Commercial rafting remained a strong economic driver in Colorado’s high country last year with the state’s outfitters logging more than a half million user days for the sixth time in a decade.
The 508,728 commercial raft trips on 29 stretches of Colorado rivers generated $162.6 million in economic impact in 2015, setting a new record just above the economic benefit estimated for the 2014 season.
Rafting outfitters are thinking the coming season will be about the same, thanks largely to the snowy April that bolstered alpine snowpacks and the recent cool weather keeping that snow from melting too early.
The Arkansas River from above Buena Vista through Salida to Cañon City remains the state’s powerhouse. Traffic was up 3 percent on the most-rafted stretch of river in the country, with 197,000 user days in 2015. This created an overall economic impact of $62.5 million in Chaffee and Fremont counties.
Southwestern Colorado’s Animas River saw an 8 percent decline in both rafters and spending last year — blamed largely on the catastrophic Gold King mine blowout that fouled the river in August and abruptly deflated that river’s rafting season. Traffic on the Animas River dropped to 34,000 user days from 37,000 in 2014, triggering a nearly million-dollar decline in economic activity, which decreased to $10.8 million in 2015.
For the last decade or so, Colorado’s commercial rafting days have hovered around 500,000, with the exception of the wildfire-plagued 2012 and 2013 seasons when annual visits fell to the lowest points since 2005.
In the business world, that kind of stagnant growth translates into declining stock prices, fired CEOs and new strategies. Not in the realm of rubber riders. Flat is fine in Colorado, where river quotas and caps keep the number of users on several stretches of river at sustainable levels. It’s not likely rafting visits will ever climb much beyond 500,000, Costlow said.
“There’s not enough room on the river to have tremendous growth. It’s protecting the resource,” Costlow said. “We are fine with it. It’s the reality of the resource.”
Rafters directly spent a record $63.5 million in 2015, or about $125 per person, up from $116 per person in 2010.
“A lot more people do multiple activities when they come to visit,” said Alex Mickel, whose Mild 2 Wild Rafting in Durango offers whitewater and Jeep adventures around southwest Colorado. “Reservations are trending strongly this season and we are hopeful. We looking at a good runoff and I think economically, people are looking to travel this summer.”
Activities like watering the lawn and thirsty flower beds don’t require treated water from the tap. Until this week, the state technically could have fined Broderick $500 for his system.
The new law, which takes effect in August, allows homeowners to collect as much as 110 gallons of rain in up to two barrels.
The state hasn’t issued fines in recent years. So why even bother changing the law?
Democratic Rep. Jessie Danielson of Wheatridge says in the face of climate change, drought and a taxed water supply system, rain barrels are an important conservation tool.
“It will tie the consumer to their water usage a lot more closely,” said Danielson.
The bill was first introduced in 2015 but lacked support from the agricultural community and some lawmakers. However, it struck a chord with many homeowners this year. Danielson said as she posted Facebook updates about the bill during the session, those dispatches got more responses than any other posts.
One person was so devoted to the cause they started selling t-shirts.
“They put the words ‘legalize it’ at the top, and instead of it being some marijuana-themed t-shirt it was a picture of a rain barrel,” Danielson said. “This is a fun, important environmental issue that just makes sense to people.”
Drought and water supply concerns have been a catalyst for other state legislatures in Texas, Utah and California to take up rainwater collection.
Some western cities like Los Angeles even offer rebates on equipment.
But in Colorado, where drought is still fresh on many farmers’ minds, getting the bill passed wasn’t easy.
Getting From ‘No’ To ‘Yes’
After the bill was introduced, one of the largest opponents was the Colorado Farm Bureau…
“Rain barrels were kind of looked at as the red-headed step child in a sense,” said Marc Arnusch, a farmer and member of the Colorado Farm Bureau board.
Arnusch said amendments to the 2016 version of the bill guaranteed that rain barrels wouldn’t interfere with farmers’ water rights. The final bill literally says “a rain barrel does not constitute a water right.”
The law will also require the state engineer to track adoption and usage among homeowners. That was a big selling point for Arnusch.
“We need to start preaching heavily about conservation and using water intelligently,” said Arnusch. “And that starts quite frankly in the urban areas of our state.”
Debate and research on rainwater collection stretches back almost a decade in the state. Colorado launched a small-scale study back in 2007. It found that 97 percent of the rainwater in Douglas County is lost to evaporation and vegetation. The study was a catalyst for a 2009 law that gave well owners the right to collect rain water.
In Colorado, the debate may be complicated, but rain barrel owner Aaron Broderick said owning a rain barrel is pretty simple. It takes an afternoon to set up and it can cost under $100. The end result will be a cheaper water bill.
“The thing that’s interesting is that it really isn’t much of an inconvenience,” he said.
The true test will be whether the law causes an inconvenience for water rights holders in the near future. The state engineer’s office is expected to deliver its first report on rain barrels sometime in 2019.
After two years and a downpour of controversy, Coloradans soon will be allowed to use barrels to collect rain that falls from their roofs…
Starting Aug. 10, Coloradans will be allowed to use up to two 55-gallon barrels, which cost about $100 on average.
“They promote education – pay attention to water and how it’s used – and they also promote stewardship,” Hickenlooper said of the barrels, signing the legislation in the backyard of the Governor’s Residence at Boettcher Mansion in Denver.
While the legislation seemed obvious to many observers, it struggled through the Legislature, failing last year, before picking up steam this year.
What held it back was fears that rain barrels would erode the state’s prior appropriations system, which grants water rights to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity.
Several amendments this year helped garner support from factions that ardently fight for water rights, including the Colorado Farm Bureau.
The law allows water officials to curtail use of barrels if injury to water rights is found. The law also states that using a rain barrel is not a water right, and requires the state engineer to evaluate if the use of rain barrels impacts water rights across the state.
Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, helped push the measure along over the past two years by garnering support in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“We don’t want to impact anyone’s water rights. We just want to make sure that we aren’t the only state in the union where this was illegal,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, a co-sponsor of the bill.
Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, added: “It gives urbanites a more personal and intimate connection with the complicated water system in Colorado.”
Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, pointed out that it was remarkable to pass a controversial piece of legislation during a contentious legislative session.
“We keep hearing that there’s this gridlock and that we’re not able to get anything done in a hyper-partisan time,” Danielson said. “This bill is an example of working across the aisle.”
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper this afternoon signed H.B. 1005, a bill legalizing the use of residential rain barrels in Colorado.
Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith and Western Resource Advocates President Jon Goldin-Dubois made the following comments:
This is a victory for Coloradans who care about their state’s incredible rivers, lakes, streams, and waters. Rain barrels are an important educational tool and a great first step toward conservation and increasing awareness about the water challenges facing Colorado. Water conservation is the cheapest, fastest, and most flexible water strategy we have to addressing these challenges. Moving forward, we are ready to work with the Hickenlooper administration, our legislature, and private citizens to implement more water conservation policies, starting with the statewide water conservation goal outlined in last year’s landmark Colorado Water Plan.
Pete Maysmith, Conservation Colorado
On this bright sunny day, we are dancing in the rain!! We applaud Governor Hickenlooper and Representatives Esgar and Danielson and Senator Merrifield for their leadership in passing HB 16-1005, legalizing rain barrels. Now Colorado joins other states across the nation in ensuring everyone can use this common-sense tool to help water their gardens. The entire West is facing water challenges with a growing population, limited water supplies, and a changing climate. We need increased water conservation to help meet these challenges. Someone with a rain barrel develops a better awareness of the water cycle, leading to a needed increased water conservation ethic. We look forward to working with state leaders to build on this step and implement our new Colorado Water Plan. This legislation shows what we can do when we all work together.
Jon Goldin-Dubois, Western Resource Advocates
For more photos and a video of the event, please contact Jessica Goad at firstname.lastname@example.org
“We just want to make sure we’re not the only state in the union where this is illegal. I think that’s why it gained so much national attention, even international attention,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Democrat representing Pueblo.
The new law allows residents to collect and store up to 110 gallons of rainwater as long as you put it back in the ground on your property.
“We thought this was just a good Colorado common sense measure,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat representing Wheat Ridge. “You could take water from the roof, collect it in a barrel and water your tomato plants. Seems straight forward, right? But it wasn’t.”
Danielson’s father is a farmer in Weld County. She said lawmakers initially met resistance from ranchers who worried that allowing people to store water for use when it’s dry would mean less water and runoff downstream.
“We did come to an agreement, one that assures that agriculture and other water users across the state will not have any injury,” said Danielson.
The Colorado Farm Bureau supported the measure. Other supporters say the bill is about conservation and education about the state’s mostprecious natural resource.
“As we move into the implementation of Colorado’s water plan we know that conservation is the cheapest, most effective approach we can do,” said Hickenlooper.
Esgar was one of the first to put the new law into practice, “My wife actually purchased me a rain barrel, although I won’t say it’s been filled yet.”
Sponsors of the bill struck a compromise with farmers and ranchers, adding a provision to the bill that says if there’s any proof rain barrels are hurting downstream users, the state engineer can curtail the usage of them.
State health officials will host a public meeting for input on ablation technology that Black Range Minerals proposes to use to extract uranium in the Tallahassee area west of Canon City.
The meeting is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. May 31 at Quality Inns and Suites, 3075 E. U.S. 50. The Colorado Department of Public Health is working to make a determination on how to regulate use of the new technology to manage risks to the public and the environment.
Australia-based Black Range Minerals initially started exploring for uranium in the Taylor Ranch area west of Canon City in 2008 and got approval from the Fremont County commission in 2010 to expand exploration on an additional 2,220 acre site.
Black Range proposes to use ablation — dubbed “uranium fracking” — which involves drilling a hole up to 24 inches in diameter into a uranium deposit, lowering a rotating nozzle into the ground, blasting a high-pressure water jet stream into the rock in order to fracture it and develop an underground cavern before pumping a uranium-bearing slurry back to the surface for processing.
Health officials also will take public comment through July 8 via email to Jennifer.email@example.com.
A bill that includes $3 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit passed the U.S. Senate today on a 90-8 vote, with both Colorado senators working to include funding for the conduit.
The Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill (HR2028) has passed the House and now will go to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
The $3 million for the conduit will continue work on planning and land acquisition for the conduit, which will provide clean drinking water from Pueblo Dam along a 120-mile route to Lamar and Eads. A total of 40 communities serving 50,000 people will benefit.
“Some of the pieces have finally started falling into place,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the sponsor of the conduit.
Long will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to testify on behalf of legislation (S2616) that would allow the district to use miscellaneous revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to repay nonfederal loans. The legislation is key to making the cost of the conduit, which could be as high as $400 million, affordable to Arkansas Valley communities, he said.
The $3 million was included in the administration’s budget, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said he fought to keep it in the bill.
“The Arkansas Valley Conduit is a critical project to deliver clean drinking water to dozens of communities in Southeast Colorado,” Bennet said. “The president’s budget included this crucial funding, and we fought to ensure it was included as the bill moved through the Senate.”
The conduit is part of the original Fryingpan- Arkansas Project, but was not built because of the expense. Now, the communities in the Lower Arkansas Valley are seeking its construction because of the escalated cost of other methods of treating water in order to reach state and federal water quality standards.
“The federal government made a commitment more than five decades ago, and this funding ensures Congress is doing its part to fulfill that promise,” Bennet said. “We will continue to pursue any avenue necessary to ensure this project is completed as promised.”
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., applauded the vote because it assisted the conduit, as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.
“I’m proud to have secured the funding for two important provisions in this appropriations package that directly affect Colorado,” Gardner said. “The Arkansas Valley Conduit project will result in cleaner, safer water in Southeast Colorado, and this important funding was approved to assist in the cost of construction.”
Bennet and Gardner are co-sponsors of S2606, the bill Long is scheduled to testify about next week.
A plan to allow water to pass through Cucharas Reservoir until a new dam is built has been approved in a settlement of a legal case that has been drawn out for more than a year.
Two Rivers Water and Farming Co. filed an objection last August to a February 2015 state order to remove the dam, located 12 miles northeast of Walsenburg, claiming it still intends to build a new dam downstream. The Colorado Supreme Court returned the case to Division 2 water court, where a settlement was approved last month by Water Judge Larry Schwartz in lieu of a trial.
“The state and division engineers were very helpful in developing a common-sense plan for rebuilding the Cucharas dam,” John McKowen, Two Rivers CEO, said in a press release this week. “The plan will insure the public’s safety and increase the water efficiency inside the entire Huerfano River basin.”
Two Rivers is required in the next six months to remove the rock fill embankment of the entire length of the dam. It also must cut a channel allowing 150 cubic feet per second to pass through the reservoir and dam on the Cucharas River in Huerfano County. The Cucharas River merges with the Huerfano River before it empties into the Arkansas River.
Those remedies are more stringent than McKowen’s claim last year that the dam was safe because its crest had been removed and it was storing no water because the gates were locked open.
McKowen plans to build a new dam downstream that would allow storage at the site, which has been under restriction by the state since the old dam began leaking in 1987.
In the settlement discussions, McKowen talked with the state about using Two Rivers’ assets in the Huerfano River basin to address other water issues in the basin. Two Rivers owns all of the Orlando Reservoir in Huerfano County and canal system and 95 percent of the Huerfano- Cucharas Irrigation Co., which includes Cucharas Reservoir and farmland in Pueblo County.
While the settlement resolved issues with the state, there are still legal issues between Two Rivers and other water users in the Huerfano River basin.
As part of the settlement, Two Rivers would pay Huerfano County $100,000 if it fails to comply with the consent decree. The state has reserved the authority to evaluate compliance and to take further action, if necessary.
With boating season poised to kick off on Memorial Day weekend, it’s time to become vigilant over aquatic nuisance species — ANS, for short. These non-native troublemakers often physically change local ecosystems by altering traditional food chains, damage water infrastructure and degrade water quality, as well as limit fishing and recreational opportunities.
In Colorado, the main threat is zebra and quagga mussels, two freshwater species that are closely related and originated in Western Europe and Eastern Asia. These critters seek out dark and discreet crevices and clefts and fasten themselves to the underside of boats for protection.
Last year was a record year in the state for the number of boats found to possess these mussels by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), the agency charged with most recreation, fish and wildlife management. By this same time in 2015, inspectors discovered three boats with the nuisance species and pinpointed 24 by the end of the season.
“It’s a real threat,” said Robert Walters, invasive species specialist for CPW. “In 2016, we’ve already intercepted five watercraft coming into the state with confirmed zebra and quagga mussels, so we’re on pace to exceed what we did last year.”
This particular invasive species removes major quantities of plankton, which act as food for juvenile fish, and other nutrients from the water. On top of that, if zebra and quagga mussels then go undetected and a boat encrusted with them launches into a different body of water and unintentionally transfers them, it is practically impossible to remove them permanently once they occupy it.
At many well-attended boating spots throughout the state, CPW relies exclusively on boater education programs through prevention campaigns and instructive signage to offset ANS issues. There are other locations, though, that are considered high-priority or high-risk due to their proximity to the Front Range.
On the White River National Forest, there are just three reservoirs that are considered at heightened risk from these invasive species entering the water from boaters. Those are Dillon Reservoir, Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District and the Green Mountain Reservoir on the northern end of Summit County along the Blue River.
Denver Water, which manages Dillon Reservoir, pays for boat inspectors before vessels launch if they’ve been out of state or for residents if they’ve been in local, known infected water. Inspectors at the Ruedi and Green Mountain have in the past been financed by a combination of U.S. Forest Service regional dollars that get split up among the many districts, in addition to CPW funding.
But, as annual Forest Service budgets continue to dwindle — the White River had a general allocation of $31 million five years ago and for 2016 is operating on just $18 million — the local districts have had to make difficult choices and purge maintaining reserves for nonessential programs such as invasive species prevention. The Ruedi still has some funding streams to keep its program running, but Green Mountain has been less fortunate.
“As we’ve declined in our funding, we’ve had to prioritize what we do at the forest level,” said Bill Jackson, Dillon district ranger. “So what do we fund — seasonal employees, people, other programs or (invasive species)? Those are tough decisions to make, and some people think (infestation) is inevitable or don’t think that it’s money well spent.”
The predicament is, however, that without proper prevention measures, the cost of potential mussel contamination can be much, much higher. On some multiuse reservoirs around the country — Green Mountain is also the location of the Green Mountain Dam — maintenance can skyrocket where these problem species land because they can cause water treatment, irrigation and power generation facility snags.
“If there were quagga and zebra mussels in there,” said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, “it would cost millions and millions of dollars annually. There is a huge, very expensive problem with them in Lake Powell, for instance, and a lot of Arizona reservoirs.”
Pueblo Reservoir is the only one in the state known to have the quagga mussel, though those spotted have only been in a developmental larval stage known as a veliger. While not yet pervasive, the goal remains to avert this problem in other favorite, yet susceptible, sites for boating such as Green Mountain.
“It’s just the veligers that have been detected,” Mike Porras, CPW’s public information officer, said of Pueblo Reservoir. “The inspections are critical to help keep our waters from becoming infested.”
Stiegelmeier, along with the Dillon Ranger District and CPW, are optimistic they can locate the necessary dollars to keep up mandatory inspections before boats launch into Green Mountain Reservoir. They are looking to the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and manages the dam there, to take on the burden of these costs, while also still searching for other proceeds.
“We are doing our best to find money for these programs,” said Jackson. “If the funding doesn’t come through, then, like other locations, we’ll have to rely on educating boaters, signs and really getting the word out through websites and social media. Otherwise, we’ll just have to close the area to boating, and we don’t want to do that.
“We haven’t given up and we’re still beating the bushes for help,” he added, “and still looking at options here in Summit County. We’re doing what we can.”
From @EcoFlight1 via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
EcoFlight’s student program took to the air again this week.
Students from science classes at Yampah, Roaring Fork and Glenwood Springs high schools on Wednesday got a look at the big picture of what a watershed looks like from the cockpit of small airplanes as they flew over the Roaring Fork River watershed.
Christina Medved, watershed education director from Roaring Fork Conservancy, joined EcoFlight’s educational discussion with the students about snowpack in the Elk Mountains, and how 30 million people downstream depend on water from the Colorado River for agriculture, recreation and domestic use.
“We saw so many little lakes and ponds, and where our water comes from.” Carl Wright, a junior at Yampah High.
“We were surprised to see how much agriculture we have here, and how close it is. I didn’t realize how much we had around here,” said Bella Reiley, senior at Roaring Fork High.
EcoFlight uses small airplanes to educate students, scientists and stakeholders about conservation issues, and to inspire students to have a voice for their environment. The organization’s mission overlaps with that of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, as Medved said: “Our mission is to inspire people to explore, value and protect our watershed. These are the next generation of decision-makers who will have to deal with these issues — water and growth — in the future, so why not educate them and show them firsthand how important this watershed is to us and those downstream?”
“This is an amazing opportunity that the students have been looking forward to all year. They talked about watershed and conservation issues in their public lands management unit earlier in the year, and this is a great way for them to connect what they learned in the classroom with the bigger picture,” said Brooke Bockelman, experiential programs manager at the Buddy Program.