South Platte River Basin: DWR Sterling Groundwater Monitoring Effort

January 22, 2013

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Click here for the Sterling Groundwater Monitoring Effort website from the Colorado Division of Water Resources. They write:

Homeowners have relayed their concerns about high groundwater levels in the Country Club Hills and Pawnee Ridge subdivisions in Sterling to state officials. The DWR and CWCB are conducting an independent analysis at each subdivision. The agencies have undertaken an effort to monitor groundwater levels and characterize the hydrogeology within the areas of interest. The objective of this groundwater monitoring is to identify relationships between the hydrology of the area and the high groundwater levels. Preliminary information and data obtained from this investigation is updated monthly.

Here’s a report from David Martinez writing for the Sterling Journal-Advocate. Here’s an excerpt:

Ralf Topper, senior hydrogeologist at the DWR, said at a community meeting that results so far show that a mix of geologic deposits and structure – in terms of bedrock – have an effect on the level of water tables.

Several area farmers and residents have complained of low water tables, or levels below ground that are completely saturated with water. Spots with water tables as high as at four of five feet below the surface can damage crops and cause basement flooding.

So the DWR and the Colorado Water Conservation Board started conducting an independent analysis of the city’s subdivisions.

The agencies are monitoring groundwater levels and characterizing the hydrogeology around the city. The goal, according to the DWR, is to find relationships between the area’s hydrology and the high groundwater levels.

“We’re looking at all of the inputs and outputs,” Topper explained. “Why are groundwater levels changing? What’s the mechanism for changing?”

He added that they’ll collect data on stream flows, diversions, recharge ponds, climate and large capacity oil pumping. All of that will then go to third party consultants to analyze.

The DWR has studied 16 piezometers – devices that measure groundwater pressure – between the Sterling subdivisions of Country Club Hills southeast of Northeastern 18 Golf Course and Pawnee Ridge north of County Road 30 and east of Ballpark Road since May.

From the measurements, the DWR found that the geology from spot to spot varied between thick and thin layers of gravel, sand, clay and shale (bedrock).

The clay is important, Topper said, because water levels where clay exists tend to be shallower.

“(The results) gave us an indication that we’re really looking at a system that is highly variable in terms of the subsurface,” he said. “The assumption was (the land’s) homogenous…. Everyone says it’s sand and gravel. What we’re finding in this area, it’s not the case.”

And the water tables can vary in any given spot, as well.

“Nested” piezometers, which measure at different levels from the same bore hole, showed that water tables existed in as many as three layers in Country Club Hills. Some tables were as shallow as three feet, while others were as deep as 24.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


Montrose County ponies up $50,000 for whitewater park engineering

January 22, 2013

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Will Hearst):

The greater Montrose community came one step closer to a collaborative application for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant Tuesday, after the city locked in an agreement with Montrose County for $50,000 toward the engineering of the whitewater park project.

All five city council members voted to accept the $50,000 offered, which will not only help cover the upfront design costs, but make for a much stronger application to GOCO because of the multi-agency participation. In exchange, the county asked that the city contribute an equal amount to an improvement project in the future to the fairgrounds or other county asset.

Councilor Bob Nicholson, while on board with the plan, hesitated at the way a letter worded the county’s agreement. Nicholson said he was more than willing to keep the city’s side of the bargain, but had assumed the county would ask for repayment only for fairgrounds improvements.

More Uncompahgre River coverage here and here.


Snowpack news: Statewide = 62% of avg, Upper Colorado = 59%, Arkansas = 54% #codrought

January 22, 2013

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From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

We don’t have much of a winter,” said National Weather Service meteorologist David Barjenbruch. “We’re definitely stuck in a rather warm, dry pattern for at least the next week.” More broadly speaking, a high-pressure pattern has dominated Colorado’s atmospheric conditions for a second snow season in a row. “It’s blocking the winter weather from us,” Barjenbruch said.

State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said last week that long-term indicators don’t yet indicate whether March — typically Denver’s heaviest snow month — or April and May could be wetter or drier than normal.

The statewide snowpack was just 62 percent of its 30-year average for this time of year as of last Thursday, 59 percent of average in the ski resort-rich Colorado River basin and 56 percent of average in the South Platte River basin, which includes Denver.

From the Summit Daily News (Caddie Nath):

Following a record low snowfall season last year, Summit County is currently in the midst of a severe drought. Despite a summer marked by stringent fire bans and water restrictions in 2012, A-Basin is the only local resort where dry conditions have impacted snowmaking this winter.

A complex system of water rights, reservoir storage and agreements kept Breckenridge Ski Resort, Copper Mountain and Keystone Resort snow guns well supplied this winter.

“Our water agreements give Copper a buffer every year,” resort spokeswoman Austyn Williams stated in an email to the Summit Daily. “During this season’s snowmaking, Copper did not experience any drought-like effects.”

Water rights allow the ski areas to pull a certain amount of water from local streams, so long as those streams don’t drop below a specified level. But Copper and Breckenridge both enjoy the safeguard of nearby water storage — Clinton Reservoir for Copper Mountain and Goose Pasture Tarn for Breckenridge. Both resorts can pull some water from storage to supplement streamflows when necessary.

Keystone’s backup plan is an agreement with Denver Water, the utility company that owns Dillon Reservoir. The resort is able to pump some water from Roberts Tunnel, which directs water from the reservoir toward its route down to Denver, according to Troy Wineland, state division of water resources water commissioner for the Blue River Basin…

In Breckenridge, the Blue River continues to run low, despite the end of snowmaking operations. But officials say current flows are normal for this time of year, considering the dry conditions.

Because of the drought, in January, February and March, the town of Breckenridge is diverting a portion of the Blue River streamflows to be stored for municipal use and future snowmaking efforts, further reducing the water levels, according to a report from the town.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

[Dr. Jennifer Francis] has been studying the connection between vanishing Arctic sea ice and weather in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere, and evidence is piling up that the intense warming at high latitudes has serious implications for North America, Europe and Asia. Francis sprinkled her scientific talk to broadcast meteorologists with climate change warnings, pointing out the need to make drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

“The amount of ice loss this summer is just such a stunning example of climate change. This is a real problem, a big problem, it’s happening now, not generations from now and we need to do something about it,” she said, going to recite a litany of extreme weather events in recent years, from floods in Venice and China to extreme winter weather in Europe and last summer’s record-setting heatwave in the U.S.

“We’re just now starting to make the connection between weather and climate … But I think we can all agree that the last few years, Mother Nature in the last several years has dished up an incredible smorgasbord of extreme weather,” she said.

As a result of recent events, Francis said she’s noticed a change in the tone of the conversation about climate and weather. People aren’t shying away from making the connection anymore.

“The high northern latitudes is where the warming is happening the fastest … And we’re starting to see the impacts,” she said. “The high latitudes are going to get even wetter, dry areas are going to get even drier. There are going to be more precipitation extremes in both directions … “We have changed the deck of cards that we are playing with in terms of the climate system … When you take out some of the low cards, you have a much better chance of getting high cards,” she said.

Francis then zeroed in on the Arctic, where temperatures have warmed twice as fast as rest of northern hemisphere, with the greatest warming trends in the winter and fall. The greatest temperature anomalies are at the surface, but extend all the way through the troposphere. “The last time the Arctic was this warm was 125,000 years ago, and sea level was six to eight meters higher than now … This is really bad news,” she said. “The volume of ice 80 percent less than just a few years ago,and what’s left is broken, thin, rotten slushy,” she said.

The current increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations are happening so quickly that Earth’s temperatures are still lagging way behind. “There’s no reason think it won’t keep getting warmer … Going back about 450,000 years into the past, the relationship between CO2 and and temperatuers is very clear. CO2 is at levels not seen for 650,000 years, we have a long way to go to catch up,” Francis said…

If you warm the Arctic more than the mid-latitude, it’s weakening the gradient, and that’s what drives the jet stream, and it’s weakening. It started to drop off when the sea ice started to disappear. When the jet stream is weak and sluggish it meanders more. The large -scale waves tend to not move very fast,” she said.

“We tend to see cut-off lows and blocking highs. What we’ve seen is that the maximum latitudes, the peaks of ridges migrating northward, especially since sea ice really started to disappear in early 90s, particularly in the North Atlantic, with more ridging around Greenland … The storm track in the Pacific is moving northward,” she said explaining that that movement is also linked with increased ridging…

“The word is not getting to the people who need to hear it and operate on that information,” she said. “There have been organizations out there who have deliberately tried to cover up the evidence of climate change. A lot of money has been spent on trying to confuse the issue.

“If there’s any doubt, people would rather hear the story that’s not so discouraging. But people are starting to see the evidence with their own eyes, they’re realizing the disinformation that they’ve been served is wrong,” she concluded.


Gilcrest: South Platte River Basin groundwater public meeting Thursday

January 22, 2013

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From The Greeley Tribune:

The public is invited to Gilcrest on Thursday to attend the last of three meetings about the ongoing groundwater study in the South Platte River basin. The study, being conducted by the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, is studying groundwater’s interactions with streamflows and how current augmentation requirements are impacting the alluvial aquifer.

Earlier this year, Colorado House Bill 1278 was passed, authorizing the comprehensive groundwater study, which is the first since 1968, according to CSU officials. Members of the Colorado Water Institute study team have already met with the public in Longmont and Sterling this month to talk about the study, which will conclude at the of this year.

They will have another public meeting from 6­8:30 p.m. Thursday at Valley High School, 1001 Birch St. in Gilcrest.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


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