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

coloradoriverbasin.jpg

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

flaminggorgedamusbr.jpg

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

flaminggorgepipelineearthjustice.jpg

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

plainsminnowtexasstate.jpg

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

arkansasvalleywateruse2011

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

humpbackchub.jpg

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

coloradopikeminnow.jpg

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

grandriverditchlookingupstream.jpg

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

greenmountainreservoir.jpg

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

razorbacksucker.jpg

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

doloresrivercanyon.jpg

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

coloradoriverdebeque.jpg

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

greenmountainreservoir.jpg

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

coloradopikeminnow.jpg

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

cutthroattrouthistoricranges.jpg

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

ruedidam.jpg

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

woodslakecdow.jpg

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

preblesmeadowjumpingmousecoloradostateuniversity.jpg

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

greenbackvscorivercutthroat

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

elkheadreservoir

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

flaminggorgepipelinemillion.jpg

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

debequephaceliacenterfornativeecosystems.jpgpagosaskyrocketsteveokanecenterfornativeecosystems.jpg

parachutepenstemonsteveokanecenterfornativeecosystems.jpg

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

ucefrp4speciesuppercoloradomap.jpg

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

A picture named coloradoriverbasin.jpg

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

A picture named glencanyondam030508

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

A picture named cutthroattrouthistoricranges.jpg

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

A picture named roundtailchub.jpg

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

A picture named coloradotransmountaindiversionscu.jpg

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

A picture named sanmiguelriver1109

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

A picture named laramiepoudretunnelinlet.jpg

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

A picture named cachelapoudre.jpg

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

A picture named sanmiguelriver1109

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

A picture named whoopingcranes.jpg

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

A picture named arapahoesnowfly.jpg

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

A picture named arapahoesnowfly.jpg

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

A picture named snaggletoothrdoloresriver.jpg

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

A picture named flatheadchub.jpg

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

A picture named coalfiredpowerplant.jpg

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.


Denver Water, the Colorado River District and others are making progress over the Shoshone water right and Blue River Decree

September 20, 2010

A picture named shoshoneglenwoodcanyon.jpg

From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The legal settlement could stabilize the flows in the Colorado River at the Shoshone hydro power plant in Glenwood Canyon and reduce the need for large summer flows from Ruedi Reservoir down the Fryingpan River.

“I’m looking to this agreement to forge an entirely new paradigm in the relationship between Denver Water and the Western Slope, as to how we sit down, how we negotiate and how we work together on solving the common problems that we will face in the future,” said Jim Lochhead, the CEO of Denver Water at a water seminar in Grand Junction put on by the Colorado River District.

The pending deal provides for a “certain future for water management” at the Shoshone hydro plant, Lochhead said. And because the deal addresses the use of water from Green Mountain Reservoir, on the Blue River north of Silverthorne, it also could reduce demands on the Colorado River for as much as 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from Ruedi, which disrupts summer fly-fishing on the Fryingpan…

The draft agreement would allow flexibility between the owners of upstream water rights, including Denver Water, in order to maintain consistent water flows past Shoshone as if the plant’s water rights were in effect. “This is a critical element for the economy, the environment and recreation on the Western Slope,” Lochhead said of the Shoshone agreement. The Shoshone water rights, the water in Green Mountain Reservoir, the water in Ruedi Reservoir and fly-fishing conditions in the Fryingpan River are all connected by the water diversion system in the Colorado River basin. And the new settlement with Denver Water could improve the fishing above Basalt.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update

September 15, 2010

A picture named fryingpanarkansasproject.jpg

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

As we near the middle of September, the Fish and Wildlife Service has requested that we scale back releases for the Endangered Fish Recovery Program. This way, the remainder of water for the endangered fish will last through the month. As a result, we dropped releases from Ruedi this morning by 50 cfs. By noon, the gage at Ruedi Dam on the Fryingpan should read 270 cfs.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


Long Draw Reservoir operations update

September 13, 2010

A picture named longdrawreservoir.jpg

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

Fort Collins-based Water Supply & Storage Co. plans to appeal a U.S. Forest Service decision released Sept. 3 that would make it fully responsible for implementing a 15-year plan to restore the greenback cutthroat trout in the reservoir and surrounding streams. The mitigation program’s cost could be considerably higher than the approximately $800,000 projected by the Forest Service in an environmental impact statement, said Dennis Harmon, general manager of the irrigation company. But even that figure would be more than the company should have to pay in order to keep its permit to operate the reservoir, which was built in 1929 and expanded in 1974. “We just think this is way out of line for something that is already permitted,” he said. “We haven’t changed how this facility operates since the ’70s. “We think this mitigation is more appropriate for a new reservoir in the wilderness than on 53 acres of existing reservoir.”[...]

An effort to renew a Forest Service permit for the expanded portion of the reservoir turned into a decade-long fight when Colorado Trout Unlimited sued in 1994 over a plan that would keep La Poudre Pass Creek dry during the winter. In 2004, a U.S. District Court threw out the permit, forcing the Forest Service to start the permitting process over and to come up with a plan that would protect trout habitat. The revised environmental study came up with a plan for restoring the greenback cutthroat trout to more than 40 miles of streams in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. The plan called for eliminating invasive fish species and building barriers to keep them from getting re-established in the Poudre headwaters. Trout Unlimited worked with Water Supply & Storage and other entities, including the Colorado Division of Wildlife, to come up with a way to fund the mitigation program, which would be the largest native trout restoration project in state history.

But the decision by Glenn Casamassa, supervisor of the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests, puts the responsibility for funding the restoration program on Water Supply & Storage because it holds the permit for the reservoir…

The National Park Service is expected to release its record of decision on the project within the coming weeks, said Larry Gamble, chief of planning and compliance for Rocky Mountain National Park. The decision will mirror the directions laid out by the Forest Service, he said.

More Cache la Poudre River watershed coverage here.


David Nickum: ‘This is a huge missed opportunity’

September 7, 2010

A picture named greenbackvscorivercutthroat.jpg

Update: Here’s the release from Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

A settlement to one of Colorado’s longest-running water disputes – and the opportunity to launch the largest native trout restoration in Colorado’s history – was dealt a blow by the Forest Service’s refusal to accept a collaborative arrangement for funding the project.

Colorado Trout Unlimited (CTU) and the Water Supply and Storage Company (WSSC) last year agreed to settle a long-standing dispute regarding how best to address environmental impacts of the Long Draw Reservoir in the Cache la Poudre headwaters. But the Forest Service on Sept. 3 rejected the cost-sharing arrangement at the heart of the proposal.

The parties based the proposal on a Forest Service concept for restoring native greenback cutthroat trout in 40 miles of the Cache la Poudre headwaters, but they developed a collaborative framework for doing so under which WSSC would provide seed money for the program while CTU and the State of Colorado would leverage that contribution through public and private grants and in-kind contributions. The Forest Service supported the greenback restoration alternative, but rejected the collaborative approach and instead placed full responsibility for the program on WSSC.

“The good news is that the Forest Service, WSSC, and CTU all agreed that restoring native trout in the Poudre headwaters is the right approach to mitigating Long Draw’s impacts,” said David Nickum, Executive Director of CTU. “The bad news is that the Forest Service rejected a carefully crafted proposal that had allowed stakeholders to find common ground after more than 10 years of legal battles. This is a huge missed opportunity.”

Under the proposed collaborative effort, WSSC would take responsibility for reclaiming and restoring native cutthroat trout in Long Draw Reservoir and its tributaries – establishing a large and stable recovery population. WSSC, CTU, and state agencies including the Division of Wildlife and Colorado Water Conservation Board would then leverage that contribution to extend restoration into multiple adjacent drainages that could ultimately create a “metapopulation” – a network of native fish populations across a larger watershed that is more resilient and sustainable than small isolated populations. The effort would be the largest native trout restoration project in Colorado’s history and would represent a major step toward recovery and de-listing of greenbacks under the Endangered Species Act.

“We worked diligently to develop the Forest Service’s concept into a balanced, win-win proposal,” said Dennis Harmon, General Manager of WSSC. “We are disappointed and frustrated that the Forest Service has missed this opportunity to resolve the dispute and has instead adopted a decision that will extend the controversy over Long Draw as well as its economic and environmental costs. We simply do not feel that the cost to the company (estimated by the Forest Service at more than $800,000 and maybe much more) to renew a permit for 53 acres around the perimeter of Long Draw Reservoir is appropriate or fair to the Company and its shareholders.”

The Forest Service has an administrative appeal process by which parties can seek reconsideration of agency decisions. Despite the setback posed by the current decision, CTU and WSSC hope to work with the agency through its appeal process to advance a collaborative approach, avert further legal battles, and bring this long conflict to a positive close for the Poudre River and the fish and farmers that rely upon it.

From the Fly Rod and Reel weblog (David Nickum/Dennis Harmon):

“The good news is that the Forest Service, WSSC, and CTU all agreed that restoring native trout in the Poudre headwaters is the right approach to mitigating Long Draw’s impacts,” said David Nickum, Executive Director of CTU. “The bad news is that the Forest Service rejected a carefully crafted proposal that had allowed stakeholders to find common ground after more than 10 years of legal battles. This is a huge missed opportunity.”

Under the proposed collaborative effort, WSSC would take responsibility for reclaiming and restoring native cutthroat trout in Long Draw Reservoir and its tributaries – establishing a large and stable recovery population. WSSC, CTU, and state agencies including the Division of Wildlife and Colorado Water Conservation Board would then leverage that contribution to extend restoration into multiple adjacent drainages that could ultimately create a “metapopulation” – a network of native fish populations across a larger watershed that is more resilient and sustainable than small isolated populations. The effort would be the largest native trout restoration project in Colorado’s history and would represent a major step toward recovery and de-listing of greenbacks under the Endangered Species Act.

“We worked diligently to develop the Forest Service’s concept into a balanced, win-win proposal,” said Dennis Harmon, General Manager of WSSC. “We are disappointed and frustrated that the Forest Service has missed this opportunity to resolve the dispute and has instead adopted a decision that will extend the controversy over Long Draw as well as its economic and environmental costs. We simply do not feel that the cost to the company (estimated by the Forest Service at more than $800,000 and maybe much more) to renew a permit for 53 acres around the perimeter of Long Draw Reservoir is appropriate or fair to the Company and its shareholders.”

Here’s the USFS record of decision for the project.

More Cache la Poudre watershed coverage here and here.


Colorado River: Tagging endangered fish for data collection

September 4, 2010

A picture named razorbacksucker.jpg

From the Summit Daily News:

At the Price-Stubb Diversion Dam on the Colorado River near Rifle, a new “passive integrated transponder” (PIT) tag system is now monitoring the movement of endangered fish that are PIT tagged. A PIT tag is similar to a small microchip placed in a dog or cat at a veterinary clinic for individual identification if lost. The new PIT tag system, installed in early August, consists of four, 6-foot-by-5-foot antennas attached to the box culvert at the top of the fish passage. The system detects PIT tags to track whether fish are moving up or down the Price-Stubb Fish Passage. The system provides remote sensing and is built to withstand the flows and debris of the Colorado River. “This type of research tool is a safe, cost-effective way to monitor fish movement in the fish passage,” said Recovery Program Research coordinator Tom Czapla.

Four days after the system became operational, the first PIT-tagged fish — an endangered Colorado pikeminnow — used the passage. Data obtained at Price-Stubb and other locations show that the fish swam 130 river miles during the past year. “We anticipate receiving important information about all four species of endangered fish from this remotely sensed structure,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service project leader Michelle Shaughnessy. “Most of the endangered fish are PIT-tagged, and this tracking system will help identify the type and number of species that move through the fish passage and inhabit this river reach.”[...]

More endangered species coverage here.


Colorado River Basin: Trout Unlimited hires new Upper Colorado River coordinator

September 2, 2010

A picture named coloradorivergranby.jpg

Here’s the release from Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project today announced the hiring of Rob Firth as project coordinator for the Upper Colorado River Basin in Grand and Summit Counties.

Firth, a longtime resident of Hot Sulphur Springs, retired in 2008 after a distinguished 25-year career with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. For most of his career, he served as a district and area wildlife manager in Grand, Summit and parts of Routt and Eagle Counties in northwest Colorado. More recently, he served as the DOW’s statewide chief of law enforcement. Over the years, his varied duties included enforcement of game laws, protection of land and water resources, wildlife and fisheries management, and public education.

“We are excited to put Rob Firth’s experience and skills to work protecting fish and wildlife habitat in the Upper Colorado River Basin,” said Drew Peternell, director of TU’s Colorado Water Project, which works to improve stream flows and coldwater fisheries in the state. “Rob is a trusted local voice on resource issues. And he knows how to bring people together to find solutions. That makes him a perfect choice to coordinate projects on behalf of TU in the Upper Colorado.”

For many years, the health of the Upper Colorado River Basin, including the Fraser and Williams Fork Rivers and other important tributaries, has suffered as a result of large-scale diversions of water to Colorado’s Front Range, with low stream flows degrading coldwater fish habitat. Along with Colorado Water Project counsel Mely Whiting, Firth will work to assure that the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project and Moffat Tunnel Firming Project do not further damage an already over-tapped river system.

Firth will also plan and implement on-the-ground projects that improve coldwater habitat in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Among other duties, he will work closely with water users, private land owners and agency staff to identify opportunities to restore streams and implement cooperative agreements with irrigators that benefit agricultural operations and fish habitat simultaneously.

“I have always respected Trout Unlimited as an outstanding grassroots sportsmen’s conservation group,” said Firth. “I’m eager to work with local partners to find ways to protect and enhance our fisheries here on the West Slope.”

In 2005, Grand County presented Firth with an outstanding Citizen award. In 2007, he was named the Colorado Trapper’s Association Wildlife Professional of the Year.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Colorado River: Tagging endangered fish for data collection

September 1, 2010

A picture named coloradopikeminnow.jpg

From NBC11News.com (Aaron Luna):

[Bob Burdick with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been tagging endangered fish for the last couple decades. The agency uses small microchips similar to those put in household pets. “Stock fish all receive these PIT tags and any of the wild fish we catch in the wild also receive a PIT tag,” says Burdick. Now, with a new monitoring system at the Price–Stubbs Diversion Dam, biologists can tell if an endangered fish is traveling up or down stream through the ladder. “Just since we’ve put the antenna in, we’ve had two pike minnows move up here that’s more information than we’ve gotten in the last two years,” say Project Leader Michelle Shaughnessy.

The system was installed Aug. 12, runs on solar power and sends data back to officials via telephone every time a tagged fish swims through. The next closest monitoring device is upstream and requires trackers to take fish out of the water by hand. Shaughnessy says populations of native fish give a good indication of where the balance sits between human and wildlife use of the river. “The fish are sort of a test. Do we have an ecosystem that is healthy? And the fish are telling us we really don’t,” he says…

The tracking system costs around $120,000 and will be used indefinitely.

More endangered species coverage here.


Ruedi Reservoir update

August 12, 2010

A picture named ruedidam

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

This afternoon [August 11], we will bump up our releases from Ruedi Dam to the Fryingpan River by 60 cfs. This increase will result in about 326 cfs at the Ruedi Dam gage. The reason for the increase is the Fish and Wildlife Service has requested additional water for the 15 Mile Reach of the Colorado River.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: Ruedi releases for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program start today

July 20, 2010

A picture named coloradopikeminnow

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

As we discussed in our public meeting last week, today we began releasing water for the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program. Our first change occurred at 1 p.m. when we bumped up 30 cfs to 195 at the Ruedi gage. Our second increase is happening now at 5 p.m. We are increasing by 65 cfs to a total of 260 cfs at the Ruedi gage.

More endangered species coverage here.


Grand Island: Platte River Recovery Implementation Program progress report recap

June 27, 2010

A picture named pipingplover

From the Kearney Hub (Lori Porter):

CPNRD Biologist Mark Czaplewski said recent high streamflows have covered river sandbars and washed away any least tern and piping plover nests that might have been on them. The one possible exception is a “high and dry” artificial sandbar.

Director Dick Mercer of Kearney asked if current flows are more or less than what U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials want to manage habitat for threatened and endangered species. “Both,” Czaplewski said, explaining that the program plan for channel maintenance includes lesser flows at times and higher, short-duration flows at other times. He said higher sandbars can be built by higher river flows, but only if the water is provided by Mother Nature, not reservoir releases. “There are easier, more economical ways to do the same thing with a bulldozer and a few gallons of diesel fuel, without taking water away from people,” Czaplewski said. “… Those birds will use sandpits and artificial sandbars. I have preached that for 20 years, and there are a lot of other people preaching it.”[...]

Czaplewski said staying involved in the program is the only way to chip away with other ideas and to use the program’s adaptive management component — changing methods if they aren’t achieving their goals. “If you look at what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ultimately wants, it’s just overwhelming,” he said, adding that the Endangered Species Act is “a hammer” in the agency’s hands.

More South Platte Basin coverage here.


Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

June 21, 2010

A picture named arkansasriverbasin

From the La Junta Tribune (Bette McFarren):

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Board met in regular session at Rocky Ford on Wednesday. Appearing before the Board were two special reports: Update on Fountain Creek and Innovative Water Technologies…

Speaking on behalf of THK Design Associates, Kevin Shanks reported that the Fountain Creek projects have now expanded from four to seven, with a reassuring compliance with the Overall Master Plan Goals, which are as follows:

* Improve watershed health by reducing erosion, sedimentation and flooding and improving water quality.
* Create stable riparian and wetland ecosystems to attract and support native wildlife and vegetation.
* Sustain productive agricultural lands along corridor.
* Lay-out trail from Colorado Springs to Pueblo with recreational and educational opportunities.
* Gain public and private support through partnerships to facilitate future funding

One of the more interesting projects is the Clear Spring Ranch Fish Passage. A type of native three-inch fish was found to be unable to negotiate some of the fish diversions on the creek. New diversion gates are being designed, as economically as possible, and water levels will be controlled to permit the fish to remain mobile through the habitat…

The most popular project at present is the Fountain Creek Greenway, which has secured a GOCO grant.
Wetlands and diversions are important in flood prevention between Colorado Springs and Pueblo, and consequently on down the river in the Arkansas Valley.

Another important factor in flood prevention is the removal of sediment, the main job of the Pueblo Side Detention and Sediment Removal Project. This is a Sediment Collector Demonstration Project. The sediment is being collected at the rate of 17 or 18 truckloads a day from under the old railroad bridge in Pueblo. This sediment has value as fill and can be used as leverage for grants as well as mixed with sewer sludge to make organic planting medium. It is funded by a $485K Federal appropriation through NRCS, $75K City of Pueblo Stormwater, $225K Colorado Water Conservation Board, $250K Environmental Protection Agency 319 Grant. Another benefit is 25 acres of new wetlands.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


How does an earlier runoff impact fish population and health?

June 6, 2010

A picture named cutthroat

From the Summit County Voice (Bob Berwyn):

…peak runoff is coming as much as two to three weeks earlier than it did as recently as the 1970s — an astounding change in a short time, measured on the scale of Earth history.
The researchers also pinned the timing of snowmelt and runoff to changes in global and regional temperatures, as well as reduced snowfall during the study period. The published their findings in the Journal of Climate last week.

Water managers have already been scrambling to understand how the changes will affect operation of reservoirs and diversions for agricultural and municipal use, but the shift in timing could also have huge impacts on aquatic ecosystems in the southern Rockies and desert Southwest. At issue is the growing gap between spring runoff flows and monsoon rains later in the summer. Fish native to the mountain streams of the region already live in a narrow window of flows and temperatures. If spring streamflows drop earlier in the year, trout and other fish could be exposed to longer dry periods…

“I expect that it will even further limit the amount of habitat,” she said. Hedwall and her colleagues have had to undertake intensive management efforts to maintain populations of some aquatic species.
The changes could also result in fish spawning earlier. Biologists think that fish may be able to adapt to those changes, but the real issue is year-round habitat. With longer, drier summers, it’s likely that many young fish won’t have enough habitat to survive. Water stored in reservoirs could provide a buffer against shrinking aquatic habitat if it’s used for environmental purposes.

More instream flow coverage here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 888 other followers

%d bloggers like this: