well. Some solutions may include infrastructure on both sides of the border. A number of studies regarding infrastructure improvements have been completed or are underway. We are working with local, state and federal agencies, as well as Mexico, to address the Tijuana River sanitation issue in a cooperative manner.

This has been ongoing for a long time. As I looked at it, I’m like, “Are things better than they were?” If you look at the data, even New River stuff [the New River flows from Mexico into California’s Imperial Valley and toward the Salton Sea], it’s much better than it was 20 years ago. If you look at the numbers overall, it’s not good enough. It’s not like the discharges meet U.S. standards and that’s what people in the U.S. are looking for. We are trying to help be a convener of folks to make sure we know what the data looks like, to make sure we know fact from fiction and bring people together who can perhaps bring some money to this and work with Mexico to see who can do what parts.

The water quality issues on the Colorado River are outlined in Minute 242 as related to salinity requirements. Minute 323 established a Salinity Work Group to minimize the impact of Minute 323 activities on salinity and to undertake cooperative actions like modernizing salinity monitoring equipment.

How is the IBWC involved with drought planning efforts?

Colorado River water released from Morelos Dam, along the border with Mexico, flows downstream into the Colorado River channel in March 2014 to benefit the environment as part of the cooperative measures agreed to by the United States and Mexico under Minute 319. (Image: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

We are not specifically engaged in the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, but we are very interested in it and monitoring it and checking in with folks about what’s going on. Mexico is very interested because they have agreed to sharing shortages when the Lower Basin is in shortage. If there is a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, Mexico has their Binational Water Scarcity Plan and they would take some additional reductions. So from the standpoint as to how we implement Minute 323 and what we need to do with sharing information with Mexico, that’s our part of the involvement.

The Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan is essentially how the DCP would be applied to Mexico.

What’s the status of Minute 323 implementation?

There are a number of conservation projects in Mexico that are wrapping up. We are involved in the verification that they got constructed. We will work with Mexico on the quantity of water that’s being conserved. As construction gets done, those projects are funded by some of the U.S. stakeholders, and we move that money over to Mexico so they can pay the contractors.

A recent report provided findings of the 2014 pulse flow of more than 100,000 acre-feet of water into the riparian corridor of the Colorado River Delta implemented under Minute 319. How will that inform future efforts?

We learned many things about water delivery methods, infiltration, irrigation techniques and groundwater – information that will guide our Minute 323 environmental work. This report provides solid scientific information about our restoration efforts. The findings will help us apply environmental water more effectively in the future.

Potential San Luis Valley water export topic of Saguache County Board of Commissioners “working meeting” March 12, 2019

Saguache Creek

From The Valley Courier (Teresa Benns):

A group of county residents is appealing to those concerned about water issues in the county to attend an important water meeting March 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Road and Bridge Building in Saguache, 305 3rd Street, to sit in on a discussion with commissioners regarding water export plans.

The meeting is styled as “a listening work session,” meaning no public comment or questions will be allowed. The guest speaker is Sean Tonner, who will host a water export proposal presentation…

The water plan, apparently in the works for the past several years, was officially announced during a Rio Grande Water Conservation meeting in Alamosa, the Valley Courier reported Dec. 7, 2018…

Background

While some of those proposing the plan are newly arrived players, the proposal is not. The plan first emerged in the late 1980s with Maurice Strong’s Arizona Land and Cattle Co. and Stockmen’s Water. After reorganizing as AWDI, the new version of the plan was opposed and defeated in the early 1990s by the Rio Grande Water District and Valley citizens.

Originally AWDI, backed by then Baca Ranch owner Gary Boyce — also owner of numerous other water rights — presented a plan to pump 200,000 acre-feet of water annually from the underground aquifer. They claimed there would be no impact on the environment or existing water users. The application was later amended to 60,000 acre-feet annually, (approximately twice the amount consumed yearly by the City of Pueblo).

The new version of the water transport plan was most recently run past Saguache County Commissioners in 2014, prior to the death of Baca Ranch owner Gary Boyce. The entity then proposing the water was Sustainable Water Resources (SWR), now retitled as Renewable Water Resources (RWR). The new company is a mix of the previous organization and new members, a media advisor for the group said Tuesday.

Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geologic Survey

#RioGrande “State of the Basin” recap #COWaterPlan

Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

From the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District via The Monte Vista Journal:

During the 2019 “State of the Basin Symposium” at Adams State University, the Rio Grande Basin was reminded that Colorado has a water plan as Heather Dutton, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and Rio Grande Basin representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, shared some insights on the Colorado Water Plan.

Officially completed on Nov. 19, 2015 by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the statewide effort followed an Executive Order from Governor John Hickenlooper and represents a great deal of work and input from many experts across the state. Dutton opened her remarks by giving a brief history of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District. Next, she turned the focus of her presentation to some of the components of the plan and the work of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Dutton noted that the plan was designed to address the major water issues that Colorado faces. Some of the key areas that the plan focuses on include agriculture, conservation, land use, the supply-demand gap, storage, and watershed health environment, funding, and outreach and education. The plan has been called a roadmap for the future of Colorado’s water. There are numerous goals that the plan has outlined such as maximizing alternatives to permanent agriculture dry-up and the promotion of water efficiency ethic for all Coloradans. The overarching goal of the plan is to help Colorado meet its water needs relative to growing population levels and reach a degree of sustainability by 2030.
Dutton also mentioned the Colorado Water Plan Grant Program, which is the funding portion of the plan that is designed to provide needed financial assistance for vital water projects across the state. “The CWCB is putting its money where its mouth is,” said Dutton.

Dutton further noted that part of the process of creating the plan included gathering input from each of Colorado’s respective basin roundtables. Each basin was required to submit its own plan. This led to the Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan. The result was the San Luis Valley water community having a voice in the entire process. Dutton acknowledged the work of many of the leaders that were present.

While the implementation process is ongoing, Dutton expressed optimism that Colorado Water Plan will continue help the Rio Grande Basin and the rest of the state see a brighter future when it comes to water.

#NM sues @usairforce over #PFAS pollution

View of Alamogordo, New Mexico. By Foreverstocks – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38802827

From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

On Tuesday, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) filed a complaint in federal district court, asking a judge to compel the Air Force to act on, and fund, cleanup at the two bases near Clovis and Alamogordo.

“We have significant amounts of PFAS in the groundwater, under both Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases,” NMED Secretary James Kenney told NM Political Report.

PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that move through groundwater and biological systems. Even in small amounts, exposure to PFAS increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancer and problems like ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

“We want the groundwater cleaned up in the shortest amount of time possible, and we think at this point litigation is our best and fastest approach,” Kenney said. NMED and the New Mexico Department of Health are continuing to collect groundwater samples, and the two agencies are also working closely with the state’s Department of Agriculture. “As soon as we have those results, which should be in the next couple of weeks, we will determine the best way [to engage with the community],” he said. That could mean public meetings or roundtable discussions in the communities.

“I personally understand: It’s a bit scary, if you’re in those areas, to know there’s a groundwater issue and [to wonder], ‘How am I affected?” Kenney said. “We need to get some scientific data to get the answers to those questions.”

Groundwater tests at Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis showed concentrations of PFAS exceeding 26,000 nanograms per liter, or more than 300 times the federal lifetime drinking water exposure limit. In off-base wells, including those that supply drinking water to dairies, levels ranged from 25 to 1,600 nanograms per liter. The human health advisory for a lifetime drinking water exposure to PFAS is 70 parts per trillion, or 70 nanograms per liter. At Holloman, contamination levels in some wells were 18,000 times the federal health advisory for PFAS.