How Rivers Shaped the Shape of Colorado

Back in November, you may have seen the Buzzfeed post where Brits were asked to label the United States, with hilarious results.  My favorite map (the second one) identified Colorado as “Squaresies.”

Looking at the outline of Squaresies, you might think that rivers didn’t play a big role in the development of the state.  Unlike the many Eastern states that have at least one border defined by a river, Colorado’s boundaries are defined by degrees of latitude and longitude, established as Americans settled and carved up new Western territories.

But those straight borders belie the importance of rivers in shaping Colorado.  Rivers have defined much of Colorado’s history.  When American explorers first ventured into Colorado, they followed rivers.  When Americans moved into the area, they settled near the rivers.  Anyone who wanted to survive in Colorado had to live near a reliable water supply.  But then Coloradans broke away from rivers.  They began diverting the water to wherever they wished to settle.  This has enabled people to live throughout the state, but Coloradans are still dependent on water, and new systems have created new challenges.

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First-Ever Campus Water Conservation Plan at MSU Denver

Students from the MSU Denver ENV 290B Water Conservation Management Class created a campus-wide water management plant

Students from the MSU Denver ENV 290B Water Conservation Management Class created a campus-wide water management plant

MSU Denver students, along with advice from Denver Water and the One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship (OWOW), created the first-ever comprehensive campus water management plan. The plan was the result from the ENV 290B Water Conservation Planning summer course. The students spent 8 hours a day, for two weeks, researching and creating the plan for the new applied-learning course. The final plan was unveiled to Mark Cassalia from Denver Water’s Conservation department, Nona Shipman and Tom Cech from OWOW, and Jon Bortles, the campus Sustainably Director. The plan received rave reviews and will be used to make much needed water conserving changes to the current campus water management plan.

The plan included data and mapping for outdoor water usage, indoor water usage, a drought response plan, a communication strategy, and further ideas on how to reduce potable water usage. The students enjoyed the course and are now Colorado water stewards.

The following two maps and descriptions were included in the students’ plan:

This map, created for the MSU Denver class' final report,.hows the landscape type of all irrigated land on Auraria Campus.

This map shows the landscape type of all irrigated land on Auraria Campus.

The above map shows the landscape type of all irrigated land on Auraria Campus. Each polygon is classified as one of the following: an area under construction, a garden, hardscaped, mixed, no irrigation, shrub, athletic field, turf, tree/ lawn, tree/ shrub or Xeriscape. To fully understand the classification scheme in the above the map, a few landscape types require further clarification. Mixed is defined as one land area that contains a combination of land covers, such as Xeriscape and tree/ lawn. It was defined due to a limitation within ArcGIS in that, each specific polygon could not be given partial or multiple classifications. Tree/ lawn is defined as a generally narrow strip of land, containing both trees and lawns; it is commonly found alongside public roads as it is a required by zoning regulations (which may be subject to change). Similarly, tree/ shrub is a type of land cover that generally exists in a narrow strip. However, rather than lawns, the base of the trees are surrounded by shrubs. Lastly, the term Xeriscape encompasses areas requiring substantially less water: native grass, native/ Xeric plants, mulch and/ or rocks.

This Future Potential Landscape Classification map was created to recommend areas where implementing a more sustainable landscape could benefit the Auraria Campus.

This Future Potential Landscape Classification map was created to recommend areas where implementing a more sustainable landscape could benefit the Auraria Campus.

The purpose of the Future Potential Landscape Classification map is to recommend areas where implementing a more sustainable landscape would be of benefit. Much of the irrigated land should ideally be converted using Xeriscape techniques in order to reduce water use while maintaining a naturally beautiful landscape. In this map, native grass has been listed as a separate category from Xeriscape, to clarify areas that should undergo turf removal, to be specifically replaced with a grass variety that require substantially less water. Two turf areas have been left intact: the turf in front of the Student Success building due to the intricate storm system located underneath it, as well as the turf surrounding the 9th Street Historic District.

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Filed under Water Education and Resources, Water Supply

Colorado Ski Area Water Rights and USFS

Copper Mountain, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Colorado ski areas got some “fresh powder” in late June in the form of a proposed US Forest Service water rights rule that backs away from an earlier and much criticized approach that would have required ski areas to transfer water rights to the agency.

The new rule, proposed June 23 and open for comment through August 22, would amend internal USFS directives for some 122 ski area concessions across the country by instead conditioning their 40-year special use permits on a commitment that sufficient water stay dedicated to ski area operations even if the area is sold. Under the proposal, permits would be updated as they are renewed to include the water rights commitment language. Currently, USFS policy requires the public hold the rights to such water, but the proposed change would allow water rights to be in the name of the permit holder.

“This proposal balances the interests of the public, the ski areas and our natural resources by ensuring the necessary water is provided for winter recreation through our special-use permit process,” said USFS Chief Tom Tidwell. “This proposed change will provide assurances to the public that they will continue to enjoy winter recreation at ski areas on national forests.”

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., welcomed the action and is encouraging Colorado stakeholders to submit feedback on the rule. He also said he plans to introduce legislation to provide a “permanent solution” for ski area water rights.

“Water is the lifeblood of Colorado’s economy and environment – whether it be for our world class ski areas, our $40 billion dollar agriculture industry or our cold-water trout fisheries,” Bennet said. “We’re glad the Forest Service reconsidered their 2011 water rights clause, and we look forward to reviewing today’s proposal. Moving forward, we will work with Coloradans, the Forest Service, and other Members of Congress to introduce a consensus bill based on today’s proposal that provides certainty and clarity on this issue for Colorado’s water community.”

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., took issue with the rule, however.

Tipton called the permit condition for ski area water rights “insufficient to protect water users from agency abuses” and urged enactment of his Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 3189), which passed the House in March. He said the measure would “provide long-term certainty that private water users need, and protect them from federal attempts to infringe on their private property.”

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Colorado September 2013 Flooding: Magazine Hot Off the Press!

HW cover webThe newest issue of Headwaters magazine focusing on the September 2013 floods in Colorado is now on our website and available in print!

The September 2013 flood disaster was financially the most devastating flood Colorado has faced this century. Read about what happened in 2013 and how it could have been worse. Learn about the rush of flood recovery efforts targeting short and long-term resiliency as well as the opportunity that a strong rebuild presents. Then, explore the question of living with risk and the risks we accept as a society. Full recovery from the September 2013 flood is still a long way off, but check out this issue for some lessons learned that apply state-wide.

Flip through or download the flood issue online. And stay tuned to see excerpts and new information that relates to magazine feature stories.

Interested in additional flood coverage? Listen to this new episode of Connecting the Drops, our radio program produced in partnership with Rocky Mountain Community Radio. This flood episode focuses on the rebuilding process in Boulder County.

Post flood (left) and pre-flood (right) aerial photos of Norther St. Vrain Creek deviation between Apple Valley Road and Highway 36 (Norther St. Vrain Drive). source: Boulder County

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Filed under Climate and Drought, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Headwaters Magazine, Water Education and Resources

Western Governors Address Two Key Federal Water Developments

By Mark Scharfenaker

Two significant recent water developments on the federal front have triggered responses by the Western Governors Association.

1. EPA Water Transfer Rule

The WGA, joined by the Western States Water Council, has urged the US Environmental Protection Agency to appeal a recent federal court ruling that remanded the agency’s Water Transfers Rule for reconsideration.

EPA adopted the rule on the heels of several court rulings addressing whether the Clean Water Act requires National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for moving water from one body of water to another without any intervening industrial, agricultural or commercial use of that transferred water. Some have argued that such permits are required for transfers that introduce pollutants into the receiving body, but EPA’s rule says no.

Such transfers are the routine stuff of many western waters projects, and none have ever been subject to NPDES permitting.

But In a 116-page ruling, a judge of the US District Court for the District of New York, vacated the rule “to the extent it is inconsistent with” the CWA and remanded it to EPA “to the extent EPA did not provide a reasoned explanation for its interpretation.”

In a May 12 letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury and WSWC Executive Director Tony Willardson that the CWA supports the EPA rule by expressly stating that the law will not supersede or abrogate the rights of states to allocate water quantities within their jurisdiction, and that water rights established by state law shall be protected.

“Western states rely on thousands of intrastate and regional transfers to move billions of gallons of water to satisfy domestic, agricultural and industrial needs,” said Ogsbury. “Requiring NPDES permits for these transfers will be prohibitively expensive and could curtail certain transfers, with little if any water quality benefits.”

Read the WGA press release and more about the Water Transfer Rule and the court ruling (PDF).

2. Water Resources Reform and Development Act

WGA has commended Congress for its near-unanimous votes in both the House and Senate to approve reauthorizing and streamlining the nation’s major water infrastructure program. The subject of months of negotiation by a House-Senate conference committee, the measure primarily covers US Army Corps of Engineers projects but also includes language amending the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and creating a new 5-year pilot program titled the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act.

WGA said the bill “delivers significant ‘wins’ for Western Governors,” including continuing to “recognize and protect states’ interests and rights in water management, and to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from charging for surplus water.”

The bill, which awaits a signature by President Obama to become law, also provides for improved protection for communities from extreme weather and natural disasters as well as flood protection and safety improvements. It also provides for ecosystem protection and regional water resources initiatives.

Read the WGA press release and more about the WRRDA.

Mark Sharfenaker has been a writer and editor for the American Water Works Association since 1986 and the AWWA website editor since 2008, his contributions to the Your Water Colorado Blog include The Value of Water. He moved to Colorado in 1982 after a 10-year stint in Montana, where he earned an undergraduate degree in Journalism at the University of Montana and learned the joys of fly fishing and the wonders of western waters.

Read other posts by Mark here:
As Big As It Gets: Clean Water Act Rulemaking

Money for Water

The Value of Water

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Make Water Provocative: Assembling the Puzzle

Interpreters will gladly tell you that interpretation is more than just standing up and talking.  It’s a discipline and a profession.  It is, as Freeman Tilden argued, art:

Interpretation is an art which combines many arts, whether the materials presented are scientific, historical or architectural.

Skeptical?  Take a look back on the interpretive elements we’ve covered:

  • The goal of interpretation:  to provoke our audiences, to inspire them to learn more about the subject on their own, to illuminate unsuspected connections, to provide new insights, and to help listeners think of subjects in new ways
  • The necessary components for an interpretive opportunity:  knowledge of the resource, knowledge of the audience, and appropriate techniques
  • The key to connecting resources, audiences, and meanings:  linking concrete resources to ideas and universal concepts (concepts which everyone is likely to understand, although each person may have different experiences or definitions of those concepts)
  • Facilitating connections with the resource, both intellectual and emotional
  • Measuring effectiveness:  setting out goals for the program and objectives by which to measure success
  • Crafting a theme to tie all program elements together

So, when creating a new interpretive program, how best to put all these elements together?  The best answer is usually:  whatever works for you. Continue reading

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Make Water Provocative: What’s Your Point?

Back when we first learned to write essays, we all learned that we needed to have a thesis statement.  The thesis outlined the main argument of the essay, and all points covered in our writing needed to tie back to this statement.

An interpretive programs, like an essay, should have a theme that not only ties together information, but may provoke the audience to make new connections to the resource discussed.

Coming up with a topic for a program is usually easy, but determining the theme can be much more difficult.  What’s the difference?  A topic is usually a broad concept, the subject of the presentation:  water, irrigation, prior appropriation, riparian restoration.  A theme is the central idea of the program, the thesis statement.  You can use your theme to tie together all the subsidiary topics you cover, as well as the goals and objectives for your program.

Why Have a Theme?

Themes help keep programs cohesive.  Your theme should help you determine what information you should include in your program.  We often want to include everything, but this can encourage us to include irrelevant material or overwhelm our audience.  If the information you’re considering doesn’t fit your theme, save it for another program.

Distilling your theme should help you to think clearly about what you are saying, what you want to convey, and what you want your audience to know.  Here are some questions to ponder:  Continue reading

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Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Staff, Water Education and Resources