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Local news roundup with the Colorado Sun - 10/12/22

A green tractor drives towards the camera over a field split in two: one side is dirt and the other is dried looking plant material.
Richard Bell

It's that time of the week when we check in with our colleagues at the Colorado Sun to find out more about the local stories on their radar. Sun Editor Larry Ryckman spoke with KUNC's Beau Baker about some of the news they're reporting this week.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Beau Baker: Let's begin, Larry, with the state's thirsty ag industry. Farmers need a lot of water to grow certain crops, but climate change and drought are challenging the notion there will be enough water to go around. AG Researchers are looking at ways to reduce water use, and there's a particular wheatgrass seed that some folks are pretty excited about. What can you tell us?

Larry Ryckman: Oh, yeah, Reporter Chris Alcott says researchers at CSU are very excited about these seeds that they're planting. They're out in Grant County at CSU's Western Colorado Research Center and Fruita. They're planting a strain of intermediate wheatgrass that produces a grain commonly referred to as its trade name Kernza. Researchers hope Kernza has potential as both a forage and a grain crop in different parts of Colorado, but [what] really has them fired up is that this perennial crop has sort of a superpower in a region experiencing the driest 22-year stretch of the past 1200 years. It's very, very drought tolerant. They say Kernza could consume about 30% less water than, say, alfalfa hay, which is the dominant forage crop in Colorado. The planting is part of a collaborative effort with a nonprofit agricultural research group in Kansas. Farmers in the Central Plains states have been growing Kernza for decades. But conditions on the Western Slope are far different. Of course, there's different soil, different elevation, different growing season. Researchers hope this could be a real game changer.

Beau Baker: And Larry, is there any concern that traditional farmers here in Colorado won't embrace something like Kernza?

Larry Ryckman: Yeah, farmers are sometimes a bit hesitant to try something new, but they're excited about the prospects that Kernza could offer. Bottom line — if this stuff grows well and can make them money, they're going to be all in on it.

Beau Baker: The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative released data recently that shows a decrease in the number of veterans who are homeless. Larry, why is this significant, and what has the state been doing to try and help homeless vets?

Larry Ryckman: Reporter Tatiana Flowers says the number of veterans who are homeless in metro Denver decreased more than 30% from 2020 to 2022. New survey data by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative says the decrease comes despite an overall increase in the region's homeless population. Veterans have historically been overrepresented in homelessness in Colorado and across the country. The federal and local governments have been working together to increase housing resources, specifically for veterans. Way back in 2013, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs announced almost $70 million in grants to help address homelessness among veterans. The funds provided rental assistance, case management and clinical services provided by the VA. Just last month, the VA announced it awarded another $137 million in grants to help house veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Advocates for veterans say these targeted efforts are producing real, measurable results, and they say similar efforts could help families struggling with homelessness.

Beau Baker: Finally, Canon City got money from the Environmental Protection Agency to help clean up their downtown. What do these so-called federal brownfields grants do, and how is this going to help economic development in the city? 

Larry Ryckman: Reporter Kevin Simpson recently went to Canon City and came back with a fascinating story. He found all kinds of excitement that these federal grants are bringing. The centerpiece of this effort in Canyon city is the Saint Cloud Hotel, where a $13 million renovation aims to transform the four-story, 19th-century building into a catalyst for redefining downtown. So Canon City and many other small to midsize Colorado towns and rural areas approached the Environmental Protection Agency for these brownfields projects. Those funds help with the expense of identifying the invisible hazards that can stall or even kill economic development. These grants seek to address the environmental contamination that can be found when renovating old buildings and properties, that might include asbestos, lead paint, or even long-buried gasoline tanks. So much of the money finds its way to urban locations. But the EPA is now trying to focus on rural and underserved areas that have had trouble attracting investors. Besides Canyon City, other Colorado communities that have benefited from these grants include Montrose, Trinidad and Craig.

Beau Baker: Very exciting news for rural and small communities here in Colorado, Larry. Thank you for speaking with us. It's been a pleasure, as always.

Larry Ryckman: Thank you so much, Beau.

As the Newscast Editor and Producer, I provide listeners with news and information critical to our region.
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