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Water shortage worsening for along northwest Colorado’s Yampa and White

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Water shortage worsening for along northwest Colorado’s Yampa and White

Facing severe droughts along Colorado’s Western Slope, state officials want to take better stock of how much water people, businesses and governments take out of the White and Yampa rivers, both of which flow into the historically low Colorado River.

The White and Yampa rivers traditionally supply a comfortable amount of water compared with other waterways across the state, according to Jeff Lukas, a Lafayette climate consultant and former water scientist with the University of Colorado Boulder. But that’s not as much the case recently.

“The whole Colorado River system is on the wrong side of the knife’s edge in the first part of the 21st century,” Lukas said.

Over the last two decades, the Yampa’s average flow decreased by about 6% from its 20th-century average, Lukas said. And the White’s average flow decreased by about 19%.

So officials with Colorado’s Division of Water Resources want to better track who’s taking water from the rivers — and its tributaries — and how much. Better tracking there would bring the division’s northwest region into line with the rest of the state, where that type of data collection is already more common.

Division officials are hosting stakeholder meetings in the region to develop rules by which water usage will be measured and hope to have the process finished by the end of next year, state Engineer Kevin Rein said. And as more data flows in, the state can better allocate water to those legally allowed to take it, an increasingly precise task as droughts continue to plague the Western Slope.

And in the bigger, and unprecedented, picture, if Colorado is called to work with upper- and lower-basin states because not enough water is passing southwest through the Colorado River, it will need that concrete data in hand, Rein said.

“We just need to know where it’s going,” Brain Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, said. “Every drop counts when it comes to water.”

The process underway in northwest Colorado is part of an increasing nationwide trend to better track water use as droughts become more common, Fuchs said.

Drying rivers

One key indicator that water is tighter in northwest Colorado is that senior water rights holders along the Yampa River are more frequently calling state engineers to shut off supply for junior rights holders until their thirst is quenched, according to Erin Light, water division engineer for the region.

The first ever call like that on the Yampa came in 2018, Light said. Another followed in 2020 and then another this year, both of which only ended after Colorado River conservation officials agreed to release water from the Elkhead Reservoir, northeast of Craig.

Water shortages and calls like those can spell trouble not only for those in Colorado but also millions more downstream.

Water from the Yampa and White rivers flows into the Colorado River and ultimately into Lake Powell, making up to a fifth of the reservoir’s water supply each year, Lukas said.

The reservoir, which sank to its lowest level on record this year, supplies water to about 35 million people, irrigates millions of acres of cropland and generates billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

While calls from senior water rights holders come each year — even in non-drought years — along the Arkansas, Rio Grande and South Platte rivers, Rein said “it’s a new thing to the Yampa.”

“It’s unfortunate,” Rein added.

Not only are those rivers drying due to climate change but more water is allocated from them than the rivers actually have to offer. And now the historically water-abundant Yampa, which is also over-allocated, appears to be joining those ranks, Light said.

“It’s not even just increasing water users but it’s also consumptive use,” Light said. “As our temperatures increase, our crops need more water.”

Accounting for water

As Colorado’s rivers dry up, like the Ogallala Aquifer on the eastern plains or Georgia’s Lake Lanier, for example, governments across the country are working to take better inventory of their water supply, Fuchs said. When those water shortages arise, people start to ask where the water went and who took it.

“All of a sudden these questions are starting to be asked and (governments) can’t really put those cards on the table because they don’t have them,” Fuchs said.

The same logic applies when states strike deals with each other over rivers that cross their borders, Fuchs added. The states not only want to make sure they’re following the agreements but also that they’re keeping as much water as possible.

Colorado’s northwest region represents a gap in the state’s inventory.

As of April, only about 54% of the structures used by water rights holders in Light’s region, which covers Craig and Steamboat Springs, have devices to measure their water usage.

For comparison, about 95% of the structures in the Roaring Fork and Crystal river basins to the southeast have measuring devices, the Summit Daily reported.

In late 2019, Light ordered hundreds of water users in the Yampa River basin to install measuring devices and then in March 2020 she issued formal notices for others along the White and Green rivers to follow suit, the Summit Daily reported. And Light’s office is now holding stakeholder meetings this month across the region as they look to cement consistent rules for what kinds of devices can be used, how they should be maintained and how they measure water use.

Rein said he hopes that the rule-making process could be finished by the end of next year, but he doesn’t want to rush it.

Howard Cooper said he received one of those notices last year and installed head gates and flumes at all the points where his Three Crown Ranch, east of Meeker, diverts water. The mechanisms are designed specifically to measure the flow of water through them.

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Vikings still have ‘bad taste in our mouth’ from playoff loss at San Francisco

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Vikings still have ‘bad taste in our mouth’ from playoff loss at San Francisco

The last time the Vikings were in the playoffs, their season ended with a thud.

On Jan. 11, 2020, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., the San Francisco 49ers dominated Minnesota in the divisional round. They sacked quarterback Kirk Cousins six times and held running back Dalvin Cook to a meager 18 yards on nine carries in a resounding 27-10 win.

On Sunday, the Vikings will return to the site of the beatdown. Memories from it linger.

“We have a bad taste in our mouth from that game,’’ said offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak, Minnesota’s quarterbacks coach in 2020. “That was two years ago; we’ve got a lot of new pieces, a lot of similar pieces, but guys haven’t forgotten that.”

Some of the faces from that game have changed, but many of the key ones have remained the same. The 49ers are still coached by Kyle Shanahan and still have quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and defensive end Nick Bosa, who had two of their sacks. Bosa was fined $28,075 by the NFL shortly after that game for a penalized illegal block on tackle Brian O’Neill that the Vikings called a cheap shot.

The Vikings, still coached by Mike Zimmer, have a number of key players remaining on both sides of the ball. That includes Cousins, who threw for just 172 yards a week after rallying the Vikings with a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime in a 26-20 playoff upset at New Orleans.

“I remember San Francisco did a great job against us,” Cousins said. “They played a great game and they were the better team that day.”

After the playoff win over the Vikings, the 49ers walloped Green Bay 37-20 at home in the NFC Championship Game and looked primed to win Super Bowl LIV. They led Kansas City 20-10 midway through the fourth quarter before faltering and losing 31-20.

The hangover continued into 2020, when the 49ers went just 6-10. It didn’t help that Garoppolo missed 10 games due to injury.

The Vikings also fell back in 2020, going 7-9.  Each team started this season 3-5 but enters Sunday’s game on a two-game winning streak.

“Two teams that are probably playing their better ball of the year right now,” Shanahan said.

With that in mind, there are playoff implications on the line Sunday. With seven teams making the postseason in the NFC, the Vikings are currently in the No. 6 spot and the 49ers are No. 7. The winner will have a tiebreaker if the teams are deadlocked at the conclusion of the NFL’s first 17-game season.

“It’s an important game,” Zimmer said. “I’m sure they’d say the same thing.”

Zimmer said the 49ers are similar to the team that handled the Vikings in the playoffs on offense and defense. One difference, he said, is a lot more “movement pre-snap” on offense, including sets with stars Deebo Samuel at wide receiver and George Kittle at tight end.

On defense, the biggest difference is DeMeco Ryans, who replaced Robert Saleh as defensive coordinator after he left at the end of last season to become head coach of the New York Jets. The 49ers remain stout on that side of the ball, ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense.

The Vikings, though, have shown continued improvement on offense. Cousins is playing as well as he has in his 10-year career. Second-year wide receiver Justin Jefferson is the most recent NFC Offensive Player of the Week winner after catching eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns in last Sunday’s 34-31 win over the Packers. Cook continues to get better, as well, and hasn’t had many clunkers since the one in his last visit to Levi’s Stadium.

“We put that to bed, but (it’s) always (a challenge) having an opportunity to compete against a good defense, good players that they have over there,” Cook said of his return. “I definitely remember that game, that environment. I know it was a playoff game and different, but their fans get pretty rowdy.”

The Vikings will try to silence the fans with their seventh-ranked offense. But will they be able to stop the 49ers with their defense?

The Vikings rank just No. 28 in the NFL in total defense and on Sunday will be without their four preferred starters on the defensive line. Defensive end Everson Griffen is away from the team after a mental health issue on Wednesday, and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson has been ruled out after being placed Tuesday on the COVID-19 reserve list. They join end Danielle Hunter, lost for the season to a torn pectoral muscle on Oct. 31, and nose tackle Michael Pierce, on injured reserve with an elbow injury.

“It’s a big advantage for us,” Garoppolo told reporters on Wednesday about Minnesota’s depleted line. “I think, you know, the guys stepping in are no slouches, either. So, we’ve got to be ready for that.”

D.J. Wonnum has stepped in for Hunter, and Armon Watts for Pierce. Sheldon Richardson is expected to man one of the other two open spots. Regardless of who’s playing, the Vikings defense can expect a steady diet of the 49ers’ running game. In their last two games, a 34-10 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 15 and a 30-10 victory at Jacksonville on Nov. 21, San  Francisco averaged 163.5 yards rushing.

Running back Elijah Mitchell had 91 yards against the Rams. Then, with Mitchell nursing a finger injury, the versatile Samuel carried eight times for 79 yards against the Jaguars.

“They run the ball really, really well,” Zimmer said.

When Garoppolo throws, Samuel is the primary target. Samuel, who sometimes lines up in the backfield, has 55 catches for 994 yards this season, second in the NFL.

“For the most part, he’s a receiver,” Zimmer said. “He’s terrific with the ball in his hands, he’s a strong runner, really good on the wide receiver screens, plays in the slot some.”

It will be Zimmer’s third road game against the 49ers since he came to Minnesota in 2014. The first one didn’t go well, either, with San Francisco rolling up 230 yards on the ground in a 20-3 win on Monday Night Football to open the 2015 season.

In the playoff game, Minnesota’s run defense wasn’t much better, giving up 186 yards. And the Vikings couldn’t get their ground game going, being held to a meager 21 yards rushing, tied for the lowest playoff game output in team history.

“It’s almost two full years removed, every team is going to be a little bit different,” O’Neill said. “What hasn’t changed is that they still have great talent across the board. They still have a great front seven.”

In the third quarter of the playoff game, Cousins threw a pass that was picked off by San Francisco’s Richard Sherman. On the return, Bosa hit O’Neill in the head area and was flagged for an illegal block. O’Neill was lost for the game with a concussion, and Zimmer and then-Minnesota guard Josh Kline both said afterward that it was a cheap shot.

O’Neill said he hasn’t had any contact with Bosa since the incident and has moved on.

“That’s water under the bridge now,” he said. “I got over that a long time ago. No, I’m good. I respect how he plays the game and hopefully it’s going to be a good battle (Sunday).”

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Game time: Fast facts, odds, injury report and key info for Miami Dolphins (4-7) vs. Carolina Panthers (5-6)

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Game time: Fast facts, odds, injury report and key info for Miami Dolphins (4-7) vs. Carolina Panthers (5-6)

DOLPHINS (4-7) vs. PANTHERS (5-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m., Hard Rock Stadium

TV: FOX (Chs: 7 in Miami-Dade/Broward and 29 in Palm Beach); RADIO: WQAM (560 AM), KISS (99.9 FM), WQBA (1140 AM, Spanish)

Coaches: Brian Flores is 19-24 in his third season with Dolphins; Matt Rhule is 5-6 in his first season leading the Panthers.

Series: The Dolphins have a 4-2 edge in the all-time series with the Panthers, Miami’s least-faced opponent in the NFL, but Carolina has won the past two meetings.

Line: The Dolphins are a 2-point underdog; the over/under is 42.

Injuries: Dolphins — Out: TE Adam Shaheen (knee), DB Elijah Campbell (toe/knee), CB Trill Williams (hamstring); Questionable: S Brandon Jones (ankle/elbow); Injured reserve: WR DeVante Parker (shoulder/hamstring), WR Will Fuller (finger), C Michael Deiter (foot/quad), C Greg Mancz (ankle), RB Malcolm Brown (quadriceps), S Jason McCourty (foot), WR Lynn Bowden (hamstring), WR Allen Hurns (wrist), T Larnel Coleman (knee), T Greg Little (undisclosed); Panthers — Doubtful: G John Miller (ankle); Injured reserve: QB Sam Darnold (shoulder), CB Jaycee Horn (foot), C Matt Paradis (knee), OT Cameron Erving (calf) among 11 players on IR.

Noteworthy: The Dolphins put a three-game winning streak on the line in a key contest to see if they can keep clawing closer to .500 and back into the postseason hunt if a few more victories are strung together. …

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was with the New England Patriots in the preseason before he was cut, making way for Mac Jones to start there. Spending the first half of the season without a home, Newton rejoined the Panthers, whom he spent the first nine seasons of his career with, two weeks ago. …

Newton makes his second start with Carolina after also playing in goal-line packages in his first game back with the Panthers. He lost his start against Washington Football Team, 27-21. When he was with the Patriots last year, the Dolphins split the season series. …

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is coming off a 27-of-33 performance for 273 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the 24-17 win against the New York Jets last week. …

Dolphins punter Michael Palardy played in 68 games for the Panthers from 2016 to 2020 with 295 punts. The Panthers have South Florida high school connections with wide receiver Robby Anderson (South Plantation), defensive end Brian Burns (American Heritage), guard John Miller (Miami Central), offensive coordinator Joe Brady (Everglades) and cornerbacks coach Evan Cooper (Miami Killian).

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Front Range retailers hope 2021 holiday shopping season is a little brighter

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Front Range retailers hope 2021 holiday shopping season is a little brighter

Area businesses that have survived the pandemic are banking on the increase in activity and travel to make this year’s holiday shopping season a bit brighter.

Department and big-box stores offered deals on Black Friday while local stores looked forward to Small Business Saturday. The day geared toward independent retailers and other businesses was founded in 2010 by American Express and is cosponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Wheelhouse Gifts on Denver’s South Pearl Street opened in 2020. The store, owned by Jody Fidler, was open for Black Friday and Small Business Saturday last holiday season.

“But because of the pandemic, it wasn’t probably as impactful as it could have been for us,” said Molly Casey, an employee who’s in charge of the store’s social media. “This year, knowing we can be fully open despite the mask mandate, is really important to us.”

Retail analysts and trade organizations say there’s reason for optimism this year. The National Retail Federation said sales rose in October by 1.7% from September despite ongoing labor shortages, supply chain disruptions and rising inflation.

Denver-area shopping centers experienced “a very significant and positive visit trend” in October, according to a statement by Placer.ai, which provides analysis of foot traffic based on data from devices enabled to share the information. Data from Placer.ai showed visits in October to three metro-area shopping centers — Cherry Creek in Denver, Southlands in Aurora and Park Meadows in Lone Tree — were at or slightly above levels for the same period in 2019.

October’s sales numbers indicate people are responding to factors affecting retailers heading into the holidays, said Dave Bruno, director of retail market insights at Aptos, a retail technology company.

“People are shopping early to minimize the risk of supply chain disruptions and inventory outages impacting their holiday gift-giving,” Bruno said in a statement. “The big question, obviously, is whether much of the planned holiday buying is being done early and December sales will suffer, or if this confidence and buying power will sustain strong growth throughout the entire season.”

Charlotte Elich is among Denver-area business owners who hope people turn out in force to support local retailers this holiday season.

“I’m always optimistic. My goal is always to surpass the year before and I’ll say we always seem to have done it, except for 2020,” Elich said. “Now my goal is to at least match 2019 this year.”

To meet that goal, Elich will have to deal with working shorthanded, something businesses from the country’s largest corporations to small mom-and-pop shops are facing as people have quit jobs or not returned after furloughs and layoffs. Elich, who owns 5 Green Boxes gift shop and another store on South Pearl Street in Denver, was struggling to cover shifts when two employees recently quit.

Now, Elich is working in the office during the week and working the counter on weekends. She also has to worry about staffing her store in Union Station in Lower Downtown and an outlet site on the weekends.

“It seems like I had a lot more applicants” in past years, Elich said. “I don’t have a whole lot of people applying these days.”

Elich, who has weathered the ups and downs of the pandemic, has been in business for 44 years.

Shauna Sankey of Colorado Springs started BlackGirlSalsa in August 2020 and hopes to grow it into a full-time venture. She is encouraged by the support she sees for small businesses in campaigns like Google’s Black Owned Friday and Small Business Saturday.

“It wasn’t like a master plan. It just kinda fell into that situation,” Sankey said of her pandemic-born pursuit.

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