Our rivers need what’s left of the spring runoff flows. Over 90 percent of all Colorado wildlife spends part of their life in riparian zones. Birds like the Yellow-billed Cuckoo rely on riparian areas for nesting, hunting, roosting, and simply resting during migration. Less water in a stream alters the microclimate, concentrates pollutants, raises the water temperature, and increases evaporative loss. But the Colorado General Assembly is poised to pass new legislation (SB41) that would change our water laws protecting our streams and rivers—the vote is expected to happen on Monday.
Send an email to your state representative TODAY and urge him or her to vote NO ON SB41.
Because we are an arid state, our water law is based on use and actual need. A water right is a right to use a specific amount of water for a specific purpose. In order to take water out of the stream and store it in a reservoir, you must show that you actually need a precise amount of water and then you must actually use the water for that explicit need.
You cannot just take water because you might need it someday—that is hoarding and not currently allowed under Colorado water law.
SB 41 Changes the Law to Permit Water Hoarding
Our courts have repeatedly ruled that hoarding of water cannot be allowed, but SB 41 changes the law.
In November 2012 Coloradoans elected new legislators and turned the Colorado House over to Democrats while maintaining a Democratic majority in the Senate. This seems to portend well for environmental legislation, but we’ll have to wait and see. Some of the issues we are most likely to see develop will include:
Bills dealing with water supply and water quality
There will be bills promoting the use of grey (once used) water for some purposes and bills to address pollution by pharmaceuticals (where do you dump your leftover medicines?). The question of water rights for ski areas versus the water rights of the US Forest Service has been in the newspapers; look for bills that address that. A bill allowing the sale of leftover agricultural water –“Save and Sell It” rather than “Use it or Lose It” – will be back again this year.
Why do we care about water issues so much? Water is a scarce commodity in Colorado, and almost all of it is already claimed by agricultural, municipal and industrial interests, leaving relatively little for natural stream flows and maintenance of wildlife species and habitats. Many birds feed on aquatic species or nest/ rest/ feed in the streamside (riparian) vegetation that water courses support. Colorado has a healthy tourist economy that depends on attractive, free-flowing streams and the fisheries dependant on them. Maintaining the quality and quantity of water in our rivers and streams is vitally important to our ecosystems and economy.
Bills dealing with oil and gas
The city of Longmont recently voted to ban hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” within the city limits. Legislators will undoubtedly want to address the question of whether local governments have the power to regulate the industry within their boundaries. Gov. Hickenlooper is in favor of state regulation, which so far has not addressed the question of setbacks from schools, homes, or waterways to the voters’ satisfaction.
Reauthorization of the Habitat Stamp
The Habitat Stamp was conceived as a way to raise money specifically for wildlife habitat preservation; it was also promoted as a way non-consumptive wildlife users (those who don’t buy hunting or fishing licenses) could contribute to wildlife conservation. It was required as an adjunct to hunting and fishing licenses but turned out to be harder to buy just on its own, as staff at sporting goods stores often didn’t know much about the sales process. More importantly, the Stamp was never publicized and marketed very well to birdwatchers, wildlife watchers, and other non-consumptive users. As a result, the money raised has come almost exclusively from sportsmen and the potential to tap the general public for wildlife funding has been (mostly) lost. These issues will no doubt come up in discussions of the reauthorization.
Increase the Renewable Electricity Standard
There will be a push to increase the standard for production of energy through renewables. While this is laudable, we have to watch for attempts to put largescale hydropower and the use of methane gas now escaping freely from coal mining on the list of accepted renewable energy sources.
Update on Chatfield
The Army Corps of Engineers is currently reviewing and responding to the public comments on the Draft EIS and will be conducting further studies on 1) water quality in the reservoir and 2) downstream impacts on the South Platte River. One big change is that the City of Aurora is dropping out of the project. Since Aurora was applying for almost 20% of the new storage space in Chatfield Reservoir, this impacts the project in a major way.
Another development is that in Douglas County, local opposition and safety concerns evidently motivated the County Planning Commission to vote 8 to 0 against Penley Reservoir. This reservoir was included in the DEIS as part of an Alternative ( #1) to Chatfield Reallocation, and how the County’s rejection will influence the Chatfield process is anybody’s guess. The local homeowners’ association tells us that the proponents are now asking the State of Colorado for permission to build Penley (watch our weekly email message for more information).
For further information go to the website: www.SaveChatfield.org.
Denver Natural Area Threatened by Proposed Land Swap
The City and County of Denver proposes to trade a 9-acre section of a designated City Natural Area at Hentzell Park, on the Cherry Creek Trail, to Denver Public Schools for a building at 1330 Fox St. DPS wants the land for an elementary school; the City wants the DPS building for its Domestic Violence Center. While both of these uses are important, we don’t think a designated Natural Area should be considered disposable. The area had to meet several criteria to become a Natural Area, and those reasons are still valid. The underlyng issue is that Natural Areas has never received the publicity, funding or support it needs to provide Denver citizens with a viable system of areas where native ecosystems and wildlife can still flourish in the City. For who to write to, and their addresses, see www.denvernature.net
Outdoor Tactical Weapons Range
If you would like to learn more about and prevent the construction of an outdoor tactical weapons range near a bald eagle nest on the St. Vrain River, visit www.savethevrain.com
Polly Reetz, Conservation Chairman, at email@example.com
Ann Bonnell, Board Member, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Click Here to learn more about this threat to bird populations and how you can help protect birds in your backyard and at your office.