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.


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