I’ll be live-Tweeting the high points from today’s sessions at the Colorado Water Congress 2013 Annual Convention — @CoyoteGulch. I think everyone tweeting from the convention has settled on hash tag #2013cwc.
Snowpack news: Statewide snowpack climbs to 72% of avg, Upper Colorado = 66%, South Platte = 53% (lowest in state) #codrought #cowxJanuary 31, 2013
Periods of snow, heavy at times, can be expected through this afternoon over the Elkheads, Park and Gore ranges, F twitpic.com/bzqegm
— NWS Grand Junction (@NWSGJT) January 31, 2013
A weak upper level disturbance will help keep snow possible over the higher elevations of the central mountains to twitpic.com/bzrkkx
— NWS Pueblo (@NWSPueblo) January 31, 2013
Colorado Farm Show recap: ‘I believe the snows will come in February and March’ — John Salazar #codroughtJanuary 31, 2013
From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):
To keep Colorado agriculture up and running, the state’s 50year water plan must include smarter municipal use of the resource, in addition to conservation efforts by farmers and ranchers, Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar said Tuesday in Greeley. Salazar, a member of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s taskforce in creating the comprehensive, longterm water plan, said Coloradans, who each consume about 120 gallons of water per day, need to more closely resemble Australians, who use 36 gallons per day, if they want local farmers to remain capable of growing their food. Water-storage projects, too, must be part of the state’s 50-year water plan, which is in the works now and is expected to be complete by 2015, Salazar added.
On the opening day of the threeday Colorado Farm Show, Salazar, joined by Colorado Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Ron Carleton, gave his “State of the Union Address Regarding Colorado’s Water Issues.”
Water and weather are among the main topics of discussion this week.
Salazar’s presentation followed a “Drought Roundtable Discussion.” Needless to say, Salazar said in an interview following his presentation, a “massive” cooperative effort will be needed to prevent the 600,000acrefeet shortage that’s expected to hit Colorado by 2050. A self-described optimist, Salazar said he believes it can be done, but it will take compromise from everyone, including the farmers and ranchers who attended his presentation.
Crop growers will need to implement the latest irrigation technologies and take other conservation efforts.
To free up water for agriculture producers, cities must make the transition to xeriscape lawns, and “build up instead of build out” — a method of municipal growth that makes water reuse easier, and can amount to water savings of 50 percent or more.
“In developing our longterm water plan, we really need to take a hard look at what people are doing elsewhere, like Australia,” Salazar said.
This month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 43 of Colorado’s 64 counties, including Weld, as disaster areas due to ongoing severe drought conditions. Additionally, the state’s snowpack in the mountains — the source of most irrigation water used by Colorado producers — was 67 percent of historical average for this time of the year. Statewide, reservoirs are only about twothirds full, and some are empty, Salazar said. He said some water experts are telling him that Colorado needs 120-140 percent of historic snowpack the rest of the winter and into the spring just to get back to normal.
“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I believe the snows will come in February and March.”
Farmers will find out today if Salazar’s optimism is warranted, during state climatologist Nolan Doesken’s weather outlook.
From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):
Colorado State University climatologist Nolan Doesken hoped he’d taken up all of his speaking time Wednesday at the Colorado Farm Show with historical climate data, and wouldn’t have to continue and deliver the weather forecast for which his audience had assembled. “D’oh,” Doesken said jokingly, looking at his watch after rehashing the effects of the 2012 drought. “Unfortunately, we still have time.”
Northern Colorado farmers and water providers need normal snowfall this winter and spring to get reservoir levels back to normal, after last year’s drought forced water users to consume much of the water that was in storage. However, at this point — about midway through winter — there’s only about a 10 percent chance of that happening, according to data shared by Doesken.
Doesken said snowpack in the South Platte River basin is likely to amount to about 75 percent of historic average by spring’s end.
In the Colorado River basin — where Front Range farmers and water users also get some of their water — snowpack is expected to amount to only about 80 percent of average. That’s at least a step up from where numbers are now.
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, snowpack in the South Platte basin on Wednesday was only 53 percent of average, and snowpack in the Colorado basin was 66 percent of average. Statewide, snowpack is at 72 percent of average.
The present and forecasted snowpack numbers are much higher than where they were last year. At the end of May, statewide snowpack was only 2 percent of average.
Because 2012 brought record heat and record-low precipitation, ag producers and residents depended heavily on stored water from reservoirs to grow their crops and irrigate their lawns. At the beginning of the year, statewide reservoir levels were about 68 percent of average, according to NRCS numbers, and with extended drought into the growing season, water experts say, some reservoirs could empty, and some farmers would have little water with which to grow crops. For that reason, farmers and ranchers were hoping for plentiful rain and snowfall in recent months to get things back to normal.
Similar to forecasts given recently by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climatologist Klaus Wolter in Boulder, Doesken said the three-month weather outlook calls for more of the same — hot and dry.
However, while snow is expected to be limited, the weather could bring surprises, Doesken said. In one past year, Doesken said, snowpack was lower than it is now, but, because of large snow storms, was well above average by the end of the spring. “You never know,” Doesken said. “We’ll hope for the best.”
More infrastructure coverage here.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A decision by the Colorado Water Conservation Board not to fund the second phase of a Flaming Gorge pipeline task force does not affect either project that wants to bring water into the state. The CWCB Tuesday turned down a $100,000 extension of the committee, saying its efforts duplicate the role of the Interbasin Compact Committee. Alan Hamel, of the Arkansas River basin, was the only member of the CWCB who voted in favor of continuing to fund the task force.
“I was surprised,” said Gary Barber, chairman of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, and a member of the task force. “The state still needs to proceed with water planning, but did not approve our approach for moving forward.”
The task force was formed to identify questions that would face any statewide water project, and from the start said it would not endorse or eliminate either of two proposals to build a Flaming Gorge pipeline.
“This decision sends a clear message that the IBCC needs to step up and do something about new water supply,” said Jay Winner, one of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable’s IBCC representatives.
Environmental groups this week tried to depict the decision as a defeat for Aaron Million’s proposal to build a 500 mile pipeline from the Green River to Colorado’s Front Range. However, Million claimed last week that the neutral decision by the task force was a win for him. He is working on engineering needed to resume federal consideration of the project.
The Colorado-Wyoming Coalition also is pursuing its version of a Flaming Gorge pipeline, but is still waiting on Bureau of Reclamation studies to determine if it will move forward, said Eric Hecox of the South Metro Water Supply District.
From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):
The developer of the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline denied Wednesday that the state’s decision to end funding for a group looking at the project would set it back…
Tuesday’s decision to halt funding represented a “critical wound” to the project, Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates said in a statement. Environmentalists oppose the project because they contend it would diminish Green River flows…
Jennifer Gimbel, director of the water board, said the environmentalists’ comments were “misleading.”
The decision “doesn’t reflect the board’s position on the pipeline,” she said. “It doesn’t endorse it; it she said. “It doesn’t endorse it; it doesn’t deny it.”[...]
The task force was formed to study issues surrounding the project, not to decide whether the project should move forward. After completing a report on the pipeline, the task force requested $100,000 to study “new supply projects in general” at Tuesday’s water board meeting, Gimbel said.
However, the Interbasin Compact Committee already is studying potential water supply projects, she said…
Aaron Million, principal of Wyco Power and Water Inc., called environmentalists’ characterization of the decision “grossly inaccurate.” The company has proposed building the pipeline to bring water from Wyoming to the Front Range, including Fort Collins.
“One of the reasons I think the environmental community’s been so vocal is that this project has a lot of merit to it,” said Million, who contends the project would add to Poudre River volume.
From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brett Prettyman):
Charlie Card, northeastern Utah coordinator for Trout Unlimited, says the news from Colorado is good, but he has heard similar news before and knows not to let his guard down when it comes to water in the West.
“Million said about a year ago that in two years he would be ready to submit another proposal and there is another group out of Parker, Colorado, that has asked the Bureau of Reclamation specifically to give them the actual number of acre-feet of water that is available,” Card said. “The report from Colorado is nice, but the threat is far from over.”
Numerous recreational and financial impacts from proposed pipelines pumping water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which sits on the Utah/Wyoming border, or the Green River above it have been revealed by Trout Unlimited and other concerned groups.
• Wide fluctuations of water levels at Flaming Gorge would create ideal conditions for noxious weeds along the shore, affecting waterfowl, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, sage grouse and other species. Open shorelines may become inaccessible for recreation.
• Diminished flows on the Green River below the dam will affect species of concern like the northern river otter, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, osprey, Lewis’ woodpecker, southern willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo.
• A reduction of flows into the reservoir will inhibit recommended flow levels out of the dam. The recommendations were agreed upon by multiple agencies to benefit endangered fish (razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub and bonytail) in the Green River.
• The main sport fish of Flaming Gorge — kokanee salmon, lake trout and smallmouth bass — are already facing a number of challenges in a delicately balanced ecosystem that has been rocked by the recent appearance of illegally introduced burbot. Lower and fluctuating water levels will only add to the challenges.
• Access to the lake via existing boat ramps would likely not be possible if water as proposed in the Million project were removed from the reservoir. That impacts all businesses that rely on the reservoir including those on the shores of Flaming Gorge and including other towns and cities like Dutch John, Manila, Green River, Wyo., and Rock Springs.
Similar facts are presented on the ourdamwater.org/ website of Sportsmen for the Green.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
The state’s most powerful water organization will spend no more money to study ways of piping water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, a move heralded by environmental organizations but one that might not squelch the idea. The Colorado Water Conservation Board turned away a request that it continue to fund a study of how to pursue large water projects, such as a proposed pipeline to the Front Range from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming.
The board’s decision was greeted as a victory by Protect the Flows, an organization of recreation, agricultural and other interests that depend on the Colorado River. “This decision tells Coloradans that (Gov. John Hickenlooper) and the water board know how much we value our superb recreation opportunities and the huge economy in Colorado generated by outdoor enthusiasts and tourism,” Protect the Flows spokeswoman Molly Mugglestone said.
Water board members noted that such projects would be more appropriately studied by the Interbasin Compact Committee, a 27-member committee established to address statewide water issues.
The proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline has been rejected on several levels and by federal agencies. It was criticized by government agencies, including Mesa County and Grand Junction, which cited unanswered questions about the effects of the project.
The Interbasin Compact Committee “has a new water-supply committee and this seems to belong to them,” said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “I think that’s an important dialogue to have and it’s one we’ve been involved with all along.”
The water board’s decision amounted to an endorsement of the need for conservation over development, Protect the Flows said.
Abandoning talk of water-development projects is a non-starter, Club 20 Executive Director Bonnie Petersen said. “Given the drought situation,” Petersen said, “at some level it would seem we would have to talk about storage.”
More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.
— Denver Water (@DenverWater) January 30, 2013
Here’s a report from 9News.com (Blair Shiff) about current conditions (bad). Here’s an excerpt:
Denver Water says because of drought conditions in 2012, Colorado is starting the year with reservoirs only 65 percent full. They would like levels to be at 81 percent. It would take a lot of snow over the next few weeks to make that up, so residents could see restrictions this summer.
“It really will take a lot of big snows to where we have a water supply that really will serve us, so we are talking about what this might mean for customers moving into the spring,” Stacy Chesney with Denver Water said.
No decision has been made, but customers could see mandatory restrictions. They could include only watering certain amounts or on certain days.
Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention starts today with full workshop schedule, Colorado Water 2012 celebrationJanuary 30, 2013
I’ll be attending the shindig through Friday so posting may be intermittent. I’m hoping to live-Tweet the high points @CoyoteGulch.
From The Pueblo Chieftain:
Pueblo West reported 21⁄ 2 inches of snow as well. The mountains saw more. Beulah, Colorado City and Rye all reported at least 5 inches of snow while Walsenburg reported 4 inches. The snow was wet and sorely needed. Randy Gray, meteorological technician at the weather service, said the city received 0.19 inch of precipitation but it put no measurable dent in the county’s extreme drought…
The storm system arrived earlier in the San Juan Mountains than the rest of Southern Colorado. Since Friday, it dropped 40 inches of snow on Wolf Creek Ski Area including 13 inches Tuesday. Lesser amounts fell on the western edge of the valley Monday as 4 inches were reported south of Monte Vista and 3 inches in the foothills west of Saguache. The sustained snowfall in the San Juans boosted the year-to-date precipitation in the Upper Rio Grande Basin from 60 percent of average last week to 74 percent of average Tuesday. Fremont and Custer counties residents reported between 1 and 2 inches of snow in the lower elevation areas of their communities. Monarch Mountain reported 10 inches of new snow Tuesday.
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
Snow piled up in a big way at some Colorado ski areas and more is on the way. National Weather Service forecasters are tracking a moist flow off the Pacific that favors the northwestern mountains…
The snow is a huge relief for ski areas and water managers. Already, some resorts have picked up multiple feet of snow. According to Colorado Ski Country, Silverton Mountain in the San Juans reported 78 inches of snow in the past few days, about double of the 36 inches reported at Wolf Creek…
Steamboat reported 26 inches and Telluride welcomed 23 inches. In the Central Mountains Sunlight Mountain saw 20 inches fall, Monarch boasted 18 inches, and Crested Butte 17 inches. Aspen Highlands and Snowmass both reported 12 inches of new snow from the storm while Aspen and Buttermilk both reported 8 inches.
— Breckenridge Resort (@breckenridgemtn) January 30, 2013
From email from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):
The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) today voted overwhelmingly to end funding for the ‘Flaming Gorge Task Force,’ which had been considering future large-scale water diversion projects such as the ‘Flaming Gorge Pipeline.’ The decision is in line with public opinion; a recent Colorado water poll found that four-in-five Colorado voters favor focusing on water conservation efforts rather than water diversions.
In response to today’s decision, Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates, issued the following statement:
“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline has been called the ‘zombie pipeline’ from years of lumbering around trying to latch onto anything that might keep it alive. Today’s CWCB vote sends a strong message that it’s time to move on to other water demand solutions. No amount of discussion is going to make the pipeline less expensive or more realistic, and we applaud the CWCB for recognizing the need to move forward.”
The ‘Flaming Gorge Pipeline’ (FGP) is a proposal to pump 81 million gallons of water a year across more than five hundred (500) miles from the Green River in Wyoming to the Front Range of Colorado—all at a projected cost of $9 billion dollars (according to CWCB calculations). Western Resource Advocates has consistently opposed the idea as unreasonable and unnecessary.
More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. Here’s an excerpt:
The task force funding drew criticism from conservation groups, who said the money would be better spent studying realistic conservation and reuse options for water. By some state estimates, the pipeline could have cost as much as $9 billion. The CWCB denied a request for $100,000 of state water money for continued study…
We applaud Governor Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board for their decision to turn down spending additional money to examine new water diversions as a solution to meet Colorado’s water challenges, said Protect Our Flows director Molly Mugglestone. “It’s the right decision for what Coloradans want as reflected overwhelmingly in a recent bipartisan poll commissioned by Protect the Flows.
The poll showed that more than 80 percent of Colorado voters would tell state officials to spend their time and resources focusing on conservation efforts, rather than water diversions; a majority of voters across political and geographic lines oppose building additional pipelines; and almost all express strong regard for Colorado rivers and a desire to protect them.
[Aaron Million] has said the pipeline could actually help protect flows in over-used sections of the Colorado, especially in years like this, with abundant moisture in Wyoming, but well below average snowpack in Colorado.
Cañon City: Cotter Corp, Inc. gets Colorado’s blessing to decommission their mill site at Lincoln ParkJanuary 30, 2013
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):
otter Corp. has the green light to decommission its uranium mill. “The Colorado Department of Public Health has issued an amended radioactive materials license to Cotter to reflect current activities,” said Jeannie Natterman, public information specialist. “It is a housekeeping measure since they are not processing ore anymore. “Now it is a decommissioning and reclamation license,” she said.
Cotter officials will continue to address radon releases from the impoundments, daily perimeter inspections as well as groundwater testing. In addition, Cotter workers are finishing the demolition of old buildings, which are being placed into the primary impoundment, Natterman said. “Amending Cotter’s license coordinates regulatory activities with the decommissioning and closure process,” explained Gary Baughman, hazardous materials division director.
State, federal and Cotter officials now will focus on the planning and work that needs to be done to successfully terminate the license and remove the site from the federal Superfund list. The mill and a portion of the neighboring Lincoln Park community have been a Superfund site since 1988. A steering committee also is revamping the Community Advisory Group, whose 12 to 15 members will review cleanup studies and proposed methods of cleanup to the regulatory agencies.
Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:
A report from the Trust for Public Lands next month could help solidify plans by a Fountain Creek improvement district to ask voters for a mill levy. “Our current funding runs out at the end of this year,” said El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey. “We may be passing the hat next year.”
The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District last year signed an agreement to work with the trust to poll voters about what kind of ballot issue would likely be supported to provide more sustainable funding for the district. “When we get to the big question, we have to find out what the will of the people is,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart.
Under state law, the district can ask voters in Pueblo and El Paso counties for up to 5 mills. Apparently, the majority of voters in both counties would decide the issue. In other words, a mill could not be passed in one county and rejected in another.
Hisey said the size of the mill levy could depend on whether the district intends to fund its basic operations, leverage grant money or tackle larger problems. The distribution of funding could be arranged in such a way that El Paso County could pay more than Pueblo County and use money to address its nearly $1 billion in backlogged stormwater projects, the board agreed during discussion.
“But Pueblo money cannot go north,” Hisey said. Hart agreed.
“The formula has to make sure the money is being spent in the county being taxed,” he said.
The district so far has survived largely on funding from Colorado Springs Utilities and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. Under its 1041 permit with Pueblo County, the district would receive the remainder of $50 million promised from Colorado Springs over five years after the Southern Delivery System is completed in 2016.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A district formed to improve Fountain Creek will put some additional money into a project designed to showcase methods to reduce erosion.
The Arkansas Basin Roundtable earlier this month kicked back a grant for an erosion control project on the Frost Ranch south of Fountain in El Paso County saying more matching funds were needed.
Last week, the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board agreed to pay another $35,000 toward the project, while landowner Jay Frost agreed to contribute $7,000. The district is seeking $105,000 in funds — reduced from a $150,000 request — from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with a $31,000 inkind contribution from Colorado Springs Utilities. The district, which already committed $10,000 to the project, will use money from the Fountain Creek master plan fund to pay its share. The fund is equally supported by Colorado Springs and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.
Engineer Graham Thompson explained the project would use natural methods and native plants to create a healthy channel. The Frost Ranch was chosen because the ranch is within an area that is otherwise healthy.
“It opens the door for other grant cycles,” Thompson said. “More and more I’m convinced that the sediment load in Pueblo County is coming from the banks (of Fountain Creek).”
While the board has limited money left in the master plan fund, about $100,000, projects like the Frost Ranch will provide leverage for future grants as well as show other landowners what can be done, said Executive Director Larry Small. “We have the money, so we need to do the work,” said board member Richard Skorman.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
During a handoff of seats on a board dedicated to protecting Fountain Creek Friday, Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart nearly fumbled the baton. Otherwise, things went smoothly.
Hart, who replaced District Attorney Jeff Chostner on the board, told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board he was pleased to be sitting at the “adults’ table,” invoking an analogy of Thanksgiving dinner. There were some amused groans from the “children’s table” in the audience and one committee member laughingly quipped he would have to “take out his pacifier” before addressing the board. Hart formerly chaired the citizens advisory group and has attended Fountain Creek meetings for the past year.
Chostner was lauded by his fellow board members for his service and involvement since the formation of the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force in 2006. “You’ve been the glue for this board in a lot of ways,” Richard Skorman, a former Colorado Springs councilman, told Chostner. “You’ve come to El Paso County a lot and reached out in a way no one else has.”
“The beauty of this board is that we can be friends,” Chostner replied.
The board elected officers for the coming year. Fountain Mayor Pro Tem Gabe Ortega was elected chairman; Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya, vice chairman; Colorado Springs Councilwoman Brandy Williams, secretary; and Fountain Creek Pueblo County resident Jane Rhodes, treasurer. Other members are Palmer Lake Mayor Pro Tem Michael Maddux, Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board member Melissa Esquibel, El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey and Hart. The district was formed by the state Legislature in 2009 to address common Fountain Creek concerns in El Paso and Pueblo counties.
Littleton: Restoration project along the South Platte River slated for startup by the end of the monthJanuary 29, 2013
From the Littleton Independent (Tom Munds):
“We finally have the long-awaited approval from the Army Corps of Engineers for this project so I expect, weather permitting, for work to begin before the end of January,” Debbie Brinkman, Littleton mayor and chair of the South Platte Working Group II, said during the Jan. 10 Tri Cities meeting. “Equipment will move in to deepen the channel, create ripple pools and calming ponds for the fish and clean up the silt choking off Red Tail Lake from the river.”[...]
Tentative plans are to continue to improve the riverbanks and channel as well as river access north from South Platte Park through Littleton, Englewood and Sheridan.
More South Platte River Basin coverage here.
Forecast news: More snow on the way for the central and northern Colorado mountains #codrought #cowxJanuary 29, 2013
A prolonged snowfall event is expected for the northern and central mountains of Colorado today through Thursday.twitpic.com/bz9741
— NWS Grand Junction (@NWSGJT) January 29, 2013
Snow decreasing from NW to SE in Denver – will be ending by 730-8 AM in southeastern suburbs, but continue on Monument Hill til 9 AM. #COwx
— NWS Boulder (@NWSBoulder) January 29, 2013
The Pacific storm system that has been making its way into the Rocky Mountain states over the weekend will swing t twitpic.com/bz8z9f
— NWS Pueblo (@NWSPueblo) January 29, 2013
Snowpack/drought news: San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins best in state at 79% of avg #codroughtJanuary 29, 2013
Click on the thumbnail graphics for the statewide map and basin high/low graphs for the Upper Colorado and San Miguel/Animas/Dolores/San Juan from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The recent snowfall has really boosted snowpack in the southwest corner of Colorado.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):
As of last week, mountain snowpack was at 62 percent of average and Colorado Springs had received less than half its normal winter precipitation. Forget about your lawn. Experts say, in such times, people need to act to save their trees from what one local company called the “horticultural cliff.” “Winter watering right now is just critical,” city forester Paul Smith said. “Boy, when we get those 50-degree days, people should drag that hose out and let it run slow on their trees.”[...]
The Pikes Peak region has been in and out of drought for more than a decade, which has led the city to remove hundreds of dead or dying trees from medians and rights-of-way…
Bates, the horticulture agent, was asked how worried she is for the health of Colorado Springs’ trees.
On a scale of one to 10, she said, “We’re all at about 10 right now, maybe between 9 and 10. We’re all very concerned.”
Here’s the summary of last week’s Water Availability Task Force Meeting from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:
Activation of Phase 2 &3 of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan, and the activation of the Agricultural Impact Task Force remain in effect to respond to ongoing drought conditions throughout Colorado.
While calendar year 2012 ended with a month of beneficial precipitation and average temperatures, the year as a whole will go down as the second warmest on record. Temperatures 3-5 degrees above normal for the year resulted in an average annual temperature of 48.6 degrees; a close second to 1934, the height of the dust bowl, which averaged 48.9 degrees. January 2013 has brought below average temperatures to much of the state, but limited precipitation, especially on the eastern plains.
Typically this time of year the mountains receive an inch of moisture a week, yet to date January totals predominantly range between 0.1 to 1.0 inch along the western slope, with a few isolated pockets receiving 1-2 inches. While the short term forecast does show increased chances of precipitation for the remainder of January, it will not be enough to make up the monthly deficit.
As of the January 22, 2013 US Drought Monitor, 100% of Colorado is experiencing some level of drought classification. D2 (severe) and D3 (extreme) cover 87% of the state, while 13% of the state is experiencing exceptional drought (D4), isolated to the eastern plains. Despite beneficial moisture in December that boosted snowpack to 70% of normal, a very dry January has resulted in snowpack declines in all of the state’s major river basins since January 1. Municipalities and water providers are closely watching the situation and are preparing to respond should the drought conditions persist or worsen throughout the spring and summer. Many are reporting storage levels of roughly 40-60% of capacity. Statewide reservoir storage is at 68% of average and 38% of capacity. The highest storage levels are in the Yampa/ White River Basin, at 100% of average while the lowest storage in the state is the Rio Grande River basin at 50% of average. All other basins range from 56% to 77% of average and 14% to 76% of total capacity. Last year this time the state was at 105% of average reservoir storage.* Surface Water Supply Index values have improved in many areas of the state following December precipitation, yet all values remain negative. However, these values are expected to decline once January precipitation is factored in. 42% of the variance of Colorado River runoff is related to fall moisture, implying that the 2013 runoff season is more likely to be below average. NRCS streamflow forecasts also predict below average spring and summer streamflow statewide.* For the first time in nine years, ENSO-neutral conditions are likely to dominate through the winter months. Without El Nino or La Nina influencing weather patterns, it is difficult to determine when the current drought regime will be broken in Colorado. The latest long term experimental forecast, issued January 18th, shows below-normal chances of moisture from January to March throughout much of Colorado. This is based largely on other factors such as a cold north Pacific (PDO) and a warm North Atlantic (AMO).
* The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) uses a 30 year running average that is updated every ten years. This month marks the transition to the new “normal” period of 1981-2010 for all NRCS products (previous months used the 1971-2000 period). NRCS is also transitioning to the use of median rather than average to define normal for all SWE products. Average is still used for precipitation, reservoir and streamflow products. Please keep in mind that this transition will affect the data when presented as a percent of normal.
From Reuters (Sam Nelson):
Without rain or heavy snow before spring, millions of acres of wheat could be ruined while corn and soybean seedings could be threatened in the western Midwest, meteorologists and other crop experts have said. A climatology report issued last Thursday said there were no signs of improvement for Kansas or neighboring farm states.
Roughly 57.64 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least “moderate” drought as of January 22, an improvement from 58.87 percent a week earlier, according to last Thursday’s Drought Monitor report by a consortium of federal and state climatology experts. But the worst level of drought, dubbed “exceptional,” expanded slightly to 6.36 percent from 6.31 percent of the country…
The government on January 9 declared much of the central and southern U.S. Wheat Belt a natural disaster area. The U.S. Department of Agriculture made growers in large portions of four major wheat-growing states of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas eligible for low-interest emergency loans.
— Snow.com (@snowdotcom) January 29, 2013
Survey commissioned by Protect the Flows says 76% of Coloradans prefer conservation over transbasin diversions #coriverJanuary 29, 2013
Here’s a guest column written by Tom Kleinschnitz running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
A recent poll commissioned by the business coalition Protect the Flows, of which I am a member, shed a bright light on how Coloradans want to deal with our state’s water needs. It seems that across political and geographic lines, a large majority of us believe that water conservation programs are necessary to address shortages.
Remarkably, 76 percent of Coloradans, including 79 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans, believe that we can “solve most of the state’s water problems through efforts to conserve water and reduce waste.”
Concurrently, over half of Coloradans — including 84 percent of West Slope residents and 52 percent of metro Denver-area residents — oppose building additional pipelines to increase the amount of water that is pumped from rivers over and through the mountains to the Front Range.
This news comes as the Colorado Water Conservation Board is slated to review a proposal on Tuesday from the Flaming Gorge Task Force, a group that was funded by the Water Conservation Board. It was charged a year ago to discuss the viability of the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline and then come up with recommendations. The state moved ahead with the task force despite significant opposition from business interests and local elected officials.
At the time, Protect the Flows, a coalition of 700 businesses that depend upon a healthy Colorado River system, led a campaign to secure resolutions from West Slope counties and municipalities opposing the pipeline. Those in opposition include our own cities of Grand Junction and Fruita, as well as Mesa, Montrose, Delta, Garfield, Moffat, San Miguel and Summit counties.
As readers may remember, the Flaming Gorge pipeline is a boondoggle proposed by real estate investor Aaron Million that’s already been rejected by several state and federal agencies for obvious reasons. The project would drain 81 billion gallons of water each year from the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado River, and then send it 560 miles over the Continental Divide to the Front Range. The state of Colorado estimates that the project could cost as much as $9 billion to construct. A study by Western Resource Advocates indicated that the pipeline would take nearly a quarter of the Green River’s flow, which would result in a $58.5 million dollar annual loss to the region’s recreation economy. And that same study reported that the water delivered to the Front Range by the pipeline would have to be sold at a price that is the most expensive in Colorado’s history because of the pipeline’s steep construction and operation costs.
So, it is no surprise that the Flaming Gorge Task Force is returning to the Colorado Water Conservation Board without any recommendations to further the Flaming Gorge pipeline. However, board members would like to spend another $100,000 of public money. For what?
They’d like to conduct up to 30 more meetings for the purpose of determining the most expedient way to export any water that remains legally available from the West Slope to the Front Range. They make this request even though the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee is already funded to make such explorations.
As the poll mentioned above shows, citizens of Colorado are quite united against new river diversions that could reduce Colorado River flows to a trickle, negatively impacting the more than 5 million adults who use the river and its tributaries for recreational activities each year and destroying a $26 billion annual economy across the seven basin states that supports a quarter million jobs.
To put it into perspective, if the Colorado River were a company, it would be larger than General Mills, USAirways and Progressive Insurance and would be the 19th largest employer on the Fortune 500. Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke for the majority on both sides of the Divide when he said in 2011, “Legally it is Denver’s water, but it’s Colorado’s water, too. You know, what makes Denver special and unique is because it’s in Colorado. And part of what makes Denver ‘Denver’ is the Western Slope economy — its ski resorts, the ranches and fruit orchards — and the Eastern Plains.”
Finally, the Colorado River Basin Water Supply & Demand Study released in December 2012 not only defined the current and future imbalances in water supply and demand in the Colorado River System for the next 50 years, it formulated strategies to address the projected imbalances. Conspicuously, the report suggests that building huge pipelines costing billions and taking years to complete is not a practical or fruitful solution to close the basin’s huge supply and demand gap. Instead, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said we need to focus on proven, common-sense measures that improve efficiency, such as re-use, repairing water infrastructure, improving agricultural technology and practices and making landscape design less water intensive.
For so many reasons, further review of the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline is a waste of time and a waste of money better put to use in other ways. Keeping our rivers flowing and not diverted in Colorado and the basin states is a big part of our Western heritage and a major driver of our economic well-being.
With 87 percent of Coloradans polled willing to reduce their own water use by an additional 20 percent, and 62 percent supporting incentives for farmers to use water-saving irrigation technology and practices, re-invigorating our focus on basic cost-effective conservation measures will surely work best for all of us.
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
After being rebuffed in federal court, the U.S. Forest Service will start anew at developing new water-rights language for ski area permits. The agency plans to start taking public input this spring on the new directive, which would clarify ownership of water rights on national forest lands…
The ski industry interpreted at least parts of the new directive as a direct grab of water rights that are properly administered under state water law. A year-long lawsuit ended in Dec. 2012 with a court telling the Forest Service it must use a public process to develop a new directive.
The court also said the Forest Service should consider economic impacts as part of the process. It didn’t rule on the substance of the Forest Service directive, but noted that the water-rights ownership issue seems to be unclear and based on several different versions of Forest Service directives and clauses.
Here’s my Colorado Central column from last April. I try to explain the issues around the permit requirements.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
The U.S. Forest Service will seek out public comment on plans to tie water rights and ski-area permits together. The process to gain public comment was the first since a federal judge rebuffed the Forest Service for failing to conduct a public process when it required ski areas to surrender water rights in exchange for the permits under which they operate on lands managed by the Forest Service.
Powderhorn Mountain Resort’s current ownership was the first to be required to sign over water rights when it purchased the ski area in 2011.
The National Ski Area Association sued the Forest Service last year and the resulting order called on the Forest Service to pursue greater public involvement in drafting a directive. “Establishing an inclusive process on this important issue will help meet long-term goals,” Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Daniel Jirón said on Monday as he testified to the Colorado Legislature. “Maintaining the water with the land will ensure a vibrant ski industry, and resilient and healthy national forests and mountain communities into the future.”
Critics of the requirement maintain, however, that it hampers ski resorts. “The reality is that anytime we look at the federal government taking over water rights, it diminishes the value of the ski area, it diminishes the ability of the ski area to operate fully because it’s at the mercy of the U.S. Forest Service,” said Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, the West Slope advocacy organization.
Club 20 also has voiced concern that federal agencies could require water rights in exchange for other uses of federal lands by ranchers, municipalities and others.
More water law coverage here.
2013 Colorado legislation (HR13-1044): ‘Perhaps a gray future is not such a bad thing, after all’ — Anna Mitchell #colegJanuary 28, 2013
From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Anna Mitchell):
I do not live in a country where safe drinking water is difficult to come by. Not only is my apartment’s water treated, but I have the means available to take my tap water and purify it further. We have so much clean water that it is used for things that purification is not even necessary for, such as flushing a toilet.
I am fortunate to have access to potable water on command. But that access could be unnecessarily excessive.
For water to be deemed potable, it must undergo an energy-consuming treatment to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards of what is deemed safe to ingest, cook with, and bathe in. However, we use potable water for things like toilet flushing and irrigation despite there being no standards saying our toilet water must be safe to drink.
Greywater, or wastewater that consists of low levels of organic waste, is what drains from bathroom sinks, showers, and washing machines. While graywater is not deemed safe for drinking, there does not seem to be any problems for uses like plant irrigation. Greywater also does not require the same energy-consuming treatment that potable water necessitates.
Water conservationists, led by state Rep. Randy Fischer, have proposed a bill that will recognize graywater systems as a legal process in regions that decide to permit it as such. The bill was recently endorsed by the Colorado Water Congress. While I find water rights to be one of the most infuriating legal institutions in existence, I overall applaud these efforts in sustainability…
My support comes with a few conditions. The amount of effluent, or pollutant run-off, must be kept absolutely minimal. We cannot be initiating sustainability efforts for environmental conservation at the cost of harming the environment in other ways.
There should be absolutely no health concerns that result from having graywater around. The practicality and costs of initiating a system that separates greywater from potable water and black water (water containing large amounts of organic waste, such as from kitchen sinks and flushed toilets) should also be taken into consideration…
Perhaps a gray future is not such a bad thing, after all.
Graywater bill passes House Ag unanimously. Failed on a party-line vote last year. #coleg
— Joe Hanel (@joehanel) January 28, 2013
Snowpack/drought news: ‘If the moisture doesn’t come, more cows will go to town’ — Dan McCarty #codrought #cowxJanuary 28, 2013
In the past 2 days, 22″ of snow Wolf Creek Ski Area and 7″ at Monarch.Meanwhile, wind to cause high fire danger on the plains today. #cowx
— NWS Pueblo (@NWSPueblo) January 28, 2013
— NWS Boulder (@NWSBoulder) January 28, 2013
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):
Locally, as in other parts of the United States, the drought has impacted hay production, availability of rangeland for grazing, and the number of cattle being sent to slaughter, said [Parachute rancher Dan McCarty], noting that the slaughter rate nationally is up 11 percent for January. “If the moisture doesn’t come, more cows will go to town,” he said.
Giving the keynote presentation at Saturday’s gathering of cattle producers from Garfield and Pitkin counties was John Paterson, executive director of producer education for the NCBA. His talk, “How Does Grass, Water and the Consumer Affect Me as a Rancher,” focused on the drought situation in the southwestern United States and elsewhere across the country, and its impact on the beef industry.
“I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. … There are some pretty hard decisions to be made,” Paterson told the gathering of about 60 area cattle ranchers…
At the same time, “I am excited about the cattle business and its future,” Paterson added. “We just have this situation called drought that is keeping us from making some money right now.”
Ranchers can hold out in hopes that the drought situation will change soon, he said. But many are deciding sell off parts or all of their herds in an effort to buy some time, Paterson said.
Aspinall Unit operations meeting recap: Forecasted April-July inflow to Blue Mesa is 370,000 acre-feet #coriverJanuary 28, 2013
From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):
Participation: This meeting was held at the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose. Attendees are noted on the distribution list located at the end of these notes. Handouts and presentations are available for review at:
Purpose of Meeting: The purpose of operation meetings which are held in January, April, and August is to gather input for determining upcoming operations of the Aspinall Unit (Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal Reservoirs). This input is used in Reclamation’s development of specific operations for the Aspinall Unit and for the overall 24-month study (www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/studies/index.html) for operation of Reclamation projects in the Upper Colorado River Basin, which includes plans for Glen Canyon, Flaming Gorge, and Navajo Units, as well as the Aspinall Unit. Operation of the Aspinall Unit considers forecasted inflows to the reservoirs, hydropower and flood control needs, existing water rights, minimum instream flows, target elevations for reservoirs; flow needs and flow recommendations for endangered fish and other resources; recreation; and other factors. In addition, the meetings are used to coordinate activities and exchange information among agencies, water users, and other interested parties concerning the Gunnison River.
Handouts provided included data on 2012 operations; inflows to the reservoirs for 2012; and projected most probable, minimum, and maximum inflow forecasts for 2013; and potential operations for 2013.
The Fish and Wildlife Service flow recommendations for endangered fish were completed in 2003 and a final Aspinall Operations EIS and Record of Decision have been completed. Therefore operations to meet the flow recommendations have begun. In addition, the water right for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has been quantified and adjudicated. These operation meetings are used to discuss proposals for long-term operation plans to address these and related resource management issues.
General: Blue Mesa Reservoir capacities are described in meetings as follows: The reservoir holds 940,700 acre-feet (af). Active capacity is 748,400 af; inactive capacity is 81,100af; and dead storage is 111,200. Live capacity is the active plus inactive, which totals 829,500af. Discussions during operation meetings use live capacity.
Gunnison Basin Reservoirs: In 2012, Paonia and Silver Jack were the only Reclamation reservoirs to fill because of the limited runoff; and similar conditions are predicted to occur in 2013. Presently Taylor Park is 53% full; Ridgway 66%; Paonia 7%; and Silver Jack 19%. Inflow forecasts for 2013 are 63% of average to Ridgway; 60-65% to Taylor Park and 65% in the North Fork basin.
2012 Operations: The actual April through July inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir was 206,000 af, the third lowest since 1937. The years 1977 and 2002 were lower. The April-July runoff at the Whitewater gage near Grand Junction was only 18 percent of average. Maximum content of Blue Mesa in 2012 was 543,000 af in April. Based on the May 1, 2012 inflow forecast to Blue Mesa, the Black Canyon National Park water right called for a 1-day peak of 814 cfs, which was met by an 845 cfs peak at the end of June. Flow Recommendations for endangered fish called for a 900 cfs peak in 2012 at Whitewater and this corresponded to the 900 cfs baseflow target for June and July which was met.
Black Canyon flows from August-September, 2012 were in the 600 cfs range and lowered to 320 cfs in October and remained there for the rest of the calendar year.
Flows at Whitewater Gage held up well through the fall eventually dropping to around 750 cfs in late December.
2013 Operations: Precipitation in the Gunnison Basin in October and November, 2012 was well below 50% of normal; December precipitation was near normal.
As of January 23rd, snowpack in the Gunnison Basin is only 62 % of the long-term average. (We would need 138% of average for the next 5 months to reach an average year). The inflow forecast to Blue Mesa is now 55% of the long-term average.
Blue Mesa content is now 327,000 af and has gained only 2,000 af through the winter.
As of January 15th, the forecasted April-July inflow to Blue Mesa is 370,000 af which is considered a Dry Year category and would be expected to be exceeded in 92 % of years.
If this inflow forecast holds true, it would represent the 5th lowest inflow since Blue Mesa was constructed (1977, 1981, 2002, and 2012 were lower).
Black Canyon National Park peak flow will be based on May 1 forecast; if the present forecast is maintained the peak would be 1016 cfs. However, a drought provision in the water right (based on the previous dry year and low Blue Mesa content) reduces this peak to 768 cfs.
Flow Recommendations call for a 900 cfs peak at Whitewater in a Dry Year based on the present forecasted inflow. This again, is equal to the baseflow target of 900 cfs for June and July.
Under most probable conditions, Blue Mesa is expected to reach 7476 feet in elevation (480,000 af content) which is 43 feet short of filling.
Average monthly Black Canyon flows during January through April are expected to be around 300 cfs and then increase to 500-650 cfs in the spring and summer.
It should be noted that snowpack conditions can change significantly after January and projected operations should be considered preliminary at this time.
Weather Forecasts: The National Weather Service projected some precipitation in the short-term but below average in the 8-14 day period. Last fall El Nino conditions were projected but did not materialize. Conditions are now near neutral and historically such conditions have resulted in a wide range of precipitation conditions; however, below average precipitation for the remainder of the winter is possible.
Above average temperature conditions are projected for the basin for the remainder of the winter (however, valley inversions may make you think otherwise).
Drought conditions in the Gunnison Basin are expected to persist.
Special Flow Requests: None.
State Engineer: In 2012 the Uncompahgre River was under call upstream from the M&D Canal beginning May 2. The Gunnison River gage at Gunnison reached record low flows. The North Fork basin and Grand Mesa water conditions were very low and carryover in private reservoirs is very low.
CRWCD: Discussing possible drought response with some of the large senior water right holders. State of the Gunnison River meetings will be held again this year: June 3 in Montrose and May 13 at Colorado Mesa University.
Upper Gunnison District: Lake San Cristobal work has been completed which increases available storage by 950 af.
National Park Service: Despite projected low reservoir levels, should still be good recreation opportunities at Blue Mesa.
Trout Unlimited: Relief Ditch Diversion restoration work is 35% complete and should be done by end of March. Will provide safer boat passage and improved diversion operations.
Delta County: Because of 2012 and 2013 dry conditions, very concerned with fire conditions this year. Noted that Larimer County was under Red Flag condition today.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife: Dan Kowalski has accepted a research position with CPW and his replacement has been selected.
Power Office: Normal maintenance of Aspinall dams and powerplants underway. No special projects.
UVWUA: South Canal hydropower project is under construction and some power may be produced this summer. Fish deterrent at the Gunnison Tunnel entrance has been completed and will be operated in 2013.
Western: Generation limited to 6 hours per day at Morrow Point and Blue Mesa. Crystal is generating using the 300 cfs release. Anticipates purchasing lots of energy this year due to dry conditions; prices are not too high this year. Had a high flow event at Glen Canyon; the high releases will be compensated with lower releases. Requested that National Park and endangered fish peaks be coordinated into one peak operation.
FWS: In January, the FWS proposed the Gunnison Sage Grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Comments on Federal Register notice are due March 12. Holding public meetings.
Tri-County: Ridgway is 15,000 af lower than January average. Releasing 30 cfs to preserve storage and will remain at 30 cfs until Uncompahgre Project needs water. Hydropower project is under construction and may produce some power by end of year.
BLM: 2012 was fairly slow year in the Gunnison Gorge…low flows make rafting very technical. Noted increase in fishing and recreation downstream from the North Fork confluence.
USGS: Gunnison River at Gunnison will now record water temperature.
Snow and Avalanche Center: One dust event last November 9th. Snowpack very low on study sites.
Next Meeting: April 25th at Reclamation’s Office in Grand Junction.
More Aspinall Unit coverage here.
A strong winter storm will bring widespread snow in the mountains, and a mixture of rain and snow in the valleys.twitpic.com/byzvdu
— NWS Grand Junction (@NWSGJT) January 28, 2013
A Pacific storm system will continue to move through the western states and Rockies Monday…and snow will persist twitpic.com/byzsrc
— NWS Pueblo (@NWSPueblo) January 28, 2013
— Fort Morgan Times (@FortMorganTimes) January 28, 2013
From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:
…SNOW CONTINUES TO ACCUMULATE ACROSS THE MOUNTAINS OF THE REGION…
THE FOLLOWING ARE PRELIMINARY 24 HOUR SNOWFALL AMOUNTS, AS ESTIMATED USING READINGS FROM AUTOMATED SNOW MEASURING EQUIPMENT SCATTERED THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS OF EASTERN UTAH AND WESTERN COLORADO. THE SNOW FELL DURING THE 24 HOUR PERIOD ENDING AT 4 AM MONDAY MORNING. ESTIMATED AMOUNTS ARE AS FOLLOWS:
THE SOUTHWEST COLORADO MOUNTAINS…4 TO 12 INCHES.
THE NORTHERN AND CENTRAL MOUNTAINS OF WESTERN COLORADO…2 TO 8 INCHES.
THE EASTERN UTAH MOUNTAINS…3 TO 5 INCHES.
From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):
Most of the water used for crops comes from the mountain snowpack, and the snowpack for the South Platte River Basin was only at 62 percent of average as of Wednesday, according to the National Resource Conservation Service snow report. The South Platte River Basin feeds Morgan County reservoirs and agricultural ditches…
At the beginning of January, NCRS reported reservoir storage at only 77 percent of average and 69 percent of last year. The 2013 water year got off to a very slow start in the mountains of Colorado. As of Jan. 1, Colorado’s statewide snowpack was 70 percent of average and 91 percent of last year’s readings, according to Phyllis Ann Philipps, State Conservationist, with the NRCS…
Mountain precipitation was 112 percent of average for December, but due to exceptionally dry conditions in October and November statewide total water year to date precipitation remains below average, NCRS says.
In October and November, Colorado received only 50 and 41 percent of average precipitation respectively.
Statewide year to date precipitation was at 68 percent of average as of Jan. 1. Basins in southern Colorado have the greatest deficits. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins reported only 59 percent of average year to date precipitation on January 1. The Upper Rio Grande and Arkansas basins recorded 62 and 61 percent of average for year to date precipitation respectively.
So far this winter season has been dominated by high pressure weather systems and a jet stream that has not cooperated. Jan. 1 snow surveys confirm that snow accumulation is below average for this time of year across the state. In early January, total accumulation ranged from 82 percent of average in the Yampa and White River basins, to 61 percent of average in the Arkansas basin. The South Platte River basin reported 67 percent of average and the Colorado River basin reported 68 percent of average.
Due to last spring’s well below average snowpack and subsequent low stream flow volumes throughout most of the state, reservoir storage is currently well below average throughout Colorado. Statewide reservoir storage at the end of December was just 68 percent of average and 38 percent of capacity.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):
Call it gloom and doom, or simply an unvarnished look at the future, but there wasn’t much to smile about after Thursday’s meeting to discuss summer water supplies in the Gunnison, Uncompahgre and North Fork Valley river basins. Every four months state and federal water managers gather to talk about water availability in the three adjacent regions, with attention focused on Blue Mesa Reservoir, the key impoundment in the area. With the 2013 water year nearly three months old and last year’s drought conditions predicted to linger across western Colorado, indications are this year may wind up as one of the five-driest in nearly 40 years.
Summer water supplies rely on a healthy snowpack building throughout the winter, but October and November, which historically contribute about 25 percent of the year’s snowpack, saw little precipitation fall across the upper Gunnison Basin. “There was not enough (precipitation) to get the snowpack started,” said hydrologist Erik Knight of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
￼Precipitation picked up significantly in December but largely in the wrong places. “December precipitation was 120 percent of average, but most of it was at lower elevations,” Knight said.
The higher watersheds, where snows accumulate to feed the summer irrigation season, received very little moisture. “We were in a hole for the first two months” of the Nov. 1–Oct. 31 water year, Knight said.
And by January 1, “we hadn’t gained any ground,” he said.
Forecasters each year try to judge the expected inflow into Blue Mesa Reservoir during the peak runoff period of April through July to allow water users to make spring and summer irrigation plans. The Jan. 1, 2012, runoff forecast called for 450,000 acre-feet of inflow, but “we ended up with 206,000 by end of July,” Knight said.
This year’s Jan. 1 forecast is less, calling for Blue Mesa Reservoir to receive 370,000 acre-feet by the end of July. “It’s always hard to compare this year with history, but we could end up at 206,000 or less or more, but we’re still looking to be dry,” Knight said.
February through April historically are the snowiest months, but in 2011 the snowpack still was growing into May. “That year was so late we had another three or four weeks of accumulation,” Knight said. “And then 2012 went the other way” when the snowpack started to fall in early April.
The real crunch comes at the May operations meeting, when more is known about the winter’s snowpack. Still, the forecast puts 2013 up there (or down there) with the water-short years of 1977, 1981, 2002 and 2012.
No one at Thursday’s meeting expressed much hope the precipitation hole won’t just get deeper.
Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the long-term drought outlook for the Gunnison Basin has the region in extreme to severe drought conditions. “There’s really not much good news,” he said.
Dave Kanzer, water resources engineer for the Colorado River Water District, said everyone should expect “a pretty challenging year.”
Knight said the upper Gunnison Basin would have to receive 138 percent of its average precipitation just to make average. “Based on where we are today, this year is way behind” the pace set in 2002 and 2012, Knight said. He predicted if the Upper Gunnison Basin were to receive just the average amount of snow for the rest of the winter, “We’ll end up at 70–80 percent of average” snowpack.
Given the long-term moisture forecasts, “we might be happy just to get to average,” Knight said
The latest drought statistics for Colorado say the state should expect a warm and dry late winter and spring. Unfortunately, that could lead to a severe wildfire season. Colorado is one of 10 states in the middle of a severe drought. Half of the state is in the second-worst level of drought.
From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):
What better way to spend three cold, dreary winter evenings than immersing yourself in water issues?
You’ll get your chance in February with the Water Center at CMU’s annual water course, which is intended to bring all interested citizens up to speed on how water is managed in our region, with particular attention to recent developments in water policy and management. The course will be held in the University Center Ballroom from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 11, 18 and 25 — all Mondays.
SESSION ONE – FEB. 11
Session one will focus on Colorado water law, history and culture. Kirsten Kurath, an attorney at Williams, Turner & Holmes, PC will open the session with an orientation to Colorado water law and what water rights issues are of most concern to Grand Valley water users. Then, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs will take the stage to discuss the culture and history of Colorado water.
In addition to being a judge, Hobbs is also a poet and the author of the book “Living the Four Corners: Colorado, Centennial State at the Headwaters,” which reviewer Tom I. Romero II described as “a collection of poems, oral testimony, multicultural teaching, inspired reflections, robust exchange, and legal reasoning about the great rivers and the varied people who comprise Colorado.”
SESSION TWO – FEB. 18
Session two will focus on cooperative initiatives for water management and river health. These include initiatives for salinity control, riparian restoration, canal hydropower and improving flows for native fish in the Dolores River. John Sottilare of the Bureau of Reclamation with discuss salinity control projects, which seek to keep irrigation water from leaching salt from our valley’s soils into the river, where they cause problems for farmers downstream.
Tamarisk Coalition staff will discuss their efforts to work with a wide variety of stakeholders to remove tamarisk along riverbanks and restore native vegetation. David Graf, with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, will discuss the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Plan for Native Fish, which is the product of several years of discussions among numerous stakeholders.
SESSION THREE – FEB. 25
Session three will focus on current water policy issues. Chris Treese of the Colorado River District will give us a rundown of the water bills introduced in the state legislature this session, which include proposals on agricultural water conservation and the reuse of graywater (that’s water that’s already been used once in your house, somewhere other than the toilet). Then we’ll learn about how the statewide process to figure out how to fill an anticipated gap between water supply and demand from Jacob Bornstein, a staffer for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. We’ll finish off the evening with a discussion of new water quality monitoring requirements for oil and gas drilling.
So come out and join us! We’ll even feed you fruit and cookies while you learn. And keep you awake with coffee.
The cost is $45 for the whole series or $20/session. We will provide certificates of completion for those who attend the whole series, and are seeking accreditation to provide continuing education credits for lawyers, teachers, water system operators and Realtors. Scholarships are available for high school students and K-12 teachers, and admission is free for CMU students and employees. For complete details, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/watercenter or call the Water Center at 970-248-1968.
This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):
Whether it’s simply a coincidence or divine intervention, the water course being offered next month by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University comes at an opportune time. The three-seminar series on water law, policies and management begins Feb. 11 with other sessions Feb. 18 and 25.
It seems a lot of people last year would have profited from knowing more about how water policy, and specifically the doctrine of prior appropriation, decides who gets water in a year when there isn’t enough to go around.
Bob Hurford, state Division of Water Resources engineer for Division 4 in the Gunnison River Basin, said Thursday many people holding water rights were surprised last summer when the expected irrigation water never arrived. ￼Speaking during Thursday’s Aspinall Unit operations meeting in Montrose, Hurford said it was people who had moved into the region within the past decade and hadn’t gone through a year of
under-supplied and over-appropriated water. “People were saying, ‘But I own water rights, why aren’t I getting any water?’ ” Hurford recalled. “They couldn’t understand why they didn’t have water and yet the farmers did.”
Hurford said the water shortages appeared much earlier than most people expected. “If you didn’t take your water before May 1, you probably weren’t getting it,” he said. “The Uncompahgre Valley was on call by May 2.”
It was particularly severe in the North Fork Valley, which Hurford called “extremely, highly over-appropriated,” where water rights dating to 1882 take precedence over those coming later. That means those using the Fire Mountain Canal, with 1934 water rights, saw its water dry up after mid-July. “People were outraged,” Hurford said. “But it’s because they didn’t understand how prior appropriation works.”
With this year’s water year shaping up as challenging or more so than 2012, the Water Center’s seminar series is bound to help. Information is available at http://www.coloradomesa.edu (http://www.coloradomesa.edu), click on Water Center.
More education coverage here.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Farmers want a higher price if a lease with Aurora goes through this year. The boards of the High Line and Catlin canals met with the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Thursday evening and agreed to a base price of $1,070 per acre for leasing water. The price could increase if the yield of water is greater. “It puts the risk for delivery on the cities,” Super Ditch President John Schweizer said of the pricing strategy. In traditional water deals, the price has been been set per acre-foot.
Aurora, under a 2010 agreement with the Super Ditch, offered $500 per acrefoot to lease up to 10,000 acrefeet of water this year. Its storage has dropped below 60 percent, which triggers the city’s ability to lease more water from the Arkansas River basin under its 2003 agreement with the Southeastern Colorado and Upper Arkansas water conservancy districts.
But commodity prices for hay and corn — the primary crops grown in the Arkansas Valley — have increased since 2010. In addition, a prolonged drought has reduced water supply for the farmers.
To provide water, farmers must dry up crop land. “When you’re drying up the land, the yield depends on the type of water year,” Schweizer said. Because of differences in water rights, the yield per acre varies from ditch to ditch as well. The base price reflects crop values, but if the water yield per acre increases, so will the lease price, Schweizer said.
The Super Ditch board has agreed to cap land fallowing at 30-35 percent per farm. “That keeps it evenly distributed,” Schweizer said. “When we get into the leasing mode, it will help keep the land in the valley in production.”
If the Aurora lease goes through, the Super Ditch hopes to have a substitute water supply plan in place by May. A pilot program to lease water in 2012 failed because of delays in getting a state-approved plan in place prior to the irrigation season.
More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here.