Written by Theresa Conley

When I first heard about a state water plan, I was skeptical as to how useful it would be. I thought about how notoriously difficult it can be to change water policy in Colorado; meetings are long, technical, and only have one person (among as many as 50) representing environmental interests.

However, two things made me optimistic about the plan.

First, the Executive Order required that the plan, and our water policies, reflect our water values. Second, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) stated that we needed a water plan because “our current statewide water trajectory is neither desirable nor sustainable.” So the plan presented an opportunity for change.

Since Coloradans overwhelmingly prefer solving water challenges through conservation and recycling over diverting more water from our Western Slope rivers, we set out with four basic principles that guided our outreach to citizens and decision-makers alike. The plan needed to:

  • Keep Colorado’s rivers healthy and flowing
  • Increase water conservation and recycling in our cities and towns (e.g., statewide conservation goal)
  • Modernize agriculture and water sharing practices
  • And avoid a new, large transmountain diversion.

We advocated strongly for these principles at water planning hearings, one-on-one meetings with designated planning representatives, and the public. We heard from roundtable members that they needed more information and data on how to best protect their streams. We heard pushback that a statewide conservation goal was impossible because it would be seen as a “mandate” and “one size fits all” requirement. We heard that more Colorado River water needed to be transported to the Front Range. We kept hearing these things but we kept pushing our principles.

We persevered.

This first iteration of Colorado Water Plan is an important step forward for Colorado because it reflects Coloradans’ values and priorities.  The plan:

  • Sets the first-ever statewide urban water conservation goal;
  • Addresses the importance of preserving and restoring our rivers and streams including proposing annual funding for river assessments and restoration work;
  • Makes new, large, and controversial large trans-mountain diversions, which harm rivers and local communities, a lot less likely.

We are seeing conservation prioritized as never before, expanded language on reuse and water banking, and incentives and funding toward “alternative transfer methods” which replace water providers buying up agricultural land and then taking the irrigation water for municipal use. There is broad support for and a greater focus on stream health across the state including funding and the importance of preserving and restoring the environmental resiliency of our rivers and streams.

We’re excited about the plan and are now focusing our attention to getting it implemented.

The plan must be executed properly to be effective for Colorado. We also need more detailed and thorough water project evaluation criteria that determine which projects get state support (and which do not). We need to ensure that any tweaks to the state’s permitting authority maintains the strong environmental safeguards that protect our rivers and drinking water.

As the state implements this plan and looks to make changes to it, we will continue to advocate for what is best for Colorado and best for our rivers. Thanks to Governor Hickenlooper for tackling such a contentious issue as water and developing the first ever state plan!

Written by Micha Rosenoer, Southwest Field Organizer

The recent disaster on the Animas is news to no one at this point. Headlines across Colorado and national outlets have spread this recent development far and wide; the Animas turned orange, and that’s a big problem. That’s true — an abandoned mine leaking toxic chemicals into one of Southwest Colorado’s primary rivers, which sustains countless residents’ livelihoods, is a tremendous problem.

This is a tragedy. There’s no doubt about that. We’re all angry and profoundly saddened to see the lifeblood of Southwest Colorado spoiled. And the question on most of our minds is: how on earth was this allowed to happen?

So what actually happened?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was trying to clean up the Gold King Mine when a plug failed, which sent 3 million gallons of yellow toxic sludge into the Animas. Efforts at Gold King are one of many projects the EPA is undertaking to clean up the thousands of abandoned old mines that remain from Colorado’s mining legacy.

Yep, that’s right — there are thousands of mines like Gold King across our state, and many are like ticking time bombs. As anyone who has lived in Southwest Colorado for longer than a few years will tell you, the region is no stranger to mining-related catastrophes. This time around, the EPA’s hand happened to be on the shovel, but disasters like this one demonstrate the need to recognize our history of reckless exploitation.

What can we do to confront that history?

Quite a bit, actually. Here are some ways we can prevent future disasters, and how YOU can get involved:

  • Support efforts of local science-based groups conducting independent monitoring in conjunction with the EPA
  • Get involved — contact your elected representative and engage in public comment opportunities like town hall meetings and opportunities to speak with elected officials
  • Get involved with current and future BLM planning processes. Many of these plans  invite public input on where and how industry should be allowed to mine and drill within our communities. Strong standards and limitations for industry could prevent accidents like this one decades down the road.

Remind me again why we’ve been having to deal with such rampant pollution?

It’s because, in the late 19th century, westward expansion was largely about mining. People broke their backs to glean their wealth out of the ground in the form of gold, silver, or other metals. And they found that wealth in mineral-rich Southwest Colorado, which led to an explosion in mines in the area.

Here’s the big problem; many of these mines were established far before environmental protections were even a part of our country’s vocabulary. But they continued to provide welcome financial support to the area, so the mining industry continued until the 1990s. After a they ceased to be financially viable, those mines largely closed, but cleaning up their toxic sludge has fallen to the EPA, which leads us to our current situation.

Looking ahead

At this point, it is absolutely imperative that we work together to find solutions. The legacy of mining in the Southwest and across Colorado is a massive problem, but it’s a solvable one. We need to ensure that the mining industry is held accountable for the messes they make. They’ve been allowed to pass the buck for far, far too long.

One silver lining in this disaster is that it has brought worldwide attention to the sorry state of our mining legacy here in Colorado and the thousands of mines that pose similar unacceptable risks to our water, recreation, and wildlife. While the spill is awful, the Animas has struggled with water quality for decades thanks to runoff from mines like Gold King across the watershed.  It’s unfortunate that the river turning such an alarming shade was required to increase our sense of urgency on this issue, because conditions have been deplorable for a long time. Whenever it rains reasonably hard in Southwest Colorado, zinc and cadmium levels go up 100% on the Animas. This is not a hazard that we should be comfortable with in Colorado. So while it’s a shame that it took an incident of this magnitude to generate the appropriate alarm and urgency, perhaps we will see some real improvements as a result.

The best result from this disaster would be political will to take decisive action to clean the mines around Silverton and developing long term solutions for the hundreds of miles of Colorado rivers currently impacted by mine drainage.  Returning to the status quo of ignoring pre-spill contamination levels is not good enough for our town or the future of Colorado’s rivers.

For more detailed information on the spill and its roots, click herehere, and here.

Your Southwest Field Organizer,

Micha Rosenoer

Written by Micha Rosenoer, Southwest Field Organizer

New Years resolutions can be hard to stick to sometimes, but here in Southwestern Colorado, celebrating the recent passage of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act with some backcountry skiing, mountain biking, and fly fishing will be an easy one to keep! We hope you’ll join us in getting outside to enjoy Southwest Colorado’s brand new wilderness area during the coming months.

On December 19, 2014, President Obama signed into law permanent protections for the Hermosa Creek watershed, putting the final touches on a six year community-led process to protect 170 square miles of land just north of Durango. That same day, the local community celebrated our successful multi-year effort with Rep. Tipton and Sen. Bennet in style. We raised our glasses to this exceptional feat of bipartisanship, community coordination and consensus, as well as the years of patience, negotiation, and hard work that brought these protections to fruition.

To everyone who made phone calls, wrote letters, signed petitions, spoke up in meetings, attended events, and promised to keep doing the good (and sometimes trying) work necessary to protect Hermosa – THANK YOU! We couldn’t have done it without you. Our efforts to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed may even serve as a model of how to successfully preserve and protect our most cherished natural places for years to come. Everyone involved deserves a big hug, some fresh powder, and a long nap.

In the end, the bill protected 108,000 acres of land surrounding Hermosa Creek, including nearly 38,000 acres of new wilderness. Additionally, the bill closed Lake Nighthorse, Horse Gulch, Animas Mountain, and Perins Peak – key recreational and wildlife areas surrounding Durango – to any future drilling or mining. These areas will now provide crucial protected habitat for local species of elk, deer, and cutthroat trout, as well as places for us to fish, hunt, hike, backpack, snowmobile, and mountain bike together for years to come.

Please join us in thanking Congressman Tipton and Senator Bennet for their incredible leadership on Hermosa Creek, and stay tuned for opportunities to get out and play in the  Hermosa area with us soon.

Wondering what’s next on the southwestern agenda? In the short term, we’ll be working to protect our American heritage from fringe efforts at the state legislature to seize our national public lands and even auction them off to the highest bidder – be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for ways to engage on this important issue. Also, we’ll be looking into ways to protect even more of our treasured lands in the San Juan Mountains. In the meantime, enjoy this huge community accomplishment regarding Hermosa Creek, and pat each other on the back. You deserve it!

Your Southwest Organizer,
Micha Rosenoer

Written by Sarah White

2014 has been a successful year for Conservation Colorado. From working with our elected officials to pass critical environmental legislation, to knocking doors to get out the vote, and organizing on college campuses, in Latino communities, and in cities all across the state, we’ve accomplished big things for Colorado.

It would be pretty hard to point out all of the things that we’re proud of, but we wanted to highlight the BIG ones. Here are our top 10 accomplishments of 2014.

10. We won a decade long battle

The ten year long battle to protect the Roan Plateau is finally over. The conservation community finally won the fight to keep the 54,000 acre Roan Plateau from becoming an industrial zone.

9. We had a year long party!

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and boy, did we celebrate. We held events across the state from July to November to raise awareness about the 3.6 million acres of Colorado’s most sublime wildlands that are set aside as wilderness areas.

8. We held industry accountable

In April we were thrilled to help pass legislation that will finally clean up groundwater contamination in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Canon City. After 30 years of pollution and indifference from Cotter Corporation, Coloradans living in its shadow were finally granted the right to clean water and use of their own water wells.

7. Introducing….Protégete!

This year, Conservation Colorado launched Protégete: Our Air, Our Health. It is an important and timely effort to engage the Latino community around the issues of clean air and climate change.

6. The EPA came to town & we responded with a day of action

This year we took a huge step toward addressing the challenge of climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed national safeguards that aim to cut carbon pollution, One of just four hearings across the country was held right here in Colorado! Our coalition rallied over 250 Coloradans to testify at the hearings and came out on top — an overwhelming majority of the testimonies showed support of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

5. 42 wins for conservation

It wasn’t easy, but after one of the toughest election seasons yet, the conservation community helped elect 42 pro-conservation candidates to the Colorado state legislature. With the help of our staff and volunteers, we knocked doors, made phone calls, created mail pieces, landed on people’s Facebook newsfeeds, and crafted radio ads to promote our conservation champions and help them to victory.

4. Colorado made history (in a good way)

Colorado sent a strong message to the nation in February – that every person deserves to breathe clean air. With your support, and after a year-long ground campaign, Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission passed groundbreaking, first in the nation rules that directly regulate methane pollution from oil and gas facilities.

3. Huge steps for water

Up until now, we have been the only state in the west without a State Water Plan (yikes!). But that’s about to change. On December 10, the first draft of this groundbreaking plan was released — and it will be finalized in a year. This plan will address the “gap” between our available water supply and our demand and we have worked every step of the way to ensure that the Governor keeps his work and puts conservation first.

2. Hey, President Obama! This land needs protection

Conservation Colorado has worked with U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet for years to designate Browns Canyon as a national monument. This month, we brought this beautiful 22,000 acres of public lands around the Arkansas River to the forefront of President Obama’s attention and are optimistic that he will take the next step to finally protect Browns Canyon once and for all.

1. YOU

Conservation Colorado works hard to protect the land, air, and water of our beautiful state for YOU, our members. We are proud to have a growing membership of dedicated Coloradans who are willing to take action and support the work that will ensure clean air, healthy flowing waters, and protected lands for years to come. We do this work because we believe that it is your right to enjoy the outdoors as you see fit, without restrictions from out-of-state special interests and polluting industries. We do this work because of YOU.

We can’t do any of this without your support — please consider making a year end donation to Conservation Colorado.

Written by Sarah White

On January 1st, 2013, following a combined 60 year history of fighting for our spectacular environment, Colorado Environmental Coalition and Colorado Conservation Voters merged to create Conservation Colorado. Since then, we have hired 9 new staff members, opened a new field office in Durango, and engaged our 16,000 members to take 7,220 actions!

What else have we done? The list goes on, but we picked out 7 notable achievements that we couldn’t have reached without your support.

1) New Faces

We didn’t just hire anyone, we hired the best of the best to inject new energy to the endless tasks we take on to fight for Colorado’s future. Combining old and new has proven to be effective as we saw numerous bills we supported become law this year and took on new campaigns to protect Colorado’s land, air, water, and people. Plus, they certainly made Halloween fun:

2) That Good ‘Ole Rocky Mountain Air

Greenhouse-gas-causing methane harms Coloradans and adds to climate change. Don’t believe us? Just look at the stories we collected on Facebook of Coloradans living with oil and gas operations in their backyards. Basically, it’s a big – huge – deal that Colorado will be the first state to make oil and gas operators capture methane and other harmful pollutants. And, it’s all because of you.

3) Record-breaking events

Turns out our volunteers and members think we put on quite the party – so much so that we had record breaking attendance at almost all of our events this year. From our annual Rebel With A Cause Gala to our Save The Ales beer tasting event, Coloradans came out to support what they love: our state. In addition, we hosted the Beyond The Bones hiking series in Northwest Colorado, the ClimateFest concert in Denver, West Slope Harvest Celebration in Palisade, and the Save The Last Dance book tour all around Colorado.

4) Hey-O Durango!

We started out with offices in Denver, Grand Junction, and Craig, but soon realized that 3 wasn’t enough. So we did something crazy – we started an office in Durango! Our Southwest Organizer, Emily, was welcomed with open arms and plenty of things to start organizing around.

5) Local Grassroots Organizing Pairs Well With National Legislation

Wait a second, Colorado’s wildlife habitats and wilderness areas are being talked about on a national level? That doesn’t happen every year. Both the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act and Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act have widespread support from the communities, local businesses, and elected officials.  We couldn’t be more excited to see the progress these bills have made and to support the Colorado lawmakers who are working to protect them for future generations.

6) Water Planning

It’s one of those things that seems boring and wonky, but necessary. Yet, as Theresa showed us in her popular blog series, Drought Days, water is anything but. From our extreme summer drought to our extreme September floods, water proved more than ever just how vital it is to Colorado. This past year, we joined together with coalition partners to pass a reusable water bill and encouraged Governor Hickenlooper to clean up Colorado’s water – because water is anything but boring. Still don’t believe us? Just watch Colorado Rising, a short film featuring a family’s story about the High Park Fire of 2012:

7) 252 – woot woot!

252 may just be a number to you, but it’s a reason to celebrate for us. We fought hard during the legislative session for common sense safeguards against oil and gas pollution, but their multi-million dollar lobbying efforts pushed us back. However, we won big with Senate Bill 252, which increases access to wind and solar energy across ALL of Colorado. It became law this summer and Colorado will now get cleaner, sustainable energy…and jobs to go along with it.

We can’t put it all in one blog post, but simply put, we have had a good first year. We’re proud of this state and you should be too. But with our first birthday coming up on January 1st, we realize that there’s always more work to be done to protect the state that we love for future generations.

That’s where you come in – we have asked you to make calls, write emails, send in letters, and follow us on social media. And, you have done it all. We couldn’t achieve any successes without you and we definitely couldn’t have accomplished as much as we did without your passion for Colorado. When thinking about who you want to give to this Colorado Gives Day, invest in a sure thing, invest in us and other members and volunteers like you who have made it clear to rest of our state that Colorado’s conservation voice deserves to be heard.

Written by Sarah White

Colorado is known for its diverse and unique landscapes and Coloradans take pride in the fact that we have so many wild, beautiful places to play and explore. Conservation Colorado staff has seen a great deal of the state, so we like to think we have a pretty good idea on where to go to see the best of what Colorado wilderness has to offer.

In honor of  Great Outdoors America Week and our Celebration of Wilderness event with Congresswoman DeGette earlier this week, we asked our staff to share some of their favorite places to get outdoors. We encourage you to see these sites firsthand and find out why we hold them so near and dear to our hearts:

Scott Braden, our new Wilderness Advocate, has plenty of suggestions on amazing places to see in Colorado.  One of his favorite getaways is  Yampa River Canyon, Dinosaur National Monument in the Northwest corner of the state. The Yampa is close to Scott’s heart because it is the last wild and undammed river in the Colorado River system.  In Dinosaur National Monument the Yampa plunges into an unexpected serpentine canyon of sandstone, flowing swiftly towards its confluence with the Green River in Echo Park.

Becky Long, our Advocacy Director, prefers the lower Blue Valley in Silverthorne. It’s where her family ranch is and the area is absolutely amazing. The Gore Range, the Blue River, and the open ranchlands symbolize Colorado.

Petrika Peters, one of our Field Organizers in Grand Junction, loves the mountains on the western slope, but the San Juans have a special place carved out in her heart. It’s where she met her partner, fell in love, got married, and spent a special week with mountain goats as the sole visitor to her camp!

Sasha Nelson, another one of our Field Organizers in Craig, knows it’s difficult to narrow down the hundreds of amazing places on the millions of acres of Public Lands up in Northwest Colorado. One that stands out to her is Vermillion Basin, an area of around 100,000 acres, of “badlands” tucked away in far Northwest Colorado. Watching the clouds paint the vermilion bluffs is like seeing a watercolor in motion. What makes this place so magical is its mystery.

Beka Wilson, our Development Director, couldn’t pick just one. She suggests:

  • Gateway, Unaweep Canyon and The Monument.  It’s a great place to see the spectacular red rock, really fun bouldering and unbeatable stargazing!
  • Lost Creek Wilderness is close to the Front Range and is gorgeous!
  • Salida and Brown’s Canyon.  Salida has the best festivals and there is so much to do in around the Collegiate Peaks.
  • Mt Sneffels Wilderness by Telluride.  Best scenery in the state, hands down.

Ben Gregory, our tireless Finance and Operations Director, is all about the Pawnee Buttes for the big open sky and solitude.  Eastern Plains represent!

Our Denver field organizers have their favorite spots too, Becca Strelitz’s favorite place (which tends to change every time she discovers a new area of Colorado) is currently Crater Lakes in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It is a relatively easy hike to the first of the lakes from the Moffat Tunnel and the encompass everything you’d imagine Colorado wilderness to entail.

What are your most cherished places to get outdoors in Colorado? We’d love to hear why you cherish our state’s wilderness. We love working to protect these amazing places and ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy them in the same way as we do today.

Written by Sarah White

Earth Day is upon us today and we’re excited! We focus a lot of our efforts on the long-term conservation of Colorado’s beautiful lands and clean air. But today we celebrate what we can do right now help our environment.

These steps are simple, but they add up to create a massive impact on climate change in our state every single day. Now, we know you have been told to do some of these things before, but Earth Day is a day to remind ourselves that these steps are more important now than ever before.

1. Let’s start with the obvious: reduce, reuse, recycle:

Did you know that there’s an island in the Pacific Ocean that is the size of Texas and is completely made up of trash? Although we have made great progress, far too much of our everyday lives ends up harming our air, land, and water. We can all do our part by reducing what we consume, try and reuse as much as possible, and recycle the rest.  Every little bit helps reduce the amount of new, harmful chemicals that are introduced into the environment, helps us use energy more efficiently, and minimizes the land our landfills need.

2. Help preserve our water supply by conserving your water:

April snow has made us hopeful for a good snowpack this year, but years of drought have depleted Colorado’s reservoirs to the point where it’s going to take many years of above-average snowfall to bring them back to normal. So, how can you help? From your sink to your lawn, conserve your water usage.

3. Walk, ride your bike, use our great transportation system:

We all know that climate change is the problem of our age but want can an individual do?  The car you drive and how you choose to get around can have a huge impact on your energy consumption. Better yet, get out and enjoy our great Colorado weather;  ride your bike, walk, or take public transportation to help you get where you need to go.

4. Go outside this Earth Day:

No, seriously, go outside. How will that help? We hope the more time you spend exploring our beautiful state, the more passionate you’ll become about preserving it for future generations. Check out some of the areas we are working to protect. But remember, take only pictures and leave only footprints.

5. Get involved with your elected officials:

Final self plug: we have made this step easy for you; Take an Action. Tell your local legislators why you are concerned and what they can do to get your support. Our vast landscapes, wildlife, rivers, and our tremendous outdoor opportunities help define our beautiful state. Any day a lawmaker hears from a constituent is a day that he or she must think a little longer about the impacts that his or her decisions have.  Check out our latest Actions and send your elected official a message that you care about protecting Colorado!