Forecast news: Winter returns to Colorado this weekend #codrought #cowx

February 9, 2013

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From the National Weather Service Grand Junction Office:

SNOW WILL INCREASE IN COVERAGE AND INTENSITY SATURDAY AS THE ASSOCIATED COLD FRONT PASSES. SNOW LEVELS INITIALLY BETWEEN 6000 AND 7000 FEET WILL DROP TO VALLEY BOTTOMS SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY. BEHIND THE COLD FRONT THE UPPER FLOW WILL TURN TO NORTHWEST WITH SNOWFALL FAVORING THE NORTHERN MOUNTAINS INTO MONDAY.

THERE IS STILL SOME UNCERTAINTY ON THE TIMING OF THE STORM SYSTEM AND MOISTURE IS LIMITED. THIS STORM HAS THE POTENTIAL TO PRODUCE SIGNIFICANT SNOW ACCUMULATIONS ACROSS THE REGION ESPECIALLY OVER THE MOUNTAINS. EXPECT MUCH COLDER THAN NORMAL TEMPERATURES THIS WEEKEND AND INTO NEXT WEEK.

From the National Weather Service Pueblo Office:

At the present time, the low is forecast to move from southern Nevada Saturday morning, through the Four Corners region, and into eastern Colorado Saturday night. With this track, areas north of Highway 50 will likely feel the brunt of the system, with mainly windy conditions for the eastern plains south of Highway 50. With windy conditions expected across the region with this low, whiteout conditions could occur at some locations, including northern El Paso County Saturday night. Some uncertainties remain with the track of this low, which could either increase or decrease the chances for precipitation expected over southeast Colorado. Persons planning travel across the region this weekend should remain weather alert and listen for the latest statements or warnings on this developing winter weather situation.

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch from Friday evening to Sunday evening for the West Elk and Sawatch mountains, the western San Juans, the Grand and Battlement mesas, as well as the Flat Top range…

The Colorado snowpack has improved slowly since the new year began, but remains at 74 percent statewide, including 69 percent in the Colorado River basin, home to some of the state’s best-known ski resorts and most important reservoirs. Southwest Colorado has a snowpack of 86 percent, and the South Platte River basin, which includes Denver, is at 59 percent, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Lakewood.


How to survive another dry season was the topic front and center at ag show this week in Rocky Ford #codrought

February 9, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Farmers and ranchers can make it through a drought by planning ahead, managing resources and making timely decisions. That advice was given to about 150 people who attended the Arkansas Valley Farm, Ranch, Water Symposium and Trade Show Thursday.

“It took me four years to learn what I should have learned in one,” said Huerfano County rancher Grady Grissom. Grissom started the Rancho Largo Cattle Co. in 1995 with a business plan designed to maximize herd size in order to cover his costs.

Meanwhile, if you have water, the good news is that commodity prices for farm products are expected for the growing season. Here’s an report from Matt Hildner writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

While drought conditions are expected to continue to plague the state this summer, farmers and ranchers who can withstand them will likely see high commodity prices. James Pritchett, an agricultural economist at Colorado State University­Fort Collins, reviewed the economic impacts of the drought and discussed potential impacts during a Wednesday session of the Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Fair. “Farm revenues are going to hit record levels this year on the strength of higher prices,” he said. “So if you have a crop — and not everybody does — and you’re able to stay in production, you’re going to make some money.”

Pritchett and a pair of colleagues have yet to wrap up their surveys on how producers did in 2012 but based on preliminary results, he said operations with lower debt ratios would be in the best position to benefit from high prices for many commodities.

“I think it’s the high-debt folks, I think it’s the dry­land crop producers, I think it’s the cow­-calf producers — those are the ones that are experiencing some of the most difficulties,” he said. His results from 2011 found the San Luis Valley had an above­average year and endured only $4.7 million in drought­related losses. “There weren’t really reductions in irrigation yields and there wasn’t a big change in harvested acres versus planted acres,” he said.

That year also saw little impact on Main Street businesses dealing with agriculture, but he thinks that will change as the drought persists. “In 2011, I don’t think anybody saw the drought coming,” he said. “But if you expect the drought to come, you do adjust your input purchases.”

That could mean farmers and ranchers spend less on pesticides, herbicides and farm equipment.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Time is growing short if the snowpack — water content in the standing snow — surrounding Steamboat is to its historic norm by the end of the season, Mage Hultstrand, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver, said Thursday. She said February and March typically combine to provide 36 percent of annual snowpack, with April contributing another 3 percent. With current snowpack in the combined Yampa/White River basin standing at 47 percent of the annual peak, mountains in the area would have to see 53 percent of the annual snowpack accumulate between now and the second week in April to reach the average.

“The average peak there is on April 11,” Hultstrand said. “To get there in the next two months would take well above-average snowfall for February and March.” Hultstrand is the agency’s assistant snow survey supervisor.

The NRCS reported Feb. 1 that despite heavy snowfall in late January, Colorado’s snowpack was at 72 percent of normal for the date and 10 percent lower than where it stood at the same time in the drought winter of 2011-12.

The combined Yampa/White river basin, which includes most of Routt County, is doing a little better, according to the NRCS, at 77 percent of average and 115 percent of last year’s levels. Another encouraging sign is that reservoir storage across the twin basin currently stands at 103 percent of average for the date.

Focusing on specific locations in the Yampa River Basin, the snow measuring station at 9,400 feet on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass was showing 11 inches of water contained in 43 inches of snow Thursday, or 75 percent of average for the date. Those 11 inches of water also represent 42 percent of peak snowpack (water content); Rabbit Ears typically peaks at 26.1 inches of moisture April 28.

At the Tower site at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass, there currently is 69 inches of snow on the ground containing 19.2 inches of moisture. The water content at the Tower site, which typically holds some of the most robust snowpack in the state, is just 66 percent of the average of 29.1 inches for the date and 37 percent of the seasonal peak.

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Coming off a pitiful 2012 snowpack, Northern Colorado farmers have worried for months about what this year’s snowpack will portend. Snowpack in the South Platte River Basin hovered at 60 percent of average earlier this month. It has reached only 70 percent in the has reached only 70 percent in the Colorado River Basin.

The National Resource Conservation Service said recently that it expects below-average water supplies this spring and summer in the West, with Colorado especially hard hit. Cities are weighing a range of drought restrictions.

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

The cities of Fort Collins, Greeley and Loveland are considering new restrictions on water use in response to a drought expected to last at least through summer…

In Fort Collins, City Manager Darin Atteberry has the authority to enact water restrictions, though the City Council reviewed the matter earlier this week. The city’s two main sources of water, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and Poudre River, likely will yield less water this year because of the drought as well as High Park Fire destruction. The city is considering Level 1 water restrictions, which allows watering only two days per week and on a schedule. The restrictions bar watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and prohibit watering of surfaces such as sidewalks and patios except as necessary for health and safety. The last time the city enacted water restrictions was a decade ago.

Greeley has had water restrictions in place since 1907. It normally only allows watering just three days per week, and no watering between noon and 5 p.m. The city will decide whether to enact tighter drought restrictions in April, when Northern Water issues its quotas, said Jon Monson, director of Water and Sewer. Greeley, like the city of Fort Collins, is concerned that it may have to curb its consumption of Poudre River water because of debris-filled runoff during spring, he added.

City of Loveland officials also are discussing water restrictions, said Gretchen Stanford, customer relations manager for the city’s utility. But like Greeley, Loveland is waiting for Northern Water to make a move. However, Loveland considers itself well-positioned for tight water supplies this year, considering it receives water from Green Ridge Glade Reservoir in addition to the Colorado-Big Thompson project, Stanford said. But next year could pose a problem if the drought wears on. “If we have the same exact summer as we had last year, we would be concerned about 2014,” she said.


Snowpack news: The February 1, 2013 Colorado Basin Outlook Report is hot off the press, read it and weep #codrought

February 9, 2013

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the snowpack map by basins. There is an ugly red splat over the upper South Platte River.

Click here to download a copy. Here’s an excerpt:

Summary

January brought cold temperatures and little moisture to Colorado until the very last week when a significant snow storm hit most of the state. Areas near Steamboat Springs and Durango received upwards of 18 inches during the last week of the January, yet due to the dry start to the month, statewide snowpack ended up being only marginally better than the previous month. Increased snowpack percentages across southwestern Colorado were offset by significant decreases in the northeastern basins and all major basins remain below normal for this time of year. Consecutive months of below average snowpack accumulation are statistically decreasing the possibility of reaching normal conditions by April. Last year’s below average snowpack did not offer any buffer to our current situation. Currently, reservoir storage volumes across the state are at 69 percent of average and 66 percent of last year’s storage. The February 1 streamflow forecasts reflect the below average snowpack conditions throughout the state. The San Miguel, Animas, Dolores and San Juan basins are the only areas in the state where forecasts for April to July runoff volumes improved this month. Water users in all basins should start planning for below average surface water supplies this season. The potential for shortages this season is great.

Snowpack

Snowfall across Colorado was nearly nonexistent for most of January. During this time snowpack percentages were decreasing daily as the gap between current conditions and long-term normals widened. The situation began to improve during late January when storm systems brought much needed moisture to the state. The storms were not enough to tip the scales to normal, but they did help halt the downward slide. Statewide snowpack was at 72 percent of normal as of February 1. The basins that benefited the most from these storms were the basins in the southwest region of the state. The snowpack in the Upper Rio Grande basin increased from from 65 percent of normal on January 1 to 78 percent of normal on February 1. The combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins jumped 18 percentage points in January; from 70 percent of normal to 88 percent of normal on February 1. The Arkansas and Gunnison River basins each showed a nominal increase in snowpack percentage compared to last month. The remaining basins in the state showed an overall decline in the percent of normal from what was reported on January 1. The South Platte basin had the largest departure from last month’s report. The snowpack in this basin dropped 13 percentage points this past month, declining from 67 percent of normal on January 1 to just 54 percent of normal February 1.

Precipitation

Precipitation across the state during the month of January was 83 percent of average. Statewide totals were influenced by above average monthly totals recorded in the Upper Rio Grande and the combined basins of the San Miguel, San Juan, Dolores and Animas Rivers. During January the Upper Rio Grande basin received precipitation that was 107 percent of average for this time of year and precipitation in the southwest basins was 120 percent of average. The Gunnison basin came in at 90 percent of average for the month. The remaining basins received between 69 and 72 percent of average precipitation during January with the exception of the South Platte Basin. The South Platte basin recorded just 50 percent of the average precipitation for the month. Year to date precipitation for the state remains below average for this time of year; as of February 1 total precipitation was just 72 percent of average.

Reservoir Storage

Due to last winter’s poor snowpack, reservoir storage volumes continue to track below average levels. At the end of January reservoirs within the state were storing 2,311,000 acre feet of water. At this same time in 2012, reservoirs in the state held 3,606,000 acre feet. Below average storage volumes were reported at the end of January in the Arkansas, Gunnison, Colorado, South Platte, Upper Rio Grande and the combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores, and San Miguel basins. The greatest departure from average was in the Upper Rio Grande basin which reported its reservoirs volumes at just 51 percent of average. The Yampa and White River basins reported reservoir storage to be 103 percent of average and 85 percent of last year’s storage. The storage in the Yampa and White basins may currently be above average, but these basins have the smallest reservoir capacity in the state.

Streamflow

Streamflow forecasts across the state reflect the below normal snowpack conditions measured on February 1. Forecasts for all points across Colorado are calling for below normal seasonal streamflow volumes this spring and summer. The lowest forecasts, as a percent of normal, occur in the Arkansas and South Platte basins. Forecasts in these basins are less than 65 percent of normal and as low as 45 percent of normal for the April to July time period. Forecasts for the Colorado, Gunnison, and Yampa and White basins have declined from those issued last month; expected streamflow volumes in these basins generally range from 50 to 70 percent of normal. As a result of the large snowfall amounts received in January, current runoff forecasts in the Upper Rio Grande and the combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins have improved somewhat from last month’s predictions. It is important to note that at this point in the season the mountains have typically accumulated 60 percent of their annual snowpack in Colorado. The potential for recovering to normal conditions at this point in the season is not promising, but it is possible if we see exemplary spring conditions.


La Nada: The latest ENSO Discussion is hot off the press #codrought #cowx

February 9, 2013

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Click here to read the latest diagnostic discussion from NOAA. Here’s an excerpt:

During January 2013, ENSO-neutral continued, although below-average sea surface temperatures
(SST) prevailed across the eastern half of the equatorial Pacific. While remaining below average, a high degree of variability in the weekly Niño 3 and 3.4 indices was apparent during the month. The oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean) was also below-average, largely reflecting negative subsurface temperature anomalies in the eastern Pacific. At the same time, positive anomalies increased and expanded eastward to the central Pacific by late January. The variability in both the ocean and atmosphere was enhanced during January, at least partially due to a strong Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO). Consequently, the location of the MJO was reflected in the monthly averages of wind and convection. Anomalous upper-level winds were westerly over the eastern half of the equatorial Pacific, while low-level winds were near average. Relative to December 2012, the region of enhanced convection shifted eastward and became more prominent over Indonesia and the western equatorial Pacific. Despite these transient features contributing to cool conditions, the collective atmospheric and oceanic system reflects ENSO-neutral.


Eagle County: ‘Water Wranglers of the Colorado River’ presentation Tuesday #coriver

February 9, 2013

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From email from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District (Diane Johnson):

Join us next Tuesday as we welcome George Sibley, the author of Water Wranglers: The 75 Year History of the Colorado River District.

Sibley will share the story of the Colorado River, the highly controlled and over-demanded lifeline of the West. Sibley focuses on our steward of the Colorado River, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, while offering interesting perspectives on river projects and entities – and, for that matter, on the history of Colorado.

Tuesday, February 12th
5:30 – 7:00 PM
Walking Mountains Science Center

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Adams County stormwater fees foment a rebellion of sorts from residents

February 9, 2013

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From the Commerce City Sentinel-Express (Gene Sears):

Hundreds of angry property owners gathered Jan. 24, incensed over a county mandate to implement a stormwater utility and the soaring fees accompanying the measure. Those fees, levied against impervious surfaces on each property, resulted in annual payments due to the county in many cases in the hundreds of dollars where none existed before.

Promising “total transparency,” Adams County Deputy Administrator Todd Leopold addressed the throng, reassembled in a maintenance bay after overflowing a classroom at the station. Both Leopold and Adams County Stormwater Coordinator Andrea Berg shared the floor, taking questions while providing details of the project’s implementation. The pair faced a tough crowd, disillusioned by county efforts to inform and involve residents in the process leading up to levying what most see as a tax on their property.

The county says it adopted the fee schedule in response to an unfunded Environmental Protection Agency mandate, with the funds collected to “address water quality regulations, capital improvement drainage projects and flooding to the maximum extent practicable. Often drainage problems are not easily attributed to a single source, and are usually the result of a combination of things that increase the amount of impervious surfaces (roads, driveways, and development) and affect water quality (erosion, fertilizers, and petroleum products).”

Critics see it as a carefully crafted tax to boost revenues more than $5 million annually, on the backs of unincorporated residents with little or no recourse.

Most rancorous was the estimation of fees owed, which most saw as wildly inaccurate in relation to their actual impermeable surface areas. Some claimed hundreds of dollars assessed on properties with no impermeable surface whatsoever, such as farm fields and pasture. Taken from aerial surveys, the estimations were based largely on shading of roadways and rooftops, with a clear margin of error. The estimations ran into hundreds of dollars per year for properties with rooftops similar in size to suburban homes.

More stormwater coverage here.


Turquoise Reservoir and Twin Lakes operations update

February 9, 2013

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Still hoping for snow this weekend. In the meantime, we started moving water from Turquoise Reservoir down to Twin Lakes today, February 8. We’re moving it through the Mt. Elbert Conduit. We are sitting below average in storage for this time of year at both reservoirs. Water moving through the Conduit also moves through the Mt. Elbert Forebay and generates hydro-electric power at the Mt. Elbert Power Plant before entering Twin Lakes.

Meanwhile, Ms. Lamb has started blogging at kara lamb. Check out her first post That Doesn’t Hurt, i.e. The Joy of Sport where she examines the pervasiveness of pain and injury in sports. Kara is a sports fan. She often does play by play via her Twitter account @klamb.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


San Luis Valley irrigators await CRP funds ahead of fallowing land

February 9, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Groundwater irrigators in the San Luis Valley are awaiting a pair of approvals for a federal program that would pay some to retire farmland and conserve water use. Tim Davis, a consultant for the groundwater subdistrict that hopes to fallow 40,000 acres in the northcentral part of the valley, said Thursday that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack still must authorize the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program for the area. Moreover, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget also must authorize spending for the program, which could send up to $109 million in federal funds over 15 years to subdistrict farmers who fallow land. “We’re getting very close to putting this thing on the ground,” Davis told farmers at the Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Fair.

The subdistrict, which is entering its second year of operation, would add up to $27.3 million in fallowing payments over the same period. The subdistrict was designed, in part, to reduce the use of groundwater from the unconfined aquifer, which is at its lowest level since monitoring began in the 1970s. The federal payment would be $175 per acre per year and allow farmers to use 18 inches of water over a 36­month period to establish a cover crop. The subdistrict also would pay a share but will include bonuses to farmers who choose to fallow and sit just north of the Rio Grande between Monte Vista and Del Norte. The subdistrict’s goal there is to restore a groundwater formation known as the hydraulic divide, which it hopes will reduce losses to the river caused by groundwater pumping.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.


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