Local leaders and elected officials gave a roundup of issues, concerns and legislative plans during the 2019 Southwestern Colorado Livestock Association’s annual meeting Saturday at the Cortez Elks Lodge.
An audience of 130 heard information on topics including drought management, ranching, water supply, the prospect of wolf reintroduction, renewable energy and immigration.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican from Cortez, said the new Congress was off to a “slow start” with committees just now getting organized. He is reintroducing the Protect our Water Rights Act (HR 3189) and said one focus is to ensure Colorado’s Western Slope is not carrying an unfair burden in any authorized federal drought contingency plans.
“The Front Range needs to share in that burden,” Tipton said.
He plans to introduce legislation that expands liability protection for local governments to take action on mine pollution control.
“We are on the cusp of developing the language of the bill through a pilot program here in Southwest Colorado,” related to the Gold King Mine spill cleanup, he said.
Tipton said action will take place this week on a compromise budget to avoid another federal government shutdown. The budget stalled on the controversial topic of funding a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We have to secure our border. I am pro-immigration, but it has to be done legally,” he said.
A draft Green New Deal bill proposed by Democrats focuses too much on renewable energy, Tipton said, and is not practical. He said his Planning for America’s Energy Act bill (HR 785) is better because it involves using a mix of fossil fuel and alternative energy sources.
“Market-based decisions will determine what is most successful,” Tipton said.
Drought managementSouthwestern Water Conservation District executive director Bruce Whitehead explained the drought management proposal for the Colorado River basin that includes Southwest Colorado.
While winter moisture is tracking well so far, the past 19 years have been the driest on record in the Colorado River Basin, he said. That has led to Lake Powell and Lake Mead to be at about 40 percent capacity.
“This is driving drought contingency plans and could result in shortages that could hit in the next couple of years if conditions persist,” Whitehead said.
Keeping Lake Powell at a level necessary for hydroelectric power is a priority. If it threatens to drop below that, noncontracted water from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo Reservoir could be moved to Lake Powell.
Reducing consumptive use, called demand management, is part of the drought contingency plan, Whitehead said.
Colorado drought planners are pushing for a reduced-use program that is “voluntary, compensated and temporary,” he said.
To avoid the potential of mandatory curtailment of water, Colorado is proposing creation of a water bank in Lake Powell supplied by water owners on a voluntary and compensated basis. The water bank would be tapped only to ensure compact and power level agreements and would help prevent future shortages for Colorado farmers. The plan would require federal legislation.
A public comment period on how the upper and lower basin states should handle drought contingency plans on the Colorado River will take place from March 5-15.
New bills in legislatureRepublican State Rep. Marc Catlin of Montrose spoke of his plans at the Colorado legislature.
Democrats have the majority in the House and Senate, and Gov. Jared Polis is also a Democrat. Working with the Democrats will be necessary to get Republican bills passed, he said.
Catlin explained some of his legislative plans.
HR 1082 would to protect the rights of an easement owner to maintain and improve their irrigation ditch, “without having to go to court every time to see if you can do it.” The bill has passed the House.HR 1026 would update fines charged by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. For example, an out-of-state fishing license is $95, but the fine for not having one is $50, Catlin said.HR 1114 says when a farm must be inspected for food safety, it will be done by the Colorado Department of Agriculture rather than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or Colorado Public Health and Environment.Catlin and Republican state Sen. Don Coram, both from Montrose, said that to protect the livestock industry, they are fighting a movement to reintroduce wolves into Colorado.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Officer Matt Thorpe said the current agency policy is against introducing wolves. He said there have been a few documented cases of northern wolves migrating into the state naturally, so no reintroduction is needed.
Montezuma County Commissioner Keenan Ertel urged Tipton to pressure the National Park Service to decontaminate boats at Lake Powell that are infested with the invasive mussel in order to protect local reservoirs.
“That should be their responsibility. They are spreading the problem,” Ertel said.
Grazing and timber Range and timber officials with the Bureau of Land Management and San Juan National Forest presented updates.
BLM range specialist Garth Nelson said the good low-elevation snow will help range and soil conditions, but he added “the area is still in drought recovery,” especially after last year’s low precipitation.
“Keep that in mind when grazing this spring and summer. The plants need time to recover,” he said.
Livestock permittees on the BLM and forest service lands had to cut herd numbers last year because of poor forage conditions from the drought.
The Plateau Fire damaged cattle fencing on Forest Service allotments, and funding is being sought to help address the problem, said Cory Ertl, forest range lead with the Dolores District. In once instance, 2.5 miles of boundary fence was burned between two allotments.
A new citizen science program is offering workshops for grazing permittees to develop their own range monitoring programs on their allotments.
San Juan national Forest official Anthony Madrid discussed the additional logging planned for the Glade area, with commitments from Montrose Forest Products.
“We are getting more demand for timber from the industry, and as an agency, timber cutting is a priority,” Madrid said.
Increased logging in the Glade area is impacting roads, said a local rancher. She urged the forest to keep up on maintenance for logging truck routes. Madrid said forest roads are targeted for improvement in the logging areas.