| PostIndependent.com

Colorado Springs gay club shooting was ‘desecration’ of safe space

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — In the mostly conservative city of Colorado Springs, Club Q has long been a go-to spot for members of the LGBTQ community — a safe space where many felt they could let down their guard and just be themselves.

It’s a place where LGBTQ teenagers can’t wait to be old enough to enter to dance under the neon lights. It’s one of the first spots new LGBTQ residents are sent to meet others in the community and feel a sense of belonging.

But all that was shattered this weekend when a gunman entered the club as people were drinking and dancing — killing five people and leaving 17 with gunshot wounds. As the community mourns the lives lost, many are also grieving because it happened at a place that’s seen as a sanctuary for many longing to fit in.

“We weren’t out harming anyone. We were in our space, our community, our home, enjoying ourselves like everybody else does,” said Joshua Thurman, who was on the dance floor when the shooting started. “How can we now do anything knowing something like this can happen?”

Club Q is an 18-and-up gay and lesbian nightclub that features dancing, drag shows, karaoke and drag bingo, according to its website. It’s Facebook page, which boasts “Nobody Parties like Club Q!,” posted flyers for a Halloween party, a shots party, as well as trivia. Some describe it as a cozy, welcoming place that has drawn those who wanted to sit down for a meal and relax, as well as those who wanted to dance into the morning hours.

The club’s doors remained closed after the shooting, as many people left flowers on a corner nearby.

Stoney Roberts, the southern Colorado field organizer for One Colorado, an LGBTQ advocacy group, described it as a sacred space and said the shooting felt like a “desecration.”

Roberts, a nonbinary trans person, graduated from high school in 2007 and couldn’t wait to be old enough to go to Club Q, which, Roberts said, back then was one of the only safe spaces in Colorado Springs for LGBTQ people.

“I came of age there,” said Roberts, who performed in Club Q’s drag shows from 2009 through 2011. “If it were not for Club Q, if it were not for the experiences I had there, I would not be the person I am, and I would not be nearly as passionate about supporting the community as I am.”

A sense of home for members of the LGBTQ community is what Matthew Haynes, one of the club’s co-founders, hoped to create when he started the club two decades ago.

“There have been so many happy stories from Club Q,” Haynes told The Colorado Sun. “People meeting and relationships being born. So many celebrations there. We’re a family of people more than a place to have a drink and dance and leave.”

Colorado’s laws are now among the country’s friendliest to LGBTQ people, though it wasn’t always that way, and Colorado Springs was particularly unwelcoming.

The city has been home to Focus on the Family, a fundamentalist Christian organization that lobbied against LGBTQ rights, and to Colorado for Family Values, which pushed in 1992 for a constitutional amendment to prevent local governments from enacting anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people. Though Colorado voters approved the amendment, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1996.

Ashlyn May, 18, and Reese Congleton, 19, grew up in Colorado Springs feeling as if they had to keep their queer identity quiet. May recalls being looked at with disgust when, in a middle school class, she proposed that Queen’s song “I Want to Break Free” was about exploring coming out as gay.

Even now, “it’s scary to hold hands in public,” Congleton said.

Congleton was nervous to go to Club Q for the first time because she hadn’t come out to many people or been to a bar before. Inside, rainbow lights bounced around the room where drag queens would make their grand entrance through a curtain on the stage.

The lively audience was excited for Congleton, who said she went from feeling like she had been merely tolerated in public to “being celebrated. … It’s really special to not feel alone.”

That’s why May attended bingo on Wednesday evenings, where a drag queen’s compliment about an outfit tore away their insecurities. “Yes, I am hot!” said May, who was excited to bring their queer younger sister to Club Q for bingo this week to show her “it’s okay to be queer, and it’s okay to love who you love.”

Justin Godwin, 24, and his friend visited Club Q for the first time Saturday, and left in an Uber just minutes before the shooting. He said he’s been thinking of all the people who were dancing, sitting at the bar and enjoying the night.

“They’re all there for different reasons, whether they’re regulars, their first time, they’re celebrating something. It’s just supposed to be a fun environment where we feel safe, where people aren’t judging you, giving you looks or anything,” Godwin said. “You’re just being yourself, like no matter how you look, like everyone just feels welcome.”

“It’s just crazy to think someone had the intentions to go in there and just do any harm to anybody,” he said. “It’s just sad for people who find a home somewhere and it gets ruined.”

Korrie Bovee, who identifies as queer, said Club Q has been the cornerstone of a community of like-minded people who have each others’ backs, in a city where verbal harassment is not uncommon and freedom to be oneself is not always found in schools or churches in Colorado Springs.

“My kids live here,” the 33-year-old said, wiping a tear from her eye. “It’s just hard to know I’m raising my kids in this context.”

Roberts said Club Q is laid out in a “cozy, warm way” with a bar area, a dance floor and a DJ booth. There is a patio where people can gather outside. And the DJs are “always amazing.”

“There just is an overwhelming feeling of authenticity and a welcoming energy,” Roberts said. “That level of comfort is so important. … My heart goes out to people who thought they were in the arms of that comfort and that turned out not to be the case.”

Roberts said that as a Black queer person, most places in Colorado Springs seem welcoming, but there is always that “underlying nuance of realizing where you are.”

At Club Q: “You can take a deep breath and you can be your authentic self.”

‘Queersgiving’ tailgate planned for Carbondale

When trying to figure out what could be done for the LGBTQ+ community after such a tragedy, Thanksgiving seemed like a great time to bring the community together for love and support. 

“Thanksgiving is a big week for a lot of queer people just because they don’t have like a safe, loving environment,” Kaleb Cook, who runs the nonprofit Cook Inclusive Company, said. “Typically, they have unaccepting family members to go to for Thanksgiving, and so I wanted to make sure that everyone, especially in this time of darkness, has a place and a community to go to during Thanksgiving.”

If You Go…

What: Queersgiving Tailgate

When: 8 a.m. Thursday

Where: Carbondale Recreation Center, 567 Colorado Ave. 

More than 200,000 Colorado kids could lose Medicaid coverage starting next year, though many remain eligible for government help

Hundreds of thousands of Coloradans who rely on government-subsidized health insurance programs could lose coverage beginning next year, many of them children whose families otherwise can’t afford the checkups, vaccines and preventive care kids need in their earliest years.

It’s a problem bearing down on families across the country with the federal public health emergency set to expire Jan. 11. The federal declaration, issued at the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than two years ago, barred states from releasing anyone from Medicaid rolls during the health crisis. Unless the federal government extends the emergency order — it previously extended the order to mid-October — about 700,000 Coloradans could lose access to Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus, a public health insurance option for people whose income is too high to qualify them for Medicaid. 

About 220,000 of those people are kids, according to data provided by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing. 

The department estimates that about 55% of the 700,000 people at risk of being cut from a government health insurance plan will actually lose their coverage. Many of those children and families could be dropped from health insurance coverage despite still being eligible for government assistance.

Read the full story via the Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.

Patagonia’s pitch for the planet: CEO transfers ownership to combat climate change

“The earth is our main shareholder,” according to Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s press release.| Screenshot from Patagonia.com

Long before you could buy your Patagonia apparel and gear at the Snowmass Village Mall, company founder Yvon Chouinard was an avid rock climber and mountain man living in California.

He made his start by crafting durable gear for he and his friend’s outdoor adventures.

Chouinard wanted to cultivate an outdoor brand that strived to do less harm to the environment than traditional brands.

“I never wanted to be a businessman,” he said in a release from Patagonia. “I started as a craftsman, making climbing gear for my friends and myself, then got into apparel.”

With the brand now valued at $3 billion, Chouinard and his family transferred ownership to a special trust and nonprofit organization dedicated to combating climate change, The New York Times first reported.

The newly established organization, Holdfast Collective, will now receive 98% of the companies profits, an estimated $100 million a year, according to The New York Times. The money from the organization will be funneled into nonprofit environmental groups and political organizations.

The other 2% — all of the company’s voting stock — will go to the newly established Patagonia Purpose Trust. The trust was created so the Chouinard family and advisers can oversee operations, making sure the brand continues its commitments to social and environmental welfare.

Shades of green

Prior to this initiative, Patagonia reportedly donated 1% of profits every year to climate change organizations.

According to a McKinsey Sustainability report from 2021, less than 1% of philanthropic donations in the United States goes to environmental nonprofits, making Patagonia’s recent initiative all the more groundbreaking.

Still, the fashion industry is said to be one of the most polluting industries in the world, trailing the oil and gas industry.

Patagonia may not fully claim they are a “fashion” business, but they still produce new apparel every year. While companies can do their best to mitigate the impacts they have on the environment, there’s no way to be fully sustainable when producing new items of anything.

The fashion industry is responsible for an estimated 3% of global carbon emissions, emitting more than 850 million tons of carbon per year, according to a 2017 study published in Semantic Scholar.

However, unlike many brands that tout their environmental efforts, Patagonia isn’t afraid to admit their business does have a negative impact on the planet.

The brand ran an ad in The New York Times on Black Friday stating, “Don’t Buy This Jacket.”

Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad on Black Friday in The New York Times.
Screen Shot from Patagonia.com

In response to the ad, the brand said, “Each piece of Patagonia clothing, whether or not it’s organic or uses recycled materials, emits several times its weight in greenhouse gases, generates at least another half garment’s worth of scrap and draws down copious amounts of freshwater now growing scarce everywhere on the planet.”

New capitalism

Chouinard has bold intentions with giving away his company. He told The New York Times in an exclusive interview that he hopes his company will inspire “a new form of capitalism that doesn’t end up with a few rich people and a bunch of poor people.”

In typical succession fashion, the company could have been passed down to his children, but they reportedly didn’t want it.

Ryan Gellert, Patagonia’s chief executive officer, told The New York Times that the children “embody this notion that every billionaire is a policy failure.”

While Patagonia’s efforts have been applauded by many, the intention has been met with skepticism as well, with some saying they think this could be just a typical tax ploy.

According to Grist, the company paid $17.5 million in taxes on their donations, which was a small percentage of the money funneled in. The 501(c)(4) organization receiving Patagonia’s profits will be considered tax-exempt by the IRS. This is murky, considering the trust still allows the Chouinards to oversee all operations.

Others have noted that Patagonia’s recent move isn’t all that new. Prior to this, billionaire Barre Seid donated $1.6 billion to a conservative nonprofit organization, The New York Times reported in August.

Therefore, this “new form of capitalism” could be under the guise of good-hearted philanthropy but could further the trend of the ultra-wealthy buying more political power than before.

Aspen’s 100

This news comes at a contentious time for income inequality.

Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley have felt the effects of the ultra-wealthy, and roughly 100 billionaires can call the area home, or second home.

“Basalt has been Aspenized,” Denise Drake told Elizabeth Key in an opinion piece published by The Aspen Times in August. “The billionaires pushed the millionaires to Basalt.”

A question is how many may follow Chouinard’s new form of capitalism —and even whether that would be a good thing.

kmohammadi@aspentimes.com

Statewide report shows Latino policy priorities dominated by economics

In its second year, the Colorado Latino Policy Agenda seeks to provide elected officials, community leaders and policymakers with an insight into the makeup, views and priorities of Latinos in Colorado.

“The 2022 Colorado Latino Policy Agenda makes clear that the challenges facing Latinos when it comes to jobs, housing and the economy are severe — and in need of significant action from officials at the local, state and federal levels,” said Alex Sánchez, President and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, at a press conference for the new report on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

“With fresh data revealing new priorities for Latinos, this year’s report also allows us to expand on our research base from 2021 as we work with elected officials and community leaders to recommend and explore solutions for the future,” Alex Sánchez added.

The 2022 report was commissioned by the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), COLOR Action Fund, Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund.

The survey, conducted by BSP Research, surveyed 1,504 Latino registered voters from across the state. Gabriel Sanchez, who led the poll for BSP Research, said on Wednesday that this made it “the largest survey of its kind in Colorado,” and was designed to give it a small margin of error as well as an opportunity to compare results across four regions in the state.

The results from the survey are broken down by segments including demographics as well as by the Denver, Northeast, Southeast and Western regions of Colorado.

“This is unprecedented research and we have never been able to pull out data by region or by congressional district. Localizing data is critical for the discussions that need to be had at the local and regional level. Our goal is for community members, policymakers, media and others to have relevant polling data that can be used for local action,” Alex Sánchez said Thursday in an interview with the Vail Daily

Additionally, the importance of this data can be seen in some of the data itself. At the press conference, Gabriel Sanchez said that while the report shows high enthusiasm and intention for Latinos to vote in elections, 58% responded that they are not being reported contacted (or mobilized) on political and policy matters in the state.

In Congressional Districts 2 and 3 — which both represent portions of Eagle County — these numbers were even higher with 67% and 69% of participants responding they had not been contacted regarding the election. These were the highest percentages in the state.

With this, Alex Sánchez said on Wednesday that it showed the “need to do more work to ensure that we’re all participating in the democracy,” issuing a call for the political system and candidates in Colorado to “do better.”

“Mainstream polling oftentimes includes Latinos. But in a sample of 500, maybe Latinos represented 30 to 60 people — most from urban areas — in the poll. That isn’t adequate and is not representative of our community and the rural parts of the state,” he added on Thursday. “Our poll is historic; we polled 1,504 Latinos and only about 500 came from Denver, which means that about 1,000 of the voters are rural Latinos.”

Economic concerns

One of the main highlights of the 2022 survey is that Latinos in Colorado are continuing to experience economic hardship, Sanchez said at the press conference.

Specifically, economic issues filled four of the top five priorities that respondents across the state reported as the most important issues they wanted Colorado officials to address. These four issues were jobs and the economy, addressing the rising cost of living and inflation, improving wages and income as well as creating affordable and attainable housing. In the Western region, this rising cost of living was reported as the No. 1 issue (compared to jobs and the economy statewide).

(The fifth issue — which ranked fourth statewide and third in the Western region — was addressing gun violence and mass shootings.)

These priorities were reflected as well in the survey’s questions around the matters that would make them more likely to support candidates in future elections.

While economic concerns are a continuation of the concerns expressed by Colorado Latinos in the 2021 Latino Policy Agenda, the situation has a new urgency with 50% of respondents — 44% in the Western region — reporting that their economic situation has gotten worse in the past 12 months.

Mental health concerns

In highlighting differences across regions, one of the areas that Western Colorado Latinos responded differently was the issue of mental health.

“The data suggest that our current mental health care system is not working for all Latinos. Simply funding the existing system without any systemic changes will not solve the problem of our mental health care system being ill-prepared to meet the needs of all Latinos, especially in rural areas where the system has created monopolies under a one-size-fits-all,” Alex Sánchez said Thursday.

Fifty percent of those surveyed in the West region said that while there were some good aspects of the mental health system in Colorado, “fundamental changes are needed to make it work better for the Hispanic/Latino community.”

Gabriel Sanchez, who led the 2022 Colorado Latino Policy Agenda poll for BSP Research, presents the findings on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. The survey included responses from over 1,500 Latinos across the state of Colorado.

However, nearly a third of respondents in the West (31%) reported that the system has “too much wrong with it” and needed to be completely rebuilt to better serve the Hispanic/Latino community. This was compared to 23% across the state that reported feeling this way.

“The economic numbers in the 2021 and 2022 data suggest that Latinos are facing unprecedented economic strain, which further impact the health and well-being of families. The fact that 57% of Latinos statewide have less than $1,000 in savings for an emergency speaks to the alarming stress that Latinos are under,” Alex Sánchez said

Lowering health costs was also ranked as a (slightly) higher priority in the western region than in other regions of Colorado. In the western region, 22% of respondents identified this as an important issue, compared to 20% of statewide respondents.

Solving these challenges, Alex Sánchez added, will take more than just funding.

“We do not fix broken systems with just funding. It must include system, practice changes,” he said. “Some of the solutions need to include recruiting new, more culturally-competent providers to the area to expand access and also improve services. We need to do better at attracting and retaining providers of color who better understand the communities being served. We need to attract and retain leaders of mental health systems, at every level, to ensure that people with expertise are helping to change the system.”

Policy actions

One of the things that the policy agenda did differently in its second year was to take this data and create a number of recommended policy actions that the organizations involved in the survey would like to see put in action.

“We included every policy preference that Latinos overwhelmingly support. Each recommendation has a 2-to-1 margin of support,” Alex Sánchez said. “This means Latinos, across the state, independent of region or party, most likely support (these preferences). We hope that these recommendations serve as a roadmap to policymakers.”

There are five main policy areas identified for action in the 2022 report. This includes policy action on housing, environmental and health, and reproductive health as well as proposed action on gun safety and increased taxpayer investment.

On housing, some of the proposed policy actions include limiting the amount landlords can raise the rent on mobile homes (something 88% of respondents showed support for) as well as helping families buy homes near quality schools, places of employment and public transit by building up, not out (71% support from respondents) and by allowing multiple units to be built on a single lot (70% respondent support).

With regard to environmental policy, 80% of those surveyed (87% in Western Colorado) showed support for passing regulations for mobile home parks to provide residents with clean drinking water.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Beatriz Soto, director of protégete for Conservation Colorado, said this and other results showed the urgency and clear need “for action on water quality in our communities.”

Additional recommendations on the environment included steps to transition to a clean energy economy (with 70% reporting support) and expanding rebates on electric vehicles and solar energy (with 69% reporting support).

On health and reproductive health policy, the highest support was shown for expanding basic health care services for those who can’t afford insurance regardless of immigration status (with 78% support), the permanent allowance of access to safe and legal abortions in Colorado (68% support and more).

On gun safety, there was strong reported support for mandating background checks on all firearm sales (85% reported), increasing the age to 21 for purchasing assault rifles (75% support), and adding a 10-day waiting period for purchasing a firearm (75% support). Additionally, 66% of those surveyed supported banning the sale and purchase of assault rifles.

And finally, there are recommendations for increasing taxpayer investment for community programs to get more funding (80% expressed support), K-12 education and higher salaries for school employees (72% support), improved training and regulations for law enforcement officers (67%), expanded access to child care services for low-income families (67%) and more access to reproductive health resources (67%).

To view the 2022 Colorado Latino Policy Agenda or learn more about the effort, visit ColoradoLatinoPolicyAgenda.org.

Along Colorado’s I-70 detour route, speeding, traffic jams — and an occasional boost to business

Closures of Colorado’s main east-west thoroughfare this summer have sent drivers on hourslong detours — bringing added traffic and a welcome boost to some towns and businesses on the alternate routes. 

In Craig, there’s been a bump to restaurants and grocery stores. In Rifle, Interstate 70 closures have led to people milling around town or booking motel rooms for overnight stays. 

“I talked to quite a few people in our restaurants (who) were traveling through,” said Diana Lawrence, a real estate agent who chairs the Colorado River Valley Chamber board of directors. “I didn’t hear any complaints coming out of any of the businesses.”

Other spots on the detour road, however, have largely seen increased traffic, frequent requests for directions or drivers speeding along town roads, trying to make up for lost time. 

“For the most part, people just kind of fly on by,” said Trudy Burri, with the Meeker Chamber of Commerce’s visitor center. 

Read the full story via the Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.

What’s Working: Older Coloradans are returning to work, and inflation may be to blame

The number of all workers in Colorado’s labor force fell in the first year of the pandemic, with notable declines among those 55 and older.

But just like the rest of the population, older workers are returning to work. 

A slightly larger percentage of people between ages 55 and 64 are part of the state’s labor force today, at 70.3% compared with 68.1% in 2019, according to the latest labor data. And while workers 65 and older aren’t back at the same pre-pandemic rate, their overall participation in the labor force is double what it was two decades ago. 

The growing number of older workers in Colorado aligns with the fact that the state’s population is getting older. We’ve known this was happening for decades as new residents moved in to raise a family or start a business. The state’s median age is now 37.5 as of last year. In 2010, it was 36.1, according to census data.

One group in particular is not just returning to work but growing faster than others: women. Particularly, women 55 and older, according to an analysis by Steven Byers, senior economist with Common Sense Institute, a conservative think tank in Greenwood Village.

Read the full story via the Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.

CDOT in ‘competition with Wendy’s’ to fill 130 openings on Western Slope

The Colorado Department of Transportation is short 130 employees on the Western Slope, leaving a crucial region of the state that includes the highly-watched stretch of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon down about 22% of its staff.

In a meeting with Routt County Commissioners on Tuesday, Aug. 30, CDOT officials said the agency has been slow to respond to the current job market, and they are losing out on candidates to fast-food chains that offer better wages.

“We’re in direct competition with Wendy’s, as far as the hourly wage goes,” said Spencer Dickey, deputy superintendent of CDOT’s Maintenance Section 6, which includes Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt, Jackson and Grand counties.

In Craig, where the Wendy’s on Victory Way is currently advertising eight different open positions, CDOT’s barn is short 43% of its staff. Across the state, CDOT is short 20% or more maintenance staff in 25 of Colorado’s 64 counties, including vacancy rates of 36% in Grand Junction and 45% in Denver.

In the Roaring Fork Valley, “CDOT has 13 vacancies for our maintenance crews based in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and El Jebel,” CDOT employee Elise Thatcher said in an email to The Aspen Times. “That’s out of a total of 17 positions.”

Some key maintenance barns along I-70 from Wolcott to the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel are missing more than half their staff. The barn in Avon is working with a 70% reduction in staff, according to materials shared by CDOT on Tuesday.

“We’re struggling getting applicants even,” said Jason Smith, CDOT Region 3 transportation director. “Some of our positions are open continuously.”

The 130 vacancies are in CDOT’s third region, which is a 15-county area that includes much of the Western Slope north of the San Luis Valley. This area includes more than 5,000 miles of state highway, 13 mountain passes and I-70 from the tunnels to the Utah border.

Snowplow-jobs-graphic

About 30 of the openings are in CDOT’s engineering sector and another 100 in maintenance, Smith said. He said low wages and housing affordability are two big issues the agency is working to overcome.

While CDOT is looking at increasing wages and finding cheaper housing options for employees — potentially even building some of its own — he said the agency has lagged in its response to hiring woes.

“Especially in these resort areas, the costs are not going to go down,” he said. “In some of these places, like in Silverthorne, we’re finding out the average cost of rent per month is pretty much more than we already pay in salary.”

Dickey said a starting plow truck driver and most entry-level positions for CDOT would make just under $3,400 a month, which translates to $19.37 an hour. Wendy’s is advertising entry-level positions on the West Slope as high as $20 an hour.

Amid decreased staffing, protocols on I-70 through Glenwood Canyon that put crews on standby during a flood watch, so they are in position to close the roadway if it escalates to a warning are also straining what the agency can get done, Smith said.

“We can be on a watch for hours,” he said, though he noted the canyon has only closed six times this summer, with none of them being for more than a few hours.

To get through these shortages, he said Region 3 has been borrowing from other regions, with crews based in Denver and Greeley helping maintain roads. While that is working now, when the snow flies, they will have their own needs to handle, he said.

Dickey said various areas share maintenance crews in what he called a “gang maintenance” strategy, and, at times, they will push plows east to chase a storm. He said the agency has had to get increasingly creative as staffing has gotten worse.

One recruitment issue has been reaching younger applicants, who are often looking for set schedules, he said. Many of CDOT’s vacancies require workers to run out and respond to storm events when they happen, and new employees often get assigned graveyard shifts.

“We do have a lot of trouble communicating with the younger applicant, attracting them or finding a way to really express all the opportunities that we have here,” Dickey said. “Being subject to whatever Mother Nature throws at us, yeah, it’s a hard sell at $19.37 an hour.”

To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com. Aspen Times Digital Engagement Editor Kristen Mohammadi contributed to this report.

Western Slope water managers ask: What authority do the feds have?

The Bureau of Reclamation made emergency releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County last year to help prop up Lake Powell. Blue Mesa is one of the four initial Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs that contains “system water” specifically used to help the upper basin meet its water delivery obligations to the lower basin.| Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

As the deadline approaches for the seven Colorado River basin states to come up with a plan to conserve water, some Colorado water managers are asking what authority the federal government has in the upper basin and which water projects could be at risk of federal action. 

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton sent water managers scrambling when she announced in June that they had a 60-day window to find another 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water to conserve or the federal government would step in to protect the system. With many reservoirs, transbasin diversion systems and irrigation projects in Colorado tied in one way or another to the Bureau of Reclamation, some are asking if the water in these buckets could be commandeered by the feds to make up the shortfall. 

“I think that there’s probably a good argument that the Secretary (of the Interior) has some authority under those projects,” said Eric Kuhn, Colorado River author and former Colorado River Water Conservation District general manager. “The projects on the Western Slope and in the upper basin states that are owned by the federal government and are ultimately under the authority of the Secretary of the Interior, those are the projects at risk.”

Paonia Reservoir, seen here in May 2022, has ties to the Bureau of Reclamation, and its stored water is used for irrigation in the North Fork Valley. Some Western Slope water managers say it’s unclear what authority the federal government has over projects like these.| Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

There are many dams and reservoirs across Colorado that are tied to the Bureau of Reclamation’s 20th-century building frenzy to impound water and “reclaim” arid regions through irrigation. On the Western Slope, some of the well-known projects include the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project (Ruedi Reservoir), Dallas Creek Project (Ridgway Reservoir), the Dolores Project (McPhee Reservoir), Paonia Reservoir, the Grand Valley Project, the Silt Project (Rifle Gap Reservoir), the Uncompahgre Project (Taylor Park Reservoir) and more. 

In general, the local entities like conservancy districts, irrigators and municipalities who use the water are responsible for repaying the Bureau for the cost of the project. But the infrastructure is owned by the Bureau of Reclamation. Some projects are operated by Reclamation, and some are operated by a local entity. Many also have a hydropower component. 

“I think each project operator is having to look at their contractual obligations with the bureau, and their attorneys are going back over those with a fine-tooth comb to see if the arm of the Bureau can reach up through Lake Powell and into the upper basin states,” said Kathleen Curry, a rancher and Gunnison County representative on the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “All of the upper basin projects are going to need to look real hard at what authority the bureau has.”

Last year, Reclamation made emergency releases out of Blue Mesa, Flaming Gorge and Navajo reservoirs to prop up Lake Powell. In this instance, their authority was not questioned since these reservoirs are, along with Lake Powell, the four initial reservoirs of the Colorado River Storage Project. They store what’s called “system water,” which is used specifically to help the upper basin meet its delivery obligations to the lower basin. 

But water managers still don’t know exactly what, if anything, Reclamation is allowed to do with the water contained in other reservoirs with Reclamation ties. 

At the River District’s third quarterly board meeting in July, board members repeatedly tried to pin down answers from federal and state officials, without much luck. 

Montrose County representative and state Rep. Marc Catlin asked state engineer Kevin Rein where he stood on whether the Bureau of Reclamation could make reservoirs with Reclamation ties release water downstream to Lake Powell to meet the 2 million to 4 million acre-feet conservation goal. 

A boat floats past bathtub rings showing how low Lake Powell levels have dropped Tuesday, June 7, 2022, in Page, Ariz.| Brittany Peterson/AP

“If the Bureau of Reclamation comes into the state of Colorado and says it wants to move water … down to Lake Powell, what’s the state engineer going to do?” Catlin asked. “Are those water rights under state law or federal law?”

Rein did not know the answer.

“I’m not sure what authority — this is not one of those rhetorical ‘I’m not sure,’ I really am not sure — what authority the Bureau of Reclamation would have to induce a federal project with state water rights to release them to get to Powell,” Rein said.

Later in the meeting, Katrina Grantz, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Basin assistant regional director, gave a presentation and took questions from board members. Curry asked if changes could be proposed to the operation of projects within the 15 counties represented by the River District with federal ties to get closer to the 2 million to 4 million acre-feet. Grantz side-stepped the question.

“At this point we are not looking at specific locations,” she said. “I would turn it around and say: Are there areas where you locally think there might be areas to conserve?”

River District General Counsel Peter Fleming said the authority of the feds in the upper basin is untested. This is partly because the upper basin has dozens of small Reclamation projects as well as thousands of individual water users on private ditch systems that are not affiliated with the federal government. Colorado has generally been left alone to administer this complex system of water rights under the state doctrine of prior appropriation, which means older water rights get first use of the river. 

The lower basin, in contrast, has only about 20 diversions — and only six or so big ones —  from the Colorado River. And each entity that uses water from Lake Mead has to have a contract with Reclamation, meaning the federal government is directly involved with water deliveries. 

“The reason I think these issues are untested is historically the secretary’s role in the upper basin has been different than the secretary’s role in the lower basin,” Fleming said. “It’s much more hands-off. The difference in river administration is huge.” 

Fleming said that the River District does not have advice for its water users on the situation, other than to reiterate the upper basin stance that the responsibility to come up with the 2 million to 4 million acre-feet lies overwhelmingly with the lower basin. 

“At the end of the day, I think there will be a big effort to try to resolve things through agreement, and I believe the secretary will exercise her authority to the greatest extent she can without triggering litigation,” Fleming said. 

Water managers may not have to wait long to get some clarity. The deadline for the states to come up with a conservation plan before the feds take action to protect the system is fast approaching. The upper basin states, through the Upper Colorado River Commission, have put forward a 5 Point Plan, which lays out actions they say are designed to protect the reservoirs. 

Amee Andreason, public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Reclamation, said officials may answer the question of federal authority in the upper basin at a media event on Aug. 16 that coincides with the release of the August 24-month study, which lays out reservoir operations for the following water year.

If the feds end up curtailing uses in the lower basin, it could set a precedent that would strengthen the argument that they can do the same in the upper basin, Kuhn said. 

“That’s one I think is the elephant in the room,” he said. “The fact that the River District board was asking about authorities tells you people are thinking about it.”

Aspen Journalism is an independent, nonprofit news organization that covers water and rivers in collaboration with the Post Independent. For more, go to AspenJournalism.org

Why the Forest Service did not take all the water rights when it acquired Sweetwater Lake, Colorado’s newest state park

SWEETWATER LAKE — When the U.S. Forest Service acquired Sweetwater Lake in 2021, the agency did not pick up all the water rights associated with the property that is slated for development as Colorado’s newest state park. 

The Conservation Fund, which acquired the property in 2020, retained water rights that did not transfer over when the conservation group sold the property to the Forest Service last year. 

That troubles Garfield County’s commissioners, who are demanding details of the complex deal that landed the private acres in federal hands and how the new state park will be managed. 

“The general concerns of Garfield County concern this entire transaction, both the money side of it as well as the planning and the agencies following their own procedures, rules and regulations,” commissioner Tom Jankovsky said earlier this week as the three-member board signed a letter sent to the Forest Service. 

The overlapping state and federal processes to develop the park have not gone smoothly. A longtime outfitter at the lake is struggling to bring old buildings up to federal standards, fearing her decades-old outfitting business could be lost. Locals wonder if the now state-managed federal lands will draw unsustainable crowds to the remote lake at the end of a dirt road in Garfield County. 

Read the full story via the Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.

Dotsero Mobile Home Park residents are trying to become Eagle County’s first resident-owned community

Some residents of the Dotsero Mobile Home Park gather together. The park started around 30 years ago, and has grown to 84 individual homes with an average of five occupants per structure.
Madison Rahhal/Vail Daily

The residents of the Dotsero Mobile Home Park are attempting to collectively purchase the park and become the first resident-owned community in Eagle County. The challenge is, they have less than 60 days left to secure financing and make an offer before the landlord can begin accepting bids from outside buyers.

A new statewide bill, signed into law in 2020, requires park owners who wish to sell their property to notify residents of the impending sale, and guarantees that residents will have 90 days after notification to organize into a cooperative and make a competitive offer before the landowner can sell the property.

Since being notified of the sale in early April, 64 of the 84 homeowners in the Dotsero Mobile Home Park have already signed on to join the aptly named Volcanic View Cooperative, and are now taking steps to become owners of the park that they call home. It’s a challenging road ahead, with a tight and imposing deadline, but with the help of the greater Eagle County community, these residents have the opportunity to secure their homes for decades to come.

A tight-knit community

The Dotsero Mobile Home Park is a tightly interconnected community. The park, located just off exit 133 on Interstate 70, started around 30 years ago, housing laborers who worked on the Glenwood Canyon project. It has since grown to 84 individual homes with an average of five occupants per structure, many of whom have lived on the property their entire lives.

Alondra Gardea, 25, is the vice president of the board for the Volcanic View Cooperative. Gardea shares a home with her husband and her 5-year-old daughter, and lives across from her parents and down the street from her sister.

“I’ve been here since I was a little toddler, and I grew up with so many people that live here. I mean, they watched me grow up,” Gardea said. “I can hope, if we do go through with this buy, that my daughter can raise her own family here someday, just like my parents raised me.”

Many of the residents are second- and third-generation members of the community, with roots that started in Mexico and remained intact as people followed friends and family to Eagle County in search of a better life.

Many of the residents of the Dotsero Mobile Home Park are second- and third-generation members of the community.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

The residents are banding together with the help of Thistle, a nonprofit organization based out of Boulder that provides technical assistance to mobile home parks in Colorado to help them transition to resident ownership. Resident-owned communities are still a rare occurrence in Colorado, but Thistle has successfully helped six communities transition to resident ownership since 2017, including a park in Leadville last fall.

Andy Kadlec is the program director at Thistle, and said that the strong showing of support from the Dotsero community is a crucial factor for attaining success.

“The law requires a minimum of 51% of the community to be in favor of a purchase, but from our perspective that can also mean that 49% are against it,” Kadlec said. “We really like to see a high level of engagement and interest, and I believe that this community has that. They’ve had fantastic attendance and turnout to meetings we’ve hosted, and have really shown a lot of interest in learning more about this process and what it would take to purchase their community.”

Gardea said that the residents are motivated to attain the security that comes with owning the land they live on, and want to have control of their futures.

“A lot of people want this, because we don’t know who the new owner would possibly be and what he wants to do with this land — if he will keep us here, or if he wants to build apartments or condos,” Gardea said. “You’re always living with that. Are they going to come now, are they going to tell us to leave, what are they going to do? Once it’s ours, no one is ever going to come and tell us anything, because it belongs to us.”

Home improvement

Ownership would also give the residents the ability to tackle much-needed improvements to the property. The park was not designed to be a permanent residence, so there are a number of infrastructure projects that need to be undertaken in order to support a healthy and durable residential community moving forward.

The most expensive project will be an overhaul of the park’s septic system, which is outdated and insufficient to meet the needs of the growing community.

“Once it’s ours, no one is ever going to come and tell us anything, because it belongs to us.” — Alondra Gardea

In addition to the septic system, the water supply needs to be changed. Sourced from the base of the Dotsero volcano, the water that currently runs through the park’s pipes is undrinkable and, in most cases, entirely unusable due to high mineral content.

Kyleigh Morales, 32, is the president of the Volcanic View Cooperative. She said that the only way that the community can access clean water is to purchase water bottles and jugs in bulk from Costco.

“We need six to eight cases every time we go, because that’s our cooking water, that’s our cleaning water, that’s our drinking water,” Morales said. “If, say, women want to dye their hair, it turns green. It’s like you’re going swimming every day. You can’t cook with it, you can’t wash your car with it, you can’t even grow grass because of the water.”

Morales said that the poor water quality causes a myriad of issues and extra costs for residents, corroding water heaters, washing machines, and pipes to the point where they must be replaced on an annual basis. In order for the community to get fresh water into their pipes, they would have to tap into another water source.

The current landowner has also neglected road repairs in the park for many years, resulting in large potholes and dangerous cracks that make it difficult for cars to access the community.

“It’s hard watching a place where you call home, where the owner doesn’t take responsibility for some of the stuff that should have been done,” Morales said. “But we can’t really do it when our hands are tied to get it fixed. So this is the only way for us to get it fixed, is to buy the community ourselves.”

Thhe Dotsero Mobile Home Park is in need of three big infrastructure projects: upgrading the septic system, the park’s water supply, and the roads.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

In order to secure a loan from the bank, the Volcanic View Cooperative first needs to contract an engineer to estimate the costs of undertaking these three big infrastructure projects. Kadlec said that including the costs of major repairs into the loan is a necessary step for ensuring the long-term viability of a resident-owned community.

“A really important aspect is doing a deep analysis of what major projects they might need to assume in the first 10 years of ownership, and assure that they have appropriate financing to take care of that so they’re not cash strapped in five years if an infrastructure project goes awry and they have to pay a million dollars for something,” Kadlec said. “This is a big decision for the community, and ensuring they have resources and the information at their hands to make a qualified decision whether or not to move forward with the purchase really relies on understanding that.”

At this stage of the process, finding and financing an engineer to provide that survey is the biggest roadblock that the cooperative is facing. Morales said that the estimated cost of the survey is around $10-15,000 dollars, and that they cannot proceed to the next step of the process without it.

“Right now, we’re at a standstill,” Morales said. “We’re having a really hard time finding an engineer that can do it in such short notice, because we only have 90 days, and that ends on July 1. We also need to raise the funds for the engineer, and it’s not a cheap expense. Our only option right now is to ask our little community to help fund that.”

The community has started a GoFundMe Page to help raise the money necessary to finance the survey, and plans to hold a cookout later in the month to try and raise additional funds.

Morales said that residents’ ambitions for the property don’t end with the necessary infrastructure projects. She said that people have dreams of finally growing grass and flowers on their property — not just cleaning it up, but beautifying it — and that in time they hope to create a park that they can all be proud of, one that no longer invites the cruel but common nickname “Dot-Ghetto.”

“That’s literally what they call it, and it was no one’s intention, ever, of getting to that point,” Morales said. “This is hope for everybody, because everyone thought that it wouldn’t get better, and now that we have the opportunity to buy it, this is everyone’s dream. Which is kind of crazy for 84 households to have the same goal: to fix it up, make it better, make it what we’ve always wanted to see.”

Maintaining affordable workforce housing

The call for reliable and affordable workforce housing in Eagle County grows with each passing year, and the Dotsero Mobile Home Park is providing exactly that for dozens of families who work throughout the valley.

Marlene Rios, 19, came to the park as a child with her mother and two younger sisters.

“My mom is a single mother, and this was the only place that she was able to come in and have enough money to start having a home for us,” Rios said. “We actually started in a really small trailer, and we worked until we were finally able to get a bigger one for our family.”

Today, Rios is a graduate of Eagle Valley High School, has been working at Alpine Bank through Eagle County’s CareerWise program for three years, and is currently pursuing a degree in psychology at Colorado Mountain College’s Vail Valley campus in Edwards. When she heard about the opportunity to buy the park, she stepped up to serve as treasurer of the Volcanic View Cooperative, because she has experienced first-hand how transformative it is to own your own home.

“We’ve all grown up here, and I’ve loved it,” Rios said. “I think we all love the peace of just knowing that you won’t have someone come and bother you, that it’s just your space right there. You can just be you, without worrying about who has to say something, who’s going to complain.”

If the Dotsero Mobile Home Park is sold to an outside buyer, the new landlord could raise rental rates at will or force the residents off the land entirely. If that happens, the entire community would be pushed into an already overcrowded housing market, with very few, if any, options that resemble the current prices that they pay for housing.

Last year, Eagle County installed a playground at the Dotsero Mobile Home Park for the children in the community. Residents hope to continue enhancing and beautifying the property if they are able to purchase it.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

“Everything is so expensive here and there’s really nowhere to go,” Gardea said. “I mean, there’s a wait list that’s so long — apartments, houses are expensive. It’d be really hard to go anywhere else.”

“It’s about $1,300 per room in Eagle County that you’re renting for,” Morales said. “Here, that money could go to our property. We can put the money back. With the loan we have to pay off, rent would only increase by a couple of hundred, instead of where if a new person comes in, it could go up thousands. It’s just worth a lot more to us than it would be to somebody else.”

The clock is ticking, and the board of the Volcanic View Cooperative is now turning to the greater Eagle County community to help support the process and get them to the bidding table before it’s too late.

“We can’t do it on our own, which is hard for some people to say, but we need help. Dotsero Trailer Park needs the help,” Morales said. “I think everyone is scared of what will happen if someone else does buy it, so we’re trying our hardest. If the community is willing to help us, we’re all willing to help other people, too.”

To donate to the Volcanic View Cooperative, search for the fundraiser titled “A better future for Dotsero’s community” on GoFundme.com. To connect with the board members and share contacts, resources or ideas, email volcanicviewcooperative@outlook.com.