Melinda Kassen

July 20, 2021

10 Strategies to Better Balance Water Supply Needs in a Drought-Stressed Colorado River Basin

The future of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation businesses will rely on implementing these meaningful water conservation, habitat improvement, and agricultural practices

The Colorado River Basin is once again facing scary hot and dry conditions this summer. The current Drought Monitor shows most of the Western U.S. in significant drought, but the Southwest looks the worst:

For the Colorado River Basin, this year is like many since 2002—a period that scientists are now calling the Millennium Drought. About 40 million people rely on this system for drinking water, while most Americans eat vegetables produced in the region’s fields. Many of us also take joyful advantage of hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation across the Basin’s vast public lands, including ten national parks.

For all of us, the fact that the Colorado’s large storage reservoirs are only about one-third full is cause for alarm and a reminder that the changing climate has real consequences—for tourism, outdoor recreation businesses, agriculture, and American homes. As a result of agreements reached over the course of the last 15 years, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will formally make a water shortage declaration later this year that will require substantial reductions in water deliveries, mostly in Arizona.

A new report, Ten Strategies for Climate Resilience in the Colorado River Basin, offers a set of actions that would allow those who live in or rely on the Basin to adapt, reduce pressure on water supplies, and strengthen local economies, all while building climate resilience. These actions, which range from the proven to the emerging and theoretical, would take the Basin well beyond the important water conservation and recycling measures that cities in the Basin have already initiated. And for each strategy, the report identifies potential sources of funding, although significantly more investment will be necessary.

These strategies include:

  • Prioritizing forest management and restoration to maintain system functionality and biodiversity
  • Restoring highly degraded natural meadow systems to improve local aquifer recharge and water retention, reconnect historic floodplains, and support productive meadows and riparian ecosystems
  • Promoting regenerative agriculture—voluntary farming and ranching principles and practices that enrich soils, enhance biodiversity, restore watershed health, and improve overall ecosystem function while boosting local communities
  • Upgrading on-farm infrastructure and operations, including water diversion, delivery, and irrigation systems
  • Developing cropping alternatives—like shifting to crops that use less water—and market and supply chain interventions to incentivize water conservation
  • Incentivizing water conservation and reuse in urban areas by promoting conservation technologies, indoor and outdoor conservation programs, and direct and indirect potable reuse
  • Incentivizing modifications and upgrades to reduce water use and increase energy efficiency
  • Purchasing or reallocating water rights from closed or retiring coal plants to be used for system or environmental benefits or other uses
  • Improving land management practices to reduce the dust on snow effect, which controls the pace of spring snowmelt that feeds the headwaters of the Colorado River
  • Implementing solutions to reduce evaporation from reservoirs and conveyance systems

Implementation of these strategies may be challenging and will require change. For example, multiple federal agencies that usually operate in their own silos would have to work together. It will also be important to involve state, local, and tribal governments and to make clear that, when it comes to strategies that may be deployed on private lands, they are voluntary measures—not mandates. Still, taken together, these strategies may help preserve agricultural viability in the Southwest into the future.

Decision-makers will need to weigh the costs, technical feasibility, and political will for moving bold actions like these strategies forward. However, with the president and Congress considering major investments in America’s infrastructure, there can be no better time to secure financial and policy support for these measures.

But we as sportsmen and sportswomen must be engaged in this process. Our ability to advance significant improvements in the management of the Colorado River system thus far is a testament to the power of partnerships. And the hunting, fishing, and conservation community—including the nonprofits behind this report—is prepared to dig in with the Basin’s private landowners, local communities, and government officials at every level to take the next steps. Together, we must adapt the system to a changing climate and build toward long-term climate resilience, while looking out for our fish, wildlife, and economy along the way.

6 Responses to “10 Strategies to Better Balance Water Supply Needs in a Drought-Stressed Colorado River Basin”

  1. Nathan Svenson

    Excellent post! Those of us in the Southwest will be feeling the water squeeze for the foreseeable future and smart land/farm management will help us survive it. Another major factor is the data center boom here in the Phoenix area; they are popping up everywhere, adding serious electric loads and water loads.

  2. George Bogenschutz

    Incentives by municipalities to replace the ever thirsting suburban lawns and public areas with Buffalo Grass would greatly reduce water consumption. The seed is not cheap and it takes patience and persistence to get it established, but the rewards are;
    1) NO watering required because it evolved on the short grass prairie and has roots many feet deep. It doesn’t green up until early June but still is attractive in its tan winter hue.
    2) More free time – we mow approximately every 3 weeks and it still looks attractive because it only gets about 5″ high.
    3) Less wear, noise and pollution from lawn maintenance equipment.

    4) It forms a fairly thick mat and propagates from seed and rhizomes so tends to resist invasion by other grasses.

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Randall Williams

July 15, 2021

TRCP Applauds New Path Forward for the Tongass

USDA to restore conservation safeguards and invest in sustainable economic development in Southeast Alaska

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated today’s news that the Forest Service will pursue a new management approach for 9.2 million acres of public land in Southeast Alaska that will prioritize the region’s biggest economic engines, local values, and overwhelming public opinion.

Pairing the restoration of conservation safeguards with new, robust investments in the region’s economic development, the decision was welcomed by local communities and various stakeholders as a balanced solution that promises a sustainable future for a region widely regarded as some of the richest fish and wildlife habitat in Alaska. Among other things, USDA’s new strategy will reverse of one of last year’s biggest conservation setbacks and ensure that the Tongass National Forest will remain an iconic hunting and fishing destination.

“Today’s development marks a major step toward restoring conservation safeguards and shifting to more sustainable forest management practices on the Tongass National Forest,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We appreciate this leadership by USDA, and look forward to the timely reinstatement of the Roadless Rule on the Tongass, which will conserve some of Alaska’s most productive fish and wildlife habitat while also allowing for community development projects and cultural uses.”

Roadless Rule protections were rolled back in 2020 despite overwhelming public opposition to the exemption.

The USDA is anticipated to outline several key steps it will take moving forward:

  • The FS will start the process to repeal the Roadless Rule exemption and reinstate full protections under the 2001 Roadless Rule.
  • The Tongass NF will end large-scale old-growth timber sales, but will allow Alaska Natives and small-scale operators to continue limited old-growth harvest.
  • $25 million in new funding will be dedicated to community development projects that enhance recreation, restoration and resilience, including climate, wildlife habitat, and watershed improvements.

“The industries that contribute the most to Southeast Alaska’s economy—such as commercial fishing, recreation, and tourism—rely on the conservation of our remaining old-growth forests and watersheds within the Tongass,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s exciting to see the Forest Service invest in new strategies that align with the values and priorities of rural Alaskans. The TRCP is committed to helping the Forest Service manage the Tongass in a way that conserves vital fish and wildlife habitat, allows for sustainable second growth forest management, and boosts the resiliency of our communities.”

Photo Credit: Ben Matthews

Randall Williams

July 13, 2021

Hunters and Anglers Unveil Vision for National Wildlife Refuges

Leading conservation groups and industry brands release report with recommendations for the future of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service-managed public lands

A new report from 32 hunting- and fishing-related conservation organizations and businesses celebrates the successes of the National Wildlife Refuge System in supporting species conservation and outdoor recreation, and outlines twelve key principles that should guide its management and future proposals for its expansion. This comes as hunters and anglers are enjoying new opportunities on national wildlife refuges, and as the administration continues to define its conservation priorities.

“President Theodore Roosevelt, who more than anyone recognized the inextricable connection between conservation and hunting, established the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903 at Pelican Island,” said Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute. “Continuing in that proud tradition, I was privileged to serve as the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the 100th anniversary of the refuge system and throughout my tenure worked to encourage hunting and fishing programs on these lands, for which Roosevelt cared so deeply. In opening our refuges to more Americans and planning for expanded opportunities throughout the system, the Fish and Wildlife Service continues to carry out an important mission that is essential to the future of hunting and fishing—as well as that of conservation—in this country.”

According to the report, “strategic and locally supported expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge System would help to provide all Americans with increased access to nature regardless of their income or background, to conserve biodiversity, and to sustain fish and wildlife habitat connectivity.”

“Sportsmen and sportswomen have been the National Wildlife Refuge System’s earliest advocates, most outspoken supporters, and most generous contributors, which helps explain why our community has such a strong investment in building on the system’s proven framework,” said Christy Plumer, chief policy officer for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defines the future of the refuge system—including the potential expansion of refuges—we see an opportunity to ensure that the system continues to benefit numerous species as well as public fishing and hunting.”

Recent events make the report’s release particularly timely. In 2019 and 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service increased hunting and fishing opportunities on a combined 4 million acres within the refuge system, and the agency recently proposed expanded opportunities on an additional 2.1 million acres. Then, in March 2021, several federal agencies released “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful,” which outlines a ten-year roadmap for conserving at least 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030. Specifically mentioned is a recommendation to work “with States, local communities, and others to explore where there is support to enhance the National Wildlife Refuge System.”

“Not only does the National Wildlife Refuge System conserve irreplaceable habitat for trout and salmon, these public lands also offer world class angling opportunities. Strengthening the refuge system is crucial to help make fish and wildlife populations more resilient to the effects of climate change,” said Corey Fisher, public lands policy director with Trout Unlimited. “This report provides constructive guideposts for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enhance the refuge system for future generations, and this needs to be coupled with a commitment from Congress to ensure that the agency has the resources and funding necessary to steward wildlife refuges across the nation.”

At the report’s core are recommendations in the form of twelve tenets that, if followed, would help generate broad support from the hunting and fishing community for proposed new or expanded refuges. These principles address concerns ranging from public access and sporting opportunities to state fish and wildlife management authority, as well as funding and administrative priorities.

“Durable land conservation requires open dialogue, strong partnerships, and an interest in finding common ground,” said John Gale, conservation director for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “Hunters and anglers are proven collaborators, and there is a need for our community to remain at the table to help shape a future for the National Wildlife Refuge System that we and others can call a success.”

The report includes feature profiles of four refuges within the system that offer diverse opportunities for hunters and anglers and explains some of the history and characteristics that make these landscapes unique. The voices of local sportsmen and sportswomen help to explain the value of each refuge to nearby communities in places ranging from rural southwest Wyoming to the urban spaces of greater Detroit, Michigan, and Toledo, Ohio.

“Among all of our public lands, national wildlife refuges play an important role in providing Americans access to the outdoors, and include outstanding deer habitats throughout the country,” said Nick Pinizzotto, president and CEO of the National Deer Association. “Sportsmen and sportswomen have a profound appreciation for the opportunities provided by the refuge system and there can be no doubt that the hunting community will speak up to ensure this legacy lives on for future generations.”

See the full list of policy recommendations and read the report at TRCP.org/refuges.

Kristyn Brady

July 1, 2021

House Passes Highway Bill with Strong Investments in Habitat and Access

Senate must now act to establish a first-of-its-kind federal grant program for wildlife crossings and advance other important conservation priorities

Washington, D.C. — In a 221-201 floor vote today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the INVEST in America Act, a five-year highway bill with much-needed funding for fish and wildlife habitat connectivity, climate resilience, and road and trail maintenance across public lands.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is particularly encouraged to see the advancement of a new $100-million-per-year grant program that would help states construct more wildlife-friendly road crossing structures, including over- and underpasses, that benefit migrating big game and many other species. An amendment was also successfully passed to establish a new grant program to fund and support culvert restoration projects, which will help restore essential anadromous fish passages across the nation.

“It’s the right time to invest in America’s transportation infrastructure and jobs, and it’s highly appropriate that we look out for fish and wildlife habitat as we make largescale improvements,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This may be our best chance to knit together fragmented migration corridors and fish habitat, especially now that we know more about the way animals use seasonal habitats and exactly how development affects their movement patterns. The science and technology have advanced, but we can’t create solutions without the dedicated funding provided in this bill, which would create the first national wildlife crossings initiative of its kind and help prioritize culvert restoration across the country.”

The bill also includes an amendment that authorizes the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program through 2030 and requires the U.S. Forest Service to develop a national strategy for using the program—which would have a direct impact on public land access and hunting and fishing opportunities on Forest Service lands. The Forest Service also gets a share of the $555 million per year included in INVEST for the Federal Land Transportation Program, but the TRCP and partners will continue to push for more balance here.

Importantly, INVEST would also:

  • Reauthorize the Sport Fish Restoration Program, the well-known conservation fund that draws from angler license and gear purchases.
  • Create a Community Resilience and Restoration Fund and competitive grant program at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, authorized at $100 million per year.
  • Increase funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program to $40 billion over five years. Fifteen percent of these funds would be set aside to encourage states to invest in natural systems and nature-based approaches to addressing local water quality challenges.

The Senate surface transportation bill includes the culvert provisions but only $350 million over five years for wildlife crossings. It also includes a climate resilience program that is not in the House bill. The two versions will need to be reconciled before the president can sign off and advance the much-needed conservation provisions mentioned above.

 

Top image courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Melinda Kassen

June 30, 2021

Clean Water Act Protections for Headwaters and Wetlands Will Be Considered Again

The Biden Administration will be the fourth to take on clarifying which “waters of the U.S.” get protection under the bedrock conservation law

Once again, the pendulum is swinging back toward protection of our nation’s streams, rivers, and wetlands – and thus the fish, waterfowl, and other wildlife that rely on these waters.

On June 10, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers announced that they would reconsider which waters and wetlands should be protected under the Clean Water Act, which is now 49 years old. The definitional rule, referred to as “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS), describes which discharges to our nation’s waters and wetlands need permits and, therefore, protective conditions.

Discharges potentially needing permits are both from “point sources,” like wastewater treatment plants and factories, and from development activities, like the construction of dams, diversion structures, roads, bridges, or tracts of houses.

The rule the agencies have committed to repeal and replace was issued in April 2020. It shrunk the wetlands protected by Clean Water Act programs by millions of acres, and the number of stream miles by as much as half. (The agencies do not have precise figures for the rule’s impact.) While there had previously been changes to the range of waters and wetlands that the law governs, those changes were never previously more than a few percentage points. The agencies have now conceded in legal challenges to the 2020 rule that there were over 330 construction projects poised to proceed without permits, i.e., without any mitigation for water quality required.

The potential impact to critical fish and wildlife habitat is frightening. Maybe it is because of our interconnectedness with rivers and streams that, according to a 2018 poll commissioned by the TRCP, 92 percent of hunters and anglers were in favor of strengthening federal clean water protections. That makes us possibly the most supportive demographic in the country.

Last month, my colleague Andrew Earl wrote about the failure of the USDA to protect wetlands in the prairie potholes region of the Upper Midwest—the nation’s “duck factory.” These same wetlands sometimes qualify for protection from being filled with construction dirt under the Clean Water Act, but they were entirely excluded from protection under the 2020 WOTUS rule.

Now more than ever, as migratory birds face the loss of habitat due to climate change, all of our government’s agencies should be working to conserve wetlands using every arrow in the quiver.

The administration has promised a robust stakeholder process to develop a new definition of WOTUS, one that the TRCP hopes would be durable enough to withstand the swings of the political pendulum. That process will take time. The administration has already asked the courts reviewing challenges to the 2020 rule to pause their considerations so that the agencies can make changes.

The next step for the agencies must be to repeal the 2020 rule outright and reinstate the coverage that the George W. Bush administration put into place in 2008, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on WOTUS. That will at least restore wider coverage and perhaps forestall some of the hundreds of habitat-damaging projects that might otherwise proceed.

The current administration must do this repeal as quickly as possible, in part because any “jurisdictional determination” the Corps makes until the rule is repealed would last for five years. That means a project may proceed without a permit without being revisited for half a decade, even if there’s a replacement rule put into place in 2024.

The TRCP appreciates that the agencies want to get a new rule right, so that it can withstand judicial review, and that doing so will take some time. But they cannot be too cautious with the repeal. Without it, too many destructive projects may proceed, and the loss of wetlands and streams is not something easily reversed.

Continue following the TRCP to be the first to know about opportunities to engage in the effort to restore Clean Water Act protections to headwaters and wetlands.

 

Top photo courtesy of USDA NRCS Montana via Flickr.

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