Water from Ruedi may again be released for endangered fish in 15-mile reach

Holding water. The Ruedi spillway and dam on the Fryingpan River above Basalt.
Holding water. The Ruedi spillway and dam on the Fryingpan River above Basalt.

BASALT – The Colorado Water Conservation Board is poised to approve a second round of water releases from Ruedi Reservoir for the benefit of endangered fish in a 15-mile reach of the Colorado River above Grand Junction.

Like last year, the CWCB wants to release up to 12,000 acre-feet of water from Ruedi and send it down the Fryingpan, Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers to help struggling populations of Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, ponytail, and humpback chub.

The CWCB signed a lease with the Ute Water Conservancy District in August to release the district’s 12,000 acre-feet, a back-up supply of water that it owns in Ruedi.

In September, 6,000 acre-feet of water was released from Ruedi, and another 3,000 acre-feet of water was released in October.

In an effort to maintain both fishing in the Fryingpan and hydropower production at the Ruedi dam, the flow rate did not exceed 300 cubic feet per second during the two months of releases, or cause the Fryingpan to go above 350 cfs.

The CWCB paid Ute Water $64,800 for the 9,000 acre-feet of water it actually used against its 12,00 acre-feet lease agreement. The price offsets what the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation charges Ute Water for managing the water in Ruedi.

Ute Water provides water to over 80,000 people in Palisade, Clifton, Grand Junction, Fruita, Loma and Mack. The district’s main water sources are on the Grand Mesa.

It paid $15.6 million in 2013 to the Bureau of Reclamation for the 12,000 acre-feet in Ruedi. It’s a back-up or emergency water supply for Ute Water that can also be used for instream flow purposes.

Concluding in a March 17 memo that last year’s release program “by most accounts, worked very well for everyone involved,” CWCB staffers are now proposing entering into a second one-year lease for Ute Water’s 12,000 acre-feet of Ruedi water.

At a CWCB board meeting Thursday in La Junta, CWCB staffers will seek approval for a lease with the same terms as last year, or 12,000 acre-feet for $86,400. The agency has $435,000 to spend for instream flow purposes from its Conservation Species Trust program.

The 2016 lease between CWCB and Ute Water includes the same release limit of 300 cfs and the same river-flow cap of 350 cfs below Ruedi.

CWCB staffers are set to meet with local stakeholders in the Eagle County Building in El Jebel on Monday, March 21, at 4 p.m. to talk about this year’s “lease and release” program.

The meeting is, somewhat awkwardly, four days after the lease is to be considered by the CWCB board of directors.

Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, which is coordinating Monday’s meeting in El Jebel, said it wasn’t possible to schedule a meeting before this week’s CWCB meeting.

Ruedi Water, Pitkin County and the city of Aspen have all told the CWCB they have concerns about the release program, including that it might set a precedent for higher flows in the lower Fryingingpan, which could crimp recreation.

Higher flows in the river make wading trickier for anglers, and releases drop the water levels in the reservoir, making it harder to launch and take out boats.

The lower Fryingpan River in March.
The lower Fryingpan River in March.

CWCB pleased

In their March 17 memo, CWCB staffers said last fall’s release of 9,000 acre-feet “resulted in higher flows in the 15-mile reach and provided some operational flexibility for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and operators of other reservoirs that release water in late summer to benefit the endangered fish habitat.”

The CWCB, a state agency charged with both water-supply planning and environmental protection, holds an instream flow right of 581 cfs in the 15-mile reach, which starts at the river-wide roller dam in lower DeBeque Canyon above Palisade.

“This reach is sensitive to water depletions because of its location downstream of several large diversions,” a CWCB memo from May 2015 states. “It provides spawning habitat for these endangered fish species as well as high-quality habitat for adult fish.

“Due to development on the Colorado River, this reach has experienced declining flows and significant dewatering during the late summer months, and at times, there are shortages in the springtime,” the memo adds.

The CWCB’s release program has the support of the Colorado Water Trust, Western Resource Advocates, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited.

But Ruedi Water also expressed concern about how the program may change long-standing water management practices on the lower Fryingpan.

The authority, in a May 2015 letter to CWCB, said the benefits of helping endangered fish “must be balanced with protection of existing economic, recreational and environmental values that have been fostered by Ruedi Reservoir management practices over the last 40-plus years.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Monday, March 15, 2016.

New fish passage project underway on the Cache la Poudre

Crews put the finishing touches on a new diversion structure on the Poudre River near the Environmental Learning Center just west of Interstate 25 [February 2016]. Specialists used rocks to create just the right shape and size of pool, at right, at the edge of a passage for native fish species. (Fort Collins Natural Areas / Special to the Reporter-Herald)
Crews put the finishing touches on a new diversion structure on the Poudre River near the Environmental Learning Center just west of Interstate 25 [February 2016]. Specialists used rocks to create just the right shape and size of pool, at right, at the edge of a passage for native fish species. (Fort Collins Natural Areas / Special to the Reporter-Herald)

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The passage will allow many fish species to migrate upstream to expand their habitat and seek refuge from predators — a move that will counteract habitat destruction without affecting agricultural use and water rights.

“We saw this as a win-win to work with North Poudre,” said Jennifer Shanahan, watershed planner with Fort Collins Natural Areas Department.

“Our goal is, over the next decade or two or three, to improve the river by creating more fish habitat.”

[…]

North Poudre Irrigation Co. was willing to work with the natural areas specialists and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to build one such diversion into the structure that pulls water from the Poudre River to fill Fossil Creek Reservoir.

The original diversion structure was constructed between 1902 and 1910 and was rebuilt in the 1980s. Then, the 2013 floods took out the entire structure.

The North [Poudre] Irrigation Co. built a new diversion structure in the same location, next to the Environmental Learning Center, last month.

Included in the $860,000 project, completed with a loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board was the fish passage, designed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)
Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

“This is the first true fish passage to be constructed into an operation (on the Poudre) that has been a truly agricultural operation,” said Scott Hummer, general manager of the irrigation company.

Fort Collins Natural Areas Department, excited to cooperate on the project, pitched in $30,000.

The passage is designed with specially placed rocks that allow the fish to migrate upstream, stopping and resting behind the rocks when needed, Shanahan explained. Also, the pool at one side of the passage was crafted with rocks to create a specialized effect for the benefit of fish.

“Fish passage is only one piece of the puzzle,” said Shanahan. “It’s opening the door to get to the next level, sustained low flow.”

This means that there would always be a certain level of water in the river, which sometimes runs dry in areas depending upon how much water is being diverted for agricultural and domestic water use.

Natural areas officials understand the importance of water rights and are in no way wanting to challenge or limit those uses, Shanahan said.

What they hope to do, and what has been happening through a local coalition called The Poudre Runs Through It, is to bring those water users together with environmentalists, rafters, researchers and farmers to find creative ways to meet all needs of the river. That effort is underway.

“It’s a creative way that is not stepping on anyone’s water rights,” Shanahan said, stressing that it is important for water users to realize the goal includes maintaining their water rights.

Added Hummer, “It’s new ground for some people, so people are cautious.”

The group, and river specialists, hope to find a unique solution that will continue to improve the fish habitat in the river, which will benefit the health or the river as well as the recreation and habitat that surround the Poudre.

#Snowpack news

Westwide SNOTEL March 10, 2016 via the NRCS
Westwide SNOTEL March 10, 2016 via the NRCS

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Snowpack in the Rio Grande Basin has slipped below normal, Colorado Division of Water Resources Staff Engineer Pat McDermott told water leaders Tuesday afternoon in Alamosa.

“We are well above last year,” he said, “but we have dipped below average.”

He told members of the Rio Grande Roundtable that the basin has not had much snow since February 23 and only had two substantial snowfalls in February.

El Niño is not expected to bring much more moisture this month, he added, but perhaps April and May will be wetter months. He said the forecast for April through June predicts above normal precipitation for this area, near normal precipitation in July and August and a “heat wave” into the fall, followed by a dry spell through the end of the year.

“I hope we get something here soon,” he said.

McDermott said the streamflow forecast has dropped significantly since the last report, with Saguache Creek runoff predicted at 106 percent, Rio Grande near Del Norte at 101 percent , Alamosa River above Terrace at 91 percent, Ute Creek 88 percent; Conejos near Mogote 93 percent and Culebra Creek 87 percent.

As far as the Rio Grande Compact, Colorado is in good standing with its downstream neighbors, having delivered more than required in 2015, McDermott reported. The exact amount of over delivery is still being worked out among the division engineers , he added. That will be part of the agenda for the annual compact meeting , which this year will be hosted by Alamosa on March 31. The Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s new building will be open by then and will host the compact meeting.

Endangered species will also be part of the discussion during the compact meeting, McDermott said.

For example, since the compact storage reservoir at Elephant Butte has seen such low water levels , Southwestern Willow Flycatchers have taken up residence there on the delta, so money is being spent now to find additional habitat where the birds can relocate when the reservoir fills up again.

McDermott said this side of the New Mexico border is providing ample habitat. This area is required to host 25 pairs of the tiny birds and is currently up to 60 pairs.

The fate of the silvery minnow is also a concern along the Rio Grande, McDermott said. He added that Colorado sent more water than it had to downstream to try to keep the minnow afloat, but it has been a struggle in New Mexico to keep the minnow’s habitat from drying up.

“It’s been a tough five years on the Rio Grande for the silvery minnow,” McDermott said.

From CBS Denver (Chris Spears):

In a report released Thursday morning the National Weather Service said that El Niño was in the process of weakening and could be over by early summer.

El Niño is a phenomenon where a warming of the waters in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean can have significant impacts on the global weather pattern…

Mother Nature was very generous to Colorado between November and January with a series of soggy storm systems that brought above average snowfall to both the mountains and the Front Range.

But a dry weather pattern that developed after a heavy snow in early February has prevailed for several weeks, causing mountain snowpack to dwindle and the eastern plains to dry out…

Some of the driest conditions can be found in the Arkansas River Valley east of Pueblo where pre-drought conditions are being experienced.

As of March 1 nearly 9% of Colorado was considered to be “abnormally dry” or in pre-drought. That number jumped to 14% by March 8.

It’s a similar story in the mountains where snow is lagging behind during the most important month for snow accumulation in the central Rockies…

Current long-range forecasts show the possibility of a weather maker by the middle to end of next week.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

That taste of spring that western Coloradans have enjoyed for the past few weeks has taken a toll on the state’s snowpack.

Blue skies and warm days have contributed to Colorado’s snowpack falling to below normal, at 98 percent of median as of Monday, according to Natural Resources Conservation Service data.

That comes after what had been a strong start for snowfall accumulation in the state in recent months. But a drier midwinter also was expected by forecasters as part of this year’s El Niño weather pattern. And the good news from a snowpack perspective is that the experts also believe the odds are that moister weather lies ahead this month and next based on past El Niño patterns.

“Right now it does look like that we are looking toward a change in (weather) pattern right around the seventh of March,” said Joe Ramey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

He said that in recent weeks, a ridge of high pressure west of Colorado has weakened storms coming in from the Pacific Ocean.

“We just get light snowfall in the mountains, if any,” he said.

That ridge is expected to remain in place this week, which reduced the amount of snowfall expected with the weather system that moved in on Monday. But Ramey said the ridge should then get pushed east, at least for a while, opening the door for more generous snowfall in the mountains by next Monday or so.

“It does look like we’re heading back to a shift toward more winter-like conditions now that everybody’s thinking about, I don’t know, golfing and gardening,” Ramey said.

Painful as a weather change might sound to some, it would provide a welcome boost for the state’s water supplies. Statewide snowpack is down 19 percentage points from 117 percent as of Feb. 2. The Colorado and Gunnison river basins were respectively at 116 and 122 percent of median then, but by Monday both had fallen to exactly 100 percent of median, with the Upper Rio Grande and South Platte basins also at that amount.

The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins dipped to 98 percent of median, the Yampa/White basins are at 93 percent, the North Platte is at 92 percent and the Arkansas is at 99 percent.

Colorado’s winter so far has been doing pretty well at following the script for El Niño winters, a reference to winters with weather dictated by above-normal water temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. That script called for an above-average start precipitation-wise in the state, followed by a below-average period and then a wet end to the snowfall accumulation season, if a strong El Niño persists long enough, which Ramey said it’s doing.

Ramey said he had expected the dry period to arrive in January, but it showed up a little later.

“We’re still thinking that March and April overall have a tendency to be wet during especially strong El Niños,” he said.

He said the weakened high-pressure ridge next week could even result in snow in the Grand Valley.

“It will be a marked change from what we’ve had in the past few weeks,” he said.

“Since all of us like to drink water and wash our dishes and water our lawns, it has to be a positive aspect for most folks.”

Ramey is uncertain how long the moister trend next week may last, however, pointing to signs that the high-pressure ridge to the west could rebuild beyond March 10 and lead to a drier pattern again.

Erik Knight, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office, said he’s expecting Blue Mesa Reservoir to fill this year.

“Some of that is based on hoping the storms return in March and April,” Knight said.

He said it has helped that recent problems and maintenance work at power plants downstream from the reservoir led to reduced water releases from the reservoir and let it carry more water through the winter.

As of Feb. 1, reservoir storage across the state was at 110 percent of average. Storage was at 108 percent of average in the Upper Colorado basin and 109 percent in the Gunnison basin.

Knight said that outside of a storm at the start of February, “things have been pretty dry, not a whole lot of extra snow accumulation up there” for the month.

“Now we’re just kind of banking on El Niño producing in March and April, and if it does we’ll be good and if it doesn’t we might struggle to fill the (Blue Mesa) reservoir,” he said.

All of the snowfall in Grand Junction in February came at the start of the month, including 4 inches on Feb. 1 and small amounts on Feb. 4 and 6, Ramey said. The 4.7 inches in total amounted to above-average overall snowfall for Grand Junction for February, he said.

Melanie Mollack, an employee at The Board & Buckle, a ski and bike shop in Grand Junction, said this winter season couldn’t have started off better in terms of snowfall at Powderhorn Mountain Resort.

Now, “it’s spring skiing. There’s still snow up on the mountains and as long as you understand there’s not been anything fresh, there’s still a great time to be had. There’s no bad snow, there’s just a bad attitude,” she said.

She said her store has continued to be busy, particularly on the gear rental side.

“It’s just been all hands on deck, really,” she said.

Looking forward, Mollack chooses to believe that more good snow is on its way, prior to the true spring ski season beginning.

“You have to just say, yes, it’s going to happen, and then it will happen for us,” she said.

However this El Niño winter turns out, Ramey says Coloradans can expect a different kind of winter next winter, with indications that a La Niña weather pattern will occur as water temperatures in the eastern Pacific shift to below-average temperatures.

Whereas El Niños typically result in above-average snowfall in the southern part of the state, La Niñas tilt the odds in favor of higher snowfall north of Interstate 70, which is good news for ski areas in places like Steamboat Springs and Winter Park.

But that’s getting ahead of things, with some pivotal months left in this year’s snowpack season.

“Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a wet spring,” Ramey said.

CRRG: Prioritizing Management and Protection of the #ColoradoRiver Environmental Resouces

Click here to read the report from the Colorado River Research Group. Here’s an excerpt:

The Colorado River is one of North America’s greatest natural assets. Flowing from “the land of snow to the land of sun,” in the words of John Wesley Powell, the river provides water and hydroelectricity to 40 million people. Parts of the river network are also superlative for their natural wonder. Grand Canyon and other national parks and monuments of the Colorado Plateau comprise the densest concentration of protected lands in the lower 48 states, and the reservoirs of the watershed are recreational playgrounds. Many of the native fish in the mainstem occur nowhere else on Earth. And the delta of the Colorado River, characterized by Aldo Leopold in the 1920s as “The Green Lagoons,” was once among the most biologically diverse places on the continent.

For many of us who live in the Southwest, the Colorado River not only provides the water and electricity necessary to meet our needs, but also provides beauty and inspiration that sustains and enriches our lives. It is therefore critical that the natural assets of the Colorado River be given equal footing with other uses in decisions about river management. But they are not. In our single‐minded effort to maximize consumptive use of the basin’s waters, we have radically altered the natural environment, leaving many components of the basin ecology on life support. Too often, environmental efforts focus on palliative measures required by laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, doing little to restore and maintain the river’s necessary ecological functions.

There are a number of large environmental mitigation programs in place across the basin: namely, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program in the basin’s headwaters; the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program focused on the Grand Canyon segment of the river; the Lower Colorado Multi‐Species Conservation Program focused on the highly altered segment between Hoover Dam and Yuma; and the Minute 319 binational planning and monitoring effort concerned with the dewatered delta that is primarily in Mexico. All of these environmental programs provide value in protecting specific native species, protecting native ecosystems, creating novel ecosystem mixes of native and nonnative species, or rehabilitating valued river landscapes within each program’s specific geographic area. These programs are, nevertheless, an incomplete patchwork of largely uncoordinated efforts, existing in some cases to facilitate compliance with environmental laws that might otherwise constrain users from withdrawing additional water from the river system.1 Comprehensive restoration of the entire river network requires cultivation of a basin‐scale vision and strategy for environmental management integrated within emerging strategies concerning water allocation and hydropower production.

The Colorado River Basin is divided into upper and lower portions. It provides water to the Colorado River, a water source that serves 40 million people over seven states in the southwestern United States. Colorado River Commission of Nevada
The Colorado River Basin is divided into upper and lower portions. It provides water to the Colorado River, a water source that serves 40 million people over seven states in the southwestern United States. Colorado River Commission of Nevada

#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.