Snow rapidly disappearing in #Colorado, sparking concerns about wildfire season — OutThereColorado.com #snowpack #runoff

From OutThereColorado.com (Breanna Sneeringer):

As the snowpack melts “faster than usual,” warmer and drier conditions have contributed to an increased risk of wildfires across parts of the state – despite statewide snowpack levels being reported “higher than normal” at the beginning of April. At that time, snowpack was at 102% of the norm statewide…

This increased lack of snowpack comes after a hopeful start to the year when it came to reducing drought risks…

The shrinking snowpack is concerning for wildfire season, especially in the southwestern corner of the state where several weeks of dry weather and early snowmelt have been observed. These conditions are similar to those…which resulted in several large wildfires including the West Fork Complex Fire and the 416 Fire.

USFS solicits comments on proposed #Aurora dam near Holy Cross — The Aurora Sentinel

A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Aurora Sentinel (Grand Stringer):

The White River National Forest opened a public comment period last week concerning the next phase of a would-be reservoir project dubbed the Whitney Reservoir. Water authorities in Colorado Springs and Aurora plan to divert water near the Vail Valley — normally destined for the Colorado River — to the Front Range by way of pumps and tunnels.

Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations, said in November the Whitney Reservoir could eventually hold between 9,000 acre-feet and 19,000 acre-feet of water.

For comparison, Cherry Creek Reservoir stores more than 134,000 acre-feet.

Aurora Water and its southern counterpart, Colorado Springs Utilities, applied for a Special Use Permit to do so. Geologists would conduct ground-level seismic analyses of the ground below and also drill up to 150 feet below the surface. Currently, the operation proposes ten drilling sites.

The water could help Aurora meet the needs of a rapidly-expanding city while capturing water rights Aurora already holds, Baker said. He estimated the reservoir could be completed in 25 years if key steps were met, including a geological analysis.

The Whitney Reservoir project drew early attention from Colorado River conservationists and a fishing association concerned for the health of local fish habitats and the river system. Prolonged drought and existing diversions have already diminished Colorado River flows in recent decades.

The project could also impact pristine wetland ecosystems and would also require cutting near 500 acres from the Holy Cross Wilderness.

Members of the public can find more information about the project on the U.S. Forest Service website. Comments can be made any time but will be “most helpful” if submitted before June 30, 2020, the Forest Service said in an information release…

To comment on the project, or propose a different course of action, submit a comment online at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?Project=58221.

#Utah files change case to move #LakePowellPipeline point of diversion from #FlamingGorge to #LakePowell #ColoradoRiver #COriver #GreenRiver #aridification

Green River Basin

From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brian Maffly):

The water rights behind the proposed Lake Powell pipeline are not actually coming from the project’s namesake lake, but rather from the major reservoir upstream on the Green River.

Now, Utah water officials’ new request to overhaul those rights has handed opponents a fresh opportunity to thwart the proposed pipeline just as federal officials are about to release a long-awaited environmental review of the $1.2 billion project, which would funnel 82,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Powell to St. George.

The request, known as a change application, seeks to shift the the water rights’ “point of diversion” from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to a spot 400 miles downstream behind Glen Canyon Dam. The change, which also keys into where and how the water would be used, is needed to fit the goals of the pipeline, which is to bolster water supplies for Utah’s mushrooming Washington County.

The application was filed now because the timing made sense at this stage in the project’s development and has no bearing on whether the pipeline gets built, according to Joel Williams, assistant director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.

Environmental groups hope to block or at least delay the project’s approval if they can persuade Utah State Engineer Teresa Wilhelmsen to deny the change application filed April 13. Exhibit A in the many protests filed is the Colorado River system’s chronically diminishing flows in the face of climate change, long-term drought and overallocation…

A 1922 interstate compact divvies up water flowing in the Colorado River and its many tributaries among seven basin states and Mexico. For decades, Utah has underutilized its share, pegged at 23% of the Upper Basin’s flows above 7.5 million acre-feet, while the three Lower Basin states have historically drawn water in excess of their allocations, largely to fuel urban growth and corporate agriculture.

Secretary Babbitt’s river plan doesn’t go far enough — #Aspen Daily News #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

San Luis People’s Ditch March 17, 2018. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

Here’s an opinion piece from Denise Fort that’s running in The Aspen Daily News:

Each spring, the acequias in New Mexico carry cold, clear snowmelt to freshly furrowed fields on small farms. The centuries-old irrigation culture is recognized in state law and supported by strong communities.

These farms often come to mind when we think about agriculture in the West: a cool riparian valley with adjacent fields and people rooted in the land, growing crops that may be sold at a farmer’s market in a nearby town.

So when former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt suggested in a recent Writers on the Range opinion piece published in the Aspen Daily News on May 12, that a portion of agricultural water rights should be transferred to urban areas, it no doubt conjured up some strong emotions — small family farms drying up so that suburbanites could water their lawns and golf courses.

But Secretary Babbitt’s proposal makes sense, and he is right about the need to recognize the mismatch in population in the Colorado River Basin between the urbanized West and rural areas where most of the basin’s water is allocated. He is also right that the Colorado River cannot continue serving 40 million people, irrigating the same acreage, and meeting our aspirations for healthy rivers, in this time of megadrought.

There are a lot of caveats to his idea of people voluntarily retiring irrigation rights, including the need to create a process that allows full public participation. But unless we begin to retire irrigated acreage with a carefully managed strategy, we will have showdowns among states and tribes that share the basin’s water and increasingly desiccated rivers.

The real obstacle to Babbitt’s proposal springs from our romanticized vision of what agriculture looks like in the West. New Mexico may have acequia-fed fields, but it’s also in the nation’s top 10 for the number of dairy cattle, the products of which are largely exported to other states.

For every rain-fed cornfield sprouting emerald-like in the Arizona desert, there are tens of thousands of acres of alfalfa fields guzzling up millions of gallons of water per year. The United States is the world’s largest exporter of food, which means that the arid West is, in effect, exporting our water via huge, corporate farms.

Let’s not forget that it is agribusiness — not small farmers – that’s responsible for 80% of the water use in the West.

Meanwhile, climate change is drying up what water remains. The declining flows and warming temperatures are no longer just a contested forecast about the future, but our lived experience.

In my own corner of the West I’m astounded by how quickly desertification is occurring, with hard-packed soils where there was vegetation just a few years ago. Those obnoxious dust storms (haboobs) seem to be moving northward, leading me to tell everyone to watch Ken Burn’s powerful TV series on the Dust Bowl. Ranchers are on the front line in New Mexico, where grazing is looking more and more problematic.

Of course, water isn’t just valuable to farms and cities. The West has a huge outdoor recreation industry that depends on hiking, rafting and fishing, and our riparian areas grant solace in hectic times. Declining river flows, dried up springs and parsimonious releases for fishes detract from this sector of a growing economy.

Babbitt proposes to alleviate this situation by creating a mechanism by which farmers can lease their water rights to municipalities for a set period of time. He proposes free-market transactions — entirely voluntary and at the full discretion of each operator — funded by the federal government. I suggest that agricultural water also be made available to remain in our rivers for the health of our fragile river ecosystems.

Of course, there is a danger to a market-driven solution. If there were a federally run market in water rights, one would expect to see low-value agricultural areas to be the first to be approached for water sales.

That may be why in Europe policies explicitly protect small farms. This could lessen the departure of farmers from parts of northern New Mexico or rural areas on Colorado’s Western Slope, and other areas where small farms still exist.

No one is choosing the drought that has settled into the western United States, along with warming temperatures, wildfires and the rest of our changed climate. We have to cooperate to lessen the effect of climate on individuals and our shared environment.

That is why Bruce Babbitt’s proposal deserves a good, full-throated civic discussion. I just hope it is followed by actions to help the lands and people west of the 100th meridian thrive in the 21st century.

Denise Fort is a contributor to WritersontheRange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. She is a Professor Emerita at the University of New Mexico School of Law and chaired President Clinton’s Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission.

#Colorado Water Plan Listening Sessions — @CWCB_DNR #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

We want to hear about your hopes for the Water Plan update! Please join us for any or all of the Colorado Water Plan Listening Sessions, a series of conversations on the future of water in Colorado.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will host a series of online public listening sessions to share updates about the Colorado Water Plan (Water Plan), hear from water leaders across the state, and gather feedback about how the Water Plan should approach the critical issues around Agricultural, Municipal & Industrial, Environmental & Recreational, and Forest Health & Watershed Health.

The format will be a GoToMeeting webinar that will include:

  • A CWCB summary of the current Water Plan update process
  • A panel discussion with community and industry leaders
  • Open discussion with attendees
  • Session dates and times are listed below:

  • June 3, 10 AM-11:30 AM – Municipal & Industrial
  • June 4, 10 AM- 11:30 AM – Forest Health & Watershed Health
  • June 10, 10 AM-11:30 AM – Agriculture
  • June 11, 10 AM – 11:30 AM – Environment & Recreation
  • #YampaRiver Fund Awards First Round of Grants

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

    Here’s the release from the Yampa River Fund (Andy Baur):

    The Yampa River Fund has awarded its first-ever round of grant funding to five applicants, allocating $200,000 in available funding. On April 29, the Yampa River Fund Steering Committee met to review grant applications and make its decisions. Seven applications were received by the March 24 deadline and $273,000 was requested of the Fund. “We were very pleased to see project applications from throughout the Yampa Basin for a variety of project types,” said Andy Baur, Yampa River Fund manager. “After several years of work with so many groups and entities, it is really exciting to see the first Yampa River Fund grants going out to projects as the program was intended.”

    The projects funded in this round of awards are:

    1. Stagecoach Reservoir Environmental Release Project, $45,000. Applicant: Colorado Water Trust. This project will provide funding for vital flow releases from Stagecoach Reservoir if flows fall below critical levels in 2020.

    2. Irrigation Project for Yampa River Forest Restoration, $30,358. Applicant: Yampa Valley Sustainability Council. This project provides funds for critical irrigation infrastructure to support Yampa River forest restoration efforts.

    3. Oak Creek Restoration & Greenway Design, $44,821. Applicant: Town of Oak Creek. Funding will be used to provide key planning and design services for the Oak Creek restoration efforts.

    4. Lower Elkhead Creek Restoration Project, Phase 1, $35,000. Applicant: Trout Unlimited. Funds will be used to bolster stream restoration and stabilization efforts below Elkhead Reservoir.

    5. Loudy Simpson Improvements Projects, $44,821. Applicant: Moffat County. Moffat County will put funds towards building a redesigned boat ramp and bank stabilization at a popular Yampa River access site.

    Kelly Romero-Heaney, Chair of the Yampa River Fund Board and Steering Committee, touts these first Yampa River Fund grants as critical to advancing these projects especially in a time of economic uncertainty associated with the COVD-19 crisis. “We recognize that there are many critical funding and support needs in our communities right now. The Yampa River Fund grants will support this river that adds so much to our economy and way of life which is so important as we cope with the uncertainties and stress related to Covid-19. We hope these funds will provide a bit of good news for the community and applicants along with their key benefits to the Yampa,” she said.

    The Yampa River Fund was launched in September 2019 to provide a sustainable, voluntary funding source for the Yampa River in order to enhance water security and support a healthy, flowing river by enhancing critical low flows, and maintaining or improving river function through a holistic approach to restoration of habitat.

    The Yampa River Fund is governed by a 21-member founding Board representing local governments, community and statewide NGO’s, business, water providers and irrigations districts.

    Sunset over the Yampa River Valley August 25, 2016.

    From the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Derek Maiolo):

    The Yampa River Fund has awarded its first-ever round of grants to five projects aimed at protecting and improving its namesake river and tributaries in Routt and Moffat counties.

    A total of $200,000 went to local organizations, using money that members of the endowment have been raising over the past year…

    A $45,000 grant went to the Colorado Water Trust to provide funding for water releases from Stagecoach Reservoir if flows fall below critical levels this summer and fall. As Baur explained, the money would be used only if necessary. If flows remain at healthy levels, the money can be earmarked for next year…

    This first round of grants is particularly important considering the economic stress under the COVID-19 pandemic, Baur said. As he put it, the need to protect and enhance the health of local waterways does not shut down like the businesses and services affected by the crisis. If anything, the current situation emphasizes the importance of the Yampa River, Baur argued.

    Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

    Your guide to #Colorado Bike Month 2020 — @BicycleColorado #bikemonth

    The “Emerald Mile” at Centennial Gardens in Denver, May 2020.

    Click here for all the inside skinny:

    National Bike Month aims to celebrate all that the bike is and can be, and create a movement of people organizing together for better bicycling (albeit, this year it is mostly virtual organization!). Our friends at the League of American Bicyclists say, “Whether you’re riding for fun, fitness or with family, or taking essential trips to work or shop, you are part of our movement for safer streets, connected communities, a healthier planet, and happier people.”

    Though most of the country and the Western Slope of Colorado celebrate Bike Month in May each year, the Bike Month celebration is in June for the Colorado central mountains and Front Range. This is when the snow has melted enough for our mountain towns to join the fun!