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Colorado: Not much love for proposed new water diversions

EPA raises questions about compliance with Clean Water Act

Denver Water plans to increase transmountain diversions through the Moffat collection system will be up for comment at a pair of upcoming meetings.

Denver Water plans to increase transmountain diversions through the Moffat collection system is not drawing rave reviews, as numerous entities have expressed significant concerns about impacts to water quality. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For all the detailed information in the 16,000-page study for Denver Water’s proposed new water diversions from the Western Slope, there are still more questions than answers, according to formal comment letters filed in the past few weeks.

As currently configured, the proposal to shunt more water from Colorado River headwaters streams to the Front Range could worsen water water quality in many streams that are already feeling the pain of low flows, EPA water experts wrote in a June 9 letter. Continue reading

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Colorado wetlands to regain federal protection

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High alpine wetlands that aren’t directly connected with larger rivers will regain more protection under a proposed new federal rule. bberwyn photo.

New rule aims to clear up regulatory limbo for seasonal streams and isolated wetlands

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A proposed federal rule would restore protection to hundreds of Colorado streams and big swaths of wetlands, including beloved alpine creeks and the sandy washes of the Front Range that only hold water seasonally.

The seasonal streams and disconnected wetlands long were covered under the Clean Water Act, but a pair of complex U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 opened some loopholes the regulations. At the least, the legal limbo caused headaches for scientists and regulators trying to assess impacts of housing developments and new roads. In some cases, they weren’t sure if they even had authority to regulate filling or draining of some wetlands. Continue reading

Climate: Rising sea level threatens Everglades

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Study says sawgrass prairie in the Everglades likely to suffer from sea level rise. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Freshwater ecosystems at risk, as salt-loving species intrude

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A combination of sea level rise and upstream freshwater depletion is leading to a decline of the Everglades freshwater plant communities, as salt-loving mangroves spread farther inland.

Satellite imagery over the southeastern Everglades confirms long-term trends of mangrove expansion and sawgrass habitat loss near the shore, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Wetlands.

“I was very surprised at how well the results matched our understanding of long-term trends and field data. Normally, we don’t see such clear patterns,” said lead researcher Douglas Fuller. Continue reading

Environment: New Florida water quality plan flawed

Measures don’t meet Clean Water Act requirements

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Florida’s Everglades are threatened by a new state water plan. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Watchdog grous are characterizing a proposed Florida water quality plan as a give-away to polluting industries, creating even more loopholes to spew sewage, manure, and fertilizer into Florida waters, according to watchdog groups who sued the state and federal government in 2008 for their failure to set pollution limits, as required by the Clean Water Act.

“We have record numbers of dead manatees washing up on southwest Florida right now, in the prime of our tourist season,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “Where is the leadership? This is an absolute sell out. This bogus plan gives deep-pocketed polluters even more loopholes. And what do we, the public, get? More gross, slimy algae in the water.”

Earthjustice said the plan was developed in a shady backroom deal without public input, and pointed out that a federal court has to review the plan under the terms of an earlier settlement agreement. Continue reading

Stream impacts start at earliest stages of urban development

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Aquatic diversity diminishes quickly

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Streams are much more sensitive to development impacts than previously believed, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study. The research shows that  loss of sensitive species in streams starts at the initial stages of urban development. For example, by the time urban development had approached 20 percent in watersheds in the New England area, the aquatic invertebrate community had undergone a change in species composition of about 25 percent. Continue reading

Colorado: Prized wetlands besieged in Breckenridge

Runoff from resort compromises upper reaches of Cucumber Gulch

Breckenridge planner Mark Truckey and former open space program director Heide Andersen inspect the problem area in April, 2010.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Along with a reclamation project gone awry at Shock Hill, Breckenridge’s prized Cucumber Gulch wetlands are also facing a threat from runoff directly below the ski area’s Peak 8 base.

Visiting the area earlier this week, members of the town’s open space advisory group saw that runoff — inadequately managed by the ski area and town — have cut a trench through the marsh grasses, washing tons of sand into a beaver pond at the upper end of the Cucumber Gulch system, just below County Road 3.

“Water was running off of there like a freight train,” said former town council member Jeffrey Bergeron, who still serves on the open space group. “This is so sensitive … the town needs to just do this, damn the cost, then try to figure out how to make it work financially,” he said, adding that beavers apparently have already vacated some of the ponds. Continue reading

Feds tout progress on Everglades restoration

Massive investments aimed at restoring flows, protecting habitat

The Everglades — river of grass. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The northern Everglades watershed, where Florida’s freshwater begins it’s long, gradual downhill slide through the marshy tip of the peninsula to the sea, is getting some more help.

The Obama administration last week committed $80 million to support farmers and ranchers who voluntarily conserve wetlands on agricultural land in the watershed.

The funding could help restore 23,000 acres of wetlands vital to water quality and wildlife habitat in the greater Everglades ecosystem, including the endangered Florida panther. Continue reading

Colorado: Landscape-level preservation eyed in San Luis Valley to protect wetlands, riparian corridors & wildlife

Federal land managers are working with locals to develop a far-reaching conservation plan for the southern San Luis Valley.

Effort focusing on voluntary conservation easements and collaboration

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking some first steps toward a large-scale preservation effort in Colorado’s San Luis Valley that could ultimately protect up to 530,000 acres of wetlands, riparian corridors, and important upland habitats through voluntary conservation easements.

The agency recently held public meetings to get input from landowners and other stakeholders in the region, helping to formulate the framework for a locally-led, voluntary, cooperative partnership that will also help preserve traditional land uses.

“This project represents another opportunity for the Service to partner with the people of the San Luis Valley to protect this important landscape for both wildlife and the people that have worked these lands for generations,” said regional USFWS director said Steve Guertin. Continue reading

Las Vegas water grab challenged in court

Las Vegas water plan challenged in court.

Groups say diversion plan lacking adequate environmental analysis

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Nowhere is water more precious than the desert, where a tiny oasis can be the only source of sustenance in thousands of acres. Most people intuitively understand the value of water in dry regions, but Las Vegas and Nevada state water officials just don’t get it.

A long-planned scheme by Las Vegas to rob surrounding desert basins of groundwater last month won approval from the state engineer but a huge coalition of environmental and community groups won’t let that decision go unchallenged.

This week, the Center for Biological Diversity and more than 300 allies in the Great Basin Water Network appealed  the Nevada state engineer’s approval for a plan to allow the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump and pipe away up to 27 billion gallons of water annually from four rural valleys to feed urban development in Las Vegas. Continue reading

House GOP votes to gut Clean Water Act

The Obama administration is proposing more protection for streams and wetlands; the GOP, backed by coal, gas and oil interests, are trying to block new guidance for the EPA and the Corps of Engineers.

Streams and wetlands protection at issue in political battle

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A long-running battle over Clean Water Act policies took another turn this week, as the U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted to block the Obama administration from implementing new policy guidance that would reinstate protections removed by the Bush administration.

The vote has implications for the Colorado high country, as the new guidelines would offer more protection for headwaters streams and wetlands that aren’t directly connected to navigable waterways.

Conservation groups said the oil and gas industry lobbied their GOP allies in Congress intensively to get the appropriations rider passed.

“They’ve never liked the Clean Water Act,” said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel with Earthjustice, a conservation and watchdog group that’s been tracking the rule. Continue reading

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