Southwestern Water Conservation District board shuffled

San Juan wildflowers.

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

Board President John Porter and Vice President Steve Fearn, representatives of Montezuma and San Juan counties, respectively, were voted off the board by commissioners in their respective counties.

Fearn, a prominent longtime coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, has represented San Juan County on the water conservation board since 1990 and served as vice president since 2007.

But San Juan County commissioners said Fearn’s representation no longer reflects county values, which have changed significantly since Silverton’s mining days to include more recreational interests with respect to water, county attorney Paul Sunderland said…

Commissioners voted to appoint Charlie Smith, part-time Silverton resident and eight-year general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, as Fearn’s replacement.

“Commissioners thought Charlie Smith would better represent San Juan County,” Sunderland said. “He has a lot of water expertise, and he’s probably more in tune with the wants of the current board. Historically, San Juan County has been largely dominated by mining interests, and Steve Fearn is very much associated with those interests, but the board’s interests have shifted more toward recreation.”

The fact that the state of New Mexico named Fearn in a lawsuit as a “potentially responsible party” for mine pollution in the Gladstone area was noted in the county’s decision, Sunderland said.

“It’s definitely something we’re aware of, given his ownership interests around Gladstone,” he said…

The board consists of nine members representing Archuleta, Dolores, Hinsdale, La Plata, Mineral, Montezuma, Montrose, San Juan and San Miguel counties. Board directors can serve an unlimited number of three-year terms.

“I want to make sure the county’s views are represented,” Smith told The Durango Herald. “I have an understanding of their water rights, and a lot of work needs to be done to secure those rights and make sure the uses align with what the county envisions.”

Montezuma County commissioners selected Don Schwindt to replace Porter, who was general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District for 22 years and a Southwestern board director for 26.

Schwindt is a director on the Dolores Water Conservancy District board and a critic of the Dolores National Conservation Area, a controversial proposal in Montezuma County to congressionally protect land and water along the lower Dolores…

Porter thinks the proposal, criticized by Montezuma County commissioners, influenced his removal. Under Porter’s leadership, Southwestern Water Conservation District contributed funds to hire a water attorney to rewrite draft National Conservation Area legislation, which Porter thinks was perceived as support for the bill.

“I perceived the funding as an effort so everyone involved knew all the problems, the facts on both sides and could intelligently make a decision,” Porter said. “I think Southwestern’s involvement was perceived by others that we were very much in favor of the NCA legislation. That had something to do with it, and the fact that I’m 80-plus, and my 26 years on the board.”

Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Suckla said the commission chose Schwindt because of his water knowledge, and the conservation area proposal did not play a part in the decision.

“Don has shown ways that he would save water and retain water for farmers and ranchers,” Suckla said. “John Porter is an icon for Montezuma County. He was involved in the management of the lake (McPhee Reservoir), and all the benefits the county has received from that is because of the work he did, but it felt like it was time for new eyes.”

When Porter joined the board in 1990, he said water storage and dam construction were the district’s primary focus, including such projects as Lake Nighthorse. But gradually, the focus broadened to consider recreational water use and water quality.

Porter refers to his tenure as a career highlight, and said the importance of inter-basin relations and dialogue will only increase as time goes on, water supply dwindles and population grows.

“You’re asking someone who’s biased, but I’ve always felt that the Southwestern board tried its very best to represent all interests,” Porter said. “True, the majority of the members, including myself, were and still are agriculture-oriented. Yet to me, as Colorado’s population grows, it’s inevitable that our water supply will be drying up agriculture. And that’s not in our best interest, but I don’t see a way of satisfying municipal needs that we’re going to have without drying up some ag use. Irrigation takes a lot of water, and just that amount converted to municipal use will take care of a lot of families in an urban situation.”

@WaterCenterCMU report: “Conservation Planning for the #ColoradoRiver in Utah”

Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt (Christine G. Rasmussen and Patrick B. Shafroth):

Strategic planning is increasingly recognized as necessary for providing the greatest possible conservation benefits for restoration efforts. Rigorous, science-based resource assessment, combined with acknowledgement of broader basin trends, provides a solid foundation for determining effective projects. It is equally important that methods used to prioritize conservation investments are simple and practical enough that they can be implemented in a timely manner and by a variety of resource managers. With the help of local and regional natural resource professionals, we have developed a broad-scale, spatially-explicit assessment of 146 miles (~20,000 acres) of the Colorado River mainstem in Grand and San Juan Counties, Utah that will function as the basis for a systematic, practical approach to conservation planning and riparian restoration prioritization. For the assessment we have:

1) acquired, modified or created spatial datasets of Colorado River bottomland conditions; 2) synthesized those datasets into habitat suitability models and estimates of natural recovery potential, fire risk and relative cost; 3) investigated and described dominant ecosystem trends and human uses; and 4) suggested site selection and prioritization approaches. Partner organizations (The Nature Conservancy, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Utah Forestry Fire and State Lands) are using the assessment and datasets to identify and prioritize a suite of restoration actions to increase ecosystem resilience and improve habitat for bottomland species. Primary datasets include maps of bottomland cover types, bottomland extent, maps of areas inundated during high and low flow events, as well as locations of campgrounds, roads, fires, invasive vegetation treatment areas and other features.

Assessment of conditions and trends in the project area entailed: 1) assemblage of existing data on geology, changes in stream flow, and predictions of future conditions; 2) identification of fish and wildlife species present and grouping species into Conservation Elements (CEs) based on habitat needs; and 3) acquisition, review and creation of spatial datasets characterizing vegetation, fluvial geomorphic and human features within the bottomland. Interpretation of aerial imagery and assimilation of pre-existing spatial data were central to our efforts in characterizing resource conditions. Detailed maps of vegetation and channel habitat features in the project area were generated from true color, high resolution (0.3 m) imagery flown September 16, 2010. We also mapped channel habitat features at high flow on 1.0-m resolution, publicly available, true color imagery. We obtained additional layers such as land ownership, roads, fire history, non-native vegetation treatment areas, and recreational use features from public sources and project partners.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A new report published by Colorado Mesa University aims to help in planning and prioritizing river restoration projects along 146 miles of the Colorado River from the Colorado-Utah border to the upper reaches of Lake Powell.

“Conservation Planning for the Colorado River in Utah” is the third in a series of scientific and technical reports issued through CMU’s Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center.

Gigi Richard, a geology professor and faculty director for the center, said the report is available to anyone who’s interested, at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center/scientific-technical-reports.html…

The river restoration report was written by Patrick Shafroth of the USGS and Christine Rasmussen of EcoMainstream Contracting in Durango.

It’s expected that federal and state agencies, conservation groups and others will be able to use the assessment and datasets to identify and prioritize projects to improve wildlife habitat and make the river’s ecosystems more resilient. Already, such entities have been involved in an effort called the Colorado River Conservation Planning Project…

The datasets include maps of existing habitats, areas inundated during high and low flows, and locations of campgrounds, roads, invasive vegetation treatment areas and other features.

The report says that “detailed resource maps can be used in project planning to help maximize the benefits of restoration dollars and minimize overlap of restoration efforts.” The report can identify where conservation efforts could address multiple habitat needs and prioritize projects with the potential to recover without intervention.

rasmussen_shaftroth_2016_watercenter_cmu

Colorado-based rafters miss at record through the Grand Canyon

The U.S. Whitewater Rafting Team trains on its custom-built raft in December on the Colorado River. The team was on pace for a record descent of the 277-mile canyon [January 14-15, 2017] when a wave broke the frame and punctured a tube. Photo Special to The Denver Post by Forest Woodward.
The U.S. Whitewater Rafting Team trains on its custom-built raft in December on the Colorado River. The team was on pace for a record descent of the 277-mile canyon [January 14-15, 2017] when a wave broke the frame and punctured a tube. Photo Special to The Denver Post by Forest Woodward.

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

In the pitch black of night on the Colorado River’s burly Lava Falls rapid, an aluminum bar had snapped and punctured a 4-inch hole in the inflatable beam of the custom-built craft. The air hissing from the punctured tube wasn’t just the sound of trouble. It signaled the dissipation of a dream to paddle the 277-mile length of the Colorado River’s Grand Canyon in record time…

In the roiling eddy below Lava, the sleep-deprived paddlers — they had been rowing non-stop for more than 20 hours — boiled water to heat a patch. It was dark and raining. The patches weren’t sticking. The tube wouldn’t inflate to the hard pressure needed for speed…

The six members of the U.S. Whitewater Rafting Team — the Eagle River Valley’s Jeremiah Williams, John Mark Seelig, Robbie Prechtl and Kurt Kincel, Seth Mason of Carbondale and Matt Norfleet of Breckenridge — spent more than a year building this mission. The team before them — the world champion Behind the 8-Ball rafting team — had set a 24-hour record in a similar vessel in 2006, paddling from the Upper Colorado below Gore Canyon to Moab.

Work beginning for Toots Hole on Yampa River — Steamboat Today

The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.
The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

From Steamboat Today (Teresa Ristow):

Work begins [November 21, 2016] on a new whitewater feature on the Yampa River adjacent to Little Toots Park.

The new Toots Hole will be similar to the A-Wave upstream, which was reconstructed in December 2015.

“There is going to be a drop feature on the right-hand side and then a passage on the left for fish,” said Kent Vertrees, board member for Friends of the Yampa, which is carrying out the project in collaboration with the city of Steamboat Springs Parks and Community Services Department. “It will create a good, fun wave for tubers and also create some fish habitat.”

The project will include river bank stabilization, riparian habitat restoration and other improvements.

In December 2015, the river’s A-Wave was reconstructed, as the drop-off had become troublesome for tubers who could hurt themselves or become stuck in the wave.

“At low water, it was keeping tubers in the hole, or tubers were flipping in and getting stuck,” Vertrees said. “Now, it flushes.”

Both the A-Wave and Toots Hole projects are being funded by Friends of the Yampa, thanks to grants the organization received from the Colorado Water Conservancy board’s Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable and the Yampa Valley Community Foundation.

Friends of the Yampa also organizes additional fundraisers, including its annual Big Snow Dance, which took place Saturday. The event raised more than $12,000 through an auction, money that will also support the Toots Hole project.

“That money goes directly into the river for this project,” Vertrees said. “The community of river people and Friends of the Yampa folks have really supported this project.”

The improvements to the river were identified in the 2008 Yampa River Structural Plan, and the two projects together are expected to cost about $130,000.

Vertrees said Toots Hole is the last component of what he calls the Yampa River Boating Park, a series of river features through downtown.

“We’ve created this interesting little urban river canyon, and we’re just adding to it,” he said. “We’re really excited about the conclusion of this project.”

Vertrees thanked Rick Mewborn, of Nordic Excavating, for his work on the projects, including donations of time and rock.

“Without him as a partner, this wouldn’t have been as successful,” he said.

Work on the project is expected to last about two weeks, and periodic closures of the Yampa River Core Trail might occur while work is taking place.

Healthy Rivers board works to keep water in the river — Aspen Public Radio

Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, looking downstream, with diversions into the Twin Lakes Tunnel at over 600 cfs. While impressive at this level, the whitewater frenzy that resulted after the tunnels were closed was far more intense. Photo Brent Gardner-Smith <a href="http://aspenjournalism.org">Aspen Journalism</a>.
Roaring Fork River, Grottos, on Monday morning June 13, 2016, looking downstream, with diversions into the Twin Lakes Tunnel at over 600 cfs. While impressive at this level, the whitewater frenzy that resulted after the tunnels were closed was far more intense. Photo Brent Gardner-Smith Aspen Journalism.

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

Healthy Rivers and Streams board members recently took a field trip to the construction zone on the Roaring Fork River, where backhoes are digging up the riverbed. By February, this should be a man-made whitewater park with two waves for boaters to surf.

Board chair Lisa Tasker said the ultimate goal of this project is to keep water in the river during low flow years, using a water right designated for recreation.

“When you get a recreational in-channel diversion water right, you have to put structures in, and then you have to prove that people are recreating in there,” Tasker said.

With a price-tag of nearly $800,000, the whitewater park is the biggest project the Healthy Rivers and Streams fund has tackled…

Now it is turning its attention to the City of Aspen, which wants to reserve the right to build reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks. The municipality filed last month with the state to keep its conditional water storage right.

“We’re a healthy rivers board, and we’re going to respond in favor of a healthy river and a healthy ecosystem,” Tasker said. “So, we’re going to come out probably fairly strongly, because that is our mission.”

At a meeting in late October, the river board agreed to urge Pitkin County Commissioners to formally file in opposition to the City of Aspen in water court. Commissioner Rachel Richards is not warm to the idea.

“Just forcing the city to relinquish those water rights actually does nothing to protect the long-term health of the Castle Creek or the Maroon Creek,” Richards said.

Richards said she’d like to see the city maintain the rights while researching alternatives, like digging into a deeper aquifer or working to change Colorado water law entirely.

If nothing else, Richards and Tasker agree, the issue has opened a new conversation and interest in local water issues.

“I think it’s going to cause people to become a lot more creative and a lot more imaginative as to how they’re going to handle a shortage of water in the future,” Tasker said.

The county has until Dec. 31 to file in opposition to the city.

Read Brent Gardner-Smith’s analysis of Aspen’s diligence filing.

#ColoradoRiver Economics: “…our new economy is based on water in the rivers in western Colorado” — Jim Pokrandt #COriver

Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows
Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

From KRCC (Maeve Conran):

It’s been almost a century since the Colorado River Compact was created, divvying up the resources of this mighty waterway between seven states and Mexico. That means almost 40 million people are dependent on the river in some way. Traditionally, the economic value of the river was based on what the water could be used for when extracted—things like agriculture, mining, and industry. Now, more people are pointing to the economic value of keeping water in the river itself.

The Fraser River in Grand County is a tributary of the Colorado River, which starts in Rocky Mountain National Park. It runs through the heart of the town of Fraser and neighboring Winter Park. These towns attract skiers in winter and fly fishers and outdoor enthusiasts the rest of the year.

“The recreation is all based around the river… it’s the absolute base of the recreational system,” says Dennis Saffell, a real estate broker in the mountain communities of Grand and Summit Counties. Saffell says there’s a direct connection to property values and proximity to the river…

Saffell says a loss of flow in the river would likely decrease the values for all properties in these mountain communities that are dependant on the river for a tourism economy.

That’s something that others in western slope communities are well aware of, including Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River District, the principal water policy and planning agency for the Colorado River Basin within the state.

“We understand that water left in the river is important to the economy,” says Pokdradt, “and if we have dried up rivers then we’d have degradation to our western slope economy.”

Pokrandt says the fortunes of many western slope towns hinge on understanding that the strength of local economies is beginning to shift from taking water out of the river to leaving it in.

“Rafting, that’s a big deal, skiing that’s a big deal now, hunting, fishing… this is our economy here on the west slope,” says Pokrandt. “Yes, ag is still big, and yes there’s still some mining, but our new economy is based on water in the rivers in western Colorado.”

Historically, most Colorado water rights have involved uses that divert water from the streams, but back in the early 1970s lawmakers began to recognize the need to create rights allowing water to remain in the river, to help protect ecology. But that was just a first step. Now 43 years later, a lot of water is still being taken out of the Colorado River basin and diverted to the east. There are 13 major trans mountain diversions and many other smaller ones.

It’s a concern for advocates like Craig Mackey, co-director of the non-profit Protect the Flows.

“In the 21st century we have an economic reason to have the river itself, the recreation economy, the tourism economy and I think the hardest one to quantify is a quality of life economy,” says Mackey.

Protect the Flows advocates for conservation of the Colorado River Basin, pointing to the connection between a healthy river and healthy economies.

“People want to live here, they want to locate here, they want to grow businesses here, they want to raise their families here,” says Mackey. “And water and our snow in our mountains, which becomes the water in our rivers, is a huge driver in that quality of life economy that we’re so lucky to have here in the state of Colorado.”

Protect the Flows worked with Arizona State University in 2014 on the first study on the economic impact of the Colorado River. It found that the major waterway generates $1.4 trillion in economic benefits annually throughout the entire seven state river basin. In Colorado, the tourism and outdoor recreation economy tied to the river brings in more than $9 billion annually.

The Colorado Water Plan acknowledges the need to keep water in streams, but it also acknowledges the water needs of growing cities.

Realtor Dennis Seffell says even more needs to be done.

“Now it’s time to take a new fresh look as to why it’s important to keep rivers full of water,” Saffell says.

A prolonged drought in the south west, paired with over allocation, has left the Colorado River in a sorry state. Front Range communities, largely dependent on that western water, are having some success with conservation. But with an additional 2 million people expected to move to the Denver metro area over the next 25 years, demand will only increase.

Connecting the Drops is a collaboration between Rocky Mountain Community Radio stations and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, with support from CoBank.

River Run now open — The Littleton Independent

Oxford Reach Whitewater Park Looking Upstream Toward Oxford Avenue via Arapahoe County.
Oxford Reach Whitewater Park Looking Upstream Toward Oxford Avenue via Arapahoe County.

From The Littleton Independent (Tom Munds):

About 125 invited guests gathered for the Aug. 25 official River Run Recreational Project opening, while perhaps proof of the project’s success was the fact that there were dozens of children on the playground and dozens of enthusiasts surfing the South Platte River.

The river amenities that made surfing possible drew a lot of attention…

Nancy Doty, Arapahoe County commissioner, said during the River Run opening ceremonies the project is an example of great unified cooperation.

She said the project became a reality through the efforts of the South Platte River Working Group. The group membership is made up of individuals representing Englewood, Sheridan, Littleton, Arapahoe County, South Suburban Parks and Recreation District, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Urban Drainage and Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The group’s proposals are aimed at creating more recreational opportunities along the seven miles of the South Platte River that run through Englewood, Littleton and Sheridan. River Run is the first major project undertaken and includes a playground, pavilion, trailhead and restrooms set along the eastern bank of the river. Crews have transformed and beautified both banks of the river, and paved trails provide ADA access to the banks of the river, where the chutes create whitewater for tubers, boaters and surfers.

Grants from Arapahoe County Open Space fund as well as money Englewood received from the open space fund and from lottery funds provided the roughly $800,000 needed to construct the trailhead.

Another trailhead amenity was funded recently when Great Outdoors Colorado approved Sheridan’s grant request for $350,000 to construct and equip the playground adjacent to the river…

Other river amenity projects are planned or under construction. For example, South Suburban Parks and Recreation District applied for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant to construct a walking and running trail along the east bank of the river from Union to Oxford avenues. The estimated cost of the east-side trail is about $3.3 million.

There are plans for bank enhancements along much of the seven-mile stretch as well as creation of a whitewater tubing and boating channel between West Union and West Oxford avenues. Smaller trailheads are planned at Union and Belleview avenues.