Colorado Aquifer Management Conference day one recap: Data collection vital for administration statewide

November 30, 2012

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From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Progress has been made, but a better understanding of the region’s aquifer remains critical for the future in the South Platte River Basin — parts of which have been labeled by the federal government as “highly likely” to see a “potential water­supply crises by 2025.”

That was the general consensus among groundwater experts who spoke during the first day of the Colorado Aquifer Management Conference on Wednesday.

Much of the discussions during the two­ day meeting will focus on the relationship between groundwater and surface flows in streams and rivers — particularly how well­pumping, usually done for agricultural uses, affects surface flows needed downstream by senior water rights owners.

The experts agreed that a better scientific understanding of that relationship could lead to better management practices and help “maximize beneficial use” of the region’s water.
Many of the presentations focused on new methods of measuring the timing of how well­pumping affects surface flows, and to what extent. Experts said they’re gaining a better understanding of the aquifer from those new methods and models, but added that the complex mathematical equations and other techniques can’t take into account the geohydrology, surrounding vegetation, proximity to the river, weather extremes and other factors that make most wells different from one another.

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs, the keynote speaker of the day, was among those who emphasized the need for more analysis and data. He said it’s needed to make sure the state manages its water as well as possible.

Some groundwater pumpers, including a number of Weld County farmers, favor making changes to how the state manages its aquifers. They believe the state’s requirements for augmentation plans — an approved plan to make up for surface­flow depletions caused by groundwater pumping — are too stringent.

Some farmers can’t afford enough augmentation water to get their wells pumping again.

Thousands of wells are now curtailed or shut down, and some believe the build­up of groundwater in the basin — 10 million acre­feet of water, according to some estimates, which is eight times more water than is in all of the South Platte Basin’s surface reservoirs — could be put to a more beneficial use.

Those farmers were big supporters of a South Platte Basin groundwater study that was approved during last spring’s legislative session and is under way. The Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University is doing the study, which is expected to be complete by the end of 2013.

Hobbs and others stressed that data is also needed to prevent any over­pumping of groundwater in the state.

On more than one occasion, experts brought up the fact that about 40,000 acres of farmground in the San Luis Valley have been taken out of production in efforts to replenish the aquifer there that’s been depleted from over­pumping.

More groundwater coverage here and here.


Drought news: South Platte River Basin snowpack drops (42% of avg) below minimum of record/2002 levels #CODrought

November 30, 2012

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Click on the thumbnail for the current Basin/High Low ogive from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The snowpack is eerily similar to the winter of 2002-2003 on the Front Range. A monster snowstorm around St. Patrick’s Day in March of 2003 saved the day (and water year).

From the National Weather Service — Pueblo:

With just over a month left in the year, 2012 looks to go down as one the warmest and driest years on record across south central and southeast Colorado. Unless there is a major change in the weather pattern over the next month, 2012 will likely be the warmest year on record in Colorado Springs, and possibly the warmest year on record in Pueblo and Alamosa. In addition, 2012 will likely be the second driest year on record in Pueblo; the third or fourth driest year on record in Colorado Springs; and the twelfth driest year on record in Alamosa.

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

The situation varies around the state, but doesn’t look good anywhere. Snowpacks in the Colorado, Gunnison, Yampa/White, Upper Rio Grande and San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan River Basins are all registering between 40-47% of average, while the Arkansas is at a mere 30%. The South and North Platte River Basins are in the best shape, at 50% and 52% of average.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll have another drought year, since Colorado tends to get a large share of its snowfall in a few big storms later in the season. It bears watching, though, since statewide reservoir levels are already low: 66% of average for this time of year, and at 37% of their total capacity. Graphs shown by State Climatologist Nolan Doesken at Colorado Mesa University on Nov. 26 showed levels at Lake Dillon, Blue Mesa Lake and Lake Powell dropping between April and June of this year, a time when they normally refill.

Doesken pointed out that severe and widespread droughts are regular occurrences in Colorado, and the last one we have long-term data for (2002) was pretty short compared to droughts in the 1930s and 1950s. It’s worth noting that there were a lot fewer people in Colorado during those droughts.

Currently, the US Drought Monitor is reporting that over 90% of the state is in at least a “severe” drought, with a wide swath in the northwest corner (including Grand Junction) in “extreme” drought, and a large section of the southeastern part of the state in “exceptional” drought, the worst category. The US Drought Monitor also forecasts that drought conditions will persist or intensify in Colorado and all surrounding states over the next three months…

It’s entirely possible that we’ll get a big storm or two that will make skiers happy (even below 10,000 feet), and water users across the state will breathe sighs of relief. But the historical record (never mind climate change) tells us we won’t dodge the bullet forever. At some point we’ll face a severe multi-year drought again, so it’s not too soon to start thinking about how to adapt.


Fountain Creek: Stormwater needs through Colorado Springs and El Paso County could total $1 billion

November 30, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Stormwater needs in the Colorado Springs area could total more than $1 billion, while less than $10 million annually in funding is available from year to year. “This is not going to get done overnight,” said Springs Councilwoman Brandy Williams. “It took 30 years to get here, and I hope it won’t take 30 years to get out.”

An El Paso County stormwater task force Thursday reviewed a partial list of about 500 capital projects in the Fountain Creek watershed with a price tag of more than $760 million, along with annual estimated maintenance needs of $7.5 million annually. The list includes incorporated areas and military bases, and does not factor in a possible $180 million more in projects in unincorporated El Paso County. It will be finalized at the task force’s final meeting in January. Colorado Springs has the greatest need, with $684 million in capital projects and $4.9 million in annual maintenance, while Fountain needs $46 million and the Air Force Academy $24.5 million in construction.

“We will have identified $1 billion in needs and have only about $10 million budgeted,” said Tim Mitros, stormwater engineer for Colorado Springs. “What we’re going to have to look at in phase II is where the money is coming from.” Some concrete structures are more than 50 years old and reaching the end of their usefulness. New methods of controlling flooding are being explored, he added.

The meeting also addressed the need for Colorado Springs to control its stormwater in order to turn on the $986 million Southern Delivery System. When SDS was approved by the Bureau of Reclamation and Pueblo County commissioners, a stormwater enterprise was in place. Stormwater funding is just one part of the requirement, said Mark Pifher, a Colorado Springs Utilities executive. The other major piece is a drainage criteria manual, which should be completed by the city of Colorado Springs next spring. “Our hope is that the drainage criteria manual will allow no increase in flows from new development, which would assure that conditions of the permit are met,” Pifher said.

More coverage of Colorado Springs’ rehab work required by the Waldo Canyon Fire, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Colorado Springs Utilities will spend about $12 million reinforcing pipelines below Rampart Reservoir, already starting to wash out because of the Waldo Canyon Fire last summer. “Flood flows out of the area are greater than they were before the fire,” said Mark Shea, watershed planning supervisor for Colorado Springs Utilities. He made his comments at a stormwater task force meeting Thursday.

The severity of flooding is 4 to 10 times worse, even for small storms and swells dry creeks to the point where they overflow their banks. Roads and bridges can be washed out as additional sediment clogs drainages.

A back­up water supply main runs from Rampart Reservoir, north of the city, where 80 percent of Colorado Springs water is stored. While the reservoir itself will need some rehabilitation, the supply line is of paramount importance, Shea said. Another $25 million to $50 million will have to be spent to protect other parts of Colorado Springs where mud flows are likely in the wake of the fire.

Ultimately, the sediment would find its way into Monument and Fountain creeks, creating problems for Colorado Springs at its wastewater treatment plant, landowners on Fountain Creek and Pueblo County. The ash from the fire already has caused water quality problems for downstream water users.

The fire started June 23 and burned more than 18,000 acres, destroyed 350 homes and took two lives before it burned out in July. About 10,600 acres suffered moderate to high damage. Threequarters of the land is in the National Forest, but the impacts of flooding will be felt by area property owners.

Based on the experience of the Hayman Fire in 2002, it could be years before the worst effects of the fire show up. So far, mulch of straw and wood chips has been spread on the most damaged hillsides to try to stem erosion.

More Fountain Creek Watershed coverage here and here.


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