Chris Woodka, a longtime editor and reporter at The Pueblo Chieftain, recently accepted the position of issues management program coordinator for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, effective Sept. 12. He will work with the district and Bureau of Reclamation on the Arkansas Valley Conduit and other projects. Woodka, 61, has worked at The Chieftain since 1985. For the past 12 years, he has been on special assignment as a water reporter, as well as filling various relief roles for other editors and reporters. Over the years, he has received numerous awards from newspaper associations and various community groups. Woodka will continue to write Monday Morning Special, which appears weekly in The Chieftain’s Life section.
Click here to read the Coyote Gulch post about Chris from Matt Jenkins writing in The High Country News: From the post:
…Woodka, 57, is Colorado’s sole remaining full-time water reporter. He has worked hard to separate himself from the Chieftain’s editorial slant, and has built a reputation for his fair coverage of an extremely complicated and contentious subject. “You kind of make your own luck,” Woodka says. “Your sources have to be good, and you don’t burn them.”
Steve Henson, the Chieftain’s current managing editor, serves as a deliberate editorial firewall between Woodka and the publisher’s suite. “I kind of make my own assignments,” Woodka says. “Steve will let me know the publisher’s concern, and what the publisher would like to see in the story.”
“But,” he adds, “that’s not always the story that he gets.”
Click here to view all the Coyote Gulch posts with Chris in the text and click here for posts from the old blog — 2003 to February 2009.
A recently constructed interpretive pullout off U.S. Highway 160 east of Cortez showcases the wooden irrigation flume, which was built in the 1890s to deliver water to the Ute Mountain tribe and pioneer farms.
The restoration grant requires a $60,000 match, and a fundraising effort is underway. Once that is raised, the flume’s main wooden trough structure will be repaired and restored, completing the multiyear project.
“Right now, people will stop at the interpretive pull-off and see that the flume needs repair, and that is what this grant will be paying for,” Towle said, adding that as much original wood as possible will be used in the restoration.
Repairing the foundation was the priority. In 2014, a $123,000 state historical grant was awarded to the county to rebuild the foundation and stabilize the structure to withstand flows in McElmo Creek. That foundation work was completed in February.
The paved highway pullout, parking lot, interpretive panels, information, kiosk, sidewalk and flume overlook were made possible by $250,000 in funding allocated by the National Scenic Byways Program in 2013.
The historic flume is an agricultural artifact that symbolizes the beginning of the city of Cortez and surrounding communities, Towle said.
“Cortez would not be here without these first irrigation systems,” she said. “It is important for visitors coming through to learn the story about how the efforts of early farmers and ranchers grew the town and got us to where we are today.”
Final interpretive panels on water history are still being created for the flume overlook. Also a regional tourism map will be installed at the kiosk highlighting local attractions.
Throughout the project, contributions have been made by many agencies and organizations, including Montezuma County, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Southwest Roundtable, Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company, Dolores Water Conservancy District, and the Ute Mountain Tribe. The Colorado State Historical grants awarded for the project are derived from a portion of gambling revenues in Cripple Creek, Central City, and Black Hawk.
Draft document highlights global warming threats to state
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper says a “shifting climate” threatens many of the state’s vital industries, including skiing and agriculture, and he wants the state’s power plants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent in the next 15 years from 2012 levels. The goals are outlined in a draft version of an executive order on mitigating and adapting to climate change, which spells out some specific threats of global warming that are already well-known, including:
Greater air pollution will lead to a more hospital admissions and increased cases of respiratory illness;
Changes in precipitation can adversely impact the amount and quality of Colorado’s water resources;
Changes in runoff patterns, intense precipitation, and rising temperatures can negatively affect food production and result in greater risk of food contamination and waterborne illness.
The timing of the three-day summit at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver was appropriate, given two proposals that could be approved or rejected for the November ballot as early as next week.
One proposal would allow local governments to overstep the state’s regulatory authority to enact stringent rules, including bans on fracking.
The second proposal would increase setbacks of wells from schools, hospitals and homes from 500 feet to 2,500 feet.
The industry has said that effort would put 95 percent of land in the top five oil-and-gas-producing counties in Colorado off limits. La Plata County would become almost completely barred from development, as 99.6 percent of land would be prohibited.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, supports fracking, and he has concerns with the two ballot proposals. In 2014, he struck a deal that kept initiatives off the ballot. The compromise was that a task force would meet to address the local control issue.
But the task force largely fell short in the eyes of industry opponents. The rule that came out of it requires operators to consult and register with local governments when building large facilities. But it did nothing to extend powers to local governments.
The Colorado Supreme Court in May ruled that state power trumps local rules and regulations, which has caused some local governments – including Boulder County – to re-examine moratoriums on oil and gas development.
But with groups continuing to push ballot proposals, the issue has so far not gone away.
Hickenlooper believes education and stakeholder processes have quelled some concerns. He doubts proponents will make the ballot this year, as groups submitted about 100,000 signatures per proposal to the secretary of state’s office. It takes 98,492 valid signatures to make the ballot, so there’s not much of a cushion.
“People get so swept up in the emotion of the moment and carried away by some image, or a fact, that turns out not to be a fact,” Hickenlooper said while speaking during a panel discussion at the summit. “What we should spend a lot of time trying to do is make sure the right information is out there…
Federal regulations and politics
Even if the state enacts its own standards, much of the burden falls on federal regulators, which has tied into elections and politics.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce floated a report at the energy summit that stated that a ban on energy production on federal lands would cost Colorado 50,000 jobs, $124 million in annual royalties and $8.3 billion in gross domestic product.
Former Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders forced Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party further to the left on the oil and gas issue, moving them closer to a “keep it in the ground” platform.
The Clinton campaign says it is not pushing for a ban, just that “our long-term goal should be no extraction of fossil fuels on public lands.”
Proposals include reforms to fossil fuel leasing, a continued review of the federal coal program, prohibitions on development in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, raising royalty rates and ensuring that new leasing accounts for the clean energy market.
In Colorado, the business world is concerned about the transition…
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who is running for re-election this year, took a more middle-of-the-road approach.
“Colorado truly is a state that can embrace all energy sources …” Bennet said. “Colorado is particularly well positioned to have these markets because of industry-led efforts to protect Colorado’s air and water.”
The growth of solar and wind energy related jobs could easily absorb coal industry layoffs over the next 15 years and provide full-time careers, if investments are made to retrain workers, according to a new study by researchers at the Oregon State University and the Michigan Technological University.
Edward Louie, the report’s co-author, says between solar and wind, Utah is in a good position to become more energy independent and a leading exporter of renewable power.
“To transport the wind blades, to install the wind turbines – and then also all the jobs it would take to upgrade the transmission lines to handle that high percent of renewables – then there’s more than enough positions,” he explains.
Louie notes coal jobs have become increasingly at risk because of falling natural gas prices and new Environmental Protection Agency rules targeting coal-fired power plants to limit climate pollution.
He says if the U.S. goes completely renewable, nearly 1,400 Utah workers – and 75,000 nationally – will need to find new jobs.
The solar industry already employs more than 200,000 people and is creating jobs 12 times faster than the overall economy, according to the study, which also determined closest equivalent solar positions and salaries.
Louie says a coal operations engineer, for example, could retrain to be a manufacturing technician in solar and expect about a 10 percent salary increase.
“Obviously there are some jobs that are very specific to coal mining, and those workers will probably need some retraining to find a job in the renewable energy industry,” he says.
The study also found that a coal CEO’s annual salary would be more than enough to retrain every company employee for a job in renewables.
Louie adds other possible funding sources include federal and state dollars, and he says coal workers also could choose to pay for training themselves.
I was roughing this week in Steamboat Springs at the Colorado Water Congress’ 2016 Summer Meeting. It was a full agenda along with appearances from Senator Bennet, Senator Gardner, Representative Tipton, former State Senator Gail Schwartz, and Senate candidate Darryl Glenn.
I think the Colorado mountains inspire good will and friendliness. Doug’s agenda provided breaks long enough for attendees to network, catch up, and learn about each other. I ran into a guy whose firm has done some VIC modeling as I aspire to do.
Sen. Michael Bennet this morning made a pitch to the state’s water community for sending him back to Washington, despite the rank partisanship that characterizes Congress these days.
Colorado’s senior senator spoke this morning to 340 water leaders attending the summer conference of the Colorado Water Congress in Steamboat Springs.
In prepared remarks, Bennet cited his bipartisan efforts on immigration, the farm bill and education, and touted his ability to work across the aisle with Republican senators such as Cory Gardner of Colo., Roy Blunt of Missouri and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
He also spoke about the continued efforts to clean up the Gold King mine disaster in Durango, stating that when it comes to water issues, the federal government should “do no harm,” although the Environmental Protection Agency caused the Gold King leak. The efforts of the local community trying to protect its tourism industry have been impressive, he said, and as a result the Durango area’s economy is doing well.
Bennet pledged to continue to push the EPA to reimburse the community and the tribes for the damage. He also will continue to work on legislation with Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez on so-called “Good Samaritan” legislation that would allow mine cleanups without fear of lawsuits. “The spill was a reminder that there are thousands of abandoned mines across the West,” yet the nation’s mining law dates back to 1872. That’s also legislation that he’s working on with New Mexico lawmakers.
Bennet also took aim at those in Washington who are more interested in playing politics than in making constructive change.
“What we’ve lost in Washington is the ability to have these differences in a way that’s constructive for the country,” he said.“It’s inexcusable. We have a moral responsibility to make sure we’re moving this country ahead.”
In a free-flow question and answer session after his speech, Bennet took off the gloves and talked at length about what frustrates him most: Congress’s broken culture and its inability to do anything.
He started off by noting a poll that showed only 9 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, and comparing it to other things that have higher approval than 9 percent: the Internal Revenue Service (40 percent), reality TV star Paris Hilton (15 percent) and the percentage of people who want the United States to turn communist, at 11 percent.
While he believes Congress is hamstrung by partisanship, Bennet also said that some of those who say Congress is broken “are the arsonists lighting the house on fire.” Their fuel, he added, comes from both sides of the aisle.
At times Bennet appeared exasperated – not at the audience, but at the partisan problems he says infest the nation’s capitol, a city where he grew up. It was an unscripted Michael Bennet, one who momentarily stood with his hands on his hips, shaking his head.
Bennet cited a Democratic caucus lunch in which a senior Democrat (he didn’t name names) pointed to the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, stating that the crisis is “what separates us from them. We believe in government, they don’t.” Bennet said he realized some of the decisions were made by a Republican governor, but in the end it was government as a whole that’s culpable. Even before the water crisis, there isn’t a single school in Flint where any senator would send their kids. “This can’t be what divides us.”
Bennet said he has tried to work with his Republican colleagues – such as Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina on improving the approval process of the Food and Drug Administration. Before that legislation, the FDA would approve 1 or 2 drugs per year. But in the past four years the FDA has green-lighted 50.
Bennet also gave a strong defense of the science backing man-made climate change. He noted polls of independent voters who overwhelmingly say they would be less likely to support someone who denies that climate change is real and/or caused by people. It was a subtle dig at his Republican opponent, El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, who has said he’s skeptical of man-made climate change.
The time has come to adopt policies at the national level to prepare for climate change before the trend becomes unfixable, Bennet said. Colorado’s economy is already threatened by climate change, such as increasingly extended fire seasons and the threats wildfires pose to forests and the state’s water supply.
“I’m optimistic,” Bennet said. There are real opportunities to get results for Colorado and the nation. “The public is sick and tired of rank partisanship,” and Bennet said he hopes that this year’s election creates political momentum for that to change.
And “if the election goes the way many think it will go, I hope it will incentivize the Republican party to put the capitalists back in charge,” he said.
“I wouldn’t go back if I didn’t think we could improve it.”
Bennet recalled a town hall held in the “worst tea party town in the state” (which he didn’t identify), with people calling him a socialist, and claiming President Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
That kind of partisan politics has made it impossible to fix the real problems, he said. “We don’t have the decency to maintain the assets and infrastructure that our parents and grandparents had the decency to build for us.”
Bennet encouraged the audience, who sat mostly silently during the remarks, to hold their congressional representatives accountable in the same way citizens hold local officials accountable. “If we hold Washington to the same standard” as mayor, city council or school superintendents, “there’s no way we’d be having the problems we’re having, and there’s no way you would shut down the government for politics.”
The only antidote to partisan politics is to vote out of self interest, state interest and in the interest of the country.
“If we do that we’ll be fine,” he said. “If we leave it to Washington to play the political game, there’s no reason for optimism.”
Sen. Michael Bennet touted his own record of bipartisanship on Colorado water issues at the summer convention of Colorado Water Congress, while his challenger Darryl Glenn stressed government accountability.
“I’ve worked with the other side and seen results. I think the public is sick and tired of partisanship,” Bennet, a Democrat, said. “What people want is principled bipartisanship. What they get is unprincipled partisanship.”
Glenn said there is room for disagreement, but there needs to be more respect in national politics.
“There’s a growing disconnect with what’s happening at the federal level and what the people at home are thinking,” said Glenn, a Colorado Springs Republican. “I have to remind people that we (in government) work for you, and you have to hold your elected officials accountable.”
Bennet talked about the local efforts to rebound from last summer’s Gold King mine spill, which he toured with Republican Sen. Cory Gardner.
“We are working together for Good Samaritan legislation so that cleanup can happen without fear of liability,” Bennet said.
Bennet talked about protecting agriculture, tourism, West Slope industry and East Slope diversions from the Colorado River. He also said the federal government needs to act on wildfire prevention and stop diverting watershed improvement funds to fight fires.
“There are eight wildfires in Colorado. . . . We’d be better off maximizing our ability to get timber off the land,” Bennet said. “It is fiscally irresponsible to not pay $1 for prevention to avoid paying $10 for fighting fires.”
He also spoke of the need to repair aging water delivery systems.
“Because of the politics in Washington, D.C., we don’t have the decency to repair the infrastructure that our parents had the decency to build for us,” Bennet said.
Glenn talked about his own experience dealing with water issues on a local level. He was a member of Colorado Springs City Council during the formative years of the Southern Delivery System and an El Paso County commissioner when the Black Forest Fire destroyed 14,000 acres and nearly 500 homes.
Those experiences gave him insight into regional water concerns and reinforced his view that constituents have to ask government for the services they need.
“More control needs to be into the elected officials’ hands and not the (federal) agencies,” Glenn said. “Sometimes we need to get out of your way and let you do your jobs.”
The opponents differed on the impact of federal overreach on laws like the Clean Water and Endangered Species acts.
From Bennet’s point of view, issues would be better managed if the federal government would listen more to local concerns. Glenn said agencies ignore the intent of laws altogether because they lack clarity of purpose.
Rep. Scott Tipton renewed his pledge to knock back federal regulatory overreach at every opportunity at the Colorado Water Congress summer conference.
The Republican’s Democratic challenger, Gail Schwartz, said she would reach across the aisle to protect Colorado’s resources and interests in Congress.
Both candidates stopped by the conference to make their pitch and answer questions at a meeting of a statewide group.
The 3rd Congressional District encompasses most of the Colorado River basin, as well as some of the Arkansas River, and all of the Rio Grande and North Platte River watersheds in Colorado. Pointedly, it was the only congressional race on the menu for those at the conference.
Tipton, seeking his fourth term, was stringent on the need to keep the federal government from meddling in Colorado water affairs. He said last year’s Gold King mine spill caused by the Environmental Protection Agency was an example of the failure to seek local technical expertise. He railed against federal policies such as Waters of the United States and Forest Service ski area contracts that would have required assignment of water rights.
He is backing a Separation of Powers Restoration Act to keep the executive branch from continually interfering.
“These are federal policies that don’t get voted on,” Tipton said. “It takes a proverbial Act of Congress to undo a federal policy that no legislator, Democrat or Republican, has ever voted on.”
Schwartz, who left the Colorado Senate after eight years, vowed to protect the agriculture, watershed health and natural resources of Colorado, and said she would seek solutions.
“One of the challenges is: How do we develop a process that sorts out all of the competing issues?” she said.
The candidates had common ground on questions posed by Water Congress.
Both said the state’s viewpoint, sound science and technical expertise need to be a part of how federal programs like the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act are implemented. Schwartz, like Tipton, said the administration has to be held accountable for its policies. And both support including coal as part of a national energy strategy.
“Steel is a critical industry for Colorado, and (EVRAZ) is the largest energy user in the state,” Schwartz said, pointing out that a large coal-fired plant was constructed near the Pueblo plant for that reason. Coal mining and electric-generation are part of the state’s economic fabric.
“Let the free market answer these questions moving forward,” she said.
Tipton talked about looking into the eyes of a mother whose family lost its income and commiserating with Routt County commissioners over the loss of tax revenue when Peabody Coal declared bankruptcy this year.
“We have an opportunity to do all of the above (coal, gas, solar, wind, hydropower) and not pick winners and losers,” Tipton said.
Tipton circled back to regulation by the end of his presentation, saying federal regulations add $2 trillion a year in costs. While some regulation is necessary, much is not, in his view.
“We need opportunity and not to have the government choking off that opportunity with excess regulations,” he said.
Schwartz said she would be better able to work with others in Congress to protect the state.
“How do we go back to Washington and get something done?” she said. “I’m determined and won’t be daunted by partisanship.”
Reengineering the permitting process for water projects is a central concern for water providers, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and some environmentalists. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
The people who want to build dams or water projects say the regulatory process adds millions of dollars and years of time.
Those who object to water projects say they are either old and gray or young and green by the time anything gets done.
So nobody’s complaining too much about Colorado’s Water Plan looking at using an efficiency plan called the lean manufacturing model to streamline permits for water projects.
The lean model has its roots in private industry as a way to eliminate waste along the manufacturing line, explained James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Along those lines, several proponents, opponents and regulators were “locked in a room for three days” to determine what’s wrong and how to fix it.
“Permitting is far and away the most challenging part of any project,” said Eric Wilkinson, executive director of the Northern Water Conservancy District. “Engineers can solve everything, but not the political and social issues. We need to find a way to ‘yes.’ ”
Northern is working on two projects, the Windy Gap firming project and Northern Integrated Supply Project, which combined have consumed two decades and $30 million just to get through permitting.
“Permitting is not for the weak of heart. It’s for the stubborn,” Wilkinson said.
Mark Pifher shepherded Aurora’s Prairie Waters and Colorado Springs’ Southern Delivery System through the permitting maze, and he had a long list of things that could be fixed on local, state and federal levels.
“We can’t have fear of litigation drive the process,” he said.
Ken Neubecker, director of Colorado River basin programs for American Rivers, said the review processes already in place have yielded good results. But he, too, would like to see things move more quickly.
“At first there’s scoping, then it goes into a black hole for four or five years and you have a draft analysis. We have 30 days to comment, then it disappears into another black hole,” he said. “We’re frustrated with the costs and scrambling to find funding. You lose people (who worked on original documents).”
Still, federal laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act have worked and made the country a better place to live, Neubecker said.
Shaun McGrath, head of the EPA’s Denver office, said the laws aren’t really the problem, just the way they are implemented.
“One of the impediments has been the lack of stakeholder involvement at the beginning of the process,” McGrath said.
Environmental reviews also search for alternatives that might be less damaging as a way to inform the public, not inhibit development, he said. NISP and Windy Gap have taken so long because there is so much to look at.
Meanwhile, Colorado farmers are cozying up to farming their water via leasing. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
Colorado farmers have little interest in selling their water, but if the terms and conditions were right wouldn’t mind leasing some to thirsty cities.
Those were the findings of a survey conducted this year by the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, asked of farmers across the state with farms of varying sizes.
“Our goal is to keep ag water connected to ag lands and that means keeping the water in the hands of ag producers,” Terry Fankhauser, executive vice-president of the CCA, told the Legislature’s interim water resources review committee Wednesday. “These are longer term decisions that take more than a few years.”
The committee was meeting at the annual Colorado Water Congress summer convention.
The survey was explained by Phil Brink, director of the Agriculture Water Network, which conducted the study for CCA and other groups concerned about the future of farming.
Colorado is growing by a population of 100,000 annually, the equivalent of a city the size of Longmont, that would require 17,000 acre-feet of water, Longmont’s annual consumption, Brink said.
Colorado’s Water Plan estimates that by 2050, nearly 10 million people will live in the state. Without alternatives, 500,000-700,000 acres of farmland could be dried up.
Farmers don’t want that to happen.
According to the survey, about one-third of farmers are not interested in leasing or selling their water under any conditions.
Less than 1 percent said selling is the most appealing option.
About 20 percent said they would participate in a water leasing program if offered the chance immediately, while 40 percent would consider one, if the terms were right.
Most of those who favor leasing prefer a program, such as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, that allows them to control how much ground is fallowed and when in order to lease water.
But they also want programs to be carefully structured because of concerns about leasing.
In comments, some farmers mentioned that crop prices are now low, making leases more attractive, but they would want the opportunity to use water for crops once prices rebound. Farmers were most likely to lease for prices between $400-$800 an acre, or about $500 per acre-foot. The amounts differ because most ditches apply more than an acre-foot per acre in most years.
Other concerns included the perception that if a farmer could do with less water, that might become accepted as the norm, and water rights would be diminished.
The results of the survey will be posted online, and workshops in each basin are planned to further explain the survey.
Click here to view the Tweets posted with the hash tag #cwcsc16. These meetings are turning into Twitter fests.
Chris Woodka was telling folks at the meeting that he is moving on from the Chieftain to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Man, I am going to miss him writing about water. He has taught me so much. Good luck Chris.
The first phase of the new park at the South Platte River near the Broken Tee Golf Course in Sheridan off of West Oxford Avenue officially opens Thursday.
It is crunch time for construction crews as they put the finishing touches on the new park with its beaches, sprawling landscape, event venue and two man-made surf spots.
The $14 million project is part of a one-mile revamp of the river with the goal of turning the unused urban waterway into something special. The publicly-funded project is being paid for through a partnership with the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, Arapahoe County, City of Englewood, City of Sheridan, South Suburban Parks and Recreation and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Besides the new open space and recreation area, flood control structures were replaced and the river banks stabilized.