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Along the Edge of the Water

Focus on Wildlife Recovery on the Colorado and Platte | Dwindling Refuges, Bonny and John Martin | Aquatic Invaders Shoshone Blowout | Rainbows Make a Comeback | No Mitigation, No Water Project

HEADWATERS | W inter 2008 Colorado Foundation for Water Education C O L O R A D O F O U N D AT I O N F O R W AT E R E D U C AT I O N | W I N T E R 2 0 0 8

1580 Logan St., Suite 410 •  Denver, CO 80203 303-377-4433 • www.cfwe.org

Mission Statement On the Cover: George Schisler, a Colorado Division of Wildlife researcher, is working on breeding fish resistant to whirling disease to help river ecosystems recover from the parasite-borne disease. Photo by Kevin Moloney.

Along the Edge of the Water

Recovery under way on two rivers John Martin & Bonny: Dwindling refuges German find drives rainbow comeback

Letter from the Editor................................................................................................. 1 A Bonny Farewell?..................................................................................................... 2 On the Edge: Nature Bats Last on the Eastern Plains.............................................. 7

Board Members Matt Cook President

Justice Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr. 1st Vice President

Rita Crumpton

2nd Vice President

The Day the Fish Hired Lawyers

The mission of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education is to promote better understanding of water resources through education and information. The Foundation does not take an advocacy position on any water issue.

How Wildlife Mitigation went from Afterthought to Prime Mover.............. 10

Lost & Found on the Colorado River....................................................................... 13

Wendy Hanophy Secretary

Taylor Hawes

Assistant Secretary

What a Nuisance: Invasive Species in Colorado.................................................... 17


Water for the Birds:

Chris Rowe

How Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and the Feds Figured It Out ...................21

CFWE News.............................................................................................................. 26 CFWE Events............................................................................................................ 27 Felix Sparks: Hero, Justice, Gentle Man................................................................. 28

John Martin Reservoir is a haven for wildlife in Southeast Colorado, see page 7. Photo by John DeLorenzo.

Dale Mitchell

Assistant Treasurer

Steve Acquafresca Becky Brooks Rep. Kathleen Curry Alan Hamel Lynn Herkenhoff Diane Hoppe Sen. Jim Isgar Ken Lykens Dan McAuliffe Veva McCaig Margaret Medellin Dale Mitchell John Porter John Redifer Rick Sackbauer Robert Sakata Reagan Waskom Staff Nicole Seltzer

Headwaters is a magazine designed to provide Colorado citizens with balanced and accurate information on a variety of subjects related to water resources. Copyright 2008 by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. ISSN: 1546-0584 Edited by Lori Ozzello. Design by Emmett Jordan. Acknowledgments The Colorado Foundation for Water Education thanks the people and organizations who provided review, comment and assistance in the development of this issue. In particular, the Foundation thanks the Colorado Division of Wildlife for its financial support of the Foundation in recognition of this issue of Headwaters.

Executive Director

Jeannine Tompkins Office Manager


While working on this Headwaters issue, my close friend and colleague Lisa Everitt joked that many of the writers we know write about food and fashion. I was excited because I got to talk to a University of Colorado ecologist who figured out what was deforming frogs and a Division of Wildlife fish researcher who was about to drop German-American crossbred rainbow trout out of a helicopter into the Gunnison River. He couldn’t get a truck into the canyon.

The current Headwaters cuts a swath across the state and illustrates how devoted Coloradans are to protecting wildlife and finding creative solutions to complicated problems. Peter Roessmann traveled the Colorado River to interview water users who collaborated to avert a crisis. The people Peter talked with aren’t always on the same side, of the Divide or the argument. A disaster at the Shoshone Power Plant cut off the most senior call on the Colorado. That call is the drawstring that holds statewide economies, systems and delicate relationships together. The groups put West Slope communities, recreation and four endangered fish ahead of their interests. Along the Platte—North, South and Central—another story of cooperation unfolds. Jayla Poppleton recaps the plan to send more water to Nebraska to help whooping cranes and three other species. Two of them are small unassuming brown, white and black birds, no match for the whooping cranes’ grace, beauty or mystique, but important nonetheless. The fourth is a fish named the pallid sturgeon. On the Republican River, as corn prices climb, the basin faces a river compact shortfall and tough decisions. Dave Loftis explains how people like Assistant State Engineer Ken Knox work tirelessly behind the scenes to be fair while delivering a hard message. Knox, water managers and farmers in the basin are trying to figure out the conundrum. One part of the solution is to retire irrigated farmland. The other is to dry up Bonny Lake, an important stop on the Central Flyway and a popular warm water recreation spot. Then it’s south to John Martin, where Lisa Everitt examines an eastern plains oasis. She also explains what it means to mitigate. All of these stories speak to beauty as our fellow creatures inhabit the land, waters and sky of this great state. With this issue we also introduce a new executive director. Nicole Seltzer took the Colorado Foundation for Water Education reins Dec. 3. Many in the water community already know her and her work on reservoir development, conservation and watersheds. She’ll do well. Her appointment reminded me of a conversation a group of women in the water industry had a few years ago. If men in the business were known as water buffalos, what should we call the women? Awesome.

Jill Bailey

Lori Ozzello

Lori Ozzello Editor

Headwaters Editor Lori Ozzello (left) photographed at Flatirons Reservoir with CFWE Executive Director Nicole Seltzer. Winter 2008


Story by Dave Loftis | Photographs by Brian Gadbery

A Bonny Farewell?

“The current proposal to release 900 acre feet will have us going dry within one or two years,” says Howard Paul, Bonny Lake State Park manager. “The dead pool will be around a 2- or 3-acre mud puddle.”


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n clear, late-summer days, visitors to Bonny Lake State Park, north of Burlington, discover a prairie paradise. With water approaching 70 degrees, Bonny Lake is a haven for water sport enthusiasts, and until 2000, this oasis saw an annual flow of some 200,000 visitors, swimming, water skiing, and fishing on the lake’s 1,900 surface acres – equivalent to 3 square miles or 300 city blocks. On a blustery, mid-winter day, visitors to the reservoir find birds. Lots of birds. Estimates from both the Colorado State Parks and the Audubon Society are that more than 35,000 migratory birds, including mallards, Canada geese and others, make the lake a part of their winters. This haven for wildlife, however, is a central piece in the fight over water that has been a fixture in western life since settlers began to arrive. The fight intensified as the region exited a 30-year, abnormally wet climate cycle in the first years of the new millennium. It now appears that draining Bonny Lake may be a crucial piece in Colorado’s compliance with its obligations, stem-

ming from the Dec. 15, 2002, settlement agreement in the Republican River Compact case filed in the U.S. Supreme Court and approved May 19, 2003. Bonny Lake will likely be left an oversized mud puddle. The problem: Groundwater irrigation is closely tied to surface flows

In 1998, Kansas, concerned about downstream rights and the impact of groundwater irrigation, brought suit against Nebraska. The suit contended that Kansas was being denied its rightful allotment of water from the Republican River. Kansas primarily blamed Nebraska groundwater users, pumping from the Ogallala Aquifer (also called the High Plains) within proximity to the river. Because the Republican River headwaters originate in Colorado and the state is party to the Republican River Compact, Colorado was brought into the suit in 2000, and the three states began

working toward a settlement. Three years and several degrees in advanced mathematics later, the experts, hydrologists, state engineers, and mathematicians managed to determine that Kansas was in fact being harmed by groundwater irrigation in the river basins. Groundwater and surface water are inexorably connected, although it sometimes takes years for the effects of aquifer depletion to be realized, the group determined. These determinations led to the development of complex mathematical models representing various types of consumptive use, which were used to re-examine the impact of groundwater usage on surface rights and compact obligations in the Republican River system. Along the Republican, compliance has been a difficult issue. More than half a million acres in the river basin in Colorado are irrigated farmland. The state estimates farmers must retire almost 30,000 acres

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to achieve compliance. In 2004, the Colorado General Assembly formed the Republican River Water Conservation District. Its mission is to promote water conservation and to assist the state in finding ways to help meet obligations under the 2002 agreement and the Republican River Compact. The district instituted a program by which a use fee is attached to all water use within its boundaries. The money is used to fund the voluntary retirement of wells and other water rights. Farmers participating in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program will receive annually between $120 and $150 per acre dried. “It’s making it very competitive to get someone enrolled in these programs,” says Republican’s general manager Stan Murphy of CREP and other pay-to-dry programs. They’re important, though, because of “the long-term effect. The benefit will grow with time and it will work to prolong the life of the aquifer.” These numbers appear generous in the short term, especially given calcula-


tions like those made by Dennis Kaan, a Colorado State University agriculture and business management specialist. Kaan estimated that in 2004, an acre of corn yielded a gross profit to a farmer of less than $19. That’s no longer the case. Ethanol demand has tripled, increasing pressure on the corn market. According to CSU Extension’s 2006 numbers—2007 numbers have not been calculated yet—farmers net around $215 per acre of corn, based on a price of $3.25 per bushel. December prices ranged from $3.91 to $4.48. “Corn prices have gone way up and there are lots of folks who want a piece of that,” says John Deering, CSU Extension’s regional agriculture and business specialist for northeastern Colorado. “Ethanol demand for corn has tripled and that has put a lot more pressure on the corn market.” CREP’s goal to dry 30,000 acres of land within four miles of the river achieved limited success—approximately 228 acre feet toward compliance in 2007, according to estimates made by Jim Slattery, a

water engineer the Republican River Water Conservation District retained in August. “Without the threat of curtailment, they’re going to go for the corn,” Murphy says. In the meantime, researchers are focused on a different angle. “As input costs have increased, producers are trying to be more mindful and more efficient,” Deering says. “CSU Extension is working hard to keep irrigation (to grow an acre of corn) to 16-20 inches a year.” When considered against Colorado’s excessive consumptive use as measured by Republican River Compact requirements—an average 11,350 acre feet per year since the 2002 settlement—what’s been saved is a drop in the bucket. State and district water officials are scrambling to find ways Colorado can achieve compliance prior to the deadline dictated by the settlement’s five-year running average, the last day of 2007. Bonny Lake: Caught in the crossfire. Bonny Lake was created in 1951 as a federal government flood control

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structure managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Beginning in 1966, the state leased the lake and surrounding area to use as a state park. Since then, it has become a unique habitat in Colorado, between the South Platte basin to the north, and the Arkansas Valley to the south. The lake is a rare Colorado warmwater habitat for fish varieties including walleye, northern pike, white bass, channel catfish and tiger muskie. It draws a large number of anglers each year, including many who brave the cold for a quality winter fishing experience. The water in Bonny is warm enough during the summer to be used as a prime, eastern Colorado water-sports destination. At capacity, the lake provides ample space for all types of boating, as well as for swimming and water skiing. Around the reservoir is a diverse ecosystem, supporting a large bird population varied enough to be considered an important bird area by the Audubon Society. Bird watchers can view blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, orchard and bullock’s orioles and wild turkey.

During fall and winter, the lake is home to a wide range of migratory species, including Canada geese and mallards. According to Ken Strom, the Colorado Audubon Society’s director of bird conservation and public policy, Bonny is an important fixture in the lives of migrating birds. “If you look at a map of the eastern plains of Colorado, Bonny Lake is the one big body of water between the South Platte and the Arkansas Valley. There isn’t much to choose from. For migrating birds, Bonny is a real oasis.” Until 2000, the park annually drew upwards of 200,000 visitors, including Coloradans, travelers along the Interstate 70 corridor, as well as tourists from across the globe. As pressure on Colorado water has increased, however, the park’s visitor levels dropped along with the lake’s water levels. Visitors are now down by 70 percent. Only 60,000 visitors were recorded in 2007. The outlook is not something that park officials expect to improve. After inflow from the Hale Ditch was halted in 2002, the park found itself unable to

replace water lost to evaporation and seepage. Today, the reservoir covers only 800 of the designed 1,900 surface acres. The storage in mid-November was approximately 8,300 acre feet, about 20 percent of the lake’s 41,340 acre foot storage capacity at the top of the active conservation pool. Bonny’s future is further muddied by its consumptive use, primarily evaporation and seepage from the reservoir, estimated at around 4,800 acre feet each year. With Colorado nearly 11,000 acre feet out of compliance with the 2002 agreement, retirement of this much consumptive use represents a big step toward compliance. The likely future of Bonny Lake includes a proposed 900 acre foot drawdown. Within two years, the lake would no longer provide an environment around which its currently robust ecosystem can be supported. “The current proposal to release 900 acre feet will have us going dry within one or two years,” says Howard Paul, Bonny Lake State Park manager. “The dead pool will be around a 2- or

“If you look at a map of the eastern plains of Colorado, Bonny Lake is the one big body of water between the South Platte and the Arkansas Valley. There isn’t much to choose from. For migrating birds, Bonny is a real oasis.” H e a d w at e r s | W i n t e r 2 0 0 8 5

“That’s the million dollar question. What does happen? We won’t have much of a wildlife area or a water use park. But, we’re not giving up.” —Aaron Thompson 3-acre mud puddle.” According to Colorado Division of Wildlife officials, fish salvage operations are likely, beginning with relaxed fishing limits, then expanding to include tanker relocation of Bonny fish. Grady McNeill, CDOW’s manager of resource support, puts it simply. “Walleyes and channel cats are holding their own for now. The tipping point will come, maybe, next spring, and we’ll have to run a salvage operation.” McNeill, however, is unsure where salvaged fish will go. “There are not too many options to move the fish— maybe John Martin, Pueblo Reservoir or Chatfield.” McNeill also suggests the fish may need to be moved to Nebraska or Kansas. The habitat for birds will likewise be devastated. Without substantial surface acreage, the area will cease to be a welcoming habitat. “This will not be a minor disruption for these birds. It will be a big change in their patterns of use,” says Strom. “For migrating birds, the loss of Bonny will make their lives far more difficult.” Loss of Bonny: Almost an inevitability Based on the most recent research, a Bonny Lake drawdown appears almost inevitable. The Republican River Water Conservation District has not been successful at encouraging groundwater irrigators to voluntarily dry their lands, and the Bonny draw-down plan represents more than a third of the savings needed 6

to bring Colorado into compliance with the 2002 agreement. Based on predictions of the Slattery study, the state will reduce its consumptive use by 4,800 acre feet annually by draining the lake. This plan provides a foundation for compliance, but is still short. Beginning in 2008, groundwater use along the Republican and Arikaree will need to be substantially reduced. The current incentive-based plans for reducing groundwater irrigation are netting the state a savings of approximately 425 acre feet each year. In 2008, the number must increase five-fold, to around 2,400 acre feet. By 2009, Colorado will need to dry almost 3,000 acres. Farmers along the rivers will feel the pinch, which will continue long after Bonny is a memory. Despite all actions proposed by the Slattery study, the state could remain out of compliance by almost 2,000 acre feet per year, necessitating further measures. Downstream pressure won’t ease, either. Last fall, Nebraska’s Upper Republican Natural Resource District was sued by a group of residents in the river basin. They claimed the natural resource district was not allowed to fix property taxes, which were used to fund a program like Colorado’s CREP. The suit prevented payments to well owners from being made. Despite the Nebraska Supreme Court decision that the NRD had the authority to tax residents, it is apparent that compact compliance will remain a difficult issue for all involved.

Aaron Thompson, area manager for the Nebraska and Kansas Reclamation office, lists it as one of his office’s top issues. “We want all three states to be in compliance,” he says. Thompson is also dismissive of claims made by Don Adams, of Nebraskans First, that Kansas is gaming the inflow numbers at the Harlan County (Kan.) Reservoir, where Nebraska’s compliance is measured. “No one is making up numbers. Each of the states agreed on the formulas in use, and no one is making anything up,” he says. Thompson says there is a lot of uncertainty. “That’s the million dollar question. What does happen? We won’t have much of a wildlife area or a water use park. But, we’re not giving up.” McNeill summarizes the situation: “Unless we have a really wet winter and spring, we won’t have the necessary inflows to sustain Bonny.” Even that might not be sufficient, though. Colorado is in debt to states downstream on the Republican, and a plan to bring the state close to compliance is likely to be short. Colorado may need to send any water that could fill Bonny to Nebraska and Kansas, and filling it would increase consumptive use from seepage and evaporation. The future looks bleak for this oasis on the plains. Within a couple of years, fish, birds, and tourists probably will have to look elsewhere for rest and relaxation, as Bonny State Park becomes just another puddle in eastern Colorado. q

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On the Edge Nature bats last on the Eastern Plains

Story by Lisa Everitt Photographs by John DeLorenzo

Zebulon Pike and his team of geographers made a careful map in 1806 as they headed west along what they called the Arkansaw River. “Here the Mountains are first seen,” they wrote at the point where the John Martin Reservoir now lies. “Not a stick of Timber except a few clumps of Cotton Wood,” another notation reads. “Innumerable Herds of Buffaloes.” The Eastern Plains of Colorado were born beautiful and desolate. The hand of man made them productive

and prosperous. Even with the ebbs and flows of snowpack and rainfall, the water future of the western edge of the plains seems secure. In dry years, Front Range municipalities and water districts have a Plan B— established storage and delivery systems, legal agreements and the financial reserves to buy water. Farther east, there may not be a Plan B. Just as a carelessly tossed cigarette can turn acres of grassland into charred earth, one dry summer or a single adverse court judgment can transform the landscape of

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the plains, for the season or forever. Human improvements already have. Says Greg Kernohan, a biologist and program manager with Ducks Unlimited: “The South Platte is almost never going to overtop its banks, ever again.” Without periodic flooding, eastern Colorado’s 2,500 playa pools wither away, eliminating an important habitat for both migratory and native species. “They’re an oasis in the desert” for migrating wildfowl and a host of creatures up and down the food chain, Kernohan says. Massive John Martin Reservoir, in the southeastern corner of Colorado, stands alone on the prairie. When it fills, as it did in spring 2007, it’s a sight to behold. The only state park in the southeast corner of the state, John Martin attracts boaters and families on picnics. Carloads of teenagers from Lamar, Las Animas and La Junta arrive to sunbathe and swim, see and be seen, as they have since the project’s completion in 1948. Warm-water fishing in spring and early summer brings channel catfish, bluegill, drum, crappie, bass, saugeye, walleye and wiper. Wildlife in the state park includes bobcat, rabbits, raccoon, deer and reptiles. Birdwatchers in Bent County have spotted more than 373 species. Bald and golden eagles spend the winter; the protected least tern and piping plover nest on the shore in spring and summer. But by July, the locals know not to bother—it’s a long walk from the John Martin beach to the waterline. Heavy calls from senior rights holders in Kansas can drain thousands of acre feet a week. It’s turned into a mudhole at least once in recent years. In early April 2006, John Martin topped out for the season at about half-capacity, 41,500 acre feet. As summer heated up, it dropped from 21,000 acre feet to 3,480 in the first 18 days of July and was down to dead storage—2,550 acre feet—by mid-August. The same scenario repeated itself at Jumbo Reservoir near Julesburg. The Colorado Division of Wildlife launched a fish salvage operation. Anglers took their limits in seine nets and orange Home Depot buckets. Prewitt and Jackson reservoirs in northeast Colorado also reached dead storage in 2006, and Nee Noshe near Eads shrunk 8

to less than 500 surface acres. Water rights under the Arkansas River Compact between Kansas and Colorado have been argued about, fought over and litigated for 50 years. By Winter 2008, a proposed final decree was imminent. Colorado will not owe water to Kansas, but well use has already been restricted and 20,000 acres in the Arkansas Valley dried up after a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court special master ruled that Colorado well pumping unfairly depleted water deliveries to Kansas. However bad things get between Kansas and Colorado, John Martin Reservoir is unlikely to go the way of Bonny Reservoir, which may dry up completely as the result of interstate disputes over Republican River water (see story page 2). “John Martin is mitigation for Kansas,” says Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District in Rocky Ford. “It behooves Kansas to make sure the water stays in John Martin.” “What’s going to happen if we keep having the weather we’ve been having since 2002? It could be disastrous,” Winner says. “Since 2002, there hasn’t been a lot of room for hope, but water users, farmers and irrigators are joyful right now.” Water storage levels are good, soil moisture is high and commodity prices have improved so much that instead of bemoaning markets or weather, farmers have started complaining about the taxes they’ll owe on their corn and wheat harvests. Another positive development: “The Arkansas Valley Conduit has the most traction right now it’s ever had,” Winner says. Legislation including an appropriation for water projects, including the conduit, was vetoed by President Bush but the Senate overturned it. “Every time you see a big water project approved, economic growth will follow,” he adds. The conduit would deliver fresh water from Pueblo Reservoir directly by pipeline to Lamar, eliminating the waste from Lower Arkansas’ reverse osmosis plants, boosting deliveries and improving water quality. As drought and legal disputes threaten the future of eastern Colorado reservoirs, the number of people pursuing water-based recreation is predicted to grow 50 to 100 percent over the next 20

years, according to the 2005 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan. Those people are staying longer at recreation areas and doing more things. Wildlife viewing has seen the greatest increase in participation of any activity, second only to “visiting historic places” as something tourists and Coloradans like to do on vacation. Efforts to stabilize and rebuild habitat have come from many corners, including farmers who have placed more than 2.4 million acres under the Conservation Reserve Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The voluntary program provides funds for measures that reduce erosion, improve water quality, clean up impaired sections of streams and create alternate water supplies for livestock so that riparian areas can be replanted with native willow, cottonwood, grasses and legumes. The Playa Lakes Joint Venture, which includes eastern Colorado, focuses many agencies’ attention on critically threatened wetlands in a five-state region. At Huerfano Lake in Pueblo County, Playa Lakes funding secured a 400-acre project area, including 255 acres of lakes and wetlands, fencing out livestock, removing tamarisk and preserving habitat for nesting and migrating birds such as the lesser scaup, American wigeon, avocet and snowy plover. They support an education and banding station for migratory songbirds in Lamar, and the Lower South Platte Wetland Initiative, which includes 500 acres of wetlands and 1,100 acres of uplands that teem with hundreds of thousands of waterfowl during migration season. Ducks Unlimited has also played a major role on the Lower South Platte and in the Arkansas Valley, where hundred-year floodplains and warm-water sloughs are threatened by drought, grazing’s effect on native vegetation and changing river flows. “Nothing’s irreplaceable, but it costs a heck of a lot to replace,” biologist Kernohan notes. “We’re going to put in $20 million into just the Lower South Platte in the next seven years.” Ducks Unlimited has been acquiring senior water rights to create waterfowl habitat, including 250 floodable acres in Elliott State Wildlife Area east of Fort Morgan. “I think there is a lot of hope out here,” Kernohan says, adding, “On the playas, all you need is rain.” q

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John DeLorenzo (2)

A Permanent Pool for Recreation and Wildlife in John Martin Reservoir

They’re trying to buy a little assurance. The Colorado’s Division of Wildlife and State Parks, along with the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, have money and a deal to firm up a permanent pool for recreation and wildlife in John Martin Reservoir. The catch: The deal can only be finalized if Kansas grants approval. The three want to buy half interest in the Kessee Ditch, a more stable water right expected to annually produce up to 3,500 acre feet for the pool. The contract expires Feb. 28. “It’s urgent from the standpoint of available funding,” says Division 2

Engineer Steve Witte. “We’ve been waiting for two years for the Kansas folks to provide some written comments on what conditions they feel are necessary to protect their interests if they were to grant their consent.” The Arkansas River Compact stipulates that water for the pool must be acquired then approved by the compact administration before it can be transferred. The permanent pool, authorized by Congress in 1965, was not part of the original compact. A decade later the pool was expanded to 15,000 acre feet from 10,000. Since 1980, DOW and Parks have

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leased water, mainly from Colorado Springs or Pueblo, to keep the pool afloat, says Grady McNeill, DOW’s resources support section manager. Urban growth and the 2002 drought translate to scarce rental opportunities. If Kansas doesn’t approve the Kessee Ditch purchase, says McNeill, there’s “no certainty we can find the water to maintain the pool.” The ditch is downstream of John Martin, so McNeill says the group would “just be shortstopping” the water in the reservoir. “The proposal’s been discussed,” says Kansas State Engineer Dave Barfield. “It’s obviously a significant item. Kansas does have concerns. It sets some legal precedents that we have to consider.” Barfield says the year’s been a busy one as the two states worked to tie up loose compact settlement and decree ends before Colorado State Engineer Hal Simpson retired. He says Kansas officials will meet with the John Martin proponents in January to work through concerns. “It’s going to be a challenge to get it done” before the end of February, Barfield says. And what happens if the deal evaporates? Says McNeill: “If we don’t have a water supply for the pool, it’s vacant.”


Story by Lisa Everitt

The Day the Birds Hired Lawyers John DeLorenzo

How wildlife mitigation went from afterthought to prime mover When it comes to wildlife mitigation, it’s not enough for water project managers to do a good turn. They want to do a tern good. Least terns, to be precise—not to mention piping plovers, bald eagles and bonytail chub. That’s what Mike Francis does for a living. He’s a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and his job for the last Michael Lewis

seven years has been to ensure that the Animas-La Plata Project does not mess up the lives of birds, fish or humans. Mike Francis, wildlife biologist, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation photographed at Ridges Basin Dam


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ties that have been in place for 55 years.” In 1937, when Congress approved the CBT, backers sought water for agriculture first and foremost. Boosters sought to encourage growth in the American West by providing plenty of water and hydropower for people and industry. And wildlife habitat and conservation were the province of Aldo Leopold and a few other environmental pioneers. It was unthinkable that there might someday not be enough clear mountain runoff to prevent the water quality problems. Or that the wellbeing of tern and sturgeon would become a rallying cry. Who would have guessed that children would write letters to their congressmen on behalf of the humpback chub, while grown-ups paid thousands of dollars to play on the water in little plastic boats? To the politicians, engineers and water users who crafted the CBT, rebuilding and protecting Eastern Colorado’s farm economy was their highest priority. “They wanted to prevent another Dust Bowl,” Lamb says. “During the Depression, they had no idea there would be half-a-million-dollar yachts on Horsetooth Reservoir.” By the time the Fry-Ark project came along in 1962, attitudes and priorities were beginning to change. In the postwar economy, recreational development had become a force to be reckoned with in the Colorado high country. Protections for wildlife were written into some components of Fry-Ark, including the authorization for Ruedi Reservoir, which began storing water in 1968. “We can do some things,” Lamb

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Kevin Moloney

Francis wrote much of the Environmental Commitment Plan that governs many things about the $500 million Ridges Basin Dam project, from protecting nesting habitat for golden eagles to controlling spurge and knapweed by deploying 750 weed-eating goats on damaged grazing lands. About $12.8 million of the Ridges Basin’s initial $432.5 million cost estimate was allocated for wildlife, wetland and cultural mitigation projects. Many of its components have proceeded in parallel with construction of the dam, which received its topping-out load of dirt in early November. When a project receives funds for wildlife mitigation, that money can be counted on, Francis says. “This project has been pretty solid. Reclamation keeps its commitments.” It was not always that way. Thirty years ago, such budgets were routinely raided to cover construction cost overruns, but “that’s kind of a bygone era,” Francis says. In the case of older projects such as the Colorado-Big Thompson or Fryingpan-Arkansas, interest in the wellbeing of terns and pikeminnows came long after the authorizing legislation. The Bureau of Reclamation is constrained by what Congress authorized it to do on each project, explains Reclamation spokesperson Kara Lamb. “People’s values have changed,” she says. “We have to do what we can for recreation and wildlife, when we can, but we aren’t authorized to do very much on the older projects. … You’re looking at facili-

“People’s values have changed,” explains Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson Kara Lamb. “We have to do what we can for recreation and wildlife, when we can, but we aren’t authorized to do very much on the older projects. … You’re looking at facilities that have been in place for 55 years.”

The Ridges Basin Dam (below) Environmental Commitment Plan governs many aspects of the $500 million project, including protecting golden eagle nesting areas. Photo by Michael Lewis.


Michael Lewis On the Animas-La Plata Project (above), wildlife mitigation planning is detailed in a 35-page checklist of environmental commitments, ranging from guaranteeing return flows for endangered fish in the La Plata and Animas rivers to removal of noxious weeds and protection of nesting places for golden and bald eagles during construction of the Ridges Basin Dam and Reservoir.

explains. “It’s written in the law, and that gives us a little more flexibility.” The seismic shift occurred in the early 1970s. The National Environmental Policy Act was passed in 1969 and signed by President Nixon in 1970, requiring environmental impact statements on major federal projects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made its debut later that year. Both the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act came into being in 1973. Led by an undersized Tennessee fish called the snail darter, fish, trees and waterfowl got their own set of attorneys, a place at the bargaining table and attention from the U.S. Senate and the Supreme Court. The Court ruled in 1978 that the Endangered Species Act required federal agencies to curtail any activities that could jeopardize the continued existence of endangered or threatened species or result in destruction or adverse modification of their critical habitat. Because almost all water projects involved federal agencies at some level, that meant even projects that were well under way could be revised, thrown into years of litigation or even cancelled. The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program came about as a way to allow needed water projects to go forward while protecting four endangered fish species in the Upper Colorado Basin. The agreement, signed in 1988, enables cooperation between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and various water entities; as long as progress is being made on endangered fish recovery, the Fish and Wildlife Service will sign off on projects depleting less than 3,000 acre feet per 12

year. Larger projects are taken under individual review. Reduced stream flows, overpopulation of nonnative fish species, diminished wetland habitat and interruption of spawning migration patterns by dams and other structures have endangered the formerly plentiful humpback chub, bonytail, pikeminnow and razorback sucker. To mitigate those impacts, Reclamation, the Colorado River Water Conservation District and other partners reworked releases, developed instream flow plans, installed fish ladders and nets, built hatcheries to put native species in and practiced harvesting to take non-native species out—all expensive and labor-intensive. While the four threatened species aren’t out of the woods yet, the recovery program has allowed more than 600 projects involving more than 600,000 acre-feet of water to go forward in the last 20 years. Still, as Eric Kuhn of the Colorado River District told a roundtable last May, “The Upper Basin Program only provides certainty for Upper Basin water uses to the extent it is successful. We must make continued progress toward recovery of the listed fish species or all bets are off.” Over the past two decades, wildlife mitigation has metamorphosed from afterthought to unwanted adjunct to fullfledged planning component. On the Animas-La Plata Project, that planning is detailed in a 35-page checklist of environmental commitments, ranging from guaranteeing return flows for endangered fish in the La Plata and Animas rivers to removal of noxious weeds and protection of nesting places for golden and

bald eagles during construction of the Ridges Basin Dam and Reservoir. Roads and campgrounds were sited to avoid elk and deer migration paths. Even long-dead animals receive protection under the plan, which protects dinosaur bones, fossils and Native American cultural artifacts that are uncovered during dam and reservoir construction and filling of Lake Nighthorse. More than 6,000 acres on the Huntington Ranch, just north of the New Mexico border along the La Plata River, were acquired to replace wetland, riparian and upland habitat disturbed or removed by water project construction. Livestock grazing had eroded the riverbank and non-native Russian olive and tamarisk were crowding out native plants. Plans were made to remove noxious weeds whose seeds washed from upland grazing areas to the riverside, to remove flood control levees and restore the natural channel of the river. It was an area that would not only compensate for wetlands disturbed by dam and reservoir construction, but also leave a significant stretch of the river far better off than it was before. Existing structures on the rivers haven’t escaped attention. Earlier this year, Francis wrote a paper on the impact of a diversion dam and pumping station on two sensitive fish species—flannelmouth and bluehead suckers—in the Animas. That was Francis seine-netting and counting newborn suckers to determine whether the structures got in the way of upstream migration. “Animas-La Plata is vastly fascinating in all its aspects,” he says. “For a wildlife biologist, it’s a dream job.” q

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Lost: Historic Call Found: Creative Solution Story by Peter Roessmann

Colorado Pikeminnow

Bonytail chub

In the early morning hours of June 20th, 2007, a 98-year-old section of penstock gave way, unleashing a torrent of water on the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon. The penstock, a riveted steel tube directing diverted Colorado River water into the plant’s turbines, was a victim of undetected corrosion. The breakdown knocked out the largest senior water right on the Colorado River and could have destroyed the summer recreation-based economy. The welfare of four endangered fish species—the focus of a multi-million dollar recovery program—impelled a collaborative solution and rescued recreation and agriculture downriver. Without the penstock, Shoshone could not call for water just as the spring runoff was beginning to recede. This is the time of the year that the Shoshone water right keeps river flows up, calling out junior water users or forcing them to replace the water they take with reservoir storage. The problem wasn’t so much that owner Xcel Energy couldn’t produce power. The crisis was that for a host of

Humpback chub

water users, a force on the river was lost. “The Colorado River is heavily administered and it all revolves around Shoshone,” says Dave Merritt, chief engineer for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Shoshone is the one constant in an equation of variables that balance the river.” In short, the Shoshone water right is king of the river. It dates back to 1902. The plant started operations in 1909, sending some of its first juice upriver to power gold dredge boats working the Swan and Blue rivers in Summit County. Under the prior appropriation system of water use in Colorado and much of the West, “first in time, first in right” governs who gets to draw water when the river runs short. But there’s another rule in

Razorback sucker

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This past June, a 98-year-old section of pipe above the Shoshone Hydro Plant burst, unleashing a torrent of water & debris…

On June 20, 2007, a ruptured penstock above the Shoshone power plant in Glenwood Canyon caused extensive damage, knocking the plant off line. The problem wasn’t so much that owner Xcel Energy couldn’t produce power. The crisis was that for a host of water users, a force on the river was lost. Photos courtesy of the Applegate Group, Inc.

the state’s system of water law. Since Shoshone was off line, it could not call for water since its “beneficial use” was out of commission. Shoshone is not confined to the irrigation season, as are many other senior rights. Thus it can call for water if flows diminish, no matter the season, which makes the water right even more important. Above all of its attributes is the fact the Shoshone water is not consumed. Just about every molecule goes back into the river at 1,250 cubic feet per second. In contrast, an irrigation right returns about 50 percent to the river, and that is over a much longer period of time. After Shoshone passes water through its two turbines and generates up to 15 megawatts of clean electricity, the water is immediately available for downstream users. Boaters get the first crack at it at the Shoshone put-in. As the water flows by nearby Glenwood Springs, downriver communities and irrigators begin to exercise their water rights on top of Shoshone’s unconsumed water.

And then there are the endangered fish—the Colorado pikeminnow, bonytail chub, humpback chub and razorback sucker. Shoshone flows contribute mightily to flow targets established by the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, an outgrowth of the Endangered Species Act. The flow targets are aimed at what is known as the 15 Mile Reach, a segment of the river in the Grand Valley between Palisade and the confluence of the Gunnison and the Colorado rivers. The fish could not express their worries after the Shoshone disaster. The rafting industry could—and did. Companies that depend on Shoshone said their season would be sunk if flows fell below 1,100 cfs, the borderline between an exhilarating experience and a tame, less attractive float trip. As water managers heard the human concerns about the economic risks, they were really calculating how to sustain the fish that faced lower flows as the dog days of summer approached. The trick

was care of the fish, save recreation and improve water quality. When Shoshone runs, dilution flows are high and water quality is better, aiding the municipal water supplies for the towns of Silt, Rifle and Clifton, as well as peach growers and vintners in the Grand Valley. It was the worst of times it was the best of times On paper, the Shoshone loss could have been catastrophic, especially had the headwaters reservoirs such as Green Mountain, Williams Fork, Dillon and Wolford Mountain been as depleted as they were following the dire 2002 drought year. Another factor was summer precipitation. In the arid West, summers can be dry throughout. Or they can start wet and end up dry, or vise versa. Nobody was sure about summer rains, but they were sure of one thing. The reservoirs were in great shape going into the runoff season and the winter snowpack in the headwaters had been a healthy one.

The Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program The Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program, established 20 years ago, is a collaborative effort to restore four endangered fish species and continue water development in compliance with state and federal laws and interstate compacts. The humpback chub, pikeminnow, razorback sucker and bonytail once thrived in the Colorado River system. None are considered sport fish, but all evolved 3 to 5 million years ago. Dams, diversions and other barriers have altered the river’s flows, affecting the native fishes’ habitat. And, as many as 40 non-native fish species—such as predatory channelcats and


largemouth bass and the popular game fish such as smallmouth bass—have been introduced over the last century. Among those involved are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Water Congress, The Nature Conservancy, Utah and Wyoming. One aspect of the program is to protect stream flows and alter federal dam releases to recreate more natural flow patterns. Another is to raise native fish in hatcheries and restock the river. The program also restores wetland habitat and builds fish passages around dams and other barriers. —U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Still, one dynamic was at work. Reservoir owners are hesitant to give up water storage when a senior water right is not calling them out. That is the power of Shoshone. Ordinarily, Shoshone calls out the likes of Denver Water, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, Aurora, and Colorado Springs as well as a host of West Slope municipalities and industrial users. When the Shoshone call is on, they are subject to replacing the water they are diverting with water stored in reservoirs. But another power was at work, too—the Endangered Species Act. The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is a cooperative regional, state and federal plan to recover the fish. Water users participate in this proactive plan to recover the fish while their use and development of water continues. The Recovery Program has worked to date to prevent judicial actions from cutting off water users, such as the debacles regarding water use and endangered fish that have occurred on the Klamath River in Oregon and just this year in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Among the tools in the Recovery Program’s basket is a program to augment flows. The nonconsumptive, senior Shoshone water right is an important factor in balancing water user needs with flows to support endangered fish.

Anything that threatens the Recovery Program threatens water users who know all about Klamath and what happens with environmental lawsuits. Talks began to figure it out with an optimistic bent. “When Shoshone went off this year the Blue River had a really huge year in snowpack, so we were looking at a full Green Mountain and a full Dillon reservoir. We had all this water up there,” says Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. “The Blue River had something like 123 to 125 percent of average for snowpack this year. It was one of the highest snowpack rates in the entire West.” And as the summer unfolded, it was so wet from rains in the headwaters that natural flows contributed as much to a Shoshone solution as did reservoir management. Water Division 5 Division Engineer Alan Martellaro says timely rains decreased water demands and increased river flows during the irrigation season, effectively holding off water crises. But the rest of this success story involves the people who collaborated to ensure the river worked, despite the competition among them. Setting the Table For years, reservoir operators, water users and other interested parties have

joined in a Wednesday telephone conference regarding flows in the Colorado River. The calls begin in late spring and mostly end when the irrigation season concludes in the Grand Valley in the beginning of November. The goal of the phone call is to adjust reservoir releases against the Shoshone call and to add storage water specifically for fish habitat in the 15 Mile Reach. Participants include Reclamation, owner of Green Mountain, Ruedi and Granby reservoirs; Denver Water, owner of Dillon and Williams Fork reservoirs; and the Colorado River District, owner of Wolford Mountain Reservoir. Other participants include Grand Valley irrigation interests such as the Grand Valley Water Users, the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and the Grand Valley Irrigation Company. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, beneficiary of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, joins in as do representatives from local governments and Trout Unlimited. The phone calls became particularly important during the 2002-2003 drought years when water was precious. The 2007 Shoshone crisis presented a different angle. Reservoirs had plenty of water but no calling right to bring it downstream. “What allowed us to jump right into those drought year discussions was the fact that we’d had a series of decent

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and junior water rights holders in Water Division 5 collaborated to keep the Colorado River flowing after a June disaster knocked out Shoshone power plant’s senior right. They released water (see figures below) from Green Mountain, Williams Fork, Wolford Mountain and Granby reservoirs to benefit endangered species downriver and rescue summer recreation.

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years leading up to that,” says Merritt. “It’s much better to establish those relationships in a non-crisis environment, and then, when you’re pushed, you have some level of trust and respect for the other parties. You’ve worked with them before and know you’ll have to work with them again.” What Everyone Agreed On The critical issue was to ensure adequate flows for endangered fish in the 15 Mile Reach. The Recovery Program sets a range of target flow goals for the reach. The flows depend on how much water is available. In dry years, the minimum is 810 cfs. Target flows increase as river conditions improve. The target for 2007 was 1,200 cfs. Water rights owners don’t usually volunteer to give up what they are entitled to divert and store, yet that was exactly what reservoir operators and water users began to discuss. Keeping the Recovery Program on track proved compelling. Four parties came up with 28,500 acre feet of water to stabilize the river flows. Reclamation contributed 20,000 acre feet of its Green Mountain Reservoir power pool. Denver Water agreed to use 5,000 from Williams Fork Reservoir. The Colorado River District put in 2,500 from Wolford Mountain Reservoir. And Northern’s Municipal Subdistrict added 1,000 from the Windy Gap Project that was stored in Granby. A combination of prior appropriation system strictures and federal operating policies threatened to sink these arrangements. Any water released or bypassed for non-decreed purposes becomes “system water” available for the next inpriority diverter. By statute, the Colorado State Engineer could not protect water released from headwater reservoirs downstream to the Grand Valley, a threeto four-daylong transit. Under the prior appropriation doctrine, the way water rights must be administered, doesn’t “allow somebody to do the right thing and be generous with sharing their water with where there’s a need,” says Dick Proctor, manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association. Reclamation could add water at its discretion because its Green Mountain Reservoir call was in priority. Denver Water pursued a similar approach. “The division engineer determined he 16

wasn’t able to protect the releases made from Denver’s facilities from downstream diversions for the endangered fish,” says Marc Waage, a water resource engineer for Denver Water. Instead, Denver Water worked to make the water available when it was least likely to be diverted, when there were higher flows in the river. When the flows were lower, Denver Water “tried to arrange it so that we could use other water rights that would be protected” and would benefit the endangered fish. The Colorado River District was able to contract for delivery of its 2,500 acre feet from Wolford Mountain Reservoir directly with the Recovery Program to ensure its delivery to the Grand Valley. Legal constraints forced Northern’s Municipal Subdistrict into a more compli“What allowed us to jump right into those drought year discussions was the fact cated arrangement. that we’d had a series of decent years leading up to that,” says Dave Merritt The subdistrict used a (above), the Colorado River District’s chief engineer. Photo by Ed Kosmicki. pool of water pumped up from the Windy Gap pumping station up to the plate and take some voluntary to Granby to contribute to the 15 Mile actions. That really showed their good intentions and their following through Reach. “The subdistrict leased water to the with these recovery agreements.” The groups, she observes, impledistrict, and the district turned around and leased that water for irrigation mented recovery actions when possible purposes to the Grand Valley Water and worked together to meet the target Users Association,” says Don Carlson, flows in the 15 Mile Reach. “Technically under Colorado water Northern’s assistant general manager. Explains Proctor, “The only way law they didn’t have to do that.” Reservoir storage and Mother Nature (Northern) could protect that water to the Grand Valley was to sign a contract with really mattered in 2007. “We were blessed with very good somebody” for water delivery. The Grand Valley Water Users OK’d a lease agree- storage this summer and that enabled us ment and accepted delivery to offset the to contribute the 5,000 acre feet,” says association’s demand on Green Mountain Denver Water’s Waage. “And our reserReservoir. In turn, the 1,000 acre feet was voir storage is still in very good shape.” And now the really good news: Xcel then declared a surplus and released for Energy is undertaking millions of dollars the fish in the 15 Mile Reach. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist worth of repairs to the Shoshone power Patty Gelatt notes the significance of water plant and expects it to be on line by users who recognized the need to “step spring 2008. q

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What a Nuisance Story by Lori Ozzello | Photographs by Kevin Moloney

Whirling disease seemed unbeatable. The disease stumped aquatic researchers in the mid 1990s and decimated the state’s wild rainbow trout population. It tolerated extreme temperatures and could lie dormant in silt for years. Biologists devised ways to rid state hatcheries of the invasive disease, but they struggled to somehow inoculate or protect the wild trout. From the tiny worms that cause whirling disease in fish and deformities in frogs to New Zealand mudsnails that crowd out native mollusks to cheatgrass that causes wildfires and further fosters itself, nuisance species pose enormous biological and economical problems in Colorado and around the world. George Schisler (above), a Colorado Division of Wildlife researcher, nets one of his subjects at the Colorado Department of Wildlife Parvin Lake research lab at Red Feather Lakes northwest of Fort Collins. Rams Horn snails (left) are a common freshwater snail and the first intermediate host for Ribeiroia ondatrae (the trematode that causes limb deformities in amphibians—see page 20).

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George Schisler, a Colorado Division of Wildlife researcher, is working on breeding fish resistant to whirling disease to help river ecosystems recover from the parasite-borne disease.

One Cornell University estimate puts the annual cost at $137 billion. A Utah study puts an average pricetag for invaders at $1 million per species per year, but no one knows for certain what the amount really is, or how many invaders there are. Cornell ecologist David Pimentel “is the only one to try to put a number to it,” says Tom Stohlgren, branch chief at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Fort Collins Science Center. “Even if he’s off by a factor of two, it’s bigger than hurricanes, earthquakes and fires combined.” Some nonnatives are benign, but others push native species out, kill or sicken wildlife, destroy habitat and affect water. “Forecasting the weather is interesting, but we really need to forecast invasions,” says Stolgren. “We’re working on it, developing computer and spatial models, from where (invasive species) are now to their next step. We may have to take a more humble approach and stop these things, maybe one step at a time.” Several state and federal organizations as well as more specialized groups are engaged in what may be a Sisyphean task: trying to keep nuisance species out; keeping tabs on the myriad ones already in Colorado; and trying to eliminate or contain the worst of them. “We’re spreading things around,” Stohlgren says. “Ecology used to be slow. We’re kind of one big island now. Trade and transportation increases and it opens the door to sharing plants, animals and pathogens at a must faster rate.” 18

The Fort Collins group, he says, “is trying to be more optimistic and predictive. We want to learn more about early detection. We’re treating it like an ecological wild fire. We have a smoke jumper mentality when something new comes into our state, our country or our backyard.” Expelling the invaders often is next to impossible. But for the whirling disease warriors, the story took a twist. A few years ago, fisheries researcher George Schisler and his colleagues at the Colorado Division of Wildlife caught an amazing break. The Colorado researchers were acquainted with a Munich professor also studying whirling disease. They asked him for help. Not far from Munich, he found a breed of rainbow trout resistant to whirling disease. His discovery, in a Bavarian hatchery, may help restore the state’s wild trout population. “We’re working on developing strains of rainbow trout resistant to whirling disease,” says Schisler, “and we’re having quite a bit of success.” The microscopic parasite that causes whirling disease is one of countless species that hitchhike to the state. The nonnatives arrive via shipments of seafood; on equipment and boats used in different waterways; and acts intended as kindness. Some are deliberately imported for use in agriculture or landscaping but escape into the wild. “Until the last few years, we hadn’t given a lot of thought to what we could

spread around,” says Vicky Milano, a Colorado Division of Wildlife fish pathologist. “Anyone using water is a vector.” People’s increased mobility and global trade expansion make it easy to share an unprecedented number of plants, animals and pathogens, says Stohlgren. He supervises a staff of scientists who are federal employees, contractors and graduate students. “We’ve broken down the barrier,” says Stohlgren. “Darwin used to go out in a boat to look for biodiversity. Now it comes to us. Every computer is a portal. … We move things around. We shared things in estuaries by moving seafood. We have diddled.” Sometimes, it was unknowingly. Whirling disease was first detected in the eastern United States about 50 years ago, traced back to a shipment of live fish from Europe to Pennsylvania. Whirling disease was accidentally introduced to Colorado sometime in the mid 1980s. By the 1990s, the disease had been confirmed in 13 of the state’s 15 major waterways, including the Colorado, Gunnison, Rio Grande, South Platte and Arkansas rivers. Although whirling disease can affect other salmonids, the rainbows are most susceptible. The parasite requires two hosts— trout and tubifex worms, common river bottom dwellers. According to the DOW, when an infected trout dies and its body decays, a large number of hard spores are released. The spores are “hardy, resist freezing and drought and can remain viable for decades.” “Think of the tubifex worms as aquatic

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Tom Stohlgren, an invasive species researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey, is pictured with graphics illustrating the spread of species from 10-foot pythons to tamarisk shrubs, at the USGS office in Fort Collins.

earthworms,” says Schisler. “As they process the dead fish, they eat the spores, which reproduce in the worms’ guts.” Eventually, the worms rupture, scattering fine spores in the water. The spores, equipped with tiny hooks, latch onto passing fish and work their way into soft cartilage, causing nerve damage, skeletal deformities and death. The parasite destroyed wild trout populations across the West and baffled researchers like Schisler. Nothing seemed quite able to kill it. In the turn of events is some irony: Rainbow trout are themselves nonnative and the solution was imported. Rainbows, a favorite of anglers in Colorado, are native to the West, but not to Colorado. Still, says Milano, “We’ve cultured them.” Over time, breeds particular to Colorado, its climate and altitude developed. One is known as the Tasmanian rainbow trout. Anglers elsewhere wanted rainbows and they were shipped out of the western United States to Europe in the late 1800s. Like Colorado’s rainbows, they were bred for different purposes once they landed across the pond. Schisler and other researchers studied whirling disease and shared what they learned. They knew brown trout, native to Europe, are resistant to whirling disease. Otherwise, he says, “We didn’t have much.” The Colorado researcher asked an overseas colleague, Mansour El-Matbouli,

to look around for rainbow trout strains that showed resistance to whirling disease. The University of Munich biologist found one at the Hofer Hatchery near the southern German city. The catch: The Hofer rainbows had been developed as a food fish, not a wild river trout. And getting Hofer eggs to Colorado took patience, paperwork and a quarantine. The imported eggs arrived in 2003 and, after more tests, Schisler and his colleagues began to cross breed them with the Tasmanians. The fish—products of female Hofers and male Tasmanians nurtured in hatcheries—were stocked in 2004 in the Gunnison River. Some survived, and each year since, the survival rates improved. In the intervening years, CDOW stocked the South Platte, Arkansas, Fryingpan, Colorado and Rio Grande rivers with the Tasmanian-Hofer cross. So far, 75 percent of the anglers who’ve caught them can’t detect the difference. The crossbred fish stocked in rivers reverted to wild habits. Schisler says there are indications they’ve reproduced in the Gunnison. DNA results are pending. “We’re really doing good things,” says Schisler. “With the wild trout, we’re not quite there yet. When we see robust populations again, we’ll say we’ve licked it.” CDOW also stocked the crossbred fish in reservoirs. They won’t reproduce there because rainbows require flowing water to spawn. “We don’t care if those (reservoir) fish H e a d w at e r s | W i n t e r 2 0 0 8

have wild behavior,” says Schisler. “We want people to go out and catch them. What we’re finding is the Hofers grow well and they’re a great strain. We can produce catchable fish faster.” Schisler points out water management techniques have a significant impact on whirling disease. Flushing flows, for example, alleviate sediment buildup, destroying mid generation tubifex that thrive in heavy organic silt. “We shouldn’t look at the resistant strain as a cure all by themselves,” Schisler says. “Water resources have a lot to do with all kinds of things for the fish. Just because there’s water doesn’t mean it’s healthy.” Stohlgren adds that groups like his are not only studying the invaders, they’re trying to forecast species’ next steps. “We’ve established an advanced invasive species modeling room,” he says. “It’s like a war room. We’re developing maps of where Africanized honey bees are going to go because of weather, etc. We’re training the next generation.” New ecologists, he says, will have to know more math and computer science, develop maps and computer models. Guessing at the future of invasive species, their next move and what to do is a lot like science fiction, he admits. “I gave a talk at NASA once,” Stohlgren says. “I told them—we have a Hubble telescope. What we need is a Hubble microscope to look down on earth, tracking species that move and crawl and swim and carry very small organisms.” q 19

Five Easy Steps to Prevent Aquatic Nuisance Species

Emmett Jordan

1. Never release nonnative species into the wild. 2. Never move water, animals or plants from one body of water to another. (Boat hulls and motors should be cleaned after use to prevent the spread of snails and parasites.) 3. Learn to recognize common invaders. 4. Share your knowledge to prevent the spread of nuisance species. 5. Report invasive species. Call (970)842-6308. Fish pathologist Vicki Milano is the acting director of Colorado’s fledgling Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force. More than 20 states already have task forces, intergovernmental organizations that work to prevent and control invasive species. As the group awaits enabling legislation and the governor’s signature, Milano says the 15 members are working on a state management plan. One of their main missions: to educate the public about how to keep nuisance species out.

CU Researcher Solves Frog Mystery A University of Colorado researcher helped solve a frog riddle that vexed biologists for a decade. Pieter Johnson says deformed frogs, first discovered in the Great Lakes region in 1997, raised “lots of debate” as their range and frequency increased. In a National Science Foundationfunded study published in late September, Johnson reported the deformities are a result of nutrient runoff from farming and ranching, which fuel parasitic infections. Johnson believes the findings, which may also have some bearing on whirling disease, are emblematic of other issues likely to arise. Amphibians are the most threatened group of vertebrates, suffering major declines on every continent because of habitat loss and diseases. “The frogs have extra legs or twisted legs,” says Johnson, an assistant professor of ecology and evolution. “Our research has pointed to a flatworm parasite, also known as a fluke. “Frogs are used as second, intermediate hosts. From the evolutionary standpoint, deformed frogs are more susceptible to predators. We struggled with parasite abundance. What we finally started to see was that higher nutrient levels stimulate plant and algae growth, fueling higher abundance of the snails, which host more parasites. The snails are well fed and can produce more parasites.” The major cause is a parasite known as a trematode. It prefers the red-eared radix, an exotic freshwater snail species that, like whirling disease-causing tubifex worms, thrives in silt and tolerates pollution and 20

Assistant Professor Pieter Johnson, of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, studies a parasite carried by snails, right, that infect and deform frog tadpoles, in jar. Nitrogen levels in surface water are an aggravating factor of the infections, Johnson says.

a range of temperatures. The snails, with plenty to eat, grow faster and get bigger, protecting themselves from predators. The trematodes’ complex life cycle involves three parts: the infectious stage in snails and a cyst stage in frogs. Then, they depend on wading birds to eat infected frogs and spread more parasites through defecation. Johnson says the distribution pattern follows the flyway. The trematode larvae burrow into tadpoles’ limb regions, disrupting normal development. The deformed frogs don’t survive long in the wild. The host radix snails, says Johnson, found in several sites in Denver, are larger than the New Zealand mudsnails

causing alarm on the South Platte River. “Reducing the (nutrient) runoff is the biggest issue in my opinion,” says Johnson. “The nitrogen and phosphorous in fertilizers cause toxic algae blooms, mosquitoes and possibly whirling disease.” Nutrient runoff has “a broad potential to affect aquatic and human diseases, such as West Nile virus,” Johnson says. “We just don’t know how severely.” To reduce adverse effects, people can apply fertilizer more efficiently, he says, in the proper amounts at the correct time of year. He also advocates buffer zones, such as trees, shrubs and grasses to absorb and filter nutrient runoff before it reaches water bodies. q

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Water for the Birds

How Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and the Feds Figured It Out


t’s no wonder, once you understand the competing interests involved, that it took 12 years for Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska to hash out a deal to send water downstream on the Platte River for three rare birds and a fish. The three-state agreement, formally the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, officially began in January 2007. The three state governors and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior began talking in 1994. They were joined by environmental groups and water users, who also had a vested interest in finding a solution to an increasingly impossible impasse: human water use for farms, cities, industry and sports versus the habitat needs of four species protected by the Endangered Species Act. The whooping crane, piping plover, interior least tern and pallid sturgeon each have critical habitat along the Platte River in central Nebraska. Since the late 1970s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that every major water use on the North, South and Central Platte rivers that required consultation jeopardized that habitat. Permitting delays, costly mitigation and the frightening possibility of losing water rights pushed state governors to take the lead in resolving escalating conflicts. The initial discussion in 1994 centered on two objectives: Improve habitat for the target species and allow current and future water use to continue. The discussions were formalized in 1997

Story by Jayla Ryan Poppleton

to construct parameters for the program, which, 10 years later, is finally under way. “Many times [the program] looked like it was going to run right off the end of a cliff,” says David Little, Denver Water’s director of planning. He was involved in negotiations from the beginning. Little is an alternate representing water users on the program’s 12-member governance committee, composed of representatives from the three states, Department of the Interior, water users and environmental groups. Little continues: “It really is pretty amazing when you get that diverse of a group together facing dire consequences. When you get to the edge of the cliff and look over, you go back and work a little harder.” The word dire may sound a bit potent, but it’s appropriate considering the bind all parties were in. Water users faced the uncertainty of continuing to use water they had already developed if the endangered species issue was not resolved. And those working to protect habitat knew more water was needed or recovery was unlikely. Fortunately for the birds, it seems the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, is doing its job. And fortunately for Coloradans, the people who manage the water brokered the deal that will protect water use for at least 13 more years. Ted Kowalski, who works for the Colorado Water Conservation Board and serves as the program’s manager in Colorado says, “We’re helping to solve a problem instead of standing in the way.” H e a d w at e r s | W i n t e r 2 0 0 8

Water users had little choice. The USFWS has issued countless jeopardy biological opinions for water-depletive projects on the Platte, citing those depletions as harmful to the critical habitat. In fact, almost every permit, whether new or up for renewal since the late 1970s, has hit the same wall. In order to proceed, the permit holder has to mitigate impacts, often in the form of one-forone water replacement. Land acquisition and sediment augmentation could also be required to obtain compliance under Section 7 of the ESA, which states that permit-holders must ensure their projects aren’t likely to impede endangered species recovery by deteriorating the species’ habitat. These actions were cost prohibitive and sometimes impossible. Enter the age of collaboration. The recovery program’s effort will provide enough water and land to offset the impacts for all water projects on the Platte that fall into the federal nexus category, regulated by the ESA. Such projects require federal authorization, funding or are carried out by a federal agency. An example in Colorado is the Chatfield Reallocation Project in Littleton, which would increase Chatfield Reservoir’s storage capacity by 20,000 acre feet, enough to supply 41,000 homes. Cities including Littleton, Denver, Parker, Castle Rock and Aurora are stakeholders in the project, which would fall under jeopardy with the USFWS without the recovery program. 21

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program in a Nutshell Key Players The agreement is between the governors of Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. It involves vested water users and environmental groups.

Cause for Concern Four endangered and threatened species have critical habitat along the central Platte River in Nebraska. The Endangered Species Act protects that habitat. Permits for certain water uses were in jeopardy because of their impact on the habitat.

Endangered or Threatened Species Whooping crane, endangered since 1967 Northern Great Plains piping plover, threatened since 1985 Interior least tern, endangered since 1985 Pallid sturgeon, endangered since 1990

Program Goal The program’s objectives are to help recovery of the target species while enabling existing and new water uses in the basin to continue without additional regulatory actions related to the species.

The Math 13-year agreement $314 million total bill $157 million from federal government $24 million from Colorado 130,000 to 150,000 acre feet total water 10,000 acre feet from Colorado 10,000 acres land in Nebraska

ThePlan Increase stream flows in the central Platte River during relevant time periods through re-timing, water conservation and supply projects; enhance, restore and protect habitat for species; and accommodate new waterrelated activities in a manner consistent with program goals.


Water users like those at Chatfield reap a tremendous benefit from pooling resources: They stand under an insurance umbrella that nets them ESA compliance for all four species simultaneously. To receive coverage, the only prerequisite is participation in the South Platte Water Related Activities Program, affectionately dubbed SPWRAP. Members pay a self-assessed tax to help Colorado finance its water obligation. In exchange, they can fly through a streamlined process for permit application; when they reach the section on documenting ESA compliance, they check a box and move on. “It’s much more efficient to work on a programmatic basis to recover these species,” says Kowalski. “It’s also more cost-effective than if each individual water provider had to go through their own negotiations with the USFWS. Now you’re able to leverage federal money and state money, resulting in a much more reasonable cost to water users.” The program’s first increment, which spans 13 years and costs $314 million, aims to reach one third of the ultimate goal for land and water in the critical habitat areas. “During the cooperative agreement they laid out the program but it doesn’t cover every intricacy that needs to be figured out,” says Jerry Kenny, who was named executive for the program last summer. He is based in Kearney, Neb. Initially, the agreement is to provide an additional 130- to 150,000 acre feet of water during the months when target flows fall short of USFWS’ recommendations. The program also will acquire from willing sellers 10,000 acres of land to restore and protect along the river corridor. The federal government, which is poised to provide half the funding, is one step away from writing its first check. House Bill 1462, passed in mid-October, authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to spend $157 million. Senate Bill 752, which does the same, is awaiting final approval. As for the states’ half of the cash, Colorado will dole out most of it, mainly from the Colorado Species Conservation Trust Fund. “We’re giving $24 million in 2005 dollars,” says Alan Berryman, assistant general manager at Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Berryman represents water users on the governance committee. “We decided with our population and how it’s growing that it would be a lot easier to give money than water. Water’s hard to come by.” Wyoming will pay $6 million, and the rest of the three states’ portion will come in the form of cash-water equivalents. Colorado will provide 10,000 acre feet, or roughly three billion gallons of water. That figure is worrisome at first glance, but it’s important to note the program will not affect consumptive use for Colorado’s water users. “We’re not going to be taking away anybody’s water,” stresses Don Ament, former Colorado Agricultural Commissioner under Gov. Bill Owens and representative for the state of Colorado on the governance committee. “It’s pretty hard for ranchers and farmers in Colorado to think they’re having to put out water and money for these species clear down at Grand Island, (Neb.),” says Ament. “But what we’ve put in place with this program is an insurance policy that protects these guys from dealing with the USFWS on each individual depletion they have, which would be very, very expensive. “Without question, this is absolutely the best thing that could happen to them.” To fully appreciate the importance and implications of Colorado’s obligation to provide water for species that live out of state, some geography and biology related to the Platte River is helpful. Colorado is the headwaters for the North and South Platte Rivers. The North Platte River escapes into Wyoming with only 500 acre feet diverted for use in Colorado. But the South Platte, which runs straight through metro Denver and traipses across much of northeastern Colorado’s agricultural heart, is the most heavily-relied on river basin in Colorado, supplying 772,400 acre feet of water in 2000. Near Julesburg, Colo., the South Platte crosses into Nebraska where it joins the north stem at North Platte, Neb. The Platte River continues east across the North American Central Flyway, a north-south corridor for migrating birds, including the aforementioned cranes, plovers and terns. Further east, before its confluence with the Missouri River, the Platte’s turbid waters nourish the freshly-laid eggs of the pallid sturgeon.

Kevin Moloney

“We’re helping to solve a problem instead of standing in the way,” accoding to Ted Kowalski of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Kowalski, photographed in Denver as he crossed the South Platte River, is Colorado’s Platte River Recovery Implementation Program manager.

The river’s riparian zones provide valuable sheltering, nesting and foraging habitat for the program’s target species. But after 150 years of water development, the Platte’s flow regime and structure have been altered dramatically, and the habitat is less of an Eden-like refuge than a liability. For example, terns and plovers historically sought out the river’s high sandbars as prime nesting sites. Snowmelt-driven spring flows of years past built sandbars that were high enough to withstand heavy summer rains. Now the sandbars are often

“It is an ecological phenomenon. Acre by acre, this is probably the most important piece of land for sandhill cranes. If we lost 100 square miles, it would probably decimate the population. If we lost that in the wintering or breeding grounds, it wouldn’t even make a dent.”

—Felipe Chavez-Ramirez

inundated later in the season. Whooping cranes are having trouble finding suitable sites to layover. The cranes look for wide, shallow sections of braided river with little vegetation so they can spot predators. Lower water levels have allowed so much new vegetation to take root that parts of the river look like forests. According to Felipe Chavez-Ramirez, executive director of the Platte River Whooping Crane Trust, “For the last three summers (2004-2006) the riverbed was completely dry. You couldn’t tell where it was, there was so much vegetation.” It’s so bad that the trust, which worked to restore native habitat, plows the river mechanically to clear vegetation so cranes will use it again. Dan Luecke, a hydrologist who represented the National Wildlife Federation during the negotiations, said that the circumstances of the whooping crane are perilous. The H e a d w at e r s | W i n t e r 2 0 0 8


last wild migratory population of whooping cranes uses the Platte River corridor as a stopover on their biannual migration. The birds require specific conditions for roosting and foraging in order to arrive healthy at their Canadian breeding grounds. Migration is the season of the species’ highest mortality rate. “That migration is so risk-loaded for these birds that anything that might make it easier for them is important,” said Luecke. The Northern Great Plains piping plover was listed as threatened in 1985. The USFWS cites the elimination of nesting sandbars, drainage of wetlands and increased use of nesting areas by humans as reasons for its decline.

square miles, it would probably decimate the population. If we lost that in the wintering or breeding grounds, it wouldn’t even make a dent.” Says Luecke, “The migration of the sandhill cranes is as close as you’d get in this country to a Serengeti experience. If the ESA and the leverage it gives for habitat protection has an impact on another species, I think that’s great.” Neither the sandhills nor the four target species are permanent residents on the Platte, but the river is still considered critical habitat, which, by definition, contains physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species that may require spe-

“The standard of success is that we implement the items that everyone has agreed on to make sure the Platte River is not limiting.” —David Little The interior least tern, one of the smallest tern species in North America, was listed as endangered in 1985. Like the piping plover, it breeds primarily on bare sandbars, many of which have been permanently inundated or destroyed by reservoirs and channelization projects. The pallid sturgeon, a fish that can reach 85 pounds and swims up from the Missouri River to lay its eggs, is less understood. Listed as endangered in 1990, the sturgeon may have been affected by changing water temperatures and flow patterns following dam construction upstream, as well as expanded commercial harvest. Initially, the program will monitor sturgeon populations to test whether additional water provided for the birds will benefit the fish as expected. Technically, the ESA targets only these four species for special protection, but the program’s work will also benefit another bird, the sandhill crane. Sandhills’ habitat throughout the year extends from the northern United States to Siberia and from the southern United States to central Mexico. Once a year, half a million sandhills congregate along 80 miles of the Platte River for a six-week break on their way to their Arctic breeding grounds. “It is an ecological phenomenon,” says Chavez-Ramirez. “Acre by acre, this is probably the most important piece of land for sandhill cranes. If we lost 100 24

cial management considerations or protection. The whooping crane, plover and tern’s critical habitat is along the central Platte River between Lexington and Chapman, Neb., and the sturgeon’s critical habitat is in the lower Platte River between its confluence with the Elkhorn and Missouri rivers. Besides protecting and restoring land in those areas, the USFWS is asking for 417,000 acre feet of additional river flows. For now, the agreement is to provide one third of that amount. Other parties sharply questioned USFWS’ target flow recommendations during negotiations. “It was the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” says Mark Butler, the USFWS Platte River liaison. “It was there when negotiations began.” Little agrees, “We had to stop arguing about the science and agree to allow USFWS to state what they believe is the species’ need.” “For now, the USFWS recommendations will serve as a measuring stick, but will be subject to adaptive management,” says Butler. The agreement’s adaptive management approach will give participants the chance to test and compare competing hypotheses about what the needs really are. As Colorado’s manager for the program, Kowalski coordinates the moving pieces to meet the state’s obligations.

For the water component, Colorado will retime up to 10,000 acre feet of water from times of surplus to times of deficit. The water will be retimed at Tamarack State Wildlife Area, where wells along the river move water to recharge ponds at various distances. Engineers have determined how long it will take for the water to return to the river through underground aquifers. Water pumped in January and February, when there is no call on the river and interstate compacts are silent, can be returned to the river during the summer months when species need it most. Tamarack currently retimes about 3,500 acre feet. Berryman expects it to reach 5,000. “We have a long list of potential sites we’re going to be looking at to get the rest,” says Berryman. A small reservoir near the border is a possibility, though it gets tricky. “We can’t store water in Colorado for the purpose of releasing it out of state,” explains Kowalski. “It would need to serve a beneficial use in Colorado first.” Tamarack is an example of how that can work. It had to abide by the same state statute. By providing ponds that raise minnow species of concern for Colorado and serve as habitat for waterfowl, the project meets Colorado’s needs first. So far, the three states have determined how to provide the first 80,000 acre feet of water, which will repay past depletions. Now they need to establish the other 50,000 to 70,000 acre feet to cover future water use. Each state has identified one possible project. Colorado’s proposal is a more aggressive extension of the Tamarack project with additional wells and recharge ponds. That option seems unlikely to be pursued. “It’s been an unspoken thought that it makes more sense to develop something in Nebraska, closer to where the water is needed,” said Kowalski. Looking into the future, no one is sure how successful the program will be. “Though I think the amount of land and water are appropriate levels for the program, they’re modest treatments,” says Luecke. “One of the big questions for me is whether there will be any noticeable changes for the species. What then? Thirteen years down the line when we ask the question, ‘Have we made a difference?’ I think the answer is going to be ambiguous.”

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For now, the plan is in motion and participants are focused on meeting the program’s more tangible goals. “The standard of success is not that the birds recover. They’re migratory. We can’t control what happens in the other habitats they use,” explains Little. “The standard of success is that we implement the items that everyone has agreed on to make sure the Platte River is not limiting.” Berryman agrees, “The most important thing for Colorado is to hit our milestones. If we do that, our water uses continue. In the next 13 years, we’ll learn

more about what the habitat does if we do certain things. This is a good step.” Says Kowalski, “Overall, it is a lot better for our states to be working together toward a common goal rather than working against each other.” Ament is excited about the progress: “We’ve had plenty of critics, as you can imagine. Some are my neighbors, I think. But what you have to understand is that we can’t just do away with the ESA.” At the same time, establishing the certainty that water use will continue unimpeded was imperative for Colorado.

After all, the stakes are high. The South Platte is already the most populated river basin in Colorado. It also embraces the largest number of irrigated acres. Its taxing load will only get heavier, according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative. SWSI estimated population growth and future water demand in Colorado’s eight major river basins for the period between 2000 and 2030. If its findings are accurate, we can anticipate 2.8 million new faces in Colorado by 2030. The majority will live, work, play and thirst in the arms of the South Platte basin. q

‘ … like it belongs to them’ The endangered whooping crane has been called “King of the Marsh” by one of the wildlife biologists most closely associated with ongoing recovery efforts. “The bird is so tall, and absolutely a brilliant white with beautiful plumage,” says Tom Stehn, whooping crane coordinator at Aransas (Texas) National Wildlife Refuge. “It has such a royal presence.” At 5 feet tall, with a 7-foot wingspan, the whooping crane is the tallest bird species in North America. It is also one of the most imperiled. The majestic birds annually migrate from Aransas to Canada. Protecting the historic stopover along the Platte River in central Nebraska is the focus of the three-state agreement between Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. Stehn is charged with coordinating whooping crane recovery out of Aransas. Afraid of heights, Stehn braves the skies once a week to fly over the cranes’ wintering habitat along the Texas Gulf coast and take an aerial census. Just last week, he counted a record 262 birds, up from 237 last year at this time. “Still, when you look at history, 262 is only a thimble-full,” says Stehn with audible concern. “Anything can happen.” Whooping cranes, endemic to North America, are thought to have numbered close to 1400 in 1870. By the 1920s, some biologists were beginning to realize they were incredibly rare. The whooping crane’s numbers dwindled to an all-time low of 15 birds in 1941, due to hunting and habitat loss. In 1967, they were listed as endangered under the predecessor to the 1970 Endangered Species Act. Today, only one wild migratory flock

remains. The birds winter along 35 miles of the Texas Gulf Coast, largely in the Aransas and Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuges. There they stake out territory in the marshes, feeding primarily on blue crabs to shore up for the long journey ahead. In the spring, they fly 2,500 miles north to breed in the Wood Buffalo

“It was so rare, absolutely on the brink of extinction,” says Stehn. “We almost lost it, but people stepped in.” Still, Stehn worries about the species’ future. As a single population with low numbers, the birds are vulnerable to potential catastrophes ranging from disease to an oil spill along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway

“I’m worried that at some point these numbers that are slowly increasing are going to taper off. You can’t recover whooping cranes without habitat.” —Tom Stehn National Park in Canada. Whooping cranes live an average of 25 years in the wild. Breeding pairs mate for life and will lay about 2 eggs per year. A good pair will return to the Gulf with one chick in tow every other year. At that rate, Stehn points out, even under the best conditions recovery is going to be slow. The goal of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recovery plan for whooping cranes is 1,000 individuals and 250 breeding pairs maintained for 10 years. At that point, the species could be reclassified as threatened. The goals for the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock are adjusted if other flocks can be successfully established in the wild. Currently a non-migratory flock in Florida and another that migrates following ultralight aircraft between Florida and Wisconsin total about 100 birds. These flocks are considered experimental and are comprised of birds re-introduced from captive breeding programs. Some have pointed to the whooping crane as a symbol of conservation in this country. H e a d w at e r s | W i n t e r 2 0 0 8

that flows right past Aransas. Stehn also mentions migrational hazards like power lines and wind turbines, both continually erected even on wildlife refuges. Habitat loss along the 150-mile wide migration corridor continues to be a key threat. Says Stehn, “I’m worried that at some point these numbers that are slowly increasing are going to taper off. You can’t recover whooping cranes without habitat.” Each fall, Stehn greets the returning whooping cranes as they descend on Aransas to re-stake their territorial claims. “Kind of like my kids are coming home,” says Stehn. “The thing that really strikes me about whooping cranes is when I see one standing in the marsh, that marsh looks like it belongs to them. They’ve been coming here for tens of thousands of years. We should do everything we can to allow it to continue.” And if flying helps, Stehn laughs, then his excitement about working with cranes trumps his fear. —Jayla Poppleton 25

CFWE News Welcome Nicole Seltzer!

Jill Bailey

Nicole Seltzer intends to step outside the circle.

Nicole Seltzer, CFWE Executive Director


The Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s new executive director, Nicole Seltzer, began Dec. 3. Nicole joins the Foundation after spending nearly five years at the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. She says one of her missions is to expand the Foundation’s circle of support to the general public. As Northern’s public affairs coordinator, her work included building an external relations program to develop new ways of communicating with water users. She also served on the boards of the Big Thompson Watershed Forum, the Grand County Water Information Network and the Colorado Watershed Assembly. Nicole grew up in Kansas City, Kan., but she’s quickly adopted one of the state’s most pressing challenges as a personal passion. “Balancing our economic needs and economic development with available water supplies is a huge challenge,” says Nicole. “We need to find a sustainable way to provide water to all the people who want to call Colorado home. How can we use the same stream for recreation, fish habitat, water use? It’s a challenge, especially working off the prior appropriations system in a time of short water and great change.” At Northern, she was right in the middle of such competing interests, and it was a tough choice to leave. But the Foundation beckoned, appealing to her desire to work cooperatively with a broad range of Coloradans with widelyvariant viewpoints. The Foundation is a statewide non-advocacy non-profit organization the Colorado General Assembly established through legislation to educate citizens about the state’s most precious resource. In her new role, she will strive to take the organization’s past success and build on it, finding an effective and sustainable way to achieve its mission. One of her goals is to reach a broader general public with water-related information.

“We have an opportunity to really diversify our membership and provide information on water issues to a much wider audience,” says Nicole. “We’re well known within water-provider circles, but we need to do a better job of making resources available outside of those circles. Getting information out to the general public is one of the hardest things to do. How can we translate the message so my neighbors in Longmont can understand it?” Nicole also wants to reach out at the Capitol. “The 2008 session is supposed to be a big water year in the state legislature. We hope to get involved a little more and provide them with accurate, balanced information on water issues in the state. They have enough people lobbying them. They could really benefit from an organization that’s truly working from an unbiased perspective.” In her 32 years, Nicole has lived in Vermont and New York, as well as her native Kansas. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in environmental science at the University of Kansas, she went on to complete a master’s degree in water resources at the University of Vermont. Later, she worked for the Environmental Protection Agency in New York providing community outreach for Superfund sites. She enjoys gardening and fixing up her house in old-town Longmont. She also tries to get out on Colorado’s rivers three or four times a year on raft trips with friends. And she spends quite a bit of time visiting her sister and three nephews in Phoenix. Nicole’s hope is that she can help keep the growing conversation going. “People need to talk about water in this state and understand it as an issue that has ties to economic development, wildlife habitat, conservation of our lands and tourism. Water is integral to so much of what makes Colorado a great place to be. We need to make sure to keep it front and center.” —Jayla Ryan Poppleton

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Upcoming CFWE Events

Check the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Web Site for 2008’s Main Events Spring reception and President’s Award presentation March 20 – 6 – 7:30 p.m. Details will be available at www.cfwe.org in January. South Platte River Tour Thursday and Friday, June 19-20 Route and registration information will be available at www.cfwe.org in February. Annual Golf Tournament The July date and location to be determined. Details will be available at www.cfwe.org in February.

2006 Tournament

2006 Tour

South Platte River, Waterton Canyon

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By Justice Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr.

Hero, Justice, Gentle Man

hey buried Felix Sparks with full military honors Oct. 2, 2007. The military chaplain said much about Sparks’ service in the U.S. Army and the Colorado National Guard. Not much was said about his service as a Colorado Supreme Court justice and Colorado Water Conservation Board director. The funeral service hit its highest note when his granddaughter stood up to talk about how his home became a haven for nursing wounded animals back to health. He liked to build little habitats containing tarantulas, lizards, snakes and doves. His grandson said, “The nice thing about having your grandfather as your hero is your hero loves you back.” He was more than a grandkids’ hero. During World War II, in the teeth of Nazi guns on exposed open ground, Sparks rescued a wounded fellow soldier. The Germans were so astounded they did not fire on him. Liberators of Dachau, he and his men were eye witnesses to a string of 39 railway cars containing 2,000 bodies. To anybody who questioned the existence of Nazi death camps, he would say I was there, I saw the coal-fired crematorium, the gas chamber, and rooms piled high with naked and emaciated human corpses. Felix Sparks was interested in justice. After the war, he graduated from the University of Colorado Law School and started his own practice in Delta. He practiced water law and served as the elected district attorney for four years. A Democrat, he came into office in the Truman election year of 1948 and was defeated in the 1952, when Eisenhower was elected. Gov. Ed Johnson appointed him to the Colorado Supreme Court in June 1956 after Justice John Clark died in office. He served for only six months. At the annual lunch the current justices hold for former justices, Justice Sparks would repeatedly tell us he didn’t like the job at all. He joined the court in the days when judges ran for office on partisan political tickets. Soon after taking office, he was assigned to the law license admissions committee. One of the senior justices asked him to approve the admission of two applicants who had failed the bar exam three times, despite a court rule requiring they go back to law school for a semester. Justice Sparks objected and was told they were political party captains he would need for the next election. He refused to sign the papers. The applicants were not admitted, causing hard feelings with at least one of his colleagues. He ran for the office of justice in the 1956 election and was defeated by the Republican, Frank Hall, who replaced him. When the 1966 judicial merit selection constitutional amendment came before Colorado voters, Sparks was a big supporter of the successful major reform that removed Colorado judges from politics. 28

Colorado gained much when Justice Sparks lost his supreme court seat. Gov. Steve McNichols persuaded the Colorado Water Conservation Board to appoint him board counsel over Ray Moses, then a board member who was also interested in the job. Not long afterwards, McNichols appointed Sparks CWCB director. His tenure lasted 21 years, from 1958-1979, bridging the administrations of governors Steve McNichols, John Love, John Vanderhoof and Richard Lamm. Sparks always spoke in a big way. He said he had become a lawyer because he couldn’t play a musical instrument, but was good with words, good at writing, and good at thinking fast on his feet. His favorite instrument to listen to was the violin. He entered the CWCB directorship in the midst of a West-Slope/East Slope donnybrook over the proposed trans-mountain Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. He also faced Lower Colorado River Basin opposition to continued funding of the Colorado River Storage Project Act, problems associated with unrestricted groundwater pumping, the need for water supply studies throughout Colorado, and, most importantly, the challenge of alerting citizens to Colorado’s water problems. The mid 1950s drought was the call to action, and Sparks went to it like a soldier. Colorado was fortunate to have Wayne Aspinall as chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Interior Committee, who turned to Sparks for review and drafting of western water legislation. As a result of Sparks’ tenure as CWCB director, laws authorizing major water storage projects vital to Colorado came into being, and funding was obtained. These included the 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act appropriations for the Aspinall Unit in the Gunnison Basin and Lake Powell, so important to operation of the 1922 and 1948 Colorado River compacts. Then came the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for southeastern Colorado, with offsetting storage to the Western Slope. That was followed by the 1968 Colorado River Basin Act which created Western Slope storage projects including Dallas Creek, Dolores, and Animas-La Plata—now under construction to settle South Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal water right claims, so many years after Sparks and Aspinall assured its place in the 1968 Act that authorized the Central Arizona Project. Sparks drafted for Aspinall a key provision of the 1968 Act, section 602 (a), which governs the operation of Lake Powell. This provision assures that the

Upper Basin states will have the benefit of storage in Powell without impairment of their annual consumptive uses pursuant to the Colorado River Compact. When the environmental era emerged in the 1970s, Sparks insistently reminded Coloradans of the necessity to protect all of Colorado’s interstate water compact entitlements, and build reservoirs. At the same time, working with Colorado Senate President Fred Anderson, he nurtured the West’s first instream flow legislation in 1973, passed by the Colorado General Assembly. Sparks became interested in preserving instream flows during the controversy over the FryingpanArkansas Project. Said Sparks: “I didn’t want the streams dried up…I told them (the project proponents) the only way to get the (expletive deleted) project was to leave a minimum flow in all the streams they were diverting from.” When the Colorado Supreme Court was considering the constitutionality of the instream flow law in 1979, Sparks was afraid “they’d throw it out.” The court upheld the law in a decision emphasizing the General Assembly’s assignment of the program to the CWCB. But, Sparks’ efforts to build the Fruitland Mesa, Savery-Pothook and Narrows reservoirs were frustrated by President Jimmy Carter’s 1978 “hit list” of water projects. Together, Sparks and Gov. Richard Lamm decried the administration’s “arrogance” and “ignorance” of the need for western water storage. Opinionated and direct, Sparks said, “The vocal opponents of the Reclamation program resemble a flock of parrots trained to endlessly and mindlessly repeat the words ‘pork barrel.’” Sparks was a soldier, after all. But, I especially like what his grandchildren had to say the day they buried him. To his family, he was a “sweet gentle man.” To his state and nation, he was a hero. Sources Carol Edmonds, “Wayne Aspinall: Mr. Chairman,” Crown Point, Inc., Publisher 1980. Colorado Water Conservation Board, videotaped interview of Felix Sparks, June 2007. Richard D. Lamm and Michael McCarthy, “The Angry West, A Vulnerable Land and Its Future,” Houghton Mifflin Company 1982. William McClearn, “An Oral History: Felix L. Sparks,” Vol. 27, “The Colorado Lawyer,” No. 10, at 51-56, October 1998. Felix L. Sparks, “Practitioner’s Perspective (An Interview of Felix Sparks),” 3 U. Denv. Water L. Rev. 105-113, 2000. Felix L. Sparks, “Synopsis of Major Documents and Events Relating to the Colorado River,” 3 U. Denv. Water L. Rev. 342-56, 2000. Daniel Tyler, “The Last Water Hole in the West,” University Press of Colorado 1992. Steven C. Schulte, “Wayne Aspinall and the Shaping of the American West,” University Press of Colorado 2002.

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Glenn Asakawa/Denver Post

“The nice thing about having your grandfather as your hero is your hero loves you back.”

Brig. Gen. Felix and Mary Sparks photographed in their home, August of 2001.

Sparks They give you a soldier’s funeral, riderless horse, helicoptors, gun salute hero of Anzio, liberator of Dachau, Colorado Supreme Court Justice, Water Conservation Board Director, No-nonsense boom and salty orator your sum on old-soldiering, “Hell, old soldiers just don’t fade away, they die like everyone else,” The Military chaplain salutes your ribbons, ticks them off by name, all the campaigns, names the ribbon still in the works for rescuing your wounded man in the mouth of Nazi guns, so astounded they would not cut you down, Your Granddaughter stands to tell how you’d stock tarantulas, lizards, snakes and doves in the house especially the wounded, nurse them back to health, and how you liked to say “Noble instrument, the violin.” By Justice Greg Hobbs in celebration of Felix Sparks.

H e a d w at e r s | W i n t e r 2 0 0 8


Colorado Foundation for Water Education

Citizen’s Guides

The Colorado Foundation for Water Education is pleased to make available the Citizen’s Guide series of publications, including the Citizen’s Guide to Denver Basin Groundwater. All CFWE publications, and membership information, are available at cfwe.org, or by calling 303-377-4433.

1580 Logan St., Suite 410 • Denver, CO 80203

Citizen’s Guides: Colorado Water Law, Colorado Water Quality Protection, Colorado’s Water Heritage, Where Your Water Comes From, Colorado Water Conservation, Colorado’s Environmental Era

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Winter 2008 Wildlife Issue  

Explore the state and meet Coloradans who are devoted to protecting wildlife through this issue of Headwaters.

Winter 2008 Wildlife Issue  

Explore the state and meet Coloradans who are devoted to protecting wildlife through this issue of Headwaters.

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