Coyote Gulch's Colorado Water
The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land. -- Luna Leopold

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

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Here's an update on conservation along Saguache Creek from The Nature Conservancy. From the article:

The Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) and The Nature Conservancy of Colorado (TNC) announced today the permanent protection of an important 160-acre property near the town of Saguache in the northern San Luis Valley. The land, known as the Laughlin Gulch Property, is now under the management of a local ranch family and permanently protected with a conservation easement held by CCALT. The property lies on the historic Laughlin Stock Driveway, the route that ranchers along Saguache Creek have used for more than a century to take their cattle to and from high country range in the San Juan Mountains.

"Saguache Creek is one of the last intact mountain valleys anywhere in Colorado. The Laughlin Gulch Property is a key piece of a cooperative grazing system that has been in place for more than a century. The ranchers of Saguache Creek need to be recognized for their work in protecting this area. This effort is the direct result of their vision for this valley and their desire to keep it in ranching forever," said Randy Rusk, CCALT Board Member. "We are thrilled that we were able to develop a solution for this property that keeps it in private hands while protecting the agricultural uses and the wildlife habitat found there. It would have been a huge loss if this had been converted to second home development," Rusk added.

The Nature Conservancy initially obtained the property as part of the Baca Ranch/Great Sand Dunes acquisition in 2005. Later that year, TNC staff contacted the Cattlemen about the parcel, which lies in the midst of a major agricultural conservation area and which has significant ecological values as well. Over the past two years, the two groups worked together to find a solution that not only protected the property from development, but also returned it to the ownership and stewardship of a local rancher. CCALT was able to acquire the property and return it to the local ranch family with a permanent conservation easement on it...

Funding for the conservation easement came from Lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The 160 acres are completely surrounded by several thousand acres of Federal and State land. The property hosts a spring which provides water year-round for livestock and wildlife in the area. This area is an important big game range, providing habitat for elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep. Pine and juniper woodlands cover much of the property, which also has impressive views of the Saguache Creek Valley and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east. To the south and west, the neighboring public lands rise into secluded valleys and forested hillsides that offer numerous recreational amenities including high quality hunting opportunities for elk and mule deer. Protection of the Laughlin Gulch Property ensures that the neighboring public lands will not be negatively affected by development in the area...

For nearly a decade, CCALT has been involved with local ranch families in the Saguache Creek Corridor. These ranchers have explored ways to keep their valley intact and in agriculture. They have arrived at conservation easements as one viable alternative for landowners. Since 2001, CCALT has purchased 14 conservation easements on the irrigated ranches that line Saguache Creek, protecting about 11,000 acres. GOCO has provided $5.5 million in Lottery funds to CCALT to advance these efforts. The Laughlin Gulch property is an important parcel in this traditional agricultural system...

Roughly the size of Connecticut, the San Luis Valley is both one of Colorado's most important areas for agriculture and one of the state's most biologically significant regions. The Valley contains significant natural values including interdunal wetlands, sand dunes, shrublands and high-elevation forests while the wetlands provide habitat for migrating waterfowl and the dunes are home to eight insect species found nowhere else on Earth.

Thanks to SLV Dweller for the link.

Category: Colorado Water

7:09:53 AM    

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The city of Durango has won praise for dedicating a portion of the city's sales tax to open space, according to The Durango Herald. From the article:

The dedication of a portion of Durango's sales tax to preserve open space was cited as a bright spot in the 2007 Colorado Conservation Trust report [pdf] on land conservation statewide. In 2006, Colorado land trusts and local government programs placed 167,500 acres of farm, ranches, wildlife habitat and scenic areas out of reach of development, according to the trust's report. The total acreage protected statewide to date stands at 1,950,693 acres, 2.9 percent of the state's total land mass. "Traditionally, most local land conservation in Colorado has occurred along the Front Range," Lloyd Athearn with the Colorado Conservation Trust said Monday. "We're pleased when there is local conservation activity in other parts of the state. We hope the trend will continue." Athearn was referring to the half-cent sales-tax increase approved by Durango voters in 2005. Voters stipulated that half of the increase was to be used for capital projects (such as the new library) and the other half be spent on open space, parks and trails. Kevin Hall, the city of Durango's parks, trails and open-space development manager, said Monday that the open-space tax levy contributed $1,031,310 toward the purchase of 177-acre Dalla Mountain Park for $4.5 million. In 2007, he said, $20,000 of the special-tax revenue has been budgeted for Dalla Mountain Park maintenance. Durango's land-preservation program contributes to making Colorado a national leader in the field, said state trust Executive Director Will Shafroth...

"Colorado is a national success story for land conservation," Shafroth said in a statement. "We are a pioneer in the use of financial incentives to drive land protection, and we are one of the few states where land conservation is protecting more land each year than is converted to development." Among highlights of the 2007 Colorado Conservation Trust report: Colorado ranks third nationally in total acreage protected by land trusts, with 1.57 million acres; Colorado ranks second nationally in total acreage protected by conservation easements - voluntary legal agreements that limit development and protect conservation values; Sixty-nine percent of all land conserved in Colorado is through conservation easements. The remainder of the land was purchased outright; State and federal tax incentives have driven conservation-easement donations. Colorado has modified its conservation tax credit to promote protection of larger tracts.

The conservation community's goal of protecting 3.6 million acres by 2015 is in jeopardy, according to the report. The report recommends developing stronger conservation organizations and increasing public and private funding. In Southwest Colorado, La Plata County has 23,488 acres protected; Archuleta County, 44,759 acres; and Montezuma County, 9,225 acres.

More coverage from Colorado Confidential. They write:

Colorado managed to protect more land than it lost to development last year, putting 167,500 acres into conservation easements, purchase and other forms of safeguard, according to the annual report of the Colorado Conservation Trust. More than a third of the land, 64,146 acres, was along the Front Range. The remainder was: 27,236 acres on the eastern plains; 28,467 acres in the San Luis Valley; 27,034 acres on the western slope; 9,241 in the southwest; and 11,376 acres in the central mountains...

The total of protected private lands in Colorado has now reached 1.95 million acres, the report says. The annual rate of development on private land is estimated at 90,000 acres a year, which means the state protected much more land than it lost. The biggest threats to open space in the state at present are continued population growth along the Front Range and energy development in the western part of the state.

Category: Colorado Water

6:46:55 AM    

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Here's an article about the proposed new rules for pumping in the Republican River Basin from Business Week. From the article:

Draft rules by the Colorado state engineer's office that would shut down wells and possibly halt surface-water diversions in part of the Republican River basin are intended to stave off a lawsuit by Kansas. "At an August meeting, Kansas Attorney General (Paul) Morrison made several statements that compliance with the compact is not an option," said Ken Knox, Colorado's chief deputy state engineer. Knox will explain the proposal during a series of public meetings Wednesday and Thursday in northeastern Colorado...

A new group hopes state officials will consider alternatives to halting water use. "What we're trying to do is have a unified voice and have positive and proactive solutions other than well shutdowns," said Joe Newton, chairman of the Colorado Agriculture Preservation Association. Newton, who farms and ranches near Eckley, said about 325 people attended the ag group's first meeting Monday in Idalia. He said the group supports an engineering study commissioned by the Republican River Water Conservation District to come up with other ways to fulfill Colorado's obligations, such as shipping water from outside the area...

Nebraska and Colorado have acknowledged exceeding their shares of river water as outlined in a 2002 settlement of a lawsuit by Kansas, which argued that the increasing number of wells was sapping the river and its tributaries. Kansas contends Colorado and Nebraska took 61 billion gallons of water more than they were due in 2003-06, or enough water to irrigate up to 70,000 acres of the state's corn each of those four years. Knox said Colorado used between 10,000 acre feet to 12,000 acre feet over its allotment during that period...

In May, Colorado released 2,200 acre feet of water over 25 days from the reservoir in Bonny Lake State Park, just a few miles from the Kansas border, to make up some of what it owes. About 30,000 acres of land in the Republican River basin have been taken out of irrigation and water managers hope to idle another 30,000 acres by offering financial incentives. Regulations proposed by the state engineer would shut down wells in a part of the basin encompassing stretches of the river's tributaries when the state exceeds its share, based on a projected five-year average. The use of surface water would be halted and water released from the reservoir the bigger the deficit grows. Only high-capacity wells, used for irrigation or by municipalities, would be affected. About 190 of those wells are in the area, although all might not be operable, according to the state engineer's office. There up to 4,000 wells in the Republic River basin, which covers all or part of seven northeastern Colorado counties.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:25:28 AM    

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The Pueblo Chieftain caught up with Alan Hamel, the executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works, to talk about increasing storage in Arkansas River Basin. From the article:

Hamel...was instrumental in developing the Preferred Storage Options Plan, stemming from a study of storage possibilities in the Arkansas Valley that began a decade ago. Hamel was president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District in 2001 when PSOP recommendations were first made. Those suggestions included: Enlargement of Lake Pueblo and Turquoise Lake, chosen from a long list of possible projects; Using excess-capacity contracts to better use Lake Pueblo when it isn't full of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water; Giving Aurora a place in the project.

In June, Hamel surprised most people by recommending that the enlargement portion of PSOP be "shelved" to allow other projects to move ahead...

In the 10-year effort to study storage, approximately $2.3 million has been spent. Since 2001, the district and PSOP participants have spent $937,000 promoting study of enlargement, according to Phil Reynolds, project manager. Hamel still believes enlargement of Lake Pueblo has been a lightning rod for controversy, intertwining other issues into a basic concept he still favors, but sees as an impediment to progress. The need for enlargement was underscored by the drought, which in three years drew the reservoir down from mostly full to its lowest levels since first filling in 1983, Hamel said...

This year, a different situation exists, Hamel said. The Bureau of Reclamation will move water to Lake Pueblo from Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lake to make room for next year's imports from the Fryingpan River. Right now, Lake Pueblo is approximately 60 percent full. Moving Fry-Ark water into it over the winter could increase that to 80 percent. A wet spring could fill the reservoir, a welcome event to be sure, but one which would mean the Bureau of Reclamation could evacuate water stored under temporary contracts. An unusually wet spring next year could require immediate release of part of the winter water, stored for irrigators...

There are more than 600,000 acre-feet of available space in downstream reservoirs that were more or less drained during the drought. John Martin, Horse Creek, Adobe Creek and the Great Plains reservoirs all have plenty of room to store water. Plains storage comes with higher rates of evaporation, limits on use depending which irrigation system provides storage and, in the case of John Martin, a heavy surcharge just to store the water there. For municipal users - Pueblo and Colorado Springs - there are no pipelines to bring the water back as well as water quality issues because of salinity downstream, Hamel said. "Having storage at Pueblo reservoir is good for us for many reasons. It's easier to obtain, the quality is better," Hamel said. While downstream storage could help Pueblo make exchanges - storing water out of priority and releasing water downstream to avoid harming other users - it needs to be closer to Pueblo, Hamel said...

Pueblo, along with Colorado Springs and Aurora, was interested in using the Stonewall Springs site near the Pueblo Chemical Depot for its recovery of yield project under the Pueblo flow program. The project fell through, however. The site is owned by Jim and Mark Morley, Colorado Springs developers who still plan to locate a reservoir there. Pueblo also is looking at partners outside of PSOP on its Clear Creek enlargement plan, which was filed in water court shortly after the demise of federal PSOP legislation in 2004. The Southeastern district, Pueblo West, the Upper Arkansas and Lower Arkansas Valley water conservancy districts have been in discussions about the plan. Those groups are involved in current discussions with Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., on the possibility of a new bill to look chiefly at a study of enlargement of Lake Pueblo and Turquoise Lake as well as a flood control dam or project on Fountain Creek. The next meeting with Salazar is scheduled for Saturday in Colorado Springs. Salazar has drafted a bill that recognizes there are agreements, but does not incorporate them into federal legislation and does not allow federal legislation to change them...

"I think what it takes is for the six parties in the 2004 agreement to agree that over time they will pursue PSOP efforts," Hamel said. The city of Pueblo, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Colorado Springs, Fountain, Aurora and the Southeastern district signed the 2004 agreement. Salazar's effort also incorporates Lake County, the Colorado River Conservation District, Reclamation, the Upper Ark and Lower Ark districts. In the meantime, Hamel expects to see more independent actions moving other options in the PSOP plan forward, including excess-capacity contracts, a valleywide decision support system for water projects (planned by the Colorado Water Conservation Board), studies of water quality in the valley as they relate to water transfers and Fountain Creek activities.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here and here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:13:19 AM    

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