Drought news: After the monsoon season the drought over much of the mountains has improved to D1

September 13, 2012

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for this week’s updated map from the US Drought Monitor.

From the Brush News-Tribune (Jenni Grubbs):

Most of the Colorado High Plains was classified as in an extreme drought as of Aug. 21, and that area had grown to cover all of eastern Colorado by Sept. 4, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Some parts of southeastern Colorado even showed exceptional drought throughout that same time period. And about 21 percent of Colorado’s corn crop was rated good or excellent as of Aug. 26, according to the CCGA. The current crop also is starting to be harvested a little sooner than usual, according to CCGA…

Across the U.S. from 2011 to 2012, corn producers saw the average corn yield fall an average of 23.8 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture…


The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District tables Dry Gulch Reservoir Project for another day, another board

September 13, 2012

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From the Pagosa Sun (Lindsey Bright):

During Tuesday’s Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation board of director’s meeting, with both directors Mike Church and Roy Vega excused, the board unanimously passed a motion to send a letter, “requesting substantial completion” to the Colorado Water Conservation Board regarding their $11. 2 million loan, of which only $9.2 million has been drawn and used.

The letter will be sent to Kirk Russell, CWCB’s finance section chief, who had recently told PAWSD that he needed a letter of intent and direction by Sept. 18 to present to the CWCB board.

PAWSD Business Manager Shellie Peterson will write the letter to inform the CWCB board that PAWSD does not, with the current board, intend on building Dry Gulch Reservoir and they will not be drawing the remainder of the loan out. The PAWSD board used $9.2 million of the CWCB loan, along with the San Juan Water Conservancy District’s $1 million CWCB grant, to purchase the Running Iron Ranch in 2007 as a reservoir site. Prior to this letter, there had been discussion by previous PAWSD boards considering use of the rest of the funds to buy a small portion of the adjacent Laverty property in order to have enough land to build the reservoir.

More Pagosa Springs coverage here and here.


Colorado River Cooperative Agreement implementation at hand

September 13, 2012

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Here’s a short report from the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

Colorado’s largest water utility and more than 30 western slope providers are expected to begin implementing an agreement balancing the Denver-area’s demand for water with the needs of mountain communities as early as next month. According to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel a project spokesman said Tuesday a few more signatures are needed.

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


Drought news: ‘This is one of those nice, light rains, nothing real big or intense’ — Jennifer Stark (NWS)

September 13, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Gayle Perez):

Rain returned to Pueblo on Wednesday bringing with it much needed moisture and cooler temperatures. “This is one of those nice, light rains, nothing real big or intense,” said Jennifer Stark, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo. “This is more of a typical fall-type system but I think we’re all very happy for the beneficial rain.”

Cooler air moved into Pueblo early Wednesday bringing light rain early on with intermittent showers falling throughout the day. By 8 p.m., one-half of an inch of rain was reported at the Pueblo Airport with additional accumulations expected to continue through this morning.

From the Associated Press via The Pueblo Chieftain:

[Yesterday's] storm [was] expected to bring up to 10 inches to some of Colorado’s central and southern mountains. The National Weather Service says snow could be heavy in the eastern Sawatch mountains and western Mosquito Range above 11,000 feet on Wednesday. In other parts of the state, the precipitation has been falling as rain and temperatures were expected to be about 20 degrees cooler than in recent days.

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

Officials have 99 years of flow records for the Animas River, Rege Leach, the Colorado Division of Water Resources engineer in Durango, said Friday. There are 95 years of records for the La Plata River and 101 years for the Dolores River. “They all show the same trend,” Leach said. “The year 2002 was the driest, followed by 1934, 1977 and 2012.”

The Animas River at Durango on Sunday was flowing at 164 cubic feet per second, lower than the 172 cfs registered at the end of June 2002, the month that the Missionary Ridge Fire was burning 72,000 acres in the San Juan Mountains…

The La Plata River, with half of its flow at Hesperus required to be delivered to New Mexico, is hurting, Leach said. Barely 1 cubic foot a second of flow is reaching the state line from the Long Hollow area, also just north of the state line, he said. Except for holders of senior water rights, ditches off the Florida River have been closed…

Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District and the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District, said the flow of water into Lake Powell mirrors the woes of Southwest Colorado. Lake Powell is set this year to get 48 percent of its normal flow, the third lowest ever, he said. But, go figure, Whitehead said. Last year, Lake Powell received 142 percent of normal flow.

From the Summit Daily News (Chris Campton):

In mid-April 2012, it looked as if we were headed down another dry riverbed season, and another “2002,” where commercial boating user days were down 40 percent from the previous year. We will not know until January, when all the final numbers are in and compiled, what the toll of this year’s drought took on commercial boating and in turn the economic impact on the state. However, initial thoughts are that it will not be as grim as it was in 2002. What may have hurt the industry the most in 2012 was not necessarily the drought itself, rather the perception of water levels throughout the state.

Commercial boating is the largest tourism-related economic draw for Colorado in the summer months and just last year 508,644 guests enjoyed the rivers of Colorado, and it created an economic impact of $155,157,888. Add in the private boaters that enjoy the rivers of Colorado, and that impact to our state grows to even greater numbers…

On a brighter note, water levels and warm temperatures in 2012 saw many families choose to raft that had decided not to brave the higher flows of 2011. This year, water levels on many rivers provided them with more viable options and great beginner trips such as the ones commercial outfitters run on the Colorado River. The Colorado is a river that typically runs well in a drought year and boasts steady flows throughout the summer months. And it prevailed to do so once again in 2012. Due to reservoir storage, senior water rights and calls from downstream users, the water on the Colorado traveled west and as a benefit of being close to the headwaters, the commercial and private boaters were able to float on “average” flows this summer. The good boating opportunities stretched all the way from Kremmling to the Colorado State Line, and beyond.

From the Boulder Daily Camera (John Agular):

Across the city’s 23 parks, Lafayette has suspended irrigation a month early to prepare for the possibility that 2013 will be as dry as this year has been. Only high traffic sports fields at City Park, Whitetail Park and Lamont Does Park will continue to be watered.

“What we’re doing is making sure we’re proactively planning in case the drought continues into next year,” city spokeswoman Debbie Wilmot said. “We’re pushing dormancy up by a month.”[...]

in spite of the water conservation measures implemented by the city, residential water use in Lafayette in 2012 jumped 38 percent — or by 551 acre feet — through August over the same period in the previous year. Wilmot said the spike in water use likely is due to the extremely hot weather Colorado has endured this year, starting in the early spring.


Snake River: USGS — Warmer Temperatures Likely Driving Increase of Metal Concentrations in Rocky Mountain Watershed

September 13, 2012

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Here’s the release the United States Geological Survey (Heidi Koontz/Jim Scott):

Warmer air temperatures since the 1980s may explain significant increases in zinc and other metal concentrations of ecological concern in a Rocky Mountain watershed, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, led by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Rising concentrations of zinc and other metals in the upper Snake River just west of the Continental Divide near Keystone, Colo., may be the result of falling water tables, melting permafrost, and accelerating mineral weathering rates, all driven by warmer air temperatures in the watershed. Researchers observed a fourfold increase in dissolved zinc over the last 30 years during the month of September.

“This study provides another fascinating, and troubling, example of a cascading impact from climate warming as the rate of temperature-dependent chemical reactions accelerate in the environment, leaching metals into streams,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “The same concentration of metals in the mountains that drew prospectors to the Rockies more than a century ago are now the source of toxic trace elements that are harming the environment as the planet warms.”

Increases in metals were seen in other months as well, with lesser increases seen during the high-flow snowmelt period. During the study period, local mean annual and mean summer air temperatures increased at a rate of 0.2-1.2 degrees Celsius per decade.

Generally, high concentrations of dissolved metals in the upper Snake River watershed are the result of acid rock drainage, or ARD, formed by natural weathering of pyrite and other metal-rich sulfide minerals in the bedrock. Weathering of pyrite forms sulfuric acid through a series of chemical reactions, and mobilizes metals like zinc from minerals in the rock and carries these metals into streams.

Increased sulfate and calcium concentrations observed over the study period lend weight to the hypothesis that the increased zinc concentrations are due to acceleration of pyrite weathering. The potential for comparable increases in metals in similar Western watersheds is a concern because of impacts on water resources, fisheries and stream ecosystems. Trout populations in the lower Snake River, for example, appear to be limited by the metal concentrations in the water, said USGS scientist Andrew Todd, lead researcher on the project.

“Acid rock drainage is a significant water quality problem facing much of the Western United States,” Todd said. “It is now clear that we need to better understand the relationship between climate and ARD as we consider the management of these watersheds moving forward.”

In cases where ARD is linked directly with past and present mining activities it is called acid mine drainage, or AMD. Another Snake River tributary, Peru Creek, is largely devoid of life due to AMD generated from the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine and smaller mines upstream, and has become a target for potential remediation efforts.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, in conjunction with other local, state and federal partners, is conducting underground exploration work at the mine to investigate the sources of heavy metals-laden water draining from the adit. The study conducted by Todd and colleagues has implications in such efforts because it suggests that establishing attainable clean-up objectives could be difficult if natural background metal concentrations are a “moving target.”

Collaborators include USGS, CU Boulder and the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR). The data analyzed for the study came from INSTAAR, the USGS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

From the Summit Daily News (Paige Blankenbuehler):

Rising concentrations of zinc and other metals in the upper Snake River west of the Continental Divide near Keystone may be the result of falling water tables, melting permafrost and accelerating mineral- weathering rates — all driven by warmer air temperatures in the watershed…

High concentrations of dissolved metals in the upper Snake River watershed are the result of acid rock drainage, according to the research. The drainage is a result from past and present mining activities.

More water pollution coverage here.


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