Drought news: ‘Historic flash drought of 2012 to continue into 2013′ — University of Nebraska-Lincoln

December 31, 2012

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Here’s the release from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Kelly Smith/Steve Smith):

The drought that swept across wide areas of the United States in the past year was historically unusual in its speed, its intensity and its size, climatologists at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said this week.

And, they said, those dry conditions are expected to last at least through winter: Forecasts show little hope of quick improvement, deepening the negative effects on agriculture, water supplies, food prices and wildlife.

“We usually tell people that drought is a slow-moving natural disaster, but this year was more of a flash drought,” said Mark Svoboda, a center climatologist and an author of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor. “With the sustained, widespread heat waves during the spring and early summer coupled with the lack of rains, the impacts came on in a matter of weeks instead of over several months.”

The result, according to year-end Drought Monitor data: More than 60 percent of the contiguous 48 states and 50 percent of the entire country was in severe to extreme drought for significant portions of 2012, Svoboda said. This year marked the first occurrence in the 13-year history of the monitor that all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico experienced drought. In the past few months, it has receded slightly in the Midwest but remains entrenched in the Great Plains.

‘Almost the perfect storm’

While the current drought has been brutal, it has been short from a historical perspective, said Brian Fuchs, also a monitor author and center climatologist. But unique conditions earlier in the year set the stage for the unusually intense and widespread drought.

“It was almost the perfect storm this year, a mild winter without much precipitation and with early green-up, so plants were using moisture a month or more earlier than usual,” Fuchs said. “Then we had the heat of the summer, plus the fact that it was dry from mid-May onward.”

Earlier this year, forecasters expected an El Nino weather pattern would be in place, bringing rain to the southern United States. But the pattern fizzled, leaving North America with neutral — neither El Nino nor La Nina — conditions, making it difficult to anticipate a single large-scale weather pattern for this winter.

Neutral conditions indicate a lack of an established weather pattern, likely meaning big swings in temperature and precipitation across the country through the winter, Fuchs said. Many parts of the country would need a tremendous amount of snow and a very long winter to start putting a dent in this year’s moisture deficits. The odds for that type of winter to occur are roughly two in 10 at best, according to Al Dutcher, Nebraska state climatologist.

Effects of this year’s — and next year’s — drought

The first wave of drought impacts has been agricultural: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency said Dec. 10 indemnity payments for 2012 were at nearly $8 billion. The winter wheat crop outlook across the Great Plains has been reduced, and ranchers are scrambling to find feed for cattle. Hay prices have risen, likely meaning bigger grocery bills as meat and dairy prices climb in response.

The second wave of impacts is often hydrological: Lack of water flowing down the Missouri River is prompting states along the lower Mississippi to challenge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ river management, anticipating hardships for the river navigation industry and all who depend on it to deliver commodities to markets, and some of the Great Lakes are at or near record lows. Fuchs said it is likely those basins are going to be fairly dry through winter and into next year.

As of late December, 82 percent of the Missouri River basin and the upper Mississippi basin and a third of the lower Mississippi basin were in moderate drought or worse, drought center data showed.

Fuchs said that while severe hydrologic drought hasn’t yet hit the majority of the country, those who depend on older or single wells should check reliability now, before hot weather and the growing season increase water use. Farmers and ranchers may also consider potential savings from using better irrigation technology and no-till practices.

“In the Southeast and southern Plains, multiple years of drought have resulted in widespread hydrological drought issues with water supply and water quality as well as with declining storage and water tables,” he said. “In areas where the drought has been shorter, such as in the Midwest and Plains, there are some water systems that are already under stress and more impacts related to hydrologic drought will develop as the drought continues.”


Pueblo West Metro District approves 8% increase in water rates and a 13.5% increase in sewer rates

December 31, 2012

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From The Pueblo West View (Christing Ina Casillas):

Water and wastewater rates…will change come Jan. 1 for Pueblo West residents now that the budget process has been completed and approved unanimously by the Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors.

The 2013 proposed budget calls for an increase in both water and wastewater rates. A rate study presented to the board in early 2012 anticipated an eight percent increase in water rates and a 13.5 percent increase in wastewater rates, according to the budget.

Four new staff members will be employed in the Water and Wastewater Department and will consist of three utility workers and a water conservation/pretreatment coordinator. The coordinator is tasked to develop, implement and evaluate conservation measure and programs, develop manageable water-use plan for high water consumption customers, among other duties, according to the budget.

Along with water and wastewater, the district approved capital projects in this year’s budget, including $1 million for the Southern Delivery System, $1.8 million for river pump station connection to SDS, $4.2 million for the construction of the Wild Horse pipeline and $1.5 for the completion of the construction of the bio-solid stabilization pons in the wastewater enterprise fun.

More infrastructure coverage here.


The Water Information Program winter 2012 newsletter is hot off the press

December 31, 2012

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Click here to access a copy of the newsletter.

More education coverage here.


Snowpack news: Yampa and White River Basins still lead Colorado at 86% of today’s median value

December 31, 2012

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Here’s the Colorado SNOTEL Snow/Precipitation Update Report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The snowpack in all but one of Colorado’s river basins is at least 15 percent below normal for this time of year, according to Friday morning U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service snowpack measurements.

“Most locations, we’re running 20-35 percent below average” for the water content of the snow, said meteorologist Mark Heuer, of DayWeather in Cheyenne.

The water content of the snow across the South Platte Basin, including the Poudre River watershed, was 74 percent of normal Friday. Locally, the best snowpack reading was at Joe Wright Reservoir along Colorado Highway 14, where the snowpack is 92 percent of normal.

The wettest river basin in the state is the Yampa River Basin, where the water content of the snow is only 12 percent below normal. The driest is the Arkansas River Basin, where the water content averages 36 percent below normal…

Statewide snowpack measuring stations associated with Colorado State University show that the deepest snowpack anywhere in Colorado on Friday was near Steamboat Springs, where 30 inches of snow were on the ground. Heuer said many places are seeing snow depth six to 12 inches below normal for this time of year.


Colorado Water 2012: ‘An inadequate supply of clean water threatens our economy and our way of life’ — Nicole Seltzer

December 30, 2012

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Nicole Seltzer):

When I embarked on planning a year-long celebration of Colorado’s water, I honestly did not know what to expect. Were there others out there who would help seize the opportunity? Would anyone pay attention to water for an entire year? As dozens of Colorado water professionals now help to wrap up Colorado’s “Year of Water,” I can proudly say, yes, we made a difference! More than 100 communities held Water 2012 events this year, reaching almost 550,000 Coloradans with a message of “celebrating water.”

There were library displays in Fort Collins, author talks in La Junta and Steamboat, fine art shows in Denver and Durango, newspaper series in Alamosa, Pueblo and Grand Junction, proclamations by Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and several city councils, children’s water festivals in numerous towns, and so much more.

When asked what difference Water 2012 made, those involved said it increased the exposure of residents in their communities to water information, which in turn strengthened their basic knowledge of the importance of water. The increase in water-related programs available in Colorado communities grew participation at water related events, as well as the number of people discussing water. All in all, Colorado is more “water literate” at the end of 2012 than it was at the beginning.

We also had an unexpected success. Nearly 90 percent of the water educators involved in Water 2012 strengthened their ties with other water educators. Never before had those charged with teaching Coloradans about water’s importance come together on a consistent basis to learn from each other.

Aside from increased water awareness and linkages between water educators, what is the legacy of Colorado’s Year of Water? I believe that the Colorado Water 2012 volunteers started something that will only grow bigger and better. While we won’t have “Water 2013” to keep us focused, Colorado’s water educators have seen what is possible when they come together as a community and create something whose whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.

Water is the lifeblood of Colorado. An inadequate supply of clean water threatens our economy and our way of life. From the family farmer to the ski resort executive, we all rely on this undervalued and often underappreciated resource.

My hope for Colorado in 2013 is that we sustain the momentum created in 2012 to continue educating our children and community leaders that we must make smart water choices in our lives.

I posted more that 100 times about Colorado Water 2012. You can take a trip down memory lane here.


CWCB annual instream flow workshop January 30

December 30, 2012

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From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

The CWCB’s annual Instream Flow Workshop will be held on the afternoon of January 30, 2013 at the Marriot Denver Tech Center in conjunction with the Colorado Water Congress’ Annual Convention. While there is no fee for this particular workshop and registration with the Colorado Water Congress is not required, it is necessary to RSVP to rob.viehl@state.co.us by January 18th if you plan on attending.

Each year, the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section hosts an annual workshop that provides state and federal agencies and other interested persons an opportunity to recommend certain stream reaches or natural lakes for inclusion in the State’s Instream Flow (ISF) program. The entities that make ISF recommendations will present information regarding the location of new recommendations as well as preliminary data in support of the recommendation. There will be an opportunity for interested stakeholders to provide input and ask questions. This year’s workshop will include: (1) an overview of the ISF program and the new appropriation process; (2) discussion of pending ISF recommendations from previous years; and (3) discussion of the potential for CWCB staff, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the BLM and other entities to form partnerships with the Basin Roundtables to use the ISF program as a potential mechanism to meet non-consumptive needs.

For a general overview of the new appropriation process, please visit: http://cwcb.state.co.us/environment/instream-flow-program/Pages/InstreamFlowAppropriations.aspx

Date: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Time: 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

  • Location:Marriot Denver Tech Center
  • Longs Peak Room
  • 4900 South Syracuse
  • Denver, Colorado 80237
  • More CWCB coverage here.


    Drought news: Colorado is not out of the woods yet, despite recent snowfall #COdrought

    December 29, 2012

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    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Don’t be fooled by all that cold snow covering the mountains overlooking the Grand Valley — the drought is still on.

    “It’s going to help out with every flake we get,” said John Kyle, data acquisition program manager for the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service. “But the drought is a much longer period” than the snow-covered days of recent weeks.

    The spate of snowstorms that covered western Colorado in recent days slowed, but hardly reversed, the dry trend of the last year.

    “Snowstorms this time of year don’t add much moisture” to the overall amount of water that collects in the high country over the winter and spring, Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “At this point we’re really waiting for March and April to bring real content to the picture.”

    The numbers so far bear that out, Kyle said.

    As of Wednesday, the Grand Valley had seen 9.2 inches of snowfall so far this water year, which began in October, and the moisture total of a little more than 4 inches was the third driest on record.

    For December so far, the valley has seen an accumulation of 0.97 of an inch of moisture.

    Even though forecasts called for 6 to 14 inches of snow to fall in the high country, and 2 to 6 inches in the Grand Valley, through Wednesday night and this morning, the long-term outlook is less than bright.

    Weather watchers had pinned some optimism on the development of an El Nino condition in the Pacific Ocean.

    The El Nino pattern feeds moisture from warm waters into the weather pattern that dominates the west side of the Continental Divide, “but those warm waters just disappeared,” leaving behind no discernible weather pattern, Treese said. “There’s no nino so far.”

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Snowfall in the West Elk and San Juan mountains has a long way to go before it begins making up for an arid 2012.

    The snows that blanketed western Colorado “just kept us on an average accumulation track,” said Erik Knight, hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation office in Grand Junction. “We didn’t really gain any ground back. Outside of a big change with the storm at the start of next week, I see December as an average snow accumulation month.”

    For the entire Gunnison Basin, snowpack is about 73 percent of average, while on the Colorado River side, it’s about 72 percent of average, Knight said.

    In the Upper Gunnison River Basin, the snowpack is 60 percent of average. The total is buoyed by high snowpack on Grand Mesa and the Uncompahgre Plateau, neither of which feeds into the major reservoirs the bureau operates on the Gunnison, including Blue Mesa. That reservoir, the state’s largest, was filled to 39 percent of capacity as of Thursday.

    The higher snowpack on Grand Mesa stands to benefit water suppliers in the Grand Valley, Knight said.
    Grand Junction officials will take their own measurements next week as the new year begins, said Rick Brinkman, water services manager.

    “We expect good numbers on the west side,” but the question mark is the east side of the mesa, Brinkman said.
    Two sites tracked by Ute Water Conservancy District show Mesa Lakes at 84 percent of average and Park Reservoir, farther east, at 79 percent of average.

    On the Colorado River side, where snowpack was reported to be 72 percent of average, the reporting sites tend not to be those over reservoirs, Knight said.

    From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Durango Herald:

    “It’s not quite good enough to pull us out of the drought, but at least (it’s) bringing temporary relief and optimism,” State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said.

    Snow levels were as low as 40 percent of average earlier this month in the state’s eight major river basins.

    On Thursday, the levels ranged from a low of 63 percent of average in the Arkansas River Basin to 85 percent in the Yampa and White river basins.

    “While those numbers aren’t great, they’re a big improvement over 2½ weeks ago,” Doesken said.

    A Christmas Eve storm brought widespread snow to Colorado, including 20 inches on some parts of Grand Mesa in western Colorado.

    On Thursday, Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 11 inches of new snow from another storm. Steamboat Springs reported 9 inches of new snow Thursday, and Winter Park reported 8 inches.

    Doesken said the forecast for the first part of 2013 doesn’t include much moisture, and the longer-range outlook is uncertain…

    “It doesn’t bode snowy, it doesn’t bode drought. It doesn’t bode average, either. It just bodes ‘We don’t know,’” he said.

    From ACCUWeather (Jillian Macmath):

    Following a year of severe drought across the United States, the precipitation from winter 2013 may not be enough to eradicate dry conditions and return the water supply to normal levels.

    The snow cover compared to last year on this date for the contiguous U.S., is significantly wider: approximately 65 percent versus last year’s 25 percent.

    The highest percentage of snow coverage in any month last year just barely reached 48 percent.

    But despite the seemingly wide coverage right now and talk of more snow to come, the U.S., will not be quick to recover.


    Silverthorne: The next meeting of the Flaming Gorge Task Force is January 3 #CORiver

    December 29, 2012

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    Here’s the agenda via email from Heather Bergman.

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.


    The Fort Collins Coloradoan is following the trail of EPA exemptions for disposal wells, including oil and gas operations waste

    December 29, 2012

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    Here’s a report from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through for the great graphic and the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Over the past 13 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has exempted only the oil and gas industry from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to allow the disposal of waste brine and hydrocarbon-containing fluids into drinking water aquifers deep underground.

    The injections are occurring east of Fort Collins in northern Weld County, including one directly beneath an animal sanctuary, a Coloradoan investigation shows.

    The law requires applicants for the exemptions to prove that aquifers can’t be used for drinking because the water is so deep underground that it’s too expensive or too impractical to ever be tapped.

    But Colorado water experts say you can never say never.

    State water planners say it’s possible — but extremely expensive — to reach that drinking water today, but they warn that they can’t discount the possibility the water will become scarce and valuable enough here that Colorado may one day need to look for it deep underground.

    A ProPublica investigation showed that the EPA has not kept track of how many aquifer exemptions have been issued nationwide, and records the agency provided ProPublica showed that many were issued in conflict with the EPA’s requirement to protect water that could be used for drinking. ProPublica found that about 1,100 aquifer exemptions have been approved by the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Program in its Rocky Mountain regional office in Denver.

    The Coloradoan requested under the federal Freedom of Information Act copies of all approval notices for aquifer exemptions the EPA has granted since Jan. 1, 2000, for an area including Denver, Weld, Adams, Boulder and Larimer counties.

    The EPA released six aquifer exemption notices for that area.

    In most cases, the EPA granted companies permission to pollute drinking water aquifers saying that they are not “reasonably expected” to be used for drinking water because they are too deep and too expensive to tap, making such an operation “technically impractical.”[...]

    “I think most people consider it highly unlikely that it would ever be possible to lift that water that far economically” because the energy required to pump water 10,000 feet to the surface is too costly, said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.

    Today, one of the only resources valuable enough to pump from such depths is oil.

    Think of it this way: The energy industry extracts oil from 7,000 feet or so beneath the surface, but each barrel is currently worth about $91. A barrel of water might be worth 80 cents, Waskom said, making the effort economically impractical.

    More water pollution coverage here.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    2013 Colorado legislation: The Colorado State Geologist’s Office is being transferred from DNR to the Colorado School of Mines

    December 28, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain:

    And hold onto your hat — the Colorado state geologist’s office will be moved from the Department of Natural Resources to the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

    More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    Snowpack/drought news: South Platte Basin snowpack = 74% of median value, Upper Colorado = 72% #COdrought

    December 28, 2012

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the current U.S. Drought Monitor map.

    Here’s the Colorado SNOTEL Snow/Precipitation Update Report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    Snowpack by basin as a percentage of the daily median: Gunnison River Basin = 75%; Upper Colorado River Basin = 72%; South Platte River Basin = 74%; Laramie and North Platte River Basins = 82%; Yampa and White River Basins = 87%; Arkansas River Basin = 64%; Upper Rio Grande Basin = 66%; San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins = 72%.

    From Radio Colorado College (Andrea Chalfin):

    Rob White, park manager at the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area in Salida, says a good snow year is critical for the river, and those who depend on water. While the current flow of the river is about average, during the summer, White says portions of the popular rafting destination were barely boatable.

    “In an extremely dry year like we had in 2012, there wasn’t enough water to go around. Obviously, there wasn’t enough water for the farmers, there wasn’t enough water for the irrigators, so we also had to make do with a smaller amount of water.”

    Typically the snow to water equivalency in the Arkansas River basin approaches around 5 inches by mid-December. Right now it’s only 57% of average. With so much riding on this year’s snow pack – the numbers are disturbing for farmers downstream who depend on the river for irrigation.

    Mike Bartolo, Colorado State University Research Manager in Rocky Ford, says farmers make plans based on snowpack and water.

    “So you try to know how much fertilizer you need to order, or how much seed you need to order, but you really don’t know because it’s so tentative.”

    2012 got off to a promising start along the Arkansas River – but things gradually got worse. A lack of rainfall didn’t help the alfalfa and corn crops that are predominant here—one gauge in Rocky Ford shows less than 5 inches of total precipitation…

    “A lot can happen between now and May 15th when we start to experience runoff. I think what’s really important is that we get those snowstorms that we typically get in the spring months.“

    Despite the optimism, a recent seasonal outlook from the Climate Prediction Center at the National Weather Service says drought conditions are likely to persist or even intensify through next March.

    From the Summit Daily News (Caddie Nath):

    “We’re still early in the snowpack season,” National Weather Service hydrologist Treste Huse said. “A lot can change before the end of the year. It’s still not where we want to see it, but it has definitely improved.”[...]

    Snowpack, while improving, is still only 71 percent of average in the Upper Colorado River Basin, levels in the once-brimming Dillon Reservoir are below normal for this time of year and a bout of dry weather may be on the horizon for northern Colorado and much of the country, according to the National Weather Service…

    Dillon Reservoir was approximately 70 percent full last week, but has historically been 93 percent full on average at this time of year. Denver Water’s total system is running at approximately 63 percent full, compared to a past median of 83 percent…

    Wave after wave of winter weather through the better part of December has certainly helped, Huse said. The snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin has nearly doubled from just 38 percent of average on Dec. 6 and is ahead of last year, when snow pack had only reached 67 percent of average with a meager 4 inches of snow dusting Breckenridge over the course of the last month of 2011.

    Recent storms have delivered more than a dozen inches to Summit County during the month of December, but the consistent snowfall may be winding down at least for the next few weeks, according to NWS projections.

    From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

    The snow couldn’t have come at a better time for area ski resorts, which need to capitalize on holiday travelers to help make their financial year. DMR reported 28 inches of snow midway Wednesday morning, with 6 inches of new snow in the previous 48 hours. Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 40 inches midway Wednesday, with 4 new inches in the previous 48 hours, and Telluride Ski Resort said it had received 7 inches of snow in the previous 48 hours, with the snow depth at the base at 24 inches…

    Three storms in two weeks by no means signifies the drought is over. The snowpack for the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel river basins is currently at 57 percent of average for the year according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.


    Rio Grande Basin Roundtable: ‘We are the basin that has received the most funding to date’ — Mike Gibson

    December 28, 2012

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    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Rio Grande Interbasin Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson said in the years since the state has funded water projects through basin-specific roundtables and a statewide account, this basin has garnered more than $8 million from the statewide Water Supply Reserve Account. “We are the basin that has received the most funding to date,” he said…

    During its December meeting the roundtable unanimously approved a $23,500 request from Judy Lopez to implement “The Value of Water,” an educational campaign to continue the informational work begun this year during the “Water 2012” initiative. “We have had a great year,” Lopez said.

    Water 2012 included a variety of activities including weekly articles in the Valley Courier, radio spots, tours, contests and other water informational events. Lopez said the Rio Grande Basin is a model for others and has been termed the “kumbaya” basin because of how well folks got along and worked together to promote water education.

    “The Value of Water” is the next step, Lopez explained. One of the goals of this next campaign will be “getting people to understand we have a gap between what we have and the amount of water we need.”[...]

    The Valley Courier will continue to publish water educational articles, with about 24 scheduled for 2013, and radio interviews will continue, as well as classes and tours on different topics such as wetlands. Lopez requested $23,500 for salaries and supplies that will be matched for a total of $66,450 for “The Value of Water” campaign. The funding request will go on to the state for consideration for funding from the statewide account.

    Roundtable member Travis Smith said he supported this funding application, and he commended Lopez and Water 2012 Coordinator Leah Opitz for getting the water conversation out past the “same 10 guys and gals” to the general public. He said the educational components are often overlooked in water circles and hard to measure, but they are important. One of the measures of success from these initiatives will be raising up new water leaders for the future, he added.

    More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


    Snowpack news: Good snow Christmas Eve at the Arkansas headwaters #COdrought #COwx

    December 27, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A Christmas Eve snowstorm blanketed the Arkansas River headwaters in white, but did not alleviate drought conditions that have clung to the basin for more than two years. “We went to an early Mass at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and before we got out it had snowed so much that we almost didn’t make it home,” said Rego Omerigic, a Leadville resident…

    But more precise measurements by Leadville weather watcher Charles Kuster show that snowfall for the season — July 1-June 30 in the high country — is only about 60 percent of average so far. It’s also been one of the warmest years on record. “On Christmas Eve, we got 4.8 inches of snow, with 0.34 of an inch moisture content. That’s the largest amount this season,” Kuster said.

    So far in December — more snow is in the forecast through Friday — Leadville has gotten about 16 inches of snow, compared with the average of about 21 inches. Statewide, snowpack levels as measured at Snotel sites maintained by the Natural Resources Conservation Service were at 68 percent of average just prior to the storm. The Arkansas River basin was in the worst shape at 57 percent.

    Pueblo’s precipitation for the year, not likely to increase by the end of the year Monday, is 4.94 inches, the second-driest year on record. The driest year was 2002, with 3.94 inches, and average is 12.54 inches. If the drought continues, it could influence how water is used in the Arkansas River basin. Winter water storage is at about 83 percent of average. The Pueblo Board of Water Works is planning to recoup water in storage and eliminating spot-market leases next year. Aurora Water is planning to lease water from the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch to refill some of its depleted storage.


    Norwood and the Lone Cone Ditch Company settle with Telluride over San Miguel water rights application

    December 27, 2012

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    From The Norwood Post (Patrick Alan Coleman/Katie Klingsporn):

    The Town of Norwood along with the Lone Cone Ditch and Reservoir Company reached a settlement with the Town of Telluride over Telluride’s opposition to applications for water rights on the San Miguel river. Norwood’s application, which came as a response to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) filing for increased in-stream flow to protect fish habitat, was meant to ensure water for 50 years of future growth along the 85 miles of line in the Norwood Water Commission (NWC) district.

    The settlement reduces the proposed 16,300 acre-feet of water in five reservoirs proposed in the original cases filed. That amount was based in part on water commission studies suggesting how much water would be adequate for two percent growth in the NWC district up to the year 2060.

    Under the proposed settlement, the Norwood Water Commission will withdraw claims for two of the five reservoirs — the Upper Gurley and Huff Gulch reservoirs — as well as the J&M Hughes Ditch enlargement. The NWC will also accept an overall storage capacity limitation of 2,250 acre-feet and a use limitation of 1,000 acre-feet annually. NWC must also select, within 12 years, one of the alternate reservoirs or a combination of them to develop, with a cumulative storage capacity of no more than 2,240 acre-feet, and abandon storage rights for the reservoirs not selected. In addition, the NWC will have to abandon reservoirs for which construction has not begun within 24 years, and forfeit water for which actual uses do not develop by 2060.

    The Lone Cone Ditch and Reservoir Company, meanwhile, will limit its use of water stored in the Lone Cone Reservoir enlargement to 1,750 acre-feet, and not sell its stored water allocation to NWC…

    According to Norwood Town Administrator Patti Grafmyer, much of the reason for settling with Telluride was due to the expenses that would have likely been incurred by fighting the municipality in water court…

    The water fight began shortly after the CWCB announced that it would be filing for increased in-stream flows in 2010. The announcement had counties and towns along the San Miguel river scrambling to file additional rites on streams, tributaries, and storage along the river in order to ensure that their rights would not be junior to those of the CWCB.

    Initially affected parties joined together with the Southwestern Water Conservation District who had completed a study detailing how much water would be needed by the communities in the watershed as they grew into the future.

    At that time the Town of Norwood was meeting and working in tandem with a coalition that included Nucla, Naturita, their Montrose county representatives and representatives from San Miguel county. The initial plan was for the parties to file for water in conjunction.

    In September of 2010, both Montrose county and San Miguel county pulled out of the endeavor due to legal questions and vagaries of the proposed group filing. While Montrose county continued to support its municipalities by pursuing rights for future water, the dissolution of the initial partnership left the town of Norwood on its own with just one month to file before the CWCB.

    More San Miguel River coverage here and here.


    Grand Junction: DARCA Annual Conference ‘Water for food, Food for life’ — March 6-8

    December 27, 2012

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    Here’s the announcement from the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance:


    ‘Platte River Recovery Implementation Program is creating a place for whooping cranes to stay during their migration’ — Kearney Hub

    December 27, 2012

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    From the Kearney Hub (Lori Porter):

    Large, yellow earth movers circled 180 acres of land southeast of Kearney between the north and main channels of the Platte River, sculpting shallow depressions that will be seeded with wetland plants and, it’s hoped, be filled by spring rains. The goal in this initial “pothole” project is to create habitat attractive to endangered whooping cranes that migrate through the Central Platte Valley. The hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes that make an annual late winter-early spring mid-migration stop also should like the wetland conditions, said Bruce Sackett, land specialist for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. Ducks, geese and small shorebirds also may visit the site, he added. To the south, along the river’s main channel, 300 acres have been seeded to grass that Sackett said needs moisture now to thrive next year.

    Both habitat restoration projects are part of an effort to manage 10,000 acres of habitat for threatened and endangered birds — least terms and piping plovers are the other two target species — for the first 13-year increment of a plan to put the entire Platte Basin into Endangered Species Act compliance.

    The other major component of the program involving the U.S. Department of Interior, Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska is to reduce Platte River streamflow depletions. A successful program will allow all federally licensed or permitted entities within the three states, including Nebraska Public Power District and Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, to comply with the ESA. Otherwise, each project would have to have comply on its own.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


    Colorado Water 2012: ‘Will now be transitioning in into a statewide Value of Water movement’ — Judy Lopez

    December 27, 2012

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    Here’s the latest installment in the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Judy Lopez. Here’s an excerpt:

    The “Water 2012” awareness campaign for the Rio Grande Basin is winding down. What started as a celebration of Colorado’s historic water moments will now be transitioning in into a statewide “Value of Water” movement. This proactive crusade will continue on several fronts across all of the river basins in the state with a single goal of getting water on every body’s mind.

    Water it is such a simple topic. It is wet stuff that we drink, bathe in, wash our clothes in, grow and prepare food in. It’s used for making stuff; animals use it and plants use it. The point is – it really gets used. That tends to be a problem, especially since there are getting to be so many people that have so many uses for a once plentiful resource. Water education was once a topic left to children as part of their school studies, but since there are now seven billion of us here on the planet, five million in Colorado, our water footprint (demand) or our “splash” is exceeding the supply that we have readily available.

    The value of water means different things to everyone. On the most personal level, it is getting a drink of safe water whenever need to quench thirst. It is coveted in household use for food, hygiene and the basic needs. There are also the agricultural needs to grow and process food. Without these needs met then there is loss of jobs, higher food costs and less food security. Most modern manufacturing requires some form of water use, real economic drivers in times like that are the loss of jobs. Finally, there is the environmental need – streams, rivers and lakes require a given amount of water for the survival of aquatic species. That water in turn is key for the economies that survive on those streams, rivers and lakes.

    More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


    Forecast news: More snow on the way for the Continental Divide #COdrought #COwx

    December 26, 2012

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    From the National Weather Service Pueblo office:

    …WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 1 PM THIS AFTERNOON TO
    11 PM MST THURSDAY…

    THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN PUEBLO HAS ISSUED A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOW…WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM 1 PM THIS AFTERNOON TO 11 PM MST THURSDAY.

  • LOCATION…THE MOSQUITO AND SAWATCH MOUNTAIN RANGES ABOVE 11000 FEET.
  • CAUSE AND TIMING…A SLOW MOVING STORM SYSTEM WILL MOVE ACROSS THE REGION PRODUCING A PROLONGED PERIOD OF LIGHT TO MODERATE SNOW THIS AFTERNOON THROUGH THURSDAY EVENING.
  • SNOW ACCUMULATION…4 TO 8 INCHES WITH LOCALLY HIGHER AMOUNTS.
  • WIND…SOUTHWEST TO WEST 15 TO 25 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 45 MPH.
  • IMPACT…TRAVEL WILL BE SLICK AND HAZARDOUS WITH SNOW PACKED AND ICY ROADWAYS. VISIBILITIES WILL BE REDUCED AT TIMES ADDING TO THE HAZARDOUS TRAVEL CONDITIONS.
  • Here’s the forecast map from the National Weather Service Grand Junction office from earlier this morning:

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    Snowpack news: Widespread snow across Colorado helps snowpack #COdrought #COwx

    December 26, 2012

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    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    Much of Colorado enjoyed a white Christmas after a storm dumped up to 8 inches of snow in the northwest part of the state and up to 7 inches along the Front Range. The National Weather Service reported more than 8.2 inches west of Steamboat Springs and almost 7 inches near Eldorado Springs outside Boulder. Up to 6 inches was reported in the Grand Valley in west-central Colorado. The Denver area reported 2 to 2½ inches.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Monday’s storm left about 3.2 inches of the white stuff on the Grand Valley by the time it cleared out of the area early Tuesday. That’s an inch below the record set back in 1962, according to weather service data.

    Powderhorn Mountain Restore atop the Grand Mesa reported Tuesday that the Christmas Eve storm dumped 14 inches of snow on its slopes, leaving it a base of about 38 inches.


    The drought is expected to persist across thew the western U.S. through March #COdrought

    December 26, 2012

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    Here’s the release from the Western Governors Association:

    The drought that made 2012 one of the driest in the years in the past century will likely persist across much of the West into March of 2013, according to the new Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlook from the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    The Outlook combines maps, projections and other products that provide information to decision makers about current and likely future weather conditions. Among the features of this release is a chart depicting reservoir storage in each of the Western states, which is below average for all states but Washington and Montana.

    The Western Governors are focused on preparedness and resilience in the event of continued drought in 2013. Given the extent and severity of the current drought, WGA co-sponsored the National Drought Forum on December 12-13, 2012 in Washington, DC.

    “Drought impacts next year could be far more severe, especially given that the reservoir storage in many basins has been depleted,” said Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who spoke at the event.

    The Outlook is a quarterly publication that was developed by the WGA and NOAA after the two organizations signed a Memorandum of Understanding in June 2011. WGA and NOAA have also co-sponsored two regional meetings, one in the Pacific Northwest and one in the Upper Missouri basin.

    All of the maps and information presented in the Outlook are also available from the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), which provides a number of online drought information tools at drought.gov. Western Governors were instrumental to the passage of NIDIS in 2006. NIDIS is currently up for reauthorization by Congress.

    NOAA also releases region-specific Outlooks, including documents that focus on the Central Region, the Southern Great Plains, and the Western Region.

    More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. Here’s an excerpt:

    Without a surplus moisture this winter, drought conditions are likely to linger, and potentially even worsen, across parts of the West in 2013…

    The cold season is typically the driest part of the year in most mid‐continental locations, so even with average seasonal precipitation, there will likely be little relief from the drought, according to the National Drought Monitor. The exceptions are Montana and California, where some relief is expected, based on early season precipitation.

    New Mexico has been hardest hit, with reservoir storage at just 18 percent of capacity, but storage is below average in all western state except Montana and Washington.


    Merry Christmas

    December 25, 2012

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    Merry Christmas to one and all.


    Snowpack news: Yampa and White basins lead the state at 83% of median #COdrought

    December 25, 2012

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    All these storms rolling through have had an effect in the northern mountains. Here’s the list from the Natural Resources Conservation Service: Gunnison = 72% of median; Upper Colorado River = 70%; South Platte = 74%; Laramie and North Platte = 79%; Yampa and White = 83%; Arkansas = 61%; Upper Rio Grande = 65%; San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan = 71%.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    The Natural Resources Conservation Service is reporting that the water stored in the snow on the ground in the Yampa/White river basin now stands at 76 percent of average, but there are snow measuring sites around Routt County that are significantly higher, including Crosho Lake south of Yampa at 92 percent, Whiskey Park in far North Routt at 86 percent, and Rabbit Ears Pass at 80 percent. Steamboat-based meteorologist Mike Weissbluth says the Park Range can be expected to add to the snowpack during the holidays…

    Only the neighboring Laramie and North Platte basin, at 81 percent of average, is closer to normal water storage than is the Yampa/White river basin.

    Like the Yampa River, the North Platte drains the Park Range, but from the eastern side of the Continental Divide. It also collects water from the Never Summer mountain range, where the snow-measuring site at Willow Creek Pass between Walden and Granby is the only site in the state currently at 100 percent of average water content.

    The Tower measuring site at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass has 48 inches of snow on the ground, and that 10.8 inches of water content translates to just 69 percent of average for Dec. 24. The snow at the Elk River measuring site in North Routt stood at 32 inches on Dec. 19, but that number had settled to 22 inches by Monday morning. The water in the snow is 71 percent of average.

    Weissbluth wrote Monday that an upcoming change in polar weather patterns could suspend the flow of snow into Northwest Colorado for New Year’s.

    “It looks like snowfall may be interrupted for a week as the cold air in Siberia re-crosses the North Pole and establishes a vortex in Hudson Bay and a ridge over the Gulf of Alaska,” he wrote. “We can get snow from this pattern as cold air breaks westward from this vortex, or storms undercut the Gulf of Alaska ridge, but this is not an ideal pattern for accumulating snowfall.”

    From Steamboat Today:

    Past 24 hours [ed. at Steamboat]: 11 inches at mid-mountain and 14 inches of new snow at the summit

    Past 48 hours: 13 inches at mid-mountain

    Since close yesterday: 8 inches at mid-mountain


    Drought news: Fort Collins hints at watering restrictions in the spring #COdrought

    December 24, 2012

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    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    When you factor in climate change, the only certainty about Colorado’s future water supply and drought conditions is uncertainty.

    There is little indication that Colorado’s drought is nearing an end. The federal government, in a report released last week by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, is expecting dry conditions are going to be the norm about half the time over the next 50 years in the Colorado River Basin, a primary source of Larimer County’s drinking water supplies.

    There are two other sure bets about drought in the Rockies right now: The 2012 drought was a natural disaster, and the precipitation outlook for the next few months is full of question marks…

    “From a natural ecology point of view, the 2012 drought was horrendous,” said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken. The region had an extremely warm March, kicking off a four-month spell of hot and dry weather, which dried vegetation and forest soils earlier than usual, he said…

    On Friday, Horsetooth Reservoir was about 44 percent full, and storage throughout the Colorado-Big Thompson Project was sitting at 76 percent, said Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner.

    Water supplies are expected to be adequate through the next year, but “you are going to start seeing more water providers looking at how they want to cut back,” he said. “You’ll see a lot more serious watering restrictions out of communities. Fort Collins is going to be looking at it if we stay where we’re at.”

    The city of Fort Collins is likely to implement water restrictions in the spring as a precaution in case the city isn’t allowed obtain its full quota of water from Horsetooth Reservoir, city Water Resources Manager Donnie Dustin told the City Council in November.

    He said the city will explore ways to get more water from the reservoir, including halting water rentals to the North Poudre Irrigation Company.


    Baca National Wildlife Refuge: The elk herd is degrading riparian habitat

    December 24, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing some hunting and hazing to scatter elk herds at the three national wildlife refuges it manages in the San Luis Valley.

    The agency said elk have become a problem because of the damage they cause to wetlands and riparian habitat, a conflict that is especially pronounced on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, which has a herd of roughly 3,500.

    A draft environmental assessment released Tuesday called for licensed hunts on roughly 27,000 acres on the Baca with the majority coming on the western edge of the refuge.

    Other steps in the proposal also call for selective culling and hazing, with the possible use of cracker shells, horseback riders and agency staff on foot.

    “We’d like to keep as many tools in the toolbox as we can,” said Mike Blenden, who oversees the valley’s three refuges.

    The overuse by elk on the Baca caused the near total elimination of habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, which is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

    The environmental assessment also said elk had damaged some habitat on the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge.

    Opening all three refuges to public hunting was not considered as part of this plan, which will last for three years. The agency said that option will be considered in the management plan for the three refuges, which is due out in 2015.

    The other options in the draft include the possibility of continuing with the existing policy of not managing the herds and another that uses hazing without the incorporation of the Baca hunts.

    The agency will accept comments on the draft for 30 days. They can be sent to alamosa@fws.gov or in writing to: San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 9383 El Rancho Lane, Alamosa, CO., 81101.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


    Douglas County appeals Sterling Ranch ruling that has stalled development

    December 24, 2012

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    From the Douglas County News-Press (Rhonda Moore):

    The county aims to place the issue of water availability before the appeals court, which has not previously tested the applicable statute, said Lance Ingalls, county attorney.

    The statute in question requires developers to prove the water supply for a rezoning before the start of new construction. Sterling Ranch in May 2011 gained the county’s approval to rezone and develop 3,500 acres in the Chatfield Valley, with a plan for 12,000 homes.

    With passage of the rezoning, the county granted the request from developer Harold Smethhills to prove his water adequacy at each plat or phase of development. District Judge Paul King reversed the county’s approval in August, following a challenge by the Chatfield Community Association.

    “While land use and development is a matter of local concern, the adequacy of water for new developments is a matter of statewide concern,” King ruled. “(L)ocal government shall not approve an application for a development unless it determines that the applicant has established that the proposed water supply for the development is adequate.”

    From The Denver Post:

    Those in the home-building industry said the outcome could affect projects on semi-arid land where there isn’t a lot of water. For years, suburban building has gotten the go-ahead without requiring that developers have sufficient water in place in advance.

    More water law coverage here.


    ‘Farming on the high, arid desert plains of Eastern Colorado forced people to be imaginative’ — Rick Kienitz

    December 23, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Rick Kienitz):

    Before beginning a job for a municipal water provider, I, like most people, thought no further about where my water came from than from the kitchen faucet.

    I knew water came from streams and aquifers and that the beginning of the water cycle was rain and snow, but I would rarely think of how that water finally made it to my house. The idea that somehow water had to make the long trek from a snowy mountain top to my home did not concern or worry me.

    Increasingly, water scarcity and a growing population’s demand causes people like me to think more about where that all-important resource comes from. Seeing the process and the complexity of providing water to a large city made me not only appreciate the value and importance of water in Southern Colorado, but also had me wonder where that water supply originally came from.

    Farming on the high, arid desert plains of Eastern Colorado forced people to be imaginative. Men like T.C. Henry and David K. Wall built canals and laterals to carry water from the rivers further inland to irrigate crops. Although these canals were massive undertakings and could move large amounts of water, the farmlands were also enormous and water was not always available, especially during times of drought.

    Farmers using these canals began to develop supplemental water supplies in order to grow crops during dry years. These great engineering feats used expansive tunnels and pipelines, as well as natural contours, draws and saddles in the Continental Divide to transport water and irrigate farmlands hundreds of miles away.
    Since many of these supplemental systems became too expensive for farmers to maintain and operate, many are now part of municipal water systems and supplies.

    Still, it took the vision, ingenuity, resourcefulness, skill, and hard work of these farmers to devise and build these systems. The Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. — which was originally developed to bring water through a series of tunnels to irrigate farms in Crowley County — now provides water to a number of cities including Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Pueblo West and Aurora.

    The Busk Ivanhoe system used the old Carlton railway tunnel to bring water across the Continental Divide to farm land in Otero County under the Highline Canal. This system now provides water to Pueblo and Aurora.

    These are just a couple of examples of the many amazing engineering and infrastructure projects developed by early farmers and entrepreneurs that continue to provide water for farming and also help supply water to thousands of people in cities and towns.

    We, as citizens, owe much to the resourcefulness, hard work and forethought of those before us.

    More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


    Forecast news: Snow is on the way — 2 to 6 inches for the Front Range mountains and South Park #COdrought #COwx

    December 23, 2012

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    From the National Weather Service Pueblo Office:

    …WIDESPREAD SNOW CHRISTMAS EVE AND EARLY CHRISTMAS DAY…

    A WHITE CHRISTMAS WITH IMPACTS TO HOLIDAY TRAVEL CONTINUES TO LOOK LIKELY ACROSS MANY AREAS OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO AS THE NEXT WINTER STORM SYSTEM TAKES AIM ON COLORADO. THIS SYSTEM WILL DROP FROM THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST INTO NORTHERN NEW MEXICO BY MONDAY EVENING…SPREADING MODERATE TO POTENTIALLY HEAVY SNOW INTO THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE DURING THE DAY MONDAY. SNOW WILL SPREAD INTO THE SOUTHEAST MOUNTAINS AND PLAINS LATE MONDAY AFTERNOON THROUGH MONDAY NIGHT.

    ALTHOUGH FORECAST SNOWFALL ACCUMULATIONS ARE STILL SUBJECT TO CHANGE…THE SOUTHEAST MOUNTAINS AND PLAINS WILL LIKELY SEE WIDESPREAD LIGHT TO MODERATE SNOWFALL ACCUMULATIONS FROM LATE MONDAY AFTERNOON THROUGH TUESDAY MORNING. AT THIS TIME…THE SANGRE DE CRISTO AND WET MOUNTAIN RANGES AND TELLER COUNTY COULD SEE 5 TO 10 INCHES OF SNOW WITH SOME OF THE HIGHER ELEVATIONS POTENTIALLY SEEING AS MUCH AS A FOOT. ONE TO 4 INCHES OF SNOW COULD FALL ACROSS MOST THE SOUTHEAST PLAINS AND THE UPPER ARKANSAS RIVER VALLEY…WITH LOCALLY HIGHER AMOUNTS NOT OUT OF THE QUESTION ACROSS NORTHERN EL PASO COUNTY…AND THE NORTHERN SLOPES OF THE RATON MESA REGION…AS WELL AS THE SOUTHERN I-25 CORRIDOR REGION SOUTH AND WEST OF THE CITY OF PUEBLO. THE SAN LUIS VALLEY COULD ALSO PICK UP AN INCH OR TWO OF SNOWFALL FROM THIS STORM.

    SNOWFALL PREDICTIONS ARE LIKELY TO CHANGE AS THE STORM APPROACHES AND THE FORECAST TRACK AND STRENGTH BECOMES MORE CERTAIN. AREAS WITH GREATEST UNCERTAINTY REMAIN ACROSS THE SOUTHEAST PLAINS WHERE A FEW FORECAST MODEL SIMULATIONS SUGGEST RAPID STRENGTHENING COULD OCCUR AS THE STORM MOVES INTO THE TEXAS PANHANDLE. IF YOU HAVE TRAVEL PLANS ACROSS SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO CHRISTMAS EVE OR CHRISTMAS DAY…BE PREPARED FOR WINTER DRIVING CONDITIONS WITH THE LIKELIHOOD OF SLICK SNOW PACKED ROADS AND REDUCED VISIBILITIES. PLEASE CONTINUE TO MONITOR THE LATEST FORECASTS FOR THE MOST UP TO DATE INFORMATION CONCERNING THIS DEVELOPING WINTER STORM.

    From The Denver Post (John Mossman):

    Mike Baker, forecast meteorologist for the Weather Service, said Saturday night that snow could begin falling as early as Monday afternoon, with the bulk of the accumulation occurring Monday night, Christmas Eve. “It looks pretty good right now for a White Christmas,” said Baker. An inch or more of snow on the ground on Christmas morning is generally considered a White Christmas.

    Because the storm will include upslope conditions Monday night, the north and east portions of the metro area might see only a trace of snow, with the south and west likely getting from 3 to 4 inches, Baker said.

    “It will look pretty Christmas morning,” Baker said, “but the snow won’t be widespread and some places may not get much of anything.”


    NSAA wins their USFS permit requirements lawsuit — no ruling on water rights transfer requirements

    December 22, 2012

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    From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):

    Judge William Martinez ruled that the Forest Service’s revision of 2011 and 2012 permit regulations governing water rights violated federal procedural rules, failed to evaluate economic impact and violated ski area rights.

    Martinez sided with the National Ski Areas Association, which was suing the Forest Service over the new water rights permit rules, ordering the agency to not enforce the terms of the new rules. Martinez remanded the issue back to the Forest Service…

    The agency said it changed the permit requirements to assure that ski areas never sold water rights connected to federal land.

    “It’s a monetary calculation,” Department of Justice attorney Clay Samford argued in the Nov. 15 hearing. “As the value of these rights increases, it may make economic sense for ski areas to sell some rights off.”

    The NSAA argued that the agency violated the Federal Administrative Procedural Act by not soliciting public input on the new rule…

    Martinez’s decision only addresses the Forest Service’s procedural deficiencies when it crafted the new water directives. He did not rule on the NSAA’s substantive claims, specifically that the agency should not condition ski permits on the transfer of water rights obtained through a state process.

    More Nation Ski Areas Association lawsuit coverage here.


    Fort Morgan bumps water rates 5% to cover costs associated with NISP

    December 22, 2012

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    From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

    The increase, which will be effective Jan. 1, 2013, means that someone whose water bill had been $67.52 per month in 2012 would start seeing water bills around $70.65 in 2013. Yearly, the increase means about $37 more for the average residential customer…

    The increase is part of a multi-staged plan to increase water rates gradually to keep up with coming large costs of infrastructure replacement and investment in water storage through the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP).

    “We want to be ready for NISP,” City Manager Jeff Wells said.

    Because of the city’s commitment to NISP, a number of large payments will come due for it in coming years, especially if the project gets the go-ahead from state and federal regulators.

    “NISP will have significant impacts on the revenue requirements for the city’s water utility,” Water Resources and Utilities Director Brent Nation stated in a memo to the council. “Currently, the city pays for minor NISP expenses mostly involved in permitting the project, but construction is anticipated to begin within the next five years. Once construction begins, so does the city’s larger financial obligation to the project.”

    More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.


    Snow on the way for Christmas for south central and southeastern Colorado #COdrought #COwx

    December 22, 2012

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    From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:

    …SNOW STORM TO IMPACT THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY…

    A WHITE CHRISTMAS WITH IMPACTS TO HOLIDAY TRAVEL LOOKS LIKELY ACROSS PORTIONS OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO AS THE NEXT WINTER STORM SYSTEM TAKES AIM ON COLORADO. THIS SYSTEM WILL DROP FROM THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST INTO NORTHERN NEW MEXICO BY MONDAY EVENING…SPREADING MODERATE TO POTENTIALLY HEAVY SNOW INTO THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE REGION ON MONDAY…WITH SNOW SPREADING INTO THE SOUTHEAST MOUNTAINS AND PLAINS MONDAY NIGHT INTO CHRISTMAS DAY. THERE IS THE POTENTIAL FOR SOME OF THE MOUNTAIN AREAS TO RECEIVE UP TO A FOOT OF SNOW…PARTICULARLY ACROSS THE HIGHER ELEVATIONS OF THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE BY TUESDAY EVENING.

    SNOWFALL AMOUNTS ACROSS THE SOUTHEAST MOUNTAINS AND PLAINS ARE MORE UNCERTAIN. SOME FORECAST MODELS INDICATE THE SYSTEM WILL PICK UP STRENGTH AS IT MOVES ACROSS NORTHERN NEW MEXICO INTO THE TEXAS PANHANDLE AND WESTERN OKLAHOMA ON TUESDAY. AS IT STANDS NOW…THE SOUTHEAST MOUNTAINS AND PLAINS SHOULD SEE AT LEAST SOME WIDESPREAD LIGHT TO MODERATE SNOWFALL ACCUMULATIONS. HOWEVER IF THE STORM STRENGTHENS QUICKLY ENOUGH…AS SOME OF THE FORECAST SIMULATIONS SUGGEST…THEN MODERATE SNOWFALL ACCUMULATIONS WILL ALSO BE POSSIBLE ACROSS THE SOUTHEAST PLAINS.

    IF YOU HAVE TRAVEL PLANS ACROSS SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST COLORADO CHRISTMAS EVE OR CHRISTMAS DAY…BE PREPARED FOR THE POSSIBILITY OF WINTER DRIVING CONDITIONS. SNOWFALL PREDICTIONS ARE LIKELY TO CHANGE AS THE STORM APPROACHES AND THE FORECAST TRACK AND STRENGTH BECOMES MORE CERTAIN. PLEASE MONITOR THE LATEST FORECASTS FOR THE MOST UP TO DATE INFORMATION CONCERNING THIS DEVELOPING WINTER STORM.

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    New EPA Good Samaritan guideline, ‘does not provide as much liability protection as we would like’ — Peter Butler

    December 21, 2012

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    From The Telluride Watch (Samantha Wright):

    “I think it is helpful. I know the EPA put a lot of effort into it and I’m glad that they did,” said Animas River Stakeholders Group co-director Peter Butler of Durango. “It helps define what the EPA can do, but it does not provide as much liability protection as we would like.”

    The new initiative seeks to give Good Samaritans assurances they will be free from Clean Water Act liability if they undertake a project to improve water quality at an abandoned draining mine adit.

    Specifically, the policy clarifies that Good Samaritan agreements with the EPA can include extended time periods that give Good Sams legal liability protection and that they are generally not responsible for obtaining a clean water permit during or after a successful clean-up…

    Butler, however, spelled out three specific concerns he has with the new policy.

    First, he said, the regulations merely provide guidance, and do not come down in the form of rules or statutes.

    Second, there is not much in that guidance to help protect Good Samaritans from third party lawsuits stemming from the ‘citizen’s suit’ provision of the federal Clean Water Act. This provision says that if someone suspects a violation of the Clean Water Act, a citizen may begin a legal action and if successful, the defending party will have to pay all of the legal expenses of the citizen’s group. If they are unsuccessful, the defendant does not have recourse to counter-sue.

    It’s the bugaboo that has always spooked potential Good Samaritans from taking action to directly treat point-source discharge at abandoned mines. Good Sams have walked away from many mine cleanup projects for fear that if they don’t bring the discharge water all the way up to CWA standards, they may be sued by a third-party citizen or even another environmental group.

    Third, Butler said, under the new EPA guidelines, the main protection offered defines Good Samaritans as non-operators. “Not everyone will fit that criteria very well,” he said. “It may rule out all state agencies” from engaging in Good Samaritan clean-up projects.

    In short, Butler said, the policy “is somewhat helpful but doesn’t solve the issue. It probably won’t make a difference.”

    However, he allowed, ARSG works closely with Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety on mine clean-up matters and is still waiting for state officials from that agency to weigh in the EPA memo.

    More water pollution coverage here.


    Snowpack news: The Upper Colorado = 67% of avg, South Platte = 62% of avg #COdrought #COwx

    December 21, 2012

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    We’ve been seeing a favorable storm track over Colorado for a while now and snowpack is heading in the right direction, for a change. Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Upper Colorado basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Upper Colorado snowpack = 67% of average for this date.

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the South Platte basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. South Platte snowpack = 62% of average for this date.

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Arkansas basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Arkansas snowpack = 57% of average for this date.

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Gunnison basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Gunnison snowpack = 62% of average for this date.

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Rio Grande basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Rio Grande snowpack = 63% of average for this date.

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Laramie and North Platte basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Laramie and North Platte snowpack = 75% of average for this date.

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan snowpack = 58% of average for this date.

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the statewide basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Statewide snowpack = 65% of average for this date.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    The heavy slushy snow that weighed down shovels Wednesday morning might be a sign of recovery from the drought, but the Colorado high country will need much more of the same.
    Though the Tuesday night storm was the “first encouraging sign” from the skies, it “will just get us started on the way back to average,” Erik Knight, a hydrologist with the Grand Junction office of the Bureau of Reclamation, said Wednesday after a snowstorm covered the Grand Valley with as much as 6 inches of snow.

    Officials won’t know until later just how much moisture the storm actually dropped over western Colorado and the high country that feeds into the Gunnison River and then the Colorado River.

    The snow, however, marks a turnaround from October and November, the first two months of the water year, as it’s referred to by hydrologists and water managers.

    The October-November totals were “on par with some of the worst records” going back to the early 1980s, Knight said.

    Given the poor beginning of the water year, the mountains will likely need two solid winter months of snow “and maybe something big in the spring” to boost the snowpack—and its moisture content—back to average, Knight said.

    Snowpack for the Gunnison Basin was at 39 percent of normal on Nov. 30,

    Knight said. That means that the remainder of winter will require 120 percent of average to pile up enough snow for an average year, he said.

    Not all storms are equal, however. Dry, fluffy snows eagerly awaited by skiers don’t pack the moisture wallop that a heavy, wet snow does, he said.

    How much water was dropped over western Colorado will be determined by a system of snowpack and other climate sensors operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the high country.

    The heavier and wetter the early season snow, the better, Knight said.

    A frozen, compacted “snowpack tends to hang around a little longer,” prolonging the spring runoff, Knight said.


    Forecast news: More snow for Colorado Christmas eve #COdrought #COwx

    December 21, 2012

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    From Snow.com (Joel Gratz):

    For Colorado, there will be a break in the weather for the next few days after about five days of consistent snow. By late in the weekend, the big parent storm off the west coast will move east and head into Colorado on Monday night.


    Forecast news: January, February and March 2013 drier and warmer than average — CPC #COdrought #COwx

    December 21, 2012

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    Click on the thumbnail graphics for the 90 day outlook for precipitation and temperature from the Climate Prediction Center. Here’s the link to their webpage How to Read the 3-class Three-Month Outlook maps.


    Your Colorado Water Blog looks back at the Dust Bowl

    December 21, 2012

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    From Your Colorado Water Blog (Dr. Perry Cabot):

    The airing of Ken Burns’ documentary The Dust Bowl last month brought greater attention to the Great Plains drought that began last year and extended into 2012. This documentary is another in a long lineage of inspired works on the Dust Bowl period of the 1930s that ruined millions of cropland acres and rippled hardship across the central United States for decades. Nevertheless, the Dust Bowl has generally faded into distant memory as farming practices improved and irrigation methods advanced and the country as a whole generally experienced stability in its food supply since that time. In other words, despite the harshness of the recent drought, we simply don’t feel the pain of farming’s travails as we once did…

    Click through and read the whole blog post.

    More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


    Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention — January 30 thru February 1, 2013

    December 21, 2012

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    The Colorado Water Congress has published their annual convention program and workshop descriptions.

    This year’s convention should be a hoot. I plan to live-Tweet from the event @CoyoteGulch.


    CWQCC seeks comments on reorganization of Colorado’s primary drinking water regulations

    December 21, 2012

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    Here’s the announcement from the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission:

    Since the authority for amending the Colorado Primary Drinking Water Regulations (CPDWR) has been moved to the Water Quality Control Commission, the Colorado Department of Public Health’s executive management is interested in evaluating splitting up the current CPDWR into multiple regulations similar to the manner in which the Clean Water Regulations are organized.

    This web form gives drinking water stakeholders an opportunity to comment on the reorganization of the current Colorado Primary Drinking Water Regulations

    The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission has scheduled a rulemaking hearing for November 2013 to consider adopting revisions of the Colorado Primary Drinking Water Regulations (CPDWR). The objective of the proposed revisions is to reorganize, simplify, and clarify the existing CPDWR…

    Whether the regulations are split or not, the Department intends to reorganize the regulations at all levels. We will reorganize the order of the articles so they are grouped together more logically – for example, treatment oriented articles would be placed together.

    The Department is exploring several options for dividing the current one regulation into multiple regulations. We are seeking stakeholder input on these various options and this survey is a major component of that stakeholder input. The options are as follows:

  • Break the regulation into multi-article regulations that are grouped (examples below)
  • Keep the articles of the CPDWR together as one regulation (with articles organized as noted above)
  • Make each article of the regulation its own separate regulation
  • More Colorado Water Quality Control Commission coverage here.


    The latest newsletter from the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University is hot off the press #COriver

    December 20, 2012

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    Click here to read the newsletter.

    More education coverage here.


    ‘Now, with this basin-wide, cooperative effort, we can get a glimpse of the bigger picture’ — Ted Kowalski

    December 20, 2012

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    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

    The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study” underscores the need for basin states and the federal government to explore ways to conserve, manage and create water to meet shortages estimated to affect as many as 76.5 million people by 2060.

    Representatives from seven Colorado River basin states and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation took part in the joint project, which “did not result in a decision as to how future imbalances should or will be addressed,” the executive summary of the study states, “but provides a common technical foundation that frames the range of potential imbalances that may be faced in the future and the range of solutions.”

    “We’ve already been addressing these issues on a Colorado-wide scale,” said Ted Kowalski of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, in statements responding to the study’s release. “Now, with this basin-wide, cooperative effort, we can get a glimpse of the bigger picture and begin to work toward planning for the future, with a well-informed idea of where we’re headed.”[...]

    Apportioned water in the Colorado River system exceeds the long-term historical natural flow of about 16.4 million acre feet, and demand for consumptive use is projected to range between 18.1 and 20.4 million acre-feet in 50 years. Projected increases in demand coupled with projections of reduced supply due to climate change created the backdrop of the study. Droughts lasting five or more years may occur 50 percent of the time over the next 50 years. Meanwhile, population in the study area is expected to increase…

    But, according to [Eric Kuhn], the study also points to serious problems for the upper basin. Under the climate change scenario depicted, without additional action, the upper basin may experience a future deficit of its compact obligation as often as one in five years by 2040.

    “The upper basin is currently unprepared for this possibility,” Kuhn said in statements. “To address an uncertain future, upper basin users will need to develop new risk-management strategies, including improved aggressive conservation, optimal use of storage and water-banking.”

    Kuhn further cautions upper basin planners: “The reality may be that new development simply threatens existing water supplies, or that new development may only be available during increasingly rare wet cycles.”

    “The Bureau study should not be seen as a green light for unrealistic, expensive and environmentally destructive projects that move water out of their basins of origin,” said Trout Unlimited’s Dave Glenn, who grew up near the Green River in Utah. “TU and other groups have highlighted a range of cheap, pragmatic options — including conservation, reuse and water sharing — that will meet water needs without sacrificing our rivers and outdoor heritage.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Snowpack news: Monarch Mountain nets five and a half inches of new snow #CODrought #COwx

    December 20, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Nick Bonham):

    According to the NWS, the storm dropped 1 to 3 inches of snow [on Pueblo County] and even more in drifts…

    In other areas of Southern Colorado: Penrose was the hardest hit in Fremont County receiving between 5 to 7 inches of snow Wednesday. In Canon City, snow fell throughout the day adding up to about 2 inches. In Custer County, snow depths ranged from 8 inches in Westcliffe and Silver Cliff to up to 18 inches in the San Isabel and other high country areas of the county. Monarch Mountain reported 5 1⁄2 inches of new snow Wednesday…

    The snowstorm buried the eastern San Juan Mountains as Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 19 inches of new snow. Lesser amounts — 2 inches in Alamosa and 4 inches in Crestone — fell on the San Luis Valley floor.

    From The Denver Post (Ryan Parker):

    State climatologist Nolan Doesken said there will most likely be snow on the ground when Santa takes to the air. “There is continued favorable storm-tracking through the country until the end of December,” Doesken said.

    “There’s another storm n sight (for Colorado) before Christmas.”

    While snowpack in the state’s major watersheds is still below average, Doesken said this storm has been a major boost. As of Wednesday, the South Platte River basin was at 69 percent of average, Nolan said.

    “That doesn’t sound great, but it’s up considerably from 10 days ago, when it was at 55 percent of average,” he said.

    The Yampa and White river basins are at 80 percent of average, up from 50 percent 10 days ago, Doesken said.

    From The Fort Morgan Times (John la Porte):

    …about 2 inches of snow were recorded in Fort Morgan at the weather station at Riverview Cemetery.


    Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper Colorado River Basin #CODrought

    December 20, 2012

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary from this week’s webinar via the Colorado Climate Center. Here’s the link to all of the presentations and summaries.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Green Mountain Dam update: 190 cfs in the Blue River below the dam

    December 20, 2012

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    Update: From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Today, we adjusted releases from Green Mountain Dam to the Lower Blue River again.

    The reason for the change was three-fold: increases in downstream contractor demand, increase in inflow, and increases in the amount required to compensate for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project diversions upstream on the Colorado River out of Granby Reservoir.

    As a result, this afternoon we bumped releases up by 40 cfs. Flows in the Lower Blue are now around 190 cfs.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Just a quick message to let you know that the Shoshone Power Plant came back on-line today [December 19]. As a result, we bumped up our releases to about 150 cfs today around noon.

    More Green Mountain Reservoir coverage here.


    Brighton water and storm drainage rates are going up

    December 20, 2012

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    From the Brighton City Blade (Crystal Nelson):

    According to the ordinance, the monthly fixed-rate fee for water would increase $2.50 a month to $12.36, and the user fee would increase 16 cents per 1,000 gallons. The monthly fixed-rate fee for sewer would increase $1.10 a month to $8.15, and the user fee would also increase 16 cents per 1,000 gallons.

    Utilities Director Jim Landeck said, this would mean an estimated increase of approximately $6.92 per month for a family of four who uses an average of 12,000 gallons of water and sewer a month, and an estimated increase of $7.74 for a family with three teens that uses about 15,000 gallons of water and sewer a month. Seniors who use around 3,000 gallons of water and sewer per month could expect an increase of approximately $4.32.

    “Much like every other commodity that’s sold, whether its groceries or gasoline or anything else, the cost of service — the cost of delivery of that product — is going up,” Landeck said. “Water uses a lot of energy, water uses a lot of equipment to treat and pump, water uses a lot of engineering and legal fees for acquiring water rights; converting that water for municipal use, all that adds to the cost of service.”

    The city’s storm drainage fee will also increase five cents per month per household to $1.84, which Landeck said is still the lowest rate in the metropolitan area.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    The CWCB is seeking seeking proposals for its Alternative Agricultural Water Transfers Method Grant Program

    December 20, 2012

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    From The Greeley Tribune:

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is seeking proposals for its Alternative Agricultural Water Transfers Method Grant Program.

    The program is focused on advancing alternatives to the permanent transfer of agricultural irrigation water rights to municipal and industrial purposes. According to CWCB officials, it’s expected that this grant cycle will fund projects that build upon work performed in past funding cycles and encourage more “on-the-ground” projects ­— pilot/demonstration projects, facilitating agreements between municipal water providers and irrigators, etc.

    Grant applications must be received by April 15.

    More CWCB coverage here.


    Centennial pumping costs are driving a rate increase

    December 20, 2012

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    From the Highlands Ranch Herald (Ryan Boldrey):

    Following a 2 percent spike in 2012, rates will go up another 3.8 percent in 2013, climbing from $2.65 to $2.75 per 1,000 gallons for up to 100 percent of the allotted budget per user in Highlands Ranch.
    Wastewater per 1,000 gallons over 3,000 will also go up 10 cents beginning Jan. 1, from $2.55 to $2.65, and there will be a 30-cent increase on the bimonthly minimum wastewater fee from $20.65 to $20.95. Bimonthly water service availability fees will remain at $25 for the coming year.

    According to Bruce Lesback, director of finance and administration with the district, the electrical costs associated with an increased use of groundwater, increase in wages and rising costs of benefits are all behind the rate increases. “The rates are based on our costs to operate,” he said. “As long as we are not growing significantly with the number of customers and volume of water, you are going to have rate increases every year, there is just no way around it. … It’s always been our philosophy to minimize any increases. We look at every type of alternative we can to reduce expenditures, but expenditures are what they are in the utility business.”

    To offset some of the electrical costs caused by the increase in groundwater usage, the district is using $500,000 from its financial assurance fund to keep customers from having to foot the entire bill. The financial assurance fund is largely generated by overage fees from those who have gone over their water budget.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Windsor’s new tiered water rate system goes into effect on January 15

    December 20, 2012

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    From the Windsor Beacon:

    Water rates are changing for Windsor residential customers effective Jan. 15. The rate restructuring was approved Oct. 8 by the town board and is a result of higher costs being imposed by suppliers on the town of Windsor. The town is moving to a three-tiered system, with a 3.5 percent increase in fees for residential users without a dual water system.

    The town’s current water system for single-system residential users features a base fee of $14.81 a month, with a $3.30 charge per 1,000 gallons a month until the users reach the first-tier threshold of 15,700 gallons a month. The second tier’s charge is $4.93 a month per 1,000 gallons.

    The new tier rate structure would increase the first-tier usage, raising it to 16,000 gallons a month before the second tier would begin. The new tier, at 2011 prices, would begin at 22,501 gallons a month at a cost of $7.35 per 1,000 gallons.

    The new rates will be shown on the bill received by residents in February.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Ute Water District to raise water rates to firm up raw water supplies

    December 20, 2012

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    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    The largest water provider in the Grand Valley will join the other large providers in bumping rates in 2013, but Ute Water Conservancy District is devoting the revenue to buying water. Ute, which serves a population of 80,000 people with water stored on Grand Mesa, will raise its base rate from $15 to $17 for 3,000 gallons. Customers who use more water will see a 10-cent increase in each of the usage tiers. The additional revenue will be devoted to preparing the district for a forecast in which the population more than doubles to 197,000 people by 2045.

    Ute will use the new revenue to buy water from Ruedi Reservoir, which feeds the Fryingpan River. The purchase of 12,000 acre feet of water annually from Ruedi, which is owned by the Bureau of Reclamation, will do double duty, both to help Ute prepare for population growth and to shore up supplies in the event of another drought next year, Ute spokesman Joe Burtard said. The purchase, which is the largest single water purchase ever by the 56-year-old district, will cost roughly $15.5 million and go a little more than halfway toward preparing the district to supply 197,000 people, Burtard said.

    Ute expects to need 21,400 acre feet of additional supply by 2045. The Ruedi purchase leaves 9,400 acre feet remaining to be acquired and Ute hopes to close that gap by enlarging reservoirs on Grand Mesa, Burtard said.
    Ute Water is working to enlarge existing Monument Reservoir No. 1 by 4,700 acre feet and Hunter Reservoir by 1,300 acre feet, Burtard said.

    The district has yet to decide what other measures it will take to obtain the remaining 3,000 acre feet of water, Burtard said. An acre-foot of water is the volume needed to cover one acre one foot deep and is frequently considered to be equal to the water usage of one suburban household per year, though conservation measures can reduce residential use to a quarter of an acre foot per year.

    Recreation and endangered fish also will benefit from the purchase, as additional water will flow out of Ruedi above Basalt, down the Fryingpan River and into the Roaring Fork and then into the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs, Burtard said.

    Ute Water has a Colorado River pump station which can be used in an emergency and will have to be enlarged for regular use, Burtard said.

    Ute will pay $850,000 to the Bureau of Reclamation for each of the next two years and will pay the remainder of the purchase with cash and financing, Burtard said.

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District also is purchasing Ruedi water from the Bureau of Reclamation. The River District is buying 4,500 acre feet of water.

    Purchases by Ute and the River District, as well as others, ensure that water from Ruedi, which was built with federal money, won’t revert to federal ownership, River District spokesman Chris Treese said. 2019 is the end of the 40-year repayment for Ruedi, which was built with federal funding as compensatory Western Slope storage for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. If arrangements weren’t made in time, the federal government could choose what would happen to the water stored behind Ruedi for which there was no purchase contract, Treese said.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    ‘What started out as a small water awareness campaign…grew into a statewide water celebration’ — Leah Opitz

    December 19, 2012

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    Here’s the latest installment (Number 51) of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Leah Opitz. Here’s an excerpt:

    What started out as a small water awareness campaign by the Foundation for Water Education grew into a statewide water celebration. Whether residents were in Durango or Fort Collins, there was some kind of “Water 2012” event happening in their town at some point this year. From book tours to displays in public libraries, from water project tours, to contests, Water 2012 offered something for everyone in the hope of getting Coloradans connected and active in water, both locally and at the statewide level.

    Here in the San Luis Valley, Water 2012 marked a significant milestone in water history the 100th anniversary of the Rio Grande Reservoir, an engineering feat that represents the hard work, vision, and determination of the people of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District…

    To celebrate, Water 2012 the Rio Grande Basin hosted tours of water projects going on around the San Luis Valley. From the Rio Grande Reservoir at the top of the watershed down to the Sanchez Reservoir, they drove many miles to get folks out to see what was going on with water. Folks had an opportunity to learn about new dam construction projects, new ditch construction projects, the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project, and attendees even had a chance to venture underneath the dam at Platoro Reservoir to see the pump room.

    The summer tour series started out with a caravan tour through Costilla County, stopping off at Sanchez Reservoir, the historic People’s Ditch, and then to see the Sangre de Cristo Trinchera Diversion Canal.

    The next tour took folks down to Conejos County to see the North Fork of the Conejos River Diversion Project and the Platoro Dam Rehabilitation Project.

    In August, the San Luis Valley Irrigation District hosted a group up in Mineral County at the Rio Grande Reservoir in celebration of its 100th anniversary.

    Lastly, in October, Heather Dutton with the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project brought folks out to see how the RGHRP is working to improve the quality of water, condition of streamside trees and shrubs, and stability of riverbanks along the Rio Grande. The majority of these projects were funded through the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, both from the basin and statewide funding accounts.

    More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


    Forecast news: Winter storm expected to move out of western Colorado during the day

    December 19, 2012

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    Snowpack news: The South Platte Basin snowpack (55% of avg) now even with 2002 #CODrought

    December 19, 2012

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    The snow has started at Gulch Manor (6:15 AM) and the South Platte Basin should move past 2002 (the worst year on record) from the current storm.

    From The Cortez Journal (Shannon Livick):

    The Dolores River is flowing at around 20 cubic feet per second. But it has been lower, said Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District. Preston estimated that it’s at the third lowest level ever. This is a bit nerve-wracking for water officials, including Preston, as McPhee Reservoir continues to drop.

    The reservoir currently sits at 43,155 acre feet of water, about 98,000 acre feet lower than last year. But it has been lower too. On Nov. 1, 2002, the reservoir stored a mere 4,567 acre feet and on Nov. 1, 2003, that number was 21,943 acre feet. “(On Nov. 1, 2011) McPhee had 140,896 acre feet in active storage compliments of Mother Nature and careful water management. Good thing that we started this high or things would be much worse than they are,” Preston said.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    Two weeks remain in December and already the snowfall in the city of Steamboat Springs inched past the monthly average of 38.5 inches. Weather observer Art Judson confirmed that December 2012 snowfall at his measuring station between downtown and the mountain unofficially stood at 38.8 inches at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday with heavy snow continuing to fall.


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