Northern Water books $40.3 million in revenue in 2013

March 29, 2014
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Revenue increased about $10.5 million for the year ended Sept. 30 primarily because Berthoud-based Northern Water received nearly $9 million from Front Range water entities, including Denver Water, Aurora Water and the Pueblo Board of Water works, for water releases from Granby Reservoir.

Northern Water provides water to portions of eight Colorado counties with a population of 860,000 people and serves more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land.

Last year, Northern Water completed several contracts and agreements related to the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The goal of the program is to recover four unique fish species listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

Because they divert water from the Colorado River, Northern Water and other water users have made a permanent commitment to release 10,825 acre-feet of water annually. Northern Water releases more than 5,400 acre feet from the Granby Reservoir to support the project. An acre foot equals 326,000 gallons and is enough to serve 2.5 households annually.

The one-time compensation paid to Northern Water for the project came this year, according to the annual report. Northern Water’s expenses for the project came in previous years, said John Budde, financial services department manager for Northern Water…

Northern Water ended 2013 with $241.6 million in assets compared with. $231.4 million in assets in 2012. The organization also had $26.5 million in liabilities last year compared with $29 million in liabilities the prior year.

The organization had expenses of $29.2 million in 2013, down from $31.2 million in 2012.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Colorado signs on to Rio Grande cutthroat trout conservation agreement

March 8, 2014
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and wildlife:

An updated conservation agreement and strategy plan to protect the Rio Grande cutthroat trout was recently signed by the states of Colorado and New Mexico, three Native American tribes and several federal agencies.

The agencies started working on range-wide protection plans for the species in 2003. This is a continuation of the initial agreement, but also assures that the agencies will work cooperatively to maintain the viability of this special species of trout. The agreement provides overall guidance to each agency and sets a conservation strategy that will be used in Colorado and New Mexico where significant populations of the fish exist.

“This is a voluntary agreement, but all the parties are dedicated to working on important Rio Grande cutthroat trout issues,” said John Alves, southwest region senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The agencies that signed the agreement are: Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the BLM, the National Park Service, the Jicarilla-Apache Nation, the Mescalero-Apache Nation, and the Taos Pueblo tribe. The effort is also being supported by Colorado Trout Unlimited and the New Mexico Council of Trout Unlimited.

As stated in the agreement, the goal of the new 10-year plan is to “assure long-term viability of Rio Grande cutthroat trout throughout its historic range by minimizing or removing threats to the species and promoting conservation.” The agencies have completed numerous conservations projects for the species throughout Colorado and New Mexico. To read about some of the projects, go to: http://cpw.state.co.us/Research/Aquatic/CutthroatTrout/Pages/CutthroatTrout.aspx.

The trout has been a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act since 2008. A decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether the species will be listed is scheduled for September.

The Rio Grande cutthroat is classified as a species of “greatest conservation need” by New Mexico, and as a “species of special concern” in Colorado. The agencies are working cooperatively to protect the populations to keep the species healthy. The cooperative effort might also provide the advantage of keeping the fish off of the federal endangered species list.

The fish is found primarily in high elevation streams and lakes of the Rio Grande, the Canadian River and the Pecos River in Colorado and New Mexico. It now only occupies just 12 percent of its historic habitat in approximately 800 miles of streams. Biologists estimate that 127 conservation populations now exist in the two states, and 57 of those populations are considered to be secure.

The historic range of Rio Grande cutthroat trout has been reduced over the last 150 years due to many changes on the landscape, including: drought, water infrastructure, habitat changes, hydraulic changes, hybridization with rainbow trout and other species of cutthroat trout, and competition with brown trout and brook trout. As a result of these changes, Rio Grande cutthroat trout populations are restricted primarily to headwater streams.

“This agreement provides a detailed road map of the ways local, state, federal and tribal agencies will work together to continue to conserve this trout,” said Kirk Patten, assistant chief of fisheries for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. “The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is unique. It is found only in the southwest and has the distinction of being the southernmost distribution of any form of cutthroat trout.”

For more than 20 years, agency biologists have been searching for Rio Grande cutthroat populations, studying habitat and restoring the species to streams. That work and more will continue under the conservation agreement.

Some of the work that the agencies will conduct includes: maintenance of Rio Grande cutthroat brood stock; stream surveys and habitat improvement; construction of barriers to keep non-native trout out of conservation waters; removal of non-native fish and restocking with this species; testing for disease; conducting genetic analysis; fencing sensitive riparian areas; and on-going monitoring of populations.

The agencies will meet annually to discuss projects and progress, and to plan conservation work. A full range-wide species assessment will be conducted every five years.

“Rio Grande cutthroat trout are facing many issues, including habitat loss, competition from the introduction of non-native trout, drought, fire and other changes,” Alves said. “A major, coordinated effort like this one is what’s needed to maintain this important species.”

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.


After a long absence, humpback chub have been reintroduced to Havasu Creek in the Grand Canyon #ColoradoRiver

February 27, 2014

Environment: Ambitious Swan River restoration project near Breckenridge could benefit cutthroat trout

February 24, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Forest Service wants to reconnect an aquatic ecosystem that was sliced apart by dredges in the mining era

Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado.

Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For all the gold Summit County’s old-timers managed to pull from local mountains and rivers, they left behind quite a mess. Along with toxic pollution oozing into rivers from some abandoned mines, other streams were turned completely inside-out, buried under tons of gravel.

That includes the Swan River, near Breckenridge, where the U.S. Forest Service now hopes to reverse some of the damage with an ambitious five- to 10-year restoration project.

The Forest Service aims to recreate of two miles of stream, riparian, and restore uplands that were all destroyed by the dredge boats. The agency also wants to decommission some roads in the area, build a new road and trail…

View original 339 more words


Endangered species listing for the Rio Grande cutthroat?

February 10, 2014
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From the Valley Courier (Lauren Krizansky):

Another possible endangered species listing is placing a high demand on the Valley’s resources, and it’s more than caught the attention of the six county governments. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) continues to find listing the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (RGCT) warranted but precluded , according to the Federal Register, Fri. Nov. 22, 2013. The agency, however, is working on a proposed listing rule expected to publish prior to making the next annual resubmitted petition 12-month finding.

The ruling, an initial recommendation on whether the Valley’s historical breed of fish, which is also found in New Mexico, is endangered, threatened or not warranted for listing, is scheduled for September, according to agency officials. For the next few months, the FWS will continue to monitor new information about the RGCT in addition to considering public comments.

On Monday, the San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association (CCA) devoted much time to learn about the condition of the RGCT, and moved to set a work session in February to decide how they would support the long time Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) led Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Conservation Team (RGCT CT) efforts to keep the RGCT off any lists.

The RGCT CT’s findings and strategy suggest the potential listing is inappropriate , and an action that could affect the Valley’s economy and public and private land use while costing the six Valley counties thousands of dollars to accommodate on top of costs only starting to add up to fight a threatened or endangered ruling.

For the past 40 years, the Valley has spent dollars state, federal and private to keep the RGCT alive and well for reasons spanning from recreation to genetic diversity protection, fending off a species status change on several occasions.

In 1973, the species was listed as a threatened species in Colorado, and removed in 1984. Fourteen years later, a federal petition was filed under the Endangered Species Act, and it was contested in court in 2002. In 2007, the RGCT was reviewed, and a year later the FWS found the listing was warranted, but precluded.

Between 2003 and 2011, CPW expended $792,000 on RGCT conservation efforts, according to CPW data, including surveying RGCT populations, establishing conservation populations, erecting barriers preventing species contamination, stocking genetically pure RGCT populations and working with other agencies and groups to ensure there are sufficient instream flows to support native fish and their required habitat.

The RGCT CT’s undertakings are ongoing, and the group heads into 2014 monitoring 10 conservation populations and documenting new RGCT populations throughout the area, said CPW Senior Aquatic Biologist John Alves on Monday. Longtime broodstock development also continues at Haypress Lake. Since 2005, CPW has stocked 86,000 to 143,000 RGCT in high lakes and streams for angler recreation or to create new conservation populations.

RGCT CT activities, Alves added, include genetic testing to determine species, purity and level of introgression with other cutthroat species. Populations with more than 90 percent RGCT are considered conservation populations and populations with more than 99 percent RGCT are considered core conservation populations used for developing broodstocks or new populations. Other activities, he said, are focused on habitat improvement using man-made barriers to secure RGCT populations from non-native fish, replacing culverts and mitigating livestock grazing and logging in addition to a myriad of public outreach initiatives.

Other federal and state agency funded conservation plans taking into consideration water, land and their uses that do not directly address RGCT habitat and population, but support the productivity of the Valley’s ecosystem as a whole, are already helping to maintain and preserve the environmental condition of the downstream land if the fish was capable of living in the warmer river waters cutting through the Rio Grande Basin. The RGCT CT and its supporters do not foresee such a scenario unfolding because the species is primarily found in cold streams and lakes.

“The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD ) does not believe listing the RGCT as an endangered species is warranted in light of the current status of the RGCT and ongoing voluntary conservation efforts,” RGWCD General Manger Steve Vandiver stated in a letter to the FWS presented at the CAA meeting. “The RGWCD has supported the ongoing voluntary conservation efforts in the San Luis Valley and in the Rio Grande Headwaters.”

The voluntary efforts are the doing of governments and agencies in Colorado and New Mexico including the CPW, the FWS, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management , the National Park Service, the Jicarilla Apache Nation,the Mescalero Apache Nation and the Taos Pueblo Waterchief. Colorado Trout Unlimited, New Mexico Council of Trout Unlimited and the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Team (RWEACT) also support the efforts the CCA is considering signing onto next month in addition to looking at other possible county actions regarding listings based on a model partially started in the Valley.

Saguache County is facing the possible listing of the Gunnison Sage Grouse, an action that would touch 11 other Colorado counties. The governments, working with active sage-grouse groups including the Poncha Pass Gunnison Sage-Grouse Work Group, united last year to revise the species’ needs and actions to date, revisit strategy and consider the impacts of future federal intervention like potential road closures.

The collaborative, whose methods are appealing to the CCA and neighboring sage-grouse and RGCT listing threatened Hinsdale County, has made progress with the recent reintroduction of several sage-grouse on Poncha Pass, and they are maintaining . The FWS will be made aware of the reintroduction’s progress before making a ruling in March.

“The implications of a listing are very huge,” said Hindsdale County Commissioner Cindy Dozier about creating government, agency and community task forces via telephone during Monday’s meeting. “There are things we can do.”

The implications from an endangered or threatened listing for any species can vary from jeopardizing tourism dollars due to changes in the public’s access to public lands to land owners having to enter into agreements prioritizing the species existence, actual or potential. Listings also come along with the identification of critical habitat, which calls for special management and protection, and include an area the species does not currently occupy, but will be needed for its recovery.

“Designating critical habitat outside the area currently occupied by RGCT would create an additional hardship for the residents of the San Luis Valley without providing any additional benefit to the RGCT,” Vandiver stated. “These residents already face the effect of a prolonged drought and the risk that the state may seek to restrict or curtail the operation of their irrigation wells, thus making it nearly impossible to continue successful farming or ranching operations.”

Streams historically capable of supporting the RGCT that the FWS could deem critical habitat include Rio Grande, Pecos and Canadian River Basins, according to CPW data, and presently the fish only occupy about 11 percent of the historic waters. There are 127 RGCT conservation populations range wide.

Some RGCT populations thrive on private Costilla County lands like the Trinchera Ranch, Alves said. Ute Creek, where the species was first discovered in 1857, runs through the now FWS conservation easement protected ranch, further complementing its reputation for protecting natural resources.

“This is a reason we have a good start on the conservation itself,” said Alves, commending the Trinchera Ranch for its vision to protect the RGCT, which some science points out is truly being conserved because of the introduction and poor management of nonnative trout species.

“The most significant threats are the presence of non-native trout and habitat loss,” stated Council of Trout Unlimited New Mexico Chair Arnold Atkins and Colorado Chair Rick Matsumoto in a letter to the FWS. “The effects of the presence of brown trout in a cutthroat stream have been documented in the scientific literature, and the experience of our members bears out what the literature tells us: once brown trout enter a stream, the native cutthroat disappear or are dramatically reduced in numbers, typically within a decade or less.”

In Colorado, and to a lesser degree in New Mexico, according to the Trout Unlimited letter, the presence of nonnative brook trout has had a similar effect.

“Hybridization with nonnative rainbow trout or other cutthroat subspecies remains a significant threat, although the agencies have taken steps to reduce it, including stocking triploid rainbows or not stocking rainbows at all in watersheds where RGCT are found,” the chairmen wrote. “… Trout Unlimited’s objective is to ensure that the RGCT continues to exist and that RGCT populations are protected and restored over a broader and more resilient range of waters.”

The FWS is accepting comments at the following address : Susan Rogers Oetker, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 1875 Century Blvd. NE Suite 200, Atlanta, Ga., 30345.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Environment:: Some good news for endangered Colorado River fish

February 9, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Recovery stakeholders find permanent sources of water to sustain needed late summer and autumn flows

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Endangered Colorado River Fish will benefit from permanent sources of water earmarked for a collaborative recovery effort. Click on the image to visit the recovery project website.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Four endangered native fish species in the Upper Colorado River may have a little better chance a long-term survival, as stakeholders in a collaborative recovery program found permanent sources of water needed to protect aquatic habitat for the the fish.

Water previously provided from Williams Fork and Wolford reservoirs to benefit endangered fish recovery has been replaced with permanent sources at a cost of about $25 million. The water will come from Ruedi Reservoir (5,412.5 acre-feet) and  from Granby Reservoir (5,412.5 acre-feet). The releases from Granby Reservoir will also benefit flow conditions and water quality upstream of endangered fish habitat.

View original 344 more words


Water needs of minnow not met, environmentalists say — Albuquerque Journal

February 7, 2014

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia


From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

The “notices of intent” allege violations of the federal Endangered Species Act and start a 60-day clock ticking toward possible litigation. The notices highlight growing tensions between human water use and the Rio Grande’s natural ecosystem in what is shaping up to be the fourth consecutive year of drought, and set the stage for potentially bruising litigation this summer.

Human water diversions have left the Rio Grande ecosystem with too little water to maintain the minnow and other species that depend on the river’s flow, including the valley’s iconic cottonwoods, said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program coordinator for WildEarth Guardians.

Last year, the group filed a formal “notice of intent” that triggered negotiations with federal officials over environmental issues and river management, without litigation. Asked if WildEarth Guardians plans to actually file suit this time, Pelz on Tuesday said, “Yes.”

Spokesmen for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the two agencies named in the new filings, declined comment.

Human management of the Rio Grande, with dams upstream to regulate the river’s flow and levees to confine it to a narrow channel, have substantially changed the habitat for the minnow. The fish once lived from Española to the Gulf of Mexico, but is now only found in central New Mexico.

Low river runoff has caused minnow populations to crash further in recent years, according to data collected for the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative program, a joint effort by local, state and federal water managers and users.

The potential for a fourth straight drought year poses serious risk for the endangered species, Pelz said in an interview. “The minnow has not spawned in the last three years,” Pelz said, “which is crucial to their recovery and survival.”

More than 95 percent of the fish found in surveys last summer came from hatcheries, which are being used to augment the dwindling natural fish population…

While the Endangered Species Act focuses on specific species, especially the minnow, more is at risk than just a single kind of fish, Pelz said. “The cottonwood forest is reliant on flood flows, and there being enough water in the river,” she said.

Water managers say they have been doing their best to meet the needs of the environment and farmers and other human water users, given the limited supply nature has to offer.

“We’re trying to find creative ways to get everyone what they need,” said David Gensler, water manager for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the valley’s largest farm irrigation water provider.

Among the possibilities is the use of upstream dams to manage flows to create high flows in late spring for spawning, according to Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, Rio Grande basin manager for the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. But no decisions about that can be made until April or May, Schmidt-Petersen said…

With a 60-day clock now started, WildEarth Guardians’ filings raise the possibility that key late spring water management decisions will be made in the midst of federal litigation, University of New Mexico law professor Reed Benson, an Endangered Species Act expert, pointed out. But it is not clear whether there is time for the court fight to influence how much water is used by humans or left in the river for fish in 2014, Benson said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


“Colorado’s obligations under the ESA are ‘above and beyond’ the requirements of the compact” — Wildearth Guardians

February 3, 2014
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Taos News (J.R. Logan):

Wildearth Guardians has given notice that it plans to sue the state of Colorado over the amount of water pumped out of the Río Grande before it crosses into New Mexico each year. The group argues that irrigation in the San Luís Valley leaves so little water in the river that it imperils habitat of two endangered species — the Río Grande silvery minnow and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.
Jennifer Pelz with Wildearth Guardians told The Taos News that while the lawsuit is based on requirements under the Endangered Species Act, it is meant to address the health of the Río Grande in general. “My focus is the river, the silvery minnow just happens to be the canary in the coal mine,” Pelz said.
Sporadic flows in the Río Grande have long alarmed environmentalists because of the effect on vegetation and wildlife that have adapted to the natural cycle of ups and down. The current drought has left some parts of the Río Grande dry, and diversions up and down the river have significantly altered its natural pattern.

River guides in Taos County have also taken issue with how water in the river is managed. Some have pointed out that Colorado irrigators pull out as much as 98 percent of the river during peak irrigation season, which often coincides with rafting season. They contend that low flows are killing business and hurting the local economy.

However, Colorado farmers point out that the drought is hurting them as well. Officials there point out that the state is still meeting its obligations under the Río Grande Compact, which spells out exactly how much water Colorado must deliver to the state line every year.
The notice from Wildearth Guardians contends that Colorado’s obligations under the Endangered Species Act are “above and beyond” the requirements of the compact.

Pelz said the notice is meant to bring Colorado into the discussion with wildlife managers and irrigation districts in New Mexico to talk about how to manage flows for the health of the river. “We’ve always known that [Colorado] had a role,” Pelz said. “Now is the time that everything is on the table.”

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here and here. More Rio Grande silvery minnow coverage here.


Water Sources for endangered fishes in Colorado

February 1, 2014

New Yorker podcast: Elizabeth Kolbert on the Sixth Great Extinction

January 24, 2014
Arapahoe snowfly

Arapahoe snowfly

From the New Yorker (click through to listen to the podcast):

Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer who is perhaps best known for her reporting on global warming. In 2006, after a series on the subject in the magazine, she published her book “Field Notes from a Catastrophe.” Her reporting on climate change led her to investigate species extinction, which climate change is exacerbating. According to many scientists, we are now in the midst of the sixth great extinction, a massive die-off of species around the globe. In recent issues, The New Yorker has published pieces by Kolbert on species extinction, from chapters in her forthcoming book, “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.” Here, she talks to Sasha Weiss about the enormity of the problem. Also, Calvin Trillin samples the hot tamale on the Delta.

Thanks to Dave Winer for the link. Here’s his reaction to the podcast. Here’s an excerpt:

First, there’s nothing special about humanity. We’ve only been here about 200,000 years. Long enough to destroy everything, but in the grand scheme of things, when the destruction is finished, the planet will probably evolve new species, a different cast of characters, that do what we do, more or less. It may take tens or hundreds of millions of years to clean up after us. But this is not a problem for the planet. It has the time.

We may be insignificant, but what we are doing re destruction of the planet’s ecology is unprecedented. It’s never before happened here. We don’t know about other planets elsewhere in our galaxy or the universe. But we’re in the process of recreating climates that haven’t existed on earth for 50 million years. That’s something. Not something to be proud of, of course.

Second, the mundane things we do every day, the example she provided was driving to get groceries, are actually totally extraordinary. When we get in the car to run errands we’re burning the bodies of animals that lived millions of years ago. We’re moving the carbon from their bodies from deep below the earth, into the atmosphere and the oceans, transforming them. Destroying old habitats, and creating new ones. This is not something that “natural” processes do. You need a supposedly intelligent species to do this.

Her book is coming out next month. Asked if she was suggesting things we might do to solve the problem, in the book, she says she is deliberately not doing that. My guess is the reason for that is the next epiphany that hit me after digesting a bit of the podcast.

Third, there is nothing we can do. We might as well enjoy consuming the last resources of the planet, and perhaps should turn our attention to leaving an adequate record of our civilization for the next one to come along, millions of years from now, in the hope of helping them avoid the catastrophe that ended us.

BTW, in case you’re feeling guilty — don’t. This process was not caused by anything we consciously did. Certainly not anything you or I did. Just the existence of a species capable of doing such big things was probably enough to destroy life on the planet. You can listen to the podcast and let me know if you hear anything different. It seems this story is full of revelations about our reality.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Colorado Parks and Wildlife to honor 2013 Landowners of the Year

January 23, 2014

Greater sage-grouse via Idaho Fish and Game

Greater sage-grouse via Idaho Fish and Game


Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will honor two winners as Landowners of the Year for 2013 before the Pro Rodeo at the National Western Stock Show on Thursday, Jan. 23. The 2013 Landowners of the Year are Bord Gulch Ranch Manager Ray Owens and Turkey Creek Ranch owners Gary and Georgia Walker.

Owens manages the sprawling 15,000+ acre Bord Gulch Ranch in northwest Colorado’s Moffat County. The ranch is prime habitat for greater sage-grouse and mule deer, winters thousands of elk, and is a year-round home to dozens of other species. Owens works closely with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and wildlife conservation groups to manage the traditional ranching property in a way that benefits the area’s native wildlife.

Gary and Georgia Walker’s approximately 65,000 acre Turkey Creek Ranch property is prime short grass prairie and agricultural riparian lands west of Pueblo. The Walkers have managed the property as successful ranchers and as stewards of the native wildlife for more than 50 years. In late 2013, they became the first private landowners in the state to release black-footed ferrets onto their private property under a safe-harbor agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Black-footed ferrets were once dubbed “the most endangered animal in North America,” and remain incredibly rare in the wild.

“Ray Owens and the Walkers are proof that private landowners can do amazing things for wildlife in ways that government cannot,” said Bob Broscheid, Director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We are pleased to join them at the National Western Stockshow and honor their efforts and the efforts of all the private landowners in the state.”

Colorado is known by sportsmen around the world for its 23 million acres of public lands, but four of every 10 acres in the state are privately owned. Private lands are critical to maintaining populations of mule deer, pronghorn, elk, sage-grouse, prairie falcons and a host of grassland species. Privately held water rights, held in reservoirs and released into streams, supports both warm- and cold-water sport fishing across the state.

The Wildlife Landowner of the Year Award is part of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Landowner Recognition Program, which has worked to highlight exemplary land management practices and recognize landowners who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in wildlife conservation since 1982.

Nominees for Landowner of the Year must be residents of Colorado or own at least 160 acres in the state, and be actively engaged in farming or ranching business as owners, lessors, lessees, or managers. Evaluations are based on a range of criteria, including current land management practices, wildlife habitat improvements, accommodations for public hunting and fishing access and leadership in the promotion of sound wildlife practices on private lands.

“Farming and ranching families have a connection to the land,” said Ken Morgan, Private Lands Program Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “They know that sound soil, water and vegetation management practices benefit their agricultural operations and also benefit wildlife. The health of the land is not an abstract concept to them and that’s worth celebrating.”

More conservation coverage here.


Wild and scenic designation for the Dolores River?

January 14, 2014
Dolores River near Bedrock

Dolores River near Bedrock

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

New management plans by the BLM and Forest Service upgrade the status of two native fish, and list new sections of the river as “preliminarily suitable” for a Wild and Scenic designation.

Roy Smith, a BLM water specialist, explained that the suitability status for the Lower Dolores from the dam to Bedrock has been in place since a 1976, and the special status was reaffirmed in a recently released public lands management plan.

“It qualifies because below the dam, the lower Dolores is a free-flowing stream that has outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs),” he said. “A common misconception is that suitability means we can wave a wand and make it Wild and Scenic, but that is not true. That takes congressional action.”

The 1976 suitability study noted that the Dolores is compatible with a Wild and Scenic designation, and “McPhee dam will enhance and complement such designation.”

ORVs are obscure and sometimes controversial assessments that identify river-related natural values. They are an indication that a river could qualify as a Wild and Scenic River in the future. In the meantime, their natural values are protected in management plans.

In their recent management plan, the BLM and Forest Service upped the ante, adding the bluehead and flannelmouth suckers to ORV standard list, which already includes the bonytail chub.

The Colorado Water Conservation board also believes native fish on the river deserve additional help. They propose to issue a new in-stream flow requirement for a 34-mile section of the river from the confluence with the San Miguel River to the Gateway community.

Ted Kowalski, a CWCB water resource specialist, explained that the new instream flow is proposed to improve habitat conditions for native fish.

“In-stream flows are designed to protect the natural hydrographs on the river, and we feel they are better than top-down river management from the federal side,” Kowalski said. “The proposed instream flows on that section of the Dolores are timed to accommodate spawning needs for native fish.”

Required peak flows reach 900 cfs during spring runoff, and then taper off. Most of the water would be provided by the San Miguel River, an upstream tributary…

The Dolores Water Conservation Board and the Southwestern Water Conservation board objected to the changes, fearing the move could force more water to be released downstream. They have filed appeals and protests to stop them.

Even the preliminary Wild and Scenic status on the Dolores is strongly opposed by McPhee Reservoir operators because if officially designated, Wild and Scenic rivers come with a federally reserved water right, which would also force more water to be released from the dam.

Jeff Kane, an attorney representing SWCD, said adding two native fish as ORVs was unexpected and unfair to a local collaborative process working to identify and protect native fish needs…

Accusations that federal agencies and the CWCB hijacked a 10-year-long, grass-roots effort to protect the Dolores were expressed at the meeting, which was attended by 80 local and regional officials…

A diverse stakeholder group, the Dolores River Working Group, is proposing to make the Lower Dolores River into a National Conservation Area through future legislation. As part of the deal, suitability status for Wild and Scenic on the Lower Dolores River would be dropped.

“It is still worthwhile to get our proposal out there,” said Amber Kelley, Dolores River coordinator for the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance. “We should continue to move forward in our collaborative effort despite the concerns about the BLM changes.”

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.


Does the Endangered Species Act Preempt State Water Law? — Robin Kundis Craig

January 7, 2014

The trouble(s) with water and the Endangered Species Act

December 29, 2013
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

The trouble(s) with water and the Endangered Species Act. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the most important ”river law” topics is the application of the Endangered Species Act to water management and use. The ESA is a crucial law for western rivers because it has been far more influential than anything else in making the environment a relevant factor in water management, especially in the operation of federal water projects. And federal river restoration efforts are overwhelmingly driven by ESA considerations.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Funding Opportunity Available to Increase Water Conservation or Improve Water Supply Sustainability

December 9, 2013
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation is making funding available through its WaterSMART program to support new Water and Energy Efficiency Grant projects. Proposals are being sought from states, Indian tribes, irrigation districts, water districts and other organizations with water or power delivery authority to partner with Reclamation on projects that increase water conservation or result in other improvements that address water supply sustainability in the West.

The funding opportunity announcement is available at http://www.grants.gov using funding opportunity number R14AS00001.

Applications may be submitted to one of two funding groups:

  • Funding Group I: Up to $300,000 will be available for smaller projects that may take up to two years to complete. It is expected that a majority of awards will be made in this funding group.
  • Funding Group II: Up to $1,000,000 will be available for larger, phased projects that will take up to three years to complete. No more than $500,000 in federal funds will be provided within a given fiscal year to complete each phase. This will provide an opportunity for larger, multiple-year projects to receive some funding in the first year without having to compete for funding in the second and third years.
  • Proposals must seek to conserve and use water more efficiently, increase the use of renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, benefit endangered and threatened species, facilitate water markets, carry out activities to address climate-related impacts on water or prevent any water-related crisis or conflict. To view examples of previous successful applications, including projects with a wide-range of eligible activities, please visit http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/weeg.

    In 2013, Reclamation awarded more than $20 million for 44 Water and Energy Efficiency Grants. These projects were estimated to save about 100,000 acre-feet of water per year — enough water to serve a population of about 400,000 people.

    The WaterSMART Program focuses on improving water conservation, sustainability and helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. It identifies strategies to ensure that this and future generations will have sufficient supplies of clean water for drinking, economic activities, recreation and ecosystem health. The program also identifies adaptive measures to address climate change and its impact on future water demands.

    Proposals must be submitted as indicated on http://www.grants.gov by 4 p.m., Mountain Standard Time, Jan. 23, 2014. It is anticipated that awards will be made this spring.

    To learn more about WaterSMART please visit http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART.

    More Bureau of Reclamation coverage here.


    ‘Denver-West Slope water agreement finally final’ — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver

    December 4, 2013
    Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

    Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

    Denver can take a little more water from the Colorado River’s headwaters to increase the reliability of its system, but won’t develop any new transmountain diversions without West Slope agreement and will help repair damage from past diversions.

    Those are some of the key provisions in the Colorado Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and 42 West Slope water providers and local governments from the Grand Valley to Grand County.

    The Colorado Cooperative Agreement covers a whole suite of issues related to Denver’s diversion of water from the Fraser and Blue River drainages, tributaries to the Colorado River. In October, with little fanfare, this historic agreement received its final signatures and was fully executed. It took five years of mediation and nearly two years of ironing out the details with state and federal agencies, against a backdrop of decades of litigation, to get to this point.

    According to material from the Colorado River District’s latest quarterly meeting, the agreement, “is the direct result of Denver Water’s desire to expand its Moffat Tunnel transmountain water supply from the Fraser River in Grand County and to enlarge Gross Reservoir in Boulder County.” This project is expected to divert, on average, approximately 18,000 acre feet/year of water beyond the average of 58,000 acre feet/year it already diverts, which amounts to about 60% of the natural flow in the Fraser River at Winter Park.

    Under the agreement, the West Slope parties agreed not to oppose the increased Moffat Collection System diversions, and Denver Water agreed not to expand its service area and not to develop new water projects on the West Slope without the agreement of the resident counties and the Colorado River District. The agreement also includes dozens of other provisions designed to limit water demands in Denver and address water quality and flow conditions in the Colorado River and its tributaries. Here’s a sampling:

    Denver will contribute both water releases and several million dollars for a “learning by doing” project to improve aquatic habitat in Grand County. The project will be managed by representatives from Denver Water, Grand County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited and other water users.

    Denver will not exercise its rights to reduce bypass flows from Dillon Reservoir and its collection system in Grand County during droughts unless it has banned residential lawn watering in its service area.

    Diversions and reservoirs operated by both Denver Water and West Slope parties will be operated as if the Shoshone hydroelectric power plant in Glenwood Canyon were calling for its (very senior) water right, even at times when the plant is down. This is important for recreational and environmental flows in the river, as well as for junior water users downstream from plant.

    Denver Water will pay $1.5 million for water supply, water quality or water infrastructure projects benefiting the Grand Valley, and $500,000 to offset additional costs for water treatment in Garfield County when the Shoshone call is relaxed due to drought conditions.

    A similar agreement is under development between West Slope entities and Northern Water, which currently diverts about 220,000 acre feet/year of water from the Upper Colorado River to the Front Range through the Colorado Big Thompson Project. Like the Colorado Cooperative Agreement, the Windy Gap Firming Project Intergovernmental Agreement trades West Slope non-opposition to increased transmountain diversions for mitigations to address the impacts of both past and future stream depletions.

    Both the Colorado Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap Firming Project Intergovernmental Agreement have been hailed as models of cooperation. Meanwhile, East Slope – West Slope tensions continue to mount over how the Colorado Water Plan, currently under development, should address the possibility of additional diversions of water from the West Slope to meet growing urban demands on the Front Range. These agreements demonstrate that such tensions can be overcome, but also that it could take more time than allowed by the 2015 deadline Gov. Hickenlooper has set for completion of the Colorado Water Plan.

    Full details on the Colorado Cooperative Agreement can be found on the River District’s website, under “features” at http://www.crwcd.org/. More information on the Colorado Water Plan can be found at http://coloradowaterplan.com/.

    More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


    ‘Don’t goddamn come here [#ColoradoRiver Basin] any more’ — Lurline Curran

    December 3, 2013
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Here’s an article about the white paper approved last week by the Colorado Basin Roundtable, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Don’t goddamn come here any more,” was the way Lurline Curran, county manager of Grand County, summed up the roundtable’s position just before the group voted to approve a white paper it has been working on for months.

    “We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran said. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”

    The actual paper crafted by the Colorado roundtable states its case in a more diplomatic fashion, but it is still blunt.

    “The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states…

    “There is going to have to be a discussion and plan for developing a new West Slope water supply,” the South Platte roundtable stated in a June memo directed to Committee.

    Together, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables are pushing that discussion. They’re asking the state to preserve the option to build “several” 100,000 to 250,000 acre-foot projects on the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the lower Yampa River, and/or the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir…

    On Nov. 25, the members of the Colorado River roundtable clearly wanted to inform the Committee that they don’t support the idea of new Western Slope projects.

    Jim Pokrandt, a communications executive at the Colorado River District who chairs the Colorado roundtable, said the group’s paper, directed to the Committee, was “an answer to position statements put out by other basin roundtables.”

    The Committee’s eventual analysis is expected to shape a draft statewide Colorado Water Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk via the Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 12 months.

    And while there has been a decades-long discussion in Colorado about the merits of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the language in the position papers, and the roundtable meetings, is getting sharper as the state water plan now takes shape.

    “It’s not ‘don’t take one more drop,’ but it is as close as we can get,” said Ken Neubecker, the environmental representative on the Colorado roundtable, about the group’s current position.

    The paper itself advises, “the scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

    That’s certainly in contrast to the vision of the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas basin roundtables, which in a draft joint statement in July said that the way to meet the “east slope municipal supply gap” is to develop “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”[...]

    The white paper from the Colorado roundtable states that “new supply” is a euphemism for “a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”

    “This option must be the last option,” the paper notes.

    Instead of new expensive Western Slope water projects, the paper calls for more water conservation and “intelligent land use” on the Front Range.

    It goes on to note that Front Range interests are actively pursuing the expansion of existing transmountain diversions — many of which are likely to be blessed by the Committee because they are already in the works.

    It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.

    It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.

    “Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.

    Finally, the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”

    More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    ‘Keeping the last wild river in the [#ColoradoRiver] Basin intact is important to a healthy environment’ — Susan Bruce

    December 2, 2013
    Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Here’s a post arguing to keep the Yampa River riparian system as a baseline for a healthy river from Susan Bruce writing for the Earth Island Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

    Governor John Hickenlooper’s directive to the Colorado Water Conservation Board earlier this year to create a Colorado Water Plan by 2015 has put the Yampa, which has the second largest watershed in the state, under the spotlight.

    Efforts to dam the Yampa go back to the proposed construction of Echo Park Dam, which Congress vetoed in 1952, bowing to a groundswell of public outcry led by David Brower, then with the Sierra Club. But in a compromise he later regretted, Brower supported the construction of two other dams: Glen Canyon on the Colorado River and Flaming Gorge on the Green River. The Green and Yampa rivers used to have similar flows and ecosystems. The construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in 1962 modified the Green’s hydrograph, reducing sediment flow by half and tapering its seasonal fluctuations to a slower, more consistent flow, opening the way for invasive species like the tamarisk tree to crowd out native ones.

    More recently, in 2006, there was a proposal to build a reservoir near Maybell, CO, and pump water from the Yampa to a reservoir about 230 miles away for municipal and agricultural use on the Front Range. But the plan was scrapped due to environmental and cost concerns; the reservoir would have cost between $3 billion and $5 billion.

    The oil and gas industry is also eyeing the Yampa. Shell Oil had plans to pump about 8 percent of the Yampa’s high-water flow to fill a 1,000-acre reservoir, but it shelved the proposal in 2010, citing a slowdown of its oil-shale development program. Still, oil production in Colorado is at its highest level since 1957 and gas production at an all-time high. While industrial and municipal water needs are projected to increase with population growth, the largest water user, agriculture, will continue to divert the lion’s share of Colorado’s water, around 80 percent. All of which mean the pressure to suck up Yampa’s water is only going to grow.

    The most unique characteristic of the Yampa is its wild and unimpeded flow, in particular the extensive spring flooding that washes away sediment, giving the river its brownish hue. This “river dance” helps establish new streamside forests, wetlands, and sandy beaches, as well as shallows that support species like the endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. By late fall, the water barely covers the riverbed in some stretches…

    The rafting industry, which contributes more than $150 million to Colorado’s economy, has a strong voice when it comes to the Yampa’s future. Although damming the Yampa would provide a more consistent flow over a longer season, George Wendt – founder of OARS, the largest rafting company in the world – speaks for most outfitters when he says he would rather see the Yampa retain its natural state.

    Conservationists also argue that the Yampa’s full flow helps meet Colorado’s legal obligation to provide water to the seven states within the Colorado Basin and Mexico. Measures being considered to protect the Yampa include an instream flow appropriation by the Colorado Water Conservation Board that would reserve Yampa’s water for the natural function of rivers, and a Wild and Scenic River designation by Congress.

    Many proponents of keeping the Yampa wild point to its value as a baseline – an ecosystem naturally in balance. “If things go awry on dammed rivers, which they do, we have a control river, so to speak,” says Kent Vertrees of The Friends of the Yampa. “Keeping the last wild river in the Colorado Basin intact is important to a healthy environment and so future generations can experience in situ millions of years of history little changed by man.”

    More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


    US Representative Scott Tipton Testifies on Hermosa Creek Legislation in Senate

    November 29, 2013
    Hermosa Park

    Hermosa Park

    Here’s the release from Representative Tipton’s office:

    Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), today, testified in support of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2013 in the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee. Tipton and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) have introduced companion bills in the House (H.R. 1839) and Senate (S.841) to protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed–an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango–as well as protect multiple use of the land.

    In his testimony, Tipton spoke on the community effort behind the legislation that is 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 Snowmobilers Association, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others.

    More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.


    NOAA: The Endangered Species Act turns 40

    November 26, 2013
    Colorado Pike Minnow

    Colorado Pike Minnow

    From NOAA:

    This year we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). President Nixon signed the ESA into law on December 28, 1973. Congress understood that, without protection from human actions, many of our nation’s living resources would become extinct.

    Endangered species—in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

    Threatened species—likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.

    There are approximately 2,100 total species listed under the ESA. Of these species, approximately 1,480 are found in part or entirely in the U.S. and its waters; the remainder are foreign species.

    Species diversity and environment health are part of the natural legacy we leave for future generations. Each plant, animal, and their physical environment are part of a much more complex web of life, where the removal of a single species could cause a series of negative events affecting many others. Endangered species serve as a sentinel, indicating larger ecological problems that could alter ecosystem functions. The ESA is both a mechanism to help guide our conservation efforts and a reminder that future generations deserve the opportunity to enjoy the same great benefits from the natural world.

    We Will Continue the Work We Started

    Today the ocean is a very different place than it was 40 years ago. Thanks to the ESA, we now understand many of the threats faced by marine and anadromous species and are bringing them under control. The populations of many listed species are increasing, aided by our recovery efforts and time. Still, the populations of many species continue to decline and many more species are being listed. NOAA Fisheries scientists are developing the next generation of ocean observing systems, which will give us Increased awareness of what’s going on in the ocean, adapt our management, and respond to challenges of a changing climate. We will continue developing new technologies and management approaches, and our work with national and international partners, to ensure the ESA remains effective in an interdependent, rapidly-changing world.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    Secretary Jewell Applauds President’s Intent to Nominate Neil Kornze as Director of the Bureau of Land Management

    November 10, 2013
    Photovoltaic Solar Array

    Photovoltaic Solar Array

    Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

    Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today praised President Obama’s intent to nominate Neil G. Kornze as Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kornze would head a bureau that manages more than 245 million acres of public land under a multiple-use and sustained yield mission.

    “Neil has helped implement forward-looking reforms at the BLM to promote energy development in areas of minimal conflict, drive landscape-level planning efforts, and dramatically expand the agency’s use of technology to speed up the process for energy permitting,” said Jewell. “For more than a decade, Neil has been a key player in many of the nation’s major natural resource policy issues and has a reputation for being creative and results-oriented. His record at the BLM is marked by an inclusive approach and an openness to new ideas as the agency supports efforts to foster economic opportunities through safe and responsible energy development and increased access to the nation’s system of conservation lands.”

    Kornze has led the BLM since March 1, 2013, as Principal Deputy Director, overseeing its conservation, outdoor recreation and energy development programs. Prior to this role, Kornze served as the BLM’s Acting Deputy Director for Policy and Programs since October 2011. He joined the agency in January 2011 as a Senior Advisor to the Director and has worked on a range of issues, including renewable and conventional energy development, transmission siting and conservation policy. He also has been active in tribal consultation, especially regarding oil, gas and renewable energy development in Indian Country.

    Kornze played a key role in developing the Western Solar Plan, which established 17 low-conflict zones for commercial solar energy development and also identified lands appropriate for conservation, and the agency’s approval of 47 solar, wind and geothermal utility-scale projects on public lands, as a leader of the Department’s Renewable Energy Strike Team. When built, these projects add up to more than 13,300 megawatts – enough electricity to power 4.6 million homes and support 19,000 construction and operations jobs. He also has been a leader in reforming BLM’s oil and gas program, including the upcoming launch of a nation-wide online permitting system that could significantly reduce drilling permit processing times, and in the bureau’s efforts to enhance and increase visitors to the diverse system of national conservation lands.

    Before joining the BLM, Kornze was a Senior Policy Advisor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, working on renewable energy, mining, water, outdoor recreation, rural development and wildlife conservation issues. He worked closely on developing and helping pass critical national legislation, including the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009 and the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes programs. Raised in Elko, NV, by a family with a long history in mining, Kornze has a master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate with a degree in Politics from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA.

    The BLM has an annual budget of $1.1 billion and 10,250 employees who carry out a multiple-use and sustained yield mission to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands – mostly in 12 western states – for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The BLM hosts more than 59 million visits annually and administers the National System of Public Lands, which encompasses about 13 percent of the total land surface of the United States and more than 40 percent of all land managed by the federal government. BLM also manages 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate across the nation.

    From the Denver Business Journal (Mark Harden):

    Environmental groups praised the choice.

    “Neil Kornze will bring his western upbringing and values, combined with conservation knowledge, experience, and judgment to the director’s office at BLM,” said Trevor Kincaid of the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities. “Mr. Kornze’s record of finding compromise between divergent positions makes him an ideal candidate for the challenges facing BLM.”

    Kornze faces confirmation by the U.S. Senate. U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told the Salt Lake Tribune that while “the fact that Mr. Kornze is from the West is a good thing,” he plans to bring up such issues as sage grouse management and hydraulic fracturing as Kornze’s nomination is considered.
    In Colorado, some 1.7 million acres of BLM land are habitat for the greater sage grouse, whose dwindling numbers have led state and federal officials to weigh restrictions on energy development and grazing to protect the bird.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    A former adviser to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., will head the nation’s largest land-management agency, if Neil Kornze is approved by the Senate. President Barack Obama nominated Kornze to head the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday. The agency last had a permanent chief in May 2012.

    Kornze’s nomination won quick support from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who cited in a statement his office’s good working relationship with Kornze.

    “Being from the West and having demonstrated experience in the Congress and at the bureau make him a qualified candidate for the job,” Bennet said. “We’re looking forward to hearing more about how his priorities for the BLM will help our state balance the need for responsible energy development with recreation and the protection of our public lands and wildlife habitat.”

    Kornze grew up in Elko, Nev., and has headed the Bureau of Land Management since March 1. He joined the agency in 2011 as a senior adviser to Director Robert Abbey, working on renewable and conventional energy development and conservation policy. He worked previously with Reid.

    U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is reviewing Kornze’s nomination, Udall’s office said.

    Kornze’s position on state water rights is an important issue, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said in a statement.

    Tipton has criticized the BLM and U.S. Forest Service for demanding state water rights in exchange for permits to graze or operate on federal lands.

    “It’s critically important that the director of the BLM understands the importance of multiple-use of public lands, and strives to achieve a balance of conservation and responsible use of the abundant natural resources on those lands,” Tipton said in a statement.

    Western Colorado is dependent on the bureau’s energy policies, David Ludlam of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association said.

    “So the responsibility falls to our community to reach out to Mr. Kornze early, often and constructively to open up access to the natural gas reserves so fundamental to our economy and quality of life,” Ludlam said.

    The BLM’s Grand Junction Field Office administers about 1 million acres in Mesa and surrounding counties, including U.S Forest Service lands it manages for the mineral deposits beneath them.

    The BLM administers more than 245 million acres of public lands nationwide.


    Glen Canyon Dam: High Flow Experiment – November 11-16, 2013 #ColoradoRiver

    November 5, 2013

    Here’s the release from Reclamation (Katrina Grantz):

    On November 11-16, 2013, the Department of Interior will conduct a high flow experimental (HFE) release from Glen Canyon Dam in accordance with the High-Flow Protocol. Under this Protocol, high flow releases are linked to sediment input and other resource conditions below Glen Canyon Dam. This HFE will be the second conducted under the HFE Protocol.

    Beginning on the morning of November 11th, releases from Glen Canyon Dam will begin ramping up to full power plant capacity (approximately 22,200 cfs). At midday on November 11th, bypass tubes at Glen Canyon Dam will be opened and releases will continue to increase up to full power plant and bypass capacity (approximately 37,200 cfs) by the evening of November 11th. Releases will be maintained at peak release for 4 days (96 hours) and then begin ramping back down. Releases will return to normal operations in the afternoon of November 16th. The entire experiment, including ramping is expected to last 5 and a half days, with 4 day (96 hours) at peak release. November releases from Glen Canyon Dam prior to and after the HFE are expected to fluctuate between 5,000cfs and 8,000cfs. The elevation of Lake Powell is expected to decrease approximately 2 ½ feet during the 5 and a half day experiment. The annual release volume from Lake Powell remains 7.48 maf and will not change as a result of the HFE. For additional information about High Flow Experiments at Glen Canyon Dam, please check back for links to the soon-to-be-updated High Flow Experiment webpages.

    Related Information and graphics:
    * Glen Canyon Dam November 2013 HFE Release Hydrograph
    * 2013 HFE Downstream Flow Arrival Time Map
    * Lake Powell 2013 HFE Projected Elevation Graphs
    * Lake Mead Projected Elevation Graphs

    Current Status
    The unregulated inflow volume to Lake Powell in September was 857 thousand acre-feet (kaf) (210% of average). The release volume from Glen Canyon Dam in September was 600 kaf. The end of September elevation and storage of Lake Powell were 3591.3 feet (108.7 feet from full pool) and 10.93 million acre-feet (maf) (45% of full capacity), respectively. Due to above average runoff from monsoonal activity in September, Lake Powell elevation increased by about 2 feet over an 11-day period in September. The reservoir elevation is now declining and will continue to decline through the fall and winter until spring runoff in 2014.

    To view the most current reservoir elevation, content, inflow and release, click on: Lake Powell Data.
    To view the most current reservoir elevation projections, click on: Lake Powell Elevation Projections.

    The water year 2013 unregulated inflow volume was 5.12 maf (47% of average), placing 2013 as the fourth driest on record since the closure of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963. Water years 2002, 1977, and 2012 were drier, receiving 2.64 maf, 3.53 maf, and 4.91 maf, respectively. In terms of reservoir elevation and storage, Lake Powell reached its peak for water year 2013 on June 18th at 3,601.2 ft (98.8 feet from full pool) which is 35.7 feet lower than last year’s peak elevation of 3636.9 ft. The end of water year 2013 elevation and storage of Lake Powell were 3591.3 feet (108.7 feet from full pool) and 10.93maf (45% of capacity), respectively. This is 3.0 maf less than 2012 end of water year storage which was 13.93 maf (57% of capacity).

    Releases for Water Year 2013 totaled 8.232 maf. Pursuant to the Interim Guidelines, Lake Powell operated under the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier in 2013. Throughout water year 2013, Reclamation adjusted operations of Glen Canyon Dam to release the appropriate annual volume during 2013 to achieve Upper Elevation Balancing Tier objectives as practicably as possible by September 30, 2012.

    Current Operations
    The operating tier for water year 2014 is the Mid-Elevation Release Tier with an annual release volume of 7.48 maf, as established in August 2013 and pursuant to the Interim Guidelines , Section 6.C.1. Reclamation will schedule operations at Glen Canyon Dam to achieve as practicably as possible a 7.48 maf annual release volume by September 30, 2014.
    Releases from Glen Canyon Dam in October are currently averaging approximately 8,000 cfs with daily fluctuations between approximately 5,000 cfs at nighttime and approximately 10,000 cfs during the daytime and consistent with the Glen Canyon Operating Criteria (Federal Register, Volume 62, No. 41, March 3, 1997). The scheduled release volume for October 2013 is 480 kaf.

    The anticipated release volume for November is 500 kaf with fluctuations for power generation throughout the day consistent with the Glen Canyon Operating Criteria (Federal Register, Volume 62, No. 41, March 3, 1997). However, the release volume may be adjusted in the event of a High Flow Experiment. Under the High-Flow Protocol, high flow releases are linked to sediment input and other resource conditions below Glen Canyon Dam. Preliminary analysis appears favorable for a high flow experimental release to occur during the period of November 11 – 19, 2013. During the High Flow Experiment, total releases from Glen Canyon Dam at full bypass may reach approximately 37,200 cfs. The total experiment, including ramping, could last up to about five and a half days. In the event of a high flow experiment, releases from Glen Canyon Dam prior to and after the high flow experiment are anticipated to fluctuate between 5,000cfs and 8,000cfs.

    In December, the release volume will likely be about 600 kaf, with fluctuations throughout the day for hydropower generation.

    In addition to daily scheduled fluctuations for power generation, the instantaneous releases from Glen Canyon Dam may also fluctuate to provide 40 MW of system regulation. These instantaneous release adjustments stabilize the electrical generation and transmission system and translate to a range of about 1,200 cfs above or below the hourly scheduled release rate. Under system normal conditions, fluctuations for regulation are typically short lived and generally balance out over the hour with minimal or no noticeable impacts on downstream river flow conditions.

    Releases from Glen Canyon Dam can also fluctuate beyond scheduled fluctuations for power generation when called upon as a partner that shares reserve requirements within the electrical generator community (i.e. balancing area). Reserves provide system reliability in the event of an unscheduled outage. Glen Canyon Dam typically maintains 43 MW of reserves (approximately 1,200 cfs). Reserve calls can be maintained for a maximum of 2 hours after which time the generation rate should be returned to the original schedule. If reserves from Glen Canyon Dam are called upon, releases from the dam can exceed scheduled levels and can have a noticeable impact on the river downstream from Glen Canyon Dam. Calls for reserves are fairly infrequent and typically are for much less than 43 MW.

    Inflow Forecasts and Model Projections
    The hydrologic forecast for water year 2014 for Lake Powell, issued by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, projects that the most probable (median) unregulated inflow volume will be 9.65 maf (89% of average based on the period 1981-2010). The water year 2013 forecast increased by 1.24 maf since last month, primarily due to much higher than expected monsoonal precipitation and runoff in September. At this early point in the season, there is significant uncertainty regarding next year’s water supply. The forecast ranges from a minimum probable of 6.5 maf (60% of average) to a maximum probable of 17.5 maf (162% of average). There is a 10% chance that inflows could be higher than the maximum probable and a 10% chance they could be lower than the minimum probable.

    Based on the current forecast, the October 24-Month study projects Lake Powell elevation will peak near approximately 3,604 ft next summer and end the water year near 3,598 feet with approximately 11.6 maf in storage (48% capacity). Note that projections of elevation and storage have significant uncertainty at this point in the season, primarily due to uncertainty regarding next season’s snowpack and resulting inflow to Lake Powell. Under the minimum probable inflow scenario, the projected summer peak is 3,586 ft and end of water year storage is 9.3 maf (38% capacity). Under the maximum probable inflow scenario the projected summer peak is 3,661 ft and end of water year storage is 18.4 maf (76% capacity). There is a 10% chance that inflows will be higher, resulting in higher elevation and storage, and 10% chance that inflows will be lower, resulting in lower elevation and storage. The annual release volume from Lake Powell during water year 2014 is projected to be 7.48 maf under all inflow scenarios.

    Consistent with Section 6.C.1 of the Interim Guidelines, the Lake Powell operational tier for water year 2014 is the Mid-Elevation Release Tier with an annual release volume of 7.48 maf. This was determined in the August 2013 24-Month study tier determination run which projected that, with an 8.23 maf annual release pattern in water year 2014, the January 1, 2014, Lake Powell elevation would be below 3,575.0 feet and the Lake Mead elevation would be above 1,025.0 feet. This determination will be documented in the 2014 AOP, which is currently in the final stages of development.

    Upper Colorado River Basin Hydrology
    The Upper Colorado River Basin regularly experiences significant year to year hydrologic variability. During the 14-year period 2000 to 2013, however, the unregulated inflow to Lake Powell, which is a good measure of hydrologic conditions in the Colorado River Basin, was above average in only 3 out of the past 14 years. The period 2000-2014 is the lowest 14-year period since the closure of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, with an average unregulated inflow of 8.25 maf, or 76% of the 30-year average (1981-2010). (For comparison, the 1981-2010 average is 10.83maf.) The unregulated inflow during the 2000-2013 period has ranged from a low of 2.64 maf (24% of average) in water year 2002 to a high of 15.97 maf (147% of average) in water year 2011. One wet year can significantly increase total system reservoir storage, just as persistent dry years can draw down the system storage.

    At the beginning of water year 2014, total system storage in the Colorado River Basin was 29.9 maf (50% of 59.6 maf total system capacity). This is about 4 maf less than the total storage at the beginning of water year 2013 which began at 34.0 maf (57% of capacity). Since the beginning of water year 2000, total Colorado Basin storage has experienced year to year increases and decreases in response to wet and dry hydrology, ranging from a high of 94% of capacity at the beginning of 2000 to a low of 50% of capacity at the beginning of water year 2014. Based on current forecasts, the current projected end of water year 2014 total Colorado Basin reservoir storage is approximately 29.6 maf (50% of capacity).

    Updated: October 29, 2013
    Katrina Grantz

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Drought news: 3 years of drought, DWR enforcement regarding seep ditches leads to loss of bird habitat #COdrought

    October 23, 2013
    Straight Line Diagram Lower Arkansas River Valley via Headwaters Magazine

    Straight Line Diagram Lower Arkansas River Valley via Headwaters Magazine

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A McClave farmer who has watched a reservoir dry up during the drought of the last three years is nearing the end of a court battle with the state and downstream water users to protect a wildlife refuge. Unless some other source of water is found, the two reservoirs that provide habitat for migrating birds, including some endangered species, could become just so many more acres of weeds and salt cedar, said Lance Verhoeff.

    “There is a real risk of the wildlife refuge disappearing,” Verhoeff said. “I think there’s a real opportunity if conservation groups could come together to find water to put in the reservoirs.”

    So far, there only have been efforts to take water from the small reservoirs, located just downstream of John Martin Reservoir.

    In 2011, the Division of Water Resources began enforcing water rights on seep ditches throughout the Arkansas River basin — the type that used to provide water to the Bent County reservoirs.

    For Verhoeff, the decision has been perplexing. His family was encouraged by the state to build the reservoirs — one in 1946 and one in 1962 — and received funding from the federal Soil Conservation Service. Using the reservoirs, the Verhoeffs were able to turn meadows into fields with the full support of state and federal agencies. In the process, the reservoirs became prime habitat for migrating birds.

    In 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service even funded a habitat improvement project. “The biggest problem has been the change in the management of water, through buy-and-dry by the cities and the lawsuit with Kansas,” Verhoeff said.

    In 2011, the state cracked down on seep ditches — water intercepted on its way back to the river from more senior diversions. Verhoeff filed a water court application in late 2011 seeking to gain storage rights, as well as shore up his claim to water on several ditches.

    Verhoeff maintained that water development in the area early on separated the reservoirs from the river. The state and downstream water users such as the Amity Canal, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association argued that a ditch was needed to convey water to the river — and away from the reservoirs.

    Trial is set for November in water court, but Verhoeff is working with the other groups on a settlement. The likelihood is that the upper reservoir will be able to store water when it is available, while the lower one, already full of tamarisk and weeds, will remain dry unless other sources of water are found.

    “The reservoirs are not under restriction for any dam safety purposes,” said Steve Witte, Water Division 2 engineer. “They could be used for storage if a way was found to put water into the reservoirs through augmentation and exchange.”

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.


    Feds eye changes to Colorado River endangered fish conservation program

    October 8, 2013

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    Recovery team eyes White River Basin

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    The Colorado pikeminnow is one of four endangered species that could benefit from a proposed new plan to boost flows during critical seasons. Photo courtesy USFWS.

    By Summit Voice

    *More Summit Voice stories on the Colorado River native fish conservation program are online here.

    FRISCO — State and federal biologists are considering some changes to the Colorado River Native Fish Recovery Program in the White River Basin after a discussion with stakeholders.

    The endangered fish — colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, bonytail — are already protected in the White River Basin, according to The Nature Conservancy. The changes would be a firming up of management expectations.

    A similar approach has been used in other basins to ensure that current and future water needs are met for people and endangered fish.  The White River management plan aims to:

    • identify existing and some…

    View original 365 more words


    Yellow-billed cuckoo may get endangered species status

    October 5, 2013

    Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

    Native bird has nearly been extirpated from the West

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    Yellow-billed cuckoos have nearly been extirpated from the western U.S. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory .

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    Yellow-billed cuckoos are only found in a few isolated locations in Colorado.

    By Summit Voice

    FRISCO — The yellow-billed cuckoo, once common along streams throughout the West, may finally get some protection under the Endangered Species Act.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed Endangered Species Act protection  for the brids, following a 2011 agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled species nationwide.

    The flashy bird, with a long tail and white markings on it wings, has long been listed as a species of concern by Colorado wildlife biologists, as their numbers have dropped drastically since the early 20th century. Click here to read a Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory report on yellow-billed cuckoos in…

    View original 299 more words


    Lawsuit filed over Southwestern Willow Flycatcher habitat destruction by the Tamarisk Leaf Beetle

    October 2, 2013
    Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

    Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

    From The Los Angeles Times (Louis Sahagun):

    A U.S. Department of Agriculture program designed to control invasive streamside trees by releasing exotic leaf-eating beetles has gone awry and is destroying the nesting areas of a federally endangered songbird, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by two conservation groups.

    The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Maricopa Audubon Society accuses the department and its Animal and Plant Inspection Service, or APHIS, of failing to safeguard the southwestern willow flycatcher from the effects of the release of the beetles imported from central Asia to eradicate tamarisk trees.

    Flycatchers often nest where tamarisks have crowded out native cottonwood and willow trees. About 25% of the birds’ territories are in areas dominated by the tamarisk, a water-hungry tree that grows in impenetrable thickets.

    The department began releasing the beetles in 14 states in 2005 with assurances that the insects would not be introduced within 200 miles of flycatcher habitat. It also said the beetle could not survive in regions south of 37 degrees north latitude, where shorter days suppress its reproduction.

    In an environmental assessment published two years earlier, APHIS officials said the strain of beetle “exhibits a particular life history that will enable its safe release in the 14 proposed states.”

    According to the lawsuit, however, the department in 2006 introduced beetles into flycatcher-nesting areas along the Virgin River in southern Utah. Now, they are spreading into nesting areas in southern Utah, Nevada and northern and western Arizona.

    “Their agreements were broken,” Robin Silver, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “The beetle is going wild below 37 degrees north latitude.”

    “If we don’t deal with this problem immediately, it will wipe out the middle part of the flycatcher’s range,” Silver said. “Eventually, there may not be enough habitat left to sustain the species.”

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    Correction! The Rio Grande: it’s not ‘for the birds’

    September 26, 2013

    Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

    In January 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) designated nearly 1,300 miles of streams throughout the southwest  as critical habitat for this sweet looking bird, the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. The area included land along the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers in Colorado, as well as an area surrounding the upper part of Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico.

    The designation had some excited and others concerned that it could impact water availability within the Rio Grande Basin.  CFWE got the information wrong in our Rio Grande Compact story published in the latest issue of Headwaters magazine, we wrote “The USFWS could use the designation to require the delivery of more water downstream, beyond what is required under the compact.” Which is just not true… our most sincere apologies! You can read a correction in the article on our website– but if you’re interested in the designation, read more…

    View original 656 more words


    High Country News: Why aren’t experimental floods helping native fish below Glen Canyon Dam? #ColoradoRiver

    September 1, 2013
    A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo USBR

    A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo/USBR

    Here’s a report from Sarah Keller writing for The Goat. Click through and read the whole article and to check out the graphics. Here’s an excerpt:

    Now, managers are trying to balance the need for beach-restoring floods, which increase non-native trout numbers upstream, with the need to maintain chub habitat in the Grand Canyon. That left some researchers asking the question: If big, artificial floods didn’t help humpback chub as expected, what are the root causes of their low numbers, and what will help them thrive?

    Despite being limited by food availability, the warm water-loving chub has gradually been making a comeback. They’ve likely benefited from recent increases in water temperatures as drought has lowered Lake Powell, and from trout control measures. Managers have removed rainbows from the Grand Canyon main channel in the past. The Fish and Wildlife Service may do that again, if trout numbers increase, and they march downstream. The National Park Service is already controlling rainbow trout, along with brown trout, in the side streams Shinamu Creek and Bright Angel Creek.

    But a majority of the Grand Canyon’s roughly 10,000 chub live in or around the Little Colorado River, and biologists worry that if that single population becomes diseased, or something toxic spills into the river, it could doom the entire species. So National Park Service biologists have also been reintroducing chub to additional side streams, and this May, they discovered chub from an introduced population spawning for the first time in Havasu Creek, in the Grand Canyon — an encouraging sign.

    More on the Colorado River from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Here’s an excerpt:

    Fully half of the Colorado River’s water comesfrom Colorado, with lesser amounts from other states before the river is stopped at Glen Canyon Dam to create the reservoir most people call Lake Powell.

    Now comes the news that because of the drought that has continued more years than not since 1999, less water will be released from Powell downstream to Las Vegas, Arizona and California. Also as a result, less electricity can be produced at Hoover Dam.

    This was not surprising news. Water experts for some years have spoke with increasing alarm about the razor-thin margin between supplies and demands in the Colorado River Basin.

    As is, water hasn’t reached the Pacific Ocean with regularity since the 1960s – and not at all since the late 1990s.

    Bull’s eye for this story is Las Vegas. A century ago, it wasn’t much more than a railroad depot in a place that annually gets only 4 inches of precipitation. Mafia dons and gambling and giant hotels all came later. When the Colorado River Compact was drawn up in 1922, only 700,000 acre-feet out of what the compact framers optimistically estimated were an annual 16 million acre-feet of flows were allocated to Nevada. California could see its future needs, and Colorado presciently saw the need for a compact before California slurped up all the water. But nobody foresaw The Strip.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    Arizona, California and Nevada can’t demand more water from Colorado for nearly a decade, but a day of reckoning is growing nearer, water officials said. The possibility of a call on the river, however, is underscored by the aridity of 2013. “It looks like 2013 will be the third-driest year for Lake Powell,” Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said Tuesday in a meeting with The Daily Sentinel editorial board. “Low reservoir levels have everyone’s attention.”

    Runoff for the water year, which ends Sept. 30, was 35 percent to 50 percent of normal through July, setting the stage for dire predictions of runoff in the coming years.

    The Southern Nevada Water Authority this month called for federal disaster relief to address the water scarcity in the Colorado River system and the Bureau of Reclamation announced this week that it was looking to store more water in Lake Powell in 2014 than it might otherwise.

    The upper-basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are required under a 1922 agreement to deliver 7.5 million acre feet of water to the lower basin each year, as well as water for Mexico. That hasn’t been a problem because the requirement is based on a 10-year rolling average.

    The current average includes the high-water year of 2012, Kuhn noted, but that year eventually will be factored out and its influence could be leveled out by a succession of low-runoff years. “As a practical matter, we’re not going to run into a compact problem until 2021, 2022, 2023,” Kuhn said.

    The compact states also have a “peace agreement” that expires in 2025 and the parties appear committed to observing it, Kuhn said.

    Still, the low levels of water in the Colorado River reservoirs are pumping new importance into talks about how to manage the river, Kuhn said.

    Another agreement among the River District, Western Slope water users and Denver Water has yet to be signed by all parties, but already is paying off for the Western Slope, Kuhn said. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement provides for the river levels to be maintained at the levels that would be required if the Shoshone generating station in Glenwood Canyon were operating even at times that the plant is down or operating at less than capacity. The agreement is being honored, Kuhn said, as are provisions governing the operations of Green Mountain Reservoir.

    “Everyone is sticking to the agreement,” said Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who represents the county on the River District board.

    More coverage from Anne MacKinnon writing for WyoFile.com. Here’s an excerpt:

    Congress, sadly “dysfunctional” in this era, has to recognize that the nation must put money into scientific research and plans that help people, infrastructure, and natural resources to adapt and change to meet the uncertainties of climate change, said Pat Mulroy, outspoken general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

    She said people involved in the Colorado River have managed in the past dozen years to negotiate deals and create relationships that can be built upon now. Negotiators will be able, she said, to come up with ways in which there will be no water battles, and no “winners and losers” on the river, despite dwindling supplies.

    Everyone will stand to lose a little, but no one, perhaps not even the river itself, need face the disaster of no water for vital needs. Congress, however, will have to act, backing whatever joint proposals develop to prevent such a disaster.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Raton: Partnership nourishes Rio Grande cutthroat habitat

    August 11, 2013

    riograndecutthroatnmgameandfish.jpg

    Here’s the release from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (Rachel Shockley):

    Thanks to a collaboration between the Department of Game and Fish, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, Vermejo Park Ranch and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout will have protected habitat long into the future.

    A Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for Vermejo Park Ranch, recently approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will help conserve and restore the New Mexico State Fish and other native fish in the Costilla watershed.

    The Department works closely with private landowners, states and federal agencies to recover sensitive species and their habitat. By proactively agreeing to conservation activities within a project area, a CCAA can protect existing uses such as agriculture, recreation or commercial activities if a covered species becomes federally protected.

    “We have been working together for 10 years to make sure we can address the needs of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout and other native fish living in the watershed, while ensuring private landowners continue to be able to manage their own lands. This agreement does that,” said Department Fisheries Chief Mike Sloane.

    The Rio Grande cutthroat is easy to recognize with its red throat slashes, rosy belly and spotted sides. Anglers have long enjoyed the colorful fish and have contributed millions of dollars to conservation and habitat restoration for the species through the purchase of fishing licenses and fishing equipment. At Vermejo Park Ranch, non-native trout were removed and Rio Grande cutthroat were stocked. Non-native trout will continue to be removed from the waterways until the restoration is complete. Because of the CCAA, the Costilla basin is set to provide important habitat for New Mexico’s native trout for many years to come.

    “The CCAA is a no brainer for us,” said Carter Kruse, aquatic resource coordinator for Turner Enterprises. “If the Rio Grande cutthroat trout is listed under the Endangered Species Act, it provides us the protection and flexibility to design the activities on the ranch, and as private landowners, to manage the property to the best of our abilities for conservation and for economic sustainability. We hope we can be an example for other private landowners that you can still do your ranching activities and participate in conservation. We’ve done it, it works, here’s how.”

    Although not listed as endangered, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout is a candidate species for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Department is working hard to keep the fish off the endangered species list by increasing the subspecies’ range and the number of populations through habitat restoration and stocking. Currently, Rio Grande cutthroats are found in about 10 percent of the species’ historic habitat, which encompassed the Rio Grande, Pecos River and Canadian River basins in New Mexico and Colorado. The species faces many challenges, including non-native fish, fragmented populations, drought and poor habitat.

    From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

    Wildlife officials in New Mexico and Colorado have teamed up with the Vermejo Park Ranch near Raton to protect habitat for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish says federal officials have approved a conservation agreement for the northern New Mexico ranch that is aimed at conserving and restoring the trout along with other native fish in the Costilla watershed. The agreement gives the ranch flexibility in managing its private lands while working to meet the needs of the fish if it’s ever listed under the Endangered Species Act.

    The trout are found in about 10 percent of their historic habitat, which encompassed the Rio Grande, Pecos River and Canadian River basins in New Mexico and Colorado. Threats facing the species include non-native fish, fragmented populations, drought and poor habitat.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


    Arkansas River Basin: $50,000 USFWS grant for threatened greenback cutthroat protection

    July 12, 2013

    cutthroattrouthistoricranges.jpg

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will help fund two projects in the Fountain Creek watershed designed to restore fish habitat. Federal grants of $50,000 each were awarded to the Bear Creek sediment mitigation project and the fish passage project at Clear Springs Ranch on Fountain Creek. The Bear Creek project, which totals $185,000, also is seeking a $100,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to improve a 4-mile stretch of creek west of Colorado Springs. Bear Creek is home to the only known native population of greenback cutthroat trout in Colorado. The fish were discovered in 2012 and the project seeks to protect the creek from heavy recreation use alongside the creek.

    The $640,000 project at Clear Springs Ranch is being led by Colorado Springs Utilities to help the Arkansas darter, a native plains fish, swim upstream to spawn.

    One other project in Colorado was given a $50,000 grant that will assist in a $512,000 project in Northwestern Colorado to improve habitat and create a fish passage for cutthroat trout on Milk Creek.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    The Rocky Mountain Field Institute is looking at options to protect Colorado’s last population of Greenback cutthroats

    June 20, 2013

    cutthroattrouthistoricranges

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Can the state’s last remaining native fish survive the human impacts on their stream?

    The Rocky Mountain Field Institute wants a $100,000 state grant to improve the habitat of Bear Creek, west of Colorado Springs. The creek is home to the only remaining population of greenback cutthroat trout in Colorado. The trout were discovered last year through genetic testing by the University of Colorado. Bear Creek also is a popular recreation site, and roads, hikers, cyclists and other outdoor activities. “It’s the only native greenback population in the state,” explained Doug Krieger, aquatic biologist for Parks and Wildlife, at last week’s Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting. “We want to protect this mother lode of fish.”

    The roundtable approved the grant, which now goes to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    The trout live in a 4-mile stretch of Bear Creek. They apparently were stocked there in the 1800s, because the species actually is native to the South Platte River basin. Native species of greenback cutthroat trout in the state’s three other river basins are believed to be extinct or genetically altered by contact with other species. The state last year moved 64 of the fish to fisheries to breed more stock, Krieger added.

    The grant money would stabilize a draw that is responsible for loading most of the sediment into Bear Creek, restore a portion of the stream and develop a plan to take steps to reduce sediment loading from High Drive, which runs adjacent to the creek.

    Several recreational groups are cooperating in the project.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    San Miguel River watershed: Instream flow right granted in May should keep the river whole from stem to stern

    June 10, 2013

    sanmiguelriver.jpg

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Handy):

    One of the last free-flowing rivers in Colorado, the San Miguel will continue to course through the western slope unchecked by mankind, thanks to a May 20 Colorado Water Court ruling granting it protected status. Granted “in-stream flow protection,” the San Miguel will continue to be a natural habitat for three fish species, as well as fuel the down-stream rafting economy, said John Fielder, a landscape photographer and champion of natural resources preservation. “Like the Yampa (River), the San Miguel is one of the last undammed major rivers in the state,” Fielder said.

    The in-stream water rights guarantee that no one can take water out of the river, said Rob Harris, a lawyer for Western Resources Advocates, a resources conservation non-profit. Instead, the San Miguel’s water will be preserved for three native fish: the Roundtail Chub, the Flannel Mouth Sucker, and the Bluehead Sucker, Harris said…

    To preserve the fish natural habitat, the Colorado Water Conservation Board applied for in-stream flow protection for the San Miguel in 2011, at the urging of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management. The in-stream protection protects a 17-mile segment of the river, which runs west of Montrose near Naturita.

    More San Miguel River watershed coverage here and here.


    Denver Water’s bypass flows enhance the Fraser River fishery #ColoradoRiver #COdrought

    June 5, 2013

    coloradorivercooperativeagreementmap.jpg

    Here’s an opinion piece running in the Sky-Hi Daily News written by the Grand County Commissioners. They take on the execution of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. Here’s an excerpt:

    As your Commissioners, we believe it is important to let you know the status of the agreement and how the agreement is already benefitting the county.

    In the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Denver Water commits to providing environmental enhancements to address existing flow and temperature concerns throughout Grand County. It is important to note that the enhancements contained in the Cooperative Agreement are not a substitute for mitigation for the Gross Reservoir Enlargement Project (Moffat Project), as the agreement clearly states. Grand County continues to advocate in the federal permitting process for complete mitigation for all impacts caused by the Moffat Project.

    The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement has not yet been signed by all parties, awaiting federal agency sign-off on allied agreements. Final signatures and full execution is expected this summer. However, even though the Cooperative Agreement has not been fully executed and the Moffat Project is not yet permitted, let alone built, Denver Water voluntarily implemented fundamental and critical components of the agreement last year and again this spring providing more water for county streams than would have been present without the agreement.

    Denver Water contacted Grand County officials to determine how to maximize benefit to Grand County of bypassed water. In short, instead of the historical practice of significantly reducing the bypass flows at its diversion points during droughts, Denver Water is bypassing water for the benefit of the environment and Grand County water users. This benefit amounted to about 1,500 acre-feet of water that Denver Water gave back to the Fraser River when they legally could have diverted it to Denver in 2012. According to the municipal water and wastewater providers in the Fraser Valley, this additional water made a huge benefit last year to stream flow and stream temperatures, as well as operations of water and wastewater facilities.

    Again this year, Denver Water instituted drought restrictions in April, which meant they had the right to reduce the flows in the Fraser River. Despite grave concerns about their water supply — overall reservoir storage was below 2002 levels and early projections showed reservoirs may not fill this season — Denver Water contacted us to discuss the bypass flows and the best way to work with Grand County to maximize water available for the county in 2013.

    This example of cooperation and communication is what was envisioned when Grand County entered into the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement with Denver Water. The relationship forged through this agreement is bearing fruit for Grand County even though the agreement is not officially in place.

    More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


    USFWS: Spring Releases for Endangered Fish a ‘No Go’ This Year #ColoradoRiver

    May 26, 2013

    fishladderpricestubbsdamcoloradoriver.jpg

    Here’s the release from the Fish and Wildlife Service (Kara Lamb) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Michelle Garrison):

    A voluntary river flow program to provide enhanced spring peak flows for endangered fish will not take effect this year. Operators of Dillon, Green Mountain, Williams Fork, Wolford and Ruedi reservoirs cannot implement the Coordinated Reservoirs Operations program this spring because river flows in western Colorado will not approach levels where increased flows would benefit the endangered fishes. Extremely dry conditions throughout 2012 combined with below average conditions in 2013 have resulted in low reservoir storage and below average spring runoff. The current forecast for the water supply for the Colorado River at Cameo near Grand Junction, Colo., is 52 to 65 percent of average.

    The Coordinated Reservoir Operations Program was established in 1995 as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. Its purpose is to enhance spring peak flows to a section of the Colorado River upstream of Grand Junction without causing flooding. In years when snowpack is above average, surplus inflows to the upstream reservoirs can be passed on downstream to benefit two species of endangered fish in the Colorado River: the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker.

    This spring, most of the basin reservoir operators expect to approach, but not achieve, their goals of filling the reservoirs. Streamflows are predicted to remain significantly below the Coordinated Reservoir Operations target threshold of 12,900 cubic-feet-per-second in the Colorado River near Grand Junction.

    From the Associated Press via The San Francisco Chronicle:

    Under a voluntary program, when mountain snowpack is above average, the operators of Dillon, Green Mountain, Williams Fork, Wolford and Ruedi reservoirs release water to enhance spring peak Colorado River flows for the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. The Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday that this year, river flows won’t be high enough to trigger the releases.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    Low streamflows are endangering the survival of the Rio Grande River cutthroat trout #COdrought

    May 25, 2013

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    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    Some of southern Colorado’s Rio Grande cutthroat trout are likely living on the edge of the climate cliff and will have a hard time surviving as global temperatures rise.

    Flows are already very low in many streams where the rare fish live, so even a small change in flow could push some populations into the abyss. The long-term global warming forecast by most climate models could render many mainstem, connecting habitats unsuitable for the fish, which survive best in a narrow temperature range, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey scientists.

    Rio Grande cutthroat trout now live in only about 12 percent of its historical habitat, as non-native fish introductions, water diversions and other impacts degraded the species’ habitat in the past few decades. Most of the sampled streams with Rio Grande cutthroat trout have base flows of less than 1 cubic foot per second, making them vulnerable to drought.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    CMU: Grand Valley Float — Palisade to Corn Lake May 29 #ColoradoRiver

    May 23, 2013

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    From Colorado Mesa University:

    Float along the Colorado River between vineyards and orchards in a section of the 15-mile reach of critical habitat for 4 species of endangered fish.

    To Register, click here.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


    USFWS designation of habitat for the flycatcher was the talk of the recent Rio Grande Compact meeting

    March 31, 2013

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    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently designated critical habitat for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher in portions of the San Luis Valley totaling 27 miles and nine miles along the uppermost portion of New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir, one of the main storage facilities for the Rio Grande Compact. Murphy said the Colorado and New Mexico designations were essential to the recovery of the species, which has been on the federal endangered species list since 1995. Commissioners expressed concern the designations would affect compact administration. Murphy indicated the designations should not affect water administration along the Rio Grande [ed. emphasis mine].

    In the engineer advisers’ report to the compact commission on Thursday, Colorado’s Engineer Adviser and Colorado Division 3 Engineer Craig Cotten read into the record the advisers’ report, which included the concern the Elephant Butte Reservoir flycatcher designation could impact about one million acre feet of reservoir storage. “Information presented by the [Fish and Wildlife] Service and [Bureau of] Reclamation relating to the impacts of the designation upon reservoir operations was inconclusive,” Cotten read from the engineer advisers’ report. “The engineer advisers are concerned about impacts from the designation on certain elements of the Rio Grande Compact, and to water operations, including supplies at Elephant Butte Reservoir.”

    Colorado Commissioner and State Engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources Dick Wolfe questioned Murphy why areas in the San Luis Valley had been designated critical habitat for the flycatcher since members of the water community had worked for many years developing a habitat conservation plan (HCP) precluding the need for that designation. Wolfe said the Fish and Wildlife Service had been involved in the habitat conservation plan process and had approved it. “In approving that HCP the service recognized that HCP would provide continued protection to the flycatcher habitat,” Wolfe said. He added there are already more flycatcher pairs in the Valley than the habitat recovery plan calls for. He said 56 flycatcher territories were estimated in this area, and the FWS goal was 50, so he did not see the need for additional critical habitat designation.

    Murphy said the goal of designating critical habitat for endangered species like the Southwestern willow flycatcher is to ensure their survival and recovery. He said an area that might not contain the species might be designated because of its connectivity to other habitats along the river corridor. The flycatcher habitat is unique, he said, in that this the only bird that nests in shrubs and trees with branches that are vertically oriented like the willows and saltcedar (tamarisk.)

    Texas Commissioner Pat Gordon asked Murphy about the nine miles of critical habitat near Elephant Butte that was designated in January. Murphy said the Elephant Butte habitat “is not only significant to the Rio Grande Basin, it’s significant to the population as a whole. What we look at is an area that is essential to the survival of the species knowing that periodic inundation will occur and we feel that is probably beneficial to flycatcher habitat over the long run, but we could not ignore the fact that there are a significant number of territories there with high productivity levels.”

    Murphy said when he moved to New Mexico in 1999 Elephant Butte Reservoir was nearly full, and it stayed that way for quite awhile. When the water levels receded in the reservoir, habitat appeared for the flycatchers, which took advantage of it and experienced a rebounding in their population as a result…

    Water commissioners have reason to be concerned over endangered species’ effect on water administration, given the ongoing challenge to keep enough water in New Mexico’s rivers to sustain the Rio Grande Silvery minnows, another endangered species. “The Rio Grande Silvery minnows are at an all-time low,” Murphy reported to the Rio Grande Compact Commission. Last year 51 miles of the main channel of the Middle Rio Grande dried up, so the FWS undertook a salvage operation in which more than 4,200 silvery minnows were salvaged and relocated.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


    San Luis Valley water is safe from the USFWS and the southwestern willow fly-catcher

    March 23, 2013

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    A federal wildlife manager assured Colorado officials Thursday that the protection of habitat for an endangered bird would not lead to demands on the state to relinquish water.

    In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher along 23 miles of the Rio Grande and a 2.9mile stretch of the Conejos River. “The designation itself does not affect water delivery or water users,” Wally Murphy, who oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s protection of endangered species in New Mexico, told the Rio Grande Compact Commission.

    San Luis Valley water officials had been alarmed by the January designation after spending years working on a habitat conservation plan to protect the bird’s habitat on private land in the valley. The service excluded 114 miles of private stream bank along the Conejos and Rio Grande that were covered in the conservation plan.

    But State Engineer Dick Wolfe, who represents Colorado on the commission, pressed Murphy on whether the operations of Platoro Reservoir or the Closed Basin Project might be impacted. “Habitat is ultimately driven by water to some extent so it seems like there is a nexus there,” Wolfe said.

    Murphy said there would be no call for water. Platoro, which has a capacity of 59,000 acre-feet and sits near the Continental Divide, provides flood control and irrigation water for farmers and ranchers along the Conejos. The Closed Basin Project draws groundwater from the northeast corner of the valley and sends it downstream to assist with Colorado’s requirements under the compact.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


    The CWCB plans to roll Flaming Gorge Pipeline analysis in with other IBCC reviews for transmountain diversions #coriver

    February 4, 2013

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    Here’s an article from last week that deals with the demise of the Flaming Gorge Task Force. It ran in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and was written by Gary Harmon.

    From The River Blog (Jessie Thomas-Blate):

    Last year, American Rivers listed the Green River as #2 on our annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, due to the potential impact of this pipeline on the river, the recreation economy, and the water supply for the lower Colorado River Basin…

    Recently, a coalition of 700 business owners called Protect the Flows commissioned a poll that found 84% of West Slope residents and 52% of metro Denver-area residents oppose building additional water pipelines across the mountains. In fact, 76% of Colorado residents think that the solution lies in using water in smarter and more efficient ways, with less waste…

    The Green River is a paddler’s paradise. In May 2012, Steve Markle with O.A.R.S. told us why paddlers love the Green River so much. Then in August, Matt Rice, our Director of Colorado Conservation, told us about his trip fishing the Green, and the big trout, beautiful scenery, and solitude he found there. Finally, Scott Willoughby with the Denver Post gives a description of the river that makes you jealous if you don’t have easy access to this trout oasis (even if you aren’t an avid fisherman!).

    It is no wonder so many people care about preserving adequate water flows in the Green River. It not only provides essential water and cash flow for West Slope towns, but also a great adventure for the citizens of Colorado and beyond.

    More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.


    Controlled Flood in Grand Canyon a Dud: Federal Scientists Say Sand and Beaches Continue to Erode Away #coriver

    January 24, 2013

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    Here’s the release from Living Rivers (John Weisheit):

    Just two months after Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar opened the jet tubes at Glen Canyon Dam, launching a five-day (24-hour peak) controlled flood into Grand Canyon, the results are in and they are not positive.

    During today’s Annual Reporting Review for the Grand Canyon Adaptive Management Program’s Technical Working Group, representatives from the Glen Canyon Monitoring and Research Center reported:

    Just 55% of the target beaches showed improvements, while 36% remained the same and 9% were worse off. 25% of the sediment scientists had hoped to mobilize and distribute with the flood never moved. No evidence of improved nursery habitat for native fish. Nothing is stopping the long-term erosion of sediment from Grand Canyon’s river corridor.

    “Ken Salazar claimed that this was going to be ‘A milestone in the history of the Colorado River’, but like the three previous experiments in 1996, 2004 and 2008, it too has shown that at best some beaches are temporarily improved, but the long-term prognosis for the Grand Canyon is a system without sediment,” says Living Rivers Conservation Director John Weisheit

    Since 1963, 95% of sediment inflows to Grand Canyon National Park’s river corridor have been trapped behind Glen Canyon Dam. This has completely transformed habitat conditions for Grand Canyon native fish, leading to the extinction of the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail chub and roundtail chub, and the endangerment of the humpback chub.

    The November 19th 2012 flood is the first to occur in a ten-year time window that scientist have been granted to experiment with Glen Canyon Dam operations. Additional controlled floods can be attempted if certain conditions are met, mainly the existence of large amounts of sediment entering the Colorado RIver from two tributary rivers that feed into the upper part of Grand Canyon, the Paria and Little Colorado.

    “Far too much public time and money is wasted on preparing for, publicizing, executing and monitoring these useless floods that do nothing but perpetuate a science welfare program masquerading as an endangered species recovery effort,” adds Weisheit. “Scientist know, but won’t publicly state, that the only real solution to addressing Grand Canyon’s sediment deficit is to transport it around Glen Canyon Dam or decommission the dam altogether.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    The U.S. Senate approves $25 million for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program #COriver

    January 4, 2013

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    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    As the House and Senate wrangled over the fiscal cliff, Democrats and Republicans found agreement on the four endangered fish of the Colorado River. The Senate on Monday unanimously approved a measure reauthorizing the recovery program for four species of endangered fish in the Colorado River basin. Once it’s signed by President Barack Obama, the measure will remove a “significant uncertainty” for water users in the basin, said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    The recovery program allows for the continued development of the river and its tributaries for irrigation, storage and other uses with the cooperation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state officials and other agencies.

    “This is milestone legislation that ensures western Colorado’s two endangered fish recovery programs continue to shield present and future water users from the worst consequences of the Endangered Species Act,” Treese said.

    Reauthorization clears the way for $25 million in spending on efforts to restore populations of the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and the bonytail. Extending the authorization for the Upper Colorado and San Juan fish recovery programs includes reforms to reduce overhead costs and eliminate inefficient agency spending to ensure the success of the programs while minimizing the taxpayer investment, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., a cosponsor of the measure, H.R. 6060, said in a statement. He also said he was “optimistic that these programs can reach their goals in the coming years, recover the species at issue, and safeguard the economic well-being of our communities and jobs connected to these efforts.”

    Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said the measure, which he co-sponsored in the Senate, is “welcome news for Colorado’s rivers, wildlife, sportsmen and our economy.”

    Extending the recovery program will ensure that hundreds of water projects in Colorado and other Western states will remain in compliance with federal law, Udall said.

    The recovery program operates several facilities in the Grand Valley, including fish ladders on the Gunnison River south of Grand Junction and on the Colorado River in De Beque Canyon, recovery ponds in Horsethief Canyon and a fish passage at the mouth of De Beque Canyon.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

    January 3, 2013

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    Here’s the ruling from the USFWS published in the Federal Register:

    We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), designate revised critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) (flycatcher) under the Endangered Species Act. In total, approximately 1,975 stream kilometers (1,227 stream miles) are being designated as critical habitat. These areas are designated as stream segments, with the lateral extent including the riparian areas and streams that occur within the 100-year floodplain or flood-prone areas encompassing a total area of approximately 84,569 hectares (208,973 acres). The critical habitat is located on a combination of Federal, State, tribal, and private lands in Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura Counties in California; Clark, Lincoln, and Nye Counties in southern Nevada; Kane, San Juan, and Washington Counties in southern Utah; Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, and La Plata Counties in southern Colorado [ed. emphasis mine]; Apache, Cochise, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz, and Yavapai Counties in Arizona; and Catron, Grant, Hidalgo, Mora, Rio Arriba, Socorro, Taos, and Valencia Counties in New Mexico. The effect of this regulation is to conserve the flycatcher’s habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    The designation covers about 208,000 acres of riparian habitat along 1,227 miles of rivers and streams in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Some of the critical habitat is along the banks of well-known rivers, including the Rio Grande, Gila, Virgin, Santa Ana and San Diego.

    The flycatcher is a small, neotropical, migrant bird that breeds in streamside forests. It was first listed as endangered in 1995 in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity.

    “Protection of critical habitat for this tiny, unique bird could make a crucial difference to its survival, and also gives urgently needed help to the Southwest’s beleaguered rivers,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “For all of us who love our desert rivers, this protection is great news.”

    The USFWS initially designated 599 miles of riverside habitat in 1997 but was challenged by the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association. That led to a revised designation in 2007 that protected more stream miles.
    But that was not enough to ensure recovery of the species, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which challenged the rule, pointing out that it failed to consider hundreds of miles of rivers identified in a scientific recovery plan for the flycatcher.

    “Like so many desert plants and animals, southwestern willow flycatchers have suffered from the wanton destruction of rivers by livestock grazing, mining, urban sprawl and overuse,” Greenwald said. “We have to take better care of our rivers.

    This week’s designation still excludes hundreds of miles of river habitat that was identified in 2011 plan. Greenwald said his organization will take a close look at these the exclusions to determine if the recovery of the flycatcher was properly considered.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    Federal wildlife officials designated just over 9,000 acres in the San Luis Valley Tuesday as critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher. While the move excluded all of the endangered bird’s habitat on private and state­owned land, it designated an 11.4 ­mile stretch of the Rio Grande through the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge and another 12.7­ mile segment that sits downstream under Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction.

    The bird, which also received habitat protection from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in five other southwestern states, makes its home in the dense streamside cover often provided by willows, cottonwood trees and tamarisk.

    Mike Blenden, who oversees the Alamosa refuge for the service, said the designation would change little about how the refuge is operated but added that activities such as ditch cleaning and prescribed burning would involve more discussion with others in the agency.

    Likewise, Denise Adamic, a BLM spokeswoman, said little would change for how the agency manages its land along the Rio Grande, save for a stricter consultation process with the service to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

    The official rule designating the habitat said 11 miles on the Rio Grande and 64 miles on the Conejos River were excluded because of work by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and other local governments to set up a conservation plan for the bird.

    The ruling also noted that the flycatcher’s habitat had benefited from the establishment of conservation easements on nearly 9,000 acres of private land lining the Rio Grande and Conejos.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    ‘Platte River Recovery Implementation Program is creating a place for whooping cranes to stay during their migration’ — Kearney Hub

    December 27, 2012

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    From the Kearney Hub (Lori Porter):

    Large, yellow earth movers circled 180 acres of land southeast of Kearney between the north and main channels of the Platte River, sculpting shallow depressions that will be seeded with wetland plants and, it’s hoped, be filled by spring rains. The goal in this initial “pothole” project is to create habitat attractive to endangered whooping cranes that migrate through the Central Platte Valley. The hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes that make an annual late winter-early spring mid-migration stop also should like the wetland conditions, said Bruce Sackett, land specialist for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. Ducks, geese and small shorebirds also may visit the site, he added. To the south, along the river’s main channel, 300 acres have been seeded to grass that Sackett said needs moisture now to thrive next year.

    Both habitat restoration projects are part of an effort to manage 10,000 acres of habitat for threatened and endangered birds — least terms and piping plovers are the other two target species — for the first 13-year increment of a plan to put the entire Platte Basin into Endangered Species Act compliance.

    The other major component of the program involving the U.S. Department of Interior, Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska is to reduce Platte River streamflow depletions. A successful program will allow all federally licensed or permitted entities within the three states, including Nebraska Public Power District and Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, to comply with the ESA. Otherwise, each project would have to have comply on its own.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    Bear Creek: Judge rejects settlement statement for lawsuit to protect the only pure greenback population

    November 28, 2012

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    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):

    Last week, attorneys for the environmental group and the Forest Service signed a settlement, with the agency agreeing to ban dirt bikes on trails 665, 668, 701 and 720 and part of trail 667. Officials agreed to install signs and barriers within 10 days of the court approving the settlement and to keep the trails closed until an ongoing watershed assessment is complete. They also agreed to get approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before reopening the trails to vehicles.

    But Monday, U.S. District Court Judge John L. Kane rejected the settlement. At issue is a provision saying if there is a dispute over the implementation of the document, neither side can be found in contempt of court. The judge ruled that provision exceeds the authority of the two sides and could lead to them not reporting violations of the court order.

    Tim Ream, attorney for the environmental group, called it a “very esoteric point” and said negotiations continue on reworking the settlement.

    Dirt bike groups, who have funded and carried out maintenance work on the trails for years, have blasted the lawsuit as unfairly singling out dirt bike riders from hikers, mountain bike riders and others they say also impact the creek.

    “We are not satisfied with the process to date,” said Don Riggle, president of the Colorado Springs-based Trails Preservation Alliance. His is one of three groups representing motorized vehicle riders that have joined the lawsuit as intervenors.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    Colorado Parks and Wildlife is installing a fish screen in Rifle Creek

    November 25, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife has started work on a construction project to install a long-sought fish screen in Rifle Creek and officials say it will be complete and operational by spring of 2013. Fed by Rifle Gap Reservoir, the creek is a tributary to the Colorado River and is located northeast of the city of Rifle.

    Partners involved in the project include Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Silt Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. A majority of the funding for the project came from sportsmen’s dollars, generated from the sale of fishing and hunting licenses.

    Once it is functioning under all expected operating conditions, the screen will prevent non-native fish that have escaped from Rifle Gap Reservoir and into Rifle Creek from progressing downstream to the Colorado River where they can be harmful to native fish populations.

    “This is a win-win project all the way around; we are protecting native fish populations downstream, while simultaneously having the opportunity to improve a combination, cool-warmwater fishery within Rifle Gap Reservoir,” said Lori Martin, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the northwest region. “We are answering the call of our anglers who are seeking more warmwater fishing opportunities but also keeping in mind the concerns of our partners within the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.”

    The Recovery Program is a multi-state and multi-agency effort headed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a goal to recover four, endangered fish found only in the Upper Colorado River system – the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail chub, and humpback chub.

    Brent Uilenberg of the Bureau of Reclamation agreed that the project would help both sport fishing and endangered fish downstream. Uilenberg says that the project will not affect reservoir operations and water supplies.

    According to the USFWS, the 100-year floodplain of the Colorado River – downstream from the bridge over Interstate 70, at exit 90 – is critical habitat for the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker.

    Current recovery efforts include removing non-native predators from sections of the upper Colorado River system, and preventing escapement from lakes and reservoirs where non-natives are thriving, often with the use of fish screens.

    The existing cool-warmwater fishery of smallmouth bass and walleye in Rifle Gap Reservoir has been self-sustaining since the 1960s when the former Colorado Division of Wildlife stocked both species, prior to the inception of the recovery program. Currently, trout are the only fish that can be legally stocked into Rifle Gap Reservoir.

    After the fish screen is in place, Colorado Parks and Wildlife managers will begin drafting a new, lake management plan for Rifle Gap Reservoir before submitting it to the USFWS and other Recovery Program partners for final approval.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife gathered initial input for fishery management within Rifle Gap Reservoir, including the installation of the fish screen, during a public meeting held in August 2010. The agency plans additional meetings in the coming months to provide the public with additional opportunities for input as the agency drafts the final lake management plan.

    Warmwater fishing has become increasingly popular in western Colorado; however, opportunities are currently limited due to concerns with the threat that some non-native fish species can pose to native fishes.

    Despite those concerns, state wildlife officials continue to look for effective ways, including the installation and maintenance of approved fish screens, to satisfy angler’s requests for additional warmwater fishing without compromising native fish recovery efforts.

    “Coldwater fisheries in western Colorado are famous world-wide,” said Sherman Hebein, senior aquatic biologist in the northwest region. “But we also have a core of dedicated anglers that appreciate warmwater alternatives and we are working hard to provide them as much opportunity as we are able, given some of the obstacles and limitations we must take into consideration.”

    More coverage from Dave Buchanan writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    An expanded fishery at Rifle Gap Reservoir got another step closer when Colorado Parks and Wildlife recently began construction of a fish screen in Rifle Creek below the reservoir. The screen, which is expected to be operational by next spring, will prevent non-native fish that may escape the reservoir from going down Rifle Creek to the Colorado River where the non-native fishes might harm native fishes.
    It’s all part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery program and the only way the state legally could stock and manage non-native warmwater fish in Rifle Gap. “This is a win-win project all the way around,” said Lori Martin, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We are protecting native fish populations downstream, while simultaneously having the opportunity to improve a combination, cool-warmwater fishery within Rifle Gap Reservoir.”

    Martin said the agency is responding to anglers seeking more diversity while also adhering to the tenets of the endangered fish recovery program. Partners involved in the screen project include Parks and Wildlife, the Silt Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    A majority of the funding for the project came from funds generated from the sale of fishing and hunting licenses. Total dollar amounts were not available this week from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The existing smallmouth bass and walleye fishery in Rifle Gap Reservoir has been self-sustaining since the 1960s when the then-Division of Wildlife stocked both species, prior to the inception of the recovery program. However, the recovery program mandates only trout can be legally stocked into Rifle Gap Reservoir. After the fish screen is in place, and a new lake management plan has been approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service and other recovery program partners, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will be able to stock and actively manage such fish as smallmouth bass and walleye.

    The recovery program is a multi-state, multi-agency effort headed by the Fish and Wildlife Service with the goal of recovering four endangered fish found only in the Upper Colorado River system ​— the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail chub, and humpback chub. Current recovery efforts include removing non-native predators from sections of the upper Colorado River system, including stretches of river in and around Grand Junction where state and federal crews have been working for several years. The recovery program also includes building ponds for raising native fish, such as those recently finished along the Colorado River south of Fruita.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    ‘One of the things we don’t know about climate change is where it stops’ — Bill Geer

    November 25, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    Bill Geer believes climate change will dramatically change life for fish and big game and the sportsmen who love them. But the former director of the Utah Fish and Game Department didn’t ask the more than 70 people he spoke to Thursday night to back a policy or a political candidate.

    Instead, Geer, who now works on climate change issues for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, presented the impacts species have suffered. The partnership’s research found that spring runoff in Colorado has become more erratic and the precipitation regime now includes a greater amount of rain than snow. And it sited a U.S. Geological Survey study that found snowpack in the Rocky Mountains since the 1980s has seen the biggest decline in history. Earlier runoff has made life tough for fish in Colorado’s mountain streams, particularly in August when dwindling stream flows and higher water temperatures can kill fish. Geer’s presentation focused on the dangers those conditions pose to Colorado River cutthroat trout in the northwestern part of the state. His talk did not focus on the Rio Grande basin.

    But Jon Harp, the owner of Conejos River Anglers, echoed the concerns with late summer conditions. “There’s no question that the last 10 or 15 years it always seems to be an issue,” he said. Harp, who guides anglers on streams all across the southern San Juan Mountains, said last year’s early runoff would have resulted in widespread fish kills come August had the month not seen steady rains. He said the trout population has seen its most consistent decline in the tributaries of the Conejos, such as the Rio de los Pinos and La Jara Creek, and the lower Chama River in New Mexico. “The los Pinos, if you look at it in May and June and July, it looks like a fantastic trout stream,” he said. “You go in August and it’s just a warm bath.”

    But the conservation partnership’s information on elk yielded less clear conclusions. Beetle-killed trees and warmer temperatures in the state’s high-elevation forests will clear forest canopies and allow for more grass and forbs, which would benefit elk.

    And while Geer told those who were convinced of climate change’s impacts that they should act, he held out another thought for the unconvinced. “One of the things we don’t know about climate change is where it stops,” he said.

    More Climate Change coverage here and here.


    The Forest Service closes Bear Creek to motorized vehicles, greenbacks were seen doing backflips of joy at the news

    November 24, 2012

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    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    Colorado’s only population of native greenback cutthroat trout got a measure of protection this week, as the U.S. Forest Service agreed to ban motorized use on several trails near Bear Creek to protect the small stream near Colorado Springs from sediment…

    “We’re so glad the Forest Service agreed to do the right thing and protect the only place in the world where greenback cutthroat trout still live in the wild,” said attorney Tim Ream. “This endangered fish has been hanging on by a thread for decades. The last thing it needs is motorcycles tearing through its only home and filling the creek with sediment.”

    A DNA study earlier this year determined that Bear Creek hosted the last pure and wild population of the fish. For years, though, off-road vehicles have been severely eroding Bear Creek Canyon’s steep slopes. The runoff harms water quality and is filling in deep pools that the fish use to hide from predators and survive winters and droughts.

    From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

    The Forest Service will close the trails around Bear Creek in the Pike National Forest to settle a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. The suit said erosion from motorcycles damages fish habitat.

    More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


    What does 42,300 CFS look like? River-level view from this week’s high-flow experiment at Glen Canyon Dam

    November 21, 2012

    Recreation Industry Praises High Flow Release at Glen Canyon: Target maximum release is 42,300 cfs #CORiver

    November 20, 2012

    Here’s the release from Protect the Flows (Molly Mugglestone):

    Today, the U.S. Department of the Interior triggered the first “high-flow experimental release” at Glen Canyon Dam since 2008.

    According to Interior, the release, which will last nearly five days, is part of a new long-term protocol to meet water and power needs, allow better conservation of sediment downstream, and better control the non-native fish population from preying on other species. The high release flows are geared to mimic historical pre-dam spring floods and runoffs.

    Protect the Flows member George Wendt, President and CEO of OARS Outdoor Adventure River Specialists, which has been providing Grand Canyon rafting experiences since 1969, made the following statement in response:

    “The water released this week is the first in a long term plan that will help to build new camping beaches in the Grand Canyon, and ultimately, will improve the canyon experience for boaters supporting a $26 billion recreation economy that depends on the Colorado River. We applaud the Department of Interior for taking these important steps that take into consideration the long term use of the canyon by boaters. This release shows an attempt at good stewardship of the area and is an example of how the conservation community and those who love to recreate on the river worked together with the Department of Interior on a solution that both fish and rafters will benefit from for years to come.”

    Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Interior (Blake Androff/Lisa Iams):

    Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today triggered the first “high-flow experimental release” at Glen Canyon Dam, under a new experimental long-term protocol to better distribute sediment to conserve downstream resources, while meeting water and power needs and allowing continued scientific experimentation, data collection, and monitoring on the Colorado River.

    The new protocol calls for experimental releases from the dam through 2020 to send sediment downstream to rebuild sandbars, beaches, and backwaters. The rebuilt areas will provide key wildlife habitat, enhance the aquatic food base, protect archeological sites, and create additional camping opportunities in the canyon.

    “This is truly an historic milestone for the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, and the United States Bureau of Reclamation,” said Salazar. “It was an honor to open the door to a new era for Glen Canyon Dam operations and the ecology of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park – a new era in which we realize that the goals of water storage, delivery and hydropower production are compatible with improving and protecting the resources of the Colorado River.”

    The new protocol is built on more than 16 years of scientific research and experimentation conducted under the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. The Department translated the research into a flexible framework that enables scientists to determine, based on the best available science, when the conditions are right to conduct these releases to maximize the ecosystem benefits along the Colorado River corridor in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park.

    With the Glen Canyon Powerplant running at full capacity, Secretary Salazar opened the river outlet tubes at noon, releasing additional flows that will increase throughout the day until a maximum release of approximately 42,300 cubic-feet-per-second is reached. These releases will continue for nearly five days based on the parameters specified in the protocol and the volume of sediment deposited by the Paria River since late July, which scientists estimate is approximately 500,000 metric tons, enough to fill a football field 230 feet deep.

    Through the foundation laid by the protocol, annual experiments can be conducted through 2020 to evaluate the effectiveness of multiple high flow experimental (HFE) releases in rebuilding and conserving sandbars, beaches, and associated backwater habitats that have been lost or depleted since the dam’s construction and operation. The protocol identifies the conditions under which a high flow release will likely yield the greatest conservation and beneficial use of sediment deposited by inflows from Colorado River tributaries as a result of rainstorms, monsoons, and snowmelt.

    “Favorable sediment conditions in the system only occur periodically, so the ability to respond quickly and make the best use of those deposits when the time is right is essential,” said Anne Castle, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science. “Today’s experimental release under the new protocol represents a significant milestone in our collective ability to be nimble and responsive to on-the-ground conditions for the benefit of downstream resources.”

    HFE releases simulate natural flood conditions that suspend and redeposit sand stored in the river channel to provide key wildlife habitat—including habitat for the endangered humpback chub, protect archaeological sites, enhance riparian vegetation, maintain or increase recreation opportunities, and improve the wilderness experience along the Colorado River in Glen and Grand canyons. Single experimental releases were conducted in 1996, 2004, and 2008, and included extensive scientific research, monitoring, and data collection by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

    “These high-flow releases, a new paradigm in water management, recognize that there are hugely beneficial impacts to river ecology from releasing the requisite water needed downstream in large pulses, rather than uniformly throughout the year,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “In the arid West, non-uniform flow better mimics the natural environment in which the plants and animals flourished.”

    This scientific process will continue and the knowledge gained from today’s experimental high flow will be used to make further refinements in determining the optimal timing, duration, frequency, and conditions for future releases as well as to inform other management actions on the river.

    “As the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act emphasizes, the resources of the Grand Canyon are fragile, and conservation of those resources can only be achieved through wise management by today’s leaders,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Today’s event marks the beginning of the next generation of wisdom for managing this special place. We have only one Grand Canyon. We want to thank the Secretary for his leadership and conservation of this special place now and into the future.”

    The protocol represents one of two important milestones in the history of the Colorado River. The second, a program to control non-native fish species, provides a framework for actions and research to protect native endangered fish in the river downstream of the dam. The finalization of both efforts involved extensive government-to-government consultation with Native American tribes to ensure implementation of the programs in a manner that respects tribal perspectives.

    “The Bureau of Indian Affairs supports the cooperating tribes’ active involvement in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn. “Many of their insights were incorporated into the process leading to the HFE event. Their strong connections to the Grand Canyon, including their cultural, historic and religious ties, give them a unique perspective on this national treasure. I want to thank the tribes for their long stewardship and their full participation in this important effort to conserve and protect the Colorado River ecosystem.”

    The additional water released as part of the HFE is part of the annual water delivery to the Lake Mead. “The volume of water we are releasing during this high flow experiment does not change the overall volume of water delivery in the 2013 water year,” said Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor. “The current operations plan based on forecast data calls for releasing 8.23 million acre-feet of water from the dam to meet delivery obligations to the Lower Colorado River Basin and Mexico. The experimental flows are included in that total annual volume and will be offset by adjustments to the monthly release volumes throughout the rest of the water year.”

    “This new protocol developed by Reclamation will protect both the Grand Canyon and the delivery of water for communities, agriculture and industry,” Salazar noted. “We are taking a practical approach. If, for any reason, the new high-flow experiments do not yield the positive results we anticipate, we have the ability to change and adjust future flows.”

    In addition to the opportunities for HFE releases made possible under the protocol, Secretary Salazar has initiated the first comprehensive analysis of Glen Canyon Dam operations since 1996. The Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement will build on information obtained through the Adaptive Management Program and activities conducted under the protocol to analyze a broad scope of dam operations and other related activities. The goal is to determine specific alternatives that could be implemented to improve and protect downstream resources while adhering to applicable laws. Reclamation and the National Park Service are jointly developing the LTEMP EIS, which will ultimately integrate and further refine actions conducted under the protocol.

    Here’s a technical description of what the USGS hopes to accomplish (Jack Schmidt/Barbara Wilcox). Here’s an excerpt:

    “Throughout summer and fall 2012, the USGS research team developed, and continually revised, estimates of the total amount of sand and of mud delivered by the Paria River, as well as estimating the fate of that fine sediment as it was transported further downstream through the Grand Canyon,” said Jack Schmidt, chief of the USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center. “These data are the scientific foundation on which the planned high-flow experiment is based. Without the estimates of the amount of sand and mud delivered from tributaries, it would not have been possible to implement the Protocol for these high flow experiments. The entire program of utilizing small controlled floods to rehabilitate the Grand Canyon ecosystem depends on state-of-the-science monitoring efforts by the USGS to measure sediment transport rates in real time and to provide those data to the Bureau of Reclamation and to other agencies.

    “The USGS program of measuring and reporting sand and mud transport in real time and in such a challenging environment is unprecedented in the scientific management of rivers,” Schmidt said.

    USGS data show that the Paria River delivered at least 593,000 tons of sand to the Colorado River between late July and the end of October 2012 – enough to fill a building the size of a 100-yard NFL football field about 24 stories high. Long-term measurements show that this amount is about 26 percent less than delivered by the Paria in an average year, but is still sufficient to trigger a small controlled flood intended to rehabilitate the downstream ecosystem.

    From the Associated Press via Las Vegas Review-Journal:

    Interior Secretary Ken Salazar opened the river outlet tubes at noon and called it “an historic milestone” and “a new era in which we realize that the goals of water storage, delivery and hydropower production are compatible with improving and protecting the resources of the Colorado River.” The peak flow will last 24 hours from Monday night into Tuesday, and the river will run high for five days…

    The experiment could hurt next year’s fishing – and complicate hydropower production and water storage – in the name of a more environmentally correct river…

    Previous experiments in 1996, 2004 and 2008 were one-time fact-finding missions instead of fundamental shifts in river management.

    “This (Obama) administration can be patted on the back and thanked for doing what we’ve been trying to do, seriously, for 15 years,” Lash added.

    The previous experiments yielded mixed results, partly because a return to up-and-down flows timed partly to regional summer hydropower needs wiped out many of the new beaches and sandbars.

    Advocates hope the effects will be longer lasting if these floods come more regularly and if a longer-term Interior Department planning effort leads to steadier flows through the summers.

    But critics say that there’s little environmental benefit and that it comes at a cost.

    In comments submitted to the Interior Department before the decision to go forward with regular flushes, the Colorado River Energy Distributors Association, a group of nonprofit energy utilities, noted that previous springtime flood experiments helped boost the population of non-native trout that feed on the endangered humpback chub.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Four Colorado River fish show up on the Endangered Species Coalition’s top ten list #CORiver

    November 20, 2012

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    Click here to download and/or read the report Water Woes: How dams, diversions, dirty water and droughts put America’s wildlife at risk from the Endangered Species Coalition. Here’s the introduction:

    Water is as essential to us as the air we breathe. And water, in all its forms, may bring us a fundamental joy that is unmatched by other elements of nature. Whether it’s splashing in puddles, running through a sprinkler, diving into a swimming hole, whitewater rafting a powerful river, skiing down a majestic mountain, ice-skating on a local pond, or just listening to the rush of a waterfall, our collective childhood memories include many wonderful experiences of water.

    While water blankets our planet, 97 percent of it is salty, and 2 percent is locked in snow and ice. Therefore, less than 1 percent is available as freshwater, stored in rivers, lakes, wetlands and aquifers. This freshwater is our lifeblood. We’ve settled along riverbanks, and used freshwater for our enjoyment, transportation, irrigation, fisheries, recreational tourism, energy production, and drinking water. In short, we’ve spread this indispensible resource thinly.

    Though we have an unabashed love for water, we treat it with little respect. We use water as our dumping grounds—the pollution and runoff from our cities, industries and farms spills into our rivers and other freshwater sources. We’ve diverted, damned and drained our rivers, parching some of our greatest ones out of existence. Even the mighty Colorado River, though strong enough to carve out the Grand Canyon, has been no match for our intensive water consumption. Most years, it no longer reaches the sea. In fact, few of our rivers remain pristine.

    And new man-made threats are bearing down on our freshwater resources. Climate change is expected to increase droughts. According to scientific models climate change combined with population growth will result in much of the United States experiencing issues with water scarcity by 2025. Meanwhile, as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) spreads, so does the potential for more dirty water. According to an Argonne National Laboratory report, our oil and gas wells produce at least nine billion liters of contaminated water per day.

    For the country’s imperiled wildlife, these threats are severe. We’ve seen massive fish kills, closures of multi-million fisheries and even the extinctions of species in the wild. Fish no longer reach their spawning grounds, frogs suffer from chemicals seeping through their delicate skins, introduced plants choke native ones from their habitats, exotic aquatic species threaten native fish, and development threatens the stream-side homes of mammals and birds.

    This report details the top ten water woes for endangered species. It describes how our water management—our dams, diversions, dirty water and droughts have imperiled America’s wildlife, birds, fish and plants. But this is also a report about hope—how those of us living with threatened and endangered species can take action to help.

    Thanks to one of the strongest endangered species laws in the world, we continue to protect our natural heritage. And it is not too late to save our species; across the country, we can all do our part. Supporting the groups involved in this report and their work to protect wildlife, plants and habitats is important. Standing up for wildlife protections is essential. And at home, we can make a difference by eliminating any leaks in plumbing; by installing water-efficient toilets, showerheads, washing machines, and dishwashers; by planting native plants adapted to our local environment; by reducing or eliminating our lawns; and by installing rain barrels to capture storm water for watering the garden.

    Join us in protecting our country’s incredible web of life.

    Thanks to the Colorado News Connection (Kathleen Ryan) via the Ag Journal for the heads up. From the article:

    Leda Huta, the executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, explains why this report is so significant. “When we look at the country and what we’ve done to our fresh water resources, it’s frightening. Every animal has its role to play in the ecosystem.”

    The report finds the bonytail chub is functionally extinct, while three other species – the Colorado pike minnow, the humpback chub and the razorback sucker – are all declining in population because of non-native invasions, declining water, and river pollution. Other creatures on the national list include salmon, antelope and mountain yellow-legged frogs.

    Huta says the declining availability and quality of water comes at a time when the planet can expect to have less fresh water available because of global warming. “We will see more drought and water scarcities due to climate change that we’ve created and to having an increasing population, so those two together are going to have even greater impact on our fresh water.”

    The report highlights things people can do to reduce their demand on fresh water, which makes up only 1 percent of the water on the planet. That includes landscaping with native plants, reducing the size of lawns, and using water-efficient appliances and toilets.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


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