#COleg: HB 16-1005, Another attempt at approving rain barrels

Photo via the Colorado Independent
Photo via the Colorado Independent

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Another attempt to legalize rain barrels in Colorado is being made in the state Legislature.

Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, and Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, are trying to get a measure passed that would allow homeowners to collect up to 110 gallons of rainwater in two barrels on their own property. The bill is HB 16-1005.

A nearly identical measure passed the state House last year, but was allowed to die before it reached the Senate floor. It faced opposition from water users who claimed the water would be intercepted before it reached streams and rivers.

“Colorado is the only state where it is illegal to collect and use rainwater,” Esgar said. “We think it will be good for all of Colorado.”

This year’s bill is substantially the same as the 2015 version, and allows water collected to be used for nonpotable purposes such as lawn irrigation, landscaping and gardening. It would require the state engineer’s office to post information on its website.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, is offering an amendment to the bill which would require the state engineer to develop rules and which would make water providers accountable for replacing the amount of water collected. Sonnenberg led opposition to last year’s bill.

Sponsors are not likely to amend the bill as Sonnenberg is suggesting, however, and instead will look at adding their own amendment that would categorize rainwater collection as part of the doctrine of prior appropriation, Esgar said.

“This is not the camel’s nose under the tent that some have tried to portray,” she said. “We’re just talking about collecting water to put on flowers and gardens.”

A study conducted by the Urban Water Center at Colorado State University-Fort Collins concluded collecting 100 gallons of water from the lot of a typical Denver household had little impact on runoff. In fact, new construction of previously undeveloped land — on which state water law is mute — had a much larger impact on runoff by increasing the amount of water that reaches streams.

Colorado has rarely enforced its prohibition on rain barrels, and has two laws on the books that allow for limited rainwater collection.

A 2009 state law (SB80) authorized the use of rain barrels in connection with other water rights. Another 2009 bill (HB1129) authorized pilot projects for rainwater harvesting. So far, the proposed Sterling Ranch development in Douglas County has been the only applicant.

From Western Resource Advocates (Drew Beckwith):

Bing-bing! Like any good fighter worth their weight, our legislative effort to legalize rain barrels is back for another round. Round 1 was all about gauging the opponent’s weaknesses and testing out combination punches – of social media with editorials, and big-name supporters with grassroots action. In Round 2, we’ll hone our path to victory and are aiming for a K.O.

Boxing analogies aside, making it legal for Colorado residents to have a rain barrel is up again at the Colorado legislature, this time as House Bill 16-1005. Last year’s attempt was wildly popular with the general public and was editorialized in support by five of the state’s largest newspapers. The people want this bill to pass.

In Colorado, current law assumes that the rain falling on your roof already belongs to someone else further downstream. Yes, you are a scofflaw for putting a bucket under your downspout. It seems totally ridiculous, and it is.

Just like last year’s bill, HB 16-1005, seeks to change our antiquated status quo by allowing residents to use up to two rain barrels for watering their plants, garden, and flowers. Lots of research that I will not get into, demonstrates that this limited amount of rain water capture has no impact on downstream water users. In fact, the whole point of this bill is to get our public more engaged in water issues. Someone with a rain barrel begins to pay attention to how much water it takes to water the lawn; they begin to question where their water really comes from beyond the tap; and this can lead them to develop a conservation ethic towards water resources.

This increased awareness is a good thing, and frankly a must-have if we are going to tackle the difficult water challenges facing our region.

Unfortunately, our collective efforts were thwarted last year via political game playing. Knowing that the bill would pass out of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources committee and would have received bi-partisan support in the full Senate, Senator Sonnenberg who chairs the Ag Committee “laid the bill over” for multiple weeks, stalling a committee vote on it until the second to last day of the legislative session. This effectively killed the bill because Senate rules dictate that bills cannot be debated by the full senate and voted upon in the same day.

In this next round, we’re prepared for another stall tactic and are building even greater support for legalizing rain barrels with influential groups across the state. HB 16-1005 is still awaiting its first committee meeting in the House, so stay tuned for updates from WRA. You can follow #rainbarrel and #HB1005 for the latest news.

Colorado Leopold Conservation Award® Program Seeks Nominees

Aldo Leopold
Aldo Leopold

Here’s the release from the Colorado Cattleman’s Association (Paula Waggoner):

Applications are now being accepted for the prestigious Leopold Conservation Award® honoring agricultural landowners in Colorado who demonstrate outstanding stewardship and management of natural resources.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the $10,000 award recognizes private landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. It is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and American AgCredit.

Applications are due by March 8, 2016. Finalists and recipient will be announced by April. For complete application information, visit http://www.leopoldconservationaward.org.

In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”

“The outstanding agricultural landowners we honor with the Leopold Conservation Award exemplify what it means to be leaders in conservation for the benefit of our environment,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President.

“Ranchers are the original environmentalists. The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes a long history of caring for the land, while rewarding ranchers who are excelling in their holistic approach of stewardship,” says Bob Patterson President of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

Award applicants are judged based on their demonstration of improved resource conditions, innovation, long-term commitment to stewardship, sustained economic viability, community and civic leadership, and multiple use benefits.

The Colorado award is sponsored by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Assoc., American AgCredit, DuPont Pioneer, The Mosaic Company and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

#ColoradoRiver: The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch is participating in a pilot project aimed at finding better ways to share water resources in the thirsty West

The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” -- via The Mountain Town News
The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” — via The Mountain Town News

From The Nature Conservancy:

RANCHING AND CONSERVATION GO HAND IN HAND
The Carpenter Ranch, located near Steamboat Springs, is a great site for a pilot project. The ranch is owned by the Conservancy but leased to a rancher who grows hay and raises cattle. The four fields participating in the pilot, totaling 197 acres, were irrigated for only the first half of the irrigation season last summer.

Geoff Blakeslee, the Yampa River project director, says that the Conservancy has a long history of combining ranching and conservation and finding creative solutions. “This pilot is an exploratory project to understand the impacts of temporary fallowing on the ranch, the Yampa River and the overall Colorado River system,” he says. “There’s a lot of common interest to find solutions that work for our communities, farms and rivers.”

“Colorado’s Front Range receives about 50% of its water from the Colorado River,” adds Taylor Hawes, the Conservancy’s Colorado River program director. “If a crisis does hit—an even more severe or prolonged drought—the information from projects like this one can be used to design a fair way of sharing the water. It benefits all of us to figure out an equitable path forward.”

Although the short-term consequence of reducing irrigation may be a smaller hay yield and fewer cattle on the Carpenter Ranch this fall, finding ways to share water will ultimately help all who depend on the Colorado River for survival.

White River Conservation District’s annual meeting recap

White River via Wikimedia
White River via Wikimedia

From the White River Conservation District via the Rio Blanco Herald Times:

More than 100 people enjoyed the White River Conservation District’s annual meeting Friday at the Meeker Fairfield Center.

The District was recognized by Colorado State Conservation Board in 2015 as “District of the Year,” and Executive Director Callie Hendrickson received the Conservation Excellence Award by Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Brown, “for giving a strong voice to locally led conservation at home, in Colorado and nationally.”

Hendrickson highlighted the district’s’ natural resource priorities including rangeland health, wildlife, water and natural resource information and education…

Attendees were updated on the progress of the Land and Natural Resource Use Plan. Hendrickson asked all Rio Blanco County citizens to be prepared to review and comment on the plan in March. The district will publicize the exact dates of public comment meetings. The plan will then be applied to influence federal regulatory frameworks that govern the management of public lands.

The district recognized Rocky and Sparky Pappas and Travis Flaharty as Conservationists of the Year. President Neil Brennan highlighted the Pappas’ conservation accomplishments, including water development, grazing practices, weed control and community involvement. The Pappases and Flaherty manage first for wildlife and second for livestock.

The property they manage is leased to several local producers to graze sheep and cattle during the summer. The livestock are removed before fall to allow for rejuvenation for wildlife habitat. With the ongoing partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Pappas’ and Flaherty reclaimed some farm ground in the Josephine Basin to provide critical winter range for mule deer and to improve the migration corridor for deer and elk.

They battle weeds through aerial applications and are experimenting with biological control such as beetles and pathogens for leafy spurge and thistles. They have improved water quality and quantity by converting manual pumps to solar, adding water tanks and installing pipelines to spread the water across the properties. In addition to their conservation efforts, the three volunteer on local boards such as the Historical Society, and the Flat Tops chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. They also sponsor youth hunts and help approximately 200 Colorado hunters with the Ranching for Wildlife program…

Keynote speaker David Ludlum, West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s executive director, addressed the audience regarding the various ways industries convey their purpose and message to the public. While industries think they are doing a good job by providing great detail about “how they do their work,” they miss the important message about “why they do their work.”

Ludlum showcased how individuals that “bash” industry and the general public need to hear “industry develops these resources simply to provide the tires for your bicycles, the concrete you walk on, the fiberglass on your surfboards, the polyester and nylon in your clothes, the polycarbonate in your sunglasses, the ethane used to make your artificial hips, the heat you enjoy on a cold night, the gas in your car, the fertilizer used to grow your food, etc.”

Ludlum expressed how important it is that our industries help people understand what they provide for your standard of living. Most people, he said, don’t care “how” you do it until they understand “why” you do it.

The latest newsletter from The City of Greeley’s Water Conservation Program is hot off the presses

waterfromtap
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

If you notice an unexplained large spike in water use or want to find a way to lower your water bill, it may be time for a free water audit. It’s a personalized consultation on your water use. Our auditors will also install new showerheads and faucet aerators. Sign up today!

Farmers agree to tax those who deplete groundwater — The High Country News

Sunrise over the Sangre de Cristos, overlooking the San Luis Valley, April 11, 2015
Sunrise over the Sangre de Cristos, overlooking the San Luis Valley, April 11, 2015

From The High Country News (Cally Carswell):

Instead of denying or ignoring the problem, [San Luis Valley] farmers are facing the fact that agriculture has outgrown its water supply. They admit they must live within new limits, or perish. Determined to avoid state intervention, they’ve created an innovative irrigation market, charging themselves to pump and using that money to pay others to fallow their land. Thousands of acres have come out of production, and their sights are set on fallowing tens of thousands more.

Brian Brownell is among those cutting back. When I visited last September, the valley’s potato harvest was in full swing, and dust clouds over fields where farmers were exhuming spuds were visible from miles away. Dust also levitated above a field on Brownell’s farm, but nothing was being harvested. Instead, the Sudan grass he’d planted was being hacked to pieces and tilled into the soil. He’d received $96,000 for putting 480 of his 1,680 acres into this “green manure” instead of a more water-hungry and profitable commercial crop.

“Everybody’s pumping too much water,” he said. His gray sideburns bristled on tanned skin, and his lips curved down in thought. “People have to start to buy in to the community thing, instead of ‘me,’ ‘my farm,’ ‘my deal.’ ”

This time, farmers are scrambling to save local agricultural not from outsiders who covet their water, but from themselves.

“It’s only going to work,” said Brownell, “if everybody does something to save the water.”

The San Luis Valley’s 8,000 square miles are flat as plywood, hemmed in by the San Juan Mountains to the west, and to the east by the Sangre de Cristos, a dramatic wall of serrated peaks edged by sand dunes that seem plucked from a North African desert. The valley’s 46,000 residents live in scattered small towns, beneath lonely willows and cottonwoods, and around highway outposts where a few stores merit a mark on a map. It’s a tough place to live, and attracts some unconventional folks: The valley is home to hot springs (and a communal kitchen) frequented by nudists, an alligator farm, a community of 1,500 with 23 spiritual centers, and a UFO watchtower unimpaired by light pollution, where camping costs $10 a night.

But mostly, there are farms — big ones. The center-pivot sprinklers here are among the most tightly packed in the world, and their hulking aluminum spines give the valley floor the illusion of topography. The annual harvest — largely potato, barley and alfalfa — is worth some $300 million, and without it, a number of the towns probably wouldn’t exist. There are no mines, no ski resorts, no gas wells. Alamosa, the biggest town at 8,937 residents, boasts a small college and a hospital. Almost everything else — the fertilizer and tractor dealers, the Safeway, the county governments and K-12 schools — is supported primarily by money from the fields.

At a more basic level, everything runs on irrigation water. From the 1850s, when Hispanic settlers dug the first ditches, until the 1950s, most of that water was diverted from the Rio Grande and its tributaries and flooded onto fields. Then, drought and technological innovation spurred a well-drilling boom. Groundwater nursed crops through dry years and the late season, when rivers shrank. Soon, center-pivot sprinklers were hooked up to wells, watering crops evenly and efficiently all season long, and many farmers started irrigating exclusively with wells, using river water merely to recharge the aquifer. Marginal land became profitable, crop yields — and water consumption — grew, and large-scale commercial agriculture came into its own.

For decades, the Colorado Division of Water Resources, also called the State Engineer’s Office, granted well permits as generously as dentists dispense toothbrushes, ignoring basic hydrology. The water in the ground and the rivers was connected, and voracious well-pumping could lower streamflows — a serious problem, since the river water was already claimed. Following the logic of prior appropriation — the Westwide system that gives priority to those with the oldest water rights — wells that were connected to streams should only pump after older river irrigators are sated. But the opposite happened. In the late ’60s, the state clamped down on river irrigators to comply with the Rio Grande Compact, which requires Colorado to leave water in the river for Texas and New Mexico. Well owners, meanwhile, pumped happily away.

In 1975, the State Engineer tried to phase out a slew of wells, but a court encouraged a softer approach. Wells were drilled in the valley’s “closed basin,” where streams don’t drain to the Rio Grande. They sipped gingerly from a high water table, “salvaging” what would otherwise evaporate and piping it to the river. The Closed Basin Project seemed like a win-win: Wells kept pumping, river irrigators got water, and regulators backed off. It produced less water than expected, but the ’80s and ’90s were so wet that few people cared. Mother Nature bought rounds for everyone.