Drought news: Dillon November high temperatures 7 degrees above average, statewide snowpack = 38% of avg #CODrought #COwx

December 2, 2012

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for Friday’s statewide basin high/low graph from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

November precipitation added up to only 0.2 — 20 percent of average — inches at the Dillon observation site, while high temperatures for the month averaged an eye-opening 7 degrees above average.

Some approaching weather systems could help, but only a little bit, as forecasters are calling for only a few inches of snow. The first storm will arrive Sunday night, with the best chance for significant snow across the northwestern corner of the state, where the Colorado Avalanche Information Center is calling for five to eight inches of snow. Farther south and east, storm totals will be more modest, perhaps in the one to three inch range.

Don’t expect the weather to get too wintry, though. Temperatures will remain warm through the storm and climb back well above normal quickly once the weak cold front passes through Sunday night. Forecast highs through mid-week are in the mid-40s, with lows dropping only to the teens and 20s.

Another storm could roll into the mountains Thursday, but forecasters are still hedging their bets on that system. The National Weather Service says confidence is low for the Thursday storm.

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the November temperature and precipitation departure from normal maps from the National Weather Service.

Here’s the December weather preview for South Central and Southeastern Colorado from the National Weather Service Office in Pueblo. Here’s an excerpt:

After a cool month of October across most of south central and southeast Colorado, the past month of November returned to the common theme played out throughout 2012 thus far; namely warmer and drier than normal conditions…

Pueblo recorded a trace of precipitation throughout the past month of November. This is 0.47 inches below the monthly average and makes November of 2012 tied with November of 2005 and six other previous years, as the driest November on record in Pueblo. The average temperature in Pueblo through the month of November was 43.2 degrees. This is 3.9 degrees above average and makes November of 2012 tied as the 21st warmest on record in Pueblo.

The average temperatures in Colorado Springs through the month of November was 43.5 degrees. This is 5.4 degrees above average and makes November of 2012 the 5th warmest on record in Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs recorded 0.02 inches of precipitation in the month of November. This is 0.38 inches below normal and makes November of 2012 tied as the 9th driest on record in Colorado Springs.

Alamosa has received 0.08 inches of precipitation through the month of November. This is 0.34 inches below average and makes November of 2012 tied as the 20th driest on record in Alamosa. The average temperature in Alamosa through the month of November was 30.4 degrees, which is 0.9 degrees above average.

Here’s the November climatological report from the National Weather Service Office in Boulder. Here’s an excerpt:

NOVEMBER 2012 WAS A QUIET MONTH WITH ABOVE NORMAL TEMPERATURES AND VERY LITTLE PRECIPITATION. UPPER LEVEL HIGH PRESSURE BROUGHT MILD AND DRY WEATHER TO THE FRONT RANGE EARLY IN THE MONTH…WITH EIGHT OUT OF THE FIRST NINE DAYS BEING ABOVE NORMAL. HIGH TEMPERATURES ON THE 1ST AND THE 7TH REACHED OR EXCEEDED 70 DEGREES…WITH TEMPERATURES OF 70 AND 77 DEGREES RESPECTIVELY. COLDER UNSETTLED WEATHER RETURNED TO THE REGION ON THE TENTH…AS AN UPPER LEVEL TROUGH OF LOW PRESSURE MOVED INTO COLORADO FROM THE WEST. THIS SYSTEM BROUGHT THE FIRST SNOWFALL OF THE SEASON TO THE COLORADO FRONT RANGE…WITH 1.7 INCHES FALLING AT DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT ON THE 10TH. NOVEMBER 11TH WAS THE COLDEST DAY OF THE MONTH WITH A HIGH OF ONLY 34 DEGREES AND A MORNING LOW OF 13. THE 0.27 INCHES OF PRECIPITATION WHICH FELL ON THE 10TH WAS THE ONLY MEASURABLE PRECIPITATION FOR THE MONTH. WARMER AND DRIER WEATHER RETURNED TO THE AREA ON THE 16TH…AND CONTINUED THROUGH THE 25TH…AS UPPER LEVEL HIGH PRESSURE ALONG WITH A DRY SOUTHWESTERLY FLOW ALOFT DOMINATED THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN REGION. AN UPPER LEVEL DISTURBANCE AND ASSOCIATED COLD FRONT BROUGHT COLDER TEMPERATURES TO NORTHEASTERN COLORADO ON THE 26TH. HOWEVER…TEMPERATURES REBOUNDED TO ABOVE NORMAL VALUES BY THE 27TH AS UPPER LEVEL HIGH PRESSURE ONCE AGAIN BUILT OVER THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN REGION.

TEMPERATURES:

THE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE FOR THE MONTH OF OCTOBER WAS 43.5 DEGREES WHICH WAS 5.2 DEGREES ABOVE NORMAL. DESPITE BEING MUCH ABOVE NORMAL…NOVEMBER 2012 FAILED TO MAKE IT INTO THE TOP TEN LIST OF WARMEST NOVEMBERS. NOVEMBER OF 1949 IS THE WARMEST NOVEMBER ON RECORD WITH AN AVERAGE TEMPERATURE OF 50.9 DEGREES. THE COLDEST NOVEMBER ON RECORD (22.0 DEGREES F) OCCURRED WAY BACK IN 1880 WHEN RUTHERFORD B. HAYES WAS PRESIDENT.

THERE WERE NO DAYS IN WHICH THE MAXIMUM TEMPERATURE EXCEEDED 90 DEGREES. THE HIGHEST TEMPERATURE OF THE MONTH WAS 77 DEGREES WHICH OCCURRED ON THE 7TH. THE COOLEST TEMPERATURE OF THE MONTH WAS 13 DEGREES ON THE MORNING OF THE 11TH.

PRECIPITATION.

PRECIPITATION FOR THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER WAS 0.27 INCHES…WHICH IS 0.34 INCHES BELOW THE NORMAL 0F 0.61 INCHES. THE WETTEST OCTOBER ON RECORD OCCURRED BACK IN 1946 WHEN 3.21 INCHES OF PRECIPITATION WAS RECORDED. ONLY A TRACE OF PRECIPITATION WAS RECORDED IN OCTOBER 1934…1901 AND 1949 WHICH ARE THE DRIEST OCTOBERS ON RECORD.

1.7 INCHES OF SNOW WAS RECORDED DURING THE MONTH…WHICH IS 7.0 INCHES BELOW THE NORMAL OF 8.7 INCHES. THE SNOWIEST OCTOBER ON RECORD OCCURRED BACK IN 1946 WHEN 42.6 INCHES OF SNOW FELL. THE LEAST SNOWIEST NOVEMBER ON RECORD WAS BACK IN 1949 WHEN NO SNOW FELL.

THERE WERE NO THUNDERSTORMS OBSERVED AT DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. THERE WAS ONLY ONE DAY WITH DENSE FOG WITH A VISIBILITY AT OR BELOW 1/4 MILE DURING THE MONTH. A PEAK WIND OF 37 MPH FROM A NORTHWEST DIRECTION WAS RECORDED ON THE 22ND.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

It’s too early to panic, everyone agrees.

But with this season of snowfall off to a lackluster start, water managers, utilities and agricultural interests all are anxious for the kind of storms that can lead next spring to refilled reservoirs and recharged watersheds after a year of drought.

Western Colorado was fortunate to go into last winter with lots of full reservoirs thanks to the epic snow year of 2010-11 and heavy runoff the following spring. That took the edge off this year’s drought, in contrast to 2002, when a lingering drought had carried over two winters and there was less stored water to tap.

But if this year proved the value of good reservoir storage in a drought year, it also points to the need to get reservoirs refilled now that they’re depleted.

“Bottom line is, reservoirs got hard hit this year. But that’s what they’re for,” said Jim Pokrandt, a spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs. “But you still have to put more gas in the tank, or in this case water. Hopefully this will be a good enough snow year to bring them closer to full, if not full.”

Just a year ago, conditions were quite different in some western Colorado reservoirs. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was making big releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir to keep the water level low enough that winter freezes didn’t pose a danger of flooding upstream in the Gunnison area.

This year, Blue Mesa already is 40 feet lower, at just 39 percent of capacity and 57 percent of its normal storage level this time of year. Foundations of pre-dam buildings became exposed after having been underwater since 2002.

Rifle Gap Reservoir north of Rifle was still full and spilling water last November, said Jason Spaulding, manager for the Silt Water Conservancy District, which manages the reservoir. Now it’s maybe 30 feet lower, he said.

Bob Hurford, state Division of Water Resources engineer for Division 4 in the Gunnison River Basin, said a lot of reservoirs ended up with carryover storage last fall because they didn’t have to release it all thanks to the heavy snow of the previous winter.

“You just keep that storage up in your reservoir. It’s like money in the bank,” he said.
For the Clifton Water District, “the bank account got used up this summer,” said David Reinertsen, its assistant manager.

Clifton Water relies on Colorado River water, and specifically water stored upstream in Green Mountain Reservoir near Kremmling. As of the end of October, Green Mountain’s storage was down to 43 percent of capacity and 58 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Statewide, reservoir storage averaged 37 percent of capacity and two-thirds of normal for Oct. 31. For Gunnison River Basin reservoirs, the average was 46 percent of capacity and 61 percent of normal, while Upper Colorado River reservoirs averaged 54 percent of capacity and two-thirds of normal.

Slow start to winter

Meanwhile, this winter’s snowpack is off to a slow start, at just 38 percent of average statewide, and 40, 42 and 37 percent, respectively, for the Upper Colorado, Gunnison and Yampa/White river basins as of Thursday.
Mage Hultstrand, assistant Colorado snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said while people may think October and November don’t contribute much to the year’s snowpack, between them they
typically account for about 25 percent of the peak amount each year.

But she added, “Really, you know, one big storm and we can be back (on track),”

The potential consequences should western Colorado experience another dry winter vary somewhat among reservoirs and water users, depending on their circumstances. Some reservoirs, such as Paonia Reservoir, may be drawn low most years but are able to reliably fill the following spring even in drier years. Dan Crabtree of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation western Colorado office said Paonia Reservoir is “a small bucket on a big stream,” and benefits from a huge watershed and lots of runoff above it.

Spaulding said Rifle Gap should come close to filling this winter, but if the snowpack is light and the creek feeding it is still running low next summer, irrigators will be affected.

“If we don’t get any snow this winter it could be bad for us next summer, for sure,” he said.
Blue Mesa, a large reservoir, takes longer to refill than many and isn’t forecast to fully refill this year, Crabtree said. He said there’s still plenty of winter ahead, but should dry conditions persist, the Bureau of

Reclamation has criteria in place for trying to protect and recapture storage while continuing to meet obligations. It already is making the minimum releases required to meet a streamflow right through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and water rights for Uncompahgre Valley water users.

Impacts on agriculture

Crabtree said private reservoirs, and water rights holders on smaller streams, would be more impacted if there’s another drought year.

“Lack of storage would definitely be an issue,” said Hurford, of the Division of Water Resources.

He said some reservoirs aren’t currently filling as fast as normal because some streams above them are dry.

If a drought continues into next spring, resulting in both reduced natural flows and less reservoir water, “there’s going to be less yield for farmers. The crops will suffer,” he said.

Even this year’s drought affected the ability of some people with junior water rights to be able to irrigate, he said.

“That leaves a lot of people high and dry who haven’t been used to that. The last time that happened was 10 years ago,” he said.

Mark Harris is a partner in the Grand Valley Farms corn-growing operation in Mesa County. Even with good water rights, mostly coming out of the Grand Valley Canal system, he worries that those rights could be affected if the drought continues and there’s simply not enough water available.

“Right now we’re planning on raising a full crop but kind of making provisions for what we would do if we had to limit the acres that we farm based on water availability. It’s kind of a scary prospect,” he said.

Such a prospect is difficult to plan for when Grand Valley Farms is forward-contracting its corn and having to make decisions on things such as purchasing fertilizer and seed.

“It adds a level of uncertainty that we have not had to deal with in the past. It’s kind of a new phenomenon,” he said.

If the drought continues, Harris also wonders how municipal water needs will be met, and whether there will be attempts to change Colorado water law as domestic, agricultural and other water interests clash.

Planning for the worst

Grand Valley domestic water providers have been working hard to plan for shortages and be able to continue to meet their customers’ needs.

The 2002 drought led to the Ute Water Conservancy District and the Clifton, Palisade and Grand Junction water utilities developing a drought response plan. That prompted the implementation this year of voluntary water restrictions that remain in place.

Despite that, Ute Water temporarily saw an increase in water use as irrigation company restrictions and warm and dry conditions caused residents to use more domestic water for irrigating, said Ute Water spokesman Joseph Burtard.

That higher use dropped off after residents received bills based on exponentially higher rates for increased use.
Ute Water has a range of water sources, including 31 reservoirs on the Grand Mesa and a backup source on the Colorado River. Its two main sources of raw water storage, the Jerry Creek 1 and 2 reservoirs on the Grand Mesa, remain full, but Burtard said that’s because Ute Water has juggled other water rights and utilized its water portfolio in a way it’s never had to before.

“We were looking at our portfolio with a completely different perspective this year,” he said.

An average snowpack this winter would prevent the need to move to Stage 2, mandatory water restrictions with higher, drought rates next summer, Burtard said. But Ute Water and other Grand Valley water entities are preparing for the possibility that the drought may continue and Stage 2 measures might be required next summer, something they would agree to do jointly if the measures are needed.

For now, though, water-watchers know that with winter still getting underway, a few major storms can ease many of their concerns.

“It’s still early. Keep our fingers crossed,” said Hultstrand, the snow surveyor. “Really, we’ve just got to hope for snow this year.”


Castle Rock: Assistant utilities director Rick Wilkey will take over in the interim for Ron Redd

December 2, 2012

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From the Castle Rock News-Press (Rhonda Moore):

The Town of Castle Rock has announced an interim utilities director to replace Ron Redd, who leaves the department after 11 years at the helm. Assistant utilities director Rick Wilkey will replace Redd when Redd leaves Castle Rock Dec. 12. Redd will replace Frank Jaeger as district manager of the Parker Water and Sanitation District.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


San Luis Valley: ‘Aquifer faces crisis’ — Valley Courier

December 2, 2012

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Here’s a guest column written by Steve Vandiver that’s running in the Valley Courier. Here’s an excerpt:

Wells were constructed from the earliest days of settlement in the Valley; and in fact, the oldest appropriation of water in the San Luis Valley is a small domestic well in the Conejos area. No new non-domestic appropriations from the aquifers in the Valley have been allowed for 30 to 40 years depending on the aquifer and the area of the Valley being considered. The moratoriums on new wells occurred as a result of the State Engineer Office’s recognition that additional groundwater appropriations would cause impacts to those aquifers and surface streams…

Recent drought conditions, with the lowest water year being 2002, have caused significant reductions in the natural runoff that recharges this study area, and have greatly reduced the diversions from the Rio Grande that normally provide approximately 275,000 acre-feet of additional recharge into this area. Recharge into the aquifer from those diversions occurs through infiltration from the ditches and from constructed recharge pits that introduce water into the aquifer.

Aquifer storage continues to decline even though the irrigated area within the study area has been reduced by approximately 20,000 acres over the last 12 years and recently by additional thousands of acres placed in fallowing and preventative planting insurance programs.

Graphs of the unconfined aquifer storage study show the changes that are occurring in the unconfined aquifer and are indicative of the significant reductions in storage that have occurred from changes in the hydrologic conditions over the last decade. Well pumping in the area has been reduced by approximately 20 percent in 2012, over the last several years because of management efforts of the well owners themselves and efforts of Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s Subdistrict #1.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and San Luis Valley ag producers reach habitat agreement

December 2, 2012

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From the Associated Press via The Durango Herald:

Federal wildlife officials and southern Colorado water and government officials have finalized a plan for the southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo, the Pueblo Chieftain reported.

The plan aims to protect the birds while allowing farmers and ranchers to avoid more stringent provisions in the Endangered Species Act.

“We’re happy to see our conservation partners in the San Luis Valley develop this plan that will allow people to sustain their rich tradition of working the fertile landscape of the valley while simultaneously contributing to the conservation of fish and wildlife in their own backyards,” Noreen Walsh, an acting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional director, said in a statement last week.

The southwestern willow flycatcher is listed as endangered by the federal government. The yellow-billed cuckoo is a candidate for federal listing.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


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