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Recreation groups ask for more inclusion in Colorado’s Water Plan

Boating has struggled to find foothold in system of water rights

Colorado’s river recreation community is asking for more recognition in the update to the state’s Water Plan. 

In a Sept. 30 comment letter addressed to the Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Rebecca Mitchell and Gov. Jared Polis, a group of recreation, environmental conservation organizations and local businesses ask for river recreation to play a more prominent role in the roadmap for Colorado’s water future. 

“Adequate flows to sustain recreation and environmental water needs must be a top priority for CWCB,” the letter reads. “As the update notes, climate change and aridification will contribute to significant temperature-driven river flow declines, disproportionately impacting recreation and river health.”

State officials in July released the second iteration of the Colorado Water Plan, a 239-page document that lays out four interconnected areas for action: vibrant communities, robust agriculture, thriving watersheds and resilient planning. The update to the original 2015 plan is a roadmap for how to manage Colorado’s water under future climate change and drought scenarios. CWCB staff said they are currently reviewing the 1,376 comments with about 2,000 observations and suggested revisions they received during the 90-day public comment period, which ended Sept. 30. 

In the Colorado water world, recreation usually is lumped together with the environment as a “non-consumptive” use since both seek to keep water in the stream. But signatories to the letter say that grouping overlooks the importance of recreation to the economy.

“We are always talking about environment and recreation together because they are so interconnected, but in doing so we miss out on the larger picture of the importance of recreation and really the economic development aspect of it,” said Hattie Johnson, southern Rockies stewardship director of American Whitewater. “There is special care and special consideration that require a different way of looking at recreation that we feel is still lacking in the update.”

The letter gives six recommendations to better integrate recreation into the Water Plan: reaffirm that water-based recreation is not in conflict with other water uses; include the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC) as a collaborating agency; add a CWCB recreation liaison; address recreation flows and temperatures; include recreation in watershed planning; and approach storage and water development in a way that won’t negatively impact flows for recreation.

Despite its contribution to Colorado’s outdoor culture, tourism economy and lifestyle, recreation has struggled to find a foothold in the state’s system of water rights, which was established over a century ago and reflects the values of that time. Colorado water law prioritizes the oldest water rights, which usually belong to agriculture and cities.

As coal mines close, some communities like Craig are turning toward healthy rivers as a way to transition from extractive industries to an outdoor-recreation-based economy.

“It’s important to note that recreation is a pretty important stream use for a lot of communities on the Front Range and West Slope,” said Bart Miller, healthy rivers program director for Western Resource Advocates. “Just having vibrant rivers running through town not just for people to go and float on, but for businesses and boardwalks and the heart of town for a lot of places.”

The update to the Water Plan recognizes that climate change presents a threat to the long-term viability of water-based outdoor recreation. Some communities like Steamboat Springs, where the Yampa River through town has been closed to recreation in recent summers due to high temperatures exacerbated by low flows, are already feeling the effects. Recreation proponents asked CWCB to address this issue.

“We recommend that the final update include specific actions CWCB will take to address recreation flows, including mitigating summer recreation closures caused by high water temperatures and better quantifying the gap for recreational and environmental flow needs,” the letter reads.

RICDs are imperfect tool

Neither of two recent proposals from recreation proponents — one that would have tied water rights to a natural stream feature and one that would have designated stream reaches for recreation, allowing them to lease water to boost flows — gained wide support from water users or legislators. 

Currently the only way to keep water in rivers for boaters is for a local government to get a recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) water right for a human-made wave or whitewater park. But recreation proponents say this method is an imperfect tool. The process of securing the rights can be met with opposition and take years in water court. RICD water rights also sometimes end up making concessions to future water development. 

Building the wave features is expensive, meaning a RICD water right may be out of reach for less-affluent communities. Pitkin County has spent more than $3 million on constructing and subsequently fixing its two waves with a RICD water right in the Roaring Fork River near Basalt; the project had an initial budget of $770,000. 

The letter also suggests adding a staff position at CWCB to focus on solving the flows challenge and guiding the RICD program.

“A big idea we included was this idea of a recreation liaison,” said Alex Funk, director of water resources and senior counsel at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Having someone at CWCB that’s basically your recreation expert, someone that can handle the RICD program, work with the OREC office, someone who is more dedicated to that community and thinking through those things.”

The letter also recommends that recreation be included in watershed planning, specifically by including environmental and recreation flow target recommendations in stream management plans. The 2015 Water Plan had a goal of covering at least 80% of the state’s priority streams with SMPs. And although one of the original goals of these SMPs was to identify flow needs for recreational water uses, only 1% of the plans completed so far did so. In some cases, the SMP process was taken over by agricultural interests, watering down what was supposed to be a tool specifically for the benefit of non-consumptive water uses.  

Coalition letter

The comment letter from recreation proponents was an add-on to a more-lengthy submission from the Water for Colorado coalition, which is made up of representatives of environmental advocacy groups including American Rivers, Audubon Rockies, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and others. 

Recreation was one of three key areas the 40-page letter focused its recommendations on. The letter lays out the criticism that environment and recreation are a secondary focus of the plan and that watershed health is merely “considered” in state water resource planning. 

“While we agree that should be a minimum requirement, it doesn’t go nearly far enough,” the letter reads. “Environmental flows and watershed health must also be a coequal goal of state water resource planning itself — not just a secondary consideration.”

The update to the Water Plan lays out projected future “gaps” — the shortage between supply and demand — for agriculture and cities, but not for recreation or the environment.

“There’s not much detail about the volumes of water that are missing or needed,” Miller said. “We’ve got plenty of streams around the state that are short, and we will need to figure out how to improve their health through creative ways of reducing out-of-stream uses.”

CWCB Section Chief for Water Supply Planning Russ Sands said staff appreciates the in-depth feedback from the recreation community.

Sands acknowledged that although there are several locations across Colorado where non-consumptive streamflow needs have been identified, they have not been quantified statewide in the same way as they have been for agricultural or municipal demands. CWCB may revisit addressing those gaps during the next update to the Water Plan, he said.

Sands emphasized the fundamental need for the Water Plan to promote projects that benefit multiple water user groups: agriculture, the environment, recreation and cities.

“Climate change presents a long-term threat to the viability of all sectors of water use,” he said in an emailed statement. “The most promising tool to address this is radical collaboration.” 

The final draft of the updated Water Plan is expected by early January.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. For more, go to www.aspenjournalism.org.

Thompson Divide preservation move announced in conjunction with President Biden’s Wednesday designation of Camp Hale National Monument

President Joe Biden’s Wednesday visit to Camp Hale in Eagle County to designate his administration’s first national monument included a major announcement regarding preservation of the Thompson Divide region west of Carbondale.

In addition to the president naming the new Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, the White House on Wednesday announced that the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior will propose an initial two-year suspension of new federal oil and gas leases and mining claims within the 225,000 acres that encompass the Thompson Divide.

In addition, the BLM and Forest Service are to seek public comment and conduct a required environmental analysis to assess the impacts of a proposed 20-year withdrawal of new leasing and mining in the respective forest management plans for the area.

A portion of the Thompson Divide that’s part of the White River National Forest is already closed to new drilling, under a 2015 Environmental Impact Statement that directed leasing on the Forest. However, parts of the Thompson Divide region are in the Gunnison/Grand Mesa Uncompahgre National Forests, and are not currently closed to new leases.   

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service have jointly submitted the petition to fully withdraw the broader Thompson Divide area from leasing to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, according to a White House fact sheet. Secretary Haaland’s acceptance of the petition and publication of a notice in the Federal Register will initiate a two-year segregation.

Withdrawal is a higher degree of protection, as compared to a closure, which can be revisited through another EIS process. A full mineral withdrawal also applies to mining and coal leasing, White River National Forest spokesman David Boyd said.

Several former leases in the Thompson Divide were canceled by the BLM in 2016; a decision that was upheld in court two years later. Pre-existing natural gas leases in the larger area would be unaffected by this proposed mineral withdrawal. Those leases constitute less than 1% of the more than 3,000 active federal leases in Colorado.

The Thompson Divide includes parts of Garfield, Pitkin and Gunnison counties. Efforts to withdraw mineral leasing from the rugged backcountry began in the mid-2000s when area ranchers, recreational enthusiasts and other local entities banded together to form the Thompson Divide Coalition. The group gathered bipartisan support to urge the Bureau of Land Management to cancel more than a dozen active but undeveloped natural gas leases in the area.

Eventually, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet sought permanent withdrawal of the area from future leasing in his CORE Act, which remains pending in Congress.

In August, Sens. Bennet and John Hickenlooper, along with U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse and Gov. Jared Polis, all Democrats, wrote to Biden urging him to declare the Camp Hale monument under the Antiquities Act and to use the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act process to withdraw the Thompson Divide area from leasing.

Area conservation groups and supporters of the Thompson Divide Coalition on Wednesday applauded the move, but called on Congress to pass the CORE Act as a permanent protection. 

“As ranchers whose livelihood depends on public lands in the Thompson Divide, we are very excited to see President Biden recognize the importance of this incredible landscape,” ranchers Judy Fox-Perry and William Perry said in a prepared statement issued by the Wilderness Workshop. “We are glad the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service are taking steps to conserve these public lands, and we’ll continue our efforts to protect this extraordinary place in every way we can.”

Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association and board member of Thompson Divide Coalition, added, “Community members from all walks of life — ranchers, hunters, mountain bikers and conservationists — have set aside partisanship to protect the Thompson Divide and I want to thank President Biden, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service for acknowledging our efforts.”  

The mayors of Glenwood Springs and Carbondale also offered comments. 

“The Glenwood Springs City Council and our community members have long advocated for the protection of the Thompson Divide — a stunning landscape right in our backyard, but one threatened by oil and gas development,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes said. “I appreciate Senator Bennet’s ongoing leadership and commitment to our state’s public lands and the Divide.”

Added Carbondale Mayor Ben Bohmfalk, “I’m honored to serve a community of ranchers, outdoors recreationists, hunters and anglers, and conservationists who have made protecting the Thompson Divide a core Carbondale value for years. While we advocate for the passage of the CORE Act in Congress, I’m thrilled to see President Biden and his administration acknowledge the value of this special place and the hard work our community has put into advocating for its protection.” 

However, 3rd District Congresswoman U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., reiterated her objection to, what she said in a Wednesday news release, is the latest in a string of Biden administration attacks on American energy and mineral development.

“Shamefully, Biden ignored the concerns and opposition of impacted communities so he could appease Green New Deal extremists,” Boebert said. “Equally troubling, they hid their true motivations and failed to be transparent about the harm and restrictions that will result from this massive land grab. With gas prices skyrocketing, OPEC decreasing its oil production, and Americans already struggling to pay their utility bills, this land grab to shut down American energy and natural resources production could not come at a worse time.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Sorting out the final destination of Glenwood Springs’ recyclables

Glenwood Springs is working to move to single-haul trash collection in 2023 to help divert recycled goods out of the landfill and into the local recycling system.

Glenwood Springs City Council has not voted on single-haul trash, nor have they decided on the company they will go with. If they chose to go with single-stream recycling, it might change the recycling company used which would change contamination rates, what is accepted and also where the waste will be sent. 

An estimated 80% of the waste taken to the South Canyon landfill could be either recycled or composted, which is taking up crucial and expensive space in the local landfill, according to city documents.

“The composition of our trash going into the landfill has been between 70 and 80% recyclable material,” said Liz Mauro the South Canyon Landfill manager. “We’ve gotten the message that the current system isn’t really working for people to recycle.”

Glenwood Springs’ recyclable materials are sent to the Eagle County Recycle Materials Recovery Facility to be sorted and then shipped out to various places across the nation and Canada. 

Jesse Masten runs the Eagle facility and was able to answer all of the grimy questions about where our refuse goes. 

First, nothing brought to the Glenwood Springs Recycling center is sent overseas, and contamination rates for the recycled goods processed in Eagle are only at about 8%. That means very little of the stuff people recycle ends up back in the landfill, he said. 

Another common misconception is the amount of emissions that recycling different goods creates. Yes, it does create emissions but far less than extracting those raw materials and then processing them.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 1 ounce of carbon dioxide is emitted for each ounce of polyethylene (PET) produced, which is basically your typical plastic water bottle or soda bottle. Remanufacturing plastic saves at least 30% of the carbon emissions that original processing and manufacturing produces.

Here are where each individual item goes and what it gets turned into according to Masten. 

Plastics

No. 1 plastics go to Texas, and occasionally Georgia, to make plastic pellets that are turned into water bottles.

“This facility in Texas takes that No. 1, further pelletizes those plastics and sends them to large companies (that) are using recycled content in their new bottles that they’re making,” Masten said.

When those No. 1 plastics are shipped to Georgia, they are primarily used for textiles or fabric. 

No. 2 plastics go to Alabama to make what are called high-density polyethylene or HDPE pellets. Those pellets are then sent to different manufacturers to make HDPE pipe bottles, decking furniture and things of that nature, Masten said. 

No. 3 through 7 plastics are sent commingled to Canada, where a processor sorts the different numbers and processes the plastics to everything from furniture to reusable bags and trash bags.  

Metals

Tin and steel cans are sent to Illinois.

“Those are typically made into new tin and steel cans and also rebar because rebar can have impurities in the steel, which we often see in recycled content for tin and steel,” he said.

Aluminum cans are sent to Alabama to make new aluminum cans.

Paper products

“The cardboard that we receive is sent to Oklahoma, and this is a cool circular economy kind of material because the mill in Oklahoma that we send it to actually makes the paper backing for wallboard,” he said. “Then, that paper backing is potentially sent back to the American Gypsum Plant in Gypsum and used for the wallboard that they’re producing.”

Paper received at the Eagle County facility is sent to Utah to an insulation manufacturer.

Glass

And, finally, glass stays here in Colorado to be recycled in-state. 

“Glass, we send it over to Denver to New Momentum Recycling, and they further process it down, potentially to colors, and then they send it out to Rocky Mountain Bottle Company to make new bottles,” Masten said. 

It is always preferred to empty all materials, like liquid in bottles, and the city does request that people turn in recycled goods clean; but, Masten clarified that slightly-unclean recycled goods will not contaminate an entire bin of materials. 

“That process typically goes through some sort of high-key melting process for that plastic, and those processes and the labels and other impurities that may be attached to the plastic get burned off,” he said. “Water is another commodity, and it’s very important, especially for us in the mountains to kind of preserve that water and not use it when it’s unnecessary.”

One of the biggest contaminants is plastic bags, especially when people throw out their recycled goods in plastic bags. Lids and caps can also cause issues for processing and should not be thrown in recycling. Pizza box grease can also contaminate a cardboard batch and should be composted instead. 

If Glenwood Springs switches to a single-haul trash collection, there is a chance they will also change to a single-stream recycling company. That could raise the rate of contamination to closer to 25%, according to the EPA.

The Eagle County Recycle Materials Recovery Center only does a dual-stream recycling, which means that recycled goods are separated into two commingled groups. One is paper and cardboard commingling, and the other is plastics, metals and glass. This is easily done because it is already sorted in Glenwood Springs. 

If there is a single-haul curbside pickup used by the city of Glenwood Springs, then it will most likely have to be a single-stream, and Masten said the closest single-stream facility is on the Front Range.

Army Corps of Engineers: Marble airstrip work is noncompliant

A streambank stabilization project on the Crystal River just west of Marble is on hold after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that the work undertaken this past summer fell outside what is allowed by the project’s permit. 

The corps sent a letter of noncompliance, dated Sept. 27,  to Susan Blue, longtime manager of the Marble airstrip, regarding work on the Crystal River as it runs through the property. Corps staff determined that the activities did not fall within the parameters of the project’s Nationwide Permit 3, which covers maintenance, according to Tucker Feyder, a regulatory project manager for the corps who signed the letter.

“If they were just doing maintenance on that section that was previously authorized, it could have fit a Nationwide Permit 3,” Feyder said. “The current project went a little above and beyond that.”

A Nationwide Permit 3 authorizes streambank restoration work covering up to 450 linear feet, but the current project “appears to extend significantly beyond what was previously authorized,” the letter reads.

Feyder said the noncompliance did not rise to the level of a violation of the Clean Water Act. A Clean Water Act violation would typically occur when a project has no permit at all from the corps, he said.

“They made a good-faith effort to work under a nationwide permit, and unfortunately, it got away from the intent of Permit 3,” Feyder said. “So we are viewing it as a noncompliance at the moment.”

These photos from August show the streambank stabilization project area near the Marble airstrip. The Army Corps of Engineers sent a letter of non-compliance to the property manager because they determined the work falls outside of what’s allowed under the project’s permit.
Courtesy photo

ERO, a natural resources consultant with an office in Hotchkiss, is leading the project for the property owner, Marble Airfield LLC. 

Marble Airfield LLC was, until Sept. 8, registered to the same post office box in Bentonville, Ark., as Walton Enterprises LLC. According to its LinkedIn page, “Walton Enterprises is a family-led, private family office supporting the personal, philanthropic and business activity for multiple generations of Sam & Helen Walton’s family.” Sam Walton was the founder of Walmart. (Aspen Journalism’s water desk is supported by a grant from Catena Foundation, a Carbondale-based philanthropic organization tied to Sam R. Walton, a grandson of Sam and Helen Walton’s.) On Sept. 8, the address to which Marble Airfield LLC was registered was changed to a location in Medford, Ore., according to the Colorado secretary of state website. 

The letter says Marble Airfield has 30 days to provide a plan on how to bring the project into compliance. There are three options: They can argue that the work does fall under the Nationwide Permit 3 classification; they can apply for a different permit; or they could voluntarily restore the site. In addition, the property owners must provide information on the work that has been completed; information on the work that still needs to be completed; an updated map of the work site; and a description of any proposed mitigation. 

Marble-screenshot

This past summer, ERO contractors began work to restore the streambank along the Crystal River near the airstrip, which is about 1 mile long and was installed in the 1950s and ’60s. Annual maintenance of the riverbank has been required to prevent damage to the airstrip, according to ERO.

“Extreme weather events during the 2021 monsoon season and ongoing spring runoff have resulted in extensive erosion of the adjacent (eastern) riverbank and opposite (western) riverbank, causing many large conifer trees to topple into the river, ponding water and pushing river flows toward the airstrip,” ERO president Aleta Powers wrote in a memo to Gunnison County officials on Aug. 26.

This past summer, contractors began the work, which the corps had said in December was covered under the Nationwide Permit 3. But heavy machinery along the river attracted the attention of neighbors who contacted local environmental group Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association. CVEPA alerted Gunnison County, which issued a stop-work order on Aug. 12.

“We really believed at first report and as the information came in that this far exceeded the Nationwide Permit 3 for bank stabilization,” said CVEPA president John Armstrong. “We are happy the corps is taking action, but we are not necessarily pleased with the consequences.”

County violation

ERO is also working to resolve violations of the Gunnison County Land Use Resolution that led the county to issue the stop-work order. The county said the project violated its restrictive buffer for protection of water quality and standards for development in sensitive wildlife-habitat areas. The county also said the project needed a floodplain development permit. 

In response to the stop-work order, ERO on Aug. 26 submitted a memo and reclamation plan to the county. In the memo, ERO said the project was exempt from county regulations because it had a federal permit from the corps and because there are exemptions from county regulations for projects designed primarily for enhancement, protections, and/or restoration of water body banks or channels. 

ERO said the project includes removal of fallen timber caused by bank erosion, reestablishment of the deepest part of the river, revegetation of the bank, and reshaping native river cobble into jetties, all of which they say is exempt from the county’s standards for protecting water quality. ERO also asserted the project is in compliance with the county’s standards for development in sensitive wildlife-habitat areas. 

“ERO is committed to assist Marble Airfield LLC in demonstrating full compliance with the Gunnison County LUR, and to assist Marble Airfield LLC with ensuring the protection and preservation of the natural environment and wildlife,” the memo reads

Gunnison County has requested additional information from the property owners, including a wetlands delineation and the floodplain-development application. 

“We need additional information from the property owners in order to figure out next steps and determine a path towards compliance,” Gunnison County Building and Environmental Health official Crystal Lambert said in an email. “I imagine that this will take a lot more time, at least weeks, if not months.” 

To comply with Gunnison County, Powers from ERO said they will submit a floodplain-development permit application and have already submitted a reclamation permit application. She said they will also submit a preconstruction notification for a new permit from the corps per their requirement.

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

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

State says Apple Tree Park water quality improved after concerns raised in the spring

Operators of the Apple Tree mobile home park near New Castle appear to be making progress in addressing discoloration in the neighborhood’s domestic water supply that prompted resident complaints in the spring, state health department officials said earlier this month.

Inspectors from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment paid a “technical assistance” visit to the park in May, after concerns about water quality were raised before the Garfield County commissioners in late March.

Ron Falco, manager for the department’s Safe Drinking Water Program, indicated in a Sept. 1 letter to county health officials and other interested parties that the situation, which related to high iron levels in the water, has improved.

“The supplier is currently in compliance with the primary drinking water regulations, and the treatment and distribution system are believed to be in good working order,” Falco wrote.

Iron discoloration is not a primary public-health concern and is not regulated by the state, he said.

But, the state did offer some suggestions to improve the water’s appearance. 

“Water quality issues appear to be primarily aesthetic issues associated with iron in its raw water source,” Falco wrote in the letter, which was shared with the county commissioners Monday by Ted White, environmental health specialist for the county.

“Installation of iron removal/filtration was discussed and encouraged during the site visit,” Falco said. 

In addition, operators for park owners Investment Property Group (IPG) indicated they would increase flushing of the water system to once a quarter, instead of annually, and would provide more guidance to residents about how to flush water in their homes to avoid iron-sediment buildup.

“Routine flushing of distribution lines reduces the amount of stagnant water in the lines, prevents the accumulation of sediment and prevents discoloration caused by iron and other metals,” Falco acknowledged.

Commissioners, at Monday’s meeting, noted that individual water meters have recently been installed at the park and expressed concerns about residents being charged individually during the flushing operations.

“Hopefully, they can work out the metering issue when they flush the system,” Commission Chairman John Martin said.

Falco said the park operators were also encouraged to sample for manganese in the system, after elevated levels were noted in the spring samples. 

Those levels had improved when a July sample was taken; however, that may have been due to increased precipitation that month, he wrote.

“Overall, this information indicates that the tap water in the community is below the health-advisory level for manganese on a routine basis,” Falco advised. “However, additional monitoring for manganese will be used to evaluate this going forward.

Elevated levels of manganese can have an effect on prenatal and early childhood learning and behavior, according to the EPA. The EPA has a manganese advisory level of 0.30 milligrams per liter (mg/L). The Apple Tree reading from the spring sampling was 0.224 mg/L in one well and 0.230 mg/L in the other. The July reading was 0.049 mg/L.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Solar array, storage facility adds to Colorado Mountain College’s sustainability legacy

A Wednesday ribbon-cutting on the new 4.5-megawatt solar array and battery storage complex at Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus signaled a full circle trip around the sun for local solar installer Scott Ely.

He recalls attending a solar retrofit program at the college in 1987, before going on to start his own company, Carbondale-based Sunsense Solar, a few years later.

At the time, CMC was one of only a few higher education institutions in the country pioneering a solar-technology program.

Today, an extension of those early efforts is the college’s bachelor of arts degree program in sustainability studies and a general focus on the environment, including a commitment to be carbon neutral across its 11 campuses by 2050.

“CMC’s foresight 35 years ago is now coming to fruition,” Ely said. His small company of 30 employees, which has now been in business for over 32 years, is an example of that success, he said.

The easternmost portion of the new Holy Cross Energy/Ameresco solar array at the CMC Spring Valley campus.
John Stroud/Post Independent

“This project is certainly one of our grandest accomplishments to date,” he said during a formal ceremony at CMC-Spring Valley celebrating the near completion of what, for a short time anyway, will be Colorado’s largest solar array and battery-storage facility.

Sunsense was selected as the solar engineering and construction contractor through a unique partnership between CMC, local rural electric cooperative Holy Cross Energy, and solar developer and financing agent Ameresco of Framingham, Massachusetts.

Carbondale nonprofit Clean Energy Economy for the Region facilitated the partnership arrangement. Representatives for each of the partners were on hand for the Wednesday event.

Closeup of the eastern section of solar panels at the new Holy Cross Energy/Ameresco solar power and battery storage complex on CMC’s Spring Valley campus.
John Stroud/Post Independent

The project comprises more than 13,500 solar modules spread across 22 acres of leased CMC land west of the main college campus, including both fixed panels and those that can track the sun from morning until night.

The 4.5 megawatt generating capacity is enough to offset 100% of the electricity use of 1,000 homes or the three CMC campuses at Spring Valley, Aspen and Edwards, which are within the Holy Cross service area. 

What makes the project especially unique is its battery-power storage system, Holy Cross President and CEO Bryan Hannegan said.

The complex includes 68 battery stacks in four on-site shipping-type containers that allow for five megawatts, or 15-megawatt hours, of power to be stored for backup during outages and peak demand times, he said.

Jason Smith of Sunsense Solar shows off one of the four battery pack units that are part of the Holy Cross Energy/Ameresco solar complex on CMC’s Spring Valley campus.
John Stroud/Post Independent

“For us, it offers a measure of control and flexibility over the solar output that we don’t have with a normal solar array,” Hannegan said. “In a pinch, if there’s a nearby wildfire or a major outage on the system, this (storage) system is sufficient to keep powering the campus and keep people safe and comfortable.”

For at least another six months or so, the CMC facility will be the largest of its kind in Colorado. Coming quickly on its heels are even larger solar generation and storage projects in western Garfield County, he noted. 

“This is an important part of our collective journey to a clean energy future, both for Holy Cross members and more importantly for CMC and the community college system that it supports,” Hannegan said.

In addition to CMC’s carbon neutrality goal, Holy Cross has a goal to provide 100% of its member power needs using renewable energy sources by 2030.

Holy Cross Energy President and CEO Bryan Hannegan, right, points out a detail of the new Spring Valley solar array, as CMC President Carrie Besnette Hauser and student Lily Leyva look on.
John Stroud/Post Independent

“Our aim is to really think more holistically about what it means to provide sustainable energy for the people we serve and work with,” Hannegan said. “It’s more than just one item here, one item there. It’s actually thinking about how we use things like solar energy and battery storage to power our lives.”

Wednesday’s event also included a pre-recorded video message from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

“Protecting Colorado’s way of life means doing our part to combat climate change and improve air quality,” Polis said. “It’s projects like the one we celebrate today that will make that possible.” 

Added CMC President and CEO Carrie Besnette Hauser: “This collaboration is a shining example of that ethos as we work together to reduce our carbon emissions and protect these amazing mountain landscapes that we all love from the very real threat of climate change.”

CMC sustainability studies student Lily Leyva had the honor of cutting the ceremonial ribbon.

CMC sustainabilit-studies student Lily Leyva cuts the ribbon to celebrate the new solar array and battery storage complex on the Spring Valley campus before a group of onlookers who were on hand for the event Wednesday.
John Stroud/Post Independent

“I believe I can speak for all students here today when I say that we are excited to be here as CMC and partners make history,” she said. “As students, we appreciate the networking opportunities and real-world projects like this that you’ve brought to the table.”

The solar array and storage project has been under construction for three years and is about 95% complete. It is expected to come online before the end of the year. 

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Garfield County to install paid EV charging stations at Rifle admin building

Garfield County will now charge money for the convenience of charging electric vehicles at the county’s Rifle administration building.

The county recently secured an $18,000 grant from the Colorado Energy Office to replace the four existing electric-vehicle (EV) charging stations at the county building, located on West 14th Street in Rifle. 

The current stations are six years old, and only two are functioning, county Facilities Director Frank Coberly said before the county commissioners at their Monday meeting in Silt.

Grant money is to be used to replace the chargers with newer, Level 2 technology dual chargers. 

But, a proposed add-on also approved by the commissioners will include the capacity to accept credit cards, so the county can recoup electricity costs.

“I do get calls from people asking why we are giving away free electricity to people who have electric vehicles,” Commissioner Mike Samson said. “I have to tell them it’s because we have no way to charge, currently.”

The extra cost to install the paid charging stations is approximately $29,200, as opposed to around $9,200 for the non-paid stations, according to the options explained by Coberly.

But, the county would be able to recoup anywhere from $15 to $30 from each user, depending on whether they need a partial or full charge.

The Level 2 chargers take somewhat longer than the Level 3 fast chargers, about 12-24 hours as opposed to 40-80 minutes. The fast chargers are more common closer to interstates and other major highways, where travelers are looking for a quicker charge, Coberly said.

The Level 3 chargers would cost about $66,200 for the county to install.

Commissioners opted for the Level 2 chargers at the county building, noting that most of the users at that location tend to leave their vehicles plugged in for multiple hours.

The ability to charge was agreed upon, as well. The county will pick up the remainder of the installation cost aside from the grant.

The stations will also be moved from the current location in front of the building to the southwest corner of the parking lot. Commissioners said they prefer to reserve the more convenient up-front parking spaces for people needing to do quick business with the County Clerk and Recorder’s Office that’s located in the Rifle building.

While some local governments and other public entities have chosen to subsidize the cost for EV users to charge their vehicles at no charge, fee-based Level 2 and 3 stations are becoming more common, said Martin Bonzi, transportation manager for Carbondale-based nonprofit Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), which administers the intergovernmental Garfield Clean Energy programs.

The typical fee is between 10 cents and 15 cents per kilowatt hour and is aimed at recovering energy costs for the owners of the charging stations. 

Free Level 2 charging stations are still scattered around Garfield County, offered by municipal governments, as well as at Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) park-and-rides and Colorado Mountain College (CMC) campuses.

Currently, those include two at CMC in Rifle, six in New Castle, one at the Parachute rest area, 16 throughout Glenwood Springs, 10 at the Holy Cross Energy building south of Glenwood and 11 in Carbondale, according to a list compiled by Coberly.

State imposes EV fees 

The state of Colorado is also looking to recoup some of the loss in state gasoline tax dollars due to the increase in use of EVs by adding an extra fee on the registration of such vehicles.

Bonzi said EV owners now must pay an annual fee of $50 for a special decal, in addition to other registration fees. The fee can be adjusted every year for inflation, he said. 

In addition, the state can now collect a road-usage equalization fee for both EVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles at the time of registration. That fee is set to increase over the next 10 years from $4 for EVs and $3 for hybrids this year, to $96 and $27, respectively, by fiscal year 2031-32, Bonzi said.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Writers on the Range: Can we live with electric mountain bikes on trails?

The first time I saw an electric bike — better known as an e-bike — I was struggling up a hill. Suddenly, a silver-haired man came whizzing by in regular city clothes. I felt a wave of envy as he left me in the dust.

That was probably five years ago, and, since then, e-bike use has exploded. In 2020, e-bike sales in the United States for just the month of June totaled roughly $90 million, up 190% from the previous June.

It’s hard to remember, but regular mountain bikes didn’t become commercially available until the 1980s; and, when the early adopters hit trails previously used only by hikers and horseback riders, conflicts happened fast.

People claimed the bikes increased erosion. They worried about collisions and scaring horses. They theorized that mountain bikes would frighten wildlife. Today, those same arguments are being used against electric mountain bikes.

Once again, the controversy seems to stem from the fear of change, perhaps some arrogance and maybe a little jealousy. After all, since I suffered to get to the top of the climb on my own power, shouldn’t you?

In 2017, the International Mountain Bike Association, which had said that e-bikes should be considered motorized vehicles, softened its stance. Instead, it proposed that local land managers and user groups should determine — on a case-by-case basis — whether to allow e-bikes on naturally-surfaced trails. Many members canceled their memberships. Some comments were harsh.

One wrote, “If you’re too old to still ride the trails you love, do as many beforehand, reminisce about the good old days and encourage the young. Don’t throw them and our public land under the bus.”

That kind of attitude does not bode well for land managers to find an easy compromise.

So, what are the impacts of electric mountain bikes. Do they harm trails, or cause more accidents?

In 2015, the International Mountain Bike Association studied the environmental impacts of mountain bikes, both electric and self-propelled and found no appreciable differences between the two in terms of soil displacement on trails. Overall, bike impacts were similar to the impacts of hikers.

Horses, motorcycles and off-road vehicles do much more damage to trails.

As for problems caused by speed, traffic studies show that accidents and their severity escalate as differences in speed increase. But, do electrified bikes go that much faster than traditional bikes?

To find out, Tahoe National Forest measured the top speeds reached by intermediate and advanced riders using both kinds of bikes. Differences on the downhills were small. On uphills, traditional bikers averaged 5-8 mph, while electric mountain bikes traveled 8-13 mph. This was a difference, but not enough of a difference to cause more accidents, especially if bikers alert others to their presence and ride in control.

Rachel Fussell, program manager of the nonprofit PeopleForBikes, says that more than a battery boost, speed on trails reflects rider skill as well as trail design. She believes that all users observing proper trail etiquette would avert most potential conflicts.

Celeste Young has been a biker all her life and now coaches mountain biking. Her fleet of bicycles has recently grown to include an electric mountain bike.

“The most negative thing I’ve heard is, ‘Oh, you’re cheating,’” she says. “But, it’s just another way to be out there. You get an extra boost going up these really hard trails, so it makes a challenging trail fun, rather than demoralizing.”

It’s a puzzling notion that someone accused her of cheating. It would be one thing if you secretly put a motor in your bike during a race, but when it’s an amateur rider going out for fun and exercise, how is having an electronic boost cheating?

The whole thing reminds me — a skier — of the controversy that erupted after snowboards appeared at ski resorts. They were new and fast, and their rhythm on the slope was different than the rhythm of people on skis.

We didn’t like them, and I doubt they liked us. But, we’ve worked it out. Now, public land managers face the knotty problem of how much access to allow e-bikes and where, or whether, to segregate them to their own trails. Welcome to the crowded West.

Molly Absolon is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring discussion about Western issues. She lives in Victor, Idaho, and has worked as a wilderness educator, waiter, farmer and freelance journalist to support her outdoor recreation habit.

Writers on the Range: Coming soon, The Apocalypse, maybe

Just about every video game, young adult novel and buzz-worthy streaming series agree that we need to prepare for a post-apocalyptic world. Up ahead, around a sharp curve or off a cliff, it is waiting — The Apocalypse.

Maybe not “the complete final destruction of the world,” but certainly “an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale,” to quote the two definitions in the Oxford Online Dictionary. Not yet, but soon.

This has me wondering: How will we know when we move from pre- to post-apocalypse? This summer, my hometown in southern Oregon was crushed under a heat dome, sweltering in triple-digit temperatures. A fire across the state line ignited and within 24 hours exploded to become California’s largest wildfire this year so far.

The two mountain lakes that provide water to our valley orchards and vineyards are at 2% and 6% full, that is, 98% and 94% empty. Last year, an even more severe heat dome pushed temperatures in normally cool Seattle and Portland to record-shattering levels, wildfires burned more than a million acres in Oregon and 2000-year-old giant sequoias perished in fires of unprecedented severity in California’s Sierra Nevada.

Catastrophic extremes are becoming normal. The Great Salt Lake is at the lowest level ever recorded, spawning toxic dust storms. A mega-drought has shriveled the Colorado River, with the beginning of major cutbacks in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada. Elsewhere in the West, flooding devastated Yellowstone National Park in June, collapsing roads and leading to the evacuation of over 10,000 visitors.

Widening our view, Dallas is currently inundated with what is described as a “1,000-year” flooding event, following similar flooding disasters in Las Vegas, St. Louis and Kentucky earlier this summer. Across the Atlantic, Europe was scorched by the highest temperatures ever recorded this summer, triggering massive wildfires, the collapse of a glacier in Italy and over 10,000 heat-related deaths. India, China, and Japan experienced record heat waves this year.

I could go on, but no doubt you have read the news, too, about climate-caused apocalyptic events. Closely related is the global extinction crisis, with over a million species at risk by the end of this century. Bird populations in the United States have collapsed by one-third in the past 50 years, and the world’s most diverse ecosystems, including tropical rainforests and coral reefs, could largely disappear in coming decades.

Let’s also not forget the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed at least 6.46 million people worldwide and sickened 597 million. That pandemic shows no sign of ending as the virus continues to evolve new variants. Meanwhile, the new global health emergency of monkeypox has been declared. And polio, once eliminated in this country, is back, thanks to people who aren’t vaccinated.

What about America’s social fabric? According to a poll taken this summer by the New York Times, a majority of Americans surveyed now believe that our political system is too divided to solve the nation’s problems. The non-profit Gun Violence Archive has documented 429 mass shootings so far this year in America, with “mass shootings” defined as at least four people killed or injured.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade has led to a rapid and stark division of the country into states that permit abortions versus those that outlaw it. Republicans and Democrats increasingly live in separate media universes, with both sides concerned about the possibility of a civil war.

I admit this is a staggering list of “damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale,” but I’m not ready to declare myself a citizen of the post-apocalypse. We don’t have to live there. Instead, let’s accept that humanity and the whole planet are “apocalypse-adjacent.” The apocalypse is before us, and we can see it clearly. But the world is not yet ruined.

Human beings do have this redeeming and also infuriating trait: We are at our most creative and cooperative when it is almost too late. We can — we must — pull each other back from the brink. To fail is to condemn our children to live in the hellscape of a dystopian video game. As they will tell you, that is no place to be.

Pepper Trail is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is a naturalist and writer in Ashland, Oregon.