Lake Nighthorse: “This water would really help our future” — Manuel Heart

January 7, 2015
Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

The Durango City Council signed a resolution Tuesday supporting the delivery of water from Lake Nighthorse to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

“This water would really help our future,” Chairman Manuel Heart said.

The resolution stemmed from a series of recent meetings between city officials and the tribe about the potential recreational use of Lake Nighthorse, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.

The city likely will send the resolution to Colorado’s U.S. senators and House members to help support the tribe as it seeks funding for infrastructure to deliver water.

Lake Nighthorse was built to provide Native American tribes, including the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, with water they are entitled to receive, said Justyn Hoch, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has water rights to about 31 percent of the water stored in the lake, but Congress has not funded infrastructure to bring it to the reservation, she said.

Congress has funded a pipeline to the Navajo Nation, which is nearing completion. It will deliver water to the Shiprock area. In addition, the Southern Utes could access water from Lake Nighthorse by releasing it back into the Animas and taking it out of a river diversion, she said.

However, the infrastructure for the Ute Mountain Utes was dropped from federal legislation in 2000, Heart said.

The tribal leadership already has met with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R.-Cortez, and has plans to meet with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R.-Colorado, this year to talk about the need to fund a delivery system.

The additional water would allow for greater economic development on the reservation, Heart said. The reservation covers about 600,000 acres southwest of Cortez and has one of the largest farms in Montezuma County.

Ute Mountain Ute Councilor Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk also voiced her appreciation of the resolution because the reservation currently has limited water resources. While securing water delivery is a priority for the tribe, she expects it to be years before the tribe receives an appropriation.

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here.


Cortez rates going up

December 22, 2014
Cortez early 1900s via Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

Cortez early 1900s via Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

From the Cortez Journal (Tobie Baker):

Public works officials said a “slight” rate adjustment was needed next year to keep up with the rising cost of infrastructure repairs, treatment chemicals and capital expenditures. Water rates will increase 5 percent in 2015.

The measure means a resident with a ¾-inch water meter, which includes the first 1,000 gallons, would pay $16.30 per month in 2015, an increase of 80 cents per month over current rates.

Rates for water usage over 1,000 gallons will also rise next year, from $2.10 to $2.20, and so will fees for the commercial water dock, increasing in 2015 from $12 for 1,000 gallons to $12.50.

The city will also raise its current tap fee of $3,800 to $3,900, starting Jan. 1.

The city’s 2015 water enterprise fund will receive more than $4.1 million in appropriations, which includes nearly $730,000 for personnel services, $670,000 for commodities and $1.85 million for capital projects.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Localized climate change contributed to ancient depopulation — Washington State University

December 5, 2014

From Washington State University (Eric Sorensen):

Washington State University researchers have detailed the role of localized climate change in one of the great mysteries of North American archaeology: the depopulation of southwest Colorado by ancestral Pueblo people in the late 1200s.

In the process, they address one of the mysteries of modern-day climate change: How will humans react?

Writing in Nature Communications, WSU archaeologist Tim Kohler and post-doctoral researcher Kyle Bocinsky use tree-ring data, the growth requirements of traditional maize crops and a suite of computer programs to make a finely scaled map of ideal Southwest growing regions for the past 2,000 years.

Their data paint a narrative of some 40,000 people leaving the Mesa Verde area of southwest Colorado as drought plagued the niche in which they grew maize, their main food source. Meanwhile, the Pajarito Plateau of the northern Rio Grande saw a large population spike.

The plateau “also happens to be the place where you would want to move if you were doing rain-fed maize agriculture, the same type of agriculture that people practiced for centuries up in southwest Colorado,” said Bocinsky, who built the data-crunching programs while earning a WSU Ph.D. with support from a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship.

People try to ‘keep on keeping on’

The dramatic changes in the Southwest took place near the end of the Medieval Warm Period, the warmest in the Northern Hemisphere for the last 2,000 years. The period had a smaller temperature change than we’re seeing now, and its impact on the Southwest is unclear. But it is clear the Southwest went through a major change.

“At a very local scale, people have been dealing with climate fluctuations of several degrees centigrade throughout history,” said Bocinsky. “So we need to understand how people deal with these local changes to generate predictions and help guide us in dealing with more widespread changes of that nature.”

Bocinsky, the paper’s lead author, said the study is particularly significant for modern-day subsistence farmers of maize, or corn, the world’s largest food staple.

“People are generally going to try and find ways to keep on keeping on, to do what they’ve been doing before changing their technological strategy,” he said. “That was something extremely interesting to me out of this project.”

Tree rings yield precipitation, temperature info

To get a more granular look at the changing climate of the Southwest, Bocinsky and Kohler used more than 200 tree-ring chronologies, which use the annual rings of ancient trees to reconstruct the area’s climate patterns over time. Pines at lower elevations will have their growth limited by rainfall, making their rings good indicators of precipitation. High-elevation trees get good rain but are susceptible to cold, making them good indicators of temperature.

The shifting patterns of rainfall and temperature let Bocinsky and Kohler isolate to a few square kilometers the areas that would receive just under a foot of rainfall a year, the minimum needed for ancestral maize varieties still farmed by contemporary Pueblo people.

The area in what is now southwest Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park ended up being one of the best places to grow maize, with good conditions more than 90 percent of the time. The Pajarito Plateau ended up being highly suitable as well, with slopes that would shed cold air and precipitation levels suited to rain-fed agriculture.

Large disparities in small areas

Such big climate differences in such a small area illustrates how some areas could be hit harder than others by the extremes of global climate change, said Bocinsky. He said it is telling that, when the Pueblo people moved, they moved to where they could preserve their farming techniques. He said that could be important to keep in mind as farmers, particularly subsistence farmers on marginal lands, face localized climate impacts in the future.

“When we are looking for ways to alleviate human suffering, we should keep in mind that people are going to be looking for places to move where they can keep doing their type of maize agriculture, keep growing the same type of wheat or rice in the same ways,” he said. “It’s when those niches really start shrinking on the landscape that we start having a major problem, because you’ve got a lot of people who are used to doing something in one way and they can no longer do it that way.”


Durango: McElmo flume presentation planned (Saturday)

July 11, 2014
McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal

McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal

From the Cortez Journal:

The public is invited to a “Saturday Seminar” at the Animas Museum on Saturday, July 19 at 1 p.m.

Linda Towle will present “Saving the McElmo Creek Flume: Water History of the Montezuma Valley.”

Towle is chairman of the Cortez Historic Preservation Board. The Animas Museum is at 3065 W. 2nd Ave. Information: 259-2402.

More San Juan River Basin coverage here.


Montezuma County settles on BLM Canyons of the Ancients water court case

June 16, 2014

laplatasfromroadt

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Montezuma County has bowed out of a complex water dispute on Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, but negotiated stipulations on water use for Yellow Jacket Creek.

In 2009, the monument purchased an inholding – the 4,500-acre Wallace Ranch – for $3.3 million. The property came with a conditional water right of 5.25 cubic feet per second from the intermittent desert stream.

The county, along with Southwest Colorado Landowners Association and Water Rights Montezuma, opposed a routine water-court procedure by the BLM regarding the due diligence on eventual use of the water rights.

“When the BLM acquires conditional water rights, they file for a six-year diligence period, an internal process that gives us time to determine how the water will potentially be used,” said Roy Smith, a BLM water specialist…

The county has been critical of the monument buying private inholdings, fearing it will diminish historic ranching opportunities in that area.

Commissioner Keenan Ertel argued that Article 1, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution requires the state legislature to approve federal purchase of private property. Permission was not granted by the state, and BLM officials do not believe it is necessary.

The BLM filed a request for summary judgment on the case May 30, which asks the Durango water court judge Greg Lyman to rule in favor of the BLM because the objectors’ legal dispute is presented in the wrong court venue. The decision is pending, and if denied would trigger a trial.

The BLM argues due-diligence procedures have narrow parameters in water court and that those specific facts are not disputed in the case. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Guerriero states claims of objectors are irrelevant in water court.

“Specifically, opposers assert Constitutional claims alleging that the United States does not have authority to purchase property own water rights in any state,” writes Kristen Guerrieo, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney. “These are not claims that challenge the validity of BLM’s diligence activities, but rather reflect Opposers’ desire to utilize the Water Court proceeding to advance other objectives.”

Montezuma County officials want water use out of Yellow Jacket creek to be decided on sooner than within the 6-year period requested by the BLM.

“They need to have a plan on what they will do with that water,” said commissioner Ertel.

Montezuma County attorney John Baxter told the commissioners the stipulation agreement drops them as official objectors in the BLM request for the six year diligence period on the Yellow Jacket water rights. But they will still have a say on how the water should be used when the BLM seeks absolute status of those water rights.

“Whether we win or not, they still have to go through us when they perfect the rights,” he said. “The BLM wants to kick the can down the road,” on deciding how to use the water.

The stipulation agreement states that when Yellow Jacket water rights are converted from conditional to absolute they can only be used for public recreation, BLM housing facilities, fire suppression, irrigation use, and livestock use. It further stipulates the water cannot be used to grow crops, that what is not used be available for downstream users, and that the BLM does not file applications to convert the water to instream flow uses or for uses on other properties.

Remaining objectors in the case, Southwest Colorado Landowners Association and Water Rights Montezuma, have until June 24 to respond to the request for summary judgement filed by the BLM.

More water law coverage here.


Montezuma County: Non-hazardous waste from the Red Arrow Mill to local landfill?

May 19, 2014
Red Arrow Mill site Mancos via The Durango Herald

Red Arrow Mill site Mancos via The Durango Herald

From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):

The Montezuma County landfill has taken a proactive measure to help save taxpayers any unnecessary expense when disposing of nonhazardous waste from the Red Arrow mill in Mancos.

Landfill manager Deb Barton recently requested clarification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about accepting any non-hazardous waste from the federal Superfund site. Acting as a concerned citizen, Barton said she sought the clarification in order to help lower waste disposal transportation costs associated with the cleanup effort.

“Why pay an extra 50, 60 or 70 miles of transportation when we’re basically 20 miles from Mancos?” she asked. “If this will reduce the cost to taxpayers, isn’t that my responsibility as a citizen?”

“The EPA is going to tear down everything at the mill, and they would like to keep any non-hazardous material as close as possible,” she said.

After an environmental investigation by state authorities, the EPA issued a temporary 60-day permit for the landfill on Feb. 28. Barton said state and federal laws prohibit the landfill from accepting anything but non-hazardous and non-liquid waste only.

“We’ve been certified to meet EPA standards,” said Barton. “Does that mean they can bring the material to me willy-nilly? No. They have to prove that it is non-hazardous.”

Barton said a certified EPA lab report stating the waste was not hazardous would have to be produced before receiving any non-hazardous waste from Red Arrow. Any mercury tainted waste from the milling site must be less than 0.2 parts per million, and any lead or arsenic polluted material must be less than 5 parts per million, she said.

“The EPA will test everything that comes out of the milling site, because they don’t want another Superfund site along the way,” Barton said. “The EPA would not allow any waste to come that doesn’t meet their standards, so I’m not going to screw the pooch either.”

Because of the EPA lab results, Barton said she remained confident that no hazardous material would ever enter the local landfill. She added that nearby archeological sites, ranchers and ordinary citizens also have nothing to fear.

“If the waste doesn’t have that EPA lab report, then it will be going someplace else,” Barton said. “I’m not going to take any hazardous material.”

More Montezuma County coverage here.


Cortez: Rate hikes cost sanitation district board incumbents their elected jobs

May 7, 2014

sleepingutemountainapril2005

From the Cortez Journal (Toby Baker):

All three challengers to the Cortez Sanitation District were elected Tuesday, forcing both incumbents out of office.

Unofficial results for Tuesday’s mail-in ballot election reveal that board president Dave Waters and board member David Kimble were removed from office. They received 394 and 367 votes, respectively.

Challengers Ryan Griglak, Tim Robinson and Ray Fox received 590, 695 and 704 votes, respectively. They will serve four-year terms.

Reached via telephone Tuesday evening, The Cortez Journal broke the news to Fox.

“I’m pleased,” he said immediately. “Obviously, I wanted to get on the board.”

Fox said he was also happy to hear that Griglak and Robinson would be joining him on the board, adding that they all face a learning curve.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Fox said. “Hopefully we can move things in the right direction.”

Attempts to reach Griglak and Robinson for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday evening.

The total number of ballots mailed versus cast was also immediately unavailable.

More San Juan River Basin coverage here.


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