Wetlands money dries up — The Pueblo Chieftain #electionsmatter

Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service
Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

A U.S. Bureau of Land Management proposal to expand the Blanca Wetlands could be left in the lurch by the expiration of a congressional conservation fund. Congress failed to renew the authority for the Land and Water Conservation Fund on Wednesday, the end of the federal fiscal year.

The expansion of the wetlands, which is a temporary home for dozens of songbirds and shorebirds that migrate through the San Luis Valley, had been paired with a project by the agency on the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument.

The White House’s 2016 budget called for $18 million in permanent funding for the project and another $22 million subject to future appropriations by Congress.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement that the fund, which draws off revenue from off-shore oil and gas drilling, faced a needlessly uncertain future.

“I’m extremely disappointed that, despite overwhelming bipartisan support, Congress has allowed this innovative and effective program to expire,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Jewell said Interior had given no instruction to the land-management agencies it oversees on whether to pursue other avenues of funding for their projects.

The BLM hoped to expand the wetlands through the purchase of 12,000 acres of private land from willing sellers.

The area targeted for expansion had included wetlands as recently as the 1940s but had dried up from drought or agricultural development.

The agency now maintains habitat at the 8,700-acre Blanca Wetlands by pumping groundwater into the marshes and ponds at the site.

The proposed funding for the national monument, which sits just south of the valley across the New Mexico state line, would have gone toward the protection of cultural and historic sites.

And while Jewell and a host of national conservation groups called for the reauthorization and full funding, many Republican congressmen from the Western U.S. called for reform of the program.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., whose district includes the valley, said those reforms should move the fund away from purchasing more land for federal agencies, although he did not object to its use for land exchanges with willing private landowners.

The fund would be better served by helping federal agencies manage the land they have, Tipton said in a written statement.

“LWCF reauthorization provides an opportunity for reforms that support addressing the growing maintenance backlogs for national parks, roads, trails and facilities,” he said.

Future of public lands fund in doubt after D.C. inaction — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #electionsmatter

Black Canyon via the National Park Service
Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Outdoors advocates are lamenting the failure of Congress to extend the life of a program that has helped fund public-land projects for half a century, including many in western Colorado.

But some members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, say the Land and Water Conservation Fund program is in need of reform.

Congress failed to reauthorize the program before it expired on Wednesday, despite hopes from some in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., that reauthorization be included in a stopgap funding bill that was passed before that same deadline.

Bennet and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., also signed a bipartisan letter from dozens of senators calling for permanent reauthorization of the fund. The letter calls it “America’s most successful conservation and recreation program.”

The letter adds, “Investments in LWCF support public land conservation and ensure access to the outdoors for all Americans, in rural communities and cities alike.”

The program uses no taxpayer dollars, and instead is funded primarily by royalties paid to the government by companies doing off-shore oil and gas development.

According to Bennet’s office, the fund “supports the conservation of parks, open spaces, and wildlife habitat for the benefit of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.”

Regionally, some of the program’s beneficiaries have included the Colorado and Dinosaur national monuments, Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks, and White River and Uncompahgre national forests.

Will Roush, conservation director for the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop group, said that statewide the fund has paid for more than $250 million in conservation and recreation projects.

According to the Center for Western Priorities conservation group, more than half of members in the U.S. House of Representatives support the program. But it says U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, “is holding LWCF hostage,” having vowed to block the program unless reforms are made, but not introducing a bill or allowing consideration of the program’s renewal.

In a statement released Sept. 25, Bishop countered that it’s special interests who “seek to hijack LWCF to continue to expand the federal estate and divert even more monies away from localities.”

He said any reauthorization of the fund will prioritize funding for local communities as originally intended under the program.

Bishop has been an advocate of transferring federal lands to state control.

In a statement, Tipton said that the Land and Water Conservation Fund “is a valuable tool for conservation, but after 50 years, some reforms are needed to ensure it is still achieving its original mission and that the federal government is properly managing the lands it already has.

“Managing nearly 640 million acres in the United States, the federal government is by far the largest landowner in most Western states. Rather than increasing LWCF funding in order to obtain more federal property, land management agencies should focus on managing the lands they already have. LWCF reauthorization provides an opportunity for reforms that support addressing the growing maintenance backlogs for national parks, roads, trails and facilities.”

#ColoradoRiver: Grand County rancher uses 2013 law to leave water in Willow Creek without penalty — Hannah Holm #COriver

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

A Grand County rancher has become the first person in Colorado to use a 2013 state law to intentionally leave water in a stream without fear of diminishing his water right. Working with the Colorado Water Trust , Witt Caruthers developed a plan to curtail diversions from Willow Creek when its flows drop to critical levels.

The additional flows will benefit half a mile of Willow Creek and then four and a half miles of the upper Colorado River before encountering the next downstream diversion, where another water user could potentially take the water. This stretch of the Colorado River has been heavily impacted for decades by upstream diversions across the Continental Divide to Front Range cities and farms.

The 2013 law, Senate Bill 13-019, allows some Western Slope water right holders to reduce their water use in up to five out of any consecutive ten years without having the use reductions count against them in water court calculations of “historic consumptive use.” This reduces the “use it or lose it” disincentive for conservation in Colorado water law.

The law applies only to water users in Colorado Division of Water Resources Divisions 4 (Gunnison River Basin), 5 (Colorado River Basin) and 6 (Yampa, White and North Platte River Basins). In order to qualify for the law’s protections, the water use reductions must be the result of enrolling land in a federal land conservation program or participating in an officially-sanctioned water conservation or banking program.

Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, which approved Caruthers’s conservation program, told the Sky Hi Daily News that “we’re glad to be in the vanguard and helping the agricultural community protect their water rights when they want to lend the water rights to environmental purposes.” The same article quotes Caruthers as saying that he and his partners sought to “one, preserve our water rights but also to contribute to the overall maintenance of the ecosystem there by leaving water in the stream when it wasn’t needed.”

The Colorado Water Trust has also pioneered the use of other voluntary and market-based tools for landowners to share water with streams without diminishing their water rights. These include a 2003 law that created a streamlined process for water users to make short-term leases of water to the state for environmental purposes. The Trust first used this tool in 2012 by brokering a deal to support flows in the Yampa River. It has since been used in several other places.

Support and funding for such innovative water conservation efforts is rising as Colorado and the other states and cities that share the Colorado River are seeking ways to prop up water levels in Lakes Powell and Mead in the face of long-term drought.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

Willow Creek via the USGS
Willow Creek via the USGS

WISE: Project will impact metro area’s water supply — 7News

Click on a thumbnail below for the WISE system map and Prairie Waters map.

2016 Colorado legislation: Another showdown over precipitation harvesting?

Rain barrel schematic
Rain barrel schematic

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

A legislative committee Tuesday approved drafting a bill that would legalize rain barrels. Colorado is the only state where they are illegal.

The Water Resources Review Committee won’t officially vote on whether to introduce the measure as a committee until October. If the committee approves the bill, then it would be introduced at the start of the next session in January. There’s also the option for a lawmaker to carry the measure separate from the committee, or run a completely separate bill.

While the legislation signals that the issue is far from dried-up, certain caveats in the measure could cause an outcry. For one, the bill would require users to register their barrels with the state. Another provision would require water providers to replace water taken from rooftops.

Rain-barrel supporters worry that the current proposal is burdensome to water providers, and that would result in failing to approve barrel collection. They point out that rain barrels help with conservation, and that 97 percent of water falling on residential property never ends up in a river or stream.

But it may be their best shot after a similar effort drowned during the previous legislative session. That legislation was stalled in committee after concerns from Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, over water rights. Had the bill received a floor vote, it likely would have passed thanks to support from Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango.

Just when it looked like the bill had a chance to receive a late floor vote in the Senate, sponsors and legislative leaders agreed to let the bill die so that discussions could continue for future compromise legislation. Enter Sonnenberg’s current proposal.

“This is more about process,” Sonnenberg said Tuesday during the committee hearing. “This is more about honoring the prior appropriations system and saying, ‘If we’re going to have rain barrels, the right thing to do is to figure out how we replace that water.’”[…]

Under Sonnenberg’s proposal, Coloradans would be allowed to use up to two containers with a maximum capacity of 55 gallons each. A consumer’s residence would need to contain four or fewer residential units.

Rain-barrel supporters say legislation should make it easy.

“Numerous studies have consistently shown that rain barrels have no impact on downstream users,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “Any proposals to put additional red tape and bureaucracy on a rain-barrel program disregard these studies and will only serve to dissuade and burden Coloradans.”

2016 #COleg: State Rep. Sonnenburg’s new rain barrel bill will require registration and augmentation

Rain barrel schematic
Rain barrel schematic

From KUNC (Bente Birkeland):

“If you have a rain barrel, that’s less that’s going to run into the street,” said Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling).

And he believes, less water for farmers and ranchers – which is why Sonneberg opposed the rain barrel bill when it last came up and made sure it was defeated. He’s now floating a new measure that would allow rain barrels, if people register them. Then it would be up to water providers to determine how to replace the lost water.

“We’re going to bring a bill that does it right and honors the prior appropriation system and Colorado water law,” said Sonnenberg. “We need a simple and fair process on how that water should be replaced.”

But during a recent hearing at the state capitol, academic water experts from Colorado State University testified that there would be no need for a bill like Sonnenberg’s.

“This water doesn’t run off any way, and we capture a little of it and we put it on our gardens or we put it on our roses or something,” said Dr. Larry Roesner, a civil and environmental engineering professor at CSU.

“It would take a lot of water before it made a significant impact,” said Roesner.

Two other CSU experts, along with Roesner, testified before the Water Resources Review committee, which is meeting in the interim to discuss water policy.

“When you have scientists come in and give you the facts I think it’s important to incorporate that into your thought process,” said Senator Ellen Roberts (R-Durango).

As the chair of the committee, Roberts was frustrated when the previous rain barrel bill didn’t pass. She wanted to come back to the topic in between sessions – especially since next session will be during an election year.

“I’m struggling myself to explain to people on the street why this is so controversial. In my district in southwest Colorado, those who want to use rain barrels, use rain barrels today, and a lot of people across party lines were appalled that the legislature was struggling so much with this,” said Roberts.

For Drew Beckwith with Western Resource Advocates the measure is mostly about educating the public about water. He said too many people fail to understand where their water comes from, and he said water providers in other states where it is legal say rain barrels help connect people to water policy.

Are #ColoradoRiver Basin water users adapting to scarcity? — Hannah Holm

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Since the early 2000’s, use of Colorado River Basin water has exceeded the amount of rain and snow that’s fallen into the basin — hence the famous bathtub rings at Lakes Powell and Mead, as their water levels dip ever lower.

The 2012 Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study led by the US Bureau of Reclamation indicated that the situation could get even worse in the future. The study compared the median of water supply projections (lower, taking into account climate change) against the median of demand projections (trending higher, if no action were taken to change how water is managed) to show an imbalance of 3.2 million acre feet/year by 2060.

Does this mean that we’re running out of water and destined for societal collapse, as imagined in The Water Knife, a new novel from Paonia-based writer Paolo Bacigalupi?

Not necessarily, according to longtime water journalist John Fleck, who is currently writing a book on the Colorado River called Beyond the Water Wars. Speaking at a September 10 seminar in Grand Junction organized by the Colorado River District, Fleck presented an updated version of the supply/ demand graph from that 2012 study, which shows that in recent years the supply and demand lines have come much closer together.

On the one hand, we’ve had a few decent water years, which have nudged the supply line up a little. On the other, the line showing actual water use has trended downward since right about the time the two lines crossed. Fleck argued that the forces bending down the demand curve include cooperation, in contradiction to the old saw that “whisky is for drinking, and water is for fighting.”

Fleck pointed to conservation and fallowing agreements between southern California farmers and cities as an example of how water scarcity can actually be a catalyst for collaboration. In addition, the agreement between water users and stakeholders in Mexico and the US to bring water back to the Colorado River Delta showed that the environment, as well as people, can benefit from efforts to make the Colorado River system work better for all parties.

Fleck also noted that in recent decades, there has been a “decoupling” of water use from economic activity. While in past decades, the two rose together, that’s no longer the case. Water use trends have sharply diverged from population and economic growth trends in Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and Southern California, and Arizona’s water use actually peaked in 1980 despite continued growth since then. Likewise, Imperial Valley farm sales have also gone up in recent years, while water use declined.

Despite these encouraging developments, the water use line on the graph is still higher than the supply line, and Lake Mead hit a historic low point this summer. The demand curve will have to continue going down to get the system back in balance and avoid letting the reservoirs get to truly critical levels.

Other speakers at the seminar discussed some of the measures that are underway to further control demand. These include additional work on fallowing, deficit irrigation and efficiencies in agriculture, as well as changes in homeowners’ notions about what kind of landscaping they need. Additional water re-use and de-salting were mentioned on the supply augmentation side.

Speaker Ken Nowak of the Bureau of Reclamation spoke of “silver buckshot” rather than a silver bullet in describing the multi-pronged effort to align supply and demand.

Speaker Pat Mulroy, former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, encouraged us all to think of ourselves as citizens of the great, interconnected system of communities that rely on the Colorado River, and to do what we can to protect that system rather than each of our more narrow interests. She argued that we have the opportunity to do that now, but if we wait until the system is truly in crisis, what we’ll get is irrationality and chaos.

To learn more about the seminar, go to http://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/district-business/annual-seminar/ This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center at http://www.Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or http://www.Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

Colorado River Basin
Colorado River Basin