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The impacts of climate change, pollution, and rapid population growth put serious strains on Colorado’s water supply and our many water-dependent industries, which includes Colorado’s booming craft beer scene.
Today, Conservation Colorado released its 2019 Conservation Scorecard, an annual look at how every state legislator voted on key environmental bills during the recent legislative session. The scorecard provides Coloradans with the information they need to ensure their elected officials reflect Coloradans’ values, including protections for our air, land, water, and communities.
“Colorado’s 2019 legislative session was historic by any measure,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “From climate action and clean energy to oil and gas reforms to protecting our lands, water, and wildlife, this year’s scorecard provides an accounting of who helped and hindered Colorado’s progress.”
Here are top-line results from the Scorecard:
Key votes scored include:
- Colorado’s Climate Action Plan (HB1261)
- Comprehensive Oil and Gas Reform (SB181)
- EV Utility and Tax Credits (HB1159 and SB77)
- Hard-Rock Mining Reform (HB1113)
- Conservation Easement Improvements (HB1264)
- Promoting a Just Transition (HB1314)
- 18 Senators had a perfect score.
- The lowest scores were Senators Chris Holbert, Vicki Marble, and Jim Smallwood at 0 percent each.
- 36 members had a perfect score.
- The lowest scores were Representatives Mark Baisley, Susan Beckman, Perry Buck, Tim Geitner, Stephen Humphrey, Kimmi Lewis, Lori Saine, Shane Sandridge, and Dave Williams at 0 percent each.
Nordini continued: “This year, the Colorado legislature passed commonsense policies that were years in the making. At a time when the stakes could not be higher, Colorado’s new elected leaders produced results that will protect our state for years to come.”
DENVER – Today the Bureau of Land Management announced a plan allowing the gas drilling industry to dominate Colorado’s idyllic North Fork Valley with new oil and gas leasing. The plan failed to adopt a community-supported proposal that was under consideration by the agency to protect the water supply, wildlife and scenery of the North Fork Valley.
Previously, the North Fork Valley community has fought back three previous attempts to lease public lands for drilling close to the towns of Crawford, Hotchkiss and Paonia while the agency worked to complete its land use plan. The final resource management plan for the area will guide management of public lands for decades to come.
The Western Slope Conservation Center issued the following statement from Patrick Dooling, Executive Director:
“We are extremely disappointed that the BLM is moving forward with a plan that so clearly disrespects the wishes of our community and prioritizes drilling over all other uses here. The push to open our public lands for expanded drilling in Colorado’s premier sustainable farming and agri-tourism region is broadly opposed by local farms, businesses, and residents.
“The BLM’s final plan directly neglects the wishes of local governments, numerous organizations and countless citizens and shows that the current administration continues to prioritize the interests of the oil and gas industry over the public. We have fought back irresponsible drilling leases before and we fight back against this attempt to lock in risk of future drilling for years to come.”
The Wilderness Society issued the following statement from Jim Ramey, Colorado State Director:
“Instead of protecting the clean water supply that allows the North Fork Valley to thrive, the BLM is putting the gas drilling industry first.”
“It’s a shame to see Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a native Coloradan, hand out favors to fossil fuel interests at the expense of local farmers, recreation businesses and the public here in his home state.
Not only does the plan sellout the community in the North Fork Valley by ignoring the locally-grown North Fork Alternative Plan, it also guts protections for critical wildlands across Colorado’s western slope. Places like Dry Creek Basin and Roc Creek – public lands that offer backcountry recreation, scenic views and important wildlife habitat – would be stripped of protections under the Trump administration’s proposed changes to the plan.”
Conservation Colorado issued the following statement from Executive Director Kelly Nordini:
“Today is just one more example of President Trump and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt putting the oil and gas industry ahead of local communities. Instead of helping foster the North Fork Valley’s thriving and growing agriculture and outdoor recreation economy, they are placing these sustainable industries in the crosshairs of an industry that threatens the very clean air, water and climate that helps these local businesses.”
“The Trump administration’s so-called ‘energy dominance’ agenda isn’t just a giveaway of public lands to their polluting industry friends, it mortgages Coloradans’ very future by exacerbating climate impacts instead of avoiding them.”
Why is this so important to western Colorado?
Why is this so important to western Colorado? Oil and gas development is incompatible with a healthy future for the spectacular North Fork Valley of western Colorado. The communities of the North Fork Valley are strongly opposed to oil and gas development, largely due to the negligible economic gains and the significant irreparable damage that could occur from oil and gas activities in the watershed.
- Clean Water: The North Fork Valley is a hub of organic and traditional agriculture and one of only two federally recognized wine regions in Colorado. Protection of the valley’s water supply relies on protecting the North Fork from source-to-use. Pollution must be prevented from entering this critical water system. For farmers and the agricultural economy, water quantity and quality are both of utmost importance. Organic agriculture, specialty crops, and high-quality hay all depend on abundant water free from contamination.
Surface contamination and spills, which occur regularly in Colorado oil and gas fields, could spread rapidly through the irrigation systems that water the valley. Oil and gas development is well-known to contaminate water supplies, both above and below ground, and to harm water bodies, rivers and source areas. That is a risk too great for operators in the valley, home to Colorado’s highest concentration of organic farms, an agritourism haven, and major headwaters to the Colorado River system.
- Wildlife: Of particular concern are impacts to mule deer, elk, Canada lynx, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, bald eagle and greenback cutthroat trout. Coupled with the impacts of existing energy development, additional leasing and development directly threaten rare mid-elevation habitat and the wildlife which depends upon it. The state currently does not possess adequate data on elk and mule deer populations in the area of the proposed development, and CPW staff have indicated that recent elk population numbers in the area have been in steep decline over the last few years. The local elk and mule deer are essential to the local economy, not to mention the ecology of our landscapes.
At risk in the final plan are some of the same lands the local community joined together to oppose leasing in 2011 and 2012, and again in late 2018. The initial leasing attempts prompted the BLM to consider a locally grown vision for the North Fork Valley that would keep energy development away from sensitive areas. The BLM agreed to consider the North Fork Alternative Plan in the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan revision, however, the proposed final plan ignores the local community and undermines the citizens’ vision.
The BLM had been deferring leasing in the North Fork Valley while it revised the Uncompahgre RMP and made a long-term plan for managing the many values of this special landscape, but under Trump administration policies the agency is plowing forward with highly controversial, short-sighted leasing proposals. With its drilling above all other uses strategy for public lands, the Administration is deaf to the voices and vision the local community has worked with the BLM on for years. “Energy dominance” for the purpose of enriching fossil fuel industry executives could well result in farmers, winemakers and ranchers losing their livelihoods.
The North Fork Valley is too wild, too beautiful, and too productive to be sacrificed for oil and gas interests. Efforts to move forward with leasing in the North Fork Valley will continue to be met with strong opposition. The valley has produced energy for our country from public lands for over a century from its coal mines. Now is the time to protect remaining wildlands in the area for future generations to enjoy.
Cover image: North Fork Valley, CO. Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society.
Each year our stunning landscapes attract over 80 million visitors to our state. These visitors are drawn to the world-class recreation opportunities that our mountains, lakes, and rivers offer, along with the unique agricultural products that Colorado is known for.
Wildfires scorched more than 430,00 acres of Colorado’s forests and grasslands in 2018.
Owners of water sports businesses who rely on healthy, flowing waterways had real concerns about their future customer base last summer. Flows in nearly every river across the state were at least half of their average and in many places, water levels were too low for fishing and rafting. A drier climate threatens to make these impacts even worse, which could seriously hurt our state’s $3.8 billion water-based recreation industry.
Farmers who depend on adequate water levels to cultivate their fields to feed our communities and a $40 billion agricultural industry feared that their crops and life savings would dry up after some water users were shut off. If our snowpack continues to deplete, water shortages will likely become more frequent along with crop failures and our position as the nation’s largest grower of organic produce.
Ranchers who count on predictable rainfall patterns to nourish our nationally renowned sheep and cattle herds were concerned whether they would have enough water for their livestock to drink, let alone to irrigate pasture or other crops. Inability to plan when and what to plant due to a changing climate could lead to early auctions and selling off parts of herds to avoid long-term profit loss—measures that many have already been forced to take.
There’s no question Coloradans are already grappling with the risks that climate change and air pollution pose to our future way of life. Rising temperatures and dirtier air are jeopardizing our health, livelihoods, agricultural heritage, and outdoor recreation economy.
As one of the fastest-warming states in the nation, Colorado has a responsibility to prevent the worst effects of a changing climate by setting science-based goals to reduce carbon pollution. House Bill 1261, a climate action plan, is an opportunity to create a framework to tackle climate change and preserve our outdoor legacy by setting a 90 percent carbon-reduction target by 2050.
We must act now to ensure a better future for the next generation of Coloradans. Air pollution is already harming our most at-risk populations; hotter temperatures will only exacerbate its negative health effects. It’s up to us to create a climate action plan and leave a livable, healthy Colorado to our kids and grandkids and this bill is critical to protecting our communities, economies, and way of life—now and for years to come.
Whether you think about it every day or once in a blue moon, mining significantly impacted Colorado’s past — and continues to influence the present and our future.
Mining operations helped build Colorado’s economy — and many of our towns’ names reflects this relationship: consider Leadville, Silver Cliff, Telluride, Eldora, or Goldfield. While it’s important to celebrate our shared history, it’s vital to recognize that the environment surrounding these communities still bear the scars demonstrating its ungilded past.
Consider the decaying and decrepit structures, dangerous tailing piles, and toxic pollution that impact our waterways. Though the mining fueled the state’s economy, it came at significant costs that still affect Colorado communities and our environment. It’s time we stop living in the past and implement legislation that reforms how the state approaches modern mining activities. Luckily, our legislators are one step ahead of us.
On its way to Governor Polis’ desk, HB 19-1113 — Protect Waters From Adverse Mining Impacts aims to address the lingering problems descended from mining operations and pollution. HB 19-1113’s directive is clear: to protect the health and safety of Coloradans by making sure that water quality impacts are accounted for and long-term impacts are avoided in the mining process.
For senate sponsor Kerry Donovan, preserving the health of our rivers is a central aspect of how we must address Colorado’s ongoing mining operations to preserve the natural resources “that all Coloradans depend on – like water.”
We all remember the Gold King Mine spill in 2015. An estimated 3 million gallons of toxic sludge poured into the Animas River, turning its water into an unseemly orange, and contaminating water sources across the West. Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated situation: Colorado has more than 23,000 inactive or abandoned mine sites leaching toxins and polluting more than 1,800 river miles. “Water quality statewide is suffering from pollution,” reflected Rep. Barbara McLachlan, one of the House sponsors of HB-1113, four years after the Gold King Mine spill.
In many cases, the companies who made their riches from mining our state’s minerals are no longer around to pay the clean up costs. Take the Summitville Mine in the San Luis Valley. Taxpayers ended up footing a bill worth over $21 million to cover the bankrupt company’s costs.
This isn’t an isolated incident, either. There are over two dozen mines that need similar treatments — and require similar clean up costs — in Colorado.
For Representative Dylan Roberts, another sponsor of the bill, the next step to clean up our rivers is clear: to implement better practices to make sure the long-term impacts from mining are not impacting our water quality.
Once signed into law, HB-1113 will change three aspects of the current process:
- The industry can no longer rely on self-bonding: Self-bonding, a practice that allows a mine operator to offer financial proof of resources to cover clean up costs instead of providing the resources upfront, most often forces taxpayers to pay out when companies encounter financial strife or bankruptcy. Currently, Colorado is one of only seven states that allow this practice, signalling to Coloradans members that it’s time to change the way the mining industry operates.
- Taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill to clean up operators’ messes: The current law only requires land remediation, not water, to be factored into the size of the bond. Thanks to this bill, operators will be held accountable and required to provide financial evidence they can afford clean up costs and not pass along to taxpayers.
- Mining operators can’t rely on perpetual pollution as their Plan A: Industry operators must set a “reasonable” end date for their clean up efforts. Though the law will not require operators to set a specific date, they must estimate a time frame to complete clean up efforts — helping to avoid perpetually polluting mines like Summitville.
Voices of Support
HB-1113 protects more than just our waters: it protects every living thing that relies on healthy rivers, including Colorado’s natural ecosystem and wildlife species. Testifying about the importance of the mining bill, avid sportsmen and Conservation Colorado member Tom McNamara spoke of how clean water supports the ecosystems that Colorado wildlife and citizens rely on:
“This legislation puts forward common sense reforms that protect the taxpayers AND our ecosystems, while not affecting current producers and allowing future mines to operate. HB1113 will preserve Colorado’s mining legacy, while working to better safeguard and support today’s outdoor recreation economy.”
For Mark Waltermire, the owner and operator of Thistle Whistle Farm in Hotchkiss and board member of the Valley Organic Growers Association, HB-1113 is “a good step forward” to ensuring that farmers have the access they need to clean water, which is essential to the success of Colorado’s farms and businesses. The bill will help “take the financial burden of clean up off of our collective shoulders and puts it on those responsible” — the mining companies.
Bennett Boeschenstein, the mayor pro-tem of Grand Junction and city council member, recognizes the importance of water quality on Coloradans’ drinking water and local industries like agriculture, outdoor recreation and tourism. “Our farmers ranchers recreation and tourism industry and our citizens depend on having healthy rivers and streams,” he recently testified.
After years of testimonies, hearings, and meetings, a bill that protects our rivers from the adverse effects of mining is finally becoming law. This bill wouldn’t have passed without bipartisan compromise and grassroots support — a lot of which came from YOU, our members!
With your help, we can continue to grow our movement and make Colorado’s future one that we’re proud to leave as our legacy. Donate today to support our waters, our air, our environment, and our Colorado!
DENVER — Today, the Colorado legislature voted on final passage of SB 19-181, Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations. It now heads to Governor Jared Polis, who is expected to sign the measure.
Conservation groups responded to the bill’s passage with the following statements:
“Coloradans can breathe easier today knowing that our state is finally on track to put the health and safety of workers and residents, and our environment ahead of oil and gas industry profits. Thank you to our leaders who heeded voters’ clear message and delivered these overdue reforms.”
— Kelly Nordini, Executive Director, Conservation Colorado
“Rural Western Coloradans throughout our region applaud the passage of SB 181 and a critical step forward to protect our people and our environment while letting the industry continue to do business in our state. We thank the legislators who worked so hard to ensure communities living with oil and gas development have more a voice on decisions that directly affect their health and well-being.”
— Emily Hornback, Director, Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action
“SB181 is an important foundational step for impacted Coloradans. It is time that communities have a voice when it comes to massive industrial projects being forced into their neighborhoods and near their schools. Thank you to our legislators who stood up for Colorado’s impacted communities today.”
— Sara Loflin, Executive Director, League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans
“These are the protections Coloradans are clamoring for. They’re vital for our health and safety and are needed nationwide. Governor Polis should sign this bill as soon as it hits his desk.”
— Sam Gilchrist, Western Campaigns Director, Natural Resources Defense Council
“Grand Valley Citizens Alliance members past and present have been working on health and safety issues in Garfield County’s gas patch for over 20 years. We want to thank both House and Senate legislators who made our vision reality – that people will finally have an equal voice about oil and gas development in their neighborhoods.”
— Leslie Robinson, Chair, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance
“Coloradans will finally have a voice when it comes to oil and gas development in our state. We thank our elected officials for listening to the urgent calls from Coloradans who are ready for change. The policy changes in Senate Bill 181 will help to make our communities healthier and safer.”
— Jim Alexee, Director, Colorado Sierra Club
Industry groups spent heavily on misleading advertising against SB 19-181. Analysis conducted by Westword’s Chase Woodruff as the bill moved from the Senate to the House showed that “the fossil-fuel industry [outspent] proponents of SB 181 by more than a 15-to-1 margin.” That spending included included TV advertising that was labeled “misleading” by the Colorado Sun and, at various points, “full of overstatements” and not “not accurate at all” by 9 News’ Kyle Clark.
Once signed, SB 19-181 will:
- Refocus the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to prioritize health safety and the environment over industry profits and create a commission with paid, full time experts;
- Empower local governments to have a stronger say by clarifying basic powers such as zoning and noise limitations and allowing local oversight and enforcement of operations;
- Greatly reduce harmful air pollution including methane, a potent greenhouse gas;
- Better protects property owners from forced pooling; and,
- Combat the growing problem of orphaned wells by setting forth a rule making around financial assurances and bonding requirements for oil and gas permits.
Written by Audrey Wheeler
Coloradans are more concerned than ever about climate change — and it’s not hard to see why.
According to the latest Conservation in the West poll, concern about climate change has gone up in every western state since 2016. Here in Colorado, 77 percent of voters say climate change is a serious problem — the highest in the region. And for the first time ever, majorities of voters across the West, including conservative bastions like Wyoming and Utah, are worried about climate change.
This shift is drastic. Where did it come from? Its roots may be found in the impacts of the climate crisis unfolding in our communities.
The more we see the effects of climate change happening around us, the more concerned people are about the urgency of the problem. In fact, a new poll found 74 percent of Americans say extreme weather in the past five years (such as hurricanes, droughts, floods and heat waves) has influenced their opinions about climate change.
Here in Colorado, those impacts have been real and, in some cases, drastic.
Colorado just had its second-driest summer on record. Three of the largest wildfires in state history happened over a span of just four months. More than 440,000 acres burned, destroying homes, impacting agriculture, choking our rivers with ash and sediment, and shutting people out of public lands.
The Yampa River was placed on a “call” for the first time ever. As a result, many people with water rights from the Yampa were shut off. The river shrunk to a trickle through Dinosaur National Monument. Popular fishing spots from the Crystal to the Colorado Rivers were closed due to low water and warm temperatures.
Colorado is not alone in facing these extreme weather disasters. The five warmest years in recorded history have been the last five years, with 2018 coming in as the fourth-hottest year. Dire predictions from scientists about our planet’s future are coming true, right before our eyes.
Together, these facts lead to a simple conclusion: the time has come for the West to lead on climate action.
Coloradans are ready to do something. A full 62 percent of Colorado voters say climate change is an extremely or very serious problem, up 23 points in just the last few years.
We need our leaders to listen to Coloradans and act now, before the problem gets worse. While it is encouraging that more and more people care about our climate, we can’t wait for the next disaster to strike. Instead, we need action now to show the West — and the nation — how a single state can take the lead.
Colorado has led the way on climate action before. Back in 2004, we were the first state to pass a renewable energy standard by ballot measure. In the past year, we became the only interior state with Low-Emission Vehicle standards to make our cars and our air cleaner. Our biggest utility, Xcel Energy, was the first utility company in the nation to commit to 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050.
Now, we can lead again. Colorado has the opportunity to show the country that it’s possible to act on climate. Moreover, we can prove that it’s possible in a state that produces fossil fuels. Let’s call on our decision makers to put our state on the map for more than beautiful vistas and craft beers — let’s be the state that starts the momentum to act on climate.
From the valleys of the West Slope, Colorado rivers are a cornerstone of our communities, economy, environment, and shared way of life. However, our state’s landlocked status means that the rivers’ water isn’t naturally accessible for a lot of Colorado communities; most often, we have to bring the water to us. Snowpack melts from mountain peaks and irrigates through tunnels and pipes to reach communities throughout the state. Water, as a seasonal and limited resource, is increasingly scarce as snowpack peaks earlier and warm temperatures arrive earlier.
Despite the fact that Colorado is home to some of the best water recreation opportunities in the West, we’re facing a prolonged drought — and all the environmental issues associated with it.
Consequently, many Colorado rivers aren’t in great shape. The damaging effects of climate change and lingering impacts of overuse, poor management, and energy development continue to devastate our water supplies.
Summer after summer, our rivers seem to be shrinking. However, something about this summer is remarkably different. Currently, abnormally dry conditions are impacting approximately 4,023,000 Coloradans — about 80% of the state’s population.
Let’s look at a few of the rivers across the state to reflect on the past and what our new normal may look like.
Hold On: How Do We Measure Water?
We use the measurement of cubic feet per second (cfs) to measure water in motion. One cfs represents 7.5 gallons of water flowing by a particular point per second.
Imagine one unit of cfs as roughly the size of a basketball. So when we say a river has 449 cubic feet per second, imagine about 449 basketballs bouncing downstream every second!
Flows on July 23, 2018: 2190 cfs
Average flows on July 23 over the last 51 years: 4270 cfs
That’s over 2000 cfs less than the past average; that’s roughly 51 percent less than the average.
Also known as the “American Nile,” the Colorado River supplies more water for Coloradans than any other river in the state through pipelines from the West Slope to the Front Range. As one of the southwest’s most utilized bodies of water, the Colorado River is also one of the most vulnerable to increasing demand and the long-lasting impacts of climate change. Decreasing flows, increased evaporation resulting from higher temperatures, and dwindling snowpack levels continue to increase the gap between supply and demand.
Flows on July 23, 2018: 98.1 cfs
Average flows on July 23 over the last 33 years: 914 cfs
That’s over 800 cfs less than the past average; that’s roughly 10 percent of the average amount of water.
The Yampa River remains as the last major free-flowing tributary to the Colorado River, the backbone of the West’s water supply. As the Colorado River continues to get exhausted from increasing demand, the Yampa is emerging as a source to meet growing water demands. There have been a number of proposals over the years to dam and divert water from the Yampa to send it to thirsty cities east of the Continental Divide, which would be a disaster for one of the West’s last wild rivers.
Near Bedrock, CO:
Flows on July 23, 2018: 6.04 cfs
Average flows on July 23 over the last 34 years: 93 cfs
That’s less than the past average; that’s roughly 6.5 percent of the average amount of water.
The Dolores River has faced numerous challenges over the years, including dams, high water demands, mining pollution, and climate change. This river is severely threatened, recently scoring a D- on our Colorado Rivers Report Card. However, recent local efforts to revitalize the water have helped build a drumbeat to reinvigorate one of the most unknown and underappreciated rivers in the state.
The steps we take now to protect and improve our rivers will determine the viability — and future — of Colorado’s water. More importantly, what we do now will determine if we have healthy rivers and enough drinking water in the future.
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