Newsletter Article

New Colorado River Website

According to a new U.S. Interior Department website (www.doi.gov/water/owdi.cr.drought/en/index.html), the Colorado River and its tributaries:

-  Are directly linked to nine National Parks and seven National Wildlife Refuges, which support over $1 billion in tourism revenue each year.


Southwest Colorado Mining History

Duane Smith, a local historian and retired Fort Lewis professor, said that even in the late 1800s, downstream communities wondered why the Animas River changed color, as mining practices of the day were unregulated. A 1899 newsclip from the Durango Democrat, indicated the early tension between Durango and Silverton: “The question that is crowding upon Durango thick and fast is one of water. The mill slimes from Silverton are now reaching us.” According to a 1932 report in the Silverton Standard & the Miner, a La Plata County farmer won a legal action against Sunnyside Mining and Milling after the company dumped mine tailings into the Animas River, damaging the farmer’s land and stock. The article does not name the terms of the settlement, but the farmer sought $25,000 in damages (about $500k in today’s dollars). In a great November 17th article by the Durango Herald, archival photos of mine tailing pits above Silverton highlight that not much has changed when it comes to complaints about mine waste since the region’s early settlement. “Ranchers and farmers who want to use water for irrigation in the lower valley have always attempted to force the mine and mill operators to keep the tailings from polluting the streams; however without much success,” the original caption for the 1940 photograph said. The mine tailing photo is especially relevant after the August 5th Gold King Mine blowout, which sent 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage down the Animas River, and reinvigorated a decades-old problem of water quality in the river’s upper basin.


Pilot Water and Land Use Planning Session a Success

The pressures of reduced water supplies intersecting with increased population and the need for adequate housing are prompting a more urgent look at the water and land use planning connection. To these ends the Water Information Program, in conjunction with the American Planners Association—Colorado Chapter and La Plata County, conducted their first water and land use planning work session on October 23rd in Durango. The session was a success and attracted approximately 35 attendees, most of whom were land use planners, water utility personnel, and local government officials. This was a half day session that qualified for 4 CM credits for planners (.75 legal). Topics included the American West and Colorado water realities and issues, water and land use planning overview, Colorado land use regulations, and land use planning tools and techniques.


WIP Lending Library

The Water Information Program lending library now has more than 200 water-related books and movies available for checkout. Stop by the office at 841 East 2nd Avenue in Durango to find a book or DVD of interest to you. In addition, we welcome reviews at any time. If you are interested in providing a book or movie review for our quarterly newsletters, please email 1-2 paragraphs to [email protected]. The winter 2015 newsletter book review is provided by Laura Spann, with the SWCD.

Book Review: Blue Revolution, by Cynthia Barnett, 2012

Journalist Cynthia Barnett’s treatise on today’s water crisis naturally begins with examples from California. Even national energy efficiency leaders like Sacramento squander precious gallons on lawns in a drought-stricken state. “Somehow, America’s green craze has missed the blue,” she says. Why? From industry to government policy to private homes, she portrays a culture of incentives that has encouraged Americans to use more and more water—and value it less and less. How can we avoid a national water crisis? Barnett’s answer is a “water ethic,” a “blue revolution.” When people are connected to their water sources, argues Barnett, they value and conserve more of it. They live within their means and become part of the solution.


WIP’s Participating Entity, SWCD, Update

At their December 9th Board meeting the following grants were funded by the Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD):

-   Dolores Water Conservancy District (DWCD) and Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company (MVIC): The DWCD and MVIC requested a $25,000 SWCD grant in support of an initiative of the two water boards and counties for a redraft by David Robbins of Hill and Robbins, P.C. of the proposed National Conservation Area (NCA) legislation on the lower Dolores River as an alternative to current Wild and Scenic Suitability from McPhee Dam to Bedrock. A total of $25,000 will be raised from DWCD, MVIC, as well as Montezuma, Dolores, San Miguel, and Montrose counties.
-  Study to Determine Potential Colorado River Call Impacts to West Slope: At the December 18, 2014 meeting of the Four West Slope Basin Roundtables held at Ute Water in Grand Junction, various attendees cited the need for technical data so that the Four Roundtables could better discuss issues surrounding future Colorado River development and the risk to current water users. This also came up for each Basin Implementation Plan, and as part of the IBCC conceptual agreement for transmountain diversions. The River District would like SWCD to join in their request to the Four Roundtables to support technical data development by the two Districts. The purpose is to create a common platform to have fruitful discussions on the West Slope regarding Colorado River development. SWCD was asked to contribute $10,000 to this study, along with $10,000 from the River District, and $8,000 from each West Slope Roundtables for a total of $52,000 in funding. 


Final Colorado Water Plan

The much-anticipated, and long-awaited Final Colorado Water Plan was delivered to Governor Hickenlooper on November 19th. The Governor ordered the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to develop the water plan by December 10th back in 2013. According to the Protect Colorado Rivers website (www.waterforcolorado.org), measurable objectives identified in the Plan include:


Homes to Recycle Water

Droughts have pushed cities, especially in the American Southwest, to strengthen efficiency mandates at every point in the water system. According to a recent Energy Collective article, Lancaster, California was one of the first municipalities to require homes to be not only solar-ready, but have recycle-ready plumbing. Innovative companies have developed systems that recycle the gray water in the home for non-potable uses (e.g., outside irrigation, toilet water, etc.). According to the article, more than 80 percent of the water used in the typical home is not used for drinking, and technology is now available that can recover 2 of every 3 gallons of a home’s gray water. Generally, these types of systems can cut the total amount of water used by a home by about one-third. 


Bennet Update and Ditch Irrigation Bill

According to a recent press release from his office, in mid-December Colorado Senator Michael Bennet helped pass a year-end bill that involved numerous Colorado priorities. These included financial support for the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program, as well as the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The bill contains $157 million for the EWP Program, which aids people and organizations in watersheds following natural disasters like floods and wildfires. The LWCF was reauthorization for three years (to September 30, 2018). According to a Coyote Gulch aticle, in 2016 Bennet is working to pass Senate Bill 384, known as the ditch irrigation bill. The bill would allow mutual irrigation companies, which are nonprofits generally owned by local farmers, to lease water to local entities to earn revenue to pay for repairs on aging infrastructure. Under the current tax code these companies could lose their nonprofit status by profiting from water leasing. Bennet and U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, will have their names on the bill when it goes to the Senate in February. 


Here’s What’s Going on With Colorado Legislation…, by Emily Brumit, Water Policy Analyst, Colorado Water Congress

-  Richard Hamilton, a long-time proponent of the Public Trust Doctrine, has drafted a bill on Water Districts. The full title is: A Proposed New General Law Applicable to All Colorado Watersheds, Flood Control, and Greenway Districts. It’s been floated out to a number of legislators, but as of yet nobody has picked it up.

-  Representative KC Becker’s bill, which has been deemed an “accounting bill,” would require "covered entities" defined as a municipality, agency, utility including privately owned utilities, or any other publicly owned entities supplying retail water to customers having a total annual demand of 2000 acre feet or more per year to submit a completed and validated water loss audit report. Rules and performance standards would be set by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who would contribute money to assist those covered entities to comply. 


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