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.