Flaming Gorge pipeline: Earthjustice, et. al. to FERC — ‘No’ should mean no to do-over for preliminary permit

April 6, 2012

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From the Earthjustice blog (Doug Pflugh):

Million is back at it again, asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reconsider his application for a preliminary permit. Million’s request comes on the heels of FERC’s dismissal of his preliminary permit. You may remember that Million turned to FERC after an earlier attempt to permit this project was terminated by the Army Corps of Engineers last summer. That’s two no’s in less than one year. Will a third do the trick?

This week, Earthjustice, representing 10 environmental groups, filed papers with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) objecting to a do-over by FERC. FERC’s decision to deny the permit was right on the money and should have been the end of this scheme. But, with at least $1.4 billion at stake—according to Million—it’s easy to understand why he isn’t giving up easily…

Earthjustice represents a coalition of ten conservation groups with interests throughout the Colorado River Basin: Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Rocky Mountain Wild, Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Citizens for Dixie’s Future, Glen Canyon Institute, Living Rivers: Colorado Riverkeeper, and Utah Rivers Council.

More coverage from Mark Wilcox writing for the Wyoming Business Report. From the article:

Aaron Million’s confidential business plan to annually pump about 81 billion gallons out of Flaming Gorge and the Green River that feeds it has been revealed to the Associated Press, and it is no small wonder he has not taken ‘no’ for an answer. The plan would bring in an estimated net profit of between $1.4 and $2.4 billion. And that’s after construction costs of somewhere between $2.8 billion and $3.2 billion. And end users of the water would pay up to $117 million in annual operating costs based on a “cost plus 20 percent” business model with estimated operating costs of between $70 million and $90 million…

“Million’s plan is a blatant attempt to transform an important public good into billions of dollars of private profit,” said Earthjustice staff attorney McCrystie Adams in a statement urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission not to rehear Million’s request. Earthjustice represents various conservation clients on this issue. “We know from the developer’s public statements and documents that he’s looking for someone else to cover the millions of dollars of permitting costs that will undoubtedly be associated with what they describe as ‘the largest water infrastructure, pipeline, hydropower and storage project’ in the region.”

Adams’ statement refers to portions of the plan showing that Million’s Wyco Power and Water Inc. is seeking to raise $15 million through 2015 to get through the permitting process. While the amount raised so far is confidential, $5 million has been spent on the permitting process.

“It is clear that Million sees the Flaming Gorge Pipeline as his Mega-Millions jackpot and hopes someone else will pay for his tickets,” Adams wrote. “Fortunately, the odds of permitting this boondoggle are similar to winning the lottery.”

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.


Flagstaff, Arizona: Glen Canyon Long Term Experimental and Management Plan EIS meeting April 4 – 5

March 30, 2012

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Here’s the latest newsletter from the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation. Here’s an excerpt:

The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and National Park Service (NPS) are working on a plan that will use the latest science to help ensure releases of water from the dam and other potential actions meet the goals of protecting the environment in Glen and Grand Canyons while continuing to supply water and power for communi- ties, agriculture, and industry. Known as the Long Term Experimental and Management Plan (LTEMP), it requires the development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environ- mental Policy Act, one of the nation’s oldest environmental laws.

Here’s the link to the meeting agenda.

Here’s the link to the LTEMPEIS website.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.


IBCC: Wyco Water and Power, Inc. and the Colorado-Wyoming Cooperative Water Supply Project proponents briefed the state task force yesterday

March 28, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A private developer and a public group who want to build major water supply pipelines from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range met Tuesday for the first time with a state task force. “Can both projects go? Folks, there should be collaboration. If this task force wants an additional task it could look at finding collaboration,” said Aaron Million, who first came up with the idea for the project about six years ago. “One of the outcomes of the task force has been a huge pushback from the environmental community.”

Million’s Wyco Power and Water Inc. faces competition from the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition, led by Parker Water and Sanitation General Manager Frank Jaeger. The task force, formed at the request of the Arkansas and Metro basin roundtables, was formed to identify issues, interests and impacts associated with a Flaming Gorge project. It won’t recommend either project, and right now just has a growing list of questions and concerns…

The Colorado-Wyoming Coalition still is investigating whether it even wants to pursue the project and is waiting on a Bureau of Reclamation determination of whether water is available, Jaeger said. “We don’t have all the answers,” Jaeger said. “We have to know what the Bureau of Reclamation plan says before we go any further.” The group has clearly identified it would serve a population of 569,000 in the next 60 years. The project would divert 100,000 acre-feet of water, which through re-use could provide about 200,000 acre-feet of need. About one-fourth of the water would go to communities in Wyoming.

Million filed for water rights in 2007 on the Green River in Wyoming and has applied for a contract with Reclamation. He is using an earlier decision by Reclamation as the basis for his claim of 250,000 acre-feet. He has identified potential users, but does not have a specific list, unlike the coalition. So far, $5 million has been spent to develop his plan…

While the project faces stiff opposition in Western Wyoming, there is a growing realization that the decision could be made without the area’s consensus. There is a spectrum of opinion heavily weighted toward stopping the project to those who realize control of the water is in someone else’s hands and the object is to reduce the impacts of diverting some of it. “I think our mission is to stay informed on the issues,” said Don Hartley, of the Rock Springs, (Wyo.,) Chamber Enterprise Committee. “We have to stay abreast of the issues with an eye to minimizing the impacts.”

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.


Flaming Gorge pipeline: Aaron Million files a reconsideration request with FERC in response to their denial of the preliminary application

March 24, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Environmental groups promise to fight the project at every turn, while a state task force will hear about Flaming Gorge pipeline proposals next week in Glenwood Springs. Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million on Friday filed for a rehearing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for his proposed 500-mile water pipeline from the Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range. FERC rejected the application from Million’s Wyco Power and Water Inc. on Feb. 23.

Million’s response states that FERC made errors in its determination that the application was filed prematurely. The basis was that the water pipeline associated with hydropower projects has not been constructed. “Wyco contends that sufficient information and maps associated with the pipeline alignment have been provided to the commission,” Million stated in an 11-page request for rehearing and clarification. “We’re asking for clarification of why the decision was made, other than political pressure. That shouldn’t be a factor,” he said.

Million contends FERC has granted preliminary permits to other power projects in their infancy, including the Lake Powell pipeline project in Utah. He said Wyco plans to build the pipeline. Wyco already has issued requests for proposals to manage the project.

On Tuesday, the Flaming Gorge task force, formed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board at the request of the Arkansas Basin and Metro roundtables, will hear presentations from Million and from Frank Jaeger, whose Colorado-Wyoming Coalition has proposed a similar, but competing project.

More coverage from Electa Draper writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

On Feb. 23, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dismissed Wyco Power and Water Inc.’s application for a preliminary permit on the basis it was premature. Officials said there was no purpose in issuing a hydropower permit without information on construction and operation of the pipeline, which Million couldn’t provide. Conservationists hailed the decision as a victory for the environment because, they said, Million’s project, which would divert water from the Upper Colorado River Basin to Front Range cities, would drastically lower the level of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, threaten four species of endangered fish, and further harm ecosystems, wildlife and recreation. “We hope that FERC will reject this appeal, and the project will die a much-deserved death,” wildlife biologist Erik Molvar said in a statement from the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance…

Million, in a telephone interview from Fort Collins, said FERC had asked for some additional information when Wyco filed the application in September. If there were additional deficiencies in the application, he said, FERC should have told him before accepting the application. However, Million said, Wyco doesn’t need the FERC preliminary permit to keep moving forward with other elements of the project. “We already hold the water filings in the river and for federal water rights,” Million said. “We already hold the priority filings. We’re going to move through the process, regardless.”

More coverage from Brandon Loomis writing for The Salt Lake Tribune. From the article:

Utah has used the same rationale in seeking approval for a Lake Powell pipeline to St. George, and Million’s new application questions whether FERC imposed the same requirements in advancing that project. “Wyco contends that it will be counterproductive and cost-prohibitive to secure all necessary permits and authorizations to construct the pipeline without confirming the locations of the associated hydroelectric facilities,” the company said in its filing…

“FERC certainly got it right the first time,” Earthjustice attorney Michael Hiatt said. “This project would clearly devastate the Green River.”

More coverage from Troy Hooper writing for the Colorado Independent. Here’s an excerpt:

Critics say the pipeline would drain 81 billion gallons of water each year from the Green River, a tributary of the already stressed Colorado River, and the state of Colorado projects the pipeline could cost as much as $9 billion to build. The Colorado River Water Conservation District, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, county and local governments in southwestern Wyoming and a multitude of conservation groups are opposing the potential pipeline that Million claims is needed for Colorado to meet its rising demand for water.

“FERC made the right decision in February,” said Matt Rice, director of the Denver-based chapter of American Rivers. “It is clear this is nothing more than a speculative project that if ever built would severely harm the recreational, economic, agricultural and natural values of the Green River. Mr. Million is grasping for straws. It is highly unlikely that FERC will reverse their decision.”

Gary Wockner of Save The Poudre added that “Mr. Million seems to think this process is like an Etch-A-Sketch, where he can just keep shaking and redrawing until he finally wears down the federal agencies and the opposition. The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is a fatally flawed concept that would devastate the Green and Colorado River ecosystems — we will fight it at every opportunity.”

More coverage from Amy Joi O’Donoghue writing for the Deseret News. Here’s an excerpt:

In a document filed Friday requesting a rehearing before the agency, Million argued that FERC should question if it erred by tossing his application for a permit in February on the basis that it was “premature” or incomplete…

Million said the agency needs to consider if it let the amount of comments and objections on record by multiple agencies unduly sway the commission. Opponents like the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Forest Service, Sweetwater County and Colorado Springs Utilities — as well as numerous conservation organizations — have asked the commission to legally recognize objections raised.

When the commission dismissed the preliminary permit application for Million’s Regional Watershed Supply Project, the agency said until the pipeline is built and authorizations are in place, it would be premature move the hydropower project forward. “The commission’s order implies that the final pipeline alignment, all authorizations to construct the pipeline and even the construction of the pipeline should be completed prior to filing an application for a preliminary permit” Million’s rehearing request said. Such a requirement, he added, is counterproductive and cost prohibitive absent knowing where the hydroelectric components would be sited…

“The developer’s application for a rehearing is a waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Michael Hiatt, an attorney with Earthjustice.

More coverage from Mark Wilcox writing for the Wyoming Business Report. From the article:

Aaron Million and his company Wyco, first proposed the water project to the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps rejected the application in July of 2011 after two years’s consideration because they said Million failed to provide sufficient information. Million then proposed the Flaming Gorge pipeline to FERC as a power-generating project that would simultaneously quench the Front Range’s thirst in Colorado, and received an initial dismissal Feb. 23. The multi-billion dollar pipeline would transport water more than 500 miles to a reservoir at its final destination in Pueblo, Colo. “As presented in Wyco’s application, these hydropower projects are exclusively dependent on water from the proposed water supply pipeline,” the dismissal stated. “However, this pipeline does not currently exist, and Wyco’s application does not provide any information about the timeline for seeking and obtaining the necessary authorizations for the construction and operation of such a pipeline.”

Additionally, officials cited a lack of information on the route the pipeline would take through public and privately held lands. “Until…authorizations have been obtained for a specific route or the process to identify a specific route has been substantially completed, Wyco will be unable to prepare “[s]uch maps, plans, specifications, and estimates of cost as may be required for a full understanding of the proposed [hydropower] project,” the order read.

While the initial government dismissal was based on technicalities, many environmentalist groups are pushing for a more permanent dismissal. “Anyone who tries to divert Wyoming’s Green River over the Continental Divide doesn’t appreciate the value that it provides for native fish and wildlife, local economies and the western way of life,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Hiatt in a statement. “The Flaming Gorge Pipeline—one of the biggest, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States—would irreparably damage the Green and the Colorado River downstream.”[...]

Another group is now touring the region with a short film and presentation that reflect the damage the pipeline would do to Flaming Gorge and the Green River’s $118 million outdoor recreation economy. Studies indicate the lost water could raise salinity levels in the gorge and river to lethal levels for fish and other marine mammals. Opponents of the pipeline also indicate the potential downsides to mammals of building a 10-foot pipeline over the Continental Divide. “This thing is still on the rails,” said Walt Gasson, Trout Unlimited’s endorsed business director, “And still constitutes — to my way of thinking — to our way of thinking, a clear and present danger to wildlife conservation in Wyoming.”

More coverage from Steve Lynn writing for the Northern Colorado Business Report. From the article:

“[Wyco Power and Water Inc] respectfully requests that the commission grant re-hearing of the dismissal of preliminary permit application for the regional watershed supply project and to issue the preliminary permit for a term of 36 months,” the company stated in the document…

The pipeline would help meet the water needs of Colorado, which faces a water supply shortfall of between 500,000 and 700,000 acre feet in the next two decades, Wyco principal Aaron Million has said. He contends the federal government will take steps to protect river flows for recreation as well as enhance fisheries.

From the Denver Business Journal:

The Associated Press reports that Aaron Million of Fort Collins filed the request Friday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission…

FERC’s permission was needed for the pipeline’s water to be used to generate electricity.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.


Flaming Gorge pipeline: Aaron Million files a reconsideration request with FERC in response to their denial

March 23, 2012

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From the Associated Press (Ben Neary) via The Columbus Republic:

Fort Collins businessman Aaron Million on Friday filed the reconsideration request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The agency last month dismissed his application, saying it was premature and lacked specifics about the proposed pipeline…

Million says his project is essential to helping Colorado meet its increasing demand for water. The state of Colorado also is evaluating the project’s merits.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

As he indicated in late February, Million has submitted a new application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the project, challenging the same agency’s previous rejection of the application by requesting a rehearing and clarification.

In the new document, Million says it would be prohibitively expensive to secure pipeline permits without first “confirming the locations of the associated hydroelectric facilities.” The application also claims that, for the purposes of the preliminary permit he’s seeking, “sufficient information and maps associated with the pipeline alignment have been provided to the Commission.”

Million also charged that FERC’s rejection is inconsistent with other preliminary permits issued by the agency.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.


Ogallala Aquifer, Lesser Prairie Chicken, Sage Grouse Initiatives Target Local Resource Concerns NRCS seeks applications for financial, technical assistance

March 22, 2012

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Here’s the release from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (Katherine Burse-Johnson):

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Colorado recently announced that funding is available to help farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices, as part of the Ogallala Aquifer, Lesser Prairie Chicken, and Sage Grouse initiatives. These initiatives target efforts to address local resource concerns for important Colorado wildlife species, and water quality and quantity.

NRCS accepts applications on an ongoing basis. There will be two funding cycles in 2012. The first funding cycle will be March 30, 2012 and the second will be June 1.

“The Ogallala Aquifer, Lesser Prairie Chicken, and Sage Grouse initiatives are a few of several landscape conservation initiatives that maximize our conservation efforts to address some of Colorado’s most pressing natural resource challenges,” said Phyllis Ann Philipps, State Conservationist, NRCS, Colorado.

NRCS’ landscape conservation initiatives use a systems approach that focuses technical and financial assistance to implement a suite of conservation practices to address specific resource concerns. Through the Lesser Prairie Chicken and Sage Grouse initiatives, farmers and ranchers are incorporating conservation practices to improve healthy plant and animal communities by implementing practices such as prescribed grazing systems, fence marking, range plantings, brush/pinon-juniper management, and cross fencing into their agricultural operations. The Ogallala Aquifer Initiative will allow producers to install conservation practices that directly benefit water quality and water quantity issues.

Conservation assistance is available to producers through several 2008 Farm Bill conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Producers interested in becoming a part of the Ogallala Aquifer, Lesser Prairie Chicken, or Sage Grouse initiative, or any other NRCS programs and services, should contact their local USDA Service Center, or visit www.co.nrcs.usda.gov for more information.

Thanks to The Holyoke Enterprise for the heads up.

More Ogallala Aquifer coverage here.


Colorado’s Section 303(d) list of impaired waters and monitoring and evaluation list is hot off the press

March 14, 2012

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Click here to find out if your favorite stream is on the list, and why. Here’s the link to the EPA’s Clean Water Act Section 303 webpage.


Reclamation Releases Final Aspinall Unit Operations Environmental Impact Statement

March 7, 2012

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Steve McCall/Justyn Hock):

Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office announced today the release of the final Aspinall Unit Operations Environmental Impact Statement. The purpose of the EIS is to outline Aspinall Unit operations to avoid jeopardy to downstream endangered fish species while continuing to meet the congressionally authorized unit purposes. In general, new operations will provide higher spring flows and protect base flows in the Gunnison River. Reclamation will not make a decision on the proposed action until at least 30 days after release of the FEIS. After the 30-day public review period, Reclamation will complete a record of decision which will state the action to be implemented and discuss all factors leading to that decision.

If you have questions or need additional copies of the final EIS, please contact Steve McCall at 970-248-0638 or Terry Stroh at 970-248-0608. The final EIS is also available on Reclamation’s web site.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


HR1837: U.S. Representative Scott Tipton wants to make sure the bill remains a San Joaquin Valley water grab

March 3, 2012

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Interesting legislation is wending its way through the U.S. Congress. Central Valley farmers are making a play for more water, and less water for the San Joaquin delta. U.S. Representative Scott Tipton is hoping to make sure that it doesn’t open up a new angle for federal reserved water rights in Colorado and the rest of the country. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., sponsored an amendment to the bill which would limit its scope to the San Joaquin Valley in order to avoid opening the door to federal reserve water rights in Colorado. “In order to protect jobs in Colorado, we attached language to the bill that would prevent it from preempting state law in any other state,” Tipton said…

The legislation, HR1837, authorizes the secretary of Interior to review water contracts in the San Joaquin Valley for 40 years, at the request of contractors. Its sponsor is U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

The bill would allow water deliveries from Northern California to continue in order to restore irrigation water to farms. The state supported federal preemption of state water law to protect delta smelt fish…

Tipton supports the bill, with his amendment to limit the scope of federal review, because it would protect farm jobs. He does not want the federal review to set a precedent that would be applied to other states, however.

More coverage from Michael Doyle writing for The Miami Herald. From the article:

“The question is, has the bill created so much distrust and chaos that the process of solving the problem has been set back?” said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove. A former top Interior Department official, Garamendi contends the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act approved by the House on Wednesday “creates a huge disruption” that will complicate the search for long-term California solutions…

The water bill’s authors, having secured House passage by a largely party line 246-175 margin, now insist they are on a roll. “We’re going to figure out what our options are, how to bring the bill up on the Senate floor,” said the bill’s chief author, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia.

The bill would would lengthen 25-year water contracts to 40 years, preempt strict state environmental laws and steer more water to farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Carefully negotiated language is designed to reassure Sacramento Valley farmers they won’t lose supplies as a result. The bill also would end an ambitious plan to restore salmon to the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam, replacing it with a more modest proposal for other fish species.

Supporters call the bill a way to save farms and turn water to better use. As Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, put it, the legislation will “put people to work.” Opponents call it a water grab by south-of-Delta farmers…

“It’s a very selfish bill,” [Senator Diane] Feinstein said of the House effort in an interview. “It says the farmers get the water, and everybody else be damned.” Feinstein, moreover, denounces [U.S. Representative Rep. Devin] Nunes’ characterizations of her. Nunes has run ads that say Feinstein “defines hypocrisy,” and in interviews he has called her a “liar” whose staffers are “radicals” aligned with “radical environmentalists” and the “hippie generation.” “In all my life, I’ve never been exposed to this kind of behavior,” Feinstein said. “It says to me he doesn’t want to work with me.”

More coverage from Karoun Demirjian writing for the Las Vegas Sun. From the article:

What happens in California holds sway over many of Nevada’s most important industries: Californians populate the state’s casinos, they are the state’s best would-be buyers of renewable energy, and now, they may be setting a standard for how Nevada’s scarce water resources will be allocated in the future.

Or at least that is what Nevada, along with a host of other Western states, fears will happen if a federal bill to restructure California’s system for sharing water among urbanites, farmers and conservation projects passes Congress…

The particulars of the dispute are localized to California. But some Nevadans believe that if the federal government can successfully intervene to impose a water settlement on California, there’s no reason government won’t meddle in Nevada’s water disputes too. “This flawed legislation would threaten our ability to determine how we manage Nevada’s most precious natural resource — our water supply,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, who voted against the bill this week. “That is why the state of Nevada opposed this bill and why I voted to protect the rights of the Silver State when it comes to water.”[...]

“Enacting (the bill) would set a dangerous precedent of preempting state water rights, which could reduce available water supplies from Northern California to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California,” the CRC of Nevada wrote. “This reduction could increase pressure on limited Colorado River water supplies crucial to Southern Nevada.”[...]

But while the House may have put its weight behind the bill in a 245-171 vote (mostly along party lines), momentum behind the effort is likely to stop there. California’s two Senators, both Democrats, are opposed to the plan, as is President Barack Obama, who complained through his advisers that the House bill “would codify 20-year-old, outdated science as the basis for managing California’s water resources, resulting in inequitable treatment of one group of water users over the other.”

More water law coverage here.


AWRA — Colorado Section: Summary of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) 2012 Annual Instream Flow (ISF) Workshop

March 2, 2012

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From the AWRA — Colorado Section website (Margaret Herzog):

The more than 40 attendees represented a wide variety of interests, including the US Forest Service, the US Bureau of Land Management, the Colorado Dept. of Transportation, the Colorado Div. of Parks and Wildlife, several Colorado Water Conservation Board staff and new board members, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, the Colorado Water Trust, Western Resource Advocates, the City of Fort Collins, the Colorado River District, High Country Citizens’ Alliance, consultants, and other interested parties.

The workshop went well beyond a review of recommended ISF projects for board consideration this year. It also covered a discussion of potential synergy between ISF appropriations and acquisitions with stream restoration projects and multi-purpose water supply projects. New SWSI 2010 Nonconsumptive Needs Assessment maps and related projects by Basin Round Table (BRT) were also presented, the successful culmination of an Interbasin Compact Committee / Basin Round Tables (IBCC/BRTs) analytical process which began in 2005.

More instream flow coverage here.


Flaming Gorge pipeline: Was last week’s FERC application dismissal a fatal blow to Aaron Million’s plans?

February 27, 2012

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From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brandon Loomis):

Wyco Power and Water Inc. downplayed the denial as a glitch that it can address by submitting a better application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), but opponents say it effectively kills the pipeline until the company gets environmental permits and secures the water — approvals they doubt are coming. “We think that’s going to be impossible,” said McCrystie Adams, an Earthjustice attorney who represented the Sierra Club, Utah Rivers Council and other groups that intervened to oppose the federal permit…

A FERC official ruled Thursday that the route was too uncertain and the application premature. Although Wyco’s application maps show only federal rights of way, FERC Office of Energy Projects Director Jeff Wright wrote in his decision, the pipeline would also have to cross state, county and private lands. “Until some certainty regarding the authorization of the pipeline is presented,” Wright wrote, “Wyco will not be able to gather and obtain the information required to prepare a license application for a proposed hydropower project.” He also noted that the hydropower stations on which the application is based require water from a pipeline that doesn’t exist, and the application provides no timeline for seeking other agencies’ authorizations to build it…

The proposal has drawn criticism from a number of sectors, including Wyoming’s governor, environmentalists opposing trans-basin diversions, Utahns fearing effects on their state’s water supply, advocates for the Green River’s endangered and sport fish, and those who question private control of 200,000 acre-feet of scarce Colorado River Basin water…

Million insisted Thursday’s decision just means he needs to fill in more details before resubmitting a FERC application. Gaining permission to cross lands on the map isn’t an issue, he said, given that water projects are entitled to condemnation rights…

Identifying an exact route means getting permission from other federal agencies more suited to studying water projects, said Adams, the Earthjustice attorney. The Bureau of Reclamation likely would not consent, she said, because there’s insufficient water at its Flaming Gorge Reservoir, and endangered fish would suffer downstream.

More coverage from The Salt Lake Tribune via Power Engineering. From the article:

Million has said the water is there and, if not, Utah’s plans for a Lake Powell pipeline likely are doomed. In fact, he said he modeled his proposal after Utah’s project, which also is before FERC because it includes hydropower production. FERC’s decision on the Flaming Gorge pipeline may indicate the agency learned a lesson after approving an initial permit for study of the Lake Powell pipeline, Harris said. Maybe the energy regulators will no longer take the lead on projects that are primarily about supply. A FERC spokeswoman did not respond to a question about whether the Powell project was more complete.

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said Utah’s proposal to supply water to St. George likely carries more weight with federal regulators than does Million’s “speculative” concept. Still, he was surprised FERC shot down the Flaming Gorge proposal before even granting a permit for further study. “They give those out like candy,” he said.

Gov. Gary Herbert has said he would not stand for the Green River project if it threatens Utah’s supply, but he did not intervene in the FERC application as Wyoming’s governor did.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.


Colorado State University Professor Named the 2011 Aldo Leopold Memorial Award Winner

February 6, 2012

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Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Kimberly Sorensen):

The Wildlife Society’s highest honor, the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award, has been awarded to Kenneth P. Burnham, professor emeritus from the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University. The award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to wildlife conservation.

CSU’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology (FWCB) has the distinction of now having four faculty honored with this award. The others are:

1973 Gustav A. Swanson, Professor Emeritus (deceased)
2000 Gary C. White, Professor Emeritus
2004 David R. Anderson, Professor Emeritus

Burnham and Anderson were also U.S. Geological Survey scientists in the Colorado Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, a unit within FWCB. All have been recognized with numerous awards for their scientific and academic accomplishments, and they continue to actively enrich the profession and Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology.

Burnham began his career as a statistician for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and later as an area statistician for the USDA Agricultural Research Service in the southeast United States.

Burnham’s early research produced a wide variety of statistical methods used by ecologists around the world. These methods had a profound impact on the science behind numerous monitoring programs, including the northern spotted owl, endangered desert tortoise, endangered fish on the Colorado River, salmon passage through hydro dams on the Columbia River, and assistance in planning and conducting the 2000 U.S. Census.

Starting in 1988, and for the next 21 years, Burnham held the position of assistant unit leader for the Colorado Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at CSU. His work led to effective insights into a broad range of biological systems in many places throughout the world.

Over his 40-year career, he has nearly 200 scientific publications, and these works have been cited more than 17,000 times by wildlife professionals, ecologists, and statisticians around the world.

Ultimately, his scientific contributions have had an enormous impact on a wide range of management and research programs in numerous countries across the globe.

Aldo Leopold is considered the “father” of wildlife science and is one of the great conservationists from the first half of the 20th century.

Following Leopold’s death in 1948, the Wildlife Society annually awards an individual the Aldo Leopold Memorial Award in his honor. The Wildlife Society, founded in 1937, is a professional, international, non-profit scientific and educational association dedicated to excellence in wildlife stewardship through science and education.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Colorado River Basin: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system?

December 25, 2011

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Here’s a guest commentary written by Eric Kuhn, David Modeer and Fred Krupp running in The Denver Post. The trio are issuing a call to arms of sort, asking for input for the Colorado River Basin Study. Here’s an excerpt:

Management of the Colorado River is a complex balancing act between the diverse interests of United States and Mexico, tribes, the seven basin states, individual water users, stakeholders, and communities. The challenges posed by new growth and climate change may dwarf anything we faced in the past. Instead of staring into the abyss, the water users, agencies, and stakeholder groups that make managing the Colorado River responsibly their business are working together, using the best science available to define the problem, and looking for solutions.

We’re calling our inquiry the Colorado River Basin Study, and we want your help. As Colorado River management professionals, we have a lot of knowledge and ideas, but we know that we don’t have them all. We want ideas from the public, from you, but we need your input by February 1. You can submit your suggestions by completing the online form at: http://on.doi.gov/uvhkUi.

The big question we need to answer is: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system? We don’t believe there’s a single silver bullet that will resolve all of our challenges. We want to continue to explore the benefits and costs of every possibility, from conservation to desalination to importing water from other regions.

The West was built on innovation and hard work, and that spirit is still strong. Our landscapes and communities are unparalleled in their beauty, resilience, and character. The economic well-being of our rural and urban communities in the Colorado River basin is inextricably linked to Colorado River and its environmental health.

That’s why we are asking for the public’s input to help us craft a study showing a path forward that supplies our communities with the water they need to thrive and protects the health of the Colorado River-and the ecosystems and economies it supports.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.


Taylor McKinnon: ‘Burning fossil fuels to pump river water across 500 miles to feed urban sprawl is a ludicrous idea — and that’s what the public told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week’

December 22, 2011

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Here’s a release from the Center for Biological Diversity (Taylor McKinnon/McCrystie Adams):

More than 5,000 public comments were sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week opposing the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline, which would pump more than 250,000 acre-feet of water annually over 500 miles from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to Colorado’s Front Range. The project would suck massive amounts of water out of the Green and Colorado rivers in Utah, unleashing disastrous impacts on those river ecosystems, four species of endangered fish — the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker and bonytail chub — and human communities dependent on those rivers. The commission is currently evaluating whether to grant a preliminary permit for the project.

“Burning fossil fuels to pump river water across 500 miles to feed urban sprawl is a ludicrous idea — and that’s what the public told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s hard to imagine a worse proposal for the already over-allocated Colorado River system that’s beset by a warming climate, declining flows and disappearing native fish populations.”

This week’s public comments come on the heels of formal intervention in the commission’s process filed last week by the Colorado River Protection Coalition — a coalition of 10 conservation groups, including the Center. The coalition asserts that the Flaming Gorge Pipeline is unlikely to be permitted because it would likely violate the Endangered Species Act and adversely affect four national wildlife refuges; part of the project would be located in a U.S. Forest Service roadless area. The coalition also argued that the permit should be denied because the applicant, Wyco, failed to meet several requirements during a previous attempt at permitting a nearly identical project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The new batch of comments this week came from online action alerts created by the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice.

“The opposition to this project is amazing,” said McCrystie Adams of Earthjustice. “The pipeline would devastate the Green River and severely harm the Colorado River downstream — the public is strongly speaking out against this pipeline scheme.”

Wyco previously sought a permit for the pipeline from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In July 2011 the Corps terminated its review of the project because Wyco missed multiple deadlines and did not provide information requested by the Corps. A few months later, Wyco redesigned the project to include some incidental hydropower components and requested review through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Despite the modifications, the project remains an energy hog — at least nine air-polluting, natural gas-fired pumping stations would be required to pump the water uphill across Wyoming and over the Continental Divide. Wyco’s president has acknowledged that pumping the water uphill would use more energy than the project would create through hydropower.

Since its inception, the Flaming Gorge Pipeline has met with opposition in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. The water would go to the Front Range of Colorado, which is projected to double in population in the next 50 years. Colorado is already a parched state with severely depleted rivers, while the majority of the water in Colorado’s cities is used to keep lawns green for three months in the hot, dry summer across sprawling suburban landscapes.

The coalition’s intervention comments can be downloaded here.

More coverage from Kathy Gilbert writing for the Green River Start. From the article:

The coalition contends that the project cost could reach as much as $9 billion and that Million has failed to demonstrate a need for the water with customers committed to paying for it if it could be delivered.

They also say preventing that much water from flowing into the Green River would hurt wetlands, birds, fish and the recreation economies of surrounding communities.

The coalition believes the pipeline is extremely unlikely to be permitted because it would likely violate the Endangered Species Act, would adversely affect four national wildlife refuges and part of the project would be located in a U.S. Forest Service roadless area…

“The water in the Green River is essential for the operation of many of Sweetwater County’s major industries including four trona mines and the Jim Bridger Power Plant,” the county’s letter states. The power plant relies on a constant stream of water piped from the Green River for use in its four cooling towers.

The county asserts that the Regional Watershed Supply Project and the effects it would have on the water supply in the Green River, would “dramatically impact Sweetwater County’s industrial base.”

The county also states 38,769 or the county’s 43,806 population rely on the river to provide potable water and fire suppression supplies.

Finally, the county suggests its tourism industry would be impacted because the Flaming Gorge Reservoir is the basis of a multi-million dollar tourism industry…

In the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s filing, they’re intervening with the purpose of ensuring its interests, including the protection of all Wyoming wildlife, is considered during the FERC process.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.


Wyco Water and Power’s proposal to supply water for hydraulic fracturing is an insult to injury proposal for conservationists

December 19, 2011

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Aaron Million has a history of trying to be all things to all people. At various times he’s said the Flaming Gorge pipeline will save agriculture in northeast Colorado, be environmentally friendly by using existing utility corridors, use natural gas for pumping instead of coal-generated power, etc. Last week he suggested that the project could supply the needed water for hydraulic fracturing. At least the oil companies could afford to pay the water haulers just about any price that he needs to charge to make a profit on his speculative venture. However, water providers in Weld County might object. The City of Greeley will sell about $1.4 million worth of water to oil companies this year, helping to keep rates down, according to their water manager, Jon Monson.

Last week ten conservation organizations filed the paperwork to intervene in the permit process now that the project has morphed into a hydroelectric generation project. Here’s a report from Deb Courson Smith writing for the Public News Service – Wyoming. From the article:

Duane Short, wild species program director with the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Laramie, is a spokesman for the coalition that has filed to intervene. “Probably the most local concern is the impact that this pipeline, which would consume some 81-billion gallons of water a year, would have on the Green River area water-sport and recreation industries.”

The list of objections is long, Short says. It includes violations of the Endangered Species Act, landscape destruction to build the pipeline, and downstream effects of removing so much water from the Green River, which connects to the Colorado River in Utah.

The company proposing the pipeline, Wyco Power and Water Inc., has touted its job-creation benefits and the fact that it includes hydropower construction plans. Short claims the hydropower was only added so FERC would look at the permit. He says the project will use much more power than it generates, because the water has to be pumped uphill across Wyoming and over the Continental Divide. The developer also recently announced that some of the water would be used for hydraulic fracturing (fracking). “With that type of history, and with all these other concerns that have been expressed in Wyoming, Colorado and even in Utah, to make this water available for fracking is sort of an ‘insult to injury’ type of proposal.”

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.


Rare minnows restored to Arkansas River

December 15, 2011

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Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Michael D. Seraphin):

Two rare minnows are once again swimming in the Arkansas River thanks to pioneering research efforts at the John Mumma Native Aquatic Species Restoration Facility.

Plains minnows (Hybognathus placitus) and suckermouth minnows (Phenacobius mirabilis) are native species on the Colorado threatened and endangered list. The small minnows were stocked into the Arkansas River above John Martin Reservoir in the vicinity of the Rocky Ford and Oxbow State Wildlife Areas in November. The fish will be monitored annually to determine the success of the stocking effort.

“We’ve been working on getting them re-established in portions of their native habitat for over a decade but were unable to reproduce them successfully until recently,” said Paul Foutz, Southeast Region Native Aquatic Species Biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Because plains minnows and suckermouth minnows are exceedingly rare, efforts to aid in their recovery were hampered by the fact that very little research was available about the optimal conditions for them to reproduce in a hatchery. Since 2000, the staff at the Native Aquatic Species Restoration Facility near Alamosa has worked meticulously and persistently to produce viable offspring. Several times they were able to achieve successful reproduction, only to encounter difficulties raising the young fish to maturity.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife hatchery technicians worked in conjunction with fish culturists at Colorado State University and the Albuquerque Aquarium investigating spawning and rearing techniques using methods similar to those that were successful for another small fish, the silvery minnow.

After a breakthrough in 2010, hatchery staff was able to create the proper conditions and reared approximately 38,000 plains minnow and 4,000 suckermouth minnows in 2011. The fish ranged in size from one to two inches.

As State listed endangered species, re-establishing populations of plains minnow and suckermouth minnow will have no impact on normal agricultural operations.

The original bloodstock of plains minnows came from collections in Kansas on the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River in Barber County. The suckermouth minnows are offspring of fish that were collected from the wild in Colorado in areas where small populations existed in the Arkansas River.

Species summaries:

Suckermouth minnow (Phenacobius mirabilis)
Suckermouth minnows are native to the eastern plains of Colorado in the South Platte, Arkansas, and Arikaree Rivers. Its range extends to most of the Mississippi River basin from Ohio west to Wyoming, and south to Louisiana and Texas. This species has spotty and rare distribution and is currently a state listed endangered species. This small (2-5 inch) fish is slender with a conspicuous dark spot at the base of the tail fin. It inhabits shallow riffles with sand/gravel substrate, but utilizes deeper pools during low flow periods.

Plains Minnow (Hybognathus placitus)
This plains fish is native to the Arkansas, Republican and South Platte basins in Colorado. Its range includes the Missouri River and western Mississippi River systems from Montana south to Texas. A few specimens were collected on the eastern plains in the South Platte in the early 1980’s and mid-1990’s. It has not been seen in the Arkansas River since the 1960’s. It is olive or yellow-green with brassy reflection and grows to about five-inches. It is currently a Colorado state endangered species.

For additional information and pictures of the plains minnow and suckermouth minnow along with some of Colorado’s other native aquatic species please visit the following web sites: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Education/TeacherResources/ColoradoWildlifeCompany/Pages/FishCWCF03.aspx

http://ndis.nrel.colostate.edu/wildlife.asp

More coverage from the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Plains minnows (Hybognathus placitus) and suckermouth minnows (Phenacobius mirabilis) are on the Colorado threatened and endangered list.The plains minnow hasn’t been seen in the Arkansas River since the 1960s.

The two species have different requirements for habitat, food and reproduction. Plains minnow primarily feed on algae as well as other microscopic plants and animals, while suckermouth minnows typically feed on larval insects and other microscopic organisms which they glean from the riverbed with their sucker-like mouth, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists.

Both species declined due changes that have taken place on the Arkansas River during many decades due to water and land development.

More endangered species coverage here.


The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board approves a $17.2 million budget for 2012

December 10, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The major portion of the budget, $11.8 million, goes to repay federal costs of constructing the Fry-Ark Project, which includes the Fountain pipeline. Another $270,000 is revenue from state and federal grants.

The operating budget for the district is $5.1 million, with about 60 percent in the general fund, and 40 percent in the enterprise fund.

Of the $3 million district fund, $1.36 million goes toward personnel.

The budget also includes a capital expenditure of $850,000 as the district’s share for purchase of the Red Top Ranch near Lake Granby. That cost will total $1.7 million over two years. The ranch purchase is part of a plan by Front Range water users, including Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver, Pueblo and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, to provide flows for endangered fish species in the Colorado River. Participation in the program is a condition for importing Fry-Ark water each year.

The major project in the $2.1 million enterprise fund will be the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is preparing an environmental impact statement for the conduit.

More Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Colorado Mesa University: ‘Habitat Restoration for Endangered Colorado River Fishes in the Grand Valley’ seminar Monday

November 5, 2011

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From email from the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University (Hannah Holm):

The Fall 2011 Natural Resources of the West seminar series at Colorado Mesa University focuses on Restoration. Our next guest speaker will be Patty Gelatt, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Habitat Restoration for Endangered Colorado River Fishes in the Grand Valley

Monday 7 November 2011 4 pm – 5:15 pm
Wubben-Science, Room 141 (Saccomanno Lecture Hall)
Colorado Mesa University (for maps and directions, see: http://www.coloradomesa.edu/campusinfo/maps.html)
Grand Junction, CO

Please note that this is an adjustment to the published schedule. Steve Renner’s talk on mine remediation will be held the following Monday 11/14.

The seminars are free and open to the public, no registration necessary.

For the complete schedule, see http://home.coloradomesa.edu/~grichard/WSS/Seminar2011.htm

Please contact Dr. Gigi Richard (970-248-1689) or Dr. Tamera Minnick (970-248-1663) for more information.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


West Slope stakeholders are voicing concern about releases from Ruedi Reservoir for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

November 1, 2011

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Some stakeholders in Eagle and Pitkin counties said they are concerned that the planned releases from Ruedi Reservoir could threaten the economically valuable trout fishery in the Roaring Fork.

But if the various stakeholders can make all the pieces fit together, it could be a win-win, with less water coming out of Ruedi and some additional flows from Granby Lake and Green Mountain Reservoir, according to Dave Nickum, director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

Most trout species (with the exception of cutthroats) are not native to Colorado, but angling has become a huge part of the recreational economy. As such, the plan to recover the native fish sets up an interesting conflict between protection of endangered native species and potential impacts to non-native fish that are a big part of the culture and economy of the West Slope. Learn more about the recovery effort at this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

At issue are the Colorado pikeminnow, the bonytail and humpback chub and the razorback sucker. The four species are native to the Colorado River, but dam-building and diversions reduced their habitat to just a few pockets.

Under a 1999 programmatic biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that addresses impacts to the four endangered species, Front Range and West Slope water users agreed to provide equal amounts of water for the recovery effort.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


CSU to present six week non-credit adult education course — ‘Whiskey’s For Drinking; Water is for Fighting: The Social Organization of Water in Colorado’, starting October 26

October 15, 2011

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From email from Colorado State University:

The non-credit adult education water organization course at CSU addresses how a succession of conflicts were each resolved by self governing organizations: On the irrigation ditches (mutual companies, irrigation districts); among ditches on the rivers (State Engineers Office); how supplemental supplies were organized via water exchanges; trans-mountain imports (mutuals and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District); groundwater use (4 varieties of augmentation organization); incorporation of a federal endangered species agenda (Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and the U.S. Department of Interior); and finally, the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) will be reviewed along with alternatives. Find more information here.


Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 750 cfs in the Lower Blue River below the dam

October 13, 2011

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

If you’ve been out on the Lower Blue this morning [ed. October 12], you probably noticed that it’s running a little lower than yesterday. That is because this morning around 6:30, we dropped releases from Green mountain Dam by about 50 cfs. Currently, there is 850 cfs flowing below the dam. We will be making additional changes today. We will drop again at noon today, by 50 cfs, putting the Lower Blue around 800 cfs. Then around 5 p.m. today, we will drop another 50 cfs. By the end of the day, releases from Green Mountain Dam to the Lower Blue will be around 750 cfs.

The reason for the change is two fold: the 15-Mile Reach of critical habitat for endangered fish no longer needs additional water and the Shoshone Plant has some maintenance work. Reduction in flows will help both projects.

More Colorado-Big Thompson coverage here.


Contract Awarded for Equipment to Support On-Going Fish Studies

October 2, 2011

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Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamtion (Lisa Iams):

The Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a $3 million five-year contract to Biomark Inc., of Boise, Idaho, for passive integrated transponders (PIT) and related equipment to conduct on-going fish studies throughout the 17 Western states associated with numerous river habitat restoration and endangered fish recovery programs.
“This contract provides another tool to enhance real-time, scientific knowledge about fish behavior that we rely upon to inform our river restoration activities,” Commissioner Michael L. Connor said today. “River restoration work is an important cornerstone of Reclamation’s efforts throughout the West to ensure the sustainability and health of water resources – a key element of the administration’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative.”

The use of PIT tags provides a reliable and effective means of identifying and monitoring individual fish utilizing radio frequency identification technology. Once researchers have implanted a PIT tag, (essentially a small microchip) inside an individual fish, it can easily be tracked and monitored utilizing readers and antennae devices. This provides valuable data for biologists to use in accurately calculating population estimates, recording life-cycle information, and gathering survival and recruitment data.

This is the same technology used to identify and track lost pets including dogs and cats. Because each tag contains a unique electronic number, specific individual data can be gathered over time that is vital to the habitat restoration and species recovery programs Reclamation is involved in. Among the programs that will receive PIT equipment through this contract are: the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, San Juan River Basin Recovery Program, Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program, Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, Columbia/Snake Salmon Recovery Program, Trinity River Restoration Program, San Joaquin River Restoration Program, Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, and the Gila River Basin Native Fishes Conservation Program.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


The Lower Dolorado Working Group plan ‘A Way Forward’ hopes to head off endangered status for native fish in the river

October 2, 2011

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

Calling their plan “A Way Forward,” the group is taking the suggestions offered in a recently completed scientific report to find a way to increase habitat and successful reproduction of the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub. The overarching goal is to create a healthy, thriving water source in Southwest Colorado that is protected by local stakeholders, not federal designation. “The work that the Lower Dolores group and its legislative committee has been doing pointed to a need to give the fish some help,” said Marsha Porter-Norton, group facilitator. “We commissioned a group of scientists to study these native fish and tell us what actions we could take. They said that yes, we should pursue this now.”[...]

Enhancing the health of the fish is necessary to the protection of the river itself and the multiple-use nature of the waters, said Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District and member of the working group. “In recent years there has been a great deal more focus on these native fish species,” Preston said. “The concern about these fish centers on the fact that though they are not a listed (species), they are considered a sensitive species. What would be problematic would be if those species got listed as threatened or endangered. We would potentially lose control of the river with a listing, and that would be putting everyone’s water supply at risk if that occurred.”[...]

Preston said the immediate focus of the group is on what actions can be taken within the framework of spill management to impact the health of the native species.

“The discussion has come to a pretty good consensus on most of the issues and really the outstanding issue is the flows,” he said. “In the past the releases were really aimed at rafting and supporting trout fishing 10 to 11 miles below the dam. What we have to figure out is what is going to benefit the native fish. They have become a greater priority, and we need to determine how to manage flows if our objective is to protect native species, as well as allowing opportunities for trout fishing and rafting.”

Preston said a wide range of stakeholders have been pulled together to work on the project, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, Dolores Water Conservancy District, Trout Unlimited, American Whitewater, the San Juan Citizens Alliance and The Nature Conservancy.

More Dolores River basin watershed here.


Reclamation Hosting Two Open Houses on 10825 Draft EA

September 25, 2011

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Here’s the release from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The Bureau of Reclamation is hosting two public open houses to introduce and collect comments on a draft Environmental Assessment related to releases from Ruedi and Granby reservoirs. The public comment period opens today and closes on October 24, 2011.

The first open house will be held on Tuesday, October 11, at the Eagle County Community Center, 0020 Eagle County Drive, El Jebel, Colo.

The second open house will be held on Wednesday, October 12, in the Commissioners’ meeting room of the County Building, 308 Byers Ave., Hot Sulphur Springs, Colo. Both meetings will run from 6-8 p.m.

At the request of east and west slope water users of the Colorado River, Reclamation is considering entering into three proposed long-term water contracts that would provide 10,825 acre-feet of water from Ruedi and Granby. The water would be released from the reservoirs to the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River – critical habitat for four endangered fish.

In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, Reclamation is preparing the EA to determine what effects might result from the three proposed contracts. Comments received from the public will help Reclamation refine and finalize the EA.

Reclamation is accepting written comments via e-mail or hard copy through close of business on October 24, 2011. Please send comments to the attention of Lucy Maldonado at lmaldonado@usbr.gov, or 11056 W. County Road 18E, Loveland, Colo., 80537.

More Bureau of Reclamation coverage here.


Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 500 cfs in the Blue River below the dam by Friday

September 22, 2011

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

After the weekly conference call yesterday, it was determined that releases from Green Mountain would increase. We have been releasing about 400 cfs for some time. The change will put 500 cfs in the lower Blue River. The first change was today a 9 a.m. We bumped up 50 cfs. Currently, 450 is being released to the Lower Blue. Tomorrow, Friday, we will bump up another 50 cfs around 8 a.m. By lunch, there should be 500 cfs in the river. This increase will help provide water to the critical habitat of the endangered fish of the Colorado River.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


The Bureau of Reclamation is increasing releases from Ruedi Reservoir for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Program

September 8, 2011

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Tonight [ed. September 6] at 5 p.m., releases from Ruedi Reservoir to the Fryingpan River will increase. We will be increasing by about 50 cfs. The reason for the change is that flows in the Colorado River through the 15 Mile Reach of critical habitat for endangered fish species have dropped. As a result, the Fish and Wildlife Service is requesting additional water. Currently, the Fryingpan is flowing around 260 cfs. After the change, it will be closer to about 312 cfs.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here and here.


Ty Churchwell — ‘It is not worth offending someone who agrees with me on most issues to take a stance on climate change or global warming’

September 1, 2011

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From The Durango Herald (Lynda Edwards):

…conservationists have tried dozens of ways to restore trout to the Animas and its tributaries. After World War II, cowboys helping the U.S. Wildlife Service would carry hatchery or farmed trout in cast-iron jugs on their horses into the mountains, where they released the fish into Animas headwaters. Tanker trucks and helicopters with huge buckets also have been used to plop trout into the river and its tributaries…

[Ty] Churchwell, who has degrees in horticulture and chemistry, refuses to discuss climate change. He won’t even say whether he believes it exists…

“To get my work done, I need to be able to sit at the table and forge alliances with people who have very different ideas about global warming,” Churchwell said. “It is not worth offending someone who agrees with me on most issues to take a stance on climate change or global warming.”

More Animas River watershed coverage here.


Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: 213 cfs in the river below Ruedi Dam for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

August 25, 2011

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

August seems to be upholding its reputation for traditionally being the hottest and driest month in Colorado. As a result, flows in the Colorado River have dipped slightly. In response, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is calling for water for the identified habitat of the endangered fish.

To meet that call, we are increasing releases from Ruedi Dam to the Fryingpan River by 25 cfs. This will put about 213 cubic feet per second at the Ruedi gage just below the dam.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


Woods Lake Native Trout Project Scheduled

August 24, 2011

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Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife:

The first phase of a native Colorado cutthroat trout restoration project at Woods Lake will take place from Sept. 6-12, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced.

The Woods Lake State Wildlife area will be closed during those days, and the public is asked to avoid recreating nearby in the surrounding Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest during those days. Woods Lake is located in southeast San Miguel County, just off U.S. Forest Service Road 618.

“This is an outstanding area for the native cutthroat,” said Dan Kowalski, aquatic biologist in the Montrose area.”There are only a few spots in western Colorado suitable for restoration. This will help give the cutthroat a long-term foothold in southwest Colorado.”

Woods Lake was chosen as a location because the area is isolated and the waters are pristine. The barrier of the dam at the small reservoir will prevent non-native fish from swimming into the lake and tributaries.

The lake and surrounding small tributaries will be treated with an organic chemical that will kill non-native fish. The chemical, Rotenone, is derived from the root of a tropical plant and is used throughout the world for fish management projects. Rotenone is fast-acting, only affects aquatic species, leaves no residue and quickly degrades in the environment. The lake is expected to be completely free of the chemical and suitable for fish less than a week after the treatment. Native fish will be re-stocked once it is confirmed that all non-natives have been removed, probably this fall. Fish should reach catchable size — 10-12 inches — by summer of 2013.

Until Sept. 6, the area is open for fishing. Licensed anglers can keep all the brook and brown trout they catch–bag limits have been temporarily lifted for these species. Fish must be taken by hook with flies, lures or bait. Netting is not allowed.

Planned for several years, the Woods Lake project is part of a cooperative effort by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service to restore native cutthroat trout to waters on the West Slope. Due to habitat loss, water quality impacts and the introduction of non-native fish over many years, the Colorado River cutthroat has been eliminated from most rivers and streams in western Colorado. The fish, which has been petitioned for listing as an endangered species, can now be found in only a small percentage of its historic range in Colorado and in the Rocky Mountain West.

To learn more about efforts by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to restore native trout, see: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Research/Aquatic/CutthroatTrout/Pages/CutthroatTrout.aspx

For more information about Division of Wildlife go to: http://wildlife.state.co.us.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Greeley: The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is standing is the way of Greeley Water’s proposed pipeline from Bellvue to Greeley

August 22, 2011

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

In seeking a permit from the federal government to begin work on the final 6½-mile stretch of the pipeline, Greeley submitted a biological assessment that concluded the portion of the project would not have any “adverse effects” on the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse — protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act — or the northern leopard frog. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came to a different conclusion this week.

Jon Monson, director of the city of Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department, said the city and its consulting firm — AECOM based in Denver — must now address the issues raised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those issues, for example, include revegetating areas for the benefit of the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse and other potentially affected species. Monson described the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ response as “not completely unexpected.” Other city officials expressed frustration at the latest hitch in the project’s schedule…

Monson said he’s hoping to get the needed approval from the federal government in time to proceed with construction plans scheduled for this winter. He added that the current delay won’t cause any additional expenditures since that portion of the project is not yet under construction…

The presence of the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is continually an environmental issue in construction projects along the Front Range, but this represents the first time the endangered rodent has caused a delay in the progress of Greeley’s ongoing pipeline project, which was initiated in 2003. So far, construction of the 30-mile pipeline — which will have the capacity to deliver an additional 50 million gallons per day to Greeley, enough to satisfy the projected need of Greeley’s water customers for the next 50 years — has taken place on pasture land not inhabited by the rodent. But the next and final phase of the project will take place where the animal has a presence…

“It’s the quintessential example of the U.S. Endangered Species Act run amuck,” [Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway] said. “It’s cost businesses, municipalities and individuals millions of dollars over the years. It makes you wonder what’s being protected.”

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


The Bureau of Land management is constructing a fish barrier in East Parachute Creek to isolate Colorado River cutthroats

August 21, 2011

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

BLM is also working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Trout Unlimited to install a fish barrier in East Fork Parachute Creek as part of an effort to maintain native Colorado River cutthroat trout in this drainage.

The Colorado River cutthroats on the Roan Plateau are considered some of the most genetically pure, but non-native brook trout introduced many years ago into the East Fork Parachute Creek are threatening that drainage’s cutthroat population.

“If we don’t take action now, we expect the cutthroat to be completely gone from the East Fork in one to three years,” said BLM West Slope Fisheries Biologist Tom Fresques.

The concrete fish barrier will be installed near the confluence with Third Water Gulch. It will prevent brook trout from moving upstream, which will allow biologists to begin reclaiming the cutthroat population upstream of the barrier.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Releases from Elkhead Reservoir for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program will have the Yampa running 1,000 cfs at Maybell

August 21, 2011

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From the Craig Daily Press:

“A relatively high volume of water will be released (about 350 cubic-feet-per-second) from Elkhead for four days to support a sustained flow of about 1,000 cfs in the Yampa River at Maybell, downstream of Craig,” Fish and Wildlife officials announced in the release. “The released water will take about 24 hours to reach Maybell, and flows will return to pre-release levels at Maybell by Aug. 24.

“All releases will be made through the dam outlets that are screened to prevent the escapement of nonnative fish.”

The reservoir level is expected to drop 3 feet during the release period and stabilize by the middle of next week, according to the release. There will be no affects to boat or angler access to the reservoir.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Flaming Gorge pipeline: 7,400 Coloradans took part in last Wednesday’s ‘telephone town hall’ event

August 3, 2011

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Conservation groups last week also formally announced their opposition to the proposal, calling it a waste of resources and explaining that there are better ways — including conservation and re-use — to address the constantly growing demand for water. “We held this town hall because Coloradans need to know about this boondoggle,” said Elise Jones, director of Colorado Environmental Coalition. “The cost to Coloradans is immense, from the cost of construction to the negative impact on our recreation economy to the irreversible environmental damage it would cause.”

The diversions from the Green River could potentially affect flows and ecosystems in Dinosaur National Monument and impact ongoing recovery efforts for native fish in the Colorado River. A federal environmental study that would disclose those impacts is under way, but the project proponent recently asked to have the review done by a different agency. Click here to listen to audio from the tele-town hall discussing impacts to fish.

On the state level, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is considering a $150,000 grant request by the pipeline’s proponents that would set up a special task force to consider the pipeline. The Board will make a decision on the grant at a September meeting, and the coalition of conservation groups and outdoor recreation business owners is asking that this request be denied.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.


The DeBeque phacelia and the Parachute penstemon both will be protected under the Endangered Species Act

July 28, 2011

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Here’s the release from the Center for Native Ecosystems (Josh Pollock):

Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that two Colorado wildflowers found only on and around the Roan Plateau and South Shale Ridge area are now protected as Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and have been proposed for critical habitat protections that will be finalized next year. The federal agency identified the primary threat to both species as current and proposed oil and natural gas drilling operations on public lands.

Parachute penstemon, which occurs in only 6 populations on or near the base of the Roan Plateau, and DeBeque phacelia, which is found only in the vicinity of the growing town of DeBeque and South Shale Ridge, were both found by the Fish and Wildlife Service to be at risk of extinction from a variety of threats associated with oil and gas development including new roads pipelines as well as off-road dirt bike and ATV riding.

“Endangered Species Act protection for these two rare and unique wildflowers will help us balance our need for domestic energy production with preserving our natural heritage,’ said Josh Pollock, Conservation Director at Rocky Mountain Wild. “When we work to keep the parts of the natural world that we cannot, including these plants specially adapted to the rugged beauty of Colorado’s West Slope, we leave a legacy for our children that we can be proud of.”

The announcement of protections for these two species is part of a trio of Endangered Species Act listings for wildflowers in Colorado. As part of the same final listing rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service also designated the Pagosa skyrocket as endangered. The Pagosa Skyrocket occurs in only 2 populations near the town of Pagosa Springs and is highly vulnerable to disturbance from residential and commercial development on the private lands where it is primarily found.

“Today three unique facets of Colorado’s stunning and diverse mountain and canyon country got the protection they so desperately needed,” said Pollock. “All three of these listings are necessary and sensible, given how vulnerable each one of these wildflowers is to the ways that we are using and converting the open lands around us here in the West.”

In a separate announcement in the Federal Register, the Fish and Wildlife Service also proposed critical habitat designation for all three species. The proposed habitat designation includes over 19,000 acres for Parachute penstemon and almost 25,000 acres for the more widely distributed DeBeque phacelia. In the case of Parachute penstemon, the proposed designation acknowledged that the current populations alone would be insufficient to ensure the long-term survival and recovery of the species and therefore included a strip of potential recovery habitat at the north end of the Roan Plateau. The Service determined that this area has the same habitat characteristics as the occupied habitat, including exposed slopes of oil shale. For all three species, the Fish and Wildlife Service also took into account the possible effects of climate change on such plants that are so narrowly dependent on particular soil types and expanded their proposed boundaries for the proposed habitat units beyond the edges of the current populations. The agency also identified these buffers around the currently occupied habitat as necessary to protect the base of pollinators—primarily ground nesting bees and wasps—upon which both species depend.

“The critical habitat proposal that comes along with today’s listing is a model of how the Fish and Wildlife Service should consider habitat protections for rare plants with limited ranges in the face of climate change and continued oil and gas drilling on public land,” said Pollock. “The agency appropriately limited their proposal to places that are not already developed, concentrated on federal public lands, and took into account the need for additional habitat for recovery. While we can’t know everything climate change will do to an individual species, we must begin to acknowledge that it will change habitat for many at-risk species and do what we can to protect additional places with that in mind.”

Both species have been official candidates for Endangered Species Act protection for at least twenty years. In the case of DeBeque phacelia, the Colorado species has been on the official waiting list for 31 years. Center for Native Ecosystems (which has now merged to form Rocky Mountain Wild), the Colorado Native Plant Society, and Dr. Steve O’Kane petitioned to move the two species off the candidate list and finalize their protection under the ESA in 2004 and 2005.

“To say that these protections are overdue would be an extreme understatement,” said Pollock, “but the most important thing is that they are in place now. We hope it is in time to secure a future for these three parts of our web of life in Western Colorado along with the dozens of other rare species that carve out a life in the same difficult habitat.”

There will be a 60 day period for public comment on the proposed critical habitat designation for all three species.

Parachute Penstemon

Parachute penstemon, also known as Parachute beardtongue, is a beautiful perennial with lavender-and-white, funnel-shaped flowers. It occurs in only six populations on and around the Roan Plateau. Only three of those populations are considered large enough to be stable, but two of them are on land owned by Occidental Petroleum. Two of the remaining populations are on top of the Roan Plateau in locations recently leased for oil and gas development. Conservation organizations are challenging the leasing on top of the Roan Plateau in court.

Center for Native Ecosystems, the Colorado Native Plant Society, and Dr. Steve O’Kane (one of the botanists who discovered the species in the 1980s) petitioned in 2004 for the parachute penstemon to be moved from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s candidate list and given the protection under the Act it deserved.

A high resolution photograph of Parachute penstemon is available for download (with credit to Steve O’Kane) at http://nativeecosystems.org/wp-content/uploads/Parachute-penstemon_Steve-OKane.jpg

DeBeque Phacelia

DeBeque phacelia is also found near the Roan Plateau. It occurs only on slopes of clay soil around the growing town of DeBeque, west of Rifle, Colorado. All DeBeque phacelia habitat is found within the larger Piceance Basin region that is Colorado’s third largest natural gas producing area, according the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. More than ¾ of all DeBeque phacelia habitat had been leased for oil and gas drilling.

DeBeque phacelia is a low-growing annual plant with small yellowish flowers. It relies on a bank of seeds within the soil to continue coming up year after year, and therefore disturbance of the slopes where it is found or even the soil below such slopes can destroy its seeds. The Fish and Wildlife Service found that threats to the wildflower’s seed bank and habitat included natural gas exploration and pipelines, expansion of roads and other oil and gas facilities, and even proposed reservoir projects that would be used to support oil shale development experiments in the area north of DeBeque.

Center for Native Ecosystems, the Colorado Native Plant Society, and Dr. Steve O’Kane petitioned in 2005 for DeBeque phacelia to be moved from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s candidate list and given the protection under the Act it deserved.

A high resolution photograph of DeBeque phacelia is available for download (with credit to Rocky Mountain Wild) at http://nativeecosystems.org/wp-content/uploads/phacelia.jpg

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced July 27 that the DeBeque phacelia and the Parachute penstemon both will be protected and proposed for critical habitat designations based on threats from current and proposed oil and natural gas drilling operations on public lands…

Parachute penstemon grows in only 6 populations on or near the base of the Roan Plateau, and DeBeque phacelia is found only in the vicinity of the growing town of DeBeque and South Shale Ridge. The proposed habitat designation includes more than 19,000 acres for Parachute penstemon and almost 25,000 acres for the more widely distributed DeBeque phacelia.

In the case of Parachute penstemon, the proposed designation acknowledged that the current populations alone would be insufficient to ensure the long-term survival and recovery of the species and therefore included a strip of potential recovery habitat at the north end of the Roan Plateau. The Service determined that this area has the same habitat characteristics as the occupied habitat, including exposed slopes of oil shale…

As part of the same final listing rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service also designated the Pagosa skyrocket as endangered. The Pagosa Skyrocket occurs in only 2 populations near the town of Pagosa Springs and is highly vulnerable to disturbance from residential and commercial development on the private lands where it is primarily found.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Reclamation is taking bids for four ponds to serve the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

July 19, 2011

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From NBC11News.com (Cecile Juliette):

Sheer, who works for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, says by Federal Law, the organization is required to protect and recover endangered species. Through the recovery program, biologists are trying to build ponds to aid the recovery of these fish. They are raised from hatchlins at the hatchery, then once they reach a certain size, they will be moved to the ponds at Horsethief Canyon, where their health and numbers will be monitored. Scheer says many of these fish are found only through the river system of Colorado, and serve many environmental roles. He says the health of these fish reflects the health of the river. Fish Culturist Mike Gross says his relatives have told stories about the Pikeminnow and Razorback. He says his uncle would go down to the river and pitchfork large Pikeminnows, then feed them to his pigs. They were also a staple for hungry families.

He says the Upper Colorado Recovery Program, and the 24 Road Hatchery have already had success. “Since this facility came online, we have stocked well over a quarter million Razorback Suckers into the Colorado Riverand it’s tributaries.”

Brent Uilenberg with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says, “The goal is to have the 4 Colorado River fish species that are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act de-listed by 2023.” The contract to build the ponds at Horsethief Canyon is open to bidders. It was first offered to HUD contractors, then open to all bidders. The hatchery is operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and runs on nearly 100 percent recycled water provided by Ute Water.

More endangered species coverage here and here.


Colorado River Basin: Secretary Salazar honored for his work divvying up the river and leaving some water for the fish as well

July 4, 2011

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

…the American Whitewater and the Colorado River Outfitters Association presented Salazar with an engraved paddle at a private ceremony in Washington, D.C. last week. The following message was engraved on the paddle: “Thanks for navigating the process of balancing the needs of fish, wildlife and people.”

“We need to find a way to balance the little water we have to meet the needs of people, recreation and the fish that depend on the river,” said Dave Costlow, with the Colorado River Outfitters Association. “It’s all about finding the right balance and as the Secretary says, choosing ‘consensus over controversy.’”

More Colorado River basin coverage here.


Restoration: Grand Canyon controlled floods effects are short-lived, the river requires constant attention

July 3, 2011

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From the Arizona Republic via Arizona Central:

One of the lessons of the first three floods was that the effects are short-lived. The river requires constant attention, with more-frequent floods and monitoring, said Martha Hahn, chief of science and resource management at Grand Canyon National Park. “It’s not the high flows themselves; it’s what you do in between that’s important to the resources,” she said. Scientists need to watch what happens along the beaches, in the habitats and to the native species, such as the endangered humpback chub. Using an adaptive management, or “learning by doing” approach, researchers can react to the effects of each flood. Scientists have learned that the 2008 flood helped the survival of non-native rainbow trout, a predator of young humpback chub. The amount of sand brought in by tributaries is also critical, researchers found. The high flows not only leave sand along some stretches of the riverbank, they can wash it away along others. If there is too little sand and sediment to begin with, the benefits could be eroded away.

The experimental floods have caused problems for power companies that buy and distribute electricity generated by Glen Canyon Dam. A limited amount of water can be released each year from the dam, based on agreements among the seven states that rely on the Colorado River. When higher volumes are released all at once, less water is available for power production at other times of the year, resulting in lost revenue. The Western Area Power Administration, which markets and delivers electricity from Glen Canyon, estimated that changes in operations at the dam since the experiments began have cost power companies and customers about $50 million a year.

Click through for the cool photo of Grand Falls in the canyon of the Little Colorado River.


Native trout restoration project on Hermosa Creek

July 2, 2011

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Division of Wildlife:

A major initiative by the Colorado Division of Wildlife to restore the native Colorado River cutthroat trout to the San Juan mountains will begin this summer in the upper Hermosa Creek drainage about 35 miles north of Durango.

The three-year project is a cooperative effort of the Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service, and part of a larger multi-state and agency effort to restore Colorado River cutthroat trout to more of its historic range.

Colorado River cutthroat are native to the Colorado River Basin.

The project will be explained to the public at an open house from 4-8 p.m., July 13, at the Durango Recreation Center’s Windom Room.

“Upper Hermosa Creek offers an excellent location for a native trout recovery project,” said Jim White, aquatic biologist for the Division in Durango. “The area is a big, complex network of tributaries and a main stem river with excellent water quality and trout habitat. The limestone geology is favorable for trout and the area is easily accessible to field crews and anglers.”

Wildlife biologists identified the Hermosa Creek area as a prime spot for restoration about 20 years ago. In 1992, a similar project restored native cutthroats on four miles of the creek’s upper East Fork.

This summer’s project will begin the process to reclaim about nine miles of Hermosa Creek at its headwaters. This phase is expected to take two years to complete, White said. The next phase will connect the main stem of Upper Hermosa Creek to the East Fork of Hermosa Creek. All in all, the full project is expected to last three to five years. When completed, Colorado River cutthroat trout will inhabit more than 20 miles of the Hermosa Creek drainage

Colorado River cutthroat trout currently occupy only a small portion of their historic range. Over-harvest, decline in water quality and the introduction of non-native trout starting in the 1850s nearly wiped out the native fish. Fortunately, Division biologists found remnant populations in Colorado, established brood stocks, and the species is now sustained through habitat protection, hatcheries, and stocking. The goal of the Division’s native trout program is to create sustainable wild populations of cutthroat trout to provide for the long-term survival of the species.

The Colorado River cutthroat trout is listed as a state species of concern; environmental groups have petitioned for it to be listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Division hopes that successful restoration programs will eliminate any need to consider listing the fish.

Eliminating non-native fish from Upper Hermosa Creek is the first step of the process. The Forest Service constructed a waterfall barrier on the creek near Hotel Draw last summer that will prevent non-native fish from swimming upstream into the newly reclaimed habitat. In early August, water above the barrier will be treated with Rotenone, a chemical derived from a tropical plant root which is also commonly used as an organic insecticide for roses. Rotenone, an EPA-registered pesticide, will kill the existing fish, mostly brook trout. The chemical is fast-acting, only affects aquatic species, leaves no residue and degrades quickly. Rotenone has been used for decades in fisheries management throughout North America and poses no threat to human health.

Before the treatment, the Division of Wildlife will capture some of the fish in the creek and move them to spots below the treatment area.

Because upper Hermosa Creek comprises a complex system, the water will be treated again in the summer of 2012 to assure that non-native fish are no longer present. This section of the creek will be restocked with native cutthroats in late summer 2012.

The project will result in a temporary loss of fishing opportunity. Plenty of places to fish, however, are available below the barrier and in other nearby waters.

In the third year of the project, another barrier will be built at the confluence of Hermosa Creek and East Hermosa Creek to allow for chemical treatment on the final section. Two years of treatment also will be required for this reach. Restocking with native trout is expected to occur there in late summer of 2014.

Another restoration project is planned for the Woods Lake area in San Miguel County on the north slope of the San Juan mountains this summer

Both areas will accommodate large numbers of fish. These “metapopulations” provide defense against disease outbreaks and other threats, such as wild fires, that can quickly wipe out small populations.

“While we truly regret the inconvenience to anglers, we want to remind folks that these measures are necessary to maintain Colorado’s native trout,” White said. “There are many miles of streams in this area to fish including the East Fork of Hermosa Creek and below Hotel Draw. And in a couple of years, people will be able to fish for native cutthroats in all these creeks.”

For more information, contact White at j.white@state.co.us, or (970)375-6712.

To learn more about fisheries management in Colorado, see: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Fishing.

What: Open house to explain Colorado River cutthroat trout restoration on Hermosa Creek
When: 4-8 p.m., July 13
Where: Durango Recreation Center, Windom Room
Information: Jim White, (970)375-6712; j.white@state.co.us

More Hermosa Creek coverage here.


Not every Montezuma Valley Irrigation shareholder is on board with the proposed lease for instream flows below McPhee Reservoir

May 13, 2011

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From the Cortez Journal (Reid Wright):

MVI shareholder Drew Gordanier said Monday he thinks it is unfortunate that the proposal has created “animosity among friends” within the organization. Gordanier said he personally would support the lease if it were for local agriculture instead of environmental groups. He said he does blame the MVI board for its efforts to seek additional income. “I have nothing against them. I just think they should seek other revenue sources,” he said.

Meanwhile, the water conservation board is silent on how it and supporting organizations would fund the proposed $500,000 annual lease. Linda Bassi, chief of stream and lake operations for the organization, said more details will be released if the project moves forward…

In addition, he worries that if the water is leased to environmental groups, they might be able to seize control of the water permanently. “My biggest concern is them leasing the water to the environmental groups,” Gordanier said. “If you lease that water, they can prove that you can live without it.”

MVI officials approached their shareholders Thursday with a proposal to lease some of their water to a group of organizations for wildlife and environmental efforts on the Lower Dolores River. At the time, [MVI General Manager Don Magnuson] said the need for water on the Lower Dolores River is well documented and he believes MVI has enough water to provide for the need. Under the proposal, which is still under negotiation, MVI would lease a maximum of 6,000 acre-feet of water a year to organizations spearheaded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The water would be used during three years of need sometime in the next decade. The water conservation board would be able to use the water for a maximum of 120 days during the irrigation season – which usually goes from May 15 to Oct. 15…

Although the price is still under negotiation, MVI is currently asking $500,000 per year, or $1.5 million for the three years of water. MVI hopes to use the money for capital improvement projects, such as putting ditches into pipe, which reduce the amount of water lost to leaks. A recent irrigation pipe project saves an estimated 1,500 acre-feet in water annually, Magnuson said.

But after the drought of 2002, which left reservoir levels precariously low, MVI shareholders – comprising mostly farmers and ranchers – expressed a reluctance to part with their water during Thursday’s meeting. They also feared any revenues gained from the agreement would be lost to bureaucracy or loan debt.

Water would come from Groundhog Reservoir, and would be released through the Upper Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir into the Lower Dolores River.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here.


Grand County: Denver Water and several west slope organizations to announce a deal on upper Colorado transmountain diversion projects on April 28

April 21, 2011

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The negotiations have been under a nondisclosure agreement. Here’s the link to Allan Best’s analysis running in TheMountainNews.net. He writes:

No single part of this agreement stands out. This is not like a new dam or tunnel. Yet collectively, these elements of compromise may well represent the most important single water news since the veto of the Two Forks Dam in 1990.

Now, the various water agencies will have to sell the deal to their constituencies. Heartburn may be evident on both sides of the Continental Divide. Denver residents may very well question why, if Denver owns the water, it must “pay” Summit and Grand counties to use it.

And for the Western Slope, this does represent further export of water.

Some potential details:

- Key Western Slope organizations remove their opposition to Denver’s plan to draw more water from the close-in headwaters areas near Winter Park and in Summit County.
– The Western Slope also withdraws potential legal opposition to Denver’s plans to sell recycled water from its diversions to thirsty suburbs that now depend upon wells.
– The deal also requires Denver to step up conservation and reuse efforts.
– [The deal] specifies several tens of millions of dollars in grants to Western Slope water organizations
– [It will create] more flexible water-management regimes intended to achieve environmental goals and benefit recreational interests…

This settlement arguably represents a new template for Front Range-Western Slope relations, one that reflects a new balance of power in Colorado and also new sensibilities. This is in sharp contrast with attitudes and laws prior to the late 1960s and early 1970s.

More coverage from Mr. Best running in the Summit Daily News. From the article:

-The deal will also place limits on future diversions by both Denver and key suburbs.
– The agreement also obligates Denver to provide some of its existing water in Summit County for use by local jurisdictions
– The deal obligates Denver to keep Dillon Reservoir nearly full except in specified drought conditions.
– The agreement also requires Denver to provide cash for water projects in Summit and Grand counties.

I wonder where the Shoshone right sits in all of this?

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


CWCB: The board unanimously declares its intent to appropriate an instream flow water right on a 16.5-mile stretch of the San Miguel River

February 13, 2011

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From The Telluride Watch (Karen James):

Both the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the US Bureau of Land Management recommended that the appropriation be declared one year ago when the CWCB met for its January 2010 meeting. At that time, however, the board voted to delay the action for another year in order to allow water users time to develop plans for off-stem water storage in the watershed.

The federal agencies made the recommendation primarily to prevent three dwindling species of native fish – flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub – from being listed for federal protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“That kicks off our notice and comment procedure,” said Linda Bassi, chief of the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section, noting that any entity choosing to oppose the instream flow has until March 31 to file a notice to contest the action.

Here’s the list of streams for appropriations from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

More San Miguel watershed coverage here and here.


‘Poudre runs through it’ forum recap

February 6, 2011

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report:

Mary Lou Smith, a policy and collaboration specialist with the Water Institute, said the main message of the forum was to get people with diverse opinions about the region’s water future talking together. “The message was it’s important for us to look at the various values we bring to the table when we look at the future of the water supply in this area,” she said. “We said how can we work together? That really set the tone.”[...]

Smith said the purpose of the forum was not to push any particular agenda as to how the region’s future water needs should be met. One ongoing controversial water issue in the region is whether Glade Reservoir – a proposed new storage project- should be built just outside Poudre Canyon. Smith said Glade may or may not be part of the solution. “There’s a whole portfolio of solutions, including storage,” she said. “This isn’t about building Glade – it’s much broader than that. It’s about realizing there are trade-offs and helping the public better understand how water law works and forming educated opinions.”

Three more educational sessions are set to continue the discussion on Feb. 24, March 10 and March 24. All three will be held in the Larimer Courthouse, 200 W. Oak St., from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

More Cache la Poudre River watershed coverage here and here.


‘Poudre runs through it’ forum recap

February 4, 2011

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

More than 300 people turned out Thursday night at the Larimer County office building in Old Town to consider the best ways to keep the various future needs of Poudre River water from being fodder for a fight as part of a UniverCity Connections-sponsored series of public forums called “The Poudre Runs Through It: Northern Colorado’s Water Future.”

Author Laura Pritchett suggested people find “the radical center,” the place where those with sometimes drastically different ideas about the river can meet to civilly discuss their views and find solutions to the region’s water needs without fighting. The radical center, she said, should be that middle ground where people discover there isn’t just one solution for the water – either store it in Glade Reservoir or not at all. Those in the radical center, she said, seek to find a “portfolio” of solutions…

The fundamental threat to the Poudre River is urban growth, said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “Much of the future water demand will be right here in the Front Range corridor,” he said. “We haven’t as a society decided if we want to control that growth yet.”[...]

Lynn Hall of Fort Collins said her biggest fear is losing the wildlife habitat along the Poudre River through the city. “To have a natural river with as much wildlife habitat as it has a few blocks from downtown is really a miracle,” she said. “We need to be really clear to figure out how we can make this accessible to humans, but not as an urban construction.”

The second part of the series of forums will be three education sessions scheduled for Feb. 24, March 10 and March 24 at the Larimer County office building, 200 W. Oak St. Those will be followed by two public dialogue sessions on April 11 and 16.

More coverage from the Rocky Mountain Collegian (Vashti Batjargal):

The public forum served as a place for residents to discuss the value the Poudre River holds and how water should be allocated to each of the region’s competing needs. “We have a fixed resource and it’s all about trade-off,” said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute. “In everything we choose, we also choose not.”[...]

George Reed, owner of 62 acres of land 10 miles north of Fort Collins, said he’d like a reservoir. “We could learn a lesson from the squirrels: You have to put some water away,” Reed said. “I’ve never seen a reservoir I didn’t like.”[...]

The forum was designed to get community input for decisions on water distribution and conservation for growth and agricultural needs. CSU associate professor of history Mark Fiege said the decisions the community will ultimately make concerning water distribution will have an effect on future generations. “It will impose a burden and responsibility that we cannot fully predict,” he said.

More coverage from Bill Jackson writing for The Greeley Tribune. From the article:

The initial session turnout surprised organizers, but only a small percentage of the crowd offered public comment. Organizers, including UniverCity Connections, Colorado State University and the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado, collected comments from the crowd as they left. Those comments will be compiled and used at educational sessions later this year. MaryLou Smith, a policy and collaboration specialist with the CSU Colorado Water Institute, said the sessions were conceived as a city of Fort Collins event, but she realized, from the turnout, that other communities along the 126-mile stretch of the river should also be included.

Reagan Waskom, director of the water institute at CSU, said the Poudre River, as well as others in northern Colorado, face serious demands in the future. Much of those demands will come from expected growth along the Front Range. To meet those demands, he said, an additional 500,000 to 800,000 acre feet of water a year will be needed; an acre-foot of water is considered enough to supply two families with a year’s supply of water. The annual flow of the Poudre is about 275,000 acre feet…

Tom Moore is a local farmer and business owner who said cities in the area are willing to pay $10,000 an acre-foot for water. “It’s hard to put an agricultural value of one-third that,” he said, adding it is the quality of water in the region that draw people and businesses.

More Poudre River watershed coverage here and here.


Montrose County opposes instream flow right for San Miguel River above the confluence with the Dolores River

February 3, 2011

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

A recent decision by the Colorado Water Conservation Board makes that balance [between water for development and jobs in the west side of the county and water for endangered species] trickier to attain. Contrary to the county’s hopes, the board voted Jan. 25 to declare its intent to appropriate an instream water right on a river portion stretching 17 miles from the Calamity Draw confluence to where it meets the Dolores River. The instream flows assure that fish species of concern, in this case the flannelmouth and bluehead sucker, have sufficient water to survive.

More San Miguel watershed coverage here and here.


Implementing the Endangered Species Act on the Platte Basin Water Commons

December 5, 2010

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Here’s a review of David Freeman’s new book, from Dan MacArthur writing in the North Forty News. From the article:

…after coming to CSU in 1967, he immersed himself in regional water issues. Freeman systematically studied the 109 “wonderfully successful irrigation associations in northern Colorado” and developed close working relationships with many of the long-time icons in the close-knit water community. “Water is the most sociological thing on Earth,” said Freeman, postulating that he may be the only sociologist who owns a water-measuring flume.

Freeman applied his characteristic obsessive persistence and thoroughness in his book. In it, he details the exhausting 12-year process resulting in an agreement to restore and preserve habitat for three birds and a fish designated as endangered species – the whooping crane, interior least tern, piping plover and pallid sturgeon. The effort brought together environmentalists, state and federal officials and representatives from Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. These strange, suspicious and sometimes outright hostile bedfellows were united only by the need to cooperatively develop a recovery plan lest a less desirable one be imposed.

Freeman was there from the beginning in 1994 when governors of the three states agreed to talks until an agreement was reached and ultimately signed into law…

“Implementing the Endangered Species Act on the Platte River Water Commons” is published by the University Press of Colorado. It is available for $45 plus shipping and handling by calling 800-627-7377.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Cache la Poudre River: Lawsuit to be filed by conservation groups over the Arapahoe snowfly

December 4, 2010

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The environmental groups filed their petition with the Fish and Wildlife Service in April, but the agency did not make a decision about whether the snowfly was threatened enough for the service to consider protecting it. The Fish and Wildlife Service “gave the standard response: They have other things to do,” said Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians, who sent a letter to the agency Wednesday informing it that the environmental groups intend to sue if it doesn’t act within 60 days.

“They haven’t given us an indication of when they’ll come out with a finding,” Rosmarino said. “The only way to get the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue decisions on petitions is to go to court. This is the first step toward going to court over the Arapahoe snowfly.”

Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Diane Katzen-berger said the agency is working on its decision about the snowfly, and it is due to be published in the Federal Register in April. She said the agency is cash-strapped and short-staffed, and it hasn’t been able to get around to fully evaluating the snowfly’s status until recently.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Cache la Poudre River: Lawsuit to be filed by conservation groups over the Arapahoe snowfly

December 1, 2010

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From email from Save the Poudre (Gary Wockner):

Today a coalition of citizens’ groups provided the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) with a formal written notice of the groups’ intent to sue the Agency over its failure to address the groups’ petition to list the Arapahoe Snowfly, an insect important for the ecological health of the Poudre River basin, as an endangered species. Snowflies (sometimes called winter stoneflies) require cool, clear rivers and streams to survive, which makes them excellent biological indicators of watershed health – the Poudre Watershed is the Arapahoe Snowfly’s only known place of existence on earth. The Arapahoe Snowfly is endangered by a host of environmental problems, including stream dewatering. Scientists and conservation groups believe the Snowfly is on the brink of extinction in the Poudre River ecosystem.

“Our organization’s mission is to protect and restore the Poudre River,” said Gary Wockner of Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper. “And that extends to every species living in the river. We believe the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is violating the Endangered Species Act by not addressing our petition to list the Arapahoe Snowfly.”

By law, when any person or group petitions the USFWS to list a species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the USFWS has 90 days to evaluate the petition and make a “finding.” The coalition of groups filed the petition on April 6, 2010 – the finding should have occurred by July 6, 2010. The Service is now nearly 5 months late.

“Unfortunately, these delays are all too common in our dealings with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Nicole Rosmarino, whose group WildEarth Guardians is leading the legal effort to list the Arapahoe Snowfly under the ESA. “While the USFWS has paid lip service to speeding up its ESA work, hundreds of species remain waiting for findings in the United States. The Arapahoe Snowfly simply cannot wait – we will continue to press the government to issue a finding on this species.”

There are now 251 species of plants and wildlife that are formal “candidates” awaiting federal listing. Many of these species have been on the waiting list for protection for a decade or more. Outside of Hawaii, only 4 new U.S. species have been listed under the Act since Interior Secretary Ken Salazar took office. At the current pace, it would take nearly a century to get through the backlog of candidate species in the continental U.S.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to act immediately,” said Scott Black of Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “The Poudre River ecosystem cannot afford to lose the Arapahoe Snowfly – we can’t allow the Snowfly to go extinct.”

Co-signing the NOI are all of the groups that originally filed the petition, including: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation , an international nonprofit scientific organization dedicated to protecting wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat; Dr. Boris Kondratieff , a Colorado State University entomologist and expert in aquatic insects who discovered the Arapahoe Snowfly; Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper , an organization that works to protect and restore the Cache la Poudre River; Cache la Poudre River Foundation , an organization founded for the protection of Wild Trout through the town of Fort Collins, Colorado; WildEarth Guardians , which protects and restores wildlife, wild rivers and wild places in the American West; and Center for Native Ecosystems , a group dedicated to protecting native species and their habitats in the Rocky Mountain Region.

The Notice of Intent (NOI) to sue is publicly posted here: http://poudreriver.home.comcast.net/~poudreriver/Arapahoe_Snowfly_60d_NOI.pdf

Read the petition.

Read more about the Arapahoe snowfly.

More coverage from the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

A coalition of environmental and citizen activist groups today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for failing to act on a petition to list the Arapahoe Snowfly – native to the Poudre River basin in northern Colorado – as an endangered species. The snowfly, also called winter snowflies, are only found in the Poudre watershed, but are seen by conservationists as an “indicator species’ indicative of the overall biological health of watershed. The groups planning to sue the USFWS cite scientists who feel the snowfly is on the brink of extinction, an indication the Poudre is succumbing to mounting pressure from a variety of users.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Mesa State College: The Effects of Water Management on Native Fishes in the Dolores and Yampa River Basins – Hydrology Matters

November 4, 2010

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From email from Mesa State College (Gigi Richard)

Our next presentation in the Fall 2010 Natural Resources of the West: Water seminar series a project of the Water Center at Mesa State College will be…

Monday 8 November, 4:00 pm
Saccomanno Lecture Hall, Wubben Science Building, Room 141 (WS 141)
Mesa State College

The Effects of Water Management on Native Fishes in the Dolores and Yampa River Basins – Hydrology Matters

David Graf, Water Resource Specialist, Colorado Division of Wildlife

Seminars are free and open to the public, no registration necessary.
For the entire seminar series schedule, please see:

http://home.mesastate.edu/~grichard/WSS/Seminar2010.html

For more information please contact:

Prof. Gigi Richard, 970.248.1689, grichard@mesastate.edu
Prof. Tamera Minnick, 970.248.1663, tminnick@mesastate.edu

More Dolores River watershed coverage here. More Yampa River basin coverage here.


Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting update

October 21, 2010

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“One of the exciting things we are finding is that we can fallow land and not be penalized,” Jim Valliant, coordinator of the study, told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District on Wednesday. “Now we are looking at the economics: What does the farmer have to have to make it worthwhile to fallow the land.” Valliant explained that fertilization is typically best done in the fall for two reasons:

- Fertilizer is generally cheaper at that time of year.

- It allows the fertilizer to blend with the soil. “If you get a little moisture in the fall, it mellows the land for planting,” Valliant said.

A study began in 2007 at the Arkansas Valley Ag Research Center, operated by Colorado State University, to look at what is needed to bring land back into production after it has been fallow for one to three years. Four plots were cultivated, with corn planted each year on one, three years on a second, two years on a third and one year on the fourth. The harvests from the fourth year were just completed, so the final results aren’t known. However, the nitrogen levels for all four years show the soil retained sufficient levels of nutrients to produce a crop without fertilization up to three years after first being fallowed. Fertilization was considered sufficient if at least 200 bushels of corn per acre were harvested. In each of the first three years, each plot yielded more than 200 bushels, except the initial year when just one of the four was planted and harvested. In other words, the plots that had been fallowed still produced adequately in the first or second year after replanting. That reduces the input cost to farmers during the fallow years, although there are still labor and fuel costs to maintain fallowed land.

Valliant said the next step is to analyze the relative cost of taking land out of production to determine how much farmers should reasonably charge for water when land is taken The Lower Ark district initiated and funded the study — about $50,000 over four years — as part of its efforts to establish the Super Ditch. At the time, there were few reports on the cost of bringing land back into production, or the financial risk farmers take by breaking cropping cycles.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for the The Pueblo Chieftain:

A survey by the U.S. Geological Survey and other partners began sampling fish in Fountain Creek in April and collected 20,000 fish at 10 sites, Pat Edelmann, head of the USGS office in Pueblo, told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Wednesday. In the 10 areas, reaches of just 150-500 feet were studied, raising the possibility of many more fish in the creek, Edelmann said.

Of special interest is the flathead chub, a plains fish that is abundant in many places, but listed as a species of special concern in Colorado, and threatened or imperiled in several other states. In Colorado, the fish is found primarily in the Arkansas River basin below Florence and in the Rio Grande basin. “Some people say it is a trash fish, but our data collectors had a discussion with the blue herons and they think the chub are an excellent source of food,” Edelmann quipped…

The study is important to Colorado Springs Utilities, which is considering a fish ladder that would allow the chub to swim upstream. The project is part of the Army Corps of Engineers Fountain Creek Watershed Study and Pueblo County requirements for the Southern Delivery System. An earlier study found the flathead chub are poor jumpers, but persistent in finding their way around obstacles like rocks. Surprisingly, 15 of the tagged fish were found upstream of the Clear Springs Ranch site, presumably during the brief time once a week when a gate is opened to flush sediment. Some fish moved as much as 18 miles upstream.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


Energy policy — coal: The San Juan Citizen’s Alliance and two other environmental groups plan lawsuit against the Office of Surface Mining over San Juan River mercury levels

October 13, 2010

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

A lawsuit will be supported by a “biological opinion” from the Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the proposed Desert Rock power station, which is now on hold, Eisenfeld said. The study was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request after it was withdrawn by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for which it had been prepared. Navajo Mine, located one mile southwest of Fruitland, N.M., plans to be the source of coal for the Desert Rock plant. The mine is owned by BHP Billiton. In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew its air-pollution permit for Desert Rock for failure to follow through on Endangered Species Act requirements. The biological opinion shows that mercury and selenium pollution from regional coal mining is pushing the pikeminnow and razorback sucker to extinction, Eisenfeld said. “We don’t think the Office of Surface Mining is doing its job,” Eisenfeld said…

The biological opinion sheds a poor light on all coal mining and power plant operations in the region, not only BHP Billiton, he said. Mercury, a powerful neurotoxin, impairs reproduction in fish and accumulates in rivers through emissions and runoff, Eisenfeld said. The Fish and Wildlife opinion found that 64 percent of Colorado pikeminnow in the San Juan River exceed the mercury threshold for reproductive impairment, Eisenfeld said. Forty percent of razorback suckers in the San Juan River also meet contamination thresholds…

Taylor McKinnon, with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the Department of the Interior should not rubber-stamp coal development that its own science says is causing fish extinctions. “At stake are two species of fish, millions of people’s drinking water and one of the West’s loveliest rivers.”

Here’s a release from the Center for Biological Diversity (Taylor McKinnon/Anna Frazier/Mike Eisenfeld/Brad Bartlett):

Conservation and citizen groups today filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining for failing to conduct Endangered Species Act consultations prior to authorizing the renewal of an operating permit for the Navajo Coal Mine in northwest New Mexico. The agency was required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to avoid impacts to threatened and endangered species from the mining of coal at Navajo Mine, its combustion at Four Corners Power Plant and coal-combustion waste dumping.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (CARE) and San Juan Citizens Alliance filed today’s notice, represented by the Energy Minerals Law Center.

The groups’ lawsuit will be substantiated by newly obtained government records showing how mercury and selenium pollution from regional coal development is driving endangered fish in the San Juan River toward extinction. A draft Fish and Wildlife “biological opinion” for the proposed Desert Rock Energy Project concludes that mercury and selenium pollution from regional coal combustion, including from Four Corners Power Plant, would be “likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker” — two highly endangered fish species in the San Juan River, a tributary to the Colorado.

“The Department of the Interior cannot simply rubber-stamp the same lethal coal development that its own science says is causing fish extinctions.” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “At stake are two species of fish, millions of people’s drinking water, and one of the West’s loveliest rivers.”

“The draft biological opinion for Desert Rock provides solid evidence that San Juan River watershed and the continued viability of native species has been severely impaired in the San Juan River because of coal and other energy development,” said Mike Eisenfeld of SJCA. “Recovery of this river and ecosystem is imperative. Downstream communities rely on San Juan River water, and the agencies must take action to reduce and eliminate the impacts from industrial pollution.”

In 2009 the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew its air-pollution permit for the Desert Rock Energy Project, citing the need for completion of Endangered Species Act consultations. The newly released biological opinion was prepared by Fish and Wildlife as part of that consultation, and its “jeopardy” determination is believed to have been a fatal blow to the future of the Desert Rock. Like the Four Corners Power Plant, Desert Rock, had it been built, would have burned coal from the Navajo Coal Mine.

“OSM’s decision to renew operations at BHP’s Navajo Mine without consulting with FWS and addressing the findings of the Desert Rock biological opinion violates the Endangered Species Act,” said Brad Bartlett, an attorney with the Energy Minerals Law Center. “With the ESA consultation demanded by today’s notice letter, BHP’s Navajo Coal Mine will be faced with the same facts that Desert Rock faced in consultation — facts that led FWS to determine that species in San Juan River are in jeopardy because of the toxic legacy being left by the Four Corners’ coal industrial complex.”

“OSM’s permitting decision does not evaluate the hydrological impacts of BHP’s nearly half-century of permanent disposal of over a half-billion tons of CCW at the mine and contribution to mercury cycling in the San Juan environment,” said Anna Frazier, executive director of Diné CARE. “Water is life, water is sacred to the Navajo (Diné) people living in the Four Corners area. Our survival has been dependent on the river for irrigation, for fishing, for watering animals, a place of prayer and offering. The legacy of coal development and waste disposal at the mine threatens our health, our plants and animals, and the very existence of the Diné.”[...]

The Four Corners region near the San Juan River is home to two of the largest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the United States — the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station. A third coal-fired power plant originally proposed for the area, the Desert Rock Energy Project, is now on hold. The BHP Navajo Coal Company’s (BNCC) Navajo Coal Mine is located south of Fruitland, New Mexico. It supplies coal to Four Corners Power Plant and is intended to feed Desert Rock Energy Project if it’s constructed. This complex of coal facilities emits CO2, mercury, selenium and other heavy metals into the air and water, which threaten both human health and the survival and recovery of endangered species like the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.

Mercury accumulates in rivers through emissions, deposition and runoff. Fish are exposed to mercury through diet; mercury in the water column accumulates up the food chain and primarily affects top predators such as the Colorado pikeminnow. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that impairs the reproductive health of fish via portions of the brain that regulate the production and timing of sex steroids; therefore it primarily affects survival of offspring rather than directly killing exposed individuals.

Selenium accumulates in rivers through erosion of selenium-rich soils, coal mining and energy development, and emissions and discharges from coal-fired power plants. Fish are exposed to selenium through a selenium-rich invertebrate diet. As with mercury, adult fish with diets high in selenium do not experience mortality themselves; instead, they deposit excess selenium in the yolks of developing eggs. Newly hatched fry from these eggs use the yolk as an energy and protein source; it is at this stage that developmental anomalies occur. The deformities are either lethal or cause the fry to be more susceptible to predators or other environmental stressors.

Fish and Wildlife’s draft biological opinion shows that 64 percent of Colorado pikeminnow in the San Juan River currently exceed mercury contamination thresholds for reproductive impairment; it predicts that number will rise to 72 percent by 2020 with additional pollution. The document also predicts that selenium pollution from agricultural discharges and ongoing coal combustion would cause 71 percent of those fishes’ offspring to be deformed in a way that harms growth, reproduction or survival. Similarly, the opinion predicts that 85 percent of razorback sucker offspring would be deformed by selenium pollution and notes 40 percent of razorback suckers in the San Juan River already meet contamination thresholds for those deformities.

BHP’s Navajo Mine is located on Navajo Nation lands within Chaco Wash, which is connected with Chaco Culture National Park. Beginning in 1971, BHP began accepting approximately 1.9 million cubic yard (“mcyd”) of coal combustion waste (“CCW”) from the Four Corners Power Plant annually for use as “minefill.” CCW consists of fly ash, scrubber sludge and bottom ash. According to the EPA, thousands of pounds of mercury are disposed of in the Navajo Mine annually as minefill.

More coal coverage here.


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