Late summer thoughts on predator control, water and drying up farms

more water becky

Water and the laws that control its use are ever an issue in Colorado. Photo by Becky Ela.

What we’re watching these final weeks of summer.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife continues its PR push for the two predator management projects planned for the Roan Plateau and the Upper Arkansas Basin.

These areas long have been prime mule deer areas but now it’s thought by CPW biologists that an over-abundance of predators – specifically bears and mountain lions – have contributed to keeping deer numbers lower than the habitat will support.

The plans, which constitute a turnabout for an agency which has long preached that habitat, not predators, limit ungulate numbers, call for bears and lions being actively removed in May and June, months when newborn fawns are particularly susceptible to predation. It’s also a sign that other factors – habitat loss and fragmentation, development, increased human activity – are less controllable.

Daily Sentinel reporter Dennis Webb wrote a fine article about the Roan project in the Aug. 21 Daily Sentinel and it’s worth your effort to read it again.

The projects will be funded through the agency’s game cash fund from license sales and federal sportsmen excise tax dollars. Expect the non-license-buying public to voice its concern Sept. 19 when CPW hosts a meeting in Denver area.

A final decision will be made by the Colorado Wildlife Commission.

Today wraps up the annual Gunnison Angling Society’s Superfly Contest, wherein two-person teams compete to catch the most inches of trout in one day using only two flies per angler.

The contest is the main fundraiser for the Gunnison Trout Unlimited chapter and supports such causes the GAS Scholarship Fund and the annual Colorado TU River Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp.

If I were a betting man, I’d have money on the team of Mindy Sturm (Crested Butte) and Gene Hart (Gunnison) repeating as champions.

Speaking of water, Broomfield recently spent $3.2 million of taxpayer money for 120 shares of Colorado-Big Thompson water, which starts as snowmelt in western Colorado and ends up in some Front Range car wash.

At nearly $27,000 per share, that’s more than double what the same amount of water cost a decade ago. Broomfield’s purchase continues a longtime trend of buy-and-dry by the city, which has spent $12.6 million since the beginning of 2016 on acquiring water, with another $2.6 million deal in the works.

The sale was part of a larger auction that saw nearly $10 million spent for water rights.

“It’s not cheap, but you only pay for it once. You buy it once and you get it forever,” says Melanie Calvert, who works in Broomfield’s water resources department.

And goodbye forever to the fish, wildife and farmers.

More than 180 miles of the Yellowstone River were closed to recreational use on Aug. 18 after more than 4,000 mountain whitefish were found dead from acute Proliferative Kidney Disease, caused by a microscopic parasite. Some of the sections have since re-opened. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said the total number of dead fish could reach 10,000.

The FWP said the Yellowstone is seeing near-historic low flows, with temperatures about 20 degrees above what’s ideal for whitefish and trout.

Sam Sheppard, region 3 supervisor for the wildlife agency, said similar findings in recent years leads him to worry the low flows and high temps are becoming the “new normal.”

Speaking of new normal, The Water Center at Colorado Mesa University will host on Sept. 16 the annual Colorado River District Seminar, this year focusing on challenges facing water manager as warmer temperatures affect water resources.

On Nov. 2-3, it’s the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum at CMU, with the topic “Complex Systems in Flux.”

Much more information is found at the Water Center website.

Unquestionably part of the discussions will look at controlling excessive water diversions, a topic to which most Western Slope irrigators pay little heed. Not so much on the Front Range, though, where irrigators for years have watched out for and reported water wasters.

An article titled “Don’t take more than you need: Wrangling water on the Western Slope” published earlier this summer by Aspen Journalism addresses the challenges facing water managers when irrigators fail to abide by state laws prohibiting wasteful use of water.

Part of the problem is the misunderstood (and misapplied) so-called “use it or lose it” doctrine.

Much has come out recently about those words, including a report last February by the Colorado Water Institute clarifying whether or not reducing a diversion could lead to losing part of that water right (it doesn’t).

During the 41st Colorado Water Workshop last June in Gunnison, deputy state water engineer Kevin Rein said the law doesn’t mean “divert it or lose it.”

“There needs to be balance between use and waste,” Rein said.

Author and Quivira Coalition founder Courtney White offered that water law is better explained as “use it beneficially or lose it.”

And along this vein, the latest book by veteran journalist John Fleck carries the intriguing title Water is for Fighting Over: and Other Myths about Water in the West (available in print and e-book).

Here, Fleck argues that “When people get scared, they fight for the last drop of water; but when they actually have less, they use less.”

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