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Plains to Peak Bulletin Fall 2015

Photo by Jonah Seifer

2015-16 Speakers Series: Fall Semester Events Monday, August 31st at 7:00 p.m., Gates Common Room, Palmer Hall, Colorado College

Large Landscape Conservation and the Future of America’s Rivers Scott Campbell ‘91, 2015 Lincoln Loeb Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, former Director of Palmer Land Trust Campbell’s work takes place at the nexus of conservation, preservation, economics, and community development in southern Colorado. With experience conserving landscapes, Campbell explores the developing concepts, practices, and frameworks conservation groups are using to protect and restore America’s rivers that flow through large landscapes.

Thursday, September 24th at 7:00 p.m., Gates Common Room, Palmer Hall, Colorado College

The Cost of Experience: How Outdoor Sports Pull Mountains Apart and Put Them Back Together Again Annie Gilbert Coleman,Western Historian at Notre Dame University Annie Gilbert Coleman’s work combines cultural studies, social history, and landscape studies with environmental history. She is interested in the intersection between consumer culture and nature, especially in the American West. Coleman will examine how our recreational consumption of mountain landscapes today continue to fragment mountain ranges while also presenting new opportunities for bringing people together.

Tuesday, November 3rd at 7:00 p.m., Gates Common Room, Palmer Hall, Colorado College

Innovative Water Management: New Tools For Securing Water for People and Nature Aaron Derwingson, Agricultural Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program Aaron Derwingson works in partnership with agricultural water users on pragmatic, solutionoriented approaches to protecting river flows while meeting the needs of people. Currently, he is leading community engagement and outreach efforts for the Water Bank study, and working with agricultural landowners to understand on-farm issues and concerns with adopting new water management and irrigation practices.

Wednesday, November 18th at 7:00 p.m., Celeste Theater, Cornerstone Arts Center, Colorado College

The Great Divide: The Destiny of the West is Written in the Headwaters of the Colorado Film Screening of The Great Divide and Q&A Session with Producer Jim Havey The Great Divide, a feature length documentary, illustrates the timeless influence of water in both connecting and dividing an arid region. From Ancient Puebloan cultures and the gold rush origins of Colorado water law to agriculture, dams, diversions and conservation; the film will reveal today’s critical need to cross “the great divide,” replacing conflict with cooperation. Producer Jim Havey will discuss the making of the film and answer questions after the showing.

Visit for more info. 2

Table of Contents 4 Letter from the Director

As the Rockies Project enters a new thematic focus for the next two years, Rockies Project Director Eric Perramond shares the details behind “The Scales of Western Water.” As the West continues to face severe droughts and wildfires, the Rockies Project is exploring critical water issues in the West with our 2015-16 Rockies Project Fellows and diverse guest speakers. By Eric Perramond, Rockies Project Director


In the Field with the Rockies Project Research Team

During the summer of 2015, the Rockies Project continued its tradition of field research, engaging a diverse group of stakeholders across the Southwest. This account of the Project’s field research explores the diverse landscapes and stakeholders the group met with on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to farms on the Western Slope of Colorado. The field trip allowed the students to get on-the-ground and more intimately understand the complex issues we explore. By Charlotte Weiner, Rockies Project Visiting Fellow

12 Native American Water

Quality Rights

In the world of Western Water, water quality issues and Native American voices often get forgotten as quantity demands from municipalities and irrigators dominate the conversation. However, through an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program that allows tribes to pursue treatment in the same manner as a state, tribes in the Southwest are asserting their water quality rights. By Jonah Seifer, Rockies Project Fellow

14 Agriculture and Water

Ethics on the Western Slope

As looming population growth and increasing drought worries western municipalities, agriculture is facing increased pressure as the largest consumer of water in the West. However, for farmers on the Western Slope of Colorado water is critical for sustaining their livelihood, the landscapes that define their communities, and ecosystems. By John Jennings, Rockies Project Fellow

Colorado College State of the Rockies Project Faculty Director Eric P. Perramond Assistant Director Brendan Boepple Rockies Project Program Coordinator Brooke Larsen Rockies Project Fellows Burk Huey John Jennings Jonah Seifer Maya Williamson


Eric Perramond is the Faculty Director of the State of the Rockies Project and associate professor of environmental science and southwest studies. His current research project is centered on water rights and water management in New Mexico. John Jennings is a 2015-16 State of the Rockies Project Fellow. Originally from Gainesville, Georgia, his research focuses on agriculture and water ethics in Colorado. His research brings attention to the diverse values irrigators place on water and how that impacts management. Jonah Seifer is a 2015-16 State of the Rockies Project Fellow. Jonah spent the summer of 2015 researching water quality rights for Native American tribes. His field research took him to the Navajo Nation and the Pueblo of Isleta. Charlotte Weiner is a 2015-16 State of the Rockies Project Visiting Fellow. She is currently a junior at Yale. This summer, she worked as a fellow for The GroundTruth Project. A reporting trip on climate change and the Colorado River brought her out West, where she joined State of the Rockies for the second half of their field work.

State of the Rockies Project Mission:

The State of the Rockies Project engages students, conservation experts, and stakeholders to address critical environmental and natural resource issues through interdisciplinary research in the Rockies and the American West. 3

Letter from the Director

by Professor Eric Perramond, State of the Rockies Project Director Greetings, readers and fellow Rockies Project fanatics! As we enter a new fall season, and a new thematic focus as of this past summer of 2015, I wanted to share with you a few of the details behind “The Scales of Western Water,” our emphasis for the next two years. As the droughts in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona have somewhat eased, thanks to an early and strong El Niño weather phase, the pain of aridity has simply moved west, and northwest. California, Oregon, and Washington, along with parts of Idaho and Utah, will see the vast majority of wildfires and dry conditions through this year and likely well into 2016. It was perfect timing to reorient the Rockies lens onto the vital issue of water issues in the western U.S. and in the Rockies region in particular. Our four Rockies Fellows, led by the intrepid Brendan Boepple (’11) and Brooke Larsen (’15), exProfessor Perramond educating Rockies Fellows about water issues in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the Santa Fe Canyon Preserve.


plored the many scales of western water issues this past summer, and will continue to do so as we bring experts and speakers to the Colorado College campus this academic year. But the heart of the Rockies Project has always been the undergraduate research work performed by the fellows, so let me provide a few details. Two of them are interested in the role of Native peoples and water: in balancing development needs and recreational river runners on the Navajo Nation (Maya Williamson, an anthropology major), and in addressing the often-ignored water quality issues on Native reservations in the West (Jonah Seifer, an environmental program major). This research took our students throughout New Mexico and Arizona, engaging officials with the Pueblo of Isleta south of Albuquerque, and interviewing stakeholders across the Navajo Nation. These projects are complemented by Burkett Huey’s (an economics major) focus on a potential Colorado River compact call and water pricing, and John Jennings’ (an Independently Designed Major) emphasis on water ethics and how farmers manage their water with ethics in mind. Interacting with agriculturalists on Colorado’s Western Slope, surrounded by peach orchards and fields of sweet corn, Burk and John learned about water transfers and irrigation efficiencies firsthand. As the recent spill of mining waste into the Animas River illustrated this August of 2015, these topics are integrated, and all of the parties addressed in the student work were affected by this shut down of the river. We still have so much to learn. The speaker series is exciting this year as it pushes us to think of water and water issues in new ways. Scott Campbell (CC ’91), just back from a yearlong Loeb fellowship at Harvard’s School of Design, and the former director of the Palmer Land Trust, led our efforts on August 31st with his talk: “Large Landscape Conservation and the Future of America’s Rivers.” Weaving last year’s emphasis on landscape conservation into matters of stream health and riparian restoration, he addressed the question: how can land and water conservation be better fused together in the West? In Block 2, on September 24th, we are teaming up with the University of Notre Dame local Alumni chapter to bring you Annie Gilbert Coleman’s talk on how deeply outdoor recreation activities have transformed the western United States. How does this industry, as impactful as it was, offer hope for these transformed human environments that we all value? As a campus filled with earnest souls who care deeply about water and rivers, about skiing and outdoor recreation, how can we stitch together these environments to make them whole again?

new documentary film by Jim Havey – and the director will be present that evening of November 18th. The Great Divide focuses on the historical trajectory of our use and misuse of water in the state of Colorado, and given that our state is currently finalizing a state water plan, the film should be a fitting close to our major fall activities on campus. I am pleased with the progress, activities, and outreach that the State of the Rockies Project has made over the last year. It has been a year of learning for me, as I have gained much insight from working with Brendan Boepple, Sam Williams last summer, and now Brooke Larsen. They are the engine behind the Rockies Project. We continue to connect to the public on a variety of social media, and in important political polling work led by Brendan that is generously funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Brooke has joined our team as our new Rockies Coordinator, thanks to continued funding from the college, the President’s Office, and the Trinchera Blanca Foundation. We hope you’ll join us for these fall activities, and please reach out and contact us. Our central mission of educating, connecting, and professionalizing our students as future conservaScott Campbell kicked off our Speakers Series for the year with an engaging tion and resource leaders in the West has not changed. talk merging the themes of large landscape conservation and water issues. Only our visibility has, and we have many people to On November 3rd, our third speaker is Aaron thank for it. You are probably one of them. Onward! Derwingson, the Agricultural Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), who will discuss their proProfessor Eric Perramond, State of the Rockies Project gram activities in trying to create water innovations for Director both farmers and the rivers we all value. Finally, early in Block 4, we will have a screening of The Great Divide, a Student researchers visit Colorado State University’s Orchard Mesa Research Center and discuss issues of water and agriculture with Professor Perry Cabot.


In the Field with the Rockies Project Research Team by Charlotte Weiner, 2015-16 State of the Rockies Project Visiting Fellow It took our eyes a little while to adjust to the scale of the Grand Canyon. Birds cut arcs through the sky and then dropped down, lower and lower, until they disappeared, tiny black pinpoints dropping away behind canyon walls. Trees dotted the walls and stood in relief against the layers of dull rainbow rock, and we traced our eyes down from the far lip of the canyon until, impossibly far below, we saw it. From the canyon’s North Rim, the Colorado River is a tiny tendril of sandy green. It winds silently, apparently unmoving, just a single stretch visible where the walls of the canyon fall away. We might have missed it completely if Jason Nez had not pointed it out to us. Nez, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and coordinator of Save the Confluence, had spent the afternoon with the seven of us, describing his relationship with the river, and his work in preserving and protecting the canyon from development plans that would encroach on the sacred land. Nez spoke of his relationship with the river, and the relationship that many Navajo hold with the body of water. “You walk away from here with a stronger mind


and a stronger soul,” Nez said, and surveyed the hazy canyon as we sat in a semi-circle around him, eating tomato and hummus-filled pita sandwiches cupped in our hands. “Our belief that the water is sacred is what makes us Navajo.” Earlier that day, we had driven down through the deep canyon walls to Lee’s Ferry, the midpoint of the Colorado River, and dipped our toes in the cool murky water. On days spent driving in our white CC van, up from Flagstaff and to the heart of the desert on the border of Utah and Arizona, and up further north still, then back east to Colorado, we would whoop whenever we crossed the Colorado and its tributaries. Those days, we would find the river ourselves– a small green sign at the start of a bridge that declared the river’s existence, sometimes marking nearly dry riverbeds and stretches of rocks where water once ran. Sometimes, too, opaque fast-flowing water greeted us, thick with the runoff of rain from days before. But each time we saw the Colorado, it was with a deeper degree of understanding than the time we had touched its banks before.

Charlotte and the rest of the Rockies research team at Lee’s Ferry, the dividing point between the Upper and Lower Basin of the Colorado River, and the boat launch for all Grand Canyon river trips.



Jason Nez of Save the Confluence shows the Rockies research team historic Navajo trails and sites of tribal importance.


Photo by Brendan Boepple



Later that week, we would sit in the kitchen of a CC alum, Tom Kay, who described his use of a tributary to transform a swath of land in western Colorado into productive plots. At the table in his airy home we looked over his fields, and as he fed us fruit that a neighboring farmer had grown and lemonade from a local producer he talked about how the river made his work possible. We left with a huge sack of beans that he had grown, enough to feed us all for months if we’d like. Some miles south, in a cavernous maintenance barn where flies flitted from table to floor and back again, a rancher and his son described the push towards sustainability in nearby Delta and Montrose, and the impact of the years of dry weather on their work. Up in Palisade, an irrigation district manager stood in front of a whiteboard and drew us diagrams of a dam, engineered decades ago, which diverts the Colorado and makes today’s agriculture in the region possible. He glowingly described the dam, and detailed how the river’s rerouting makes the region viable and tenable, how it drives the region’s economy. On our last morning before heading back east to Colorado Springs, we stood in a loose semi-circle in front

In between meeting with farmers and irrigation districts on the Western Slope, the Rockies team spent a night camping on the Grand Mesa.


of Bill Trampe, a third-generation rancher. The mountains of Gunnison unfolded behind him, behind the barn and the dusty lot where we stood. He described the tenets of water law, the pressure on ranchers from the cities and how deeply he relies on water–water that falls from the sky, that courses through the Gunnison River, a tributary of the Colorado that runs through town and past his ranch. The fluidity with which Trampe spoke about water laws far exceeded that of any writing I had encountered, the passion with which he spoke made it impossible not to empathize with the challenges he faces. It was this opportunity to learn directly from someone who holds knowledge not out of whim but out of necessity, who has himself learned through living each day, that struck me as incredibly powerful. We were doing something so deceptively simple– listening to people describe their lives, and their challenges, which naturally, inevitably, led to the river, and to water– that I had almost missed it. But the people with whom we talked were more knowledgeable about each issue they discussed than any teacher I have had. Each was a specialist in his or her own life, and the lives of all those we talked with revolved, in some fundamental way, around water.

On our trip, the river was frequently out of sight, tucked behind the canyon wall or running in rivulets beyond where the roads slanted down and away into the Utah red rock. But it was clear that the river, and water, was never far off the minds of those with whom we talked and, soon, water became rarely off our minds, too. We crossed mile after mile in the van, listening to a water-themed playlist, and cracked worn jokes about water to each other, half in jest. We, too, were immersing ourselves in the river, if only for a number of days. But each insight that the people we talked with provided added dimension to the river, added depth and urgency and a near reverence that would make it impossible to return to the canyon’s rim and look at the tendril of green thousands of feet below and see it as just that, as nothing more, instead of seeing it as what it inarguably is–one of the central drivers in a deeply complex system of rivers and water that, in many ways, makes the West what it is today.

The Painted Wall of the Black Canyon towers over the Gunnison River in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Photo by Jonah Seifer



Native American Water Quality Rights in the Southwest

treatment plant that would release safe water into the reservation. Without these protections, tribal members would not be able to maintain their traditional fish-based diet or practice ceremonies in the river. by Jonah Seifer, 2015-16 State of the Rockies Cody Walker, a water quality specialist whom Project Fellow we met with at the pueblo, agrees that the TAS sys In the world of western water rights, volume tem has afforded the pueblo unprecedented protecis king. However, intensive industrialization has tion. Not only does he claim that the technical traintransformed many of America’s pristine rivers and ing offered by the federal EPA is “one of the best I’ve aquifers into naturally occurring sewage systems. ever been to,” but also told us that this new legal Toxic contaminants, radioactive sediments and landscape has made prevention and response to en“excess” heat are permissibly pumped into water- vironmental problems much more efficient. ways and carried downstream. For example, Native American tribes are often faced with the sewage and septic waste released by upstream users. Despite this inequality, their water rights are administered as if water of the utmost quality had flowed into their reservation. Awareness of pollution problems tends to spike after major events, such as the Gold King Mine spill, but quantity always resumes its superior status. It is fruitless to administer a system of water rights if the water has lost all value to an appropriator due to its toxicity or other contaminants. Because of this, I chose to focus my research for State of the Rockies on water quality rights for Native American tribes, and specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) treatment in the same manner as a state (TAS) program that allows tribes to assume similar management duties afforded to states. During the past summer, I traveled with other Rockies Fellows to two reservations and explored how the TAS program enables tribes to manage environmental resources within and beyond reservation boundaries. I also spoke with EPA staffers tasked with implementing this program to assess how effectively TAS is administered. During my field research, interviewees from many backgrounds agreed that the TAS program is helping to eliminate conditions more often found in developing countries that continue to exist in America today. The Pueblo of Isleta, a reservation on the Rio State of the Rockies Fellows visit the Grand Canyon Trust to learn more about Grande downstream of Albuquerque, is the poster the work they’re doing with Native Americans in the Southwest. child for the TAS system. In one particularly sen- In addition to meeting with the Pueblo of sational case, the reservation was being inundated Isleta, we visited the Navajo Reservation to learn with high levels of arsenic, a heavy metal being dis- about water quality issues the Navajo Nation faccharged from an industrial area in Albuquerque. The es. The TAS program enables tribes to not only pueblo responded by establishing scientifically de- manage their own water, but also regulate their fensible water quality standards for arsenic that were air, hazardous wastes, pesticides, and other re2000 times more stringent than the EPA guidelines. sources. After obtaining authorization to manThey also forced Albuquerque to construct a costly age these resources, the Navajo Nation created the


Outside of the Navajo Nation Water Management Branch where Jonah and the Rockies Fellows met with Jason John.

Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency (NNEPA), which, like the federal EPA and state agencies, is a comprehensive environmental regulation agency that houses all tribal management delegated through the TAS system. Jason John, the principal hydrologist at the Navajo Nation Water Management Branch, highlighted the vital importance of the NNEPA during our field research. While discussing water infrastructure in the Navajo Nation, Mr. John claimed that the Navajo Nation had over $700,000,000 in water infrastructure needs. This amounts to nearly 40% of the Navajo people not being connected to a public water system. By forming NNEPA, which manages public water systems, the Navajo Nation is now able to coordinate water systems with nearby cities, an arrangement that benefits all parties. Through visiting with tribes, I learned the seriousness of water quality issues facing Native Americans in the Southwest and the importance of the TAS system in ensuring tribes can address their water quality needs. Because Native American reservations are seen as “domestic dependent nations,” tribal governments exist in a sort of political limbo: their sovereignty is poorly-defined in law so in the perpetual tug-of-war that is state versus federal rights, tribal governments are regularly relegated to a lower, less powerful position. Both the

Pueblo of Isleta and Navajo Nation case studies show that tribes’ historical lack of political power to control water quality not only poses an immediate threat to human health and welfare, but is also damaging to tribal enterprises, agriculture, economic development, and the sustenance of traditional practices and knowledge. Cumulatively, this degrades the sovereign status of tribes and reinforces “domestic dependency.” However, after meeting with people at the Pueblo of Isleta and the Navajo Reservation, I learned that tribes are making substantial moves to recapture their sovereignty under the TAS program and gain some of the environmental management options that have been available to states for decades. While water quality is often the ignored factor when discussing water rights, I have learned through my State of the Rockies research that quality and quantity are inseparable facets of the same resource. Native American tribes are especially familiar with this connection, making them pivotal stakeholders in the future of water management in the Southwest. - Jonah’s full report on Native American sovereignty and water quality rights in the Southwest will be released in the 2016 State of the Rockies Report. -


Agriculture and Water Ethics on Colorado’s West Slope

by John Jennings, 2015-16 State of the Rockies Project Fellow With the ongoing drought, projected population growth, and the impending effects of a changing climate, the arid Rocky Mountain region must reexamine its relationship with water. Although state water planning initiatives (including the developing Colorado Water Plan), river basin roundtables, and numerous local and national nongovernmental organizations address critical water issues in the West, many of these initiatives seem to boil down, in large part, to economics and often oversimplify complex ways diverse stakeholders value water. For instance, the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s web page on nonconsumptive water needs (i.e. environmental and recreational flows) explains the significance of these needs by describing how they “infuse between $7 and $8 billion into the state’s economy and employ about 85,000 people across Colorado,” and “continue to draw in businesses and new residents to Colorado, further underscoring their importance to the state’s economy.”

While the importance of the economy and jobs is undeniable and should not be ignored, the lack of other values incorporated into discussions about water policy must be recognized. A look at the Lower Arkansas River Valley, where municipalities like Colorado Springs and Aurora purchased farms so that their connected water rights could be diverted to cities, points to these kinds of issues. Money can be paid for the land and water rights of a farm, but there is also the cost of losing the habitat animals rely on, the community and landscape agriculture supports, and many other valuable assets. As agriculture is the largest consumptive water use in Colorado, the sector is often put under pressure as other users search for additional water supplies. To better understand the complex values associated with water in Colorado, specifically agricultural water use, my State of the Rockies research focused on what farmers and ranchers think about water use and water policy. Understanding these diverse values of water cannot be fully realized from a classroom or from behind a computer. This summer’s research with the Rockies Project allowed me to get out and experience the dialogue, landscape, and people involved in Western water issues. Though my interviews were at the end of our two-week road trip around the Colorado River

One visit along the trip included Rogers Mesa Fruit to speak with farmer Tom Alvey.


John and the rest of the Rockies team met with the Grand Valley Water Users Association, an organization that provides water to irrigators in the Grand Valley.

Basin, I could not detach what I had seen earlier on the road from the conversations we later had with farmers and ranchers. Walking along the old acequias (irrigation canals) in Santa Fe, feeling the wave of dry heat in Phoenix, and rafting record high waters in Browns Canyon all helped me contextualize and relate to the farmers who spoke about their own circumstances and values. The meandering interviews, covering a range of topics from “buy and dry” to soil health and Gunnison Sage Grouse, showed deep complexities within water usage and water policy. However, even knowing all the pieces involved doesn’t reveal the whole story—every farmer I talked to had a different perspective to offer. In contrast to a Colorado Basin report which categorized respondents into distinct and seemingly homogenous clusters – one of which being “agriculture” – the agriculturalists I spoke to each had their own distinct water ethic. Sitting on the back porch of one farmer’s home, we enjoyed the cottonwoods that provided us shade and made the summer’s heat bearable, but the trees were only there because of flood irrigation. While there is pressure from environmental groups and cities for farmers to adopt more efficient irrigation practices, flood irrigation recharges groundwater and has been practiced on the Western Slope for around one hundred years now. One farmer, who in fact had switched from flood irrigation to drip irrigation, pointed out, “there

can be negative consequences to [irrigation] efficiency. If you put all the water in the country in pipes you lose all the draws, all the wetlands, all the trees that aren’t in river bottoms, and you dramatically change what the land looks like.” Another farmer put his water practices in terms of younger generations when he told me, “I thought it was important, since my son decided to come home and farm with me, that we become proactive in efficiencies with water.” Thus, even though agriculture was a form of financial security for the farmers, the values they placed on water represented more than just economic values. Talking to the farmers and ranchers and hearing them find a balance between gratifying landscapes, future generations, food production, growing populations and numerous other concerns made each issue more difficult but also more meaningful to me as we drove along the Western Slope and returned to Colorado Springs. - John’s full report on water ethics and agriculture on Colorado’s Western Slope will be released in the 2016 State of the Rockies Report. -


The Colorado College State of the Rockies Project

14 E. Cache La Poudre St. Colorado Springs, CO 80903 (719) 227-8145

Plains to Peak Bulletin: Fall 2015  

The Colorado College State of the Rockies Project Fall 2015 Plains to Peak Bulletin

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