Gov. Polis pays a visit to Glenwood Springs to sign river task force, wolf license plate bills

With the runoff-swollen Colorado River serving as the backdrop in Glenwood Springs on Saturday afternoon, Gov. Jared Polis signed two bills into law, including one related to the river itself.

“How wonderful it is to see the river so healthy behind us today, but all too often, that’s not the case with changing climate and drought,” Polis said during the ceremony at Two Rivers Park before signing Senate Bill 295, which creates the Colorado River Drought Task Force.

The new task force is charged with meeting over the next several months before the 2024 legislative session to determine Colorado’s water needs as it continues negotiations with the Colorado River Basin users over a dwindling water supply caused by a decades-long drought.

“The task force created by 295 will bring together stakeholders with a cohesive voice, so that Colorado can maintain a very strong, united position in the interstate negotiations,” he said, acknowledging that the Ute tribes are also to be represented on the task force.

Co-sponsoring the bill were Sens. Perry Will, R-New Castle, and Dylan Roberts, D-Avon.

“Every year we’ll pray for rain, or better snowpack, but that doesn’t always work,” Will said. “This is going to be something that we can truly address with this task force and get ahead of the curve.”

Roberts noted that, with the Colorado River providing water for 40 million people across the southwestern states, the stakes are high. 

“We know that this river and its tributaries and the communities that it serves are facing immense challenges in the coming years with this ongoing drought that we are experiencing,” Roberts said. “We must face that challenge head-on, and continue being a leader. That’s what this bill is about, is taking responsible, deliberate but necessary steps to determine what Colorado needs to do next in the face of this immense challenge.”

Polis also signed House Bill 1265 during the Saturday stop in Glenwood Springs, creating the “Born to Be Wild” special license plate in conjunction with Colorado’s plan to reintroduce the gray wolf to parts of the Western Slope.

Sales from the plate, at $50 a pop, will establish a fund available to farmers and ranchers to be able utilize non-lethal means to prevent wolf conflicts with livestock and predation.

Gov. Jared Polis speaks about House Bill 1265,, creating the “Born to Be Wild” special license plate fund to help livestock producers with non-lethal wolf conflict management. Observing are, from left, Gillian Marie of Boulder who created the license plate design, plus bill co-sponsors Sen. Perry Will, Rep. Meghan Lukens, Sen. Janice Marchman and Rep. Elizabeth Velasco.
John Stroud/Post Independent

“With the reintroduction of the gray wolf to its historic range, we want to make sure we support our farmers and ranchers with non-lethal flaggery, range riders, scare devices and guard animals that are already being successfully used in other states that have wolves and have strong ranching sectors,” Polis said.

Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, D-Glenwood Springs, and Sen. Will were also co-sponsors of the license plate bill.

“Our ranchers and farmers are the keepers of the valuable resources we enjoy … and we want to make sure that (they) have all the tools in their toolbox for non-lethal management of the gray wolf,” Velasco said.

Will said he’s a “big fan” of the license plate measure to provide resources for livestock producers to help with wolf conflict prevention measures. But he did take the opportunity after the signing ceremony to express his disappointment in Gov. Polis’ veto of Senate Bill 256 earlier this week. The bipartisan bill, which Will co-sponsored with Sen. Roberts, would have established a so-called 10j designation under the federal Endangered Species Act, allowing for the lethal taking of wolves when necessary.

“Some people thought 256 was a delay tactic, and it was not,” Will said. “It was just an insurance policy to make sure we had a 10j in place before paws hit the ground.”

Will said he remains hopeful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will enact the 10j rule before wolves are released in Colorado, which is targeted for the end of this year.

That would make the failed state legislation a moot point. In any case, Will said he is skeptical that Colorado Parks and Wildlife will be able to obtain the wolves intended for release by year’s end, as planned.

Polis, in a brief interview with the Post Independent, explained his decision to veto the measure, saying it was unnecessary and would have undermined the voters’ intent in approving wolf reintroduction.

“Our administration’s focus is maximizing the ability for the state, and our farmers and ranchers, to be able to manage conflicts. And that will continue to be our priority,” the governor said, adding the license plate bill provides important resources to help livestock producers with wolf management. 

The governor’s stop in Glenwood Springs was part of a day-long Western Slope swing, during which he gave the commencement address at Colorado Mesa University, and signed several other bills in Mesa County, Rifle and Edwards.

Post Independent interim managing editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at or at 970-384-9160.

Colorado could ban the sale of gas-powered mowers and blowers beginning in 2025

All sales of gas-powered home lawn mowers, trimmers and leaf blowers would be banned in metro Denver beginning in 2025 to attack severe ozone pollution, according to draft policies circulating at the Regional Air Quality Council and targeted for a vote by statewide authorities later this year. 

The most likely proposals would also ban summer use of existing gas-powered lawn equipment by big institutional users such as schools or parks and maintenance crews beginning in 2025, and by commercial users a year after that. 

Emissions from gas-powered lawn equipment make up a surprisingly high portion of chemicals that bake into summer ozone under Colorado’s hot sun. California already has a sales ban, beginning in 2024. Various Colorado local governments have offered incentives to turn in gas equipment for voucher discounts to buy new electric gear, but a full sales ban and summer-use ban is a big trial balloon the RAQC is floating in early working group drafts.

Read the full story at

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Ganja glut? With excess weed, growers seek interstate sales

TUMWATER, Wash. (AP) — The email went out to legal cannabis growers around Washington state. Another of their colleagues had gone under.

“Liquidation sale,” it said. Attached was a spreadsheet of items for sale: LED grow lights for $500 apiece. Rotary evaporators for hash oil, $10,000.

Across the Columbia River in Oregon, where the state’s top marijuana regulator recently warned of an “existential crisis” in the industry, it’s an open secret some licensed growers have funneled product to the out-of-state black market just to stay afloat.

California’s “Apple store of weed,” MedMen, is teetering with millions in unpaid bills, while the Canadian cannabis company Curaleaf has shuttered cultivation operations in California, Oregon and Colorado.

Along the West Coast, producers face what many call the failed economics of legal pot. There is vast supply, thanks to great growing conditions and a wealth of expertise, but any surplus remains trapped within each state’s borders due to the federal ban on marijuana. Prices have plunged and producers have struggled.

“I’m at rock bottom,” said Jeremy Moberg, who owns CannaSol Farms in Washington and, like many growers, complains that the state’s 37% cannabis tax leaves virtually no profit margin.

No one expects Congress to help out by legalizing the drug nationwide. Instead, some are pinning their hopes, however faint, on President Joe Biden’s administration approving marijuana trade among states that have regulated it.

That would allow the West Coast — with its favorable climate and cheap, clean hydropower for indoor growing — to supply the rest of the country, they argue.

In Senate testimony last month, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department will soon announce a new marijuana policy. Drug policy experts say they do not expect it to go as far as permitting interstate commerce.

Nevertheless, lawmakers in Washington last week approved a “trigger bill” — modeled after ones already passed in Oregon and California — that will allow the governor to enter into interstate cannabis agreements should the feds allow it.

Twenty-one states have now legalized the recreational use of cannabis by adults.

Marijuana plants are shown at a California Street Cannabis Company location in San Francisco on March 20, 2023. Along the West Coast, which has dominated U.S. marijuana production from long before legalization, producers are struggling with what many call the failed economics of legal pot…a challenge inherent in regulating a product that remains illegal under federal law. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Legal Marijuana-Surviving the Market

How they have set up their markets has implications for how they might fare if their growers and processors are allowed to sell pot in other states.

Washington and Colorado were the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Many of the early regulations Washington adopted to keep the Justice Department at bay — including restrictions on the size of growing facilities and banning out-of-state investment — remain.

That has helped some smaller growers thrive. But it would hamstring those who hope to compete in an interstate marketplace alongside larger, more efficient producers from Oregon or California, who face fewer restrictions.

In Oregon, where sales began in 2015, large growers have achieved some economy of scale that could give them a leg up in a broader market — but in the meantime, the state’s oversupply is considered the nation’s worst.

“Cannabis in Oregon is like corn in Iowa,” said TJ Sheehy, an analyst for Oregon’s cannabis agency. “If you put a box around Iowa and said you can only grow corn in Iowa to sell to Iowans, you’d have exactly the same dynamic.”

The oversupply has been terrific for cannabis consumers.

When legalization started in Oregon in 2015, a pound of cannabis might have gone for $3,000 wholesale; today, it might be $100 to $150, said Isaac Foster, co-founder of Portland Cannabis Market, a wholesale distributor.

In Washington, which has some of the highest cannabis taxes in the country, the prices consumers pay are still cheaper than illicit weed. The state is raking in half a billion dollars a year in taxes.

But with such cheap prices, keeping the industry sustainable is a challenge.

With the spring planting season arriving, Moberg, of CannaSol Farms, says he already has three shipping containers of unsold weed, including 75% of what he produced last season.

East Fork Cultivars, one of Oregon’s first licensed growers, has thousands of pounds stashed, said co-founder Nathan Howard.

“We hope we can sell most of it to keep the lights on,” Howard said.

Oregon regulators know producers are suffering, but say they’ll be in a good position should the federal government allow interstate commerce.

Legal growers generally want to supply the legal market, rather than risk their businesses and freedom if they get caught selling out the back door. But oversupply and cheap wholesale prices have made it tough for some to survive on legal sales alone.

“They were either going to die or get creative,” said Tanner Mariani, head of sales for the Portland Cannabis Market. “And a lot of people chose to get creative and … found a way to get it from this market into the other side and then out of the state.”

Authorities have also contended with illegal farms operating under the guise of legality — notably in Oregon, where many have been financed by foreign cartels.

In California, about two-thirds of communities don’t allow legal marijuana activity, which helps the illicit market flourish.

A post-pandemic economy ushered in layoffs in the already-strained legal sector. A glut pushed wholesale prices to fire-sale levels. As in Oregon, it’s no secret some growers have fed the black market.

An analysis by cannabis investor Aaron Edelheit determined California’s legal market lost nearly one-quarter of its total growing area after the start of 2022 — “a wipeout,” he called it.

With so many California producers going out of business, wholesale prices have started to recover.

One of the first licensees was Erik Hultstrom, who began nurturing boutique buds in a steel-gated warehouse on the fringes of Los Angeles.

Five years later, he’s sold his license and is trying to contract with a large grower to sell bud under Hultstrom’s brand.

“I don’t know any companies that are really making money,” he said.

Still, not everyone is so concerned. Rob Sechrist, of the cannabis-only lender Pelorus Equity Group, described the market tumult as typical for an emerging industry.

“Every time somebody fails, market share goes to somebody else,” Sechrist said.

Indeed, cannabis distributor Nabis is opening a massive warehouse southeast of Fresno this month.

Some growers have found a happy medium.

Indoor producer Doc & Yeti Urban Farms, in Tumwater, Washington, has about 100 regular retail-store customers, said co-founder Joseph DuPuis. Brand loyalty has helped his team of 13 survive and profit.

“If you can withstand the storm, you have a chance to come out to calmer seas and survive in this market,” DuPuis said.

Colorado bill aims to address water quality at mobile home parks

State legislators have introduced a bill that would create a water-testing program at mobile home parks, addressing residents’ long-standing concerns about water quality.

House Bill 1257, which is sponsored by District 57 Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, D-Garfield County, would require the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to create a water-testing program that covers all mobile home parks in the state by 2028. If the testing finds a water-quality issue, the park owner must come up with a remediation plan and not pass the cost of fixing the problem on to the residents. 

The testing results would be made available to park residents and the public in English, Spanish and other languages. The bill would also require park owners to identify the water source and establish a grant program to help park owners pay for remediation options such as infrastructure upgrades. 

The bill was introduced March 26, and its other sponsors are Rep. Andrew Boesenecker, D- Larimer County, and Sen. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County.

Velasco, who said she lived in mobile home parks growing up, said she has heard complaints from residents about discolored water that stains clothes, smells and tastes bad, causes skin rashes, and breaks appliances. But often, those complaints go unaddressed because the water may still meet the standards of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Act. 

“The odor, the taste, the color, those are secondary traits of the water, according to these regulations,” Velasco said. “These issues are in low-income communities, majority people of color. These issues are not happening to wealthy families.”

Janelle Vega shows the light brown discoloration and sediment that settled in the bottom of a jug containing water that was taken from the tap of her Apple Tree home.

Water quality in mobile home parks is an environmental-justice issue for the Latino community. According to the Colorado Latino Climate Justice Policy Handbook, nearly 20% of Latino households live in mobile homes. And according to survey results in the 2022 Colorado Latino Policy Agenda, 41% of mobile home residents said they do not trust or drink the water in their homes. Eighty percent of survey respondents said they support new regulations requiring that mobile home parks provide their residents with clean drinking water. 

Beatriz Soto is executive director of Protegete, a Latino-led environmental initiative of Conservation Colorado that developed the climate justice handbook. Conservation Colorado supports the bill. Soto, who also lived in mobile home parks in the Roaring Fork valley, said for years she has heard the same complaints Velasco did about water quality, so she knew it was a top priority for the Latino community. The survey results confirmed the anecdotes.

“This is not just little things we are hearing here and there in the community; this is a bigger issue,” Soto said. “When you work two jobs and you have to drive two hours to work and you come home and have to go to a laundromat because you can’t wash your clothes at your residence, there’s a real cumulative impact of living under those conditions.” 

The Aspen-to-Parachute region has 55 parks, which combined have about 3,000 homes and 15,000 to 20,000 residents. Mobile home parks are some of the last neighborhoods of nonsubsidized affordable housing left in the state and provide crucial worker housing, especially in rural and resort areas. 

Residents have complained about the water quality in some parks for years, but agencies have lacked the regulatory authority to enforce improvements. Recently, residents in parks near Durango and in Summit County have lacked running water for weeks at a time.

The Apple Tree Community is located just west of New Castle on County Road 335. Residents have long complained about water quality in some mobile home parks, and a new bill at the state legislature aims to address that.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent file

Voces Unidas de las Montanas, a Latino-led advocacy nonprofit that is based in Colorado’s central mountains and works in the Roaring Fork Valley, is one of the organizations leading Clean Water for All Colorado, a committee that helped to craft the legislation. 

“Many of us who grew up in mobile home parks, myself included, have always known and normalized buying bottled water from the store, and it’s because we don’t trust our water,” said Alex Sanchez, president and CEO of Voces Unidas. “Many residents have been complaining and calling for action for decades, and no one has answered their call.” 

Sanchez said the bill is his organization’s No. 1 legislative priority this session.

Rocky Mountain Home Association and Colorado Manufactured Housing Coalition oppose the bill. Tawny Peyton, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Home Association, said the mobile home park industry has been bombarded with sweeping law changes in recent years, causing confusion and additional operation and legal costs. Laws enacted in 2019, 2020 and 2022 granted extra protections to mobile home park residents. 

“The Rocky Mountain Home Association is concerned with the entire bill,” Peyton said in an email. “Why is the mobile home park industry being singly targeted with this legislation? Industry was not made aware that mobile home park water quality was such an issue that a 23-page bill was warranted.”

Bill proponents acknowledge that the issue may take years to get resolved and that new regulations would be just the first step toward gathering data and assessing the problem. 

“This is just a first stab at trying to resolve this issue,” Soto said. “This is establishing a framework to start testing and get all the information and documenting all the water sources for mobile home parks to determine what is the problem.”

House Bill 1257 is scheduled for a hearing by the Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee on Wednesday.

Aspen Journalism

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times. For more, go to

Compensation, lethal take and license plates: Western Slope legislators introduce bipartisan bills related to wolf reintroduction

With wolf reintroduction on the horizon, Western Slope legislators introduced three bills on Tuesday, March 28, to support the ranching and agricultural communities through this change.

According to Colorado Sen. Dylan Roberts, Colorado Parks and Wildlife remains on track to reintroduce the first round of wolves by Dec. 31.

One bill regarding purchasable license plates supporting ranchers will start in the state House, while the other two bills regarding compensation and lethal take will start in the Senate. According to Colorado Rep. Meghan Lukens, legislators from the Western Slope are all either prime or co-sponsors for the three bills.

The two bills in the Senate largely involve accounting for oversights that may have existed when voters passed Proposition 114 in 2020 to reintroduce gray wolves.

One bill concerns compensation and expands upon the parameters outlined in Proposition 114. Ballot language said owners would be compensated for their losses if the reintroduced wolves kill their livestock. 

Sponsored by Sen. Roberts, House Speaker Julie McCluskie, Sen. Perry Will and Rep. Marc Catlin, the bill would create a compensation fund within the Department of Natural Resources to pay livestock owners for their losses.

“An implementation plan is already laying out the parameters for how much people can get reimbursed,” Roberts said. “By creating this in statute, we are dedicating funds that will always be available for compensation, regardless of what happens with the state budget or DNR programming.”

Roberts said the bill would allocate $175,000 for the first six months of reintroductions and $350,000 a year after that, with the money coming from the general fund.

Another bill concerns the state securing a 10(j) waiver, deeming the wolves as an experimental population under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act, and it is sponsored by Roberts, Will and Rep. Matt Soper. 

A 10(j) rule would allow the state to manage wolves in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an “experimental population” with more flexibility than typically afforded to listed species.

This would permit ranchers and property owners to utilize lethal action, only as a method of last resort, in the event livestock or working animals are in immediate danger.

This bill seeks to address the fact that when voters first passed Proposition 114, gray wolves had been delisted as an endangered species. Two years after the passing of the bill in 2022 the wolves were put back on the endangered species list. Federally, killing an endangered species warrants a felony charge.

“We at the legislature believe that when voters passed Proposition 114, they didn’t know gray wolves would be listed as endangered,” Roberts said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is in the process of applying for a 10(j) waiver from U.S. Fish and Wildlife. This is intended to give ranchers and Colorado Parks and Wildlife the same management and mitigation tools that they thought they were going to have before the species was listed as endangered, including lethal take.

“Proposition 114 directed the state not to impose restrictions on private land owners. The 10(j) helps meet the intent of that language,” said Gaspar Perricone, chair of the Colorado Wildlife Conservation Project.

According to Roberts, CPW is on track to receive a 10(j) waiver in December, but legal challenges could push the process back.

Sens. Roberts and Will expressed that legislators, ranchers and community members are very nervous about that timeline with the reintroduction of wolves scheduled for Dec. 31.

“The prospect of a reintroduction without a 10(j) is worrisome.” Perricone said. “The state has invested significant time, effort and money into the development of a state-based approach with statewide stakeholder involvement.”

Perricone said that casting those efforts aside and granting all management authority to the federal government would undercut a successful wolf reintroduction. He added it would have significant implications on the other species of wildlife across the state.

In addition to this, the bill also states the National Environmental Policy Act process that would assess the environmental impact of the reintroduction also needs to happen beforehand. The legislators anticipate this will also be done Dec. 15.

“If wolves hit the ground before we have 10(j), it’s a moot point, it doesn’t matter at that point,” Sen. Will said. “It’s critical we get this.”

The third bill would create a “born to be wild” special license plate.

“The funds that are raised from the creation of the license plates are to be used for nonlethal means for mitigating conflict with gray wolves,” Rep. Lukens explained. “Should a ranch be navigating a wolf pack, then they will be able to access this money that is meant for nonlethal measures to deter wolves from harassing the ranch.”

Lukens expressed that the purpose of the license plate is to support our ranching communities through navigating wolves.

The license plate would cost $100, and $25 would to go to highway users tax fund while $50 dollars is credited to wildlife cash fund for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and $25 dollars is credited to the Colorado Driver License, Record, Identification and Vehicle Enterprise Solution service account.

Sen. Roberts said he and Rep. Lukens toured some ranches in Jackson County following instances with wolves killing livestock and family pets.

“Unfortunately it’s a preview of what will happen in other parts of the Western Slope,” Roberts said.

Kit Geary is the Routt County, public safety and education reporter for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a sister publication to the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. To reach her, call 970-871-4229 or email her at

Railroad’s plan to haul waxy crude through Colorado’s mountains needs $2 billion in government-approved bonds

There’s a new battleground for opponents hoping to stop controversial plans for a short railroad in Utah that could roll 350,000 barrels of dense crude a day through Colorado. 

Utah’s Seven County Infrastructure Coalition earlier this month approved a resolution allowing the owners of the railroad to secure up to $2 billion in “private activity bonds” to finance the construction of the 88-mile railroad that will connect Utah’s Uinta Basin oil fields with the national railroad network. Those bonds will cover only 70% of the project, so the Uinta Basin Railroad could cost as much as $2.9 billion after funding from private investors. The project was originally priced at $1.4 billion when the Surface Transportation Board began studying the plan four years ago.

The bonds are allocated by the federal Department of Transportation, which has approved $16.9 billion of the bonds for transportation projects in 22 states since 2006. All the projects are highway improvements plus a passenger rail project in Florida, with no oil or freight rail plans receiving funding. In Colorado, private activity bonds have delivered $114.7 million to the Central 70 project; $20.4 million for expanded lanes on U.S. 36 between Boulder and Denver; and $397.8 million for RTD’s transportation plan in metro Denver.

The tax-exempt bonds offer very low interest rates, allowing developers — typically public entities — to pursue publicly beneficial projects. A private entity who uses the bonds to finance a project needs the endorsement of a public group — like Utah’s Seven County Infrastructure Coalition.

That endorsement came earlier this month as the coalition — which formed in 2014 to support the construction of the Uinta Basin Railway as a way to better move the region’s waxy crude to Gulf Coast refineries and support the basin’s oil industry — approved a plan that could deliver one of the largest private activity bond issuances ever to the railroad owner, Uinta Basin Railway, LLC.


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California is lone holdout in Colorado River cuts proposal

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Six Western states that rely on water from the Colorado River have agreed on a model to dramatically cut water use in the basin, months after the federal government called for action and an initial deadline passed.

California — with the largest allocation of water from the river — is the lone holdout. Officials said the state would release its own plan.

The Colorado River and its tributaries pass through seven states and into Mexico, serving 40 million people and a $5 billion-a-year agricultural industry. Some of the largest cities in the country, including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver and Las Vegas, two Mexican states, Native American tribes and others depend on the river that’s been severely stressed by drought, demand and overuse.

States missed a mid-August deadline to heed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s call to propose ways to conserve 2 million to 4 million acre feet of water. They regrouped to reach consensus by the end of January to fold into a larger proposal Reclamation has in the works.

Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming sent a letter Monday to Reclamation, which operates the major dams in the river system, to outline an alternative that builds on existing guidelines, deepens water cuts and factors in water that’s lost through evaporation and transportation.

Those states propose raising the levels where water reductions would be triggered at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which are barometers of the river’s health. The model creates more of a protective buffer for both reservoirs — the largest built in the U.S. It also seeks to fix water accounting and ensure that any water the Lower Basin states intentionally stored in Lake Mead is available for future use.

The modeling would result in about 2 million acre-feet of cuts in the Lower Basin, with smaller reductions in the Upper Basin. Mexico and California are factored into the equations, but neither signed on to Monday’s letter.

John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said all states have been negotiating in good faith.

“I don’t view not having unanimity at one step in that process to be a failure,” he said late Monday. “I think all seven states are still committed to working together.”

California released a proposal last October to cut 400,000 acre feet. An acre foot is enough water to supply two to three U.S. households for a year.

JB Hamby, chair of the Colorado River Board of California, said California will submit a model for water reductions in the basin that is practical, based on voluntary action, and aligns with law governing the river and the hierarchy of water rights.

“California remains focused on practical solutions that can be implemented now to protect volumes of water in storage without driving conflict and litigation,” he said in a statement Monday.

Nothing will happen immediately with the consensus reached among the six states. However, not reaching a consensus carried the risk of having the federal government alone determine how to eventually impose cuts.

By not signing on, California doesn’t avoid that risk.

The debates over how to cut water use by roughly one-third have been contentious. The Upper Basin states of Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah have said the Lower Basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada — must do the heavy lifting. That conversation in the Lower Basin has centered on what’s legal and what’s fair.

The six states that signed Monday’s proposal acknowledged ideas they put forth could be excluded from final plans to operate the river’s major dams. Negotiations are ongoing, they noted, adding that what they proposed does not override existing rights states and others have to the Colorado River.

“There’s a lot of steps, commitments that need to be made at the federal, state and local levels,” said Entsminger of Nevada.

Monday’s proposal included accounting for the water lost to evaporation and leaky infrastructure as the river flows through the region’s dams and waterways. Federal officials estimate more than 10% of the river’s flow evaporates, leaks or spills, yet Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico have never accounted for that water loss.

The six states argued that Lower Basin states should share those losses — essentially subtracting those amounts from their allocations — once the elevation at Lake Mead sinks below 1,145 feet (349 meters). The reservoir was well below that Monday.

Reclamation will consider the six states’ agreement as part of a larger proposal to revise how it operates Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams — behemoth power producers on the Colorado River. The reservoirs behind the dams — Lake Powell and Lake Mead — have reached historic lows amid a more than two-decade-long drought and climate change.

Reclamation plans to put out a draft of that proposal by early March, with a goal of finalizing it by mid-August when the agency typically announces the amount of water available for the following year. Reclamation has said it will do what’s needed to ensure the dams can continue producing hydropower and deliver water.

Those annual August announcements have led to mandatory cuts for the past two years for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico in the river’s Lower Basin. California has so far been spared from cuts because it has some of the oldest and most secure water rights, particularly in the Imperial Valley where much of the country’s winter vegetables are grown, along with the Yuma, Arizona, region.

Without California’s participation, the six states’ proposal can only go so far to meet the hydrological realities of the river. Water managers in the Lower Basin say the scale of conservation Reclamation is seeking cannot be met without California, tribes and farmers who draw directly from the Colorado River.

Also unclear is how much Mexico eventually will contribute to the savings. In the best water years, Mexico receives its full allocation of 1.5 million acre feet under a treaty reached with the U.S. in 1944.

In the West, pressure to count water lost to evaporation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Exposed to the beating sun and hot dry air, more than 10% of the water carried by the Colorado River evaporates, leaks or spills as the 1,450-mile powerhouse of the West flows through the region’s dams, reservoirs and open-air canals.

For decades, key stewards of the river have ignored the massive water loss, instead allocating Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico their share of the river without subtracting what’s evaporated.

But the 10% can no longer be ignored, hydrologists, state officials and other western water experts say.

The West’s multi-decade drought has sent water levels in key reservoirs along the river to unprecedented lows. Officials from Nevada and Arizona say that they, together with California, now need to account for how much water is actually in the river.

The challenge is in finding a method that California also agrees to.

“It’s very hard to get consensus,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. She thinks it’s unlikely that states will reach an agreement on their own, without federal intervention.

Unlike Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico, the upriver or Upper Basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — already take into account evaporation losses.

Now with a looming federal deadline for Colorado River basin states to say how they’ll use at least 15% less water from the river, there’s renewed urgency for Arizona, California and Nevada to factor in what’s lost to evaporation.

One proposal comes from Nevada: States at the end of the river would see their Colorado River portion shrink based on the distance it travels to reach users. The farther south the river travels, the more water is lost as temperatures rise and water is exposed to the elements for longer.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates that roughly 1.5 million acre-feet of water are lost to evaporation, transportation and inefficiencies each year in Arizona, Nevada and California. That’s 50% more than Utah uses in a whole year.

Nevada and Arizona could be on board with this plan.

Nevada stands to lose the least under this plan since Lake Mead — the man-made reservoir from which Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico draw water — sits in its backyard.

Tom Buschatzke, director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources, called Nevada’s proposal fair.

“Calculating the losses as Nevada has proposed is probably the most equitable and matches the real, physical world,” Buschatzke said. “The further you are, the more the losses are.”

But crucially, California disagrees. Officials there have said Nevada’s plan would likely run afoul of western water law. California has rights to the largest share of Colorado River water. Just as important, in times of shortage, water cuts come later than for other users, based on the so-called Law of the River, a series of overlapping agreements, court decisions and contracts that determine how the river is shared. Its senior water rights mean it has been spared from cuts so far.

California water managers have said evaporation and system losses should be accounted for based on this existing system. In a December letter to federal officials, Christopher Harris, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, said any other approach could “face considerable legal and technical challenges.”

For Arizona, that could mean shouldering losses so significant that some experts say the drinking water supply for Phoenix could be threatened due to diminished deliveries to the the Central Arizona Project, the 336-mile (541-kilometer) aqueduct system that delivers Colorado River water to that metro area and Tucson.

Under Nevada’s plan, California would pay a steep price. In addition to using more water from the river than any other state, its water travels some of the longest distances. California’s Imperial Irrigation District, the single largest of all users of Colorado River water, would lose about 19% of its share. The region grows many of the nation’s winter vegetables and alfalfa, and Imperial has said it disagrees with issuing water cuts according to evaporative losses at all.

Tina Shields, water manager for Imperial Irrigation District, said Arizona and Nevada — whose water rights are more junior than California’s — were advocating for the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plan because it would benefit them to share the losses.

“When you have a junior, right, that’s what you do,” Shields said. “You try to share the problem with other users.”

According to John Fleck, a researcher at the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, Lower Basin states have avoided recognizing these losses for so long in part because there was no need to in decades past. Water was plentiful and some states didn’t take all the water to which they were legally entitled.

In many cases, the infrastructure needed to deliver water — vast canals, dams and waterways — did not exist.

“The problem goes back to when … no one needed to care about this issue,” Fleck said.”

The difficult politics involved have also made the issue somewhat untouchable, Fleck said.

“No one was willing to take it on,” Fleck said. “It all comes down to the same thing: you have to take less water out of the system.”

AP Exclusive: Emails reveal tensions in Colorado River talks

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Competing priorities, outsized demands and the federal government’s retreat from a threatened deadline stymied a deal last summer on how to drastically reduce water use from the parched Colorado River, emails obtained by The Associated Press show.

The documents span the June-to-August window the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation gave states to reach consensus on water cuts for a system that supplies 40 million people annually — or have the federal government force them. They largely include communication among water officials in Arizona and California, the major users in the river’s Lower Basin.

Reclamation wanted the seven U.S. states that rely on the river to decide how to cut 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water — or up to roughly one-third — on top of already anticipated reductions. The emails, obtained through a public records request, depict a desire to reach a consensus but persistent disagreement over how much each state could or should give.

As the deadline approached without meaningful progress, one water manager warned: “We’re all headed to a very dark place.”

“The challenges we had this summer were significant challenges, they truly were,” Chris Harris, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, said in an interview about the early negotiations. “I don’t know that anybody was to blame, I genuinely don’t. There were an awful lot of different interpretations of what was being asked and what we were trying to do.”

Scientists say the megadrought gripping the southwestern U.S. is the worst in 1,200 years, putting a deep strain on the Colorado River as key reservoirs dip to historically low levels. If states don’t begin taking less out of the river, the major reservoirs threaten to fall so low they can’t produce hydropower or supply any water at all to farms that grow crops for the rest of the nation and cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

The future of the river seemed so precarious last summer that some water managers felt attempting to reach a voluntary deal was futile — only mandated cuts would stave off crisis.

“We are out of time and out of any cushion to allow for a voluntary plan,” Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, told a Bureau of Reclamation official in a July 18 email.

As 2023 begins, fresh incentives make the states more likely to give up water. The federal government has put up $4 billion for drought relief, and Colorado River users have submitted proposals to get some of that money through actions like leaving fields unplanted. Some cities are ripping up thirsty decorative grass, and tribes and major water agencies have left some water in key reservoirs — either voluntarily or by mandate.

Reclamation also has agreed to spend $250 million mitigating hazards at a drying California lake bed, a condition of the state’s water users agreeing to cut their use by 400,000 acre feet in a proposal released in October.

The Interior Department is still evaluating proposals for a slice of the $4 billion and can’t say how much savings it will generate, Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said in an interview.

The states are again trying to reach a grand bargain — with a deadline of Tuesday — so that Reclamation can factor it into a larger plan to modify operations at Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam, behemoth power producers on the Colorado River. Failure to do so would set up the possibility of the federal government imposing cuts — a move that could invite litigation.

Figuring out who absorbs additional water cuts has been contentious, with allegations of drought profiteering, reneging on commitments, too many negotiators in the room and an unsteady hand from the federal government, the emails and follow-up interviews showed.

California says it’s a partner willing to sacrifice, but other states see it as a reluctant participant clinging to a water priority system where it ranks near the top. Arizona and Nevada have long felt they’re unfairly forced to bear the brunt of cuts because of a water rights system developed long ago, a simmering frustration that reared its head during talks.

Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton’s call for a massive water cut in testimony to Congress on June 14 was a public bombshell of sorts. A week earlier, with a heads-up from the federal government, the Lower Basin states talked about collectively, with Mexico, cutting up to 2 million acre-feet during a meeting in Salt Lake City, the emails and interviews showed.

But as the weeks passed and proposals were exchanged, the Lower Basin states barely reached half that amount, and the commitment was nowhere near firm, the emails showed. Adding to the difficulty was not knowing what Mexico, which also has a share of the river, might contribute.

In a series of exchanges through July, Arizona and California each proposed multiple ways to achieve cuts, building on existing agreements tied to the levels of Lake Mead, factoring in the water lost to evaporation or inefficient infrastructure, and fiercely protecting a priority system, though it was clear negotiators were becoming weary.

The states shared disdain for a proposal from farmers near Yuma and southern California to be paid $1,500 an acre foot for water they conserved. Former Central Arizona Project general manager Ted Cooke responded by suggesting the farmers make it work at one-third of the price, which still was higher but closer to going rates.

In late July, Harris, of California, emailed a proposal to the Bureau of Reclamation outlining scenarios in the range of 1 million acre feet in cuts, saying it was imperative negotiators be able to “declare some level of victory.”

“Otherwise,” he wrote, “I genuinely believe that we are at an impasse, and we’re all headed to a very dark place.”

But ultimately, Arizona and Nevada never felt that California was willing to give enough.

“It was futile, it wasn’t enough. We did not trust that California was going to come through on their piece of it,” Cooke said in an interview.

By then, Reclamation privately told the states — but didn’t acknowledge publicly — that it backed away from the supposed mid-August deadline, officials involved in the talks said. Beaudreau, the deputy Interior secretary, said in an interview the deadline was never meant to create an ultimatum between reaching a deal and forced cuts.

But state officials said when it became clear the federal government wouldn’t act unilaterally, it created a “chilling effect” that removed the urgency from the talks because water users with higher-priority water rights were no longer at risk of harsh cuts, Arizona’s Buschatzke said in an interview.

“Without that hammer, there was a different tone of negotiations,” he said.

Today, the Interior Department’s priority remains ensuring Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam have enough water in them to maintain hydropower, and the department will do whatever is necessary to ensure that, Beaudreau said.

The Upper Basin states of New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado — which historically haven’t used their full supplies — are looking toward the Lower Basin states to do much of the work.

Reclamation is now focused on weighing the latest round of comments from states on how to save the river. Nevada wants to count water lost to evaporation and transportation in water allocations — a move that could mean the biggest volume of cuts for California — and some Arizona water managers agree, comment letters obtained by the AP show.

But disputes remain over how to determine what level of cuts are fair and legal. California’s goal remains protecting its status while other states and tribes want more than old water rights taken into account — such as whether users have access to other water sources, and the effects of cuts on disadvantaged communities and food security.

Reclamation’s goal is to get a draft of proposed cuts out by early March, then a final decision before mid-August, when Reclamation regularly announces how much — or how little — river water is available for the next year.

Funding, teacher retention, and safety biggest issues Colorado educators aim to fix, according to statewide report

A state of education report released by the Colorado Education Association, which is the state’s largest teachers union, revealed challenges and concerns facing today’s educators. The biggest issues addressed were funding, teacher shortages, and safety.

Public schools can’t operate without funding, and, although Coloradans pride themselves on being progressive and championing inclusion and the public good, CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert said the state’s budget tells a different story when it comes to education.

“We live every single day as educators with an understanding of how budgets oftentimes are not reflecting the values that are expressed by so many who say they support public education,” she said.

Colorado educators make 35.9% less than a comparable educated professional, according to the report. Brooke Williams, Jefferson County education association president, said they have seen many educators leave the profession, which causes an increased workload for the remaining educators.

“We really want to see an investment in our educators, so that we can support our students and give them the education that they deserve and attract and retain our educators,” she said.

Both physical and mental safety were addressed in the report, as well. According to Baca-Ohlert, the three most often cited factors harming the well being of students and educators are lack of mental-health support, lack of LGBTQ+ acceptance and inclusion, and preponderance of access to firearms.

Kacey Ellis, president of the Cherry Creek Education Association and a middle-school teacher, said they recently had 14 teachers complete mental-health and first-aid training through the state. The goal of the training was to aid in identifying educators who may be struggling and help them to access mental-health strategies.

“We are caretakers, and we want to take care of our students, and we neglect to take care of ourselves; and, oftentimes, we hit a crisis point we don’t realize (that) we’re there,” said Ellis. “This training really helped myself and the other 13 people who trained with me to see early symptoms and maybe be able to intervene early.”

According to Baca-Ohlert, 85% of LGBTQ+ educators are not out at school or in the workplace.

“Though our focus is on educators, it’s important to understand that these statistics on how welcome or unwelcome our LGBTQ+ educators feel at their schools provides a mirror for how our LGBTQ-plus students feel at their schools, as well,” she said.

Dave Lockley, president of the District 12 Educators Association and an Adams 12 school district social-studies teacher, said many staff are not comfortable coming out because of the lack of systems and structures in place to support staff and build an inclusive environment.

The release of the report also revealed that 67% of educators are “very” or “somewhat worried” about a mass shooting at their school. Of the educators surveyed, 69% said that they would not feel safer if they were allowed to carry a gun.

“The vast majority answered that educators would like their schools to prioritize more mental-health supports, as opposed to hardening the school situation,” said Kevin Vick, vice president of CEA and a social-studies teacher in the Colorado Springs area.

Although progress has been made over the years, Baca-Ohlert said there is still a lot of work to be done.

Rep. Meghan Lukens, a Democrat from Steamboat Springs, is co-sponsoring a bill that would streamline the process to make Colorado teacher licensing more efficient for educators coming from out of state.

“We can come together as Coloradans, as policymakers to do better for the students and educators of Colorado. And, that is where we look to setting forth our legislative priorities on the things that we can do to change these statistics around and to ensure that all our students and educators have the schools that they deserve,” she said.

To reach Audrey Ryan, email her at