Ninth Annual Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium recap

February 16, 2013

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From the Bent County Democrat (Bette McFarren):

Stephen Koontz, associate professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics led off the morning with the economic and commodity outlook. He was followed by Russell Tomky’s “Ag Finance in Southeast Colorado.” Tomky is president and chief executive officer of Farm Credit of Southern Colorado.

Jefferey Tranel of C.S.U. spoke next on the subject of risk management. Brian Bledsoe, chief meteorologist at KKTV 11 News, enlightened the group on what may be expected of the weather in 2013 (more drought).

The afternoon saw Grady Grissom, manager/partner at Rancho Largo Co., an academic turned ranch manager, speak of the fundamental wisdom of maximum ecosystem health, a lesson learned from hard experience and the advice of more experienced ranchers. Grissom went from maximum stocking to paying more attention to his grass. From 2004 to now he has learned that it takes grass to make water, you can hold moisture with grass and grass actually acts as fertilizer. Ecological health builds resilience in drought. His second business plan maintains grass reserve, prefers livestock that performs well in dry conditions and keeps a capital reserve. He advises limiting the herd early instead of waiting until you have to sell. Plant and animal diversity and balance is the key to survival.

Chris Woodka of the Pueblo Chieftain shared some of the insights he has gained through many years of reporting water news. When he first started, the crunch was on the growing cities to have enough municipal water for their expanding population. As the years went on, it became evident that there is also an agricultural water shortage…

Anna Maus of the Colorado Water Conservancy Board is responsible for marketing the CWCB Water Project Loan Program offered to agricultural, municipal and commercial borrowers throughout the State of Colorado. She appeared with Taryn Finnessey, who works on drought planning and climate change for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. She provides technical assistance to water providers and users throughout Colorado in the development, implementation and monitoring of drought mitigation planning programs.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Ken Salazar’s legacy

February 16, 2013

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From The New York Time (Robert B. Semple):

Mr. Salazar made many important contributions. Mr. Obama told him to design a balanced energy strategy on the public lands administered by his department, and for the most part he did. He took a far more measured approach to oil and gas exploration than the “drill now, drill everywhere” people around George W. Bush. He orchestrated a major overhaul of safety standards for drilling, and remade his department’s regulatory machinery, in the wake of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He initiated new standards for hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas fields on public lands. And he moved cautiously on oil drilling in the Arctic. But his biggest contribution to a sensible long-term energy strategy is one whose fruits will not be visible for years, and one for which he has not been widely recognized: a plan setting aside hundreds of thousands of acres of Western lands for the future development of solar and wind power. Painstakingly negotiated with multiple stakeholders, including states, industry and the environmental community, the plan provides a roadmap for future development aimed at maximizing clean energy sources without harming the environment, particularly endangered species and other wildlife.


Williams Fork: A Middle Park Land Trust conservation easement protects the 117-acre Blue Ridge Ranch

February 16, 2013

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The Middle Park Land Trust recently accepted its 63rd conservation easement, protecting the 117-acre Blue Ridge Ranch located in the Williams Fork Valley. This conservation easement, like all easements, will protect the property’s scenic and agricultural open space and its quality natural habitat in perpetuity.

Characterized by upland sagebrush, wetlands, riparian habitat, and aspen and conifer forests, Blue Ridge Ranch provides habitat for a variety of wildlife, birds, fish and insects. The easement provides a link between the habitat on the property and that on surrounding public and private lands, as well as connecting adjacent and nearby conservation properties that have already been protected in the Williams Fork Valley…

With the Blue Ridge Ranch Conservation Easement, the land trust now holds 63 easements on 6,954 acres.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Source water protection plan for I-70 corridor from Newcastle and Parachute indentifies pollution sources

February 16, 2013

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From the The Rifle Citizen Telegram (Nelson Harvey):

The Source Water Protection Plan, an inventory of drinking water resources for several towns along the Interstate 70 corridor, also identifies other activities that could contaminate drinking water, including natural gas drilling, fires, pesticide use, landfills and others, but it does not highlight existing water pollution problems.

“We just want to make people aware that they have the potential to contaminate our source water,” said Mark King, public works director for the town of Parachute. “The whole point is just to educate people of the hazards. The oil field, the railroad, they carry all kinds of [pollutants].”

King worked on the report, along with a coalition of public works officials from Rifle, Silt and New Castle. The effort was funded by a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to meet a federal Clean Water Act requirement of every state to have plans in place to protect water sources.

In Rifle, according to the report, the largest potential water pollution threats, aside from road runoff, are gas operations, gas pipelines, and spills or runoff from train travel through the area.

In Silt, issues of concern include gas drilling and railroads. Those threats are also present in Parachute, according to the report, where other potential threats include leaking septic tanks at private homes and uncertainty about how water migrates into Revelle Springs, a drinking water source.

The report authors recommend that Parachute fund a formal study to pinpoint the sources of groundwater seeping into the springs, to ensure those areas are protected…

To better protect water quality, the report contains only recommendations, rather than new regulations or policy suggestions.

Those include distributing copies of the report and cards with emergency contact information to gas companies for use in the event of a spill, and researching the long-term effect of magnesium chloride, a compound used to melt ice on roadways, on local water supplies.

And since fire poses a major contamination risk to water supplies by increasing erosion and destroying features that absorb water, the authors also recommend that local officials collaborate with firefighters to include water supplies on maps of high risk fire areas.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Denver Water: Harriman Dam Project complete

February 16, 2013

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Here’s the release from Denver Water:

Harriman Lake Park, located on the southwest corner of South Kipling Parkway and West Quincy Avenue in Littleton, Colo., will reopen to the public Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. The area has been closed since December 2011 for Denver Water to rebuild the 138-year-old Harriman Dam, bringing it up to current regulatory standards and restoring its full storage capacity.

The new dam will restore the water level approximately 3 feet higher, increasing the surface area of the restored reservoir from its former size of about 55 acres to about 66 acres. The reservoir will be refilled gradually after the Office of the State Engineer completes its inspection process.

This project allows Denver Water to meet the irrigation needs of multiple Harriman water users without adding demands to its potable water supplies or developing new sources of water. Denver Water uses the reservoir to deliver irrigation water to Fort Logan National Cemetery, Jeffco Public Schools, Pinehurst Country Club and other nearby areas.

Denver Water owns the reservoir, dam and land within the park, while Foothills Park & Recreation District manages the recreation at Harriman through an agreement with Denver Water.

Construction on Harriman Dam has been completed, and now Foothills Park & Recreation District is replacing recreational amenities before the park officially reopens Feb. 15. Fishing will not be allowed until the reservoir is restocked and vegetation is established along the banks.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: 40 cfs in the river below Ruedi Dam

February 16, 2013

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Those of you driving past Ruedi Dam over the next week or two might notice a Reclamation drill crew along the retaining wall just north of the dam. The crew is taking samples of the wall as part of our regular and on-going maintenance program across all of our facilities.

Meanwhile, we continue to release about 40 cfs to the Fryingpan River. We are storing what we can behind the dam in anticipation of a below-average run-off.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


Drought/snowpack news: ‘We are expecting to see the drought persist and continue at least through April’ — Taryn Finnessey

February 16, 2013

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

[Colorado Water Conservation Board Drought & Climate Change Technical Specialist Taryn Finnessey] said last year was the second worst drought year on record for Colorado since 1895, with the worst year only beating 2012 out by tenths of a degree, and that was at the height of the Dust Bowl.

The U.S. Drought Monitor currently shows the whole state under dry conditions with the eastern plains under extreme or exceptional drought conditions, Finnessey noted. In all of the San Luis Valley counties except Mineral the drought monitor indicates severe drought but not extreme or exceptional…

Unfortunately, the drought is forecast to persist at least through the spring months, she added, with temperatures above average and precipitation below average. “We are expecting to see the drought persist and continue at least through April.”

A drought task force is monitoring conditions, Finnessey said. Right now the task force is concentrating on agriculture, but if drought conditions persist, task forces will be activated to deal with impacts to tourism, municipalities, fire and other arenas…

Finnessey was involved in reviewing survey results regarding the effect of the 2011 drought year on the agricultural economy in the Rio Grande and Arkansas River basins, which CSU Agriculture and Resource Economics Professor James Pritchett addressed during the 2013 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference in Monte Vista last week. Finnessey said 2012 drought impacts are now being sought from area farmers and ranchers to determine the impact of multiple years of drought, and she encouraged San Luis Valley residents to participate in the survey.

To fill out the survey online, which takes 10-15 minutes and is primarily multiple choice, go to: http://tinyurl.com/CSU-drought

Economic losses due to drought conditions were not just evident in lost production, Finnessey said, but also in lost potential revenue related to that production that might have been realized because of higher commodity prices during that same drought period — “potential revenue, what would have been earned under typical growing conditions.”

Those combinations resulted in an estimated $4.7 million economic impact in the Rio Grande Basin due to drought in 2011, according to Finnessey. By comparison, the Arkansas Basin logged $104 million losses due to drought in 2011 and 1,300 jobs lost. That severity relates to the Arkansas Basin’s reliance on dry-land farming, Finnessey explained…

Most of the state was declared either a primary or contiguous drought area last year, Finnessey said, and although those designations expired at the end of the year, they were renewed again this year. She said the eastern plains were hit the hardest, but the Rio Grande Basin received contiguous classification, which means some benefits. Unfortunately what those benefits will be to area producers is unclear because the Farm Bill is still in limbo, Finnessey said…

Not only farmers and ranchers are worried about water conditions this year, Finnessey added. With reservoir storage less on February 1 of this year than last year at this time, municipalities are concerned about being able to provide enough water for their customers this year, Finnessey said. A web site is being set up that will help folks know about water restrictions in their areas, landscaping and agricultural information under drought conditions. It is not live yet but will be located at coloradodrought.com

From the Casper Star-Tribune (Benjamin Starrow):

Widespread drought in 2012 divided Wyoming’s ranchers into two basic categories: those with hay and those without. The distinction has important implications early in 2013, already showing signs of being another dry year. There may be no better insurance policy against a dry summer than hay. It could mean the difference between keeping and selling key breading stock. That, in turn, could mean the difference between a profitable year and a devastating one.

2012 was the driest year in the last 118, resulting in the state’s worst hay crop since 1950, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Wyoming hay production plummeted from 2.4 million tons in 2011 to 1.9 million in 2012, according to the service. Nationally, hay stocks are down 16 percent. Prices have gone the opposite direction. Alfalfa was selling at $215 a ton in November, compared to $145 last year…

Snowpack levels are down, even with last weekend’s snow storm, National Weather Service Meteorologist Chris Jones said Monday. Snowpack on Casper Mountain was around 40 percent of its 30-year-average. In the Snowy Range and southern Wind Rivers, those numbers ranged from 50 to 65 percent, Jones said…

Precipitation levels, critical for the ground moisture needed for healthy rangeland, are also down in many places in Wyoming. While the northwest and northeastern parts of the state have seen consistent precipitation, central and southeastern Wyoming has struggled.

Casper received 1.71 inches of precipitation between October and January. That is 59 percent of the city’s 30-year average. Last year the city saw 4.06 inches of precipitation over the same period, according to weather service data. In 2011, that number stood at 3.21 inches.

Last week, the state engineer’s office announced it was implementing “priority administration” on the North Platte River and its tributaries north of Pathfinder Reservoir and between Pathfinder and Guernsey reservoirs. All water from the designated section of river will be diverted into the reservoirs for storage. It was the first time the state announced priority administration outside of irrigation season since 2005…

Back at his Casper farm, [Robert Keith] said he believes in the resiliency of the state’s ranching industry. Drought is, after all, a part of life here. His own farm should be in good shape. The Casper Alcova Irrigation District stores water in good years and has a seven-year supply, Keith said. Further, the farm invested in a series of irrigation pivots, increasing the efficiency of Keith’s operations. He said he uses three-quarters of his annual allotment most years. Still, he has worries. “I think we could hold on one more year,” Keith said. “If it happens another year, no one will be in business.”

From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

Buoyed by a recent forecast from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, the local U.S. Bureau of Reclamation office has released a tentative operating plan for McPhee Reservoir which predicts all water allocations will be met for the 2013 water year. Though the state of the area’s rivers and reservoirs is far from outstanding, present snow levels and predicted instream flows are reason to be hopeful, according to Vern Harrell, a civil engineering technician with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Western Colorado area office.

“It looks fair right now, not really good, but fair,” Harrell said. “It looks like we most likely will meet all our obligations for the users.”

The present water year comes on the heels of four years of drought conditions which have left local reservoirs dangerously low. Currently, McPhee Reservoir stands 100,000 acre feet below it’s reserve elevation in February 2012. The lack of reserve in the reservoir means water users in the area are counting on a solid snowpack and generous runoff to provide operating water for 2013…

The forecast for the reservoir predicts total accumulation of 205,000 acre feet, roughly 70 percent of average inflow volume. Should the reservoir fill at that rate it would reach a maximum content of 272,988 acre feet, 63 percent full. By October, however, the reservoir would already be pulled down to an elevation lower than where it sits currently. Thus, the cycle of hoping for snow and decent inflow rates would begin again…

Though snowpack seems the most obvious key to a decent water year, the timing of the runoff, current soil moisture and summer weather conditions all contribute to the story of water allocations and reservoir demand. The interplay of these factors can support or hurt water supply…

According to automated system data gathered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the snowpack statewide is at 76 percent of average. Of the eight river basin regions studied by NRCS, the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan region is the only basin above 90 percent of average, calculated at 91 percent as of Feb. 12. The Arkansas and South Platte basins are at 65 and 59 percent of average respectively. North Platte stands at 72 percent, Yampa and White at 76 percent, Colorado at 70 percent, Gunnison at 78 percent and the Upper Rio Grande at 81 percent.

From The Mountain Mail (James Redmond):

Typically this time of year the mountains receive an inch of moisture a week, yet weekly totals through Jan. 23 mostly ranged from 0.1 to 1 inch along the Western Slope, with a few isolated pockets receiving 1 to 2 inches, the Water Availability Task Force’s January drought update reported…

In Salida January yielded only 0.01 inch of precipitation throughout the entire month. January usually has an average precipitation of 0.33 inch, historical Mountain Mail records show…

If the Chaffee County area has a drought this year similar to last year’s conditions, “that would be a record,” Terry Scanga, Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District manager, said Jan. 31.

This area has never seen two back-to-back drought years of last year’s severity, he said. If the drought continues, irrigation rights will see the impact first, probably near July…

“My forecast for late winter, January to March, shows below-normal odds for moisture in much of (Colorado), still consistent with a cold North Pacific (PDO) in conjunction with a warm North Atlantic (AMO),” [Klaus] Wolter reported Positive AMO and negative PDO values go a long way toward explaining our dry fall and early winter. Given the continuing PDO-AMO setup for drought, pessimism remains justified for at least the next few months, he reported.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Statewide, snowpack moisture content was listed at 75 percent of average following storm systems that moved through over the weekend. The southwest corner of the state was at 90 percent of average; the Rio Grande basin, 81 percent; and the Arkansas River basin, 65 percent.

About 6 inches of snow were recorded in the Spanish Peaks area, with a moisture content of about 0.35 inches. The largest amounts of water added to the snowpack in the Arkansas River basin came at South Colony in Custer County, Whiskey Creek in Las Animas County and Hayden Pass in Saguache County.

Relatively lower amounts were recorded in the Upper Arkansas River.

“There was about 2 feet of snow in my front yard, but we need about 4 feet this time of year,” said Rego Omerigic of Leadville.


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