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.


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