Conservation district talks funding, water

RANGELY | The Douglas Creek Conservation District held its annual meeting and banquet on Saturday. The event, which was attended by members, district stakeholders and numerous speakers, provided an evening of rangeland and water information.
The Douglas Creek Conservation District covers county land west of Cathedral Bluffs and north of the Bookcliffs to the Utah state line.
Following a Thanksgiving style meal, the presentations were kicked off with an update from White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts Executive Director Callie Hendrickson, who discussed the two major events the districts experienced last year.
2016 saw the finalization and implementation of the Rio Blanco Land Use Plan. The plan, which had a four-year creation process, was accomplished in partnership with the former board of county commissioners. It endeavors to influence federal decisions by providing local input regarding federal lands. Because federal law requires that federal agencies, such as the BLM, give “meaningful consideration” to plans developed by local governments and conservation districts, the district has been able to gain a bigger seat at the table during the decision making process. The plan has already been put into use in addressing sage grouse issues and has allowed a conservation district representative to attend the BLM’s weekly NEPA meetings where they can officially comment on current issues, such as the BLM’s travel management plan.
The other major event impacting the conservation districts was the news that their mill levy had been incorrectly assessed causing an 83 percent budget reduction for 2017. The mill levy, which began collection in 1989, is only eligible to receive monies from real property. However, since its inception, it was collecting on both real and personal property. According to Hendrickson the oil and gas industry were hit the hardest. The impacted companies were given the opportunity to request abatement for the past two years’ collection. Hendrickson expressed extreme gratitude that none of the companies had, and instead expressed support for the work undertaken by the districts. The companies left substantial money in the coffers of the districts, with Enterprise being eligible for $135,000, Williams $65,000 and XTO $30,000. To help ease the budget transition the former board of county commissioners helped fund the districts for the 2017 year.
Meeker resident Gary Moyer, who sits on the National Association of Conservation Districts, provided a short update. The NACD is currently pushing for Congress to oppose any EPA authority over water quantity and the recently released BLM Planning 2.0. According to Moyer, Planning 2.0 does not allow for enough local input, despite the claim by the BLM that local input is the very purpose of the new plan. Moyer also cited concerns that it gives environmental groups who are not locally based a much bigger seat at the decision making table. He is hopeful that the plan will be killed by the Senate.
Senator Cory Gardner’s office sent a representative to address the group. Betsy Bair, who manages Gardner’s Grand Junction office, confirmed that Senator Gardner does not support BLM Planning 2.0 and is opposing the BLM’s vent and flare regulations, which impact the oil and gas industry.
The second half of the evening was filled with talk of water issues, many of which have significant impact to those living on the White River.
Marsha Daughenbaugh of the Community Agriculture Alliance informed the group of an upcoming Yampa/White River Basin water workshop. The workshop will take place on March 22 in Steamboat. Agriculture producers will be provided with the opportunity to learn about The Colorado Water Plan and how it may impact them. More information can be found at coagwater. colostate.edu.
Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River Conservation District discussed the importance of Colorado snow pack. “We are all snow farmers,” he said. Pokrandt talked about the increasing incidence of water being pulled from production agriculture to the front range and the need to keep water moving from the East to the West. The Colorado River Conservation District will be piloting a program this year to conserve water in the Grand Valley, paying farmers to leave fields fallow. Pokrandt expects more than $750,000 to be paid to participating farmers this year.
The final speaker of the evening was Alden Vanden Brink from the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy. Vanden Brink updated the audience on the White River storage project, which is currently seeking to begin Phase II which includes modeling, preliminary studies and stakeholder outreach. Following Phase II the district will seek permitting, which Vanden Brink says can be a very long process.
The Douglas Creek Conservation District meets monthly, on the first Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Rangely. In coming meetings they will be discussing the future of the district.