#COWaterPlan: “We’re recognizing now…that recreation and river health is one of our primary values” — Nathan Fey

From the Public News Service – CO (Eric Galatas):

Conservation groups are gearing up to make sure their voices are heard as Colorado’s Water Plan heads into the implementation phase in the new year.

Nathan Fey, Colorado stewardship director for American Whitewater, said the last 100 years of water development have been focused on meeting demands at the tap along the Front Range and for agriculture, but added that he’s encouraged the state is embracing new priorities.

“We’re recognizing now, for the first time in Colorado, that recreation and river health is one of our primary values,” he said. “This plan has called out kind of a new ethic, and that is: we’ve got to protect our rivers. Because it supports this very robust recreation industry.”

Fey said river recreation in Colorado pumps $29 billion into the state’s economy, and the Colorado River basin accounts for $9 billion alone. He said people who care about rivers shouldn’t just leave the plan’s rollout to the state and utility companies, adding that American Whitewater will urge its members to join upcoming roundtables to make sure the plan’s stream and headwater protections go into effect.

Colorado’s Water Conservation Board projects that the state’s population, which surpassed 5 million people in 2008, will reach 10 million by 2050 – and most growth will occur in cities on the Front Range.

Fey said it’s important for residents to know that water used for golf courses, lawns and showers comes from the Western Slope. Conservation efforts, which feature prominently in the water plan, will be critical for its success, he said.

“We need to conserve water to support what we like today, to make sure that it sticks around into the future,” he said. “The more water we conserve now, the less it means we have to take water from somewhere else in the future – whether it’s out of the river or it’s from our food producers.”

If the collaboration, flexibility and innovation that helped produce the plan is carried forward into implementation, Fey said, he’s confident Colorado’s homes, agriculture and the birds and wildlife that depend upon healthy rivers for survival can all get the water they need. The water plan is online at http://coloradowaterplan.com.

Interior Department Announces Initiative to Spur Innovation & Investments that Support Water, Conservation Solutions

Here’s the release from the US Department of the Interior (Jessica Kershaw):

At White House Roundtable on Water Innovation, Interior launches Natural Resource Investment Center to support water, species, and habitat conservation

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced that the Department will establish a Natural Resource Investment Center to spur partnerships with the private sector to develop creative financing opportunities that support economic development goals while advancing the Department’s resource stewardship mission.

At a White House Roundtable on Water Innovation, Jewell outlined that the Center will use market-based tools and innovative public-private collaborations to increase investment in water conservation and critical water infrastructure, as well as promote investments that conserve important habitat in a manner that advances efficient permitting and meaningful landscape-level conservation.

“Given increased development pressures, climate impacts and constrained budgets, Interior is pursuing innovative approaches with private sector organizations to help accomplish our balanced land management and conservation mission,” Secretary Jewell said. “As a former CEO, I am confident the private sector can play a meaningful role in working with us to advance the goals of smart development alongside thoughtful conservation. The Natural Resource Investment Center will facilitate this effort by building on current activity to incent private investments in the infrastructure and conservation of water, species, habitat, and other natural resources.”

The Center will work closely with the private sector and others to identify innovative ideas and financing options for projects that conserve scarce Western water resources and protect species habitat.

The Center will focus on three objectives:

  • Increase investment in water conservation and build up water supply resilience by facilitating water exchanges or transfers in the Western U.S;
  • Increase investment in critical water infrastructure – both major rehabilitation and replacement of existing infrastructure and new infrastructure needs – by developing new financing approaches and helping to execute project ideas; and
  • Foster private investment and support well-structured markets that advance efficient permitting and effective landscape-level conservation for species, habitat and other natural resources.
  • The Center is part of President Obama’s Build America Investment Initiative, which calls on federal agencies to find new ways to increase investment in ports, roads, water and sewer systems, bridges, broadband networks, and other 21st-century infrastructure projects; and Pay for Success, an initiative that seeks to employ innovative new strategies to help ensure that the essential services of government produce their intended outcomes. The infrastructure improvements are facilitated by building partnerships among federal, state, local and tribal governments and private-sector investors. The U.S. Departments of Transportation and Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency also have centers initiated in response to these Initiatives.

    Interior’s Natural Resource Investment Center will harness the expertise of the Department’s bureaus, including the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S Geological Survey, and will tap external private sector experience to deliver on its objectives.

    The Center will model its water efficiency and transfer efforts in part on the successful initiatives of the Central Valley Project (CVP) in California. The CVP improves operational flexibility and water supply reliability through expanded use of voluntary water transfers.

    Individuals or water districts receiving CVP water can transfer all or a portion of their water to other California water users or a water agency, state or federal agency, tribes, or private non-profit organizations. Through this program, between 300,000 and 400,000 acre-feet of water is transferred in a typical year, allowing high-value agriculture and cities to maintain deliveries through scarcity.

    To promote increased investment in critical water infrastructure, the Center will also work to develop new financing approaches and engage with non-federal partners to make investments that build water supply resilience. These could include storage, pipelines, canals, and investments in efficiency that help to stretch and better manage scarce water supplies and sustain river ecosystems. One recent example of this approach is the Warren H. Brock Reservoir in California.

    To respond more effectively to the changing conditions on the river, Reclamation and stakeholders in Nevada, Arizona, and California collaboratively constructed this storage facility to conserve water and maximize the use of available water supplies. The Bureau of Reclamation conducted environmental compliance, oversaw construction, and integrated the project into its operations in the Lower Colorado River system, and the project was completed in roughly two years.

    The Center will also identify opportunities for private sector investments in important habitat conservation needs on public and private lands. One creative example is demonstrated in a partnership between Interior, Barrick Gold of North America and The Nature Conservancy to enhance habitat in Nevada for the greater sage grouse. The agreement allowed Barrick to accumulate credits for successful habitat improvement projects on its private ranchlands. In return, the company receives assurance from Interior that the credits can be used to offset impact to habitat from planned future mine expansion on public lands.

    The Department of the Interior manages approximately 20 percent of the land in the United States, and is the largest wholesale water provider in the country. The Department is establishing the Center under its existing authorities.

    Greater sage grouse via Idaho Fish and Game
    Greater sage grouse via Idaho Fish and Game

    USBR: WaterSMART Grant Funding Available for Water Conservation and Energy Efficiency Projects

    Orchard Mesa circa 1911
    Orchard Mesa circa 1911

    From the US Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

    Last month, the Bureau of Reclamation invited states, tribes, irrigation districts, water districts and other organizations with water or power delivery authority to participate in its latest WaterSMART grant opportunity. A total of $21 million in cost-shared funding is available for water conservation and energy efficiency projects that help move the West towards resilience in the face of drought and ongoing imbalances between water supply and demand.

    The grant opportunity, which closes on January 20, 2016, is being highlighted as part of a series of initiatives related to water resilience the Obama Administration will feature in this week’s scheduled White House Roundtable on Water Innovation. The Roundtable will feature Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell along with other senior Administration officials and several private sector investors, in discussions on ways to plan, efficiently use and develop new clean water supplies to ensure our nation’s resilience to water supply and demand imbalances.

    WaterSMART aims to improve water conservation and sustainability, helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. The program identifies strategies to ensure this generation and future ones will have sufficient amounts of clean water for drinking, economic activities, recreation and ecosystem health. The program also identifies adaptive measures to address climate change and its impact on future water demands.

    Reclamation awarded more than $23 million for 50 Water and Energy Efficiency Grants in 2015. Since 2009, Reclamation has provided more than $174 million in funding through WaterSMART Grants to states, Tribes and other partners. That funding is being leveraged with more than $426 million in non-federal funding to complete more than $600 million in improvements, which are expected to result in annual water savings of more than 570,000 acre-feet once completed, enough water for more than 2.2 million people.

    Applications may be submitted under one of two funding groups:

  • Funding Group I: Up to $300,000 will be available for smaller projects that may take up to two years to complete.
  • Funding Group II: Up to $1 million will be available for larger, phased projects that will take up to three years to complete.
  • Proposals must seek to conserve and use water more efficiently, increase the use of renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, benefit endangered and threatened species, facilitate water markets, carry out activities to address climate-related impacts on water, or prevent any water-related crisis or conflict. To view examples of previous successful applications, including projects with a wide-range of eligible activities, please visit http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/weeg.

    The funding opportunity announcement is available at http://www.grants.gov using funding opportunity number R16-FOA-DO-004. Proposals must be submitted as indicated on http://www.grants.gov by 4 p.m., MST, Jan. 20, 2016. It is anticipated that awards will be made in spring 2016. To learn more about WaterSMART please visit http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART.

    Upper #ColoradoRiver Endangered Fish Recovery Program update

    Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
    Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

    From KUNC (Laura Palmisano):

    It all started in 1988 when the federal government signed an agreement with Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, establishing what’s called the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

    Endangered fish at various stages of development can be found at the Colorado River Fishery Project, a national fish hatchery in Grand Junction, Colorado. Right now, the hatchery is home to two species, the endangered razorback sucker and the bonytail.

    “Back when I first started, pikeminnow were probably doing better,” said Dale Ryden, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “There were more big fish throughout the [Colorado River] basin. I had worked here for four years before I ever saw a razorback sucker out of the wild. They just weren’t around anymore. Same thing with bonytail. Bonytail were extremely, extremely rare.”

    The recovery program includes federal and state agencies, environmentalists, hydropower associations and water user groups. Unlike some efforts to conserve other species, it hasn’t involved litigation.

    “Working toward the same goal of recovering the fish, while allowing water development to continue… those two at first blush don’t seem to go together,” Ryden said. “But they actually work together very well.”

    Just to the south of town on the Gunnison River, a tributary of the Colorado, sits a diversion dam built in the early 1900s. It blocked fish from traveling upstream for nearly 100 years, until Ryden said, they put a fish ladder on the dam.

    “It goes up and around the Redlands Dam and provides upstream fish passage for native and endangered fish.”

    The ladder is a selective passage. Biologists use it to trap fish traveling upstream. Then they hand-sort them so only native fish can continue up the Gunnison River. Two similar ladders have been installed along the Colorado and another is in the works on the Green River in Utah.

    Fish ladder at the Redlands diversion dam via KVNF
    Fish ladder at the Redlands diversion dam via KVNF

    The ladders might help fish get to their upstream habitats, but water levels also matter.

    Brent Uilenburg with the Bureau of Reclamation said there is some recognition that “the dams and canals we operate that take water out of the Colorado River Basin have contributed to the decline of the species.”[…]

    The bureau is also the largest single source of funding for the conservation program. States, water developers, and hydropower associations also contribute, totaling more than $350 million over the past 25 years.

    That funding helped the Grand Valley Water Users Association in Grand Junction optimize its system. Before, said Kevin Conrad, the association’s operations manager, they diverted more water than necessary.

    “Whatever they weren’t using, it went out through spillways on the canal back to the river, but it was below a point where the fish couldn’t benefit from it.”

    Conrad said the upgrades also help conserve water and keep it in place for the fish.

    The ultimate goal of the recovery program is to remove the fish from the endangered species list. Biologist Dale Ryden said habitat restoration, water flow improvements, hatchery programs, and invasive fish removal are helping the fish rebound.

    “Probably the biggest star in terms of recovery prospects is the razorback sucker,” said Ryden. “Bonytail are really doing much better with the really robust stocking program.”

    Humpback chub seem stable, but Ryden said questions remain about the Colorado pikeminnow.

    This story comes from ‘Connecting the Drops’ – a collaboration between Rocky Mountain Community Radio and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Find out more at http://cfwe.org.

    USGS Webinar: How to Prioritize Key Areas for Conservation Efforts in a Changing Climate — A Look at “Climate Refugia”

    Ground Squirrel photo credit Toni Lyn Morreli (Northeast Climate Science Center)
    Ground Squirrel photo credit Toni Lyn Morreli (Northeast Climate Science Center)

    Speaker(s): Toni Lyn Morelli, Northeast Climate Science Center

    Presentation Date: Tuesday, December 8, 2015

    Presentation Time: 3:00 PM EST

    Registration: Registration is required for this webinar.

    Please Register Here
    (Video will be posted online one to two weeks after the presentation date.)

    Documents & Resources
    Speaker Bio
    Ground Squirrels & Drought
    Refugia in the Northeast (Related Project)

    Project Summary
    When making important resource management decisions in the face of accelerating impacts from climate change, managers and conservation practitioners must prioritize areas for adaptation actions. “Climate refugia” are often highlighted as potential target areas for conservation because they are buffered from climate change and therefore can help to ensure greater protection of wildlife and resources.

    In this presentation, Toni Lyn Morelli will summarize the physical processes that create climate refugia, discuss a new framework for locating and managing them, and use examples to illustrate ways to identify and verify climate refugia. She will highlight her research using historical comparisons, genetic data, and surveys of Belding’s ground squirrels in the Sierra Nevada to conduct a rare test to determine which montane meadows are acting as refugia to buffer wildlife populations from climate change. Focusing on climate refugia could be an important strategy to help managers prioritize habitats for conservation in a changing climate.

    This research was supported by the California Landscape Conservation Cooperative and the Northeast Climate Science Center.

    Protecting large swaths of land requires perseverance and creativity — The Nature Conservancy

    Roan Cliffs Aerial via Rocky Mountain Wild
    Roan Cliffs Aerial via Rocky Mountain Wild

    This link popped up yesterday in the Nature Conservancy’s Twitter feed (@Nature_Colorado):

    Colorado’s landscapes are spectacular, but areas that are important to people and nature are at risk.

    In the Yampa River Basin in northwest Colorado, sage grouse, elk and ranchers all share one thing in common: they depend on large, unbroken tracts of land. Development in the region threatens to divide this landscape into pieces. The result? Habitats and water supplies are stretched thin.

    In eastern Colorado’s grasslands, you’ll find one of the largest expanses of intact prairie left in the United States. Pronghorn, migratory birds, fossils, Native American history—they’re all part of this spectacular landscape. So, too, are the ranchers, farmers and communities that depend on the landscape for their way of life.

    At The Nature Conservancy, our long-term vision is to protect important places that are large enough to sustain nature and resilient enough to withstand climate change and ongoing development.

    Click here to go to the website and learn more about the Nature Conservancy’s successes in Colorado.

    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

    BLM issues proposed plan for drilling, recreation around Roan Plateau — Denver Business Journal

    From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Protor):

    Nearly a year after settling long-running legal battles over oil and gas drilling on the Roan Plateau in western Colorado, the federal government on Tuesday issued a draft plan for how to manage recreation and drilling in the area.

    The federal Bureau of Land Management issued a new plan to implement the agreement and announced it would be published in the Federal Register on Nov. 20, which will kick off a 90-day public comment period.

    The document is called the “Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Roan Plateau Resource Management Plan Amendment.”

    “For many years the Roan Plateau was a symbol of conflict in the American West,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze, in the BLM’s announcement.

    Kornze credited local groups, state and industry representatives, as well and environmental and wildlife advocates for working to create a new future for the plateau.

    “This draft document moves that vision forward and protects some of the state’s most important fish and wildlife habitat while also allowing for oil and gas development in places where it makes sense,” Kornze said.

    Last year’s agreement canceled 17 of the 19 existing oil and gas leases that allowed drilling on top of the plateau, and refunded about $47.6 million that Denver’s Bill Barrett Corp. (NYSE: BBG) had paid for those leases.

    The remaining two leases on the top of the plateau, as well as 12 leases around the base of the plateau, would remain in place.

    Following the outline of last year’s agreement, the new plan bars drilling on top of the plateau, while retaining the others, the BLM said Tuesday.

    The new draft plan also included two elements — “more robust” air quality analyses and an analysis of the request by nearby communities to require natural gas buried under the plateau to be accessed via wells started on private land or areas below the plateau. The second element was part of a 2012 order from federal district court…

    Sportsmen’s groups said they were reviewing the draft EIS, but they hailed the BLM’s designation of last year’s settlement as its “preferred option” to manage the plateau’s resources.

    “This keeps us moving toward a balanced, fair solution to protecting the Roan Plateau,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, in a statement.

    “We’re hopeful that the final management plan will preserve last year’s settlement, which protects the Roan’s best hunting and fishing habitat while allowing careful, responsible development of its energy reserves. Done right, we can meet both goals,” Nickum said.

    This plan can protect the roan for all Coloradans,”

    Pete Maysmith, the executive director of Conservation Colorado, said in a statement that the plan could protect the plateau “for all Coloradans.”

    “We were very happy to reach a settlement last fall and seeing this plan move forward is a highly anticipated and encouraging next step to protect this amazing area,” Maysmith said.

    The BLM said it plans to hold two public meetings in January 2016 to answer questions and accept written comments…

    Public comments on the Draft SEIS need to be received by February 18, 2016.