Summer 2015

Top Stories

Rain on Snow Brings Much-Needed Flush to Florida River!

Thirteen years ago, in June 2002, the Missionary Ridge Fire in southwest Colorado burned for 39 days and consumed nearly 73,000 acres, including 56 homes. One firefighter lost his life. The skies were dark and thick with smoke, and in the aftermath, there was debris, mud, soot, and trees strewn in the river channel below Lemon Dam. Thanks to the heavy May precipitation this year, John Ey, Lemon Dam Superintendent, was able to make high releases from the reservoir and flush the Florida River channel. This provided a much-needed cleansing to the river, which had been unable to be accomplished in recent years due to prolonged drought conditions that have occurred since the 2002 fire. The extended high releases will provide numerous benefits to the river and ecosystem. Benefits include improved aquatic food base and spawning habitat, riverside vegetation, and wildlife habitat.

People & Organizations

Dolores Conservation District Changes Name

According to a recent Mancos Times article, the Dolores Conservation District (a WIP participating entity) is changing its name and embarking on a marketing campaign to raise awareness of its agricultural services. The first step is the name change to High Desert Conservation District. "The old name has been confusing for people," said district manager Judy Garrigues. "It's hard to promote ourselves when the public isn't clear about what we do." The High Desert Conservation District provides farmers and ranchers with resources to better manage their operations.

La Plata-Archuleta Water District

Bayfield's water treatment plant will get a major expansion in the next few months, but the town won't be paying for it, the La Plata-Archuleta Water District (LAPLAWD) will. LAPLAWD is also a partner in the Water Information Program. Town trustees approved the low bid of $7.1 million from Integrated Water Services on May 5, and the LAPLAWD board approved it on May 14. The rural water district serves customers with water treated in the Bayfield plant through a joint agreement signed in 2012. The 1 million gallons per day water plant expansion paid for by LAPLAWD is part of that agreement.

Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District

In April our WIP partner, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD), water loss report update indicated that the district’s total water loss fell to nearly half of the prior month. Much of that improvement is contributed to a significant water break that was discovered and repaired.

Lawn Gone: Durangoans Remove Grass to Save Water and Make a Statement

On May 15th, local water engineer Steve Harris and his wife Lourdes, conducted a ceremonial lawn removal party at their home in Durango. They invited a few other concerned residents to join them, and together they made a statement: It’s time to stop wasting water. One place to start is on lawns we don’t need. “If the only time you walk on your lawn is to mow it, you probably have more lawn than you need,” has become the mantra of Harris. Or another way to think of it, stated Harris, “Unneeded lawn is the like tamarisk." Of course, one lawn is literally a drop in the bucket in the overall picture, but it’s a reasonable start, Harris said.

Dolores Water Conservancy District: Water Law and Legislative Expert David Robbins to Review Dolores NCA Proposal, by Mike Preston

A recently released draft bill would ask Congress to designate portions of the Lower Dolores River as a National Conservation Area (NCA) and Wilderness Area. The much-anticipated proposed legislation was created over a five-year period by a legislative subcommittee put together by the Lower Dolores Plan Working Group.

Current Events

At the Margins

Across the Colorado River Basin precipitation has been well above average, and while it has not been enough to make up for a weak winter snowpack, it has been enough to improve things significantly at the margins, at a time when “at the margins” is where the basin’s managers have been eking out a nerve-wracking existence. In particular, a 2016 Lower Basin shortage declaration, which would have mandated reduced water deliveries to Central Arizona, seems a lot less likely.

Endless Growth

The punishing California drought is forcing a reconsideration of whether the aspiration of untrammeled growth that has for so long been this state’s driving engine has run against the limits of nature. “Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here,” said Kevin Starr, a historian at the University of Southern California who has written extensively about this state.

The Age of Limits

According to United Nations predictions, the world’s food supply will need to double by 2050. In coming decades, farmers, especially in the western US, will need to find a way to meet a growing need for exports with far less water than they have used in the past, said Patrick O’Toole, president of the Family Farm Alliance. “We’ve reached the era of limits, we always thought the West was unlimited,” he said. It’s not just water that may be scarce in the future. “We’re watching people go out of agriculture, we’re watching land go out of production,” he said.

Water Quality / Conservation

Water Conservation Nullified by Growth

According to an early April Water Online article, while California residents are trying to conserve water, it may do little good in the face of population growth. California water agencies are on track to satisfy a state mandate to reduce water consumption 20 percent by 2020, but according to their own projections, that savings won’t be enough to keep up with population growth just a decade later.

EPA Study Confirms Fracking Affects Drinking Water

In June the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that fracking does pollute drinking water, with the release of the draft final version of its study of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas and Its Potential Impact on Drinking Water Resources.

Colorado #1 Endangered River

The Grand Canyon stretch of the Colorado tops American Rivers' 32nd annual list of endangered rivers because of cumulative threats to scenery and spring water from commercial and residential development plans, and from a push to restart major uranium mining. The designation marks the third year in a row that all or part of the drought-sapped river has been at or near the top of the advocacy group's annual watch list of rivers it feels face potentially harmful actions or decisions in the coming year. A gondola-tramway plan that would drop up to 10,000 tourists daily a few thousand feet down to the canyon bottom on the river's south side helped push the Grand Canyon section of the Colorado to the top of this year's list.

Animas River Water Quality

As reported in an early June Durango Herald article, about 20 concerned people gathered at the Durango Public Library to hear one woman’s answer to an effortlessly gripping question: “Who pooped in the river?” According to Melissa May, a natural resource specialist for San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District, who analyzed microbial source tracking results for the Animas River in Colorado and New Mexico--the answer is, in short, humans pooped in it.

Water Law

California Water Rights Exceed Supply

Among other serious water challenges, UC Davis researchers have found that in the last century, California has handed out rights to five times more surface water than their rivers produce even in a normal year. On some major river systems (i.e., the San Joaquin Valley), people have rights to nearly nine times more water than flows from the Sierra mountains.

New Water Rights Transfer

The non-profit Colorado Water Trust and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) have unveiled a creative new way for agricultural water rights holders to be compensated for sharing their water to meet conservation goals. The two organizations have collaborated to restore late summer flows to a 5-mile stretch of the Little Cimarron River in the Gunnison River Basin by sharing an agricultural water right.

Landmark Legal Decision Protects Instream Flows

In April the Colorado Supreme Court rendered a landmark decision upholding the instream water right for the San Miguel River in Southwest Colorado. The court deemed that a senior water rights holder, Farmers Water Development Company, is unaffected by the State of Colorado’s instream water rights on the San Miguel river and affirms that state water rights are a legitimate and essential tool to protect Colorado’s fish and wildlife.

Energy and Water

Hydropower Uncertainty

As investments in wind and solar power climb, backing major hydropower projects may be seen as a risky bet in a warming world. Studies indicate that climate change could make rain and snowfall less certain in some regions. An indicator of where renewables investors are focusing their attention, large hydropower was left out of a recent and major United Nations and Bloomberg report showing that global investments in renewables spiked 17 percent in 2014.

Power Production Cuts of California Dams Due to Drought

According to a mid-May Los Angeles Times article, Shasta Dam, looming more than 600 feet tall and gatekeeper of the largest man-made lake in California, was designed to perform two crucial functions: Store water and generate power. And for decades, the massive concrete structure has channeled water to cities and farms while generating up to 710 megawatts of hydropower, enough to provide electricity for more than 532,000 homes. But amid four years of drought, the reservoir is drained to 50% of capacity, cutting the dam's power production by about a third, according to federal reclamation officials.

Roundtable Update

Colorado Water Plan

The first draft of Colorado’s new water plan offered plenty of background information about the state’s water, but didn’t say exactly what can be done to avoid a looming water-supply gap. By 2050, the state could be short billions of gallons per year. Lawrence MacDonnell, a natural resources law professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, led an academic review team that issued a report on the Draft Colorado Water Plan, finding that it offers little in the way of specifics.

WIP News

Water Camp

After many years of thinking about it, the WIP is proud to announce the participation in and co-sponsorship of a children’s water camp. This is being done in conjunction with the Durango Nature Studies (DNS) and will be held the last week of July. Topics include, but are not limited to: aquatic species, conservation, river restorations, the importance of healthy watersheds, and water quality. For more information and/or to register contact DNS at (970) 382-9244 or visit their website at www.durangonaturestudies.org.

SAVE THE DATES: September 9, 10, 11 & 12 Great Divide Film Showings in Southwest CO

Tens of millions of people, billions of dollars of agricultural production, and an enormous amount of economic activity across a vast swath of America from California to the Mississippi River are all dependent on rivers born in the mountains of Colorado.  In a time of mounting demand and limited supply, the need for all citizens to better understand and participate in decisions affecting this critical resource is paramount.

The Great Divide, a feature length documentary film from the Emmy award winning team of Havey Productions, in association with Colorado Humanities, will illustrate the timeless influence of water in both connecting and dividing an arid state and region.

SAVE THE DATE: September 25th--9th Annual Water 101 Seminar (Bayfield, CO)

Save-the-date for the 9th Annual Water 101 Seminar to be conducted September 25, 2015 in Bayfield. We are again fortunate to have Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs as the keynote speaker. The Seminar qualifies for six continuing education credits for Realtors and seven for lawyers, as well as contact hours for teachers, and .7 training units for water utility personnel. For more information and/or to register contact the WIP at (970) 247-1302.

Book Review: The Ordinary Truth, Jana Richman, 2012

The following book review is appreciatively provided by Laura Spann, with the SWCD:

The Ordinary Truth tells a fictional tale of Nevada’s very real water crisis through the eyes of a multi-generational Nevada ranching family in their come-to-Jesus moment. Urban and rural clash within the family, as daughter Katie is the public face of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, pitching the construction of a pipeline to pull water from her hometown of Omer Springs to serve thirsty Las Vegas. Her estranged mother Nell still ranches in Omer Springs.

WIP’s Participating Entity, SWCD, Update

At their May 9th Board meeting the following grants were funded by the SWCD:

Water History

Wettest Month in Recorded History

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) records go back to 1895 and last month was the wettest on record for the contiguous United States. On average 4.36 inches of rain and snow, mostly rain, fell over the Lower 48 in May. NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch calculated that comes to more than 200 trillion gallons of water in May. Crouch said the record was triggered by a stalled pattern of storms that dumped massive amounts of precipitation.

Miscellaneous Facts

Imagining Mountains All Wrong

It turns out mountain ranges don’t just come in the familiar pyramid form—in fact, most of them have a different shape entirely. New research published in a May edition of Nature Climate Change reveals a surprising discovery that not only changes the way we think about mountains but could also have big implications for how we understand, monitor, and protect the organisms that call them home.