Successes From Over 25 Years of Protecting the West

Since 1989, Western Resource Advocates has worked to ensure that future generations will have wildlands, clean air, and flowing rivers in the iconic landscape of the West. From the rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the Great Salt Lake to the treasured rivers of the desert Southwest and the expansive prairie and forest wildlands, we protect what is special about the West. If you’ve ever rafted the Colorado River, hiked in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, spotted windmills or an array of solar panels out of the corner of your eye, watched a sage-grouse dance, or even sipped a glass of water, you’ve experienced our work first hand.

In recent years we have:

  • Protected 9 major rivers
  • Preserved more than 2 million acres of Western land
  • Advanced a clean energy future for 6 states

Download the Highlights of Our Successes in 2016

Joined with the State to Keep Water in Rivers for Fish and Wildlife

Thanks to WRA’s successful advocacy, we secured the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s continued support for Colorado’s instream flow water rights program which protects water in rivers for the benefit of fish, wildlife and the larger environment. WRA worked with the Board not to reduce or “carve out” water for speculative diversion and development from water… Read more »

Secured Funding For Water Reuse in Colorado

WRA spearheaded the effort to secure funding for a water reuse project that will help to increase water reuse in Colorado. The project received a commitment of $300,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, several cities, and others. More reuse of existing supplies helps keep more water in our rivers!

Protected Fish and Wildlife by Saving Bypass Flows at Dams and Diversions

WRA and its partners successfully redrafted the Water Rights Protection Act to include language protecting bypass flows at dams and diversions on public lands. This important legislation will protect fish and wildlife by ensuring bypass flows around or through dams and diversions on public lands. This is an important win for fish and wildlife!

Defended Fish and Aquatic Life by Protecting Water Temperature Standards

The activity of water users can impact the temperature of our rivers (e.g., taking water out and putting it back in at a different temperature). When rivers get too hot or too cold, fish and other aquatic life can die. Based on information and input from WRA and its partners, the Water Quality Control Commission… Read more »

Secured Permanent Water for Fish in Schaefer Creek

WRA attorneys succeeded in securing a water right decree permanently protecting nearly six miles of Schaefer Creek, a gorgeous stream in Colorado’s high country north of the West Elk Wilderness near Crested Butte.

Advanced Water Conservation Planning for the Verde River

WRA provided water conservation guidance and templates to the Town Manager and other key staff of Camp Verde to help implement conservation policies. This new work allows the Town to save water in the Verde River through making changes to the landscape ordinance, developing WaterSense and water waste ordinances, and developing water conservation guidelines for… Read more »

Gained Support for Increasing Water Conservation and Reuse

WRA’s advocacy led to Governor Ducey’s Water Augmentation Council strengthening support for increasing water conservation, water reuse, and ensuring water for the environment to help address future Colorado River water supply reductions.

Joined with Arizona Cities and Farmers to Help Secure Water Levels in Lake Mead

WRA, joined by partner conservation groups, gained support from Phoenix, Tucson, and Yuma agriculture on a package of options to avoid water shortage in Arizona. The State and other stakeholders now have a plan to decrease their use by 1.2 million acre-feet over the next several years.

WRA eared grebe

Protected Millions of Migrating Birds at Great Salt Lake

Working in partnership with FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake, WRA successfully facilitated an agreement with multiple stakeholders that will protect the eared grebe population (numbering over a million visits annually) on Great Salt Lake. The agreement protects the birds’ critical food source of brine shrimp in the South Arm of Great Salt Lake.

New Mexico Scales Back Plans for Costly and Damaging Gila River Diversion

Thanks to more than four years of effort by WRA and other conservation advocates, the New Mexico Interstate Steam Commission announced that it would not build a full-sized version of its planned water project on the Gila River – an expensive project that would significantly harm the River. The Commission’s decision reflects what WRA has long… Read more »

Advanced Energy Storage in Colorado

WRA assisted in the development of an agreement authorizing Xcel Energy to undertake two significant energy storage research and development projects. One storage project involves a microgrid with solar at a commercial facility. The other will allow the utility to test batteries located on a residential feeder with high levels of rooftop solar. Developing storage is important for advancing solar, wind and other intermittent clean energy sources.

Defeated Legislation That Would Have Undermined State Authority to protect Public Health and Achieve Clean Air

WRA testified and helped defeat Colorado Senate Bill 157, which would have prohibited environmental or utility regulators from undertaking action to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector until the United States Supreme Court lifted the current stay of the Clean Power Plan. This bill would have undermined the State’s existing authority to protect public health and clean air. Senate Bill 157 was defeated in the House.

Defeated Legislation That Would Have Prevented Clean Power Advances in Colorado

WRA testified and helped defeat Colorado Senate Bill 61, which would have increased costs in order to comply with the proposed federal Clean Power Plan in Colorado, while also undermining cost-effective, holistic electricity system planning needed to reduce carbon pollution. Senate Bill 61 was defeated in the House.

Increased Access to Community Solar Gardens for Low-Income and Underserved Residential Customers

Solar gardens allow subscribers to share solar arrays. WRA was instrumental in securing the Colorado Public Utilities Commission’s approval of an agreement with Xcel Energy that will increase access to community solar gardens for underserved residential and low-income customers. The decision also makes possible 60 MW of additional community solar projects becoming available.

Ensured Rooftop Solar Customers Are Informed about How They Can Encourage Additional Renewable Development in New Mexico

People who use solar and other distributed generation were mostly unaware that they could hold on to the renewable energy credits they earn generating clean energy, rather than sell the credits to Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM). By holding on to their credits, customers compel PNM to either adopt more clean energy itself or buy credits elsewhere. Thanks to WRA’s advocacy, PNM will now inform its rooftop solar and other distributed generation customers of the environmental benefit of retaining their renewable energy credits, rather than selling them to PNM.

Prevented Proposed Anti-Conservation Rate Structure in New Mexico

In a Public Service Company of New Mexico rate case, WRA successfully advocated against a proposed rate structure that would have encouraged higher energy consumption and discouraged energy efficiency—resulting in increased carbon emissions. The Public Regulation Commission denied the proposed rate structure.

Ensured Utility Revenues will Advance Energy Efficiency New Mexico

Energy efficiency is a front-line strategy to reduce carbon pollution to protect our health and environment. Despite legislation requiring a percentage of electric utility revenues be dedicated to funding energy efficiency programs in New Mexico, WRA determined that utility funding formulas were violating that law. As a result, energy efficiency was not being properly funded. WRA successfully led extensive litigation before the Public Regulation Commission, which agreed with our findings and is now requiring the full allocation of utility revenues be dedicated to advance energy efficiency.

Accelerated Retirement of Nevada Coal Plant and Acquired more Clean and Low-Cost Solar for Southern Nevada

WRA worked with partners to support Nevada Power Company’s accelerated retirement of the Reid Gardner 4 coal plant in February 2017, thereby reducing carbon pollution. WRA also successfully advocated for the acquisition of the Techren Solar Photovoltaic Project. The Techren Project will supply energy to the utility under a 25-year agreement with the lowest-cost solar energy yet seen (as of the end of 2016) in Nevada and the nation.

Secured Additional Funding for Energy Efficiency Programs in Nevada—Reducing Carbon Pollution

Thanks to the work of WRA and partner groups, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission approved increased funding for energy efficiency programs in Nevada. Energy efficiency is a front-line strategy to reduce carbon pollution to protect our health and environment. For Sierra Pacific Power Company, operating in northern Nevada, the Commission approved a new three-year plan with increased budgets for energy efficiency. For the larger Nevada Power Company, operating in southern Nevada, the Commission approved improvements in energy efficiency programs and an increased budget for programs in 2017.

Secured Good Rooftop Solar Rates and Clean Energy Choices for Xcel Customers in Colorado

WRA partnered with diverse stakeholders to develop and secure before the Public Utilities Commission a strong net metering policy for Xcel Energy that determines solar rooftop rates and exciting new clean energy choices, while keeping rates affordable and protecting and serving low-income customers in Colorado.

Successfully Defended Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard Against Coal Organizations

WRA, along with our partners, defended Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard from legal attacks by coal-promoting organizations. The Renewable Energy Standard has successfully reduced air pollution, addressed climate change, and fostered a clean energy economy within the state. The victory reaches beyond Colorado, setting legal precedent that may affect numerous other state renewable energy standards.

Helped Bring New Clean Energy Wind Farm to Colorado

WRA helped develop and secure an agreement with Xcel Energy and other energy partners that creates Colorado’s largest wind farm. The Rush Creek Wind Project will generate enough electricity to power 180,000 homes and eliminate 1 million tons of CO2 pollution annually. It will also save customers up to $443 million over 25 years by reducing the amount of fossil fuels utilities must purchase. This new wind project continues to chart a path for Colorado’s clean energy transition, while ensuring affordable energy for everyone.

Stopped a $52 Million Investment in New Mexico Coal Plant

WRA successfully challenged the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s plans to unnecessarily invest $52 million in the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station. If the regulators had supported the investment, it could have helped extend the life of that coal plant in New Mexico, delaying the effort to reduce carbon emissions and advance clean energy.

Helped Legalize the Use of Residential Rain Barrels in Colorado

After a two year battle in the legislature—crafting bill language, lining up supporters, testifying in committee, and pushing media coverage—Colorado House Bill 16-1005 legalized the use of residential rain barrels for all Coloradans. Legalizing rain barrels will help build the water conservation ethic we need for all Colorado residents to implement Colorado’s Water Plan and its landmark urban water conservation goal

Helped Develop Colorado’s First Water Plan Advancing Water Conservation and Healthy Rivers

After two years of advocacy, the Colorado Water Plan was adopted, the first state plan addressing water management in Colorado. It sets the first-ever statewide water conservation goal, proposes significant annual funding for healthy rivers, and makes new large dams and diversions highly unlikely.

Protected Water Quality and Roadless Areas in Utah

With input from WRA and partners, the US Forest Service (USFS) released the final version of the Uintah-Wasatch-Cache National Forest’s Ogden Ranger District Travel Plan that commits to improved signage in areas where illegal off-road vehicle use has resulted in erosion and vegetation loss. The latest version of the travel plan recognizes the importance of protecting water quality and habitat for plants and animals, and sets aside areas where motorized vehicles will not be permitted.

Secured Stronger Rules for Oil and Gas Violations in Colorado

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has finalized rules for increased penalties and new mandatory fines for industry violations that impact or threaten human health, safety, or the environment. The new regulations, supported by WRA and partner groups, represent the first increase in fines for oil and gas violations in decades and are a huge improvement on the prior rules.

Protected Water, Wildlife, and Public Lands from Oil and Gas Drilling

Defended BLM’s new regulations governing important aspects of oil and gas extraction, including well integrity and waste management. The new rules will reduce chemical spills, groundwater contamination and other accidents.


Convinced Utah to Require Water Monitoring and Compliance with Air Regulations for Tar Sands Mines

Helped ensure that the PR Spring mine must establish water monitoring and compliance with EPA’s air quality regulations as conditions of the mine proceeding to process tar sands. Wildlife, hunters, recreationists and local ranchers need better protections, and the new permit is more stringent thanks to our advocacy.

Protected Utah Air Quality from Kennecott Rock Crushing Plant

Celebrated Kennecott Copper abandoning its plans to construct a new rock crusher plant as part of the mine’s overall expansion effort. The rock crusher plant would have added an estimated 33 tons of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) and 267 tons of PM10 (coarse particulate matter) emissions per year to the Salt Lake City area., making air quality even worse.

Helped Colorado Adopt First-Ever Recycled Energy Program

Made improvements to a new “recycled energy” program to incentivize the installation and use of recycled energy projects in Colorado. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has now adopted a 20 megawatt (MW) program that allows for larger projects (up to 10 MW) to participate thanks to compelling evidence from WRA.

Helped Uphold Protection for Rivers and Streams in Colorado

The Colorado Supreme Court rendered a landmark decision upholding the instream water right for the San Miguel River. WRA led the legal defense for this right and the ruling not only protects the distinctive San Miguel, but also ensures we have a vital tool to leave a legacy of healthy rivers throughout Colorado.

Defeated a Lawsuit Challenging Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard

WRA, along with our partners, defended Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES) from legal attacks by coal-promoting organizations. The RES has successfully reduced air pollution, addressed climate change, and fostered a clean energy economy within the state. The victory reaches beyond Colorado, setting legal precedent that may affect numerous other state renewable energy standards.

Reduced Coal-Fired Power Generation in New Mexico

The San Juan Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant, is one of the largest sources of air pollution in New Mexico and also impacts Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. WRA joined other parties in a legal settlement that paves the way for the state Public Regulation Commission to approve Public Service Company of New Mexico’s (PNM) plan to shut down two of the power plant’s four coal-fired generating units by December 2017.

Ensured Utah Refinery Must Comply with Clean Air Act

WRA brought a lawsuit on behalf of partner groups challenging the Utah Division of Air Quality’s (DAQ) 15-year-long failure to issue Tesoro Refinery (which processes crude oil) a tougher permit on air pollution. The DAQ agreed to a specific timeline requiring the refinery to update its application and the state to issue the tougher Clean Air Act Title V permit that will help clean Utah’s air.

Protected Fish in the Dolores River

Thanks to the work of WRA and partner groups, the Colorado Water Conservation Board rendered a unanimous decision to seek a water right on the Dolores River to protect fish and wildlife, securing water on a 20-mile river stretch near the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway between Gateway and Uravan, Colorado. This is the largest instream flow protection on the river to date and it will help prevent three native fishes in the Dolores River from becoming threatened or endangered species.

Helped Colorado Springs Transition to Cleaner Energy

WRA joined with local partners and provided analysis and information to advocate for Colorado Springs to begin decommissioning its coal-fired power plant and develop plans to comply with EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The Colorado Springs Utilities Board voted to set a date to retire one of its coal-fired power plants, taking a step toward a clean energy future.

Championed Closure of Reid Gardner Generation Station, a Coal Powered Power Plant in Nevada

Western Resource Advocates legal staff helped make the successful legal case for the shutting down and decommissioning three 100 MW coal-powered, steam-electric power plants that were significant sources of air and carbon pollution. These plants were adjacent to the Moapa Band of Paiutes reservation in Southern Nevada. The largest 257 megawatt unit, Unit 4, will begin its decommissioning and dismantlement process in 2017.

Supported New Transmission Line to Support Renewable Energy Resources in Nevada

Western Resource Advocates, with partners at NCARE, supported the One Nevada Transmission Line (ON Line) project which was put into service in January 2014. The ON Line was established to make a rapid and responsive move to large-scale production of renewable energy on public lands and provide transmission for energy resources such as wind, solar and geothermal.


Protected National Forest from Oil and Gas Development

Protected wildlife, recreation, and air and water quality from any future oil and gas development on the Fishlake and Dixie national forests in Utah by securing with our partners a legal agreement with the U.S. Forest Service. This agreement prohibits development in roadless areas and improves safeguards for sensitive plants, wildlife, and the headwaters that supply clean water to local communities.

Utah Oil Shale Mine

Exposed Water Use for Oil Shale

Won a legal concession from oil company Chevron, which conceded that its plans for oil shale development in the West would require huge quantities of water, refuting year’s claims that oil shale development would use little water.


Helped Protect the Roan Plateau

Protected the Roan Plateau with our partners through a legal settlement with the Bureau of Land Management, safeguarding this visually stunning and biologically diverse area in Western Colorado from oil and gas development.


Protected Great Salt Lake Ecosystem

Helped design, in coordination with the Division of Water Quality, a new dynamic bridge and management system in Great Salt Lake to protect the exchange of fresh and salty water supporting brine shrimp flies, the main diet of millions of birds using the Lake.

Protected the San Pedro River

Saved over 16 million gallons of water to keep the San Pedro River flowing by helping shape a program replacing inefficient toilets.The San Pedro River is one of the last major, free-flowing, undammed rivers, and provides essential habitat for a huge diversity of bird life.


Maintained Strong Energy Efficiency Goals

Prevented utility proposals to cut energy efficiency goals in Colorado by 37% through 2020. Maintained Public Utilities Commission strong energy efficiency goals, resulting in a $84.3 million per year in efficiency investments.


Helped Design a Recycled Energy Program in Colorado

Helped design a new “recycled energy” program in Colorado that reclaims waste heat from businesses like bakeries and steel mills to produce electricity with zero additional emissions. This quadruples the proposed program size to 20 megawatts (MW), which is enough to power about 16,000 homes, and improves the financial incentives for participants.


Protected Sage-grouse from Energy Development

Convinced BLM through a legal challenge to protect 90% of Wyoming’s core sage-grouse habitat from energy development in proposed leases.


Forced Forest Service to Consider Negative Impacts of Off-road Vehicles

Won precedent-setting ruling in Federal District Court in Utah forcing the Forest Service to consider the impacts of unauthorized off-road vehicle use (ATVs, motorized dirt bikes, etc.) in its travel planning process for the Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah.


Protected Great Salt Lake

Kept a 91,000 acre mining expansion out of the bed of Great Salt Lake and preserved 115 billion gallons of the lake’s water to benefit millions of migratory birds. Also secured protections for Gunnison Island, a vitally important home for the American white pelican.


Protected flows in the San Miguel River

Protected flows in Colorado’s San Miguel River to benefit anglers, whitewater boaters, fish, the environment, and the local economy by partnering with the State of Colorado to obtain a water right to protect year-round base-flows and important peak flows on 20-mile stretch of this scenic river.


Increased Renewable Energy in Colorado

Increased Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard from 10% to 20% for rural electric cooperatives. This will spur an additional 400 MW of renewable energy development in Colorado by 2020, a clean energy investment of $600 million.


Expanded Energy Efficiency in New Mexico

Expanded energy efficiency investments in New Mexico by developing and securing a new policy requiring 3% of utility revenues be directed toward energy efficiency, resulting in $40 million per year in efficiency investments.

Reduced Pollution in New Mexico

Played important role in closing of three coal-fired units at the Four Corners Power Plant, reducing nitrogen oxide pollution by 14,000 metric tons per year, sulfur dioxide pollution by 2,500 metric tons per year, and carbon dioxide by potentially 5 million metric tons per year.


Increased Renewable Energy in Arizona

Helped negotiate retirement of one unit of Arizona’s Navajo Generating Station, avoiding nearly 6 million tons of CO2 emissions per year and facilitating increased renewable energy and clean energy investments. Agreement used WRA’s innovative credit-based carbon reduction program to drive reductions and accurately measure progress.


Encouraged Solar Energy in Colorado

Helped secure approval for Xcel Energy to provide more than $84 million in customer financial incentives, encouraging the addition of up to 72 MW of distributed solar energy generation in Colorado – enough to power 24,000 homes.


Retired Coal in Arizona

Won Arizona Corporation Commission approval of Arizona Public Service Company’s plan to retire 560 MW of coal capacity at Four Corners Power Plant. This will reduce CO2 emissions by 3 to 5 million metric tons per year.


Promoted Water Conservation in Colorado

Piloted an innovative water conservation program; now residents of Pagosa Springs, CO receive bills that show how much their water use affects the San Juan River.


Prevented Oil Shale and Tar Sands Development

Convinced the U.S Department of Interior to reduce the public lands open to leasing for oil shale and tar sands development by more than 1,600,000 across Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming to protect wild lands, air and water quality.


Prevented Oil Shale Development in Utah

Prevented approval of proposed Red Leaf oil shale development in valuable wildlife habitat and recreation area near Book Cliffs of Utah by persuading the State of Utah the mining technology was not viable.


Protected National Forest from Oil and Gas Development

Protected more than 140,000 acres in the Uinta National Forest in Utah from oil and gas leasing and development. 90,000 of these acres are roadless areas providing crucial wildlife habitat, cold water fisheries, and drinking water to communities on the Wasatch Front.


Protected Sage-grouse in Wyoming

Protected 56,000 acres of greater sage-grouse habitat in Wyoming and more than 10,000 acres of wildland in Colorado national forests from oil and gas leasing.


Prevented Flaming Gorge Pipeline

Prevented permit for Flaming Gorge Pipeline by US Army Corp of Engineers to divert 81 billion gallons of water from the Green River in Wyoming 500 miles to the Front Range of Colorado. Also blocked Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit on the project.


Encouraged Energy Efficiency in New Mexico

Developed and gained adoption by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission an innovative electricity rate design encouraging conservation and investment in energy efficiency in New Mexico.

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