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Opinion columns can be submitted to letters@durangoherald.com . They are published at the prerogative of the opinion editor and may be edited. Opinion columns should be 600-650 words and should be accompanied by a head shot of the author and a one-line pertinent biographical description. (For example, “John Doe is president of the nonprofit Kidz ’n’ Horses,” or “Jane Doe is a Durango City Councilor.”) Please also include your full name and contact phone number.

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BID gives update on grants, bump-outs, July 4 activitiesWill a drone light show replace traditional fireworks this Independence Day?1152585Property owners in the MidTown area could be eligible for grant funding up to $50,000 in a PEAK Grant offered by the Urban Renewal Authority. (Courtesy of city of Durango)The Durango Urban Renewal Authority is offering up to three $50,000 grants for business and nonprofit property owners to use for large-scale property developments.The grant funds were generated by the Urban Renewal Authority, said Tommy Crosby, Durango economic opportunity coordinator. The grant is named the Peak Grant and the application is expected to become available by Jan. 21.Property owners are eligible to apply for one of the three grants if they have property in the MidTown area, which stretches from west Ninth Street to just north of East 15th Street and from the Animas River to East Second Avenue.17001297“If you’re interested, we really want to work with you and your property owner at your business,” Crosby said at the monthly virtual Business Improvement District meeting held Friday.Crosby said the URA is looking to fund “transformative projects” in MidTown Durango.Nonprofits applying for the $50,000 grants might also be eligible for matching funds.16001053Dan Gearig, co-owner of Switchback Taco Bar, builds the restaurant’s bump-out on Main Avenue in downtown Durango in April 2021. The city of Durango and Business Improvement District are considering turning bump-outs into a permanent fixture of downtown Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)BID and city consider future of bump-outsWhile grants are being offered by the Urban Renewal Authority for MidTown property development, grant funding for bump-outs are going away.That doesn’t necessarily mean that financial assistance is completely disappearing, though.Crosby said he is open to having discussions with downtown businesses that are interested in continuing their bump-outs but need financial help in doing so.Other changes are coming to bump-outs, as well. Crosby said the city wants to pay more attention to the Americans with Disabilities Act around bump-outs.ADA compliance is a piece under review in the approval process to make bump-outs a permanent fixture downtown.Businesses have the go-ahead to begin implementing bump-outs on March 14, said Tim Walsworth, BID’s executive director, during Friday’s virtual BID meeting.The business association is engaged in discussion through a program called Downtown’s Next Step, which involves talk about the future of bump-outs downtown.“The point of that is to create some vision and values for downtown and really look at, can we incorporate a (permanent) downtown outdoor space for businesses?” Walsworth said.He added that the devil is in the details about how bump-outs would be permanently integrated.Could robotic light shows be coming to Durango?83334383The Durango Business Improvement District is looking into organizing an Independence Day light display produced by drones in lieu of fireworks because of continuing concerns of fire hazards “in the age of climate change,” said Tim Walsworth, executive director of BID. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press file)The Fourth of July, or Independence Day, falls on a Monday this year, and the Business Improvement District is already plotting where and when events and celebrations will occur.July Fourth activities will be spread out on Sunday, July 3, and Monday, July 4, Walsworth said.The annual pancake breakfast at Rotary Park, 5K Fun Run and veterans-based event at Buckley Park are planned to take place in addition to the usual parade, dance, concert and fireworks, he said.But this year, the “fireworks” may be different.“Fireworks are hard in the age of climate change,” Walsworth said.Fireworks displays tend to be expensive, get canceled “all the time” and aren’t supported by the Durango Fire Protection District because the district won’t assume liability if something lights up and burns down, Walsworth said.“Our fire departments aren’t comfortable assuming all that liability to shoot them anymore, so you’ve gotta bring in an outside company,” Walsworth said. “It costs more money.”The concern about traditional fireworks is a burden where technology might be able to lend a hand.“One thing we’re hoping to be able to pilot this year is a drone fireworks show,” Walsworth said. “So it’s not a firework, it’s a drone. But the drones, you can program them to be in any shape you want.”Walsworth encouraged BID meeting attendees to look up past drone light shows for themselves. He said they are “super amazing and super cool, and a safe way to light up the sky.”0VideoYouTube480360The BID is looking into whether a drone light show can be integrated into Independence Day activities this summer.In other Independence Day news, Walsworth said a “big concert” is coming July Fourth to the La Plata County Fairgrounds, but he’s not allowed to announce who the main stage artist is quite yet.That didn’t stop him from saying that the performer will be a “huge, giant draw.”cburney@durangoherald.com
Will a drone light show replace traditional fireworks this Independence Day?
Durango fugitive suspected of shooting Farmington officer is arrested in PhoenixElias Buck spent 19 days on the run after escaping from the La Plata County Jail636469Elias BuckA Durango man who is suspected of escaping from the La Plata County Jail and shooting a Farmington police officer while on the run was captured Friday morning in Phoenix.The Phoenix Police Department received a tip just after midnight that Elias Buck and Victoria “Rossi” Hernandez were at a Quiktrip Convenience Store, 8004 N. 27th Ave. in Phoenix, according to a news release from the Farmington Police Department. “Phoenix Police Department received a tip of his location. I don’t know how it came in to them, but that’s what prompted them to respond to that location,” said Nicole Brown, a spokeswoman for the Farmington Police Department, in an interview with The Durango Herald.Officers responded and located Buck, who attempted to flee, but he was quickly detained. No officers were injured during his arrest, according to the release. But Brown said Buck faces charges of resisting arrest and battery of a police officer in Arizona. 633440HernandezHernandez was released pending the investigation. It was not immediately known whether Hernandez will face criminal charges.“There is going to be more investigation into that,” Brown said. “New Mexico laws on aiding and abetting are pretty complex.”She added: “They obviously didn’t get down to Phoenix on their own. They probably had help. So we’re going to be investigating this fully into anyone that assisted them and what charges we can bring to that.”Buck was first arrested Dec. 7 on suspicion of motor vehicle theft and was being held at the La Plata County Jail. But on Dec. 27, he scaled a fence and fled on foot, according to the Sheriff’s Office. He was discovered missing during a head count shortly after the escape.Buck was serving in the jail’s trustee program, which allows certain inmates to perform jobs around the jail, such as working in the kitchen or mopping floors. Inmates in the program have more ability to move about the jail with a lower level of supervision.On the night of Jan. 7, while on the run, Buck is suspected of shooting a Farmington Police Department officer in the right arm when the officer approached him and 28-year-old Hernandez on foot about a possible drunken driving incident.Officer Joseph Barreto returned fire, but there was no evidence on scene suggesting the officer hit Buck or Hernandez as they fled, according to the Farmington Police Department.The shooting set off a large-scale manhunt that involved federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The night of the shooting, San Juan County launched a helicopter, and the New Mexico State Police used a drone to search for Buck and Hernandez.Police received a “pretty consistent stream of tips” about Buck’s possible whereabouts during the week after the shooting, Brown said. “They were all chased down and looked into,” she said.Multiple law enforcement agencies conducted search operations from Jan. 7 through at least Thursday. At least one of those include an evening helicopter search in the Farmington area.The U.S. Marshals Service offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Buck’s arrest. Likewise, the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.Brown was unsure whether the nature of the tip provided to the Phoenix Police Department would enable someone to collect the reward money.An arrest warrant had been issued accusing Buck of aggravated battery on a peace officer with a deadly weapon.36063023BarretoBarreto was taken to a hospital in stable condition and underwent surgery. He has since returned home to recover.Brown said Barreto briefly visited the Farmington police station on Thursday.“He’s doing well, he’s in good spirits, he’s eager to get back,” Brown said. “We’ll get him back in the station on a light-duty assignment as soon as we can.”In a prepared statement Friday, Farmington police Chief Steve Hebbe said he looks forward to working with prosecutors in seeking justice. “This is the culmination of a very emotional week for FPD,” he said.Brown thanked the community and law enforcement partners.“It’s been a long week, and we’re relieved that he’s in custody and is no longer a threat to any community,” she said. htmlLaw enforcement agencies involved in the manhunt and eventual arrest included the U.S. Marshals Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; FBI; New Mexico State Police; Colorado State Patrol; San Juan County and La Plata County sheriff’s offices; and the Durango, Aztec and Bloomfield police departments.“FPD wants to extend a special thank you to the officers of the Phoenix Police Department who risked their safety to apprehend this dangerous criminal,” the release said.0VideoYouTube4803600VideoYouTube480360shane@durangoherald.com
Elias Buck spent 19 days on the run after escaping from the La Plata County Jail
The 7 biggest lines from Gov. Jared Polis’ 2022 State of the State addressColorado governor discussed saving people money and reducing crime49723315MANDATORY CREDIT; NEW YORK POST OUT; NEW YORK DAILY NEWS OUT; NO LICENSING EXCEPT BY AP COOPERATIVE MEMBERSGov. Jared Polis mentions Paul Simon's “50 ways to leave your lover” as he delivers his state of the state address at the Colorado State Capitol Building on Thursday in Denver. (AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via AP)Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday delivered the final State of the State address of his first term, focusing mostly on the ways in which his administration and fellow Democrats plan to drive down the cost of living in Colorado.Polis also discussed his plans to combat rising crime and gaps in children’s mental health care, while briefly delving into his climate and environmental priorities.Here are the biggest lines from Polis’ speech along with an examination of why they are so notable:845VideoYouTube4803601. ‘If it isn’t clear, saving Coloradans money and keeping our state affordable is my top priority this session.’About a third of the governor’s speech Thursday was spent on ways he feels he has or can save Coloradans money.That tracks with what Democratic leadership at the Capitol focused on Wednesday as the lawmaking term began. House Speaker Alec Garnett said affordability was also his top issue at the Capitol this year. It makes political sense. Polling has shown Democrats’ numbers slumping across the nation amid rising inflation. Members of both major parties say they hear from voters that the cost of living is a top-of-mind issue.“We promise to use every single tool at our disposal to save hardworking Coloradans the money you need to live the life you want,” Polis said.The governor said he plans this year to push through affordable housing initiatives and fee relief, including by delaying implementation of programs backed and passed by Democrats in recent years. “My administration will work with both parties to continue cutting taxes and fees wherever we can,” the governor said. Republicans argue that Polis and Democratic state lawmakers are responsible for rising consumer costs and find it ironic that they are now so focused on bringing them down.“He identified a lot of the right problems,” said state Rep. Colin Larson, a Ken Caryl Republican. “It’s just that he failed to acknowledge that he created them.”State Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat, worries that the governor’s proposals won’t benefit the right Coloradans.“I think the key is, how can we target assistance to the people that actually need it?” said Moreno, who is vice chairman of the Legislature’s powerful Joint Budget Committee. “Some of the proposals I’m seeing are a lot more broad-based. It would provide relief to, frankly, businesses and folks that don’t need it, didn’t have any impact during this pandemic, maybe even made record income and profits throughout it.”Moreno said he wants to better tailor affordability measures to help “the people who need it the most: the low-income folks, the restaurants that were decimated during the pandemic.”2. ‘Because our revenues as a state are strong, families will also receive a refund’The governor celebrated how revenues exceeding the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights limit on government growth will mean Coloradans are forecast to get refund checks and an income tax reduction for the next several years.That position clashes with some of his fellow Democrats, who are exploring how to keep some of the excess and direct it toward priorities such as education. It also bucks the general Democratic opposition to TABOR, a Republican mainstay in Colorado that liberals complain has led to fiscal issues in the state for nearly three decades. It was also interesting to hear Polis celebrate in his speech the 2020 passage of a ballot measure slashing Colorado’s income tax rate.The governor said the move “is saving families about $100 per year on average, while helping businesses hire more and pay more.” But most Democrats opposed the ballot measure.Another Republican-backed, income-tax-reduction measure is headed for the 2022 ballot.3. ‘I’ve never been one to shy away from ambitious goals, which is why I want to spend the next five years making Colorado one of the top 10 safest states in the country.’The governor first introduced this objective last week during a Colorado Sun event ahead of the 2022 lawmaking term. It’s a lofty goal given that Polis says the state is in the middle of the national pack when it comes to the state’s crime rates.The objective is yet another nod to political realities heading into the November election, as Republicans accuse Democrats of being weak on crime.Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Douglas County, said crime is just another area where Democrats are shifting their stance to meet changing public perception.“They have pushed very hard to let people out of jail, out of prison, be softer on sentencing,” Holbert said. “Now, it seems like their focus is trying to, again, retreat from where they’ve been.”1024682Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Douglas County speaks at an introduction of Republican lawmakers’ 2022 session plan. (Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun)After Polis’ speech, the County Sheriffs of Colorado, Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and Colorado Fraternal Order of Police released a joint statement thanking the governor for his focus on public safety but called on the Legislature to focus on “sustainable, renewable funding.”4. ‘Data and common sense tell us that preventing a crime does more to keep people safe than solving a crime after it’s committed.’This is an area where Democrats and Republicans disagree on how to tackle the crime wave in Colorado.While the GOP is pursuing some stiffer policies, Democrats want to invest in behavioral health and housing as ways to improve public safety. The idea is to create a social and economic environment where people are dissuaded from breaking the law.But there are some exceptions.“We also know that there are times when the swift arm of justice is the best solution,” Polis said, “which is why I look forward to legislation to strengthen penalties for drug dealers peddling fentanyl in our communities.”33682214Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, center, bids farewell to Colorado House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, right, after a news conference on the west steps of the State Capitol about legislative plans for the upcoming session Monday in Denver. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press file)State Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat who has worked extensively on criminal justice reform issues in Colorado in recent years, said she thinks the governor’s approach is correct.“We can’t go back to the punitive policies of the 90s,” Herod said. “Instead, we need to prevent crimes of desperation before they happen, which means bringing down the cost of living, ensuring that people can live in their homes and feed their children. But we also need better trained officers and more mental health first responders in the field in our communities.”As for Republicans blaming Democrats for rising crime, “we know that that’s not true,” Herod said.“There’s not one single bill they could point to say that is what has caused crime to go up.” she said. “COVID or economic climate, depression and despair is the reason why crime is up. And we have to address that. This is not a political talking point. This is people’s lives.”5. ‘Building safer, healthier communities also means improving our air quality and meeting the climate crisis head on.’The governor mentioned the word “climate” in his speech only three times. Environmental protesters outside of the Capitol, urging Polis to take more action to address climate change, could be heard throughout his speech.The activists held signs that spelled out the message, “OUT OF TIME.”1024768Climate protesters rally outside of the Colorado Capitol while Gov. Jared Polis delivers his State of the State address on Thursday. (Daniel Ducassi/The Colorado Sun)Some fellow Democrats, like state Rep. Emily Sirota, a Denver Democrat, wanted to hear Polis focus on the issue more.“The state is literally on fire. The world is on fire,” she said. “There should be more attention paid to the climate emergency. I think that we can both do that and help save people money.”60004000MANDATORY CREDIT NO SALES MAGS OUTThe Marshall Fire engulfs a home in Louisville on Dec. 30 as crews worked through the night battling the blaze. (Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP)Garnett, the House speaker, said Democrats will definitely be focused on climate and environmental issues at the Capitol this year.“I think climate is a priority,” Garnett said, noting that cleaning up Colorado’s air will be a particular emphasis in 2022. “You’ll see us leaning in on that and trying to figure out the best way forward.”Polis said at a news conference after his speech that “we look forward to engaging with legislators in an aggressive way to reduce emissions.”6. ‘We are tougher than anything thrown our way’Colorado’s resiliency was also a big theme in the governor’s speech as he noted the recent wildfire in Boulder County, the Table Mesa King Soopers shooting, and a gunman’s recent rampage through Denver and Lakewood. He also nodded to the state’s COVID-19 deaths.“Today’s speech was really about the Colorado people – the need to rise to the moment,” Polis said at his news conference. Polis said during his speech that “we are tougher than anything thrown our way. I’ve seen it myself.” He thanked those who have stepped up during crises over the past year, saying they embody the “Colorado spirit.”This is how the governor ended his speech: “The state of our state, just like the people of Colorado, is strong, it is steadfast, and, in spite of everything, we are boldly moving forward.”7. ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 2022’Polis often injects his nerdy humor into his speeches, and his 2022 State of the State address was no exception. He referenced Star Trek by giving a shout out to certain Democratic lawmakers whose work, he said, will help communities “live long and prosper.”He also sprinkled in music references, invoking lyrics by pop singer Taylor Swift to describe his optimism: “I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 2022, everything will be all right, because we know what we gotta do.”And the governor wrote his own version of Paul Simon’s hit song from 1975, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” saying, “there must be at least 50 ways to save Coloradans money.”59803986MANDATORY CREDIT; NEW YORK POST OUT; NEW YORK DAILY NEWS OUT; NO LICENSING EXCEPT BY AP COOPERATIVE MEMBERSGov. Jared Polis high-fives Rep. Mike Weissman after delivering his State of the State address at the Colorado State Capitol Building on Thursday in Denver. (AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via AP)Reacting to the governor’s pop culture references, House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, noted she’s “more of a Paul Simon fan, not quite into the Taylor Swift thing, but you know, I thought it was quirky. It was the governor.”While the pop culture references did get some laughs, Polis mentioned Taylor Swift twice compared to his three uses of the word “climate.” That raised some eyebrows.
Colorado governor discussed saving people money and reducing crime
Six-figure ad campaign pressures Polis to act on abandoned oil and gas wellsEnvironmental groups have criticized Colorado governor as being weak on climate change56163744Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks during a news conference on the west steps of the state Capitol about legislative plans for the upcoming session Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Denver. Leaders are aiming to expand access to health care as well as reduce costs, make the state more affordable by reducing child care and housing costs, improving the education system and taking steps to insure safe communities. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)Four liberal-leaning nonprofits will spend north of $100,000 on an ad campaign starting this week to pressure Democratic Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to force the oil and gas industry to set aside millions of dollars to clean up abandoned and orphaned wells.“Gov. Polis, we’re counting on your administration,” says the narrator of a television ad being paid for by the Sierra Club, ProgressNow Colorado, the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans and Colorado Rising.A spokesperson for the coalition declined to specify exactly how much it will spend on radio, digital, and TV ads and a billboard in downtown Denver, only that it was at least six figures. The TV ads will air on stations including CNN, MSNBC and CNBC.1VideoYouTube480360The groups behind the ad campaign have also launched a website – protectcoloradotaxpayers.com – as part of the initiative. They claim that if the COGCC doesn’t impose the prepayment rules taxpayers could be on the hook for the cost of cleaning up abandoned oil and gas wells.“We are counting on the Polis administration to hold the oil and gas industry accountable and force them to plan for the clean up of their $8 billion mess,” ProgressNow Colorado political director Alan Franklin said in a written statement. The ad campaign is notable because the Sierra Club, ProgressNow Colorado, LOGIC Colorado and Colorado Rising are groups traditionally aligned with Democrats. In fact, Polis was one of the founding board members of ProgressNow Colorado, and Democratic former state Rep. Jonathan Singer was recently named executive director of the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans, known as LOGIC.“We’re going to run and spend as much as we need to on this one,” said Lauren Petrie, the interim executive director of Colorado Rising. “We’re just getting started with this educational campaign.”The campaign also comes as Polis, who has faced criticism from some in the environmental community that he is weak on climate change, is gearing up for a reelection push this year.The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.The governor and Democrats in the Legislature have set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals, including ones that target pollution reductions by the oil and gas industry.Significant cuts to methane pollution from the oil and gas industry, the largest source of non-combustion emissions in the state, are needed to meet the roadmap Polis’ administration has laid out. In 2019, new legislation changed the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s from promoting oil and gas development to protecting health, safety and welfare. That law, Senate Bill 181, also required the agency to strengthen its financial assurance rules to prevent the state from being saddled with cleaning up a large number of orphaned wells, or those with no solvent owner.The latest version of COGCC’s draft rules will be the focus of hearings set to begin Jan. 20 and require operators to post larger bonds and ask for more information about low-producing wells that change hands.Operators currently must post a bond for plugging and cleanup of $10,000 or $20,000 per well, or a single $60,000 blanket bond for 100 or fewer wells and a $100,000 bond for 100 or more wells.Environmentalists have long said those amounts are too low, and the COGCC has estimated that plugging and cleanup costs top $82,000 per well.“We’re really disappointed in what we’ve seen thus far,” said Petrie, with Colorado Rising. “There’s no indication that the governor or the state agencies that he’s appointed are going to hold the industry accountable. Democrat or Republican, we want to make sure that taxpayers are not footing this massive bill for a trillion dollar industry. These companies should be able to clean up after themselves. If they can’t, they shouldn’t be drilling in the first place.”1024683A Ranger Energy Services workover rig is pictured during plugging and abandonment operations at an Extraction Oil & Gas well in Lafayette on Aug. 3. (Andy Colwell/Special to The Colorado Sun)Smaller companies have said proposed versions of the rules would tie up their working capital in bonds, cripple their business model and potentially drive operators out of business.An initial draft requiring a $78,000 bond per well, for example, would have created “the most expensive financial assurance rules in the country,” said Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, last year.The commission in November watered down an earlier draft of the rules that had defined inactive and low-producing wells – seen as metrics for assessing the risk of orphaned wells – and set a dollar-value for plugging each of the state’s roughly 52,000 wells.Industry advocates say Colorado has a relatively low number of orphaned wells, less than 500 compared to potentially hundreds of thousands in Pennsylvania, according to a 2021 report from the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission.A 2021 COGCC report found 236 orphaned wells and 547 associated orphaned sites in the state. That tally nearly doubled in October, when the commission voted to seize about 200 wells from five defunct or non-responsive operators. A state program funded by fines and fees on oil and gas operators has covered the cost to clean up orphaned wells in the state. The draft rules require companies to pay an annual $200-per-well registration fee to remediate orphan well sites.Abandoned wells are at risk of leaking methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, or chemicals if left unplugged. In 2017, a house in a neighborhood in Firestone was destroyed and two people were killed in an explosion after gas from a severed oil field line seeped into the basement and ignited.While the COGCC operates independently of Polis, the governor does appoint its members.The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.
Environmental groups have criticized Colorado governor as being weak on climate change
Colorado’s 2022 legislative session begins. Here’s your guide to get involved.Here’s how to find your lawmakers, testify on bills, stay up-to-date and more1080720MONDAY, JUNE 15, 2020 FILE PHOTOAn overhead view of the Senate chambers. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press file)Colorado’s Legislature passes bills with the potential to affect every Coloradan, often in ways deeper and more immediate than changes approved by Congress.School funding, health insurance, transportation, criminal justice, tax policy and a range of other issues and programs come under the scope of the Colorado General Assembly, which begins its 2022 lawmaking term Wednesday.One hundred lawmakers – 65 representatives and 35 senators – will work for 120 days through May 11. Democrats are in control with a 41-24 margin in the House and a 20-15 advantage in the Senate in addition to holding the governor’s office.As part of The Colorado Sun’s Capitol Sunlight project, which aims to explain state government to Coloradans, we put together this brief guide on how the Legislature works and what you can do to influence and stay up-to-date with the process:There is a lot of legislationLawmakers are supposed to introduce only five bills each, but there are often exceptions. In the past 10 years, the number of measures introduced ranged from 545 in 2012 to 721 in 2018, indicating that plenty of representatives and senators don’t follow the limit.About 63% of the bills introduced in the past 10 years were signed into law, with nearly 81% of 2020’s 623 introduced bills being enacted.But before a bill becomes a law and impacts your life, it goes through a lengthy and often complex process, with several opportunities for the public to follow along, offer their input and contact their lawmakers.How bills move through the LegislatureA bill becomes public once its title is read on the House or Senate floor, at which point it’s assigned to a committee. The Legislature lists bills as they’re introduced, along with information on where they’re at in the process and votes cast for or against them, on its website, leg.colorado.gov.Unlike in Congress and other state legislatures, every bill that’s introduced gets at least one committee hearing where members of the public may offer input. If you’re interested in following a particular measure, the web page for each piece of legislation includes a schedule for when and where it is set to be debated. If you’re interested in a particular issue area, such as education or health care, you might want to follow specific committees and their work. Committees in the House and the Senate typically meet at set times and days of the week in specific committee rooms, with the agendas published in advance.However, those agendas and schedules are subject to change. So if you’re particularly interested in a specific committee hearing, check the schedule at the end or beginning of the day.Click here for a more detailed guide that will help you navigate the expansive Capitol building.Once a bill passes committeesBills sometimes must clear multiple committees before they are advanced to a chamber floor. Once a measure reaches the full Senate or House, it must clear two votes to advance. The “second reading” of a bill is where the first vote is taken and it’s also where most debate occurs. Any lawmaker may offer floor amendments and speak for or against the policy. Typically, a voice vote is held on this initial passage.If a bill clears second reading, it heads to a third and final reading where the second vote is taken. The second vote must happen at least a day after second reading, though it may be delayed for strategic or logistical reasons. Typically, only amendments offering technical corrections are allowed at this point.Once the House or Senate approves a bill, it moves to the opposite chamber, where the same procedure – starting with a committee hearing or hearings – takes place. If amendments are made in the second chamber, lawmakers in the originating chamber must vote whether to approve them, reject them or call for a conference committee to iron out differences.0VideoYouTube480360How you can get involvedThere are plenty of ways for citizens to get involved in the legislative process:Participate in committee hearings. You may testify at committee hearings on specific bills either in person or via Zoom by signing up in advance. Note that speaking time may be limited if a large number of people are signed up to testify, so prepare to make your point in 3 minutes or so.We have some more information on how to testify for or against a bill here.Email or call your lawmaker. Lawmakers welcome input from constituents, though not when it’s threatening or laced with profanity. Consider contacting all the lawmakers on a committee considering the bill you’re interested in, said Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, a Douglas County Republican. First, ask if they plan to vote for or against a bill.“If they are going to vote the way you want them to, ‘thank you’ is a great way to respond,” Holbert said.If not, he recommends asking lawmakers to explain their position, then share your thinking on the issue.Here are more tips on how to communicate with your representative and senator. Don’t know who your state representative or senator is? Look it up here by plugging in your address. Then find their contact info on this list.You might have a lobbyist. Are you a member of AARP, the League of Women Voters, Americans for Prosperity or another civic group? Does your business belong to a state-level association? If so, you likely have someone lobbying lawmakers on your behalf. Such organizations typically establish positions on issues likely to come before the Legislature, and may adjust their stances through the session as legislation changes. Consider reaching out to a lobbyist or organization that represents you to see how you can interact with lawmakers. They’re often looking for real people to talk about an issue before committees. But keep in mind that the group’s position may not always align with yours.You may search a list of lobbying clients and lobbyists on the secretary of state’s website, with contact information and bills being lobbied listed.The Sun also keeps track of lobbying spending. Check out our analysis from the 2021 legislative session.You don’t need to leave home to get involvedMembers of the public can always visit the Capitol and sit in committee rooms or the House and Senate gallery. But if you want to stay at home, you can also watch the action online through Colorado Channel on YouTube. Here is the link.Committee hearings are not broadcast or recorded on video, but you can listen to them live through an audio feed or find them archived after the fact. Here’s the link. (For committee hearings, the entire audio often isn’t posted until hours later, or even the next day.)The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.
Here’s how to find your lawmakers, testify on bills, stay up-to-date and more
Body camera footage shows shooting of Farmington police officerU.S. Marshals Service offers $10,000 reward for information leading to arrest of Elias Buck806498The Farmington Police Department released body camera footage showing an officer-involved shooting that occurred Friday night. Elias Buck, a Durango fugitive, is suspected of shooting Officer Joseph Barreto in the arm. (Courtesy of Farmington Police Department)The Farmington Police Department released body camera footage Tuesday from officer Joseph Barreto that captures his encounter with shooting suspect and La Plata County Jail escapee Elias Buck.The shooting occurred Friday night after the officer stopped Buck and 28-year-old Victoria “Rossi” Hernandez while investigating reports of a drunken driver.558683Buck36063023BarretoBuck previously escaped from the La Plata County Jail on Dec. 27, where he was being held on suspicion of vehicle theft.The body camera footage shows Barreto exit his vehicle, approach two people walking down the sidewalk, and attempt to detain them before the male suspect pulls a firearm and fires multiple rounds, hitting Barreto at least once in the right arm. Barreto returns fire. It was not immediately clear whether police have any reason to believe Buck may have been struck by gunfire; efforts to reach a spokeswoman for the Farmington Police Department were not immediately successful Tuesday night.Before the shooting, Barreto shines his flashlight at the pair who are walking down the street. Barreto says, “Hi, guys,” and introduces himself as Officer Barreto with the Farmington Police Department. He asks them to take a seat on the ground.The male suspect asks if they are being detained before placing his hand into his right jacket pocket. Barreto says yes and the suspect asks “Why?” while removing his hand from his jacket and then firing.Barreto stumbles, breathing heavily and moaning, before he manages to radio for help. A police car arrives within moments, lights flashing and sirens roaring, and Barreto falls to the ground as another officer approaches to assist him.0VideoYouTube480360Barreto was taken to San Juan Regional Medical Center on Friday evening to be treated for a gunshot wound to his arm. He underwent surgery on Saturday and as of Tuesday was recovering at home, according to a news release from Nicole Brown, spokeswoman for the Farmington Police Department.A manhunt ensued that evening that included SWAT teams from the Farmington Police Department, San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, and New Mexico State Police with aerial assistance from the SJCSO helicopter and State Police drones.Law enforcement searched the areas of North Tucker Avenue, North Fairview Avenue, and connecting streets between East 20th Street and East Main Street throughout the night. The initial search lasted until Saturday afternoon.Buck remains at large as of Tuesday. He is described as 6-feet 1-inch tall and about 185 pounds with green eyes and blond hair.Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbes said Saturday Buck is considered armed and dangerous, and members of the public should not approach him. Instead, anyone who encounters Buck should call 911.0VideoYouTube480360The U.S. Marshals Service announced it is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to Buck’s arrest.Likewise, the LPCSO announced a $5,000 reward Sunday morning for information leading to the arrest of Buck.To submit a tip, call Farmington Police Department at (505) 599-1068.cburney@durangoherald.com
U.S. Marshals Service offers $10,000 reward for information leading to arrest of Elias Buck
Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio High Schools battle it out on the matDeegan Barnes of Bayfield High School battles Dale Harris of Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald873950Deegan Barnes of Bayfield High School battles Dale Harris of Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald915950Deegan Barnes of Bayfield High School battles Dale Harris of Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald972950Jordan Cundiff of Bayfield High School battles Vince Draper of Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald10891300The Durango High School bench celebrates on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald9111300James Mars of Bayfield High School wrestles Chris McGrath of Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald1048950Avery Mitzlaff of Bayfield High School fights off his back against Cole Pontine of Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald9481300Avery Mitzlaff of Bayfield High School wrestles Cole Pontine of Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald10041300Ben Belt of Durango High School battles Kobe Prior of Bayfield High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald8191300Ben Belt of Durango High School tries to take down Kobe Prior of Bayfield High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald9351300Dale Harris of Durango High School battles John Nossaman of Ignacio High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald9501300Dale Harris of Durango High School is pinned by John Nossaman of Ignacio High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald10301300Ryan Dugan of Durango High School pins Hunter Mars of Bayfield High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald8841300Logan Valencia of Bayfield High School wrestles Izik Garret of Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald8371300Jeremy Roderick of Ignacio High School takes down Vince Draper of Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald7451300James Mars of Bayfield High School wrestles Chris McGrath of Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald1323950Tyler Woodworth of Durango High School locks up a cradle against Donovan Candelaria of Bayfield High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald8721300Dale Harris of Durango High School puts John Nossaman of Ignacio High School in a hold on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald9521300Keaton Pickering of Bayfield High School does a head stand before rolling over his opponent from Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald1261950Oren Moore of Durango High School is put in a hold by Keaton McCoy of Ignacio High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald9291300Logan Valencia of Bayfield High School wrestles Izik Garret of Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald8901300Keaton Pickering of Bayfield High School works to pin his opponent from Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald9031300Keaton Pickering of Bayfield High School works to pin his opponent from Durango High School on Friday night at DHS. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald9151300
What will be debated when the Colorado Legislature returns next week?Gov. Jared Polis wants to focus on safety and cost of living1080720The Colorado State Capitol is seen Aug. 19 in Denver. The 2022 legislative session begins Wednesday. (Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun)Gov. Jared Polis wants Colorado to become one of the top 10 safest states in the U.S. within five years, he said Thursday night during a virtual Colorado Sun event ahead of the 2022 legislative session, which begins next week on Wednesday.56815686Polis“It’ll take a lot of work to get there,” he said.Polis, a Democrat, joined four top state lawmakers at the event to outline their policy plans. The politicians also shared their perspective about hot issues affecting the state as the 2022 election season begins in earnest. Polis said he plans to focus his efforts at the Capitol this year on measures aimed at ensuring Colorado is not just “a great place to live, but that people can afford to live here.”It’s an acknowledgment of how inflation has hit Coloradans’ pocketbooks.“What’s frustrating people is how costs have gone up faster than incomes,” Polis said.0VideoYouTube480360Polis’ prioritiesThe governor said the main way he plans to drive down Coloradans’ costs is by providing relief from government fees. That includes reducing the price to register a car, eliminating the costs to start a new business in the state and reducing the amount of money people have to pay to get licensed in certain medical occupations.Polis is also asking the Legislature for about $60 million to delay for one year the implementation of a new fee on gasoline that’s aimed at raising money for transportation projects.Finally, he wants to avoid increases in payroll costs by paying back much of the state’s $1 billion debt to the federal government in pandemic unemployment spending, and pre-paying some of the state’s new paid family and medical leave premiums.“If we fail to act, payroll taxes will go up in Colorado, costing businesses and workers money,” he said.Polis said he wants to do “everything that we can as a state to save Coloradans money: increasing affordability, decreasing costs, protecting communities.”He pointed to the Legislature’s plans to spend $500 million in federal coronavirus stimulus dollars on affordable housing, as well as his past efforts to bring down health care costs and introduce universal prekindergartenPolis also highlighted his 2022 proposal to invest more money in K-12 education. The state has a constitutional requirement to increase per-student funding each year to keep up with inflation, but state lawmakers haven’t met that requirement in years, resulting in what amounts to a multibillion-dollar IOU to school districts.The governor’s budget proposes making a dent in what’s called the “budget stabilization factor,” with $150 million each year for the next three fiscal years.Another big priority for Polis is making the state safer, saying Colorado is “in the middle of the pack with regard to crime rates.”He wants to see the state have one of the 10 lowest crime rates in the country within five years.“Let’s start this legislative session with a historic opportunity to invest in a package to tackle crime and promote public safety,” he said.The package would include more funding for policing, community based grants to promote safer streets and monitoring and youthful offender intervention. He also wants to boost funding for the forensics lab for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, as well as explore restorative justice programs and co-responder models that pair police officers with mental health workers.He also said he wants to prevent crime before it happens by investing more in behavioral health.Republicans’ goalsTwo prominent Republican state lawmakers agreed with many of Polis’ goals, though they have different approaches to how they want to accomplish them.300450RichState Rep. Janice Rich, whose Western Slope district includes Grand Junction, said Polis’ “priorities seem to be very familiar or similar to ours.”“One of our top goals is to make Colorado more affordable because we do live in a state where middle class families cannot afford their homes, gas or groceries,” she said. “And we as Republicans want to reverse the excessive fees, taxes and regulations that threaten to put the American dream out of reach.”Rich also sees public safety as a priority, asserting that crime, “under the Democrats watch, is spiraling out of control.”300450RankinSen. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, said he thinks the Legislature can make a lot of progress on affordability and education.“But having said that,” he said, “we will not neglect our responsibility as the minority party to have alternative proposals, and to be very critical of some of the aspects of the proposals that we’re seeing.”He said he sees opportunities to address behavioral health issues and early childhood education, but that those efforts “come with new bureaucracy.”Rankin is concerned about requests from agencies to add new full-time employees to the government’s payroll, and specifically how the growth of state government will affect Colorado’s long-term financial health.Rankin also said he wants to see the state be more aggressive with the budget stabilization factor and the state unemployment trust fund. Rankin wants to provide enough funding to eliminate the budget stabilization factor entirely, and believes increasing property tax revenue will help the state get there. He also wants to see more money go toward paying down the state’s unemployment trust fund debt, noting the governor’s $600 million proposal won’t eliminate the $1 billion deficit.Rankin said “we need to do a lot more” on forest management and wildfire mitigation, providing more support for local fire departments as well as equipment and benefits for volunteer firefighters.He also defended his party’s positions on climate change, arguing the state has been so focused on wind and solar energy that it has overlooked other renewable alternatives, and “we’ve neglected a slower transition when it might actually support jobs and people.” He argued that “taking a hard look” at the state’s efforts to transition to renewable energy “does not mean that we deny climate change, nor do we deny the need to move to renewable energy.”Democrats’ goalsSenate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, largely echoed the governor’s legislative agenda.300420EsgarEsgar also said she will be focused this year on passing legislation in Colorado that would ensure a woman’s ability to get an abortion in Colorado as the U.S. Supreme Court mulls the future of Roe v. Wade.“It’s clear that a patient’s fundamental right to have an abortion is at risk nationwide in our country right now,” she said. “And we’re not going to just stand by and let Republican politicians put it at risk here in Colorado as well. We are going to codify the right to an abortion and stop any and all efforts to limit abortion access in our state.”300450FenbergOn education, Fenberg said Democrats would love to eliminate the budget stabilization factor but that he wants to make sure it’s not just for one year. “Getting rid of it for one year doesn’t do a whole lot of good,” he said. “We have to get rid of it in a way that is sustainable so that it goes away forever.”He argued that paying off the budget stabilization factor this year would mean having to rely more on property tax revenues in future years.“It’s complex, but we absolutely are there as a partner if the Republicans have ideas that are sustainable to address the structural problems that we have in funding,” he said.Fenberg also pushed back on Republicans’ criticisms about rising crime and inflation on Democrats’ watch.“I think the handling of things that nobody ever saw coming has been on the Democrats’ watch,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think voters generally support our policies, much more than the Republicans.”Finally, Esgar addressed returning to the Capitol amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Last year, Democratic leadership paused the legislative session to let an increase in the disease’s spread wane.“We’re taking every step necessary to ensure the health and safety of everyone who comes into work in this building while balancing the public’s right to participate in the political process,” she said. “We have to remember that’s key. And that’s essential. While we’ve been seeing how rapidly things can change over the course of this pandemic, the vaccine is highly effective. And we feel that with sufficient safety protocols in place, the session can proceed safely at this time.”Esgar said the situation could change and that Democratic leadership is “being very flexible.”“We’re going to continue monitoring the situation,” she said.The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.
Gov. Jared Polis wants to focus on safety and cost of living
Eyewitness to Marshall Fire origin recounts scene like a ‘war zone’Video by Mike Zoltowski appears to show devastating blaze’s earliest moments1891943A still from a video that Mike Zoltowski made of a fire behind 5325 Eldorado Springs Drive on the morning of Dec. 30 that is being investigated as a possible origin of the Marshall Fire in Boulder County. (Mike Zoltowski/YouTube screenshot)A neighbor of a property where a small structure was seen on video engulfed in flames late Thursday morning said he witnessed how those flames appeared to touch off what became the devastating Marshall Fire and that there might also be at least one other ignition source.“I saw everything,” the neighbor, Mike Zoltowski, told Newsline. He said the scene “was like a war zone.” Zoltowski made his own video clips of the scene, which he shared with Newsline.Zoltowski lives just south of 5325 Eldorado Springs Drive, east of the Eldorado Springs community. A video taken a little before noon Thursday by witness Anjan Sapkota showed a small structure, variously described in media accounts as a shed or barn, engulfed in flames at the property. The video is part of the investigation into the cause of the Marshall Fire, which wiped out about 1,000 homes in Louisville and Superior and is the most destructive fire in state history. Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle confirmed Sunday that investigators have determined the origin of the fire is in that area.Law enforcement officials executed a search warrant at a location as part of the fire investigation, though Pelle has not specified whether that occurred at Eldorado Springs Drive. On Sunday morning, sheriff’s deputies and vehicles were seen at the address, and two members of the Colorado National Guard in a military Humvee blocked access to the road.The property is occupied by members of The Twelve Tribes religious community, who operate The Yellow Deli in Boulder.A person who answered the phone at The Yellow Deli and declined to share their name referred a reporter’s questions to Boulder County Sheriff’s Office investigators. “I don’t have any comment to make at this time,” the person said. The person said of Twelve Tribes residents, “Everyone’s OK,” and they’re evacuated from the property.0VideoYouTube4803600VideoYouTube4803600VideoYouTube480360‘Their entire field was on fire’Zoltowski, who works with Just Biofiber Structural Solutions on bringing the Canada-based company to America, said he was home Thursday when he noticed first responder activity outside. He went to the Twelve Tribes property to see what was happening and encountered two men, one who Zoltowski said had a dislocated shoulder. He also saw about seven children and five women on the property, where he estimated 20 to 25 people on average live at any given time.“When I went over there to help them, their entire field was on fire,” Zoltowski said, adding that the property totals roughly 5 acres.When he asked residents what happened, they said, “One of our dwellings caught on fire,” Zoltowski said. “If you want to actually put real news out there, the dwelling caught on fire and it probably spread to the barn, because the barn – I watched the entire thing burn down. Like it was whole, and then it burned down, but there was smoke before then.”He cautioned that, though this is what he saw, the dwelling is slightly downwind of the barn and he therefore wonders how the fire could have spread from the dwelling to the barn. He also said he had no communication with the residents that would have indicated what might have caused a fire in the dwelling.Fire officials initially suggested that power lines blown down by wind, which was recorded in the area as gusting at around 100 mph Thursday, caused the fire. On Saturday, officials said investigators had found no downed power lines near the fire’s origin, only telecommunications lines.Local power company Xcel Energy had “inspected all of their lines within the ignition area and found no downed powerlines,” a statement from the Boulder Office of Emergency Management said. “They did find some compromised communication lines that may have been misidentified as powerlines. Typically, communications lines (telephone, cable, internet, etc.) would not be the cause of a fire.”‘This had to be separate’Zoltowski, however, said that what he witnessed led him to believe there was another ignition source south of the Twelve Tribes property.He gestured to a hill west of the property, in the direction the wind was whipping that morning, and said he saw it covered in black smoke. “That burned for probably 45 minutes, until a power line went out over there” – he pointed south, perpendicular to the direction of the wind on Thursday – “and then all of a sudden this went (on fire),” he said. “This was separate. This had to be separate.”While acknowledging he cannot distinguish between power and telecommunications lines, Zoltkowski said he saw “so many” utility lines down.“For everything to be burning all the way on this side and the winds blowing that direction, for this to catch on fire is almost impossible,” he said.Pelle, in an interview with Newsline on Sunday, said Zoltowski’s account of another ignition source was plausible.“That’s very much in alignment with what I personally saw,” Pelle said.Pelle emphasized that only a methodical investigation by experts could produce a reliable description of how the Marshall Fire started. But he noted that the first fire personnel on scene Thursday reported a line down in an RTD parking lot just south of the Twelve Tribes property, and “we had a phone call from somebody that said there was a fire on a power line.”“The line that was reported I believe was the telecomm line that hangs below (the power line) and it’s down on the ground, and it’s an inch thick, it’s huge,” Pelle said. “And I’m told it can’t have enough electricity to start a fire, but it’s right in that spot where your eyewitness said they saw a fire, and there’s a pole that’s burned there. I’m just saying, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions. I want expertise involved.”The notion that the shed was not the fire’s source on the Twelve Tribes property is also possible, Pelle said.“We have a video of that shed burning,” he said. “But was it primary, was it secondary? What were the sequence of events? Those are all a lot of questions that need to be answered.”He said it’s important to avoid speculating on the fire’s cause before a thorough investigation is complete.“We don’t want to point the finger anywhere, because the stakes are huge. The risk to anybody from the anger in the community, the financial aspects, it’s enormous,” he said. “So we’re going to move really slow and be really cautious and get the right people to help us as far as expertise.”To read more stories from Colorado Newsline, visit www.coloradonewsline.com.
Video by Mike Zoltowski appears to show devastating blaze’s earliest moments
A future of drought? Ute Mountain Ute Tribe looks at life with less waterLimited water supply consolidated to keep corn crop and flour mill operating; jobs lost, canal payment assistance requested16001067Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald An irrigation ditch carries water to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Farm and Ranch Enterprises land on Oct. 20 near Towaoc. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)In the Ute Mountain Ute language, paa is the word for water, nüvav means “snow,” uway means “to rain” and tühpar üatüaa means “dried up cropland.”These words weigh heavy on the minds of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in Southwest Colorado because they are missing the critical ingredients of snow in the mountains and rain in the valleys.These words weigh heavily on the minds of Ute Mountain Utes in Southwest Colorado because they are missing the critical ingredients of snow in the mountains and rain in the valleys.Tribal member Wilford Lang drove a tractor for more than 20 years for the tribe’s 7,600-acre alfalfa and corn farm, southwest of Towaoc.He has seen water supply fluctuate up and down. But when flows in the Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir came in at 10% for the 2021 season, he and 20 other workers on the farm suddenly lost their jobs.“I was one of the main guys, but no water, no crop, no equipment operators needed,” said Lang, 45. “Before when we had droughts, we managed to keep working. This one was worse.”Water is sacred for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and with less to go around, the tribe is searching for ways to augment its supply.Tribal elders remember water scarcity long before the Colorado Ute Water Rights Settlement of 1988, which provides water for tribal lands from the Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir.Vera Summa remembers the 1950s, when she and her grandmother collected water from the springs and mesas of Sleeping Ute Mountain. During winter, adults, elders and children collected snow in bundles and hauled it out on their backs, Summa said.“Get the snow and melt it, that is how we used to drink water,” she said. “The snow used to be 3 feet in the mountains. We collected it and stored the water in barrels.”0VideoYouTube480360The Mancos River runs through Ute Mountain reservation lands, but it dried up after Jackson Reservoir was built in 1950 to serve the Mancos area upstream, said elder Laverna Summa, Vera’s sister.“The water just quit. It was salty water, and we did not depend on it,” Laverna Summa said. “We traveled by horse and wagon to fill up containers with water.”“When I was a little girl, there were a lot of streams that came from springs on the Ute Mountain where we always collected water,” said tribal elder Colleen Cuthair-Root. “When I visit those places today, the springs are not seeping any more.”Water shortages are happening again, brought on by a worsening dry spell that started in 2002.16001067Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald A center-pivot irrigation system is idle in an alfalfa field on Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Farm and Ranch Enterprises land in late October. Fallow, drought-stricken fields have replaced alfalfa and corn harvests during the worst water year in McPhee Reservoir history. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)16001126Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch Enterprises near Towaoc on Nov. 10. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)720519Ute Mountain Ute Tribe elders Laverna Summa and Vera Summa pose in front of traditional tribal leaders in Tribal Council. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)jmimiaga@the-journal.com1600969Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald Center pivots sit in an alfalfa field on Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Farm and Ranch Enterprises land. Shiprock rises from the horizon in San Juan County, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation south of Towaoc. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)In 2021, drought-stricken fallow fields have replaced the bounty of alfalfa and corn harvests on the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch operations, an economic hardship brought on by the worst water year in McPhee Reservoir history.Marginal mountain snowpack was sucked up by dry ground and whisked away on the warm spring wind.The runoff from mountain snowmelt never made it to McPhee, where the water level already was low from the previous parched year.The 2021 deficit caused a 90% water shortage for farmers tied to the Dolores Water Conservancy District, including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.The tribe’s 7,600-acre farm received just 10% of its 24,517 acre-foot allocation.The water shortage dried out fields and brought financial challenges for the farming and ranching operations. The tribe laid off half its farm workers, about 20 total, most of whom are tribal members.“That is the hardest part, losing jobs,” said General Manager Simon Martinez. “The silver lining is we kept our corn mill fully staffed and operational.”Farm operations include the Bow and Arrow mill, a state-of-the-art facility opened in 2014 that sells non-GMO, gluten-free and kosher cornmeal to food manufacturers, grocery stores and distilleries.The mill’s products are used to make chips, polenta, pasta, grits, cornbread, whiskey and more.16001099Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald Simon Martinez, general manager of the Ute Mountain Ute Bow and Arrow Brand and Farm & Ranch Enterprises, talks Oct. 20 near Towaoc about how drought and reduced irrigation have affected crop production. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)16001042Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald The Ute Mountain Ute Bow and Arrow Brand mill on Oct. 20 near Towaoc. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)16001090Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald Ethan Summa, with the Ute Mountain Ute Bow and Arrow Brand mill near Towaoc, prepares a bag of ground corn to be shipped. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)Martinez used most this year’s limited water supply to irrigate the white, yellow and blue corn crops and keep the mill and its staff of 13 going. The tribe’s ranching operation, with a 600 cow-calf herd, has been kept whole.So far, business has been brisk at the corn mill, but the drought weighs on everyone’s mind.“Right now, we’re busy, but we could run out of corn – that’s kind of at the back of your mind,” said Aarion Eyetoo, the mill’s quality assurance manager. “We need these jobs to support our families.”Schuyler Jacket, who has worked 12 years in the fields and at the mill, senses the change in climate.“It feels like this is the first time we have been hit this hard by drought. Before, we had a few dry spells here and there – not like this, though,” he said.The modern Ute Farm and Ranch deploys 110 center-pivot sprinklers during normal years. Only 10 operated this year.Lang operated tractors, combines and swathers on 110 circle farms that usually green up the desert south of Towaoc, at the toe of Sleeping Ute Mountain.In the late 1990s, he was there when the alfalfa farms became fully developed, thanks to tribal water rights and a steady flow of water from McPhee Reservoir, built in the 1980s.He experienced development of the Bow and Arrow Brand corn mill, new crop plans, and the transition to satellite technology on tractors, which automatically directs machines along the most efficient crop line to save fuel and time.“We are very modern, the farm has been good at adjusting, we control our corn sales now instead of contracting it out. I learned different machines. It all depends on water though,” he said.16001105Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald David Pettigrew, with the Ute Mountain Ute Bow and Arrow Brand mill near Towaoc, fills a bag with ground corn Oct. 20. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)16001166Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald Simon Martinez, general manager of the Ute Mountain Utes’ Bow and Arrow Brand and Farm & Ranch Enterprises, walks past bags of ground corn to be shipped out of the tribe’s mill. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)Lang said the farm and ranch operation and Bow and Arrow corn mill have been an economic boon for the tribe. They provide well-paying careers for many tribal members and create a deep sense of pride.“We see it on the shelves in stores, and know we are a part of it,” he said.The 2,000-member Ute Mountain Ute Tribe does not have the geologic resources or wealth of its sister tribe, the Southern Utes to the east. Ute Mountain Utes depend heavily on tribal enterprises for revenue, including the Ute Farm and Ranch, Ute Mountain Casino, Weenuche Weeminuche Construction Authority., Ute Mountain Tribal Park, the Travel Center and Ute Mountain Pottery. By contrast, the 1,200-member Southern Ute Tribe is one of the wealthiest tribes in the country, thanks to its oil and gas operations. Corn and alfalfa yields downDuring normal water years, Martinez said, the farm harvests 2,000 acres of the corn varieties, enough to sell to other farms. But dry conditions this year allowed it to grow corn on only 500 acres, with lower yields per acre, and all it reserved for the Bow and Arrow mill operations.The tribe has 70,000 bushels of corn in silos from last year, plus this year’s harvest of 100,000 bushels — a fraction of the 500,000-bushel harvest in normal years.1600837Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald A truck kicks up dust at Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Farm and Ranch Enterprises land near Towaoc. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)1600987Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Farm and Ranch Enterprises tanks store water for land and livestock near Towaoc. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)16001231Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald Ethan Summa, with the Ute Mountain Ute Bow and Arrow Brand mill, weighs a bag of ground corn Oct. 20. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)Likewise, the tribe this year grew only 1,200 acres worth of its premier alfalfa, which is coveted by Texas dairy cow operations because of its high relative feed value, produced by Southwest Colorado’s warm days and cool nights. That compares with 5,000 acres in normal years.The drastic drop in crop revenue fell short of the $660,000 in annual delivery costs for the water on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Towaoc-Highline Canal.So far this year, Martinez said, the tribe has paid $150,000 of that bill and has asked the Bureau of Reclamation for drought assistance to pay the rest.The request is being reviewed, said Robert Stump, of the Reclamation office in Cortez.Martinez and his reduced farm staff still must tend to thousands of acres of fallow fields, and they are discing the soil and controlling weeds to prep the fields for next year.Long-term forecasts for the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah call for abnormally dry and hot weather.Ute Mountain tribal member Ethan Summa, who works in the corn mill, sees the water crisis as motivation for the community to collaborate more on the issue.“We are all in the stalemate together, we’ve got to come up with a solution,” he said. “When McPhee is low, it is not just a tribal issue. Everyone around us is impacted.”Martinez hustles through every day, managing operations, overseeing deliveries, taking phone calls and crossing items off a large whiteboard in his office.16001165Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald Blue cornmeal grown by the Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch Enterprises and processed at the Bow and Arrow Brand mill near Towaoc. Small bags of the meal are sold by the tribe and distributed to retailers. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)9501244Mandatory Credit: Jerry McBride Durango Herald Blue cornmeal grown by the Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch Enterprises and processed at the Bow and Arrow Brand mill near Towaoc. The small bags are sold by the tribe and distributed to retailers. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)He said Ute Farm and Ranch will adjust to a likely future with less water.“We will decide next year what crops we can grow with the water we do have,” Martinez said. “I am optimistic by nature, but what are the chances we will get our full 24,500 acre-feet from now until March? The weather’s really got to change.”Senior water rights buffer drought impactsUte Mountain Ute water rights have a complex history.As part of the Colorado Ute Water Rights Settlement of 1988, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe gave up 1868 rights on the Mancos River in exchange for more junior water rights to the Dolores River in McPhee Reservoir, said Mike Preston, a water consultant for the tribe.The settlement was made partly in response to the Mancos River going dry through Ute Mountain Ute land after Jackson Lake was built upstream in Mancos.As original inhabitants, Native American tribes have inherent water rights, which were codified by the Winters Doctrine, a 1908 U.S. Supreme Court decision that mandates that tribal reservations have access to water.As part of the 1988 settlement, the Dolores Project and McPhee Reservoir satisfied Ute Mountain Ute water rights via delivery from McPhee and the gravity-fed 39-mile Towoac-Highline Canal to Ute Farm and Ranch.The settlement also created a reliable domestic water line to Towaoc from the Cortez water treatment plant, which gets the water from McPhee.Ute Farm and Ranch shares shortagesequally with other water district farmers when water supply is below normal. Consequently, the tribe took a 90% hit this year, along with other ranches and farms. The fish pool, 32,500 acre-feet earmarked for native fish habitat downstream of McPhee Reservoir, also took the cut. Municipalities do not share in the shortage.McPhee, the Dolores Water Conservancy District and the tribe are more exposed to drought because their water rights on the Dolores River are junior to those of Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co.In these dry times, the tribe has redoubled its efforts to study and potentially claim all its water rights, including on the San Juan River, said Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Manuel Heart. The river touches the Ute Mountain reservation while flowing from New Mexico to Utah.“We arewant to look into and pull back our water rights on the San Juan. Downstream they will say, ‘It impacts us’ because they have been using it all this time, but not if we have the rights,” Heart said.Colorado’s prior appropriation water system of “first in line, first in right” can leave more junior water right holders high and dry in extreme drought, a situation that is playing out now.The practicality and fairness of the system in a new era of aridification and chronic water shortage has been a point of discussion, Heart said.“We have been here the longest, but don’t have senior status, plus we have OandM costs on the canal to get our water,” Heart said. “We’re seeing a megadrought. In the future if the drought gets worse, who will get cut short, Montezuma, Cortez or us?”The tribe has hired additional staff to work on water issues, and Heart encourages leaders to “think out of the box.” He said the tribe should have looked into buying Totten Lake, which recently was sold to Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. Totten feeds McElmo Creek, which flows through tribal lands.The tribe still has junior rights on the Mancos River, Heart said, and could put out a “call” on the river. The process would trigger a tighter accounting of diversions by the state water engineer to see whether the tribe is losing out on any of its water rights.“We’d like to talk about adding storage to Jackson Lake, so we could release our share down the Mancos and collect it here,” Heart said. The water could augment water shortages from the Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir.When Cuthair-Root served a term on Tribal Council and learned about the tribe’s water rights position with McPhee Reservoir, she felt there were benefits, but shortcomings as well.“I didn’t like the terms. Whether we receive our allocated water or not, we still have to pay the canal costs,” which are more than $600,000 per year, she said. “The council should revisit water appropriations, have a discussion and timeline to modify, to see if anything can be done to help out the tribe.”Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. has senior rightsMontezuma Valley Irrigation’s senior water rights date to 1888 and 1885 and include the first 795 cubic feet per second of the Dolores River. Anything above that flow mostly goes to Dolores Water Conservation District.McPhee Reservoir water serves multiple usersWater allocations from McPhee Reservoir and Dolores Project are divided among multiple users. At full capacity, the reservoir delivers up to 278,482 acre-feet of water per water season in the following amounts:— Full-service farmers: 62,267 acre-feet of water for 29,000 acres in Montezuma and Dolores counties.— Ute Mountain Ute Tribe: 24,517 acre-feet for 7,600 acres.— Downstream fishery: 31,798 acre-feet. The fish pool is stored in McPhee Reservoir, and releases downstream are managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.— Montezuma Valley Irrigation District: 90,000 to 150,000 acre-feet for 26,300 acres.— City of Cortez: 2,300 acre-feet.— Town of Dove Creek: 280 acre-feet.— Dolores Water Conservancy District: 5,120 acre-feet.— San Juan River fish and wildlife water: 800 acre-feet diverted for federal mitigation of wetlands and Totten Lake in Cortez.In normal runoff years, the river flows well above that level and is enough to satisfy MVIC rights and fill McPhee reservoir.But during extreme dry periods, MVIC’s senior position buffers the impact of drought somewhat for its shareholders because at lower flows, their river rights are more senior and more likely to be filled.MVIC, which stores water in Narraguinnep, Groundhog and Totten reservoirs, has rights to about 130,000 acre-feet of Dolores River Basin water annually. This year, it received only 92,000 acre-feet because of the drought.The poor snowpack caused a 30% shortage this year for MVIC, and the irrigation season was shortened by about 20 days, said MVIC manager Brandon Johnson.“It’s pretty scary when you look at the long-term forecast, pray for good snow in the Dolores Basin,” he said. “We made it through this year, but farmers definitely had less water to work with and lower crop yields.”Drought brings change to communityAfter the layoffs, Lang’s restless energy and established work ethic did not allow him to sit by idle for long.With fields lying fallow, he took a job as a gym coordinator for the tribe’s recreation center, and sees new doors opening if the farm job doesn’t come back.“Organizing games and exercise programs for youth and the community is something I’ve often thought about doing. Less money though,” Lang said. “I do miss the farming, it is familiar and comfortable. Here, I’m learning something new.”He has basketball coaching experience and looks forward to the North American Indigenous Games and the Tri-Ute Games, which host competitive events between the three Ute tribes in the region.Lang said the Ute Farm and Ranch and Bow and Arrow corn mill have been an economic boon for the tribe. They provide well-paying careers for many tribal members and create a deep sense of pride.He became aware of tribal job opportunities through internship programs when he was a student, and he would like to see that continue and grow.“As a young person, the internship is what got me interested in farming and ranching,” he said. “It’s so important to show our youth the opportunities we have here. They are our future leaders.”He remembers taking student tours with professionals to archaeology sites, the tribe’s Weeminuche Construction company, farms, cattle operations, the casino, Ute Mountain pottery and office jobs.“Setting up that interest early is what will lead to our tribal members leading these organizations,” Lang said. “We need more of those internships.”He passed on the farming bug to his oldest children, who have also driven tractors on the tribe’s farm.The drought changed Lang’s life.The uncertainty has him longing for 10-hour days in the tractor harvesting the tribe’s bounty, but at the same time it might have opened up new career possibilities.“Honestly, I never thought I’d lose my job from drought. I always knew what farms go through, but it was still a surprise when it happened,” he said.18002208Wilford Lang, of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, was laid off from his farming job driving tractors because of the drought. He took a job as gym coordinator for the tribe's recreation center in Towaoc and hopes to return to farming next year. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)jmimiaga@the-journal.com720622Ute Mountain Ute elders Vera Summa, Laverna Summa and Colleen Cuthair-Root are concerned about the ongoing drought’s impact on the tribe. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)jmimiaga@the-journal.comCuthair-Root said Ute Mountain Ute ancestors have a story about a future persistent drought.Her grandmother told of a premonition about the earth getting dry and wildfires ravaging the landscape.Sleeping Ute Mountain, a sacred mountain range that forms a silhouette of a Ute warrior reclining in full headdress, rises up to save the people, according to the story.“He scoops up the people by the handful, and whoever he collects are the ones saved. They enter the mountain, and there is enough harvest in there to get them through,” Cuthair-Root said. “Our elders saw this. It’s worrisome, as the years go by, we are seeing less and less water.”Support for this story was provided by the Colorado Media Project, Water Education Colorado, and the Gates Family Foundation.jmimiaga@the-journal.com
Limited water supply consolidated to keep corn crop and flour mill operating; jobs lost, canal payment assistance requested