Littleton: Restoration project along the South Platte River slated for startup by the end of the month

January 29, 2013

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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 #cowx

January 29, 2013

Snowpack/drought news: San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins best in state at 79% of avg #codrought

January 29, 2013

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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.


    Survey commissioned by Protect the Flows says 76% of Coloradans prefer conservation over transbasin diversions #coriver

    January 29, 2013

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    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.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    First public meeting for the Chatfield Watershed Plan is March 7

    January 29, 2013

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    Here’s the announcement from the Chatfield Watershed Authority:

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


    The USFS plans public hearings this spring over ownership of ski area water rights

    January 29, 2013

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    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.


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