Pitkin County and West Slope close to securing 1,000 AF of water for upper Roaring Fork

The upper Roaring Fork River, east of Aspen, near the river’s confluence with Difficult Creek. The stretch of river between Difficult Creek and Maroon Creek is often plagued by low flows in late summer and fall.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

As a way to settle a 2009 state water court case led by Pitkin County and the Colorado River District, the Front Range city of Aurora has agreed to let as much as 1,000 acre-feet of water run down the upper Roaring Fork River each year instead of diverting the water under Independence Pass.

The pending settlement could mean that about 10 to 30 cubic feet per second of additional water could flow down the river through Aspen in summer and fall.

It’s an amount of water that Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said would be “visibly noticeable” and would help bolster flows in the often water-short stretch of the Roaring Fork between Difficult and Maroon creeks.

“It’s exciting,” Ely said. “It’s not very often you get to put water into the upper Roaring Fork. These opportunities are pretty limited, and I’m not sure if we’ll ever see another one.”

A June 13 memo from Ely on the agreement states that “the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board has long recognized this reach of the Roaring Fork as one of the most stressed reaches of the Roaring Fork” and that “the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s State of the Watershed report identifies the upper Roaring Fork just above Aspen and heading into town as being severely degraded.”

The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners is expected to approve the settlement in the form of an intergovernmental agreement with Aurora on Wednesday.

Aurora’s city council also is expected to approve the agreement, as is the Colorado River District board of directors at its July meeting. A Water Court judge has set a July 20 deadline for the parties to file the settlement.

Officials with Pitkin County and the Colorado River District see the deal with Aurora as a victory, especially as some estimates, according to Ely, place the value of water in Aurora at $50,000 an acre-foot, which makes the 1,000 acre-feet of water potentially worth $50 million.

The settlement is also of high value to officials at the Colorado River District, who led the efforts of the West Slope entities in the case.

“I think it’s a big deal,” said Peter Fleming, the general counsel for the Colorado River District, which represents 15 counties on the Western Slope. “I think it’s going to be a good deal for Pitkin County, the Roaring Fork River, and the West Slope as a whole. And frankly, I think it’s a pretty good deal for Aurora, as well.”

But Tom Simpson, a water resource supervisor with Aurora, said it’s a “bittersweet” deal for the growing Front Range city.

“We’ve worked hard on this agreement over the last year,” Simpson said. “It is bittersweet, but we are happy that we are finally there.”

The deal lets Aurora retain its current use of 2,416 acre-feet of water it diverts on average each year from the top of the Fryingpan River Basin, but Aurora also is giving up 1,000 acre-feet of water it now diverts from the top of the Roaring Fork River Basin.

Aurora also is agreeing to abide by operating protocols and future potential use of the senior water rights on the Colorado River now tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant in Glenwood Canyon. That agreement could limit the amount of additional water Aurora can divert in the future from the Colorado River Basin.

The provisions of the agreement relating to the Shoshone water right also include an acknowledgement that the senior water right might someday be changed to include an instream flow right rather than the water being diverted out of the river and sent to the hydropower plant.

“Aurora will not oppose an agreement between a West Slope entity or entities, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and any other entity entered for the purpose of adding instream flow as an additional use of the senior hydropower right,” the agreement states.

Simpson agreed the overall deal represented a “haircut” for Aurora’s water rights in the Colorado River Basin.

“Yes, we’re going to get the 2,416 acre-feet out of Busk, but we’re going to make these other deliveries on the Roaring Fork, and we might lose just a little bit of water on the Shoshone protocol,” he said. “It’s a haircut, absolutely.”

On the other hand, Simpson said “while this agreement is not perfect, we feel like it is a good agreement, and preserves some of our Busk-Ivanhoe water and lets us all move forward.”

A view of Ivanhoe Reservoir, where water from the upper Fryingpan River headwaters is collected before being sent under the divide to Busk Creek, Turquoise Reservoir, and then the Front Range.

Started in 2009

In December 2009, Aurora filed a water rights application in Division 2 Water Court in Pueblo to change the use of its water rights in the Busk-Ivanhoe transmountain diversion system in the Fryingpan River headwaters.

The system, built in the 1920s, gathers water from Ivanhoe, Pan, Lyle, and Hidden Lake creeks and diverts the water through the Ivanhoe Tunnel to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville before it is sent to East Slope cities. The system was built to deliver water to irrigators in the lower Arkansas River basin.

The water rights to the system carry appropriation dates from 1921 to 1927, which makes them junior to the senior water rights on the Colorado River near Grand Junction known as the “Cameo call.”

The Pueblo Board of Water Works bought half of the Busk-Ivanhoe system in 1972, and Aurora gradually secured its half-ownership in the system between 1986 and 2001.

In its 2009 application, Aurora told the water court it wanted to change the use of its water in the Busk-Ivanhoe system from irrigation to municipal use.

However, it also conceded it had already been using the Busk-Ivanhoe water for municipal purposes in Aurora, even though its water-right decree limited the use of the water to irrigation in the lower Arkansas River valley. It also came to light that Aurora was first storing the water in Turquoise Reservoir without an explicit decreed right to do so.

That caught the attention of Pitkin County, the Colorado River District, a host of other Western Slope water interests, and the state engineer’s office, which administers water rights.

As Ely put it in a June 13 memo to the Pitkin County commissioners, “In 1987, Aurora began using Busk-Ivanhoe water for undecreed municipal and residential purposes in an undecreed area, the South Platte Valley, after storing the water in an undecreed manner in Aurora system reservoirs.”

Aurora’s stance was that since the water had been diverted under the Continental Divide, it didn’t matter how it used or stored the water, as it should make no difference to the West Slope. But an array of West Slope entities, including the Colorado River District, disagreed with Aurora’s position.

In July 2013 the Western Slope entities and the state took Aurora to a five-day trial in Div. 2 Water Court in Pueblo, arguing that Aurora should not get credit for its 22 years of undecreed water use and storage.

“It was always an issue of fact at trial as to how much water was in play because it depends on how you calculate the yield of the project,” Ely said.

In 2014, thought, the district court judge in Division 2 ruled in Aurora’s favor, and the West Slope interests then appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The appeal process prompted a host of entities on both sides of the Continental Divide to come forward and argue aspects of the case before the court. It also prompted a scolding of Aurora by former Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs over the use of undecreed water rights.

In 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision, ruled in favor of the Western Slope, and remanded Aurora’s original change application back to the lower court.

“The Supreme Court wrote that notwithstanding the fact that the change application and original decree concerned developed transmountain water, water used for undecreed purposes cannot be included in a calculation for historic consumptive use and is therefore excluded from water available for change of use,” Ely wrote in his June 13 memo.

So, rather than going back to Water Court and continuing to fight over the potential size of the Busk-Ivanhoe rights, which the West Slope now saw as being between zero and well-less than 2,416 acre-feet, Aurora began negotiating in January 2017 with the Western Slope entities still in the case, which included Pitkin County, Eagle County, the Colorado River District, the Grand Valley Water Users Association, the Basalt Water Conservancy District, Eagle County, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, and Ute Water Conservancy District.

Today, each of those entities is also a party to the intergovernmental agreement expected to be submitted to the water court in July, along with a proposed decree for Aurora’s Busk-Ivanhoe rights.

Ely said Pitkin County didn’t start out in the case with an eye on securing 1,000 acre-feet for the Roaring Fork, but did have a local interest in the operation of the Busk-Ivanhoe project.

“We weren’t doing it to obtain an end result, we were doing it because the [Busk-Ivanhoe] project is in our backyard and we felt it was the right thing to do,” Ely said. “And all the other dialogue developed after the trial and the Supreme Court decision.”

At the time of the 2016 Colorado Supreme Court decision, Pitkin County had spent $353,000 in legal and other fees in the case, using money brought in by a tax to fund the county’s Healthy River and Streams program, which includes litigation in water court.

Since then, Ely said the county had spent an additional $27,300 for hydrology and engineering work, but had not spent more on additional outside legal help, as he and Assistant County Attorney Laura Makar handled the settlement negotiations for the county.

The dam across the main stem of the upper Roaring Fork that diverts water from Lost Man Creek and the Roaring Fork into a tunnel under Green Mountain and, eventually, into Grizzly Reservoir and the tunnel under Independence Pass to the Arkansas River basin. Some of the water owned by Aurora will be bypassed at this point to run down the Roaring Fork.

Pan, or Fork?

For Pitkin County and other Western Slope entities, it made more sense to negotiate with Aurora for some of the water it owns in the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes system rather than the Busk-Ivanhoe system, as any water bypassed by the Busk-Ivanhoe system would be scooped up by the Fry-Ark Project, which sits below the Busk-Ivanhoe system in the upper Fryingpan valley and also diverts water to the East Slope.

Aurora owns 5 percent of the shares in the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which operates the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System. Its share of the water diverted each year from the top of the Roaring Fork equals about 2,100 acre-feet a year, so the 1,000 acre-feet of water equals about half of Aurora’s water in the Twin Lakes company.

In the 10 years from 2007 through 2016, Twin Lakes Co. diverted a total of 485,762 acre-feet of water from the upper Roaring Fork River Basin through its diversion system, putting the 10-year average for that period at 48,567 acre feet. 2011 was the biggest year of diversions since 2007, with 67,463 acre-feet diverted, and 2015 was the lowest year since 2007, with 18,374 acre-feet diverted.

Colorado Springs owns 55 percent of the shares in Twin Lakes Co., Pueblo 23 percent, Pueblo West 12 percent, and Aurora 5 percent. There are also other minority shareholders, holding 5 percent of the shares, still using the water from the system for agriculture.

Twin Lakes is not a party to the intergovernmental agreement between Aurora and the West Slope entities, but it is willing to work with all involved to make the water deliveries as beneficial as possible for the Roaring Fork River.

Ely said Pitkin Country was grateful for the willingness of the Twin Lakes Co. to work with the county and the Colorado River District to release the water in a way that benefits the river, even if it means more work for the operators of the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes system.

According to Kevin Lusk, the president of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and a senior engineer at Colorado Springs Utilities, the company is simply responding to the desires of a shareholder in the company, Aurora.

He also said it’s legal under a 1976 water-rights decree held by Twin Lakes to bypass water for use on the West Slope instead of diverting it under the Continental Divide.

“The decree allows for this type of operation and so really all we’re doing as a company is accommodating the request of one of our shareholders to do something that was contemplated and provided for in the decree,” Lusk said.

And as part of the agreement, representatives from Pitkin County, the Colorado River District, Aurora, and Twin Lakes will meet each year to agree on a delivery schedule for the water that describes the “desired rate, timing, amount, location and ultimate use of the water, as well as the operational needs and constraints” of the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes diversion system.

In a letter attached to the agreement laying out how Aurora and the Twin Lakes Co. plan to manage the releases, Aurora said it “would prefer the water to be delivered at times of the year and at locations that will provide the most benefit to the Roaring Fork River stream flow. Typically this will be in the second half of the summer, beginning July 15, through the fall season.”

And Pitkin County feels the same way, according to Ely.

“We would like it delivered later in the year when the flows of the river start to go down,” he said.

However, Lusk at Twin Lakes said if the West Slope entities wait too long in the season to bypass the water, it may not be there to bypass.

“I know that there is a great interest in saving a lot of this water and bypassing it at the end of the season,” Lusk said. “But it’s going to be a bit of a balancing act. You’ve got to take the water when it’s there, because if you don’t take advantage of it there won’t be any to release later.”

Lusk also said that if the West Slope really wanted to take full advantage of the water, it might consider building a reservoir above Aspen to store the water at peak runoff and then release it later in the season.

Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek, well above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River at Lincoln Gulch Campground. The reservoir briefly stores water before it is diverted under the Continental Divide.

Flows on the Fork

According to a draft resolution to be voted on by the Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday, there were several factors that went into the county’s goal of acquiring 1,000 acre-feet per year of water for the upper Fork, including “the expected amount of yield for Aurora in the Busk-Ivanhoe system; existing in-basin and out-of-basin diversions from the Roaring Fork River between Independence Pass through the City of Aspen; potential future demand on the river; extent of existing conditional water rights; and the results of a stream analysis and channel measurement study.”

If the deal is approved, as soon as next year 700 acre-feet of Aurora’s water is expected to be captured briefly in the Independence Pass system, which includes dams on Lost Man Creek, the main stem of the Roaring Fork River, and on Grizzly Creek, and then released down either the Fork or Lincoln Creek toward Aspen.

Another 200 acre-feet of Aurora’s Twin Lakes water will be held in Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek, which holds 570 acre-feet of water. That water will then be released late in the year, after most transmountain diversions have stopped, to bolster late-season flows in the river.

“So it’s actually reservoir release of previously stored water, while the [700 acre-feet] is a true bypass of water that would have gone through the tunnel that day to the other side,” Lusk said. “It’s new for us. We typically don’t operate the reservoir that way. Typically we would run that reservoir quite a bit lower, just for safety-of-dam reasons. But this change in operation is going to be holding the reservoir up much fuller for a lot longer, and we just need to watch the behavior of the dam.”

Another 100 acre-feet of water could also eventually be left in the Roaring Fork each year after a complicated exchange-of-water arrangement is worked out with Aurora and other parties on the Fryingpan River, which brings the potential total water left in the Fork to 1,000 acre-feet.

There is also a drought contingency provision which will allow Aurora to bypass 100 acre-feet less than they would have under the deal if the water level in their system of reservoirs falls below 60 percent on April 1 in a given year. So in a dry year, that could bring additional flows in the Roaring Fork back to 900 acre feet.

The upper Roaring Fork River at the Cascades at about 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016, after Lincoln Creek surged into the Fork, about an hour after the Twin Lakes Tunnel was closed. When the Twin Lakes system is closed for whatever reason, as it has been the past several seasons, the Roaring Fork River leaps to life with renewed intensity.

Other provisions

The pending Busk-Ivanhoe settlement also includes a provision that allows the Basalt Water Conservancy District to store 50 acre-feet of water in Ivanhoe Reservoir, which holds 1,200 acre-feet of water and serves more as a forebay for the Ivanhoe Tunnel diversions than a storage reservoir.

And, in a provision to Aurora’s benefit, the West Slope entities, including Pitkin County, have agreed not to fight, at least on a wholesale basis, the permitting of two potential reservoirs that Aurora is working on, Wild Horse Reservoir in South Park and Box Creek Reservoir, which could hold between 20,000 and 60,000 acre-feet on private land on the south flank of Mt. Elbert.

“Any participation in the permitting processes by the West Slope Parties will not seek to prevent the project in its entirety and comments or requests may be raised only for the purpose of addressing water related impacts caused directly by either of the two above specified projects on the West Slope,” the draft agreement between Aurora and the West Slope says.

The concession from the West Slope is significant as Box Creek Reservoir will be able to store water from the West Slope.

The West Slope entities also agree not to oppose changes in diversion points tied to the Homestake transmountain diversion system in the Eagle River Basin, not to oppose Aurora’s efforts to repair the Ivanhoe Tunnel, which is also called the Carlton Tunnel. The tunnel was originally built as a railroad tunnel, and then used as a highway tunnel.

Finally, the parties to the deal have agreed, in what’s called a “diligence detente,” not to challenge in water court for 15 years a list of conditional water rights, held by both East Slope and West Slope entities, that are required to periodically file due-diligence applications with the state.

The list of conditional water rights includes rights held by Aurora tied to the Homestake project and rights by the Southeastern Water Conservancy District tied to the Fry-Ark Project. They also include rights held by the Colorado River District on a number of West Slope water projects, including the potential Iron Mountain Reservoir near Redcliff and the Wolcott Reservoir near Wolcott.

Notably, the agreement does not include provisions to legally shepherd the water from the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes system all the way to the confluence of Maroon Creek, so it’s possible that diverters on the river near Aspen, such as the Salvation Ditch, could pick up the water left in the river.

However, Ely said the county will seek cooperation from diverters on the river near Aspen.

“We’ve had some conversations with water users on this side of the hill, and we’ve had conversations with the Division 5 engineer’s office, and we’re hopeful that when the water is being bypassed and put in the river and there is an increase of flow, folks won’t take advantage of that and we’ll be able to get it down through Aspen,” Ely said. “And eventually, you know things will change, and we hope to have that water associated with its own water right, so we can call it further down, but that won’t be the case right away.”

An additional benefit to the deal, according to Ely, is that the management of the 1,000 acre-foot pool of water from Aurora may also lead to better management of a 3,000 acre-foot pool of water also available in the Independence Pass-Twin Lakes system.

That pool was created to mitigate the impacts to the Roaring Fork River from diversions by the Fry-Ark Project on Hunter, Midway, and No Name creeks, which drain into the Fork in central Aspen. And while Twin Lakes releases the water down the Roaring Fork, releases from the Fry-Ark Project replace the water in Twin Lakes Reservoir, where both transbasin diversion systems can send water.

For years, the water from the 3,000 acre-foot pool has been released at a rate of 3 cfs on a year-round basis and has not been timed to help bolster low-season flows. Now, given the greater cooperation over the management of the 1,000 acre-foot pool from Aurora, how the 3,000 acre-foot pool from Fry-Ark is managed may also change, to the benefit of the river.

Aspen Journalism is collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water with The Aspen Times. The Times ran a shorter version of this story on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

Government Puts Outdoor Industry Size at $373 Billion — Outside Magazine

From Outside Magazine (Frederick Reimers):

The outdoor recreation economy is officially a big deal. On [February 14, 2018], the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released numbers detailing the economic power of the outdoor recreation industry, showing it comprises 2 percent ($373.7 billion) of the entire 2016 U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

It’s an impressive figure that puts it on the scale of industries like construction (4.3 percent); legal services (1.3 percent); agriculture, including farming, forestry, and fishing (1 percent); and, most significantly, mining, oil, and gas extraction (1.4 percent). The report also stipulates that the outdoor industry is growing by 3.8 percent, a faster rate than the overall economy (2.8 percent).

The BEA report was two years in the making, initiated when President Obama signed the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act. Signed in 2016, it directed the federal agency to measure the outdoor economy with the same tools it uses to chart other industries and the economy as a whole. “We’ve wanted our industry to be counted as a discrete sector of the economy for more than a decade now,” says Amy Roberts, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). “We are really pleased to have data that allows us to talk about our industry in the same ways that other industries that use public lands are discussed.”

@USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Announces New Funding Opportunity for Sustainable Agricultural Systems

Graphic via Aksik.org.

Here’s the release from the USDA (Kelly Sprute):

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced the availability of up to $80 million in funding for integrated projects to increase sustainable production of food and agricultural products. Funding is made through a new program in NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) – Sustainable Agricultural Systems (SAS) program. AFRI is authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, which aims to address challenges in food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences.

SAS program focuses on system-level approaches that promote transformational changes in food and agricultural systems within the next 25 years. SAS supports trans-disciplinary projects that aim to transform agricultural systems that provide safe, nutritious, abundant, and affordable food for a growing population, while enhancing economic opportunities for Americans, especially those in rural areas.

Applications are solicited for projects focused on increasing agricultural productivity; optimizing water and nitrogen use efficiency; protecting yield losses from stresses, diseases and pests; reducing food-borne diseases; and advancing development of biobased fuels, chemicals, and coproducts.

Eligible applicants include colleges and universities, 1994 Land-Grant Institutions, and Hispanic serving agricultural colleges and universities. NIFA reviews all proposals accepted in NIFA’s competitive grant programs through an external peer review process. Specific details on panel meetings, review formats, and evaluation criteria may vary among programs.

A letter of intent is a prerequisite for the submission of an application. The deadline to submit a letter of intent is June 27, 2018.

The deadline for applications is Oct. 10, 2018.

See the SAS Program Request for Applications for more details.

#Drought news: Mesa County fire restrictions start Friday

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Stage I fire restrictions are to go into effect Friday, far earlier than the May 22 restrictions in 2012, according to the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and fire chiefs of several municipalities and fire-protection districts. That year, an extremely dry winter, coupled with a hot, dry summer, fueled multiple, destructive wildfires across the state, including a blaze that burned nearly 14,000 acres southwest of De Beque.

Authorities said this is the earliest imposition of fire restrictions they could recall.

“One reason we are going in so early with restrictions is that we are seeing severe to extreme drought conditions and the predictions are that it’s going to be a pretty bad fire season,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Megan Terlecky said.

“The conditions we are experiencing are the most dangerous fire conditions we have had in recent memory and the potential for serious wildfire is staggering,” Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis said. “We want to ensure everyone has ample opportunity to understand these fire restrictions and adjust their plans accordingly.”

Firefighters in the Grand Valley already have battled the 12-acre Rosevale and 220-acre Skipper Island fires, both of which were started by humans and whipped by gusting winds. The Rosevale fire destroyed a mobile home and several outbuildings and vehicles.

Another reason to move quickly was to put residents and others on early notice that fireworks won’t be allowed this year…

Under the restrictions, campfires are allowed only in designated fire pits or fire rings and smoking is allowed outdoors only in a developed recreation site or in an area at least 6 feet in diameter that is clear of all combustible material.

Open-burn season was closed in the county immediately. Agricultural burns are allowed only with a permit issued by the fire marshal, who is to conduct an on-site inspection to verify precautions have been met, issuing permits on a case-by-case basis.

Open-burning season in the city of Grand Junction already was scheduled to end on Monday.

West Drought Monitor April 24, 2018.

Goldman environmental prize: top awards dominated by women for first time — The Guardian

Goldman environment prizewinners 2018: (clockwise from top left) Manny Calonzo, Francia Márquez, Nguy Thi Khanh, LeAnne Walters, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, Claire Nouvian. Photograph: 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize

From The Goldman Environmental Prize:

We are thrilled to introduce the Goldman Environmental Prize winners for 2018! Each of these individuals has moved mountains to protect the environment and their communities, and changed the world in ways large and small. Get to know these incredible Prize winners and learn more about how you can support their work.

Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, South Africa

As grassroots activists, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid built a broad coalition to stop the South African government’s massive secret nuclear deal with Russia. On April 26, 2017, the High Court ruled that the $76 billion nuclear power project was unconstitutional—a landmark legal victory that protected South Africa from an unprecedented expansion of the nuclear industry and production of radioactive waste.

Khanh Nguy Thi, Vietnam

Khanh Nguy Thi used scientific research and engaged Vietnamese state agencies to advocate for sustainable long-term energy projections in Vietnam. Highlighting the cost and environmental impacts of coal power, she partnered with state officials to reduce coal dependency and move toward a greener energy future.

Claire Nouvian, France

A tireless defender of the oceans and marine life, Claire Nouvian led a focused, data-driven advocacy campaign against the destructive fishing practice of deep-sea bottom trawling, successfully pressuring French supermarket giant and fleet owner Intermarché to change its fishing practices. Her coalition of advocates ultimately secured French support for a ban on deep-sea bottom trawling that led to an EU-wide ban.

Manny Calonzo, The Philippines

Manny Calonzo spearheaded an advocacy campaign that persuaded the Philippine government to enact a national ban on the production, use, and sale of lead paint. He then led the development of a third-party certification program to ensure that paint manufacturers meet this standard. As of 2017, 85% of the paint market in the Philippines has been certified as lead safe.

LeeAnne Walters, United States

LeeAnne Walters led a citizens’ movement that tested the tap water in Flint, Michigan, and exposed the Flint water crisis. The results showed that one in six homes had lead levels in water that exceeded the EPA’s safety threshold. Walters’ persistence compelled the government to take action and ensure that residents of Flint have access to clean water.

Francia Márquez, Colombia

A formidable leader of the Afro-Colombian community, Francia Márquez organized the women of La Toma and stopped illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. She exerted steady pressure on the Colombian government and spearheaded a 10-day, 350-mile march of 80 women to the nation’s capital, resulting in the removal of all illegal miners and equipment from her community.

Click here to view the photo gallery.

From The Guardian (Jonathan Watts):

The world’s foremost environmental prize has announced more female winners than ever before, recognising the increasingly prominent role that women are playing in defending the planet.

The struggle for a healthy planet may sometimes feel like a series of defeats, but this year’s Goldman environmental prize celebrates six remarkable success stories, five of them driven by women.

From an anti-nuclear court ruling against former South African president Jacob Zuma and Russian leader Vladimir Putin to a campaign that nudged the Vietnamese government from coal to renewable energy, the winners – unveiled on Earth day yesterday – are all grassroots activists who have taken on powerful vested interests.

In Latin America, the winner is Francia Márquez, an Afro-Colombian community leader who led a 10-day, 350-mile march of 80 women from the Amazon to Bogotá that prompted the government to send troops to remove illegal miners who were polluting rivers with cyanide and mercury.

Like many previous winners, she faces immense risks. The dangers of environmental activism have been evident in the murder of two Goldman-prize recipients in the past two years.

The 2015 winner Berta Cáceres – a Honduran indigenous rights and anti-dam campaigner, was killed less than a year after collecting the award. Ten months later, a 2005 winner – Mexican activist Isidro Baldenegro López – was gunned down in the Sierra Madre mountain range. Earlier this month, one of last year’s winners, Rodrigue Katembo – a park ranger in the Virunga sanctuary for mountain gorillas – lost six of his colleagues in a massacre by militia groups.

Márquez said insecurity is also a fact of life in her campaign.

“We constantly receive death threats from militias, leaders, organisations and communities. Protecting the environment and land will always result in dispute between those who want the territory to live and those who want it to fill their pockets with money,” she told the Guardian. “This award is a recognition of the collective struggle of all peoples in the world who care for the environment … and all the leaders who have been killed for the cause of caring for our common home.”

A law student and a single mother of two, the 35-year-old has been an environment and community activist since she joined a campaign against a hydroelectric dam at the age of 13.

The increasingly prominent role of women in environmental activism has been recognised by this year’s prizes. Since 1990, six awards – one for each habitable continent – have been announced by the Goldman prize foundation, which was set up by an member of the Levi Strauss family who made a fortune in the insurance business.

This is the first time that five of the six are women. The winners include South African anti-nuclear activists Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, Vietnamese clean-energy advocate Nguy Thi Khanh, US clean-water defender LeeAnne Walters, and French marine-life champion Claire Nouvian. The one male winner is Philippine anti-lead campaigner Manny Calonzo.

Márquez says she will use the award to promote a new mode of economics and politics based on life-giving “maternal love” rather than “dead” extractivism.

“The first thing we need is to be more aware of the historical moment in which we find ourselves: the planet is being destroyed, it’s that simple, and if we do nothing to avoid it we will we will be part of that destruction,” she said. “Our time has come, we must act, we have a responsibility to future generations to leave a better world, in which taking care of life is more important than producing cumulative wealth.”