The Conservation Community 2014 scorecard is hot off the presses

July 31, 2014

2014legislativescorecard07302014conservationcolorado
Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

The scorecard highlights the priorities of the conservation community in the 2014 legislative session. You will find factual, nonpartisan information about how each member of the legislature voted on important issues that affect Colorado’s air, land, water and people. We invite you to examine the scores of your representative and your senator and to see how well their votes match up with your conservation values. We encourage you to call or write your legislators and let them know you follow their environmental scores. Phone numbers and email addresses of your elected officials can be found at http://conservationCO.org/legislator-directory/.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


How to tackle brown spots

July 28, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Do you find yourself battling brown spots in your yard all summer long? If so, you’re not alone. Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado says brown spots and weeds are the two most common lawn problems. And more often than not, the underlying cause of both is a faulty sprinkler system.

So, what can you do? ALCC offers the following advice:

Brown spots are really the lawn’s call for help. The grass is stressed and you think it needs more water.

While you may be tempted to turn up the sprinkler system so it waters longer, that won’t solve the problem if the water isn’t getting to that brown spot to begin with.

Many brown spots stem from issues with the sprinkler heads. Here are three common problems with quick fixes to get your system back in order:

Irrigation audit, September 2013 Denver Water conservation technicians Jenelle Rhodes and Rick Alvarado demonstrate how to properly align a…

View original 709 more words


“Buy and dry no silver bullet” — Environmental Defense Fund #ColoradoRiver

July 25, 2014
Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture

Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

From the Environmental Defense Fund (Aaron Citron):

On Colorado River Day, it’s worth considering how we can write the next chapter in the water story of the American West.

With the recent news that Lake Mead is at its lowest level in history, it’s impossible to ignore the trajectory of America’s hardest-working river. In the Colorado River Basin, we are already using more water annually than is being supplied by snowpack and other precipitation. The Bureau of Reclamation and others predict that this gap in water supply and demand will increase to nearly 4 million acre-feet by 2060, with significant shortages possible as early as 2017.

It has become clear that, over time, our water uses are going to have to change. In thinking about where – in what sectors – this change should take place, we must also consider the environmental, cultural and economic services that each sector provides.

“Buy and dry” is no silver bullet

In the discussions about how to deal with the growing gap between water supply and demand, the default solution too often involves permanently taking water out of agricultural irrigation and transferring it to meet the needs of a growing urban population.

Agriculture uses approximately 80 percent of Colorado River water to irrigate nearly 4 million acres, providing 15 percent of America’s crop output and 13 percent of our livestock production. It is a significant contributor to rural economies and provides a number of environmental, cultural and ecosystem services benefits.

It’s true that all water-using sectors will have to be part of the solution, but the “buy and dry” of farms and ranches around the West has left a litany of problems: remaining irrigators can no longer afford to operate their ditches, farm supply businesses are seeing dramatically reduced revenues, farmworkers are left unemployed, and in some cases, river reaches and wetlands once dependent on return flows are being left to dry.

As water scarcity increases the interest in buying water from farms and ranches, we will need to find ways to address these economic and environmental impacts.

Designing solutions for rivers, people and the economy
There are a number of ways to improve the health of our working rivers while also making water sharing profitable for agricultural water users.

Continued investment in improving agricultural efficiency and infrastructure is an important first step to improve both agricultural and environmental sustainability.

Water banks and markets that pay irrigators a fair price – taking long-term agricultural productivity, regional economics and environmental impacts into consideration – need to be part of a portfolio of solutions to address the significant issues of water shortages exacerbated by drought and climate change.

A portfolio approach

Even though most of the water in the Colorado River Basin and the West is used in agricultural production, there are significant opportunities to conserve water in other sectors.

Urban water use is one sector where demands are projected to increase significantly. If the cities that use Colorado River water want to grow, the first place they should look for water is in their existing supply. After all, urban water conservation is a proven strategy: the Los Angeles region added more than 3 million residents since 1990 without increasing its total water use.

Cities can and must make a significant contribution to the supply-demand gap at lower cost and with fewer impacts to our rural western economies and environmental values.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Supply and Demand Basin Study identified 1 million acre-feet of water-savings potential from municipal and industrial conservation programs and an additional 1.15 million acre-feet from municipal and industrial water reuse programs. Cost-effective conservation savings can be achieved through a number of programs and incentives, including improved water rate structures, conversion to high efficiency appliances, improvements in urban irrigation systems, and other public education and incentive programs.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


First-Ever Campus Water Conservation Plan at MSU Denver

July 23, 2014

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

Students from the MSU Denver ENV 290B Water Conservation Management Class created a campus-wide water management plant

Students from the MSU Denver ENV 290B Water Conservation Management Class created a campus-wide water management plant

MSU Denver students, along with advice from Denver Water and the One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship (OWOW), created the first-ever comprehensive campus water management plan. The plan was the result from the ENV 290B Water Conservation Planning summer course. The students spent 8 hours a day, for two weeks, researching and creating the plan for the new applied-learning course. The final plan was unveiled to Mark Cassalia from Denver Water’s Conservation department, Nona Shipman and Tom Cech from OWOW, and Jon Bortles, the campus Sustainably Director. The plan received rave reviews and will be used to make much needed water conserving changes to the current campus water management plan.

The plan included data and mapping for outdoor water usage, indoor water usage, a drought response plan…

View original 378 more words


Can we conserve our way out of our supply gap in the #ColoradoRiver Basin? #COWaterPlan

July 19, 2014

thehardestworkingriverinthewestcolooradoriver

Update: I heard from the Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers media guy, Gil Rudawsky. Scroll down to read the update.

Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers attempt to answer that question with a new report. Here’s their release:

On July 17 2014, Western Resource Advocates joined with American Rivers to release a new report that identifies conservation, reuse and other innovative solutions that could eliminate Western water shortages stemming from the over-taxed and stressed Colorado River. The report defines five cost-effective and clearly defined solutions that – if implemented at a larger scale across the basin – could meet the water needs of the West’s business, agricultural and growing population through 2060.

The Hardest Working River in the West: Common-Sense Solutions for a Reliable Water Future for the Colorado River Basin provides a comprehensive package of proven methods to conserve water.

  • Download the Executive Summary
  • Download the Full Report
  • See the full press release
  • The new report estimates that 4.4 million acre-feet of water could be saved and made available for other uses if these proven methods are implemented throughout the basin – more than enough water to meet projected growth in water needs in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, for the next half-century.

    This report comes at a critical time for Western States with record droughts, depleted reservoirs hitting all-time lows, and a growing population increasing water demands.

    “Our report showcases the ‘All-Star’ water solutions – actions that are proven, cost-effective and ready to meet our current and future water needs,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates. “The fact is, there is a lot of concern about the Colorado River right now but these solutions will work and help everyone – from agriculture to growing cities –

    “There is a widening water gap creating 3.8 million acre-feet of additional water needed to meet the needs of the growing population of the West. This is an enormous amount which, if not carefully managed, could deplete the river and dramatically alter the landscape of the seven basin states,” said Matt Rice, Director of Colorado Basin Programs for American Rivers. “These solutions will ensure the river’s resources meet all future water needs for urban, rural, business and agricultural communities across all seven basin states, while still protecting the natural environment of the West.”

    The five critical steps for solving our current and future water shortages are:

  • Municipal conservation, saving 1.0 million acre-feet through such efforts as improved landscaping techniques, rebate programs that incentivize water-saving devices and standardized water audits
  • Municipal reuse, saving 1.2 million acre-feet through gray water treatment and re-use for irrigation, industrial uses and other purposes
  • Agricultural efficiency and water banking, saving 1.0 million acre-feet via voluntary, compensated improvements in irrigation efficiency and technology, crop shifting and other measures (while avoiding permanently taking agricultural lands out of production)
  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency, saving 160 thousand acre-feet using wind, solar PV, and geothermal energy solutions, and new water-efficient thermoelectric power plants
  • Innovative water opportunities, generating up to 1.1 million acre-feet through creative measures such as invasive plant removal, dust-on-snow mitigation and targeted inland desalinization.
  • I’ve got email into their media guy about the dust-on-snow savings in their plan. 400,000 acre-feet is a lot and I haven’t run across an estimate like that. I thought the only historical adjunct for dust mitigation was the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 and we certainly didn’t have accurate measurement of snowpack back then. We do know that the act lowered dust levels.

    Update: Gil Rudawsky got back to me with a paragraph from their report, I believe, it’s unclear from his email. At any rate the text reads, “By implementing measures to reduce the accumulation of dust on snow, lower evaporative losses are anticipated.”

    I told him that it’s a long way from “anticipated” to wet water. No one even knows if we can successfully implement dust-on-snow mitigation to the extent needed to back up their number. It’s just a little careless on their part.

    As an aside they also have a weather modification number in their totals. I have not been apprised of solid data from cloud-seeding efforts. That being said many large water providers set aside substantial funds each year for projects.

    I think everyone nowadays agrees that river health should be right up there when setting policy so I think that is one good takeaway from the report.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    The undefined transmountain diversion to be addressed by the Colorado Water plan would be unnecessary under conservation proposals that would keep more water in the Colorado River, two environmental organizations said.

    Five proposals listed by the organizations in “The Hardest Working River” could be of immediate and long-term benefit to the river, said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, which issued the report along with American Rivers, which releases an annual report listing endangered rivers.

    Conservation measures “absolutely” could offset the need for new storage in the river, said Matt Rice, director of Colorado conservation for American Rivers, in a conference call with reporters.

    “We’re having a hard enough time keeping waters in the reservoirs as it is” without a new one, Rice said.

    Augmenting Colorado’s water supply from outside sources also wouldn’t help, Rice said, dismissing the idea of new pipes and water projects to deliver water into the state.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is moving ahead on the task of drafting a statewide water plan.

    Front Range water providers have floated the idea of a new transmountain diversion, but have offered no information as to where it might be located. One proposal calls for water to be diverted only during years with heavy runoff.

    Two dozen transmountain diversions now send as many as 600,000 acre feet of water to the east side of the Continental Divide.

    Colorado and the other upper Colorado River basin states are required to send at least 7.4 million acre feet of water per year to Arizona, Nevada and California. Five solutions that American Rivers and Western Resource Advocates are suggesting “would go a long ways toward meeting the needs in the future,” Miller said.

    Taken together, the proposals could keep 4.4 million acre feet in the river, Miller said.

    The proposals call for conservation and reuse of municipal water, with both more efficient fixtures and reduced irrigation of lawns and other outside uses; greater agricultural efficiency and water banking.

    Further, the proposal calls for more efficient water use by the energy industry and the use of rooftop solar and wind sources; and the removal of water-guzzling invasive plants such as tamarisk.

    Xeriscape landscape

    Xeriscape landscape

    From Colorado Public Radio (Ana Hanel):

    The goal is not to divert water from one area to another, said American Rivers’ Matt Rice.

    “We deliberately don’t address and don’t believe that the right approach is with new pipelines and new large-scale water projects, because they’re significantly more expensive,” Rice says.

    The report says millions of people’s drinking water is at risk over the next few decades if demand continues to outpace the Colorado River’s water supply.

    It’ll be important over the next few years for communities to continue to encourage water conservation, said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.

    “We can look to having landscapes that use more native vegetation, that are smaller in size,” Miller says. “We can greatly decrease the amount of water that’s used outside, which is about half of the water use for most metropolitan areas.”

    Miller said it’ll be important to replicate successful conservation and water-reuse programs in cities throughout the southwest.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Eating the #ColoradoRiver shortage elephant, one bite at a time — John Fleck

    July 19, 2014
    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

    John Fleck lays out a strategy to reduce the long-term shortage on the Colorado. Here’s his report from Inkstain. Here’s an excerpt:

    This line from a paper a few years back by Edella Schlager and Tanya Heikkila may seem obvious, but in the context of current discussions over the future of Colorado River management, it bears repeating:

    A water allocation rule that allocates more water than is available in a river is not well matched to its setting.

    Yup. That in a nutshell is the problem highlighted by this oft-revisited Bureau of Reclamation slide demonstrating how the Lower Colorado River Basin’s water budget works. Everyone here is following the rules, living within their legal allocation, and Lake Mead keeps dropping because the Law of the River has allocated more water than is available in the river.

    This is the critical thing to understand as we see the beginnings of the new “Colorado River System Conservation Program” taking shape, which would create a framework to pay farmers to leave water in the river. It’s not enough to simply save water. The way we go about it must be embedded within, and take into account, the rules governing allocation and distributions of Colorado River water…

    The 1990-2003 experience suggests that the water conservation piece of this may be the easy part. As a nice new Western Resource Advocates white paper explains, we know how to conserve the water. The key piece here, and the reason the System Conservation Program is so interesting and important, is that we need to get the water allocation rules and river management policies right in order to cause those conservation savings to happen.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Water Lines: Colorado needs a better water plan — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    July 16, 2014


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

    It’s almost time for football training camps, so here’s a gridiron analogy for Colorado River water policy watchers: Western Colorado is defending two end zones. One is the Colorado River. The other is agriculture. The West Slope team has to make a big defensive play. If water planning errs on the side of overdeveloping the Colorado River, the river loses, the West Slope economy loses and West Slope agriculture could be on the way out.

    This is how the Colorado River Basin Roundtable is viewing its contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A draft plan will be submitted this December and a final plan in December 2015. The Roundtable is assessing local water supply needs and environmental concerns for inclusion into the plan and there is plenty of work to consider in the region. But the big play may very well be the keeping of powerful forces from scoring on our two goal lines.

    Here’s why: Colorado’s population is slated to double by 2050. Most of it will be on the Front Range, but our region is growing too. Mother Nature is not making any new water. We still depend on the same hydrological cycle that goes back to Day 1. So where is the “new” water going to come from? Right now, there seems to be two top targets, the Colorado River and agriculture (where 85 percent of state water use lies in irrigated fields). Colorado needs a better plan.

    The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents Mesa, Garfield, Summit, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin counties. This region already sends between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water annually across the Continental Divide through transmountain diversions (TMDs) to support the Front Range and the Arkansas River Basin.

    That water is 100 percent gone. There are no return flows, such as there are with West Slope water users. On top of that, this region could see another 140,000 acre feet go east. A number of Roundtable constituents have long-standing or prospective agreements with Front Range interests wrapped around smaller TMDs. Existing infrastructure can still take some more water. That’s the scorecard right now. We assert another big TMD threatens streamflows and thus the recreational and agricultural economies that define Western Colorado, not to mention the environment.

    In the bigger picture, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 requires Colorado to bypass about 70 percent of the river system to the state line to comply with legal limits on depletions so six other states can have their legal share of the water. Failure to do so, by overdeveloping the river, threatens compact curtailments and chaos nobody wants to see. For one thing, that kind of bad water planning could result in a rush to buy or condemn West Slope agricultural water rights.

    The Roundtable has heard these concerns loudly and clearly from its own members across the six counties as well as from citizens who have given voice to our section of the water plan, known as the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). A draft of the BIP can be viewed and comments offered by going online to http://coloradobip.sgm‐inc.com/. It is under the “Resources” tab.

    Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Pueblo Board of Water Works board meeting recap

    July 16, 2014
    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs will be taking a more regional approach and looking at risk factors as it develops its 50-year water plan. That’s a shift from the 1996 water resources plan that focused solely on supply and led to Southern Delivery System, said Brett Gracely, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities.

    “We are seriously evaluating the timing of future SDS components,” Gracely told the Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday.

    Utilities is updating the plan that will determine its actions in water development after SDS comes online in 2016. The plan will look at watershed health, fire vulnerability and climate change, as well as social values and tradeoffs. It also will incorporate traditional factors like water supply, demand and quality.

    “Because of changes in technology and software, we can run thousands of scenarios through our models,” Gracely said.

    Another key difference is that Colorado Springs Utilities is not planning on building another $1 billion pipeline as a result of this plan, but more carefully evaluating its options after SDS.

    “It’s a completely blank page,” Gracely said. “But it will have no effect on SDS phase I.”

    The first phase is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, served by three pump stations and a treatment plant. The second phase of SDS includes the construction of two reservoirs on Williams Creek southeast of Colorado Springs.

    Water board members Tom Autobee and Kevin McCarthy questioned Gracely on what conservation measures Colorado Springs envisions in order to cut demand. Reduced water use after the 2002 drought has been complemented by a tiered rate structure that makes expanded water use more costly, he explained. Colorado Springs also has dropped minimum landscaping requirements that at one time would have encouraged greater water use.

    “What is your telescope telling you about West Slope imports?” McCarthy asked.

    “Warmer weather is what we’re expecting,” Gracely replied. “Half the (climate) models are showing it will be wetter, and half drier, but they all say it will be warmer.”

    More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.


    Say hello to @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver

    July 12, 2014

    Meanwhile, Northern is looking at big rate increases to coverage operations. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

    Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could rise from $28 to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and from $10 to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to documents from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

    The extra money is needed because Northern Water’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years. Property taxes, which have remained flat since the recession, make up more than half of Northern Water’s revenue, while water-rate revenue accounts for about 20 percent of its funding.

    The agency has coped, up until now, by drawing from cash reserves to fund its operations. Reserve funds are partly intended to help stabilize revenue but are not a sustainable funding approach in the long term, according to Northern Water.

    The agency’s board is expected to decide on short-term rate hikes through 2018 this month. These potential hikes to $52.70 for municipal users and $32.20 for irrigation users would represent the largest dollar increase in Northern Water’s history, although the district has seen similar, double-digit percentage increases in the past.

    “In the early 1980s, there were several years with double-digit increases, similar to what we are looking at now,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

    The rate hikes are essential to maintain infrastructure, according to Northern Water, and experts believe they will lead to additional water conservation. But the higher prices will put pressure on farmers…

    Northern’s customers receive water under two types of contracts: fixed and open rate. The new rate hikes apply to those customers who buy open-rate water. In June, Northern Water board members raised the open-rate assessment 9 percent for next year. The 2015 rate for cities will increase to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit. Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

    Roughly two-thirds of Northern’s water is delivered via open-rate contracts, while one-third is governed by fixed-rate agreements…

    Northern Water isn’t the only water district that has had to raise water rates. The Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, which supplies water to areas of Weld, Adams and Morgan counties, also has passed rate-assessment increases in recent years and plans to meet this month to consider additional rate hikes.

    “Our organization is looking at future (operations and maintenance costs) and how do we keep our finances up,” Central Water Executive Director Randy Ray said. “You’ve got regular operations costs like labor, electricity and gasoline for vehicles. Then you also have deferred maintenance.”

    The rate increases come as the nation faces challenges from deteriorating water infrastructure, which will cost more than $1 trillion over the next 25 years to fix in order to maintain current water service levels, according to a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Customers will pick up the tab mostly through higher water bills.

    Similarly, users of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water will pay higher water bills as a result of the increased rate assessments. Increased revenue from the assessments will help fund Northern Water’s operations and maintenance budget, which accounts for almost half of the water district’s expenses. Northern Water says it needs to make major upgrades to water delivery infrastructure, much of which was built more than 60 years ago.

    Tom Cech, director of One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said higher expenses and a rising population have pressured water supplies, leading to elevated costs. He noted, however, that investments in water infrastructure are critical to maintaining water delivery systems.

    “Look at all the investments that water providers did 100 years ago in our water system: new reservoirs, delivery systems and so forth,” he said. “That’s just the process of keeping up with the costs and population growth.”

    The Northern Board did pass an increase. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Norther Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

    The board of directors for Colorado’s largest water wholesaler Friday passed a historic water-rate hike in terms of dollars, representing a 202 percent increase for agricultural users and 90 percent for municipal users from 2014 through 2018.

    Customers of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District receive water units under two types of contracts: open rate and fixed. By 2018, the open-rate assessment for a unit of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project will cost $30.20 for agricultural users, up from $10 this year, and $53.10, up from $28, for municipal users.

    Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

    Board members unanimously approved a steep rate hike for the open-rate assessments, though Colorado-Big Thompson Project water users had requested a smoother transition of increases over time. The rate hike through 2018 represented the largest dollar increase in the public water district’s 77-year history, though the water district’s board members has passed similar percentage increases in the past.

    The steeper rate hikes will help Northern Water more quickly achieve a balanced budget, said Jerry Gibbens, project manager and water resources engineer for Northern Water. The water district’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years, but Northern Water expects to reach a balanced budget by fiscal 2017 through the rate hikes.

    Based on decades-old contracts, the fixed-rate assessments remained the same, a point of contention among some water users who pay the higher open-rate assessments and contend that Northern Water should raise the fixed-rate assessments.

    Northern Water’s board agreed to look into how it could adjust the fixed rates in the future, but the agency has indicated that it may not be able to do so because they are set “contractually in-perpetuity.”

    In June, the board decided to raise 2015 open-rate assessments to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit.

    Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could increase to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to Northern Water documents.

    Board members did not decide on increases after 2018, but they plan to set rates annually as well as make projections of rate adjustments two fiscal years in advance.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    San Isabel Land Protection Trust hosts water meeting

    July 12, 2014

    Sangres-a2-Coaldale,CO
    From The Mountain Mail:

    San Isabel Land Protection Trust will host an informational meeting on the future of agricultural land and water in western Fremont County at 6:30 p.m. July 24 at the Coaldale Community Building, 13607 CR 6 in Coaldale.

    The meeting will include a presentation about the tools the trust uses to protect land and water.

    For more information visit http://sanisabel.org or call 719-783-3018.

    More conservation easements coverage here


    Pueblo: Rates are a complex question

    July 8, 2014
    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Other cities in the West ration water, use block rates to discourage water waste and even pay property owners to rip out sod. Pueblo does none of those things, and a couple of people who attended last week’s state water plan meeting at Pueblo Community College wondered why.

    “It’s driven by economics,” said Terry Book, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “Using less water drives up rates. That puts more of a burden on poorer customers. It’s a complex question.”

    For years, the Pueblo water board has seen a decrease in water use that began after the city put outdoor watering restrictions in place following the 2002 drought. A 2007 study found customer attitudes had fundamentally changed. Instead of dragging hoses to water the lawn in the hottest part of the day, more Puebloans chose to set up automated sprinkler systems to run in the morning or evening. The water board also promotes Wise Water Use online and in its outreach programs. At the same time, Pueblo has kept its water rates the lowest on Colorado’s Front Range.

    One woman wanted to know why homeowners are penalized for not watering their lawns. There is a difference between xeriscaping and simply letting the weeds take over, Book said. Again, it’s the poor who suffer because redoing a landscape with drought tolerant plants and reducing the square footage of bluegrass can cost thousands of dollars. Many lawns in Pueblo have been lost because of the choice to cut back on the water bill, he said.

    At one point in the meeting, Book said Pueblo has a water supply for 220,000- 225,000 people — but the water board has learned that severe drought can stress even that supply. In most years, the water board has extra water to lease, mostly to farmers. Recently, the water board increased its rate on longterm contracts as a way to generate more revenue in order to keep rates low. By contrast, growth in El Paso County to the north will put pressure on other water resources in the Arkansas River basin, and water comes at a higher price.

    While Pueblo’s supply seems ample for now, the water board already has taken steps to provide water for future generations by buying water rights on the Bessemer Ditch. For now, the water is being leased back to farmers at a low cost. This decision was questioned by farmer Doug Wiley, who came to the meeting and suggested fallowing urban landscapes in times of drought to provide more water to farms.

    Both Wiley and Book agreed, however, that the quality of water in Pueblo is better than the Lower Arkansas Valley and so the water resources in this area should be preserved. Dissolved salts, selenium, radionuclides and minerals increase along the Arkansas River as it flows to Kansas.

    “The quality of water is the issue as you move down the Arkansas Valley,” Book said.

    More conservation coverage here.


    Conservation front and center in Broomfield

    July 7, 2014

    broomfield

    From the Enterprise Broomfield News:

    Broomfield offers two water conservation programs to help residents save water and money. Residents and businesses could qualify for an irrigation audit and/or rebates if they receive treated water from Broomfield.

    Free irrigation audits are provided by Slow the Flow Colorado, a nonprofit program of the Center for Resource Conservation. To schedule an irrigation audit, call 303-999-3820 ext. 217 or go to conservationcenter.org/.

    Water rebates help offset the cost to replace inefficient toilets and irrigation components. More information on rebates, including qualifying models and residential rebate instructions, go to broomfield.org/index.aspx?NID=1098.

    More information on water conservation, including lawn watering guidelines, can be found at broomfield.org/index.aspx?NID=439.

    More conservation coverage here.


    “The more water you develop, the more risk you take on” — James Eklund #ColoradoRiver

    July 7, 2014
    Drought affected Lake Mead via the Mountain Town News

    Drought affected Lake Mead via the Mountain Town News

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    America’s largest reservoir, Las Vegas’ main water source, and an important indicator for water supplies in the Southwest — will fall this week to its lowest level since 1937 when the manmade lake was first being filled, according to forecasts from the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

    The record-setting low water mark — a surface elevation of 1,081.8 feet above sea level — will not trigger any restrictions for the seven states in the Colorado River Basin. Restrictions will most likely come in 2016 when the lake is projected to drop below 1,075 feet, a threshold that forces cuts in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada, states at the head of the line for rationing.

    But the steadily draining lake does signal an era of new risks and urgency for an iconic and ebbing watershed that provides up to 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico with a portion of their drinking water. The rules governing the river are complex, but the risk equation is straightforward: less supply due to a changing climate, plus increasing demands from new development, leads to greater odds of shortages…

    Yet despite a shrinking lake, diminishing supplies, and ardent pleas from tour guides and environmental groups to preserve a canyon-cutting marvel, the four states in the basin upriver from Lake Mead intend to increase the amount of water they take out of the Colorado River. All of the states are updating or developing new state water strategies, most of which involve using more Colorado River water, not less.

    “We have mapped out how the remainder of our allocation can be used,” Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, told Circle of Blue. “It’s going to happen sooner rather than later. We have a place for every drop.”

    Utah — like fellow upper basin states Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming — is not using all the Colorado River water it was granted by a 1922 interstate compact. The four states have the legal authority to increase their Colorado River diversions.

    However, the water they seek may not be available. The calculations of availability stem from wetter hydrological conditions and supply forecasts made nearly a century ago. Under the 1922 compact, the upper basin is entitled to 7.5 million acre-feet. A later agreement apportioned each state a percentage of the available supply. The upper basin’s average annual use between 2007 and 2011, the most recent figures, was 4.6 million acre-feet.

    The legal entitlement, granted at a time when the river’s hydrology was poorly understood, is surely too high. All the states acknowledge that fact. “We’re not pegging our hopes or analysis on the full 7.5,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state water planning agency…

    The upper basin put forward a plan this spring to keep more water in Powell. The states would do this by paying farmers not to farm and by changing how smaller mountain reservoirs are managed. Three urban water utilities in the lower basin, along with Denver and the federal government, put up $US 11 million to develop a similar basin-wide program…

    Though the lower basin is using its entire allocation, the four upper basin states are not. They desire more water from the Colorado, yet exactly how much water is available is uncertain.

    The only concrete number to emerge so far is 5.8 million acre-feet of water available for the upper basin, or three-quarters of what was granted. That figure, called the hydrological determination, was developed by New Mexico and the Department of the Interior in 2007 as part of a water supply study.

    New Mexico is the only state using 5.8 million acre-feet as a firm number. Millis said Utah is using 6.5 million acre-feet of upper basin supply for its planning, and Colorado and Wyoming are looking at a range of values.

    Eklund told Circle of Blue there is “vigorous debate” both within and between states over what number should be used to assess water availability and what the acceptable levels of risk are as water use increases.

    “There’s a sliding scale of risk,” Eklund said. “The more water you develop, the more risk you take on. But that doesn’t necessarily counsel against a project.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Denver Water: Video collage — Beautiful, water-efficient landscapes of our customers

    July 5, 2014

    Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

    Because July is Smart Irrigation Month, we thought it would be fun to highlight some of our customers who have transformed their yards into a more water-efficient landscape.

    We sent out Denver Water’s team of nine Water Savers, who spend their day with customers providing water-saving tips and tools, to capture some of the beautiful landscapes throughout Denver Water’s service area. In just one day, our Water Savers captured more than 100 photos highlighting a variety of efficient landscapes.

    This video highlights a portion of what the Water Savers discovered.

    Transforming your landscape doesn’t have to be extreme or even happen all at once. It can be as simple as identifying an area of your grass that is difficult to maintain because it is on a slope or receives too much sun exposure, or by locating areas of turf that aren’t necessary or beneficial, like on the side…

    View original 88 more words


    Conservation: Big water savings in Aspen — Mountain Town News #ColoradoRiver

    June 30, 2014

    Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

    Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com


    From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    In 1974, Aspen’s future seemed clear enough. The town was growing briskly, the ski industry booming, and by the 1990s the town would need to make major investments to provide water for the future.

    With that in mind, town officials filed for storage rights on two upstream creeks, Castle and Maroon, where the municipality already had significant senior water rights. Had the town gone ahead with construction of those reservoirs, the cost today would be roughly $50 million.

    Instead, in about 1994, Mayor John Bennett and council members chose a different approach. They would emphasize water savings.

    Phil Overeynder, who was the city’s utility manager then, says he has calculated that today water rates would need to be quadrupled to pay for the reservoirs and other infrastructure.

    But there was another reason for Aspen to pursue conservation beginning in the 1990s. Overeynder said improved efficiency bolstered the argument that Eastern Slope water providers needed to make do with what they had before expanding diversions. In his eyes, Eastern Slope water providers still have not done everything they can. “Not to the extent it was promised 40 years ago,” he says.

    For Aspen, improving water efficiency has several components. The city couldn’t account for 55 percent of the water being sent to customers. There were leaks, lots of them. It was, says Overeynder, a third-world water system. But a lot of water was used to bleed pipes. Water mains were buried deep, but the service lines to individual houses were within the frost line. During winter, homeowners left their faucets running, to avoid freezing. It was city policy to overlook that use.

    Over time, these inefficient uses have been eliminated. The rate structure was revised to strongly recommend efficiency.

    From 450 gallons per capita daily in 1974, use peaked in 1993 at 516 gallons.

    Last year, it was 164 gallons per capita daily.

    Use still spikes in summer, but not as much. The water treatment plant expanded in the 1980s has surplus capacity.

    More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.


    SDS: There is no Plan B — Colorado Springs Business Journal

    June 29, 2014
    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global

    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

    From The Colorado Springs Business Journal (John Hazlehurst):

    CSU’s ongoing billion-dollar bet is the Southern Delivery System. Scheduled to go online in 2016, SDS will convey water from Pueblo Reservoir via a 66-inch-diameter underground pipeline to Colorado Springs. It will expand the city’s raw water delivery capacity by an eventual 55 million gallons per day (MGD), a nearly 50-percent increase in system capacity…

    “What we’re hoping for is a record snowpack,” CSU Chief Financial Officer Bill Cherrier said in late March, “followed by a hot, dry summer.”

    Cherrier said it with a smile, but he had neatly summarized CSU’s dilemma. Water in the reservoirs must both be replenished and sold. The sell side of the equation is driven by fixed costs, including system maintenance and replacement, energy costs and continuing capital investment. But buyers don’t care about CSU’s problems; they prefer to water their lawns with free water from the skies.

    Per-capita water use has dropped sharply in the past 20 years, leading to corresponding reductions in the city’s long-term consumption estimates.

    “The Base (i.e. revenue) forecast is for an estimated service area population (city, suburban, Green Mountain Falls, military) of about 608,552 and about 106,000 AF/yr for demand,” wrote CSU spokesperson Janet Rummel in an email. “The ‘hot and dry’ scenario uses the same service area population and estimates about 120,000 AF/yr demand. This particular ‘hot and dry’ scenario equates to an 80 percent confidence interval and adds about 13 percent to annual demands.”

    That’s a precipitous drop from the high-side estimate of the 1996 water resources plan, which forecast a population in 2040 as high as 900,000 and water demand of 168,150 acre-feet. The base forecast, at 106,000 acre-feet annually, is only 1,800 acre-feet more than the community used in 2000, 40 years previously.

    Does that mean CSU’s water managers dropped $841 million into a new water delivery system that we may not need until 2016? Does this prove that the project, originally conceived to furnish water for the Banning-Lewis Ranch development, is now entirely unnecessary?

    Perhaps not…

    “SDS is not a short-term solution,” Rummel said in a 2010 email. “The time to build a major water project is not when you have run short of water … [we need] to better prepare our community for drought, climate change and water supply uncertainty on the Colorado River.”

    Many factors entered into the decision to build SDS. In 1996, there was no discussion of system redundancy, of having an additional water pipeline that could serve the city in case one of the existing conduits needed emergency repair. But 18 years later, the pipelines are that much more vulnerable to accident or malfunction.

    In 1996, population growth and per capita water use were expected to continue indefinitely at historic levels. But they didn’t. Commercial and industrial use declined, and price-sensitive residents used less water. Indoor use declined as well as outdoor, thanks to restricted-flow shower heads and low-flush toilets.

    SDS stayed on track. In the eyes of the water survivalists who conceived and created the project, the city’s rights on the Arkansas River had to be developed. They saw long, hot summers in the city and dry winters in the mountains. Opponents could make any arguments they liked, but these five words trumped them all.

    Use it or lose it.

    Undeveloped water rights are like $100 bills blowing down the street — someone will grab them and use them for their own benefit…

    “This will be our last pipeline,” said CSU water resources manager Gary Bostrom. “We will never be able to develop a new water delivery system. When SDS is finished, that’s it.”

    Bostrom’s peers in Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles have reason to envy him. Colorado Springs has won the water wars. We’ve bought ourselves decades of time. Whether we save or squander this liquid bounty is up to us.

    In 2040, the city may have 30,000 to 50,000 acre-feet a year of unneeded delivery capacity. That cushion will allow for decades of population growth and for the introduction of sophisticated irrigation techniques that will preserve our green city and minimize water use.

    In years to come, members of the Colorado Springs City Council will decide how to preserve the city’s future. Will they heed Bostrom’s warning and encourage radical conservation? Will new developments be required to xeriscape, and preserve trees with drip irrigation devices?

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


    Water Lines: What can local governments do to protect & conserve water?

    June 29, 2014

    Sprawl

    Sprawl


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

    As people around the state debate how to make Colorado’s limited water supplies stretch to accommodate nearly twice as many people by 2050, the topic of growth surfaces repeatedly. Some call for outright limits on population growth, while others point out that how communities grow can have as big an impact on their water use as how much they grow. For example, smaller lots equal smaller lawns, resulting in less water consumed per household.

    In May, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG) held a workshop to explore how land-use planning practices and regulations can be employed to achieve water conservation and water-quality goals. According to the workshop report prepared by Torie Jarvis, staff to NWCCOG’s Water Quality & Quantity Committee, some communities are already taking substantial action in these areas. The full workshop report is available here: http://www.nwccog.org/index.php/programs/water-qualityquantity-committee. Key points are highlighted below.

    For some communities in Colorado’s High Country, conservation measures serve the dual purpose of ensuring that new developments have reliable water supplies and protecting streams. The Town of Winter Park places a high value on the Fraser River, which runs right through town, despite the fact that 65 percent of its natural flow is diverted to the Front Range before it reaches the town. The Town limits the issuance of development permits to maintain 10 cubic feet per second in the Fraser River, and does not allow outside irrigation in the town limits. The Town of Eagle requires that water rights attached to developments annexed by the Town to be donated to the Town. The rights are then leased back for use by the development, but the Town retains ultimate control.

    Tools to regulate the pace and location of growth are also tools to limit pressure on water supplies. Pitkin County has a growth management quota system, which establishes a set number of development permits on a competitive basis, while the Town of Eagle uses an urban growth boundary to control density and the location of new growth.

    In addition to ensuring the long-term reliability of their water supplies, local governments use various tools to protect habitat along stream banks and water quality in streams. The Town of Eagle’s Brush Creek Management Plan identifies values that should be protected in the stream corridor and then requires any new development to protect those values in order to receive permits. Pitkin County limits which portions of a property can be developed and landscaped in order to protect its stream banks, while annexation to the Town of Winter Park generally requires Town ownership of the river corridor. Several local governments have also invested substantial funds in stream restoration projects.

    Ultimately, the workshop participants agreed that local governments have the tools to ensure that new growth doesn’t outstrip water supplies. They also agreed that water conservation targets should be incorporated into land-use plans, but were wary of any state mandate regarding what such targets should be or how they should be reached. The report states that all workshop participants agreed that the dialogue on the intersection between land-use planning and water conservation should continue.

    What do you think? To communicate your opinion to the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University and water planners at the state and local levels, take a brief survey here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Water-land.

    More conservation coverage here.


    Westminster piloting native grasses to replace Kentucky bluegrass in some parks

    June 24, 2014

    kentuckybluegrassvsfescueviamowersource

    From The Denver Post (Austin Briggs):

    The new grass coming up on the west side of Kensington Park isn’t replacing a die-off — it’s replacing grass that was killed off.

    Parks officials this year used an herbicide to kill the Kentucky bluegrass that had been there prior to planting native seeds — including fescue, rye and Canadian bluegrass.

    The new ground cover will conserve water and save the city money, said Jessica Stauffer, the community outreach coordinator for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Library department.

    “We went $200,000 over budget last year in watering costs for our parks,” Stauffer said. “The native grass being seeded stays greener longer and means fewer taxpayer dollars used for maintenance.”

    In addition to Kensington, England and Oakhurst Park II are also being re-seeded in select spots totaling 8.4 acres away from playgrounds and high-traffic areas.

    The new blend, which will grow between eight to 10 inches tall, won’t need to be mowed because it will follow a natural cycle of dormancy and growth, said parks supervisor Jerry Magnetti.

    “We’ll do a second seeding this fall,” Magnetti said. “It’s a low-grow, low-maintenance seed mix that will fill in and look beautiful, especially in the fall and cooler months.”

    While it’ll take another year or two for the grasses to establish, the goal is to see how this experiment works and perhaps apply it to a citywide program amid a long-term drought and rising water costs.

    In 2005 the Department of Parks, Recreation and Libraries used 216 million gallons of water at a cost of $863,675 and in 2012 this grew to 319 million gallons and $1,362,975.

    An acre of established native grass with trees and shrub beds costs about $500 a year to maintain, compared to $2,100 for Kentucky bluegrass.

    More conservation coverage here.


    Don’t be “that guy”

    June 23, 2014

    Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

    Check out Denver Water's annual watering rules to avoid being this guy.

    Follow Denver Water’s annual watering rules  to avoid being this guy.

    Denver Water customers have created a culture of conservation. In fact, water use is down by about 21 percent compared to our benchmark of pre-2002 use. This is a great accomplishment, especially when you consider there are 10 percent more customers in our service area.

    Through our aggressive conservation programs and campaigns, customers recognize that conserving water is the right thing to do in our semi-arid region. But, there are other reasons why this culture of conservation has been adopted, from enjoying the beauty that water-wise plants add to the landscape to saving money by saving water.

    We also know that many customers simply don’t want to be “that guy.” The one in the neighborhood who stands out because he hasn’t adopted the same conservation practices as everyone else. This concept inspired Denver Water’s 2014 Use Only What…

    View original 212 more words


    Water in the desert, dying urban tree edition — John Fleck

    June 14, 2014

    spainsunflower
    From Inkstain (John Fleck):

    Years ago, University of New Mexico emeritus biologist Loren Potter took me for a walk around the neighborhood for a newspaper story, pointing out the strangeness of the artificial ecosystem we’ve built. We bring trees that can’t make it on 10 inches a year, then don’t always water them as much as they need. The result was, even then, an urban forest under stress.

    As I wrote in the Journal last week, Albuquerque has cut its water use to 134 gallons per person per day. A big part of that involves a reduction in outdoor watering. A result of that is evident on my morning walks – a lot more stressed trees.

    Building farms and cities in the desert, moving the water to do it, then responding to the scarcity problems that result, is complicated.

    More conservation coverage here.


    Smart irrigation controllers controlled from your devices

    June 14, 2014

    From The Denver Business Journal (Greg Avery):

    Highlands Ranch-based RainCommander and Boulder-based Rachio both make sprinkler timers that customers can manage from apps on their smartphones or computers.

    Each startup pushed to get to market this spring, seeing a big potential in selling convenience and efficient water use. Existing timers are notoriously laborious for people to set up and adjust, creating a big chance for a company making a sprinkler adjustment as simple as updating a calendar on your iPhone.

    “It’s a natural idea, and 10 years from now everybody — or almost everybody — will be controlling sprinklers this way. Hopefully with RainCommander,” said Mike Shupe, co-founder and chief technology officer of RainCommander.

    People might not automatically think of needing a $250 sprinkler timer and a sprinkler app on their phone. But both RainCommander and Rachio say they’re finding a receptive audience.

    Shupe and his sister-in-law, Deb Shupe, started RainCommander after Deb Shupe went looking for a sprinkler timer remotely controlled from a computer or smartphone and couldn’t find any on the market.

    RainCommander publicly debuted in March and has 150 systems installed and another 78 ordered through a recent Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign, Mike Shupe said.
    RainCommander is targeting homeowners and property management and landscaping businesses that have to adjust dozens if not hundreds of residential and commercial lawn sprinkler systems. It’s in talks to get a presence in big-box stores, too.

    Here’s the pitch from RainCommander.com:

    More conservation coverage here.


    Happy 8th Birthday EPA WaterSense Program

    June 12, 2014

    Baca Ranch a boon for SLV water — The Pueblo Chieftain

    June 12, 2014

    bacanationalwildliferefuge

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    Water once made the Baca Ranch the center of a firestorm that united the entire San Luis Valley. Now that resource plays a central role in offering a home to wildlife as part of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge.

    When Congress created the refuge along with Great Sand Dunes National Park in 2000, it did so with the intention of preventing the water export schemes that were hatched by the ranch’s previous owners. That legislation also ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage water on the property roughly the same way it had been for over a century.

    Historically, the property was watered by the six streams that Cristo Mountains and by artesian wells that tap the confined aquifer. While the artesian wells no longer contribute much to the refuge, wet years still can see as much as 12,000 acres of wet meadows. Refuge Manager Ron Garcia said those mead­ows have been a boon to wildlife.

    “That’s kind of our prime habitat for nesting birds,” he said.

    Managing the ranch’s irrigation system, which at one point included over 100 miles of canals, was no easy task. Garcia and his staff got a big hand from Eddie Clayton, who’d worked for over three decades on the property as a ranch hand before dying at the beginning of last year.

    Researchers continue to track how birds use the meadows, recording the cover type where nests are found, their proximity to water and whether the area is used for forage.

    While Garcia and his staff have had to learn the ins and outs of irrigation on the ranch, they’ve also had to find a way to deal with large numbers of elk. A herd of between 4,000 and 6,000 elk roam the eastern side of the San Luis Valley. Garcia said surveys have found as many as 3,000 animals on the refuge during winter months. The elk concentrate along the streams running through the refuge, making a meal of willows and cottonwood shoots. Their browsing was such a problem that the refuge invited a researcher from Yellowstone National Park.

    “He looked at all the riparian areas and told us at the rate of browse that’s happening out there, your riparian areas will be gone in a few years,” Garcia said. Since then, one strategy that’s worked is fencing out elk from streams.

    “So far, they’ve been very effective,” Garcia said.

    Those riparian areas are important, partly because they provide habitat for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, which makes its summer home in the valley.

    To date, the refuge remains closed to the public at large, although every summer staff offers a series of tours to the public.

    The wildlife service is working on a draft management plan that’s expected to be up for public comment within the next two months.

    Once finalized, that plan will determine the amount of public access and management strategies for the Baca, along with refuges near Alamosa and Monte Vista.

    More Upper Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


    Conservation: Telluride may impose permanent restrictions

    June 8, 2014
    Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

    Photo via TellurideValleyFloor.org

    From The Watch (Seth Cagin):

    With greatly expanded supplies of treated municipal water coming online at the end of this year when the Pandora Water Treatment Plant is scheduled to open, the Town of Telluride is considering the implementation of new water conservation measures.

    While it may seem counterintuitive that a greater supply of water dictates the wisdom of more conservation, Town Manager Greg Clifton told the Telluride Town Council on Tuesday that “it is a matter of good stewardship of a natural resource,” especially incumbent, he suggested, on a “headwaters community.”

    The biggest proposed new regulation, if council approves it, would not be not dramatic: restricting spray irrigation in town to nighttime hours, thus minimizing water losses to evaporation.

    Greater awareness of the value of permanent water conservation measures has come about during the last two years, when there were water shortages and emergency conservation measures were imposed, Clifton said. In addition, he told council, it is a stipulation of a comprehensive settlement agreement with the Idarado Mining Co. that is close to completion that the town implement water conservation measures.

    Water efficiency in Telluride also leaves more water in the San Miguel River, Karen Guglielmone, project manager for the town’s public works department told council, to the benefit not only of downstream water users, but also the local environment.

    On a related note, reductions in water use also provide the benefit of putting less pressure on the town’s wastewater treatment plant. The town currently experiences more water consumption than the wastewater treatment plant can accommodate in the morning hours in the summer during large festivals. The town will attempt to encourage residents and visitors at those times to try to spread their water use out over the course of the day.

    More conservation coverage here.


    World verging on ‘sixth great extinction,’ study says — Washington Post

    June 2, 2014
    Habitat loss via Steve Greenberg

    Habitat loss via Steve Greenberg

    From the Washington Post (Terrance McCoy):

    The story of the buffy-tufted-ear marmoset is part of the story of a great extinction, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. Species of plants and animals are dying out at least 1,000 times faster than before the advent of the human species, and if things don’t turn around, it may get a whole lot worse, researchers said.

    “We are on the verge of the sixth great extinction,” Stuart Pimm, a professor at Duke University who lead a team of nine international scientists, told the Associated Press. ”Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions.”

    Previous mass extinctions are often associated with a meteor strike, one of which likely killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Another extinction, called the Great Dying, offed 90 percent of the world’s species 250 million years ago — though as The Washington Post’s Fred Barbash pointed out, that one may have been caused by a microbe.

    This study focused on contemporary rates of extinction and used databases such as the Red List of Threatened Species. Researchers compared today’s rates with those before humans arrived. And today’s, according to the AP, are 10 times faster than scientists had earlier believed.

    “Recent studies clarify where the most vulnerable species live, where and how humanity changes the planet, and how that drives extinctions,’ the study said. ”We assess key statistics about species, their distribution, and their status.” Many land-based species are distributed across terrains smaller than the state of Delaware, Pimm said in this Duke University press release.

    Such species are “geographically concentrated and are disproportionately likely to be threatened or already extinct,” the study said. “Future rates depend on many factors and are poised to increase. Although there has been rapid progress in developing protected areas, such efforts are not ecologically representative, nor do they optimally protect biodiversity.”

    The number one threat to the world’s many species: habitat loss. It is becoming increasingly difficult, researchers said, to find any speck of planet that hasn’t been either altered or built upon by humans. Complicating efforts: There are so many species no one knows of. “Most species remain unknown to science, and they likely face greater threats than the ones we do know,” Pimm said in the press release.


    2014 Legislature was hip deep in water bills — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #COleg

    May 25, 2014
    Colorado Capitol building

    Colorado Capitol building

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

    The legislative session that just wrapped up featured more significant water bills than the Colorado General Assembly has considered for several years. They ranged from a proposal to limit lawn sizes in new developments relying on agricultural water to technical tweaks to Colorado’s complex system of administering water rights.

    Promoting efficiency and flexibility were common themes in bills introduced, along with programs to help repair infrastructure damaged by last fall’s floods. Some were passed and some weren’t, and the water gossip network is buzzing with rumors that Gov. John Hickenlooper is being lobbied to veto some of the measures. Here’s a quick summary of some of the more high-profile bills that were considered and their fates.

    Lawn limits: Senate Bill 14-017, in its original form, sought to limit the replacement of irrigated farmland with irrigated lawns. The bill would have prohibited approval of new subdivisions that buy agricultural water rights unless lawns are limited to 15 percent or less of the total area of the residential lots. The bill was passed after being converted into a study of ways to limit municipal outdoor water use.

    Agricultural savings to benefit streams: Senate Bill 14-023 sought to remove “use it or lose it” disincentives for irrigation efficiency improvements that could benefit streams. The bill would allow irrigators west of the Continental Divide who reduce water diversions through increased efficiency to transfer or lend the rights to the “saved” water to the state to benefit streams. It would also ensure that those rights are not legally abandoned. This would apply only to water that was not consumed under pre-efficiency practices, but rather lost in transit, and would be allowed only if it wouldn’t damage someone else’s water right.

    Senate Bill 14-023 had a similar intent but ran into trouble in the 2013 session. The 2014 measure won much broader support. It was crafted through an extensive process of stakeholder consultations between environmental and agricultural interests, and it was ultimately passed by both the House and Senate. The bill remains controversial, however, due to concerns that it could deprive upstream junior water users of access to water no longer needed by downstream senior users, as well as concern that it would increase the amount of time and money water users have to spend defending their interests in water court. As of this writing, the bill had not yet been signed by Hickenlooper, and rumors were swirling that he was being lobbied to veto it.

    Phase out inefficient plumbing fixtures: Senate Bill 14-103 would phase out the sale of plumbing fixtures that don’t meet the “WaterSense” standards for efficiency developed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. It passed, but is still waiting for Hickenlooper’s signature. Opponents say the bill inappropriately calls for a “one-size-fits-all” approach to conservation, wouldn’t be effective and would limit consumer choice.

    Flood Relief bills: These offered both money and regulatory streamlining. HB 14-1002 sought to appropriate $12 million for a new grant program to repair water infrastructure damaged by a natural disaster. After bumping the amount up to $17 million, the General Assembly passed the bill. HB 14-1005 sought to reduce legal hurdles for rebuilding irrigation diversions in cases where flooding changed the stream in such a way that the original diversion point would no longer work. The bill allows water-right holders to relocate a ditch headgate without filing for a change in water court, as would normally be required, as long as the change won’t damage someone else’s water right. The General Assembly passed the bill.

    Flexible Water Markets: A bill seeking to make it easier for agricultural users to lease some of their water right to other users as an alternative to permanent “buy and dry” did not fare well. HB 14-1026 would have allowed irrigators who free up water through fallowing some land, deficit irrigation (giving crops less water than they really want) or planting less-thirsty crops to ask the state engineer for permission to change the use of that water without having to designate exactly what the new use will be. Water court wouldn’t have been involved unless there was an appeal. The bill passed the House, but got hung up in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Energy.

    You can trace the history of bills through the Legislature and see whether the governor has acted on them at http://www.leg.state.co.us/.


    @ConservationCO: Congratulations to Melinda Kassen, this year’s Rebel with a Cause

    May 23, 2014

    The Roaring Fork Conservancy 2013 Annual Report is hot off the presses

    May 20, 2014

    Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

    Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy


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

    Watershed Action
    Our watershed action program addresses current issues and future threats to our watershed. Proactive science and watershed planning help inform decision-makers and drive on-the-ground projects to improve and restore our watershed. Many of these actions come from the recently published Roaring Fork Watershed Plan and take the form of scientific studies, restoration projects, changes to policies and educational campaigns. Our watershed action staff address areas of water quantity and quality, hydrology, riparian and river ecology, geomorphology, and economics.

    Watershed Education
    Inspiring people to take action requires knowledge. Each year our watershed education programs reach thousands of students and adults with hands-on science, exploration and experiences. Our student classes range from water chemistry and river ecology to watershed mapping and economics. When we cannot bring students to the river we often bring the river to them.

    Our adult community outreach programs include River Guide Trainings, Watershed Explorations, educational dialogues and forums, and our popular river float trips. Each of these programs are designed to engage participants with people and/or places in the watershed to which they might not have access otherwise.

    More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.


    Greeley takes second place in nationwide water conservation challenge

    May 18, 2014

    Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting recap #COWaterPlan

    May 15, 2014
    Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A series of community meetings on the development of a state water plan appears to be raising some lingering water issues. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is sponsoring the meetings throughout the area in an effort to encourage more people to participate in a statewide water planning process.

    Although the roundtable has met nearly every month since 2005, with ample opportunities to participate, there has been concern from the state Legislature that meetings have not been inclusive enough statewide. More than 20 non-members typically attend the Arkansas Basin Roundtable meetings.

    In March, the roundtable redoubled its efforts to reach out, and already has held a dozen meetings, including the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum in April. At least six more meetings are planned, including one in Pueblo — no date or place have been set. Information can be found at the website, http://arkansasbasin.com.

    Meetings so far have attracted anywhere from a handful to 60 people. The largest was at Primero during a snowstorm. Reactions have ranged from acceptance to resistance by some who believe the water plan will mean more regulations.

    In Lamar, the biggest issue seemed to be the impact of a dam on Fountain Creek on downstream water rights, said Henry Schnabel, Prowers County commissioner. The dam is favored by some in Pueblo to contain increased flood flows caused by development in Colorado Springs. Farmers in the eastern part of the state fear that would change the timing of flows that reach the Arkansas River and reduce the amount of water they receive from Fountain Creek storms.

    “A lot of times, we feel like we’re left out,” Schnabel said. “If you stop the water on Fountain Creek, we need to come up with a solution.”

    Roundtable members were grateful for the turnout witnessed so far.

    “It’s good to see the level of involvement, because we’ve reached out,” said Alan Hamel, former chairman of the roundtable and the basin’s representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Urban water conservation measures could be difficult to measure in the Arkansas River basin, where size and scope matter. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable confronted the issue Wednesday as it continues toward developing a basin implementation plan by July. The basin plan is part of a broader effort to develop a state water plan.

    Most roundtable members resisted a preliminary approach by consultant Mark Shively that sought to create a “point system” that would identify best practices to save water.

    The only part of the proposal that truly resonated was the statement: “One size does not fit all.”

    “The conservation plan does not take into account things like our wise use campaign or economic forces within communities,” said Terry Book, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “Demographics make a difference. I believe each community has the obligation to define good, better or best.”

    Pueblo’s per capita water use has dropped as much as other Colorado communities with aggressive conservation campaigns since 2002. Some of that is because of the downturn in the economy, but a 2007 survey found customers’ habits have changed as well.

    In Crowley County, the per capita use is higher because domestic water supplies overlap with water for horses or other livestock, said Rick Kidd, who represents the county on the roundtable.

    Communities that already have lowered water use could be penalized under a point system, said Dave Taussig, who represents Lincoln County.

    The danger of voluntary guidelines is that they could, over time, become mandatory, said Joe Kelley, superintendent of La Junta water.

    “The first thing you know, everybody’s regulated,” Kelley said. “Then you have to spend money you don’t have to get money for grants.”


    Northern Water Conservation Gardens Fair May 17

    May 11, 2014
    Weather station at the Conservation Gardens at Northern Water

    Weather station at the Conservation Gardens at Northern Water

    From email from Northern Water:

    Everyone’s invited to attend the free, educational Northern Water Conservation Gardens Fair on Saturday, May 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Northern Water’s headquarters in Berthoud, CO.

    The fair will feature Conservation Gardens tours, how-to seminars and demonstrations of irrigation technologies.

    There will be garden tours starting every 30 minutes starting at 10 a.m. How-to seminars start at the top of the hour and will cover numerous topics from planning and renovating landscapes for low-water use to turfgrasses.

    Vendors will be selling plants, irrigation equipment and gardening supplies.

    Gardening and landscaping experts from Colorado State University, Larimer County Master Gardeners and several other organizations will provide information on gardening, landscape design and irrigation.

    The first 400 fair attendees will receive a free Plant Select perennial. A limited number of free sub sandwiches will be available from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

    Young gardeners will enjoy the children’s potting bench, the rain maker target shoot and other kids’ activities.

    For more information, see the Conservation Gardens Fair flyer.

    Get a preview of the numerous plants in the Conservation Gardens.


    Drilling down on issue of water, agriculture & conservation — Allen Best #ColoradoRiver

    May 11, 2014
    Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture

    Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

    State vs. local mandates is the subject of this report from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    A lawyer now based in Durango, [Ellen Roberts] spent the early 1980s living in Grand Lake and running lifts at Winter Park. Pipelines from both towns divert enormous amounts of water, roughly 60 percent of water in eastern Grand County, to farms and cities from Denver to Fort Collins and eastward to Julesberg.

    “I’m not trying to undo that—and never in a million years could we,” says Roberts. “But there’s concern on the Western Slope—legitimately—whether people on the Front Range understand that water doesn’t come from the tap. It comes from someplace else. My bill, S.B. 17, was an effort to begin that conversation about what is the best use of precious water. Because we live in high-desert like conditions, maybe we should be rethinking how we use our water.”

    The idea was pitched to Roberts by Steve Harris, president of a water engineering company in Durango and a delegate to the statewide Interbasin Compact Committee. The IBCC, as the committee is called, has been meeting monthly in an effort to shape the state-wide water plan ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper…

    “We appreciate that admonishment,” says Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, who helped Roberts draft the proposal.

    “I think we need to have more of a state-wide discussion about water conservation—and not just what we have done in the past, but rather the next step, the next frontier in conservation,” says Treese.

    “We need to move beyond turning off your tap while brushing your teeth. While helpful, that’s very marginal in its benefit. If you’re going to make a difference, you have to go outdoors. That’s where the consumptive use is.”

    More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    Breckenridge: “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it” — Tim Gagen #ColoradoRiver

    May 9, 2014
    Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

    Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    The town council is considering legislation that would cap outdoor use at three days a week. It’s part of an effort to put a new emphasis on water conservation and efficiency, says Tim Gagen, the town manager.

    “We have to walk the talk,” says Gagen. “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it.”

    Breckenridge is not alone. Other mountains towns in Colorado are devoting more attention to water conservation and efficiency. A coalition in the Roaring Fork Valley is assembling plans for public outreach to elevate water efficiency. The Vail-based Eagle River Water and Sanitation District began crimping water use in 2003. Aspen’s water-efficiency measures go back even further, to the 1990s…

    Colorado’s Front Range cities, where 85 percent of state residents live, have become more efficient with existing supplies. But they have also expanded supplies in recent decades by buying farms in the South Platte and Arkansas River valleys for their water rights, and allowing the farms to then dry up. They have also purchased mountain ranches in such buy-and-dry transactions.

    Front Range water providers also want to retain the option of going to the Colorado River and its tributaries for one final, big diversion. Western Slope water leaders urge caution. But to have credibility, leaders in the mountain valleys realize they first must put their own houses in order.

    “The Western Slope needs to be goosed,” says Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Frankly, the Front Range has led most of the water-conservation efforts in Colorado to date.”[...]

    Gagen says that Breckenridge has been nibbling at water conservation efforts for several years. Leaking segments of existing pipes, which can cause loss of 8 to 15 percent of all the municipal water supply, are being replaced. Sprinklers in parks are being changed out in favor of more efficient devices. And the town is now looking at narrowing irrigation at its golf course to avoid watering of the roughs.

    Breckenridge, in its municipal operation, has also adopted more xeriscaping, using plants that don’t require irrigation, reducing irrigation of remaining turf, and, in some cases, installing artificial turf.

    Still on the agenda is elevating rates for high-consumption users. The average water bill in Breckenridge is just $35 every two months, not much more than dinner at one of the town’s higher-end restaurants. As such, most people probably pay little, if any attention, to the idea of conserving water in order to reduce their costs. They just write the check, says Gagen.

    While Breckenridge has broad goals of improved sustainability, Gagen says the plan to reduce outdoor lawn irrigation to three days a week was pushed by two council members who have been persuaded by books they’ve read: “Blue Revolution,” by Cynthia Barnett (2011), “Cadillac Desert,” by Marc Reisner (1986), and “Getting Green Done,” by Auden Schendler (2011)…

    Eagle River Water and Sanitation District has achieved a 20 percent per capita reduction in use, according to Diane Johnson, communications director. That’s in line with the reduction in water use since 2000 by Denver Water’s 1.3 million direct and indirect customers.

    However, Eagle River has not pushed indoor water savings. Because 95 percent of indoor water is treated and released into the Eagle River, explains Johnson, the impact is small on the valley’s creeks and rivers. This compares with just 15 to 40 percent of water returned to streams after outdoor irrigation. Given limited resources for messaging, the better return is to hammer home the message of reduced outdoor use.

    “What we really try to work with local people to understand is that their outdoor use affects how much water is in the rivers,” says Johnson. “If you are using water indoors, save yourself some money and be efficient, but most of that water comes back to the treatment plant and returns to the river.”[...]

    In adopting its regulations on outdoor lawn watering, Eagle River Water was motivated by the searing drought of 2002. But laws also provide incentives. When seeking permits for new or expanded reservoirs, county regulations ask about “efficient use” of existing resources. State and federal regulations approach it with different wording, but essentially the same intent. “Efficient use of resource is going to be a consideration in any of those permitting processes,” says Johnson.

    Eagle River Water has also adopted tiered rates, charging higher rates per 1,000 gallons as consumers step up consumption. But what do you do about those pockets of consumers for whom money is no deterrent?

    That’s an issue in the Vail Valley that water officials are starting to wrestle with. Aspen recognized years ago that price was no object to some homeowners—and charges nosebleed rates.

    Aspen’s municipal utility, which delivers both electricity and water, uses the income from high-use water customers to pay for front-end renewable energy programs and demand-side energy efficiency, says Phil Overeynder, the former utilities director and now the utilities engineer for special projects.

    Aspen in the early 1990s approached the forked paths of water use. But instead of continuing to build capacity for existing water demands, the city instead reined in use. Last year, Aspen used the same amount of water as it did in 1966, despite having three times as many residents. (See more detailed story).

    Now, an effort has been launched to frame a broad water efficiency strategy for the Roaring Fork Valley. The seed was planted in 2010 by the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, or CORE, a non-profit founded in the mid-1990s. The effort has several motives—including energy.

    Formation of the group was at least partly influenced by the writings of Amory Lovins, a resident of the area, who for decades talked about “negawatts”—the idea that efficiency in energy was as good as new supply. The group he co-founded, Rocky Mountain Institute, further applied this idea of a soft path to water efficiency.

    CORE’s Jason Haber explains that saving water also saves energy in several ways. Developing water resources requires energy, but it also takes energy to pump water. Energy is also embedded in treatment of sewage, he points out. Typically, water and sewage are the largest components of any municipality’s energy budget…

    Whether Colorado truly has any water to develop on the Western Slope is debatable—and has been debated frequently in state-wide water forums. The Colorado River Water Conservation District has suggested that major new diversions would be risky, simply because of the lack of certainty of legally entitled water in future years. Colorado’s use of the river that bears its name is tightly capped by two inter-state water compacts and one international treaty.

    More conservation coverage here.


    2014 Colorado legislation: SB14-023 — West Slope instream use, irrigation efficiency #COleg

    May 8, 2014
    Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board

    Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board

    Here’s the first of a two-part series about the bill from Michael Schrantz writing for Steamboat Today. Here’s an excerpt:

    Senate Bill 23 is on its way to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk thanks to some legislative maneuvering, but the bill dealing with changes to water law on the Western Slope has divided interested organizations and prompted warnings that its consequences could be much broader than intended.

    The bill aims to provide incentives for Western Slope agricultural water users and irrigators to make their operations more efficient while also increasing instream flows.

    Organizations opposed to Senate Bill 23 warn that while its intent is laudable, the bill also has the potential to harm existing water rights.

    Under current water law, not using a water right in its full, decreed amount for the intended beneficial use can put the right in jeopardy. The Division Engineer’s office tracks historic consumptive use, and whatever water has not been used in a 10-year period (either the full right or a partial amount) gets put on the decennial abandonment list. Water that’s considered abandoned flows through the stream or creek like it had been during the previous 10 years or longer that it wasn’t being used or it’s put to use by other rights holders.

    Senate Bill 23 would allow those who have rights for agricultural, irrigation or stock watering uses in water divisions 4, 5, 6 (that’s us) or 7 to implement efficiency measures, such as a sprinkler system, and transfer that savings as an instream right to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    The water rights holders could structure the agreement so that they could get the transferred amount back from the CWCB in the future, allowing them to implement more efficient irrigation measures without risking the loss of part of their decreed water.

    The CWCB would get an instream flow between the point the rights holder diverts water and the point of the historical return flows.

    Critics of Senate Bill 23 generally have two major issues with the legislation: that a transfer for instream use has the potential to harm intervening water rights and that it also could injure upstream junior rights holders…

    “The intent of bill is providing incentives for ag water to use efficiencies without harm to others,” Colorado River Water Conservation District spokesman Chris Treese said.

    That’s a goal the district supports and has funded itself in the past, Treese said, but there are a number of concerns with Senate Bill 23.

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District, which represents Western Slope counties including Routt, opposes Senate Bill 23.

    The principal concern, Treese said, is that the process could represent a cost to surrounding water users who take it upon themselves to investigate whether the change would harm their rights.

    “There’s definitely a potential for injury for those rights in between,” Colorado Farm Bureau President Don Shawcroft said about the intervening rights between the point of diversion and point of historical return flows.

    The Colorado Farm Bureau also opposed Senate Bill 23.

    “It’s an interesting dilemma,” Shawcroft said. “Colorado water law says the state and anyone changing a water right has to prove they’re not injuring anyone else.

    “Anyone who believes they’re injured has to lawyer up and engineer up and has to prove their point.”[...]

    The Colorado Water Congress worked on the bill with legislators and other interested parties for eight to 10 months, Executive Director Doug Kemper said, and it is satisfied that the processes included in the bill will protect surrounding water rights holders.

    “We finally got to the point where we felt like major concerns were addressed,” Kemper said. “We ultimately ended up taking the position to support” the bill.

    Requiring a water court process to ensure that other water rights are not injured was a big part of that, he said.

    “It’s not creating water right out of thin air or, of more concern, creating water right out of someone else’s water,” Kemper said…

    More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    The Spring 2014 newsletter from the Rio Grande Land Trust is hot off the presses

    May 4, 2014

    riograndelandtrustspring2014newslettercover

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

    … there is nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment we experience at the closing of a conservation easement.

    Conserving land and water is really our core function. And it gives us the chance to work with some of the most committed and generous people here in the Valley who deeply care about the future of their ranches. This is so evident in the heartwarming story in this newsletter from Eveyln Buss about conserving the ranch that she and her brother Doug Davie inherited from their parents. We are grateful to them for protecting that beautiful ranch on the Rio Grande, and its exceptional water rights forever.

    Likewise, we were able to complete the conservation easement on the lovely Garcia Ranch on the Conejos River in December of 2013. Along with his daughters, Lana and Tania, Reyes Garcia was committed to protecting the legacy of his family on that land. His article expressing the deep meaning of this was featured in our Spring 2013 newsletter (you can find that issue on our website).

    Both of these ranches were featured properties in RiGHT’s 2012 and 2013 “Save the Ranch” campaigns. In so many ways, these projects were community projects, and we could not have made our way through the many challenges that easements inherently present, without the generous support of our many friends and neighbors who contribute to RiGHT’s work, with donations of time, funds, and so much more. I hope you will share in our deep sense of accomplishment, that together, we are leaving a lasting legacy of conserved land and water for future generations.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


    Breckenridge: “We’re a headwaters community, and we want to take a [conservation] leadership role” — Peter Grosshuesch

    May 4, 2014

    From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

    The town council amended a law during a meeting Tuesday, April 22, to extend water conservation efforts during drought that limited outdoor use to three times a week.

    The restrictions were last put in place in 2003 and 2012, and the new rules will take effect June 1.

    “We’re a headwaters community, and we want to take a leadership role,” said Peter Grosshuesch, the town’s community development director.

    Properties east of Main Street or Highway 9 may water only on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while properties west of those roads may water only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. On those days, watering is restricted to between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. the next day.

    People can still keep their landscaping alive under those restrictions, Grosshuesch said, calling unlimited water use unwise, especially in a semiarid climate.

    According to the Western Regional Climate Center, Breckenridge received an average of 163 inches of snow a year between 1948 and 2005. But that number translates to just 19 inches of water per year.

    “Water is a valuable commodity,” Grosshuesch said. “It’s expensive to produce and deliver.”

    When the town asked for public comment on how the change would affect pressure-cleaning driveways and parking lots, officials received hearty support.

    “The vast majority of people said, ‘No, you shouldn’t be using water to do that. You should just sweep them,’” Grosshuesch said.

    But the town exempted using water for cleaning those surfaces anyway, as long as people use hoses with shut-off nozzles.

    Some businesses in the food industry expressed concern about the permanent restrictions. Due to health codes, they must clean pollen off their outdoor tables, and they like to do that with water. Grossheusch said that specific case also will be exempt.

    First-time violators will be warned, but a second-time offender will be fined $250. A third-time offense warrants a $500 fine, and any offenses after that will cost $750. Out-of-town violators will be charged 1.5 times the fine for residents.


    Drought or no drought, smart water use is essential

    May 1, 2014

    Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

    News release:

    Drought or no drought, smart water use is essential

    Denver Water’s summer watering rules begin May 1

    Denver — April 28, 2014 — After responding to multiple years of drought conditions, Denver Water stresses the importance of using water efficiently, regardless of the weather.

    “We just came out of a severe drought, and our customers did a great job of answering our call to save even more water than usual last year,” said Greg Fisher, Denver Water’s manager of demand planning. “But, water conservation isn’t a drought response; it must be a permanent way of life for all of us.”

    To help eliminate outdoor water waste, Denver Water implements annual summer water use rules, which begin May 1, 2014.

    The Water Savers program – to educate customers about Denver Water's watering rules – has been in place since 2008.

    The Water Savers program – to educate customers about Denver Water’s watering rules – has been in place since 2008.

    The watering rules, which help facilitate smart irrigation, include:

    View original 252 more words


    2014 Colorado legislation: SB14-103 approved with just one Republican vote #COleg

    April 29, 2014
    Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

    Low flow toilet cutout via The Ultimate Handyman

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    It seems like sneering at apple pie, motherhood, and blue skies. Why would you vote against water-efficient plumbing fixtures?

    Nonetheless, S.B. 14-103 was approved by the Colorado Legislature with just one Republican vote. The bill would require that only those plumbing fixtures certified under the WaterSense program can be sold in Colorado as of Sept. 1, 2016.

    A representative of Gov. John Hickenlooper said on April 25 that the governor plans to canvas water leaders around the state to understand the impacts to water use and conservation…

    Denver Water, the primary proponent of the efficiency legislation, estimates that broad adoption of the water-efficient toilets, urinals, shower heads, and faucets will produce 40,000 acre-feet of savings across Colorado by 2050. The agency serves a quarter of residential customers in Colorado.

    “Every conversation about water should start with conservation,” says Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning for Denver Water, parroting a line used by Hickenlooper (and probably many others).

    Denver has significantly reduced per-capita consumption in the last 40 years. In the early 1980s, Denver Water coined the word “xeriscaping” to embody the idea of using plants and grasses native to the climate, to minimize the amount of outdoor irrigation at homes.

    The drought of 2002 drove Denver to insist, not merely encourage, cutbacks to outdoor use. After the immediate threat ebbed, however, customers generally stuck with their new ways. Residential use in Denver and its service areas in close-in suburbs now averages 85 gallons per capita per day. That’s a 20 percent reduction since the start of the 21st century, but Denver hopes to squeeze another 2 percent of reduction in the next couple years.

    Change-outs of indoor plumbing fixtures have helped shrink the per-capita use, says Fisher. Using rebates and assistance to low-income residents, Denver has retrofitted 135,000 toilets in its service area since 2003. The city’s WaterSense Challenge program also provides multifamily customers bulk discounts on toilets, faucet aerators, and showerheads. Field technicians in the agency’s commercial audits replace showerheads and faucet aerators free of charge.

    While outdoor use is responsible for roughly three-quarters of residential water use, indoor plumbing changes can yield perhaps surprising savings…

    At a House of Representatives committee hearing in March, Republicans questioned why Colorado needs a “one size fits all” approach to water efficiency. The general tone was that government had no right getting involved in people’s bathrooms. One of those committee members, Don Coram, a Republican from Montrose, later told a gathering in Durango that he opposed the bill because it wouldn’t save much water and it was impossible to enforce, according to a report in the Durango Herald.

    Fisher had first taken the idea of water-efficiency standards to legislators two years ago, but admits now that he wasn’t ready to answer all the questions. This time, he says, he was ready, and his core argument was that more efficiency does not preclude consumer choices…

    WaterSense-labeled toilets use 20 percent less water per flush but perform as well or better than today’s standard toilets and older toilets that use much more water.

    Toilets once needed 7 gallons of water per flush. That dropped to 3.5 gallons and then, by 1996, 1.6 gallons. Now, all toilets certified by WaterSense use 1.28 gallons or less, with some models using as little as 0.8 gallons per flush.

    WaterSense-certified bathroom faucets outfitted with aerators can save 30 percent.

    Why mandate WaterSense fixtures? Building codes have begun requiring greater efficiency. And consumers at The Home Depot and other places are buying them on their own…

    Fisher said Denver Water decided that mandates were needed to capture the entire market, retail and wholesale, and accelerate the pace of adoption.

    “If we felt comfortable that the market was going to take care of this in the near future, I don’t think we would have seen the need for the bill,” says Fisher.

    But he also said that Denver, in its strategies, wants to emphasize that lifestyles need not be sacrificed even as greater efficiencies are wrung out of water supplies…

    This is just one of a trio of bills aimed at increasing water conservation and efficiency that were introduced in the Colorado Legislature this year. The most controversial was introduced by Sen. Ellen Roberts, the lone Republican to cross the partisan aisle to vote for the efficiency mandate. Based in Durango, she proposed strict limits on lawn sizes in any subdivision using new imports of water in cases where farms had been dried up for municipal supplies. The idea was sent to an interim summer committee for further consideration.

    Yet another bill, introduced by Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Democrat from Snowmass Village, would have allowed legal transfer of water saved by farmers and ranchers through improved efficiencies. Under her original proposal in S.B. 14-023, the saved water could have been donated as dedicated instream-flow right in the rivers and creeks. It reportedly has run into opposition because of various concerns.

    More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    Denver Water’s summer watering rules begin May 1

    April 28, 2014

    Walkers win Leopold Award — The Pueblo Chieftain

    April 23, 2014

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    For more than two decades, Gary and Georgia Walker have been transforming a “rundown ranch” into a productive cattle ranch that provides wildlife habitat and environmental buffer against Fort Carson for Pueblo West. On Tuesday, they were honored with the Colorado Leopold Conservation Award, recognizing their continued stewardship for the 65,000-acre ranch. The award is named for Aldo Leopold, who called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own in his 1949 book, “A Sand County Almanac.”

    “The Walkers’ passion for caring for the habitat and rare plant species on their land, near a growing urban community, sets a remarkable example of conservation leadership,” said Sand County Foundation President Brent Haglund.

    The Walkers most recently made headlines for becoming the first ranchers in the United States to allow a release of an endangered species, the black-footed ferret, on their land under the federal Safe Harbor Act. But the conservation ethic goes back much further.

    “Georgia and I started buying small ranches in the late 1970s,” said Walker, 68. “In those early days my only income was the check she brought home for teaching at District 60 in Pueblo. I also had an on and off income for helping dad. But our main plan was to seek out inexpensive ranches that needed a lot of cleaning up, buy and resell them. I was lucky as the banks in those days put a lot of value in the word and knowledge of a man and would make loans based on that and not only on his assets.”

    In 1992, they bought the Turkey Creek Ranch from Walker’s father, the late Bob Walker. At the same time, they purchased 20,000 acres of adjacent state land in a tax-free exchange and gave up on fixing up ranches in order to concentrate on expanding their own property. Over the years, they have added more land through 75 purchases that doubled the size of the ranch.

    “In my lifetime we have run everything that grew hair,” Walker said.

    At one time his father ran 15,000 yearlings on four ranches in two states, but in recent years, the drought has decimated the herd. Since the drought began in 2000, they’ve sold and rebuilt their Black Angus herd three times. It reached its peak in 2012 at 1,100 cows, but dropped to 350 during the drought. After the rains last fall, they expanded to about 500 head.

    The Walkers also own Twin Lakes water shares, among the most valuable and reliable water sources in the Arkansas River basin, in order to maintain water levels on ponds used by wildlife on their property.

    “The Walkers balance a love of the land and a dedication to preserving wildlife with cattle ranching,” said Gene Manuello, president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “The 14 years of sustained drought have put unfathomable pressure on producers in Southeastern Colorado; the Walkers’ forethought and planning included the installation of pipelines, water storage tanks and stock ponds which have played an integral part in the long-term viability of the Turkey Creek Ranch as a home to livestock and wildlife.”

    The Leopold Award is jointly sponsored by the Sand County Foundation, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Peabody Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, American AgCredit, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Farm Credit, DuPont Pioneer, The Mosaic Company and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    The Walkers will receive the award and a $10,000 check at the Protein Producer Summit June 16 in Colorado Springs.

    Here’s the release from the Sand Country Foundation via The Cherry Creek News:

    The Turkey Creek Ranch owned and operated by Gary and Georgia Walker has been selected as the recipient of the 2014 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award. The Pueblo-based ranch consists of approximately 65,000 deeded acres and is managed for both wildlife and livestock.

    The acts of cattle ranching and wildlife management go hand in hand, and the life’s work of the Walkers proves it. Under an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they re-introduced Black Footed Ferrets, which were once thought to be extinct, in eastern Colorado.

    “The Walkers’ passion for caring for the habitat and rare plant species on their land, near a growing urban community, sets a remarkable example of conservation leadership,” said Sand County Foundation President Brent Haglund.

    Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the Leopold Conservation Award recognizes private landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. The Walkers will receive a crystal depicting Aldo Leopold, and $10,000 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s Protein Producer Summit on June 16 in Colorado Springs.

    The award recognizes private landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. It is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Peabody Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and American AgCredit.

    “The Walkers balance a love of the land and a dedication to preserving wildlife with cattle ranching,” said Gene Manuello, President of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “The fourteen years of sustained drought have put unfathomable pressure on producers in southeastern Colorado; the Walkers’ forethought and planning included the installation of pipelines, water storage tanks and stock ponds which have played an integral part in the long-term viability of the Turkey Creek Ranch as a home to livestock and wildlife.”

    The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. It inspires landowners through these examples and provides a visible forum where farmers, ranchers and other private landowners are recognized as conservation leaders. In his influential 1949 book, “A Sand County Almanac,” Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”

    Award applicants are judged based on their demonstration of improved resource conditions, innovation, long-term commitment to stewardship, sustained economic viability, community and civic leadership, and multiple use benefits.

    The Leopold Conservation Award is possible thanks to generous contributions from many organizations, including Peabody Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Assoc., American AgCredit, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Farm Credit, DuPont Pioneer, The Mosaic Company, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    More conservation coverage here.


    Southwestern Water Conservation District Annual Water Seminar recap #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

    April 11, 2014

    sanjuan

    From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

    With continuing population growth in Southwestern states and ongoing drought, water issues are becoming more and more about who has to cut back their use when there isn’t enough to meet demand.

    That thread ran through presentations at the annual Water Seminar on April 4 in Durango, sponsored by the Southwest Water Conservation District.

    “How will we handle the water and other needs of 10 million people,” asked John Stulp, a former state agriculture commissioner and current chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) which is developing a State Water Plan along with nine basin water roundtables…

    Harris cited a statewide statistic that with municipal water use, half is used inside and half outside. Ninety percent of the inside use returns to the stream. With outside use, 70 to 80 percent is “consumed” and does not return to the stream. The Southwest Roundtable has approved a goal to shift the percentage of municipal use to indoor, especially where the water comes from ag dry-up or trans-mountain diversion, he said.

    Harris initiated the idea of legislation to limit lawn sizes in residential developments after 2016 where the water would come from a permanent transfer from ag. It didn’t get through the State Senate but will be a study topic by an interim committee on water resources during the off-session.

    “The lawn bill, this is just the first time, not the last,” Harris asserted. “Reduction of lawn size is a significant conservation measure to help meet 2050 water supply.”

    State Rep. Don Coram from Montrose commented “On the Front Range, they haven’t addressed storage or depleting the aquifer. They are more interested in trans-mountain diversion.”[...]

    John McGlow from the Upper Colorado River Commission said curtailment such as this will affect water rights decreed after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Upper Basin is western Colorado, eastern Utah, southwest Wyoming, and northwest New Mexico. They have begun discussions on how cutbacks would be shared, or how to avoid getting to that point with things like fallowing fields and reducing frequency of irrigation.

    “Lake Powell is our bank account for complying with the compact,” he said. It’s the cushion for the Upper Basin states to deliver mandated quantities of water to the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada) and Mexico over a 10-year average. Navajo Reservoir also is part of that.

    McGlow said 1999 was the last year that Powell was full. The goal is to get enough water into Lake Powell each year to avoid curtailment or the possibility of the water level getting too low for hydropower generation, which he said would have its own serious impacts.

    The good news is there’s enough snowpack in northwest and north central Colorado that these won’t be issues this year, McGlow said…

    Panelist Dan Birch from the Colorado River Conservation District said most pre-compact rights on the Western Slope are in the Grand Valley and Uncompaghre Valley. There is around 1 million AF of pre-compact irrigation on the West Slope, he said. Most of that land is in pasture or hay. Pasture can’t be fallowed, he said.

    With a target to make up for 350,000 AF of post-compact use, Birch said, “I don’t think we want one-third of ag to go away. What we’re talking about is interruptible voluntary market-based contracts” for pre-compact users to reduce their water use. “This has to work for the farmers and the ditch companies,” he said.

    Birch said power plants in Northwest Colorado are significant post-compact water users. “In the event of a (water) shortage, it will be important to keep critical uses going,” including power generation, he said.

    Demand management is a key to avoiding Upper Basin curtailment or loss of hydro generation. “We are way behind on actual implementation of demand management,” including agricultural fallowing and reducing municipal demands, McGlow said. “It’s still a concept. It’s in its infancy.”

    Fallowing and reduced irrigation are part of what’s called water banking. Panelist Aaron Derwingson said, “Pretty much everyone supports water banking in concept. It gets a lot more complex actually doing it.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    The Grand Foundation’s 2014 Annual Grant Cycle deadline is Thursday, May 1 #ColoradoRiver

    April 5, 2014
    Gore Canyon rafting via Blogspot.com

    Gore Canyon rafting via Blogspot.com

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

    The Grand Foundation announces its 2014 Annual Grant Cycle deadline as Thursday, May 1. Applications are available on the Grand Foundation’s website at http://www.grandfoundation.com. All 2013 grant recipients must have their 2013 Final Grant Reports submitted in order to be eligible for 2014 funding.

    If you have any questions or would like to become more involved with the Grand Foundation, contact Megan Ledin, Executive Director, at megan@grandfoundation.com or by calling 970-887-3111.


    Having exhausted all toilet puns, House approves SB14-103, Unamended — Kristin Wyatt #COleg

    April 3, 2014

    Republican River Water Conservation District quarterly board meeting, April 10 #COWaterPlan

    April 3, 2014
    Republican River Basin

    Republican River Basin

    From the Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

    It is time for the Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors to hold its regular quarterly meeting in Yuma. It will be held at Quintech on Thursday, April 10, beginning at 10 a.m. Public comment is scheduled for 1 p.m.

    The board will receive a report from Assistant Attorney General Scott Steinbrecher on the negotiations with Kansas regarding compliance with the Republican River Compact, the Bonny Reservoir accounting issue, and the compact compliance pipeline. There also could be other matters addressed by Steinbrecher.

    The pipeline has been put to use this past winter as Kansas agreed to a one-year test run in 2014. Tracy Travis, the pipeline manager, will provide a report on the pipeline.

    Conservation has been a focus, particularly with a symposium sponsored by the RRWCD and local businesses held last month highlighting the need to conserve the Ogallala Aquifer, the region’s source of water. The board will discuss conservation survey results during the April 10 meeting.

    Also on the agenda, HDR Engineering will give a report regarding the Colorado Water Plan. There also will be a presentation on the Great Divide.

    The board will consider purchasing agency bonds, and receive reports on various recent meetings and programs.

    Quintech is located at 529 N. Albany St. in Yuma. For further information, or having any questions, please call RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel at 970-332-3552, or email her at deb.daniel@rrwcd.net. The RRWCD website is http://www.republicanriver.com.


    Conservation Colorado: Rebel with a cause event, May 22

    March 26, 2014

    Saguache Creek

    Saguache Creek


    Click here for the pitch and to register.


    Conservation easements are helping to keep water in agriculture

    March 9, 2014
    Lake Fork Gunnison River

    Lake Fork Gunnison River

    From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

    John McClow is general counsel for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and a member of Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy, which focuses its efforts solely on agriculture.

    “We broker conservation easements to maintain working agriculture,” McClow said.

    In the Upper Gunnison area, the organization has helped place easements on about 18,000 acres, which McClow said is a substantial percentage of the total area. Most of the easements have a financial incentive for the landowner, he said.

    “Often, they will use the money to invest in more land,” McClow said, adding that it helps keep the ranch operation financially stable.

    “Our easement activity has slowed a little bit,” he said. “We’ve pretty much picked all the low hanging fruit.”

    The organization is getting into more complicated easements on lands that are more valuable and take more money, many being larger and closer to Crested Butte.

    Gunnison County directs some funds from its 1 percent sales tax toward purchasing development rights, about $300,000 per year, according to Mike Pelletier.

    “Typically, we’re able to fund what’s requested,” said Pelletier, who is the county contact for the program. “We have limited funds, and people just don’t ask if they don’t think we can fund it.”

    The tax dollars were reauthorized in 2012, he said, and are used to match dollars from elsewhere…

    “For every dollar we give to local land trusts, they attract $12 from outside” the county, he said. “By doing that you leverage a lot of outside money.”’

    From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

    George is working on his third easement with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust. He’s donating the value of the development rights in return for a state tax credit he will sell for 82 cents on the dollar, but his previous two easements went through Routt County’s purchase of development rights program, which pairs tax dollars with other funds to buy the right to develop the land and places the property under an easement dedicated to conservation.

    “The benefit was we were able to keep the family ranch in the family,” George said about the easements, especially one in 2012 that was valued at $2.56 million.

    The PDR program contributed $825,000 toward that transaction, about 31 percent of the total cost.

    That money helped buy out other family members while George’s other easements allowed him to buy more land and pay down debt on parcels he’d already purchased.

    “If I die or if we sell the ranch, it cannot be subdivided,” he said. “All these parcels will stay their size.”

    George thinks more ranchers should look into easements on their property.

    “They lack the knowledge,” he said. “They’re scared of them.”[...]

    As early as the 1980s and during the push for major development in Pleasant Valley south of Steamboat, residents banded together in support of open-space conservation.

    In the mid-1990s, these efforts gained momentum with Routt County ranchers placing conservation easements on their property and new county policies being enacted to preserve open space.

    The effect of this work can be seen in the absence of development.

    The drive down Rabbit Ears Pass into Steamboat Springs shows an open south valley floor where hay meadows still dominate the view. Colorado Highway 131 cuts through working ranches in South Routt County, and traffic on county roads still sometimes pauses to accommodate cattle being moved to greener pastures.

    Preventing the fragmentation of agricultural land through subdivision and development keeps more land in production and helps maintain the working order of the landscape.

    Splitting large tracts of agricultural land into ranchettes and subdivisions means introducing new neighbors to rural Colorado.

    “They just don’t have a clue to what’s going on in the ranching world,” Routt County commissioner Doug Monger said about some people who live near land he’s leased for his cattle. “No one fixes their fence.”

    Colorado is a fence-out state where landowners are required to maintain a lawful fence if they want to keep cattle out of their land. The cattle owner is not responsible for trespassing by his livestock if a fence isn’t maintained…

    Gunnison County, another Western Slope county with a long ranching heritage, has seen the effects of agricultural fragmentation that arise from subdividing working ranchland.

    “What happens is when they put in the road and building sites then turn over management of the property to someone who has no experience in the area, it disrupts the irrigation system within that drainage,” said John McClow, general counsel for Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and member of Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy.

    The Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy brokers easements for ranches in Gunnison County.

    “It’s a disruption in the process that makes shortages much more frequent,” McClow said. “It’s not collaborative anymore.”

    With flood-irrigated pasture, such as in Routt County, ranchers depend on water returning from their neighbors’ fields back into the river or ditches. Turning an upstream ranch into a subdivision or 35-acre parcels takes away return flows for the ranches below it.

    Subdivisions downstream and closer to towns also pose challenges as the managers might be unfamiliar with how the river was managed in the past and place a call on the river if they aren’t getting their full allocation. Under Colorado’s prior appropriation system, when a senior rights holder places a call on a river, upstream junior appropriations must stop diverting water until the senior right has its full allocation.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Michael P. Dowling/Chris West):

    There is a nice bonus for Colorado in the Farm Bill that President Obama signed last month (Feb. 7). Senate Conservation Subcommittee Chairman Michael Bennet, D-Colo., fought hard for programs that will enable Colorado conservation organizations and local governments to partner with landowners to keep our state’s unique ranches and farm lands in agriculture. The new Agricultural Lands Easement program will provide grants to purchase conservation easements that permanently restrict development on important ranches and farm lands. These voluntary agreements will ensure that land stays in agriculture and continues to be an important — and growing — part of our state’s economy.

    The predecessors to this program have already conserved more than 1 million acres of economically and ecologically important agricultural lands. The new program will easily double that total.

    Senator Bennet joined Senate Agricultural Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan in leading the effort to pass this bi-partisan bill, working with other Colorado leaders, including Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., a member of the House Agriculture Committee.

    Senator Bennett also changed the law to allow the agriculture secretary to waive a local cash-match requirement. This waiver will allow the program, at no additional cost, to protect the most important ranches and farmlands, even if they are in rural counties that don’t have the funding to match the federal grants.

    But the question is: Why should this land conservation matter to the vast majority of Americans who are neither farmers nor ranchers?

    While producing crops, livestock and other agricultural commodities for all Americans, properly managed working ranch lands and farms protect important habitat for our wildlife and fish; maintain cherished scenic vistas; and safeguard our water supplies and the water quality of our rivers. In addition, conserving these farms and ranches keeps farmers and ranchers on the land, and is protects an important part of our state’s economy.

    Colorado has 29 land trusts that are members of the Land Trust Alliance, and they have protected more than 1.1 million acres using conservation easements alone. For example, more than 150 years of Colorado history — and a part of its future — were preserved when the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust and the Trust for Public Land completed an effort to protect 650 acres of the Hutchinson Ranch in Chaffee County. Protection of the Hutchinson Ranch was made possible by funding from the Farm Bill programs that Senator Bennet just improved, along with lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado and Chaffee County.

    Though these lands — including such unique resources as the Hutchinson Ranch — are productive and important for agriculture, without action they are very much at risk. Non-agriculture development overtakes two acres of productive agricultural land every minute. But conservation easement programs ensure that our state’s most beautiful and productive ranches and farm land will continue into the future.

    Near Rocky Ford in Southeastern Colorado, 12,200 acres of the Mendenhall Ranches were protected using Farm Bill conservation funding last summer. The Mendenhalls used the easement to secure the future for their ranch, which is almost entirely native shortgrass prairie, home to cattle and increasingly rare grassland wildlife.

    That is why the Farm Bill’s Agricultural Lands Easement program makes both economic and ecologic sense for Colorado and for America. And that is why we should all thank Senator Bennet for his leadership in making the conservation programs in the Farm Bill work for ranchers and farmers.

    More conservation easement coverage here and here.


    H.R. 1839: Tipton’s Hermosa Creek Legislation Moves Forward in House

    March 7, 2014

    Here’s the release from U.S. Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

    Congressman Scott Tipton’s (R-CO) Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2013 (H.R. 1839) received a legislative hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. The community-driven legislation would protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed—a 108,000 acre area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango—as well as protect multiple use of the land.

    “When it comes to land use designations, I support a balanced approach that includes respecting the environment that we all deeply value, while making the best use of our natural resources. Recreation, preservation, access and job creation are all important aspects of the multiple use management for which these lands are truly intended,” Tipton said. “I’m a firm believer that land use designations should be driven with a balance of local initiative and consideration that public lands belong to all Americans. Such is the case with Hermosa Creek Watershed, where I have worked with local citizens and groups and Senator Michael Bennet to put forward a plan to permanently protect the area while maintaining access and multiple use of the land. The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act has truly been a locally-driven effort and has broad community support.”

    Read Tipton’s opening statement here.

    The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act has been endorsed by a broad coalition of stakeholders including: the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the San Juan County Commission, Region 9, the Colorado Snowmobile Association, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others. Tipton submitted their letters of support to the record.

    During the hearing, Scott Jones, a representative from the Colorado Snowmobile Association and other Colorado-based off road groups, testified in support of the legislation.

    “The motorized community supports this legislation, as we believe the legislation represents a significant step towards protecting multiple use recreation and highly valued natural resources in the proposal areas,” said Jones. “For the motorized community there are two major components of the legislation we support, which are the release of the Wilderness Study area and designation of the special management area for the protection of motorized recreation. The motorized community does agree that the area to be designated Wilderness has generally not seen a high level of motorized recreation and the area is suitable for designation.”

    Read Scott Jones’s testimony here.

    Under H.R. 1839, much of the land will remain open to historic uses, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, hunting, fishing and selective timber harvesting. Grazing will be permitted in the entire watershed. This legislation ensures that areas currently open to snowmobiling on Molas Pass will remain open for future use. This will benefit outdoor recreation enthusiasts and continue to provide an important source of economic activity for the area. If this bill is not passed, then snowmobiling will cease in this region following the 2013/2014 winter season. This legislation also contains important provisions that allow for active land management in areas designated by the bill as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks.

    H.R. 1839 will now need to receive a markup in the full House Natural Resources Committee. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) is carrying companion legislation in the Senate (S.841).

    Learn more about the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act here.

    From The Durango Herald (Katie Fiegenbaum):

    The House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a hearing on the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act (HR 1839) on Thursday. Here’s what you should know about the act and the hearing…

    Within three years of the bill’s passage, a management plan would have to be developed for the area, based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, a diverse group of constituents.

    About 37,000 acres of this area, on the west side of Hermosa Creek, would be designated as federal wilderness. No road, mineral or other development would be allowed inside this area.

    About 68,000 acres, mostly on the east side of the creek, would be designated as the “Hermosa Creek Special Management Area.” It would remain open to historic uses, including mountain biking, hunting, fishing, motorized recreation and selective timber harvesting.

    Grazing would be allowed throughout the protection area.

    Why is it important?

    The area in the bill has long been recommended for a wilderness designation and is some of the most pristine in Southwest Colorado. The land surrounds Hermosa Creek, which flows into the Animas River and is an important water source for Durango and surrounding areas.

    “Water is the most important thing we get from this area,” said Ed Zink, a Durango rancher and small-business owner, who attended the hearing. “And to protect the water, we have to protect the land.”

    He says the water in Hermosa Creek is much better quality than in the Animas and provides dilution and better overall water quality.

    “It’s easier to protect the Hermosa than to fix the Animas,” Zink said…

    Many studies since the Wilderness Act passed in 1964 have recommended a federal wilderness designation for this land, but it has never materialized. For the last six years or so, people in the area have worked on the bill to preserve the historic use of the land and give it a wilderness designation.

    “A lot of various groups worked very hard to bring this together,” Tipton said in a phone interview after the hearing. “We’ve got something that is very appealing at the local level, and it should serve as a model for writing future legislation.”[...]

    The area to be designated as federal wilderness hasn’t seen a high level of motorized recreation and is suitable for that designation, Jones said…

    The House version of the bill will be scheduled for markup by the full committee and voted on.

    “I am confident that there will be no pushback on the bill from the committee,” Tipton said.

    He thinks the bill will move forward quickly and said he would work to expedite the process.

    Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced the bill in the Senate in April 2013. The Senate version is co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.

    It received a committee hearing in the Senate in November, but has yet to be voted on in committee. According to Philip Clelland, Bennet’s deputy press secretary, his office is working with the committee and is hopeful that a vote will be scheduled soon.

    More Hermosa Creek coverage here and here.


    The Colorado Water Trust is coordinating and facilitating a number of sessions at CCLT’s Conservation Excellence Conference

    March 2, 2014

    Saguache Creek

    Saguache Creek


    Click here for the pitch, to view the session descriptions, and register. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado Water Trust is coordinating and facilitating a number of water sessions at the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts’ Conservation Excellence Conference in Denver in March.

    The Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts (CCLT) promotes and supports land conservation at a state level and serves as the collective voice for land conservation in Colorado. CCLT’s annual Conservation Excellence Conference offers conservation professionals opportunities for learning and networking in Denver on March 17, 18, and 19.

    Because water is often crucial to the conservation values of conserved lands, the Colorado Water Trust has worked closely with CCLT and the land conservation community over time. We provided general guidance, technical assistance, and educational programming specific to land conservation transactions to help professionals make informed decisions about water rights.

    This year, the Colorado Water Trust is coordinating and facilitating a number of sessions and workshops at CCLT’s Conservation Excellence Conference as part of our continuing efforts to assist the land conservation community in understanding water issues.

    More education coverage here.


    Custer County Stockgrowers Association annual meeting recap #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    February 27, 2014

    organicdairycows

    From The Wet Mountain Tribune (J.E. Ward):

    One of the most significant issues addressed during the meeting surrounded water. It is a problem not only for the county, but the state as a whole.

    “Water ownership, immunization and management are the key issues with the water problems,” Kattnig explained.

    “For us, water is vital to our Valley and our industry. We know we will have to change, but it is incumbent upon us as landowners to be at the table as these decisions are being developed.”

    Local water laws were developed for the mining industry here, and as industrial utilization of water declined, agriculture became the biggest user. Today, given the size of Custer County’s population and voting strength, Kattnig said that water policies can be changed. These issues affect not only Custer County and the Arkansas River Basin, but also the Colorado River, the Rio Grande and the Platte River basins.

    “People in San Diego and Los Angeles have a voice in water in the Colorado River,” Kattnig said, “and indirectly there is potential impact for water in Custer County. These water laws were made through legislation, and can be changed with legislation.”[...]

    Among the dignitaries in attendance were the president of the Colorado Cattlemen Association, Gene Manuello, and the Director of the Southeast Quarter and past CCA president David Mendenhall. Together they produced information concerning Senate Bill 17, which covers the use of agriculture water transfer to new municipal developments. This bill limits the percentage of water used for lawn landscaping and to promote xeriscaping.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


    Conservation easements: ‘All we’re trying to do is give farmers another option [to buy and dry]‘ — Jay Winner

    February 25, 2014
    Purgatoire River

    Purgatoire River

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Two groups promoting conservation easements in the Lower Arkansas Valley agreed last week that protecting water is more important than who takes credit.

    “We have been losing land to buy-and-dry,” Ginger Davidson, head of the Rocky Ford office of the Palmer Land Trust told the board of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We don’t want to see another drop leave the valley. A healthy habitat for wildlife means healthy ranch land.”

    The Lower Ark district has accepted and managed conservation easements as part of its mission to protect water since it was formed in 2002. It has some easements outside its boundaries and several that do not include water rights.

    The Palmer Land Trust, in connection with other nonprofit groups and federal agencies, launched its own initiative in an area that overlaps part of the Lower Ark district. Davidson said the trust is open to conservation easements outside the initiative’s boundaries.

    “A lot of people say we’re in competition, but I say, ‘The more, the merrier,’ ’’ said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Ark district.

    The Palmer Land Trust is working with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, Canyon & Plains and Guidestone in the 10-county initiative. The National Park Service and Nature Conservancy are cooperating as well.

    Each group has its own goals in protecting farm and ranch land from development, but the Palmer trust is primarily concerned with water rights, Davidson said.

    “When people lose their water, they don’t have the incentive to invest, because they don’t know if the water will be there in the future,” Davidson said. “The businesses will stay if there is a critical mass of farming.”

    She agreed with Winner that the primary goal of conservation easements — which provide either tax credits or cash for forgoing development — should be to offer alternatives to selling water to cities.

    “We’re not forcing anyone to do anything,” Winner told the board. “All we’re trying to do is give farmers another option.”

    More conservation easements coverage here.


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